Chasing 42

Life, the Universe, & Running

Archive for the tag “cold”

Challenges Are the Key to Living

I headed out for a mid-week run last night, without knowing where I was heading until I started moving. That’s the joy of beginning to know your body and know your limits, I suppose. You can put on your shoes, step outside, and find that the only limits on where or how far you wander are those artificially composed by the expectations of others. The wind was blowing hard (as it always does in Iowa), and there was a distinct chill in the air (as there has been for months now), and I felt energized by the briskness and the bounce it instigated in my step. Sometimes kinetic energy is the best heat there is, and I was determined to warm myself up. The miles sailed by, and I enjoyed absorbing the energy and life around me.

runtolive

Towards the end of my run, I saw a friend drive past, and I stopped to catch up. As we were chatting, the periodic tiny snowflakes instantly transformed into a whiteout! The large snowflakes were floating down sideways and adhering to our jackets and faces while we talked and we couldn’t help but laugh. She had injured her ankle some time ago, and had recently been able to take off the boot and was rehabbing it in the pool. I’ve known her since I started running, and her energy, determination, and free spirit have been inspirational to me on many levels. Seeing her, still in great spirits, reminded me that we all face challenges in our training and in our lives. Those challenges not only motivate us but they remind us that we are in fact alive. They don’t define us when viewed as problems, but they motivate us and help us continue to live our lives when we think of them as challenges.

We hugged, said our goodbyes, and I headed off to finish my run. I put my head down as I ran directly into the wind and snow, unable to see more than a few feet ahead of me, and I simply laughed as a big smile washed over my face. My fingers were cold, my cheeks were windburn, the snow was finding its way under my best fabric defenses, and I loved every second of it. I was alive in that moment. I was running to live.

I'm going to miss the winter beauty of this campus!

I’m going to miss the winter beauty of this campus!

I often wax philosophically to myself when I’m out on a solo run, and I value these internal conversations. Whether I’m on my own moving along some beautiful single-track, or plodding along on the side of a road in an open prairie with barren farmland all around, the reminder is still there.

So, consider these thoughts a quick peek into the slow streams and fast rapids in my mind:

– Metrics are important but the minutia can cause us to lose sight of the larger meaning behind our actions…so, turn on your Garmin, but collect moments, mental pictures, smells, sounds, and emotions with as much passion as you do pace, distance, and heart-rate!

– We can’t control everything, so trying is ultimately a waste of energy. This is something I still remind myself of daily as I fight some OCD urges and give in to others. Sometimes the best runs are the ones you don’t plan!

– Embracing the unexpected and the unknown, and taking charge of an adventurous spirit forces us to live. Adventures and challenges rarely come to us if we aren’t open to them. I still get that giddy feeling in my stomach before every run because I don’t quite know what to expect!

– You won’t find meaning on a treadmill. You’ll only find what you already knew was there when you dialed in your pace and stepped onto the circulating belt. We all run for different reasons, and the desire to be healthy is incredibly important. However, if running is about more than simply race results and VO2 max, then I’m a firm believer that you won’t find what you are looking for inside on a hamster wheel.

P.S. It’s not too cold. Ever. There are ultrarunners making their way across Alaska on the 350-mile Iditarod course right now. No excuses.

The unexpected moments remind me that I’m alive. They remind me to put everything I do in perspective, and they remind me why I run. I run to live. This, I venture to guess, becomes a far more holistic approach to training than the other way around. When you assume the opposite, you run the risk of finding yourself stuck on a revolving belt, unaware and unconcerned with the world around you.

“Everything we do really is just a little marker on the long road to death. And sometimes that’s overwhelmingly depressing to me, and sometimes it makes me feel kinship and forgiveness. We’ve all got the same ending to the story. The way we make that story more elaborate, I got to respect.”
― Joss Whedon

The Pacer Chronicles: The Flight of the Squirrel

The joy of having multiple pacers is that the memories and accounts of the event all differ just enough to make these stories different. This account keeps that theory alive as Lani describes her experience at the Mark Twain 100.

“The ultra run experience is still pretty fresh. I made my debut as a pacer at the Mark Twain 100 in the middle of September. Someone used the word “intense” to describe it. I cannot think of a better word. It truly was one of the most intense and rewarding running experiences I’ve had to-date. I have hesitated to write this because I don’t want to take any undue ownership of Adam’s run, but I found it meaningful enough personally to go ahead and write down some of my thoughts about it all since he requested it.

