Friday, August 31, 2012

"You're leveling up your bodies!"

I've made no secret of the fact that for the vast majority of my time on this planet, I have utterly despised running.


Over the past couple years, however, I've been trying my darnedest to change that (if you replace "trying my darnedest" with "occasionally starting then shortly thereafter quitting running programs"). With each attempt, I've noticed that in spite of myself, I'm actually improving as a runner. I may not be able to run as long or far as I could last March (when I could run almost twenty minutes at a time - a huge accomplishment for me), but at least I can finish my Week 4 run from my couch-to-5k program with relative ease. It wasn't long ago that merely jogging for a minute or two would leave me unable to breathe and riddled with stitches, so being able to run for 5 minutes at a time without whimpering, developing blisters, or getting that weird itchy leg syndrome* is kind of a big deal! In fact, since restarting my program a few weeks ago, the only obstacle/show stopper I've had to deal with has been the insect that flew into my eye mid-run last night (and people say my eye phobia is irrational... pshaw). Much to my surprise, I've been able to progress through the program rather quickly this time around, and have actually enjoyed going out for my late night jaunts (I only run late at night because the rest of the time I am either asleep or the earth is plagued with summer sunlight).

What I'm trying to say, is that I no longer find running unbearable.

But for years, I avoided running (along with most other exercise) at all costs. Like Robert Brockway says in his article 4 Stunning Revelations An Idiot Has About Running, "the only way I was running anywhere was if there was a lion behind me and an ice cream truck in front of me."

Actually, a lot of his article rang true with me. That's actually the only reason that I decided to post about running again today... I just really wanted to share the hilarity of this article. I've included a few of his gems below

Re: being teased in school for not being as athletic in gym class as the others:
"Exercise was forever cemented in my mind as 'that weird thing pretty people do with their limbs sometimes'"

Re: wearing fitness attire for the first time:
"Legs [are] capable of extending beyond 15 degrees," and "non-running shoes are like clumsy foot prisons"

Re: runner's high:
"Runner's aren't all lying scumbags!"

Re: seeing improvement:
"I'm going to phrase it in the most awkward, nerdy and embarrassing way that I can think of, so as to make you feel as bad about yourselves as possible: You're leveling up your bodies" ... "And don't worry: any day now, I'll be in good enough shape to beat myself up for that analogy."

I really like this article because not only has it been one of the very few fitness-related ones I've seen on, but it's very relate-able for those of us who are still in the very beginning stages of the running cycle. Go check it out!

*Note: the itchy leg syndrome I refer to is that itchy feeling you can get when running or walking after long periods of inactivity or a sedentary lifestyle - it's caused by the capillaries in our muscles expanding to meet the demand for increased blood flow. Thanks, Google!


After uploading this post, Teddy Westside was kind enough to send me this comic from that fits quite nicely. See it for yourself here!

"I haven't had the patience for RPGs in a long time."

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Jenny and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Bike Ride

I think it's funny when companies' attempts to be progressive or environmentally conscious turn out to just be wasteful. Take the LEED Certification of buildings, for example. New buildings* can become LEED certified (which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) by meeting a set criteria of requirements involving energy efficiency, lean building practices, recycling (both during construction and after completion), environmental quality controls, the use of environmentally safe products, etc. This is all well and good. Being more environmentally conscious and energy efficient is great! But it doesn't stop there. If you don't want to settle for simply being LEED Certified, you can try to reach the next levels of certification of LEED Silver, Gold, or Platinum. Once companies aim for these higher levels of certification, they can sometimes start adding random features to their buildings just for the sake of marking another check box. Did you know that you get credit towards LEED certification if you set up information centers that describe and explain how you became (or since it's before the fact, will become) LEED certified? It can be as simple as installing plaques describing the energy efficient systems or recycling programs or whatever or as complex as installing interactive monitor stations. Maybe it's just me, but if the end goal is sustainability and efficiency, that seems counter-productive. 

