This comic panel is the result of me 1) drawing a seven-panel comic about a race, 2) inking the first four, and then 3) deciding they were lame and this was the only salvageable one. I’ve actually done a bunch of comics lately, then discarded them because not funny. Maybe because the looming election is taking up such a large place in my thoughts. We’ll see how soon I can get my act together.

Here are all the races I’ve done since August, in brief:

  1. Madison Mini Marathon (13.1 mi). Normally I wouldn’t do this race, but a coworker asked if I wanted to run it with him. He did it in 1:30ish. I did 2:07:22. First race back after being off for more than a month for a poorly diagnosed IT band-related injury. 93/256 in my age group.
  2. Safe Harbor Labor Day Dash (10k). Did it on impulse when I woke up in time to bike to the starting line. Took the first three miles to really warm up. 55:24. 26/56.
  3. North Face Half Marathon (13.1 mi). Hilly course, wasn’t feeling it. 2:18:19. 14/15.
  4. Indian Lake Trail Race (12k). Supremely hilly course, and I ran it better than I’d ever done it before. 1:07:49. 17/32.
  5. Fall 15k. Ran far, far harder than I expected I would. 1:19:14. 3rd in age group, 4th woman overall.
  6. McCarthy Park Trail Race (18k). Spent a lot of the race trying to figure out how far 18 kilometers actually was (spoiler: about 11 miles). It was cold and rainy. 1:39:46, which although a good deal faster than the 18k I ran in June (Blue Mounds, 1:55:24), was only good enough for 9/14 in my age group, or slightly more hideously, 28 of 35 overall. Oh well.

With the exception of my exciting finish at the Fall 15k, I haven’t been placing well (and annoyingly, the Fall 15k only did prizes for the top person in each AG rather than top 3). But my times have been good and my races have felt fairly strong.

I wanted to race five different distances this year. So far, I have raced one 5k, one 5 mile, two 10k, one 12k, one 15k, two 18k, one 20k, and four 13.1 mile races. This coming weekend, I am pacing a friend through about 18 miles of her 100 miler, and then the following weekend I’m doing a 28-ish mile trail race as the finale to my season. After that I may take it easy for a while.

Andre is totally over listening to the builders knock out drywall downstairs.
Andre is totally over listening to the builders knock out drywall downstairs.

Antelope Island 50K

The top of the Hill on 1st (1st and Aish) in SLC
The top of the Hill on 1st (1st and Aish) in SLC

Ok, now that I’m back in Madison and have slept some (a lot), let me see if I can talk about the Antelope Island 50K in a brief yet entertaining manner.antelope island

First things first: Where is Antelope Island? It’s the largest island in the Great Salt Lake of Utah, so specifically it is about 46 miles from my brother and sister-in-law’s apartment in Salt Lake City. When B and I decided to go out to Utah for a fall visit, I noticed that this race happened to be right around the time we were going out and arranged our travel schedule to coincide. So I didn’t OFFICIALLY travel out there for the race, I just happened to be in the area and the race was happening. (I have a personal rule that I don’t travel more than an hour from home for a race unless it’s a super awesome race.)

We flew in Tuesday afternoon. I had originally planned to run Tuesday and Thursday this past week as the last bit of my taper, but then I was up in the night Monday night/Tuesday morning with. . . something. Was it food poisoning? A norovirus? Only her intestines know for sure. At any rate, things sure weren’t 100 percent when I got up Tuesday morning and I didn’t go for a run, and I even told B that if I still felt super crappy come Saturday I was going to cancel the race. My conditioned waxed and waned throughout the day (including a long stopover at O’Hare), and by the time we arrived I had a pretty intense migraine (complete with nausea, light sensitivity, and blurry vision). Bodes ill. But Wednesday morning when I got up I was fine. In fact I felt so much better than I had in twenty-four hours that I was positively jubilant. Daniel and I went for a run around SLC’s Liberty Park in the afternoon, and I felt pretty good. My foot gave me some trouble on the last part of the run, especially going up the hill from State to A on 1st Street, but the view is so rewarding I couldn’t complain. Then I had two full days of rest, which I knew would make both my foot and my PT happy.

Pre-Race Selfie
Pre-Race Selfie

Saturday morning, I woke up at 5:50, a full forty minutes before Daniel and Claire were coming to pick me up, so that I could eat and also reconsider my life choices. I was suddenly very nervous, in a way that I seldom am before races anymore. I felt a little crappy (too much wine the night before? Too little water?), I was nervous about the course and elevation, and I just kept thinking I should call Daniel and tell him not to come and crawl back into bed with B. I could go for a run later, maybe even go up to Sugar House Park and do twenty miles, and. . . but I didn’t follow through on any of this. I kissed B goodbye and went down and got in the car.

By the time we got to Antelope Island I was feeling better, physically anyway. When I got out of the car to check in, I heard gunshots in the distance. The women working assured me that it was just hunting and “not on the island, we hope.” They also said, “Don’t bother the buffalo and they won’t bother you.” Ok, good to know.[1]

My Lovely Hosts, Daniel and Claire
My Lovely Hosts, Daniel and Claire

Daniel and Claire dropped me off at the starting line just as the sun was beginning to climb over the mountains and paint the sky pink. It was beautiful—and cold. I told them to come back in not less than five and a half hours and thanked them again for their tolerance of my weird hobby. Then I had to take off my sweatshirt and go wait around for the race to get started. The RD announced a last-minute course change owing to mud that took the course from 31 miles down to about 30. I stood in line to use the port-o-potty behind a guy who had his arm in a really complicated sling owing to some sort of surgery (he was still running, which made me feel possibly a bit better). Then a few minutes later, we were off.

The First Climb
The First Climb

Starting Line to the First Aid Station (Mile 5.8)

The race started with about half a mile or so of flat on a gravel access road of some sort. We went along a fence until we came to a break and turned onto a dirt trail that took us in slow switchbacks up the foothills of the mountain (I think the main mountain is Frary Peak, but I’m not totally sure that was the one we were running around, so you’ll have to just guess at the geography). We were at times running east, into the sunrise, which was very pretty but made it hard to see the trail. Luckily, the trail here wasn’t very technical, with only occasional rocks to dodge. There were a lot of false summits—I would look up the trail, thinking that just beyond the coming ridge things must flatten or even descend—only to find when I arrived that the trail continued up. Luckily the hill was quite gentle, so the continuous trekking didn’t bother me and I kept up a pretty steady pace between 10:30-12:00 min/mi. After mile three, the trail turned downward (and west) and suddenly I was skimming along, taking in all these breathtaking vistas I hadn’t had a chance to look at before. Oh, wait, the breathtaking part—that was the altitude. And sure enough, after two miles of lovely downhill, the path turned sharply upward and we hiked it in to the first aid station. I arrived right around the one hour mark.

I wasn’t too concerned about calories so early in the race, but I knew I couldn’t fall behind, especially with the comparatively long distances between aid stations (most were five to six miles apart). I think I had a Fig Newton and a couple of potato chips. Then I was off again. I actually made it through a bit faster than several women, some of whom I would leapfrog with for much of the rest of the race.

Mountains at the Beginning of the Course
Mountains at the Beginning of the Course

Mile 5.8 to the Second Aid Station (Mile 14)

Elevation Profile. Click to Embiggen.

As I left the first aid station, the staff said that there was a nice bit of downhill ahead, “About a mile of downhill.” And it was very nice, good enough to hit a 9:40 split. I started thinking about how fast I was going to finish—maybe I would hit a 5:15:xx and be lounging around when everyone came to get me. Then suddenly, in one of those weird moments you seem to encounter in the mountains where the ground tells you something your eyes/inner ear don’t necessarily get, I went around a corner and the trail turned sharply upward. The rest of this section was largely not nice; it included steep climbs (about 1,700 feet over seven miles, with over 600 feet of that in the last mile alone); downhills too rocky to run; sections of trail ankle-deep in sand or shifting, golf ball-sized gravel; sections covered with rocks the size of bricks I was not nimble enough to bound between; and of course absolutely no shade. I began to run low on water and at times felt a bit dizzy, but there was really nothing to do but keep going to get to the next aid station. Luckily, I was able to sort of tuck into my brain (I thought about a lot of rather silly things, like the book I have been editing) and keep going. Each time my watch buzzed, I felt a bit surprised that another mile had passed. My splits during this section ranged from 9:21 (the downhill) to 22:42 (the last 600 feet of climb and a stop at the aid station to pull a rock out of my shoe).

