Chasing 42

Life, the Universe, & Running

Archive for the tag “refreshing”

A CyclONE City Running Tour(s)

I’ve always loved living in college communities. There’s a unique atmosphere of spirit and support that truly can’t be replicated in any other environment, and working for the university allows me to feel like a part of that community in a very special way. I moved to Ames, IA from Blacksburg, VA (Virginia Tech), and in doing so, traded one enthusiastic college town for another. My undergraduate experience at the University of Minnesota offered a very different sense of community connection due to the size of the Minneapolis area, but even in a city as large as Minneapolis, the Gopher spirit was and still is amazingly strong. My experiences in Blacksburg were incredible, and taught me what it is to be a part of a university community with unrivaled passion and energy. Now that I’ve been in Ames for almost 10 years, it’s clear to me that smaller towns simply make the town-gown relationship that much more intimate, and Ames continues to prove over and over why it is consistently rated as one of the best small towns in the country for a wide variety of economic, social, recreational, and educational reasons.

The latest demonstration of CyclONE spirit has come in the form of 30 individually painted Cy statues scattered throughout the campus and community. Not only are the statues themselves quite beautiful and impressive works of art, but they serve as a fundraising source for various charitable organizations, on top of fostering Iowa State and Ames pride throughout the area. The statues were unveiled just a few weeks ago, and became instant magnets for photo opportunities and scavenger hunts. It obviously made sense to see them all, and running around town was the clear transportation choice. The Ames Chamber of Commerce made the map available, and it didn’t take long for a friend to turn the map into a running route! Over the course of a week, I embarked on two separate running tours of CyclONE City. Throughout each adventure, I was once again reminded of how lucky I am to live where I do, and to have such amazing friends!

 

Photo Credit: Tim Rasmussen

Photo Credit: Tim Rasmussen

Photo Credit: Tim Rasmussen

Photo Credit: Tim Rasmussen

Photo Credit: Tim Rasmussen

Photo Credit: Tim Rasmussen

Photo Credit: Tim Rasmussen

Photo Credit: Tim Rasmussen

Photo Credit: Tim Rasmussen

Photo Credit: Tim Rasmussen

Photo Credit: Tim Rasmussen

Photo Credit: Tim Rasmussen

Photo Credit: Troy Thompson

Photo Credit: Troy Thompson

Interestingly enough, I shouldn’t be surprised that two of my previous homes have also embraced similar public art projects. Feel free to find the Hokie birds next time you are in Blacksburg, or the Peanuts gang statues next time you are in the Minneapolis area! Do you have any fun public art in your community? Have you organized a public art run before?

Tailwind Nutrition Review

For most of the summer, I’ve been using Tailwind nutrition as my go-to nutrition source during most runs over 10 miles, and I thought I’d share some thoughts. Tailwind kept popping up on various ultrarunning blogs and websites that I follow, and I’m always on the lookout for the most efficient nutrition solution for what I can only describe as a finicky stomach. I’ve mentioned before that I have given up on all sports drinks, and most GUs and Gels don’t sit well in my stomach either. The sugar just seems to be too much for me, and I always end up with a few unplanned pit stops. So, I was excited by the idea of an all-in-one nutrition product that I could dissolve in water and drink throughout my entire run.

tn-logofinal

I typically carry some sort of portable hydration solution, whether it be the incredibly comfortable and economical Simple Hydration Bottle (love this bottle!)  that frees up my hands during shorter, faster runs, or my Salomon pack, which sustains me for most of my long-distance training. Tailwind offers a pretty exciting product that has the potential to eliminate the need to carry around additional GUs, chomps, bars, and electrolyte pills or tabs. Since I’m already carrying water, this seems like a no brainer…on paper. However, did Tailwind come through and lighten my load without lightening my stomach?

It has absolutely come through! I’ve been nothing but impressed with this product. It truly does offer the complete calorie + electrolyte + hydration solution. The taste, portability, ease of mixing, and easily digestible nature make this product my new go-to nutrition solution for training runs and races.

My order even came personalized with a hand-written thank you note!

My order even came personalized with a hand-written thank you note!

