Cowgirl Up!

Date: August 16, 2015

Distance: 13.18

Time: 2:12:27

After three previous attempts, I can finally cross South Dakota off my list. Hallelujah.

TJ was with me for this race, as he has been for all of them since he passed away.

TJ was with me for this race, as he has been for all of them since he passed away.

Almost two years ago, I signed up for the Crazy Horse Half Marathon–my first attempt at completing a race in the Mount Rushmore state. Those plans were thwarted, however, by extreme blizzard conditions that resulted the both a canceled flight and the cancellation of the entire race. I wrote about that weekend in an October 2013 blog post. I signed up for the same race this past October but decided not to go because I was taking care of a very dear friend who was dying from cancer. Sadly, he passed away in December.

Deciding the Crazy Horse Marathon was not meant to be, I decided to register for the Deadwood Mickelson Tail Half Marathon, which took place this past June 5th. Unfortunately, in my infinite wisdom, I had mistakenly booked my hotel room for June 6th. By the time I realized that error, I couldn’t change my reservation and all hotel rooms in the entire town were booked so I scrapped those travel plans. I was beginning to think South Dakota wasn’t going to happen. Or, when it did, my race fees would make this state the most expensive race effort ever.

Well, things finally did come together this past Sunday when I ran the Leading Ladies Half Marathon in Spearfish. My running buddy, Denise, and her mother had run this race a few years ago and she recommended it. Plus, the timing of the race worked out much better.

Not thrilled with the shirt. Blech.

Not thrilled with the shirt. Blech.

The trip out there and back was one of the quickest. I flew into Rapid City just before noon on Saturday, drove to Spearfish, picked up my race packet and settled in to the nondescript Quality Inn. The race, which started at 6:00 a.m. required a 4:30 shuttle departure from a nearby park so I got very little sleep. After finishing at about 7:30, I showered, packed, and was back at the airport by 10:30 to catch my flight back home. In South Dakota for fewer than 24 hours.

The race itself was small and the course reminded me of the Big Cottonwood Canyon race in that it started up the canyon and the course meandered downhill into town. I would say the very active gun range about two miles before the finish line detracted from the race experience, as did the fact that they didn’t shut down traffic. So, really, it was more like my Emigration Canyon training runs but not as peaceful. Still, most of the course was scenic, the weather was perfect, and I’m happy with my time. Not going to complain.

Mainly Marathons Independence Series-Day #4 in Clinton, New Jersey

Date: May 2, 2015

Distance: 13.51

Time: 2:50:40

Today wrapped up the Independence Series for us, although several other runners will finish off the whole series of five races with a run in New York tomorrow. As for me, I am pretty glad I don’t have to get up at 4:15 a.m. for a fifth day in a row, and my quads will thank me as well. Thank goodness we’ve already run a race in New York state and get to sleep in tomorrow before heading to the airport.

I really had no idea what to expect with a Mainly Marathons race series experience, but now can highly recommend it. The race organizers and volunteers are amazing and the runners are both inspiring and encouraging. At a large, traditional race, cheering spectators might line the streets with clever signs.

These are the kinds of spectators you might find at a Mainly Marathons race. (Picture taken by a race participant during the Pennsylvania race).

These are the kinds of spectators you might find at a Mainly Marathons race. (Picture taken by a race participant during the Pennsylvania race).

In the case of these races, there are few or no spectators, but almost every runner along the course will greet you with a “great job” or “looking strong” comment–very often including your name as it is included on your race bib. After several miles with almost the same group of people each day, it becomes easy to learn many people’s names.

Then, there are the race volunteers. Without exception, the women at the timing table, the great folks at the beverage table, and the amazing food table folks and chef were always up for a chat and words of encouragement. It really made for the most supportive, encouraging, and inspiring race experience I’ve ever been a part of.

Would I do another series? Oh, yeah. Especially now that I know what to expect. Advice I would give to anyone considering a similar race experience? It’s a good idea to pace yourself and not go all out the first or second days, drink lots of water, get lots of sleep, don’t take yourself too seriously, and you might be surprised to find out that day four is easier than day three. In these races, it’s not about the finish time, it’s about the experience.

 

 

Mainly Marathons Independence Series Day #3-Daniel Boone’s Homestead in Birdsboro, PA

FB_20150501_18_01_32_Saved_PictureDate: May 1, 2015

Distance: 13.27

Time: 2:57:21

Today’s theme? Pain! We were pretty sure doing consecutive races four days in a row would be challenging and today proved our predictions were correct. Quads hurt, and we mainly “shuffled” through. Actually, I’m amazed we both finished in under 3 hours as sore as we felt. I really hope tomorrow is not worse.

