The Fairest of them All at the Mudball

On wobbly legs I got ready for this morning’s Mudball. Yesterday’s Get in Gear 10k had taken a lot out of my legs, but I still had 4.5 miles in there, I could feel it. Plus, trail running is different than road running. Plus, I need a shakeout, Plus, bragging rights. If not bragging rights, losing the run for once would keep me humble.

The Mudball trail race goes back to 1964, when a dozen or so strong young men lined up to see who was fastest under Quaking Bog’s challenging springtime conditions. A tradition was born that grew to include more runners, who rightly decided that mud must always be part of the tradition.
The run eventually expanded to about 80-100 runners, including 40 or so women.  It is perhaps not very ladylike. I care nothing for ladylikeness and have run it six or seven times, and was the women’s winner three times. I dubbed myself Queen of the Mudball, and the Minnesota Distance Runners Association got a couple good photos of me in 2017  and ran with it, so to speak.
One of the 2017 MDRA photos. I was a little bit fast not long ago.

And so, on shaky legs, I headed to the bog. There, the usual gang of suspects had gathered. The first thing I discovered was that I wasn’t the only one who had run Get in Gear; a few others had the same swagger. At least two of the women were sure to beat me soundly, I knew, plus at least one of the girls. Keeping humble seemed to be the theme of the day. Until, to my surprise, John asked me to lead the kids’ race. I’d win something after all, even if it was with a head start in front of the biggest mud puddle.

John and Lee Welcome the 2015-2017 Queen to do the Kids’ race honors

This was possibly the most fun thing I have ever done in my entire running career. It consists of following a set of markers over a quarter-mile course, looking back to encourage the followers, then stepping out before the finish line. I gave the loop a test run to make sure I could spot all the markers because I get lost easily, but John had assured me it was an easy job, and it was. I’d watched Kirt do it in other years, and he made a good Pied Piper, but he couldn’t possibly have enjoyed it as much as I did.

After this great warmup, it was time to begin the Mudball, which would follow a 0.9 loop five times, almost exactly as the original Mudball did. John and Lee called out the start and we were off. Within a few minutes I remembered that this is a HARD course. It’s a fun race with a fun theme, but hard. One year when it was warm, it was the hardest race of the entire year for me if heart rate means anything. I don’t wear a heart rate monitor anymore because I trust my effort level now, but on tired legs, with a tired mind and on a hard course, yes, hard.

Yet, somehow I always forget the difficulty in the joy of tackling this crazy thing. The mud puddles add a small thrill. You have to slow down to pull your feet through them. Two runners lost a shoe in the mud this year. Legend has it that on other years, some shoes have never been found – lost sacrifices to the phantoms of the bog. You pull out of the mud eager to fly again.

At a recent trail running seminar at Mill City Running, it was noted that short trail races may be the wave of the future. I support this and it makes perfect sense. Runners may grow tired of the hassle and expense of road races, and turn to the trails. And why should trial running be all about ultras? A short, fast trail race is more than a trial run, and more than a road race. It’s an adventure! A battle! A celebration of freedom, nature and the human spirit!

Or so I told myself as I skidded through the course’s second mud puddle for the fourth time, and gradually lost track of the runners ahead who were also on lap four. Tired, giddy, dizzy, depleted and perhaps dehydrated, I faltered on a downhill and my head swam. Not knowing where to turn, I went straight, then realized it was the wrong uphill. Did I mention I get lost easy? So there I was, punishing myself with extra credit on an already hard run, then laughing to myself as I tried to catch back up. By the time I got back to the start/finish, I wasn’t even sure if I really had only one lap to go, but I did, so I found my second wind.

Near the start/finish area at Quaking Bog

I finished on two feet, and my sore toe felt better than it had at the start. I credited the mud soak for that. Not that I recommend soaking your bruised toenails in mud, but it won’t hurt.

It’s a little bit interesting to note that except for a couple years when I flew solo, every time I’ve run the Mudball I’ve had a different companion to cheer me, though only one of actually ran it himself. Legend may say that in the end, one by one I outran them all. The Queen of the Mudball has no king! She rules alone, she does not “clean up nice,” she does not suffer these muddy-shoed ruffians, even though she is one of them. This is not an accurate theme, but legends are rarely based on unembellished truth.

Local legend Julie V. looks to be in full form based on today, and may soon be once more turning in age-graded performances of over 90%. I got another photo with her. At this point she’s asking why I want all these photos with her. I’m getting to be too much of an age-grouper groupie, and need to tone it down a bit. But here’s my one-more photo:


Local legend Steve Q. is also back in it, after battling illness for most of the winter. It feels like true springtime to see friends starting to get their strength back.

The organizers assure me that, though I’m no longer reigning Queen, the honor of Mudball royalty extends as long as a history of this run is kept. Thank you, MDRA!

