9

Garmin Forerunner 220 review

Garmin Forerunner 220

Garmin Forerunner 220

After a few weeks of running with my new Garmin Forerunner 220, I think I can finally write up a little review for it. As you may recall, this is my first running watch–actually, it’s the first watch of any kind I’ve owned in like thirteen years–and I was a bit on the fence about the purchase. Obviously, I decided to go for it!

Hardware

Overall, the hardware is pretty great. I’m really happy with it. It’s plasticy, but it feels well made and the purple and white color scheme looks cute (though, I wish there were more than just the two color options).

I was a little worried about the watch feeling a bit big, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it actually feels great on my wrist. By no means is it small, but it doesn’t look or feel huge. Though, I have big hands and wrists so I may not be the best judge of this. For me, it fits great. Snug so it stays in place, but not uncomfortably tight. A small, but really awesome feature of band/strap is the inside of the keeper loop (this is actually what it’s called, I looked it up!), there are three little bumps to help keep it in place instead of sliding and causing the strap to pop out. Nice attention to detail here.

Garmin Forerunner 220

See those bumps? They keep everything snug and in place while you’re out there pounding out the miles.

The screen is bright and easily readable on even the sunniest of days. Though, given the overall size of the watch, a bigger screen would have been nice, it’s plenty big enough to quickly read while running. And the buttons are big and easy to press while on the move.

The beeps are plenty loud to hear, even when running down the side of a trafficy road, and the vibration is strong enough to never miss.

One of the biggest questions with GPS watches is how quickly does it get a satellite lock? My experience has been that’s it’s very quick. Most of the time, I can turn it on and put it down on the couch while I put my shoes on and by the time both shoes are on and tied, it’s ready to go. It’s snappy even when inside and not right in front of a window. The GPS also seems to measure most runs very consistently.

While the battery life is great, it lasts for a full week of running between charges, the one knock I have here is the charger. The watch comes with a little USB cradle that charges and syncs the watch with your phone. Unfortunately, Garmin chose not to include a wall wart to plug the USB cable into. You’re forced to charge the watch through your computer, unless, of course, you’re like me and have ten or so spare USB wall plugs littering up your house. If you don’t have any spare ones, you’re stuck with your computer or sharing the one for your phone. This may not be an issue most of the time, but runners are known to travel for races. These days, fewer and fewer people bring laptops when they travel and instead opt for a tablet. For many people, this will mean not being able to charge your watch and phone (and tablet) at the same time. Many people may not have a problem with this and it’s easily remedied for a few bucks on Amazon, but Garmin still should have included it.

Garmin Forerunner 220

Software

Garmin Forerunner 220On the software side, things are a bit different for me. Here, things are heavily lacking. Using the 220 feels like a throwback to my old Nokia 5125 dumbphone from 2000. The menus are reasonably clean and mostly intuitive, but everything feels overly cumbersome to do some things. A lot of stuff seems to take an extra button click than should be necessary.

The biggest thing that drives me nuts about the watch is not being able to use both auto lapping and manual lapping together. The omission of this feature is completely mind-boggling to me. So much so that I didn’t find out I couldn’t do it until after I tried to do it during the Firecracker 4-miler. I was hitting the lap button at each mile marker and not looking down to see what my watch was saying so I didn’t even notice it was totally screwing everything up because I still had auto lap on. After the race, I had a mess to sort through.

To make matters worse, there is no way to access the mile splits if you’ve screwed this up. At the absolute least, the watch should be able to give you mile (or kilometer splits) no matter what else you do. These should be entirely different from any sort of lapping and always available as a separate list. It’s not as if this data doesn’t exist within the watch. Each GPS data point is stored anyway.

My issue here goes beyond just saving my butt if I accidentally hit the lap button and screw up my splits (which I’ve done on more than one occasion since the race). There are regular use cases for it as well. Often times, I want to be able to see data in two different ways. For some runs, I’d like to be able to hit the lap button right in the middle so I can easily see the difference between the first and second half of my run without having to add up all the mile times manually. Or, what if I want to run down to a track near my house, do a few laps, and run back. It’s entirely likely that I’d want to manually lap each lap around the track so I can check on it later, but still have my mile splits for my overall run. Sure, I could stop running when I get to the track and start a separate workout and end up with three runs in my watch (one for the run there, one for the track, and one for the way home), but I don’t want that, nor should I be forced to do it in such a sloppy way. Even if I’m not running down to the track, if I program a workout for the watch to prompt me though, I have to give up having mile splits for that run.

Garmin Forerunner 220The more I think about this, the angrier it makes me. It’s not as if this is a difficult engineering issue. I can’t claim to know the inner workings of Garmin’s code, but if enabling the separation of manual lapping, auto lapping, and splits based on default distance unit is more than ten minutes worth of programming, someone’s doing it wrong at Garmin. Even free smartphone apps can do this. The person (or people) at Garmin responsible for this need to be slapped across the face. It’s a classic case of a developer not taking a moment to think from the user’s perspective.

Okay, I have to move on before I throw someone through the window.

Why does the watch not include builtin shoe tracking? We all should be tracking mileage on shoes so we can retire them early, why would it not be built into the watch? I’m sure we all have our own ways of keeping track of this, I personally keep track with DailyMile. However, I don’t always enter my runs into DailyMile immediately. With the iPhone app I used to use, this wasn’t a problem. It kept track of which shoe I wore on each run so I’d always have access to this information. Now, I have to enter my run into DailyMile immediately so I don’t forget which shoes I wore. I don’t know about you, but when I get home from a run, I’m not typically running right to my computer. Most of the time, it goes something like this…rip off shoes and clothes, set up a Nuun, eat one of those cheapo freezer pop if it’s a warm day, chug a cup of water while waiting for the Nuun to finish dissolving, drink my Nuun, grab something to nibble on, and then go find dry clothes to put on. By the time I do all that, it’s usually time to start/eat dinner/breakfast or get ready for work or collapse lifelessly on the couch. Most runs don’t get logged in DailyMile until the next morning…or even the Monday morning of the following week as I scramble to get all my miles logged before the weekly email goes out. At this point, I don’t always remember which shoes I wore on which run. The watch should be able to store this basic bit of information for me without me having to remember later on. Again, this is something free smartphone apps do.

