Sunday, May 12, 2024

My Pianopacalypse

This blog is called "Racing Stripes" and usually it's about running/racing. But once in a while, it's about "stripes". In this case, the stripes I am referring to are the black and white stripes of the piano keys. If I had to guess where my zebra love comes from, I think it's because they made me think of pianos when I first saw them at the zoo on a subconscious level. 

Ever since purchasing my new Schimmel grand piano in January, I have been obsessed and addicted to my instrument. On average, I have been spending over an hour a day playing, and sometimes more like two hours a day. Most weeks I spend more time playing my piano than I do running. Running is part of my daily routine and I enjoy it, but this piano has my soul now.

My biggest piano inspiration is Tori Amos. I've been a huge fan since I discovered her at the age of 15. Her music reaches into my soul. I have all of her song books (piano sheet music) but I've only ever attempted about 10 percent of it, with most of it seeming to be too daunting. 

With the new grand piano, I have been playing primarily by ear-- a talent that I naturally have and never learned from anywhere. I've discovered that when I play by ear, the music comes out much better than when I read from a book. Usually the books offer a different version of the song and it's not how I perceive the song. This opens up a new world to me because I can play the actual song, but also make it my own.

I occasionally write my own songs (like the Boston-themed "It's Raining Unicorns") but mostly I enjoy re-making my favorite songs to show how I interpret them. I enjoy putting my own unique spin on something that I already find artistically amazing. 

Running has taught me that I can do anything I put my mind to. When I want to achieve something, I will work tirelessly in pursuit of that goal. This is how I was able to take my marathon time down from 4:46 to 3:15 and my half marathon time down from 2:00 to 1:29. Keeping that in mind, I realized I could apply the same discipline to the piano. 

For most of my life, I have sat down at the piano and played for fun without actually "working" at it. I would occasionally devote an hour here or there to figuring out a song by ear, but I would never perfect it, and then I would move on. But I've come to the realization that I can play almost any song I want if I put enough time and effort into it. I am not a classically trained pianist (I've only had about two years of lessons) but I have enough skills to make almost any song sound like the actual song. (When I upload the video to YouTube and they tell me that I am uploaded Copyrighted material, I am super flattered!)

Of course, to really do justice to a song, singing is required. That's when I came to a similar realization about my voice. Aside from three years in high school choir, I've never had formal vocal training. But I can carry a tune and sometimes sound decent. And anything can be trained! So I have started working on my voice too with vocal exercises and experimenting with various ways to sing certain songs. 

Combine my new-found confidence of knowing I can do anything I put my mind to with a natural ability to play the piano by ear, and BAM - I can actually make some interesting cover songs. I can actually play the songs that I never thought were within my reach. I wish I had discovered this earlier and spent more time really honing my piano skills instead of just tinkering around here and there.

I'll share three of my favorite pieces here. 

Yesterday I recorded, I Can't See New York, by Tori Amos. This is one of my all-time favorite songs and the fact that I can play it is a dream come true. If you would have asked my last year at this time if I could ever really play that song, I would have said no way. I listened to the beginning of this song over and over until I was able to match all the notes. I probably spent about 25-30 hours total on this one, including practicing the vocals. This song carries special meaning to me and it came out at a point in my life when I really needed it.

The next song is Gold Dust, also by Tori Amos. I see these two songs as twins. They are on the same album and I like them equally, but in very different ways. I recorded this one last February, before I had the new microphones. (I had received feedback from the 70+ crowd that my voice was inaudible with the old microphone).

Other Tori songs on my YouTube include Jackie's Strength, Reindeer King, Purple People, and Famous Blue Raincoat.

Just two years ago, I discovered the depth of the band Placebo. I had only ever known one of their songs from the late 90s, but when they released the album Never Let Me Go, it opened up a whole new world of all their songs. I have three of their songs on my YouTube channel, with the latest being Sleeping With Ghosts. Their music is pretty easy/quick to figure out on the piano, the fun part is deciding how to play and sing it. I like to bring a new mood to their songs.

I also have the Placebo songs 20 Years and Song to Say Goodbye on my YouTube channel. I have a long list of songs to learn and put up on YouTube. I need to retire from my full time job so I can spend all my time on this!

Thanks for watching, reading and listening. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Run The Greenway: 2024 Edition

I ran the Run The Greenway 5K last Saturday, 19 days after the Boston Marathon. This race kicked off my "summer of speed" in a fun way.

I ran this race in 2022 and was the first overall female finisher with a time of 20:43. I liked that the course was relatively flat and it was an out-and-back with just one turn. I also enjoyed running on the Dulles Greenway because it felt cool to be on a major highway.

A few days before the race, I realized that the course would be different from what I ran in 2022. The race would start further west on the Greenway and run in the opposite direction. I researched the elevation profile online and it looked hillier than the 2022 course. Mostly downhill for the first half and then uphill for the second half. 

On the plus side, the new start location was just steps away from my sister's house. I asked if she wanted to come watch and she said yes! I thought to myself: "How cool would it be for me to win the race again and have my sister watching!" But spoiler alert, that didn't happen!