It was very nice to get to the aid station and eat some potato chips and potato dipped in salt and refill my water. I also got to blow my nose, which was nice. My nose always runs when I’m out, er, running, and I’d neglected to bring any tissues.

Mile 14 to the Third Aid Station (Mile 20ish)

At the mile 14 aid station, I heard one of the guys say that the next aid station was five miles away. I was excited to leave—both because I had told B I would try to text him around mile 15,[2] and because mile 19 seemed very achievable and also very close to the finish (at the time I thought it was only ten miles out). Also, at this point the trail turned downward again, and we got to give back all that vertical gain. I ran for a while with a woman from Layton, UT, who mentioned that she had never done a 50K before and had trained only to sixteen miles as a long run! She left me behind when I once again couldn’t navigate the rocky descents fast enough. I also found that whenever I tried to accelerate a lot, I developed a stitch in my ribs (the altitude? Pushing too hard?) and I just couldn’t keep up. I had been gunning to finish strong, maybe even top three in my age group, but I realized at this point that I was going to have to just run my own race and finish when I finished.

That is the dao of the trail, I guess.

Mountains, near the End of the Course
Mountains, near the End of the Course

During this section, I came down around a bend and looked up to see two buffalo standing in a field. They were maybe a hundred and fifty feet from me, without any sort of protective fence between us. Wow. So I stopped and took a picture. They were unimpressed.

No Fence
No Fence

After the buffalo, the trail eventually narrowed and went into this area along the western side of the island where there were a lot of plants very close to the trail that were dry and kind of spikey, perfect for scraping the fuck out of my legs. Seriously, plants, what did I ever do to you? I was bleeding in half a dozen places by the end of the race, not fun. The best cut was right on my right ankle, perfect for accidentally kicking with my left foot (I am not graceful), and then good for a quarter mile of pain.

Eventually I reached the aid station and dumped some water over my head, which made me feel better. But I was tired after all the up and down of the first twenty miles, and pretty much ready to be done.

The Two Close-Together Aid Stations (Mile 20 to Mile 24ish)

This was the section where the bargaining began. I was feeling pretty woobly from the heat, so although the course was pretty flat, I started to walk. For a while, my right hip flexor was cramping up. But I knew I was so far from the finish line that I couldn’t just walk until I felt totally better, because I would never feel better until I could stop running and I would never get to the finish line walking. So I started to make deals with myself—run for half a mile, then you can walk for .05 miles. Repeat. Although my times were a pretty steady 11:30 min/mi during this section, and I felt really pretty terrible, I kept passing people, so either I wasn’t the only one having a bad time of it or I managed to out-strategize a lot of people.

The fourth aid station was over a ridge near mile 24. I had been planning to walk, but I crested the ridge and saw it, so I kept running. Yay, more water dumped over my head. (Sadly, none of the aid stations had ice.) Yay, more potato chips.

Mile 24 to the Finish

Leaving the mile 24 aid station, I was relatively sure I had five miles to go. The aid station personnel thought the distance was more like six to seven. They also thought that there was a water-only aid station between them and the finish, though this turned out not to be true. I continued my run/walk strategy for a while here, crossing the 26.2 mark in 5:21:43 (a personal not best) and picking off several more people. Despite my slow speed, I was making progress. The course at this point was very boring—lots of scrubland, the salt lake kind of in the distance, no real change in altitude from mile to mile, nothing to focus on but the passing of a few trees and rocks and the odd pile of ossified buffalo droppings.

Right around mile 27, and just before I was about to allow myself another walking break, I came up behind that woman from Layton again.

Remember her?

As I came up behind her, debating about whether to try to pass or to walk and let her get a lead again, she turned around and said the most magical words I could have heard: “I think I see it.” I was actually kind of unsure at this point what “it” was—the drink station? The finish line? Maitreya Buddha? But I actually did not care. She took off and I took off after her.

I was looking, but I could not for the longest time see whatever she had been referring to. Finally I saw a glint of light at the top of a hill—maybe light off a car’s windshield, but it could have been our destination. Layton and I had some discussion about how far we thought the race actually was. As she said she wasn’t sure if we were going twenty-nine or thirty miles, another woman came up behind us and remarked that she was still telling her friends she did a 50K. I said, “Of course!” We chatted for a brief bit, and then when the trail widened I sped up and passed both of them. For a while I thought we would stick together and finish the race, but they were slowing down, and I could smell the barn.


I reached the fence we’d run along at the very beginning and crossed though an open spot, only to face another climb. My watch suggests it was about 224 feet of elevation gain in a mile or so, I think about a 5.8 percent grade. I was kind of annoyed, but stumbled up it using a hike/run strategy. At the top, just by the turnoff for the half marathon course, was a herd of buffalo (on the other side of the fence this time). Wow! They seemed unimpressed to see yet another runner stumble past.

The road turned down for one final descent. There was a guy ahead of me in a yellow t-shirt, and I suddenly wanted to pick him off and add one last catch to my list, so I sped up as much as my incredibly tight quads would allow. Better yet, as I came within range of the finish, B, Daniel, and Claire were all standing there cheering me on! I crossed the finish line within a few seconds of the guy in yellow (I was so close to catching him!) and was awarded a coffee cup. I think I said something really intelligent to B, like, “They gave me a coffee cup!” Then I sat down for a while before I could fall over.

Final Tally

Some of My Cuts (and an Amazing Amount of Dirt)
Some of My Cuts (and an Amazing Amount of Dirt)

I finished 29.88 miles (according to my watch) in 6:04:24, a 12:12 min/mi pace. According to my watch, the course had just over 3,100 feet of elevation gain. The results at are still somewhat preliminary as of this writing, but I am listed as 6th woman, 4th in my age group, and 22nd overall finisher. I learned that I should be careful of climate differences (WI had a cold snap, so it had been quite a long time since I’d run in warm weather), bring something to shade my head/neck from the sun (no trees), and give the elevation its due. I did a good job at staying on top of salt and calories all day, and I think my run/walk strategy was pretty successful, considering how many people I passed in the last ten miles.

My foot was actually totally fine though the race, giving me no more than passing discomfort. At some point my hip slipped out (my SI joint got stuck) and I finished with knee pain and lower back pain because of it, and I also totally blew up my quads, and my calves are hurting if I sit for too long, but other than that I feel remarkably good. My PT will be happy. The race was well-organized and enjoyable, the course a real challenge. I had a hell of a time.

A special thank you to Bryan, Daniel, and Claire, for not just making this madness possible but for supporting me through to the end. Having you guys there to cheer me on in the last moments was really amazing. Also special special thanks for helping me get a new Garmin last minute. It worked out really well and was super useful during the race.

My Finish (Photo by Daniel)

Also I’m going to stick to half marathons for a while. Holy cow.

[1] When I was a kid, my parents used to stick me in the car and drive me out to Fermi Lab (the supercollider) to look at the buffalo (really, this was a method of making me fall asleep). The sign at Fermi Lab said, “Don’t try to cross this pasture unless you can do it in nine seconds, because the bull takes ten.” I have no recollection of how big the pasture was (though I do think I wanted to feed the buffalo Cheerios, as though they were ducks), but in my mind this means that buffalo are both fast and mean.

[2] Does that sound lame? It was an important psychological goal—during the last few miles of climb leading up to the mile 14 aid station, I was counting down—“Only three more miles before I get to text B.” The idea was to tell him my time at the halfway point to help better gauge the SLC crew’s departure to Antelope Island. Unfortunately I realized after the race that my text hadn’t gone through. Whomp whomp, sad tromboon.

