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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Book review: Race Across the Sky

I do a lot of reading during my summers, so I was happy to oblige when TLC book tours emailed and asked me to review Race Across the Sky, which just hit the stands.  Even better? I get to give away three copies of the book.  We all win! Well...at least four of us.


Race Across the Sky is the story of two estranged brothers who are reconnected through their quest to save a baby's life.  Caleb has virtually cut off contact with his family, spending the past decade within the cult-like confines of the Happy Trails Running Club as he trains for and races with increasing success in ultras such as the Hardrock 100.  His rigid adherence to the club's structure is challenged when he falls in love with a new member, and his desire to find a cure for her infant daughter's fatal disease spurs him to ask his younger brother for help.  A rising star at a biotech company, Shane uncovers a possible solution and then learns the answer is much more complicated and risky than he had imagined.

Weaving story lines about ultrarunning, biotechnology, family, medical ethics, and the strange world of the running club, Race Across the Sky is full of interesting characters and situations.  The book kept me involved and guessing until the end.  Coincidentally, I finished Scott Jurek's Eat and Run just before Race Across the Sky arrived. Already immersed in the world of ultrarunning, it was very cool to move from nonfiction to fiction and read about some of the same races.  If you're interested in running or biotech or just like a good suspenseful thriller, you'll enjoy Race Across the Sky.  

For more information, check out the book's website raceacrosstheskynovel.com.

To enter the giveaway, just comment below and let me know you'd like to win.  I'll randomly pick three winners on Friday, August 2. Good luck!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

What's SUP with me

In my last post I mentioned having to leave pretty quickly after the race because we had plans. My friend Patrick, who's been a gateway to cool new things as long as I've known him, had sent a link about a stand up paddleboarding meetup in St. Louis. Intended to get new people to try the sport, rental and basic instruction were $15/person. Even though I was pushing it with that morning's race, I RSVP'd for the meetup and even dragged Jeff and J with me, one of whom was considerably more excited about it than the other. I assured my reluctant husband that since he loves kayaking he'd have fun with this.

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When we got there, I was a little less sure of myself. Standing there looking at the boards I remembered my lack of balance and felt pretty certain I would be falling into the lake more than once. Shane's comment that this is an easier sport for shorter people made me even less confident, but there was no backing out. An experienced SUP'er and veteran of some major races (including the MR340, a 340-mile race down the Missouri River, twice), Shane matched us with good boards for our sizes and gave us basic instructions on starting out.

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He had us start out on our knees to kind of get a feel for balancing on the board. Mine don't bend anywhere near as well as J's!

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When you're ready to stand, get on your hands and knees.

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Get your feet where you want them to be and then kind of stand up like you're doing squats.

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Everybody's up. One woman in the group had a knee replacement several months ago, but she took it slow and was able to get up too.

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My guys. :) Both of them did well and had fun.

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Don't I look relaxed here? Lol. I wore my life jacket for the first hour or so. I'm a pretty good swimmer, but there's something about the possibility of unexpectedly going into the water... I took it off after I got more comfortable with balancing on the board.  Paddling around on a calm lake was pretty easy, though turning is a work in progress. I'd love to try it out on some of the floating rivers around here, and I'm definitely going to take part in more of the meetups.

It's kind of funny, I went purely for the opportunity to try SUP at a good price, but I really enjoyed meeting and talking to some of the other participants. If I had more disposable income I'd be all about getting a board of my own; for now, I'm glad to have the opportunity to rent and participate in activities that are all planned out for me.

In other news, I've pretty much committed to a fall half marathon. I say "pretty much" because I'm going to do more running and make sure my hip doesn't give me too much trouble before actually paying. This winter, anything over 9 miles resulted in a lot of pain and limping through the ends of runs. I'm hoping that gradually ramping up my mileage (aka actually training) will help avoid that.

