Lactic Acid, the Hero We Need

This past week I made some bold moves on the internet. I started threads on Facebook about the perhaps most contentious discussions of the moment: vaccinations, breastfeeding, and Woody Allen. I figured I’d bring the controversy to my blog. There are many topics to choose from: stretching vs. not stretching before a run, Gu vs. gummy bears, how much water is too much water, and of course everyone’s favorite controversy, barefoot running. I’d like to touch on all of these subjects eventually; stir up the runner’s pot a bit. Today however I embark upon a quest to understand the misunderstood. To set the record straight. To defend the maligned, the convicted, the discredited. Today I write in defense of lactic acid.

This subject may not be as interesting to anyone you as it is to me. Sooo, sorry about that. I merely want to share my revelation. I will say that my allusions on social media to writing this article have been met with keen interest from fellow runners so hopefully my painstaking research will shed some light on a mysterious topic. Much more mysterious than I even could have imagined.

Living in an age where we’re making eyeglasses with computer screens in them and talking about using nano robots for microsurgery, I just assumed that we had a pretty decent handle on the basic chemical functions of the body. I was wrong. Of course we know a great deal, but so much is still a mystery. We can land a robot on Mars, but we can’t quite get to the bottom of lactic acid’s processes in our body. And I’m not just talking about me and my effort to understand. I’m talking about the established medical community. I’ve spent the past week reading warring medical journals online. The tete a tetes between disagreeing doctors is nothing short of hilarious.

After diligently researching the subject by reading countless medical journals, I feel confident that I understand what’s going on with my body when I run.

You read that right. I read medical journals. This right-brained theatre major who took anatomy senior year of high school because chemistry was just too hard for her, read articles in the American Journal of Physiology titled things like “Biochemistry of exercise-induced metabolic acidosis.” I felt like I was reading another language, but it was an incredible exercise for the brain. My brain felt like my legs do after a half marathon!

I’ll link to all of my references at the bottom of this article if you’d like to partake.

On to lactic acid. First, let me take a step back for a moment. I had a rough run at last month’s Tinker Bell Half Marathon. Despite feeling fairly trained and ready to race, about 5 minutes after crossing the finish line I felt that I’d been hit by a truck. I learned that much of this was probably due to sleep deprivation, but others advised me that I was also displaying symptoms of lactic acid build-up. I’d heard that before. We’re runners. We’ve all heard that and thrown it around ourselves. “Oh, that’s lactic acid.” Eeevil lactic acid. I hadn’t given it much of a second thought before, but I felt so frustrated by the outcome of the Tinker Bell race that I began to question. Why? Why, when I need my body to do everything it can to throw me a bone in a strenuous situation, why would it create a substance that would make me feel like I was dying? I thought I’d do a little research and find a simple answer. I was wrong.

Lactic acid has become a catch-all to describe an incredibly, INCREDIBLY, complicated set of chemical processes in the body. The truth that I think I’ve begun to uncover is that lactic acid is not guilty of all that we attribute to it.

First of all, here are some myths that need busting:

  • Lactic Acid is responsible for delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)
  • Lactic Acid causes cramping
  • Lactic Acid can be expelled from the body through sports massage
  • Lactic Acid causes long-term muscle fatigue
  • Lactic Acid is a waste product
  • Lactic Acid is your worst enemy

These are all untrue. In fact lactic acid is created to help you. I’ll explain more on these misconceptions in a minute but first, a science lesson. To truly harness the power of lactic acid in your training you must understand how it works in the body.

*Disclaimer* What I’m about to describe is an incredibly complicated chemical process and I’m basically boiling it down to a very simple few steps. So all you O-chem students out there don’t write me letters about how I didn’t accurately represent the Krebs Cycle. I know I know already. Just trying to keep it simple.

I drew. I channeled my inner Allie Brosh and I drew some accompanying diagrams to aid this science lesson. They are crude and awful, but hopefully helpful. Like I said, right-brained visual thinker over here.

We begin our story. It’s a tale of an unsung hero, saving our muscles from collapse when the world around us begs our demise. This world we’ve entered is a world of exercise.

When we exercise, our bodies need energy. Well, our bodies ALWAYS need energy just to live but specifically we need a lot when we exercise. That energy comes in the form of ATP, which shall henceforth be represented by this magical ATP butterfly.

ATP Butterfly.png

We create ATP in our bodies either Aerobically or Anaerobically. When we’re just walking around and sitting and sleeping and eating and living our normal lives, we create ATP Aerobically which means, you guessed it, with oxygen.

During Aerobic creation of ATP, our bodies break down GLUCOSE through a process called GLYCOLYSIS. Through that breakdown of GLUCOSE we meet our next player in this story, PYRUVATE. PYRUVATE is the gatekeeper to our metabolic process, doling out the goods to make ATP. He shall henceforth be represented by this purple helper monster.

Pyruvate Monster

Pyruvate then enters a process called the Krebs Cycle which is way too complicated and chemistry-y for me to go into. Basically what you end up with is ATP. Yay!

Running Girl

Which requires:

Energy

Since it’s an easy run, the kind where I can carry out a conversation the entire time, my body is going to produce ATP mostly through Aerobic Metabolism:

Aerobic ATP production

ATP Gives Energy

And then the ATP gets used up and recycled to begin the process all over again. It’s very efficient and miraculous. Good job body!

But we’re athletes. They aren’t all easy runs. So what happens when we want to push it to the max?

Running Fast

Oxygen gets harder and harder to come by (you know that feeling of asphyxiation when you sprint?), and yet our bodies don’t give up. We kick in to Anaerobic Metabolism.

In that scenario, our body still needs ATP. We begin the process of GLYCOLYSIS to create PYRUVATE. Because we’re kicking it into high gear and using all of our oxygen, we can’t keep up with the demand for ATP via the Krebs Cycle. So instead PYRUVATE creates… LACTIC ACID! Hurray! You’ve been waiting for her to make her entrance.

Good ‘ol lactic acid then gets turned into LACTATE. Now here is where our real star is born. All this talk of lactic acid is misleading, the real actor in this whole scenario is LACTATE. Henceforth LACTATE shall be known as this pink superhero monster:

Lactate Superhero
I heard someone needed a boost!

LACTATE is able to fill in the gap where OXYGEN left us hanging and continues the process to provide our bodies with much needed ATP for exertion. Thank you LACTATE.

Like any good superhero, he has his nemesis. Enter: HYDROGEN ION. HYDROGEN IONS are also known as CATIONS, which lets be honest is an incredibly cool name for a super villain. Enter CATION!

Hydrogren Monster
I will crush you with my free floating molecules.

So here’s his story. The breakdown of Lactic Acid to LACTATE yields a build up of HYDROGEN IONS in the body. In the aerobic process these HYDROGEN IONS get balanced out and the body maintains a neutral pH; but some things get a little hanky in the anaerobic process. LACTATE, as useful as he may be to our ability to sprint and push ourselves, is left wanting when it comes to fighting HYDROGEN ION aka CATION. And so with all of these free HYDROGEN molecules floating around in the body, our muscles are left with an unbalanced pH, i.e. an acidic environment.

Anaerobic Metabolism

This acidic environment is sometimes referred to as Lactic Acidosis or Muscular Acidosis. THIS is what is happening when we feel like crap during or right after a hard run and we curse the name LACTIC ACID. What we really should be shouting is “Curse you CATION!!!”

LACTATE just can't fight off HYDROGEN ION
LACTATE just can’t fight off his nemesis CATION

So yeah, despite LACTATE’s best efforts to help us and give us energy to keep running, wicked CATION has turned our muscles into his own personal acidic wasteland. A wasteland known as Muscular Acidosis. The symptoms of Muscular Acidosis are:

  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting
  • Hyperventilation
  • Abdominal Pain
  • Anxiety
  • Severe Anemia
  • Hypotension
  • Irregular Heart Rate
  • Tachycardia (increased heart rate)

All LACTATE was trying to do was get us our ATP when we ran out of OXYGEN, and sneaky HYDROGEN ION busts in there and causes all the problems and then blames it on LACTATE. The injustice.

