Race Recap - Hawk Haven Run The Vineyards 5k

Disclaimer: I was offered and accepted a complimentary race registration for the Run the Vineyards Hawk Haven 5k. All opinions are my own. And my sister's. And my mom's. And our friends Kat and Dawn. But they all paid cold hard cash for this race, so the disclaimer is really only for me :)

A few days after publishing my Run the Vineyards Down the Shore 5k, I received the kind of email in my inbox I have only ever dreamed of - an offer to run the Hawk Haven 5k on the house! This was super exciting and a little intimidating. Did this mean I had to rave about the race? That I had to hide my own opinions behind a gloss of "everything was amazing, nope, not one critique, not one"? That I was selling out to the man?!?! I then considered that I probably had nothing to worry about - after all, I had already been to one event by Good Day For A Run and was duly impressed, so I figured the chances were low that I would be disappointed in this next go around. I am pleased to report that my instincts were correct! Whew, no disingenuous shilling needed here :) Below is my (and my running buds) 100% honest report.

If any of you were around this weekend, you know there was a strong front that moved in Saturday night - we went from a borderline balmy day to a chilly night to a wind whipped morning (side note: this made for incredible birding! When I called GD to see if he wanted to join us for breakfast, he had to decline because he was in hour 6 of counting a flight that usually only goes 3 or so hours. He tallied over 15,000 Yellow-rumped Warblers that AM!). Lil Sis and I cobbled together cozy running clothes and headed down to Hawk Haven Winery to get our run on.

Prior to the race, the RD (hi Ken!) did a great job with communication. He updated on Facebook and Twitter and sent no less than 3 emails the week of with pertinent information (plus two after, providing links to results and photos). Upon our arrival, we headed into the tent (with heat lamps! excellent call) where registration/bib pick-up took place. The line moved quickly, the staff working efficiently but with big smiles. The shirts were great - high quality and very soft. In a rare twist on the "race shirts never fit right" storyline, these shirts actually ran small! Say what? Very unusual - I made out ok because by the time I picked up my shirt they had run out of smalls and I was given a medium, which fit perfectly (I also, for the first time in my life, ran in a race shirt DURING the race because I needed an extra layer. It felt great!). 

At this point, the RD was making the rounds, chatting it up with various groups of participants and saying things like "isn't it a great day for a race?" and "what a gorgeous morning!". I can't tell you how much I like this approach. I hate, in running and in birding, when the conditions are less than ideal and the leaders say things like, "ugh, if only the winds were calm" or "man, yesterday was sooo perfect for running, why can't it be today?" or "oh, the birding was so good yesterday, there is nothing here today". I much prefer the mindset that this is the card we are dealt and while it might not be perfect, there is still an awful lot to like (as in, it's not raining!).  Loved his attitude and appreciated it very much.

We made our way over to the start line and Lil Sis and Kat did their own unique warm-up (which included making it rain) while Dawn pretended to check her music in an effort to distance herself from them.

I enjoy Sis' patriotism when she thinks the anthem is about to be sung - the video ends but you can see that when she realizes it was a false alert she goes back to "warming up."

The race started on time (check!) and we were off! Running Momma was here as well, but she prefers to start further back so we'll catch up with her later...I know the following pic is blurry, but I love seeing Lil Sis smiling and running! 

A note about the course - it was awesome! It is not often you get a straight-up cross-country (XC) 5k in these parts (outside of your high school years) but that is exactly what this was. The course looped around the vineyard, offering bucolic scenery at every turn with nary a speck of pavement in sight. Speaking of turns, the course was extremely well-marked. Running Momma often (unnecessarily) frets about getting lost on a course and even she said there was no way that was happening here. Every turn was marked with flagging, signs and often a volunteer, offering words of encouragement.

Looking at the map beforehand, we were a bit concerned that there would be some crossing of faster and slower runners/walkers on portions where the course was shared but we did not have any issues. I can't speak for those that were at the front of the pack, though, so hopefully enough time had gone by that the slower runners were mostly out of the woods before the faster ones came back in. 

The course wound past the fields and into the woods, which was super pretty. South Jersey subtle beauty strikes again! We spent these middle miles chatting away (and me snapping away, much to the annoyance of people behind me. Sorry, those people, I just needed to get a few pics!). 

A second note specific to cross-country courses. After the race, Dawn was lamenting that her time was not as fast as other recent 5ks she has run. The wind might have played a small role in this, but the woods and the curvy course did a fair job of reducing its impact. What is more likely to blame was the uneven, soft surface. This is part of what makes XC so fun - the ground is not as consistent as pavement and the run becomes a bit more technical and slows you down. Fear not, it's just a result of the substrate, not a reflection of your training. This is also the reason that records of the same distance are fastest on a track, then a road, and slowest off-road. The more controlled the conditions, the faster you can go. But there is an awful lot to be said for an uneven, soft surface - it's easier on your body, makes different muscle groups (like those that stabilize your ankles) kick into high gear and generally offers better views, like the one below.

Before we knew it, we were in the last stretch of the race, which took us between two rows of grapes. On the novelty scale, I give this ending a 10. However, in my one critique of the course, if I were racing this event I would find the ending frustrating. To get into this "chute" runners had to make a sharp, 90 degree left turn. When you are trying to beat the clock, those types of turns are a killer because you have to slow down and then accelerate to regain your pace, which can really mess with your rhythm and already very tired body.

I came through the chute with Lil Sis and Kat, giggling and laughing, no harm no foul. But if I were racing, I can see it adding to the frustration because there was also not a lot of room to get around competitors if you were putting in a strong kick at the end. I think running through the vines was unique enough that the race organizers should keep it, but it might be better served elsewhere on the course, potentially in the middle or "nearish" end (the beginning would be too congested). 

I headed back out on the course to find Running Momma, who was looking fantastic! I've said it before and I will say it again - running is a fountain of youth. My mom is 65 years young, training for the Philly half-marathon and a true inspiration to me.

Afterwards, we reconvened, grabbing our water and wine glass, which had a ticket inside of it that was good for a wine tasting or glass of wine. Hawk Haven offered a great variety of wines and our group enjoyed all the ones we tried. It was at this point that we got into discussing whether the race was a good value. At $40, it is on the upper limits of what a lot of people consider reasonable for a 5k. So was the group satisfied with what they paid for? Opinions were split - one on hand, it is hard to swallow spending $40 for about 30 minutes of running and some felt that for the price, there should have been a better post race spread (it was limited to water and bananas - you could purchase other food items from the winery, but in terms of what you got for your race entry, this was it). On the other, Hawk Haven charges ~$6-7 for their cheapest wine options and that was "free", the shirt was high quality, photos were taken of the participants, the race website is excellent, the course was lovely and the race organization was top notch. Even the grumblers admitted they would run this race again at that price point. 

