Yak Trax

In my last post, I mentioned that I wear Yak Trax when I run in the snow even though I really don’t like snow after growing up in Cleveland. The photo above shows my snow face: a look of shock and disbelief at the white fluffy stuff. I should also mention that I’m not getting paid by Yak Trax, but it would be awesome if that happened. So, Yak Trax, if you read this, consider sending some money my way. Thanks. Until then, here’s what I think of wearing them in the snow.

I love Yak Trax for all types of snow and thick, hard ice: on these surfaces, the metal coils dig into the snow and keep me from slipping without scrunching my shoes. The only issue I have with them is that while running, every so often, snow builds up under the heel of my shoes, and I can feel my heels lifting. Once this happens though, the snow does fall off, and my feet feel normal again. My running is not hindered at all by wearing them, which is a plus since I absolutely love to run outside over the treadmill any day.

Yak Trax fit over any shoe as long as you purchase the right size, but they do take some time to put on your shoes, and once you put your shoes on, walk around in them and adjust the coils as necessary for a good fit. The model shown above is the Yak Trax Pro from Amazon for about $20. When I’m finished running, I take them off of my shoes to let the coils and my shoes dry properly.

I highly recommend them for winter running on snow and ice, but avoid wearing them on slush because it’s just too wet, and you’ll slip. Yak Trax are not made for hard pavement, so if the snow and ice are patchy, consider running indoors if you don’t live near a dirt trail. But then again, if the city has yet to plow your streets and there is a ton of snow out there, go for a run and listen to the crunching sound of the snow beneath your feet.

Cold Weather Running

 

Maybe I’m weird. Well, I know I am, but I do love running in the snow and cold. I’m not a fan of driving in the snow or shoveling it or scraping it off my car, and I would rather live in a place where it doesn’t snow… Basically, I don’t like snow–blame it on my years of growing up in Cleveland where you had to shovel the driveway before you could go to work or school because nothing closes when the white stuff falls.

A snow day was a gift in Cleveland involving miraculous timing. It had to either start with freezing rain that turned to snow so that there was a nice sheet of ice under the powder, or there had to be a good old fashioned blizzard–the kind they had before weather people started naming winter storms. But it couldn’t just snow an inch like it does in the South. Oh no, the clouds had to dump a few feet of snow over icy roadways beginning at precisely 3 or 4 am so the plows and salt trucks had absolutely no time to clear the roads before school started. Then, and only then, you would have a snow day.

Since, I don’t live in a place where it’s 55-60 degrees with low humidity all year long, and I now live in a place where it can, gasp!, snow, I need to get out there unless I am content with running on the indoor track or treadmill, which I’m not. Here’s what I use for winter running so I don’t slip and fall and kill myself:

  1. Yak Trax–they go on over your shoes and keep you from slipping on hard snow and ice. I don’t recommend them for slushy roads (please run inside on slushy days). $20–get some if you want to run outside.
  2. Ear warmers–unless you want burning cold ears, wear them or a hat.
  3. Gloves–layer up with the cheap ones, and if you want to invest in a better pair, go ahead. I’ve run in the dollar store brand for years and finally upgraded this winter with reflective gloves (North Face $20). My favorites are still the packs of three stretchy gloves from the dollar store though; they’re breathable, and if you lose them, c’est la vie!
  4. Layers, lots of layers! I like my fleece-lined running pants (baggy enough for another pair of tights underneath if needed), my fleece lined shirt, tech shirt over the fleece, an outer fleece layer (if close to 0 degrees), and top it off with a wind breaker. I wear the cheapest windbreaker I can find or my cycling jacket with removable sleeves. On cold days, I wear two pairs of gloves and socks. Keep in mind, the outer sock should be wool or a wool blend to keep your feet warm when they’re wet from snow. The great thing about winter running is pockets. If you’re marathon training, you’ll look like the Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man before you eat your way out of your clothes. Sweet! By the way, I raid Target for fleece-lined shirts, but I do pay good money for my fleece running pants ($70 Nike Running). I’ve had them for four years now and they double as pajamas for me (roll out of bed and go run!), so they’re a good investment. The C9 brand at Target is cheap and durable too for shirts. I’m picky about my tights although I have one or two from Target, Road Runner Sports, Nike, Asics… You get the idea.
  5. Buff–this can be worn around your neck and pulled up over your face for super cold days. I look like I’m going to rob a 7-11, but I’m warm. I like Hoo Rags for $15 because they are thin, breathable, easy to pull up over your nose or down, and will help you warm up the air and make breathing easier. They have lots of designs, but any sporting goods store should have generic buffs.
  6. Lights–get a headlamp to see where you’re going and some kind of flashing light for your back side. Most headlamps are under $25. Winter running means there is limited daylight, so be seen with reflective clothing and lights. Always assume the car DOES NOT see you. Even if you’re waiting on a corner for the light to change, assume the cars do not see you.
  7. Bring a phone, just in case. You’ll sweat when you run, even if it’s below 20 degrees, and if you stop due to injury or whatever, you can get hypothermia. Run where you can duck inside a store and call someone if you need a ride back.
  8. Water and fuel–have enough and use those pockets. Check your water bottle for leaks because you don’t need a frozen waterfall on your windbreaker like what happened to my friend on an 18 mile run in December. Your water will freeze in the bottle if it’s cold enough, so take time to untwist the cap to drink. Most city and park fountains are off for the winter too.
  9. Hand warmers are super cheap and last for hours if your hands need some extra warmth under your gloves on those winter days.

