Why I believe in Yesterday

When all else fails, count your gratefuls. At least that’s what I’m told.

So what’s mine? Yesterday.

My Oct. 29th post resonated with a few of you. Your words of encouragement were unexpected and more than lovely, they were loving. For that love, I thank you. Normally I view myself as strong, self-assured and focused. But a skittering, nervousness descended when I read the responses to my admission of the broken relationship I have with food and my body.

And then last week — a peach of a week — came to be. One friend died from the effects of alcoholism, another was diagnosed with cancer while a third spent the week at the Mayo Clinic . . . and there I sat, hazy, directionless and obsessing about the dregs of the candy bowl. Surely Milky Way minis were not the answer.12194708_968937209840613_1809651746297937671_o

I hoped the weekend would be better. One of my favorite cousins would wed his bride and the morning of the nuptials I’d run the Galena Lead Rush Half Marathon with two of my close girlfriends! But then my son KidBoy got sick. And then during the early miles of the race I realized I was sick! My stomach began to ache, my head swim, sweat rained off the bill of my ball cap. Despite my pleas for the girls to go on without me, they refused, consoling me that it was probably due to the difficult week.

I hated hearing this. I wasn’t the one with the difficult week. My world was still the same, relatively, while my friends and their families? Their worlds spiraled into deeper unknowns. Me? I was schlepping the hills around Galena.

But there was the wedding, right? A time for fun and celebration? Nope! KidBoy and I were out. We tried to make the reception, but while talking with a guest, sweat started streaming from my scalp down the sides of my face and dripping off my chin. It was pretty sexy . . . and clear neither KidBoy nor I should be there.

Sunday? Was Sunday any better? Nope! Filled with toxic eye candy as KidBoy and I watched “The Shining” and The Walking Dead. As a simple horror movie, neither of us found “The Shining” scary, but as Stephen King explained in a 2013 NPR interview, “The Shining” is what happens when an alcoholic stops drinking and doesn’t get help. Whhhat?!!! That’s flippin’ nuts! There really is something to the idea what you read, watch, hear is mood effecting.

My guard was down and my ego decided “Game On!” By Monday morning I felt physically better, managing a double workout at the Y, but mentally? I was screwed. I couldn’t get “The Shining” out of my head. I kept putting myself in the Overlook Hotel and in the shoes of Jack Torrence. My early sobriety was pretty ugly, but at about four months sober, I experienced a 24-hour period of complete insanity, a period when the Monster came to visit my 1-year-old daughter. I was never physically violent with her, but at my darkest hour, I was the screaming, raging Jack swinging an axe. “Hereeee’s Jenny!”

I try to keep my memory of the Monster caged within the context that it was what brought about my complete surrender. Still, it makes my skin crawl. I don’t often let myself go there. But there I was, stuck in my car driving home from the Y remembering my darkest time, and I realize I’m in an absolute shit storm! I completely started to freak out. I phoned my husband who tried to calm me with soothing, supportive words. But I was still feeling Looney Tunes so I called my cousin Amanda who came at me with a disbelieving “Jenny! What the hell?! You’re not that person anymore!!!”

It was just the clobbering I needed. With a strength that cut through all the emotional bullshit in which I was caught, Amanda jolted me into 2015 where I’m fairly sane, reasonably whole and 99 percent not the Monster. And that’s when I could breathe again. That’s when I could be thankful. That’s when I started looking for ways to help my friends and family and get off that gross pity pot!

And just like Paul McCartney so soothingly croons, “Yesterday . . . all my troubles seemed so far away,” Monday passed and Yesterday came forth with a joyful sound, that of Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats performing “I Need Never Get Old” on Monday night’s The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. BOOM!

And with that beautiful R&B pounding in my head, I spent the morning with my three-year-old niece, giving my sister who’s eight months pregnant, a chance to rest . . .12240904_10153360082553802_3231320938977393395_o

Suffering serious Cuteness Burn, my day could’ve ended then. But there was more! I spent the evening with girlfriends discussing the rationality of juicing 25 pounds of carrots a week! Carrots? Really? Actually it was our chance to circle the wagons around our beautiful Shelly, reminding her she is not facing cancer alone, but with an army. That we shall be her ears in which to scream and her pressure valve from which to release frustration, disbelief and fear. We shall be her peanut gallery, her cheerleaders and, if the carrots turn her orange, we shall laugh at her and call her “Pumpkin.”

All this is why I believe in Yesterday.

Reed All About It returns. . .again

In the eight months since I left my Saturday post as a newspaper columnist for The Observer in DeWitt, Iowa, I’ve floundered. I’m not a perfect candidate for structured 8-5 work, but I’m TERRIBLE at self-employment. Maybe it’s fear, maybe it’s laziness, maybe it’s brain chemicals, but within six weeks of leaving the paper, I wasn’t writing and I was in trouble.

