Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Seven Mile Girl

I know, I know. It's been a while since you've heard from me. We wrapped up the Towpath Marathon in October and then fell off the face of the blogosphere. Well, I've gotten your texts, tweets, emails, smoke signals just begging me to post something, anything! So here you go, a post and a big announcement and the reason we've been so agonizingly absent:

We found out suddenly (quite suddenly in fact) that we were going to be parents... Again! On December 1st we drove home from the hospital with a healthy, beautiful, 8lb baby boy named Liam. In case you've lost count, that's six kids age 7 and under.

One evening, while we were anticipating Liam's arrival, I said to Nate, "Are you sure we can do this?! Are you sure we can manage SIX kids?!" He looked at me and said, deadpan, "Of course we can. We can do anything." And those 8 little words reminded me of someone. Someone I have come to call The Seven Mile Girl.

If you're wondering who that could possibly be, I'll go ahead and tell you that it's me. I am the 7 mile girl. Why? Because 7 miles was all it took. I so clearly remember the day that I first ran 7 miles straight without stopping. I remember how the sunlight slanted through the trees. I remember that the trail was unusually crowded. I remember thinking to myself. I can do it. I can run a marathon. That thought hadn't crossed my mind before that moment, and after that moment it was all I could think about. I can run a marathon.

Run a MARATHON?!?! I'll admit, this was not a logical thought. I hadn't ever run a race of any kind! Not even a 5K! Seven miles was the furthest I had ever run, and I had only done it once! This was not the point in a person's life when they come to the "marathon" conclusion. You're "supposed" to think about running a full marathon after you've got a couple half marathons under your belt. I never did do a half (at least not before I ran a full). I entered two 10Ks and ran an 8 mile leg of a relay. That was my total race experience before I towed the line to run 26.2 for the first time. Now, just in case you're a non-runner or a newbie runner, this thought process is totally ridiculous! And it started with 7 miles on that sunny, crowded day. I thought it, and I said it, and several months later, I did it.

For the record, I do not recommend this, but somehow, as nonsensical as it is, it's who I am. She's at the root of what I do on and off the trail, she's how I manage to parent so many children, she wavers from time to time but ultimately looks at her life and says, "Of course I can, I can do anything." She's the Seven Mile Girl.

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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Getting Back to "Base-ics"

On October 9th I ran the Towpath Half Marathon and set a new PR by 8 minutes. While I was happy about my accomplishment, my excitement was completely overshadowed by the many inspirational performances I witnessed from other runners that day (See Finding Inspiration at The Towpath) and the fact that my goal was to run about 7 minutes faster. Since that race I have focused on recovery and deciding what my training should look like this fall/winter season and I've decided that it's time for me to go back to the basics. I know it's nothing revolutionary and with the minimalist movement your hearing a lot about getting back to the roots of running but that's not exactly what I mean. Maybe it would be better for me to say that what I need is to go back to the base-ics.

Here's what I mean.

Since my very early stages of running I have always raced. As a matter of fact, I raced long before I considered myself a runner so my running career has really consisted of following one training plan after another. I was either working towards a race or not running at all. The fall/winter holiday season is always a difficult one for us financially so racing is not really on the agenda and my running regimen typically has tapered off to practically nothing. But not this year. This year I've got my eyes set on another PR in the spring! So I began weighing my options.

I'll probably run my next race mid to late April. In the past I've always used the Runners World Smart Coach app for iPhone and, I'll be honest, I have been very happy with it. Unfortunately, I'm going to need a training plan that's at least 26 weeks and my app won't create a plan longer than 16 weeks. Also, I've been dealing with some knee pain for a couple months and I probably don't need to be doing speed work and tempo runs while I'm trying to rehab my knee. Furthermore, in all my racees I have faded between miles 10 and 11. So, a training plan that has most of my long runs between 10 and 12 miles has obviously not built a big enough base for me to be able to run as hard and long as I want to. As a great man once said, "The spirit is willing but the body is week."

So I decided to take matters into my own hands! Instead of following a training plan geared toward a race in sixteen weeks, I am going to spend the next 16 weeks building a stronger base. That means focusing an running longer not harder and working in as much cross training as I can stand! I'm going to take all my runs slow, use my GPS only to track my distance and ignore the pace. I'm going to gradually ramp up my weekly mileage and hopefully come out running further, stronger and pain free.

I've already mapped out and began my November plan. I resisted the urge to plan out the next 4 months all at once because feel like I should to sit down at the end of the month and evaluate my progress. I know that if I map out the whole sixteen weeks I will loose sight of the real goal, being stronger, and instead focus on total weekly mileage achieved. It's an experiment really, and I'm excited to see what the end result will be!

So, until it's time to begin a spring training plan I'm getting back to "base-ics"!

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Monday, October 10, 2011

Finding Inspiration at The Towpath

This weekend was by far the most inspirational weekend of my life with regards to running. Not because of Sunday's Chicago Marathon, seeing pictures of the 45,000 runners who towed the line or reading about Moses Mosop's record setting victory. Not because of Craig Alexander's record crushing 8:03.56 performance at the Kona Ironman. Not because of some human interest story I read about a high school cross country runner who stopped racing to help an injured runner off the track and still went on to win the race. While all those performances are truly inspiring, I found myself in awe of the truly great performances I witnessed firsthand yesterday at a small local race, on an eight foot wide trail. I found more running inspiration than I had ever dreamed at the Towpath Marathon.

Let me begin by saying that I am no Marathoner. It's true that I have run in three marathons but I have never completed 26.2 miles. My marathon experiences are limited to crewing, running the half or participating as a member of a relay team. Oh, But I do love a good marathon and this weekend's Towpath Marathon was no exception!

I loved seeing tweep and local blogger Greg Strosaker ( take first place, not in his age group but in the entire race. His dedication to balancing high mileage training, a family, a job, and a blog are truly an inspiration! I was inspired by watching family friend, Bill Moman PR by nearly thirty minutes, not by training harder (He never ran more than five or six miles at a time all season) but as a result of a new found dedication to improving his overall health & fitness level. But even more inspiring were the less glorious performances I witnessed yesterday.

After I had completed my race I set myself up at the aid station around mile seventeen to crew for Chanda and a close family friend. While I was waiting I occupied much of my time by cheering on other runners. After a break in the action at this aid station I heard the crew leader tell the teenage volunteers, "Alright girls, let's cheer for the next person who comes through like they are the leader of this race." After sometime they spotted him in the distance. Cowbells, whistles and shouts of encouragement filled the air! But he was moving slowly. As he drew closer you could see that he was accompanied by a race volunteer in a safety green reflective vest. The runner's face was red and he barely picked his feet up off the ground as he walked. His wife and small daughter stepped onto the trail. You could see the concern on her face. As he approached the volunteers handed him two cups of Gatorade. He walked up to his wife and took a drink as the volunteer explained the situation. I could not hear much but I gathered that he had gone down on the trail. After finishing his Gatorade and refilling his water bottle, to my suprise he headed back out onto the trail, spurred on by cowbells and whistles, and the hugs of his wife and daughter.

Shortly after that, Chanda and our friend Rebecca came into the aid station. As I refilled water bottles and handed out Cliff bars and pain meds Chanda told me how her IT bands had started hurting at mile two. I could see in her eyes that she was in tremendous pain but she looked like she was moving well. I asked if she was going to keep going and she said yes. Rebecca vowed to see Chanda finish and promised that she would not leave her until they had crossed the finish line. I promised to meet them again at the aid station at mile twenty two and watched them take off down the trail together. I packed up my duffel bag and headed to the aid station.

When Chanda and Rebecca arrived at mile twenty two they seemed to be in excellent spirits. They grabbed some Gatorade and I joined them on the trail for a minute. When I asked how she was feeling, Chanda looked at me, tears in her eyes and said, "I can barely bend my knees." Secretly I wanted to offer her a ride but I was afraid that if I did she would take it and regret going twenty two miles and then quitting. Instead I wished her well, said I would see her at the finish line and watched her, barely able to walk, as she tried to run down the trail.

At the finish line I worried and waited and then I worried some more. Finally, I saw them in the distance! They were running strong! I raced to the finish line to take a picture of them crossing together! She had done it! She had pushed through twenty four miles of pain to conquer the marathon once again. After receiving their finishing medals Chanda told me how Rebecca had given up her own time goals and instead set a new goal of seeing Chanda through no matter what it took.

