Saturday, May 30, 2009

Accidentally fast at the Northern Lakes 10 Miler

It has been three weeks since the Fargo Marathon, and I had only run three races this year. Feeling a little behind on my racing schedule and wanting to do some running, earlier this week on a whim I signed up for a race. Expectations were pretty low, and I really had no intention of trying to run hard. I was just looking forward to doing a race.

Saturday morning I had the pleasure of joining several hundred other local runners in the beautiful northeastern suburb of White Bear Lake to do the Northern Lakes Run. We had a good mix of folks here. Some were running the 30k as a tune-up for Grandma's in three weeks, and a number were doing the 5k. I split the difference and would be running the 10 miler.

Yours truly, outside of the race headquarters at White Bear Lake High School



What a gorgeous day for running! Temps were in the upper 50's and gradually rose into the mid 60's with lots of sunshine and zero humidity. We Minnesotans must be living well, because we have been treated to excellent weather in recent weeks.

The course for the 10 milers was a relatively flat counterclockwise loop around Bald Eagle Lake. They say the original Twin Cities Marathon course used some of these roads back in the day. This course is also where they hold the Get Ready To Rock 10k in the fall, which is where I got my 10k PR of 45:28 back in 2006 (foreshadowing alert!).

Gathering at the train tracks near the starting line; 10 milers here, 30k'ers off in the distance



The start of the race was interesting. Both races would start north of the school near the railroad tracks simultaneously at 8 AM. The 10 milers were heading south, and the 30k'ers would head north in the opposite lane.

Right as 8 AM rolled around, off in the distance we could hear the sound of a horn. Of course, that would be the train coming from the east! This would effectively hold up the start of the race for a couple of minutes until the train passed. I heard one runner joke, "Hey, the 10 milers are OK to start!" (we were heading south and not crossing the tracks!), which drew a good laugh from the crowd. I think the race start might have been slightly behind schedule anyhow, so this was probably not too much of a problem. Still, the timing of the whole thing was impeccable, and rather humorous at that!

The train that held up the show



With the train out of the way, we finally got going. And despite telling myself I was going to take it easy, I found myself running a pretty good race pace (for me), making it through the first mile in a shade over 8 minutes, even after wading through a lot of traffic at the start. So much for taking it easy! I was feeling good though, so game on!

There was a fairly stiff breeze that felt as if it was coming directly from the north. This meant we were going into it for the first few miles before we rounded the northern tip of the lake to turn south. I was maintaining my roughly 8 minutes per mile pace. At the halfway point, I remember looking at my watch. 40:10. Not bad. I felt like I was having a decent race.

The course is very pretty. Lots of nice homes along the lake, bass fisherman in their fancy boats were busy working the shoreline, birds were singing all around (cardinals, catbirds, blue jays), and many ducks were floating around in the bays. Many beautiful signs of summer all the way around. This is why I love Minnesota.

Everything was going well until about the 7 mile mark. Here, we hit the south end of the lake and had to turn back into the wind, which was blowing really hard by now. Then, my left shoe became untied. Crap! I had to stop, losing valuable seconds.

But I managed to regroup. Once we got away from the lake, it was pretty much a southward journey with the wind at our backs all the way to the finish. The road crossed back over the train tracks (no trains this time!), wound through some neighborhoods, and ended in the parking lot of Decoys Restaurant. The finish line was in sight for close to a half mile away, so I tried to pick up the pace coming down the home stretch.

By my watch, I finished in 1:19:44 (official results still pending). I started out the day without any expectations, and I ended up kicking butt. I established new 10 mile PR by 11 seconds...AND, to think I lost time having to stop and tie my shoe. Wow, what a day!

Here's what my new 10 mile PR looks like



So I now have two different PR's for two different distances, both set on the same roads. And, that makes two consecutive races where I have established a new PR. Not quite sure what is going on here, or if I can attribute this to better training, eating well, or drinking really good beer (Or perhaps a combination of the three? Ha ha!). Whatever the case, I am enjoying this trend!

Dinner consisted of the semi-regular post-race tradition of Chinese takeout. And the folks at Chin Yung did a damn fine job with the Hot and Spicy Chicken and the Triple Kung Pao. Yum! It certainly was a tasty way to celebrate a new milestone.

Just spicy enough to make your nose run! :)



On to the next,

Jean

Friday, May 29, 2009

Ring, ring! Ring, ring!

We've had some pretty darn nice days this past week. Even with a rather chilly-but-decent day on Wednesday (55 degrees!), temps hopped back up to around 80 yesterday and into the mid 70's today. This has been a near ideal stretch of weather.

I went running on both Wednesday and Thursday, both were decent 5 milers. Wednesday was a particularly good run because it was so cool. Yesterday being 25 degrees warmer made it somewhat slower, but it was productive nonetheless. The sedge wrens are still quite active and vocal along my route, so they kept me entertained once again. The meadow and the forested areas I run though are alive with bird life, chock full of cardinals, yellow warblers, orioles, bluebirds, kingbirds, tree swallows, along with red-bellied and downy woodpeckers. It is a great time to be in Minnesota.

With the nicer weather, the bikers are really coming out of the woodwork. I do most of my running on a paved, 8-foot wide trail that is shared by walkers, rollerbladers (and occassionally roller skaters), runners, and bikers alike. When bikers are coming up behind you, most of the time you can't hear them. They generally do one of two things:

1. They blow right past and scare the hell out of you

2. As a courtesy, they scream "On your left!" as they are approaching, which also scares the hell out of you


The best solution to this issue that I have observed is practiced by an older gentleman who I see riding in my neighborhood from time to time. He has one of those little kid's bike bells affixed to the handlebars (that circular device with the little flipper used to ring it), which he starts ringing with reckless abandon as he approaches. This is a win-win situation for all parties involved. One can hear the gentle ringing as the biker is approaching, which is not nearly as alarming as getting shouted at. And, the biker doesn't have to say anything to notify pedestrians of his presence.

