Got No Time

When is a race trip not fun?  When you get to the airport and check your race results online and they don’t show you finishing the race.  This happened to me in May when I went to Iowa to run the Des Moines Women’s Half Marathon.  I had a few nerve-racking hours before I was able to get the issue resolved.  My experience is a good lesson about how race timing devices work and what a runner can do to minimize the possibility of a timing issue.

“Nomade” by Jaume Plensa in the sculpture park

Before I tell you more about my timing issue, let me say a few words about the race.  The race started and finished at a little winery.  All the runners were given Shape activewear 1/2 zip tops and an engraved stemless wine glass (to enjoy a post-race glass of wine).  I was surprised by how flat the course was – one of the flattest I have ever run.  Many of the runners were doing their first half marathon.  It always makes me happy to see people toeing the start line for the first time.  This was a great race for first timers.

Now let’s talk race timing.  Since I started running in 2007, I have seen a variety of methods used for timing runners in road races.  Simply put, timing a race involves capturing a runner’s identity (via bib number) and the time they crossed the finish.  In very small races they use manual methods, involving someone manually hitting a button on a handheld machine or pulling off a number on the bottom of my bib.  Manual methods don’t work for races with a large number of participants.  

3 sample bibs with B-tags, a plastic transponder from the London Marathon and a yellow ChampionChip

Enter technology, specifically a passive RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) transponder (also known as a chip) that a runner wears.  When they run over a mat on the course, the transponder communicates with the timing device to capture their identity (i.e., bib number).  An audible beep sounds whenever a runner passes over a timing mat.  Timing mats are positioned at the start and finish lines, and, in longer races, along the course to ensure the runner has completed the full course.  There are many different kinds of chips: reusable plastic disks (a.k.a. ChampionChips), or plastic or cardboard squares that attach to the runner’s shoes; single use transponder tags that are attached to the runner’s shoes (D-tags); or single use transponders attached to the back of the runner’s bib (B-tags).  Looking at the bibs from my races, there appear to be several vendors providing bibs with B-tags.  Some look like a little strip of plastic while others have foam over an aluminum looking strip. 

The Des Moines race used a B-tag transponder with a little strip of foam, which was attached to the back of the runner’s bib number.   Although the race directions state the runner should wear the bib on their chest, many runners attach them other places – on their thigh, on their back, or to the bottom of a race belt or hydration belt.  I have a Fitletic hydration belt with toggles to attach my bib.  That was how I wore my bib at the Des Moines race.

The race results showed me starting the race and passing over the first of three mid-course mats.  After that, I had no time.  I recalled running over a mat near the half way point in the race and not hearing any beeps.  I thought it was strange since it was the exchange point for the relay team.  I also didn’t hear any beeps at the next mat nor was there anyone monitoring it to ensure the equipment was working, another thing I thought was strange.

As I sat in the Des Moines airport, I synched my Garmin to the Garmin Connect app on my iPhone.  I took screen shots of the data from my race including my time, distance, and map of the course I ran.  I emailed the race director, explaining my problem and included the screen shots as evidence I completed the course.  Using these, he was able to confirm I did complete the race.  The official results were updated to show me as a finisher.  

Until I received his email, I was very stressed.  I couldn’t imagine running a race and not having the timing mats capture me.  It made me wonder how often this happens; what the USATF (USA Track and Field) rules are for timing distance races; and whether there is anything a runner can do to ensure their run is appropriately captured. 

When I got home, I did some research. I was surprised to learn that there aren’t any standards defined by the USATF for the timing equipment in distance races, just recommended best practices.  I found a few races where there were large numbers of runners whose times were not captured.  These could have been instances where the timing equipment was not functioning (e.g., the mats weren’t capturing transponders due to lack of a power source) or there was a large-scale issue with the transponder quality.  One USATF suggested best practice is to film the finish line.  The film can be used to identify runners whose time might not have been captured and validate them as finishers.  For this reason it is important for a runner to wear their race bib on their front and have it clearly visible.  The 2018 Boston Marathon is a good example of this.  Because of the miserable cold, rainy weather, many runners experienced timing issues.  The humidity could have also interfered with the timing devices.  Runners were bundled up in jackets to fight off hypothermia and in doing so, covered up their race bibs.   The process of identifying them as finishers became more difficult and video of the finish line was used to confirm they finished.

As runners, we have to do our part to ensure our times are correctly captured.  While we can’t control the quality of the bib tag and the timing equipment, we can make certain we don’t bend or fold the bib tag.  Doing so will damage the transponder.  We should wear the bib on our chests.  This instruction might be difficult for some to follow if they don’t want to put pin holes in their race shirts.  Fortunately, there are reusable bib clips and bib magnets that can be used to attach your bib without putting holes in your shirt.  For some B-tag technology, close proximity to other runners can cause the timing device to not capture a runner.  That was something I was surprised to learn.