Lani "The Flying Squirrel" made friends on the way down to MO.

Lani “The Flying Squirrel” made friends on the way down to MO.

Adam arrived for his final 25 mile loop at about 2:30 a.m. on Sunday morning…. I had been waiting for him since midnight. Not because I expected him to be there at midnight, but just because I had been sleeping fitfully and I just really wanted to be ready when he came rolling in to the aid station where we were camping. I knew the last thing he would need is to be waiting on me. It was cold out. I was shivering in my layers inside a cozy sleeping bag and having visions of him and Carla out in the dark woods with nothing but shorts and shirts. When we met him earlier at mile 59 and he came running in with Nicole (our first crew pacer), he was not only hurting but also fighting back severe nausea and stomach cramping (something he had never experienced before) from eating half of a burrito with cheese in it that didn’t settle well with his lactose intolerant constitution. His wife/crew chief extraordinaire had given him a digestive enzyme at this point, we had all lifted him to his feet and reluctantly pushed him out of the first aid station (words from his wife/crew chief extraordinaire whispered in his ear spurring him forward) with Carla (the next-in-line of the crew pacers) to navigate the next six hours of the night. It was SO hard to watch him go knowing how bad he was hurting. I can only imagine what his wife was thinking/feeling. In those hours before midnight, I lay in my cozy sleeping bag worrying. Weird things happen when you fade in and out of consciousness. Hearing the cowbell when runners came in at various points throughout the evening (at one point in the evening, Nicole thrashed restlessly, half-awake/half-asleep, around in her sleeping bag and commanded, “Seriously! Enough with the damn cowbell ALREADY!” I mean really… we were trying to get sleep around here… those runners can find a different way to be motivated, right? Heh.) and listening to the race director masterfully help runners make their way back out on the course. “Get moving,” I would hear him demand, “You’ll warm up when you start moving. Do you have a coat? Does anyone have a coat? You need to get a coat on and get back out there. GET outta here. Move… you’ll warm up when you start moving.”

Curled up in the sleeping bag for a few zzz's.

Curled up in the sleeping bag for a few zzz’s.

It sounded harsh, but I realized psychologically this is what those runners needed to be able to finish. Self-motivation was near impossible at this point in their running experience. An excuse to stop would be a welcome reprieve from the aches, the tiredness, the shivering from the cold, and the gigantic mountain of the prospect of a “night in the dark woods” looming ahead of them. At one point, I sat straight up and looked at a sleepy, disoriented Nicole trying to make sense of what I was saying and asked, “Where’s Adam’s coat? His silver coat he had on this morning? We need his coat.” So it was no wonder I just got myself up and set myself in a chair around the campfire at midnight with others waiting for their runners to come in. My company was mixed. One man whose wife was running her first 100. Another couple of guys whose Dad was out on the course and were discussing ways to keep their mother from worrying and plotting how they could just get her to come out of hiding in her tent and sit around the campfire with the rest of us. A young man, experienced in 100 mile runs himself, waiting to pace a friend who was quite willing to share tips with me about what I should do for Adam through the next leg of the race. What I learned? Melissa (Adam’s wife) said it best. “Crewing for an ultra involves a LOT of waiting around and anxious speculation.”

Ready and waiting...and waiting :)

