Running into a New Year!

It is difficult for me to believe that the 2014 year-end has arrived.  Looking back on everything that happened in this year, I should be happy to put it behind me and head into the uncharted territory of a new year.  In February I was rear-ended and got a concussion that forced me to sit out several races.  Six weeks of no running was a tough pill to swallow.

Then I fell during a training run in September and broke my arm in 4 places.  With my fall I crushed my goals of running in the Berlin Marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon, and the Goofy Race and a Half Challenge. Yet another 6 weeks without running was made worse by the loss of mobility in my arm.  These days my husband does not tell me to have a good run when I lace up and head out the door; instead he tells me not to fall.

Today I ran my first 5K race since I broke my arm.  Although it was very cold and windy, it felt great to be out racing again.  As I ran, I thought about my racing achievements for this year.  In 2014 I mostly ran multi-race events like the Dopey Challenge, the Nut Job, the Hat Trick, and the Dumbo Double Dare; I only ran 2 single races.   Multi-race weekends are challenging but next year I plan to dial it back a bit and not do any of those.  Instead I hope to run half marathons in at least 12 more states and make headway towards completing my 50-State Endurance Challenge.  I have my eyes set on some fun races all over the country.  It will be a year of adventure!

Since I am planning so many races, it will be very important to stay healthy.  With that in mind, I am making some resolutions aimed at keeping me in top shape.  First, I plan to make stretching a regular part of every day, just like brushing my teeth.  In the past I have noticed that when I stretched regularly, I had fewer aches and no injuries.  My 2015 motto will be “Just think Gumby!”

Second, I plan to drink more water.  I don’t drink nearly enough and I bet my muscles are like a dried out piece of meat. If I want my muscles to carry me through all those races I want to run, I need to treat them a little bit better.

Finally, I plan to work on strengthening my core.  In the past, I focused on getting in all my training runs.  I was less concerned about strength training.  But in the last month or so I have been working on my core and it is helping me.  I am happy to say that my time in the 5K today was within 2 seconds of my 5K PR set in 2012 – and I am still on the comeback trail from my fall!  I felt terrific when I finished.  I credit my strength training for that.

As I run around the country, I plan to take advantage of my travels and have fun.  I have had so many adventures in my races in the past – from California to Florida, Missoula to Boston, Nevada to North Carolina.  If it wasn’t for races, I probably wouldn’t travel to some of the places I have gone and there is so much to see.  It is a big country – somebody has to run it.

Yes, 2015 is going to be an exciting year.  I hope to see you at the start line!

If you are interested in the 50-State Challenge, check out the 50-State Half Marathon Club.   The club members share a passion for running plus members get discounts on race entries. I am taking the 50-State Endurance Challenge so half and full marathons count towards my goal as well as half and full Ironman Triathlons. 

My personal favorite app for keeping me stretching is Sworkit Pro (available for iPhone, iPad, Android and Kindle).  Very easy to use (and no I don’t get a referral fee).

My Favorite Gifts

This time of year people are focused on finding just the right Christmas or Hanukah gift for the special people in their lives.  They scout out the stores and surf the web for gifts that will be perfect for everyone on their list.  But I don’t think that gifts are something that come on a predetermined date on the calendar or wrapped in a box with a pretty bow.  For me, gifts are things I receive all year long from people in my life.  I am very fortunate to receive many gifts year round.

I appreciate the gift of knowing my dear friend will hop in her car to rescue me if I have a mishap on a training run and need to get to the hospital.  If I do get hurt, I value the gift of care and attention from my massage therapist, my acupuncturist, and chiropractor to get me back in shape.

I treasure the gift of a friend asking to join me on a training run so we can catch up on news from each other’s life.  My running partner helps keep me on the right pace – not running faster than I should.  That is a gift I could use in a race as well as training runs.

Last week my dearly beloved husband asked me what I wanted for Christmas.  I responded honestly that there wasn’t anything that he could get me.  My “gift” from him will be the privilege of traveling to races and furthering progress on my 50-state endurance race challenge.

There is one gift that I hope to give myself – that is the ability to raise both of my arms in victory when I cross the finish line of the Tokyo Marathon.  I have lots of work to do to be able to raise my formerly broken/now healed arm above my head.  When I do, that will be the best gift of any I could possibly receive.

Race Wish List

As we near the end of 2014, I am starting to plan out my race schedule for the upcoming year.  I missed many racing opportunities because of my broken arm.  I feel a need to make up for lost races.  One of the biggest challenges is picking out the races that I want to enter.  It is no wonder that it is so difficult to decide on what races to do.  According to the website Running in the USA, there are 970 marathons and over 3,000 half marathons to choose from.

The big problem is figuring out a race schedule that one can maintain while allowing for recovery time between races.  My big year was 2012.  I ran a total of 24 races (various lengths) that year, including 8 half marathons, 3 of which I ran in a 6-week period.  While it might seem that I was pushing myself too hard, I found that I achieved a PR in every distance that I ran.  I wish I had run a full marathon that year; I probably would have gotten a PR in that too.

My goal for 2015 is to run at least one half marathon per month.  I am working on my 50-State challenge and I only have 13 states plus the District of Columbia completed so far.  If I ever want to complete the challenge, I have to get running.

Whenever I travel to a race, I talk to other runners about races they have done.  I get lots of recommendations from them on races to consider.  I also find ideas for races from reviews on blogs and websites like MarathonGuide.com or Halfmarathons.net.

Some people are really into the medal (the bling).  The Nike Women’s races hand out a silver Tiffany necklace as the finisher medal.  I got one at the Nike Women’s Half in Washington, DC and I wear it all the time.  There aren’t many medals that you can or would want to wear after race day.  The Miami Marathon and Half Marathon claims to be the first race in the world to have a spinning medal.  I have to admit that normally I am not drawn to a race because of its medal.  But throw a spinning medal out there and I am in.  The Wineglass Marathon in New York’s wine country gives out beautiful handmade-glass finisher “medals” – a nod to Corning, a local glass manufacturer.    The RunDisney race series medals are among the nicest that I have received.  They are big and usually have a Disney character incorporated into the design.

While the medals and goodies for the runners are important, I look at the course.  I like interesting scenery or courses that wind through places that are otherwise off limits.  There is a whole race series organized by Vacation Races that goes through National Parks like Rocky Mountain National Park and Yellowstone – arguably some of the most scenic places in the country.  The Kentucky Derby Marathon and Half Marathon courses include part of the track at Churchill Downs.  The One America 500 Festival Mini Marathon includes a complete lap around the 2.5 mile track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  While hills can be difficult, there are also challenges to running on a dirt track (you sink in a bit and it can slow you down) or on a race course (the banked track causes one hip to be higher than the other and that can be painful).  One of my favorite races was the Detroit International Half Marathon that had us run over a bridge into Canada and back through a tunnel to the US.  We had to carry our passports with us during the race.  Since I am traveling for many of my races these days, I want to get the most out of my trips.  Good courses help make that happen.

I also enjoy races that have funny names like the Flying Pig Marathon (also known for having some of the best runner loot around) and the Mo’ Cowbell Marathon and Half Marathon in St. Charles, MO (all runners get a race-themed cowbell with their entry).  I have both of these on my list for next year.

Although I won’t be able to do this one in 2015, I really want to run the Hatfield & McCoy Double Half.  This is actually two half marathons that are run consecutively on the same day – one in West Virginia and one in Kentucky.  It is crazier than some of the multiple races that I ran this year like the Dopey and the Nut Job.  To top it off, in addition to 3 medals, you get a “Mason Jar” trophy.  The community goes out of its way to see that the runners have a good time.  I like to support races where the organizers are committed to putting on a good event.  This is definitely one of them.

The Lincoln Presidential Half in Springfield, IL seems to have it all.  The course winds through historic sites including the only home Lincoln ever owned, his law office, the Old State Capitol where he delivered his “House Divided” speech, and his final resting place in Oak Ridge Cemetery.  To top it off, the medal is a giant Lincoln penny.  How cool is that!

I feel like a little kid with the Sears toy catalog.  The more I look, the more races I find to add to my to-do list.  Unfortunately, I can only do so many races each month.  So many races, so little time!

Shopping at the Start Line

When buying gifts for runners, most people will head to their local running store.   Running stores are stocked with all kinds of gear that runners would be thrilled to have – watches, technical clothing, and Gu (which makes a great stocking stuffer).  If you still don’t know what to get, you can always get the old stand-by, a gift certificate for the store, so they can buy whatever they want.

Expos are another  great place to pick up runner gifts for those people who think ahead.  I have seen things at Expos that I never see anywhere else.  I have to admit when I am at an Expo, I am shopping for myself and not so much for anyone else.

