Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Starting Over. Again.

Mother Nature can be cruel. Although I know how the training cycle goes, the intensity of it suprises me.
It is Spring.  I have started running again.

Spring comes.
Begin training.
Muscles ache.
Can't breathe.
Try again.
Continue to get stronger.
Run farther.
Run faster.

Run through summer heat.
Run farther.
Run faster.
Enter races.
Reach goals.
Continue running.
Get toned.

Run through falling leaves.
Run farther.
Run faster.
Bundle up.
Feel pride.
Feel full of life.

Snow falls.
Stay inside.
Feel frowny.
Gain weight.
Get weak.
Stay inside.

Spring comes.
Begin training.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Hiking "The Narrows" in Zion National Park

  Have you ever had an experience that when it is over, you just know that it will be one of those experiences that you will never forget?  One that you will be replaying and reliving and talking about with those involved for years to come?  Hiking The Narrows in Zion National Park was one of those experiences for our family.
   We visited Zion in July of 2012 on a family jaunt out west to see several National Parks.  While we were in Zion National Park, we hiked on several trails and experienced some wonderful adventures, but the highlight was definitely our hike into The Narrows.
   We got an early start on our day and climbed aboard the required shuttle to the trailhead.  To get to The Narrows, you must take the shuttle to the farthest point on the shuttle route to the Riverside Walk trailhead. 

   The Riverside Walk Trail is a level, paved one mile trail that meanders along the Virgin River.  When the Riverside Trail comes to a dead end at the river's edge, you just step into the river and keep going.  The Narrows Trail is not a 'marked' trail.  It simply follows the Virgin River upstream through the canyon.  The boys, ages 13, 9, and 7, were giddy with the anticipation of being allowed to walk through the river all day.
    We unloaded the shuttle at the trailhead equipped with a walking stick, hiking shoes, and a dry pack on each of our backs.  We all carried our own lunches and drinks in our backbacks and Bradley and I packed a small first aid kit, extra drinks, snacks, and cameras in our back pack.  Since we knew that the back packs would get wet on the hike, we double bagged all of the items that needed to stay dry (like the cameras and sandwiches) in heavy duty ziplock bags, which worked perfectly.
    The Riverwalk Trail leading up to The Narrows was very lovely, but we hardly paid attention to that part of the hike, because we were so ready to get going in the river. 
We began our hike through The Narrows with several other families.  The first section of the hike was much thicker with people than the last.  The farther we hiked into the canyon, the fewer people we encountered.  While we are happy that other people enjoy the beauty of the National Parks, we  prefer to avoid the thick crowds when possible.
    Shortly after we began our hike, we came to the deepest section of the river.  The water was really cold and was about waist deep on the adults at the depest part. This section of the hike delighted the boys beyond belief and are still talking about how much fun it was months later.
We hiked up the river for a couple of hours.  We stopped for drink breaks and to just enjoy the view several times.  The majority of the hike was spent crisscrossing the stream in the paths that we deemed the easiest to cross.  Each group traveling up the river was forging their own path. 
We hiked until we made it to where the walls of the canyon got more narrow and seemed to be touching the sky above. 
We stopped at the farthest point in our hike for a picnic lunch and simply enjoyed the moment.
At this point in the hike, the boys reported to us,
"This is the best hike we have ever been on!"
After we were rested and refreshed, we began our journey back out of The Narrows. 
We stopped for a little bit of fun rock jumping on our way back out.
We stayed inside The Narrows for a total of about 6 hours.  The entire hike was perfect.  It had everything we desire in an adventure.  It was stunningly beautiful, the boys got to enjoy a bit of clammoring over rocks, the hike had water, the temperature was perfect, and we were together. Who could ask for anything more in a hike?
We have experienced many adventures together as a family.....
hiking the Grand Canyon
rafting down the Snake River in the Tetons
exploring caves in Mammoth Cave
watching geysers erupt in Yellowstone
hiking around a mountain lake in the Rocky Mountains
star gazing in Canyonlands
climbing through an arch at Arches Nationa Park
sliding down the dunes at Sand Dunes National Park
....just to name a few.
But out of ALL of these adventures, hiking The Narrows remains near the top of the list for us.  I am thankful to have gotten to experience it with my family.
"For all of this, we are grateful to you."
                                                    ~ Acts 24:3

