Perfectly Healthy?!

Everyone dreads going into see the doctor for their annual physical, right? We all know what we should be doing, and we resent our doctor telling us what we already know. You should lose weight. You should quit smoking. You should eat more fiber. You should eat better. You should exercise more. You should drink less alcohol. You should get more sleep. The list goes on and on…

I had my annual physical today and do you know what my doctor told me? He said I was perfectly healthy and to continue doing exactly what I’ve been doing!

I’m reporting this, not because I’m bragging, but because it seems like every month or so somebody is tell me that running is bad for a person. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but the person I trust most concerning matters of my health, my doctor, is encouraging me to continue running. Running has worked miracles for me so I have no plans to hang up my running shoes anytime soon, and now my doctor agrees with me; how great is that!

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watercolor rainbowI try to get the watercolor paints out at least once a year in my Sunday School class. The kids always enjoy using them, and as a teacher I can use the project to fill a little time when we have a shorter lesson.

Today’s lesson was about water (Naaman being healed after washing seven times in the Jordan River, to be exact), and since it was quite short, I decided make this the week we used water colors. I also thought it made sense to use watercolors on the week we were talking about water!

The thing about today was that my class was exceptionally small (one student to be exact), so I decided to sit down with her and create a masterpiece of my own. I chose a rainbow because I thought it tied in nicely with today’s theme of water. I also pointed out that my rainbow was scientifically accurate because I remembered from junior high that the order of the colors spelled out ROY G BIV. She rolled her eyes as I explained they were red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.

The paint set I used didn’t have a well labeled “indigo” so I asked for some help from my second grader. She thought about it for a minute, and then explained that violet and red mixed should do the trick, so that’s what I did.

I must admit that I had fun using watercolors. I even thought my picture turned out well enough that I dared to add my name. Now I wonder if Sue will let me hang it on the refrigerator door…

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The Augustana Rainbow

1997 was a year that Grand Forks will never forget. When the flood of the millennium ravaged our city, everything in its path was either damaged or destroyed. Augustana Lutheran, the little church in downtown Grand Forks that I call home, was caught right in the middle of the torrent. After we briefly considered moving to a new south end location, we quickly decided to instead repair the building we already had.

We began holding worship again a few months later and Sunday School followed a few months after that. Our Education Wing received a new coat of paint but it still lacked the color and warmth that makes a building a home. The teachers talked about having the children paint a mural and soon the idea grew into a plan. Each student would place their hands into permanent paint and then make an imprint on a wall. The smaller ones would go first and make the first arc of a rainbow. The older children continued with arcs of their own; using different colors. Eventually we had a rainbow made entirely of children’s hand prints.

The words “Remember the Promise of the Rainbow” were placed under the hand prints along with “Augustana Sunday School Kids” and “Fall 1997.” Thankfully the teachers glued little white cardboard doves above each set of prints with the child’s name and grade.

I’ve taken many a child to the Augustana Rainbow; pointing out hand prints of some of their family members. The hands of older cousins, sisters, brothers, uncles and aunts all bring this piece of art alive to the children of Augustana. Just this Sunday I had the opportunity to show a little girl a set of hand prints that belonged to her own mother! How wonderful is that!

Seeing the hand prints of loved ones, frozen in time, is what makes the Augustana Rainbow so special. This is true for the children I teach, but it’s also true for me. Yes, all of the children I have in Sunday School hold a place in my heart, but there are two pairs of prints in the rainbow that are just a little more precious to me. I stop and look at these two pairs of prints each and every Sunday when I go by to teach my class. I sometimes touch the paint and think back to when these two people I love so dearly were tiny enough that I could pick them up, hug them, and tell them I love them.

Kris and Ana are both adults now and no longer allow me to pick them up. I do however, want to tell them that I still love them and that I think of them every week when I teach Sunday School!

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American Sniper

Sue and I enjoyed a stop at River Cinema this evening to see “American Sniper.” The film, directed by Clint Eastwood, is a biographical account of Chris Kyle, a decorated Navy Seal who served four tours of duty in Iraq. The movie has been portrayed as both a pro-war and an anti-war film by the media and we wanted to judge for ourselves.

I can see why the film would appeal to the Pro-Iraqi War crowd. It portrayed Chris Kyle as the product of a conservative Christian upbringing; learning right and wrong from his strong father while sitting around the dinner table. His Dad told him: “There are three types of people in this world: Sheep, wolves, and sheep dogs.” Kyle quickly identified himself as the sheep dog which protected the helpless sheep from the evil wolves. It was only natural then that after watching the horrors of 9/11, he quickly enlisted in the Navy to protect his country from those that wished to destroy it. Conservatives love a war hero and Chris Kyle fits the bill well!

