Magic Oats

When I trained for my first marathon ten years ago, it took a lot of trial and error to figure out my pre-run nutritional needs and sensitivities.

I started out eating normally before runs. It took only one or two long runs to realize a full stomach before a run means extreme stomach cramps or feeling like .. Well, there’s no delicate way to put this … I felt like this was going to happen:

sorry if you're easily offended or grossed out. Running ain't always pretty. (Just so we are clear, this is not me, nor did this ever actually happen to me)

sorry if you’re easily offended or grossed out. Running ain’t always pretty. (Just so we are clear, this is not me, nor did this ever actually happen to me)

I switched to eating nothing before long runs, which also resulted in severe stomach cramps in the form of hunger pangs. There was also the lack of fuel in my body that resulted in exhaustion that would continue for hours after I completed my run. Eventually I discovered the balance of eating only a granola or energy bar and some yogurt at least 20 minutes before my run. That was working pretty well even though I still lost energy before the end of a run. I assumed this was just par for the distance-runner course until my most recent discovery: steel-cut oatmeal. It was a completely accidental discovery.

I went on a girls camping trip from a Sunday to Wednesday over the summer to the Indiana Dunes State Park. The park is semi-local for all of us who went, so everyone but me had family, home or work obligations to tend to on Monday morning. That is when I decided I would do my long run for the week. The problem was, I woke up to the sound of thunder and heavy rainfall. The longer I waited for the rain to clear, the more hungry I got. I decided to go ahead and eat a full meal as it appeared it would continue to rain.

I packed steel-cut oats for a slow cooker recipe I planned to make, but since it was only going to be a breakfast for one, I didn’t make the recipe. I still wanted to use the oats so I decided to go with a single serving of plain old oats with raisins, brown sugar and a banana.

I eat oatmeal quite often, but I can’t remember ever making anything but instant oatmeal (I know). That’s the result of several years having breakfast at my desk at work. The thing with instant oats is, they fill me up, but only for about a half hour. Then I feel more hungry than before I ate them. I figured the same would be true of the steel-cut oats.

About a half hour after eating, I didn’t feel full but I was certainly not hungry. The rain had also cleared up at this point so I decide to go for my run. I wasn’t sure how long the rain would hold off, so I left in a little of a rush and forgot to take water with me, a very stupid mistake since the rain had left high humidity in its aftermath.

I headed toward the Calumet Trail, which I had heard a lot about but had never run. It’s a pretty popular and heavily-used trail in Northwest Indiana so I assumed – incorrectly – it would have water fountains along the way. I kept running, looking for water to no avail, expecting to crash at any moment from the humidity and lack of water. But, despite my thirst, I kept moving at a pretty solid pace. MapMyRun confirmed the consistent pace when I finished.

I completed my 6-mile goal about a half mile from the campground. I still had plenty of energy so I decided to do speed work the rest of the way back. I finished the workout feeling great.

My fellow campers were making their way back to the park as I finished up. At this point, the sun was actually shining, so we headed to the beach. We weren’t sure how long the weather would hold out. So, not wanting to waste the period of sunshine, we stayed at the beach through the afternoon without eating lunch, only light snacks.

Even without a long run, it’s highly unusual for me to skip a meal. I get hunger pangs, feel lethargic and feel just not well, in general, until I get food in my system. But that was not the case on this day and I could only attribute it to the oatmeal.

Concerned it might be a fluke, I tested the oatmeal numerous times afterward with similar results. It became my go-to pre-run meal.

I saw this article on the Runner’s World website a few days before my race about finding the right pre-run meal that won’t cause intestinal distress. I was surprised oatmeal was not mentioned at all. But I think it’s all about finding what works best for you. I remember talking to a marathoner a few years ago about pre-race meals and she said she eats a full meal of eggs, bacon and toast before a long race!

I went with oatmeal topped with bananas, raisins and brown sugar before the race Sunday and felt great. I had a good amount of energy for most of the race without any stomach issues whatsoever. And I wasn’t hungry until several hours after the race.

I learn something new, or find new routines, every training season. This shall go down as the Season of the Oatmeal.

Fellow runners: what are your pre-run nutrition rituals? What foods give you the right balance of energy but not too much fullness?

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A great race deserves a great day of celebration

Me and fellow TRAAG founding member Lisa have been trying to get in as many Badwater of the Midwest runs in as possible before snow makes it virtually impossible to run safely out there. With both of us self-employed, it’s a little easier to schedule these kinds of things. We decided to get together yesterday so I could give her a complete recap of the race while enjoying the trails.

