Life on the Fringe: Minneapolis Fringe Fest 2019

I was in a Fringe Fest show. Add that to the list of things I thought I’d never do but did.

I’m still not sure how I got roped into it. I was talking to Ed (who I met at Track Thursdays before I knew he was one of those creative types), ranting about a frustrating work situation. I enjoy a good rant. A little yelling, a touch of hyperbole, and a good dose of sarcasm is a soothing balm on frayed nerves after a stressful day. Ed doesn’t mind my rants, and on this spring day he was starting to chuckle. “I think we might have to use that in my Fringe Fest show,” he said.

The show was to be called “Canary in a Cubicle.” A collection of embellished real-life monologues interspersed with frivolous short sketches, it playfully examined work life as we try to understand it. Our ad read: “Confounding co-workers, bad (or sad) bosses, interview insanity, and more! This spoken-word show features multiple monologues about workplace truisms, highlighting generational grief.” (We had a too-long discussion about whether we were better categorized as “storytelling” than “spoken word,” but this describes what we did pretty well.)

Some other stuff happened and before I knew it, I was at Minnehaha Pavilion on Saturday, July 13, rehearsing a short monologue based on that day’s rant.

Everyone said I looked tired, and I felt worse than tired. Many of my days were like that – trying to put on a smile that must have come out lopsided, telling people I was only tired because I’d run too much, trying to get some solid food down but tasting nothing, falling into bed feeling nothing, waking up in the middle of the night feeling terrible. By the third rehearsal, I’d explained to Ed that I was struggling with depression. I don’t remember what he said. I remember he didn’t say what I’d feared: He didn’t say anything about not having to go through with the show. So I stuck with it, and it kept me afloat, in a weird way. No one else was counting on me to be anywhere or do anything on weekends, but Saturdays were rehearsal and I dragged myself there to rehearse.

And then I listened. The other “canaries” delivered monologues of their own, interspersed with short sketches. Some were funny, some were sad and also a little funny, some were touching, some were ironic, all were true. There’s something deeply authentic about a good story, told in the author’s own voice. Listening soothed my heavy heart a little.

With some of my fellow canaries, hanging out at Rarig

One of our monologues poked fun at “participation awards” such as we receive at races. This made me laugh because it comes so close to the truth. My inner child wants a medal just for doing a thing, free from judgment on how well I’ve done it. Running gave me that. I wasn’t any good when I started running, and I kept at it. I fretted when I started writing again that I wasn’t any good. When I confided in Ed, he replied promptly, “Never stopped me.”

Why should you ever let anything stop you?

Again before I knew it, I found myself at the final rehearsal in the Nolte Xperimental theater, trying to remember the lines I’d written myself, not quite making it. Some of the others were faltering a bit too, because the lights were so bright it took some getting used to. What am I doing? I asked myself again and again, but never aloud. The others offered some helpful hints, since most of them had been on stage before. Sound carries well in the theater, but you have to project, enunciate, intonate and almost exaggerate. Same with movement; you have the stage, so why not use it. Mostly, they offered constant breezy cheerful encouragement. I started to laugh a bit. And then, the show was on, and I was doing it, really doing it. Then stepping off stage to applause and Ed giving me a friendly thumbs-up.

Wait – This is great!

It struck me that Fringe Fest, or putting anything creative out for consumption, is a beautifully brave thing to do. I used to consider myself a creative type, but never really grew a thick skin for the criticism that inevitably comes with it. The Fringe encourages online reviews; I told myself I wouldn’t read them.

Of course, the others were going to read them and then I was going to read them. This happened sooner than I thought, when one of my fellow players posted a link to one, saying, “My first negative review! I feel like such a professional now!” The cast’s reactions, again, exuded cheer, courage and sharp humor. Of course, they were right. You’re not really good until someone sneers; you’re never really funny until some humorless prig sniffs that you’re not; you haven’t made an impression until some Simon Powell wannabe gives you a haughty “So what?”

The best part: Seeing all the Fringe Fest shows for free, wearing a badge that says “Artist”

Once I got to reading them, I could see that almost all the reviews for ours or any show were 5 out of 5 stars, but almost no show in the entire fest escaped the one stinkweed of a negative review put forth by someone who simply lacked clarity on the concept. A play called “Buttslasher” drew criticism for having too many butt jokes. An absurdist improv dance performance confused someone because it didn’t tell a clear story. One reviewer admitted to having walked out on a show after seven minutes. In general, the critics expressed disappointment that these amateur performances were amateurish. And here I am criticizing the critics! That’s what comes from reading so many reviews. There’s a style to them that sticks in your head. I can’t begrudge the critics their contribution, especially if they’re clear and constructive on what they’d like more or less of, but I think they’re missing out on the real fun. It would be no fun if all I wrote were reviews, so I have this category called “ramblings.” And it would have been no fun to only see the best-reviewed shows and view them with a critical eye, so I went to whatever I had time for and opened my mind to the bizarre tossed salad of shows that is Fringe Fest.

