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Today’s run

I headed out for today’s run fully intending to come home, shower, and change before doing anything else for the day.

Oh, how plans change.

Instead, I’m sitting here 10 hours later still in my running clothes. I have been to a soccer game, the salon for a cut and color, and have been relaxing at home by the fire, working on my Snowy Owl afghan. All without showering. Or changing. And it feels great.

It was a tough 6.3 miles this morning. The five day old snow was crusty and had not had any traffic to pack it down. So things were a bit slow going. And I didn’t eat breakfast before heading out. So I needed my emergency gel 1.66 miles into the run. Good thing I had it stashed in my water bottle pocket. But, a bald eagle soared overhead at mile 4, and that was all I needed for a perfect run.

Anyway, it was a great run. And I saw my son’s soccer game, and I have a fresh cut and color on my head. Pretty perfect if you ask me.

IMG_0646Doesn’t everyone read Popular Science at the salon?



You may not have noticed it, but I’ve been absent from the blog world for a while.  The last blog post I made was one I quickly typed up on my cell phone from a hotel room in Colorado, in the dark while my two older children slept in the next room (yay for suites!) and my youngest tried to fall asleep in the pack and play at the foot of the bed.

Yep, I was on vacation.  And it was wonderful.

I literally unplugged.

I turned off my work emails to my cell phone and set up an out of office auto reply that told everyone who emailed me that they wouldn’t get a response until I returned.  I spent 12 days not thinking about work at all.  Except the one weird dream where I somehow teleported back to work from Colorado…

Note: I returned today to over 300 emails…and spent most of the day just getting through them…such is the price we pay for our vacation time!

We traveled to Colorado for a wedding and family reunion, and so we spent the first few nights at a hotel near Denver for the wedding.  Afterwards, however, the extended family drove up to Estes Park to stay in condos literally a mile from the Rocky Mountain National Park entrance.  It was gorgeous.  A small river ran right behind the building, so every night we got to go to sleep with nature’s perfect white noise generator.  Mornings were cool, in the low 50’s, and daytime temps were in the upper 80’s, but never felt hot.

This was the view from the back deck of our condo.

Oh, and it rained every day, for no more than an hour.  For those of us who are stuck in the “dust bowl” drought-stricken Midwest, rain is something that we haven’t seen in a long time.  I have to admit I felt like looking up at the sky in disbelief, wondering just what that wet stuff was coming down from the clouds.

Rocky Mountain National Park
See the rain forming over the mountains?

So if you were wondering where I was (which I highly doubt you were), the mystery is solved.  And yes, I did get some running in (not nearly enough, given the almost perfect running weather).  The road that our condo was on had about a 3 inch shoulder.  I didn’t feel comfortable running on it, although others did, and there were many bike riders who braved the twists and turns to climb into the park.  So I drove down to the city of Estes Park and ran around the lake.  There was a perfect recreational trail around the lake that made a nice 3.5-4 mile loop.

I got to run around this. Yep, it was pretty nice.

The only issue with this trail (and it’s not an “issue” really), occurred the one morning I got up early, around 6:30 am, and went for a run.  I was about a half mile into the run and had reached the point where the trail forms a “Y” – one way takes you clockwise around the lake, the other counterclockwise.  Directly in front of me, spread out over both forks of the path, was a herd of at least 20 elk.  I slowed down, then stopped.  I looked over to see a sign posted that said “Caution:  Dangerous Elk Herds,” “Wild Animals” and “Do not approach.”  Then I saw the note that said “Avoid disturbing or coming between a mother and her calf.”  What was in the center of the herd, between the two forks of the path?  A baby elk.

I wasn’t going anywhere near them.  And they weren’t interested in moving quickly.  I didn’t have my camera or cell phone with me, so I couldn’t take a picture.  And I didn’t want to get closer to them, so I turned around and ran back to the car, and then headed back, making another “warmup loop.”  Sure enough, when I got back to the fork in the trail, the elk had moved up the hill a bit and cleared the trail.  Ever cautious, I looked around one more time, and sure enough, one lone straggler jumped over the fence and ran to join the group.