If everything goes all right with my hip, the October MO Cowbell will be only my second road half marathon (though I've done several trail HMs). The first, in October 2010, was such a success that I've been hesitant to run another because I'm not so sure I can do as well. Finishing just under 2 hours and meeting my A goal was awesome. I definitely don't have that kind of a finish in me right now. I guess where the training comes in, huh?

Morning #run. The awesome thing about sleeping in is that the heat and humidity are way worse when you DO get up. #halfmarathontraining #running

So I'm running more or less regularly again. With the time off and the heat, it's not too pretty, but at least I'm getting in shape for next month's Thunder Rolls 24 hr adventure race. Though I'm not involved in any crazy bets, my teammates once again have some major stakes, and I don't want to get left in the dust by them.

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After all, if it's anything like last year, I'm not going to want miss a minute.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Tour de Nothing

The Tour de Donut was my first bike race, way back in 2009 (funny note: in the second picture in that blog post, the woman in the pink jersey right behind me is my friend Anne, who I finally met last year after "meeting" her in blogworld.). In fact, it was my first race of any kind. Daniel and I did the race together and had a good time despite a serious lack of training (sound familiar?). He only raced one more year, but it's become a tradition for me and this was my fifth year lining up. Barely. I didn't get around to registering until the day before. Logging into my Bikereg.com account at 12:48, I noticed that registration ended at 1:00. As I noted on facebook, it wasn't the last minute, but it was darn close.

Rather than try to scrounge a ride with someone else, I drove myself to the race because we had fun plans afterwards (more on that another day). Getting there plenty early, I got some crap from some friends who were astounded that "late Kate" wasn't running to the start line at the last minute. "Hey," said my friend from Alabama (or London, the accents are sooo similar), "You've got a reputation to uphold!"

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After a group picture with my Metro Tri Club teammates and giving a big thumbs up to our photographer, Patrick, I squeezed through the crowd to the spot in the road where I'd left my bike. With 1,367 participants, the street was packed. The beginning of this race is the most intimidating part for me because I don't like riding in such a tight pack. Usually I line up way back, but this year I made myself move closer to the front.

Closer to the front, but not THAT close. Closer to the front, but not THAT close.

Thankfully, the race is now chip timed, but the minute-plus it takes to get to the start line is still frustrating. There was a neutral rollout for the first 2 miles at 15 mph, which meant it took even longer for the crowd to break up. My whole plan was to find a faster bike and share the work, drafting where I could and taking my turn in the front as well (although in my past experience with this race the guys have been fine with being in the lead but not wanting to follow a girl, which is just fine by me if they want to do all the work). It took me a few miles to find someone going the right speed, but finally a guy passed me and I hurried to get on his wheel. After a while I offered to pull for a while, so he dropped behind me for a while and then moved back to the front. We worked together until he pulled off at first donut stop.

In the first three years I did this race I though skipping the donuts was something of a travesty. They're the whole point of the race. But after a year eating 9 donuts and still not placing in the donut-adjusted standings (the race subtracts 5 minutes from your time for each donut you eat, so you can make a considerable dent in your time if you're a compeitive eater), I rethought my position. The girl who won my division last year in the donut-adjusted standings ate seventeen donuts. I can't compete with that, and it's no longer worth it to me to eat all those calories (and feel that sick) for nothing. I skipped the donut stop and was on the hunt for a new partner.

For a while I basically just latched onto groups and made my way forward until 2 guys flew past. That was the group I wanted! I sprinted ahead and caught up with them. They were moving at a 21-22 mph pace, and while I had to work to stick with them, it was a lot easier in their draft. I managed to hang with them for several miles before getting dropped, and then I was on my own for a few miles. The people behind me were going too slow, but there was a guy a ways ahead of me, so I pushed hard for a few miles to try to catch him.

