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!



















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.




Setting Records in January

Winter is not the time of year I expect to hear about new running records.  But that is exactly what happened in late January.

Ron Hill probably has a big pile of shoes

Ron Hill probably has a big pile of shoes

First there is Ron Hill, a 78-year old former Olympian who lives in England.  Ron was a running streaker who had run at least one mile every day.  During a run in late January, Ron started having pains in his heart.  Ron was concerned about his wife and family so he decided it was time to hang up his running shoes and end his streak at 52 years and 39 days.   I would call Ron the Cal Ripken of running.

Although Cal’s record for most consecutive baseball games played will probably stand for a long time, there are a number of people who could break Ron’s impressive record.  I wrote about the US Running Streak Association (USRSA) a year ago because I was following the running streaks of several runners (Did They Make It?).  In looking at the current active streak list on the USRSA’s web site, I saw 66-year-old Jon Sutherland’s streak is over 47 1/2 years.  As long as Jon stays healthy, he has a good chance of breaking Ron’s streak record in less than 5 years.  In the meantime, I hope Ron basks in the glory of having the longest streak record.  That is one heck of an achievement.

The other records set at the end of January were all associated with the 2017 World Marathon Challenge.  I wrote about the World Marathon Challenge at the end of 2015 (7x7x7).  Participants run 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days.  If you think about it, the World Marathon Challenge is also a running streak of sorts.  The only difference is that it ends after 7 days (though I am sure somebody somewhere is thinking about how many days in a row they could run a marathon, if they haven’t tried it already).  When I wrote about this challenge last year, I thought it was a flash in the pan (the price alone would deter a lot of people).  But the number of runners has grown every year with only 9 men and 1 woman in the first year (2015) to this year’s challenge with 22 men and 9 women.

The records set with this year’s participants are impressive.  Sinead Kane from Ireland became the first blind person, guided by John O’Regan, to complete 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days.  Guoping Xie set a new world record for women by completing 7 marathons on 7 continents in 6 days 8 hours and 30 minutes.  Nahila Hernandez became the first woman to run an ultra marathon (50K or 31.0686 miles) on all 7 continents in 7 days.  And to think there was a time when women were not allowed to participate in the marathon because there was a fear it would physically harm them.

But the big record was the one set by Michael Wardian, a 42-year-old ultra marathoner who has a day job working as an international ship broker.  From the first race in Antarctica where the windchill sent the temperatures to -30C to the last in Australia, Michael set a blistering pace for each race.  He won all 7 stages of the challenge.  Michael set a world record for the average time for completing each of the 7 marathons – 2:45:57.  Michael’s overall time to complete the 7 marathons on 7 continents was 6 days 7 hours and 25 minutes.

Michael is no stranger to world records.  In 2007 Michael set the record for running the fastest marathon while pushing a stroller with his son in it.  He even finished that race in third place.  In 2015 Michael set the world record for the fastest 50K run on a treadmill in 2:59:49. In 2016 Michael set the record for the fastest runner to complete each of the 6 Abbott World Marathons (Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York) in one calendar year, averaging 2:31:09.

I am not sure what is left for Michael to run.  He has run the most challenging ultra marathons all over the world.  He even ran at the North Pole (in the 2014 North Pole Marathon).  Michael isn’t the type to stay home, running local 5K and 10K races.  In a recent interview, Michael said he likes to do stuff that scares him.  I don’t doubt for a moment Michael has something he wants to try.  No matter what it is, I will be cheering for him.  He is an incredible athlete.

Interested in running 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days?  They are currently taking applications for the 2018 challenge.  Visit their website for more information http://www.worldmarathonchallenge.com

One in A Million

You might think that every marathon is the same.  Same race, just different place.  I can tell you from my experience that they are not.  This past weekend I ran my twelfth marathon, the Virgin Money London Marathon.   It was very different than any other I have run.  Someone said the London Marathon is “so much more than a race.”  Truer words have never been spoken.

This was a special year for the race.  The London Marathon started in 1981 with a mere 7,000 or so runners.  This year over 39,000 runners were entered.  At some point during the race, the one-millionth runner was going to cross the finish line.   To generate excitement before the race, the organizers started the #oneinamillion campaign about this remarkable milestone.  As of today, they are still trying to determine who the one-millionth runner was.  I might not be that one-millionth runner but I am hoping I crossed the finish line before them.

There are runners who have completed every London Marathon since it started.  They call them “Ever Presents”.  They started tracking the Ever Presents in 1995 when there were 42.  This year the number of Ever Presents was down to 12, all male runners between the ages of 57 and 79.  I can’t imagine running the same race for 36 years in a row.  I have to take my hat off to these gentlemen.  They are committed.

The race among the elite runners was full of excitement. The overall male winner, Eliud Kipchoge, finished in 2:03:05 – the fastest London Marathon finish and the second fastest men’s marathon record – only 8 seconds off the current world record of 2:02:57.  The overall female winner, Jemima Sumgong, fell at Mile 21 when another runner clipped her heels.  She went down hard, striking her head on the pavement.  But she got back up and kept going despite a gash on her head.  Jemima worked her way back into the lead and finished in 2:22:58.

