Wednesday, December 25, 2013

My Christmas Gift: A New Running Partner

My $3.00 Christmas Tree
You may notice that I have not posted in quite a while. In fact, the last post (embarrassingly) is from Thanksgiving. That is because although I have been incredibly busy, there has not been a lot of running-related stuff going on in my life.  However, most of what I have been doing has been with an eye toward good running in 2014.

As many of you know, I started out a few months ago on what I had thought was going to be a year-long running adventure. Unfortunately things did not go as planned. My incredibly wonderful and tolerant husband, who is usually 100% behind my crazy adventures, decided that he did not feel good about going on the road for a year without a permanent base to call home. Plans changed, and we found ourselves buying a home in central Florida.

The new house is fantastic.  It is in a neighborhood with miles and miles of quiet roads, both paved and dirt, to train on. There are even a few slightly rolling hills.  A 45 mile Rails to Trails bike trail passes right through our community about a half mile from the house. There are also miles and miles of great trail running, as well as three rivers for tubing and kayaking and fishing. Plus it has a pool (triathlons in the future?).  In short, it is a great place to be.

There was just one thing missing.  I left all my running friends in California and Michigan. I had no one to run with. What I really wanted for Christmas was a new running partner...

I was not sure if I had been good enough for Santa to grant my wish, but apparently I had.  Meet my new running partner:

Merry Christmas from Bandit!!!
He is a six year old Australian Shepherd with a very rugged and impressive sounding name: Timberline Bandit Virginia Sly Hand. We call him Bandit for short.  Bandit came from a farm in North Carolina and is adjusting to life here in Florida with his new family.

This is not my first running dog. I had a great running partner named Rio who accompanied me on many runs, including some snowy runs in Michigan. Unfortunately, his hips no longer permit the running that he used to do (he is almost 11 now), so he just goes out on cool-down walks with me around the neighborhood. It is time for him to step aside and let the younger generation take over.

My trusty Rio
Bandit has already started his job as my new running partner.  Bandit likes to train twice a day. I am not up for that yet (since my running has been pretty hit and miss for the last few months), so we have been doing a running and walking mix, generally running a few miles in the morning and then walking another mile or so in the evening.  

Just like any new running partners, Bandit and I have to adjust to each others idiosyncrasies.  We are in that getting acquainted stage of our running relationship.  Bandit is more a “stop and smell the roses” kind of runner who is prone to forays off the beaten path. He has been known to cross the road (right in front of me) when something interesting catches his eye.  I, on the other hand, have the annoying habit of wanting to run a consistent pace and the desire to stay on one side of the road (and on both feet). We are negotiating on the above matters, and I am sure in a few weeks, we will be running together like a well-oiled machine, but for now a good run is any one where I manage to stay on my feet for the whole run and where we only need to stop a few times for an interesting new scent.

Over the next few months, Bandit and I will work together to try to revive the stalled running (and writing) routine.  In the process, I am sure that I will learn a lot about running with a dog. Of course, what I learn, I will pass on to you.

How about it? Do any of you run with a dog?  

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

5 Running Things I Am Thankful For

1. I am not injured: This one is at the top of the list for me and probably is for most runners who have ever been injured. So many of my friends are in various stages of injury recovery right now, and through their postings on Facebook, I am constantly reminded of how much it sucks to be injured and not able to run. At least for now, I am thankful that I am not injured and promise to remind myself of that every time I am mentally complaining about a run. I may be out of shape, and I may have to start that long and painful climb back into fitness, but thankfully, I am healthy enough to do that. Never take it for granted!

2. My running friends: This is one of the areas that has grown in importance in my life. I am kind of a loner. It may not seem like it to look at me now, but it is true. Until I started running, I could almost count on one hand the number of friends that I had. When I started running in CA over a decade ago, I was welcomed into the running community there via of the Loma Linda Lopers and later the Redlands Runegades.

I met some really special people who have become very important in my life. I am thankful for their influence on a beginning runner and for their continued friendship and support. So many great connections were made, and so many tough life issues were shared and worked through on those many runs. I miss them more often than they might imagine. Thank goodness for Facebook which allows me to sometimes feel that I am not so far away and that I am right there with them again.

When I moved to MI, I had no idea that I would meet another great group of running friends. The Playmakers community there was very welcoming, as was the ultrarunning community I was able to connect with through Running Fit. Although these are competitors in the MI running store business, they are both wonderful resources for the MI running community.  Team Playmakers is wonderfully supportive, and without the connections I made through that group, I probably would never have made it through three years in the cold north. I will never forget the first winter running up there with Corey, Paul, Mike, Jessica, and Dee.

As time progressed, I met more and more wonderful people from that group, Kate, Geoff, Lynn, Janet, Anna … there are too many to list. Then I joined the Playmaker’s Master’s Women’s Racing Team and met whole new group of wonderful people. My dear friend, Ruth, who is the leader of our crazy group is one I am most thankful for. I am also thankful that I had the opportunity to become friends with Sharon Dolan before she was taken from us.

Ruth and me being mud dogs!

What is impressive and another thing I am thankful for is the diversity of people I have become friends with through running.  I am thankful that my running friends are made up of people from a variety of ages, backgrounds, races, occupations, religions, and interests. Each one of you has enriched my life and my running in different ways.  That is definitely something to be thankful for.

3. The running experiences:  Running has given me so many moments I am thankful for. Some of these were moments where I learned things about myself, such as in the middle of my first 50 miler or when I twisted my knee and was one of the last finishers at Green Swamp.

Others were moments with friends.  Nothing will ever replace those early morning runs down San Timeteo Canyon, first with Bill Wall and the Lopers, and later with Kimball, Frannie, and the Runegades.

Kimball, Frannie, and me flying down San Timeteo Canyon

The roadtrip to Leading Ladies Marathon, despite its problems, was one of my favorite running experiences ever.