And they lived happily ever after.
So ends a great weekend. More photos and details to follow, once they are posted.

Get in Gear 2019

Following a slightly damp group run on Monday night, the fearless leader of the group delivered a weather report for the weekend: cold and rainy. He noted that this is traditional weather for the Get in Gear races. The “Annual Rite of Spring” takes place in Minnesota April, which may or may not be very springtimey, and the cold, wet, slushy years stand out in our memories.
This year promised to be memorable. The chance of snow was just low enough to give us hope that it wouldn’t happen, but not very much. Thursday night, I started getting ready: tights, wool socks, long sleeves, light mittens, hand warmers, old sweatshirt to wear at the start, a hat warm sweats and more hand warmers for my drop bag, a towel.
I took Friday off and headed to race headquarters just before noon, bringing some old shoes to donate. My email from Get in Gear said my “elite entry” would be number F43. One of my favorite things about this race is the generous awards: three deep in each five-year age group, the prize is a nice shirt, and first place gets a free entry into the next year’s race as an “elite runner.” The shirt is mailed along with a letter of congratulations, and the comp entry is emailed the following year. All of these address me as “Dear Elite Runner,” which fills me with mirth. Incredibly, I have won my age group three times, though I have never actually run an elite time (I think my best was 41:40 in this race). Last year the race was not included in the team circuit, so in the absence of truly elite competition, I won with a blazing time of 44-something. This will be the last year I run GIG for free, at least until I age up and start training hard again.
Some of this  year’s champions

I have mixed feelings about Get in Gear. It’s traditional and the overall organization is excellent, but it’s 1700 runners big in the 10k alone, and so many runners spreading out over the park grounds makes for what my team leader calls a “goat rodeo.” This would be the true test of all the stress-management techniques I’ve been practicing over the past five months.

On Friday I ate well, slept well, and on Saturday awoke almost too mellow. The first thing I did was open the window. Where was the bad weather we were supposed to have? Nowhere in sight. When I arrived, I was so happy to be warm and dry and to see my teammates I didn’t give much thought to race performance. And I forgot to take a picture! Sorry, my excellent and beautifully photogenic teammates. Anyway, talking to them mellowed me out even more. The Twin Cities Running Company master’s teams are very strong, and now that I’m at the older end of my age group, my main function is as kind a pinch-hitter for races that not everyone wants to run. Get in Gear is not one of those races; it’s popular.

I ran a short warm-up, did a few strides, and lined up very, very carefully, staying a bit to the side and checking who was behind me. I’m cautious about getting jostled or tripped; I’ve fallen flat in three races, and road scrapes hurt. The 1:30 half-marathon pace group was just ahead, and so were several runners I recognized as being about my pace. This worked out very well. My stats say I passed 15 people, and ONE person passed me.

I figured I’d start at a 7-minute mile pace, but I never did quite fall into that. I was under a 7:10 pace for the first two miles, then started to get a bit of a foot cramp. I wasn’t worried about it, and it went away by the time I got over the bridge. I really felt excellent, and again, maybe a little too mellow. Even in the midst of the crampy foot, I was just taking in the sights. I saw an old running buddy out cheering and called out to him, barely recognizing my strong voice. If I felt so good, why wasn’t I running faster? I picked it up a bit going down the bridge, but just a little.

I almost caught up with a runner I knew who had apparently started too far back. I knew he raced a bit faster than I usually do, but I had never run faster than a 9-minute mile with him because he is smart and knows that easy runs should be run an easy pace. But now he was running fast. He was wearing Vibram toe shoes – remember those? How retro! And his stride was amazing! He was totally in the zone and not in the mood to chat. I enjoy that about races.  You see a different side of people.

I mean, Vibrams. Really. Here he is after the race, still doing fine.

At the water stop, manned by the excellent group Capital City Runners, I looked for my dear friend Alan, found him and gave a quick shout as I grabbed a Gatorade cup from him. That gave me a boost, but I still wasn’t picking up the pace. And then the hill. I did have a strong finish. I’d hoped for at least under 45 minutes, didn’t quite make it, but felt I had a good run with conservative training and no major injuries, except for a sore middle toe which was probably due to my shoes being a bit new.

I congratulated some teammates, caught my breath, and then turned around just in time to see Andriette finish. Now 64, Andriette is a champion in her division, and came away with an enormous medal.

I skipped the cool-down my teammates suggested, because to them, a “cool-down” means “let’s run at least a couple more miles.” No, 8-9 miles is a good day for me, thanks. I excused myself with “I think my toenail might be about to fall off.” They said “Oh, okay,” and took off.

You know you’re in a hardcore gang when the response to “My toenail might be about to fall off” is “Oh, okay.”