Comfortable that the elk had moved on, I continued on my run.  It was a beautiful start to my run, and the extra warmup loop made the 3.5 mile trail into a 4.25 mile run.  And it was 52 degrees that morning, so my hands went numb and I could see my breath the whole time (maybe it was actually colder?).  I was loving the temperatures!

It was a great vacation, topped off by the fact that I was able to see a bald eagle while we were there.  The eagle soared right over our heads while the family was enjoying the lake.  Only once, then it flew off.  The only eagle I saw the whole time.  🙂


For those who are reading this blog to keep updated on my possible bone marrow donation, don’t worry.  I am still on the list.  I’m in the “wait and see” part of the journey – while my bloodwork is reviewed by the patient’s doctor and they decide how to proceed.  I’ll definitely post here when I hear back or know something new.

the nitty gritty details

So, now for the details (at least as many as I can remember).  This is probably going to be long, so I’ll apologize in advance.  If you want the quick synopsis, look at this post.

On Sunday, I ran a marathon.  It all seems so surreal.  Almost like I dreamed it.  Today, two days later, I feel…normal.  There is a tiny bit of tightness in my muscles, but really, I feel fine.  Tonight I ran up the stairs and into the hall before I realized just what I was doing.  “Shouldn’t that have hurt?” I thought.

But I’m jumping way ahead of myself, aren’t I?

We drove up to Minneapolis on Saturday, taking our time getting there.  My husband was dying to visit the Toppling Goliath brewery in Decorah, Iowa.  I am so glad we stopped.  The people there were so incredibly nice, and we enjoyed spending a few hours just sitting there talking beer.  I think my husband is already trying to figure out when he can get back.  Luckily for us, we were there right when they tapped Pseudo Sue, so we got to taste it fresh – minutes from being kegged…it was, in a word, amazing.  Definitely worth the visit.  However, it made us a bit later getting into Minneapolis than we originally planned, so we had to go to packet pickup first before checking into the hotel.  No worries, packet pickup was a breeze, and I got to say a quick hi to fellow RMM Leia who was working at the shirt handout tables.

One thing that I have always wanted to do is to own a marathon finisher’s jacket.  I always told myself I would get one for my first marathon.  So I keyed in on those in the “expo” (more on that later) and went to check them out.  I thought they were a bargain at $30, and my husband nodded, so I quickly purchased one.  I figured this was more incentive to finish the race, because there was no way I would wear the jacket without actually finishing.  That would be like lying!

Overall, I was disappointed in the expo.  Packet pickup was great and super convenient, but the expo consisted of a few marathon shirts and the aforementioned jackets, and one display of running gear.  Hardly anything for the “last minute” shopper – my husband was thinking of getting some new headphones, and I always like to see the latest running gear, but what little they had there I could get at the local sporting goods store.  So we were in and out of there in about 15 minutes.

We went to the hotel, checked in, and headed out to get some dinner.  My husband figured I should eat pasta, so he took me to an Italian place.  We ordered, and when our food arrived, I ate two bites and, suddenly, couldn’t eat any more.  My stomach was in a huge knot, and I had no appetite.  I struggled to swallow a few more bites, then decided force-feeding myself wasn’t a good idea either.  Luckily we had shared a salad and I had eaten a few slices of bread before the entrees arrived, so it wasn’t like I was starving myself.

We headed back to the hotel, and I laid out my race gear, got my fuel belt and bib number set up, my timing chip on my shoelaces, and I was in bed by 9.  Crazy people, we are.

Sunday morning the alarm went off at 5:15.  (The race started at 6:30.)  I had slept pretty soundly, only waking once at 3:15, and I had been able to go back to sleep.  I was calm, not very nervous, which is weird for me.  I’m usually a nervous wreck before a race.  I got dressed and ate a banana, while my husband got his running gear on (he ran the half).  We headed out to walk to the race, and halfway there I realized I hadn’t eaten the cereal I packed.  We looked for a coffee shop to buy a bagel, but none were open, so my husband offered me the gel he was going to take on his race.  So I had a gel about 6:15.