Amazing Post-Race Liege Waffle at Bruges (SLC-Area Waffle Stand)
Amazing Post-Race Liege Waffle at Bruges (SLC-Area Waffle Stand)

North Face Endurance Challenge — Marathon in Eagle, WI

nfec results This has been the weirdest “b” race ever, guys. Not only was the training weird, but I tapered for the race, which I never do, and it was a weird taper.

For one thing, it was the only taper in my life that I spent in Europe eating Belgian waffles and French pastries. It was also the only taper (of recent memory) done without a pool available.

Swimming is typically my go-to cross-training because it gives me sexy shoulder muscles, can be done inside (an important consideration this time of year in Wisconsin), and is non-impact. But for this taper at first I was in Belgium and France for two weeks, and while I could have gone over to one of the local pools and gotten a day pass, I was under some obligation to spend time with my family. Anyway, I was walking a ton (it’s Europe), so it didn’t really seem necessary to “work out” outside of my every-other day schedule of running. To keep up my cardio fitness, I ran 8–10 miles at a go every other day, and occasionally did body-weight exercises with B.[1] The day we got back from Europe was the day our gym started its annual cleaning of the lap pool; it reopened the Monday after the race. So I was been totally on my own for the last week.

When a pool is unavailable, there’s always biking. I enjoy biking, sort of. I’m not good at it. So last Sunday after
my run I biked 10 miles to my Chinese class and back (5 miles in each direction to the Social Sciences building—and I got to watch the IM marathon when I was heading home). Monday I biked around some of the rural area outside of Middleton, about 25 miles total. Then Wednesday. . . it was both 45 degrees and raining, so I went to spin class. Friday it was also 45 degrees and raining, so I did more spin. You would not believe (or maybe you would) how energetic one feels when one is in marathon shape, and how difficult it is to get what feels like a good (tiring) workout when you are totally primed to run for four hours without stopping. I guess that means that I had a successful taper because I felt strong and a little crazy.

But still: What is it about spin bikes that no matter how hard I think I’m pedaling, the little odometer always tells me I went 25 miles in an hour? And why can I do only half of that on the mean streets? And why do I sweat so damn much while spinning? And how can I make it stop irritating my bad foot when I stand on the pedals?

My foot, taped by both the PT and myself

Such questions. I apologize about this blog, by the way. I’ve missed you guys. But here I am almost five hundred words in and I haven’t gotten to the race yet. Also I apologize that I’ve yet to make up my mind about whether I think a colon should be followed by a capital letter (whether or not it introduces a full sentence). I changed the “w” above.
I signed up for this race as a way to gauge my fitness/training before the Antelope Island 50k next month. It also served as my last and longest training run. In a world where I was paying attention to things like having a training plan, my long runs would have gone something like this: (various stuff working up to) 15, 18, 15, 18, 20, 26.2 (and then some taper before the 50k). Instead I have done, starting the first week of July, 17, 13, [10k—tri day], 20, 13, 18, 20, 15, 10, 10. The 15 was the day before I left for Europe, the second 10 was the day after I got back. On the one hand, I actually missed or shortened three of the planned FIVE twenty-milers the plan my friends were following had scheduled. On the other hand, I am not someone who can run over twenty miles a lot and remain uninjured. I am backed up by historical data on this. I need to write myself some reminder post-it notes that say: Don’t do track speed work; don’t wear minimalist shoes; don’t run more than twenty miles once per marathon training cycle (or potentially: don’t run marathons); don’t do two-a-days.

I have done every single one of those fucking things during this marathon training cycle (er, except for the “don’t run marathons” part—though I guess I just did that?), and not surprisingly my right foot is a little angry about it. But not angry enough that I needed to miss the marathon. Just angry enough that I am running on “step down” (which means every other day rather than my normal five days per week schedule), and I had my PT tape my foot on Friday. I’m hopeful I’ll be back in full fighting shape by October, but for now I didn’t have high expectations going into the NFEC. My goals were like this:

  • A goal: Sub-4 hours. I was in shape for this, with the exception of my foot that won’t get with the program. If it were a road marathon I would probably expect to clock in right around four hours, even with the issues. However it was a trail race, which means probably not.
  • B goal: 4:30:xx. This would be a solid time for a technical trail marathon, and per last years’ finishing times would still put me in the top five women. So it was probably a pipe dream.
  • C goal: Sub-5 hours. This was probably a reasonable time given foot and terrain. It would probably be a pretty solid time for this course. (This assumption based on my experiences running elsewhere in the Kettles.)
Early morning pre-race selfie

Writing this introductory portion of the race report the night before, I should note that my week has looked like this:

  • Sunday: Run 10, bike 10
  • Monday: Bike 25
  • Tuesday: Run 10
  • Wednesday: Spin class (“25”), aikido
  • Thursday: Run 10
  • Friday: Spin class (“30”, because I started early)

B looked at this and said, “Have you heard of a taper?” So taper is as taper does, apparently. (Help me out, what does that actually mean?)

The Race

The race had a late start (9:00am) so I was able to sleep in until 6:25 before getting up to begin my pre-race rituals (eat a raspberry Pop Tart while reading The New Yorker). At 7:15 I stuck my stuff in the car. Then I panicked and ran back upstairs for an emergency piece of tape for my foot (in addition to the tape that the PT put on yesterday). I rolled out around 7:20.

I-94 to Eagle, WI

The drive over was fine. I felt relaxed. Then after a while I felt tense. I arrived about 20 minutes early and jogged over to the park bathroom (which, by the way, had actual flush toilets and soap!). And. . . my foot didn’t hurt at all. I jogged back to the car. It was still fine. Incredible. I decided to add one more piece of tape to a spot that was sort of bugging me (see picture above). I put on the t-shirt with my number pinned to it while cramming a protein bar in my mouth, grabbed my hydration pack, and set off for the starting line.

“It’s 45 degrees outside”

One thing I have to say is that I was impressed by how much parking was available and how close to the starting line I got to park. Another thing that was impressive was how cold it was (about 45 at the start, I’d guess). The race officials had little heat lamps and fire pits for us to warm our hands over.

The race started. I had decided on the following strategy: Run a conservative first half, then pick it up. Walk hills if necessary, and be prepared to hike it in if the foot gives out. So I went out at a pace that felt pretty slow. We ran along the side of a road (Cty Highway ZZ I think) for a while, then turned onto a grassy/muddy path going up a rather mild incline. Later I found out I made it through the 1.8 mi aid station in about 16 min—a 9:16 pace, not exactly relaxed.

Starting line

It took me about twenty minutes to get bored. While ultra runners are typically a chatty bunch, road marathoners are often quite serious—they have times to hit, Boston to qualify for, that sort of thing. Well, nuts to that. In what is a giant leap out of my shell, as soon as I came up next to someone who was going my pace, I started chatting with him. He was from Sandwich, IL, a 21-year old guy named Shane who worked as a restorer of houses and was interested in becoming a pastor. We talked for about twenty minutes, then he left me behind and I started talking to a professor of entrepreneurship from Marquette University. He was an interesting guy, had studied classical Chinese back in the day and had a son who was totally fluent in Mandarin.[2] The professor thought he was on track to win his AG (men 64+), so was running a pretty conservative race. I hung with him for about forty-five minutes (through the seven-ish mile aid station and beyond) before he stopped to stretch a calf and I rolled on ahead.

The prairie area

After a few switchbacks we emerged onto the prairie. I met up with two other marathoners, Nicole and Matt, and we chatted through the 11.7-mile aid station. I was still feeling really good at this point—my foot was doing really well on the soft ground (the rain from the last few days proved useful I guess) and I felt strong and happy. I ate a gel at about 1:50:xx and then grabbed some potato chips and a piece of boiled potato dipped in salt going through the aid station; although it wasn’t really a hit-the-salt-hard day, I have been struggling with stomach cramps all summer caused by salt issues, so I decided I wasn’t going to forego it completely.

