Monday, January 16, 2012

Winter Running Gear

I have been searching for the best winter running gear since my college days on the University of New Hampshire Crew team. The winters there were frosty, several weeks went by without the temps rising above 10 degrees and it was awfully dark most of the time. Once the river froze we moved indoors for most of our rowing (erg) workouts, but we still did some road running and stair running outside if it wasn't too icy. I was in the early stages of becoming a gear collector and acquired several warm layers that I still wear to this day. You see, rowing is all about spandex and technical fibers. You can't be wearing a baggy hoody in the boat, the chances are too high that you'll catch your oar on a sleeve and get launched from the boat into the icy waters. It happens, but usually because someone catches a "crab" by getting their oar stuck under water. Around 39 secs, you'll see what I mean.

I digress. So since college I've been slowly building a collection of what I'd consider the best gear for running outside. The hardest thing for me to find was the perfect pair of running gloves for really cold weather. I tried gloves with a windproof mitten feature that you can tuck away when not needed and that is great for cool or windy weather, but not warm enough. I tried layering thin gloves with large mittens over them, but that was too bulky. FINALLY, on our trip to Calgary over Christmas, I was able to visit the outdoor junkie Mecca, aptly named "MEC" short for Mountain Equipment Co-Op, where I found the perfect mittens for cold weather! I was beyond excited when I spotted these on the large wall 'o gloves and even more excited when I saw that they were only $24.00! They are advertised as waterproof (yet to be tested), windproof and fleece-lined. They are the perfect combination of weatherproof material over a thin fleece with a nice stretchy wrist covering and a terry cloth nose wiping thumb. I wore them on a very chilly run (sub 30) this weekend and was so happy with them that I couldn't wait to get home and write about them. I will admit that my hands got sweaty during the run and I took them off once to let them air, but I would rather have them be a little sweaty than a little frostbitten. My hands never got the slightest bit cold on that 6 mi run, I was thrilled.
You can see all of the specs here: MEC Glide XC Mitts They come in a ton of sizes and are technically made for XC skiing. Mine are XS because I have wee hands and they are unisex.

Next is the Bula Microfleece Gaiter. I have to cover my mouth and nose in the cold weather to keep from irritating my Asthma and this gaiter is the best thing I've tried in years. I tried various scarf, bandana and mask type contraptions to cover my mouth, but none work nearly as well as this simple little bugger. I think mine is even a child's size, but it is very similar to this Turtle Fur brand neck gaiter at REI. They're super cheap too, mine was maybe $10 and this one at REI is even less. I highly recommend this hands-free fleecy lifesaver. As with most gaiters this one gets damp after a while of breathing through it, but you just rotate it around or flip it inside out and you're good to go.

My last favorite thing for this post is by my favorite sock people, Smartwool, but it is not a sock! I discovered this headband/earwarmer when I was browsing at the brand new REI in SoHo and I HAD TO HAVE IT. I have an Under Armour headband that I like, but it is red and doesn't match most of my running gear and sometimes the fleece gets too warm. Yes, I said it- it doesn't match! At least I'm honest. Anyway, this headband has really come in handy lately on breezy days for keeping my ears warm. I hate  having cold wind on my ears, but this doesn't get too warm because it is made from a double layer of thin Merino Wool which is wicking so you also don't get too sweaty. It is also tiny and light so it's easy to stash in a pocket if you want to take it off. I lurve it. No one is paying me to say this, by the way. It's $18 at REI here: SmartWool Headband

There are plenty of other pieces of gear on my "favorites list" that I'll try to get up throughout the winter, but these are my favorites this week as the temps plummet.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

2012, what lies ahead.

I wanted to write a 2011 End of Year recap post, I really did, but I had trouble with my blogger app on the iPad during our trip to Canada and I couldn't muster the enthusiasm once we returned. I keep thinking about it though, so maybe I'll get to it at some point because it was not an entirely wasted year, even though it felt that way at times. Instead I am looking forward at 2012 with lots of excitement and anticipation. Looking back on 2011 I realized that with the exception of my massive ankle injury, the only thing holding me back from kicking ass was ME. I feel like I've been a wimp, I've taken too many recovery days when they weren't really necessary, and I simply did not push myself anywhere near my potential. Maybe this is why I need to do a recap, to remember the times that I was training really hard and pushing myself (think: Spring and early summer and one last hurrah in July) but I feel like I slacked and should have raced more so that I wouldn't be sitting here now with that "I really should have done ____ race." 

