running

Amsterdam, that is. Or London, for that matter.

But I’m back from a 10-day work trip that saw me on my feet as much as 10 miles in a day despite taking various modes of transportation, including bus, boat, train and tram. I didn’t get on a bike or skates, but I did get on a jet plane and snuck in a few short runs.

Work and the early morning darkness cramped my running style in both locations, so I had to keep my runs to 5K-ish distance.

Amsterdam was by far my favorite, in large part because of its evident diversity in everything from its people to its food to its buildings. While running or walking around the city, I heard just about every language spoken, including many who clearly had a Spain-Spanish accent. Because I spent a whole week here, I also found it easy to navigate the area immediately around our hotel, so I didn’t get lost (too badly) on my runs.

Oh, Amsterdam, what’s not to love?

I made sure to stick to well-lit areas with people walking or riding their bikes on designated lanes (much unlike most Michigan roads), which meant that I stayed close to our hotel, the Kimpton DeWitt. But because the hotel is so close to the Central Station, there were lots of people around and I felt safe running by myself.

Central Station.

 

So. Much. To. See.

London was special in its own way, with its museum-looking structures as my backdrop, but the sidewalks were noticeably dirtier and I saw a lot more homeless people sleeping in front of stores or on park benches. There was also very little vegetation with a few small trees here and there. I tried to run to — and around — Regent’s Park because it was recommended by a fellow Bib Rave Pro, but Google maps failed me and I never did find it.

My hotel, the Nadler Soho, was near the Soho Square, but the park was way too small to run there. I did get to walk all over town and even got to enjoy a Diwali festival, street artists and Chinatown. A highlight was the beefeater giving us a tour at the Tower of London, which holds the Crown Jewels and showcases torture devices used throughout history.

Safety first at the Tower of London.

 

Look left and look right signs are all over crosswalks in downtown London.

 

The Queen Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace.

I tried to pack as little as possible, making sure that I could wear each item multiple times, including my running gear. I stuck socks and a sports bra inside my running shoes (which took an inordinate amount of space, but were worth having), and brought just two tanks, a Skirt Sports skirt and capris. With temperatures in the low 50s, I was able to run with just my new Bolero reflective jacket. I had to wash all of the items in the hotel sink at least once, but I was glad to have enough gear for multiple outings.

For a trip I knew would entail long hours, I am grateful I got to run as much as I did. Should I ever get such an opportunity again, I’ll be sure to plan ahead better, including looking up routes and, if possible, finding a running group I can join for longer runs.

In fact, had I done that in the first place, I could have run the Amsterdam Marathon since I was already trained for the distance. I’m still kicking myself for not thinking of that before heading to Europe for the first time. Learn from my mistakes, chicos y chicas!

Have you run internationally while on vacation or on a work trip? How do you manage to find the time? How did you choose your route? (You may have to click on “Continue Reading” to leave a comment.)

I sit here, in pain, but content. This year’s Run Woodstock 50K was dryer and speedier that last year. Three of us PR’d and we all negative split (ran the second half faster than the first).

Better headlamps meant we started out with a clear course, even at 6 a.m., moving swiftly through the first hour through a hill, then a rails-to-trails path. My three friends and I set a slow, steady pace of four minutes running and one walking.

We’re decked out to start the Run Woodstock 50K.

We moved in the steady, relatively easy rhythm of people who’ve been training together for years. We told stories. Laughed with (and at) each other. And we enjoyed the beauty of our lush green surroundings.

The rain that plagued us last year — and that caused mud so deep and wet that we felt like we were skating more than running — was replaced by sunshine and temperatures in the 40s, later reaching into the 60s.

The course was tough, but not impossible. The hills were even steeper than I remembered, sometimes leaving us breathless and wiped out.

Our friends spent HOURS waiting around to cheer us on after our first loop and celebrate with us when we were done.

Like last year, the aid stations had plenty of yummy food every four miles. We made sure to grab sandwiches, Coke, M&Ms, pretzels, chips, cookies, gummy bears and other treats. Oh, and there was Gatorade, water and Guu.

Because this was our second time on the course, we had a much-better plan, helping our head game and letting us get through each aid station more quickly and efficiently. That said, we were plum tired and I suspect Vicki thought about stabbing me and leaving me on the side of the trail more than once.