I lost my companions after the aid station and went on for a while alone. My foot was beginning to bother me, but in truth the pain from the tape rubbing on my skin was worse than anything else. The terrain was very runnable, the weather still comfortably cool. Around (what I think was) mile 17, I passed a guy who made a remark about how he was going to follow me, since I had a good pace going. I laughed and we chatted for most of the next nine miles. His name was Wes; we talked about running, our jobs, his kids, and lots of various sundry things. We also met the single largest climb in the race—it was right around mile 19, and nowhere near as scary as Shane (remember Shane?) had suggested to me that it was. Certainly it was quite steep, and I hiked it rather than try to run it, but it wasn’t super arduous, and I probably could have run it if I’d had a gun on me.

By mile 20, my foot was starting to hurt. And my other foot hurt. And so did my ribs and my abs and. Well, you get the picture. But I knew something was going to hurt. You don’t come unscathed out of a marathon. So onward I went. The terrain had settled down after the big hill and was really pretty easy to run despite my discomfort. As we neared the end (I think close to the two miles to go mark), Wes dropped back to take a gel and I decided to try for some kind of finishing kick.

More typical Ice Age trail (aka the hill where my quads died)

I passed a couple of people (50k-ers and marathon relay people) and started up a really long, low grade hill. This was the point that I tried to speed up and realized how trashed my quads were. I was being passed at this point by a seemingly endless stream of marathon relayers going in the opposite direction and a few coming back. Eventually I crested the hill and tried to push it a bit back to the finish, including passing a lady (50k, sadly, not marathon) in the last fifty feet before the finish. When I turned around, Wes was right behind me—apparently he’d been trying to catch me but couldn’t. We fist-bumped and I wished him well.

Post-race selfies

I’d finished in 4:30:47 (watch time); I assumed, based on the good (cool) weather and course conditions, that I wouldn’t have placed. But I decided to wander over and get my results anyway before I left. Surprisingly, I was the 11th woman overall, and the 3rd in my age group (of 7). So I hit my B time and still managed to place. Nice. I got a little baggie of prizes, including sleeves, which I am excited to try out sometime this week.


I stumbled back to my car and stopped at a gas station on my way back to Madison for coffee and chocolate milk. I was already sore as I shambled around the store, and things only got worse by the time I got home. But despite my feeling (at the end of the race) that my left big toe was probably bleeding and that my right little toe might have fallen totally off, here is the sum total of the damage:

  • Bruise on back from hydration pack
  • Sore quads
  • Some chafing of various soft tissues
  • A blister the size of my thumb under the tape on my right foot
  • Everything from the knees down a bit muddy

So that’s not too bad at all. As I write this (following icing and ibuprofen), my foot feels really good (except for the blister). Score one for the PT.

I think that’s all I have to report. For those thinking of doing it, the NFEC is a great course, very runnable but not unchallenging, in a beautiful park, and the race is really well organized. I’m impressed on all counts.

[1] At our last hotel in Brussels, we actually had access to a universal machine in the gym, which was nice but a little confusing—rather than labeling any of the weights as pounds or kilograms, it just said “10, 20, 30” and so on. 20 what?

[2] If you want to be famous, the Chinese seem endlessly amused by Westerners who can speak Chinese fluently. I have never myself been that fluent. Actually, I don’t really understand the draw—as I’ve told some various relatives, there are about 960 million native speakers (as of 2010), making it far and away the most commonly spoken language on the planet. This means that when you learn Chinese, you are doing nothing that has not already been done by LITERALLY a billion people. But the Chinese seem to find it so entertaining! Compare that to Americans, who tend to think that learning English is basically THE LEAST you can do.

My medals from summer racing — Viroqua tri, Couples duathlon, and NFEC

Race Report: Dances with Dirt

Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love(?) the Pain

So, begin at the beginning. Back in April I did a race called the Trailbreaker Marathon. While I was there I met this woman named Shannon who is a super-dedicated runner who loves to race. We hit it off, and she suggested we get the band back together for a trail race up in Merrimac, WI (about 55 minutes from here) called Dances with Dirt. After some discussion, we decided to do the marathon, and I thought no more about it for a while.

During May and June it rained most of the time, so I did only a few short trail run. This was probably, in retrospect, an error. But I’ve done a lot of trail races as a tourist–someone who runs trails infrequently.

Packet Pickup. Photo by Shannon.
Packet Pickup. Photo by Shannon.

Friday the 12th of July. I headed up to Devil’s Head Resort. Shannon and I ate a large quantity of pasta and picked up our race packets. Another friend of hers (Ruth) had come up from the Milwaukee area to do the 50k, so we all had a very early night. I unfortunately passed on the opportunity to sing karaoke to a bar full of intoxicated golfers. Next time. . .

The next morning, alarms were going off at various times. I tried resolutely to ignore them all, and I think I caught a few minutes of sleep between whenever Ruth’s went off (4:ohmygod) and mine (the much more sensible 5:35). I got dressed and put in my contacts. Then I decided something was wrong with my left lens and took it out briefly. Then I thought everything was fine.

Because checkout was 11:00, we would have to run a 4:30 or better to be back to the room by then. Since the course included about 3700 feet of elevation gain, we decided to err on the side of things taking a long time and packed all our belongings to put in our cars before the race. Then we had to jog to the starting line. (Call it a warm up.)

Just before the gun, when the announcer was saying “Thirty seconds until we start,” I noticed that my left contact was twisted. I have a pretty bad astigmatism in my left eye and need to wear special contacts for it. They’re called “toric lenses.” Anyway, when you wear this type of lens, if the lens is not properly oriented on your eye, things can look blurry. The clear vision in your other eye can compensate somewhat, but you still have a weird feeling of seeing…not quite double, but not quite single either. I tried quickly to fix the lens, but I didn’t have time (or clean enough hands) to take it out and inspect it. In retrospect, I should have MADE the time.
Hindsight is pretty much the only thing I have 20/20 vision on.

At the gun we charged off. The first half mile of the course was nice—flat, occasionally paved, and the weather was gorgeous. Then we hit the first hill.

I’ve mentioned before (I think) that I’m not a huge single track person, and this is why: As soon as we hit the hill, we started walking. The person in front of me (a guy in a green shirt and VFFs) controlled when I started jogging and stopped again, and he was in turn controlled by the person in front of him. In this configuration you can never feel rested from the breaks or ready to stop running because you’re not in charge of when you run or don’t run.
The hilly section didn’t last forever, though, and we settled down into some very runnable terrain, with the exception of a very rocky portion. I’ll get back to this later. At the time, I joked to Shannon that it was like running tires on a military obstacle course. There were some hills, but nothing seemed severe in light of what we had just traversed (everyone hiked that initial hill because it was steep).

The climb up to South Bluff. Photo by Shannon.
The climb up to South Bluff. Photo by Shannon.

Just after mile 10, we began a climb up a section of roughly paved cement steps. There was a tall rock to our left and a drop to the right. Occasionally we could see Devil’s Lake peeking through the trees on the drop side. After about two leg-killing miles of this, we reached the South Bluff aid station—possibly the most magnificent aid station I’ve visited. From there, we had a view of the lake and the entire valley. Hawks (or vultures, I couldn’t tell) circled above us. I felt a wave of vertigo and edged away from the cliff.

About three quarters(?) of the way up. That'd Devil's Lake behind us. Photo by Shannon.
About three quarters(?) of the way up. That’s Devil’s Lake behind us. Photo by Shannon.

On the way down the other side, Shannon said that every step of the last twelve miles had been worth it, just to see that view. I think about 80% of the steps were probably worthwhile.

The next part of the run, miles 13-17, were a very runnable bit of downhill single track. It was all firm dirt (with an occasional but not problematic mudhole). I celebrated by falling down. Actually I fell down three times between mile thirteen and mile fourteen. On the first fall, I bloodied my shin. The second and third falls just stung my pride, or so I thought. I think partly the problem was not seeing super clearly as I tried to make up time by flying down these narrow trails, and part of the problem was that as I become increasingly tired, I probably lift my feet less and less.

