Friday, January 17, 2014

I'm Allergic to Smut

(Of the mold variety.) And trees. And weeds. And basically everything else on the planet. Except food, thank God.
The doctor needed two highlighters for my sheet.
I finally stopped putting off seeing an allergist. I always had a lot of excuses - I don't want to get a referral, I don't have time to go for shots every week, I like feeling miserable six months a year because I secretly hate myself, etc. I decided that I wanted to finally get my biannual debilitating sinus infections stopped before starting work. Using a vacation day (or two!) to lie in bed while my head explodes is not high on my fun list.

I recently got new insurance that doesn't require a referral for allergy testing, so I bit the bullet and researched allergists in my new town. As there is only one in my entire county, this didn't take too long. I called and made my appointment, luckily squeezing it in a couple days before work started.

There was an initial hiccup when the doctor looked at my age and needed some convincing that I've already graduated from college. I already look like a child, having a September birthday just makes it worse by making me seem really young all the time.
I look like a child even if I wear my suit.
The first order of business was to look in my nose. After a half-second of inspection, my allergist exclaimed: "Your nose is so blue!" Apparently nasal membranes are normally pink, like fingernail beds, but the presence of allergen-fighting cells turns the membranes blue. And mine were particularly blue.
I've actually just signed a deal to do a remake starring my nose.
The allergist immediately took a sample of mucus and almost skipped down the hall to his microscope to examine it. I'm pretty sure this test was unnecessary, he was just excited to have a patient blow the criteria for allergies out of the water. He was literally rubbing his hands with glee when he came back. Spoiler alert: I have allergies. Shocker, I know.

While he was gone, I had a minute to read the "dealing with seasonal allergies" poster in the room. It was not very helpful, containing such gems as "Wash your cat weekly." Um, no.

The next step was the skin test, which I knew about from Eager Feet Dad. For those fortunate enough to be unfamiliar, the allergist loads up tubes with the allergens and scrapes the skin to inject a tiny amount into the broken skin. If you are lucky enough to be allergic to that particular substance, you get a hive. The size and severity of the hive determines where you are on the allergic reaction scale, from 0 (non-allergic) to 4+ (severely allergic). My doctor used four quadrants - both my shoulders and above both my hips, though I didn't know which quadrant had which allergens.

That ten minute test was the longest ten minutes of my life. I wasn't allowed to touch any of the developing hives, or I'd ruin the test. Thankfully there was a TV in the room to help distract me, but I was still doing an adult version of the potty dance. When my allergist returned, he asked how I felt, and I said some spots were "pretty itchy." I moved the gown back for him, and his response was "WOW! I'm surprised you're not complaining very much. You're a 4+ on most of these."
I was mauled by the allergy bear.
I sadly found out I'm allergic to cats, so Faramir is now banned from my bedroom. He pouted for a day but seems to have recovered. I also was given a heavy duty prescription nasal spray to use until the shots take effect (about two months) and instructed to buy a HEPA filter for my bedroom and possibly one for work. (Work has an open plan office, so I don't think a filter will actually be effective there.)

I've used a prescription nasal spray before, so I thought the new one would be no big deal. Shooting liquid up your nose is weird at first, but I had acclimated. Turns out this sucker is an aerosol spray.
It also looks like an inhaler, which makes it weird to jam up my nose.
It is super weird to use. The only way I can think to describe is, it feels like the equivalent of being startled by someone suddenly yelling in your ear. Not a very helpful analogy, but it's just so bizarre. The noise also freak Faramir out, which requires a minimum of ten minutes of hiding to recover from, obviously.

