Race Report: 2017 Beat the Blerch 10K

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Been a while. Let’s see if I remember how to do this!

Yesterday, I participated in my first race in almost two years. The race is part of a series called Beat the Blerch based on a comic by The Oatmeal, a/k/a Matthew Inman. Even if you don’t enjoy running, the comic is really funny and you should read it.

I wouldn’t have even known about the race if my friend K hadn’t asked our other race-loving friend R and me if we wanted to run it with her. It was selling out fast so I said yes, thinking that a race was as good a reason as any to spend time in Seattle with my friends, and that I could absolutely train for a flat-course 10K in four months.

While it was fantastic to spend the day before tooling around Seattle with K and R, I was not in racing form by the time Sunday rolled around. That ended up being fine because my racing partners were also dealing with their own health challenges, plus the race was very walker-friendly. Also, personal worsts are encouraged in a Beat the Blerch race because they ply runners with cake and Nutella along the way. So once we picked up our bibs and shirts, the three of us relaxed, chatted with other runners, and hammed it up in photos with a Blerch.

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A Blerch and me.

R and K tried Burritoughnuts (yes, tortilla-wrapped doughnuts).

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R actually ate hers!

Soon after this monstrosity was consumed, we had one last bio-break and then joined the other runners at the starting line, where a Blerch tossed tortillas and marshmallows at us, and then showered us with Doritos as we got on our way.

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Lining up for the 10K.

The mood was high as we made our way through the woods, peeping costumes and chatting and snapping the occasional pic. Mile 3 brought the hydration (and cake and couch) station! I knew the cake wouldn’t be gluten-free, but I hadn’t realized that all of the Nutella would be in sandwiches, so I didn’t get any mid-race Nutella break as planned. That was okay, though, because the day before I had loaded up on post-race treats from Flying Apron Café.

Despite my plan to take it easy, I got caught up in the excitement, and I told K and R I wanted to run for a bit. I ended up running about a mile in two separate segments. Although the running bursts felt good, I had trouble staying within my target heart rate, so I slowed down to a walk. There was also a long stretch of gravel that proved challenging; all of my other races have been on pavement, and I wasn’t keen on injuring myself so soon after recovering from the sneaky sciatica of last month.

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Through the woods.

Even though I was surrounded by people, I was lonely for my friends, so before the mile 6 marker, I stopped for some water and waited for them. The three of us ran the last wee bit to the finish, collected our medals, and got chocolate milk! (And then a proper meal in Redmond.)

All in all, the strengths of this race were the feeling of camaraderie with the other participants, the rampant silliness, the costumes, and the high-quality tech shirt with thumbholes that I’m going to love wearing while running in the cooler months. The challenge was the course: despite how scenic it was, that large-rock gravel was not fun for less experienced runners, and sharing a narrower course with both 10K and half-marathon runners meant that there were lots of “clumps” to navigate.

10K is a great distance for me, training-wise, and I’ve already signed up for another 10K race in about a month, my first in Portland proper. Going to the gym will be a lot more fun with this goal in mind. But I already miss my racing buddies!

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Racing is better with friends.

Eclipse fever.

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I’m so excited about the total solar eclipse on August 21st. I don’t know why I am so excited, but it might have something to do with the fact that the eclipse is happening, no matter who says what in a press briefing or in a tweet or in a Bullet Journal. It is science and it is happening.

I even put a sticker on my car.

Oregon eclipse love.

Oregon eclipse love.

If you won’t be near the path of totality, never fear! The eclipse will be live-streamed via NASA’s Eclipse Megacast. (I hope it lives up to that name.)

Fragility in fur.

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Zen, August 2017.

Zen, August 2017.

Born and forged in hothouse Alabama, Zen is a creature of heat. Throughout this week’s heat wave, she has sought out the warmest parts of our home. Like the corner of the eaves which — despite sounding like a place of great magical power in a children’s book series — is an infernal pocket of breath-sucking dryness. When not upstairs, Zen lounged on her heating pad during our 100°+ days.

I caught her once or twice splayed out on the wood floors, cooling herself off, but then she’d heft herself up and trek upstairs.

Stairs don't faze Zen, not even at 20. #tortitude

A post shared by Halsted Mencotti Bernard (@cygnoir) on

This morning, the heat has let up a bit. Zen has found a patch of sunshine. In photos like this one, I can pretend I don’t see the gauntness that has partially deflated her football shape. Zen has always loved the heat, but now she needs it because she doesn’t have the padding that used to keep her warm. Kneeling before her, half-dappled in sunlight, I bury my face in her fur. She hooks one paw over my forearm and kneads, purring, while my fingertips graze the tiny ridges of her vertebrae. Maybe soon, I think, but not yet.

