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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?

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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!

 

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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.

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.

 

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My seventh marathon was the Boston Marathon in April 2016. I find it pretty funny that five months later — just as people are submitting their applications for Boston 2017 — here I am signing up for my eighth marathon, and it isn’t Boston (I qualified at Revel Canyon City but I won’t be going back to Boston next year — that was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me). Instead of a race with 30,000 entrants, I’ll be going for one that has just 350 entrants. Can you guess which one? Here’s a clue in the form of the book that’s on my bedside table:

Ground Afire: The Story of the Death Valley National Monument

Ground Afire: The Story of the Death Valley National Monument

Yes, I’ll be running the Death Valley Marathon on February 4, 2017! I figure it’s the closest I’ll ever get to the Badwater 135. Just like the Badwater ultramarathon, this race runs along Highway 190 through the heart of Death Valley National Park. I’ve wanted to visit the park for a long time now. It’s just 4.5 hours from my home in Southern California but I’ve never made it out there. Now I get to go for a quick weekend trip during one of the nicest times of year to visit the park.

I know this race isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. No spectators are allowed on the course aside from the volunteers. You cannot wear headphones or otherwise listen to music on the course (I never do anyway). It’s not a closed course. You get a cotton t-shirt, not a tech tee. But I hope I don’t have to spell out the appeal of the race. How awesome is it to get the privilege of running in one of the most spectacular landscapes in the world? Add in the bonuses of race day packet pickup, lodging in the park next to the race start, and practically a guarantee of an age group podium finish if I merely complete the race (only two women in the 45-49 age group ran the race last year).

So, let the countdown to marathon #8 begin! 4 months and 17 days until Death Valley Marathon 2017!

Have you ever been to Death Valley National Park? Do you have any recommendations for must-see sights or must-do activities in the park? Have you ever run the Death Valley Marathon? (If so, please tell me all about it!)

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That’s right folks, today is the big 4-5, which oddly seems a lot more momentous than the big 4-0 did. Turning 40 was the impetus for this whole fitness journey to begin for me — I wanted to get “fit before 40” so I started training for my first sprint triathlon. And now here I am five years later, having done 29 races total in that time: three triathlons, seven marathons, six half marathons, three 10Ks, four 8Ks, five 5Ks, and one one-mile race.

I’ve been thinking a lot about which race(s) to do next and I finally settled on the local Turkey Trot in November that raises money for the school district. I’m running about 20 miles per week right now so a 5K seems a manageable race distance. Of course, just my luck when I age up into the 45-49 age group, I choose a race that only has a 40-49 category — ha!

I’m still plugging away at the 50 push-ups challenge and the 30-day abs challenge from darebee.com. My 45th birthday started off this morning with 50 push-ups broken up into sets of 10, 20, 10, and 10! The challenges totally intimidate me and each day I wonder whether I’ll be able to complete the sets. I told myself in the beginning that if I couldn’t complete the day’s sets, no big deal, I would just take the next day as a rest day and then try those sets again. But here I am on day 22, and I haven’t had to skip a day! Trust the training and you might just amaze yourself, right? After the 50 push-ups I did 52 full sit-ups, 230 flutter kicks, and a 2 minute 50 second plank. (Question: How do you count flutter kicks? Do you count one rep each time either foot goes down — right leg 1 left leg 2), or do you count one rep each time your right foot goes down, or do you go big with the four count military/CrossFit style? I’ve compromised with the middle — so I count each time my right heel approaches the ground). The push-ups and ab work all took about 15 minutes and to pass the time during the plank I watched the drops of sweat drip off my body onto the mat below (sorry for that imagery, but it just goes to show how killer these challenges are!)

After I had some coffee and a piece of whole wheat toast with peanut butter, I headed out for eight super easy miles of running. I just cruised along and listened to my audiobook (I use the OverDrive app to get books from my library and I’m listening to the audio version of Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 1: The Sword of Summer).

Then ’cause it’s my birthday and I can take a hot bath after a long run if I want to, I soaked in the tub while I listened to a little more of the book. Then I had some more coffee and some scrambled eggs with cheese on top (again, another birthday treat. Usually I top my eggs with avocado and salsa but heck, I made it to 45, I might as well live it up with some full-fat cheese).

Now I’m hanging out and reading No Summit out of Sight: The True Story of the Youngest Person to Climb the Seven Summits, a book my teenager loved and recommended to me. It’s great so far — I’m enjoying climbing Mount Kilimanjaro vicariously, without all the danger and effort and rainy weather.

Mike and the girls are out grocery shopping for supplies to make me a special birthday dinner. The girls chose a recipe from the cookbook my sister gave me as a present: Runner’s World Meals on the Run: 150 energy-packed recipes in 30 minutes or less. The cookbook is as awesome as I hoped. If you’re a fan of The Runner’s World Cookbook: 150 Ultimate Recipes for Fueling Up and Slimming Down–While Enjoying Every Bite then you should definitely get this one too.

