Dude Where’s my Time?

The really gnarly part is that those metrics given by the timing system- of time and place- were so important because they would be how I explained my performance to everyone besides myself.

The finish line was over half a mile closer than what my watch and the description had given. Ok, fine. The woman ahead of me was in my age group and I might have caught her on a kick, but I didn’t feel that tore up about it. The race was a success in my mind for reasons I’ll go over later. After changing out of my wet running gear into dry clothes, I checked my phone and the live results link, only to find out the electronic timing system had not picked up my bib. I became pretty agitated once I realized that. Even though the race director assured me that his computer had clocked my finish time, I spent about half an hour skulking around the finish line and compulsively refreshing the results site, until I realized I was acting a little psycho and made myself leave the park. I knew my time, and more importantly what I did well and what I needed to work on. I was now doubling down on being hard on myself because I was letting rational thinking get overshadowed by my emotional response- that the lack of public statistical evidence invalidated the fact that I had run the race. The really gnarly part is that those metrics given by the timing system- of time and place- were so important because they would be how I explained my performance to everyone besides myself.

I wanted to come back to focusing on the outcomes I had set out to measure my race to. If you run competitively at any level, you will have goal places if you are a front runner, or if you are not, you’ll look to paces and times to measure your performance.  I didn’t really have aspirations towards either of those for this race. I hadn’t known much about the course, and trail is always tricky to assign pace to anyways, if not damn near impossible when weather hits extremes. I had placed well in shorter trail races a few years ago, but this one was eleven miles and that was long enough for me to become uncertain. My off-road training in the past few months consisted of one pitiful 30-minute jog on the anthills near my home. It wasn’t even a conditioning run, I just wanted to assure myself I still knew how to pick my feet up and not trip over technical terrain. For all these reasons, I decided I needed different kinds of goals to target in the race to keep me present in it even if I was dead last.

The week leading up to the race in Tyler, Texas, I created a three-point race plan. Forming the backdrop behind this list are two my weakest qualities when it comes to running: patience and grit.

  • I would go easy the first four miles, even if I felt good or nervous about being passed I would just hold a steady pace.
  • I would not stop running the entire time- I had checked the elevation on the course map and didn’t believe I should have to walk IF I paced myself ok in the first part of the race.
  • I WOULD KEEP MY NEGATIVE THOUGHTS IN CHECK.

This last one is capitalized because I think it is a huge opportunity for me. I get grouchy even before anything actually goes wrong. I start cursing race directors, the person in front of me, the person behind me, my own idiocy for picking this stupid sport (running sucks) this stupid race (should have waited to compete) this stupid distance (if I signed up for the shorter race I’d be done by now…) and on and on. It’s not like this every race, but I’d like to just not go there at all if I can help it- and I was curious to seeif I could help it.

Spoiler alert- if the they gave out medals for those three things, I would have swept the race. I didn’t risk expending energy chasing someone in the first 4 four miles. I didn’t walk. I turned away from negative thoughts and was able to really enjoy that this race. That morning the conditions were ones I would have avoided leaving the house in let alone running in. I am a wimp in cold and it was in the 40’s. That event consisted of 5 races happening concurrently, going in both directions on the out and back course. There were clumps and strands of runners and walkers to dodge around or let pass at every turn. I did a really good job of keeping myself focused on what I could do, and realized all the other factors were just circumstances out of my control but within my capabilities. At the very least it was a great two hour trail run, which I really missed since moving from Southern California.  If I hadn’t imagined myself holding a positive mental space before the race, I don’t know that I would have even thought to attempt it once I was out there.

A slower time or lower place does not mean I ran a good race, and by “good”, I mean a race where I grow. A faster time and higher place does not mean I ran my best- and that is what I am after this year. Eventually results from the race were posted, and I’m not going to go give them here. Finish times and the varying levels of placing tell only part of the story of a race, but they aren’t even the most important aspects unless you get paid to run (and if you are reading this blog I’m assuming you don’t!) Ideally, I see my performance stats not as a badge but as part of a bigger picture of how I can improve all around. Competitive racing is one of if not the hardest trials I put myself through. The opportunity to strengthen my ability to align my actions to my thoughts, with intention, under duress, is a growth process that I can take into more endeavors than just running.