In a very elementary nutshell, that is why our bodies produce LACTATE (or Lactic Acid if we want to go back to using the more umbrella term) when we run. The moral of the story is that, although the by-product can be incredibly uncomfortable, LACTATE is there to help us perform under strenuous circumstances. LACTATE helps push our bodies beyond the confines of pedestrian oxygen and tests our mettle. He may not be the hero we always want, but he certainly is the hero we need.

He cannot work alone however. In order for LACTATE to work efficiently, we need to work together. This is where smart training comes into play.

LACTATE is an elusive superhero. He leaves us almost as quickly as he arrives, and luckily takes his nemesis HYDROGEN ION with him. Within approximately one hour after a strenuous workout all of the LACTATE in your body will have been metabolized either by the heart, the liver, or even through your sweat. However that can be an uncomfortable hour if you’re in a state of Acidosis. So what we need to do is to make sure that our bodies don’t produce LACTATE faster than we can clear it. It’s like a game of Dr. Mario. You always want to make sure you’re clearing out those pills faster than Dr. Mario is throwing them at you. If you get behind, suddenly there’s a major build-up and you die. It’s just like that, except for hopefully not the dying part.

dr-mario-classic-nes-series-20040810082856155_640w

Now I will list the main steps we must take to make sure we’re using LACTATE to benefit us.

  1. Physical Fitness
    • There is no doubt that the better shape you’re in, the better off you’ll be, so take your training very seriously. The better the shape you’re in the less LACTATE your body will need to produce in order produce ATP, and thus the less likelihood of a build-up situation where you can’t clear it as fast as you’re making it. Being in tip top shape is like playing a Beginner Level of Dr. Mario. Easy peasy and fun. To GET in this kind of shape you’ll need:
  2. OBLA Training
    • You have to GET in really good shape. You have to GET really good at Dr. Mario. So what you need to do is train at a high level. When we’re talking about Lactic Acid tolerance, we’re talking about OBLA training. This stands for Onset of Blood Lactate Accumulation. In OBLA Training you will run as fast as you possibly can while still maintaining an Aerobic environment. You’ll be at that threshold before your body crosses over into Anaerobic mode. What this does is keeps your body at that level where lactic acid production is *just* below lactic acid clearance. So you can push yourself athletically without evil CATION taking his grip. This is key because the more you exercise at the OBLA level, you’ll slowly start to increase where that threshold is and you’ll be using lactate as efficiently as possible without entering that Lactic Acidosis territory where your muscles stop working and you feel like you want to vomit. OBLA Training is like playing Dr. Mario at EXTREME DIFFICULTY and being REALLY good at it. Those pills are coming down fast but you’re *juuuust* able to stay ahead of the game and clear them out. Sorry if these metaphors are getting old but the Dr. Mario thing really works for me.
  3. Cool Down
    • To me this may be the most valuable of all, and often the most difficult to accomplish in a race environment. If you’re in a situation where your body is producing a lot of Lactic Acid, the more you keep moving and breathing the quicker that Lactic Acid is going to clear from your system and the better you’ll feel. So if you’ve got yourself in a pickle where you have too much LACTATE and his nemesis HYDROGEN ION, give yourself another half mile or so to cool down with an easy jog. As I said, this can be hard during a race because once you cross that finish line you find yourself in a sea of people and photos and medals and spectators and BLAH. Cooling down is basically not an option. What I now know happened to me at the Tinker Bell Half Marathon is I pushed it reeeeally hard the last two miles because I’m dumb and stubborn. I was already at my max and then I pushed it beyond and produced what I’m sure was a shit-ton of Lactic Acid during those last two miles. I then crossed the finish line and BAM! It was like hitting a brick wall at full speed while driving a truck full of flammable liquid. Kaboom. CATION took hold.
    • In training this isn’t a problem. Run your scheduled distance at your planned level of exertion, then jog for another half mile or so to cool down. Do some gentle stretching, some walking, and some deep breathing. In a race this is harder to do, but I have a solution. Let’s use the half marathon as an example. What I recommend is, if you want to push yourself, make sure you do it by mile 11. At that point you really should use mile 12 and 13 to run your comfortable half marathon pace, and use the last half mile to really cool down, whether that’s a gentle jog or even walking, depending on your level of fitness. I know that sounds so unappealing when all you want to do is BURST through that Finish Line, but let me tell you from experience. When you’ve got Lactic Acid build up in your body, that line is an illusion. What it really is, is a brick wall. Don’t be fooled.

Let me get back to a few of those myths I listed at the beginning of the article. Most of them should have been dispelled throughout, but just to make sure we clear LACTATE’s good name:

  • Lactic Acid is responsible for delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)
    • FALSE – as I mentioned earlier, Lactic Acid is completely cleared from the body within 60 minutes of finishing exercise, so there’s no way it’s responsible for the soreness you feel 24 and even 48 hours after your run. Lactic Acid has an alibi! She was busy being metabolized into glucose by the liver!
  • Lactic Acid causes cramping
    • FALSE – mysteriously enough, there is no scientific consensus as to what causes cramping. Most scientists agree however that it has to do with lack of oxygen to muscle tissue. Since Lactic Acid is created to fill in the gap where oxygen is left out, essentially trying to help by continuing to create ATP, it doesn’t contribute to cramping. Essentially they are separate issues in the body.
  • Lactic Acid can be expelled from the body through sports massage
    • FALSE – studies have shown that athletes who underwent a sports massage after a hard workout displayed the same levels of LACTATE remaining in the body as athletes who did nothing after their workout. Still, if I were the latter athletes in that study, I would’ve certainly felt like I got the short end of the stick. There’s no doubt that massages are awesome! Just not gonna help you clear lactic acid.
  • Lactic Acid causes long-term muscle fatigue
    • FALSE – see first myth. There’s nothing long-term about Lactic Acid.
  • Lactic Acid is a waste product
    • FALSE – for shame! Everything that LACTATE does to keep our engines burning and we dare to call him a waste? Sorry LACTATE.
  • Lactic Acid is your worst enemy
    • FALSE – hopefully everything I’ve said in this article has shown you that this really is not true. Though that HYDROGEN ION aka CATION sure can be a stinker.

Lactate SuperheroHydrogren Monster

In summary, Lactic Acid is your friend. Lactic Acid is the mother of LACTATE and LACTATE is your hero when you want to excel your physical fitness to the next level. LACTATE continues production of ATP, is an excellent source of liver glycogen, and like all good heroes, he knows when to leave. He arrives when PYRUVATE raises the signal, does his job, and is gone within the hour. Unfortunately we can’t have a superhero without a supervillain, and CATION fills that role nicely. He tags along with the production of Lactic Acid and makes LACTATE look bad. His free floating Hydrogen Ions turn our comfortable muscles into an acidic wasteland known as Lactic or Muscular Acidosis. But his grip is weak. As LACTATE makes his exit, CATION is dragged out with him, leaving our muscles where they belong, in a pH balanced environment. He may not always get the credit he deserves, but for all of you ambitious athletes out there, LACTATE is a special little chemical hero.

References

Dear Tinker Bell, I’m Just Not Feeling It

Last month I ran the Tinker Bell Half Marathon to kick off the 2014 race schedule. I pretty much had a terrible time. I mean it’s Disneyland and Neverland and family fun times so all of the elements of fun were there but when it comes to the running, I had a terrible time. Due to circumstances sort of beyond my control I got a total of 6 hours of sleep in the two nights leading up to the race. That’s 3 hours of sleep the night before a half marathon. I don’t recommend it.

I love waking up with Brad on a race day. While making coffee, Brad makes jokes about how painfully early it is and I flit around the hotel room like a demented fairy, getting nervous for the impending 13 miles ahead. But this morning I just felt tired. SO tired. Deliriously tired. It was difficult to flit around. Pixie dust meter on empty. The thing about waking up at 3:30 am to run a half marathon is that no matter what time you went to bed the night before, you’re always going to be tired. Looking at your alarm clock at 3:30 am will always make you very very sleepy. So on this particular morning I didn’t register that I was more tired than usual. I just felt a malaise. The thought that entered my head was “I’m not really feeling it.” That thought is kryptonite to someone who’s about to run a half marathon. You have to, at the very least, feel it.