One different aspect of the cost was that pre- and day of registration fees were the same. I think this is a real win for the participants, because it means there is no benefit to pre-registering (which is typically cheaper) and you can wait it out to see if the weather will cooperate/you aren't sick/your kids aren't sick. Using this method, you do risk getting shut out if the race is sold out but if you are willing to take that risk, you can actually save money. This is because unless you had a promo code, the day-of fee was a few dollars cheaper because it did not include an online admin fee. I am not sure why the race organizers chose this option (ie no difference in pre- or day of reg fees) because it makes planning harder. I would not be surprised it they change this in the future but for now it is a win for runners who have a "wait and see" attitude when it comes to registration. 

As was the case at the Cape May Winery, the post-race scene was very inviting and we wound up staying a good hour and a half after we completed the run. Once again, we enjoyed the guitarist and the laid back atmosphere. We also noted and were impressed by the Hawk Haven staff, who made the rounds checking on people and asking if they needed anything. You can tell these folks have the service industry dialed in and it showed. Nice work, guys!

We finally got hungry and cold enough (ok, the cold was mostly me, everyone else was content to let the sun's warmth do its thing, but my Raynauded fingers and toes were not having it!) that we reluctantly left the winery and headed to the Rio Grande diner for brunch.

The RD announced that next year the race will switch to early summer and take place June 28th (so mark your calendars!). On April 19th, Good Day For A Run will be offering A Run to the Taproom 5k at Cape May Brewing Company. If you just can't wait til then for another vineyard/brewery event, you can also travel a bit further afield from Cape May and register for the Valenzano 5k on November 9th. 

We had a great morning at the 5k and I continue to be impressed with Good Day For A Run. I was grateful for the opportunity to run the race and report back on it to you all, so big thanks to race organizers for that!

Below are a few more candids  (click on pic to scroll through)- thanks so much to our biggest cheerleaders and family photographer, Captain Frank, for many of the awesome images you saw above and those below! 

What I Saw When I Ran Wednesdays

This morning I set out for my 5 mile run with a decidedly nostalgic bent. October 15h marks three years since GD and I tied the knot and I spent the half hour before my run looking at pictures and reminiscing about the very best day of my life. A part of me is still in disbelief that I turned out to be one of those girls whose best day of her life was her wedding day - as a younger woman I would hear people say that and greet it with an exaggerated, kept-to-myself eyeroll. "Really??", I would think, "the BEST day? The day some dumb piece of paper said the government now officially recognizes a love you didn't really need anyone or anything to affirm?" Sure, I have always enjoyed weddings and am a sap for love stories, but the wedding industry, which has painted the whole thing with a heavy handed brush of over-commercialization , has tainted its purity for me. And actually, even that notion of "purity" of marriages is a bit of a social construct and a pretty recently acquired cultural norm. (I'd highly recommend Elizabeth Gilbert's book "Committed" for more on this). Plus, there is the underlying pressure that I think most women feel when you are unwed. I got married at 34 and honestly feel that it was treated as more of an accomplishment than my college degrees, my job and just making my way in the world as an independent woman.

For these reasons, I never guessed I would think of my wedding day as the best day of my life. But sometimes, life just skips along as it likes and suddenly you find yourself in the middle of a beautiful fall day,with bright light and leaves, surrounded by every single person that is most important to you. You make a commitment to someone and that half hour feels more real than anything else you have ever done. Despite David Turtera and his merry band of wedding ransackers best attempts, I cared not for my dress or the napkins or the table assignments or any of the other silly pieces that made up the background of my wedding day. I cared only for the love that I felt and the excitement that came with the feeling that this was going to last the rest of my life. It was intense and unexpected and took my breath away.

GD and I got married in the Cape May Point circle, which is only about .5 miles from our house, so I visit it regularly on runs. But on this morning, instead of just whizzing by, I took a moment to walk around the area and relive the ceremony.  

I thought about walking down the aisle with my dad and seeing everyone smiling at me while I beamed back. I stood in the spot I did during our vows. One of the enduring images of the day was that I could see the changing color of the locust leaves behind GD's head and beyond that a brillant blue sky. I love going back to that spot and looking in the same direction. It's like a secret key gets turns in my mind and all those feelings are unlocked and flood right back in. 

Across from the circle is The Red Store, an incredible restaurant. Just before our one year anniversary, GD and I won a football pool. We socked away half the winnings and spent the rest taking out a bunch of our friends to dinner. It was such a fantastic way to celebrate, it makes me wish we always had oodles of money to blow in ways that like!

After all this reminiscing, I had a deep desire to see GD in the flesh. As is the case six mornings a week, he was counting birds at the dike. As if he were covered in magnets, I felt my legs drawing me towards him and steering me towards Higbees. I happily obliged and when I arrived, I snapped a picture of him as he was taking one of me. I wonder if we'll still be this goofy when we are married for decades? One can hope...and I think with good reason because just this morning Running Momma was texting me a super cute story of she and my dad, so I am pretty sure doofy lovestruckness runs in the genes :)

I wrapped up my run and joined GD on the dike for the rest of his count. Since the weather was kinda lousy, we spent a low key day inside (breakfast at Mad Batter, movies, monarch project dinner) and it was just lovely. I am all for hoopla and celebration, but that can be defined in many ways. Spending 12 straight hours with Mr. Davis was a pretty great way to kick off year 4. 

So, yup, I am a girl who gushes about her wedding and her husband. The great thing about getting older and wiser is that I learned I can feel comfortable doing that while still feeling every bit the feminist I was at 15.  Turns out they aren't mutually exclusive - I am both a "me" and a "we" and I like the way that feels very, very much. 

Below I am posting a few pics from our wedding day - special shout-out to Scott Whittle, our amazing photographer. I am grateful every time I look at them how well he captured not only the images but the emotions of the day.

On a totally unrelated note, but still related because it is running!, the Hawk Haven 5k in Rio Grande is this weekend! Running Momma, Lil Sis and I all plan on attending - are you? Weather looks perfect and the RD puts on great events. If you haven't registered yet, use "Hawk" promo code and save $5!! Click here to register! Hope to see you there!

Beat The Census 2014 Recap

Sunday dawned with high hopes, as weather predictions were very favorable for a big flight of birds. I climbed the dike at Higbees with almost everyone else in town and was wowed by the sheer numbers of Northern Flickers that blew by (504 in a very short time period). On any other day, this would have been the hands down highlight of my day. But a mere 5 hours later, the 504 flickers would be taking a backseat to the awesome 5 miles we spent at Beat The Census! 

The weather was pretty darn perfect - the winds had shifted northwest, which was just what you'd want to see for an influx of monarchs. The morning was quite cool and very comfortable to running/biking and by about an hour before the run, monarchs were starting to be common around the Point and I was optimistic about our odds of seeing good numbers on the census route!

