Is Hiking in the Mountains Good Cross-Training for Runners?

This is the question I asked myself after taking two weeks off from running while I was hiking the mountains of Peru. I had planned on trying to run while I was in Arequipa towards the latter part of my vacation, a city that I thought would be more manageable as far as running, but that turned out to not be a viable option either. Everywhere we were in Peru, I found challenges to finding a safe running route, from uneven cobblestones to massive crowds of people to wild dogs (and their inevitable poo left behind) to very high elevation, and then I was sick. At least on this trip to Peru, it was not meant for me to run.

Unfortunately when I returned home from my two-week vacation in Peru, I returned home to ungodly heat and humidity. The day after I got back, I ran and immediately felt the heat and humidity hit me like a ton of bricks. I thought perhaps my legs would be stronger from all of the intense hiking but instead I found my inner thighs to be so sore that I felt it pretty early on when I started running. I had to ask myself were they just sore from hiking and I didn’t feel it until I started running or had they gotten weaker from not running? Either case, it was unexpected.

I had to jump right into half marathon training for my next race and actually skip ahead a few weeks, so there was no easing back into running. I felt like I was terribly slow on my first few runs, but then I was curious. I looked back at my runs this time last year and found something surprising.

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Hiking Huayna Picchu was intense and as it turns out was good cross-training for me!

My runs were on average one minute per mile faster compared with runs this time last year. What? That was unexpected. In fact, five days after I got home from Peru, I saw a notification on my Garmin watch that I had run my fastest mile ever, or at least since having Garmin Connect, during a 5-mile run. That was most definitely unexpected. I ran in the evening too, at the peak of the high temperature for the day (yes, no morning run for me that day, despite the fact I recently proclaimed I have become a “sometimes” morning runner).

Maybe there is something to hiking mountains as cross-training for runners after all. I don’t think there is any substitution for acclimating to heat and humidity but maybe hiking, especially the extremely difficult hiking at high elevation that I did helped me not only maintain my fitness level but helped my legs and the rest of my body get a little stronger. I did a little research and found an article on the subject, Two weeks in the mountains can change your blood for months.”

Now I’m a full-on believer that yes, hiking, especially at high elevation is great cross-training for runners. If only there were some mountains within a reasonable drive for a day-trip near where I live. In the meantime, I have some super-powered red blood cells that will hopefully help power me through not only my half marathon training cycle but also for my race next month. I’ll need all the help I can get because the race is at 5,906 feet, high enough to have me a little concerned. After all, the Boulder Rez Half Marathon in Colorado was at about 5,300 feet and it was so difficult my legs felt like lead when I was running it. I’m curious to see how/if there are any lingering effects from my time in Peru when I run in Wyoming. Only time will tell!

Have you experienced increases in fitness levels after exercising at high elevation then returning home to lower ground? Do you have a story to tell about this? I’d love to hear about your experiences or someone you know!

Happy running!

Donna

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Book Review-Strong: A Runner’s Guide to Boosting Confidence and Becoming the Best Version of You by Kara Goucher

Kara Goucher is a two-time Olympian with an impressive running resume. She was the 10,000 meters silver medalist at the 2007 World Championships in Athletics and competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Olympics. She made her marathon debut in 2008 and finished third the following year at the Boston Marathon.

Goucher signed with Oiselle Running in 2014 and they have a very apropos description of her on their webpage:  “But Kara is so much bigger than her accolades. She’s is easily one of the funniest and most genuine people you’ll meet. She’s a loving mother and wife. She and her family live in Boulder, Colorado where she trains under Mark Wetmore.”

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From what I’ve seen and heard about Kara Goucher, she seems like a genuinely nice person, a modest Minnesotan at heart, and a cheerleader for other runners. When I heard she was releasing a confidence journal, I was intrigued. I’ve never been one to keep running journals, whether it’s of my daily miles, races, or anything training-related. The confidence journal seemed like more than just jotting down how many miles you ran, what the weather was like, and how you felt, though.