The Leading Ladies

And, I am especially thankful for my equally crazy running/walking/biking friend Leslie who has been my companion and tent-mate on so many excellent adventures.

Leslie and me on a biking adventure!

Still others were the time spent in beautiful places: running through the Nelder Grove of Giant Sequoias on the Shadow of the Giants trail, running along the beach in Carpinteria then up through the avocado grove, the view from the top of Mt. Baden Powell (or countless other views from the Pacific Crest Trail), the view from the top of the trail at Dances With Dirt Devil’s Lake, and the simple beauty I found on any number of other trail runs.

Nelder Grove at Shadow of the Giants
There are also the experiences meeting so many of my running heroes and inspirations: Lorraine Moller, Scott Jurek, Lynn Jennings, BartYasso, Dick Beardsley. Each one of them was so gracious and had so much insight to share about running and life. In how many sports can the average runner have the chance to interact with his or her heroes? How many of them would actually let you hold their Olympic medal!!??

With Lynn Jennings

4. My coaching clients: I have to give a shout-out here for one of the newest things I am thankful for this year: my three new coaching clients. Earlier this year, I got certified as a Road Runner Club of America coach and opened a coaching business here on the blog. I have been a teacher my entire life, but because of one bad decision 30 years ago, I have been teaching English (which I do also love) instead of in my true area of passion, which is physical education/kinesiology/exercise science.  Opening the coaching business finally allowed me to follow that dream in a small way.

However, you can’t be a coach if you don’t have athletes. Thankfully my dear friend Kate was willing to take a chance on me and turn her training over to me as my first client. She has been an amazing athlete to work with! She is such a hard worker, so intelligent and coachable, and her results have been amazing. It is so rewarding to be able to be a partner in her success.

Me and Kate just after she scored her marathon PR! 

Since then, I have picked up two more clients who have become very special to me, Angela and Missy. Like Kate, these two ladies have been amazing to work with.  It has been so exciting to see them progress and improve. They have such great attitudes and, like Kate, are so eager to work hard and learn. I love watching how supportive they are with each other and what a little “team” has been created. I am thankful for their trust and enthusiasm.  

5. Sense of hope and possibility: The final running thing I am thankful for is the sense of hope and possibility that has always surrounded the sport for me. Have you ever stood at the start of a marathon? If so, you know how much hope and possibility the event represents. It is the hope for growth and change. The possibility of doing things one never thought they could (What? Run 100 miles? Me? I don’t think so? …. Well maybe …. Okay, I will give it a try!). 

Is there anything more hopeful than a runner sitting down in the winter to plan their racing calendar for the next year?  Each race considered brings the possibility of new experiences, new challenges, new triumphs, and new friends. Once the events have been chosen, the training plan is laid out – again so much hope and possibility. That is one of the most addictive parts for me, one of the most important aspects of running.

I am also thankful that running has taught me to keep a hopeful attitude in the face of despair. A bad race? Oh well. It happens. There is always another one on the horizon. Jump back in there and start preparing. This little bit of perspective I learned from running has served me well in other areas of life.  

As Thanksgiving approaches, I invite you to head out on a run and contemplate what running things you are thankful for. If you get a chance post a comment here or over on the Facebook page to share what you are thankful for in your running life. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Changes to the Western States 100 Qualifying Standards: The Best Laid Plans...

In an earlier post (“Do What You Love… Love What You Do”),  I had discussed my decision to recommit to trail running and to my desire to pursue my number one bucket list item, running the Western States 100.  In the aftermath of that choice, a barrage of other choices followed, which ultimately led to us leaving for a year on the road for me to pursue my ultrarunning dreams.

I had carefully laid out a year’s worth of plans that involved qualifying for Western States early in the year in March in Kentucky at the Land Between the Lakes 50 mile race, on a course I was familiar with and comfortable with. The attempt early in the year was so that if I did not qualify on the first try that I would be able to follow that up later in the year with another attempt. If I did qualify, I was planning on a 100k, 100 miler or 24 hr race later in the year (still to be determined) to help get me ready in case I was lucky enough to get in.

Then, in late October, some news came out on the WesternStates 100 site that changed everything: their qualifying standards were changing! They subtitled the article with the statement “Keep it fair. Keep it Simple. Raise the Bar.”  Starting with the 2015 race (the earliest one I would be able to qualify for), 50 mile races were no longer accepted as qualifiers for the Western States 100. Entrants for the lottery now must qualify by running one of the approved 100k or 100 mile races.

They gave some pretty good justifications for the changes.  Because of the growing popularity of ultras and the draw of the Western States, the number of applicants has been steadily increasing. Because of their agreement with the Forest Service, however, the number of applicants must stay the same. Thus, the chances of getting selected in the lottery have been plummeting. Here is what the site has to say about this:

The chances of being one of the lucky 270 drawn last year, with only a single ticket in the bucket, was a scant 7.9%. With the likelihood of continued increase in demand – which parallels the growth of the sport worldwide – if we continue with our current standards and races, the chances of getting selected in the lottery will soon be below 5%. We don’t believe that is good for the race or the runners who get a qualifying time, enter the lottery, and then get rejected in the lottery, some year after year after year.

I do see what they are saying. By requiring the 100k or 100 miler, the number of entrants will probably drop, and that should help with the long wait times for entry. The site does not say what percent of the qualifiers each year come to the lottery through the 50 mile races, but it is probably quite a few. 

There is a lot of discussion of the changes on the ultrarunning discussion boards and blogs. It appears that most ultrarunners support the changes and feel that it is very reasonable to ask runners to have qualified at a 100 mile race of comparable difficulty before entering.  Most ultrarunners are very much against the “bumper sticker” approach to ultrarunning, where people rush to run distances to collect the sticker for the back of their cars. Many feel that to participate in a race like Western States runners should have shown at least enough dedication to the sport to be willing to run a 100 miler to prepare. In addition, most ultrarunners know at least one person who worked for years to be ready to make a serious attempt at Western States, qualified, and then waited another few years to get through the lottery process (or are still waiting) while others they know of, who are new to ultrarunning, possibly only having run one or two 50ks and the qualifying 50 miler, were lucky enough to get in on a first try. There really is something about that which just seems wrong.

