A little Thanksgiving entertainment

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Mercedes Half Marathon Race Recap 2012

I wrote most of this after I ran the race on February 13, but I figured I’d wait to post it until I took it from a tired rambling train of thought to a coherent post….

I really hate getting out of bed early. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy being up and awake in the mornings. Heck, one of my favorite things is being a few miles in to a run and seeing the sun rise over the trail you have all to yourself. I just hate those few minutes between being mostly asleep to mostly awake.

I hate them even more when it’s below freezing out and seriously chilly in my bedroom, it’s not light out, it’s 5am and I went to bed only 3 hours earlier. Not a happy girl.

Fortunately, I am physically addicted to running. So my little brain gets excited when I realize I’m going to go run, eagerly awaiting the endocannabinoids (yes, that’s a real thing and yes, it’s the human-made equivalent of the phytocannabinoid THC) that lead to a runner’s high.  (For the record, endocannabinoids are not endorphins. Scientific research is showing that ‘endorphins’ are cannot be responsible for the ‘runner’s high’ since they are too large to pass the blood-brain barrier — all of the previous studies showing endorphins were responsible for the runners high found endorphins in the blood stream. For a good lay-person explanation about the last decade of research on the runner’s high and endocannabinoids, read this article. For slightly more ‘sciencey’ explanations about endocannabinoids read these articles and abstracts. When reading, know that the endocannabinoid pathway effects proteins called neurotrophins, such as BDNF)

So my little addict brain was ready to run, but my muscles were not so much.  I ran the Houston Marathon just 4 weeks prior, and I had a kick-my-arse cold for the two weeks after the race. Plus my back was killing me since I spent the Friday and Saturday before this race raking a triple-jump and long-jump pit for an indoor college track and field meet (more on this whole thing later). So I layered up (it was under 20 degrees out and never got above freezing the entire day), knowing I wasn’t going to be running that fast so warmth really mattered, and headed to the race.

Standing around in the corrals waiting for the race, talking to random strangers, I realized one of my YurBuds ear pieces wasn’t on my ear bud any more. For those of you who don’t know what YurBuds are, go buy them right now. I’m not kidding. You’ll love them. I guess I looked pretty desperate as I was searching for them because a woman named Robin who was standing next to me asked what I was looking for and helped me search. Despite the fact that my YurBuds are bright white, I hadn’t moved much, and there was plenty of space around us, we couldn’t find them. About a minute before the race started, we gave up and I went to fix my cap and get ready to run. Then Robin exclaimed “oh! it’s in your ear still!” and reached and grabbed it. So a stranger literally found something I needed in my ear. It was like a real-life magic show.


These things do NOT fall out of your ears when you are running. Plus, unlike the spongy kind of ear buds, these don't block out ambient sound. So you can avoid being killed by cars and muggers and still hear your music.

Then it was off to the races.

It was so incredibly cold all day. The wind wasn’t too terrible, but just a few minutes without my gloves on made it unbearable. I’m not sure whether it was my prior exhaustion, my mental attitude or the temperature or a combination, but the race felt longer than my marathon.

Adding to the “bad race” equation was the near-complete lack of crowd support. I think I saw maybe 100 people total along the course. Which was a stark contrast to the Houston Marathon. I understand it was miserably cold out, but didn’t all of these runners have family members that were coming to support them?!  Also, I counted four instances of country music-to-slit-your-wrists-to being blared on giant speakers. Ahh, Southern races…

Then there was the fun of almost getting run over by a police SUV around mile 11. The marathon course is a double loop of the half marathon course, so the marathon leaders were around the same area as me when I was at mile 11 or so, and one of the police SUVs that drive out in front of the leader nearly creamed me and another runner. Thanks, Birmingham police.

Literally the only picture they took of me on the race course.

According to my Garmin, I ran the last 0.27miles at a 6:30 pace, picking off 8 people. Which, I’ll be honest, is really the only part of the race I’m proud of. The rest was “meh.”

