Mugsmas 2014 - The Tale of the Mischievous Elf on the Shelf

Have you ever wondered what the Elf on the Shelf does during the non-Christmas season? Yeah, me neither! But I was nonetheless captivated by the one that joined us on our annual Mug Run, whose theme this year was Christmas. We had a festive time of it and this, our 4th Mug Run, was by far the most crowd pleasing. We got so many "Ho ho ho's", "Merry Christmas' ", laughs and cheers you would have thought Santa himself was accompanying us (best comment of the night by a stranger: "I don't know what this is, but I LOVE it!"). Our M.O. has been to change the theme every year but we might just have to stick with Christmas for the next few, it was just too fun! I especially enjoyed it - as a general rule, I am usually Christmased-out by Thanksgiving (seriously, people, can we take a stand and stop the insanity of Christmas songs/in stores in October?! I'll be sending out a MoveOn petition later today). But this, a one day celebration of the holiday with no prelude, was right up my ally! If Christmas could be like this every year, I bet my Scroogey feelings would go the way of Tiny Tim's crutch. 

Instead of recapping the whole run, I thought it would be fun to follow along on the adventures of just one of Santa's helpers, the Elf on the Shelf. A larger selection of pictures from the Mugsmas run can be found here.

Our elf (who has an uncanny resemblance to Lil Sis but I am pretty sure that is just a coincidence) started the night out as any smart elf would - by stretching! Cramping while guzzling beer? Rookie mistake.

Much as when she is visiting homes during December, Elf could not actually sit normally. Her natural inclination is to perch, preferably on something up off the ground. Over the course of the evening, we were able to get her to relax a bit, but man, the company training was impressive on this front and when you would look around, chances were that the Elf would be perched on something!

The Elf was nothing if not friendly. Through the evening, she made it a point to spread joy and chat it up with the locals. It took very little prodding and almost no beer (this was at the first stop, C-view Inn) to convince her to go up to two motorcycle-riding strangers and convince them that she needed to hop on their bike! They were charmed by her elfish self and soon we entered into a fascinating conversation about their cross-country bike trip. It wasn't too long before we got the whole group around the bike, snapping pics (see the gallery at the end or on Facebook) and laughing ourselves silly. Elf just spread that kind of cheer. 

DSCF4033.JPG

At our next stop (Ocean Club Hotel), Elf showed her helpful side by tending bar. Sometimes people were confused about what to make of a life-sized elf in July, but this bartender quickly regained his composure and let her work the tap! He goes on Santa's nice list, for sure.

When we arrived at The Inn of Cape May, I was a bit concerned that our raucous group (this was the third stop and the alcohol was definitely taking effect!) would ruin the romantic plans of this couple dining on the veranda. Others in our group struck up a conversation with them and it turned out they were delighted with the addition of some Christmas cheer! Lisa M. asked, "would you like to meet Elf on the Shelf?". For reasons that remain unclear, they DID want to meet her so we sent her over. With much less awkwardness than you would expect when envisioning this situation, they became fast friends and were soon hooting and hollering with us! 

After all those beers, Elf required a comfort station - but being the impish elf that she is, a men's room was preferable! Elf On The Shelf is always on the hunt for a hunk of man-elf so you might as well go where they are sure to be!

Elf mens bathroom.JPG

It was a wonderful night with our elf friend and by the end she too was left with nothing but fond memories. It might seem like a fun gig, but every job eventually feels like work, and Elf was in serious need of rejuvenation after being tortured by well-meaning parents and kids last December. She has just a few short months until the craziness begins again, but until then, you can find her unwinding in a rocking chair in Cape May with a beer in her hand (and a song in her heart. Obviously). 

Mugsmas 2014 was the best yet! Consider joining us in 2015 - we generally shoot for the last Thursday in July, which means next year will be 7/30! Start working on your costumes now!

Click on picture below to run through the gallery of images. 

Running on Saint Paul Island, Alaska - Southwest Point area

My last morning on Saint Paul was quite foggy and cool but instead of brightening up to blue skies as the day before had, the low clouds hung in there with us. It was actually neat to see what the island "normally" looked like and made me even more appreciative of the sunny skies that ruled the majority of my trip.

GD and I made a plan to get up around 6 am for a run. Since there is so much daylight this time of year (which was trippy and amazing!!), as a birder there is really no benefit to being an early riser, as is the norm in other places. The morning is still pretty dark, it can be foggy and you essentially have until at least midnight (if not later) to find whatever birdies you are looking for so it is not like you will run out of daylight later (which happens in some places, esp the closer to the equator you are). But considering it was my last day and I only had until ~2pm before I had to check-in for my flight, we decide to get up and out to see what birds we could tick for my run list.

This would probably be as good as time to fill you in a bit about where GD has been for the last three months - it certainly wasn't on any of our Cape May runs! From our earliest conversations - you know, the long, winding ones where you are getting to know each other and wax on about all the things you'd like to do with your life - GD has always mentioned working in the Pribilof Islands, a magnet for birders of all kinds, including listers. Listers are a type of birder that like to document every bird species they see or hear. You can make a bird list of just about anything - a year list, a yard list, a state list, a run list (like mine)- but generally the most important one is your life list (ie all the species you have ever seen or heard). For folks who are hardcore listers, traveling to far flung places is a must to tick (ie, check off) certain life species. In addition, places like Saint Paul hold a special draw because while it is technically in the US (and therefore species that occur on it are countable on your North American list), it is close enough to Asia that during a storm all kinds of goodies get tossed its way. However, just showing up on an island for a few days looking for rarities (or even the more common, but quite spectacular, species) does not a good plan make, so St. Paul Tours was formed to help guide these folks along. It is this company that GD applied to work as a bird tour guide and what he has been up to while the rest of us in Jerz have enjoyed the most ridiculous summer weather I can recall! He was thrilled to have the opportunity to work on Saint Paul, a place he has wanted to go for as long as he has known about it, not only for his own enjoyment of the birds, but to help develop his skills as a tour leader. He, his boss and co-worker know the lay of the land, where the birds can be found and seek them out with their tour groups. For a birder like GD, it is the epitome of a dream gig.

GD keeps one eye on the ground and another one the sky to help us bag birds!

GD keeps one eye on the ground and another one the sky to help us bag birds!

When we first told people that he was going to leave for three months to live and work in Alaska, we got mixed reactions. I think that is understandable, given that we are married and generally married couples do not elect to be separated for long periods of time. While I don't feel I have to defend our choice to anyone, I also think a more in-depth explanation than "well, he really likes birds" might help some people understand how we came to this decision and why it might not be the last time we embrace an opportunity like this.

Southwest Point was one of my favorite of all the vistas GD showed me.

Southwest Point was one of my favorite of all the vistas GD showed me.

I think the first thing to consider is that GD and I did not meet until we were 31. There are all sorts of pros and cons to meeting your match when you are very young as compared to later on, but one of the distinctions is that couples like my parents (who met at 18 and are still together at 65) essentially grew up together while couples like GD and I did most of our growing up (not to be confused with growing, which I think we are both still doing!) in the absence of one another. I don't think one is better than the other (and really, you can't control when you fall in love so there's not much you can do about it anyway!) but I do think it makes a difference in how comfortable you feel spending time apart. Now bear with me, as this is a working theory and you may not agree, but I think the fact we were already so independent by the time we met means that we find it easier to be separated than couples who have never had the experience of living as an adult without the other. Adding weight to my theory is that of the couples I know where at least one travels heavily for work, most met later in life. 

In addition to that, I grew up in a small town but was encouraged to think big. We were raised to believe that, with enough hard work and dedication, you could be whatever you wanted. For me, that has largely worked out. As a teenager, I dreamed of finding a job I loved (didn't know it would be as a biologist, but a big ol' check there!) and traveling far outside my sweet lil hometown to see the world (have been lucky enough to make that a reality too). When I met and fell in love with GD, part of the attraction was that he too was passionate about something (birds of all feathers) and loved traveling as much, or more, than I did. Encouraging and supporting each other to follow our dreams, as cheesy as it sounds,  is something that is a cornerstone of our relationship. Yes, it is absolutely true we are sacrificing day to day time together and we will never get that time back. But in return, we feel fulfilled and satisfied which makes us better partners all around. We also get to travel to the exciting and adventurous places his work takes him and experience the highs that come from reuniting after months apart.

Impossible for me to be happier than running with my husband in parts unknown.

Impossible for me to be happier than running with my husband in parts unknown.

Finally, we don't plan on having children and I think that is really where the rubber meets the road in terms of time apart. I watch my friends, who are such incredible mothers and fathers, and I see the work that it takes to do it right. I just can't imagine that this type of traveling lifestyle would be possible or realistic if we had a few rugrats running around.

Best eye candy on a run ever

Best eye candy on a run ever

Would this set-up work for everyone? Unlikely. Each relationship has its own rhythm and they need to be tended to in the right ways or that shit will blow right up. But, for now, ours appears to be elastic enough enough to withstand time apart (and I am caveating with a "for now" because the universe does not suffer smugness gladly). Which ends in just ONE WEEK!!! Being apart for three months was not as hard as I expected, but that is not to say that I am not over the moon about going back to living under the same roof in a few days time!!! Yipppee!!!

Sleepy eyes :)

Sleepy eyes :)

Apologies that this post got derailed from running and birding, but sometimes you just write what comes out. I'll bring it back around, though, and share my run bird list from Saint Paul, garnered over two days of runs on July 15th and 16th, 2014:

Harlequin Duck

Northern Fulmar

Semipalmated Plover

Rock Sandpiper

Black-legged Kittiwake

Red-legged Kittiwake

Common Murre

Thick-billed Murre

Parakeet Auklet

Least Auklet

Crested Auklet

Horned Puffin

Tufted Puffin

Lapland Longspur

Snow Bunting

Gray-crowned Rosy Finch

Plus a few more images from the awesome trip:

So what do you think? Does meeting later in life make it easier to be apart? Or does it just matter what the two people in the relationship are like?

Running On Saint Paul Island, Alaska - Polovina area

There has been a lack of posts around these parts the last few weeks but I am happy to report that is not correlated with a lack of running. Rather, there has been lots of traveling and running, which has made for some fantastic miles, but has not been conducive to getting posts up (free hotel internet sounds good on paper but is often sluggish to the point that uploading photos becomes downright painful). But I am back and relatively settled now, so prepare yourselves for a series of posts from runs around this lovely country of ours!

Normally I would save the best for last, but my (anal, borderline OCD) personality makes it impossible for me to post in anything but chronological order. So first up is a recap from my time running on Saint Paul Island, AK, where I visited mid-July to see puffins, seals, and oh, yeah, no big deal, my husband(!!!). I'll talk more about why GD is in AK in the next post but let me first orient you to where Saint Paul is and what it is all about. 

