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April 14, 2013 / jessicamcelroy

I’ve moved!

I’ve moved!

I’ve decided to leave wordpress for a different blogging platform. Sorry, wordpress… It’s not you it’s me.

Keep following me at runsplorer.com!

April 12, 2013 / jessicamcelroy

4 Things I Dodged on my 4 Mile Run

1. Two people getting handcuffed and put into cop cars on the UC Berkeley campus and not far away, a group of 9 students beating on enormous tribal drums.

2. An old man riding a skateboard like a canoe (he stood on the board and pushed off the ground with a long stick with a rubber, plunger-like end)

3. A jet of water from a hose as a lady in her front yard suddenly swung it across the sidewalk where I was running to water the flowers next to the street

4. A group of (real deal) hippie kids and their dog sitting on the sidewalk, one strumming the guitar, with a cardboard sign that said “Listen to our story”

Just another run in Berkeley.

April 8, 2013 / jessicamcelroy

Tunnel Skyline Snake

This Week’s Long Long Run

My marathon training buddy, Josh, and I went on a truly epic run this weekend. I wanted to explore new territory for my longest long ever, so on Friday I went on the Runkeeper site looking for running routes in my area for inspiration. I found an interesting route mapped by a local runner that wound high into the Berkeley hills, climbing 1,250 feet in the first 6 miles, then snaking back down. The title of the post comes from the main roads we followed.

We were scheduled for 15 miles. Josh finished around 15, because we were close to a subway station and he was starting to feel shin-splinty. But since I was feeling good and was back on familiar roads at that point, I went an extra two miles all the way home for a total of 17 miles.

I love that every time I increase my mileage as I train for this marathon I’ll be setting a new personal distance record… Each time it takes days just to wrap my head around the new reality. I never thought I’d be capable of running 17 miles, let alone have the desire to do so!Image

So, about that route..

It’s one thing to map a route, and another to actually run it. Not far into the run, it became pretty clear to us that the map I had used as inspiration was probably someone’s bike route. We were on winding rural roads with no sidewalks to speak of for long stretches. We saw plenty of spandex-clad cyclists on the road (so it’s clearly a popular bike ride) but no one else on foot.

It was a harrowing experience at times, having to run on the road and listen for trucks, cars, and cyclists coming up behind us. To make things worse, it got increasingly foggy the higher we climbed. By the time we reached Skyline Road, it really felt like we were up in the clouds. Visibility was so poor, we couldn’t see oncoming bikes and cars until they were twenty feet in front of us. It was eerie!

Here’s Josh forging his way through the fog:

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Trudging uphill, flying downhill

It was pretty mentally challenging to do nearly 6 straight miles of steep uphilll, but the downhill miles that followed more than made up for it. I discovered that I absolutely love downhills. When we got on Snake Road, where our descent began, I quickly forgot about the exhausting slog leading up to that point. My legs felt totally rejuvenated, circling underneath me and picking up speed until it seemed like I couldn’t even stop if I wanted to. I was having so much fun, smiling and yelling like a kid on a roller coaster.

Downhills are a great opportunity to bring down your race time, yet we often don’t utilize their potential. Even though we look forward to recovering on the downhills, there’s a natural tendency to restrain our speed on them. We tend to lean back and apply the brakes a little, striking our heels on the ground, out of fear of losing control.

Once on a group run with the Go Wow team Coach Stephanie taught us her downhill running technique, showing how you can let go and use gravity to your advantage. The key is to lean into it slightly, keep your feet beneath you (hitting the ground with the middle of your foot), and trust that you’ll be able to maintain control even as you fly down the hill at breakneck speed. Once I recognized and corrected my tendency to resist the downhills, I was amazed at how fast I could go.

For more on hill running technique:

The great thing about hill running is that the quest for a good hill often gets you out into nature. Even with the fog we had some pretty views along the way that served as a good distraction from the tiredness in our legs:

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My favorite part of running is eating.

Josh and I went out for a bite in Berkeley, basking in our post-run glory. We talked about how running 15-17 miles, especially when it involves hills, might seem like a strange and masochistic idea of a fun Saturday morning activity. It’s not without its rewards, though. The best reward of all is digging into a big breakfast of eggs, sausage, homefries, and buttered toast with a 1,700 calorie deficit!

This weekend was the first time I’ve ever done my long run on Saturday, and It was amazing to wake up on Sunday with an entirely free day stretching out ahead of me. So many possibilities!