After grabbing my medal and a lovely space blanket, I headed to the food table to eat five oranges. Not five slices. Five whole oranges.

And then I almost passed out.

I was hit with a huge wave of dizziness, unlike any I’ve ever experienced in my life. It was incredibly creepy. But I was too interested in my oranges to care. I braced myself on a random guy standing next to me and his friend asked me if I was ok. I told them I was fine – I just thought I had low blood sugar and said just yell really loud if I collapse, but I’m sure I just need water and some sugar.  The feeling mostly passed. So I ate some more oranges, got my finisher’s hat, and ate even more oranges.

WARNING: This fruit will not prevent you from passing out.

It was fifteen minutes after my dizzy spell and I still wasn’t feeling great, despite all of my oranges and water, so I went to visit the medical team. They had me lay down and they checked my blood pressure. It was 92/42. Yeah. 92/42 a full twenty minutes after my dizzy spell. [Normal/good is ~110/60.] I wonder what my blood pressure was when I was dizzy!

So I laid there, freezing (despite the 4 blankets I had on me), and chugged 3 bottles of water waiting for the decreasingly-intense waves of dizziness to completely subside. I had them fix up my nasty blister from raking (I’ll cover that soon), which the P.A. said was a particularly impressive blister (go me!), and met a few other folks who came in. One guy had to get a DNF for the marathon because he was actually getting frostbite in his fingers.  Needless to say, it was a rough race for more than a few of us.

All said and done, I’m pretty sure I’d say I probably shouldn’t have done that race. I finished with a respectable 2:29:11, and got to run the Mercedes again for probably the last time. So it wasn’t a total disaster. But hey, another 13.1 miles under my belt.

Posted in Brain Science, Races, Running, Running Science, Science | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The “South Pacific Shower Effect” and TV Commercials

I probably don’t mentally process TV commercials in the way advertisers intend. And for this I blame a story my mother told me about Rogers & Hammerstein’s musical, South Pacific, which debuted on Broadway in 1949.

In the musical, one of the characters, a nurse named Nellie, decides she wants to get over a man she has fallen in love with. She tells her fellow nurses about this by singing the song “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair.” In true musical fashion, the fellow nurses sing back up and everyone dances around.

During test audiences, R&H couldn’t figure out why they were completely losing their audience during this number. People were invested and engaged in the story until this song, at which point they were all strangely snapped back to the reality that they were just watching people dance around on stage. It took some tweaking, but they eventually figured it out — the actress playing Nellie began singing the song by actually washing her hair (in a bathing suit) on stage in a real shower with real water. Being 1949, audiences immediately ignored the words the actress was singing, and starting thinking about the shower itself – was that really real water? how did they manage to get that shower on the stage? weren’t they worried about water damage to the stage” etc, etc. Nellie sang the meat of the song in the shower, and then she got out and danced around with the other nurses to the instrumental part of the song, and then the song was over. By simply switching the order (she sings the song to the nurses, then she gets in the shower while the nurses dance around), R&H fixed their problem. Audiences were free to think about the shower itself without missing anything in the plot.

This is how I see a lot of commercials now – they make choices that may have made sense to them on paper at the beginning, but in practice they completely distract me from their point. I’ll share with you three examples of what I’m now calling the South Pacific Shower Effect.

Example 1: Honda Pilot Commercial

I’m guessing their intended point is that everyone in the family can be more comfortable on road trips when they have space. And if everyone is more comfortable, everyone will be happier.

However, when I see it, I think the following:

Why is there a random black kid in the car when everyone else in the car is reeeeally white? The rest of the people easily look related, and then there’s just this random black kid. If all the kids looked a little less like they could plausibly be related, then I could theorize that they were an adoptive family. But why would this couple adopt just one kid when they already have five kids? Or, if the black kid is just the best friend of one of the family’s kids, why would the black kid’s parents just be okay that the kid go on some other family’s vacation?

