Chickens and The Sea

My most recent race trip took me to Hawaii for the Kauai Half Marathon.  I was never interested in visiting Hawaii.  For someone who lives on the East Coast, Hawaii is a long trip – over 10 hours alone on airplanes, not my idea of a fun time.  Then I saw the movie “The Descendants”.   The Hawaiian scenery was beautiful – palm trees, blue ocean water, white foamy waves breaking on sandy beaches with the mountains in the background.  I decided I wanted to see that Hawaii in person, not the “Hawaii Five-O” version I see on television.  Since Hawaii is one of the 50 States, I was obligated to run a race there anyway.  With “The Descendants” in mind, I picked the Kauai Half Marathon as my Hawaii race.

Breathtaking sunrises everyday

The first thing I noticed when I arrived in Kauai was the chickens.  There are chickens everywhere.  They were in the rental car parking lot.  They were wandering alongside the road on the way to the hotel.  They were outside the grocery store, at almost every scenic overlook, and at the beach on the south shore.  Wherever I went, there were chickens.  I joked to someone at the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge that the chicken must be the state bird of Hawaii.  They bristled at my comment.  The state bird is actually the Hawaiian Goose or Nene, the world’s rarest goose.  I saw a couple of those at the Wildlife Refuge but overall I saw many more chickens than Nene.

The other thing I noticed was the Hawaiian words, towns, and street names.  I recognized the letters but I couldn’t, no, I wouldn’t even try to pronounce the names of some of the places we went.  I visited Wales earlier this year and had a similar challenge with the Welsh language.  The official Hawaiian alphabet has only 13 letters – five vowels (which can be pronounced two different ways) and eight consonants.  Although the language was on the decline, efforts are being made to reintroduce it.  I hope they are successful because I find the language beautiful.

I was apprehensive about running in Hawaii.  Heat is the equivalent of Superman’s kryptonite for people like me with Transverse Myelitis (TM).  In hot weather, TM symptoms can flare up (referred to as Uhthoff’s phenomenon).  The air temperatures in Hawaii range from lows in the mid-60s to low 70s and highs in the 80s – perfect for people lounging at the hotel pool but challenging for endurance athletes with demyelinating conditions like mine.  I have to take extra precautions when I run in hot weather to manage my core body temperature.  I use a “Keep It Chill” gaiter made of a Xylitol infused fabric.  My gaiter has a cooling effect as long as it is wet.  In most instances, my gaiter has been able to help me manage my body temperature in warm weather races.  The race in Kauai was more challenging because the temperature was in the 70s at the 6 AM start.  My gaiter dried out quickly and stopped cooling me off before the race even started.  I realized I had to stay focused on managing my body temperature to finish this race.

This woman was handing out wet sponges around Mile 7 – My Hero!

The owner of a store I visited in Hanapepe the day before the race told me the race course was tough.  She said even some of the elite runners from Kenya thought the course was difficult.  I brushed off her comments.  She wasn’t a runner.  What does she know?  I have run hills and in heat.  I wasn’t going to have any problems.  But when I started the race, I realized she was not exaggerating.  Although the scenery was gorgeous and the sunrise as the race started was breathtaking, the first 7+ miles were all up hill.  It somehow seemed appropriate the music coming from the stroller being pushed by a male runner was Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”.  It fit the grind I felt running uphill in the heat with limited shade.  I tried to keep up with him just because I enjoyed his music but he sprinted ahead of me.

Tunnel of Trees

I enjoyed a respite from the sun between Miles 5 and 6 when we ran through the Tunnel of Trees, huge eucalyptus trees that formed arches over the road.  They provided welcomed shade.  About Mile 7.5 the course started a downhill to the finish by the beach.  I was able to make up some time.  While I didn’t have my worst half marathon finish, it certainly wasn’t my best.  I am just happy I was able to complete the course.

