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After years of sloth, I am now a mama who runs and practices yoga. I write about exercise; parenting a grownup child as well as two little kids; and whatever is annoying me at the moment.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Cutting through the noise: My sister's kickass fitness story

"Noise" is how I have come to think of all of the stories, studies and opinions on losing weight and gaining fitness.


Think about all of the stories about "The Biggest Loser" lately and the critics who say it's all a sham because people regained their weight. 

Another story recently quoted a study that basically said heavy people who lose a lot of weight are often doomed to gain it back. 

Then there are all sorts of diets with names like Whole 30. (I cringed once at a kid's birthday party listening to this mom talk about the Whole 30 all of the food she had had to cut out and gradually add back. God, it sounded awful.I wanted to yell at her "you're going to gain that all back!")

It's just all so confusing. No wonder people get frustrated and give up or don't try. Who can blame them?

Which brings me to what I believe, based on my own experience and now the that of my sister Missey, whose amazing story she's letting me share here. Hard work, not gimmicks, are what will get you to your goals. It's work to stay fit and healthy, too. It's so, so hard. But it's doable.

My sister, who is two years younger than me, is AMAZING. She has lost 80 pounds in just a few years -- the slow, hard way. No gimmicks, no fads, no starving. She's gone from obese to being a fitness coach (who no doubt could kick my runner's ass) and finishing 5Ks and recently a 10K. 

My sister's story in her words:

I have been with my husband for 22 years (married for 20 1/2) and we have three wonderful sons: my step-son Dakota (who gave me the most adorable grandson last October, Ryker), my sons Ryan (19 and a freshman at University of Nebraska) and my youngest Breck (14, in the eighth grade).  They have brought a tremendous amount of joy to my life!  

I am a special ed paraprofessional at an elementary school, a job I have loved for six years. Prior to that, I was a branch manager for a large bank a dozen years -- a job I loved but that cut too deeply into time with my family. I also had to sit a lot and developed a bad habit of eating out, which caught up with me (along with two pregnancies!)

In March of 2014 I decided that a change needed to be made. 

I was the heaviest I had ever been in my life. Then 44, I had no ill effects from being overweight -- but I knew it was coming. I have two wonderful parents who both have an excessive amount of heath issues and I did not want to go down that path.  

My first step was getting a fitbit.  The first two weeks I had it I continued to eat as I had been (lots of fast food) and realized I was eating well over 3000 calories a day!  Eek! I was in such shock to see that this was a daily occurrence. No wonder I had hit my highest weight.

I realized that I could no longer blame the office job (I had been gone for more than three years) or baby weight (my youngest was 12 then). I really had to look hard at myself and decided that I was in control of what I put in my body.  

My first step was to cut out fast food. I lost 10 pounds in two weeks from that alone. I tried to eat healthier, but I am not a veggie person so it was hard. But I reminded myself that I was making steps in the right direction. After years of trying all the fad diets, I realized that it really is a lifestyle choice, not a diet. I told myself that this was the right course and that it would take time to make the changes needed -- because it took years to put all that weight on.

Two months after I started making my changes, my dear friend Carmen wanted to focus on losing her baby weight and get back into running again.  She and another coworker decided to do a month-long challenge to eat healthy and start to exercise again. I joined in and stepped into a gym for the first time in my life!! It gave me extreme anxiety to do so, but I knew I really had no choice if I wanted to live a healthier lifestyle.  

It was hard at first. I could only walk for 10 minutes at a slow pace on the treadmill, but I did it!  We kept up with the walking and tried weight machines and some fitness classes. I started to overcome my anxiety of working out, especially in front of others.  

We were both so excited that we continued small challenges to keep each other motivated.  By March of 2015 -- one year later -- I had lost 60 pounds and 20-plus inches!  I felt amazing and couldn't believe how far I had come, although I knew I still had a way to go.  

Carmen and I continued to walk, go to the gym and started sharing meals.  Last summer, I had a few setbacks and gainedback a few pounds (too many bbqs and adult beverages).I was frustrated and attempted to refocus as best as I could, but felt I really needed something different to renew my passion for living a healthier life. 

Then a co-worker told Carmen and me about Farrell's, which offered a 10-week fitness program -- 45 minutes a day, six days a week.That same day, October 9, 2015 we both signed up! 