Monday, January 14, 2013

Hiking the Grand Canyon....The Kaibab Trail

    This blog page is typically reserved for all of my running jaunts....whether it be marathon training, half marathon reviews, mud runs, or 5K's.  I like to keep a blog as sort of a journal of my effort to stay healthy.  Today, as I was looking at reviews for some hikes that I would like to take this summer, I realized that others might like to hear about some of the hiking we have done as well.  I would also like to have a better record of some of my favorite hikes for myself.  So, as a Mommy who clocks some serious miles as a hiker....the following is our experience on the....

 Kaibab Trail on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

We visited the Grand Canyon as part of a long visit to 9 National Parks out West this past summer.  We spent our first day at the Grand Canyon above the rim taking pictures and hiking the short Bright Angel Trail.  We also took some other short hikes along the rim and watched the sunset at Bright Angel Point on our first day.

The second day was to be set aside for some serious hiking.

We awoke early from our campground near Jacob Lake, Arizona and made the long drive back to the North Rim.  We had read the posted warnings about taking plenty of hydration and snacks for hiking below the rim because the hiking can be very strenuous.  One information poster hanging at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center even told the story of a very fit, Boston Marathoner who had actually died hiking below the rim of the Grand Canyon because she didn't realize the hiking was so strenuous and thought she could hike from rim to rim in a few hours.  She had packed in only one bottle of water and an apple and didn't make it out alive.  Yikes!  Talk about motivation to pack plenty!

Our family is pretty well accustomed to hiking.  This wasn't our first experience by any means, but we still knew that it would be a challenging hike for us.  I had researched the hike in advance and knew that hiking DOWN into the canyon was a breeze, but hiking back UP was treacherous.  This proved to be 100% accurate.

We set out on the wide and smooth trail that meandered through the trees.  Each of us, including the kids, carried our own backpacks with several Gatorades, snacks, and lunch inside.  We also hiked with hiking sticks, because we knew that the sticks would help on the way out.

The first portion of the trail hugged the edge of the canyon and the hike was not much more than a typical hike through the woods.  The difference was that the hike was a constant downhill hike.  The old rule "What goes up, must come down."  has to be kept in mind when hiking....except in reverse. You must keep in mind....."A hiker that goes down, must also hike back up." It is so easy to pick up speed and really enjoy a downhill hike, only to realize how far down you have hiked and now you have to get back up.  For this particular hike on the Kaibab Trail, a good rule of thumb is....
*However long it takes you to hike down into the canyon on the trail....
allow double that amount of time for hiking back up.*
The Kaibab Trail is also used for the mules to get down into the canyon.  While we were on our hike, we needed to step aside for more than one group of mules.  This particluar group of mules was being used to "pack in" a group of campers into the campground down in the Canyon.  The mules are used to deliver needed supplies to anyone staying overnight in the canyon.
The stroll through the woods on a wide path, eventually turned into more narrow switchbacks that hugged the canyon walls.  The trail became much more uneven, rocky and narrow as we progressed.
The protection of the trees also vanished and we became much more aware of the scorching, July temperatures.  Hiking in temperatures that were over 100 degrees definitely increased the difficulty of the hike.
We hiked around 2 miles down into the canyon before we decided that we probably needed to stop for a lunch break.  We could've hiked much farther down into the canyon, but worried that it might prove to be too difficult to hike back up
There were obviously no comfortable picnic tables or little restaurants or grassy lawns with blankets to picnic on on the trail, so we improvised.  We stopped to eat under an overhanging rock that provided a small amount of shade.  We took our time eating our picnic lunch of sandwiches, chips, string cheese, and gatorade and enjoyed the view of the canyon from our picnic spot.
While we were stopped to rest and eat, we only saw one other hiker who had made it that far into the canyon.  A man, who had a gigantic overnight pack was walking slowly back up and out of the canyon.  He had been walking since early morning after spending the night on the floor of the canyon.  After we finished eating, we took time to snap a few photos together with the tripod before we started hiking back up.
The hike back up was truly strenuous.  The high temperatures combined with the sharp incline of the trail made for a very difficult hike.  We were forced to stop often for our group to catch our breaths.  Being a runner with lungs that are conditioned to cardio workouts certainly helped me deal with the hike, but the rest of my family really struggled.  This hike is certainly not one that you need to try to do quickly and it isn't a good one for someone with health conditions. 
We paused our hiking after every couple of switchbacks and took a breather or stopped to get a drink.  We were really sweating a great deal and we didn't want anyone in our group to dehydrate.
Although my kids have been hiking all their lives, this one pushed them almost to their limit.  While we were hiking back out of the canyon on the Kaibab Trail, Carter (who was 7 at the time), complained about hiking for the first time.  He exclaimed, "This hike is too hard for me!"
Although the hike was at the top our list for difficulty, we were all so thrilled to have done it.  It was quite a fantastic that we aren't likely to ever forget.
I highly recommend the experience to anyone who is physically capable of doing it.  Watching my little boys conquer a portion of the Kaibab Trail was a moment of pure pride for me.


