Top of Utah Marathon 2017

Race reports aren’t really interesting to anyone but the runner, but to not record this day seems wrong.

First, let me honest.  Marathons are really hard.  I mean, REALLY hard.  And they’re getting harder as I get older.  That’s okay.  I can handle the physical pain.  What’s been eating away at me is the stress surrounding marathons, most of it self-imposed.  I’m not elite by any stretch.  But I’m locally competitive.  Over the last 10 years and 46 marathons, I’ve placed in the majority of local races, most overall places.  For a girl who never ran more than a mile in P.E. class growing up, I’m really proud of all I’ve accomplished, especially since my initial goal when I signed up for my first marathon was simply not to embarrass myself.

The night before my first TOU.

Once I started to realize I had a tiny speck of talent in my legs, the stress went through the roof.  I expected a lot from myself.  When you know how good it feels to do well, it makes not doing well feel even worse.  Blah, blah, blah.  These problems aren’t even really problems.  But over the years, racing stopped being fun.

So, I started traveling to races where no one knew me and the expectations disappeared.  Amsterdam.  Berlin.  New York. Boston.  Eugene.  Those are the races I enjoyed most.

I’d met every goal I’d set for my marathoning self, and then some.  I’ve placed overall in every major Utah marathon- even St. George.  I’ve run three sub-3 hour races.  I’ve won a couple marathons and a few half-marathons.  I’ve set a few course records in the overalls and master’s divisions.  I’ve won the Utah Grand Slam three times.  I only had one more goal to check off my list.

I wanted a moose clock.

My first TOU.

 

The Top of Utah Marathon rewards its most loyal athletes (runners who’d run the race 10 times) with a gorgeous oak moose clock, and I’ve coveted it since the first time I ran TOU in 2008.  Last year, my 9th year, the threat of TOU not returning was real due to low registration.  I begged the race directors not to cancel 2017.  How sad would I be to get this close to running my 10th TOU and not get that clock? (Answer- very, very sad.)  Oh happy day when they decided to move forward with this year’s race.

My second TOU. Ali was 2. She’s now 10!

As the day drew close, my nerves got worse.  Race day felt like a dark cloud keeping me from enjoying the fall season.  My life was dissected into pre and post race day plans.  Training had gone okay.  I knew I wouldn’t be setting any PR’s, but I wasn’t feeling injured or exhausted.  Yet, the night before in my hotel room, my heart was pounding in my chest as though it was my first race ever.  To calm myself down, I decided this year would be my last local marathon.

Morning finally came and I boarded the bus to the start.  I won’t bore you with a mile by mile breakdown.  But here are the highlights.

Me, Tyler, and Jill at one of many TOU finish lines. 2012?

At it’s height, TOU attracted more than 2000 runners.  Last weekend there were fewer than 400.  It’s a beautiful course with the best directors and volunteers, so this fact keeps me shaking my head as I watch the numbers dwindle more each year.  The only positive note is it’s easy to get into a port-o-potty!

My first moose trophy!

My running/racing partner Tyler decided to meet me at mile 14 to help me run the last 12.  Mile 14 is also where my husband and daughter Ali would be to cheer me on.  So, goal #1, get thyself to mile 14.  I ran the first half in 1:31.  Not bad, but I knew the second half would be much slower.  My right hamstring was a little achy, but my right shoulder which I separated in a bad bike crash in June 2016 was on fire, and not in a good way.  The nerve endings all up and down my arm and into my neck and shoulder started talking back around mile 7.  By mile 14 they were screaming.

Coming out of the canyon. Never have I been so happy to see my friends and family.

The canyon is gorgeous.  Fall is sprinkled through the trees, and when the morning light hits that canyon it’s like fireworks exploding on the hillside.  I don’t run with music, so the sound of the stream rushing downhill alongside the road makes for a meditative run.

While I usually do math in my head to distract me from running, this year all my thoughts were about running.  I thought a lot about how far I’ve come.  How running has changed me inside and out.  How what started off as an activity to burn off a few extra pounds became a mental life raft.  I thought about the first marathon I finished.  The first sub-3.  The first marathon win.  I thought of the friends I’ve met, and the relationships I’ve forged.  I thought about my birthday marathon around Daybreak Lake.  I thought about Boston 2013, and then Boston 2014.  I thought about the peace I still feel even on the most painful runs.

Meeting Kaitlynne, my oldest, at mile 14 at the mouth of the canyon in 2012.

