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Did you ever sign up for a race months in advance, and then those months flew by and you wondered what you were thinking when you signed up for that race? That happened to me when I signed up for the Yosemite Half Marathon.

Yosemite Half Marathon 2018 logo

Had I known months ago that May was going to be so busy for me, I wouldn’t have signed up. And yet, I’m so glad I did, because I loved the race and I loved spending Mother’s Day weekend with my husband and three daughters in Yosemite National Park!

On Friday afternoon we drove seven hours up to the historic Big Trees Lodge (formerly the Wawona Hotel) inside the park. We used our fourth grade “Every Kid in a Park” national park pass to get into the park for free, saving $30, hooray!

Wawona Hotel Big Trees Lodge porch view

After sitting out on the 2nd floor porch and admiring the night sky, we got to bed by 10:30 p.m. and got a whole 4.5 hours of sleep before our race day alarm went off at 2:50 a.m.! I was running the race with my husband Mike and oldest daughter, 16-year-old Shannon. We needed to leave by 3:20 a.m. to make the 35-minute drive to the shuttle bus parking lot at Sierra Star in Oakhurst by 4 a.m. There wasn’t a coffee maker in our hotel room but thankfully the Big Trees Lodge staff agreed to have the night manager make us some coffee at 3 a.m.! He insisted that we take a whole thermos and a cup of cream! I was so appreciative. We ate muffins and bananas in the car on the drive.

We arrived at Sierra Star by 4 a.m. but faced a line of cars waiting to park in the field. It took 15 minutes or so for us to get parked. I was happy to see a row of porta potties set up in the field, along with very nice buses equipped with toilets. We got on a bus by 4:20 a.m. for the ride to the starting line. Unfortunately, our bus driver got lost, we took a 25-minute detour out of our way, and the ride ended up taking 1 hour 20 minutes total. I didn’t mind waiting on a warm bus (and Mike and Shannon both slept), but we got to the starting area around 5:40 a.m. and still had to pick up our bibs and drop our gear before the 6 a.m. start! (Can you hear my famous last words on Friday night, “Oh, we don’t need to go to the expo at Bass Lake Recreation Area; we’ll have an hour at the starting line to pick up our bibs”?) I waited in line to pick up our bibs while Mike hit the porta potties, then he grabbed a gear bag for drop-off at the starting line and we rushed over there with literally 45 seconds to spare. The race was chip timed so it would have been absolutely fine to miss the 6 a.m. start for the first heat (unless you were competing to be a top finisher and wanted an overall award based on your gun time — that wasn’t us!), but we were eager to go.

Race day weather could not have been better with clear sunny skies and temperatures in the low 40s at the start and warming up as the time progressed and the course descended in elevation to the finish at Bass Lake Recreation Area. I think the temperature must have been in the high 60s when we finished just after 8 a.m. I wore long pants and a long-sleeved shirt and wish I would have worn some gloves but my husband and daughter were perfectly fine in shorts and a short-sleeved t-shirt (go figure).

The course runs outside the national park itself but has its own spectacular scenery. I loved running through the woods on the dirt fire road for the first five miles of the course. It’s not an “easy” course by any means — the road was rutted and rocky in places but I thought that made it interesting and fun and the miles clicked by faster than any other race I’ve done. The mountain dogwoods were in full bloom and were so beautiful scattered among the pine trees. The only problem (and it wasn’t really a problem) was that my Garmin lost reception for about 0.4 miles among the trees so it wasn’t recording my mileage or split times accurately, saying we were running a slower pace than we actually were. Then we hit a downhill section from miles 6-10 on a paved road. My daughter and I both loved that section best. We cranked out mile splits in the low 8s and it felt easy. Then we hit the flat and rolling section from miles 10-13.1 and it got tough, as any half marathon gets tough at that point. The race director had warned us that we would hear the finish line across Bass Lake when we still had a ways to go, so we were prepared for that. I loved running in to the finish at the lake. Shannon and I crossed the finish line together at 2:04:50 and 2:04:51, earning her 2nd place in her 15-19 age group out of 9 runners! Unfortunately, in the rush at the starting line to get my bib, use the porta potties, and drop my gear bag, I had pinned on my husband’s bib instead of mine! So as I crossed the finish line, a very confused announcer read out, “And here are Shannon White and, um, Michael White, from La Habra!” Yeah. Oops. Thank goodness I had not run fast enough to qualify for an age group award and the correction of my time did not mess up the awards for the first five to finish in the 45-49 age group. Mike finished a few minutes later after a couple of porta potty stops along the course.