Monday, December 17, 2012

Twenty Six Point Two.....One Mile At A Time

"A marathoner is a marathoner regardless of time. Virtually everyone who tries the marathon has put in training over months, and it is that exercise and that commitment, physical and mental, that gives meaning to the medal, not just the day’s effort, be it fast or slow. It's all in conquering the challenge."
---Mary R. Wittenberg

Arriving at the Start Line of the Rocket City Marathon last Saturday to me was like the final award ceremony for the many miles I had put in over the last few months. I had run all of those training miles alone...except for the cows and the neighborhood dogs, and was so ridiculously pumped about running the actual race. Now, let's be clear.....I wasn't expecting to participate in the real award ceremony. That would be reserved for the Kenyans and the athletic phenomenons.
I had a personal race goal of running the marathon in less than 4 hrs and 30 minutes, but I was hoping to stay closer to a 4:15 pace. During my training runs, I had maintained that pace for months, so I completely expected to cross the finish line within my goal time. I even wore a "Pace Tattoo" on my left forearm that would help me check my pace at each mile marker. I felt phsyically and mentally strong and ready for the race.

The gun fired.....

I was off. I shuffled along mixed up in the crowd of 1600 or so runners during the first stretch of road. I spotted my family and friends right across the start line and they all gave me an enthusiastic wave and smile as I began my journey. I flashed a wide grin and waved to my group.
The first mile clicked by in what felt like only seconds. I had adrenaline coursing through my veins as I ran along in the crowd of runners. The first mile marker clicked by and I was grinning from ear to ear.
The second mile marker also seemed to appear instantly. The joy of the moment made the first 18 minutes pass by quickly. I was feeling so fresh and strong. I was still surrounded by a pack of other runners, as everyone was trying to even out their pace and find space to get into a running rhythm. I spotted my whole group of race supporters at mile two! My hubby was there with my 3 little boys, my Mom and Dad, and a couple of my great friends. I was suprised and so happy to see them so quickly! I threw my arms up to give them a wave as they cheered for me and kept trucking along.
Miles three and four passed by almost effortlessly. During these miles, my prayer band reminded me to pray for my family. I ran and prayed with such a thankful heart for my perfect little lovebugs and my hubby. I prayed during those first few miles with such gratitude. I was literally filled with joy. I was feeling beyond grateful for the ability to accomplish such a difficult physical feat and felt wrapped in a blanket of love because of my supporters who were there to cheer me on. I had a permanent smile across my face as my feelings of joy oozed out as I ran.
I trucked along through miles five and six. I could see my little guys standing with their signs they had made as I approached them. I had to make a super quick detour over to the sidewalk where they were standing to give each of them a quick smooch on the forehead.
I had stayed near the 4:15 pace group until mile six, where I had to make a quick stop at the portapotty. I did such a fantastic job "pre-hydrating", that I had to make a stop. Since someone else was making a pit stop, too....I had to wait a minute on my turn to go. During my stop, the 4:25 pace group passed by me. I wasn't too worried about that because I knew that I was still very close to my pace time and I thought I could probably catch back up to them.
I fell into a comfortable running rhythm during miles seven to ten. I saw my supporters a couple more times, and became quite amazed that Bradley and the boys seemed to be around every corner. They were very efficient as a marathon support group! Each time I saw them, I was greeted with new signs and more cheers.

