Sunday, November 27, 2011

Flexibility… and growth

No, contrary to what the title says, I will not be giving a perspective on flexibility in the way you are probably thinking. For starters, although I am a runner and a physical therapist, I am probably the last person you would want to hear from about flexibility because let’s face it, the length of my hamstrings (and most other muscle groups) is almost embarrassing!
On the other hand, I do think running forces an individual to become flexible in so many ways from expectations, routes, weather changes, etc. This is something I am constantly learning. Yesterday, Ben and I decided to try to get in a trail run before the weather changes drastically. I did not want any old trail run; rather, I was very particular about the location of where I hoped to go.
The day began with us leaving much later than we had anticipated or hoped (who knew I like to sleep in occasionally) and continued with us taking the wrong exit off of the freeway. We then had not anticipated fully how much time it would take to get to where we were going. How this even happened is beyond my comprehension. The trail I was hoping for requires one to travel from Denver, through the town of Lyons, then through Estes, to a small town on the other side of Estes. Because of time constraints, we opted to stop at a trail between Lyons and Estes Park. Needless to say, the drive was beautiful (as expected) but by the time we reached the trail head, it was a bit later than we had anticipated.
When we got out of the car, the trail description showed it to be much much shorter run than we had hoped for and there appeared to be some snow in the area. After looking at the map, we decided to give the trail a try and hope that it really did meet up with a jeep road eventually. As we headed down from the trailhead, I was very excited to be on a trail again. After about a quarter of a mile of downhill, we came to a small valley that was covered in snow. I am not sure why I did not expect this on November 26th in the Rocky Mountains, but I was quite surprised and to be honest, scared. I no longer knew what I was getting myself into!
Snow?? Ice?? You have to be crazy! I could not help but think that I had no idea how to run on that kind of terrain and I was so scared! As we picked our way along the trail, there were sections where Ben would wait patiently for me, as I tried to pansy my way through a stream crossing without getting wet or maintain my footing up a steep, slick slope. There were multiple times where I was inwardly cursing and then times where I found myself thinking “You just blogged about thankfulness and you are cranky about the snow!” There was even a time at which Ben turned around just in time to catch me seriously thinking about crab walking down a slick descent (I know, shameful) and say “Oh, common! You are bigger than that!”
My first reaction was to yell mean things at him, but I instantly realized that he was right. It really was just a short descent and what was the worst that would happen if I slipped, especially if I was expecting it? In the end, I came out with a few trips and only one fall, which is pretty good in general for me!
The trail turned out to be an awesome adventure and beautiful run. There were several stream crossings along the way and lots of rolling hills and varied terrains. At one point, the trail opened up to a mountain prairie, where the sun was shining warmly and the patches of snow were brilliant.  Just off the trail there were remnants of old homestead properties and placards telling the stories of the people who once lived in the area. What an amazing piece of history!
In the end, the trail run was one of the hardest I have ever done, largely because of the ice. The day and the run threw so many unexpected things at me that could very well have sidelined me if I had let it. Overall, the run turned out to be exactly what I need in many ways. It was such a good reminder that in running and in life, we will meet obstacles that are completely unexpected and almost impossible to be ready for, but if we are willing to take a risk, we might just come out stronger on the other side.

Friday, November 25, 2011


Thankfulness seems to be the buzz word this time of year. I really love Thanksgiving and I love the fact that it is such a reminder to take time out to be thankful, but I also really love that there are things I am thankful for every day, even if I do not realize it. Yes, I am thankful for the classic list of things: grace, forgiveness, love, family, friends, jobs, a house, food, and the list goes on. Don’t get me wrong, I am not downplaying the importance of anyone of these things we are thankful for, but I also want to take some time to be thankful for the little things that are so often taken for granted.
Ben and I went running yesterday morning and had the most amazing clear view of the front range of the Rocky Mountains for a good part of our run. I am so thankful that I have the eyes with which to see that awesome wonder. I am also so thankful that I have feet and legs that allow me to get outside and run, and not just to run, but to enjoy running. I am thankful that my body is healthy enough to work out on a regular basis. I am thankful for a running partner and I am Thankful for people who support us while we run.  I am thankful for good shoes and good gear. I am thankful for a gym membership on nasty days and weight lifting days. I am thankful for sunshine and warm rain. I am thankful for trails and new scenery. I am thankful for races and opportunities to meet new people. The list could go on around things I am thankful for related to running and fitness, but I will stop… for now.
While it can be very difficult this time of year to get up and work out, I challenge you (I need this too) to think of something related to being active you can be thankful for every time you are debating whether or not you should do that run,  head to the gym to lift, or do that work out. Being thankful for the little forgotten things can help put life into a new perspective.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Running with friends

I was a rower during undergrad and loved being involved in a team. There was a sense of belonging on this team. The transition to graduate school was difficult because I had no athletic team anymore. Although I continued to run on my own, there was nothing “team” about this. Don’t get me wrong, I do still enjoy running on my own every once in a while, but this has been replaced by something so much cooler.
After several years of inconsistently running with me, Ben signed up for a race with me in 2009 and has not stopped running since. Having a running partner has been an awesome experience for many reasons. We tend to balance each other out with different strengths. Ben likes to go for shorter, faster runs; I love longer runs and kick in after about a nine mile warm up. Ben is amazing at trail running as he is nimble and quick. I still prefer to run more than he does and will encourage us to run, but he balances us with a desire to rest and be around people. Running has also forced us to work on our communication as we work through our fears, goals, hopes, pains, and good and bad runs.
For a long time, none of our close friends ran much at all. Last year, a good friend of ours decided to run a half marathon and my heart beamed for her. As running has continued to be a big part of our lives, it has been fun to see how reactions of close friends have changed from “You ran how many miles?” to “I want to do a 5k.” Recently, both parties of a close couple we know have decided to increase mileage. It has been fun to be a part of the journey with them as they plan and increase mileage. It has also been a huge blessing to be there during some of their firsts… her first 5k distance, his first 8 mile run and then half marathon. They have also both joined us for different runs, where they help keep us accountable for going and also bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table. It has been a joy to be able to run with them and see their growth through life and running.
Several of our other friends have also become increasingly interested in running and it has been a blast to watch them get started as well. Because of this and our desire to build a sense of community, Ben and I have even decided to start a running club as a way to make friends and build community through an activity that is a huge part of our life.
Going through life requires the support of many people. If running can be seen as an analogy for life, why shouldn’t we also run together?

Friday, November 11, 2011

These little things called hand warmers

When Ben and I were preparing for the Gore-Tex Transrockies run, someone recommended to him that we buy hand warmers for this race. Ben immediately went to Costco and bought a huge box of hand warmers. While we did take several of them to Transrockies, we did not actually find a need for them then.
We have, however, begun to use them quite regularly and have discovered that these amazing little gems have so many uses. They are fantastic for stuffing into gloves for cold hands while running (where they keep the palms incredibly warm) or for holding (which then will also warm the fingers). They can also be strategically placed in your clothes to warm various parts of the body. The most amazing thing about them is that they last several hours, so once you have generously warmed one area of your body on a run, you can move onto another part. They also last long enough that they are still good when you return from shorter long runs. Considering how ridiculously cold I get after these runs, hand warmers are amazing!
To be quite honest, I would never have considered buying hand warmers prior to this individual’s suggestion. I can promise you though, we will continue to have a stash and I will recommend them to all who stay active during the really cold months of the year!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Marine Corps Marathon

On Sunday, 20,991 people completed the US Marine Corps Marathon in Arlington, VA. I was one of them. Prior to this marathon, the largest marathon I had completed in only had 2,438 finishers. What a shock to the system!
Our weekend began when we landed in Norfolk, VA on Thursday, close to where my in-laws live. Ben and I checked into our hotel and set out for an “easy” three mile run. Going from altitude to sea level is amazing and “easy” quickly turned into a “How fast are we going? Oh, that is too fast for an easy run. Ok, how about now? Nope, still too fast!” It was nice to run by the ocean, even if for a brief bit, but strange to feel the humidity difference between Denver and a coastal city. Anyways, we hung out with family on Thursday night and then Ben and I drove up to D.C. on Friday morning.
People had indicated that driving in D.C. is crazy. As a former southern Californian, I was very skeptical. Boy, was I wrong. After seeing the Air Force Memorial, Ben and I probably spent about 20 minutes driving around the Pentagon and Arlington Cemetery, trying desperately to get to one or the other. We eventually made it to the Arlington Cemetery and were just in time to see the changing of the guard and a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. It was so powerful. We then made our way towards the mall, found parking, and managed to see the White House and the majority of the other memorials in under three hours. It was a really cool thing to be able to finally experience these.
On Saturday morning, we woke to some pretty miserable weather. It was cold and raining (with some snow). We decided to try our luck at the subway and found that it was super easy to navigate. We had decided to meet up with Ben’s parents at the runners expo for race packet pick-up since Ben’s dad was also running the marathon. The race packets were ok. The organizers did an online race package with coupons and such to decrease waste. The shirts are this year are red, mock turtle neck, cotton t-shirts. The expo was at the Armory and was extremely crowded. There were some pretty cool booths at the expo and I would have like to stay longer to explore and meet Ryan Hall, but we had some more sights to see. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around D.C in the cold in between viewing some of the Smithsonians. After several hours on our feet, Ben and I decided to return to our hotel to thaw out and rest up for race day.
Our race day prep (outside of training) always feels like it takes forever, especially when we are not at home. The correct outfit has to be chosen based on the predicted weather, race bibs readied bladders have to be filled and place in our packs, and the appropriate amount of fuel needs to be prepared for each of us. We try to complete this process the night before so we can capitalize on sleep on the back end (especially when we are racing in a time zone that is two hours ahead… feels like 1:30 when the clock reads 3:30)!.
Anyways, race day arrived and Ben and I had a frantic morning checking out of the hotel, as there was unexpected ice and the windshield. We took the metro to the Pentagon, where we joined lots of other runners heading to the runner’s village. A couple of tents were set up for people to mingle in prior to the race. I was completely unprepared for how cold the morning was actually going to be and spent a good portion of the hour and a half leading up to the race shivering. I eventually opted to change into my ¾ length pants into my full length compression pants I had brought for after the race. It took until the end of the third mile for me to finally be able to feel my feet. At the runners village, I was a little bummed to find that there was no water. Porta-potties were, however, quite well supplied.
When it was time to line up for the start, Ben, his dad, and I lined up in what Ben and I anticipated our finish time to be. Someone had recommended that we try to get into a corral that was just faster than our expected time, but the crowds were too large to deal with. The pre-race ceremony was really cool (even though we observed most of it from the line for the porta-potties). Once the race started, it took about fifteen minutes for us to reach the start line.
The race started by the Pentagon and wound its way from Arlington into D.C. The start was a little slow and required much attention to foot placement as I tried to bob and weave around people. Pretty early in the course, we were met with a hill. It was at this moment that I really appreciate training in Denver with hills and felt really frustrated with people who do not train with hills. It became very challenging to run the hills, which was frustrating as the course was significantly hillier than we expected. We stayed with Ben’s dad until about mile three, when we decided to split and increase our speed a bit.  At one point, around mile seven, there is a hair pin turn that leads directly up a decently long hill. Here, people slowed way down and it became very difficult to weave in and out. At the top of the hill, we were met by a wall of people standing in line for the porta potties (the doors here were facing the wrong direction). I am pretty sure I have bruises from all the different elbows that came into contact with my arms. It was at this point in the race that Ben and I looked at each other and realized how much we appreciate small races.
During the course, we ran passed the Mall, several memorials, and the Capital. The toughest part of the course was towards the end, where you climb a long bridge as you run towards Crystal City. The course then winds down into Crystal City and as you see runners going the opposite direction, we realized we had to climb back out. It was at this point in the race that our GPS died, which we had been relying on pretty heavily. When we saw the sign for mile 26, the finish was still not visible. We rounded a turn and realized we had a short, steep hill to climb to get there. After crossing the line, we were met by another wall of people as we waited for our blankets and our hand shake and medal. We were then funneled out to the Iwogima Memorial where Marines were handing out foot. Once past here, the line kept going and led to the finish line festival where we got our clothes and warmed up. We met up with Ben’s parents and made sure to hit up the beer tent before heading back to Virginia Beahc.
Overall, Ben and I had a great race. We communicated well with each other. We both stayed hydrated and fueled really well. I did not fall (surprisingly). We ended up setting a PR by 17 minutes, which was so exhilarating.
The quick and dirty
So, I know I probably sounded a bit like Negative Nancy in my description, so let me say that overall, it truly was a fun race and there were a lot of cool things about it. The amount of spectators made the mileage go by so very quickly. It was amazing to see how many people came out to cheer for the crazies. I wish there were always that many spectators at our races.  It was also really awesome to be part of this event and to run in such a historical place. The race expo was filled with lots of interesting booths. The finish line party had the best food possible to feed that many people. There was plenty of beer at the beer tent. The Marines were extremely helpful with meeting needs of the runners. Access to the start and finish was really easy. The course itself is a fantastic and fun course.
To be honest though, I cannot say that this race is on my list of things to do again. Running with the amount of people that competed in the marathon made the experience itself very difficult. I felt like I had to constantly be more aware of where I was running and spent a lot of energy weaving through the crowds. I was disappointed in the start of the race and I think it would be a better start if waves were used based on previous times (the BolderBoulder does this successfully and it is a much larger race). In a race this large, when the ground is wet from weather the day before, handing out oranges with the peels on does not seem like the greatest idea to me. I am not sure what you could do instead, but peels on a wet ground made running treacherous at times.
Even with all of that, I am glad to have been a part of the Marine Corps Marathon. I am glad to have my sixth marathon done, with a pretty sweet PR. For now, it is back to training for 30 miles for Ben’s 30th birthday and our next marathon in January.


Would I do this race again? For the spectators and the experience, yes. For everything else, probably not.
Would I recommend it to a friend? Probably as a one time recommendation or to someone who really likes big crowds.
Would I change anything? Of course… the start, the direction of the porta potty doors at mile 7
Is it worth the value? The views, crew, and post-race party, and the experience made it worth the value
Overall race experience: Mixed