Saturday, October 15, 2016

Towpath Half Race Report

Guys, I think I might be ready to start writing about running again. It's been a long hiatus, which vaguely started due to injury, then persisted I've been running pretty regularly for a few months and so, so much about life has changed in the past 8 months. It's a new world.

As to running, I crossed some milestones I thought about writing up, then didn't. First, there was the regular running. But this didn't seem noteworthy to me (note to self: it was!). Then, my first 100-mile month in who knows how long (actually, I do know: 16 months. Sixteen flipping months!). And finally, a race. And you know, races get us runners right in the feelings, and then I can't resist returning here to write about it. Welcome to the race report.

I'm gonna back up a bit from the race itself, back to about February or March when I told my friend Jodi I was moving to CLE. She immediately added me to a Facebook page for a free running group called MRTT (Moms Run This Town). I cannot begin to tell you how thankful I have been for this group. This is how I've met several of my new friends, who have graciously invited me on social outings and shown me the running paths around here. The group has over 1000 members, and we're everywhere. You go to a race, you're going to see MRTTers. A lot of us have magnets on our cars that say MRTT. Another MRTTer is going to see it eventually and flip it upside down--our way of saying hi.

The MRTT, in fact, was how I learned about the Towpath Half in the first place.

The race was last Sunday. On Saturday I headed out to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park with my family, to the Boston Mills Ski Area, where the expo was being held. Two things on this: 1) I'm really happy to have skiing so convenient. 2) it's adorable. Their website boasts a 270" vertical drop, which, Utah would eat for breakfast. But honestly it's probably grade-appropriate for my family right now, so, winning.

I chatted with my friend Shannon (MRTT) at the expo, who I planned to race with. I snapped a few pictures near the finish line, ran around with the kiddos a bit, and got some ice cream from the general store. Beautiful day.

The surface we'd be running on--a tightly packed, crushed limestone
That night I couldn't decide what to wear. It would feel like 40 degrees at the start line, and warm up to around 50 or 52 by the end of the race. My long/short sleeve cut-off is somewhere between 50 and 55, but in a race I thought I might be warmer than usual. But that start would be cold. I couldn't decide. Finally I put out my trusty old Brooks skirt and a long-sleeved top. I stashed a short-sleeved shirt in my drop bag just in case, and called it a night.

Early Sunday morning I got up and went through the motions: get dressed, eat some toast and jam, double check my bag drop situation, plug in directions on the GPS, head out. Half an hour later I pulled into Brandywine Ski Area (near Boston Mills), parked, and went to find Shannon. We sat in my warm car as long as we dared before heading to the port-a-potty line. We waited too long. The line wasn't moving fast enough to make the start gun, but the guy on the bullhorn told us not to jump out of line about it. Enough people made use of the two-ply leaves in the woods, I got through the port-a-potty line just in time.  The sun came up--glorious--while we waited. 

Sunrise over Brandywine
We crept up about as far as we could in the start area before the gun went off, trying to avoid getting caught behind walkers and slower runners. We still did some weaving in the first mile, but pretty minimal. Shannon ran right in front of me, leading us along the shoulder for a while, and only lowering a shoulder once.

We got to the Towpath itself about half a mile in, and settled in. Our plan was to start around 8:45 and drop to an 8:15 or 8:20 by the half-way point, then decide what the endgame would be. You learn a lot about people when you race with them. I learned, among other things, that Shannon goes out fast. I kept pulling her back, and together I think we made a good team.

Mile 1: 8:42
Mile 2: 8:26
Mile 3: 8:29

Somewhere around here, we're running along when another runner looks at me and says, "Are you Joanna?" She was another MRTTer, and recognized me from a Facebook post. It definitely put a big smile on my face!

Mile 4: 8:17
Mile 5: 8:29
Mile 6: 8:19

Usually when race directors tell you a course is flat, at some point you want to choke them. Not here. It is actually, for real, flat. There is the tiniest of a false-flat-down on the way out, and false-flat-up on the way back, but really truly tiny. And the course is beautiful.

