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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!

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!

30-Day Challenge Results

It’s about time I updated on how the 30-day push-up and abs challenges from darebee.com went for me. I completed them “successfully” in that I stuck to the plan of doing the assigned workouts every day for 30 days in a row. It wasn’t easy by any definition — it took 10-20 minutes per day and if I didn’t combine it with my run or cross-training, then I got sweaty twice a day! I liked to do the strength training in the morning because I found if I waited until the end of the day, not only did it weigh (ha ha, no pun intended) on me throughout the day, I also had a harder time doing the work because I was worn out from the day. So I’d wake up, do just enough strength training to work up a sheen of sweat, hop in the shower to rinse off, and get ready to take the kids to school.

The last day of the abs challenge called for 70 full sit-ups, 300 flutter kicks, and a 4-minute plank! That plank wasn’t pretty (picture me trembling through the last minute that felt like forever) but I did it! The push-up challenge was even harder though. I did every workout, every day, until the very last day. I was supposed to do 50 push-ups in a row on day 30, and I could “only” do 30. I finished the remaining 20 in 4 sets of 5.

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Ha ha – check out my notes on the particularly hard workouts: “tough!!” “wow” and “killer”

It’s been a month since I finished the challenges and I’ve kept up with the strength training about three days per week. I’m really pleased with the results. I still can’t do 50 push-ups in a row, but I feel stronger (mentally and physically), my body shape changed (no six-pack, but I do have more muscle tone), and I notice a difference in my endurance on runs (it feels easier to hold good form toward the end of a run). I’ve long been a believer in strength training and these challenges just affirmed the power of what a short time investment in body weight workouts can do for your overall fitness.

I’m in my third week of training for the Death Valley Marathon and there are just over 16 weeks to go until the big day on February 4. Last week I ran 38.75 miles but only because I did my 12-mile long run on a Sunday instead of Saturday and then the next 14-mile long run on the following Saturday. Usually I only run 3 days per week and cross-train on 2-3 other days. This week I did an 8-mile tempo run, in the evening, in the unrelenting heat of Southern California. That’s when I really felt like I turned a corner and got back on track (so to speak, again no pun intended) with my marathon training. And then yesterday I did 5.0 miles of hill work. I dropped my 11-year-old at ballet and drove with my 8-year-old to the park. While she played on the playground, I ran half-mile laps around the park on the grass, then ran up and down the hill that’s in the middle of the park. While I was there, the cross-country boys and girls teams from a local high school were training there too. Imagine the lithe, nimble bodies of 15-year-olds, contrasted with my 45-year-old mother-of-three body. But you know what? Instead of being humbled by them, I was proud! Go me for putting myself out there and running hard. And you know what else? One of the cross-country coaches gave me the best compliment. He asked:

What are you training for?

I just love that question/compliment. It’s the question I got when I was training for my first half marathon and someone caught up to me at a stoplight and asked me that and it finally made me feel like a “real” runner — when another runner recognized that I was training for a race.

Anyway, I told him I was training for the Death Valley Marathon, and he told me I was “looking good” and gave me a high five. Totally made my day.

Do you do strength training? Do you have any links to share to core workouts posted online? I like Core H (13 minutes) and 8-minute abs.

 

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!)

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:

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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!

In Limbo

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?