San Juan Island Half Marathon

The race course featured beautiful views of the Salish Sea, Olympic Mountains, trees, and an abundance of green. Thanks for the photo, Csenka.

A couple weeks ago I ran my 14th (maybe 15th?) half marathon. This one was different from all the rest though–it was the most scenic of ’em all, thanks to its island location in Washington. A few friends and I had been training for the San Juan Island Half since we signed up in January. Although a few of us only ran together once, we often encouraged each other in our ‘Run Club’ texting group and traded stories of our big wins (hitting that longest run ever mark week after week) and little wins (got outside and ran a bit) and the setbacks too (injuries, travel). I have another entire post in mind to talk all about community, but let’s just say signing up for this half (in tandem with another half in June) with some friends was just the boost I needed this year to get back into consistent training.

We arrived on San Juan Island by ferry Friday night before the race to avoid an excruciatingly early departure from Seattle Saturday morning. This gave us time to settle into our little vacation rental and pick up our race bibs, reusable water pouch (kudos to Orcas Running for eliminating needless water cup waste!), and t-shirt at packet pick-up, plus enjoy a nice waterfront dinner together.

Pre-race group photo, South Beach inside San Juan Island National Historic Park

Conveniently, our accommodations were just a few blocks from one of the shuttle pick-up stops, so we could sleep in a bit Saturday morning, grab coffee and baked treats from a local shop, and meander our way to the bus. Most runners know the day to try something new is never race day, myself included, but I typically like to rebel against that tip, so for this race I opted for a delicious pre-race blueberry lemon scone instead of eating the oatmeal I brought along and ate before most of my long training runs. I figured it was comparable to the harvest muffin I’d gotten a couple times in Minneapolis before a long run or two (you’re right–there’s no logic in that, but it worked out). We arrived at the start area with plenty of time to snap a group photo in front of the ocean and for me to get in a pre-race warm-up. A few minutes before the start, my friends and I wished each other ‘good luck’ and settled into our preferred starting line spot. The buzzer sounded and off we went, up a hill. 

My goal for this half was to run a somewhat consistent pace, avoid crashing mid or late race from starting too hard, and finish somewhere within the realm of my fastest half finishing time (taking into account my fastest time was a few years ago on a flatter course). So, I took it easy up that first hill, and didn’t worry too much about passing other runners, yet. Around a mile and a half into the race, everyone turns back around to run in the opposite direction for the remainder of the race, so I got to excitedly wave hello and yell something along the lines of “GOOD JOB!” to my friends. For the first 3 or 4 miles, I was the 3rd place female. As expected, there weren’t many spectators for the 13.1 mile stretch, but around mile 5 I spotted my wife (who flew out to WA from MN to spectate–which I suppose sounds strange if you don’t know our current life/living situation…) and another friend, plus the aid station volunteers were decked out in costumes and good cheer.

I love race day!

The absolute highlight of this race were the spectacular views–the Salish Sea! Beaches! Mountains! Healthy cows! I once ran a hilly, rural half marathon in Minnesota, and this course profile felt comparable, except that the San Juan Half was beautiful. 

Around mile 9 I felt myself dragging a bit; I think there may have been a long, gradual incline at that point, and this was when my GPS watch came in handy–I kept telling myself to push a little harder so I wouldn’t go slower than a certain pace. Before the next race I need to listen to music beforehand so that I avoid repeating a few Purple Rain lyrics I could barely remember, over and over. With a few more Skratch Labs chews (the best chews in the world!) I felt more energized going into mile 11. The final stretch of the race is a fantastic downhill, which I pounded down for an overall place of 25th. I ended up finishing within minutes of my half marathon PR, 3rd of 25 in my age group, and an average pace that I had practiced in training, so I considered it a race well-run. Many thanks go to my Team RunRun coach and to Seven Hills Running Shop for giving me the opportunity to try out having a running coach (which I’m completely sold on, even as a middle of the pack runner because we all have goals and could use some encouragement and advice to achieve them).

Finishers, Jackson Beach

My friends did super well too. For one it was her very first half marathon finish, another finished within seconds of her last half marathon time, and the third actually walked most of the race at a pace I cannot fathom being possible except by running. As runners continued to cross the finish line, we all enjoyed the free pizza and ice cream, while sporting our fancy wooden finishers’ medals in the gorgeous sunshine.

Up next for me is a mid-week 5K in an urban park and then for all of us in June is The Great Ferry Race half marathon on Bainbridge Island! Another half, another ferry, steeper hills.

Green River Marathon

I ran the Green River Marathon in June 2018. The only post I started to write last year never ended up completed or published. Here’s my recollection of the race, many months later and a bit of social media to jog my memory.

A few months ago I came across a FREE marathon happening in early June a half hour south of Seattle. Sold! Over the past couple months I’ve been going to physical therapy to work on an overuse running injury, doing a short but presumably effective strength training routine a few mornings a week in my living room, and getting in little runs with Eleven and longer runs on my own over the weekend.

Fast forward many months later–looking back on this marathon, it was an accomplishment in that I got to the start line. It wasn’t until late the morning of that I was 100 percent certain I’d run this race. Work had kept me up late for a solid couple weeks, including until midnight the night before my 5am pre-race alarm. Ultimately, I’m stubborn when it comes to crossing finish lines, and with many years of many miles on my legs, I figured they could trudge through another 26.2. It was…tough…really tough, and I was admittedly embarrassed with my finishing time. But I don’t regret it! The volunteers were energetic, the course was interesting, and although there weren’t really spectators, it was entertaining when a random passerby would ask us, “Is there a marathon going on or something?” Crossing that finish line, finally, definitely increased my appreciation for a well executed training plan and plenty of rest–maybe I’ll go that route this year.

Free race, $20 hat–totally worth it
The race start in Kent, WA
Excellent running conditions, particularly for an open course
I’m one of those people that drinks maybe two sodas in a year, but this Pepsi was the most amazing beverage I had all year. I needed the caffeine, the sugar, the carbonation–it was a dream come true at mile 18 right along the marathon course.
Whew! Made it to Seattle, from Kent, on foot.
So close, yet feeling so far from the finish.
Nothing like friends greeting you at the finish line!!! It sure took me a long time to get there, but they didn’t complain.

From lakes to mountains

View of boats sailing on Union Bay
My first run as a Washington resident, Foster Island via the Washington Park Arboretum

I’m no longer a runner in Minneapolis–now I’m a runner from Minneapolis. That swap of a single word is packed with hoards of change. Two months ago, I flew with a one way ticket to Seattle–my new home. Minneapolis houses some of my closest friends, a weekend drive to my family, familiarity, and even my wife and our dog. After weeks of solitary hills and walks and hikes and any combination of those things with the few friends I have in the PNW, Jen and Eleven will soon make the trek and join me in our recently acquired new space. So much newness in the past couple months; job, apartment, running routes, friends, neighborhoods, co-workers, grocery stores, routines, travel, roommates, and simply adjusting to a new home that can be so similar to Minneapolis it unexpectedly intensifies occasional homesickness.

Selfie among greenery at Carkeek Park
On the run at Carkeek Park

Running has been my best friend through this transition. It has taken me to several group runs, impromptu conversations with fellow midwestern runners I’ve encountered at a taproom and a trail running shop; an awkward introduction to a well-known ultra runner and local run specialty owner whose voice and face I recognized from a podcast; incentive to try out new urban trail routes like Seward Park, Discovery Park and Carkeek Park; $1 mediocre tacos; an interesting story or two to share about myself with a new acquaintance; the lungs and legs I needed for hiking at altitude in Colorado; incredible mountain views with the promise of more trail runs this fall and beyond; and a comfort in making the physical move out here, alone, for now.

The beauty of running, aside from the landscapes it reveals, is that it still connects me to my beloved first home as an adult. On a recent trip back to Minneapolis, one of my first stops was to pick up a dreamy pair of Altra Escalantes from the shop I used to work at and running into so many Marathon Sports friends at the shop and even unexpectedly the next evening at a tap room (I suppose craft beer is a great friend too ha). Running provided a fun meet-up with some of my favorite Mpls buddies around one of those 10,000 lakes.

I suppose with that in mind–just as running is with me emotionally just as much as it is physically–there’s comfort in knowing that my Minneapolis roots may manifest as an ever-present companion too.

New routines

Over the past month anytime someone asks me, “What’s new?” I automatically respond, “We adopted a dog!” Our lives revolve around this little rescue pup and honestly, our family of two feels so much more complete with the addition of a four-legged creature. Eleven (yes, named after the character in Stranger Things) also happens to be my new running motivation.

Eleven and me, post-run

One of the best things about having a dog is that now I have a live-in running buddy! Sort of. We’re still working on leash training. We’re doing okay, but okay isn’t ideal for running on sidewalks in downtown Minneapolis. Regardless, we get in at least 40 minutes of running/walking and as of late, sprinting at the dog park, every morning before I go to work. Avoiding the snooze button is much easier when as soon as the alarm goes off, her little feet tap on the hardwood floor until I hop out of bed. Just as suddenly as I’ve gone from a sporadic runner over the past year to a 5-day a week runner, I’ve turned into a daily bike commuter. Between running in the morning, occasionally visiting Eleven over my lunch break, or leaving work early to coach my Girls on the Run team, biking has been the best transportation solution. And now we have a pet bike trailer that Eleven has little issue with for those days we need to cover a lot of ground. Hauling an extra 50 pounds should absolutely strengthen my legs for trail running.

Running buddy logistics

Adidas Supernova, Front Range Harness

At first, I used our everyday leash (a Mendota-brand slip lead) for running. After perusing a few blog posts, it sounded like a harness was a better option for running with a dog. So, I used my REI dividend to pick up the Ruffwear Front Range Harness. Eleven had no qualms with the harness for a couple weeks, and then one morning she turned into a statue. Seriously. She’d be amped once the alarm went off and then once I put the harness on her she wouldn’t move. I couldn’t get her to move with treats, a slight tug, anything. We’ve since made progress in re-introducing the harness by putting it on her in the apartment while she eats dinner or plays with her beloved squeaky frog. The ability to attach a leash at her chest (mimics an anti-pull harness to some degree) is worth the effort.

Hopefully we’ll run a race together this summer or fall. Having a dog is the best!

Getting Started Presentation

Today I had the opportunity to present at MnDOT on my favorite topic… running of course! Once the nerves settled a bit, it was fun to talk to a filled room of people interested in running. Hopefully each person enjoyed the presentation, even if I tend to ramble on…

As I promised the group, here’s a copy of my presentation with lots of things to think about as you get started, or restart, running.

There were some questions I was able to answer on the spot and a few I offered to look into after the talk. Check out Getting Started for a more in-depth list of tips and links. I’ll be adding more information over the next several days (edit: new info added on 3/26!).

Thanks, MnDOT, for your hospitality! Happy running:)

Learn to run

Recently I’ve gone from 80 miles (“running”) to zero (recovery) to an uncomfortable 3-4-mile max a couple times a week. I’m [re] learning how to run. Nagging 2+ year injury aside, I’m starting from square one point five (square one is the couch), as I nurse a cranky hip flexor back to health after January’s long hike on the Tuscobia State Trail.

Progress feels awfully slow, but with weekly visits to the chiropractor, twice weekly strength workouts at home, and an actual run here and there, I feel almost confident that completing the North Face Endurance Challenge 50 miler in Wisconsin is within reach this fall.

On the bright-enough-side, low mileage means time for other running-related things, like reading the latest edition of Ultrarunning Magazine. It may not come as a surprise that I thinking running is cool and therefore appreciate any opportunity to learn, or share, more about it from or with others. So, speaking of…

In January, Jen and I had the chance to hear John Storkamp–a local race director/accomplished ultra runner–speak at a local running shop about his experience as a ‘human sled dog’. The talk came a couple weeks after I completed my first winter ultra, and it was a mental recovery boost to hear John, one of the first two people to complete the Arrowhead 135, share tips I had incorporated into my training. As Jen and I prepped for Tuscobia, we learned one of the same things John shared about winter ultras: “…You can’t run fast; you just move forward.” I also liked his comparison of spring/summer/fall ultras vs. winter ultras: “If you stop in the summer, you are just standing there… stop in the winter, you’ll freeze.” Yep. One tip I definitely need to practice if I want to continue these types of events: hip conditioning.

A week later we headed to another shop for a viewing of Billy Yang’s Life in a Day–an awesomely inspiring film featuring some of the best female ultra runners. In another life, I’d love to be like one of those ultra runners that I listen to on podcasts, or were featured in this documentary, that comes out of nowhere as a rockstar ultra athlete… Maybe after North Face this fall later this year (or, I’ll just keep dreamin’).

So, my random running IQ typically comes from listening to podcasts, reading, working (at the side gig), or attending a talk. And sometimes I get to share that bit of knowledge with others. This month features two of those instances…

This year I decided to make a point of volunteering. Instead of picking a race or two, I upped my commitment to twice a week for 10 weeks, as an assistant coach for Girls on the Run! I’ve taught many learn to run clinics for adults, but this will be an exciting, new challenge working with elementary school kids. This program is all about girls building confidence, instilling healthy habits, and learning life skills–combined with running.

The same week I officially start as an assistant coach I’ll trek over to St. Paul to resurrect one of my learn to run clinics over the lunch hour. Up until last year (pre-job change), I taught a series of learn to run clinics in the summer to colleagues. I’m looking forward to one more opportunity to share advice on getting started in this awesome sport!

If you were a new runner, or getting back into running, what would you want to know?

Happy National Pizza Day 2017

A runner's calendar and veggie pizza

It’s National Pizza Day! Last year I celebrated with Black Sheep. This year, on my ‘own’ while Jen is out of town, I couldn’t decide between ordering in Pizza Nea (specifically for posting this sentiment online) or picking up ingredients to make my own pizza.

After walking up and down each aisle at the Wedge, twice, and realizing the dough I had my eye on would take a few hours to thaw, I opted to try out a new-to-me-frozen-pie from western Minnesota. Spinach, mushrooms, parmigiano reggiano cheese, whole milk mozzarella, and a crust enriched with organic golden flaxseed meal. A mile walk home and 10 minutes later I had a delicious pizza all ready for one.

Bonus: My aunt is fascinated with my running adventures and sent me this surprise package with a 2017 running journal and a cute note of encouragement, “Hi Elizabeth, Happy Running!”

I’ll definitely have to visit Pizza Nea in the near future–to support a local business that routinely speaks up for what’s right.