There are some things to like with the software on the watch itself and I don’t want to gloss over them. I actually like the fact that the “current pace” is rounded to five second increments. My wife used to have a Forerunner 205 (which we replaced with the 220 at the same time I bought mine). I ran with it a couple times and it would drive me nuts that the “current pace” was an exact time. I always know to take this measurement with a grain of salt, but seeing it jumping around was always annoying. Five seconds is good enough for me. I also like that you can configure what data shows on the screen and how it’s displayed. I only wish you could also configure the screen for when you’re doing a workout too.

Garmin Connect iPhone app

Garmin Connect iPhone app

I do like that there’s an accompanying smartphone app that can be used to communicate with the app via bluetooth. This is actually a ton more convenient than having to plug into your computer to get the data off your watch. However, the app isn’t exactly all that great. Why can I not create and edit workouts on the app? Why am I forced to go to the Garmin Connect website on my computer for this? Yet again, this is something free smartphone running apps can do without any trouble at all. Why can’t I configure watch settings via the app? Being able to go through all the stuff in the settings menu via the Garmin Connect app on my phone would be a ton quicker than doing it on the phone itself. This is not some radical concept in 2014. We have thermostats, household appliances…even lightbulbs that allow you to do this. This should be standard on a $250 smartphone-connected watch. What it comes down to is there is no excuse for the app to be a read-only window into your watch and the data you’ve set up on the website.

Moving onto the computer, whyyyyy am I forced to physically plug the watch into my computer to sync it when it can connect to my phone via bluetooth? Why can I not also use bluetooth with my computer? This is absurd. And then, when I do plug it into my computer the watch is inoperable. If I want to change something on the watch, I need to unplug it first. This means that even if I’m just charging the watch, I can’t use it to look at data or change settings or do anything. What even is this?

The Garmin Connect site itself isn’t actually terrible. The site was very recently redone, which is good because the version that was there when I first got the watch was pretty bad. Garmin Connect isn’t exactly amazing now, it’s got a bit too much going on, but it’s functional enough to do what I’m asking of it. However, it seems as though Garmin is hoping you’ll use it to connect with friends and other runners and do a whole bunch of other stuff on there. Yeah, not going to happen. All I want to use it for is setting up workouts and looking at data from my runs. That’s it. Since it works well for that, I’m happy. My biggest complaint is that it doesn’t seem to ever keep you logged in. It asks me to log in every single time I go to the site which is a little maddening.

Garmin Connect

Garmin Connect website. PS: Gamin, STFU about segments.

Verdict

Now that I’ve gone on for 2,000 words, it’s probably time to wrap this thing up.

Ultimately, a lot of people seem to really like this watch. It was highly recommended to me by MANY folks on Twitter and got good reviews around the internet. Unfortunately, for me, I can’t share such enthusiasm. As I mentioned, I love the hardware and I think they pretty much nailed it there, but the software makes me want to curl up in a ball and cry. Okay, that’s a little hyperbolic, but it’s highly disappointing and lacking. At $150, most of it would be forgivable. For $250…just, no.

Not only can I not recommend the Garmin Forerunner 220, but I wish I could return it. Literally, within the first ten minutes of the package being open, our kitten, Hattie, had already left teeth marks on the band so I think I’m stuck with this thing.

For many runners, these things just may not matter that much, but considering most of the issues I have with this watch have been taken care of long ago by free smartphone apps, I find it to be inexcusable. Garmin spent time adding in all kinds of other little features and building out a website that no one is going to use the way they’d hope instead of focusing on putting core no-brainer features in place. Garmin isn’t knew to this game, they are multiple generations deep in the GPS watch arena, this stuff should be there already.

Garmin Forerunner 220

Nope.

3

Erie Marathon training: week 8

Last week, I wrote about how I needed to reevaluate my goals and plans in regards to Erie. I decided I’m likely going to shift my goal race back to Philly in November. In the meantime, I’m still planning on running Erie as a training run, but that could still change as the race gets closer.

Making that decision was hard and means having to accept my biggest running goal for 2014 (a BQ for 2015) won’t happen. It sucks, but I know this is the right decision. On the plus side, this did ease a lot of weight off my shoulders. And without the pressure of having my goal race two months away, I was also able to see that I needed to take a few days off from running to rest and regroup. The reality is most of my rut is likely caused by over training. Because I jumped right back into things after New Jersey, I’ve been in hardcore marathon training mode for almost seven months now. That’s too much. And then pile on top the fact that my increased progesterone dosage is causing me an immense lack of motivation and energy, as well as severe depression, and I’m not in good marathon training shape. I can feel it throughout my body, it just doesn’t want to move when I’m out there.

So I took most of last week off. I ran eight miles on Wednesday and that was it. I took the rest of the time to just relax and rest my body. I can’t say if it’ll be enough yet, but it’s probably better than something. It’s likely just one week off isn’t going to magically fix all of this, but it can’t hurt. I hope. Taking time off for me is always a risk because I lose fitness almost instantly. A week off now practically destroys everything I’ve worked for. It never used to be this bad, but having a testosterone level that is only 4ng/dL will do that to you. For reference, the normal female range is somewhere between 20-50ng/dL and the male range is 300-1000ng/dL or so (these numbers can vary a bit depending on where you source your info). When I started HRT, I was around 300, I believe. Essentially, what this means is my body will pretty much do anything it can to not have any muscle.

