Chasing 42

Life, the Universe, & Running

Initial Reflections on Delaware

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been in Wilmington for two months now! The summer has truly flown by, and now that I’m caught up on my final Iowa escapades and the amazing experience that was the Race Across the USA, I can return to my regularly scheduled programming. It’s been a simultaneously relaxed and eventful transition, complete with all of the chaos of setting up a new home and figuring out the world around us. We’ve slowly begun to carve out a home for ourselves, figure out how to meet our regular needs, and begin to navigate a completely new part of the country and new stage in our lives. The epicurean’s new position at the Winterthur Museum, Library, and Gardens has been a wonderful transition and I can honestly say that I’ve never seen her more happy day in and day out. I completed my summer teaching responsibilities online at Iowa State, and have now officially left that position and am on the hunt for a new professional adventure (if you have any leads, I’d be happy to forward my resume :) ).

DE-1

Amidst the unsettled nature of hitting reset on the life button, I’ve found time to continue my training in a way and have learned quite a bit about my new running home along the way. There are many new trails, hikes, races, and running friends to look forward to, and I’m certainly excited for the new running opportunities that living on the East Coast presents. It’s been a profoundly different and challenging experience to run so many miles without my Vardo partners in crime, and I still miss them terribly. When I first undertook the challenge of running, it was the friends surrounding me that kept me going, got me out the door, and motivated me on a daily basis. Throughout my growth as a runner, my biggest joy has been the relationships I’ve built and the opportunities to witness others accomplish their own running goals and grow closer to them with each passing mile. It’s strange, then, to find myself in a new area of the country where I know no one and am now running more solo miles than I’ve ever run before. I often find myself, out of habit, thinking about who I would share any new discovery, route, or trail with and then realizing that Facebook is truly only a shadow of life, always shifting as the earth turns each day and the sun rises and sets. Nonetheless, I’ve managed to discover some pretty exciting locations and opportunities in my short time in Delaware and I’m optimistic about what the future will bring. So, let me give you the Cliff’s notes version of what still feels like an extended vacation!

Heat & Humidity

Technically speaking, we aren’t that much further south so I didn’t expect the summer weather to be all that much different. I should have known better. It was in the 90’s the day I drove up in May, and it has been consistently hot all summer with little sign of relief until fall. I’ve never been a huge fan of the heat, and it’s always taken me what seems like far too long to acclimate, but it’s been an entirely new challenge in Wilmington. In addition to the heat, the humidity is rather atrocious. I’m used to a few days of high humidity every once in a while, but I seem to be bathing in a dog’s mouth every time I step foot outside. It doesn’t matter if I’m beginning a Saturday morning run at 6AM, or heading out for a short afternoon run. My body has been struggling to cope, and it’s definitely left me more exhausted than normal. I realized just how bad the humidity was a few days ago when it dropped to around 40%. Despite temps that hovered around 90 degrees, my run felt almost effortless by comparison. It really does make quite the difference!

DE-2

Hello, hills! 

It’s no secret that Iowa is a pretty darn flat state. I’ve spent my entire running life in Iowa, which meant I was far from accustomed to any sort of variable terrain. It wasn’t uncommon for me to log 25 or 30 miles and see a grand total of 300 feet of elevation gain. Delaware, however, is a different story all together! My legs are now, after two months, beginning to adjust to the fact that every single run I go on here is the equivalent of a hill workout in Iowa. I’m not sure there is a single stretch of flat land anywhere to be seen, and I’ve been racking up the elevation gain! The result is a new-found confidence with a wider variety of races, and the realization that I might be able to tackle some of my mountain-running bucket list items after all.

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Trails, my old friends

Since my first ultra and first trail race several years ago, I’ve been hooked. There is just something incredible about hitting the trails for a run and losing yourself in the miles that I can’t seem to replicate on the road. Unfortunately, living where we did in Iowa meant very limited access to trails and spending most of my time on the road. The landscape around Wilmington is a totally different experience! There is a wonderfully high concentration of state parks within running distance of our house, and even more access simply by hopping in the car for a few minutes. We bought a state park pass, naturally, and I’ve already had the opportunity to hit the trails in 5 different parks. It is a strange feeling to have such incredible access to so many legit trails, complete with switchbacks, stream crossings, and relentless hills. I’ve been in trail heaven!

DE-4

A New Running Community

I’ve made it crystal clear how important it is to me to be surrounded by like-minded individuals who share my passion for running. So much of my motivation comes from the efforts of those around me, so it was quite hard to leave such a tight-knit community behind. Luckily, I’ve begun to connect with other runners in the area, with the hopes of cutting back on my far too regular solo runs! I took it as a great sign that our next door neighbor is also a runner, and I even had the chance to run with her and a friend the first Saturday I was here. Since then, I’ve found the Delaware Running Club, and have run with them on numerous group trail runs. I even had the chance to participate in the Festival of Miles, which was my first official track race and led to my new mile PR of 6:08. Obviously I need to get it under 6:00 now! It’s a large group full of wonderful people with diverse running and life backgrounds, and I’m really enjoying getting to know folks!

