Friday, March 22, 2013
The US division of the company for which I work has been in the 101 Best & Brightest Companies to Work For awards in Michigan for the last I don't know how many years. At least for the 7 years I worked there.
That's a pretty good feeling knowing you work for a company considered one of the best in the state.
This year though (well, 2012) is different.
This year we've made the NATIONAL awards! We are one of the best companies to work for across the entire country.
A good part of the reason is due to the company's encouragement of health and exercise. For the past few years there has been a Wellness Committee that sponsors periodic challenges like eating the recommended servings of freggies every day, cutting out caffeine, walking/running miles, fitness minutes, etc. people started getting together to run or bike races, there is a company sponsored soccer team and a basketball team. In 2011 a few of us independently ran the Warrior Dash; in 2012 we signed up to run it together and brought more people in. This year there is a company team to run the Tough Mudder (sadly I can't participate since I am not in the US). There is a growing presence in the annual MS 150 mile bike ride every year.
You get the idea.
OK, yes, part of the company's motivation for these activities is to keep health care costs down....healthy people are cheaper to ensure. But so what? It is still a great benefit to the individuals and participation is voluntary. Before anyone starts in about unfair discrimination based on personal habits, no one pays different rates because they choose to participate or not, or because of their choice to smoke, or their weight, or etc. I have personal opinions on this topic which I am not going to share in this blog; the company policy is fair and participation is strictly voluntary with no negative repercussions for non-participation.
And you can see the progress year over year.
And the absolute best part? In honor of the national award this year I get a new shirt!
OK, that's tongue in cheek, but collecting race shirts is a little bit addictive.
The absolute best part is working for a company that is focused on more than how many hours of work it can squeeze from the employees for the least amount of cost. The company walks the talk about caring for its employees and one can see the evolution over time.
Today discussions over footwear and stride are common, over the proper lifting form, or the pros and cons of which tires to use when. People notice what you're eating and ask for the recipe...not snidely ask if you are "on a diet" and then offer you a donut.
The evolution of a health revolution.
Sunday, March 17, 2013
Today was half marathon #8 for me, in St. Quentin, France. It is about an hour from where I live/work. I signed up about a month ago. It was not in my original plan to run another HM this close to the full but the employee committee was sponsoring runners and apparently there is a good sized group of people where I work that are runners. So in the interests of integrating into life here I signed up. There were 4 other people from work who ended up running today; we were supposed to be 7 but 2 people were injured.
I carpooled with 2 other people to the race. We checked in & got our dossards (bibs) and shirts. Mine is pink, their shirts are not. I am SO NOT a pink person. But it does add another shirt to my collection and that is the important part, right?
The race started with a short out & back and then into the race proper, which ended up being 3 loops of about 4 miles each up & down the river. It was in the low/mid 40s, just like in Paris 2 weeks ago, except today was overcast. Despite the very beginning where I didn't follow my training plan because I didn't want to start walking quite so soon in front of all the spectators at the start (the actual start line was back a bit from the finish line / MC platform) I followed my run / walk plan for almost the entire race.
It's good that I did because I very quickly became just about the very last person in the race. It turned out there was one woman behind me, and then I passed an older gentleman eventually. It was kind of demoralizing to be among the last runners. It was especially demoralizing when the front runners started passing me on their 2nd loop before I had even completed my first one, and most of the finishers were done as I was starting on my last loop.
It's good to know the emotions involved since I will be among the slowest for the full. Intellectually I know it doesn't matter, I was not prepared for emotionally. Now I am.
But...I ran my own race and stuck to my marathon plan. I finished 6 minutes faster than I planned, in 2:31, so for me it was a good race. At the finish I felt like I could have kept going, although I was slowing down. Whether I could have completed another 3 loops..I don't know.
I was concerned about my knees after the knee cap pain in the right after the Paris HM. I did replace my shoes but my long run last weekend was only 10 miles. I had planned to do at least somewhere between 15-20 but at right about the 10 mile mark my left knee cap suddenly out of the blue hurt with every running step. It did not hurt when I walked except for an occasional twinge but I decided to stop so as not to make it worse. I actually ended up wearing my knee brace for 3 days afterwards because it still hurt. I was a bit concerned how it would go today but aside from some very minor twinges right at the beginning I had no issues with either knee. I think those twinges were more because I was expecting something than actual protest from my knees.
I think I had a little bit of obstacle slowing me down overall because my iPod quit 30 minutes into the race. I had it plugged in to recharge last night but it must not have been plugged in all the way or something because the battery died. So on one of the walk breaks I had to figure out how the radio on my phone worked and find a station to listen to; it wasn't my music and there were the breaks. I know that did have an affect on my running; I have proven to run slower and harder without music. I don't even want to think about trying to run any kind of distance without my music so am considering a back-up iPod for next month.
Overall it was a good race. Not my best but that is not what I was trying for today. I followed my plan and finished ahead of schedule and did not feel like I was at the end of my strength when I finished.
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Today it is about 14 degrees F with the windchill. Over night we received about 6 or so inches of snow. It didn't look that bad from the back window, there wasn't a lot of accumulation on the deck. So I planned to go to work like normal, just taking longer to drive.
Then the garage door wouldn't open so I had to go out the front door.
Stupid lying groundhog. I want the spring I was promised!
Went back in, sent a quick note that I wouldn't be in to work for a bit, grabbed the shovel and went back out to deal with it.
I live near the top of a hill. My driveway is down hill, with the garage at the bottom. It is a little bit wider than a single car and completely blocked on both sides by either the concrete retaining wall or the 6 foot hedge. So there is no where to actually put the snow except all the way at the bottom.
January's snow was nice and fluffy. I could just push it down hill. Even when we had 6+ inches it was still relatively easy to shovel.