The miles ticked by and then, there it was. Mile 14.  I told Tyler if I’d been adequately hydrated, I’d have wept for joy I was so happy to see him.  While the first 14 miles are down the gorgeous Blacksmith Fork Canyon, the last 12 are a twisty turny journey through hills and neighborhoods.  He distracted me as he told stories of his previous week’s run with Alicia, his sister and my high school friend, as he paced her the last 33 miles of her 100-mile ultra.  100 miles.  People do this.  Seriously.

This guy. We’ve logged a lot of miles together. He keeps me from losing my mind more often than not. Mile 19 in 2017.

The best part of TOU is the ease with which spectators can cheer on their runners.  I saw my family a few more times before the finish.  Somewhere around mile 19 my side began to cramp.  It’s been an issue since my hysterectomy in December.  I’d hoped it wouldn’t rear it’s ugly head, but it did.  It’s not the kind of cramp I can run through, so I walked.  I never walk in a race.  But over the next seven miles, I walked through every aid station and then some.

Ali patiently waiting for me to finish.

The last mile felt like ten.  But finally, there was the finish line.  Rick and Elfi Ortenburger were there to cheer me and a few other friends to the finish.  My husband and daughter Ali were on the other side.  I tried to high-five them, but by this point I couldn’t lift my arm.  But they could tell how grateful I was that they were there.  I crossed the finish line in 3:13, fourth overall woman.  Second in the female master’s division.  I stumbled through the finish chute, grabbed my medal with my good arm, found a chair to sit on and cried.

The finish line 2017

 

Trying to high-five Christian.

They were tears of relief, sadness, elation and disappointment all rolled together.  Relief the race was done.  Sadness that it was the last marathon.  Elation I had placed.  Disappointment it was my worst finish time in over seven years.  There were a few tears of pain mixed in there, too.

Top five overall women 2017

After the awards ceremony, I sat down in the park where the finish line festivities are held just so I could soak it in a little longer.  Now it’s three days later.  Rumor has it that next year will be the last year for TOU.  It will be the 20th running.  With so few runners, they aren’t breaking even.  Every year they lose more.  There is no shortage of runners, but there is no shortage of races, either, others offering more downhill than TOU.  This continues to break my heart as TOU is so personally special to me.  The race directors love their runners and it shows in the care they offer.  The volunteers, the one-of-a-kind awards, their enthusiasm- it all makes for a day like no other.

My ten-year clock and beautiful moose trophy.

I loudly declared this would be my last local marathon for awhile, but I’m not sure I can miss next year, especially since it’s their 20th anniversary, and definitely if it’s their last year.

Center Street Grill. A TOU family tradition.

Sitting at the Center Street Grille with my family munching on onion rings and burgers, taking in the fall colors, and enjoying the cool breeze after a tough race, I didn’t want to be anywhere else.  Life changes. Priorities shift.  Bodies grow older.  But TOU remains a unique and emotional yearly event and I’m not sure I’m ready to let that go.  My heart says “Yes” while my body says “No.”

To be continued…

My beautiful family in 2015.

Deseret News: Gym Class Etiquette

I’m no Emily Post, but I do believe good etiquette can enhance our lives and relationships with others.  The group fitness room is no exception.  The Group X room is the place I go to leave the world behind and lift, dance, stretch, and push myself to a better state of mind.  In a very real way, that room is my sanctuary.  I want it to be every member’s sanctuary.  I want every person who walks through the door to feel better leaving than when they arrived.  We are all responsible for making that happen.  We are a community.  And every thriving community adheres to a few unspoken (until now) rules.

Click on the link below to read up on a few rules of etiquette that will enhance any group fitness experience.

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865688138/Follow-simple-rules-of-group-fitness-etiquette.html

 

From the Archive: Finish Times Don’t Matter: Integrity Does

This column written in 2012 actually never saw the light of day.  It was a little too controversial for a happy little running column.  So I shelved it where it has sat for five years.   I stumbled upon it this afternoon looking through my archives and was surprised by how relevant it seems today.

Let me be clear- while this is about a political candidate, this is NOT a political post.  I am NOT advocating for the right or the left (although if you know me at all, my political leanings are no secret).  In fact, when I wrote this I was rooting for the Republican nominee.  In my voting life I’ve voted for Democrats and Republicans equally. With the exception of the most recent presidential election, I have voted for the winning party every time since Bill Clinton.

No, this column is about honesty.  It’s about integrity.  It’s about owning our successes outright.  It’s about celebrating the sacrifice, dedication, and effort that goes in to running a race- not the finish time.  It’s about telling the truth.

Read on to see what politics has to do with running.


I really hate it when worlds collide.

Remember seeing your teachers out in public? Seeing them at the grocery store was like spotting a giraffe in the garage. Very unsettling.

So imagine how shaken my reality became when recently the two very separate worlds of politics and running crashed into each other.

