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Behold, the Hoka One One Conquest:

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You may recall my previous review of a Hoka shoe, the Bondi. At the time, I really loved that shoe.  After a few runs though, I realized I had gotten the wrong size, and even with an insole, it was too loose.  Unfortunate, really, because the max cushioning of the Bondi was fabulous for my achy feet.

The first version of the Bondi had some durability issues, so when the new version came out with a reinforced upper, I was eager to try it.  Although I went down several sizes when trying the Bondi on, I just wasn’t satisfied with the fit.  It was just too wide and felt sloppy on my foot.  So I tried on the Conquest.

The Conquest’s fit is much better for me than the Bondi.  It is relatively narrow (compared to other shoes in Hoka’s line) and has a lightweight, seam-free upper. Under foot it is firmer than the Bondi, but compared to more traditional shoes, the Conquest still has an advantage.  I like the quick-tie laces that come with the shoe, though some might want to cut them off to use the traditional laces for a snugger fit in the heel.

The Conquest has a water-drainage system.  That, combined with the high stack-height of the mid-sole, means running through puddles is no problem.  I love the rocker bottom on the Conquest, just like I liked it on the Bondi.  It helps me to mid-foot strike and therefore increase my turn-over, which is important right now as I’m working on increasing my speed.  The rocker bottom and the max-cushioning also feels great — it protects my toes from bending too much, which means less pain from my bunion and pinched nerve in my second toe (Old Lady alert!).

In the looks department, I think it leaves something to be desired, as do most Hoka’s, but that’s the sacrifice you make for a shoe that feels this good.

Every run I’ve gone on since I’ve gotten the Conquest has been in this shoe, with the exception of one run — it was short and I thought I’d wear another pair that I hadn’t worn in a while.  About a quarter mile down the road I was regretting my decision.  You just can’t get the same feeling from a traditional shoe.

My husband and I signed up for the Healthy Human Race Half Marathon Relay at the end of August, so I’ll be training for a faster 10K time between now and then. The Conquest will definitely be my go-to shoe for the summer training season.

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First Day Back

I’m about to admit something that’s really quite embarrassing.

Before our training run with last week’s Learn to Run class, I hadn’t run in over three weeks.  

You all know how it goes: the weather doesn’t cooperate, it’s too dark outside, you don’t want to make the trek to the gym, and besides you’ve got a lot of other things you have to get done… and running takes a backseat.

It’s unfortunate because, just like my dog, if I don’t go for a run fairly frequently, my mood goes downhill.

So after last week’s run in the refreshing spring air under a full moon, I decided it was time to get back into the swing of things.  While it’s still the dead of winter around here, spring and summer racing season will be here before we know it and I have plans to PR in the 5K and run a 10K this summer.  

So last night I decided to join in the other runners at the store at our Tuesday night $5 5K.  I started at the back of the pack with my dog and although I would like to blame the dog for the fact that I was the last runner to return, that’s totally not the case. I was tired. And sore.  I had to stop and take a walk break a few times.  My knee started to hurt every time I started to run.  I could barely lift my legs off the ground by the time we got back to the start/finish line. It was the longest distance I had run in months.

It was a very stark reminder of what it was like when I first started running.  It doesn’t feel all that good, and you’re left wondering why anyone would want to do this to themselves 5 times a week! 

This is what happens when you take a long break.  You end up having to start back at square one.  I have an advantage over those actually starting at square one though — I’ve done it before.  Regardless of how tiring and painful it is, I know (because I’ve experienced it) that things will get easier, that I won’t be as sore, and pretty soon I’ll start enjoying it again.  It’s hard to tell people who haven’t experienced these things that you ‘promise’ they will get there.  It’s like trying to tell a child not to do something: you can tell them what to do until you’re blue in the face, but most of the time, they have to learn the lesson by themselves.  