While I was in Kauai, I took a helicopter tour of the island with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters.  A helicopter tour is the only way to see Kauai since most of the island is inaccessible from the ground.  I was delighted to be assigned the seat in the front row next to the pilot.

View of the Na Pali Coast from the helicopter

Because of its perfect weather and beautiful scenery, many movies have been filmed in Kauai.  During the tour, our pilot pointed out places we might recognize from movies including Mana Waiapuna (commonly referred to as “Jurassic Park Falls”) and the nurses’ beach from “South Pacific”.   We flew over Waimea Canyon, the famed “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”.  Finally we flew into the center of Mt. Waialeale, the ancient volcano that created the island of Kauai.  Mt. Waialeale is also one of the wettest spots on earth, with an average rainfall of 450-500 inches annually.  Not surprising that we saw many waterfalls all over the island.  The helicopter tour with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters was the best part of my trip to Kauai.  I would do that again in a heartbeat.

In case you don’t know the song, here is a video of Led Zeppelin performing “Kashmir”.

My favorite version of “Over the Rainbow” by the late Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole, a famous Hawaiian singer.   The scenes at the end were filmed at his funeral.

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Someday is Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Truly Memorable Race

Recently someone asked me, of all the places that I have been on my running adventures, which was the best place I have visited.  I thought about it for a moment.  I have run in so many memorable places that it is difficult to pick just one.  Every place I have traveled to has had something unique – London, Berlin, Tokyo, Disney races through the Magic Kingdom, Montana, Colorado, Vermont, coming home from Mississippi via the City of New Orleans train, running on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are just a few.  I am not sure that I could even narrow it down to five.

But there is one race I will never forget – the 2016 Zion Half Marathon in Utah.   Although I ran that one a year ago, I can still remember each step as if I ran it last week.  Below is my post about that race.   I also wrote a follow-up on this amazing story that shows further why what happened at this race was something miraculous.  And if you have an extra few minutes, read the follow-up I wrote  Miracle at Mile 4 – An Epilogue.  I think you will agree that it is not something one will easily forget.

Miracle at Mile 4 (originally published on March 16, 2016)

The Court of the Patriarchs in Zion National Park

My latest half marathon was the Zion Half Marathon outside Zion National Park in Utah.  The race was put on by Vacation Races, the same folks who organized the Rocky Mountain Half Marathon that I ran last year in Estes Park, Colorado.  Of all the races I have run, the Zion Half was in the prettiest part of the country.   And of all the races I have run, this is the first one during which I prayed.  It was all because of what happened at Mile 4.

Race morning was a bit stressful.  It rained during the night and the start line area was very muddy.  Walking over to the warming tent and the port-a-potties resulted in running shoes heavily coated in mud.  The start of the race was delayed 15 minutes because people who had driven to the start line couldn’t park in the field due to the mud.  It took a bit of extra logistical work to get cars parked and runners to the start line but the race organizers got all that quickly sorted out.

Big change from running below sea level in New Orleans!

The course started in Virgin, Utah (great name for any runner doing their first half marathon) and ended in Springdale, right outside the entrance to Zion National Park.  The elevation at the start line was 3,546 feet and 3,953 feet at the finish line.  Except for one little bit of downhill around Mile 7, this race was all uphill. 

My mud caked shoes stayed behind in Utah

 

The first mile was a little tricky.   It was chilly but the rain had stopped.  My shoes felt like they weighed an extra 5 pounds because of the mud caked on them.  But the mud quickly fell away and I got going.

As I approached Mile 4, I was passed by two emergency vehicles with sirens going and lights flashing.  They pulled up next to an ambulance along the side of the road.  As I passed the scene, I saw a man on the ground being attended to by a number of people.  It was scary.  That is not a sight any runner wants to see at a race.   I didn’t linger or stand and gawk at the scene.  Three more ambulances flew by me as I continued to run.  I did the only thing that I thought could help this runner and myself.  I prayed.

