Sunday, October 25, 2015

Marathon #2: Marine Corps Marathon

Every runner I talked to said the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) - particularly the 40th anniversary of the MCM - would be amazing. Huge crowds on nearly the entire course, only one pretty steep hill (toward the start) and a smaller hill at the end (up Iwo Jima). Plus, the course runs along many places that I run weekly - including the monuments and Georgetown.

Those people were absolutely right. What the Rock and Roll marathon lacked in inspiration, the MCM made up for in spades.

Because the marathon course runs about a mile from my home, there were a lot of people out cheering who knew me, which is just a huge boost (including Connor and Ed, who came with a sign for me). Also a huge boost on the course was knowing that the women I train with were either running the race or cheering for the race - including one mom who is going to give birth in a few weeks! Pretty much every time I thought that today was not my day, I saw a friend who was screaming like crazy - and I am not a person who can stop running with that kind of pressure. They were sprinkled throughout the course up to mile 22, and at that point - might as well finish, right?

The race started out exactly as I had hoped. I pulled back, in order to save energy for the later stages of the race. I ran the first half of the marathon exactly as I wanted. But at mile 3, I got a blister (something that has never happened in a training run) and by the midpoint of the marathon, I was feeling it. Luckily, it was between my little toes, so at least I wasn't pushing off the blister for every step. It also rained at the start and during the race, after a weather report that showed the rain had cleared. That was disappointing, because I didn't wear my trail shoes (which I wear in crap conditions because they let the water drain out better than my other shoes and they grip the street better). I was debating which shoes to wear up until the point we left to line-up, and ultimately chose wrong. Lesson learned.

Mile 17 was hard, made harder when I passed one of my training partners who is absolutely a stronger runner than I am. Something happened with her knee and though she still finished at 4:12, she could've gone 3:40 if she hadn't run into troubles. Her husband was there, and I had nothing to offer as I was struggling myself.

Mile 20 in MCM is soul crushing. It is the point when you cross 14th Street bridge - and that bridge is the longest, loneliest passage back into Virginia that exists. The few times I have run it during training runs, I pretty much just put my head down and try to get over that thing with my soul intact. On MCM day, it's worse. People are cramping up all over, puking on the side, making choices about whether to continue or not. A very good running friend had passed along the advice that when I made it to the bridge, put my head down, focus inward, pick a line - and run it. I did all of those things, but still people were dropping right in front of me and that is hard to watch.

Crystal City is a huge boost. I spent a few months running in Crystal City last winter on Monday morning, and that proved super useful. I knew the roads and knew how flat they were. Plus, a woman I met at that time actually found me on the race at mile 22 and screamed her head off for me. Earlier in the race, she had actually jumped in and run me through two miles when I wasn't sure I was going to keep going.

My super-stretch crazy goal was 3:45. My "if everything goes right goal" was 3:50. And my "I will absolutely not cross the line later than this goal" was 4:00. I came in with a 3:55, which is exactly what I thought I would get, as soon as the rain came and the blisters sprouted. When I looked at my watch at mile 20, I knew I could own a 4:00 - as long as I didn't get too distracted.

I carried 55 ounces of Tailwind on my back with seven scoops of powder in it, which means I successfully consumed 700 calories during the race. I had estimated I could take in 600 calories in 50 ounces of liquid. I drank a bit much up front because I was feeling so good, which meant I had to walk through two water stations towards the end of the race, trying not to waterboard myself as I gulped Gatorade from the little cups amazing volunteers were handing out. I also dumped two small cups of water down my front because once the rain stopped, it was heating up and I needed a bit of a refresh. I will carry more liquid the next time I run a marathon.

A big accomplishment in this run is not letting my stride fall apart once I got tired. Typically, when I start to slow down, I over-stride, and land on my heel. As a result of this, I have a nagging point in my rear end that starts to hurt, and someday, whatever is getting pulled in the wrong direction is going to break - and that's going to hurt a lot. But today? I didn't do that, I don't have even a twinge of pain in the typical spot. I've been working a lot on that, so I'm glad that work has paid off.

This is THE marathon to run, as far as I am concerned, particularly if you call this area your home town. I can't wait to get the official race photos, because for the first photos, I smiled. For the last photos, I didn't change the expression on my face at all - I wanted to see what I looked like, because I know how I felt.

Now... to decide if I can knock another 10 minutes off before next year and make it my BQ!

