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My family has embarked on a mission to visit all 59 U.S. national parks. Most recently we visited Kings Canyon National Park over Memorial Day weekend.

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Grizzly Falls flowing strong with all the water from the melting snow pack in May 2017

There isn’t enough time before my oldest daughter leaves for college in three years (what?!) but we’re going to do our best to make progress down the list (next up is camping in Channel Islands National Park). If you’re interested in doing the same thing, here is a handy resource I’ve created to help you mark your progress — a free downloadable spreadsheet listing all 59 national parks by state (choose the printable PDF or Excel spreadsheet):

U.S. National Parks by State PDF

U.S. National Parks by State Excel

Have you visited many U.S. national parks? What’s your favorite? I have visited 20 national parks but just seven with all three of my children so far (the older girls have visited more but my youngest has visited 7 parks in her almost 9 years of age). My favorite so far? Hard to pick! It doesn’t seem fair to compare. But I do love archaeology and I’m looking forward to taking my girls to Mesa Verde National Park someday soon.

 

First, some quick updates:

  1. Boston: An American Running Story. Lots of people have expressed disappointment that they missed the premiere screening of Boston: An American Running Story (read my review here) and have asked where they can see it. Screenings were just announced for May 15 and 21 in select theaters in Canada, and the producers are working on additional screenings and potential deals for streaming of the movie on sites like Netflix. The best way to hear news of viewing opportunities seems to be through the Facebook page for the movie.
  2. StrideBox. If my review of the StrideBox subscription service piqued your interest, you can use my discount code 5FFM417 through May 15, 2017, to get $5 off your first box when you sign up for a monthly StrideBox subscription.
  3. Podcasts. I recently recommended the Run to the Top Podcast on my list of favorite running podcasts, mainly because of the fabulous job Tina Muir did as the podcast host. She has since moved on to start her own podcast, and I highly recommend you check it out: The Running for Real Podcast. I enjoyed her recent episodes with Matt Fitzgerald (author of the books The Endurance Diet and How Bad Do You Want It? among many others) and James Dunne (check out his strength and stability tips and videos at Kinetic Revolution).

Okay, now for the topic I wanted to discuss: How can you tell if it’s running burnout or something else? After I qualified for Boston 2016 at the Phoenix Marathon in 2015, I decided to run Boston “just for fun” and not for time. It had taken me several hard training cycles to qualify for Boston with enough of a margin to meet the cutoff to actually register (I first qualified at the Santa Rosa Marathon but did not meet the cutoff to register for Boston 2015). I was feeling a little run down (no pun intended) and decided to cut back my training by following an intermediate marathon training plan instead of an advanced marathon training plan.

Even though I ran Boston for fun and not for time, my finishing time at Boston was still a little disappointing to me. I blamed that on the heat that year. Then I focused on helping my daughter and husband train to run their first half marathons at the Fontana Days Run in June 2016. I enjoyed training for a half marathon instead of a full. But when I tried to pick my training back up over the summer, I found that my motivation was low and I just wasn’t getting that feeling of satisfaction that I usually got after a workout. I felt like I was hanging on to my fitness by my fingernails. I figured I was simply burned out after years of chasing that Boston Marathon qualifier, and maybe I had overtrained. I also blamed the stress of my going back to work for the first time in many years. As we all know, emotional stress can take a physical toll, so I tried to cut myself some slack if a workout didn’t go quite as planned.

Then I ran the Death Valley Marathon in a time that was 51 minutes off my PR. I hit the wall at mile 16 and struggled simply to finish the race. And it only went downhill from there. In the days after the marathon, even the easy runs were hard. I started to slow to a walk at some point during every run. Now, I am all for a run/walk plan if that’s what works for you. I wasn’t planning on walking though, and needing to walk during an easy run was very unusual for me. Then I started to feel short of breath. That was the final straw. I knew it wasn’t just a simple case of burnout or overtraining. Something was wrong. At my next appointment with the endocrinologist (I go at least annually to make sure my thyroid levels are normal), I agreed to have some blood work done. Lo and behold, my iron level and white blood cell counts were low. My doctor diagnosed me with iron-deficiency anemia and put me on daily iron and B-12 supplements. It’s been a month and my levels are back to normal again (low normal — I’ll still be taking a reduced dose of iron for another two months at least, and we’re still working on addressing why I was anemic in the first place). I’ve just now gotten back to running 4-6 miles without stopping, and I nearly cheered out loud when I hit 20 miles total for the week last week. I don’t have another marathon on my calendar yet, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

So, the moral of my story is: listen to your body. As runners, we are very in tune with our bodies, and our instincts will tell us when something is really wrong. If you’re feeling burned out, there’s no harm in getting a simple blood panel done to see if there’s a medical reason for it.

