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.


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.

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.

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


Race Report: Lake Johanna 4 Mile

Springtime in the Twin Cities is a dicey time to run outside, but it was a beautiful day, there was a good cheap race, and I was in.

This race gets an A+ here on GoodFastCheap because it’s free with an MDRA membership, which is in itself a bargain. For $25, the membership also includes a race calendar/training log, an informative magazine, and discounts at local running stores, and two other free MDRA races: the Hopkins 7 mile (March 31), and the glorious Mudball trail race (April 28).

I am Queen of the Mudball! (F1 in 2016)

And the Lake Johanna 4 mile is darn good. With a tradition going all the way back to 1961, the organizers of this race do a brilliant job every time. Registration is a breeze; you can now sign up online, but same-day registration is also hassle-free. The results are promptly posted and reliably accurate. There’s bread and cookies from Great Harvest at the finish, and a lot of door prizes.

How is this all done on such a small budget? Well, as you can see, it’s not fancy. First off, the roads aren’t closed, sparing the usual top expense. The sleepy suburban roads surrounding Lake Johanna in Arden Hills don’t get a lot of traffic. I felt safe during this race (though I don’t think it would have been safe with headphones – MDRA didn’t ban them, but said wear them at your own risk, and I saw no one who took that risk). There is some slush on parts of the roadside this time of year, and I was worried about ice, but our diligent Steve had driven the course and taken photos of the few possible caution spots.

This is it! Most of the rest of the road was drier than this spot.

Second, because of our awesome athletic community, this race is supported by an unbeatable team of volunteers. Many thanks to both MDRA and the Northstar Running club. Rob, Sarah, Jack and the others made it look easy, but as anyone who’s ever volunteered on a chilly race day knows, it’s not easy.  I appreciated this course being so well-marshalled, so I made sure to say thanks to the volunteers even while I was running. If I missed anyone, thank you!

Another key money-saver: The bibs are re-used. Therefore, these super-cheap races come with super-accurate chip-timing.

There’s no shirt, no expo, no medal, no prize for winning your age group, no beer, no music or announcing sound system, no warming tent, no massage tent, no VIP area, no fanfare. A lot of people must want these things if they’re willing to pay so much more for them, but I could do without them. I like these smallish races – not so small that I can’t see the runner ahead of me, but big enough I have plenty of good company.

And PLENTY of good competition! The front runner turned in an impossible 20:49 on this hilly course. The aforementioned Steve, who had driven the course to make sure it was okay to run with his kids in a double stroller, placed 8th with a ridiculous 23:59 – yes, pushing a double stroller. (I don’t know how. He writes about it in his own blog here.)

Here I am with legendary Bill, newcomer to the M60-69 age group, who ran an impressive 28:19. Think he must have won his AG? He was third. But we’re just getting started this year.

I stopped to talk to Bill, who has paced me well in many track workouts made possible through MDRA. (These workouts, held Thursdays in the summer, are also free. The coaches are great and the turnout has been wonderful – all ages and abilities.) Though he has been running many years and was much faster at his peak than I ever was, he also seems to be holding up a bit better; I’ve teased him a few times, “It’s like I’m getting older and you’re not!” Today I said to him with a shrug that I had accepted slowing down as long as it was at a normal rate. “Noooo!” he said. He gets it. When my performance first started declining, he and Bobby were the first people I turned to for advice – and I gathered advice from all the best of the veterans – but for now, I’m not applying all of it 100%. I will someday, at least when I hit a new age group in two years, but one bit of advice I hear a lot is that it’s good to take it easy for a season, even for a year if it’s a hard year. This feels right to me right now. We talked a bit about adjusting goals to align with Goal Number One: keep running for as many years as possible.

Just then, I saw one of my Goal Number One heroes: Now 66-year-old Julie, who I hadn’t seen since the City of Lakes Half-Marathon. On that day, I was weeping because I didn’t finish, and she was smiling because she was cheering on her friends. I was a little bit injured – just pain, nothing really to cry about – and she was too injured to run. I was humbled by her strong determination to remain positive, but saddened that this amazing athlete, who had beaten me a year previously at the Twin Cities 10 mile, with a 92% age-graded performance, was sidelined. But today…”Julie, are you going to run?” She was! “It’s the first race I’ve run in a year and a half,” she said. “We’ll see how it goes.”

So happy Julie’s back!

She ran a 33:14, tying with Sherry, who is 60.