A sprightly group gathered at 11:45a ahead of the noon census to go over the basics - the course, the way the winner would be determined and an announcement that water and cupcakes would be available at the finish :)

Please note the dapper gentleman in the blue shorts on the right side of the picture - that is Mark Garland, coordinator of the project and RUNNER! Mark has taken up running the last few years and he is one of my favorites to cheer on. His intense travel schedule makes it very difficult to consistently train, but he always circles back and starts building up again. It made me so incredibly happy to see him out there in his kicks! Go Mark!

Also pictured on the left side of this picture are Ron and LuAnn, two Monarchist faithful. They provide countless hours of support to the monarch project, through tagging, being on the World Series of Birding team, and with delicious treats that Ron whips up! 

At the forefront of this picture are Lindsey (in black on left) and Angela (in green on right), the monarch technicians for 2014. These two are among the most competent, intelligent, enthusiastic and talented staff the MMP has ever had - and they are super friendly to boot! If you see them around the Point, say "hi" and you'll be rewarded with a most delightful conversation!

In the shot below, we have the two current seasonals biking in the same field of view as an alumni seasonal, Gayle Steffy (in white). Gayle is quiet and sweet but under that gentle exterior is the heart of a tagging machine! She was the intern back in 1996, when she tagged over 5,000 monarchs, notably 501 in one day!! Clearly, the monarch population was larger then than now, but even so, that is the stuff legends are made of (in my year, 2001, we had very good numbers and I only managed 3,000!). True to her nature, as soon as the run/bike was over, she was tagging in the gardens surrounding the finish line! Great to have you today, Gayle!

Below is Todd Pover, project manager of the state's Beach Nesting Bird Program and also a lover of monarchs. He has followed their plight for many years and though he tells us he was just out for an enjoyable bike ride around Cape May and not focused on winning, he still killed the competition and tallied 49 monarchs in his 49 minutes of biking! His thinks that because he rode solo, and did not spend the whole five miles chatting it up (ahem) so was able to pay better attention. He might have something there, but my hat is still off to him and his impressive total! 

In this photo (sorry for all the back shots, running behind bikers did not translate into amazing pics lol), we have Gayle in the left in white, Jane on the bike in blue (she and her friend Rachel won for longest time to complete - they had such a good time tooling around looking at monarchs that they did not make it to the finish line for 1.5 hours! It was adorable!) and Meg in the teal running on the right. Meg was the 1999 seasonal and for anyone who was here then you recall it was OMG MONARCHS! There were days that fall when the whole sky was just filled with orange and black. I have seen smaller versions of that in the years since, but never as many individuals on as many days as we did that year. Hoping to get back there again! Meg (of officiating our wedding fame) has run this route on many trips back to Cape May each fall and is the reason we picked this date in the first place! Love me some Meg, can't have a run without her!

In the middle forefront of this picture are Kat and Lil Sis (nursing a hangover at the beginning of the run and on top of the world by the end. I'm telling you people, running is the cure! Thanks for making the drive today, sissy). Kat gets a special shout out because monarchs have also wormed (catepillared?) their way into her heart. She lives on a large piece of property in northern Cape May county and has been growing milkweed for monarchs this year. She is doing EXACTLY the kind of thing that the monarch team is encouraging folks to do during their demos. She is not a biologist and does not have any special link to the butterflies. She is just a regular gal who appreciates nature and wants to do her part. If the monarch numbers are to rebound, it will be through the toil of people like Kat. Thank you, Kathy Hugs! Want to be the next monarch hero? Click here for ways you can help!

We had many fancy people on this run - seasonals (on the left side of this picture is Jordan, a hawkwatch naturalist and yet another impressive staff member of NJAS- thanks for coming Jordan!!), project managers, alumni monarchers- but the fanciest of them all was probably Thane. Have you heard the "90-Second Naturalist" on public radio ? If so, here is the body that matches the voice! Thane is the director of the Cincinnati Zoo and an avid runner. He is also the reason that he and I came in last on the leaderboard. When you match me up with someone who is a nature lover AND dedicated runner, there is no way I can focus on anything else but the fascinating tales coming from that person's mouth. I am starting to feel like he is my "Beat the Census" run buddy and I hope that continues for many years!

Special thanks to GD (immediate left side of pic), who along with Dave, zoomed through the course to get to the finish line first, where he got the water and cupcakes out for people and tallied their results as they came across the line. Love my baby, and love his hat (which he wore at our wedding. I am feeling especially wedding nostalgia-y because our anniversary is next week). Everyone did great, but alas, the final result was that the census car beat even our finest rider/runner (but take heart, the counter - Dick- has been doing this for 20+ years!).

If I recall correctly, Jordan in the photo below was commenting on the beautiful day, but I like how the snapshot makes it seem like she is like, "Come on, ref!! My time was soo much faster and I had way more butterflies!" 

As we awaited the return of Jane and Rachel, we keep ourselves entertained by hopping in the Sanderling Cottage boat and reenacted the crossing of the Delaware. The cottage is a rental unit that belongs to friends of ours and I think this would be great promo for it. You, too, can have crazy Pointers in your boat if you stay here!

Wowies, a front facing picture! The seasonals and monarch team all had to go prep for the 2 pm demo so here is last bit of the group before we, too, said our good-byes. Left to right: Meg, Kat, Gayle, Kashi and Lil Sis.

Thanks so much to everyone who came out and played today! As Dick (MMP founder) noted, we can now call it the Second Annual Beat the Census 5 Miler because you can't use the "annual"  moniker in year one! We will most definitely be back next year, first Sunday in October, so mark your calendars now! In the meantime, content yourself with this array of monarch reading:

2014 Beat the Census (aka Midday Multi-Modal Monarch Mini Marathon) Results

Monarch Monitoring Project Website

Monarch Monitoring Project Blog

Monarchists World Series of Birding Team (considering supporting them come May!)

Monarch Joint Venture

And don't forget to check out the AMAZING monarch tagging demo each Saturday and Sunday through October at 2 pm at the Cape May Point State Park (under the pavilion right next to the Hawk Watch platform on the far side of the main parking lot). 

Thanks so much everyone and we will see you next year!!

Beat The Census 5 Miler Is This Sunday!

Hi all! Just a short note to remind you all that the Beat The Census 5 Miler is coming up this weekend! Full details here, but the CliffNotes version is:

What: Beat the Census 5 Miler is a run/bike point-to-point course where participants try to tally more monarch butterflies on the route than the official monarch counter (who drives the course in a car as part of their normal census duties).

When: Sunday, October 5th beginning at noon (to coincide with the noon census). Meet at 11:45a for run briefing, orientation to course and smack talking.