The view from the top. Photo by Shannon. Or actually by someone she handed her camera to. But her camera.
The view from the top. Photo by Shannon. Or actually by someone she handed her camera to. But her camera.

Eventually we emerged from the single track onto a flat grass prairie area. I heard and then saw two sandhill cranes flying over. Then I realized we were going to have to go up the hill we’d just come down again. Only first we were going to have to run across the grassland to a turnaround (mile 16-ish) and back. Fun.

After the turnaround, Shannon started putting on the gas. I suddenly realized that my right hip—which had taken the brunt of the third fall—was hurting, and I couldn’t keep up with her. Eventually she said she was going to push the pace to see if she could get back to the hotel in time for a shower, and I let her go. It was not going to be a day for breaking speed records.

This would be the point where I realized that I don’t hate singletrack nearly as much as I hate two-way singletrack.

The hill really stood out over the grassy area; I could see it rising up on the horizon well before I reached it. Shannon was gone by this point, leaving me to hike back up the hill using a ten/ten pattern I made up: jog for ten steps (counting each step when your left foot hits, so really twenty step), then walk for ten steps (counted the same way). Eventually I got to what I thought was the top…only to find that it kept going. That hill was basically miles 17-20. I thought about Napoleon invading Russia. I thought about the Bataan Death March. I thought about how much it would suck to fall down again (I was running over big chunks of rock or shale at this point). I noticed that going down hills was becoming increasingly painful; something had gone wrong with my left knee. That was weird.

Then, a bit past the top, I fell down again.

I got up and cried a little. I was rude to some passers-by. And then. . .I kept going, shambling along at a steady run-walk. I think I was hitting about 12 min/mi, a bit faster on the flats. I had ten kilometers left to go. Any idiot, I told myself, can run a 10k.

I was back at the first major aid station (major means they have food). It marked the 20.5 mile point. I grabbed half a boiled potato, dipped it in salt, and scarfed it down. I would have had more, but I didn’t want to overload my stomach and cause myself even more grief. I dumped a cup of water over my head too, because it was getting hot out.
The last few miles of the course were the same as the first few miles, except backward. So remember that really rocky section I mentioned earlier? At full health I could probably have done that at a goodly clip, but this time I was reduced to hiking. A few people passed me, not many, and I watched the clock tick toward five hours, then past. I was pretty sure I was going to be the last one finished. How embarrassing.

I rolled in the mud. Photo by Shannon.
I rolled in the mud. Photo by Shannon.

At one point, a guy came up behind me. He crashed along for a while, slowing down when I had to slow down on the downhill. He said, “Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.” Then he passed me. A few feet later he fell ass over teakettle.

He got up, laughed, and said it was the first time he’d fallen all day. Luckily he left before I could hit him.
At just about 26 miles, which is to say .2 miles from the end, I emerged from the woods onto a paved bike path. It looked flat, so I decided to make a concerted effort to hustle for the finish line and at least cross it looking strong. The bike path turned suddenly into a gravel road that went up a hill, and then halfway up it turned right into a thicket of bushes. I started into the bushes, pushing myself down the hill there, and suddenly I was airborne again.

I sort of rolled over in the dirt and cried. I was never doing any trail races ever again. I was never doing any marathons again. Obviously my ACL and my meniscus were probably torn or shattered. Nothing would ever be good again.
Then I realized that the 50 milers and 50k runners who were still behind me were going to find me lying in the dirt, and I had to go another hundred feet to finish. So I got up. I staggered, bloody and covered in mud, across the finish line in 5:18:42.4.

One woman, an older lady, looked at me as I shambled up and said, in the kindest possible voice, “Would you like some ice cold water?”

YES, I would. I asked about a first aid tent. But before I could hustle off, a woman with a clipboard asked my age group and told me I’d got fourth place.

I won a pint glass.

I won 4th place! First place was a bucket.
I won 4th place! First place was a bucket.

Fourth place! I’ve never placed at the marathon distance before. I felt perplexed, and somewhat better than I’d been feeling a few minutes before. I hazarded that if my knee survived, I would probably run again (a good thing, since I’m already signed up for The Baltimore Marathon).

The paramedics working the first aid tent sat me down on a cot. They carefully washed my legs off and diagnosed me with road rash. I got a big bandaid and some antibiotic ointment on the big gash on my shin and something called “chigger cream” on my other scrapes. The chigger cream had lidocaine in it, so soon I was able to hobble back to my car, free from the obnoxious grating in my knee. I still had enough water left to wash off my hands. Then, like Tricia McMillian, I finally fixed my contact lens.

I turned on the AC and played rock music at an unjustifiable volume all the way home. By the time I arrived, I’d recovered my humor. Also, Bryan was making brownies. He didn’t know they were post-marathon-for-Em brownies (he thought they were for some friends who were coming over). They were delicious.

A post-script on my knee: After our friends left and Bryan went to rehearsal, I looked up the symptoms of ACL tear (key words: knee instability, pain so bad you want to puke) and meniscus problems (key words: knee freezes or locks up) and realized I had neither of those problems. When Bryan came home, we determined that the problem was in fact my SI joint had got stuck. I probably jammed it when I fell the third time (a fall that left a lovely constellation of bruises on my right thigh). We unstuck it and my knee was back to normal the next day.

Finish: 5:18:42.4, 4th in my age group, 9th woman overall. 43rd overall in the race. What I didn’t realize—the fastest time was only 4:09. Compare to other recent, local marathons: Grandma’s was won in 2:11, Lakefront 2012 was 2:27, Green Bay was 2:18. This is the difference that 3,000+ feet of climb over rough terrain makes: about two hours.

My hair ALONE is worth a medal.
My hair ALONE is worth a medal.

Em oi! #378: Tiny Robots

Behold: The Power of Bagels

I drew this two weeks ago when I had just run a twenty-miler. The following Saturday I ran 21. And yesterday, I ran a marathon. This comic continues its relevance to my life. We’ll file this under
GV1065.17.T56 L86 2013
for Recreation. Leisure—Sports—Track and field athletics—Foot racing. Running—Distance running—Marathon running—Special topics, A-Z—Tiny robots.

I finished the Trailbreaker Marathon in 4:08:43, 7th in my age group. I ran the whole race with a woman from Minneapolis named Shannon, which made the whole thing seem rather quick. (Well okay, not exactly quick–it was still four hours. But it was quite tolerable.) The race course was very flat, with the exception of one rather long and gradual hill. I actually welcomed this on the way back (it was an out-and-back course) because it gave my legs something to think about.

emily shannon and bill

My stomach, which has occasionally caused me grief on long runs before, stayed quiet. I thought I might be able to do a 4:15, but Shannon was on track for a bit of a faster race (her PR is about 30 minutes faster than mine), and I decided I wanted to keep running with her because she was quite entertaining to talk to. The aid stations were a bit irregularly spaced, which made my gel-every-six-miles strategy a bit tricky (I like to take my gels with water and had forgotten my water bottle) but I survived. It sprinkled a bit but then it stopped. I don’t know. It was a race that went very well, so there’s not that much to remark on. Here’s a photo of me, Shannon, and a fellow named Bill who did the first half of the race with us.

Shannon took the photo, by the way–I stole borrowed it off her Facebook page.

I know that last week I promised I would have an analysis of the free will/determinism problem I posed. But I did a marathon yesterday, and then today I was working on editing my thesis proposal most of the day, so the short of it is that my essay is half written and I have to go to bed now. I will have it completed in a day or two, though, so check back. Same bat time…SELFIE in the car

Em oi! #376: นักแปล [nakplae, the translator]

I have the skills to...get bug spray for Andy and Sara's room. Possibly.

