• Category Archives Running
  • Maybe I won’t run 50 miles

    Update to my post about pondering a 50-mile run: I’m not doing it. There are a number of reasons, and I know that I will occasionally regret the decision, especially since a good friend of mine did sign up so I will hear all about it from him. But a few factors won out, and I am resting easy in my decision.

    • Could I do it? Probably, because I’m just stubborn enough.
    • Would I like the sand? Not really.
    • Do I dread the idea of running many miles of mud in Portland all winter? Yes.
    • Am I unsure about committing so many of my days off to long runs on trails? Yes, because I just moved and want to do lots of local things with anyone who will welcome me.

    I have spent the past two weeks pondering the decision and watching as the race filled up. A number of people gave valuable, thoughtful input, and I appreciate every comment (here, Facebook and Twitter), email and in-person conversation.  I will definitely consider doing it in 2019, which gives all of you plenty of time to decide to join in!

    In the meantime, I do want to find a fall race. The plan had been Portland Marathon, because it would be a full-circle/demon-exorcising event for me. Also, I now live here and could sleep in my own bed, AND one of my best friends was going to come run it and we’d make it a girls weekend, hopefully with another friend. Well, then the marathon had to change course, and it’s now an out-and-back through an industrial area (along Highway 30, called “dirty thirty”). Also, the race directors are under federal investigation for questionable non-profit actions. 2017 is clearly not the year for me to run this race.

    I know there are a million other fall races. The task now is to figure out which one I want to do, which time is better for me, and whether I can travel or should stick closer to home. So many decisions! Who wants to make a weekend out of one of the umpteen options?

  • Pondering the Antelope Canyon 50

    I’ve spent the past month pondering a big, daunting running event. It’s in sand. In Arizona. Also, it’s 50 miles.

    Yes, 50 miles. Yes, I know I am mildly insane.

    It’s the Antelope Canyon 50-Miler on Feb. 24, and I would do the 50-mile option because the shorter distances don’t actually go into Antelope Canyon. They do pass Horseshoe Bend, but there’s no way I’m dragging myself back to Arizona unless I’m seeing Antelope Canyon. Here, have some pictures, which I stole from the Internet.

    Horseshoe Bend, via grandcanyon.com
    Antelope Canyon, via antelopecanyon.az
    More of Antelope Canyon, via antelopeslotcanyon.com


    See what I mean?? I WANT TO GO THERE!

    I’m not sure when I first heard about this event, but somewhere in my web wanderings a couple years ago, I came across the Grand Circle Trails website, and the Antelope Canyon race in particular. They linked to race reports, which I read and then moved on, because helloooo, 50 miles?!

    Truth be told, I used to say I never wanted to run 50 miles — and that was after several years of crewing for and pacing friends at 50-milers. Then I ran a trail marathon in February 2013, conquered my first trail 50k the following month, and paced my friend Chris for 18 miles of a 50-miler in April 2013. It didn’t seem so far out of reach, and I began to think of doing the race the following year, or least pacing more miles when Chris attempted a 100-miler.

    That trail running was apparently good for me, because I then proceeded to break all my previous road records, until my left IT band gave up. This significantly affected the odds of being able to run 50 miles, and then my best trail running buddy, Kristen (who was also saying mayyyybe to the 50), got pregnant — which was just as well, because I suspect I would not have finished the 50-miler due to my leg. Then Chris was hit by a truck while on his bike, so there went my offer to pace him at a 100-miler. That said, Chris has since gone through multiple surgeries and is currently training for Ironman Kona, so if that’s not inspiration to keep going, I don’t know what is.

    50-mile finish
    American River 50 with Chris & Crea, 2013


    Anyway, at some point about a month ago, I saw a post on that nefarious site known as Facebook about how registration for Antelope Canyon was opening July 7. The idea settled itself into my head and has proceeded to taunt me every day since. I sent the link to several people, and so far one of them has decided to do it, which has not helped me say no to it. In the two days since registration opened, I have been refreshing the sign-up page to see how many spots are left, and thus how much time I have left to decide. As I write this, there are 124 spots left, of 375 — last night, 140 spots remained. Oh wait, I just double-checked that link and now 123 spots are left. They do have generous refund and deferment policies, but if I’m committing to something like this, I don’t want to commit halfway.

    I’m currently out of shape, but I spent this morning’s embarrassingly short run thinking up a list of pros and cons. And that’s where you come in: What should I add to these lists? More importantly, do you want to go along??

    Reasons for:

    1. I want to see Antelope Valley.
    2. The idea of a 50-miler scares me.
    3. 2008 marked my first marathon, so it’s only fitting that this would happen in 2018 — both in Arizona, no less.
    4. If I succeed, it will be before I reach a dreaded milestone birthday.
    5. Unless I volunteer for overtime, I will have three consecutive days off work per week, when I can attempt back-to-back long runs in daylight.
    6. My gym is open 24/7 and I have unlimited cell data, so I have no excuse not to do stairs and cross-training while streaming action movies.
    7. Odds of getting the race days off work are a little better at this time of year.
    8. I live 2.6 miles from a trail head. Heck, I live in Portland, a mecca for trail runners.
    9. Despite so many setbacks, I still dream of qualifying for Boston. Increasing miles on trails has proven to make me stronger and faster on the roads, so maybe this would get me back on the path to that pipe dream of a goal.
    10. Airline miles.