Of course, I am guessing we won't be seeing any of the hard-core bikers affixing these little bike bells to their expensive Cannondales. But I am suggesting it, because it works! :)

Tomorrow I am doing my first race since Fargo, a 10 miler over in White Bear Lake. Looks like it will be another nice morning, too. I am looking forward to it. No desire to be fast; I just felt like running! Full report to come.

Enjoy your weekend, everyone, and good luck to those of you racing!

Jean

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sister Sedge, and a return to cooking

Tuesday is a day off from running, but I did get in a nice easy 5 miler on Monday morning. Monday was another glorious day here in the Twin Cities. Temperatures were in the upper 50’s, with a little breeze and some slightly overcast skies. This was the nicest Memorial Day weekend weather wise that I can ever remember. Three solid days of comfortable temperatures and no humidity.

Over the last few days, I have taken more than a few walks to my local park to watch the sedge wrens, and I have relocated them every time. In fact, I also spotted one or more on each of my runs over the holiday weekend. They have been in the exact same area. I have also found an additional pair, and I suspect there are even more (now that I know the voice, I can hear others from locations deep in the swampy meadow!).

The reason I have been taking so many hikes to see the sedge wrens is because I learned they are extremely nomadic birds and tend not to stay in one area for very long. You may see several of them one year, but that is no guarantee they will return to the same spot. My Roger Tory Peterson field guide from 1980 describes them as “scarce and local.” I also read that because of their nomadic ways, these birds are not very well understood. I do believe the ones here must be nesting, or at least staking out some territory for nesting, so I am hoping they are going to stay for a little while.

These dainty birds with their upturned tails have been fascinating to me, and they quite a treat to watch. Their voice is not like the sweet, warbling notes similar to the other wrens I am more familiar with (namely the house, and the winter). It is this very abrupt, staccato chatter that gets progressively faster. I witnessed one sitting on top of a signpost doing his chattering, and his buddy across the path climbed to the very tip of a little shrub to talk back. It was very cute!

One of the sedge wrens I was observing was in relatively close proximity to the resident eagle’s nest. The wren was no more than 10 feet off the trail sitting on the branch of a shrub in plain view. It was the best view I had yet, and he stayed in that shrub for at least five minutes, seemingly communicating with another wren that was chattering back at him from deep in the weeds.

Two people came walking down the trail en route to see the eagle (I could hear them saying “Oh, there is the nest,” etc.) with cameras and binoculars in tow. The wren was singing up a storm and making quite a racket. These folks strolled past me and the wren without as much as a glance to see what the commotion was all about. Granted, the eagle is very cool. However, they walked right by this unique and somewhat unusual little songbird and have absolutely no idea what they missed seeing.

I e-mailed this story to my Dad and he responded with, “Some of the nature lovers are too busy to get to the destination and miss everything to see on the journey.” True words. It also reinforced a simple lesson I was taught, and that is to pay attention; I nearly missed out on finding the sedge wrens in the first place had I not stopped to see who was making the fuss. And, it also goes to show what you can find in your very own backyard if you just keep your eyes and ears open.

That is probably more than you ever wanted to know about the sedge wren. What can I say except that this was a most enjoyable discovery for me. But for now, let's shift gears completely and talk about cooking.

Since I had been gone for the previous couple of weekends, I did not have much of an opportunity to do any cooking. So I was pleased to have the chance to prepare some meals again.

On Sunday I made some chicken and pinto bean burritos, seasoned with chipotle and ancho peppers, and served with homemade guajillo chile salsa (sorry, no photos...It just looked like a big ‘ol stuffed tortilla and was not very photogenic!).

Monday night I made lasagna with Italian sausage, mushrooms, and a homemade tomato and red wine sauce. The Italian sausage was given to me by my folks and came from Old World Meats in Duluth (great sausage with a ton of flavor). It made for excellent lasagna.

It was good to get back in the kitchen!



Until next time,

Jean

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Swan Lake

Today's sunrise over a foggy pond



Sunday started off with a nice 13 1/2 mile run. It was a gorgeous morning with temperatures starting out in the mid 40's and approaching near 60 by the time I finished. This has been just a glorious weekend weather wise; comfortable temperatures, plenty of sun, and zero humidity. These are the kind of days that make suffering through the winter worthwhile! :)

I trucked all the way over to Fish Lake Park and took a lap around the peninsula. The trails were very quiet this early on a Sunday. I hadn't run in this area in more than three weeks, and it was remarkable to see how the scenery had changed. The canopy of leaves over the trails is impressive. Things are looking mighty pretty up here in the Twin Cities right now.

A calm day on Fish Lake



Yours truly, with yet another clumsy self portrait from this morning's run



And the run felt great. It has been two weeks since Fargo, and it was nice to be able to pick up where I left off with some nice, long-ish weekend runs, especially on days like this.

The rest of my day was dedicated to hiking and birding. Following my run, I spent a few hours up at the Elm Creek Park Reserve. I saw all kinds of good stuff; great-crested flycatchers, red-eyed vireos, yellow warblers, eastern kingbirds (including a nesting pair, gray catbirds, and I even rustled up a ring-necked pheasant. Some new sightings for me this season included the house wren, American redstart (they were everywhere!), and the cutest little masked bandit, the common yellowthroat.

