Friday, February 19, 2016

Banana Republic

I have a few fall-back stores that I get most of my clothes from: White house black market, J-crew Factory, Old Navy for activewear.  But I still like to explore other stores.  I hadn't gone to Banana Republic in a while, but ended up spending several hours there on a Friday afternoon before Christmas.  This is my take:

  • The quality of the items at Banana Republic is very good for the (sale) price (or the prices are very good for the quality).  This is especially true for the work clothing.  Casual clothing the quality was a little more variable, but there was some nice stuff in there.  
  • The styles are nicely updated, but still quite classic, as you would expect for Banana Republic.  The fits are mostly traditional Banana Republic fits - so if you have hips, Banana Republic will work great.  Their newer Sloan fit works well for women with my shape - i.e. women shaped like boys.  This was a pleasant surprise since for many years Banana Republic just didn't have any bottoms that would fit me. 
  • They have great suits for amazing prices!  If you need a new suit, check out Banana Republic.  

  • At full price, the prices are only so-so.  But the store frequently has "everything in the store 40% off" promotions.  So keep an eye out for one of those.
  • Their sizes often do not go down very far.  The size 0 was often too big for me, and they don't have a 00 in many styles.  There's a reason the pics below do not include a fabulous new Banana Republic suit - they were all too big for me!
  • At least at the store I went to, the checkout process was painfully slow.  They have to often manually put in sale prices.  If they have convinced you to order something online (different size/color) that they didn't have in store, that takes forever - much longer than if you just go online later and buy it.  And so on.  These are issues related to the systems that corporate has put in place, so I'm guessing these problems will arise at other stores as well.  It was over half an hour, and closer to 45 minutes, from the time I got in line to when I stepped away from the checkout desk.  
I ended up getting a couple pairs of pants, a couple tops, and one ridiculously stylish blazer, but I probably won't go back for a while.  Here are some pics:

(Pants, shirt, blazer: banana republic. Pants are Sloan fit size 0, shirt is non-iron slim fit satin finish size 2, blazer is 00p.  Shoes: Nordstrom, and I bought a second pair in my size because I love these so much!)

(Pants: banana republic, Sloan fit size 0. The fabric on these is amazing. It has great texture and weight but is still a little stretchy and very comfortable. Blouse: New York and company. Shoes so old I can't remember, but totally work for the girly menswear look. I also paired this with my red blazer from Ann Taylor)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Half Marathon Race Report

I did it!  I ran a half marathon!

I'm pretty happy with my time too: 2:05:52.  SO, let me give you the full report.

I started training early because I knew January, the last month before the race, would get crazy for me with teaching and conferences.  October, when I was training for the 10k, I ran 40 miles.  November, starting to train for the half, I ran 80.  December I ran 120.

Then, sure enough, January turned out to be crazy.  It was actually even worse than I expected.  I came down with a cold, it turned into a sinus infection, when that finally got better I got the flu.  All together I was basically out of running for 3 weeks (luckily with 2 good runs in between the sinus infection and flu), and when I finally felt good enough to run - I had less than 2 weeks left before the race.  The last week before a longer race like this needs to be a "taper" week with less running, to let the legs rest up.  That left me with just a few days to do some longer runs, and try to rebuild some of that lost fitness.  Obviously it wasn't enough.  So I wasn't sure what to expect going into the race Sunday.  I just crossed my fingers and hoped that my November/December training had built a solid enough base of fitness, and that my few runs in January and February had been enough to maintain some of that base.

Race Morning:
I have two running buddies that I normally race with.  One opted out of the half because she felt the mileage would be too tough on her knees - which is probably the sane approach.  But she offered to drive me and other-running-buddy to the race!  That was *awesome.*  We didn't have to stress about driving and parking, or try to walk super-far and get tired before the race even started.  So all three of us met at my house before 7am, and drove over to the race.  She dropped us off, and race-buddy and I made our way to the starting area.

The Starting Line:
The Surf City Marathon and Half Marathon is a huge race.  Last year there were 20,000 runners.  I think this year was slightly smaller, but still over 15,000.  So you can just imagine - over 12,000 runners all lined up to start the half marathon together.  To make it work, they have "corrals" - areas for different bib numbers, which are based on peoples' self-reported estimated finish times.  They start a corral, wait two minutes, and then start the next corral.  And each corral has pacers to help people in the group stick to their estimated finish time if they want to.  My running buddy suggested we start with the 2:15 pacers - the ones targeting a finish time of two hours 15 minutes, and I was okay with that. 

