2017 – What a Year It Was

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

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

My star medal for completing the 6 World Marathon Majors

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

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

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

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

The Arena Attack Half in Connecticut

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

Young male moose having a snack

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

Napali Coast, Kauai, as seen from the helicopter

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

Paula Radcliffe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only 4 more states to go!

 

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Running with the Holiday Spirit

Running is the only sport I know where the athletes will dress up in crazy costumes to compete. Football, basketball, baseball, and hockey players all have uniforms they are required to wear.  The dress code for golf and tennis players is a bit more relaxed but you never see anyone wearing a Batman or Snow White costume out on the golf course or tennis court.  Runners will wear costumes for races around Halloween and especially for races at Disneyland and Disney World.  Costumes are also common in December when races have a Christmas theme.

Last January I met a fellow running blogger at the start line of a race in Arkansas.  He told me about the Christmas Story Run 5K/10K, a Christmas-themed race in Cleveland.  He likes the race so much that every year he travels hundreds of miles from St. Louis, Missouri to run it.  I don’t know too many people who will travel for a race shorter than a half marathon so I knew this event must be special.  I decided to check the race out myself this year.  Yes, I also traveled hundreds of miles to run a 10K.

The Christmas Story Run was inspired by the 1983 movie “A Christmas Story,” which was partially filmed in Cleveland.  The movie, set in the 1940s, is about Ralphie Parker who only wants one thing for Christmas – a Red Ryder BB rifle.  For many people “A Christmas Story” is their favorite holiday movie and they can readily recite lines from their favorite scenes.  With a wide range of colorful characters, it is the perfect movie to serve as the focus for a Christmas-themed race.

Both the 5K and 10K races start at the old Higbee’s Department Store, a landmark used in the film (now converted to a casino).  The finish line for the 5K is the house used for the exterior scenes of the Parker family home in the movie.  (The house is now a museum and is available for overnight stays for diehard fans.)  The finish line for the 10K runners is back in front of Higbee’s.  Buses are provided to return the 5K runners to the start line.

Some homemade leg lamp crates

One of the many leg lamp runners

What is so amazing about this race is how many runners dress up in costumes of their favorite characters from the movie.  Some runners dressed as Santa or an elf from Higbee’s.  There were entire families dressed in pink bunny costumes like the one Ralphie received from his aunt for Christmas.  Other groups of runners wore black and white striped shirts and black pants to resemble the bad guys from Ralphie’s daydreams. I saw many women running dressed as the leg lamp, the major award Ralphie’s father won.  Others wore costumes that looked like the crate the lamp arrived in.  I don’t think there was one character from the movie that was left out – even the Bumpuses dogs were represented.  At the finish line, there was hot Ovaltine for all the runners.  Looking around, I could tell everyone was having fun.

Other popular holiday themed races are Santa Claus and Jingle Bell Runs.  Several years ago I ran the Las Vegas Great Santa Run, a 5K race where all registered runners were given a Santa Claus suit to wear in the race.  There was a friendly competition between Las Vegas and towns in England and Japan to see which one had the most Santa Claus runners.  It was incredible to look around and see so many people dressed like Santa Claus.  The jingle bell race was similar in that every runner received jingle bells to tie to their running shoes.  Many of the runners dressed up in costumes in addition to wearing their bells.  As we ran, all those jingle bells were ringing.  It was hard not to sing along with them.

The first holiday themed race I ever ran was the Rudolfs Red Nose Reindeer 10K.  Although runners didn’t have to dress up for this race, all the finishers received a red nose to wear.  When I look back at my race records, I noticed that it was one of my fastest 10Ks (on a very hilly course too).  I was worried they would run out of red noses before I reached the finish line.  That red nose was motivation to run fast.

You don’t need a race to dress up for a holiday run.  My old running group would meet up to run together on Christmas Eve.  Everyone showed up in festive outfits – Santa hats, reindeer antlers, elf costumes.  We would finish our run listening to carols playing from someone’s car radio while we enjoyed cookies.  It put everyone into the holiday spirit.

If you missed out on all the holiday races this month, you still have time to get your own holiday run in.  Put on a Santa hat and head out the door.  Anyone who sees you run by will probably smile and give you a friendly wave.

 

This scene from the movie was the theme for this year’s Christmas Story Run.

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Running to Catch a Boat

I broke my big toe last July, one week before the Shipyard Brewing Old Port Half Marathon in Portland, Maine.  I was disappointed to miss the race and vowed to run it this year.  Last weekend I headed to Portland with expectations of running, eating lobster rolls, and seeing a moose.

