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“IF YOU EVER WANT TO SEE WHO THE TRUE RUNNERS ARE, TAKE A PEEK OUTSIDE DURING MOTHER NATURE’S NEXT HISSY FIT.”

Photo Credit

I found this quote on when searching for images under the query:  Running in the Cold. 

If I could have found the image associated with this cool quote, I’d have given credit and a link, but it’s completely AWOL on the net.  Boo!  But I liked the quote enough to share, and I sure wish I could claim it as an original!  Best link-ish thing I could find for it, (COOL QUOTE CREDIT HERE), in case you want to hunt it down.

So I love this quote because I seriously LOVE me some cold, messy weather running.

My friend Suzanne and I promised each other we would both go out on a five or six-mile run early Sunday morning.  We live in different towns, but we’re going to report in to each other.  Kind of like a long-distance running buddy.  Then we discussed the temperature:

Suzanne:  It’s supposed to be, like, thirty-four degrees tomorrow morning.  Ugh.  Wonder how late I can get out there so it’s warmer…

Me:  YES!  I LOVE running in the cold!  Wonder how early I can get out there so it’s colder…

Suzanne:  (looking at me with a mixture of alarm and disgust)  You’re a FREAK.

Me:  I know.  It’s great.

I can’t wait to get out there Sunday morning. 

I just checked weather.com and supposed to be 38 degrees when I start my run. 

38 degrees.  Farenheit.

I. So. Can’t. Wait. 

Prediction:  Awesome.  I’ll update you later, assuming I survive.  😉

[Update:  Awesome run!  5 miles!  I was SO happy to be out there in running in the cold.  Felt GREAT!  Weather was 44 degrees and I was wearing my stay-warm running gear.  No gloves, though.  Not cold enough for that.  Get out there and run while it’s beautiful, everybody!]

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I started running in the very warm weather.  At the time, the key training issues for me were strategic hydration and forcing myself to haul my body out of bed to run at the crack of dawn to beat the morning heat.  I remember wondering vaguely about how I was going to handle running in the elements, but secretly considering the thought that icky weather would be my excuse to avoid running. 

Then I met Dotty.  Yes, the same Dotty that filled my mind with visions of the Virginia Beach Half Marathon and enticed me to register for the 26.2 with Donna Marathon to Finish Breast Cancer.  That one.  When I found out she had been a distance runner for many years, I asked her about how she handled rain, wind and snow.  She shocked me with her response.  As I recall, it went something like this:

I run every day it’s on my training schedule and I always run outside.  The only reason I would not run outside would be if there was lightning. 

Two or three seasons full of running excuses, blown to smithereens in about 20 seconds of conversation!  And yet how awesome was that?  With snow on the ground even?  Yep.  Even when it’s really, really cold?  Yes.  Pouring rain?  As long as there’s no lightning.  How on earth do you do that?  Just have the right gear and go. 

Wow.

So, I figured this was probably a gold standard for outdoor runners and, since I hate the treadmill, I immediately adopted this as my standard too. 

Now, you may recall that in our neck of the woods we have had a really, really rainy Fall.  In fact, as of today, there are still crops in fields locally that have not been able to be harvested because the ground is too wet.  It has been one rainy season!  Interestingly, I have not had one run cancelled due to lightning.  I’ve watched for it, but all this rain has produced almost zero lightning.  So on I ran. 

Then in the late Fall, the weather began to do something famous for our area of the Midwest.   It started to get COLD.  The shorts and cropped running pants had done just fine so far, but what now?  I’d already learned that the wicking material did wonders to stop the chub rub.  What to do about those frozen legs? 

Enter Coach Shelly:

Me:  What kind of gear am I going to need for the winter?  I don’t plan on dealing with that stinking treadmill unless I absolutely have to and I’m afraid I’ll lose my mind cooped up inside the gym all winter.

Shelly:  There are some things you’ll want, for sure. 

Friend [Anonymous friend, we’ll just call her Chris for this post, offering her thoughts]:  Hey, I like the treadmill and the gym.  Could do without that creepy gym guy, however.

Me:  I think all gyms must have a creepy gym guy.