The expression “empty suit” comes to mind; another sculpture from the park by Judith Shea titled “Post Balzac”

Looking back at what happened during this race, I believe my bib may have gotten folded up under my Fitletic hydration belt, damaging the B-tag transponder.  However, I also did not hear the beeps when I ran over a timing mat nor did I see someone monitoring all the mats.  Those two things make me wonder if the timing equipment was working,  Regardless, I am very happy my timing issue was quickly resolved.  My Garmin was very helpful in providing evidence I completed the race.  Without that data, it would have been difficult for me to prove.  There weren’t any photos of me at the finish line and I don’t have access to any video tape that may have been taken at the finish.  From now on I plan to do my part by wearing my bib on my chest.  I just hope the timing equipment is working properly.  

Renaissance Woman

I made a pledge to myself this year to achieve more balance in my life, to focus on things other than running.  I had realized the funatical runner was morphing into the fanatical runner.  Just change one vowel and the whole thing goes from one extreme to the other.  I want to be more than just a runner.  I look around me at people I admire, people who are not one-dimensional as I feel I have become.  One of the people in my life who inspires me is my friend, Kris.  She is someone I would love to be – a Renaissance woman.

Kris came into my life through our mutual interest in dogs.  Since 1994 I have owned dogs who compete in agility (dog obstacle course), obedience, and Rally.  Kris owns several dogs who compete in breed, obedience, Rally, and dog sled racing.  After retiring from a professional white-collar career, Kris became a dog massage therapist and canine conditioning coach.  She is as important to keeping my dogs ready for competition as my massage therapist, Jennifer, is to making sure I am ready for my next race.  

Over the years I have gotten to know Kris as she massaged my dogs.  If she came to our house, it was usually when ‘Jeopardy’ was on the television.  We would watch the show as she worked.  Kris always seemed to know the answers, regardless of what the category was.  If she competed on the show, she would be the next big winner.  

If we weren’t watching ‘Jeopardy’, we would just chat.  Through these conversations, I learned she plays in a symphony orchestra and bakes her own bread.  At one time Kris owned sports cars including a Lotus and my favorite, an MGB.  Her knowledge of engines and car mechanics was impressive.  When I ran a half marathon on a private race track, Kris knew all about the place.  She had worked as a course volunteer during races there.  Kris gave me wonderful suggestions when I traveled to Colorado for a race – seeing a concert at Red Rocks, visiting the Wild Animal Sanctuary, and fun restaurants to enjoy.  Visiting her home once I was in awe of her gardens.  She has ponds with frogs, koi fish, and water plants.   Kris knows so much about many different subjects.  The one thing Kris is not is one-dimensional.  

From the time we are little, people always ask us what we want to be when we grow up.  Answers typically include doctor, nurse, lawyer, football player.  I wish I had said I wanted to be a Renaissance woman, that I wanted to be able to do many things and know about as many subjects as I could.  Problem is I don’t think there is a college curriculum geared for future Renaissance women.  Perhaps the key to being a Renaissance woman is to just be curious and open to learning new things.  

We Still Need Good Samaritans

Facebook has a Memories feature where posts from years past will pop up.  Most of the time they are reminders of some place you visited, a funny thing that happened, or a photo from a wonderful day.  Since Memories can’t distinguish good ones from unpleasant ones, you can be reminded of something not so happy.  Such was the case the other day when Facebook reminded me of the day a training run ended in disaster for me.

The post I wrote about that day is still very relevant because I wrote about the help I received from some very good Samaritans.   The world seems less caring for others these days.  Perhaps the post can be a reminder we still need good Samaritans.

Good Samaritansfirst published September 11, 2014

This week’s post is a public service announcement.

The beautiful trail that only a few hours later tried to eat me.

I was out running my 20 mile training run for the Berlin marathon this past weekend when the unthinkable happened. I had just finished my first 12 miles and was heading back out for my last eight when I tripped over a root on the trail and fell. I went down hard. I knew as soon as I tried to standup that I had broken a bone in my arm. I was running by myself which was my first mistake. I was able to call my friend and ask her to come get me as I struggled back to my car in the parking lot 0.2 miles from where I fell.

As I walked back, everything was spinning and turning black. I was going into shock. What amazed me was the number of people who saw me and did not stop to ask if I needed help.  Maybe it was like that scene from “Moscow on the Hudson” where they tell Robin Williams, the immigrant, to look like a crazy man so no one would mess with him. I probably looked pretty crazy at that moment too. There was one woman who I had passed a couple of times when I was running earlier who saw me. She commented to me about what a nice day was to run. I responded that yes it was. I realized then I needed to ask for help, which is not something I normally would do. I turned to her and asked her to please help me because I had fallen. I will never forget what she said.” Today is your lucky day. I am a physician assistant.”  Her name was Rebecca and she immediately went into first aid mode and got me settled. She moved my car closer so that I could sit in the back while I waited for my friend to arrive. She got my Hammer Recoverite drink ready. I had been going into shock and having that drink made me feel much better.

I was still surprised at the number of people who had passed me and not stopped to ask if I needed assistance. I asked Rebecca if I looked bad, like I needed help. She said yeah I looked very bad. I commented to her about the number of people who did not ask if I needed help. In fact one man asked me if there was a path down to the river. Couldn’t he see that I was in agony?

It made me think about what I would do if I came across someone who was in obvious distress. As runners we are out there a lot of times by ourselves and can get into trouble. We are relying on the kindness of others to keep an eye out for us. I hope that I would be a good Samaritan like Rebecca and help another runner out. I am not sure how much I could do because I am pretty squeamish when it comes to medical issues but I certainly could make phone calls and do other things to help out.

