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Butterfly birthday cakeMy youngest daughter turned six last week. Good thing she’s such a delightful six-year-old or I would be having more trouble with the fact that my baby is definitely not a baby anymore. She asked for a “spring” theme for her birthday party, and that morphed (butterfly pun intended) into a butterfly theme. So this weekend we had a houseful of 13 kids and 15 adults for a pool party and barbecue, kicked off with butterfly-themed crafts that appealed to girls and boys ages 4-13.

First each child decorated his or her own party favor bag (three for a dollar at Dollar Tree; I chose pink, yellow and orange). The kids used glitter glue ($1 pack from Dollar Tree) and permanent markers to draw pictures or write their names on their bags.

My 9-year-old stuck with the butterfly theme for her party favor bag.

My 9-year-old stuck with the butterfly theme for her party favor bag.

Then each child got to select a small wooden picture frame (in the shape of a butterfly, sun or flower, $1 each at Target) to decorate with Sharpies and/or stickers.

More of my 9-year-old's handiwork, just waiting for a picture to put in the frame.

More of my 9-year-old’s handiwork, just waiting for a picture to put in the frame.

Then came the most fun project: making milk carton butterflies to hang on the windows with suction cup hooks.

milk jug butterfly window craft

Supplies: rinsed clear plastic milk jugs, Sharpies of all colors, pipe cleaners cut in half, assorted beads, and suction cup hooks (pack of 12 for $1 at Dollar Tree). I followed the directions from AlphaMom for these Milk Jug Decorative Window Crafts and printed the free butterfly template from that page. The kids did surprisingly well with little assistance needed from me. Even my 6-year-old liked to cut out around the butterfly when she was done. And here are the finished products mounted on our butterfly wall:

My 12-year-old made butterfly decorations for the party and the kids added their milk jug butterflies during the party!

My 12-year-old made butterfly decorations for the party and the kids added their milk jug butterflies during the party!

After swimming and dinner, we finished the party with the beautiful butterfly cake below (I can call it beautiful without bragging because I didn’t make it — my husband and my 6-year-old baked and decorated the cake themselves!)

Butterfly birthday cake

To make the cake they followed the instructions from this How to Make a Butterfly Cake tutorial by Betty Crocker, but they used this DC Cupcakes vanilla cupcake recipe for the cake mix and frosting. The rainbow-colored candy sticks for the body of the butterfly were $4.99 for a pack of 25 from Party City.

So, with a little advance planning and shopping, we had a lot of fun with the butterfly theme!

Do you have a favorite birthday memory? My favorite birthday theme was an angel-themed party complete with angel wings, gold halos and an angel birthday cake with tiny silver decorative balls on it!

To make up for my absence on this computer diary of life, let’s play a game called: What’s Fit Fun Mom Been Up To? Has she:

(A) Been kayaking, hiking, horseback riding, trail running, doing yoga, standup paddle boarding, biking, and running,

(B) Narrowly avoided being bitten by a dog on a bike ride (I mean, Fit Fun Mom on a bike ride, not the dog on a bike ride — now that would really be something to write about),

(C) gotten lost on a 70-mile bike ride (gee, maybe the title of this post is a hint?),

(D) panicked about the fact that the Santa Rosa Marathon is less than seven weeks away, or

(E) all of the above.

If you picked E, you are a winner!

While I would eventually like to talk about A, B, and D, let’s start with C because dude, 70 miles on the bike! A new personal distance record! And it was awesome. By which I mean that at mile 20 all the Legos were dancing in my head and singing “Everything is awesome!” and I worried that by mile 60 I would be dragging. But at mile 40 the Legos were still dancing and singing, and at mile 60 they were still dancing and singing. Even when I realized that yep, I had indeed missed the turnoff for the correct trail and there was no way I was going to make it home in a total of 63 miles as planned, and I needed to call my husband to tell him I’d be a little longer, and could he maybe finish making the kids breakfast and come pick me up somewhere between where I was and where I wanted to be (our house), depending on how far I made it in the next half hour? K thanks bye.