Still, given my history of not sticking with a running journal, I was hesitant to buy Goucher’s book, so I checked out a copy from my local library (actually they borrowed it from another library in another state, but it’s all the same to me and a fabulous perk my library offers). When I leafed through the journal, I immediately felt drawn in. It’s got an easy to follow format with informal photos of Goucher and quotes by her. There are several pages where you can write things down after some prompts such as:  “List three recurring worries that hold you back,” with space to write three things down. She also has an example of a constant worry of hers:  “I don’t think I’m good enough to compete at this race.”

Basically, the journal is divided into three sections. The first section covers confidence techniques such as using power words, mantras, and setting goals. The second section has confidence essays from six powerful women in the running community including Molly Huddle and Mary Wittenberg. Finally, there is a third section filled with writing prompts that tie into subjects from the first section (like using a mantra) and confidence journal tips. There is space to write for 21 days, so obviously the idea is for Goucher’s book to get you started on your own confidence journal, after which you would continue in a notebook or electronic device (like your phone).

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

I believe this confidence journal would be great for just about any runner who is ready to dive into the psychological side of running. Many of us focus on our miles and hitting our goals for training but don’t really spend time working on the mental aspect of running. This journal would help you identify and sort through anything that may be holding you back from running, including things you didn’t even realize were holding you back.

Goucher also says how people that aren’t athletes can benefit from a confidence journal as well. She gives examples how we all struggle with doubting ourselves in our daily lives. By focusing on our accomplishments and the positive in life, we can all benefit. I completely agree.

Do you keep a confidence journal or any other type of journal? If not, do you think a confidence journal might help you with your running or just life in general?

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

Global Running Day 2019

I got the idea to write this post from Jonesin’ for a run blog post on this subject and thought it would be fun to do my own version. According to the website Global Running Day “Global Running Day is a worldwide celebration of running that encourages everyone to get moving. It doesn’t matter how fast you run or how far you go—what’s important is that you take part, and how you do it is up to you.” On June 5, 2019, you could have joined 29,527 people from 177 countries in a pledge to run that day.

Even though it was my scheduled rest day, I ran one easy mile with my daughter on Global Running Day. It was a fun way to work on strides with her towards the end of that mile. She thought strides just meant sprinting but by about her fourth time doing strides, I think she understood how to do them properly and things clicked with her.

Following in the example of Jonesin’ for a run’s post to help celebrate Global Running Day, I’ll answer some questions about me here.

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Why do you run?

I’ve written entire blog posts to answer this, going back to one of the very first blog posts I ever wrote, which you can read here:  Why I run and a more updated version here:  Why I Run- Version 2.0.

How many miles have you run so far this year? Do you have a mileage goal for the year?

According to Strava (which is missing some of my runs because it wouldn’t sync with Garmin Connect for some reason) I’ve run 509.6 miles for the year but according to Garmin Connect, I’ve run 519.9 miles. In 2018 I ran 1,054 miles. For 2019, I’d like to run 1111 miles just because that would be cool, but we’ll see how it goes. I’m not going to kill myself to reach that arbitrary number.

What big events do you have on the race calendar for the rest of the year?

I have half marathons in Wyoming and Nebraska, for states number 46 and 47. That’s it. Nothing else.

Before I leave for a run I must have:

My Garmin Forerunner watch, a hat or visor, sometimes my cell phone but usually only 1 or 2 runs a week are with my phone.

Do you track your runs? If so what do you use?

I use my aforementioned Garmin watch and sync to Strava. I like the way Strava presents the data better than Garmin Connect, so usually I’ll go there if I want to see something specific but I do like using both of them together.

What races have you run so far this year?

Just one, Seashore Classic Half Marathon, Lewes, Delaware- 45th state. I met my goal of finishing in the top three for my age group in a race this year, so it was a good one!

If you have to give someone one piece of advice about running, what would it be?

Running should not hurt. Soreness after a run is normal but pain is not. If you’re feeling pain after you run, go to a physical therapist to help you figure out what’s going on.

Describe your relationship with running in one word:

healthy

One of the reasons I run is for my health. I also don’t obsess over running or how a run or race goes, but I feel like I have a healthy, balanced relationship with running. Sure, it’s a big part of my life, but it’s not my entire life.

So now I have some questions for you. Did you celebrate Global Running Day and if so, how? If you could give someone one piece of advice about running, what would it be?