FINISH Net3:55:06
FINISH Gun3:57:09

LocationNet TimeClock TimeTime of DayPacePace Between
5K27:2729:298:24:308:49 /mi
8:24 /mi
10K53:3355:368:50:368:37 /mi
8:39 /mi
20K1:47:231:49:269:44:278:38 /mi
8:43 /mi
13.11:53:201:55:239:50:238:38 /mi
8:52 /mi
25K2:14:522:16:5410:11:558:41 /mi
9:16 /mi
30K2:43:422:45:4410:40:458:46 /mi
9:20 /mi
35K3:12:433:14:4511:09:468:51 /mi
9:37 /mi
40K3:42:363:44:3911:39:398:57 /mi
9:09 /mi
FINISH3:55:063:57:0911:52:098:57 /mi

Friday, October 23, 2015

Book Club: Day 1

I started a book club in Helen's and Connor's classes - and although it was a lot of drama getting it done, we had our first meeting in second grade over lunch last week. Yesterday, I met with the 5th graders, and next week, I'll be back in second grade (so many students volunteered to participate that I needed to break the second grade into two groups).

In both groups I, as well as the students, had a ton of fun. I was so amazed at how much detail everyone remembered, the diversity of thought in the room, and the general awesomeness that surrounded me. The 5th graders enjoyed our lunch so much, that they expressed deep disappointment that it would be a month before I came back. So I agreed to try and find another adult to come in once a month so they could meet twice each month. That adult has been located.

The second graders keep forgetting when it is their date, so they keep being disappointed that I'm not there - but I don't have physical space to meet more often than we are meeting, so getting more hands won't help me get them more lunches. Once a month will have to do. In my dream world, by the end of the year a group of about 8 will develop and we'll be able to move our book club forward into next year.

In second grade, our story was The Happy Lion. The basic gist of the story is that everyone is nice to the lion when he's in his cage, but when his keeper mistakenly leaves the cage open, the lion is at first worried that people will come into his cage, and then decides to take a walk around Paris. Not surprisingly, people freak out, the lion wonders if the people are always like this when they're not at the zoo, and eventually a little boy walks him back to his cage.

The idea of a lion walking down the street was hilarious. And while some of the boys claimed they would just pop the lion in the nose if they saw him, a few admitted it would be rather terrifying. It was really interesting to hear their ideas about why place matters, and why we might react differently to the same thing if circumstances changed.

Next up was "Laurie", excerpted from a collection of stories focusing on parenting "Life Among the Savages", written by Shirley Jackson. It was impressive how the students pulled examples from the text to support their ideas, how students disagreed with each other and kept the conversation moving forward. I was in heaven.

At the very least, kids are getting a chance to eat lunch in an environment that's not quite the mess that the school cafeteria is. And hopefully, at least a few students are getting excited about reading for pleasure, and looking for meaning - maybe becoming better writers along the way.


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Catching up on past vacations - Shutterfly!

A few years ago, I started making photo books after we returned home from a vacation. The problem, of course, is that when we come home from vacation I am always behind on life in general, so often the project gets pushed back, sometimes getting forgotten completely.

So I did a survey of missing books and came up with several:
  • 2015 trip to Adirondacks / Montreal / Vermont
  • 2014 ski trip
  • 2013 ski trip
  • 2012 ski trip
  • all vacations in 2011
  • 2006 trip to Adirondacks
  • 2006 trip to Kansas
  • 2006 trip to Chincoteague

And there are probably even more, but getting through these will be a big project. Luckily, all of the photos are at least organized, so it's just a matter of drafting some words to go around them and popping them into an online book.

The strategy that has been most successful for me? Find a discount code that expires, and then stay up all night the day before it expires to finish the project. Better would be to just use the codes as I come across them, of course.

Lucky day for me - Shutterfly and Stonyfield have teamed up to offer the next discount I'm planning to use. It's simple.

  • Purchase any Stonyfield YoBaby or YoTot yogurt 6-pack and enjoy $20 off your order at Simply enter the code on the package and the discount will get stored in your shutterfly account. Details here.

  • Offer ends February 29, 2016, which means I have a ridiculous amount of time to get at least one of these projects done. If I'm really moving, I can get it done before Christmas and turn the book into a Christmas present for one of our traveling companions.
  • It's a one-time use offer - each household may get the discount once.
Nice things about these books are that not only do I enjoy the trip down memory lane when I make them, the kids enjoy looking through them and remembering their trip. They also make great gifts for our traveling companions, which often include grandparents.

