Fall Fever

It’s here! The season full of pumpkiny goodness, the return of boots, and cooler running weather. Fall is always a welcome break from the sticky, hot days of summer and I have a lot to look forward to this season.

Fall is a great time to get back on track if the summer heat kicked your butt and you ended up taking some time off from running outdoors. I actually was very consistent this year, but I  am still looking forward to some fun races under better conditions.

If the cooler temperatures aren’t enough to get you out the door, consider signing up for a fall race so that you have something to work towards! Here is my schedule through the end of the year thus far, and why you should consider these races:

Rise Up & Run 5K – Photo courtesy Atlanta Track Club

Oct. 18 – Rise Up & Run 5K (Atlanta): Atlanta Track Club and the Atlanta Falcons are teaming up once again to host this 5K, which finishes on the Falcons’ 50 yard line inside the Georgia Dome. I may be a Giants fan, but I can swallow my team pride for a unique race experience. I mean, I did it with the Braves. There is also the One Mile Fun Run and Kilometer Kids Dash, so the whole family can get involved. Click here to register.

Oct. 26 – Atlanta 10 Miler (Atlanta): I ran this one last year and I’m excited to hit it up again. This year offers a different course through Buckhead that starts and finishes at Atlantic Station. If you want to take on the Peachtree Road Race’s famed Cardiac Hill without the extreme heat, this is the event to do it! Not ready for the 10 miler? There is also a 5K option. Registration is open here.

Dec. 13 – Kiawah Island Marathon (Kiawah Island, SC): This will be my first full marathon, and I’m excited for a flat course with pretty scenery. There is also a half marathon option. I don’t have any other insight on this one yet, but you can learn more and register here.

A bunch of Grinches at the 2012 Surf-n-Santa

A bunch of Grinches at the 2012 Surf-n-Santa

Dec. 20 – Surf-n-Santa 5 Miler (Virginia Beach, VA): Yes, this will only be a week after my marathon, but I could not pass this race up! This used to be a 10 miler and 5K, but is now an evening 5 miler run underneath the holiday lights display on the Virginia Beach boardwalk. As a Christmas nerd, it doesn’t get any better than this for me, especially with the great post-race party. Register today to beat the October 1 price increase!

Some other upcoming races you should consider (I would be running these if I was going to be in the area):

Atlanta Races: Atlanta Half Marathon & Thankgiving Day 5K (Nov. 27), The Ugly Sweater Run 5K (Dec. 13), Atlanta Christmas 5K (Dec. 20)

Virginia Races: Crawlin’ Crab Half Marathon & 5K (Oct. 4, 5), Wicked 10K & Monster Mile (Oct. 25), Harbor Lights Half Marathon & 5K (Nov. 22, 23) – all of these feature flat courses, and perhaps more importantly, BEER!

Hopefully you are feeling a fresh wave of motivation as we head into the end of the year. Registering for a race is always a great way to get you back out on the roads and trails if your running shoes have been banished to the back of the closet for a while.

What do you have on your race calendar? And what do you love about fall running?

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A Little Paranoia Goes a Long Way

mom pictureThis week, allow me to play the role of your mother. Because I care. Because all of us can use a well-meaning reminder.

I am not a paranoid person. I firmly believe that most people are good – sometimes I even trust strangers a little too much. (My little sister says I’m “street stupid”) But recent events have made me a lot more aware of safety precautions that should be taken on the run.

I know of three attacks on runners over the past couple of months in the Atlanta area – two that were widely covered by the local media, one that I only heard about because it happened to a neighbor. These incidents happened at different times of day in different locations to different types of victims: two were women, one was a man with a dog.

I have never been overly concerned about my safety while running – until now. Personally, I think it’s incredibly stupid to target runners, especially if your intent is to rob them. The vast majority of us have nothing that you want. I myself sport a dinosaur of a GPS watch (I will wear my Garmin Forerunner 205 until the day it dies) and an older version iPod Nano (remember the ones that are square and clip onto you?). I don’t have a fancy phone for you to steal, let alone cash, credit cards, or the Holy Grail.

But over the past few weeks, I have made some adjustments to play it a little safer while I run. Here are a few good reminders about simple things you can do to make yourself less of a target.

