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!

 

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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

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