Red Barns and Mountains and Cows, Oh My!

You know you're a runner when the first day of vacation includes getting up at 5am to run a half marathon through the hills of Vermont. That's exactly what my brothers and I did on Sunday when we ran the Mad Half Marathon in the Mad River Valley as our spouses and children were still sound asleep.
Greg, Me & Toph

The typical early morning chilly temperature and the crisp air quickly woke us up when we arrived at the Mad River Green. Different from most races, the warm up music was very laid back and the MC's calm voice told us to take our time stretching and warming up. This is a perfect example the old joke that there's not much exciting going on in the Green Mountain State.

What Vermont lacks in thrills they certainly make up for in stunning scenery and small town hospitality. Within a mile of the start line was the first of three covered bridges on the course and then came the beautiful countryside, mountain views, red barns and the rolling hills. And by hills I mean gasp-inducing, Achilles-straining, Oh-My-Dear-Lord-Where-Is-The-Freakin-Top-Of-This-Thing monster inclines that felt like they lasted for miles. What was even more daunting was running downhill. The first time I saw a long decent up ahead I was thrilled at the potential to make-up time while resting my lungs and legs a bit. WRONG! It took a considerable amount of focus to not slap my feet, lean too far back or run too fast. Getting to the bottom of the hill and to a couple of flat miles was a delight.

As the first major hill evened out we came upon the first of a series of unofficial water stops. Families who lived on the route not only came out to cheer on the runners but they set up folding tables covered in Dixie cups to hydrate the gasping racers. In many cases, the children of the families were barefooted and still in their PJ's.Along the course we also ran past a girl watching the race with her pet calf, a Scottish piper and drummers and the fragrant perfume of early morning cow pastures. 

Admittedly, by mile 9 or 10 I started to wear out. Between the jet lag, managing a toddler on a plane and being three months pregnant this really should not have been a surprise. Plus, as the race went on and the pack continued to thin out, it was easy to be one of only a handful of runner in sight. As tends to happen during most races, I made a friend who I could talk to and pace with until mile 11ish. It never ceases to amaze me how kind and friendly our fellow runners can be and how they can really provide a boost of motivation.

Just past mile 12, just when I thought I wouldn't be able to get to the finish, my brother, Toph, came to my rescue. His motivation was more along the line of sarcastic taunts and comments than cheers of encouragement but they certainly helped me get across the finish line. My official time was 2:48:48, Greg finished (his first Half Marathon) in 2:10:49 and Toph crossed the finish line at 2:17:46.


Mama Runs on The Fourth of July

There is just something about the Fourth of July that makes me want to run a race. I think it may have to do with the camaraderie between runners or seeing young kids running with their parents, or maybe it's just a justification to pig out during the evening's festivities. Whatever it is, running a 5K on the Fourth has become an unintended tradition for me.

My first Fourth of July 5K was in, of all places, the very small town of Bristol, Vermont. My husband Chris and I were vacationing nearby and I was going to get in a quick morning run. Chris mentioned he had seen a banner for the 5K and recommended running that instead. So, I headed down to Mt. Abraham Middle/High School for the race. Of all the races I've ever run, this may be my favorite. It was exactly what you would expect from a small town. No one was wearing fuel belts or singlets. Runners weren't obsessively checking their pace or trying to get into the zone. It was just local folks out to have a good time and and enjoy the mild weather.

The race headed out down Main Street past the Village Cremee Stand, Martin's Hardware Store and toward the back of town along the base of Mt. Ellen. Throughout the route, residents cheered us on from lawn chairs on their porches and yards in front of American flag draped houses. The race finished up on the town Green where kids were preparing to compete in the Great Bristol Outhouse Race. Yes, I said Outhouse Race.

There was no chip timing or even a clock at the finish line. Just a couple of guys with watches and clipboards. There also were no medals or prizes handed out. If there were, I would have given the award for biggest bada$$ to the barefoot guy sporting a multi-colored mohawk and plaid kilt.

This year and last I ran the Let Freedom Run 5K sponsored by Pacers in Fairfax. And while it's good family fun that includes Ben & Jerry's at the finish line, there's just nothing like a small town Fourth of July. Especially when it includes Outhouse races.


The HIlls Are Alive With The Sounds of Panting and Wheezing

Oh this hills. We know they are great for cross training and building leg strength. Despite those benefits, and the fact that I feel like a bad ass when I conquer one, I dread running up hills. To help me face that disgust head on, I've signed up for the Mad Half Marathon being run next month in Waitsfield, Vermont. The course starts out at about 800ft, includes two hills just short of 1,100 ft and in the middle descends to 600ft. This race is the opposite of the beloved "fast and flat"runs we have in DC.

