I represent all the mothers out there who, like me, have discovered a precious gift in running. I have also discovered that coming in last in a race is not the absolute worst thing in the world! I run for the sheer love of it, for the health benefits of it, and for the positive impact it has on my girls. Welcome to my blog!
February 11, 2010: last but not least!
I'd like to share a personal running story with you all. Even though this race took place about 5 years ago, it continues to shape the kind of runner I am today.
It was spring 2005. I was very new to running. I had only completed one 10k and no other running races at the time. The youngest of our three daughters had just turned one (the other two were 6 and 8), and I had definitely caught the running bug! Running was "my time," and my runs were precious to me. I quickly found that running rejuvenated my body and spirit, leaving me more capable of handling all that was on my plate. Running made me a better "me." I was not a fast runner, I didn't know what my body could do or not do as far as running goes, and I was cluless about the many details of training and running "smart"...but I knew that I loved to run. So I signed up to run my second 10k, the Katie Poirier Memorial Run/Walk in Barnum, MN.
My good friend Liz who I ran my first ever race with was not able to be at this run, and I knew I would be running alone. That was actually fine with me, because I am very much a loner when it comes to running. I prefer to run by myself. I think part of that comes from having a busy household and a busy job, and just wanting (no, needing) that busyness and someone always needing you, to stop for awhile. Running gives me that time to myself. So, I planned to run my second road race, my second 10k, alone.
The Katie Poirier Memorial Run/Walk is held on a Friday evening in June, and is very well organized by a group of fantastic people. I was happy to be on the bus heading to the starting line in Mahtowa, but I definitely felt very green, and nervous. As I looked at others around me with their headphones, fancy watches, fancy water bottles and super cool running shoes, I felt a bit terrified. Why did they all seem so calm?! I remember thinking of how I was still carrying extra baby weight and I wondered if I would be left in the dust within the first 1/2 mile. After all, I didn't feel like "a runner," not like all of these fit people around me on the bus. Why was I here again? What the heck was I doing running 6 miles all alone? I quickly reminded myself that I was there to be a part of an enjoyable run and to support an important cause...and because I had run 6.2 miles before, I knew I could do this.
The bus ride to the starting line always feels like they're accidentally taking you twice as far as they should...and that is how I felt. At the starting line in the awesome town of Mahtowa, I was really quite nervous. I had done several short 2-3 mile walks/runs over the course of the previous year, but I really hadn't been training past 4-5 miles. I didn't want to get injured, I didn't want to be humiliated... I wasn't sure where to line up. Do I go for the middle of the group where I'll surely get passed right away and maybe annoy a lot of people, or do I be honest with myself and everyone else around me, and take my place at the back of the pack? I lined up waaay in the back. Then the race began.
All the super fast people sprinted off, and I hung back by the slower joggers. There wasn't anyone solely walking the 10k, which is not unusual. The walkers were all in the 5k. Because of my lack of experience with races, I didn't realize how easy it is to get sucked into eveyrone else's pace. I remember feeling a surge of panic as I was already feeling pretty out of breath at one mile. I was going too fast and I had to slow down. I was trying hard to enjoy the run, but I was trying even harder not to come in last.
I remember feeling pretty pooped out at the 5k point. I had been jogging as much as possible, and then slowing to a fast walk when I couldn't keep running. It seemed to be working pretty well, but I could definitely tell I was out of shape. I knew if I wanted to really enjoy a 10k I would have to train much more than I had. At one point around the 5k mark, I turned around and looked behind me on the Munger. No one. Not a single soul. Gulp. The self-talk began..."Ok, well, this really isn't that bad...I mean, at least I'm out here running and doing something good for my body...I'm sure I'll pass a few people in the next few miles..." No amount of self-talk would help. I was determined that I was NOT going to be last! It was then that I spotted them: the two 70-something run/walkers who had been ahead of me for most of the race. Right then and there, I made it my goal to pass them both before this race was over.