I got an intense craving for cinnamon rolls, so my friend Dave and I tried out a vegan cinnamon roll place near my house called Cinnaholic. They were fresh out of the oven and OH SO DELICIOUS! Just because they were vegan doesn’t mean there was anything nutritious about them:

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I also had quite an adventure biking home from Trader Joes with a whole week’s worth of groceries. I had just bought this cool new rear basket for my bike, and I overestimated how much it would hold. Not to worry, though, the mini bagels and bread made it home unscathed:

New Favorite Way to Cross-Train

I also used my free Sunday to do my first non-running workout in a while. I went to Hipline for a cardio dance class called Shimmy Pop. It was as fun as the name suggests! It felt more like dancing around at a girls’ slumber party than a workout, though it definitely got my heartrate up.

I had been to Hipline’s Arabic dance class before, which focuses on teaching style and technique. While I definitely want to continue improving in Arabic dance, these cardio classes are a nice change of pace. And it’s great for cross-training!

10 weeks to go…

April 4, 2013 / jessicamcelroy

8 Tips for Painless Early Rising

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I stepped outside this morning at 6:30 into a steady, cold drizzle. At first I figured I’d tough it out – A little rain can be refreshing, right? As I was pumping myself up up to be the lone hardcore runner out there on the road, Garmin struggled to find satellites and beeped that its battery was dying. Meanwhile the drizzle and wind were picking up, and my resolve was starting to crumble.

I decided to postpone my run until after work and enjoy a leisurely morning with the extra time I had. I ate a delicious breakfast of farmers market bread slathered with butter and jam and a sliced banana, made a cup of coffee (which I usually never have time for before work) and caught up on news and blogs.

Even though I kind of chickened out today, all three of my mid-week runs last week and two this week were in the morning. So I’m calling that a victorious beginning to my new morning running habit.

With my incredibly vast expertise from (not quite) two weeks of rolling out of bed to run before the sun rises, here are some tips for getting up early to run, walk, bike, meditate, or whatever your thing is:

  • Tell someone your intentions. I had seven miles scheduled for Wednesday morning. I could already envision myself groggily rationalizing excuses to stay in my warm bed at the prospect of a semi-epic run. So, the night before I announced my plan to my roommate. Add in the fact that I had just extolled the merits of waking up early in a previous blog post, and I felt that there was a measure of accountability to follow through.
  • Go to bed earlier. Obviously, right? I always aim for 7-8 hours of sleep, and now that I’m not a student I find it easier to actually do this more often. Know what time you’ll need to get up in the morning for the workout you have planned then set a bedtime in advance thats 7-8 hours earlier.
  • No technology in bed. This is a new rule I am making for myself, because I find that the nights I stay up too late it’s usually because I am zoning out on my laptop, mindlessly surfing and not getting much out of it but too tired to break myself out of the computer’s spell. The light from the screen messes with your body’s signals. Bed is a place for reading books and quieting your mind before going to sleep.
  • Put your alarm clock on the other side of the room. Classic trick for forcing yourself to wake up. I’ll be honest, I’ve had mixed success with this. My alarm clock is my phone (isn’t everyone’s these days?) so I usually end up stumbling to it then carrying it back to bed with me so I can press snooze a few times.
  • Drink a glass of water before bed and first thing when you wake up. A lesser known trick, drinking water right when you get up is not only good for rehydrating yourself after sleeping, it’s actually effective at making you feel more awake. I put a glass of water on my bedside table as a visual reminder to guzzle it in the morning. Another hack I’ve found helpful is drinking water right before bed, too… Nothing will get you up faster in the morning than having to pee. And make sure to turn the bathroom light on while you’re up so your eyes start adjusting.
  • Sleep in your workout clothes. The less work separating you and the door in the morning, the more likely you are to get up. I’ve found that just sleeping in my running shorts and dri-fit shirt streamlines the process. Then I just have to brush my teeth, put in contacts, pull my hair into a ponytail, and grab my iphone and earbuds, which all takes less than 10 minutes. Stumbling around looking for a clean sports bra and my (perpetually lost) running shorts might easily double that time.
  • Get excited! Look forward to the sensations of the run: being outside, feeling the cool air on your skin and your feet rhythmically hitting the pavement, seeing the sun rise. When you’re tempted to snooze indefinitely, think of how much better and more energized you’ll feel after you work out and how those uplifting effects will stay with you for the day. Also, I like to map out new routes to run in my neighborhood or pick a new destination for an out-and-back run, so that I wake up with a sense of anticipation.
  • Look forward to breakfast. The most important meal of the day tastes even richer after you’ve earned it by burning some calories on a run. Making breakfast doesn’t have to be a big to-do. I often just eat toast and cereal or oatmeal and a banana, but it’s nice to take a few minutes to slow down and savor the ritual.
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March 31, 2013 / jessicamcelroy

Long run with old and new running buddies

This weekend my parents were in town. I had a great time showing them all the things I have come to love about Berkeley and the Bay.

