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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010: The Year in Review

It's been a busy year, and full of surprises.

January started out with some really cold weather.  Wind chills were so low that school was called off two days in a row.  Naturally, the next day I decided to take a couple of my kids hiking.  About two hours to our southwest is a box canyon that has the most amazing frozen waterfall in the winters.

Well worth bundling up!

Apparently nothing blogworthy happened in February, but at a family dinner towards the end of the month, my sister-in-law asked me if I wanted to run a 5K race with her.  I'd been reading a lot of friends' posts on facebook about the Couch to 5K plan, so I agreed to go, bought the C25K iPhone app, and started running.

The one picture I posted to my Flickr account in February.
In March, my knees were starting to bother me from running in cheap shoes, and I was touched to get some good running shoes from an unexpected source.

March was pretty empty (picture-wise) as well.  But a former student (now a volunteer firefighter) came to do a community helper visit with his crew and two fire trucks.  Very cool experience for my current students. (P.S. While I teach first grade now, I had the firefighter student when I taught 7th grade.)

In April, I ran my first 5K in just under 30 minutes.  The next day, I went mountain biking for the first time and learned firsthand that it can be hazardous.

My right hand...got me out of washing dishes for 7 weeks.
In May, I went for my first long bike ride since the fall, and my 15 year old son dropped me like a hot potato. It wouldn't have bothered me so much, but it was his first time on a bike in about a year.  I also ran my second 5K.

Run for the Bonifest
Just once I'd like a flattering running picture. lol
In June, my summer vacation led to a big increase in posting (3 posts in May, 27 in June). I ran a cross country mud run, my first 10K, and rode the Katy Trail for the second time.

2010 Katy Trail bike ride
I do wear a helmet...it's hanging on my right handlebar.  I was just getting back on the bike.
In July, I ran another 5K, played mud volleyball, took second place in the Tour de Donut bike race (with my donut-adjusted time), took my first of three trips to Wisconsin, taught my youngest to ride a bike, and did a bike ride with my brother.

Hannibal 2010
I'm smiling, so we must've won this match.

In August, I did another long ride (50ish miles), took a second trip to Wisconsin, struggled with overtraining and priorities, started a new school year, and most certainly did not compete with my brother.

Enjoying the refreshing waters of Lake Michigan with my oldest two
In Septermber, I made my last trip of the year to Wisconsin, played in another mud volleyball tournament, rode 104.75 miles in the Capital City Century, and played Survivor family-style.
With my aunt midway through the century
Survivor 2010
Ready to start the family Survivor games!
In October, I ran my first half marathon, joined Team Hangover at a 20K trail race, ran a 10K, and swore off ever making family Halloween costumes again!

Skippo 20K
Looking short post-Skippo

Sweeny Todd/Famous musicians theme
Things slowed down a bit in November.  I got some spirit and pondered the unexpected blessings that suprises bring (particularly surprise children), went for a family hike, logged some failures, and ran a 10-mile race.


Go Team Hangover!!
Team Hangover rides runs again!
And now it's December.  Hard to believe the year is almost over.  This was a fun month, though.  I volunteered at an adventure race, ran in a muddy mucky trail race, and came in 6th (out of 7) in a virtual half-ironman.

Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run
Hills + mud = exhausting, messy fun!
All through the year, I've met wonderful new blog and Daily Mile friends who've enriched my life, broadened my knowledge, and inspired me to consider things I never would have dreamed of before (adventure racing, marathons, and beyond).  I've signed up for things I couldn't do and completed them...not always well, but always finshed, anyway.  And I've learned a lot of things.  One, that I can do more than I ever imagined.  More importantly, I learned that you can compete and enjoy the competition and belong there even if you don't have a snowball's chance of winning (well, unless donuts are involved.  Then I have a chance.).  Even the last place finisher comes in ahead of everyone who never tried, and they probably had a lot more fun, too.  Well, once it's over. 

Monday, December 27, 2010

Merry Christmas to me!!

We had a terrible time buying presents for my older boys this year.  One, because my husband's boss has a nasty habit of cutting hours in the month before Christmas (since the holidays unfortunately coincide with a downturn in construction activity because of the weather); and two, because they gave use few ideas besides a PS3 (see #1). 

My husband used to have an awful time buying presents for me.  He'd ask what I wanted, and I couldn't come up with anything.  I could pretty much buy what I wanted.  Well, not entirely.  I always had a couple unfulfilled desires: I want to be thinI want to feel good about myselfI want to be happy.  So, because I didn't have any items to list that he could actually give me, I'd end up getting clothes (that were kind of depressing because of the size) and movies (that kept me on the couch that much more) and books (which I do love, but also see #2).