I had carefully plotted out a 63-mile loop from my house to the Santa Ana River Trail, along the Huntington Beach Path and Pacific Coast Highway to Seal Beach, up the San Gabriel River Trail to the Coyote Creek Trail and back to my house.

My bike, Bullet, next to the Santa Ana Water Bottle Filling Station. How cool is that?

My bike, Bullet, next to the Santa Ana Water Bottle Filling Station. How cool is that?

I had mainly been concerned about riding on the roads, because I simply do not trust cars not to squish me, so I’d paid particular attention to how to get to the dedicated bike paths on side roads or roads with bike lanes. That meant I didn’t pay much attention to how the Coyote Creek Trail breaks off from the San Gabriel River Trail almost immediately after the trailhead in Seal Beach, so the singing Legos and I happily followed the San Gabriel River Trail for miles and miles, wondering where the turnoff would show up and suspecting I’d missed it but who cares because Everything Is Awesome! The funny thing is that my husband and I had ridden the Coyote Creek Trail to the San Gabriel River Trail and back before, just to go to Seal Beach for Thai food (isn’t that why everyone bikes 35 miles?) So I thought I knew where I was going. Except the path was in pretty poor condition when we rode it, and it passed through some ugly industrial areas, and yet on this ride the path was newly paved and mainly followed a pretty garden nursery, the San Gabriel River, and horse properties. I kept celebrating how they’d repaved the path and done such a good job beautifying the trail, and I kept waiting for the industrial section to appear. But of course that was never going to happen because the “newly paved trail” was actually a section of the San Gabriel River Trail I’d never ridden before.

Eventually, about 18-19 miles up the San Gabriel River Trail, after I was pretty darn sure I wasn’t going the right way because I should have reached the other trail by then, and I kept getting closer and closer to the mountains and knew I’d have to turn right sometime, I came to a trail exit on a road I recognized and I knew how to ride the roads until I got to the Whittier Greenway Trail and get home. Mike ended up meeting me at mile 70.09 (4 hours and 21 minutes into the ride) and driving me the remaining three miles home. At that point you might think, “What’s another three miles?” but when I was only supposed to ride 60 for my plan, and 63 was pushing it, and I’d actually ridden 70, it was, I think, smart to stop there and not ride another mile or three.

And that’s how I inadvertently rode 70 miles last Sunday. I texted my friend Seth who has ridden a century (a 100-mile bike ride) before and he confirmed that a 70-miler is indeed enough to train and taper for a century. It’s one of my goals to complete a century someday, and there are two Bike MS century events in Southern California coming up in October. I’m tempted!

Are you an avid bike rider? I ride two to three times a week, either in spin class or on the roads/trails. Each ride is at least 20 miles.

Do you ride as part of your running training? Yes, for a long time I have followed training plans from Run Less, Run Faster or Smart Marathon Training, both of which call for three runs plus at least two cross-training workouts (biking and/or swimming).

Have you ever ridden a century? Nope, but Everything Is Awesome and I totally believe I could do it.

With ten more weeks to go until the Santa Rosa Marathon, my training plan has kicked into high gear. This past week, I laid down my highest training volume ever with 13 hours of running, spinning, and strength workouts, capped with this ride to the beach and back yesterday:

That's a personal distance record on the bike!

That’s a personal distance record on the bike!

My legs felt great after the ride but my everything else hurt! Today my shoulders and neck remind me that they held a helmet up yesterday for four hours, but no other body parts register any complaints. I am still grateful though that the plan calls for just 30 minutes of core work today.

Generally with marathon training I put in about eight hours of exercise a week, so this plan is taking me into new territory. The plan actually called for about 10 hours of exercise, but I had to bump the long run to Monday instead of Sunday and that put the total for the week at 13 hours. I’m on high alert for overtraining and/or injuries but so far so good. Putting a lot of miles on the bike allows me to increase the training time without increasing the strain on my legs.