Where: The 5-mile course starts at the parking lot of Higbees Beach WMA (at the end of New England Road) and winds its way through West Cape May before ending up on Alexander Ave. in Cape May Point. 

Odds and Ends:

1. The course is point to point, which means you and your car will likely get separated. Fear not, we will carpool to get you back to where you started/need to be dropped off at! 

2. All intersections on the course will be marked with chalk to indicate which way to go and I will have maps that you can take along with you as well. 

2. Although we are a running group, bikers are more than welcome to attend. I also had a question about walkers - they are also welcome, but since it will take quite a bit more time to walk the course, the preferred methods are running and biking. 

3. There will be no water on the course. You may be able to bribe a biker with saddlebags to carry some for you but it is likely you will be going different paces so you might need to be creative ("Hey can you drop my bottle at Bayshore/Sunset when you go by so I can grab it later when I pass?"). We will have water at the end, however. 

4. The winner will be determined by taking everyone's raw count of monarchs and the time it takes each person to complete the course to come up with a monarchs/minute value. This will be compared to other runner/bikers as well as the official counter to see who did the best, given their time on the course. No real prize, but you will be able to bask in the glory of the win and no one can take that away from you!  

5. There is no charge for the run and no need to register (though I would love to hear if you plan on attending!) but if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to message me at capeislandrunners AT gmail.com  

Hope to see you all on Sunday! 


Spectating Report - Run The Vineyards - Down The Shore 5k

Last Sunday was the Cape May Winery edition in the "Run the Vineyards" 5k series. I am currently on a tightened belt budget, so I took a pass at the $40 pre-race day entry fee and instead opted to cheer on Lil Sis and other friends who were ready to tackle the miles.

We arrived about an hour early and swatted away no-see-ums (a last hurrah of summer!) in the humid air while we chatted about the influence of social media, especially Face/Stalkbook, and how hard it is to walk away from it. It seemingly infiltrates every minute of our lives, as Lil Sis and Dawn showed us (jokingly, people, jokingly).

Debbie has been taking a Facebook break and she reports a better ability to focus on tasks like stretching and not worrying about what an ex-boyfriend's ex-girlfriend's father's butcher's delivery guy is having for breakfast. I don't think I could live without that kind of information, but to each their own! 

Sue missed out on these chats because she is badass and was running BEFORE the race even started to get to her total mileage for the day (hence her higher reading on the sweat-o-meter in the pic - told ya it was humid!). Ahh, a woman after my own heart. 

The race got underway right on time and those of us who were spectating cheered for the start and then were able to sit back and relax under those umbrellas in the background of the picture below, which beats most spectating spots! 

The winery itself is not on a a huge bit of property, so the race was primarily on the roads surrounding it, with the last 0.4 miles or so in the vineyard. Lil Sis reported that the roads on the out and back course were quite lovely (Shunpike is a favorite of mine), with excellent police coverage at the intersections so there was no concern for safety (seems like a no-brainer but it amazes me how many races overlook this detail!)

The race director did a great job organizing the event - it started on time, the water and food were set up very close to the finish line and the course was well-marked. Lil Sis and her friend Dawn have done other winery runs and they also report that there are generally a high percentage of women runners, which makes sense given the fairer sex's proclivity towards fermented grapes. I could not find the race results online yet to confirm this, but the ratio of men to women definitely seemed quite in favor of bachelor dudes by my count. Single fellas, forget Match.com or bumping into someone in the produce section, get your tails to a winery run stat!

The race participants that I talked to (i.e. my friends) all reported feeling that they got a good value for their entry fee. In addition to the normal race expectations (organization, post-run food, etc) they loved the beach towel (instead of a race tee and a great touch for a shore run!) and the wine tasting/glass of wine that came with their registration. The atmosphere also rated high - instead of a post-race party with club music blaring at 9:30 in the morning, the organizers opted for an acoustic guitarist, who was great. The winery building and decks are quite nice and we spent an hour and a half post-run just chatting on the upper deck and enjoying the morning and the friendly folks around us. 

Sad to have missed it? Fear not, another winery run by the same organizers is just around the corner and up the road. October 19th marks the return of the winery runs to our neck of the woods, up in Rio Grande at the Hawk Haven Winery. Click here for details! Based on what I saw on Sunday, it looks as though this company, Good Day For A Run, puts on a class event. If you have the moola, love wine or women, then this run is probably for you!  

And if you are looking for a race this weekend, consider the Ocean City Half Marathon, 10-Miler and 5k on Sunday, 9/28! An excellent event that is directed by dear, and more importantly, extremely experienced and competent friends, this race is a must! Lil Sis and I will be manning the base of the Longport Bridge, directing runners and creating general hoopla, so if you are there, say hi! Please note, there is no race-day registration for the half or 10-miler (you can register up to the day before online or at The Sneaker Shop until 4pm 9/27) but you can register race day for the 5k. Hope to see you out there! 

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 had to trek up to Sandy Hook this Wednesday to do a plover survey. The 2.5 hr one way drive was not my favorite, but I was rewarded with 15 migrating plovers (yay!!) and a gorgeous late summer day so it was actually kinda great. I only had 3 miles on the "cutback" week schedule (just started training for another 50 miler, though I haven't mentioned it here yet. That is forthcoming...) so I brought along Garmy and my kicks for a short run around the park. Here is what I saw:

Sandy Hook (well, properly Gateway National Recreation Area - Sandy Hook Unit) is about 6 miles long and at the northern tip is the now defunct Fort Hancock (1874-1919) (the very tip is a US Coast Guard facility which is closed to the public). The fort became a "proving ground" to test military weapons but by the nineteen-teens it was getting too small for the larger weapons and was moved to Aberdeen, MD. What is left behind is a string of buildings that speaks to days gone by, when the Fort was essentially its own town. 

This area was known as Sargent's Row, for reasons I am sure you can guess, and faces the bay. It must have made for some pretty peaceful sunset viewing (aside from all the munitions blowing up in the background, lol).  

The Sandy Hook Lighthouse was built in 1864. If you come across it today, it might strike you as an odd place for a lighthouse, as it sits 1.5 miles from the tip of the island! That, my friends, is littoral drift in action - the tip has grown over those intervening centuries. Oh those pesky beaches, always doing what they like with no regards to OUR needs! Thank god for jetties and beach fills and miles of dune fence and arrogant governors who convince everyone we can bend it to our will! (*drips with sarcasm*).

Hello, sunflowers! It's the last week of summer and I was happy to continue to find signs of the season I can hide behind and pretend winter is not hot on my heels. 

