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-2
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

Eleven-1
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. 

2016 Reflections/2017 Goals

Earlier last month I had the opportunity to draft my 2016 running reflections and 2017 goals for the final Fleet Feet Marathon Sports newsletter of 2016. The lengthiest of the bunch (slightly embarrassingly so), here’s what I wrote:

2016 was the year I dove into ultra running. Dubbed Ultra Birthday, I ran 30 miles on January 30 to celebrate my 30th birthday. The best part, aside from finishing my first run over 26.2 and this birthday falling on a Saturday, was enjoying the company of family and friends throughout the run down the Greenway and (several times) around Harriet, Calhoun, and Isles. I got lucky the temps happened to be in the 30s that day. In April I trudged through the intense Zumbro 50-miler, with a starting temp of 17 degrees. Then, I racked up several shorter race finishes, mostly on trails… Stigma Breakers 5K at the Whitetail Wood Regional Park, a road 5K in my hometown since I was visiting my parents, a couple of the Endless Summer Trail Run Series races, the Midnight Owl 15K in New Hampshire (again, visiting family) with my sister, the supremely muddy St. Paul Trail Half Marathon, all four Salomon Autumn Trail Series races at Hyland Park with my partner, a half marathon back in my hometown, the Surly Trail Loppet Half Marathon (a week after the hometown road half… ouch), and the Twin Cities 10 Mile.

My goal for 2017 is to balance running with strength—continuing a twice-weekly body weight/free weight routine, a regular dose of hot yoga, and keeping nagging ailments in check with acupuncture and stretching/foam rolling. Race-wise, I’ll start the year off with my most brutal race yet—the Tuscobia Winter Ultra 80-mile run in January with my partner and two friends. I also have my sights set on the North Face Endurance Challenge 50-miler in Wisconsin and the Salomon Autumn Trail Series, again. So, another year of mixed distances, but more structured in timing and training. Plus, reading more runner memoirs and posting on This is How I Run.

I think the only thing I missed in that recap is my plan to volunteer at a few local races and for an organization like Girls on the Run.

The #1 goal is to be grateful for what I accomplish in running this year. With each finish in 2016, the excitement quickly faded into expecting more from myself or maybe more accurately, regret that I hadn’t done more training, preparation, anything really, to make the moment one I could be proud of. The thing is, I did do the thing. And isn’t that the point? To take action, test limits, and then do it all over again, maybe a little differently because of the lessons learned in the successes and failures?

Jen and I are charging into 2017 with our first ever winter ultra–the Tuscobia Winter Ultra 80-mile run–on Jan. 7 and that will be one HUGE test in appreciating more than just the finish line. I’m already proud of our consistent training, lessons learned, thoughtfully packed sleds, careful gear selection, and even for our excitement (bottled with plenty of nerves) going into the race. Here’s to hopefully crossing the finish line in under 37 hours and to the little victories along the way that provide the means to make that possible.

30 miles on the Luce Line

Luce Line Trail
Luce Line State Trail, 2016

Following a lazy, lazy Thanksgiving holiday — sure, we hauled tires for an hour one day and went for an easy 3-mile walk another day, but nothing within the realm of a full training load — we haphazardly decided on going 30 miles this past Saturday, with a 12-15 mile walk on Sunday.

Wagon re-hitched with PVC pipe (thanks to Jen’s handy work and mighty drill) and gear packed up Friday night, we took off Saturday morning for the start of the Luce Line State Trail in Plymouth. We were both in… moods of sorts, meaning neither of us was really game to start this hike that we knew would last all morning and afternoon into the evening (that’s a terrible way to get going, obviously). Tack on a still wobbly wagon (guess it’s meant to use with a handle) and groups of runners (hey there, dose of envy) looking dubiously at our 4-wheeled companion, we had a rough start.

Fortunately, we still had 29.75 miles to work it out.

It’s funny how the simple act of placing one foot in front of the other, over… and over… and over again can clear up a tough mental patch. We both settled into an acceptable pace and enjoyable conversation. We stayed hydrated, ate homemade energy balls and daydreamed about that burger and fries we planned on grabbing post-all day walk.

Although the crushed limestone Luce Line State Trail starts in a populated suburb, each side of the trail lined with big houses, eventually you make your way into rural Minnesota, complete with cows, horses and sheep. We saw a llama farm, but sadly no llamas. We also saw a cat, but it had no interest in us and ran off before we could even try to coax it for a pet or two. I had high hopes of spotting a coffee shop off to the north or south as we crossed each intersection, but instead settled for our insulated jug of hot water and ginger tea. Snacks were top notch, specifically honing in on the savory side i.e. crackers and plantain chips. The homemade energy balls were filling, fatty and not too sweet i.e. perfection.