Later two runners passed me and I overheard one talking about the man.  One said that he hadn’t had a pulse for over 10 minutes.  I couldn’t imagine a positive outcome in that situation.  For the rest of the race I thought about that runner.

When I met up with my husband after the race, I burst into tears and told him what happened.  It was difficult to be happy about finishing the race while knowing that someone didn’t get to run theirs.  Later that day, the race organizers sent out an email thanking all the runners for being cooperative with the changes that had to be made at the start due to the weather.  They also let us know that the runner who collapsed was stable and recovering.  I felt so much better when I heard that.

But the story of what happened at Mile 4, I learned later, is much more amazing than anyone could imagine.  The runner was on a reunion trip with a bunch of old friends, people who had been friends for years but hadn’t seen much of each other.   They didn’t know that he had collapsed until after they finished their race.

When he collapsed, a bicyclist who was pacing his friends jumped off his bike to roll the man over and help start CPR.  (That bicyclist had just gotten re-certified in CPR.)  Even more amazing is that a group of “angel runners” stopped to help until an ambulance and EMTs could arrive.  Among them were a cardiac surgery ICU nurse, two trauma ICU nurses, an ER nurse, a cardiologist, a neonatologist, and a neonatal nurse practitioner.  From the accounts that I have read, these medical professionals – who didn’t previously know each other and were also running the race – came together in an instant to help a fellow runner.  In a situation like this one, seconds count.  For over 20 minutes, they performed CPR on the runner before an ambulance and EMTs arrived with equipment (i.e., a defibrillator).  That this runner came back from being down that long is a miracle.

I look at what happened at Mile 4 and I see the lessons to be learned.  The first is about priorities.  Racing may seem important but it is not more important than someone’s life.  My shoes got muddy and I had to trash them but I was still alive.  The small stuff in life just doesn’t matter.

The next is about the importance of community.  We all are part of this community of runners.  We have to look out for each other.  During this race, in an instant several people stopped everything they were doing to come to the aid of another runner.  They shifted their priorities from racing to helping someone else in a life-or-death situation.  I will never look at the person next to me in a race the same way again.  That person may end up helping me or vice versa.  We are all in this together.

Finally, if I never believed before, I certainly believe now in miracles.  It can only be a miracle that a runner collapses and is immediately surrounded by the people with the specialized skills needed to save his life, that performed CPR on him for over 20 minutes, and that he lived.  It was a miracle.

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!

Miracle at Mile 4

The Court of the Patriarchs in Zion National Park

The Court of the Patriarchs in Zion National Park

My latest half marathon was the Zion Half Marathon outside Zion National Park in Utah.  The race was put on by Vacation Races, the same folks who organized the Rocky Mountain Half Marathon that I ran last year in Estes Park, Colorado.  Of all the races I have run, the Zion Half was in the prettiest part of the country.   And of all the races I have run, this is the first one during which I prayed.  It was all because of what happened at Mile 4.

Race morning was a bit stressful.  It rained during the night and the start line area was very muddy.  Walking over to the warming tent and the port-a-potties resulted in running shoes heavily coated in mud.  The start of the race was delayed 15 minutes because people who had driven to the start line couldn’t park in the field due to the mud.  It took a bit of extra logistical work to get cars parked and runners to the start line but the race organizers got all that quickly sorted out.

Big change from running below sea level in New Orleans!

Big change from running below sea level in New Orleans!

The course started in Virgin, Utah (great name for any runner doing their first half marathon) and ended in Springdale, right outside the entrance to Zion National Park.  The elevation at the start line was over 3,500 feet and over 3,900 feet at the finish line.  Except for one little bit of downhill around Mile 7, this race was all uphill.

My mud caked shoes stayed behind in Utah

My mud caked shoes stayed behind in Utah

The first mile was a little tricky.   It was chilly but the rain had stopped.  My shoes felt like they weighed an extra 5 pounds because of the mud caked on them.  But the mud quickly fell away and I got going.