It also made me realize that I am not as tough as nails like I would like to believe. Sometimes I need to ask for help too. It is not in my character to ask for help. I am pretty independent.  I am grateful that I had one moment of clarity where my brain realized that I needed someone to help me.  It is important to be able to be open to accepting help from others as well as giving help to others.

Sadly the Berlin Marathon got left in the dust on the trail on Sunday. I won’t be running for about three months. I’m hoping that some of my other races in 2015 will still be possible. Time will tell.

Hello Again

It has been a long time since I last wrote in this blog.  This past weekend during my long run I met a young man who is riding his bicycle across country.  Although I was in a hurry to finish my run and get out of the heat, I stopped to talk to him as he rested along the road.  I don’t like to bother people with lots of personal questions so I didn’t get the details on his adventure.  I gave him directions to the next trail he planned to take and to my favorite triathlon store for more supplies.   Meeting him reminded me of a similar encounter I had last year in Montana.  Below is the post I wrote about Ben the cyclist I met in Bozeman.  It is a good place to resume writing my blog.  I haven’t been running many races but I definitely have a few tales to share with you.

Some Day is Now (originally posted in August 2017)

There are fascinating people you can meet when you take that first step to say hello.  We were reminded of that during our recent vacation in Montana.  While passing through Bozeman, we stopped for lunch at one of the restaurants along Main Street.  I noticed a bicycle, loaded with gear on the front and back, leaning against the railing separating the dining area from the sidewalk.  I pointed to the bicycle and told my husband it probably belonged to someone who was riding across country.  We looked up to see a tall slender man, wearing bike shorts and carrying a bike helmet, walking past our table. My husband (whose preferred activity is bicycling) greeted him and they chatted.  Turns out, Ben, the bicyclist, was biking across the US.  It was a dream he had for years.  Someday he was going to do it.  When he retired, Ben started to plan his trip and someday started to get a lot closer.    Now here it was.

In one of those “It’s a Small World” moments, it turned out Ben lives about 50 miles from us.  Since we are practically neighbors back home, we asked Ben to join us for lunch.  He didn’t hesitate.  With beers and food ordered, we sat back to hear about Ben’s adventures as a TransAmerican bicyclist.

As we ate, we peppered Ben with questions.  When did you start your cross-country trek? Mid-April.  How many miles have you biked? About 3,400 with another 1,200 to go before finishing in Oregon.  How much does all your gear weigh? 75 pounds.  Where do you sleep at night? Outside, sometimes along the road, sometimes in a hotel.  What do you do if your bike breaks down?  Carry spare parts like extra tires and inner tubes.  How many flat tires have you had so far? Two (the first when he took his bike into a hotel room and a tack in the carpet pierced his tire).  Did you sell everything you own to do this? No, just his truck.  He will buy a new one to drive back home from Oregon when he finishes.  When do you think you will finish? October.

Ben was taking his time on his trip.  Typically, I hear about bicyclists crossing the country in 14-20 days, traveling from west to east.  Ben was taking a different approach.  He had started in the east (Delaware) and was heading west.  This wasn’t any mad dash for him.  Ben was visiting friends and family along the way.  Some places he would stop to go to a baseball game.  In others, he would rent a car and make a side trip for sightseeing before hopping back on his bike to continue his journey.  Ben takes a couple of days off too, only biking 5 days a week.  To plan his route, Ben worked with the Adventure Cycling Association.  Their headquarters is located in Missoula and Ben planned to stop by to say hello.

As Ben talked, I noticed that our waitress would linger each time she stopped at our table.  She was listening to Ben talk about his experiences.  I watched her eyes get bigger and more full of life as she listened.  Finally she explained she wants to go on a similar adventure and is trying to convince her husband.  She wants to start with a bike ride through Glacier National Park. She has some fear of what she might encounter.   “Could I really do it?”  Ben assured her she could.  All she needed to do was get a bike and start training.

It was a fun lunch.  I enjoyed listening to Ben’s stories and making a new friend in the process.  When we left the restaurant, I found I was as excited about Ben’s journey as he probably was.  While I don’t think riding across country on a bike is in my future, I admire Ben for doing it.  I look forward to getting together with him again to hear about the rest of his trip.  It certainly is an incredible adventure.

Interested in a cycling adventure of your own?  Check out the Adventure Cycling Association’s web site for ideas, tips, routes, maps, and more: https://www.adventurecycling.org

You Gotta Have Balance

At the end of last year, I asked my running coach for a week off.  To be honest I was burned out.  I had trained intensely all year to run three marathons.  Mentally, I just wanted to check out for a bit and not be driven by a training schedule.  It seemed as if my life revolved around training runs and cross training days.  I had one rest day a week and it never seemed like enough.  I longed for a day when I could curl up with a book and doze off.  The irony of the situation is on my 2017 vision board I had the goal to “improve physical and emotional balance.”  Well, that sure didn’t happen.

Coach Jenny blocked off a week – we called it the “Chill Week” – where I was expected to do nothing.  No running, no cross training, nothing.  Funny thing was I couldn’t do it.  I took a Pilates class.  I ran a couple of days.  I even ran a 5K race.  I guess that is what happens when a Type A amateur athlete takes a break.