At the half way point we talked strategy. She wanted to speed up. I didn't have faster, so I sent her on ahead. This is where, frankly, if I'd trained, I could have recouped some time. But I didn't really train. Yes, I ran 101 miles in September, but zero speed work, zero tempo runs, nothing. Just miles. And, that's fine. The whole point of this race was to get back out there!

I got a little down for a few miles, sort of hating life a little. Then at some point I thought, I'm supposed to be enjoying this. Look up! Look around! Take it in! Control your breathing and just run.

Mile 7: 8:26
Mile 8: 8:24
Mile 9: 8:32
Mile 10: 8:39

I had something happen at a water stop around this point that I'd never seen before. For a while, I'd been trying to pass a guy. For a while, oncoming runners prevented this. A time or two I thought maybe he just didn't see that I was trying to get around him. Then at a water stop, he took water while staying smack in the middle of the course, and audibly cussed when I squeezed my way around him. What the hell?!? Has anyone ever seen that??

Shannon was still in my sights at this point, and with just a 5k to go I was pretty head-down to get it done.

Mile 11: 8:45
Mile 12: 8:49
Mile 13: 8:29

Coming in the home stretch I got into a race with a guy. We were plainly racing each other, and we were plainly both enjoying it. I honestly think he let me win. I don't care. He pushed me to go faster than I might have otherwise as we came into the last turn.

Finish time: 1:51:34.

I'm pleased with this. It's a little faster than I ran Salt Lake in 2015, and I did it without any structured training. This race got me back to racing.

With such a gorgeous day, I decided to wander and hang out a bit. The beer tent, though very popular, just wasn't calling my name. At 10am. On a Sunday. After a race. (Seriously people, what am I missing about this? I just can't do it.) But there was live music, lots of people, and beautiful weather. I ended up running into 2 co-workers, then randomly meeting 2 MRTT ladies back at the parking lot.

Walking to the shuttle back to the parking lot

All in all, this was a spectacular race weekend. Beautiful weather, mission get-back-to-racing accomplished, and got to do it with friends.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Reveal: Dining Room

After moving to Ohio in June, to a house we bought sight unseen, I jumped head first into making the house our home. And I've loved it. I've spent entire days going from lighting stores, to carpet stores, to furniture stores, to Bed Bath and Beyond. I've sketched and searched and laid awake at night imagining rooms that could be. And today, my friends, I get to share one completed project, our dining room.

When we arrived, the room was painted dark olive green below the chair rail and a lighter shade above. The white doors in the far corner of the above photo go to a charming built-in deep china cabinet. It's like the 1930s builders knew I was coming. This is the listing photo.

The large light fixture featured smoky glass and about 10 small light bulbs, which, when paired together, left a less inviting feel to the room after dark. And, regardless of time of day, the smoky glass made it nearly impossible to tell what various color palettes might look like in the room.

Our first impulse was wallpaper. We found beautiful papers, which would truly have been elegant. Ultimately, the wallpaper shop I was working with was having a difficult time processing orders, and I grew concerned that the eventual process of removing the wallpaper would leave me wishing I'd never put it up.
I really liked this wallpaper
After that, I got on Houzz, got out a notebook, and started brainstorming new ideas. The room had to harmonize with the adjacent living room (behind me as I took the photo below). It had to be elegant. It had to make a statement, but in neutrals due to the adjacent room's plans (the red you see in the background will be gone soon). Finally, it had to honor the 1930s vintage of the home. Ready for it?

To accomplish this look, every non-floor surface was painted. We hired a great contractor who painted the ceiling, trim, and lower wall all the same color--Behr's Decorator White. (Aside: Interior designers rarely use Behr, because it's less expensive, and because it's sold at Home Depot. But me? I'm a Behr girl for life. Consumer Reports ranks them strongly and the paints have always performed well for me. And, fyi, you can have colors from the more expensive brands mixed in Behr paint.) The choice of Decorator White endured a painfully drawn-out back and forth with my father, who just insists it isn't really white. It was a whole thing. 