I had a nice talk with Andriette. We have this little routine: I try to find out the secrets to her staying power, she tells me something about going vegan, and then I inwardly tell myself not to ask her again and hope she’ll tell me something different next time. This time she did also mention cross-training. All the best veteran runners bike or ski also. I will be in the market for a new bike soon. I will not be giving up ice cream or any other dairy product.

The other highlight of my weekend was seeing Gary of the Charities Challenge series, out there in full form with his camera and cheery voice. He always has hugs for me and gets in a photo with me and tells me I make him look good. With old friends, one can be forever young.

It’s Gary making me look good.

Gary notes that the 5k is the best distance to run for a good workout. I wholeheartedly agree. Run a few 5Ks during a training season and come out fitter. I also think short, family-oriented trail races will pick up the dwindling interest among runners who are a little burned out on full-frills half-marathons.

Moving right along, I am glad I went this year. I got a free zip jacket from the GIG Crew that was clearing out old merchandise. There are always free massages, which makes a lot of difference in my tight shoulders, and a lot of free food: chocolate milk, bread, peanut butter, yogurt, bananas, and a new vendor was giving out tubs of hummus. A lot of value. Incredibly, I was still hungry and got a fish basket at Sea Salt.

I got the kiddie basket at Sea Salt. They do not have fries, they do not need them.

Final results of Get In Gear:  45:13, second in my age group only to one very consistent competitor, who ran 45:10. I thought about the times during today’s race when I wondered if I could push a little harder but just didn’t, and I thought about my cautious start, and my newish shoes, and all the little things that can cost you three seconds, and turned this over and over in my head before I realized the total futility of such thinking. I’m going with my initial gut reaction to the results, which was whew! Now there’s no pressure for me to register again just because I got a free entry for winning my AG, and run it again just because I can’t resist a bargain. There will be plenty of time to push myself when I’m in my 50’s.

For now, I think I’m still good to run the Mudball. I had a wonderful day today, and wait until you see me tomorrow! Okay, maybe I won’t be fast, but I’ll be all kinds of sunshiny happy goodness, and this is a cheap race that deserves a special place in Good Fast Cheap. Can’t wait.

Nice photo Gary got of me wearing my medal backward


Non-Recipe: Fancy Deviled Eggs

Why just color the shells when you can color the eggs themselves? The natural dyes in beet juice, red cabbage, and turmeric add lovely color. For the filling, get creative with avocado, corn, curry, red pepper and/or beets.

I had eight medium eggs, and these ingredients for the dye:

Beet juice (from some jarred beets I had in the fridge)

2 T turmeric

1/2 cup shredded red cabbage

I was doubtful myself when I saw this suggestion in Fresh Thyme’s free recipe mag. It did work! For blue dye, cook the red cabbage in a cup of water. It’s suggested to add a teaspoon of baking soda, but I omitted it and still got some good blue color. I placed the liquid along with the cabbage and two hard boiled, peeled eggs into a jar overnight.

The other dyes were even simpler – into another jar went the turmeric plus water to cover and three eggs, and three eggs went into the beet jar.

You know how to hard boil an egg, right? Place in a saucepan with water to cover, bring to a boil for a minute, then cover, turn off the heat, and let them sit for 10-12 minutes.

After halving the dyed eggs and putting the yolks into bowls, I got creative and you can too. I had:

1/2 avocado, juice of 1/2 lime, 1 tsp fajita seasoning, 2 t finely chopped green onion. That made the green filling.

1 cooked beet (from the same jar), 1 T chopped red pepper, 1 T hot sauce, T sour cream, 1 tsp berbere seasoning. That made the red filling (though it didn’t turn out as red as I would like – will have to experiment more with that one).

1/4 cup cooked corn, 2 T mayonnaise, 1 T mango salsa, 1/2 tsp curry seasoning. That was the yellow filling, my favorite.

My beet juice jar (there’s a little vinegar but that added a nice flavor), the leftover turmeric which I used for tea, and bowls for the curry corn, avocado and beet pepper fillings

I was as usual just kind of winging it. I mashed up the yolks and divided them more or less evenly. Deviled eggs are hard to mess up. If the filling’s not quite right, adding more mayo or sour cream usually fixes it. If it’s too bland, a little more seasoning or a little lemon juice will perk it up.

Blue egg with beet pepper filling, yellow turmeric egg with avocado filling, beet egg with curry corn filling

Top with paprika or Tajin. Or whatever you want.

Celebrate springtime with joy!

Running with Run Beer Repeat

There’s no shortage of running clubs in Minneapolis, St. Paul and the surrounding suburbs, so I’m going to start reviewing my favorites to help you sort them out. A good starting point is the fun group Run Beer Repeat, described on their website as “A craft beer club with a running problem.”