Lobster rolls!

The scenery around Portland is typical for what I have seen in New England – marshy areas inland, rocky shorelines with light houses, and bays dotted with small islands.  Walking along Commercial Street near the docks in Portland, I saw all types of boats – fishing boats, lobster boats, sail boats, and ferries.  There are many interesting stores along Commercial Street and almost every restaurant advertised lobster rolls on their menu.  One of the best things about running races in coastal New England states is getting a lobster roll before and after a race.  I enjoyed the ones at the Portland Lobster Company.  (In Boston I think the lobster rolls at Luke’s Lobster are the best.)

The Old Port Half Marathon is the second largest running event in Maine, which makes it sound like it is a huge race.  There actually were only about 2,500 runners in the half marathon.  I enjoy smaller races like this.  They have a more relaxed and friendly atmosphere.  Although this would have been the perfect race to dress as a lobster, I didn’t see anyone running in a costume.  With the warm July weather it would have been unbearable to run in a lobster outfit.

Cheering spectators in the west end

The course gave runners a good tour of Portland.  We first headed out to the west end of the city.  There was a mile long hill there that rivaled the infamous Heartbreak Hill in Boston.  After looping through the west end neighborhoods, we headed towards Back Cove at the other end of Portland.  We ran over 3 miles around Back Cove on a flat packed dirt trail.  I took advantage of the flat terrain to make up some time.  I was in a hurry to finish the race.  While other runners were probably running to get the free Shipyard Brewing beer at the finish line, I had other plans.  Casco Bay Lines has twice daily rides on the Mailboat Run.  Passengers enjoy a scenic tour of the islands in Casco Bay around Portland.  I was running to make the 10 AM mailboat.

I ran over the finish line, grabbed my medal, bottle of water and wet towel, and kept running straight back to my car.  After a quick change of clothes, I headed to the ferry terminal to hop on the mailboat.  I boarded the boat and snagged a seat on the top deck at the bow so I would have a great view.

I didn’t tell them I had 2 bananas with me 😉

As we waited to depart, I pulled a banana out of my bag.  I had skipped the free pizza at the finish line and needed something to eat.  At the sight of my banana, the woman sitting next to me yelled “No bananas on the boat!”   Her husband told me to throw it overboard. I wasn’t sure what the issue was with a banana so I asked them why.  I learned superstitious fisherman believe it is bad luck to have bananas on a boat.  They won’t catch fish or will experience mechanical issues with their boat.  Her husband explained sunken ships have been found with bananas in their holds.  I quickly ate my banana before we left to protect the mailboat from harm.

A lobster men setting their lobster pots

The mailboat was a fun way to see Casco Bay.  The beautiful weather meant there were plenty of boats on the water.  The captain narrated during the ride, explaining the history of the bay and providing other interesting information about Portland.  The mailboat made stops at five islands —Little Diamond, Great Diamond, Long, Cliff and Chebeague – dropping off passengers, mail, and freight including a few cars.  Several islands in the bay are only populated in summer months, though a few hardy folks live on others year round.  We had an extended stop on Cliff Island where I went ashore to look around a bit.  When the boat returned to the ferry terminal in Portland, I headed for my post-race lobster roll.

The only moose I saw in Maine

There is so much more to see in Maine beyond Portland.  For this trip I met my goal of running a race and eating lobster rolls.  Sadly, the only moose I saw was on a sign in the airport.  The mailboat ride, though, made up for not seeing a moose.  I ran pretty fast to make that boat and I was not disappointed.  Spending time on the water with the sea air and sunshine was an unexpected pleasure.  I definitely plan to visit Maine again.  Maybe I will see a moose the next time I go.

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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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Running in The Land of Pre

When I picked out a race to run in Oregon, the choice for me was simple.  I had to go to Tracktown, USA to run the Eugene Half Marathon, a race that ends on the iconic Hayward Field.   This race was definitely one of the most enjoyable races I have run.

Whether you come to run or not, Eugene is a wonderful place to visit.  Located in the Willamette Valley, the scenery is beautiful – foothills and mountains covered in trees and pines, and flowing rivers with ducks and fish.  I stopped by the Eugene Saturday Market, a market for farmers and artisans covering two blocks of a downtown park.  It was one of the most interesting markets I have ever seen and is reputed to be the oldest market of its kind in the US.  There were also plenty of interesting stores to explore as I strolled the downtown streets.  The Eugene area is also home to many wineries and craft breweries.  I am not much of a beer drinker but I enjoyed tasting the wines from Sweet Cheeks winery at their tasting room in a small downtown mall.

