Tuesday, January 26, 2016

2Toms Sport Shield for HER! Roll On Review

I have two vivid memories from the first time I watched a marathon, which was in the mid nineties, long before I became a runner. I was at the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC, working for a marketing company that had me handing out flyers at the marathon. I had no interest in running of any kind, and no concept of running 26.2 miles. 

I placed myself close to the finish line figuring I could hand out my flyers to people as they finished running, and before I knew it I became entranced by the runners passing by. People of all ages, shapes and sizes were approaching the finish line, and I couldn’t help but wonder how in the world they had been able to run that far. Why did they want to work that hard to accomplish something like this? What was it doing to their bodies?

I remember an overwhelming feeling of emotion, of pride and amazement for these running strangers. I stuffed the flyers into my pocket and started clapping and cheering for every runner. I cried that day, for the runners, and also for myself for not being able to even conceptualize the feat that these runners had undertaken. What had compelled them, both physically and mentally to get to that point, 26 miles, on foot to achieve something that felt impossible to me? I was so proud of every one of them, crying and laughing and feeling joy about something I didn’t even understand. The memory is so vivid, even all these years later, that I can recall it in an instant. 

My other incredibly vivid memory from that day is of bloody nipples.

I remember seeing runners come by with bloodstains on the fronts of their shirts, nipples bleeding from 26 miles of chafing, and that memory, even if you have not felt it yourself, is one you cannot forget. 

Before this story becomes too horrifying, I’ll tell you that I also remember seeing a funny guy dressed in full costume as Uncle Sam, “running” on stilts, and Big Bird from Sesame Street came running by as well. Neither seemed to be suffering from bloody nipples (but who knows what was going on under those costumes).

See? Even distractive thoughts of funny costumes and birds running marathons can’t make you stop thinking about bloody nipples, right? I know. Because years later when I started running, I would recall that day at Marine Corps, and think, no, no, no. No matter how much I love to run, I must do whatever it takes to make sure I never suffer from bloody nipples.

So, now that you’re here in TMI-ville, grab a comfortable seat and a drink and I will further entertain you with the unnecessary little piece of information that, once I started running I would faithfully apply bandages to ensure the avoidance of bloody nipples.  And the one time I forgot them, for my first Half Marathon, I regretted it sorely. You know that post run shower and how good it feels until OHMYFUCK the hot water hits a chafe spot? Yes. I did not forget the bandages again. Over the years I became a bandage machine. I would strategically place them all over my body where I thought I might possibly get a hot spot. I looked like a neon clad Frankenstein.

Recently though, I met the people at a company called 2Toms. I was the lucky recipient of samples of their products they were offering through a group called RunChat on Twitter. 2Toms makes products that prevent blisters and chafing. So, wow! I have to tell you, using a powder or a liquid to prevent blisters and chafing is a lot easier than sticking (and unsticking, ouch) preventive  bandages all over your body. A few months later, when 2Toms said they needed product testers, I raised my hand and volunteered.

The first product I received was 2Toms Sport Shield for HER! Roll On. This product is specifically for women, but guys, keep please reading as well, and I promise I’ll try to work in another nipple reference or two.

Let me just say up front, the product is genius.

I LOVE IT. I can effortlessly roll it wherever I need to. It feels great. The effectiveness is 100%. I tested it on many runs under various types of clothing. One of the spots on my foot where I tested it was on a hot spot that a particular pair of shoes had been giving me and it was the cure. I tried it on my quads where my shorts end and under my arms where the underside of my skin hits my shirt as well.

I was really happy to see that it didn’t leave a residue on any of my clothing and though it feels silky and smooth on the skin, it’s not greasy at all. Once it’s applied, you don’t even notice that its there. You can use it everywhere, and I’m sure you’re not surprised to hear, it does a perfect job protecting nipples! It’s a great size to use at home before a run or to tuck into a race pack or drop bag. 

