And now it has been even longer! (dusting off the old blog here…)

Yeah, wow. Apparently I am useless at blogging over winter break. But hey, here I am now! Alive and well and writing!

What have I been doing, you (don’t) ask? In a nutshell: there was Christmas, there was New Year’s Eve (both of which involved being out of town and not generally near a computer), then there was returning to work and some skiing, and then out of nowhere classes started again and there was more skiing. Now it’s cold as all get-out, and there probably will be more skiing. There has been running! And biking! And lots and lots of schoolwork even though classes weren’t meeting! Oh, and beer… of course.

For the sake of my own chronological sanity, I’m going to break this down week-by-week as I did last time.

Week of Dec. 24: Christmas week, which I mostly spent with my family in North Carolina. It was warm, but there was rain, and it only seemed to stop as soon as I got off the treadmill (grrr). I had a lovely time spending the days with the folks, though as I always am, I was quite ready to be home by the end of the week. Friday of said week I drove back home, unpacked and did a lightning round of laundry, and re-packed for the New Year’s Eve weekend with Saint, which we spent split between two tiny towns in southwest Virginia named Abingdon and Damascus. We stayed with a lovely woman who runs the Lazy Fox Inn out of her house and makes the most fantastic breakfasts in the state, saw a fantastic play at the Barter Theater, laughed deliriously at the absurd accommodations for our actual-New-Year’s-Eve-night stay at the Martha Jefferson Inn, and biked 14 miles in the snow on the beautiful Virginia Creeper Trail, after which we ate some of the best pizza I’ve ever had at a pizza joint in Damascus whose name escapes me but damn was that pizza good. I ran in the snow and did not freeze; The Streak continued. We drank a growler of delicious Scaldis Noel. We ate entirely too much at the House on Main Street’s NYE prix-fixe dinner (I ate the whole thing, which I should not have done but it was sooooo gooood….). We watched the Redskins beat the Cowboys for the NFC championship. We toasted each other at the stroke of midnight on The Eve, after which I promptly passed out because I am awesome.

Week of Jan. 1ish: We made our way back to civilization on New Year’s Day, and I found myself pantsless because my actual pants had been completely charmed off by the towns in which we stayed. Seriously, I couldn’t get over how delightful everything was, and that only solidified the thought in my mind that I should, in fact, go down there to run the Creeper Trail Marathon next March (this year’s race is a) sold out and b) not well-timed in terms of my training and other races around then). I used the 2nd to re-set myself and do laundry and whatnot; I went back to work on the 3rd. On the 4th I made Saint this for his belated birthday present: http://www.sprinklebakes.com/2012/11/christmas-candy-cheesecake.html (with my own candies) and it was every bit as ridiculously awesome as it seems. On the 5th Saint and I went skiing for the first time this season, and it was pretty excellent; we lucked out with decently warm weather, but still perfect snow conditions. On the 6th my heart, and RGIII’s knee, was more or less broken, and I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that it took me a good two days to get over the loss of both (denial gave way to anger fairly quickly, and the depression lasted a liiiiittle too long, but acceptance came soon enough); thinking about baseball helped a lot, and little did I know that more awesomeness from that was yet to come.

I kept running. I ran 40 miles for the third week in a row. I realized that I was a) getting faster and spending much less effort to cover distances at faster speeds and b) really, seriously in need of some reduced mileage, because whatever was tweaking in the backs of my legs was only getting worse.  I did my last double-digit run of recent runs on the 6th, which was 12 miles, and the last 5 miles felt like the last 3 of my marathon, which was when I knew something was wrong; I can knock out 12-milers in my sleep, so… yeah.

Week of Jan. 7: Because I was just talking about running, I’ll start there: I didn’t immediately reduce my mileage by as much as I should have; stubbornly, I still went for 30 miles, and got there, but was hurting by the last one on Saturday morning. I worked, and did a metric fuckton of dissertation work that I should have been working on over the rest of break, but I swear I blinked and it was Jan. 8, the day before I was to meet with my advisor… But, it got done, but I am now actively making an effort not to do that again any time soon. I prepared for the start of classes on the 14th. Saint and I played golf on the 12th, because it was 70 degrees outside, and why wouldn’t you play golf in January in that weather? I went to my local running shop and asked them which doctor they go to, and in talking to the owner of the shop may have figured out that it’s not a hamstring issue that I’ve got, but rather a possibly pinched sciatic nerve, for which I immediately decided that it was going to be nothing but easy, flat runs of no more than 20 miles a week PLUS heat/massage in the morning and ice at night, all until further notice. What I should be doing is not running and cross-training (hello bike and elliptical) all the time and still lifting weights, and actually remembering to massage in the morning (I don’t own a heating pad, though it has occurred to me that I could, you know, buy one) and not being a wimp about icing at night when it’s cold in my house, but – you can guess where this is going, right? I’m still running, and being horrible about massaging, and being even worse about icing, even when they both help me feel much better.