The most exciting moment happened when I was standing on the trail near a small bay of a lake. I had observed two swans clear over on the other side of the lake, and I was lamenting to myself that it was a shame they were so far away. I was watching a common yellowthroat flitting about in the reeds and thickets, so I was content with watching him for as long as he would let me (this was a treat in and of itself; I haven't had much of an opportunity to see the yellowthroat).

I soent about a half an hour in this one spot. Occasionally I would glance out on to the lake, and I noticed the swans were swimming my way. In fact, they were coming right for me! As if on cue, the swam directly into the cove where I was standing. I was able to take some semi-decent pictures.

Trumpeter swans from today's hike. See the shore in the background? They came all the way across the lake from over there!



A closeup shot of one of the trumpeters



These were indeed trumpeter swans. They even treated me to a couple of brassy sounding honks, which were alarmingly loud. Gorgeous birds! They drifted around the bay, and eventually back out into the lake. Not sure if they came over just to see me? Perhaps they identified me as a bird watcher and decided to give me a show? :) In any case, that was the highlight of my day.

So, a 13 1/2 mile run, a 3 hour bird hike, and another 1 hour walk over into my local park to check on my sedge wrens (They are hanging around! I saw them on my run this morning and on my walk again this afternoon. Fascinating little birds, but I can talk about them another time!). I think I got my exercise today! :)

Until next time,

Jean

Saturday, May 23, 2009

All the chai tea in rural MN, and a new life lister

OK, so I did actually venture out of the Cities this weekend, but just a little ways. I made a trip to Thielen's, a meat market in Pierz, MN. It is one of those legendary small meat markets that has been there for decades. They do a mean business, and the joint was hopping even at quarter after 9 in the morning. I loaded up on various sausage products (Polish sausage, wild rice bratwurst, kratwurst), bacon, hot dogs, and beef sticks. My freezer is now well stocked.

I had an extremely entertaining (at least, entertaining to me) experience in the checkout line at the meat market. The customer ahead of me in line asked the store clerk if there was a coffee shop in town where he could get some chai tea.

I recognize this is perhaps not an usual question, nor is it unreasonable, but you must consider the area. I grew up not terribly far from here (my school always played Pierz in sports). This is a very rural part of central Minnesota with tiny towns; we're talking where farm country meets the northern lakes and forests. In these parts, we like our meat and potatoes, walleye fishing, and ice cold domestic beer. Basically, we really don't do chai tea around here! So the clerk's answer to the customer's question was "No."

This delightful encounter has kept me entertained for much of the day. I've been playing a little game trying to come up with a sort of reverse equivalent of this scenario. I decided it would be if I went to the Napa Valley wine country and asked someone where I could buy a six-pack of Schmidt beer.

What can I say? Little things like this amuse me. :)

Today was not a run day, so I went on a little hike around the neighborhood once I returned home. I saw several great birds, including the little eaglet peeking out of the nest. Mom or Dad was hanging out nearby, so the little guy was taking some time to flex his wings. I can't believe how big he has gotten!

My resident eaglet; not a good photo, but you can see him flapping his wings



I saw a few new birds as well; the red-eyed vireo is back, as is the yellow warbler. And, I also added something new to my life list; a sedge wren. Two of them, actually.

Had they not been so loud, I might have overlooked them. It was as if they were screaming, "Hey you, over here! Look at us!" I heard a piercing, staccato vocalization that was not familiar to me, and I eventually spotted these two wrens with their upturned tails flitting around in the tall grass. I know what a winter wren and house wren look like, but these two were different; they had some distinctive dark streaking and much more detailing on their backs.

I was not carrying my field guide with me, so I memorized all the field markings I could. I confirmed the identity when I got home, and listening to the voice on the Cornell website sealed the deal (I had initially thought they were scolding me, but as it turns out, that is their normal voice!). The sedge wren is now on my life list. Awesome!

My holiday weekend is off to a nice start. Dinner wasn't bad, either. Hot dogs from Thielen's. And their hot dogs are good. Real good.

Summer on a plate



Until next time,

Jean

Friday, May 22, 2009

What I am missing out on this weekend

A parking lot in a 70 MPH zone; Interstate 94 heading out of the Twin Cities around 3 PM.



One of my running trails takes me along side of the Interstate for a short time, and I snapped this photo today. This is the traditional Memorial Day traffic jam. Everybody and their brother is heading "up North," as they say, for the holiday weekend. This brings back memories of heading up to Mom and Dad's when they still lived in central Minnesota. The old saying "getting there is half the fun" does not apply here.

Invariably when trying to head "up North" on a Friday afternoon in the summer, you are stuck in a steady and unbelievably slow procession of campers, pickups, and SUV's all going the same direction you are. Most vehicles, if not pulling a boat, are likely pulling a trailer filled with what looks like a garage sale on wheels; lawnmowers, lawn chairs, inner tubes, jet skis, dirt bikes, bicycles, perhaps a roll of carpet and some furniture for the cabin...and sometimes all of the above! This does not make for a fun trip.

I am just happy not to be part of the parade this year. This weekend, I am staying put. I've spent the last two weekends out of town, so it is nice not having to battle the traffic and to be able to spend some time at home. And after seeing the highway this afternoon, I figure I should have the Twin Cities to myself this weekend! :)

Had a couple of nice runs on Thursday and today. Following our midweek heatwave, our weather became much more tolerable and has been in the low 70's with little humidity.

I also saw some good birds this week. I had a pair of magnificent great crested flycatchers in my yard. The eastern kingbird and the gray catbird have returned (I love the catbird...he is one of my favorite birds of summer). And over the last two days, there were a pair of Caspian terns on my local lake. These terns are the largest of their species, huge and unmistakable, and I even got to see one do a plunge into the lake from a great height. Cool stuff!