We got dressed. I decked out as Smee and Brad my Crocodile (the hat for the Croc being the culprit for my staying up until midnight. Stupid Krazy Glue!)

smee

Stumbling out of our hotel room at approximately 4:15 we make our way to the starting line. The energy surrounding me is as per usual for a runDisney event. Electric. Thousands of runners surround me, many seemingly first time half marathoners. I’m excited. I am. A detached sort of excited. I register my detachment and try to brush it off. This is exciting! It is! Next to us I see a runner dressed as Rufio from Hook. How awesome is that?

20140119_045503
The coolest!

5:00 am approaches. The national anthem is sung. The singing of the national anthem usually brings a tear to my eye. This morning it does not. Fireworks ignite the air. The announcers inspire. All of the elements of a fantastic runDisney morning are there and all I can do is continue to suppress the little minion in my head repeating the mantra “I’m just not feeling it.”

Ever feel like you’re in a fog? Like you’re going through the motions of your life, surrounded by things that should make you happy yet they fall upon numbness? Like you have a front row seat to observe your life from the outside? Inside you feel, just, nothing? I’m fortunate that I’ve never been seriously or clinically depressed, but I’m told the sensation is similar. If that is in fact the case then I can tell you that running 13 miles through Disneyland at 5:00 in the morning on 3 hours of sleep is much the same as being clinically depressed. Add to the mix some guilt. Guilt for not being happy at a runDisney race (it feels like sacrilege). Guilt that I paid so much money to run an event that “I’m just not feeling.” Guilt that I coerced Brad into running the same event. Though luckily Brad looks pretty happy. Brad appears to be having a good run. Phew!

Around mile 6, about the time when I’m just wishing the whole damn thing would be over, I start to panic. Am I falling out of love with running? Am I falling out of love with Disney? Are runDisney and I going to have to break up??? No!! Sheer panic. Why do I feel so terrible? Why isn’t Tinker Bell making me happy? What is this malaise? Why am I not feeling it? I still had not put 2 and 2 together that 3 hours of sleep the night before miiiiight contribute to my lack of excitement.

Brad runs with gusto. He is, as I said, having a great race and clips along at a good pace. I can’t hold him back in my fog. He takes off around mile 9 and continues on to have a fantastic final 4 miles. I just try to make it through.

There is one characteristic emotion of mine that can’t seem to be anesthetized, no matter my state of exhaustion or malaise, and that is my lovely stubbornness. Even though I’m tired and struggling and should really just take it easy if I ever want to enjoy running again, for some reason I decide that I want to finish in under 3 hours. I push it hard the last few miles to ensure that will happen and I cross the finish line feeling, for the first time, pretty damn good. What I soon discover is that since I hadn’t really been feeling anything the entire race, not excitement or joy or determination, I mistook these final emotions (extreme pain) as “pretty damn good.” I suppose I was just relieved to be feeling anything. Since a popular runner’s motto is “my sport is your sport’s punishment” let’s just say it’s not uncommon for a runner to mistake pain for pleasure.

I cross the finish line, find Brad, take our picture, get some water, and feel relieved the race is done. About 10 minutes later I feel everything a runner dreads. Nausea, extreme exhaustion, dizziness, chills, irritability. Damnit. My stubbornness caught up with me. Lactic acid comes rushing in.

Somehow I make it through to the other side of this episode. We find Mom and Dennis and head to Denny’s for breakfast. The thought of food makes me feel like I want to die whilst vomiting, but Mom insists that it will make me feel better. I suspect she’s right so I go with them to Denny’s even though all I really want to do is collapse. Mom orders me a chocolate milkshake and you know what, it was like magic. That magic guilt-free chocolate milkshake I downed at 8:00 in the morning perked me up and settled my tummy. Ice Cream really is the answer to everything. Best chocolate milkshake ever.

After breakfast we walk back to the hotel for a much needed nap, and now that my brain feels a bit more attached to my head I can start to think clearly again. I start to ask questions. Why does this happen to me? Why is it that sometimes I have a great race and sometimes I feel like shit? It can’t just be training. I’m actually pretty well trained for this race. Why does lactic acid seem to attack me only on some runs, and takes pity on me others?

By this point I’d gotten smart and realized that sleep deprivation no doubt played a major role in my malaise. After the milkshake cleared my head I had a light bulb moment and said “Ooohhh. THAT’S why I wasn’t feeling it.” Amazing it took me that long to figure out. I took this as a comfort, knowing that it’s something I can control. Next time I’ll just get more sleep. But this lactic acid question lingered and bothered me. I don’t feel as though I have control over its presence in my running. It seems to rear its ugly head when it wants to, other times a sleeping dragon. After our nap I set out to do some research on this evil foe. I want to understand how lactic acid really works in the body. Why in the world does our body produce anything that would make us feel so terrible right at the time when we need our body to work FOR us, not against us? The answers I found astounded me.

I discovered that lactic acid is actually meant to work for you, you just have to know how to use it. Mind blown. Suddenly I feel like if I can understand this villain of mine, perhaps we can be allies. It’s just as Honest Abe Lincoln once said, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” Lactic acid and I are about to become bffs.

I’ll impart my research on lactic acid at a later date. Before you roll your eyes, I promise that it’s interesting! I’ve got more studying to do however before I can write a worthy article. As far as Tinker Bell Half Marathon 2014 goes, I found myself in a foggy runner’s malaise and turned it into a teachable moment. And that’s why I run. Because although I briefly panicked that running and I were falling out of love, the great thing about a healthy relationship is that you can always work it out. Running and I, we’re working it out. We’re learning about each other.

Sunday afternoon I went for a breathtaking 5 mile run on the beach. I pushed myself. I philosophized. I worked through some mental cobwebs that had been bugging me. I felt centered. I felt grateful for my feet.

Running and I. We’re rekindling the flame.

Happy moments on the course
Happy moments on the course. A couple of people thought Brad was a dinosaur or an alien shark. This amused me.
If 14,000 excited runners can't get you in the mood, you're in for a long run.
If 14,000 excited runners can’t get you in the mood, you’re in for a long run.
rekindling the romance
a long walk run on the beach is just the ticket for rekindling the romance

So Much Thanks

I have a lot to be thankful for this year. When you get right down to it, the vast majority of us in the world have a WHOLE lot to be thankful for, and with the world as whacked out as it is, I think it’s important to vocalize our thanks. Focus on the good. Be… excellent… to each other. ‘Tis the season.

This year I want to participate in the 30 days of thanks challenge. Is it a challenge? I’m not sure. I may have made that up. 30 days of thanks… extravaganza? Or maybe it’s just 30 Days of Thanks. That sounds more like it. Either way, I want to do that thing where you vocalize, literally or electronically, something you are thankful for each day.

Most people do this through a Facebook post or a tweet, but being the long-winded writer that I am I’m anticipating wanting to elaborate a bit more so I’ll use the ol’ blog to get the word out. This will also give me a true challenge, to write every day for 30 days.

Join me on a 30 day journey of reflection and deep-hearted thanks. I encourage you to join in the extravaganza!

(I’m a few days behind, so I’m going to spitfire Days 1-4 and get on track with one post per day starting tomorrow).

Day 1

This face/person/soul:

 

petal 1

 

Brad Light. I don’t know what I did to find him. Whatever celestial magic that brought him my way, to “you” I say thank you. I am thankful for his spirit, his silliness, his sense of humor, his tenderness, his gentleness, his handsomeness, his goodness, his curly brown hair, his horned-rim glasses, his love of the sea, his quest for adventure, his love of his family, his love of cats, his delicious stir-frys, his understanding, and more than anything I’m thankful that he loves me. Again, celestial magic. It’s a thing. I love you to the moon and back Brad.

