If you’ve been running 5Ks in the Lansing, Mich., area for a while, you’ve probably seen the moon and stars logo for the Max’s Race 5K on the Michigan State University campus every summer.

Our familia has a connection to Max’s family. He and our oldest son were classmates in preschool and us parents traded stories about the boys’ progress while waiting for after-school pickups or at school functions. He was as cute and sweet as he looks in photos.

Max

Max’s mom, Natalie, and I have kept in touch through the years, running into each other here or there and connecting on Facebook. When I saw her reminder about the upcoming race, I just knew you’d all want to hear their story.

Please consider signing up for the June 24 race.

By Natalie Hool

My name is Natalie and I lost my 6-year-old son in 2005 to a night-time seizure.

Max Matthews contracted bacterial meningitis in 1998 that left him with a few struggles at the age of 7 months, including hearing loss. He was the youngest recipient of a cochlear implant in Michigan when he had the procedure three days before his first birthday. 

This year, his birthday and Mother’s Day fall on the same date. In 2006 it did, too, but I couldn’t even get out of bed. This year, I am completely ready for the flood of emotions coming my way all because back in 2005 a decision was made to create a foundation in Max’s honor, the Maxwell C. Matthews Foundation.

Our main event is called Max’s Race. It is a 5K run/walk with a kids fun run.

Sparty joins the Max’s Race fun.

Sparty, the MSU cheer team and face-painting clowns all join in for the festivities. Our 12th annual race takes place on June 24, 2017. Our route on the Michigan State University campus begins at the “big rock” east of Farm Lane.

Credit: ©TimeFramePhoto.com

The foundation’s motto is to “Create hope for kids and their families.” To that end, we have made donations to Sparrow Hospital‘s pediatric programs and the Davies Project. It is important that the money we raise is for kids like Max and their families.

This race really means the world to me. It is like a piece of Max is right there, touching me. The feeling that comes from all of the participants and volunteers coming together and thinking about him is indescribable. 

I am also a runner and there are so many race options in the summer. Please consider attending Max’s Race! Watching adults and kids come together for a great experience with Max on their mind is heartwarming and has been integral to my healing. 

Max’s Mom

Some runs mean just getting through the miles on the training plan. Others, well, let’s just say that they are more than just putting one foot in front of the other.

I’ve known for a while now that there’s something about the Marl Lake trail near South Higgins Lake State Park in central Michigan that can feel magical or whimsical. There’s just something special about a trail that can assault your senses with both the sounds of your trail shoes crunching on dry leaves and the smell of pines that smell like Christmas.

Marl Lake

Today’s experience assaulted something I didn’t even know I had: fear. Fear that a recent diagnosis of runner’s knee would finally bench me.

Sure, I’ve come back from hurt shoulders and my dumb butt. And I’ve been trying to remind myself that if I take a step back, invest in my recovery and do what I’m supposed to do, that I’ll get better.

But there was always that voice in the back of my head that wondered if that was really true.

Just a quarter of a mile into my run, I felt loose and relaxed. And then the runner’s high snuck up on me, like I did on the poor couple taking each other’s pictures and who jumped when I got closer (sorry!).

Runner’s high is strong with this one.

The trail was relatively smooth, with little to trip me. I was in the zone.

Until a couple of dogs darted toward me, barking but with tails wagging, their owners close behind. They warned me about upcoming flooding, but encouraged me to go forward, even offering up a long branch one of them was using as a walking stick.

Declining with a smile, I set off again, grateful that others were also enjoying the beautiful scenery.

Soon, I saw the water-covered trail the women warmed me about.

There’s always a way.

I easily walked over the logs someone had gathered over the big puddle and kept on going. Hmmm. Someone else had seen this obstruction and done something about it.

Things got wetter and wetter on the trail today.

And then, well, I just couldn’t get around. There just was no way to avoid the lake-like puddle on the trail.

No way around this one.

Sure, I could have run through (I see you, Corey Baker) and gotten my feet soaked, but I instead backtracked and re-read the trail sign, which showed another way.

Trail maps, love ’em.

Thankfully, the new route was flat and soft, covered with either dead leaves or pine needles.

Like with our running journey, sometimes the trail is smooth.

And then it hit me: the day’s trail run was an allegory for my running journey.

Sometimes, it’s perfect (runner’s high), but it’s often full of surprises (sorry again, surprised couple!) and detours (did I mention I’m injury prone?), but I always manage to get to the other side.

And then, wham, a fallen tree (or an injury) tries to stop you again.

A giant tree blocked my path during today’s trail run.

I could see that there was already a narrow area of trampled grass where others had obviously been running or walking. They’d created a new path around the fallen tree.

Just like I’m not the first person to ever get a runner’s knee diagnosis. Others have been there before and found a way to get back on track. There’s always a way, even if it means taking a step back or making your way around.