I was skeptical about the filter at first. What was "HEPA," and could it really do anything? I figured it couldn't hurt and picked up a small size with the special "allergy" filter at Target. I let it run on its highest setting all day. I didn't really need to go into my bedroom for several hours, and I was amazed at the difference it made when I popped back in! My room didn't really smell before, but now I immediately notice how clean it is. All the furniture in the room is wooden, and I can seriously smell it all now. Which is kind of weird, it even gave me a dream I was in the Ikea showroom again.
God himself lives in this box.
My initial treatment plan is to get shots weekly and reassess in three months.  (Which means another skin The clinic has some bizarre hours, but I'm lucky that they're open late once a week, so I don't have to worry about it interfering with work - which was one of my main concerns with treatment. The shots will be completely in my system by St. Patrick's Day, so, barring an early bloom, my symptoms should be drastically reduced come spring. And considering we're getting dumped on with even more snow tonight, I doubt that early bloom is anywhere close to happening.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Ride the Divide Review

Last night I continued my Netflix binge by watching "Ride the Divide."
Ride the Divide (2010) Poster

90% of the enjoyment I get from Netflix is hoarding lots of interesting things in my queue without ever actually watching any of them. (Please tell me I'm not the only one who does this?) As it were, I noticed "Ride the Divide" when going through the sports documentaries category over the summer but never made time to watch it. While my workouts have been going way better than last week, I thought a boost of motivation couldn't hurt.

This documentary follows the story of a diverse group of mountain bikers riding from Banff, Canada, to the US-Mexican border as part of a self-supported race. The route covers over 2700 miles and more than 200,000 feet of elevation gain. Paraphrasing the filmmakers, the route comprises a variety of terrain, ranging from forest roads to abandoned two-tracks.

The film focused on Matthew Lee, who had won the race several times previously and was hoping to do so again; Reuben Kline, Matthew's one true competitor; and Mary Metcalf-Collier, seeking to be the first woman to complete the entire race.
If I'm ever leading a race, I hope I make the time to moodily eat snacks on a random church porch.
The first thing that struck me about "Ride the Divide" was how much film crew documented their own journey trying to film the event. One of the (many) things I can't stand is superficiality, so it was so refreshing to hear them complaining how they couldn't find their film subjects! The race had an online tracking system, so everyone could have a some idea where the other racers were, but actually finding them on sometimes unforgiving trails could be quite a challenge. My favorite moment was in the beginning when the crew got stuck by construction and missed the start of the race. I really appreciated seeing their struggles and how they overcame them to still make an awesome documentary.

In this same vein, it didn't appear that the crew had any sort of "pre-planned" narrative. The locals they met along the way seemed to be part of genuine encounters, and the filmmakers often relied on other racers for advice on who they should talk to on any given day. However, they edited everything together in a very cohesive fashion. I cheered for Matt and Mary the whole time and was often in suspense about what would happen. I'm not sure what questions they asked the racers during filming - as only responses were shown - but I always found the racer spots enlightening, and they helped me understand the nature of such a monumental race better.
Though if someone wanted to interview me while I was trying to sleep, I might suffocate them with my bivvy sack.
My other favorite part of the film was seeing the landscapes the race traveled through. I absolutely love the West, and I'm bummed it'll be at least another year or two before I can go back there. (I've thought about moving, but it's relatively important to us to stay near family.) Even though I grew up with the woods of Michigan, I am totally in love with the desert and mountains of the Southwest. Watching that for an hour and a half gave me a serious case of wanderlust.
*grabby hands*
I obviously don't want to spoil the ending, but I found it very satisfying. There was a short epilogue that tied other story lines together without being overdone.

In the end, "Ride the Divide" wasn't as purely motivational as I had expected after watching other films, such as "Spirit of the Marathon." But that's not to say I didn't love the film, because I totally did! I have very little interest in cycling as it's own sport (and let's not pretend it's my favorite part of triathlons either), but I was engaged and intrigued for the duration of the movie. The pacing was great, I felt connected to the racers and filmmakers, and I learned quite a bit about an unfamiliar subject. At 82 minutes, it's doable even for a week night viewing.

The only problem I had was when the racers complained they were alone in these incredible parts of nature for extended periods of time.
Wishing you could actually say this to everyone.
Sounds like an introvert's dream to me!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Crossroads Training: Week One

What I hoped would be the week I triumphantly returned to running was quickly derailed by Winter Storm Ion.
Slightly hard to see in this picture, but I'm standing in snow past my knees. (And I hadn't even sunk all the way!)
Normally inclement weather doesn't bother me: I've run through thunderstorms and bitter cold. However, there's not much I can do to overcome 6+ inches of fluffy snow. All my Yaxtrax did was make my feet feel funny while I was wading on top of what I thought might be a sidewalk. It was doubly hard being only two days in my new town. Deciding on a running route is infinitely harder when the roads are completely obliterated in snow and ice.