And while I hate to admit it, I'm pretty sure that my company's desire to certify the new headquarters as LEED Gold is the only reason that we have locker rooms and gym facilities. Don't get me wrong, I love that we have a gym and locker rooms, but other than the occasional yoga break during lunch time, I've never used them. I'll occasionally see someone in there when I'm passing through on the way to the parking lot, but it's mostly vacant. It's a nice perk, but sometimes I wonder if it was worth it. But by far, one of the easiest ways to get extra points towards certification is by installing bike racks on the property. It doesn't matter that my office is in the middle of a highly industrial area. It doesn't matter that it's surrounded by highways and other high-traffic roads, rife with unruly 18-wheelers, with no shoulders and few sidewalks**. It doesn't matter that these bike racks never get used (I've been at this office for a year and a half and have yet to see one bike), we have them now because we needed them for our LEED Gold status (I assume). I even tried to make them useful, once, but even though I live extremely close to work now, my one attempt at biking there was fraught with terror and was disastrously unsuccessful. 

That's right, that entire rant of an intro was just a super long, rambling segue into an anecdote about a terrible bike ride. 


Being that I now live pretty close to my office, I thought it would be a good idea (for the environment, my personal health, and my fuel budget) if I started cycling to work. I had done some light google-mapping and found what looked to be the perfect route. It went almost directly from my apartment to the office and, best of all, didn't involve any actual roads (which considering how inexperienced at cycling I am, I really need). It seemed too good to be true. Unfortunately, when I tried to actually make the trip, it turned out to be just that. 

As I followed the route, I found that only half of it was on any type of pavement, and the rest on this weird gravel/rock combo. While that wouldn't normally present a problem for experienced mountain bikers or people in motor vehicles, it was terrible for the inept cyclist that I am. Not only that, but there were a lot of hills (well, North Texas' version of hills) that my legs just couldn't handle. Then, when I was already getting wary of how on earth I'd be able to ride that gravel road each morning, I ran into a gate toting "Do Not Enter" signs. Being the ne'er-do-well that I am, I heroically climbed under the barricade and continued on my way. I couldn't get much farther, though, because I the path dead-ended at a power plant that didn't show up on the map. It was surrounded by barbed wire, and despite my lurking around (with a security camera following me all the while), I couldn't find a way around it. The worst part? The fact that I could see my office not too far off with absolutely no way to get there.

Can you imagine me parking this at work? Keep in
mind, I work in the construction industry. 

I can't blame all the problems with my ride on the route, though. I made a few errors myself, the biggest one being that I didn't have a bike (oops). I had to go to my old apartment (only 2 months after moving out), break into the garage (by casually following someone else's car in), and snatch my old bike from the clutches of the parking garage bike rack. After I got that squared away, I still had to deal with the overwhelming heat, a minimal amount of water (because apparently two water bottles weren't enough for mid-day in August), my general fear of riding bikes (seriously, it's a little bit terrifying), and my out of shape legs. 

Furthermore, because I ran out of water and was unable to refill at my office as I had planned, I had to make a detour on my way back (to bring me by the Jack-in-the-Box where I could get some water), which led me atop a weird valley-crest and through a swamp. Gross.

And with that, I gave up all hope of ever giving those bike racks at my office purpose. They will forever just be a waste.

Do you bike to work? Are you willing to ride on roads with actual cars and trucks? Do you like that I go to fast-food restaurants in the middle of a workout?

*New Construction is only one of many categories in which a structure can attain LEED certification - there are also categories for renovations, existing buildings, tenant spaces, community planning, ongoing maintenance, etc., each with their own set of requirements. 

**I realize that cyclists can ride in actual lanes on actual roads, but would you really want to be the biker holding up a bunch of speeding, angry 18-wheelers?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The 2012 Warrior Dash - Are You a Warrior?

I think it's needless to say that no one has ever considered me a warrior. I'm pretty obviously wimpy (despite what my kickboxing instructor says in an apparent attempt to placate me) and, as I've said before, scared of basically everything. A couple months ago, however, I participated in the Warrior Dash, and tried my darnedest to be just that, a warrior!

Well... I would have tried my darnedest to be just that had I bothered to do any training whatsoever (I hadn't even been running once since the Firefly Run a few weeks prior). To top it off, I for some reason thought it would be a good idea to get donuts and kolaches for everyone that morning. Turns out that they probably weren't the best pre-run meal.