A nice guy offered to take our picture if we’d buy him running shoes…

I lined up with the 10 minute/mile group, and soon it was time to go.  I never heard a starting gun, or the national anthem, actually I never heard anything.  There were about 800-900 runners in the full marathon (the half started an hour later, at 7:30), so it wasn’t like it was a huge crowd, but I couldn’t hear the PA system at all.  So when everyone started to crowd up to the front, I followed along (we are really just lemmings, aren’t we) and started running when I hit the pace mats.

And we’re off!  Can you find me?

I wonder what I was looking at?

The first six miles of the race pretty much flew by.  There were plenty of people around, I really enjoyed talking with one fellow runner for a few miles until we hit a water stop and I lost her.  The highlight of the first few miles had to be talking for a while with a guy wearing a full hockey uniform (pads and all).  The only thing he wasn’t wearing were the skates – luckily he had running shoes on instead.  He was running with a relay team and they were raising money for charity.  Each of them had on the full uniform.  With the heat, the added weight (he said it was something like 30 pounds of gear), and the helmet, I am so impressed by these guys.

At mile 6 I stopped at a porta potty (actually this was at the finish line – what torture to have us run by the finish line at mile 6?), then kept going.  I was going along at a comfortable pace, but in hindsight it might have been faster than I should have been going.  But it felt good and the air was cool, so I went with it.  It wasn’t that far off my normal pace, but knowing now what was coming, I probably could have slowed down.

I followed my original race plan to run with a bottle of nuun, sipping throughout the run, and take a gel every 5-6 miles.  With the breakfast snafu and the lack of a full dinner the night before, I opted to fuel more often, knowing that the guidance is usually “fuel before you think you need it” – so I aimed to take a gel every 5 miles or less.  It worked for me in training, I wasn’t going to change now.  And I sipped on the nuun the whole time I ran, refilling the water bottle when it was getting low and dropping in a new tablet.  I drank almost four whole bottles of water during the race – three were nuun, and the last was water.  For someone who typically drinks one during a long run, this was a lot more – but I needed it.

Everything went great until mile 14, when it started to get hard.  Miles 12-14 had been on a nice wooded trail, shady and cool.  Then we hit mile 14, and bam! back into the sun.  I decided I could use some music, so I turned on some Radiohead.  Then at mile 15, we hit a gravel road for a mile out-and-back.  The course had been rerouted due to flooding, so I know this wasn’t the original plan, but the gravel, honestly, was not a good running surface.  Some of the rocks were over an inch in diameter, and often I found myself with one poking up into my shoe, or my ankle twisting as I landed roughly on one.  I tried to find the path of least rocks, but this was a hard job.  Kudos to the guy who ran this barefoot.  He should get two medals.

Side note – at this point we were also running in the runway approach for the Minneapolis St. Paul Airport.  An airplane flew about 200 yards over my head.  It was kind of cool.

Just before mile 18, the 4:30 pacer passed me.  4:30 had been my “stretch goal” – the “if everything is going perfect, then I might have a shot at it” goal.  Just after that, this happened (see red circle).

I am not kidding. This was climbing a mountain.

Everyone walked that hill.  I don’t think it was physically possible to run up it.

By the time I hit mile 19, we were running right next to the interstate.  Cars were honking, the sun was beating down, and I was getting tired.  I told myself, “You knew this was going to be hard.  Now you have to finish.”

I looked up, and saw the most amazing sight.  I saw an eagle fly overhead, just above the treetops.  (maybe 50 feet over my head).  Nobody else was close to me on the path.  I think I was the only one who saw it.  I watched to see the eagle come out of the other side of the tree, and it never did.  I couldn’t find it again.  It was like it had vanished.  If you’ve followed this blog you know about me and eagles.  To me, this was a sign – right when things got hard, I see an eagle?  It couldn’t have been a coincidence.  And I’m pretty sure I wasn’t hallucinating.  I dug down and started running again.

I kept a steady pace, just walked more at the end.

The next 6 miles were tough, yes, but I never, ever thought I wouldn’t make it.  I looked at my watch and saw that I had finished 20 miles in about 3:30.  The question wasn’t whether I would finish, the question was how long it would take.  So I allowed myself to walk when it was hard, when I was tired, and each time I would start running again.