During their walking time, I was able to slowly pass them at around the 4 mile mark. I just kept up my slow and steady 12 minute per mile pace. I was going to try hard to jog the rest of the race. After about a minute of being ahead of the ladies, they jogged on ahead of me. This seemed easy for them to do because they were both in much better shape than I was. I quickly learned that their run/walk method really worked well for them. They would jog at a pretty good pace for 4 minutes, then they would fast-walk 1 minute. During the time they walked, I would slowly jog past them in my slow and steady turtle-like fashion. But as soon as their walking minute was over, off ahead they went. It was quite frustrating to me, becuase I couldn't go any faster even though I desperately wanted to leave them in my dust. I also felt really uncomfortable every time we would pass each other. "Oh, hi again! Lookin' good! Keep up the good work!" (multiply that conversation by about 20).
Soon we were at the last mile of the race. I would still look behind me now and then, hoping to see some poor soul that was suffering a little bit more than I was...to no avail. It was down to me and the run/walker duo, in a fierce battle to the end. We stayed pretty close together for much of that last mile, but at about the last 1/4 mile I just fizzled out. Either that, or they called upon some amazing store of insta-energy that I simply didn't have. Whatever the reason, they sped on ahead, and I had to let them. As I finally approached the finish line in the Barnum City Park, I heard the crowds cheering loudly. Were they cheering for ME? Yes, they were! I was thrilled to have all of these people cheering because they were happy for my accomplishment! (but it did cross my mind that maybe many of them were just happy I had finally finished so they could get on with the award ceremony!) Whatever the case, I proudly sprinted across the finish line at 1 hour and 15 minutes.
I had finished last. Dead last. But you know what? I wouldn't change a thing about that race even if I could. I learned so much about being a runner that day. I also learned quite a bit about myself.
1. Run your own race!!!!! I have learned to be proud of my 11 minute per mile pace, even if that means I get passed again and again. I am not out there to win. I am not out there to make any headlines or to necessarily beat any records (maybe a PR here and there). I am out there to enjoy running, because running is a gift in my life. It makes me better. It is now a part of who I am and what makes me Jen. I am a runner and I am proud to say so!
2. The run/walk method does work great for many people. I do use it in my longer races, and it works much better for my body than trying to only run. When you use this method you are able to run at a faster pace during the run times. Overall, my race times have actually improved when I have added some fast walking. I also think it helps you avoid injury.
3. Probably the most important, and great thing I got out of this race experience is the way it has helped me teach my girls about certain life lessons. I have been that person who worked hard toward a goal and still came in last. But I have also been that person who was cheered for, maybe louder than anyone else, as I finished MY RACE. It doesn't matter that I was last (ok, for a long time it did bother me, I'll be honest). What matters is that I did my best and succeeded at my goal. It doesn't matter what those around you are doing, or how good they are or how talented they seem. We all need to be who we are and stop trying to be someone we aren't. Only then can we be our best. I tell my girls this story now and then, and I feel my experience has helped me to be a more credible "teacher" for them. That makes it all very worthwhile!
~by the way, this is the "coming in last" story I refer to in my blog intro :o)
February 4, 2010: more than just a run
Today I almost missed a really great run.
Being my day off, I had planned to run sometime today before the girls got home from school. At 8:15 am it was still -11 below. Brrr....that's just cold. The sky was overcast, and it just felt damp and bone chillingly cold out. Cold temps are so much more tolerable if the sun is out at least, but there was no sun in sight this morning. As I stared at the -11 temp reading on my computer, my mind wandered away from the Munger Trail run I had planned....and my thoughts meandered in a direction they rarely go...for a second, I considered running on the fitness center treadmill. Don't get me wrong, I feel there is a time and a place for treadmill use. I have used them countless times, and don't always loathe the experience. However, personally if I have a choice in the matter, I will always choose to run out in nature on my familiar trails. Running is just so much more to me than "just a run." So much of the running experience is lost on a treadmill indoors. It's like butter vs. margarine. They may be similar, but in my book there's no comparison as to which I'd rather have.