I wish you all a safe holiday weekend, and good luck to all of you who are racing.

And in closing, I've been wanting to mention this for almost two weeks now, and Memorial Day weekend seems like an appropriate time. In the Fargo Marathon between miles 6 and 7, I ran in fairly close proximity to this gentleman. He was running the half marathon in honor of a fallen US solider and friend, and he was carrying a large American flag during the race. The reception he got from the crowds along the route was inspiring and nothing short of awesome. I was thinking about this today and it reminded me what Memorial day is all about.

Until next time,

Jean

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Out of the freezer and into the frying pan

On Saturday up at my Mom and Dad's place, I ran in the morning when it was 33 degrees with snow flurries.

On Tuesday when I ran down here in the Cities, it was 93 degrees, windy, and just downright hot. How is that for a temperature swing in May? Now I know what it must be like for some of you California runners! :)

A view from a Sunday hike overlooking Lake Superior. Notice the lack of leaves on the trees and shrubs.



A view from my deck when I got home on Monday. It is hard to believe this is the same state!



No run today. It was a day off...and, it is 94 degrees right now, so that was a good enough of an excuse! Wow...the body is just not used to this!

By the way, my Dad captured the spring bird migration in photos better than I described it. Stop by and have a look. Tell him his favorite son sent you. ;-)

Until next time,

Jean

Monday, May 18, 2009

Snow flurries in May, and other tales from the Shore

A hike through the "Big Cedars" is always a treat



First and foremost, a belated Sytennde Mai to those of you of the Norwegian persuasion! :)

Today I returned from my trip up to the North Shore to visit my family. It was a fun way to spend a long weekend, and it was wonderful to see my whole family. My little nephew Will is doing great. Amazing how he has grown in just a few weeks!

Uncle Jean with nephew Will and father Brett; notice Will is flailing and not at all happy, and his father is mimicking him! :)



I went running twice over the weekend, a five miler on Friday, and an eight and a half miler on Saturday. This, coupled with lots of hiking every day I was up there, ensured that I got my exercise. I needed to when Mom and Dad are feeding me things like Italian sausage and penne pasta, home-smoked BBQ ribs, prime rib of beef, and double-smoked ham from Old World Meats in Duluth. What I am saying is that Mom and Dad took good care of me this weekend!

Quite possibly the best ham, ever.



The Saturday run was particularly interesting as snow flurries started to fall. Yes, I said snow flurries. This was May 16th, for the record! Tempertures hung around in the 30's for much of the morning and early afternoon, and we had snow showers on and off throughout much of the day. There was nothing that accumulated, and the snow was very light. But it was snow nonetheless. I think this is the latest in the season I have ever personally witnessed snow. Wow, what a state Minnesota is!

One of the reasons I timed this trip is because the bird migration is just starting to get into the swing of things up on the North Shore. Most of my time was spent out in the woods with Mom and Dad.

Yours truly, out on one of many birding expeditions



The birding was pretty good, but I suspect many of the birds (warblers in particular) are still en route. It has been a colder than normal spring up here, so the leaves have barely popped, and the insect population is relatively low. I anticipate with some warmer temperatures expected this coming week, there will be many new arrivals.

A stand of birch trees; you will notice the lack of leaves...spring is still arriving up here!



I have previously written about Norris, Mom and Dad's charismatic resident red-breasted nuthatch, and he is still doing well. We didn't see as much of him, as he and his mate Noreen are beginning their spring nesting. But Norris still managed to show up for a sunflower seed or two, along with a few of his chickadee friends.

Our buddy Norris, making his video debut!




Saw some interesting stuff, including Cape May and Tennessee warblers that like to drink out of a hummingbird feeder, Dad and I tracked down a winter wren (a magnificent vocalist) in thick underbrush, and a Baltimore oriole made a first ever appearance at Mom and Dad's feeding station (they are at the far northern edge of this oriole's range, so this was a rarity). A complete list of birds is at the bottom of the post.

Despite the lack of leaves, the woods is still a beautiful place. The forest floor is staring to come to life. The Canada violets and wood anemones were the only flowers that had started to bloom up there. Mourning cloak, Compton's tortoiseshell, and spring azure butterflies made their appearance. It is extremely enjoyable hiking through the area we call the "Big Cedars," and also appreciating the various micro-climates that we have come to identify as favorite areas of certain birds. I am envious of my retired parents who get to do this every day.

The lush forest floor



An excellent trip, as you can tell. Good running, good food, good birds, and an even better family! Lots of fun was had.

Until next time,

Jean

Complete list of birds from the weekend (39 total):

Black-capped chickadee, red-breasted nuthatch, chipping sparrow, white-throated sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, ruby-throated hummingbird, downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, pileated woodpecker, pine siskin, purple finch, American goldfinch, rose-breasted grosbeak, blue jay, winter wren, brown creeper, Baltimore oriole, common raven, herring gull, merlin, broad-winged hawk, Cooper's hawk, turkey vulture, hermit thrush, ruby-crowned kinglet, American robin, tree swallow, and a dozen warblers (Cape May, Tennessee, Nashville, yellow-rumped "Myrtle," magnolia, chestnut-sided, ovenbird, Blackburnian, northern parula, black and white, palm, and the black-throated green).

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Back on the horse, and heading up north

Following the Fargo Marathon, I took a couple of days off from running. On both Tuesday and today, I went for some nice, easy 5 milers. Everything is feeling great, I am recovering very well, and I am pleased with how I prepared. I am already looking forward to doing this again.

