Monday, November 11, 2019

Ragnar, Year 3 - Running Michigan!

I love racing, and I love reliving the days I've spent racing. So when it comes to writing about my third year doing Ragnar it was only a matter of time!

If you would rather check out allllll the videos I made over the weekend, you can check out the story pinned to my Instagram page *here* and *here* - this year I learned that IG caps your pinned videos to 100 per story :P Just keep in mind, the IG stories cover everything that happened between my runs. If you want the nitty gritty of the time I spent pounding pavement, this is the place to get it!

Also...if you just want to be inspired and don't really care about the ins and outs and ups and downs of the whole Ragnar thing...just go read Leg 3. That's where I wax poetic about how life changing and empowering this run felt, and it should tick that box for you.

I mean, I get it. I'm verbose, and this post is super long :P

If you've followed along for a while, you know Ragnar is a multi-day experience - all of which is unique - and I like to recap each day. I like doing so because I figure it might help other people who are considering a Ragnar relay. This post will be no different, but I'll probably leave the most intricate details out this time (long time readers will forever be grateful for that), but I've written posts on the logistics of Ragnar in the past that you can peruse:

Ragnar Chicago 2017 - Captaining/Logistics
Ragnar Chicago 2017 - Running
Ragnar Chicago 2018 - Logistics
Ragnar Chicago 2018 - Running

Ragnar (Road Relay) is a 200(ish) mile team relay. Yes, it is named after the viking. The route is a point to point - it starts in one place and ends in another. Ragnar does offer trail races that are loop courses, but this was a road race. So we ran on "roads" or paved trails. Every single one of my legs was run on the shoulder of a road and/or as close to is as possible, which was new for me this year.

This year's Ragnar took us from Muskegon to Traverse City (both in Michigan). It was darn near 200 miles travelling directly north through the state.

This year's team was made up of 9 veteran teammates and 3 newbies, all listed out below. We had four drivers - Nick returned for the pleasure, and we added Andy (Kara's husband), James (my brother) and Jose (Eli's friend).

The runners each run 3 legs, for a total of 36 legs. I've noted total distances below, as well as the "Ragnar leg" runner - this leg is considered the hardest leg of the entire course, and the runner gets an extra medal for it. Meghan had it for her first run this year!

Anyways, here's the roster for Team We're Running Again...Inconceivable!

Van 1
Runner 1 - Sam 17.1 miles
Runner 2 - Kara 17.9 miles
Runner 3 - Justin 17.5 miles
Runner 4 - Meghan (Ragnar leg!) 16.5 miles
Runner 5 - Kristin 15.7 miles
Runner 6 - Dana 13.0 miles

Van 2
Runner 7 - Lisa 18.3 miles
Runner 8 - Amy* 14.7 miles
Runner 9 - Christina 15.5 miles
Runner 10 - Darcia* 14.3 miles
Runner 11 - Stephen* 17.6 miles
Runner 12 - Eli (C) 16.5 miles

* = new runners
(C) = 2019 captain

The journey that is Ragnar always starts on Thursday because there's no way in hell to wrangle 12 people for a 5:00am start on a Friday morning. Plus, at least one van needs to check in near the start the night before. So together we met. Lisa (past teammate) and James (my brother, our 4th driver) met at my house and we carpooled to Eli's house in Chicago to meet up with the rest of the team. We packed up the vans and were on the road, heading for Muskegon, Michigan.

We headed straight for check in - not for check in, but for swag :P I'm not kidding, Eli gave us a choice and Lisa and I insisted on being able to buy swag right away. Because really, who cares about showing off your reflective vest and headlamp when there are SWEATSHIRTS to buy?? This ended up being a really good decision, because the next day when we got to the exchange the line to purchase swag was at least 50 people deep, and I had to bribe someone already in line to buy the hat I wished I'd bought the day before:

Anyways, I picked up a new sweatshirt, a tank top I found on clearance (for myself), and a too-large tech shirt for Ant Man because he has outgrown the onesie Sam bought for him the first year. You can check out the sweatshirt I bought in my lakeside pictures at the end!
This shirt won't fit Ant Man for at least 2 years!

Side note: I'm not a superstitious person, but I have a hard and fast rule that I do not wear race gear until *after* the race. So I tucked my new swag into my duffle bag under everything else, giving myself another incentive to finish the weekend strong.

After check in we headed for the dinner, then to the hotel.
A mammoth we saw on the walk to dinner.
All things said and done, I was in bed and heading towards sleep-land right around 10:30. Pre-race excitement got to me, and I didn't drift off until after 11:00, which was GREAT when...

Friday brother (gently) shook me awake at three-freaking-forty AM. 3:40. 3.4.0.

We'd agreed to meet and leave at 4:15, and that got bumped up to 4:00. Somehow. By someone. Who I won't name. (Glares at Eli.)

