November 21, 2014

Find some beautiful place to get lost

That's my goal for tomorrow. My last big race of the year, Tranquility Lake 50K. And following the theme of the Thanksgiving month, I have to say that I'm so thankful for all that I've learned this year. I've learned to slow down and enjoy this running business. Sometimes your body forces you to do that, but if you follow your body's lead, you might just learn a thing or two in the process and appreciate the journey even more. Yes, it's fun to chase numbers, but it's also just as fun to forget about all of that and run free.

I will be giving it my all tomorrow and definitely trying to not get lost (at least not course-wise), but this song captures the peace that running in the woods gives me.

There isn't any other place I'd rather spend tomorrow morning kicking up leaves and inevitably face planting a time or two. Not getting lost but getting lost all at the same time.

November 11, 2014

Top 10 best ever running songs

Even though my headphones were a big disappointment at my race this weekend, my playlist made it worth fiddling with them for 26.2 miles.

Headphones story: part 1. I got a pair of cloth-corded, waterproof Yurbuds with my Life Time bucks, and they seemed like they would be really tough and withstand many an accidental trip into the washing machine. And they achieve toughness: like tough to keep in my ears. They seemed fine the other times I used them, but once they got really wet (like when I dumped water on my head), they kept slipping out of my ears and just plain would not stay in. But they proved that they are definitely waterproof. After dumping cup after cup of water on my head, the sound quality stayed clear and consistent. 

Also, I discovered at Savannah this weekend that I really like having a fast forward button in a big-effort race, and these headphones sadly don't have that feature. I'm usually fine with listening to a playlist straight through, but sometimes when you are pushing hard at the end of the race, you just need to fast forward past the Lady Gaga song that seemed fun when you were belting it out with your offspring in the car on the drive to the race but now reveals itself as the most grating song that ever existed. That last sentence is not based on actual events. 

But I found some new-to-my-playlist songs that also really worked for me, and since we're into sharing around here in the blogosphere, I present to you my top 10 most favorite of this race this weekend in Savannah ever.

Caught up in a random dance jam.

And I will now give the list a dramatic title to make it worthy of internet attention grabbiness. 

Top 10 Best Ever Songs for Running
But really just my favorites from this race. And not in order of motivational ability.

1. Fireball by Pitbull. "We're takin' it, we're takin' it, we're takin' it down." You gotta move when you hear this song.
2. Breed by Nirvana. Best for keeping your running tempo up.
3. Shake It Off by Taylor Swift. That's right, I'm not ashamed that I love this song. OK, a little bit, but not enough to stop me from proclaiming it on the interweb. "But I keep cruising. Can't stop won't stop moving."
4. Uprising by Muse. "They will not force us. They will stop degrading us. They will not control us. We will be victorious." When you are behind someone and are trying to hold your pace to pass them.
5. Black Dog by Led Zepplin. "Hey, hey, mama, said the way you move, gonna make you sweat, gonna make you groove." Classic.
6. The Walker by Fitz & The Tantrums. "Oh, here we go. Feel it in my soul. Really need it, need it, so go. Gotta feel it, body takes control. Really need it, need it." Just all around great.
7. Bullet With Butterfly Wings by Smashing Pumpkins. How is this the first time this song has made it onto my running playlists? Perfect for raging it out when you need to power up a hill by getting mad at it. "Despite all my rage, I am still just a rat in a cage."
8. Sink In by Dick Aven. For when you're ready to go from rage to happy. "Fear is the greatest enemy of power."
9. Stubborn Love by The Lumineers. "Keep your head up, my love." Somehow a slow but upbeat jam at the same time.
10. Edge of Seventeen by Stevie Nicks. For its general rocker-ness.

So what's your most recent run jam? 

November 7, 2014

Pacing Pinhoti 100: round 2

Two years of pacing Pinhoti 100 is building up to one giant desire to make this race my only goal of 2015. Some of you (no one) may remember that after the 12-hour race I did back in May, I swore off long distances because of that little almost-dying incident. I love running, but it isn't more important than staying alive. Weird, I know. But as with any painful moment in your life, the sting of nausea, vomiting, and your spirit slowly leaving your body and going toward the light, all slowly fade. Now I can only remember how vivid the trees looked when I was on the verge of hallucinating and how those bikers, strangers whom I unnecessarily told that I was going to squat in the bushes, promised not to look -- you know, the good things, only remembering the good things.