Scenery & Orientation

The most shocking thing for me out here, even more than the hills and humidity, has been the overwhelming beauty of this area. I’ve lost track of the number of times I found myself stopping in the middle of a run to simply take in all of the beauty around me. It’s common to find a random historic marker, the remains of an old mill, or the remnants of a luxury amusement park from the turn of the 20th century (more on that in a future post!). The lush, green forests, rolling hills, and streams everywhere make each run something special. Unfortunately, stopping to gawk at the beauty of the area isn’t very good for my already tenuous sense of direction. When I left Ames, I could tell you how to get anywhere on foot, and how far it was within a tenth of a mile. I knew that area like the back of my hand. I’ve now found myself in an area where grids and city planning were an afterthought (Delaware is the first state, after all), and the winding roads mean I often don’t know north from south. I’ve begrudgingly started carrying my phone with me on most runs, and have needed to pull it out on several occasions to see just how turned around I really am. On one particularly ominous evening, I left my phone (and water and nutrition) at home for what I had intended to be an easy 6-mile run out and back. However, my curiosity got the best of me and one wrong turn led to another. Before I knew it, I had basically made my way to the PA border, and I had logged 18 dehydrated miles before I finally got home. Epic fail! I’m hoping that won’t become a regular occurrence :)

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Running @ Winterthur

One of my favorite places to run thus far is actually a place I find myself every single day (and jealous of the fact that the epicurean takes her lunch breaks on the grounds!). I wrote about Winterthur back in December when we traveled out so the epicurean to visit, and I was mesmerized then. However, the gardens truly shine in the spring and summer, with something new in bloom practically every week. There are countless paved and single-track trails meandering around the 1000 acre estate, and I truly feel as though I’m in another world, whether I’m out there running or curling up with a good book as I listen to the birds sing. I’ll be sure to highlight the beauty of this place in a future post, but few words can truly do it justice, especially for this Midwestern flatlander!

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So there you have it…it’s been a hilly two months, if you will, in more ways than one but we are finally beginning to settle in and get to work on making Wilmington our home for many years to come!

A Quadzilla Report: Destination White House

It’s all been building up to this final day, so hold onto your seats and prepare for a bumpy landing! The first three days of our time with the Race Across the USA were hot, humid, and tiring, but we were feeling good and enjoying life. We’d logged even more miles than we had planned, and our legs had seemingly adapted to the daily mileage because we were recovering without too much strain. We headed home from dinner with the core team members and other runners after celebrating the end of the journey the following day, and we settled in for a good nights sleep before our final day’s trek.

June 2- Day Four

We woke up a bit earlier the next more and got ready, unsure of the traffic situation now that we were so close to D.C., and wanting to make sure we arrived at the starting point in plenty of time. Luckily, the morning went smoothly, and we arrived around 6:20AM, which gave us time to get a bit more shut-eye and take care of other business, if you will. After the heat of the last three days, the cooler temps, wind, and light rain were a welcome relief. It was clear that everyone was quite tired as 7:00AM came around, but the excitement of finishing more than made up for it. On top of that, I was looking forward to running on a long stretch of paved trails after 3 days of winding country roads and minimal shoulders.

Ready for the last day!

Ready for the last day!

We took off promptly at 7AM, and made our way down the other side of the rather steep hill we had climbed at the finish yesterday, and the busy road meant being that much more attentive to traffic as we headed towards D.C. during rush-hour. We spent about 4 miles dodging traffic before finally hopping onto the Mt. Vernon Trail. The open trail, free of cars, was a breath of fresh air, and we picked up our pace a bit. I fully anticipated slowing down over the course of the four days, but legs seemed just as fresh and springy on day 4 as they did on day 1, and I was thankful for the intense training I had put in this year to make this possible. Granted, Stefan barely trained at all and still managed the same miles, so I suppose it’s all relative :)

After a mile or so on the trail, we were moving along nicely and I was feeling great. Then it happened. I had managed to stay vertical for three days and countless uneven roads, but the asphalt trail jumped up and bit me. I went down hard at full speed and rolled/slid to a stop several feet further along on the trail. Stefan and one of the other runners that had joined us stopped to help me up and make sure I was ok. I was more stunned than anything as I took stock of the damage. In true runner fashion, first I checked my gear and then i checked myself. I had collected a huge gouge in my knee, a nice hole in the palm of my hand, and some quality scrapes on my shoulder. I pulled out a wet wipe and wiped away as much dirt as I could, and tried to stop the significant bleeding a bit. Nothing hurt all that much, but that no doubt had more to do with the adrenaline pumping through my body than anything else. The first aid station was only a mile or so away and I knew they had a more substantial first aid kit, so I picked myself up and we kept moving forward.

Bandaged up and ready to go!

Bandaged up and ready to go!

We showed up to the aid station, and they knew I had gone down, so they were ready. I stopped for a few minutes to clean my wounds a bit more and bandage myself up (I guess that EMT training is still paying off, eh?), and I was back out on the trail in less than 5 minutes. All I could really do was laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation and recognize that it was going to make for a great story. Stefan and I continued to tick off the miles on the beautiful wooded trail, and we found ourselves having to intentionally slow down because we were moving faster than we figured we should be with another 18 miles to go. Nonetheless, the cool weather, mist, and excitement of the last day meant we were moving along at a good clip, and the miles were rolling by as we made our way closer and closer to the National Mall.

We stopped briefly at several different points to take pictures and simply enjoy being out there, and marvel at how lucky we were to be able to do something like this in the first place. After Jamile had dropped us off, she went and parked the truck downtown and road her bike backwards to meet us on the trail. She caught up to us around mile 16 and I showed off my impressive wounds when she rode up to meet us. I was still feeling a good amount of pain because I hadn’t been able to apply any Neosporin but running served as the perfect distraction and I seemed fine as long as I kept moving.

Running along the Mt. Vernon Trail.

