First trail run. . .done!

Just south of Red Rocks Amphitheatre, arguably – and in my book most definitely – the most awesome outdoor venue ever for a live show - lies Mt. Falcon Park, my favorite trail run location. Our usual route got us between seven and eight miles round trip and included about 1,600 feet of elevation gain.

I don’t think there is anywhere else on earth that I’ve felt such conflicting experiences of pain, bliss, strain, serenity, defeat, and motivation all in the same place.

One day shy of exactly one year ago, my first trail run of the season, also at Mt. Falcon Park, whooped the tar out of me. I can’t tell you how many times I had to either walk or stop completely to rest my hands on both of my knees, bent over, gasping for air. Just over a mile and a half in, I remember my quads, calves, and Achilles all but literally screaming at me to STOP.

I knew this week would mark my first official trail run of the season, and I was terrified of reliving the same experience. Not to mention that finishing up my job at UNC, the two-and-a-half-day drive from NC to CO, a busy holiday weekend at home with my family, and starting my new job at DU all within about a two-and-a-half-week period had left me tired and feeling sub-par for where I’d like to be with my training at this point in my plan.

It had rained off and on all day, and I watched my phone, waiting for a text message from my running buddy JD – slated to accompany me for the trail run that night – to cancel. Remembering the pain and mental strain from my first trail run last year, I half hoped that he would.

Leading up to our meeting time, though, I was happy that text message never came. The thought of prolonging my preoccupied and uneasy thoughts of the inevitable burn on my way up the trail was worse than facing and getting it over with.

When I ran cross country my first two years of college, I used to get really nervous and would have to pee minutes before each race. About two miles from the parking lot for Mt. Falcon Park, I had to pee. Just like old times!

We were greeted with a beautiful view and slightly cooler air that would undoubtedly feel amazing along the trail:

DSC05985

Don’t let the scenery fool ya – Pain was inevitable!

I remembered some of the mistakes I made on my first few runs at elevation back in Colorado, one being starting out too fast. That was a mistake that I could very easily avoid repeating. And, I remember a few of the spots (of several) at which I had to stop, keeled over, tired already, apologizing incessantly to my trail running buddy Julien last year.

Very pleasantly surprised, I passed those spots, running – not fast, but NOT walking. I still had to stop - actually stop running, stop my watch, and catch my breath for a few seconds – twice on the way to the top, acceptable given that I lost count of the times I had to stop last year.

Once I realized I wasn’t about to keel over, even when I did feel more tired, I started to think that I might actually be in better shape than I thought. I could visualize running up Pikes Peak, feeling strong and wanting to run harder.

I remembered most parts and forgot how long and steep others were; but eventually, I made it to the top. Sure, my legs burned, but only about a fraction of the extent I remember from last year. I couldn’t believe how much stronger I felt! And, of course, the view was well worth it as always:

Only one of the countless reasons I've missed home so much

See why I’ve missed CO trail running so much?

That wasn’t even the best part. Once home for the night, I compared stats for my run tonight and my run last year. I had to do it. I couldn’t resist. Before I did, though, I promised myself that I would NOT be upset if my time tonight was slower than my time last year. So. . .whatta ya think?

Not only did I feel much stronger on this very same route at this very same time last year, but I ran a little further and a little faster. I’ll take it!

Remember when I said that 2013 is gonna be a great year? AAAHHH YEAH!!! Insert GIANT grin here. This season’s first trail run, DONE.

Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., conducts child development research and works to improve the lives of young children at the University of Denver and is a long-time road and trail runner. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.

Home Sweet Home

Thursday afternoon, approximately 1:23 p.m. Denver! We were greeted with a gorgeous, sunny day and the sight of beautiful, bluish mountains on the distant horizon, which, a few miles further in on I-70 served as the backdrop for a perfect view of the tall buildings representing downtown.

Mmm, home.

I was so excited to rejoin my typical Thursday night routine: a run followed by a few pints at the Irish Snug Running Club (ISRC). When 5:45 p.m. rolled around – about the time my fellow Godivians were chatting it up after just having finished the weekly Thursday run in NC – I grabbed my bag, jumped on my (friend Joe’s) bike, and headed off to the Irish Snug.