I'd shrink the gap between us, then we'd hit a corner. Since I don't corner well I'd fall back again. I FINALLY caught up, latched on, and we hit an uphill where, once again, I dropped off. All that work for nothing! I was on my own again until I passed the 2nd donut stop and came across more riders. Once again I started the process of working my way up through small groups, but that's where the hills came into play. I'd pull ahead on the downhill (I know, that never happens! But I think it's bc I have all this mass working WITH me going downhill and those skinny people don't) and then they'd pass me on the uphills. I hung in behind some older guys for a while (yes, Luke, older than me and not even on life support), but they were slower on downhills and it made me nervous not to be able to see past them, so I did most of that on my own.

For a while I kept trading places with the same guy, so I decided it would be smarter to work together. I pulled for a while around 19-20 mph, then when he took his turn it was 17. I sat in for a few minutes, but it was driving me crazy to not go faster, so I passed him and went looking for a faster tow truck. Another fast group passed (hurray!), so I jumped on to the back of their little paceline. I was pushing to keep up but managing, until a HOUSE passed us. Somebody made a joke about getting in their draft, but as we started up a big hill the truck pulling the house stopped in the middle of the road. Much internal cursing resulted, but it turned out that the police had stopped traffic -- including the house -- for an ambulance. Coming to almost a dead stop on that big uphill killed all of my momentum, so it was bye bye fast group while I crept up the hill.

Not a mile later the house passed me again, this time coming towards me and taking up the majority of the road. It was a pretty intimidating sight, and I scooted over as far to the side of the road as I could and held my breath until it was past. Once again I was in no man's land with slower people behind me and unable to catch faster bikes. With about 4 miles left in the race, I rode it out on my own and finished strong.

Really, there are only a couple things I'd change about my race. First, I should have lined up closer to the start. Maybe with this year's stronger performance I'll feel like I belong there next year. Second, I should have used my big ring much sooner than the last 10 or so miles. Last year when I got my road bike worked on, the front shifter had been messed up and the guy at the bike shop said that he adjusted it but it might be going out. Rather than deal with replacing it, I've just stayed in the small ring for fear of not being able to shift back down (what happened before). It took me until mile 25 or so before I risked shifting into the big ring. Thankfully the shifter worked or I'd have been screwed on those hills, but since I stayed in the big ring for most of the hills I definitely would have used it for the flatter first half of the race.

Despite those minor issues, this was the first time in a long time that I've been happy with my performance in a race. My time for the 34 miles was 1:48:14, and 18.85 mph average. Giving my paltry mileage since Dirty Kanza and the fact that this is my road bike's second trip outside in 2013 I'm delighted with that. My MawMaw hip did bother me some in the second half, but it was never debilitating, just uncomfortable. I probably rode about 1/3 on my own and the other 2/3 sharing the work (though I did far less of the pulling than the guys did) and hauled ass for 34 miles. And I felt awesome.

Unfortunately I had to leave early and miss the awards because I ended up taking 2nd place in my age group! I'ts pretty cool to have a podium finish that's not a function of the limited numbers in my AG. :)

Final stats:</strong>

AG: 2/110
Women: 9/412 (by chip time...gun time puts me 10th)
Overall: 129/1,367

Friday, July 12, 2013

Adventures in parenting

Of course it was raining when I woke up. No gentle shower, this was a full-on thunderstorm. This was not a welcome development on the day that J. and I were doing our long-awaited Katy Trail overnight, the trip that had finally spurred some bike enthusiasm in my (team) sports-mad son. Checking my clock, I saw 6:40 a.m. and smiled in relief. With an hour an a half left before I had to get up, I rolled over and went back to sleep hoping to wake to better weather.

Unfortunately, Jeff City was having the same kind of morning we were with possibilities for more showers later. Pretty sure I'd done all of our preparations in vain, I gave J the choice of taking our chances and going or rescheduling. He surprised me and opted to go, and we eventually pulled out of town a good two hours later than I'd planned. No worries, though...the only deadline on our schedule was finishing our ride before dark. Before setting off, we met up with Bob, Luke, and Luke's family for Chinese, where our extended stay reminded me of one of my favorite comedy bits.