Running along the Mt. Vernon Trail.

It was wonderfully refreshing to have the Potomac River to our right, guiding us towards the White House. Once we reached Reagan international Airport, D.C. began to come into view, and it became harder and harder not to stare off into the distance, but my desire to be distracted was balanced out by the reminder of the bloody holes in my knee and hand :) You can bet I was keeping an eye on my footing!

Not a bad view for the end of 4 days of racing...

Not a bad view for the end of 4 days of racing…

We finally reached the Arlington Memorial Bridge, and crossed over, heading towards the Lincoln Memorial. We stopped for a few quick photos, and then continued down the National Mall towards the National WWII Memorial, and then the Washington Monument. The rain and cooler temps had kept many of the tourists away, so the mall wasn’t nearly as crowded as we had expected, which was wonderful. We passed the Smithsonian Castle and headed for the Capital, and then hung a left to head up Pennsylvania Avenue for the final approach. I suppose it was this final stretch when it finally began to sink in that we were going to do this, and we both got even more excited. The final stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue flew by as we neared completion amidst so much history. It was very fitting that we would end our journey, and all of the core runners would end a so much more amazing journey, in front of the White House. We made the turn for Lafayette Square and could see the group off in the distance. We picked up our pace a bit and were all smiles as we crossed the final finish line. We had done it- 4 days, 120 miles, some spilled blood, and more memories than I could count. A few of the other runners had already finished, and we all congratulated each other, and then we sat down. It felt rather good to sit down (even if it did mean I could feel my injuries in a much more pronounced manner).

RAUSA 3.2

Finished!

Finished!

One of Stefan and Jamile’s friends works at the White House, and he came out to meet us and congratulate us. He even brought with him White House coins for each of us, which was a wonderful and unique gift. It served as our medal for the day, as the RAUSA belt buckles would not arrive until later in the summer. After hanging out for a bit, we walked to a delicious burrito restaurant for some lunch. From there, we headed back to the truck. Jamile had parked at a military base (since Stefan works at the Pentagon) next to Arlington National Cemetery. Stefan and I decided it would be a good idea to run the few miles from the restaurant to Arlington National Cemetery since we clearly hadn’t run enough yet. My legs were definitely much stiffer than they had been, in part because it was almost chilly outside with the rain, but I warmed up as we went on, and it did get us there that much faster.

RAUSA 3.1

We arrived at the Cemetery and slowed to a respectful walk as we entered. This was my first time visiting and it was a humbling experience to say the least. The magnitude of meaning housed within the confined of those grounds was almost overwhelming and I felt honored to have experienced it. We arrived in time to witness the changing of the guard, which is a simultaneously somber and inspiring sight to behold. I was struck by the attention to detail and dedication that goes into maintaining the clockwork precision involved in the process, and could feel the respect emanating from the site and the servicemen entrusted with its care. We then made our way back to the car, and back to the house to clean up. I got everything packed, and Stefan and Jamile dropped me off at Union Station for the short train ride back to Wilmington. It’s amazing how much life you can pack into such a short period of time, and thankful doesn’t begin to describe my thoughts on the experience as a whole. It was certainly one of the highlights of my running career and my life as a whole, so thank you for coming along with me and indulging in my sometimes over-descriptive attempt at capturing such an amazing experience! #chasing42 #chasing42reports #RAUSA

A Quadzilla Report: Part Deux

As you may recall, day one was in the books and we had yet to utter anything to the effect of “what did we get ourselves into” so we were in good shape! We managed to find a delicious Japanese restaurant and sushi bar for dinner on the evening of day one, and we went to bed well fed and ready to tackle the next day.

May 31- Day Two

We began the second day where we left off on the first day, with our official chalk line on the road to mark our “start”. As you recall, we finished up the day before in a nicely shaded park, so we began in that same wooded area. The brief bit of shade was nice, and the temps hadn’t yet climbed all that high, but the humidity was already out in full force so we knew we were going to be in for another steamy day. The day’s route took us through Fredericksburg, across the Rappahannock River, and back out along lightly traveled country roads, ending just north of a small town called Tacketts Mill.

RAUSA-2.5

As luck would have it, Stefan and I began day two running with another amazing member of the core team of runners. Rob Young actually began running a marathon a day or more prior to the start of the Race Across the USA, and was running this event as part of a set of larger goals. He was attempting to set a world record for the most marathons run in a year, and was doing it all to raise money and awareness for vulnerable children. He would go on to win the overall Race Across the USA, and ultimately run 370 marathons in the span of 365 days. On this particular day, Stefan and I had a nice leisurely chat with him about his running experiences, his background in various other sports, including professional cycling, and his plans to break future world records as well. It was clear within 5 minutes just how passionate he is for the sport and the level of commitment and dedication he has to what he is doing, and it was amazing to be a part of that with him. We stuck with him for 5 or 6 miles before we once again realized we were going faster than planned, and we made the decision to pull back and slow our pace. It would appear that we learned our lesson, as it didn’t take us 18 miles to slow down this time around!

RAUSA-2.2

For the most part, the rest of the day involved a nice pleasant run through the country in semi-rural Virginia. Once again, the temps rose and our sweat levels increased, but Jamile was right there to offer us the additional ice and water that we needed to keep moving forward and enjoying the opportunity to be out there running a second marathon in as many days. There was no shortage of hills, and we ended the day with over 2,700 feet of elevation gain and a hair over a marathon in distance. Overall, it was a great day and we even managed to splurge on slurpees when we were done, which obviously made it all worth it!