I saw as many shows as I could: The above-mentioned Buttslasher, a spoof on classic murder mysteries; a one-man comedy called Game of Toms, which explained Game of Thrones to me better than anyone else has; At Ladders, Inc., the fun improv dance performance; Ladybrain, a series of short comedy sketches, and Stand Up Eight, my favorite. At Stand Up Eight, I sat next to one of the performers from Buttslasher. We were both on the edges of our seats; this collection of monologues and sketches was my favorite.

Somewhere in all of this, my mind opened a bit and some light shone in. A combination of things helped me break through the clouds, not the least of which is the fact that I’m fortunate enough to not be especially prone to depression. I kept up with healthy habits as much as possible, including running. But the Fringe helped me fill the gap that I can’t fill with 50-mile weeks anymore. With these artists giving me a boost, I felt brave enough to get on stage without worrying about the outcome. It didn’t matter; what mattered was that I was interested. Finally, after weeks of not wanting to do anything, I was interested in something. And being interested and creative means being alive in the world again. Or at least it’s a great start.

After the final performance, a cast party on Republic’s patio

My fellow Canaries, thank you so much. You are brave. You are awesome. Your stories matter more than you know. You’re not just artists, you’re wonderful human beings. This is what the world needs more of. The light of shining stars.


Running MDRA Track Thursdays

You should do a track workout. Yes, you.

This idea of doing a coached group track workout is a little intimidating for some, maybe because it seems like something high school kids do. I didn’t run track in high school, or at all until I was 35. Public school PE had left me so self-conscious about doing anything at all athletic, I didn’t feel ready to attempt it until I was starting to get past the age of caring what other people think.

Luckily, in the town of Stage College where I lived as a beginner, a retired coach agreed to lead a beginners’ group in a series of non-threatening workouts. When I moved to Irvine, another coach led an early morning group in Laguna Beach. And here in the Twin Cities, the best place in the world to live and run, the Minnesota Distance Running Association offers a free workout for all abilities on Thursday nights. They’ve always found someone great to lead the group, and did I mention this is all free?

Here we are on July 10, my first workout of the season with them. Coach kindly takes the photo pre-workout so we look normal.

That’s me in the middle, in blue

This may be the largest group Track Thursdays has ever seen – 33 of us. Usually we get about half that many, but I guess nobody could resist this fun workout. We ran three sets of short intervals: 400 meters x 6 with 60 seconds rest, 300 meters with 45 seconds rest, 200 meters with 30 seconds rest, 3-4 minutes between sets. With so many runners and a wide range of abilities, you’d think it would be chaotic, but it went smoothly. I like having the option of either starting with a fast-ish group, or running slightly behind them on my own. Sometimes I end up running slightly behind no matter how I try, because I’m trying to keep up some very strong and consistent runners. It was at Track Thursdays I met several runners who have helped me a lot over the past few years.

Here’s a typical workout, with me tagging along behind Tom, Bobby and Bill like a kid sister trying to catch up. Sometimes I do catch up.
I like this aspect of track workouts; nobody really gets left behind.

Each workout begins with coach Laurie guiding us through a dynamic workout: Range of motion, hopping and skipping exercises that get us ready to go fast without strain. One of my track buddies gave me a golden nugget of advice: “It’s not about how fast you can run, it’s about how fast you can run without straining.” This principle will not only help you run a smarter race, it will help prevent injury. There’s no need to fear that a little fast running will increase your injury risk – you just need to be properly warmed up, listen to your body, and not try to do too much too soon.

I took this fun photo of me, fast track buddy Ed, and Coach for Facebook to caption “Coach tried to kill us!”
The workout was hard!
But there’s never any pressure to complete the whole workout or run faster than you’re prepared for.

I’m a fan of Coach Laurie’s workouts. They’re very challenging, but always adaptable. There have been times I’ve had to skip an interval or adjust my pace. Still, I usually leave confident that I’ll be stronger after recovering from the workout.

Here’s a good-looking group of runners from last year, making it look fun. It is fun.

At least a few of these track workouts will fit perfectly into my training plan this year. For the first one, I had no expectations but was happy to find that I could keep up with the big kids for most of the workout, and I ran all the intervals evenly at about the same pace I raced my last 5K or a little faster. I don’t think I could have done it without Bill keeping track of time and everyone shouting out encouragement.

In fact, it’s been proven that training with others is more effective for most people than training alone. If you’re like me, you have to do some of both, but your track buddies will keep you on pace, give you social support, and make the workout seem like more fun and less effort.

Thanks track buddies! I’m healthier because of you.

The No-Burnout 8-Week 10K Training Plan

After training for the Get In Gear 10K in April and the Brian Kraft 5K on Memorial Day, I took it easy in June. My hope was that this block of time with no speedwork, moderate mileage and fun hilly trail runs, I’d be more ready than in previous years to really put my heart into focused training for a goal race in the fall. Since I won’t be running the TC 10 mile, this year’s goal race will be the Victory 10K on Labor Day. At this point I’m so excited I want to share my plan, so I’m putting it here rather than annoy all my Facebook friends with training reports.