Anyway, I’m hoping to get back into it this week. I’m going to rework my schedule for the week so as to not be jumping right into a 53 mile week, but I’m planning on getting at it hard. I also have a 5k on Wednesday night so it’ll be interesting to see how that turns out.

Not how one should be eating when they're not running

Not how one should be eating when they’re not running

 

12

The very dark side of messing with your body’s hormones

Trigger warning for talking about suicide

As you can tell by the trigger warning, this post will touch on suicide a bit. I’ve written about this a few times before, but, while I know it won’t be the last time I write about it by any means, I’m always a little hesitant to write about it again. It always seems to raise concern with at least a few people. But, as I have written about before, being able to write about these kinds of things has always been helpful to me.

Two and a half months ago, I had my annual checkup with my doctor for my HRT (hormone replacement therapy). We went over my labs and discussed how things have progressed over my first year. One thing that came up, was my discontent with my breast development. I’ve hardly got anything going on. Since the main reason for transgender women to take progesterone is typically for breast development, I had planned on asking if it was even worth continuing with it, as it is likely partially to blame for my weight gain. Considering the plan was to only take it for a few years while things were developing, I wanted to know if maybe I should just stop taking it since I’m not getting anything out of it anyway. My doctor, instead, suggested doubling down. Literally. She suggested we try doubling my dose. She was confident it would help, but was very clear about the side effects of increased weight gain, depression, and possibly suicidal thoughts. I cautiously decided to at least give it a shot.

After a couple months on my increased dosage, the depression seems to be in full effect. I’ve been really struggling to deal with it at times and it’s around more often than it’s not now. The worst has been dealing with feeling suicidal much more than my normal baseline.

I’m no stranger to the feeling, it’s been a fairly constant background noise my whole life, but things had gotten a lot better for a while. Instead of it being a daily thing, it was maybe a couple times a week. I counted that as a huge win.

Unfortunately, it’s recently been back to every day and been triggered by the smallest things.

That’s sort of the thing about being someone who struggles with feeling suicidal, you really never can leave it completely behind you. Once you’ve been at a place where you’ve accepted it as a legitimate escape, there’s no reversing that. A few weeks back, I wrote a post on Tumblr, but never posted it. It’s been sitting in my drafts since then. This is what I wrote:

The thing most people don’t realize about suicide and feeling suicidal is that it’s rarely about the pain right now. The pain may suck, but, in many cases, you know you’ll get through today. You know tomorrow will be better and if it’s not then maybe next week will be better. You know what you’re feeling now isn’t going to be what you feel every moment of every day going forward. That’s not the problem. The problem is knowing relief from the pain is temporary. You know you’re always going to have to fight through something. You know the pain is immortal and, while it can be knocked down, it can’t be entirely defeated.

Sure, you can fight through today and you can fight through tomorrow, but you’re tired of fighting. Why do you always have to fight? Sometimes, you just want a break from fighting. 

People tell you things will get better and they’re right, but things don’t stay better, they get bad again. It’s a cycle and you know all the stages. When you feel good, you know it’s only temporary. The good sometimes feels so fleeting that it often seems entirely pointless to even let yourself feel good at all. 

The reason for not wanting to live isn’t what you feel, it’s knowing you’ll never escape what you feel. It’s feeling trapped. Suicide is escape from the trap. It’s freedom from ever feeling the pain again. It’s freedom from ever having to fight again. 

It’s not the present that makes you not want to live. It’s the future.

Once this place has been created in your head, there’s no destroying it. It always exists. The worst is that it becomes easier and easier to access. Actually, that’s not even the best way to say it. It’s more like you exist closer and closer to it after each visit. Smaller things will take you there for another visit. A minor tiff with your significant other? Frustration with a coworker? A feel-super-ugly day? All of these things are more than enough.

This has been my reality since somewhere early in high school, so it’s sort of my normal. What’s changed now, though, is that it’s not just what’s in my head that’s taking me there. It’s being assisted by my meds. The very same meds that have freed me from so much other unhappiness in my life. This makes it so much worse. There was never a silver bullet for getting myself out of the darkness, but I had gotten good enough at surviving it until I felt better. Now, just surviving it is getting harder. Each time I’m in that dark place, it seems to be even darker and the way out is more poorly lit than the last time. Not to mention how much more easily I end up in that place now. It’s been multiple times a day. Every day.

Last Friday was probably the darkest it’s been in a very long time. I was at work and a couple things were frustrating me, then I was reminded about a few things that were causing me a lot of dysphoria earlier in the week and how crappily running has been going lately. Somehow, these things all really spiraled out of control and I was in bad shape. All will to live was completely taken from me. It wasn’t that I wanted to die, I didn’t, but I just REALLY didn’t want to live anymore. As I’ve mentioned, this is sort of normal for me, but things got to a level much worse than I normally deal with. The point that scared me the most was when I, while sitting at work, opened an incognito Chrome window and Googled “least painful ways to kill yourself.” I’ve never done this before. I even started thinking very seriously about what to write in a suicide note. I started drafting it in my head, but I didn’t quite get to a point where I actually started writing it down.

In the end, what snapped me out of it was my willingness to allow myself to be snapped out of it. It was actually my reply to a tweet that made me giggle to myself. That smile was just enough to calm myself and I felt everything just melt away.

Without this tweet, I don’t know what would have snapped me out of it. Something would have, but who knows what it would have been. And, this may be the scariest thing from Friday, it took something entirely unrelated and random. What if nothing happened that did the trick? What if the situation was different and I was at home and alone? How dark would things have gotten? What else might I have done?