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Katy Trail wildlife

It wasn't quite four hours, but we definitely took our time, and J most certainly got our money's worth at the chocolate fountain. J. filled water bottles and found frogs while I assembled our borrowed trailer and loaded it with way too much stuff. My main goal for the trip was for him to have fun, so (within reason) I let him bring pretty much what he wanted. That meant in addition to our sleeping bags, a change of clothes, and toothbrushes, I was also packing playing cards, Mancala, a small art kit, chips & salsa, and a portable DVD player. While I wasn't too enthused about the DVD player, I'll also admit that later that evening, after approximately 50,000 games of Jelly (his favorite card game) and Mancala, I was glad to cuddle up next to him and read while he watched Spongebob.

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I'd told J that we had to ride 10 miles to the Katy Trail shelter, but the distance was actually 12. Hoping to just sneak that fact by him until announcing at the finish, "Guess what? You actually rode 12 miles", I was foiled by his repeated requests for our mileage. When at 4 miles he was excited to be almost halfway there, I finally admitted that we still had two miles to the midpoint. He took the news cheerfully and kept riding.

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The trip was even better than I'd let myself imagine. J loved the wide, flat expanse of the Katy Trail, and over and over he repeated, "This is so fun! I didn't know it would be so fun! I'm definitely going to want to do this again!" His ride satisfaction index took an even bigger jump with the discovery that he could ride one-handed, and a large portion of our miles were passed measuring how far he could ride one-handed, admiring how he could adjust his seat cover (which was too big and kept slipping) while riding, and watching while he took a drink without stopping the bike.

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Adjusting the bike seat.

Of course, this new ability was a bit of a double-edged sword. After photographing a turtle we saw, he wanted to take a few of me (a true blogger's son). Not satisfied with standing still, he also wanted to take some pictures while riding. I wasn't enthusiastic about this plan, but I try not to let my fears get in the way of my kids. He did pretty well taking pictures in front of him, but pointing the camera behind him was another story. He got a lot of pictures of the ground or blurry leaves. Snap...check..."That's no good"...snap...check..."That's no good"...snap...check..."Well, I got your hand..."

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In the midst of all the snapping and checking, he rode right into my bike. Trying to avoid him, I veered off the trail, but he still fell over. Lying there on the ground, the first words out of his mouth were, "Are you ok, Mommy?" Talk about melting your heart! We rinsed the blood off his knee with one of the water bottles and then rode on until we found a good stopping point for the break I'd been putting off for a while.

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I tend to be a destination-focused person, and I knew going in that this trip needed to be about the journey. If J wanted to stop 15 times, we'd stop. This was about having a good time with my little boy. This was a good theory, but putting it into practice was a mixed bag. When he wanted to stop in this sun not a mile in, I suggested we go a little further: "Let's make it to two miles before we stop." Another favorite was "Let's make it to that next shady spot before we stop, and when he fell we were in the process of "There's a town called Wainwright right around the halfway point...maybe there'll be a bench or something where we can stop there...maybe it's just around this curve...or this one..." We'd already made a few quick stops, but after his fall we took a longer break, sitting on the trail, eating a snack, and playing a few games of Mancala. I'd heard the trail was in somewhat rough shape after all the recent rain, but it was great for the most part. There were a couple of treacherous driveways in the second half of our ride. I warned him as we neared them to slow down and be careful as he crossed, but in both cases he went barrelling through probably the worst possible line. If the ruts had been any wider he might have experienced his first endo.

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Trust me, it was worse than it looks.

J's previous long ride had been 9 miles, but he rode our 12 like a champ. Nearing Tebbets, he told me, "I'm going to have to crash on one of those bunk beds for a while," but when we made it to the shelter he was way too excited about exploring to sit down. While I unloaded the trailer, brought the bikes into the bike room, and fired up a couple window a/c units, he did eenie-meenie-minie-mo to choose our beds from the 22 possible bunks and then checked out the upstairs.