    Reasons against:

    1. It’s a lot of sand — about 30 miles of sand. It’s like the Bataan Memorial Death March Marathon (here’s my race report) on crack.
    2. Training in Portland winter will mean rain and mud, and more rain and mud.
    3. There are no local trail marathons or 50k’s in December or January to use as training. If I get a weekend off work, I could travel to one, but odds are not high.
    4. Four days a week, I will be working 10-12 hours a day, plus an hour roundtrip of travel. At some point I’ll work days (probably a 5 a.m. or 7 a.m. start time) and at another point I’ll work nights (probably a 9 p.m. or 11 p.m. start time). I’ll still be on probation and training at work, which is my main priority, so sleep will also be a priority.
    5. I’ve only run one 50k, and that was in March 2013.
    6. I haven’t run more than 13 miles since December.
    7. What if I don’t get the days off work?
    8. I no longer live near my favorite running buddy.
    The best training buddy, Kristen
    The best training buddy, Kristen


    So, who has opinions? And who’s in? Does it sweeten the idea if I tell you we’d fly into Vegas?

  • Seawheeze 2016 Half-Marathon report

    One-word summary of the Seawheeze 2016 half-marathon: Fun.

    Version 2

    One-sentence summary: A long weekend in lovely Vancouver was punctuated by a steady run with a truly good friend.


    Spoiler: Run time was 2:13, which is 28 minutes slower than my personal best. And I’m fine with it. So are my Achilles’ tendon and IT band.


    And now for all the details about the weekend and the race. I never wrote a race report after running the Seawheeze half in 2015. I wish I had, because it was a good time with my training buddy Kristen, with a bonus side trip to see Deb in beautiful Victoria.

    Seawheeze 2015 with Kristen had much cooler weather.
    Seawheeze 2015 with Kristen had much cooler weather.
    Lynn Canyon was lovely.
    Lynn Canyon was lovely.

    I had good reason to not blog: I broke my thumb four days after the race while still in Canada, flew home late in agony due to canceled flights, saw two doctors, had surgery, was in a cast, had to cancel a marathon due to medical bills, and I couldn’t run for awhile because of the swelling. I only got this far in a rather sad blog post: “Last week at the end of the half-marathon, I received a carrot-shaped medal that was the most appropriate medal I could have ever received. Standing by the Olympic Cauldron, it felt like I had walked through a door into a ray of light, and that another door was finally opening ahead of me. Four days later, I smashed into the asphalt. The sound I heard was that of a door slamming shut.”

    This year, I returned to run the Lululemon Seawheeze Half-Marathon, and I once again got to spend a long weekend in Vancouver. It’s a great city, and I could easily spend many more vacations there. The people are nice, the weather is lovely in the summer (and I hear the winter isn’t too bad), the views are great, and the U.S. dollar has gone a lot further there in the last couple years. (British Columbia has 12% sales tax, but once I factored in my taxes and the exchange rates, everything was about 22% cheaper for me.)

    English Bay
    English Bay

    I flew into Vancouver on Thursday morning and promptly began walking.

    This is an Inukshuk, an ancient Inuit symbol used as a landmark and to show hospitality and friendship.
    This is an Inukshuk, an ancient Inuit symbol used as a landmark and to show hospitality and friendship, according to a plaque at its base.

    Since I’d been to Vancouver a year earlier, I tried to see new-to-me parts of the city, but I generally stayed near downtown. Between the Inukshuk above and the wishing tree below, I was once again smitten with the city.


    Words from a 7-year-old.
    Deep thoughts from a 7-year-old.

    Michaela arrived that night, and we were up early the next morning to go stand in a line to shop. Because of course that is a wise thing to do 24 hours before a half-marathon.


    But we could watch sea planes take off, which was cool.



    So, about this whole “line up to shop” thing. Lululemon, which puts on the whole race, creates limited-edition clothing sold only at the expo one day before the race. The clothes kind of go along with the whole theme of the race, which this year had a fun spy theme (and was totally up my alley). Every year, people have gotten more fanatical about the clothes, and Lulu encourages it by only making small amounts of clothing. Well, this year the first person got in line at 10 a.m. the day BEFORE the expo. It turned out she’d been paid to sit there, which I think is a bizarre way to spend money, and this had the effect of getting people in line even earlier. Some had already been planning to camp out, and they brought inflatable beds, blankets, etc. And, get this: The clothing is not sale priced.

    These were the only free things.
    These were the only free things.

    The store opens to runners at 7 a.m. We got down there at 6:30, and it took us THREE FREAKING HOURS to actually get inside.

    Let's pose for photos, since there's nothing else to do.
    Let’s pose for photos, since there’s nothing else to do.

