2017 – What a Year It Was

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

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

My star medal for completing the 6 World Marathon Majors

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

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

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

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

The Arena Attack Half in Connecticut

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

Young male moose having a snack

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

Napali Coast, Kauai, as seen from the helicopter

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

Paula Radcliffe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only 4 more states to go!

 

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Chicago – My Kind of Marathon

People have told me the Chicago Marathon was their favorite race. Other people have told me how much they hated that race. I ran the Chicago Marathon a couple of weeks ago so I now have formed my own opinion about the race. Of the big city races I have run, the Chicago Marathon is one of the best.  To put it another way – the Chicago Marathon is my kind of marathon.

First off, the location is perfect. Chicago is centrally located so it is an easy trip from the East Coast or the West Coast. Chicago is a great place to visit too. There are many excellent restaurants, plenty of shopping, and interesting museums. I didn’t want to walk around much before the race so I enjoyed the architecture boat tour on the Chicago River – a fabulous way to get a unique view of the stunning buildings that make up the Chicago skyline.

Yep, it was fun back in the L corral

With such easy access for everyone across the country as well as around the world (from over 100 countries), the Chicago Marathon is a big race. About 45,000 runners participated in this, the 40th anniversary of the race. At the start, runners were divided into three waves with multiple corrals in each. They staggered the wave starts so there were about 30 minutes between each wave. I was in the last corral in the last group – the L corral. Doesn’t get worse than that but I have to admit – it was fun back there.

Don’t see this kind of booth before a race too often

Since Chicago is located on the shores of Lake Michigan, I thought it would be at sea level. Surprisingly to me, the elevation in Chicago is about 600 feet – higher than New York, which is only 33 feet. The marathon course itself is pretty flat too – not many hills in Illinois. The course is a big loop through all the different neighborhoods of the city. The race is a great way to see Chicago’s rich ethnic diversity.

This was her first marathon

The race started in Grant Park behind the Art Institute on South Michigan Avenue and headed north to Lincoln Park, past the zoo. There were plenty of spectators holding interesting signs and cheering along the way. We ran past a senior citizen assisted-living center where the windows were plastered with motivational signs for the runners. Some of the residents sat by the windows waving at us while others sat in wheelchairs along the road, clapping and waving flags.

And this runner’s last marathon

In Lincoln Park I ran past a car on the side of the road with the windows rolled down. Its radio was tuned to race coverage. I could hear them interviewing the men’s marathon winner. He had finished and I was still at Mile 6. That was the most discouraging moment of the race for me – the winner had finished and I still had 20 more miles to go.

Just north of the park we turned back and started heading south towards the central part of the city. As we ran, we passed beautiful brownstone townhouses and many cheering spectators. It was definitely a lively crowd. This was also the section where I did my first (and, I hope, my last) face plant in the middle of a race. Fortunately, I was up and running with no significant physical injury (though my ego took a big hit).

When we got back to the center of Chicago, we made a right and headed west. This part of the race was very enjoyable. We ran through Greek Town and Little Italy. At one point, I smelled pizza baking. I was tempted to make a detour to find the source of that mouth-watering smell. I doubt I could have run another 13 miles after eating pizza but I made a note to look for Chicago-style pizza after the race.

Charity Block Party

The best part of the race was at Mile 14 where the Charity Block Party was set up. I was stunned by the number of charities represented. There were EZ-Up tents, side-by-side, one after another, lining both sides of the road, representing charities whose runners were fundraising for them. I have run more races than I care to admit but I have never seen anything like the Charity Block Party. It was amazing to see tents for Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, American Brain Tumor Association, Best Buddies, Muscular Dystrophy Association, Alzheimer’s Association, and The Organization for Autism Research (OAR) to name just a few. Each was manned by enthusiastic cheering volunteers. I was so overwhelmed by the sight of all these groups that I stopped just to look at them all. It is incredible how galvanizing a cause can be for people and in such a positive way.

The next part of the course took us through Pilsen, Chicago’s second largest Hispanic neighborhood. There were many mariachi bands and dancers along the course in Pilsen. It was the liveliest and friendliest part of the whole course and my favorite.

The last 6.2 miles of the course were the toughest. We turned onto Wentworth Avenue and ran through the huge red gate that welcomed us into Chicago’s Chinatown. There were plenty of cheering spectators here but once we left Chinatown, things were less exciting. This is typically the point where runners will hit the proverbial wall in a race – where there aren’t so many cheering spectators or interesting things to see. The only thing that kept me going was the realization that each step was getting me closer to the finish.