I learned a lot yesterday. I learned that running can be selfless. I learned that sometimes, just seeing something through, no matter how much it hurts, is more important than any time goal or PR. I saw first hand how empowering an encouraging word from a spouse, a child, a friend and even a total stranger can be. And I walked away from that race more inspired to run, to love, to support and to finish what I start than I would have ever dreamed. Yesterday, I found my inspiration at the Towpath Marathon.

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Running Saved My Life

Running saved my life.  Before you ask, no, I don't have cancer.  I don't suffer from depression. I don't have high cholesterol or diabetes.  I didn't go through a messy divorce (or any divorce for that matter). I didn't lose my job, or get passed over for a promotion.  I haven't lost a loved one.

I know that running has gotten many a suffering man or woman through any of the situations mentioned above.  But that's not what it did for me.  This is what it has done:

Running gave me something of my own.  Separate from my children, from my marriage, from my job. When I first started running, I felt like it was a gift just for me.  I kept the fact that I was a runner a carefully guarded secret for a long time because I didn't want anyone to invade the solitude I found, the uniqueness I felt, the welcome separateness from a world full of obligations and responsibilities.  When I slipped on my running shoes, the world slipped slightly off my shoulders.  When I pulled on my tech shirt, the tug of the world felt a little lighter on my apron strings. 

Running has seen me through some of the most emotional times of my life thus far.  When I started running I had just become the mother of three.  One year and nine days later... the mother of 4.  Fourteen months after that... the mother of 5.  Running has given me an outlet in good times and bad. I have laughed and cried along the same old trail.  I have run toward and run away in the same training run.  I was out running the day I got the phone call informing me that we would be able to adopt our third child.  The day that adoption finalized, after the court hearing, after the brunch, after all the guests had left, so full of joy I could cry, we went running.  

In times of plenty, running has given me challenge.  In times of want, running has given me gratitude.  It has given me a constant in times of chaos. It has taught me to celebrate finish lines both on and off the trail.  When the bills are piling up, when the insurance and the mortgage are due on the same day, when we've run out of diapers, formula, bread, and almond milk all at once, running is still free.  Training miles cost nothing.  Kicking a ball with your kid is priceless.  My kids might not have the best that money can buy, but they know the value of moving, running, playing. They know that personal victory isn't something you can buy.

In the last month I have watched my 6 year old daughter put everything she had into a 33 minute 5K PR.  I have watched my one year old baby take her first steps.  I watched my oldest son walk away from me on the first day of kindergarten.  I have watched summer fade to fall.  I have been given difficult  news, and am facing decisions beyond my ability to decide. I have sat at a distance and watched my husband fight his way into owning his own business.  I have held hands and kissed boo-boos. I have been thrown up on.  I have driven countless miles.  I have jumped up and down on the sidelines of the soccer filed.

I have been a mother, a friend, a wife, a sister, a cheerleader.  But somewhere out alone on the trail, I am just a runner... and THAT my friends, has saved my life.

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Running On Empty

As I sit at soccer practice and type this post on my iPhone I feel that saying these past few weeks have been insane in the Bitecofer household is an understatement. Recently my days have started between six and six-thirty a.m. and I have not been stopping until midnight, sometimes one in the morning. To make matters worse, today marks the fifth day in a row that my day will have been that long and not have included a run. And aside from a fourteen mile trail race that Chanda and I have registered and lined up babysitting for I don't currently see any runs in my near future.

Most of you are aware that Chanda and I serve as the kids pastors at our church but what many of you are not aware of is that I am also an entrepreneur. Being self employed has had tremendous benefits but recently I landed some very physical work that will occupy me all day, five and six days a week for a couple of months. This has been a substantial change from what I am used to. Not that I'm not used to working long hours. I am. But my long hours are typically spent behind a desk and this job is extremely physical, leaving me exhausted and wanting nothing more at the end of the day than to go to bed.

Please don't think I'm complaining! I'm not. I am incredibly grateful to have this work at a normally very slow time of year for me. But what I am is struggling.

See, Chanda and I are about five weeks out from the race we have been training for all summer. I feel stronger than ever right now and I am confident that if I ran the race tomorrow I would PR. But if my training comes to a screeching hault now...what will happen? On top of that, I miss running! I miss that almost meditative time of gliding through the woods with no distractions. It's therapeutic.

But at the end of the day, after soccer pracitce and dinner, after the kids are showered and in bed, after the house is cleaned up, when the dishwasher is loaded and we have finally reached a point where I feel like I can run guilt free, when I look at the clock and realize that I have five, maybe six hours until I have to get up and do it all again and I feel like I just don't have any gas left in the tank...What would you do?

At this point I'm still not sure how to handle this predicament but I plan to (try) to keep you posted on what I do end up doing over the weeks leading up to the race. In the mean time I'd love to hear from you! What do you do when life's responsibilities interfere with your love of running? Do you skip, slack on or let something slide? Do you give up runs? Or do you suck it up and muscle through? I'd love to hear what get you through the busiest times of your life! So leave a comment! Maybe your methods will help someone else.

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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Learning to Let Go!

When it comes to training I have a bit of a problem. I HATE to let go of a run. See, I don't mind being flexible, reworking my plan so that it fits into the combined schedules of our family and most of the time I have no problem postponing my run until 11 or 12am, even doing it on the treadmill if that's what it takes. But what I hate (I mean HATE!) is to miss out on a workout altogether.

When I first started training I would squeeze in a missed workout on a rest day. I justified it by telling myself that I was still getting in the same number of workouts per week, just reworking how the week went down. That was, until the missed workouts had piled up so much that in one week I did two long runs...and speed work...twice...without  any rest days. Fortunately I didn't get injured but I wasn't able to complete the second long run either.

My legs were entirely too fatigued from all that running and I swore that I had learned my lesson. And for about a month I kept only two workouts sacred. Speed work and the long run. But old habits die hard and it wasn't long before I started piling on missed workouts again. Soon I started to see signs of over training. What does over training look like?

You might be over training if:
  • You regularly feel tired all day.
  • Your legs feel heavy at normal training pace and you can't seem to put together a "strong" training run.
  • You experience an elevated resting pulse for more than a few days.
  • You have persistent aches, pains, and injuries.  If you're struggling with pain more often than not, you are probably on the edge of a major injury which could leave you sidelined for the rest of the season! 
  • You seem to be getting sick more than usual.

Letting go of runs is hard for me. I don't know if it's hard for you too but if it is let me encourage you. Life gets in the way of running. If you have a family, a job, a pet or any combination of the three, things come up that hinder your ability to train. Let it go.

There are only two runs a week that I consider sacred. First and foremost for any distance runner is the long run. It is what builds your endurance and teaches your body to go the distance. It is a confidence builder and a key component to every training plan. The second sacred run is speed work. Speed work teaches your body to run more efficiently, builds aerobic capacity and increases muscle mass in your entire body.

If life gets in the way and you miss a run. Let it go. If it is a "sacred" run then accept that you need to replace another, less important run for that one. Will your weekly mileage be reduced? Yes. But it is the only way to avoid over training and possibly injury.

I know it's hard but you can do it! Just think of it as a new dimension of the flexibility you have had to exercise to be able to train in the first place. It's a learning process and there are bound to be occasional relapses but don't be discouraged. Join me and together we can learn to let go! 

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Friday, August 5, 2011

Kids - Running & Racing

At races we hear the chatter, "He's way too young for that." "Why would they push her like that?" "That can't be healthy." We see people whispering to each other, pointing and even staring. Some try to use the concerned angle, "Is that good for them?" or "What if they get hurt?" Our children are typically the youngest participants at any given 5k by five or more years yet still frequently place in their age group. It's obvious that we are forcing our children to do what we love! Or are we?

Several years ago when Chanda started running I would take the kids to the trail, load them up in a wagon & a stroller, hand them snacks & drinks and follow down the trail after her. Obviously we couldn't keep up but I thought it was important that we show our support. (Plus it was nice to be out in the woods most evenings).