At the finish we received a huge, really nice medal with an image of Yosemite on it, along with a cold protein shake (choice of three flavors) and a box of post-run and hiking snacks.

Yosemite Half Marathon 2018 finishers medals

Me, Mike and Shannon in line for the shuttle bus back to the parking area. You can see Bass Lake behind us. Mike has on the technical shirt given out at the race. And yes, Shannon is wearing my Kappa Kappa Gamma sweatshirt from 1989!

If you wanted to make the weekend even more challenging you could participate in one or more of the official race “club hikes” and earn an extra medallion for taking those hikes and sending in photos. Instead, we rented bikes and road around the park with our younger children.

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Mike and my younger daughters even braved the 45-degree water in the river.

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We also drove up to Glacier Point, stopping at this lookout for my 13-year-old ballerina to pose in an arabesque.

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It was sunny and gorgeous in the valley but cold with even a few snow flurries at Glacier Point! The cool thing is that Mike and I cross-country skied to Glacier Point in 1998 before we had any children. It felt surreal to re-visit that spot 20 years later with our three daughters.

I usually do not do the same race twice, but I’d do the Yosemite Half again for sure. If you want to do it, sign up early enough to decide if you want to reserve a spot to camp at the finish line at Bass Lake, and then train on some trails and downhill runs to get ready for the course. Decide if you’re going to run it for fun or run it to race, and adjust your expectations accordingly.

Have you visited Yosemite? Have you run this or any other Vacation Races half marathons?

San Diego Tourist Run

First things first — happy 46th birthday to me! My day started off right with coffee brought to me by my husband at 6:30 this morning — French press with a splash of almond milk, just how I like it! I’ve snuggled my dog Roxy and now I’ve got one of my three cats — Willow — helping me type this post. Mainly the day will involve school drop offs and pickups (with a bonus “hey Mama I forgot my math homework on the counter, can you please drop it off for me?” drive to the junior high school. I know there are people who refuse to drop off forgotten homework because they believe kids need to learn things the hard way, but I’m one of those people who is happy to drop off the homework if I have time to do so, with one little catch — it will cost my kid an equivalent amount of time in chores around the house. If it takes me 30 minutes to drop off your homework, you owe me 30 minutes of unloading the dishwasher and emptying all the trash cans in the house! Frankly I think I’m getting the better end of the deal!)

What I really wanted to tell you about though is my quick trip to San Diego this weekend to see my brother-in-law and his family. I got to meet my 7-month-old niece for the first time and play with my two-and-a-half year old nephew. And of course while I was there, I took advantage of my favorite way to explore a city — I went for an hour-long run around Point Loma out to Shelter Island and back.

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I happened upon a short section of trail on Point Loma with beautiful views of San Diego Bay.

I loved that I was out for a run at 10 a.m. and yet it was overcast and cool with a slight breeze! I wish I were there now, given that it’s going to be over 100 degrees for several days this week in Southern California.

I ran without a watch and just meandered around town, enjoying the sights like these gorgeous ruffly blossoms on a tree:

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Anyone know what kind of tree this is? I want to grow one!

And here’s a sight you don’t see every day — two women setting up for belly dancing lessons under this awesome concrete sculpture:

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While I enjoyed the overcast skies on my run, I was glad the sun came out so we could enjoy sailing on a boat on San Diego Bay.