I hate to sound like I'm making excuses, but short of getting a pair of snowshoes (and believe me, I looked for local rentals), there wasn't anything I could do.

4.8 mi slog
Yoge for the Hips, Hamstrings, and Upper Back; 27 mins

I had planned to go an easy six miles and allowed what I thought was plenty of extra time before an appointment. I barely got above three miles per hour and spent almost all my time slowly wading, not even able to attempt a running motion. I thought about trying to complete the distance, but I got to a major intersection and couldn't decipher where the sidewalk went. I was mentally 100% done.

Another thing I couldn't beat despite trying: a severe windchill advisory.
What looks like a bruise on my cheek is actually terrible windburn.
At least my yoga video felt awesome and really released my hips.

NROLFW Stage Two Workout A1, 31 min
1800 yd swim

I tried out my new gym's fitness facilities and pool. They had an excellent selection of free weights and equipment, as well as miscellany, like mats, Swiss balls, and steps. It took a little extra time to find what I needed, but it was so much less stressful than going to a college gym. I also appreciated that they played top 40's music through a ceiling speaker system.

The pool was a little more interesting. Nothing good can ever come of having a four lane lap swim pool. This holds especially true when it's the only pool in the county. I camped the locker room and got in a lane right after swim team practice ended, and I would've still had to circle swim within five minutes if the other woman in my lane hadn't been doing backstroke. In 45 minutes I got hit six separate times by people on either side of me not paying attention. I'm hoping when I switch to mornings the pool will be less crowded, or at least have stronger swimmers that don't weave through the whole lane.
Not my pool, but it demonstrates the anarchy in which I must swim.
The pool also had this super creepy frog statue wearing an oversize t-shirt that watches you from an office chair. I forgot to take a picture, but it is incredibly disturbing. (And it's visible from the women's locker room entrance, so I have to see the creepy eyes every time I go.)

Rest day

I had been planning to get up early to run before going back to my old job for one last day, but I was worried about doing 3+ hours of tired driving if road conditions were still terrible. Luckily, the highways were clear, but I was still glad of the extra sleep.

7 mi tempo run
30 Minute Class for the Shoulders, 33 min

I went to the gym's indoor track for this run. At first I was overjoyed that it was 12 laps to a mile, meaning no crazy calculations if I want to check my pace. Then I was depressed when I realized how out of shape I am. (A month break will do that? Who knew?!) I averaged 12 min/mile for the five tempo miles with walking breaks. I didn't have a watch, so I had initially been planning to run on the treadmill, and it was very disorienting. I think the running sections were acceptably paced, but it's hard to say for sure.
At least I wore pants.
I could also tell during my yoga video how tight the return to exercise had made me. I'm pretty sure some of the stretches almost imploded my shoulders, though I felt amazing afterwards.

1800 yd swim
NROLFW Stage Two Workout B1, 47 mins

This swim was relatively uneventful. The workout was broken up into a bunch of different segments, which kept it mentally interesting. I also shared my lane with triathlete, which meant we could both handle not assaulting one another while sharing a lane. How novel.

I discovered this room at the gym while I lifting called the "Mind, Body, Spirit Studio." Here I found a lot of the equipment I was surprised "wasn't stocked". It was a nice quiet and empty environment to do my ab work without getting in anyone's way.

6 mi slog

Earlier in the day I had been out and about, and the sidewalks looked clear, following warmer temperatures and a heavy rain. It was with great joy I set out for a 12 mile long run. Unfortunately, it had gotten colder as the day went on, and almost all the sidewalks had re-frozen into complete sheets of ice. The "clear" sections were actually calf-deep pools of icy water. While I managed to break 4 mph (whoo!), I just couldn't handle the conditions any longer, and my feet were going numb. The gym had closed by that point, so I called it a day at six miles.