It wasn't long before the kids wanted to run with mommy. Chanda was very accommodating and would occasionally let them tag along for the first mile or so, slowing her pace to about a twelve minute mile and then waiting with the kids until I caught up with the babies, the wagon and the stroller. The first time they ran with her we were amazed. They didn't want to stop at the mile marker. After a few times of one mile runs we decided to let them add a second, and then a third mile. Soon they were asking when they could run a 5k.

At first we were a little hesitant. We had always allowed the kids to participate in the "kids fun runs" but running in an actual race...with adults? Don't races have age requirements? We did a little research and it turns out that most 5k's do not have a minimum age. Lilli ran her first 5k labor day of 2010 and took second in the 14 and under age group. At five years old she was less than half the age of the kid that beat her. Since then our two oldest children have run a combined total of nearly a dozen races, we've completed a race together as a family (babies in strollers) and Faith, our two year old has completed several one mile runs.

Along the way we have been approached by both concerned people and intrigued parents. Below are some of the most common questions we field and our answers to them. 

Is that good for them?

To our knowledge there is no evidence to say that running is bad for children. It comes naturally to them. Don't believe me? Try this experiment: take a five year old to the playground and tell them not to run, then release them to play. Time how long it takes until they break down and disobey you. I guarantee they won't last ten minutes. Kids run...and they love it! It's not until we get older and lazier we they learn to love being sedentary. A recent study followed several children's hospitals keeping an eye out for running related injuries in children. To their astonishment all of the running related injuries they saw were actually connected to the act of falling rather than running. Scrapes, cuts and the occasional broken bone were the primary injuries. Pulled muscles and over-use injuries were practically non existent. It seems that children really were born to run!

What about training?

My kids do very little training. It is my belief that any moderately fit five year old can complete a 5k so there is no need to push them. Occasionally one of my older children might say, "Dad, I need to get a couple miles in today" or "I need to get in some hill training before this next race." When they say that I do everything possible to make sure that we fit their workout into our schedule either the same or the following day because I want them to know that I support them. While we are on our run I try to encourage them to push through discomfort and guide them to maintain their naturally good form but more importantly I keep it light and fun. Nothing is a bigger turnoff to a child then being pushed too hard.

What is the best way to get my child into running?

I suggest signing up for races that also have kids fun runs. They are usually only a mile, most kids can complete them with relative ease and in many cases, every participant gets an award. Then ask another adult to wait with them at the finish line of your race so they can cheer for people (and you!) as they come into the finish. This is a great way to get your child pumped up about races and introduce them to running as a sport.

Finally, I thought the best advice would be advice direct from a child who runs so I have asked my 5 year old son to offer you some tips on how you can help your child run:

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Lesson Learned

I bought my first pair of real pair of running shoes in February of this year. Yes, you read that right...this year. Prior to that I ran in the cheapest pair of "running" shoes I could find at WalMart. My friends and family kept finding races for me to run and so I would buy another pair saying that I was "just training for this next race and then I'm not going to run any more." Never mind the fact that each pair was shot by the time I got to said race, committing to real shoes meant admitting that I was starting to like this crazy sport and that I actually considered myself a runner. But this February I decided to take the plunge and actually commit to a pair of quality running shoes that would last for more than 100.

I decided to go to a local shoe store, Vertical Runner, known for it's excellent service and knowledgeable staff. The woman there tried VERY hard to help me pick out the perfect pair. She had me walk across the floor in my socks to observe the bio-mechanics of  my feet, sized my foot with the shoe size thingamajig and proceeded to ask me a number of questions about what exactly I was looking for in a shoe. I was honest with her that I was looking for something light weight but beyond that, having never owned any real running shoes before, I had no idea what I was looking for. She said that I had no pronation issues and didn't need a ton of support and headed to the back to bring me nearly a dozen different shoes to try on.

I tried on every pair. Some shoes I immediately didn't like but most of them I just said, "I don't know...Lets try the next pair." Finally I settled into a pair of Mizuno WaveRider13's. They were the most comfortable shoes I had ever worn. Over the course of the next few months my mileage increased from 30 or so to around 45 miles a week. I grew stronger and faster. The only problem was that, prior to owning my Mizunos I had been a solid mid-foot striker and suddenly it was a challenge to land mid-foot.

After doing some research I decided that I needed a more minimalist shoe. Something with a lower heal to toe drop. When my shoes were well past the 400 mile mark I returned to Vertical Runner and after trying on all of their minimalist shoes settled on a pair of Saucony Kinvara2's. When I tried them on the clouds parted, the sun shown brightly on my face and Handel's Messiah began to play. They were the perfect fit!

Now, Saucony's own website says that when transitioning into more minimalist shoes you should start by only using them for 10% of your weekly mileage and build up from there. Who were they kidding!?! Don't they know that my shoes are shot? I don't have time for that! I'll just add in an extra rest day and it'll be fine. ...or not.

After the first week I had excessive pain in my calves. The second week was a rest week and while the pain didn't get any worse, it didn't get much better either...and my Achilles tendons began to bother me...alot. The third week I decided to add another rest day after my speed work, reducing my running to three days a week. Finally some progress! By the end of the week I was feeling great and ready for my long run.

It was a beautiful run! I felt great all the way through it! Finally, victory was mine! That whole 10% rule was bologna! Then it happened... The moment my feet were both planted on the ground my calves clenched up so tight I had to grab a hold of the nearest tree to keep from falling on the ground. Chanda and the kids were planning on picking me up at a trail head nearly a mile further down the trail and here I am bear-hugging this tree because it's the only way to stay upright! And to make matters worse, people were staring!

I just hung there for a moment waiting for my calves to relax. They didn't. So slowly I began to stretch them out. I HAVE to be able to walk at least one more mile! The pain brought tears to my eyes. More people walked by unashamed to stare at the weird guy clinging to the tree. After about ten minutes I was able to put weight on my legs again. Slowly I began to resume forward progress toward the trail head where Chanda, my beautiful children, and most importantly the car were waiting for me.

It has been about two more weeks since my embarrassing incident on the trail and I am happy to say that I am now running pain free again! But there is a moral to this story. When a shoe company says to ease into a shoe take there advice. Because, as I tell the kids at church, lessons learned the hard way aren't learned better, they just hurt more.

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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Just the Way She Is

My running friends have the habit of asking me at the beginning of any race what my goal is.  They don't believe me when I tell them that I don't have one.  No really.  I don't have any time goals.  I don't have any PRs to set.  No course records to accomplish.  No age-group awards to achieve.  Not this year anyway.  Don't get me wrong... the temptation is there.  I know what it feels like to have my name called for an age group or an over-all award, and it feels freakin' awesome.  It's an addictive feeling... a feeling worth chasing.  But I have, at least temporarily, just for this year (hopefully), traded in the pursuit of speed for another goal, to stay uninjured!

The story of how I became a runner is a story for another day, but I can tell you that I've spent almost all of my time as a runner suffering from one injury or another, to the point that a physical therapist told me that should I continue on my then current path, I would have a few really good years and then probably never run again.  That terrified me.  I need to be able to run.  Come on now, I have five kids... I NEED to be able to run! 

So my goals changed.  My approach to running changed.  This year I have found myself mentally invested not in running as far and fast as I can but in being able to run for my whole life.  I have the best physical therapist in the world, who is also a personal friend, so we've worked together (and by "worked together" I mean argued, debated, and I may have stuck my tongue out at her) to reach a compromise that allows me to train for the marathon but in a way that doesn't sacrifice running long term for running long distance.  I do all my exercises.  I have pulled back, slowed down, done intervals. I have been a good patient.

Until last Monday.

On Monday I found myself needing a change.  I felt sluggish, bored, slow, tired of my carefully paced interval runs down the same old trail.  I needed a change. Our neighborhood is completely boxed in by a beautiful blue line that marks the course of the Akron Marathon.  I decided to chase it for a while before hitting my usual trail head.  We've lived in this house for about a year and in favor of trail running, I've never run my own neighborhood.  On Monday I headed out from my front porch and took off after that blue line.

I don't know what came over me after that because the next thing I knew I was pounding out seven minute miles, leaping over curbs, Pope's "The Moment" pulsing in my earbuds.  I passed a small business district and was shocked at the woman running beside me in the reflection of the store front windows.  She was poised and confident.  She was fit and she was fast.  Several men drove passed her and honked their car horns, "Hey, how YOU doin?!".  And for just a few more miles I was that woman.