I can also see why those opposed to the Iraqi war would see “American Sniper” as making their case as well; it certainly spends much time detailing the horrors of war. First, there are the young Americans killed in Iraq. Then we see the pain and suffering experienced by Kyle’s wife Taya, as she waits for news of her husband. Lastly, we see the scars inflicted on the soldiers like Kyle who do return home. Their missing limbs and post-traumatic stress disorders make a strong case that war should be avoided at all cost.

I saw “American Sniper” as a great tragedy. The death of American soldiers was tragic. The death of Iraqis friendly to American soldiers was tragic. The fear experienced by families of the soldiers was tragic. The way Kyle suffered during and after his tours in Iraq was tragic. The maimed war veterans were tragic.

Every now and then I need to be reminded of the great tragedies that accompany war, and “American Sniper” delivered.

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Dedicated Runners

It’s January 17th, a Saturday, and my alarm wakes me at 6AM. I get dressed and go downstairs to let the dogs out and am greeted by a blizzard; there’s heavy snow and a howling Northwest wind is severely reducing visibility. I make some coffee and eat a bowl of cereal as I prepare for my morning activity. You may ask what I am planning on doing when it’s so miserable out, but you probably already know: I’m going running… outside!

Today was Red River Runners first Saturday training run. I’m sure all of you realize that the Fargo Marathon is precisely sixteen weeks from today, and that sixteen weeks is just about the right amount of time to train for a half or full marathon.

I arrived at Choice Health and Fitness Center, which is where RRR meets at this time of year and was greeted by many familiar faces along with a few new ones. We exchanged jokes about how crazy, stupid, or hardcore (you pick) we had to be to run in weather like this. While all of the above descriptions accurately describe us runners, I think the best wasn’t included. That description, of course, would be “dedicated.”

You see, at this time of year almost everyone has made a resolution to get into better shape in 2015. While most simply talk about it, these runners are making it happen. If that means running in a blizzard, then that’s what they are going to do! Now that’s dedication!

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Celebrating Bison Football in Grand Forks

Only two states have fewer people than North Dakota. Only one state is colder. In terms of national relevance, few would consider North Dakota important for much of anything. To paraphrase Rodney Dangerfield; “We don’t get no respect!” While this holds true for many things, there is one notable exception and that would be football.

Football is undoubtedly America’s most popular sport, and when it comes to college football, there is tremendous respect across the entire country for North Dakota football, or should I say more correctly, North Dakota STATE football.

The North Dakota State Bison have captured the attention of football fans everywhere with two appearances on ESPN’s “Game day,” a string of impressive victories over larger FBS programs, a 34 game win streak, and three consecutive national championships.

Yesterday, the North Dakota State Football legend grew to new epic proportions.

Playing in their fourth consecutive national championship game, and trailing the Illinois State Redbirds by 4 points with 1:38 remaining, the Bison looked to their quarterback Carson Wentz to deliver something special. The kid from Bismarck completed three long passes to get his team into scoring position, then ran the ball in himself to score the go ahead touchdown. Oh, by the way, the victory was actually sealed a couple of plays later when another Bismarck native, Esley Thorton, intercepted a Redbird pass, ending any possible comeback. North Dakota State is the first college football program in history to win four consecutive national championships!

So, are the people of North Dakota proud of this championship team? I heard several players speak during the pregame, saying that wherever they travel, whether it is Bismarck or Minot, people tell them that the entire state is proud of Bison Football. That would be everywhere except Grand Forks, of course.

I watched the game with a couple of friends at Buffalo Wild Wings in Grand Forks yesterday. While there were many people cheering on the Bison, there were also many people wearing “Fighting Sioux” attire that were cheering for the Illinois State Redbirds. I overheard one person comment to his friend “If anyone in this country really cared about this game, they wouldn’t be playing it at noon.” Nope, I failed to sense any warm, fuzzy feelings flowing out of Grand Forks. I guess a Native American head needs to be on display before any North Dakota pride can be felt in Grand Forks.

There’s a wise old saying: “If you can’t beat them, join them.” Yesterday North Dakota was celebrating how good our state is at football. Too bad you didn’t join in, Grand Forks: It was a fun day!