    They put the clothes out in order by size, so when you actually get inside, you rush to your section and see what there is to see. You can’t buy more than 15 items, and you can’t buy more than three of the exact same thing (for friends back home). So people generally grab a bunch of stuff and then get away from the madness to ponder how much money they really want to spend on running clothes. I fully admit to liking the company’s clothes, because the anti-stink material helps, and because the bras and shorts actually do not chafe me; I will spend many dollars to avoid raw skin. But I was not about to reach the maximum amount of items — I ultimately bought one pair of shorts and two tank tops. I later heard some crazy stories, like people who grabbed entire piles of clothes and then sat on them while deciding what to buy. Then there are the people who buy stuff and immediately post it at much higher prices on eBay.

    Free yoga to calm down after the shopping madness. (Butt shots are free of charge.)
    Free yoga to calm down after the shopping madness. (Butt shots are free of charge.)

    Michaela and I were both about to lose our minds, so we went and ate brunch. Then, while 500+ people did the free waterfront yoga, we took advantage of short lines at the various free stuff being offered as part of the race expo: sticker tattoos, photo booths, food and drink samples, and hair braiding and manicures that we skipped.  We finally got around to picking up our race packets, which contained our timing chips, a nice water bottle, actually cool sunglasses in a case, a whole tube of Nuun, and a mesh duffel bag. Every entrant also received a pair of shorts earlier in the year.

    Rather than another "maybe it fits" shirt, runners got to pick their size and cut of shorts, which were mailed in May.
    Rather than another “maybe it fits” shirt, runners got to pick their size and cut of shorts, which were mailed in May.

    At some point, we ate again.

    Serious business.
    Serious business.
    This is my serious face.
    This is my serious face.

    And again.


    And then I actually took a “flat runner” picture, which I rarely do.

    (Note: Dirty shoes are not directly on the bed.)
    (Note: Shoes are not directly on the bed.)

    And then at some point we went to bed and woke up. Yes, this is a very precise blog post. Here, have a sunrise photo.


    Our hotel was about a 15-minute walk from the start line, which was perfect. I did that last year, and it’s so nice to avoid vehicle traffic before and after a race. (And, really, weekend tourists staying in Vancouver don’t need a car. I do wish Uber and Lyft were allowed, though.) The race started at 7 a.m., and we got down there around 6:30. We made last stops in port-a-potties that had no lines, and then we went to the start corrals and said, “Hmm, what are we going to run?”


    Michaela was coming off a half-Ironman and I was coming off a two-month Achilles tendon strain, so neither of us had any dreams of speedy times. Michaela figured she would just stop and take pictures along the way, and I figured I would just try not to run my slowest time ever (the bar is low on that, if you count trail runs…) So we stopped at the 2:20 pace group and figured we would just start there to avoid racing at the start.

    They released the runners in waves to avoid too heavy of bottlenecks, and with each wave, bursts of steam would shoot from an arch. Finally, it was our turn to go under the arch. GPS signal was a bit spotty around the buildings, but that soon straightened out as we ran. The race goes through a bunch of downtown Vancouver, and past “cheer stations” that Lulu puts some effort into. A whole spin class was riding hard in one section, and Michaela and I both said we really just wanted to stop and join in. Some actors were dressed up as detectives or spies or something to go with the theme.

    Within a mile or two, we’d both had enough of the cluster of people around the pacer, so we sped up and passed them. Things became much less congested. We were still running together, sometimes chatting and sometimes pointing at the various attractions (and NOT talking about the woman whose skirt had ridden up or the young guy who was holding up his pants while trying to run). The miles rolled on, and we just never stopped or drifted apart. We did walk briefly through the aid stations because it was warm out, but we picked up the pace right where we left off. I’m terrible at aid stations and drinking from cups while moving, so I usually sped up to catch Michaela the Ironman. There was no walking. No stopping to stretch. No sitting on the side of the road. Just like last year, I discovered that I could simply keep running.

    Best cheer group EVER. (Photo is not mine.)
    Best cheer group EVER. (Photo is not mine.) Well done, Vancouver PD and Lulu.

    We ran over the Burrard Street Bridge and back, and did airplane arms in the process, then entered Stanley Park to run for miles along the lovely and, thankfully, shaded seawall. A woman had something like seven yapping puppies in a carriage, which boggled our minds and made up for the lack of a promised puppy cheer station. A bunch of people were dressed in nude bodysuits, and they creeped us out while successfully distracting us. People in fantastic mermaid costumes were perched on rocks in the water. A full-blown cheer party was happening on a yacht out in the water, and I was wondering how to get on THAT volunteer job which clearly involved alcohol at such an early hour on a Saturday. A guy was doing some crazy jetpack-waterski-hoverboard thing in the air over the water, and we were impressed but both knew we’d fall on our faces on top of the board if we ever tried it.

    And then we had about 1.5 miles left, and we both wordlessly picked up the pace. We passed a sign that said we had one kilometer left, so we pushed harder. Then we encountered some turns, and more turns around buildings, and people saying “you’re almost there,” and I’m pretty sure that kilometer was actually a mile. The last part of the course had changed so the finish area would be off the street, and the vast consensus was that the course was long.