[Random conversation about gyms, creeps, and other Very Important Girl Talk that ensues when girlfriends are having important conversation about things like Gear.]

Me:  What were we talking about?  Oh yeah, what gear do I need to avoid the gym this winter and still keep training?

Shelly:  You’ll need a long sleeve wicking shirt made for cold weather, something for your head, gloves, and you’ll want some compression pants.

Me:  Compression pants?  Are ya kidding?  Like those skin-tight things that real runners wear?

Image Credit  (and before you ask, NO these are NOT my legs…Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha.  No.)

Shelly:  [cheerily] Yes, those are the ones.

Me:  Um…No Way.  There is No Way I am putting this behind into something like that and running around my hometown terrifying innocent bystanders.  There could be an accident or something.  I would have to slither through the streets under cover of darkness.  I simply Couldn’t Do It. 

Shelly:  I know, they look terrible, but they work wonderfully and they are absolutely worth it.  They will allow you to run in very cold temperatures and there is zero chub rub with these things.

Me:  That is because they are SKIN TIGHT!

Shelly:  If you really had to, you would wear a pair of shorts over them.  Either way, it is something you really should consider. 

Me:  No.

Chris:  No.

Shelly:  Well, it’s up to you.  Maybe you’ll change your mind later.

I can tell you that I struggled against the compression pants for weeks and weeks.   Finally, I took the plunge and bought a pair of the hideous things.  I put off wearing them for a long, long time.  Always able to find a way to run when it was a little warmer. 

Then I found myself in 30 degree weather the morning of the Indianapolis 5K (yet another race that Chris had talked me into!) and there was no getting around the compression pants.  I pulled the suckers on and, grateful that I’d remembered to bring the little black shorts to yank on over the top, to protect the unsuspecting public, I ran my first race in the compression pants. 

And to my complete surprise, I had my Very Best Time Ever for a 5K.  The pants kept me warm without overheating.  And they didn’t rub or twist or bunch around.  These things were great! 

They still looked hideous, mind you.  But they were great! 

Since then, the hideous compression pants have become like an old friend.  They accompany me on most of my runs, especially when the temperature is under 40 degrees.  They’ve been on long runs and short runs, uphill and downhill, on the street and on the trail. 

If I get the nerve, I’ll find and post a picture of the Indy 5K compression pants maiden voyage here.   But it ain’t pretty.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you. 

And I find myself, again surprised and saying:  Shelly, you were right!

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Running Shoes: BEFORE

So here’s the thing. 

I had this whole post planned with the title:  You Don’t Expect Me to Run Up THAT, Do You?  And the post was about the Wild Wild Wilderness Run hosted by the Kennekuk Road (and must.not.forget.the.TRAIL) Runners a couple months ago. 

That trail featured 7.55 miles of pure running torture.  (So terrible that I plan on running it again in the arctic weather we surely can expect during the Sibearn Express on January 2, 2010.)  Seriously, though.  It was terrible.  There was a nearly vertical hill that only mountain goats or really nimble deer should ever be expected to climb, one that hugged an earth wall and where a single step to the left would leave a person pummeling hundreds of yards to their demise in a thornbush-infested ravine.  There were three or four miles of challenging, but bearable terrain that initiated the uninitiated WWW trail runner.  Then (surprise, newbie!) the turn-off to the hill-from-hell.  Only to be followed by three or four miles more  of Really. Hard. Trail Running. 

Now, I love running hills.  But these weren’t people-hills.  They were animal-only hills.  And those super-runners who could just prance up them with ease–well, I’m astounded by those people.  They need a special category of fitness just for them.

As for me, I was so proud of Finishing Without Dying that I floated along on that experience for quite some time.  It mattered very little to me that I was near the Very End of the pack.  I was thrilled beyond words to have finished on my feet instead of a stretcher.

So that was the essence of the post I was going to write.  Because that was the craziest trail I’d run so far.  Until today.

Today I was introduced, quite accidentally, to the Backpack Trail at Forest Glen.  I personally believe they call this the Backpack Trail because most normal humans would need to bring camping supplies (or at least a meal!) in order to traverse the sucker, because it takes SO LONG and is SO HARD to finish this monster of a trail.