Day 2

These squishy fluffy faces:

Kitties

 

It is an excellent idea to live with cuddly animals. They teach you about unconditional love. They challenge you to take care of something precious other than yourself. They encourage you to embrace empathy for non-human creatures, which then translates to empathy for human creatures too. These are truths for me. I am so grateful for my two kitties, Sharky and Mr. Wizard. Now if only they loved each other as much as we love them. Maybe next year.

Day 3

My running route:

Last night Brad and I finished a glorious 10 mile run along the beach. Around mile 4 the sun was setting over the Pacific and Brad says to me “if anyone told me when I was a kid that one day I’d get to run along the beach next to my fiance as the sun sets over the ocean, I’d have been able to suffer through a lot more pain with a smile on my face knowing where I’d eventually end up.” Isn’t that the lesson we all need. First of all, when life sucks, as it often does, you are never without the tiny kernel of knowledge that somehow it will get better. It just will. And that maybe all of the hard times are necessary, as they are leading to something more wonderful than you could imagine. So today I am grateful for where those hard times and wrong turns have landed us. In a little apartment on the Pacific with the most glorious running path two runners could ask for.

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Day 4

I am grateful for the fall.

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Today I woke up and I knew it would feel like fall (as much as it CAN feel like fall in Los Angeles). Brisk autumn days are something I miss so terribly living in L.A. Some people get bummed out by a lack of sunshine. I get bummed out by too much. I like the seasons to obey the seasons and Southern California is the land of eternal summer. Bummer. Today I have a scarf around my neck, and I wore a jacket to work. I noticed some leaves falling off trees, and the shadows are extra long. Today, it feels like California fall and it may only last until about 3:00 pm, but I’ll take it. I’ll savor it.

 

Sometimes I worry that acknowledging all that I’m grateful for will jinx me, and it will all fall apart. This comes from the part of my brain that is convinced I don’t deserve to be happy. Hogwash. We all deserve to be happy. But we gotta thank the universe once in a while. She won’t bite.

 

See ya tomorrow.

 

 

Couple a Dumbos! Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend (Video)

My fiance made such a great recap video of this year’s Disneyland Half Marathon festivities, I feel that I don’t need to say much in a recap post. I’ll just post the video for now and follow up later with a narrative recap for anyone who is interested. I do actually have a couple of criticisms of this year’s event (gasp!) but mostly they involve the weather. My beef is with Mother Nature. Girl, what was with that humidity!? All in all runDisney put on another wonderful weekend celebrating running, accomplishing your goals, health, and of course Disney!

I think this is the best video of the event Brad has ever put together. Good job honey! Enjoy!

your half-marathon must haves, a checklist

The date is fast-approaching! There are about 15,000 runners out there who in just 12 days will be gearing up to run a half marathon!  I’m no pro, and I don’t have a degree in physical therapy or any professional experience with athletics, so I rarely feel like I can give proper advice about things like injuries or technique. I’m just a girl who’s been running for 15 years, some years more robustly than others, and the only advice I have to offer is what has worked for me. It may work for some, won’t work for others. Every runner is different! Today I offer such advice as you prep and pack for your trip to Disneyland! I’d like to share with you some of my must-have items for Disneyland Half Marathon weekend. This checklist should apply to any half-marathon really. I’m sure you’ll be able to pick out the Disney specific items 🙂 (e.g. you probably don’t need to bring your Mickey Mouse Ears to the ING NYC Marathon).

Let’s start from head to toe:

1.  Hats! I never know when sunglasses are going to give me a headache, so it’s best to have a hat to keep the sun out of my eyes. My runDisney hats are my favorite of course:

running hat from 2013 Tinkerbell Half Marathon
running hat from 2013 Tinkerbell Half Marathon

You’ll want a hat that’s lightweight and has some mesh along the sides that breathe.  Case in point, don’t just go running a half marathon in a regular old baseball hat. After a while you’ll start to feel like you’ve got a winter cap on your head! Visors are a great option because they don’t trap the heat (heat escapes from the top of your head so hats can be tricky on a really hot day). Visors aren’t so much my style but I could learn to embrace them. Maybe they’ll have some at the Health & Fitness Expo!

2. Sweaty Bands. I loooove sweaty bands! I first discovered them at the Dland Half Health & Fitness Expo a couple of years ago and they’re kind of like magic. If you don’t need or want to wear a hat or visor but still want to keep your hair out of your face, you must invest in some Sweaty Bands. They are basically just headbands but the underside is made of this magic velvety material and they DO. NOT. SLIP. I wore one last year when I ran as Alice in Wonderland and the thing didn’t budge once. Nor did it squeeze my head or bother me in any way. Love these things!

proud with our medals
black sparkly Sweaty Band

sweaty-bands3. Hair Ties. This one is for the long-haired ladies and gents. The first year I ran the Disneyland Half Marathon I completely forgot to bring hair ties! You probably wouldn’t make the same glaring oversight but I wanted to mention it juuuuust in case. I was scrambling at 10 pm the night before the race trying to find some hair elastics!

4. Sunglasses. This one is particularly important for the Disneyland Half Marathon. The way the course is laid out, you exit the parks and run east into Anaheim RIGHT as the sun is coming up. The timing is worse depending on what corral you’re in and what time you actually start the race, but for MOST runners you’re going to get stuck right in the eye line of a rising sun. The first year I ran I had to borrow Brad’s sunglasses for this portion. My eyes are super sensitive and his aren’t so much, so he took pity on me. One year we ran the race it was really overcast for most of the morning (as it often is in SoCal) and it wasn’t as much of a problem, but you just never know so it’s better to be safe than sorry. You want to be sure and get athletic sunglasses specifically, and test them out on a run beforehand. A lot of glasses will bounce on your face or fog up when you run and trust me, both are very annoying. Find a pair that work with your stride. Sunglasses.

check
check

5. Sunscreen. Speaking of protection from those UV rays, don’t forget to lay on some sunscreen. You’ll be outside running for 3+ hours. Skin cancer is bad! Brad and I really like the Neutrogena sunscreen shown below. There is nothing worse than sweating sunscreen into your eyes during a run (ouch that burns!) and this one doesn’t seem to do that. It works for us. Also, here’s a pro-tip for you: don’t be fooled by a high SPF number. Anything over 30, i.e. SPF 50, 75, 85, is negligible and is just a marketing ploy put in place by manufacturers to get you to buy their product and charge you more. True story. You’re good with SPF 30. Also make sure to get a broad spectrum sunscreen which blocks both UVA and UVB rays. That is much more important than a high SPF.

neutrogena-ultimate-sport-lotion-sunscreen-broad-spectrum-spf-30

6. Chapstick. I hate running with chapped lips! It makes me feel like I’m running through a desert and desperate for water. I’m usually fine if I put some on before the run. I don’t need to bring it in my fuel belt; but if you’re particularly prone to chapped lips, go ahead and bring a stick on the run.

7. Vaseline. Chafing is no joke people. This is an important one you don’t want to forget! Weak spots for ladies tend to be under the ta-tas right where your sports bra sits. Men, it’s more so on the nips. I personally also get chafing spots on my tricep area, which I’m sure means I need to work a little harder to get rid of those chicken cutlets I’ve got dangling (we can’t all be Michelle Obama!). A lot of people buy fancy athletic anti-chafing stuff like Body Glide, but I’ve never tried it. I’ve heard mixed reviews so I’ve never sprung the extra dough for it. There are a lot of options out there. This article from an ultra-runner gives a great breakdown of different products you can try. You have to see what works for you. Me, I use Vaseline. Works like a charm. I don’t love the idea of smothering petroleum all over my breast area but it’s better than chafing. A lot of people don’t like to use Vaseline because they say it stains their clothes. I guess it depends where you need to apply it. So far I haven’t noticed any staining on my sports bras or running shirts, so I’m going to stick with Vaseline. It’s cheap and easy to find.