By the way, 2Toms makes Sport Shield Roll On for guys too.  The difference is that the “for HER! Roll On” has added calendula, Shea butter and green tea extract - which I think are lovely for both men and women, so if you guys are interested, try the ladies product as well! And likewise, ladies, you are more than welcome to try the original Sport Shield Roll On. Seriously, why not get one of each and switch back and forth? You can't go wrong, because 2Toms offers a 100% satisfaction guarantee. 

Before I end this 2Toms infomercial, I’ll add that Sports Shield comes in individually packaged towelettes as well, which are easy to stick in the pocket of your running shorts in case you feel a hot spot during a long run.  You can open the towelette, slide the end out and swipe it onto your skin, then tuck the towelette back into the package to use again later.

I had no idea while watching the Marine Corps Marathon all those years ago, that I would one day become a runner. I would finish 2 marathons of my own. I would feel that overwhelming sense of physical achievement and hard work paying off for myself the way I had felt it for those other runners that day.

I had no idea that the full circle of the bloody nipples would culminate in a blog entry that mentions them this many times, and that mine would be prevented by a product that a cool company entrusted me to test and share my opinion about. So, here’s to chafing and what it can do for you! May you feel emotions about the achievements of others, may that lead to your own achievements and may all of  your hot spots be always protected. 

2Toms is on Twitter, right here.
And I'm on Twitter too, right over here.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Stump Jump

We were checking into our Air B&B and Jeff was not happy.

“This house has no furniture.”

“I know. Remember I told you –“

“There’s nothing in the kitchen. It’s empty.”

“Yeah, it’s supposed to be, remember I said we were going to – “

“There isn’t even a shower curtain!”

I had definitely mentioned to him that we were getting a really good deal on an...um...empty...Air B&B in Chattanooga, Tennessee, that was to serve as Base Camp for the upcoming Stump Jump 50k/11 Miler. 

I couldn’t blame him for not remembering. A key to the success of our marriage has been that I only expect him to hear 40% of what I say. This must have been part of the other 60%.  

I’m sure it went down something like this: I was rambling on and on about this race (he was most likely not listening during this part as I tend to talk about running a lot) and how awesome it would be to go to Chattanooga (which likely sparked his interest a bit because he loves to travel and we’d always wanted to visit Chattanooga) and then I likely mentioned the Air B&B (which he would have been quite happy about) and by the time I mentioned the fact that this particular Air B&B was an empty house and we would be kind of camping inside of it, he had probably started thinking about something else and the last bit of this plan probably sounded to him like Charlie Brown Teacher Speak. So when I then said, “Ok, great we’re going to book it!” he most likely said, “Sounds good.”     

Flash forward and well, it wasn’t super good.

“How am I supposed to hang out in this empty house during your race if there’s no furniture?”

“You’re coming to the race! It will be so fun! You can hang out all day and watch runners come in and then when –“

I could tell he wasn’t listening.  I suggested we buy a shower curtain on the way to the race expo.

The Stump Jump is a 50k (some years they have had an 11 Mile option as well) trail race on Signal Mountain with 4,400 feet of gain on crazy single track and rocky terrain with amazing views. Rock Creek Outfitters is a sponsor of this race as well as a lot of other great Chattanooga trail races. The Stump Jump is legendary.

We arrived at the expo, being held at the Rock Creek store, the mecca for trail runners in Chattanooga. It’s such an awesome/terrible idea to have a trail race expo at a genius gear store, especially with a sale going on.  I couldn't resist “just trying on” a new pair of Hokas and I’m sure you know the end result of that – I was, in quick order, the proud owner of yet another pair of Hokas.

As we were browsing shoes and gear and picking up packets and looking around, Jeff wandered off and then reappeared. With a race packet in his hand.       

We all stared at him. He stared back. “What?” he asked.

We stared more. At him and the race packet, complete with an official bib number, in his hand.