That’s it! Get out there and run in the snow. It’s like being a kid on a snow day all over again.

Schuylkill River Loop

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The air had a winter bite. As I drove down Kelly Drive towards Philadelphia with the heat blasting in my face, I noticed only few runners and cyclists using the Schuylkill River Trail on this Sunday morning. Hardly any cars were on the road. Even the sun took its time rising. I had no problems finding a parking spot just off of Kelly Drive and didn’t even have to parallel park.

We left the warmth of the car, keeping our heavy sweatshirts on, as we walked the half mile to Lloyd Hall for packet pick up. I swung my string backpack over my shoulder and kept trying to stick my hands in pockets I didn’t have: that’s why I brought gloves even though it took me awhile to come to that realization. We planned to arrive early to check in, pick up our bibs and t-shirt, and see where gear check was located, but it was almost too early. The two port-o-potties looked lonely without a line, and the restrooms for Lloyd Hall were practically empty. There was also no line for packet pick up.

The Schuylkill River Trail Loop Race is a no frills race that attracts a few hundred local runners to run the oldest ongoing race in Philadelphia in its 44th year. At a price of $25, how could I not sign up for this race? I asked my friend to run it with me too. We didn’t plan to race it, but to use the race as a much needed long run on one of our favorite trails with a few hundred other runners and a free t-shirt that we technically paid for. The t-shirt is cotton, a rarity in the $50 or more half marathon racing scene. I love cotton t-shirts because I can wear them with jeans, adding to my casual wardrobe that is becoming more sporty by the year.

This race begins near the Philadelphia Museum of Art, passes the famous Rocky Steps, and then crosses over the Schuylkill River to follow Martin Luther King Drive up to the Falls Bridge before passing over the river a second time, taking runners down Kelly Drive to finish at Boathouse Row.  The whole race is an even 8.4 miles with one water stop at mile 5. There are no mile markers are along the course, there are no cheering crowds, there are no bands, there’s just the trail and a pack of a few hundred runners all doing the same thing.

After about a mile, the pack thins out. A few rowers brave the river, and a few cyclists ding their bells to clear a path on the shared trail. That’s it. As Deb and I chatted, I noted when we reached mile 4 since we were about half way finished. Another runner slightly ahead of us, thanked us and started talking. She was young and wore Rainbow Dash socks, which I remember admiring at the starting line. She admitted only running a few 10Ks, so if she ran the whole distance of the race without walking, it would be her farthest distance ever.

Deb and I encouraged her to keep going as we swapped running stories. I used to despise running, and I told her that running was more of a punishment during soccer season, but I’ve come to love running because it’s the only way I can really feel like myself. If I don’t run, I’m not the same person. It wasn’t like a “come to Jesus” talk or anything about running, but more of a mutual agreement that running is beneficial. And you know what? She finished the race without walking and ran farther than she ever did before. To see the smile on her face at the finish line after she found her running friends was all we needed.

I plan to keep my eyes open for more local races like this one because they’re all about running and supporting the local community. And, I’ll probably meet some interesting runners on the trail too while enjoying the run with a friend.

Go Without

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Rain poured down on the pavement as I looked out the window. Zoey clearly has the right idea. I already sent the kid off to school, washed the dishes, started the laundry, and checked on my runners, which means that all I needed to do was put on my running shoes and go outside.

But, that’s easier said than done.

I was overly motivated yesterday: I went to spin class at the Y, swam 1600 meters, and went for a run before dinner. For some reason, I had boundless energy! I have absolutely none of that today. I stared at the rain outside and took a deep breath while still in my pajamas. I badly wanted a cup of coffee to drink while I sat my butt down on the sofa.

