Chasing 42

Life, the Universe, & Running

Archive for the tag “vacation”

Feminism & Running in San Juan

I got back from Tucson on a Sunday afternoon, and had two whole days to try to reorient myself to Iowa, catch up on grading and emails, and pack for trip #2. Alas, the grading piled up quicker than I could tackle it but that project is still in the works. My next trip was to San Juan, Puerto Rico for the National Women’s Studies Association annual conference, where I was presenting a paper. Happily, the epicurean decided to join me on this trip, although I have a feeling the destination had a little something to do with it.

Island living?

Island living?

Packing running clothes/shoes for a work trip is always a challenge since I try to pack light and efficient, but I managed to fit everything into my carry-on suitcase and messenger bag, which was quite the accomplishment for a 6-day trip. The schedule for this conference was more packed than many I had been too, so I knew my time would be tight, and I might not have that many opportunities to explore the area on foot. However, I still managed to squeeze in three nice runs, along with plenty of walking around the island.

San Juan 2

We spent the first 4 days at the conference hotel and convention center, which was a bit isolated and surrounded by other hotels and resorts. The area was quite beautiful, but my running options were somewhat limited so I made the most of them around the area. Despite limited options, the warm temperatures and ocean views made everything else more than acceptable 🙂

San Juan 3

It was amazing to feel the difference that the heat and humidity made, and it became quite clear that my body had forgotten about the heat pretty quickly. I might not have had to deal with any elevation changes, but my breathing was still more labored than normal. After 4 days on the resort side of the city, we moved to a boutique hotel in Old San Juan for the final two days. This gave us a chance to explore the city much more, including several old Spanish forts that provided amazing views of the ocean. Both the epicurean and I are huge history nerds, so exploring the historical buildings, forts, and walking the area was quite a thrill. We spent most of the last two days walking up and down the hilly cobblestone streets, which meant working up quite a sweat. Don’t worry, though, because we made sure to stop for cool drinks and frozen yogurt on plenty of occasions 🙂

San Juan 4

Overall, the trip itself was amazing. I enjoyed my running opportunities, and the historical locations we explored were incredible. However, San Juan is an incredibly expensive city, and isn’t overly running friendly. As with many islands, space is limited in the city and the roads are narrow and uneven. I wished I had been able to take a trip out to the rain forests, but time was not on our side, and we were both a bit scared of the Chikungunya virus outbreak as well. In the end, it’s hard to complain with 85-degree weather in November, and a tropical destination coupled with amazing food. San Juan was certainly a travel win!

San Juan 5

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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!

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

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

Mandatory Rest

This past weekend was one of highs and lows. I began the weekend on Friday with a long morning run. The epicurean and I were heading up to Minneapolis early on Saturday morning, so I knew I needed to get my long run in beforehand. I met up with a friend and we tackled the pavement at 6AM. On our way back to drop him off before I kept going, we ran into another friend, so she hopped out of her car and joined us (I love running friends who are always up for some miles!). After dropping her off, I continued on for my remaining miles and finished quite content with my 30 miles for the morning! There’s no better way to start your day than with an energizing run and a cup of coffee to follow 🙂

Definitely an upgrade from my days at the Metrodome!

Definitely an upgrade from my days at the Metrodome!

On Saturday morning, we headed up to Minneapolis to catch our first live European futbol match! Manchester City was playing Olympiakos in the International Champions Cup at TCF Bank Stadium. As a U of M alumni, I had early access to tickets so we jumped on the opportunity! It was strange being back on campus after so many years (I’ll keep you guessing as to just how many) and the changes were a bit shocking. This was also my first time in TCF Bank stadium, which was truly exciting. It is a gorgeous outdoor stadium, and truly a stellar environment for U of M football, as well as a variety of other events. The stadium will be even busier this coming year, with the Vikings playing their home games there while their new stadium is being built. In some ways, it was a bit ironic that my first visit to the stadium was to watch a European futbol match, but I loved every minute of it. The sun was beating down on us, but it couldn’t have been a more beautiful day, and we were only a few rows back from the field. Both teams put on a fantastic show, and Olympiakos eventually won on penalty kicks after a 2-2 draw during regulation. It was an amazing experience, and a great way for both of us to ease the despair over the World Cup being over!