It’s not that Jeff can’t run. He just doesn’t particularly like to run. He’s an epic hiker. He has hiked 550 miles across Spain twice, hiked 100+ miles of the C&O Canal as well as nearly every trail in Shenandoah National Park and countless miles of the Appalachian Trail.  

But he really doesn’t like to run. He likes to stop and take pictures. Of every flower. And he likes to identify plants. All the plants. He’s not a hurrying sort of guy. He’s a yoga teacher and the woods are a meditative place for him, not a racing place. 

So, you can imagine that we were all slightly confused when he appeared to have, on the fly, registered for a race that we had all started training for months before.

“Well, I can’t hang out at that empty house and I’m not going to sit around at the race all day waiting for you guys, so I decided that I’m going to do it too.”

Jeff and the brothers Tolbert officially registered for Stump Jump. Jeff is thinking, you people are insane. 

Oh, and that's me ready to make my 11 Miler debut

It kind of made sense. This is the part of the story where every runner should stop reading and thank any non runner who ever came out to cheer, hang, crew, be at a race for you. It's a lot of waiting around and may not be quite as exciting as we feel like it would be for someone who is likely to only see you for one second, crossing the finish line. We told Jeff he’d be amazing and we helped him pick out a hydration pack (carrying your own hydration is a requirement for this race) and went out for a pre-race dinner.

The next day arrived in the night and we huddled around bonfires waiting for the race to begin.  The vibe of this race is what I call Classic Ultra. Ultra laid back, ultra cool, ultra friendly, ultra amazing coffee and snacks available. All of that and we were about to spend the day running on some of the most beautiful trails in the southeast - it's pretty much my idea of heaven.  

Waiting for the sunrise to warm us up

Before we had a chance to think too much about it, we were off and racing into the woods with close to 500 other runners. And when it was all over Matthew, Michael, Jeff and I all had PRs. As we cheered Jeff across the finish line he smiled and said, “I took some amazing pictures and I beat a girl who twisted her ankle.”

Four started and four finished. Success for all. 

We all decided we'd be back as soon as possible to hang out in the great city of Chattanooga and that we'd definitely all race Stump Jump again. And Jeff said that next time, he'd pick the accommodations.    

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Race to Win: The Tale of the Ohana Holiday 5k

“How much Champagne did we drink last night?”

My sister in law and I were pulling up to the start line of a race we had decided to run the night before. It was a sparkling wine fueled plan that we had brilliantly laid out around 10PM, as we topped ourselves off with fermented grape beverages that make you do silly things like sign up for races that you haven't trained for.    

Why not drink copious amounts of alcohol and then go run a race the next morning? Um, don’t answer that.  And before you say, “It’s just a 5k," watch some videos of people properly racing 5ks. It’s a tough distance to run well. There’s no room for error. Or hangovers.

To be fair, it wasn’t completely the fault of the Champagne. The plan was hatched in part because of a certain obsession I was having with a little game called RunChatHunt. I had yet to find a race start/finish line to complete the scavenger hunt. So, the Champagne flowed and the Ohana Holiday 5k beckoned.

We had a beer afterward, to seal the plan if you will. And I managed to post this little missive in my running group's Facebook chat:

 Soooooo...my sister in law, and I decided about 45 minutes ago that we're racing the Ohana 5k tomorrow. We decided this after a few beverages. We are racing to win. Having one more for the road. Here's my 3D Clythie because I don't yet know what I'm wearing to race so I can't post a Flat Clythie.

A few hours of sleep later, regretting perhaps most of our decisions from the night before, we arrived at the race start and groggily approached packet pick up. We saw two lines:

1.             Registration - with a Toy
2.             Registration - without a Toy

“We’re we supposed to bring a toy?” We casually approached the table marked, Registration - Without a Toy.  

“Hi, I registered last night…”

The lady loudly asked me, “DO YOU HAVE A TOY?”