Bill Bowerman (note he is standing on a waffle iron)

Eugene is home to the University of Oregon, well known for their track and field program.  Hayward Field is located on the university campus.  Steve Prefontaine (more commonly referred to as Pre) attended the university and competed in track in middle and long-distance events under Coach Bill Bowerman.  Both Bill and Pre are legends in Eugene.  Bill was a very successful coach, leading the university to multiple national collegiate championships.  He did everything he could to help his athletes improve their performances.  That included coming up with improved shoe sole designs using his wife’s waffle iron.  His innovations ultimately led to him to co-found Nike with Phil Knight.  There is a statue of Bill at Hayward Field.  The statue rests on a base made to look like a waffle iron.

Pre once held the American record in 7 different distances from 2,000 meters to 10,000 meters and competed at the 1972 Summer Olympics.  In a race he liked to take the lead early and stay there to the finish line.  At the age of 19 he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine,  Tragically, he died at the age of 24 when his car crashed into a rock.  The spot is now a shrine called “Pre’s Rock”.  Runners stop to visit, many leaving their shoes, race bibs, and even their medals to pay tribute to a runner who inspired them.  Before I picked up my race bib, I took a quick drive to visit Pre’s Rock.

Sunday was race day for the marathoners and half marathoners.  For anyone who rode a bike to the start line, they had a bike valet (no worries about keeping your bike safe while you ran).  I love race courses in the Pacific Northwest and this one was very pleasant – gorgeous scenery and not much in the way of hills.  It is considered one of the best places to earn a Boston Qualifying time.  The race was lots of fun too.  Spectators had put up fun inspirational signs and people were entertaining the runners including two guys playing didgeridoos.  One water stop included people dressed in gorilla costumes (without the head) handing out bananas.

Coming onto Hayward Field to finish the race was very emotional.  I have never run on a surface as comfortable  as Hayward Field.  It felt like I was running on springs, very cushiony and very little impact on my tired legs.  There were cheering spectators in the stands watching the runners finish.  I could imagine how exciting it must be to compete there.

There was plenty to enjoy after the race was over too.  Runners were handed a reusable shopping bag filled with food and a reusable water bottle.  There was a pancake breakfast courtesy of Krusteaz and grilled cheese sandwiches with Franz organic bread.  This was the first race where I have had this kind of finisher food and it was wonderful.

Every runner I talked to after we finished had the same reaction: we were enjoying the race so much, we hated to see it end.  Whether you are running the 50 States or just looking for a different race experience, I highly recommend that you head to Eugene.

Nike put out this film about Pre.  If you don’t know much about Pre, watch this film and see what Pre was all about.

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Mississippi or Arkansas?

img_7395My latest running adventure took me to Greenville, Mississippi for the Mississippi River Half Marathon.  (There was also a full marathon.)  This was the first time I ran a point-to-point race that started in one state and finished in another.  The Mississippi River race started in Arkansas and finished in Mississippi.  You might be thinking I was able to cross off two states with this race.  The rules for the 50 States Endurance Challenge only allow you to count it for one, either the state where the race starts or the one where it ends.  I plan to return next year for the Mississippi Blues Half in Jackson so I counted this for my Arkansas race.

img_7375The closest airport to Greenville is in Memphis.  I flew into Memphis, rented a car and drove down US Rt 61, the Mississippi Blues Highway.   The road took me past Clarksdale, home of the Delta Blues Museum.  If you are a Mississippi Delta Blues fan, Clarksdale should be on your list of places to visit.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to stop and visit the museum but I definitely would like to go back.

img_7397Most runners I know look for races with courses that are a flat as possible.  Of all the races I have run, this race course is the flattest.  The only “hill” on the course is the Greenville Bridge, the start line for the half marathon and the halfway point for the full marathon.  The Greenville Bridge is an impressive cable-stayed bridge that opened in 2010.  While we waited for the half marathon to start, runners busied themselves by taking selfies with the bridge towers in the background.  It is a beautiful structure.

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The Greenville Bridge

In one of those “It’s a Small World” moments, I bumped into Colin Wright on the bridge before the race.  Colin writes the Canapeel blog and participated on the running bloggers panel with me in Tulsa, Oklahoma last November at the Route 66 Marathon Expo.  We were pleasantly surprised to see each other again.  He was as engaging and happy as I remembered.