As I approached Mile 4, I was passed by two emergency vehicles with sirens going and lights flashing.  They pulled up next to an ambulance along the side of the road.  As I passed the scene, I saw a man on the ground being attended to by a number of people.  It was scary.  That is not a sight any runner wants to see at a race.   I didn’t linger or stand and gawk at the scene.  Three more ambulances flew by me as I continued to run.  I did the only thing that I thought could help this runner and myself.  I prayed.

Later two runners passed me and I overheard one talking about the man.  One said that he hadn’t had a pulse for over 10 minutes.  I couldn’t imagine a positive outcome in that situation.  For the rest of the race I thought about that runner.

When I met up with my husband after the race, I burst into tears and told him what happened.  It was difficult to be happy about finishing the race while knowing that someone didn’t get to run theirs.  Later that day, the race organizers sent out an email thanking all the runners for being cooperative with the changes that had to be made at the start due to the weather.  They also let us know that the runner who collapsed was stable and recovering.  I felt so much better when I heard that.

But the story of what happened at Mile 4, I learned later, is much more amazing than anyone could imagine.  The runner was on a reunion trip with a bunch of old friends, people who had been friends for years but hadn’t seen much of each other.   They didn’t know that he had collapsed until after they finished their race.

When he collapsed, a bicyclist who was pacing his friends jumped off his bike to roll the man over and help start CPR.  (That bicyclist had just gotten re-certified in CPR.)  Even more amazing is that a group of “angel runners” stopped to help until an ambulance and EMTs could arrive.  Among them were a cardiac surgery ICU nurse, two trauma ICU nurses, an ER nurse, a cardiologist, a neonatologist, and a neonatal nurse practitioner.  From the accounts that I have read, these medical professionals – who didn’t previously know each other and were also running the race – came together in an instant to help a fellow runner.  In a situation like this one, seconds count.  For over 20 minutes, they performed CPR on the runner before an ambulance and EMTs arrived with equipment (i.e., a defibrillator).  That this runner came back from being down that long is a miracle.

I look at what happened at Mile 4 and I see the lessons to be learned.  The first is about priorities.  Racing may seem important but it is not more important than someone’s life.  My shoes got muddy and I had to trash them but I was still alive.  The small stuff in life just doesn’t matter.

The next is about the importance of community.  We all are part of this community of runners.  We have to look out for each other.  During this race, in an instant several people stopped everything they were doing to come to the aid of another runner.  They shifted their priorities from racing to helping someone else in a life-or-death situation.  I will never look at the person next to me in a race the same way again.  That person may end up helping me or vice versa.  We are all in this together.

Finally, if I never believed before, I certainly believe now in miracles.  It can only be a miracle that a runner collapses and is immediately surrounded by the people with the specialized skills needed to save his life, that performed CPR on him for over 20 minutes, and that he lived.  It was a miracle.

I give this race two thumbs up.  It was well-organized and the scenery is unlike any other in the country.  Eye candy the whole way.   Plus if you have extra time, you can visit one of the most beautiful National Parks – Zion National Park.

We stayed in a terrific hotel, Flanigan’s Inn, not far from the finish line.  The staff was friendly and extremely helpful, pointing out places to visit (like Grafton, a nearby ghost town).   The hotel has a hilltop labyrinth that provided a wonderful way to relax and calm my mind after the events of the day.   The Spotted Dog Cafe, next to the hotel, has a good menu of tasty dishes.  Their breakfast buffet included wild blueberries from Maine – better than any blueberries I have ever had.     

MO’Cowbell Please

My goal is to run a half or full marathon in all 50 states.  So far I’ve completed 30 half or full marathons in 22 different states.   There have been races that are truly unique – like DisneyWorld races that run through the castle in the Magic Kingdom.  At times, though, it feels like I am running the same race just in a different place.  Not so with my most recent half marathon in St. Charles, Missouri.  The MO’ Cowbell Half Marathon was just, well, MO’ fun.