Eventually around mile 22-23, I realized that it hurt more to walk than to run, so I started to try and run more often, and make the walk breaks shorter.  By this time it was pretty warm, so I tried to stay in what little shade was left.  Everyone around me was walking too.  I guess all the “runners” were up ahead…that or it was the heat.  There was a small group of us that were all together, we’d pass one another, then one would walk and the others would pass, and so on.  It was like a giant slow-motion game of leapfrog.  But way less fun.

In the end, I did finish, and I was even able to pick up the pace a bit at the end.  I heard the announcer struggle to pronounce my name, as always.  At least this race I was not “Annie” – that was a definite plus!

Right after the race I found my husband, and we headed off to the beer tent.  The beer wasn’t very good, so we stayed to talk with Leia for a little while then headed back to the hotel.  I was disappointed in the post-race party, but this post is already too long, and there’s no need to complain here.  I will just fill out my post-race survey as requested and give them my feedback directly.  Let’s just say I didn’t get any water except for a small cup right at the finish line, and nobody told me where I could get my finisher’s photo taken, so I didn’t get one.

I’m pretty sure I told my husband several times I didn’t need to ever do this again.  But at the same time in my head I was already analyzing what went wrong and trying to figure out if any of it could be fixed.  I’m an engineer, that’s what I do.  After getting back to the hotel, we both wanted to collapse – so we took quick showers and laid down.  I’ll admit I felt pretty awful – tired and exhausted, sore, achy, and nauseous.

But a few hours later, we got up, went for a walk to get something to eat, and besides having a hard time getting up and out of chairs, I wasn’t feeling too bad.  At dinner, we sat down at the restaurant, and “Learning to Fly” came on.  If you don’t know why this is important, reference the eagle post above.  This isn’t a song I usually hear on the radio, and less often at restaurants.  It also was totally in contrast with the rest of the music at this restaurant.  It was definitely strange that it came on, but appropriate given the day.  To me, it was just another confirmation that sometimes, our instincts are spot on.   Of course I believe in coincidences, but this time, no.  This was a sign.

So that was my race story.  And now, two days later, with no leg pain and feeling pretty much recovered, I have to ask myself, do I want to do this again?

Honestly?  I think I do.  I can’t believe I just said that.  But maybe not this year, because if I do this again I want to be able to put 100% into the training, so that I go into the race knowing that I have done the best I can do.  So although I have some thinking to do, I’ve already got three half marathons this fall, so I think I’ll probably focus on those.  It will be easier to do the training through our busy summer, and I can still get in some pretty long runs with the LU crew.

For those who are into numbers…

learning to fly

Almost a year ago, I was out for a run when I had one of those experiences I will remember forever.

I ran with a bald eagle.

And, since that day, it hasn’t happened again. Not that I would expect it to, because bald eagles in this area don’t stay year-round.

Last week while driving past my usual running spot, I thought I might have seen the eagle again. Today, I saw it for sure.

So this time, I took pictures. (Excuse the photo quality, I don’t run with a DSLR…)

Eagles hold a really special place in my heart. My best friend, Brian, lost his battle with leukemia when I was in college. Brian was a runner. Brian was also the smartest person I have ever met. We were also a lot alike, more than I realized at the time. He loved Star Wars, he loved science fiction. He loved Pink Floyd. He longed to fly. During his cancer treatments, Brian said to me once, that if he beat cancer, he was going to change majors from mechanical engineering to aerospace engineering. “Why not?” he said. “I might as well do what I love.”

One of the songs that he used as the signature on his emails to me our freshman year of college was from the Pink Floyd song, “Learning to Fly” – “A dream unfrightened by the morning light, could blow this soul right through the roof of the night.”

I’ve always imagined that his soul is now soaring like an eagle, free of gravity and free of pain. In fact, that’s exactly what is on his headstone: an eagle. The first time I visited his grave after the funeral, a robin kept hanging around, hopping much closer to me than birds usually come. I had a feeling that somehow, that bird was linked to him. Often I find myself looking at a particularly precocious robin and actually talking to it (I am the first to admit it seems a bit crazy, but heck, we’ve all got our quirks).

So when the eagle soars 10 feet over my head, lands in a tree branch overhanging the path, and looks down at me, I can’t help but think somehow, this means more. Somehow, somewhere, my friend is okay. And he’s checking up on me. And that makes me feel really good.

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