Some other non-statistical goals that come to mind for me are things like-

On the course:

  1. Repeat a mantra
  2. Go faster, even for a little bit, when you feel like slowing down
  3. Smile at random (I’ve heard it helps release feel-good hormones/chems)

Off the course:

  1. Shake the hands of the people that pushed you, even (especially) if they beat you.
  2. Help a stranger
  3. Check out others’ gear/shoes/tech and find out more about it

 

Let me know in the comments if you have any ideas about this or the topic of multi-goal racing!

Here Comes the Airplane Mode!

 

To bring or not to bring the phone on your run? One day, I wound up putting it on airplane mode a mile in because the damn thing would not stop buzzing. Texts & app notifications were zooming in one after the other, and after the 5th notification I started getting irritated, so I cut the line. Since that day, I have been putting it on airplane mode before I even start my run, or leaving it home completely when I’m just in my neighborhood.

My current goal is a sub 22 5k, and I’ve structured my fitness training to a few runs a week, so I need to focus on what I’m doing in them. On my current runs, I don’t want my attention to wander too far from my feet. I was recently videotaped running, and my form needs work. That requires concentration. I have a habit of letting my mind wander when workouts get tough, and as a side effect, I slow down. Again, my full attention is needed for the task at hand, which is bringing myself to the pace and form that I want to eventually stick. That’s what training is- it’s practicing until you don’t have to practice anymore. When you get to your goal, you can relax or set a new one. That being said, sometimes I’ll allow, maybe even encourage, my mind to wander while I run, to take a detour wherever it wants. This is usually a part of my trail runs, and honestly not a big part, because when I don’t pay attention, I fall. It happened just today, and I’ll write about it in another piece about my run in Huntsville State Park, TX.

Leaving my phone off or at home allows me the space to meditate, without distractions taking me places I don’t really need to go at the moment. I found I like leaving my phone off so much on my runs, that I’ve started deliberately turning it to airplane mode at home as well. So far there have been no emergencies that called for me to save the day, and I haven’t missed any opportunities from diverting digital signals away from me. I hit the plane, and think, “I’m good, you guys can go on without me, and I’ll catch up to you later”.

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Wouldn’t you want to give this your full attention, too?

 

Of course, I like to have my phone with me to take pictures for this blog and my Instagram account, but it has become a level of obnoxious to bring with me. I have tried various methods:

  • Belkin arm-band (from Target)
    • Pro: it’s a well-made brand that I’ve never had to replace for wear and tear, only phone models, for years
    • Con: the size of my iPhone 7 against the relative thinness of the arm band feels uncomfortable- think “floppy”
  • Nathan water bottle (REI)
    • Pro: I love this product as a water vestibule, but…
    • Con: the phone barely fits, really have to wrestle it in.
  • expandable-mesh waist pouches
    • Con: they don’t rank high for comfort for me, and they can move around a lot.

 

So my question for anyone reading this is- Being that I still like to have my phone on me for emergencies, does anyone know of arm-band that fits iPhone 7 and sits securely on runs? Or is there some other type of phone carrying device I haven’t thought of or mentioned above? Thanks and

Trail Runs in Houston, TX: Cullinan Park and Brazos Bend State Park

This past week I explored two new places to trail run in the Houston area. The first, Cullinan Park in Sugarland, was recommended to me by a friend, which is great because I was unaware the park existed, and the second, Brazos Bend State Park is very well known, at least in the area.

 

CULLINAN PARK

My sister and I headed out to Cullinan on Sunday. I had looked at park online and from my friend’s report gathered I would probably be running around 3 miles. Arriving there, I realized there was a main trail consisting of a 1.5 mile loop, but there were off-shoot trails and connectors, so the total amount of mileage was a little over 3 miles. One of the trails, the red trail, appears to end on the map, but it actually continues through the woods and around the lake, and I recommend going the whole way, which will bring your right around to the parking lot.