The team atmosphere, focus on both building strength and developing cardio fitness, and nutrition guidance was exactly what we needed to re-motivate ourselves!  

I learned so much about nutrition, including to no longer solely focus on counting calories and losing weight. I learned it was important to fuel your body with the proper amount of carbs and proteins.  

During that 10 weeks I lost 16 lbs, 13.75 inches and 3.5 percent body fat. Since that 10 weeks ended, I have lost another eight pounds and 12.5 inches. My clothes became much looser and I had never felt better!  By week five of my 10 weeks I was asking when I could sign up to be a FIT student.  :)

I have had people tell me that I need to lose more weight (which is true); however I am now healthier and stronger than I have ever been.  

Even then my early 20's when I was a size 3 and weighed 115 lbs, I may have been thin, but I wasn't healthy. I was just young.  

I walked/ran my first 10K in March of this year at the age of 46, I can easily go on 3-4 mile walks, play basketball with my son, keep up with all of the kids as school and now kickbox! I did not have the energy then that I do now 26 years later. I've learned that looks are definitely deceiving and that the number on the scale does not define the shape or health you are in!

Yep, this is me, 20 years old in 1990.  I may have been thin but I was not as healthy as I am now. I didn't exercise and my diet consisted on mostly fast food. (but don't you love the hair!) 

This is me on the left and Carmen in March of 2014.  Both of us started to realize that changes in our food choices and exercise needed to be a priorities in our lives.  As Carmen has told me and others, being a mom makes it hard, but if we don't take care of ourselves how will we take care of others?

Yes this is me at my heaviest in both of the above pictures (2013 and 2014) and me now (2016).  I be may older but I am so much healthier (I know I keep saying that but it is true)!  

I have dropped six pant sizes, four shirt sizes and even a shoe size!  I am now down 80 pounds and 40-plus inches.

Although a lot of my weight loss came before Farrell's, I have lost more inches in the six months at Farrell's then I did from the 1.5 years of cardio and weights I did on my own. To me, this speaks about how much this program works!  It really is 80% balanced nutrition and 20% exercise.  

The best thing to come out of this -- I am now honored to be a fitness coach at Farrell's and try to help others find their path to a healthier life.  

This story you've read is the story I now share with new clients. I hope my story helps them realize that no matter what your body size is, the health you are in, it is NEVER too late to change and live for you!  I encourage all of them to talk to us and ask questions, and remind them that we understand what they're going through and that we are here for them and want to do our best each day to support them through their journeys!!

Missey and Carmen at a recent 5K race: Looking fabulous!

Thank you for taking the time to read this

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Oh windy Wisconsin marathon: Race report

Sometimes getting older rocks.

Five years ago, if I had run a marathon that was a PW (personal worst, or slowest ever), I would have been crushed. I used to fixated on PRs (personal records), which were relatively easy to obtain since I've only been running about 10 years now.

On Saturday, I ran the Wisconsin Marathon and ran a PW of 5:35:57, 614th place out of 674.


But man, I'm pretty happy to have finished at all.

For months now I've been wrestling with a hamstring/hip ache that won't go away. I've been in physical therapy for six weeks and it's only a little better. My PT was pretty cheery last week that he'd get me to the start and finish line as he dug into my leg with his elbow so hard that tears came to my eyes.

Running is so glamorous.

On race morning, my friend Krista picked me up at 5 a.m. We run together all the time and she's easy to hang out with. She's also a CPS teacher, so we stress out about school stuff together -- she from the teacher perspective and me from the mom one. She's also kind and super chill, a good influence on my tightly wound, sometimes acidic self.

We cruised to Kenosha and arrived in just an hour. Amazing how close Chicago is to Wisconsin when there is no traffic.

We met up with some of our other awesome running friends, Betsey, a lawyer and whose now-teenage daughter has generously passed on an awesome bed, a Pottery Barn play kitchen and the cutest little necklaces to my girly-girl 5-year-old. One of my favorite pastimes with Betsey is to stress about politics.

We also met up with Terri, my favorite snarky Canadian who fosters cats and does something technology-related for a living. (She has patiently explained it to me, but I'm still not sure what exactly it is.) She also gave me Reckless, our family cat, after I "borrowed" him two years ago because we suddenly got mice in our kitchen.

Terri was doing the half marathon, the three of rest of us doing the full marathon. Such a great crew.

Prior to the start, I was able to meet up with Andy, a nice guy I went to high school. Not many of us Nebraska kids in Chicago, so it was nice to say hi and have my arm twisted to go to our, um, 30th reunion this summer.

The morning was sunny and 70 degrees, though it was supposed to cool off into the 50s by race time.

As we lined up at the start line, the sky to the west of us was suddenly dark and the wind picked up. The temperature dropped and we shivered. The wind felt downright cold. I shivered in my short-sleeve Flatlanders shirt and shorts. I tend to run hot, but wondered if I was going to be cold for the next five hours...

Finally we were off. The wind was fierce. Man. I was really cold now.

Also on my mind was a pretty big personal decision just the day before, after weeks of sleeping like crap and feeling stressed. On that race morning, I had been awake since 2 a.m., worrying not about the race (for a change!) but worrying about change, letting people down.

So I was more tired than I would have liked to have been in the first five miles. I told myself one million times that I could just drop out at  the half marathon mark. No one would judge me, except myself.

Somewhere after we left the little downtown area, we were along Lake Michigan. The view was beautiful but we were running straight into a strong wind that slapped our bodies so hard that it sometimes felt like I was barely moving. It reminded me of swimming in choppy open water, when I'm working so hard to swim but feeling like I'm not moving forward.

This continued for about the two longest miles of my life. The wind whipped sand off the narrow strip of beach so hard it stung our eyes, faces and legs. Someone jokingly called it "exfoliation". At one point it felt like one of my contacts was half hanging out of my eye, which burned with sand.

Betsey and Krista were ahead of us a bit by this point, so Terri and I hung together and agreed it was OK to complain to each other. It sucked.
Sandbags were no match for the wind.

Around 7.5 miles, we turned back and the wind was to our back. It was like a whole different run, though there were points I felt like the wind was half carrying me, and I'm not a petite person.

My leg was annoying me, but I wasn't in pain. I could feel the injured area tightening to the point my knee would start clicking. I'd then stop, stretch my piriformis and then my hamstrings, and run again (or walk a bit). I would repeat that throughout the race.

As we approached the half marathon mark, I was still debating out loud whether I should quit at the half. Betsey kept slowing down and waiting for me, gentling reminding me that it was OK to do so. Why she is so nice and didn't tell me to make a decision and shut it... well, she's just nice!

Terri turned off to finish the half and I followed Betsey instead. I laughed, "well, I guess I'm doing the full."

The second half of the race winds south thru town and then into a more rural area into Pleasant Prairie. It was windy but not as windy as right by the water, and the wind was to our backs for miles. I tried not to think about the wind we'd face when it was time to turn back north.

Some of the houses were pretty fancy, others modest. I want to move somewhere warmer some day, but these country houses and proximity to the water were pretty appealing. The scenery mostly made up for the fact that I was, indeed, having a kind of sucky race.

Betsey was so nice and insisted on sticking with me, though I know she doesn't like to stop and take walk breaks (I get it, when I'm in healthier running shape I like to keep breaks short, too). The miles went slowly and then we finally turned back north.


The wind continued to be stiff and unforgiving. By mile 20, I told Betsey that if I managed to do 20 then I certainly could finish 26.2 miles and urged her to go on. I appreciated her kindness but I planned to take more walk breaks to give my body a rest.

I was really tired and didn't care how long it took me to finish.

After all, Ida Keeling doesn't quit. (Damn.)

At mile 25, I took a dorky selfie to text my friends, who would be done with their races by now, so they knew that I was close. I hoped they were staying warm somewhere.

I was so happy to see the 26-mile mark and was reminded of why I like smaller races.

I could hear the announcer cheering people over the finish line. As I spotted it, he ran up to me with his microphone and asked me my name, and then announced me. So nice! I ran as fast as I could muster and after crossing, was handed a cool medal of a guy made of cheese and a Mylar blanket that wouldn't stay on me because of the wind.

I found Krista and Betsey as quickly as possible. We shivered to get our photo taken by a woman I could tell did not want to stop and take our picture (she was on her way to work, but reluctantly agreed) and we went separate ways.

I'm glad I did the race. Thanks to these awesome friends!
Me, Krista, Betsey and Terri. <3

Friday, April 8, 2016

Bangs or no bangs?

In a month, I will run another marathon, the Wisconsin Marathon in Kenosha.

Why? Because there are cheese curds at the finish line, my friend Krista reminds me.

Yum, cheese curds.

Southeast Wisconsin is also home to one of the very best places on earth, the Mars Cheese Castle.  That is worth the drive up north.

Cheese castle!
I've been actually kind of psyched for this race.

After running the Des Plaines River Trail (DPRT) marathon last fall, I was was happy to discover that it's possible to really enjoy a marathon. The key was doing it with good friends and taking it easy. You know, making a point to actually try and enjoy it.

After several sucky-ass marathons of trying to stick to a pace and set new PRs (personal records), this changed -- for the better -- my view of running marathons and the two 50k ultras I've done the last couple of years.

So run Kenosha for the hell of it? Sure, why not.

But, the last month or so, some nagging aches -- if I'm honest with myself, it's stuff I had last year, too -- led to a bunch of stuff that made me have to slow way down on running. Sports doc diagnosis: some kind of hamstring/hip tendonopathy, piriformas syndrome, etc. Get some physical therapy. Bleah.

So, time to apply the "bangs vs. no bangs test".

I am never, ever satisfied with my bangs.

I grow them out.

Then I decide my forehead is wrinkly and I get bangs again to look younger (a cheap alternative to Botox, I rationalize.)

Now I'm not liking my bangs and growing them out.

This weird mental test applies to other stuff, too. Skip the race or drop to a half marathon distance or cross-train like crazy and just have the best race that is possible, even if I'm DFL (dead effing last).

Yes, this is the world's dumbest metaphor.

So, I'm growing out my bangs again and they're a mess right now.

So's my "training" as I shove a step and bodypump class or a spin class into my schedule, run lower mileage during the week -- and curse when things ache. (The physical therapist I'm seeing is doing so much to help -- I'm better, just impatient).

I've made myself go to the pool the last three Friday mornings -- I am a terrible swimmer and don't really like it. So I'm just doing separate drills to practice armstroke and kicking, which are both astoundingly exhausting.

(But it's kind of cool, too... I am going to try and stick with it.)

How everything shakes out on race day -- who knows.

But hopefully my bangs will be long enough by then to pull back and out of my eyes as I'm running toward those cheese curds.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Feminism and princesses? Sure.

Our littlest one is turning 5 this week. Naturally, the celebration began early, with a birthday party yesterday.

Ever my girly-girl, my daughter had planned her outfit for weeks. Impractical, slightly-too-large pink sparkle dress, tiara, silver-sparkle mary-jane shoes and butterfly wings.

Sure enough, when I got home from my run yesterday morning, she was already decked out like a junior fairy on her way to the national fairy convention.

Also naturally, there was a wardrobe change mid-party into something more practical as the party moved to our backyard on a moderate March day. It may have involved a pink unicorn shirt.

As my husband cut the cake (naturally, princess/rainbow-themed) I thought of this question a woman asked me years ago. 

She had infant twin girls at the time, and she wondered if it was bad to have pink things and books about princesses, because these things could teach her girls that you can only have a good life if a man saves you, or some logic like that.

Interesting question -- but to me, the answer is simple. Who do our girls take their cues from throughout their lives? Though Sofia the First is a pleasant role model on how to be nice to other people, our girls look to the other women and girls in their lives, and how they interact (and are treated) by men. Strong women, decent men makes for strong girls.

I've been lucky to have many of both in my life, and hope I am that for my daughter.

Which brings me to the "F" word. 


Holy crap, I can't believe it's 2016 and the F word is still freaking people out.

Look at events in recent months: 
  • Madeline Albright implying that young women who support Bernie over Hillary are going to hell. 
  • Gloria Steinem's comments implying that girls go to Bernie supporter rallies to meet guys. (Still not clear if that's exactly what she said, but let's stick with it for now). 
  • Lands End's knee-jerk reaction to pull Steinem from their spring catalog after some people freaked out, which in turn pissed off some women who are not afraid of the F word. My Facebook feed was filled with a number of posts of friends swearing off Lands End forever.
Though none of these women invented feminism, this generation -- one ahead of my Gen X self -- were trailblazers. Their methods, their approaches, can be debated elsewhere. 

But they saw and went through crap that frankly, I went through less of by the time I became an adult somewhere around the early 1990s. (Also subject to debate). As a 24-year-old, a reporter and new mom, I watched Hillary be pilloried for using the last name she was born with and for snapping "I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was fulfill my profession." I was like, yeah, me too.

In fact, I've worked for a lot of dudes over the years and been fortunate to work for decent human beings. (One of my worst bosses, actually, was a female narcissist... but I digress.)

A running buddy of mine, a generation younger than me, told me a story recently that reminded me the "F" word is still a thing. A friend of hers told of her decision to keep her given name and not take her husband's. My friend's husband observed that it was feminist (a positive thing) to choose to keep your name or change it. The woman purportedly snapped "why does everything have to be about feminism?"


So here's my messy argument on feminism. The generation before me -- they had to deal with some crap. My generation has dealt with some crap. Younger generations will do the same. But I believe that it's getting better for women, generation by generation.

I also hope there's a day that comes when women are no longer afraid of the word "feminist". It's not something to be afraid of. You can be a Democrat or a Republican and be a feminist. Have a career outside of the home, or stay home. Work hard to support other women, not tear them down. Even if they're on your last nerve.

It's about expecting and getting fair treatment, without having to be a dude or act like a dude. Eyes on my face, not my chest, not calling me baby, sure, but also the really important stuff like equal pay and swatting politicians away from anything having to do with my uterus.

In fact, you can be the girliest girl, twirling in your impractical, slightly-too-large pink sparkle dress, tiara, silver-sparkle mary-jane shoes and butterfly wings at your party while watching Sofia the First and vote for Bernie. 

And Lands End? Just ordered my kids' sandals from there -- they had a sale that beat all the other ones I found online. After all, it's not like they stuck Trump on the cover of their spring catalog...

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Si, hablo (un poco) espanol


Day to day, like a lot of folks, I move through life one foot in front of the other. Kids. Husband. Work. Running. Friends. Repeat.

Sometimes I worry I should be challenging my brain more.

You know, learning new stuff.

As it is, I barely read books anymore, wasting too much time goofing around on my phone in spare minutes here and there -- spare minutes I used to spend jamming my face in a book. (I've slowly begun The Bully Pulpit, which is about 1 million pages and I should finish it sometime in 2018, the rate I am going.)

One of things I've always thought I should do is learn Spanish. I took a bit in college, but retained about 10 words and phrases. Una cerveza, por favor. Donde esta el bano? That kind of stuff. I spent far more time learning German after living in there (in what was formerly West Germany) a long time ago. Ja, Ich kann Deutsch sprechen aber Spanisch ist einfacher... (I can easily murder German and Spanish both.)

And then at one point in my career, my inability to speak Spanish posed an obstacle. I moved past it, no biggie, but it always bugged me a little.

Last summer, a friend told me about Duolingo, this really cool, free app. And I decided something that I can now mostly say in hobbly Spanish: Nunca es demasiado viejo para aprender. Not too old to learn.

(I've never, ever understood the resistance by some in our country to honoring and welcoming bilingualism. You know, the folks who say "This is America! Speak English"! I think it's the coolest thing in the world to be multi-lingual, always have.)

It's been about seven months now, spending 10 minutes a day on the app on average learning and doing review lessons. This app is seriously great.

The 1,000 verb tenses are confounding, but it's not too bad to learn otherwise.

And I've had some recent, albeit "pequeno" successes:

-- I am able to in a messy but understandable to our wonderful babysitter text her in Spanish, and understand nearly everything she says back. Recently she asked what year M, my first grader, was born because they needed to figure out what Chinese animal he was for Chinese New Year. We had this conversation via text in Spanish! I was so excited.

-- I recently made small talk with a friend's sitter who only speaks Spanish, with whom I've never been able to get past "Como estas?" I learned that she doesn't like nieve, or snow.

-- I can now read some billboards and know that when it reads "segunda temporada" that means the "second season". (So House of Cards is starting its cuarta temporada en un poco tiempo...)

--I know how to say "I like running" or "Let's run on Monday": Me gusta correr. Vamos a correr el lunes.

Where I still fall down is listening to it and being able to understand and converse. I strain my ears now at the local Harvestime mercado, trying to understand las cajeras as I check out. I have a long way to go and probably need to take a class in conversational Spanish at some point.

But I'm not giving up.

God, it's fun to learn something -- just to learn something -- again!

Soy muy feliz que puedo hablar un poco de es espanol. Va a aprendar mas!

Now, back to the Bully Pulpit...

Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015: 1,275 miles and a year of mistakes, fun and awesome running

My 6-year-old son went to bed unexpectedly at 6:30 p.m. one night earlier this week, skipping his favorite dinner of Little Caesar's pizza, which we call "pizza store pizza" at our house.

He slept solidly for 12 hours. He does that sometimes.

The following morning, I came home from an early morning spin class to find him crouched in his room, groggily playing with some toys on his rug -- with no pants on.

I asked him "Hey buddy, what's going on? Where's your pants?"

Sometimes he has the cutest little voice in the morning. He squeaked in response: "Mommy, I made two mistakes."

What are those, buddy?

"I accidentally wet my bed." Ah, that explains the no pants.

OK, buddy, no biggie, You were really tired. What's the second mistake?

"I slept in my clothes, mommy."

Those sound like accidents, buddy, not mistakes.

I had some accidents and mistakes, too, in 2015. I didn't read nearly enough books. I spent too much time looking at my phone. I broke a toe. I swore too much and should have eaten more fruit. I never drink enough water. I need to be less judgmental and more forgiving.

All of that said, what a great year.

1. I'm so grateful to my awesome husband, who built dozens of awesome fires in our backyard fire pit, even somehow starting from sometimes rain-soaked wood. (He's also an Eagle Scout).

He put up with my alarm going off as early at 3:20 a.m. so I could go run 20-milers on trails 45 minutes or more away, as well as my general appetite for running and yoga.

And of course stayed with the kids when I disappeared to run.

He took a sledge hammer and smashed a chunk of concrete buried in our yard that was the size of a small meteorite, so he could plant new trees on the side of our house.

He was a great sport about spending a week last spring in California, seeing family and putting up with my fantasies about landing there someday, water crisis and runaway housing prices aside.

Etc etc.  He's great.

2. My kids, now 23 years, 6 years, and 4 years old. My middle guy, M.C., is having a great first grade year after struggling behaviorally in earlier grades, and after much drama and angst with some of the past schools he's attended. He's my complicated, analytical, whipsmart little guy, bless him.

I'm so happy to have all of them, proud of them, and loving where we're at.

Foggy December run
3. Running!!! 1,275 miles in 200 runs in 2015 in dripping heat, snow, rain, ice, fog and everything else Chicago throws at you.

Sometimes runs had themes to them, for birthdays and holidays. Fortunately, treats followed those runs. #lemonoreos. I also rediscovered my love of Fig Newtons.

My running friends were amazing as always -- the ones I've known a long time, and the new ones, too.

I didn't beat last year's 1,400+ miles thanks to breaking my toe last Groundhog's Day, but I ran my second 50K, a marathon and ran with my super friend Jessica in her first 10K race ever.

I ran the Chicago lakefront, including a spectacular "holiday lights" run on Michigan Avenue and Millennium Park with friends. Other runs included Waterfall Glen, the Illinois Prairie Path, the new 606 trail, Bullfrog Lake, the Des Plaines River Trail and the North Branch and Green Bay Trails. Also Veteran Acres in Crystal Lake, the insanely, bitterly cold but shockingly gorgeous Frozen Gnome 10K. Which my friends have talked me into again...

Outside of Chicago, I got runs in at Kettle Moraine in Wisconsin, Schaller, Iowa, Omaha, western Michigan, Cloverdale, Calif., Monterey, Calif., Los Angeles and Washington D.C.

4. My job. I'm really grateful for it.

Now, for 2016:

1. Run my first 50-miler, DPRT. And actually train smart for it. This will take some work and some research. Fortunately, I know a few ultrarunners... :-)

2. Do weight training at least once a week. How is it that I could get off my butt right now and run 20 miles, but I am dying doing a few pushups?

3. Drink water

4. Read books. Seriously.

5. Keep learning Spanish and try to be able to understand it and speak it. Six months of Duolingo has helped me to be able to read and write a little, which I'm really proud of.

5. Crew an ultra race.

6. Make more mistakes. Hey, it's gonna happen.

Running photos from the year:

Monday, November 16, 2015

Paleozoic 50K: Race report and what's next...

I finished my second ultramarathon last weekend, the Paleozoic 50K

It's the same ultra I did last year -- a really well-run race by awesome race directors Bill and Michelle Thom in the hilly, leafy Palos Forest Preserve southwest of Chicago. 

It was great, but hard. Compared with the DPRT trail marathon I ran a month ago, this was much, much tougher.

Leading up to race day, I was not thinking much about the race. Work felt like more of a zoo than usual, with multiple deadlines and challenges to my mental energy. If I didn't fall asleep on the couch at like, 8:45 at night, I was crashing in bed only to wake up at odd hours like 3 or 4 a.m., unable to get back to sleep. 

I have no idea what I really ate during the week, and I know I didn't drink enough water. I'm really bad about that.

So, when Friday rolled around, it was a long day, but I was able to be home by 6-ish. I was exhausted, and wondering how in the hell I was going to run an ultra. 

I decided to keep my expectations low and give myself all the time needed to finish.That proved to be a worthy strategy.

The morning of the race was beautiful, matching the day's forecast of sunny and highs in the 50s -- incredible weather for mid-November in Chicago.

I got up early to the sunniest morning. Since I was up alone in the house, I quickly gathered my race gear and caught up on the headlines I had noticed just minutes before falling sleep at 8:45 the night before about the horror in Paris. Dear God. I felt a little guilty getting to get up and go run a race when so many were suffering. 

My running pal Krista picked me up. This ultra was her first, as it would be for Lindsey, Krista's awesome friend who has run with us a few times.

We talked about Paris on the way down and I read the latest on CNN.com. We made great time and got to the race start more than an hour early. Frost laid across the grass like a glittery blanket -- it was so pretty! Lindsey arrived and climbed in Krista's car to stay warm and chatter. She was nervous, I could tell.

Weirdly, I only felt a little bit of butterflies. I was pretty sure I was in for a tough race, which proved to be right.

We heard the start horn blast as we stood under the picnic shelter. Oops, we weren't paying attention to the time! We laughed at ourselves.

The course has 50K runners run the same 15-ish mile loops twice. I felt OK the first few miles, but not great. I chalked it up to being tired. Krista seemed to be enjoying herself. It was so pretty out and warming up quickly, so I made a point to focus on the beautiful day.  Lindsey, a faster runner, was ahead of us from the beginning. I hoped she was having a great race.

We ran into another woman running her first ultra. Turns out she was also an Ironman, like Krista, so it was nice to listen to them talk about Ironman races. (I have no desire to do an Ironman. But I noticed plenty of Ironman shirts on this race course.)

The first unmanned aid station is about 3.5 miles from the start and 4-ish miles from the turnaround, where there are volunteers and food. I knew by then it was going to be a tough day. 

Sometimes when I do a long run I will feel pretty good after a few miles. I felt OK, but not "good". I still had my "oh well" mental attitude, though, which was good. I've blown up at too many races in the past to put high expectation on these things now.

That's why I love trail running. It's low pressure and just chill. My tightly wound self needs that.

We got to the first turnaround and took a break, which helped.

Running back to the start line to complete our first 15-ish-mile loop was, well, hard. I noticed Krista got quiet, too. I was worried that a kidney infection she had been fighting was coming back, but she assured me that she was fine -- just tired, too.

Well then. Nothing like having a running pal in the same boat as you.

A mile or two from completing the first loop, I admitted I was a little panicked because I couldn't see how I had the stamina to do another loop. 

The hills felt so big. I knew I was undertrained for hills -- I hadn't been able to run down here for six weeks. But man, they were kicking my butt.

Krista is nearly 20 years younger than me and a wise old soul, I've told her. She's also way more chilled out about stuff than I am, which is one of the many reasons I like her so much. She quietly told me that it would be OK, and to just focus on finishing the first loop. 

I tried to focus on that and not thinking about repeating the whole loop a second time. My hip bones ached a little, but I noticed that I really didn't feel too achy anywhere else, which was good. I was just tired. You can run tired, I told myself.

We got back to the picnic station, when Bill, one of the race directors, enthusiastically greeted us and told us we looked strong. Gosh, he and his wife are just so nice. They're like that at every race of theirs I've run.

I considered telling Krista I was thinking about dropping out. But I felt like a jerk. This was her first ultra. And we're both stubborn and don't like to quit.

So I kept my mouth shut and we headed out. A few miles later I confessed what I had been thinking to her. She had thought the same thing. Ha! Too late now. We were in this till the end. (And I doubt we would have dropped out. Stubborn!)

We agreed to continue walking the hills. 

When we got to the manned aid station/turnaround the second time, I was tired but I had rallied a little. That was encouraging.

We saw our friend Terri in the distance. She had promised to come spectate. She did that last year, too.

I hugged her hard and surprised myself by getting a little teary. She asked me "are you OK?" and I sniffed "yes, it's just hard, we're OK." Terri stayed with us at the aid station and offered to get me a Diet Coke and meet us at the next station, which we figured we'd hit in about another hour. I began to look forward to that!

From that point on, it was a slog. Krista and I walked and ran. At one point in the course, a very large tree had fallen on the path and you had to go over or under it. The first loop, we laughed about climbing over the tree, because there was no easy way to do it gracefully.

That third and fourth time climbing over the tree? Oh Lord.

The final time we could barely lift up our dead legs. Hoisting ourselves up, we just sat on top of the tree and laughed at ourselves. Dorks. Krista asked me if my feet felt tingly, too, and I noticed they really did. It felt so amazing to not be on my feet.

Around Bullfrog Lake, someone alongside a line of parked cars yelled "Flatlander!!!!", noticing my Flatlander Ultrarunner shirt. It was the Flatlander group! I've only met a few of them -- it's a growing group of folks on Facebook who run ultras. Many of them do 100-mile races around the country and tell amazing stories. I'm in awe of them. 

And their cheering really helped pick up my spirits. XXXXX

I realized that many of them would have been at the funeral earlier for Alfredo Perro Pedro. He was a local ultra runner who, based on what I would see on this Facebook page, was much loved by this group. 

He had been diagnosed with ALS just a year ago. The FB page in the last year had been filled with photos of him in a wheelchair or stroller, sitting covered in blankets at races to cheer on others, or being pushed by friends in races. I never met him, but cheered for him and hoped for the best. 

Last Sunday, after co-hosting a baby shower for one of our running friends, I learned he had died, just 47 years old. My heart went out to this group of runners who lost their friend, and here they were, out cheering loudly for runners doing little ol' 50Ks. They're such a great bunch of people. I hope to meet more of them eventually.

I'm also 47 years old. His death sure reminded to appreciate every day and every run. You just never know.

Also during this leg of the run, we noticed how low the sun was in the sky, even though it was mid-afternoon. The day had a surreal quality to it, given that even at midday the sun was never really high in the sky. Since dusk was 4:30, we knew we had to keep moving. You know, so the wolves wouldn't get us.

(I like to joke about wolves eating us. This summer, we were doing a pre-dawn trail run with headlamps, when we came upon three sets of glowing eyes in the woods. I utterly freaked and assumed they were wolves. Because, you know, wolves are running around Cook County. They wound up being deer. Dork.)

As we neared the final unmanned station, I checked my GPS and noticed we were at 26.3 miles, officially past the 26.2-mile marathon distance. Krista, I said, you're an ultramarathoner now! I high-fived her. Yay!

Minutes later, we were at the aid station, with Terri and a delicious Diet Coke. Krista and I both remarked how we were rallying at points during these last few miles. Still tired, but encouraging. The end was in sight.

A few miles later, Krista ran slightly ahead of me and finished strong. Terri and Lindsey were at the finish line. Neither had ever met the other, but they had already figured out they were there to watch for the same friends. 

I was so happy to be done. And so happy we stuck with it. So, so glad. Race time: 7:19:21, just eight minutes slower than last year. I'll take it! 

The next morning, I woke up to the typical stiffness and soreness, but nothing too bad, thanks to the cold bath I reluctantly took when I got home to bring down the inflammation.

I puttered around for an hour in my still-quiet house, drinking coffee. 

I decided it was awesome that I could finish and stick with a tough race. My marathon the month prior I had felt so strong and great -- and this race had been very different.

I decided right then that I would run my first 50-miler next fall, the DPRT (flat!) trail where I had done the marathon last month.

If I can run 30, I can do 50!