If people have heard of Saint Paul, it is usually because they recognize it from the show Deadliest Catch as there is a seafood processing plant/marina that fishermen use. The other reason people would know it is because of the crazy birding that goes on there (bet you can't guess which drew GD there!). It's a teeny lil island (but actually the largest of the five that make up the Pribilofs) in the middle of the Bering Sea, between the Aleutian chain and mainland Alaska. On the map below, it is where the red/yellow dot is:

So, yeah, it's safe to say that Saint Paul is wayyyy out there. The ecosystem type is marine tundra and the weather varies from about 20dF to 50dF year-round. The island can receive up to 56" of snow a year and summer is generally cool, windy, foggy and wet. There are no trees on the island so the wind that whips up off the Bering Sea is best described as a gentle ocean breeze. NOT! More like a constant wind tunnel. Not quite my idea of a dream summer destination. Adding to the "not exactly top ten places to visit" is that I worked in Alaska the summer of 1999, aka the loneliest summer of my life. In addition to the generally nasty weather, I had some ghosts still haunting me from those days and the thought of returning to the state left me feeling a bit apprehensive about what emotions would be stirred up.

But Saint Paul had one major thing going for it which is a dude whose name begins with a "G" and ends in a "D" and who had been living and working there for the previous two months. Traveling to the ends of the earth for a few days with my love sounded like heaven and thanks to a generous offer from my in-laws to purchase my plane ticket, I soon found myself jetting off to the Pribilofs.

I don't know exactly what I expected out of this island but it definitely was not what I found. I think I had so prepared myself for miserable, cold, wet weather that would only enhance my previous feelings of doom and gloom that I already associated with Alaska that I never left open the possibility that I would actually love it there. That the old memories would be buried once and for all. That the sun would shine and peace would wash over me and that GD and I would spend four of the best days of our relationship there. That Alaska and I could actually kiss and make up. But that is exactly what happened. They always say love appears when you least expect it, and this volcanic island in the middle of the sea surely was that for me.

The morning of my birthday dawned foggy (though it was sunny only hours later). I had shaken off enough jet lag to drag myself out for a run and I headed up the road from the King Eider Hotel (and by hotel, I mean a perfectly lovely trailer with clean though sparse rooms... but a trailer nonetheless) towards Polovina. 

The landscape was nothing short of breathtaking. Like everywhere else in Alaska I have traveled, it will not be ignored. Unlike the subtle beauty of NJ, where you can get lost in your thoughts and barely notice the swirls of Atlantic White Cedar bark or the sublime perfection of a strand of Spartina grass, Alsaka demands your full attention. There is no time for thoughts other than, "Wow" and "Oh my God" and "Whoa". 

July on Saint Paul is not a time where many birders visit, as their aim is often to tick vagrants that blow in from Asia with spring and fall storms. But for me? This was the time to be here. The island was abuzz with life - including the marine tundra plants. The wildflowers were like one of those pictures made up of a million other pictures. From far away they melted together into one image but upon closer inspection you would see that it was actually made up of so many tiny parts, each a piece of art in its own right. Below is Polovina Lake, surrounded with these plants.

The road system through the island is all gravel, which was quite pleasant to run on. This stretch of road was mostly flat, with charming turns this way and that. I always like to go to the end of a road or see what is around the next bend, so it took a lot of willpower to stop myself from continuing on for as long as it would let me. I knew later in the day GD would drive me out this way and that made it easier to turn back when I needed to. 

One of the enduring memories that I know I will carry from this trip was just how absent man-made sounds were. Outside of town, there was the occasional truck or ATV that would go by but that was about it. Everywhere we went were three sounds - those of birds, seals or the sea. I can't begin to describe how soothing that was.

Well, to be honest the fur seals weren't always that soothing, lol. Especially on my first day, I found the sound of the males to be downright intimidating! It is estimated that 2/3 of the world's population of northern fur seals breed on the Pribilof Islands and I was lucky that my trip coincided with their pupping just a few weeks before. Every beach was just covered with some combination of adult and sub-adult males, nursing females and of course, itty bitty babies, only a few weeks old. The island's conservationists do a great job of posting all these sites and making sure that people keep their distance. At some sites, there are observation platforms where you can stand and stare as long as you like. Other locations, like the one below, are gated so that the seals can do their thing (nurse, mate and fight) disturbance-free. 

But the gates don't keep the sounds out and the best part of this birthday run was just standing on the side of the road, mouth agape as I stared at the large silhouettes in the distance and listened to them roar. Nothing like the real thing, but the audio sounded a lil like this:

The other type of substrate to run on in this section of the island was ATV trails. I am generally not a fan of the ATV but I can definitely see the benefit of having one of these to tool around on and I bet often times they make more sense and are more efficient than taking a big truck or car to your destination of choice. In any case, their packed nature made them great for running!

Here is an example of what I was talking about before - with the long view creating one viewscape and the close-up one another. The foggy morning only seemed to enhance the brightness of this stunner, a clever little trick for sure. 

Regretfully, my birthday run came to an end. Luckily, I had another great one on tap for the following day and lots of amazing experiences in between. I can't help but to share some of them below - not from my runs, but I wish they had been! If nothing else, Saint Paul left me with a feeling of wanting to run every square inch of it. 

Stay tuned for part 2, in which I drag GD out of bed and out to Southwest Point to help me rack up my run-bird list!

Mugsmas Run - July 31st!

It's year number three of our running pub crawl! In 2012 we ran with a guy on a stick, in 2013 we donned mustaches for the Mug-stache run and 2014 will be a holly jolly one as we adopt Christmas in July as our theme! 

Join us July 31st at 7pm for the 2014 Mugsmas Run!!  

We'll run ~4 miles and visit five bars! You are welcome to drink as much or little as you want along the way and there is no registration fee. The only costs are for your beer (and food at the end if you like, as we will chow at the Rusty Nail or Ugly Mug after) and if you choose to play poker. In this version of poker, you put $2 in the kitty and at each bar you get a card. By the end, you will have a hand of poker and can choose to play or fold - best hand wins the pot! 

The Mugmas moniker comes from the request that you each bring a little spirit of the season to the run. You can play it safe and just wear some green and red, but come on, how much fun is that (answer: none at all)? We wanna see you go full on Christmas! And if you are worried that you will look silly, don't. You'll definitely look silly and worrying ain't gonna change that! But you'll have lots of company, so go all in!

To add a touch of the real Christmas, we're also asking your generous side to make an appearance and bring any gently used running clothes or shoes that would be suitable for a high school girls cross-country team. We know of a local team whose members will put them to good use. Ho, ho, ho!

The course map is below. We'll meet at 6:45 in front of the Ugly Mug, then make our way to the C-View InnSea Salt, Inn of Cape May and end at the Rusty Nail (or possibly back at the Mug, TBD) . We'll have the drink menus from the bars and we'll take your orders ahead of time (definitely bring cash for this!). Plover Brittany will bike ahead as the Rudolph to our reindeer and by the time we get to each bar, your drink will be ready and waiting! 

In summation:

1. Meet at Ugly Mug at 6:45pm (run begins at 7pm) to sign a waiver and place your drink order. Parking is notoriously difficult this time of year so give yourself extra time to find a spot and consider carpooling. Note that the start and end bars might be a few blocks apart.

2. Deck the halls, err, your bod, in festiveness!

3. Bring gently used running clothes or shoes to donate for girls X-C team

4. Try not to puke

No need to pre-register but we would appreciate a general head-count so let us know via Facebook, an email (capeislandrunners AT gmail DOT com) or in the comments below.

See you there! 

Run With Cory - Cape May

Well, it's official, I am now in the Senator Cory Booker fan club! It started last week when I received an email from the Booker camp inviting me to participate in a group run with the senator. My interest was immediately piqued. I do enjoy and keep up with politics and have voted in every election I am present for (and vote absentee when I have enough lead time) since I turned 18. There is something about knowing I have the right to help shape my government, especially considering that was not the case for the fairer sex just 100 years ago, that is highly motivating to me. In any case, I read the message, immediately RSVPed and forwarded the information along to others in Cape May that might have been interested. Umm, hello, group run with a senator? Yes!

The run was due to take place on July 5th at 8 am, meeting at Sunset Pavilion. Since it was to be about a mile or so, I figured I would just run from home. I had no idea what to expect or how many people would be there so it was exciting to see a nice group was forming when I showed up at 7:50 am. 

From the moment I arrived and was in earshot of the senator, it became clear why this man was in public office. You know how some people just have "it"? Well, Senator Booker could be the poster child for "it". There was a buzz about him, an energy that just made you want to get closer and hear what he had to say. 

He spent the pre-race minutes doing a meet-n-greet. Through my job and also just as a result of a general interest in politics, I have seen a lot of our nation's best in action. They often have that polished, disingenuous sheen so common to politicians, which I actually don't mind as it just seems to come with the territory. Unfortunately, that coating can make it hard to see the person underneath it. In shaping his political self, Cory Booker must have used a clear varnish because he presents himself as one of the most genuine, accessible politicians I have had the pleasure to meet. 

After ensuring that everyone had a chance to shake his hand or snap a picture, he and his team started getting the group prepared for the run. I took a short video so you can hear his oration skills, which were fantastic. Funny, self-deprecating and yet commanding, the crowd was enthralled. By this point, there were not only the people that were running, but also just passerby that were crowded around. Apologies for the wind interference, we were still feeling the leftovers of Hurricane Arthur. 

 The run was very well organized. As it turned out, his campaign had started these series of runs last year and you could see this was now a well-oiled machine. We had two Cape May police in bright yellow shirts on bikes that acted as the lead (no one should pass them) and two that were the caboose (ensuring no one was left behind). We were instructed to stay between the bikes and with that we were off! We headed up the promenade to the confused stares of many people. It was here that I was reminded how odd everyday life might be for someone in the limelight. I have run the promenade many times but never with so many people stopping and staring and asking things like, "are you guys running a marathon?!?".  But for people like Senator Booker, it's just part and parcel and he handled it like a seasoned vet.

Booker running.JPG

He joked with us throughout and I noticed another of his skills as we ran - he made sure to not let any one person dominate his time and moved deftly through the group, chatting it up with everyone so that we all felt like we had a conversation with him. This is no small feat when you have a magnetic personality - we all wanted as much time to talk with him as possible and he did not leave any of us wanting - nor did his transition from one conversation to the next make us feel like he was abruptly moving on. So impressive. He was also able to campaign without really campaigning - there was no talk (that I heard) about promises or what his grand plans were - it was more of a "we are all out here enjoying this gorgeous day and getting to know each other"  vibe, which was incredibly effective. 

We wrapped the run up at Coffee Tyme, where the campaign handed out vouchers for a free drink, which I thought was an awesome touch! Senator Booker concluded the run with a few remarks and then headed inside for another round of meet-n-greets (I confess to snapping another pic with him because I wanted to say thanks for the great experience!).

Inside, I struck up a quick conversation with one of the senator's campaign staff, Emily. I would be remiss if I did not also mention what a great staff he had! It was a group of young, energetic folks who handled the morning's activities like pros. You know how you get to be a certain age and you realize the time has passed for some of life's experiences? Well, in addition to regretting that I never spent a year living in a city, I also wished that as a 20-something I had spent time on someone's campaign trail. It looks rewarding, exciting, fun and exhausting, all tied up in one! His group did a great job, particularly his staffer (did not get his name, but tall and handsome as all get out) who must have been in charge of documenting the run for social media - which entailed sprinting ahead and behind the group. He must have run at least twice the distance we did at at least twice the pace.