Truth be told, I was a mite nervous. With all of the hustle and bustle of finishing up my job at UNC Chapel Hill and the move, I had skipped a run or two, which meant that my first Snug run back – and my first run at elevation since mid-January – would include eight miles.

Much to my surprise, though, it was no sweat! Without much effort at all, I was maintaining about the same pace I had been running in NC the past few months. I even picked it up a few notches the last two miles. Run done. That meant the work for the night was over. Now, on to the play. . .

I trotted down the stairs, opened the door to the basement of the Irish Snug, and saw my peeps – the regulars and some used-to-be regulars that came out just to say ‘hello’ for my first run back –  at our usual spot - belly up to the bar, of course.

I was greeted with BIG hugs – the BEST part about being back – catching up, marathon training talk, social event plans, trail running plans, Pikes Peak plans. And, of course, a proper ISRC ‘welcome back’ wouldn’t be complete without at least one group car bomb:

First group car bomb of the night, undoubtedly the first of many group car bombs of the summer

And, in honor of my NC running buddies, I donned my Carolina Godiva Track Club tee:

Representin' NC in CO!

Representin’ NC in CO!

There’s something about running paired with socializing on Thursday nights that just makes the end of a week that much sweeter. I am back in CO for good, but will surely find myself back in NC for a visit at some point. If it happens to be a Thursday, you can guess where I’ll be.

Wherever I am on a Thursday, all I need is a good group of friends to accompany on a run, and I’m home.

Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., studies child development at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is a long-time road and trail runner. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.

On the Road Again

Grayville, Illinois. About 670 miles of driving since leaving Chapel Hill, about 985 miles of driving left to get to Denver. Wednesday. With finishing up at work and preparing for the cross country trek home to Colorado, I hadn’t run yet this week. Passing on six miles that particular day wasn’t an option.

The early morning sunlight illuminated the edges of the curtains in the hotel room. I willed myself out of bed, walked over to the window, and pulled one side of a curtain back just enough to peek outside. What I saw left me wondering what I should – or perhaps shouldn’t – expect from my run:

DOO DOO DOO, looking out my back. . .window

DOO DOO DOO, looking out my back. . .window

Guess I’ll find out – Pikes Peak is calling!

According to a woman working at the hotel front desk, I would find a lake if I followed the road leading away from the hotel and main road. What she didn’t tell me was that I’d pass a shoddy looking house in which I’m certain someone must have been chained to a wall in the basement, with only cold concrete and a few favored torture devices, of course, along the way.

I wasn’t worried, not one bit, thanks to my extensive knowledge of sick, twisted people from watching countless horror movies:

  • Sick, twisted individuals such as these are not awake at 7:00 a.m. They are fast asleep to recover from as well as prepare for a long night of torturing the helpless victim chained up in the basement.
  • Sick, twisted individuals such as these are typically out of shape and/or horridly unhealthy and obese. I could easily outrun him/her/them.

This was not the first time I’d seen something creepy like that along a running route. This was the first time, though, that I’ve run past one of these:

IL Run 3

This was just the first. I actually ran past two!

Alas, front desk lady was right! I was rewarded for peeling my body from the sheets and comfy pillow with a peaceful still suited for a frame:

IL Run 1

Aaaahhhhhhh nice!

About four miles, including passing by all of these things again after the turn around, I was back at the hotel.

To quote Jim Carrey in ‘Dumb and Dumber,’ “Some people just aren’t cut out for life on the road.” Lucky for my marathon training, I am not one of those people!

Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., studies child development at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is a long-time road and trail runner. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.

The Fondest of Farewells

What better way to spend an NC running farewell than in my absolute favorite place to run in the Triangle? As usual, Umstead Park delivered. . .and then some. This was a run quite like none I’ve ever experienced before. Within a mere 12 miles, Melissa and I saw the best and worst that NC and Umstead have to offer runners, and most certainly the best and worst of my NC running experiences the past two years.