Happy running!

Donna

 

I Tried a Sensory Deprivation Tank and Here’s What it Was Like For Me

Over the last year, I had been hearing more and more about sensory deprivation tanks, also known as isolation tanks or floatation tanks, and I wanted to try one out for myself. A sensory deprivation tank is a lightless, soundproof tank filled with salt water at skin temperature, in which you float. There are numerous health benefits, including psychological effects like increasing concentration and focus and reducing anxiety, as well as benefits for athletes such as speeding up recovery after strenuous physical training by decreasing blood lactate.

Since I would be running the Seashore Classic Half Marathon in Delaware as part of my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states, I checked to see if there was a place that offered flotation tanks near the race so that I could try it out as a form of recovery. Sure enough, I found Urban Float in Lewes, Delaware, part of a chain with a handful of locations in Ohio, Texas, and Washington. I booked a reservation online for the day after my half marathon and looked forward to my Mother’s Day appointment.

The day of my appointment, which was the day after the Seashore Classic Half Marathon, I woke with a sore core and sore legs. When I arrived at Urban Float, I filled out the usual personal information (name, address, phone number) and watched a short video on what to expect. I was taken to a private room (there were six private rooms with tanks here) that contained a sensory deprivation tank, a bench to put my clothes on, a shower with shampoo, body wash, and conditioner, and a basket full of earplugs and small packs of petroleum jelly (to cover any small cuts). There was also a pool noodle you could prop under your neck or knees and a small halo-looking flotation device you could put under your head if you felt like you wanted a little something to assure you your head wasn’t going to go under the water.

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A nice shade of blue inside the tank

I was told to shower beforehand, using only body wash and shampoo (no conditioner), finishing off with cool water to make the transition easier, and enter the pod naked (although you can wear a bathing suit if you want but it’s all completely private). I had chosen there to be music for the first ten minutes inside the tank, followed by silence, then music again for the last five minutes. I chose which type of music I wanted and was told it would be followed by an announcement that my time was over.

There was a button inside the tank to control the lights. You had the option to have them cycle through different colors, choose just one color, or have no lights and be in complete darkness. There was also a panic button on the right-hand side, which I was told to hold and push several times if necessary, since they “tend to ignore the first couple of times the alarm goes off” because people apparently sometimes accidentally hit the panic button and they want to make sure you truly meant to hit it. There was also a small spray bottle of water in case you got any salt water in your eyes.

So, after showering, I grabbed the halo floatation device and entered the tank. Per the instructions and personal preferences of the people who work there given to me at the beginning, I didn’t put in ear plugs. I pulled the tank completely closed (you can prop it open but I was told you would feel a draft from the room since it was slightly cooler than the water and tank temperature) and eased into the water. Immediately, I began to play around with the lights, finally choosing a nice green hue to stay on.

I found it was actually pretty difficult to not float in the water when I tried pushing down my legs to the bottom. The tank had about 10 inches of water filled with 1200 pounds of epsom salt so it’s even more buoyant than the Dead Sea. As suggested, I moved around, trying different positions, until I finally settled on the typical arms out at my sides and legs splayed out, kind of like a star. I did wish I had put ear plugs in my ears because I didn’t really like my ears filling up with water and I found myself lifting up my head to let the water drain out of them several times. The halo helped a tiny bit with keeping water out of my ears but not much.

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The outside of the tank reminded me of a space shuttle from Star Trek!

Once the music stopped, I didn’t have any trouble staying relaxed. I practice yoga and am pretty good at meditation and relaxing my mind. However, after some time, even I had trouble focusing and relaxing. I got a bit bored and was ready for my session to end about 5 or so minutes before the music came on again at the end. When it was time to get out of the tank, I once again showered with body wash and shampoo, and also used conditioner and put a few drops of vinegar in each ear. I dried off and got dressed and headed up to the front again.

There was a relaxation room off the side of the main check-in area, where you could get water or tea or just relax in front of the fake fireplace. I decided to skip that on my way out and just went to check out. I knew I would have a long drive back home and wanted to get back to pack up and head home.