Another sketch from our trip to Thailand. This actually happened at a down-at-its-heels hotel in Chiang Mai. Eventually Andy and Sara got to move to a slightly better room…but they didn’t manage to get one with a double bed. At the time, I complained that we had landed in the Chiang Mai version of Pham Ngu Lao, a street in Ho Chi Minh City known for cheap/seedy backpacker hotels. I think, having looked at a lot of other hotel reviews, that most places in Chiang Mai are like that. It wasn’t a bad hotel, exactly…well, it was. But it was clearly a nice hotel about ten or fifteen years ago when it was built. And then nothing was updated again.

My nemesis
My nemesis

There was a fiendish device on the bedside table. You can see it in this photo to the right (and now you all know the name of the hotel, oops.). You push a button and the lights turn on or off. Somehow we managed to push the buttons so that around about five o’clock in the morning, the lights started to turn on and off by themselves. You can imagine, given how jet lagged I was, how well that went over. I thought the place was haunted. I guess this was state-of-the-art in like…1980.

I’m maybe a bit bitter because the room smelled like smoke. But later on that day, after our freaky awakening, B got sick and basically slept in the room for 12 hours. I figured at least the sheets were clean and the AC worked.

A few trial sketches of Andy.
A few trial sketches of Andy.

These are my preliminary sketches of Andy, done to prep for this comic and Em oi! #374. I guess he’s lost a fair amount of weight since he got back to Texas, so these are not entirely accurate.

Today we went to see Oz the Great and Powerful, Sam Raimi’s prequel to The Wizard of Oz. I found that in the years since I first saw the original, the details of the land of Oz have gotten tangled up in my head with other fantasy places, like Wonderland, Middle Earth, and Australia. There were some details that struck me as kind of bizarre–why would you have a field of poppies that can cause everlasting sleep right next to the Emerald City? Isn’t that a liability case waiting to happen? The witches were also interesting, although I was sad that they went with the old trope of “dark hair bad, blond-y good-y.” Glinda the good witch, played by Michelle Williams, reminded me of Galadriel (blond hair, long white gown, kind of ethereal expression). Then I remembered that amazing scene where Galadriel almost takes the ring, but doesn’t. Wow, she’s a really interesting character in that scene. Too bad Glinda was just blandly kind. Of course it is nice to have one character who is kind, but… Also I am not sure how I feel about the turning-green-as-externalization-of-internalized-self-loathing? And of course no one can out-evil Margaret Hamilton.

There was a lot about families in it though, and a kind of magical scene where Oz (played by James Franco) glues a little china doll’s legs back on. I maybe got a little verklempt.

Now that I think about it, maybe Glinda was a bit more manipulative in the first film, since she doesn’t tell Dorothy how to use the slippers to get home until the very end of the book…

Today I got up and ran 18 miles (well, 18.25). It was an interesting run. I was up in the night with indigestion (from 2:30-4 am) and only got out of bed around 8:30, an hour later than my alarm was set for. Actually, at 8:15, Bryan rolled over and said, “Why are you still here?” I took some drugs and set out, going easy, waiting to see if anything bad would happen…but nothing did. I got tired, since I did the whole run on only 190 calories (two gels, one 90 cal, one 100 cal) plus the glycogen stored from yesterday’s overeating (the thing that caused me so much trouble). Anyway, I mostly shuffled along at 10:30-10:40 minutes/mile, more than a minute slower than my planned race pace. Toward the end, I tried to pick things up and ran a 9:54, but then my stomach started to ache and said, “Don’t ever do that again,” so I finished slow. (I wasn’t going to call B to pick me up with two miles to go.) At least I finished.

This is wandering, probably because of my weird interrupted sleep. I’d better bring things to a stopping point.

This comic will be filed under P306.94 .L86 2013, for Philology. Linguistics—Language. Linguistic theory. Comparative grammar—Translating and interpreting—Translating services. In case you were curious, if you search for the heading “translation,” all you get is class numbers related to specific translations–translating the bible, translating Emile Zola into English, etc. The correct subject heading for translation as the subject of a work is “translating and interpreting.” I had to look it up.

Em oi! #369: Cold Turkey

During the two week “no caffeine” period, my brother Daniel and I both found that we missed not the stimulant but just coffee itself–the ritual, the warm beverage in the morning. We both began drinking decaf as a result, but I’ll tell you a secret–decaf just doesn’t taste as good as regular. Or at least, I’ve yet to encounter a brand of decaf that could hold a candle to my beloved Trung Nguyen.

I am still caffeine-free though (as far as I know. Like, I ate a cookie called a “mocha cookie” the other day, but it didn’t really taste like coffee and I didn’t feel caffeinated afterward). I actually feel pretty good, and mostly not sleepy in the afternoons like I used to get when I was drinking a lot of caffeine. I don’t know how long I will stay decaffeinated, though.

I have a lot of heart rate data for myself, since I usually wear a heart rate monitor when I run. It would be interesting to do some analysis on it and see if my average HR (while running) has changed now that I am off caffeine. I think it might have…but there are too many other factors to really say for sure. Oh well.

We’ll file this under RC567.5 .L86 2012 for Internal medicine—Neurosciences. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry—Psychiatry—Psychiatric aspects of personality and behavior conditions—Drug abuse. Substance abuse—Caffeine.

Yesterday I participated in the 21st Annual Literacy Network Run/Walk. Formerly known as the Canterbury Run/Walk after a much-beloved, now defunct bookstore, this was actually the first 5k I ever ran way back when I started running (I finished last that time). I wasn’t really going to write anything about this, but then I won 4th overall among women (results). I finished the 10k in 50:54, which is about an 8:12 pace. It didn’t feel like I was near my VO2 max or anything, but my legs were tired, so that’s as fast as I ran. I guess I shouldn’t have knocked out 12 miles on the dreadmill the day before?

The field was very small this year (101 finishers) because it was absolutely pissing down rain the entire time. Around mile 3, the rain slowed briefly, but then it picked up again. There was not a dry inch on me anywhere when I got done, and I still had to run two miles back to my car.

So for your amusement, here are before and after photos.

I was going to make B take a picture of me, but he was up at 5am with insomnia and decided to sleep in instead of getting up to watch me dither around. So I took this myself in the bathroom mirror.
Back in my car, about to choose between heat blowing on me and keeping the windshield unfogged.


I want to add two final thoughts to my race report from the Milwaukee Marathon. One is that both of the photos in the post were taken by MM people/their hired photographers and “borrowed” by me. The other is that twice on the course I heard the song “Gangnam Style” by Psy. I’ve also heard it on the radio recently–the mainstream, commercial, top 40 radio. I am really excited that an Asian pop song would make its way over here…but if South Korea is going to be the part of Asia that finally explodes into mainstream American consciousness, I have totally backed the wrong horse (China, Viet Nam, เมืองไทย).

Milwaukee Marathon

Hey guys, I ran a marathon! And I went sub-4 (in the most dramatic style, 3:59:59). This past Sunday, October 7th, I got to join about 3100 other runners in the 32nd annual Lakefront Marathon in Milwaukee. This was my third marathon (though my fifth race of 26.2 miles or more). But it almost didn’t happen. Take a look at this chart showing my running distances for the year.

As you can see, in June and July, my mileage fell dramatically as I pulled up lame with (what I was told was) a strained (“torn”) quad. By the time I was getting back on my feet (early August), I had only about ten weeks to train (including taper). My PT suggested that I should consider doing a half instead of a full; a suggestion I immediately discounted because: 1. He’s not a runner and doesn’t really understand what is required to train for a half versus a full (to be honest, I’m not sure he believed me when I told him how much I ran), and 2. I was already signed up for Lakefront.

Mid-August, I sat down and made up a training plan. Essentially, I run five days per week: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. I planned to run my normal mileage on Tuesday-Thursday (generally eight to eleven miles per day depending on whether B wants to run or not, including a speed workout on Thursday) and then to increase my Saturday long run, ultimately to a distance of eighteen miles, and do a shorter long run of ten to twelve miles on Sunday. This is essentially what I did (though I topped out at twenty instead of eighteen). I also ran a test half marathon at the end of August when I was in Salt Lake City, and I came in at 1:59:26. According to the McMillan Running predictor, this suggests a marathon time of 4:11:21. But do keep in mind I was running at altitude, which can slow you down by about fifteen seconds per mile (I got this figure from my brother; no idea if it’s true or not, but I’ll pretend because then it sounds impressive to have broken two hours).