I was at the park shortly after the 9/11 anniversary and Hurricane Sandy's is next month. Echoes of both are still evident at the park - from the tip, you can see the NYC skyline that still looks like it is missing (2) something(s) and throughout the park you can see what a beating the buildings took from the storm. The park was closed for months after Sandy and many of the buildings still show their damage. Some are scheduled for demolition (especially those on the Coast Guard). I don't know the fate of this one, but it does neatly accomplish that extra spooky dichotomy of dilapidated building against a brilliant blue sky. 

On an electrical box outside the building pictured above was this bumper sticker. Given the nature of life and even just the history of this park, I loved this sentiment. I especially enjoyed the cheery delivery for what is essentially a gloomy message. I interpreted it as, "hey, you thought life was going to work out one way, but nope, guess again!". People living at the Fort in the early 1900s would probably have a hard time envisioning it becoming a shell (ha!) of its former self, those who were used to the Twin Towers as a permanent fixture of their beach skyline would likely never guess it would one day *poof* disappear and though we all know the threats of hurricanes, it is hard to accept that a dream beach house is destroyed. The sticker's sentiment works in a million scenarios and I kinda want one for my car.  

I headed south after the survey/run combo, looking forward to my next foray there in a few weeks time.

What did you see on your run today?

Running at Walt Disney World's Beach Club Resort

My family are bona fide Disneyphilics. Upon retiring from DuPont Chemical, my grandfather decided to cash in on a lifelong dream - to work at Walt Disney World. He and my grandmother moved to Florida and he did just that. That one decision shaped the landscape of my childhood in ways big and small. For my middle class nuclear family, Disney suddenly became a financially manageable vacation destination on a yearly basis - we were able to stay with my grandparents (in the Sherwood Forest trailer park, natch), eat meals at their home (oranges fresh off the tree? yes, please!), get into the parks for free and then buy things within them on discount. Thanks to my grandparents and parents, I have been to Disney World more times than I have fingers or toes to tally it up and it is now a place I can't visit without decades of memories coming along with me.

Ten years ago they became Disney Vacation Club members, which is a timeshare of sorts. Many of the resorts on property have special "villa" areas accessible only to DVC members and my parents stay at a rotating cast of them on their two annual trips. 

My non-Disney vacations tend to vary widely by location as I like to see different parts of the world, but every few years or so I like to join my parents on one of their pilgrimages. It had been 3 years since my last visit, GD was back after 3 months away (meaning he and my fam had some bonding to catch up on!) and they were staying at the Beach Club, one of my favorite resorts. Not only is the Beach Club modeled after my favorite ecosystem (yeah, I'm that person that lives at the beach and then travels to places that have a beach - real or imagined) but it ups the ante by modeling itself after Cape May! Everywhere we went were hints of our fair city - old-timey Cape May peninsula maps on the walls, plaster casts of Victorian homes on streets we regularly roam, paintings of beaches with landmarks we recognized. It was super fun to pick out all the details and gave me an odd feeling of leaving home to travel....home. :)

Of course, running is part of any trip I take and a family one is extra bananas because there are 3 members of the Kisiel clan who like to lace up before the Disney festivities for the day get underway. Running Momma is in training for the Philly Half, Lil Sis is working her way through a fall of 5ks and I just started ultra training. Each morning, some combination of us was out the door to hit the streets and on Wednesday, all three of us ran together! Here is what we saw:

First of all, if you are a runner, the Yacht and Beach Clubs/Swan and Dolphin/Boardwalk resorts are, to me, the best choices to book yourself into. It can be hard to get miles in at Disney (though they have gotten better with their offerings over the years, I think as a result of their runDisney series) because they carefully control your options - there are not really any sidewalks along the roads and around any given resort, routes can be limited (outdoors, anyway, there are plenty of treadmills at each resort. But, really? Treadmills? At Disney? Extra no thanks!). However, at this location you not only have the lagoon to run around, you can also take spurs to entrances of Epcot and MGM (eff Hollywood Studios, for the Kisiels it will ALWAYS be MGM). I wound up running 7.4 miles on this particular morning and it wasn't too hard to make that happen. I also recommend Fort Wilderness Campground or the nearby resorts that allow you to run there because that is another great place to rack up the miles (plus, shade!). 

Annnyway, back to this run - there was a nice lil running map along the main loop Apparently lots of people brought their kicks because on both days that I ran, there was lots of company from fellow runners. 

Running Momma, Lil Sis and I started our 3 mile loop (I did 4.4 before meeting up with them) by hitting the Epcot spur. In the background here, you can see "France" and the Eiffel Tower. We chatted about how in 5 years, when mom turns 70, we are going to take a family trip to the real Paris (and, I am sure, to Disneyland Paris!):

We next headed towards the Boardwalk Inn Resort, which is modeled after the heyday of Atlantic City (obviously - I mean, who would want to see present day with its ever-increasing number of shutdown casinos and depressed living conditions? Enjoy it now, classic Disney AC, greed and mismanagement are coming your way!). It was pretty great to run on a boardwalk and visit the SECOND resort based off our home state. Jerz is pretty great guys, no matter what the jokes lead you to believe. 

Looking around at the sights from the FL boardwalk we were greeted with lots of familiar yet different views from those on the NJ boardwalks. It was too early to be open, but I bet Seashore Sweets' sells salt water candy , a confection whose birthplace is Atlantic City. Watching salt water taffy machines is one of my favorite pastimes at home (I find the repetition to be soothing. Why this is remains a mystery, though I recently discovered that watching people make crepes has the same effect. Try it!...or, if you prefer to appear sane, don't, lol) and it took a lot not to peek in the windows to see if they, too, had a salt water soother. 

Across the lagoon was this view, which gave us a really good look at the Yacht and Beach Clubs. Later that day we lounged around the pool, which is unique in that it is huge, asymmetrical and the bottom is sand. Very cool! It also had a water slide that I was nervous to go down. I love water slides but sometimes need some prodding to get on them, which GD was happy tp provide:)

Next up was the MGM spur. You can see Tower of Terror in the distance on the right side of the picture. A few trips ago I decided to conquer my fear of all things thrill ride and hopped on as many as I could stand (eventually, the adrenaline exhausted me and I still have never been on Space Mountain). I actually liked most of them, barring ToT. The worst part for me was standing in lines waiting to get strapped into various contraptions but for ToT, the worst part was the ride itself! Oh, my, those drops were rough! I'll never get on that ride again, I don't care what I am trying to prove to myself!

We got to the entrance of MGM and in a super fun coincidence,  noticed the music they were piping in was the Rocky song! You all know that is practically the official theme song of running, but it is especially true for Running Momma. It's on constant repeat on her shuffle and she loves that it reminds her of Philly - both the half mary she already ran and the one she is training for now. The smile on her face when she recognized the notes was priceless. 

Stitch was also out front posing for pics. We could not help ourselves and got a character pic while on a run. Despite many, many visits to Disney, this was a first! 

