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”.

IMG_1080
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

Race Recap: Crazy Desert Trail Race

I decided to sign up for the Crazy Desert Trail Race because it was part of the Trail Racing Over Texas (TROT) series, I had already achieved a first place in their Horseshoe Trail Race, and I found the event really well organized and supported. I figured I should keep the momentum going, and see what I could do in another of their trail races. My one hesitation was that it is about a 7 hour drive from my home in Houston to San Angelo, Texas, where the race was being held at San Angelo State Park. I knew I wouldn’t be ready for a half-marathon, not an enjoyable one anyways, so I selected the 10k distance to make the long drive worth it. The other distances available were 100k, 50k, half-marathon, and 5k. I really like that TROT usually makes a variety of distances available.

 

My training for the race was not extreme. I did a couple of trail runs in the weeks leading up to the race, but I mostly just did easy runs. My overall focus right now is to build up my running base while escaping from the muck of chronic tendon & knee pain brought on by muscle imbalances. So, I run and foam roll, and I get sports massages, readying myself for some more intense speed work in the spring. The week leading up to the race I only ran twice, once on Monday, and I felt some nagging tendonitis trying to rear up. So on the recommendation of the trainer teaching my personal training course with NPTI, I took the rest of the week off until Friday, when I jogged a two slow miles to shake off some pre-race jitters.

 

Although I went over the race course that was sent out, even saving the route to my Garmin profile, I failed to note that the actual length of the course was 5.7 miles, not 6.2. This was not a big deal, but I’ll get to that later. The elevation climb looked mild, and I’ve been doing a grip of core work so I felt prepared to run the whole thing. If you aren’t used to running hills, the strain of keeping your torso relaxed and upright can be surprising, so make sure to do work that stresses the endurance capabilities of your core muscles.

1BA9503A-E9B9-4945-8ED8-1EFA4AD9C291

The Race:

Warm up: ½ a mile and some stride-outs. I decided to conserve energy instead of doing an overly thorough warm-up  (and as you can see, I consumed it as part o the process, too)

Gun & First Mile: 8:25

1592CAAA-D75D-4AA4-9539-EC44217E8B0CI lined up in front and went out strong. There were maybe 6 people ahead of me after the first mile, and only one woman. As I watched her take off, I debated trying to keep up with her. She was moving fast, and I kept my eye on her but let her go, swearing to myself that she was the only female runner I would be behind. I fell into a line of runners, with about three guys ahead of me. I made my way past one, then another, until I was behind just one guy.

 

Mile Two: 8:32

This mile was a game-changer, and made the whole race more thrilling for me. I was still closely following the one man ahead of me. I wasn’t paying attention, and clearly neither was he, because we ran off course, missing a turn off. We realized our mistake about a 100 meters from the right path, which doesn’t sound like a lot, except to get to where we were, we had been navigating a dry creek bed and ducking under not one, but two barbed wire fences. Something didn’t feel right, yet we probably had taken five other runners with us. We heard commotion from where we came, looked to see people turning back and realized our mistake. When I saw the right path I felt furious. If I hadn’t been following so closely I probably would have seen it, but my eyes were on the runner in front of me, not the course. So 200 wasted meters later, with about ten new runners in front of me, I got back on course.

Mile Three: 9:05

I caught up to and passed the women that were in front of me, and most of the men. There were still two ahead of me, and one was not keen on letting me pass. At a place where a photographer was stationed, I had the opportunity to pass him, as there was more space, and I charged around. I’m eagerly awaiting the results of that photo! Right after I passed the guy, we reached a significant incline. There was another guy ahead of me, and he was walking. I decided to run it. The guy behind me was still on my heels, and though running up the hill didn’t give me a significant advantage as far as putting distance between us, I thought maybe it might tire him out and give me more space later. I’m very confident and efficient on hills, and after we reached the top he did wind off dropping back significantly while I pressed on.

Mile Four: 8:55

I kept up my pace. I was almost shocked at how good I felt. My calves were burning, and my breath was labored, but as I scanned my body I only felt like running faster. With two miles left to go (remember I didn’t know at this point the course was half a mile short of a 10k), I was running a sub-8, unprecedented on trails for me. I felt like the only thing I was racing was my own capacity for pain. The guy who had been walking on the incline in mile three had taken off, and I let him go. I was doing the most I could. Another runner approached me, and was on my heels the rest of the race, but he never made it around me. These last miles were my favorite part of the course, there was more technical running, and having someone on my heels was keeping me focused on the task at hand.

Mile Five: 9:22

Go-time. Believing I had a mile and a half left- the 1.2 plus the extra distance I had run when we went off course, I decided it was time to shake out everything I had left. This wound up being my slowest mile, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. There was some more technical footwork required, and including multiple cattle-guards, which I swung off fences and stepped over rather than jumped over- trying to avoid rolling an ankle.

Mile 5.8: 7:23 (8:23 pace)

At 5.7 miles I saw the U-haul that TROT had parked in the lot, and realized then that either my watch was off or the course was short. It was bittersweet, as I realized I had more gas in the tank, but as I crossed the line, and realized I had averaged an 8:48 pace for a trail race that I really hadn’t trained to I was pretty proud. I hadn’t lost my placement after the detour after all, coming in 2nd for women.

 

My take-away experiences from this race are significant. I really pushed the entire time. I didn’t get discouraged from the set-back of going the wrong way, I used it as an opportunity to challenge myself more. I ran with tenacity and used my head. Philosophically, I thought about how I broke my ankle in a race two years ago, and I’d gladly trade losing my place and some time in a race over that experience ten times over, that I had driven half a day to get here, and a set-back is only a loss if you don’t use the opportunity to better yourself.

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.

 

IMG_0863.jpg

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.

IMG_0862.jpg

 

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!