8. Clothes! An obvious and very important item. You may be so excited to prep and pack your awesome running costume that you completely forget to pack the athletic clothing that goes with it. Also make sure you bring running clothes that you know don’t bother you. For example I have a couple of sports bras that are way more comfortable than others so I’m going to be sure that they are laundered and ready to be packed. Plan ahead. You’re going to want your most comfortable sports bras, undies, socks, etc. I also like to bring a spare of most things. You just never know! Don’t forget to also pack a swimsuit so you can luxuriate by the pool after your race!

Relaxing at the Grand Californian pool after our 1st half marathon
Relaxing at the Grand Californian pool after our 1st half marathon

The good news is that if you forget anything, there is a Target right down the street from Disneyland so you can pick up pretty much any clothing item you may need.

9. Fuel Belt. Everyone requires different amounts of water at different times on a long race, but I’m just going to tell you from my personal experience, I really don’t think you need to bring water on your fuel belt. RunDisney races are so well fueled. I’ve never ever been thirsty. Every time I feel like I really want a drink of water, there’s a water station right around the corner. Also, through the parks you will run past several water fountains. Water on my belt weighs me down and slows me down. I only wear it when I absolutely have to, like times that I know there won’t be a lot of water along my route. All that being said, I do still wear a belt, just minus the water, and I’d recommend you wear one too. It’s a must for holding various things you probably will need like an iPod, phone, earbuds, ID, gels, etc. The hard part is trying to find one that will match your running costume 😉

10. Phone/Camera. You will most likely want to snap at least a few pics along the course. Especially if it’s your first runDisney race! The parks look so lovely with all of the runners racing through, and they have so much entertainment along the course. Even the city of Anaheim provides a lot of great entertainment throughout the city. I just bring my phone which doubles as my music and camera. It’d be a bit much to have an iPod and a camera, though there are those who do it. Snapping pics with your phone will drain the battery faster, so there’s that.

11. Earbuds. You’ll be so sad to reach for your iPod to start your kick-ass running playlist only to discover you forgot your headphones. Wah wah waahhh. My absolute favorite brand is Yurbuds. I have been on a quest for YEARS to find earbuds that don’t fall out when I run. Never really found a winning pair, until now. I’ve been wearing my pink Yurbuds for a year and they have never ever fallen out while running. Not even once. They are awesome.

Yurbuds-Ironman-Series-Pink-HSDyurbuds1

12. Compression socks/sleeves. I really love to wear compression socks on a long run. I don’t know if it’s in my head, but I feel like I recover much quicker when I run long with compression socks. Pro Compression socks are nice. They’ll also have a good selection at the Health & Fitness Expo if you want to wait and buy some when you get there.

pro-compression-purplehigh-compression-socks-from-pro-compression

13. Shoes! It would be pretty silly to forget your running shoes on your trip to a race, but I’m sure it’s happened! And you know what, it’s totally something I would do. I haven’t yet, but there’s a first time for everything. So I’m saying it here, don’t forget your shoes! And make sure you bring a pair that you’ve already broken in. You may be tempted to buy a brand new glistening pair of sneaks to commemorate your half marathon, but you do NOT want to run 13.1 miles in new shoes. Blisters! You’ve got to give yourself a few weeks to break in those puppies. Make sure to pack your race shoes, as well as whatever shoes you’re going to wear AFTER the race and in the parks. Your feet might be pretty swollen from running 13.1 miles so you might want to bring some comfortable walking sandals to wear on the following days. Give those ol’ dogs a chance to get back to their normal size 🙂

14. Running Fuel. You’ll get a Clif Shot, which is basically Gu, at mile 9, but if you’re like me and the mere sound of the word Gu makes your stomach turn, you’ll need to bring your own fuel. At Jeff Galloway’s suggestion, I use gummy bears! They work like a charm. Recently I tried a Honey Stinger Waffle on a 12 mile run and it was actually quite delicious and didn’t upset my stomach, so I recommend those as well. You can also try Clif Shot Blocks. They are nowhere near as gross as Gu, but they still provide replenishing electrolytes. Sometimes I’ll have one or two of these on a long run and they don’t bother my tummy too much.

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15. First Aid. Hopefully you won’t really need any first aid from running your half marathon but you might get a blister or two and it’s almost guaranteed you’ll be sore. Really smart to bring the essentials: band-aids, ibuprofen (or whatever pain reliever you prefer), antibacterial wipes. If you want to get more advanced, throw in an ACE bandage, some neosporin, an ice pack, or even some biofreeze. If you’re struggling with a running injury, I HIGHLY recommend you get some KT Tape for the run. It’s kind of like magic. They’ll have a booth at the Health & Fitness Expo and you can have one of their reps apply it for you. In short, it’s a very flexible synthetic tape that works optimally with your body movement. As you move, the tape lifts your skin away from your muscle allowing for more flexibility and circulation to the injured area, while also providing support without constricting movement. It kind of helps your body heal itself.  You remember Kerri Walsh in the Summer Olympics:

the-kt-tape-story

15. Park stuff. Are you going into the parks after your race?? I hope so! The best part is parading around in your awesome runDisney bling and/or race shirt so all of the cast members and guests can say congratulations to you! Also, Disneyland, duh. You didn’t travel all this way to run past Radiator Springs Racers but not RIDE it! So make sure to pack your park stuff. Comfy walking clothes, shoes, hats, and a backpack or fanny pack or comfortable bag you don’t mind lugging around all day. And of course, don’t forget your Mickey Mouse ears!

In review, here is your list:

  • Hat/Visor
  • Sweaty Bands or other headband to keep hair out of your face
  • Hair elastics (for the long-haired runners)
  • Running Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Chapstick
  • Vaseline or other anti-chafing gel
  • Running clothes: your most comfy
  • Swimsuit
  • Running belt
  • Phone and/or Camera and/or iPod
  • Earbuds/headphones
  • Compression socks
  • Broken in running shoes
  • Extra socks, undies, sports bras
  • Walking sandals
  • Running fuel: Gu, sport beans, gummy bears, Clif Shot Bloks, etc.
  • First Aid: band-aids, pain relievers, antibacterial wipes
  • Park gear: backpack, Mickey Ears, comfy walking clothes, etc.

There you have it. Your basic checklist of things to pack for the Disneyland Half Marathon. Did I forget anything? Add on to the list by commenting below. Help other runners prepare for this awesome weekend!

You Never Forget Your First Time

The buzz and excitement continues for the upcoming Disneyland Half Marathon. I’ve been following all of the tweets and Facebook Group posts about it and at this point it’s pretty much all I can think about! Such is always the case a month or so before race weekend. I turn into a giddy little child counting down to Christmas. Today I can’t help but feel nostalgic. The reason I’m so giddy year after year (and so willing to fork over the dough for registration fees) is because my first year at the Disneyland Half Marathon was so special. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane, shall we? Just a short one. I promise. I know you all have runs to get in 😉

The year was 2010. I really can’t remember the month but let’s say it was March. This was back in the old days before runDisney. I know, hard to believe there was a time before runDisney, but it’s true! This was in the time when each park, the Land or the World, organized racing events on their own.  Sometime in the early part of the year (we decided on March, yes?) I came across a pamphlet in a coffee shop for the Disneyland Half Marathon. (This was also back in the days when the races didn’t sell out in 48 hours and you learned about local events from pamphlets in coffee shops). I really couldn’t believe my eyes. How did I not know about this? Running at Disneyland? That sounded like the coolest thing ever. Turned out it was 🙂

I had never run more than 9 miles but I figured, what’s 4 more? I can do it! I decided I wanted to raise money for a good cause while training and that’s exactly how I got into blogging. I launched The Happiest Runner on Earth to reach out to donors and share my training progress. The Disneyland Half Marathon is responsible for many things. It’s responsible for getting me back in shape, getting me running consistently again, and getting my writing out there. Although first-person narrative non-fiction isn’t my writing career target, it gets me writing, and it keeps me connected with all of the other thousands of running freaks and Disney nerds out there. Raise your hands people.