Bike: 105 miles (25 miles on Tuesday, 20 miles on Thursday, 60 miles on Sunday)
Run: 37.75 miles (long run of 18 miles that got pushed from a week ago Sunday to Monday, plus the killer 12.25 mile ladder workout on Wednesday, plus 7.5 “easy” miles on Friday)
Strength: 30 minutes (I’ve been doing at least two strength workouts per week for an hour total but this week I traded one of the strength workout days for the long run)

Saturday was a “rest” day if you call five hours of housecleaning “rest.” I celebrated the accomplishments of the day by harvesting the apples from our trees:

These are the low-chill varieties of apples called Anna and Dorsett Golden.

These are the low-chill varieties of apples called Anna and Dorsett Golden.

Yes you can grow apples in Southern California! The Annas grew to a nice size this year and the Dorsett Goldens are tiny but tasty.

How many hours of exercise do you generally get in a week?

Personally I like Pi Day, March 14 (3.14, get it?):

Chocolate meringue pie that I baked for the 6th graders to celebrate Pi Day

Chocolate meringue pie that I baked for the 6th graders to celebrate Pi Day

But National Running Day is also a day I can get behind. I celebrated it today with Rice Krispies Treats. No, I’m only kidding, I celebrated it with a whopper of a speed workout (and then I ate some Rice Krispies Treats).

I budgeted an hour for my run this morning, not realizing that this was the King of All Speed Workouts:

1 mile warmup

(400m, 800m, 1,200m, 800m, 400m) times 3,
at 10K pace (7:41, 7.8 mph)

rest interval of 400m jog in between each repeat

1 mile cooldown

= 12.25 miles in 1:55:45.

So, I celebrated National Running Day twice, running the first 6.25 miles in the hour I budgeted before my youngest daughter’s swim lessons, and running the last 6 miles after we got home from getting frozen yogurt. (Yes, fine, I had frozen yogurt and Rice Krispies Treats today, but only because the girls got Yogurtland coupons from the summer reading program at the library and this is the Summer of Yes, as in “Can we get frozen yogurt at Frozen Yogurtland?” (that’s what my 5-year-old calls it). Answer, “Yes.” (Within reason of course. “Can we watch eleventy billion hours of television?” Answer, “No.”)

What’s up with the 12.25-mile speed workout? That’s a long run by most people’s standards. But I’m following the Smart Marathon Training intermediate marathon training plan, and I think it called for the King of All Speed Workouts because this week’s “long run” is replaced with a “long bike” of 60 miles. That will be a new personal distance record for me on the bike, by the way. Just a few weeks ago I did 50 miles in 3 hours 15 minutes. I confess that during that time there was never a moment that I said, “Gee, I really wish I were running 20 miles instead of biking today.”

If I prefer biking to running, then why do I run?

National Running Day I Run

Did you celebrate National Running Day? Why do you run?

Irrational thought number one: If I talk about my goal to qualify for the Boston Marathon someday, that will jinx it. Such hubris will be punished by the running gods.

Cliché-filled thought number two: That’s ridiculous! Own your goal! You’ve got to believe it to achieve it!

So, here’s an honest look at what I’m thinking right now. I’m 42 years old and currently need a 3:45 to qualify for Boston.

Previous marathon times:

4:02:39 at the Santa Barbara International Marathon (race recap) in 2012

3:57:29 at the Mountains2Beach Marathon (race recap) in 2013

3:52:42 at the Long Beach International City Bank Marathon (race recap) in 2013

That means I need to cut 7 minutes and 42 seconds off my time to qualify for Boston. That might not sound like a lot over the course of 26.2 miles, but it’s the difference between running at a pace of 8:52 per mile (about 6.8 miles per hour) and 8:35 per mile (about 7 miles per hour) for those 26.2 miles. Take into account that it’s hard to run the tangents perfectly for 26.2 miles, and I really need to hit more like an 8:31 pace (7.04 miles per hour) for 26.4 miles.

