2014 Firecracker 5K

I competed in the Firecracker 5K race on Friday morning right here in Grand Forks. The race is an annual event held each 4th of July, and is put on by the YMCA. I posted a decent time last weekend in Grafton’s Summer Fest 5K and was anxious to see if I could improve on it this weekend closer to home.

I had been having a lot of pain in the side of my face this week, and ended up having a root canal on an upper molar Thursday afternoon. I feared that several days of pain, topped off by an hour of white knuckles in a dentist chair, would take its toll on my running ability and I would be hard pressed to match my Grafton showing.

The weather was beautiful, so despite my sore mouth, I decided to push for a personal record (PR) anyway. I started out fast, at a sub seven minute mile pace, and was amazed that as the race progressed, I was able to keep it going. I finished the 3.1 miles in 21 minutes and 3 seconds, good enough for a new PR!

I finished 12th out of 152 finishers overall, but more importantly, I was the top finisher (out of 12) in the 50-59 year old men division. I even received a medal and a $10 Scheels Gift Certificate! This was the first time I’ve ever won money from running, and I must admit, it was very thrilling! When I got home and told Sue that I wanted to quit my job so I could pursue even greater glory, she just smiled and said that I would always be her favorite 50-59 year old man!

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Grandma’s Marathon

I spent Friday night with Sue, Jim, and Nancy in a dorm suite at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth. In the morning, Jim drove me to the area where the buses were waiting and I boarded one at 6AM. I was then dropped me off outside Two Harbors at 6:45; about three blocks from the starting line. I had an hour wait, so I began slowly walking towards the main cluster of people, most of which were lined up behind one of the hundred or so porta-potties placed parallel to the starting line.

I saw my friend Teresa right away, and gave her a hug for luck. She was getting ready to run her first marathon, and she was simply beaming with energy! After a little stretching, I got into one of the dozens of lines for the porta-potties, and began waiting. A half hour later, it began to appear that I wouldn’t have enough time to get rid of my one cup of morning coffee, but then they started playing the national anthem, and hundreds of people left the lines and began heading for the starting chute. I quickly moved forward before someone else could cut in front of me during all of the chaos.

I did make it inside a porta-potty with five minutes to spare, and then raced towards the bag check area to get rid of my coat. I then began walking along the outside of the starting area with hundreds of others, on the edge of a ditch, looking for a place to climb over the fence. People were popping over the orange barricade all over the starting area when the final warm up song, “Chariots of Fire,” began blaring over the speakers. I began making exaggerated slow motion running movements like ones from the movie, and as I glanced around, hundreds of others were doing the same.

I didn’t hear the starting gun go off, but eventually the mass of people began moving towards the starting line. About four minutes later, I stepped over the rubber mat, and officially began my running of the 38th Grandma’s Marathon!

Almost from the beginning, runners that had failed to make it into a porta-potty began stopping along the side of the road to relieve themselves; sometimes while still standing on the pavement. Roadside urination was a common sight during the first half, and while most of the time it was a steamy arc leaving a man’s running shorts, I saw at least a half dozen women jogging through the ditch and heading for the trees while lowering their shorts.

I was wearing a white canvas throw away jacket (this year’s Fargo Half Marathon complementary post race wrap) but with the temperature still at 49 degrees at the start of the race, I decided to leave it on, with the hood still up over my head. After three miles of gradually warming up, the hood came down, and I settled into my planned pace of 8:20-8:25 per mile. There were a lot of gradual hills and I slowed up a bit while going up and went down a little faster, keeping the effort constant like Martin coached.

I experienced a few lower GI rumbles during mile 6, and began to fear that a porta-potty stop might become necessary in my near future. There were only two each mile, so I began to check them all as I went by, costing me a few seconds each time. I finally arrived at the halfway point to discover, much to my relief, a virtual city of unoccupied porta-potties!

Two things about my quick pit stop: 1) The porta-potties have mirrors on the inside of their doors. It’s not a pleasant sight looking into your own face close up after running 13 miles! 2) I had been averaging an 8:30 pace up until that time. Spending about a minute in the porta-potty brought my average up to 8:37.