As I ran up South Michigan Avenue towards Grant Park and the finish, I could tell when I was getting close to the finish by the noise and the crowds.  The crowds got thicker and the noise got louder as I approached the first of two final turns on the course. I was not prepared for the little hill we had to run up after the first turn. I shouldn’t complain – I run longer and steeper hills on my training runs at home.  After the final turn, the finish line was straight ahead. I could hear the announcers reading everyone’s name as they crossed the finish line. Joan Benoit Samuelson was one of the announcers and I was hoping to hear her read my name. Honestly, when I finished, I only had one thing on my mind and that was getting my checked bag and taking a rest. If she said my name, I sure didn’t hear it.

I can see why people like this race so much – cheering crowds, beautiful buildings, unique neighborhoods, each with its own character and feel. I am a Chicago Marathon fan now too. I’d like to run that one again (without falling though). I didn’t get my post-race pizza so that would be a reason to go back. The Chicago Marathon should be on every marathoner’s to-run list.

This is my second post about the Chicago Marathon.  Check out my first post about my race – Chicago – How Bad Did I Want It.

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My Marathon Monk

Kaihogyo

Three years ago I read a book titled “The Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei” by John Stevens.  The book focuses on the Tendai Buddhist monks who complete Kaihōgyō, 1,000 days of long distance walking, meditation, and prayer over a 7-year period.  Kaihōgyō is by far more demanding than any modern-day athletic endurance event, so demanding that the monks are required to carry a knife and rope to kill themselves if they fail.  Since 1585 when they started keeping records only about 52 monks have successfully completed Kaihōgyō (one monk has completed Kaihōgyō twice!).  Their motivation to attempt such a grueling feat is to achieve enlightenment and become a living Buddha.  I was so fascinated by the marathon monks that I wrote one of my early blog posts about them.  I have wanted to visit Mount Hiei and the monastery where they live since I read the book.  I didn’t have time to travel there in 2015 when I ran the Tokyo Marathon.  Last week I returned to Japan and visiting the monastery on Mount Hiei was at the top of my list of things to see.  Little did I know I was going to see a lot more.

Mount Hiei is over 2700 feet high and straddles two prefectures – Kyoto Prefecture and Shiga Prefecture.  It is a beautiful mountain, covered in trees and flowers, and home to a wide array of wildlife.  The monastery on Mount Hiei was founded 1200 years ago and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

View of Kyoto from the ropeway to Mt Hiei

Traveling to Mount Hiei from Kyoto was a bit of an adventure. I hired a Japanese guide, Maki, to help me get there.  We went by cab to a train station where we took a train out of Kyoto.  Then we transferred to a cable car followed by a ride on a ropeway (an aerial tram) and, after a short of walk, boarded a bus for the last part of the trip to the Mount Hiei monastery.  Along the way we were treated to breathtaking views of Kyoto, Lake Biwa, and Lake Shiga.  I even saw deer grazing along the cable car tracks.

Bell tower – visitors are permitted to ring the bell

As we walked around the monastery complex, Maki explained the history and significance of each building.  There were temples and shrines of all sizes, though the main temple, Enryaku-ji, was by far the most impressive.  Walking around the complex was not an easy stroll.  It was more like a stair master workout – between each of the buildings, we were going up and down very steep stairs.

Maki mentioned there is currently a monk in the midst of Kaihōgyō.  She lives along the route that the monk takes into Kyoto to visit the temples and shrines there.  Her mother has seen the monk on his walks.  I was thrilled to visit Mount Hiei but the thought of possibly seeing a marathon monk was incredible.  It is not something that happens every day.  Maki found out when the monk would be passing through Kyoto the next day.  He would be stopping at one of the temples I planned to visit, the Kiyomizudera Temple.  I decided to time my visit there so that I could see him.

My Japanese guide for the next day, Miho, was very agreeable to helping me see the monk.  We arrived at a location we expected the monk to pass on his way to the Kiyiomizudera Temple.  Miho checked with the surrounding shopkeepers.  One confirmed the monk would be coming past where we were.  After waiting nearly 45 minutes in the hot sun, we decided to keep making our way up the hill to the temple.  We stopped again halfway up where two roads intersected.  We weren’t sure which road the monk would take to the temple.  Another shopkeeper there assured us the monk came this way and had not yet passed by.  Again we waited.  Unfortunately marathon monks don’t wear tracking devices like runners do in races.  I had no idea where the monk was or when he would come.  I decided I was not going to see the marathon monk and we resumed our walk up the hill to the Kiyiomizudera Temple.

The monk passed so quickly that I was unable to get a picture of him. This photo was displayed in the cable car station on Mount Hiei.