Officials from Guinness World Records at the finish line

Officials from Guinness World Records at the finish line

The race partners with the Guinness World Records (GWR) folks so that amateur runners attempting world records can get record verification immediately after completing the race.   Anyone who planned to attempt to break a record during the race had to apply to GWR prior to the race.  They also wore special signs on their backs indicating they were working on a GWR attempt.  There were 55 record attempts during the 2016 London Marathon.  I saw several of them during the race.  Of these, 31 were successful.  Here are a few of the new records for fastest marathons set at the 2016 London Marathon:

Fastest four-man costume

Fastest four-man costume

  • In a four-person costume achieved by four real life firemen who ran wearing a fire engine.  They completed the race in 5:25:02.
  • By a man wearing chainmail in 5:45:51.
  • Wearing a full body dinosaur costume (man) in 3:08:34.
  • Dressed as a plant (a man dressed as a forget me not in a flower pot) in 3:02:43.  This runner also is the current record holder for the fastest marathon in a wedding dress.
  • Dressed as an organ (prostate) in 3:13:20.
  • Dressed as a bottle (in this case, a bottle of Wimbledon Brewery beer) in 3:09:37.
  • Dressed as a crustacean (a lobster) in 3:17:57.  My biggest fear realized – I was beaten by a guy dressed as a lobster.
  • Dressed as a fast food item (hotdog) in 3:57:17.
  • A woman dressed in a full-body animal costume (polar bear) in 4:22:08.
  • Two person costume (horse and jockey) in 4:21:21.  They must have beaten the two runners I saw dressed as Native Americans wearing a canoe.

    Two man costume attempt

    Two man costume attempt by runners dressed as Native Americans and wearing a canoe

Major Tim Peake, a British astronaut ran the fastest marathon in orbit by running the marathon on a treadmill in the International Space Station while we ran through London.  As he ran, Tim watched a video of the route on his iPad.  He had to use a harness to keep himself on the treadmill while he ran.  Tim finished his “London Marathon” in 3:35:21, only 16 minutes slower than his time running the 1999 London Marathon.  If there is a record for someone running the same race on Earth and in space, he should get that one too.  While Tim ran in orbit, Martin Hewlett ran in London and set the record for the fastest marathon dressed as an astronaut in 3:06:26.

One of the most amazing records is the one set by three men for fastest four-legged marathon.  They finished in 4:44:19.  I can’t imagine the amount of coordination that it took to keep them all in synch for 26.2 miles, especially for the runner in the middle who had each of his legs tied to one of the other runners.

Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 7.19.17 PMI was most impressed by the number of charity runners.  The London Marathon had more charity runners than any other race I ever have run.  Approximately 3/4 of the runners were raising money for one of the over 80 charities associated with the race.  For the “have-a-go” runners (as one newspaper referred to first time marathoners), entry through a charity guaranteed them a spot in a very popular race plus a way to support a cause that was important to them.   By raising money for a charity, they have a way to honor a loved one who was lost to cancer or a stroke, or show support for a family member or friend suffering from diseases like Colitis or mental illness, or help raise awareness about various social causes.   They become someone’s hero.  Not surprising that the world record for fundraising through a marathon was set at the 2011 London Marathon by Steve Chalke who raised £2.32 million (nearly $3.4 million by today’s exchange rates).

One of the many runners dressed as a rhino

One of the many runners dressed as a rhino

Many of the charity runners wear costumes to help raise money for their cause.  I saw runners dressed as Star Wars Storm Troopers, Paddington Bear, Sponge Bob, film and book characters, full body dinosaur costumes, an old fashioned desk telephone.  As I passed a man dressed as a toilet (who was running for water.org), I teased him by saying I disliked when a toilet runs.  He laughed and replied that he would be flush when he finished.  There was a large number of runners dressed as rhinoceros (for Save the Rhino).

Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 7.19.05 PMShortly after the race, I learned that a runner had collapsed at Mile 23.  It was David Seath, a 31 year old Green Beret in the British Army who was running for Help for Heroes, a charity that provides support to wounded service members.  He had set a modest fund raising goal of £250 ($365).   He died later at a hospital.  News of his death shocked everyone and his fundraising web site was flooded with donations.  As of today, people have donated over £69,500 ($101,000).  One of David’s friends created another fundraising web site in his memory also to benefit Help the Heroes.  That web site has raised over £93,000 ($135,813).  Between the two fundraising web sites, over £162,500 ($236,00) has been raised for Help for Heroes – all because of David.  From such a terrible tragedy came more money than David could ever have imagined raising to help an organization that was important to him.

Of all the races I have done, the London Marathon is right up there at the top of the list.  It is a celebration, a chance for runners to test their limits and possibly set new world records, and an opportunity to be heroes to the charitable organizations many of them were supporting.  Yes, it was much more than just another marathon.

Although I am running faster these days, I ended up finishing about 15 minutes behind my personal record (PR) for the marathon. My husband was disappointed that I didn’t push myself more and go for a PR.  But I had decided before the start that this race was special, one that I needed to savor.  Along the course, I took time to stop and take pictures, to capture some of the excitement.  As I neared the finish line, I didn’t want the race to end.  I paused for a few moments between Miles 25 and 26 to look around and soak it all in.  It was a fabulous race.  I was one in a million.

Here is a link to the press release listing all of the new Guinness World Records set at the 2016 London Marathon.