Well.  Turns out that once you have some actual interests, you're pretty easy to buy for.  I joked that I had a wish list as long as my leg.  I laughed when I said it, but it was basically true.  I didn't mention much of it to Jeff, though, because he went together with my mom, his mom, and my brother and sister-in-law to get me a mountain bike, and that was enough for him to be spending this year.  Another brother asked me what I wanted for Christmas, and I told him to pick something off the required gear list for Berryman...when you're starting from nothing, you need everything.  :)

So this year, Santa brought me several helpful things.  Some running shirts.  Running gloves.  Running socks.  (Sensing a theme?)

My mountain bike, which despite being a bottom-of-the-line Specialized is the most bike I've ever had. 

A sweet water-resistant jacket

And a book on orienteering (it doesn't say "orienteering for dummies" on the cover, but that's what it basically is--you can check out my review of the book here), so that for now I have a better idea what it means when I'm blog stalking occasionally reading Team Virtus's race reports.  I'm hoping to very soon drag my husband out into the woods with me to practice what I'm reading.

There are still a lot of things on my current wish-list.  Luckily, I still have my birthday coming up to add to my gear stash, and I may see if I can do some extra work to come up with more money for my "toy fund".  When I look at the old wish list, though, I can cross off most of those items.  I feel good about myself.  I'm happy.  And while I may not be thin, I'm pretty pleased with the things my body has done for me this year...and it's going to be even busier in 2011.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Iron Christmas virtual 70.3 Race--I did it!

So much for keeping you all in suspense, huh?  :)

So, back on Tuesday, I followed Wendy's link to Luke's blog where he was hosting a virtual half ironman.  1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run between 12/20 and midnight 12/24.  Seeing as my longest ever swim was 100 yards and back in August and we're busy as all get-out getting ready for Christmas, I knew there was no way I could complete this race in the alotted time.

So, naturally, I signed up.

The one thing in my favor was that Tuesday was my last day of school before Christmas break.  Things not in my favor included the following: I was starting a day late, see above re: swimming, Tuesday evening was comprised of my husband's work party followed by 4 hours out of town because of my son's volleyball practice, and my husband was less than enthused by the whole prospect.

Here's how it went down:

Tuesday, 12/21

3:05 Sign up
3:15-11:00 Husband work party/commute/son's volleyball practice/commute
11:30 Run 4 miles in my neighborhood

Wednesday, 12/22

10:30 a.m. Swim 1,250 yards (it took me 39 minutes; I had to rest after every 1-2 laps)
Christmas shopping, lunch out with husband, 1st grader's Christmas party
4:30 p.m. Run 2 miles on the trails
11 p.m. Ride 20 miles on stationary bike

Thursday, 12/23

8:30 a.m. Ride 21 miles on stationary bike
12 p.m. Drop off son at basketball practice and go run 4 miles on trails
1 p.m. Swim remaining 875 yards (took me 30 minutes, lots of rest) Swim finished!

Friday, 12/24

9:00 a.m. Run 3.1 miles with my brother--Run finished!
10:00 p.m. Ride 15 miles on stationary bike--Bike finished!

So, my total time (including 3 1-minute penalties for eating cookies and 6 1-minute subtractions for "liking" sponsors) was 6:34:02.  And I am a virtual half ironman.  :)

And check out the pictures from my morning run.  My brother from Wisconsin ran with me (or, more to the point, I dragged after him).  The run was notable for a couple reasons: my brother was both sober and not hungover and we got to run in the snow.  The meteorologists had been forecasting a white Christmas, and a few snowflakes were falling as I left the house to pick up Jim.  They multiplied quickly and were starting to cover the ground as we set off.

He's from Wisconsin.  He's tough...and, uh, didn't have running pants.

I've been running on trails and running pretty regularly, but Jim's pace was a little faster than I usually go...and slower than he ever goes.  He told me once to let him know if I needed him to adjust the pace, but I figured he wouldn't want to walk with those bare legs, so I kept on huffing and puffing trying to catch up.  I was definitely dragging today, and since he was the one tracking the miles we had a couple "are we there yet?" moments.  Maybe because he was tired of listening to me whine, we transitioned from the singletrack trails (which were in fabulous shape...frozen so that they were solid, but thawed enough to give a little under your feet, like running on a track) onto the paved bike path.

Still smiling, counting down til I'm finished.