The plan is simple. Meet at a different brewery on the first and third Thursdays of the month. Gather outside the brewery at 6:20. Make introductions and go over the planned running route. Everyone runs 15 minutes out, 15 minutes back, so that everyone finishes at about the same time. How brilliant is that? Then the group, usually consisting of about 15-20 runners of various ages and abilities, can all gather for a beer afterward.

I ran with them tonight at Urban Growler. I’ve also joined them at Fair State and Venn. They make occasional field trips outside of the Twin Cities. If you’re serious about trying all of the ridiculously many breweries in the area, this is for you.

The lowdown:

What it is: An extremely easygoing mixed group of runners. Mostly non-competitive, most running close to 9-minute miles, though whatever your pace you’ll meet back at the brewery at at the same time, since it’s always an out-and-back 30 minutes.

When: First and Third Thursdays.

Where: A different brewery every time. Next run will be May 2 at Broken Clock.

Cost: Free. They’d like you to sign a waiver, that’s all.

For you if: You realize a moderate 30-minute workout is enough. You don’t particularly want to talk about a training plan. You don’t want any pressure, really. Maybe you’ve had a bad day and want to make it better.

Maybe not for you if: You do want to talk about your training plan, and you must run at least six miles every damn day, and it would hurt your precious feet to run slower than an 8-minute mile. Good for you. I’ll have a beer for you. You’re welcome.

Find them:; on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Boston: What Showing Up Means to Me

Boston 2013. Everything I once tried to forget, this year I tried to remember. A movie-trailer of vivid short scenes in my mind. The signs that said “ALL IN,” and me, with my newly-healed stress fracture, feeling the vague irony of being not at all all-in. The walk to the start. Looking up to greet the camera. Strangers with tissues, Twizzlers and cheers. The man who laughed when I stopped to take a selfie. The Wellesley girls. My legs growing heavy. The bus ride back. “We’ll survive to run another day,” I said. Watching the true finishers.

Something made me want to leave. It wasn’t sadness over my DNF. I had planned that, after recovering from my broken foot and broken dream, and felt at peace with my decision to run just over halfway and shuttle back. After some time spectating at the finish, it felt like time to go. I walked one block, turned the corner, heard an explosion – fireworks? All I saw was smoke. Shouts in the distance, then people running away, toward me. As one woman ran past me, I caught the look on her face, etched forever on my mind, the look of pure terror that told me everything.

I got on the phone and called my parents. My dad answered. “Something happened. I want you to know I’m okay if you hear something on the news. I’m fine. I’m going back to the hotel.”

It took some time to get back, and soon calls weren’t getting through anymore. In a decision I’d never forgive, my then-boyfriend, who was aboard a plane when he got my message plus one from another friend who had asked about me, stayed quiet and obeyed the order to turn off all devices simply because he didn’t know what else to do.

All this time, I felt nothing like panic or even fear. The constant sirens drowned everything out, even my thoughts. Even days later, when I returned home and found a counselor to talk to, I didn’t feel much talking it out. I didn’t have signs of PTSD. Mostly I felt lonely.

I didn’t watch the news, but followed social media with half-detached interest. BOSTON STRONG prefaced every reference to the bombings. A country mourned those who were lost, turned to the survivors for inspiration, and of course there was plenty of inspiration to be found. Marathoners are every kind of strong: enduring, tenacious, spirited, resilient. Still, I didn’t want to talk about it. I especially didn’t want to talk about any plans to return the next year, as was the plan of so many others who had been there.

I didn’t want to be Boston Strong. I wanted someone to be strong for me. I wanted to be let be. To stay home and heal. If I could run another big race, even if was just the Twin Cities One Mile, and feel fine about it, that would be enough.

Even when we view a tragedy together, the way we process it is highly individual. And so whenever I tried to talk about what I had gone through, I found myself feeling more alone than if I sat alone with my own thoughts. I struggled to find the words to say it, and when some thoughts took form, they didn’t come in the form of inspirational messages or conclusions of any sort. My experience was what it was. A sharp turn on the heels of another turning point, a part of life that took its place in my history. It became a part of me that I held in, that leaked out in ways I could ignore at first, but eventually could not.

There are new therapies now that can help in reprocessing, and that along with a lot of other things set me on the path to reopening and healing. For the first time, I wanted to watch the news clips on Boston 2013. While I was searching for those, I found this year’s news about Adrianne Haslet, the dancer who lost part of her leg in the bombings and returned to run again. This year, she was in a car accident – something that could have happened to any of us, running in an area where motorists may or may not look out for runners.

