A Mammoth undertaking

It’s frankly been quite awhile since I’ve really physically challenged myself (or posted here!), but I made up for it last weekend with a lengthy, strenuous hike.

Gram backpacking in her 60s

My Gram, who was my inspiration for my past marathoning, died late last year at 100 + 1 month. My friend Sue proposed doing the 20-mile option of the Mammoth March NJ in her honor/memory, as Gram was an avid hiker (and skier, backpacker, biker, camper). I immediately said yes. The route followed trails in parks that I know she had hiked on.

What a great way to honor her! She would be with me on the course in more ways than one.

The Mammoth March is not a race but does have a time limit of sorts (8 hours for the 20-mile option, which works out to less than a 3 mph pace). I haven’t done any races since 2018. We signed up for the March at the turn of the year, so I certainly had time to train and prepare.

A few miles in, the climb begins

I felt confident that I could complete the mileage and persevere, but I was nervous about the terrain/elevation — all my marathon walking over the past many years has been very flat and very paved. And that said, I didn’t train as I should have, other than doing several lengthy (flat) walks and some last-minute treadmill incline work. (Sue, conversely, was concerned about the distance but not the elevation as she is a very frequent hiker.)

We did a test hike a few weeks before the event, 13 miles on part of the actual course. We found that our pace was compatible and we were a good team, but the trek took us … well, let’s just say an unusually long time. So we had concerns that we’d finish the 20 miles in the allotted 8-ish hours, especially this time of year when the days are shorter.

On the day of, I broke a cardinal rule of distance events (don’t wear/try anything new!). Weather conditions prompted me to make a game-day decision to start the hike in a pair of not-really-hiking-boots instead of the sneakers I’d worn for the test hike.

Three-quarters of the way!

I paid the price for my rule-breaking. I started feeling a hot spot on my heel about 4 miles in, and even with switching to sneakers (which I’d smartly stashed in my backpack) at mile 5, the damage was done and I had a quarter-size blister, already popped and the skin rubbed away. Amen for some awesomely effective blister patches available at the aid station, which got me through to the finish without debilitating pain (but which didn’t stop the doubling in size of the blister).

The many fellow hikers on the March were all so friendly and helped us keep our pace and our spirits up! The course was well marked and varied, and the aid stations had the right combo of refreshments (hot soup at mile 16 was so welcome on a dreary, trying-to-rain autumn day).

In the first half of the mileage, my hamstrings started feeling tight and stressed. In the second half of the route, that faded as my knees — due to some of the downhills that required careful maneuvering — started to ache. Throw in the heel blister threatening to derail things and I was really watching for the mile markers. We were so grateful to have a wide, flat, fine-graveled road for a stretch of a few miles on the back end. However, a detour back into the woods on narrow trails came along between miles 17 and 18, and with it the hardest part of the course — a tricky long downhill, during which my knees started to scream and each step was fairly unpleasant. Talk about moving gingerly!

I knew I wouldn’t give up. I knew I had it in me. But I knew this was asking more of my body than I have in quite a long time.

As the sign says: CHALLENGE COMPLETED!

As we neared the last mile or so, Sue got a second wind and was energized by the approaching finish line. I, on the other hand, seem to start to fade when I know the end is near, and so the last mile felt like it went on forever. But I was so very glad that the last mile was flat, soft, and rock-free!

We finished the course in less than 8 and a half hours (not counting stops), with a total elevation gain of 2,352 feet, and proudly and joyfully accepted our medals.

So… back to Gram. I called on her at several points during the day, both for stamina to keep going and in wanting her to appreciate the trail, the scenery, the event. And I carried her with me, literally, and left her behind as well, to be forever a part of trails she loved.

I can’t thank Sue enough for suggesting this as a way to honor my beloved, inspirational grandmother, and I can’t thank Gram enough for instilling her put-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other attitude in me. (And for keeping the course under an umbrella, while it apparently rained all day pretty much everywhere around us.) I just wish we’d done more hiking together and that I shared her outdoors spirit earlier in life.

Hiking bling!

A solemn walk

Tomorrow, I’ll be doing the Outer Banks Half Marathon in, well, the Outer Banks, NC, with a group of friends. This will be my second time doing this race and my 17th half marathon overall. (Whew!)


Most of our gang after the OBX race in 2012

Generally I don’t make a habit of returning to races. I’ve only done so for certain reasons: to revisit the site of my first race or to help support other walkers. There are far too many races out there and new places to explore via their courses to want to repeat any.

But this weekend marks my second trip to the OBX race, and it’s in honor of a friend. About a year ago, I wrote about Lana, how her determination helped her tackle a race course and how she motivated so many people.

When our group gathered in NC in 2012 to do the race together the first time, North Carolina native Lana signed up too, doing the 8K. I spent some time with her on the course (the two routes merged at one point). I remember feeling happy to spot her ahead of me and know that I’d be able to cheer her on — and get energy from her as well.