Who knew writing (or not writing) would foster such pain. My trouble was in the mental department. See, my Saturday gig for the paper was a simple little column about whatever was going on during that week of my life. And I quit, abruptly. Mind you I have no regrets about leaving the paper. New ownership was taking it in an uncomfortable direction. My family was supportive, but I had no game plan. It was a classic case of “I didn’t know what I didn’t know.”

Today's writing partner. Ever my protector, Clyde has not strayed from my side.
Today’s writing partner. Ever my protector, Clyde has not strayed from my side.

When I left the paper in February, I was in the midst of what I preferred to call rigorous “brain training,” forcing disciplining myself to put healthier foods and liquids in my body. Ignorant of the brain’s power, once I stopped writing, much of my rational, healthy thinking stopped as well.

I found myself binging, sometimes on junk food, but usually on rice cakes and crackers, then crouching over a toilet, vomiting. Too real? My apologies. I wish I could clean it up and make it sound better. I can’t. Physically my body had never felt stronger. I was training for a full summer of racing which included two half Ironman events. I was swimming and biking, running, planking and lifting weights. But I couldn’t swim, bike, run or lift enough to keep my mind quiet. And I wasn’t writing.

Without the writing, I wasn’t going inward. I wasn’t listening for that “still, small voice.” Rather, I was keeping everything on the surface, “controllable,” noting every good calorie and bad gram of fat, every good swim and every bad run. And when I’d look at myself, all I saw was failure and obesity. I couldn’t see the strength and the power. I only saw rigid food rules and an inability to work hard enough. No matter how much I ate, it wasn’t enough. No matter how far I ran, it wasn’t enough. No matter how heavy I lifted or how long I held a plank, it was never enough. But the purging? As crazy as it sounds, I’d feel so good after doing it. And yet I also knew the brief reprieve vomiting gave me was a complete and utter delusion.

I started dropping little hints about the darkness to a couple of friends, only in texts, never in person. By March I was scared I’d reached a point where I had to binge and purge. I wanted to be strong and healthy! I didn’t want to be chained to the terrible pattern of overeating and vomiting! And that’s when I found myself telling one of my sisters. It wasn’t planned. I had every intention of keeping it a secret, but I told on myself and got involved with a therapist.

Since March I haven’t made myself sick, but I’ve wanted to. When I shove awful junk food in my mouth, at the time it’s as if I go mindless and am watching myself, knowing I shouldn’t be eating, but unable to stop. And then when I’m done? When the reality of what I just ate sinks in? I want it OUT so badly. Take today, for example! My lunch? I ate a bunch of Halloween candy and a full canister of Pringles. What the hell?!!!!!! I had a great 6 mile run this morning as well as a session with my therapist and yet it’s taking everything in me not to give up and just walk to the bathroom. First world problems . . .

Obviously I’m not better and there’s so many things tangled in this knot! Just this morning I listened to the 26 October 2015 interview of Gloria Steinem by Terry Gross for NPR’s Fresh Air and how Steinem, a self-proclaimed ‘foodaholic’, at age 81 still can’t have certain foods in her house. So will I ever get better? Will I ever be cured? Doubtful. Gross quoted Steinem’s own words to her, “I’m a fat woman who’s not fat at the moment.” In the interview, Steinem admits, “I’m still a sugar junkie. I still find it very difficult. I can’t keep certain kinds of food in the house because they talk to me . . . I cannot keep ice cream or bread or anything too rewarding in the house.”

How depressing. I crave balance almost as much as a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. But if it were just about the Reese’s or the Pringles or the bread, the solution would be simple: don’t eat it. Just like with alcoholism, right? Don’t drink and life gets better, right? Wrong. In 2001 when I quit drinking, my life got worse until I had no fight left, until I was beat up enough to start listening for that “still, small voice,” until I could hear what people were trying to teach me. I suppose my food issue is no different. Fuck.

So I guess that’s it? I’m not making myself vomit, but I’m still binging? If I can frame my food issue in the context of drinking, it’s possible for me to have hope. If I keep working at it, I’ll get better, right? Hopefully. Hopefully I’ll gain a stronger, healthier sense of self. And I guess to some degree that’s already begun. I can’t see my day-to-day growth, but when I look back at where I was in March, you bet your ass I’m in a much better place. And most importantly, I’m writing again.

. . . whew! What a heavy way to restart “Reed All About It,” eh? If prior readers know anything about me, it’s that I’ll always be real. Who knows what future posts will bring, but I will never offer fakery . . . so please come back, and thank you.