Have you ever felt run down and burned out on running? Have you experienced anemia as a runner? I’d love to hear how others overcame a health setback in running and got back on track, so to speak.

Last night I ditched my responsibilities at home to enjoy a rare night out by myself, on a weeknight no less! I got to attend a special event: the local movie premiere of Boston: An American Running Story!

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The film opened to rave reviews from runners everywhere, and I happily add my favorable review to the pile. The movie offers everything you would want from a film about the iconic Boston Marathon — facts about the history of the race, old film footage of the race and past interviews with the winners, and current interviews with those most intimately involved in the race. It sounds terribly cliché but I laughed, I cried, and I felt inspired.

I highly recommend the movie for runners everywhere — those who want to run Boston, those who have run Boston, and those who just want to enjoy a great film about the history of running. I think the people of Boston would love the film too; it’s a real tribute to all the people involved in putting on the race and all the supporters who come out to line the race course each year. I ran the race in 2016 and that’s what I remember most — the unparalleled support I felt from the crowd from the starting line to the finish.

This film highlights the 2014 race, a triumphant return of the event after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. It certainly was difficult to watch the footage of the bombings, but the film treated it in just the right way — not giving any attention to the perpetrators but rather focusing on the victims and the heroes of the day.

This is a film I know I’ll want to watch over and over again, adding it to Spirit of the Marathon as one of the films I will watch for inspiration before I run another marathon.

Did you see the film, or will you watch it when it becomes available near you?

March is the month that podcasters are encouraging their listeners to share their favorite podcasts in an effort to get more people to try a pod.

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I am happy to share my favorites as a thank you to those podcasters who have gotten me out the door for many a run. I’m one of those kooky people who do not listen to music while I run (yes, we do exist). I love to listen to podcasts and audiobooks though, and I rarely run without one or the other.

My favorite podcasts are:

1. Another Mother Runner: These ladies first introduced me to podcasts and I’ve loved them (the ladies and their podcasts) ever since. Not only do they have great guests and content, they also are completely relatable and I simply enjoy catching up with them each week. So many times I’ve laughed out loud as I listened to their opening dialogues and interviews. This podcast grew out of their books Run Like a Mother, Train Like a Mother, and Tales from Another Mother Runner and the wonderful Another Mother Runner community that has sprouted around those books. New podcasts come out every Friday, just in time for listening to on a weekend long run. And guess what? I sent in a voice memo about training with my teenager for a half marathon and you can hear that clip on today’s episode (at about the 12:30 mark if you want to fast-forward to it): How to Get Your Kid(s) Involved in Running.

2. Run to the Top Podcast from RunnersConnect: Tina Muir does an excellent job hosting this informative podcast with high quality guests. She’s an elite athlete who manages to be both humble and inspiring as she shares content that appeals to beginners and professional runners alike.

3. The Rich Roll Podcast: If you’re a fan of Rich Roll and his book Finding Ultra then you might also enjoy his podcast. He has a unique perspective and his podcast is one of the few that goes long-form with one- to two-hour interviews with a wide variety of guests, from celebrities to fitness experts. He hits heavy on the topics of sobriety and veganism, but there’s something there for everyone.

4. The Conscious Runner Podcast: Listening to the Conscious Runner host Lisah Hamilton is like listening to your own personal coach and running friend. She has a lot to teach a new runner and anyone who wants to improve running form and speed. Her guests range from experts to everyday runners, and they all share a passion for running that will keep you inspired to get out there and do your best.

5. Human Race Podcast by Runner’s World: This relatively new podcast features human interest pieces that share the stories of various runners and the running community.

6. The Runner’s World Show: This show hosted by Runner’s World Editor-in-Chief David Willey is an interesting mix of running news, tips, and interviews.

Are any of these on your favorites list too? What are your go-to podcasts, running-related or otherwise? I would love to hear your recommendations!

Sometimes I’m lucky enough to get some great free stuff to review. StrideBox kindly sent me two boxes full of running goodies over the last two months. Let me just say straight up that I’m a pretty thrifty (okay fine, call me cheap) person and usually I would not sign up for a subscription service like StrideBox. But I also believe that money spent on fitness is money well spent, and at the current price of $15 per month, I can see how StrideBox is a good value for the avid runner. I particularly love that there are various gift subscriptions available (hint hint) without any long-term commitment.