Today's snow was 6 inches of wet heavy crap with the bottom inch slushy ice. At least until I got to the bottom third of the driveway when it was just ice. Today there was no pushing the snow down hill. Every shovelful of snow got shoveled dozens of times as I tried to throw it further down hill. I say tried because the evilness would stick to the shovel half the time. And what started at the top as a mere 6 inches deep soon became 12 inches, became 18, etc. as the down hill piles grew. It took 3 hours of constant work to get the driveway cleared. And I never did make it to work because the road is still ice.
And yes, I am counting it as fitness minutes today because I certainly earned it.
What does that have to do with cats being smart?
I was out shoveling in the 14 degree uphill wind that flung part of every shovelful of snow back into my face and plotting revenge on the groundhog who told me I would have an early spring.
The Kittehs, smart little things, were inside, taking their naps, in front the heater :
Sunday, March 10, 2013
We started in front of the Chateau de Vincennes (note this is not my picture, it is from www.myparisnet.com) :
I haven’t been to this part of Paris before and had no idea it existed. There is also a very large park across from it, the Parc Floral. I think I will go back some weekend to see the Chateau and the Parc.
As I mentioned before the runners were separated into color-coded groups depending on the finish goal time we signed up for. Fasted runners went first, slowest last. Each group (except the elites, the 60-90 minute finishers) was in its own fenced area and they had people checking your bib to make sure you didn’t go into a different group than you signed up for.
I liked that they did that (except for having to wait 55 minutes for my group to start). When I ran the Detroit Turkey Trot in 2011 there were 20-30 thousand people as well, and they had pace groups you signed up for. But the pace groups were just spots along the start where you were supposed to line up and there was no control over it so people who signed up for the slowest group wound up at the front. The whole start was a real mess with faster runners tripping over and stuck behind walkers.
There was a DJ playing music before the race and while we were waiting, to get everyone pumped up. They even had the runners doing warm up callisthenics and dance moves.
Each group got to go from its fenced area up to the start line and then we waited for the official green light & whistle to start. They had each group wait for everyone from the previous group to get however far ahead before starting. It makes sense – keeps the start clear and provides the water/food stations with a little respite instead of a constant stream of people.
Having fresh fruit along the course was new for me. I think I like it, although it is messy. I guess it would be difficult to get enough bananas & oranges peeled for 30,000 people, but the clean-up efforts must have been huge. I believe the fruit is also the reason I didn’t have calf cramps afterwards, which I expected since I was probably dehydrated. I had nothing to drink all morning before the start of the race (no toilettes along the course and I didn’t want to tempt fate) and only 6 oz during the race itself. Based on prior experience of running with that little water consumption I was expecting killer calf cramps but they didn’t happen.
The course took us past the Hippodrome de Paris-Vincennes and past some small statue / monument of an angel I think. I’m not sure what it was for but probably had some historical or official significance because there were the tricolour flag signs I’ve seen on French government type buildings. We ran through city streets and passed a large window display of a store that apparently only sells umbrellas. They were very nice umbrellas but I wonder how a store can stay in business with just one product like that?
More running, going past the train station Gare de Lyon and up to the Bastille monument. The actual prison is long gone but the site is marked with a statue / monument. We ran along the Seine for a ways, up to the Hotel de Ville and the Ile St-Louis, an island in the river. Then we turned to head back along the Rue de Rivoli and passed the Bastille again.
Along the route at a number of places were bands, mostly drum lines but some marching bands and little 3 person rock groups.
Every 5k there was timekeeping where we had to run across the mat to record our times, to discourage cheating. And there were video cameras at the stations. I though it worked like the pictures, where you choose which one you want and have to pay for each one but apparently the purchase fee is for access to all the videos so I have a whole bunch of videos of me at each one. I thought the videos are great to have, I’ve run in several races where I did not make it into a single picture at all and so have no visual record of them.
Towards the end of the course we passed this “mountain” :
I have no idea what this is, or even if it is real. From one side I could have sworn it was man-made but from the other it looked more real. I didn’t see a sign identifying it, but the whole huge area was behind construction fences so I’m thinking it is man-made. Maybe a rock-climbing…rock…is being built.
After the race they were handing out bottles of PowerAde so I took one for my daughter. They had tables with more fruit although the bananas and raisins were long gone and only oranges were left. They also had a hot drinks station where you could get tea or vegetable broth, which was not something I’ve seen before. It was salty but after a HM it was needed to replace everything sweated out.
I was happy to have my Shot Bloks with me to use during the race. I can’t find them here in France and I don’t really like the gels I have been able to find. A co-worker from the US came here in January and brought me several packages of them. I can also get them on Amazon from the UK but they, of course, cost more than if I could just go to the store to buy them.
Overall I think the race itself was very good. It was well organized, well staffed, and there was still food & drink, staff & people cheering at the end for the last finishers. I’ve heard stories about how some races run out of everything so that the last people across the finish line have no food, no drink, no finisher medal and in some cases everyone was gone and the race was already starting to close down and pack up!
A difference from races in the US is that in order to participate here you are required to have a medical certificate signed by your doctor stating you are able to race. You can make copies of the certificate to use for many races; it is good for one year. But no certificate means no race, they won’t give you your race packet. I’m not sure if this is absolutely required but I think you also have to join the FFA (Federation Francaise d’Athletisme) athletic association for the races; I keep getting asked for my number. It’s only a few euros a year so it’s not cost prohibitive to join. I guess it is similar to when my daughter had to join a triathlon association in order to enter her race in 2011 – no membership meant no race sign-up.
The full marathon is in less than 1 month now and should be just as good. For the full we start along the Champs Elysees. Regardless of how I run or finish it will still be an experience!
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