In that moment, for those few idyllic miles, the time on my Garmin didn't matter.  It wasn't about PRs or miles logged, or training plans, or magazine articles, or races, or gear, or starting lines.  It wasn't about what would happen in the future, it was about what was happening right now. It was about the concrete under my feet, the air searing my lungs.  The sun setting in the distance.  It was perfect... and it was fleeting.

Eventually I became aware of my location, got scared that it was getting dark, watched a guy check me out and tripped over my left foot, skidded on someone's gravel driveway, laughed at myself, and headed home at a much slower but more responsible pace.  No longer the poised woman in the window, just me, bee-bopping along in a faded 10K t-shirt, my curly hair creating a fuzzy halo around my head in the humidity, scrambling to make the uphill journey home. 

Monday's run wasn't about checking off miles on a training plan, it wasn't about safely pursing a goal one small step at a time.  It was just about running.  It's easy to get wrapped up in all the extra stuff that seems to come along with being a runner.  But like any other girl, if running is your mistress, it's important that every now and then, even if just for a few miles, you remind her that you still love her, just the way she is.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Other Five Percent

"Are you a vegetarian?" The question is almost inevitable when I go out to eat with someone for the first time. Whether alone or with the family, as we order our food you can see the expression on their face change. Watching from across the table, the gears are turning. And then, usually after the veg-friendly appetizers arrive and I/we dive in, they can't help but ask.

My answer is always the same, "No, I just don't eat meat." Then I smile. Sometimes that answer is enough but most of the time further inquiry is made. I choose that response because the answer is a complex one and if the listener isn't really THAT interested I'd rather not waste my breath trying to explain it to them. For those of you who are curious or maybe even flirting with vegetarianism yourself let me share...err....try to explain my stance. I know that it is one that will probably elicit criticism from both sides of the omnivore/herbivore isle but I'm OK with that. 

Okay, here goes nothing... 

Growing up my mother was a second generation butcher. Meat was a huge part of our lives! Not only did we eat it but other people eating it helped keep the lights on and put food on the table. Meat was a part of who I was. I have childhood memories of watching my grandfather and his crew processing dear, watching him trim the fat off of steaks, make hamburger, etc. They are fond memories and to be honest, made me more aware and appreciative of where meat comes from and what it cost.

Yet if you read our Meet Us page you saw that we eat a 95% plant based diet. We say 95% because there are exceptions. You see, we are not morally apposed to eating meat or animal products. Being plant-strong athletes is a choice that we made because we realized that the more plant based food we eat the better we feel and perform. I have learned that there is a difference between feeling "full" and feeling heavy and tired. And that plant based protein sources are absorbed by my body faster leading to faster recovery without leaving me feeling weighed down by a big burger or steak sitting in my belly.

But I am more than a plant-strong runner. I am also a Kid's Pastor, Camp Counselor, Missionary, and Business Man and I refuse to let my running aspirations affect any of these other areas of my life negatively.

Here's an example of what I mean...

As a camp counselor, meal time is a tremendous opportunity to bond with the kids in my group and so if they are only serving pepperoni pizza for lunch I am going to eat it. (*brief pause while all the vegetarians gasp*) Why? Because my job is to connect with those kids, to find out where they are in their lives and to speak positively into their lives while they are at camp. The last thing I need is for them to be distracted by what I eat or don't eat. Instead I may choose to only eat one piece of pizza and later, back in our cabin, I will pull additional food out of a "survival kit" that I bring along containing trail mix, dried fruits and vegetables, granola, Cliff Bars, etc. This helps me to maintain that the focus remains on the children and not on my diet. That is my range, what I have decided is an acceptable deviation from my diet in advance. If I slip up once in a while, it's okay. It doesn't change who I am. Tomorrow is a new day and I will start it with a clean slate.

If you are newly plant-strong (whatever that means to you) let me encourage you. If you slip up, you are not a failure. If you find yourself in a position where you have to choose between eating something you have sworn off and being miserable and you choose to eat it, it's okay. If you are a vegan and find out the restaurant cooked you veggies in butter, it's okay. Tomorrow is a new day. Forgive yourself and start with a clean slate. Decide in advance that certain deviations are acceptable from time to time. As long as you are successful most of the time you are a success. Don't let yourself be defeated by the other 5%

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Baby Food

Recently I took our youngest daughter Cole to her nine month well-baby visit at the pediatrician. Prior to the appointment I was told by the front desk that we would be seeing the nurse practitioner rather than the doctor this time. No big deal. All they're going to do is weigh her, ask us some questions about her development, give her any shots she needs and we'll be on our way. She's a perfectly healthy, on target, roly poly little girl. When the nurse walked into the room I shuddered. It was the same nurse practitioner that had been at our old pediatrician's office. The one that told us for months that there was nothing wrong with out youngest son James (Who it turns out is extremely asthmatic!). And then, when we finally convinced her otherwise she called an ambulance and had him rushed to the hospital against our wishes! The nurse we had switched doctors to get away from had followed us!

"How is she doing?" She said cheerfully.

"Great!" I replied. Trying to mask my disappointment. She began looking at the charts.

"Oh my! It appears that Cole has lost almost an entire pound since her last visit." This did not surprise me. Cole is more active than ever. At nine months old, Cole crawls everywhere. She has started pulling herself up on anything she can and she has decided that she doesn't want to be fed but would prefer to put food into her own mouth....all by herself. Any parent who has been through this stage with their children knows that nine month old babies are not the most proficient at feeding themselves. This combined with her new found mobility almost guarantees some weight loss. "What do you feed her?"

I went on to rattle of a list of the various fruits, vegetables and grains that we might feed her on any given day and mentioned that she typically eats whatever we're eating.

"But what do you do for protein?" I explained that there is protein in many of the vegetables, beans and grains that we feed her. Not to mention that there is plenty of protein in her formula. "What about meat?"

I just stared at her. Dumbfounded. "She's a baby..." was all I could muster. I didn't want to get into the fact that we are plant strong runners who rarely even have meat in our house let alone feed it to our baby.

"Well she needs meat. ...and butter." I stared blankly. "I want you to add butter to all those vegetables that you're feeding her. And the next time you have pork chops... Throw one of them into the blender. Add butter and some formula and blend it down into mush and give her that." I just stared some more. "You know what? I'm going to go see if the dietitian is available. I'm sure she has some great tips for you as well." She walked out of the examination room and closed the door behind her.

I sent out a tweet.

Nurse just told me that Cole needs meat. Lol! She acted as if that is the only protein source in the world. "baby w/2 teeth, have a steak!"

I began preparing myself for a lecture. Who pushes meat on babies anyway? And pork? What if I were jewish?!?

Soon the nurse practitioner and the dietitian walked in together. "So, she's lost a pound since her last visit. I already told him that they need to add meat and butter into her diet. I told him to throw a pork chop into the blender with butter and formula and give her that." The dietitians eyes got wider with every word the nurse spoke but she remained silent. "I was hoping that you would have some more ideas for him. I'll leave you guys to talk." And with that she walked out of the room.

The dietitian was very nice. She introduced herself and then began asking the same questions the nurse had. "What do you feed her?" Again I rattled off the same list of various fruits, vegetables and grains that I had listed to the nurse. To my surprise she did not ask the meat question. "I think you feed her perfectly" she replied. "She obviously is just getting more active and needs more calories. Lets just try adding another scoop of formula to her bottles and that should give her the extra calories she needs. If she continues to loose weight then we can look at other options but I think the extra powder will do the trick."

I felt vindicated! Our plant strong diet was "perfect"! The dietitian shared our opinion that meat and butter are NOT the building blocks of good nutrition and we were doing the right thing by feeding our kids foods that grow up from the ground. She never asked if we were vegetarians or vegans. Never tried to label or categorize us. Never asked how we got protein. It was clear that we are healthy active people, lacking in nothing nutritionally and with that she sent us on our way.