How do I plan to do that? Well, I’ve been mixing up my training with more hill training, strength workouts, and speed drills. Then I tested my legs by training and tapering specifically for a half marathon. I came in at 1:48:02, and promptly plugged that time into the McMillan Running Calculator, which predicts that if I can run a half marathon at 1:48:02, I can train to run a full marathon at 3:47:22 (so close to 3:45)! Adjust for the fact that the half marathon had 764 feet of gain over 13.1 miles, while the full marathon course only has 300 feet of gain over 26.2 miles, and I’m optimistic! But then adjust again for the fact that it’s likely to be hotter for the Santa Rosa Marathon in August than it was for the half in Santa Ynez in May, and adjust again for the fact that it’s a challenge for me to fuel properly for 26.2 miles, and I’m completely humbled and intimidated by the prospect of running another full marathon.

All of those calculations and speculations led me to examine the Boston Qualifying standards again, and something stood out to me. The Boston Qualifying rules state that for the age group qualifying standards:

The qualifying times . . . are based upon each athlete’s age on the date of the Boston Marathon in which they are participating.

Did you get that and what it means? It means that in order for me to bump up to the 3:55 qualifying standard from the current 3:45, I can run a qualifying marathon time for the 2017 Boston Marathon in the fall of 2015 when I am age 44 (because qualifying times for the 2017 marathon must be run on or after mid-September 2015). Right?

So, to put it another way, I realized that if I don’t qualify for Boston 2015 at Santa Rosa in August or for Boston 2016 at Surf City in February with a 3:45, I could go for a Boston 2017 time at a fall race in 2015 when I’m 44 but will be age 45 at the time of Boston 2017, which pushes my necessary qualifying time to 3:55. So that means if I can hang on to or better my current PR of 3:52 for another year, I might just make it! Of course, the rules and standards for qualifying could change between now and then, but it seems encouraging to me.

Am I looking at this correctly? Have you qualified for Boston and/or are you currently targeting a BQ at an upcoming race?

You wouldn’t know it from my happy recap of the Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon, but the race weekend started out as a comedy of errors. I keep thinking that the older I get, the more capable I will become. Instead, the older I get, the busier my life gets, and therefore the less capable I become! Evidence to follow….

My husband had gone out of town to celebrate his brother’s 40th birthday (as one does), and he planned to return at noon on Friday before the race on Saturday. He had already done a fair bit of work to get the travel trailer ready for us to camp for the weekend just outside the race location in Santa Ynez, but we still needed to pack, load up all the food, and attach the trailer to the car before we picked up the kids early from school and headed out of town. For any number of poorly controlled reasons, we left an hour later than planned, which meant that we hit rush hour traffic through Los Angeles at 3 p.m. on Friday afternoon. A drive that should have taken us 2.5 hours actually took 4.5 hours, and it became clear that I was not going to make packet pick-up for the race at Hotel Corque in Solvang by 7 p.m.

Now, please note that I am no race newbie. I’ve done about 21 other races. You would think that I know the importance of planning ahead and getting to packet pick-up on time. I take races super-seriously (too seriously?) and I recognize that picking up the bib and timing chip is top priority before a race. I’ve even done other races in Malibu and Santa Barbara where LA traffic was an issue for packet pick-up and I vowed to remember that. Still, I found myself stuck in LA in stop-and-go traffic, wondering if I could beg the race organizers to hand over my bib on race day morning.

Thank goodness for a couple of non-runner friends who were traveling down from San Francisco to join us for camping for the weekend. I texted them a copy of my driver’s license and they agreed to stop in Solvang for me. They picked up my bib, timing chip and t-shirt, then strolled around town in search of a brownie (if only I’d been there to treat them to that brownie, or better yet, a bottle of Santa Barbara Wine Country wine!) We ended up meeting at the Cachuma Lake Recreation Area campground around 8 p.m., with me gratefully snatching the race bag and frantically pinning on my bib for the next morning’s race.