I also support the change, although it does throw a monkey wrench of sorts into my plans since I will now have to prepare for and run a 100 miler this year to qualify (almost all of the 100ks are international events). However, I will take that over the possibility of qualifying and waiting years to actually get in.

There are 63 races on the qualifier list for 2015. I will need additional time to prepare and feel a race before August would be totally out of the question.  So now I am agonizing over choices…

I am leaning toward the Hallucination 100 at Woodstock. It has a lot of advantages for me: I am familiar with the trails there; I have a good support system in MI; and I really like the evening start so that I am running at night while I am fresh.  

Once I decide, which will probably be sometime in the next few weeks, I will backtrack to try to figure out my racing schedule to prepare.  Anyone want to join me at Woodstock?

P.S. While I wait, I am getting in some awesome trail running at Ross Prairie State Park in FL. Read about it on the Roaming, Running, Writing blog. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Runner Hits The Road

As you may have noticed, I have not been very active on the blog lately. That is because I have not been very active with running generally. Why the inactivity?  Is it an injury? A lack of motivation?  It is neither of those. I have been very busy planning and setting into action my next running adventure.

Many years ago I saw a little blurb in either Runner’s World or Running Times about a guy living in his camper and traveling around the country racing.  Immediately I knew that I had to do that someday.  Well, about ten years later, that someday is here.

Over the past five years, I have been putting a plan into action, little by little. I needed to make myself mobile. I started the process by changing my occupation so that I could teach online from anywhere. I worked hard to put together the money to buy a trailer.  And, perhaps most important, I found a wonderful partner who was just crazy enough to think it sounded like something he would like to try too.

Our original plan did not involve cutting the umbilical cord completely.  We were planning on living in Michigan and just traveling during the winter months.  That changed when I found out that I just could not stay in Michigan.  Although I love the running community and trails there and have made many wonderful friends, I just could not handle the grayness and the cold that are a major part of the Michigan experience.  When we decided it was time to move, I knew that the time was right for this adventure.

Any hesitations I might have had were erased when I talked to my friend Donna. Besides being an almost 50 states marathoner (and the author of the really awesome race report here), she and her husband had already done exactly what I hoped to do, spent a year on the road in their RV traveling around the country and running.  She said it was an awesome experience! How could I not give it a try?

So, in July we put our house up for sale, started packing, and today we are on the road. Our plan is to travel around the country for the next year, running and racing in as many locations as we can manage.

We do not have a solid itinerary.  I want to be flexible and let serendipity have a hand in our decisions.  However, we do have a rough plan for the year that involves as highlights Christmas in Washington D.C. with my grandson, a month in California visiting my family and my old running friends, spectating at the Western States 100, Leadville 100, and U.S.A Pro Cycling Challenge, and returning to MI next September for my first 100 mile race in Hell and another year of pacing at Capital City River Run. My goal is to find as many trails and do as many races as I can along the way.  

Because I am a writer, I also wanted to blog about the trip. I toyed with the idea of just posting here, but decided that I wanted to continue with this blog as is rather than making major changes.

Because the majority of the posts will be more travel log than running related that I would set up a separate blog for anyone who might be interested in reading about our experiences and following our travels. 

It is called “Roaming...Running...Writing” and is available at

I really hope you will visit regularly to follow my adventures (and misadventures). Who knows, maybe I can inspire you to follow your own running dream.  

Friday, October 18, 2013

Guest Race Report: Michigan Runners at Columbia River Power Marathon (and "marathon" wine tasting in Walla Walla, Washington)

I know I have been very inactive here on the blog lately, but there is a very good (and exciting) reason for this that I will be revealing in an upcoming post. Thank goodness I have friends who are doing fun things and having running adventures who are willing to write guest posts.

The race report here is for one of my friends and Playmakers Racing Team teammates, Donna Swanson. Donna is amazing!! She is a marathoner who is a member of the Fifty States Marathon Club and who is closing in on completing the amazing accomplishment of running a marathon in each of the fifty states!!  (She is also my hero and role model for another reason, which you will be hearing about in that upcoming post I promised above.)

 Recently she and a group of other Michigan runners traveled to Umatilla, Oregon to run the Columbia River Power Marathon. Being a very civilized group and well-rounded group (one cannot live by running alone), they extended their trip to include some wine-tasting in Walla Walla, Washington.  An alert reader, Ruth Thelen, heard of their adventures and thought others might like to hear the story. Donna agreed, and here it is. So slip off your running shoes, grab a glass of wine, and enjoy!

The trip to Walla Walla, Washington (one hour away from Umatilla) was GREAT!   We flew to Pasco, WA Thursday before the marathon and easily met up with Karen and Jon Lewis at the tiny Tri-Cities Airport (they flew in on an earlier flight) and shared a rental car.  It was about an hour drive to Walla Walla from the airport, so, of course, we stopped at two wineries on route.  John and I had been to Walla Walla a couple times when we lived in Montana and discovered that we loved their wines!  

After our winetasting stops, we checked into the Hampton Inn and Suites.  The CharlesSmith Winery had live music that night, so we sat outside enjoying the music and the food truck there that served bbq food.  As we were leaving to head back to the Hampton, we ran into an optometrist friend from Billings who was in Walla Walla with his wife and friends to do some tasting!  Small world!