And why does the oldest kid look entirely pissed off?  He’s just glaring out the window or at his family the whole time. Isn’t the point of this commercial that buying this car makes everyone a little happier on road trips? I understand that most of the time teenagers are unhappy, but this is a commercial. Since when do advertisers focus on reality? And there are lots of times when teenagers actually have fun with their family.  They’re all singing Crazy Train. Not the Barney theme song. Anyone could buy that the teenager just goes along with it.

Example 2: “Imagination” Netflix / Wii Commercial

(fast forward to :30 for the one I’m referring to)

Judging by the other ads Netflix does, I’m guessing they’re just going along with the ‘easy access to any movie you want at any time’ theme. But really I’m not sure.

Watch the commercial again – it starts with kids playing. Using their imagination and being clever and creative to have lots of fun. And then they put a remote control in the kids hand. Immediately cut to the family sitting on the couch watching a movie.  The message I get from this commercial? “Everyone just wants to watch movies. Using your imagination is a crappy second best to watching movies. Imagination is for suckers in the 1920s.”

Example 3: The “My Idea” Windows 7 Ads

This is just one example of the whole ad campaign I’m sure you’re familiar with. A bunch of regular people saying they had this idea, and they told Microsoft and then Microsoft put that idea in their new OS. Then the regular person brags about how great they are that they came up with this idea.

What I took from this campaign? Wow. Windows users are idiots. They really think they changed the new Windows? Also – they’re completely delusional. Their re-enactments always feature ridiculously beautiful people. (Even though the ‘regular’ people are pretty good looking anyway) Also, it’s not even like ‘their’ idea was the outcome. “I think my PC should be simpler” is not an idea, sorry dear. Also, I’m pretty sure Mac OS had these ‘new ideas’ in operation for multiple years. (Yes, I’m a Mac user. But that doesn’t change the fact that just calling something revolutionary and new doesn’t make it so.)

I now apologize to you, dear reader, for pointing all of this out to you. I have a feeling some of you will now over think commercials and become increasingly annoyed with idiot advertising campaigns, too.

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Houston Marathon Race Recap

Sorry it took me so long to post this. It’s been a bunch of bullet points and half-written sentences since the day after the race, but I haven’t had the time or mental acuity to finish it until now! That, and I wanted to wait for my race photos to be ready, because who doesn’t like visual aids?

Why, yes. Yes, I did just set a new PR for the marathon by 55:39. No, not 55 seconds and 39 hundreths – 55 minutes and 39 seconds. As in, almost an hour improvement.

Needless to say, I’m pretty psyched. Ok, ok. Entirely psyched. And for lots of reasons. I felt really good for the distance and I ran really fast for me. Plus, I’ve only been running for around 2 years now, and I’m not anywhere near 20% body fat — two facts that make me think that I may be able to get a really fast time for a marathon some time in my life. (I’m talking like sub-4hr marathon, which I consider to be really fast for me, a lady of German-Scottish-Czech heritage who is built more for farm labor than distance running.)

Ok, now on to my race recap (story?):

Let me first start by saying holy crap was the crowd support freaking fantastic along the entire course. Seriously. It was unbelievably great. It helped that the race bibs had the runner’s name printed on them in large letters, because a number of times when I was starting to get in my head and hurting, I’d hear a “Go Laura!” or “Looking great Laura!” or “Laura, you’re awesome!”.  I also heard some “Way to go Run Happy!”, which took me a minute to understand until I realized I was wearing my Brooks Run Happy shirt.  Deciphering that message was just challenging enough to my carbohydrate-deficient brain around mile 15.

"Go Run Happy!"

Not only were the crowds great, the course was great.

We started out with one of the only 2 miles that was “meh” – a long overpass from downtown Houston into neighborhoods. I suspect no one was really bothered by this mile, because we were all avoiding other runners, the sweatshirts/etc they were throwing, etc. Plus, we all had fresh legs and plenty of adrenaline. So it wasn’t bad, just “meh”.