NROLFW Stage Two Workout A2, 36 mins

I had planned to do a run as well Sunday, but I opted to just hit the gym in order to spend time with the Eager Feet Parents. The gym had limited hours, so I couldn't go afterwards, nor were the sidewalks cleared.

Weekly Totals:
Run: 17.8 mi
Swim: 2 mi
Lift: 1 hour, 54 mins
Yoga: 1 hour

This week was especially hard for me to not meet my mileage. I'm used to running through whatever conditions no matter what. It was really hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that not hitting all my planned workouts due to inclement weather and unfamiliarity with the area does not make me a bad person. It just means I have other life commitments. And that I can't bound through the snow like a yeti.
Maybe the real secret is to get a baller scarf.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Crossroads of Northwest Indiana Marathon Training Plan

It's official - my next marathon is registered for, the hotel is booked, it's time to start training! Full disclosure, I've taken the last few weeks off from working out. I did some yoga and discovered the magic of foam rolling, but otherwise I've sat on my butt. It's always hard for me to run without a goal because I'm too Type A for my own good, but the break has been more than welcome.

After the MDI Marathon, I took a little time off before starting to train for a 5K at the end of December, which I actually didn't run because it was on moving day. I used Runner's World Smart Coach program, based on my 10K PR, and I think the plan was a little too aggressive. While nothing was that fast by absolute standards, there was never any break. My legs constantly ached, and, more importantly, I started to dread my runs rather than look forward to them. I also had very little structure with a light class and work schedule, and I love routine to a fault.

Before anyone gets the wrong idea, I have been extremely busy during the break. Between the holidays and getting ready to move away from home completely and football bowl season, I've had less than a day over the last three weeks to just sit and relax. I could've forced the time to run, but it would've made me more stressed, which for me defeats a lot of the purpose. The next two weeks will be spent settling into my new home, as well as punching my ticket for the fitness train again.
This go-round I actually spent some time studying how Smart Coach works and experimenting with its results. Clearly, I am some sort of genius. I realized the main issue is Smart Coach seems to extrapolate my race results to be something I'm capable of producing on the regs. I tend to race better than I train at shorter distances, and my short-distance speed doesn't have the corresponding stamina (yet), so even the "moderate" plan was more than I thought I could handle at the marathon distance. I didn't want to burn out like I did with the last one.

With this in mind, I tried setting Smart Coach to "maintenance" mode, which, cross your fingers, should work really well for me. The long run and speed workout paces seem a bit of stretch to me, but the plan never makes them any faster. As the name implies, I just cycle through the same set of workouts, only upping the long run distance. I'm hoping by this will allow me to build my stamina by decreasing the emphasis on speed.

The mileage is also going to be higher than what I've done before. Knock on wood, I've been very healthy since I've started consistently lifting, and I'm hoping that in combination with eating clean, yoga, and foam rolling, will allow me to do this without injury. When I trained for Sleeping Bear, I only peaked around 40 miles, so I think putting more miles on my legs will help, or at least give me a better base to work from in the future.

The plan also only calls for four days of running per week, whereas I've almost always done five. This should be a welcome change, especially with the higher mileage. As I'll also be transitioning to working full-time, I hope having one less outdoor workout will take some pressure off.

First four weeks.
I will also be swimming twice a week, lifting three times a week, and - as a part of my New Year's resolutions - doing an hour of yoga a week.

I'm excited to have my vim and vigor back to train. If all goes well, I should be in shape to run a 4:21:25 come April 27th. This would be about a 35 minute PR for me, and the Crossroads' course seems pretty reasonable. I can't wait to tackle this new big goal tomorrow. I just need to remember how to tie my running shoes first.
Rebecca: The Autobiography

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Turkey Trot for a Cause Recap

This Thanksgiving (by which I mean the holiday that occurred over a month ago), Eager Feet Dad and I kept up our tradition by running our third Turkey Trot for a Cause together. He runs a few miles every week, with a much heavier focus on lifting. This means he's in plenty good shape to run a 5K - and I bet he would excel if he chose to run more - but he likes to complain the whole week beforehand that his legs will fall off. And he'll die. And the world will probably end.
An essential element of the tradition.
This year was even better, as Thanksgiving dawned cold and snowy, adding one more thing to "worry" about. We got up early to prepare the turkey, put it on time bake, and hit the road to allow plenty of time to get there. The race is local, but the going was slow, even on the main streets.