The inspiration for the race was the More Cowbell skit from Saturday Night Live (SNL) with Will Ferrell and Christopher Walken.  The skit portrays what the recording of the song “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult might have looked like.  Diehard SNL fans put this skit in their list of Top 10 favorites.  The race name is also a play on the postal abbreviation for Missouri – MO.  They came up with some creative uses of “MO” too.

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 2.02.20 PMI traveled to St. Charles and made my way to the ExMO’ (the race expo).  Each runner was given a cowbell with their bib.  We were told to bring our cowbells to the start line so we could ring our cowbells to “Don’t Fear the Reaper” before the race.  With approximately 5,000 runners entered in the full and half marathon, that would be a lot of cowbells.

Louis and Clark with Seaman, a Newfoundland that accompanied them on their expedition

Louis and Clark with Seaman, a Newfoundland that accompanied them on their expedition

I had some extra time before race day so I took time to see some of the local attractions.  I walked through St. Charles, the starting point for Louis and Clark’s expedition that ultimately ended at the Pacific Ocean.  The cobblestone streets are lined with historic old buildings that house shops and restaurants.  Next I headed over to Queeny Park in St. Louis to visit the Museum of the Dog.  The museum has the most impressive collection of dog art that I have ever seen including paintings, drawings, watercolors, bronzes and porcelain figures of all sorts of dog breeds.  I even got to meet the “Guest Dog of the Week”, a papillon with titles in breed and agility.

"Bob" by George Earl (1871)

“Bob” by George Earl (1871)

A life-sized Great Dane porcelain figure with the scariest eyes

A life-sized Great Dane porcelain figure

Sunday morning was race day.  It was cold when I headed down to the runner’s village.  As I huddled on a bench wearing a plastic bag to fend off the wind, I wished I had paid extra for access to the MO’VIP area.  They had heaters and private bathrooms.

The bag check was located next to the biggest cowbell I have ever seen.  You could ring the bell if you got a PR (personal record).  Before the race, I stood looking at that bell.  More than anything I wanted to be able to get a PR and have an opportunity to ring it.

Many runners were dressed in cow costumes or wearing cow-inspired running gear like spotted cow socks.  This was the 5th anniversary of the MO’Cowbell race and the race announcer mentioned there were a number of runners who had run all five years (known as MO’riginals).IMG_3074

The race kicked off on time.  I was disappointed that the pre-race tradition of runners ringing their cowbells to “Don’t Fear the Reaper” didn’t happen.  I think I only heard the song played briefly before the race started.  It wasn’t a big deal – I had left my cowbell back in my hotel room.

Although I had just run a full marathon the previous week in Berlin, with a twisted ankle no less, I was feeling strong as I headed out.  My brain was focused on getting a PR so I could ring that darn bell.  The first 4 miles or so of the course were asphalt and pretty easy.  Then we hit concrete roads.  I feel a noticeable difference when I run on concrete.  My body hurts more. I kept pushing myself though.  How cool would it be to get a PR in the half marathon just a week after getting a PR in the full marathon?

When I reached the halfway point of the half marathon, I could tell that I was slowing down.  Mile 10 was the MO’tivational Mile where there were cheering spectators to encourage the runners as they ran up a very long hill.  That hill took its toll on me.  Although the last mile or so of the course was back on asphalt, I was done.  I didn’t have anything left to keep up my pace for a PR.  I finished within 1 minute and 36 seconds of my half marathon PR – not too shabby and still my fastest half marathon this year.

A runner ringing the big bell at the end of the race

A runner ringing the big bell at the end of the race

I stopped to watch people at the big cowbell, disappointed because I didn’t get to ring it.  I later learned that anyone could have their picture taken ringing the bell.  But it wouldn’t be the same for me.  I only wanted to do it if I got a PR.