I'm told that the views during the race are spectacular and the weather will most likely be mild. However, it means that I have to include hill intervals into my training. Luckily, my neighborhood has a great mix of hills, including this one on Beachway Drive, with approximately 300 feet of elevation.

In my head, the hills at the half are going to look more like this:

I'm reminded that, like most things in life, they probably won't be as bad as I have built them up to be. However, that doesn't mean I'm not running hills a couple times a week to get prepared. A fellow runner recently told me that it's actually the downhills that turn your legs in to jelly the next day. It hadn't even occurred to me that I needed to practice running downhill as well! Instead of the loops I was originally running which was more uphill than down, I've switched to running up and back. Runners World has great article on the best form and pace to maintain downhill in order not to destroy your knees or do somersaults down the hill!

With two and a half weeks of training to go, I've got more work to do. While I'm out there panting and wheezing on the inclines, I'm going to keep this mantra in mind......


A Helping Handana: Product Review

My sister-in-law runs naked. Okay, well not like, NAKED naked, but she doesn't load herself down with an iPod, a Camelbak, a watch, a fuel belt, a heart rate monitor or even a water bottle. I, on the other hand, am a running billboard for various athletic accoutrement. From the Nike watch that I use to obsessively check my pace to the RoadID on my wrist in case I get hit by a truck and the Sweaty Band in my hair to get keep me looking semi-stylish, my runs require a lot of gear. God help me, I've just added another piece. The Handana.

What is a Handana you ask? It is a great alternative to the inside of your t-shirt to wipe the sweat, salt, spit and anything else gross from your face while running. The Handana is made of a stretchy cotton-like material that is also breathable and somehow doesn't stink after a couple of uses. It comes in Five sizes from XS-XL and more than 10 colors that include either white or black edging.

According to the size chart, my hand is a Large. When I placed my order, I choose a large and medium because my knuckles are wide but my wrist is small. The medium was definitely a better fit. Luckily, Handana offers a 30 day return policy so I was able to easily exchange the large.

I've run with the Handana  three or four times and have been very pleased. Using my hand to wipe my face and the back of my neck makes a lot more sense than using my already sweaty shirt. My biggest concern was that the Handana would make my hand hot and sweaty but that wasn't the case. The breathable material and the fact that the wrap is a little loose kept my hand comfortable. This is all great news, as this summer is predicted to be hotter than usual.

While I am super impressed and and a little jealous of runners like my sister-in-law who can run "naked", I think the Handana is one more piece of gear that I won't be able to run without.


Keeping Up With The Siblings

As the youngest child and only girl in my family, I always wanted to do whatever my big brothers were doing. Whether playing Laser Tag, watching Magnum PI or being a member of the Pac Man Club in our neighbor's garage attic, I wanted to be where they were. A five year gap with Topher and a seven year gap with Greg understandably meant neither one wanted their little sister hanging around. As adults, I'm happy to say that we have all become friends and ,while they still tease me mercilessly, Greg and Toph do let me hang out with them. One of the things that has brought us closer together has been running.

None of us were what you would call athletic growing up. Greg played soccer as a kid and bowled in high school, Toph joined the football team freshman year of high school an did a little weight lifting and I bounced between soccer, basketball, karate, and whatever else piqued my interest. Most of our extracurriculars were slightly dorkier pursuits like, marching band, the school paper and, in my case, The Spartan Morning Newscast. Despite that pedigree, we all found running in our 30's. My brothers were first to start running about five years ago and I attempted to join them when Topher was inspired by the infamous Krispy Kreme Challenge held each year in Raleigh to create the Dover Donut Dash. The four mile course was an out and back from Greg's house with a stop at our parents at the two mile mark to consume six glazed Dunkin Donuts. Since then, we've moved on to more sophisticated races like the annual Dogfish Dash in Milton, Delaware, the Air Force Navy Half Marathon and the Seashore Classic. In all of these races, they have smoked me. Hopefully, I can beat them at our next competition.

 This summer, we've decided to take our Patterson Sibling race team on the road to compete in the Mad River Half Marathon and Relay in Waitsfield, VT. Toph will  be running the Half and Greg and I, because Greg refuses to train for a Half, will compete in the Half Marathon Relay. While we're all pretty confident in our abilities to run the distance, it's the elevation that scares us flatlanders.

I'm hoping some hill interval work will help me prepare for the race. Unfortunately, for my brothers, there are no hills to speak of where they live. No matter what, I'm sure we'll have a great time as always. It's amazing that more that more than 20 years after Greg and Toph left home for college, I still want nothing more than to keep up with them.