Now the introduction to the trail was only partially accidental, I confess.  Because I planned to do the 4.5 mile trail.  You know, the “this-11-mile-trail-intimidates-me-so-I-want-a-shorter-version-of-the-Backpack-Trail” trail.  What I did NOT plan to do was the 11 mile version of the Backpack Trail. 

Had I completed the 4.5 mile version, I’d still have had plenty of material to share with you, believe-you-me.  But the fact that just one teensy-weensy turn to the left rather than the right had us move our bodies over 11 miles of terrain instead of 4.5 miles is just plain wicked.  Indeed, we made the left vs. right decision because some Very Helpful (sadistic) Campers advised us that everyone had headed toward the left.  Thank you campers. 

What followed was an adventure that my two running buddies and I certainly had not anticipated.  We were told that we’d be heading over a creek.  Indeed, we headed over multiple creeks.  “Creek” is a highly subjective term, apparently.  I’m thinking, it’s a little thing you can hop over.  Nope.  It’s several big things that, even if you don’t fall off the slippery rocks that pose as steps across the current, you’re going to be wading in the water at least up to your ankles.  (Before you Florida readers think me a wimp, now, please remember that it was 33 degress when I got in the car to drive to this adventure!). 

And there were hills.  So many hills.  This trail wasn’t playing.  And let’s not forget that it’s been raining for, like, 952 days straight here in Central Illinois, so it was Mud City everywhere we went.  Read that:  No Traction.  Slip-N-Slides are fun when you’re eight and in your front yard with your neighbor buddies.  When you’re 43 years-old and trying to find footing climbing up a Monster Mud Hill, there are few humans that would call the exercise fun. 

Indeed, as we got to the bottom of our 382nd hill (perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, but not much) we stopped thinking, “surely this is the last big hill we have to deal with” and started thinking, “surely this stinking trail has to end at some point.” 

Who knew that any trail, anywhere in the known universe could have So Many Gigantic Up’s and Gigantic Downs?  One after the other.  (Of course, happily interspersed with flowing creeks throughout.)

And the downhills.  I believe they were even worse than the uphills.  I’d always had the strategy of running on the downhills whenever possible.  It’s just that it was Very Rarely possible on this Sadist Trail.  The first bad boy that we faced, I remember clearly thinking that we’d taken a wrong turn.  People aren’t supposed to go straight down hills that steep with NO earth on either side.  Just a little mountain goat path straight down with an occasional tree mercifully situated for holding-on-for-dear-life on the downward descent.  I remember thinking after that first hill that the worst was behind us.  HA HA HA HA HA.  No.

All three of us in our brave little what-in-the-blazes-are-we-doing-out-here-without-a-GPS-or-a-cell-phone party fell nicely on our touckases at least once during the adventure.  We kept a good eye-out for each other and never got too far apart while out there.   We learned the difference between a shriek of  “Woo Hoo!” (“We’re awesome!  Look what we’re doing!”) and a shriek of “Woo Hoo!” (“Heaven help me, I’ve just fallen into the biggest mud pit in a five state region!”).  We learned the difference between this-hurts and this-sucks-but-let’s-keep-going-because-we-still-have-daylight.  And we most certainly learned to love the signs with the little red arrows and how to look for the red splotches on lots of trees. 

Most of all, we learned that there was more within us than any of us bargained for when we set out to Forest Glen for a little run one cold Saturday morning in November.  We learned we could do it.  At least for me, I surprised myself that I could do it.  And any one of us could have gone the 13.1 half marathon distance–so we learned that we were able to do that too!  I had another chance to give one something that had intimidated me a beat-down.  And we were blessed with the commraderie, the friendship, that comes from battling those stinking hills and creeks and elements together. 

Overall, it certainly was a day worth having.  Maybe even a day worth repeating.  A great adventure by some unlikely adventurerers.  And a great achievement by some tough-as-nails women who, though total newbies, were ready and willing to give it our all.  And we did. 