The white caution flag was still flying on the race course, warning runners that the temperature and fog were combining to pose a risk of hypothermia so I decided to leave my canvas jacket on a while longer. I was now feeling comfortable, warm, relieved, and slightly rested so I went back to work. I knew my goal of 3 hours 40 minutes was no longer possible, but a PR of 3:47 still was, so that would become my focus.

Miles 14-19 went well, with me averaging 8:34, but I was becoming very tired. There seemed to be quite a bit of uphill running after that, and miles 20-22 wiped me out, and I could only maintain a 9:22 average while doing it. It finally became warm enough for me to remove my jacket at mile 21, and although my arm pits had become raw, the fresh air on my arms felt good and I perked a little. I reached the top of Lemon Drop Hill, and a spectator informed me that the rest of the course was all downhill. A runner on my left remarked that she hoped it was the truth, and I added “Me too!”

Somewhere in that area there were a group of fraternity guys standing along the course with beer funnels, offering to pour a beer down your throat. A young man ahead of me ran over, opened his mouth, tilted his head back, and downed one as I went past. Another frat guy sprinted up to me and asked if I wanted one too. I said “No thank you” and continued on my way. As he headed back to his brothers, he loudly proclaimed to everyone on the road “Only pussies drink water!” I immediately determined that he was either very stupid or very drunk. I gave him the benefit of the doubt and presumed he had downed one too many beers for breakfast, and blew his comment off. What sober person would question the toughness of someone who had just run 22 miles? Besides, if he was inferring that women were weak, I was certain one of the 3,000 marathon and 4,000 half marathon female finishers that would be passing his way would eventually set him straight!

The final 4 miles were mostly downhill, and there were lots of people cheering me along, but I had nothing left, and struggled to maintain a simple recovery pace. I averaged 10 minute miles over that stretch but had a very pleasant surprise right at the 25 mile mark: Sue, Jim and Nancy were standing along the street holding signs and cheering. Sue has never been out on the course, so hearing her call my name caught me by surprise. She later said I looked terribly tired, and when I saw the picture she took, I had to agree with her assessment. I ran over to the three and gave them high fives before stumbling along for the final mile.

I finished my first Grandma’s Marathon in a time of 3 hours, 55 minutes and 9 seconds. I later heard that Dick Beardsley’s 33 year old course record had fallen earlier that morning. I was saddened that the record for Minnesota’s most famous marathon was no longer held by a native Minnesotan, but felt good about being on the course when history was made. It was my seventh marathon and overall it was a very pleasant experience.

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It’s Race Week!

I’m running Grandma’s Marathon this Saturday, and as usual, I’m starting to feel both nervous and excited.

I’m nervous because like always, there are so many things that are unknown. I’ve been training since January, but missed some time due to back issues: How will that affect me? I have some nagging aches and pains that I’ve managed to work through, but will one of them get worse during the course of 26 miles and cause me to drop out? Will the temperature be overly warm? Will it be muggy, windy, or raining? What will the race course be like?

Then there is the excitement. I’ve trained hard, and a PR is certainly possible. I’m experiencing the effects of my taper and am beginning to feel rested and energized. I love Duluth, and am looking forward to a fun few days with Sue, her cousin Nancy, and her husband Jim.

All of these things are going through my mind every few hours along with thoughts of fueling and my eventual choice of running gear. Throw in a busy week at work, and you can understand why I’ve been extremely absent minded. I even forgot to bring my running watch to the UND Wellness Center tonight for my workout. At least come Saturday, all I’ll have to remember is “left foot, right foot, repeat.” Speaking of feet; I hope I don’t forget my shoes!

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I Love Summer!

I’m a boy of summer. Here in Grand Forks, where hockey is the greatest thing ever, it’s not the boys of summer, but rather the boys of winter whom we hold in high esteem. It does make sense that we embrace our winter when you consider how long and harsh it is; not doing so would surely result in mass insanity! I, on the other hand, enjoy just about everything related to summer, and I’m going to use this space to make my case.