 

This is a great park for people looking to get some easy, fun, trail running in. It’s in Houston, so its flat. But it offers a variety of scenery; especially considering the small area the park takes up. It’s not far out of the way of anything, being just a few miles from I-69, and parking was free. The only bathroom available was a porto-potty, so if that turns you off, just go before you arrive and you should be fine for such a short run. We went on a Sunday with pretty pleasant weather, and the park was not crowded. Most of the visitors stayed near the parking lot, as there are viewing decks to see wildlife- we saw baby alligators!

 

As you can see from the map below, these trails have names, but I appreciate the simplicity of their color-coding on the map and will use that for reference. When you get out there, you will find colored bands on trees for the individual trailheads.

 

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From the parking lot, we went to the main trailhead, and took the green route to the first off-shoot of the blue route, and from there took the red route. On the red route we came across a pretty interesting scene, but I wont give away what that was here! As I said, the map shows the red route ending, but we were able to make it around the lake and back to the parking lot, still on trail, where we started at the main (green) trailhead again, this time taking an immediate left to go in the other direction on the green trail. We followed that around to the lavender trail. This was the least interesting trail in the park, to me. If you want to get the mileage, great, but if you’re looking to cut something, it’s just wide and flat, and dead-ends at a canal with a view of the road. We went back towards the green trail on the lavender trail, I took a little side jaunt to check out the turquoise trail, which had a pretty enchanting vibe, before we headed back to the parking lot on the green trail.

 

It was a fun run. Aside from the lavender trail, you’re looking at mostly single track or close to it. There’s plenty of shade, and for its size and location, I didn’t feel like I was running anywhere near a city (save a few glimpses of neighborhoods on the red route). There were some tricky areas to navigate, If you want to get to the other side of the green trail from the trailhead, take the second or third crossover, the first took us off the path as we had to navigate around some muck and water, but you’ll see that from the main path. The only path we didn’t take was the yellow, and as I ran ahead and doubled back to join up with my sister a few times, I was able to turn 3.3 miles of trail into 4 easily, and it’s worth repeating that the scenery changes often, and it’s all very pretty.

 

BRAZOS BEND

The second trail run of the week took me out to Brazos Bend State Park, southwest of Houston. It’s a very well-known park in the area, the upkeep and amenities are fantastic, and the staff is friendly and helpful. When I arrived, I purchased an annual Texas State Parks pass ($70), and the ranger assisting me was able to recommend trails to run on, as well as which ones to avoid because they were still recovering from heavy rain.

The website claims 37 miles of hiking trails in the park, which I believe includes the paved areas as well, and I covered around 6 or so. I’ll share what I did that day and update the blog once I explore and find out more. I’m including an image of the map the ranger gave me, with his recommendations highlighted in yellow, and what I actually ran in blue marker. (I ran out a bit on some other trails to get a look around, which is how I covered 6 miles). The black “X” marks trails I was to avoid.

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I parked behind Elm Lake, right at the turn-around, and took the Elm Lake Loop Trail to the Spillway Trail. If you didn’t know, Brazos Bend is known for its wild alligator population, and I was not disappointed. Not one mile into my run, I saw two from a bridge on the Spillway Trail, then came across one right on the path. I wasn’t sure what to do, as cautionary signage insisted on giving the animals a birth of 30 feet, which was impossible with water on both sides of the trail. I don’t know how fast alligators are, but I remembered a friend saying he just ran by them in the park all the time. I started to approach, and at that moment the formerly still reptile started moving its legs and opening its mouth at me, and I was done. I had planned to take the Spillway Trail around 40 Acre Lake, but I turned back and made my way back to the Elm Lake Trail.

 

When I came to the Pliant Slough trail, I took that. The ranger hadn’t mentioned it as good or something to avoid, and I’m glad I ran it. The ground was super springy, and I was reminded how much better it feels to be off of concrete. The trail was only a mile long, and I was loving the stretch so much that I was tempted to run it twice, but instead took the trail back around to the observatory, where I made my way back around Elm Lake once again. When I got near my car, I ran past to the Horseshoe Lake Loop, trying to get to at least 6 miles.

 

I didn’t even cover a third of the mileage in the park, but of what I did see, none of it was single track, and it was all very flat. Still, it’s a great place to get in long runs off of the concrete, if the pretty scenery doesn’t interest you, watching for alligators will keep you from getting bored!