I’m not alone. I just have to follow the trail set by others to get to the other side.

With that comforting realization, I picked up my pace, running faster than I ever have on the trails before. My heart lighter than it’s been since the diagnosis. A smile on my lips.

Have you ever been injured and worried you’d never get better? What helped? Also, do you run through or around a big lake-size puddle on a trail?

The neighbors may not have thought so, but the portable karaoke machine was brilliant.

The dancing? Spectacular.

Brandess showcasing her dance moves.

And that’s what set the tone for today’s volunteering at the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Boy, we were exhausted. This gig sure tired us out.

Despite the hard work, we were all smiles today.

This chica, hard at work.

Both Brandess and I were waylaid by injuries and couldn’t pace the race as we’d planned. So we signed up as course marshals and were blessed with a blue, cloudless sky and relatively warm temperatures when we set up at 7:30 a.m. after dropping our other friends, Mira and Shannon, near the starting line. Our friend Janet spent the night in Grand Rapids, but we caught up with her later.

While I had volunteered at one previous race where I smeared Vaseline on a random guy’s nipple, this was my first as a marshal. Thankfully, I was with a pro, so we were all ready for the day.

Our well-appointed spot at near miles 3 and 10

Here are some tips, should you find yourself being volunteered volunteering at a race:

  • Check the forecast. We knew we’d have cold temperatures, so we dressed in layers (guess which one of us looked like the Michelin Man) and stripped as the morning got warmer. Remember a poncho, sunscreen and bug spray, if the day calls for any of it.
  • Get there early. We had all been to Grand Rapids many times before, but a couple of wrong turns had us arriving just in time to our location. Had we cut it too close, we would have had trouble even getting to the spot because so many streets are closed off for the race.
  • Park as close as you can. We were just a few feet from my car, so we could have easy access to the aforementioned gear, plus we didn’t have to walk through half of Grand Rapids with a bunch of stuff.
  • Bring stuff. As in camp chairs, blankets, snacks and drinks. I even brought a small, collapsible camp table. This was especially convenient because we got to park so close.
  • Have clarity. Even if you have a map or have done the race in previous years, talk to the race organizers about your role, including where runners will come from and about what time, and where you should direct them.
  • Be loud. While we did help many runners stay on the course, we also got to cheer them on. Plain old poster board signs wouldn’t do. Instead, Brandess lugged a cowbell and karaoke system, which was conveniently paired with her cell phone’s Bluetooth connection.
  • Bring a camera. Your friends and their friends will love seeing the photos you shot in between the dancing, yelling and high-fiving.
  • Remember why you’re really there. Most runners were all smiles when we saw them on their way out, a little bit after mile three. On the way back at mile 10? A few were struggling, shuffling or just plain done. We saved a lot of our energy (who are we kidding — we’re both Energizer bunnies!) for those runners. We got a few to smile, a handful to pretend we were the Soul Train Line, and even got some fluids into the race’s last runner.

That’s Janet, giving a thumbs up while pacing the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon.

Some of our awesome runner friends!

 

While I thought I would be bummed to miss racing Gazelle Girl, spending time with my friends and being surrounded by so many awesome runners made the day special. I still want to run the race again next year, but this volunteering thing? Yeah, I’ve got it down now.

What about you: Did you race this weekend? Have any tips to share for a race volunteer?

Well, I’m injured. (Cue the surprised looks and sympathetic noises.)

The diagnosis by a sports medicine doctor: patellofemoral pain syndrome (a.k.a. runner’s knee).

My right knee started hurting during my long run a few days ago while on vacation. It hurt enough that I popped a couple of Aleve (and I’m not one to take meds unless I absolutely have to). I continued to take Aleve for a couple of days, took three days off from running and did yoga for the past two days.

My Florida long-run didn’t suck…until my knee started hurting.

The knee continued to hurt, so I took advantage of the free injury clinic at my favorite local running store, Playmakers in Okemos, Mich. A sports medicine doctor did a very thorough exam and asked me a bunch of questions before giving me the news about the runner’s knee.

I’d heard about runner’s knee before and had an idea of what it was and how to treat it, but he took the time to explain things in detail and gave me a handy info sheet with symptoms, causes and, more importantly, self-treatment options.

I’m particularly not happy about this new development because I have been training to pace the Gazelle Girl half in a week-and-a-half. That’s not gonna happen now. Instead, my good friend Brandess suggested I volunteer for the race with her. Talk about making lemonade! It’s gonna be great.

So instead of the pacer shirt I just got, I’m hoping I’ll be sporting course marshall duds or something to that effect.

I volunteered for a race this past fall and had a great time cheering on others, and even got to smear Vaseline on a random guy’s nipple and run a runner chica in for her last few miles of her first marathon. THAT was cool.