The nuttiest place that I have seen someone “shopping” for runners on their gift-giving list is the start line of a marathon.  No kidding.  When I ran Grandma’s Marathon a few years ago, it was cold, rainy, and foggy.  My training was not where it should have been so I was in the last pace group.  As we got up to the start line, the pace group leader called out “Start shopping!”  I didn’t understand what she meant at first.  But then I saw there were lots of new or gently-worn running jackets, shirts, gloves and arm sleeves littering both sides of the course.  All this gear had been tossed by the elite runners who wore it while waiting in the cold for the race start.  Once they got warmed up, they took off their extra clothes.  Elite runners get a lot of free gear from their sponsors so it is no big deal to them to throw it away.

One of the women in our pace group picked up a pair of gloves because her hands were cold.  But then she started seeing arm sleeves in perfect condition.  Whenever she found a matched pair, she would pick them up.  She told me that she planned to launder them and give them out as Christmas presents.  I was dumbfounded.  She continued to pick them up for at least 14 miles.  There were so many that she got picky about the ones that she would keep.  She was staying in a hotel around Mile 20 and planned to stop in her room to drop them off before finishing the race.  By my count, she ended up with about a dozen pairs of sleeves plus several pairs of gloves.  The extra weight of all those clothes started to slow her down and she dropped out of our pace group.

As for myself, the only shopping I have done at the start line was a couple years ago at the Wine & Dine Half Marathon.  The race started at 10 pm.  We sat outside for about two hours waiting for the race to begin.  The temperatures started falling and I was getting cold.  When we got in our corral, I started looking for a tossed sweatshirt or plastic bag to stay warm.  I found an old pullover and put it on.

My running buddy kept an eye out for something better as we approached the start line.  He knew that was where the good stuff would be.  Fortunately for me, he spotted a beautiful Brooks ladies running jacket in perfect condition.  I tossed the pullover and grabbed the jacket.  It was a little large but I didn’t mind.  When I warmed up, I tied the jacket around my waist.  It was a keeper.

A few weeks later my husband noticed that Brooks jacket hanging in the laundry room to dry.  He asked where I bought it because he wanted one just like it.  I laughed and explained how I found it at the start line.  I couldn’t tell if he admired my cost-conscious shopping or not.

It might be too late for this year’s holiday shopping but keep it in mind next year when you head to the start line.  You can get some real finds there.  I have a friend who wears cashmere sweaters to the start line and tosses those.  If you are in the market for a new cashmere sweater, let me know.  I can tell you what her next race will be. 😉

I am a Runner

When I first started running back in 2006, I went with the run/walk method advocated by Jeff Galloway.  For someone like me who had never been athletic, it was the perfect way for me to become active.  It was work but as I trained, I got stronger and was able to increase how much I ran versus walked.  I was thrilled when I finished my first marathon and so I kept running.  So far I have completed 20 half marathons and 8 full marathons using the run/walk method, many of them as a fundraiser for charity.

I remember when I started running people would say that I really wasn’t a runner because I did the run/walk.  Somehow that minute of walking I would do disqualified me as a runner.  Apparently for some people, you are either a runner or a walker.  Splitting between running and walking means you are not really a runner.  It seems insensitive to discredit what I have achieved, as well as anyone else who has completed a marathon using the run/walk method.

When I was training for the 2009 DisneyWorld Marathon, one of my teammates had a recurring injury.  I encouraged him to try the run/walk method as an alternative to straight running.  I could tell that he did not think much of the idea, like it was wimping out to do a run/walk.  He kept pushing himself to run faster and his injury never really went away.  On race day, we were in the same corral but within a few miles, he took off, leaving me to my run/walk.  I did not see him again until I passed him around Mile 20.  He ended up walking a lot of the last part of the course.  Yes, I walk but just a little bit each mile and I can keep going at the end.

I have had the privilege to spend time with John Bingham, also known as the Penguin, the godfather of slow runners.  John knows many of the famous distance athletes personally – Frank Shorter, Joan Benoit Samuelson, Meb Keflezighi, just to name a few.  John also knows the not-so-famous atheletes, the ones that are crossing the finish line as they are taking down the signs.  What impresses me the most about John is that he does not distinguish between the super fast runners who smoke a marathon course and the slow ones.  He cheers equally for them all.

This is one of John’s quotes that is often repeated:

“If you run, you are a runner. It doesn’t matter how fast or how far. It doesn’t matter if today is your first day or if you’ve been running for twenty years. There is no test to pass, no license to earn, no membership card to get. You just run.”

I think that the spirit of John’s quote would also not make a distinction between runners or run/walkers.  Because at the end of the day, runners and run/walkers are all athletes.  We should encourage and cheer for everyone, no matter how they cross the finish line.