There were hundreds of tourists around the temple grounds.  Kyoto is one of the top destinations in Japan for both Japanese and foreign tourists, and Kiyiomizudera Temple is one of the most visited sites. We stopped at several shrines and smaller temples as Miho explained the significance of each.  Finally we reached the main temple,  Kiyiomizudera Temple.   As we stopped to look at a Buddha who protects businesses, there was a flurry of activity behind me.  I was pushed aside by group of 10-12 men who were surrounding the man I recognized immediately as the marathon monk.  The group stopped in front of another Buddha where the monk knelt and began a chant.  After about 2 minutes, he got back up and continued on his way, still surrounded by the men who cleared a path through the crowd of tourists.  He moved swiftly and quietly, except for the rhythmic sound of his wood walking stick hitting the ground.  I was so amazed that for several minutes I could not speak.  I had never expected to be able to see a monk in the middle of one of his “marathons”.  It was a magical moment, one that I will never forget.

That evening I enjoyed dinner at a traditional Japanese restaurant with low tables and mats covering the floor.  A Geisha in training was entertaining us during the meal.  I spoke to her through a translator about seeing the marathon monk.  We started to talk about my own running activities, including the 2015 Tokyo Marathon.  The Geisha, it turns out, is training to run the Honolulu Marathon as preparation to run the Kyoto Marathon.  It seems as if I can’t escape running even when I take a trip that doesn’t include a race of my own.

When I got back home, I was able to find out more about the current marathon monk, Kogen Kamahori.  He is nearing the end of his Kaihōgyō and expects to be finished this fall.  In 2015 Kamahori completed doiri, 9-days without food, water, or sleep, during Year 5 of his Kaihōgyō .  (Doiri translates to “living death”.  In fact, many monks have died during doiri.)  There were several news stories about him when he finished.

For anyone who wants to experience some of a marathon monk’s course on Mount Hiei, there is the Mount Hiei International Trail Run.  Runners can choose to run either 50 miles (with 5500 meters vertical) or 50 km (with 3700 meters vertical).  After I walked a bit on Mount Hiei, I can tell you that it would a challenging race.  (Here is a link to an interesting blog post by someone who completed the 2016 race:  http://alpine-works.com/2016/06/mt-hiei-50k-international-trail-run/.)  Runners have to be able to follow the whole trail without getting lost (even marathon monks sometimes get lost and they live there).  Among the equipment the runners must carry is bear bells.  I was tempted to take up ultra running so I could enter this race but common sense tells me this is a race for stronger runners than me.  Instead of running the ultra, I would be happy to return to Mount Hiei and hike down one of the trails from the top.  I can’t imagine what I would see if I did that!

Documentary Educational Resources put together a fascinating film about the marathon monks.  Here is a preview of the film.

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Running, Raptors, and a Rodeo

Vacation Races is a terrific organization that puts on races near national parks.  It is a wonderful way to combine running a race with a visit to a national park.  In 2015 I ran their Rocky Mountain Half Marathon and in 2016 I ran their Zion Half Marathon.  Both races were challenging but memorable.  Last weekend I traveled to Jackson, Wyoming to run my third Vacation Races half marathon outside Grand Teton National Park.  The race was as enjoyable as the others.

One of the Grand Teton peaks

I arrived in Jackson a few days early so that I could get acclimated to the higher elevation.  I toured Grand Teton National Park, hiking some of the trails to shake out my legs.  The Grand Teton scenery is incredibly beautiful with snow-covered mountains peeking out behind the clouds.  As I walked up the trails near Signal Mountain, I was amazed by the wild flowers and the intense smell of pine trees.  There wasn’t any noise from traffic, just the sounds of birds and the wind rustling through the aspen trees.  It was a big change from life back on the East Coast.

Each of the four entrances to the Jackson Town Square has an arch made from antlers

Jackson is a fascinating old Western town.  None of the buildings is over 3 stories high; the majority are only 2 stories.  The raised sidewalks are made of wood.  The only thing missing from the streetscape is hitching posts for horses.  Throughout the town there are bronze sculptures of historical figures, cowboys, Native Americans, and animals including life-size deer, moose, and elk.  I don’t think I have ever seen so much public art in such a small town before.

The race expo was held in the same area where the race would start.  The Vacation Races folks try to eliminate waste so they encouraged people to bring their own bag.  For those of us who forgot, they had a tent set up where you could make a bag out of an old race shirt (free race shirts provided).  I quickly made one to carry my bib and all my purchases at the Expo.     In addition to various vendors, Park Rangers were on hand to provide information about Grand Teton National Park and the wildlife there including bears (both Grizzly and Black).   It was a small but very pleasant Expo.