Do I sound zen about this whole situation? Trust me, I have a lot of experience being injured and having to restart my running. Let’s see… There were the shin splints, the shoulder surgery and ongoing problems with piriformis syndrome. But I’ve always been able to come back and know that if I really do what the doctor suggested, that I’ll be able to do so again.

So, what’s this runner chica going to do to survive the next few weeks post-runner’s knee diagnosis? Follow doctor’s orders, which included:

  • Support: Make sure I replace my orthodic inserts. They’re awesome, but they’re also almost 2-years-old and I really need new ones.
  • Stretch: The doc gave me a sheet with specific stretches, including a standing quad stretch and the standing hamstring stretch.
  • Strength: The sheet also had exercises I can do, including straight leg raises, quad sets, side-lying straight leg raises and seated knee extensions.
  • Rest: Pain = not bueno. So, very little running for the next few days and then ease my way back into it.
  • Ice: He suggested freezing water in a paper cup, then rubbing it on my knee for a few minutes. It’s supposed to help with inflammation (though he said I don’t seem to have any) and for pain.
  • Patience: He obviously doesn’t know me, but does work with tons of runners. We’re not known for our patience, but I promised I would follow his orders since I do want to get back to running.

What’s next? A few weeks of building my core, doing my stretches and exercises. I’ve started doing yoga again, plus I hope to do some biking with el husbando.

In the end, this is familiar — if not necessarily fun — territory. I’ll be OK.

What do you do to survive an injury that keeps you from running? (Other than eating Oreos, that is.)

A change of pace

by lachicaruns on

My transition from newbie runner to old hag experienced runner continues, most recently when I was picked as a pacer for the women’s only Gazelle Girl Half Marathon in Grand Rapids on April 23.

The plan was to run at an 11-minute pace with my friends Brandess and Shannon (the same Brandess and Shannon who have encouraged every single running-related crazy idea I’ve eventually signed up for — my first half, trail-half, full and ultra marathons come to mind).

I was excited to get the email announcing this wonderful development, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was stretching things a bit too far to run at that pace for my first pacing gig. There’s a reason we call ourselves the Mullet Crew (we’re the party in the back!).

I’ve certainly been doing speed work and increasing my mileage since I found out I was chosen as a pacer back in October. Once again, I’m following the Hal Higdon Half Marathon Intermediate training plan, which has me running five times a week. It’s very do-able and I always enjoy Higdon’s plans because of their clarity.

But the idea of leading a pack of women through a half marathon at that pace made me nervous. Could I do it? Yup. Would it be fun? Well…

Thankfully, the race organizers at Gazelle Sports hosted all of us pacers at their beautiful store tonight. My friend, Janet, and I drove over to Grand Rapids, an hour away.

It was fun to be surrounded by a bunch of runners who obviously want to support other women in their journey.

Fellow Gazelle Girl Half Marathon pacers.

It was also an opportunity to chat with the woman organizing our pace groups and, thanks to very flexible fellow pacers, being able to switch with my friend Toni to the 12-minute pace group. I even got to meet my new pacing buddies, Amy and Mary, and they seem like the type of women I want to spend two hours and 37 minutes with on race day.

As a bonus, the experienced pacers in the room shared these tips with us newbies:

  • Wear a fuel belt (not a hydration pack) so your group can see the back of your shirt (which will read “pacer”). We were also encouraged to write our names on the back.
  • Bring throw-away gloves to make carrying the pacer sign more comfortable.
  • Wear the pacer shirt on a couple of training runs to make sure there are no fit problems (translation: chaffing).
  • Train with a watch to keep on-pace and print out a pace band for race-day to make sure you’re hitting your targets.
  • Grab some extra fuel at the pacer tent before the race so that you can share with your runners who may be crashing or who may have dropped their own.
  • Know the location of the aid stations. For this race, there will be five stations. They’ll have a variation of water, Nuun hydration tabs, Gu gels and chews, and Gluten Free Bar samples.
  • Be aware of runners ahead, behind and all around you.
  • Make an effort to check in with all runners. Share positive stories. Use their names (thank you, personalized bibs!) and encourage everyone you see, even if they’re not with your pace group.
  • Set a game plan with fellow pacers ahead of time. For example, take turns carrying the pace sign and fueling/drinking.

“We really try hard to make every woman feel welcome,” race director Holly Visser told our group. “Every woman.”

Gazelle Girl Half Marathon race organizer Holly Visser.

Overall, my main takeaway was to have fun and to be supportive of others. That, I can do!

Added bonus: I got to see my fellow Skirt Sports ambassador captain, Linda. We just had to pose for photos.

With Skirt Sports ambassador captain Linda. We’re both sporting the Tough Girl Skirt.