Sitting here, typing this, I’m completely into the idea of not being dead. I’m in an entirely different headspace. A headspace I prefer a lot more! Typically, I wouldn’t even think twice about a single episode of suicidalness, but Friday was particularly intense and it came on really quick. The one thing that makes me feel okay about it is knowing it almost definitely wouldn’t have happened if not for my increased progesterone dosage. I don’t know how long it’ll be until I reduce my dosage or even stop taking it, but I know this dosage is for a finite timeframe. And, if this happens again, I can choose to stop and things should go back to the way they were.

Ugh.

PS: As I mentioned at the top, this topic often causes people to get worried and stuff. As much as it may seem really bad, I don’t want to worry anyone. My actually posting this should serve as evidence that everything is fine.

12

Erie Marathon training: week 7 – Time to be honest with myself

McDonald's Big Mac

As far as I can remember, I’ve never had a Big Mac before, but somehow on Saturday night this happened.

Last week was not a good week of training. In fact, it was crap. Total crap. The week was scheduled as a step-back week with 42 miles planned. Unfortunately, this was based on running six-days a week for the previous few weeks, which I haven’t done, so it was only one mile less than I ran the previous two weeks (which should have been 48 miles each, but were only 43).

The week was filled with garbage run after garbage run. The humidity is partially to blame, but I also just felt awful and tired otherwise. My midweek miles were all there, but I had to make some adjustments to my plans to get them done. I also wasn’t able to do any speedwork. My long run was scheduled at 16 miles. I started the run in the rain, but, after a mile, the rain stopped and the humidity soared. I could have fought through that, but my legs felt like lead. They were exhausted and really didn’t feel up to the task at hand. When I looped back to my house in between my two eight-mile out-and-backs, I called it. I knew there was no way my legs had another eight miles in them.

So, I ended the week with just 34 miles. On the plus side, that makes it an actual step-back. On the negative side…I only ran 34 miles.

With nine weeks to go, I think it’s time to start being honest with myself about my progress towards my goal. I’m not running all my miles, I’m running much slower than I should be, I’m not doing any speedwork, and I’m ignoring my strength work. I’m working off the same plan I did for the New Jersey Marathon earlier this year. The plan was challenging, but doable for me and I made a lot of progress. I thought doing the same plan again would be the best course of action, but I’ve yet to be able to run six days a week, as the plan calls for, so my mileage is lower than it was last training cycle. Not only am I running fewer miles than last cycle, but I’m also running quite a bit slower. I can blame the heat and humidity for some of it, but not enough to ease my concerns. I’m actually running slightly slower than I did during Richmond Marathon training last year–which means much slower than training last cycle. That’s just not going to cut it. To make matters worse, with only a few exceptions, my body has been dead on every run. I haven’t had it in me to do the speedwork. I just don’t have anything to give. And each run takes so much out of me, physically, mentally, and emotionally, that I can’t even bring myself to do any strength work after running.

I’m in a serious rut right now and nothing is really going right. It’s really the same rut I’ve been in since just before the New Jersey Marathon. I’ve had a few good weeks here and there, but running has been overall more crappy than good, by a wide margin. I’m also risking injury by not keeping up with strength work. Basically, I’m barely treading water.

I feel completely defeated. I have since New Jersey and every time this rut feels like it’s coming to an end, I fall right back into it. I don’t really know how to get myself out of it at this point. I’m out there running, but it’s killing me. At this point, it’s not just physical anymore, it’s mental and emotional as well. It also doesn’t help any that, outside of running, I’ve been dealing with a fair amount of depression and lack of motivation (separate post on the depression coming tomorrow). I was positive about things for a long time, but I’ve about used up all my ability be optimistic.

What this all boils down to is that there just isn’t enough time left between now and the Erie Marathon on 9/14 (two months from today) to be able to hit my goal of sub-3:30. It may not be completely impossible, but it’s highly improbable. Even just my BQ time of 3:35 doesn’t feel very attainable right now. I’m not making progress and the race is getting closer and closer. Accepting this means accepting that, as obsessed with this goal as I have been, I have no chance of snatching my BQ in time for 2015. It’s just too far of a stretch and I need to let it go.

It’s time to weigh my options…

  • Continue working towards my goal anyway and hope this all comes together somehow. Sure, I could keep it up, but this is essentially just hoping for a miracle and ignoring reality. There’s simply too much ground for me to make up. This is the riskiest of all the options. It means pushing myself on race day without the training to really get me where I want to be. It means beating up my body and forgoing another attempt until the spring next year. Racing three hard marathons in the course of 10 months is probably the max I can handle right now. I’d have to give my body some real time off before racing another marathon.
  • Continue training, but change my goal. I could continue training for Erie, but change my plans so Erie is no longer the goal. I could run Erie as a long training run instead of racing it and then use that as a step towards a race later in the fall. Likely, I’d go with the Philly Marathon. I’ve done the race before–so I know the course–and the wife is running it so we’ve already got a hotel room and everything. It would only cost me my registration fee. This would give me an extra two months to focus on getting faster after having already primed my body for the distance. Of course, I’m seriously risking burning myself out here, but it would take some pressure off for a while and give me a better chance of getting a BQ…it just wouldn’t be a BQ for 2015 anymore. This also means doing a hard marathon seven weeks before the Goofy Challenge in January. This isn’t ideal, but  it would be a repeat of 2011/2012 when I raced the Philly Marathon (first marathon) and then six weeks later did Goofy for the first time. I know it’s more than doable.
  • Drop from Erie and refocus for later in fall. I could just call it a wash and refocus entirely on a different race, again, probably Philly. The realist in me knows this is the smartest decision, the one that limits my injury risk and maximizes my chance of getting a BQ, even if it’s not for the year I want. At this point, my commitment to Erie is mostly just my time, emotion, and effort. I would only be out my registration fee. Of course, I would be wasting a bib for a sold-out race which I’d feel guilty about. While Erie does a wait list, it looks like, according to their website, they may not draw more names so me dropping may not allow someone else into the race.