Oh, how I can love and hate running here! Let me count the ways. . .

#1: Humidity. It started off a gorgeous May day. . .or so I thought. To the naked, non-running eye, it was just that:

My FAV place to run in the Triangle - Umstead Park

Don’t let that sunny sky and beautiful view fool ya!

For running, though, conditions were not ideal. Rather, and a bit to my dismay, conditions were a bit muggy and just warm enough to appear a beautiful day for a run but really only equaled gallons of shin sweat by mile 2 of 12:

Ankle Sweat

All together now: EEEEEWWWWW!!!

OK, North Carolina. I suppose it’s only right that you stick me with muggy weather my last weekend here. Indeed, it did!

#2: The most randomly awesome interactions with perfect strangers. A water refill – yes, already! – and quick potty break later, we were off to start counting down the next ten miles. Not long after we started, we crossed paths with a few bikers. As he passed, the first guy tells us, “Yell ‘Go, Mac!’ to the guy in the gray shirt behind me.” How did we respond, you ask? How else?! With two words: “Got it!”

A few moments later, Mac and his gray shirt made his way up one of the inclines denoting ‘the corkscrew.’ I threw my hands up in the air and shouted as loud as I could at the moment: “GO, Mac! WUUUHOOOOO!!!”

#3: Uninvited insects. About another mile or so later, my conversation with Melissa – and my stride – were interrupted by a massive, dive-bombing fly that insisted upon flying circles around me as I fought uphill, just missing my face by what I swear had to be a hair with each swoop.

Did I mention I had seen Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’ for the first time the previous evening and had since been swatting at the slightest hint of an insect anywhere near my arms or head?

#4: Windy, rolling hills amidst gorgeous, secluded scenery. Although I had hoped for a mostly flat run, the incline was worth it to find us in my favorite part of Umstead. It reminded me of one of my favorite trail running spots in Denver, and I always feel more at home when I’m there.

#5: Eye candy of the most delectable, tasty, and delicious kind. ‘Nuff said. Melissa and I had seen lots of eye candy throughout the miles, and we always reacted the same way: Once sure we were out of earshot, either of us would point out the obvious, “Damn! He is hot!” ALWAYS followed by the question, “Where can we find more of you?!”

Unfortunately, I don’t have a visual of this one to share with you. Believe me, though, when I tell you that this single girl took a mental picture of the shirtless, chiseled, tattooed hottie body.

#6: Cool, drizzly, “Aaaaahhhhh” rain. Melissa had promised to buy us an iced coffee and iced chai latte at Starbucks after our run as motivation to beat the heat and hills to the end. That changed, though, when we ran into light, refreshing rain our last 2 1/2 or so miles that left us drenched but most grateful to Mother Nature.

We got hot coffee and a hot chai latte at Starbucks afterward instead.

This was my last run in Umstead Park before I moved. I knew it wouldn’t be my last, but I had no idea of when my next one would be. I couldn’t imagine anything more appropriate by which to remember Umstead until we meet again.

As if this weren’t enough, Melissa stopped by earlier to see me once more before I head out in the morning. She called in a favor to add to my ‘Bahston Runnah‘ shirt I blogged about following Melissa’s MONSTER marathon PR:

Best. Shirt. Ever.

All in all, I had the fondest of farewells. Really, though, the past few days were not a farewell at all. Rather, they serve as more of a reminder of all that awaits me upon a return visit.

Farewell not. You haven’t seen the last of me, NC.

Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., studies child development at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is a long-time road and trail runner. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.

One of My First ‘Lasts’

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. No, really, it was merely a busy Thursday. I’ve just always wanted to write that as an introduction to something.

But today really wasn’t any mere Thursday at all. This Thursday just so happened to mark my last run with the Godiva crew before I move home. This Thursday was bittersweet.