Afterwards, my muscles definitely felt more relaxed. My core wasn’t sore at all and my legs weren’t nearly as sore as they were previously. I’ve always been a huge believer in the power of epsom salts to relieve sore muscles, and these tanks are basically giant epsom salt baths.

The sensory deprivation part of these tanks is more complicated, in my opinion. Since you’re completely in control of the lights inside the pod and you can have some music at the beginning and end, music throughout, or no music at all, or you can go for more of a quasi-sensory deprivation, where I feel like you get the best of both. You can have total darkness and no sounds for say 15 minutes, to ease into it, especially the first time or two you experience it, or you can choose to jump right in and go for total sensory deprivation with no lights or music. On the other hand, you can choose to leave the tank open a little if you’re concerned about feeling claustrophobic, and leave the lights on inside the tank along with music playing the entire time. In other words, you’re in control of your experience.

So would I do it again? Absolutely, without hesitation, especially after a hard race, like a marathon or half marathon. I’m not and have never been claustrophobic, either, so that’s not a factor for me but I could see where it would be with other people. I can’t say I really felt that much more relaxed mentally, but if you floated at a place regularly, I can see that being a benefit for sure.

Have you ever tried a sensory deprivation tank? Would you ever try one if given the opportunity?

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

I’ve Done Something I Always Said I Would Never Do as a Runner

No, I didn’t qualify for Boston or anything crazy like that. What I’ve done is something many of you do all the time. For years I’ve thought about doing what I’ve done but I resisted. Despite other runners telling me I should change, I didn’t until recently but I’m stubborn like that.

I’ve become a morning runner. OK, go ahead and roll your eyes and say, “Is that all?” For me, though, this is a big thing. Like I said, for years I resisted. Instead of running before work, I would run after work. For much of the year, that was fine, except during the heart of summer when the highs for the day reached the 90’s, and of course the heat of the day coincided when I was running. I’ve always run my long run on Saturday mornings but I would never set my alarm early and get out at something crazy like 5 am.

I love my sleep and I didn’t want to have to get up at crazy-o-clock in the morning so I could run before work. But then I had an epiphany- I could just wear my running clothes to work, run there, shower, and go on with my day. We’re lucky enough to have not one shower stall at work but four shower stalls in two separate bathrooms. They’re clean and I’ve never had to wait while someone else was using one (I’ve used them in the past occasionally when I’d run after lunch). Why the heck wouldn’t I take advantage of such a great perk?

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Even at 7:45 am it was hot but still a lot cooler than if I would have run after work!

So one morning I tried it. I woke up at my usual time, packed a bag full of my work clothes, shampoo and the rest of my shower things, a towel and washcloth, and everything else I needed to get ready for the day. I ate breakfast at home, drove to work, ran, showered, and went on with my day. Hmmmm, not bad but I could do better. A couple of days later I laid out my running clothes and shoes, packed my work clothes and shower things the night before, and ate a Honey Stinger Cracker ‘N Nut Butter bar in the car on my way to work. Much better this time.

On my fourth day of running in the morning before work I started noticing a few things. My times were definitely faster when I would run in 60-something degrees versus 80-something degrees (no surprise there). I also was able to finish my run, shower, and get on with my day before all but one other person from my group at work even got to work, so certainly no one even noticed anything different in my work schedule. If I needed to, I could always work a little later in the evening because I wouldn’t need to hurry home to get in my run before dinner.

More importantly, I started noticing how much I enjoy being outside in the early morning. There are less cars on the roads so it’s noticeably quieter and there are more birds out, which I enjoy. It’s hard to put a finger on, but mornings just feel a bit different. I also really like having the evening completely free to do whatever I want. Instead of rushing home, changing into my running clothes, going for a run, making and eating dinner, stretching and foam rolling, I can now take my time getting home. I also am not running when it’s super hot outside, which is great!

So it seems I may have been converted to a morning runner after all of those years of fighting it. I have to admit I probably won’t run all four of my weekly runs in the morning, however, although I’ll continue running my long runs in the morning like I always have. I’ll probably still run 1 or 2 days a week in the evenings because I’m not 100% converted (yet, although that may change when it’s July!).