Of course, this means it is time to start planning for some more events this summer. I don't have many races on my calendar right now, so I need to rectify that soon! :)

Over the past week, the trees around here have begun to look amazing. The leaves appear to be getting fuller before our very eyes, and the flowering trees are all in full bloom. This is a gorgeous time of year.

Blossoms along the trail



The problem is that with the leaves getting so thick, it is becoming harder to spot the birds! Although I did locate a Baltimore oriole nest today during my run, and I even saw the mother climbing into it. So I will look forward to watching their progress this spring.

Tomorrow after work, I am leaving for the North Country once again. I'm heading up to the folks' place for a long weekend. The menus Mom and Dad are planning sound amazing, I will get to see my brother, sister-in-law, and nephew, and I am hoping some of the migrating birds follow me up there to make for some good bird watching.

Everyone have a fantastic weekend, good luck to those of you racing, and I will talk to you when I return on Monday!

Until next time,

Jean

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Fargo Marathon was cool (really!)

(Sorry for making you wait so long to get to my race report. These destination races always give me so much to babble about! Without further adieu...)

The Scheels Fargo Marathon is in its 5th year, and it is becoming quite a race. The local news was citing a record 14,000 people were participating in all of the events. Since two new marathons (Stillwater and Minneapolis) were being introduced to the Twin Cities area this May, some had wondered if participation at other Midwest marathons such as Fargo would suffer as a result. Obviously, the answer is an emphatic "No."

I slept very well the night before the marathon. I was slightly concerned with how tired I was the night before, but I felt completely refreshed and was ready to run.

The last weather forecast I had seen for Fargo called for 53 and sunny on race day. When I woke up, I looked out the window and couldn't help but notice it was gray and overcast. Then I saw someone scraping the frost off of a car's windshield. Yeah, it was chilly! Temperatures were in the 30's. I would be surprised if it topped 40 during the race. The sun peeked through briefly as I walked over to the Fargodome, and that was the last I saw of it all day. The wind was starting to pick up, too.

In other words, the weather was perfect. I love running in this stuff!

At the starting line; The race crowd in front of me...



...and the race crowd behind me



At 8:00 AM, they turned us loose on the streets of Fargo. And Fargo absolutely embraces this event. Every place of business I went to leading up to the race, the marathon weekend was all anybody was talking about. We would soon see that spectators were everywhere braving the elements. Neighborhoods appeared to be having block parties. Music was playing in many locations; rock bands, bagpipes, radio stations were manning different sections, and there was even an Elvis impersonator (how come nobody ever impersonates Elvis from the early stages of his career?). At what was obviously a college house, they had a huge sign in the yard that said "Bloody Mary-thon" with plenty of folks enjoying some early morning libations. If you weren't running one of the races, chances are you were watching it and having a good time doing it!

Start of the Fargo Marathon



My race was very consistent. I found myself settled into a nice groove right from the start. With the marathoners and half marathoners having to share the recently revised course for the first half, it felt congested. It didn't slow me down, it just was slightly claustrophobic at times. Not much you can do when you have to reroute the course at the last minute due to the floods. They did a nice job with what they had.

I wasn't running as part of a pace group, but I slowly caught up to the 4 hour pacer somewhere after the 7 mile mark. Their pace suited me, so I ended up running in close proximity to them for much of the race, which gave me a good idea of how things were going.

I am not much of a talker during races. I tend to observe, and I love listening to the conversations and stories around me. At every single race, I always find some that are incredibly amusing. My favorite from this race was from two guys running behind me in the early stages:

"Last year I was running at Grandma's Marathon, and I was behind this girl wearing a gel flask on her waist. It kept pulling her shorts down. I followed her for miles."

Well, what red-blooded American male wouldn't? :)

I remember hearing a comment from Alberto Salazar where he said of a marathon, "20 miles is half way," implying that the last 6.2 miles is as difficult as the first 20. For me, half way was the 23 mile mark. A sub-4 hour race was looking like it could be in the cards up to that point. But that was where I ran head first into the proverbial "wall" and started to lose sight of the 4 hour pacer.

And then some light drizzle began to fall. This made the streets somewhat slick, as they were made of cement. There was definitely a little slippage with each step, but that is nothing I wasn't used to from running all winter. No worries, though. All was well. At the pace I was going, I was still going to trounce my previous PR.

The finish for the Fargo Marathon is really cool. They send you down the tunnel into the Fargodome, and they have a camera fixated on the finish line so you can see yourself finishing on the arena's big screen! Pretty neat. I was smiling all the way down the tunnel, and especially so after I stopped my watch. 4 hours, 4 minutes, and 12 seconds (results are here). A new marathon PR by over 8 minutes. Sweet! I suspect a lot of people might have set a new PR for themselves on this day. Like I said earlier, the weather was perfect!

About 3:30 or so, with my body now demanding something more substantial than the bag of Sun Chips I was devouring back in the hotel, I started to get extremely hungry. And when you are hungry and in the West Fargo area, there is really nothing better to do than power down a beef and bean burrito the size of your head at Paradiso Mexican Restaurant.

To the victor goes the burrito



My brother actually worked at Paradiso when he attended college in the area. I had never been here, but it came recommended from him. The food was great, and the portions enormous. It truly hit the spot. And as good as the burrito and the sides were, what I loved the most was the "extra hot" salsa that came along with the chips. Nice and fresh, with a great chile bite to it. And in case you were wondering, I ate the whole thing! :) Good stuff. With that, I retired to my hotel room for relaxation and NASCAR night racing from Darlington. The end to a very good day.