Right now, I’m leaning towards option two. I think it’s a good compromise between the other two options and I’m way too stubborn for the third one. I can use the time between now and Erie to just work on distance and not have the pressure on myself anymore. Then, after Erie, I can take a couple days off and then hit pavement focusing on maintaining mileage and getting faster.

Is this the right choice? I have no idea. But I need to do be honest with myself. The good thing is, I don’t have to choose right now. I’ve got time for that.

Have you ever been in a running rut that lasted three months? How did you get out of it?

1

Erie Marathon training: week 6

Another week down! For the most part, week six was really a really solid week of training. I’m finally starting to feel like I’m making some progress.

Tuesday’s seven miler included a “feels like” temperature of 98°. It was a hot and sweaty run, but my body seems to finally be adjusting to the summer weather because I kicked some serious butt. My paces are still a little slower than I need them to be, but with ten more weeks of training and things feeling like they’re coming together, I can be really happy about an 8:26 in that kind of heat!

Hanging at the vet with Hattie

Hanging at the vet with Hattie

Wednesday was slated to be even worse in the heat department. I was too tired to get myself out of bed early enough to run before work even though all I had to do to fit in a run was wake up normal time since I was working from home. In the afternoon, I had to take Hattie to the vet for her final round of distemper shots and it was hot has heck out. I was not looking forward to ten miles in a “feels like” of 105°, but I knew it had to be done. I waited until around six to get ready to run, but it hadn’t cooled down any. Then, I got super lucky while I was doing my warm-up routine inside and a big thunderstorm moved in. The temps started to drop a little, but there was a lot of thunder off in the distance. I knew running in that wasn’t exactly the smartest thing, but I wasn’t going to miss my run because of it. I said “screw it” and went for it. Things started off alright, but it was still a bit steamy through the first mile. The thunder was picking up so I started counting the time between lightning strikes and the thunder. I figured if it got too close, I’d head home. Around mile two, it started to pour. Heavily! I spent the next four miles running in a torrential downpour. The sidewalks were flooding and there were puddles calf-deep. I could only see one or two sidewalk cracks ahead of me, but it was incredibly awesome and refreshing! I love running in the rain in the summer so I was really enjoying it! And the rain cut the temperature a ton so I was really able to pick it up and feel great. Unfortunately, the lightning and thunder kept increasing until the time between them was less than a second. Since I was miles from home already, there wasn’t much I could do about it at this point so I just continued on. Though, I’m not going to say I wasn’t at least a little scared when the sky was lighting up as bright as day and I could see bolts very nearby. All-in-all, though, it was a solid run with the last few miles kicked at close to marathon pace.

Enjoying a quick nap with my favorite buddy before Wednesdays run

Enjoying a quick nap with my favorite buddy before Wednesday’s run

I took Thursday easy with just a slow three miles since I had a four mile race on the Fourth. The race was great and I nailed my goal. Afterwards, we spent the evening with some friends at a party. I brought my “death burgers,” as I call them and there were a hit. I’ve never had anyone else try them before so I wasn’t sure what people would think, but the batch came out really good and there weren’t quite as spicy as normal…which is good for regular people.

The wife getting her 4th of July sparkler on

The wife getting her 4th of July sparkler on

I took Saturday easy and rested instead of running so I could have a good long run on Sunday. We were a little slow getting out of bed on Sunday, but we knew we were going to head down to the towpath so we’d have some extra shade from the heat. We each had 15 miles on the schedule and decided to run together the whole time. The first eight miles of the run were pretty solid. We were mostly on pace for where I wanted to be with the last couple being a tad on the fast side, but I was feeling reasonably good. Then, we swung back to the car to rehydrate and take our goos. This is where it all started to go wrong. I think we took too long and cooled down too much. When we started back up again, we both felt awful. My legs felt tired and tight and we both kept getting cramps. One of us would get a cramp so we’d stop for a second and then, as soon as we started back up again, the other would get a cramp and we’d have to stop again. It was brutal. I ended up cutting the run when we got back to the park at mile 14, which felt like a minor miracle itself. I wasn’t feeling well and knew the last mile wasn’t a good idea. I promised myself I’d go back out for another three in the evening to make up for it, but by mid-afternoon I was really regretting making that promise to myself! Still, I kept it and did the three at what my goal pace for the end of my long run was. So instead of doing 15 on Sunday, I totaled 17. I’ll take it.

Overall, I’m happy with the way the week went. Sunday’s long run being a disaster was sort of to be expected after a whole week of running hard so I’m not too upset about it. I’m looking at things as a whole and I feel like I’m making progress and going in the right direction.

10

2014 Firecracker 4 Miler – 29:43

2014 Cranford Firecracker 4-Miler pre-race

Ready to go!

Can’t believe this was my sixth time running this race! It’s just a Fourth of July tradition for us now so we make sure to never miss it! Typically, it’s hot as all hell for this race and a real struggle, but this year was nice and cool! I think it was just a hair below 70º, but it was humid as all heck (94% when we woke up). Either way, I had planned to race it this year, unlike last year, and shoot for a sub-30 time.

We got to the park early to pick up our packets and do a little two-mile warmup. I wasn’t thrilled with how I was feeling. I felt sluggish and tired, but I didn’t let that deter me from going at it hard for race time. After the warmup, it was time to line up and get the race started. Because the race is reasonably big at just over 1,000 runners, I lined up a couple rows back from the front and felt like I was in a good position to not be in anyone’s way, but also not have to dodge too many people. The wife lined up a row of people ahead of me, which was the last I saw her until after the race.

