Runner love

For the past couple of years, late fall and winter have been a time to wind down from high spring and summer mileage.

The weather is colder and more treacherous, plus the days are just plain shorter, leaving me less motivated to head out after work and more comfortable watching reruns of The Office, covered with a blanket on a comfy chair.

I’m OK with the cycle of cutting back just as the leaves have left the trees and the sidewalks start getting coated with white stuff.

Two or three weekday runs at 5 a.m. plus a longer run on the weekend suffices. Until a woman you’re friends with mostly online suggests you get together for a run on a Sunday morning to talk about blogging and running.

Don’t mind if I do!

I snuck in two miles with el husbando who is already on his third week back with Couch to 5K and doing great, thankyouverymuch, before heading out to a new-to-me park in my hometown of Holt, just south of Lansing.

At the corner of Keller and Pine Tree roads, Valhalla Park is bigger than I expected at 45 acres with wooded paved trails, fields, a large pond and a small lake.

I was looking forward to the run, but a little nervous as sleet started hitting my windshield and after remembering that Barb is a much-faster runner than me.

was sucking wind a bit, but she graciously slowed down and even stopped a few times to let me walk off an intermittent and annoying side-stitch that I now suspect is a rib out of place. (Gonna have to go see Dr. Awesome for that.)

The flooded trail under the I-96 bridge meant we had to do a little off-roading.

We easily covered seven miles while talking about our families, backgrounds and running journeys. It’s been a while since I’ve gone running with someone I don’t know well, and the experience reminded me of why it’s such a good idea.

We got around the flooding, but I almost hit my head several times.

Barb was much better at this than me. Plus, she had those styling neon shoes!

Other than my painful side and the flooded trail, the run was uneventful, warmer than I expected and gratifying after getting to know yet another cool, accomplished woman.

We quickly headed to a coffee shop to talk about the boring side of blogging and warm up with some yummy drinks.

Still smiling afterward, but I suspect Barb never imagined she’d be running with someone dressed as a Q-tip.

After five years (FIVE!) as a runner, meeting other runners remains my favorite part of the sport. It’s a special tribe and one I’m forever grateful to belong to.

When was the last time you went for a run with someone you didn’t know well? Did you run together again? Do you have any tips for Barb as she starts her own blog? (You may have to click on “Continue Reading” to leave a comment.)

You may be considering running a 50K because your friends have promised you that you’ll get to eat M&Ms at each aid station with abandon. Or because you like the idea of an ultra marathoner sticker or magnet on your car. You may have even run a bunch of half and full marathons, and think it can’t possibly be much more difficult.

It is. Really. But so, so worth it.

I’ve only one 50K but I am in the middle of training for my second this September. I can tell you it’s incredibly difficult, but also more rewarding than any other type of running I’ve ever done.

Whatever your reason, here’s the skinny on what it really takes to train for an ultra marathon:

  1. An indomitable spirit with a sprinkle of insanity. In a word: grit. There is no way you’re going to get through five runs each week plus cross training plus making sure you get enough sleep if you’re not dead-set on reaching your goal. Our Saturday morning long runs start as early as 5:30 a.m. Who wants to get up at 4:30 on a Saturday? Crazy people, that’s who. And only those of us who are not-quite-normal will get to the start line.

    An especially crazy 18-mile run, made better by great company.

  2. A lot of time. The training plan my friends and I are using calls for four time-based runs, from an hour to an-hour-and-a-half each, plus a long run on Saturday mornings. When you’re slow like us, a long run can take from three to five hours at a time. And — get this — you have to run for at least an hour the day after your longest run of the week. It helps to have a familia who is OK with all of this, or at least one that likes to sleep in a lot.
  3. Patience (a.k.a., a sense of humor). Tell someone you’re running a 50K (or longer) ultra marathon and be prepared for lots of questions about your sanity. Even non-runners understand that some people sign up for — and run — marathons. “Run a bunch of miles to prove to yourself that you can? Got it.” But an ultra pushes you right into freak (or unbalanced) category. “What, a marathon wasn’t long enough for you?” I actually had a 15-minute conversation with a nice man at work. A former runner, he wanted to chat about why I run longer distances instead of concentrating on shorter races, but trying to get faster. Bless his heart. (See #1 above).
  4. Friends who are just as crazy as you are. Bonus points if they’re experienced and can share awesome tips like what to pack for your ultra, including the need for a drop bag. Most importantly, friends who may think you’re crazy, but who nonetheless support your insanity by meeting you for runs at 5:15 a.m. a couple of weekdays before going to work.

    Some of my crazy runner friends.

