For the third consecutive year, I ran my favorite race; the Vacation Races Rocky Mountain Half in August. Because I am an ambassador for the race series, I did receive a free entry in exchange for this post, so let me tell you allllllll about it! If you’ve been reading our little blog for a bit, you’ve likely seen my previous recaps of this race here and here. But this year was different for a few reasons, and none of them were easy.
Like last year, I completed the Elk Double, which means I did the 5k race on Friday evening and the half marathon on Saturday morning. About a week before the race, I was told my beloved dog, Archie the Pug, had a spleen tumor and might only have thirty days left with us. All my race plans and thoughts went out the window. I almost decided not to run the race at all in favor of spending every minute with Archie. The problem was that after all these years of running, I had inspired some family members to sign up for the 5k too (a post about that is in the works, because it’s the coolest feeling). All of this meant I had an obligation to them to be there, they were counting on me. My husband and I decided that we could maybe include Archie in the race by buying him a bike trailer/pet stroller and we would push him through the 5k and dedicate our race to him.
A few days before the race, we decided to get a second opinion about his tumor because it just wasn’t adding up with what we knew about him and his symptoms. He’s been struggling with some other serious health issues this summer, and we wanted to be positive about his prognosis. Low and behold, he didn’t have a tumor at all, but an enlarged liver! Not a good thing, but certainly not terminal! THERE WAS SO MUCH REJOICING.
At that point, we were all in for the race weekend we had planned months ago with family. I knew this race weekend would be pretty pathetic for me as far as performance was concerned. As you may have heard me say previously, Archie’s health issues require 24-hour care and that means my time for training over the summer vanished when he got sick in June. Although, carrying a 32-pound dead-weight dog to get water, to potty, and to eat does work the core and back muscles.
I had NO expectations for myself other than to finish the races in the allotted time, but a last-minute half marathon course change an unexpected foot issues had other ideas for me, but more on that in a sec. Race weekend arrived and we excitedly departed for a weekend of camping on our property, racing. And of course, looking cute on the course.
We arrived at the expo and met up with my sisters-in-law and their husbands. After chatting for a few, I headed off to volunteer at the expo. Since all Vacation Races events are cup free, I pitched in at the Hydro Pouch booth to give runners their pouches they’d bought in advance. Showing people how to use the nifty little Hydro Pouch was fun, and I got to encourage lots of runners and welcome them to Colorado and Estes Park. After my stint at the booth finished up, I swung by the merch booth to buy another patch for my Toasty Girl Vest. I can’t wait to add all the Vacation Races patches eventually!
The 5k followed the same course it has since its inception and took us around Lake Estes’ paved bike path at sunset. One of the things I like about this race, and all Vacation Races, frankly, is the race size. There are usually around three thousand runners give or take, and it makes for the perfect level of comradery between runners and a comfortable race experience. No waiting too long for port-a-potties or being packed in your wave like a runDisney runner.
On the course, Archie was a big hit in his stroller, but my goodness, he HATED being pushed. He actually howled and whined and cried and made other runners laugh, and look at us funny, and some, I’m sure, wondered if we were torturing him. It was pathetic, and funny, and slow going. My husband, who never runs, kept outpacing me with the stroller and at one point was far ahead of me. After playing catch up to him, we kept a brisk walking/running pace, which was a mistake I paid for the next morning. Through it all, Archie looked cute, as he does, and when we finished with a horrible time, we gave him our medals.
The half is not only my favorite race, but now it’s also my ‘hometown” race since it’s the biggest race near where I’m building my house. It was so awesome to get up pre-dawn and drive the beautiful drive from my property in Allenspark to the start line Estes Park, a distance of about 20 miles. I saw deer and elk on the drive, and it was so much better than getting up a 3:30 to drive an hour and a half like I had to do in previous years. I’m claiming this race as mine!
My strategy with this race is always the same; run the downhills, walk the uphills, especially the big hill that lasts foreverrrrrrrr. I knew they had changed the course, but the announcement went out the same week as the race and I didn’t have a chance to see what changed.