After her first Tweet from the hospital, and news that the injuries were severe, an interview with her coach stirred hope that with her strength, she’d recover in time to run Boston again. A long surgery followed, and soon it became clear that there wasn’t enough time to recover. I thought, how could there be? When I broke just one bone in January 2013, there wasn’t enough time to heal and re-train. Still, I continued to watch with interest. She would run the 5k, she said, if she had to crawl to the finish. After that, the news faded away, but I remembered and still do.

By the time I ran my first race of this year in March, I knew I felt better, but sometimes I still woke at 4:00 a.m. with thoughts spinning in my head. The difference was the clarity of the thoughts, and the lack of anxiety. I woke up one night and wrote, “I want to talk about this, really talk about it.”

This is what I want to say, even though it is nothing that would ever make the news. In fact, it’s nothing new at all coming from me, but now you know why I keep saying it. Strength is where you look for it. If running is all about testing the human spirit and inspiring one another in our victories, an all-in 5k is every bit as inspirational as a marathon. This year shines a light on that truth. We’ll watch the winners, of course, but I have my eye on those who have endured the most. I’ll watch this year’s slogan, Des Linden’s “Keep Showing Up.” I’ll watch with humble gratitude all the events where people who can’t run at all anymore keep showing up to give their support to the running community. I’ll remember the words of the friend who comforted me years ago: “Everything that made you a great runner is within you.” Everything that made us strong always will be. Real strength is all about showing up, time and time again, for what we love.

Let’s go.

Special No-Burnout Workout: 10k Prediction

I did not race the Fred Kurz 10 mile. This year’s April blizzard, while not as bad as last year’s blizzard which led to a historic cancellation of the FK 10 mile, had left me tired and the trails sloppy. It made more sense to catch up on sleep, have a good breakfast and save my energy for a quality workout on clear paths after temps had warmed up to 37 degrees. I perked up nicely after a writing Meetup, coffee and good conversation.

Today’s workout :

2.2 mile warmup

2 miles at last year’s best 10k pace (7:01/mi)

2-minute jog

2 miles at 10k pace again (managed 6:54, because of a tailwind)

4-minute jog

1/2 mile at 7:02, 1 minute jog, 1/2 mile at 6:58

Long cool down with strides. Total 9.4 miles.

My late-season best-effort 10k workout is basically an abbreviation of McMillan Running’s best-10k workout. McMillan’s plan has you work up from six mile repeats at your goal 10k pace with 3-minute recovery jogs and work up to 3 x 2 miles at your goal pace with 5-minute recovery jogs. If you have a base of over 40 miles per week and are seriously ready to PR, this plan is good. If your mileage or ambition is somewhat less than this, you don’t have to do a full 10k worth of speedwork every week.

Personally, even in my PR days, I never made it past a workout of 2 x 1.75 miles plus 2 x 1 mile, but I found that this final work could predict my 10k pace if I could perform it without my legs feeling too heavy at the end. Today my legs did get a bit heavy, as evidenced by the fact that I didn’t run the half-mile efforts any faster than the 2-mile efforts despite pushing a bit harder. Still, I didn’t feel I needed a full 5-minute recovery jog at the end of the first 2-mile and felt exhilarated at the end of the second, so I don’t think my 10k will be much slower than today’s workout pace.

Unless there’s a blizzard, or a heat wave. You never know.

See you at Get in Gear, which I won’t skip because I’m preregistered.

At Mile 2 of the 2015 Get in Gear 10K

Fun fact about Fred Kurz: My dad knew him (not well, but he seems to never forget a name), from Murray High. Dad retold an incredible story about how he was also in a bike vs. car accident when he was about 20. He flew into the air, landed on his feet like a true gymnast, and greeted the horrified motorist who hadn’t seen what happened but had stopped, gotten out and was then looking at the crumpled bike in front of his car. I cannot comment except to say, well, 56 years later, here we are.

Quick Snack: Wintry Mix

I’d feel guilty if I called this a recipe. You need two things:

Air-popped popcorn

Yogurt covered almonds

These are from Fresh Thyme

Chop the almonds. You need about 10 almonds per 2 cups of popped corn, but use more than that. You deserve it.

Put the chopped yogurt almonds into a large skillet set to medium low, let the coating melt at bit and stir.

At this stage you could add coconut flakes, crispy rice or puffed wheat cereal, chopped pecans, or whatever you have. I made this during a sloppy April blizzard when I was unwilling to leave home to get any other ingredients, so the popcorn and yogurt almonds were all I had.

It was plenty. Let it cool, sprinkle a little powdered sugar on top, and enjoy. The end.

Wintry mix never lasts long. Happy spring!

No-Burnout Workout #3: The Nickel & Dimer

What it is: 4-6 x (4 minutes @10k pace, 1 minute jog, 2 minutes @5k pace, 1 minute jog)

Purpose: When you’re training for a 10k, and mile repeats are on your plan but you have no appetite for them; when you want to race a 5K within a month of your goal 10k.