This race was almost all up hill!

Views of the mountains as we ran

The race started early, at 6:30 am.  As we started running, almost every turn gave us a different view of the mountains.  Although my rehab trainer tells me “head down” when I run, it was very difficult to do during this race.  There were so many things to see like the hot air balloons flying down the valley with the mountains looming in the background (sorry, my pictures of the balloons didn’t turn out well).  There wasn’t any music along the course but that was wonderful because we could listen to the birds as we ran.  Between the elevation with a steady climb of 580 feet on the course and stopping to take pictures, my finish time wasn’t my best.  That didn’t matter to me because this was a race course to savor, not one to rush through.

After the race, I took time to visit the Jackson Hole Historical Society Museum.  They had fascinating exhibits on life of the early settlers, trappers, cowboys, and Native Americans.  The guides in the museum had plenty of stories about Jackson’s more colorful residents from the past.

Peregrine Falcon

Later I visited the Teton Raptor Center.  Their mission is to rehabilitate injured raptors; support research projects on raptors; and provide educational programs.  (A raptor is a bird that hunts and kills with their talons/feet and eats by ripping up the meat with their beaks.)  They showed us several birds who are not able to be released back into the wild because of the severity of their injuries (e.g., blind in one eye, amputated wing parts, paralyzed feet).  Among the birds on display were a Great Horned Owl, Red-Tailed Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, Eastern Screech Owl, Kestrel, and Bald Eagle.  It was fascinating to see the birds up close and learn about their unique characteristics.

Saturday night was rodeo night.  Although they didn’t have all the typical rodeo events, I was able to get an idea of what a rodeo is all about (this was my first rodeo).  There were events for bull riding, bucking broncos, team calf roping, and barrel racing.  Little kids participated in mutton busting where they tried to ride a sheep for 8 seconds.  It is a lot harder than you think to ride a sheep.

Wyoming – My 42nd State, only 8 more to go!

I highly recommend the Grand Teton Half Marathon.  The scenery is beautiful with pine forests, wild flowers, mountains, and an abundance of wildlife.  If you still feel like moving after the race, you can go hiking or kayaking on one of the many lakes in the park.   I enjoyed seeing a different part of the country with such an interesting history.   For me it was definitely an adventure.

I loved the idea for reusing an old race shirt to make a bag.  I am going to look through my old race shirts for one that would make a fun bag.  I found this link with instructions on how to make a bag from an old t-shirt:  https://snapguide.com/guides/make-a-tote-bag-from-an-old-t-shirt-no-sewing/

I stayed at the Wort Hotel, a historic hotel with such an amazing display of photos and western art it could be a museum.  The rooms were very comfortable and the staff was pleasant and helpful.  I would definitely stay there again.

Some of the amazing art on display in the Wort Hotel

The Teton Raptor Center has a project, the Poo-Poo Project, underway to help prevent cavity-nesting birds from entering vault toilets through the ventilation pipes and becoming entrapped.  Vault toilets are the self-contained restrooms found in many of America’s wilderness areas, featuring vertical ventilation pipes that mimic the natural cavities preferred by some species for nesting and roosting. Birds enter the vault toilet through the ventilation pipe and get stuck in the ‘basement’ of the vault toilet.  Thousands of birds become entrapped and die in bottom of vault toilets in the US each year.  Cavity-nesting birds also can be entrapped in other types of open pipes as well including irrigation pipes, ventilation pipes, dryer vents, and chimneys.

The Poo-Poo Project is addressing the problem by installing vent screens on vault toilets.  You can help the Poo-Poo Project two ways. First you can notify the Teton Raptor Center of any vault toilet in your area that needs to have a Poo-Poo screen installed.  Second, you can make a donation to cover the cost of a Poo-Poo screen(s).  Donations can be made as gifts in honor or memory of someone too.  You can find out more information about the Poo-Poo Project at http://tetonraptorcenter.org/our-work/poo-poo-project/.  I was happy to make a donation for two Poo-Poo screens.  

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I Ran Far in Fargo

Recently while flying to a race, I thought about how silly this all seems – traveling to 50 states to run endurance events.  Aren’t they all the same?  How can any race be different?  26.2 or 13.1 miles is the same not matter where you run it, right?  My most recent race in Fargo, North Dakota reminded me that every place is different and every race is unique in its own way.