It was then I realized my life had become very one-dimensional.  My entire life revolved around training to run races, planning race trips, running races, and recovering from running races.  Hmmm.  Doesn’t sound too balanced.  It sounds boring.

I am not alone.  It is a challenge for all athletes (professional, collegiate, amateur) – how to balance their commitment to their sport with other aspects of their lives – family, friends, work to name a few.  I have heard stories about football players who are so dedicated to being the best they can be on the field that every waking moment is devoted to their sport.  They have intense workouts to build up their strength.  They watch films of games to glean lessons learned from wins and losses.   They follow carefully regimented diet protocols.  They probably dream football plays.   But there is more to life than football, just like there is more to life than running.

I decided to fix the balance in my life.  On my 2018 vision board I put a few goals that have nothing to do with running, marathons, or training for a marathon.  One goal is to become more connected with my Airedale, Alex.  I want to work with him and train him to compete in several different dog sporting events.  Alex is very engaging and wants to have a job.  We can work together to develop our teamwork to compete in things like Obedience, Rally, and Nosework.  Alex is happy to have more time with me.  Our first few times in competition weren’t as successful as I would have liked.  Okay, so I can’t control the outcome every time I do something.  Lesson learned.  I know if I continue to work with him, he will master anything we try.  In the process, Alex will become an even better companion.

My other goal is to read more books.  I love to read as evidenced by my bookshelves that are spilling books out onto the floor.  I want to clear out some of my books but I need to read them first.  During my Chill Week, I organized my books and started reading them.  In one week, I finished three books – a mixture of fiction and non-fiction. There was something energizing about reading. The books entertained me, informed me, and inspired me.  I bored a few people as I excitedly explained things I discovered in those books.  (Just my advice – avoid getting bit by sand flies.)

I read “The Double Helix” by James D. Watson about his Nobel Prize winning work on the discovery of the structure of DNA.   It was fascinating to learn about the people who did the scientific research into one of the most important biological discoveries, a discovery critical to understanding genetics.  I was surprised by how competitive scientific research can be.  Winning a Nobel Prize is like winning the Super Bowl for a football player. Although Watson worked long hours on his research, he also understood the importance of having time to do things outside the lab.  Playing tennis, spending time with friends, taking in a cultural event.  He felt he needed to do other things “to avoid narrow-mindedness and dullness.”  Good advice from a Nobel Laureate.  That is exactly what I want to avoid.

During a recent race, I found myself thinking about another book, “When Breath Becomes Air.”   The author, Paul Kalanithi, was a neurosurgeon who at the age of 36 was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer.  In addition to medicine, Paul was very interested in the philosophy of science.  His book is about his life and his death.  In the book he tries to answer the question what is it that makes a life meaningful?  He faced many challenges following his diagnosis as he tried to make sense of his life.  Paul quoted a line from Samuel Beckett’s novel “The Unnamable”, a quote he kept repeating to himself: “I can’t go on, I’ll go on.”  Sadly, Paul died before he could complete the book.  His wife, also a doctor, finished it for him.

One of my mantras for race day

That quote popped into my head during a recent local race when I questioned whether I would be able to finish.  Okay, I was whining.  The reality is my race was nothing compared to what Paul went through during his final days.  But it made me adjust my thinking.  In running, particularly endurance running, the mental aspect is just as important than the physical aspect.  If I am struggling during a run, I think of that quote and Paul.  Whenever I think I can’t go on, I know I can and I will.

As I looked back on the last couple months where I have worked on rebalancing my life, I had an A-ha! moment.  I realized my non-running activities were teaching me lessons that helped improve my training and running.  I might have initially thought I was wasting time.  Instead of strength training, I was reading books about science and philosophy, and teaching Alex to do a recall.  How could those things make me a better runner?  But they were.  The lessons I was learning can be applied to my running.

A good example of this is Shalane Flanagan.  She suffered a back injury a year ago that prevented her from running for two and half months and kept her from the start line of the 2017 Boston Marathon.  Shalane had been running competitively for over 10 years.   Her injury put her on the sidelines but it enabled her to do things she never would have been able to do if she was in heavy-duty training mode.  She co-authored a best-selling cookbook.  She took a vacation with her family.    When she came back to training, she came back strong.  (I bet those recipes for good food in her cookbook helped too.)  We all know what happened next.  Boom!  She won the New York City Marathon.

To improve a skill, we sometimes have to step away and do something totally different for a bit.  When we come back, we are refreshed and have a different frame of mind.  It will be reflected in an improved performance.   I have seen how it has helped me.  I’d say it helped Shalane, too.

 

 

To Tell The Truth

I recently celebrated a birthday, the kind where you move into a new decade.  I wasn’t looking forward to getting older.  I decided to do the only thing on my birthday that a funatical runner can do – run a half marathon.  My birthday was on a Sunday so it was easy to find a birthday race.  The race was going to be held in a state I hadn’t yet checked off – Mississippi.  I registered for the Mississippi Gulf Coast Half Marathon in Gulfport. Of course, as is the case with most of my race trips, this one was not uneventful.