Anyway.

It was made known to me that baseball is starting soon. The Nats acquired Soriano and traded away Morse, which made me feel sad and confused, but ultimately okay with both (acceptance came even more quickly with this one than with the Redskins, for obvious reasons).

Week of Jan. 14: Classes started! I’m teaching the same class as I did last semester – freshman writing, basically – and I have a totally different group of students whom I suspect will be great fun to work with. I started to nail down my class/work schedule a little better, only to have it thrown off immediately by doctor’s appointments (and the same will be true next week, too. Wheee!). I did another slightly metric fuckton of dissertation work. It became abundantly clear to me that I am going to have to spend less time Internetting (ahem oops) and more time dissertating if I am to get anything even remotely accomplished this semester/year; on Wednesday, we lost Internet at home, which would have been superbly helpful to me for achieving that goal if the brunt of my work for this week was not 80% Internet-based. Dammit. Because it rained nearly all week, I ran several slow and short runs (3 miles at the best 11:00-12:00/mile pace I could manage, though I’ve learned that I’m shit at measuring my pace when not on a treadmill) and felt achy still, but better when I was good about massaging and icing. The Streak has not been broken, and it’s currently at 64 days, and I know I should stop to preserve myself for the half-marathon in March at which I want to set a PR, but… but…

I learned that I’m really good at making excuses, and I’ll likely pay for this in terms of running later this year.

Speaking of which, my goals for the year are as follows: Sub-25:00 5k, Sub-2 hour half-marathon, Sub-5 hour marathon.(Oh, and, um, not get hurt. Hmmm….)

On the weekend Saint and I went skiing, which was about as warm as last time but with much less optimal snow, because that 70-degree weather that let us play golf one weekend prior also visited the mountain, and melted (no joke) half of its face off. It was sad seeing runs in bare grass, but with the cold snap we have now I’m hopeful that some good snow can be made for future weekends.

I ran 3 miles in absolutely frigid conditions this morning, which made me grin like an idiot – seriously, what else can you do but smile when your eyes are streaming tears because the wind is pushing against you so hard, but damned if I don’t love running in the cold weather? – but is now causing me some hurt, which makes me think I was going too fast, but dammit it was cold outside and I wanted to get inside ASAP, plus I was excited at being able to finally be outside after being cooped up last week [for anyone wondering why I run in the cold but not the rain, I wear glasses, and no combination of hood or hat has ever helped me keep my glasses clear long enough to be able to see], plus I was just feeling good in general…

Yeah. I am going to be good about icing tonight. I promise!

Week of Jan. 21: That’s this week! I had yesterday off, so Saint and I after returning from skiing on Sunday made a late dinner of burgers and mac & cheese (I have no regrets) and slept in yesterday morning; after some meetings, I came home and we lazed around for most of the day and heard the cold front (literally) blow in. Today it was back to business as usual, and I found myself with an extra half-hour or so, and thus I decided to blog. I continue to run reduced mileage this week, and remain open to the possibility of skiing this weekend, though I confess it might be perfectly pleasant to also spend a weekend dissertating for once. We’ll see.

So, um, hi! How are you? 🙂 See you in February?

10 days out.

This is going to be a short post, because I have to scoot off to start dinner – which will be pumpkin soup, because dang it got cold quick. I guess having a cold front plus the western edge of a superstorm will do that to you. Sandy mostly left us here in central VA alone; we got steady rain and winds for most of yesterday and last night, and less so today, so I’m grateful that the two gallons of water I bought just in case will have to be used at a later time. My thoughts do go out to the people in NY and NJ, though, who were not so lucky. (I’ve had to stop looking at pictures of the damage; they’ve started making me quite sad.)

Okay then!

1) 10 days out from the marathon: yes, it’s taper time. I’ve been incredibly busy with school work, so I’m not going as crazy as I could be, which may or may not be a bad thing. I’ve only spent a couple of hours reading race recaps from years prior, instead of ten or twelve hours, like I thought I might be. However, check back with me in a week, and I might report that I am, in fact, climbing my walls.