I horrifyingly whispered, “Um, no, sorry, no.”

She confirmed to everyone in the general area,  “NO TOY. 

I slinked over to my sister in law. "I think we were supposed to bring a toy."

Smile and pretend that we weren't just humiliated for forgetting to bring a toy for a needy child.

This was to be my sister in law’s second race ever. She had previously run the Temecula Half Marathon a couple of years before, but she hadn’t raced since.  

“What’s the race plan for a 5k?” she asked. “Run like hell,” I said as if I know anything about racing 5ks.

“Ok, maybe I’ll do that. For my Half I kind of eased into it, you know, paced myself to be sure I had enough left for the end…” Claudine was thinking out loud. “RACE TO WIN!” I shouted, immediately regretting it – the loud noise hurt my foggy brain. 

The race began and we were off. The course ran along a paved path beside Mission Bay, an out and back with a sharp turn around. As I made my way there, I saw Claudine racing back toward me. I shouted to her “RUN RUN RUN! RACE TO WIN!” And immediately regretted it – the loud noise hurt my foggy brain.  

A bit later I came across the finish line, and hugged Claudine, happy to have sweated out nearly all the Champagne.

As it turned out, Claudine won her age group, and was the 8th woman, 21st overall. I didn’t come in anywhere near last and I beat a bunch of guys and most important of all I got my finish line picture for RunChatHunt.

Things felt a bit backward

It was time to pop the Champagne and celebrate.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Drinking It All In: My First Open Water Swim Competition

“Um, I’m pretty sure I’m the only one here without a wet suit,” I squeaked nervously.

“Nah, look at them, they don’t have wet suits on, you’ll be fine!” My friend Tatania said as she pulled on her wet suit. There were a few who weren’t wearing wet suits but the majority of the rather large group of people standing on a dock by the Potomac River on this particularly cool Saturday morning were clad in neoprene. I stood there cold and sleepy, feeling out of place wondering what the hell I had gotten myself into. 

The day before, Tatania had posted a request for people to join her on a long run on Sunday. She was training for the Louisville Iron Man and planned to do a long bike ride on Sunday followed by a long run. I told her I was in. I mean, if she had already ridden her bike for hours, and I was fresh, I thought I had a chance to be able to keep up on the run. At least for a little while. 

But then Tatania had another idea. “Listen, instead, there’s a swim competition on Saturday that we could do.” I told her I had not been swimming in nearly a year and besides, I really needed to do a long run. “How far?” she asked. “11 miles.”

“OK, great. I know you're a swimmer. We’ll go do the swim and then run. Bring your stuff. We’ll change and go. It'll be fun.”

She made it sound so…possible. We would change and go. And it would be fun. But I was not prepared. I hadn’t been swimming in forever. “There are lots of distances. You can choose the 500 meter race if you want. Whatever – we’ll just go and have fun!”

So, with less than 24 hours notice, I was convinced to join an open water swim competition and then “just go run” 11 miles. And we would have fun. Day drinking is my idea of fun. But I said OK.

“Oh, and don’t sign up ahead of time. We’ll sign up tomorrow after they test the river. A lot of times these races get cancelled because the river is so polluted.” What? Day drinking was sounding more fun by the moment.

But instead I found myself standing on a dock at sunrise looking at the Potomac River, wondering if I would get giardia or just drown, wishing desperately for a wet suit.  

This is me thinking, I'm going to drown but I'll just smile anyway. 

The race director declared the river to be clean enough and before I knew it, the race went off in manual waves: 10k, 5k (which Tatania was swimming), 3k and 500 meter splash. I had chosen the 3k. Listen, I wanted to swim the 500 meters but they called it a “splash” and while I’d like to think I didn’t care, it took me one second to decide I wasn't getting up early to do a “splash” and that the respectable thing to swim would be the 3k. Which made no sense. 

As the 10k and 5k swimmers were jumping (a long way down) off the dock into the river, I was wishing I had signed up for the 500 meter Splash. Why did I think I needed to prove that I could swim the 3k? There was really no more time to worry though because the whistle went off and it was time for me to swim.

5k swimmers headed for the first buoy

So, the first open water swim competition that you ever do that happens to begin by jumping from a dock high above the water with a ton of other people who then start to kick you very hard in the head and body, is really disturbing. I was so freaked out that before I knew it, my entire race field was way out in front of me and I was still treading by the dock trying to figure out if I had all my teeth.

Here's Tatania in her warm wet suit intelligently waiting a bit before jumping in so she would not get kicked in the head. I could learn a thing or two from this girl. In fact, I have. 

Fucking hell I thought, now I’m in last place and have to get going! Three times around a 1,000 meter loop. Get going! I headed toward the first buoy. My thought process was something like this: Do not drown. Where is the buoy? I cannot see anything. How the fuck do people do this? Do not drown. Where is the buoy? At least there are no sharks in this water. Do not drown. At least there are no sea lions in this water. What about germs? The river is so polluted. Do not take in water. Do not drown. Where is the buoy? 

Everyone was shooting for the buoys in order to keep from swimming out (or in) too far, and each time we would come around a corner at one of them, there would be a jam of swimmers kicking the shit out of each other. I was both kicker and kickee. I apologize to whomever I gave broken cheek bones to or jammed fingers or black eyes from my kicks. And I forgive all of the kickers who got me in the face, jaw, hands, feet, legs. 

It’s as if being in a sport where you have to hold your breath and you can drown isn’t nearly tough enough so in open water swims, there’s an added element of brutality. If synchronized swimming is the ballet of the sport, then open water swimming is MMA.

As I came around the 3rd turn on the first loop (of 3-but-felt-like-30 loops) the chop went right in my face. I drank the river. I mean, it was a big gulp. A super big gulp. It was a beer bong of river water.  I wondered for a moment if I was going to die and then…continued on. That’s the thing about open water swimming. You can’t really DNF unless you’re near a boat or shoreline. Cause you’ll die. And I had an 11 mile run to do, and we were supposed to have fun, so dying wasn’t really an option. 

I hit the second and third loops with a bit more clarity. I calmed down. I tried to think less about germs and more about my form. I would work my heart and soul out and pass people and then others who seemed to be floating by in slow motion with no effort at all would pass by me. And so on.

Each 3rd turn was met by The Chop. The wind was blowing toward my left, which I favor for breathing, especially when I’m tired. Hey, I’m really tired, and I’m trying to keep my body afloat and holding my breath and avoiding being kicked in the face by these other people swimming near me and when I turn to the left to suck in what I think will be air instead, it’s a large wave of river water, yay! This happened more than once. I think I was too tired to remember to breathe just to my right on that portion of the course.

It occurred to me at some point that I would not likely survive a shipwreck. And I think I felt fine about that. But I did survive the race. In the end, I won my age group (and so did Tatania), I received a fancy medal, a gorgeous long sleeved t-shirt and a face full of river gunk. And ears filled with river gunk. And creases of skin filled with river gunk. So. much. gunk.

 Behold! A face full of river gunk. I was so happy to be alive that I didn't even know I had so much gross dirt on my face. 

3k and 5k AG Winners! 

Before we could change our minds, we toweled off and began to cross the river again, this time on foot, on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, for 11 miles on the Mount Vernon Trail. We talked about Tatania’s upcoming Iron Man (to be her 3rd) and her previous athletic achievements like running the Blue Ridge Marathon 2x. In one day.  

I don’t know who’s idea it was but at the end of our 11 mile run we came upon an outdoor boot camp that had various tires for flipping, monkey bars to cross, and...hula hoops, so we laughed and flipped tires and hula hooped and then ran the rest of the way to a bar with outdoor seating (perfect for river swimming runners) and cold beer and celebrated our feats with some day drinking.