Things you enjoy seeing after running all night at Pinhoti.

The key that makes Pinhoti an actual option is the weather. This year and last year, the temps were chilly, and this year, they even dipped below freezing, which for Alabamians might as well mean you traveled to the North Pole to run. It's not that we aren't tough enough to handle it, it's just that we spent all summer training our bodies to handle heat, sweating, 100% humidity, and all things electrolyte depletion. So much so that runners in the South have been spotted wearing puffy jackets in the middle of summer -- that's how well we trained our bodies. So well that the slightest breeze or any sub-82 thermostat setting gives us chills.

As a runner who does not perform well in heat, as evidenced by the almost-dying-due-to-heat-stroke business, I know that the only way I will ever run a 50 miler again or a 100 miler ever is if I can pretty much guarantee that I will not have to run in any temp with a 7 or above as the first digit. That includes 7 degrees because that's just crazy (standards, gotta set 'em somewhere).

Even though I have never run Pinhoti for my own self, it teaches me something new every year. This year's stand-out lessons: I can run all night (huge! never done that before), nutrition is a game changer, and you have more to give even when you thought you reached the bottom of your barrel.

When I was talking to my chiropractor, who just laughs at all of these crazy running antics (but never tries to discourage me from running, which I appreciate!), he wondered aloud what the point of running 100 miles is. And to quote my soldier sister Vanessa Stroud (who was quoting someone else and now I will paraphrase), it's all about getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. I see life lesson after life lesson after life lesson in just that little sentence. And even my chiropractor, who thinks you and I are all nut cases for choosing the punishment of running, said, "That actually makes a lot of sense." He's never said that about anything running, ever!

And the runners aren't the only ones learning to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. As an extension of this, my family learned that there are never too many blankets. And when a sea of blankets, sleeping bags, and thermals can't keep out the cold, you go turn on the car and get inside. Sorry, ozone layer, it was that or frost bite.

On the way to our Pinhoti campsite. 

Making dutch over cobbler. 

Eating said cobbler.

?? Help us ??

And here's a little more on the story of this year's pacing. I was set to pace Mindy, who is probably the most positive runner I know, from miles 69 to 85 with an estimated starting time of 12:45 a.m. I got there around 11 p.m. to wait because I was so nervous that she would accidentally beat me there and because I couldn't sleep/rest anyway. Porter's Gap (our meeting spot and the start line of the Mt. Cheaha 50K) was hopping with warm food, rockin' tunes, and a giant pot of ramen noodles. By the time I got there, I got the message that Mindy would be a couple more hours, and I now had the option of taking a nap. But of course I couldn't! First, because naps leave me feeling unrefreshed at times, and second, because I just wanted to get out there and see what was happening at the aid station. The whole time I was there waiting for Mindy, I saw familiar face after familiar face, which I loved. I even loved seeing/helping the unfamiliar faces. There was most definitely a sense of community and a feeling that we're all family helping each other out.

Also while waiting, you learn things. Things like how to pack your drop bags. Thank you, Michael R., for teaching me about packing toothbrushes! Why have I not thought of that before?!

Vanessa in action with her ultra (get it!) organized gear pack. It folds into a square.

Also, you see new products that your friends swear by and you are tempted to try. RunGoo, anyone?

Mindy arrived sometime after 2 a.m., and she was smiling. But having run with her many times before, I knew she wasn't 100%. I mean, who would be at mile 69? But she didn't eat much at the aid station, and when we took off, our pace that started off as a hike got slower and slower and slower. Eventually turning to a weave. Of course, at the time, I tried not to mention to her how worried about her I was. About a mile before the aid station she started asking me about cut-off times, but I didn't want her to freak out about the time. So I tried to gloss over the numbers and then told her that the only thing she needed to worry about was taking in some food at the next aid station. She had been nauseated and unable to eat, but she was going to have to find a way to keep something down because the truth was that the cutoff times were getting closer and closer to us while we got slower and slower. If she could get down some salty broth and some calories, she still had a chance to finish. 

About that time, two trail angels, I-still-think-they're-twins-but-they-claim-to-just-be-sisters Emily and Jennifer, came smiling and bubbling happily along the trail and offered some espresso beans. Mindy ate two or three, which woke her up a miniature bit and got her to the aid station.