When I got back home and was updating my race records, I noticed that I have run a number of races this year with animal themes – the Kentucky Derby Mini-Marathon (horse), the Flying Pig Half Marathon (pig), and the MO’Cowbell Half Marathon (cow).  I just need a chicken-themed half marathon to round out my year of barnyard animal races.  Since I can’t find one, I entered a Turkey Trot 5K on Thanksgiving.  Close enough.DSCN0687

In case you haven’t seen SNL’s More Cowbell skit, here is a link to the Hulu website where you can watch it.  

PowerFrau

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

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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

My Rocky Mountain High

Last year was my “Year of Stupid Races“.  I ran several multi-race events including the Dopey Challenge, the Nut Job, the Heartbreak Hill Hat Trick, and the Dumbo Double Dare.  I decided that I had to be stupid to run all those back-to-back races.  It looks like I am setting a different trend this year.  I think this year will be called the “Year of the Climb”.

It started back in March when I ran the Caesar Rodney Half in Wilmington, Delaware.  The course started at an elevation of about 92 feet above sea level and climbed to over 247 feet before descending back for a finish at 104 feet.  We ran steadily uphill for over 4 miles.  I thought that was bad and could not understand why people run this race every year.   Then in May I ran the Flying Pig Half in Cincinnati, Ohio.  The course started at an elevation of approximately 466 feet above sea level and climbed to about 840 feet.  I remember running continuously uphill from about Mile 5 to Mile 9.5.  It seemed like we would never stop climbing.  Every time we turned a corner, I expected the course to flatten out but it didn’t.  The run back to the finish line was all downhill but very hard on my knees.   We finished back around 500 feet.  I swore I would never run that one again.  This weekend I ran the Rocky Mountain Half Marathon in Estes Park, Colorado.  That race took climbing to a whole new level.

Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

The race was organized by Vacation Races, a small company that puts on races at elevations of 1,200 feet and up.  The races are held near some of the most beautiful national parks in the United States – Zion, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Yosemite to name a few.  The Rocky Mountain Half was held outside Rocky Mountain National Park and celebrated the park’s 100th anniversary.  With this race I would be checking off Colorado on my 50-state endurance challenge.

Estes Park is located at 7,522 feet above sea level but I live around 400 feet above sea level.  Altitude sickness was a risk.  Altitude sickness can cause headaches, breathing problems, dizziness, fatigue and a bunch of other unpleasant things like brain swelling.   All the literature I read on altitude sickness said to allow time to adjust to the higher altitude and drink lots of water.  With that in mind, I arrived in Estes Park two days before the race.  My husband accompanied me on the trip so we spent a day driving up into Rocky Mountain National Park, reaching over 12,000 feet above sea level before returning to Estes Park.  Ascending and descending is one strategy for acclimatizing.  I also drank nearly a gallon of water a day while I was there.  Interestingly, I noticed if my head started to hurt, I felt better almost immediately after I drank water.

Packet pickup for the race was held at the Stanley Hotel, known for being the inspiration for Stephen King’s book “The Shining”.  It is a beautiful old building.  The hotel capitalizes on the book with a night ghost tour and “Redrum” glasses in the gift shop.

The race started at 6AM on Saturday morning.  The temperatures were in the 50s with virtually no humidity.  Normally I would be wearing gloves and earmuffs at those temperatures but I found it was very comfortable – certainly better than the 90+ temperatures I had been running in at home.   There were less than 1500 runners entered, which I find is my favorite race size.  The start was one of the most beautiful race starts I have ever experienced.  The sun was just coming over the mountains as we headed out.

The sun coming up as we started

The sun coming up as we started

Normally I go out too fast at the start of a race but there was no worry about that.  The air is much thinner in Estes Park so I found  breathing more difficult.  That slowed me down.  One of the pace setters had told me to add about 30 minutes to my normal half marathon time due to the altitude.  She was absolutely correct about that.  The first 3 miles were relatively easy, aside from the breathing problems.   After that, it was all up hill, or more correctly, up a mountain.