My dad is planning another visit for the San Francisco marathon in June. I’m working on convincing him to do the half marathon while he’s here. He has been trying out a training plan for the past couple of weeks to see how it goes before he commits. He’ll definitely sign up, but I think he just needs some time to get used to the idea.

While they were here my dad and I got some good runs in together. We did an easy four miles along the Bay Trail on Friday. Normally this route affords some nice views of San Francisco across the Bay, but when we were out the visibility was poor. Here’s a super duper exciting action shot from that run:

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For Sunday my training plan had me running 14 miles, and my dad was scheduled for 7. We ran with my friend, Josh, the one who had talked me into signing up for the marathon in the first place.

Josh ran the Chicago marathon in 2011 in an extravagant demonstration of sibling rivalry. He had always considered himself the runner in the family but when he heard his sister was preparing for a marathon (a distance he had yet to reach) he couldn’t let her do it without him.

We started at Josh’s house, did a scenic 7 miles around Lake Merritt and up through the Oakland hills (a shock to my dad’s system, coming from flat-as-a-pancake Houston!) before circling back to Josh’s for a half-time water/fuel break and a chance for my dad to break away.

The second half of the route we took was a bit monotonous and industrial. Josh and I ran it significantly faster than the first half (yeah, negative splits!), probably because we were getting eager for it to be over.

We took a nice soak in the hot tub afterward which felt divine on our tired muscles. Although, I just googled and learned that hot tubbing after long runs is actually  not recommended? That’s advice I’m ok ignoring.

It was my first time running with Josh, and we seemed to work well together. We both have a (relaxed) four hour time goal in mind for the marathon, though we share the attitude that just finishing strong is a worthy goal in itself.

Josh and I talked most of the way through, which made the miles go by quickly. By the end of mile 14 I felt tired but not totally spent. Part of me worries that those are signs I didn’t work hard enough, but according to good ol’ Hal Higdon, it actually means we did the long run right: He says that long runs should be done at a conversational pace (as much as 90 seconds slower than marathon goal pace), and at the end you should always feel like you could still go a little further.

All in all, it was a solid run in good company with great weather. Now next week it’ll be my turn to plan our route.

11 weeks to go!

March 28, 2013 / jessicamcelroy

Early Morning Runner

On Tuesday I woke up at 6:30 for an easy run.

I meant to go for 4 miles, but I was still feeling sore from the half marathon. It has been months since a long run has left me with the kind of soreness that feels like metal rods in your legs, but I guess pushing the pace the whole way through really wore me out. I was so unusually fatigued after 3 miles that I had to listen to my body and cut it short.

Let me tell ya – The 100 or so stairs I have to climb coming up from the subway on my commute were not my friends that day. (Yes, there are escalators, but I swore off of those contraptions a long time ago.)

In any case, I was glad that I woke up that morning to get a run in first thing. This week I’ve been trying to get back in the schedule of running exclusively in the morning.

For a while I had been doing most of my runs after work. While it’s certainly great for re-energizing and de-stressing, I find that it tends to eat up a disproportionate amount of my evening. Once I’ve gotten home it takes me a good while to break out of my post-work stupor enough to get my running shoes on and out the door.

The way I see it, running takes up less time overall if you make it a priority to wake up an hour earlier and incorporate it into your morning routine. There are also tons of other benefits of being an early morning runner:

  • People who work out in the morning are more likely to do it consistently. If you save your run for later in the day then it is liable to get crowded out by other things or it may just be too hard to talk yourself into it after an exhausting day. Also, running in the morning frees up your evening for happy hours, dinners, and other fun things that come up at the last minute.
  • Success begets success.When you make a good decision to prioritize your health first thing in the morning you are setting yourself up for a virtuous cycle. Waking up early and keeping a regular schedule go hand in hand with healthy self-discipline and productivity. There is a reason some of the most successful people in the world are early risers.
  • It centers you before you begin your day. Running releases endorphins and creates a sense of mental calm. I always have a more balanced, relaxed perspective after I’ve gone for a run, and it makes me feel empowered to deal with challenges and stress in a constructive way.
  • Running energizes you. I know I feel a dramatic difference in energy level on days when I started with a run. It’s a huge misconception when people say they don’t run or exercise because they are lazy. It’s really the other way around: they feel lazy because they don’t exercise. You have to expend energy to get energy.
  • You see your town/neighborhood in a whole new way. When you get out in the early morning hours, you see things that few others do. The streets are peaceful and quiet. You don’t have to deal with traffic. On my morning runs I see homeless people still sleeping soundly in doorways of stores, I see the hardcore yogis through the windows of yoga studios, I see the bars coming up on storefronts as they open for the day, and on Fridays I get the chance to thank our garbage man in person.