Mama Said Knock You Out: Review of Title Boxing Club

Confession; running is not my first athletic love. I am completely head over heels for boxing. Not that cardio-body pump-girl power nonsense. I'm talking about the super unladylike grunting- intensely focused-sweat soaked gloves kind of boxing . My attraction to the sport was/is that is that it demands rapid fire short periods of strength, power, focus and intensity. In a proper boxing class, each punching sequence or exercise never lasts for more than 3 minutes (the length of a round of a boxing match). For three minutes you focus all you have into punching. For someone like me with a short attention span, this is perfect.

Back in my single days, I took a boxing class twice a week at the Sport and Health in Clarendon. It is the only time my biceps were referred to as "diesel" (ah youth!). Since the class ended, I've been on the look out for another class but haven't been satisfied with anything. I tried LA Boxing but was frustrated that it was filled with pink gloved instructors who didn't provide any instruction of the proper way to punch, stand, bob or weave. The die-hard Olympia Boxing Gym was excellent, but 8:00-9:30pm classes left me amped up and not able to sleep until well after midnight!

When I saw a Living Social deal for  Title Boxing in Fairfax, I thought it was a great chance to reunite with my love and add some much needed crosstraining into my running routine. Title is located in the Courthouse shopping center a few blocks from Old Town Fairfax.

The gym provides 50 heavy bags for participants, a treadmill and bike for warm-ups, medicine balls for core exercises and a regulation ring for people who are interested in sparring. Free gloves are available and required handwraps can be purchased for $6. Title offers boxing and kickboxing classes four times on weekdays, three times on Saturday and twice on Sunday with one of four trainers who all have backgrounds in one of the sports.

I was impressed that each class was organized more like a traditional boxing gym. Each hour long session begins with a 15 minute cardio warm-up that mixes running with exercises like hill climbers and jumping jacks. Next is 30 minutes of punching for boxing and punching/kicking for kickboxing. The final 15 minutes focuses on core exercises and stretching. 

Each punch combination is demonstrated by the instructor multiple times. There wasn't much focus on correct technique but the instructor was happy to provide advice and feedback when I asked him the best way to stand and punch. Throughout the class, music reminiscent of what you hear during the ESPN cheer leading competitions blasts loudly to keep everyone motivated.

After an intense hour of punching, bouncing on my tip toes and straining my way through the ab exercises I was exhausted and very happy. I would highly recommend this gym to anyone who wants to mix up their exercise routine and blow off a little steam!

In addition to Fairax, Title also has gyms in Loudon, Springfield and Herndon with a Falls Church location slated to open in the fall.


A Belated Mothers Day Tribute to The Resilience of a Child

I always assumed/hoped that I would be one of those cool moms. Not "Cool Mom" like Regina George's Mom in Mean Girls. More like a Super-Active-Non-Mom-Jeans-Wearing kind of cool mom.With my toddler son, Seamus, this has manifested itself as running with him in the BOB, dressing him in a Foo Fighters shirt, keeping his hair long and of course, introducing him to daredevil activities like climbing the stairs and going down the big slide at the playground. Sometimes, I forget that he has limitations.

That limitation was apparent on Mother's Day after a lovely brunch with my parents in Annapolis. Seamus was practicing his jumping, climbing and running skills along the waterfront when we decided to look for a safer place to play. Lucky for us, there was a fantastic playground just a block away. The first thing I noticed was the slides. There were short ones, tall ones, super tall ones, twisty ones and bumpy ones. As Seamus had recently become a huge fan of slides, I thought taking him on the tallest one in the park would be a treat.

As we raced up the ramps, my husband Chris , i.e. the overly cautious parent, suggested a shorter slide would be safer. So, on to the middle-sized yet curvy slide we went. It was half way down that I simultaneously heard a SNAP and Chris yelling something about Seamus' leg.

The next few hours were a blur of getting back to Northern Virginia as quickly as possible and seeing multiple health care professionals at the Inova Fairfax Pediatric ER After having his leg squeezed, bent and as x-rayed, diagnosed with a fractured tibia, also known as a "Toddler's Fracture" and wrapped in a splint. Three days later, an Orthopedist replaced the splint with full leg cast.

As any mother would do, I've spent the past week beating myself up about how stupid it was to take Seamus on such a big slide.I figured I had scarred him for life in terms of slides and maybe even playgrounds in general.What has helped me to feel better is the resilience of this remarkable little boy. He has remained incredibly composed and even happy throughout the whole ordeal. While in the ER, he was fascinated by all of the people and the machines. During his x-ray, he kept checking out the funny camera pointed at his leg and the tie dyed lead vest worn by the technician. Even while the orthopedist was wrapping his leg in a  fluorescent yellow fiberglass cast, he was more intrigued than annoyed.

A week later, Seamus is back to his old self. He is climbing over chairs, up the stairs and very gingerly balancing on his right foot while holding  the left foot in the air.

It's amazing to me that a toddler of all people could teach me about adaptability and moving on. I still want to be a cool mom, but even more I want to be resilient. Just like my son.