I hit mile 11 and everything changed.
I was running along happily, until something went wrong in my left knee.
I had not had any knee problems during my training runs, so it seemed to come out of nowhere. It was instant and it was intense. Something felt crooked or out of place or wacky in some sort of painful way. The pain was back behind my knee cap. I stopped and bent over, touching my toes to try to stretch out my hamstring. I did some knee lifts to try to make the pain subside. Then, I tried to run again.
Oh, boy. This was not good.
I decided to walk a bit and see if maybe just "shaking it off" would work. Walking didn't hurt it at all. So, I kept walking for a bit. I walked for a quarter of a mile or so. I decided to give it another go and try to run again. Owww!

Oh, dear. Not good. Not good. Not good.
I had to walk again until mile 12.

I had been running with my cell phone, just in case my boys wanted to text me some sort of message of support and I was using the clock on the phone as a pacing tool.
I texted Bradley for help.
I sent....
"Something is wrong with my knee. The next time I see you, have some ibuprofen ready with a drink."
He was near the route of the runners, so he pulled up next to me in the truck and Tucker held his hand out the window. In the palm of his hand were 3 ibuprofen. I took them from him as I walked alongside the truck. I took the styrofoam Jack's cup from him to have something to wash the pills down with as they drove off looking at me with concern.
I was humbled to walking for the next two miles. I tried to run over and over, but my knee just would not cooperate. I prayed that the ibuprofen would start to take effect so that I could pick up my running pace again.
I walked to mile 13.
I walked to mile 14.

I watched as the pace groups kept running past me. As I saw the slowest pace group, the 4:45 group run past, tears came to my eyes.
I knew that I wouldn't be able to finish my race within my goal time frame, and I began to worry that I wouldn't even make the course time limit of 6 hours. If I had to continue to walk, I would never make it. I would be crushed if I didn't make the 6 hour cut off, or worse if I had to just drop out.