Leading up to race weekend, I received emails from the race organizers with information about the race as well as things to do in Gulfport and Biloxi.  I noticed in one email there would be a 5K race the day before the half marathon.  If you ran the 5K and the full or half marathon the following day, they would give you a special “Double Down” award – a 10-inch seafood tray.  At the last minute I decided to register for the 5K.

As my luck would have it, the weather in Biloxi and Gulfport when I arrived was terrible.  It was snowing and sleeting.  The temperature on Saturday morning was in the 20s when I headed to the 5K.  The runners huddled together at the start line while various announcements were made and the national anthem was played.  Soon after the national anthem was over, the race started.

Normally, I would do some sightseeing as I ran.  That day it was too cold to linger at any spot to take pictures or look around.  I decided to run the race as fast as I could so I could go back to my warm hotel room.

At the finish line, there was a tent set up where two people were printing off preliminary results for the runners.  Most races I enter don’t have results available at the finish line.  I had run fast and I was interested to see how well I had done. I went over and waited in a short line to get my results.  They handed me a slip of paper that showed my time, my age group, and my placement in my age group.  My preliminary results showed I came in 3rd.  The only problem was the results showed me in the wrong age group.  They had me in the age group I would be the next day on my birthday.  Although I was thrilled to have finished in 3rd place, I knew the results were wrong.  Someone else had earned that 3rd place finish.

I went over to the results table and explained the problem to one of the race organizers.  At first, they seemed reluctant to do much about it.  The prizes for age groups were only for 1st and 2nd places.  It wasn’t like I would be stealing anything from anyone.  But I knew it was wrong.  I could not steal the joy from another runner who rightfully had earned that placement.  They took my information and when the official results were posted, I was listed in the correct age group.

Integrity is important.  If the running shoe was on the other foot and someone had erroneously been awarded a placement I had earned, I would expect them to make certain the error was corrected.  It might not seem very important to some people.  But if they wouldn’t correct something as seemingly inconsequential as an erroneous age group, where would they draw the line?  When would it be important enough for them to point out an error in their favor?    There is a saying “The end justifies the means.”  In my book it never does if you compromise your integrity.  Not just in sports but in any situation in life.

Visualizing Success

At the beginning of 2017, my running coach had me put together a vision board.   The theory behind vision boards is they help to reaffirm your goals and keep your attention on what you want to achieve, helping you visualize your success.  Visualization is a tool used by athletes, entrepreneurs, chess players, anyone who wants to succeed at something.  I was new to the vision board idea but I decided to give it a try.

I came up with a list of things I wanted to achieve.  My list included things like finishing the 50 States Endurance Challenge and 6 World Marathon Majors, reading more books, drinking more water, stretching every day.  Using pictures and words, I put together a collage that represented my goals – my USA map, the 6 World Marathon Majors star medal, a stack of books, a glass of water.  I printed up several copies and posted them where I would see them often.  In my bathroom, I looked at my vision board every morning when I brushed my teeth. I saw my vision board whenever I went to the refrigerator.

At the end of the year, I looked back at my vision board to see how I had done.  While I achieved some things, there were definitely areas where I missed the mark.  On my grade school report card, those would have been the ones where the teacher indicated “needs improvement.”

At first I thought the vision board hadn’t been that helpful.  Then I looked at it more closely and realized I had come up with more of a to-do list.   There wasn’t much visualization going on.   I had missed the visionary boat.  One of the important aspects of visualization is the feelings that accompany achieving a goal.  My vision board didn’t capture any of my feelings.  Honestly, I hadn’t even thought about the emotions associated with achieving my goals.

I decided I would give the vision board another try for 2018.  Last week I put together my vision board for this year.  Instead of listing out all the goals I have, I started by thinking about how I want to feel about 2018 on December 31.  I want to feel I accomplished things during the year.  I want to feel healthier and stronger.  I want to have a stronger connection with my dog.  Using those emotions as a guide, I came up with a list of goals or things I can do to realize those feelings – drinking more water, stretching every day, finishing my 50 States Endurance Challenge, training my dog to compete in various dog sports.  I was able to connect my goals back to how I want to feel.  Everything came together.   It will be a very good year if I feel stronger, healthier, and accomplished and enjoy a better connection with my dog.

In the center of my vision board is the most important goal of all for me – more adventure.  Last year was full of adventure and I have to say that almost all of it was not planned.  I never planned on seeing a marathon monk or meeting my marathon running heroes.  Those things just happened.    To have adventure, I realize I have to be open to new and spontaneous things.  I have left the door open for the unexpected.

This article in Psychology Today explains why visualization works.

2017 – What a Year It Was

This year has been one with more adventure than I ever could have imagined.  I have been walking around thinking about 2017 and everything that happened.  Even though it was not all smooth sailing, overall 2017 was a very good year for me, one I will never forget.

I may be the Funatical Runner but this was not a year in which I ran a great deal.  I only completed 3 full marathons and 9 half marathons.  That might seem like a lot of running to most people.  But compared to 2015 when I ran 3 full marathons and 13 half marathons, this year I felt like a slacker.