Perhaps this winter will be the year that I catch up on all these vacations. That would be a huge accomplishment for me.


Many thanks to Stonyfield and Shutterfly for providing the latest kick in the pants to work on one of my favorite projects. I'm looking forward to reliving a few of these vacations!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Happy Birthday, Helen!

Helen is 8 years old. She's closing in on double digits and remains a constant light in my life. Yes, she can cop an attitude with the best teens. She sighs. She rolls her eyes. She curls her upper lip toward the heavens. But still, she is my little girl who can rock a Taylor Swift song like nobody's business and always seems to have time to put on a quick puppet show if there's an audience.

She has taken to soccer with a vengeance and is proud to be among the fast runners in her after school run club. She dove into after school programming choosing a different activity for every day, save one, which is when she has violin lessons. I asked her to participate in science club, led by a wonderful teacher, and after the first week she was totally hooked, letting me know that if Connor could sign up - he should! (His turn will come next session, when the teacher operates a class for the older students.) She is even trying her hand at guitar, though I'm somewhat skeptical anything can be done with a once a week lesson and almost no follow-up at home - but maybe?

Although she tells me she is shy, she easily commands a room when she wants to. Occasionally, I have seen her walking in the recent past, but mostly she still skips wherever she goes. Happiness just seems to follow her. When there is tension near her, she will do anything to try and remind everyone that life is good, trying to get as much negative energy to leave the room as possible.

Fall is definitely Helen's season, with it's warm rains, colorful leaves, and opportunities to run around without being hot.

She is every bit the consumer of words that Connor is, so now we have two children to constantly remind to get their real-life things done and stop reading that book! (Which of course, feels very odd, but I'm pretty sure my kids would both skip meals and basic self care if it meant they could read more.)

Helen loves everyone, and parents regularly tell me what how well she treats everyone. It makes me smile every time.

Helen - I can see already that you and I will knock heads more than a few times in the coming years. So I'm just going to hold onto all these good times now, and put my head down and do my best with whatever is coming my ways.

Happy birthday!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

2015 Elementary School 5K

Last spring, Helen ran her second 5K and Connor ran his third. Somehow, I never wrote up the run, even though I remember it as being both a huge accomplishment and a fun time.

Prior to the race, we spent about one month preparing. Inspired by our monthly physical challenge, we ran a half mile one day, took a rest day, ran half a mile, one mile, then another rest day, and we kept adding to our distance until we hit about 2.5 or 3 miles. By the time the big day came, the kids were totally ready. Helen was even ready with a strategy that would involve her sprinting to the finish. I know Connor planned to do this as well, but since Ed ran with him, I'm not sure if it actually happened, though I think it did.

Helen was part of the cheer squad for the 1 mile fun run, but I had already told her that no matter what, she was running the 5K. We had worked too hard to not do it, and it is super important to me that Helen knows she can be in the action on the race course, not just on the sideline.

Connor and Helen both knocked several minutes off their Jingle Bell 5K time they had recorded in December 2014. (Helen made it to 35:23 and Connor checked in with a 28:47). Unlike the Jingle Bell race, which was mostly flat, the school 5K involved a pretty good hill. All the way up it I sang silly songs - and though Helen pretended to be embarrassed occasionally, she was also laughing and not thinking about how hard she was working. And, when a person a few yards back shouted "please don't stop singing" when Helen and I got to the top, Helen loved being able to roll her eyes and pretend that she didn't need the song at all.

When we got to the finish, a bunch of adults were running down the sidewalk leading to the end. Helen wasn't quite sure what to do, because they weren't sprinting. So I shouted "spring through the grass" and she took off, passing probably 6 - 10 runners in the last half block or so. She felt so incredibly strong, and it was a joy to see her huge smile. She was particularly proud because everyone she passed was older than she was.

Per usual, she complained throughout much of the race. But unlike the last race where she stopped to walk a few times, she pretty much chugged right along, possibly because she didn't want anyone she knew to see her not going full blast.

Since she completed this race, she has told many, many people about her MULTIPLE 5Ks and without batting an eye will let anyone know she can run one with no trouble.

Next up? This year's Turkey Trot or Jingle Bell.

(I love training with Connor, but we haven't raced together. I feel guilty subjecting Ed to the endless stream of complaints from Helen while she runs, and I don't want to mess up the good groove Connor and Ed have going.)