But that’s not where the comedy of pre-race errors ends. I quickly realized that in my rush to pack before the race, I had forgotten, of all things, a running t-shirt and shorts. Yes, I am totally embarrassed to admit that. Who does that?! But see, I have an excuse (explanation?) On that Friday before the race, I’d run a shake-out mile. Just a single mile on the treadmill to loosen up my tight calves and assure myself I was ready for the race. I did that mile on my treadmill in my master bedroom. When I run on the treadmill in my master bedroom, I run in underwear and a sports bra, nothing else (sorry for that visual. Or, I suppose, you’re welcome). I mean, come on, who wants to do more laundry than necessary? So when I went to pack for the trip, I packed my running bra, undies, socks, shoes, and Garmin. What else do you need to run, really? Okay, fine, A RUNNING SHIRT AND SHORTS!

Thank goodness my husband came to the rescue. He had some running shorts in his tennis bag. I paired that with the running shirt from the race (major faux pas to wear the shirt from the race before you’ve run it, but a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do), and I was good to go.

This is quite possibly the least flattering running photo of me ever. Please keep in mind that it was 6:30 a.m. in 50-degree weather and I was wearing my husband's running shorts, which make my waist look about three sizes bigger. I shouldn't care but I do.

This is quite possibly the least flattering running photo of me ever. Please keep in mind that it was 6:30 a.m. in 50-degree weather and I was wearing my husband’s running shorts, which make my waist look about three sizes bigger. I shouldn’t care but I do.

The shorts turned out to be quite comfortable and I liked that I could use the pockets to hold the gel that I took around mile six (I had planned to wear my skimpy compression shorts and store the gel in my running bra).

I’m not sure what the moral of this story is. All I know is that I’m grateful for my friends and my husband who supported me through the pre-race debacles (and my other friend who cooked up a delicious post-race omelet when I got back to the campground).

Have you ever missed packet pick-up or forgotten something for the race? This is my first time. I did talk to another friend yesterday who missed the OC Half Marathon race start by 40 minutes (mistaking the last race transportation bus time for the start time), but he was able to start the race 40 minutes late and have his chip time record his actual time!

In the days before the Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon, race jitters got the best of me and I fretted over the course elevation profile and whether or not I could hope for a PR (1:53 or less) or better yet, break 1:50.

The course elevation as recorded by my Garmin. While it might not be perfectly accurate, I'd say it's about right!

The course elevation as recorded by my Garmin. While it might not be perfectly accurate, I’d say it’s about right!

You can see why the elevation gain of 764 feet intimidated me in spite of the net elevation loss. I’d chosen the race because the timing was perfect for me — it fit in my full marathon training for Santa Rosa — and the location is convenient and beautiful. But as I discovered, I don’t really run races for “fun” — I run for the joy of racing hard and doing my best, all while enjoying the privilege of getting to run someplace new on a closed course.

It turns out I needn’t have worried about the difficulty of the course. The race ended up being everything I hoped for and more. The course is absolutely gorgeous — so much so that I asked my family and friends to tour it with me by car after the race because I wanted to see it again and I wanted to show them all. I have never run on a more beautiful course (for the record, this is my 22nd race or so, but only my third half marathon). It starts in the nice little town of Santa Ynez and quickly heads out into the wine country, past vineyards and horse stables and farms, up Corkscrew Hill and down Ballard Canyon to the finish line in charming downtown Solvang.

The weather was gorgeous too — in the low 50s and sunny. The forecast predicted winds of 21 miles per hour (!!) but it turns out those winds only kicked up later in the afternoon.

So what about those hills? Yes, the general grade was noticeably uphill for the first seven miles, with a few rolling hills along with way, capped with the challenging 0.6 miles up Corkscrew Hill. But surprisingly, I did not find it as difficult as I thought it might be to maintain my goal pace on that first half of the course. I knew what to anticipate, and if you have prepared with some hill training before the race, the hills are totally manageable and dare I say, rewarding to conquer. The real reward, though, comes when you get to fly down the canyon for the next four miles! I haven’t had so much fun racing in a long time. The canyon is spectacular, with hills covered in yellows and greens and dotted with a few buffalo!