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Hello, gorgeous! The view of downtown San Diego and the bay from the balcony of the house where we stayed on Point Loma.

We saw many sea lions and seals hanging out on the buoys in the bay, and got a front row seat to an impromptu air show as fighter jets took off one after the other from the naval air station.

It was a whirlwind trip, driving down Saturday night, running and sailing on Sunday during the day, and driving home late Sunday night, that makes the whole weekend seem surreal. Good thing I’ve got the pictures to prove it happened. I sure am lucky and feeling blessed on my birthday this year!

Do you run when you are on vacation or do you take a “vacation” from running when you travel? 

 

 

 

Besides running, one of the hobbies I am passionate about is gardening! The problem is that passion does not necessarily translate into talent. This is the first year that I managed to dial in the formula for a truly successful tomato crop (dig at least six inches into the top soil and mix in compost in a 1:1 ratio with the soil, then add a little EB Stone Organic Sure Start Fertilizer (affiliate link). About six weeks later or when the fruit first starts to set, sprinkle on a little more fertilizer.) And voila:

tomato row

Plants so tall and laden with fruit I had to tie the row up with twine!

I usually harvest the tomatoes before they’re fully ripe and let them ripen on the counter, just so the pill bugs and other critters in my garden don’t get at the tomatoes before I do. So you can see tomatoes in various stages of ripening in this food art arrangement my 9-year-old made the other day with the harvest:

Food art harvest

Yes those are mini pumpkins, harvested in July because they grew as renegades in my compost pile. The harvest also includes lemons, limes, apples, and red and green grapes.

I’ve been using up a lot of tomatoes with this super easy blender salsa recipe from Yummy Mummy Kitchen, but I also wanted to try to make fresh tomato sauce for the first time ever. I ended up adapting and combining several recipes from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian for what I consider a delicious fresh tomato sauce with garlic, onions, and fresh herbs.

Read on to see how to turn this:

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Into this:

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Fresh Tomato Sauce Recipe

Prep time: 20-30 minutes depending on how aggressive you are peeling the tomatoes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

4 cups ripe fresh tomatoes (peeled, seeded and chopped)
1 large yellow onion (chopped)
4 T olive oil
10 cloves garlic (minced)
5 whole bay leaves (optional)
1/2 cup fresh basil (chopped)
1/2 cup fresh parsley (chopped)
2 T fresh rosemary (chopped) (optional)
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste (I used 1/2 t each)

Directions

1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet (if you use a cast iron pan, bonus points and bonus iron for you — the acidity of the tomatoes will leach some iron out of the pan) on medium high heat.

2. Brown the onion for 2 minutes, then add the garlic for one more minute.

3. Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper, and bay leaves if desired. Heat to bubbling, then turn down to low to simmer for 15 minutes.

4. Add the basil, parsley and rosemary as desired and simmer just to warm. Remove bay leaves.

5. If you want a smooth sauce, let the sauce cool and then puree it in a blender, or transfer the hot sauce to a large pot and use a stick blender to puree.

Makes 8 servings. Recipe doubles easily.

My husband Mike and I have a long history of crazy outdoor sports adventures over our 29 years together (next year we celebrate the 30th anniversary of our first date as high school sweethearts!) Riding mountain bikes 17.5 miles around the single track Potawatomi Trail in Pinckney Recreation Area in Michigan? No problem! Snowshoeing up Mount Kearsarge in the White Mountains in New Hampshire? We were back in time for a delicious dinner at the hotel. Flying in a glider over Oahu? Um, yes, but maybe not so many acrobatic tricks? Cross-country skiing all 21 miles roundtrip to Glacier Point and back in Yosemite National Park? I cross-country skied as a kid in the midwest, surely I could make it? (We did make it, but I have never been so sore in my life – worse than post-marathon soreness). Scuba diving in the Pacific Ocean off Kauai? No need for prior experience! Waterskiing behind our very own jet boat on Lake Mohave on the Colorado River? The cold water took my breath away but we loved it. Riding 34 miles on the Kal-Haven rail trail from Kalamazoo to South Haven in one day, staying overnight at a hotel and riding 34 miles back the next day? The hotel shuttle driver thought for sure we would be begging for a ride back and he could charge us an exorbitant fare, but the bike ride back the second day might have been easier than the first day’s ride!