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Running Circles at the UND Wellness Center

It’s the time of year to be nostalgic. I ran 105 laps today around the UND Wellness Center, equivalent to 13.1 miles, a distance commonly known as a half marathon. This distance isn’t a big deal for me anymore, but today I was continually thinking back to a few years ago when it was something truly special. Please join me as I return to 2009…

June 13th, 2009 is the first day I made an entry in my running journal. I completed a couple of little jogs before I began keeping track, but this is the date I call “official.” I usually give credit to two people for motivating me that first year: Jill Thompson for getting me to start running, and Brian Gregoire for giving me the confidence to continue.

My first race was a 5K benefit run in July called the “Ta-Ta Crusade.” The race was being held by Red River Runners to raise money for Denae Grove, a member fighting breast cancer. I met many runners that day who would later become great friends.

Brian encouraged me to try a 10K (6.2 miles) next, so when I heard Red River Runners were holding a race called the “Fall Frolic” in September to raise funds for the Empire Arts Center, I signed up and ran it.

By the time October came, I was running longer distances as well as running shorter distances faster: In other words, I was hooked on running. I listened to Brian talk about marathons and I began to believe I could do it too. There was going to be a training class in January put on by Red River Runners to get people ready for their first half or full marathon in Fargo the next May. I knew I wanted to be in the class, but which distance would I train for?

In November, I began running 10 miles each Saturday. I felt I should complete a half marathon before I attempted a full, but when I looked at the calendar, there weren’t any half marathon races in North Dakota or Minnesota that winter.

On December 5th, a Saturday, I was running circles at the UND Wellness Center, getting in my 10 miles when it hit me: I wanted to run the Fargo Marathon. I decided to complete my prerequisite half marathon that day, at that time, on that track. I was going to do it!

I have competed in numerous half and full marathons in the years since, but that Saturday, running in circles around the UND Wellness Center, just like I was today, was my first one! There wasn’t a starting gun, because I didn’t even know I was running the race until it was almost over. There weren’t any spectators cheering at the finish line, but you know what? That December Saturday at the Center was just as important as all the others since. It was my first half marathon, I felt elated when I finished, and I’ll never forget it!

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2014 Year of Running Review

I began running in June of 2009, when I was 45 years old. Now, more than 5 years later, I’m still running, and more importantly, I’m still improving, with 2014 being my best year yet. So, what did this 6th year of running see me accomplish that makes me say it was my best year yet? Well, let me give you my annual activity report!

In 2014, I ran over 1,400 miles, biked 600 miles and competed in 8 races, 6 in a competitive manner. Here they are in handy chronological order.

Fargo Half Marathon: May 10th. 1:46:35. Perhaps my most energized Fargo race experience yet with more than 10,000 runners beginning 3 different races at the same time from the Main Avenue bridge. Weather was ideal and I had visions of PR’s dancing in my head. Started off too slow and became very nauseous down the stretch when I tried to make up lost time. It was a beautiful morning to finish up at the Fargo Theater though!

Grandma’s Marathon: June 21st. 3:55:09. My first Grandma’s and my seventh marathon overall. The cool, damp, foggy weather and rolling hills were a little more difficult than I expected. Started out on pace for a PR, but fell apart during the last 4 miles, then focused on just staying under 4 hours, which I did. Turned out that Dick Beardsley’s 30 year old Grandma’s Marathon record fell that day, and it was special for me to just be on the course when history was made. The best part of marathon #7?: Having Sue and her crew cheering me on along the course!

Grafton 5K: June 28th: 22:06. I received an invitation from a blog reader to come to Grafton for this race so I went, even though it was only a week after running a marathon. It was another cool, wet morning, and I had no delusions of setting a PR with my tired legs. Started out fast enough to keep the front five in sight, and eventually passed all but one, taking second place overall!

Firecracker 5K: July 4th: 21:06. I had an emergency root canal the day before, but felt great on race morning. Set out on pace to break 21 minutes, and almost held it until the end, ending up with a new PR in the process. I even won my age division, males 50-59, which had 10 participants in the group, and won a Scheel’s gift card for my effort! This was the first time I won money running, and it felt great! Dreams of quitting my job and pursuing running as a career were quickly dashed by Sue, however.

Dick Beardsley Half Marathon: September 6th: 1:41:26. My summer training had gone phenomenally well and I felt a PR was an almost certainty. I started out on pace to break 1:40, and held a 7:30 pace to achieve that goal through mile 10, but the course got the better of me in the end and I had to slow down. I still held on for a nice PR of more than two minutes, and felt great about that!

Wild Hog 5K: September 26th: 32:02: Ran this race with Angie and Julie from my Beginner’s Running Group. Julie ran her first race with me at Wild Hog the year before, and we both worked with Angie getting her ready for her first race this year. We had such a blast keeping Angie going: Julie took almost 100 pictures of the three us along the way, and I kept encouraging spectators to cheer us all on. It was not my legs that ached after this race, but my throat; it was an awesome evening!