When the race started, we crossed the bridge over the iconic Mississippi River.  It was early in the morning and very peaceful to see the sun peaking through the clouds above the river.  I expected to see barges or other boats on the river but there weren’t any, just birds enjoying the water.

img_7404Although rain was predicted for race day, it never rained but boy, was it humid.   I don’t do well in humidity.   Fortunately,  there were plenty of water stops manned by very friendly volunteers who kept the runners both hydrated and entertained. In addition to the “official” water stops, there were plenty of the unofficial kind.  Continuing the Southern hospitality that I experienced in Jackson, people living along the course were handing out treats like donuts, cupcakes, water, Gatorade, and beer.img_7407

In the finishers tent, they had an impressive spread of post-race food — bananas, oranges, donuts, chips, pizza, water, soft drinks, and beer.   Plus they had massage therapists giving runners seated massages.  I am a huge fan of small races like this because they treat runners very well.  Two thumbs up for this one!

Love the bling - the center of the medal spins!

Love the bling – the center of the medal spins!

I headed back to my hotel to clean up then drove back to Memphis.  It was time for the adventure part of the weekend.  I visited Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley.  Although I am not a big fan of his music, I wanted to see this landmark everyone raves about, particularly the Meditation Garden where he is buried.  It was interesting but not what I expected.

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The gates to Graceland

I won’t be racing again until April when I run the Boston Marathon.  For the next two months I will be putting all my energy towards staying healthy and getting prepared for the race.  I am running for a charity and I want to give them my best performance.  In the meantime, I have plenty of things to share with you so stay tuned for some interesting reading. 😉

Running a Race Indoors

At the start of 2017 my objective was to finish the remaining 13 states in my 50 States Endurance Challenge.  I had most of my races picked out but I was having trouble finding a half marathon in Connecticut that fit into my jam-packed schedule.  Looking at the race calendar on the 50 States Half Marathon Club website, I found a race in Hartford, Connecticut in January – the Arena Attack.  January in Connecticut can be full of ice and snow.  That wasn’t a problem for this race.  It was going to be run indoors around the concourse of Hartford’s XL Center.

Although this race has been rated among the most difficult half marathons in the world by halfmarathons.net, I was not intimidated.  I am always looking for ways to vary my half marathon and marathon experiences.  I have run through amusement parks; around auto and horse racing tracks; through professional football and baseball stadiums; over a covered bridge; across a desert; up a mountain in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains; and through a mile-long underwater tunnel that also crossed an international border.  This was going to be another new experience.

The Arena Attack races were the idea of Scott Sutter of the Southern New England Athletic Association (SNEAA).  Scott ran track and cross country in college in South Carolina.  If the weather was too hot or rainy, the coach would make the team run interval workouts on the concourse of the field house.  Fast forward to 2012 when Scott remembered those indoor workouts.  He knew in the middle of winter the race calendar in New England is pretty empty.  Running on the concourse of an arena would be perfect for dedicated runners looking to get in a long run.  Let’s face it – runners are pretty nutty.  They will run anywhere they can.  SNEAA offers a 5K, marathon, and two half marathon heats as part of the Arena Attack.  Not surprising – all of the races in Hartford sold out.

When I mentioned to my running group that I was planning to run this race, they brought up several concerns.  Would the course be crowded with runners? What would the temperature be inside the arena?  Would the floor get slippery at the water stop?  Would it be boring running in circles?  None of these things worried me because Scott addressed them all in the pre-race guide.  I was focused on the positives.  I would be running on a flat course in Connecticut (can’t find many of those even along the coast).  There would be multiple bathrooms along the 330-meter course and I would never be more than a few steps away from any of them (and no lines!).  I would have to run 65 laps around the arena but it would be better than slogging out 13.1 miles on a treadmill in January and I could check off another state in my 50 States Endurance Challenge.  From my perspective, this was a win-win.

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It was funny to see runners passing under the photo on the wall of an outdoor race

Since the course is narrower in a few spots, the number of runners is restricted.  There were two heats for the half marathon with between 35 and 40 runners in each.   (The marathon was run concurrent with the two half marathon heats and was restricted to 25 runners).  I ran in the second heat of the half marathon.  Not only was this my first indoor race, this was the smallest race I have ever run.  When we got going, everyone quickly spread out and settled into their own pace. I never felt crowded like I do in a race with significantly more runners where we run on wide streets.  I also liked that the tile floor was laid out in stripes that were like lanes all the way around the concourse.  They were easy to follow.

img_7301The arena is home to the Wolf Pack hockey team and a number of kids’ hockey teams.  They keep the temperature inside the arena in the 50s so the ice rink doesn’t melt.  I think the ice also helps to keep the indoor air temperature down.  Scott had recommended runners wear shorts and singlets.  I followed his suggestion and was comfortable.  Although it seemed strange, I also wore a visor just to keep any sweat from rolling down into my eyes as I ran.