Not all of us were smiling with about 7 miles left.

We had to dig deep several times to keep moving forward. We may be smiling in these pictures, but running a 50K is really, really hard. Getting all of the runs on the training plan each week takes hours and hours, and even then, race day comes down to mental toughness and the willingness to keep going when your body is telling you to just quit, sit and rest.

Having good friends with you helps a ton. Knowing that you have a crew waiting for you at the end can make the difference between giving up and continuing to move forward. I can’t stress enough the importance of a good support network for these longer races.

Thankfully, we had all of those things, so we were able to get past the life-sucking hills and tired bones.

And because we all got done so much earlier than last year, we headed back to the my motor home at the nearby Pinckney Recreation Area where we were staying for the weekend, had pizza and drinks by the fire, and reveled in our accomplishment.

Seeing the finish line gave us the boost we needed to finish strong.

Several people have already asked if we plan to run the course again next year. I suspect that we will.

Vicki, me, Corey, Melissa and Shannon all ran the Run Woodstock 50K.

There was some talk about tackling a 50 miler at some point. Much like with childbirth, I suspect we’ll all forget just how tough the 50K really was and that we may start thinking that it’s a really good idea. We’ll see.

What this race did give me was the assurance that there isn’t anyone else I enjoy making bad decisions with as much as these wonderful humans.

It also gave me a big blister. I’ll be the one hobbling around the rest of the week, but with a smile on my face.

Running’s not just pretty medals.

Have you done an ultramarathon? What’s your best advice for someone deciding whether to increase their race distance? (You may have to click on “Continue Reading” to leave a comment.)

Review: 5K Crate subscription

by lachicaruns on

Disclaimer: I received running gear to review from 5K Crate as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review, find and write race reviews!

He didn’t resort to a personal protection order, but I definitely stalked our mailman for a few days as I eagerly awaited a box full of running goodies from the 5K Crate subscription service.

All of the items in the 5K Crate I received for this review.

For $59.99 per box, 5K Crate ships you a box each quarter with what they describe as “premium apparel and accessories for runners of all types and fitness levels.” Shipping is free.

Sent out every three months, each box has five to six items from brands such as Mission Athleticwear, Zensah, Epic Wipes, Nike and Knuckle Lights. And the company guarantees the items will have a value of more than $100. You get to pick a woman’s or men’s version.

As for my box, my first impression ranged from ooh and aah to wowza. My 5k Crate included:

  • Mission VaporAcitve Alpha Running Shirt ($35.95). It’s really, really pink. It’s also well made and the medium fit me perfectly. I ran with it and did yoga in it (and even slept in it). No rubbing or weird chaffing. I washed it on a regular cycle in cold water and hung it up to dry. Held up just fine.

    My 5K Crate included this nice, soft, comfortable and very pink shirt.

  • Mission VaporActive Cooling Towel ($19.99). The weather hasn’t been warm enough to try this out yet, but the towel looks well made and the fabric is nice and soft.

    Haven’t tried the cooling towel, but it looks well made.

  • Spigen Wireless Bluetooth Headphones ($45). Probably my favorite item in the box. I’d been looking for a good set of wireless headphones because cables drive me bonkers. These are super easy to use and set up. I had them paired up to my iPhone right away and ready to go. Unfortunately, it took me several tries to get the things to stay in my ears. The best thing I can tell you is to stick them in your ear, then twist them until they stay. Once I figured out how to do all that, they stayed put, even during my run. The sound is good, but I only wore one earbud in my ear so I could hear cars and other sounds. The battery life was longer than I imagined and the headphones gave me two low-battery warnings before they died. Removing the cover to plug in the charging cable was also a bit of a challenge because it’s tiny. But they charged just fine and I’ve continued to happily use them.

    I used these Spigen wireless headphones almost every day during my 5K Crate review period.

  • Zensah No-Show Compression Socks ($19.99). I’m a SmartWool snob, but I have to say that I also loved these. They’re super soft, comfy and washed well (ie, they stayed bright white and there were no loose threads). Because I run at 0-dark-30 a couple of mornings during the week, I also wore these to sleep in. I’m a big enough fan that I will buy another pair (or three!) to run next summer.