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Friday, May 27, 2011

An Open Letter to Dog Owners

Dear Dog Owner,

<-----You are not an exception to this sign.  I know that you may be under the assumption that your dog is your child, your baby even.  You might wipe it's paws and spoon-feed it puppy chow, but regardless of how adorable, loveable, kind, or spoiled your little Fido, Trixie, Spot, or Fluffy might be, both of you are still obligated to obey basic park rules, you know, like not smoking or littering. Taking into consideration that most dogs can't read, this responsibility falls to you.

Since some of you are are clearly confused as to how to interpret and properly implement this sign and it's ONE SENTENCE instruction, I am generously offering my assistance.  Consider me your interpreter through this complicated and technical process.  If my 5 and 6 year olds weren't asleep at the writing of this post, I'm sure that either of them would be able guide you through this reading comprehension exercise as well.

1. Attach the clippy end of leash to your dog's collar.

2. Hold handle or loop end of leash in your hand.

3. Keep your dog under control, AT ALL TIMES.

Following these 3 simple steps will ensure that you, your precious pooch, and ALL THE REST OF US have a pleasant visit to the park.

For those of you who may be tempted to fudge one or more of the aforementioned instructions, let me shed yet a little more light on the subject.  The rest of us out using the jogging/exercise trail, bike path, or playground do not consider you compliant with the above rule simply because you own a leash.  Not even if you have it in your hand.  In order to be in good standing with Step 2, you must first (and always, while in these type of public spaces) abide by and fulfill Step 1.  Simply walking down the path with your leash in one hand and your bag of dog crap in the other (which will heretofore be referred to as a "crap-bag") while your dog charges down the trail unattached physically to a responsible human, does not in fact, ensure that you are in good standing with park regulations.

In conclusion, if after reading these clear and concise directions you still find yourself unable to comply, I lovingly, kindly, and strongly suggest, as one dog owner to another, that you stick to exercising your canine companion in your own back yard or perhaps it might be prudent to take your dog and your crap-bag to a location where such behavior is excepted and condoned like.... oh.... i don't know...... A DOG PARK maybe??? 

Note:  If you are the dog owner who found it necessary to SCREAM repeatedly for me to STOP because the perceived aggressive motion of running toward you, on I might add, an exercise trail with specific instructions to RUN, upset your UNLEASHED dog, I hope this written annotation of the park rules is as helpful to other dog owners as my verbal explanation (given rapidly yet succinctly between my 800's) was to you.

Further Note:  If you are the owner of the UNLEASHED doberman/boxer mix who, this very afternoon came charging at me and my 1 year old son in the baby-jogger, while you stood frozen on the adjacent trail and watched, I am in your debt, as the act of fleeing your excessively loud dog, enabled me to run my first ever sub 8 minute mile. I do apologize for anything I may or may not have yelled in your general direction.

Sincerely yours,


Further Further Note: This public service announcement was not brought to you by a middle aged, dog-hating cat-lady, but by a fellow dog lover who spent many a good morning running with a beautiful (and LEASHED) Australian shepherd, and who now absolutely adores her very spoiled (but still leashed) little dog.  But as you can tell from this picture of him with our youngest daughter Cole, he's not much of a running partner:

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Monday, May 23, 2011


We haven't gone on a family vacation since... well.... four years and three children ago.  The last time we took the kids to the beach we were a typical family of four and our life looked very different. As a disclaimer of honesty, I will tell you that the humanity in me wants to pretend that who I am today is who I've always been, but it's important to turn around and face the past... for me to turn around and face the person who used to walk around in my skin, living my life.

When people don't believe me about what I used to look like, it is a picture taken on the Myrtle Beach boardwalk four years ago that I show them.  I was at least 75 pounds heavier than I am now.  Two years prior to the picture being taken, I had given up the vegetarian diet that had been a part of my identity since I was a child.  If you would have told me four years ago that I would be a plant-strong runner who trains for marathon distance races, I wouldn't have believed you.  I'm sure that Nate, who was raised by second generation  butchers and only began running this past year, would also have been surprised by the turn our lives have taken.

So what does vacation look like now? How do we make it work not only as plant-based runners mid-training, but also as the parents of five children?  Here at home we've worked out the challenges of this lifestyle.  We have our favorite grocery store with the ingredients to make our kids favorite meals. We are lucky enough to have a vegan restaurant downtown, only 10 minutes away, and we know which other restaurants are both kid and veg friendly. We have our training plans adjusted to fit the craziness of our lives. We have a vegan bakery within walking distance that makes excellent energy bars and other good running food. So what do we do when we venture out of the comforts and familiarity of home?  Here are the things we did, the things things that worked, and the things we learned:
This was probably the easiest part of the trip. It took us approximately 10 hours to get from our home in Northeast Ohio to our condo in Ocean City MD.  Not only do we have kids who love their veggies, they are also exceptionally good travelers. A stocked bag of snacks, bottled water, and sippy cups got us from point A to point B nicely.  Carrots, hummus, Lara Bars, and trail mix were all easily consumed by big and little hands alike.  For the babies, we opted for Plum Organics baby food in a pouch. It has a twist off top that allows older babies to feed themselves.  (Warning, this can be a little bit messy!) Having healthy finger food at the ready meant that we weren't eating gas station / rest stop food or anything out of a vending machine.  It also meant that our time lost for stops was kept to a minimum, (as minimum as they could be with five kids needing potty breaks and diaper changes).  We tried only to stop when we needed to pay an astronomical amount of money for gas, or to purchase copious amounts of coffee. By a stroke of sheer luck, we stumbled across a smoothie place that made delicious fruit/veg smoothies with chlorella, and spirulina and had a delicious lunch as we drove.

We ate breakfast and lunch everyday in our condo. Mostly fresh berries & bananas for breakfast, salads, pita, peanut butter, veggies for lunch. Cooking/cleaning for 7 was not on my vacation agenda, so we stuck to easy raw foods.  At a local grocery store we found a bottle of dark chocolate, dairy free chocolate sauce.  I planned to eat it with berries on the balcony with Nate after the kids were all tucked in bed, but we broke it open first thing in the morning and had it for breakfast!  The kids thought it was a serious special occasion!

Like most other people, we like to eat out and planned to do so for several dinners. We had a few epic fail restaurant experiences during our first few days.  We thought we had done adequate research, we had read customer reviews, and picked out several restaurants that seemed like they would be a good fit for our large veggie lovin family.  Unfortunately, this did not work out as planned. Let me just say that we are not high maintenance restaurant goers.  We ask polite questions, order the best plant-based options, with hopefully a minimum number of special requests, and we tip really really well.  The first restaurant (one that we had read great things about) was not serving their full menu that night.  The menu was so limited that I couldn't even order a salad. Anther restaurant that we had intended to visit was closed for the week! After two days of similar experiences, I broke down and bought all the ingredients to make a huge pot of our favorite soup and we ate that for the next few days.  We did eventually come across a Mexican restaurant that had great vegetarian options and pleasantly accommodated our special requests (they charged a premium for them, but it was worth it!)  and we found a breakfast shop that made smoothies and veg-friendly wraps. 

 There were more options for running than I had originally expected.  The boardwalk had mile markers for runners and wasn't crowded until the weekend. Plenty of runners took to the sidewalks down Coastal Highway.  Nate and I stuck to simple and peaceful runs along the beach.  It was a new experience to learn to run in the sand!  Since it was pre-season, the beach was almost completely deserted no matter what time you took off on a run.  With all the kids, we obviously couldn't run at the same time.  We would alternate, one of us going first thing in the morning while the kids were still asleep and the other going at nap time.  This arrangement ensured that we both got our runs in, but the workouts never got in the way of our primary goal of spending time away as a family. 

The week wasn't perfect.  Our restaurant experiences definitely left something to be desired.  Next time I will do our grocery shopping here at home for both cost reasons as well as food preferences (and I hate being lost in a new store)!  We didn't stick to our training plans as diligently as we would at home.  On the last night, we walked the boardwalk and treated the kids to a funnel cake, which is not a food that would appear on their plates any other time.

But you know what?  There is more to life than training and food.  We played hard, laughed hard, and slept well. We climbed and ran and splashed.  I've had some delicious gourmet meals in my life, but they pale in comparison to the joy I felt while sharing a simple, but somehow decadent breakfast of berries and chocolate with my sleepy-eyed kids.  Running makes my life infinitely better, but even running along the beach at sunrise doesn't compare with watching the expressions on five little faces as they stared out across the sand, most of them for the first time, and saw the ocean.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mud Therapy

The last ten days have been some of the most stressful that I can remember in quite some time. For a variety of reasons (which I won't unload on you) Chanda and I have felt weighed down and to be quite honest we could see the effects all the stress was having on our family. We were all frustrated, short tempered and just plain grumpy. But today we decided we were going to have a good day!