The course today was my favorite by far. We ran an 8-loop out-and-back course on the Daniel Boone homestead. It was picturesque–old buildings on the property, a covered bridge, lots of fields, trees, and even included a small herd of sheep. The beginning of the course started with a paved downhill stretch, followed by alternate stretches of gravel and dirt. I liked that the course was spacious and we didn’t feel too crowded like the courses on the previous two days where there were some stretches that barely allowed for two people side by side.

The skies were overcast and today was a bit chilly, but we were lucky to avoid the rain that arrived later in the afternoon. By the time it started raining, Denise and I had already packed up, checked out of our hotel, and were on the road towards New Jersey.

WP_20150501_001

Sunrise at the start of the race.

Again, I am humbled by the number of people running the full marathon all five days. I wonder how they are feeling right now.

As for us, we have had a pretty regular routine–after the race we shower, Denise takes an ice bath (great idea, but I’m a wimp), we pack up, hit the road to the next destination, check into our hotel, eat an early dinner, and are in bed by 6 or 7 p.m. Seriously. These 4:15 a.m. wake up calls followed by 13.1 mile runs are killing us.

Really hoping tomorrow isn’t too painful…

Mainly Marathons Independence Series Day #2-Lums Pond State Park in Bear, DE

Date: April 30, 2015

Distance: 13.04

Time: 2:56:36

We enjoyed perfect running weather for day #2 of this series,FB_20150430_21_34_54_Saved_Picture and today’s course was great. The race was held at a camping area and the course took runners over a grassy field that, evidently, is used as a cricket field, followed by a nice tree-lined dirt trail, followed by a paved running path. Again, like all of these races, the course was an out-and-back. This time, our turnaround distance was shorter, so we had to complete ten loops rather than yesterday’s seven.

As in yesterday’s race, Denise finished before I did, and she was looking particularly strong today. My strategy, as suggested by her, was to walk a tenth of a mile both at the aid station and at the turnaround. That seemed to work perfectly for me. I took the added precaution of also mostly walking the second-to-last loop and walking all of the last loop. Still trying to conserve my muscles, knowing that we still have two races to complete.

Yet another loss. I haven’t talked about this yet, because I’ve been so upset about it,  but last Sunday, a very dear co-worker of mine passed away unexpectedly. A lot is going on back home with services planned for Saturday, and lots of close friends grieving this horrible loss. My first impulse, when I heard the news, was to cancel this trip. I just didn’t see how I could still go away. Plus, I will miss the funeral.

After a lot of deliberation and the support and encouragement of my boss, other co-workers, and friends, I made the decision to stick with my plans and continue with the trip. Spending time with Denise and putting in all of this mileage is one way I can cope with yet another loss.

As I was running today I decided to listen to music. During the middle of the race, a song came on that was a perfect tribute to my co-worker, Bill. My thoughts, of course, have been with Bill and his family this whole week. Today, in particular, he was with me while I listened to that song and my feet rhythmically hit the ground, propelling me forward one step at a time.

Running, as always, is the perfect metaphor for life. I especially felt that today. There are many times in life when we must endure and we must keep moving forward.

 

Mainly Marathons Independence Series Day #1-Elkton, MD

V__DE4EDate: April 29. 2015

Distance: 13.38

Time: 3:15:58

My slowest time ever for a half, but that was part of my longer-term plan to get through four races in four consecutive days. What a new experience! Denise joined me for this adventure, which will allow us to knock out four additional states that we haven’t yet done: MD, DE, PA, and NJ. The series also includes a fifth day–in NY–but since we’ve already completed a half marathon in New York state, we get to skip day #5. What makes this race experience different from most races?

1. Size. Large destination races can attract thousands of runners. This race, however, drew about 100.

2. Swag. We get one shirt for all five races, but we got to choose the color we wanted–wow. And, the medals are quite unique. We were given an “Independence Series” medal and with each race we complete, we get awarded an attachment that hangs off of the main race medal. That’s unique.

3. Course. These races, we’ve learned, are set up as out-and-back courses. That’s not the unusual part. The unique thing about these out-and-backs is that runners complete several loops to get their mileage in–6 to 10 loops for the half marathons. Granted, that gets a bit boring, but it also allows for one aid station and never feeling like you are running alone.