I decided to run anyway. I went upstairs and changed into my running tights, a long-sleeved shirt, and a ball cap to keep my face sort of dry in the rain. I put my watch on, but hid it under my sleeve–I didn’t plan to turn it on, but the OCD me couldn’t leave it on the dresser; I wanted to count my steps even if I wasn’t tracking my run. I tucked my keys in the pouch and left my phone on the table by the door and went outside.

It was a strange feeling not turning on my watch and waiting for it to catch the satellite signal–I could just run. So that’s what I did. The rain fell harder as I ran up the hill to the trail. A stray car splashed water up on the sidewalk. I dodged puddles left and right. I didn’t care how fast or how slow I ran–just that I ran. And that’s enough.

Go without some time, and let me know how your run felt.

Under the Texas Sun

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Oil refineries rise like vacant cities,

throwing flames skyward–

smoking the excess like a cigar.

Pump jacks nod to a slow rhythm

on the grassy plains, cracked by drought,

sucking black gold out from under

the Texas sun.

 

Cattle gather near the water

where the chaparral clings to life,

tangled with the barbed wire fence

far from the single house–

an outpost of civilization

amid the vast, flat land

under the Texas sun.

 

The plows have abandoned the fields,

now fallow for the rainy season:

Neat rows cut in straight lines

as if with a razor, bleeding dust

into the wind and into our faces

as we run straight into

that Texas sun.

 

Green lawns are watered by the Gulf of Mexico,

and oil rigs rise up from its depths to stab the horizon

that we now run to greet the Texas sun.

Turkey Trot

When I was a kid, Turkey Trots were few and far between in Ohio. We had our turkey dinner earlier than most, around noon, and after the dishes were washed and dried; before the coffee was brewed and dessert served, we walked up to the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo from my yiayia’s house on West 47th in Old Brooklyn. It was a brisk fifteen minute walk in the cold, but once we were there, all of the animals were active in the frigid temperatures. The zoo was also free on Thanksgiving to Cuyahoga County residents.

Seeing that I usually walked on Thanksgiving, a Turkey Trot sounds like a logical progression. I never ran a Turkey Trot until this past Thanksgiving while visiting my friend, Cathy, and her family in Corpus Christi, Texas. I guess I should have known my turkey trot drought would come to an end on this trip since Cathy is one of my best running friends.

Cathy is known among my running friends as the Bionic woman or the Iron Woman. A rest day for her is teaching a spin class after a 10 mile run. Seriously. Two days after running Boston for the third time, she’s running an easy 8 miler. Two days after a 50K, she’s hitting the pavement again and running long by the end of the week. I guess that’s the only way I can keep up with this incredible triathlete, Boston marathoner, and ultra runner: hope she’s still tired from her 50K trail race.

She wasn’t. At the start of the Turkey Trot, Cathy kept a conservative pace, but by the end of the race, I couldn’t catch her. Maybe it was the heat? Maybe it was the humidity? Maybe it was the Texas sun? Maybe she’s just Cathy: invincible.

The Corpus Christi Turkey Trot is the only trot in the city. About 500 runners ran the two loops for a total of four miles that began in one of the historic sections of the city. The course wasn’t really scenic, but it was flat, which is a win in my book. I never thought I would run a Turkey Trot in shorts and a tank top. Thank you, Cathy, for making this happen. We will see you later!

Running at Valley Forge

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Leaves curve in endless streams like rapids over rocks, obscuring the path below our feet and testing our fortitude. The hills encircling the valley do not forgive with gales whipping our windbreakers and stealing our breath while the sun teases us with warmth we cannot feel.  Still, we run.

Cannons stand as sentinels on the trail, monitoring our movement while stationary under the wispy clouds and blue like the sky. Their mouths are cemented shut, silently protesting their symbolism. We run by.

A solitary oak leaf, suspended in the wind, valiantly fights to remain aloft as the biting wind tosses it closer to the branches from where it came before sending it to lay in the damp grass near the base of the trunk. The cannon wheels catch some of these leaves, laughing from the gaps in between the spokes and trapping them until spring, where the leaves turn to humus to fertilize the ground beneath. Still, we run.

We run as part of the moving world, treading daily on the ground and pounding out our existence to be heard–just once. So, we run.

Thinking on the Run

The photographs above were all taken on my runs because autumn is my favorite season. I have a chance to think on my runs, meditate,  or listen to music, a podcast, or audiobook, depending on my mood. Lately, I’ve been listening to the wind in the trees and enjoying the falling leaves. Below are some of my thoughts while I run. Sometimes I think in poetry or I think of prose to write or snapshot to paint, and when I’m not running, I’m a mom to a very thoughtful daughter. What do you think about?