So when Mike suggested that we hike Mt. Baldy (more formally known as Mount San Antonio) in the dark at 1 a.m. so we could view the Perseid meteor shower and then watch the sunrise from the peak, I readily agreed. We had hiked Mt. Baldy once before in the daytime in August 2015 and even dragged along our daughters who were 7, 10, and 13 at the time (pro tip (actually, crazy amateur tip): 7 is a little young to hike Mt. Baldy – not only is it a long day trip, but I had to keep a literal death grip on my 7-year-old’s hand to keep her from slipping off the Devil’s Backbone and other treacherous sections of the trail). Mt. Baldy stands out as the highest peak in the San Gabriel Mountains.

I set my alarm for 11:30 p.m. and tried unsuccessfully to go to bed at 8:30 p.m. We got out the door by midnight and arrived at 1 a.m. at Manker Campground and the trailhead (we chose to walk up the fire access road to the Ski Hut Trail, across Baldy Bowl to the summit, then loop back down across Devil’s Backbone to the Baldy Notch, where you can take a chairlift down to save yourself four miles of hiking). The hike up from the trailhead to the peak is four-and-a-half miles but we managed to add nearly half a mile when we lost the trail in the dark a couple of times. With snack stops and meteor-viewing breaks, it took us four hours to reach the summit at 10,064 feet. We had to hang out there for an hour before the sunrise, and unfortunately it was windy and cold at the peak. This was the view for the entire hour before the sun rose up over the horizon:

Pre-dawn on Mount Baldy summit

And here is the sunrise at about 6 a.m.:

Mt. Baldy sunrise

We were grateful to see the sun come up not so much for the colorful sunrise display as for the warmth the sun brought!

At 6:40 a.m. we started our descent along the Devil’s Backbone. There are some hazardous sections along the ridge, but they seemed easy compared to the hike up in the dark!

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My 15-year-old and me on the Devil’s Backbone trail

At certain points it felt like we were on another planet with the sparse, rocky terrain above the tree line.

Devil's Backbone trail

We reached the lodge at Baldy Notch three miles later in about 1 hour 50 minutes. We paid $15 each for a one-way ticket down the chairlift (not that they checked that we paid, but I was happy to be honest about it). Then we had a half-mile walk back to our car at the trailhead. We ended up hiking a total of about nine miles in six-and-a-half hours. We did several things right (took maps of the trail, appropriate hiking boots, packs, headlamps with extra batteries, and plenty of water, juice, Gatorade and snacks), and learned that we should prepare better for severe cold and winds on the summit.

If you want to do this hike, either in the daytime or at night, do your homework by reading all about the trails on hiking sites like Trail to Peak, and be sure to check the weather conditions not for the village of Mt. Baldy but for the summit itself! This hike is best done in summer when all the snow has melted, but serious mountaineers do attempt it in the winter. Sadly, there have been several deaths on Mount Baldy in the past few winters.

Stay tuned for more posts on mountaineering, because my 15-year-old and I are training to hike Mount Whitney (the highest peak in the 48 contiguous states) next summer! We are taking an informational class at REI (not an affiliate link) in September to learn how to apply for a hiking permit and what exactly we need to do to get ready. And as part of our training, we are hoping to run a marathon together in the spring (maybe the Eugene Marathon? Most marathons require the entrants to be at least 16 years of age so we are looking at races in late April or early May 2018).

Have you hiked Mt. Baldy or Mt. Whitney? Ever run the Eugene Marathon? Thoughts and opinions please!

 

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.

Grizzly Falls

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?