After the older kids got out of school Chanda and I announced that we were going to hit the trails. The kids suggested a park called Hudson Springs about 20 miles from our home with a pretty challenging but rather short running trail that also sported a kids play area made up of at least four playground sets, a rock wall, a giant slide and a dozen or so swings. Chanda and I agreed to take turns hanging with the kids while the other ran the trail. After each lap the person running would check in at the playground and if everyone was doing well they could do another lap.

As we drove to the trail you could feel the tension in the van already starting to dissipate. Everyone was looking forward to enjoying some time outside...Until we arrived. I could feel the tension in the van begin to rise as we surveyed the seen. I now know why they call it Hudson SPRINGS! It was practically underwater!

Here in Northeast Ohio we have had more rain in the last 30 days then they have had in Seattle and the whole park was a swamp. "Oh no!" cried my oldest as she looked out the windshield toward the playground, "How are we going to get over there?"

I took a deep breath. "We are going to have a good day." I thought to myself. "We'll just go that way." I said allowed, pointing to a high place that looked like it might be dryer. "It won't be so bad." I was wrong. There was no dry way to get to the playground. Every square inch of that field was swampland. By the time we made it to the first jungle gym the we were all a mess! My four year old son's fairly new running shoes were encased in mud, the girls had somehow managed to get mud up to their knees, our youngest walker (a year and a half old) had already sat in the mud three or four times and both Chanda and I had mud all over our running shoes. We all just stood there looking at each other, surveying the damage.

"What do you want to do?" Chanda asked. I thought about it for a minute. We were all there. Already muddy. There was no way to get back to the van without getting even messier.

"You can go first."

She just looked at me. Then without a word she strapped on her watch, grabbed her water bottle and headed into the woods. When she got back the kids were covered in mud from head to toe. They had it in their hair, on their faces and all over their clothes. The trails weren't quite as wet but looking at Chanda's shoes I knew that she had seen mud out there too. Chanda ran her laps and then I ran too and the while the kids got muddier and muddier. We were having a ball!

As we drove home, mud encrusted children dozing in their seats, Chanda sighed, "I think that was just what we needed."

It was. The circumstances that lead to our feeling so stressed are still there but we all walked away from that park with our heads clear. Being outside, playing, running, getting was therapeutic. It allowed us to refocus on what was really important, to remember who we are and who is really in control. What we needed was a little mud therapy. And as we drove away I was reminded of a Bible passage at the end of Mathew 6, "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all of these things will be given to you as well. And do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of it's own."

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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Southwestern Stuffed Peppers

These Southwestern Stuffed Peppers are one of our kids favorite vegan dishes. Before grocery shopping every week we ask our kids for meal ideas and this dish is always one of the first things they ask for. It's practically a staple in our home and it's super easy! Here's how you can make it. (Warning! This recipe makes eight peppers. There are after all seven of us to feed)

  • 8 Bell Peppers
  • 3 Cups Prepared Brown Rice
  • 2 Cans of Black Beans
  • 1 Bag of Frozen Corn
  • 1 Large Bottle of Taco Sauce or Salsa
  • 1 Packet of Organic Taco Seasoning
  • Chilli Powder
  • Cumin
  • 2 Cloves Chopped Garlic
  • 1 Cup Water
  • 1 Cup Nutritional Yeast
  • 2 Tbs Cornstarch
  • 1 Tbs Flour
  • 1 Tsp Lemon Juice
  • 1/2 Tsp Salt
  • Preheat oven to 375
  • Cut the tops off of the peppers and clean them out. 
  • In a bowl, combine the rice, black beans (rinsed), frozen corn, taco sauce or salsa, organic taco seasoning, garlic, chilli powder & cumin (to taste).
  • In a blender, combine water, Nutritional yeast, cornstarch, flour and salt. Blend until smooth. Pour into a sauce pan and stir over medium heat until sauce begins to bubble. Allow to bubble for 30 seconds.
  • Pour sauce into bowl with rice and other ingredients. Stir well.
  • Spoon filling into the peppers 
  • (Chanda occasionally puts the tops back on the peppers and fixes them in place with toothpicks. Growing up, her mom did the same thing when she made stuffed peppers. Honestly, I haven't noticed any improvement in flavor or texture but the kids think it is fun to take the lids off the peppers so whenever we have toothpicks we put the tops back on.)
  • Place the peppers in a 9"x11" pan.
  • Bake for 30-45 minutes or until the peppers are soft.
  • Serve with corn chips. (The kids also like sour cream which, of course makes the dish non-vegan unless you choose to use a vegan sour cream substitute which doesn't taste nearly as good.)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Street Smarts

Is it true that some lessons are best learned the hard way? I don't think so. I often tell the kids in my church to listen to their parents because lessons learned the hard way aren't learned better they just hurt more. On Sunday Chanda and I both ran our first half marathon. (Yes, Chanda has run a full marathon but never the half. I guess she kinda skipped that step!) Going into this race Chanda and I had very different goals. Chanda wanted to celebrate the end of being a "tax widow", have fun and, most importantly, finish the race pain free, indicating that she is ready to begin marathon training. Me? I wanted to see how fast I could do it! And having never run a half before, I set what I considered a pretty ambitious time goal. Now, I feel that we are both pretty well read runners but as we were pressing toward the finish line we both realized that booksmart doesn't get you to your goal and being "newbie" half marathoners we had some lessons to learn. Lessons that you don't learn on the treadmill. Lessons that you can't know until you've raced. These are the things we learned on the street!

Lesson #1  Training is Training.
I'm sure you've read about the importance of training in the morning. It probably went something like this, "Recent studies have shown that the human body naturally performs at its best in the afternoon but you can train your body to perform well anytime simply by doing the bulk of your training that time of day. If your race will be run in the morning you can train your body to perform well in the morning by getting up earlier and training before school, work, etc." It's a pretty widespread and highly accepted theory. It's in just about every running magazine and running blog out there. You have to train when you race! I've even seen timelines showing how you should go to bed at 9:30 and get up at 5am to train! 

Here's my problem with that theory. WHO RACES AT 5:30AM? I mean...SERIOUSLY?!? Now, I know there are a few races out there that start in the wee hours of the morning but around here most races start between the hours of 7 and 9am. That poses a problem for just about anyone who has school, a family or a job. Let alone all three! Using that theory we should all be logging miles at the same time as we are eating breakfast, getting our kids dressed, getting ourselves ready for work, packing lunches, making sure the kids brushed their teeth & hair, loading them into the car, rushing them off to school, carpooling and drinking our first cup of coffee at work. That sounds feasible! What I realized is simple. Training is training. It doesn't matter if you do it at 5am or 11pm as long as you do it. On race day you will reap the rewards of your hard work regardless of what time your alarm clock goes off every morning.

Lesson #2  Practice Fueling
This one is pretty easily overlooked but extremely important! Long runs leading up to race day are the time to experiment with proper fueling. Race day...not so much. While training Chanda and I both fueled the same for long runs. Between 45 and 60 minutes into our run, regardless of distance we would eat most of (or in my case all of) a cliff bar and then switch from water to a sports drink. The day before our race while I was freaking out about how I was going to carry a cliff bar in my pocketless running shorts Chanda was picking up some Gu packs from a vendor at the expo.  And on race day when I was cutting my cliff bar into long skinny pieces and shoving them into sandwich baggies so they would fit into the tiny pocket on my water bottle, Chanda was simply slipping those Gu packs into the pocket on her water bottle. She seemed so smart, so cool. She had it all figured out. But at mile nine when I was still plugging along Chanda was feeling light headed and dizzy. "I should have fueled better" she said after the race. Don't make that mistake. Figure out what works for you and stick with it. Practice fueling. It is a vital part of a successful race.