Northeast wins in cakes & melons


It was a double-win weekend for Northeast! First, the Fine Arts Boosters held its annual cake auction Friday between the girls and boys varsity basketball games against Cascade. Though the basketball victories may have gone to the Cascade Cougars, the cakes went to Rebel supports like . . . well, hot cakes!

During the live auction, my husband Marty hoped to take one back to his employer, but as bids climbed toward $1,000 he opted to snag a couple of smaller ones from the silent auction.

For one who has a major sweet tooth, but tries to eat healthy, the cake auction was a mine field! I fantasized about scooping up palms full of frosting and shoving it in my face. As we sold pieces by the slice, I actually had to tell myself (out loud), “Don’t lick the knife.” I fingered the $20 in my pocket, trying not to throw it down and flee with a box!

I refused to let Marty bring his two cakes into the house. Having enjoyed a slice at the auction, I knew how wonderfully delicious they were. It was either devour an entire cake or resign myself to a few smaller cakes of the dry, puffed rice variety.

In all, the Northeast Fine Arts Boosters took in over $8,000! But that would not be the end of Northeast success for the weekend.

It’s hard to believe it, but the 2015 triathlon season is underway, kicked off last Sunday in Muscatine with the 21st Annual Try Melon Tri at the Muscatine Family YMCA. While this indoor sprint tri is a standard for many of my pals, last weekend was my first time. And what a time!!!

I wasn’t sure what to expect. Obviously the event can’t start with all 106 people cannonballing into a pool at once so participants, who are assigned a timer (mine was volunteer Lisa Longtin of Muscatine), are placed into 9-person start waves taking off every 30 minutes.

Start times are based on one’s estimated swim time for 900 yards (or 18 50-yard laps). I didn’t think my 15 minute estimate was overly ambitious, but it put me with the Big Guns in one of the earlier waves. When the whistle blew the field left me choking on their splash.

I felt like a tug boat slowly chugging along, especially given the two young women on either side of me who apparently had gills instead of lungs, flipper vs. feet. They slipped along, seemingly without effort, gliding smoothly through their laps.

ITry Melon Tri 2015 bike was second to last out of the pool, posting a time of 18:14, much slower than I hoped. Oops. After wasting three minutes drying off and pulling pants on over my swimsuit as well as socks and shoes onto my feet it was off along a carpeted runway to the stationary bikes.

Prior to the start, a stationary bike at the registration table allowed participants to determine their appropriate seat and handlebar height. When I reached an open bike, I quickly made my adjustments and started spinning, my timer Lisa doubling as a wonderfully supportive towel/water girl.

A small handlebar monitor provided distance and time. I finished the 10 miles in 19:09. Again, given the time I lost in the pool, I was second to last off the bike.

It was time for the “fun” part: 40 laps/2.5 miles on an indoor track. While running is what I do the most, it remains my weakest sport. I’m a turtle, a back-of-the-pack’er! While I shuffled around and around, I found myself in the opening scene of last’s year’s Captain America movie “The Winter Soldier.”

Remember how the movie starts, in the pre-dawn hours on Washington D.C.’s Mall when Sam Wilson aka Falcon is out for his morning run? He’s soon lapped THREE times by Steve Rogers aka Captain America, saying, “On your left.”

I felt like I was standing still as a pony-tailed blur in black and blue flew past me. Then it hit me! This was the woman I chatted with before the swim, the same woman who, when I told her where I was from said, “I grew up near Charlotte!”

It was Nancy Foxen, daughter of the late Don and Judy Paulsen, 1996 graduate of Northeast! And she DOMINATED! Turns out this indoor tri thing is her deal! And she lapped me way more than three times.

When I talked with Nancy several days later, she said she ran track and cross country in high school, but it wasn’t until after college when her husband’s work lead her back into sports. Chris is the high school track and cross country coach at Muscatine, “my husband is definitely a big influence on my health,” she said. “Running just got more important.”

As Nancy and I talked, she shared that swimming was her weakest area and that it was only six years ago when some friends taught her to swim. She competed in the Crossroads Tri in DeWitt a few years ago, but the swim portion wasn’t fun.

Nancy explained if she’s going to participant in an event, she wants to enjoy it and perform well. Open water swimming can be nightmarish, which I can certainly attest to, and because of this, she limits her triathlons to the indoor variety.

Last Sunday marked her third year of taking overall women’s honors at the Try Melon Tri, making her the winningest female in the event’s 21-year history! Not only that, but each of the three years she has bested herself and Sunday’s time of 49:42 was the fastest women’s time ever posted!