Running is my refuge. It’s where I turn to when I need to clear my head and release the tension that has built up in my neck from the day’s stressors. It’s the one place I can go to escape the non-stop political discussions that seem to dominate the news feeds. Yes, it is election season, but we all could use a breather once in awhile.

But with Paul Ryan’s recent claim to marathoning fame, it was a little harder to find that escape. The issue causing upheaval in the running world? Ryan’s claim that he ran a sub-3 hour marathon years ago. He stated he couldn’t remember the exact time. Around 2:50-ish, he said.

Continue reading “From the Archive: Finish Times Don’t Matter: Integrity Does”

From the Archives- What Lies Ahead

WJHS class of ’93

I just got home from taking my oldest daughter and her friends to the junior high school to get their lockers and schedules for the upcoming school year.  As most of my friends know, I used to teach high school English.  Before that I was an adjunct professor at SUU where I taught writing.  From the time I was 10 I thought I’d forever be an English teacher.  I toyed with a few other professions, but I don’t think I ever seriously considered them.  I certainly NEVER thought I’d be a fitness instructor.  As far as sports were concerned, I didn’t play any.  I wasn’t physically capable of much, I thought.

Of course now I know we are complex, multi-dimensional beings.  We don’t fit neatly into a category or box, nor should we.  You can be smart and athletic.  You can be musical and scientific.  You can be funny and serious.  I can study and appreciate Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and be thoroughly entertained watching “Big Brother”.  That’s what makes us interesting.

As my kids start to feel out who they are, and who they want to be, I remind them of my dueling personalities.  They can be whoever they want.  And whoever they want to be will change.  This article from 2013 touches on that.  Keep reading for more.

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Twenty years ago I sat in Mrs. Stewart’s English class with my friends trying to imagine what our lives would be like when we reunited for our 20th reunion. Some pictured big families. Some pictured living in exotic locations with exciting jobs. I pictured… nothing.

At seventeen, I didn’t know if I wanted to be a corporate bigwig or a mom to ten kids. Both of those options seem so out of character now that I can’t help but laugh at their seeming possibility then. The late teens and early twenties are a time of self-discovery. And while I didn’t backpack through Europe to find myself (my meager salary from Taste of Chicago made sure that didn’t happen), I certainly did uncover parts of myself that were both surprising and wonderful.

Experience taught me I hate cooking. I’m terrible at sewing. Gardening is an art beyond my skill set. Teaching is my call, but not in the way I expected.

But the biggest discoveries came through running. For many years I allowed myself to be pigeon-holed. I wrongly believed that because I wasn’t terribly good at team sports, athletics would never play a role in my life.

Continue reading “From the Archives- What Lies Ahead”

From the Archives- Pennies in the Bucket

It all starts here- change, that is.

It’s the small changes, the little tweaks, that make a big difference.  Whether you’re wanting to change your physical or mental health, there’s no reason to overwhelm ourselves with a major overhaul.  While the changes I cite in this Des News article from 2016 aren’t necessarily the changes I’ve incorporated into my current daily routine, they were all a good kickstart to what has been a much healthier and happier 2017.

Read more about how every little penny adds up to big riches here.

 

Our family has a “Fun Bucket”. This is where all our loose change finds a home. At some point, usually before a vacation, we exchange the change for bills and use it for spending money. Those small amounts add up fast. At least $60, up to $100 and we cash it in more than once a year.

I use this metaphor in class. Small change makes a big difference. Those little tweaks in our workouts or nutrition may not seem like a big deal, but they can make all the difference in our overall health.

We’re a couple months into the new year. Resolutions are threatened by dwindling motivation. We’re not on a weight-loss reality show. Change doesn’t happen between commercials. This is real life and change takes time. For the patience-impaired, this is a challenge. Motivation lags when we don’t see results, but I promise, with consistent effort change will happen.

Continue reading “From the Archives- Pennies in the Bucket”

Des News: Do You Need a Break?

My daughter and I taking a break.

Relationships are living, breathing things.  We grow and change.  We are not the same people today that we were last year.  Like you need a blog to tell you that.  So why is it so hard to accept that our relationship to running, or any workout really, is also dynamic?  I once told a friend that I was cutting back on marathons.  The love just wasn’t there anymore.  Her reaction was as if I’d told her I was allergic to chocolate.  She kept assuring me I would bounce back.  This was only temporary.  I would be okay.  Her advice was to sign up for more races until I found the love again.  Well intended, but seriously misguided.  I wasn’t complaining.  I wasn’t lamenting the loss of my glory years.  I wasn’t even quitting running.  I just didn’t want to race.  There was nothing deep and spiritual to read into this shift.  I just didn’t wanna and that’s okay.  I mean, I used to love those Brach’s circus peanuts and Kool-Aid.  Give me those now and I’d literally gag.