Lesson #3  Know the Course
I thought I knew this course. I looked at the course map then compared it to an elevation map of the area. It was mostly flat. A few steady inclines. Two big hills and one big descent. I thought that I had trained properly. I used a local trail with some good inclines, one of the hills even had a 5% incline warning at the bottom of it. I should have been running steps somewhere. Today, I got on my treadmill and cranked the incline all the way up. 10%. That second hill, the one at mile nine seemed steeper than even that! (To be fair I was pretty tired but I bet it was close!) 

Know your course. If it's a fairly local race get a copy of the course map and go out and drive it. If you come to a big hill. Park your car and walk it. Get an idea of how it feels under your feet. Once you've done that you'll be able to modify your workouts. You'll know if your doing enough hill training and you'll be able to approach the race with added confidence of knowing that you are well prepared and that there will be no surprises on that course.

Lesson #4  Set Multiple Goals
As I mentioned earlier Chanda and I had two VERY different goals. Chanda, who ran a marathon in the fall with an IT band injury just wanted to have fun and finish pain free. For her it was a celebration of tax season ending and running season beginning. (for those of you who don't know us I manage a tax prep service during the winter months). Her plan was flexible. I on the other hand had one goal. To finish in under 2 hours. That is what I trained for. That was the plan and I was sticking to it. But there was one very big factor that I had not considered. The wind. 

The National weather service recorded a steady wind of 25mph with gusts reaching 39mph. Unfortunately, unlike at today's Boston Marathon that wind was NEVER at our backs. About 40% of the time it was a crosswind and the remaining 60% a headwind. Do you know what it's like to run into a 40mph headwind? And when one of those "gusts" hit you from the side...well, lets just say that one sent Chanda careening into the runner beside her. How a loop course had us running into a headwind both ways is still something I cannot figure out! But needless to say running that race required considerably more energy than I had expected.

At the eleven mile mark I was out of steam. Another runner eased up beside me. "How are we doing on time?" he asked. "1:45.30...I guess we're not gonna come in under two hours." "I was thinking the same thing" he replied. I started to walk. At mile 10 I had found myself gasping for air and still running a full minute per mile slower than I needed to be going. I had failed. I considered walking it in... But that guy was still plugging along. He was going slow but he was still running. "10 seconds" I though to myself. "Then you have to start running again" I decided to make a new goal. 2:04 (Ironically the same goal Ryan Hall had for today's Boston FULL Marathon) and I started running again. 

Chanda's goals were flexible and at no point in the race did she feel defeated. I had one goal and the moment I realized I had failed to reach it I was done. Set multiple or flexible goals. If you have a time goal give yourself a backup goal. One that you know you can achieve. That way if something goes wrong (like having to race in a tornado!) you can readjust, refocus and still give it your all. 

Lesson #5  Spectatheletes Make All the Difference
It turns out there are two VERY different kinds of spectators at a race. Spectatheletes and gawkers. Spectatheletes are awesome! They are the ones cheering from the side of the road. The people who lie to you and tell you that you look great, your doing well and that your almost there. They yell your name if it's on your bib or shirt and they give you that extra umph to keep pushing yourself past the discomfort and exhaustion. Gawkers are very different. They sit on the side of the road and...well...gawk. They offer no kind words, encouragement or help of any nature. Instead, their eyes pierce you like a laser beam as you run by sucking energy from your muscles and increasing your fatigue. Yesterday was mostly gawkers. I recommend asking around and seeing if you know anyone else who has run that race before. Ask about the race environment and the crowd. To be honest, I'll take a quiet trail with no spectators over crowded streets filled with gawkers any day!

I don't want you to misinterpret this post for something it is not. I'm not whining or complaining about yesterdays race. We had a great time, both feel that we ran great races and are already considering running it again next year. What I am hoping is that you are able to learn from a few of our hard knocks.  Because, like I said earlier, lessons learned the hard way aren't learned better they just hurt more.

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Friday, April 8, 2011

A Healthy Sense of Humor

In a big family like ours, you just never know what the day might bring.  Today for instance, I spent my entire morning feeling like I was trapped in an episode of Seinfeld.  I was home with our 3 youngest (all 2 and under).  We were trying to get out of the house on time to pick the 2 oldest up from school at 12:15.  At noon I told Faith (the 2 year old) to put her boots on while I ran the babies out to the van and I would be right back for her.  I left the door open so she could see me, but closed the glass storm door behind me.  It took maybe 3 minutes to load the babies into their car seats.  When I came back the storm door was locked.  From the inside.... where my keys were.  Faith was standing at the door, brown curls bouncing at her shoulders, big brown eyes looking up at me innocently.  Yeah right.

"Turn the button baby"

"This one?"

"No baby, the bottom button."

"This one?"

"Yes!  Turn THAT button!"

We went back and forth like that for some time, but it quickly became clear that she just couldn't do it. (How it is that she apparently had an abundance of ability to turn the button to the left, but seemingly totally lacked the capacity to turn it to the right, I'll never know).   I told her to keep trying and went to see if, by some miracle, the back door was open.  Nope.  I ran back around to the front to see if, by some miracle, Faithie had gotten the door unlocked.  Nope. I try coaching her some more.  Nope.  Vince Lombardi could not have coached this kid into opening that door. 

At this point I was late for school pickup.  I call Nate to let him know what was going on but he was in a meeting at a restaurant almost 2 hours away, so he wasn't going to be any help.  Who else can you turn to when you're really in a bad spot?  Your parents, right?  So I call my dad to see if he can pick the kids up.  Nope.  He's working too far out of town.  I call my mom (who works third shift) hoping she'll hear the phone ring and wake up.  Nope.  And it's right about this time that my phone dies.

I look back in the front door to check on Faithie and perhaps try to bribe her into unlocking the door.  She is sitting in front of the door chatting away happily on her toy phone.  Nice.  At least one of us can make a phone call!

At this point I began to realize that no one, absolutely no one is going to come to my rescue.  I will have to be my own Knight in Shining Armor.  No sweat.  I put myself through college working at a lock shop.  Getting into people's houses is what I do.  Or did.  A long.... long time ago.   

To get into most regular locks you don't need much more than a flat head screwdriver, a hammer and a pair of pliers. (Don't tell anyone I told you that).  I asses the 3 doors into my house to see which one might be opened by this method.  The only one that fits the bill is the door that opens into our dining room.  A door that we never, ever use.  I'd be surprised if it had been opened any time in the last 50 years.  I asses the tools in the garage to find what I need.  It was the first moment in my life that I regretted marrying an athletic, musical pastor instead of a construction worker.  We have a small Phillips head screwdriver, a socket set, a hammer, and..... well, there is no "and"...  that is all there is.  It'll have to do.

Using the above mentioned method, I set to work.  As I do so, I see Faithie run out of the room.  She runs back to where I'm working at the door, opens the curtain, and holds up an eyeglass screwdriver and a box of decorator nails.  Thank you.  I'm sure that'll help me honey.  Please go turn the button.

The lock releases.  The bolt retracts.  The handle turns.  I have one short moment of bliss and then I find out why the door hasn't been opened in so many years.  As it turns out, that door has been nailed right into the jamb.  Seriously, who does that?

I go back to the front door and try to get Faith to unlock it.  She looks up at me and says (are you ready for this?) she says NO.  I'll deal with you later.  I walk around my entire house.  We live in a three story, hundred year old house with 29 windows.  Hundred year old windows. Except 3.  The kitchen and bathroom windows are new.  But the bathroom is on the second floor, so that's out of the question.  The kitchen windows are about 8-10 feet off the ground.  Now that I've circled my house a good dozen times, I realize that of my 29 windows, only 4 of them are at eye level.  All of them locked and painted shut. 

I check the basement windows.  The one with the dryer vent is missing half the glass and is covered with a board. Not even sure that I can fit through this window, I attempt to kick it in.  Now, I've seen a few cop shows on TV and they make kicking in a window or door look so simple.  Lean back, make a mean face, and kick!  If you've been wondering, this doesn't work in real life.  I take a few whacks at it with the hammer.  Nothing.  I attempt to open the old coal shoot that goes from the garage to the basement.  Doesn't budge.

I go back to the front door.  (oh, just so you know, I did check on the babies in the van several times during my escapade).  Faith has a set of toy archeology tools and is fiddling away at the lock.  No baby, just turn the button.  She looks at me, tilts her pretty little head to one side, turns her back to me, marches over to the TV, looks at me over her shoulder and turns it on.  Then she marches over to the fireplace and turns it on (electric, no real flame, don't worry).  With one last look at me, she plops down on the couch, and I don't get so much as another glance.