The event attracted 88 men and women as well as 18 teams. Way out of Nancy’s league, I posted a 1:05:54, good enough for a second place age group award. Medals are fun, don’t get me wrong, but it’s meeting people like my timer Lisa and especially Nancy that make these endeavors all the more worth it!


Originally published 31 January 2015 in The Observer.

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.

2015 training for heart & brain


Resolutions are such bunk. What better way to start off a new year than setting ourselves up for failure?! And yet, thanks to radio and television programs which drone on about resolutions, resolutions seem unavoidable. It’s no surprise many of us buy into the idea that we must dramatically change our life. Why do we torture ourselves so?!

Sure, a new year definitely brings with it the idea of renewal, rebirth, rejuvenation, but let’s tone it down a little, folks. Let’s reframe those resolutions.

First, pause. Take a few moments for silence. Turn off the tv or radio, step away from the computer, put down the Smart Phone or tablet, and listen to the quiet . . . then search your heart. Chances are you know what changes you need to consider. Notice I wrote “consider,” not “start.” For me, just acknowledging and thinking about a specific issue I’m struggling with is a hard enough “start.”

While I’m not a big follower of self-help gurus, I’ve learned some of their notions are pretty spot-on. Take, for instance, the idea that most changes we make in our lives do not come easily. To change, we first must want it.

Another truism gurus spout is being steady with one’s progress. While quick results definitely feed that baby within who “wants what she wants and she wants it NOW,” real results come from taking a slower, more focused and conservative approach to change.

In 2014 I identified four goals I wanted to complete: the spring Hawkeye 50k trail run in Solon, the annual Cornbelt 24-Hour-Run in May, the Racine, Wis., Ironman 70.3 in July and by year’s end, lose 30 pounds. Three out of four ain’t bad.

The 50k was awful, but I finished. The 24-Hour-Run was a joyful riot and I’m definitely doing it again. The half Ironman was amazing so I’m doing that again, too. But the weight loss? Hmmmmm.

Food, per se, is not the enemy, it’s what I eat. For the record, I love garbage. Chips, candy and pastries? Deep fried anything, heavy cream sauces and extra cheese? Bring it!

I’m 8 pounds lighter going into 2015 and while that’s far from the 30 I’d hoped to drop, it’s been a year of learning how hunger, boredom and anxiety play into how and what I eat. In the past year, I’ve really begun to experience the power food holds over me.

A year ago I embarked on a 90-day candy experiment in which I cut candy from my diet. Are there times when I’ll eat candy? Sure, but I don’t consider it a daily or even weekly component of what I put in my mouth.

I did a couple of cleanses and food challenges and through them, am gaining a better understanding of portion size, calorie count and that if I string together too many days “good” eating, I get really, super grumpy.

I’m seeing I will never achieve eating perfection and that it’s ok to have days where I “blow it” and eat anything and everything. What matters is how I follow up those junk days. When I refocus my senses, allow my body to feel hunger and provide necessary structure for my eating, I don’t feel like a failure.

I bought the book “100 Days of Real Food” by Lisa Leake and am realizing the importance of cooking, and that preparing a box of Hamburger Helper does not constitute cooking. I and my family don’t need to drown our veggies in cheese or our pasta in heavy sauces.

I guess I’m growing more mindful of the impact healthy and unhealthy food has on me and my family, and that I don’t have to be so black and white about my food choices. It’s ok to indulge so long as the Big Picture focuses on better health.

Early last month I discovered hot tea. I’ve always wanted to be a tea drinker, but coffee has been my standard go-to. Then one morning I dropped a tea bag in hot water and “Bam! I’ve been doing it every morning since. Does that mean I don’t drink coffee? Heck no! As with candy, I’m totally game for coffee, but I don’t need it.

For 2015 my goals include losing 20 pounds, shaving at least 30 minutes off my Ironman time and focusing less on racing and more on increasing strength and balance. And not just in a physical sense.

As evidenced by Linda Watson’s column last week, change is in full swing at The Observer and who knows where that change will take us. It seems prudent, at the very least, that I slow down and focus on each day. How can I make it better, not just for myself, but for my family and those around me?

I pared down my calendar of events. Instead of four marathons, I’ll just do two. Instead of a race every weekend, just one or two a month. And with both kids in middle school, include them in my training with spins in the basement and hikes at Maquoketa Caves, Scott County Park and the dirt tracks of the Paul Skeffington Memorial Trail.

My 11-year-old son and I like to joke about our 1-pack abs, but when I spin on my bike in the basement or bust out 300 crunches, I want my kids to understand it’s not about the size of my jeans or what I look like. It’s about function. I cannot run or bike or swim or anything if my body doesn’t function properly, which brings me back to food. We can exercise 8 hours a day, but if we’re not eating well, we won’t function.