EFD told me he wanted to shoot for a sub-30, and I promised to pace him. I was a little nervous since I have about three gears: really slow, slow, and jesuschristtoofastslowdown (read: slightly faster than slow). We discussed strategy a little bit pre-race, and then I had to turn away as EFD started doing his static stretching warm up.
Page One of Google Images didn't have any funny results for this, unfortunately.
While waiting inside, EFD was able to meet another Illinois alum, which always makes him happy. We also had someone take our picture, because our hats were pretty baller. The joke is they almost didn't fit since we have child-sized heads. Unless literally the entire band is made of velcro, it's probably not adjustable enough.
Our headbands bring all the runners to the yard.
It was very cold standing at the start. I appreciate the organizers want to speak about their organization (helping raise awareness for epilepsy), and I really appreciate the township supervisor coming and showing his support. It just seemed to take extra long in the cold, though one runner behind us made humorous comments throughout.
Exhibit A: Having a tall parent is amazingly useful in so many ways.
The problem with this race is that as it continues to grow, the course hasn't been growing with it. About a mile is through the town's golf course, which is very narrow, and passing can be extremely difficult in inclement weather. They had more "participants" this year, though I think the same number of people as 2012 showed up, probably because of the conditions. However, if the course doesn't change soon and wave starts aren't implemented, it's going to be very hard to keep everyone satisfied.

With this in mind, EFD and I started pretty close to the front. This is something I still struggle with. In my head I'm still the super slow runner that has no business being that close to the front. I can also be conscientious to a fault (this is not a humble brag, honest), and I'm incredibly paranoid I'll ruin someone else's race by getting in their way. Because, obviously, the local turkey trot is basically the Boston Marathon in terms of competition.

Our spot ended up being pretty good, though we still had to pass people. EFD did great, and we were on track to make the sub-30 no problem. It was very strange running at about a 9:50 pace. It was fast enough to hurt, but still slow enough I knew I wasn't racing full out. It was mentally a lot tougher than I anticipated. I think my brain wanted me to choose - did I want to go for leisurely run or did I want to go balls to the wall? This in-between thing just wasn't cutting it.

The first sign of trouble, a bit past mile two, was when we reached the point at which we needed to circle a pond. In previous years, we went around the pond and continued on normally. This year, we went in reverse, which meant runners had to merge back with traffic following their loop. We're guessing the bridge further out was icy and we needed to be diverted, but it was still incredibly awkward and poorly planned. (It's not like ice and snow on Thanksgiving are totally abnormal in Michigan.)

We did get to see Eager Feet Mom at this point!
Apparently our turkey headbands made us really easy to spot. Who knew?
After the pond was the home stretch. The ending of this race is always strange, since the finish line is obscured around a hill. Runners can't see it until the final 50 yards or so. I was giving EFD updates on our distance at this point, when we noticed the course was probably going to be long. I tried to pull him along at the very end to make our time goal official.
Must beat the people wearing their race shirts, which I explain to EFM every year is not an acceptable thing. She still thinks it's cool.
Time: 30:19

The course ended up measuring over .1 long, which is a ton for a 5K. I know we didn't run the tangents properly and did some passing, but there's no way we added that much on our own. I felt awful for EFD - he beat his goal pace but didn't get an official time that reflected that. I'm super proud of him, though. Not only did he run a(n actual) sub-30, his last mile split was a 9:12!

I want to absolutely love this race, it is my hometown turkey trot after all, but it's a little hard. If the weather is nicer in 2014, I worry how crowded it could get. I also am concerned about the new course change and inaccurate distance. If EFD is going to run one 5K a year, I'd like to be reasonable well-measured.

All in all, it's a really fun tradition. My Thanksgiving plans will probably be different in 2014, as I'll have moved out and it's an important holiday for Michael, but this is something I definitely don't want to give up. Gobble gobble.