The race started rather abruptly, as it always does, and we were off. Things were a little tight for the first quarter of a mile before starting to thin out a bit. I tucked in right behind two other women who were running right around where I wanted to be. As we came up to the first mile marker, I found myself needing to pass a middle-school-aged kid so I swung to the outside to go around him. Of course, he didn’t like being passed, especially by a girl, and picked it up to stay next to me. While my watch said I was running slightly faster than planned, my legs were telling me they were at a pace that was doable for four miles. I didn’t want to mess with anything so I just held steady and let the kid think he could keep up with me, rather than pick it up to get around him. Though, I did laugh to myself a bit when I thought of how funny it would be to just turn to him and say “hey kid, I used to run marathons faster than this when I was boy. Just let it go!” I refrained though. As we passed the first mile, I saw 7:32 on the clock. Just a hair over where I needed to be, but I wasn’t too worried. I just held strong. After a couple minutes, I dropped the kid behind, never to be seen again. The two women I was running behind before also dropped back slightly so I was on my own.

2014 Cranford Firecracker 4-Miler

We’re ready!

The second mile stayed uneventful. I kept a steady pace and planned my attack for the rest of the race. Coming around the second turn of the day, we came onto a very pothole-ridden road. I knew from past experience that running right in the middle of the road, on the double yellow line, was the best strategy here so as soon as I cleared the turn, I moved over and watched as the other runners fought through the potholes. We came up to the second mile marker and the clock was showing that I was now almost ten seconds under where I needed to be for my goal time. Not bad, I thought, but still only halfway.

A half mile or so up the road, we took a right turn before coming up to a left turn. Right at the turn, which is a very narrow one that puts runners on a path only wide enough for two people at a time, there was a giant puddle (it had rained pretty heavily the night before). A volunteer was standing there warning runners and everyone seemed to be afraid of getting wet so they were going wide around it. Since I thought this was rather silly, I took the turn just like I would if the puddle wasn’t there. Great plan until my left foot slipped in some mud and I was practically sideways for a moment. I thought I might end up going down, but I got lucky thanks to a well-placed post that I was able to push off real quick to right myself back up and continue on my way. Less than 100 feet up was another giant puddle which I again plowed through, this time without slipping in any mud. By this point, I was getting pretty tired and wasn’t sure that I’d be able to keep my pace for the rest of the race, but I had zero intention of not finding out the hard way. I did my best to stay steady and crossed the third mile marker with another few seconds worth of cushion tacked onto my time.

With just a mile to go, I knew all I had to do was hold on for seven and a half minutes. My pace got a little more inconsistent through this last mile, but I kept pushing it. As we got to the last third of a mile or so and were getting ready to enter the park where the finish was, I started slowing slightly. At this point, a guy came up on my left and told me I wasn’t allowed to slow down because I was his motivation to keep his pace. I said that was all I had to give, but then I found a way to push a little more and pick it back up. The last bit of the race was tough and all I wanted was to pull over and puke on the side of the path, but, as I watched the finish line coming around the lake, I powered on. When I got close enough to see the clock, I knew I had hit my goal and congratulated myself in my head before even finishing. As I crossed the finish, I quickly bent over and dry-heaved like I do at the end of most races, but I was pretty pumped for my time.

2014 Cranford Firecracker 4-Miler free snow cone

Enjoying a free snow cone after the race

Realistically, 29:43 (7:26 pace) isn’t all that fast of a time, but I haven’t exactly been running great over the last few months so I was happy with it and it put me in at 4th in my age group. While I’ve mostly accepted the level I run at now, as opposed to before transition, I was still taken back slightly by the realization that I was thrilled with a four mile time 14 seconds/mile slower than I used to be able to run a marathon. Still, I was just happy to hit my goal.

2014 Cranford Firecracker 4-Miler

Hanging out post-race!

Of course, the wife won her age group and snagged a new PR by minutes. MINUTES!

2014 Cranford Firecracker 4-Miler age group medal

The wife and Hattie with her medal for winning her age group!

Afterwards, we celebrated with bagels and ice coffees in a different park and it was glorious!

Bagel!

NOM!

Did you race on the Fourth of July? How’d it go?

7

Erie Marathon training: week 5

A Women's Place is in the House and The Senate

I seriously really love this shirt!

Last week was full of a bunch of ups and downs with running.

I started off with a seven-miler that was the good kind of tough. You know, where it’s hard because you’re pushing yourself. Felt pretty proud of myself.

Then Wednesday’s run was just completely awful. I had ten miles on the schedule, but by the time I had gotten home from work the humidity had climbed to close to 100% thanks to a mini thunderstorm. Things started out okay, but by the mile five it started getting really rough really quick. I stopped for a walk break at seven miles and felt completely drained and defeated. Even though I was still two miles from home, I decided to just throw in the towel, it wasn’t worth it. After walking for a few minutes, I was able to convince myself to at least run one more mile to get myself home quicker. After getting home, I was feeling really awful about myself. I told my wife I thought it was time to take an honest look at my goals for this race and maybe admit this was a mistake.

Luckily, Thursday gave me exactly what I needed, when I needed it. I was feeling pretty down on myself about running and was still super bloated from a way-too-big lunch earlier. On top of that, all I wanted to do was go to bed since I had to go into work an hour earlier and was exhausted. I had low hopes for this run, but, just before hitting two miles, everything just snapped right into place and I felt on point. I felt strong and fast and decided to go with it. I had seven miles with 8×1′ fartleks scheduled, but I had decided beforehand to skip the fartleks and make up Wednesday’s missed two miles instead.

Garmin Forerunner 220

New (first) Garmin!

When I hit mile five, I decided I was going to throw those fartleks in and I’d just count it out in my head rather than stop and set up my phone with the timer. After doing the second one, I realized I didn’t want to bother with the recovery and just wanted to run hard for the rest of the run so I turned it into a tempo run instead. I walked away from this one with a solid runner’s high and the confidence boost I needed.

Saturday’s 15-mile long run was a little better than my 13-mile one from a week before in terms of pace, but I started running out of steam pretty badly at the end. I fought through it though! And, finally, Sunday’s run was a nice easy recovery with my new Garmin Forerunner 220! I’ll probably post about the 220 a bit in depth after running with it more.