My star medal for completing the 6 World Marathon Majors

My running goals for 2017 were to finish the 6 World Marathon Majors (I had 3 to go) and to finish my 50 States Endurance Challenge (there were 13 states left in that).  I thought it was doable.  But this year wasn’t kind in the health department.  I experienced ankle issues leading up to the Boston Marathon, then an eye problem in July, and finally a nasty bout of bronchitis in September. I had to make a choice between my two goals.  I decided to focus on finishing the 6 World Marathon Majors and running the Boston, Chicago and New York City Marathons.  In November, I stood in the Abbott World Marathon tent at the New York City Marathon finish line and cried when they handed me my star medal for the 6 World Marathon Majors.  I had realized a dream I had been working on for 3 years.  Today I still have four states to go to finish my 50 States Endurance Challenge and that is ok.  I may finish that up in 2018.  Then I again might not.  I always leave the door open so I can take advantage of any new opportunity that may pop up.

Although I didn’t make all my running goals, this year made me realize how much I am enjoying the journey to achieving them.  My first and last race trips of the year were to Mississippi.  In January, I went to Jackson for a race that ended up being canceled due to an ice storm.  With all flights canceled, I hopped on the City of New Orleans train from Jackson to Chicago to make my way back home.  I never would have decided to ride the train if I wasn’t stuck in Jackson.  I am sure glad I did.  It was an adventure.

Katrina tree art in Biloxi – a live oak destroyed by a hurricane, transformed into something beautiful

In December, I went to Gulfport, Mississippi during another snow storm.  Who would have thought I would have encountered winter weather in Mississippi TWICE in one year?  Fortunately, this time I was able to run the Mississippi Gulf Coast Half Marathon and check that state off my list.  In February, I ran the Mississippi River Half Marathon, a race that started in Arkansas and ended in Greenville, Mississippi (I counted it as my Arkansas race).  For this race I flew into and out of Memphis.  It was a long drive to Greenville but because of it, I drove through Clarksdale and discovered the Mississippi Blues Trail.  On my way home, I stopped in Memphis to visit Graceland, the famous home of Elvis Presley.

The Arena Attack Half in Connecticut

This was also a year of firsts.  I ran my first race indoors in Hartford, Connecticut – the Arena Attack Half Marathon.  It was definitely a unique race – 65 laps around the concourse of an arena used for hockey and other events.  Thankfully the temperatures inside were kept low to maintain the ice so the runners didn’t overheat.  The Fargo Half Marathon started and ended indoors in an arena.  While that seemed odd, it turned out to be one of the best setups for a race – plenty of indoor bathrooms and seating for spectators to watch the race on giant screens.  I fell for the first (and, I hope, last) time in a race, the Chicago Marathon.  Fortunately for me, I have learned to fall without breaking bones.  I just skinned my knees in Chicago.  When I look at my race photos, I can easily tell where I was when the photo was taken by looking at my knees.  If they are bleeding, it was after Mile 10.5 where I fell.

Young male moose having a snack

I hoped to see moose at the Grand Teton Half in Wyoming.  I even got up at 4 AM to look for them but it never happened.  Maine was another possible opportunity to see a moose.  I didn’t see one there either.  I finally saw moose in Anchorage along the race course of the Her Tern Half (my favorite women’s only race) and at a park at the end of the airport runway.

Napali Coast, Kauai, as seen from the helicopter

In August, I went to Kauai, Hawaii to run the Kauai Half Marathon.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, certainly not the chickens that are EVERYWHERE, including the car rental parking lot. The only way to see all of Kauai is by helicopter.  The Blue Hawaiian helicopter tour I went on will always be at the top of my list of favorite adventures.  I would go back just to do that again.

Paula Radcliffe

Every sport has its super stars.  This year I had the privilege to meet many from the world of marathon running.  I enjoyed a dinner speech by Joan Benoit Samuelson in Boston then walked with her back to her hotel, chatting like I had known her forever.  I saw Joanie again in New York and she congratulated me on finishing the 6 World Majors.  In New York, I also met Bill Rogers, Kathrine Switzer and Paula Radcliffe (current holder of the women’s marathon world record).    Without a doubt, my biggest honor was running the New York City Marathon for Meb Keflezighi’s MEB foundation.  As a member of Team MEB26, we ran with him in Central Park two days before the race.  It was a surreal experience.  Meeting all those elite runners made my New York City Marathon much more special than it already was.

In May, I ran in Eugene, Oregon.  The Eugene Half Marathon finished on the legendary University of Oregon track.  There are plenty of running legends associated with that track, including Bill Bowerman (Oregon track and field coach and co-inventor of Nike shoes) and running legend, Steve Prefontaine.  While I was in Eugene, I visited Pre’s Rock, the spot where Steve died.  Many other runners visit Pre’s Rock as evidenced by the medals, running shoes, race bibs, and other objects they leave behind.

A marathon monk on his quest (photo from the cable car station on Mt. Hiei)

I am glad I set the running goals that I did.  Through running the 6 World Majors and the 50 States, I have traveled places I probably would never have gone.  I never dreamed I would go to Japan.  After I went there for the 2015 Tokyo Marathon, it became one of my favorite places to visit.  I returned to Japan in June.  While in Kyoto, I saw a marathon monk as he passed through a temple I was visiting.  It was a magical moment that left me speechless.

A Chicago building with a map of the Chicago River on its side

Through my travels to the 50 states, I have developed a better appreciation for how diverse our country is.  The USA has mountains and tropical beaches, rain forests and deserts, and plains where the horizon stretches for miles. There is stunning architecture in the big cities like Chicago as well as smaller ones like Biloxi, Mississippi.  While I could have read about these places, I enjoy seeing them for myself and discovering the ones that no one writes about.  Plus I had to travel to Maine in order to taste a lobster roll.  They are as delicious as people say they are.

A weather vane of a witch riding a broom on an old bank building in Biloxi

Part of me doesn’t want to finish this journey.  There is so much more to see as well as places I want to visit again, like Alaska.  I am planning my 2018 race schedule.  I might finish my 50 States Endurance Challenge.  I am thinking of resuming my 7 Continents Challenge or I could run a race in each of the Canadian Provinces.  There are many possibilities.  Regardless of what goals I set, I know wherever I go, it will be an adventure.

Only 4 more states to go!

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Running with the Holiday Spirit

Running is the only sport I know where the athletes will dress up in crazy costumes to compete. Football, basketball, baseball, and hockey players all have uniforms they are required to wear.  The dress code for golf and tennis players is a bit more relaxed but you never see anyone wearing a Batman or Snow White costume out on the golf course or tennis court.  Runners will wear costumes for races around Halloween and especially for races at Disneyland and Disney World.  Costumes are also common in December when races have a Christmas theme.

Last January I met a fellow running blogger at the start line of a race in Arkansas.  He told me about the Christmas Story Run 5K/10K, a Christmas-themed race in Cleveland.  He likes the race so much that every year he travels hundreds of miles from St. Louis, Missouri to run it.  I don’t know too many people who will travel for a race shorter than a half marathon so I knew this event must be special.  I decided to check the race out myself this year.  Yes, I also traveled hundreds of miles to run a 10K.

The Christmas Story Run was inspired by the 1983 movie “A Christmas Story,” which was partially filmed in Cleveland.  The movie, set in the 1940s, is about Ralphie Parker who only wants one thing for Christmas – a Red Ryder BB rifle.  For many people “A Christmas Story” is their favorite holiday movie and they can readily recite lines from their favorite scenes.  With a wide range of colorful characters, it is the perfect movie to serve as the focus for a Christmas-themed race.

Both the 5K and 10K races start at the old Higbee’s Department Store, a landmark used in the film (now converted to a casino).  The finish line for the 5K is the house used for the exterior scenes of the Parker family home in the movie.  (The house is now a museum and is available for overnight stays for diehard fans.)  The finish line for the 10K runners is back in front of Higbee’s.  Buses are provided to return the 5K runners to the start line.

Some homemade leg lamp crates

One of the many leg lamp runners

What is so amazing about this race is how many runners dress up in costumes of their favorite characters from the movie.  Some runners dressed as Santa or an elf from Higbee’s.  There were entire families dressed in pink bunny costumes like the one Ralphie received from his aunt for Christmas.  Other groups of runners wore black and white striped shirts and black pants to resemble the bad guys from Ralphie’s daydreams. I saw many women running dressed as the leg lamp, the major award Ralphie’s father won.  Others wore costumes that looked like the crate the lamp arrived in.  I don’t think there was one character from the movie that was left out – even the Bumpuses dogs were represented.  At the finish line, there was hot Ovaltine for all the runners.  Looking around, I could tell everyone was having fun.

Other popular holiday themed races are Santa Claus and Jingle Bell Runs.  Several years ago I ran the Las Vegas Great Santa Run, a 5K race where all registered runners were given a Santa Claus suit to wear in the race.  There was a friendly competition between Las Vegas and towns in England and Japan to see which one had the most Santa Claus runners.  It was incredible to look around and see so many people dressed like Santa Claus.  The jingle bell race was similar in that every runner received jingle bells to tie to their running shoes.  Many of the runners dressed up in costumes in addition to wearing their bells.  As we ran, all those jingle bells were ringing.  It was hard not to sing along with them.

The first holiday themed race I ever ran was the Rudolfs Red Nose Reindeer 10K.  Although runners didn’t have to dress up for this race, all the finishers received a red nose to wear.  When I look back at my race records, I noticed that it was one of my fastest 10Ks (on a very hilly course too).  I was worried they would run out of red noses before I reached the finish line.  That red nose was motivation to run fast.

You don’t need a race to dress up for a holiday run.  My old running group would meet up to run together on Christmas Eve.  Everyone showed up in festive outfits – Santa hats, reindeer antlers, elf costumes.  We would finish our run listening to carols playing from someone’s car radio while we enjoyed cookies.  It put everyone into the holiday spirit.

If you missed out on all the holiday races this month, you still have time to get your own holiday run in.  Put on a Santa hat and head out the door.  Anyone who sees you run by will probably smile and give you a friendly wave.

 

This scene from the movie was the theme for this year’s Christmas Story Run.

The

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

The New York City Marathon Will Move You

Earlier this month I ran the 2017 New York City Marathon and I have been struggling to write about it.   It has been difficult because so many different emotions are swirling around inside me.  I started out wanting to write about what a world-class event it was.  I have never heard people refer to a race as being “world-class”.  When people use this term, they mean that whatever they are referring to is the best of the best.  The race organizers, the New York Road Runners (NYRR), have thought of everything when it comes to planning the race to ensure the runners have the best experience, all the way down to therapy dogs in the runners villages while we waited for each wave’s start.  Never saw that before.