Now that I’m a day removed though, I feel better about myself and I’m looking forward to training this spring/summer.  But boy, that last place finish at a “fun run” really reminded me of what it’s like to be a newbie. 

If you’ve been anywhere near Reddit, Facebook, Jezebel, or the Huffington Post recently, you’ve probably seen this letter making the rounds.  It’s supposedly an “inspirational” letter to a “fatty” running on a track.  I’ll submit this without comment, but if you’ve read any of my blog, you’ll know exactly where I stand on this.

This, my friends, is why people new to the running community are so afraid to run.  (okay, not without comment, I can’t help it)

Fear holds us back from doing the things that we so wish to achieve.  And people like this letter writer only add to the fear that builds up inside of us, keeping us from achieving our dreams and goals.  

My Learn to Run spring session started last week.  As part of the class, I asked them to complete a pre-class survey.  One of the questions was “What is your biggest fear about learning to run?”  Out of the 22 responses I received to this question, 11 of them were some form of “I’m afraid I’m going to be the slowest one out there.”  Some were worried about being embarrassed.  Some were worried about looking silly.  Two ladies said, “I’m worried everyone is going to be waiting on the chubby girl.”  

I get that.  Fear is so powerful.  And it’s people like this letter writer who my new runners think of every time they decide to go for a run.  No matter how many times I tell them that no one cares, that the running community is supportive, that everyone has to start somewhere, they will still hear this person in the back of their head, telling them that they are fat, that they are “less than”, that they are too gross and too slow to run.  I don’t swear often, but F*** off, letter writer.  

End of comment.

Be 100% Pure You

I’m going to tell you a story.  It’s going to be a little personal and I’ll probably over share, and right in the middle you’ll be wondering why in the world I’m telling you this, but in the end, you’ll totally see how this is related to running.  I promise.

My road to a career in selling running shoes was a long and strange one.  I didn’t go to school for a business or management degree.  I got my Bachelor’s degree in English and Paralegal Studies.  I was interested in law and politics, and because I knew that if I had kids, I’d be a stay at home mom, the paralegal field just seemed like a job that would be a way station into my real, actual adulthood.

I got a job straight out of college (pre-recession, mind you) in the paralegal field and I couldn’t have been more miserable.  Go figure.  I hated my job.  I hated sitting at a desk.  I hated staring at a computer screen all day.  I hated only talking to people on the phone and never having much human interaction.  I didn’t have a window. Feeling of fulfillment: 0%.  I started gaining weight.  I thought it was just the type of law I was doing (personal injury) and not the career itself, so I started thinking about what could come next.  But the more I thought about how much better a different job would (of course) be, the more miserable I was at my current job.  I kept wanting to leave, but I just couldn’t make the leap.  I was laid off before I could leave on my own terms.  Which made me more miserable.  In retrospect, it was the best thing that could have happened to me, but of course I didn’t realize that then.  And it always sucks to loose a job, no matter how much you hated it.

For several weeks after that day I sat around in my living room and watched t.v., moped, and ate.  I probably gained 10 pounds.  I refused to file for unemployment.  Finally, I got myself a job hawking electronics at an office supply store.  I liked the job and I was good at it.  But wouldn’t you know it – I was miserable.  I thought I should be doing something better with my life than “working retail.”  Again, the job was just a way station on to something better.

That “better” came in the form of grad school.  Looking back on it — not actually a better option.  Like many people my age during the recession, I went back to school because I didn’t have any real career prospects.  I knew I didn’t want to sit in an office any more, but that was all I knew about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.  Getting my Masters degree in English Language and Literature seemed like a good enough choice.  Theoretically, my MA should have given me the opportunity to teach undergrads entry level English, but nothing is as good as it seems in academia.  Job opportunities for people with M.A.’s are limited, and since I didn’t have the option to move, my job prospects amounted to absolutely zilch.

Again, miserable.  And also about 30 pounds heavier.  While I was in grad school I lived in Rochester, but my school was in Winona, about 40 minutes away.  Most of my classes were at night and I taught, tutored, and studied during the day.  Lacking options for lunch, dinner, and sometimes even breakfast, I usually stopped at McDonald’s on my way home in the evening.  That, combined with a complete and utter lack of exercise, tipped the scales in an ever easterly direction.

My next job also seemed like a good idea at the time.  And while I loved some moments of my job working as a advocate at the local Women’s Shelter, it was also stressful and horrible.  It made me miserable.  I gained more weight.  I stressed about my job when I was home, when I was in bed, when I went shopping, when I bought a car… every single moment of my life revolved around that job, because domestic violence is not limited to Monday through Friday 8-5. While I was once again having an internal battle with myself over my miserableness, I couldn’t make a change.  In the end, a difference of opinion with those in charge led to my being let go.

Over the previous four years I had been miserable every. single. second. And my body suffered because of it.  By the time I decided to do something about my weight, I had gained over 50 pounds.  And it wasn’t just my physical body that had suffered.  My mental health suffered too.  I was tired all the time, my anxiety went through the roof, and I felt like a failure.  I had to take drugs just so I could sleep at night.  I started taking an anti-depressant.

This time I applied for (and received) unemployment benefits, and I made the decision that this time, I was really going to take my time making a decision about what I wanted to do with my life, rather than just taking the first job that came along.  Before I left the shelter, I had trained and competed in my first triathlon.  The decision to finally do something about my poor health was a result of watching other people race.  But I had been waiting for that tipping point for at least four years.

With a little running experience behind me, and cashing in on my previous shoe sales experience (my first job was slinging shoes at Roagan’s and I met my husband while I was working at Foot Locker), I was hired as a sales associate at the Running Room.

That choice was supposed to be temporary.  I was terrified of someone from high school coming in to the store and saying, “Oh, so you just work in retail now?” or having to explain to my parents’ friends why I wasn’t doing anything with my degree.  Even though I was in better health than I had been in several years, I was still depressed.

But this is why: For years, I had been making decision for my life based on what I thought other people would expect from me.  I was supposed to have a “real” job where I made “real” money, a picket fence, a house, kids, a dog.  I didn’t think I could be happy until I could be proud of myself.  And I couldn’t be proud of myself because, in my mind, I was a failure.  A failure who couldn’t find a job, who had mountains of college debt, and several useless degrees to show for it. I spent so much time thinking about what other people thought of me, that I never stopped to really consider whether or not I was actually happy. I wanted to be happy, but only if I could have a traditional job, with a traditional house, and a traditional family, because that was what was expected.

But that was not what would make me happy.  It took me years to realize that.

I always thought I would have 2.5 kids because that’s what people do.  I always thought I would have some kind of desk job, because that’s what people who are middle-class and live in the suburbs do.  And when that wasn’t happening, it made me miserable.  But I wasn’t miserable because I was actually unhappy, I was miserable because my perspective was way off.

If I had just taken a moment, years ago, to really look at what I wanted to do and had the guts to make the changes that I knew I had to make, without worrying about what other people would think, I would have been so much better off.  But now you can learn from my mistakes.  I know I don’t want to have kids.  And while some people may think that’s the worst decision a woman could make, for me, it’s the right one.  I know I don’t like sitting at a desk.  I like working retail and I’m good at it.  I like meeting new people every day and inspiring other people to achieve an active lifestyle.  I like getting my hands dirty and hard work.  And what’s wrong with that?  Nothing, is the answer.  Nothing is wrong with that.  That is me.

Four years ago I was trying to be a version of myself that wasn’t pure.  I was running at 30% me.  I was making myself unhappy.  It wasn’t as if people were actually coming up to me and disparaging my retail job.  I just imagined that they would.  30% Me was trying to be something to the world that didn’t actually exist.  So the 70% of me that I was hiding made me miserable.  Do you know how tiring it is to pretend to be someone else?

When I made the decision to be happy with the life and career that I had created, when I actually accepted what I wanted, and stopped worrying about what other people wanted, when I stopped trying to make other people happy by being someone else, that is when I truly found my happiness.

My life is so much better now.  If you think retail isn’t a “real” job, then you have never worked retail.  And if you are going to look down on me for having a retail job, then I think you’re the one with the problem, not me. I stopped worrying about trying to loose “enough” weight, and instead starting thinking about my over all health.  If people wanted to talk about my weight, then I felt sorry for them, because they didn’t have anything else to do than to criticize someone else.  I stopped looking at other people’s lives and wishing I was more like them, and instead started looking at my life and realizing how incredibly lucky I was.  I stopped worrying about what people would think about me being child-free by choice, and just decided that I DIDN’T CARE.

Really.  I know so many people right now who are so miserable in their lives.  They go to work and they are miserable.  They come home and they are miserable.  And I just want to yell at them, “Stop doing this to yourself! If you hate everything about your life, so change your life!” Some of these people don’t actually hate their lives, but they’ve fallen into the same trap that I did, worrying, worrying, worrying all the time, frustrated and complaining about how miserable they are, which just leads to them being more miserable.

I told you this all would relate to running, so let me bring you back to the main purpose of this blog.  Whatever you do in life, be 100% Pure You.  In your job, in your home life, with your kids, with your family… stop trying to be someone you aren’t.  The same is true of running.  People come in to the store all the time, disparaging themselves, worrying about how slow they are, or that they look funny running, or what they look like in their workout clothes.  These people are expending so much energy on worrying what other people will think of them, that they can’t just be happy with who they are.  Right now.  Today.

You can only run for half a block?  Good for you. That’s what you can do today.  Don’t worry about tomorrow.  Be 100% Pure You, in everything you do, and you will be so much happier, I promise.  Be the runner you were meant to be, not the runner you think you should be, or the runner you think other people think you should be (see how exhausting that is?).

That is not to say that there is not always room for improvement.  But rather than focusing on what needs to improve, focus on today, focus on now.  Plan for the future, but if that future doesn’t pan out, your life is not over — make a new plan.  Be happy today, with who you are today.  Be 100% Pure You.  And if someone in your life can’t handle it, remember that is not because of you, it is because them.  They are the ones who don’t want to see the real you. So if your running buddies make fun of you when you have a rough day, look for new running buddies.  If you struggle time and time again with the half marathon distance, stop trying to be the runner you think you should be and focus on a new distance.  If you can’t do speed work, embrace the long slow run and do a marathon.  Run because you like it, not because you think you should like it, or because other people expect something out of you.  Run because you like the feel of the wind on your face, and the crunch of the gravel under your feet, and the sound of your breath struggling in your chest because that means you are a warrior. Run for you, not for someone else.

If you are 100% Pure You, you will be 100% happier, because you are no longer expending half of your energy on being someone else. Take a step back from your life and gain some perspective and when you jump back in, be who and what you were meant to be.  Trust me.

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Happy New Year!

This is my DH, taking No Shave November a little too far, trying to do crunches at our house.  Foiled again!

I’ll be back after the new year.  I’m looking forward to writing some great race reports (Disney Princess Half Marathon, February 2014) and reviewing more products.  It will also be a great year at the store, with some amazing events planned that will be sure to fire up the running community in Rochester.

My last piece of advice for 2013?  When making your New Year’s Resolutions, don’t focus on what you didn’t achieve this year.  Rather, use this time to reflect on all of the things you accomplished this year. Your resolutions should not be yard sticks against which your worth is measured, but something to inspire you.

YOU are amazing!

I know I said you would receive a race report shortly after my half marathon.  It has now been two months, and nary a peep have you heard from me.

Race reports are hard to write, y’all.

In a nutshell, the race was okay, but it wasn’t great.  I finished 10 minutes slower than I anticipated, but I finished in good spirits (unlike the last half marathon).  The last three miles were the worst, and I started cramping up at the end.  But here’s why race reports are so hard:  There has to be a very careful balance in a race report between funny, insightful, inspirational, and whining.  If I complain too much, it looks like I’m soliciting sympathy.  If I make it sound lovely, I’m lying — and to be frank, you don’t want to read that.  So all of this back and forth means that I kept thinking about what I was going to write, and then just ended up not writing anything at all.

Anyways, but now I’m back and I’m going to tell you about the 4 most annoying things that customers say to me.  Now, before you get all excited, this will not be what it sounds like.

  1. “I know I don’t look like a runner.”  This is usually said while gesturing towards their supposedly fat, non-running body.  Listen folks, I’m tired of people who feel the need to cut themselves down.  There are plenty of people out there that will do that for you.  You don’t have to do it to yourself as well.  What does a “runner” look like anyway?  Most of the people who come into the store aren’t rail-thin.  I certainly don’t “look like a runner.”  And yet, I work at a running store.  And when you come into my store and dismiss your accomplishments and self-shame your body, you are really shaming everyone else who doesn’t “look like a runner.”  A runner looks like you, like me, like your neighbor, like your grandpa.
  2. “I’m not really a runner.”  This is said by at least one person a day at the store.  When I ask them what they mean, they usually respond by saying that they only run 3 days a week, or only 3 miles at a time, or whatever the case may be.  My response: “If you go out the door and you are moving in a forward direction and you aren’t walking, then you are running.  And if you run, you’re a runner.”  There is no special “club” or card that you need in order to be considered a runner.  Again, please stop dismissing your amazing accomplishments.  I’d be willing to bet that your friends, family, and neighbors who don’t run at all consider you a runner.
  3. “I’m really slow.” This is said to me usually in conjunction with one of the previous comments.  When a customer tells me he’s not a “real” runner, and I tell him that, indeed, he is, he responds with, “Well, I’m really slow” as if this somehow diminishes his “runner-ness.”  What is most amusing to me is that when I ask what his average pace is, his response is  “10 minute mile” or “9 minute mile.”  Well, I’ve got news for you buddy: that is a lot faster than many people run.  You are fast.  And besides, as I always say, whether you run a 7 minute mile or a 12 minute mile, it is still A MILE.
  4. “I just run 5Ks.” Or the alternative, “It’s only a half marathon.”  True, you are not running 26.2 miles, or a 50K, or competing in an IronMan challenge, but JUST 5Ks?  JUST a half marathon?  Please, please, please, take that “just” out of your vocabulary.  It is not JUST a 5K.  It is 3.1 miles!  That’s longer than most people can run.  13.1 miles is just as challenging for you as that 50K is to someone else.  When you come into my store, we are not running a competition for the best, or fastest, or longest runner.  You run?  Great, let’s get you taken care of so you can be the best runner YOU can be.

There are dozens of other examples that I could give, but they all boil down to the fact that people put themselves down FAR too much.  I ascribe to the HAES movement (Health at Every Size), which says that I can’t tell how healthy (or not) you are just by looking at you.  In fact, believe it or not, that really skinny guy that you think “looks like a runner” may very well be a chain smoking crack addict.  I believe running isn’t about losing weight (though it may have that added benefit), but it is about your TOTAL health.  That means not only your physical health, but being happy with how your body moves, celebrating the astounding accomplishments (yes, it is an astounding accomplishment that you ran 2 miles, because last year, you couldn’t walk up the stairs without getting winded), and clearing out the clutter in your mind.  There is something so freeing about being outside, enjoying the scenery, focused just on you and no one else, not worrying about the dry cleaning that needs to be picked up, or the kids’ Christmas program costumes you have to make, or the floors that need to be scrubbed.  When you are running, it is just YOU.  You are the HERO in the moment that you lace up your running shoes.  I don’t care if you run 1 mile or 31 miles, YOU ARE AMAZING.