The start was chilly, it was in the low 50’s, and the music was loud. Coffee, hot cocoa, and bananas were staged at the start for runners and spectators. Warm drinks are always welcome at pre-dawn starts, especially at 7500 feet elevation where there is always an early morning nip in the air. I was feeling good and was ready to walk/run the race. I was having no pain as I waited, and no concerns about my race at all. I expected I’d finish around 3:20. Runners from all over the country come to this race, and their excitement is catching. People posed for photos while they moved around to stay warm.
Finally, my wave started and I was right behind my pacer. Almost immediately, I knew there was a problem. Not even a quarter mile in, the top of my left foot was not having it. I could feel a pinching pain deep in my foot with every footfall. The impact of running was too much. I was in trouble, and started to wonder if I would finish at all. It hurt, and I wasn’t even up the first hill yet.
About that hill. Remember all the folks from out-of-state who were so excited at the start? Those same folks are walking up the first hill too, angry with themselves that they’re already walking and that the elevation is more of a challenge than they expected. I see it happen every year. This is when I try to engage with them and ask where they’re from. No matter what their reply, I reassure them that the elevation is hard for locals like me, too, because it is. 7500 feet of elevation is no joke, and no amount of training can fully prepare you for it. When you take on challenges like this, be kind to yourself when things don’t go as you hoped or planned.
The half course is all on paved surfaces, and follows the 5k course for the first mile which takes runners on the wide bike path that hugs Lake Estes. The course was the same as previous years for the most part, but in order to avoid having runners cross a major highway, they routed us a little differently. Now, we used a new bike underpass under the highway that took us to the beginning of the dreaded long hill. This course change made the race more safe, but it had a drawback mentally for those of us who’d run this race before. What used to be mile six was now mile two.
I made it to mile three where an ambulance and two EMTs waited to help runners in distress. Unfortch, they didn’t have any Biofreeze for my foot. I stopped for a potty break and to fill my hand-held. Before heading out again, I ran into two of my Skirt Sisters, Deb and Jennifer, who nursed me through the race. Deb was also recovering from an injury so the three of us stuck together the rest of the way. Honestly, without them, I doubt I would have been able to finish. Going it alone and in pain was getting to be totally not fun at all.
We kept trucking along and made our way through the race. Aside from my foot, this was the most mentally tough race for me to date. The reason was the course changes. As we came down a slope that used to lead to mile marker eleven, I could see the aid station next the new mile marker; mile seven. I’ll tell ya, when you’re brain sees scenery it remembers from last time and thinks you’re almost done, but you’re not, it’s a punch in the gut. We trudged on, talked a lot about running injuries and treatment, how much we love the scenery, and of course our devotion and love for all things Skirt Sports. Having friends to race with is always so much better.
Fighting through the pain was tough, and after describing my symptoms to Deb and Jennifer, we concluded it sounded like I had pulled a tendon in my foot. Not much I could do but bear it. Luckily, Jennifer did have a packet of Biofreeze that she gave to me. Oh, what a wonderful, cooling miracle that green goop is! It helped me finish for sure.
The new route had us backtracking a bit to get back to the underpass and the lake. Mile eleven was finally in sight! We turned onto the Lake Estes bike path and followed it around the western curve of the lake. For me, this was the longest part of the race. You can see and hear the finish line, and it seems like these last two miles are never going to end. We kept asking (rhetorically) where the heck the finish was. That’s what happens when you take almost four hours to finish, you just want it to be OVER.
I was never so happy for a race to be over, and although it was a terrible showing on my part, I’m proud of myself for sticking it out. I’ve been known to quit things, and I didn’t quit. I may have hobbled and grumbled a smidge, but that’s okay. I made it, and had to remind myself that even though this is my “hometown” race and in my backyard, it’s the most challenging course in the Vacation Races circuit in terms of starting elevation and hills. Plus, there’s always next year to chase that PR!
I’ll do it again next year. The challenges I faced were mine, and part of that is learning how to mentally deal with curve balls like course changes. Even though I didn’t finish like I wanted to (my goal back in February was to beat my PR for the race by ten minutes), I learned some great things about adversity and how to listen to my body. This race was a great experience this year. I always recommend Vacation Races events!
Life can be fricking hard, yo. I don’t have it figured out, but I do know what helps me when things get tough. Today, I’m sharing some thoughts about dealing with life’s struggles. I hope they help you, too, and always be kind to yourself.