After eating our nutritious breakfast, we all piled into the car and headed out to the site. We parked, boarded the shuttles (which were some pretty fancy school buses, complete with seat belts and a number of people saying things like "in my day, we rode the school bus with no seat belts uphill through the snow"), and arrived at the event. We checked our bags, carefully avoiding the already muddied participants, and decided to catch a peek at some of the action before our wave started.

Spectators were able to watch the very end of the course, which afforded us a pretty good view of the fire that we would be jumping over and the mud that we would be crawling through later. What surprised me in watching some of the earlier waves finish was how many racers were completely adverse to the idea of submerging themselves in mud. We must have watched half a dozen different people try to walk through it daintily (which is difficult with the barbed wire suspended just above the pit) or try to completely bypass it, apparently hoping that the multitude of bystanders and the announcer just plain wouldn't notice (which we obviously did). I'm not saying that swimming neck deep in mud is my favorite thing in the world (more like top 8), but it was basically the only thing I knew about the Warrior Dash going in. I knew there would be running and obstacles and a mud pit that we'd have to crawl/swim through. They advertise the mud pit extensively. Every promotional picture is of someone covered head to toe in mud. How were these racers so surprised that there would be mud? Also, as I learned later when doing the course myself, it wasn't like this was the first mud they'd encountered in the race. They had already gone through a lot of muddy areas and swam across a lake! But whatever...

After watching those mud-hating pansies for a while, Maddy, Sue and I made our way over to the start corral. After a few pictures with the start line announcer (that he insisted on taking and we never actually saw), a quick performance of the Macarena from Maddy and me (you're welcome, everyone), and a countdown, we were off! Our first obstacle (though not technically an obstacle) was to run up and down a bunch of hills. Hundreds of them (or maybe like 8). It was terrible, and it was not long before I realized just how little training I'd done for the dash (or just how many donuts and kolaches I'd eaten that morning). I ran as far as I could, but had to start walking after the first few hills.

Our first actual obstacle was the planks, where we walked up an angled plank with rungs, walked across a narrower plank, then walked down another angled plank. Piece of cake. Maddy and I started running again afterwards, but I couldn't go too far before having to slow to a walk. I told Maddy that she could go on without me if she wanted, as I suspect that she could have still run more, but she's pretty great, so she walked with me. Next, we came to a series of trenches topped with barbed wire that we had to crawl through. A lot of people just kind of crouched and walked through them, but not realizing that was a viable option, I crawled on my hands and knees. Let me tell you, muddy rocks are very uncomfortable on the knees. Farther down the trail, we arrived at the fire poles. Here, we had to climb up these giant steps (where I kind of felt like my baby nephew when he tries going up normal steps), then slide down the fire pole. This was the first actually frightening obstacle that we encountered, because the pole was very high. I never even used to slide down the fire poles at my elementary school playground, even though I was more than half as tall as they were, because the concept frightened me so. Maddy encouraged me though, assuring me that it was easy and not scary and as long as I held on it would be fine. Eventually, I manned up and slid safely to the ground (but without doing the reverse pinwheel that I had learned in those two pole dancing classes I took), and we continued on our way.

Next up were the over/unders, the climb-up/slide-down, and the horizontal cargo net (I'm really good at naming things). The over/unders were just like they sound. We jumped over a fence, then crawled under a fence, and repeated a bunch of times. Unfortunately, I am not strong enough to do that action movie thing where you jump up and leap over kind of on your side...


so instead, I just had to jump up and awkwardly hoist myself over each wall...

... gallantly.

At the climb-up/slide-down, we climbed up some beams, and, you guessed it, slid down the other side. That one was a little scary because it was a very steep slide from a high starting point (but mostly scary because the sliding process pulled up my shirt - good news, because I dress in layers, I was able to avoid flashing everyone). At the horizontal cargo net, we climbed up a net to an elevated, horizontal portion, then made our way across it. Most people crawled on all fours across, making sure to stabilize themselves by keeping their feet on the joints; I, on the other hand, just rolled across. I heard some remarks about it being an easy way out or whatever, but as far as I see it, rolling was an efficient and effective way of reaching the same end without actually cutting any corners.