If you’re like me (and most runners I know), a couple of weeks before your big race, you start obsessively checking the weather, and mentally planning out what you are going to wear.  Because weather changes so quickly around here, most of my running friends end up changing their minds about their race day outfit at least a dozen times.  At the store last week (before Des Moines Marathon and Mankato Marathon), dozens of folks came in asking about jackets, hats, arm warmers, and warm tops.  We all know that you should never wear something new on race day, but that didn’t stop these folks!

Amusingly, I’m about to commit that faux paus as well.

I’ve been thinking carefully about how I am going to approach the Monster Dash.  My training hasn’t been as good as I would have liked (my max distance before Saturday will be 9 miles), I’m going to be starting the race with a friend, and the weather has gotten exponentially chillier over the past two weeks.  The Monster Dash is also a Halloween themed race, so costumes are encouraged.

I will not be wearing a costume, fyi.

Planning your race day is where all of your training and preparation pays off.  You’ve learned from your mistakes and can approach the race as prepared as possible.  For example, after my disastrous half marathon last August, I learned that I need to really think about my hydration and nutrition.  Since then, I’ve purchased a water belt and over the past several weeks I’ve been training with the water belt and with the nutrition (Jelly Belly Sports Beans) that I plan on using race day.  I definitely will not be over-hydrating this time!

After running in this cold weather the past two weeks, I’ve also figured out my best bet for a race day outfit.

Here’s what I’ll be wearing:

infiniti headband

Brooks Infiniti Headband

saucony guide

Saucony Guide

 

NWFERTI-NK-1

Nike Epic Run Tight

 

infinit anorak

Brooks Infiniti Anorak

 

13

Enell Sports Bra

 

injinji-run-lw-mini-crew-nuwool-charcoal

Injinji NuWool Socks

 

BKW1790-HLM450

Brooks Equilibrium Base LS

 

I may end up changing my mind about the base layer, depending on the weather at the start, but that Equilibrium top is such a great temperature regulator, I think I’ll be fine wearing it, even if it ends up being a little warmer.  That Infiniti Anorak will be a new jacket on race day, but with the base layer under it, I don’t think it will matter.  The Anorak jacket is great though, because it unzips almost down to the waist, and it’s very light while still being wind resistant and water resistant in case it’s raining or snowing.

Besides planning your race day outfit, you’ll also want to have a plan of attack for the race itself.  As I said, I’ll be running with a friend at the beginning.  She will be running her first half marathon, and wanted someone at the start with her, which is why I decided to do this race.  She is quite a bit slower than me, but that will be to my advantage at the beginning of the race since my training wasn’t great.  My plan is to run the first half of the race with her (at a 13:30 min/mi) and then take off for the last half (at closer to a 10:00 min/mi).  I’ve reviewed the route map, and apparently the course is downhill almost the entire way.  So I’m actually thinking I’ll have a good race, perhaps even beating my first half marathon time (calculating the time out, and assuming I actually end up running the pace I’ve planned on, I should finish in 2.5 hours, which is about what I finished my first half marathon in).

Next up is nutrition and hydration.  Because this is a race, hydration will be provided along the way, so I won’t be bringing my water belt (why have that additional weight if I don’t need it?).  But I will be bringing about 3 packets of Sports Beans.  While I anticipate only using two, I learned from my first half marathon that you always want to bring one extra, just in case.

I hope that my penchant for obsessively planning will pay off this time, with a good finish time, and at the very least, a good time!  I’ve come to realize over the years that your finish time doesn’t matter nearly as much as how much fun you had while running the race.  A great finish time will always be overshadowed by a terrible race (though the two don’t usually go hand-in-hand).  My goal this race: have fun — And because I will be driving myself home post-race, don’t injure myself!  If I can achieve these two goals, I will be happy.

Keep your eyes peeled for a post-race report!