So how did I do? I predicted I’d run at about the same pace as I did at last week’s flat 8K. I did, coming in at 29:27, good enough for first in my age group, surprisingly. Like last week, I started out at a cautious pace and progressed it. I had to pass the famous Kirt in the final mile, but Bill had informed me that he’s been working and hasn’t had time to train, so I wasn’t alarmed; I just said “Hang in there, Kirt” and kept pushing. I had some good push at the end, and almost caught Sue, who had won the women’s 50-59 category, but she beat me by a second.

This is a hilly, challenging course. I’m amazed by the stars who crushed this run, especially the ones who seem like they’ll keep crushing it their whole lives. I also said hi to Gloria, who won the women’s 70+ division with a 40:18. Like me, Gloria has sometimes experienced a weird twinge deep to the gluteus, maybe the piriformis; she termed it “Runner’s butt.”

I guess in total I ran a bit over 5 miles. I never get much of a warmup, because I’m too busy stargazing and gabbing, and I didn’t get much of a cool-down either. I ran a bit on a walking path and found the patches of ice got bigger and slicker, and finally found myself stepping over a sheet of ice that led to intersecting paths with a longer sheet of ice on one side and a long flooded stretch on the other.

Standing there looking stranded was Dash – yes-that’s-his-real-name Dash, please-don’t-ask-me Dash. We headed back together. I felt only what I always feel running with him – a little bit lighter, a little bit bewildered. He told me this was the second race he’d run today. Yes. He’d run a shortened 5K, picked up and figured he could make the 11:00 start. Of course! Why don’t more races have an 11:00 start? Then we could all be crazy and run two races in the same day. And yes, he beat me again – not by much, but this is going to be a good year for him, I hope. He didn’t stay for the prize drawing and I didn’t win any, and I bet neither of us realized until just now that he could have given me his ticket.

On a side note, someone asked about the ice-grippers I had on the shoes I was wearing for my warm-up. I found the old order on Amazon, and they are still available (for $14.99): Action Traction Ice Cleats for Shoes. They work pretty well on mixed terrain, and fit well over any of my size 8 women’s shoes.

On another side note, to help me recover, I went to the Tula yoga and wellness center, which was offering a free class sampler. I’ve always wanted to try aerial yoga.


It’s like getting an assisted stretch in a beautiful soft hammock. It felt wonderful. Stretch out all those tight spots, plus some tight spots you didn’t know you had. You can do inversions with ease, and your back is supported. I ended up staying for the boot camp sampler as well. I may have to go back to Tula. But that will be a separate topic.

Thanks to all who were a part of this lovely day!

Addendum side note: The next day at Sunday services at Groveland UU, a friend said she had seen me running on Snelling Avenue. I had to think a moment; then I remembered some cars honking and cheering in the slightly more trafficy section that was Snelling. I was a little bit zoned-out mentally at points during this race, but when I was tuned-in, I was feeling joy. My friend said I was smiling. Goal #2 is to keep it fun and feel the joy. I’m on my way.

Fast Eats: Thai Peanut Hummus

Unlike other blog recipes, mine will cut straight to the ingredient list, because you were going to scroll down to that anyway, right? Fast, as promised:

One can chickpeas
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/3 cup honey peanut butter
2 green onions (just the green part, snipped)
1/4 cup cooked sweet potato
1 heaping tablespoon chili garlic sauce (I used Lee Kum Kee)
1 heaping tablespoon shredded pickled ginger (you could use a smaller amount of fresh ginger. I like Ginger People grated ginger for convenience and blendability).

NOTE: All these measures are approximate, because you were going to approximate them anyway, right?*

When I have it in my blender cup, with the chickpeas and sweet potato on the bottom, it looks like this:

Blend away! I have a Braun hand blender that is over 20 years old and still works well for anything that doesn’t need the mega horsepower of the Vitamix. It’s a cinch to clean and store, so I use it a lot.

After tasting it, I ended up adding a little more of everything except chickpeas. The sweet potato could be omitted if you don’t have any, but I recommend making sweet potato one of your kitchen staples – they’re good in so many soups, dips, and chilis, can be cooked in the microwave in under five minutes, and you just sneaked in a nutritious vegetable. If you have an average liking to sweet tastes, be sure to either get the honey roasted peanut butter and the sweetened pickled ginger, or add some honey or agave. 

*Most cooks don’t follow recipes to the letter. We know what we like and we add more of it; for example, hmm, this needs more salt and more garlic. Or maybe you want to swap out the chili garlic sauce for something like sriracha or another hot sauce because that’s what you have on hand and want to try it, or because you hate garlic. If you do hate garlic, I’m not sure you and I can be friends, but we can still swap recipes. As long as you don’t blame me if multiple unwise substitutions result in something inedible.