What about you- are you a morning runner or do you prefer to run in the evening? Do you think I’m crazy for just now changing so I run some of my runs in the mornings?

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

 

Seashore Classic Half Marathon, Lewes, Delaware- 45th state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Delaware was my 45th state.

Since I live on the east coast, you might think Delaware is a state I would have run long ago instead of it being one of my last few races. However, I found it a bit difficult finding a half marathon in Delaware that I thought would be a good fit for me, that is, until I found the Seashore Classic Half Marathon. I prefer smallish races put on by local runners. I also prefer courses that are flat or slightly downhill. This one checked all of those boxes plus the races along the coast came recommended by other runners when I asked which race I should run for my half marathon in Delaware.

Packet pickup the evening before the race was about as quick and easy as they come for races- I went to a restaurant called Irish Eyes, told the volunteers which race I was running, picked up my bib and shirt, and was done in less than five minutes. There was no expo, no vendors, absolutely nothing other than a room with two volunteers handing out shirts and bibs, oh and print-outs of hand-drawn maps.

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Start of the Seashore Classic 1/2 Marathon

Normally I like to drive the course the day before a race so I get an idea in my head what I’m up against before a race. We tried to find the start but were unable to and it was quickly getting dark and we still hadn’t had dinner, so we decided to just get dinner and I decided to just hope for the best for the course. It was touted as being flat and fast, along the water and mostly through a state park. How hard could it be, right? That would come later.

Race morning was 65 degrees and a bit overcast, a tad warmer than I would have liked but not terrible by my standards (I tolerate the heat much better than most people). There was a 5k, half marathon relay, and half marathon, all of which started at the same time and place. Still, it was a fairly small crowd so even though maybe the first half mile or so was a bit crowded, things pretty quickly thinned out.

The first two miles of the race were on the road and my mile splits were 8:18 and 8:26, way too fast for me and I knew it. I figured I would just roll with it as long as I could, though. We entered Cape Henlopen State Park somewhere around mile 2.5 and shortly after that the ground changed from asphalt to crushed gravel. Mile 3 was 8:53, much closer to what I was aiming for.

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Part of the crushed gravel course of the Seashore Classic 1/2 Marathon

We continued on the crushed gravel path through the park, passing a lighthouse, and had several water views along the way. The turnaround point was on Gordons Pond Trail, which was also the relay handoff. I still felt pretty good at the halfway point but by mile 8, I was pretty much done mentally and physically with the crushed gravel trails. The sun was out in full force by now and there were long stretches where we were exposed to the wind, which was pretty brutal.

I did a ton of self-talk during this race and I told myself that we should be back on asphalt somewhere around mile 10. However, I was warned by a local runner that often when you go from running a long distance on crushed gravel to asphalt, it feels harder on your legs when you get back on the asphalt. Perhaps this is because the gravel isn’t quite as solid as asphalt and you have to work a bit harder to get your footing. Whatever the reason, my legs were toast by the time we reached the asphalt again.

Mile 11 was my slowest mile, at 9:46, and I was struggling to not walk (but I didn’t). All around me, people were stopping to stretch their legs briefly before continuing on. By mile 12 I was able to speed up a bit to 9:34 but my legs were so tired I couldn’t speed up that much. Finally, with the end in sight, my last mile was 9:18, and I had a respectably strong finish, with a final time of 1:58:38, good enough for second in my age group.

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2nd in my age group!

I had put it out there earlier this year that one of my goals for 2019 was to finish in the top three for my age group, Running Resolutions for 2019. I was thrilled that I was able to do that with this race because I knew it was my best chance for doing that this year. I waited around for the age group awards ceremony, not knowing where I placed in my age group, but knowing there was a slight chance I might win something based on previous years’ times.

Following the race, medals were handed out to all of the finishers at the finish line, along with bottles of water. Just a little walk from the finish line, at Irish Eyes Restaurant, there were hot dogs, hamburgers, ice cream, beer, and Bloody Mary’s. I didn’t have the stomach to eat or drink anything other than water, so I just sat and people-watched for a bit, waiting on the awards ceremony. Finally I decided a strawberry daiquiri would taste awesome (that’s normally not a drink I would ever get, either), and my husband happily went to buy one for me inside the restaurant.

