Sunday, October 30, 2011

Home Run 10K Race Report

Another beautiful run through Bernheim Forest! This year's Home Run race--which benefits the Home of the Innocents, a local non-profit agency that provides all types of assistance to children and families in need--was even more meaningful than in years past. It feels great to support such a wonderful organization for the last few years (even beyond race day). Additionally, Bernheim holds a very dear place in my heart and makes a beautiful race course, especially during this season. Also, I have always had an appreciation for the participants in general, who are always friendly and a great group of people to run alongside. But this year, all of those wonderful reasons for loving the Home Run race received an addition--this was my first race since having my baby 3 months ago and the first non-pregnant race I've done since this same race last year. It just felt good to be back at it and doing it on my own terms. As much as I loved being pregnant and having a constant "buddy" with me during all of my training runs and races, it felt good to be an independent being again. Today was my postpartum rite of passage!

Racing, much like my training runs, requires much more preparation and time management now that I'm a Mother, and especially a nursing Mother. There's no longer any "getting up and going" anywhere, especially a run. So I woke up and did my "running Mother" routine and dressed in my Halloween costume, which I adapted a bit to make it suitable for running. I dressed as the "Sun Drop girl," and I will post a picture from the race as soon as DM gets me a copy! Now, the Sun Drop girl has a very confident, yet silly personality and looks like this (not the Planter's Nut):

I got dressed in the outfit (running tights instead of leggings and blue running shorts instead of denim, of course) and got everything ready to go. Just as I was about to leave, I looked at myself in the mirror and I felt a knot in my stomach. Was I really going to go to the race like this? I felt so ridiculous--"what if nobody there has seen the commercial? What if they don't get it?" I had a talk with myself and decided that I didn't care what anyone thought (lie) and hopped in the car!

The ride there was smooth and quick but once I got off of the expressway, I saw nothing but brake lights and lots of them. Traffic was backed up at the entrance to Bernheim Forest--this is something I have never seen before. In previous years, I assume I arrived at the race much earlier. Today, I was about 20 minutes later than normal and there was a marked difference. But once past the entrance, things went pretty quickly and I was able to park. Taking a step out of my car proved to be a scary experience because, even though I had "pep talked" myself, I was still feeling a bit nervous about my outfit. My boost of confidence came as I was walking past the incoming stream of vehicles and people in the cars were looking at me and laughing--not the kind of laughter that evokes pity, but the kind that a comedian gets when he tells a funny joke. I knew that at least some people would recognize me and get a kick out of it.

After grabbing my bib and surveying the crowd of people for faces I recognized, I had a decision to make. I had 9 minutes until the start and I could either warm up or go to the bathroom. I decided I'd rather have cold muscles than a full bladder. The running gods were on my side (I'm sure it was the Sun Drop outfit) and after I used the bathroom, I made it to the start line where they informed us that there had been a problem and they were going to postpone the race by 5 minutes. So I got a short warmup in after all!

When you are alone at the start, there's not a lot to do but listen to other people talk. And there were some fun conversations this morning ranging from "I don't really feel the need to match when I workout" to "I can't believe she brought her child here." I also tied and re-tied my shoes about 4 times. They just weren't feeling right.

Finally, it was time to go and I started my Garmin as I crossed the start. I made a big decision and one that I've never made before. I decided to conserve energy and not "bob and weave" through the walkers and slower runners (surprisingly, there were quite a few people running slower than me...WTF?). I moved to the left and joined a stream of runners, who fortunately, weren't running all that fast, and I stayed steady and slow. I knew that the worst part of this 10K was the first 5K and I wanted to make it through without losing steam. At the first turn, I saw my Mom standing there waiting! I was surprised to see here there because I thought there was no way she could have made it in time! I "dropped it like it was hot" for her and took the first turn. After soldiering up the first few hills, I was surprised (and a little worried) to see that I had just run my first mile in under 12 minutes. During my test run the week before on the same course, I had run that first mile in over 13 minutes. Yikes.

Near the end of the second mile, I looked ahead and saw a runner of the shorter variety wearing orange--my favorite color. I thought it might have been Lenore but couldn't tell from so far behind. I saw a woman struggling and I told her to not give up. We talked for a several yards and I gave her a few more encouraging words before heading off. As I got closer to the person I thought was Lenore, I began yelling her name and realized she had earbuds in! The lady running beside her tapped her (and probably scared her to death!) to get her attention for me! She was having a shoe lace problem and by that time, I was beginning to notice that I wasn't feeling so chipper anymore. Walk breaks were going to be my friend this race.

As I neared mile 3, I could see my Mom on the big hill waiting for me. I "dropped it" again for her and out of the corner of my eye, I saw a big red stroller coming at me. It was my wonderful Husband and my little guy! That absolutely made my DAY! I stopped to give them a kiss and declined a can of Sun Drop that my husband offered and continued on, ready to tackle the mostly uphill portion of the next mile and a half.

During the next 3 miles, Lenore and I played a fun game of "Leapfrogspankdatoosh." Really, without her being there, I'm not sure how I would have performed. I also got excited for her because she told me she didn't have high expectations for her finish time but I knew she was doing better than she thought!

There came a point on this long, mostly uphill road where I thought it would never end. Where the EFF was the turnaround? Had they already packed everything up and gone home? Did someone trip over a tree branch, crash into the cone and knock it down the hill? During my training run the week before, I intentionally went much farther up the road so that I would be prepared mentally and physically for this moment. Turns out, that preparation did no good. The only thing that kept me from giving up and turning back early was the nice volunteer that told me that I didn't have much longer until the turnaround. And she wasn't one of those lousy liar types--you know what I'm talking about. The person that yells, "Hey, you're almost done" when you actually have 23 miles to go. I want to hurt those people!

I see the turnaround, and there's another nice volunteer who gave me encouraging words and finally--time to fly. (Okay, 11:00 minute miles are not flying, but give me a break!) All (or mostly) downhill from there. I was fatigued but I tried to push as good as I could.

As I neared the 6 mile mark, I saw all of the faster runners and 5K'ers in their cars, heading home! I could be one of them soon! I made the last turn and I hear Snoop Dogg ft. Pharrell: Drop it Like it's Hot blaring at the finish. My adrenaline shot through the roof--what a coincidence!! Then I heard my name and almost immediately, I see my Husband, Son and my Mom there smiling and cheering. I paused in front of the DJ booth and "dropped it" once more and I got lots of cheers. Last year, people were cheering as I came into the finish but I was saddened to learn that it wasn't for me, but for the mentally challenged youth that was about to pass me. Turns out, if you are in your thirties and a slow-as-molasses runner and you want to get cheers at the finish line of a race, you should dress in a costume and have some awesome family members there to back you up with suitable song requests. Best finish ever!

My goal was 1:15 and my Garmin read 1:12:32--chip time was a minute slower and I have no idea how. I'll record my chip time as official but I'm going to go with my Garmin time!

Here are my splits in case you're interested, and even if you aren't:


Obviously, the final 0.2 was a little slow due to the "dropping!"

Great time as always and how amazing it was to finish the race and be able to hug my baby boy!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Becoming a Beginner Again: Tips for Safe and Fun Trail Running

Running through Iroquois Park last week, I noticed that the tree-covered view wasn’t as green as it had been the week before. Yellow leaves sprinkle the trees and even the ground, which signals the approach of cooler temperatures. This pleases me greatly. I love Autumn and all that it has to offer. The Autumn sun shines down upon us with a smile, it seems. And it shines right through the crisp, fresh Autumn air. Beyond the special smell of the air, one’s nose might be fortunate enough to pick up the scent of burning wood from a fireplace in the area. And fleece, what a wonderful fabric. Of course there’s hot cocoa, which my Husband loves. But one of my very favorite things to do during the Fall Season is to run trails. There is no better time to take to trails than right now!

Trail running is a great sport at any time of the year but during the Fall, it can be a much more enjoyable experience. In our area, there is generally less rainfall than Spring, the temperatures are much more comfortable than in Summer, and there’s no concern for ice and snow, as in Winter. Plus, there are fewer bugs (ticks are my main reason for avoiding certain trails in the Summer in our area) and it is a beautiful time to enjoy a solid workout in a great environment.

Running and hiking have been passions of mine for a very long time, and trail running is the perfect marriage of the two. If you are a runner who enjoys hiking, the transition into trail running will be easier than if you’ve never hiked. Hikers understand the differences in terrain and navigation and in some cases, weather fluctuations. If you are a road runner and that is all you know, you may find that the following tips will have you better prepared for your first steps off of the concrete and onto the dirt, mud, gravel, bark or grass.


Since this is your first trail run, look for short, non-technical (smooth, flat) trails. Avoid big elevation changes and extremely rocky or rooted trails for now—your lungs and legs might not be ready for such a challenge. If possible, find an easy trail that is 1-2 miles in length (or even a grassy area) and become one with that trail. Notice how different the surface feels. Pay attention to your surroundings and really enjoy the environment. Starting on a short trail will help you make an informed decision about whether or not you ever run trails again.


Make the same apparel choices that you would make for a typical run. Wearing weather-appropriate, breathable clothing that does not restrict movement is the smart choice. As you become more comfortable with trails in general or trails in a specific area, you may find that you will have to make adjustments to your clothing choices. But for now, stick with what you know.

Perhaps most importantly, you will need a good pair of shoes. If this is your first attempt at running trails, it is not necessary to purchase a new pair of trail runners. I think it is important, however, that you wear a sturdy pair of running shoes (that can get dirty!) with good tread. When and if you decide that trail running suits you and that it is something you plan to continue, trail shoes are a wise investment—if not a necessity. In general, trail running shoes are different from road running shoes in that they are made to provide more protection for your foot and better grip for the non-smooth surfaces. If you decide to invest in a pair, look for shoes that are similar to your road running shoes (support shoes if you are a pronator, for example). Also, consider what terrain you will be running. If you expect to run trails that are extremely rocky, you will need a shoe that has tread with more lugs, or less open space.


Remember when you first started running and everyone kept telling you to “start slow?” You are going to have to do that again. Forget any time and performance expectations for now—running trails will almost certainly add seconds—even minutes—to your pace per mile. Because of the surface and possible elevation changes, covering a single mile will not only take longer, but it will probably feel MUCH more difficult. Go slow and take it easy. After all, trail running, even though it seems hardcore, is naturally more laid back.


It is very important to be aware and observant while running roads—after all, there are speeding cars, cyclists late for work, kids running after kick balls, and unleashed, rabid dogs. However, it’s even more important to be aware of your surroundings while running trails. While the obstacles won’t be as big as the ones out in the city (unless you intend to go head to head with a Grizzly), there are far more of them in a smaller area. A single rock can put an end to your trail run in an instant. So pay attention to where you are stepping. Try to scan the area several feet in front of you as you run, while still appreciating the beautiful scenery that surrounds you. And use the environment to your advantage. For example, use embedded tree roots upon a steep hill as a natural staircase to keep you from sliding on slick dirt.

Also, while it’s VERY tempting to hurdle yourself over tree trunks or streams, do NOT do this. Your legs might be more tired than you realize and you could easily take a hard fall by not clearing the obstacle. My advice to beginners is to WALK when you reach these types of obstacles. Once you are more familiar with the trail and more comfortable with your performance, you may be able to blaze through and really have fun speeding over tree trunks—but for now, play it smart.

Pay attention to your running form, as well. Fatigue will set in much earlier on trails but you still need the clarity of mind to focus on pumping your elbows and lifting your legs. If you do not, you will almost certainly trip if you are lucky and fall if you are not.


I advise anyone--especially while running-- to be aware of their surroundings and to be prepared for anything, but in some ways, the primal nature (and mystery, to some) of trail running makes this advice even more important to heed. Sure, watch out for unsavory people, but be cautious about wildlife, getting lost, dehydration and/or getting injured. Your first move should be to let someone know where you will be and the duration of your run. Tell a friend or family member, or the ranger at the visitor center.

Some runners prefer to carry absolutely nothing and for those folks, I suggest that you at least carry your cell phone. Just be aware that you might not have a signal in some areas. For the runners that carry everything, just bring a few essentials. If you are the type of person that gets lost easily (or even if you do not) bring a map of the trail. Depending on the weather, the length of your run and your hydration/energy needs, you may consider bringing water and a small snack. You never know when your 30 minute trail run will turn into a 2 hour adventure! And if you’re injury-prone, you might want to bring a small first aid kit for your car.

Watch out for poison ivy or other plants that could cause skin irritation. Try to avoid overgrown trails if possible. Also, insect repellent is a must, especially in the summer.


It is totally acceptable to pretend that you are an early human running through the wilderness after your family’s dinner, a wild boar. You could also pretend that you are living right inside of a Bob Ross painting. Or perhaps you would rather imagine you are the focal point of one of the “Rave Run” photographs from Runners World. Just have fun.