Moving ahead to mile 14, Jen and I debated back and forth about which mileage tracker to use–my watch or the posted wooden mile markers. I was all for taking a photo with mile marker 15; however, we opted to turn around before that point, when my watch hit 15.00 (I’m the one who will do circles around the car or apartment building to get that extra fraction of a mile for an even .00 or .50, while Jen begrudgingly follows me or simply sits in the car waiting for me to finish up our days’s trek).

So, those first 15 miles weren’t bad. At 16, I somewhat sarcastically commented how happy I was that our car was parked 14 miles away. And then suddenly–an hour+ later–we approached mile 20. Time to pull out the earbuds for the first time in all of our training for some podcast listening and a brief stretch (focusing on the hip flexors and lower back).

While I found my second wind (partially due to being free of wagon pulling for the day after completing my three shares of 5 mile sessions), Jen’s enthusiasm was in decline mode at mile 25. Fully immersed in an episode of Ten Junk Miles and the bit of path I could see lit by our headlamps, I didn’t realize the pain settling into Jen’s feet.

“Fast” forward to miles 26/27, as we make our way out of a tunnel and up a tiny hill, I turn around to ask Jen if she’s doing OK and realize NOPE, not OK. For an ultra distance newbie, she’s prepared for the discomfort that comes with ultra territory, but at this point she’s experiencing intense foot pain, maybe blisters? Maybe flesh-eating-walking-way-too-much-in-one-day-and-newish-shoes-disease? Who knows!

Fortunately, I, 1) bypassed hard-ass mode with ‘don’t worry/you’re doing great/I’m proud of you/just take it one step at a time and don’t even think twice about the upcoming (EIGHTY MILE) distance mode’ and 2) she toughed it out and kept moving despite each painful step, plus 3) I took the wagon back for the last mile.

I also talked her through our three race day goals:

  1. Cross the START line
  2. Walk as far as we possibly can
  3. Cross the finish line

In other words, we have an excellent chance of accomplishing 2 out of 3 goals. Not bad for our first ultra together and her first ultra, ever.

Recovery, part 1: Delicious homemade soup (even in pain, Jen willingly whipped up one awesome dinner), hot epsom salt bath, early bed time

Recovery, part 2: We skipped the second long walk, but still mustered up 5 miles on Sunday around Lake of the Isles. Jen’s feet are doing well (no blisters, ‘just’ intense burning for a full day). My left foot has hurt unrelentingly for the past few days. The joys and mysteries of endurance training.

Next up: This Saturday and Sunday we’ll fit in tire pulling and long walks before and after a myriad of weekend plans.


Quick Specs

Total Time: 10 hours, 45 minutes

Footwear: Altra Lone Peak 2.0 neoshell

Food List:

  • Late July organic crackers (fancy Ritz)
  • Back to Nature crispy cheddar crackers
  • Plantain chips
  • Wild Ginger Harvest bulk trail mix (dark chocolate chips, dried ginger, almonds)
  • Beef jerky
  • Ginger tea
  • 2x jugs hot water
  • 2x bladders with Tailwind
  • Homemade beef, spinach, cheddar cheese tortilla wrap
  • Homemade no-bake energy balls (Whole Foods crunchy PB, Wedge bulk oats & ground flax seed, dark chocolate chips, local honey, real vanilla)

Testing 1, 2, 3

Four people, a dog, two wagons on the a trail
Lunch break on the Tuscobia State Trail

A weekend away for a dry run on the Tuscobia Winter Ultra course couldn’t have come at a better time–just days post-2016 presidential election. Add in the company of good friends, spouse, and no cell service for a much needed, albeit quite temporary, reprieve from the increasing uneasiness accompanying the results.

I take that back; Jen and I acknowledged the risk of four women venturing to rural Wisconsin post-election. I can’t get over that there was even the need to be appreciative that we didn’t encounter any trouble. I suppose it helped we stuck to an empty campground and a mostly desolate trail… only one confederate flag strewn across a pickup truck crossed our path. As someone who falls into the realm of gender non-conforming and a skin tone whose origin is often left up to viewer discretion, the recent increase in hate crimes left me with a valid concern, but like I said, no harm done beyond heightened awareness.

Back to the trail…

Camp set-up

Tuscobia State Trail sign
Passing through another town, Tuscobia State Trail

After a pre-sunrise departure from Minneapolis, we set up our tent with a 35-degree overnight forecast in mind. Similar approach to dressing for the weather: Layers. We lined the tent with a space blanket, grandmother-made sheep’s wool quilt, inexpensive plush mattress pad (that yellow-ish foamy kind), sleeping pads, and finally, cozy zero-degree sleeping bags.

Day 1 – 20 miles

We (four humans, one German Shepard and one chihuahua) set off on the Tuscobia Trail toward Birchwood, fully loaded with two heavy duty garden wagons and one little Burly for the chihuahua. Since we hadn’t yet pulled a wagon in training, Jen and I opted to switch off every couple hours hauling our new wagon and trying out an ancient (yet quite effective) pair of ski poles that worked well as trekking poles. We lucked out with another gorgeous fall day, around 50 degrees and sunshine.

Jen, Cory, and Jess pulling wagons and hiking up hill
Trekking up one of few inclines, Tuscobia State Trail

The trail, a mix of sand and gravel meant for ATV’s, was a welcome mindless switch from our other long walk endeavors. No maps or trail markers to watch for, no distance or route decisions to be made, just keep moving forward on the seemingly endless trail (spoiler: it does end at 74 miles in Rice Lake).

The goal was to keep a 3-mile an hour walking pace (20-minute miles), and despite quick breaks for snacks, water for the dogs, re-adjusting wagon set-ups, and a 40-minute lunch break, we averaged an overall 25-minute per mile pace.

To pass the time, we chatted, sang (some of us sang, not me, I don’t sing for the best interest of everyone), walked ahead in silence, and occasionally noted that with each step we were that much closer to the tator tot hot dish awaiting us back at camp. Exhaustion, aching feet, and antsiness crept in, but not one of us complained. We simply kept moving forward.

Mishaps

Elizabeth pulling a sled and using trekking poles
First time pulling a sled and using trekking poles

While rope is suggested for rigging up our sleds in the race, rigid poles work better for controlling a wagon in training. Jen and I learned that the hard, wobbly-front-tires way.

Don’t stick a nice winter hat in your little pants pocket expecting it to stay there. It will fall out and you’ll realize it two miles down the trail. On the bright side, you’ll get a gear-free, bonus run in to find said hat while your training mates hang out near a local gas station and bear witness to the aforementioned confederate flag. (Don’t worry, I found my hat.)

Day 2 – 12 miles

We headed the opposite direction of day one with two major highlights: no wagons and only six miles out and back to easily cover in four hours. Compared to Saturday, the miles flew by and we ate lunch while in motion.

The Gear

Two pairs of Altra Lone Peaks
A pair of Lone Peaks with a side of Lone Peaks

Apparel

  • Altra Lone Peak neoshell (zero-drop trail shoe)
  • Merino wool socks
  • Long boxer briefs without too many seams
  • Adventure pants (quick drying active-wear pants with pockets)
  • Lightweight merino wool long sleeve
  • Heavier weight 1/4 zip running pullover layer
  • Light zippered jacket with a hood
  • Lightweight gloves
  • Winter hat

Wagon

  • 400 lb. capacity yardwork wagon
  • Attachment set-up: $17 padded tool belt, two carabiners, thin rope looped through the axel meant for the wagon handle
  • Snacks: Lone Grazer cheese curds, turkey sticks, dark chocolate chips, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, homemade banana walnut muffins, beef jerky
  • Lunch: Homemade beef, spinach, cheddar cheese tortilla wrap; apple; Pirate’s Booty (a luxurious slightly salty co-op treat)
  • Extra trail shoes
  • Extra socks
  • Rope
  • Knife

Backpack

  • Bladder filled with H20 plus Tailwind
  • Red LED lights
  • Headlamp
  • Reflective vest
  • Pocket knife
  • Water bottle
  • Portable USB charger
  • Phone
  • GPS watch attached to one of the straps with a carabiner

What’s Next

Elizabeth and Jen, on a bridge with sun shining on a creek
Training partners for life <3, Tuscobia State Trail

Logging so many miles boosted our confidence. Sure, 20 miles wasn’t easy (to me it felt more tiring than running 20 miles, but I’ve also never done a long run pulling a wagon), but we pushed through it and only have to tack on another 60 miles in two months (breathe in, breathe out, on repeat!). Jen and I are feeling on track with training, but also re-realized the importance of pulling weight at our waists, so we’ll be breaking out the old car tires for a weekly longish walk.

Experiencing the boredom, fatigue and hiking from daylight to sundown provided critical physical, and likely more importantly, mental training. I don’t know that I’ve ever said this before, but… I’m eagerly awaiting snow so we can practice hauling our gear on sleds.