I was looking forward to a nice, easy, conversation filled run with a few friends but quickly found that plan amiss. My week-long multilevel model training included a happy hour get together at 5:00 p.m. today, and I had planned to stay for a short while before leaving to meet up for our weekly jaunt – “flat” night, a.k.a. four miles out and back on the American Tobacco Trail at 6:00 p.m.

I knew I’d be cutting it close but thought I could pull both off.

At 5:33 p.m., I had excused myself from the par-tay and was off. What you’re about to read is NOT exemplary behavior. Déjà vu much? I wish I could tell you that I’m not always this hot a mess. Well, I could, but it would be a lie. *Sigh.*

I stopped at Walgreens to get some cash from the ATM, walked back to my car in a nearby garage, changed into my running attire in the driver’s seat – yes, that happened – paid my parking fee, proceeded to head toward I-40 – tying my hair back and putting on my socks, running shoes, and watch at a few stoplights along the way – upon which reaching I drove quite speedily to the Fayetteville Road exit.

I arrived at 6:07 p.m. and later found out that I had juuuuuuuust missed everyone else by a few mere minutes. That may not sound like much, but it’s definitely long enough for everyone else to get a good start. At first, I thought I’d take my time and catch everyone on their way back. That would have meant going about the first half of the run solo – LAME, especially given this was my last Godiva run! There was only one solution.

So much for a relaxing run – Time to haul a#%!

I was excited and finally able to relax when I did catch up to one of the runners just after the 2 ½ mile mark along the course. We then quickly caught up with two others. Aaaaaand the rest of my run was complete!

Afterward, I was met with a most pleasant surprise. Carolyn, whose cameo appearance in a previous post you may recall when dubbed as one half of the most extraordinaire of post-running feast hosts, had not only made a special trip all the way to our meeting spot to see me off but also bought me my very own Godiva technical tee:

Aww! I love it!

Aww! I love it!

I chatted with her and Jim – her husband and the other half of the aforementioned winged feet dynamic duo – for a little while before heading out, and I was a bit saddened. Carolyn, Jim, and the other Godivans were the first real friends I made when first moving to NC just shy of exactly two years ago.

No matter how unhappy I felt about being in NC during that time, they were a constant source of friendship. A fixed factor in a multilevel model with varying slopes and intercepts accounting for a significant amount of variance in the dependent variable of FUN I’ve had while in NC. Yeah, yeah, I know – Nerd alert! Cut me some slack. I’ve been in an intensive statistical course for four days strong now.

I will proudly wear my new Godiva technical tee next Thursday – and many others – at the Irish Snug; and I look forward to seeing Carolyn, Jim, and many other friends at another Godiva run sometime during a visit. Just by being themselves, they single-handedly gave me some footing on loose gravel, a sense of arch support, so to speak, at a time that I really needed it. They’ve been very good to me.

And this nerd in running shoes won’t ever forget it.

Melissa Mincic studies child development at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is a long-time road and trail runner. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.

Accidental Motivation Mojo

Today is Saturday, May 11, 2013. Also, today is day 20 of my 21-day diet cleanse. Here’s a glimpse into a few of the changes I’ve made in my life during the past three weeks:

  • I’ve prepared actual meals - entrée and side dishes - on a regular basis - something I am happy to do when I have a group of friends over periodically but WAAAAAY more work than my staple omelet with spinach, mushrooms, and avocado.
  • I’ve skipped out on all dairy products, bread – TAKE ME, TAKE ME NOW! – and nuts.
  • I’ve consumed about 40 smoothies with protein powder and flax oil.
  • I’ve bothered restaurant staff with special instructions to hold anything and everything interesting on the menu’s already most bland salad.
  • I’ve explained to people an nth number of times the purpose of my diet cleanse
  • Once, I ate my emergency reserve organic granny smith apple at a busy bar on a Friday night because I was hungry. Jess assured me that everyone was too drunk and preoccupied to notice. Aaaaaand of course, about one minute later, I overheard some guy say, “That girl’s eating an apple” as we made our way through the crowd to the end of the bar. *Sigh*

Tomorrow is my last day. Only one word comes to mind: WUUUUHOOOO!!!