The water stop was one table set up with water, Gatorade, and bananas.  Marathon runners had separate tables where they could leave their own sports drinks and nutrition items.  During the pre-race briefing, Scott emphasized the need to prevent spills on the course.  Wet floors would be hazardous to the runners.  Kudos to all the runners – I never saw any spills.

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I passed this sign 65 times.

As we ran, there was music playing to keep the runners entertained.  Races like the Rock ’n Roll series have bands or DJs set up every mile or so along the course.  In actuality, runners only hear them when they get within about 25 yards of the band or DJ.  It ends up being occasional little spurts of music.  The rest of the time we are left alone to listen to people huffing and puffing as they run.  This race was different.  Since we were running around the arena, I could always hear the music.  It was a change for me because  I don’t run wearing earphones and listening to music.  I use my training runs to think about things I need to do, work out problems, or just take in the scenery.  I wouldn’t say that I disliked hearing music the entire time.  It was just another different aspect to this race for me.

In addition to the Arena Attack races in Hartford, SNEAA also holds another set of Arena Attack races in Mullins Center on the campus of the University of Massachusetts Amherst.  The Mullins Center is a little smaller so half marathoners have to do 67 laps instead of 65.   The Amherst edition of Arena Attack sold out too.

Overall, I have to say the Arena Attack Half Marathon was an interesting race.  The number of runners was small and everyone was sensible about the “don’t spill water” request.  I never had to stress out about finding a bathroom along the way.  Even better I didn’t have to carry my own water bottles.  The water stop was never very far away.  The availability of bathrooms and the water stop made this a very pleasant race for me.  The only suggestion I have to improve the race would be to liven things up a bit.  It might be fun to allow runners to suggest songs for the music playlist.  Maybe even have a little commentary every once in a while too (“this song goes out to Justin who is finishing up lap 38!”).

I would recommend anyone looking for a new twist on racing to consider running one of the Arena Attack races.  Running indoors is definitely a unique experience.

Running Blues

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It is hard to believe but my most fun race adventure didn’t even include a race.  This past weekend I was registered to run the Mississippi Blues Half Marathon.  At the end of the weekend, I had traveled by plane, train, and automobile (no boat!) through 5 states yet I never put a foot into a running shoe.  Although I missed the race, I had one interesting adventure.

img_7228The Mississippi Blues Half was a race I was really looking forward to running.   Just like the Route 66 Half Marathon is considered to be THE race to run in Oklahoma, the Mississippi Blues Half is considered to be THE race to run in Mississippi.  I had heard many reports from other runners about how much they enjoyed this race.  I was looking forward to going to Jackson, Mississippi to not only run but enjoy the many clubs with live blues music after the race.   For weeks I kept hearing Bruno Mars singing the lyrics “Jackson, Mississippi” in his famous song “Uptown Funk.”  This was going to be a great trip.  Mother Nature, however, had other plans.

The weather forecasts in the week prior to the race kept changing.  Some days it looked like the weather was going to be bad.  The next day it looked like the bad weather would miss them.  Despite the changing weather forecasts, I decided to make the trip.

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Runner goodies

I arrived in Jackson two days before the race and headed to the Expo.  It was lively with a blues band playing.  In the runner’s goodie bag, there was a zip jacket, a harmonica, and a DVD on Mississippi blues music.  The finishers’ medal was on display; it was huge!  I was going to have wonderful souvenirs from this race.  Unfortunately, the ever-changing weather forecast had swung back to being ominous.

The marathon medal (the medal for the half wasn't much smaller)

The marathon medal (the medal for the half was only a little smaller)

The day before the race it rained in the morning so I headed to the Mississippi Museum of Art.  It isn’t a large museum but it was unique.  There was a special exhibit – the Mississippi Invitational – with the most unusual work of art I have ever seen – a sculpture made of cicada shells.  I remember as a kid picking cicada shells off the sides of trees in the summer.  They were very fragile and easily crushed.  Nate Theisen had created a sculpture that looked like a basket – 22 inches x 36 inches x 36 inches – using hundreds of cicada shells.  It was hard to believe the  delicate shells could be used for a sculpture.  (Check out Nate’s web page for a photo of the cicada sculpture.)