    But we did finally finish, and we were given a huge medal, a bottle of Smart water, a nice hat, a damp towel (amazing in the warm weather), Saje essential oils, Nuun, Kind bars, and a bag to put everything in.


    Then we got into a too-long line for food. Granted, it’s nice that they served hot breakfast sandwiches, cherry tarts (delicious) and grapes, but if we had finished 20 minutes later, the line would have been insane. I later heard that some people received frozen sandwiches because the big ovens were just not big enough. And I’ve heard first-hand accounts that they ran out of water, which is a big no-no and a bummer for such an overall phenomenal race. I think a critical error was that volunteers should have given runners one bottle each and told them refill stations were available near the food; nobody near the finish line knew this, and I saw runners with arms full of bottles. This is one of the two most well organized races I’ve ever run, so I’m not sure where the communication broke down. Given Lululemon’s track record, though, I’m sure they’ll have plenty of water next year.

    Letters around the edges are in code. Break it to read, "mission accomplished."
    Solid medal. Letters around the edges are in code: Break it to read, “mission accomplished.”

    We headed back to our hotel, but were sidetracked by a McLaren car (they start at around $300,000, and I have no idea why I knew this but I did). Itwas painted to look like a Pokemon and even had little Pokemon characters stuck to the dashboard. That poor, poor car.


    Is this how I play Pokemon Go? Do I need an app??
    Is this how I play Pokemon Go? Do I need an app??

    That detour led us into a store that had animal masks, which you’ll learn about if you keep reading this never-ending blog post. Anyway, after showers we went out for more food, Japanese this time.

    Then we went to the Gastown area of Vancouver, because why not walk more miles since you’ve already run 13.5?? (Side note: My ankles killed me the whole trip. I need to do more walking, apparently. Or maybe I should actually get into running shape…)

    Gassy Jack, who founded Vancouver.
    Gassy Jack, who founded Vancouver.
    Mannequins made of Legos at The Lab.
    Mannequins made of Legos at The Lab.

    And then we met up with a couple more of Michaela’s friends, and had more food, which is not pictured.

    Beer flight = yes.
    Beer flight = yes.

    Now, about those animal masks. This is what happens when you’re kind of delirious after a race, when one of you owns three orange cats (but wants many more), and when you’ve just taken pictures of a Pokemon car. We found ourselves inside a store, looking at facial masks that make you look like an animal. And this is what happens when you try them that night:


    The funniest part — possibly — is that these masks were clearly not made for someone with a big head and a Jewish nose. I suspect the mask would have done more good if we hadn’t been laughing so hard that they kept lifting up. Hey, Lululemon, here’s an idea for a cheer station next year.

    Michaela left at the crack of dawn Sunday morning, and I watched the women’s Olympic marathon, which was live in Canada but stupidly tape-delayed in the U.S. Score another point for Canada! Then I packed up and set out for Granville Island, because of course my feet were thrilled to do more walking.

    Even the graffiti in Vancouver is done with taste and approval.
    Even the graffiti in Vancouver is done with taste and approval.

    I wandered around the tourist-crowded area, ate more food (not pictured, shockingly), and then walked back across the Granville Island Bridge.

    Best cement plant EVER.
    Best cement plant EVER. Click to see the full-sized photo.
    Seriously, best ever. A strawberry-painted cement mixing truck!
    Seriously, best ever. A cement mixing truck dressed up as a strawberry!

    I wandered around Yaletown a bit, but my feet were really tired so I headed to the airport a little early.

    Well done, Vancouver.
    Well done, Vancouver.

    I eventually boarded my plane, settled into my window seat, and heard a loud THUNK as we backed away from the gate. Then we stopped moving, and about 10 minutes later the pilot told us the airport crew had forgotten to disconnect something from the plane, thus causing the noise, and maintenance had to inspect the plane. Well then. But all was well, only putting us 20 minutes behind — which then caused another 20-minute delay when we landed and SFO had apparently given our gate away to some other plane.

    But, hey, this time I did not return from Canada with a broken thumb. A year later, I can say: “1.75 thumbs up!”

    On the Granville Island Bridge, with the Burrard Street Bridge in the background.
    On the Granville Island Bridge, with the Burrard Street Bridge in the background.

  • Bataan Memorial Death March Marathon 2016 race report

    I went to the desert of New Mexico with one mission: to run a marathon in memory of my grandfather. And, though he’s no longer here to comment on my blog as “Grampa Ben,” I think he’d be proud of me for having the determination to overcome many challenges to reach that finish line.


    I’ve had a few tears in my eyes at race finish lines, but this was the first in 17 marathons that I found myself sobbing as I ran through the finish chute. Two soldiers even asked if I was okay. I said “Yes, thank you,” because I couldn’t put into words why I was crying. It was a mix of sadness and happiness, of broken and healing hearts, of fear and hope. Most of all, it was because Grandpa’s grin had just flashed through my mind.