When I said in a previous post that we don’t get the same kind of fall colors around here as they do in Michigan, I failed to mention there are a few exceptions. And the Palos Forest Preserve is one of those exceptions. As soon as we rounded the corner to the parking lot and got a look at the trees, in unison we both let out a “Wow! Look at that!” The colors were spectacular and I knew they would be even better from the trails.

Since I was only one day out from my race and my calves were still pretty stiff, we decided on doing only an easy 3 miles or so. Those 3 miles went by incredibly fast as we talked, I caught her up on the happenings at the race, and we admired the beautiful fall scenery, the colors of which were not captured very well in these photos.

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Lisa, directing me to the more scenic views behind and to the right of me.

Lisa, directing me to the more scenic views behind and to the right of me.

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We usually end our runs with a cup of coffee but since we got a late start and ended our run at lunch time, we decided to skip the coffee and grab a bite to eat, instead. We ran to celebrate my race, and we had this delicious lunch to celebrate our celebratory run 🙂

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I did not realize that I had never introduced Lisa to the deliciousness that is Chucks Southern Comforts Cafe. It’s one of my and Brian’s favorite restaurants in the southwest suburbs. The owner/head chef, Chuck, has a background in southern BBQ, Cajun and Mexican, which seems like very distinct styles of cooking, which they are. But he makes all three work together in one menu that you have to see to believe. We both went southern BBQ in our selections — me with pulled pork and Lisa with ribs.

I think we may have to replace our coffee tradition.

A beautiful run. Fun conversation. And a delicious lunch, all in one day. Despite the grey skies, on a scale of one to 10, I’d give yesterday a 9.5.

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No PR, but a winner

All of the weeks of running and preparation culminated on Sunday when race day finally arrived.

We spent the weekend at the Woodchip Campground in nearby Byron Center. It turned out to be a good fall camping weekend and a lot of fun with the company of my cousin Lisa and her husband, Tom, and my brother. It was a little chilly, but nothing hot cider and a warm camp fire couldn’t make better. Fall is always a good time to visit Michigan because the fall colors there are unlike anything we get by us. I only got these couple of photos at the campground, which really doesn’t do the whole Michigan fall scene justice, but you get the idea.

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It was our first time at Woodchip, and I would return if I every find myself visiting the area again, or running the marathon again. It was much smaller than all of us expected after looking at the online map of the property. But, the sites were all fairly spacious and everyone we talked to (and there were very talkative people there) were very nice. And the best part? No one complained when we inadvertently blasted 80s R&B songs outside the camper for more than an hour. We were outside by the fire when we decided to go inside my cousin’s camper to warm up. My brother brought a DVD of 80s R&B videos. The audio for the DVD player and TV comes through the stereo system which includes speakers on the outside of the camper. You can turn those speakers on and off, of course, and none of us even thought about the possibility they were on until Brian went to the bathroom and the music seemed really loud — because the outdoor speakers were on the other side of the bathroom wall. We turned the speakers off as soon as we discovered they were on. We assumed maybe the cold had driven everyone else inside their own campers and that’s why no one complained. Or maybe they were all enjoying our music, which is possible since, who doesn’t love 80s music?! Am I right?

I went to bed relatively early Saturday night to get off to an early start the next morning. When I got up Sunday — race day — I knew it was going to be cold, but didn’t expect the frost that was covering the ground and our truck. I was glad I picked up a headband to cover my ears at the race expo the day before since I had not packed a hat.

The campground was about 13 miles from the race so we left about an hour before the start. I’m glad it wasn’t any later since traffic was backed up by everyone getting off the highway at the same exit and turning the same way. We parked about a half mile from the start and I starting to get stressed on the walk over since I knew I had to hit the porta potties before the race and time was running thin. But, I made it and was happy to have made it just in time since it was c-c-cold standing in place at the start line.

I wore a long sleeve shirt and a jacket over it expecting to shed the jacket a mile or so in, but it stayed on the entire time. My headband also stayed on until the final quarter mile. It was actually nice. Any time other than while I am running, I prefer hot over cold, but I love running in cold weather.

The first 4 miles or so were in the downtown area of Grand Rapids. The race draws a pretty good crowd of spectators, which is always nice. The highlight of this portion was the crossing of the Grand River on the Historic Sixth Street Bridge, one of a handful of pedestrian bridges in the city. There was steam coming up from the water and with the skyline as a backdrop, it was very picturesque. I wished later I had stopped to take a picture.