When I got home, I could not help but let my fandom have a spin around the internets and look into what Cory Booker is all about. I knew of his past as a mayor of Newark and that he was elected to Senator Frank Lautenberg's seat after FL passed away and that he was generally well-liked but I did not know:

1. His background as an athlete (football at Stanford and then went on to Yale Law School - brains and brawn!). He told me the "Run With Cory" idea came about because when in planning his campaign itinerary he told his manager that time for running needed to be scheduled in. They made the obvious leap to campaigning WHILE running and viola! It was done! I think he said they did 14 runs last year and there are more on tap for this summer (mid-term elections ain't no joke). I loved in his pre-run pep talk he talked about the importance of exercise as a means to reduce health care costs - it's all about prevention and I am confused how that somehow became a partisan topic (honestly, people, how can you be against the first lady trying to prevent childhood diabetes?!?!?) but was very happy to hear him pitch it in a non-political way.

He also had a great line in that pre-run chat: "People who sweat together, stick together". Love!

2. His reputation as an all-around good guy - his good nature about being labeled as gay (he's not, but not offended by people thinking it), his commitment to the people of Newark in that he lived in rougher neighborhoods and convinced Mark Zuckerberg to donate a bajillion dollars to the city's school system and he's even rescued a woman from a burning building, for Pete's sake! 

I liked everything I saw Saturday morning and my internet fishing only confirmed all that goodness. I truly wish the best for him in the upcoming election and he can most definitely count on this South Jersey girl's vote. To find out if he is the candidate for you, check out his website, Facebook or Twitter

Here's hoping Senator Booker comes back to Cape May again soon, but if not, I have plenty of great memories to stoke my fandom for some time to come!

PS If you are digging that "Run South Jersey" shirt, I got it at RunningCo. of Haddonfield

Race Report: Strider Independence 5k

Race date: June 28, 2014

In a nutshell: A race for runners, by runners where I apparently decided to take a nap during Mile 2 (there is no other explanation for that split!).

Out of the nutshell: You all know I have been doing a half-assed training block for a 5k or 10k since March. I never quite had a goal race in mind and definitely lacked consistent motivation. I'm not sure what that that is all about - give me a half-mary or longer and I will not veer from the training plan unless a limb falls off. But 10k or 5k? Meh, apparently I think I can phone it in. Earth to Kashi, that is not the way it works! It may be fewer miles, but shorter races are every bit as challenging as longer ones. They both hurt,  just in different ways. What I think I have learned from this training cycle is that while I do enjoy seeing faster times on Garmy's face, I prefer the pain of longer distances over that of shorter ones and subsequently train better for them.

In any case, I ran two previous 5ks this spring (see here and here) but never managed to scootch into the 22:xx territory I had hoped to enter. In a normal year, an inland race at the end of June in Jerz would likely continue that trend but we were seriously blessed with the best spring running weather I can recall, maybe ever. The forecast was due to be in the 60s and 70s that AM with relatively low humidity, so I was in! The race started at Shawnee High School, which is a solid 1.5 hrs from my house. I normally would not travel so far for a 5k but there weren't any obvious options near me and I planned to go visit my parents after, who sorta live in that neck of the woods. 

I arrived about a half hour before start time, which was perfect. Registration was a breeze, everyone was friendly and in high spirits because of the weather and gorgeous morning. $30 got me into the race (same price for 10k, which I liked!) and an AMAZING race shirt! Purple tech shirt that FIT, hurray! This was the first indication that the race was organized by runners - shirts meant to fit us and not double as oversized pj's. In fact, the race is organized by The Pinelands Striders, a running club in southwest Jersey. Other indications that this was not their first time at the rodeo - smooth registration process, chip timing, shaded course, excellent course planning that ensured the 10kers and 5kers did not cross paths or have an awkward merges, great raffle prizes and AG awards. Based on these things alone, I would definitely run this race again. 

Once checked in, I had about 15 minute to warm-up. Perfect! I ran an easy mile and then did some plyometrics in the shade. I progressively got better at warming up for these short races and I think that was evident in my first mile splits at the three 5ks I ran this spring (8:03, ~7:51, 7:39). So that went well! 

The race went off with a bang and I told myself that if I was going to hit a sub-23, I could not screw around in the first mile. To run a 22:59, I would need to average a 7:24 pace. Although I was hoping I could run a faster first mile, there is no way a 7:24 was happening. I naturally negative split so I figured if I was in the 7:30s for the first mile, that would at least give me a shot.

There were not too many people, so it was easy to find a groove. I looked at Garmy more than normal to try and stay on track and was pleased to hear the beep and see '7:39' for Mile 1. Ok, I thought, a very promising start! I felt really good, the course was almost 100% in the shade and I was pacing pretty well with this dude. I could not shake him but also did not lose him so I was happy to run along in a fake competition with him.

The second mile brought more pain, but that was to be expected. I still felt like I was giving a good effort but unfortunately all those trees were blocking Garmy's signal. It was not enough to ruin his distance logger but the pace field was flipping around wildly. Not to worry, I thought, I will just run by feel. I have been doing that for my speed workouts to good effect. But apparently, when I run by feel in Mile 2 of a 5k, I slow the eff down! I did not notice this at all as I felt like I was chugging along but I was quite displeased to find out later that Mile 2 was an 8:04! Whaaaa? I have been racking my brain for an explanation and have none. I was huffing and puffing and kept up with my running buddy. There were absolutely no hills, I had no muscle or breathing problems and really felt like I was running at a good clip, at least as fast as the first mile (news flash-  not so much). 

I actually had not heard the beep for Mile 2 (it was drowned out by Reel 2 Real, my new old favorite running song ), so I did not see it at the time. Good thing, too, as it would have crushed my motivation for Mile 3. 

Luckily, I ran along blissfully unaware. I was starting to hurt pretty good, but also had enough left to turn it up, so I powered past my running buddy and headed back to the school. Looking at Garmy, who was sorted back on track, I came to two conclusions - I was not going to break 23 (boo!) and, more excitingly, although the race ended on the track we were not going to have to do a dreaded lap around it! I hate when races make you run that lap - it feel like the finish line is taunting you - "You are so close, come on in...NOT!! Run a lap first, sucker!!" But not here!! We came onto the track and promptly finished. I seriously felt like I was getting away with murder and it was glorious. 

The race and Garmy aligned almost perfectly, which prevented me from having to be the a-hole who keeps running til Garmy says 3.1. Thank God for small miracles.

I crossed in an official time of 23:46 and a Garmy time of 23:41.  It's hard to entirely compare them to the first two because the first race was .05 short (and bc the way the finish was I could not continue on) and the second was on trails and Garmy did not register satellites until we were about .1 in, but as far as I can tell, I ran about the same pace for all three. Argh, frustration. 

Now that I have had a week to think about it, I am feeling slightly better. Although cool, this race was still the warmest and muggiest of the three, which does impact times. I also felt the best after it - the first two it was all I could do to walk back to Running Momma but this time I was able to jog a legit cooldown mile and could have easily done more. Of course, that only pisses me off more because clearly all was not left on the course! I'm looking at you, Mile 2. Seriously, what the hell happened there? I could understand if I was feeling rough that mile, or recall undue fatigue or there was a hill, but really?!?! 7:39, 8:04, 7:24... one of these things is not like the others. I guess I really need to up my "run by feel" game. Le sigh. 

After the race, I wandered around because the weather was so fantastic that I did not want to get back in the car yet. The grounds of Shawnee were lovely and it was fun to putter about. I checked out the post-race food and this is the only place that I see a need for improvement by race organizers. They had oranges, bananas and bagels, which is perfectly acceptable, but the presentation was definitely lacking. Sliced oranges and bagels would have been better than the provided whole version and the poor bagels at least deserved to be on the table and off the ground. They made up for some of this, though, with their homemade, patriotic themed cookies and cupcakes, of which I was a fan. 

Another great feature of the race was their raffle. While registering, everyone pulled the raffle tag off their bibs and put it in a container. While we were huffing and puffing, they pulled the names and displayed who won what on this wall. You simply had to walk over, see if your bib number matched a prize and collect! They had some great prizes too, including massages, Dunkin Donuts gift cards, boxes of ClifBars, all kinds of good stuff. I managed to win a t-shirt and some FRS energy chews, which I have never tried but look forward to!

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In the people watching category, his guy was my favorite. He rocked his look, his body was ripped (esp for a dude his age) and he was fast! 

I stuck around for awards more for fun than anything else. I wound up running into a alum runner from my high school and we chatted through them. He had won overall for 5k (in 16:17!!!) and his gift certificate award was pretty sweet. I listened with half an ear but did not hear my name so chatted on. 

Another thing I liked about the race was the line of computers set up where you could view your results - I do find a certain amount of charm to a mass of sweaty runners crowded around a printout taped on a wall but this is much better! I looked at them for a second before noticed that I got 3rd in my age group - if I were a dude! Ouch! I mean, I know I don't have a lot up top, but wow. Hehe, jk, this was the result of someone accidentally logging me as a male when typing my day-of registration in the computer. Since Eric had gotten such a nice award and that I placed third for men 30-39, I figured there was a chance I got something in my actual AG and that it might be worth investigating.

I went over the awards table and explained the situation. They were super understanding and we realized that I had won my age group. Unfortunately (well, not for her!) they had given away the gift certificate and medal to someone else. Not to worry though, I did not need the medal and they were able to scrounge up a duplicate award, which was perfect! $25 off a purchase of $50 from the RunninCo. of Haddonfield. Score!

 

I saw that the gift certificate expired the end of July and since I knew I would not get back there before then, I decided to head over and cash in! I also took this opportunity to try Action Wipes, which I had heard good things about on a podcast. My review: so-so. On the pro side, it did eliminate all post-race funk, did create a lather and the size was big enough for my whole body (might need 2 if you are a big dude). Cons: There was a definite film left on my skin (which it said it would not do). I also had my tried-and-true unscented, not at all sticky Wet Ones so busted those out...ahh that was better!

I headed over the the Running.Co and stocked up on Nuun tablets as well as a super cool local shirt they created - it has an outline of the state with the bottom part colored in and says "Run South Jersey"! Super psyched to get my hands on one and can't wait to wear it (starting tomorrow on the Senator Booker run!). Great store! Wish I lived closer, seems like they have a fun community they've created there. 

This was a really well run race that made me want to come back for more. Thanks, race organizers, for giving me an experience where I left with more positive feelings than negative - no small feat considering my displeasure with my time (Damn you, Mile 2! *shakes fist*)

The Big Dance

Tomorrow is the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run! I understand all the hoopla around the World Cup (go 'Merica!) and have been enjoying it, but if you are an ultrarunner, WS is our version! It may not have the following that World Cup does, but even in the time I have been watching the race, its profile has risen considerably and it is easier than ever to follow along with the Big Dance. You know how people (mostly ignorant Americans) complain that there is not enough action in football/soccer to keep them interested? Same thing here, although it is spread out even longer - over 16 or so hours for the winners (if you come in under 24 hours you get a coveted belt buckle)! If you enjoy ultras, you understand how the anticipation and excitement can build, how much fortunes can change and how you can never predict what will happen in a race this long. It's the best!

If you have never heard of Western States you can check out this post I wrote a few years ago. But in a nutshell, it is the oldest trail ultra in the States and began as a horse race. It has a storied history, a reputation for being hot and difficult and always attracts an incredible field of both men and women. 