10) Mowing is better than blowing. Sure, both are chores that need to be completed, but mowing is done on your schedule, whereas blowing is done according to Mother Nature’s schedule. Mowing is done maybe once a week when it’s convenient for you. Blowing is done every time it snows, and that can be daily.
9) You can drive normal speed during the summer. Most of the winter you have to reduce speed due to poor conditions, and allow extra time to get to your destination. It takes longer to get everywhere during the winter, and you’re more tense after the drive.
8) Outside air smells better than inside air. Most of the winter all you get to breathe is stale, inside air. When you open that first window of the spring, you remember what you’ve been missing!
7) Cooking on the grill. I have yet to discover any way of cooking a piece of meat that makes it as tasty as when it comes off an outdoor grill.
6) You can go outside without a coat, hat, boots, face mask, scarf and gloves. It is so simple to go anywhere during the summer when you can simply walk out the door.
5) Being in the water is more enjoyable than walking on it. Feeling the water all over your body while swimming in it is a pleasant sensation. Skating on top of frozen water and falling? Not so pleasant…
4) Fresh vegetables out of the garden. Is there anything better than a tomato right out of your own garden? Have you purchased one in a grocery store in January?
3) Fresh produce from across the rest of our great nation. I don’t grow peaches, but I enjoy them greatly when they’re in season. The same goes for melons, cherries, strawberries, and blackberries.
2) The sun should be warm. The sun is necessary for all life on earth and when warm sunlight touches your skin, you can feel its life giving energy. During the winter, we get to view “pretty sun dogs” while wearing our coat, hat, boots, face mask, scarf and gloves.
1) Summer air doesn’t hurt your face. It’s pretty simple; air shouldn’t cause pain, and winter air hurts your face.

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A Letter For My Son

My Dear Carl,

I was there in the hospital the day you were born. I saw you take your first breath, and heard your make your first cry. I was overcome when I saw your face for the first time: I had never seen anything so precious in my life. I was immediately filled with a new kind of love unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I cut the umbilical cord that day and started you on your life’s journey.

I was there when you were baptized into God’s family. You wore the same gown I, and my father before me, had worn for our baptisms decades earlier. As I held your tiny head over the font that day, I thanked God for the wonderful gift He had given me, and prayed for the wisdom and patience to be a good father.

I was there in the cabin at Itasca with you Carl, when I first heard you laugh. I sat in front of you, popping your bottle cap out of my mouth over and over again, making you laugh until you fell asleep from exhaustion. Hearing you laugh filled me with joy that day, and it still continues to do the same each time I hear it.

I was there with you Carl, when you took your first steps at the zoo in Tucson. You saw the heads of two giraffes over some trees, and took off to go see them. It struck me at that moment that your first steps were away from me instead of towards me. I realized then that it was my job, as difficult as it seemed at the time, to prepare you for even larger steps away from me in the future.

I was there with you Carl, when you were three years old and went to your first day of preschool. You were so excited to be finally going to “school!” I was still carrying you most places that fall, but by spring you preferred to walk everywhere on your own. The picture I have of you on that first day at United Day Nursery is still my favorite, and I’ve placed it on my dresser where I can see it every day.

I was there Carl, when you earned your black belt in karate. I sat there watching, my stomach in knots, while you prepared to break your boards. When you broke the last one, I jumped up and yelled YEAH, while accenting the point with a skyward fist pump. My reaction may have been more than what you saw from other parents that day, but that’s only because I was cheering for the best kid on the floor!

Today I will be with you as you walk across the stage to receive your high school diploma. It will be yet another step towards your independence and like at the zoo in Tucson, it will be yet another step away from me. There will be many more steps to your life in the years to come, and like always, I’ll be right there behind you. I’ll be there to guide you, to help you, and most importantly, to love you as you continue wherever your heart and mind lead you. You’ve become a fine young man Carl, and I’m proud to tell everyone that you’re my son.



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My Mother’s Greatest Gift

Mothers are the most generous creatures God put on this planet. Mothers give to their children from the moment of conception; providing their own calcium for their child’s bones, their own protein for their child’s muscle, and their very blood to supply life for their children. Most mothers don’t even think about everything they give to their developing child, but every single one of them would do it anyway if given a choice: That’s just the way mothers are.