Wild Hog Half Marathon: September 27th: 2:28:22: I volunteered to work this race as a pacer, and it was an extremely satisfying experience! My job was to hold a balloon banner, run a steady pace and finish just under 2:30. The idea was that if someone had a goal of finishing under 2:30, they could stay right by me and I would help them achieve that goal. I had a small group stay with me for the first half, but they all gradually fell behind and I ended up by myself. I spent the rest of the race thanking the volunteers and spectators in addition to encouraging any runners I caught up with. I will do this again if asked, although a faster pace may be preferable.

Twin Cities Marathon: October 5th: 3:45:25: My 4th consecutive Twin Cities Marathon, and my 8th marathon overall. My goal was to finish in under 3:40, and I held a fast enough pace for that goal through 20 miles, but nausea ultimately did me in and I had to slow down. I knew I could still have a new PR, even if I couldn’t reach my goal, by simply continuing to run, so that became my focus for the final 10K. Running a marathon is an emotional journey and I encountered several runners, who were decades younger than I, slumped along the Summit Avenue hill sobbing in defeat. My heart went out to them, as I’ve been in their shoes before, but I was able to keep plugging along. I crossed the finish line with a new PR, but felt ready to throw up as I waited for a medal. This was the first race which I was approached by a medic asking if I needed assistance. I waved her off, but when I saw the look of concern on Sue’s face a few minutes later, I knew I must have looked as bad as I felt.

2014 was a great year, with 3 PR’s, but that’s already history, and I’m looking forward to an even better 2015. Each year I’m getting older, but so far I’m also getting faster. I hope it can continue!

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New Rivals for the Bison

Another Saturday edition of the Grand Forks Herald, and another little jab at Bison Football from the Herald’s Sports Editor Wayne Nelson…

“Debate in Fargo this week centers on NDSU students not using their full allotment of tickets. That’s surprising since SDSU is now NDSU’s biggest rival. Hmmm. Wonder if NDSU student tickets will be turned back next season when UND travels to the Fargodome.”

Mr. Nelson does this almost every week when he makes his prediction regarding the outcome of the NDSU football game. It’s obvious that he does not like NDSU, and I understand that: He was party to the Bison-Sioux rivalry that dates back further than either of us, and old hatreds die hard. But to suggest that NDSU needs The Fighting Sioux (or whatever they are calling themselves these days) on their schedule for ANY reason is ridiculous!

The Bison football program is currently enjoying their greatest run of success in history. Three consecutive national FCS titles. 31 game win streak. Routine defeats of respectable FBS opponents. Two visits by ESPN’s “Gameday.” Home games sold out year after year. State wide television coverage of all games.

Their new rivalry with the Jacks from SDSU has been part of this success. UND has not…

Hmmm… Wonder if it’s a coincidence that the Bison have thrived in the years since the Fighting Sioux picked up the Nickel Trophy, went home, and refused to play? Hmmm?

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Twin Cities Marathon 2014

I completed Grandma’s Marathon in late June, and after taking it easy for a week, started training again for the Twin Cities Marathon on October 5. My first week was highlighted by an emergency root canal, followed by a 5K personal record (PR) of 21 minutes the next day. It was going to be one of those summers…

I always follow my training plan fairly closely, but if I’m having a bad day, I’ve been known to dial back a tough workout, or even skip one altogether if a decent reason presents itself. This time around, however, I did my best job yet at following my schedule, especially tempo Thursdays; by far my least favorite workout.

Strength training is something I usually do early in a training cycle, but as the demands for my time increase further in, it’s the first thing to get cut. I stuck to it this time around, and with the implantation of some new exercises, I became noticeably stronger. A stronger core led to a longer, flowing stride. Stronger legs led to hills being much less problematic. I became a different runner this summer!

My final time trial, a half marathon at Detroit Lakes, resulted in a PR of 1 hour, 41 minutes. Following the table provided by my friend and trainer Martin, I calculated a marathon of 3 hours 30 minutes was possible. I took into account that the Twin Cities Marathon is a challenging course, and set my sights on breaking 3 hours and 40 minutes. I would have to average 8 minutes and 20 seconds per mile to achieve this goal.

I woke up Sunday morning after a good night of sleep, ready to walk to the starting line. I found my way to Corral 1 much easier than expected considering everything was different with the Metrodome gone, and after standing around for 45 minutes, I checked my warm clothes and headed for the chute.