So 2012 will involve better planning, more racing (of all different varieties!) and stronger training. It is that simple. 

What do I have to look forward to, you might ask, well I am starting off the year with plans for a Spring marathon, though I haven't chosen which one just yet. I'm thinking something small and low key in April, just to get the year going strong. I have never done a Spring marathon because the winters here can be horrific, but this mild weather tells me that is may be my year! I survived the really treacherous weather last year without running on a treadmill once, so if this weather keeps up I can definitely do that again (if necessary). Before April I have two half marathons planned and a 5K, all building blocks for the marathon. 

Here's a rough plan for the year ahead: 

21st- Manhattan Half Marathon. Not an "A" race by any means, but I'd like to run a solid, sub 1:48 or so.

 I have no race plans for February, just lots of training in the pool, on the road, and building strength in the gym. I'll be slowly adding mileage and seeing how my still-defunct ankle reacts. I also may go on vacation.  

4th- Coogan's 5K. I have run this race several times, but I rarely get to RACE it, so I think I'll be blazing the hills this year. 

18th- Shamrock 1/2 Marathon in VA Beach. This is an "A" race for me, I PRed here two years ago with a 1:40 and while I'd love to crush that, I will probably be deep in marathon training and will have to see where I am at that point. 

Insert Marathon Here. Wherever I end up running, I'll be shooting to crush that 3:46 from NYCM '10. 

I don't have anything planned for May just yet, I will probably take a few weeks to recover from the marathon and begin serious swim training for the summer. Stay tuned. 
Also, the NYRR calendar doesn't go past March yet and I haven't checked the NYCRuns website yet to see what is going on in our area. 

**I just noticed that the NY Tri in Harriman State park is May 20th! 

3rd- Central Park Challenge, trying to keep the streak alive from 2009, 10 and 11 and win another award. I'd also love to break a lot. 

16th- Stars&Stripes Aquathlon (1.5K swim and 5K run) I skipped this race last year because it didn't fit into my training plan, but that was dumb and I still regret it. These are my two strongest events and I can't wait to try it. 

23-24th- Green Mountain Relay in Vermont (200 miles, 12 people team) See my posts from 2010

No Chesapeake Bay Swim for me this year, it is an expensive and HOT race, so I'm taking the year off and may do it again in 2013. 

22nd-  Grimaldo's Mile, CIBBOW's swim in Coney Island. 
28th- Governor's Island Swim 2.0 miles 
July will probably be a lot of swimming and prepping for the A race of all A races in August... 

4th- Manhattan Island Marathon Relay Swim! 28.5 miles around the island, alternating with 3 other amazing swimmers. I can't wait! 

12th- (Possibly, date isn't updated yet) Fire Island sound swim in Long Island, NY (Stonewall Swim).

I would love to do a few more sprint triathlons in August, but I haven't planned that far out just yet. 

8th- Aquarium 5K swim, CIBBOWS in Coney Island 
OR Pageant Swim in Atlantic City, NJ 

Mid-Sept Swim for ALS- date not set yet for 2012,

15th- NY Triathlon, #2 of the series.

22nd- Little Red Lighthouse swim by NYC Swim. 10K swim down the Hudson. I am still kicking myself for missing this race last year and I will NOT miss it this year. I already registered! 

The final 1/3 of the year remains wide open. I think I'll be considering the Brooklyn Marathon since it was so well done this year, as well as maybe doing some 10K racing here and there. Who knows... 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Christmas in Calgary

This year for Christmas my husband and I spent the week with his family in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. I've discovered that most people don't have a grasp on Canadian geography so here's a little map. I usually say that Calgary is above Montana and Idaho, but let's face it- no one really knows where they are either.
Calgary is the third city from the top of the map, in the plains just east of the Rocky Mountains. 