RAUSA-2.6

RAUSA-2.8

June 1- Day Three

Good morning!”

Good morning, ready to go run another marathon?”

Nah, why don’t we shoot for closer to a 50K? You know, to challenge ourselves! :)

“Ok, sounds like a plan. Now hurry up and get your shoes on!”

Our legs were feeling really good after the past two days. We had been rolling them out pretty consistently, and even doing a bit of icing to be on the safe side. That, combined with some good refueling, left us in good shape for the longest of the four days. The day’s route, and the second to the last day of the entire event, was set at a bit over 33 miles. There’s probably a joke in there somewhere considering the timing of this distance, but everyone was tired enough when we started and even more tired when we finished that we no doubt missed it.

RAUSA-2.9

The theme for the entire day was heat and hills, and there were copious amounts of both as the miles ticked by and the sun got higher in the sky. However, the first 18 miles or so flew by pretty quickly and we were both rather surprised at how smoothly the morning had been going, and how well our legs were still holding up. We were moving at a good clip, enjoying the views, and even stopping to take pictures along the way. This was probably the first time that I felt like I could simply keep going indefinitely, and it was a pretty amazing feeling. I’ve indicated before that I’d love to attempt my own trans-continental run at some point in the future, and it was encouraging to get just a small glimmer of the possibility while tackling this experience.

We were now getting closer to the outskirts of D.C. so we were in more populated areas, and were able to take refuge on some sidewalks along busier roads, which was nice. We managed to find some of the biggest hills we had yet to encounter. It had also been more than a day since we had gotten off course, so we were due for a bit of creative route adjustment, and we found it near some road construction. We knew the construction was coming and thought we had the directions correct but we made the mistake of stopping to ask a construction worker, who sent us in the completely wrong direction, and we tacked on about a mile before we found our way back to the course. For some reason, this extra distance, combined with the heat and no doubt a bit of dehydration, hit me really hard and I hit a very hard wall. We only had 5 or 6 miles left, but I was hating life. Luckily, Stefan offered me a flavor of honey stinger gel that I hadn’t had before. For whatever reason, the new flavor rejuvenated me and I was back on track for the remainder of the day. We finished the day by cresting the biggest hill we had yet to find, and the sight of everyone up at the top waiting for us was a welcome relief after 34 miles!

RAUSA-2.7

Once we finished for the day, we actually headed back to Alexandria and Stefan & Jamile’s house, where we would stay the final night since we were so close. We got cleaned up and then hopped in the car to head over to the Pentagon for a tour. As it happens, Stefan works for the National Guard, at the Pentagon, so I had the privilege of receiving a personal tour of this icon fixture of American politics and military influence around the world. It was fascinating to learn more about the history behind the building’s construction, as well as the overall layout and the various offices and personnel housed within those 5 walls. Seeing the 9/11 Memorial was particularly sobering, and an important reminder of how all of the pieces of life fit together.

RAUSA-2.4

After the tour, we headed to another D.C. neighborhood to join the rest of the RAUSA team for a celebratory dinner in honor of the final official race the following day. It was an opportunity to get to know folks a bit better and enjoy a nice meal and fuel up for the final run to D.C. and along the National Mall. It was hard to believe that we had already conquered three days and were now gearing up for our final marathon and we were equal parts excited and tired. Luckily, there was rain and cooler temperatures in the forecast for the last day, so we were excited to end on a more comfortable note.

Stay tuned next time for the exciting conclusion of Stefan and Adam’s Quadzilla adventures! #chasing42 #chasing42reports

A Quadzilla Report: The Race Across Virginia

I hopped in the car and headed out east the Monday after an amazing Market to Market weekend, with 1700 miles separating myself and the critters from the epicurean. I managed to tackle the trip in two days of “quality” time in the car, and we arrived at our new home on the afternoon of May 12th. Mind you, this was a home that we purchased despite my not seeing it in person, as I was unable to travel out with the epicurean to house shop. Luckily, I trust her completely, and she found us a wonderful new home! There was a flurry of unpacking and organizing over the next week (don’t worry…it’s still happening, but more to come on that in a later post), but I managed to stick to my training schedule pretty well and do some initial exploring of the area. I figured out pretty quickly that I wasn’t in the flat lands of Iowa anymore, and the combination of hills and humidity meant I was in for a period of adjustment. So, despite only having been in our new home for a couple of weeks, I decided to register for a significant running challenge in a part of the country I had spent very little time. That’s what everyone does, right?

In all fairness, I had actually registered for this series of races before we made the decision to move, and the move just made the opportunity that much easier to take advantage of and enjoy. Late last year, I read about a group of runners who were planning on embarking on a trans-continental run from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., beginning in January. I was immediately intrigued, and my interest grew substantially when I found out that the race would be happening in conjunction with a research project to study the long-term impact of running on endurance athletes. The combination of running and research was right up my ally and I quickly explored how I could possibly get involved. In addition to the initial group of 11 core team members, the group was providing the opportunity for runners to join them throughout the country, either for an entire state, a 4-day experience, or a single day. The route involved running roughly a marathon every day consistently, with various rest days as the team crossed into a new state. In total, it meant that the core team members would be running for 140 days and would cover 3,080 miles in total.

Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 9.48.19 AM

The thought of some day completing my own run across the U.S. has been on my mind for some time, but I’m clearly not at the point in my life where that is a possibility. The team took a southern route, so driving from Iowa wasn’t really an option, and flying didn’t seem necessarily financially responsible when lodging and transportation to each of the starting points was factored in. However, the last 4 days of the race involved running across Virginia and finishing on the White House lawn (or across from it, technically). Luckily, we happen to have two very good friends who live in the D.C. area who also happen to love running, and it didn’t take much work to convince Stefan and Jamile to join me on this adventure.  What’s more, they graciously agreed to pick me up at the airport and organize our transportation. Stefan and I would tackle 4 straight marathons, and Jamile would join us as an amazing support crew, and we’d spend the rest of the time relaxing throughout Virginia when we weren’t running. It was wonderful to see two familiar faces after arriving in Delaware, and I was excited to visit with them and share the adventure!

May 29-Day Zero

One of the most exciting aspects of moving to the east coast for me is the increased access to public transportation. When I lived in NYC, I loved not having to drive anyone and still have access to everything the area had to offer. Thus, I was excited to hop on a train Friday morning for the 90-minute ride to D.C. Stefan and Jamile picked me up at Union Station, and we headed back to their house in Alexandria to get packed up. Our plan was to stay at a hotel in Fredericksburg, VA for the first three nights, and then drive back to stay at their house the final night. This would position us well for fairly easy drives in the morning out to the starting lines. Since the route itself was mainly along public roads, with some trails tossed in when available, the start and finish lines were simply easy access points in the road once the required distance had been met. We made it out to the hotel, got checked in, and then went and did a bit of exploring in town. Although I lived in Virginia for several years, I had never visited the town and it was fun to walk around (with coffee in hand, of course). I had forgotten how much I loved all of the history on the east coast, and this part of Virginia is filled with it, so we had plenty to see, while also taking it easy before our first marathon in the morning.

Exploring historic Fredericksburg...

Exploring historic Fredericksburg…

May 30- Day One

We woke up extra early on Saturday morning for the first race since we were uncertain of how things would play out and we wanted to make sure we weren’t late. The “start” was an intersection out in the country where the group had finished the previous day, so we had GPS directions and found our way out there without any issues, and arrived around 6:30 for the 7:00AM start. We met with the race organizers and received our bibs, shirts, and buffs, and hung out and waited for others to arrive. There were 7 remaining core team runners that had been at it since the beginning, and we had a chance to meet everyone briefly. There were several other folks that were joining us for the remaining 4 days, and 1 other runner was half way through the full 9-day Virginia leg. I was feeling comfortable, well-rested, and excited to get things rolling. I’ve run plenty of long distances and marathons, but this was my first attempt at a Quadzilla (4 back-to-back marathons) and there were still some nerves turning over in my stomach, but I knew I had trained well for it and my body was ready to handle the stress. We could already tell the weather would be a bit more of a challenge, with warm temperatures and high humidity, but the plan was to take it slow and enjoy ourselves. I was treating this set of races like other ultras and slowing my pace while continuing to push forward.

Let's get this party started!

Let’s get this party started!

We began promptly at 7AM and our small group of runners was off, heading down a lonely country road. It was the first of many peaceful country roads we would traverse over the next 4 days. I decided to play it safe and I opted for my Salmon S-Lab 12 pack so I could carry plenty of water, as well as nutrition and other emergency medical supplies. There were aid stations every 6 miles or so, but I knew the heat would lead me to want more than a handheld bottle could carry. This proved to be a smart decision and I was grateful for the extra hydration. This was actually the first time I had worn the pack, as it was a replacement for my S-Lab 5, which I was able to get replaced for free after the zippers rusted shut. I very quickly realized that the minimal added weight was unnoticeable and the extra storage capacity made this an even better pack!

Stefan and I took off at a relatively controlled pace and initially tried to stay around 9:00 min/mile. This seemed reasonable at the time, but I had neglected to factor in the hilly terrain, much like that which I had recently discovered at home. We ended up falling in with one of the core runners, and had a wonderful conversation with him over many miles. We were able to hear some of his stories from the previous few months of constant running, as well as learn more about the research project he was working on in conjunction with the event. The miles just seemed to tick by as we chatted about running research, physiology, and academia in general, along with learning more about his experiences during the event. It wasn’t until we were startled by a rather large snake in the middle of the road that we realized we had missed a turn a few miles back and gone off course. Since it was a small event and the roads weren’t closed, the course wasn’t marked so we were required to follow the directions we had been given to stick to the course. This wouldn’t normally be a problem, but it does mean looking at the directions instead of leaving them in your pocket. We stopped for a photo-op with the snake, and then turned around, while also calling one of the support team members, who was nice enough to come pick us up and bring us back to the course turn we missed. We ended up adding about 3 miles to our already long day, which would come back to bite us later on.

Snakes...why does it always have to be snakes?

Snakes…why does it always have to be snakes?

Around mile 18, the heat and hills were beginning to get to us and we realized it wouldn’t be smart to try and maintain the pace we were hitting so we bid adieu to our new friend as he continued on. I was amazed that after almost 3,000 miles, he was still able to tackle the road so effortlessly, and that proved to be the case for each of the core runners. Our respect was instant, and our amazement continuous! We slowed our pace a bit, and the heat began to get to Stefan a bit so we made sure we were hydrating well, along with taking advantage of ice at the aid stations and Jamile’s wonderful personal aid stations along the way.

The end is in sight!

The end is in sight!

