Lauren Bremer’s Journey to the Finish Line

Lauren Bremer
Lauren Bremer

In 2012, Lauren Bremer kept a training blog as she prepared to run the Door County Half Marathon, raise two kids, teach at Gibraltar, and stay sane.

Wed. Nov. 30 | Run #1 | Distance: 2.43 miles | Pace: 12:28

Today, I went for a run.

Exactly three weeks ago, I was lying in a hospital bed fantasizing about this run I just took. I had just given birth to my second (and most likely, final) child on November 8th. She was two and half weeks past her due date, and as I was pacing around the house waiting for her to arrive, I found myself thinking about my looming 30th birthday on November 25th and noticing something interesting about life patterns. I know plenty of women, and men actually for that matter, who reach their thirties and seem to head down one of two paths:  I was on that first path after my first child was born, the second path is the one I am attempting to take, starting today.

That first path, for me, was a joyful one. I had a new baby boy, a wonderful husband, a career in teaching and coaching that was gaining momentum, a newly completed home, a successful small business…life was – and is – good. Looking back now though, I realize there was a facet of my life that was going resoundingly unnoticed and unchecked: my physical life. It’s a common and somewhat mundane story:  a green mother juggling a career and a variety of other commitments – what gets left behind? For me, and I think for many other Americans sadly, it was the attention to my body. I’m not simply talking about weight gain here (although of course there was plenty of that both times); I’m talking about a mindfulness regarding what goes into the body and what you can expect to get out of it. I’m talking about feeling the resonating, happily painful ache of using and pushing your body to its potential. I lost that.

And as I lay in my bed at Door County Memorial Hospital in a post-birth haze of sleeplessness and timelessness, I saw down these two paths clearly. On one path, I saw myself as I was after baby #1 – a reasonably healthy person, but perhaps 10-15 pounds overweight, detached from the food I eat, missing a fundamental, quotidian connection between mind and body, something which I believe we have the responsibility and need to experience as healthy human beings.

Perhaps it’s the early stages of a mid-life crisis, but I see this as an important crossroads for my life. I want to recapture the athleticism of my youth and make it my daily reality, before I slip into an unhealthy pattern as a mother and professional that I think happens far too often. And so, I’m choosing the second path – the path of health, centeredness, and focus. The Door County Half Marathon is my first goal. I hope that it will be the first of many goals for recapturing an active lifestyle.

For all intents and purposes, I am starting at square one. In the past, I have been a reasonably active person and even a novice runner, but I am “forgiving” myself of my history in order to start with clear, practical expectations of myself.

So today, I went for a run. It was slow, it was painful at times, it was joyful at times, but nonetheless, it was a start down the right path.

The Thirty-Minute Run

Tues. Dec. 6 | Run # 6 |Distance today: 2.58 mi | Pace: 9:56

When I began to ask “runner-friends” for advice on how to train for a half-marathon, I got a variety of responses.

“Make it part of your routine.”

“Don’t be afraid to run slowly.”

“Set small, achievable goals for yourself.”


I heard much of this advice and knew that there would come a time when it would all be extremely helpful and useful, but some of the tidbits were hard to wrap my head around as a daily non-runner. For example, the “don’t be afraid to run slowly” bit…that made no sense to me at first. And the “rest” advice? Outside of context, how did resting make me a better runner? All I do now (on my maternity leave) is rest.

I knew that to interpret some of these wise words from seasoned runners, I needed to seek out an interpreter. Veteran runner and writer Hal Higdon was the first one who helped me to make sense of my well-meaning friends’ thoughts and to give me a starting point. His advice is the 30/30 plan. It involves 30 days of 30 minutes of a run/walk combination. For more on that see his site:

In his book Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide, he goes into greater detail about this concept, and, in a nutshell, discusses the importance of listening to your body as you begin any type of running. Start by walking, and when you’re ready to, run. When your body tells you to slow it down, walk until you recover, then run again. This series of walk, run, walk, run will begin to condition your body.

Obviously, this is pretty elementary stuff for seasoned runners, but it has been working beautifully for me after one week. Knowing my own mind, I knew that I needed to accomplish three things in my first few weeks of running: (1) Don’t overdo it, (2) listen to my body, and (3) don’t be ashamed to walk. Anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I’m a competitive woman.  That’s true of volleyball and Trivial Pursuit games alike. Therefore, I knew I had to initially treat my training as a competition only with myself, or better yet, not a competition at all (which was hard for me).  I had to acknowledge that walking was not failing, which, at first, felt like it was.

Thirty minutes. On day one, and on every run that followed, I forced myself to start by walking. When I was ready to run, I turned on my running app (Nike+ GPS) and my tunes, and took off. On day one, I made it about 0.6 miles before wanting to walk, so I did. And again at mile 1.5 and at mile 2.2. At the end of the “run”, I had gone 2.43 miles, walked three times but run the majority, and felt great.

Now, after five more runs, I continue to start and finish by walking, but now I feel good enough to keep a reasonably even pace of running without walking. It feels fantastic. It was 32 degrees out and lightly snowing when I left the house this morning, and when I returned and saw that my pace had improved to just under ten minutes, I felt something bordering on pride.  I only ran 20% of a half marathon distance today, but the pattern has started, and for thirty minutes every day, I feel like I’m gettin’ it done.

Treadmill or Freezing Rain?

Mon. Dec. 12 | Run # 9 |Distance today: 2.85 mi Pace: 10:01

Late last week, as I was getting ready to go for a run, I stepped outside to get the mail. It was cold. Seventeen degrees cold. Now, come mid-February, a temperature like that wouldn’t faze me in the least; however, this early in the winter it gave me pause about where I wanted to run that day.

I decided to finally put my membership at Fish Creek’s YMCA to good use since I pay my membership dues every month but probably have not made an appearance since March 2010. I have plenty of “runner-friends” who train regularly on treadmills and count it as a critical component for their own regiment. I was told by my friend Jake, “Like it or hate it, you’ll probably need to do part of your training on a treadmill.” He’s a dedicated runner with an impressive race resume, so I believed him completely.

After five minutes of brisk walking on the treadmill, I hopped off to stretch and had a look around the room, feeling pretty satisfied. It was early in the day, I was getting my run in, I was about twenty years younger than the next youngest person in the room…I was feeling pretty good. There was an “elderly” gentleman who was getting on the treadmill next to me as I started my run, and I thought, “Pssh…I’m gonna outrun this guy, no problem.”

Lesson #1 about treadmill training: never compare yourself to runners next to you. Especially when that comparing involves underestimating them and overestimating yourself after two weeks of training. With a ½ mile done at a 6.5 mph pace, I felt my brain racing. I wasn’t physically exhausted but for some reason, all I wanted to do was stop. The elderly chap next to me seemed to be running about five times as fast as me and didn’t look like he’d broken a sweat. He even seemed to be managing a kind conversation with a passerby without heaving or gasping for air. I found myself staring at the screen on the treadmill, obsessing over all the numbers flashing by at me…”102 calories burned….10% complete….pace 9:43….”