After mile 4, the course entered a trail system toward Millennium Park. This area was quite nice, with the colorful trees, but it got a little crowded with the elite runners coming back as us middle-of-the-roaders were headed out on opposing side of the same trail. For about a mile and a half I was running in a wolf pack, unable to pass with people constantly yelling, “Stay to the right!” It got especially crazy when the wheelchair racers came through two deep. Luckily, I was in the middle of a pace group that was running my goal pace to finish in under 2:15. Speaking of pacers, I don’t know if all the pace groups were like this, but they named what would normally be the 4:30 marathon race group “Team Oprah” with a goal time of 4:29, Oprah’s marathon time. The pace group leader’s sign had a big picture of Oprah so it was easy to keep in site.

The half pace group leaders were carrying a smaller version of the same sign, complete with the 4:29 time on it so it was a little confusing, but she had a “1/2” on the front of her sign. The full marathoners and halfers stayed together until about 8.5, then they split off from one another.

The out and back in the trail system took us to just over 11 miles, then it was the home stretch. I have to say, I did a good job with the timing of my nutrition. I planned to take an energy gel about 15 minutes before the race, but with the rush to get to the start, I forgot. So, I took my first gel at about mile 4, then another at mile 8. Even though I only had a mile left at that point, I should have just taken another one at mile 12 because I felt myself really struggling. Until I saw the finish line, that is. Then I kicked it into high gear and sprinted the last leg. I never got really fatigued until that last mile. I skipped the Gatoraid and just had water at each aid station with the exception of the last station, which I skipped all together. I think the perfectly timed gels combined with my power breakfast, which I will write about in another post, made for a perfect nutrition plan.

I immediately spotted Brian right before the finish line. I had not been tracking my time at all, so I wasn’t sure where I was clockwise. Although, Team Oprah finished right ahead of me so I figured I was right around 2:15. I pulled out my phone after I crossed the finish and turned off my MayMyRun app at 2:14:39. I knew there were a few extra seconds from turning it on a few seconds before the start and a few seconds after the finish, but I knew it likely wasn’t enough to set a new PR. My official time was 2:14:28, a missed PR by a minute. The interesting thing is, I noticed this morning that the calculated distance on MapMyRun was actually 13.46 miles. I’ve always known MMR to be accurate but I can’t imagine the race organizers got the distance wrong. Just a weird thing to think about. This course was a little hillier than the Fox Valley course where I PRd last year, so I figured with that taken into consideration, a minute wasn’t so bad.

There were a couple of things that stuck with me during the race. The first was … you know those one-leg wheelchair deals where the injured leg is tucked back on a scooter thing and you use the good leg to push yourself. Hmmm…maybe easier if I find a picture.
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Ok, this. A woman was running the marathon in one of these! No, really. I did a double take. Couldn’t believe it. And she was MOVING FAST! She was one of the runners making their way out of the Millennium Park trails as I was making my way in. That’s a level of dedication I can promise you I will never possess.

Next, I passed two men running the race pushing their disabled sons in wheelchairs. It was very sweet. The first son in the wheelchair was sleeping. The second one had a look of sheer joy on his face that was indescribable.

Lastly, the signs. I decided I want to run a race in which I care nothing about time so I can stop and photograph every funny sign that I see. I can never remember all the noteworthy ones. But I did remember a couple this time:

“You’re chafing your dreams!”

“You’ve got this. You trained longer than Kim Kardashiam was married.”

And finally:

“If you haven’t pooped your pants yet, you are already a winner.”

I’m a winner! The lady with the funny sign said so.

Posted in Camping, exercise, Fitness, Half marathon training, health, Marathon training, Running, traveling | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Entering the final strecth

It’s now officially the final stretch of my training for the Oct. 19 half marathon.

For a couple of weeks, I scaled back from the recommended mileage in the program I have been following due to the aforementioned neck, back and shoulder issues. But, compared with my usual low-mileage training programs — I also did more cycling to make up for the decrease in running — I felt like I was still on track.

Neck, shoulder and back issues on the mend, I stepped it up this week with some pretty spectacular success so far.

The beginning of fall always makes me somewhat sad — the end of summer and all — I do love the beauty of the season as well as the perfect running weather it offers. Long runs are so much easier without the humidity.

The week started off with an 11-mile run on Monday, which ended up being an 11.25-mile run (it was one of those runs in which I hit my goal before I got home, but kept running). I took Tuesday off to recover, then yesterday I did 5 miles under perfect blue skies.
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Today was interval speed training that took me a little more than 3 miles, again in perfect weather conditions. I was happy with my average pace of just over 9:45-minute miles.

Tomorrow I plan to cap off my week with a 5.5-mile run, interval training on Saturday and my last long run of my training program – 12 miles — on Monday, after taking the day off on Sunday.