Typical December weather in Calgary is just below freezing, or -1 C, but we got really lucky and had cool, crisp days around 4-6C (40 degrees F) and all of the sunshine Calgary can muster at that time of year (which isn't much). When we arrived on the 23rd, I had airplane cabin fever and needed to get outside and run. Luckily we were staying in a downtown hotel located right along the Bow River running path! The temperature was in the 30's F and I simply had no idea what to wear because it had been 60 degrees F at home the day before. I layered up because the wind was blowing and I'd be running along the river, but I think I was a little overdressed in the end. Lesson learned. The sun was shining but it was low in the sky so it felt like it was 5pm and I was all out of whack, it was actually only 1pm and I couldn't figure out why the sun was setting in the SOUTH. Apparently that happens there during the winter. Talk about throwing off my sense of direction! 
I did have a really nice, wandering run along the icy Bow River and around some of its little islands, including the one that contains the Calgary Zoo. I was a little concerned when I realized that the strange bins along the path were trash cans designed to keep bears out, is this a problem in the city? There are tons of little bridges and a beautifully maintained running path along both sides of the river, so I give Calgary two thumbs up as a runner friendly city! 

While Calgary sits at roughly 3,400 ft of elevation, it is still FLAT.

My next run in Calgary was a dark, cold Christmas morning run along the same path but in the opposite direction. We had to leave for my Sister in law's house by 8am, so I got up to run around 6am which might as well be midnight because sunrise isn't until at least 8am. It was cold, definitely below freezing and the air is DRY so I threw my Bula gaiter on around my neck to help me breathe. I felt pretty safe out there in the dark, but for no particular reason. I guess I was just counting on the politeness of the Canadians to keep me safe, but I brought along a phone just in case. I snapped a few dark photos along the way, but the one of the snow hare didn't come out so well. I saw two large, white bunnies while I was running on the very small Prince Island and neither were afraid of me. I guess they're the Canada equivalent of squirrels. 

I took my time on the Christmas run, just wanting to get in a few miles of cardio before sitting inside and eating again all day. I ran 4.06 miles in about 37:00, stopping here and there to snap photos that didn't come out very well. It was still pitch black when I returned to the hotel, but I enjoyed running across the bridge to Prince Island because it was wrapped tightly in red christmas lights with trees decorated in green on either side. During the day there is music playing from speakers mounted on the bridge to entertain the folks ice skating on the river down below, how cute. It ended up being a 4 bridge run! 

I knew it was flat, but damn. 

The day after Christmas in Canada is typically a big shopping day, but we decided to hit the road and head to Banff National Park for some skiing at Lake Louise, a gorgeous ski resort in the Canadian Rockies. The drive was gorgeous with the mountains growing before us as we drove across the plains and into the park. After spending the last 6 months rehabbing my injured ankle and nursing a still-sore knee, I was in no shape to be downhill skiing and I had no desire to re-injure myself, so Erica and I went Cross-country skiing while our husbands hit the slopes for downhill. We thought we'd simply walk over to the trail with our skis and get going, but it turned out that we had to take the gondola UP one side of the mountain and take a chair lift DOWN the other side before we could get to the trail. This provided plenty of entertainment for the folks doing the normal thing- going UP a chair lift. They all giggled at us as we held on for dear life to our skis and gear on the way down. The views were incredible, even if the wind chill was not. When we finally reached the trail, much of the first few Km were uphill which is trickier than I'd imagined on XC skiis. Erica had been concerned that I'd leave her in the dust because I'm a marathon runner, but I'm certain that those fears melted away after my first 3 falls in the first 5 minutes. I spent much of the way cracking up at myself and trying not to fall too far into the 8 ft deep snow around me. I have no idea how far we went, maybe 5K, but it sure was a lot of fun once we stopped climbing uphill and could just glide along. Of course going uphill on the way out meant that we'd be going downhill on the way back.... but not on downhill skis which are wider and secured to your foot, but on XC skis where you have little to no control over your direction and speed, at least that's how it was in my case. I managed to fall backwards off of the path (I was wearing the heavy backpack!) into deep, deep snow several times but I always managed to maneuver my way out and back onto the path. It was highly entertaining for Erica who is a pro on skis. 
Here are a few pictures she took with her cell phone along the way; you can assume that most of them occurred right before or after I face or ass-planted in the snow. 

We turned around as the sun started to set, just in time too. 

That mess in the snow on the right is probably from me falling

Finally on my feet. Gorgeous views behind me. 

Oof. Man down.  

 It was so quiet and peaceful. 
Coming down the final stretch! 

I was wearing my Garmin, though I forgot to turn it on until we headed back and I managed to hit "stop" during one of my falls, but check out the path and the elevation- it is pretty cool!