So, that was the weekend in a long-winded and very large nutshell. Fargo has a great race, and they seem to be doing a lot of things right. It has a lower entry fee compared to some other Midwest marathons, the hotel rooms are still reasonable, the city actually seems to enjoy having the event, and they put on a good show.

Well done, Fargo, and thanks for the memories (as well as the new PR)!

On to the next,

Jean

Road trippin' to NoDak

Because getting there is half the fun...

On Friday at about 11:00 AM, I hopped into The Silver Hornet and practically left tread marks in the parking lot at work. I would be heading northwest to Fargo, and I was quite was anxious to get going before a lot of the weekend fishing fanatics hit the road.

The trip between the Twin Cities and St. Cloud was frustrating, as there were a whole number of people insisting on going 67 in a 70 MPH zone, and in the left lane to boot. I am not a big advocate of speeding, but 74-75 MPH on the Interstate is not unreasonable, nor is it too much to ask for (I should be careful...my friend who is a Minnesota State Trooper will probably put out an APB on my vehicle shortly after reading this. Only kidding, speeding is BAD, folks! Moving right along...). Once past St. Cloud however, traffic thinned considerably, making for a much more relaxing trip.

Western Minnesota is actually very pretty. Here, you are in prairie country. Lots of farms and pothole lakes, and I saw a number of ducks, geese, egrets, and cormorants en route. It is quite scenic in its own way.

Of course, when on a road trip, it is important to stop along the way to see what can be seen. You just never know what impressive landmarks and monuments you might encounter on your journey.

Taking in some sights in Rothsay, MN



I arrived in Fargo about 2:30 or so. As soon as you approach the Red River, signs of the flood are still all around. The exit ramps along the Interstate have mounds of dirt still piled up, and you could see sandbags in the yards of homes. I can't imagine what this must have looked like last month. The good folks who live here define the word "resilient."

After checking in to my hotel, I wandered over to the Fargodome to pick up my packet. It was an overcast, windy, and somewhat cool day here (47 degrees, as opposed to the low 60's I left in the Twin Cities), so the walk to the dome from the hotel was a little brisk. But packet pickup was fast and easy, so I was in and out of there in a hurry.

Yours truly, taking a clumsy self portrait at the Fargodome



Previously I have explained how my first name has sometimes caused gender confusion. There has been more than one race where I have been incorrectly included in the women's division. However, this one was a first; I got back to the hotel, opened my packet, and saw that I was given a women's shirt!

I have no idea how this could have happened. The volunteer who helped me had to physically put the shirt into the bag. My registration indicated I was a male, and she had to realize that clearly I am a dude. She must have just grabbed from the wrong pile? I don't know. Whatever the case, Mom, you will be getting a women's long-sleeved Fargo Marathon technical shirt as part of your Mother's Day gift! :)

It was time to track down some dinner. And what better place to load up on carbs that at the Speak Easy. This is a dimly lit, old school, Italian-American steak house/red sauce joint located just across the river in Moorhead, MN.

The manicotti from the Speak Easy in Moorhead



I had the manicotti, which was delicious. Actually, rather than using the typical tube-like manicotti noodles, these were prepared much like Giada De Laurentiis' lasagna rolls. The pork and beef filling was simply rolled up in lasagna noodles, sauced, and thrown into the oven. Very nice, and very satisfying.

Following dinner, I stopped at a Target to pick up some snacks and beverages for the hotel room, and then I was going to call it an early night. I found myself incredibly tired from being up so early in the day, working a half day, going on a 230 mile drive, and then buzzing around Fargo to get registered, eat dinner, and shop. The day really caught up with me, and I was hoping to get some sleep so I could be well rested in the morning.

Still more to come. I promise I will eventually talk about the race! :)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Running far in Fargo

Finished! My 2009 Scheels Fargo Marathon medal.



I have returned from my weekend at the Scheels Fargo Marathon in Fargo, ND, and I had a blast.

It was a great weekend for running. The weather was fantastic (you will possibly think I am nuts when I explain later). I ran very well and set a new marathon PR of 4:04:12. I am very happy!

Aside from some minor stiffness in my legs (the good kind of stiffness, like after a really solid effort...not the "Oh my gosh, what the heck did I do yesterday?" kind of stiffness, which is bad!), so I am no worse for wear.

I also ate very well, and I have a few stories from the trip to and fro, as well as some from the race itself. Those will require separate posts, as I still need to go through my photos. Just wanted to post an update to let you know it was a most excellent weekend.

More to come! :)

2009 Fargo Marathon Index of Posts

Part 1 - The road trip to Fargo
Part 2 - 2009 Fargo Marathon Race Report

Jean

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Road To Fargo

Bing Crosby and Bob Hope never did a "Road To Fargo" movie, but I think they should have



Tomorrow I am Fargo bound!

This afternoon was my last run before the Fargo Marathon. Just a very easy 5 miler. It was quite a nice day down here, 73 and sunny with some big cotton ball clouds. Gorgeous. No new wildlife to report, however in an obvious response to my post from yesterday, a downy woodpecker gave me a rousing sendoff with a drum solo on a hollow log! :) I am excited for the weekend.

Pretty, puffy clouds over the lake on this afternoon's run



I have a half day of vacation tomorrow, so I will be able to scoot out of the Twin Cities early. That is a very good thing because Saturday is the infamous Minnesota “fishing opener,” marking the official start of the walleye fishing season (which many consider an official state holiday). Traffic is always a nightmare on the Friday afternoon before the opener with a veritable parade of trucks pulling boats heading up to the northern lakes. It will be great to get on the road and up to Fargo ahead of that.