I got dressed up for a run on the Munger, and off I went.
By the time I got to the location of my usual 5 mile loop run, it was already a balmy 7 degrees. Much better. And some sporadic sun too, so that helped a lot. I started out by walking the first mile as my warm up. I realized during that brisk walk, how many bird nests you can see clinging up in the trees during this time of year. I saw several that I hadn't noticed before. There were many signs of wildlife on the Munger today. As usual, I spotted several deer tracks throughout the duration of my run. Some of the deer tracks were so tiny, I had to go back and look again (I don't think anyone's been walking their pet pygmy goats on the Munger, but I guess there's a chance I could be wrong). The squirrels were all going crazy, running across the trails chasing each other, up trees and telephone poles. Made me smile. They seem to have spring fever like I do. I also noticed several animal trails leading up and down to and from the Moosehorn River. Fox? Dogs? I hadn't noticed those trails before. I was even dive bombed by a red headed woodpecker.
The trail was packed well today, and although the roads around the lake and some of the Munger were icy, I was able to run at a pretty steady pace with my YakTrax on. I was only passed by one snowmobiler today, which was nice. They have been courteous for the most part this winter, slowing down considerably when passing. A few have not, and I've gotten a good dusting. Today I made a mistake and wore all white underneath my blue fleece jacket. If I had gotten too warm and had taken it off, I would've been run over for sure. Usually I try to keep that in mind better.
I loved today's run for many reasons. I loved that I was alone on the trails. I loved that the spout on my hand-held water bottle got icy in between drinks and that my hankie froze stiff. I loved that the tip of my pony tail was a big ball of ice crystals at the end of my run, from my breathing. I loved that I dressed perfectly for the weather and didn't need to adjust my clothing to stay comfortable. I always enjoy seeing my trails in the different seasons, and I loved the way the trees looked today. It was so calm and still out--the trees just seemed to be waiting patiently for spring to come so they can burst into life again. I loved that at the end of my 5 miles I had time to go further, and was able to fit in a 10k today.
It was a good run day--the kind of run when you feel you can keep on going, almost effortlessly. It was the kind of run when you high-five trees as you run by (I'm sure I'm not the only one who does that once in awhile?). It felt good to be out there. Even the Moosehorn River seemed to be cheering me on as it's nearby water bubbled under a sheet of ice. Today I just enjoyed everything about being out there, yes, even in 7 degrees. I am so glad I didn't give in to the temptation of the treadmill today.
It was definitely more than just a run.
January 17, 2010: Sunshine on my shoulders...
I love the sun. I love the heat. I have been thrilled with the warm temps and sunshine we have been blessed with the past several days. We had 39 yesterday. Woo hoo! I have been able to get out for a few shorter runs the past three days in a row, and have been soaking up the rays with a smile on my face. Winter running is a nice change of pace, but I prefer running in the warm temps (I owe my love of the heat to my Finnish farm-girl heritage, and growing up going sauna. Taking steam on the top bench at 190 degrees after a day of haying? No problem). I am cherishing these warm temps, and am really starting to get spring fever.
My normal running routes are on the Munger in and around Moose Lake and Barnum. I enjoy the familiarity of those trails--after running them countless times, I know them like the back of my hand. However, after enjoying a great intro to trail running this fall, I have been looking for some new (to me) trail runs to carry me through the winter months. I have found a few good ones that I'm excited about.