I hope this match is the first of many!

I hope this match is the first of many!

We stayed with my parents that evening, and then headed back early on Sunday morning. We needed to get back so we could pack and prepare for our yearly camping expedition up to the North Shore of Lake Superior. We look forward to this trip every year, and this year is especially exciting because we reserved a rustic, isolated hike-in campsite right on the shore with beautiful lake access. We stumbled across it last year while on a hike, and completely fell in love. Well, once we finished pulling out the camping gear and got most of our things organized, I packed up the items we wouldn’t be using and began to bring them back down to the basement. Then, as I was lifting a tub of gear, I felt a sharp and instantaneous pain in my lower back. I cringed in pain, and almost immediately was unable to stand. The epicurean rushed in and helped me to the living room, where I laid down on the floor with my legs in the air and felt wave after wave of pain rush over me.

All of a sudden, horrible thoughts came rushing into my head. What about our camping trip? What about our hikes and my trail running plans? What about my race in September? I have a training schedule to stick with and my race is so close! The emotions were pretty strong and I felt horrible for potentially ruining our yearly camping trip. For the rest of the day, I laid on the couch, and dreaded having to get up for any reason. I would gingerly shuffle across the floor, and randomly collapse into the epicurean’s arms to support myself because my back pain wouldn’t allow me to stand. I haven’t had many injuries in my life, running or otherwise, but this was definitely the most intense pain I had felt in quite some time. On top of that, I realized very quickly just how critical this area of your body is to all normal functioning. You can still get around with an injured foot, arm, wrist, or knee, but your back really holds everything together (duh!). I tried to avoid the pity party and think about worst-case scenarios but my mind has a way of conjuring up some rather elaborate images and scenarios. It was bad enough that I wasn’t able to go for my Sunday run, but I was worried about running at all in the next few weeks, as well as stressing out about our camping trip.

Enough said!

Enough said!

The rest of the evening was an exercise in minimalism. I focused on breathing, moving as little as possible, and being present in the moment so as not to send my thoughts into a tailspin. I slept on the couch that night since I clearly couldn’t make it up the stairs (better that than getting banished to the couch, eh?), and slept very little. I woke up the next morning, and my back had relaxed some, and I was able to walk, although quite gingerly. I made an appointment to see the doctor and kept my fingers crossed that it wasn’t as bad as I had considered. In the lower back, it seems that it is typically one of three things. It could be a pinched nerve, a slipped or herniated disk, or a muscle pull/strain. I was hoping for the latter of the three, and my own self-diagnosis suggested a muscle strain as well. Luckily, the doctor confirmed my suspicions. He prescribed a month of physical therapy, as well as some muscle relaxants. Over the last 24 hours, I have steadily improved, and have been able to get around much easier, so my progress has been steady. I’m still committed to our North Shore adventure, so I’m hoping my body will agree with me!

After today, it will have been 4 days of “rest”, or at least no running. This is the longest I have gone without running all year, and I’m certainly starting to get antsy. I’ve been saying for at least a month that I needed to scale back my training miles a bit, so perhaps this is the universe telling me to take it easy and not overwork myself. I’m hoping this period of mandatory rest will be just what I need to finish my training schedule strong and conquer the Mark Twain 100!