How do you write your own training plan? There are too many books to guide you on this. Hundreds of pages of conflicting advice. I’ll break it down for you into a few basic questions: Do you like long, steady runs? Do you like shorter bursts of speed? What has worked for you in the past? What’s your fitness level now?

The one thing all the books agree on is that you have to do all types of workouts in order to reach your potential: Long runs, tempo runs, and interval speedwork. There isn’t a real consensus about exactly how long the long run should be or how the speedwork should be done. In general, a workout has to keep your heart rate in a certain zone for a certain length of time to boost your fitness, but there’s not an exact point of agreement on that either. The most important thing about your training plan is that you actually do the workouts. This may seem obvious, but most runners seem to have a special way of obsessively following a training plan when they feel like it and talking themselves out of a workout when they don’t feel like it. I’m too old experienced to kid myself anymore.

I love the challenge of speedwork and like long runs in moderation. My sticking point is the in-between training at the lactate threshold: steady-state, tempo runs and cruise intervals. When I was training for the spring 5K, my tempo run was a simple 20 minutes at about 7:15 pace (25-30 seconds slower than I raced the 5k). In the summer, it’s a little trickier, since heat will send my heart rate up to 85% max even at a 7:45 pace. Probably most weeks, my tempo run will be a little slower and a little longer. I don’t like these workouts as much, so I’m not going to worry about doing them perfectly as long as I can keep my heart rate in the threshold zone (160’s for me) for a good amount of time sometime most weeks. Some weeks I’ll kind of sneak it in, like a mom sneaks a vegetable into a meal. More on that later.

The intervals are my favorite part. Short, fast repeats can sharpen your speed; intervals of 3-5 minutes with shorter recoveries improve your VO2 max; and mile repeats at 10K pace can get you in shape for any distance – if you can do them without risking overtraining. However, this year as I ask myself the important question of what has worked in the past, I have to admit that mile repeats at 10K pace haven’t been working for me. VO2 max workouts will boost my performance for a few weeks in a row, then I may plateau or even decline. So in the no-burnout 8-week program, the speed workouts start with short intervals for the first half of the plan and longer intervals in the second half, with the last workout being 10-11 days before my goal 10K.

I don’t want to miss the upcoming Grand Prix or team circuit races, so those are included – a 5-mile race in week 2 and a 15K in week 5. I probably won’t do them at more than 90% effort (It’s too hot anyway). The 15K will serve as a long run with a couple miles each of warm-up and cool-down. If I get talked into any more races, I’ve found that it doesn’t hurt to do the long run the day after a race, as long as the overall stress of that week wasn’t too much.

Six days after the Victory 10K is the City of Lakes Half Marathon. Last year, I started City of Lakes still strained from Victory, and ran my first and only DNF. In the years 2014-2016 I ran both without too much strain, but that has become increasingly difficult and I’m now convinced that it’s not possible to really race them both. However, I want to make up for last year’s bad experience and I want to stay in the running for the MDRA Grand Prix, so I’d like to run COL at a moderate effort with the goal of being cheerful and positive at the finish line rather than weepy and frustrated.

Thus, I’m including a long run of 10-14 miles. Not only will this enable me to comfortably finish the half marathon, I think it will help my 10K training. Based on previous years, it looks like a weekly (or almost weekly) long run of 90-120 minutes is helpful for my 10K. More than 120 minutes does not help, but if I don’t get my body used to at least 90 minutes of easy running, it seems to want to give up too soon. I did several runs of 90 minutes in June to make sure I’m comfortable progressing from there. Maybe this is a mental block; if I’m used to running for over 90 minutes, I can tell myself in the painful last couple miles of a 10K that I can suck it up because I’m used to running twice as long. Whatever it is, I’ll keep it in the plan, and if I have to cut some long runs short, no big deal because the half marathon is not my goal race.

I could write a plan with an exact number of miles for each day, but since I’m my own coach, I don’t have to. Instead, I’m setting a goal for the amount of hard training to shoot for. On the other 4-5 days of the week, I’ll aim to do some kind of workout: cross training or very easy running, preferably trail running.

Here’s my starting point: I can comfortably run 10 miles at a 9-minute-mile average pace, and I can run 400 meters in 100 seconds without straining.

Here’s the plan! It probably won’t go exactly like this, but we’ll see.

Week 1 (July 6-12)
Long Run: 11 miles
Tempo: 20 minutes
Speed: 6 x 400 meters, 60 seconds rest, 6 x 300 m, 45 seconds rest, 6 x 200, 300 rest, jog a slow lap in between sets

Week 2 (July 13-19)
Long Run: 12 miles
Tempo: 5 mile race!
Speed (Two days before race): 10 x 2 minutes at 10K pace, 10 x 30 seconds at mile pace, with short jogging recoveries

Week 3 (July 20-26)
Long Run: 11-14 miles
Tempo: 25-30 minutes
Speed: 12 x 400 m with 90-second jogs

Week 4 (July 27-August 2)
Long Run: 90 minutes on hilly course, middle 30 minutes at tempo effort
Speed: Whatever Coach Laurie says. Or, if tired, repeat Week 2 speed workout.