    I liked these socks a lot more than I expected.

  • 2 Epic Full-Size Body Wipes ($2.50 each). I haven’t tried these either because I’m saving them for next week’s Run Woodstock 50K. I am throwing them in each of my drop bags as a carrot to have something to look forward to when I’m exhausted and need a pick-me-up.

    Sticking these babies in my drop bag for next week’s 50K.

  • 3 La Fresh Travel Sunscreen Samples ($1). El husbando used these today at a football game since we had seats in the full sun, but they didn’t keep him from frying. That said, he burns easily and they are the perfect size to keep in a hydration pack or pocket for long summer runs.

    These sunscreen packets in the 5K Crate are the perfect size to stick in a hydration vest.

So is it worth selling out almost $60 based on what I got in my box? Yes. Am I hoping that my familia sees this post and decides to get me one for my birthday or Christmas? YES.

If you’re interested in trying out this service, you can pre-order the fall box, which ships out in early October. The ordering process includes listing your top, bottom and shoe sizes, and whether you want a box for a woman or man. Signing up for a year’s worth of boxes ahead of time saves you 14 percent, or more than $50.

Like a lot of subscription services, you need to know that 5K Crate’s terms and conditions state that “in order to avoid being billed for your next subscription—whether recurring on a quarterly or annual basis—be sure to cancel before the next billing date.”

Have you tried a subscription service before? Whatcha think? Was it worth the money? Do you know a runner who would love a 5K Crate? (You may have to click on “Continue Reading” to leave a comment.)

I’ve been running for five years now (three of them on trails) and I still make newbie mistakes. But you don’t have to.

There are lots of ways you can run on trails without getting lost or getting eaten by mosquitoes. Here are my best tips:

  • Plan. Just last week, I headed out on what I knew would be a three-mile trail run with no water, gear or phone. Sure, I was fine, but I would have been a whole lot more comfortable in the full sun with a little bit of water. I also missed taking pics of the deer I saw on the trail. And a bit of mosquito repellent would have saved me from bites all along my ankles.
  • Leave a trail. OK, you’re not Hansel and Gretel, but at least tell someone where you’re going, how far you’re planning to run and when you expect to be back.
  • Know where you’re going. Get as much information about the route before you head out, whether that’s getting a paper map or taking a picture of the map on the trail head.
  • Learn to read a map. In Michigan, trail maps typically show you where each marker is. Most trails also are assigned a color and list a distance. For example, I just ran through the yellow trail around Fort Custer State Campground in Battle Creek, Mich. Because I looked at the map, I knew it was a four-mile loop and that I could pick it up right by my campsite. But you should know that the distance between each marker does not necessarily correspond with a particular mileage. So, there may or may not be a full mile between mile marker one and two. The map may or may not show the distance between the mile markers either.
  • Related: Use the map, but pay attention. I ran that yellow trail three times in the week we camped at Fort Custer. The first time, I had already been running for a mile around the campground, so I went out a mile on the yellow trail, turned around and headed back. However, the second time, I didn’t look at the marker by the campsite, so it took me a few minutes of looking at the map to see where the trail connected with the campground so I could get back to my campsite. Doh.

    After a while, most trails look the same, so pay attention.

  • Pick one trail and stick to it. If there are multiple trails that intersect, pick a color or a trail name and stay on it the whole time. If you’re new, you may notice that some trails appear to split off, leaving you wondering whether to make a turn. Remember that most trails are like the highway; you want to stay on the main road unless there’s an arrow pointing to your exit (in this case, trail).

    Look closely: The yellow trail continues on the left, but you would have wanted to turn right if you were following the red trail.

  • Run with friends if you can. I don’t mind running trails by myself, but running with friends is a whole lot more fun. Plus, you get validation from them that, yes, you are definitely approaching a hill and should walk instead of run for a minute to catch your breath. And the jokes about just needing to be faster than all the other runners when encountering a bear never get old.
  • Have fun. Trail running — at least for us back-of-the-packers — is supposed to be slower and more enjoyable. Look around. Enjoy the view and the sounds. Maybe you’ll even fall in love with trail running. And remember: not every stick is a snake!

Do you run on trails? Any tips for newbies? Any mistakes you’ve made that you’ve since corrected? (You may have to click on “Continue Reading” to leave a comment.)