The start line inside the Fargo Dome

The Fargo Marathon/Half Marathon claims that it is “fast, fun and friendly”.  I ran the half marathon and I have to agree.  Fargo is very flat and the few “hills” we had were mere bumps in the road compared to other places.  The only course that is flatter than the Fargo Half Marathon is the Arena Attack I ran in Hartford, Connecticut.  Funny thing is both the Arena Attack and the Fargo Half have one thing in common.  A portion, if not all, of the race is run in an arena.  The Arena Attack was run entirely inside on the concourse of Hartford’s XL Center.  The Fargo Half started and finished on the arena floor inside the Fargo Dome.  We only ran a short distance inside before heading outside to run through the streets of Fargo and neighboring Moorhead, Minnesota.  We finished up back inside the Fargo Dome too.  For marathoners looking for a BQ (Boston Qualifier), this is the race for you!  Flat and fast.

Over 1 mile of elm trees lining the course

Although the whole idea of starting and ending inside sounds a bit odd, there are many benefits.  There were plenty of restrooms for runners to use before the race – much nicer than port-a-potties.  The temperature inside the arena was controlled so we didn’t need toss clothes at the start or space blankets at the finish to keep warm.  There were plenty of seats inside for spectators to sit and cheer for the runners at the start and the finish plus they could watch the action along the course on the Jumbotrons.  That would be the best way to watch a race.

These spectators had a fun way to enjoy watching the race

The residents of Fargo were very welcoming.  I stopped along the course to take a picture of an elm tree-lined street and started talking to a woman about her beautiful trees and Dutch Elm disease.  She ended our conversation by asking me to come back for next year’s race.  People living along the course definitely enjoyed the race.  They had some of the best signs.  Usually I see the same old signs at every race.  Not in Fargo.  They came up with very unique and creative signs to keep the runners laughing.   They put EZ-up tents in their front yards and were handing out water, licorice, and fruit (including peeled oranges).  It looked like many of them were treating race day like a big party.

The Fargo Marathon/Half Marathon boasts over 58 locations of bands or DJs along the course.  They had entertainment I had never seen before.  I saw a group of bagpipers, one of whom was playing a bag pipe that looked like a shaggy dog.  There was a group of Norwegian accordion players.  My favorite was the Dancing Cowboy – a cowboy who was dancing as I ran by to Pitbull’s “Timber”.  He looked like he was having a great time.  I heard songs I haven’t heard in years along the course too, including the Prince song “Let’s Go Crazy”.  All the entertainment made the race a lot of fun.

The Dancing Cowboy

When I finished, they had pizza, fruit, bagels, donut holes and cookies for the runners.  As I ate my post-race treats, I watched runners finish.  I can’t think of another race where I was able to hang around after I finished and watch the rest of the race.  It was exciting to hear the announcer say “another Boston Qualifier finishing!”  Everyone in the arena would cheer.

 

 

While I wasn’t particularly fast in this race (I did stop to talk to someone about Dutch Elm disease, that cost me some time), I have to agree it was fun and friendly.  If I decide to make my own BQ attempt, this is definitely a race I would consider running.

If you decide to run the Fargo Marathon or Half Marathon, be sure to save some time to see some of the local attractions.  For anyone who enjoyed the movie “Fargo” you can see the wood chipper used in the movie in the Fargo-Moorhead Visitors Center.  The staff there will even take your picture with it.  Just over the Red River in Moorhead is the Heritage-Hjemkomst Interpretive Center where you can see a 76-foot long replica of a Viking dragon ship, built in the 1980s in an abandoned potato warehouse and successfully sailed from Minnesota to Norway.  

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Boston Strong

I have been struggling to write about my experience running the 2017 Boston Marathon.  There are so many different emotions swirling around in my head that it has been difficult to distill it down into a post of under 1000 words.  I could write a book about that race.  Today I realized the theme that most describes my Boston Marathon experience.  It is a cliche but it fits:  It took a village.

It took a village to get me to the start line.  In mid-February – 8 weeks before the race – I couldn’t run more than 6 miles before my ankle started to scream at me.  I knew I needed to address the issue or I wasn’t going to be able to run the race.  I went to a physical therapist, Jessica, and a rehabilitation fitness trainer, Carrie, who helped me work on ankle strength and flexibility.  Carrie identified issues with my gait.  She gave me a mantra to say as I ran, words that help my brain focus on proper form.  I kept my running coach, Jenny, informed of my issues and she made adjustments based on feedback on my runs.  Jennifer, my massage therapist, dedicated hours to ensuring the muscles in my ankle, foot, calf, and quads were loose.  Through their collective efforts my 6-mile ankle was ready for 26.2 miles.  Each of them was instrumental in getting me to the start line.