Friday we did a 5 mile walk to check out downtown Walla Walla.  We visited wineries on “Southside” Walla Walla that day and John and I shared a tasting at each, as did Karen and Jon.  All the wineries we visited were beautiful and all very different from each other.  Grace and Tony Gilmore met up with us at Sleightof Hand Winery (they flew in Friday).  The six of us then visited a few more wineries.  Basel Cellars was the most beautiful one…all log and stone structure, pretty grounds.  We bought some cheeses, olives, hummus there and enjoyed snacks out on their patio.  That night we ate in downtown Walla Walla at T. Maccarone’s which was excellent!

Saturday we were up early for the hour drive to Umatilla.  We picked up our race packets (no expo) at the Desert River Inn motel and met up with Gary Haf and Brad Behrman, who along with Grace were running the half marathon.  Karen, Jon, John and I all ran the full marathon.  There were also relay teams, an 8K race and a 50K race.  All races began at the same time, and it was a very small field even with all of us starting together.  The race director announced that they had runners from all over and specifically mentioned “Michigan” which brought cheers from our Northville Road Runners group!  

Fairly early in the race, we crossed the Columbia River via the McNary Dam (normally not open to the public) into Washington and ran about 4 miles in Washington.  Race shirts have “I ran the dam race” on the back!  The Washington section was mostly along fairly busy roads.  We saw (and smelled!) a truck filled with onions…Walla Walla is known for its Walla Walla onions!   

We crossed back into Oregon around mile 6 on a bridge over a busy interstate with cars and truck roaring alongside us.  The first 10 miles of the course were on pavement and quite hilly.  Grace and I ran together for those 10 miles; Brad was with us for a short time and Jon Lewis just slightly ahead of us.  We spotted a mule deer trotting alongside the river.   Grace peeled off around the 10 mile mark to head for the finish of the half and totally missed the section of the marathon course that Karen, John and I didn’t care for at all! 

We got on the Lewis and Clark trail along the Columbia River which is billed as “very scenic”.  It is neat seeing the river and there were rocky bluffs to the other side of us.  The trail was covered with fairly large and loose gravel as well as some sandy parts, which made it difficult to find decent footing.  In a couple sections, they had recently dumped fresh gravel over old, so those sections were particularly difficult to traverse.  I enjoy hard packed dirt trails, but that’s not what this was!   I had held a decent pace for the first 12 miles, then watched my pace get slower and slower as I weaved back and forth trying to find the best footing.  

Runners got very spread out on the trail, as there were only 31 total finishers in the marathon!  “Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” came to mind!  There were hardly any spectators.  The aid stations were enthusiastic, but we could have used a couple more as it got warm during the second half.  The worst part about the gravel trail section was its length!  We entered the gravel just beyond the 10 mile mark and the turnaround for the marathon was just beyond the 17 mile mark, then we went back on this same trail for about 13 miles total.  Before the turnaround I had already started alternating walking and jogging.  The walking spans started to last longer than the running spans after the 17 mile mark.   Avid trail runners or ultra-marathoners may have enjoyed this part of the course, but not me!  

Shortly after I made the turnaround, I saw Karen and we stopped to give each other a hug.  She said “I hate this gravel!” and I echoed her sentiments!  A few minutes later I saw John and he said the same thing.  Other marathoners I talked to also complained about the footing and gravel.  

Just before the 23 mile mark, Karen caught up to me.  I handed off the rental car key to her as I know she is a much faster walker than I am and that’s all I was doing by that point…walking.  I was thrilled to finally get off the gravel, only to encounter the longest, steepest hill on the course…about a mile of continuous uphill.  The last two miles of the course were pretty flat, but I still walked most of it.  I did pass two women walking together at about mile 25 complaining that the gravel had totally done them in!  I asked if they were as ready for this to be done as I was and they said “YES!”  As I passed them, one said “Please don’t tell me that this is your first marathon!”  I told her that it wasn’t, but left it at that!

There were a handful of people at the finish line and I was given my medal which has a beer bottle opener attached to it!  They did no age group awards (which I guess is understandable given the tiny number of finishers) – awards went to places first through third overall only.  They had touted a “baked potato bar” as post-race refreshments, but there was nothing left by the time I finished!  

Jon Lewis, however, was my hero of the day!  Not only did he run pretty darn well (4:37), he negotiated with the motel to pay for a room for two hours so that the four of us could take much needed showers after the race!  Karen had finished in 5:11, me in 5:19 and John in 5:57.  My slowest in MANY years!  Despite our pitiful finishing times, John and I both finished first in our age groups (out of two finishers in each!).  Karen and Jon both took 2nd in their age groups, so we viewed ourselves as age group winners even though there were no age group awards!  We enjoyed hitting 3 more wineries after the race on the way back to our hotel in Walla Walla!  The Gilmores provided an appetizer spread in their suite, and we ordered pizzas from Sweet Basil’s for dinner!  Took group photos in our race t-shirts!

Sunday brought a walk on nice trails at Lake Bennington, then MORE wineries!  Canoe Ridge was probably my favorite that day.  Gary and Brad joined us for winetasting, then later in the day Bill Moran and Rhonda Emery met up with us (they had run a race in Washington the day we ran Oregon).  We finished off Sunday with a stop at ThreeRivers Winery (beautiful!) and sat on their patio.  They had a FREE 3-hole golf course that John, Jon, Brad and Gary enjoyed!  The group of 10 of us had dinner Sunday night at Whitehouse Crawford – excellent restaurant!

Monday Grace, Karen and I did some yoga while the guys went for a walk.  Hit a couple wineries in Oregon that day as Walla Walla is very close to the WA/OR border.  I loved Zerba – in a charming LOG tasting room!  (Wonder why I liked that one…because we live in a log home??)  We ended up doing a “marathon” of wineries over the 5 days…26 different wineries to match the 26 miles we ran!  We ordered Asian carry outs for dinner and shared them in the Hampton dining room.  Celebrated Karen’s birthday that day too!