I stretched some more.
I decided that I would try again to run. It had been long enough that maybe the ibuprofen would be helping.
I gave it a go. Ow. It hurt, but less so. A slow jog might be possible.
I kind of shuffled along at a slower pace. Hoping my knee would kind of get in the game and cooperate. I was running again.....slowly....but it was better than walking.
I was clenching my teeth together as I ran, but I was determined to hobble along and finish this race. I made it to Mile 15.
I was thrilled that I was jogging again when I spotted my gang of supporters. I wanted to be able to erase some of the concern that I had seen on the boys faces earlier. They were as excited about coming to cheer at this race as I was to run in it. I didn't want to ruin the day with a bum knee.
I wanted to finish this race!
I was determined. I continued to pray and run. Pray and run. Pray and run. I prayed at each mile marker for whatever was on my prayer band, and then I would pray some more for the strength to finish.
I continued over the next few miles jogging as much as I could, until it hurt too bad, and then I would walk for a while. I made it to mile 16 and mile 17. Slowly clicking the miles off.
I checked the time on my phone to see how far off pace I was. I checked my pace tattoo.....which was originally applied to my arm to keep me on became a constant reminder of how far off my goal pace I was.
I made it to the water stop at mile 18. I felt a little embarrassed at how slow I was. I know, I know...the feelings were irrational and unwarranted. I was running a marathon for heaven sake! It's not that I wasn't proud of that. But, I was just disappointed in the way the run had turned out. I didnt expect to be just surviving the race. I wanted to relish in it. I found myself surrounded by runners in their 60's and 70's. Women who were vomitting. People who were just slow. I have always held the utmost respect for runners of ALL speeds. It has never mattered to me if someone ran fast or slow, as long as they were running. But somehow, it made a difference when I was the one running slow.
My little guys must have known that I needed some encouragement, because at about this time...they held up these signs....
"We believe in you."
I kept moving.
Run, walk. Run, walk. Run, walk.
Mile 19 done.
Mile 20 passed through some sort of a park. As I ran through it, the boys gave me a banana to eat. I crammed three bites into my mouth and kept running....chewing as I jogged off. It was seriously the best banana I had ever eaten.
But stopping, even for that short, short time caused my knee to start to hurt so badly again.
I gritted my teeth and hobbled off. I only had 6 miles to go. 6 miles is nothing.
I kept telling myself....6 miles...that's only 2 5K's. It's nothing.
I just wanted to keep moving.
Walk, run. Walk, run. Walk, run.
Mile 21.
At around mile 22, the runners were suppose to run through a pedestrian tunnel. When the boys saw this tunnel the day before the race as we were coming into town, they thought it was the neatest thing ever! As I appraoched the tunnel on race day, I saw three little boys standing at the entrance of it, waiting to run through it with me.
As we ran, they asked..."How is your knee? How are you feeling?" and said, "We are proud of you, Mom. You're doing good!"
I was still jogging. Still moving toward that finish line.
Only 3 miles to go.
My whole crew....Mom and Dad, the boys, Bradley, my friends...they were all there at mile 23. They shouted..."See you at the finish line!"
The finish line.
I was going to make it. I was going to finish.
At this point, all of my gratitude started to come back again. Although my knee was still being uncooperative and my legs and feet were beginning to ache all over, I knew I would be able to finish the last 3 miles.
Mile 24.
Mile 25.
Everyone around me was struggling.
Several were vomitting.
Almost everyone was walking more than they were jogging.
The runners all started encouraging each other.
"We're almost there."
"We got this!"
"Keep moving forward!"
The spectators that were scattered sparsely over the last mile were especially compassionate and encouraging. Screaming....
"Go! You're almost there!!"
"You did it!"
"You're there!"
"Right around the corner!"
Mile 26.
I could see the finish line.
It was just down the hill.
I heard my friends calling to me from the sidewalk...
"There she is! You did it. You are there!"

I could hear the announcer call my name over the cheers....
"Runner #1584 - Jennifer Heptinstall from Blountsville"

I did it.
I made it!
I crossed the finish line.
I jogged into the arms of the race officials as they wrapped me into a blanket and placed my medal around my neck.

I finished a full hour over my goal pace time, but I did it.
I ran a marathon.
I clutched onto my medal and loved the way it felt heavy hanging around my neck.
I ran straight over to my family who were waiting to congratulate me.

Everyone was so encouraging and supportive. They ALL knew I was disappointed with my finish time, but no one else seemed to care about the time it took to finish.
Shortly after I crossed the line, one of my friends asked....
"Well, will you do another one?"
I shouted...
"No. Never! I am not doing that again."
But, the gang laughed and said, "We will ask you again next week. I bet you will change your mind."
Over the past week, as the knee has stopped hurting, and the blisters have gone away, and the muscles have regained their strength, and the joints are less achy....I have started to consider trying it again. Although I completed my goal of finishing a marathon, I didn't even come close to my goal finishing time.
Doing another one is now certainly a possibility.
To boast of a performance which I cannot beat is merely stupid vanity. And if I can beat it, that means there is nothing special about it. What has passed is already finished with.
What I find more interesting is what is still to come.
----Emil Zatopek