We saw a few other people out on the trails today, including my friends Patrick and Wade.  Patrick's been logging some serious miles...just today he ran the thirteen I've been working on all week.  Funny, Jim and Patrick have never met in person, but both have heard of the other.  So Jim remarked to me, "Hey, and you drove yourself today!" and Patrick asked Jim if he was hungover (if you don't get the second reference, you can check out sober/hungover link above).

It was really fun running in the snow, though I was pretty wet and a little envious of my brother's jacket.  I mentioned that I needed to get one, which is funny because when we opened Christmas presents tonight, he'd bought me a sweet jacket that'll be great for running and hiking.  It was coming down pretty good, and by the time we headed back to the car, the roads and ground were mostly covered.  Only the grass was showing through, and it's all covered by now.

GREAT day for a run! :)
GREAT day for a run!

I'm in awe of people who actually compete in the half and full ironman competitions.  Amazing!  I've been dragging all week from getting in these workouts, and I've been able to do it bit by bit.  I can't imagine doing one after the other.  So impressive.  Even so, I'm proud of myself.  I really went into this not at all expecting to finish, but when the swim went OK on the first day, I realized I could do it.  And I am nothing special.  If I could finish this, so could anyone.  It's just like that quote from Winnie the Pooh says:
You're braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.
So believe in yourself.  You can do so much more than you realize.  I'm so glad I tried this.  And I'm almost as glad that I don't have to do it anymore tomorrow! :)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Iron Christmas 70.3 update

So Luke just added a minute penalty for every cookie, piece of pie, etc, consumed...and I just whipped up a batch of chocolate chip cookies. Sigh. On the other hand, I have no chance of winning anyway, so I can probably handle a few cookie penalties.

Cookie penalty or not, though, he is my hero. All summer I toyed with the idea of starting to train for a tri, but the whole swimming thing got in the way. The most I ever swam was 100 yards. Well, today I swam 1,250!! =) Turns out all I needed was a challenge I'm completely not up to (and one less day to complete it since I wasn't in til yesterday afternoon) to motivate me. So far, I've run 6 miles, swum .77 miles, and ridden 20. It's entirely possible that I won't have my first DNF after all.

What's left to accomplish before midnight Friday?

*run 7.1 miles
*swim 862 yards (approx. 17.5 laps)
*bike 36 miles

Out of everything, the bike is looking like the hardest to complete. I'm hoping to knock out the remaining swim (if i can lift my arms) plus run 4 miles tomorrow morning/early afternoon and tack on some miles on the (exercise) bike in the morning. Unfortunately, my familiy expects to be paid attention to and fed, and for some reason my husband is annoyed to be doing all the gift wrapping. We did, however, enjoy the second half of The Nativity Story "together" as I pedalled away.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What was I thinking?

Yes, I know I already blogged today. What can I say...I'm on vacation...I'm sitting at N's practice still feeling the multiple vodka & cranberry juices I ingested at Jeff's work party (you'll be glad to know that with that amount of cranberry juice in my system I'm unlikely to have any concerns about UTIs for some time)...and I had a couple of links to share with you.

First of all, go read this. Now. Seriously, it's ok...I'll wait.

Back? Oh, my gosh. She is hilarious. Most Of her stuff is pee your pants funny (and that's not just the vodka talking). I can totally see tormenting my youngest or one of my nephews like this (the older two can, unfortunately, give as well as they get, so tormenting them ends up being hard on me).

Second. On
Wendy's blog today I read that she'd signed on for Luke's Iron Christmas virtual 70.3. Clicking on the link, I read the rules. Swim 1.2 miles, bike 54, run 13.1 between yesterday and midnight Christmas Eve. "Why not?" I thought, and I signed on.

Then, and only them, did I google "how many meters in a mile". 1,609!! If my math is right, that's like 32 laps. Plus the .2 miles. "fuuuuuuuddddddge...." only I didn't say "fudge. Hmm..perhaps it would've been wiser to look that up before I signed on? Since it would be a darn shame to get my first DNF in a virtual race, I guess I'm going to give it the ol' college try...even if I haven't swum since August. Lol. Good thing I'm on Christmas break and the kids are still in school!

I make a difference

I've posted the link to a performance of the poem below before, and it's so powerful.  If you haven't seen it, you should click on the link and watch it.  It is so true of good teachers.  And so much what I need to hear today, along with a few other things that are reminding me what really matters.

Why? The most superficial things, really.  We're stressing this Christmas.  I don't want to put our Christmas on credit cards, but I couldn't anyway because they're close to maxed out.  We make a decent living.  We have good jobs.  But, like many people, money is tight.  We're really hoping for Jeff to get a Christmas bonus, and from the rumor we heard, it sounds like it'll be about what I make in a week.  You know, as an overpaid teacher.