Taste: I ordered the berry flavor, as this is usually my first choice with any new product. I was initially skeptical after tasting so many different artificial berry-flavored sports drinks and flavored waters. However, the berry flavor was light, smooth, and refreshing. It was not overpowering, and it mixed with the water so completely that I would have never guessed it had been a powder. They recommend approximately 1 scoop per 12 oz. of water, but I’ve added even more for some added calories and it still mixed cleanly like a champ! They sent me a small package of the lemon flavor as a thank you for my first order, and I had the exact same reaction. I usually hate lemon and lemon-lime flavored drinks (why is it ALWAYS lemon lime at aid stations?!), but the Tailwind lemon was just as smooth, light, and refreshing. I’m looking forward to tasting the mandarin orange as well.

Portability: I’ve been able to carry it around with me in several different formats. When I want to pack extra on self-supported runs, I simply portion it out into ziplock bags and carry them in my Ultraspire Quantum waist belt. It’s really easy to empty the powder into my empty water bottle and fill it up at a water fountain around town. I’ve also simply brought along the entire bag and left it in my car so I can circle back at various points, very much like you would do with a drop bag during a race. I plan to drop empty water bottles with the Tailwind already in them as well, which should make for a quick transition. Tailwind even sells individual pouches for ultimate portability!

Ease of Mixing: What can I say? It takes minimal effort and dissolves quickly and completely. You’ll never have a gritty aftertaste or see it settle at the bottom of your bottle. Cleaning your bottle out is as simple as if you were only using water.

Digestion: This was the biggest test for me. How would it sit in my stomach? My sugar intake overall is now so low that I can barely stomach the taste of sports drinks because they are so sweet. Tailwind has such a light taste that it’s more like drinking water with a hint of berry to make things interesting in your mouth. I’ve used it exclusively for up to 6 hours thus far, and am happy to report that I have not once had any GI issues! I feel full, hydrated, and energized, and my calorie consumption seems to be more consistent as well. It’s easy to forget to eat at times, but you are always drinking.

nutrition information

nutrition information

Of note is the decision by Tailwind not to include protein in their mix. They reviewed quite a bit of research, and determined that most of it indicates no benefit to a carb + protein mix, and that furthermore, protein can hinder the absorption of carbohydrates, as well as being hard to digest. They now offer a version with caffeine, which I haven’t tried yet but will probably give a chance as well. The cost per serving comes out to be less than you would spend on other solid nutritional products as well, so you will end up saving money in the long run, which is always nice! Tailwind is also naturally Gluten Free, which makes the epicurean happy. Overall, I’ve been completely won over but how well Tailwind works for me. I’ll be putting it to the ultimate test during the Mark Twain 100 in a few weeks as well, so stay tuned. We’ll see if it’s still keeping my hunger at bay after 16 hours on the trail 🙂

Reflections on My First 90+ mile Training Week

When we left for the North Shore, I wasn’t entirely sure I’d be able to hike as much as I wanted, let alone trail run. I was delighted to be able to dispel my doubts with some wonderful trail time. When we returned, I knew I needed to refocus my training in a sustainable way as I ramped up for the final few weeks of intense training before a two-week taper. The time off left me questioning how my body would handle the longer distances, but I knew I needed to find out before getting to Missouri and toeing the line for the Mark Twain 100. Thus, I dedicated the last week to a “slow, steady, and long” mantra and put my legs to the test. I couldn’t have been happier with the result.

As I’ve gotten more and more tuned in to the trail and ultra-running community, I’ve become more aware of the training schedules of many of the elite athletes that I admire. It seems as though I’m constantly reading about 100-120 mile training weeks being rattled off as though it was a normal part of life. For them, I suppose it is a normal part of life, eh? Those numbers still seem amazing to me, especially considering I still only have one 100-mile finish to my name, and my training weeks still hover more consistently in the 50-70 mile vicinity. Obviously, everyone’s body performs differently and is able to handle different amounts of stress and distance. I know how important it is to listen to your body and get a feel for when you’ve pushed yourself too far. This is something I’ve been working on rather consistently for the last several years, but I know I still have plenty to learn about what my body can accomplish.