That first race was magical. Running through the parks early in the morning with Paradise Bay all lit up, the fog still sitting low on the ground, and the surprise of cheerful characters around every corner; it was a perfect run. The surprise of how many runners were in attendance (I would’ve never dreamed to see 14,000!), and the joyful gratitude I held for each and every volunteer there to either hand out water, or simply hold up a sign to cheer on strangers crazy enough to run 13.1 miles; it was a perfect run. The experience of running a RACE for the first time ever, getting a little bit competitive with that other girl with Tinker Bell wings who I haven’t managed to pass for the past 4 miles, hitting the wall at mile 11 and figuring out how to dig up true willpower to finish, crossing a finish line for the first time: it was a perfect run. I’ve written before about how you can never quite recapture the magic of the first time, and how there’s something inherently sad about that, but every year that I run this race I get a glimmer of the first year’s excitement; and no it’s not quite the same, but it’s worth it. And it’s worth it for all of the NEW memories we create every single year. Like falling down the rabbit hole at mile 9, or discovering the magic of gummy bears. Every race holds some new lesson buried within it. In running the race you dig up the lesson and you move on to the next exciting event wiser, faster, stronger. It’s a pleasant addiction. 

Your first day at school, first trip to Disneyland, first time seeing the Grand Canyon, first love, first kiss. Firsts are just plain awesome. You only get them once for a fleeting moment yet they leave a lifelong impact. You really never forget your first time. Thankfully my first half marathon was at Disneyland, and I’ll honor that joyful memory by running it every year until my legs (or my pocketbook) give out. 

Here are the videos of our first Disneyland Half Marathon to complete the stroll down memory lane. Ahh, memories 🙂

How to Cure Vacation Withdrawal… More Vacation

Brad and I just got back from a glorious week-long mountain adventure in Colorado. Activities included whitewater rafting, exploring a ghost town, hiking to the top of a mountain to discover a heavenly meadow of wildflowers and a trout-filled lake, touring our wedding venue, and taking on some serious trail runs at 9,000 feet. To sum up, I need a vacation from my vacation. Answer: Disneyland in 5 weeks.

You thought I forgot, didn’t you? It’s Disneyland Half Marathon time!! The most wonderful running time of the year. I’m so excited to be participating in our 4th straight year of running 13.1 miles through the Happiest Place Race on Earth. The timing couldn’t be more perfect. Last week I got a taste of paradise and now Monday has brought with it some serious vacation withdrawal depression. What a relief from the back-to-work blues, knowing that I have this race to look forward to in just a little over a month.

The stakes are higher this year. In case you haven’t heard, runDisney has introduced new madness to Disneyland Half Marathon weekend. For the first time ever they’ve introduced a 10k to the weekend’s activities, the Disneyland 10k specifically. The 10k is a great distance because it’s accessible to pretty much everyone. For those who don’t quite have the motivation to train for a half marathon, the 10k (6.2 miles) is a worthy challenge. And for seasoned marathoners and half marathoners, 10k is still a great workout and provides the perfect opportunity for challenging speed work and the chance to PR time and again. This 10k is going to be particulary fantastic because it’s short enough that most of the race will actually be in the Disneyland resort instead of sprawled out onto the streets of Anaheim. In short, it’s going to rock and I hope you signed up.

But I’m not done! Not only did runDisney introduce a 10k into the mix, but they’ve officially laid down the west coast version of the Goofy Challenge, only slightly less totally insane Goofy. Brad and I are training for the Dumbo Double Dare, which means we’ll be running the 10k on Saturday morning, and the half marathon on Sunday morning. We’re Dumbo! I’ve never run that much mileage back to back, but I’m not too worried. We’re going to take it real easy on the 10k, stopping for photos and enjoying the gentle jog through the parks, and then we’ll really let the motors go for the half marathon. Besides, we ran at 9,000 feet altitude last week (you can feel the the oxygen deprivation!) so our runs at sea level from here on out will pretty much make us feel like superheroes. I understand now why Olympians train at high altitudes!

We had a great 8 mile run last night at sunset. Hard to believe we were in the Rocky Mountains on Saturday and gazing out at the Pacific on Sunday. I really can’t complain about life. It’s really really good. 

Here are some pics from our mountain adventure! 

Hiking in the San Isabel National Forest
Hiking in the San Isabel National Forest
fields of wildflowers on top of a mountain
fields of wildflowers on top of a mountain
St. Elmo ghost town. One of many old abandoned mining towns in the Rockies. Spooky and beautiful.
St. Elmo ghost town. One of many old abandoned mining towns in the Rockies. Spooky and beautiful.
lots of hummingbirds at St. Elmo
lots of hummingbirds at St. Elmo

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There's a corner of St. Elmo home to hundreds of friendly chipmunks. You can buy feed for 50c and these little critters will crawl all over you nibbling away at their seeds. They are incredibly adorable.
There’s a corner of St. Elmo home to hundreds of friendly chipmunks. You can buy feed for 50c and these little critters will crawl all over you nibbling away at their seeds. They are incredibly adorable. What do you think? Is this little guy Chip or Dale?

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My first experience whitewater rafting. I'm hooked.
My first experience whitewater rafting. I’m hooked.
big drop
big drop

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Touring our wedding venue! That meadow is where we'll say "I Do!"
Touring our wedding venue! That meadow is where we’ll say “I Do!”
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Bathing in warm natural spring water at Mt Princeton Hot Springs. Yeah, our wedding is going to rock.
and of course...
and of course…
... running
… running

 

 

Have you taken a vacation yet this year? Where did you adventure?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Balancing Act: Running vs. Friends

Today I’m struggling with balancing priorities of equal importance. My days are full. I work a 40 hour work week (sometimes more), and I come home and have approximately 4 or 5 hours to do the following: have dinner, clean the apartment, feed the cats, make and process Whimsy Do orders, write, spend quality time with the man who will be my husband, socialize with friends, do the dishes, do the laundry, and run. Somewhere in there I would like to be able to squeeze in some relaxation, when I can. I’m not complaining by any stretch of the imagination. My life is full, but it’s full of goodness. I love my life. I pinch myself daily. The problem is that there really are limited hours in the day to accomplish such massive quantities of goodness, and usually something falls by the wayside.

Lately it’s been running. Who am I kidding, also cleaning. Our apartment sometimes looks like a few empty pizza boxes away from an episode of Hoarders.

But I can’t let running fall by the wayside. It brings me too much joy, helps me feel sane, and most important of all, gets us to Tahiti! Running must be mandatory from this point out. When struggling with how to squeeze in a mandatory activity there really is only one option. Do it. If that means you have to NOT do something else, then that’s what it means. Today that something else involves friends and it’s making me wish there were two of me.

There’s a fundraiser at Theatre of NOTE tonight called “Stand Up for NOTE.” It’s an evening of stand-up featuring several friends of mine, and all of the proceeds benefit an upcoming production at the theatre. You should go! ;). BUT, we are behind on this week’s mileage and today’s run is crucial to keep us on track for the longer run this weekend. I couldn’t run this morning because I had an 8:00 am dentist appointment and I just can’t get out of bed to run before 7:00. I’m like a robot. I don’t switch on until usually 7:30.

In his book “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running,” Haruki Murakami pretty succinctly describes the struggle of balancing life’s priorities:

It’s a lifestyle, though, that doesn’t allow for much nightlife, and sometimes your relationships with other people become problematic. Some people even get mad at you, because they invite you to go somewhere or do something with them and you keep turning them down. I’m struck by how, except when you’re young, you really need to prioritize in life, figuring out in what order you should divide up your time and energy. If you don’t get that sort of system set by a certain age, you’ll lack focus and your life will be out of balance. I placed the highest priority on the sort of life that lets me focus on writing, not associating with all other people around me.

It’s a bit harsh, and many may say selfish, but there’s truth there wouldn’t you agree? There are only so many hours in the day and I have to preserve as many as I can to allocate to my personal goals. It’s the only way they’ll get accomplished. But my personal relationships are also very important to me. I don’t want them to be diminished by my aspirations.