    To tell the story of my Bataan Memorial Death March Marathon experience, I should go back 2 years, 3 months and 2 weeks – or 119 weeks. That’s the last time I ran a marathon. The IT band in my leg had started acting up, and it worsened halfway through that December 2013 marathon where my friends were tracking me and saying, “She’s on pace to qualify for Boston!” I tried doctors and therapy and cross training, but my leg simply was not happy. I took it into my head to just get used to NOT running. After all the childhood excuse notes out of physical education, and after all the recent running, I decided that was my new reality. And I stuck to it for quite awhile.

    But running still called me. I wasn’t done with it, and it wasn’t done with me. Nearly a year later, in the fall of 2014, I signed up for a half-marathon the following August. And then in spring of 2015, I threw my name in the lottery for the 40th annual Marine Corps Marathon that would be held the next October. My perfect race lottery track record held up yet again, and my name was selected. Around the same time, I crossed a goal off my list by trying a Body Pump class at my gym. I’d never done so many squats and lunges in my life, and I was sore for several days. But my IT band didn’t hurt at all. I kept going back, and my IT band remained silent. Perhaps this was a partial cure. In the meantime, I bought a road bike and shifted my focus to cycling, so that helped me regain some fitness without attempting to return too quickly to running. (“Shifted” wasn’t an intentional pun — that was inherited from Grandpa.)

    I didn’t leave myself a lot of time to train for that August half-marathon. I was more worried about hurting my leg than anything else, so I kept the mileage low. The race was almost 25 minutes slower than my personal record, but I finished with an intact IT band and decided I could actually run the Marine Corps Marathon. And then I broke my thumb three days later. I sold my race bib (legally) and canceled the expensive hotel I had booked, putting the money toward my insurance deductible.

    I had hand surgery around the same time my grandfather couldn’t get out of bed and said he needed to go to the hospital. This alarmed the entire family, because he never asked to go to the hospital. The plan had long been that I would be the first to get on a plane, because I was the closest family member by several flying hours and the only one who could get there on a non-stop flight. Now, I couldn’t go; by the time I could travel, it was too late. Grandpa never returned home, and we lost him on October 14, 2015. His determination never wavered, even at the very end.

    Somewhere in the midst of everything, I heard about the Bataan Memorial Death March Marathon. I’ve been fascinated by World War II since childhood, but I had never heard of the Bataan peninsula in the Philippines. American and Filipino soldiers tried to defend it, but it fell to Japan in April 1942. Thousands of soldiers were taken prisoner and forced to march for seven days without food or water. Most died. Those who survived were then subjected to brutal prison camps, where more died. Filipino residents tried to help the American soldiers, and were killed for their efforts.

    For the past 25 years, a marathon has been held in the desert of New Mexico to honor those who experienced the Bataan march. Bataan survivors, many of whom live in New Mexico, attend the marathon every year, shaking the hand of any and every marathoner. And every year, fewer survivors remain.

    I’ve never been to New Mexico, and I want to see every U.S. state. And, hey, it would get me another state if I ever decide I can attempt a marathon in each one. But the main reason this race would not leave my head was the meaning. Grandpa wasn’t at Bataan, but he served in the Army in the South Pacific. He could very easily have been sent to Bataan. I couldn’t stop thinking about the marathon.

    New Year’s Day came, and friends told me: “Here’s to a better year.” Well, that was not to be. On January 12, my world shattered from more family medical crises. The second surgery I needed on my thumb paled in comparison. The idea of going to New Mexico to run a marathon seemed ludicrous and selfish.

    But once I started looking through the prisms of my shattered world, I knew I had to keep living, now more than ever. I could only be strong for my family if my own mind and soul and body were strong. I needed to make decisions that would make me happy and that I wouldn’t regret later. I still wanted to run Bataan in Grandpa’s honor, and I feared that I might put it off until there were no survivors left. I registered for the marathon just three weeks before it was to be held.

    After changing my itinerary three times due to family matters, I found myself sitting on a plane beside the friend who had bought my Marine Corps Marathon bib. We landed in El Paso, Texas (a new airport for me), ate carbs, then headed to White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The drive went past “tank crossing” signs and others that warned people to stay in their cars. It’s very much an active missile range, and the military doesn’t mess around.

    If you look closely, well, I plead the Fifth as to whether I took this photo.
    If you look closely, well, I can neither confirm nor deny whether I took this photo.

    Upon reaching a gate, everyone had to wait for clearance through the National Criminal Information Center database.  Old speeding tickets didn’t count, so they let me inside to collect my bib, shirt and medal/dog tag — this was given out before the race, kind of like one final reminder that I was to finish what I started.

    I was back there at the starting line before dawn Sunday morning, surrounded by marchers and runners, and outnumbered by those who wore camouflage.


    It was freezing cold, especially since I was wearing a thin tank top and shorts. I received many comments about how cold I must be, though later I would hear people saying, “I wish I had worn a tank top” as we passed. I hadn’t worn my Marathon Maniacs tank top in almost three years, so it was fun to feel like I was part of a running group again.

    With Eliot; when I sold him a marathon bib last year, I had no idea we'd be at a different starting line.
    With Eliot; when I sold him a marathon bib last year, I had no idea we’d be at a different starting line.

