Runners enjoy warm winter races

Last weekend, that smell?! *sniff, sniff* Did you catch a whiff? That hint of “spring” in the air?! Call me optimistic (or delusional), but I swear I detected the coming of tulips and robins on the wind.

Don’t get me wrong, I love all four seasons, but from a running perspective a little warm-up goes a long way! Especially given the double-header of events of last weekend.

Starting with Saturday’s 33rd running of the Frostbite Footrace along the hilly roadways of Scott County Park.

What used to be a five mile event was pared down to a 5k a few years ago. At the time, I was pretty bummed as it was just a handful of local events that were longer than a 5k. I’d asked race director Marianne Schroeder why the change and her reasons were simple: numbers.

Not only does it take fewer volunteers to coordinate a shorter race, but shorter distances open themselves up to more people willing to challenge themselves. I get it! Five miles sounds daunting, but a wee over three? Whether walking or running (or a little of both), 3.1 miles are doable!

And it was VERY doable last Saturday! The race started at 1 pm, perfect timing for temperatures to reach a gorgeous 42 degrees.

The Frostbite saw over 200 participants toe the start line including local runner Ashely Spain of DeWitt who smashed one of her 2015 goals—running a sub-25 minute 5k! Ashley and I messaged back and forth in the days prior to the race.

As a member of the Facebook group “DeWitt Running Club,” Ashley’s training paid off with a time of 24:46 to snag top honors in the women’s 30-34 age group! (Second place was more than a minute and a half behind her!) Taking the overall 65th spot from a field of 242, Ashley broke the tape on the heels of Quad Cities Cornbelt Running Club president Paul Schmidt (that’s some impressive company she’s keeping)!

Myself? I finished. Having run the Frostbite several times, it was a treat not to have to slog through slush, squint into blowing, snowy headwinds or lose feeling in my toes and fingers. It was a fun day of rTriple D 2015unning in which I high-fived some volunteers and chatted with many friends out enjoying Scott County Park’s hills. I am seldom a contender and was surprisingly pleased that my turtle-ish 31:48 placed me in the top half of my 40-44 age group.

While I tried to challenge myself, in the back of my mind, I knew I had to conserve a bit of energy for the following day’s half marathon along Dubuque’s Heritage Trail for my third visit to the Triple D Winter Race & Poker Run.

As described by race director Lance Andre, “The Triple D is a winter endurance trail event that traverses Dubuque County, Iowa, in the dead of winter by bike, ski or foot.”

Participants choose their poison with runners and cross-country skiers taking on the half marathon, marathon or 50k ultra marathon distances. Bikers have just one option: a plus-100k/67 mile spin.

It’s billed as a trail event, but the Heritage Trail is not an up and down, twisting-turning, tree roots and tripping tumble fest. The Heritage Trail is an old railroad bed i.e. FLAT (for me, its most attractive aspect).

The terrain is not the challenge and it certainly isn’t an event that most people “race” because of the weather, typically Dubuque’s average temperature is 24 degrees and most participants are merely seeking a finish.

In 2015 and 2014, however, the relatively warm temps have been a welcome reprieve from my first Triple D in 2013 when I ran the full marathon on a day so cold my braids froze like Pippy Longstocking and my Camelbak crunched with ice.

But the nightmare that was 2013 continues to fade, replaced by last year’s and this year’s comparatively balmish, sunny events that left many of us stripping off layers as we ticked off the miles.

I usually enjoy seeing a host of friends at the Triple D and this year was no different! There were buddies from the Quad Cities, my relay captain from Clinton, Paul Wiederholt, and fellow Skeff Race Board Member Bill Petsche of DeWitt.

Paul, ever the maniac, ran the marathon as a “recovery” run having raced a 50k ultra in Arizona the week before. I, my QC pals and Bill proved much saner by doing “just” the half marathon.

In the week prior, the emails were flying among friends about the trail conditions. As temperatures began to climb, many of us worried the trail would turn to soup. Those of us running the half were very lucky as the limestone surface remained firm until the last couple of miles.

But the bikers as well as the marathoners and ultra runners had a different story to tell. As the cloudless sky lead to the day’s high temperature of 40, the sun beat the trail into, as Paul would later describe, “an interesting mix of frozen, slushy, soupy (and) some parts more peanut butter-ish.”

Bill, I and the rest of the half’ers finished long before the trails deteriorated to that point, and while our calves and shoes were certainly mud-caked, nothing could compare to the Facebook photos of the bikers, who were encrusted in a tan casing of goop from front to back, head to toe. All of them, I must add, grinning hugely.

It looked so gross and fun that I may just have to consider the bike option next year! Kudos to everyone for getting their “grrrr” on last weekend! Keep up the good work!!!

Originally published 24 January 2015 in The Observer.

Marathon joy found in miles of smiles

Last weekend saw the 17th running of the Quad Cities Marathon. I wasn’t looking forward to it.

Since July’s Ironman 70.3 I haven’t been doing much training. Sure I had a few events since then: Bix, Ragnar Great River, Glow Run 5k, Clinton Half Marathon 10k and Iowa’s Best Dam Tri (sprint). But I wasn’t fired up about a single one of them. I was tired.

So why didn’t I take some time off? Fear. Irrational fear, at that. Despite knowing I have a fabulous group of training buddies, when I get scared, I forget that everything is ok and will be ok. I forget that taking a break will not send me back to the nether regions of life before I started running. I forget that breaks are actually good for the body. Hindsight remains 20/20.

By mid September, however, I was beginning to feel the old mojo return. Fresh off witnessing training buddy and friend Laura Snook from LeClaire complete Ironman Wisconsin (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run), I waffled on whether to change my QC Marathon registration from the full to the half.

When Laura reminded me the marathon would be buddy Marilynn Bartels’ first marathon, we opted to stay at the full distance and see Marilynn through to the end.

I remained leery because I hadn’t run long since June, but by the time I arrived in Moline on race morning, I was excited to be doing it with so many friends.

Sunday was my 11th marathon and I can truly say I’ve gained more than just a medal from each one. But the most important thing I’ve gained is friends. While it may sound a little pithy, it’s true!

My first marathon was Chicago 2010. I didn’t know anyone and because much of my training was done solo, I thought marathoning was a solitary endeavor.

The following spring I ran the Illinois Marathon for my second and wrote the following Facebook note to my family:

In the summer of 1994 when I interned at The Observer, I took up running—laps and laps around that wee lil’ track in the Hart Center (DeWitt Fitness Center).

When I wasn’t doing that, I’d be bugging Gramma Kroymann at J & K Kids (now home to Family Tree consignment shop). One time when I’d come in from a run, she told me I was nuts and that I should put on some makeup.

Fast forward to April and the Illinois Marathon, somewhere in the final mile. I was fading and just trying to make it to the finish. I started thinking about prayer and how it didn’t feel right to ask for God’s help since I wasn’t running for a charity and I’d voluntarily put myself there.

Then I thought about Grampa Kroymann and then Gramma and instantly heard in my head, “You IDIOT! What are you doing?!” with the image of Gramma standing by her microwave doing a fake little faint and slapping the counter with an exasperated sigh. I smiled a little and then went back to focusing on the misery of this last mile.

The route went under a train bridge and just as I was coming out from under it, I started to walk. That’s when some guy in an orange shirt came up from behind me and said, “Come on Baby Cakes! We’re gonna do this thing together! I’ll run with you!”

So I ran with him a few strides and then told him I had to stop. That’s when he grabbed my right hand and started pulling me along. “Come on! You can do this! We’re going to finish this with a 4 in front!” (Meaning in under 5 hours.)

He pulled me along for about a half mile. At one point, I said to him “You’re so kind.” He replied, “Hey, we’re all family out here! marathon cupcakesWe help each other out!” I have to admit that A) it was a little weird holding hands with this guy, but whatev; and 2) what was Marty going to think when he saw me run into the stadium all cozy with this guy?!

I finally had to tell him, “I gotta let go.” And then he released my hand. I don’t remember if we said anything more to each other, I only remember his orange shirt. With only a quarter mile left, I figured I’d find him afterwards and thank him. But I couldn’t find him! ANYWHERE!

A few days later, after I’d been telling everyone about my ‘Angel in Orange’ it dawned on me that mere moments before he came up on me, I’d been thinking about Gramma, secretly asking for some help….

Even in my idiocy, Gramma continues to watch over me, offering little nuggets of aid in the strangest of places and ways.

~Now it’s three and a half years later and I get it! I “get” why my ‘Angel in Orange’ did that for me! It’s not about the time clock, it’s about the time: not in minutes and seconds, but in people and smiles!

We thanked the volunteers and Hi-5’ed the kids! We shouted encouragement to our fellow runners and mugged for photographers! We even sang, “Everything is AWESOME!” from the Lego movie!

~Sure we suffered—it was hot and the last 6 miles are a soulless lesson in punishment. In spite of the many impressive PRs logged that day, Laura summed it up best when she said, “This is a PW, personal worst.”

But we knew when we laced up that morning, it wasn’t about us, it was about Marilynn . . . and that little minx did wonderfully! Just after Mile 19 as we approached the final bridge off Arsenal Island, Marilynn started bee-bopping off ahead of us, smiling and chit-chatting with a runner who joined us a few miles earlier.

About a mile ahead of us, we saw her again after she passed under the inflatable Wall, smiling and waving at us heading into the 23rd mile.

When Laura and I eventually crossed the finish line, we’d logged one of our slower marathons, but for me, it was one of my most enjoyable. Having been so wrapped up in dread beforehand, I’d forgotten how fun running for the heck of it could be.

We accomplished our goal, seeing Marilynn through her first marathon, the rest was icing on the cupcake!

Originally published 4 Oct 2014 in The Observer.

Where did it go? A summer recap

Where did summer go?

One minute I’m swatting away pesky gnats while watching my son play baseball, and the next I’m dodging lightning bolts while timing participants of last Saturday’s CharVegas Mud, Sweat & Tears obstacle race.

Where did summer go?!!!

mac at deep creek dashI didn’t think we were over-scheduled. Daughter Moira doesn’t play softball and I kept my races to a five-year low. And yet here we are, Labor Day Weekend, and I’m wondering where the last three months went.

I remember being 5-years-old and sitting outside with my mom. It must’ve been a late August afternoon when I said to her, “Summer went fast.” I remember it so vividly because it was one of the few times Mom agreed with me, adding, “They go quicker every year.”

From ‘hospital corners’ to hanging laundry, my mom has dealt us her share of “pearls” but this was one that’s stayed with me because she couldn’t have been more right. In the nearly 40 summers since she said that, it’s unbelievable how each year the months of June, July and August fly by with increasing speed.

Where did June go?

We planned for this month to be low-key given the oral bone graft surgery daughter Moira had in mid-May. We were prepared for six weeks of slow, but the surgery went so well with bone being harvested from the mouth vs. the hip, that it hardly caused a hitch in her giddy up.

While she wouldn’t be cleared to eat hard foods until late June or go biking or swimming until August, her tan legs are proof of the hours she spent peacefully swaying on a porch swing that her brother and I built and attached to the frame of their old swing set.

I think of those days and forget about the flurry that was June. Son Maclane’s baseball schedule and Marty’s second year as general manager of the Charlotte Little League made it feel like the Charlotte ball diamond was a second home.

More than once did I laud friends who had multiple children on multiple teams, doffing my cap at their seemingly relaxed ability to catch each game and hardly break a sweat. I could barely squeeze in a game or two of nephews Jacob and Nic Reemstma.

But June was more than post-op recovery and baseball, it was also when my parents left the homestead and moved into DeWitt, when I stepped up to the direct the annual Paul Skeffington Memorial Race while also training for my first QC sprint triathlon.

Mom and Dad’s move was arduous in both physical and emotional ways while the Skeff Race and QC Tri were intimidating learning experiences. Fortunately I had wonderful committee members willing to hold my hand and fabulous training partners who coached me along.

And then suddenly it was Independence Day.

Where did July go?

The 4th always hits me with a dose of melancholy as it seems to herald summer’s swan song. And given Mom and Dad’s move “to town,” our annual watching of the Grand Mound fireworks from their house was now a thing of the past. All of us let the holiday go without much fanfare.

Just when we was ready to breathe a relaxed sigh that baseball was over, we realized the county fair was mere weeks away and neither child had started their fair projects. Any post-baseball bliss was kicked away by oodles of stripping, painting, sanding and varnishing.

Add to this Marty’s brief visit to New Orleans for a work conference, my participation in a 70.3 Ironman, a running of the Bix and the four of us at a Chicago Cubs game, and our cats were the only ones enjoying any sort of downtime.

And then we were driving to Wisconsin!

Where did August go?

During the first week of August, we took ourselves off the grid (well, ok, there was wifi) for a week along the shores of Moose Lake in Wisconsin’s Northwoods.

We swam, I biked, we boated, they fished. I taught Maclane how to play Gin Rummy while Marty and Moira shared secrets around the campfire. We listened to the Loons, hoped to spot the otters and bears, but mostly did a lot of nothing. It was heavenly.

And then we came back and went immediately to the State Fair, and then Northeast and Central school districts started school, and then I headed off to participate on a 6-person Ragnar Great River relay covering 200 miles in 36 hours. I’d done it before, but the heat got to me and all I can say is I survived and we weren’t last.

And then there was last weekend’s Charlotte Days with the first CharVegas Mud, Sweat & Tears obstacle race, which Maclane and buddy Isaac Trenkamp (and his mom, Patti) all completed during Saturday morning’s booming thunderstorm. While the storms put a damper on the crowds, the clouds cleared for Sunday’s 3rd annual Deep Creek Dash squirt gun 5k that will fund scholarships for local would-be Little Leaguers in the 2015 season.

What a fitting cap to such a busy summer! Despite the storms on Saturday, the drenched and dirty participants were all smiles. And though our 5k race is small, hovering around 40 runners and walkers, this year had a “golly gee Beave” sort of joy to it.

I may be tired, but it certainly was a great summer.

Originally published 30 August 2014 in The Observer.