100 Mile Redemption

I haven’t written a blog post in a while, but I kind of feel the need to now.  In order to set the stage here, I’m going to go back a bit.

On November 7, I started my first 100 mile run, the Pinhoti 100 in Sylacauga, Alabama.  I met my friend Britt there, and we headed out together into a rainy morning on a nice single track trail.  The forecast was for the rain to abate, but it never did.  And it just kept getting colder and colder.  Britt and I got to mile 55 together, and I had to drop from severe hypothermia.  Britt brought some warmer gear than I had, and she was able to keep going and finish that crazy race while I shivered and shook in strangers cars.  I met her at the finish line the next day, and I cried a little…both with happiness for her, and frustration that we didn’t get to cross together as planned.  When I got home from Alabama, I started searching for my redemption race.  I didn’t want to wait too long, since I was trained already!

I looked at several races, all over the country, in December and January.  A few got nixed because of course description, and a few got nixed because of my husband’s schedule. (He has to be around to hold down the fort at home while I travel to run around in the woods for a ridiculous amount of time.)  The race that finally rose to the top was Cajun Coyote in Louisiana.  I didn’t know a lot about it, but the course sounded pretty and I could get there for race day.  I registered, bought my plane tickets and started counting the days and obsessively watching the forecast in Ville Platte, LA.

Cajun Coyote takes place in Chicot State Park.  According to the race director’s online description, the woods were full of critters we don’t see in Maine…like armadillos, giant banana spiders, alligators, wild boars, and other funny Cajun wildlife.  I love seeing new things, so I bought a little camera to carry with me for possible wildlife sightings.  (My phone battery had to be saved on the outside chance I got mauled by a boar between aid stations and had to call for help.)  I packed my camera, the fancy new headlamp I won in a bib number draw at Pinhoti, and all the things I wished I had at Pinhoti that might have prevented me from getting hypothermia.  Cajun Coyote is a 20 mile loop course, which was comforting to me after the DNF.  I brought so many layers that had it suddenly dropped to six degrees in Louisiana, I would have been fine.  And because I would be running past my bags every 20 miles, I didn’t have to guess when I might need the thermal pants and the fleece buff!

I arrived in Lafayette, Louisiana on Dec 4, after a very long day of travel. I picked up my rental car and headed to Ville Platte, going straight to Chicot State Park to pick up my race packet, then I located my hotel, which seemed to be the only hotel in Ville Platte.  I asked the lady at the desk what sort of restaurants were in town, and she listed McDonalds, Burger King, Quiznos, Sonic, and El Charro.  All of those ‘restaurant’ names sent paroxysms of fear through my natural food eating soul, except El Charro, which I didn’t recognize.  Turns out it was a locally owned Mexican place right next to the hotel, and their shrimp fajitas were actually quite tasty! And yes, I had shrimp fajitas again the night after the race.  If I were to run this race again, I would bring a friend who wasn’t planning to run the 100 miler, and stay a little farther away to have a wider selection of food and beverage options both pre and post-race.  Camping at Chicot the night before the race and enjoying the pre-race outdoor food spread would have been fantastic, too.  I didn’t hang out when I was there because I hadn’t been to my hotel yet and felt like I needed to get settled in….but I know I missed some tasty gumbo!

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Pre-race meeting. Photo by Miriam McDaniel Thompson

Now to the race itself.   I got there about 6:00 am for the 6:30 start.  Our race numbers were written on our hands instead of having bibs, which I found to be really convenient.  No pins and crinkly paper to be generally annoying and get in the way of changing clothes with the changing weather.  The RD decided to delay the start of the race just a little bit, so we would not have to head out with headlamps for a mile or so of darkness, which was a great idea.  He rang the unicorn bell to start the race as soon as it was light enough to see. I don’t really know the history of why there are unicorns in this race, but they were at most of the aid stations, in inflatable or stuffed form.  I wonder if someone hallucinated a unicorn at some point, or if the unicorn is just about kitsch, which is probably the case…I should have asked.  When coming across a purple stuffed unicorn on the trail in the middle of the night, the hallucination theory becomes more probable, however.

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Morning light on the cypress trees

The first loop of the course was lovely…the sun slowly rose, igniting the tops of the cypress trees with early light.  This was the lap where everything was new….the day, the scenery, and the layout of the course.  “Ooh, more hills than I thought!”  “Hey, check out these boardwalks!” “The cypress are lovely!”  “Holy crap, dodge that giant banana spider in the trail!”  I was going fast enough on the way out that the people in front of me had just taken out a small part of the spider’s web to allow them to get past, which left the spider to still occupy a good portion of the trail, at face level.  I’m not arachnophobic, per se, but I didn’t want to get to cozy with one of those big spiders, no matter what the local guy behind me told me about them being really mellow.