For the rug, I knew I wanted a pattern that would harmonize with the rugs in the adjacent living room and give the room elegance. And, I love a damask but knew I wasn't putting it on the walls. Additionally, this particular rug needed to have a short nap, as it's a dining room and will get food in it, and needed to be relatively inexpensive given the near certainty my children will destroy it eventually. I got a great deal on this hand-tufted wool rug.  

Above the chair rail then. That's not wallpaper (click on the picture to see it larger). Nope. I stenciled that. I stenciled that. Only a very few people knew what I was up to and their response was universally, "Have you lost your mind?" Maybe. But I'd do it again. Why? No one ever has to remove wallpaper. I got to customize my color selections. And my favorite part? The whole thing cost $77. The beige background color (Behr: Sandy Clay)) was $31. The stencil was $48. The brush I applied it with was $8. Done. 

I'd never stenciled, and welcomed the chance to learn. Well, sort of. Ok fine, I called a local artist who does some related work and asked if she could do this. She wasn't available, and encouraged me to try it myself. I was hesitant. I'd had a friend nearly lose her mind handing wallpaper a year prior. I accepted the challenge anyway. I figured, I'm crafty. How hard could it be?

At first it was slow going. This took at least 2 hours, maybe more. And those first diamonds, over the door, are the worst in the whole room. But I kept at it. I have "in progress" photos taken after I stopped each night, showing how far I'd gotten. I listened a lot of The Moth, This American Life, Serial Season 2, and iTunes. I enjoyed my evenings with podcasts and visible progress on a project. I came to find it rewarding. 

The windows are treated in layers: a layer of cool white sheers, and one panel on each window in inky navy silk, on a pullback. My Mom was my hero here. I needed a between-size length, so I ordered up and she shortened them for me. She's sewn all kinds of stuff for my kids' rooms, too, and I truly cannot thank her enough. 

And finally, that chandelier. A huge thank you to Cleveland Lighting on this one. The sales associate was so patient with me while I went through book after book of fixtures, looked at the ones in their showroom about 4 times, and asked questions about how finishes looked in person. I ended up very pleased with this Feiss fixture, up close below. I love how the shape complements the wall pattern, and how the crystal helps to lighten up the room.

I truly enjoyed this process, as I'm enjoying working on the other rooms in our house. I promise to share a bit more in the future. 

In other news, I've been running! I think I'm ready to start writing about that again, too. I may or may not be running a half-marathon this weekend....

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Story of Our Utah Home

Warning: this post is not about running. It's about another of my loves: telling the stories of old buildings. This one, our home in Utah, is particularly dear to me. We poured our blood, sweat, and tears into it. I am so proud to be part of the history of this home. And so, having left the home and Utah behind, to be but one chapter in our lives, I delight in bringing you its story.

The house is an urban legend in the neighborhood. Its legend status means we've heard a lot about it from neighbors, but there's a lot of what I'm about to say that I cannot possibly verify. But I'm going to tell you all of it.

Here's what I know. Our house was built in 1909 by a Dr. Steele and his family. It's a Tudor with Craftsman influences, and was among the first homes in our neighborhood. It sits on a triple, corner lot and has fruit trees, some of which are very old. There is a house about 2 blocks away that was built from the same plans at about the same time.

What follows is what we've been told. Some of it is probably true.

From at least 1980 through the late 90s, and for I don't know how long before, a couple lived here. They had a daughter who was at least a few years older than me, maybe as much as 15 years older. They liked privacy, and kept so many trees that the house was hardly visible from the street. They had a lot of pets, including cats and at least one parrot, and we've heard rumors of other pets.

The mother, who I'm told was a large woman, took to living upstairs in the home and either couldn't or wouldn't leave. The family had financial problems, and sold many of the original features of the home, including the original wood floors on the second floor, a built-in seating area, window frames (with historic moldings) and even the stairs and railing. It's unclear whether there was a second staircase or whether they used a ladder in place of the original stairs to get between floors. They also sold a second home that was on the property in 1980--this I know for sure. It's a sweet little brick home that's perhaps 10 years newer, and is now a separate parcel to the east of ours. I don't know why it was built originally, as part of the doctor's medical practice, a sister-wife situation (which was common in our neighborhood then), or a rental unit.