At Casa Reed Murrell, we don’t diet. We train—our brains, to crave healthier food and our bodies, to live stronger. We’re far from perfect, but we’re moving forward.

If I gleaned anything from my 2014 calendar it was that more is not necessarily a good thing. So I invite you to step into some silence and meditate on what your heart and body are trying to tell you. What is it that needs altering in your life? Maybe it’s nixing Coke, maybe it’s removing a game from your Smart Phone, maybe it’s adding more Down Time to your life.

Whatever your gut is telling you, I promise you change is possible.


Originally published 3 January 2015 in The Observer.

Beatles tribute hits Vegas jackpot


It was a moment of weakness when I registered for the Las Vegas Rock & Roll Marathon last spring. Friends were signing up & the early-bird registration was quite affordable at $125. So with thoughtless fingers, I completed my online registration.

I had no business doing so, for several reasons: A) I did a Rock & Roll half marathon in Chicago in 2010 and given the high price tag, it should’ve been fabulous. It wasn’t. Neither awful nor awesome, the “meh” attitude with which I was left me caused me to swear off future Rock & Roll events.

vegas mom & dadMy second mistake was forgetting I’ve never had a desire to visit Sin City, ever. It’s hot, it’s crowded, I don’t drink, I try not to smoke and I don’t gamble.

Then I figured it could be a short getaway for my husband and I . . . until Marty was lured to Florida for a week of golf with his brother-in-law. Then, as the event grew nearer, the friend I planned to travel with opted to drop out.

When I told my mom about the event and my predicament, she said her and Dad wouldn’t mind going back to Las Vegas since their last visit had been 25 years ago.

So I booked a package deal through Allegiant Air for the three of us. Flying out of Moline Friday afternoon and returning Monday, we had rooms at The Mirage and complimentary tickets to the Cirque du Soleil Beatles LOVE show for Friday night.

Because I’d never expected to visit Vegas, I was ignorant of its geography and really only knew it sat in the desert. I didn’t realize it was surrounded by the attractive red rock of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Sitting sandwiched like an eight-year-old between her parents, our flight out was cramped, noisy, but incredibly smooth. (Our return was opposite in every way: I’d selected seats with extra leg room, the 7 a.m. departure was quiet, but both the take-off and landing were a bit bumpy.)

Arriving in Las Vegas mid-afternoon we were able to check-in to our hotel, collect our tickets for the 9:30 show that evening and visit the race expo for my bib number and swag all before supper.

Having left Dad back at the hotel, Mom and I tackled the expo by ourselves. Try as I might to avoid having my picture taken, Mother insisted I stand before an expo sign. Ugh. But as fate would have it, while Mom attempted to take said picture, some people began walking in front of me. Turned out these random strangers were friends from the Cedar Rapids/North Liberty area who I didn’t know would be there! It was estimated 40,000 runners participated in the Saturday and Sunday events and there I stood with a gaggle of buddies as if we were at some local Iowa race!

Mom marveled at the size of the packet pickup and number of vendors. While I normally loathe expos because of the crowds, seeing Mom sample nibbles of mint chocolate chip PowerBars and snatch up free samples of organic Hemp Pro protein powder, it was totally worth it.

Plus, we both got suckered into purchasing hand lotion. As the vendor massaged the aloe cream into Mom’s hands, she said the magic words, “It won’t wash off, no matter how many times you wash your hands.” Mom, being a nurse, immediately said, “We’ll take two.”

Following the expo, we grabbed Dad and enjoyed a massive buffet at the hotel. If I was still drinking, it would’ve been a steal at $35 a head because all-you-can-drink wine and beer was included. That said, I attempted to eat my weight in sushi, shrimp and chocolate . . . not the best move considering how tired we were feeling and still had the Beatles show to see at 9:30 (11:30 our time).

But what a show!!! I had absolutely no idea the sensory overload we were in for. Premiering back in 2006, much of the music featured came from the Beatles psychedelic album, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” The songs and voice overs of John, Paul, George and Ringo were acted out with the acrobatic prowess of the famed Cirque du Soleil troupe.

Done “in the round” with the audience circling the stage, our nose bleed seats from above gave us a bird’s eye view of EVERYTHING! Whether it was trapeze artists swinging from a ceiling dripping with twinkling lights to the sound of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” or bubbling, billowing fabric slithering from a rising bed and covering the audience 20 rows deep during “Within You Without You,” the three of us agreed you simply didn’t know where to look!

From all directions came colors and movement and sounds. No wonder the people sitting next me had seen the show seven times! Every song was a different scene offering weird, eye-popping, candy-colored costumes. We were riveted by the roller skaters zipping and flipping over half-pipe skate ramps to the song, “Help!” and transfixed by the floating jelly fishes bobbing from their bungee cords during “Octopus’s Garden.”