Race Report- Great Cranberry Island Ultra: #bestraceforever

From the moment I read about the Great Cranberry Island Ultra, I was fascinated and knew I wanted to experience this race. The race’s reputation was outstanding, having been voted the “best race ever” by Runner’s World, and the field was small, so I entered the lottery. Filling out the playful and humorous lottery application confirmed that I would enjoy a trip to Maine, and I crossed my fingers. I was elated when the confirmation email arriving informing me that I had gotten into this 50K race, which also served as the RRCA 2013 National Ultra Championship, which was an added bonus. The beautiful epicurean and I had scored two free flight vouchers after volunteering to be bumped from a holiday flight, so it made perfect sense to book a flight to Maine, run a great race on a beautiful Island, and then spend some time visiting some amazing friends. This trip had perfect summer vacation written all over it!

Getting set for a great day!

Getting set for a great day!

Alas, we waited a bit too long to book our flights, so we ended up flying into Boston and renting a car to drive up to Maine. Ultimately, this worked out really well in terms of flexibility, but it still added to our driving time. Luckily, the scenery couldn’t be beat, so we didn’t mind. As the race name indicates, this event is indeed hosted on Great Cranberry Island, off the coast of Maine. This tiny island is home to 38 year-round residents, and accessible only by ferry. We drove up the coast and stayed at a lovely little inn in Southwest Harbor the night before the race, and then walked down to the dock to board the ferry around 8AM. The ferry arrived at 9AM, and the 40 minute ride to GCI was absolutely stunning. After spending so much time surrounded by flat land and corn fields, the natural beauty of New England is something I will never stop loving. We brought along our tent and camping gear so that we could camp on the island the night of the race, and when we arrived, local residents were on hand to help haul our bags and camping gear the half mile up to the clearing that would serve as our camp site, as well as the start/finish area. We set up camp, and then went to packet pick-up to snag by race materials and the epicurean’s volunteer materials. Capping the race at 200 or so participants meant packet pick-up was a breeze, and it was clear as soon as we arrived that this would be an intimate race of sorts. For many runners, it was a reunion and opportunity to see old friends, and for me, a chance to make new friends.

Is it time to run yet?

Is it time to run yet?

At this point, you might be wondering how one runs a 50K race on a tiny island. Good question! There is one main 2-mile long road on the island, and the route took us back and forth on that same road. Although this had the potential to be exceedingly monotonous, the proved to be a wonderful route. When you are going back and forth over and over, and there are only 200 runners to begin with, you get to see everyone frequently, and the opportunity for runner and crowd support was fantastic. More on that later though. The race began at 11:30AM to give folks a chance to get over to the island and get settled. This was definitely the latest race I had run in a while, and it presented an interesting challenge as far as nutrition was concerned. I had a small breakfast when I woke up, and ended up eating again before the race, but not tempting fate with anything more dramatic than a cliff bar and a banana.

Before the 3-2-1-GO signal was given, Gary Allen, the race organizer, welcomed everyone to GCI and explained why this would be the last running of the GCI Ultra after only 7 years. The race has been an amazing success since its creation, and the organizers wanted to go out on top and ensure their spot as the #bestraceforever. With that, and words of encouragement (along with Gary surprisingly deciding to line up for the race himself), we were off! The first out-and-back was a quick 5K that took us a bit further down the island, and then we settled into our first of seven 4-mile repeats along the 2-mile stretch of road.

Race organizer Gary Allen welcoming everyone.

Race organizer Gary Allen welcoming everyone.

It’s honestly hard to describe just how beautiful this race truly was at every point. No matter where I was along the course, I could look to my left or right and see an incredible ocean view, coupled with perfectly quaint New England homes, and the mountains of Acadia National Forrest in the distance. Volunteers lined the course, along with most of the town’s residents, who came out to cheer, offer water, fruit, and salted potato wedges. Since the epicurean was volunteering, I was able to pass by her pretty regularly, and it was great to see her smiling face amidst all of the others so frequently. As with any race, paces and goals varied but this race was different somehow. It had much more of a family feel, as though I was just heading out for a lovely Saturday afternoon run with a large group of friends. The Marathon Maniacs were out in full force as well, and it was great to meet some of the folks I had only interacted with on Facebook thus far.

The weather for the race couldn’t have been more perfect, with temperatures starting in the 60’s and overcast skies that gave way to afternoon sun. The course/road wasn’t terribly hilly, but had a nice rolling feel to it that provided for nice downhill relief to compensate for the brief uphill climbs. In all honesty, I didn’t actually notice the elevation changes that much because I was so busy soaking in the views and chatting with people along the route. Ultimately, my actual race was more a story of two races.

Could you ask for a more beautiful setting?

Could you ask for a more beautiful setting?

After my 51-mile RAGBRAI “training run” the previous Tuesday, I wasn’t entirely sure how my legs would be feeling by Saturday. I made sure to rest my legs and foam roll them often prior to GCI, but I was in a bit of uncharted territory. I had only ever run one other 50-mile race, and had taken considerably more time to rest after that race. However, by the time we got to GCI, my legs were feeling strong and relaxed, and I felt confident. I didn’t have any goals for this 50K, mainly because I was simply so excited to be there in the first place. So, before the race began, I decided that I would just go out hard and see how long my legs could handle the increased pace. This ended up being a great decision and an excellent test of my endurance.

I began at an 8:30 pace, which felt comfortable, as it normally does for shorter runs. I knew this pace was far faster than the 8:54 I had averaged in Little Rock for my most recent marathon PR, but I figured I’d see how long I could maintain it. As it turns out, the next 20 miles simply flew by, and my legs just kept moving. The small hills did get a bit bigger, but my quads handled the push beautifully, and I maintained that same 8:30 pace for the first 20 miles. This left me feeling really pleased, and that’s when the PR thoughts started to creep into my head. I try my best to curb those thoughts, especially when I still have a considerable distance to go, but I couldn’t help it.

Still looking strong on my last lap!

Still looking strong on my last lap!

However, the mileage earlier in the week did finally catch up with me and I felt my pace slowing a bit. Still, I was perfectly happy with where I was at, and feeling strong. I kept pushing myself, and to my surprise, I crossed the marathon checkpoint in 3:51, which was a new PR for me! I was elated, took a moment to do a happy dance in my head, and then got back to the business of the next 5+ miles. I gave myself permission to walk the hills during the last 5 miles of the course, and was perfectly happy with that. From a strategy standpoint, I probably should have been doing that even sooner, but the adrenaline just kept pumping. As I headed into the final leg, though, I was still feeling strong and excited about my time and the race as a whole. I crossed the finish line in 4:45, which meant I had shaved 21 minutes off my previous 50K PR in Kansas City! I could not have been happier, and must have had the biggest grin on my face as a volunteer placed the amazing medal/ belt buckle around my neck. #bestraceforever indeed!

I quickly (ok, so I wasn’t really walking “quickly” but you get the idea) showered and changed, and then walked the 1.5 miles or so down to the aid station where the epicurean was volunteering. I hung out, helped hand out water, and cheered on the other runners, and it was just as motivating to see others out there going strong as it was when I crossed the finish myself. On top of everything, the view from the aid station was a beautiful ocean scene, with Cadillac Mountain in the background. Once things wrapped up, we walked back for dinner. A local fisherman had been catching fresh lobster for everyone during the day, so we returned to a traditional lobster boil with fresh corn on the cob! Have I mentioned that this was an amazing race?! This was my first time cracking a whole lobster, and the epicurean, herself a native New Englander, was happy to teach me all the tricks. It was a delicious treat and a perfect way to refuel after a long day. Following dinner, there was a giant bonfire, as well as a DJ spinning into the night. Everyone spent the evening chatting, dancing, and reliving the experience of the race.

How does this work exactly?!

How does this work exactly?!

We woke up the next morning, took down our campsite, and headed to breakfast. Oh yes, there was breakfast for us as well! Local residents prepared a home-cooked meal that served to perfectly bookend our race weekend. The ferry ride back to the mainland was a bit longer than on the way out, but the views of the ocean and surrounding area, combined with the recent experience meant our minds were blissfully floating. This was hands down the best race experience I’ve ever had, and the Great Cranberry Island Ultra 2013 can definitely lay claim to the title of #bestraceforever!