But I'm not bitter that my first night away from my infant who refuses to sleep through the night got interrupted at THREE FORTY. No, I'm not. Especially not after finding out the kid slept through EVERY night while I was gone. -____-

Definitely not bitter.

So I got up and was the first person waiting for my team in the lobby at FOUR AY EM, even if I was laying on the only available couch grumbling about it ;) This was also where I met our remaining two new members - Darcia and Amy! Both were in Van 2 (my van) so it was exciting to finally meet them.

And I have to give it to Eli, he is the only captain in these three years who has gotten us to the start line on time. So perhaps there was a method to the madness.

We got to the sandy beach start and saw Sam off at 5:00.
 Sam is the one on the left, handing out high fives!

We said goodbye to Van 1 and headed back to the hotel. We (Van 2) still had to make a trip to Walmart for a few things, pack up our van, and decorate before heading off to Exchange 6. We had a few hours to do all this though, and we never had to rush.

We did an AWESOME job decorating the vans too!
Sorry these are blurry and hard to read! I had to screenshot them from the videos because I never took stills!

Also, check out our Princess Bride themed magnets for tagging the other vans!
Of all the years we've done Ragnar, these are my favorite magnets!

The Running of Ragnar - GOALS

Now seems like a good time to mention my goals for this race. The first year I ran one of these relays I was 11 weeks pregnant, so my goal was literally just to finish each leg, and I had to walk quite a bit to keep my core temperature low. So since then, my #1 goal has been:

Run the whole thing.

Four and a half months out from each of my pregnancies, this has always seemed like a great goal. But this year my training was decent, and more importantly my confidence in my postpartum ability has been STRONG. SO I felt comfortable setting some time goals too:
  • 11:30/mile average on the first run (3.1 miles).
  • 12-12:30 average second two (5.6 miles and 6.7 miles)
And to really push myself, I set one more goal, that I felt I could only accomplish on a perfect day, if all the stars were to align:
  • Complete all 5 mile stretches in under 1 hour (sub 12 for 5 miles).
With the elevation I was looking at (especially for my last, longest leg), and the fact that I rarely have the opportunity to train with elevation, this was definitely a goal to shoot for.

I am happy to report (spoiler): I crushed every one of those goals. Read on to find out how!

The Running of Ragnar

First Leg
Distance: 3.1 miles/3.07 actual
Time: 33:31
Pace: 10:56
Elevation: 145.4 gain/142.38 loss

Difficulty: Easy

At Exchange 6 (after I bought my hat), Dana (Van 1) handed off to Lisa, and Van 2 was in the game.

My first leg started at 12:30ish, and I sword fought Amy before taking off. This was a theme for our team - we did a little sword fight at every single exchange, in honor of Inigo and the Dread Pirate!

Anywho, for this first leg I was looking at 3.1 miles.

I ran on the shoulder of a road the entire time and encountered a few short but steep blind curves. I was passed by 3 people and all of them looked like strong runners so I wasn't disappointed. But I noticed something that turned out to be a trend through the whole race: People who passed me tended to slow down and walk shortly after, and then continued a run/walk until the finish - and it didn't seem like the intentional kind a la Jeff Galloway. Now, at the end of the day I almost never repassed anyone, but the fact that I was able to run run run and not stop and walk told me that I've gotten much better about pacing myself lately. And I'll take that, especially be Ragnar builds on itself. The fact that I didn't have to walk during my third leg meant way more than not having to walk during my first!

Anyways, 3.1 miles later, up more hills than down, I ran into my first finish, sword fought and handed off to Darcia:

...and checked my watch:

BOOM. Pace goal WAY exceeded. I achieved that big time, clocking an average under 11:00 (my goal was under 11:30!) for the leg.

It was not the hardest run of my life, which I suppose is a good thing ;) It wasn't super easy though, and after not running all week it took me a while to get into the swing of things. But after a tough few weeks I was really proud to pull off such solid times, and at that point I honestly felt like it was the only run I would manage it for.

(Little did I know...!)

Non-Running Stuff

Darcia, Stephen, and Eli brought it home for us.

Logistic things: There was some problem with the Exchange 12 (the second major exchange where teams go from Van 2 to Van 1), and when we got there Andy and Kara warned us about it.

But first, pictures.

Les Mis reference!!!

Now back to your regularly scheduled blog post.

Nearly all runners were stopping about 1/10th of a mile before the exchange to wait for the exchange to "open". They were on their way to tell Eli to wait so he would avoid a time penalty for our team.

You see, Ragnar has some kind of formula using 10k times that it uses to assign start times to teams and to give your team a pace schedule so you can anticipate how long each of your runners will be on the course. You can "fool" the formula by assigning yourself a slower 10k pace to get an earlier start (and therefore finish earlier). The point of time penalties is to discourage such meddling with times, and to make sure no team gets to the finish before it's set up/open.