Then, we waded through some crotch-deep muddy water and nearly fell multiple times on very slippery mud, before arriving at the lake. We waded in and hopped down the drop off so that we were about chest-deep in the water, at which point I realized that I could no longer breathe. Apparently, my body went into mini-shock or something due to the cold temperature of the water (something that happened to a large percentage of the participants I talked to afterwards). It was very unpleasant, but Maddy told me to keep taking slow, easy breaths until I acclimated again. Don't worry, I lived (or did I? ooOOooOOoo - because I would be the lame kind of ghost that spends her time blogging). We crossed the lake, climbed over the weird buoy barriers in the middle, and emerged on the other side to continue on our way. Only 5 more obstacles to go!

Slap an ectoplasmic hair bow on there and this is
basically what I would be like
Next were the vertical cargo net, the repelling wall, and the lava pit (seriously, Maddy, if you can think of any better, more descriptive names for these obstacles, I would really appreciate it). At the vertical cargo net, we climbed up and over the same material that I had rolled across earlier like a ladder. At the repelling wall, we held a rope and used it to help us walk up a wall before climbing down the other side. That obstacle wouldn't have been scary if not for the fact that since everyone had just been through the lake, all of the foot holds were covered in slippery mud, but we made it unscathed and no worse for the wear. The lava pit wall was fun, because while I don't think it was their intent, I pretended there was a lava pit beneath me. It was a wall with a tiny foothold ledge and one rope spanning the distance at the top set above a muddy, swampy pit. The number and location of other people on the wall would determine the tautness and sturdiness of the rope we were holding onto, which made it interesting. We made it across (without being burnt to a crisp by the imaginary lava) and headed towards the finale.

Before we could reach the finish line, however, we had to complete the final two obstacles, the very same ones that I had been watching from the sidelines earlier: the fire jump and mud pit. Although I had been a little nervous that I'd be the first person in the history of the Warrior Dash to trip on a rock or something and fall face first into the fire (classic Jenny), it turns out that my fears were unfounded, as I leaped safely over the flames without any dying at all (yay). Finally, it was time for the mud pit. Unlike most of the other mud we had encountered that day, which was usually a few inches of very slippery mud that would suction your feet in and trap you, this was basically a two feet deep pool of muddy water. As a result, I was able to basically float on the top, using just my arms to pull me the whole way. The only two actual dangers of this obstacle were the barbed wire covering the pit (which was easy to avoid if you just got in the mud normally... it was pretty much only the people that must have forgotten this was a mud run and tried to avoid the mud as much as possible by walking upright that could potentially have gotten hurt) and the rocks and stuff that were at the bottom (which I'm pretty sure we all scraped up our legs on a lot).

We emerged from the mud, covered from neck to toe (because even though I knew it was inevitable to get covered, I still had no intention of submerging my head and face as well), and made it to the finish line to get our medals! Hooray!

We met up with Jeff, Liz, and Sue (Jeff and Liz had been in the wave before ours) and made a bee line to fire hose station to get hosed off. After changing into some relatively mud free clothes and donating our muddy disgusting shoes to their we'll-clean-these-up-and-give-them-to-people-who-need-shoes program (or alternatively, their we-know-you-never-want-to-handle-these-shoes-again-so-we'll-take-them-off-your-hands program), we donned our free warrior hats began the actual main event of the day, eating turkey legs and day drinking.

We enjoyed the live bands (with hilarious backup dancers) and saw a number of costumed competitors.

We also made some friends, Disney princess style.

This is only one of many butterflies that hung out with
us all afternoon. They were very friendly.
After getting sufficiently sunburned to prove to our friends and co-workers that we did actually come here, we started the long drive home. Never had a long shower and nap on the couch been so refreshing.

So how did we do?
It took me 1:03:51 to finish the course, which puts me in the top 84.6%.
It's not as fast as I would have liked, but with no training, a lot of breakfast, and ample amounts of terror, my time was not as terrible as I was expecting.