It's at this moment that I realize that I have no other option than to go in through the kitchen window.  I stand below it and can not even reach the sill.  For one quick minute I contemplate climbing onto the patio grill, but realize very quickly that this is a very bad idea.  Instead I go into the garage and find a big plastic tote full of baby clothes.  I drag it under the window and still can't reach.  I find a smaller tote of vacation Bible school supplies and stack it atop the first tote.  I can reach now, but not well enough to open it.  I find a small wooden stool and stack it at the peak of my tower.  I manage to get the window open, about 12 inches.

I am standing atop my precarious tower and realize that should I fall and break my neck, 2 of my kids are at school (and should have been picked up an hour ago) my two babies are in the van alone, and my middle child is locked inside the house.  Lord help me.

So that you can get the full picture, you know, a picture as good as my neighbors got, I should tell you that we live on a busy street.  At the intersection of 2 busy streets really.  And I'm wearing skinny jeans and black knee high boots.  Not snow boots.  Not rain boots.  Girly boots.  Pretty boots.  And I have no other option that to try to jump into my window from my perch atop the mountain of miscellaneous items.  I jump.  I heave myself up to my armpits.  I swing my right leg towards the 12 inch window opening.  My tower comes crashing down beneath me.  I look down.  I slip.  I am suddenly dangling from my own kitchen window sill with nothing between me and the ground except the soles of my pretty boots.  Lord help me.

I drop to the patio and manage not to break anything.  I make the circuit around my house to check on the kids.  I go back to the window.  I realize that I need a taller tower and go back to the garage.  It is then that I realize that we have a ladder in the garage. A LADDER!  All that stacking and climbing and falling and dangling had been for nothing!

You can figure out the rest of the story on your own.  But just in case you're a parent who wonders if they should make staying in shape a priority, just remember that you never know when you'll need enough endurance to run around your own house 7000 times, enough agility to climb a (very) unstable stack of objects, enough upper body strength to hoist yourself through a window, enough weight lost to fit through a 12 inch space, and enough balance to be able to laugh at yourself when its over.

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Monday, April 4, 2011

Family Game Night!

As a kid, I loved Fridays. When the bell rang signaling the end of the school day, I felt the glorious freedom of the weekend stretching out before me. Mom would make something fun for dinner or maybe even bring home take out. My favorite shows would be on tv and my brother and I would be allowed to stay up late enough to watch them.

Now I'm the mom, and I want to give my kids that same "break" at the end of their school week. All of our kids are under the age of 7, so only two of them are school aged (one in kindergarten and one in pre-k). It isn't always easy to be the oldest of 5 kids when you're only 6 and 4, so this past Friday we wanted to reward our two oldest with a special family game night just for them.

Instead of making a regular dinner, I decided that we'd just eat a smorgasbord of finger foods and appetizers around the table while we played some of our favorite games. Like any other family, the temptation is to break out the chips and dip and bake up some pizza rolls and fry some mozzarella sticks... I mean, come on, it is Friday after all. Instead, we decided to tackle the challenge of making a completely plant based snack-fest.

The kids were big helpers in the kitchen and had a blast helping with all the veggies. They tore Kale for chips, shook dressing for salad, tossed chickpeas in spices, and got to add ingredients to the Vitamix for vegan cookie dough.

The first thing we had to do was to set out all the ingredients. Kale, radishes, limes, asparagus, raisins, nuts, garbanzo beans and more! This is the makings of a healthy finger food feast!!

One of Lilli and Noah's favorite part of the night was helping in the kitchen!

Look at all those delicious colors!!

The Final Results? Cucumbers, oven roasted garbonzo beans, kale chips, cooked veggie salad and vegan oatmeal raisin cookie dough. Altogether a fun and delicious game night!

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Thursday, March 31, 2011

How I became a Runner

For many of us, the day we started running and the realization that we are "runners" are two very different moments in our lives. Dr. George Sheehan, columnist for Runners World once wrote that "the difference between a runner and a jogger was a signature on a race application" but for me that was not true. As a matter of fact, prior to signing that application I had only ever really "gone running" once...and I hated it. Here's how I came to be a runner...

Several years ago, my wife decided to take up running. For reasons beyond my comprehension she decided that running needed to be a secret (I'll let her share that story with you some other time). In an effort to be supportive I decided that we would all come with her on every run. Not to run ourselves of course, but rather to show our support. And so for about two years we did just that. We threw a double stroller and wagon in the back of our van, loaded all the kids up and headed to a local trail made of crushed limestone. Chanda would head out until she reached about 75% of her goal distance and then turn around and head back to us. I would push a double stroller and pull a wagon until we met somewhere along the trail. Then we would turn around and walk back to the car together swapping stories about what we experienced along the way.

It was a beautiful arrangement! She got to run and I got to be supportive without actually having to run myself. But this beautiful secret life of ours came to an end when a dear friend confronted Chanda about her running after church one Sunday.

"How long have you been running?" She said.

"I never said that I was." Was the only response that Chanda could muster and with that our cover was blown.

Sometime later, Chanda, that same friend (Rebecca) and some other friends from church ran a local 10k together. Afterwords while I was loading the kids into the van Chanda and Rebecca were talking about the upcoming Akron Marathon. Rebecca shared how she was once again putting together relay teams from our church and expressed a concern that she wouldn't have enough runners to complete the final team. The next thing I knew we were both signed up for the Akron Marathon, Chanda for about an 8 mile leg and me for just over 6.

Let me reiterate that I had never run a race before and my plan to be supportive without actually running myself had worked almost flawlessly. (She did con me into running 3 miles with her was awful!) And now I was signed up for a race...

And so my training began...sort of. I downloaded a training plan app onto my iPhone and, when I wasn't away for summer camps and missions trips, kind of followed it. Well, not really. I usually at least worked in the long run and typically tried to get in at least one more a week. Before I knew it my $12 WalMart shoes were falling apart and so I replaced them with another pair of equally cheap running shoes. Eventually I did manage a 6 mile run about two weeks before the race. Satisfied that I could complete my assigned distance I did not run again until race day.

On race day we all met together and then split up and went to the hand-off points for our assigned legs. When the baton was passed to me I settled in behind a guy running an 8:30 pace. I followed him for two miles until he dropped down to closer to an 11 minute pace. I spent the next four miles searching for someone to be my pacer. Nobody was running as fast as I wanted to. I completed my 6.3 mile leg in 56 minutes flat (an 8:53 pace) It turned out that all that stroller pushing and wagon pulling had left me in better condition than I thought! But I still wasn't a runner.

I continued to go out and run once or twice a week for the next six weeks or so until the inevitable happened. Northeast Ohio winter struck. Running season was over. It was cold now and a combination of snow and ice covered every outdoor surface. I was NOT going to break my leg to run in that. To be honest, I didn't really miss it that much anyway. I missed being out in the woods and hearing the birds and squirrels and such. But the act of running? Not so much...until my heartburn came back.

To be honest I hadn't even noticed it was gone. But as I began "training" for that race my heartburn gradually faded away. I went from eating a whole role of antacids every day to not needing them at all but now I was back to a pack a day habit. I remember standing in my kitchen, antacids in hand, thinking, "What happened to me?" And then it hit me. I need running. For a variety of reasons, the stress levels of my life are such that it causes me to have severe heartburn. Running must be a release for that stress. Immediately I popped a few more antacids and sent out this tweet:

"Running doesn't reduce the amount of stress in my life. It just gives it something to do besides eat away the lining of my stomach"

It was then that I knew I was a runner. Not because I loved it but because I needed it. I felt better, I was happier, I was a more patient husband and father when I ran. I realized that running is what keeps me human. It is a gift from God, I believe, for all of us. Don't believe me? Watch small children play outside sometime. They can just run circles and laugh and smile all day long. Running brings them joy. It's the most natural thing in the world to do. I can't imagine life without it anymore. I'm up to about 30 miles a week now and am training for my first half marathon in just a couple of weeks. Running is now a piece of me, its a way of life. And that is how I became a runner.

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