After talking to Andy and Kara we were able to go and park and once we did we found out more. We were told that any runner who came in before 3:30 would be held for 30 minutes as a penalty for being too fast(?). The fact that this mistake affected so many teams makes it pretty clear the organizers messed up the timing of the exchange's opening. So all of the teams were sending someone to meet their runner and tell them to STOP RUNNING and WAIT so their team would avoid a time penalty. Once they officially "opened" the exchange, about 50 runners immediately poured in to pass the baton to their waiting teammate.

We ended up waiting about 15 minutes for Eli to finish and see off , and once he did we set our sights on food! Because runners run for two things: That sweet feeling of accomplishment, and eating to replenish what was burned off. This time around we chose barbecue! We stopped at a place called The Q Smokehouse, and it was FIRE. I had the brisket with mac and cheese and corn bread (recommended by a local who was in line with us). We all got different things and had nibbles of each other's food and it was all fantastic. I highly recommended if you're ever in Ludington, MI!

It was down pouring by the time we left, so we drove straight to the next exchange where there were showers and indoor sleeping. About half of us stayed in the van and half went in to shower/sleep. The first year I did Ragnar I showered at the overnight exchange because it was after my second leg...but last year and this year I didn't bother. Baby wipes it was! I did sneak in to brush my teeth and hair at one point, but that was the extent of my grooming and hygiene care.

When the time finally came, Lisa got ready and we hopped out of the van to go wait at the exchange. I did not envy was chilly and had started raining enough to be uncomfortable. Yuck. And then we got the news.


Lightning struck close enough that the organizers decided that for everyone's safety the leg had to be cancelled. Instead of starting her leg, Lisa/Runner 7 was handed a card that was "timestamped" for an hour later (I think ours said 10:25pm). Everyone was instructed to drive to the next exchange, and the next runner (8) would resume running at the time indicated on the card. This delay was meant to make up for the time Runner 7 would have been on course.

Except Lisa really wanted to run her leg. So we shuffled things around a bit. This year Ragnar instituted a "Buddy Run" program where one runner could skip their night leg to run with another person on the team if you didn't want to run alone at night. If a Buddy Pass was utilized, the team would take a time delay card for the skipped leg (a la the Rain Delay). Darcia and Amy didn't want to run alone, so the plan all along was that Amy (Runner 8) would skip her leg and run with Darcia (Runner 10) instead.

With this in mind, our plan morphed. Lisa would run Amy's leg rather than it being skipped entirely,.

So we drove to the next exchange, hung around for a while, and at 10:20ish we headed over to the run in/out, card in (Lisa's) hand. She gave it to the volunteers at 10:23 and asked if she could start, and got a big fat NO. So we waited those two extra minutes haha.

Lisa took off and we bounced on over to the exchange I would start at - there was no lot to park in, so we pulled to the side of the road and I hopped out to hit the porta potty and chill for a minute before starting. I did so, Lisa ran in, and I got started on Run #2.

Second Leg
Distance: 5.70 miles/5.71 actual
Time: 1:06:27
Pace: 11:38
Elevation: 63.34 gain/42.21 loss

Difficulty: Hard

Right away I noticed that my heart rate monitor wasn't working. My watch showed that it was picking up signal, but it wasn't transmitting my actual heart rate to the device, and the field just showed "--". I'm used to running by heart rate, so this bummed me out. I spent a few minutes during that first mile trying to get it to catch my heart rate but it became obvious it wasn't going to. So I gave up, and went with perceived effort. I knew this leg was pretty much flat, even though it was labelled "Hard" by Ragnar.

You know why it was hard? Because I ran for 4.5 miles straight down the same country road, in the dark, then made ONE right turn and ran straight for then next 1.5(ish) miles until the exchange. It was boring as hell, dark as f*ck, and there were cars coming at me the whole time. That's what made it hard...the mental game.
I wasn't lying about those two straight lines I ran in. So. Boring.
Good news though, only one of the drivers who passed was driving in a reckless manner, so at least the locals seemed down with us being around. (Keep in mind, this was happening in the wee hours of Saturday morning - around 1:00am - so I automatically assumed every driver coming down the road towards me was drunk, got out of their way, and watched until they passed me.)

Reason to have designated (non-running) drivers...Somewhere around mile 3 my cheer squad showed up for moral support, and it gave me an extra kick to keep going. I have to say, this is a perk of having multiple drivers. My brother James and Eli's friend Jose were our drivers this year. James did pretty much all of the driving, but he and Jose did an amazing job of mapping out where we were going to stop to support each runner along the way, and Jose (at least) got out of that van for every single cheer squad stop. They took all of that mental effort out of our hands, and it left us to worry about getting to and through each run. It's one of the reasons I will ALWAYS recommend having at least 1 driver, 2 if you can manage it! So mad props to James and Jose!

Other than that, it was a fairly boring run. Straight lines, a bit foggy, I saw some fun roadkill (possum, snake, raccoon), and learned that you can't trust other runners to know which side of the road to run on! :P When we made that right turn, the runner in front of me was running "with" traffic, and I made a comment about crossing over and she was like, "No, I'm gonna run here." I stayed behind her for a minute, then realized the stretch we were on was part of the "out" for Runner 10's leg, so I moved to the other side of the road to run "against" traffic (as I should have from the start).

I brought it in, handed off to a waiting Darcia and Amy, we hopped in the van and were off again.

BOOM. Under my time goal (of 12:00-12:30 AGAIN. By a lot! My average pace was 11:38, and aside from the normal second run fatigue that set in, I felt good and strong the whole run through!

I did, however, determine that I really missed these two goofball run-buddies:
Good ol' Smokes and Zo! I missed them so much on my night leg (but not when I passed the roadkill, because they would have tried to eat it).
Non-Running Stuff
I fully Leg 2 is the point in Ragnar when I start to get annoyed with everything. Perhaps it's because that's the point when I've been up way longer than normal, but my ability to handle other people drops after I've been awake for 8 hours, never mind 24 :P Combined with this was the fact that, at the time, I was still breastfeeding and had to fit in pumping randomly. I had decided to use Ragnar weekend to start weaning, so I was actually trying not to pump a lot...and knowing I had to pump while in a van full of people and sitting in front of a giant, see through window made it pretty easy to postpone doing so!

All of this to say by the time all of our runners were back in the van (Amy and Darcia, then Stephen, then Eli), I was ready for any kind of nap the Ragnar gods would bestow upon me, and I knew the need for coffee and breakfast would follow close of the heels of said nap.

Even though I have no memory of it, James got us to the next major exchange and we all dozed until the sun began to creep up. At some point I blearily stumbled out of the van into the chilly morning air in search of (non-existent) coffee, and after alerting the rest of my teammates to the fact that a) no coffee existed and b) the food truck they'd contracted with for breakfast wasn't open yet, we all decided to drive to a nearby town for breakfast instead.

I cannot for the life of me remember the name of the place we stopped at, but they had this bear, so that was a win:

On the drive back to the exchange we all commented on how hilly it was, and agreed that Dana (who would be running in to hand off to us) did not have a fun run ahead of her, but would be a beast just for crossing that finish. Seriously, some of the hills were so steep we thought we would roll BACKWARDS!

Third Leg
(Read this! This is the really fun one where I get philosophically delusional because it's when all of the fatigue and emotion *really* hit me!)

Distance: 6.70 miles/6.73 actual
Time: 1:20:16
Pace: 11:56
Elevation: 346.63(!) gain/-167.12 loss

Difficulty: Hard

With some hard-won, back-seat-of-the-van sleep, a solid breakfast, multiple cups of coffee, and Nuun coursing through my veins, I was ready to tackle my last leg.

My last leg. My longest leg. My hardest leg.

I was nervous.

I'd made sure to run an 8 miler during my training (pushed the stroller for 5 miles of it!) so that I would be prepared for *this* run. I ran a 10k on one of the hottest and most humid days for the summer. All for this run.

When I started out I was absolutely convinced that it would be awful. Even without my heart rate monitor I could tell that my heart rate skyrocketed immediately. I was afraid it was a bad sign. So I took stock. My pace was slow. I was running on gravel. My legs felt awkward. I was in a forest preserve but could see I'd be leaving it soon. That was a good sign, because I'd be running on the road, and all the awkwardness would hopefully shake off with some pavement and a bit of distance under my feet.

And it did.

I was running and I was doing pretty well, even as I went up and down each hill. I wasn't sure I could maintain the pace I was holding for my entire run, so I gave myself permission to walk once I made it through the first half. But the first half went by and I realized I didn't need to walk. It was no longer even a consideration. Because somewhere around that halfway point I realized that the faster I ran - and if I ran - the sooner we'd all be done. The more sleep we'd all get, the sooner we could leave the next day, and that - if I RAN - I would get back to my boys faster.

And I wanted to tell them I did my best to get back to them as soon as I could.

Looking back I realize this was some pretty bogus logic, but when we're doing hard things our brains are fantastic at tricking us into logic that makes no sense. It's "runner's logic"!

You see, that morning when we met the other van at the exchange I got a chance to catch up with my friend Meghan. Meghan and her husband are foster parents, and I asked her about something that I really thought she'd have a happy answer about. But she didn't. A few weeks before they got some really awful news, and she said all of the emotion that had built up in those few weeks just poured out of her when she was running the Ragnar Leg. She said that it was such a *hard* run...until she realized it was no where near as hard as everything else they'd been through. And that every time she thought "this is too hard" she pushed through anyways, because running is the easy part. Even when it's hard.

And that was it. That was the switch that flipped 3 miles in. That's what running is about. That's what the hard runs are about. No matter what, no hard run is EVER as hard as the actual, really truly hard things we go through in life. And running is there to save us from those things.

That last leg was something else. 6.7 miles of lead legs. Of elevation. Of convincing my body to keep running, to not give up, and not to walk. 6.7 miles of telling my body that every step I ran was one step closer to being done and to texting Anthony and the boys that I'd done it.

Ragnar is endurance running. It is fatigue running. It is testing physical and mental limits over a long period of time. And for me it was once again proof that I can do hard things. That perseverance and discipline and training mean something.

Sometimes you get to the point where you have to trust that your body can do it without you telling it to because you have the training behind you. You have to turn on the auto pilot and go, and you have to fight the voice in your head that's trying to bargain with you. That's the real hill to climb.

I climbed those hills. And as I rounded a curve on what I knew was the last big hill I had to make it over I saw the ever recognizable blue "One Mile To Go" sign on the side of the road:

And I heard a thumping bass coming from the farm house to my right. "What the...?" I thought. And then, as I got closer, I realized the owner of the house had dragged his stereo system out onto his front porch and was blasting "Eye of the Tiger" on repeat for all of the runners.

I let out a laugh and a "WHOOP" and screamed "YOU ARE MY FAVORITE PERSON!!!" and he started clapping for me.

It felt awesome. Ragnar - love the locals and they'll love you back!! (Michigan by far has the best locals of my Ragnars so far!)

That last mile was cake, and I ate it all up. I was on pace to come in sub-12 on every mile, sub 1:00 on all 5 mile stretches, and I'd done it all less than 5 months after having my second baby. I was flying high, and I flew it in. I left it all out there, no regrets, no should-haves, could-haves, would-haves.

I killed it.

And I took a bow.

Walking back to the car with Eli and Jose I interrupted Eli in the middle of a sentence and said, "I can't believe it. My pace was sub 12. I'm amazing!"

BOOM x 3. Every pace goal, blown away. Every goal, blown away.

I'd done it.

The Rest
I won't bore you with all of the post race - months of sleep deprivation and the rigor of the race really set in once we were done. I actually got really annoyed that evening and it was pretty obvious I should have gone straight to bed and not tried to be social, but I ignored my instinct and tried to tough it out. Lesson learned! Instead, enjoy these pictures! I think they speak for themselves...

Back row, left to right: Justin, Dana, Amy, Darcia, Meghan, Lisa, Stephen
Front row, left to right: Sam, Kristin, Kara, Me

And with that - at 21.5 weeks postpartum - Ragnar #3 was in the books.


Thursday, October 10, 2019

Knight's Challenge 5k

Hello to anyone who happens across this post! I am going to attempt to revive race reports on my blog, for a few reasons. The first is that I like to reflect on them. The second is because, when I was pregnant, I started thinking it would be cool to attempt to run a race every month for at least a year - after each race I (try to) post a picture like the one at the end of this post to my Instagram, and I'd like to have an accompanying post to reflect on once the year is up.

I'm going also going to attempt to backpedal and post about the races from this summer, but it will take me a bit to get caught up. That said, I'm going to start with the most recent and move backwards!

That brings us to this past weekend...

The Knights Challenge 5k!

On Saturday I ran a local 5k - super local, as it happens! The kick off and finish for this race is just down the street from where I live, and I was able to walk there in under 10 minutes. I've been gravitating towards local races more and more recently because they are:
  • cheaper
  • faster to get to
  • take less time overall than the giant "experience" races that take place in the Chicago
This race ticked every one of those requirements, and had the major bonus of passing the nearest intersection to my house! This meant that Anthony and Andre could come and spectate (I took Ant with me in the stroller).

The race is organized and sponsored by the Knights of Columbus council for a nearby church, is USATF course certified (impressive), offers a kids dash in addition to the 5k, and benefits the local food pantry.

I registered for the race last month, wrote it down in my planner, and forgot about it in the lead up to Ragnar. Then I remembered right after Ragnar, haha.

Since success in life with children is measured by how well you prepare, I got everything ready the night before. I laid out mine and Ant's clothes, got the stroller prepped, and set two alarms - 6:30 and 7:00. I never know how sleep is going to go these days, and sometimes after waking up for a kid in the middle of the night I need a to fall back asleep and get up to a later alarm than initially planned, hence the second alarm.

All things said and done, my goal was to leave the house at 7:45 to walk over and pick up my packed for the 8:30 start. Ant and I left at 7:50, made it to the church at 7:57, and after some initial confusion I had my packet in hand by about 8:05.

Without realizing it, I accidentally cut in front of everyone to get my packet. In my defense, the line for same-day registration was apparently the same line for packet pick up (sidenote: whyyyyyy??? This caused a huge bottleneck because people were filling out forms to register when others just needed to get packets, and all of the packets were sitting on tables behind us) and I was trying to get the stroller out of the way of the door so other people could get inside. So I ended up parking the stroller and then walking over to the table where three not-busy women were sitting and just asking for my packet...I heard one of them tell another that I skipped the line, which is when I realized what was going on and I felt so rude! I offered to go get in line but they told me it was okay...I acquired my packet in about 10 seconds, which I think illustrated the inefficiency of the actual process, haha.

We waited around (and I listened to the course walk through) and I snapped a few pictures:
"Really, Mom? It's too early for this."

"I'm only wearing this hat because she's making me."
Anthony did not find that cowbell as fun as I was hoping. He did not ring it a single time during the race!! Also, as grumpy as he looks, he did enjoy this! I swear!

Race Time
When the time came we headed out to the front of the church and lined up behind a police car (not kidding) and at the sound of a horn we were off!

I am of the opinion that it is always fun to run in the middle of the road (because you normally can't), and this is twice as true when it's on streets you're used to running along every day. It was a perfect day for a run, and Ant and I rolled along enjoying it. He's fascinated with vehicles of all sorts, so we had fun naming them for the entire three miles. "Truck! Truck! Caaaarrrrr! Car! Amablulance! Poleez!" We also took up Mom's favorite past time of thanking all of the volunteers and emergency services workers we saw ("Doo dyou!" if you're Ant), and my little guy learned that races don't happen without volunteers to keep us safe!

We saw Anthony walking with Andre in the carrier right before Mile 2, and it was fun to see them along the route! I force encourage my family to enjoy the whole racing experience with me, and convinced Anthony that some fresh air would do him and Dre some good so they got out there to spectate us :P

As we rolled through our 3 miles, I realized that there did not appear to be many participants in my age group. I actually came to think there had to be less than 5, and that I must be close to the front of our "pack". I wasn't unhappy about this - since the race was so small they were only offering medals to the top 3 finishers in each age group (I'd seen them laid out before we left the church), and I started to think I had a shot at one! And really, what's the point of racing if you don't get a medal?

(Answer: To get out and run to support charity. That is the point.)

The course itself was relatively flat - there was one steep incline that lasted about 1/10th of a mile through the whole run. It was a bit windy, but overall we had great running weather. Since it was a race, I decided that even with the stroller I would see what kind of pace I could push, and I was pleasantly surprised to finish with a sub 11:00 average!
When we rolled into the finish I got lots of cheers for being one of two runners with a stroller! I've talked about this on Instagram before, but pushing a stroller is no joke, and I always feel accomplished for doing it!

Post Race
I let Ant out of the stroller so he could run around on the lawn before going back inside for coffee (me) and donuts (him, as he ate mine).

There was some mini drama on my way in...I include this for a reason, I swear. A woman in Boston Athletics Association (ie she had run the Boston Marathon and is therefore speedy) headband was telling someone that she thought the woman who took first overall female may have cheated. She said, "I know it seems petty, but it's not everyday I get an overall win! I never get them! I'm used to age group wins but not overall ones." And I totally understand what she's saying...I never place in races (uhh, until this year apparently), and told her, "You should take the wins you get! And it doesn't matter how small the race is, cheating is cheating and people shouldn't do it."**

After getting my kid inside and situated with his sugar post race banana and donut (and me with my coffee), I texted Anthony to let him know I thought I might have medaled in my age group so we wouldn't be home right away. After about 15  minutes they printed out the place results and I went and took a peek...

...and I laughed! I'd taken first in my age group!

...and also last, because it turns out I was the *ONLY* one in my age group, haha! But like I told Boston Woman, "Take the wins you get!" I still placed!

I texted Anthony that I'd be waiting around for my medal, and  whittled away the time by entertaining Ant and talking to a few people around me. One of the men I spoke with for a while seemed to think I was new to running and racing, and was doing his best to encourage me to "keep it up". I thought it was sweet because he had clearly been running his whole life (he took first in the 66-70 AG), but I eventually let it slip that this wasn't my first rodeo. At one point he talked about swimming and biking to compliment his running and I asked if he was a triathlete "because I am too!" and then later mentioned running the Chicago Marathon "before my kids were born". At that point realization dawned for him ;) We both agreed that local 5ks are great because they bring out all sorts of runners and walkers, and there's a strong sense of community at them. I had a great time talking to him and the rest of the people sitting near me!

After much waiting, they finally presented the awards and I got my medal! I dragged Ant Man up with me for a picture. I will never stop being proud of being a running mom, and I know my kiddos are watching. As they get older I hope they start to enjoy racing - right now it's definitely MY hobby and I drag them along for it (or push them, given the stroller) - but I hope they decide to join in and start running the miles with me!

Mom always insists on post-run selfies!

Home, showered, and showing off my medal!


**I was interested to see how the overall results turned out, and after checking it looks like they let them stand. The girl who crossed first took the overall win - which she has for the last three years, at least. According to Boston Woman, the girl who won was not at the start and flew up from behind her at Mile 2. I don't have any real stake here - neither woman was in my age group - but I still say no one should cheat to win any race, so I hope the race was won fairly!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Christina and the No Good Very Bad Family Vacation (Part 3)

Part 1
Part 2

Sorry for the delay to all my avid readers (haha). I was down for the count with a mysterious illness this weekend...turning on a computer was not on my radar. But here you go...Part 3!

Quick recap: We planned a family camping trip to Kentucky over Labor Day weekend, the location being driven by a wedding we were supposed to attend. A lot happened with that, and we completely changed our plans and opted for Missouri instead. We arrived to our very buggy, muggy, and dark campsite at Markham Springs right after a thunderstorm had passed through, set up our tent, ate dinner and went to bed. We had approximately 2 fun through all of this (on a scale of 1-10). We held out hope that the rest of the trip would be better!

Completely irrelevant information at this point. Someone asked me how/what I made for dinner on Thursday if it was raining. I made steak tacos with cilantro and onion (and refried beans) on our camp stove by covering the camp stove and pans with foil while I worked. It seemed to go okay.

And now the adventure continues!

Even though we'd already struck out the day before, I was convinced we could make a good time of our trip, and was determined to get a good breakfast in, followed by finding some mad hiking trails.

While I started on breakfast, Anthony and Little Man took a little wander around our site with our very rambunctious dogs, both of whom were glad to be leash free and running wild after a day in the car followed immediately by a night in a tent. There was a river not far from our site, and they went to check that out.
^ Is that not the most tired baby you've ever seen?
Just a note - you're going to see the above baby carrier in a lot of pictures, and it was a lifesaver! My uncle gifted it to us for our baby shower. It's this Kelty model, which is no longer available, but I'll vouch for the brand. Not only is it great for hiking or long walks that you can't use a stroller for, you can put your kid in it while you mow the lawn too...or spectate a marathon in it! The possibilities are endless!

After we ate (eggs with leftover taco meat), the crew went for another walk while I cleaned up. The quality of sleep the night before can best be summed up in the following picture, which occurred right when they got back. Obviously, we had to postpone our hike for a while:

While someone was sleeping, I did some yoga then Anthony and I prepped and packed the stuff we'd need for a hike. We had talked a bit and decided to drive away from our campsite for the morning's hiking. We wanted to get a longer hike in, and the trail near our site was short (a loop a little under 2 miles).

We didn't have a map of the area and had really spotty cell service, so we stopped by the same shop in Williamsville and asked the locals. The man I talked to gave me very basic directions, pretty much sending us back the way we'd originally driven in the day before, and said it would be about 15 miles to the closest recreation area which had some hiking trails. He told me that once we were on 67 there would be signs we could follow to 'Greenville Recreation Area'.

So we headed out, and FINALLY found a hiking path. I say finally because it actually took us a lot longer than we thought it would. There were not many trail heads, and some of the actual recreation areas seemed to be closed(?). When we did finally find a trail head with a very small parking lot I spotted a map hanging up on a signboard, and we decided that would have to do for a starting point.

The map (below) made it really hard to orient ourselves, but I finally figured out that we had found an outlet for the Ozark's the yellow dotted line going through the dark green patch on the map.

From where we were, the trail would take us 2 miles towards the Greenville Recreation area, where we could hang out/eat lunch/play a bit before turning around to hike the two miles back.

Or so we thought.

Because seriously, I have told you this trip was not good, so please don't think that plan actually happened.

We started our hike!
Daddy supermanning it up! Carrying baby and commanding the doggos!
What you cannot see in any of these pictures are...THE SPIDERS.

We did not even get 10 feet onto this path before we were confronted with an entire spider web strung up across it, big fat spider sitting in the middle and all. Undeterred, I picked up a stick, batted down the web (sorry spidey) and we continued on our way.

For another three feet, where I was met with another web.

I'll just go ahead and tell you now that it did not get better. Our solution was that we both picked up rather lengthy sticks and, as we walked forward, twirled them in a circular motion to bring down any webs we came across. And that seemed to work for a while, so we forged on.

Little Man, taking in the scenery.

Despite the spiders and the humidity, the nice thing about the woods is that we were in the shade. We hiked a little over half a mile, and then came to some prairie, which finally gave us respite from the spiders (even if we were now in the sun)!

Annoyed with my request for a photo op :P
The prairie land took us up until almost the one mile mark, where we encountered more woods. Knowing what (probably) awaited us, we picked up sticks again to use on the webs, and entered the second bit of forest.

One step in, okay. Second step in, alright there's a web up ahead. Third step, take down web. Forth step...

Holy shit, these trees are netted in webs.

Anthony and I looked and each other, then back at all of the spider webs. And we (pretty freaking obviously) turned around.

Pretending we're happy and it's all okay.
As we walked back (this time unencumbered by all the spider webs we'd already demolished), Anthony and I decided to drive south - the direction we'd been hiking - and pick up the trail further down instead. We figured we could even just go to the recreation area which had both a lake and a playground, and hike out from there.

Sounded like a plan!

(Please tell me you're beginning to catch all the sarcasm regarding this trip's "plans"...)

We got back to the car, our measly two mile hike all we had to show for it, and headed back the way we'd come. You'll remember me mentioning the lack of trail heads, which we again struggled with. We decided to just follow signs for the recreation area, and finally spotted one and turned off. And as we pulled up we were greeted with...

...a no trespass sign.

Actually, multiple signs.

Because - the signs announced - the recreation area and adjacent campsite were closed for improvement until Summer 2020. There was no beach access, no access to the playgrounds or pavilions, no canoeing or kayaking allowed, and no...hiking.

Which clearly explained why we had not been able to reserve one of the campsites a month earlier. You would think one of the many websites I visited beforehand would have mentioned this. Alas, no.

Womp. Womp. WOMP.

Angry, annoyed, and disappointed, we decided it was time to go back to our campsite. We could have our lunch there and explore the site's trail loop, as short as it may be, and that would take us through the rest of Friday's daylight.

So back to the campground we went!

We took our drive back, now very aware that we were spending more time in the car than anywhere else on this "camping" trip.

We ate said lunch, and then packed things up again to go exploring. Sidenote: Everything about toting a baby with you makes stuff slightly more difficult, like making sure you have the diapers and wipes and pacifiers and water cups and...and...and...

...but we got it figured out and went on our merry way.

One of the things I forgot to mention is that this campsite had three loops for actual camping. Two were dedicated to trailer hookups (ie you can get electricity at the site), and our loop was just for "primitive" (ie tent) camping. We decided to walk around the loops and scope things out, then wander to the trail head for a leisurely hike. I'd read up ahead of time and knew it would be an easy loop, and we were okay with taking our time.

We made the rounds and found a sign pointing towards the trail, and started out.

And 100 feet in, we stopped.

I am not kidding, nor am I exaggerating. We weren't even out of a sight of the closest campgrounds when we realized the trail was not hikable in the best of circumstances, and it certainly was not hikable with a baby on our backs and two dogs in tow.

Not only had a large tree fallen across the path - the path was completely obstructed by fallen brush and foliage up to knee height. There was no way around it either, because the river was directly to the right of the trail.

So we did what anyone would do on a looped trail - we turned around and decided we would hike as far as we could in the other direction, and then turn around to make our return when necessary. Good plan.

*cough cough*

That ended up not working either, because the trail just...stopped existing on the other side. I was baffled, and pretty upset. I'd done a lot of reading about this campground. I knew there was access to this trail (which had a sign pointing directly at it) and that it was a looped trail. People had been posting reviews about hiking it as currently as June. I knew we should be able to get on it.

And yet, we couldn't.

So we turned away from the trail, opting to just walk wherever there was area for us to walk. Parking lot? Okay. Small field? Alright. Around a pond? Sounds good. On the side of a road leading in to camp? Why not. We just wanted to be moving, and so we moved, once again trying to make the best of things that were not turning out to have any best to be made.

Although we did find this mill:
This is a mill!
Us, in front of the mill!
Family picture time! Again, pretending like "making the most of this" is actually working.

You can tell how thrilled he is regarding everything with this trip.

Our cute (and hot) puppers.

Trying to make the best of things while sweating our skin off!

Not quite hiking if it's a road, huh?

We eventually turned around when we realized we kind of just ran out of places to walk. We'd made it all the way to the main road into our site (which was not safe to walk on) and turned back to head back to our site. We hadn't really used up much daylight and let's be honest...pretty much everything had gone wrong at this point.

Back to our site we went.

Back at the campsite.

When we finally gave in.
Pretty much right when I took the above picture (of Zorra), Anthony and I started calling hotels in St Louis.

You see, on our way back from our "hike" we started talking about leaving Markham Springs. It started with "maybe it won't be so bad to leave a day early" (Saturday, rather than Sunday). Things gradually morphed when I mentioned that I really wanted to stop in St Louis to see the arch, and given that STL was on our way home we would be able to have a much shorter, more leisurely drive back home on Sunday if we stopped Saturday night.

Both of us were bummed about the decision. The campground just turned out to be a total waste of time, money, energy, emotion, etc etc etc. A waste of money for the reservation, of time and money for the drive there and back, of energy for the KY to MO rebooking nonsense and stress that had originally occurred, and of emotion for our first vacation as a family failed.

We were both in pretty low spirits, knowing this would likely be our only chance for a vacation any time in the near future and the only thing that made it better was that Little Man did not know, and would not care. And that really did help make it a bit better.

So it was decided. We would do our best to find a dog friendly hotel somewhere near St Louis. On Saturday morning we would pack up and head out and find something (dog and child) friendly to do.

We had no expectations for any of it to be worthwhile or enjoyable, but we'd enjoy air conditioning and hot showers and a bed before heading home on Sunday.


Part 4 to come!