My goal was to break 20:00. I had good reason to believe I could do this. First, I had just run a 5K in 20:14 four weeks prior on a more challenging course. Second, I ran a time of 20:43 back in 2022 and I believed myself to be in much better shape now. 

Before the Race
Greg and I arrived at the race and I began my warm up. I warmed up to my sister's house, which was super close, and she and her husband came out. I pointed them in the direction of the race and then continued to run back to the race site while they walked there. 

I warmed up for just over two miles, making sure to include some faster strides. My biggest challenge at my last 5K was a lack of warm up and I didn't want to make the same mistake. I had a Maurten gel about 15 minutes before the start. 

I wore my ASICS Metaspeed Sky Paris shoes. The same model that I wore in Boston but the smaller pair. I ended up bruising my big toe, so it is officially confirmed that the smaller size is in fact, too small for me. 

I was thankful that it wasn't raining. It had rained overnight and for most of the morning but miraculously stopped just in time for my warm up. In 2022 I ended up with hypothermia because it was pouring rain. I wouldn't have minded rain again but I would have felt bad asking my sister and brother-in-law to stand in the rain to watch me cross a start and finish line.

Which of course brings me to my personal race weather scale.  It was 53 degrees, humid and overcast, with light winds. Not too bad for early May which could have been much warmer. I give this a 6 out of 10. Just slightly better than "ok". 

They called us to the start line relatively early. We lined up at 7:45 with a start time of 8:00. And Greg later told me that the race started at 8:05. It felt like I was standing there for eternity. We heard the announce list off all the birthdays. The Star Spangled Banner played. We heard about the sponsors. I made friends with some of the other runners. I already knew one of them and was happily chatting with some others. 

I saw Greg standing with my sister and brother-in-law on the other side of the start line. They were snapping photos and waving at me!

It was clear from this point that I would not be winning the race. I thought I could potentially come in 3rd at best. That was fine with me. I know that winning a race is all about who shows up! After what seemed like forever, the race finally started.

Mile 1
Based on the elevation profile, I knew this needed to be my fastest mile. My hope was to run it around 6:15. I got pulled out very quickly by the ladies ahead of me, backed off after about a quarter of a mile and then settled in. While this mile was mostly downhill, it also had an uphill. My watch beeped at 6:24. Nine seconds slower than planned, but the sub 20:00 was still within reach. I just had to run two more miles at this exact pace.

Mile 2
The belief that I could run sub 20:00 was soon shattered as I ran the second mile. I was already starting to get tired and my legs felt so heavy. I didn't have a lot of energy and I couldn't maintain my 6:24. I knew that there were at least 4 women ahead of me, so the hope of 3rd place also vanished.

The good thing about the turnaround (other than being halfway done) was that so many runners started cheering for me on the other side of the course, on their way out. Some of them called me by name, telling me that they followed my Instagram. All of this cheering helped me stay positive. This mile clocked in at 6:34. 

Mile 3:
I was crashing hard core at this point, particularly with the big hill. My legs were still not fully recovered from Boston and it took everything I had to hold it together. I got passed by a few men, but thankfully no women.

I kept thinking about my family waiting for me at the finish and wanting to look strong for them. It really motivated me to stay strong and not give in to my fatigue. This mile clocked in at 6:54.  Slower than half marathon pace!

The Finish
I tried to muster a final kick, but 6:22 was all I had in me. My official time was 20:40. Moments after I crossed, I found my sister waiting for me, excited to show me the video she captured of me finishing. It made me happy to see how happy she was to have gotten a video.

We didn't hang around long. I was eager to change clothes and get comfortable. I did a cooldown jog to my sister's house and then we all had breakfast together. To finish a race and be at my sister's house about 10 minutes later was really nice.

I told my family that the race didn't go as well as I had hoped and that my legs weren't fully recovered from Boston. I was the 6th female which was a far cry from 1st place like in 2022. But at least I won my age group (45-49). The five women ahead of me all ran under 20:00 so it was a competitive field for a local race. Especially with no prize money or gift cards!

It's hard for me to determine if I like the ASICS Metaspeed Sky for 5K racing. I'm inclined to say I prefer my adidas Adios Pro because my legs didn't have their usual "pep".  But I can't be sure how I would have felt with different shoes. The ASICS definitely feel more fun because they have a good bounce. So that alone is a good reason to wear them.

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
I keep comparing this race to 2022 because in both cases, the race was two weeks after Boston. But it's not really a fair comparison. The course was entirely different, and different people showed up.

Also, in 2022 Boston didn't beat me up as much because it was cooler and I didn't run it at full effort due to lingering Covid symptoms. At the most recent Boston, I raced it at full effort while dealing with the heat and ran a time of 3:24 as opposed to 3:33 in 2022. 

So it makes sense that even though my fitness is in a better spot now than it was two years ago, I wasn't as recovered from Boston and the new course was more challenging. Also, in 2022 I underestimated what I could do whereas last weekend I overestimated it. 

The biggest takeaway here, however, has nothing to do with running or paces or times or legs or hills. It's the joy of sharing the experience with my sister and brother-in-law. It was so awesome for them to see me racing and then to hang out with them for a few hours afterwards.  So even though I didn't win the race, I experienced a different kind of win.