We headed back towards the resorts and took a moment under this overpass to celebrate a very important milestone for mom. Though it is an unlikely location, this is the birthplace of Running Momma. Four years ago, on a trip very much like this, she was taking her morning walk and thought, "maybe I should try to run a little". She started picking up the pace and she recalls that her mind just went that lovely version of blank common to our sport and she was off and running, never looking back! Paying homage to where it all started:

We ended our run over by the Swan and Dolphin resorts. I was just a kid when they were being built and I can recall seeing the HUGE swans, dolphins and clamshells on the ground before they were hoisted to their final location. I remember thinking, "How is that a dolphin??" because they looked so much like fish. I later learned that they are meant to represent a stylized nautical dolphin, the kind that would often appear on old world maps which gives me much more respect for their look.

The passage of time was also evident here (as it was so many times on the trip) because as a child I considered these two hotels the most boring of the ones we would visit and pool hop (no longer allowed, this was back in the old days of the late 1980s-early 1990s when things were more footloose and fancy free!). But as an adult, they really appeal to me! I love their geometry, the presence of water and fountains and their air of sophistication. I'd like to stay at these one day, though I don't think they currently have DVC villas. 

P.S. This is one of my favorite pictures of all-time of mom and sis running: 

'Twas a great run with my family. I know I am a lucky, lucky lady to have the chance to share my love of running with a sister and a mother that feel the same way (something in our DNA, no?).

This was the first trip to Disney that my grandparents were not with us (they now live with my folks here in NJ) and I was acutely aware of their absence. It was a bittersweet feeling - after decades of their presence there it was sad to be there without them and yet it added an almost feverish element of "enjoy the moment" for me because you just never know what changes lie ahead. All that is certain is that change IS ahead.

By and large, the Disney of my youth remains the same place it is today. And because of that, it acts as a steadfast sentinel of time for me. I walk through its gates and ruminate on all the changes that have happened, in between the trips, and take a moment to be grateful for all I had, have and will have. It's the magic of Disney.

Here are a few more pics from our run and trip (click on pic to scroll through)!

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!

GD's gig as the morning flight counter means an early wake-up call for him and with this sudden heat wave (oh, thank you September for giving us at least a few days of a legit Jerz summer!) I have found myself getting up with him to start my runs pre-dawn and escape the blazing sun. I do looove me some hot, humid days but especially without having a whole summer to acclimatize to it, you do have to be careful/want to still enjoy yourself! A great way to do that is to run before the sun gets up - you won't escape the humidity, which tends to be highest at that time of day, but the temps will be a bit cooler and the moonlight feels a ton better than the beating down sun does! 

I sometimes hitch a ride with GD to the dike or to Wawa and run home but today I felt like zipping around the Point. I came up to this sign and promptly went around it bc that is just how badass I am (read: not at all a badass). The park opens at sunrise, which was mere minutes away so I figured I would take the risk. So far, I'm not in jail!:

This lil dude, an eastern mud turtle, was enjoying the quiet of the usually bumping sidewalk. Although I am sure it is just a trick of the light, I was loving how it seemed he had his sleepy eyes on too. If he was writing a blog about what he saw when he slowly tooled around Cape May, I bet he'd make the same comment when writing the caption for my picture:

Pictures rarely do sunrises justice and this one is definitely no exception. But in real life it was every bit the summer morning I have been dreaming of. Still, steamy and colorful. Sweat poured off me as I took a moment to say thanks to Momma Nature for making my electrolytes temporarily out of whack. The best. 

An empty Sunset Road is a sure sign that we are past Labor Day. Though Cape May will stay busy on the weekends, weekdays the roads go back to belonging to the local runners and bikers. I love  shoobies (and that is for real, I actually do) but the change from busy to quiet (and then back to busy) is a cycle I always enjoy.  

How was your run? Do you live in a place where the people population changes after Labor Day?

PS Because of my schedule this week, this Wednesday run was actually on Thursday. Between this and going into the Park a smidge early, I am playing with fire! 

CIR + Exit Zero = BFFs

Sept Color Issue.JPG

My relationship with Exit Zero reminds me an awful lot of the ones I had with senior boys when I was a freshman in high school. They were so grown-up (holy shit, is that chest hair??) and self-assured and downright dreamy (oh yes, the senior boy line-up on the swim team was a sight for a 14 year-old Kashi to behold). The teenage fantasy seeds that were sowed by Hollywood (Breakfast Club, Fast Times) in middle school and junior high were finally being reaped.

These men (well, they sure seemed like it at the time) roamed freely among us in the halls and it was nothing short of exhilarating. So you can imagine the absolute thrill I got when one of them asked me to the prom. Ok, that didn't happen my freshman year, but it did last month! In this case, the senior was Exit Zero and the prom was asking if I was interested in writing a monthly column for the color version of their peppy periodical. "HOLY SHIT!!" was the thought I had upon reading the email from editor Jack Wright and it took me a minute to figure out if I was dreaming. And I don't mean that in the hyperbolic sense, it was because it was 4:30a in the morning and I thought I actually might be dreaming. I was sleeping that night and checking my phone every few hours for updates on GD's uber delayed flight home from AK. I flipped over to CIR email and Jack's message lit up the inbox. I was awake instantly and it was a very bright spot in a few days of anxiety waiting for my baby to come home. 

I sent my draft to Jack a few weeks ago and anxiously awaited his feedback (positive, thank god!). The general format is like a 'roided-up (minus the rage and pimples) "What I Saw When I Ran Wednesdays" where I snap pics and write commentary on the various sights I see when out running the Cape. It'll often have a nature bent, as my posts are wont to do, but anything that catches my eye is fair game!

The September color issue (with my first column) just came out, so I wanted to make sure to tell you all about it and encourage you to support EZ by picking it up (on sale for $4.95 at Exit Zero stores) or by getting a subscription. If you have not seen or read a color issue before, you are in for a treat (is that chest hair?!? lol, just kidding - but it is an awesome magazine that is every bit as impressive as a senior boy is to a freshman girl). 

I hope you all keep coming to the blog and joining us on runs - but here is one more way to get your CIR fix! Hope you enjoy it!

Sept Color Issue.JPG

Beat The Census Monarch 5 Miler - 10/05/14

Save the Date! Beat the Census Monarch 5 Miler will take place Sunday, October 5, 2014

Some of you may already be aware of the Monarch Monitoring Project (MMP), but for the uninitiated, here is the nutshell version - Cape May is well known for its bird migrations, but also its bug migrations - dragonflies, butterflies and damselflies all make their way through this very special funnel as well. Back in the 1980s, a naturalist by the name of Dick Walton visited Cape May to observe the hawk migration spectacle and in between the birds, he could not help but notice the streams of monarch butterflies flitting by. At this point, biologists already knew that they were on their way to their wintering grounds in the oyamel forests of Mexico (just take a second to think about that - even though I have been aware of this migration for over a decade, I still find it hard to believe that these teeny, tiny creatures are going to make it from places as far north as Canada alllll the way down to Mexico. It is migration at its finest.) but there were still many unanswered questions regarding the movement. Over the course of the next few years, Dick began developing a study and by 1991 he, along with famed monarch biologist Dr. Lincoln Brower, began the MMP in earnest.