Several months ago now, I ran a half marathon, and Kyle asked if I would be interested in writing something about my training process. I would sit down and type a little bit, only to feel dissatisfied with what I had written, and ultimately, I never responded to her request. I don’t know what prompted this realization, but this weekend I figured out why I was hiding from expressing my thoughts and feelings.Despite training for and completing the half marathon, over the past year I’ve regained 45 pounds of an 80-pound weight loss, and I have felt like a failure. I have been letting a setback eclipse a huge success. I don’t want to do that anymore. I want to celebrate my victories, and allow them to motivate me to rise up from my setbacks. From a lot of reflection this past weekend about the mental and emotional aspects of health and fitness, here are a few thoughts I want to hold onto, and want to share with others on the journey:
Every person on a health and fitness journey is qualified to be an encourager. My feelings of unworthiness to speak into someone else’s journey are based on a lie – that I have to “get there” before I can be a true encouragement to someone else. There are people who I find inspirational, who I look to for where I want to be, and then there are people who are or have been where I am now. Those people are just as important – they “get it”. They understand the frustration of having to redefine a relationship with food because it can’t be completely cut out. They understand the mental tightrope of eating to fuel your body vs. forcing yourself to exercise more than necessary so you can eat things in excess. We’re all walking this road together, and the people walking with you are just as qualified to speak into your journey as the people who go before you.
You are full of power. A friend told me this weekend that I engage in really negative self-talk, and that I should be kind to myself more often. Her son, a teenage boy in our church, had just been talking to me about my progress in my quest to learn how to play hockey, and he said to me, “Mrs. Katie…your body looks like you are full of power.” Sometimes I place so much importance on being honest about where I am and what I struggle with that I forget to repeat to myself the positive things that are true: I AM full of power. I am capable of reaching my goals. Fit your mantra to your season – my new season of self-improvement and self-empowerment, each lift and sprint and hockey drill, will be marked with a mantra of kindness to myself; the true and life-giving reminder that I am full of power.
There are success factors in your life already. Give thanks for them, even as you struggle. I tend to get mentally trapped in the rut of what I can’t do and what I wish I could change. I think about how I’m not athletically inclined, not a person who loves yogurt and vegetables and healthy things, etc. But another realization I had this weekend is that in certain and really significant ways, I am set up for success. My husband will eat whatever Skinnytaste recipe I decide to make for dinner without complaining; he never pressures me to cheat on my meal plan; he will agree to make room in our budget for any and all fitness activities that I enjoy and think will help me progress. He never asks me to lose weight and only encourages me to do so for myself, so that I will feel better. He ran some really slow miles on his days off to help me get in my long runs during half marathon training. Whatever is against you – body type, health issues, busyness – remember that there are things that are working FOR you, and to give thanks for them. Gratefulness can combat the feeling of deprivation when you choose not to eat that thing that everyone else is eating. With regard to my half marathon – I ran the Savin Rock Half Marathon and despite the weight gain I’ve seen over the last year, I was able to finish and meet my two goals for the race in the process: to run/jog it all without stopping to walk and to do so in under 3 hours. I finished in 2 hours, 50 minutes and jogged every last insanely steep hill in the fierce spring winds of the Long Island Sound. One mental hurtle cleared, and now…I’m ready to crush my next goal, stick on the ice, head in the game, to be the first woman on my husband’s hockey team of Air Force bros. And I’m GOING to crush it, because I am full of power.
The last few months have been rough, I’m not going to lie. I’ve battled my share of injuries and illness (the flu, major IT Band pain and a sprained shoulder), as well as two family deaths and a couple other issues. All of which derailed my running to the point that since May 27, I’ve had my running shoes on a total of 4 times – and 3 of those came in the last week when I finally felt well enough to run again.
While I’ve missed running, really missed my running buddies, and started to panic about some upcoming races I haven’t been training for, it’s also given me a chance to enjoy other activities and more time with my family – time that normally I’d be spending putting miles in. So instead of running, I’ve been focusing on other outdoor activities that I can do with my husband and stepdaughters (none of them are runners – unless perhaps they’re being chased by something!).
My husband and I have been camping almost every weekend – we own a small motorhome, so each week we draw a circle on the map, see where we can go within 2-3 hours of our house, and head out. From our home near Lansing, Michigan, we can get to locations in Indiana, Ohio and even Canada pretty quickly. We’ve discovered new parks, lakes, historical attractions, hiking trails, and off the beaten path places we wouldn’t have otherwise. We both love hiking and biking, so we try to find places where we can do one or both activities.
The whole family owns kayaks, so we’ve headed out to local lakes to enjoy some family time away from our electronics. If you’ve never kayaked, I highly recommend it – especially on lakes, marshes or streams with limited activity. When it’s quiet you get to see things like turtles, heron, muskrat, river otters, water snakes, birds, frogs and more. It’s amazing what goes on in the water when you can just sit and observe.
While this isn’t a family activity, I happen to work at a university with an outdoor 50m pool that staff have access to in the summer. As a former competitive swimmer, I still find myself more at home in the chlorine than in running shoes, so I’ve been putting in as many laps as I can a few days a week. Swimming bonus – I’ve developed an awesome swimsuit tan on my back as a result! 😉
What being injured these past couple months made me realize was that running had started to consume me – and while I don’t plan to give it up anytime soon (I still have a couple goals to conquer), it forced me to find a balance to do other things, especially things with my family.
Some might not agree with me, but life’s too short to be spending it all working out. Take a couple nights or weekends off, grab your kids, lace up your hiking shoes, rent a kayak and get outdoor and enjoy life’s treasures. You’ll be glad you did.
Who is Jessi? Jessi is a runner, triathlete, Jaycee, chocoholic, Disney fanatic, traveler, Broadway addict, boardgame enthusiast, and sock collector whose favorite mantra is Not All Who Wander Are Lost. You can find her supporting her two stepdaughters in their activities, camping with her husband, doting on her cat, and spending her free time with family and friends. Read more about Jessi’s adventures on her blog www.runningthroughlife.wordpress.com
A few weeks back, I celebrated my fifteen year wedding anniversary to my high school sweetheart, Rick. We were together for eight years before we married so we’re celebrating almost twenty-five years together. We’ve learned a LOT in that time. We’ve watched nearly all of our friends marry, have kids, and divorce. We’re the last ones standing so-to-speak, and since I’m occasionally asked for marriage advice, I thought maybe I’d share a little bit of what I end up telling those who ask. This mindset is what works for me, but I don’t pretend that I’m an expert an any way, but here goes.
- Make sure you’re in love with the person and the vision of your future together, and not just in love with the idea of a wedding. If only I had a dollar for all the times I’ve heard young women wax on and on about their wedding and then look like a deer in headlights when I ask “what goals do you have after the wedding?” I strongly feel this is a common mistake with young women. We’re groomed from such an early age to dream about being married to our prince charming in the perfect gown and having our special day where we’re the most beautiful girl in the whole world. The reality is that your wedding day zooms by so fast you hardly remember it later and what’s left is a gorgeous gown, some amazing photos, and that person you wake up next to every morning for the rest of forever. That person is the reason to get married, not the gown, the reception, the gifts, or the attention. And not because he/she will give you a family, your own house, or financial security, or because you were told your whole life that you’re supposed to get married and have kids because that’s what grown-ups do, but because you are madly in love with them. Love is the reason to get married, and it’s the only reason because if you don’t have love, you won’t stay married for long. Promise.
- You don’t get to tell the other what to do. Just because you got married doesn’t mean that you get to tell your husband where he can go with whom and for how long any more than he can tell you what to do, how to dress, and that you can’t have guy friends. To be married, you must trust. You must trust your husband to make the right choices, and when he fails (like we all do), be there to help him through that and recover from his mistakes. That’s the “better or worse” part of your vows. You don’t surrender your free will or agency when you get married. He is his own person and so are you. You each have your own identity. I don’t care where my husband goes or with whom, just as long as I know whether or not he’ll be home in time for dinner or if I should just pour myself some cereal because I’m lazy.
- Don’t ever make your spouse choose between you and their family. Sometimes loyalty can get tricky. When a situation arises that puts your spouse in a tough spot, don’t make it harder by putting them in the position of having to take sides. No one will win this way. I’m not saying you have to swallow genuine feelings to maintain harmony, but there is a graceful way to let your feelings and expectations be known without making your spouse feel like they’re being pulled in two directions. There are times to let it go, and there are times when you must quietly and firmly stand your ground and say “I am your wife/husband, and I deserve xyz. I need you to back me up this time.” Choose your battles, and choose diplomacy over war every time you can.
- It’s going to be fucking hard sometimes. Marriage is work. For some, it’s constant work, for others it’s easier. I had a friend tell me once after being married for a short time, “This is too hard, it shouldn’t be so much work. He should just sweep me off my feet all the time.” Um, NOPE. I wish, but no. All these RomComs and Disney movies have addled our female brains about the nature of true love and commitment. I guarantee you will have to put in effort to make your marriage happy and to make it last. Some days you won’t like your spouse at all. Sometimes, things are said and done that take a long time to heal and be forgiven for. We’re human after all, and sometimes we hurt those we love the most. My advice here is to be present, be accountable, and be compassionate. Own up to your half of the argument. Validate your spouse’s feelings. Listen to them. Support them, and help them grow and change to be a better person. Recognize when YOU need to grow and change to become a better person. We all need those closest to us to call out our bullshit and help us see ourselves for who we really are. The trick is to come out of that process with the love you took into it. Being humble in marriage is key.
- Never stop talking and sharing. It’s cliché, but love, trust, and communication really are the bedrocks of a happy marriage (in my experience anyway). You need to laugh together and hold space for each other. You need to be emotionally available to your spouse and be comfortable sharing any and all feelings whether good or bad. You need to be able to hash out the hard stuff and appreciate the accomplishments. A strong foundation of love, trust, and communication will help you build a true partnership, and give you comfort in that you have a partner that you can always count on no matter what happens in life. As long as you’re both committed to the marriage and have love, you can work through the tough times and come out stronger and more in love than before. That’s a reward I feel many marriages don’t experience because we are a culture of giving up. I’m certainly not saying you should stay in a relationship that’s abusive in any way, but you must be honest about what marriage is really about. Sometimes it’s painful and uncomfortable, but if you have a core of love, trust, and communication, you can overcome as a team. Together. And believe it or not, your love for your spouse grows even deeper after you weather the trials together.
Then and Now, Prom ’94, and October ’14
What relationship advice has worked for you? Do you have wisdom to share? I always have something to learn, so share your tips in the comments.
On Tuesday, I found out that a good friend of mine – someone I’d known since middle school, who I’d skiied with, gone to school with, laughed with, learned with – was killed by a predatory bear while doing field work in Alaska.
Every day, I open Facebook and another one of Erin’s many friends or family members has written something beautiful about her. They’ve shared happy memories, amazing pictures of her adventures… and it’s at once so sad and so comforting to know that she was so well-loved.
She brightened so many lives and it’s just effing awful that she’s gone because the world is missing out on the incredible person she was and had yet to become.
Tuesday evening, I needed to do something with my hands so I could think about something else for just a little while. Tuesdays in the summer are also traditionally pancake nights in our house, so I pulled out my sourdough starter and got to work.
This starter is special to me for a couple of reasons. One, it was a gift from my mom for my wedding. Two, it’s starter she made in Alaska and feels like home. I needed a little bit of home this week.
Along with the starter, my mom gave me a few of her sourdough recipes: brownies (omg), biscuits (below), and pancakes. The biscuits might be my favorites, but they’re all delicious.
The sourdough pancake recipe as become my go-to this summer, though. One batch makes a huge stack of the most delicious ‘cakes ever. Clay likes his with chocolate chips, I take mine plain, and lately, my mom has tried making them with slices of apple baked in. As is the case with most pancakes, the possibilities are nearly endless.
My mom’s pancake recipe is as follows, for anyone interested in trying for themselves. If you want to try your hand at making sourdough (if you don’t have some already), it’s actually pretty simple. King Arthur Flour has a great post about how to do it.
I usually add a little flour (around 1/4 cup, maybe less) to the batter, because I like my pancakes a little thicker, but the recipe as-written is generally perfect. Seriously. Look at these.
Mom’s pancakes this week became comfort food – and I’m okay with that. They reminded me of home and home is where I want to be right now, to be close to the community I grew up in, and to give hugs to those who need them.
This weekend, Clay and I are going to go climb some mountains I think – feels like an appropriate way to honor Erin and remember her adventurous spirit. <3