Toward the end of the 1990s, the wife had to be removed from the home. Some people have told me this was done by crane, others have said they don't know but that a crane seems likely given her size and the lack of proper stairs. After this, the daughter had the father placed in an assisted living facility and she and her boyfriend occupied the home. The home was foreclosed on.

As several people have told me, it sat vacant for some time after the foreclosure, with everything you'd expect to go along with vacancy: broken windows, disrepair, and according to one neighbor "dead people screaming" (?!?). According to one source, the home was on a list of potential demolitions by the City.

Perhaps saving it from demolition, a developer purchased it in about 2000. He made the home habitable again, but strange. There was still no railing, maybe no stairs, and some other oddities remained. My favorite was the very small kitchen sink in the second upstairs bathroom.

Other changes were made to the home at various times, maybe by this developer, maybe by other people. For instance, at some point there was an octopus heater. I'd never heard of this either. If you Google Image search you'll get results showing huge metal installations. What you don't see are the shallow well-like parts of these, the remains of which were still in the basement when we moved in (we've since had it filled in). We could also tell that someone had moved the living room wall to create the dining room, where there had once been a larger living room and a hallway from the side entrance. Upstairs, though, was anyone's guess. I couldn't begin to imagine what it had originally looked like. We're also pretty sure our mud room isn't original, but no one can really tell which part was added.

Another oddity is that when the stairs were replaced, someone also built a play room/loft in the attic space over half of the upstairs. We think to accommodate the stairs leading to it, they moved the stairs from the first to the second floor to the left a few feet. While this is sort of remarkable in its own right, its other consequence is more so: moving the stairs and adding a coat closet beside them meant that there was then no interior access to the basement--only exterior access.

In 2001 or so a family bought the home. They lived here for 12 years (or so) and raised their two kids here. They are lovely people--I've met them several times. They did a lot to make the home more functional, like replacing the windows, installing a back deck with the faux wood surface for durability, etc. They are also big into gardening, and we suspect are responsible for some of the newer features of the yard, including the chicken coop that has a stained glass window. We had never canned anything in our lives when we moved in, and honestly didn't know the yard produced food until we got here. We came to love having apples, pears, grapes, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, hops, and more.

When we bought the home in 2013, we set to work on updating a large portion of the upstairs. We spent several months gutting two bathrooms and turning them into two newer bathrooms, a linen closet, a separate laundry room, and turning a conveniently square hallway into an office. There was a lot of this:
Tiling the floor of our renovated Master bath
We also freshened up the downstairs with new paint and light fixtures. My mom and I made draperies for the downstairs rooms, because this was the before picture:
And this was a piece of fabric I fell in love with:
Light taupe with a hint of sparkle. It was gorgeous. 

We made it ours. I learned a lot in the process, about which I long ago drafted a blog post which was delayed for rather complicated reasons I won't get into, but which will appear at some point. But mostly I learned that it's kind of like fashion: there are some rules you really should stick to, and you really do need to measure, but many rules can be broken by creativity and by learning about all kinds of finishes, systems, and solutions you never knew existed. Make a house what makes you happy, but experiment a lot with visual and online tools before you commit to expensive or labor-intensive choices.

Truth be told, I loved this house. I'm honored to have been part of restoring it to the proud home it once was. But it's time for us to move along, and love our new place too.

Monday, May 2, 2016

April Recap

After a successful March of meeting goals and kicking ass, I set a slightly higher April goal, and off I went. So how'd it turn out? Welcome to the April Recap.

April Goal: After successfully running my 12 mile/week goal in March, I modestly increased my goal to 15 miles per week.

April Miles: 60.7. Sixty! I'm delighted. This is basically on target, and for three weeks I surpassed my target. Actually, and this blows my mind, I ran more miles in the last week of April than in any other single week since the week ending August 3, 2015. August.  

With a goal of 15 miles/week, I should have hit about 65 miles. However, we went house hunting in Ohio the week of April 3 and, confession: I did not run at all. I took running clothes, and was bummed that it didn't happen. My excuses were plentiful. First, we were staying downtown, which was really lovely, but not super conducive to running. Second, the weather was bullshit. Yeah, yeah. I know.