Mothers provide the initial gateway into this world, and then spend the rest of their lives helping their children explore and learn all about it. Mothers teach, and mothers care for, but most of all mothers love, and when I say love, I mean really love their children. It is an unconditional love that remains forever, no matter what.

My mother taught me to be gentle with my sisters, and to this day I feel protective of all the women in my life. My mother taught me to be curious and to always strive for answers, and I have spent my professional career working in human nutritional research. My mother taught me to never give up, and I learned to peddle a bicycle with one leg as a child, and now run marathons as an adult.

The most important lesson my mother taught me, however, was about what was inside of me. She always told me I was smart and was capable of doing anything in this world that I wanted to do, and for some reason I believed her. When people told me that I wasn’t smart or good enough, I always knew deep down that they were wrong. Mother gave me the courage to face life knowing that I would always find a way to succeed, and that is the greatest gift she gave me. Happy Mother’s Day Mom: I love you!

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The Race Will Go On!

This is America, and even with our problems, we are still the greatest nation on earth! What makes us special? There is much that set us apart from other nations, but I think what is the most significant is the unity we display in the face of adversity.

One year ago, a couple of Chechen brothers declared war on the United States and detonated two homemade bombs during the Boston Marathon. They committed this act of terrorism as retribution for what they believe to be an American war against Islam. They wanted to kill and harm people as pay back for civilians killed by American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as to fill us with fear.

Americans have debated our nation’s presence in Iraq and Afghanistan since before the terrorist attack, and we continue to discuss these policies to this day. The Chechen brothers could have become part of the discussion, but once they decided on violence instead of debate, their opinions effectively became unimportant. Their explosions had little, if any, effect on the way we look at these policies, one way or the other: Americans take pride in their ability to remain fair no matter what the circumstances.

What I find most amazing is our absolute refusal to allow this act of terror to cause division between us. Americans have a unique tendency to band together when threatened, which separates us from other people. We may not always like our neighbor, but if something befalls them, we come to their aid without question. While other people welcome the demise of a hated neighbor, Americans will defend their neighbor to the death.

Tomorrow, the Boston Athletic Association will once again hold their annual marathon, and as always, there is no shortage of runners wanting to run the prestigious race. 36,000 runners will proudly line up at the starting line to show the world we aren’t afraid. A record number of spectators will join them throughout the greater Boston area to cheer them on, to protect them from harm and to once again prove to everyone watching across the globe that America is still the greatest nation on earth!

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Shoot to Thrill

AC/DC; while some people may not care for their glorification of alcohol, sex, and fast living, their energetic style of rock ‘n roll is undoubtedly popular. Nothing gets my pulse racing like some Malcolm Young power chords and AC/DC’s “Back in Black” album is full of them!

Race officials choose music leading up to the starting gun that gets runner’s adrenaline flowing. The Fargo Marathon opted for AC/DC’s “Shoot to Thrill” to send runners on their way in 2011, and I applauded their choice. When Malcolm’s first few notes blared through the speakers (which purposely give the impression of feed-back, by the way) runners began jumping up and down screaming encouragement at each other. My entire body shivered and my skin crawled with goose bumps: I’ve never experienced an adrenaline surge like that before and haven’t since. I was totally primed to run 26.2 miles!

Today, as I was driving around Grand Forks, I pulled out AC/DC’s “Back in Black”. “Hell’s Bells,” the first track of the album, invited me to turn up the volume which I readily agreed to do. “Shoot to Thrill” came on next, and those first few notes brought me back to 2011. My skin became covered with goose flesh, and I pressed the accelerator a little closer to the floor boards. My head started bobbing with the beat, and I was once again mentally ready for 26.2 miles. Unfortunately, my drive around town wasn’t anywhere near that distance, but I still fully appreciated the energy that AC/DC brings!

“Shoot to Thrill” is the ultimate song to send runners off for a marathon, but it also works pretty good for getting 50 year old men around Grand Forks on a Sunday afternoon!