And with that, June and the first half of 2014 are all wrapped up! I CANNOT believe this year is half over already! On the running front, I racked up 966 miles which is utterly bonkers! That’s less than 270 away from my all time high for an entire year! I was sort of hoping to get to 1,000 miles since I’m gunning for 2,000 on the year, but I think I’m still in a good position to pull that goal off. Anyway, for as many ups and downs as I’ve had with running in the last six months, I’ve gotta say that it’s been a solid year so far!

After Saturday’s run, my wife and I went down to Princeton to celebrate her 28th birthday. We got dinner at Triumph, one of our favorite restaurants and breweries. Unfortunately, our very friendly server wasn’t too good at remembering our orders and forgot to put in our appetizer and put my meal in wrong. Still, dinner was delicious and each washed it down with a sampler of the seven beers currently on tap there. Afterwards, we walked around a bit and then hit up the Bent Spoon for some delicious ice cream.

Triumph beer sampler

Look at all of those yummy beers!

Sunday was mostly spent relaxing and doing about half the chores around the house that I had planned on doing.

This week is a repeat of last week’s training, as far as the calendar is concerned. I’m going to tweak Thursday and Friday a bit since Friday is the 4th of July and we’ll be running the Cranford Firecracker 4-miler for the sixth year in a row! I decided I’m going to try to race it hard and see what I can do since I don’t have a lot of race times since transitioning.

cat in a bag

Hattie decided she wanted to be part of Danielle’s birthday presant

16

I went bathing suit shopping

Transition has made me have to face a lot of things I used to be able to take for granted. A bathing suit used to be as simple as a pair of shorts with some netting inside. Like the pattern? Cool. Done. And it didn’t really matter how I looked. No one really cares what a guy looks like in a bathing suit unless you hit either one of the extremes (super ripped and jacked or morbidly obese).

Now, it’s a whole different story. I no longer live with the privilege of not having my appearance picked apart and used to determine my value as a human. Even worse, my appearance is even used to strip me of my identity as a woman. There’s sort of a lot at stake when putting on a bathing suit, but even more as a transgender woman. A few months ago, I very non-exaggeratingly stated that I’d rather jump off a bridge than go bathing suit shopping.

Obviously, the biggest issue for me is of the between-my-legs variety. What’s the best way to hide that thing? A while back I had watched this video and thought maybe it would work for me too. Unfortunately, when I practiced it at home, it was a complete failure. As if that wasn’t enough to worry about, I’m also self conscious about my fat stomach, my somewhat masculine shoulders, and my severely undersized boobs. When I’m fully clothed I have the luxury of dressing according to my body and working with what I’ve got. I’ve figured out what clothes work and what don’t. I know how to hide the things I don’t like and make myself at least reasonably feminine, but I don’t really have that ability with a bathing suit.

As much as I didn’t want to go bathing suit shopping, I knew it was something I’d have to get over and face head-on. Sure, I could have easily decided to just forego any summertime activities that typically require a bathing suit. I could not go to the beach (I haven’t in a couple years anyway). I could not go to our development’s pool. I could not go to a water park. I could not go river tubing/rafting. I could just skip all these things; heck, I might not end up doing them anyway. But I transitioned so I could stop hiding myself and start enjoying life. That means I can’t skip out on things I enjoy just because they’re a little scary.

One of the Old Navy tops and the swim skirt from Target. See that flabby stomach? Thats what really bothers me.

One of the Old Navy tops and the swim skirt from Target. See that flabby stomach? Thats what really bothers me.

Luckily, I was able to enlist my wife’s help so I wasn’t going at it alone. She suggested trying on a few of her bathing suits at home to see if I could get an idea of what might work and what wouldn’t. While this was actually really helpful, it was also extremely upsetting. I ended up dealing with a severe case of dysphoria and self-loathing, but I did have some ideas for what I could look for that might work. I decided to trudge on to the store and see what I could find, but I completely expected for my trip to end in tears and possibly even feeling a bit suicidal.

First up was Old Navy. I knew they still had some stuff in the store and they’re pretty darn cheap. I immediately found three cute tops I thought might work. I looked around for some of the swim shorts and swim skirts they had online, but there were none to be found. So I grabbed a pair of plain black bottoms with the hopes of finding a pair of board shorts to wear over them. No luck on the board shorts, but I didn’t let it get me down, I knew, worst case scenario, I could just wear a pair of running shorts over the bottoms and be good. After trying on the tops, I was really happy with how they looked and I thought I could be comfortable wearing them. We walked around and I grabbed a couple other non-bathing suit items before paying and walking out feeling extremely accomplished.

Heres the Target tankini

Heres the Target tankini

Since Old Navy is right across the street from Target, I figured we should take a look there too just to see if they had anything else in the bottom department for me. I had seen online that they had also had swim shorts and swim skirts. Almost immediately, I spotted a pair of each and snatched them up in black. I also ended up spotting a cute tankini and a skirted one piece. After trying everything on, I felt very comfortable in it all and decided that since each piece at Old Navy was only $10, I could spend the money to get the one piece and the tankini as well. I figured even though I was happy with how I looked in the dressing room, when it comes to actually wearing them, I’ll probably be happy to have some options.

So, in the end, bathing suit shopping was beyond successful. I really couldn’t believe it, but it was a wonderful surprise. Granted, I still have to actually put one of them on and go out somewhere in public, but I think I’m prepared for that. I’m actually getting kind of anxious tackle that hurdle soon. Anyone want to go to the beach or tubing down the Delaware?

PS: These photos all suck since I snapped them real quick last night with my phone in the mirror instead of actually taking the time to take better ones. To be honest, I didn’t think I’d actually post the photos of myself. Anyway, can you tell I like polka dots?