  5. Gear. Sure, you can train for a half or full marathon wearing a tech shirt and shorts, plus nice running shoes. An ultra requires an extensive list of must-have items, ranging from a water/hydration vest so you don’t die from dehydration during your long runs, fuel (like Gu or SportBeans or, in my case, even cheese sticks) so you don’t die from hunger, and salt/electrolyte tablets so you don’t die from dehydration. I’m not exaggerating about that whole dehydration thing; training for a fall race means long runs in July and August when it’s just plain hot. Another must-have: A nice running watch that not only tracks your mileage and pace, but one that can last whatever time you think it’ll take you to run 31-plus miles.
  6. Access to trails. A lot of ultras are run on trails. To run 31 miles on trails, you need to train on trails. There’s just no way around that. Trail shoes are optional, but well worth the investment. (See #5 above).
  7. Accepting that you will be hungry. All. The. Time. There’s a reason why people training for 26.2 gain the “marathon many.” I tend to eat every two or three hours anyway, but the extra running has be starving an hour after my last meal. It’s easy to put on a few pounds during training.

I may weigh 600 lbs. by the goal 50K, Run Woodstock in September.

Bonus: I am very fortunate to be surrounded by a tribe of experienced runners, so I asked them to share their best tips on what it really takes to run your first ultra. Here’s what they had to say:

Vicki: “It takes friends to run with and motivate you.”

Melissa: “Don’t skip mid-week runs. That will come back to haunt you mile 28…”

Emily: “Loss of sanity. Other insane friends cheering you on and assuring you you can do it.”

There you have it. If after all that, you still decide to take on your first ultra, I hope you succeed. It’s a fun, crazy, insane, exhausting, time-consuming, expensive endeavor. But I wouldn’t change a thing about it.

What’s on your race schedule this year? Have you ever done an ultra? What are some of your favorite tips? (You may have to click on “Continue Reading” to leave a comment.)

The day began at o’dark-30 on Saturday morning with a 45-minute drive from our campground in the great metropolis of Beulah to Traverse City Central High School to meet up with the other runner chicas.

Tip: Look at a map before you book your hotel/campground so you are not surprised on race morning that you have to drive FORTY-FIVE minutes at 5 a.m.

My friend Vicki was her usual wonderful self and picked up my packet on Friday night so I could just board a school bus to take us to the finish line, about 20 minutes away.

Tip: Arrive early because the parking lot gets super busy and you don’t want to miss the bus to the starting line.

We arrived with plenty of time to freeze use the port-a-potties twice, take lots of selfies and catch up with friends.

Tip: Be prepared to wait to use the aforementioned toilets. The lines were super long.

While there are no pace groups for the half marathon, Bayshore does provide markers so you can line up by estimated pace. The crowd is huge, but we didn’t have any trouble finding a good spot to start and quickly got into our 2:1 interval rhythm.

Tip: Be sure to line up with your proper pace group because you don’t want people to shove you out of the way like a certain president.

I should note that the race begins with a significant incline and continues with many smaller hills. Train appropriately.

Tip: There are also 10k and full-marathon options.

Lots of runners walked the first, big hill.

Vicki, plus our friends Jen and Lindsey, and I easily got into a great rhythm, mostly following the pre-programmed timer that told us when to walk and when to run. While I prefer to just run, I followed Dr. Awesome’s advice to try the intervals as a condition of being able to actually run this half.

Tip: Try the intervals if you’re building up your mileage. It’s a great way to run further distances without dying.

Vicki, Jen and I trained many a Saturday for this race.

We had already decided that we would enjoy this race, no matter what, so we did stop a few times to take photos.

An amazing view early on during the Bayshore Half Marathon.

The vineyard and lake views are really why many of us signed up for this particular race, so we made a point of enjoying them.

We also enjoyed the amazing course support, from the organized water and Gatorade stations to the random set ups from people who live on the course. There were a few particularly fun ones, including the stop where everyone was wearing red, blue and white onesies, the one with the ladies holding signs that read “If Trump can run, so can you!” and the group that was blowing bubbles across the road.

Another fun feature were the chalk messages on the asphalt, including the usual “good job” and “keep going,” plus our names in front of the Team Playmakers tent around mile eight.

Tip: Make sure you’re paying attention when grabbing a cup because some tables held beer in addition to water and lime Gatorade.

It was heartwarming to see just how many families set up in front of their homes along the course, blaring music, yelling encouraging words or just making a racket with cowbells.

Despite some whining, Vicki, Jen, Lindsey and I finished strong. We were tired, yes, but there was Moomers ice cream to be had, so we perked up right away.

The Moomers ice cream was worth the 13.1 mile run.

Tip: Spend a little bit of time at the tents. In addition to soda, chocolate milk, the ice cream and cold water, there was a ginormous tent full of homemade cookies — the chocolate-cherry oatmeal cookies were to die for.

In the end, the race was fun, well-organized and definitely worth the trip. I plan to repeat it and hope to see y’all there!

With Vicki, Jen, Lindsey and her kids.

Have you run Bayshore? What did you think? Would you do it again? (You may have to click on “Continue Reading” to leave a comment.)

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? (You may have to click on “Continue Reading” to leave a comment.)

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.

(You may have to click on “Continue Reading” to leave a comment.)