  • Be alert. I have been more conscious of who is around me lately. If I hear something moving or any odd sound, I don’t hesitate to look around. And if I see someone/something that is sketchy, I promptly cross the street to give myself a little extra room should I need an escape route.
  • Ditch the earbuds. Maybe not for every run, but definitely for the ones that are a little more “risky”. My weekday runs are usually before work – and on those runs, I don’t run with music at all. I hear Every. Little. Thing. On weekends or evening runs when I do bring along the iPod, I make sure that I keep the volume down. You can also leave one earbud out.
  • Run with a buddy. Even a dog can be a deterrent. This one is one area where I should probably take my own advice, however I enjoy running alone a lot of the time. So instead I…
  • Choose your routes wisely. For my early morning runs, I now stick to well-lit neighborhoods that I know other runners frequent – no parks or trails. This way if something bad happens, there’s a shot that someone sleeping in their home or another early riser will hear calls for help.

    Hit up parks (like Piedmont) when it's light out and there are more people.

    Hit up parks (like Piedmont) when it’s light out and there are more people.

  • Vary your routes. If someone truly creepy is paying attention to you, it’s a lot harder for them to know how to track you down if you mix up your routes. Even going on the same loop in the opposite direction is better than doing the exact same thing every day.
  • Make sure someone knows where you are. My boyfriend not only knows when I’m running, but also where and how long I expect to be gone. If I’m not back before he gets up to go to work or finishes sleeping in on the weekends, he will know there’s a problem.

Just be smart. It’s easy to get lulled into a false sense of security if you run all the time and in the same places. Obviously none of these points are new or brilliant, but everyone needs a reminder from time to time.

What other safety precautions do you usually take?

Cowbells, Camp, and Camaraderie

The Run Around the Park Relay is one of my favorite races in Atlanta. Teams of five people take turns running 3.4 miles each, and are encouraged to set up a fun and festive camp to cheer on their friends and just hang out. Our team likes to bring food and some adult beverages to celebrate the completion of those laps. It’s a great way to spend a Sunday morning.

Our team name for this year was 50 Shades of Gu, giving nods to both a pop culture phenomenon of which I have next to no knowledge about as well as an energy gel brand. We set up shop just before the transition area. We had quite a crew this year since two boyfriends, two husbands, a child, and a dog came along to serve as cheerleaders.

50 Shade of Gu's camp

50 Shade of Gu’s camp

Since I captain the team, I abuse my position and insist upon running the first leg. This is simply because it is still hot and humid this time of year and I want to avoid running in the worst of it. It also ensures I can get back to camp to eat, drink, and be merry.

I arrived later than I would have liked simply because we went to a wedding the night before and I was dragging. I quickly picked up our team bib numbers, goodie bags, and t-shirts. Then we quickly met up with the rest of the group and set everything up. We had quite a spread between the bananas and bagels in the goodie bag and the snacks we brought ourselves: pumpkin bread, pumpkin cookies, and pumpkin and other assorted beers (apparently we were all feeling fallish).

My other returning teammate and me, post-run

My other returning teammate and me, post-run

My teammates gathered at the start line to see me off. The course was hilly and since I ran 13 miles the day before, my legs were a little tired on those uphills! We got lucky this year – it was overcast and misting a bit at times, so at least it felt cooler. Last year was full-on sunshine and heat. I finished my 3.4 miles with an average pace of 9:07 per mile and then handed off our baton (which was actually a slap bracelet).

Cowbells - a genius idea for our goodie bags! And the sunglasses were cute too.

Cowbells – a genius idea for our goodie bags! And the sunglasses were cute too.

I returned to camp to cheer on the other runners as they split off for their respective legs. In our goodie bags, we had cowbells and sunglasses for each participant. (Last year’s team gift was a cooler with koozies). We made good use of the cowbells and one teammate’s daughter insisted upon giving every single runner a friendly yell and some cowbell. It was really cute that she took this so seriously, and much appreciated by the runners!

A great bonus this year – my favorite local pizza chain gave each team a cheese pizza. Yes it was early on a Sunday morning, but we really enjoyed having a slice and breaking out the beer. Our team of ladies did a great job and it was time to celebrate! Next year we’re thinking of having our all-girls team face off against a team of our guys – camp life might not be so friendly for that one!

What are some of your favorite fall races? Leave a comment or send me a tweet!

Reasons to Become a Groupie

Long runs can be tough – not only physically, but mentally as well. (I proved this point well with last week’s blog post…) It’s best to mix them up!