Ready and waiting…and waiting 🙂

When Adam finally rolled in at 2:30 a.m., he was tired and sat down in a chair voicing his decision to stop (this at mile 75 with one more 25 mile loop to go… and well ahead of the cut off deadline). I had been told this would happen (thank you, Larry Kelly, for a very accurate and thorough pacer overview/tutorial of what to expect) and I thought he looked good enough to continue (at least until the next first aid station where we could re-evaluate) so when he came rolling in at 2:30ish saying he was sorry and he was done, giving me a hug and asking me if I was disappointed in him… acting a bit loopy and a lot tired… well, we just sat him down in the chair… I put my gloves on his hands, someone in first aid got him some warm potato soup, I put my Relay Iowa jacket on him (as I mentioned earlier, it was COLD in MO that night and he was only wearing shorts and a short-sleeved shirt!), I offered him some Aleeve which he took even though he normally doesn’t, I put Carla’s (the pacer who just brought him in from mile 59) headlamp on his head, pulled him up and said, “Let’s get going, Adam… you’ll warm up if you get moving.”… he stood up and weakly/slowly/wobbly, but not unwillingly and more notably, without any verbal protest, followed me… I did my best to power him through from 3 a.m. to 7 a.m (apparently the darkest hours mentally and physically in the ultra run experience, although I’m not sure this was the case in Adam’s experience as he had a pretty challenging 16 miles with Carla just prior to my shift)…. it was a pretty long nine miles, and I’m not sure what he remembers about those dark hours but he kept up with me pretty good and I tried to push him as much as I dared… non-stop through the dark for those four long hours I was saying… look out for those roots, watch for those rocks… stay with me… stop and take a drink (when he did, he swayed in a slow circle trying to stay awake)… he was not coherent at all and completely childlike in his dependence on me. We talked about various things. Who had he met? What was his favorite ultra race, to date? What was his highest point, so far. His lowest point? Where was his favorite place to vacation? We made up a little song about “rock and roots” and laughed some. He stopped mid-trail at one point when he heard some rustling off to the side in the shadows just outside the fringes of our headlamps’ line of vision. I heard it, too, but didn’t want him using energy to worry about anything so assured him I had just tripped over a rock.

Thankfully I didn’t research big animals in the dark Mark Twain woods until AFTER I got home from the race. A small little white mouse skittered out onto the trail and then back to the left. We were passed a couple of times by human beings. The second time, by a man who looked at us with a long hollow, glazed over, vacant stare as he trudged by and on up the hill. Straight out of a horror movie kind of stare. At another point Adam talked about how he was so very, very tired and could just curl up over there on the side and go to sleep. “I know you could, Adam, but we just have to keep going,” I urged. At some point, I veered to the left and down into a riverbed. Thankfully, Adam was coherent enough to stop and call me on my error. It was the only time, I believe, I actually came close to getting us lost in the woods and somehow I think it wouldn’t have taken me very long in that direction to realize it. However, at this point? Every extra step? Really. Counts. Sorry, Adam. It was also at this juncture I quite distinctly heard an animal growl off to the right side of the trail and a little behind us. It is strange how your mind just pretends it isn’t really happening. That it’s just your imagination. That there really aren’t ferocious forest animals in the dark that could eat humans. How you just set your face forward and power ahead. Adam talked about how he just wanted to sit by a campfire. “Soon,” I assured him, “very soon.” And I didn’t know how true that would be. As we approached the first aid station, a chair was waiting for him in front of a very inviting, cozy campfire – a worrisome inviting, cozy campfire. I was having visions of him deciding to curl up right there and go to sleep. So he again enjoyed a warm bite of potato soup – this time in front of the fire and I’m a bit disappointed now to realize he doesn’t remember any of it. It seemed like such a welcome reprieve in an otherwise dark, cold night. As had been typical of our experience with the race support staff all race long, I was treated once more to their above-and-beyond attentiveness as they helped me change the battery in Adam’s waning headlamp and we were ready to move on out again. I knew for certain it needed to be sooner rather than later. The dark woods awaited us. A few times I remember telling him, “Adam, this is the last time! The last time you will run this trail until you come back someday.” He assured me it was the last time. EVER. There was only one other stop on the trail as my own headlamp grew dim where we were passed by a woman and her pacer. I had Adam take a hydration break while I replaced the batteries. It’s amazing what a difference a bright, as opposed to not dim, light makes.

The rejuvenating power of the sun!

The rejuvenating power of the sun!

And this next stretch is where the miracle started to happen. I had been told if we could keep him running until daylight, he’d be home free. I remember being amazed myself to look up and see light at the top of the trees above. I remember thinking, “Is that the moon?”, and then hearing that first bird… the hopeful morning song of the whip-poor-will calling out in the dark woods not that much unlike the one you hear in this video clip – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sukE9pGayRc. It was then the full realization hit that it was daylight. We had made it to daylight! I pointed up and said, “Adam, look… it’s daylight. You know what that means? Today’s the day. Today’s the day you run 100 miles!” The next few miles were a challenge as we winded back and forth through the woods, me worrying the entire time that maybe we were not on the trail, but not wanting to burden Adam with my worry by voicing it. So I looked for and inwardly and outwardly rejoiced every time we saw a pink ribbon or arrow on the ground reassuring me that indeed… we were still on the trail. Almost unexpectedly, we popped out of the forest onto the paved road we had to run on for just a little ways to the first aid station where Eric (our final pacer and the absolute perfect one to bring Adam to the finish line, I might add!) was waiting to take him on the home stretch. Emotions surfaced sharply and unexpectedly, tears welling up in my eyes, overpowering me as I realized I was running (yes, running!) alongside him (did I mention that we were running??!!) down that paved road and up to that first aid station in those early morning dawn hours, the sky filled with such beautiful light… it was an experience I can’t explain in words or ever replicate. A euphoria, a sense of re-awakening, a sense of hope and pride in his accomplishment I could never describe. And I said it out loud again. Just in case Adam hadn’t heard me the first time. “This is the DAY, Adam! This is the beautiful, amazing day you run 100 miles! We did it! No. YOU did it!”