Meanwhile, my Christmas bonus from our district this year was a book.  And that's more than most years.  A high school friend posted last night on Facebook that her class got her an iPod, and all day I've walked by classrooms where the teacher's desks are piled with gifts from students.  The typical makeup of my classroom is a majority of the kids are from disadvantaged families.  They don't have money to spend on their child's teacher for Christmas.  And it's not about the gifts.  It's not.  I get that.  But it's a kind of cruddy, left-out feeling.

So, that was my frame of mind coming in to work today.  Looking forward to seeing my kids, excited about the holiday, but feeling a little down.  And what a big baby I am, because I got a couple of great reminders this morning about why I do my job, why I love my job, and just how liberally I'm compensated for my work.
  • A visit from a parent and her 4th grade son, who was in my class at the end of kindergarten and for first grade.  They wanted to show me their family pictures, and she told me that he insisted that they give me a picture.  It's been three years since he was in my class.
  • The hugs and waves I get from former students every day when I pass them in the cafeteria on my way back from my lunch.
  • The concentration on my kids' faces as they worked on the Christmas wreaths they made for residents at a local group home.
  • The delighted exclamations as they opened their Christmas presents (it always amazes me what a "big deal" a $1 coloring book and a box of crayons can be).
  • This email, that was waiting for me when I got to work: "Kate-Pat yourself on the back. Your kids improved at a higher rate than the target rate" (on the screening tool we use on the whole school three times a year).

If you look at that graph, the top line shows the progress that the general ed population of students has made on the skill of sounding out nonsense words.  The middle line is the target improvement.  The bottom line is my class.  They're still below level, but they've made a huge jump in progress.  They're very close to target, on this skill, anyway.

That's some great validation there.  Seems like year after year we work like crazy in class, only to see meager improvements on these tests.  This year, I can see all of that work coming to fruition, not just on the tests (though it's wonderful to see the objective evidence!), but in their daily work in the classroom.  My friend can keep her new iPod.  This news will have me singing all through Christmas break.

What Teachers Make, or
Objection Overruled, or
If things don't work out, you can always go to law school

By Taylor Mali
He says the problem with teachers is, "What's a kid going to learn
from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?"
He reminds the other dinner guests that it's true what they say about
Those who can, do; those who can't, teach.

I decide to bite my tongue instead of his
and resist the temptation to remind the other dinner guests
that it's also true what they say about lawyers.

Because we're eating, after all, and this is polite company.

"I mean, you¹re a teacher, Taylor," he says.
"Be honest. What do you make?"

And I wish he hadn't done that
(asked me to be honest)
because, you see, I have a policy
about honesty and ass-kicking:
if you ask for it, I have to let you have it.

You want to know what I make?

I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.
I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional medal of honor
and an A- feel like a slap in the face.
How dare you waste my time with anything less than your very best.

I make kids sit through 40 minutes of study hall
in absolute silence. No, you may not work in groups.
No, you may not ask a question.
Why won't I let you get a drink of water?
Because you're not thirsty, you're bored, that's why.

I make parents tremble in fear when I call home:
I hope I haven't called at a bad time,
I just wanted to talk to you about something Billy said today.
Billy said, "Leave the kid alone. I still cry sometimes, don't you?"
And it was the noblest act of courage I have ever seen.

I make parents see their children for who they are
and what they can be.

You want to know what I make?
I make kids wonder,
I make them question.
I make them criticize.
I make them apologize and mean it.
I make them write, write, write.
And then I make them read.
I make them spell definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful, definitely
over and over and over again until they will never misspell
either one of those words again.
I make them show all their work in math.
And hide it on their final drafts in English.
I make them understand that if you got this (brains)
then you follow this (heart) and if someone ever tries to judge you
by what you make, you give them this (the finger).

Let me break it down for you, so you know what I say is true:
I make a goddamn difference! What about you?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Change in Plans

Today's weather was sunny with and the temperature was in the mid 30's, a virtual heat wave after temperatures below freezing for the past week or so.  I had errands to run this morning and was super excited to get out and do some running outside after suffering through three miles on the treadmill Wednesday night.  Now, granted, it wasn't entirely the treadmill's fault that I had eaten a big supper not 30 minutes before running, but it still wasn't a fun experience.

As I was putting on my hat and gloves, I told my 7 year old goodbye, I was going running.  "Running?" he asked, "Can I go?"

This was a real angel/devil on the shoulders moment. 

Angel: I hate how he's so into video games and doesn't spend as much time outside; this would get him outside and active.

I'm gone so much....I don't get to spend enough time with him.  This would be some great time together.