Week 5 (August 3-9)
Long Run: 15k Race! Plus warm-up and cool-down to total 13 miles
Speed: 5 x 600 m 10K pace, 5 x 600 m 5K pace, with short recoveries

Week 6 (August 10-16)
Long Run: 10-12 miles
Tempo: 20-30 minutes at Week 4’s 15k pace or a little slower
Speed: 2 x 200 m at mile pace, 2 x 800 m at 10K pace, 6 x 800 m at 5K pace, with short recoveries

Week 7 (August 17-23)
Long Run: 10-13 miles, last 2 miles at tempo effort
Speed: 5 x 30 seconds at mile pace, then 4-5 sets of 4 minutes at 10K pace, 1-2 minute jog, 2 minutes at 5K pace, 1-minute jog (a variation of the Nickel-and-Dimer workout)

Week 8 (August 24-30: Taper Week)
Long Run: 8-9 miles
Tempo: 20 minutes
Speed: 5 x 2 minutes at 10k pace, 5 x 30 seconds at mile pace

Week 1 is already complete! I ran a perfect 11-miler on Sunday, a nice 5-mile run with 20 minutes at 7:45 pace on Monday, 7 miles on trail on Tuesday, 40 minutes cross-training on Wednesday, and on Thursday, my first MDRA Track Thursdays workout (a series of short intervals described above) and another easy cross-training day today. Week 2 begins tomorrow. I could either do my long run tomorrow (at a very slow pace since I probably won’t be fully recovered from the track workout) or Sunday.

I’m saving my best effort for the speed workouts in weeks 5-7. When I say “short recoveries,” I mean slowing to a very slow jog for probably less than 90 seconds, not nearly a full recovery. I need a long warmup, so the total mileage on these days will be over 10K, maybe up to 15K. These are hard workouts! For this reason, I’ll make plenty of room for them; ideally, two easy days beforehand.

Notice that in week 4, I’ve put the tempo portion in the middle of the long run. This is partly to prepare for the 15k, but also to allow extra recovery days. In week 7, I’ve put the tempo effort at the end of the long run. I’ll keep this as an option in other weeks also. The 20-30 minutes of tempo can be done in a number of different ways: in the middle of a long run as mentioned; a couple days after the long run as a steady buildup in the middle of a 7-8 mile run, followed by a gradual cool-down; or as a fartlek alternating tempo and easy pace with the fast portion totaling 20-30 minutes. In Matt Fitzgerald’s book 80/20 running, he designs some runs with 3/4 mile easy and 1/4 mile faster, repeated throughout the run, or “fast finish” with the last couple of miles at marathon pace or faster. I enjoy those long mixed-up workouts and they do wonders for my performance if I can complete them a few weeks before a race. But they don’t always come together, plus if I’m running with other people they sometimes hate it, so I’m leaving that as an option for if the stars align. Otherwise, my long runs can be nice and slow and the tempo training can wait for another day.

If this sounds tortuously complicated, well, it is, but we are complicated beings. Bottom line: Adapt to whatever conditions arise. An adaptable plan has a lot of benefits. If you want to run with someone slower or faster than yourself, you can. If conditions are unusually good or bad, you can aim higher or lower (within reason).

Back to the drawing board if I’m seeing signs of burnout (soreness, fatigue, stomachaches, yelling at waiters if my food is taking too long).

Wish me luck!

Yes, You Can Toast Marshmallows in a Skillet

This is my most brilliant non-recipe ever. Here is the whole thing:

Ingredients: Marshmallows and chocolate. Graham cracker crumbs if you have them.

Instructions: Heat the skillet over medium, put marshmallows in an even layer, and allow them to toast, turning when the bottoms are golden. Toast marshmallows in a nonstick skillet, turning when bottoms are golden. Grate chocolate over top and sprinkle with crumbs.

I’m a genius! Not only did I figure this out, I told you all about it in just a one-minute read. You’re welcome. I love you too. Scroll down for details.

For the marshmallows, the holiday ones with a flat side work best. Pictured are some star-shaped marshmallows from July 4. For the skillet, just make sure it’s nonstick. No efficient kitchen should be without a nonstick skillet. The new ceramic non-stick skillets are pretty good, but I prefer the cheap kind. I think either would work for toasting marshmallows.

A microplane grater is one item that no efficient kitchen should be without. This grates chocolate, cheese, lemon zest and whatever else you want grated finely and quickly.

To serve, place in an attractive bowl and top with graham cracker crumbs, sprinkles, gold dust and caramel sauce. Or, if you’re like me and you discovered this method of toasting marshmallows because you were all alone on a rainy day, and had an emotional-eater craving, and found out that trying to toast a marshmallow over the open flame of your gas stove was only causing it to go up in flames and make you even sadder….just get your little silicone spatula (another item no efficient kitchen should be without) and eat immediately.

We are beginning to see why there aren’t more recipes on my blog.

