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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.

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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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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? 

 

 

 

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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.

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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?

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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!

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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!

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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!)

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