Awesome! I'm inspiring my little boy to want to run! :)

Devil: (whining) But I wanna run 6 miles today!!

Of course I said he could go.  There was no other answer.  I've been realizing lately that all of my goals are pretty selfish ones.  That is, they're ME centered.  There's nothing wrong with having goals for yourself, but the fact that they're all about me...  Amanda wrote the other day about seeking balance in her goals, and this really spoke to me.  Along with my goals for myself, I need to have goals that reach outside of myself, and too often the things I love are all about me instead of me being able to share them with my family.

So, after getting J dressed for a run in the woods and having to go through three different hats until he was happy with one (can you hear my teeth grinding?), we headed out.

We got about 2 inches (at most) of snow Saturday night/Sunday morning, and despite today's warmer temperatures some of it was still on the trails.  Our run started off auspiciously, with J running ahead of me on the trail.

A rare sighting of J actually running
You'd think the boy had never seen ice.  Or snow.  Or twigs.  He found a tiny icicle that he carried along with him.  He would periodically stop and put some snow into his hand to keep his icicle cold.

We saw sawdust on the snow.


When we looked up, we realized (guessed) that a woodpecker had been at work.

Woodpecker hold

He decided that some of the hills would be a great place to go sledding.  Of course, we hadn't brought a sled along, but he made do...

Sleds? We don't need no stinkin' sleds!

He felt the need to clear the snow off of nearly every fallen tree that was near the trail.

Chopping snow

I occupied myself while he was "working" with a little eco-friendly graffiti.

Snow tagging

He swung on every vine that he could reach.

Snow monkey

I was dressed to run in the woods, not walk or stand, so I was a little chilly.

Yes, I really was there.

Like my Taz glove?  It's one our many mismatched gloves laying around the house.

There were lots of trees down, so he decided to do some climbing across them.

NOW where do I go?

After a while, he got stuck and decided that maybe he'd try going up from the other side.  Then, he decided we should keep hiking.  I mean, running. 

So he ran at least twice.

I'll admit, I bribed him a little with mention of a ravine ahead on the trail with a creek at the bottom.  He was a little motivated to see this, so we managed a little running.  We played snowball fight as we ran, tossing handfuls of snow at each other.   When he stopped for a breather, we checked out some animal tracks.  There wasn't much to see...looked like some dogs, some rabbits, and lots and lots of birds.

He decided it was time to have the piece of candy he'd brought along, but he couldn't find it.  Must have dropped it along the way.  You wouldn't have thought the loss of one "gummy mummy" would be a big trauma, but then you're not a 7 year old boy.  "I'm going to staaaarrrrve to death!!" His coping mechanism? Rolling down the trail and whining. 

"Let's just go home," I told him. (The definition of "empty threat", as we were about halfway around a loop). 

"No! I don't want to go home! I just want my candy."

Eventually we got past the candy debacle.  When we got to the ravine, he wanted to go down to the creek and feel the ice.  I wasn't crazy about the idea, but we ended up climbing down a gentle slope to get there.

Yep, it's frozen. 

We climbed back up, and the trail passed very close to some steep edges for a bit.  That made me a little nervous with an invincible 7 year old.

Checking out the ice from the edge of the trail.

By this time, he was getting cold.  Of course he was...he'd been carrying ice, sliding on his butt, and rolling downhill in the snow.  "Hey, if we run, we'll warm up!"  So we managed a little more running.  He wanted to hold hands, which was nice, though difficult on the narrow trail.  He wanted to hold hands, which soon translated into "he wanted me to pull him up the hills".  I don't know about him, but by the time we got to the top, I was warmed up!

I made a couple of wrong turns.  I'm not super familiar with the trail yet, and it look different covered in snow.  Pretty soon we got back on track.  He found a small branch, so we played "soccer" with it as we walked down the trail.  Then, it (thankfully) broke (nothing to do with me, unless my mental energy broke it) and he picked up a walking stick/gun.

Walking stick

Towards the end of the hike, we were back to running.  As we ran, he used his gun to shoot trees out of the way.  The time it took us to make our loop on the trails? Approximately an hour and twenty minutes.  Yep, that's about a 40 minute mile pace for the two miles we "ran".  Not exactly what I had in mind.  Still, I'm glad I took the opportunity to get outside with my little boy and let today be about "us" instead of "me".

(Tomorrow's run, though? It's all mine!)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Tag...I'm it!