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The Holly Hustle

Winter running is a challenge in Grand Forks. Snow covered sidewalks create uneven surfaces which can lead to twisted ankles. Icy surfaces cause slips and falls, especially when they’re hidden underneath the snow. Sub zero temperatures and wind chills make it almost impossible to stay warm, especially if you become sweaty. Running inside on a treadmill or track gets boring fast. These are all possibilities runners consider when planning a workout, weighing them carefully before proceeding with what seems like the best choice for the current conditions.

A couple of years ago, one of my running friends desperately wanted to do her long runs outside, but strong winds and sub zero temperatures made it impossible. Holly could dress warm enough to stay warm while running with a tailwind, but nothing could prevent her from freezing while running into a brisk headwind for several straight miles. What was a girl to do?

Holly, being the resourceful person she is, devised a plan. She asked a friend to drive her out of town in the direction of the wind, which allowed her to complete her entire run while returning home without ever needing to run into a headwind. Holly liked it, so she did it again, and again, and again…

Holly began to be teased for her frequent “with-the-wind” runs back into Grand Forks. Dan, a mutual friend, coined the phrase “Holly Hustle” for this type of workout, and it kind of stuck. I believe the popularity of the phrase can be attributed to the double meaning of the word “hustle:” 1) To proceed at a faster pace, 2) To deceive through trickery. Always running with the wind seems to fit both of these definitions to some extent!

Yesterday, I woke up for another long Saturday run only to be greeted by yet another day of sub zero wind chills. I’ve been running indoors, on a track, for virtually every run so far this year but as my distance has increased with each passing week, so has my desperation to get back outside. I had 13 miles to cover for the day but saw that the single digit temperatures were bad, and that they were made worse by a strong NNE wind bringing the wind chill below -20. What was a guy to do?

Holly @ Boston 2013

I started thinking… You know, Holly is a great runner: She’s currently training for her second Boston Marathon in two years. Why not try doing a “hustle” of my own? I asked Sue if she would be willing to drive me out of town and leave me, and she said yes without a second of hesitation. I got the feeling that this was not a new consideration for my wife; but that’s a topic for another day…

We drove north and east along deserted gravel roads until we arrived at county road #33, just east of Manvel. I’ve frequently completed much longer runs than this, but driving 13 miles immediately prior to running the distance was new, and kind of psyched me out. I believe that by driving me to the start, perhaps Sue got a more realistic feel for what her husband does each Saturday!

I came to understand the “Hustle” a little better during my return run, and could better appreciate the different kinds of effort that are required in a feat such as this: It’s not as easy as it seems for a variety of reasons: 1) It’s mentally challenging because you don’t get the continuous block by block progress feedback. 2) When you do head into a cross wind, which I did for about three miles total, there is NOTHING to slow it down, making it harder than anything a runner faces in town. 3) You have to continually focus on the gravel surface to avoid stepping on rocks. 4) I experienced a surge of adrenaline when two large dogs came running out onto the road to bark while running behind me for an eighth of a mile. 5) There are no toilets; elaboration unnecessary!

I returned to my house in a little under two hours feeling physically and mentally drained. It was 13.15 miles, but it somehow seemed a lot further. Thank you Holly for luring me out of my comfort zone and giving me reason to try something new; my “hustle” was a great experience!

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Picking Maxie

Our family loves dogs. Sue and I got our first puppy, Jedda, soon after we purchased our house. Lucy followed two years later. By the time Carl came along, both of these dogs were fully entrenched as members of our family, and they accepted him as one of their own.

All of us thoroughly enjoyed the dog’s companionship so that when we lost Lucy in 2005, and Jedda in 2008, our household became uncomfortably quiet. Sue and I both were caught up in the sadness that occurs when a pet dies, so we wanted to wait several months or longer before getting another dog. Carl also missed Jedda and Lucy, but started asking to get another dog a few days later. He was at the age where he spent time in the house by himself and said he felt safer with a dog.