Not yet.

In the corner of the bookstore.

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I love going to Powell’s, especially for the moment when I’ve found a few books and I curl up in a corner somewhere to pore over my choices, to turn them over in my hands and see how they feel as orbiting objects in my small universe. This time it was a well-loved used copy of Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” and a well-liked used copy of Arundhati Roy’s “The God of Small Things”.

I don’t remember reading “In Cold Blood” although I find it impossible to have existed this long as a reader and writer without doing so. I definitely haven’t read “The God of Small Things” before now, but became curious after my mom sent me a sampling of Roy’s prose in a text message:

”The sky was thick with TV. If you wore special glasses you could see them spinning through the sky among the bats and homing birds—blondes, wars, famines, football, food shows, coups d’état, hairstyles stiff with hair spray. Designer pectorals. Gliding towards Ayemenem like skydivers. Making patterns in the sky. Wheels. Windmills. Flowers blooming and unblooming.”

Impossible to resist, as impossible as the corner of Powell’s in the Blue Room, near the local ‘zines, where all that potential and possibility rests on its haunches, ready to launch.

Powell’s Bookstore, Portland, Oregon

Beyond step counts with Exist

Beyond Step Counts with Exist
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I’ve tracked data on my daily life since I was seven years old, fiddling with the tiny gold-tone lock on my first daily diary. Later, when I discovered the “quantified self” movement, some larger lock in my brain would release: I didn’t only want data, I wanted meaning.

I’ve been searching for this meaning by tracking fitness (daily step counts and workouts), as well as the following:

  • Sleep (hours and quality)
  • Vitals (weight and heart rate)
  • Food (calories and nutrients)
  • Mood
  • Productivity
  • Media (books read, music listened to, films watched, etc.)

But tracking alone is not meaningful. In fact, it can be the opposite. Those of us with fitness trackers often have a goal of taking 10,000 steps a day, and we are rewarded with brightly-colored graphics when we’ve met that goal. But what about getting 10,000 steps a day while sleeping fewer hours than we need each night? And how do sugar and caffeine consumption impact activity, sleep, productivity, mood, or all four?

Not long ago, I discovered an app called Exist which promised a way to pull all of the data I tracked together to find meaningful correlations. I was skeptical, but game. And Exist turned out to be a marvelous way for me to stop focusing on hitting a step count each day and start thinking about my physical and mental health in a more comprehensive way.

I could get side-tracked by all the weird correlations that Exist has uncovered — like how I get fewer steps when I listen to Blood Orange — but instead I will share the ones that are most important to me right now: how sleep impacts other important aspects of my life.

On the dashboard, I get an overview of my sleep over the past seven days. The white checkmarks indicate that I met my sleep goal for that day, a goal that Exist determines for me based on past averages and trends. Ah, sleeping in on Saturdays!

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Trends are all well and good, but the correlations are where Exist gets interesting. This one is an obvious one: my mood is higher when I get more sleep.

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Aha, and sugar intake … well, that’s also obvious.

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I get more work done when I sleep less. Yeah, well.

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The confidence on this correlation isn’t very high, but I’m still curious about an earlier bedtime impacting my step count.

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Exist’s new “Optimize” feature suggests that my mood might improve if I try to get more than seven and a half hours of sleep.

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These are just a few of the insights that Exist has provided me for the data I track. Here is where I blow your mind: look at the full list of services that Exist integrates with (see their FAQs for more info):

  • Jawbone UP: steps, sleep, weight, workouts, food, water
  • Fitbit: steps, sleep, weight, workouts, food, water
  • Misfit: steps, sleep, workouts
  • Moves: steps, location
  • Apple Health: steps, sleep, workouts, heart rate, food, water
  • Google Fit: steps, workouts, weight
  • Withings: steps, sleep, weight
  • Runkeeper: steps, weight, workouts
  • Strava: workouts
  • Mood: mood rating and note (this is built-in to Exist, not an external service—you can use our daily email service or our mobile apps to rate your mood each day)
  • RescueTime: time spent productively, neutral time, distracting time
  • Todoist: tasks completed
  • GitHub: commits
  • Google, iCloud, iCal Calendars: events, time spent in events
  • Dark Sky: weather conditions (requires Swarm, Moves, or Exist for Android to get location)
  • Swarm: check-ins, location
  • Instagram: posts, comments, likes
  • last.fm: tracks played
  • Twitter: tweets, mentions
  • Spotify, Deezer, iTunes, and more: via last.fm

That’s enough of me blathering on about it. Sign up now for a free 30-day trial of Exist, plus another month free! If this isn’t your bag but you know someone with a fitness tracker who is motivated by more than step counts, share this post with them.