No better way to pass the morning hours!

No better way to pass the morning hours!

The Mark Twain National Forest is pretty dark, even with the moon, in the wee hours of the morning. Cut off for this trail ultra was 32 hours. He wanted to finish in 24, but to my knowledge he’d never done a trail run like this before. I was literally picking up his leg for him and then supporting him as he would lift himself across the logs across the trail at various points. I would later find out this was largely because of a hamstring injury he sustained earlier in the race. On the last one, I actually lifted his leg across and then physically lifted/pulled him across the log myself. At certain points during the night he was fighting to stay awake. In fact, I’m quite certain he might have run while sleeping the last part of our run. I was very humbled and a lot inspired by the whole experience… it really spoke to me about the power of a good “encourager” and how important encouragement is to finishing when you don’t have the power to encourage yourself. I was glad to be able to play a small part in him achieving his big goal. He EARNED that belt buckle! So proud of him. So amazing to see “Don’t want to? Do it anyway.” in action.”

The Law of Exponential Taper Gremlin Growth

At any given time, the last 20 weeks or so either feel like they have blown by quicker than I could blink or crawled by at a pace that would make a 3-toed sloth laugh. This weekend, I tackled a sub-zero marathon on Saturday, and then slogged through a snow-covered follow-up run on Sunday. Each had their highs and lows, but they were good training runs and I’m feeling strong. More importantly, this weekend marked my last long back-to-back weekend, which means I now have the long-awaited joy of tapering! Did I say joy? Maybe I meant disdain. You see, the psychological and physical aches and pains that tapering, combined with a long and intense training season, bring, seem to have grown to proportions I haven’t experienced before. This obviously led me to wonder if there might be more to my extended tapering pains. The result is a theory that will no doubt win me accolades the world over, so I guess y’all should feel honored that I’m sharing it with you first!

Perfect weather for a marathon, eh?

Perfect weather for a marathon, eh?

Aside from the vehicle-induced aches and pains I recently incurred, I’ve noticed that the phantom wandering pains that typically arrive during my taper period came much earlier this time around. I probably started feeling various issues about 5 weeks ago, and they’ve been flowing through my body ever since. My right Achilles was acting up, and then it was my left forefoot, along with both of my knees at various points, and my groin before that. I’ve monitored all of these issues, and they’ve gradually dissipated and then disappeared altogether. However, they seemed to begin around the time I really started to look forward to my upcoming trip to Arizona and Across the Years. I’ve written before about battling the injury gremlin, and this most recent ongoing battle led me to wonder if the fact that everything was happening earlier had anything to do with the increased distance I was running. I mean, I will be attempting to run longer than I’ve ever run before, and the entire race experience will be brand new. I’ll be stepping into uncharted territory, much like all of my other running firsts. Perhaps my body knows this, and it began making me hyper-aware of every ache and pain that much earlier as a result.

I think winter is finally here.

I think winter is finally here.

Over the last two years, I’ve pushed myself harder and further than ever before, and my endurance has certainly increased. My recovery time has also decreased, which has been a welcome development, especially considering my consistent back-to-back long runs on the weekends. As a result, my outlook on various distances has changed along with my goals, which is to be expected, I suppose. This has led me to contemplate the recent exponential growth of my tapering conundrum. It would seem as if the more I increase my race distance, the earlier my taper gremlin emerges to start whispering sweet nothings in my ear. In general, you can think about this Law of Exponential Taper Gremlin Growth like this:

Taper Graph 2.1

Now I should be clear that my sample (methodology) is one of convenience (me) and these results may be limited to my own well-being (limitations). However, it seems fairly clear at this point that the longer the race, the longer the tapering aches and pains. This wouldn’t be horrible, except for that fact that I’m still only tapering for the next three weeks, which means I have been left to deal with the drawbacks of a taper, while still logging long distances. This hardly seems fair! If a graphical representation hasn’t made this new, highly scientific discussion clear, I will also include a more detailed explanation (discussion). Ultimately, I think I can work through the following race distance stages.