The project has blossomed into a long-term census and tagging effort with a strong education component. But what really sets this project apart are the people associated with it. Dick partnered with the Cape May Bird Observatory and in 1993, the amazing Louise Zemaitis was on-board and these days we look to the fantastic Mark Garland to helm the ship. Over time, more and more people were attracted to the project and once you spend a fall working with monarchs - well, let's just say it won't be your last. Twenty plus years later and you have the nicest, most talented, sweetest army you can imagine working on conservation efforts for this species.

MMP drives a 5-mile route at a set pace 3x a day (9am, 12pm and 3pm) during September and October. They call each census count a "run" as in "all right, I'm gonna head out and do the 9am run." Maybe my sub-conscious naturally gravitated towards the word "run" or maybe it is because I try to figure out how I can incorporate running into my other interests and this was low hanging fruit compared to say, knitting, but I started thinking that it would be fun to actually run the monarch "run" and compare what I observed to the official count.  Then I thought it would be even more fun to do it with others and "Beat The Census" was born (emerged?).

To encourage more people, we welcome bikers as well. There is no charge - all you have to do is be able to identify a monarch and count as many as you see along the route! The hardest part about it is that it is a point-to-point course, so figuring out where to park can be tricky. However, if you let us know you are coming, we can coordinate all that and make sure you don't get stuck 5 miles away from your car :)

Last year, Dave christened the race with its longer moniker, the "Midday Multi-modal Monarch Mini Marathon" while others suggested "Iron Monarch". IM is good, but to really reflect the Ironman ways we need to add a swimming component - so if it is toasty wear your suit and we'll jump in the bay for a dip after! 

There will be a token prize for the person that gets the highest count (and we weight the number based on effort/time spent - ie the runners will be looking longer than bikers who will be looking longer than the driver - to keep things fair). 

The starting point is the parking lot of Higbee Beach WMA, at the end of New England Road. Meet at 11:45ish in the Higbee parking lot on 10/5 for a noon start. We will weave 5 miles towards Cape May Point and end on Alexander Ave. Below is the course map:

We hope to see you all at the count! Until then, get your search image going for the monarch and we'll see you out there on October 5th!

2013 Beat the Census at the start

2013 Beat the Census at the start


Running in Charleston, WV

I returned from Alaska on a Saturday late in July and since my flight to West Virginia for a work trip was leaving at 6am the next day, I chose to shack up in Philly for the night rather than fight the shore traffic to Cape May only to turn around at an ungodly hour. I found a great deal on Hotwire (the secret deals are the best, esp if you don't care exactly where you stay!), did some laundry, swapped out my winter clothes for summer-y ones and spent the late afternoon tooling around the Reading Terminal Market, munching on Philly's finest.

Early the next day, I hopped my flight to Charleston, where I hoped to combat my jet lag with some running, which would help center me after all the bouncing around. What is actually served to do was warm me up! Whereas Saint Paul was warmer than expected and I did not need my winter clothes, I wished I had packed some of them for Charleston. The outdoor temperature was warm and balmy but the hotel where our conference was held was BRRRR! Holy extreme air conditioning, Batman! Sweaty on these early morning runs was the only time I felt warm!

The week in Charleston was cloudy and wet. But it was warm and that makes all the difference in comfort level for running! I ran two of the three mornings I was in town, essentially following the same route, which was a great path along the Kanawha River (from the Iroquois, roughly translating as "canoe way" or "water way" or "transport way").

Most parts of Charleston that I saw (which are admittedly few, as most of our time was spent in meetings) reminded me a lot of Trenton - there were some nice historic areas but the general vibe was one of a place whose best times were behind it. Is this an unfair assessment? Perhaps. But in the ~6mi radius that I saw from our hotel through walks and runs, that is what it seemed to me. 

The path by the water, though, was pretty nice. Yes, the shore was hardened so you could not get too lost in the natural vibe of the river, but it's hard not to be lulled and soothed by the sight of water of any kind. 

Partially down the path, I came across this theater, which is called the Haddad Riverfront Amphitheater and is run by the city. It was really beautiful and I bet the free concerts I saw advertised there are pretty great. To the dichotomous nature of the city - this well-kept and lovely theater provided shelter to 3 homeless young adults who were snoozing by the water in sleeping bags but forced to make a run for it under its cover when the skies opened up one early morning. A tale of two cities in that image.

I am not sure what the scoop is with gold(ish)-gilding state capital buildings, but I sure am a fan! The building was constructed in the late 1920s, after a fire burned the original and once the struggle for where the capital of WV had been fought and won (Clarksburg and Martinsburg were the other major contenders) in the late 1800s, and has stood ever since. 

Near the capital was the governor's mansion, constructed in 1925, around the same time as the state capital building. The ugly morning washed out the picture and the building was much nicer looking in real life.  There were tours available, but not when I was free from work. I wish I had been able to, though, because the foyer features a sassy checkered black and white floor and I am a sucker for checkered floors! I have no idea where that comes from but I have always been drawn to them - wonder what book or movie or memory from childhood is inevitably responsible for that? Any ideas?(I'm genuinely asking, this isn't a wink and nod at something)

Charleston's fortunes have been made on the back of the state's considerable natural resources - first salt mining, then the discovery of natural gas which was soon followed by coal. I was reminded of this legacy when a train came barreling along brimming to the top with coal. It was almost caricaturistic - on a morning run in WV and OF COURSE a coal train coming 'round the mountain (when she comes, when she comes). I, as usual, found myself wrinkling my nose at the train while simultaneously recognizing that I would probably not even made it to WV without coal. Le sigh.  

On the second morning, instead of doing a straight out and back along the river, on the way back I ventured into town to have a look around. The major thing I noticed was the insane number of parking garages! Like every block had one, which seemed really weird because there were hardly any cars out and about (not just during the early morning, but on breaks and after the meeting in the evening I noticed the same thing!). Maybe all the cars were already in the lots, lol?? I also learned that the megamall across from our hotel was actually the "largest, enclosed downtown mall east of the Mississippi". That kind of caveating makes me think it is probably not that large in comparison to the real biggies - but I care so little for malls that I am not even going to look that up. Frankly, anything to do with malls make me feel like the life is being sucked out of me, so I'm skipping that Google exercise! 