Monday, October 5, 2015

Reflections on Place: The Little Paris Bookshop of My Life

I have come to know the streets of DC very well this past year. To date, I've run nearly 1,100 miles - almost all of them in DC or Arlington. And even having run past every monument on the mall, the White House, and the Capitol more times than I could ever count - I still think I have the very best place to spend my time. And that's a different feeling than when I was training for my first marathon last winter.

Starting with Cherry Blossom season, I made the jump to run with women I had met at the track. It was almost entirely inspired by my running friend and nearby neighbor, Courtney. I wasn't confident I could keep up with everyone, so every time one of them suggested I meet them on the weekend for a run, I made an excuse to avoid it. But Courtney was very persistent, and met me many times just to run with her. I was able to really push myself while she ran a comfortable easy pace, but she was so kind and encouraging, that eventually when she asked me if I was going to join the larger group run, I took the plunge.

And just as Monsieur Perdu floats around his perfect bookshop on a boat, healing hearts and doling out advice via books, my running friends and I do the same as we wind our way through neighborhoods on foot. Nina George's "The Little Paris Bookshop", has such beautiful descriptions of France, that I immediately wanted to relive my trip through the Loire Valley with Ed the year before Connor was born. But that's not going to happen anytime soon, so I started thinking about how my own city is perfect, too.

If I had to name a spot where good things always happen, I'd go with the Lincoln Memorial. The first time I ran with a couple of folks from the larger group, they asked if I wanted to run up the steps. Um, no, I will wait at the bottom. I had no idea that it was one of the runner's trademark moves - but I've since learned that if HJ is running, we run those steps. And now I can't wait to see Mr. Lincoln up close when I run, though I will admit to skipping the ritual if HJ isn't around. But I always look up at Mr. Lincoln and think - if you can be here on a Tuesday, I can be here on a Tuesday. And it's been many months that we've met every Tuesday, except when I've been out of town. (As a stone sculpture, he doesn't have nearly the freedom I do, so he never goes out of town.)

I love books with beautiful settings. This one lives up to that, just as the title suggests it will. And I'm so glad to have so many memories of my own beautiful setting triggered as I read this book.


Disclosure: This post was inspired by the novel The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George, where Monsieur Perdu--a literary apothecary--finally searches for the woman who left him many years ago. Join From Left to Write on October 8th as we discuss The Little Paris Bookshop. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Stonyfield Fruit Snacks - Three Ways!

We don't eat a lot of fruit snacks at our house, mostly because I'd rather the kids just eat a piece of fruit.  That, and whenever we do buy fruit snacks, the kids forget about them and then end up getting old.

But...sometimes, convenience wins. So when I was offered the opportunity to test Stonyfield's newest offering - fruit snacks - I decided to go for it. Our family tested the fruit snacks in three settings: my 5th grade son's birthday party; my daughter's soccer game; our very fancy family diner. All were a hit.

First up, Connor had his birthday party (more later on that). When asked, he told me he wanted a Nerf gun party in the backyard, so I told him we could go purchase a bunch of Nerf ammo and a new gun and invite some friends over.

The party was super low-key, Ed handled all the Nerf procurement, and I handled the food and decorations. (Decorations, for the record, consisted of a table cloth, plates, napkins, and some cardboard shields that at least gave Helen something to enjoy while the boys were nutting it up in the backyard.)

The fruit snacks were a huge hit with the boys, who also consumed some yogurt, chips, and pizza.

That bowl was refilled, twice, because hungry boys like fruit snacks, I suppose.
Next up, I was in charge of snack at Helen and Connor's soccer games. I think the big winner at the soccer game was Helen's friend Taylor, who squeezed four packages out of Helen, and consumed them super fast - probably so her mom wouldn't notice what had just happened.

The fruit snacks were loved by the 2nd grade girls. And, as with all packaged foods, they were easy for me to transport to the game (much easier than the sliced watermelon I served as the halftime snack).

Also, the girls ran around making cow noises, as soon as they saw their snacks were in the shape of a tiny cow. Cute!

Finally, last night Connor and Helen decided to run a fancy Spanish café that served veggie burgers and tilapia for dinner. I was the chef, and then the customer. They were the servers. Before the meal began, they insisted that all fancy restaurants had appetizers, so they grabbed the fruit snacks and placed one package on each plate.

The restaurant diners all loved the wonderful appetizers, especially the two that are shorter than five feet.

Stonyfield gave me so many fruit snacks, that I think I can even hand them out at a school book club I'm getting ready to host.

Thank you, Stonyfield!