We arrived back in Iowa on Sunday afternoon, and I began to give my upcoming training week some thought. Pacing, or more specifically, slowing down, has not been my strong suit in longer ultras, and it has predictably come back to bite me in the ass. Thus, I wanted a chance to force myself to slow down and put on some slower than comfortable miles. This week was my chance to work on pacing and endurance, and see just what my legs had in them at this point in my training regime.

irunchallenge

My weekly runs typically involve some speed work and hill work, with more repeated shorter runs. This time, I decided to push further during the week, and I committed to running four consecutive half marathons during the week. These four runs would force me to aim for around a 10:00 min/mile pace, and think more intentionally about form and nutrition. The weather fluctuated throughout the week but my legs held up beautifully. After each run, I still had plenty of gas left in the tank (as I should), and I didn’t feel the need for any recovery time. More importantly, I nailed my pacing goals, with overall paces within one second (or dead on) each time. What was even more exciting for me was I would be heading into my weekend long run(s) with 52 miles already in the books. This was by far the most miles I had ever tallied during the week, and it was exciting to know I didn’t feel any worse for the wear.

Although I was feeling good, I continued to be realistic about my weekend goals. I headed out to a groomed trail to meet some friends for a comfortable early Saturday morning run. The temps were comfortable, but the humidity was out in full force, and I was soaked fairly quickly. Humidity seems to sap my energy and weigh down my legs more than just about any other uncontrollable factor. I clocked in 20 miles on the trail, had a wonderful time chatting with friends about life, the universe, and running, and decided to break for a shower and some nutrition. It was a good opportunity to dry out, change socks, and squeeze in a little rest.

The most important aspect of ultra-training seems to be learning how to run on tired legs, which is why back-to-back runs are so important. Thus, I was delighted to meet up with some friends in the afternoon to join them for a run. This was their last large training brick in preparation for Ironman Wisconsin, so they entered the run after 115 miles on the bike. I love chatting with them about the similarities and differences between triathlon and ultra-running as sports, both in terms of the training and culture. It’s also a joy to have friends to understand the demands of ultra-endurance activities on a personal level. Our runs are always comfortable, and fly by no matter how tired we are from already running, cycling, or swimming. Well, they might have just gotten out of the water, but the only water I’m interested in incorporating into my workouts is the cold water I pour into my hydration pack!

Check!

Check!

The sun came out and cooked us a bit more than the early morning haze, but I still made it back home feeling energized and excited to have logged another 12+ miles. My shorter run on Sunday was a relaxing way to end the week, and the 7.5 miles I logged felt great, although the heat and humidity was beginning to wear me down. I had thought about the possibility of breaking 90 miles earlier in the weekend, but had put it out of my mind. My goal was simply to push myself and log some quality training miles. However, when I uploaded my data and realized I had hit 92.3 miles, I was ecstatic! Now, my goal is to once again run even further than this in a 24 hour period, so I am fully willing to celebrate in moderation. However, this week still seemed like a milestone to me. I proved to myself that I could log the big training week, and that my legs and body were at a level of fitness that could sustain those distances.  I may never log repeated 120 mile weeks, but I’ll keep tackling my goals and setting new goals along the way!

On Reconnecting with the Run: North Shore Adventures

“What’s true for us as individual humans is true for the civilization we create:
a sprint culture, seeking ever greater speed and power in all things cannot endure.”

– Ed Ayres, The Longest Race

There is no finish line. Our fast-paced society has certainly taught us to be goal-oriented, always striving to be better, faster, stronger, smarter, and a host of other qualities that our individualist, Western culture values. When we cross that finish line, whether at a race or in the board room, we immediately turn our attention to the next finish line. All of this is to say that we create artificial targets for ourselves because we think we need them to feel happy, satisfied, and successful. I’m certainly guilty of this, and I”m sure many of you are as well. I am continually setting goals for myself, whether they be running or academic-related. I’ve convinced myself that my identity is shaped by whether or not I achieve those goals. In some ways, I suppose these beliefs have become a series of self-fulfilling prophecies. This is not to say that we shouldn’t strive to be better than ourselves, or that we shouldn’t derive a sense of satisfaction in achieving something new, exciting, or extreme. We should always take pleasure in those moments. However, I’m realizing, more and more, that we need not define ourselves by those moments. Doing so robs us of the enjoyment that the journey brings, the benefit of the physical and mental growth we receive along the way, and the relationships we build in the process. Who would have thought that a brief injury and a yearly camping trip would have produced such insight, eh?