We decided it was in our best interest to take it easy the final 10 miles, so we enjoyed being outside (despite the intense sun!) and took in our surroundings. Near the end of the route, we were sent along a beautiful wooded trail towards a state park for the finish, and the change of scenery and surface provided some much-needed relief from the heat and gave us a chance to enjoy the experience even more. We were by ourselves for this final stretch, aside from Jamile’s timely roadside assistance and the reality that we would be doing it all over again for the following three days began to really sink in. We entered the park and were able to see the “finish line” up in the distance, and the support folks and a few other runners lingering and waiting for everyone to come in for the day. There was no ribbon or formal finish line, no inflatable arch, and no medals at the end, but it didn’t matter. Our sense of accomplishment was all the reward we needed and we were all smiles as we crossed the finish line. What should have been close to marathon distance became almost 30 miles after our detour and we couldn’t have been more happy to reach the end!

Finished!

Finished!

We lingered about for a bit chatting with folks and were able to cheer on a few other runners who weren’t too far behind us. Then we hopped back in the truck and headed back to the hotel to shower and rest a bit. I’ll never get used to just how refreshing and rejuvenating a hot shower can be after a long distance run, and I was feeling much better. The sun had taken its toll, but my legs still felt fresh, and I was sure this was a good sign for the days to come. The rest of the day was spent eating, relaxing, and hanging out. I was reminded yet again that although I love to run because it gives me a chance to push myself and test my abilities, it is ultimately more about the people I’m with, and I couldn’t have been happier to be sharing this experience with two amazing friends. We were all looking forward to the next three days and the laundry list of memories that were just over the horizon!

…to be continued :) #chasing42

Market to Market 2015: The Speedy Streakers Strike Again!

It’s still hard to believe that my 10 years in Ames was at an end. Quite a bit has changed in my life over the course of those 10 years, not the least of which is my passion for running and the friends that I have picked up as a result. Thus, it was only fitting that my last weekend in Iowa was spent with an amazing group of friends doing what we love to do…run! This was the third year in a row that we’ve participated in the Market to Market Iowa Relay, and our Speedy Streakers team has the relay and the preparations down to a science at this point, which made for an amazing weekend. This race was my farewell of sorts as well, so there was plenty of chatter leading up to the race, and I was looking forward to a fantastic weekend of running and shenanigans!

Our goal, as a team, has always been to have as much fun as possible, with a little running thrown in, and we certainly hit the mark this year! We always find a theme so we can prepare costumes accordingly, and we landed on “Barrel Full of Monkeys” this year, although “What Does the Fox Say?” was a close second. The opportunity to dress up in a monkey costume was just too good to pass up, obviously!

We made it out of Ames eventually :)

We made it out of Ames eventually :)

The 78-mile relay begins in Jefferson, IA and follows a series of trails all the way to downtown Des Moines. We packed up the rented 15-passenger van on Friday afternoon and took our time heading down to Jefferson and our hosts for the evening. Interestingly, we managed to have a bit of trouble even leaving Ames, but only because we clearly had to stop at a few bars on our way out-of-town to help condition ourselves for the following day (minus our driver, of course). It’s carb-loading, right? The drive down took us to two other bars, including a stop for dinner, and a stop at a teammate’s Aunt’s house for more carb-loading. Did I mention that our team could easily be called the Iron Livers? :)

We awoke bright and early on Saturday morning (May 8) after a short but restful burst of sleep and donned our costumes before heading down to the starting line a few minutes away. We met up with some of the other Vardo teams and cheered folks as their waves took off. It was quite convenient that M2M was giving away bananas- we took advantage and grabbed plenty to hand them out to other runners. What else is a monkey to do?

Would you care for a banana?

Would you care for a banana?

From the beginning, our relay experience was about equal parts running and delicious Jello-O shots, and we made the most of the day. In previous years, I’ve added on additional miles by running various legs with other teammates, and I crafted a repeat performance again this year. However, everyone was in a nostalgic mood and wanted to make the most of the day, so we had multiple runners for 14 of the 17 legs of the race, and we easily tallied the most collective miles of any team out on the course!

Truly a team effort!

Truly a team effort!

We treated each exchange point during the relay as a mini-party and did our best to embrace the crazy of the day. The legs all blended together a bit for me, and the weather was relatively cooperative (not too hot, and some wind off and on), so it made for a beautiful day to be outside running. My legs felt great for most of the day, and I did my best to scale back my pace a bit this year. In past years, I’ve logged some significant miles, but forgot I was going long and also proceeded to run the entire day at more of a 5K than marathon pace. I was determined not to be quite as tired this year, and I succeeded for the most part. My legs were still plenty tired by the final collective leg, which several of us ran together and then met the rest of the team to run in the final 1/4 mile to the finish, but overall I felt great. I ended up collecting a bit over 33 miles for the day, which suited me just fine!

M2M15-4

We crossed the finish line, collected our pint glasses, and were all smiles after another successful relay! We were committed to having as much fun as possible during the after-party this year so we decided to rent a hotel room in downtown Des Moines, not far from the finish, which meant no driving needed. We stopped by our hotel room to shower and then headed back to the after party to meet up with all of the other Vardos. I was able to see a lot of folks and inevitably, the line of “goodbye” moments began. It was wonderful to see so many people but talk about an emotional rollercoaster! Good grief, I love this group!