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Rocket City Marathon - The Start Line

   I ran the Rocket City Marathon in Huntsville last Saturday. I completed the full marathon.  I ran 26.2 miles.  I am included in an elite group of people that comprises less than 1% of the population. I did it.  I am a marathon runner.  All of these statements are almost unbelievable to me, yet they are true.   Although I put in the many, many miles of training it took to do it and I was the one actually running the still seems unreal that it's over. 
   I have thought about writing this blog entry since Saturday, yet I somehow struggle with how to put the experience into words.  The whole day was such an emotional roller coaster ride that I can't even begin to explain what the experience was like for me. Yet, I want to have it documented, so I am going to give it a whirl. 
  I suppose the best place to start the story of the marathon is the start line.....although, the story actually started months before then.  I won't back track into all the details of the training, the foot injury, the time constraints, and the diagnosis of the flu just a week before race day.  Nope, I won't go back that far. I will just start with the starting line.

  At 7:56am on Saturday, December 8th, I stood among 1,650 strangers listening to welcome speeches and various "good luck" messages over the loud speaker.  We were all crammed together in the starting corral with nervous energy awaiting the gun shot and permission to begin the race.  The adjoining sidewalks were crammed with families and friends of the marathon runners.....all of them craning their necks to see their loved one start their journey of 26.2 miles on foot. I had my own crew of family and friends just past the starting line waiting to see me cross that line.
I had dreamed of completing a marathon since 1997, when my Daddy did it. I cheered for him with pride as he crossed the finish line 15 years ago. Now, it was my turn. He was there, along with my Mom, to cheer me on.

As my family walked with me to the start line, my Daddy gave me his support and words of wisdom.  He said to me,
"Don't start out too fast. Stay on your own pace.  No matter how long it takes you to finish, I will be proud of you."

With a bit of raw emotions coming out in my voice, I replied,

"I hope that I am making you proud by stepping up to the start line."

He and Mom gave me a hug and kiss and I made my way over to my other awesome supporters.  My three little guys came to the race equipped with tons of motivational signs for me and were so proud to be there. 

All of my little guys and hubby have been so ridiculously supportive through my entire training period.  Never once complaining about the time it took me to train and always asking me when I returned home from a run about how my run went.  I was so elated that they all came with me to cheer me on.
I gave each one of my boys a kiss on the forehead and they all wished me good luck.  Bradley gave me a kiss and told me how proud he was of me.  I left them behind and made my way to my pace group in the starting corral.  I situated myself between the 4:10 pacers and the 4:15 pacers.

     Many of the runners had stood at the start line of a marathon before and were veteran runners, but were still showing signs of nervousness for what was about to take place.  Others, like me, were about to attempt their first full marathon.  I felt like everyone around me could tell how nervous I was.  I retied both of my shoes, even though they didn't need it.  I adjusted every article of clothing I was wearing. I checked my "Pace Tattoo" that I had applied to my left forearm to keep me on my race pace of 4 hours and 15 minutes.

 I glanced at my "Prayer Band" that I wore to remind me what to pray for at each mile marker.  My mouth felt like cotton, and my heart was beating out of my chest.  I was so excited that this day had finally arrived, yet I was so nervous that something might go wrong and I wouldn't be able to finish it.  I had put in the grueling hours of training and I was ready to start the 26 mile journey. 
The clock ticked.
The runners fidgeted.
Spectators clicked cameras.
Hearts pounded.
The gun fired.

I approached the start line with a grin on my face....

And crossed the start line with a huge smile and a wave.
I was doing it.  I was crossing the starting line of a marathon.
 This was the start of fulfilling a dream. 
"You should run your first marathon for the right reasons, because you'll never be the same person again."
                                        ---Bill Wenmack, Running Coach