We had heard the stories beforehand: The time when Shannon almost died. The steep hills. The shoe-sucking mud pit.

But nothing prepared us for just how hard it would be to get through one of two loops for the Old Farts Running Club‘s The Mummy Trail Marathon and Half in Lowell, Mich. It kicked our butts!

With a bum knee bugging me for the past couple of weeks, I signed up for the full marathon on race day, thinking that I would DNF (did not finish) halfway if I had to. I really wanted the gear, which was pretty awesome and included a zip-up jacket, neon-yellow running T-shirt and a towel. All items had either the mummy logo or the name of the race.

Race organization

I arrived at 7 a.m. for an 8 a.m. start. Registration was super quick and organized.

There were stacks of jackets, T-shirts and sweatshirts to riffle through, but each runner got to pick exactly what they wanted. There were stacks of even more clothes after the race and each runner got to pick another item which now included stacks of sweat pants, track pants and shorts.

The gear was stacked on a picnic table, but we all took home a really nice jacket or sweatshirt and there were plenty of sizes and styles to choose from.

There are flush toilets in a building right by the start line and the race is small enough that the line was short.

Speaking of the start line, the race director gave clear instructions, we all lined up and we started right on time.

The trails were very clearly marked with small flags, spray-painted arrows and homemade signs that both encouraged and taunted us.

One of the many taunting signs along the trail.

The race organizers also have some sort of sick love for Chuck Norris who managed to make us feel unworthy every time we saw his face.

Hold me.

Water stations were tidy with plenty of cups and big trash cans. The station at around mile 8 had three of the Old Farts whose names grace some of the toughest spots along the course. They lulled us into a false sense of security by giving us sliced watermelon, cookies and Coke.

Don’t let these smiling faces fool you. The men were friendly but the portions of the race named after them were brutal.

Difficulty

It quickly became apparent that if we were going to do two loops and finish with 26.2 miles, we were going to have to reserve some energy, so we did a lot of walking. Looking back, that was one of our biggest mistakes. One mile had hills so steep, it took us 45 minutes.

How steep, you ask?

We had to crawl on our hands and knees a few times before reaching ropes that helped us climb, but that also made us feel like we would fall backward and plunge to our deaths.

But because climbing up steep hills wasn’t hard enough, this one had huge rocks.

Rocks? Sure, because the hills weren’t steep enough on their own.

And the trees. Oh, the trees. Trees blocked the trail so many times that even when we were running, we quickly had to stop to go over — or duck under — downed trees. At least two of us banged up our knees and got nice cuts and bruises. Never say I didn’t bleed for my running!

We crossed a few streams and slid down a few extra-steep spots on our bums.

 

We were grateful for the ropes, but wanted to lie down and cry whenever we spotted them because we knew what they portended.

No happy ending

We survived the toughest trail race I’ve ever seen. Even the Two Hearted Trail Half, which I considered relatively technical, and the Run Woodstock 50K were easier than today’s course.

Toward the end of the first look, the course gets a lot less technical, so my friends and I discussed going back out to do a second loop. My knee was holding up pretty well, but we were all plum tired. And we must have looked it because one of the race organizers (who happens to be a coach) basically told us we were done.

And we were perfectly OK with that. He even gave us half-marathon finisher medals and told us we did great. So we technically didn’t DNF and it felt like we earned those darn medals.

Lessons learned

There is no way I could do the full marathon at Old Farts. Well, maybe at some point. This was definitely not my year.

Would I sign up for the half? In a heartbeat. And I would run a lot more than I did today, knowing that we “only” had to do 13.1 miles (or more like 13.5 by my watch), making it a shorter trip.

I also was very glad that I had my friends’ support. I can’t imagine going through all of that by myself. There were many times when we encouraged each other, helped each other face our fears and pushed each other to get to the finish line.

The chicos both finished the full, but the chicas and I did one loop instead. That we’re all smiling after the race is a testament to our friendship.

In the end, it wasn’t the race I had signed up for, but I wouldn’t trade the experience — or my crew — for anything.

What’s the toughest race you’ve ever done? Would you consider our change of plans a DNF? Have you ever DNF’d? (You may have to click on “Continue Reading” to leave a comment.)