I could go on, but no words, no photos will ever do this 90-minute show justice! That, alone, made the trip worth it.

Tune in next week for two vastly different tours of the Las Vegas Strip!


Originally published 22 November 2014 in The Observer.

Vegas 26.2 proves too great a challenge


I’d traveled to Vegas to run the Las Vegas Rock & Roll Marathon. My husband couldn’t join me so Mom and Dad opted to go!

It’d been 25 years since they last visited Sin City. A lot has changed. We spent much of Saturday morning and afternoon walking the Strip. I booked us at The Mirage because not only did I think Mom and Dad would enjoy it, but the marathon finished there. Little did I know it was also seated at the north end of the Strip.

Strolling south we visited casinos in Harrah’s, the Flamingo, New York New York and the Monte Carlo. There were crystal chandeliers, hot pink leather seats and gorgeous silver Audis waiting to be won. Absent were the tuxedo’ed James Bond-types.

~vegas marathonThough the casinos were mostly the same, Mom and Dad both admitted disappointment with how lavish and outlandish the Strip had become. The old Vegas was gone, replaced with extravagant shops like Prada, Tom Ford and Guicci. It’s truly like a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah.

We had supper at Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill inside Harrah’s. With hard-working waitresses in cowboy hats and chaps, Mom and I giggled watching tables of middle aged men drool over the in-your-face breasts and butts, ignoring their poor dates.

The rest of the evening and much of Sunday I hung out in my room while Mom and Dad roamed around. The anxiety I normally feel before a marathon was amped up even more because it was a night event. Start time: 4:30 p.m.

When I joined Mom and Dad for coffee and muffins Sunday morning and again for lunch, I kept telling them, “This wait is killing me!” As with many runners, I’m used to a morning routine of coffee, breakfast, race. This was a mind game of waiting. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t relax, couldn’t calm down. Despite it being my 12th marathon, it felt like my first.

Ever since my first in 2010 when I saw a runner wearing a tall Eiffel Tower cage, I knew I wanted to run in costume. Since then I’ve acquired all sorts of tutus and shirts and tights. For Vegas, I decided to go with a holiday theme: red tulle skirt, black capri tights, candy-cane striped socks, a Santa hat, elf collar and a green t-shirt that read “Santa’s coming? I know him!” from the movie Elf.

Some people think I do it for attention, but I dress up to give other people a laugh and this costume didn’t disappoint. While waiting for the race to start, a gaggle of Santas passed through my start corral so I shouted, “Santa! I know him!”

When the Santas turned around and greeted me, I turned to my race mates and screamed, “They know me!” That’s all it took for a few of us to start swapping Elf movie quotes. Still, we were in for a long wait and though the majority of runners were doing the half, even they were antsy to get going.

I was assigned Corral 28 based on an estimated finish of 4:40—a tad hopeful, but not impossible given my marathon PR is 4:32. But this was the first I’d run with a required finish time of five hours or less. That, alone, does a number on the psyche.

Though the race started at 4:30 p.m., it wasn’t until 5:10 that I go rolling and by the second mile I knew I was in trouble. Whether it was the long wait to start, the previous day’s walking or the evening timeframe, I could tell I was pushing too hard and getting nowhere. I felt like I was in quicksand.

As the course ran along the Strip, I took in the lights, but worried. I spotted my parents and Hi-5’ed Dad, not stopping to talk. Off and on, I ran with a Quad City friend who was doing the half.

Around the ninth mile, she veered toward her finish while the full course headed to Fremont Street, which was a delight! With a massive video screen canopying the pedestrian mall, crowds lined the race course and Hi-5’ed us as we went through. I noticed my face was having trouble smiling. My cheeks wouldn’t work!

And then it happened. Just before Mile 14, as I trailed runners taking the course’s left turn, several race officials walked onto the course and formed a human barricade. I’d missed the cutoff. Me and everyone behind me were denied further progress.

I heard one runner shout at the race officials, pleading he be allowed to continue. No dice. We’d run the first half too slow. They’d turned us around and sent us back to the finish.

This was on an out-and-back portion of the course so we blended in with other runners who’d already circled through the portion we hadn’t.

I felt a weird mix of angst and relief. Like a neon billboard, the thought that crowded out all others was: “This would be my first DNF (Did Not Finish).”

I couldn’t understand what I’d done wrong. My training was solid, the course was flat, the temperature was perfect and yet none of that matter. It was a race in which things just didn’t come together.

As the course took runners back through Fremont Street I tried to smile and wave. When I headed toward the finish, I palmed the many hands sticking out. I felt like a poser, but couldn’t find another way off the course. I headed down the finisher’s chute and over the finish line. Weird.