May Goal: I think I'm ready to aim for 20 miles a week, but I am planning a cut-back week this week. I'm setting the May goal at 75 miles.  

April Highlights: Oh, easy: my two mid-week runs last week were a blast. On Tuesday I took it up a notch, hitting 8:30 for mile 4. On Thursday, my birthday, I was in a great mood and I wanted to fly. Miles 1-4 were 8:30, 8:37, 8:33, and 8:32. And I was smiling, like probably the whole time. It was easily the best run I'd had in 8 months. 

Since I was feeling amazing after a legit tempo run, I decided to go for a full 8 miles on Saturday. The distance felt easier from an endurance perspective than had a slightly shorter long run the previous week, but I do need to step back slightly this week before ramping up again. 

Other Lovely Things in Life: Just, all the words. All of them. I'm not even sure where to start. 

On the moving front, things are moving forward full steam. My wonderful parents sold their place here, their household goods shipped last week, and they close on their place in Ohio in about a week. Our place is under contract and we are working through the check list (fingers crossed it goes smoothly!). We have an accepted offer on a place in Ohio which we bought via FaceTime (Who does that?!? Apparently we do. And only me. Mr. Joanna has only seen the listing pictures. No, really. This is a frequent topic of discussion in our house.) and have our moving truck and loading crews scheduled. It's all happening! It's all kind of still surreal, to be honest, but it's happening. There will be a whole post (or three) devoted to this. While it's surreal to me, I'm welcoming the whole circus of a journey with open arms. 

And this is starting already. I love it so much.

And my birthday. I felt so loved, so full of blessings and life and a new sense of wonder about the year ahead of me. And my little boy's birthday, earlier in the month. He's so ornery, so mischievous, so cherished. 

May is our last month in Utah before our return migration to the eastern time zone. It's going to be crazy, box-filled, and a blur of motion. Stay tuned!

Friday, April 1, 2016

March Recap: Old Goals, New Goals, Travel, and Life

Who's got two thumbs and is super pumped to be back in the world of having monthly recaps?!?

Coming off a long injury, March marked a return to goals, a return to regular running, and a return to looking forward to the next race season. So how did it go? Welcome to the March Recap.

March Goal: Since my four month total from November through February was about 45 miles, I kept my goal modest, at 12 miles per week. I thought 4 miles 3x/week seemed attainable.

March Miles: 50.0. FIFTY! I'm absolutely pleased with this. It means I was about on goal. It means I ran more in March than in the previous four months combined. It means I get the green light to set a higher goal for April.

April Goal: 15 miles per week. This should put me just over 60 miles for the month. This goal is still modest, and honestly I'm hoping to exceed it.

March Highlights: I ran in 3 states during the month of March. Of course, my home state of Utah. My highlight at home was a five mile run where, for the first time in months, I felt like I finally settled down into about fourth gear. My three middle miles were 8:45, 8:27, and 8:45, and it felt great.

I was on the road a good bit, too. First to Arizona to visit with family, which was freaking awesome. On the way down we camped in Bryce, awaking to a light dusting of snow on our tent! In Arizona, we stayed with my husband's aunt and uncle, who have been nothing but amazing to us. I'm so, so glad we got to make this trip. While there, I did a run through their community of Goodyear. It's a master planned community which is very nearly built out (at least their part). As an urban planner, I have a trained eye to developments like this, and I was impressed. The homes are close enough together to allow the density necessary to support the community facilities they have, and there are many thoughtful design details throughout.

The week after, I was off to San Diego for work. I ran along the water, from our hotel near the Gaslamp Quarter down to the USS Midway. 

The view from my room

USS Midway
Then, of course, was Easter, and putting our house on the market to prepare for our upcoming move to Ohio. This has given us plenty of opportunities to get creative with dinnertime (when a lot of showings happen) and random other hours. We've mostly enjoyed this adventure, as odd as that might sound. We're making memories with our kids, and showing them that although moving is a lot of work, we're committed to enjoying the journey.