    The opening ceremonies included a number of military rituals, including the national anthem, a fly-over by a medical helicopter, a roll call of Bataan survivors present, and a roll call of those who had died since the previous year’s marathon. That list numbered 21; I can’t imagine what it will be like when only one name remains, and then none.


    At 7:30 a.m., we were on our way. The race has a marathon and a 14-mile route, and the majority do the marathon. There are civilian and military categories, and “light” and “heavy” options: You can choose to carry a 35-pound pack. Many service members wear their full military fatigues, including the boots that are quite sturdy but not exactly ideal for marathon running. Many of them walk the entire route, some carrying flags and some wearing prosthetic legs. I passed one young man with two prosthetic legs and heard him saying “I got blown up,” and knew he was telling the story of how he lost his legs.

    The first few miles were on pavement, and I did my best to rein in my pace, since I had a long way to go and was starting at 4,000 feet altitude. I chatted for two miles with a Maniac named Maria who helped me set my pace. She was born in the Philippines said Bataan is a big deal there — she learned about it as a child. When I left her, I picked up the pace, but managed not to be too reckless. I have my fueling pretty well dialed in by now, and I just eat five gels during the course of a marathon when I’m supposed to, whether they’re appealing or not. I carried my trusty old handheld bottle and told myself to stop and refill it at least twice so I’d keep drinking and hopefully stave off the effects of altitude.

    The climbing began around mile 7 and did not relent until mile 13.5, at 5,400 feet elevation. I had noted this ahead of time so I knew what mile point I was looking toward. What I hadn’t fully expected was the sand. I’ve run plenty of trails, but not loose sand. Sand combined with uphill (and my lack of training) to reduce me to many, many walking breaks. I chatted with various Maniacs, sometimes leaving them and sometimes being left by them. I leap frogged with some people through much of the race. The views were lovely and peaceful, the weather was perfect with warm sun but a breeze that cooled me. The aid stations had water, cold (bonus!) Gatorade and orange slices that hit the spot for me.

    White Sands Missile Range, living up to its name.
    White Sands Missile Range, living up to its name.

    Mile 13.5 brought the reprieve from all that climbing, and I finally found myself running downhill on what was thankfully packed dirt. I did lose a minute to fish a rock out of my shoe, but that was the only time I thought I should have worn gaiters.

    Somewhere around mile 19, we returned to a paved road we had run up. Walkers were still heading up, and nearly all of them were in full military gear. I had just reached the “furthest I’ve run in more than 2 years” point, I was going downhill, and I had amazing people to smile at. As a bonus, many of them returned my huge grin with compliments and smiles. Fortunately, I looked at my watch and saw the 8:30 pace so I slowed down – I still had seven miles to run, and I was really not in shape to be running that pace at that point.

    Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 3.40.04 PM

    We returned to packed sand, and I said hello to a gal who was wearing military fatigues and had a Maniac sign pinned on her back. Her name was Laura, and we ran together from about mile 20 to 24. She was such a sweetheart, and I was fortunate to have her company through the notorious “sand pit,” which wound up being about 1.5 miles long.

    Laura, who recently qualified for Boston.
    Laura, who recently qualified for Boston.

    I felt a little guilty, but I left Laura at mile 24 and began to run. I knew I could probably jog most of the last two miles, and I wanted to get this done. I also wanted to try to run those miles to finish strong for Grandpa. And so I did, sometimes very slowly because my legs really wanted to stop.

    Before I fell apart...
    Before I fell apart…

    People were cheering, soldiers and civilians alike. I rounded a corner and saw the finish line, and Grandpa’s smile flashed into my head. I started to cry. I picked up the pace and didn’t want to stop running because I was afraid I’d start bawling, but someone had to scan my bib so I came to an abrupt stop. I was crying but trying to hide it behind my sunglasses. Then I realized the survivors were just beyond the finishing chute. Those elderly men had been there in the morning when we started, and they were still here. I gently grasped their hands, saying “thank you” through tears to each one. What they didn’t know was that I was also thinking, “thank you for being there instead of my grandfather.”

    Starting to cry, also known as "how to take a bad race photo.)
    Starting to cry, also known as “how to take a bad race photo.)

    Post-race delirium always hits me, but this time I think the emotions made it worse. I usually text a few people from finish lines, but I was too drained to think about it, aside from Eliot, whom I’d texted from mile 21 and 24, trying to coordinate post-marathon shenanigans. A Maniac I’d never met went searching for a recovery drink for me. Laura, my buddy from late in the race, finished and hugged me.

    I finally forced myself to go find food, then made myself eat half a plain cheeseburger because it was too much effort to find condiments (though I later found a packet of mayonnaise in my handful of Chex Mix and Oreos; I have no idea where it came from).

    And then, because I knew I’d regret it if I said no, and because I could hear Grandpa chuckling, I went sledding down sand dunes.


    It was a 40ish-minute drive away, I was still wearing my marathon shoes, and my legs were in utter denial that they’d have to hike up the dunes. It was absurd and hilarious. We didn’t even get lost.