Photo via Brightroom Photography.

Before my injury, I was attending weekly track workouts. Of course, that had to stop, and once I was back to running, I started to worry that the workouts had caused or aggravated my injury, so I decided to hold off on returning until after the race. Instead, I did speedwork on my own on Thursday mornings.

I have two main routines I do:

1. Lupton 800s. These are my version of Yasso 800s, a workout typically done on a track that involves an 800 at speed x, then a cool-down for time (so if you run the 800 in 3:30, you get 3:30 to recover). Doing 10×800 is often felt to be useful in predicting marathon times-for example, if your average speed for the set was 3:30 per 800, you could probably expect to run your marathon in 3:30:00. My variations are based around not having a track readily accessible near my home, so I run my 800s on a mile-long, flattish stretch of road near my house. My cool-down, instead of being time-based, is distance-based–the other half of the 800 to get back to the “starting line” at the beginning of the mile stretch. I started with a set of seven and worked up to ten, slowly dropping the time I was aiming for. In the end, I was averaging about 3:54.

2. Dual Pace Runs. I read about this in one of the endless newsletters sends me, and it turned out to be pretty fun. Warm up for a  mile at whatever pace you fancy (I usually do about a 10:50-11:30, because I’m running with the dog). Then alternate between your half marathon pace and your marathon pace, doing half a mile of each for eight miles. Then cool down for a mile. So since my half pace was about 8:50 and my MP about 9:10, I’d run half a mile at 8:50, then slow down and do half a mile at 9:10. I like this workout because the distance is short enough that it doesn’t feel overwhelming. This is also the longest workout I can do before leaving for work.

The Week Before

I posted midway through last week that I was feeling less crazy than I usually do during my taper. This proved true until about Thursday, when stress and other worries combined to turn me into a pacing, bread devouring fiend. Well, maybe it wasn’t that bad. Anyway, the real issue started on Friday, when I woke up with a scratchy throat. I thought perhaps I had just been shouting too much during play practice, but on Saturday the feeling persisted. In addition, on Saturday for some reason I was achy. I don’t think I overdid it on Friday–my exercise level was normal or even reduced for me. This was troubling.

By Sunday morning my throat didn’t just feel scratchy, but had worked its way to painful and swollen. As I hauled my body out of bed at 5:30, I offered it a deal: Get through to noon in one piece, and I’ll give you a long nap and some time off next week. I dressed in the silent house (we were staying at my in-laws) and grabbed a breakfast of two slices of toast with PB and bananas. Then I sat down and tried unsuccessfully to concentrate on my reading until it was time to go. Of course, we left a few minutes late, because that’s the kind of people we are, and then the highway between West Bend and Grafton was detoured and, and, and. B left me near the starting line with about 20 minutes to go (because of how drop off and pickup worked, we didn’t get any pre- or post-race photos, sadly). I immediately went into Grafton High School (i.e., the starting line) and started hunting for a bathroom with a line shorter than ten people. No luck, but I did manage to get through and get out to the actual starting line just as they started playing the Star Spangled Banner. It was an impressively bad rendition, and I spent most of it trying to get my watch to connect to the satellites.

And then we were off! I had originally planned to run at a relatively slow pace–maybe 9:30s–until mile five, then pick it up and go 9:00-9:10 to mile twenty, and finally drop the hammer and see if I could do some 8:50s in the last 10k. But on race day, I started out pretty fast, and wound up staying at about the same tempo overall for the whole race. I had also planned to take a gel every seven miles. I stuck to this plan, had no stomach pains, and felt great. It was nice to pass people at mile twenty instead of bonk and spend two or three miles walking tearfully and in pain. I did have to make two pit stops. At some point, my watch got out of sync with the mile markers on the course, so I hit 26.2 right at the 26 mile marker. At that point, my watch said I had about two minutes to get to the finish line under four hours, so I took off as fast as I could. Final time: 3:59:59, good enough for 41st in my age group. Very dramatic too. My sore throat had cleared up a little ways into the run, or the endorphins hit and I didn’t notice it anymore. I did nap for a couple of hours in the afternoon, and the cold hit me for real on Tuesday night. Now I’m feeling much better. What worked:

  • The speed work. If I’d done more intense sprints, I would have been faster, but for ten weeks I’m pretty satisfied.
  • Nutrition plan. Three (decaf) gels and water at every aid station.
  • The last-minute decision to adapt my pacing plan to how I was feeling.
  • My shoes (Brooks PureGrit) were great and supportive and my socks (Balega) did not give me blister problems. Hurrah.

What could have worked better:

  • Clothes. I dithered about this and eventually went with shorts and a long-sleeved shirt because of the cold. My legs were fine, but my hands were quite chilly at times, especially when we were hit by a headwind off the lake during the last three miles.
  • Pre-race eating. I managed to go into the race a bit heavier than my normal racing weight, and also I ate a huge meal the night before and had to make two pit-stops. Should have taken a loperamide, I guess.
  • Due to a misunderstanding, B met me at the art museum instead of at the finish line, so somehow wound up walking down four flights of stairs to get to where his car was. I would have preferred not to do that.
  • The taper was relatively successful, I’ll admit. I wish I’d toned it down toward the end of week two and taken Friday completely off as well.
Photo via Brightroom Photography.

That’s really about it. I’m quite satisfied with how it all went. The course was great, downhill (and with a tailwind most of the way), and the crowds were enthusiastic. I saw a couple of signs that said “Run, random stranger, run!” and one that said, “Go Emily!” While I was clearly not their Emily, they still held it up and cheered as I went past. Best of all, near mile 18, someone had set up a “Paul Ryan Finish Line.” The last time I ran a marathon, Obama was running for his first term and there were people in the crowd holding signs reading, “You can DO it.” (That marathon was in DC.) It was nice to see something along the same vein here, though with a more Wisconsin-appropriate twist.

Now that I’ve done a couple of 50ks, it’s easy to forget how big a deal running a marathon is for almost everyone. I’ll admit it, this was kind of a big deal for me too.

Em oi! #359: Saucy

"Quick! Taste this chocolate sauce!" This is uttered more frequently in my house than you might think.

We’ll class this under TX767.C5 L86 2012, for Home economics–Cooking–Baking. Confectionery–Recipes for special food products, A-Z–Chocolate. The recipe in question I was making is here, on David Lebovitz’s blog. It’s fantastic.

And in case you were wondering, it turns out a bottle of corn syrup will last pretty much indefinitely.

A few things: the About page has been updated, as has the Index of Comics. I have also added a Frequently Unasked Questions page. If you have anything you’d like answered on it, please email me (ehluptonATgmailDOTcom).


Yesterday I did the 26th annual Verona Hometown Days 10k. Because I’ve been doing a lot of speed work lately, and have seen (or imagine that I have seen) my times get slightly better, I thought I would do a little 10k to see how I am doing. There is nothing like a good race to really show you where you’re at. But the problem is, I am training for a long bike ride, so I cannot exactly put that aside and taper for a week. So instead, my training schedule last week looked like this:

Sunday: 32.2 mi bike ride, 6.3 mi run.
Monday: 8 mi run
Tuesday: 6.1 mi run (AM), 4×1000@4 min (ha) plus warm up and cool down for a total of 4.5 mi (PM)
Wednesday: 10.2 mi run, yoga
Thursday: 34.9 mi bike (includes commute), weights
Friday: 31 mi bike, yoga, weights
Saturday: 46.5 mi bike

So is this the best way to taper? Right. So. Also I went to bed quite late on Saturday and got up early on Sunday, even though Verona is only about eight minutes from my house.

When I got up, surprise, my quads (which had been very tired the previous day) felt fine, and my calf muscles felt all right. B took the dog out and I went off to Verona, arriving around 7:30.

It was already on the warm side (about 70 degrees), although my “heat training” (I do Bikram-style yoga–really, I do hot vinyasa yoga; I will explain the difference sometime) meant that I wasn’t feeling it as much as I might otherwise have been. Instead of bibs, we were given little strips with our names and a colored sticker indicating age group. This proved to be helpful (somewhat) during the race–I quickly ascertained that my age group was marked with a pink circle.

Since I live and run in the area, I knew the first mile and a half would be pretty flat, then hills through to mile five, then mostly downhill to the finish. Accordingly, I planned to: Go out as hard as I could, try to keep my pace steady on the hills but run conservative uphills if necessary, then really push it on the last 1.2 miles. (This is basically my strategy for every race, actually: Run fast, don’t stop.) A book on racing that I’ve been reading says the key to a good 10k is to run strong intermediate miles–it’s easy to find motivation at the start and finish and easy to get distracted in between. So that was another key to my strategy: Don’t falter between miles 2.5-5.

At 7:45, they shouted “go” and we took off, right up a hill. I passed a speedy-looking woman with purple KT tape on her back and, arriving at the top of the hill, realized I was the second place woman and probably fifth or sixth runner overall. The other woman was somewhat ahead of me and seemed to be moving comfortably. Our pace for the first mile was 7:15, which is not sustainable (I was shooting for 7:30s). So I decided, instead of grinding it out at the start, to wait and see if she would over-extend herself later in the race.

At mile 1.5 or so, another woman in a Berkeley Running Co. shirt passed me, and I had to let her go, settling into third place as we turned to go up the big hill next to Verona Area High School. I could see that there were some people back there, but it wasn’t until mile 3, when we headed out Northern Lights Road for an out-and-back section that I realized how far ahead I really was. The turn-around confirmed that I was pretty far ahead of the next woman, and so I ran a bit more conservatively on the way back through this section, which was very hilly. At mile 5, 9 Mound Road was a bit hillier than I remembered, and I had to push to keep my times up. It was getting very hot by this point, and there was not a breath of air to be had. I could see one (older) gentleman ahead of me, and if I turned I could pick out a man in a bright yellow jersey behind me, but basically I was alone. So basically I held onto 3rd place until the finish, where it turned out that neither of the women ahead of me were in my age group (I’d known about the first place woman, but the second place woman wasn’t wearing her strip where I could see it).

I won my age group with a time of 48:21.03. My splits were: 7:15, 7:45, 7:48, 7:59, 8:04, 8:01, 7:36 (pace over last .2 mi). This is an overall pace of 7:48, or about 14 seconds/mile faster than a tempo 10k run I did two weeks ago at track practice. So I’m pretty satisfied, although it is about what one would expect given my last 5k time and the bad weather.

In terms of lessons, I wish I’d tapered a bit better, slept more, and that the weather had been better, or that I’d had more time for yoga lately because that might have helped too. But overall, a solid performance. And really, I was not going to catch the first two women, and the next woman was not going to catch me, so I ran about as fast as I needed to.

New Year’s Resolutions

Or, “In Which I Start to Get My Race Schedule Together.”  These aren’t exactly resolutions, since I don’t really make those (does “stop getting injured” count?).  But I guess they’re things I’ve been thinking about since the beginning of January.  I’ve also been thinking about my diet, which isn’t going well.  Bah.

In order for me to explain why signing up for a bunch of races is a bit more troublesome this year than other years, let’s look at some results from races in my 2011 season:

  • Lupton Metrish Invitational (3 miles): 28:54
  • Mad City 50k: 4:57:57, 4th place women overall, 3rd place in my age group
  • Ice Age 50k: 5:58:14, 3rd place in my age group
  • Run to the Rhythm 5k: 22:36, 2nd place in my age group
  • Waunafest 10-mile: 1:23:42
  • Madison Mini Marathon (13.1 mi): 1:50:50
  • Safe Harbor 10k: 45:20, 2nd woman overall, 1st in my age group
  • Literacy Network 5k: DNS
  • Baltimore Marathon: DNS
  • Haunted Hustle Marathon: DNS

I’m pretty good at shorter distances, not awesome at middle distances, and good at ultra distances.  You might also spot a pattern toward the end of the season if you look closely.

Yes, I went down with an ankle injury at the end of September, 2011 and my mileage is only now getting back to where it was (in the 35-40 miles per week range).  So I have been understandably hesitant to fill up my schedule with races, worrying about every twinge, every bump, every step that suddenly could trigger more weeks of PT and swimming instead of running.  But then I got an email from the Badgerland Striders (the group that runs the Ice Age 50 mile/50k/half marathon race in mid-May) telling me that registration for those races has opened.  I am in no condition to do the 50k again (nor do I want to–I’m doing no races this season longer than a half marathon), but they do have a half marathon which a) is through beautiful countryside and b) is on challenging trails and c) fills up really quickly.

There isn’t really a good term for “leap of faith” for atheists, since atheists don’t particularly take things on faith.  And I suppose I do have some empirical evidence that I’m getting better (I run largely pain-free and have been logging about 40 mpw lately).  But regardless of whether it was a good idea, I signed up for the half marathon at the Ice Age 50.  This joins a few other events on my calendar:

  • Lupton Metrish Invitational.  Of course.
  • The 10-miler at the Syttende Mai the following weekend.  B has agreed to run with me!  I’m very excited.  We didn’t race together at all last year except the Lupton Metrish Invitational.
  • The 50-miler at the Centurion Wisconsin in August (yes, a bike race!  I’m excited.)  A friend who is a Serious Cyclist has been giving me advice, so while I don’t expect I’ll place or anything, I think I can put together a training plan and make a good showing of it.
  • Figure-8 the Lakes, also August, probably 50 mile distance (a group ride instead of a race; a relative of B’s suggested she would do it with me.)
  • A fall duathlon, probably the Dousman Duathlon.
  • Half marathon at the Baltimore Running Festival.  Okay, I was injured in Fall of 2010 and 2011, so this is really beginning to sound like a Dutch Book is being constructed against me (i.e., it’s a losing bet).  But I need to try this again.
  • Half marathon at the Haunted Hustle.  Ditto.

I’m kicking around a bunch of other races, but nothing is for sure:

  • Grandma’s.  Dan and Claire said they’d do the half if I did it, but it’s in Duluth.  Also I’d probably have had to have registered in November 2011 or something.  Actually, I looked it up–it’s a lottery and it hasn’t opened yet.
  • Dances with Dirt–nice location (Devil’s Lake, and there’s a half), but it’s in July.  Not good running weather.
  • Waunafest 10-miler–a fun race, but half of it is through an industrial park.
  • A triathlon.  I’m afraid at this point.  You’ll notice I didn’t list my tris above because they were kind of terrible failures (my duathlon was pretty good but not spectacular).
  • Other actual bike races or duathlons.  There are not a ton of duathlons that I can reasonably get to.  I don’t know.
  • Madison Mini Marathon.  Possibly the most over-hyped local race there is.
  • There are a lot of local 5k/10k races.  I’ll probably at least do the Berbee Derby and the Literacy Network runs, since they have good t-shirts and I do them every year (except when I’m injured).  But what else?

I’m open to suggestions, Internet.  I don’t like to travel more than an hour from Madison for a half (Baltimore is an exception, since I’d be going there anyway) and no more than 30 minutes for anything shorter than 10 miles.

To finish, here’s a great picture B took of me (with his iPhone, no less!) before the start of the Ice Age 50k last year.  You’d guess I’m always happy right before a race.  (After a race–different story entirely.)

Oh, about my repeated placing in ultra distance (i.e., longer than 26.2 mi) distances: it’s kind of a cheat.  There aren’t many women my age running those races, so I have a better than average chance of placing.  It seems lots of younger women are busy having kids and careers and things that prevent them from training for 60-70 miles per week.  Most ultrarunners seem to be middle aged, which makes sense–the kids are old enough to amuse themselves for a while on a Saturday morning.  So it’s not me, it’s everyone else.