Enjoy! This was taste-tested this at a party, and again with co-workers, and it got good reviews. Serve with cucumber slices, baby carrots, red peppers, etc.

Party time!


O’Gara’s 8K 2019

March is my month. Unpredictable and messy, full of madness and hope. Gradually, at unpredictable points, runners start to come out. Some have been running outdoors in elaborate layers all winter long, some have been treadmilling, some have been skiing or spinning, most have been doing whatever mix helps them pull through.

At the Irish 8K in St. Paul, the start area is always a grumbling chorus of “I’m so out of shape.” In no time, we’ll find the “out of shape” is all relative. The team circuit racers are superstars comparing themselves to super-superstars and nowhere near out of shape, though we all imagine ourselves the only exception. We really ought to knock it off, this business of complaining about how woefully undertrained we are while leaving plenty of runners in the slush, but it’s tradition.

I hate to break tradition, so I signed up for the 8k last-minute on Wednesday, after the forecast showed the wintry-mix storm would likely hold off, without giving much thought to the fact that I’ve done almost no outdoor running in the past three months. I used to train year round, but now two days shy of my 40-what birthday (48, shhh) and starting my 14th year of running, my body doesn’t absorb the amount of training I did at my sub-20 5K peak. Goal #1 is staying strong and able to run these great races for years to come. (I will write MUCH more on this subject in future posts.)

I headed to Run N Fun St. Paul Thursday night to pick up my shirt and bib. For the first time, I did miss O’Gara’s a little bit; that had provided a bit closer spot for pickup. Then Barb reminded me that because there was no O’Gara’s, there would be no beer. I wouldn’t really miss the beer, and it’s not really the best recovery beverage, but darn, that was a free beverage. Barb cheered me immediately by giving me the shirt – a nice black long-sleeve this year – and telling me the discounts in the clearance room had been increased to 50% off everything.

At Run N Fun St Paul

While browsing clearance, I saw my awesome teammate Amy, and Steve of Steve-In-A-Speedo blog fame. They discussed the weather without much concern. Amy planned extra miles on Saturday and Steve planned a fun race report. I always feel I’m the only one who frets about these things. The sale clothing was a welcome distraction. Wool shirts, do we still need them? No, I optimistically bought sweat-wicking briefs instead. Steve found a fabulously bold pair of shoes.

“Those are too much! For anyone but you,” I said. “For you, they’re not enough”

Early to bed that night, I slept well, much better than I usually do on a pre-race night, but woke on race morning to familiar tummy rumbling. I took deep breaths. I have tummy issues.* I started eating better in the fall, and starting in December I zoned in on mental health, stress management and mindfulness to strengthen the mind-body connection. When I started hard workouts again in January, I noticed improvements in focus. I was slower, but trusted my rate of perceived effort, and the workouts progressed without strain. I still had my doubts about racing. Last fall, the normal race-day jitters escalated to near-panic, for reasons I didn’t understand at the time. Is three months of therapy enough? Deep breaths, deep breaths, and more deep breaths as I drove to St. Paul. Many deep breaths as I jogged to the start.

Suddenly I thought, this is going to be awesome. I started seeing other runners. Awesome runners! On an awesome day! The wind was brisk, but it was going to be at our backs after the turnaround. Luck of the Irish! On my way through the Whole Foods parking lot, where our bag drop tent would be, I saw my neighbor Evan, and we had some laughs about this glamorous sport that lets us store our belongings alongside parking lots. We love it.

Look at us tough runners, all in this together.

The formidable Mill City Running team came out in force. This team is growing impressively. They have tons of spirit.

Not sure where to line up at the start, I positioned myself well behind Kara, who is fastest in my age group by far. That didn’t work out very well. I suspect she also started farther back than she had to, and is better at jockeying for position in the first half mile. My start-out pace, after the dicey start with the steep short hill and slushy turns, was 7:47 – oops, time to pick it up. I passed people cautiously, reminding those I recognized that it was going to feel much easier after the turnaround. The Miles to Marathon team were out cheering, and coach Ron spotted me with a “Hey, great to see you running!” We started to see the faster runners coming back, looking splendid. By this point the high had kicked in, and I shouted encouragement – “Go Dan! … Way to go Melissa! … Go Sonya!” until I realized I was using considerable energy shouting. After the turnaround I turned it up a notch and turned in a 7:08 mile – Yeah! Though I don’t think that’s faster than I ran the whole darn thing last year.