Spring training is coming along. I generally have trouble getting motivated for tempo and steady-state runs, but I’m using races for those workouts, with great results. I have no race planned for this weekend, so I put together an interval workout. Having done No-Burnout Workout #1 on Wednesday (12 x 200 at goal mile speed, all spot-on at 45 seconds) I didn’t plan on doing another hard workout until Saturday, but it looks like rain, I have weekend plans for which I want to look good, and boss let me go early, so off I went.

I designed this workout based on Workout #2 (the double 5-4-3-2-1 fartlek) after examining the results, which showed that I could comfortably maintain last year’s 10k speed without strain for 4 minutes but not for 5, and that I gained no speed on the 3-minute intervals but was significantly faster at 2 minutes, coming down to last year’s 5k pace.

The 5k and 10k have always been my best distances. I have a pretty typical constitution for a nickel-and-dimer, and the typical impatience. Maybe this is just a throwback to high school days, but sometimes a mile seems SO LONG and mile repeats seem so blah. Shortening it a bit and chopping it up, having twice as many breaks to look forward to, helps the workout seem easier, though physically it’s a good training stimulus.

Though this run came at the end of a hard week, it went fine. I did all six 4+2’s, and the total mileage with warm-up and cool-down was a little over nine miles. I did hit last year’s race paces: 7-minute miles for the 4-minutes, and 6:40’s on the 2-minutes. It did feel hard, though, and I don’t think I’ll actually race 7-minute miles for Get in Gear, because I do want to save something for the Mudball the next day.

Like all no-burnout workouts, this can and should be customized. The times and distances don’t have to be exact as long as they add up to your prescribed amount of speedwork, so if you can maintain your paces for longer, go for it. You could run by distance, going 1 kilometer and 1/2 kilometer, or go by time on a bike or elliptical.

I like the 5k and 10k. They don’t require much recovery time, they’re good for all ages and abilities, and they’re great for your health. You could train for a 5k on the minimum amount of aerobic activity the Department of Health and Human Services recommends (150 minutes a week), which would leave plenty of free time for whatever else you’ve got going on this weekend.

I can’t wait for tomorrow!

MDRA 7 Mile 2019

It’s been a few years since I ran this fun hilly 7-mile race in Hopkins, MN. I’m glad I did. Conditions weren’t perfect – a bit cold and blustery – but sunny and relatively free of snow and ice.

The second of the three spring races free to members of the Minnesota Distance Running Association, this race is often used by veteran runners as a training run to get ready for a goal race later in the spring. I guess I’m a veteran now.

I wouldn’t have had the energy this morning for the usual hassles of a full-frills race, but that’s not what this is. Registration and bib pickup is in the Hopkins Pavilion, which has ample parking for the ~200 runners. Because the start is still near the Baptist Church where pickup used to be, we had a 1/4 mile jog to the start line, but I saw this as a bonus. A good warmup is important on a cold day.

The beautiful Hopkins Pavilion

Inside the pavilion, I quickly got a recycled bib with a chip-timer, did some stretches and got some water. Nice indoor bathrooms. Plenty of space. Did I mention this is a free race? You don’t get treatment like this at the Frufru Chocolate Martini Disco Run or whatever the kids are doing these days. Just saying.

Inside the Pavilion

Again, there’s no sound system. The only announcements were brief instructions provided by Heidi as she stood on a chair and called out the usual warnings about the open-road course, and a much-appreciated warning that the wind would be in our faces in the last two miles.

The lack of loudspeakers or music makes it easier for the runners to talk. I looked around and found George, a speedster who starts training in the spring at a pace most people would love to ever reach. Later, I’d have the pleasure of running near him for about 2-1/2 miles, while course marshals called out “Go George!” Soon, his run progressed to a pace that would have been a strain for me. “Train, don’t strain,” I reminded myself, and let him go. Sigh.

George will probably run the 25k next week. I’ll see him next in two weeks, at the Fred Kurz 10 Mile.

The 7-mile course is the same course that’s used for the MDRA Ron Daws 25K, held the following weekend. Two years ago I ran the 25K at an overall 7:45 pace, painfully, because I’d set a goal of running it in two hours. I felt like hell after 12 miles and by 13 wanted badly to give up, but I was on pace for two hours and extremely stubborn. This year I felt a 7:45 pace would be good for the 7-mile, as long as I didn’t feel any pain in my tricky left heel or slightly damaged right hip.