Pinnacle, the next aid station at mile 70ish, was run by our local BUTS (Birmingham Ultra Trail Society) crew, so every face was a familiar one, and they all wanted to know how Mindy was doing. At this point she was doing still doing really crappy, but I didn't want to say that out loud to them. Instead of voicing that it was getting sketchy, I made weird faces like this. 

And talked about how much better she was going to feel after she ate. 

The effect of food was almost immediate. She went from a walking zombie to a talking, non-weaving person again, and we were able to pick up the pace and run some of the flats and downhills. Slowly fighting against those cutoffs that had gotten scarily close. 

I knew that my family campsite was .8 miles before our handoff point (meeting another friend to pace to the finish) at Bull's Gap, mile 85, and we kept thinking we were almost there, then of course not being there. As soon as we saw the tents and heard the kids yelling at us, I looked at my watch, and we had 12 minutes. A lot of time to run .8 miles on a normal day, just not a huge surplus when you are at mile 84 of 100. Where I had been ahead of Mindy pulling her up the mountain with my invisible pacer rope, now she took off ahead of me for the first time the whole night and used her 47th wind (she was way past her second) of the race to book it to the aid station and fight against that cutoff.

Basically, with all of the pain and fatigue weighing her body down, she was able to shake it off and push past it when it was time to fight. 

The two miracles of the power of nutrition and the power of the human spirit will stay with me long after this night. Oh, and Mindy didn't let the cutoff nab her! She continued pushing and crossed the finish line in a little over 29 hours. That's 20 plus 9 hours of running. Incredible!

Handing off Mindy to Elena.

Some other things that I learned:

Pinhoti has nailed-in reflector dots on the trees (at least on the paths we were taking), which at the time seemed like the coolest thing ever. 

Can you see the reflector pins?

After running all night, sunrise is the best medicine for weariness.

And I learned that I can run without sleeping for 24 hours! I was of course exhausted the next day, but it was possible and really not that bad to keep moving cloaked in darkness until sunrise. So I didn't have to run 50 miles and then continue running through the night, but I still feel happy with the accomplishment because I've always seen running through the night as a hurdle to running a 100 miler. 

What's the most you've ever run at night? What type of gear do you count on for dark runs? I just had my Black Diamond headlamp and a handheld flashlight as backup. 

What top three items would you put in 100-miler drop bags? I am adding toothbrush to my list. Those gels are so horrible for your teeth. 

Have you ever paced anyone? For what? I love pacing people because it gives me a chance to make someone else's goals a priority over my own, and there is lot of joy in witnessing friends (and even strangers) reach their goals/dreams.

October 24, 2014

The alternative peanut butter and jelly sandwich

Pretty much every year for forever, the kids have had someone in their school class with a peanut butter allergy. And with me being a kind-of-embarrassed-to-admit-that-i-only-cook-when-necessary mom, pb&js are a staple in this house. When I was pregnant with the twins and would get nauseated just looking at food coupons (not a joke), I set up a pb&j survival station in our kitchen so that the older two kids could make their own and live through nine months of me not being able to walk into the kitchen.

So what do you do when for an entire school year, you cannot pack your standard go-to sandwich? You think of an alternative.

Here are some things we tried that the kids didn't go for:
  • Just a jelly sandwich. Not a winner with my bunch.
  • A cream cheese sandwich. Turns out they only enjoy cream cheese when it is an ingredient in cake frosting.
  • A couple of plain pieces of cinnamon raisin bread stacked together to fake being a sandwich. Yup, they noticed that it wasn't. So no. 

Something that worked that I didn't feel great about feeding them: 
  • Nutella sandwiches. These were a hit, but without even looking at the ingredients, I can tell you that anything that tastes that addictive cannot be good for you. Look away from the Nutella. 

I know what you're thinking (or at least what I'm thinking), but peanut butter and jelly sandwiches aren't that healthy for your kid either. But they at least cover some of the bases, like protein and sugar-coated fruit. We all have to draw the line somewhere. I draw the line at is this easy enough that a six year old can do it and does it have regular ole processed sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. See? Standards are important.

So I came up with the chia seed and jelly sandwich. Yes, it warrants the giant font. 

We all know chia seeds are magic because we read about it in Born to Run, which btw if you have not read, get on it! Just throw the words Aztec superfood around a few times, and bam, people are crazy go nuts for chia seeds.

But here are the facts.

Versus peanut butter.

