Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Art of Play

I loved to move when I was a kid.  My parents would leave me in the wind-up swing for hours because I loved to be in motion.  At the age of five, I was organizing headstand contests with the kids on the block.  At seven, I moved on to racing Big Wheels for penny candy.  And by nine, I was hosting treasure hunts in the limestone quarry behind our house.  I would hide my mother's Precious Moments figurines and draw a map with an "X" where they were hidden.  Then we would spend half the day trying to find them.  We managed to find most, but my mom quickly put the kabosh on it when she noticed her collection was slowly deteriorating.

Activity was always fun as a kid.  We didn't exercise, we played.  Well, I got the chance to play Sunday with my good friend Sallie.  I dusted off my compass and did an Orienteering meet.  Although we weren't finding Precious Moments, it was just as much fun.  I did quite a bit of orienteering/navigating while training for my adventure races, but it's been years since I've looked at a map.  Needless to say, I was a little rusty and Sallie was a newbie, but we quickly learned to identify our strengths and weaknesses, and worked well as a team.

Orienteering involves finding a series of control points (check points) in sequence.  The beginner courses  are shorter in distance and the points are just off a trail.  The more challenging courses are longer in distance and the control points are much more difficult to find (like some of those figurines:)  Turns out, Sallie was great at reading the map with the clues.  I was good at translating what was on the map to what was in front of us (reading the terrain).  This is a picture of one of the ten control points we successfully found Sunday.  

Before we knew it, we were out bush-wacking (moving through thick sticker bushes and vegetation), jumping across ravines and slowly finding our way.  We were playing, and it felt good.

The greatest part of orienteering is it requires equal parts of physical and mental activity.  It's a thinking sport.  And a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon.  I'm looking forward to my next play-date.  It is a wonderful way to get in touch with my inner nine-year child.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

An Amazing Race and a Wonderful Documentary: From the Mara to the Marathon

It's been a world-wind of a week...I successfully completed my target race, the North Face 50K Challenge and had the race of my life. I always go into events with neutral expectations, because you just never know what the day will bring. If you think sun and fun, it could be rain and sleet and not-so-much fun. To me, the best part of competing in events like the North Face Challenge is running into the great unknown. And when you run mindfully, there are a lot of wonderful things that happen along the trail of life.

I shed 37 minutes off my best 50K time and for the first time in my life placed third in my age group in a running event. But that wasn't the best part of the day.  The true gift were the conversations along the way.  Somewhere around 6-7 miles into the race, I hear two runners behind me and look back to see them trying to take a picture of the beautiful foliage. It was peaking in color, and just amazing to run through.  I offer to take their picture and start to talk about where they're from and why they are running the event. Turns out they are from Puerto Rico, and were acquaintances of a wonderful man we lost this year to a heart attack, Mike Forte.  Mike, was a veteran, a coach to thousands and an inspiration in the Puerto Rico running world. A man that helped change many lives.  What are the chances of running a race in Wisconsin with 250 runners and meeting a friend of a friend from Puerto Rico?  One in a million.  We shared a moment of silence for Mike, and kept running.

So often in life we focus on the outcome, the destination, but it the journey that is chock-full of life-changing moments.

The producers of this timely documentary "From Mara to the Marathon" have captured the essence of the spirit of running, and how it brings the world closer together.


*Photos by a great friend and crew for the race, Sallie Stiens.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Finish Line

It's marathon season and a busy one at that. Last weekend, I coached our team (Chicago Endurance Sports) through the Chicago Marathon. After two years of very warm, non-marathon friendly weather we finally caught a break. It was almost perfect weather (32/42 F) to tackle 26.2 miles and the smiles that greeted me at the finish were a tell-tale sign.

Many were first-timers who just five months ago never dreamed they could finish a marathon. To look at them when they cross the finish is like seeing their life changing right before your eyes. You can almost see their shock and amazement of what they accomplished. Many take this energy and confidence to continue to run marathons, while others use it to tackle other life goals. Either way, it's an energy I never get tired of watching, and it's the true reward in coaching.

The seasoned marathoners also had a tremendous day with a record number of personal records set. From qualifying for the Boston Marathon to shedding significant chunks of time off their best marathon finishes (50 minutes). The veterans shared in the magic of the day as well. All the planets were in alignment Sunday and the glow will last for months.

The true gift of the day was watching everyone return to the CES Tent/Party after they finished and sharing their journey with their families, friends and fellow runners. Although they had to take every step on their own, running is a community sport and one that brings people together.

Happy Trails,


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Life is journey, not a destination.

You never know when something spectacular is going to cross your path.  I'm a huge fan of the fall season, in fact, it is my favorite time of the year.  I drove up from Chicago to the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon to speak last weekend and en route witnessed the early signs of the change in foliage.  My good friend Kathy told me it is either poison ivy or Virginia creeper.   It was amazing to see the contrast between the deep red leaves on the vines, and the green leaves that hadn't yet made the change.  Once they do, the picture will look very different.   I was excited to be in the right place, at the right time. 

The race weekend in Toronto was fantastic.  Two Canadian marathon records were set, with the first male coming in at 2:08 and the female at 2:28 (that's very fast folks)!  The course is flat and fast and very well organized so it is easy to understand why so many records are broken in this race every year.  I ran the half marathon and was pleased with my time (1:57).  It was one more step closer to my target race this season, The North Face 50K Ultra Marathon on October 24th.

Perhaps the best part of my weekend was working along side women's running legend, Joan Benoit Samuelson.  She was the keynote speaker at the Pasta Party, Expo and ran the half marathon in an amazing time (1:21).  Joan's running resume goes on for miles, and at the top of that list is winning the gold medal in the first women's marathon at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984.  Twenty-five years later, Joan continues to strive for new goals.  She is running the 40th ING New York City Marathon November 1st and aiming to beat the 50+ master's time of 2:53:53.  She is a true pioneer in the sport and continues to pave the way for women (and children) in running. 

Although my "carrot" this season is the Ultra Marathon, the journey to get there has been chock-full of wonderful moments. 

Happy Trials,


Friday, September 18, 2009

It's All About The Tree...

It's been almost a year since I've blogged (personally, that is) and although it was nice to take a little time off, I've missed it.  I'm fortunate to have some great professional writing gigs these days with my weekly RunnersWorld.com and BeeWellMiles.com blogs, and my monthly columns in HEALTH Magazine and Women's Running Magazine, but this is the place where I get a chance to unwind and write with a more personal flavor.  So, I promise, I'm back in the saddle again...

The big news this week is John and I are celebrating our fifth anniversary today!  We made the big move from Chicago (the city proper) to the burbs about 9 months ago, so we thought it would be a fitting and meaningful gift to buy each other a tree.  Seeing as the gift of choice for a fifth anniversary is wood and all...So here she is, an October Glory a beautiful hybrid maple tree that will grow along with us in time.

Although I've loved every minute of the city life (11 years), my spirit was yearning for peace and nature and we finally found it.  I'm also working on finding my green thumb, (okay maybe just my thumb) mountain biking and running on trails, and even paddling.  Life is good.

Happy Trails,