I am in awe of the whole thing - the hoopla, the history, the competitive fires that burn over the course of a very long day. This year, it has been easier than ever to get wrapped up in the event, as social media and podcasts continue to bring the world ever closer. WS takes place on the west coast and though I (and probably you) can't be there in person, the good 'ol interwebs in making it super easy to pretend we are! Here are some great resources for enjoying Western States from a distance:

Pre- Race:

Ultra Runner Podcast - For the last 10 or so days, URP has been churning out one interview after another and it has been awesome! I feel even more torn than usual about who has my loyalty. As always, I want them all to win! URP's "Daily News" also have tons of links to WS goodies this week. 

iRunFar - The gang at IRF is also producing an immense amount of pre-race info to digest, as well as their contest where people make their men's and women's predictions and then IRF plugs them into a handy chart so you can see how the ultra community thinks it will shake out. There are prizes for correct guesses, but entries are now closed. However, it is super interesting to see the communities' predictions. 

UltraSportsLive.tv - Video preview of the course 

Race Day:

Race starts 5am Pacific time, which is pretty great for us East Coasters :) I will be following all day on these two sites:

iRunFar Twitter Feed: This is the easier way to follow because it provides up to the minute updates and is super fast to access- just watch their Twitter account, no need for waiting for videos to load, etc. 

UltraSportsLive.tv - I love me some ultra watching online but have had mixed results with this site (like the time the finish line blinked out during the exciting end of Lake Sonoma 50!). But it is a free service and the only game in town, so I am going to chalk those issues up to growing pains and hope they have themselves better sorted out this time around! Since the race is so long, they have cameras at multiple check stations, which is going to be super cool! They will also be broadcasting a pre-race press conference today, starting at 1:30 Pacific (4:30 Eastern).

So come on, give ultra spectating a try. I promise you will not be disappointed - to watch what these people put their bodies through and accomplish is amazing and inspiring. Before long, you'll want to run a hundo yourself! 


What I Saw When I Ran Wednesdays

For those of you who read food blogs, you will often see a "What I Ate Wednesday" post. Same idea here, except it will be what I saw when I ran on Wednesdays. So take a peek at what my orbs observed and then add your own experience!

The ridiculously pleasant weather marches on! Apparently the spring and summer gods felt awfully bad for what the winter ones put us through so they just keep on doling out the incredible weather! This morning was a bit humid but with the stiff breeze and cloudy skies it was beyond doable for running. In fact, as a moisture-loving lady, I downright loved it!

I've decided to race a 5k this weekend and if that goes poorly (or even if it goes well, we'll see) to race one over 4th of July and then put a bow on this session of speed. I have been in training for a fast (for me!) 10k or 5k since March and though I have enjoyed it, it is time to give up the ghost and move on. I have found that the best way for me to keep running fresh is to always mix up the distances - four months concentrating on speed and shorter distances was great, but I am ready for something new. What is that? Well, that remains to be seen and is fodder for another post. For now, let's concentrate on the gorgeous flowers that are in bloom all around the Point, which I enjoyed immensely on my run today. Among others, I saw these:

The first Buddlia or butterfly bush flowers of the year for me! Soon the Point will be awash in their purple, pink, yellow and white blossoms. Smells are always a huge memory trigger for me and these remind me of the season I worked with monarchs on the Point (2001!!). Butterfly bush is one of their favs, so despite it not being native to the area, most of us give it a pass because it does not seem to become invasive and keeps those sweet lil Danaus plexippus so very happy. As a side note, the monarch intern position is currently open for applications to the 2014  season, so if you want the best 2-month field job ever, click here and scroll to the bottom.

Here we have another non-native plant that is near and dear to me - the tiger lily. I like this one because Running Momma says they always remind her of me and that my birthday is coming up. And now that makes me think about Running Momma and just how lucky I am to have her as m mom. 

Ahhh, finally a native! This is the flower of common milkweed. The milkweed, of any species, is the host plant to the monarch butterfly so it is awesome to see it all over the Point, often because the knowledgeable gardeners of the area go out of their way to propagate it. Milkweed is generally a "weed" plant, doing quite well growing on roadsides and fields. It is not often an ornamental/yard plant, but if you love monarchs and care about the steep decline they seem to be on, you best be planting some milkweed! A female can lay hundreds of eggs, but she can only do that when there is something to lay them on and that something must be milkweed. No other plant will do. There is currently a big push to help monarchs, as well as pollinators like bats and bees, who populations are all in peril. In fact, the Prez just this week put out this memorandum. Way to go, Obama!!

I enjoy the succulent nature of these flowers- they seem structurally hardy and yet the are so fragile looking. They seem to me like they should be a sugar candy you eat at Easter. Anyone feel me on that?

The Point has a reputation for being an extremely relaxing and quiet place to visit, which is quite true. But it isn't often you also catch the wildlife lounging about, especially when they are prey species. Seeing this bunny all laid out just put a smile on my face. Soak it up, buns, this is our life!

Zen-worhty run this morning followed by a standard day in the office and then a super fun open water swim this evening made this a fantastic Wednesday. Ever since I left the vibrant open water swim community in OC three years ago, I have lacked partners to share the waves with. But by chance, I seemed to have stumbled upon a group that doesn't mind me hopping in the water with them and tonight was the first of what I hope are many happy miles in the water together. Thanks Sue, Debbie and Jim, that was just what I needed!

What did you see on your run today?

Special Olympics National Games Summer 2014 - Aquatics

Not to worry, folks, I got all the emotion and crying out of my system in the last post which means we can spend this one in the competitive trenches at the pool! Thursday they scheduled some of the aquatic events to take place in the evening to accommodate fans that might have to work during the day (when the majority of the competition took place). Running Momma, Dad and I headed to the DeNunzio Pool at Princeton University , unsure of what to expect but looking forward to seeing Lil Sis in action! 

And action we did see! I think an important thing to emphasize for those of you who may not be intimately familiar with the world of Special Olympics is that this is no joke. Yes, there is probably more dancing, singing, hugging and laughing among the athletes and coaches than you might see at your average sporting event but you should not mistake that with a lackadaisical attitude or people who are not taking this seriously. These are athletes, this is competition and there will be battles. One of my favorite things about the night was watching how pumped people got, whether they were competing, cheering, volunteering or coaching.   

I am sure there are many stories to tell from last night, but this is the blog of a sister of a coach and I'm gonna tell hers (and please know that although I did not focus on them, this post could also be the story of the other coaches for the swim team - they were all just as passionate and dedicated as Lil Sis).

Given that many of us are athletes (special or otherwise) the coaches' POV offers a neat perspective - as individual runners we are often the star of our own sports reel and can forget this piece of the athletic puzzle. Honestly, I am not sure I could handle the pressure or stress of it. In swimming, you have to figure out who should swim what and there are endless combinations - breaststroke and butterfly and freestyle and backstroke and medleys and relays for distances from 25m to 500m! The sheer options alone would break me. But not this one! With a steady hand, she filled in the docket for the night:

Coach makes her final decisions

Coach makes her final decisions

Prior to the main event getting underway the swimmers warmed up, a few states at a time. During this period, I confess to getting lost in high school swim team nostalgia, brought on by the chlorine smell. It would be fun to relive that period of my life because I was such a nervous competitor that it was hard for me to fully enjoy it - I bet I would have a much better time now! Meanwhile,  back on the pool deck (and in reality), Lil Sis' swimmers warmed up under her watchful eye:

The volunteers, officiators and refs were brought out, the National Anthem was played and soon it was time to swim! But first, we needed to dance (except, obviously, the dude who was not in a dancing mood. For that guy, not so much, lol): 

We spent the next two hours wrapped up in the races - since it was a showcase night, they gave us a taste of everything - we got to see free 25s, individual and relay medleys, 500s and all kinds of good stuff in between. Princeton had their swim board lit up, so we could see which teams were competing in which lanes. NJ was decked out in red and their caps were easy to spot. But if that failed, you just had to look in the direction of Lil Sis' laser focus. 

The picture below is of the NJ gold-winning 4x50 free relay team. It was a nail biter of a race and by the end Lil Sis was screaming and nothing was coming out because she had yelled herself hoarse. But body language did the trick and right after, the anchor's dad came up to her and they embraced it a victorious hug! 

Since there are so many swim events and waiting until the end to give out medals would create the backlog to end all backlogs, they utilized the common swim protocol of doing awards simultaneous with the racing. It was a glorious night (miraculously, as it had been stormy all day) and we headed outside to see them collect their hardware. They swam their tails off and really deserved that bright and shiny bling.

And of course, there were hugs. I got so wrapped up in it that I just started hugging them all too. Luckily, Lil Sis and I share a slight family resemblance so the athletes let me fawn all over them without the Stranger Danger alarm bells going off.

We headed back inside to wrap up the 25s and watch the final relays of the night - whereas earlier we saw 4 x 50m freestyle, the finale was 4 x 50m medley. This means that each swimmer in the relay did 2 laps of a different stroke -  first swimmer did back, second swimmer did breast, third fly and anchor did freestyle. There were two heats and NJ was in the second one. The first heat brought the arena to its feet, as there was a huge upset when one team won from soooo far behind! The atmosphere was still electric when the same NJ dream team from the 4 x 50m free relay took the stage once again. 

I snuck into the coaches/swimmers area because I wanted to video Lil Sis. I was kicking myself for not capturing her reaction during the 4 x 50m free and I wasn't going to let that happen again. I waited until the race was underway before I crept in. She was so intent on the race that she did not even notice me, which is what makes this next series of videos among my favorite ever. 

The early stages of the race were tough  - other teams got out ahead of us and there was a bit of nail biting (at least from me!!) about what was going to happen. The previous race showed us that you can't count any team out until all is said and done so we bided our time and cheered during the early parts of the race:

But as the laps went on, we started gaining ground. The cheering got louder and louder. The NJ swimmers seemed to take on the energy of the room like so much rocket fuel and jetted towards the lead. OH MY GOD, you could cut it with a knife!! I think I forgot to breathe.

If ever you wondered if Lil Sis' competitive juices flowed when coaching, or whether she takes this seriously or if she 100% is in the moment, wonder no longer. I kept the camera trained on her rather than the race because I really wanted to illustrate how much the coaches invest in this. I don't have video of Carrie and Lisa at the triathlon, but I am very certain if I did, we would see a similar story at their finish line. This is what it looks like to be the coach of a team who digs themselves out of a deficit for the WIN:

(PS I lied earlier, there will be tears because this video totally makes me cry)

Can you even take it?!?!?!? I could not! I was laughing and crying and my heart did not stop racing for minutes afterward. Oh, sweet, sweet victory, you were theirs!

Or were you? As we moved outside, there was a lot of chatter that perhaps the NJ team had been DQed. Ugh, if ever there were more hideous letters than DQ, I do not know what they are.

Disqualified. 

Ouch.

As I mentioned above, the Games are no joke. And those officials? They don't just blow whistles and twiddle their thumbs. They are on the lookout for infractions and should you be so unlucky to be observed doing something outside the rules (examples would be false start, doing the wrong kick, not making contact with the wall, etc), you may well be DQed, even if it was an unintentional error. Due to a minor, technical mistake, the team went from gold to nada. 