Dare I say the weather looks ideal for Saturday? The current prediction is for highs to reach only into the mid 50’s with some sunshine. That should make for a nice, cooler morning. I hope that holds true, because that would be perfect running weather.

Good luck to those of you running the weekend. Full reports from my trip will be forthcoming!

Until next time,

Jean

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Ghosts of woodpeckers past

I have always has a special place in my heart for woodpeckers, as they are possibly my favorite birds. These are the first birds I took a liking to as a youngster.

Mom and Dad still tell the story about me as a little kid bewildering my babysitter who was quizzing me on the different woodpeckers in our bird book (I was too young to read, but I still aced the test!). I also recall waiting for a school bus as a Kindergartner when a pretty yellow-bellied sapsucker was busy pecking on a signpost near my pickup point. I walked to within feet of the bird, and it was not until I reached up and tried to touch him that he moved.

To this day, it is still fun when I see a big ‘ol pileated during run or a hike, hear the chortle of a red-bellied, or when I am simply watching the extremely common, but highly social and oh-so adorable, downy woodpecker working over a tree. What can I say? I just think these are great birds.

A few years ago I gave my Mom a book called “The Grail Bird”. This is a true story about the search for the ivory-billed woodpecker deep in the swamps of eastern Arkansas. The ivory-bill is America’s largest woodpecker, presumed to have been extinct for decades. At the time of the book’s writing, the last truly accepted sighting was in 1944. The book was written by Tim Gallagher from the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, who serves as the editor of “Living Bird” magazine.

A side note and full confession; when I was in junior high I had aspirations to attend Cornell and become an ornithologist (I also wanted to be a cartoonist, but maybe I will save that for another time!). However, as I progressed through school and learned that I couldn’t hack the most basic of classes like 9th grade algebra and chemistry, I realized science might not be my thing. And when I did get to college...not Cornell...I barely made it through "biology 101," which I found exceedingly difficult as it seemed like a class designed specifically to weed out the aspiring pre-med students. Now birds are just a hobby, and that is cool. I think I chose wisely.

So I am kind of surprised it took me as long as it did to read “The Grail Bird” for myself. But I finally did so this week.

It should come as no surprise that I loved it, and the book was right up my alley. The story offers an interesting history of the ivory-bill dating back to the days of pioneering ornithologists like John James Audubon and Alexander Wilson, chronicled the reckless destruction of the mature southern forests in the 1930’s and 40’s by lumber companies (strange as this may sound, the Singer Sewing Machine Company played a huge role in destroying habitat as well). The book contains interviews with several people who had claimed to have seen an ivory-bill (some stories believable, others not so much), and documents a fascinating search through some of the murkiest, snake-infested swampland you could imagine.

For me, the story almost flows like a great mystery/action movie; unearthing clues, following up on obscure leads, road trips across half of the country, and even some covert operations, all in a search for lost treasure. It is kind of like the movie “National Treasure” but with bird geeks, and without the gunfire! :) If you have even a passing interest in birds, I think you would find it an interesting read. Hopefully we can even learn some lessons about the importance of preservation.

Since this is a running blog, I did go running this afternoon. A beautiful, warm, 73 degree day, with some darker clouds moving in from the west (it is raining now as I type). The leaves on the trees are busting out all over the place, and the trails look gorgeous.

A view from the trail this afternoon



No woodpeckers on my run, but I did see my first Baltimore oriole of the season. And, the eagle was hanging out on the osprey platform!

The resident eagle, taking a break



Until next time,

Jean

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Popcorn showers

A strange weather day today. Rain very early, a mix of sun and clouds, and then a few popcorn rain showers.

About 1 PM this afternoon, it came down in sheets for 5 minutes, and then got sunny again. It was kind of humorous, as I was in a meeting at the time, and I could see the folks walking on the trails outside were completely caught off guard and started scrambling for shelter!

That kind of describes my run later in the afternoon. I left in a mix of sunshine and cottonball clouds, and then a rogue black cloud passed over and dumped on me about 3 miles in. Actually it wasn't that unpleasant. Running in the rain is kind of fun. It was just odd weather, that is all. Come on, Mother Nature, make up your mind already! :)

A couple of new birds to report; I saw my first green heron of the season today. He is among my favorite waterbirds, so it was fun to see him. Also, for two days in a row, I have had hermit thrushes hopping around below my deck and bobbing their tails. They are cute and quite well camouflaged against the brown hues of the forest floor. I kid of wish they would stick around, but they like spending their summers just a little north of here. Fun to see them, nonetheless.

Oh, and a belated comment about my Sunday dinner. If I do say so, my lamb and pork ragu turned out fantastic. I love making Bolognese-style ragus, and if this wasn't my best effort ever, it had to be in at least the top three. I ground my own meat (a nice coarse grind) and used lots of aromatic veggies (carrot, fennel, onion, garlic) and fresh herbs. It came out very rich with the tomato and wine flavors concentrating so beautifully. This is providing darn good leftovers for lunch this week as well.

Sunday's Bolognese-style ragu with lamb and pork over whole wheat spaghetti



I am still convinced there is some Italian in my heritage, but I have yet to find it! :)

Until next time,

Jean

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Bud Break equals 50

Perhaps you remember a post of mine from a month ago where I said the Fargo Marathon would be my 50th career race. Well, it will have to be the 51st!

Sunday morning I had the pleasure of joining a couple of my friends from work at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum to run in the Bud Break 5k.

Race headquarters at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum



The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum is located southwest of the Twin Cities in the city of Chaska. It is affiliated with the University of Minnesota and features over a thousand acres of gardens, prairie, wetlands, and woodlands. It is a most impressive and gorgeous facility.