2) I had my last long run this past Saturday. I know I’m a sick person when I casually tell someone, “oh, I only ran 12 this morning”. I feel like an asshole saying it, but I guess I’ve gotten to the point in my running when a 10-miler is now something to train faster for, and not just to finish. One year ago, I would not have seen that coming. Pursuant to that, my now-very-short-runs of 3 and 4 miles are more annoying than anything, since I get going and then have to stop, but I know I’ll remember that thought and laugh somewhere around mile 22, if my brain is still engaged at all by then.

3) One possible way for me to avoid climbing my walls next week is riding my bike. Still unnamed, she is, though for some reason I can’t get the name Matilda out of my head; we went on a long ride out in the country on Sunday, with a group of people I didn’t know save for one person (the kind soul who sold me my bike, who invited me to this ride). Normally that would be a situation that induces extreme anxiety in me, to the point where I’ll often just come up with some lame excuse and bail, but I sucked it up and went, and had a total blast spending seven hours rolling around foliage-covered apple orchards and horse farms and mountains with 30 like-minded souls. We stopped often, and for long periods of time; lunch was an absurd affair, with at least four bottles of wine, three cheese boards, two pies, and several six-packs of PBR and gallons of apple cider. These people know how to throw down, I tell you. They ride again in May, which I’m very much looking forward to.

4) The Virginia Film Festival is this weekend, which is something I always enjoy. I’ll let you know if anything truly awesome is shown that everyone should go see, like, now.

5) Cold-weather running. For some reason – mostly because I could, I think, having been stuck in the house for most of the past 2-ish days after officials said “DO NOT GO ANYWHERE” and I was happy to comply – I decided it was sane and normal to run outside in 40-degree weather this morning. In shorts and a long-sleeve shirt (and gloves – oh, I bought these fantastic waterproof lightweight gloves and boy, have they already come in handy! Ba-dum chhhh), when the other 10 people who were also crazy enough to be running outside were wearing pants and jackets. I kept telling myself it was because I need to start acclimating to colder temperatures, which is true, but when I couldn’t feel my knees for the first 2 miles I started wondering what was wrong with me. But, it was a great run; there was a spring in my step the entire time, and I felt strong and light, even though it was, um, really cold and oh, there was a nice 10mph headwind for most of the way.

6) Yep, 10 days. Shit’s gettin’ real. Which reminds me – I go to see my butt doctor tomorrow, which is good because we have some talking to do. Nothing horrible, but I’m not where I’d like to be in terms of feeling 100% digestively healthy, and by God I’ve waited three months for this appointment so we are going to have a nice chat.

But yeah. 10 days. That is all.

The Hangover Run, the Zombie Watch, the Lost Toenail, and the New Bike

Right, so: last Saturday I had probably the weirdest hangover run I’ve ever had. It was only 12 miles, but the longest hangover run – yes, this refers to a run done the morning after a night of a bit too much drinking – I’d done prior to this was 6 miles. I figured I could handle 12, especially since when my alarm went off I said to it “oh HELL no” and gave myself two more hours of sleep.

Well. It wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t great, at first, when my head would not stop pounding (too little sleep + dehydration + exercise = hello lady!). Once I got into the first few miles, I stopped wishing for a swift death, and started enjoying the scenery around me. I’d chosen to run from a main road to an off-road that leads to a camp, and wends through the woods pretty well to do so, but is still paved. It was a clear, crisp, silent fall morning once I got out of earshot of the interstate nearby; a crystal-clear blue sky, birds twittering all around, chilly air kissing my cheeks, little springs babbling water a few feet away, the brilliant color of some of the changed leaves shining bright… AUGH. GORGEOUS. And my head was still pounding, but I had that moment where I realized I didn’t care. I had what a former professor calls her “autumnal yawp”: that strangely exuberant feeling that only a certain combination of light and color and temperature can spur that makes you want to jump in the air and explode. I only ever get it in the fall, for many reasons I won’t go into here, and I never know exactly when it will hit me, but this year it snuck up on me on that run and said “HEY HI LIFE IS AWESOME”. And so, on I went, with a spring in my step, outrunning that hangover one step at a time.

As it turned out, I had to deviate from my planned route due to construction, so I turned it into an out-and-back and had to add another mile and change when I got home. I’d randomly stopped into a coffee shop that’s on the way back to taste some coffee – they do tastings on Saturday mornings – so I thought for a hot second that it might have been bad to drink a bunch of coffee and then go run another mile, but I was so deep in my yawping that it didn’t matter. Didn’t care. I was actually sort of mad that I was only scheduled for 12 miles that day, since I felt like I could easily go 15-18 without a problem.