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"I thought it would be nicer," he remarked. A great resource to have (and at $5/person, hard to beat pricewise), the Turner Katy Trail Shelter is definitely low-frills. As I explained to some friends, it's much like camping inside, with power, a/c, a refrigerator, showers, and flush toilets. I can set up a tent, but I'm not great with fire-building or some of the things that go along with camping, so for me this was a great option.

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On the other hand, it's available for anyone to use. The key hangs on a power pole next to the building because, though owned by the Conservation Foundation of Missouri, the shelter is basically run on the honor system and there are no hosts or supervisors on site. Once J fell asleep and I was lying in my bunk reading, I definitely felt a little vulnerable and nervous about all the sounds an old building makes. I'm not sure if it would have been weirder or better if someone else had been staying at the same time as us, but I know I'd have felt more comfortable with other friends there. Still, you can't live your life ruled by fear, and I've always found the Katy Trail to be a safe, friendly place. Thankfully that held true for this trip.

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Having stayed up reading til 2 a.m., I wasn't too excited to see my child's smiling face at 6:30. I held him off til 7:30 (thank you, Spongebob) before giving in and getting up. I wasn't in a big hurry since we had nowhere to be, so we ended up packed up and on our way around 9. Far from being worn out from the previous day's ride, after doing the jobs I'd given him, J spent the rest of my preparations riding his bike back and forth on the road in front of the shelter.

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Killing time while I load up. Also, "look ma, one hand!"

We stopped to get his picture by the Tebbets trailhead, and a man who lived across the street came over to take our picture together. When I mentioned that we'd stayed at the shelter, he told me the Carl Edwards stays there sometimes. I must've looked blank, because he explained, "You know, the race car driver? He owns land around here."

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Our ride back was pretty uneventful. J took slightly better lines through one rut and then intentionally rode the worst part of the other. More one-handed riding, interspersed with his efforts to lift his front wheel (he's getting better). We saw far more bikes than we had the previous day (17 as compared to 2) and acted out the three billy goats gruff as we crossed over the 8 bridges on the way back.

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He was definitely a little less peppy than the previous day, but we took longer breaks at mile 6 and planned a stop at mile 9, but we passed the ninth mile without him saying anything and so kept riding until we were close to 10 before he asked how far we'd gone. Towel spread on the ground and snacks out, he was all set for a longer break and had just asked if we could play Mancala when his coach sent a text that they were going to have an extra practice at 3:00. J wanted to be at practice on time, so this gave him some incentive to get going again, and before we knew it we were back at the car. All in all, it was a wonderful trip, truly better than I could have expected. It's been fun gaining a new bike buddy, seeing his confidence grow, and having some new adventures together, but the best part of riding bikes together is just the shared time. When you're on a bike, really all you can do is ride, so there are no distractions from each other. We probably do more talking while riding bikes together than any other time, and of course we're building memories to talk about in the future. In this case, a really good memory.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Firecracker 10k

Sometime towards the end of May, a friend suggested the Firecracker Run to me. I think his exact words were something like, "You like hilly races...I'm not sure it's far enough away for you, though." My last official 10k was in October 2010, I'm not big on running on the road, and I'd passed on a recent local 10k, so why would I make the 2-hour round trip for a 6-mile race where, due to a virtual running hiatus, I was likely to have a disappointing result? There's really no good reason to, so of course I signed up for the race.

 After April's Ava Brown Memorial 5k (which I actually did train for), I took a break from running to focus on Dirty Kanza training. Thanks to a disappointingly short ride there, I actually felt good afterwards and did two 6-mile trail runs with friends the following week. I was glad to have the race on my schedule to motivate me to go run. Things went downhill from there, though. I've lacked the discipline to get up early and run on my own, and life got in the way of most of the other runs I'd planned with friends. I managed a couple 2-mile runs in the neighborhood and one 3.5 mi loop with a few hills, but none of them were particularly confidence-inspiring. Where in April I'd been pretty comfortably running miles in the 8:30's, I've been struggling to stay under 10 and to "stick out" two mile runs. My basic running goal is to be in good enough shape to run a half marathon on a whim (not necessarily well, but to get through it), and I'm so not there.