    [Thursday update: This morning I’m pretty sure I witnessed a bike stealing operation when I saw two guys riding their bikes along, one pulling a trailer full of bikes and parts tangled together. I sensed that they were wary of my glares at them. If I hadn’t been a lone female in an industrial area with no one around, I mighta taught those bike thieves a lesson.]

It’s true that getting out of a warm bed when the alarm goes off at the crack of dawn is easier said than done. But I’m making it a point to recalibrate myself for it, knowing that it really does get easier the longer you do it.

I’ll keep you all posted on how it goes and maybe follow up with some tips on how to become a morning person… if I’m successful at it.

For now I better sign off… I have 7 miles on tap for tomorrow morning! I’ll leave you with a beautiful Berkeley sunrise photo from one of my runs:

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March 25, 2013 / jessicamcelroy

Oakland Running Festival

Running the Oakland half marathon today marked a meaningful milestone for me. After doing several training runs over 13 miles I was familiar with the distance, and I was able to simultaneously push my limits and also really enjoy myself. Never in a million years did I think I would be capable of running 13.1 miles and smile the whole way through!

It was also really special to get to share this experience with my running club. The Wow team had a booth near the start, so we had a place to meet and get a pep talk from Coach Stephanie beforehand.

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The starting line was so packed. I started with one of my running buddies, Lizette (second from left in above photo). We run a similar pace and she was a continual inspiration through our long training runs. If I could keep Lizette in sight then I was keeping a good pace!

The Oakland Run Fest brought in 9000 participants this year, 2500 of them running the half marathon. My only previous organized run experience was a low-key 10K in Houston, nothing on the scale of this! Since distance runners spend so much time logging lonely miles, it was thrilling to come together with such a huge mass of other half marathoners. Rather than a competition, it felt like one big party to celebrate all of our hard work leading up to this day.

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Photo source: http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Oakland-marathon-draws-more-than-9-000-runners-4380634.pho

Not that I have another to compare it to, but I think the Oakland Run Fest is a particularly fun race to do. There was confetti at the starting line, DJs along the course, live bands playing at turns, random people who were going about their errands then stopped to cheer on the runners, and locals clanging cow bells and holding up motivational signs. I got high-fives from cute little kids, a man in a Winnie the Pooh costume, and a hip hop gorilla. Another highlight was running through a flaming archway somewhere around mile 8, followed by a guy in a huge contraption with spikes and a dragon’s head that shot out flames. Whaaat? That’s hella Oakland.

I am happy to report that I beat my time goal! I wanted to finish in under two hours, and I made it in 1:56, which was a sub-9:00 pace. That’s significantly faster than I did for any of my training runs! There’s really something about the adrenaline of being in a big crowd in the energy of the race environment that makes you not even realize how fast you’re going.

I had been warned not to get too swept up in the excitement at the beginning of the race. One of the biggest beginner mistakes is to run too fast out of the gate and exhaust yourself early on. After half a mile I checked my speed and saw I was going well under my goal pace, so I let up (but just a little bit) and did a pretty good job of maintaining that pace the rest of the time. By the end,  I was pretty much spent and felt very accomplished.

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In my pre-C25K life, I never understood the appeal of running events, but now I can totally see how serial half or full marathoners get addicted to chasing that race high. I don’t plan to take a breather, either – Starting this week I’m going straight into training for the San Francisco Marathon in June!

As fun as today was, completing the half didn’t necessarily give me more  confidence about being able to complete the full in a few months. When our course merged with the full marathoners who were already well into their second half, I felt guilty for running alongside them feeling so fresh while they struggled to push through to the end.

My roommate, who is running the Boston Marathon in a few weeks, says that running a full marathon feels like far more than twice the effort of a half marathon. Those last 6 miles are where people really tend to hit the wall. I’ve heard it said that a marathon is a 20-mile warmup for a 6 mile race. I think I will definitely need to change my mindset when it comes to the marathon. I may have been able to race the half, but the SF marathon will be all about just trying to finish in reasonable shape.

I won’t be continuing to run with the Wow women, but I have greatly enjoyed being a part of this community for the last several months. The Wow team was recently voted the best running club in the Bay Area, a well-deserved recognition. I love how Coach Stephanie is so dedicated to creating an encouraging and supportive environment for women of all ages and abilities to make fitness a part of their lives. They’re a great group of ladies, and it made me so happy to see them all accomplish such a major goal today!

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So the journey continues!