Do you want to run the London Marathon?  Travel partners like Marathon Tours can get you in the race.  I have travelled to several races with this company and I have never been disappointed in them.  They know the races, provide the most convenient accommodations, and help ensure you have a pleasant running vacation.  Check them out!

How Do You Define Adventure?

A couple weeks ago I was looking for an interesting film to watch on the long flight to Utah for the Zion Half Marathon.  I found a documentary called “The Five Elements of Adventure.”   Given that my goal is to have more adventure in my life, I was curious to learn what Matt Walker, a mountaineer and the film’s creator, thought the five elements of adventure are.  For all I know, I could be missing a key element of adventure.

The first element Matt said is getting out of your normal environment.  This makes total sense to me.  The way I look at it is you can represent your environment in a Venn diagram.  Your normal environment is a circle within a MUCH larger circle.  Things get boring and monotonous if all you do is stay inside your little circle.  You have to break through into the bigger circle to see more of what is out there in the world.  If you live in the mountains, go see a desert.  I can guarantee that life is a lot different there.  As Matt puts it, getting out of your ordinary routine results in a shift in your perspective on life and living.Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 6.32.10 PM

Next, Matt says there needs to be uncertainty about the outcome of what you are doing.  Predictable by definition means “able to be foretold or declared in advance.”  Sounds like another word for routine to me, just the thing adventure is suppose to take you away from.  You need to go for the unpredictable.  This element reminded me of Mike Hall, the cyclist in the TransAm Bike Race and his view of adventure.  The cyclists in the race couldn’t predict what was going to happen every day.  Everything was up to chance, fate, or whatever you want to call it.  They controlled nothing but how they handled each challenge thrown at them.  If everything was predictable, it would be the same as any other long bike ride that they take.

The third element, according to Matt, is passion.  Matt feels that to have adventure, you have to do something that gives you tremendous joy.  As he sees it, people are getting lost in the monotony of their daily lives.  They need to get lost instead in something that they love to do.  I understand that one.  When I worked, there was no time in my days to do anything that gave me joy or personal satisfaction.  I guarantee you – there was no adventure in my life.  I often felt like I was just existing.

Matt’s fourth element is mindfulness.  For something to be an adventure, Matt says you have to be in a mental state where you are fully present in the moment.  When you are mindful of what you are doing, you aren’t distracted by other thoughts.  In today’s world, that is a tough one.  Most people are busy multi-tasking, only partially paying attention to what is going on around them.

Finally, Matt’s last element is companionship.  Matt believes that you have to share an experience with others in order to get the most joy from it.

After I finished watching the film, I sat back and evaluated my running “adventures”.  I certainly had the first one down.  I am traveling to races in places as varied as Tokyo, Berlin, Montana, South Carolina, and Utah.  In the process I have gotten exposure to different parts of the world.  I have seen things like snow monkeys in Japan and a ghost town in Utah, eaten foods like wild Maine blueberries and Montana huckleberries.  I never would have enjoyed these things if I had stayed in my little circle.  As a result, my little circle got a bit bigger.

My races may all seem predictable but they really aren’t.  I never expected the extreme weather we had for the Rock ’n’ Roll Half in Savannah that ultimately caused the race to be halted.  I had never run in a mud race but in Utah I got a little taste of what a mud race might be like.  When I ran the Rocky Mountain Half, I had never run a race at high altitude.  It was a very different experience running at over 7,500 feet, one that required me to adjust my racing strategy.

Yes, I am passionate about my running.  I have tremendous gratitude and joy that I am still able to keep moving.  Many people with Transverse Myelitis don’t have that gift.  It is something that I can’t stop doing.

I am a little light on the mindfulness part.  The only place where I experienced what Matt described as mindfulness was when I ran outside Zion National Park.  Without any course entertainment or other distractions along the way, I got caught up in the beauty of the scenery.  I found myself focusing on each breath, each footfall, the wind on my back, and the rain on my face.  My mind became very calm and I felt an overwhelming sense of peace.  It was a spiritual experience.

For companionship, I always have the other runners, some I know beforehand and others I meet along the way.  My running companions (including my “running spouse”) and I have shared many running adventures (and a couple misadventures) over the years.  Through those adventures we have created shared memories and forged friendships that I cherish.  I will never forget the “buddy” I made during the Rock ’n’ Roll Half in Savannah.  It was a difficult race and we helped each other get across the finish line that day.  My fellow 50 State Half Marathon Club members have also added companionship to my racing.  We come from varied backgrounds and areas of the country but we share a passion for running.

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 9.08.57 PMThe comedian Chris Rock once remarked some people say life is short but life is long and you have to live with the choices you make.  I think it is too long to stay confined in a little circle.  Adventure starts when you make the decision to step outside your circle and into the unknown that lies beyond it.   By taking that first step outside my circle and into the big one, I know that I am putting myself on the road to adventure.

Matt Walker has a website and a blog.  Check it out.  Here is a teaser for Matt’s film “The Five Elements of Adventure” but I encourage you to watch the whole film (available on iTunes).  In addition to his message about adventure, you will enjoy the beautiful scenery of Nepal while you plan your next adventure.



Source: Childcraft Poems of Early Childhood

When I was a child, my mother read poems to me before I went to bed.  One of my favorites was a poem called “The Animal Store” by Rachel Field.  It was one that was easy for me to memorize.  When I got older (and the cost of animals increased with inflation), I changed the opening line from “If I had a hundred dollars to spend…” to “If I had a million dollars to spend…”  I figured that I could buy quite a few animals plus have money left to feed all the animals and pay vet bills.

I read recently about a woman who is going to participate in January in the World Marathon Challenge, which consists of running 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days.  The cost of this challenge is nearly $40,000 plus costs for food and flights to/from the start and end of the event.  The total cost is probably over $50,000.   Thinking about this, that poem popped into my mind – if I had a million dollars to spend, would I spend it on the World Marathon Challenge?

I visited the World Marathon Challenge website to learn more about this crazy adventure.  The challenge, first held in January 2015, is limited to 15 people who, if they successfully complete the challenge, become members of the “exclusive Intercontinental Marathon Club.”  According to the web site, there are only 10 men and one woman who are in the Intercontinental Marathon Club.  (There are also two runners who are Intercontinental Half Marathon Club members.  This is one time that the expression “only half crazy” seems very appropriate.)  The current record for the fastest time to complete the challenge is held by Richard Donovan who did it in 4 days, 22 hours, 3 minutes.

The challenge starts at Union Glacier in Antarctica a few hundred miles from the South Pole where the expected temperature is a frigid -4 F.  From there the runners will fly to Punta Arenas, Chile for the South America race followed by more flights and races in Miami (North America), Madrid, Spain (Europe), Marrakech, Morocco (Africa), Dubai, UAE (Asia), and finishing in Sydney (Australia) where the expected temperature will be a more tolerable 77 F.  During the 168 hours of the challenge, the runners will spend approximately 59 hours in the air and run 183 miles.  The time clock for the challenge starts with the start of the first race in Antarctica.

Photo courtesy of Transition Triathlon

A NormaTec Recovery System in use (Photo courtesy of Transition Triathlon)

I thought about the challenge and whether it would be something I would be interested in (assuming that I had the money to do it).  While the runners fly business class between continents, I would really need something like a NormaTec Rapid Recovery System to use on each flight.  Otherwise, I don’t think I would be in top form for the next race.  The muscles in my legs and hips would be taking a beating.  Compression socks just wouldn’t cut it.  Plus I can’t imagine the fatigue I would have from all those time zone changes.  Physically, I would probably be done by the time I hit Miami.

There are some very interesting destinations on this itinerary.  Given the time limit, there wouldn’t be enough time to experience any of the places where I would be running.  As soon as I would finish a race, I would need to head off to the airport for the next destination and the next race.  In Madrid, for example, I would want to see the flamenco dancers and dine at Botin, recognized by the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s oldest restaurant.  In Marrakech, I would want to explore the souk and wander the city to take in all the unique architecture.  While I guess I would get a good tour while running through the city, there certainly would not be time to linger anywhere.

I don’t understand the desire to blow through all these places in seven days.  It is the equivalent to killing seven birds with one stone – one week, one trip, all seven continents.  Check.  That saying “take time to smell the roses” comes to mind.  There wouldn’t be time for that unless the roses were in a shop at the airport.

People who are interested in physical and mental challenges like these amaze me.  I can only imagine how incredibly strong and dedicated they must be.  As for me, I am happy to slowly chip away at my 50 State Endurance Challenge and my goal of running all 6 World Marathons.  I can enjoy each of the places I visit before or after I run – savoring the sights and flavors that each one has to offer.

Interested in learning more about the World Marathon Challenge?  Check out this video about the first event.  You can also visit their website for more information.

Goals: To Have or Not to Have

I use to tell people to be careful setting goals because they could kill you.  Goals can become the monkey on your back that drives you to do things maybe you shouldn’t be doing.  I would classify myself as being very goal oriented.  Having a to-do list and checking things off gives me a sense of accomplishment.  Lately, I have started wondering about this whole goal thing.

My 50 State Half Marathon shirt showing the states that I have completed

My 50 State Half Marathon shirt showing the states that I have completed

I joined the 50 State Half Marathon Club last year and signed up for the 50 State Endurance Challenge.  This challenge allows me to count both marathons and half marathons towards my goal.  I have been plugging along, checking off my states (23 so far).  But my goal of completing endurance races in all 50 states is nothing compared to the goals of some people I have met over the last few years.  They make me look like a loser.

A 50under4 Club member

A 50under4 Club member

I have met runners with variations on the 50-State-goal theme.  There are people who want to run marathons in all 50 states.   Then there are those people who want to run marathons in all 50 states but complete each race in under 4 hours (as if  running marathons in all 50 states wasn’t hard enough).  They even have their own club – 50under4.  In Atlantic City, I walked from the hotel to the start line with a man whose goal is to run a marathon AND a half marathon in all 50 states.  I don’t think there is a club for that one.

I met a man who has a goal of running a half marathon in each of the 50 states.  He added the personal challenge that he has to finish each race in under 2 hours.  He is moving along on his goal and has over 30 states checked off.  It would be a bit higher but some of the races he completed in over 2 hours.  He won’t count those states towards his goal and will have to go back to run in them again.

IMG_0497Doug Kurtis had a unique personal goal.  I met Doug in Duluth, Minnesota in 2013 when I ran the Grandma’s Marathon.  While waiting for the bus to the start line, Doug started talking to me.  He pointed to his bandana that had “200” written across it.  He was 61 years old and was hoping to run his 200th marathon in less than 3 hours that day.  Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate and he didn’t make it.  He finished in 3:05:23 (I would have been overjoyed to run a marathon that fast).   A few months later, I read about him in Runners World magazine.  He was able to reach his goal at his hometown race, the Detroit Free-Press Marathon.  It is a very impressive accomplishment.

There are runners who have the goal of running the same race every year.  Sometimes the races give these runners special names.  The Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) calls them “Ground Pounders”.  There are only two Ground Pounders left who have run all 40 MCMs – Will Brown, 67, and Alfred Richmond, 74.  There are the “Perfectly Goofy” runners who have run all 10 Goofy Race and a Half Challenges at Disney World (half marathon and full marathon over 2 consecutive days).  I know some people who want to be “Perfectly Dopey” by running Disney World’s annual Dopey Challenge (5K, 10K, half marathon and full marathon over 4 consecutive days).  I was Dopey once and that was enough.

When I was diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis (TM), I wasn’t sure I could keep running.  I searched the Internet to find other runners with TM and learn how they handled things like running in heat.  I found a blog written by Kimberly Kotar who also happens to be the President and Founder of the Canadian Transverse Myelitis Association.  Kimberly was a marathon runner when she was diagnosed with TM.  Despite her diagnosis, she kept running with the goal of completing a marathon in each of the 10 Canadian provinces.  She completed her goal last month.

Some runners set a goal to run on all 7 Continents.  I had that goal for a while until I realized that, for health reasons, I can’t travel to all 7 Continents.  Now I am trying to run each of the 6 Major World Marathons.  I might not be able to reach that goal either since I won’t qualify for the Boston Marathon even if I am still running when I am 80.

I started questioning the focus on my goals after reading “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big” by Scott Adams.  Scott thinks “goals are for losers.”  According to Scott, if you set a goal, you spend all your time working on getting to that goal and that gets tiring.  Ask Doug Kurtis – after he reached 200, he stopped running sub-3:00 marathons because it is a lot of work to run that fast.   Scott also points out that if you don’t reach your goal, then you feel like a failure.  Who needs the emotional baggage that comes with that?

I chatted with Cathy, my hair stylist, about goals as she cut my hair today.  I have known Cathy a long time and she always provides wise advice on things like this.  Cathy told me that she thought goals were good because they put you on a path to where you need to be.  She pointed out that my original goal back in 2007 was to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society by running a marathon  in honor of my friend, Marnie.  After that, I kept running and set the goal of running 5 full marathons and 10 half marathons by the time I turned 55.  I did that with 6 months to spare.  She watched me deal with my TM diagnosis 5 years ago.  Running, she pointed out, is keeping me healthy plus I am having fun traveling to races.  My original goal – running to raise money for my friend – put me on the path to something so much bigger.  Score 1 Cathy.

Screen Shot 2015-11-04 at 11.35.28 AM

Source: Dictionary.com

Scott, however, points out the same thing that I realized when I read the definition of goal.  There is an “end” when you are talking about a goal.  There are only 50 States, only 7 Continents, and only 6 World Majors.  When you have run all those, what do you do next?  Is it time to hang up your running shoes and turn off your Garmin for good?

I remember when I was working in the business world they sat us down at the beginning of the year to define our goals and objectives.  It was a very formal process where everyone signed a document like a contract.  The whole thing had a lot of negative connotations to it.  If the regular goals weren’t enough, they added stretch goals. I felt compelled to meet those along with the already challenging regular goals.  Periodically I would pull out the document with my goals to see how I was doing.  I would get stressed out over the goals I knew were impossible to reach.  Then at the end of the year, they sat me down to see how I did.  Colleagues that didn’t make their goals were put on probation or worse.  Somehow I usually came through relatively unscathed.  They couldn’t make the work environment any more stressful if they tried.

I have been spending a lot of time planning my 2016 race schedule.  It is starting to feel a lot like a job.  My 50 State goal is getting stressful.  I decided today that I am going to look at my running goals differently.  I am going to think about them more as aspirations than goals.  If I don’t make a particular goal, it isn’t a big deal.  I already failed at running the 7 Continents and nobody fired me.  I aspire to run all 6 Major Marathons.  Maybe I will and maybe I won’t.  And maybe along the way I’ll find something even better to do.


When I was little, my mother use to tell me “the best things in life are worth waiting for.”  I think it was her way of helping me deal with disappointments in life.  Those words came back to me  last Sunday when I finished the Berlin Marathon.  It was delayed a year but my trip, my race were incredible and worth the wait.

In 2014 I planned to run this race with the goal of completing it under 5 hours.  When my broken arm forced a race delay, I decided to run the race this year but forget about the time goal.  I was going to run this one just for the adventure.  Honestly, in the back of my mind, I never entirely let go of that goal.

If there was any place where I could get a sub-5 hour marathon, it would be in Berlin.  The last six world records for the men’s marathon have been set at the Berlin Marathon, most recently in 2014 when Dennis Kimetto finished in 2:02:57.  Berlin offers the ideal conditions for a marathon.  The course is about as flat as you can get.  Temperatures on race day are typically between 53 – 64 degrees with very little wind –      perfect for marathoners, especially ones like me with Transverse Myelitis.  Except for  the cobblestones around the Brandenburg Gate, the course is asphalt so not as painful on the joints.

The Expo was held at the old Tempelhof Airport.  It was probably one of the most lively Expos I have ever seen – lots of people, loud music, and vendors for everything a runner could ever dream of wanting.  One thing that surprised me was a Mizuno booth where you could buy running shoes and have them personalized.  I have never seen that in the US. IMG_2737


In case you were looking for him, Waldo was running the International Breakfast Run

In addition to the marathon, there were several other events during the weekend.  I ran in the International 6K Breakfast Run on Saturday morning.  The run was a great way to deal with my pre-race nerves as well as get an idea of what the weather would be like for the marathon.  There was no registration for this race but they estimated that 10,000 runners took part.  Runners were encouraged to wear colors or costumes reflective of their native country or city.  Some of them got pretty crazy.  I saw a guy running in a Waldo costume (as in Where’s Waldo?).  There was a group from Sweden that was cheering as they ran through the streets.  If the Summer Olympics had a fun run, it would look like this.  The run started at Charlottenburg Palace and ended on the track inside the Olympic Stadium where Jesse Owens won four gold medals in the 1936 Olympics.

When I headed out for the pasta dinner on Saturday, I saw the tail end of the Inline Skating Marathon.  Over 5,500 skaters raced on the same marathon course I was running the next day.  Those skaters were really flying too.  The winner finished the skating marathon in 56 minutes.

There were lots of events for kids on Saturday.  They held the Bambini 500 meter/1000 meter races for kids aged 10 and under on the tarmac of Tempelhof Airport.  Over 1,500 kids were entered in those.  Over 10,000 grammar school and elementary school kids ran in the Mini-marathon whose course followed the last 4.2K of the marathon course.  For budding inline skaters, there was a kids (aged 6-13) version of the Inline Skating event but with distances of between 500 and 3000 meters (based on age and skill level).  Nobody can say the kids in Germany aren’t moving enough!

But the weekend was all about Sunday and the marathon.  Over 41,000 runners from 127 nations were entered.  We were packed in our corral like sardines.  Everyone was happy and nervous.  I was chatting with all the runners around me as we waited for the start.  The race started at 9 AM but our corral didn’t get to cross the start line until 9:38.  IMG_2932

I like to do some sightseeing as I run a marathon but the course was so crowded, I had to pay attention to where I was running.  I didn’t want to trip over anything.  Unfortunately, around Mile 7, I twisted my ankle in a pothole.  I kept going, hoping it would work itself out.  It bothered me for the rest of the race.  I also didn’t spend time taking pictures because I was there for a reason.  I wanted a PR and stopping to take pictures wasn’t going to help me get it.

Water stops were interesting.  This was the first race I ran where they used plastic cups for the water and sports drinks.  With the number of runners in the race, you can imagine how many cups were all over the road.  It was tough to run through them – runners were kicking them all over the place and the cups were slippery.

There was a sponge in the goody bag that runners received at the Expo with their bib.  The sponge was intended for cooling off during the race.  There were tubs of water at some water stops to dip the sponge in.  I didn’t see many runners with their sponges.  I didn’t carry mine so I used my homemade tube sock arm warmers to cool off.

The Berlin Marathon is one of the six World Major Marathons.  I have this notion that a major marathon is suppose to be more serious.  I don’t expect to see people dressed in costumes, for example.  But there were a few that caught my eye.  I saw a guy running dressed as a bottle of Erdinger alcohol-free beer, another dressed as a wurst (a German sausage), and another dressed as a Minion.   I tried to beat the beer bottle guy but he pulled ahead of me at Mile 20 and I couldn’t catch him.  I am pretty sure the wurst guy finished ahead of me too.

Along the course there was lots of entertainment and cheering crowds.  The atmosphere helped to keep my adrenaline flowing.  Despite the nagging pain in my ankle, I just kept running.  I felt relaxed and strong.  It was thrilling to run through the Brandenburg Gate to the finish line.  The crowds there were huge.  The grandstands were free to anyone who wanted to use them and they were packed with cheering people.  When I stopped my Garmin after crossing the finish line, it flashed “New Personal Record Marathon” and showed my time. I had finished in 4 hours and 50 minutes.

Probably the most startling thing that I saw after the race was a woman runner sitting on the ground, wrapped in her space blanket and wearing her finishers medal.  She was smoking a cigarette.  I was amazed.  I have never seen a runner who smokes.

They had showers and free massages for runners at the end of the race but I just wanted to get back to my hotel.  It was a long walk and my ankle was sore.  I took a shower, put on my Lily Trotter compression socks and elevated my ankle. (In case you are wondering, the next day my ankle was fine.)

The Berlin Marathon was everything that I hoped it would be and more.  Yes, Mom was right again.  The best things in life are worth waiting for.  It took me two years but I got there and earned the PR that I wanted.

At one point in the race, I saw a woman running ahead of me wearing a shirt that said “PowerFrau”.  It translates to SuperWoman.  Thinking about how I did – running with a twisted ankle in sub-5 hours – I’d say that I am a PowerFrau too.IMG_2936

Berlin Marathon – Take Two

Last year I was planning to run the Berlin Marathon.  My goal was to get a PR (personal record).  I worked for months with a personal coach with that goal driving me.   Then three weeks before the race I fell during a 20-mile training run, breaking my arm in four places.  I also broke my dream of that PR.  It was a difficult situation that forced me to sit in bed resting for a few weeks.  I couldn’t even take a walk through my neighborhood for over a month without pain in my arm.  I am an active person and sitting is my least favorite position.  (Here is a link to the blog post about my fall.)

Throughout my ordeal, my dear friend, Auntie C., kept telling me there was a reason why I fell, why all that pain happened.  The universe, she said, was trying to tell me something.  Auntie C. explained sometimes when we don’t listen to what the universe is telling us, it needs to slam a door in our face to force us to listen.  So the universe was to blame for me tripping on the trail and breaking my arm.  Too bad I can’t sue the universe for pain and suffering.

At the time, I was not particularly receptive to what I perceived as a bunch of crazy mumbo jumbo to get me to accept that I wouldn’t be running for a long time.  I was disappointed that I had come so close to my goal of running in Berlin, only to have it snatched from my reach.  I resigned myself to getting my mobility back and running the 2015 Berlin Marathon.

To Auntie C.’s credit, this week I finally realized why things happened the way that they did.   I am off to Berlin to run the race I missed last year.  As I started packing for the trip, it hit me.  I knew why 2014 was not my year to run the Berlin Marathon.  Last year I had been entirely focused on the race and getting a PR.  The goal of a PR was driving me.   Nothing else mattered.  The journey itself had lost importance.  But the journey is why I run these races.  Several things have happened over the last few months that made me realize 2015 is the year I was meant to run this race.

First, back in May, I went searching through my house for old class photos to take to a high school reunion.  In a box in my basement, I found all the brochures, ticket stubs, postcards, and other souvenirs from various trips that my husband and I had taken.  Among them were things we brought back from our 1990 trip to Berlin.  We were there for the reunification of Germany on October  3 of that year – Unity Day – when East Germany and West Germany were rejoined to become one country after being divided for 45 years.

1990 Berlin Marathon ProgramIn the box I came across the program for the September 30, 1990 Berlin Marathon.   The race was particularly historical because it was the first time that the course would wind through East Berlin and pass through the Brandenburg Gate.   I sat down and paged through the program. It is mostly written in German but I could figure out some of the information.  I recognized the elite runners in some of the photos, including Uta Pippig and Rosa Mota.  I didn’t know that I had that program when I was training for the 2014 race.  It gave me chills to think that it had been sitting in my basement waiting for me to find it.  I am happy I read it before my trip.  Reading it made me realize how much more special it will be to run this race.

Newspaper coverage of the 1990 Berlin Marathon

Newspaper coverage of the 1990 Berlin Marathon

The next thing that told me the 2015 race was my destiny came from my photo albums.  We plan to visit our German friends while we are there so I went through photo albums, looking for old pictures to take along and reminisce with them.  I came across the album from our 1990 Berlin trip where I found pictures of my husband and me hammering on the Berlin Wall.  For 20 Deutsche Marks we rented a hammer and chisel for 15 minutes.  The best we could get were small chips and Berlin Wall dust.  That was the job for a jackhammer.   Looking at all the pictures from our 1990 visit made me realize that the city we will see this time is vastly different.   I would not have appreciated that fact as much a year ago.  I was too focused on my PR goal.

Chipping away at the Berlin Wall

Chipping away at the Berlin Wall

There was a huge celebration at the Reichstag building the night of October 2, 1990.  It was like Times Square in New York City on New Year’s Eve with everyone waiting for the ball to drop at midnight.  It was the eve of Unity Day, October 3.  There were hundreds of thousands of people there that night.  The atmosphere was electric with flags, fireworks, and people cheering.  My husband ended up climbing a tree to get a better view of the ceremony.  Unity Day was a national holiday.  Throughout Berlin there were street festivals with all sorts of entertainment – bag pipers in kilts, traditional German bands, country western bands, and rock and roll bands – and booths selling food, beer, champagne, and Unity Day souvenirs.  We bought t-shirts to commemorate the reunification.

Reunification Day T-shirt

Reunification Day T-shirt

This week I received the schedule of events for the upcoming marathon weekend.  The day before the marathon is an International 6K Breakfast Run.  Participants include runners from all over the world and they typically dress in the colors of their country. I remembered that we still had our Unity Day t-shirts.   I went through my closets and found my t-shirt.  Yes, the universe wanted me to find that t-shirt and take it back with me.  I plan to wear mine for the Breakfast Run.

I am looking forward to this adventure.  My mind is focused not on a time goal in the race but on the experience, the journey.  When people ask me if I am ready for the race, I tell them yes, I am ready.  I have trained for this race for 2 years.  I have never trained that long for anything before.

And next time the universe needs to send me a message, I hope it just slips me a note under the door.  I don’t want another broken bone.

I found this video on YouTube of CNN’s coverage of the reunification ceremonies at the Reichstag.  It will give you an idea of the kind of celebration that occurred that night. What a historic night it was!

Best Post-Race Party Ever

Running a race is fun but the post-race party is a big part of the race experience too.  Many races I have done have post-race parties with music and lots of beer.  The Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon series is well known for having a concert after their races.  It was a real treat to see the INXS concert on the beach following the Rock ’n’ Roll Half Marathon in Virginia Beach one year.   My husband enjoyed the Cheap Trick concert at the Rock ’n’ Roll race in Las Vegas when I ran that one.  At the Yuengling Shamrock Half Marathon, I remember all runners getting 4 free beers at the finish.  It was so cold the day I ran that race, a beer was the last thing on my mind.  I wrapped up in the fleece blanket they handed out to all the finishers instead.

At the Tokyo Marathon there weren’t any bands in the finishers’ area and I didn’t see any beer.  I was more focused on getting back to my hotel and taking a hot shower.   Although I was very tired after the race, I did make it to the post-race party that Marathon Tours hosted at the Park Hyatt in Tokyo (famous for being the location where the movie “Lost in Translation” was filmed).  They served wonderful hors d’oeuvres, beer and wine.  I ate my first “meal” of the day at the party and then headed back to my hotel to sleep.

For me the appeal of a race is not just the event itself but the things you can do when you are in the area.  Shortly after I decided to run the Tokyo Marathon,  I saw a documentary about the snow monkeys.  They became the real reason for traveling all the way to Japan to run a marathon.  When I broke my arm, I became focused on one thing – getting back on my feet and able to run so I could go see the snow monkeys.  My doctor knew how important that was to me and every time I saw him, he would bring up the snow monkeys.

My post-race party was the day after the race when we headed out of Tokyo on a bullet train to Nagano and the snow monkeys.  Nagano is a big ski area (and location of the 1998 Winter Olympics) so many of the passengers were carrying skis with them.  The bullet train ride was very smooth, no rocking back and forth.  It was a good time to rest our race-weary legs.


Bullet train to Nagano

Our first stop in Nagano was the famous Zenko-ji Temple, revered for over 1400 years as Japan’s primary center of Buddhist faith. Zenko-ji is also the home of the first Buddhist statue to come to Japan.  Outside the temple is an immense incense burner.  Pilgrims wave the smoke on their bodies for health and good fortune.  I waved the smoke over my right arm; it needs all the help it can get.  Just inside the temple is the statue of Binzuru, a  faithful disciple of Buddha.  Binzuru is famous for stories about his miraculous healing powers.  Visitors have rubbed the statue smooth in hopes of curing their aches and pains.  Our tour guide told us to rub the parts of the statue that corresponded to the part of our bodies that were painful and the pain would go away.  I rubbed the statue’s legs; I needed help with my hamstrings that were still sore from the race.  (Sorry, I don’t have a picture of the statue as photography was not permitted inside the temple.)


Lunch is served!

Lunch is served! A three-tired box of various dishes and this was just the first course.

We stopped in a little Japanese restaurant for lunch that included soba noodles, fish, rice, and pickled vegetables.  After several days of being in Japan, I had mastered the chop sticks but I still can’t slurp my noodles like a true Japanese diner.   I enjoyed every meal that I had in Japan, including this one.  After lunch, we boarded the bus for the approximately 40-minute trip to the Jigokudani Yaen-Koen Park – home of the snow monkeys (or more formally, Japanese macaques).

It was a 1.8km walk from the bus parking lot to the snow monkey park.  Walking nearly a mile on the packed snow and ice covered trail was the last thing I would have planned to do the day after a marathon.  My hamstrings and quads were burning.  I was very concerned that I would fall and re-injure my arm.  But I had been thinking about this for months.  Nothing was going to stop me now.  Most of the runners in our group were wearing running shoes and rented Yaktrax at the gift shop at the bottom of the trail for added traction.  I grabbed a ski pole that was stuck in the snow and used that to keep from falling as I hiked up to the snow monkey park.  It took almost 30 minutes for me to hike up there.

Trail head to Snow Monkey Park -

Trail head to Snow Monkey Park – only 1.6km more to go up the mountain

The area where the snow monkeys hang out in the hot springs is similar to Yellowstone National Park – lots of bubbling, steaming sulfurous pools.  According to our tour guide, the snow monkey park was started in 1964 to distract the monkeys from eating the area farmers’ crops.  They put out food for the monkeys so they no longer disturb the crops.  The snow monkeys did not naturally hang out in the hot springs.  One monkey ended up in the water, possibly to clean their food before eating, and realized how comfortable it was in the cold weather.  Soon the other monkeys were doing it as well.  When they aren’t playing in the snow and throwing snowballs, the snow monkeys will hang out in the hot springs in the winter.


Hanging out in the hot springs

We watched this mother carry her baby down the side of a very steep mountain to the hot spring.

We watched this mother carry her baby down the side of a very steep mountain to the hot spring.

There are warning signs posted to not stare at the monkeys, talk to them, or feed them.  This is not a zoo; the snow monkeys are really still wild animals.  They can come and go as they please.  What surprised me most of all was the number of people hanging around, taking pictures of them.  The snow monkeys were completely unfazed by all the cameras and people except when someone tried to interact with one.  Then the inner snow monkey came out – teeth bared and a nasty noise warning to stay away.

Football players may head to DisneyWorld when they win the Super Bowl but I think snow monkeys beats that any day.  It was a long day to go there but worth every minute.  It was the best post-race party I ever had and made the Tokyo Marathon trip more fun.  They didn’t need to give me a medal at the end of the race.  The trip to see the snow monkeys would have been enough.  I am not sure how I will be able to top this adventure.  It is going to be difficult.