My expectations for my Firecracker performance were pretty low; I thought I likely wouldn't finish under an hour and looked at it like a training run. I only had one friend who ended up running the race, and since he does crazy things like actually warming up I knew I wouldn't see him until the finish. I got through packet pickup in plenty of time to take my race shirt back to the car and visit the bathrooms twice. The start and finish were at the River City Rascals ballpark, so it was kind of the holy grail of race bathrooms...no line for a room lined with flush toilets! Since it was a holiday race there were plenty of people in red, white, and blue. Some took it further with star spangled headbands or patriotic tutus. I had on a blue shirt, but the real festive touch was on my legs.

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My sister-in -law gave me these awesome socks for my birthday. They even have little capes on the back!

 Because of my low expectations for the race and not really paying attention, I ended up lining up too far back and had to pass quite a few walkers at the start. While it was a bit crowded back there, it was also nice to be passing people. :) Since I hadn't warmed up, I just focused on running a comfortable pace and was surprised when my first mile chimed in at 8:48. The next two miles had a gentle hill or two but still felt good at 9:04 and 9:01. I was starting to do the math and feel a little hopeful for a PR (under 58:xx). Then the wheels fell off.

 Mile 3 ended with an uphill, and I'd pushed a little to finish that mile strong. From then on I started to feel breakfast come back up. I never threw up, just felt like I could. I'm sure having run more than 3 miles recently would have helped the second half feel better, too. Mile 4 ("just 2 miles left...anyone can run 2 miles...") was 9:25, and a guy pushing a double jogging stroller passed me. Mile 5 ("just 1 mile left...anyone can run 1 mile...") was 9:47, and a woman pushing a jogging stroller passed me. Luckily, the back half of the race also had two sections where you passed racers going the other way. Cheering for other people always makes me feel better when I'm running.

 The last mile ("oh, thank goodness, there's the sports complex, it's almost over...") was 9:18. The race finished in the stadium with runners crossing home base. I had a little mental battle as I ran into the stadium between passing/not passing other people. It seemed a little silly to sprint when I'd dragged through the last couple miles. Then again, it was a race. I should have decided to speed up sooner, because the lady who crossed ahead of me took forever standing in front if the photographer, so I'm sure there's no picture of me crossing home plate. Boo. My finishing time, though? A semi-miraculous 56:19...a PR by over 2 minutes. This of course once again leaves me wondering how well I might do if I really trained for something, my eternal question.

 I had a while to catch my breath before changing and getting my bike out of the car for a post-race ride. My poor road bike has been languishing in the basement since the weather got nice enough to ride outside. With the Tour de Donut coming up I've been thinking I ought to get it out on the road at least once, so the invitation to join a group ride was welcome. Any new group is a nerve-wracking situation for me, but the opportunity to ride, the additional justification for my drive, and (most especially) the assurance I could keep up convinced me not to be an antisocial wimp.

 After months of gravel and burly touring tires, cruising down pavement on my light bike with its tiny, smooth tires was pretty glorious. Even the hills on the first part of the loop felt easy. It was a friendly group, too, so even though I only knew one person I got to talk to most everyone as we rode. I felt fantastic for the first 18 or so miles. As we rode, a minivan pulled up next to us.

 "Excuse me, ma'am," said a woman's voice. I turned to see Chuck and Lori. Too funny to run into friends while our on a ride. After catching up briefly and doing introductions, we went our separate ways. Either the pace got faster towards the end or I was just tired, but I was definitely having a harder time keeping up during the last few miles. Still, spending my morning doing a 10k run, a 25 mile bike ride, and leaving with plenty of energy to go play sand volleyball is a pretty good start to the holiday.