On the way to the start, I chatted with some of my track buddies from the MDRA summer track workouts (which are also free). Tom just wanted to run at a pace within a minute-per-mile of his best pace at this race (6:38, just a couple years ago). He succeeded mightily with a 7:15 pace. Bill just wanted to beat Kirt. I told him he should aim higher than that – we both know Kirt has had limited time and is not in top form. Bill managed a 7:19 pace, finishing about 4-1/2 minutes ahead of Kirt. Michael started out faster than me, held steady, almost let me catch him, then outsprinted me at the finish. None of this surprises me. When you run track with people for a few seasons, you know what it means when they say what they say.

Armed with this knowledge, I lined up appropriately, took deep breaths, and started cautiously. I soon found myself keeping up with George, and other runners who are normally faster than me, and asked them too about their goals. So now I know that when a real speedster says he’s going to run a race at his easy pace (8-minute miles) and then run strides in the last couple miles, it could mean his overall pace is going to go all the way down to 7:09. There’s everyday easy, and then there’s race-day easy.

The same was true for me. A 7:45 pace feels fairly hard for me when I’m out on my own, but racing on this beautiful day, I shook off all the fatigue that had built up over the week and opened my heart to the pure joy of it. I was mindful of the hills, taking short quick steps and being careful not to over-stride, but every time I reached the top of a hill, I opened up and picked up the pace.

About halfway through, there’s a water stop, and the great Randy Fulton gave me an energy boost. I noticed the hill after that wasn’t a strain at all. A young man had to pass me, but as we exchanged words of encouragement, I found myself laughing. Laughing! On a hill! I don’t recognize myself.

The last two miles featured the ice-cold headwind Heidi had warned us about. It reminded me of the finish at the Securian half-marathon – a wind tunnel that takes your breath away. Still, we were done with most of the hills by that point, and I didn’t lose much speed. With 4-5 minutes to go, I started pushing hard. Just before we turned the last corner, I pushed past Michael, shouting “last quarter mile!” He knew I was wrong, saved his energy, and passed me 20 seconds later. A couple young women passed me too, but I still felt my finish was strong for where I’m at right now.

It was great to be done, get a cup of water, congratulate everyone, and hobble back to the pavilion, where more water, bananas, bread and cookies awaited us.

Back at the pavilion

The cookies and bread are donated by Great Harvest, my favorite bakery. The bread is made with freshly milled whole wheat. A typical bagel would have upset my stomach, but Great Harvest bread never does.

I got my results just a few hours later: 7:48 overall pace, 7th woman and first in my age group. The winner, 35-year-old Dan LaPlante, finished in 40:42, followed by Brandon Kotek in 41 minutes. F1 Sara Conrad finished in 50:27. This may be a small race, but again, there’s plenty of competition if that’s what you need.

A few of us decided to head over to the nearby Yum restaurant for more breakfast. This is what it’s really all about! Fun and camaraderie. Thanks to this great running community.

Gloria, Amy and Chris are more friends from MDRA training opportunities. More info at

Remember, if you missed the fun today, you still have the chance to run it TWICE in the Ron Daws 25K, another bargain race, which follows the same hilly course and will feature the same great organizers and amenities.

Cheap Shopping Trip: Goodwill Outlet

And now for something completely different: A field trip in search of good stuff at over 90% off original price. A lot of what I wear is from the Goodwill Outlet in St. Paul. There’s also one in Brooklyn Park, and many cities across the States have one. Goodwill outlets catch the overflow from the goods donated to Goodwill that the stores can’t make room for anymore, so, as with any thrift store, the goodness of the goods might depend on your area. This spring at Goodwill St. Paul at 553 Fairview Ave. 55104, the overflow is abundant, if you’re willing to do the digging.

I do mean digging. The outlet is nothing more than a large space filled with large wheeled bins that look like small dumpsters. The first time I walked into this place after it converted from a regular store with racks of clothing, I was a bit confused. Was this the right place? But other shoppers were pulling out clothing, holding it up, piling it in carts, looking perfectly comfortable, so I joined in.

Many shoppers will fill a cart like this, to get a reduced price per pound.
A typical dump bin filled with mostly clothing

Soon I learned that the best time to come was Sundays, when new shipments come to the outlet. Some of it is still in donation bags; some items have tags from the larger Goodwill store at Griggs and University Ave, having not sold there. A new bin of clothing will be wheeled out into the middle of the outlet, and shoppers will patiently wait until they’re told they can start digging. Then they go at it like kids at Christmas. I stand back and let them tear the bags open, then peer over their shoulders to see what they’re finding.

They wheel out the new bins, the shoppers wait until they say go, then everyone tears into them. This is an unparalleled shopping experience.

On one trip, I saw a woman give up on a bag of clothing that was not her size; it was my size, and when I looked further into it, I found a hardly-worn dress from The North Face, which probably originally cost over $60.

I’m ready for summer!

Finds like this aren’t all that uncommon. I’ve found brands like Lululemon, Black House White Market, Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, pretty much you name it. A lot of people fall out of love with good-as-new clothing and simply don’t want to bother with consignment.