When life gives you a home to sell, make sand stars with your kid
Throughout the month, I've seen my average mile times come down and I've felt progressively better after my runs. My injury still requires that I wear a knee brace when I run, but this has been worthwhile. I'm experiencing very little day-to-day swelling, and very rarely any pain. This is a huge improvement.

It's been a good month. Here's looking forward to April, which will see miles in at least one other state--Ohio, as we house hunt. Wish us luck!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

That Time You Cried While Singing Country Roads, AKA: I Give Up On Titling This Post

Coming up with a title for this post presented a significant challenge. I have running updates, and I have..hell, I don't even know how to categorize this, "majorly gigantic life altering news that has running implications." And implications for nearly everything else.

Since you already know about Project Fix Joanna, I'll start there. Also, I'm burying the good stuff to make you read more of this post. Because I'm evil like that.

Project Fix Joanna
I last wrote that I'd done some short runs successfully. After that things got weird, largely because I fell into a cycle of getting sick a few times over a month-long period. Also because I continued to have knee pain and swelling. So I stopped updating the blog because it was frustrating.

I'm back because I have progress and new hope. I can now run pain-free--with help. My calves have stopped throbbing on the daily. The help? I run with a compression sleeve on my left knee. This allows me to run and to be no worse for the wear afterward, which is huge. However, I still experience pain and swelling from medium-to-long daily walks at my work place, shopping for groceries on the weekends, and hiking with my family (which involves a 3-year-old, so you know it's not much distance). Clearly I need to be more diligent about using compression for non-running activities. I likely also need a second visit to the sports massage therapist. But guys, I can see light at the end of the tunnel!

Down here at the bottom line [paragraph] of it, my progress has emboldened me to set some new goals. Since I am so terribly out of shape my goals are modest but THRILLING to this long-benched runner. I am aiming to run 12 miles per week for March and go to yoga at least twice. This is double my February mileage, and that, my friends, is a great thing. I am also aiming to train for a half-marathon in the fall, which brings me to the "majorly gigantic life altering" part.

Majorly Gigantic Life Altering Part
My STL running buddy, Rachel, and I were recently discussing the Utah Valley Half-Marathon, scheduled for this June. One of the many reasons for this discussion was the fact that my house may be largely empty by then and I may have some logistics hurdles to clear....because we're moving to Ohio.

Yes. An incredible amount of life has happened since my last post.

Actually, it turns out that we'll almost certainly be gone before the race, so this might be my first DNS. I'm guessing a DNS wasn't your first question about this news though.

Over the winter I interviewed for a position at a university in Ohio. This was not something I did lightly. I carefully considered the position itself, as well as the implications for my family. The alignment of the job to my research and career interests was undeniable, and the location appeals to me for personal reasons as well. I will be within driving distance (or a very short flight) of my own alma mater, my native West Virginia and virtually everyone I ever knew before moving to Utah. In a way I have difficulty articulating, this move is something of a homecoming for me. I've never lived in Ohio, but to be so close to so many places I love, and in a city much like one I've known and loved and grieved leaving (STL)--for most research-intensive academics this is as close as we ever get to going home.*

Considering the implications for my family was involved. My parents live here in Utah for half the year and have their own place. It shouldn't surprise me, but their response did. "Go! We'd rather be back east anyway, and if this job offers you what you want, why on earth wouldn't you take it?!" I am so humbled by this. How instructive to me, of a model of how I hope to treat my family. I am so inspired by them in this.

My younger son is too young to understand what's happening in any serious sense. My husband likes it here but still telecommutes to STL, so there's nothing really tying him here. My older son though, I know he's sad about this. I am dedicated to helping him find his place in our new community. Part of me laments this, because we came to Utah intending to stay. Part of me knows that life happens, and it's easier to move him now than in a year or two just due to his age. So off we go, with optimism I hope he'll be able to embrace eventually.

As for me, I am very happy to say that I have a few friends in our new city. A few who are in my profession, and one who I know through none other than our running blogs: Jodi.  Plus, my bestest friend is only a few hours away, and I have a few other friends who live elsewhere in Ohio, mostly within 2-3 hours.