Martin coaches a gradual increase of speed, usually over 4 miles, when starting a marathon, but I planned on 3 miles instead. I would use those 3 miles to fade into a pace of 8:10-8:15, which I hoped I could carry until the hills beginning at mile 22. My average pace would be slightly under 8:20 at that point, and I could slow a bit over the final miles if needed and still finish under 3 hours and 40 minutes; at least that was my plan…

Mile one was 8:56, mile two was 8:30, and mile 3 was 8:10. OK, my fade was 2 miles instead of 3; but 8:10 was feeling good!

The Twin Cities Marathon route is fairly narrow for the first half, so I was in heavy traffic during most of it. I was passing a lot of runners, but having to go around groups of people on a curvy, 15 foot wide section of cracked cement while maintaining an 8:15 pace took a little out of me. I did notice however, that I was feeling great, perhaps better than I ever had early on in a marathon, so I continued on while tens of thousands of people were cheering me on. I even gave a few high fives to children along the way (sorry Martin)!

At the halfway point, my average pace was 8:20, so it was time to start adding a little cushion for the Summit Ave hills coming up. My hands got cold when we turned back north, so I put my gloves back on. My body still felt great, but my stomach was starting to become unsettled.

Maintaining my pace became more difficult with each passing mile, but that’s what makes running a marathon so difficult. My average pace stayed at 8:20 through mile 17, so I failed to build the cushion I needed for Summit Ave. I desperately needed some energy, but my stomach was feeling pretty bad. I felt I had to risk eating something to still have a chance of meeting my goal, so I grabbed a piece of a banana from the volunteers. I didn’t want to take my glove off to roll back the peel so I simply squeezed until some banana popped up. I bit off the chunk and pushed it around inside my dry mouth. I knew I would puke if I swallowed it, so I spit it back out.

At the end of the 18th mile they were passing out energy gels so I decided to test my stomach again. This time I slowed to a walk while I ate. The gel felt better in my mouth than the banana so I swallowed. I gave it a second to settle, and then got back to my race.

I determined at that point that 3:40 was out of the question, but felt I had built up enough of a cushion that I could still break my previous PR of 3:47 if I could simply keep running at some pace. While mile 18 was slow (9:14) due to the banana and gel experiences, Miles 19-21 were all back around 8:30. I headed up Summit Ave. hill for miles 22 and 23 and simply kept telling myself “keep running!” It worked! I passed scores of people walking, including two marathoners who were bent over sobbing. This section of the course is brutal, but I averaged a pace of 9:11 on it, which would have caused me to smile if I had possessed enough energy to raise the corners of my mouth. I had killed the hill!

I kept going through miles 24-26, averaging 9:02 even though I walked through fluid stops. The “Powerade” provided through this this critical area must be improved for next year though. It was dilute as water at one stop, concentrated high fructose corn syrup at another, and properly mixed, but ice cold at another, causing cramps when it hit my stressed stomach.

I picked up the pace during the final quarter mile, averaging 8:00 for that final stretch. I was looking for Sue, but I was in a fog and may not have noticed her even if I had looked right at her. I remember trying to raise my arms in victory, but only managing to hold them aloft for a brief second. My finishing video shows my arms falling back to my sides well before I reached the finish line.

I humped over a few yards past the finish line. I must have looked terrible because this was the first time I’ve been approached by a medic after a marathon. I assured her that I was OK, so she simply signaled for a volunteer to bring me a heat shield. I inched away from the finish line and got my medal. I heard Sue calling my name, and when I looked her way, I saw concern on her face rather than the usual excitement. I was literally struggling to walk even an inch per step, but eventually made my way over to the fence. Carl, Nancy and Jim were with Sue, and they all looked equally concerned. I told them I was nauseous and just wanted to stand there for a while.

I eventually made the usual rounds for my bag and finisher shirt, but I’ve never felt so miserable after a race. I even passed up the free Summit Ale that was being distributed, although I hadn’t carried my driver’s license with me and had witnessed a bouncer making a guy at least 10 years older than me dig his out.

I don’t think I’ve ever worked harder during a race than I did during Sunday’s Twin Cities Marathon and was rewarded with a new PR of 3 hours, 45 minutes and 25 seconds for my effort. Looking back, this training cycle has been my best ever, with new PRs in the 5K, half marathon and full marathon distances. It was my 8th marathon and my best so far: It gives me hope that at age 51, I may still have my best running years ahead of me!

Oh, by the way, I felt that since I had beaten the Summit Ave hill, I needed to celebrate with a Summit Ale. I purchased some, since the hill had made me too sick to enjoy the free one provided. A bit hoppy for my taste, but oh so extremely satisfying!

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