A cozy, flawless wool blend dress from Aryeh that also probably retailed for over $60

Obviously this is not for everyone. It’s a bit of work; I have to limit the time I spend hunting, keeping in mind that time is valuable too. If you’re sensitive, you might find that you start to sneeze after 20 minutes or so. Some shoppers come with gloves and masks; you’re not sure where this stuff has been. Indeed, in areas that have bedbugs, they have found their way in. I’m not squeamish, but anything I buy goes straight into a laundry bag and washed immediately. Bedbugs are easily killed in the dryer, but once they have spread, the expense of having them exterminated could negate all your bargain shopping.

You do find some funky junk here
A little disturbing that this T-shirt exists, but kind of good to see that no one wants it
Anyone need some luggage?

If that doesn’t make you squeamish, welcome to a unique and fun and unique shopping experience. Really. Everyone is friendly and it’s interesting to see what other shoppers are grabbing. Often when I’m shopping alone, I can share a laugh with the person standing next to me as we try to guess what we’ll uncover next. Sometimes you find an interesting corner of fabric and pull it out but still don’t know what it is until you hold it all the way up by two corners. Is it a flag? Is it a pillowcase? Ohmigod it’s shorts!

My track buddy and I found a shirt, also donated by the 7-foot lumberjack who donated the shorts, big enough for both of us to fit into. Good times.

On any day, it’s hit-or-miss; some days I won’t find anything worth taking up closet space, some days I hit the jackpot. Most days I find at least something, a silk scarf, or a kitchen gadget in a bin of small assorted household goods. Many of the other shoppers are filling carts, shopping for the whole family and going for the reduced price-per-pound for going over 10 pounds. I figure $1.69 per pound is cheap enough. Some of the shoppers are resellers, and in the New Brighton outlet, some of them have gotten a bit territorial, but in the St. Paul outlet it’s all Minnesota Nice.

Furniture generally sells for $5-25 per piece, and is a handy place to keep your bored spouse while you shop.

On one recent jackpot day, I got two summer tunics, four long-sleeve shirts including a light sweater from Banana Republic and a cozy shirt from Cuddl Duds, a Hollister zip hoodie, an Umbro athletic hoodie (I like hoodies) a bra tank, a pair of Juicy sweatpants, and a couple of other casual items. A quick peek at a small appliances palate revealed a heated straightening brush that I know retails for over $20, and an apple slicer from Pampered Chef that looked new and was quite sharp. I wasn’t sure if I’d use an apple slicer, but since it hardly cost me anything, I decided to try it and do the other shoppers the service of taking it out of harm’s way – a hasty shopper or a grabby kid might have gotten hurt. I got it all for $10.71.

Hollister, Merona, Umbro, Athleta, Juicy
Same trip: Wear-to-work
Same trip: Sleeveless sweater, glitter tank

If you can afford to find exactly what you want online brand new, good for you. If you want the whole shopping experience, free of that funky thrift store smell, with lots of customer service, you sure don’t want to be essentially dumpster-diving for your clothing.

But if you’re like me, and the manufacturer’s suggested price seems like a swindle, and you’ve had enough of those mall places where they show you to a fitting room and write your name on the door so that they can come back in five minutes and sing, “Dan-YELL, how are those working out for you?” when you’re half-naked and half-crying in there because it’s not working out at all because you have chunky calves and narrow hips and vanity sizing has left you clueless where to start…okay, maybe you can’t relate to ALL that, but if you’d rather just be left alone to try stuff on, the real people at Goodwill will let you be. No one will ask if you’re “finding everything okay.”

A bonus is that this is better for the environment.
At the checkout, they have reused-and-reusable bags for your stuff. I just bring my own.

On a recent visit, one nice couple had their kid try on some jeans right there in the middle of the outlet. I thought, why not? I had a pair of jeans I wasn’t sure would fit, and I was wearing leggings. They didn’t fit, and as I was struggling to get them off, a man was walking up to where I stood, and began to think I had picked the wrong time to abandon self-consciousness, but all he said was, “That’s how you gotta do it; once you bought it, it’s yours.” Gratefully I replied, “Yeah, you know it.” (Truth; no returns on anything.)

If you’re planning on running the Twin Cities Marathon or another large late-fall race, this is a good place to grab some oversized sweats to wear once and leave at the start line. Or you could wait and see if they’ll let the marathoners warm up in the “People’s Stadium.” Ha.

Every now and then they get some surplus items which they place near the front. Today I got some spray-on sunscreen for $1, and it works fine. Also, some crayons, a T-shirt, leggings with a zipper pocket, and jeans that fit!

Good times. See you soon.

In a glitter shirt I got from guess where