It took a village – a very large village – of race organizers, volunteers, police, and emergency responders to put on this race.  The logistics for a race through 8 different cities and towns over a distance of 26.2 miles are more than you can imagine.  They spend a year on organizing the event, coordinating resources and planning for every possible issue.  I bet the race director was monitoring the weather forecasts all week like I was.   Every time I looked it seemed the race day temperatures were predicted to be higher than the last forecast.  On race day it was in the 70s – warm for any race and particularly warm for someone like me with Transverse Myelitis.  Ever since my experience at the 2015 Rock ’n’ Roll Half in Savannah, Georgia, I am always concerned they will run out of water on the course.  That would be disastrous.  But the race organizers had that all covered and there was no shortage of hydration for the runners.  Security was never a concern either.  The course was lined with local, state, and military police, on foot and on bicycles.   This was one of the best organized races I have ever had the privilege to run.

It was not exactly the top of the hill but close enough

The number of volunteers was incredible – 9,500 – that translates to one volunteer for every 3 runners.  The only other race that I recall having as many volunteers was the 2015 Tokyo Marathon.  The volunteers stood for hours, on an unseasonably warm April day, handing out water, Gatorade, and Clif gels.  And they were the friendliest bunch of people too.

In case you forgot something, you could get it on the way to the corrals at the start line in Hopkinton

The last two turns before the finish line

I felt an incredible sense of community as I ran.  The people along the course came together to celebrate with the runners.  This is their race, a source of pride for Bostonians.  Many people who lived along the course handed out water, candy, oranges, and ice.  Some even played music to entertain the runners as they passed by.  The runners were welcomed.

Because I am not a Boston Qualifier, I participated in the race as a member of a charity team benefitting the Charlestown Boys & Girls Club.  Most of the kids in the club come from disadvantaged and even harsh circumstances.  Hillary Clinton once wrote that it takes a village to raise a child.  The kids in Charlestown need a village to provide guidance as they navigate all the challenges facing kids today. The money the team raised will help them support an increasing number of kids who participate in the club activities.  Another member of the Charlestown Boys & Girls Club team put it so eloquently: “kids are 25% of our population but they are 100% of our future.”

I wish I was as fast as a shooting star

I have run for several charities before but none has touched me the way this one did.  Enclosed with my team singlet were notes and drawings from the kids, thanking me for running for them as well as providing words of encouragement.  In their minds I was doing something very challenging to help them.  For one day I was their hero.  What they didn’t know is that they were inspiration to me.  When I had doubts on race day about finishing the marathon, I only needed to think about those notes to keep going.

Yes, I would have liked to be a Boston Qualifier and entered the race without a fundraising obligation.  But I never would have made a connection to a community of kids who need my help.  They made my race about more than a medal.  This race is a cherished memory for me because of them.

Over $36 million was raised for the various charities participating in the Boston Marathon charity program.  The charity runners included many first time marathoners too.  I encourage anyone who wants to run the Boston Marathon – both runners who qualify and those like myself who don’t – to participate on a charity team like the Charlestown Boys & Girls Club.  Boston puts on a great race.  Fundraising for their community is a terrific way to show appreciation for their hospitality.  Because it really does take a village.

Contact me if you would like to donate to the Charlestown Boys & Girls Club Boston Marathon team.  The kids would appreciate anything you can do to help them.

Running Away From the Finish Line

Frequently people I meet will tell me about races they think I have never heard about, races they think I would want to run.  Last fall someone told me about the Wings for Life World Run.  When I heard how the race is organized, I knew immediately it is one I have to add to my “to-run” list.

The Wings for Life World Run was started in 2014 to raise awareness of the physical and medical challenges faced by paraplegic people and raise funds to help find cures for spinal cord injuries.  This race is held the first weekend in May.  It is unique for several reasons.  First, the race, which is held in 24 countries all over the world, starts exactly at the same moment, 11AM UTC (Coordinated Universal Time).  For some locations it is the middle of the night; for others it maybe be the middle of the day or early morning.  Regardless of location, everyone is running at the same time throughout the world.

Source: Wings for Life World Run website

Next, there is no finish line in the traditional sense.  Instead there are “Catcher Cars” that start out a half hour after the race starts.  The cars travel initially at 15 km per hour and slowly increase their speed.  Global satellite navigation is used to ensure that the Catcher Cars around the world are synchronized. When a Catcher Car overtakes a runner, the race is over for them and they have to board a bus back to the start area.  In essence, the runners are not running to a finish line.  The runners are trying to run away from a mobile finish line that is trying to catch them.

Finally, the distance a given runner completes is determined by how fast and fit they are as runners.  For each race, a 100 km course is prepared.  Slow runners may only be able to complete a 10 km distance (or 6.2 miles) before the Catcher Car ends their race.  Faster runners may be able to complete a marathon distance (about 42 km).  The current record for the furthest distance a runner covered before the Catcher Car caught them is an amazing 88.44 KM (almost 55 miles).

