Marathon Finish

It doesn’t seem quite fair to leave off with a post leading up to Grandma’s Marathon and then drop it.  While I doubt anyone is losing sleep over how I fared in the race, I somehow feel better at least finishing the tale I started.  So here it is.

Bottom line: My 10th Grandma’s Marathon is in the bag.  I legitimately claimed my Finisher’s t-shirt and the incredibly heavy medal they hung around my tired neck.  I spent the afternoon relishing that “good tired” feeling and the knowledge that I had done it – and I was done.Molly running Grandma's MarathonThe race played out much as I might have predicted.  It was a cloudy 63 degrees at the start, comfortable for running given a slight breeze to stir the air.  The normally welcome sight of the sun was not a good omen.  It quickly sent the temperature into the 70s adding heat to the challenge of the race.  But in comparison to last year’s black-flag conditions, it was very manageable.

I felt good for the first 18 miles.  My pace was in the low to mid 9 minute range, which I knew was well below what I should be doing.  But as long as I was comfortable I kept it up.  I can’t resist the urge to bank a minute or two per mile in the beginning.  I began to slow after that, and by mile 21 (coincidentally the max for my three longest training runs) it became a struggle.  It’s at that point in most marathons where I feel like I am moving in slow motion.  My body is barely moving forward.  My legs are like lead.  But I persist.

Molly and Erik Grandma's MarathonI had a great cheering section to spur me on.  Rich and son Erik were on bikes leapfrogging from point to point along the route.  Erik rode all the way to the end, catching me circling the DECC and riding along shouting encouragement as I turned the corner for the final stretch to the finish.  Rich was there at the end to video me crossing the finish line. Never discount the value of family support!

Molly Erik Rich after Grandma's MarathonI finished in 4:17:15.  I count it as a victory in many ways – I beat last year’s time, I averaged 9:50 minute miles, and it’s a Boston Qualifier (being old is a huge benefit).  But mainly because I felt good about doing it.  This makes 18 marathons overall.  Somehow I just know there are more in me.  I’m not finished yet.

The Marathon Taper

The hardest part of training for a marathon is refraining from running.  At least for me. After all, in my view doing a marathon is the perfect excuse for running copious numbers of miles. It’s all the justification I need to feed my exercise obsession. While I may not enjoy every step of my long training runs, I do love the feeling of building strength week after week and the sense of satisfaction completing those 21-milers.

I no longer use any particular training plan. By now, after 17 marathons I have figured out generally what works for me, and loosely follow that. I’ve made peace with my 60+ years and the inevitable slowdown in pace. Throwing bicycle touring into my repertoire has generated additional irregularity in my training. Since I can’t seem to kick the marathon habit, I’ve learned to adapt and become much more flexible in my approach and my expectations. As long as I’ve done enough preparation to feel I can run 26.2 without issues, I’m game.

So marathon week is a particular challenge. I know it’s time to cut back my miles. Intellectually I understand the need for rest days. My body deserves some downtime to prepare for the upcoming explosion of exertion it will take to get from Two Harbors from Duluth. But my mind resists. I’d so rather be out running.

Coffee time on the dockEnter the cabin. There’s no better place to chill and relax. I spend my final two days prior to Grandma’s Marathon with the lake in view. It’s a place I can allow myself to alternate between reading and snoozing outside on a sunny afternoon. My favorite morning routine is an early run, a brisk swim and a leisurely breakfast on the dock while perusing magazines. Today it’s barely more than a short jog, a brief dip in the lake and extended coffee time pouring over 8 year old issues of Runners’ World.

Tomorrow I can release all this pent up energy. I tell myself I will make up for all the missed miles when I toe the start line and head down the Scenic Highway. I will be grateful for the rest days when I begin to flag. I can feed my passion all I want in the days following the race. For now, I must gracefully concede to my marathon taper.

Yellowhead Cycling Tour Planning

Yellowhead Logo w nameThis trip has been planned for months.  But only in our heads.  Suddenly, with just over a month to go, the need to make firm reservations reached a critical level of urgency.  In a frenzy of keystrokes, battling it out on two computers and independent cell phones, we chipped away at the myriad transportation pieces required to make this journey possible.  Stymied time and again over clashing train and ferry schedules, long stretches of road with no services and sold-out lodgings, our itinerary morphed continuously.  Punctuated by wails of despair, sighs of relief and begrudging compromises we persisted.  Three ferry rides, one train trip and essential lodging bookings later, we had it.  The Yellowhead Tour is now viable and official.

The location is British Columbia, chosen to piggyback on a July family vacation on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state.  The general plan: cycle the Yellowhead Highway from Prince George to Prince Rupert, then ferry over to Haida Gwaii to ride the highway to its terminus on the northern tip of Graham Island.  A total of 620 miles on the bikes over 17 days.

But it’s a lot more complicated than that.  We start at the tip of Vancouver Island, with an 18 hour ferry ride through the inland passage on the coast of British Columbia.  That takes us within 15 miles of Alaska.  It’s a highly scenic route through the calm waters of the coastal islands on a ferry that approaches the comfort of a modest cruise ship.  A quick overnight in Prince Rupert, then we board Canada’s Via Rail for a full day’s journey to Prince George.  It promises an eyeful of wilderness viewing.  That rail segment is equipped with box car racks for our bicycles with roll-on, roll-off convenience – a cyclist’s delight.  The next morning, we will turn around and repeat that same route via bicycle on the Yellowhead Highway.  This time it will take us 12 days.

Our trip originally ended there.  But while scanning Google Maps, I happened to notice that oddly enough, the Yellowhead Highway continued west into the water.  Huh?  The dotted line took me to Haida Gwaii, a group of islands well off the coast formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands.  Its current name literally means “island of the people” and it has a vibrant First Nation culture.  It seemed an intriguing addition.  We will cycle the final stretch of the Yellowhead Highway to the northern coast, then return to Prince Rupert once again.

Traveling in peak tourist season is something we normally avoid.  But given this northerly route, it is the only reasonable timeframe.  So rather than winging it from day to day, we are nailing down each and every night’s accommodation.  Having already learned that services can be scarce, we will surrender our flexibility in favor of peace of mind.

This is actually one of our shorter trips in terms of cycling.  But to make it happen, we will cover 575 miles by ferry, 450 miles on the train and 4,200 miles in the car.

It’s a good thing it all worked out.  Our jerseys are already on order.  At least we planned ahead for those.

Adapting to Paradise

It's a rough life. But I'm managing. I sit in a wooden rocker in the mottled shade of the trees, studded with sleeping monkeys. Draped over high branches, their limbs hang limp. They are carefully balanced yet secured by the end of their tails as they slumber through the heat of the day. I see seven in one tree alone.

Monkeys in tree

An iguana saunters by and scurries up a tree. Rich has seen a much larger one. A local named Dino. I'm sure I'll catch a glimpse eventually.

Iguana

Out front, beyond the colorful racks of kayaks and paddle boards, the ocean glitters in the sun. The water is an impossible hue of blue, only rippled by the wind then heaving and cresting into foamy white breakers against the shore. Paradise indeed.

View from rocking chair

Las Catalinas is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. I count myself under that label, but here I am compelled to reconfigure my exercise fanaticism. I arrive open to trying new sports, to make the most of the local offerings. But I'm off to a rocky start. Mountain biking and I don't get along so well. Even on my second attempt I feel my psyche getting more of a workout than my body. But trading wheels for running shoes, I suddenly find relative safety on those same trails. Funny, I never liked trail running before. Now I relish my new activity and still get the amazing views.

View from bike trails

The bay calls out to me, and I find it calm enough for distance swimming. It sure beats lap swimming in a pool. When the wind picks up, Rich and I try out boogie boards. We manage a few good rides on the waves and do a lot of floating on the swells. I see a kayak and a stand up paddle board in my future.

Evening comes quickly here. Sunset is around 6:00pm, and the lingering colors may last 20 minutes longer. Then darkness descends. The temperature moderates and a nice breeze comes off the ocean, perfect for outdoor dining on the beach.

Las Catalinas sunset
Dinner on the beach

Welcome to paradise. I think I'm getting the hang of it here.

 

The Cowardly Cyclist

If fear burns calories, then I've just had a great workout. My heart was certainly racing. It was my first time mountain biking. I've logged plenty of road miles, but never turned a pedal on a dirt trail before. But here we are in Costa Rica, with trails right outside our door and amazing views out over the Pacifist Ocean. Despite a sliver of trepidation, I was up for the challenge.

Molly starting the mountain bike trail

At first the rocks and uneven terrain were unnerving. And the rapid shift between sudden ups and downs took getting used to. But I finally got the hang of grinding uphill in my granny gear and rounding sharp turns – carefully. I even managed to hold my fear of heights at bay while traversing narrow trails carved into the hillside. As long as it was gently rolling or uphill, I was able to hang in there. I took a couple of spills and drew blood, but it wasn't even doing anything difficult. I just slipped in soft dirt. I really thought I was conquering this thing.

Then we reached the ridge line and headed downhill. Even when I'm road biking, I dislike gathering speed and tend to ride my brakes on the way down. I should have foreseen the consequences. All the challenges of the dirt trail suddenly intensified as the pitch grew steeper. Braking wasn't such a great idea, and I knew I should just let the bike roll. But I was terrified. Not knowing what was around the next corner only intensified my fear. That bit didn't go so well.

Rich mountain biking
Molly mountain biking

Don't let the smile fool you. I was just glad to stand still for a spell. I also took the opportunity to enjoy the view, as I certainly couldn't take my eyes off the trail for long enough to take in the vista.

Actually, the final piece of the trail leveled out and I could honestly say I enjoyed that bit. I'm just not cut out for risky, speed induced drama. All the elements that attract thrill seeking mountain bikers are the same things that put me off. I like the milder terrain that is more like, well, road biking.

I admit it. I'm a conservative kind of gal. Even a bit cowardly.

 

Signs of a Successful Tour

I can’t help myself around signs. Invariably I have to stop and take a picture. Reasons vary from humor to documenting locations. But viewed as a collection after the fact, they tell a good tale.

Let’s start with the obvious. As our tour jerseys state, the Liberation Cycling Tour was planned to take in the Northern Great Lakes. The bulk of our miles were spent along the shores of Lake Michigan, Lake Superior and Lake Huron, catching a part of each lake’s Circle Tour. Their shorelines were distinctly different but all shared the same expansive views of endless blue water.

We found a number of good cycling trails along the way. We were grateful for the Interurban trail, for getting us in and out of Milwaukee without dealing with urban traffic and congestion. The Pere Marquette trail kept us off a busy highway while going across the lower peninsula.The Little Traverse Wheelway was a particularly pleasant way to travel along Lake Michigan.  To mention a few.

Some roads were as good as bike trails. And particularly scenic. We didn’t need signs to tell us that.

Signs were often informative.

Or simply told us where we were.

Looking back this way already reminds me of the good times we had.  All the signs point to a very successful cycling tour.

Finishing in Style

Final Totals: 33 days, 1,418 miles

We prefer a circle route. It means constantly covering new ground and seeing new sights. This Liberation Tour followed that principle well, but our final stretch from Door County back to Milwaukee inevitably meant retracing our route. But that's not all bad. It allowed us to linger in places we admired earlier, take in attractions we bypassed and stay over in different towns.

The weather favored us in our final days. The sun returned and temperatures rose into the 60s and we even saw 70. In Kewaunee we got up early to catch the beautiful sunrise behind the lighthouse.

Kewaunee sunrise

We had admired the USS Cobia submarine in the harbor in Luddington several times already. So after bidding farewell to Jim, as he left us to take the Badger back home to Michigan, we went to the Wisconsin Maritime Museum and took a tour of the sub. We were able to walk through it from end to end, taking in the cramped torpedoed room, where men slept sandwiched between the artillery. We saw where they ate and worked, and the engine room. It was all preserved just as it had been outfitted in WWII.

USS Corbia tour

We were especially enamoured with Sheboygan Falls, with its picturesque downtown and multiple parks on the river. It offered few accommodations, we just passed through the first time. But by this stage in our trip, we were willing to spring for something special. So we booked ourselves into the historic Rochester Inn for the final night of our tour. Our lovely two-room suite had its own entrance off the side garden, and was tastefully decorated with lovely furniture and period decor. It was pure luxury compared to tired roadside motels and our tent, so we relished the space and comfort. And it seemed only fitting to snuggle in for a pizza dinner.

Rochester Inn
Dinner in our suite
Leaving the Rochester In

Cedarburg was our other favorite town on that stretch. So with only 15 miles to go, we exercised the art of slowing down and stopped at a local coffee shop for a leisurely afternoon break.

Our last leg was graced with pure sunshine and warm temperatures. A delightful way to complete a tour. Making our final turn to reach Lakeshore Drive, we could feel the cool breezes coming off Lake Michigan. The end was near. Despite having repeated some miles, we had come full circle. And finished in style.

Liberation Tour complete