4. Aid Station. Speaking of aid stations, this one was AMAZING. At most races, aid stations consist of your choice of water or Gatorade (or Powerade). If lucky, the volunteers might hand out Gu packets at about mile 8 or 9. If really lucky, they might also offer bananas, oranges, pretzels, or Gummy Bears at some of the stations. In THIS race series, there is a massive spread of food, including: potato chips, BBQ potato chips, Fritos, Cheetos, pretzels, Rice Krispy treats, pickles, Gummy Bears, oranges, bananas, apples, granola bars. ham and cheese paninis, olives, jelly beans. peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Oreos, licorice, M & Ms, Reeses Peanut butter cups, miniature candy bars, hard-boiled eggs, Fig Newtons, Gatorade, chocolate milk, Coke, and water. As one racer pointed out about Mainly Marathon races, “Where else could you run five full marathons in a row and still gain five pounds?”

5. Runners. I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of participants. What kind of crazies show up to run a race series like this? Denise and I found out today. With few exceptions, we were among the youngest participants and we are pushing fifty. Far more runners are also planning on running the full marathons instead of the half marathons. Those facts made us feel like slackers. We are only running the first four races–and we are only running the half marathon distance. LAZY, eh? We also got the distinct impression that most of the runners have completed several of these race series and most of them also know each other from having met at previous races. Despite that, we felt very welcomed. Everyone was friendly and upbeat.

6. Competitive Level. ZERO. The races are not officially timed and most of the runners didn’t seem to care about their finish times at all. The number of loops runners complete is tracked by how many rubber bands you have on your wrist (one rubber band is added after each loop). Very few people were listening to music during the run and very few people seemed to be tracking their times at all. Rather, lots of people were taking a lot of walking breaks (or walking the whole way) and carrying on non-stop conversations about previous race , their training plans, their travels, and almost anything else. This non-competitive vibe made me feel perfectly comfortable with the fact that I probably walked half of this race. In fact, I went into this race planning to walk a good portion of it, but I found myself trying to devise “the perfect walk/run strategy.” Once I got started, though, any formalized strategy went completely out the window. I ran when I felt like it and I walked when I felt like it. How freeing! I really enjoyed this race and look forward to the remaining three days. I have no idea what to expect, but I’ll keep you posted…

Catching up on race posts, grief, loss, and continuing the journey

I have been neglecting my race posts and need to catch up.

Missoula, MT Half Marathon (July 13, 2014) Time: 2:14:01

Oklahoma City, OK Half Marathon (October 11, 2014) Time: 2:31:08

Savannah, GA Rock and Roll Half Marathon (November 8, 2014) Time: 2:25:04

Run SLC Race Series (5K on February 7, 2015; 10K on March 7, 2015; 15K on April 4, 2015) 

Eisenhower Half Marathon in Abilene, KS (April 11, 2015) Time: 2:23:43

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Life certainly got in the way as I faced two especially tragic events over the past few months–the tragic suicide of a current student, and the cancer-caused death of a former student. As you can imagine, my world abruptly changed and priorities certainly shifted.

I can’t even begin to process the suicide death. The loss of someone so talented and with so much promise is incomprehensible. That loss happened in November and was sudden and shocking. I must leave it at that. I will never understand that one.

The other loss unfolded over the course of months–allowing me to be a bit more emotionally prepared, but that loss was closer to home. TJ was a former student of mine who asked me to help him through his cancer journey late last summer and through the fall. At the time, his relationship with his parents was virtually non-existent and he needed support. I was honored that he asked me, but that journey was particularly difficult as I had to watch cancer steal his life away despite his most valiant efforts, through the summer and fall, ending in December. With each daily hospital visit, I watched as my dear friend TJ’s life slipped away and he died on December 5th at the young age of 24. I am grateful that, over the course of his illness, he used that time to reconnect with his family members, which was a blessing to all involved. We are all, however, still reeling from the unfairness of it all.

During the emotional turmoil I was experiencing, I was grateful for the well-being of my own husband and children and tried my best to carve out time for occasional runs and yoga classes. As a way to process stress and have some semblance of control in my life, I decided to use the month of December to complete a 30-day yoga challenge. I wrote about that in this blog, and that experience probably helped me a lot as I was processing a great deal of pain. My running, however, became an afterthought and during the first few months of the year, I barely ran at all.

I have now recommitted, and know how important my running and yoga classes are to my own emotional and physical well-being. I didn’t take time to post pithy, cheery details of my races, however, because I just wasn’t in that place. Not sure I am still.