I felt like I was moving a little too fast and when I went to slow down the pace, I accidentally hit the STOP button and found myself at a standstill. Frustrated, I sped up, spent two minutes running and then did the exact same thing again. I hated that when I wanted to slow down, I had to hit buttons to make it happen. I’m sure I don’t know how to use the incredible machinery to its fullest potential, but I wished immediately for 17 degree temperatures and a biting headwind. I only got two miles in before I decided I was done for the day, and my pace was so up and down that I was frustrated completely with my day’s stats.

So today, I poked my head out of the house and sniffed the 37 degree air. It was raining, the wind was vacillating between gusting and standstill, and there was no hint of sunshine in the neighborhood. Still, I knew this was preferable for me today. After a shade under three miles, I had run my fastest mile (9:52), and walked back into the house feeling a little tired and utterly content. The rain had been cold, the wind unkind, but I learned something about myself as a runner: I would much rather be outside with the slow, passive rhythm of shoe-on-pavement, the zen-like meditation on the changing scenery and passing cars, and the sound of my Border Collie’s panting next to me, all things a treadmill does not capture. There will be days this winter, I know, when treadmill training will be a must, and I’m sure I’ll come around on it…but not today.

Beating Bests

Fri. Dec. 23 | Run #14 |Distance: 4.03 miles | Pace: 9:25

I’m at that point in my training where every time I go for a run, I seem to make a new personal best. It is simultaneously gratifying and depressing. It’s gratifying, certainly, because it feels incredible to feel my body recovering and performing in leaps and bounds after having a baby two months ago. It’s slightly depressing, because history tells me that I’m heading for a plateau.

My running app has this neat little feature that gives me recorded oral feedback after a run from some of the great athletes:  Paula Radcliffe, Lance Armstrong, Dirk Nowitski. As I finish my final push toward my mailbox and hit “end workout” on my iPod, I hear that bouncy, motivational voice say something like, “This is Paula Radcliffe. Congratulations, you just recorded a new personal best for the 5K.”

I love that voice. It makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something today. I may not have finished getting my Christmas decorations out, or cleaned up the spinning tornado of puzzles that my 2-year-old seems to leave in his wake, but I did record a new personal record. And that feels good.

It happened today when I recorded a new fastest mile: 9:20. That’s still well above what I hope to be able to maintain for longer distances, but it continues to be an improvement, and training doesn’t happen in days. My competitive nature compels me to always want to one-up myself or my competitor, and I’m trying really hard not to get too obsessed with the numbers. I have forced myself to run my first 1-2 miles slowly so that I can run negative splits.  I will literally force myself to sing Beyonce or Justin Timberlake to keep myself from working too hard (I’m sure my neighbors don’t appreciate that sound). Or I’ll talk to myself out loud: “take it easy”, “you’re just going for a run”, “slow and steady.”

Some days, that seems to work, and on others, like today, I couldn’t seem to go much slower. The sun was shining, it was unseasonably warm, and although there’s no snow, Christmas was in the air. My border collie, Jack, runs with me and he is actually an incredible pacesetter.  He likes to run about two feet in front of me, and if I find myself running next to him, I’m moving faster than my usual pace. Today, he was running behind me and I was content leaving him there. When the voice feedback sang, “One mile completed. Time: nine minutes, twenty seconds. Average pace: 9:20 per mile” I watched Jack skitter onto the shoulder when I yelled something to the effect of, “SWEET!”

“Sexy Back” sounded especially good on mile two today.

Tomorrow, or perhaps the next day, I’ll sprint to my mailbox, end my workout, and hear radio silence. I’ll check my overall time and pace and have to say, “Oh well. I can’t break a record every day.”  I’m actually looking forward a bit to hitting that wall, because then I’ll be able to establish more of a baseline for what seems reasonable in my training. Then I feel like the real training will begin.

Running the Course

Mon. Jan. 9 | Run #25 | 4.58 miles | Pace 9:20

“The weather in Door County this winter has been horrid.”

If this were any other winter, I would agree whole-heartedly with this sentiment. We’ve had little to no snow, the temperature has vacillated between -2 and near 50, and the county, therefore, has seemed extra dead without the boost of snow-sporting tourists thronging northward. I fancy myself a winter enthusiast. I enjoy cross country skiing, an occasional snowshoe tromp through the less-traveled trails, and I absolutely adore Fish Creek Winter Games (especially the new addition of human foosball-the greatest adult sport ever). This winter, though, the lack of snow on the roads and the generally mild temperatures has allowed me to do something I wasn’t expecting: train on the Door County Half Marathon course.

I’ve been running distances that vary between three and four and a half miles about five times a week and I’ve found a few spots in the park that are particularly awesome. When I asked around for advice, my best bud and race organizer, Allison Vroman, suggested a loop around what I’ve come to think of as the “backwoods” of the course. This involves starting from Lot 5 in Peninsula State Park, running north along Highland Road, turning left on Skyline Road, turning left again on Hemlock Road, taking another left on Middle Road and  ending up back at Lot 5. This square is essentially miles 6-10 of the course.

I ran this loop last week on Tuesday Jan. 3 at 3:45 in the afternoon and loved it. It was immediately after my official first day back on the job after finishing my maternity leave. I had a lot on my mind. I had literally spent the last two months hanging around my house in my jammies with my two kids and my husband, drinking coffee, listening to NPR, and reading books. Once a day, I would change into my running clothes, disappear for a run, take a shower, and put my jammies back on. That was my life. But it wasn’t real life.

Real life started on Tuesday, and I knew that if I was going to make the successful transition between dream world (where my whole family gets to hang out all day, attend holiday parties, and eat cookies) and real world (where I see 95 high school students a day, teach six classes, and grade an indiscriminate number of essays), then I would require a plan to fit training in. For me, that meant that I couldn’t walk in my door at home without having gotten a run in. Otherwise, my two-year old would have a melt-down when I turned around to leave again or, more likely, I would just put my jammies on. So running the course was the solution. It helps that Gibraltar High School’s backyard is Peninsula State Park.

Today, then, I experimented with another loop: one that is slightly more challenging. This loop starts at mile 2 of the course (the Nature Center), runs along Shore Road, and follows the course past the cemetery, up Middle Road, UP Skyline Road to Sven’s Bluff, and then back down to Hemlock and the Nature Center. It’s about four and half miles and includes a beautiful warm up along the bay and then a butt-kicking climb up some of the course’s biggest elevation gains. Needless to say, I feel lucky to be a local and to be able to know what’s coming for me on my first real race day.

These were really my first true hills of training and the sense of accomplishment at the tops of these peaks is so different from the rewards that come with running on relatively level ground. You veteran runners, I’m sure, know what I mean.  It’s incredible to feel that burn and then run through the pain at the top. I think I’m addicted.  After a partial week back at work and a few successful runs under my belt, I’m feeling pretty confident about sticking to my program-although I suppose my real 12-week program hasn’t officially started-the real work of training is yet to come.

Playing the Mental Game

Mon. Jan. 16 | Run #29 | Distance: 3.52 miles | Pace: 9:08

As a young person, I spent a lot of time in the woods. When I was a child, camping trips were my favorite, Yosemite was my holy land, and spending summers backpacking, climbing, and paddling was my dream. One summer I took a semester-long course with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) in Idaho. Part of the coursework involved some intermediate rock climbing at the City of Rocks. One of my instructors, a small, wiry, seasoned rock-rat, taught me a phrase-a mantra, really-that I have carried with me in most of my physical endeavors: “slow is smooth and smooth is fast”.