Three other Very Important Points: 

1.  Hats off to the Kennekuk Road (and Trail) Runners who gave every one of us a round of applause as we staggered off the trail.  These Super Runners had been done for well over an hour, but were still glad to cheer on the lost-little-newbies that somehow finished that 11 mile beast without dying! 

2.  My trail shoes are now officially trail shoes.  Here’s the after picture: 

Shoes: AFTER

3.  WW Activity Points mean I can EAT after today.  Yes!

4.  I’m certain I’ve forgot to mention much more than what’s been said here already.  I’m sure you’ll get more tidbits as the days and weeks move on…

For now, here’s proof of the mud: 

Muddy!

And proof of the buds:

We Made It!

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I had to pass along this very funny quote from an anonymous friend and fellow Fitness Diva, who we’ll just call CHRIS for the sake of this post.  (So what if that’s her real name, we’re calling her that anonymously for the post.)

Heard last night:

Oh please, diet and exercise fairy, grant me the will power and energy to survive the enticements of [the coming day] and the motivation to get my booty to the Y.

ExerciseFairies[1]

Fairy Credit

Oh, have mercy!  I spent most of the night LAUGHING at things my fitness diva girlfriends were writing.  Really, who needs crunches when you can just laugh for hours?!  Just thought I’d share. 

 

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See, it’s Charlie’s fault.  I’ve been laughing at her blog all night.  And it’s kept me from writing.  Blame Charlie!  Charlie's Logo

You really MUST click this link to check out her blog.  It is TOTALLY relevant to this amazing blog here that you’ve come to know and love.  Her blog is themed around Operation Shrink Charlie’s Butt.  Of course, this is a subject near and dear to me (the shrinkage of my own butt, not Charlie’s butt–that’s her business!), so I have thoroughly enjoyed clicking around and sharing her journey. 

I haven’t had the chance to read everything, but I’m sure I will.  In the meantime, here are a couple posts that had me laughing until I cried:

The Yoga Incident

Couch to 5K (Charlie Style)  (Be sure to watch the video!  Still giggling…)

Her stuff is WAY too funny not to pass on.  Readers of this blog surely will appreciate her style and perspective. 

PLUS, Charlie has issued me a challenge to help her become a runner!  I simply cannot resist a challenge, so it’s Game On!   I’m hoping to post updates of our progress here! 

I really hope you get the chance to stop by Charlie’s Place and enjoy her slice of life.  I know I did.  And I’m sure I burned plenty of calories from the laughter, too!

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If you’re not from around these parts, you’re probably wondering, “What in the world is a Kennekuk?”  Excellent question.  Here is my answer.  “Kennekuk” is several different, very awesome things. 

Most widely understood, it’s one of our local county parks that is absolutely amazing.  If you’re a nature person or a trail person or a enjoy-the-peace-and-serenity-of-the-prairie person, then this park is for you and you owe it to yourself to visit there.  A lot.  If you’re not from the area, it’s worth the drive to visit.  A lot. 

Kennekuk can also refer to the Native American Kickapoo leader for whom (I believe) the park was named.  If you’re a history person, this will interest you.   A lot.

Most germane to this blog, Kennekuk refers to the Greatest Running Club in the Universe.   If you’re a runner, this group will inspire, entertain, challenge, support, amuse, encourage, and amaze you.  A lot.

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I first became involved with the Kennekuk Road Runners when I ran in the Memorial Day 5K that my friend Chris suckered me into running.  This was such a well run race and people were so nice and encouraging, it was a very easy step to try the next race.  Since it was members-only, I bit the bullet and joined the group with its Most-Affordable-Family-Membership-Fee-Ever

The first member race which followed shortly was the Clear Pond Trail Run.  The organization raised money for local animal shelters during this event, which was a see-how-far-you-can-run-in-five-hours-you-crazy-person event.  I’ll give you my observations and experiences on the Clear Pond Trail Run in a separate post, I promise.

This group of people is highly organized and professional.  They work very hard.  And they have a great time at everything they do.  People from around the nation have joined this organization for these and other awesome reasons. 

Personally, the thing I found to be amazing was that in this brief time running near the very back of the pack with these amazing runners, they were amazing enough people that they took the time to be incredibly welcoming and encouraging, not just about their club, but also about the sport of running. 

They’re the first ones to tell someone, “Good job!  Keep it up!” when you know that your lumbering, staggering pace is not a “good job” in anyone’s wildest imagination.  Yet, somehow, while you’re out there running, these people’s positive opinions and encouragement actually matters to you and urge you forward, with the great anticipation of finishing the race on your feet. 

And the fact is, each one of these people started somewhere.  Some were awesome athletes all their lives, I suppose.  And then there are my kindred spirits: a group of them who decided to pull their acts together at some point in their lives and do the Hard Work of getting back in shape after years of neglect.  They know that getting started is a “good job” and your first run is a “good job” and any personal record is a “good job” and that there are days when just plain not quitting is a “good job.” 

The bottom line is, they’ve been there.  And they haven’t forgotten the journey to where they are now.  And they’re happy to be a voice of encouragement to someone else starting down that path.   Hearing their voices sure helped me to remember that my own “good job” had a great deal more to do with showing up and trying than with finishing in any particular place or time.  And for me, that support was something I desperately needed to stick with the sport in the beginning stages. 

These superstars give time and encouragement and, yes, respect for anyone willing to lace up their shoes and come out and run, no matter what that newbie’s fitness level or experience.  They are ready to celebrate your “good job” with you, whatever that looks like, and without comparing it to the next guy (that one who lapped you four times, yeah, him). 

As a mama, I’m used to being the expert in lots of things.  I’m used to being the one doing the encouraging.  So it was an extra bonus to hear that atta-girl coming my way as I hauled myself over those courses and on those trails. 

Thanks Kennekuk Road Runners.  Yeah, I definitely wanna be like them when I grow up.  🙂

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Who’s to blame for this running thing ?  I can think of lots of people, lots of circumstances.  (Me?  I might be to blame for it?  Nah, what fun would that be?!)  Many seemingly unrelated events and coincidences spiraled together to push me over the edge into this adventure, but I’ll have to blame give the credit to my friend, Chris. 

See, Chris found me on Facebook and we decided we’d be workout partners.  Frankly, it was a pretty weak agreement on my part because at the time I was talking about working out without any intention of actually moving anywhere but to the refrigerator. 

This was in early May.

A few days later, Chris suggests, “Let’s run in the Mahomet 5k together in August.”  Sure, I think.  August is far enough away for my superior procrastination skills to be well-utlilized.  No problem.  Registered for wish-race.  Check.  (Still no movement, however.)

A few days later, Chris suggests, “I know it’s only 11 days away, but let’s do the Memorial Day 5k together.  We can walk it.”  At this point, I know that walking it is the ONLY way I’m getting across the finish line in 11 days, since I haven’t run a step in about a decade.  (Nearly falling off the elliptical machine does not count.)  So I commit to running walking the race in 11 days.  (Still no movement, but trepidation has begun to set in.)

I decide to see if my body can even move for 3.1 miles at any pace on its own power without the need for medical attention.  About one hour and one gallon of sweat later, I discover that I have lived to tell the tale, but am confident only in the fact that I have my work cut out for me. 

We survive the 5k walk (daughter, N, has run it and finished LONG before me, and daughter, M, is still waiting at the finish line, jumping up and down and holding a pink parasol, shouting, YAY MOMMY, very cute, but leaving me nowhere to hide) and I discover that my muscles and bones have a unique way of protesting this new thing called exercise:  they stop working.  Knees locked up, I hobbled to the bathroom after crossing the finish line.  How in the world had I let myself get in this terrible shape?!

Hobbling back to the crowd and watching the svelte lionesses get their lightning speed awards, I notice that Crazy Chris now has flyers for MORE RACES in her hand.  The next one is a FIVE HOUR see-how-far-you-can-go race put on by our local running club.  Yes, heaven help me, I’ll do it with you, Chris. 

Knowing at this point, it’s train or die racing, the movement begins.  Slowly.  But it begins. 

And over 400 miles later, I’m still running.  (Thanks Chris.)

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