I normally don’t have much of a race strategy, though I probably should.  I just lace up my shoes, put on my bib and timing chip, and run.  Well, this was a race that required some strategy.  The course started at 7,578 feet above sea level then climbed to 7,929 feet.  We would finish back down at 7,578 feet.

By Mile 4 the course was beating me; I could not maintain my normal pace.  Then I decided to change how I was running the race.  I remembered that Jenny Hadfield coaches people to run based on effort, not pace.  As Jenny explains it, the body doesn’t know pace.  The body knows effort.  Jenny has a three color system to help runners determine where they are in terms of effort.  Yellow is the easy zone where you can talk without pausing to get your breath.  Orange is a more challenging; when you talk, you have to pause to get air every few words.  Red is the most challenging; you can’t talk.  If there was a color to describe what is more challenging than Jenny’s Red level, that is where I was on Saturday.  It was tough.

I follow Jeff Galloway’s run/walk method.  By Mile 4 I knew I could not maintain my normal 2 minutes running/1 minute walking routine.  Recently Jeff has been encouraging runners to try a new run/walk strategy with a shorter walk break such as a 30 second run/30 second walk.  I had tried that ratio in the past and found it difficult to follow.  But today I knew that was the only way to make it to the finish line.  By focusing on my effort, not my pace, and changing to a 30 second run/30 second walk, I was able to relax and start to enjoy the race.  I was able to look at the surrounding mountains in Rocky Mountain National Park as I ran.  The race organizers had said that the views when we reached the top of the mountain would be worth the hard climb.  They were right.

Rocky Mountain National Park as seen from the course

Rocky Mountain National Park as seen from the course

Cooling off in Lake Estes after the race

Cooling off in Lake Estes after the race

The finish line was in a park by Lake Estes.  Many of the runners took off their shoes and waded into the cool water.  It felt incredibly refreshing.  My biggest fear when I ran this race was that the blood vessels in my eyes would explode from over exertion.  After I crossed the finish line and found my husband, I asked him to look at my eyes to make sure they were ok (they were).  Later I joined several other 50-State Half Marathon Club members at a local restaurant for brunch.  I decided that I had earned a beer.   Beer with an egg and cheese croissant never tasted so good.

It is less than 2 months until the Berlin Marathon.  I won’t be running any more races before then.  I want to stay healthy so I can make it to Berlin.  I remember our coaches in Team in Training telling us not to take up risky sports like rock climbing before a marathon.  I don’t want to repeat the disappointment of last year where my fall kept me from going.  Maybe this is a good time to get my training runs in and then go home to rest and read a book. 😉

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Vacationing Experientially

Training for a marathon requires a 4-5 month commitment of early morning runs in all weather conditions, careful eating, cross training, and lots of rest.  When our family vacation falls in the middle of a training season, I have to figure out ways to fit in my training.

Last week we were on vacation with my friend Patsy in Montana riding horses and herding cows on a gorgeous 6,000 acre ranch – Hubbard’s Yellowstone Lodge.  There are not a lot of places to run there.  We were up in the mountains (elevation of over 5,000 feet versus 400 feet where I live) so altitude was a challenge.  This is grizzly bear country so I would have to run with bear spray.  That’s extra weight I don’t need to carry when I run.  I talked to my coach Leanne, an easy-going Aussie triathlete who helped get me running again following my diagnosis of Transverse Myelitis (TM) back in 2011.  She planned a week of strength and core training since I would not be able to run.  Leanne’s attitude kept me from stressing out about missing a week of running and let me sit back and enjoy the ride (horseback ride in this case).

I didn't get to run in Montana but I did stop in here for some new running clothes.

I didn’t get to run in Montana but I did stop in here for some new running clothes.