The aid station folks were just getting set up.  They had plenty of good snacks and hydration, and they let us know what they were heating up for us for later in the day. P1000031.JPG

Lap 2 was mid –day beauty!  Sun and green foliage and birds singing in the trees, geese flying over, warmth, but not too much heat.  I was still keeping a good pace, trying to make sure I didn’t go faster than a 12 minute mile.  It was a beautiful and perfect day, too easy to wear oneself out in the early miles.

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Running on the boardwalks.  Photo by Miriam McDaniel Thompson.

Lap three.  I picked up my headlamp and some warm gear before heading out.  Before I saw the start/finish line again, it would be dark.  I was going a little slower, but I still felt okay.  The aid station folks knew the runners names by now, and they would yell your name as you approached their station, which was great.  It really started to feel like a big family in the woods. Soup was on…lentil at one, potato soup at another, noodles and broth at another.  Hot quesadillas, made to order, or pre-sliced for quick travel were at the ready, as well as lots of other snacks.

The evening on the bayou was gorgeous.  As the sun set, the insects started to sing.  I heard owls in the woods.  Things started to scuttle through the leaves, and I finally saw my first armadillo!  My son had asked me to take a photo, and I tried, but it turns out that armadillos are camera shy.

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My attempt at an armadillo photo.

When it came time to turn the headlamp on, I started to see gleaming water droplets in the leaves.  Thinking that was odd, I investigated, and found out that those were not gleaming water droplets, they were spider eyes!  All day long I had run, and squatted to pee, in the woods (I made sure to stay hydrated!) and I had no idea I was running amongst thousands of rather large spiders.  The only one I had seen was my one banana spider friend.  So now I knew something else about the trail!  Okay, then.  I tried to squat a little higher the next time I had to pee.

By the time I reached the third aid station on the third loop, I was in pain.  My right leg was on fire, and I was going very slowly.  I got to the start/finish (less than 4 miles from aid station 3) and asked if I maybe someone could help me tape up my leg a bit.  I removed my shoe and sock and this huge swollen ankle popped out.  The RD and a couple of volunteers got me some ice, and convinced me to use it.  They got me to a bench and wrapped my ankle with ice and wrapped me in a warm blanket.  This was the point where the day became even more magical than it had been.  I got to know some people.  A few people I had run with finished their 100K at the same time I stopped for ankle icing.  I chatted with them some more, and I got to know some other folks at the aid station.  Jeff, the RD, and Benjy, who was dressed as Batman and offering me shots of Fireball to cut the pain, (and perhaps get me to stop running so he wouldn’t have to worry about me) were my saviors at that point.  There was no way I was going to stop, but I needed some help to keep going, and they gave it to me.  Other folks brought me soup and quesadillas.  I stayed at the aid station for about 45 minutes, then headed out into the night, with a phone number written on my hand and orders to check in with them via text when I got to the next aid station.

Now things really slowed down.  I was glad I had made such good pace in the first 60 miles, since I was going to need the time to finish.  I was alone in the woods in the dark at this point.  Regardless of my pain, I was happy.  Armadillos crossed my path.  Owls of all sorts were calling into the night.  I heard a sawhet owl, which is a magical sound, and then one flew in front of me and landed in a tree at eye level and looked at me.  I met another banana spider…this one had kindly located his web off the trail.

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Banana Spider

I was crossing a cypress swamp in the dark, and heard a huge splash, which I knew was a gator, startled off his dry perch by my stomping feet.  There were other night sounds I didn’t recognize.  The pungent smell of the swamps stood out as I crossed the boardwalks, much more notably than when I crossed them in the daylight.   The sky was clear, and the crescent moon and stars provided a bit of residual light in the open areas, and glittered among the tree branches like the spider’s eyes glittered amongst the leaves.

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Cypress by headlamp

I knew the aid station people and their fare at this point, and I’d walk for miles fantasizing about the lentil soup or the potato soup (yes, those were my favorites!).  There was a longer gap between the 2nd station and the 3rd station than between any other aid stations, and it got longer with each lap covered.  That aid station had a lot of funny things in the woods, and I looked forward to their bright orange sign on a tree before you could see the station itself.  It was a huge relief to see, especially in this lap, since all the benefits of my earlier icing had worn off, so getting to the start/finish line for more ice was my goal.  Reaching aid station four meant good food, and almost to an ice break!

