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? (Click on “Continue Reading” to leave a comment.)

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.) (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.

A year ago today, I listened to my running mentors, took a leap of faith, and signed up for my first ultra marathon. The idea of running for 50 kilometers (31 miles) seemed nearly impossible, but I figured I could always walk my way through the course and still spend some quality time with my runner friends … once I met up with them after the race.

I not only survived the Run Woodstock 50K and had plenty of company, but it was one of the most fun events I’ve experienced since I started running in 2012. Aid stations stocked with cheese sandwiches, potato chips, M&Ms and regular Coke aside, the event showed me that I could reach an insane goal just by doing a few very basic things. Basic, yes, but not always easy.

Six months later, I find myself perusing the Run Woodstock website and pulling out my credit card. Again. Perhaps running ultras is like childbirth: If we remembered the pain, we’d all just have one kid (or run just one).

I learned a bunch of things (8 lessons, in fact) from that first ultra that I plan to follow. I’m adding a few more now that I’ve had the benefit of a few months to think back:

  • It’s all about the base. Running in the Michigan tundra in the winter is plain hard. As with all things running, it’s all of those miles leading up to race day that really count. So I’m making sure that I put in the time now. To do so, I’m following the Hal Higdon Half Marathon Intermediate training plan so that I’m ready for my first half of the year: the Gazelle Girl Half in Grand Rapids. Starting early means I will have a strong base before full-blown ultra training begins.
  • It’s also about the experience. Sure, the race was a fun event. But what made it memorable — and worth repeating — was the time I got to spend with my runner friends. A bunch of us made a weekend of it, including camping at a local park, a Friday night dinner at a local restaurant and a potluck dinner after the race.
  • Think about the time immediately after the race. I spent months and months plotting out just about every detail of my race, including packing my drop bag, buying the perfect hydration pack and breaking in a second pair of trail shoes (in my case, the Brooks Cascadia). But I never planned for the time immediately after we got done. I now know to pack a small bag so I can take a HOT shower immediately. I would have given up a kidney for a lukewarm shower after all that time on my feet. Because we (gladly) waited for our friends to finish, I had to wait a couple of hours before showering. Not bueno.
  • A trail race requires that you train on trails. A lot. A group of us run on local trails most Sunday mornings and I certainly ran on trails whenever we were on one of our camping trips. Both truly helped. But I need to increase my trail running significantly this year, plus do a lot more hill work. While I finished upright after 10-plus hours on my feet, working on endurance will make for a more-pleasant experience.
  • Don’t expect anyone to understand. Why spend that much time training for such a long race? Are you crazy? Who does that? All questions I’ve been asked and, frankly, can’t really answer to the asker’s satisfaction. I no longer expect them to understand.

This all said, I haven’t actually signed up for the Woodstock 50K yet. I certainly want to and am hopeful that my friends will be by my side. What do y’all say Ultra Sole Sisters? (Click on “Continue Reading” to leave a comment.)

If you’ve read my blog before, you may have noticed that I have a hate/hate relationship with my treadmill. Despise is not a strong-enough word.

My hatred for the thing is so deep that this runner chica bundles up and runs outside in the winter.

That is, until now. I seem to have cracked the code — and I hope I’m not speaking too soon — but I think I’ve made the treadmill by b@#%*!

Take that, treadmill. The fix was so simple that I am kicking myself for not thinking of it sooner.

(Pause for dramatic effect.)

Sunny Skirt in Frolic helps make the treadmill run suck less.

I stop every half mile.

Yeah, that’s my big secret. I stop, get off the treadmill, get a drink of water from a nearby water bottle, get back on the thing and run.

Why does this work for me? Mostly because I overheat when I run. Taking frequent, less-than-a-minute-long breaks has been helping. A lot.

So much so, that I haven’t had to skip any of the weekday runs on my Hal Higdon intermediate half-marathon training plan. And with five runs on the schedule, I can’t afford to skip a run just because it’s winter in the Michigan tundra.

If you’re struggling to run more than a mile or two, here are a couple of other things you can also try to make the treadmill runs suck less:

  • Watch a show or movie on an iPad or smartphone. I recently started re-watching The Sopranos on Amazon Prime. If that’s not enough, try watching your favorite show only when you’re on the treadmill.
  • Dress for success. I dress like I do in the warmest days of summer, plus have a ceiling fan and table-top fan blowing on me while I’m on the ‘mill.
  • Listen to music. Some of my friends can’t watch videos when they run (I know I can’t read m’self), so they listen to upbeat music. My Pandora station has gotten me through may an outdoor run by myself.
  • People watch. If you’re running on the treadmill at your gym, some of your fellow patrons may provide the best entertainment of your week.

So far, I’ve been doing three to 3.5 mile runs indoors. The plan calls for mid-week runs that go up to 8 milers. I am hopeful that the weather will allow me to take most of those runs outside. If not, at least now I know I can tame the stupid thing.

Do you have any tricks to get yourself to run on the treadmill? Any ways you make your treadmill runs suck less? (Click on “Continue Reading” to leave a comment.)