Herding cattle on a ranch comes under the category of an experiential vacation where you get hands-on experience being a cowboy.  As Boyd Farrow wrote in a recent article for United Airlines’ Hemispheres magazine, we traded “our days out of the office for an internship somewhere else.”  Rather than sit back and relax like a typical vacation, we were up with the sun, dressed in our jeans and cowboy hats, to help with the daily chores of managing 600-head of cattle.

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This was the second year that we stayed at Hubbard’s.  Our first year we spent learning the ropes – rounding up stray cattle, moving herds from one pasture to another, and splitting up a herd.  Call it Cowboy 101.  When we returned this year, we were experienced and ready to do more work.  We were a bit disappointed our first day when we moved a measly 6 cows that had gotten separated from the herd.  At dinner that night, we heard another couple talk about moving 60 cattle that day so we complained we wanted more work.  More work on vacation sounds a bit nutty.

Wraymon on his horse, Patch

Wraymon in the Gallatin National Forest

On the second day Wraymon, the wrangler who trained us last year, told us to start moving a herd to another pasture while he went higher up the mountain to get some stragglers.  We remembered all the techniques to use to push a herd along, through trees and thick brush, while watching for cows that were hiding or wandering off.  Everything went smoothly and I can say there was no cow left behind on our watch.  We moved 163 cattle and refreshed our horses by walking them up a creek.  It was just like the Westerns we watched on television as kids.

Walking through the creek to cool off the horses

Walking through the creek to cool off the horses

We had a full-day ride (7 hours) up into Gallatin National Forest which was part cattle work and part sightseeing.  It was exciting to  ride through a forest that is only accessible by foot or horseback.  We were treated to breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains plus moved cattle that had gotten on the wrong side of the fence.   According to Patsy’s Fitbit, we covered over 13.5 miles on that ride.  It seems odd to me that a Fitbit would capture steps while on horseback.  I searched the Internet about Fitbits and horseback riding.  From what I found, the Fitbit probably captured the horse’s movement.  Our horses covered a lot of ground that day.

One day there were cows that had gotten out on the county road.  Rather than take the horses out to herd two cows, we herded them back into the pasture on foot.  We pretended we had coconuts just like the knights in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”.

Although it seems like I didn’t get much of a workout riding a horse, I did.  Riding horses works different muscles.  I was working my legs, squeezing them to signal to my horse and maintain my seat when we jogged and loped.  To maintain my balance on the horse, I worked my core.  It is an intense workout – different than what I would get running but still beneficial.  It was like one week of cross training.  Every night we did a full-body stretch which helped minimize sore muscles, especially my abductors.  Plus I did the core and strength training routines Leanne had outlined in my training plan for the week.

I can tell when I have had a great vacation because re-entry into normal life back home is very difficult after a great vacation.  I have been struggling the last few days to get back into my normal routine.  I missed a long run and it keeps getting pushed out, waiting for me to recover.  I know I will get it in eventually.   The other day we drove past a field of Black Angus.  My husband and I looked at each other.  We felt like hopping on horses and doing some herding.  We’ll have to wait until we can get back to Hubbard’s.

The view from the back of our lodge at Hubbard's.

The view from the back of our lodge at Hubbard’s.

Hubbard’s Yellowstone Lodge is an Orvis flyfishing and horseback riding lodge on the north border of Yellowstone National Park.  The best testament to the quality of Hubbard’s is the number of repeat guests.  The scenery is incredible – this is what they mean when they say “million dollar views.”  The staff is extremely attentive and friendly.  Last year I wanted sarsaparilla but it wasn’t something that they kept on hand.  This year they made sure to stock up for me and I got to enjoy sarsaparilla floats for dessert.  If you have a cowboy adventure or fly-fishing on your bucket list, make your way to Hubbard’s.  They will give you an experience you will never forget.

In case you missed it last week, Lily Trotters launched their Kickstarter campaign.  Early birds get the best deals on the best and cutest compression socks.  I can’t wait to get more pairs.  Don’t miss out!

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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.