I spotted a half marathoner sitting along the edge, pulling out a cigarette. I nearly joined him. I felt gross, on the inside.

After my parents found me, their faces falling when I told them what happened, I went to my room and messaged friends of the failure. It wasn’t long for a Facebook comment to pop up from one of my dearest friends, Observer-alum Shelly Seifert, “Your children are watching how you deal with this.”

BOOM!

Does it get any more real than that?

There is way too much heartache in this world to let a little ol’ marathon get me down. Besides, I have no regrets! It was a great way to see the city and a fabulous experience with my parents!

For all the junk that chokes my Facebook newsfeed, recently a friend posted an article by runner Dane Rauschenberg, “Six Ways You Can Succeed in Running.” No. 6 on the list was “Remember How Lucky You Are.”

“. . . the main and best thing about running is that you get to do it. . . You are traversing the world, one foot at a time . . . there are thousands who wished they had it so easy. Don’t take it for granted.”

And I don’t intend to. Hopefully Thursday I ran my fifth Turkey Trot in Davenport. Tonight, my son Maclane and I will done costumes for Clinton’s Symphony of Lights 5k at Eagle Point Park. Tomorrow I plan to strap on a headlamp and join my Cornbelt buddies for a 6 a.m. long run along Bettendorf’s Duck Creek Bike Path.


Originally published 29 November 2014 in The Observer.

Old Farmer’s Almanac 2015 forecast


The opening verse of the song “Like the Weather” by 10,000 Maniacs pops to mind during cold, rainy periods such as the recent soaking we suffered earlier this week. . .

              “Color of the sky as far as I can see is coal grey.

              “Lift my head from the pillow and then fall again.

              “Shiver in my bones, just thinking about the weather.

              “Quiver in my lip as if I might cry.”

Those dreary days can be easily forgotten as Wednesday gave way to gentle fall conditions. Is anyone with me in noticing the tree color? Could I be hallucinating or do the reds seem incredible this year? Even the sumac, usually a gorgeous deep burgundy is a flaming candy-apple red in many places!

I suffer such a love/hate reaction to this time of year. One the hand, the temperatures are falling and the changing leaves are lovely. But on the other hand, days are shortening . . . and I need my Vitamin D!

Admittedly, my schizophrenic-like attitude toward the weather is one in which I’m seldom content. Heat is my constant foe, and humidity? Forget it! I will never complain about the cold because you can always put on more layers (though my sisters would argue otherwise). But during those thick, steamy days of summer? You can only get so naked before you’re arrested, and then you’re still gross and sweaty!

In spite of my aversion to warmer climes, I must admit my recent sadness. All the glorious leaf colors and cooler temps serve as sentinels to my seasonal depression, heralding shorter days, cabin fever and miles waiting to be slogged on the treadmill.

While I truly appreciate temps in the teens, the limitations winter places on our lives is a total bummer. Thanks to wool socks and all sorts of layers, at least the cold and wind do not imprison me. But snow and ice? Yeah, I’m out . . . or rather, in.

When I asked my 11-year-old son his thoughts on the coming winter, he shared his excitement, claiming “there’s more to do outside during the winter.” Maclane noted sledding, snowboarding, snowball fighting. (I’ll remember this when he wants to be a toad, sit on the couch and play Minecraft all day.)

It was about six weeks ago, listening to Iowa Public Radio’s “Talk of Iowa” with Charity Nebbe, that I caught her interview with an editor of The Old Farmer’s Almanac.

The winter forecast? Cold and blustery.

Seriously? After last winter?! Honestly, I hate to complain about last winter, but even I found it a little . . . long.

And now it would truly seem that our last hot days are behind us. Hurray! But does that mean I’m ready for cold and blustery? Nope, which is why I opted to snag a copy of the 2015 edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac to find out for myself all that next year has in store for us.

Scanning the table of contents, there’s an actual guide to using The Old Farmer’s Almanac, a good thing considering there are parts which read like Galileo’s notebook. The calendar pages are the meat of the almanac, “these pages are unchanged since 1792, when Robert B. Thomas published his first edition. The long columns of numbers and symbols reveal all of nature’s precision, rhythm and glory, providing an astronomical look at the year 2015.”

One thing I remember from the public radio program was that the Almanac claims to have an 80 percent accuracy rate. Googling the question, “How accurate is The Old Farmer’s Almanac” I found many sites itching to complain about such a boastful claim.

A meteorologist writing for Slate, an online magazine, reported “Independent verifications of its forecasts by actual meteorologists over the years showed skill that was ‘laughable at best and abysmal at worst’ with accuracy about as good as a coin toss.”