So that fall race? I'm eyeing up the Northern Ohio Half Marathon in October. Y'all know I love October races, and what better way to get to know my new state. Plus, it just occurred to me yesterday, I'll be close enough to Detroit to do the Martian Half next spring if I want to. I ran it in about 2010 and still remember the course fondly. And we all know that the Cleveland Marathon will have my revenge. It's had that coming for five long years. I'll be there! This can happen!

For the next few months my life is going to have a lot more of this:

That, dear friends, is a 65lb box of boxes with one of my work bags sitting on top of it. And there's more where that came from. It's going to be one hell of a journey, in every good and stressful way, I'm sure. Then, what I really hope will be our home for a very long time. I'm so ready. 

* And by "home" I mean central Appalachia. I don't literally mean my hometown. I also mean St. Louis, in a way. And I mean home in an intellectual sense that's pretty esoteric. 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Week 2 of Project: Fix Joanna

Thank you so, so much for the comments of support and encouragement a few of you have offered to me in various forums since my post last week. I appreciate that so much.

It's a week later, and I'm concluding Week 2 of Project: Fix Joanna. I am delighted to report solid, actual progress.

Progress Point #1: I Ran Without Pain

After posting last week, I headed out for Trial Run #1, a short out and back from my house. The run went fine, but that wasn't newsworthy; I hadn't had much pain while actively running during the whole ordeal. But, what did matter, and this is big, guys: I didn't have pain at any point following the run. This is the first time in about 9 months that I could honestly say this. Hallelujah! I repeated the run on Thursday morning, and again had no leg pain.

How? Well, I do think last week's sports massage helped a ton. But before and after these short runs, I stretched and tennis-ball-rolled the problem areas in my legs. I also took NSAIDs after both runs. Then tennis-ball and foam rolled again later that day. And the next day, just in case. I'll tennis ball & foam roll fourteen times a day if that's what it takes!

Progress Point #2: Cross Training

For about half of 2015 I was decent about going to Tuesday morning yoga. The class is great--a lot of stretching, some strengthening. You leave feeling dewy and awesome about the world. I love the class. But then I'd watch those Runner's World cross-training videos that focus on core strength and look super fun and a little intimidating, and I knew I wasn't doing enough. I'd heard of another class that was created by a runner who was sick of being injured. I thought, "hey, that sounds like me!" I was a little intimidated (the description included the word "very"). Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? Off I went.

Holy. Crapballs. More than a few times I had to simply assume child's pose for a second. More than a few times my ab muscles were full on shaking. It hurt so good. And you know what? I finally nailed crow pose! Not baby crow, actual crow! Like, for a while! My friend Linda will understand what this means.

I left feeling like Runner's World would approve this as honest to goodness cross-training. The kind that actually prevents you from hurting yourself because it's focused on stretching, opening, and strengthening exactly the areas that athletes need to attend to.

Feeling a little bold from these successes, today I headed out for a slightly longer (3.5 miles), slightly faster (8:54/mile) run. It felt great. I'd planned to run slower and longer, but it's so damn fun to go fast, and dammit I miss it!! I've got my fingers thoroughly crossed to see how things feel tomorrow.

I refuse to see this lingering injury as a set back. I am taking this as a step toward long-term strength, by teaching me to identify, treat, and bounce back from a fuller range of issues, and finally teaching me once and for all that I need to actually focus on strength training. Here goes, Project: Fix Joanna, Week 3.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

I'm Still Alive

Hi! Remember me? I used to run. Then, I used to write blog posts about it. Then, something horrible happened and I stopped doing both of those things. And I've been AWOL since July. But yes, yes readers, I am still alive. Given that it's the new year and whatnot, I decided you are long overdue for an explanation about all of this not running business, and a summary of last year.

No, I am not pregnant.
No, I have not decided to give up running.
No, I have not fallen into elicit drug use.