The corral-start is a good idea.  But it turns out it breaks down completely at Surf City.  We didn't realize this, and my running buddy and I lined up pretty much where we were supposed to - in corral 5.  It turns out we really should have put ourselves in corral 2.  Instead, we ended up having to weave through thousands of runners and walkers who were much slower than us.  This was tiring and slowed us down.  Lesson learned for next year.  

Miles 1-4 (9:38, 9:24, 9:55, 9:25):
The first couple of miles are a straight run along Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). 
Every race I tell my running buddy "Okay, let's start slow and pace ourselves.  Let's stick with our pacers," and then the moment I cross the starting line, I'm weaving through the crowd passing annoyingly slow people.  Every time I pass someone I speed up a little to do so, and I never slow back down!  So of course instead of the planned 10:15 pace, I ended up going 9:40 or faster.  Oops.  But my running buddy kept up, and eventually we got to an area with enough open space that we could run next to each other and chat a little, which is always fun.  

Just past mile 1, we ran past my street, and my husband and kids were there to cheer me on.  It was so amazing seeing them there.  The photographer got a good picture of me waving to them as I ran past.

At mile 3 we hit our first water stop, and I got completely stopped up.  Someone fell next to me, slipping on the dropped cups.  People were stopping (stopping completely, not walking) at the station, and I got surrounded by people standing still.  It was a mess.  You can see that mile 3 was 30 seconds slower than the miles before and after - and I think that awful water stop was a big reason why.  Subsequent water stops went better though because I passed more of those runners who probably hadn't run many races before and didn't know how to handle the water stops, and I myself got better at doing a quick enter to get the cup and a quick exit back out into the moving stream of runners.  This is another thing that will go better, I think, if I place myself in an earlier (more appropriate) corral next time.

After the water stop, the course turns inland for a couple miles.  My running buddy and I ran mostly together, though the narrow course and crowds forced us to split to weave often. 

The Hill (miles 5-6, 9:02, 9:17):
Around mile 4 we hit the only real hill on the course.  That's when I lost my running buddy.  I powered up the hill - I think it's all that running with the toddlers in the stroller, but I just cannot go slow up a hill.  I ran shoulder to shoulder with another women, which I joked about half way up the hill.  And I kept that speed up at the top.  I picked up even more speed on the way down the other side of the hill, and kept that speed up for another mile.  I passed a lot of people during these two miles.  Most people slow down on a hill, not speed up.  And even on the flat, my faster pace carried me past a lot of folks.  It was after this that I finally had a little more space to run.  There was still plenty of weaving - but it wasn't constant anymore.

Miles 7-12 (9:48, 10:01, 9:22, 9:45, 10:01, 9:57):
Around mile 6 we turned back onto PCH, and that's when I slowed down.  I suddenly realized that we were only 6 miles in, 7 miles left, and I wasn't quite sure whether my legs could keep up the fast pace.  So for a little over a mile, I ran at a 10 minute pace.  Looking back, I could have run this part faster - but my uncertainty was understandable given January, and if I was going to make an error at that point in the race, going too slow was probably a better error to make than going too fast.  Next time though.... :)

Then I hit an unexpected treat: Live bands!  Miles 7-9 had three surf bands playing.  They were awesome.  So upbeat and happy, such a perfect fit for the beach-front course - I couldn't help but speed back up for a couple miles.  (This also made me think that music and headphones might help me to keep up a faster pace for longer... I will have to give it a try.)

After those surf bands were behind me, I started feeling the fatigue of having run reasonably fast for 9 miles.  I think this is where my awful January affected me most - I just didn't have the endurance I would have had a month earlier, or the confidence to push myself with 3 miles left. 

One thing that surprised me though - very few people were passing me.  Even though I had slowed down, I guess that either I was still far enough back corral-wise, or others had fatigued just as much or more, but only a few people passed me and I was continuing to pass others.  That may have contributed to my slower pace, honestly.  I'm competitive enough that if a lot of people were passing me, I might just have sped up!  Tired legs or not.  ;) 

That last 1.1 (9:06, 8:29, but I turned the Garmin off late...):
At mile 12, I passed my family again!  And man did that kick me into gear.  I caught up to the 2:10 pacers, which I had been hoping to do.  Since they were in an earlier corral, that meant I had cut at least 7 minutes off of the 2:15 pacers that I had started with.  They of course were chatty and happy, so when I told them "I was hoping to catch up with you!" one replied "You did!  Now pass us!"  Between the high I was feeling from seeing my kids, and that little extra encouragement, knowing that the finish was somewhat close, and wanting to put everything I had into it, I ran that last 1.1 miles at about a 9 minute pace. 

Happy me after passing my family again:

And seriously running me:  

I finished in 2:05:52 (official chip time), and I feel like I really ran the race well.  I had fun.  I pushed myself and ran hard (at least in places).  I finished feeling tired but strong.  And I didn't hurt myself. I even had the energy to throw my arms up in the air at the finish.

Another runner and I took turns taking pictures of each other with the finish line behind us. Then we got ushered through, and out of, "the chute" which is the area after the finish line where they hand out water and food for the runners.  I ended up vending my way back to a medical tent to get some gatorade!  The heat, plus my usual low blood pressure, made Gatorade a necessity for me - I was getting dizzy without it.  I always drink it after runs when I get home.  But there wasn't any in the chute - only at the med tents.  So I sat and relaxed with gatorade for a few minutes, found my running buddy, and went home.

Each runner could get 2 free Sam Adams beers at the beer tent after the race.  I do love my Sam Adams.  But at that point I really just wanted food, gatorade, a good stretch, and a good shower.  My running buddy was in even worse shape, so it was clear she wouldn't be sticking around.  So we did the smart thing and went home (and were in good shape to really enjoy the Super Bowl party later that day). 

It was an amazing experience.  And I can't wait to run another half marathon.  

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Cropped suits

I always get compliments on this suit.  The slim ankle-length pants are very modern.  The wool is soft and drapes nicely, but still has a little structure to it.  And overall the suit looks very professional, but also in style.  I always try to pair it with largely-neutral accessories to carry the line of the pants down to the ground despite their being cropped.  This helps the suit seem more lengthening, and not too trendy. 

(Suit and belt: J-crew factory - this is one of the ones where I bought the pants in 2 sizes, so now I'm down to the smaller size pants with the same blazer.  Blouse (silk) - White house black market.  Shoes - Me Too (a pretty cheap brand, but the quality on these has been amazing) from Macy's.)

This is the more statement-making cropped pant-suit I own.  The fabric is more unusual given it's pattern and heavier-weight stiffer wool.  The pants are cropped higher.  And there are the elbow patches to add just a little extra statement.  I think I always pair this suit with a black blouse and black pumps - never anything else.  The suit is such a statement by itself, that I let it carry the outfit.  I think a white button-down might work too, but I haven't tried it yet.  (And I have enough different black tops and black shoes that I haven't actually repeated a pairing yet!)

A suit like this is a little too fashion-forward for more conservative settings in my opinion.  But if you don't have too strict a dress code it can be a really fun variation.  Just keep in mind that the shorter crop will make your legs look shorter.  I'm okay with it, but not everyone would be.

These shoes are so comfortable!  Since I'm teaching two 3-hour classes in a single day now, I am relying more on my most comfortable shoes.  But I have to say - these shoes are also looking a bit beaten up!  I should probably get rid of them, but I just haven't been able to find another pair that's as comfortable.  In the meantime, I polish them up as best I can, and just hope that the wear and tear doesn't show too much.

(Suit: J-crew factory, blouse: Express portofino slim fit (they have a regular fit and a slim fit), shoes: Bandolino, Belt... I can't remember - totally has to be replaced too!)

Monday, February 8, 2016

Date night - scotch tasting

I had fun with the little details in this outfit. The dress was also a perfect balance of sexy and sophisticated without being over the top.  (Skinny mirror was being extra lengthening apparently.)

I got a new evening purse!  It's quite functional, and I think I will get a lot of use out of it. I love the cute bow/t logo. Tory burch does an amazing job of making the logo visible but still elegant. I'm a convert.