I met up with Laura and Jen, as well as a couple of Jen's friends, right out in front of the race headquarters. We couldn't have asked for a nicer day. The sky was cloudless and sunny with temperatures in the mid 50's. Another perfect spring day.

Daffodils in full bloom on the arboretum grounds



Today wasn't about racing. It was about running with friends. We started out as a group and waded our way through a lot of the walkers and stroller traffic, which eventually subsided after about a half mile or so. The terrain got somewhat challenging. This was a fairly hilly course that meandered around the arboretum grounds. There was very little flat ground to be found.

Jen motored off and attacked the hills, quickly pulling away, and our group started to disperse. A couple of people fell back, and I kind of hung out in the middle of everyone.

The race course was gorgeous. The trails took us all around the grounds, going up and down (mainly up, it seemed!) into wooded areas, prairie landscapes, and many garden areas. There were signs in each area pointing out the features. It would be fun to spend some time here at a more leisurely pace!

After the two mile mark, I was running alone. I decided to make it interesting by trying to catch up to Jen, who I could see just off in the distance. I stepped up the pace (so much for taking it easy!) and eventually caught up to her with about a 1/2 mile to go and we cruised in to the finish somewhere in the high 26 minute range. The rest of the crew finished shortly thereafter, so we all hung around and enjoyed some post race snacks and conversation. Good times!

Yours truly, with my friends Laura and Jen, before the race



For a $20 entry fee, they sure handed out a lot of great schwag. The fee included entrance to the arboretum, a short sleeve technical running shirt, a beautiful hardcover book featuring the history and seasons of the arboretum, a bottle of water, a free guest pass to a local fitness club, a packet of seeds to grow your own sunflowers, and other assorted trinkets and coupons. Wow!

It was a great day to run, and a lot of fun to spend some time with my buddies from work. I am fortunate to have several folks at my office who are interested in running, and there are plans to do more 5k or 10k races this summer. I will definitely be partaking again.

On to the 51st race... :)

Jean

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Year of the Myrtle

Sunrise during my Saturday morning run



Fargo is a week away. Here is hoping I have trained well. I think I have, so I am feeling like I am ready.

This morning was my last run of any significant distance. I did a spirited 13 miles today, managing to hold a pretty good pace for the whole time. It ended up being a really great run. the weather was in the mid 40's, I saw a gorgeous sunrise, winds were calm to start and picked up a little towards the finish, and there was not a cloud in the sky. Very nice!

Following my run, I had some and some breakfast and then decided to go to the Elm Creek Park Reserve to do some hiking. It is May, and there are migrating birds to be watched!

No sledding or snowmobiling allowed in the park today; spring is officially here! :)



It warmed up into the low 60's and became one of the most spectacular spring days I can remember. The humidity was almost nonexistent. It felt great just to walk around in shorts and a T-shirt. A fantastic day to be outside. The park was starting to look gorgeous. Signs of green were everywhere.

There were several folks out and about today. In fact, when I arrived at the park, there was a race that was just finishing up and they were busy handing out awards (it must have been this one...might have to remember this for next year!).

The leaves are really starting to get big.



The nice thing about this park is that they have paved trails for the bikers, rollerbladers, and such. Even better, they have some wonderful dirt hiking/horse riding trails for foot traffic only. I stuck to these and walked in the park for a couple hours. I shared these trails with no one else. Except for the birds, that is.

As soon as I got into the park, I was surrounded by yellow-rumped "Myrtle" warblers. And I am not exaggerating when I say I saw well over a hundred today. Never have I seen so many in one area. They were everywhere I went, almost as if they were following me. This was very cool to see. It must be the "Year of the Myrtle!"

I added a few new birds to the list for the year; the palm warbler (a cute little guy who loves to forage on the ground and always bobs his tail; I had dozens of these dudes hopping around me!), the Tennessee warbler, ruby-crowned kinglet, and the dreaded brown-headed cowbird (the deadbeat parent of the bird kingdom).

A beautiful cluster of violets along the trail



As great as it was to see all of these birds, perhaps the coolest thing I saw today was a Cooper's hawk. I never would have seen him in the thick woods had he not started making this shrill, loud, scolding note. I finally spotted him. And actually, I think he was mad at me! The Cooper's was perhaps no more than 30 feet away, and he was eating an unsuspecting songbird (best as I could tell it was a blue jay!). I believe he thought I was trying to horn in on his lunch!

The Cooper's was a beauty; a mature adult that had the pretty reddish barring on his chest. Quite the specimen. I had the opportunity to watch the hawk dine on his fresh kill for several minutes before he got annoyed and took off. I tried to snap some photos. The photos sucked, but here you can kind of see him flapping his wings (I really needed my Dad the photographer with me today!).

Cooper's hawk, having some lunch



But there was more than just bird activity. I spotted a couple of Eastern comma butterflies, my first of the year. The large green darner dragonflies were cruising around the swampy areas. The violets along the trail were in full bloom, as seen above. And the bloodroots were spectacular, as seen below.

Bloodroots in bloom



Not a bad day, if I do say so myself. How could it get even better? Why, with pork and shrimp pad Thai, of course!

Homemade pad Thai with pork and shrimp



I saw a story about how this recent flu business has been hurting pig farmers needlessly (apparently there are those who erroneously believe you can catch the flu from a tasty, delicious pork chop), and that just ticks me off. Therefore, I am trying to cook with as much pork as I can. Tomorrow I am making a pork and lamb ragu.

Pigs are beautiful. Pork is good food.

Until next time,

Jean

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