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My favorite sign, which signaled impending arrival at aid station 3.

In what seemed like forever, I reached the start/finish point again.  I arrived to the aid station to cheers, and big hug from Jeff.  “See, I told you I could make it one more time around!” I said….now just one more time and I’ll be done!  I calculated that I could spare an hour at the very most at the aid station to ice my ankles…both, this time around.  When you have 8 hours to go until the cutoff time, and you are worried about making it 20 miles in that time…well….you know you’re not at the top of your game!   Jeff got me all set up with some ice.  It was pretty quiet at the start/finish point at that time.  All the 100 K folks were done…it was just us crazy 100 milers out there, and the aid station folks were napping in shifts, I think.  They had been up as long as we had, without the benefit of endorphins from that relentless forward motion.  Still, there was plenty of help, and cold ice and hot food and a warm blanket to drive off the shivers while I dealt with my swelling.  I didn’t take nearly an hour of ice, though.  I got nervous that I wouldn’t head out soon enough and I’d miss the cutoff for the finish, so I bolted before 30 minutes was up.

Once again, the day was changing.  It wasn’t quite dawn yet, but the animals of the forest knew dawn was coming soon.  Things had quieted down out there towards the middle of lap 4, but there was movement again.  The crepuscular creatures, most active in the pre-dawn, were making themselves known.  Calls rang out in the dark.  Birds, I imagine.  Glowing eyes ran past me…raccoons, I think, and I saw two rabbits hop across the trail in the light of my headlamp.  Soon the sky began to glow a bit.  I had made it through the night.  I think it was my first time being awake all night since college, and you don’t want to know how long ago that was!

As the sun rose, I’d like to say I picked up my pace, but I really didn’t.  My right leg was in so much pain.  I had read that article about pain being alleviated by swearing, and since I’d already tried the pharmaceutical approach without success, I thought I’d try obscenities.  I started singing out loud, replacing every word of common songs with common expletives. “Fuck shit fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck, fuck sh-sh-sh-shit, fuck fuck fuck shit.” (To the tune of ‘Deck the Halls’).  It made me laugh, and I swear it helped with the pain! (See what I did there?)  I mean, I was alone in the woods at dawn, why not?  Then two fresh faced young women came prancing over the hill on a morning run.  Oops.  I shut my trap and greeted them cheerfully.   I do wonder if they heard me…and I wonder, if they did, if they will ever run a 100 miler some day and will have the sudden realization of why they heard what they heard in the woods that morning.  Anyway, I kept my audible swearing to a minimum after that.

Tick tock, tick tock.  “How long can I lie down on the ground with all the spiders and put my feet up a tree to get the swelling down?”   Tick tock, tick tock. “I wonder if Jeff (the RD) would really tell me I can’t have a belt buckle if I come in 5 minutes late.”  Tick tock, tick tock.  “I wonder if there is any potato soup left?” (There was!).   Finally I saw the ‘Your mama’ sign in the woods.  Aid station up ahead, 4 miles to go until finish!  I was feeling like celebrating, but I still didn’t know if I could cover all those miles in the time I had left, at the snail’s pace I was going.  I grabbed some soup from the dedicated aid station volunteers, who were still awake and were way more cheerful than I felt, and I plodded ahead.  I got my camera out and started taking photos of the mile markers and bidding them good riddance.

I was going to take a photo of mile marker 19, and was possibly going to spit on it, but something wonderful happened before that.  A woman came running through the woods with a guy on a bike behind her.  “THERE you are!” the guy on the bike said, and I looked up and he was talking to me!  It was Benjy (Batman!) in street clothes, and he had come out to pace me in to the finish.  The woman running went on her way to catch up to her husband, who she was planning to pace in, and Benjy turned his bike around.  “I have something for you.” he said, and he pulled out a cold beer from a pocket.  Now, I admit to being kind of a beer snob, and this was a Bud Light, which is usually not on my list of palatable beers, but I swear the can was glowing like a cold and bubbly gift from the Gods.  Being delirious, I asked if I could drink it, and he said “That was the plan.” I popped that can of Bud Light open and I have never tasted a more delicious beer in my entire life.

With support at my side, I knew I would make it…my mood lightened, Benjy and I chatted about things other than how brutally long it took to run 100 miles, and soon we were turning onto the road to approach the finish.  Holy crap.   I was going to finish this thing!  And with encouragement from my wonderful bike support, I actually ran the last 15 feet or so to cross the finish line.

There were hugs and cheers and a belt buckle was slipped into my hand that I will cherish forever.  An amazing egg burrito was made for me, and another beer was opened. Chairs were pulled up, more ice bags were prepped, and I can say I was the happiest person in the world, sitting amongst this crazy new family I had just met less than 30 hours earlier.

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This was my first 100 mile race completion, and it won’t be my last.  But I cannot imagine any race experience being better than this one at Cajun Coyote.  Everything was magical.  I keep using that word because there is no other way to describe it.  The mix of everything was perfect.  The course, the weather, the other runners, and wow, the support.  I’ve never met such a group of cheerful and dedicated people.  30 hours and they were still smiling, still dishing out hot soup, still apologizing that the home made organic energy balls got crushed by a six pack of beer so they weren’t nicely round anymore.  The Cajun trail running community made this Mainer feel totally at home on the bayou.

I read an article today about the incursion of commercialization into ultra running.   It made me so glad to had chosen the race that I did for my first 100 mile completion.  Nothing commercial, just a bunch of crazy people testing their limits in the woods and having a darned good time doing it.  The way ultra running should be.

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Catching up

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-5 degrees, wind chill well below that, snow. Fun running conditions!

It’s been a while since I have posted here!  One would think that winter would allow plenty of time for sitting inside by the fire and writing.  But that was not the case for me.  I had a marathon to train for!  I went out in weather that even held the postal service back, so I could run.  I ran 20 miles on a two mile loop to avoid getting hit by plows and reckless drivers on the main road.   I ran in snowshoes.   A couple of times it was even bad enough that I ran on a treadmill.  I hate treadmills.   But then the end of February rolled around….time for my marathon (in Hyannis, Mass)…and it was cancelled, citing too much snow for safety.  What’s a girl to do??  Oh, I know, how about signing up for a snowshoe marathon in Vermont in March!  Great idea!  I mean, it only has about 4,000 feet elevation or something, and it’s only on snowshoes.  What’s the big deal?

Yep.  So I did that.  And I won it.  First MLD_1827 edit SMALLfemale finisher of the Peak Snowshoe Marathon 2015.  What other marathon can be won by someone who takes almost 8 hours to finish?  Oh, and the awesome snowshoe photo is from a volunteer stint I did with a wonderful photographer (Split Rock Photography) at a later date.  I looked a lot less fresh and exuberant at the snowshoe marathon, I’m sure of it.

Once that race was done, there was the Traprock 50K in April to train for.  I was hoping the snow would be gone then, and it was!  In fact, it got to over 80 degrees that day in Connecticut, where the race was! My last lap at Traprock was broiling, and all of the laps were steep.  Still, I finished.  But for three days after that my husband was calling me ‘grandma’, as in “Son, bring your grandma her wine, she can’t get off the couch.”  Oh, the things we do for the thrill of victory….or for the thrill of an upper mid-pack finish, in this case.

Traprock start

Traprock 50K start

Now it’s May.  I have a 50 mile race on May 31, the Cayuga Trails 50 Miler in Ithaca, NY.  May 31 is 4 days from now.  I’m counting.  It will be my first 50 mile race.  It has about 10,000 feet of elevation gain, which sounds a tad daunting.  So I’ve been training for that, by running as many marathons as I could find within driving distance.  It’s much more fun when you get a medal for your training run!

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Fresh mulch, with Homer the dog.

Last weekend, however, I stayed at home and worked on the yard with my husband.  He’s been holding down the fort, as I’ve been out getting the miles in, and it was nice to spend the weekend with him and my son.  Of course, we put in 9 hour days of work each day over Memorial Day weekend, but neither of us sits around well, so that was perfect.  Plus, we ate a lot.

And speaking of eating, I’m thinking that I ought to add some recipes to this blog, since running and cooking and eating are pretty much my favorite things.  In this post, I am going to cross-post to a recipe on someone else’s blog, since time is short.  I love this recipe for Kale and Mushroom Lasagne Rolls.  I am not vegan, but this is my favorite lasagna recipe ever in the world at the moment, and it happens to be vegan.  It’s leftover night tonight, and I wish I had some of these as leftovers!

Next post will be about the 50 mile race.  Because that’s kind of a big deal, and I’ve never run that far before.  I should be able to use my fingers to type after that race, even if my legs won’t be working for a while.

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Space Coast Marathon

I’ve been so busy lately.  Busy with regular busy life, plus trying to catch up with being away from home and work for 5 days starting the day after Thanksgiving.  Why, you ask? Well, I played ‘snowbird’ for a week, heading from Maine down to Florida with my son, so I could run the Space Coast Marathon.  (My poor hubby had to work all weekend, so he stayed home.)

Space Coast was my last chance this year to improve my marathon time to really solidify my qualification for the Boston Marathon in 2016.  I got my first BQ at Wineglass Marathon on October, but it was by just a little over 1 minute, so I was nervous I wouldn’t make it in.   I’d heard Space Coast was fast and flat, and it was in Cocoa Beach, in November, so it sounded like a perfect plan to me!

We left Maine on a cold and windy morning, flying out of Bangor.  Surprisingly, the flight went smoothly, and we arrived in Orlando with plenty of daylight left to get the rental car and drive to the hotel in Cocoa Beach to look for lizards.  Yes, my son only agreed to yet another torturous trip to yet another torturous race with Mom because of the lizards.  Anoles are his friends, and he can spend hours stalking them and trying to catch them.  Sometimes he just watches them as they scurry around in the foliage.  Lizards, however, don’t like chilly weather, and when we got to the hotel, it was in the mid-50’s, and windy, and the sky was cloudy and all the lizards were hiding.  So my son wanted to turn around and go straight home.  Yes, he actually said that.

I slightly redeemed myself in my son’s eyes the next day by taking him to a park where there were lizards.  But then we had to go the race expo, and my parental rating dropped precipitously.  I got my bib, bought a pair of compression socks for the plane on the way home, and took a couple of selfies with little astronaut sculptures and all was well.  We went back outside again where my kid was happy.

One of our anole friends

One of our anole friends

The next day was race day.  I got up ridiculously early and went to meet the shuttle bus to the race.  My son had decided that sleeping in, then watching excessive amounts of TV until I got back to the room was his preferred method of child care.  I had tried to set up something for him to join me at the race, but for a kid who is generally limited to 30 minutes of screen time a day, the draw of ad-lib television was too strong to resist.  Besides ‘races are boring’ (his words).

We arrived in the dark, of course.   I stood in the port-a-john line (which went fast) with a few nice ladies who were running their first marathon.  They were nervous, but ready to run.  I hope they did well…I didn’t see them afterwards in the crowds.  The start area itself was lovely.  There were decorative lights ‘dripping’ from the trees, people serving coffee and snacks, and a great energy all around.

We started running as the dawn rose in the sky.  I started with a pace group, but the pacer was going much faster than he should have, so I dropped back.  Turns out it’s really easy to pace yourself if the course is entirely flat.  Who knew?  This was my fastest marathon ever, and also my easiest marathon ever.  I just ran and ran, looking around at the beautiful homes, watching pelicans fly by, watching dolphins herd fish into the seawall, and chatting with really nice people.

I’ve never had a race where I felt this good before.  I always crash and have a hard time somewhere after mile 18, but not here.  I enjoyed every mile, except maybe for the last 0.1, where you know the end is near, but you are running in this little curved tunnel, surrounded by cheering people, and you don’t know when you are going to reach the finish…but then suddenly you do!  So the thrill of suddenly crossing the finish line made up for the blind sprint before that, entirely.

Looking for the finish line!

Looking for the finish line!

At the finish, they give you a cool beach towel and an even cooler medal.  And lots of pizza, and/or a pancake breakfast, and beer, and other snacks.   I chose pizza and beer, because pancakes and beer seemed weird, and there was a line for the pancakes.

Oh, and with all that talk about how awesome the race was, I forgot to mention that my time was 3:48:15.  5 minutes and 36 seconds better than my previous fastest race, at the end of which I thought I was going to completely fall over and die.  This gave me a nice buffer for the 3:55:00 time I needed to qualify for Boston.  It was a great race….very memorable!

A very happy runner!

A very happy runner!

So after I stuffed myself with post-race goodies, I headed back to my son in the hotel.  He was there, watching TV.  He asked me how I did, and I told him, and he was appropriately impressed.   “You came in 7th in your age group out of almost 200 people??” he asked, as he flopped on the bed in shock.   “Yeah, your mom is getting faster.” I said.  “Cool.”  he said, “Can we go catch lizards now?”

And so, after waking up at 4:30 AM, running 26.2 miles faster than I ever had, drinking a beer and eating some pizza before noon, I took my son to a park to catch lizards.  Because that’s how us running moms pay for our mileage.   ZZZZZZZZZZ

The bird footprints were perfect eyes for a smiley face.

The bird footprints were perfect eyes for a smiley face.

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Kicking the Butt of Multiple Sclerosis

There has been a story in the news recently about a very strong young woman, Kayla Montgomery, who is battling MS by running.  (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/04/sports/for-runner-with-ms-no-pain-while-racing-no-feeling-at-the-finish.html).  She is young.  She is amazing.  And she is now transitioning from her wonderful, caring high school coach to something beyond that.

I feel for her.  I wish I could talk to her.  I’ve had MS for almost 20 years.  And I run.  Sure, I am not winning races, like this amazing young woman is.  But I am 45 years old, and I am running.  I just started running three years ago, and I just qualified for the Boston Marathon, which isn’t that bad for a 45 year old woman with MS who hasn’t been running for very long.

When I was diagnosed, I had loss of vision, double vision, and weakness in my limbs.  I’d get past an exacerbation, but the symptoms would come back when my body temperature went up.  I’d get double vision in the shower.  I couldn’t go for walks outdoors on hot summer days without weakness.   One of my early attacks damaged my hypothalamus, where the body temperature regulation system lies.  So my body temperature would just go up for no reason, and my other symptoms would come back.  It was an unpleasant cycle, to say the least.  But I haven’t had those issues in a long time. Even when I run now, I don’t have symptoms.   I don’t run in very hot weather if I can help it.  (And ‘very hot’ means anything over 75, for those of you who live someplace where 75 degrees is sweater weather!)   If I don’t get up early enough to beat the heat of the day, I adjust my pace to the temperature.  If it happens to be hot when I have a race, well, I’m not going to get a personal record or anything, because I just want to finish! My favorite races are in temps below 50.  I feel like I can push it then, without risk of overheating.

Thinking back on the course of my illness, I see Kayla’s story and I have high hopes for her.  She was diagnosed with MS quite young, but she stood up to this disease right away.  She got right out there and started fighting.  Even with the pain that her running brings her when she is done, she just keeps pushing herself.

When I run now, I think of Kayla.  She is young and has her whole life ahead of her.  But she faces big changes now as she finishes high school.   I hope she finds an outlet and a coach to help her keep winning races for as long as she can. I hope that if she ends up running slower in the future, she still keeps lacing up her shoes to get out there on the trails and roads and track.  In her personal life, I hope she feels so confident in herself that she doesn’t need a romantic relationship to feel complete.   And if and when she does meet someone, I hope they treat her like a person, not a person with a chronic illness.  (I needed to add this, because when I was diagnosed, I was treated unpleasantly in a relationship, told that I had to act a certain way because ‘no one else would want me’ because of my illness.  The self-doubt crippled me more than my illness did, and the relationship lasted much longer than it should have because of it.  But that’s a story for another day.)  If she wants children as she gets older, I hope she doesn’t let MS stop her from that.  As a science geek as well as a runner, I know there is good data about having kids after an MS diagnosis, and how giving birth actually is associated with a better lifetime course of disease.  (Don’t tell my son that, he may try to use it to his advantage to get dessert out of me even when he didn’t eat his veggies!)

What I really want to say is this: Thank you, Kayla Montgomery, for being you, and for being an inspiration to so many.   I hope you continue to lead your life as the strong and powerful woman that you are, no matter what this illness has in store for you.  You make this middle-aged runner with MS so proud.  You demonstrate that MS does not define us, our actions do.  Run on!

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Onset of winter in a small town

I had 5 weeks between my last marathon (Mount Desert Island Marathon) and my next marathon (Space Coast Marathon in Florida). I am trying for that improvement in my Boston qualifying time at the Space Coast race, so I found a plan for training with 5 weeks between marathons.  This past weekend called for 16 miles.   It had snowed here, but I don’t like training on roads if I can help it, so I headed out to the carriage paths.  I called a fellow runner friend, who joined me with her dog.  I brought two of my dogs (we have three).  One I knew could make it the whole 16 miles, one I was not sure, it depended on his mood.  So we did two loops, so he could drop off mid-way, if he needed to.

We headed out at 7:15 am, when it was 19 degrees out.  The snow had been there for a couple of days, and many folks had passed over the snow on shoes and skis, at different temperatures, so the trails were rough.  We headed out, each trying to keep to fresh snow, but even then we hit rough spots and tried not to twist our ankles as we slid around on the snowy ground.  The dogs did fine.  It’s helpful to have 4 feet and claws.

As we approached the end of the first loop, my running buddy Homer had started to slow.  So he got to stop and jump into the back of my car with a bowl of water and a bunch of blankets.  Rosa and my friend’s dog, Charlie…they were all set to keep going.   So us humans used the potty (got to plan the runs right) and we kept going.  I think it was up to about 22 degrees by then, if I could guess.

This time around, we tried to follow our old tracks, but it was still a challenge.  Both of us are marathoners, so running 16 miles should not be an issue, but when I suggested we walk a bit up a hill, she was glad to hear it!  The slipperiness of the snow, and the agility required to maneuver around the frozen footprints that hid under the fresh snow was pretty tiring.   We both got a power assist from our dogs now and then, when squirrels came into view, but it was still a tough run!

We finished our run, and I headed home to take a quick shower and join my family for brunch.  Our favorite winter breakfast place had just opened (yes, we have a restaurant that is only open for meals in the winter here, and us locals count the days until we can visit the Acacia House again!).  They were having a meal with live music, with all proceeds going towards the cost of a young girl in my son’s class getting a diabetes alert dog.  The girl was diagnosed with Type I diabetes at a very young age, and having a dog to help monitor her blood sugar will let her be safe and have less fear and risk in her life.   There have been several fundraisers for her in this wonderful town, and her family is almost to the point of being able to afford the costs of accepting this specifically trained dog into their lives to make their daughter safer.  It’s an amazing thing.  What’s also amazing is that the beautiful music at the brunch was performed by local teenagers.  Teenagers so talented that they would fit in at professional events anywhere.  But they were here playing for us at a brunch in a small town, to raise money for a young girl with diabetes.   Okay, I will admit that I am a sap, and I tried to express to my husband how wonderful the whole thing was and I started crying.  In the restaurant.  At least they have paper napkins, so I could wipe my nose without feeling too gross.

So, why did I title this post about the onset of winter?  Because this time of year is so special here.  We have these amazing summers.  People come to Mount Desert Island from all over the world.  There are so many activities, and so many people, and so much beauty.  But when the days get shorter, and the leaves and temperatures fall, the special part of this community really shows.  We have our trails to ourselves, to make those crusty paths in the November snow.  We have those early mornings where two people and their dogs can run an 8 mile loop without seeing a single person, and on the second loop, a few more friendly and hard core people are out to say hello, all bundled up against the chill.  Then we can go to breakfast, a wonderful meal cooked by people we have known for years, in a restaurant filled with people we know, all there not just to eat good food, but to support another local family with a child in need.

And, since it’s almost winter and I’d run and eaten and gotten all my chores done by 2:00 pm, I got a nap in, too.   Really, there’s nothing better than a day that includes a run, a great meal with wonderful musical accompaniment (for a good cause), and a nap.   It’s a wonderful world.

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Always have another goal

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I am always setting another goal, because that is my thing.  My next goal is getting a better qualifying time for the Boston Marathon.

I qualified for Boston for the first time before I had a blog.  I tried several times and didn’t make it, even though I improved my time with each attempt.  Good thing I didn’t have a blog yet, because I would have had to post about what I saw at the time as a ‘failure’, even though it was really a ‘win’, because I ran faster than I ever had before.   But I didn’t achieve my goal, and that’s tough to write about.   “Hi everyone, I suck.”  That’s how I felt at the time.

I qualified for Boston for the first time at the Wineglass Marathon in Corning, NY.   I flew to NY from Maine.  I wanted to make sure that I made it to the race, so I flew in early.  (You know how air travel can be!)  I stayed the first night with an old friend in Ithaca, NY.   He took me hiking in the Ithaca gorges (which will be the topic of a future race report, if all goes well).  He fed me tasty carbs….pasta, olives and beer.   The next day, I went back to Corning to get my race packet and make a wine goblet before the race.   (Yeah, I like races where you can make your own souvenir.)

The night before the race, I had more pasta with the aunt and uncle of another friend of mine who was there to run the race, too.    It was a wonderful evening.   We had to check out several restaurants to find one that had room for us, and we got lucky with the place we chose!   The food was delicious and carb-loaded, and the company was excellent.

I got up early the next morning to go to the race start.  It was a point to point race, so we had to take a bus to get to the start.  I never saw my friend at the beginning of the race.  It was COLD.  33 degrees or so, and it was supposed to get up to the mid-50’s, so we were all shivering while waiting at the start.  I was wearing a crazy new running kit, but I had it well covered with throw-away clothes (the race organizers collected all clothes on the race course to donate to homeless shelters).

There were pacers at this race, and I found the pacer that I needed to stay with to achieve my goal of a Boston Qualifying run (3:55:00, for my age and gender).  Then I found the pacer who was 5 minutes faster than the pacer I needed.  I am always overly confident at the beginning of a race.

Eventually, the gun went off, and I started running.  I stayed with my 3:50:00 pace person for a while.  But they were going too slow, so I picked up the pace.  I caught up with the 3: 40:00 pace person, and then I passed him.  “I am going to kill this thing!” I thought.   Mile 15 rolled around, and I had to stop to pee.  I don’t know how many pacers passed me then.  But when I started running after my bladder was empty, I felt slower.  Way slower.   At mile 20, I had not seen a pacer in a while.  I wondered where they were.  I kept plugging along, but I had to walk sometimes.  I clearly wore out my legs over-estimating my pace for the first half of the race.

At mile 24, I felt like crap.  Then I looked behind me and saw a pacer.  It was the 3:55 pacer!   The guy I had to beat to meet my goal!!  I had 2.2 miles to stay ahead of this guy, and I was completely failing.   I started giving up.  I fell behind my pace.  Then I would get some mental drive and I would sprint, and I would overtake him again.  I’d run with him a bit, then fall behind again.   Then my brain would kick in again and I’d find my speed.   But he passed me again just before mile 26.  I knew I wasn’t going to make it.  I knew it.   I started walking, feeling defeated.  But then I woman in a red shirt came up behind me.  She and I had run together for a bit in the middle of the race, and she remembered me because of that crazy running kit I mentioned.  She touched me on my shoulder and said “You are going for 3:55…..you are running this!”  Her motivation was all I needed.  I kicked the legs into overdrive.  I ran.  I felt like I was running faster than I ever had in my life (the Garmin said otherwise, when I looked at it later).  The race clock came into view.  It was at 3:54 and change.  I ran like there was no tomorrow.  I crossed that line before the clock went passed my goal.  My friend had finished before me, but he waited at the finish line, and he caught me as I crossed.  I think I would have fallen over in the road if he was not there.   It’s wonderful to become a part of the running community, because there is always someone there to catch you, even if your family can’t make it to all your races.

My chip time, the real time that the Boston Marathon uses as a qualifying time, was 3:53:51.  I would have gotten into Boston with that time for 2015.  But who knows what will happen in 2016?  So I will try to go faster.  That is my next goal.

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Weekend races

Sunday was a two race day!   We had a big storm in the Northeast last weekend that resulted in the cancellation of an annual trail race.  But there was already a new local race scheduled for this weekend, so what are race organizers to do?  Well, they can work together for the good of all…because that’s what runners do!  So the Veteran’s Memorial 4 mile road race was scheduled for 9:00 am, and they decided to schedule the Frenchman’s Bay Conservancy trail race for noon, to give people time to enjoy the festivities after the first race, and still make it to the second race.

It worked perfectly!  There was a great turnout at each of the races, and many people did both races.  Both races had food, so those of us who did both races didn’t even get that hungry!  The trail race, being later in the day, even had home-made chili and corn bread at the finish.  YUM!

The Veteran’s Memorial race was a new race, and had a wonderful turnout, and many veterans volunteering, running and walking.  Proceeds benefitted the Wounded Warrior Project, and the veterans participating were honored in many ways!  My friend who is a Coast Guard Veteran was the first female veteran finisher, and she was showered with fun gifts from local organizations, from a jar of local marinara sauce to a gift card for gas, to a cool headband for her next race.

The trail race benefitted the Frenchman’s Bay Conservancy, a land conservation organization that does great work in this area.  It’s partnered with an earlier race, the Great Pond Mountain trail race, which benefits the Great Pond Mountain Conservation Trust, another wonderful group.

As you follow this blog, you will see that I really enjoy races that have a focus on philanthropic causes.  And I am lucky to live in an area with lots of races within reasonable driving distance…and they all support great local groups.  Really, what more can you ask for then a fun run with friends for a good cause?

If you are just starting out running, I encourage you to look for 5K races in your local area.  Many of them have a walking option if you are not ready to commit to run 3.1 miles yet.  It gives you a wonderful sense of accomplishment, and will introduce you to people in your community who you haven’t met yet.  These people will end up being your support team as you continue with your fitness goals.   Runners are the best….and I’m not saying that about myself.  I’ve only fairly recently stopped feeling like an imposter in the world of runners….but no one I ever met while running made me feel that way, it was just me.  I was welcomed in the minute I started showing up at races and getting to know people.   That’s how runners are.

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