Wild Applause

You said it, lady!

The whole diet cleanse thing was work! Still, I have some supplements and protein powder left over. So, I’m going to try to keep up the regimen until the supplements run out. And, to be sure that I do, I built in a reinforcement: I made an appointment to weigh in and to check some other body measurements a week from Monday, about a week following the end of the 21 days.

I can tell that I’ve lost weight; the question is just how much. The numbers will matter a bit, as I want to beat out my loss of six pounds last year for my first cleanse attempt. The real proof, though, will be in how I look and feel.

That said, I conducted a little test today on accident. Yes, on accident. It’s nothing too experimental or methodologically sound, but a test nonetheless. I haven’t done laundry for two weeks now and am fresh out of nice jeans, and I didn’t have enough time to wash any and make my dinner date with a friend.

And one of my two remaining clean pairs, although my absolute favorite pair on earth, have giant holes in both knees and make me look like a rebellious teenager who rolled up on a skateboard and is about to pull a package of cigarettes out of my back pocket. There was only one pair of jeans left: my only current pair of denim capris, a.k.a. my ‘skinny jeans.’

I had no intentions or even so much as a mere thought of trying them on for at least another two weeks. The last time I tried was mid-March with the hope that they would accompany me in Myrtle Beach. FAIL! And even though I’d been cleansing, I did take those two weeks off just before I started marathon training. It was a long shot, but I was out of options. So, I went for it.

Any guesses as to the outcome? Hmm? They. . .FIT! WUUUUHOOOO!!!

Aww, thanks, Chuck Norris!

Aww, thanks, Chuck!

Talk about motivation! Not to mention validation for all of my efforts over the past few weeks. I’m guessing there are at least a few male readers who can relate. But all y’all females feel me, I know it! And the best part of the diet cleanse - running faster – is yet to come.

Here’s to further encouragement – accidental or not – along the road to Pikes Peak!

Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., studies child development at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is a long-time road and trail runner. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.

Bad runner, BAD!

So. . . I last left y’all contemplating how I could #1 – have fun and #2 – manage to squeeze in a trail run while camping with some new peeps while not being seen as that girl.

The drive up was peaceful – a windy, narrow dirt road that reminded me of one of my favorite spots to run in Umstead Park. I could feel my shoulders sink in relaxation as I blissfully sighed and pictured myself running along the road.

Weeelllllllll, things didn’t go quite as I had planned.

The air was frigid, and we knew rain was coming at camp. But the atmosphere was one of full-blown vacation mode. We were totally tucked away from it all, and I’ve got to say that it felt really good – liberating, really – to be out of cell phone reception for a while. I even got a few pics of the beautiful stream scenery not 50 yards away from where we all slept:

So pretty!

So pretty!

Not too long after setting up camp and joining everybody, I was sharing in a good laugh. Aaaaaand then, the drinks started pouring. I failed miserably at goal #2. Not only did I not get in a run while out there, I was totally that girl. . . Um, in a complete other sense, if you catch my drift. But if you don’t, I can tell you that I completely and utterly accomplished goal #1, have fun. The parts I can remember were a blast!

Let’s do a little ‘I should have known better’ math, shall we?

Very little – two protein shakes, an apple, and some grape tomatoes – in my stomach (I was waiting for dinner to bring out my lentils while everyone else enjoyed beef brisket and tons of delicious, very non-diet cleanse approved junk food)

+ Not consuming a drop of alcohol for at least two weeks while cleansing (with the exception of this trip, clearly)

+ SERIOUS loss of sleep the night before for last minute trip preparations, of course

= A recipe for disaster!

I’ll spare you the details and tell you instead that, for the most part, I got a good night’s sleep! The windy mountain road on the way back to the highway in the morning wasn’t all that swell, but the off-and-on napping once we hit the highway made up for it. Needless to say, I wasn’t feeling much up for running of any distance on Sunday afternoon when I got home.

Sadly, this wasn’t the ‘epic runner fail’ part.