Hope Is The Thing With Leaves

Will you always bring me a Japanese maple leaf in autumn when the afternoon light slants towards evening in the red afternoon? You select a leaf a day; plucked from the tree near the school on our block; the ones scattered on the sidewalk are not good enough—they’ve been walked on and smashed under commuters’ feet. No, the leaf has to be fresh like a flower that dies once it’s cut yet blooms for a week with proper care. Red is your favorite color in fall, not the pale yellow that lets the light through and seems to glisten in the sun’s rays. No, you are like me and prefer the maple, blood-clotted red, over the sunshine of the gingko leaves fanning the wind in a farewell for the tardy geese making their way south for winter.

The maple is upright and strong in the wind, but its leaves are like feathers against the wet, black boughs, part of the floating world swirling above our heads. Will you always bring me a leaf a day? Each leaf you carry between your fingers is placed high on the counter or shelf, away from the cat’s claws. Each night, the fragile edges curl on themselves like a dead spider’s legs, and I reluctantly throw it away before you wake in the early morning, thinking I should have saved all the dead leaves in between two sheets of wax paper, ironed and sealed, so I can remember. But, I can’t. I want to collect all of the autumn leaves each year so we can admire their shape and color and redness. Where would I keep them? On the counters and shelves or stacked around the house in neat square piles like read newspapers?

Each day, you bring me a new leaf as red as the one before. I set it aside and admire its fragile veins, the jagged lines, the five points like a star, but you’ve already gone off to start your homework and never see me admire the leaf that you so carefully selected—a piece of hope. Hope that might curl into a ball by the break of each day but appears in glorious red the next afternoon in spite of what came before. I cherish each leaf you bring at the end of your school day, even if I ask you to place it on the counter when my hands are wet with the soap and sponge from the dishes. And in the spring, after the winter that blew all the leaves off the highest branches, new leaves, bright and green, will grow; the boughs will reach even farther to the clouds and into the bright afternoon sun. Hope will flourish once again, and we’ll have leaves to collect.

Richmond Weekend

The rolling hills of Richmond topped with fall foliage at its peak is a sight to behold. Whether you’re running the full or the half marathon, the course has gently rolling hills that pass by historic monuments and beautiful homes. And the best part about this course? It’s a never-ending block party with junk food stops and beer stops as well as the much needed water and fuel stations. Any race that has junk food stops stocked with candy bars is my kind of race.

This is my first year running the half marathon; the previous two years, I ran the full with Phil; however, he ran the full alone, and my 6@6 running friend, Hua, ran her first full marathon over the weekend. Although I didn’t get to see all of my friends running, I had a chance to hang out with Hua and her family after the race, which is always a treat.

The marathon begins slightly later than the half marathon, so by the time my wave went, the elite marathoners began their run too. I found my groove on Broad Street as the elite runners ran by like gazelles–holding a five minute per mile or better pace, those runners make it look effortless. I ran slightly faster to try and see them for a little bit longer, but they were soon gone.

The first turn to the right took me north of the city and into the historic residential neighborhoods. Leaves continued to fall in my path as we made our way into Joseph Ryan Park’s rolling hills and the 10K split. With my tight hamstring and sore IT bands, my legs were just plain pooped by this point in the race, but I saw my friend, Kerry, leaving the park as I was entering it, and I kept running faster.  She didn’t see me, but if she did, she’d smile and wave. I tried to blurt out, “KERRY!” but I was out of breath.

A huge hill stood in my way as I exited the park, but I just told myself that I eat hills for breakfast. Seeing all of the other half marathoners entering the park gave me encouragement: they weren’t giving up, so I won’t either.

Miles 8 and 9 ticked by, and I when I saw mile 10 I knew I only had a 5K left. I held back a little bit, saving my final kick for the last two miles. I was foolish–I had forgotten about the hill approaching mile 12 that took whatever was left out of me, until the final downhill: Richmond ends with an incredible downhill that begs for speed. And I gave it all of my speed and flew by cautious runners and weaved around groups running together and leapt over potholes in the road and I finished fast… without falling on my face. In my mind, I was a gazelle too, only less graceful.

It wasn’t my fastest half marathon, but my second best. I’ll take that. I’ll just keep thinking I’m a gazelle and hold my head high.

Under a Week until Richmond

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This is the first time I’ve ever switched from the full to a half marathon due to injury, but I’m going to give it my all. This means my goal is to run the half marathon in under two hours or a 9 minute per mile pace. That might not be fast for everyone, but it’s fast for me, considering I couldn’t even run a full mile without walking when I began running in 2011.

I’m going to be thinking about fast feet, flying through the air, and listening to some fast and loud music along the way. A PR for me is under 2:05:00.  Eeek! The race is this Saturday too. Fast feet, fast feet, fast feet. I am strong. I am fast. I got this.

What races are you running this fall?