After Lana died late last year, our group decided to return to the race this fall and participate in her honor. That purpose is definitely worth a repeat trip to a race, in my book. We’ll celebrate Lana and remember her with love.

In the past few weeks, though, our mission has grown. Among those planning to join us were our dear friends J and G. To our heartbreak, G has recently and suddenly been diagnosed with a very serious illness, preventing the couple from joining us while they fight this medical battle.

Like Lana, both J and G are incredible sources of inspiration; two people more full of life and light you would be hard-pressed to find. I walked alongside them for most of the course in 2012, in fact (and have shared other race course with them, too).

So we will fondly remember Lana as we walk those 13.1 miles on Sunday. And now, we will send healing wishes and love to G (and J) with each step along the way, emphasizing our good hopes for them in every footfall and our wishes that they’ll be striding alongside us again soon.

No gym today…


New sneakers! Unsullied by salt and slush…

Instead, I took advantage of unseasonably warm temps to do my first outdoors walk since just before Christmas.

I did plan to go to the gym, but when I stepped outside, I thought, “Ooo, it’s good weather for a walk!” And outdoors trumps treadmill anytime.

Plus, it was a good way to break in my new sneakers.

Enjoy the weather if you’re in the Northeast!


Adventures in European exercising

Please forgive the radio silence for the past few weeks — I was out of the country and respecting my travel partner’s request that I not publicize it on social media. And after all, there is something to be said for occupying yourself more with your surroundings and being in the moment instead of sharing it with everyone the moment it’s happening.

That said, I was in Scotland and Ireland. While there, I did — big surprise! — quite a bit of walking.

Just a few of the 287 steps in the Scott Monument in Edinburgh

Just a few of the 287 steps in the Scott Monument in Edinburgh

One day in particular in Edinburgh, Scotland, I got in some great leg work by (after a day of sightseeing on foot) climbing to the top of the Scott Monument: 287 steps to the top (and back down, for a grand total of … 574). From there I went to Calton Hill, a park on a bluff overlooking the city. I definitely worked the hamstrings and quads that day.

When our trip landed us in Dublin, Ireland, for a few days, I took some early morning walks. It was a great way to see some neighborhoods in quieter moments before the hubbub of people and traffic. (It’s always important to look both ways before crossing the street, but walking in Europe gives it extra importance, as the cars aren’t coming from the direction you expect!)

On the Eastern edge of Sandymount Village: Dublin Bay

On the Eastern edge of Sandymount Village: Dublin Bay in the early morning

One day, I took a route that brought me to a wide beach. Another day, I happened upon a long, canopied street, with ambassador residences behind ivy-covered walls.

One of several embassies or ambassador residences I encountered on my walk

One of several embassies or ambassador residences I encountered on my walk

Our hotel in Galway, Ireland, had a gym. Woo-hoo! I was ready for some bonafide strength-training. Early that morning, I hit the gym, going first to the treadmill for a quick warm-up. I punched the speed numbers up to my usual, mid-3 mph starting range, but the treadmill seemed awfully sluggish. “Did I choose a bum machine?” I wondered. I kept jabbing the speed button until I was at a pace that would normally have me starting to jog: mid-4 mph range, now 5 mph… Aha! I realized that the treadmill speed must be set at kilometers per hour, not miles per hour! That woke me up.

After my treadmill warm-up, I moved over to the weight area to do some dumbbell work. The dumbbells were in kilograms, not pounds. So, as a starting point, I had to eye them for approximate size compared to weights at home.

Same story with the weight machines. Just where to put the pin? That involved a bit more trial and error to find the right weight.

What can I say? We Americans have gotten away with not really learning the metric system! I know a 5K = 3.1 miles, and I know about how much a liter of soda is, but ask me to convert kilograms to pounds or kilometers to miles and I’m gonna need a cheat sheet. (I did get a silly thrill out of driving 100 and being under the speed limit!)

A couple more observations about exercising in the Emerald Isle vs. the U.S. of A.: The majority of people I saw walking along roads were wearing neon green safety vests with reflective strips. They weren’t always walking against traffic, which is advised in most cases, but at least they were highly visible.

Motorcyclists and bicyclists wore the vests, too, for the most part. Smart.

I worked out in two hotel gyms (one of which was open to the public) and did some walking in city neighborhoods, and very few of the exercisers I saw, both indoors and out, were wearing headphones/earbuds. On the flip side, nearly every exerciser I see here at home has them.

Exercising on vacation sometimes falls by the wayside. It’s easy to feel like you want to relax as much as possible … drop the usual routines and schedules … sleep in … take it easy. But don’t miss out on the chance to really explore your destination with a walk or jog, and revel in the little differences that bring energy all on their own.

Today’s walk

With wind chills in the single digits this morning, I opted to join my husband at the gym instead of layering on the cold weather gear and braving the outdoors.

So, bring on the dreadmill! (That’s not a typo, even though my computer keeps wanting to correct it. It’s a nickname for the treadmill, most commonly used this time of year.)