I repeat this to myself when I’m finding my stride on the cross country trails of the park. I tell my volleyball players to chant this in their head when they’re gliding into defensive positions on the court. I hear it when I’m climbing a hill on my road bike. Slow is smooth and smooth is fast. And now, my feet pound that rhythm.

My competitive nature compels me to pay attention to my “numbers”, perhaps too much. My pace, my splits, my calories burned…I have yet to take the heart-rate-monitor-plunge, but when I do, I’m sure that will be another number skittering through my mind. When I start to feel pain or fatigue, my first instinct is to try and take my mind elsewhere. Childbirth (and one very painful kidney stone during a climbing expedition) taught me to shut out the pain by visualizing another place. For me, that spot is one of two places: on the porch of my honeymoon cabin in Tulum, Mexico watching my tanned, bare feet in the foreground and the crashing waves of the Yucatan peninsula beyond (not unlike a Corona commercial); and a place called Eagle Creek Meadow buried somewhere behind the Trident Plateau in the Absaroka Range of the Wyoming Rockies. It’s a steep mountain canyon with a babbling Eagle Creek moseying through at an unhurried pace. In my mind’s eye, in that meadow, I am perpetually eighteen, the Rocky Mountain wildflowers are perpetually growing, and the evening sun will always make alpine shadows on rock walls. I can get lost easily in both of these places.

My reading and friends’ advice have told me how dangerous this type of distraction or dissociation can be for runners though. If one divorces themselves from their bodies to “be” elsewhere, one does not hear the signals that muscles and joints can send. Hal Higdon says, “While dissociation blocks negative messages, it can block positive messages too.” I, for one, want to hear when my body wants to give me a high five. I know this is also the reason why elite runners do not listen to iPods or the like, because it is distracting to their purpose and their workout. I’m not there yet. I still need my White Stripes and Eddie Vedder.

But I have been experimenting with listening more deeply to my body when I run. When I feel myself start to fatigue, I ask myself, why? When I feel good, I ask myself, why? Instead of shutting pain out, I breathe it in, I acknowledge it, and above all else-I visualize. Slow is smooth and smooth is fast. On windy days, I picture a hot knife cutting through butter. On especially cold days, I imagine my muscle and body fat like a burning woodstove. On days when I’m feeling exhausted, I picture my legs moving in circles, like wheels, or like the roadrunner when he speeds away from Wile E. Coyote. I hear my husband, Joel’s, instructions about cycling: “pedal in circles, not in squares.” I’m trying to train my mind and body to work together-for my mind to hearmy body and turn my movements into a passive rhythm that is slow, smooth, steady, and will ultimately-hopefully-see me across that finish line.

The Runner’s High

Mon. Jan. 23 | Run #33 | Distance: 4.46 miles | Pace: 8:47

There’s me. I’m deliriously happy, because I had the best run of my life today. OF MY LIFE. For this, I reach back into the annals of my history as an athlete: I’m thinking about my years as a volleyball and basketball player in high school. I’m thinking about my failed attempt to train for the Chicago Marathon one summer (failed after two months of regular training with my hardcore, amazing big sister, followed by a back injury and my greater interest in being a 20-year-old idiot-slacker). I’m thinking of all the honors gym class runs (yes, I actually took that course in high school) and everything in between. Today was the best run of my life. It wasn’t particularly far, nor was my pace anything that serious runners will be impressed by, but today I felt a runner’s high for the first time in my life.

As I’ve noted in prior entries, I’ve taken to running in Peninsula State Park now that I’m back to work full time. Of course, now we finally have just enough snow to make running the back roads icy and dicey, so I’ve been making tracks back and forth on Shore Road which is still open. Today I parked at Weborg Point (just inside the Fish Creek entrance) and took off along the road, picking my footfalls carefully on black pavement while trying to avoid the patches of snow, ice, and frozen tire tracks along the way.

I felt fantastic as I took off. The temperature was hovering just below 30, which to me, is my new favorite running temp. As the sights passed me by, I found myself reflecting a lot. There, at the end of the pier on Weborg Point, my father taught me how to fish. There, at the rocky shore of Nelson Point, my son was baptized in the waters of Green Bay one magical July sunset. There, coming down Tennis Court “Road”, I wiped out on my mountain bike as a teenager. There, along the shore, I launched my kayak with my best friends to watch the 4th of July fireworks display from the rolling water…clearly the nostalgia was thick.

As the miles ticked away, I felt a deep calm well up inside me. The pace I was moving at didn’t feel at all like work. I’ve found in the last two weeks that being at a running pace for 40 minutes no longer feels unordinary. Perhaps “unordinary” isn’t the right word, but I’m not sure what is then. It’s almost like being in motion, maintaining a pace, moving at that speed, doesn’t feel unnatural to me anymore; something shifted in my body and I noticed it today.

Somewhere around the Nature Center, I ran my 100th mile since I’ve started my training. I had a private celebration as I turned around at the wood yard and laughed out loud to myself a little. Smiling, I re-crossed the road, joined Eddie Vedder singing, “There’s a biiiiig, a big hard sun, beating on the big people, in the big hard world…”, and I realized, suddenly, that I was high. I had always heard runners talk about the runner’s high. I recently recall my friend Karin explaining the feeling to an unbeliever, saying something to the effect of, “it’s incredible-I swear it’s real.” And I remember other friends talking about it like it was some mystical creature that non-runners weren’t sure really existed and had to see for themselves in order to be a believer. Well, I’ve seen it. I’m a believer now.

The “Off” Week

Tues. Jan. 31 | Run #38 | Distance: 4.25 miles | Pace: 8:10

In two weeks, I’m going to be starting my official 12-week training program. For me, that’s kind of a looming deadline because once I start that, I feel like there’s no going back. Not that I intend on “going back”, but I feel like there’s no room for error. And after the week I’ve had, I feel like I’m two steps behind where I should be when I start.

It’s not the mileage of a 12-week program that frightens me (for those curious folks out there, I’m using Hal Higdon’s Novice 2 Half Marathon Training: The mileages during the week are completely manageable based on what I’ve been running already, and while the long runs intimidate me, I’m sure that if I take them slowly and don’t go too hard on myself, I’ll survive. What really scares me is the notion that the clock has really begun to tick down, and if I’m going to cross the finish line on May 5th, I need to hit every benchmark and mileage on that schedule. Mr. Higdon is very forgiving in his instructions about being flexible with exact mileages or giving yourself a break if you’re sick, but ultimately, I know that all of those miles have to be run for my body to be prepared.

On that note, my toddler has been a veritable cesspool of winter colds and my infant (poor thing) has been a little, sweet sneeze factory for the last two weeks. As a teacher, I come into contact with a lot of people in a day, and no matter how much I wash my hands, I knew something was bound to catch up with me. This week it did.

Yesterday (Monday) morning, here in Door County, we awoke to beautiful, heavenly snow finally falling. By run-time, the roads were sort of cleared, but not very well. I resigned myself unhappily to a run on a treadmill. After my less than satisfied feeling back in December, I knew I had to approach it with levity and a positive attitude. I started off nice and slow, tried not to worry so much about pace, and took off. I tried to focus on the music, on Meredith Vieira’s Millionaire banter above me on TV, on the neighbors coming and going through the door. But  I just couldn’t do it. It baffles me. I found myself starting to wonder if maybe all the mileages and paces I’ve been running outside were somehow inaccurate and that the treadmill is the real deal and I stink at it.

After two miles, I called it quits. I was frustrated with myself. I can’t explain why I dislike the treadmill so much or why I seem to be a completely different runner when I’m on it. I have to count myself incredibly lucky so far this winter that I’ve been able to do the majority of my running outside.

This morning, I woke up to the sound of sneezing and coughing throughout my house, myself included. After work today, I started out for my run, apparently overcompensating for how little and how slowly I’d run yesterday. I checked in at the first mile and was pleasantly surprised to find that I had run an 8:04 mile. This time is a good twenty seconds below what I’ve been maintaining for the last week or two, so I knew that I was most likely pushing myself too hard. For the last three miles, I eased up a bit, but was pleased to find that I was actually maintaining the pace.  I’m convinced it’s my competitive nature. How is it that yesterday, I was barely able to run at an 8:45 pace inside for two miles, and today I’m tearing it up at eight minutes for four? I can already feel my body complaining.

Something is off. I’m not sure if it’s my body, my mind, or my machines. It would be easy to make technology the culprit here: either the treadmill secretly has a vendetta against me, or my GPS tracker isn’t accurate. At the end of the day though, I have to deal with my own body and my own challenges. This week isn’t the best week of my training, and based on how I’m feeling, I’m guessing it won’t get much better. But I have to allow myself some attrition and know that even if I didn’t hit my goals this week, my only choice is to get back on the metaphorical horse when I’m feeling better.   Not to sound like a cheesy, Hollywood military drama, but “failure is not an option”for me this year. Therefore, I’ll sign off today with one of my favorite film characters reciting a highly inspirational tidbit: “Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.” –Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back


“I didn’t know you were a runner!”

Wed. Feb. 8 | Run #40 | Distance: 4.02 miles | Pace: 8:13

Today, I was at the bank in my running clothes and I ran into a neighbor. She took a look at my outfit and exclaimed, “Oh….Lauren! I didn’t know you were a runner!” I snorted and said quickly, “I’m not. I’m just dressed like one.”

I got back in my car to head for the park and thought about that exchange as I started my run down Shore Rd. My response to her statement was immediate and unequivocal. It got me to thinking, when does one become “a runner”? Perhaps I should explain my response, lest those real “runners” out there get offended. It’s not that I would never call myself a runner because I wouldn’t want to be called that; I just don’t see myself as such when I consider the company I keep.

I am surrounded by excellence. It makes me feel incredibly lucky and simultaneously intimidated. My big sister Kelly has run multiple marathons, and the last time she ran the Door County Half Marathon, she did it the weekend after she completed the Nashville Marathon . My friends Jake and Krista are unbelievably dedicated runners and both qualified for Boston this year. My best friend Allison is amazing. She did the Door County Triathlon Sprint course last year, has done the half, competed in a variety of other races, and is an outstanding cyclist among other things. So perhaps you can understand that when I stand in that sort of company and someone asks me if I’m a runner, my first reaction is, “Psshaw. Yeah right.” My friends are absolutely incredible, and not just athletically.

If someone asked me, “Are you a volleyball player?” I would say, “You betcha!” or if someone said, “I didn’t know you were into Star Wars”, I’d say, “Obviously, you don’t know me very well.” But running?….this is relatively new territory for me. I’m training for the half, I LOVE running (this time around), and I do it regularly. Does this make me a runner though? I’m not so sure. I feel like I have to get a race under my belt to give myself that title. Or maybe its longevity? If one runs for at least a year, then they are a runner. Or maybe theylook like a runner when they’re out on the road (I definitely don’t. I’m sure I look like something akin to a Muppet being chased by a brown and white dog). Maybe it just doesn’t matter.

Perhaps it’s human nature to label things. Around these parts, there’s a continuous discussion about what defines “a local”. Some people say that you’re only a Door County local if you were born here. If you’ve moved here, you’re “a transplant”. That one always gets me, because my kids will be locals, whereas I will never be. I think people of the “outdoorsy” persuasion are apt to check labels on clothing and gear (at least I am); people label their relationships (single, married, “it’s complicated”), their political beliefs, their spirituality. Labels are everywhere.

These are the thoughts that lollygagged through my mind as I ran today. Next week, the real training starts (yikes!) and right now I’m trying to pick my race pace for training (I welcome advice!). Whether I’m really a runner or not isn’t really an issue. Although, after my run today, I did decide that my shoes don’t look nearly beat up enough for 125 miles of wear and tear. Ah, that must be it. When someone runs their way through a pair of shoes, then they are a runner. Looks like I’ve got a ways to go.

12 Weeks to Go and Counting

Sun. Feb. 19 | Training Week #1

We have twelve weeks to go, people!

If there’s anyone out there reading this, chances are you’re interested in running or training for the half…and if that’s you, perhaps-like me-you started your 12-week training program this week. I’ve already been running pretty regularly, but now the pressure’s on. The countdown has officially begun.

This week, I spent a lot of time letting the concept of “pace” marinate in my mind. Per Hal Higdon’s Novice 2 Half Marathon Training Program (, I knew I needed to accomplish four runs this week and one day of cross-training.  That meant Monday was a rest day, and Tuesday was three miles at a standard, easy pace.

I was amped to get started. I had felt the excitement of a new challenge mounting in the past few weeks, so when I began my run on Tuesday in Peninsula, I was moving faster than I should have been. I’ve been watching my pace steadily improve since the beginning of my training in December, and it’s been with pride that I’ve felt my body change, my stamina and flexibility improve, and my overall health recover. However, I realized after Tuesday’s run that I had made a rookie mistake…the first of many I’m sure.

After a steady 3.2 miles I had run at a pace of 7:46, and for me, that’s too fast. I didn’t feel wiped out when I was done, but I was tired and I by no means expect to run that kind of pace for 13.1 miles. The competitive side of my brain (the side that too often overrules the calm, easy-going side) wanted to see how fast I could go. But I had to come back down to earth and get real. On my ride home, I called my trusty runner pal Jake who helped me get my head screwed back on right.

I complained about having no concept of what my “race pace” should be; I shamefully admitted how much I hate going slowly now that I can move faster; and I begged for the insight and wisdom I knew he could offer. He didn’t fail me. First, to find my race pace, he suggested I ignore my Nike + app for my next few runs and just find a manageable, enjoyable pace that I was able to maintain throughout. He suggested that whatever that pace was, that it should be my regular training pace.

He also reminded me of some sage advice he had given me back in December that I seem to have forgotten: on your first race, cross the finish line; on your second, race it. This is my first race ever (not counting Chicago’s 8K Shamrock Shuffle that I signed up for on March 25th-woohoo!) and my real goal should simply be to cross the finish line-not to try and see if I can run 7:45 miles for the whole gosh darn race.  Jake also refreshed my memory about the “long run” and its value in training. He reminded me that the purpose of a long run is not for speed – it’s for mileage.

“Go as slowly as you can take it,” he said. “Remember, that you’re not going out to get it done quickly; you’re going out to enjoy yourself and to train your muscles.” He then launched into an incredibly intelligent and scientific explanation about lactic acid build up and mitochondria that I can’t quite recall the details of now, but I remember feeling a brief glimpse of enlightenment in the moment.

So on Wednesday, I turned off my “feedback” setting while I ran, and just took off. As I ran down Shore Road, I did a few little skips and jigs to keep myself from pushing it, and I made sure to sing along to all my music. When I was done I felt so much better. I wasn’t whipped and I had had a lot of fun on the run. I did the same thing on Friday and found that my magic training pace is somewhere around 8:30. Sounds good to me.

On Saturday, I took an awesome group of 30 Gibraltar High School students up to the U.P. to go skiing at Brule, which I decided to count as my “cross-training” for the weekend (although taking about six runs down the mountain and then spending the rest of my time sitting in the lodge reading my book club book and eating cafeteria food probably doesn’t count). Then today I did my first long run: 4 miles. I know according to Jake and Mr. Higdon’s logic I should be running at somewhere like 9:00/mile for a long run, but I figured that may be a bit of a back slide this week since I’ve regularly been running that distance. Next week, when I’ve got 5 miles to attempt, I’ll slow it down.

This first week of official training made me thankful for friends who have experience and wisdom that I do not, and I’m glad it gave me the chance to pause and re-focus on what really matters in my training. My goal for the next few weeks is not to get obsessed with numbers, and to just enjoy the ride. Long term goal?

Cross the finish line. Cross the finish line. Cross the finish line.

Running for a Cause: Door County Green Fund

Wed. Feb. 29| Training Week #3

On last weekend’s long run, I had something wonderful to meditate on: I am officially running for a cause. As many of you know, the Door County Half Marathon team is encouraging participants to run for a cause and raise a minimum of $250 for a local non-profit. They’re even giving away free registrations to the first 100 racers to pledge!

I am so inspired by the people around me.  I’m taking a BodyPump class at our YMCA with a group of awesome people; it’s such an interesting cross-section of Northern Door life: fellow teachers, restaurateurs, a commercial airline pilot, physical therapists…the list goes on. At a recent class, our instructor mentioned that there were potentially two people running for the Y in the half marathon. Suddenly, my acquaintance Jen spoke up and mentioned she was running for the Northern Door Children’s Center. Jen has actually been an incredible motivator for me since she has recently had two kids as well and become an incredibly fit, healthy role model for me.  How cool! I thought to myself. Why am I not doing this?

I’m already training. I’m already planning on running and (hopefully) finishing the race. Raising money for an organization in need while I did that seemed like a no-brainer. I started to consider our community and what I was passionate about. There are so many non-profits that do incredible things for the families and individuals of the county-how could I pick one?

When I first moved to Door County, one of my first jobs was as a kayak instructor and guide with Bay Shore Outdoor Store in Sister Bay. I have always been happiest out of doors. And truly, as a child, my first love was Door County. When I was a kid, I fell in love with the Ridges Sanctuary as I wandered the trails; I lost myself in the limestone bluffs along Green Bay; and bobbing in a kayak along the shores of Garrett Bay is where I came to the realization that I would never leave Door County. The landscape, the waters, the back-road farm fields, the orchards, the cedar swamps, the soaring bluffs…these are the things that make our county distinctive. What would we have if not for the beauty around us here? I truly believe that the land of Door County is the soul of us all, and the people here are its beating heart.

I thought about this as I pounded my way along Middle Road in the park on Sunday, knowing that I was running for something more than myself. I was running for the Door County Green Fund-an organization dedicated to the conservation of Door County.  My purpose became greater.

Why not do the same?

Sven’s Bluff

Sun. March 11 | Training Week #4

The climb up Sven's Bluff at miles 4-5 is the longest, most intimidating hill on the Door County Half Marathon course.
The climb up Sven’s Bluff at miles 4-5 is the longest, most intimidating hill on the Door County Half Marathon course.

I just had what can only be described as a religious experience on top of Sven’s Bluff. An experience (without waxing too poetic here) that I can only say seemed like a perfect harmony between mind and body.

That’s one thing I’ve come to love about running in the last few months. I have to be present in all senses of the word to run-especially in a long run. I can’t be washing dishes, but be thinking about my taxes, or reading my kid a story, but dreaming up lesson plans, or driving to work, but planning my volleyball season…running demands attention. Sure, my mind will wander invariably, but when it gets tough-when I need to concentrate on maintaining pace and finishing what I start-I am focused. I am thinking of nothing else but what my body is doing. It seems like a stupidly easy concept, but I know I am guilty of failing to do this with much of my daily life.

This morning as I prepared for my 7-mile long run, I drove into Peninsula State Park and parked at Nicolet Beach in front of the road barrier to keep snow in and tourists out. We’ve had a heat wave this week, though, and I’m happy to report that the roads are relatively snow and ice free.  I had a desire to run the first seven or so miles of the course all together, something I’ve done in chunks but never all at once. I was pretty nervous about this endeavor, though, since anyone who’s familiar with the course will tell you, right around mile five the elevation starts to kick your butt. I knew that the last mile or so of my run today had the potential to be rough.

My good buddy Jack the Border Collie came along for the ride and I knew I must be doing well because instead of sprinting ahead then doubling back to bring me sticks and chase me, he fell in line next to me to keep up. As we approached the intersection of Middle and Skyline Road I was feeling good. I mentally prepared myself for the fact that I may need to walk and if I did, not to beat up on myself. Mantras started to glide up the hill with me….slow is smooth and smooth is fast….hard work…dedication…hard work…dedication…and then when it was really rough, I relied on last night’s bedtime story: I think I can…I think I can…I think I can…I think I can.

The railing keeping runners from leaping over the edge on their climb pointed me up, up, and up and when I saw the Sven’s Bluff sign come into focus, I almost cried. My feet had kept moving, I hadn’t slowed thatsignificantly, I swear Jack smiled at me…and then the view.  For those who have yet to see this panorama, you are in for something amazing. Now obviously, I’m biased because I believe that we live in one of the most incredibly varied and intensely beautiful places on earth, but cresting that hill and seeing that view takes my breath away every time. And there’s something about doing it on foot instead of behind the wheel of a car. My mind had just been occupied with urging my feet to continue one after the other, but then I was overwhelmed by beauty. Ears, eyes, and senses were not enough to take it all in.

There’s also something fulfilling to reach a vista like that and look out at the tiny islands, the curving shoreline, the cerulean-white of ice on water, and see how far you’ve come. The six miles between us and that moment were visible as we slipped past. By the time Jack and I wandered back into Nicolet Bay to do some stretching and play fetch (how does he still have energy?!?) we had covered about eight miles of the course. I was reasonably intimidated by the concept of the long run, but now I realize that the key to any training success I have had is being out in it. It makes me feel human.  I remember writing back in November that I want to recapture that mind/body connection again, and today I felt like I did.

Running With Friends

Sun. March 18 | Training Week #5

With the exception of my dog, Jack, I have run every step of my training thus far completely on my own…until today. This afternoon, I dida long run with three girlfriends and I am officially kicking myself for not doing it any sooner than now.

I wouldn’t call myself a “social runner”. Bike rides in groups, sure.  Kayak adventures with buddies, heck yes.  Cross country skiing with my husband, absolutely (as long as he goes slowly enough so I can keep up). But running?…I have always been a skeptic, and more specifically, a chicken to run with friends. Here are my fears about running with other people in no particular order:

1.       That I’m too slow.  I had a few scarring experiences in this arena with my hardcore big sister while training for the Chicago Marathon in 2001. She is awesome in every way, running included, so on some of our longer runs I found myself lagging behind and getting outrageously and disproportionately aggravated that I couldn’t keep up. Call me immature, but there is nothing worse than feeling inadequate with people who are in better shape than you.

2.       That I won’t be sociable. When running with others, it seems understood that one of the reasons to do it is to chat. I’m always panicked that I will be so out of breath that I won’t be able to hold down an intelligent conversation or that everything I say will come out sounding like I’m Darth Vader.

3.       That I’ll need to walk. Now there’s obviously nothing wrong with walking, but for some reason, admitting it to everyone while they’re all still maintaining pace scares the be-geezes out of me.

4.       That I’ll be the smelly kid. Well, I guess I’m not too worried about this one. Everyone gets smelly when they work out. I tell my volleyball players to take pride in their stank, because then you know you gave it your all. What’s actually embarrassing are the white globs of ickiness that form in the corners of my mouth during high intensity workouts that make me look like I’ve got rabies or the plague or some other frightening communicable malady.  That paired with creeping boogers and ridiculously big hair are reasons enough for running to be kept private.

There are others fears, some of which I need not list here for your sakes, but suffice it to say they are worrisome enough that it’s kept me running solo. Until today.

Today, I ran with three girlfriends-all women who are fit, run regularly enough, and were on the same page about taking it nice and slow. We set out in Peninsula State Park to do the same loop I ran last weekend (from Nicolet Beach past Welcker’s Point, along Shore Rd., past the cemetery, up Middle and Skyline Roads, UP to Sven’s Bluff and then back down by way of Bluff Rd). We knew we were in for some hills, we knew we were in for some mileage, and it seemed like we all had the right attitude about it.

The weather was unabashedly gorgeous for a mid-March Sunday. We took off at a reasonable pace and started chit-chatting: running gear, vacations, jobs, life. Before I knew it, the miles were just flying by. All my panics were literally forgotten. The pace was pretty right on for us all and we simply enjoyed the ride.  By the time we topped out our elevation at Sven’s Bluff, we paused for hydration and then back down we went. After a burst of speed for the last ¼ mile, we took a few moments to stretch and soak our hot feet in what had to be 38 degree water of Nicolet Bay. We could see ice chunks floating way out yonder. The view was incredible and the camaraderie of accomplishing it together was palpable. It was so much better than sitting there with my dog.

So, yippee!!! I wasn’t too slow, I had a conversation (except slogging up Sven’s), we all walked a bit, and I think my ladies love me enough to forgive the white crusties and B.O. I can’t believe I’ve been running alone for so long. All it took was getting over my idiotic insecurities and trying something new. I think the experts call that growth.

Shamrock Shuffling

Sun. March 25 |Training Week # 6

That’s my friend Karin and me just after crossing the finish line at Bank of America’s annual Shamrock Shuffle, the world’s biggest 8K race. Don’t I look lovely? Don’t I look happy? The answer to both of those questions is no, I don’t. Actually, right before that picture was taken I was eyeing the enormous table of bananas and snack bags just stage right of us.

On the inside, though, I’m ecstatic and relieved. Hal Higdon’s training regimen suggests you run at least one organized race before the big day on May 5th. When my friends Jake and Karin announced they were running the Shamrock Shuffle the Sunday of our spring breaks, I said, “Ooooh, me too! I want to do that!” An 8K sounded about perfect. It was a real race that would initiate me into the world of competitive running, but it wasn’t a 10K or half marathon. Five miles? I can handle that, I thought. No big whoop. But as the day neared, I found myself getting anxious.

What if I got down to Grant Park and realized I forgot my shoes? Or my bib? Or my clothes? What if there was traffic downtown and I missed getting into the corral on time? What if I got mowed over by all the people running who would clearly be moving faster than me? What if I couldn’t finish??

The day dawned chilly and cloudy, which was kind of a bummer because we’ve been enjoying such a warm, glorious spring up north, and it seems like it’s generally been warmer in Chicago. By the time my husband and I got downtown (no traffic and my mom dropped us off –bonus!) the weather was starting to warm up slightly, but not by much. I learned an early lesson about big races- hurry up to slow down. Karin and I found our way into our corral (Wave 1, Corral D). Then we waited for close to 40 minutes to cross the starting line. The anticipation was thick. Looking around, some people seemed antsy, some incredibly relaxed, some wearing nothing but a green tutu and running shoes…there was an interesting slice of Chicago
runners here.

Crossing the starting line was intense. Looking into the Randloph St. tunnel, all that was visible was a  veritable sea of people. Behind me, nothing but runners waiting to start. I literally felt like I was cresting an enormous wave made up of tiny, moving bodies. I was afraid to slow down and wondered vaguely how easy it would be to be trampled to death here (not too likely I’m sure).

The main difference for me between training alone and running a race: pace. Just when I thought I was finding my stride, I’d come up short behind an adorable pair of 70+ runners enjoying their race. Or I’d find myself right behind someone in the middle of the pack who slowed to a walk suddenly without warning. I loved every minute of it though. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t going to finish in exactly the time I wanted to – the experience was the thing. Small children cheering for strangers and begging for high-fives along the way was a highlight. Awesome outfits and sights of the city I grew up in were another. Obnoxious and clever signs were another (my favorites? “This is the worst parade ever” and “You think NASCAR is boring?”)

Around mile 4 my friend Karin re-found me in the masses, which still boggles my mind with that many people. We did the last mile, including a nasty mini-hill, together, and I crossed the finish line with a time of 42:40. I finished in 7,760th place. Woo hoo! Crossing the finish line was exhilarating. Even though it’s not the half marathon, crossing A finish line felt like I’ve accomplished something since the training started. It feels real. Very real.

The Slacker Week(s)

Tues. April 10 | Training Week # 9

I have had a really fun last two weeks. Almost none of it has involved running.

I’m a slacker.

After running the Shamrock Shuffle, I immediately left for Wisconsin Dells with the fam to have an incredibly fun-packed four day vacation with nine other families. I over-ate, I under-slept, and I went for exactly one very windy two-mile run. I hardly kept up with my training schedule. After returning to Door County for the weekend, I managed to squeeze in my nine-mile run, but it was slow, painful, and even funny. I’ve always known the term “glutton for punishment”, but that day I understood the term. I knew all week that if I didn’t run, my long run would be a disaster. Well, it wasn’t a disaster, but it definitely wasn’t a screaming success.

The first week in April was simply crazy-busy. Every afternoon was scheduled: school meetings, doctor’s appointments, write an article for Door County Living Magazine. It seemed that the only time I would be able to squeeze running in was the morning before school.

Now, I know there are those people out there who operate well before 7:00 am. I’m only up that early if I’m being paid to be or if there is a free breakfast of some sort involved.  Add to that a teething five-month old that is up every two hours and getting out of bed one minute sooner than necessary is simply not going to happen.

Then came the three-day weekend. We headed back to Chicago to celebrate my papa’s 90th birthday. What an intensely cool, wonderful weekend. Did any of it involve running? Nope. It involved wrangling my two year old into taking a nap in an unfamiliar room (you parents know of what I speak). It involved eating a ridiculous amount of deep dish pizza with my cousins while preventing my kid from sprinting into the restaurant’s kitchen (I was unable to stop him twice). It involved battling crowds and traffic in the Loop to gain entrance to the Shedd Aquarium (unsuccessful)…but running? Not so much. It just simply didn’t happen.

Therefore, I think I have committed the mother of all training sins: I missed a long run, in addition to 5 short runs (wow, Lauren). I’m pretty mad at myself. When I went for my first run in a loooong time Tuesday, I decided to start off nice and slow and just ease my way back in. It was painful and kind of sad. I think even the seagulls turning circles above Welcker’s Point felt sorry for me. Yesterday was no better when I did the “upstairs loop” of the course (what I call the 4 miles after Sven’s but before the end). I did a lot of stopping and changing music and once to listen to a very mysterious sound off in the woods on Middle Road.

Hrrumph. I’ve done some considerable backsliding. Oh well. I’m not giving up. This is a setback. But gosh darnit, I’m finishing that race. Even if I have to speed-walk all thirteen beautiful miles.

Back on Track

Tues. April 17 | Training Week # 10

Last week was tough week-mentally and physically. I think I did some pretty serious damage to my training with my two week fun-in-the-Dells and too-busy-to-train extravaganza. I’m slower. I’m in more pain. But, hey, I’m still running.

The greatest success of the week came on Sunday when I set out with my girlfriends to get in ten miles in the park. After a week of lackluster paces and painful workouts, I knew that the long run would be interesting. This didn’t keep me from staying out late on Saturday night to celebrate a birthday trifecta (my sister, my brother-in-law, and my pal Jake). Mornings always come early when you have a toddler and an infant at home. There is no “sleeping in”. When 10:15 rolled around, I found myself stretching out at Weborg Point and talking about the route we were planning.

It was cloudy and about 50 degrees, which seems like the perfect temperature running weather these days; it was one of those days where none of us could decide if we wanted long sleeves or short, pants or shorts. The whole run didn’t break any speed records, but we had a nice chat up until mile 9. We covered all kinds of ground, including maybe (maybe) planning to train for the Disney Marathon in January 2013 (gulp). At mile 9, the chatter stopped and we focused on finishing the workout while maintaining some semblance of pace. We got it done. Enough said.

In other news, there are 17 days until the Half Marathon. That seems like absolutely nothing. When I got home from Sunday’s run, my husband’s first question was, “Do you feel like you could have run another three?”  The answer was “Sure”. That doesn’t mean I’m going to do it fast, nor does that mean that I’m not going to walk some of it, but I’ll finish. That may not seem like an earth-shattering accomplishment, but to me it feels incredible. Ten years ago, if I had come upon the last three weeks of my “training” and felt then like I do now, there’s a good chance I would have just hung up my running shoes and said something like, “Ah, well. I got some good running in. I’m not going to finish the race, but oh well. I did positive things for my body.” But I’m not 20 anymore. I have a decade of life experience behind me that taught me to finish what I start. Sure, I feel beholden to others to finish now. I raised money for the Door County Green Fund, I’ve made agreements with other people, I have this blog keeping me accountable, but really at the end of the day, this race is for me. And I’m finishing it, gosh darnit.

With two and half weeks left to train, I’m getting a clearer picture of what race day will be like for me. I don’t have delusions of grandeur about pace or time. I’m grounded in reality. I’ll finish. After all, that’s what I’ve set out to do.

In the Present

Thurs. April 26 | Training Week # 11

As I sit down to write this, the countdown clock on the Door County Half Marathon website is ticking away at 8 days, 9 hours, and 57 minutes. This clock has become highly symbolic for me. I know this may sound a little loony, but there have been moments over the last five months, when I’ve flitted past the half marathon site just to check on that clock and watch it wind down. I’ve always known the date of the race, so I’m not checking because I’ve forgotten when exactly I’ve signed up to run 13.1 miles…it has kind of been a simultaneously reassuring and terrifying ritual. Let me explain.

When I started my training back at the end of November, the countdown clock on the website was hovering around 150 days until the race. I remember thinking to myself, “A hundred and fifty days to get myself in shape. That’s plenty of time.” All kinds of things happen in 150 days. Then I thought about the speech I give to all my seniors on the first day of school about taking their senior year seriously. I usually reinforce the concept that they’re starting the final stretch of their secondary education, and that it is paramount to stay focused and not let themselves be distracted by things like senioritis (an all-too-common condition that strikes down even the most diligent of students. Symptoms include ignoring homework, forgetting deadlines, lounging outside too long, and saying things like, “Don’t worry about it, Mrs. Bremer. I’ve got everything under control.”) I also tell them that at times throughout the year, they’ll feel like the school year will never end or that they’ll be in high school forever. Of course, this is simply an illusion. “Literally, before you know it, you’ll all be sitting on the auditorium stage together getting ready (hopefully) to graduate. It will be here before you know it. The ‘now’ is just a fleeting moment. SO STAY FOCUSED.”

Well, now, their graduation day is quickly approaching. I can’t help but compare their senior year experience to my training. I hear my own advice echoing in my head. Stay focused. Don’t lose sight of what’s important in the long run (pun intended). The one that’s really ringing true right now is the bit about permanence. Sometimes I think as humans we get mired in the present. It’s human nature. We may reflect on the past, but not often. We anticipate the future, but we’re not living in it. The “now” seems so permanent. I can hardly remember what life was like before my little Maggie was born (six months ago) or before I had Finn (two years ago). Perhaps I’m lying about that one. I kind of remember what it was like to be selfish with my time, but not so much. But I’ve certainly felt that “present permanence” a lot over the last five months. For example, on a run, I’ll sometimes feel like that run has lasted FOREVER, even if it’s only three miles. Or I’ll feel like race day is so far off that what I do in the present moment isn’t of the utmost importance (important lesson learned there). It’s only when we look at things in hindsight that we can see how very far we’ve come. Numbers tell us that story (pounds lost: 26, miles run: 276, etc.). Memories do as well.

And here we are. Eight days from the big day. There will be moments I’m sure on Saturday morning where I’ll feel like I’ve been running forever. It will be a critical mental exercise to remind myself that “this too shall pass” and “nothing lasts forever”. It’s just one morning of our lives. Pain is temporary. But part of me doesn’t want it to end. Part of me wants to “run forever” in a way. I don’t just mean I want to “be a runner” forever and continue to train, although I hope I do. I mean I’ve found that the journey really is the thing. The last two weeks I’ve been less antsy about race day, because how I’ve arrived here has been so critical and formative for me. I don’t know if anyone else has experienced this, but I’ve found myself handling my long runs better than my short runs. I’m actually looking forward to running twelve miles this weekend. That is something I never thought I’d say.

My life has literally changed. My health has changed, with the exception of my eating habits in the last few weeks (I’ve been eating like a trucker-I’ve been absolutely and insatiably ravenous). That change has slowly ticked by over the last 150 days-calorie by calorie, gasp by gasp, step by step. I’ve watched that website clock tick down and here we are. Race day matters, certainly. But we must remember the truth about the present: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

The Night Before

I’m antsy. It’s the night before the race, and I’m nervous. So I did what I do when my ship’s not righted: I wrote poetry. I apologize in advance for its lousiness. It’s late enough that I’m confident no one will likely read it before the race.

See you in the morning.

Good luck to all runners!


race’s eve
the pasta is down down down

the hatch-

babies watch the backs of

hooded lids and wooly dreams-


all that’s left is

flopping and turning of

jittery visions-


of start lines and guns,

the panic of breathless momentum,

the glide of a golden morning,

the ache of arched disappointments-



where are you?

morning is in the offing

the tribunal come to crisply

gaze upon my worth and

squarely see my mind.


where are you-

where indeed-

(I am the jury).

Race Day

Saturday May 5, 2012

On Saturday, I went for a run.

I went for a run with approximately 2,000 people. What an incredible morning.

As the day dawned, I felt jittery, but not nearly as nervous as I’d felt for the week prior. It seemed like everyone I know was asking, “Are you nervous?” and “How do you feel?”

The answer was always: “I’m excited. I’m nervous.”

But I was prepared.

I had put in the miles and the hills I knew I needed to in order to finish the race. Had I hit every single workout I was supposed to right on the head? No. Was I fast? Not really. But my body was primed and ready.

The morning of the race, I met up with friends Jake, Roo, and Karin at one of my favorite summer haunts, the Skyway Drive-In, to catch the shuttle into the park. We exchanged last minute tips, discussed bib placement, debated layers, and shuttled through a tunnel of trees until we pulled into a familiar parking lot. But how transformed it was. Nicolet Bay had become a veritable city, and in the rainy mist I saw hundreds of bodies huddled under the tent, jumping in place, chatting, and looking all versions of nervous, amped, cold, and antsy. The unmistakable smell of brats wafted toward us, photographers snapped pictures, people donned last minute jackets…

Race day was here.

When we finally made our way to the start line, we walked out beyond it and looked backward down Shore Road to see the hundreds of people beyond. We ducked into the crowd and worked our way away from those who actually intended to win the race. Karin and I had talked strategy about not wanting to start too close to the front; for fear that we would spend the first few miles being passed constantly by those faster than us. After what seemed like an eternity, I saw Sverre on his bike pedaling near us shouting, “TWO MINUTES. TWO MINUTES TO START!”

Then the sun came out and I wasn’t nervous anymore. I can’t explain it. I had spent the last five months being anxious for this moment, but it was like, instantly, my body knew what it had to do. My body knew the course. My body knew the pace. And my body (almost) knew the distance.

I heard myself breathing. I heard myself joke with my friends. The sea of people started to inch toward the start line.

Then, the gun went off.

I kept telling myself, as people rushed past me: “Run your race. Run your race. Run your race.” My competitive spirit wanted to sprint past the people who were passing me, but I reminded myself, “Thirteen miles is a long way. Take your time. Run your race.”

And I did.

Mile after mile slid past. It was the first time that I had run that distance alone and without someone to talk to, but as I had hoped, I loved every single moment of those two hours. Not once did I wish I was doing something else. Not once did I find my mind wander away from the task at hand. I felt completely and wholly focused on running and maintaining my pace.

I think one of the things that surprised me the most was how quiet a group of people that size can be. I would find myself running in a cluster of people, and aside from the occasional pair chatting, it was concentrated silence. I’ve ready studies about groups of people collectively meditating on the same thing together and how powerful that type of energy can be. I was witnessing that.

It was quiet except for those glorious moments when we’d round a corner and suddenly be inundated with shouts of support and love. My favorite spot, as I’m sure is most people’s, was the corner of mile 6/10. As I came careening full speed off the Sven’s Bluff leg, I saw my pregnant sister Kelly, my niece, my son, and my parents holding my baby girl. I was overwhelmed with such an amalgamation of hope, gratefulness, love, and purpose in that moment. I know there were people on Saturday who were “racing” to win; in that moment it was so clear to me what my purpose was-it was standing on the sideline cheering me on. I was overcome.

A few times in the silence I would change my breathing pattern for just a moment to inhale deeply the world around me: the cedars, the spring breeze, the sunshine, the pines. I meditated on my other purpose-my cause: the Door County Green Fund. I was so thankful for the opportunity to be running for something other than my own self. As I’ve said in prior entries, Door County is a place that gets stuck inside people’s souls. They may visit once and forever be called back. If people see their worlds in color, I’m convinced that Door County exists in memories with sharper more radiant hues and images than the paths of daily life. And how very important it is to preserve that beauty. Our run in the park Saturday morning was like a prayer to that purpose.

It was only the last mile that my legs began to cry out, but by then, as people had informed me, I was fueled by adrenaline. I could hear the finish line before I could see it. Then, once again, as if placed there magically, were the people who mean so much to me cheering us all on. My family, my best friend, my friend “shouting clichés”, strangers, students, neighbors…it was beautiful.

When I crossed the finish line, for a moment I felt suddenly alone as I collected my medal and my feet sought Gatorade. It was then, wandering through runners and pictures that it really occurred to me. I had done it.

I was alone for a second, but I knew that running my first half marathon was a testament to everyone around me who supported me. People like my husband who gave me the gift of time. People like my friend Jake who listened to my idiotic ideas about running and set me on the right path. People like Karin who I leaned on for support and hours of long runs. People like my friends who helped me by supporting the Green Fund. People like Allison who invited me to blog about it all, an experience which I found to be incredibly cathartic and integral to my training. People like my mom and dad who encourage me to do it all and are there to hold my childrens’ hands and cheer me on.

I don’t want it to be over. But, I suppose what my friend said later that night is true: “only 364 days until the Door County Half Marathon.”

Who’s with me?

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“Like running in a cathedral in the woods.”

Tom Held -Silent Sports magazine

“Once again you put on an awesome race. I have ran all 8 years, I saved all my shirts and this is a must run race. Thanks for all the effort.”

Carol Mulinex

“The Door County Half Marathon is my favorite race of the year, every year. I love it.”

Jes Borland

“All aspects of this event are first class…. The best scenery, most challenging course to be found. Great job Door County Half crew A+. See you in 2016.” 

Scott Luchterhand

“I have run several races – and quite honestly this is the one of the best supported run ever. You do an EXCELLENT JOB on all levels. The support is amazing. The volunteers exceptional. I have ZERO complaints or suggestions.”

Sara Frizelle

“I have done a few half marathons around the midwest and this is by far the best. The organization and communication is fantastic and so are the facilities and race perks. The route is also ideal: starting flat, allowing for the body to acclimate ; followed by a steep incline and then down hill once the body gets a little fatigued. I love it!”

Margaret Pennoyer     

“I’ve raced all over the world and The Door County Half Marathon is one of my favorites.  It’s very well organized, it’s in the heart of beautiful and peaceful Door County, and the course rolls through some of the most picturesque half marathon miles in the world.”

Jenny Hadfield – Runner’s World

A must-do race! This popular destination race takes full advantage of the natural beauty of Door County, Wis.

Competitor Magazine


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