I was tagged by Anne of Asthma and the Gift of Running to answer some questions.  Check out her blog...she runs and rides in Canada, and she's running her first marathon in May just like I am, so we can train "together".  :)

Here are her questions and my answers:

1. What's your favorite race and why? What's your dream race?

My favorite race, results-wise, was my first half marathon.  It's still the best pace I've maintained over more than 5K, and it was the race where I exceeded my goal for myself.  My favorite race, just because it was so darn cool, was the Skippo 20K.  I love running on trails, even if I hate the Castlewood stairs.

My current dream race is the 2011 Berryman 12-Hour Adventure Race

2. What's your favorite running tip?

I don't know about favorite running tip...I don't have many...but starting out with a run/walk program was really the way to go for me as a non-runner.  Gradually extending my run time while being able to take walking breaks worked for me.  If I'd gone out and tried to run 5K without stopping, I think I'd have given up after the first try.

3. Which reality show is your guilty pleasure?

Well, I love The Amazing Race, but Survivor would be my guiltier pleasure.

4.  What is your power song, the song that takes your running to another level?

I have a few.  Stronger, by Kanye West.  Lose Yourself, by Eminem. Remember the Name, by Fort Minor

5.  What is your secret to balance in your life?

I'm still working on this one.

6. What are you most looking forward to in the new year?

Race-wise, see number 1.  Both the race itself and starting to learn the things I need to be able to do in it (improving my mountain bike skills and orienteering, in particular).  I can't wait to get my new bike for Christmas!

Julie at Julie's Running Blog was also tagged to answer some similar questions, and she took the easy way out and "tagged" anyone who'd like to answer them.  So...

1) Do you prefer winter or summer running?

Hmmm.  It's easier to dress for summer running, for sure.  I'd say I like/dislike them about equally.  Both have challenges.  One fun thing about winter running, though, is the looks that people who don't run in the winter give you when you mention that you ran in the 9 degree weather before work.  :)

2) What has been your toughest race to date?

Hands down, Saturday's Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run

3) What are your running goals for 2011?

Run my first marathon, hopefully under 4:30.  Do a sprint triathlon.  Do an adventure race.  Of the three, the tri is the one that's looking a little less likely due to the swimming factor.  We'll see.

4) Do you have any other passions in life?

I love to travel...camping and hiking.  I love reading.  I absolutely love my job.  And I am my childrens' biggest fans at their sporting/dramatic endeavors.

5) If you could live anywhere, where would it be?

This is hard.  I love Wisconsin in the summer, but I'm sure glad I'm not living there now.  I'd like to live somewhere with a variety of great places to spend time outdoors. 

And now I'm supposed to tag a few people.  Feel free to pick one list of questions or the other.  :)
Jenny at Dandelion Dreams
Shannon at Running Injury Free
Patrick* at Trail and Error
Slomo* at Life's Too Short Not to Run
Amanda at Runninghood
Jill at Run With Jill
And YOU, if you want to!

*sorry, boys, if being tagged in a questionnaire is too girly for you.  Feel free to kick sand in my face or something next time you see me.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run Mud Slog

First off, I need to issue a public apology to my husband for this post, where I made a point of how in shape I was and how he wasn't so much anymore.  I talked about a past trip to the Smoky Mountains and how I had really struggled up the Chimney Tops trail...but now I'm in such better shape.  Ahem.  I am the queen of wishful thinking.

Today was the Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run, a 7.8 mile trail race through the trail of Marquette Park in Grafton, Illinois.  Billed as "the toughest and most grueling race in the Midwest" (by the event organizers), it certainly lived up to that reputation today.  Oh. My. Gosh.

Now, I'm no hardcore trail runner.  I'm no hardcore runner at all.  But I have, in the past, maintained a decent pace over a half marathon.  The following week, I struggled to a less decent pace (but still respectable) in a trail 20K.  And I know the park where the event was being held.  One would think that all of these facts would allow me to make a pretty realistic prediction for how I'd do.  Indeed, all of these facts led me to decide that I'd be pretty happy with a time of 1:30....and perhaps this would have been a reasonable expectation except for two things:

1) I "know" the park's trails the way women remember childbirth when planning another child.  That is, you have a general sense of what it's like but tend to kind of gloss over the more grueling parts and concentrate on the beauty of it. 

2) The weather

Ah, the weather.  I woke up this morning to temperatures in the 30's and the sound of a steady rain.  Lovely.  I never once thought about not going, though I was definitely unsure about the right clothes to wear.  I made my best guess, Body Glide-ed my feet in anticipation of wet shoes, and headed out the door before my ride ("I'm leaving at 7 sharp!") decided to leave without me.
Photo by Chuck Vohsen

Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run

Race check-in was in the great room of  Marquette Lodge, which was originally a CCC project and underwent significant renovation/improvments several years ago.  The lodge is gorgeous.  My couple of pictures don't do it justice at all.  The picture to the right shows some of the early crowd for check-in.  You can also see the large chessboard behind some of the people.  I have many memories of playing chess with my brother and dad when we all came up to the Lodge.  My kids (even the 18 and 16 year old) still like to play chess there.  Something about a giant chess set...

Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run
We picked up our race numbers and then got our t-shirts.  Here's what the back of it looked like.  I have to say, I love my t-shirt.  It's just the right size.  Since I'm tall, it's sometimes hard to find t-shirts that are long enough.  Even when I do, one trip through the dryer seems to shrink everything up, so this one (like most of my clothes) with be a hang-dry item.

Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run

Speaking of dry...it wasn't outside, so we settled in to wait in the Lodge until the race start.  There was a great band playing.  I could have listened to them all day.  That room, all warm and dry with a big fire roaring on one end, was awfully tempting!

Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run
I think Doug was feeling pretty good about his decision not to run today!

My friends Doug (whose post marathon injury is the reason I got to run today...more on that later) and Patrick showed up to spectate and cheer.  Patrick was also nice enough to lend me a rain jacket since I don't have one. I met both of these guys through Daily Mile...yea for the internet!

I introduced Doug and Patrick to my friend Wade (my bike mechanic/advisor), who I rode with to the race.  Patrick, who drove me to the race we volunteered at last week, asked, "Do you ever drive yourself anywhere?"  (Answer: Not if I don't have to!)

Awfully cool of these guys to come up and watch/help out when they didn't have to be out of bed on a cold, rainy Saturday.

Soon enough, it was time to head down to the start line.
Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run
Trying to stay dry as long as possible
 Now, the race started at 9:30, but all runners were assigned waves.  Since I was in wave 13, my actual start time was 9:36.  Somehow, though, I spent a little too much time visiting at the visitor's center and missed my start time, so I started with wave 18.  Oops.  Foreshadowing: This caused a little confusion later when Wade, who started (on time) with wave 15 finished, having never passed me, and assumed that I must already be done. 

Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run
Soggy start line
Basically, as soon as you stepped off the parking lot you were running in mud.  Now, if you know me at all, you know I'm not afraid of getting a little dirty, but I tried a little to skirt the beginning mud because I am afraid of falling.  The route starts off on a nice, flat section of trail, but it quickly gets hilly.  And then hillier.

Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run
When I had to walk not a quarter mile into the run, that was a pretty good warning that this race might not go too quickly for me.  I decided that, since I wasn't going to be fast, I'd make sure to get some pictures.

Make sure you look at the trail.  We ran through about four different kinds of mud today.  This muddy section wasn't too bad.  For one, it let you keep your shoes.

The leaves, which are usually my enemy because of the way they hide the rocks and roots that are lying in wait for me, were my friends today.  The leafy mud was much easier to move in, and the leaves were so smashed down by the rain and the other runners that it was actually pretty easy to see where rocks and sticks were. 

And, frankly, rocks and sticks were the least of my problems today.  Between the mud and the hills, it was some tough going for me.

Along with missing my start time while waiting at the visitor's center, I had also left behind the water bottle I had planned to carry.  The course had three water stops, but I'm used to carrying water and having more to drink as I go.  On the other hand, I can't imagine how muddy the bottle would have been.

I ran as much as I could, but if I ran half of the course I'd be surprised.  I ran on the flats, up gentle hills, and down where I could.  Some of those hills were crazy muddy.  People were falling and losing shoes.  All I could do was laugh.  If the mud was right for it, I managed a pretty good step...slide...step...slide system for a while...kind of like figure skating or skiing, if you were going to cross them with mud wrestling.

At the top of a difficult, muddy uphill, I saw (and heard!) Patrick and Doug playing Drill Instructor encouraging the racers.  There were quite a few long, steep hills we had to climb.  I'm not going to lie...I'd have been doing my fair share of walking on dry trails, but it was a real challenge in the mud.  On one stretch, I was actually pretty proud of the way I got up the hill without sliding all over or falling...if you stepped in a clump of mud, it was hard to pull your foot out, but if you stepped against it, it helped support you for the next step.

Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run
Mucky trail
And...um...they're only that far away from me because I stopped to take a picture.

Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run
Trail of the living dead...

An older man who was walking near me on one of the hills said, "We look like something out of a zombie movie," and we did.  For the most part, it got pretty quiet on the hills as people were digging deep, leaning into the hill, staring at the ground to find the best footing, and trying to keep putting one foot in front of the other. 