How to Make a Tunic Out of An Oversize T-Shirt

Too many t-shirts: a problem we all know. It’s too hot to wear them these days – sleeveless feels much better. A third problem for someone my size is that sometimes there are no smalls left but a nice heap of XL’s. When this happened at the 2019 TC One Mile, I accepted the XL and figured it would be an okay nightshirt.

But no, this is not okay. It’s almost dress-length and the sleeves hang too low. I wanted to make it sleeveless but didn’t want to do anything fancy like they do on Pinterest. So I figured the fastest way to make it kinda fit.

Cut the sleeve off leaving a strip of the the sleeve hole like this.

Tie in back like this, and trim ends.

There, it fits! Genius! What, you don’t like my ghetto style? Fine, keep your oversize shirt with flappy sleeves then, or frustrate yourself trying to fix it better. I’m satisfied.

Hope you’re enjoying the summer. Don’t let the heat get to you.

No-Burnout Essentials: The Recovery Workouts

I run too slow most of the time. If wasn’t such a slacker, if I’d just push a little harder on more days instead of zoning out more than half the time, I’d be faster than I am. It must just be that I’ve given up, right?

Running on soft surfaces will also help your recovery, as you also already know

Seriously, I’ve mostly given up on getting anyone to slow down and have a nice gentle jog with me on days when I’m feeling chatty. I don’t blame you for that. More to the point, I don’t blame you if you don’t take my advice to make your easy days easier if Greg McMillan, Jack Daniels, Matt Fitzgerald, and just about every coach out there is telling you that your easy runs need to be considerably slower than your race paces, and you’re still plugging away doing every run at whatever pace you ran your last marathon. In general, I don’t have tons of advice for marathoners. I just wish them a wonderful experience, since they sure are investing a lot of time and money.

For marathoners who decide to take their running to the next level and train for a fast 5k, the recovery workouts become more important.

My workout today went like this:

10 minutes on the elliptical, heart rate going up to 68% max

Dynamic warmup with hip circles, pushups, squats, lunges, leg swings

10 minute jog

10 minutes on the lateral elliptical, heart rate going up to 78% max

10 minute jog with strides

This is to recover from a steady state run yesterday, made challenging by running with a young friend who wanted to blow off some steam. The last couple miles of that run were at tempo-run effort. If I’d run hard intervals, the next day might be just half the workout I did today. For short repeats, I can do a slow recovery run of up to 7 miles, but the key word is slow.

How slow? Slower than 9 minute miles. By the time I feel ready to race a 5k, I’m doing interval workouts at a 6:30-6:40 pace and recovery runs with the first mile taking more than 10 minutes and a few more miles at a 9:30 pace.

I know you already know this too, but your recovery workouts should be at least every other day.  I put two recovery days in between harder workouts, and some weeks go down to just one hard workout.

There are multiple benefits to taking it down all the way to first gear. The main one, which you already know, is that you won’t get stuck in third gear; you’ll find that fabulous fourth and fifth gear. Another is that you’ll meet more people in your running club. When I was in South Coast Road Runners, I’d run at anywhere from 7:30 miles down to 12-minute miles depending on the day, so I got to run with everyone. I was the only one who did run with everyone. They made me their runner of the year in 2011.

Also, if it’s a recovery day, you can not only go as slow as you want, you can do whatever you want. Biking, swimming, and dancing all count as recovery workouts.


Brian Kraft Memorial 5K 2019

I ran in the rain and it was ok.

I’m happy to report that the No-Burnout plan is a fair success. I did the 5k-10k specific workouts I described, plus some progression runs and some strides, with at least two easy days between hard workouts. That’s pretty minimal compared to what I was doing five years ago. Even so, my usual final dress-rehearsal 5k workout (5x1k at 5k effort) wore me out badly, and I took it easy for the ten days before this race.

With all the rain in the forecast, I let go of expectations. At first Accuweather warned of a possible thunderstorm, so I signed up in the final hour for online registrations, the day before the race. At that time, the forecast said 50% chance of rain at the start, 50’s with low humidity, 8 mph winds. Great conditions except for the rain. I got out my old rain poncho, which made me look like a dork but covered me up so much nobody recognized me at first. That was kind of a bonus.

I soon found my teammates. They reminded me of another bonus: this rainy weather was a lot better than the humid crap we had last year. And we had a van to store our stuff while we ran. I made it to the start line still warm. What a relief. I didn’t get many photos, but you’re glad about that because it means this will be a fairly short report.


A lot of fast runners show up for Brian Kraft, but under 500 runners total. What seems like a low-key spin around a lake turns out to be an impressively fast race. Prepare to be blown away by This year’s results: 421 runners with an average finishing time of 22:25. A median time of 19:10 for men, 23:27 for women.

Most of these fast runners are humble, gentle souls, but at the start line, you gotta watch out. I’ve been good lately at lining up carefully. My stats show that I passed 35 runners and was passed by 32, so I started in the right spot. It did make for a slow start, but soon I settled into a 6:50 pace, give or take a few seconds. Based on how my training had gone, I wasn’t sure how long I’d hang onto it. I passed some teammates I’d been unable to catch at last year’s City of Lakes, but still felt good. Before I knew it, I was over halfway done and still holding on strong.

The whole race went like that. Solid, steady, in control. I never felt really crappy at any point, and had a tiny bit of extra speed in the final kilometer. This makes me think I could have run the whole thing faster and possibly beaten last year’s time. Maybe I could have and maybe I couldn’t have. I did stay true to Goal #1; I hung in there and finished feeling good.

I had a lovely cool-down with my lovely teammates and then we went to Nokomis Coffee and I finally got the lovely nordic waffle breakfast sandwich I’ve been wanting to try.

While at breakfast, I got some texts from other runners who had gotten in and dry at other places. I got in touch with Dash, knowing he was trying for a PR in this race. He hadn’t been sure he’d go sub-20, but I was sure. A few speed workouts, some focus and fairly decent conditions were all he needed. Our running club, Twin Cities Running Experiment, is now 4000+ strong according to Dash once said “We push and pull each other.” I think that’s still true.

A bit of analysis on my own race: My age-graded performance from the MTEC results shows I’m at 75%, about the same as last year. My gun time of 21:24 puts me 6th among women in their 40’s, which gives me hope for what I can do when I’m in the 50’s age group in a couple years.

Looking back at previous results, my best performance was at age 45, when I ran a 20:08 gun time, just a second faster than the previous year’s time. And looking back, I wasn’t even happy with that. These days, I try to be happy with what comes. I still get the blues sometimes. Especially if I’m cold and wet after a race, I’m prone to the post-race crash. Trying to describe this to a teammate, I said it’s like being a toddler – I’m cranky and weepy and I don’t know how to express it, I know I need a nap but I can’t calm down for it. These days I know when it’s coming, so I made it home before I got to the breaking point. I recommend an epsom soak after a cold rainy race. I’ll be okay.

Another bonus: My feet were wet for so long I was finally able to get rid of some calluses.

I hope I’ve made some happy memories. Running with a team helps a lot. Just look at these beauties.


Next up will be the USATF Minnesota Association Open & Masters Outdoor Track & Field Championship on Sunday, June 9.  I’ve never run a track 800 meter race, so maybe something new will cheer me up.

I have some thoughts brewing for more blog posts, too. I’ve talked to so many athletes and we all have some struggles, though we all smile big for these photos. Running becomes a coping mechanism, and sometimes it mirrors the ups and downs of whatever you’re coping with. For now, I just want to say thanks to everyone who was willing to get wet and messy to be a part of this great day.

Of course, now it stops raining.

The Mighty Mile: Twin Cities One Mile 2019

This is a long post, but includes explanations of age-graded performance and USATF team scoring. And it is an epic tale of wonder.

The hardest part about the Twin Cities One Mile is sitting at work all day thinking about it, or trying not to think about it, trying to build up some excitement about it without letting the jitters take over. Having no definite goal time this year, I wasn’t worried about it until the afternoon slump hit and a nap sounded a lot better than a race.

A message alert pulled me out of my reverie. My teammate Willow was offering me a ride. Also, our team leader Sonya was reaching out for last-minute pinch-hitters; we didn’t have a complete team on the roster. Why hadn’t I thought of that? I’d registered the day before. Now, knowing I was needed, the old fire in the belly started to stir again.


Me and my team at last year’s Twin Cities One Mile

On my way out, another message from Willow: She didn’t think she could make it; family emergency. Now things were getting interesting.

For those who aren’t familiar with USA Track and Field Minnesota, this is an annual competition where eight races are scored for each team. Team scores are based on the number of complete teams competing at each race (usually about 8-10), and determined by adding the fastest runners’ times. To have a complete team, there must be at least five runners in the open category for men and women, and there must be three runners to form a master’s team. Masters divisions include runners in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s; runners in the older divisions can score in the younger divisions. On my team, we had two young runners, two in the 50’s division, and me. With Willow out, and only Sonya and our open runners definitely faster than me, the pressure was on. Kim would likely run about my speed, so I could pace off her.

I went into the Mill City Museum to change into my uniform and found Cheryl Paxton and her husband Bobby, who a couple years ago had the goal of breaking the single-age records for his races that year.  This year, he’s working with a PT to build strength and correct imbalances, something we all have to do as we get older. I’ve often turned to Bobby for advice, so we compared notes about that. 

We also talked some about the new wave starts. Last year’s TC1 put all the team circuit racers in the same wave, which made for some congestion and jostling at the start. Bobby told me he had almost gotten knocked down. I had too. Dash had lined up with me in support and caught me when I stumbled, but it cost us both precious time, and he’d just barely missed breaking six minutes. No one was really to blame; the start of a race that fast is always insane, but those of us who’ve been through it get pretty wary. Bobby said he’d start in an earlier, less competitive wave away from any potential bulldozers, and I felt glad to be in a women’s wave where I’d know exactly where to line up.

In the one mile, it’s better to not think about it and just unleash all your crazy inner-child energy at the start. Back at a Meet of the Miles when I was in my early 40’s, when I was always fretting about whether I’d go over or under six minutes, I asked one of the fastest women in my age group whether there was a race strategy that would help. She said there really wasn’t. “Just run stupid,” she said. It made me laugh, but I did run a good mile that day and I still think it’s a good strategy to just abandon all prudent thoughts and go as fast as you can. As another top contender put it, “It’ll be over in less than 10 minutes.” You can do anything for under 10 minutes, right? Not really, but you can make yourself believe you can one the adrenaline kicks in. To me, this is the absolute best thing about racing the mile. For that time, all your mental energy is devoted to pushing your body, and all other thoughts will clear out. You become wonderfully, magically stupid.

I headed out to start my warmup and soon ran into Ken Rosen, out cheering near the first turn on the race course as the early waves went through. The wave starts, while they make for a long night, are an inspiring celebration of running, the simplicity and inclusiveness of the sport. A surprising number of social runners come out just to cheer this event. Ken is highly social and knows more runners than I have ever met through a decade of racing. He offered to do my warmup with me and he introduced me around, always adding “she’s really fast.” I do miss the days when I was truly really fast, but the reputation sticks, which I guess is something. One day they’ll say I was fast and then I’ll know I’m over the hill. This hopefully won’t be until I’m so old people are also saying stuff like “Wow, I hope I’m still running at all when I’m that old.”

The Friends and Family wave: People of all ages running together.

Back at the USATF tent, some of the usual racers were gathering. Laurie, coach extraordinaire for MDRA track Thursdays, was out talking to Steve S., who was back again for another victorious sub-5 mile after having accidentally run 10 miles the day before. I can’t be a spoiler for Steve’s race report, nor can I in any way approach the amazing detail he puts into these, but I will say I did tell him I was sure he’d go sub-5 again.

Me, Laurie, Steve:  So happy to be here

I also ran into Dash. He had also registered last-minute. Immediately I forgot everything but this one thrilling thought: “You’ll finally get to break six minutes!” He said I shouldn’t say that before it happened. So okay, I didn’t say it, but I did.

I went inside to stretch a bit. Time had slowed to a crawl. A random kindly stranger wished me luck and asked if I had a goal. “Six and a half would be great,” I said, trying to convince myself it was. “Well, I’m thinking seven and a half would be great for me,” she said.

“It is great,” I heard myself saying, and let that sink in. “It’s all great. We’re going to be great today.” Great great great great, I kept saying to myself on my final warmup.

At the start line, all the great ladies were doing accelerations, light and quick as the wind. There were only 78 of us in the Women’s Championship wave. Even in my prime, I sometimes felt like a duckling among swans in this milieu. Now, I know so many of them that I lose that feeling in their friendly recognition. Even the very fastest master’s ladies, who would soon leave me in the dust, gave me a nod and a smile. They’re a remarkably humble bunch. It’s a humbling sport.

The announcer did his best to re-inflate our humble egos. “Some of these ladies have run twice as far for a warm-up than they’re going to race today!” That was cute. But then he made a bolder point. “These are the fastest women in the state of Minnesota! They’re going to run the fastest mile of any women in the state!” That made me feel a little like I did when Ken had introduced me as really fast, but there was some truth in it; there really aren’t a lot of women in our age groups who could do what this wave of 78 swans were about to do on this night.

I didn’t have time to worry about how fast my heart was already beating before the clock started. When we took off, it felt more like unleashing my energy than pushing it. In the first minute I was so full of adrenaline that I couldn’t gauge my actual physical effort, I knew my eyes wouldn’t focus well enough for me to check my watch, and only seeing faster teammates ahead of me reassured me that I hadn’t gone out too fast. Soon, the first quarter marker showed that I was only a bit faster than my goal 6:30 pace, and still feeling good. After we turned the first corner, Dash cheered for me, giving me a much-needed boost.  After a quick downhill and another turn, it would be PUSH PUSH PUSH until the end. I was starting to gain on Kim. At the start of the last quarter she was just a couple seconds ahead.

I know this course pretty well and I know not to try to put on a sprint until you start to see the crowd lining up at the finish – and not to wait too long after that either. The amazing Kim stayed a second or two ahead, but I passed another competitor and came within a split second of another.

And that was it! About as fast as I’d hoped – well, almost 6:35 by clock time, but close enough to last year’s time for me to maintain the same age-graded performance.

After a drink of water and a cough drop I was ready to watch the final wave, the men’s championship.  Previous years have had us hoping to see someone break the 4-minute barrier. This would not be a year for that, but it was still breathtaking to watch them. I set my watch to line up with the clock time, and went out to look for the men I knew. They were all looking good to make their goal times. Most notably, Dash – I screamed when I saw him, which didn’t do wonders for the track-hack I’d already developed from racing in low humidity, but he was going to beat it with time to spare. His new PR is about 5:50 with many more PRs to come. I jogged up to the finish and found him exchanging congrats with teammates.

The MDRA men’s racing team! Super fine

And now, the best part: Debriefing with teammates. Highlight of the day: The Amazing Amy came out in the last-minute call for a complete team, so we ended up having a complete team for the 50’s category as well. This is the best last-minute pinch-hitting stunt that my superheroic team has pulled off since last year’s Fitger’s 5K, when Amy, Willow and I made it to Duluth just in time to register. Showing up is big in the team circuit. This keeps us in the running to win again, despite fierce competition. Some of the fiercest is, of course, Run ‘n’ Fun, who gathered for their team photo also:

Run N Fun

And, the Twin Cities Running Company angels, below:

Me in the middle, living the dream

At this point, I was too excited to notice how cold I was getting, and didn’t quite get into my sweats before I started to shiver. Dash offered me a ride home, which I gratefully accepted, and I checked in with Willow on the way. Things were okay on her end, and she was relieved we’d stayed in the running as a team. Ever supportive, she even took the time to lift my spirits about the dreaded age-related decline. “What counts is you went! You’re strong! And you place!” I didn’t place in this race, but I do feel strong, and the Brian Kraft 5K is still ahead, so Willow will get her chance to kick my butt again.

I keep mentioning age-graded performance, which I discussed with Bobby and Willow today. The AGP is shown as a percentage in MTEC results and on some online calculators. The score is a percentage of the best time on record for the distance for a given age and gender.  Some calculators offer a rough interpretation, such as that over 90-93% makes an athlete “world class,” over 80% “national class” and over 70% “regional class.” When Bobby was breaking regional records, he was well over 85%, easily keeping up with many men half his age. Willow described herself as “average,” but being average is pretty honorable in either of the TC1 Championship waves (I was 48th out of 78). Her time in last year’s mile gave her an AGP of 71. Mine is holding steady at 74. Kim, just a couple seconds ahead of me but six years older, gets an impressive 80. I’ve never had an AGP over 80, so that’s as high as I’ll set my sights for now. We’ll see what the future brings.

For now, here’s to honoring the gift of fitness and celebrating the results. Hold that thought.  See you soon.

No-Burnout Workout #5: OMG It’s May and I Gotta Get in Shape for a 5K

It might seem strange that, a week after running an okay 10K, I’m worried about being in good 5K shape. Welcome to my world.

We’re just two weeks out from Women Run the Cities, and the Brian Kraft 5k is 3 weeks and 2 days away. So realistically, there’s not a ton I can do to improve my fitness for either, but what I do need is practice at 5K pace or a little faster to shift gears from patiently-focused 10k racing to boldly-hyperfocused 5K pace.

Many intermediate to advanced 5K programs follow a progression of weekly speed-workouts of about 4K-5K total of speedwork broken down into intervals, starting with shorter intervals (maybe once around a 400-m track) and increasing to longer intervals of up to five minutes. The rest interval will take about half the amount of time it took to complete the interval, or up to 90% of that time. You might have heard this called a VO2 max workout. The effort for VO2 max workouts gets your heart rate over 90% of maximum. Not sprinting effort, but HARD effort, and progressively harder toward the end of each interval. If you’ve ever heard a couple training buddies merrily chatting away during a 5K, they were DOING IT WRONG.  Okay, theres no real right or wrong in running, but if you want a workout that’s going to improve your VO2 max, you should feel like you’re fighting for air.

If you race frequently like I do, you can skip some of the workouts and start where you’re at.  Using recent workouts to gauge about how long I can consistently maintain the kind of speed I want, I decided to start with 2 minutes at 5k effort, 1 minute slow jog, repeat x 10.

This is a good starting point for anyone doing 5k speedwork, IF, AND THIS IS IMPORTANT, IF your speed during this 2 minutes is consistent, rather than a 30-second sprint followed by a 30-second decline and another minute significantly slower. The same is true no matter the length of the interval. If your interval is a kilometer, and you run the first half-kilometer at a 6-minute-mile pace and the second half-K at a 7-minute mile pace, your lap pace looks pretty good but you’re going to race at least the last half of your 5K at a 7-minute mile pace. Be realistic, and start where you’re at.

I did this on the same section of greenway where I did my 10k workouts. It went like this:

2-mile warmup, 9:26 mile pace (no sense burning out early).

2-minute intervals x 10, with 1-minute slogs (very slow jogs).  Paces on these: 6:26 per mile, 6:42, 6:35, 6:33, 6:47, 6:21, 6:25, 6:29, 6:26, 6:31, 6:29.

Sloggy half-mile cool-down.

Total: 6.4 miles. Followed immediately by a bottle of fresh juice, followed by tacos.

TACO TIME. (At Midtown Global Market)

If you know me, you know this workout went a little faster than I’m probably going to race my spring 5K, and that’s okay.  VO2 max workout speed is usually a little faster than 5K speed.

Even if you never race a 5K, you need this workout. Even if you don’t run, try this effort/heart rate level in a spin class. It’s exhilarating and transformative. I woke a little groggy this morning, but now I have a spring in my step.

Happy Spring!