Well, that about wraps up my summer travel run series (finally! took me wayyy too long to get caught up)! We'll be heading to Disney in a few weeks for a Kisiel family vaca, so I'll be sure to post about those runs...looking at the long-range forecast, it is likely to be steamy and sticky, just the way I like it. Plus, Runing Momma and Lil Sis will be there, so it will be a whole Kisiel running extravaganza! 

Running in Anchorage, AK

After I left Saint Paul (sadly, I had no flight delays - not gonna lie, I would not have lost sleep if I had gotten stuck on that island a little longer with my baby), I headed back to Anchorage for about a day and a half. Given that the travel to and from Saint Paul can be, ummm, less than reliable (GD's trip to and from the island were delayed and we are still waiting for his luggage to show up, days after his return) , I gave myself this buffer time to help reduce any issues that would come along with trying to make it back east. Although I was sad to have to leave GD, it turned out to be a pretty great little side trip and chance to explore Anchorage.

I was not sure what to expect from this city. As the major travel hub for the whole state, I thought it might be kinda large. But considering how few people live in Alaska compared to its size, I wondered if it might seem a bit small. Turns out both were kinda right! It was a funny city - there were a few streets where larger buildings and hallmarks of a city were present, but most of it felt like a suburb on steroids (and I don't mean that in a bad way, just trying to sum up the feeling!). There were lots of tourist-bait kind of stores ("We ship salmon!") but where the city really shined was its natural beauty surrounding the somewhat haphazard development. 

I ran both mornings that I was in Anchorage but since this is already super late (my trip was mid-July!) I am combining them into one post. My first run was from the AirBNB room that I had rented (side note, this was my first time using AirBNB and it was fantastic! Much cheaper than a hotel and the hosts were fantastic. Random super side note: a college friend and his wife also happened to be staying at this same house when I was there and we had not planned it! Mind blown!) to the airport to pick up my rental car. It was just about 5 miles and I was concerned that I would be able to find safe roads to get all the way there so I just grabbed some cash in case I needed to cab it at the end. Turned out it was not an issue, yay cities that encourage pedestrians and bicyclists!

Part 1 - Running to Anchorage Airport

It wasn't long before I smelled something familiar and looked around to see what seemed an awful lot like the salt-spray rose I see on the east coast, one of my all time favorite flowers. I love the way they look but it is really the scent that has my heart. These flowers were slightly different, but the smell was just as fragrant. Every time I am on a run and stop to smell the roses, I am overtaken with a small fit of laughter.  

I ran past a Unitarian church and this saying was on its board outside. It really resonated with me. As I talked about in a previous post, the last time I was in Alaska was 1999, aka the loneliest summer of my life. That summer and the feelings that came along with it (was I not cut out to be a world traveler? had I failed?) lingered long after the leaves fell that winter. Adding to the unsettled feelings I carried with me were those that came from falling in love that summer with the man that became last my ex-boyfriend. That summer love turned into an 8 year relationship that consumed most of my 20s and though I would never change the outcome (our breakup laid the first paving stones on the road that led me to GD), the getting there was kinda rough! There was no way I could be in AK without thinking back to that summer. My heart was distracted with love for GD when I was on Saint Paul, but alone in Anchorage I found myself reflecting back to that relationship, thinking about how different and yet how similar I still was from my 1999-self. This sign really hit home for me and I found it very cathartic to roll those words over and over in my mind while my feet covered the miles below them. 

Water is everywhere in Anchorage and I got a huge kick (as always) by watching sea planes come and go! It just looks so wrong and yet is right. Reminds me of when you see Great Blue Herons nesting in trees - it does not seem possible they should be there, and yet there they are. 

I could not believe that there were enough bike lanes and shoulders to get me right up to the airport. I don't think this would have been possible at a larger airport where security would have been tighter and police eyeing you up. As it was, I could just saunter right in! The people at the car rental desk seemed a bit confused why a sweaty runner with no luggage was here to pick up a Mazda 2, but they reserved comment and I headed back out for a fun day exploring Eagle River, Thunderbird Falls and eating at an awesome organic cafe, Oasis, where I filled my belly in preparation for the next morning's run while listening to live bluegrass. 

Part 2 - Tony Knowles Coastal Trail

I was already thinking that I wanted to see as much of this trail as time and current fitness would allow and since I have been slowly upping my mileage to base build for ultra training, a 10-miler on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail seemed just the ticket! Whenever I asked anyone about running in Anchorage or found websites about it, this trail was always at the top of the list. Easy to see why. It was paved and pretty darn flat, with lots of beautiful views along the way. I started at Earthquake Park, which had some very artistic touches to its exhibit detailing the 1964 earthquake. After checking it out for a few minutes, I headed north on the trail to start my 5-mi out and back, cheered on by the chorus of Dark-eyed Junco juveniles (a treat for me as we only have them in winter and I have never seen young ones!). 

The portion of the trail I ran was really beautiful - lots to look at and soak in. After an initial portion in the woods, the space opened up for gorgeous looks out at Cook Inlet. If I had headed south from Earthquake Park, I would have stayed in the woods longer and while this was appealing in theory, as a coastal living gal from South Jersey who is not used to bumping into large mammals (bear and moose are common on this trail) while running, I chose to head north. Did I wuss out? Umm, frankly, yes, but I wanted to enjoy the morning and not worry about yelling, "No, bear! Go away, bear!!" in an authoritative voice while every instinct  screamed at me to run far, far away. 

No matter, though, because while the north reach was more developed, I was still in Alaska and that meant that their version of development hardly holds a candles to ours. The views were still great and I got to observe the kind of wildlife encounters I like best - between birds! As I turned one corner, I saw four Arctic Terns harassing the heck out of a Bald Eagle. I am not sure what he did to piss them off, but it was not going well. When I came back that way sometime later, the eagle had retired to a tree and the terns were no longer bothering it, so I guess they worked it out. 

My run took me towards Westchester Lagoon, where lots of families were enjoying the sunlight and weather. I learned that Alaskans so enjoy the long summer days that they regularly stay out long past the time most people in other parts of the country would. But considering they have light that long (and how much I enjoyed that on Saint Paul) compared to the four (four!!) hours they can have during parts of winter, I can't blame them! 

I did not see any large animals during the run but I was grateful for the look I got at a moose and her calf wandering the streets of Anchorage later than day (from the safety of my car, natch). I'm sure over time that type of sighting becomes old hat but I found it pretty thrilling!

This run concluded my time in Alaska and that afternoon I hopped a flight back home, which was quickly followed by another to Charleston, West Virginia where I went for a work trip the day after I got back. Details on those runs coming up next! But first, my run bird list for Anchorage:

Bird List

Bald Eagle

Mew Gull

Arctic Tern

Northern Pintail

Black-billed Magpie (so common, but I loved them!)

Dark-eyed Junco

American Robin

Black-capped Chickadee

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?