I had wardrobe issues for the first half of the run.  Patrick's jacket kept the rain off, but even with it unzipped and hanging open I felt too hot.  So then I'd take it off and tie it around my waist.  But then the rain would start again.  Now, I wasn't too worried about me getting wet, but I had my phone tucked in my shirt (where I had calculated it had the least chance of being damaged if when I fell.  It probably wasn't too smart to take it, but since it functions as my camera, I really wanted to have it along for the run.  After repeating this wear--remove cycle for a few times, I decided to tie the jacket around my neck instead.  That way, my phone stayed dry and my arms stayed cool.  That worked pretty well.  Plus, toward the end a lady said I looked like Supergirl with my cape.  :)

(Photo by Chuck Vohsen)
Looking both stylish and quite lovely
 Despite my documented issues with falling, I suprisingly didn't fall too much today (which probably means I wasn't trying hard enough).  I stumbled once as I crossed a little culvert or something.  That was probably about halfway into the race.  After that, I stayed on my feet for quite a while.  I was sooo happy to cross the park road and see the 6 mile sign...just under two miles to go!  It wasn't long before I was heading uphill again. 

Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run

The trail moved from the fairly steep incline to some gigantic stone stairs.  My legs were whining something fierce about taking those big steps.  At the top of the stairs, though, I got to see Doug and Patrick again.  "I hate you Doug!" I yelled as I went by.  He laughed.  He told me later, "I told Patrick that the longer it was before we saw you back at the top of that hill, the more you were going to hate me!"

As I passed their spot, I got to head back down that gigantic mudslide I had struggled up earlier in the race.  I took one step and landed right on my butt.  Fall #2.  The thing about falling into mud is that it's not hard...but it is cold, so I struggled to my feet as best I could and slid/walked to where I could run/walk again.  I kept seeing this same guy on the trail, I guess he was waiting for his wife, and he took that hill like a madman.  Just plunged on down.  Stayed on his feet the whole time.  He did it again later.  Amazing.

Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run
Super crappy picture of my feet buried in mud.  This is what much of the trail looked like.

Once we got through that last super muddy section, I was able to run for a while.  My final fall came near the end of the run.  Just a little past the big rocks we had to climb between on the way up, I was running (if you want to call it that) and tripped on a rock in the trail.  I went over onto my right side into a pile of leaves.  It was like falling into a pillow.  I didn't get hurt or muddy at all.

The very end of the race is the same flat path we started on, so I tried to pick it up to an actual run for that.  I ran the whole way in, though that last section it was hard to keep going.  Never been so happy to see a finish line.

My official time: 2:21:35 (18:09 pace)
26/29 in my age group
470/506 overall

If you're interested in seeing the elevation profile, you can check out this linkClearly this is not my data, but it's from another runner from today.

I was so ready to be out of my muddy clothes that I forgot to take an "after" picture.  Major fail.  Here's what the clothes looked like when I got home, though.

Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run
Yeah, I'm super excited to do the laundry.

Remember Wade?  Well, he finished the race never having seen me, and since he knew I had started ahead of him he assumed I was waiting, freezing, at the car.  Lucky for him (I guess), he had enough time to go to the car, change into warm, clean clothes, and get back to the finishing area by the time I was done washing off my shoes in the fish pond.  I was glad that I didn't have to hunt him down, AND that I had someone with clean enough hands to grab me a couple of cookies.

I had a nice conversation at the car with a guy who had also run the race and is also interested in adventure racing.  I took off as many clothes as I could manage without putting on a show, and then I walked back to the lodge in my running tights and compression top (and without shoes, which was maybe not the brightest choice ever).  I had another nice conversation as I changed in the ladies room.  I love runners.  At least, I love the ones I got to talk to and meet today.  I love being able to run, even on days when I spend so much of my running time at a walking pace.

I hope this race report doesn't come off as negative.  It was hard.  It was the hardest race I've ever done.  To compare, it took me almost exactly 23 minutes longer to run this 7.8 miles than it did for me to run a half marathon (on the road).  It took me almost a minute longer to run this 7.8 miles than it did for me to run the 20K trail race I did.  Like I said on Daily Mile, for me, this race was the epitome of endurance.  Just finishing was a real victory for me.  (On the other hand, the winner finished in 57:24, so clearly a strong runner was capable of logging a MUCH better time than what I did.)

All that said, though, it was a blast.  My face hurt from laughing so much.  How could you not laugh about being that muddy, about sliding all over the trail?  I felt like a little kid.  (OK, at times I felt like a little kid on the Bataan Death March, but still...)  It was a great experience.  I challenged myself, and the race handed me my ass.  But I'm doing this again next year, and hopefully I can give it back.