I’m feeling loved and pampered today.  Check out these bracelets my younger daughters made me:

friendship bracelets

I can’t wait to enjoy my dinner meal (it’s a surprise — I don’t know which recipe they chose) and then we’ll probably all go swimming in the pool after dinner, including Roxy!

Roxy dog in the pool

She hasn’t figured out that she can jump in and swim, but she likes to hang out on the first two steps and play with the girls with her tennis ball in the water. I hope you all are having a fabulous weekend!

I’m serious, for those of you who have done flutter kicks, how do you count them??

Do you like to jump up an age group? Are you saving a big race for when you move up groups? I love jumping up an age group and I’ve always believed there’s something great about every age anyway. I haven’t saved a big race for turning older — in fact I was determined to qualify for Boston in the 40-44 age group before I bumped up to 45, but I do admit it was nice getting that extra 10 minutes once I did move up groups for Boston 2017!

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Hello from Limbo Land, the uncomfortable place where I have been languishing since I ran the Boston Marathon and then paced my teenager through her first half marathon. Over the summer, I’ve continued to run three days a week and cross-train the other days with swimming and strength training, but it feels like I’m hanging on to fitness by a thread. I don’t have a goal race on the calendar and that’s making me antsy. The solution seems to be simple — sign up for a race! And yet, I cannot bring myself to do that with how busy I am this fall. So far nothing has inspired me to take on the commitment of another race.

My goodness, though, how I enjoyed watching the men’s Olympic marathon yesterday! I loved to watch the front of the pack — from the joy on the gold medalist Eliud Kipchoge’s face in the finish chute to the incredible accomplishment of American Galen Rupp taking the bronze, to American Jared Ward surging from 15th place with six miles to go to 6th overall at the finish! I loved seeing American Meb Keflezighi handle his digestive issues and a harrowing slip in a puddle followed by some face-saving push-ups at the finish line. And I loved watching the last runners to complete the marathon — the Argentinian Federico Bruno who due to cramping had to side-step his way across the finish line with support from Paraguayan Derlis Ayala, who stopped several times to encourage Bruno to the finish. And you’ve got to love Jordan’s Methkal Abu Drais who finished smiling in last place (several competitors DNF’d – did not finish) behind a Japanese runner and comedian Kuniaki Tanizaki who was determined not to finish last.

Without a running goal and training plan to keep me focused, I’ve taken on a couple of strength training challenges to give me that daily satisfaction of checking off the workout lists. I just crossed off day 16 of the 30-day ab challenge from darebee.com and the old 50 push-ups challenge from @neilarey.com.  I’m shocked that I can now do 52 push-ups in one day (broken up into four sets – 14 reps, 12 reps, 14 reps, 12 reps). I try not to look ahead at the schedule because it intimidates me.

So why am I so especially busy this fall? My oldest daughter just started high school. She’s made the varsity tennis team and is taking on an advanced curriculum in the local science and technology magnet school. And look who just joined our family — my new running partner! Meet Roxy, an eight-month-old German Shepherd:

 

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The veterinarian cleared her to run 1-3 miles with me, but I have heard that I should wait until she is 12-18 months until I take her running. Any thoughts? She’s about 45 pounds and approximately 75% of her adult weight. I haven’t taken her running yet but she enjoys going on one-mile walks and she loves to run around the yard. I start human/dog training with her next month (she had some training with her former owner, a mother of three girls — like me! — who realized that Roxy had outgrown her mobile home and needed a backyard and some room to roam).

What do you do to come out of a running slump? Do you have any advice for running with a dog?

 

 

 

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I’ve joked in the past about having black toenails…from black nail polish. My flippant attitude about a painful subject for many runners has come back to bite me in the behind (or the big toe, as the case turns out). Yes, I’ve lost most of my left big toenail. But the irony is, it’s not from running. It’s not from running shoes. It’s from wearing a new pair of fancy black flats on my first day back to work in January. You see, the shoes fit fine in the morning, but as I stood on my feet all day at work (in my humble opinion, a good elementary school aide should spend a lot of time walking around the classroom), my feet swelled and pressed my big toenails into the tip of the shoes. I didn’t realize how bad it was until I took my shoes off at the end of the day and felt a horrible stab of pain as the circulation came rushing back into those toes!

Four months later, I could still see a patch of black under my right toenail, but that toenail stayed intact. As I went to trim my left toenail though, one half of the nail peeled off entirely. The nail had separated from the nail bed and a new nail had been growing in underneath the old one for the past four months. It didn’t hurt at all when it came off, although it sure as heck hurts if anyone steps on that toe where it doesn’t have a full nail grown back in yet.

It’s no big deal. I can still run. But now I have a lot more sympathy for runners who battle the dreaded lost toenails.

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