Someone at the Expo had told me in Mississippi, if you don’t like the weather, wait two hours and it will change.  They were right.  When I left the museum, the rain had stopped and the sun was trying to peak out through the clouds, though it was pretty cold.  I was feeling optimistic about Saturday’s weather for the race.

Merci Train

Merci Train

I walked over to see the Merci train car.  In 1949 France sent a train car filled with gifts to each state in the US (Washington DC and Hawaii shared one) as a token of thanks for the support they received during World War I and II.  Forty-three of the original 49 cars still exist.  As I made my way back to my hotel after seeing the Merci train, I noticed that it was getting colder.

As the afternoon wore on, the clouds got thicker and the ice pellets started to fall.   Things deteriorated quickly and the roads became dangerously covered in ice.  In fact many roads and bridges were closed.  With temperatures not expected to get above freezing before Sunday, the race organizers made the tough decision to cancel the race.  While many runners headed to the hotel bars to commiserate, I spent Friday night researching ways to get home.  I didn’t want to repeat my first 2016 race trip when I was stranded in Austin for 3 days after the race due to an East Coast blizzard.  It was time well spent because late Saturday morning I was notified that my Sunday morning flight home was canceled too.

On Saturday morning I went out to find the streets covered in a quarter inch of ice.  Walking was nearly impossible.  A few runners were going to run the race on their own, even printing out the course turn by turn.  They quickly abandoned their plans when they saw how treacherous it was.

img_7245With many flights out of Jackson canceled and roads covered in ice, I decided to take the overnight  City of New Orleans train to Chicago.  On Saturday evening I boarded the train and settled into my sleeper compartment.  I tried to sleep as we traveled through Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Illinois but the Arlo Gutherie song “City of New Orleans” kept playing in my head.  My brain wouldn’t turn off my mental record player no matter how hard I tried.  In Chicago, I took another train to O’Hare Airport where I was able to get a flight home.  The entire trip was an adventure.

Coincidentally, the Disney World Half Marathon scheduled for the same day was also cancelled due to the weather in Florida.  Disney appeased all the affected runners by giving them the race medal, refunds, and park passes.   I would never have expected those things.

Many people posted complaints on Facebook about the Mississippi Blues race.  I think they might have heard about how Disney was handling their cancellation and expected the same treatment.  They complained about the timing of the race cancellation announcement.  They complained about not getting refunds for their entry fees or a free registration for the 2018 race.  They wanted – in some cases, demanded – their race medals.  Their behavior made me angry.  Expecting the Mississippi Race  organizers to respond in the same manner as Disney World did when they cancelled their half is beyond ridiculous. Disney has very deep pockets. I am sure that the Mississippi Blues race took a big hit financially.  One wonders how that will affect them long-term.

I live in the northeast where winter storms are the norm. Superintendents of school systems are always on the hot seat about whether or not to cancel school because of snow. They, like race directors, are going by the weather forecasts (and we know how inaccurate those can be). If they make the decision to cancel school because there is supposed to be bad weather and then it doesn’t happen, they get criticized. If they don’t cancel school and the weather is horrible, preventing kids from getting home, they get criticized. Sounds like race directors are in the same boat. When should they make the call to cancel a race?  I can only imagine the uproar if a race was canceled based on a weather forecast that doesn’t materialize.

Like every other runner, I am disappointed I didn’t get to run.  I feel very sorry for the race director.  He did the very best he could, given an unusual weather event in Jackson.  The race director does not control the weather.  I spoke to him on Saturday.  He displayed concern about my well-being and how I was going to get back home.  He was one of the most gracious, kindest people I met while in Jackson.

As I made my way home on the train, I had time to think about the weekend.  This was my first visit to Mississippi.  The hotel shuttle driver pointed out to me that Mississippi is the hospitality state.  I experienced that hospitality firsthand.  Everyone I met went out of their way to help me, answer my questions.  If I had stayed home, I wouldn’t have seen the locust shell sculpture or learned about Mississippi blues music.  I would never have taken the City of New Orleans train and experienced a sleeper compartment.  It may not have been a race but it certainly was an adventure.  Now if I could just get that song out of my head!

Interested in learning more about Mississippi blues?  Check out the Moonshine and Mojo Hands series.   http://moonshineandmojohands.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.