The chia sees don't have as much protein or potassium as peanut butter, but they have more fiber, magnesium, calcium and iron. So it's a good swap for us. 

We buy chia seeds in bulk and store them in jars. So when it's time to make the sandwich, I just scoop out a tablespoon and carefully pour it onto a slice of bread, and then I scoop out jelly on top of it and slowly mix the seeds into the jelly. I say carefully because chia seeds can easily roll off and make a giant mess. It would be smart to premix the jelly and chia seeds before making the sandwich, but I haven't made it that far yet. 

So what do the kids think? They love it. Really, they have not complained once that they are tired of Aztec superfoods, and we packed this sandwich for lunch every day this week.

Artwork created under the influence of chia seed and jelly sandwiches.

Do you or your kids pack a lunch? 

What is your go-to lunchbox food? 

October 16, 2014

Crusher Ridge, Nashville Half, and a new dog

When life throws you a hundred frisbees at once, you're going to drop some of them. You can guess at least one of the ones I dropped by my sporadic posting on el blog.

One of those frisbees (which I am hopefully not dropping) is the planning for Crusher Ridge 5K/21K/42K, wrapping up with race day in a week and a half. Go here to sign up or check out the competition. There will be prizes for the top men and women and a post-race raffle of Oiselle awesomeness and other Alabama Outdoors goodies.

Part of planning a race is exploring the race course. Which is always more fun with friends!

With a couple miles to go, we accidentally irritated some hornets. I got stung once on the leg, and I think it tried to sting my calf. But I was wearing my compression socks, and they blocked the sting. Take that, hornets. Well, sort of, except one week later, this is the size of the sting on the back of my leg. It was super itchy, on the same I-want-to-claw-my-skin-off level as poison ivy itchiness. Somehow, this was my first ever trail running stinging insect run-in. 

And on the not-race-planning side of things, I picked up this book from the Bell Center fundraiser at Resolute Running. Local artists donated their goods for auction, with all proceeds going to help the kids who use the Bell Center, an early intervention center for kids who are at risk for developmental delays. Trail Magic is a memoir, written by a Birmingham author/graphic artist, about an epic, 3K-mile bike ride. There is a possibility that by the end of the first chapter I was dreaming about a bike riding adventure. Between that and hiking the Appalachian Trail, my dreams are getting pretty booked.

And when I wasn't reading, running, dreaming up ridiculous adventures, and kitchen renovating (we are so close to being done!), I was spending time with family. 

Date night!

Grandpa visit in Kentucky

Aunt visit in Alabama

Pumpkin carving with the relatives!

And we are now the caretakers of a new-to-us dog. Our cousins found the sweetest dog in the woods by their farm. After trying unsuccessfully to locate the original owner (no tag, no chip, and no one contacting the Humane Society), they let us give him a new home. We don't know what type of dog he is, although some guesses are that he is a yorkie poo or a bichon frise. He is about four years old (vet estimate) and not fixed (don't worry, Bob Barker, he is now!), which is a little strange unless he was being bred by someone.

Gorki Chine Chocolate (Gorki for short) is pretty much the opposite of our last dog, calm and happy and doesn't like to attack our friends. My husband thinks he's too much like a cat, which is exactly what I like about him! 


On the running front, I have a 17-mile trail race this weekend at Oak Mountain State Park. I'm just in it to enjoy it, so no crazy expectations. And after all of the racing in November and October, I'm taking a long desired and awaited break. Not from exercise in general, but from racing.


Remember the giveaway that I hosted for the Women's Running Series Nashville Half. Our winner completed the course, a success for a hot day! Here's an excerpt from her race report:

Two things I would change about this race are 1) the horrid electrolyte drink served and 2) a race bib that was simply too large - large enough to be in the way. But, there was so many more positives.  We had plenty of water stops and tons of crowd support. TONS.  Every street was closed. No one-laners for us.  Sweet. [Think about those logistics in a big tourist city.] The support we received was truly spectacular. Never having been to Nashville, this was a great way to see the city.

For her full report, check out her blog at!


How is your fall race schedule shaping up? Are you winding up or winding down? I really need this wind down time.

Ever been stung while out running? (don't try it!)

Are you a dog or cat family? Or a fish family? Or none of the above? We were a fish family after we lost our previous dog a few years ago. But hopefully we can merge seamlessly back into being a dog family.