Lil Sis and her fellow coaches were heartbroken. But there was no time to deal with her emotions, she had to help the team deal with theirs. The hardest part was that they were already in line for their award and were none the wiser to their fate (instead of getting the gold medals they were expecting, they would be given participation ribbons). Normally, coaches are not allowed in that area, but Lil Sis was able to convince the volunteers that it was an emergency. She quickly and calmly explained to them the circumstances. She told them there would be time to be upset later but that right then, she needed them to keep it together, to be good sports and to accept their ribbons with grace. And due to the special blend of coach that she is and athletes that they are, that is exactly what they did.

Competition is rife with highs and lows - they don't call it the thrill of victory and agony of defeat for nothing. To have been able to witness all of that in one short night - well, suffice to say that I am on a high that seems to have no end. I've said it may times on this blog - I LOVE spectating races but none more than on this June night. 

Coach Lauren and all the assistant coaches, you were incredible! I saw you handle the stresses that come along with competitive swimming as well as the ones unique to Special Olympic events and you took each one in stride - you all put out fires, alternately cheered and consoled and just made me dang proud to call myself a Jersey girl. Congrats on a great week on competition and camaraderie. Now go take a nap and don't you dare think about doing even one load of midnight laundry!  

Special Olympics National Games Opening Ceremony 2014

I could just write, "Wow. (tears) Whoa. (tears) Wow. (tears)" and that would probably be just as good of a description as the following post because I am not sure how to put into words the emotions that coursed through me Sunday night at the Opening Ceremony of the 2014 Special Olympics National Summer Games. But my chatty self can't just leave it at that, so I will give it a whirl, knowing full well I am not actually going to capture it. It's sorta like when you take a picture of the Grand Canyon or Yosemite National Park -  it records what was there, but can't express the feeling. Doesn't stop us from snapping away though, and it won't stop me from clickity-clacking away here. 

As I have mentioned previously, Lil Sis was chosen to be the head coach for the NJ Special Olympics Aquatics team for the 2014 National Games. The Games are held in different states and this year it was New Jersey's turn. Each coach and athlete was given two tickets for the Opening Ceremony, but Lil Sis was able to finagle a few more, which was fantastic because it saved everyone from the pathetic sight of me pressing my face to the glass of the Prudential Center, begging to be let in (this seriously was Plan B). 

We got there hella early because you never can tell what Sunday on the Parkway will be like. We weren't sure what we were going to do with ourselves for 2+ hours, but it turned out we were able to slip on our groupie hats and cheer the athletes as they exited their buses. It was a pretty great way to kill time because it meant we got to see each state's delegates up close and personal, including their uniforms. We especially loved the ones that went themed - Hawaii in their floral print, Wyoming in their cowboy getup, etc. We were also told that NJ would get off the buses here, so we were excited at the prospect of seeing Lil Sis. 

Mom, Dad and I anxiously await the teams!

Mom, Dad and I anxiously await the teams!

Each bus had the name of the state on it, so as they pulled up I focused my binoculars (yup, I brought 'em! They come in so handy at events like this) on their signs and would call out the state. There were various NJ buses (the host state often has the largest delegation) but none expelled a cute Lil Sis. We kept on waiting.

Annnd waiting and waiting -  we saw Carrie, Lisa, Karen and various assistant coaches of the swim team but still no Lil Sis! Luckily there was no shortage of eye candy to keep us occupied, including cheerleaders from the We Love You Foundation, whose energy was infectious and much appreciated in the midday heat! 

Bus after bus came in, unloaded its occupants and headed out. We even saw Alaska's bus, which made me really miss GD and wish he was there - he would have loved the whole night as much as we did. It was becoming more and more obvious that we may have missed Lil Sis, though- almost every bus was being let out in the area we were standing at, but we did note the occasional one that was unloading up the street. When we saw the bus with the sign "Aquatics" go by with nary a passenger, we knew our days were numbered. Our Kisiel optimism kept us glued to the area, however, until that very last bus went by. But alas, we missed her! Boo! 

However, we could not let our disappointment get us down for long because, really, nothing had even happened yet! We consoled ourselves with the fact that we might get to see her inside and headed to good 'ol section 228 to see what was in store. 

Anticipation rises!

Anticipation rises!

From here on out, it is mostly video as my iPhone didn't do so hot with the still pictures. But I think that is actually better, because some of this really has to be seen to be believed. There was an opening act that played quite a few Jersey based tunes and then the show got underway. The first thing they did was to announce and bring in all the delegations from the states, each led by a police or military escort (Guardians of the Flame). As this consisted of ~4,000 athletes, you can imagine that it took some time. But it actually went by pretty quickly, as there was a lot to look at and the two announcers (both special needs) did an amazing job keeping the energy of the room up. There were four corners from which the athletes could enter and you could see NJ participants lining each entrance to give each state's delegation a special welcome. I scanned these long and hard and finally, success!! I spotted Lil Sis, at the red arch and the one nearest to us. Score! We now knew which corner to look for her when she entered the stadium, as NJ entered from all four.

Liz and I, super excited to finally have spotted Lil Sis!

Liz and I, super excited to finally have spotted Lil Sis!

When NJ was finally announced, I kept my eyes peeled for her and it wasn't long before I was losing my mind because I spotted her! Walking out with her athletes, looking every bit the professional she is but also every bit the little girl inside that must have been screaming, "HOLY SHIT I AM ESCORTING MY NATIONAL TEAM INTO THE GAMES!!" With my binoculars, I was able to see all of the emotion on her face and the welling of pride I felt for her was like nothing I'd experienced before. And that is saying a lot because she pretty much makes me proud on a daily basis.

Once the athletes were in, the entertainment portion of the night got started. They kicked it off right with one of the best renditions of the National Anthem I have ever enjoyed: 

There were celebrities, including host Brooklyn Decker (who endeared herself to me immediately because she cried the whole time too) and Jane Lynch, one of my all time favorites. I also learned that the Special Olympics community is a big fan of professional wrestling, judging by the reception they gave various video-ed WWE wrestlers and one especially a giant dude called Big Show, who was there in person.

There were performance artists and singers and speeches and every last bit of it was incredibly inspiring. More than once I thought to myself, "Dreams CAN come true!" This was one of my favorite things about the night and also something I've noticed when I have come to other Special Olympics events. The cynicism that would normally creep in after a thought about accomplishing your dreams, or, given that we are in Jersey, the snarkiness that would generally follow is just not present in this group. I don't know if it is because as an outsider, we are willing to be more gentle to people with special needs or if it because the insiders of the community have probably had it up to here with cynicism and snarkiness in their day-to-day life, but this ceremony was built, executed and received with genuine optimism, hope and a celebration of life. When the athletes broke into cheers of "USA!, USA!, USA!" or went wild when a WWE wrestler told them to go do their best, no one rolled their eyes. No one clucked their tongues. We just lapped up their spirit like thirsty travelers, maybe even a bit wistful that we could not or did not or would not see the world through their lens on a regular basis. And it felt so incredibly refreshing. 

The night continued to its three-pronged climax, which was the athlete's/coaches/ref's oaths, the raising of the Special Olympics flag and the lighting of the torch. Here is the athlete's oath:

They raised the flag and then lit the torch. The energy in the room was sky high and you felt like you could fly away on it. 

After the ceremony, mom, dad and I rode the wave of positive energy and had a group hug. We spotted Lil Sis leaving the stadium with her swimmers and had fun doing a far away dance-off with them. I could not stop bouncing around - I was just a bundle of energy and had no where to put it!  We slowly made our way outside and I suddenly heard, "CHRISTINA! CHRISTINA!". Very few people call me that anymore and my head whipped to the side where I saw her! In person! I barreled through the crowd and hugged her across the barrier. Luckily, loading thousands of people on buses took as much time as you would expect and we got to chat it up with her and her athletes. Now, my sis is a generally happy and fulfilled person. But I can't recall a time I have ever seen her looking SO happy or SO fulfilled (that is her on the far left below. She looks like this in EVERY pic from this week!). As Running Momma would say, "It did my heart good."

Team NJ Aquatics, Summer 2014!

Team NJ Aquatics, Summer 2014!

During the long drive home and in the few days since the event, I have spent a lot of time dissecting what it is that hit me so hard emotionally (what? I'm a scientist, I can't help but ask "Why?"). There is an awful lot in there that you would expect - the joy of watching someone I love do something she loves so much, the pride I feel because she is not only one of the good ones but she is one of the REALLY good ones, the inspiration I feel when seeing people who were handed what some would consider a bum deck turn it into a flush, the tenderness I saw between parents and their athletes, the pleasure of watching my friends (Carrie, Lisa, Karen, Mr. Merritt) continue to give and give and give and ask nothing in return. And all that is enough to make me cry, which it did. Many times. But it was not quite enough to make me sob, which is what I did on the drive home.

As I thought about it more, I realized what cranked up the waterworks is what I consider to be the cornerstone of the process of growing up and aging. The mark of adulthood, for me, was the realization (and acceptance) that everything is ephemeral. Nothing lasts, nothing stays the same and everything is fair game. This is something you know to some degree as a child and teenager, but it is not until you have decades of life under your belt that you really get it on a visceral level (and I suspect, based on my experience thus far, the further down the road you get, the more intense this sensation becomes). You come to learn that life is not all good or all bad but good and bad. And that the proportions of each are dished out in some haphazard way that is difficult to understand. Maybe religion helps you come to terms with this, maybe you chalk it up to chance, but either way, it is inescapable. Nothing stays the same. Nothing is permanent.

As the below song played during the ceremony and tears made their way down my cheeks, I could not help but think of all the things that happened to the people around me, just in the last few weeks: one friend was diagnosed with cancer while another was beating it after a hard battle. Death claimed a long-time mentor of mine while I eagerly awaited the entrance of a new life in a few weeks time. Husbands were missed, beloved pets died and plover nests were predated but then in-laws offered the most generous of gifts, a puppy's first year was celebrated and 1st instar caterpillars appeared on our fennel. Thousands of people in Iraq suffered amid war conditions while thousands of people got together in New Jersey and celebrated the blossoming of a movement that started in Eunice Kennedy Shriver's backyard. The good and bad, the yin and yang, are everywhere, all of the time, interconnected with one another and sometimes that thought is overwhelming. Sometimes, it just makes you want to hit the pause button, take a deep breath of happy and be grateful for what you have because you really don't know how long it will last or what tomorrow will bring. 

"This is the time to remember 'cause it will not last forever. These are the days to hold onto 'cause we won't although we'll want to."

Cue the happy/sad sobs.

Congratulations to all the organizers, coaches, parents and most especially to the 2014 Summer Games Special Olympics Champions! Stay tuned later this week for a recap of Aquatics Showcase night!

What I Saw When I Ran Wednesdays

For those of you who read food blogs, you will often see a "What I Ate Wednesday" post. Same idea here, except it will be what I saw when I ran on Wednesdays. So take a peek at what my orbs observed and then add your own experience!