As you may recall, I managed to injure my back rather successfully a little over a week ago. A subsequent trip to the physical therapist revealed that my issue was in the pelvis, which has apparently decided not to twist forward when I bent over. Not surprisingly, this is quite painful. My pelvis was out of alignment, in part from the injury, but also from extreme tightness in my lower back, and persistent leg issues related to a small length differential. This injury caused the epicurean and I to worry about not being able to embark on our yearly, rejuvenating adventure to the north shore of Lake Superior for some camping, hiking, and disconnecting. Fortunately, my mobility improved in the days following the injury, and we hit the road for Split Rock State Park as soon as I finished my PT appointment. My back was still a bit tender, but I could walk, and was confident that I could get around in the woods with limited difficulty. We had stumbled upon a backpack site in the park last year and immediately fell in love with it. We reserved it as soon as we got home last year, and were excited to revisit this peaceful, secluded oasis nestled on the shore of Lake Superior. There’s really nothing quite like feeling as though you have the whole lake to yourself! It was a short hike (less than a mile) from the parking lot and camp office, yet far enough away from everyone else that we felt as though we had the forest to ourselves.

Not a bad sight first thing in the morning!

Not a bad sight first thing in the morning!

Although I felt up to traveling, I was still uncertain as to whether I’d be able to enjoy the hiking and trail running that I had been so excited to experience. We arrived late on Wednesday and quickly set up camp before nestling into our tent for the night as the northern sun gave way to the full moon glistening on the glassy waters of Lake Superior. There’s really no substitute for the white noise of the lake as the waves break on the shore. We awoke the next morning and decided on a comfortable hike on the nearby trails to get our bodies moving. This first test of my mobility proved to be a success, and a lovely morning hike was just what we both needed to feel the stress leave us in waves. After lunch, I decided to test my body and head out for my first trail run. I hadn’t run in 5 days, which was the most time I’ve taken off all year, so I was equal parts anxious and excited to lace up my Altra Lone Peaks and tackle the beautiful single-track of the Superior Hiking Trail. It wasn’t long before my legs remembered why I loved trail running and this particular spot in the world so much. There’s truly nothing that compares to finding yourself in the fortunate position of choosing between beautiful wild views and technical single-track that forces you to keep your mind and body focused on the task at hand. This was just the run I needed. Although it had only been 5 days since my last run, it has been a full year since our last trip to Lake Superior, and I felt like I was reconnecting with an old friend. The trail greeted my with all of its rocky, rooty excitement and joy. Interestingly, I forgot to pack my Garmin, and although I had my phone stowed away in my pack, I was still running solo. This made the reconnection with my footfalls, balance, and breathing all the more enjoyable. I had a general idea of where I was going, and knew I had to be back for dinner. Other than that, however, it was just me and the trail. There was no finish line.

The hike is always worth it for the view at the top :)

The hike is always worth it for the view at the top 🙂

That 12-mile trail run propelled me into subsequent adventures. The epicurean and I tackled some challenging hikes, and I was able to follow them up with more running and exploring. The elevation I tallied, relative to my everyday miles, was a not-so-subtle reminder of just how flat Iowa is, and now much more intentional I need to be about seeking out the vertical. I was able to explore some new sections of the Superior Hiking Trail this time around as well. I think I fall more and more in love with the trail and area each time I lace up my shoes. Following the coverage of some of the major ultra-running events throughout the summer (Western States, Hardrock, Speedgoat, etc.) has left we dreaming about the mountain trails in the Western U.S. This trip North reminded me of what I still have available in my own “backyard” and left me grateful for the opportunity to explore it with my best friend.

So many options!

So many options!

I’m not going to go into great detail on my specific hikes/runs, but will instead let the pictures speak for themselves. At some point during each outing, I had to make the arbitrary decision as to when to turn back towards camp. It was simultaneously tempting and encouraging to know that the trail kept going, even if I didn’t. There was no turn-around point, no cone marking the half-way point, and not signs counting down to the finish. There was just the trail. It’s important to remember that running can be one of the most amazing life-long activities, and I truly hope it is just that for me. I’ll always set goals for myself, and I know there will be more setbacks in the future. However, as long as I can, I’ll continue to lace up my shoes. I’ll continue to force myself to hold back in those opening miles, to focus on my endurance, and to remember…there is no finish line.

Exploring Temperance River State Park...

Exploring Temperance River State Park…

The top of Carleton Peak.

The top of Carleton Peak.

There aren't too many climbs like this in Ames!

There aren’t too many climbs like this in Ames!

NorthShore2014-7

Goodnight, Lake Superior...We'll see you again next year!

Goodnight, Lake Superior…We’ll see you again next year!

June Wrap-Up

It’s amazing how fast time can seem to speed by once you are looking back, even though it can be moving infinitesimally slow when you are in the moment. You know the feeling I’m talking about, whether you are running around a track like a greyhound, or on a treadmill like a gerbil, it always seems like the clock isn’t moving until you’re done, at which point you convince yourself that it “wasn’t so bad”. The mind is a wonderful tool for positive spin when the alternative is much less desirable. The first six months of 2014 seem to have disappeared while I was busy registering for a race, and yet I can’t let myself forget the horrendous winter that wouldn’t end, which has now been replaced by monsoon season in Iowa. I wasn’t aware that there was a rainy season in the “heartland”, but I share it now for all of you. Consider yourselves warned.

June was indeed a busy month, complete with an amazing Relay Iowa experience, plenty of heat, wind, and rain, and another consistent training regime that kept me trained for any and all upcoming races or spur-of-the-moment crazy ideas that might come my way. I managed just over 200 miles in June, despite ample rest periods, and those miles put me over 1400 miles for the first half of the year. I’ve transitioned into more early morning running to avoid the heat and humidity, and ushered in some additional track work to try and give myself a speed boost for that final kick, whether it’s 10 meters or 10 miles long.

We put our artist talents to good use and painted our own gnomes...who knows where you might find them!

We put our artist talents to good use and painted our own gnomes…who knows where you might find them!

I found myself in a bit of a training gap following Relay Iowa, however. I had only registered for one race, the Route 66 Marathon, for the remainder of the year, and I needed a bit more structure on my schedule! I was shooting for a late August or early September race to set my sights on, and I did my usual extensive research before making a choice. I was very tempted by the Lean Horse 100, as I had heard really good things about the course and it is within driving distance. Unfortunately, the August 23rd date is only two days before the beginning of the fall semester at Iowa State, and I wasn’t all that excited about slowly hobbling into my first lecture after a weekend of sleep deprivation! Ultimately, I decided on the Mark Twain 100, which takes place on September 13-14 in Berryman, MO. The course consists of four 25-mile loops on mostly single track with about 10,000 feet of total elevation gain. The weather should be (fingers crossed) perfect at that time, and the epicurean and I will be able to camp near the starting line for free, along with Looper. It looks like a beautiful course, and I’m excited to push myself over the summer to prepare for it. I’ll probably run another leg of RAGBRAI this year as well, as the timing will be perfect for my schedule.

I’ve also been spending a bit more time on speed work at the ISU track to supplement my training, and I’m learning to enjoy my 200 and 400m repeats around the soft oval! It’s a nice way to mix up my schedule, and works nicely as the first of my Tuesday two-a-days. It’s also a consistent course, which means even less concentration as I go around in circles. The rain has been falling by the bucket for the last few days and there is a lot of flooding around town, so the track has the added bonus of being dry!

Luckily the berry patch isn't flooded. It's strawberry season!

Luckily the berry patch isn’t flooded. It’s strawberry season!

Other than these developments, it’s been pretty slow around here for the past few weeks. The calm of summer has definitely settled in, leaving plenty of opportunities to set my own training schedule and work around teaching and writing tasks. Have you thought about your fall race schedule now that we are entering the heat of summer? What are you training for in the coming months? Do you have an A race or are you just playing it by ear? I’d love to hear about your upcoming adventures, so commence your commenting and happy running!

Run Report: Relay Iowa (Part 2)

I’ve participated in plenty of evening and overnight runs, so the basic premise wasn’t all that daunting. However, it had been quite a long day already, so I was rather tired when I handed off the GPS chip just into the new day. As a team, we had been running for over 12 hours at this point, and our group had the GPS chip until just after 5AM, so we had many miles yet ahead of us!

Saturday

We continued to trade-off, attempting to stick with close to hour time blocks. However, the darkness and quiet of the country roads started to play tricks with our minds. It’s amazing how creative your mind can become when you are out on the road by yourself, with nothing but the light of your headlamp to guide you. Every sound takes on new meaning, and the possibility of finding yourself on the pages of one of the worst-case scenario books becomes real. We began pairing up for some of the miles just to keep each other company and hear the sound of something other than far-off rustling and howls. I’m sure that was just the wind, right?

The wee hours of the morning passed us by in a bit of a haze, and we were rather subdued on this first overnight shift, but we kept our energy up. It was fun to occasionally pass other teams as we made our way deeper into the pack, and nice to cheer on other runners, our voices echoing out of the van into the darkness. We met the second van around 5:15AM, and wrapped up our shift, happy to pass off the GPS chip, and ready to catch a few hours of sleep. We found a local park to stop at and shower, and the warm water was offset by the insidious gnats and ticks that accosted us while we cleaned up.   We were near the middle of the state at this point, and were lucky enough to head down the road a bit and catch a few hours of sleep at a teammate’s house. The sleep wasn’t great, but we were so tired that it didn’t matter. We walked into the house silently and collapsed on the floor.

We awoke to overcast skies and much cooler temperatures than the previous day. We made a pit stop on the way out-of-town for some breakfast/lunch at a gas station, and caught up to the other van for the GPS handoff. I led off our shift again, and was still rather tired, but food helped to perk me up, and the cool weather was delightful. Our entire afternoon shift was much more energetic, in large part due to the cooler weather and random sprinkles that we seemed to be outrunning. I managed to pick up some coffee along the way as well, which my body was crying out for at this point. The rest of the afternoon went quickly as we played around with our speed a bit, and had some fun chasing down other teams along the way. As a team, we were moving at a rather good clip, and were on pace to finish in under 48 hours, which was exciting!

We passed off the chip once more, and headed into a nearby town for a shower, dinner, and a nap. A local high school opened its doors for us to shower and nap, and it was refreshing to shower in a cleaner, more contained area. The warm water woke me up a bit, and we headed to a nearby PizzaHut for a quick dinner. At that point, we were all a bit punchy and sleep-deprived, so everything was that much funnier. Dinner was a calamity of errors, and we may not have left fed well, but we had some great anecdotes to remember our time. The high school opened up their wrestling room (soft mats on the floor) for folks to nap in, and it wasn’t the most comfortable situation, but we all still managed a few hours of much-needed sleep. The alarm went off far too quickly, however, and we are once again packing up to go meet the other van for the handoff in the dark. Overnight shift #2 was upon us.

We got more and more loopy as the weekend wore on!

We got more and more loopy as the weekend wore on!

Sunday

I bought a few Starbucks frappuccinos to perk me up, and the first one did the trick as I led things off. We decided to break up this shift a bit more, so we began by carving out the runs into two-mile segments. This meant doing some speed work, which was a welcome change-of-pace (pun intended!) and we alternated quickly. I was able to get my mile times into the low 7’s, which I was quite happy with considering the miles I already had on my legs, and the sleep deprivation. We were able to pass the GPS chip to a teammate to run as the clock struck midnight and marked his birthday, which was a blast. We filled the void with jello-O shots and other proper overnight running supplements, and our energy was much higher!

I'm awake...I swear!

I’m awake…I swear!

The rest of the morning went by rather quickly. We were running 1 and 2 mile segments, stopping along the way, and dancing and cheering other teams along the road. I’m sure we woke up at least one clueless farmer with our antics in the dark, but it made for plenty of laughs and celebratory memories as we ticked off the miles. I’m not sure if it was the small amount of sleep, the cooler weather, or the knowledge that this was our last official shift, but this second overnight running segment was a blast!

The final morning awaits us...

The final morning awaits us…

We were about as wired as possible when we met up with the other van for a final handoff, and we cheered them on as they began the last segment of our relay experience. We headed into Dubuque, the final destination, and found a Perkins restaurant to feed ourselves. I’m sure we seemed quite slap-happy to the waitress who was finishing a 12-hour shift at 5:30AM, but we definitely enjoyed a hot meal and a bottomless pot of coffee. Our post-meal energy lagged a bit, and there may have been some random napping. We hopped back in the van and tracked down the other team so we could all finish the relay together.

Iowa wildlife along the route...I'm pretty sure this cow was wide awake!

Iowa wildlife along the route…I’m pretty sure this cow was wide awake!

We found them less than 10 miles from the finish, and each of those miles were completed by multiple teammates. The length of distance and time of the relay had begun to sink in as we neared the finish, and we all found our third and forth winds. The final miles were just as hilly, if not more, than the opening miles, and we tackled them all together. At one point, I found myself flying down a steep hill, rather unable to stop, and logged my fastest mile of the entire weekend (6:37). Three of us tackled one of the final hills, thinking it was the last large incline, and were thoroughly disappointed to realize it wasn’t the last hill, but we kept pressing forward. By the end, we are alternating after 1/4 segments and moving as fast as possible. We had been alternating back and forth with a nearby team throughout most of the relay, and we were committed to maintaining our small lead on them. We arrived at the final hill, leading up to Eagle Point Park, and the finish line. This was by far the steepest hill we had encountered, so it was fitting that we needed to summit it before crossing the finish line. We pushed hard, one foot in front of the other, and gathered as a team to cross the finish line.

Team "Make It Weird"!

Team “Make It Weird”!

Other participants formed a human tunnel to welcome us across the finish line, and we were all smiles as we finished! We ended up finishing third, in a time of 46 hours and 25 minutes, and we were mighty proud of ourselves! Everyone looked dead tired in the post-race photographs, but the BBQ and time to relax at the park with all of the other participants was a welcome reward. We were presented with team pictures and key chains, courtesy of Restoring Hope, International, a nonprofit organization that benefited from the profits of the relay. The beer tasted great, and we made sure to take in the view of the Mississippi River before departing.

All smiles at the end!

All smiles at the end!

In the end, I really can’t compare this running experience to anything else I’ve done. The opportunity to see the state on foot, with its widely varied landscape and communities, was only surpassed by the time with an amazing group of friends. We began this run across Iowa as a group of friends, and we returned as a new, unique, quirky, often outrageous community. I may have managed a tad over 41 miles on foot, but I traveled much further in memories! Team “Make It Weird” has certainly carved out a unique corner of my consciousness, and that is a journey I’ll have with me forever 🙂

Keeping it weird!

Keeping it weird!

Passing the Seasonal Baton

For most folks, early May marks the beginning (or at least hopeful beginning) of summer weather, outdoor activities, barbecues, and more comfortable outdoor running. However, for me, this time of year is also a “new year” of sorts. The spring semester is coming to a close, and the summer months are upon us. I’ve lived and worked in an academic environment for the better part of my life, so this change in environment and work focus seems fairly natural and expected to me, and I often forget that this transition doesn’t impact everyone. Granted, most people definitely notice the lack of students in town as the community shifts into sleepy summer calm, and it doesn’t take nearly as long to wait for a table at a restaurant (not that it ever really takes that long in a small town in Iowa), but the work/life structure doesn’t change. However, the summer months mark a sharp change in schedule and behavior for me. My focus shifts from teaching to research and writing, and my schedule becomes far less structured or influenced by outside forces. I spend just as much time working, but my responsibilities drastically shift.

baton

This passing of the seasonal baton certainly has an influence on my training schedule and behavior. Most notably, I’m not able to meet up with friends to run more regularly without scheduling conflicts getting in the way. I’ll also spend more time running in the early morning hours to avoid the heat (once it gets here), and my race schedule is finally getting exciting. I truly love the spring and summer months and the opportunities they bring for outdoor activities, work around the house, and being able to sit outside in the backyard with a good book and a few dogs playfully chasing rabbits and squirrels. I also love the flexibility to be able to toss in extra runs or other training activities, and not spend as much time chasing the daylight.

I’ll have a busy next few months ahead of me, between my teaching responsibilities (don’t worry, there are still students here taking classes!), and the various writing and research projects I’ve had on hold, but I’m looking forward to the change of pace. I enjoy working in academia because the days are always different from one to the next, and you have the flexibility to work on a variety of projects at any given time. I know very well that I wouldn’t do well in a job that forced me to do the same few things every day, without change. I suppose that’s the same reason I enjoy running outside so much, and avoid the treadmill. I love the variety and flexibility to pick a new route every day, run at new times of day, in new places, and tackle new races.

Iowa Summer

If I had to describe myself in one word, it would be “collector”. I love to collect information, knowledge, books, and most importantly, experiences. I shrug at the idea of running a race more than once because there are so many other races out there I haven’t yet run. I love looking for new ways to challenge myself and new people to share those moments with along the way. Ultimately, running, for me, is about passing the baton from one season/race/trail/route/climate/location/gear choice to the next. It’s always changing, always, fluid, and always filled with new experiences just waiting to collide with you when the sun rises the next day. So, to all of my running friends, I say Happy New Year! Greet this change in seasons, experiences, and opportunities with open arms. Lace up, head out, and enjoy the experiences and challenges that await you this summer! I know that I will 🙂

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