We flew home on Tuesday with Karen and Jon.  Marathon #86 and state #47 finished!  John is now at 64 total marathons and 40 states.  It was a really fun trip with great friends! 

Donna Swanson

Quincy, Michigan

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Check this out!!

As some of you may or may not know, last winter I took an RRCA Coaching Certification course, became a certified coach, and added a coaching services business to the blog.  Things have been going well with my first few clients. 

I just picked up a new client last week who, besides being a runner and a delightful person, is also a blogger. I am honored to be mentioned in her blog post for this week, so I thought I would show it off:  If you would like to check it out click here.

If you would like to look into the idea of hiring me as a coach, please check out the Coaching Services page of this blog. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Guest Race Report: Michigan Wine Trail Half Marathon

Not a running pic, but definitely a great pic of Beth!
I really love a guest post, as you can probably tell from the number of them we have had on the blog. I will often ask people to write on races that they have run, especially when I am not doing anything interesting myself. However, I especially love it when someone contacts me because there is something that he or she wants to say and a story that needs to be told. That is what my friend Beth Johns did with this report.

As a writing teacher I know that writing can be really good therapy, helping us process our experiences and gain perspective. Beth, being a very wise librarian, as well as a smart runner, knew that too. We all have bad races, and we can all relate to what Beth went through. She definitely can tell a good story. Enjoy!! 

Sometimes you embark on consistent training and things are going pretty well. Until race day, that is. I have had a disappointing race season this summer, and I can only hope it gets better in the fall.  It’s certainly shaking my confidence as a runner like it’s never been shook before.

I began training for a half marathon training this summer. The half is by far my favorite distance and the one that got me started with Team P back in 2005.  I’ve done many—I can’t even tell you how many. I’ve finished most of them in about 2:30, which is fine since I don’t train to run faster, just stronger. But in the last year or so I’ve finished around 2:45. Mostly, this was planned since the race was worked into my marathon training and therefore, a slower pace.  I have reasons for the other slowdowns, but that might take up another guest post.

Those who run with me know I’m a big believer in Hal Higdon’s training plans and incorporate them with Jeff Galloway’s run/walk/run method. I’ve been using Hal’s intermediate plan, which incorporates weekly speed work and shorter mid-week runs, weekly long runs and a few optional mid-distance races. My speed work has gone well, once I understood what I was supposed to do (thank you Lori!) and I usually complete my mid-week runs, in mileage if not days, one strength session per week and of course the long runs.

In May, I started training for the Michigan Wine Trail Half Marathon.  I heard about this race on Facebook. It’s a road race that took place on August 25 in Baroda, MI and this was its second year. If you haven’t heard of Baroda, you aren’t alone. I hadn’t either until I Googled it. It’s a tiny town in the Stevensville/Benton Harbor area. There are a lot of wineries nearby, many of which you probably heard of (the location host, Baroda Founders Wine Cellar, Tabor Hill, and others). It’s a pretty part of the state once you are off I94, and one that I haven’t paid much attention to in the past. But it sounded like fun, kind of small (500 runners), and you got a wine glass at the end along with a taste. What fun!

One of the mid-distance runs in the plan was a 10K around the July 4th holiday in Whitmore Lake. It was a bit humid, but not terrible. However, I started out way too fast—10 something per mile. I kept that up for about 3.5 miles, then slowed considerably. I’m good at that pace for a 5K, but apparently not a 10K. That taught me to start much slower, even if the race is “just” 6.2 miles. My finish time was terrible, even for slow poke me—about 78 minutes. I was aiming for 70 minutes. Oh well, it was a training run and you learn from it.

The next race in the plan was a 15K a few weeks later. I couldn’t find one in Michigan, so I found a 10K that took place on Belle Isle and decided to do 3 miles just ahead of the race start. What a nasty, humid day—I was drenched after my pre-race 3 miles. But I started my race, did well for about 4.5 miles, then that was it. I did more fast walking than planned. So another really bad finish—79 minutes! I told myself that running 3 miles in 35 minutes just before race start probably did it, plus the humidity. Still . . . it shakes you and makes you doubt yourself, but I kept in mind that it’s only a training run.

I completed my other long runs leading up to race day, but sometimes not ending in the exhilaration I want to feel. I just told myself, “race day will be better.” In the past, my poor training runs had usually resulted in a good race.  

The big weekend finally came. I drove to Baroda on Saturday, picked up my race packet, and then drove the race course because the description on the website said it was “challenging” with few details and I like to get an idea of what I’m going to be doing, if I can. I read about a “big” hill at mile 8.  I noted many rolling hills on my drive—not too steep, but a lot of them. Think of a loop of the Mt. Hope Cemetery times six. The big hill looked challenging, but I approach hills by doing my best and just walking if it’s too hard. I always run downhill at a race. I can usually make up time somewhere else. It crossed my mind that I should dial down my expectations, but the course overall didn’t seem too bad. I planned on a 2:30 finish, give or take 5 minutes.

Course Profile -- Definitely some hills there

The next morning I got to the start line, felt good, well hydrated and fed, no aches, and was pretty confident about myself. I started out at what I thought was a slow, comfortable pace. Mile one was 11:21 according to my watch—a little fast, but not too bad. I was aiming for 11:30. Then the hills started. It felt like a lot of up and down and up and down on long country roads (2 to 2.5 miles each with a few shorter ones) with some flat spots and declines. I try to incorporate a hill workout once a week, so hills themselves don’t scare me. But it really tires you out when you haven’t trained on a series of hills like these for several miles at a stretch, even if they are small inclines. 

By mile 8, the big hill, I slowed some, but was still close to my goal. 1 hour 33 minutes had passed. I was happy with my pace, even though that translates to about 11:35 per mile. That changed shortly after when I got to mile 9. There was ANOTHER big hill, shorter, but just as steep! Or it felt like that anyway. After struggling up that hill (actually, I walked up most of the first hill and this entire one), I was done. I walked, tried a little slow running, but my legs just wouldn’t move quickly enough. When you are walking as fast as you are running, you might as well enjoy the walk. So I did that to mile 10, and then switched my Galloway method to 1:2 (1 minute run, 2 minute walk). This actually helped my mental state a lot because trust me, there was a lot of self-loathing going on inside my head! I contemplated never running a half again, maybe never running at all since it seemed like I was putting a lot of effort into little reward. I added more running seconds as I felt able. I did manage the last quarter mile non-stop, so I sort of looked like I finished strong. One thing I hate is finishing, but feeling like I’m going to puke or collapse. This is one reason why the Galloway method works well for me. So it was important to me to finish feeling good.

I finished this half at 2:44:15. To make matters worse, they ran out of medals! (I received it in the mail later.) Thankfully, I got the wine glass and the taste. I was beating myself up about my finish immediately after this race though. Without all of those hills in the first half or at least the big hills, I truly think I would have finished in 2:30, mostly running because I was feeling pretty good up to mile 9.

I am running the Detroit Women’s Half on Belle Isle on September 22. I’m still aiming for a 2:30 finish.  The course is two loops of the island, but from what I remember from the 10K, it’s mostly flat, so unless we have a hot & humid day, or some other disaster happens, I hope I can brag a little afterwards. I’m also considering the Brückeläufe in Frankenmuth in October—13.1 miles over 13 bridges. So I have a couple of options to hit that goal. I just hope if I don’t, I can avoid a mental complex about racing!  I’m not sure what I’ll do if it happens again—maybe have a meltdown on the course (not really).

The Michigan Wine Trail Half is a nice, informal race that will probably grow. They went from 100 last year to almost 500 this year. There were a few issues that I’ve already discussed with the race director, aside from the medal problem. He is very responsive to everyone’s comments, which is a good sign. They have a nice group of volunteers, too, who do a decent job of encouraging you. The race has a 4 hour limit, so it could be a good one for walkers, too. There is also a 5K with it called the “Galloping Grape.” I do recommend this race for a nice change of scenery, really pretty farmland and as I found out, a challenging course. I think I may run it again next year—but just for fun. Unless I start training on hills like crazy.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Does Your Garmin Stink? Try Nature's Miracle

As  I was wiping my nose about a month ago on the run (yes, with the back of my hand), I smelled this awful odor!! What the heck??? A few more sniffs told me it was the wristband for my Garmin. It reeked!!  Many of you may have read my previous post on changing out the plastic wristband on the Garmin for the more comfortable and better fitting Velcro one.  Unfortunately, one of the drawbacks of the fabric wristband for the Garmin,  is that it stinks after a while of absorbing all that nasty runner sweat. What to do?

Well the obvious answer, of course, is to wash it. That was my first thought too. I wet down the band got out some laundry soap and scrubbed the band with an old toothbrush. Presto! The band didn’t stink any more. It smelled fresh and clean --- for about two runs.  Pretty soon it was back to being smelly again, and with warmer weather coming on, it really was starting to smell ripe. I was not keen on having to take the band on and off every week to wash it. It is not that quick an easy thing to do.

I obviously was going to need something a bit more heavy duty to deal with this problem. The answer came courtesy of my ever-helpful cat, Roadie. He had been having some kitty “issues” and had been urinating in some unexpected places.  Since we have our house up for sale and cat pee is not high on the list of “smells that sell houses,” we needed some help.  I searched all over the Internet for what to use to clean up pet odors, and after several solutions that only partially took care of the problems, I found the one that was able to solve our problem.

The solution came in the form of Nature’s Miracle, which is a bio-enzymatic odor remover that is used to neutralize and remove organic odors.  (Before I go any further, let me say that I am NOT affiliated with Nature’s Miracle in any way. I just am a huge fan of their product because it has really worked successfully for me.) What this means is that it neutralizes the odor by killing the bacteria that is causing the odor.  After using it successfully around the house on a variety of surfaces,  I decided to give it a try on my watch band.  

The directions on the Nature’s Miracle have you wash the spot first and then treat with the Nature’s Miracle by soaking it with the product and allowing it to air dry.  I removed my watch band (which is not an easy task) and washed it in a solution of dish soap, a half cup Nature’s Miracle, and water. After scrubbing and rinsing, I left it out in the sun to dry.

Once it had dried, I followed that up with a good saturation of the band with the Nature’s Miracle and again left it to dry.  The band was once again fresh and clean and smelled great.  Unfortunately to keep it smelling that way, there is some maintenance involved. About every two days when I finish my run, I rinse the band and spray it band down with the Nature’s Miracle and let it dry. It is like deodorant for a Garmin! This is keeping my band smelling fresh and clean.

For those of you who worry about harsh chemicals, Nature’s Miracle is pretty mild. The ingredients are as follows: Water, nature's enzymes, isopropyl alcohol, natural citrus scent. Apparently, the most toxic ingredient is the isopropyl alcohol. It seems pretty safe to use. It comes in a smaller and cheaper spray bottle, but I buy it by in the larger size and refill because I use it for the pets and the laundry too. It is available at Petsmart, but it is cheaper from Amazon. 


As an added bonus in this process, I also discovered that Nature’s Miracle works in the laundry. I use it to help take the lingering sweat odor out of my running and cycling clothes.  I have just been putting a half cup of the Nature’s Miracle in the wash cycle with the regular laundry detergent. It seems to work great to take out the smells!!   If you give this product a try, let me know what you think. While not a miracle, it has been worth the price for me. 

Related posts:
Changing the Wristband on Your Garmin

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Runner’s Recipe: Quick and Easy Veggie Tacos

Veggie Tacos
I know this isn’t a cooking blog, but besides running itself, the number one concern and favorite activity of most of the runners I know is eating.  I decided that every now and then it would be fun to share some of my favorite recipes.  

First let me say that since reading Eat & Run by Scott Jurek (If you aren't familiar with the book, you are missing a great read. Check out my review of Eat & Run), I have been trying to go more vegetarian in my diet. I have been succeeding for the most part. I have not made the jump to 100% vegetarian yet, but most weeks, I manage to make about 90% of my diet vegetarian, with maybe only one meal a week with meat.

I also love Mexican food. Having lived in California for most of my life, it was considered a staple. On first glance, it is easy to go vegetarian with Mexican food, just by leaning heavily on the beans and cheese and taking out the meat from most dishes. However, the tendency is to add in large amounts of cheese which really piles up the fat content, something I am also working on.  Plus, that is just boring.

Thankfully, there are many sources of inspiration out there for how to make vegetarian eating exciting and yummy. These tacos got their inspiration from a food truck we have around the Lansing area, usually at farmer’s markets, called Trailer Park’d

Trailer Park'd at East Lansing Farmer's Market

We stopped by there on the suggestion of one of my running/Facebook friends (Thanks, Lolo) to try the tacos. They were awesome, but I always have to fiddle with a recipe to get it just how I like it. 

This is what I came up with. They are the best veggie tacos Jer and I have ever had. As a fair warning, you must be an onion lover to like this recipe. The prep time is about 20 minutes.

4 soft taco flour tortillas
1 large red onion
1-2 tablespoon vegetable oil 
1 ripe avocado
1 package shredded coleslaw mix
4 tablespoons feta cheese
¼ cup fresh or frozen corn
¼ cup canned black beans
Garlic salt
Fresh cilantro (you can leave this out if you are a cilantro hater)
Mexican lime (optional)
Green tomatillo salsa

1. Slice the onion into half rings. Put the onion half rings in a skillet (I like cast iron) that has been preheated with oil and cook over medium heat to caramelize. (For tips on how to caramelize onions, click here.) 

2. While the onion is cooking, put the corn and black beans into a small container and microwave to heat through. Add garlic salt and stir. Then set aside for taco assembly.

3. Check on the onion, stir, and then peel and slice the avocado into small chunks.

4. Lay out all other ingredients close at hand for the assembly process.

5. When onions are ready, heat the tortilla shells. My favorite method is over the burner of a gas stove on medium heat until slightly brown, turning often to avoid burning or the edges catching on fire (If you try this, be careful, and don’t burn your fingers). My boys could heat a tortilla like this by the time they were twelve, but if you aren’t quite so adventurous, you can warm them in a hot skillet, on a grill if you have one, or in the microwave for about 10 seconds. You really lose some flavor, though, if you microwave them.

6. Assemble the tacos as follows: grilled onions, black bean and corn mixture, tablespoon of feta cheese, cole slaw mix, a squeeze of fresh lime juice, and five or six cilantro leaves, to taste.

Top off with green tomatillo salsa (or whatever type of salsa you prefer, but the tomatillo really sets this off). These are best if served with an ice-cold 12 oz bottle of the runner’s favorite post-run beverage, and no I do NOT mean Gatorade.  Give them a try and let me know what you think. 

(Do you have a healthy runner-friendly recipe you would like to share? If so, contact me to do a guest post!) 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Reluctant Race Report: USATF Masters 1 Mile Road Championships

The race reports where I do terrible are always so much harder to write than the ones where I do well. Not only is there a tendency to not want to publicize a failure that most people would not have noticed if it had not been brought to their attention, but there is also a lot of self-examination that goes on when one has a performance of epically bad proportions. That pretty much describes my mile race last weekend.

I run with the Playmaker’s/New Balance Masters Women’s Racing Team. We participate in a USATF Team Grand Prix Series. These are a series of races at varying distances where we can score and get awards not only as individuals but as teams in our ten year age groups. If you follow the blog, you may remember that I reported on the final team championship race last year (and my first race with the team), which was the Cross Country Team Championships.  Playmaker's women’s teams typically do well in these events, with our 60+ and 70+ teams often winning the overall championships.

I am on the 50+ team. One of the problems with the 50+ team is that many of the women are still working or have other family responsibilities that keep them from traveling to team races. We often don’t have enough women for a team (it takes at least 3). I was excited that for the mile championships because we did manage to have both a 60+ and a 50+ team.

The mile championships were in Pittsburgh this year, which made it close enough for us to travel to. Anyone who follows this blog knows how much I love a road trip, so I was excited to go. However, if you follow this blog, you may also know that I am primarily a marathoner and ultra runner. I am not by any means a miler. In fact, the idea of driving 10 hours to run a race for 7 minutes or less is pretty much the literal opposite of what I prefer to do.  Still, the lure of hanging out with this really great group of women and doing a road trip to run was more than I could resist. Of course, I was in.

Again, if you have been following the blog, you may also remember that I have been in a running slump. I had a spurt of solid training in late April and May, a few good races, including a 5k PR in early June, and then I just kind of lost it. My weekly mileage hovered at a dismal 11 mpw average in late June, July, and early August. In my defense, though, I did do quality for those 11 miles each week (really – I even did two track workouts).

Well the trip to Pittsburgh was as much fun as I thought it would be. Our fearless leader, Ruth, had everything organized. We took off on Thursday afternoon for the Friday evening race so that we could drive halfway, get to Pittsburgh early on Friday to relax and check out the course, and get ready for the race. The ride up was pleasant and uneventful. We got to Pittsburgh early Friday, and except for a brief cloudburst as we arrived at the hotel, everything went fine.

It was too early to check into our rooms, so we went to the USATF room to see if there was any free food. (Hey, we are runners! What do you expect?  What? What do you mean you don’t have to carbo load for a mile?)  While we waited, I spent my time looking up the names of the list of competitors from my age group on Athlinks, did some quick calculations, and realized that the odds were pretty darned good that I would be last in my age group. That was not good news. Oh well, I was there. What was I going to do? I pouted for a few minutes, but then decided to just enjoy the experience. We had time to pose for pictures and do a little horsing around courtesy of GNC, one of the sponsors for the race.

Pittsburgh turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. We were downtown in a really nice Wyndham Hotel. From our room we had a most awesome view of the river and the stadium. 

We went out to explore the surrounding area and scout out the course.

Downtown Pittsburgh was very cool (who knew?), with parks, statues, galleries, theaters, and shops lining the course. It was obviously an artsy part of town.

The race was being run on two main streets in the downtown area, Penn and Liberty, and the finish area was in Market Square. After stopping for a slice of pizza, we walked the entire mile and were very pleased with the course.

We headed back to the hotel to get ready. I was pretty excited because we had just gotten new team singlets made by New Balance. They are awesome! Plus this one fits without making me feel (and look) like a sausage (which is how I always felt in my old one).  We were a pretty good looking group!!

Besides the USATF Master’s Championships, there was also an open public mile race called The Liberty Mile, and elite men’s and women’s mile races. Some of the best milers in the U.S. and a few international competitors were in town for the elite race. We were very excited to run into Owen Anderson, director of the Lansing Marathon and coach of a very talented runner named Chemtai Rionotukei who among other accomplishments had won the FifthThird River Bank Run 25k back in May.  Owen said that they were excited to be competing and that he expected that we would see good things from Chemtai.   

Nerves were high before the race. Except for Ruth, none of the women from our group who were there were short distance specialists.  I was really worrying about the whole being last thing. There were only about 25 women running in our race. The road was two lanes wide, a mile long, and lined with hundreds of spectators. It would be pretty hard to hide how badly I was going to suck. (Another reason to love trail running: When you are in the woods, no one ever sees how badly you suck!)

My friend and fellow 50-54 age group teammate, Sue, and I talked briefly about race strategy and the idea of running together, since we are usually pretty evenly matched, but she had been training hard for triathlons lately, and I had not been training much at all, so I was not optimistic.

Our little group finally lined up at the start and the gun went off. Just as I suspected, a pack of runners took off. Sue and I started sensibly a little behind the main pack. I was hoping to avoid the crash I had experienced at the only other mile I had ever raced (and the getting passed at the end that went with that) so was trying to control the pace. It was hard with the pack starting off like a bunch of greyhounds, but I did manage to go out in the realm of acceptability and hit my first split pretty much right on pace.

After that I am not sure what happened. In the second quarter mile, I kind of had a mental lapse and let my pace slide. Sue slipped away a few yards, but I had to let her go. I was pretty much doing all I could to do what I was doing. It is really weird, but I remember nothing of this part of the race except following Sue’s back and seeing the pack up ahead.

I do not even remember hearing the crowd, but I do remember feeling the pain. It is amazing how long 7 minutes can feel when you are running at your max. When I hit the split at the half, I was so mad to see that my pace had slipped to over 7. That was going to make it super hard to get the 6:50 that I was hoping for. I picked it up and tried to hold on.

Finally my watch beeped to tell me that we had passed the ¾ mile. I was not dead at the end (like I had been in the earlier mile I had raced) and for a few seconds I entertained the idea of trying to see if I could catch Sue who was still a few yards ahead of me. It was then I saw the best thing of the entire weekend.

As I was looking ahead at Sue to see if she looked like she might be getting tired, I saw her posture change. I thought, “Dang, she is picking it up.”  Just then I saw why. In USATF competitions we all wear a bib with our ages on our backs. Over Sue’s shoulder, I could see a woman who had fallen off the back of the main pack, with a big 50 on the back of her singlet. She was in our age group!  I watched as Sue ran her down and passed her. It was a beautiful thing!

“Go, Sue!!” I was yelling inside my head, as I struggled for air. I also tried to pick it up, hoping to catch the faltering woman, but it was not to be. As the finishing clock approached, I watched it tick past 6:50  (my goal pace) and 6:55 (my previous mile time). It ticked on toward 7:00. NOOO!! My “C” goal had been to be under 7:00. I crossed the line at what I hoped was 6:57 (but what later turned out to be 6:58).  I was not last in the race (there were women all the way up to the 70+ age group), but I was pretty sure I was last in my AG. How depressing!

I found Sue to congratulate her and tell her how awesome she was. Then we looked for the rest of the team. Everyone (except me) had run really well.  Most had PRd, and the 60+ women had won the team competition. It was awesome! Ruth also was 1st and last in her age group. (She was the only one in the 65+ group.)

Probably the second most amazing thing that happened that night was the performance of Chemtai. She finished third in a really tight race. She was just four seconds behind first and the third and fourth place runners were within a hundredth of a second of one another: 4:35.10/4:35.15, with fifth place at 4:35.90. Talk about close!! That is such an awesome accomplishment for her. I am sure we will be hearing more great things about her in the future!  I could tell Owen was really proud of her.

Owen and Chemtai at Playmakers to promote Owen's book Running Science

Chemtai with her 3rd place award at the Liberty Mile

I do have to say that I was pretty bummed out about my performance. Of course, my friends tried to cheer me up by telling me that I should just feel honored to have been able to compete with some of the best runners in the country. I was honored to do that, but I was also mad at myself for performing so poorly. If I had run well and been last, that is one thing, but to run so poorly and be last was what bothered me because I had nothing to blame but my own lack of training.

One of the things I love about running is I have always believed that “you get out of it what you put into it.”  I believe that saying is true when I have trained hard and done well, but the other end of the stick on that is that it also applies when I have slacked off and done poorly, like in this race. I have a screen saver on my laptop that says “You can have excuses or you can have results. You can’t have both.” I guess it is time to stop making excuses and start training!