Still, I’ll count this as a success. I got what I wanted – a fresh start and a chance to run free and joyful again. The best part of all was the long cool-down with teammates. I had a chance to chat with our wonderfully understanding and motivating Queen Sonya, Awesome Amy turned in another 11 miles (!), and Joelle and I got in a cool-down that was longer than the race itself, so for me this counts as a long run day also.

There are just a few people whose company I love so much, I would run an extra 50 minutes in the slush after a hard race. For these stars, anytime.

*Note on tummy issues: Because this is an athlete’s blog, I am allowed to talk about bodily functions, if not outright obliged and expected to do so. Daily exertion brings the natural facts of life to the forefront. Okay? So I was all set to regale you with a story of multiple panicky trips to the bathroom that would cause me to nearly miss the start (which has happened in the past). But it didn’t happen today. Also new, I didn’t feel sick at the finish, and though I’d had a beet shot, I didn’t have beeturia (pink pee from beets). I’m going to take that as a good sign. And I promise, if I ever get the beeturia again, I won’t take a picture of it.

All sorts of good signs today! Hopefully more signs of spring, hope and renewal are on their way. The next possible race is a super bargain – the free-to-members Lake Johanna 4 mile, which I am also going to leave to a last-minute decision. Stay tuned! And thanks to all who were part of today’s positive energy!

Update, Already: The results are in, and show me with a blistering time of 36:26, a 7:20 pace overall. I’m going to try not to think about the days when I could run 7-minute miles for a half-marathon. Incredibly, this gets me second in my age group. The aforementioned Kara beat me by about 5 1/2 minutes, same margin as last year’s Victory 10K. We’ll keep our eye on her – if she continues at this rate, she’ll be smashing more records this year.

Spring Forward

Most of us Minnesotans welcome the first layer of snow, unless it comes early. Skiers have been praying for it, or so they say, even if they’re not religious. The rest of us look forward to the change in scenery. When the leaves fall and all dormant plant life turns a depressing brownish-gray, the coat of sparkling white paints the landscape new, and keeps the sky bright a bit longer when the sun sets too soon in the city.

No matter how soon the first snow does come, the old-timers remember a year when it came earlier. When it was heavier. When it blew sideways. When you had to shovel a path out your door. You had to walk. How many miles? They debate over that. It’s a special tradition, without too much of a moral to the storytelling; except the important reminder that it could always be worse. The Old Man Patrol will continue to walk the streets on the snowy days, to ask the young ones, “where’s your hat?”

One thing we can say about this winter, we will remember it when we’re old. I can tell my nephew I had to walk a mile to work when the windchill was over 30 below. In fact, I didn’t have to, I was just dumb and didn’t want to wait for the train, and I didn’t think it was a big deal because a lot of people went out in all conditions. I had all these crazy runner friends who were training for the spring marathons in all conditions, bundled up in layers of activewear, with only parts of their faces peeking out. After ten plus miles of that nonsense, the tradition was to take a selfie with snow crusted on their eyelashes and write a post about how great they felt. Only the treadmill, the dread mill, the dead mill, could break a marathoner’s spirit.

We’re not broken, but we’re tired. Those who were praying for it in December can stop now, really. I think they have stopped. Even the most cheerful snow-lovers are worried. We simply don’t have room for any more of the stuff.

A favorite indoor running option: Stadium Running, made possible by the Minnesota Distance Running Association

Just when you think you can’t bear another day of cold seeping into your tired bones, snow upon snow, banks over your head, icicles growing into prison bars, a thaw comes. spreading relief oddly like a fever breaking. You go out into puddles. your boots will get wet. You’ll live with the mess; at least you’re alive again. Teams of silly college boys come out to dodge puddles in basketball shorts. Flocks of finches turn shrubs into clouds of noise that pause at once as you walk by, then rouse again after you pass. They have their plan if the thaw continues another day. The litter of a season resurfaces from the melting snowbanks; wrappers of all colors race in the gutters.

And the runners come out to race. I’m not registered for anything, since I always wait until the forecast is clear to decide. So far, it looks okay for next weekend’s 8k, the first in the 2019 USATF MN team circuit races.

At the Irish 8K in St. Paul, the start area is always a grumbling chorus of “I’m so out of shape.” In no time, we’ll find the “out of shape” is all relative, and that most of the team circuit racers never let themselves get all that out of shape, though we all imagine ourselves the only exception. We really ought to knock it off, this business of complaining about how woefully undertrained we are while leaving plenty of runners in the slush, but it’s tradition. And what we’re really saying is that it’s just the beginning.

March is my month, unpredictable and messy. In a week the clocks turn an hour forward, we start looking to spring, and I turn 40-what years old. That’s just the beginning too.

Let’s go.