No, my friends, I have been injured. Back in early summer I wrote about how I was having to stop multiple times during short runs, and how I was afraid I might DNF the Utah Valley Half Marathon (and then gloriously didn't--read that story here). After that race, I continued running through the summer but didn't register for more races because I had no idea when I would be able to do distance again. I kept doing Thursday morning runs with my neighbor, because I adore her and then, because she was moving back to St. Louis and I wanted to spend all the time with her I could before that day came. I even registered for a mid-day running class at work, and managed to go a few times. I LOVED the class. We did speed work and short (less than 5 mile) trail runs and easy runs and I met other runners.
Back at my office after the mid-day class once, trying to not look red before meeting with students.

But it hurt. A lot. It got so I couldn't bend my left knee very far, and so that even walking short distances left the backs of my lower legs throbbing. Then one night I got out of bed and looked up symptoms of a pulmonary embolism on the internet because I thought I might be dying. So finally, in mid-October, I did the extreme. I benched myself.

So what was going on? How could I fix it? I'm not sure I have answers to any of those questions, but here's my best guess.

What Was Going On?
Back in late March I realized that I'd inadvertently forgotten to replace my running shoes for significantly longer than usual. Typically, things start hurting around 350 miles on a pair of shoes, and these were at at least 450 if not over 500 miles, and things hurt. My feet hurt. My hips hurt. My knees hurt. When I went to replace them, I inquired about changing the make & model. I'd been running in Brooks Adrenalins since 2007, size 102A (narrow--I swear this detail is important in a minute). This had worked well until August 2014, when I hit 200 miles in a month. And then, narrow was too narrow, and I realized quickly that some foot problems I'd chalked up to work shoes previously were just mild versions of the high mileage shoe problems. The bottom line: my heel is narrow, but my toe box isn't, and the narrow shoes were rubbing the ball of my foot at high mileage.

So, I tried new shoes. First, a pair of Mizunos that lasted 2 runs and clearly weren't working. Then, Brooks Ravennas. They fit just fine, but taught me that I do not want a really cushiony shoe.

Between the pain from the old shoes, and the Achilles issues that likely started there and took root with the too-much-cushion Ravenna, I was deep in Achilles issues that just wouldn't let up.

How Could I Fix It?
I still don't really know. I've been a runner since I was 15. I know how to handle IT band problems, piriformis issues, shin splints, low iron, and a range of other problems. This, no clue. I tried stretching, foam rolling, and rest. Nothing. When 9 weeks of rest didn't help (but nearly drove me insane), I finally saw a sports massage therapist earlier this week. I haven't run since, so I know not to celebrate yet, but I'm pain free, finally, and cautiously optimistic. I've walked several miles this week without problems, at least. I'll take it! The run test is coming very soon. Maybe before you've even read this.

And finally, what did all of this mean for my Year in Running 2015? Drum roll, please.

2015 in Review

It meant overall, lower mileage than I'd hoped. My count is imperfect because I had to switch how I was tracking at some point, but a low-end estimate is 631 miles, which is my lowest in several years. The miles looked about like this:

I ran two races in 2015, the Salt Lake Half and the Utah Valley Half. I set a course record at Salt Lake and a 13.1 PR at Utah Valley. I call that a successful year!

Cross Training
Through the summer, I was pretty good about going to yoga once a week. It helps SO MUCH. This year taught me the importance of cross training in a big way. This will be an increased focus moving forward.

Other Lovely Things
My year included some really lovely non-running things, too. In June, Mr. Joanna and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary with a kid-free trip to San Francisco. We'd always wanted to go, and it was everything we'd hoped for.

In August I got to go to West Virginia (below), and in November I had the honor of helping my Illinois Running Buddy and dear friend, the ever lovely Meg, get married to her love. Of course, there were many other great things from our year, but you've just finished reading all the family newsletter Christmas cards, so I'll spare you. :)

Looking Forward
Looking to 2016, my first priorities are easy:

  1. Get back on the road. I need to run.
  2. I would love, love to PR the half again. I was four-tenths of a second from my goal time last year. 
  3. I would like to do another full marathon. I don't know how fast I can be at that, but I think I have work left to do. I think I can keep improving at that distance. 
  4. I'd like to incorporate strength training and focus more holistically on my health. 
There you have it. That's where I've been. If anyone has other suggestions about my lower legs, I'm all ears! I'm so eager to get back out there, and see 2016 off to a strong start.