The FAIL came late Sunday afternoon when I was feeling TONS better and back to myself. The weather was drizzly still in Chapel Hill, and it probably would have actually felt really great during a run. I told this to myself many times as I sat on the couch and stared out the window, laptop resting on my lap, music blaring.

At that point, I just didn’t feel like running. So, I didn’t. Fail.

I debated whether or not to write about this in my next blog post, but I think it’s a hard lesson learned that needs to be shared. I’m not proud that I wasn’t more conservative on the trip and paid the price, but I am also human and not at all afraid to point out my own flaws. They serve as hart-hitting reminders of what not to do in the future.

I thought about it, though, and remembered that I miscalculated and actually started in the second week of my marathon training plan for the Pikes Peak Ascent last year. And, I hit my secret goal – the one that’s much faster than what I share with everybody else – too. And, Melissa had followed a much more rigorous training plan this year for the Boston Marathon, including more frequent and more intense speed work.

I definitely have a good running base despite my weekend mishap. So, maybe I could cut myself a little slack here. So long as I don’t slip up again for the next three months and three weeks, that is.

Voila! Just like that, I was back to full-force training mentality today when I woke up. And, just like an old friend with true, mad, deep, unconditional love for moi, running welcomed me back earlier this evening with open arms as if to say, “I missed you this weekend! I didn’t mind sleeping in, though. Now let’s get back to it.”

Much like my first training run last week, the air was cool and inviting. I felt comfortable and relaxed, and I was surprised at my pace yet again.

The best of friends will always have you back, even if you slip up here and there.

Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., studies child development at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is a long-time road and trail runner. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.

What to do, what to do?!

I am so excited for today. Today marks my first camping trip of the year, and, even though it’s technically still spring, a sure sign of summer! Camping is fun in and of itself, but it gets me really giddy to think of camping because to me, camping = trail running!

Buuuuuuut, I end up faced with the inevitable question: What to do, what to do?!

To know how I should prepare for a run on the trip, I checked the weather forecast:

Rain, rain, go away?

Rain, rain, go away?

Great running weather! Or, is it? While the thought of running in the rain generally sounds pretty amazing, I’m not sure a wet, muddy trail would be as welcoming for either me or the rest of the herd. I seriously doubt they’d want to hang out with a lil’ gal reminiscent of a wet dog. I’m one of several peeps who will be bonding with nature without running water but with, of course, LOTS of beer.

Disclaimer digression: I’ve been pretty darn dedicated to my diet cleanse, but among this weekend’s camping peeps are a few of my newest NC beer guzzlin’ buddies. Sooooooo don’t judge me if I am coerced to have one. . .hmm, or two. . .over the next 36 hours. Or, do go ahead and judge, just don’t tell me that you did. And now, back to your regularly scheduled program. . .

I know a group hike is scheduled in there somewhere but don’t know what the plan is for the weekend as a whole. As much as I want – and need (I’m in week #1 of marathon training, remember? No slackers past this point!) - to run, I don’t want – or need – to be “that girl.” You know, that girl who left everybody and went running. That girl who had her own agenda. “Ugh, rude!” Yup. Her.

In lieu of party prep to see a good work pal off to the next stage of her career, I skipped my four-mile run today thinking I would tack it onto my one remaining seven-mile run for the week. So I have no wiggle room left.

Do I try to squeeze in a long run, even if it makes me look antisocial at best and maybe a bit whacked otherwise? I’m not sure when we’ll be back on Sunday. Should I chance it by taking Saturday off with the plan to run on Sunday after we get back? Or, should I count the hike as a few miles, then shorten my long run to be sure I can get it in?

Decisions, decisions!

No matter what potential answers apply to these questions, I want to be sure of two things. First, we will all have FUN! Second, I will find a way to fit in my run. It’s only training week one, but it’s just as official as the final week of training: The gun for my first ever marathon starting line awaits!

I hope you are as fortunate as I to include camping in your weekend plans. More than that, I hope your weekend plans include a great run. Either/or, both, or neither, have a great one! I know I will.

Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., studies child development at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is a long-time road and trail runner. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.