The winners are the male and female runners who are able to run the furthest before being the Catcher Car gets to them.  There are winners for each location as well as overall global winners.  Remember Michael Wardian, the winner of the 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days?  It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Michael has been the overall global winner of the Wings for Life World Run – twice!

I definitely plan to run the Wings for Life World Run.  I might not get very far before the Catcher Car passes me.  But until it does, it will be exciting to be part of a global running event, happening across the world at exactly the same moment.

Interested in participating in the Wings for Life World Run?   Check out their website for more information.  Can’t get to one of the race locations?  There is a virtual app to enable runners to participate wherever they may be.  There is also a goal calculator to help you determine your expected time and distance.

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

Enjoy Yourself!

It’s the end of the year – a time when people reflect on what they did in the last 12 months and look ahead to what they have planned for the new year.   Many of us have a “bucket list”, a list of things we dream of doing someday.  Someday is that magical time when we retire and have an abundance of time to do all the things on our wish list.  The sad thing is some people don’t make it to that day.  They work and work but never take time to enjoy the moment.  I know.  I use to be one of those people.

screen-shot-2016-12-28-at-8-10-03-pmI remember the finale of the television series “House” back in 2012.  At the end of the final episode, as House and his friend head off on their motorcycles, they played the song “Enjoy Yourself, It’s Later Than You Think”.  That song resonated with me for many reasons.  It made me think about myself and what the future may hold for me health-wise.  I didn’t want to be left thinking about what I COULD have done.  I want to have lots of memories about things I DID do, like running Rim-to-Rim in the Grand Canyon, and the marathons and half marathons I have run all over the world.  The memories I have from all those experiences are wonderful souvenirs, reminding me of the sense of accomplishment I felt when I completed each one.

Another reason the song hit me so hard was because of a horrible tragedy that struck the dog agility community at the time.  One of our fellow agility enthusiasts was killed in a head-on collision while on her way to an agility trial.  This tragedy claimed her life (she was just 49 years old) as well as that of one of her dogs.  I still think about her and what a fun, lively person she was – always smiling, loving her dogs despite their crazy antics in the ring, a kind word and genuine interest in everyone she met.  She enjoyed herself.

I read an article once about several men who pursued their dreams.  There was the 80-year old man who had run since high school and continues to enter races (often the oldest participant), with the goal of running a race in all 50 states and a 72-year old golfer who had played golf in all 50 states.  Finally there was a 65-year old motorcyclist who watched his mother sock away money for her dream – a cruise to Europe.  She died just when she had enough money to take the cruise.  That motorcyclist decided to take a trip in his mother’s honor.  Since he wasn’t the cruise type, he decided to ride his Harley Davidson through the Lower 48 states.  Four and a half months and 22,381 miles later, he completed his ride and became a member of the Iron Butt Association.  He said the highlight of the trip was meeting people.  People gravitate to a guy with a load of gear on a motorcycle.  Each of these men had a dream to do something that had meaning for them.  Their goals may be silly to us but they were things that gave them joy.  Instead of thinking about doing it, they went out and DID it!

img_7179I realized after reading that article things don’t happen unless you make them happen. I bought a small journal – my Dream book – and wrote down things I want to do and places I want to visit.  Things like visiting a dude ranch, going to see an opera, or seeing a concert at Red Rocks in Colorado.   Each year I look at my Dream book and pick a few things to do.  I am lucky – my husband and I share many of the same interests.  We have started crossing things off the list and, more importantly, we have started having fun.

img_69822017 is going to be a busy year for me.  I hope to finish my 50 State Endurance Challenge (13 states to go) and the 6 Major Marathons (only 3 left).  It is a pretty ambitious goal.  I am working with a running coach and focusing on getting myself prepared for my races.  As long as I can stay healthy – no more broken bones please – I should be able to reach my goals by the end of the year.  Plus there are a couple of fun things from my Dream book my husband and I plan to do.

img_5045What do you want to do in life?  Is there a place you want to visit?  A race you want to run?  Do you want to do your first triathlon or century bike ride?  What are you waiting for?  If you don’t do it now, when will you?   If there is something that you really want to do, you can find a way to make it happen.  Remember, enjoy yourself.  It’s later than you think.

 

 

A Year of Running Adventures

img_6982

Saw a lot of this view

When I am out on a training run, I have time to let my mind wander.  This week I found myself thinking about this year and all the adventures I had.  Looking back on 2016, I can say I had some very memorable running experiences and plenty of adventures.  All in all, it was a funatical runner kind of year.

Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 6.57.46 PMOriginally, I had planned to run half marathons in 14 states as well as the London and Chicago Marathons.  It was a pretty ambitious goal.  I was doing pretty well until July when I broke my toe.  My race schedule was thrown out the window while I spent 8 weeks recuperating. I thought at the time my world had ended.  But my toe healed and I got back to running – probably a bit too quickly.  I struggled through a race in Seattle less than 2 weeks after I was cleared to start exercising again.  It was the first time I stood at the start line of a race in pain.  Despite my pain, it was one of my favorite races.  I can’t say that I would recommend that strategy to anyone.  I was lucky.  I could have derailed my running for a much longer time because I started running too soon.  In the end I only missed 3 races – half marathons in Nebraska and Maine and the Chicago Marathon.  They will be there next year and I will be too.

For me this whole 50 State thing is about more than checking states off a list.  It is about the adventures, the things I see and experiences I have along the way.  This year has been full of those.  This year I ran through Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  I ran over a covered bridge in Vermont and the Tower Bridge in London.  Race courses took me to places with gorgeous natural beauty like Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, along the coast in New England, and outside Zion National Park in Utah.  And after my races, I enjoyed some of the best food too – barbecue in Birmingham, lobster rolls in New England, and birthday cake in Seattle.  It is a toss-up for me as to what is better – good bling (i.e., the race medal) or good post-race food.

img_2698I had a lot of interesting company during my races this year.  I ran with Meb Keflizghi in Indianapolis.  I ran with an astronaut on the International Space Station and Guinness World Record breakers in the London Marathon.  I ran with people in unbelievable costumes including a woman dressed as a can of Spam and a guy dressed as Jesus.  In London I was #oneinamillion.

I am in this photo - honest!

I am in this photo – honest!

Many people who are working on their own 50 State goals run as many races as they can in a year.  Often they run back-to-back races – Saturday in one state then driving to another race on Sunday in a different state.   While that strategy would have helped me knock my challenge out sooner, I wouldn’t get to fully enjoy the places I visit.  Wherever I go, I try to take time to explore.

The art vending machine

The art vending machine

This year I have gone to museums like the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute; the Presbytere in New Orleans with fascinating exhibits on the Mardi Gras and Hurricane Katrina; and the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in Indianapolis where I found the art vending machine.  I got stuck in Austin after the 3M Half due to blizzards on the East Coast.  I was delighted to have extra time to enjoy the 70 degree weather and visit the outdoor Umlauf Sculpture Garden.  And there were a few museums that I didn’t have time to see like the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa.  Maybe next time.

I visited historical sites including Grafton, the ghost town in Utah;  the Chisholm Trail in Texas; and a cemetery from the 1600s in New Hampshire.  While window shopping, I admired the colonial homes in Newport, Rhode Island.  I strolled the streets of New Orleans French Quarter, admiring the architecture and enjoying a wide variety of musicians.  Every place I visited for a race had something unique to offer.

img_4939There were the quirky sights too.  In Green Bay, I found a small amusement park whose claim to fame was their roller coaster, the Zippin Pippin.  Elvis Presley rented the entire amusement park in 1977 and rode the Zippin Pippin for 2 hours straight.  (Eight days later he died.)  Outside Seattle I visited Jimi Hendrix’s grave.  Although I am not a Hendrix fan, it was one of the most unusual monuments I have ever seen.  In Utah I visited rock shops where they were selling a wide variety of rocks and fossils including 50 million year old turtle poop.  I don’t expect to see that again on a store shelf anytime soon.  I was fascinated by the kinetic wind sculptures an art gallery had on display in Utah.  And I can’t forget the Center of the Universe in Tulsa.img_4216

For many runners a race is all about the medal.  In fact I know people who pick the races they will run based on the race medal.  Little Rock, Arkansas has a race that is very popular because the medal is as big as a dinner plate.  No kidding.  While medals are nice, if you run a lot of races, you end up with so many medals that you have to get creative about how to display them.  I like the race medals but after I get them home, they aren’t very interesting.  I value the memories I tucked away in my mental suitcase more.

img_3818I only have to run races in 13 more states to complete my 50 State Endurance Challenge.  Part of me doesn’t want the challenge to be over.  I am enjoying exploring this diverse country we live in.  I plan to continue to seek out the historic and quirky points of interest as I continue my journey because that is what this adventure is all about!

In Utah I loved watching the wind sculptures by Lyman Whitaker.  The slightest breeze would start them spinning.  I found this video on YouTube of his wind sculptures in action.  Check out his web site – there may be an installation near you.  http://www.whitakerstudio.com/artwork.html