I should remember that feeling, when I’m at mile 24 of my marathon and want to die. 🙂

Anyway, Zombie Watch plays into this, as I had to leave it at home for this run because I thought the temperature might be a bit too chilly. See, Zombie Watch is my silly little Spongebob Squarepants digital watch that I got out of a cereal box some seven or eight years ago. As a running watch, it’s perfect because it does two things: tells me what time it is, and does not irritate my skin or fall off of me. It’s also never needed a new battery. It has, on occasion, stopped working when wet or cold or both, but has always magically started working again given enough time to dry out or warm up – usually a few hours, twelve at most.

Except for the half-marathon I talked about in my last post. That day was chilly and wet, and Zombie Watch succumbed to the elements. I set it aside until the Tuesday after the race (which was a week ago), but it still wasn’t working, which I assumed meant that it was, finally, Good and Dead. “Okay”, I thought, “this is where we have fun running without a watch and just enjoying what’s around us”. Which is what I did on Tuesday; I’ve run without a watch before by choice, so it was no big deal to do it one more time. But I kept thinking: how am I going to fix this in the long run (hahaha)? Buy another box of cereal just for the watch inside? Splurge on one of those fancy Garmin watches everyone seems to love so much? Just run watchless for the rest of my running life?

Wednesday arrived (still a week ago), and went, and Zombie Watch was still blank. Sigh. I did my 8-mile run as I’d posted about last time, watchless, and thought, “Hey, I could get used to this”. But I was still a little sad; Zombie Watch and I had been through a lot together, and I wanted it to at least live long enough to see me through my marathon.

Thursday dawned (yup, still last week), and out of sheer habit I’d put Zombie Watch in my bag before leaving for work. When I fished it out of said bag before my run, I was utterly shocked to see it display numbers. Legible, digital, time-telling numbers! Granted, they were the wrong ones, and when I clicked over to the date display, I learned that I’d fast-forwarded to December 1, but still – they were numbers. And the second hand was ticking.
Somehow, Zombie Watch had resurrected itself YET AGAIN.

I was simultaneously thrilled and vaguely terrified. On one hand, I had my old friend back! On the other hand, did this mean that the watch is imbued with some sort of evil magic that is eventually going to try to kill me in the middle of the night? (As Saint said in a text to me after I told him the news: “Keep that thing away from your head! It wants your brains!”) I shrugged off these thoughts, re-set the time and date, and set out on my Thursday 5-miler with a renewed sense of purpose. It was a fast one, too, and it felt great, which I though would set me up nicely for that Saturday’s 12-miler (the Hangover Run of above). When I woke up Saturday morning and realized the temperature was hovering around 50, I decided to leave Zombie Watch at home so as to not potentially expose it to too much cold (I was wearing gloves, but still: I’d just gotten my friend back, and didn’t want to lose it again so soon).

Zombie Watch came out with me on yesterday’s 5-miler, and while it now thinks that it’s yesterday still and is about 2.5 hours off of the actual time, the point is that it still works as a timekeeper, and – provided it’s not actually freezing outside – should, fingers crossed, be able to be there when I line up to start my marathon in (eeep) about 3 weeks.

WARNING: THE NEXT BIT IS POSSIBLY NOT SAFE FOR WORK. There aren’t pictures because I can’t bring myself to do it, so be grateful for that.

Okay, moving back to the Hangover Run. I’ve been tying my running shoes more tightly these days to prevent blisters, and by and large it’s worked pretty well. A side effect of this that I did not realize – in addition to me having cut too close to the quick when trimming before the half-marathon I ran in September – is that blood flow can get restricted in the toe box and in a sense cut off the blood supply to the toes. When something doesn’t get blood and all of the good things therein circulating to it, it dies. When this ‘something’ is a toenail, it will fall off.

When I started reading around various running fora online, nearly everyone who’s ever run any distance mentioned losing a toenail or ten at some point during their training. I had zero issues with toenails falling off through all of my training to this point; I started to feel like I wasn’t really a runner, even though I’d “achieved” the ‘you-are-a-runner-NOW!’ milestone of pooping myself while on a long run. [Sidenote: why do all of the milestones that make someone a ‘real’ runner involve gross bodily functions? Bloody nipples, poop going places it shouldn’t, bits falling off, blisters popping…] So when I cut this particular toenail too close to the quick last month, I was somewhat concerned when it started turning dark and darker colors. I left it alone, and only trimmed it the tiniest amount a couple of weeks later. But because I was the sort of kid who would, against all common sense to the contrary, take a loose tooth and wiggle it to the point of dangling in my mouth, I couldn’t resist touching the toenail to see if it would flex at all. One day, it gave a little. The next day, it gave a little more. The next day, I started to become very concerned that one day I was going to catch my foot on something (I wear flip-flops nearly year-round) and suddenly be down one toenail and in a LOT of pain. And then I thought, “what would that even LOOK like?” One toe with just… no nail on it. Huh. Weird.