One solution is to kill two birds, or as many birds as possible, with one stone. (I really hate that a metaphor about killing birds is so useful.) I’m grateful that Brad enjoys running with me because then I can check running and spending quality time with my man off the list at the same time. Maybe I should start a running club with my friends and bring my social life and running life together. What say you friends? Would you go for it?  I suppose combining priorities is one way to solve this problem of mine.

In the meantime, you should go to this in case I can’t. Check out that line-up! And hosted by the one and only Kirsten Vangsness. It really is going to be incredibly hilariously awesome.

Tickets!
Tickets!

How about you? Do you have trouble balancing your personal goals with other obligations? I’d love to hear what you do to get it all done.

Laguna Hills Half Marathon Recap

It’s so simple. Running is the perfect metaphor for life. You get out of it pretty much exactly what you put into it. So when I train hard and strong I get a really great race in return, and maybe even a PR. When I train half-heartedly and make excuses for myself, I struggle and I suffer. No matter how long I run I suppose I need refresher courses in this lesson every once in a while. The Laguna Hills Memorial Day Half Marathon provided such a lesson.

Let me start by saying that this is a fantastic race. I’m so glad we signed up and actually ran it. The only reason we did was because Brad wanted to find a half marathon for us to run other than the Disneyland Half. We get in this pattern where we train really well for the Dland Half, run it, and then we don’t run as diligently until June or July of the next year when training starts up again. So Brad’s philosophy was that we should sign up for a race in the spring that would keep us on track. Good idea Brad. It sort of worked 😛

The morning started off… early. Here I thought getting up for a runDisney race was brutal, but that’s like sleeping in compared to this. In an effort to save money, we decided to forego getting a hotel in Laguna Hills the night before the race and instead would drive down the morning of. The difficult part of that scenario is that the race started at 7:30, Laguna Hills was over an hour away, and we had to be there an hour early to pick up our bibs. The night before the race we set the alarm for 4:00 and snuggled in for essentially a nap.

Luckily there was no traffic on the way down, and the race starting area was easy to find right off the highway. It was a beautiful morning for a race!

Lots of activity at the starting line. I was impressed by the turnout!

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Sleepy, but ready and rarin’

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Morning bathroom time. We all need it. We don’t like to talk about it. But for runners, it’s a very crucial part of your pre-race prep. Unfortunately neither Brad nor I had to use the facilities until we’d already arrived at the registration area. Even more unfortunate, the bathroom lines looked like this:

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This picture doesn’t accurately depict how long the lines were, but when ya gotta go… Every time I run a non-Disney race, no matter how good it is, I’m somehow reminded of why runDisney reigns supreme. At the start line for all of the runDisney races I’ve participated in, I’ve never waited more than a few minutes to use the loo. These lines were a good 20 minutes long. *Sigh*. They can’t all be Disney.

The real bummer about waiting in this line was that it forced us to start the race late. They counted down and runners started running, but we still had to go! So by the time we got started running, the race course looked like this:

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LH Half 6

 

Just a handful of stragglers bringing up the rear. The race was chip-timed, so it didn’t really matter, except the whole point of running a big race is to feel the energy of that big crowd. I wore my shirt that reads on the back: “Dear God, Please let there be someone behind me to read this” and I was actually worried there might not be! I really didn’t want to run in last place so I put on some speed to catch up with the crowd. In hindsight that was a mistake. Never burn too much fuel in the beginning of a race.

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The first few miles of the race were lovely. We ran through a quiet residential neighborhood in Laguna Hills. I believe it was actually a retirement community as there were several lovely retired people sitting out on their front lawns to cheer on the runners. Honestly, there is nothing better than cheering, enthusiastic, spectators. Ok, maybe there are some things better, but it’s really high on the list. One of my favorite parts about a race is getting cheered on by a stranger. There’s something so pure and hopeful about it. A total stranger willing the success of another total stranger. It’s as life should be.

This was a combo race. In other words there was a 5k, a 10k, and a Half Marathon, but they all started at the same time. So as we approached the three mile marker a lot of people cheered to the runners, “You’re almost done! You can do it!” I giggled as I heard a lady next to me reply, “No we’re not!” because I was thinking the exact same thing. Combo races are deceptive. I started the morning thinking this was a large race. By the numbers, it was. About 8,000 runners participated I believe. But as we ran on it became clear that most of those thousands of runners were doing the 5k or the 10k, and a somewhat small number of crazies were running on to the Half Marathon. I was worried that it would actually be a really small percentage, but as we passed the 10k turnaround, I felt relieved to be in the presence of a still solid group of runners. Probably about 1,000 half marathoners would be my guess.

Hills!

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Hills!

20130527_074506More hills!

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You can’t quite get the right perspective from the pictures, but this race had hills. Not crazy hills. Mild rolling hills. I know that I shouldn’t have been surprised, given that the race was called the Laguna Hills Half Marathon, and I wasn’t really; I just quickly realized that we should have done a lot more hill training. Long story short, I pretty much completely ran out of steam around mile 10, and that had a lot to do with poor training, but was definitely compounded by the challenge of these hills.

The beauty of the course made up for it though. We winded down through a nature preserve and ran along a lovely hiking trail alongside a creek. Course aesthetics are super important to me, and this course gets points for beauty. Sure, it’s not Hawaii or anything, but it really made me appreciate the beauty of Southern California.

Running up along a ridge, we could see the whole valley below and the city of Laguna Hills.

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Running along the creek, Brad spots some local wildlife.

 

LH Half 2

 

I think we look kind of bad-ass in this one. I like it 🙂

 

LH Half 5

 

LH Half 4

 

Mile 8, things start to change.

 

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Through mile 8 I was having a pretty great run considering the hills. Did I mention there were hills? Oh yeah, there were hills. I could tell at this mile marker though that the winds were changing, and not in my favor. By the time I got to mile 10, I was toast.

It’s hard to describe the difference between good tired and bad tired, except to say that I can honestly imagine what my car feels like when it’s running on fumes. By the end of a half marathon, I’m always tired. That’s a given. When I’m good tired, I still have magic runner energy. I’m winded and my muscles hurt and I’m fantasizing about crossing that finish line, but my legs still move in a steady rhythm with gusto. When I’m bad tired, every move is torture. My legs feel like they’re made of leaden spaghetti (did you know there was such a thing as leaden spaghetti), I can’t seem to get my breathing in a set rhythm, and the worst adversary of all, my brain. I heard a runner once say about ultra-marathoning that the hardest distance you have to defeat is the 6 inches between your ears. I love that. It’s absolutely so true about distance running. A lot of it is in your head and you have to learn to balance and control your thoughts to achieve things you didn’t know you could. But when you hit the wall and run out of energy, those 6 inches between your ears become the longest distance ever. The willpower I summoned through the mantra in my head is the only thing that got me across the finish line. My body was toast.

I finished. We finished. But I had to walk a bit. At mile 9 we walked for about 3 or 4 minutes, and then again at mile 11. I ran the last mile, proudly. I knew that I wouldn’t feel great afterwards though and that it was my own fault. This is what happens to me when I don’t train. Lesson learned. Again.

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We managed to cross the finish line with big silly grins on our faces. I’m telling you, no matter how tired you are, you can’t help but smile when you cross that finish line.

And then of course there’s the bling. Gotta love the bling.

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The medals were actually quite impressive. We shall proudly add them to our collection.

 

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There was a really great expo and celebration at the finish line complete with food trucks, DJs, vendors, and a beer garden. Unfortunately because I was totally wiped out, I didn’t really get to enjoy any of it. All I wanted to do was find somewhere shady and cool to sit down and rest.

The most important thing about this day was that it was Memorial Day, and that we were there to first: honor our fallen veterans, and second: run a race. I have mixed feelings about the military; and yes I harbor plenty of lefty-hippie opinions about war and peace and our bloated defense budget, but NONE of that mattered on this day. Because no matter how I feel about the military, the men and women who put on a uniform and fight to defend my right to have lefty-hippie opinions deserve my respect and my undying gratitude. And they have it. And I get choked up just thinking about it. So thank you from the bottom of my heart to all those who serve.