I’ll take a minute (pun intended) talking about pace, which is probably only interesting to me and anyone else who plans to run this course in the future. I wore a pace band (tip: print it, cut it out, and use clear packing tape to cover the front and back and then — this is the key — around the edges to seal the sides from sweat). I targeted a pace of 8:19 or better in the hopes of hitting 1:49 overall.

The first mile ended up at 8:21 and I quickly realized I’d started a little too far back in the pack. While it’s always better to start slow and build some speed, I dodged more people at the start than I’d like (especially in the first sharp turn right after the start). After that I settled into my own race and found myself pretty comfortable at a good pace: 8:10, 8:02, 8:17, 8:12, 8:34 — an average of 8:16 for the first six miles.

This was my first race in which I relied solely on the course aid stations for water and electrolytes. Aid stations were positioned about every 2 miles and that was perfect for me. I’d grab 2 cups of water or Accelerade and walk a few steps while drinking, then pick up the pace again. I took the one gel I’d carried with me at mile six.

Corkscrew Hill proved challenging but I simply pictured myself on one of the hills I’d bested in training and soon it was over with an average pace of 9:06 for mile 7. Then the fun began. You can tell by my pace alone that I loved the decline for the next four miles: 7:47, 7:31, 7:55, 7:54.

When the course evened out again around mile 11, any slight incline felt like a hill higher and harder than Corkscrew Hill, but then again, any and every race starts to get tough at that point — that’s nothing new or unusual. There are two inclines that I recall, but I pushed hard to maintain my best pace with 8:42 for mile 12 and 7:54 for mile 13. At mile 12.5 I really felt like slowing or outright stopping but I wasn’t about to give up then! Frantic calculations in my head told me that if I could hit a certain pace I would come in under 1:50, or a slightly faster pace under 1:49. I pushed it so hard, and when I came around the final corner in Solvang and I could see the finish line arch, I sprinted in at a 7:20 pace for a final time of 1:48:02! That’s a 5-minute PR over my second half marathon, and a 3-minute PR over my unofficial half marathon split at the Mountains2Beach full marathon! Two people came up to me separately after the race (one man and one woman) and said I had done a good job on pacing and that they had tried to keep up with me. That made me so happy because I have told other people that exact same thing on more than one occasion at other races and it was just such a compliment to have someone congratulate me on my race that way.

I later learned that 1:48:02 put me in 22nd place in my age group (F40-44) of 303 finishers, so the top 7.26%. Even better when you look at all the female finishers (1,777), I came in 103rd to put me in the top 5.8%!

The finish line expo was great with plenty of food, water, electrolyte drinks, and bags of veggie and egg chips, and small bowls of Amy’s brand chili (which I carried around until I recovered sufficiently to tolerate eating it, and then it was the most delicious post-race food ever)! I caught a race transportation bus back to the parking lot at Santa Ynez Valley High School and was back with my family by 10:15.

I highly recommend this race. It’s expensive for a half marathon (I paid $126 with the online service fee) but it’s a great race with a limited field of runners (just over 2,500 finishers?) in a spectacular setting. As I said, the challenge of the course elevation is more than balanced out by the thrill of running down Ballard Canyon at a faster-than-usual pace past stunning views. It would be really fun to get a team of friends together to run the race and celebrate at the wine tasting festival at the finish line ($20 for a wine glass to taste wines from 15 local wineries). I didn’t partake in any wine (not even at the on-course wine stop around mile 6!) because I just wanted to get back to my family, but I could see how it would be a fun way to celebrate your finish with friends and adult relatives.

Did you race this weekend? What’s your next race coming up? My next big race is the Santa Rosa Marathon at the end of August.

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