I do, however, look forward to my continued race journey and this half marathon 50-states goal. As of today, 32 are in the books and by the end of this week, I will report having finished numbers 33, 34, 35, and 36.

Dear Bikram, I’m not having fun.

I used to love Bikram yoga. After completing 24 classes in 26 days in my quest to do a 30-day challenge, however, I’m not feeling the love. And, if I’m going to make it to the end, I still have to do six classes in the next four days. Blech.

I’m achy all over, my knee hurts, I have a pressure point sore on my foot, and I’m exhausted. I’m also tired of doing so much laundry and planning every freaking day around my yoga class. No zen-like peace in my world.

Bikram Yoga Pose Sequence

The 30-day challenge promises “a new body, and a new positive attitude.” I have neither.
Admittedly, attaining a new body requires heathy dietary choices (which I haven’t paid particularly close attention to) and the positive attitude is difficult for me to have when I’m hurting and simply “getting through” my classes.

Yoga classes used to be enjoyable when I only went twice a week. They provided me peace and power. With yoga, my running injuries healed, I gained strength, flexibility, and focus.

I still suggest Bikram yoga to everyone I meet. Yoga classes would help my mom with her arthritis, my sister with her migraines, and any of my friends and family who are looking for good cross-training options or therapy sessions that don’t require talking to someone from a couch.

I will not, however, recommend that anyone try to cram 30 ninety-minute hot yoga classes into 30 consecutive days. For me, it hasn’t been healthy. Granted, I am stronger and more flexible, but I’m certainly not better off physically overall. I can’t wait to get through this month and go back to my twice per week plan–balanced with running, walking, and hiking.

Knowing that I will never attempt a 30-day yoga challenge again, let’s end this on a positive note.

What I have liked about the thirty-day challenge:

1. Getting to take classes from so many different instructors has been great. Hearing someone explain a posture in a slightly different way has really added to my understanding of how to correctly do each pose. I still have a long way to go, but with each class and each attempt, I think I am moving in the right direction. And, as many teachers have reminded me, “This is a practice, not a perfect.” And, “As long as you are focusing on form before depth, you are receiving 100% of the benefits.”

2. I will like being able to say I completed a thirty-day challenge because, for me, it has been a HUGE challenge and I like being able to cross off various life experiences on my never-ending bucket list. Still haven’t gotten there, and not 100% I’ll make it to the end, but I’ll certainly do my best. I’ll then be able to add this accomplishment to the list of other things I’ve done.

3. I always look forward to seeing the staff and other students at the yoga studio. Salt Lake City Bikram Yoga truly rocks. They have amazing instructors, really nice owners, and a beautiful studio. It is truly a wonderful, welcoming place. I also like that an equal mix of men and women, from all ages and with all body types, show up to the same torture chamber as a supportive community with various reasons for why they are there.

4. I’m more accepting of my body. The 30-day challenge hasn’t necessarily provided this, but Bikram Yoga, overall, has. If you expect everyone in a Bikram yoga class to be young and perfectly toned, think again. All of us show up, no matter our age, weight, or limitations–barely dressed because of the heat–and work with the bodies we have. Bodies, in all of their various forms and abilities can be strong and beautiful.

What I have learned:

1. I’m reminded, once again, that it’s best to listen to my body. In reality, my yoga instructors would most likely tell me to discontinue the challenge and go back to a less frequent practice because, for me, that’s clearly the healthier option. My body is telling me that I’m overdoing it and I really should listen. I’m also very stubborn and committed, however, so I most likely won’t listen.

2. Cross-training is best. There are some people out there who stick to one form of exercise and seem to do fine. That doesn’t make sense to me. I feel most balanced and healthiest when I am doing a mix of various things. This challenge has made me really miss running. I also look forward to having more free time to walk my dogs.

3. Don’t set your expectations too firmly at the beginning of anything and let progress come in very small increments. I think I expected too much from this challenge. I envisioned being able to correctly do every pose in its full expression by the end. In only one month? Yeah. Crazy thought, I know. But I did hope.

4. You will always learn from any experience. You might not learn what you expect to learn, but trust me. You will learn.

In summary, wish me luck as I get through these last six classes. Consider giving Bikram Yoga a shot if you haven’t already, and–most importantly–listen to your body. It will tell you what it needs.

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Update: Today (December 30th), I completed my 30-day yoga challenge! Glad to have that done. Yoga Challenge

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