    YOU try hiking up sand dunes on marathonized legs.
    YOU try hiking up sand dunes on marathonized legs.

    Oh, and my finish time was 5:19:02. I was 47th of 785 women in my “civilian light” division.

    Grandpa, every step was for you. Thank you for the unwavering confidence, for encouraging me to look at the good side of life, and for setting an example of determination.

    White Sands National Monument

  • Looking ahead

    To say I’ve been struggling is an understatement. Death and destruction have taken tolls on me, and a lot of uncertainties continue to wreak havoc. I’ve had a lot of low points in the last two months.

    But despite everything that continues to suck joy out of my life, my internal optimist is really trying to surface. That little voice has been telling me to look at races, to look to the future, to look ahead to a time when everything is not crashing down on me. Maybe Grandpa’s positive thinking is reaching through other-worldly barriers to me.

    This morning, I was supposed to be running the Marine Corps Marathon. It was to be my comeback after many (many) months of IT band pain and the subsequent decision to stop running and make myself get used to life without it. I did kind of get used to it, and bicycling filled some of the gap. But I had a lot of unfinished business and unmet goals in running, which haunted me to the point that I decided to try again. In August, I ran my first race in 20 months and was on track to get just enough training in to finish the marathon 10 weeks later. I was not going to run MCM for time. In fact, I was pondering the idea of stopping for photos, something I don’t do in marathons (except for the grand piano at Big Sur).

    Everything came to a sudden halt when I broke my thumb. I had surgery two weeks later, at the same time my grandfather’s Parkinson’s suddenly got worse.

    Now, both of those events continue to have trickle-down effects. The juggling of cross-continent family schedules will continue (seriously; my family is spread out between six hours of time zones). Meanwhile, I am out of shape. I can’t bike, I can’t go to Body Pump or lift weights, I can’t hold an elliptical handlebar, and after two miles of running I have to stop for air and to try calming my thumb’s swelling.

    But here’s the thing: I have no leg pain when I run.

    And here’s another thing I hadn’t quite realized until I had to cancel the marathon: I am happier if I have a race on the calendar. [I actually do have two scheduled for next summer, but one isn’t until August and the other was a cheap enough deal that I won’t mind too much if I have to cancel.]

    And here is yet another thing: I kind of want to run a race for Grandpa. If I could have run MCM today, I can almost guarantee you that I would have started sobbing. Grandpa served in the Army in WWII, and it would have been moving to see all those Marines.

    So, despite all the uncertainty about my family and my thumb and my lack of fitness and my life in general, I’ve been looking at spring races — marathons, not half-marathons.

    This morning, as I shuffled through 3.4 measly miles with two stops to try getting blood flowing away from my thumb, I made a third stop to take photos of fall leaves that are finally arriving.

    Then I came home, looked up a race date, and put it in my countdown app. I don’t know if I can get in shape in time, if I can justify using money from savings for it, and if my unknown schedule will allow it. But if I can, it will be for Grandpa the eternal optimist.


  • Tuesday Time-Waster: Caitlin Smith’s running reward

    I’ve followed runner Caitlin Smith’s blog for years, watching as she’s had ups and downs on the local trails I know, and on both the local and bigger racing circuit. She doesn’t post often, so it’s always refreshing to see her name pop up in my blog feed.

    This time, she did well. Moreover, she appreciated it. I especially liked this line: “In life and running nothing is linear, but the chaos is well worth the moments like these.” Today, my marathon PR is two years old. Sometimes I think my fastest times are behind me, but then I read something like this and it makes me want to keep pushing through the chaos.

  • I wanted to run another marathon

    I wanted to post pictures and write about the half-marathon I ran last weekend. About how it was my first race in 20 months, and how amazing it felt to stand amidst a sea of runners waiting to start, and how I nearly forgot my timing chip and then my water because I’m so out of race practice. About how I managed to run within the limits of my minimal training, and how I may have been slow by my standards but how I never once walked. About how the IT band pain that derailed me for so long did not surface, which was the biggest victory of all.

    I wanted to write about Vancouver. About Stanley Park and the Olympic Cauldron and the polite residents and the cute neighborhoods and the piano on a bridge. About the lovely harbor views 38 floors above the city, about my disappointment in poutine, about the excellent restaurant service, about how I appreciated the currently low Canadian dollar value. About crossing a suspension bridge under brilliant greenery with a friend who’s shared many other miles with me.

    I wanted to write about Victoria. About the island views and the goats and the piglets. About the Terry Fox memorial. About hiking up a steep mountain with another friend, with whom I once ran a 5k at midnight and was Rickrolled by bearded men on a train in Portland. About a lovely 38-mile bike ride that made me realize I have somehow become one of those people who actually misses being on a bicycle if a week has passed.

    And then I broke my thumb. I have two splints, one for each break. One splint requires tape, which is extra fun to redo every time I take a shower. Tomorrow I see yet another doctor who will hopefully tell me how long it will be before I can wrap a ponytail holder around my hair, wear my new hoodie (or anything long-sleeved), and steer with my left hand so my right hand (which is also mildly sprained) can go back to its main job of operating the gear shift.