From left to right: Liz, Sue, Jeff, Maddy, and me
Have you ever done an adventure race? Did you ever watch Danny Phantom? Are you totally jealous of our hats?

P.S. Maddy, thanks for pacing yourself to me when I couldn't run anymore or took forever to finish the obstacles. I know that you could have finished the dash much faster had I not been slowing you down, and I appreciate it.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Running, revisited, and my plans to eat copious amounts of tacos

Good news everybody, I've started running again! And no, you aren't experiencing deja vu; I just make this claim frequently (such as here and here).

After the Hot Chocolate Run, I kind of stopped my running regimen. Granted, I still did 3 races after that (The Color Run, the Firefly Run, and the Warrior Dash (which I promise I will recap some day)), but each with less and less training (and less and less success). In fact, until last night, I had only even attempted to go running thrice since April. My first attempt, which was in May, was actually moderately successful. I tired out, but I didn't give up. Also, I got to explore the neighborhood near my then-new apartment! My second attempt, during the heat of the day in June, resulted in me just walking the entire path and almost passing out from dehydration (well, dehydration and being a drama queen). My third attempt was somehow even less successful, in that I didn't even make it out the front door (I'm trying to set a record for the most links to other equally uninteresting blog posts). And that was that. I was done with running. It was too hot outside and I was far too lazy to keep it up.

Earlier this week, however, I got an e-mail about an upcoming 5k, and while that one looked really boring and just all around awful (why would you have a race that celebrates how ridiculously hot it is outside?), it got me thinking about other 5ks that might be coming up. Finally, after some light googling, I came across one that was too alluring to pass up: the Great Taco Run.

I think their logo could only be better if the taco were
sweating hot sauce.
Just in time for National Taco Day (which I guess is a thing), the Great Taco Run takes place at the end of September. This should give me enough time to reboot my Couch-to-5k program so that I will have a fighting chance of not embarrassing myself. I mean, not embarrassing myself with how poorly I run. I do, however, plan on embarrassing myself with how many tacos (as prepared by a slew of local vendors) I will eat immediately after the race. 9am is the perfect time for tacos, right? Wrong. Every time is the perfect time for tacos.

Anyhoo, on Tuesday, I realized that with the race a mere 7.5 weeks away, it was time to get crackin'. I needed a plan. The Couch-to-5k program is supposed to last 8 weeks, so it wouldn't be that far off target. However, I am going to be out of town and unable to run at all for a few days this week, so I needed to stream line the process. In order to figure this out, I was going to need ingenuity, cunning, and most importantly, ORGANIZATION!

If Twilight Sparkle, inept at everything non-magic as she is,
was able to save the Winter Wrap-Up with nothing more than
a clipboard and her checklist, surely I could figure out a way
to cram an 8 week training program into 6.5 weeks, right?
I grabbed a calendar and starting marking down all the training runs I planned on doing in the next two months. The resulting schedule showed me finishing up the program about a week before the Great Taco Run. The secret to how I was able to trim off so much time? Skipping integral parts entirely. I started the program last night with the designated Week 2 - Day 1 run, bypassing Week 1 altogether, because it's what a rebel does.

Self portrait, basically.
The run itself went well. Although it only involved 2 minutes of running at a time, I was still somewhat challenged after not running for so long. It would have been disheartening, except that when I thought back to where I was about a year and a half ago, when I had barely run at all ever, I was able to see how much I've improved. Before, I wouldn't have been able to run those two minutes without gasping for air, clutching my sides, and giving up (with an extra serving of giving up). Also, because I accidentally got caught up in some TV shows for too long after work yesterday, I happened to not go running until it was already cool and nice outside. It was a win-win!

I've planned to do my Week 2-Day 2 run tonight after my kickboxing class, so let's hope my legs still function afterwards.

Does anyone want to take bets on how many tacos my friends and I will eat? Since it'll be in the morning, do you think they'll have breakfast tacos? Isn't it weird that this will be the first 5k I've signed up for without Maddy (who moved out of state a month or so ago)? Do you like how I felt it necessary to link to the same previous blog post in two separate locations?