Then we were smack-dab in the middle of working-class Houston neighborhoods, first a black neighborhood, complete with a cheer station with Elvis dancers, and then a Latin/Mexican neighborhood, which looked like the beginnings of a street party. [A note of reference: the NFL team in Houston, the Texans, were playing in their first playoff game ever beginning at noon on race day. To put this in perspective, since being founded in 2012 the Texans were the only team to never have played a post-season game; and the last time Houston had a competitive NFL team was 1993 with the Oilers who were sold to Tennessee in 1996.] Anyway, so the Latin/Mexican neighbors were in their front yards, playing loud music, dancing, wearing their Texans gear, yelling and cheering and appearing to be having just way too much fun for 7:30am. Best sign? “Run faster, the game starts at noon!” I’m pretty sure I spent the entirety of those 2 or 3 miles smiling and laughing.

Then we had a 4 mile straight-shot run through some of the other neighborhoods of Houston. As we ran by the Houston Medical Center, where in 2002 I had knee surgery to fix an injury from college crew, the song “How Far We’ve Come” by Matchbox Twenty came on my iPod. Serendipity, indeed.

Next we ran through some more industrial areas, including the Party Boy Party Shop, which always makes me think of Jackass and tends to have better-than-average signs (“This is the ugly building with the cool stuff inside”), and Ame’s Warehouse where they apparently know nothing about grammar. Their sign that morning: “Tiaras for sale!” And here I thought selling people was illegal.

Party Boy! (+5 points if you can find me in this photo)

We ran by Rice University where – as I learned on the local news – a few days ago a man got jumped by two as he walked in to work. The guy successfully beat his attackers with his laptop, and they were unable to steal anything from him. I occupied my mind for the next few miles going through situations involving two guys trying to rob me of my laptop while walking to work, or someone trying to take my iPod and Garmin as I ran, and every related permutation.

Apparently letting my mind wander to random and often ridiculous things is most of what I do on long runs.

After another miserable hill, another overpass, and a stretch along the highway, were were in the more upscale Galleria area.

It was around this point that I realized why I’d heard more than a few people yelling things about Gallery Furniture, a major furniture store which any Houstonian recognizes from their near constant advertising. (I’m pretty sure I’ll remember their jingle for the rest of my life “Call Gallery! 6-9-0 5-5-7-0!) It turns out that Mattress Mack (the owner Jim McIngvale) was running in front of me!  He and his running partner peeled off into the parking lot of the Galleria area store, but there’s a small chance that I’ll be in the background of some publicized picture of him running!

Then, around mile 15, I got particularly pissed off. Some group called something like Wallbusters thought it would be a clever thing to start putting ‘inspirational’ giant signs every half mile or so, ‘advertising’ their cheer/food station at mile 20. These signs were seriously huge – an SUV could have hidden behind these signs. The flaw in their ‘genius’ plan? Their signs were well… evil. The signs I remember said “Feeling Tired?” or “Feeling Hungry?” Yes, I was tired and I was hungry. But you don’t need to remind me of it. Pardon my cursing, but these people were assholes for putting up these signs.  I don’t think I was the only one who felt this way – I didn’t see one person take anything from their “cheer” station at mile 20. In fact all of the volunteers seemed to be just standing around eating BBQ. Not kidding. WallBusters or WallBreakers or whoever was at the “cheer” station at mile 20 should be ashamed of themselves. I hope they all get ITBS. And plantar fasciitis. And shin splits.

Fortunately, I had the best of all best surprises as I made the turn at mile 18. My dad came out to cheer me on!  He’d told me that he “would rather watch paint dry” than watch a marathon (I don’t blame him. They really aren’t exciting to watch, which is why I run them.), but he was there at mile 18!  I saw him before he saw me and I ran up and gave him a ginormous hug and then kept running again. I teared up a little and tried not to cry which then caused me to hyperventilate, so I had to walk a little bit. But it was awesome to see my dad!