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Heading West: A Break in the Action

I’ve mentioned before how much I love to travel, and how much I love to explore a new destination on foot. Tomorrow, I’m hoping on a plane to San Francisco to attend a conference, and I’m looking forward to squeezing in a few runs while I’m there! The schedule is jam-packed, but I won’t be able to pass up running through Golden Gate Park, and exploring the many different scenic treats that the Bay Area has to offer. I considered registering for a race while I’m there, but the logistics just didn’t make it feasible or cost-effective.

I think I'm going to get a bit more hill work in, eh?

I think I’m going to get a bit more hill work in, eh?

So, you can expect a break in the blogging action while I head out west for a week or so, but look forward to hearing about my running adventures in San Francisco when I return! There may just be some other exciting news to report when I get back as well, so stay tuned…

That's not a grain silo in the background!

That’s not a grain silo in the background!

Signing Off for Trinidad & Tobago

It’s cold. I won’t even attempt to sugar coat that statement. If you currently live in the midwest, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Since I moved to Iowa in 2005, winters have been rather hit or miss. At times, it’s been unbelievably mild, and at other times bitterly cold. The presence of ridiculous amounts of wind has, however, been a constant. I can thank the complete lack of anything to break the wind on the landscape for that fact. Thus, the timing could not be better for a vacation.

We'll spend time on both islands!

We’ll spend time on both islands!

The beautiful epicurean and I share a love of travel, as you’ve no doubt picked up on. We’ve been planning a trip to Trinidad and Tobago for some time now, partly as a belated honeymoon, and partly as a wonderful opportunity to visit one of her good friends. After months of planning and organizing, the time to depart is finally here! This will be my first taste of international travel and I’m extremely excited for the chance to finally use my passport.

I may get lost in the water!

I may get lost in the water!

We have a jam-packed itinerary (with plenty of relaxing built in as well- don’t worry!), and we are going to experience all that T & T have to offer. I plan to do a good share of running while on the islands as well, and I’m definitely pumped for some new challenges and to shake up my training! Our internet access (and time) will be limited for the next week, so this is my bon voyage to each of you. I’ll no doubt have plenty of stories, pictures, and adventures to report on upon my return and I look forward to sharing them with you.

How could you not love running with a backdrop like this?

How could you not love running with a backdrop like this?

I hope each of you has the chance to find your own escape this winter, whether it is to a tropical island or your own local sanctuary. The days are getting longer, and the sun is shining brighter, so hang in there!

Phoenix in Pictures!

There is no question that it has been a busy holiday season for us! After traveling up to Minnesota to celebrate with my family, we flew out west to Phoenix to celebrate with the beautiful epicurean’s family. This was my first trip to Arizona, and it’s always nice to cross another state off the list (alas, there weren’t any marathons scheduled over the holidays 🙂 ). More than that, it has been wonderful to walk out the door in shorts and a tank top in December! I was, of course, reminded of my Minnesota roots as I passed other runners wearing long pants, long-sleeved tops, and winter hats while running 🙂

Luckily, we are staying mere feet from 26 miles of gorgeous running and biking trails, which has made for some excellent runs. The mild climate, combined with the mountains and palm trees has made for some beautiful scenery. It’s been very easy to simply immerse myself in the environment and forget how far I’ve gone, which is never a bad thing (as long as I can find my way back, of course). I thought it might be nice to let some of the pictures I’ve taken speak for themselves. For those of you from more mild climates, this might not seem all that exciting. However, for a guy from Minnesota, looking out on this beauty in December is wonderful!

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The University of Phoenix Stadium…

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I asked for permission to run on the field…they said no. Something about preparing for the Fiesta Bowl?

If only all winter running could be like this, eh?

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