The time to beat is 2:13:26, the PR I set last year at the Fox Valley River half. I don’t know if I’ll beat it but I’m not really concerned about it. After all of the time I took off from running the past year, it feels great to be heading to the starting line of a race again. And at a time when so many friends, family and acquaintances are dealing with healthcare issues that would cripple me with fear, I am so thankful for my health and for the ability to still participate in a sport like running. Hitting the finish line will be icing, PR or no PR.

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Not all runs created equal, part 2

Earlier in the summer, our dog Maya had surgery for her hip dysplasia. She was very sore and got tired incredibly easy. But it was important to her recovery that we walk her and exercise the leg as much as possible. So our walks went something like this:

Walk about a house length, then collapse and rest
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Walk another house length
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Then collapse and rest again
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She’s doing much better these days. She can complete a walk without resting now, but we just can’t go as far as we used to.

On my long run yesterday I was reminded of Maya because all I wanted to do was stop and rest after every mile. I did 10 miles, the first 5 of which went very well but then I completely lost steam. I’m not sure if it was my reduced mileage from the previous recovery from neck and back issues, which are mostly resolved now. Or maybe it was my diet. Or maybe it was the heat, which honestly wasn’t that bad.

I managed to finish, but it was definitely one of those runs where I was a half mile from home when I hit the 10-mile mark and I didn’t even think about doing anything else but walk the rest of the way home. During the run, I stopped twice — not to walk but I pulled a Maya and stopped completely to sip some water, refuel with energy gel and build up energy to continue. The only thing I didn’t do was lie in the grass, but don’t think I didn’t consider it.

Here’s hoping for a better run tomorrow.

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Not all runs are created equal

There are runs in which I make it home before my goal distance is reached and then I decide whatever distance I am at is close enough and I stop. Then there are runs in which it doesn’t matter if I am only .2 miles from goal distance, I will circle the house, run to the end of the block and back, or up and down the driveway to make it to my goal.

The last long run I did two weeks ago was the former, the run I did this morning was the latter.

Two weeks ago we were camping at Chain O’ Lakes State Park. I was looking forward to the long run all week, remembering what a great run I had there last year. The park has a great trail system, and we all know how much I love my trail runs.

The first few miles were pretty great. Brian did about three with me. Time and miles always pass by quicker when you run with someone. The trails up to the point Brian turned back were pretty shaded, so the heat wasn’t an issue. But shortly after, my nice shaded trails ….
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… turned to hot and not-so-shaded trails. And my enjoyable run took a turn for the worse.

I somehow ended up on a horse trail full of hills, horse scat, uneven ground and even more sun. I probably started the run a little later than I should have, so the sun was really intensifying. I had to stop and walk a few times. Quite a few times, actually. I was just too hot and exhausted to keep pushing it. But when I got a burst of energy, I took advantage of it and pushed as hard as I could. My splits ended up only about 30 seconds slower than normal, so I felt pretty good about that. And there were some scenic areas I got to enjoy….
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I ended up with about 7.5 miles and I was supposed to do 8.

The following week, the nagging pain I have had in my neck and shoulder area for quite a while now had gotten much worse. I finally went to have the chiropractor look at it. She agreed there were some issues and it was best to baby it for a week or so. Since the 7.5 miler, I had only done runs of no more than 4.5 to 5 miles. My neck has improved so I decided I needed to get back on track with training.

The training plan called for 9.5 miles today. I set a goal of 8. It’s a pretty grey and blah day outside. It’s been drizzling off and on throughout the day. During my run, it was just cool and grey but no rain. These kinds of days always put me in a blah mood, but I have to tell you, they are pretty spectacular for running.

I hit the nearby wildlife refuge area near my house where there are about 1.5 miles worth of paved trails. I enjoy running there except when it’s crowded with bikes and other runners. Always needing to be aware of what is coming or passing, I am constantly looking over my shoulder which can get exhausting, which is what was happening this morning. From the wildlife refuge, I headed to another of my favorite running spots. A place that is, ahem … much less lively. (eh-oh!)
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Funny side story: When I first discovered this place, the perimeter of which is about 3.25 miles, I felt a little weird about running or biking there. I was afraid some people might find it disrespectful. One day, I was riding my bike and this woman pulled up next to me in her car, waving her hands to get my attention. Here we go, I though to myself. She’s going to give me a tongue lashing about respecting the dead, etc. But instead, she was all smiles and said she had never thought of biking, walking or running in the cemetery, “but what a great idea!” she said. “It’s the perfect place. Lots of room, no traffic. Plenty of shade.” She said that I would likely see her out there sometime.

A little surprised, I responded with, “Really? I’m always afraid people won’t like it that I am here.”

“Oh, please, honey,” she responded. “This place could use a little life!”

And there you go. I never think twice about biking or running there now.

The run was going fabulously well this morning when I made it to the cemetery. I made one circle around and decided to cut through some of the center streets to get a little more mileage in case I came up short once I got near home. After that little extra, I was about a mile from home when I reached my 8-mile goal. I felt great so I kept going. When I got back to my house, my running app said I was at 8.8. I couldn’t stop without hitting 9, so I ran to the end of the block to get me to an even 9.

I think the rest over the past week or so, combined with the cool temps did me some good. As sad as I am to see summer ending, my best training weeks are likely going to be over the next few weeks, the further we get into fall, which I also saw signs of today 😦
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Making a comeback

I knew it had been a while since I last updated but didn’t realize it’s been almost a year!

So much has happened in that span I’m not sure where to begin. Some (not so) highlights: I lost my job when the publication I wrote for was shut down; I lost my granny (expected); I lost my beloved Auntie Jo (completely unexpected); and I endured the most brutal winter I can ever remember (luckily I did not have to commute).

For the past year I have been freelancing. I was fortunate to have several offers come my way when the publication shut down so it has afforded me the luxury of being selective about the jobs I apply to and the ability to turn down low-ball offers. But the downside of it all is that I haven’t made time for running or blogging. Excuses for the lack of running include the brutal winter and nagging neck and shoulder issues. Excuses for the lack of blogging include the lack of running to write about, the heavy load of freelance writing, and the difficulty separating writing for fun and writing for work now that all of it is done from the kitchen table. But the excuse that holds the most truth is just an overall lack of motivation that is difficult to explain or even understand because despite the challenges from the past year, life is still good.

In an attempt to get back on track, I have set some goals, most notably a half marathon in October. After the half I ran last September (where I set a new PR thankyouverymuch) I haven’t really had my sights on any race of significant distance. After deferring my entrance to the Grand Rapids half marathon twice now (first year I threw out my back two days before the race, last year we made travel plans for the same weekend as the race) I decided third time’s a charm; I’m gonna make it happen.

Those familiar with my running background are probably also familiar with my unorthodox training methods. I decided to switch it up and try a completely new training program and stick to it as much as possible without adding my own modifications. So, I am five weeks in on the MapMyRun intermediate half marathon training program. So far so good despite the overall challenge of making running part of the normal routine again. I like that the program has speed work built into it. I also like that not all of the runs are based on distance. Some are just set times, such as 20 minutes of tempo.

My hope is to blog my way through this comeback. The lack of running and the resulting weight gain have made running a little more challenging than it has been in the past, but I’m making progress. I hope to continue in a positive direction.

A sign of a good run is muddy shoes.  My friend Lisa and I had a great one yesterday. The more trail runs I can incorporate into this training program, the happier I will.

A sign of a good run is muddy shoes. My friend Lisa and I had a great one yesterday. The more trail runs I can incorporate into this training program, the happier I will.

Posted in exercise, Fitness, Half marathon training, health, Marathon training, motivation, Running, Uncategorized | Tagged | 2 Comments

Running errands with the Amish

My Friend Kristin is the type of person who will make friends with anyone. If you ever attend a party at her home, this fact will be evident. You’ll meet people from every background ranging from a Jewish attorney who is married to a protestant lawyer, to a stay-at-home mom from down the street. So it was no surprise when, soon after she and her family bought a farm in rural Wisconsin, she befriended an Amish farm girl. She met — let’s call her Ruth — at a local farmer’s market and the two became fast friends.

Brian and I spent the Labor Day weekend at the farm. On Saturday morning, Kristin and I were going to run to the store to get food for the weekend and she asked me if I wanted to stop by and visit with Ruth on the way in to town. Um …. yeah! I have long been fascinated with the Amish which started with several visits to Nappanee, Ind., when I was growing up. Nappanee is a small Amish community in Northern Indiana where visitors can tour Amish farms, eat an Amish meal and buy everything from Amish baked goods to hand-made furniture.

On the way to Ruth’s farm, Kristin told me that when they first met, Ruth was in her early 30’s and not married, which is very rare in the Amish community as they tend to marry very young. A year or so ago, Ruth met a young man on a bus ride across country and they married this past Spring. Kristin learned of the marriage when Ruth called her one day (she uses a community pay phone) and invited her to the wedding which was taking place at her parents’ farm the next day. Not knowing what to wear to an Amish wedding, Kristin politely declined the invitation. (What does a non-Amish woman where to an Amish wedding, anyway?)

Kristin said she saw Ruth a couple of months ago and Ruth told her she was expecting. Kristin asked when she due and Ruth told her sometime in October. Kristin’s husband, Steve, raised his eyebrows a bit. It hadn’t hit Kristin at the time, but Steve later told her to do the math and, “WHOA!! AN AMISH SHOTGUN WEDDING!” Oh the scandal.

We arrived at the farm and Ruth came out to meet us. She was hugely pregnant and her ankles were swollen like water balloons. Kristin commented that she looked like she had lost weight in her face and neck. Apparently Ruth has had a pretty difficult pregnancy. She had both kidney and gallbladder problems. She’s had to modify her diet and take vitamin supplements which she said are helping. She was very sweet. Spoke with a heavy accent. Kristin said Ruth’s first language was Pennsylvania Dutch.

Her husband, William, also came out to greet us and I immediately wondered if there was an Amish phrase equivalent to “cougar.” Her husband looked to be about 20-years-old … maybe. But he was very polite and talkative. We visited for a while out near the barn. When we said we would have to get going soon, Ruth said her husband was leaving soon, as well. He started walking toward the horse and buggy to unhitch it and she rattled off a long list of tasks he was to complete. We laughed and said she has got the nagging wife thing down.

William said they had purchased a new buggy that he was picking up later in the afternoon and we could could see it if we were still there later. It sounded like he had enough on his honey-do list to keep him occupied the entire day so we told him we would see the new buggy next time. Then Ruth asked if it was too much trouble for us to give them a ride instead of William taking the horse and buggy. It wasn’t clear where, exactly, they needed to go but we told her we would give them a ride if they needed one. She said it would save them a lot of time, so they both piled in Kristin’s car, a convertible Mustang.

I volunteered to sit in the back with William, afraid if Ruth crammed her way in to the back seat, as pregnant as she was, she would be unable to get herself out. The four of us got buckled in and we headed down the driveway toward the road.

“I never rode in a convertible before,” William said to me. “It’s kind of like air conditioning, huh?” he asked.

“Yes. Yes, it is. By the way, you’re gonna want to hold on to that straw hat there, Buddy.”

We took off down the road and William throws his hands in the air, Thelma and Louise style. I wanted to take a picture but knew it was a no-no for the Amish to be photographed. We passed the neighboring farms where other Amish were out in their yards and fields. They looked, then did a double take with jaws dropped open and a look I couldn’t interpret. It was either one of disbelief, envy, or one of: “We’re going to pray for you. And, by the way, the pastor will be at your house before sundown.” But William and Ruth just smiled and waved as if they were sitting on top of a float in a Fourth of July parade.

We traveled down a long country road, enjoying the natural air conditioning, beautiful weather and our Amish car mates. After about 20 minutes, all I could think of was how long the trip would have taken in a horse and buggy. No wonder they would risk damnation for a ride in a gas-fueled vehicle. We finally arrived at a gravel road that William instructed Kristin to turn down. It went down this small hill and continued on. I couldn’t help but hear the dueling banjos of Deliverance fame playing in my head. It was a little nerve-wracking, I’ll be honest.

We arrived at a large log cabin which I assumed was not an Amish homestead since their houses tend to be white. We pulled behind the house, dogs were barking and no one was in sight. William went to the door and started knocking. And knocking. And knocking some more. After about five to eight minutes, a woman come to the door with two toddlers at her heels. She was wearing what looked like traditional Amish wear, so they were either rebel Amish or the white house thing isn’t a rule. She and William had some kind of exchange that we couldn’t really hear, nor could we understand as it was not conducted in English. Then he says something in Pennsylvania Dutch to Ruth, who was still in the Mustang. There was a lot of back and forth and the conversation seemed to get a little tense. The woman kept going inside the house, coming back outside the house and going back in. She finally came back out with a checkbook in her hand, wrote out a check and handed it to William.

Check in hand, William got back in the car and we headed back down the gravel road again. Once we made it to the main road, Ruth asked Kristin if we could make another stop. It was on the way, she said. We arrived at a traditional-looking Amish farm and two men were standing outside the farm house. Again, William got out of the car and Ruth stayed behind. One of the men took off in his buggy at speeds I would consider unsafe for an automobile made of wood and pulled by a horse. William then approached the other man, took the check he received at the last house out of his pocket and handed it to the guy. There was some sort of exchange that was, again, conducted in Pennsylvania Dutch. William spent about 10 minutes talking to the other guy before he finally came back to the car and said we could go.

When we got back to farm, we made it clear we really had to go. We had been gone for more than two hours and still had shopping to do. Our worried husbands would never believe we spent the afternoon playing taxi to the Amish running errands. They thanked us for the ride, told Kristin they would keep her posted on the impending birth. Ruth offered us potatoes and we were on our way.

As we pulled out of the driveway, Kristin looked at me and said she was so sorry that ended up taking so much time. Are you kidding me? I just spent the afternoon riding around in a convertible with an Amish couple. You can’t make this kind of material up. But, I told Kristin, I was confused as to what, exactly, the errand was that they were running. “Do you have any idea what that was all about,” I asked.

Kristin stopped the car and turned to me with a serious look of concern on her face.

“I think we just participated in an Amish drug deal,” she said.

Posted in Stuff that would only happen to me, traveling, Uncategorized, weekend getaway | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The tasty side of Juneau

I tasted my first Alaskan brewed beer when we were in Denali. They had the White Ale from the Alaskan Brewing Company on tap so I decided to give it a try. I’m more of wine drinker than beer drinker, but I do appreciate a good microbrew. This was among the best I have tasted.

On our way back from the dog sledding/helicopter trip in Juneau, our driver offered to drop us off anywhere we wanted to go in the downtown area instead of back at the cruise ship docks. He told us about the highlights of downtown and mentioned the Alaskan Brewing Company. I guess I didn’t realize it was brewed in Juneau. He said the brewery was just outside town. The tour, he said, was a little untraditional as it doesn’t really go through the brewery but rather to a tasting room where you hear about the brewery’s history, which was a neat story, he said, then you get to sample as many beers as you could stomach. We hadn’t made any plans for Juneau other than the dog sledding excursion so we were open to suggestions. We also have an unintentional habit of visiting breweries while traveling (Guinness in Dublin, Budweiser in St. Louis, New Glarus in New Glarus, Wisc., etc). The deal was further sweetened when he said the brewery had a merchandise store downtown and they operate a shuttle service to and from the brewery from that shop.

Sounded good. But we wanted to grab some lunch, we told our driver.

Do you like crab? he asked

Um. No. We LOVE crab.

You have to have a king crab leg and chowder from Tracy’s Crab Shack, he told us.

I had actually heard about Tracy’s from the Cruise Critic boards where it was described as THE place for Bering Sea crab legs in all of Alaska. If it’s THE place, how could we say no?

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Tracy’s is just two trailers side-by-side. You order your food and get drinks at the first one and they cook it in the second one. We ordered one crab leg a piece and a crab bisque to share. When the legs came out, we just stared at them in disbelief. I’m convinced the Bering Sea is steroid water.
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They were as tasty as they were big. And the bisque was among the best I’ve ever had. With bellies full of crab, we made our way to Franklin Street and immediately saw the Alaskan Brewing Company store. In front of the store was a guy yelling that the next tour was leaving in 10 minutes. Perfect timing!

We took a shuttle van to the outskirts of town to the brewery. In the tasting room, the on-duty brewmaster gave us an overview of the company and a little bit about its history which, as our earlier driver told us, is quite interesting.

The walls were lined with microbrews from every state. We had no idea there were microbreweries in the Florida Keys!

The walls were lined with microbrews from every state. We had no idea there were microbreweries in the Florida Keys!


First, a little bit about Juneau. If you are ever on Jeopardy! and the answer is “the only U.S. Capitol accessible only by boat or airplane” the correct response would be Juneau. If you’re thinking, wait a minute, that can’t be correct. What about Honolulu — which is what we thought when we first heard this — Honolulu is on an island, yes. But it’s the island that’s accessible only by boat or plane, not the city. There are roads on the island that go into and out of the city of Honolulu. Juneau is not an island, but there are no roads going into or out because it’s surrounded by water on one side and mountain and glaciers on the other side.

So, in the 1980s the founders of the Alaskan Brewing Company, a couple named Marcy and Geoff Larson, wanted to open a brewery. Considering the whole boat or water thing, the idea seemed a little crazy since the cost of importing supplies and exporting the product would mean beer that would have to sell for champagne prices. The Larson’s explored ways to keep the costs down, then went to some fellow residents of Juneau with the idea. They ultimately decided “why not?”and they got several local investors on board. Some of the same investors volunteered their time to get the brewery up and running. Well, technically, they were being paid. In beer. Whatever beer bottles came off the lines with crooked labels or other cosmetic defects, the volunteers would keep. Word spread and they soon had so many volunteers they had to split them in to three shifts. The brewery operated this way – solely with volunteers — for the first six years of its existence.

The Larsons continue to find ways they can save money and reduce their carbon footprint through green technology and innovations. They have more about that on their website.

Their beers have won numerous awards. And I can say, they serve up a tasty pint. They now distribute the beer to 18 of the lower 48 states, which does not include Illinois. But, we are very close to Wisconsin which is one if the 18. Brian was up there for business a couple of weeks ago, found the beer in a store and brought some home. We can now enjoy a pint and think of our time in Alaska. And, more specifically, Juneau. Now. If only we could find some of those King crab legs!

Posted in Alaska, Alaska, bucket list, bucket list, Juneau, traveling | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The most amazing endurance athletes I’ve ever met

The day that I was most anticipating since we started planning our trip to Alaska was the day we would spend in Juneau because of the awesome excursion I found. I had an Alaska bucket list in my head and when I saw this excursion, I realized I could knock three things off the list in one fell swoop.

The excursion was a helicopter ride to a glacier, landing on a glacier and dog sledding. There were several dog sledding excursions at other ports along the way but because it was summertime, most of them didn’t have dogs pulling actual sleds on snow, but wheeled carts on pavement or gravel paths. This is how they train the dogs during the summer months. The carts would have been an OK experience, I suppose, but when I saw the excursion with actual sledding — on a glacier (!!) — the alternative didn’t seem nearly as exciting anymore.

The price tag for the excursion was pretty steep but I did not find one negative review of the tour company. In fact, almost every one I read said it was the highlight of their entire trip. The whole experience sounded simply amazing.

We shared the helicopter with a lady and her teenaged niece which left one open seat so we had a little breathing room. Brian lucked out and got to sit in the co-pilot seat on the way to the glacier.
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The views were spectacular. We crossed over a snow-capped mountain range to get to the Juneau Ice Field. Along the way we flew over a few massive glaciers, including the tail end of the Norris Glacier, the glacier on which the dog mushers camp was located and where we would be landing.

Juneau is on the right, Douglas, AK is on the left.

Juneau is on the right, Douglas, Alaska is on the left.


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Tail end of the Norris Glacier.

Tail end of the Norris Glacier.


Taku Glacier.

Taku Glacier.


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There were five helicopters in the fleet that took off at the same time and all flew in formation, landing one at a time on the glacier. It was pretty neat to see.
Arriving at the musher's camp on Norris Glacier.

Arriving at the musher’s camp on Norris Glacier.


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We stepped off the helicopter and were standing on hundreds of feet of ice dating back centuries. Pretty amazing when you think about it.
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Once there, each helicopter group paired off with a dog musher. Ours was Dave Dalton who, in February, came in 12th place at the Yukon Quest race. The Yukon Quest is a 1,000-mile race from Whitehorse, Yukon, to Fairbanks. The course is considered to be among the most rugged of all North American dog sledding events. The other thing the race is known for is the amazing athleticism of the dogs who run it and the great care the mushers take of those athletes.

Us with Dave Dalton, our expert musher.

Us with Dave Dalton, our expert musher.


Dave told us a bit about the training while we were out with him and I was so fascinated, I did a bit more research on my own. Just like humans, the dogs train by building up their mileage, cross-training and eating right. But I don’t know of any humans who have the same level of endurance that these dogs do. Not even ultra-marathon man Dean Karnazes.

The Yukon Quest goes anywhere from 10 to 16 days which means the dogs run anywhere from 80 to 100 miles a day, every day for about two weeks. The even more amazing thing is that dogs generally race for 10 years, some up to 12 years. I was also surprised at how little the dogs were. I expected large huskies weighing in at about 75 to 80 pounds but they average only about 40 pounds.
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Until I saw the dogs in person I was a little skeptical of the claim I have often heard that the dogs absolutely love to run. Once I saw them in action, I realized it’s true. Forget the Tarahumara Indians Christopher McDougall wrote about in his book “Born to Run.” These dogs were truly born to run. When we would stop to let them rest, they would lay flat on their bellies to cool down for a few short minutes then they would be up, pulling and howling because they were ready to go. The one thing we were told right away is to never step off the brake. If you do, the dogs will take off without you. Even on the brake, it was difficult at times to keep them from pulling the sled out from under your feet. This video kind of shows it.

We each got to take a turn in the “driver’s seat.” The whole experience was so memorable and I was left in complete aw of these amazing athletes who also happened to be pretty darn cute.
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Posted in Alaska, Alaska, bucket list, bucket list, Fitness, health, Running, traveling, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment