My Food Journey…The Middle Miles

Great. You’re still here. Let’s continue.

So I’m a vegetarian. This was pretty easy for me…and I kept it up for five years. Granted, at the start, I wasn’t the best at it…I did what most people do: I subbed meaty things for fake meaty things and ate the same way I always did.

Note: I understand that many people become vegetarian or vegan because of the cruel way animals raised for food are treated. I understand and respect that position. This didn’t play into my initial decision at all. Sure…I love animals. Sure I wish they could all be treated nicely. I didn’t stop eating them because they weren’t though. Over the years, my opinion of this has changed. I’m still not an activist, and I don’t ever plan on becoming one. But I am more sympathetic to the animal rights cause. Maybe it’s because I’ve just been more exposed to the facts and people who are more involved. I’m not sure. It is true that those people you surround yourself will influence you.

As you read in my last post, I started running again. First that 5k, and then a Half Marathon later that year with Team and Training. 20131028-150122.jpg
I was satisfied at that distance…for a time. I ran the half a few more times, and in 2011, I toed the line at my first marathon…crazy. 20131028-150307.jpg
I was still eating my mostly healthy vegetarian diet, which included eggs, milk, and cheese. Occasionally I’d crave a good meatball like my Grandma used to make, but most of the time I didn’t miss meat. Not even bacon.

My weight hovered around 150 lbs…my Army weight. I had just trained for and ran a successful marathon. Maybe this was my “natural weight.” Where I should be. I was in the best shape of my life (so far), but I wanted more. Becoming a vegetarian was never about losing weight for me…it still isn’t. Honestly, neither was running. I just wanted to feel good. To be my best “me.” And I wasn’t…not yet.

I ran another marathon in the spring of 2012, though I had a nagging injury. If the race didn’t include a trip to see my parents in Utah and the fundraising for the Huntsman Cancer Foundation, I might not have done it all. But I did. The race brought it’s own challenges, but I didn’t feel any better. And I knew the problem was still my diet…but I was in denial.

It was soon after that I found ultra. None of my friends at the time were doing anything like this. (Oddly enough, most of my friends now are! Surround yourself with greatness, right?) And that’s when healthy eating really started making an impact. You mean I don’t have to count calories? Or suck down those nasty gel things? I can eat real food while I’m running? No way! Trust me…it’s true.

In 2012, in addition to 2 marathons and countless shorter races, I ran my first trail race…a 60K ultramarathon. I had no idea what I was doing.

All I knew was this: Keep drinking water, keep eating, keep going!

That was my whole plan. And it worked. I left that race, one of only a few finishers and with a First Place AG award. What? A month later I ran the Columbus Marathon for a second time, with a 27min PR. Hmm…maybe there’s something to the healthy eating thing after all. 20131028-153144.jpg
What changed? I started reading food labels. Granted, in the beginning this was time consuming. I quickly learned which products were worth buying, and which things I was better off making myself. I experimented with making my own bread, tomato sauce and salsa. And then I started buying more things that didn’t come with labels…namely a lot of fresh produce. Whole foods. That was the key. I didn’t own a scale (I still don’t), but my clothes started feeling looser. I went to the store where I always get my jeans. Instead of the size 8s I always bought, I could comfortably fit in a size 4. A 4? I didn’t wear a 4 in high school! I took my son to the doctor shortly after that, and stepped on their scale. 135lbs. I was shocked. I wasn’t trying to lose weight. It was a natural result of treating my body well. I could get used to this!

To finish out the season, I took on the Goofy Challenge in January of this year. You can read about in an earlier post. I ran both the half and full marathon while eating real food, and felt fantastic after each. 20131028-151801.jpg
So is that the end of the story? Not exactly. I still wanted more. I read about many vegan athletes and wondered about how much influence their diet had on their performance. Then I quickly dismissed the thought. I’m Italian. I LOVE cheese. I can do without eggs and milk, but cheese? That would be torture. Or would it? I guess you’ll have to wait and see…

DC Does it Right

Wow. Just wow.
I expect this will take several posts, I’ll do a full race recap sometime tomorrow time willing. I just want to leave you with some overall first impressions, and then I’ll get down to the details.

First, I should point out that I haven’t been to Washington, DC in a long time. It might as well been never since I didn’t remember anything about the city that I couldn’t recall from pictures. It’s been that long.
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I headed to DC this past weekend for the Inaugural Nike Women’s Half Marathon. Yes, Nike is celebrating the 10th anniversary of the half and full in San Francisco this year. I’m usually nervous to attend the first year if any event, and try to keep in mind that there’s a good chance for some snafus.

Nope.
Nothing life-altering anyway.

DC is a great place for a race. With a city so spread out, it’s easy to find 13.1 picturesque miles to run. I’m fairly certain that, if they do add the full in the coming years, they won’t have much trouble doubling those views.

But there are other aspects of DC that make it appealing.

Inexpensive public transportation. Once you get the hang of it, the metro is pretty easy to maneuver. And all the employees we met were friendly and helpful. You can take a cab, but you don’t need to. And don’t drive. It’s not worth it.

Lots of green. Parks and more parks. For a city, DC has a lot of green spaces. And they’re clean.
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Free activities. You don’t have to pay a lot to see the sights. Several museums were free, and you can find tours of the older, less popular buildings that don’t charge. My favorite tour of the city was done on foot…our impromptu shakeout run covered 4.5 miles of the National Mall, complete with stops for photos…and a workout? Sold. At no charge of course.
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Sure. You can pay plenty during a weekend in the nation’s capital. Shoot…the food alone can bankrupt you. But you don’t HAVE to spend money to have a good time.

Enough about the city…race report coming up!

Beyond the Marathon

I am horrified by the events which occurred in Boston yesterday. My thoughts and prayers are with those that were killed and injured in the explosions and their families. Please know this was written before the tragic events occurred, and is, in no way, meant to be offensive or insensitive. I share it because, through writing, I grow as a person. And, without sharing my words, they are left meaningless. I haven’t forgotten. But the worst thing we can all do is give up…and let evil win. Yesterday I prayed for Boston, and the rest of our world. That won’t stop because it’s a new day. I’m not moving on, I’m just moving forward.
Relentless forward momentum.

I’ll admit it. I didn’t watch any of the Boston Marathon. I didn’t check the updates. I didn’t look at the elite finish times. I briefly looked at a few pictures posted by friend on Facebook, but even then, it was just to admire the happy faces if friends, and to wish them good luck.

It really doesn’t interest me. Not anymore. I’ve heard a few people say that recently, but I could hear the hesitation in their voice…they think it’s unattainable for them (and maybe it is), so they express disinterest as a defense mechanism. They don’t want to talk about it. They feel like a loser because they can’t or won’t do the work required to BQ.

That’s not me. Not at all. I don’t want to run Boston. It doesn’t hold my interest. I want something bigger.

Bigger? What’s bigger than Boston?

Now before you go jumping down my throat that Boston is the most important event for the running world, let me agree, with one very specific clarification.

The Boston Marathon is the most elite marathon in the world.

Marathon.

And that’s why it doesn’t interest me.

What’s my bigger goal? Western States 100. Yup. I said it.
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That’s a bit far off. I’m nowhere near reaching that goal…especially as I sit here icing my knee from a spill I took Sunday on a trail run. The good news is I have plenty of time.

Now I promised to talk about a race I have coming up, and I will. Tomorrow’s blog will be all about the Playin’ Possum 50k, and why you should be running with us. The course is diverse…a little something for everyone. At least 1/3 of the field are first-time ultra runners and the others have plenty of experience to spread around. And all the proceeds will be donated to the Special Olympics.

20130415-152909.jpg Tomorrow…I promise.

I do want to take a moment to talk about the wonderful people I’ve met while training for this event. I have run with the race directors and the passel (a group of possum…go figure) on several occasions, both as a large organized training run, and a more casual midweek run. Shoot…the race director showed up to a Saturday morning training run I scheduled with friends, just because he knew we would be there.

I have found this community to be so much more passionate and compassionate than any group of people I have ever met. I wish you could meet them. I have never felt more welcome and appreciated, and that was before I brought them all pie for a post-run treat. They have taken a special piece of my heart, and I look forward to the next time I get to run with any one of them. Every time.

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Check back tomorrow for more information regarding the race, where you can sign up before it sells out, and how you can join us for the next training run open to the public.

ORRRC Marathon Part Two: The Longest Half Marathon

Like I said in my earlier post, Xenia was scheduled to be my race to shine.

There’s that word again: scheduled. My plan for the spring was to drop back to the half marathon distance to focus on getting faster, without having to worry about longer mileage. Sounds smart. But it didn’t work. I was miserable. I wanted to run long forever. I’d finish the prescribed mileage and think “That’s it?”

Five weeks ago, I changed my tune. You can read about that here. That meant I had no nerves when I arrived in Xenia. None. Not one. I felt like I had forgotten something. After the race, I figured out what it was. I forgot to get nervous. What a great feeling!

I was happy to accept an invitation to carpool with a friend (Thanks Scott!), and we only had to turn back once…my phone is hard to find at 5:30am. The ride was relaxing, and I started thinking about Kate while drinking my coffee. She was running her first marathon at Xenia that day.

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And though I wasn’t nervous, I did have a plan:

I would run the first seven miles at an even pace with the group (Anne and I were running the half, and Kate would stay with Angie for the full) until the two courses split. Anne and I would finish the half, then we’d head back out to pick up Kate and Angie around mile 22, and run them to the finish. Knowing the last miles of the race would be the hardest for her, I was happy to volunteer for this task. That meant over 20 miles for Anne and I, which worked out fine with our 50k training.

Fast forward to the start. I still had that strange feeling…something is missing. I checked my supplies once more…time to go.

The neighborhood loop was nice. We did get to see Jamie, who was still recovering from injury and couldn’t run with us that day (She’s back to running as of last night!), and a few others who came to spectate. We talked with some local folks running the race, including Tylar, a guy I had met on Twitter the day prior, who was running his first half marathon. Congrats to you friend!
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Off to the bikeway…
Kate was in great spirits, and I stepped away from the group for a mile or so to think…or not think…let my mind wander. It was a great morning. It’s going to be hot. We can do this together. Back in the game.

The split came, and we said goodbye to Kate and Angie…See you at mile 22!
Anne and I took the turn, and my thoughts went to Andrea and Stuart. They couldn’t be that far behind us. I suggested that, since we didn’t care about time, when we saw them on this out-and-back section, that we turn again with them, and stay together. We did…and had a blast taking them back to downtown. No worries. No watch-glancing. Running, laughing, smiling. My kind of run.

The finish line brought tons of cheering from our group! And cookies!

A quick glance as the race clock meant Anne and I had about 40 minutes to kill before heading back out to 22. The club updated us on their finishes, and the status of those still running. Before we knew it. it was time to run…again.

With a promise to keep the crew updated, we headed for the bikeway. There was a steady stream of runners headed towards us, most of which told US we were doing a great job! Um…we’re headed the wrong way, but I’ll take it. We joked with a few, saying we couldn’t get enough, and, since the course was still open, we’d do another lap. I thought it was funny. They probably thought we were crazy.

By the time we reached mile 22, we had seen most of our friends…and it was hot! Over 70* now, which normally wouldn’t be a problem, but it was the first day with those kind of temps, and we weren’t ready for summer quite yet. What happened to spring?

The volunteer working the aid station at 22 was fantastic. He chatted us up, and was very encouraging. It helped to pass the waiting time. Anne and I had logged 18.5 miles at this point, and my stomach was starting to protest all this waiting around.

And then we saw them.

Still happy. Still running. After a quick refuel, we started the last four miles. This is the toughest point for a first-timer, and Kate was a trooper. Despite her apologies that we refused to accept, we pushed on, and she kept giving her best. With just over a mile to go, we picked up Goat and Mel, and then we neared the finish.

Four blocks…uphill. You’ve got this.
We dropped back and let Kate take the lead…and she kicked! Nice!

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Tears. Hugs. Mushy stuff.
It was a fantastic day topped off with soup and cookies, and a celebratory beer.

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Congrats to all…You did it!

And I had the best race experience to date.

And none of it was about me.

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ORRRC Marathon Part One: The Facts

I realize I owe you a few race reports. I’m going to start with the most recent (and the biggest), because it’s still fresh in my mind. And it was an amazing experience. But first…the race..

Facts:
The Ohio River Road Runners Club (ORRRC) Marathon (46th year) & Half Marathon (24th year) took place on Sunday April 7, 2013 in Xenia, Ohio.

images-2 The course, for the half anyway, is pleasant enough: start at the YMCA, a quick loop through the quaint town, and off to the bikeway for an out-and-back race. The marathon follows the same course, but spends a much longer time on the bike path, with a road loop to double you back. There are a few easy hills in the town, and there are a few rollers as the bike path approaches cross streets. It was a nice change to not think about cars and traffic. Even at the road crossings, friendly volunteers and police are there to keep you safe.

I ran the half, so I can’t speak to the second part of the course. I’ve heard it’s fairly non-descript, but, if the weather is right, it lends itself to a PR.

Too bad for us, it wasn’t. Although the morning started with great temps in the 50s, it quickly reached 70 by the second hour. Normally that would be tolerable, but I think we still had snow last week…no acclimation period for that kind of heat. Not to mention a strong headwind….tree-lined bike paths make excellent wind tunnels. Sounds great if the wind is at your back I guess. Rough when it’s in your face…for miles. That’s where the full marathoners had the toughest time. The wind can rob you of energy quickly.

The volunteers were great…even the police officers cheered runners along with positive words. There’s real food at the finish…fruit, two kinds of soup, chili, and cookies. Good cookies. Yum.

The price is right too. If you register early, it’s only $25 for either distance, and that gets you a shirt and a medal. Can’t be beat there. It’s a short drive from Columbus, just over an hour, and most of our club made the trip that morning, save a few dedicated souls who stayed overnight in a local hotel.

Our club, RunDMC (dailymile Columbus) brought at least 35 members to the race this year…even more to cheer…and it was nice to see so many familiar faces.

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This was the race where I planned, up until 5 weeks ago, to PR my half marathon.

Xenia.
It was to be my finest (two) hour(s).

As it turns out, it became the most meaningful race I’ve done in a long time…and it had nothing to do with me. But we’ll have to save that for Part 2.

The Disney Race Experience

I’ve been asked one question dozens of times in the last week since finishing the Goofy Challenge. And it’s a question I had the answer to at Mile 20 of 39.3…just 7 miles into the marathon.

“Would you do it again?”

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I wish I could say there was even a question in my mind, so I’ve been trying to weigh the pros and cons all week. Here it goes.

Pros:

  • Disney knows how to handle the crowds, and that starts with parking. We didn’t stay on property, so that meant driving to Epcot both mornings…something you might dread with this many people. No issues! We planned ahead, we arrived early, and we parked within minutes of entering the park.
  • Volunteers make dreams come true. Never have I seen a volunteer race crew be so thoughtful and gracious. I typically thank people along any course for helping at aid stations, directing runners, or even cheering. And so many times I heard the response “No. Thank you for running!” It’s giving me chills just writing that.
  • Bananas, sponges, and chocolate? Oh my. Every race should have chocolate at mile 21. Take note race directors!
  • Perfect weather. OK…it was warm steamy ridiculously hot compared to Ohio in January. And thank God for that! I’ll take sweating in the corral before sunrise any day over the 17 degree-winchill we had this morning.
  • The best atmosphere ever. Have you seen my pictures? Check out my Day 1 and Day 2 posts for more on this. The parks are beautiful, clean, and full of characters, flashing lights and music. I especially liked seeing Cinderella’s castle covered in thousands of lights during the half, and then at sunrise during the marathon.  And the a cappella choir near the finish on both days? Perfect. Coming around the corner at Epcot and hearing those voices really pushed me to the finish.
  • There is no pressure to race. You have to start knowing there’s going to be a lot of weaving. If you’re not in Corral A or maybe B, your BQ finish is probably in jeopardy. So just enjoy it. And get used to beeping timers. At least half the field is using run/walk intervals…music to my ears!
  • Smiling. Lots and lots of smiling. Honestly, if you don’t like smiling, go run Death Valley. This won’t be the place for you.
  • Three shirts, three medals, a lifetime of pride. Need I say more?

Cons:

  • Do I have to come up with cons? OK…just one. The cost. It’s DisneyWorld people. It’s pricey.

So, do you still need my answer? Haven’t you figured it out by now?

YES! YES! YES!

2015 is the anniversary of the Goofy Challenge. That means a special Goofy medal.

Sounds like all the motivation I need!

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Tomorrow’s news: Rock and Roots Trail Series Race #1 Recap

The Goofy Challenge Day 2

Did you miss Day 1? Read it here!

2am…again? Who’s idea was this anyway? Mine? Dang.

The good news is the marathon field was less than half the size of the prior day. It was neat to run a marathon where everyone was attempting that distance. A first for me!

This was also the first race where I started sweating before the race started.With temps in the 60’s and humidity near 100%, that was inevitable. Hydration was going to be key today…the hottest WDW Marathon in the 20 years since it’s inception.

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Again we started the day with Jeff Galloway. The walk to the corral was considerable faster and this time we were in the corral for the National Anthem and the 5:30 fireworks. Our corral started at 6:03am, right on schedule…thanks Mickey!

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The marathon course took us from Epcot to the Magic Kingdom and Cinderella’s castle, just as we did the previous day.

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Rather than heading back to Epcot, we took to the track at the Disney Speedway. I loved seeing the track full of runners, a variety of classic and race cars, and hot air balloons in the distance. Laurie and I were still sticking to the plan…a little slower than the previous day…and we had picked up a friend, Christine, who stayed with us through mile 10. I was following my run/walk schedule of 2:1, just as I had done the day before, with a little extra walking through the aid stations to ensure we were hydrating enough. By this time we were ready to stop for the bathrooms, and I knew our hydration was spot on. Just after the first Chiquita banana stop…amazing!…we found a short line and stopped.

Next up: Animal Kingdom. A few birds, a snake, and some petting zoo type animals were out neat the entrance. We passed Expedition Everest and Dinoland USA. Sadly luckily there were no dinosaurs roaming about.

On to ESPN Wide World of Sports! Familiar territory as we were here for the expo. The course looped the grounds, around the rubberized track (a nice change), and a quick trip on the gravel surrounding the baseball stadium (a not-so-nice change).

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After a quick stop to get the rocks out of our shoes, we finally saw our friends and the bags of washcloths and oranges! I loved having our friends on the course…what a blessing!

And here’s everybody hanging out at Mile 20!

Last park…Hollywood Studios. The most memorable part was the tunnel…shade! It was ridiculously hot by this point, and I was thankful for a break from the sun. Laurie asked if we could take a break here…but with just over a 5k to go, I declined. A trip through the Streets of America, complete with trompe-l’œil buildings, and a loop around the Boardwalk, and we were back running through through the countries of Epcot.

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I had the most energy ever at the end of this race. So much so, that Laurie told me to go, and then fell back so I would. She was probably sick of me after 36 miles anyway. So I ran…and I felt like I was flying. It didn’t hurt that many people were walking by this point. I crossed the line around 5:33, and to my surprise, there was Bart Yasso, looking like he was waiting for someone (presumably me!). Everyone was so busy high-fiving Mickey at the finish and heading for water, and he looked lonely. So I called out his name, and gave him a big, sweaty hug. And best of all? He didn’t mind. He even commented later that he LIKES sweaty hugs. That’s my kind of man!

After some refueling, we walked back to the car, and heard that sweet sound…clang, clang, clang…all the way home. The Goofy was mine.

A tribute: As you can see from the pictures, I wore my Huntsman Hometown Heroes jersey during the marathon.

photo-6I get so much inspiration from running in memory/in honor of those who both lost and won their battle with cancer.  A few of those miles were dedicated to some special people, and I’d like to mention them here. They are the real heroes.

Mile 0-4- Jeff S.

Mile 5-9- Lisa

Mile 10-14 – Christopher R.

Mile 15-20 – Grandma (Carmela)

Mile 21-26.2 – Mom (Christine)

Tomorow’s news: The Disney Race Experience