But doesn’t longevity give its predictions a little cred? The Old Farmer’s Almanac has been released continually on an annual basis since first published 1792. And come on, am I alone in believing the science of meteorology can be a tad “iffy” at times?

While science is reporting a “warmish” winter, The Old Farmer’s Almanac is predicting temperatures, precipitation and snowfall “below normal.” Could this be an indication of less ice i.e. fewer miles on the treadmill? Time will tell.

But as I read further, it was next summer’s prediction that had me groaning: “hotter and slightly drier than normal.” Though that could indicate a possibly less humid summer, it sounds like a scorcher could be in store.

In the meantime, I guess I’ll just enjoy fall while we have it: the beautiful colors, the milder temps, and the last few passes with the lawnmower before winter arrives and I batten down the hatches.


Originally published 18 October 2014 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.

Triathlon: From sprint to 70.3 in 12 months


At this time one year ago I was in the final days of training for my first triathlon, DeWitt’s own Crossroads. Last weekend I completed my first Ironman 70.3 in Racine, Wisconsin.

I’m sharing this not to brag or boast, but to encourage any of you who ever had a whisper of a thought like, “Could I?” to prove to you, “Yes, you can!”

When I completed last year’s Crossroads, my goals were pretty simple: don’t drown, don’t crash, don’t crawl. Time? Reaching that finish line was Numero Uno.

After I finished, I was quite certain I’d do more triathlons and within just a couple of months, with one sprint tri under my belt, I registered for a half Ironman. A couple of my training buddies found it humorous that I’d take such a leap, but given my propensity for action before thought, it made perfect sense to me.

Racine 70.3I am lucky to have a host of local friends who regularly do this type of sport. They are completely to blame, not only for infecting my goals, but also in seeing I achieve them. While some people may have the moxy to train and prepare without the support of others, I am not that island.

So how does a half Ironman compare to a sprint tri? At the Crossroads, the swim is 500 yards in Lake Kildeer compared to Racine’s IM being 1.2 miles in Lake Michigan. The bike is 15 miles of rolling hills as opposed to 56 miles of mostly flat, though bumpy roads with the run being a single 3.1-mile out-and-back route compared with a 2-loop, moderately flat course totaling 13.1 miles.

Because I’d already done plenty of running this year, I cut back my normal running schedule and focused more on swimming and biking. Factor in that I’m an old RAGBRAI’er at heart, even the biking wasn’t too strenuous as muscle memory, even from years ago, allowed me to ramp up my mileage fairly quickly. That, and finally, after enjoying my road bike since 2000, having a “fitting” done.

With several people referring me to Dan Adams at Healthy Habits in Bettendorf, he put my bike on a trainer, watched me ride and then began tinkering. He replaced my stem, handle bars and bike seat, added aero bars and with mere millimeters of adjustment, had me feeling so fabulous I’d swear it was a different bike!

The only thing left was to address my swimming. Throughout the winter, my friend and trainer Ray Porter had dissected and rebuilt my crawl stroke to improve efficiency and power. That’s well and good, but last month’s QC Sprint Tri proved the second I hit open water, anxiety completely renders me incapable of anything other than laying on my back and kicking my feet.

I’m not afraid of the unknown beneath me and while I initially thought it had to do with the feeling of my wetsuit around my neck, is something weirdly mental that seems to only happen in open water. Does it go back to my days as a lifeguard at Wacky Waters when we’d do early-morning lake searches for possible drowning victims? Who knows, but it certainly could.

Fortunately my open water freak outs began decreasing thanks to specific breathing exercises that address the limbic system in my brain where my emotions are controlled. (Like I said, WEIRD.) These, coupled with doing more open water swims at Scott County’s Lost Grove Lake and Lake G, helped get me comfortable in my wetsuit.

But no matter what kind of preparation a person does, once you stand on the shores of Racine’s North Beach and stare at that massive body of water that you’re required to swim in? The prayers come quick and fast.

Fortunately I was not alone in this endeavor as DeWitt resident and local trainer Matt Dingbam of No Limit Fitness and his student (my cousin-in-law) John Melvin, also of DeWitt, committed to the Racine IM, too!

Each of us had our own reasons for doing so and our own goals to reach. And reach them we did! For now, however, I’m saving the experience for next week to encourage you to participate in next week’s Crossroads Triathlon, Saturday Aug. 2!

Whether as a member of a 3-person team or solo, it’s a wonderful event for a first-time tri. It’s not too late to get in on the fun so visit www.crossroadstriathlon.com for event information and registration.

You never know what you can do if you don’t try, or what dreams and goals a tri can unleash!


Originally published 26 July 2014 in The Observer.