M2M15-5

 

The rest of the evening was a blur of toasts, cheers, antics, late-night pizza, and some memories that I will hold dear for the rest of my life. Throughout the day and night, I did my best to forget that I was leaving on Monday morning and just enjoy the time. What actually happened was a mixture of bittersweet moments with some of the best friends anyone could ask for…I went out with a bang doing what I love with folks I love, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Transition and change are rarely easy, sometimes necessary, and hopefully a part of the relentless forward progress of life. I woke up Sunday morning and we stopped for breakfast on the way home. I’d fought the tears off up until that point, but the dam broke and the tears came flooding out into my coffee. I knew it was happening, knew it was the right choice, but saying “until next time” is never easy. This weekend wasn’t just about running, or having fun- it was about cementing relationships with some amazing people and being reminded what true friendship is all about. I knew I could take those things with me when I drove off on Monday morning…and I did. #chasing42

Pacing Chronicles: The Lincoln Marathon

Have I mentioned that April and May were busy running months? So, as soon as I got home from running the Iowa Able 5K & 10K on May 2nd, I hopped in a car with a few friends and headed down to Lincoln, Nebraska to run a marathon the next day. Are you still following? I should probably back up and explain how I ended up in such a whirlwind scenario, although if you’ve read my blog in the past, then you probably aren’t surprised by this series of events.

Many months prior, as I was beginning to pull together my spring racing schedule, a friend suggested the Lincoln Marathon. I hadn’t given it much thought because a) I’d run the GOATZ 50K in Nebraska, thereby checking the state off my list, and b) I could probably live content for the rest of my life having never returned to the state again (no offense to my Nebraska friends :) ). However, I knew that of the two major marathons in Nebraska (Lincoln & Omaha), this was by far the better of the two in terms of organization, crowd support, and course appeal. What I didn’t realize until the week before was that it also sold out ridiculously quick. I was alerted to the need to register the morning that registration opened in order to ensure my spot, a fact that I laughed at a bit. However, registration opened on a Saturday morning at 3 or 4AM, and I’m normally up early for a long run anyway so I went ahead and registered to lock in my place. Sure enough, the race sold out in around 8 hours, which surprised me to no end, but I had my slot, and a smile on my face.

The main motivation for running this race was so that Eric and I could pace our friend to her first sub-4 hour marathon. Although neither of us had any extensive pacing experience, aside from my recent half-marathon success, we ran with her consistently every weekend so we knew we could push her while keeping her out of her own head as much as possible. The same wildcards (weather, nutrition, terrain) applied, of course, but it was also an additional opportunity to take another racing trip with a couple of good friends before heading out east. So, fresh off of a 5K PR and plenty of energy, we hopped in the car and headed for Lincoln.

We got to town in plenty of time to hit up the expo, which was surprisingly large and full of some excellent vendors. Perhaps I had pleasantly underestimated the quality of this race, eh?! We picked up our packets, and took some time to wander around the expo and resist the temptation to buy unnecessary running gear. We then headed over to the free pasta dinner, which was a great perk and quite convenient as well. After dinner, we drove back to the friend’s apartment that we were staying at, and settled in for the evening. It was a nice, low-key evening and we were able to get plenty of sleep before waking up early to head over to the start.

An expo photo-op!

An expo photo-op!

Eric and I were doing our best to inject plenty of levity into the morning, and it made for a light-hearted pre-race routine. The starting area had plenty of access to indoor restrooms and porta-johns, and everyone was milling about. With temps in the 50’s and the sun coming out slowly, I could tell that heat might be a factor later so it was really just a question of how far we could make it before the temperature began to impact our pace. Eric had been nursing a sore foot (which he later found out was a stress fracture) so he was uncertain of how the race would go and decided not to stick with us, which left the pacing duties to me. Since I knew the heat might be a factor later on, I decided to try and go out a bit faster than the needed 9:09/mile pace so we’d have some time in the bank for the later miles. We waited for about 10 minutes after the initial gun went off, and we were on our way!

Let's get this party started!

Let’s get this party started!

The first few miles ticked off smoothly, and the crowds thinned out pretty quickly so we didn’t need to do much weaving to stay together and on pace. I wanted us to stay ahead of the 4-hour pacer and I used him as a guide of sorts, while also monitoring our pace every 1/2 mile or so. The whole first half of the race was run along with the half-marathon, and the crowd support was superb. It was wonderful to be able to feed off of the energy around us, and we ran the first half below target pace, just as I had hoped. We hit the half-way mark with a few minutes in the bank (1:57:40), and the sun beginning to loom a bit heavier as the clouds parted and the mercury rose. It wasn’t a particularly hilly course up to that point, but we had logged around 1100 feet of elevation gain, which is still more than either of us were typically accustomed to in Ames.

Alas, the second half of the race was another story. Once we left the half-marathoners to cross the finish line, the crowd support tapered off. As the heat and sun-exposure increased, our pace tapered off as well. It seemed to hit my pacing charge all at once around mile 14, and I could tell she was beginning to struggle a bit. Had the conditions been the same for the second half as the first, it would have no doubt been a very different story. However, the weather in Ames during the spring had not allowed for any amount of heat acclimation (2-3 weeks needed for proper acclimation) and it was taking its toll on her. Despite a few angry miles, especially during an annoying out-and-back portion of the course, she kept pushing and I kept us moving forward. This was by no means a result of under-training or lack of fitness, as she had pushed hard this spring and had a stellar training stint. We kept moving forward, focusing on relentless forward progress, and with the aid of plenty of water and ice, some forced nutrition, and some motivational preaching on my part, we kept knocking out the miles.