This week’s Des. News column is intended to help you know if you’re in a running funk- if you need to take a step back or take a break.   I also list a few things that help me transition into that break while maintaining my sanity.

Click on the link below to read the full column.

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865686247/Knowing-when-to-take-a-break-from-running.html

From the Archives- No Shame in the Struggle

After one of the hardest runs EVER. There were real moments of doubt. Never been so happy to see this sign. Heat, hills, extra miles, we persevered and made it.
Some days are dry, some days are leaky
Some days come clean, other days are sneaky
Some days take less, but most days take more
Some slip through your fingers and onto the floor
Some days you’re quick, but most days you’re speedy
Some days you use more force than is necessary
Some days just drop in on us
Some days are better than others
Some days it all adds up
And what you got is not enough
Some days are better than others
“Some Days Are Better Than Others” U2
True words, those are.  Some days are just hard.  As my kids say, “The struggle is real.”  That’s not necessarily bad.  Strength comes from struggle, at least that’s what I tell my group X members.  How can you get stronger if the weights we pick up are light and easy?  It’s when we allow ourselves to go to that dark place, slog through the mud, and come out the other end that we gain strength.  There’s no other way.  Trust me, if I could get stronger by sitting on the couch watching “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” I’d be Superwoman by now.  I never, ever wake up raring to go.  It takes me a minute to get my engine warmed up.  Some days it ends in a sputter.  Other days my engine purrs with power.  But I never quit.  This article from a 2015 Des News column is about that.  Taking breaks is fine.  But letting our doubts and fears and excuses break us is not.  Just keep on keeping on.
Read more here.

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For the longest time, I opted for the orange light handweights. The itty-bitty weights that offered little in the way of resistance, and almost nothing in the way of a challenge. It wasn’t because I couldn’t lift anything heavier- I just didn’t want anyone to see me struggle.

Back then, struggle was synonymous with weakness. The strained look on my face was an indication of how unfit I was. I my mind, my arms screamed Olive Oil while I longed to be Popeye, but I was scared to tackle the weights that would get me there. I didn’t want other gym goers to worry, or worse, judge me by the pained look in my face. So I opted for what was easy.

I can hear Dr. Phil in my head right now. “How’s that been workin’ for ya?” Um, not very well, thank you. Sick of letting my concern over what others thought of me dictate my own choices and progress, one day I picked up the heavy yellow weights. Then the green.  Sometimes the big, bad blue ones.  And I kept picking them up. Day after day. Week after week. Month after month. You get the idea. And wouldn’t you know it, those Olive Oil arms didn’t quite turn all Popeye on me, but they sure did look good. Strong. Defined. Muscular.

 

Taking on a challenge can be daunting, especially when others are watching. Whether we’re taking a new job, position, hobby, or sport so many of us are afraid to look weak. That’s why it’s so hard to get out of that comfort zone. It’s comfortable. Like rainy Saturday afternoon movie-fest comfortable. Like home-from-a-long-vacation-first-day-in-my-own-bed comfortable. It’s a good place to be- until it’s not.

Every year I have a mantra. A creed I try to live by for at least 365 days. I phrase that helps shape my daily decisions, big or small. This year’s mantra is “Go Get It.” I doubt there will be t-shirts made with my mantra or people rushing tattoo parlors to have this emblazoned on their biceps, but as simple as it is, it really has changed the choices I make.

Rather than stewing over how hard a task is or the potential embarrassment I may suffer if I struggle, or worse, fail, I take a deep breath, a big step forward and just “Go Get It.” It’s tough to push out concern over what others think. It’s hard not to stress over the massiveness of a project, but I can honestly say that I’ve succeeded more often than I’ve failed this year. I’ve put myself out in the ring for people to throw tomatoes or roses. But I’m tired of sitting on the sidelines gripped with the fear of failure. I don’t want to be held hostage by my perception of what others think of me. Getting hit with tomatoes hurts, but it’s sure better than regretting never having stepped into the ring at all and wondering what could have been.

Paula Radcliffe, one of the greatest female distance runners of all time, has achieved tremendous success. Winning multiple NYC Marathons and holding the world record marathon time of 2:17:18, she is the best of the best. The one goal she never achieved, however, is winning an Olympic medal. In 2004, not only did she not win, she didn’t even finish. Sidelined with stomach issues, she quit at mile 18. Determined not to end her Olympic career on a low note, she came back in 2008 only to finish 23rd. Devastated, angry and embarrassed, sure. But a fear of failing never held her back from trying. Even after the Olympics she continued running and winning multiple marathons.

“Fail” is a 4-letter word. But so is “quit”. “Struggle” is not. When I see someone struggle in a weight class or in spin class, I don’t think, “weak”. I think that person is pushing their bodies as hard and far as they can, and that earns my respect.

We’re all good at something, but none of us is good at everything. And we’ll never get good at that one thing until we tackle it. Just like muscle need resistance to work against to build strength, we need to stretch ourselves mentally, physically and emotionally to grow. Whether we’ve dreamed of running a half-marathon, wanted to go back to college to finish up that degree, open a new business, or write a book, we have to aim high to climb high. We have to drop those little orange weights and grab the big yellow weights if we want to see a change.

Continue reading “From the Archives- No Shame in the Struggle”

Deseret News: Reasons to Run When You Travel

Posing in front of the Reichstag building in Berlin after a marathon.

There was a time when I would have scoffed at the idea of working out during vacation.  I mean, vacations are for sleeping in and lounging around, right?  Sometimes.  But sometimes getting in a run before a busy day of touring is the best way to start the day.  I’ve come to love running when I travel so much that part of my vacation prep is searching out running routes.  Click the link below to read this week’s Deseret News column for a list of reasons why you should considering adding in a run or two during your next vacation.

 

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865684934/Reasons-to-run-when-you-travel.html

We Arrived Alive!

Shelly and I at the end of our last organized century ride. Despite the our laughter, this really wasn’t fun at all. Don’t let the picture fool you. I was probably crying just moments before this was taken.

I’m still on summer break, and I promise new articles coming soon.  In the meantime, here’s a little update on my summer adventures.  Some of you know last year my friend Shelly and I were in a bad bike crash.  A piece of wood took us down and we sported the latest and greatest in slings and casts for the rest of the summer.  Another nifty souvenir from that fall was a newfound fear of cycling.  “Fear” isn’t a strong enough word.  Let’s try “terror.”  We’ve ridden a few times since that fall, mostly on a paved path designated for bikes and pedestrians only.  In other words, no traffic.  Our longest ride was around 40 miles, but it wasn’t about mileage.  Those rides were about conquering our fears.  Well, guess what.  We didn’t.  That’s right.  We didn’t.  We are still scared.  Terrified, even.

Wait.  Isn’t this story supposed to be about getting back in the saddle (pardon the pun), conquering our fears and coming out the other side better for it?  Yeah, real life doesn’t follow a script.

Last Saturday Shelly and I and our other cycling friend Lisa drove to Idaho to ride in our first organized ride since the crash.  We rode the Goldilocks Century in Nampa, Idaho.  We chose it for it’s fairly flat course, beautiful scenery, good support, and really good sandwiches.  Because of near 105 degree temps (but mostly because I’m scared) we opted out of the usual 100-mile distance we usually do and chose to ride the 80-mile route.

I was literally shaking when we started.  It didn’t help that as we waited at the start line, we heard two cars skid and collide in the intersection just feet away.  Twenty-five miles in we were met with a steep downhill, 12% grade, with a right turn at the bottom.  I’d rather climb than descend and I said more prayers on the way down that hill than I’ve said in a year.  The nerves dissipated a bit after the halfway mark, but I don’t think there was ever a moment I felt 100% comfortable.  In fact, I doubt I ever will again.

Me, Lisa, and Shelly at the end of this year’s 80-mile adventure. All bones, ligaments and tendons in tact. And smiles, too!

So what’s the point of this cheerful update?  I was scared, but I rode anyway.  Doing things that truly frighten us is the very definition of courage and I’m owning it today.  We were all scared at one point or another, but our seats didn’t leave the saddle until we crossed the finish line.

What’s next?  I don’t know.  Will I do another organized ride?  If you’d asked me Saturday, my answer was a definite, “No!”  Ask me today, I’m not sure.  But what I am sure of is that we have guts.  It’s days like Saturday that I will tuck into my back pocket and pull out as a reminder every time I’m faced with something that shakes me to my core.  We really can do hard things.

Laundry and Sadness

 

The Cowart at the Copenhagen 5K finish.

Sorry for the recent radio silence.  My family and I took a long overdue vacation to the Baltic capitals this month.  We’re all struggling with the last vestiges of jet lag and post-vacation blues.  As my daughter Ali said when our plane landed in the U.S., “There’s nothing to look forward to now except laundry and sadness.”  At least she had a good time, right?  I’ll write more about our travels including the first 5K we’ve done as an entire family.  There were highs and lows and grand epiphanies, and that was just in the first mile.  But right now, a nap.