Over the weekend there were a number of opportunities to meet and greet the elite runners, ones that I have watched and admired for years.  I saw Bill Rodgers, Paula Radcliffe, and Ryan Hall on one panel.  Afterwards I had an opportunity to talk to Bill.  He chatted with me as if we were long-lost friends catching up on things.  I listened to Joan Benoit Samuelson telling an audience of runners what to expect on each mile of the course.  She pointed out different spots where it could be windy.  She gave tips on how to handle the bridges, which are the real hills in the race. When I was running through Brooklyn, I remembered what Joan said about the winds and how to deal with them.  Because of her tips, I remained focused as I ran.  I can’t think of any other sport where professionals make this kind of connection with amateurs.

With over 51,000 runners from 139 countries, it was like a runners version of the United Nations.  There were flags from all the represented countries lining the course near the finish line.  I rode the bus to the start on Staten Island with a group of runners from South Africa.  As we waited in the cold and wind in the runners village, I shared space blankets and running stories with runners from California, France, and Switzerland.  The camaraderie I experienced was special.  We were all one big group of cold runners waiting to head to Central Park.  Everyone was happy.

The race director, Peter Ciaccia, understands the commitment people make to train for a marathon.  He wants to ensure that every finisher, whether they are the first ones or the last, is cheered at the finish line.  Peter has a tradition of being there for the final finishers, even if it takes them over 8 hours to finish.  I have never heard of a race director of any race doing that.  He was even joined by some of the elite runners.  I want to go back and be one of the people cheering for those final finishers.

When I couldn’t get too far with the “world-class” idea, I started thinking about November and how it is the month of giving thanks.  There were so many times over marathon weekend when I was thanking someone.  This race required a lot of volunteers – 12,000 volunteers who worked the Expo, stood for hours on their feet at water stops along the course in the cold rain, or guided exhausted runners at the finish.  There were the hundreds of police and military personnel who protected the runners from the runners village all the way to Central Park.  Without them and the volunteers, there would be no marathon. I thanked them all as I ran by.

As a member of the MEB Foundation team, I thanked Meb Keflezighi for inspiring us by his incredible marathon performances, especially the win we all will remember – the 2014 Boston Marathon.  I also thanked him for showing us how someone can overcome adversity and achieve greatness.  I think I was the only person who called him “Sir” instead of Meb.  But to me, he is running royalty and informally calling him by his first name didn’t seem to convey the respect I have for him.

There was Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to officially enter and complete the Boston Marathon, who was one of the speakers at a pre-race dinner I attended.  Following her speech, I had an opportunity to meet Kathrine and thank her for making it possible for me to run a marathon.  Without her there would never have been a funatical runner.

But I still wasn’t happy with the direction my blog post was going.  Then I received a gift that pulled it all together for me.  It is a bracelet engraved with the saying “prove them wrong.”   Those three words define the accomplishments of so many of my running heroes.   In 2014 no one expected Meb to be a contender for a podium finish in Boston.  But he proved them wrong – he won the race.

In 1967 no one believed that a woman could run a marathon.  Women were too fragile; people actually thought women’s uteruses would fall out.  Then a brave woman, Kathrine Switzer, entered the Boston Marathon and finished it (not without controversy).  Kathrine proved them wrong.  In doing so, she started a discussion that ultimately led to athletic organizations across the world to allow women to participate in running events longer than 800 meters.

In 1984 the world watched the first women’s marathon in the Summer Olympics.  A young woman runner from the United States passed up the first water stop on what was a hot Los Angeles day.  I remember the commentators saying what a mistake it was.  The other runners had all taken their hydration.  Not Joan Benoit Samuelson.  She kept going and ended up pulling away from everyone.  Joan won the gold medal.  She proved them wrong.  She knew how to win.

There is Shalane Flanagan.  She had to withdraw from the Boston Marathon in April due to a fracture in her lower back.  Coming into the race, Shalane said she was thinking about retirement.  I understand.  Training for marathons takes a lot of time – time you can spend with your family doing other things.  Mary Keitany, a three-time New York City Marathon winner, was the favorite to win.  But anything can happen on race day.  Just like April 21, 2014 was Meb’s day, November 5, 2017 was Shalane’s day.  Shalane proved them wrong.  She proved she had what it took to win the race.

Finally, there is Justine Galloway.  Justine was running for Team Fox, Michael Fox’s foundation, and fundraising for Parkinson’s disease research.  Justine isn’t a normal runner.  She has a neurological disorder called runner’s dystonia.  The only way Justine can run is to run backwards.  With the help of a guide, Justine completed the New York City Marathon.  I am sure there were people who didn’t think she could do it.  But Justine proved them wrong.

They say the New York City Marathon will move you.  I went to New York expecting just to run another 26.2 miles through another big city.  I didn’t think there would be anything special about it.  But they proved me wrong.  I came home with more memories than I ever expected to have.  It moved me in ways I never thought possible.  It is a very special race that every marathoner should run at least once.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave