To Canada and Back

I (Sue) live about 150 miles from Sault Ste. Marie (MI/Canada) and I have family living there, so adding the Sault International Festival of Races to my schedule was a no brainer.   I drove over on Friday and my step-daughter Erin and I headed to bib pick-up.   This is a relatively small race (less than 70 half marathoners), so it was basically grab our bibs & shirts and out.  Except for something pretty awesome.  Spurred by an article earlier in the week in the Sault Evening News, the race director had contacted me and asked me to look her up as they wanted to make a donation to our ALS TDI fundraising.  Imagine my shock and elation when, on Friday evening, she handed me a check for $500!  What a great win for the fight against ALS!

When we left there, Erin and I drove the race course, so that I could see where we’d be running the next morning, as some of it had changed from the previous years I’d run this race.   A good part of the course is the usual route Erin runs several times a week and I will run with her when visiting, therefore, much of it was quite familiar.  But there were a few turns I wasn’t aware of and glad to have the heads-up since I was pretty sure there would be times I’d be out there without another runner in sight.  We then went back home, ate dinner, visited and settled in for the night.

Saturday morning I was up more than an hour before anyone else…as usual.  Lots of morning prep time works well for me, even if it means a 4:00 am wake up.  I’m not so sure my roommates agree sometimes, but I try my best to be courteous.  We left Erin’s house at 6:30 and drove the couple miles to the race start at Lake Superior State University.  It was nice to be able to wait inside a warm building and head outside just in time for the 7:15 start.  I briefly saw a man toward the front of the start wearing a Defeat ALS shirt but lost sight of him quickly.


The start gun sounded and we were immediately running.  Down the hill, onto the ramp leading to the International Bridge that connects the two Sault Ste. Maries.  I have no qualms telling you I don’t like that bridge.  I’ve run it three times and it has never become any easier.  There’s the up/down – up/down heading toward Canada; just before you hit the border is the turn around to repeat it back to Michigan.  The Bridge Run (7.1 miles) participants had started 15 minutes after us and I was passed by several of them before I made it off the bridge.  But I knew not to push my body that early in the race as that portion of the course takes a lot of my energy with the cement, cooler weather, and incline/decline.  The saving grace…it’s beautiful!  Then it was off the bridge, up the ramp, a right turn and the rest was flat.  I maintained my 2:30/:30 run/walk intervals and just enjoyed the run through familiar territory.


Somewhere around mile 8 or 9, the man with the Defeat ALS shirt passed me saying, “Hey, I like your shirt.”  My response:  “I like yours too!”  A couple miles later I caught up with him and we started talking and ended up finishing together.  Even a small race like this and I run into someone with yet another amazing story of a connection to ALS.  Kenny lost his mother to the disease a few years ago.  As a stay-at-home dad at the time, he was able to care for her throughout her illness.  He is now preparing to enter nursing school in a few months with plans to become a hospice nurse.  Chatting and running with him made those final miles fly by!  It was so enjoyable that I’d lost track of my intervals and we had been walking for quite some time when he said, “You think we should try running for awhile?”  OOPS!  We discovered we had run the Air Force Half Marathon “together” the prior Saturday and at least one other race this year so far.  I have a feeling our paths will cross again.

I’m getting pretty good at predicting my performance.  I’d told Mary Jo, the race director, to look for me finishing around 2:25 for the official check presentation.  My official time?  2:26:18.




A Double Double Weekend????

This weekend started out with Sue coming from the north and Rhonda and friend Cara coming in from the south, meeting in Dayton, OH for the Air Force Marathon Half.  Finally…after four long months…we’d be running together again!  We met up at our hotel Friday afternoon.  Once we managed to find space for all the suitcases, running gear, food, and miscellaneous items, we made the short trek across the street to the expo location.   We picked up our bibs and packets and walked around for about an hour but the only things purchased were a couple energy gels.  Then it was back across the street and down a block to enjoy a nice meat lover’s pizza and breadsticks.  At that point, we were all pretty tired from the traveling and Sue was still suffering from the head cold she’d picked up somewhere earlier in the week.  We got our running stuff organized, strategized for the following day, and hit the pillows early. 

The next morning we awoke to the forecasted, but dreaded, sound of thunder.  Yep, it was raining.  At that point Sue decided it was probably not in the cards for her to ever run a dry race again. – lol   We just hoped it would pass quickly and not include lightning so as to cancel the race.  At 5:30am the rain had stopped and we headed out the door to go back across the street and catch the shuttle to Wright Patterson AFB where the race is held.  But dang if those storms didn’t put a wrench in everything.   We were delayed boarding, then sat on a bus for quite some time before everything was clear to proceed.  In the end, the races were delayed about half an hour; which wasn’t as bad as it could have been.   Due to the size of the race and the added complexities of it being held on an active base, there was already a longer than average pre-race wait. Sole Sisters Rhonda and Sue started complaining about being hungry already, whereas Cara just bided her time. 

While mulling around, we were approached by a lady asking about our shirts and connection to ALS.  She shared her story of a brother-in-law who lost his battle with the disease and how her family now travels to various locations to participate in ALS walks along with hosting a fundraising breakfast.   It is humbling to hear these stories at every single race! After a couple of trips to the port-a-pottys, flyover, national anthem, and parachuters, the starting cannon was finally sounded. 

The first several miles were very crowded and it was difficult to keep any kind of pace or use the run/walk strategy.  It had cleared up, but with the crowded conditions and the fact it was rather warm and humid, we were feeling pretty beat up early on.  Unfortunately not far into the race, Cara started having pain in her feet, requiring her to slow down and walk and stretch more.  But that’s okay, it just gave us more time to visit since we knew we’d only be together a few more hours anyway.  We walked and talked and ran, and even danced a little, through those 13.1 miles.  Somewhere in the last few miles, there was a shift in the weather and the storms started moving in again.  We sometimes felt like we were using all our energy just to not be blown backwards by the strong winds.  Finally, we rounded the corner to the home stretch and ran in to receive our medals from active duty personnel.  Then it was off to the food tent to satisfy those hungry bellies.  WHAT?!?!  No pizza this year?

It was more than a little confusing finding where the return shuttles were located and once boarded, we sat again for a very long time waiting for it to fill.  At this point, we started to get a little bit nervous as we had a checkout time approaching and each needed to get back on the road quickly.  It would probably have been quite entertaining to be a fly on the wall watching the whirlwind of showers, dressing, packing, and quick goodbyes…Sue back north to Lansing, MI, and Rhonda and Cara to Morgantown, WV.

Four and a half hours later I (Sue) arrived in downtown Lansing in anticipation of the Capital City River Run on Sunday.  I had missed packet pick-up, but knew I could grab my bib and shirt in the morning, so I got settled in to my hotel room just a couple blocks from the race start/finish.  After driving post-race, it felt good to get out and walk around and scope out the area where much of the race equipment was already set up.  I went back to my room, ate a little, and took on the task of organizing the chaos I had flung together upon my hasty Dayton exit.  Rhonda and I texted a little before I laid my head on the pillow and fell into a wonderful all-night sleep.

Since I had restored order to my running life the evening before, the morning routine went smoothly and I soon found myself out the hotel door and walking down the street with several other runners.  Bib and shirt pick-up was quick and efficient and I was comfortably waiting for the race to start as I did a few quick warm ups.  The sun was shining and the weather was perfect.  I stuck with my 2:30run/:30walk intervals through the entire race except for the few times the course narrowed too much to make it practical and the miles just slid by.  I did have some very mild cramping in my left hamstring and quad, but not enough to stop or even slow me much.  The course started out on city streets, then made its way through the campus of Michigan State University before heading down along the River Walk next to the Grand River.  It was mostly a scenic park-like course with the exception of the beginning city street area.  Runners, volunteers, and law enforcement were all super friendly, making the race quite enjoyable.  While I certainly wouldn’t say it was hilly, there seemed to be constant minor inclines and declines which didn’t make it the flat and fast course I was expecting, but did bring me across the finish line right around my average time.

Pizza was there…and donuts…and of course Tru Moo, so I filled up before heading back to the hotel for a quick shower and noon check out to get me home by 7:00pm.


Cara and I (Rhonda) made it to the expo at the National Guard Amory in Morgantown, WV with 8 minutes to spare!  The process was very simple and once we had our bibs we headed out to get some food and then check into the hotel.  We actually ate at Cracker Barrel since we had not had a “real” breakfast due to our rushed state.  With full bellies, we got settled in for the night and everything ready for the morning.  Storms were forecasted so we were not quite sure what we would wake up to.  Cara’s foot was still bothering her and she was on the fence as to run or not.

After a great night of sleep I awoke and no rain or storms!  I was totally thrilled as the idea of running hills and being wet was not setting well with me.  Cara got out of bed, scratch that, hobbled out of bed and said “I don’t think I can run.”  I assured her that I was ok running by myself.  She dropped me off at the start line which meant I didn’t have to leave the hotel quite as early.  It was a small half marathon but I prefer that over the large one the day before.  Hills…..oh yes, there were plenty.  I pretty much stuck with the 2:30/30 and adjusted only for the hills if needed.  The crowd support and the volunteers were fantastic!  I would definitely repeat this race in the future.  After I finished I grabbed pizza and a yummy cinnamon bagel and called Cara to come pick me up. 

Once I was showered we loaded up and headed the 7.5 hours to home.  It was definitely a fast paced weekend but oh so great to be with friends.


Same day, Different states

Once again, Sue and I were running the same day but in different states.  I was in Georgia running the Run Like a Diva Peachtree Half Marathon and she was in Michigan running the Iron Mountain Trail Half Marathon. 

I, Rhonda, traveled over the night before with our friend Lisa.  We arrived and went straight to packet pick up and then off to the hotel.   A Diva race has been on my bucket list for quite some time.  After a good night of sleep we were up nice and early to head to the parking lot in order to hop on the shuttle to the start line.  We arrived with plenty of time but agreed we would much rather have extra time at the starting area rather than waiting on buses.  We were given our pink tutus to wear during the race at the expo. 

 It was a “cool” 64 degrees at start time.  I was super thrilled with that!  I typically have everything about the race course all mapped out in my head and have reviewed the course diagram several times prior to running.  Well, that did not happen this time.  I have been super busy so this course was literally a surprise to me.  It was hilly…..and yes, I am tired of hills.  They did a great job with ample hydration stations and even a popsicle station!  Yes, I had a blue one.    At mile 13 they handed us our pink boas and our tiaras.  I did not try to wear it in, rather I carried the tiara and had the boa on.  The finish line was full of spectators cheering you in.

Once I crossed over I was given my amazing tiara medal by a shirtless local fireman – sorry no photo.  Then I grabbed a glass of pink bubbly and a cookie!  They were yummy.   I found Lisa and we made our way back to the shuttle so we could get back to the hotel and on our way home.  An uneventful day but definitely a great race. 

 Meanwhile in Michigan…….well, I’ll let Sue tell the story……

The Iron Mountain Trail and Road Half Marathon kicked my behind.  I’ll keep this short and sweet.  Hubby and I made the 1.5 hour trip Saturday morning; we didn’t have to leave until 7:30 since the race didn’t start until 9:00 am Central (we are in the Eastern time zone).  We drove through and arrive to pouring rain…yes, I am getting a little tired of running in the rain.  So happy that Queen City Running Company hooked me up with my GoreTex running shoes.  There is no substitute for a local running store and I’m loving Kevin and staff. 

Without a lot of mundane detail, let’s just say it was wet, cold (in my book), and muddy.  The relatively hilly course incorporates 4-5 miles of technical trail mid-run.  Slick?  Oh yeah.  Since this mostly two-rut trail is also utilized for horseback riding, there’s the added challenge of dodging horse dung.  Let’s just say I failed at the “dodging” part.  I came home feeling pretty beat up.

BUT this truly is a great race.  Amazing staff and volunteers!  The goodie bag and bling was awesome – especially considering the registration fee.  The race shirt was a hoodie sweatshirt, sunglasses, fridge clip, buff, lip balm, a couple Cliff Bars, and various other items were included in a nice zippered logo bag.  Post-race included massages, snacks, individual pasties, chocolate milk, beer, soda….  Not bad for a race with under 200 participants.

Highlights:  Met a friend on the course I hadn’t seen in quite some time and got a quick “Sue-fie” as he called it.  I leap-frogged with a young woman quite a bit and she kept calling me The ALS Warrior. A couple people asked me why my watch kept beeping and I was able to share my love of the Galloway run/walk method.  And finally, Bud was at the finish to cheer me across.  All-in-all a great race.


Home Course Advantage

For the past seven years, Labor Day weekend has been synonymous with RACE WEEKEND for Sue.  The Marquette Marathon & Half Marathon is a very special race to me; it was my very first half marathon…which got me started running in the first place; often I will run it with my step-daughter, daughter-in-law, or a friend, but sometimes alone; it’s my home course as the trail literally runs through my small neighborhood; and we usually have a family and friend race/birthday(s)/end of summer party afterwards.   

So to say I was looking forward to Saturday, September 3 would be a bit of an understatement.  As it ends up, I would be running alone this year, but I knew there would be several familiar faces out there on the course cheering me on.  I must say, it was rather relaxing to sleep in my own bed, eat in my own kitchen, and get ready in my own bathroom/bedroom all at a much later than usual time of morning.  Since the race didn’t start until 9:00 am, I convinced my hubby to drive me to the start, which is five miles from my house.  This meant I didn’t have to drive into town, park, get on a bus and wait for it to fill, then ride half an hour only to get back to just about where I’d started my morning travels an hour or so earlier.  This also meant I didn’t leave the house until 8:20 am.  I was doing a happy dance in my head remembering the many 4:00-5:00 am departures of the past several months.  I didn’t even need to use the porta-pottie at the start – my wait was that short. 

Bud dropped me at the gate to the Michigan Iron Industry Museum where the race starts and I walked the quarter mile or so in.  After a short warm up and half a Honey Stinger waffle, I took off my jacket, turned in my gear bag, and walked the short distance to the start line to join the other 400 or so runners.  The first mile is mostly on a narrow two-rut trail that brings you down to the actual Iron Ore Heritage Trail and I knew this part would be slow with the usual race start bottleneck.  Therefore, I just took it slower than my normal pace and didn’t use any walk intervals until we hit the wider trail and managed to spread out some.

The weather was perfect, I felt good, and that day it all just fell into place.  I easily settled into a good rhythm of 2 minute 30second running/30 second walking intervals and the miles seemed to pass quickly.  As I said, I know this course, I know it has a significant net elevation loss, and I know exactly where the losses and gains occur.  As my Garmin watch beeped at the end of every lap, I would glance down and see I had run yet another sub-10:00 minute mile.  That certainly is not speedy, but it is something I haven’t seen in a long time.  Five and half miles into the race, I crossed the road I live on and high fived my neighbor Jamie; I was feeling really good and was sure my best few miles were ahead of me.  And I was right – miles 7, 8, and 9 were all under 9:30!


 Shortly we were in town with a lot more spectators along the way.  My daughter-in-law and grandchildren were there for quick hugs and “Go Gramma Susie!”  I was waiting for the cramps to start, but hoping maybe – just maybe they wouldn’t this time.  I’ve been working hard on adjusting my fueling and hope I’m finding the right mix.  As anticipated, I started to tire more the last few miles and the dreaded Third Street finish delivered that one quad cramp I can’t seem to finish a race without. (The final half mile or so of the race runs up a bear of a gradual incline to the finish line.)  However, I barely noticed it the last few blocks because my grandchildren were there cheering and running the sidewalk alongside me.  Along with Sarah and the kids, my friend Rebecca was at the finish line waiting to congratulate and give me a ride home.   I glanced at the timing clock and said to myself, “well done!”  It turned out to be my best time for a half marathon in four years.  My fastest race since several injuries and surgeries.  And I felt good.  I was so happy to be doing this for a special reason.  One more Labor Day weekend Marquette Marathon Half in the books.  I’m hoping there are several more in my future.