Annnd our streak of weird and lousy Wednesday night weather continued this week. I was thinking about cancelling the run, but it was actually pretty great running conditions, esp for June - cool, overcast and breezy but not wet. A few people could not make it, but since Laur and Rochelle were still game, we decided to go for it! Lil Sis and I tooled around the Point while we were awaiting Rochelle (who gets an award for driving a crazy triangle of LBI, Burlington County and then down to Cape May to run!!) and I saw this sewer cover that I never noticed before. Sometimes I really am aghast at the fact that we just let untreated runoff go right into ocean - I know dilution is the solution to pollution and all that jazz, but eww. However, that bitter pill goes down a bit better with this artsy reminder:

We had some fun wildlife sightings today, including a Killdeer family - mom, dad and one baby. I tried to get a picture, but they were too far and I wasn't about to disturb this member of my favorite avian family, the Charadriidae (including plovies!). I heard through grapevine that at least one of the chicks was taken by a crow, so we wanted to give them a wide berth with their last hope. Check out how cute those baby killdeer are here.

What was easy to take a picture of was this snake - unfortunately because it was dead :(I know lots of people might think a dead snake = good snake but give them a chance, guys! This is a black rat snake, a very common species native to our area. They chow on pest species like rodents and are 100% harmless. Give these poor maligned dudes a break!

Lil Sis' countdown to National Games for the Special Olympics is getting shorter by the second! She had a coaches meeting via conference call last night and decided to do double duty by running while listening through her headphones. This presented some challenges, one of which was that her necklace got tangled in the headphone cord - a problem unique to her brand of multi-tasking! PS Yup, that is poison ivy on my wrist - and you are very welcome for not showing you the bad part, which is currently oozing yellow pus. Uck. 

We ran through the park trails and I wanted to pop out to take a look at the beach - this site was literally ravaged by a predator last week - we lost all of our Least Tern, Piping Plover and American Oystercatcher nests, save 2. Everyone should be re-nesting this week, so I am hopeful that I will find some goodies (read:eggs) soon! 

A visit to the Park is not complete without a requisite lighthouse picture, so the girls obliged me with one. Rochelle is super excited not about the lighthouse, but of the open sky to the right of it, apparently :) You can also tell how well Lil Sis' conference call was going. 

We wrapped up our night with a delicious dinner at Lucky Bones. We recently found out that a high school friend passed away, so the conversation was heavier than you might expect from post-fun run, but I think it was just what we (and esp Laur and Rochelle, who were good friends with him back in the day) needed to start to process a life cut way to short.

What did you see on your run today?

Race Report: Rumpshaker 5k Trail Run

In a nutshell: Sweet lil', well organized trail race at my old stomping grounds delivers picturesque scenery and warm, fuzzy feeling.

Out of the nutshell:  Welp, I really gotta take those tempo runs more seriously if I ever want to see a 22: in the front of my 5k race time this year. But let's not get ahead of ourselves, first let's chat about the race itself, the Rumpshaker 5k Trail Run. This was a very small race (~60 people ran the 5k, not sure how many did the 1 mile option) that took place at Parvin State Park. Parvin is a park near and dear to my family's heart. It is the place that helped convince my parents that they should make the move from Haddon Heights to Pittsgrove Township ~35 years ago. It is where I first started running cross-country, where I had my first make-out sessions (TMI?) and where Running Momma retreats each Saturday to worship at the altar of running. So when she asked if I would like to continue our mom-daughter race series (see here and here) at the Rumpshaker, I was in! We arrived about a half hour before race start on an absurdly beautiful day.  

We headed towards the pavilion where the race began and ended and were greeted with a nice set-up. Runners ambled around, basking in the day and prepping for the race ahead. I could see by the way the finish chute was set-up that the course was going to be run counterclockwise around the lake. Every other race I have done here (including the Halloween Bone Run, Through The Woods and the Parvins Tri/Du) go clockwise around the lake, so this minor change was actually pretty novel and exciting to me. 

Registration was easy-peasy, $25 for day of. They had tech shirts and offered a goody bag with various coupons, a highlighter and mini-Post It notes. I have no idea what the link between running and office supplies is but I am a sucker for that stuff so it was a plus for me!

I prepared this race as best I could and was hoping for a good, hard effort that morning. I do find it a challenge to prepare for a race that is not an endurance run - I still ate a huge pasta dinner the night before and packed a GU and Honey Stinger chews in my bag (obviously did not need either, lol). I have a harder time sticking to my training schedule (esp speedwork and tempo runs) for shorter races and just still don't find it easy to make a race plan. At the Schooner run in April, I did not do anything resembling a warm-up (which was a mistake) so I did manage a half mile jog and some calisthenics (butt kicks, high knees) beforehand. That still was not enough, as I did not feel warmed up enough when the race started. More next time!

By the way, I took most of the pictures before the race, hence random people in each pic not running or going in odd directions :) 

Anyway, the race got underway just as Garmy went to sleep! I asked him to find satellites again as we started running and so I did not get to hear that satisfying beep until we were already underway. In addition, the whole run was in the woods, so the coverage was in and out. This was just fine, as I have been trying to run these 5ks on effort. I just missing having that data to go back and ogle at later! I had no race plan other than to work, so off I went with just that as my guide.

We made our way into the woods and followed the path that was spray painted with orange blazes to help direct us. There were some volunteers at most turns, but in general you did have to pay attention to ensure you stayed on the course. I actually liked this, as I think it is in the spirit of trail running and it gave me something to think about as I warmed up and things started getting uncomfortable.

I don't have my splits, but I am sure I ran my normal "get faster as the run goes on" because that is my M.O. and it felt like it during this one. Early in the race, I counted 5 women that got out ahead of me. I made a mental note but did not chase them because I knew that would just lead to me blowing up. Better to bide my time and hope I caught them somewhere on the trail.

It wasn't long before I hit the first woman and passed her. The second one was a younger girl, probably high school, and I felt for her because her shoelace was untied. As I passed her, I gave her some encouragement and asked if she knew that lace was flapping in the wind. Her discouraged "yes" indicated to me that she was upset about it but not willing to stop and fix it, thereby losing time. I liked her spunk.

I could see the third woman up ahead and though I was gaining on her, it was slow but sure progress so I knew that once I did get near her, I was gonna have to make a surge and hope she did not come with me. We ran together for a short period before I hit the gas and passed her. But I never quite lost her - she hung onto my tail for the second half of the race which was great for my motivation. So many times I wanted to slow down, but I would take a quick look behind me and there she was, in striking distance. I put my head down and continued on.

I knew there were now only two women ahead of me and one was in sight for a time. But the back half of the course got more twisty and I think she also had enough in the tank to increase her speed, because I never saw her again until the finish line. 

At the end, I just ran as fast as I could, which who knows what pace that was since Garmsters was checked out of the whole situation. Living on the edge! I think he was just into zenning out on the lake views :) Anywho, I was working very hard but my upper legs were not numb, so I know it was not flat out. I think my inexperience on trails meant that I could only get cranking so fast on them.

I crossed the line in 23:29 (7:34 pace) and immediately put my hands on my knees to catch my breath. I tried to stop Garmy but he was still unresponsive, so I just gave up on the whole thing. As I was still trying to convince my heart that jumping out of my chest was not the best idea, my friendly competition came in. I said "thanks, you helped keep my ass in gear" and she gave me a half smile. I never know if it it ok to say that kind of thing, because it can so easily come off as a back-handed compliment. But whatever, I DID have her to thank for that time, so it is what it is. 

I took a few mouthfuls of water and then headed back out to find Running Momma. I know that I worked hard because I kept trying to convince myself to start jogging to cool down, but it just wasn't happening. I obliged my legs and walked til I found her. Check her out, in all her glory! Go, Running Momma!

She had been up late the night before hoofing it around a track for Relay For Life, a fundraiser for cancer, so was worried how the race would feel. But she loves Parvin and she loves running and turned out her body was quite happy to take a loop around the lake this fine morning! She was shooting for a sub-45 and came in handily under that at 40:30 (2/5 AG). Yes!!  

To show her solidarity to a close family friend fighting cancer, she runs over every bridge she comes across, race or not, and this was one such bridge today. 

We spent some time deconstructing the race and stretched it out a bit, lapping up the sun like two languid cats. We peeled ourselves off the grass and headed over to Dodge's, one of our favorite haunts, where we nursed cups of coffee, delved into fresh deliciousness and chatted it up in our mom-daughter way. 

The Rumpshaker 5k Trail Run was a real winner! The organizers did a lovely job and everyone we encountered was friendly and helpful. I was happy with my time, considering it was on trails, but it defintely left me wanting more. I am hoping I can translate that feeling into more motivation for speed/tempo work and plan on doing a few more 5ks before I call it quits this year on the 22 chase. 

Very much recommend this race to everyone, give it a whirl next year!

Do you prefer trail runs or roads?

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May Brewery Night Group Run!

We haven't been super lucky with weather this year for our group runs - seems we are in a pattern of lousy Wed/Thur (but considering it also means we have had glorious weekends, I am not complaining). Last week we had to cancel for rain and I was worried the same would happen again. But we avoided the green blobs dotting the radar maps and had a great run! 

I've given up hope in 2014 that any month is going to feel the way it should. Instead, it seems that we are on a delayed schedule. Tonight, at the very end of May, it felt solidly April-ish. But that was a-ok, because no matter how unseasonably cool it was it still was a LOT warmer than winter, so we will take it. Another bonus? No bugs!

We met at 6pm outside the Cape May Brewing Company where we chit chatted and made introductions, went over the course and then headed out.  

Lil Sis and Em will probably hate that I posted this pic of them, but I just love the way they  look in this shot. This may be the biggest smile I have ever seen on Em's face prior to a run. I attribute it to the fact that this is her third summer running and it is finally worming its way under her skin. Or she might just be on a sugar high from copious amounts of mini Almond Joys. Either way, I love it!  (Note to readers: In case you were wondering, Almond Joys outperformed other pre-run foods in a not-so-clinical trial that Em has tested on her sometimes sensitive stomach. Get some today!)

We headed out and split into two groups. I ran with Susan and Lisa and Em, Rochelle, Lil Sis and Lil Sis' phone ran together. Poor sis, she is a supervisor at an office where she has workers who often need assistance or guidance. Until they are all done for the day, she is not either! But major props for her multi-tasking skills. I guess this explains how she managed to work full-time, carry a 4.0 in graduate school to earn her MSW and be the head coach for the National Special Olympic swim team this spring!

Our course was a lovely three mile loop around the Brewery, the back side of which you are treated to bucolic scenery such as this: 

The miles flew by as the conversation ran the gamut of careers, upcoming races and all the good stuff in between. This was a great night because we combined some of our most loyal CIRs (Lil Sis and Em) with Rochelle (my co-planner for the Schalick Alumni 5k whose schedule occasionally allows her to come out, hopefully even more so this summer) with Susan and Lisa, two new faces (that will hopefully become regulars! So nice to meet and run with you, ladies!). 

Afterwards, we headed into the Brewery for some more chatting and beers. We have scheduled the Brewery Runs to occur on Thur nights, which is also when the birders gather at the Brewery. It was fun to toggle between bird and runner talk all night long!

The brewery offers a myraid of beers and then folks are welcome to bring any food they'd like to nosh on. Tonight, my contribution was strawberries and blackberries, with a side of candy! Hey, who am I to mess with what works? Rolos, Reese's and Kit Kats helped, um, resupply our glycogen stores? Yup, that is definitely what happened. 

Lil Sis eschewed the candy in favor of the berries. Sometimes I feel like I don't even know her anymore! But honestly, her conversion back to a more healthy way of eating is pretty great. Although I do miss her pix texts showing a block of cheese and asking if that was sufficient for dinner. Dont get me wrong, a block of cheese still features prominently in her evening meals but it is now flanked with greens and chicken. Progress!

Twas a wonderful night at the Brewery! I hope you'll join us next time! Our next Brewery Group Run will be June 26th. Can't wait that long? Come on out to the Cape May Point SP group run next Wed, June 4th. Meet at first parking lot on the left at 6pm for 3 easy, chatty miles!

OCNJ Tri/Du Spectating Report

Last weekend (May 18th), I hopped onto the Parkway north to volunteer at the OCNJ Triathlon/Duathlon. This is another race near and dear to my heart because it was the first tri I ever did, back when I was just starting my affair with them (a decade ago!! what??!!). Ultimately, our relationship came to an end because biking and I just could not see eye to eye. Biking wanted me to spend more time with it than running (umm, no) and I just found it too high maintenance (don't forget your helmet! and clip-ins! and sunglasses! and bike shorts!) and the constant flats were just the last straw. But spectating tris? Sign me up! All the excitement and none of the BRIck workouts :)

This race is wonderful for first timers, as the swim takes place in the pool. When people first get into triathlon, the open water swim can be one of the most intimidating parts about it. This race eliminates that - you do a timed swim in the pool and then even have time to dry off and recover before continuing! It is also unique in the bike/run - you start by running 2 miles, then bike 16 miles and then head out for another 2 miles (a standard sprint tri would be a .25 or .5 mi swim in open water, immediately followed by a 12-16 mi bike and then a 5k). The race is capped at about 100 athletes since the swim takes more time than a normal event. That keeps it feeling quite intimate and creates a great mix of serious triathletes getting warmed up for the season and newbies just dipping their toe in the tri waters for the first time. In addition, there is a kids race (which is half the distance of each discipline ) and I will tell you what - the kids tear it up out there! 

This year was especially cool because Carrie and Lisa are the head coaches for the FIRST EVER Special Olympics national triathlon team. As I have mentioned before, Lil Sis is the head coach for the swim team (oh yeah, OC churns out the coaches! They are the best!) so expect some really great posts next month as we follow both teams and cheer them on when Nationals comes to Princeton, NJ!

Anywho, since Lisa is the RD of the OC Tri, she decided to have the Spec Oly tri team use this as a tune up race. In case you are not familiar, Special Olympics includes any athlete that has an intellectual disability - this can range from Downs Syndrome to autism to everything in between and beyond. To ensure the safety of the athletes and build their confidence in this new arena, Carrie and Lisa assigned each athlete a partner to help guide and encourage them through this race. Here is Carrie giving the gang last minute instruction and making introductions between athletes and partners:

The excitement on the athletes and partners faces was evident and it was really sweet to see these teams come together. Here was one such intro:

Lisa got the athletes ready to start the first leg run and was wearing her Special Olympics team shirts - "Genuine Jersey Pride" is their tagline and it was evident all day! The Spec Oly triathlon athletes (as well as cycling-only athletes) came to play ball and killed it! Plenty of pride to go around on both teams and it was a beauty to behold. 

Carrie's leg (and the rest of her) acted as bike marshal once the race got going to keep an eye on all the athletes, Special Olympics or not, as the bike course is not totally closed to vehicular traffic. Long time readers of the blog know the crush I have on Carrie's calves, so I might have to frame this one. 

And they are off! If you look close, you will see lots of "Team New Jersey", "Genuine Jersey Pride" and "Special Olympics" shirts whizzing by (incl Lil Sis, who ran with athlete Aimee!). 

All of the participants did great, Spec Oly and otherwise. I was in charge of getting the splits for the Spec Oly racers so I did not snap too many pics during. But things went smooth as silk , including the cooperative weather (which is not always the case at this race! Many years have been plagued by wind, rain, bugs or all three. It was definitely beyond due for a gorgeous day). 

Near the end of the race, there were a few ladies on the course who must have all trained together. They had THE BEST cheering squad. The gang below was gathered around the chute and each time they got a glimpse of one of their triathletes, even in the distance, they started chanting and cheering their heads off until she came to the line. Each one was then showered with high fives and hugs. Cutest ever. I really can't handle supportive friends, I think it is second only to little kids holding up signs for their moms and dads. Great work, race bud friends!

We wrapped up our volunteering by chatting with my favorites from OC (I know, we are incredibly helpful vols). Sometimes it's hard to believe I left OC only 3 years ago - I feel like I have been in Cape May much longer. I think because so many things changed from when I was there until now that it almost feels like two lives (both of which I am grateful for). Lil Sis and I headed up to the boards to chow down at Bashful Banana (as good as ever and they even had my favorite carrot raisin muffin in stock!) and spent some sister time enjoying that glorious day.

The OC Tri/Du is such a wonderful (and wonderfully run) event and I would recommend it to anyone. If you are an experienced triathlete, it's small town charm will win you over and give you a chance to sweep out the winter cobwebs. If you are new to the sport, this is a non-intimidating race that will gently introduce you to multisport. Just don't forget to sign up early, it often sells out!  

Have you ever done a triathlon? What was your first?

What I Saw When I Ran Wednesdays

For those of you who read food blogs, you will often see a "What I Ate Wednesday" post. Same idea here, except it will be what I saw when I ran on Wednesdays. So take a peek at what my orbs observed and then add your own experience!

Tonight was supposed to be a group run night, but the weather forecast plus the fact that all the regulars (most notably GD, who is out in the middle of the Bering Sea) were unable to attend led me to cancel it. Although I have been lacking motivation for running lately (unclear why - no serious goal perhaps?), I have yet to master not being a grouchy mess when I skip a run, so I laced up and headed out the door before the couch could get a death grip on me. It started drizzling almost immediately. I decided that I wanted to do something other than the routes avail right outside my front door so I drove over to the Meadows and did the loop there (incl the spur). This worked well because at the end of the loop the drizzle turned to all out rain and I was able to stash my iPod and camera in the car before continuing on into town to make it a 5 miler. Here is what I saw (at the Meadows - for the rest of the run, just picture a drowned rat version of Cape May) :

The sky threatened rain right before I started running then made good on that promise about a half mile in. It drizzled until about mile 2 and then let it all hang out. 

Thank you, I feel very welcome! Adrianna and the crew at The Nature Conservancy have done such a great job with this preserve. Way to go, guys!

It may look like your standard trail but it was pretty special for me because I had never run on it before! This is pretty unusual for a site so close to my house. But TNC only recently opened this spur off the East Trail and this was my first chance to run it. I'll be back, loved it!

Just as the drizzle was picking up, my eye caught sight of one of my beloved skimmers. Black Skimmers are second only to Piping Plover on my beach nesting bird hierarchy and one of the reasons I love them so much is how graceful they are. They skim along the water, dropping that lower mandible when the mood strikes in search of food. We are hoping they decide to nest on the beach at this site and if so, it means a whole summer of this hypnotizing display.

I made my way back home and it was perfect timing - within minutes of walking in the door, GD sent me a text that he had time to talk! Yay! We chatted for an hour and had a proper catch up, which felt so, so good. I hung up feeling like, "we can do this! No problemo!" Not 3 hours later, I was crying my eyes out reading the end of The Fault In Our Stars and desperately wanted a GD hug to comfort me. I think that is what this summer will be like - a mixture of feeling so lucky that we get to have (and support each other on) these awesome adventures and missing him so much that it feels like a part of my heart flew the coop and took up residence in AK. 

What did you see on your run today?

Great Cape May Foot Race Report

Last year, I ran the GCMFR 10k and set a PR, so this race already has place in my heart. At that time, I also met one of the race organizers (hi, Ron!) - one thing led to another and this year I joined the race committee myself. It was such a learning experience and one that I can't wait to repeat in future years. Along with Rochelle and Mr. P, I am a founding committee member of the Schalick Alumni 5k (coming back this summer for a third appearance, August 16th - save the date!) but that is quite a different thing than being part of an event that is in its 35th year, as the GCMFR is! 

The race has undergone changes over time and there were years where it attracted upwards of 600 runners. Participation has decreased (I'm new and unclear on why but at least partly likely due to saturation of the market -so.many.races) and getting those numbers back up is one of my biggest goals for future years, second only to helping provide the type of event that makes racers loyal enough to return year after year. For me, there are two "personalities" that attract me to a race - they either are in a big city and provide the kind of fanfare that comes along with it or they are in a small town and overflow with local flavor. Nothing is worse, to me, than a race that feels generic, slapped together and/or focused on profit and not enough on the runner's experience. It's part of the reason I shy away from the RnR series, mud/obstacle runs, etc.  But I digress...

We worked on making some changes this year and I feel as though we have a great foundation on which to grow. Is there room for improvement? Oh, yes, but I still felt proud to be part of the 2014 running of the GCMFR.  Let me show you around a bit from the perspective of one of the organizers. 

The weather was pretty dang good, considering we are on the coast in spring! It was dry and the wind, while present, certainly was not of the "I am trying to run forward but it's like I'm moving backward" variety. Registration went smoothly, as the volunteers who manned the tables were experienced and volume was manageable. I liked how we had separate tables for race day, pre-reg and shirt pick-up. I'd also like to note, as I did many weeks prior to the race here, on Facebook and Twitter, that our registration rate ROCKS!! For the 5k or 10k, pre-reg or race day, you pay only $20. Do you know how rare that it these days??? (side eye to corporate races who jack up prices for no discernible reason). The coolest thing ever. 

That is my Sunday running bud, Alice. You can't see, but next to her was her sister - who was running her first 5k this fine morning!

That is my Sunday running bud, Alice. You can't see, but next to her was her sister - who was running her first 5k this fine morning!

I was going to run the race, but it turned out that volunteering took precedent this year and instead I manned the 5k turnaround point. This portion of the race has some kinks that need to be worked out in terms of runner flow, and I plan to tackle that in 2015. This is also a perfect time to mention that Running Momma ran the 5k and it was so fun to see her, looking strong and amazing, as usual!

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Once all the 5kers passed through, I biked back to the finish area to see what else needed to be done. One thing I have noticed since I started doing road races 15 odd years ago is the increased number of kids running. I really cannot say enough about the value I see in getting young 'uns to run, so kudos to all you parents that encourage your wee ones! And it is never too early - there was an especially cute moment when a little girl in a baby jogger (big ups to the mom pushing her, baby jogger racers always dazzle me!) who wanted to run to the finish line. She was maybe .1 mi out or so, hopped out and started running. Then she stopped, pointed to her chest and indicated she wanted a bib! They pinned one on her and she sprinted in as fast as her toddler legs could take her. The best.

We tooled around the finish area for a bit and then headed a block away to the Inn at Cape May, where we do awards. This is an excellent venue for this because it gets everyone off the street and onto a lovely lawn to kick back and enjoy my second favorite part of the race - the beer! I am not much of a drinker myself, but I sure do respect the love affair runners have with cold brew and I love that  the Cape May Brewing Company (local flavor, another bonus to the race! And side note - CMBC are just plain rad. Great people who really make a point of building that community spirit that is so important to small towns like Cape May) supported this race. We also had water, bananas and soft pretzels (score!, Thanks Sue!). It was pretty standard but there is a reason for that - they are crowd pleasers! In the future, I'd like us to add a bit more variety and maybe get some more local sponsors for food.

Running Momma and Ron enjoying the post-race festivities!

Running Momma and Ron enjoying the post-race festivities!

A surprise of the morning was when we were preparing to start the awards and Ron and Jennifer (another committee member) asked if I wanted to do the announcing. Neither of them wanted to do it (which I prodded them on - being the newb I def did not want to nab a job from someone who loved it). They asked me, "Are you shy?" Ummm, in a word? No. No, I am def not shy, lol. I also happen to like public speaking (making me apparently in the minority of people in that death is scarier to me). So they handed me a megaphone and off we went to the races!

Those bulging neck muscles are a bit much easy does it, girl!

Those bulging neck muscles are a bit much easy does it, girl!

This was another area that I think we can improve for next year - the time between the race finishing and the award ceremony was just a bit too long. This is a common occurrence at many races, as it takes time to sort through all the age groups for two races, but still something I'd like to improve. We killed time by doing giveaways (THANK YOU SO MUCH Cape May Honey Farm and Cape May Market for your generous donations!) and soon we able to give out awards. Guess who won her age group? Comeback Tour in full effect!! 

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The adorable Jennifer and the back of lovely Doreen, both of the race committee. Also featured is Joey, whose name I remember because I yelled it through the megaphone. Might have created a bit of a monster here. 

The adorable Jennifer and the back of lovely Doreen, both of the race committee. Also featured is Joey, whose name I remember because I yelled it through the megaphone. Might have created a bit of a monster here. 

Although still a relatively small turnout, we had more runners this year than we have had since 2002, so that is a win to me! Special thanks to Exit Zero for their coverage in the peppy periodical and also posting multiple times to Facebook. Many thanks to all the race sponsors, the police and all the volunteers. It was a great day and I can't wait to help make 2015 even better!

If you were at this race, how could it be improved? If not, what are your general pet peeves at a race? What keeps you coming back year after year?

PS Apologies for the time between posts - last week GD left for 3 months in Alaska and there was a bit of a whirlwind surrounding his departure!

What I Saw When I Ran Wednesdays

For those of you who read food blogs, you will often see a "What I Ate Wednesday" post. Same idea here, except it will be what I saw when I ran on Wednesdays. So take a peek at what my orbs observed and then add your own experience!

I got up early this AM to run before work because after I am heading to Philly to pick up Dave and Meg, YIPPEE!! It is World Series of Birding time around these parts and that means lots of friends coming in from out of town. The best! 

I ran around the Point this AM and the general theme seemed to be, "the gang's all here!".The first picture was supposed to be of the occupied Purple Martin houses at the Point, but I just accidentally deleted it from my flash card. Doh! Anyway, just picture a purple martin apartment complex jam packed with all manner of martin! Very cute. I also noticed tons of them flying above during my time in the Park, which was so nice to see.

Also uber-present were the Red-winged Blackbirds, who have taken up their usual haunts and are calling constantly. It's the sweet sound of home.

Osprey are once again ever present in the skies, constantly on the lookout for that next big catch. It's hard to see the one here, but if you look at the "X" made by the crossing plane trails, it is in the top crux.

The return of the birds coincides, of course, with the return of the birders. It was such a lovely morning that I was really wishing I could have stayed with them instead of heading to the office. Question: If a bird comes to Cape May but not birder ever sees it, did it really happen?

All in all a gorgeous morning run that I became more grateful for as the blue skies gave way to cloudy ones. Quite pleased that just by luck I happened to run during the prettiest time of the day. But not during the most fun part - that will be tonight, when we pick up Dave and Meg and enjoy a few beers (ok, seltzer water for me!) with old friends. The.best.

And don't forget, the Great Cape May Foot Race is this Saturday, May 10th at 8am. 5k or 10k, only $20 and there is beer at the finish! Come join us!

What did you  see on your run today?

On Discomfort

Something you may not know about me is that in addition to "Kashi" as a nickname, I have another that goes a bit further back - "Princess Christina". This was bestowed upon me by my family, not because I was destined to kiss a Prince or cozy up with a bunch of eccentric short dudes but because I can be a pretty particular gal. GD has noticed this about me as well (it's not exactly a well kept secret, lol!) and has been known to ask, "how's that pea treating ya?". My princessy ways all share a common thread - anything that brings me discomfort. I just have very little ability to cope - I hate being too cold, too wet, too tired, too hungry, too full, too dirty, being  the center of attention, sick, sore or otherwise put out. I am also not shy about expressing such discomfort, which is a real joy to all those around me! When I get cranky, the family gets all, "Easy there, Princess Christina." But there is one place the princess in me never awakens.

Two weeks ago, the weather was cold, windy and wet (ie exactly like it is was week!). I had put off my run all day in hopes that conditions were going to improve, but they never did. I got home and was ansty. On one hand, I did not want to skip my run and doing so was already leaving me a grouchy mess. On the other, contemplating heading out into to the raw night left a lot to be desired on the "things that would be fun tonight" list. It was close to 6:30 pm before I finally made the decision - it was better to take my chances on the run than continue to be in a foul mood that no one, myself included, was enjoying. 

I have yet to invest in good rain resistant gear (though I lust after this Oiselle jacket) so I cobbled together the best I had, left Garmy and the iPod at the house and headed out into the wind swept night. I ran, oh, probably .0001 miles and it was like a switch suddenly flipped. I shed my princessy fears about being cold and wet and just was in.the.moment. Mind you, the moment was drenching rain with a biting wind and yet... it did not bother me a bit. I was living it up, literally laughing and whooping with joy and I flew through the night. I was soaked to my core when I returned home after 5 miles, but I was left with that feeling of being grateful for the chance to carve out some time on our little blue marble. 

Post-run blissed out. PS can reflective gear just be that shiny always? It's so cool!

Post-run blissed out. PS can reflective gear just be that shiny always? It's so cool!

When I got home, GD and our friend Doug (who was staying with us for the night) and I got into a conversation about how to reconcile this dichotomy. How could the same girl, who will howl with displeasure when the house smells "too oniony" when her husband is being nice enough to cook dinner be the same that revels in cold feet stomping through puddles while running on a dirt trail? We came up with a few theories:

1. When you love running as much as I do, any run is a good one. My brain has probably gotten so hardwired that the reward system (most likely the release of feel-good hormones) is strong enough to discount any discomfort I feel during the event. 

2. I've been in a long-term relationship with running for more than 20 years. These types of relationships, be they with people, activities, or places, are always perked up by change and variety, of new ways to experience them. It is not often that I run in a cold, windy, wet night and the novelty of that might have been enough to stave off feeling lousy.

3. As you might imagine, I (like a lot of long distance runners) am a fan of control. It's probably why I hate being uncomfortable - if I have gotten to that point, it means that I have been unsuccessful in manipulating an environment to suit me. But to CHOOSE to be uncomfortable, like on a cold, wet run where my hands will go numb, is something else. Maybe I liked it because I felt like I was still in control, even though things would happen that would normally suggest otherwise.

4. Something about running in a rainstorm is just plain magical. End of story.

So what do you think? Is there is Princess inside of you (and not one of these new fangled powerful ones, I'm talking old school diva-style!)? Have you noticed that running, or something else, can contain it? Why do you think that is? 

What I Saw When I Ran Wednesdays

For those of you who read food blogs, you will often see a "What I Ate Wednesday" post. Same idea here, except it will be what I saw when I ran on Wednesdays. So take a peek at what my orbs observed and then add your own experience!
 

Dear Wind,

It's been lovely, really. You look great, haven't aged a bit and still going so strong! At your age! Thanks for stopping by ,it's been, umm, wonderful to see you and catch up. But don't you have to be going? Isn't it past your curfew or isn't there someone worried that you have not been home in so long? Here, take this cup of Joe for the road and we'll see you again real soon, m'kay?

Sincerely,

Kasssssssssshhhhhiiii (extra letters because I was trying not to blow away while signing my name)

So, yeah. The wind. Oi, it's really time for a break from it. The rain too, though that at least has the decency to come and go and let us see the sun once in awhile. I know it's windy every spring at the shore but it never ceases to amaze me just how brutal it can be! Today I was actually pretty lucky, tho, because it poured all day and I had major ants in my pants because I was chained to my desk with nary a lunch walk to help me cope. Lil Sis and I were supposed to go watch the horses run at the AC Track and even that was cancelled.

But at the end of the day, the running gods gifted me a small window of rain free time. It lasted scarcely an hour, but I managed to get my 5 miles in without much more than a little drizzle. Winning! I did not take the camera with me on the actual run because I feared it would get wrecked, so I noticed things along the way and went back after to snap a pic. Here is what I saw:

Have you ever seen various blog posts or the Dove Real Beauty campaign where women are encouraged to show their unairbrushed, real bodies to the world in an effort to de-program our minds about what "normal" is for a ladies' figure? Well, I sorta felt that way looking at this tree today - it was the Real Beauty for Trees. The bark looked to me like a robe that had been slipped off, showing her cambium for the world to see. She stands tall and proud - judge away if you like, she's not listening. She's too busy feeling the rain on parts unknown.

The next one was another sighting that inspired my imagination. How did this Gatorade bottle get here? Was it thoughtlessly tossed out a window and got caught in this tree? Was it thoughtfully placed there by a distance runner, ready to serve at a moment's notice? 

P1050633.JPG

I know I have mentioned it quite a bit this spring, but I am in awe of how much water there is, everywhere! The road I run on around work had what I thought was only one culvert beneath it, but I spotted two new-to-me ones today! I don't think we've had enough water in the past for me to take note - but water was free flowing from one side to the other this afternoon. Plus, there is standing water everywhere you look, which is quite pretty and much preferred over the standing snow we had this winter!

I got back to the office just in time for the rain to start. Yes! I was feeling pretty tight (sitting all day and then hopping out for a run is not exactly a recommended game plan) so I pulled out my yoga mat for some stretching. Also, some crunches and push-ups. I have not swam in months and am missing my mini-arm muscles! It is amazing how fast all that goes away and the 3x8 push-ups were far harder than I'd like to admit. PS That "cut" on my left shin is poison ivy!! How did I manage to get it already?? I wish there was a way to make money by getting skin reactions/rashes/diseases because I would be one rich lady! I'd buy you all new pairs of running kicks. 

All in all, a boring day in the office that was saved by an almost dry run around Tuck. I'll take it!

What did you see on your run today?



Group Runs!

We had an excellent night last Thursday at the first group run of the 2014 season! Thanks to everyone who came out!  

Check out the Group Run page for details on the schedule for 2014. I'd especially like to highlight that the next brewery run will be May 22nd and this year the Mug Run will be July 30th (here was last year and oh boy, do we have a good twist for it in 2014!!).

I've heard from more than one person that they are nervous they will not be able to keep up with us on the group runs. I promise you that is not the case! Any pace is welcome, esp one we can chat during! Give us a chance and come on out :) 

Finally, I just want to remind everyone that the Great Cape May Foot Race is coming up! May 10th marks the 35th annual event, where you can choose to run a 5k or 10k for just $20!! Races at that price are few and far between, jump on it, for reals. I ran it last year and this year joined the race committee so I promise you it will be a good time. Pre-register on Active or come out and do so race morning!