And the one piece from Target

And the one piece from Target

The three tops from Old Navy

The three tops from Old Navy

1

Erie Marathon training: week 4

Just a girl and the black & white love of her life!

Just a girl and the black & white love of her life!

I had mentioned that last week was going to super busy and training was going to be difficult to get done, but it turned out that a lot of my plans for the week changed and getting in most of my runs wasn’t too hard.

Tuesday morning, I got up early to beat the heat and knocked out a humid seven miles before heading into NYC to meet up with my friend and her wife who were visiting from Wisconsin. Wednesday was pretty brutal though. I should have gotten up early to run, but I couldn’t get myself out of bed so I ended up running nine miles in 93° heat. It was a really rough run, but at least the humidity was low. Thursday was the opposite, 74° with but 76% humidity. I actually don’t know which day was tougher, to be honest. I was supposed to do 8×1′ fartleks, but I was beat and the weather was killing me. I managed one, singular fartlek before having to give up on that idea.

Sunday’s long run of 13.1 miles was on the slow side, but it felt good. The temperature was nice and cool on the towpath since I was in the shade the whole time. I took it mostly easy and then picked it up for the last 5k. Even though my overall pace was a snail-like 9:20 min/mile, my last mile was an 8:33. Unfortunately, 8:33 is what my entire run should be at if I’m going to BQ in September.

After Sunday’s long run, the wife and I took a drive down to South Jersey to meet up with Fueled by Hollie at the Pop Shop for some serious grilled cheese action. That place is always one of my favorites! And then I finished out the week with the craptacular mess of a season premiere for Falling Skies.

Pop Shop Collingswood

Breakfast burger with an egg, home fries, and bacon. Oh, and a side of spicy fries! Yum!

Pop Shop Collingswood with FueledByLolz and FoodosaurusRex

With Hollie and the wife! (Photo stolen from Hollie’s Instagram)

Hattie using Fry's butt as a pillow pretty much made me whole week!

Hattie using Fry’s butt as a pillow pretty much made me whole week!

16

To GPS watch or not to GPS watch

I’ve been talking about this a bunch on Twitter for a while, but it continues to be one of those things in which I struggle to pull the proverbial trigger. Should I buy a GPS watch or not?

iSmoothRun iOS iPhone

iSmoothRun

Since day one, I’ve run with my phone and used that to track my runs. In the earlier days I used MapMyRun and RunKeeper, but for the past few years I’ve been all about iSmoothRun. The app features everything I need from the stats I want to interval/workout coaching, plus it exports data to DailyMile and RunKeeper. It’s really handy. To me, it makes sense to track my runs with my phone since I always run with it on me anyway. I like the idea of having it just in case something happens or goes wrong. There have been more than a couple occasions where I had to stop a run way early and been stuck miles from home only to have to call the wife to come pick me up. Without having my phone on me, I’d have been stuck with a long walk home. So, if get a watch, I’m probably still going to be running with my phone on me. Getting a watch doesn’t replace anything, it just becomes an additional thing to have on me.

My bigger concern, though, is how it could affect my running. I try to run entirely by feel and ignore my pace/time until after my run. I used to have my phone set to call out my pace at each mile, but I found I was becoming obsessed with it. “I know this is just an easy run, but I can totally go 10 sec/mile faster!” “What?! I’m going that slow?! No way I can let that be!” Eventually, I turned this feature off and wore my armband in a way that made checking my pace rather difficult. This allows me to only listen to my body and run entirely by effort. My running improved greatly after doing this, as did my enjoyment. My fear with a watch is that I’ll be too tempted to check it every ten seconds and I’ll become obsessed with my pace again.

On the other side of things, the Erie Marathon does not have pace groups so I’ll be on my own for keeping myself at my goal pace without being too fast or too slow. Because this is going to be another really important race for me, I don’t think I want to chance anything. Once a mile isn’t enough feedback for keeping myself on track. A GPS watch is the obvious solution to this and that may be enough to push me over the edge. Thinking about it logically, I’d want to do most of my training with the watch so I could get myself used to running with it and listening to what it’s telling me. I should make a decision sometime soon.

Garmin Forerunner 220

Garmin Forerunner 220

The watch I’ve been eying is the Garmin Forerunner 220. It’s highly recommended by everyone who has one and it has the features I want. I’ve looked at a few others, but it seems like, for the price, this is the best option. The Bia Sport watch looks great in a lot of ways, but the separate GPS piece really kills it for me.

But part of me wants to hold out just a little longer and see if Apple does, in fact, start selling an “iWatch.” Who knows what features the watch will include, assuming it actually exists at all, but one can’t help but think it’ll offer everything I’m looking for (either natively or via 3rd party apps) on top of everything else a smartwatch has to offer. Along the same line of thinking, why not just get a Pebble instead? iSmoothRun already includes Pebble support so I’d be good to go. Though, flipping back to the pro dedicated GPS watch side of things, maybe it would be better to avoid the one-device-for-everything path. There’s only so much battery life to go around and I already have to charge my phone at some point midday if I’m running anymore than 4-5 miles. A watch that relies on my phone and serves other purposes besides running not only doesn’t help that situation but it actually makes it worse by adding another device with a battery I need to worry about. A dedicated GPS watch can just be left on the charger when I’m not using it.

In typical Amelia fashion, I am taking what should be a simple technology-buying decision and making it way overly complicated. The bottom line here is that I’m about 90% certain I’m going to just go ahead and buy the Garmin in the next few days. I’ve got enough Amazon points to cover the entire cost and my Prime membership will have it to me in two days. If Apple does start selling an iWatch (or another enticing smartwatch hits the market), nothing is stopping me from buying one while still using the dedicated watch for running.

Do you run with a GPS device? If so, which device do you use? Do you like it? In your experience, how has it both helped and hurt your running?