He popped up again around mile 21, just after I ran through the beautiful Memorial Park area.  By this point I could feel that I was fading. The tops of my hamstrings (the area right under my bum) was extremely tired and sore, and I was starting to check out mentally.  My dad’s cheering helped me get back in to it. So did the random shouts of “Way to go Run Happy!”

Then came the miserable icky no-good terrible underpasses – Really steep downhill followed by really steep uphill. There were three… I think… I could go back and look at my Garmin info, but I don’t ever want to think about those underpasses ever again.

At the top of the last (third?) underpass, there was a cheer/water station. In an effort to stretch out my tight and painful hamstrings, I began running with a weird little bend in my waist. I guess I looked really awkward, because a volunteer ran up along beside me and asked me if I was injured. I laughed, explained my situation and said I was fine. He smiled, said I was doing great, and reminded me that there was ice, medical attention, and a place to sit down just 4 miles ahead. Nicest. Guy. Ever. Volunteer Guy, if you ever stumble upon this blog – thank you so much. You are amazing.

Crowds near the Finish

After that, the finish line showed up faster than I expected. As soon as I realized that I wasn’t going to get my ridiculously-awesome goal (5:19:00, breaking my PR by a full 60 minutes) but was still going to get my super-massive-awesome goal (sub 5:30:00) I started smiling and didn’t stop.

A little more bling to add to my collection!

So the Houston Marathon is definitely my favorite race so far. It had the best crowd support, a great course, and great finisher goodies. If you’re contemplating running it, stop contemplating and go run it. I’d be willing to bet it’ll rank near the top of your favorite races too.

Want to see the course? The Houston ABC affiliate has an 8 minute narrated video of the race course. It gives you a nice little view of everything. Check it out on the ABC site, here.

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Join me for #Fitblog Chat February 6!

Hi everyone! I’ll be the moderator for the Twitter #fitblog chat on Monday, February 6 at 1:30pm ET.

If you’ve never heard of Fitblog Chats, check it out here: http://fitblogchats.com/

The topic will be: Success, Failure, and Motivation

The four questions that we’ll discuss are:

1. Where have you been successful in your fitness lately, and what do you think was key to your success?

2. What has been the greatest obstacle for you in achieving your fitness goals? How have you overcome it?

3. How do you set goals for yourself? How do you motivate yourself to acheive them?

4. How do you fit exercise into a busy schedule?

To join in, you can either use the Twitter client of your choice and follow the hashtag #Fitblog, or use the awesome dedicated live chat page at http://chats.fitblogchats.com/live by signing in with your Twitter account. (It’s really easy, I promise!)

Please come join in on the fun!


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Bad Blogger!

So I’ve been a bad blogger lately. In my defense, I ran the Houston Marathon on January 15, which led to the inevitable ‘marathon brain’ for a day or so, in which I can’t seem to hold on to a thought for more than 5 seconds.

Proof I actually ran Houston.

Once I finally got sufficient carbohydrates for thought processes back into my brain, I got slammed with a miserable head cold (that made me sleep for around 23 hours a day), which was further complicated last night by being woken up at 3:00am to tornado sirens and having to watch the news for 2.5 hours to make sure I didn’t need to go hide in my bathtub. (The county I live in is huge, so the county-wide sirens could indicate a tornado 50 miles from me.)

Anyway, I slept until 1pm today and woke up feeling pretty good. But instead of catching up on blogs, I’m desperately trying to catch up on work.

I’ll share with you all this week my Houston recap and a few other interesting stories, but in the meantime, I present you with my most recent favorite internet creativity:

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Short and Sweet – My Mantra for the Houston Marathon

My Inspiration:

“Your body will argue that there is no justifiable reason to continue. Your only recourse is to call on your spirit, which fortunately functions independently of logic.” – Tim Noakes

And My Mantra:

“Pain is temporary. Regret is forever.”

I’m about to hop on a plane to Houston! I’m planning on tweeting on Saturday as I watch the Olympic Trials. Hopefully it will inspire me for Sunday when I will run my second-ever marathon! Wish me luck!

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