    At some point, I will find out how much money I must pull out of savings. I know I’m more fortunate than most because I do have that savings, so I will be more than fine. But that savings has been earmarked for something bigger, and I hate to dip into it, as I have already since my rent was increased and my spending habits did not subsequently decrease.

    And so, the combination of money and now-limited training and maybe even surgery have led me here: I don’t think I can run the fall marathon that has encouraged me to keep fighting to get back on the running track of life. The expensive race-rate/Washington D.C. hotel is refundable, and that would pay a significant amount of my medical deductible. I wouldn’t eat out in as many restaurants, which would get even worse if I kept to my plan of going on to New York to see multiple friends. I wouldn’t show up with minimal training.

    I entered the Marine Corps Marathon through their lottery — I threw my name in the hat and told myself, “If I get in, I’m going to take it as a sign that I should not give up on running.” I got in.

    I wanted to run another marathon. I wanted to revive the hope of Boston. Last week at the end of the half-marathon, I received a carrot-shaped medal that was the most appropriate medal I could have ever received. Standing by the Olympic Cauldron, it felt like I had walked through a door into a ray of light, and that another door was finally opening ahead of me. Four days later, I smashed into the asphalt. The sound I heard was that of a door slamming shut. I don’t know if I have enough strength to try breaking down yet another door.

  • Tuesday Time-Waster: Ruth Anne Bortz

    Today’s link is most definitely not a time-waster. Instead, it’s an incredibly poignant, elegant article written by a man who just lost his beloved wife. The writing is poetic, the feelings are so very genuine, and it makes me want to read more of his work (which I will be doing very soon).

    Ruth Anne Bortz died last week after battling Alheimer’s Disease for more than three years. I regret that I hadn’t known of her, because she sounds like an incredible, inspirational woman who took up running later in life and achieved some remarkable times. Winning your age group at the Boston Marathon is no small feat, and neither is a time of 24:34 at the Western States 100-miler (at ANY age). It’s nice to know that she was there last month for a 70-year-old woman’s remarkable run, and that the race is recognizing her.

    Every single person in this world has a story. Ruth Anne was no exception.

  • Tuesday Time-Waster: 70-year-old runner beats the clock

    A 70-year-old woman became a legend this weekend when she barely beat the 30-hour cutoff time at the prestigious Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run. Yes, she’s 70. In fact, she’s almost 71. Yes, that’s 100 miles. In fact, it’s also 18,000 feet of climbing and 22,000 feet of descending. Gunhild Swanson’s endeavor was so remarkable that, when word reached the finish line of an elderly woman trying to finish, winner Rob Krar made his way to the last aid station and ran/walked the last 1.2 miles with her — while wearing flip-flops.

    Here is a photo gallery, including Rob Krar (in the cowboy hat), taken by someone accompanying Swanson:

    And here’s an interview with her after the race, where she explains a few remarkable things. First, she took a wrong turn and added three miles to her run. Second, she ran seven-minute pace around the high school track to the finish line in order to beat the clock — and that’s after 103 miles! Third — oh, just watch the video; it’s worth nine minutes of your Tuesday morning.

    Special congratulations to Desiree, who has dreamed of and fought for this finish line. It’s kind of cool to be able to say “I ran the New York City Marathon with a Western States finisher!”

    And congratulations to Billy Yang, who does a lot for the running community but this time got to be on the receiving end a bit.

  • Tuesday Time-Waster: Skydiving into an ultramarathon

    As someone who’s a fan of both running and skydiving, the SkyDive Ultra has been on my radar since the idea was first born three years ago. It’s exactly what it sounds like: You jump out of an airplane 2.5 miles above the earth, land, and then you run a whole bunch of miles — ranging from 6.2 to 100 miles, including “normal” distances like a marathon.

    I doubt I’ll ever actually travel to southern Florida to do this event, but it’s a fun idea. I’ve only skydived once because it’s expensive, but I absolutely loved it and was on this awesome, electrified cloud nine for hours. (Side note: I didn’t tell my mom that I was doing it so she wouldn’t worry, and I highly recommend the shock factor of calling your loved ones and saying, “Guess what! I just jumped out of an airplane!”) I’ve also only run one ultra, but I’ve run 15 other marathons, so I guess you could say I’m not opposed to them. I really wonder what it would be like to skydive and then start running with that incredible high. Something tells me I’d start out running two minutes per mile faster than my marathon pace due to the skydiving exuberance, I’d hold that pace for five minutes, and then I’d spend the rest of the race suffering from it.

    Anyway, it’s a small, new race that doesn’t get a lot of attention, but it’s been successful enough for the past two years that registration is open for next January’s third-annual race. The race director himself wrote a recap of it: As I suspected, most participants were local, but some were not and some had some really cool stories of what brought them to the race. I also found this race report; Mr. “Cheaply Seeking Fitness” did have a higher than average heart rate during the race due to the skydiving, which doesn’t surprise me.

    If you’re not into running or skydiving, I suppose this wasn’t much of a Tuesday Time-Waster. But maybe those links will make you feel more normal in comparison?