After a month of pleading from Carl, we finally agreed to visit our local animal shelter, Circle of Friends Humane Society, to just “look around.” We went on a Friday evening and as expected, discovered the shelter full of Labrador retriever crosses. I focused in on a female named Daisy who was very engaging and full of energy. Daisy did bark a lot, which Sue said might be a problem, but she agreed that Daisy was a very friendly, pleasant dog. We looked around some more but because the shelter was closing soon, decided to go home and get a night’s sleep before making a decision.

As we were leaving, we walked by the last kennel, where a female named Astro had spent the evening quietly lying in the back of her enclosure, not paying us any attention. Astro lifted her head and made eye contact with Sue. As Sue neared the bars, Astro slowly stood up and walked over to check us out. Sue put her hand inside to greet the black dog who gently nudged it with her nose. Astro stepped back a bit and while watching us, began slowly wagging her tail.

We drove home talking about Daisy, but Sue said there was something really special about Astro too. We agreed to go back the next day and look again.

We drove back to Circle of Friends the next morning feeling more excited than expected at the prospect of possibly becoming dog owners once again. I asked to take Daisy out into the walking area, and was given a leash. Daisy came out and barked at the dog in the next kennel. She proceeded to bark at every dog or cat we passed on our way outside, but eventually settled down once we got outside. Daisy proved to be a pleasant, affectionate dog!

Next, I asked to take out Astro. All night I had pondered why the staff at Circle of Friends had given a female dog the name Astro, which I associated with the male Great Dane from the animated television show “The Jetsons.” Sue told me she thought Astro was a gender neutral name which could be used for either sex, but still I wondered. I quickly understood why she had been named Astro when I was handed her leash and she bolted towards the door with such violence that my arm was nearly yanked out of its socket! She reared up on her hind legs and started jumping up and down against her leash, struggling to pull me towards the door. We continued down the hallway in the same manner; Astro pulling me along with every ounce of her strength, her front legs rarely touching the floor.

Like Daisy, Astro calmed a little once we were outside, but she was still the craziest dog I had ever been around. She pulled me over to the water dish, and after she drank her fill, purposely used her foot to overturn it. I remember thinking Astro was incredibly smart, but also a little defiant and naughty. I didn’t know if I wanted Astro as my pet or not.

Our return back inside was as chaotic as our trip out had been, with Astro lengthening both of my arms several inches with her lunging and pulling. Sue had remained inside to complete the adoption request in the event we wanted to take a dog home that day. When Astro and I returned, Sue tried to quiet the wild beast, and within a minute, the two were sitting on the floor together. Astro had her head resting on Sue’s lap while she looked up into Sue’s eyes. Sue was hooked!

We returned Astro to her kennel and held a quick family meeting to discuss if we wanted to adopt her. Sue and Carl both wanted Astro, but I was a little hesitant due to how out of control she had been for most of the time I had her on a leash. I agreed that Astro was a nice dog, so I asked the manager what she thought. She said Astro was a very adoptable dog that she had kept around longer than normal because of how gentle she was with people, especially children. She said most dogs at the shelter are craving human interaction, and get kind of crazy when someone talks to them. She thought Astro would calm down after we got her home.

We agreed to adopt Astro, and played with her while the manager checked out our suitability as pet owners. She eventually returned and said we could take Astro home.

Astro pulled like a team of horses as we left the Circle of Friends Humane Society and headed for our van. I recall thinking that if Astro got loose; she wouldn’t stop running until she was in a different county. Once inside the van, Astro made herself comfortable in the way back instead of by Carl’s feet like he wanted. We asked Carl if he wanted to keep Astro as her name, or if he had another one in mind. Carl said he wanted to call her Maxie, so that’s what we did.

It has turned out that we were all correct about Astro/Maxie. She remains, as I feared, a dog which frequently becomes so focused on something that she totally ignores us completely, becoming uncontrollable. She has also proven to be extremely gentle and sweet; which is what Sue saw in her. Most of all though, she has been a faithful companion to Carl; which is exactly what he wanted from a dog. Maxie has been with Carl as he changed from an adolescent into a young man and I’m sure that having a dog to love and care for has made him a better person. Maxie has been good for our family!

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