On Friday and Saturday I ran in Jay Cooke. I have hiked around the park before, but I have never run there, especially not in the winter. I got a map and asked about running/hiking trails. They didn't seem to think many people ran on the park trails (?), but as far as hiking and showshoeing, they gave me some trail options. I found the Carlton Trail, and really liked it. If you cross the swinging bridge and head up the hill a short ways, you come to Carlton Trail on your right. Apparently you can take this trail, which follows the St. Louis River, to where it intersects the Munger up by Carlton (which the map says is 2.6 miles one way). Then you can go right, and take the Munger back over the bridge, across Hwy 210 in Thompson, to the Forbay Trail (approximately another 1+ miles). You then take the Forbay Trail back down to the Jay Cooke Park office (another 1+ miles). They told me the whole loop is about 5 miles. Has anyone done this loop before? I have taken the Munger down on Forbay to the Park office, but I have not gone the whole way on the Carlton Trail from the swinging bridge to the Munger. I only went about 2 miles on the Carlton Trail, then turned around back to the bridge, as it was getting later in the afternoon. I will have to time my next attempt better, so I can make it the whole way. I really liked that trail. It was about 2-3 feet wide and seemed to be packed fairly well for the most part. I didn't have much of a problem with footing, although after a few more days of warmer temps, I'm sure the snow will be tough to run on. The Carlton Trail is labeled as a "moderate to difficult" trail. I would love to bring my girls on parts of it, and my mom would love some of the easier parts too.
They also recommended a few "easy" 1 mile loops, on what is called the Forest Trail. I found these trails to be more for snowshoeing, as they were not packed well at all for running. I did love the scenery though (can you believe how great it smells out there in the woods!?) Another trail they pointed out is the Organtz Trail, which they describe as "hard packed, groomed", and "moderate," with a distance of 1.8 miles. Also there is the Grand Portage Trail, which is "moderate to difficult" and a distance of 3 miles. Has anyone run/hiked on either of these trails? Are there any other run routes anyone can recommend in Jay Cooke? How is the Gill Creek Trail for running in the winter? I do not XC ski, although I know that would be good to do too. I have not gone snowshoeing in the parks, just in my fields. To be honest, I just want to run. :o)
November 15, 2009: An Ode to Trail Running
I want to say a big thank you to everyone involved in creating and organizing the fall series trail runs. Your hard work is very much appreciated. Thank you for sharing your passion for running with those around you.
I am very new to trail running. Actually, my first trail run was the Rock Hill Run in September. I only made it to 4 of the fall series runs this year (also Hartley, Lester Park and Pine Valley), and really enjoyed them all. My friends that know me well were right, I did love the change from road running to trails, and I don't think I will be the same kind of runner ever again...what I mean is this. When all you know is running on flat, predictable, paved trails, those kind of runs are just fine. Your body, stamina and spirit are used to them, they are all you've known. But when you get a taste of trail running, your standards are suddenly raised as a runner, and your senses need more. I will no longer be as satisfied running on a not-so-scenic paved trail or road with predictable footing...I will long for the challenging uphills (did I say that??) and fast downhills of the trails. I will long for the sight of fall leaves glowing all around me in the evening sun...I will long for the smells and sounds of the woods. These are things you cannot fully explain to someone who has not experienced them firsthand during a trail run. There is no doubt about it, my finishing times on trail runs will be far slower than most. This is not only because I am lousy at hills (very true). It is becuase there is so much beauty to experience out on the trails..the mushrooms, the variety of trees, flowers, rocks...sunlight streaming through a canopy of leaves far above...I just can't run past these things. I have to stop and enjoy them, I have to stop and close my eyes and take a deep breath of the fresh, clean air into my lungs...then I can continue on my run. Slower times? No problem. I love to run for so many reasons, and being out in nature, experiencing this beautiful world, are on the top of my list.
Being introduced to trail running this fall is one of the greatest gifts anyone has given me. So, I want to say a sincere thank you to those who encouraged me, drove me, and cheered me on. Thank you again to all involved in organizing the fall series. We are all so fortunate to have these great running trails and such a wonderful community of runners to share them with!
I also want to thank Eve for all of her hard work in organizing the Nancy English run on Saturday. She did a great job, for a great cause. Thank you Eve!