I chose one on the second floor of the gym, so I could at least distract myself by watching other people work out (which actually was more motivating than I expected). I dialed up my iPod’s hour-long walking playlist, which I set up to correspond to certain walking speeds, and got started.

One hour, 4 miles and 300 calories later, amen for those feel-good endorphins brought on by exercise!

Coming soon: A post on maintaining an exercise plan through the doldrums of winter. In the meantime, here was my morning view.



Wind-blown … and proud!

Pacer ID

Pacer ID (disregard the Penske truck!).

Half marathon #13 is in the books for me, as is my first bout as a pacer.

It can be challenging to keep a pace different from your usual and sustain it over such a distance, especially when contending with 20 mph winds along the race course. (But at least it wasn’t raining!) The plus is that it gave me the opportunity to talk with some first-time half marathoners along the way, which is always wonderful.

And I’m so very proud of Walk With Joelle client Michele K. Today was her first half marathon as a walker, and she rocked! She finished strong and fast — and earned an award for her efforts!

The race, the Delaware & Lehigh Heritage Half Marathon, featured a walker division and awards for the top finishers among the walkers. Michele K. finished 2nd in her age group, 5th among women and 10th overall! I’ll just have to warn her not to get used to it, that walkers don’t usually earn awards in half and full marathons because so few races recognize us as a category. (Let’s hope that continues to change, and thanks to walking coach Michele Stanten for making it happen in this race!)

Volunteer Louie -- greeting walker Alicia at mile 8 -- was a terrific part of the day, biking along the course and putting in time at mile markers. His spirit was contagious!

Volunteer Louie — greeting walker Alicia at mile 8 — was a terrific part of the day, biking along the course and putting in time at mile markers. His spirit was contagious!

The other great thing about this race was that several of my friends also participated, both as pacers and walkers. It’s fitting because marathoning brought us all together in the first place. Nearly 10 years ago, in my days at Prevention magazine, I was involved in its program to train readers to walk half and full marathons. Some of our readers became intimately involved with the program and were integral to its success — and the success of so many fellow race participants! And along the way we spent a lot of fun times together at races across the country. That grew to doing races “off-duty,” so to speak. And although the magazine’s program ended, the deep friendships did not.

So I’m always especially happy to spend a race weekend with friends — friends who know the time invested in training, who know the frustration when a race doesn’t go as planned, who are inspiring and motivating, and who know the joyous emotion of completing a race, whether your first or 10th or 40th (and cheer for you just as loudly from race to race). Thanks for another great weekend, ladies … even though it was too short and not a complete group reunion! And congratulations to all the walkers today too!

A huge number of miles has been walked by these seven pairs of feet!

Race friends: Countless miles have been walked by these seven pairs of feet over the past nearly 10 years!

Today’s walk

This morning I did a combo walk — a couple miles on the beach and a couple on the boardwalk/sidewalk. Walking on sand helps challenge your stability. Bonus: I saw dolphins leaping in the waves. Great start to the day!

Friday morning on the boards

Friday morning on the boards

Walking and water slides

Water slides? Huh? I’ll get to that in a minute…

Saturday morning walk

Saturday morning walk

Today I did a 3.25-mile walk around my town. I’m lucky to live in a place where there are plenty of side streets and sidewalks so I can walk safely just by exiting my front door. I can’t imagine living on a road with no shoulders or sidewalks and having to drive somewhere so I can go for a walk.

I’ve trained for many half marathons by doing walks just within my somewhat small town. I’ve been able to map out routes of 1 mile, 3 miles, even 6 and 8 miles. There are many apps and tools that can help you plan out your walks — stay tuned for info in a future post.

In the meantime … about the water slides. On my walk today, I noticed a mother and little girl in their yard. The yard was nearly fully occupied by one of those inflatable playthings. This one had a great curving slide that landed in a big circular pool, and they were in the process of filling it up with a hose.

“That looks fun!” I said, smiling. That prompted the little girl to announce that it was for her birthday party. I stopped and asked how old she was. “Five,” she said, holding up her hand with fingers splayed to demonstrate. “Do you want to come to my party?” she asked very politely.

With regrets, I declined — but I have a feeling I’ll be thinking all day about how fun it would be to go down that water slide.



Today’s walk

My car needed an oil change. You might be thinking, What does that have to do with walking?

Well, when weather permits, I drop off my car at the shop in the early morning using the key drop, and I walk the 4 miles back home.

Not all walks are as scenic as the one I took last week, granted. But that’s part of the appeal of walking — taking in the scenery, no matter what it might be.

Headed southbound on Route 206 in Hillsborough Township, NJ.

Headed southbound on Route 206 in Hillsborough Township, NJ.

And a note about walking safety: Whenever possible, one should walk against traffic. That enables you to see what’s coming at you and react more quickly if necessary. On my walk today, I was walking with traffic — but based on the very wide shoulder and the sidewalk/walking path, there was enough of a buffer.

Where are you walking today?