When a race goes really well and every clicks, it is almost always an amazing feeling. However, I truly believe that we learn much more about ourselves when the race gets hard and our body isn’t sure it wants to do what our mind commands. Those are the moments that prove why we love running, love the thrill of the race, and why we voluntarily struggle and push ourselves beyond our limits when it would be much easier to give up or stay home for that matter. There was no giving up and her love of running pushed her forward, and it was a pleasure and an honor to be a part of that, and help in some small way as we made our way to the finish line. With a few miles to go, the burden seemed to be lifted a bit, and we picked up the pace and pushed toward the finish. One of the perks the race is finishing inside Memorial Stadium, and you can’t help but feel a thrill of energy as the stadium comes into site, and you round the corner onto the field. One final kick gave way to a strong finish on the comfortable turf of the 50-yard line and we crossed the finish line victorious in 4:23. We had conquered the beast once again, and it was a wonderful feeling!

All smiles at the finish!

All smiles at the finish!

We found Eric pretty quickly, as he had finished just two minutes prior (doesn’t everyone run a marathon on a stress fracture?!), and we celebrated by helping ourselves to the generous post-race spread of food, water, and Gatorade. We might not have hit that 4:00 mark for her this time, but there’s no doubt that it will happen. It had been a challenging race, and although it had not necessarily transpired the way we had hoped, it was still a marathon finish and I have a feeling there were some lessons learned along the way that wouldn’t have been possible had things gone according to plan. Sometimes those experiences are even more valuable! #chasing42 #chasing42reports

Lincoln 4

Race Recap: Iowa Able Foundation 5K/10K

The races came fast and furious in April & May, and next up was the Iowa Able Foundation 5K/10K. This was a must-run race, as it was organized by several great friends, and all of Vardo Nation came out to run or volunteer! I was heading to Lincoln, NE that afternoon with a couple of friends to run the marathon the next day, so I fully planned on using the 5K and 10K as comfortable runs to get my muscles moving before the marathon the next day. I should have known better!

I ran to the starting line at Ada Hayden Park, and arrived a bit early to pick up my packet and chat with everyone before the race. The weather was absolutely perfect for running, which put everyone in good spirits, and the normal race-morning energy was buzzing through the air. After hanging out for a bit, I wandered up to the start with a few friends to wait for the signal to head out. It was a small field, so I ended up at the front of the pack, despite having no intention of remaining there. I was relaxed and simply enjoying being able to spend time with friends before moving in a few weeks. We received the “go” signal and I took off at a strong pace, still planning to slow down and take it easy. However, after about 100 yards, I was near the front and my internal competitive spirit kicked in. I was a lost cause at that point, and I gave in to the urge to race :)

Lined up for the start of the 5K. (photo credit: Iowa Able Foundation)

Lined up for the start of the 5K. (photo credit: Iowa Able Foundation)

Slow, easy miles are important to training but so is speed and tempo work and this definitely fell into the latter category. I was breathing hard pretty quickly, but my legs were moving smoothly and I was comfortable otherwise. It was a strange sensation to see the leader ahead of me, and recognize that there were only 6 or 7 people between us. The figure 8 course is a loop I’ve done countless times over the years, so I had no fear of the unknown, and knew exactly what to expect with each turn. I hit the first mile at 6:51, which I knew was fast for me. For a split second, I questioned whether I could hold it, but I knew at that point that I was committed and I was going to put everything I had that morning into those miles. I maintained my pace during the second mile and closed the gap between myself and several of the runners ahead of me. By the time my watch buzzed 6:52, I recognized that I had a shot at a PR and I pushed a bit harder. I kept my eyes focused ahead and saw a friend take the lead, and I knew she wasn’t going to give it up. After another half-mile, I was able to pass a few folks that clearly went out too fast and ran out of gas (I hoped my tank still had a bit left!), and I made the final push for the finish line.

Holding pace near the end of the 5K.  (photo credit: Iowa Able Foundation)

Holding pace near the end of the 5K. (photo credit: Iowa Able Foundation)

I held onto my pace for the final mile, and finished in 20:43, which was a solid PR by almost 40 seconds! It was the first time I had seen “20” when I crossed the finish line and I was equal parts surprised and elated. I ended up finishing 5th or 6th, and 1st in my age group, which was another first for me. Not bad for a casual Saturday morning social run, eh? I was breathing heavy, but recovered quickly, which was good because I had signed up to run the 10K as well :) However, I had my achievement in hand, so taking it easy on the 10K was much more manageable.

I ended up running the entire 10K with another good friend, and it was a great opportunity to chat and just enjoy being out running on a beautiful Saturday morning. We weren’t taking ourselves too seriously (not that I ever really do!), and it made for a great cool down run. The first part of the course was identical to the 5K. However, the course then hopped onto the Upland Trail, which is where some folks apparently got a bit confused by the route. We didn’t realize this until we saw a group of runners heading toward us and in the opposite direction. I was pretty sure we were going the right way, but didn’t mind all that much either way. At one point, we ran into a group of folks heading the wrong way, and I gave them some general directions for getting to the 10K mark distance-wise. Towards the end of the course, we even took a slight detour up a small trail to the top of an earthen mound that overlooked the park, just to take in the view. We scrambled back down and finished out the race, crossing the finish line in 52:40, with big smiles on our faces.

10K Shenanigans!

10K Shenanigans!

Overall, it was the perfect Saturday morning race combo! The weather was beautiful, the volunteers were fantastic, the organizers put on a great race along with plenty of food and entertainment perks, and I was able to spend the morning with an amazing group of friends. Mornings like that are why I run! :)  #chasing42reports #chasing42

It's all about the friends!

It’s all about the friends!

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