Stage 1 (Half-Marathon): I’m ready and feeling good- let’s go!

Stage 2 (Marathon): I could sure use a massage, but let’s knock this out!

Stage 3 (50K): I think my knees could definitely use the rest.

Stage 4 (50 miles): My back, knees, and shins are definitely feeling the training, but I’m ready.

Stage 5 (100K): Thoughts of seeing a PT or podiatrist creep in a few times a week.

Stage 6 (100 miles/ 24 hours): Those thoughts are happening daily. Can I just taper in the hospital to be safe?

After what can definitely be called an exhausting training period and academic semester, I’m definitely ready for my taper, as well as a bit of rest before January hits. Ultimately, I know the various aches and pains come with the territory, and I’ve put my body through a lot lately, so it has earned a more relaxed schedule. My endurance is up, and I’m as ready as I’m gong to be for this race, so focusing on the planning, organization, and nutrition will gladly fill my thoughts for the next three weeks. In my free time, perhaps I can shop this “law” around to various scientific journals. This publication showing up on my vita would definitely turn some heads!

Gear Review: CEP Arm Coolers

It’s no secret that I don’t get along very well with the heat. However, I’ve learned to embrace it as much as you can while still harboring illogical dreams of somehow altering the rotation and tilt of the Earth so that Iowa becomes the ideal climate for my particular preferences. Perhaps once they conclusively get the whole God Particle thing figured out, CERN can turn their attention to my needs. In the meantime, I’m always on the lookout for new cooling and hydration options.

If only the LHC could work for me!  Photo Credit: National Geographic

If only the LHC could work for me!
Photo Credit: National Geographic

I’ve been thinking about my upcoming 50-mile run along the RAGBRAI course in a few weeks, and about how I will do my best to beat the heat. In addition to carrying plenty of water and hydrating, along with electrolytes and proper nutrition, my clothing choices will also be important. After riding RAGBRAI last year, I’m prepared for the fact that I’ll be out in the sun quite a bit, with very few shade options. Thus, I began looking at arm coolers to supplement my attire for just such a hot weather run.

I first read about arm coolers in the context of runners tackling the Badwater 135. Ironically, I’m now watching Running on the Sun while I write this post. After doing my usual high level of research, and reading numerous reviews of arm coolers, I settled on he CEP Arm Coolers and pulled the trigger on Amazon. 

armcoolers-2

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, arm coolers look almost identical to arm warmers that you may wear in colder weather. They come in handy because they allow you to stay warm during the beginning of a run, but remove them when the temperature rises. Unlike the warmers, arm coolers are designed to help keep your arms and the rest of your body cooler during hotter temperatures.

The CEP arm coolers are 90% polyester, and 10% spandex, and have a light, then feel to them. The pair I bought came in white, and although they aren’t initially see-through, they become see-through when they get wet, to give you an idea of the thickness of the material. The result is a high-wicking fabric, with UPF 50+ sun protection, and “cool-cell moisture activated skin cooling technology”. I was a bit skeptical of the cooling properties at first, but figured they would at least be a sun-blocking asset.

After taking them out for several runs in 90+ degree weather, I am thoroughly impressed and a new disciple of their usefulness! After only a few miles, the sweat was building up, but my arms felt relatively dry, and it was nice not to feel the sweat running down my arms. When I’m in town, I like to plan my routes around he wonderful park system in Ames and the water fountains they house. At my first stop, I soaked my arms in cold water. The arm coolers absorbed more water than I thought they would, and dripping was minimal. When I headed back out to continue my run, they worked their magic. My arms felt noticeably cooler, and they hit the pressure points on my arms, which had the effect of cooling and relaxing my core as well. They continued to do their job admirably for several miles, which ended up being ideal for the water fountain stops I had planned.

About to head out for a test run!

About to head out for a test run!