The race specifically honored the Marine Corps Dark Horse Battalion. The Marines had quite a set up at the finish line complete with a tank, weaponry, and lots of soldiers available to talk to the runners and educate all those present about what they do. It was a very interesting display. Brad reverted to his 10 year old self when he saw the tank. He wanted a picture.

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On one hand I was glad that the community had the opportunity to actually witness all of this first-hand, so that it became real and not just a news reel. I think it’s important for us to resist detachment from the reality of war as much as possible. The more removed we are, the more dangerous. On the other hand I was a bit sad to see little kids like the one above look at this giant automatic weapon like a toy. Again, mixed feelings. Again, doesn’t really matter. I’m going to choose to be optimistic and say that the opportunity for these soldiers to educate these little kids about weapons was ultimately a good thing and will make them take guns very seriously as they get older.

All in all, we had a great time. We started training for this race in February after I finished the Tinker Bell Half Marathon. We started strong and stuck to our schedule, but then I got in a play and Brad got in a play, and suddenly we’re missing almost all of our weekly runs and getting about half the weekend mileage we should. Like I said, I got out of this race exactly what I put into it in terms of performance, and I learned a huge lesson. Training pays off. I guess part of me started to wonder if, since I’ve run several half marathons, maybe I’d gotten to a point where I could just go out there and run 13 miles without trying. Nope. Training never stops. You can only run half marathons as long as you are training for half marathons, and when you stop training, you’re preparedness stops with it. No matter how much your heart and mind feel like you can distance-race, your body has to participate.

Brad and I give this race two enthusiastic thumbs up and we will run it again next year. Join us!

How about you? Can you run a half marathon without a lot of training? Or are you like me and have to put in the prep?

 

 

 

 

Happy Places

I recently had a revelation while pondering what I want to do with the rest of my life. I’ve spent countless hours pondering that question when in fact I believe the answer has been staring me in the face.

Do you have places in the world that you would describe as your happy places? I do. And I don’t mean a metaphorical happy place wherein you imagine yourself surrounded by bluebirds as a warm light washes over you. No. I mean a real, tangible, physical, happy place. Places you go where, no matter what, you feel instant glee. Not just cool places. Not just places you enjoy or find fun or pleasant. Places that have something special. Places with a magical power to transplant you from the dullest of dolddrums to the utmost place of hope and contentment. I have some.

Libraries/Book stores

Sports supplies stores (especially running stores)

Craft and art supplies stores (Michael’s, Utrecht, even Home Depot fits into this category. Places where you can get stuff to build other stuff)

Disneyland

Museums/Observatories

The woods

Office supplies stores

The ocean

On my couch with my fiance and my cats

London

I would say that pretty much covers my happy places. I could get more specific (The Griffith Observatory, The American Museum of Natural History, Northern California redwoods, etc.), but these are the main categories. Kind of a weird hodge-podge wouldn’t you say? I’m kind of weird.

As I’ve been mulling over what I should do with the rest of my life, I can’t believe it took me so long to realize that my happy places might be providing me with an answer.

How did I come to this realization? I thought about the things I’m currently doing that I don’t make a living off of, but that I love doing, and I realized there is potential to make a living off of them if I put my mind to it. I own and operate Whimsy Do. I write this blog. I run. I go to Disneyland (ok so maybe there’s not potential to make a living off of going to Disneyland but I have a point, which I’ll get to shortly). A light bulb went off as I realized that these things directly correlated to my top happy places.

  1. I own and operate Whimsy Do. I’m instantly happy in art and/or craft supplies stores a la Utrecht or Michael’s.
  2. I write. I write this blog and I write stories. I’m instantly happy in a book store or library.
  3. I run. I’m instantly happy in a running store and on the running trail. My blog is also a running blog so 2 and 3 tie in together.

I’m creating, writing, running; but I’m not currently making a living off of any of these things. I could though. I could invest more time and energy into Whimsy Do. I could actually get my stories published. I could turn this blog into a source of income with the right strategy and determination. And here is how Disneyland ties in. Disneyland Half Marathon weekend is one of my ultimate happy places (and training starts this week!). I could work for runDisney. Running and Disneyland, two happy places combined. If runDisney ever starts up a California office, I’m there. I could, and I should, and I would. Somehow.

I know what you’re thinking. If you make what you love your job, you run the risk of not loving it as much. You might ruin it. What a sad thought. Think about what that means for a moment. That means we are not only willing to, but deliberately choose to do things we dislike for the majority of our waking lives (8+ hrs of every day!) because we’ve somehow bought into the notion that work = something to be tolerated. I say we change that presumption. I say it’s time for a paradigm shift. It’s time we spend the majority of our lives doing things that feel right in our bones. That feel meaningful and make us, yes, happy. And will we feel happy all of the time? Of course not. Will it sometimes feel like work, even though we supposedly love it? Of course. Anything worth doing is hard. Marriage, parenthood, career aspirations. All challenging. All worth it. Because there is meaning in the challenge. You think it’s easy to climb Mt. Everest? I guarantee you the people who do it aren’t doing it for the paycheck. Passion is hard, but there is a payoff that directly feeds into our core, our selfness, our most precious part of ourselves that generates love and spirit and hope and life. It’s the right kind of hard work. Most of us spend our lives doing the wrong kind of work. The kind that makes us stare at the clock until 5:00. The kind that makes us steal as many Facebook minutes as possible throughout the day. Anything to distract us from that paperwork, right? The kind that makes us live for the weekend. As if two days make up for the other lost 5.

So idealistic right? I know. It’s easy to talk about. It’s hard to do. There are bills. There are mortgages. There are children to send to college. There are debts to pay off. I hear ya. I’m in a version of that boat myself. But it doesn’t stop me from believing that it’s possible. It must be possible to honor our fiscal responsibilities while the work we do gives our life meaning. We just spend too much of our lives at work for that not to be possible. 33.33% of my life is spent sleeping, 33.33% of my life is spent working, and 33.33% of my life is mine to do with as I please. That tiny third also has to include laundry, cooking, cleaning, bill pay, errands, etc. It’s not enough. Life is too precious. I want more than a third of it with which to make a difference. I want more than a third of it with which to accomplish something magical and more importantly something meaningful. I want to love and not to regret more than a third of my life. I know it’s possible. Because I feel it happening. 4 years ago I left an office job I didn’t like and I turned my back on the restaurant business because they were sucking my soul. I took a leap of faith, and a week later I got a call to work for a non-profit that is changing lives. I have a great job. I don’t love it every day, and I don’t believe it’s where I’m meant to end up, but my days aren’t wasted. I’m grateful for that. And because I took that leap, the next stepping stones are becoming clearer and clearer.

If you’re lost, floating, drifting, unsure of what move to make next, first of all you’re not alone. Maybe think about a happy place. They really are quite neat. As if the universe gave them to us, as to whisper in our ear “This. Do more of this. You were born to do this.”

I’m genuinely curious. What are your happy places? Universities? Science labs? Boardrooms? Churches? Kitchens? Let Tahiti readers know by leaving your happy place in the comments below. Maybe you’ll inspire someone else!

Mountains in the snow. Happy Place.
Mountains in the snow. Happy Place.
Brad and I touring the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab. Happy happy.
Brad and I touring the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab. Happy happy.
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On our beach. Happy.
The Los Angeles Public Library. Happy place.
The Los Angeles Public Library. Happy place.
Michael's (especially at Halloween). Happy place.
Michael’s (especially at Halloween). Happy place.
Running the Disneyland Half Marathon. Can't you tell by our faces? Happy places.
Running the Disneyland Half Marathon. Can’t you tell by our faces? Happy places.
A Friday night with my boys. Completely perfect happy place.
A Friday night with my guys. Completely perfect happy place. Although Sharky doesn’t look too happy 🙂
And of course, Tahiti. I have a feeling that's going to be one helluva happy place.
And of course, Tahiti. I have a feeling that’s going to be one helluva happy place.