First of all, it was a delight to receive a box in the mail. There’s something so fun and indulgent about receiving a package and opening it up to see what’s inside. And the great thing about StrideBox is that you’re bound to find at least one or two gems in each box. Not everything is going to be a winner, but that’s okay! It’s worth it to find out you didn’t like that particular protein cookie, but you really loved that flavor of protein bar.

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I wonder what’s inside this carefully wrapped StrideBox?

My first box contained lots of wonderful goodies.

 

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My absolute favorite, and something that I wouldn’t have found on my own, were the iGloves. They are the perfect weight for a chilly SoCal morning and they actually work when I try to start a podcast on my iPhone. No more tearing off my gloves in frustration when I want to answer a text or open the MapMyRun app.

I was surprised to find that I liked the Yogurt Berry PR Bar better than the Peanut Butter Granola one (which was also good, but both my 8-year-old and I preferred Yogurt Berry).

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Can’t forget the sports detergent that was in the box too.

In the second box, I found a few more favorites.

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Lots of goodies, treats and tips.

I am already a fan of Honey Stinger Waffles in my marathon training, and I am excited to try the Wildflower Honey flavor. And the morning I opened the box, I used the new-to-me Escape SPF 50 lip balm – a must-have in sunny Southern California. I look forward to having the HyperGo After Sports Wipe when I am out and about, trying a new trail somewhere while one of my kids is at ballet camp or tennis camp this summer and I’m squeezing in a run while waiting to pick her up. Love the massage tool too – that will really come in handy after a long run.

All in all I recommend StrideBox for a fun treat for yourself or the passionate runner in your life!

On a cool and beautiful Saturday morning in February, 87 hearty souls raced through the desert to complete the 2017 Death Valley Marathon. The course runs through spectacular Death Valley National Park along the same road traveled by the infamous Badwater 135 ultra marathon.

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View of the starting line on Highway 190.

Instead of the national anthem, the race director led us all in a more appropriate and moving rendition of America the Beautiful.

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Marathoners and their friends gathered for the 8 a.m. start. You can play “Where’s Angela” and find me in the purple top toward the front of the group.

Before the race, I worried that the out-and-back course might be a bit dull, with the same view for miles. I needn’t have worried, as the park is gorgeous and the course winds through the valley with ever-changing views of mountains to the east and west. Also, while the course boasts less than 325 feet of elevation gain, that number is deceptive. It felt to me like we were usually on a slight uphill or downhill grade on rolling hills and rarely running on just flat pavement.

The course roadway is open to park visitors, but I found the vast majority of drivers to be extremely respectful of the runners. We ran on the west shoulder at all times, and while that meant a little jockeying for position at the beginning of the race, the runners soon spread out and by the second half, I often found myself running alone through the desert. Spectators are not allowed on the course, and aid stations are only every three miles. The stations were well-stocked but I thought the Gatorade was a little too watered down (that is foreshadowing, in case you didn’t catch that).

I really enjoyed the first half of the course. The problem for me came around mile 16 when my calves started cramping. I can only speculate that I undertrained for the race or underfueled during the race, or some combination of the two. I had brought my own homemade sports drink that worked fine for me in training but obviously did not do the trick in the race, and the Gatorade on the course didn’t make up for it in the final miles. My splits went from a super-consistent 8:52.6 and 8:52.4 in miles 8-9 and 8:58.8 and 8:58.9 in miles 14-15 to 13:56 for mile 21 and 15:03 for mile 24! At one point I considered whether I wanted to drop out of the race (that might have been the time I heard the raven caw above me and wondered if that was a vulture coming for my carcass when I dropped to the ground. I might have gotten a tad bit dramatic in my suffering). I asked myself if I was going to injure myself by continuing. When the answer was no, I asked myself if I would feel better if I stopped, or better if I finished. I knew for certain that I would feel better if I finished, so I set my mind to it. I decided that I needed to take the focus off my cramping, painful calves, and concentrate on something that didn’t hurt. Somewhere after I really hit the wall in mile 20, I started counting my arm swings. My arms didn’t hurt, and I felt more powerful and in control as I counted each time my right fist punched forward. Long story short, by the time I finished the race, I had counted over 4,200 swings of my right arm. I got into a zen zone by the final miles, and brought my pace back down from 15:03 to 12:38 for mile 25 and 11:37 for mile 26! Mike brought the girls to the finish line, and they gave me a burst of energy as I ran the final 0.33 in a pace of 9:46.

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The most special moment of the race, as the girls ran with me to the finish.