As far as fit is concerned, I was quite happy as well. They have an elastic band that fits over the bicep to hold the arm coolers up, and this worked well to prevent them from slipping down my arms (which happens a lot with the Northface arm warmers I have). They hugged my arms comfortably, without being constricting. CEP is known for their compression gear, but these arm coolers are not meant to offer compression. The length worked well for my arms as well. From armpit to wrist, my arms measure 22 3/4″, and a size medium came to the midpoint on my biceps very nicely. I have relatively skinny arms however, so if you have a bit more circumference, you may want to consider moving up to a large.

All-in-all, I’m quite pleased with these arm coolers, and would certainly recommend them to anyone looking to cool off in the hot sun or keep the sun at bay. My only caveat is that you make sure you get them wet in order to truly reap the benefits. They’ll do the trick as far as keeping the sun out, but they need some moisture in order to cool you down. This runner’s Irish-German pasty white skin is certainly thankful for the protection!

Getting Lucky in Minneapolis!

Apparently the luck of the Irish is strong with me, because my running pursuits have now resulted in me “Getting Lucky” twice just this month! Although most cultural traces of my Irish identity have been absorbed by my now White identity, I still have a soft spot in my heart for Ireland, and hope to one day trace my ancestry through the rolling hills of the beautiful Irish countryside. Until I’m able to book my trip to Dublin, I’ll have to settle for running and beer, which both have a long and storied history in Ireland!

You can't go wrong with a sponsor like this!

You can’t go wrong with a sponsor like this!

After “getting lucky” and setting a PR at the Little Rock Marathon a few weeks back, I was excited to head up to Minneapolis for the Get Lucky 7K. I’ve run numerous Team Ortho races in the past, and completing the full “Monster Series” was a fantastic experience, so I knew the Get Lucky race would be no exception. However, this race had the added significance of being the first 7K race for the beautiful epicurean!

After being diagnosed with Sjogren’s Syndrome, she has embarked on an incredible journey of personal experience and life adjustment. We’ve made significant and delicious changes to our diet, and found ourselves that much more committed to a healthy lifestyle on all fronts. You can read about her journey in more detail at What If…? Gourmet. After previous attempts at running, she decided to once again try to start running at the beginning of this year. Since January 1st, I’ve had the pleasure of watching her steadily increase her distances and decrease per pace, and more importantly, fall in love with running 🙂

Now, I know I haven’t been running all that long myself in the grand scheme of things. I think it can be easy to forget the basic joys and motivations of running when you are caught up in the details of training and preparation for the next race. Ok, at least that’s the case for me. However, for the past two and a half months, I’ve gotten to watch the beautiful epicurean return home from run after run, each time more happy than the last. Sometimes its beautiful outside, sometimes its dreary or snowy or dark, and sometimes her body feels great and other times her legs feel like lead weights. Throughout it all though, is the glint in her eyes that comes with something new and exciting. The glint of joy and personal accomplishment is unmistakable and its an absolutely beautiful and breathtaking sight.

Get to start...in 45 minutes.

Ready to start…in 45 minutes.

We took that motivation and energy up to Minneapolis, excited to toe the line for her first 7K. We left in plenty of time, but ran into some traffic as we got closer to the starting line. I was worried that we’d be late for the start, so she got out of the car and headed for the start while I parked the car. I got the car into the ramp and sprinted for the starting line. Luckily, the reality of 10,000 + runners meant they were releasing people in waves, so I had plenty of time to find her among the crowd. We ended up waiting about 45 minutes before we crossed the timing pad, and we were off!

I ran with her for about the first mile. The crowd had separated, and we were moving along really well. She was looking and feeling strong, and it was such a wonderful experience to be running alongside her during a race! After that, she turned me loose and I headed on ahead. I was determined to push myself hard enough to make it to the finish line with plenty of time to get situated so I could get a picture of her crossing the finish line. The roads were a lovely combination of ice and slush after some rather cold weather (surprise, right?!?), so I minded my footing but pushed myself in the cold air (about 22 at the start).

Crossing the finish line, surrounded by other runners!

Crossing the finish line, surrounded by other runners!

I crossed the finish line and was able to step off to the side and work my way into position for a perfect view. I knew she was feeling good on race morning, and she had a great final training run a few days prior, so I knew she was going to have a great race. However, she still surprised me with her pace and energy! She was all smiles at the end of the race, just like every other run, and the mark had been set. We walked up the path, through the crowd, and claimed our medals together, passing by the frozen cups of water (Mother Nature’s way of encouraging us to drink more coffee!), and headed for the car.

Proudly showing off her first race medal!

Proudly showing off her first race medal!

I’ve had the post-race conversation with countless friends in the past, recounting the details of the race and recapping how well we thought the race went. However, this was the first post-race conversation I’ve had with my partner,  so it held so much more meaning. She has been such an incredible support structure for me through all of my training and races, and the opportunity to now return the favor is quite gratifying. I have no doubt that we have many miles and races ahead of us, and I couldn’t be more proud or more excited to be able to run them together!

The first of many...

The first of many…

Little Rock Marathon 2013: A Tale of Two Races

After an annoyingly wet, snowy, and cold winter, I was pretty sure that the perfect running cure would be a destination race complete with sunshine and warm weather. Naturally, I headed south to cross another state off of my list. Enter Little Rock, Arkansas. Mother Nature may not have cooperated, but I still returned home with wonderful race weekend with friends under my belt, and a GIANT medal around my neck!

I took off with two other friends on Friday afternoon for the 9 1/2 hour drive down to Little Rock. We stopped in Bentonville, AR for the night, and felt somehow obligated to at least go into a Walmart since it happens to be headquartered there. I picked up a cheap throw-away sweatshirt to wear before the race, as it had become evident from the forecast that it wasn’t going to be nearly as warm as I had hoped.

Fe-eling ready for a marathon!

Fe-eling ready for a marathon!

Sleeping in on Saturday morning was a rare treat that I certainly didn’t take for granted. We hit the road and got to Little Rock around 1pm and headed straight for packet pick-up. The expo was quite a bit larger than I had anticipated, and it took an extra surge of will power to avoid spending money on more running gear that I didn’t need (I know you’ve all been there!).

Ready to race!

Ready to race!

After getting checked into the hotel, food was a priority. We found a great Mexican restaurant based on a recommendation from Tonja’s brother-in-law, and it ended up being the perfect pre-race meal, complete with an excellent margarita! After our late lunch, we headed back to the hotel and relaxed for a bit in the hot tub. Incidentally, I wish I could soak in a hot tub before every run. I’m going to need to work on that. 🙂

The race didn’t start until 8AM, so we didn’t have to get up too early (plus we crashed pretty early the night before!). We headed down near the start and met up with another friend who drove up for the race from Mississippi, which was a very nice bonus! As we lined up in the start coral, the 27 degree temperature began to sink into my less-than-fully covered body, and I could feel a bit of the feeling leaving my toes. Was I in Arkansas or Iowa? The echoes of Southern twang and hospitality, along with the lack of snow on the ground provided the distinction I needed to remind myself I was still in a new state running a new marathon.

As the gun sounded, we all shuffled off at a reasonable pace. They released runners in waves, which meant it wasn’t nearly as congested at the start as it would have been otherwise. Kecia and I were running the marathon, and Tonja was running the half-marathon, and luckily, the two courses stuck together for the first 10 or so miles.

I went into the race hoping to break the 4:00 hour barrier, which would be a PR for me, and something I had never done before (my PR entering the race was 4:07). This meant running approximately 9-minute miles. We were all feeling pretty good at the start (hot tub, perhaps?) and we clocked the first mile at 8:43, and I knew we were going a bit fast, but I always start a bit fast so I wasn’t too worried. When the next two miles came in at 8:40 and 8:36, I knew I had to put on the brakes a bit or I was going to be in trouble. We ended up maintaining a bit faster pace for the first half, and crossed the half-way point around 1:55. The first half of the marathon had been a wonderfully flat and comfortable course, and Kecia and I both found ourselves smiling and congratulating ourselves on an excellent marathon choice. Then race #2 started.

Almost as soon as we hit 13.1 miles, the hills appeared. It was as if the marathon itself was scolding us for deciding to keep running. For about the next 3 miles, I’m pretty sure we did nothing but climb hills. We would reach what we thought was a summit, and then turn a corner to find another hill. I was having flashbacks to Kansas City! The hills finally ended, and the initial descent was steep enough that I felt like I was back in Trinidad. After that, the course leveled out for the most part and our miles remained consistent.

This was without a doubt my most consistently paced marathon. I never really hit a wall, and the back-and-forth motivation that Kecia and I had going for us meant we were always pushing each other and maintaining our pace. We did however notice that our Garmins were hitting the miles further and further from the actual race mile markers. We weren’t going out of our way to add distance by any means, but we still seemed to be accumulating additional tenths of a mile with each passing mile we ran.

Crossing the finish line

Crossing the finish line

By the time the end was in sight, we knew we were going to end up running additional distance, but we didn’t care. We pushed through with the finish line in sight, and it felt amazing as always to cross the finish line! My official chip time ended up being 3:57:12, and my Garmin time was 3:54:05…either way, I broke 4 hours!! I was absolutely elated to not only have reached my goal, but done so with so much time to spare. I happily walked up to accept my medal…and just about fell over when they put it on. This was hands-down the largest race medal I had ever seen, and it weighed enough to practically pull both of us down. Tonja was waiting at the finish line, having conquered her half-marathon in style, and we all shared the same happy glow that comes with finishing a race.

All smiles after a PR performance!

All smiles after a PR performance!

After changing out of our race clothes, we had a quick lunch, headed back to the hotel to shower, and hit the road for our 9-hour drive home. I would have normally been happy to stay the night in Little Rock, but I had to teach the next day so getting back became a priority. I was so incredibly thankful that Kecia and Tonja were game to drive home after the race! It was a long drive, and all of our legs were stiff and a bit sore, but we still had a blast along the way. The trip of course wasn’t complete without a stop at the Hillbilly Hideout for snacks and pictures— we were in Arkansas, after all.

Race medals- as big as our heads!

Race medals- as big as our heads!

We arrived back in Ames around 1AM, just missing most of the next snow storm that was blowing through, and thankful to be home. The lack of sleep made the next day a bit of a challenge for all of us, but the memories and the medals made it all worth it!

The Hillbilly Hideout!

The Hillbilly Hideout!

The Benefits of Running Outdoors

The wacky weather continues as the most recent winter storm dumped copious amounts of snow on a wide stretch of the southwest and midwest. If you are like most people, this is the time of year where cabin fever really starts to kick in! Having just finished shoveling the driveway yet again, I can certainly say that I’m ready to get back to complaining about the heat of summer 🙂 More than the cold though, is the time we spend indoors. Even if you are an outdoor runner during the winter, you likely aren’t stepping outside nearly as much for other daily activities. When you do head outside, you are bundling up in layer upon layer of clothing, trying to put as much space between you and the cold and wind as possible. The reality is that we withdraw from mother nature in the winter months. We might as well find our own warm cave and head off to hibernate!

snow

So, as we near the end of our hibernation, I’ve been thinking a lot more about the benefits of running outdoors. I certainly try to avoid the dreadmill as much as possible (my two-year streak is still alive!), but other than boredom, I don’t have any real reason for doing so. For many of my friends, the treadmill is an excellent way to maintain training without dealing with the elements. This is especially true when it’s icy outside, as one of my friends who recently fractured her tailbone can attest. However, there are some other important reasons to try to get outside during the winter months, safely of course. A recent NYT Times article hit the nail on the head for me, and reinforced my commitment to running outdoors whenever possible. The highlights include:

1. You stride differently outdoors- you are constantly adapting to the terrain, and you occasionally run downhill as well (which isn’t very easy on the treadmill)

2. Outdoor running expends more energy- you are working harder outside!

3. Higher self-esteem and lower levels of tension, depression, and fatigue- in addition to the activity itself, you are increasing your vitamin D intake by taking advantage of the sun when it is out!

4. You are more active overall

5. Higher oxygen intake- and it’s fresh air, instead of the smelly version due to the sweaty person next to you!

I’m heading to Little Rock, AR for the Little Rock Marathon this weekend, and I couldn’t be more excited to put on a pair of shorts and run outside. The temperature is only going to be in the 30’s at the start, but I don’t care! Thus, for at least 4 hours (fingers crossed) of running, I’ll be able to remind myself of the milder weather to come. I don’t know if the snow is done falling, or if we still have some freezing rain ahead of us (knock on wood that we don’t!), but I’m certainly going to continue to push myself to head outside for those miles, even when a warm blanket, a snuggly dog, and a good book are far more enticing!

Critters make the cold bearable!

Post-Workout Snuggles: Critters make the cold bearable!

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