On Saturday, I had 12 miles scheduled. I happened to see a tweet from West Stride, one of the running stores in the Atlanta area, saying that they were offering 12 miles as one of several distances for their group run. I was sold – though I love running solo, I’m also happy to join others, especially since the Georgia heat and humidity has been zapping me lately! I had a great run and got to enjoy some new sights and neighborhoods. I especially loved running around Atlanta Memorial Park and over/past a pretty creek.

So let’s talk about the benefits of group runs. Some are obvious, but if you are a newbie you may not know all of the perks:

  • The power of people. Running with others, even if you don’t know them, can motivate you even if you’re having an off day. Not only that, you get to meet other runners, hear about what they’re training for, and maybe even find your a running partner.
  • No planning necessary. It can be tedious to plot out a course to reach your mileage. For group runs, you show up, pick your distance, get a directions sheet, and you’re on your way! A tip for newbies – bring a plastic zip lock baggie. You can put the course instructions inside of it so it won’t get all wet and sweaty.
  • Try new things. Running stores will offer you product demos from time to time on group runs. For instance, I tried out a pair of Zensah compression sleeves on Saturday. Newton was also offering free shoe trials that day, though I declined on that one. These demos are a great way to try out new gear without spending the cash and risking hating the product.
  • Water stops. Not all group runs offer water stops, but many do. Having hydration built into your route is just one less thing to worry about on the run.
  • Snacks! Some groups even offer post-run fuel, coffee, and of course water.
Big Ol' Group Run at Monday Night Brewing Photo courtesy Atlanta Track Club

Big Ol’ Group Run at Monday Night Brewing
Photo courtesy Atlanta Track Club

Last month, I participated in a huge group run that boasted nearly 400 runners and dozens of run clubs. It was held at a local brewery, Monday Night Brewing, and we were able to go in for a beer tasting after the run. When it comes to group runs, there are all different kinds of options if you keep an eye/ear out and get involved! To find a group run in your area, check out your local running stores (I love Phidippides in Atlanta!) and run clubs (like Atlanta Track Club). What is the best group run experience you’ve had? Leave a comment or send me a tweet.

The PR I Didn’t Really Earn

Lauryn Hill once sang, “It could all be so simple, but you’d rather make it hard”. This basically sums up my race/long run over Labor Day weekend.

My sole purpose in signing up for The Atl 20K was to get a long run in alongside some company. The event also had a 10K and relay component for the 20K. I figured great, a few hundred other runners, a looped course for the relayers which lends to crowd support, why not?

Well, here’s why: I don’t race anything over a 10K in the summer because I hate the heat. Sure, I’ll go out and run 10 miles on my own since I know I won’t be killing myself for pace but I do not do long races in the summer. When I was registering, I told myself this is a long run with friendly faces – it would not be a race for time. Then of course I got to the start line and began thinking, “hey, let’s see what you’ve got today. Nothing too crazy, but let’s push the pace.” This simple shift in mentality is what led to my downfall.

Saturday morning was humid and gross. If the weather wasn’t reason enough to do an easy long run, the fact that I should be taking long runs slower for marathon training was. But off I went. The first 10K went okay though – I was doing decent on time.

And then two things happened: I got hot and I got sick of the course. The 20K was actually 4 loops of a 5K course. I knew this going in but convinced myself that because I was not looking at this as a race, I would be fine. I was not. I was irritated, I was uncomfortable, and I was over it.

Fake it ’til you make it – smiling despite a not-so-great race day

By the time I was on my fourth loop, I was mentally broken. I can usually pull myself out of negative thoughts on the run but that morning it was impossible. And that is what truly bothered me about this whole experience – I am a big believer in the power of positivity, especially while on the run. However, we all have our less-than-great running moments. You can only hope to learn from them and move on.

Despite my terrible mood through the last 1/3 of this race, there were some happy things I made note of:

  • The small group of ladies sometime after the first mile of each loop who were playing music and dancing. On my fourth loop, they were doing The Wobble and it made me giggle.
  • Some of the Black Men Run guys at another corner, helping to direct traffic and encouraging the runners. You guys helped people more than you know, and I’m not talking about stopping cars.
  • The crowd at the relay exchange area/finish line. This was the major perk of having to do four loops.

Because this was my first 20K, it was an automatic PR. However, I didn’t really earn it considering my terrible attitude. I ended up finishing in a miserable 2:09:09. Here’s hoping I got my mental weakness out of the way – I’m going to have to be tough throughout the next few months!

How do you turn around a bad run/race? Leave a comment or tweet me.