Well, happily, I can now tell you that I won’t know for the near future what that does look like, because the human body is such a ridiculously good re-generator of its broken parts. Unbeknownst to me at the time, while the underneath-nail was turning dark colors and getting nasty, my body was growing an on-top nail to protect underneath-nail while it healed. Fast-forward to this past Sunday – a few days ago – and to me getting out of the shower after being at the gym. As I was drying off my feet, I felt a tug on one of my toes. “Oh no/Oh shit yes”, I thought, “this is it!” I peered down to the toe, and saw nothing unusual – except that it was clear that something flexible and nail-like was about to be dislodged from the top of that toe. I grabbed on and prepared for the pain. Sloooowly I worked it loose, but all of a sudden it just popped right off – yoink! – and wait, what? No pain? No blood? What the hell, is that a FULLY FORMED nail underneath the nail that just came off? HOLY CRAP THIS IS SO COOL.

The “new” underneath-nail is still dark in color, but I suspect that’s because I’ve still been tying my shoes too tight and have possibly permanently colored it dark red. Almost burgundy, if you look at it right, which makes me think I should just paint my toenails in the burgundy-and-gold of my beloved Redskins. (Ahem.) I’ll be tying my shoes more loosely from now on, but I clearly need to find the sweet spot between “too loose, causes blisters”, and “too tight, eats toenails”.

OKAY YOU CAN STOP READING THE GROSS STUFF NOW. Please come back, because this is exciting!

I’ve done a really good job of making short stories long in this post (and, really throughout my entire life), but I will not be doing the same for the last section of this post, which is The New Bike. I had been borrowing a friend’s bike for the past two years, but she took it back recently, and I grew increasingly despondent as the weather cooled off into Perfect Biking Weather and I started seeing people everywhere on bikes and it made me sad that I could not join them. So, I started shopping around for my very own, because, well, I have it in the budget and I really, really, REALLY miss having one. I contacted a friend who works at a bike shop, and we traded emails on the specifics of what I was looking for, and yesterday I went out to her store to see her and test-ride a bike or two.

Well.

The very first one she picked out for me I fell in love with. You know how sometimes you try on a pair of shoes and they immediately feel like you’ve owned them all your life? That was this bike for me. I couldn’t even let go of it when I was standing there talking to her about it, and about accessories and whatnots, and I kept asking if I could take it out for just one more, two more, three more little test rides. The shop was getting ready to close so I had to leave, so I told her I’d sleep on it for a night and make my decision in the morning. She nodded, and I immediately told her that if she couldn’t tell by my body language, I’d more or less already made up my mind that I was, in fact, going to go ahead and come in today (“in the morning” refers to this morning) and buy the bike. To make this very clear, I went ahead and bought a floor pump, lock, and tire lever, which she was kind enough to give to me at employee-discount prices (she’s also just GIVING me a tail light and an extra helmet that she has, which is absurdly nice of her, but that’s just who she is). She hung the bike up on the “do not sell to anyone but this person please” rack, and I bounced on home, fairly giggling at the prospect of being able to join her on a picnic ride next weekend.

It is this afternoon, rather after “in the morning” as I told her, and I am positively gleeful at the idea of leaving work in a few hours to go pick up my very own bike. Would you like to see her (yes, the bike is a ‘she’)? Here, I will give you a standard Google image (thank you to evanscycles.com):

SO PRETTY. And yes, she will be in black, and yes, OMG WHAT, she is a 2013 model. I’ve never owned the next-year-model of ANYTHING in my life, so this is pretty awesomely excellent.

If you hear any unexplained “squeeeeEEEEE!”-ing from my latitude and longitude this evening, now you know why. 🙂

This weekend I’ll be in New York celebrating the wedding of a dear friend, and trying not to get lost running 20 miles around Central Park. There are parts of my life that are fairly stressful right now, but I have a lot of good things too to balance them out, for which I am grateful. The four things mentioned in the title of this post I include among those good things – even the lost toenail! – and I feel like I’m headed towards making some pithy life-lesson statement about finding the positive in unexpected places, so I’ll stop there and instead just say: Excited. Stoked. Can’t Wait. Let’s Do This. ALL OF IT. 🙂