I finished in 4:28:01, a full 51 minutes off my PR of 3:36:58 (recap of the Phoenix Marathon here). I had hoped to come in under 4 hours, but no such luck. My final stats:

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The first place male and female finishers came in at a blazing 2:49:40 and 3:21:08 respectively. Including all of the 87 finishers, the average finish time was 4:39:40.

If I had to do it over, I would train harder (though I thought I had trained well, with 3 20-milers under my belt), and carry Gatorade instead of my homemade sports drink. Or perhaps, knowing what I know now, I would have opted to do the half marathon and had more time to view the rest of the national park, which truly wowed me with how beautiful it is in the winter. [Edited to add: a couple of weeks after this race, I ended up getting some blood work done and I found out that I had iron-deficiency anemia. No wonder my race time was significantly off my best time! I’m happy to report that my running has started to get back to normal after some iron supplements prescribed by my doctor.]

I was very happy to find that the finish line fare included trail mix with nuts, raisins and M&Ms (heaven!) and a pretzel mix too. I picked up my cotton race t-shirt, which I will wear with pride. While I didn’t finish anywhere near the time I hoped, I am unusually proud of myself for finishing this race. The marathon always has something to teach me, even in my 8th one. This time I learned that the mind really can control the body. My mind carried me through 10 miles after my legs started cramping. It wasn’t pretty, but it was a pretty impressive display of sheer determination.

It’s been three weeks since the race and I’m back up to running 10 miles for my long run this weekend. I am still thinking through what I’d like to take on next. Do I choose another marathon after three particularly hard experiences (REVEL Canyon City, Boston and this one)? Or turn to a different challenge? All I know is I like having a big goal, so I’d better start planning.

What was your hardest race and why? Have you been to Death Valley? (If not, you should go — in the winter!)

Five years ago I first ran the local school district’s Turkey Trot 5K. (Five years ago? How can that be?!) I couldn’t run it again until now because the date always conflicted with my fall marathon training. But it fit in nicely this year since my next marathon is not until February 4, the Death Valley Marathon. I didn’t train specifically for a 5K and I only tapered two days for this race, so I didn’t have a great idea of what I should set for my race goal. It’s a hilly course so I knew I couldn’t expect to come close to my 5K PR of 22:19 set at the Downtown Anaheim 5K over a year ago, but I at least wanted to beat my time from the 2011 Turkey Trot, 24:37, and I hoped to come in under 24 minutes.

It was a gorgeous morning for racing. Cool but not cold, sunny but not blinding.

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292 finishers participated in this lovely neighborhood race.

The junior high choir sang a beautiful rendition of the national anthem, and then promptly at 8 a.m. we set off with the sound of the blow horn. So many youngsters took off at a blistering pace and my job in the beginning was not to trample any little kids. You would think I would learn not to get swept up in the excitement and go out too fast with them, but when I first checked my Garmin the pace said something in the 6 minute mile range! Oops. I reined it in over the rest of the mile and the mile splits for the race ended up being 7:39, 8:02, and 7:57. Maybe someday I’ll master 5K pacing and not suffer so much in the 2nd and 3rd miles!

I raced the big finish line clock down the home stretch to come in just under 24 minutes as I hoped. My Garmin said 23:56. But then I checked the official race results and my time said 24:07. So unsatisfying! That’s the problem with races that are not chip timed, I guess. I shouldn’t care so much, but I do, so I ended up writing the timing company to ask why my result didn’t match the finish line clock (I don’t expect my result to match my Garmin, but I do expect it to come within a few seconds of what the finish line clock said). At any rate, I was happy with my effort in the race and pleased to win 1st in my age group out of 20 women ages 40-49 (I am 45).

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The first place medal came with $15 in gift certificates to A Snail’s Pace running shop in Brea.

Saturday is my long run day and my plan called for a long bike ride (this plan from Smart Marathon Training sometimes substitutes long rides for long runs, which I find very refreshing). So after the race I drove to a paved path and rode the ElliptiGO for an hour and 40 minutes.

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Oh how I love a dedicated bike path!

That hour and 40 minutes on the ElliptiGO was truly easier and more fun than running a race for 24 minutes, let me tell you! I listened to running podcasts (Another Mother Runner had on Dean Karnazes and The Runner’s World Show talked about Running While Female) and enjoyed all the thumbs-up I got for the ElliptiGO, which remains a curiosity on the trails.

Are you watching the NYC Marathon today? Because I don’t have cable I’ve had to content myself with following the live coverage on Twitter. Hooray for American Molly Huddle coming in 3rd for the women in her marathon debut with a time of 2:28:13!