My thoughts on this race are that it’s a pretty good one to run if you’re a 50-stater or live near Lewes, Delaware and want to run a scenic half marathon. If you’re the type of runner who needs crowd support, fancy aid stations, and loads of bling, this isn’t the race for you. The shirt was pretty simple, as was the medal. There were three aid stations on the course, with water only. I barely saw anyone cheering on runners except for the finish/start area.

Even though this race is often described as “fast and flat,” this isn’t an easy course by any stretch of the imagination. There are rolling hills in the park and large sections of the race where you’re exposed to the sun and wind. There’s also the toll running on crushed gravel takes on your legs. That being said, I really did enjoy this course and several times commented out loud to other runners how beautiful it was. I would recommend this race with those reservations.

Seashore Classic Half Marathon

Have any of you run a race in Delaware? If so, which one did you run and what did you think?

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

Age-Graded Half Marathon Finish Times

I talked about age-grading in a previous post, which you can find here:  My Age Adjusted Half Marathon Times. For those of you in your 20’s, this isn’t something you think about but for runners in your 40’s like me, it’s certainly something to consider. Inevitably, we slow down with age and although it varies considerably from person to person and depends on when you first started running and racing, for most people it happens noticeably in your 40’s. That where age-grading or age-adjustment times come in.

Age Grading Calculators take into account your age and gender at the time of the race and compares your finish time to an “ideal” or best time (not necessarily the “world record”) achievable for that individual’s age and gender. Statistical tables are used to compare the performances of individual athletes at different distances, between different events, or against other athletes of either gender and/or of any age. In other words, it puts males and females of all ages on the same level essentially.

In my original article, I have a link to Runner’s World age graded calculator, but since Runner’s World has since locked down their online access unless you pay for it, I found another website with an age graded calculator that I’ll link to here. You just have to put in your age at the time of the race, the distance, and your finish time and it will calculate your age-graded finish time for you.

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Running towards the finish line in Arkansas

I wanted to look at my most recent races, so I entered them in the calculator and got the following results with the age-graded results first here:

Arkansas- 1:48:08 (actual time 1:57:31)

Alaska- 1:51:25 (actual time 2:01:06)

Idaho- 1:50:16 (actual time 1:59:51)

West Virginia- 1:51:15 (actual time 2:00:55)

New Jersey- 2:03:05 (actual time 2:13:46)

Utah- 1:56:18 (actual time 2:06:24)

California- 1:57:48 (actual time 2:06:46)

To be completely honest, the race in Utah was bitterly cold at the start (to me anyway, a Southerner not used to running in freezing temperatures) plus it was hilly and this no doubt effected my racing times. The race in New Jersey was filled with some brutal hills which of course slowed me down considerably and the race in California was hot from the start and just got hotter. This explains my slower times for those races. I would say my times for the other races are pretty similar.

My fastest age-graded times seem fast by my standards, although I know many of you are much faster than I am and was faster than me even when I was younger. My fastest finish time to date was 1:55:28 at Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon, South Dakota- 34th state. My age-graded time for this race is 1:49:13. Comparing the race in South Dakota, my age-graded time at the race in Arkansas was actually faster even though they were 3 years and 4 months apart. I’m truly surprised by this. This means factoring in age, my times aren’t getting slower but I have been getting faster in the last couple of years.

Just out of curiosity, I plugged in my information into the age-graded calculator for the half marathon I ran in Pennsylvania many years ago:  Philadelphia Distance Run, Pennsylvania-3rd state. My age-graded time was 2:00:13  and my actual finish time was 2:00:31. No surprise there really. It just proves that age-grading is really only for those in their 40’s and later.

Also, I’m a big fan of Arctic Cool shirts and apparel. I wrote a post on a shirt I tried a while back, which you can read here:  Review of Arctic Cool Shirt. Now through May 12, 2019, you can receive a free cooling headband with any purchase with code ACHeadband. Their website is here.

Do any of you calculate your age-graded race times or are you still too young for it to make a difference? Do you know anyone else who looks at their age-graded results after a race?

Happy running!

Donna