The Resolution

In late 2013 my sister mentioned for one of her 2014 New Year’s Resolutions she planned to run 750 miles. I thought hey, now that is an idea, a mileage goal for the year. However, I knew I did not have 750 miles in me. I needed a challenge, but I needed something obtainable. As a single parent in the Foreign Service at the time serving at a US-Mexico border post, I really had to take a hard look at what mileage might really be within my reach.

In 2013 I ran a total of six half marathons (El Paso, Texas; Indianapolis, Indiana; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Boston, Massachusetts, Juarez, Mexico, and Las Vegas, Nevada). I also ran a 5K, a 10K, and a 10K as part of a duathlon in El Paso. Yet even with all those organized races I only ran a total of 200 to 220 miles the whole year. I supplemented my running with Zumba and spinning classes at my gym and the occasional stationary bike ride or exercise DVD at home.

I did a few calculations and decided on 400 miles for 2014. That came out to an average of 7.7 miles a week. It sounded completely possible.

I think it might have been the next day I screwed up my plantar fascia at the tail end of a 5K. While sprinting in to the end I felt the excruciating tear in the bottom of my foot. Holy Mother $#&@! I hobbled back to the car and for much of the rest of my Christmas and New Year’s holiday. This did not make an auspicious start.

My first run of 2014 did not come about until January 9 and I could only manage one mile. One, quite slow mile on a very tender foot. Over the course of the month I did work up to three miles, but I basically kept the mileage low, ending the month with only 20 miles in total. So there I was starting the year already down ten miles after the first month.

With a half marathon coming up in April, I needed to step things up. Yet the dust storms in Ciudad Juarez came early and I started having asthma attacks while running. I would not even be a mile into a run and I would have to turn back. It was so frustrating. I had secured a sitter for my daughter – either the nanny would stay a little later or a friend would come over. At the very least I wanted to run a 5K, but I would find myself turning back much sooner. I had to move almost all of my running indoors to the treadmill at my little gym.

28.5 miles for February.
29.7 miles for March.
All below the 33 miles and some change I needed to average per month.

Finally in April I managed 40.7 miles for the month, helped in a large part by my Salt Lake City half marathon.

The plus side was my speed increased. I think because I underwent the (&$%@ painful) bilateral vein stripping the November before, my legs no longer felt so heavy when standing or running. I had become a 10:30 or 11 minute miler after the birth of my daughter and had accepted that. Before that I was a 10 minute miler. Suddenly in 2014 I was running 9:45 then 9:30 and then even 9 minute miles.

35.4 miles for May. It did not hurt I ran a half marathon in Cincinnati.
40.7 miles for June.

I had managed to overcome the plantar fasciitis and the asthma and the child care challenges to bring my mid-year total to 195 miles. I was five shy of my goal but felt fairly confident it was still within the realm of the possibility.

You know, if I had a normal life.

I departed from Ciudad Juarez on July 1 to begin nine weeks of travel from post and home leave. I would drive through Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Virginia with two cats and my 2 ½ year old daughter. I would spend a week in Hawaii and a week in North Carolina. With creative childcare finds (thank you $50 an hour Japanese daycare, with 2 hour minimum, in the Sheraton in Hawaii and the much less expensive $6 an hour drop in daycare in New Bern) I did manage 30 miles in July. Hi-five for me.

In August we continued our travel to San Francisco, South Dakota and New York. Day care options became a bit more complicated. My parents watched my daughter one afternoon I was in Virginia in between trips to I could get a 3.5 mile run in. My friend watched my daughter in San Francisco so I could get in one hilly run. My aunt and uncle watched C in South Dakota so I could get in a few training runs and my Leading Ladies half marathon through the beautiful Spearfish Canyon. A few more runs in hotel gyms while C sat “quietly” (for a 2 year old) with her iPad and I managed total of 35 miles for the month.

At the end of August we moved into our temporary quarters in an extended stay hotel while I attended full time Mandarin Chinese training. At 260 miles with 140 to go, I was still on track. I figured the fall would be a piece of cake given I was back in Northern Virginia with its perfect fall running weather and numerous running trails. I envisioned myself on long seven or eight or even ten mile runs, jogging blissfully and easily, unencumbered and happy.

Someone must have slipped me something.

I soon found my 50 minute (one way) commute and Chinese study took over my life. I needed to take my daughter in to daycare as soon as I could in the morning so I could drive in to study before class. Trying to study Chinese while your 2 year old plays nearby is a recipe for learning zero Chinese. Oh, and daycare… My daughter had not attended before, so she was the perfect host for every toddler illness known to man. She happily shared them with me. We had cold after infection after cold after infection. We were even so lucky to contract the flu even after we had received our shots.

Still I put up the miles.
40 miles for September.
42.1 miles for October.

I was halfway through November and still not entirely sure I would make my goal. The longer I spent in training, the shorter my runs became. I dropped down to a 10K from the half in October and from a 10 miler to a 10K at the beginning of November. The constant colds and my training schedule were taking their toll.

Then my two online running groups both announced end of year challenges simultaneously. My local group announced a challenge to run 60 miles the last 6 weeks of the year, averaging 10 miles a week. My global running group threw up the Runner’s World end of year streak, running the 36 days from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, a minimum of 1 mile per day.

I dismissed both out of hand. There was my child care issue. My catching everything that passed through daycare issue. I was too tired.

But a funny thing happened. I ran the next day. And the next. And the next. I had never before run more than three days consecutively, yet, here I was managing it. Could I do it?

45 miles for November.
52.9 miles for December.

No sh*t. I did it. I not only met the 60 mile challenge for the local group AND the streaking challenge (with a total of 44 days in a row because I misunderstood the start day), but I also not only met my 400 miles for the year, but surpassed it for a total of 440 miles!

Hot diggity dog. Most of that running was on the treadmills of Juarez, Mexico or Northern Virginia, but I also ran in Utah, Ohio, Texas, Tennessee, New York, South Dakota, California, North Carolina, and Hawaii. I am not sure I will ever have another year like that.

I learned a lot from this year of running.
I learned I like to do vary my exercise beyond running. In 2013, although I ran far fewer miles, I was in better shape. The cross training I did by participating in spinning, Zumba, and other classes made me stronger. I like running, but there were days when it felt like a chore. When I was not streaking, I might have only two or three days a week I could get to the gym. Because I had weekly, monthly, and the yearly mileage goals, I needed to run just about all of those days. Some days I would have very much liked to have done something else. Some days, ANYTHING else.

I learned though I can be pretty resourceful if I want to get a run in. Also, that, at least in the United States, that there are places to help the single parent out, particularly if they are willing to pay. There are many licensed agencies that provide in-room hotel child care; excellent community centers which include child care; even drop-in daycare centers.

The streak showed me that just a single mile most often can lift my spirits. The adage that just 10 minutes a day of exercise can boost energy and mood proved true for me. I also continued to push my speed and hill work. It was easier to do so when I knew I only had to run one mile. I also found my daughter will in fact sit or play quietly for at least 10-20 minutes in a hotel gym, unless of course the Wi-Fi cuts out and the My Little Pony video halts in the middle of playing… Knowing she will do this means that even if I do not have a sitter, a short workout is not out of the question.

I learned that when people tell you someone almost always feels better after a run than before it, they are really not blowing smoke up your skirt. Even with a bad cold or a throat infection or the flu a ten minute run did in fact make me feel better.

I do not yet know what 2015 has in store for me for running. Most likely I will be dialing back the miles and diversifying my exercise again, though I will incorporate the hill and speed work.  My next streak will be to study Chinese every day until my test, in just 15 days. It is time to buckle down and get to China. Once we are settled in Shanghai I will be able to consider the next challenge. The challenge other than running the Buffalo half marathon in May, which I am already signed up for…

Happy New Year and happy running!


10K is the New Half

Today I ran the Freedom’s Run 10K in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Originally though, I had signed up for the half marathon. It was to be my West Virginia half and one I was pretty excited about. (I even checked with the 50 States Half Marathon people to make sure it qualified for West Virginia since the majority of the run is actually in Maryland.) Runner’s World magazine ranked it among their Top 25 Half Marathons as well and named it a Bucket List race. Who would not be tempted by that? Certainly half marathon enthusiasts would find it hard to turn down. I absolutely did.

However as race day came ever closer I realized I just would not be ready. This felt different than my concerns before the South Dakota half. This was not just nerves; this was hard reality.

Who would have thought it would be easier to train in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, former murder capital of the world and an always dusty, sandy high desert locale, and while traveling around on my crazy Home Leave? I did not. I envisioned fabulous long runs along tree-lined, beautifully maintained Northern Virginia running trails. I did not factor in juggling my Chinese training and study schedule and being a single mom of an active toddler.

I tried to train C to sit quietly in the gym with her iPad and Stuffie the Black Kitty but that turned out to be a laughable proposition. I sometimes managed two miles with several pauses in-between to tell C to sit down, put down the weights, not to touch something, get off the other treadmill, and so on… <sigh> THAT was not going to be a reliable way to get my run in.

Again I went to the Freedom’s Run website.

“The Half Marathon is very challenging”

“The first 3 miles are flat on the C & O then the difficult Antietam Battlefield section begins as you join the marathoners.”

“Once leaving the Canal the course is very hilly and rolling through Antietam Battlefield.”

“As one 2009 participant stated aptly ‘Freedom isn’t easy.’ These words will be your mantra through the scenic Battlefield.”

Um, yeah. Not only was my training crazily random and many would have a hard time calling it training at all…but the course would kick my a** even if I were training. It was time to email the organizers and drop down to the 10K. The elevation of the 10K chart indicated it would be plenty enough of a challenge.

And it sure was! Temperatures were perfect and the course lovely. At least half the course followed alongside the Potomac River on a tree-shaded road; the leaves in red and golden mid-Autumn splendor. The course though was HILLY, the organizers were NOT kidding. One particular hill, on the way back into town, seemed to go on and on and on…

As I had looked ahead to this half I had also made a decision to not participate in any more organized runs. I simply do not have the time to train. But…after three 10Ks in five weeks I must admit the distance has begun to grow on me. It is still a challenging distance, particularly with my current situation, but it is a distance I can train for and run without taking up quite as much time as a half marathon.

So, yes I have signed up for yet another 10K in four weeks. They had a long sleeve pullover and a distance I could not resist. I am on the lookout for more.

I will miss the half marathons. I may not run another until next summer, after my Chinese training, after my Chinese test, after we have moved to Shanghai, after I have had a chance to settle in and find out if and how I might train for one. I certainly would like to give the Freedom’s Run half another go. Until then, the 10Ks will have to tide me over.

Nation’s Tri: The Third Wheel

I belong to a global running group, a community of Foreign Service people who try to take their running on the road, wherever they happen to be. They may be trying to fit in runs in baking hot UAE summers (where you run after sunset when it’s a “cool” 105 degrees) or try to make friends with the treadmill when in places where running outside is verboten or make unexpected stops in locales where herds of animals may cross their path. We are a dedicated bunch of crazy runners. Not necessarily fast runners – though we do have a few who place in their respective races – but committed.

Waaaaaaay back in February or March of this year I responded to a post on our group page asking for a person to run the 10k portion in a triathlon team to take place September 7 in Washington, DC. Yeah THAT September 7, you know, the first Sunday back in the DC area after a whirlwind 60 days of home leave and my first week of Chinese training.

So it seemed like a GREAT idea! I could use it to jump start my running when back in Northern Virginia. This couple, whom I had never met, also would have just moved to DC for training the weekend before. It was PERFECT, right? I mean, that’s the word springing to your mind too, I’m sure! I replied immediately. Pick me! Pick me PLEASE! And they did.

Fast forward six months or so… I have run a half marathon in South Dakota a few weeks before, yet it already feels much longer. I am stressed and tired about the start of language training. I book a hotel in DC for the Saturday night – yes, a hotel away from my hotel, because the logistics of getting up at the butt crack of dawn to drive to DC and try to find parking seemed too daunting. My mom stays with myself and C because I have yet to spend a night away from her and I am determined not to have the first night be for this triathlon. My ulcerative colitis continues to plague me and this 10k runs through urban DC (as opposed to a heavily forested canyon in SD), i.e. few if any trees to hide behind should my UC make a pit stop necessary. I have not met this couple I’m running with. Hmmm…this seems a little less perfect than I originally thought.

Thankfully meeting up with my Tri mates proves easy. Though completely unplanned, we find each other the first day at the Foreign Service Institute. We run into each other unplanned each day after that. Even at the packet pick up we find each other at the hotel entrance without arranging a thing. It was rather uncanny.

It is a very good thing we had that going for us because the organization of the packet pick up and staging areas left much to be desired. Racers arriving to pick up packets with their bicycles are turned away as bicycles are not allowed in the hotel (at a triathlon?!). Volunteers at the event appear unable to answer questions. Our cyclist rides his bike down to the transition area to set up only to be stranded down there as the returning shuttles to the hotel stop at 6 pm, although the website and expo announcements say they will run until 7 pm. Then the skies open up and rain pours down. We decide to eat dinner at our respective hotels and meet up the following morning for the next to last shuttle for the start line, departing at 6 am.

That night my mother – a dear woman who agreed to watch Chloe while I run – snores with the force of a fog horn.  (I am sorry mom, you have been outed on Facebook and now in my blog) She tried not to, I’ll give her that. She brought a nose strip, yet it did nothing to stem the tide; I could not sleep. Around midnight, desperate to get some zzzzzs I had an epiphany. I then dragged a pillow and a comforter into the bathroom and set up bed in the bathtub. Yes, the bathtub. Surprisingly, I slept pretty well (I am 5’5” if you are wondering).

I awoke to the news that the swim portion of the race had been cancelled due to a sewage spill into the Potomac River resulting from the previous evening’s heavy rain. After wrenching myself from my bathtub cocoon I head over to the race hotel across the street at a quarter to six. Unfortunately, disorganization continued. Despite being on the next to last shuttle, departing the hotel at six am with the race not starting until 7:15, the bus could not drop participants at the actual start location, just nearby. At the event emcees announced that the “swimmers” would still run into the transition area barefoot. Unfortunately for many relay participants, this was not announced on the website along with the cancellation of the swim portion and some had simply not shown up. Our swimmer was in a dress – albeit a sporty one – and so lined up barefoot with the other “swimmers” to run 500 yards to pass off the timing piece to our cyclist.

Cyclist and I receive conflicting information as to how to reach the hand-off area. One volunteer told us to head in one direction where we met another volunteer who told us to go back where we had come from. We finally just went around both of them, the long way, to find the place, where we waited. And waited. And waited. Though the event started at 7:15, our “swimmer” did not begin her swim-run until 8:23! She was in wave 23, yet between each numbered wave there was also a “named” wave. The first cyclists had returned before 8:15.

At least the weather was perfect for cycling and running. It was cool and overcast – completely different from the near 90 degree and sunny weather of the day before. Still, I had been waiting around to run since 6:15 and with the breeze I felt a little chilled; it was a relief to finally start running around 9:45. Then suddenly, it was all alright. The course was well marked and the volunteers prepared. I ran slowly, without music, my mind occupied with many memories of my previous life in DC. I have run many times in West Potomac Park along Haines Point. I looked across the Potomac to Fort McNair, where I worked as a Research Fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies. Across the Potomac in another direction stands Bolling Air Force Base, where I also worked as a defense analyst. The course also covered streets where I trained for and ran the Marine Corps Marathon, my one full marathon to date. I had missed DC.

All in all, I am glad I participated, though I have decided I will not run more races in DC this brief time we are here, and possibly no other races at all after my half in early October. The time is just too short and the logistics for race participation a little too complicated. As a single parent studying Mandarin Chinese in preparation to work in Shanghai starting early next year, I only have so many hours in the day, only so much free time in a week. I need to recognize my limitations.

Hey, and I did it! Right? In the end I think the best part of it was meeting this other Foreign Service couple, also with a young daughter, serving their country, living abroad, and with a passion for running (and swimming and biking) wherever they happen to be.

Running with the Leading Ladies

I have a little problem. I suppose it is more passion than a problem. I am not referring to my desire to travel to just about all the countries in the world. Nor to my enjoyment of visiting aquariums everywhere I can find them or taking my daughter to as many children’s museums as possible. Not even the new fascination with historic carousels. This is my love of running half marathons. Not really a love, more a love-hate, which is even stronger.

I started in 2006. I joined a group to help me train for the Baltimore half marathon to raise money for the Whitman Walker clinic in Washington, DC. It was not easy, but I had a good time. The following year I signed up to do the same thing for a full marathon. That was even harder. I pulled my IT band about eight weeks before the run. It took me an hour longer to finish than expected. I went back to the halves. Again and again and again…

I have one of those vague plans now to run half marathon in each state. Vague because I do not know how many I have run so far and just about every time I am in preparation or at the start line or somewhere around mile 5 or 9 I think it might be the last I run. I do not count how many I have run thus far because when I start thinking of where I might run next, I realize there are far too many left to know if this thing is possible.

So home leave 2014 approaches. I schedule out my trips, buy my plane tickets. I hope to keep running along the way when I can, when I am able to get child care. I just out of curiosity decide to see if maybe, just maybe, there might be a half marathon in the area of South Dakota where I will be visiting, when I am visiting. Wouldn’t you know it, I found one. So then I had to sign up for it.

The Leading Ladies Marathon and Half Marathon is held in Spearfish, SD. It is an all women event. The half is completely downhill through Spearfish Canyon, named the most magnificent canyon in the west by Frank Lloyd Wright when he visited in 1935. This sounded so incredibly awesome.

My first issue was child care. I am a single mom with a 2 ½ year old toddler. In the past I have found licensed and bonded child care services that send sitters to hotels, such as in Las Vegas and Cincinnati. However, a fairly in-depth online search indicated there is no such thing in west South Dakota. Makes sense, these are not large cities. Lucky for me, I floated an idea with my aunt and it turned out she and my uncle were very interested in visiting this part of the country. Score.

Then wouldn’t you know it, in late May my ulcerative colitis starts to flare up. You may or may not be aware of UC – it’s an Irritable Bowel Disease like Crohn’s (which in my experience more people are familiar with). It is as unpleasant as it sounds. I have been fairly lucky with my UC. I was diagnosed in 2000 while traveling in Tunisia. Yeah, long story. It has been active about five times including this time. So I increase my medication and pay more attention to my diet – but things are stressful. In June I am packing out of my residence in Mexico and preparing to be on the move for nine weeks until training begins in September. Not exactly easy to be on my best diet behavior.

My plantar fasciitis, which first occurred in late 2010, makes a daring comeback the day before Christmas 2013. I have been running on that heel for months. Sometimes it is absolutely fine. Some days, not so much.

Then I develop a cold two weeks into my home leave that Will. Not. Go. Away.

Training is spotty while on the road.

As we drive from Deadwood to Spearfish we take the scenic route which passes through the canyon. It is lovely, but what I see are a lot of trees. Lots and lots and lots of trees. And a winding road with a narrow shoulder. It occurs to me I am a very urban runner. When not running outside on streets full of pedestrians or busy roads, I am inside on a treadmill. I also have an OCD habit of counting things when I am getting tired or need to focus or zone out. I wonder, how long it will take till I am tired of counting trees?

Two nights before the run, the eve before the eve, I am lying awake. It is midnight and then 1 am. I am thinking I am really not ready. The previous half marathon is three and a half months before. I have not run more than six miles in a single go since then. There is the UC and my fasciitis and my cold. It is warmer than in average years (usually 44 at the start and 75 by noon but this year it is 60 something at the start and possibly in the upper 80s by noon – not that I would finish at noon). My heart pounds in my chest. I cannot remember being so nervous before a half since my first half.

I remind myself what I have going for me. 1. I have run this distance before. 2. It is all downhill. 3. There are not that many participants (less than 500 total for both events) so no real lines for the port-a-potties. 4. I do not need to set a PR. 5. I do not even have to run the whole thing if I don’t want to. 6. I do not *have* to do this at all. 7. My daughter will be waiting for me when I am done. After reaching out to my sister and a good friend and two online groups to which I belong, I feel good enough to fall asleep and feel calm the following day.

And I did it.

And it was lovely.

I ran the whole thing – with only walks through the water stops and one longish wait for a bathroom break. The first six miles seemed to fly by. I felt good, really, really good. I took it slow the whole way and despite it being all downhill I found that easy enough to do. I had my iPod with me and I remember a few songs, but not most. By eight miles I made a deal with myself – to run just one more mile and then see how I felt. I reached nine and made the same deal. Again at ten. By eleven I knew I would finish. I also knew it would be a PR – for my slowest half ever – and I was fine with it.

So another half completed in another state. Right now I still do not know how many more to go to reach all 50. I move to Shanghai next year with complicates things. I think I have at least one more in me though.

Black Hills and Bad Lands (Home Leave Phase Five)

South Dakota. I have had this on my list of must-sees for a long, long time. I remember even when living in Japan in the late 90s, plotting out a possible visit. Way back then I barely had an email account and there was no internet in my small 2DK (two tatami mat room with dining room and kitchen) apartment on the Western Japanese coast. It was just me, some maps, pen and paper. Needless to say I did not go then, but the planning continued.

Of course I have had loads of opportunities to travel in the past but I am, or at least was, more prone to travel outside of the US than in. Lured by exotic locales like Cambodia and Thailand or Italy and Croatia or South Africa and Moldova, I just could not resist. (Yeah, Moldova; I’ve been there.) Home Leave however must be taken in the US and from the beginning I knew mine this summer would include South Dakota. I worked all the other destinations around it.

Funny though, whenever I mentioned South Dakota as part of my Home Leave, it’s this part which received the most quizzical looks. Why South Dakota? Wow, really? Have you looked at a map? The concentration of National Parks / Monuments / Forests / Grasslands / Landmarks / Natural Sites near Rapid City is amazing. It’s an area steeped in tangible American history and incredible natural beauty.

Our transition from San Francisco to west South Dakota was not so smooth. Our flight out of SFO departed two hours late so we missed out connecting flight. Luckily there was a second flight soon afterwards, which departed on time. However, my aunt and uncle, who we joining us on the phase, had their flight out of Chicago cancelled arriving at midnight instead of 4:30 pm. A Juarez colleague, also on an amazing home leave, sent me a message to tell me not to forget to relax (which is not easy when traveling to so many amazing places and seeing so many amazing things). I thought then C and I would have a quiet first evening but less than 10 minutes in our hotel room and C fell off the settee (the cushion slid out from under her) and she hit the base of the bed, hard. A ping pong sized lump swelled up on her right temple. So being the relatively new mom I am I rushed her to Urgent Care. Thankfully she was fine but that was all the excitement I needed for our first day.

We had an amazing trip! Although I had planned to see many of these sights for years, I did not fully grasp how extraordinary it would be to actually see them. Badlands National Park and Devils Tower National Monument were incredible. I loved visiting Mt. Rushmore (although the parking charge of $11 seemed excessive to enter an otherwise free park– I hope the money does go to the NPS). I have heard people express disappointment with how small the monument seems in person. I was not disappointed at all. Not even when we could not complete the Presidential Trail, which takes visitors closer to the monument. The walk with 250 stairs was a bit much in the heat for my uncle who has a heart valve and me with an active toddler who wants to climb 20 steps and then beg for a “huggie” (pick me up) the rest of the way.

My aunt and uncle selected our accommodation for our third and fourth nights at the Blue Bell Lodge cabins in Custer State Park. We entered the park by a scenic back road after visiting Mt. Rushmore and had lunch in the park at the State Game Lodge, a historic building which once served as the Presidential summer residence for Calvin Coolidge and F.D.R. There are four lodge areas in the park and we stayed two nights in a cabin in Blue Bell Lodge area. It too was very lovely and our cabin came complete with 2-3 cotton tail bunnies that lived under the porch and which C enjoyed chasing.

The park is beautiful and teeming with wildlife. We took both a late afternoon and early morning drive along the Wildlife Loop Road and saw prairie dogs, mule deer, Pronghorn deer, wild burros, wild turkeys, and bison! Seriously, bison! Who does not get excited about seeing bison? And I had zero idea I would be seeing them in South Dakota as I have only ever associated them with Yellowstone. But there were A LOT of them in the park and not just along the Wildlife Loop road. We also saw them grazing on the grounds of the State Game Lodge and other campgrounds. It turned out they were hanging outside our own cabin at night as we heard their heavy footfalls, pawing at the ground, chewing, and snorting in the night!

We also visited Wind Cave National Park just south of Custer State Park. Unfortunately, we did not go inside the cave, one of the largest in the world, as the shortest tour, an hour long, did not seem the best of ideas to do with C. When we inquired if a ten minute “toddler friendly” tour might be available the park ranger had a good laugh at our expense. Well, we tried. Still, we did walk out to the small (dare I say *tiny*?) natural entrance to the cave where a strong cool breeze blew. We also saw bison and prairie dogs and every place you can see those gets high marks.

Our next stop was the Mammoth Site in Hot Springs. Originally, when it was just C and I on the trip, I had planned on staying in Hot Springs. I am SO glad my aunt and uncle joined us and suggested the state park. Hot Springs looked really tired. So, I started to worry the Site too would be a disappointment, but it turned out to be very interesting! It is designated a National Natural Landmark and is where the most mammoth (Columbian, not Wooly) bones have been found – an estimated 61 different animals! It’s an actual working archeological dig, museum, and research facility.

We passed the Crazy Horse Memorial in-progress on our way from Custer State Park to Deadwood. I had wanted to visit but the price tag, level of completion, and the number of museums C would no doubt not really let me see made the decision to stop for only a from-the-highway-photo easier.

Deadwood too is of course a famous historic area, even more so since the airing of the incredible HBO series, which I finished up just weeks before leaving Juarez. The entire town is designated a National Historic Landmark. I just wanted to stroll the streets where the likes of Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, and Seth Bullock had once frequented. I took part in a reenactment of the shooting of Wild Bill at the reconstructed Saloon #10 (though not at the original location). I rarely put my hand up for such things, but there I was, at the poker table posing as Charlie Rich, who refused to switch seats with Wild Bill (and I have no idea how to play poker, which may have been the funniest part of my reenactment). We took a tour of the Victorian Adams Mansion (a 45 minute house tour with C!!) and visited Mt. Moriah Cemetery.

Spearfish followed Deadwood. From here we visited the Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming and the Center of the Nation monument in Belle Fourche, the town founded by, yes, Seth Bullock of Deadwood fame. The town is the closest to the actual geographic center of the nation including Alaska and Hawaii. Then I ran a half marathon down Spearfish Canyon, decreed the most magnificent canyon in the west by Frank Lloyd Wright after his 1935 visit. You did read that right though. I ran 13.1 miles through the canyon from Savoy to the Spearfish City Park. Not on my own, mind you, it was an organized run. A crazy idea that turned out really well.

On our last day we stopped by a fish hatchery in Spearfish before returning to Rapid City for our late afternoon flight. A fish hatchery! Yet while in the Tri-State Visitor’s Center in Belle Fourche, we learned that our darling Seth Bullock helped to secure this federal facility. Today it is a Historic National Fish Hatchery and on the national register of historic places! We spent over an hour there and would have stayed longer if we had not needed to catch our flight.

I am tired. I will not lie about that; this home leave plan of mine is a little daunting. Yet it is also so amazing. This week in South Dakota exceeded all of my expectations. Our country is incredible.

Working out in Juarez

So yeah, just a two days ago I finished a four hour spin-a-thon here in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.  FOUR HOURS on a bike in 90+ degree heat.  And I did it!  I rode every single second of that four hours and lived to tell the tale.  I could even walk just fine the next day. How about that?

Yet when I arrived in Ciudad Juarez nearly 2 years ago, I had no idea how exercising was going to go here.  I was a single mom with a 6 month old baby moving to a post with 15% danger pay.  Trying to find an exerise routine while overseas in the Foreign Service or otherwise can always be a challenge.  For example, when you are in a country where exercise may not be the norm because it is a leisure activity that the vast number of people do not have time for.  Gym facilities, if existent, are quite different from home.  Running outside may not be advisable due to security or other reasons.

My previous assignment, when I was with the Department of Defense, was in Jakarta, Indonesia.  In my apartment complex we had a treadmill, a bicycle, and an elliptical in a glassed-in gazebo in our parking lot.  You can imagine in a tropical country that a glassed-in gazebo surrounded by black top might get a bit warm.  It did.  Also, perplexingly, there was also a grill in the gazebo, though I never saw anyone use it.  I also belonged to the gym at the hotel located three buildings down from my complex.  I even had a trainer there.  The gym had some pretty good equipment, though the air conditioning never seemed to be working, so it was like exercising in a sauna.  And though there was a television in front of each of the machines they were not connected to the machines, so if others were excercising and watching television you had dueling volume issues.  Running outside was difficult.  Jakarta is hot and humid, the sidewalks, if there, are uneven and full of open holes, and are often used as an additional lane by motorcyclists.  On Sundays though it was “car free Sunday” when the main drag was closed to traffic for a few hours.  So if you wanted to battle the crowds it was possible to run.  I did once, but imagine my surprise when without warning the lanes re-opened to traffic and I found myself in the middle lane of a 4 lane highway with cars suddenly driving around me!

But that was in Indonesia and now I was in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico with an infant.

Ciudad Juarez is located in the Chihuahua desert.  It is a high desert climate.  It is dry and very hot in the summer.  In the winter it is generally in the 30s (farenheit) in the morning but there might be as much as a 30 degree increase by afternoon. The altitude is close to 4,000 feet above sea level.  In the Spring, starting around February, strong winds blow through the city kicking up sand and dust and all manner of things I am apparently allergic to.

So I had exercised abroad before.  I had even exercised thus far as a mom – but in the nice apartment gym in Falls Church, VA while my mother watched my daughter or running with the jogging stroller on lovely Northern Virginia running trails.  But here I was in a new city as a new mom.  I wanted to get back into running, wanted to lose the rest of the baby weight, and wanted to be a role model to my daughter.  How was I going to do that?

I started off going to the Consulate gym where I had access as a member of the Employee Recreation Association.  With a six month old, I would go when it was her nap time and she would snooze happily while I ran on the treadmill.  I also set up my bike on a trainer and rode for an hour or two on Sundays while my daughter napped. I ran my first 5K in September 2013 in Marfa, Texas as part of the Marfa Lights Festival over the Labor Day weekend.  It was hot, I was slow, and I finished the run with a flat tire, deflated completely by a giant desert thorn.  But I did it.  And I kept going.

I have had to make adjustments, of course.  When my daughter stopped taking a second nap or even a very long nap, I had the nanny or a friend watch her after work or on weekends.  And when an off-duty police officer was shot in his truck along my running route (he survived and drove himself to the hospital) or when there was a quadruple homicide at a garage I sometimes ran by, I changed where I ran.  When the dust storms of Spring made it very difficult for me to run, I joined a gym with childcare, though still had someone watch C on Sundays (gyms in Juarez are only open until noon or 1 on Saturdays and closed on Sundays).

And here I am at the end of my tour and I am so psyched to say that I finished:

Three 5Ks (1 in Marfa and 2 in El Paso)

Two 10Ks (two years running of the “World’s Fastest 10K” in El Paso)

One dualthon (Mission Valley Duathlon in El Paso – my first duathlon ever!)

Two spin-a-thons (in Ciudad Juarez, one was 3 hours, the other 4)

Eight half marathons!  (El Paso, TX; Indianapolis, IN; Santa Fe, NM; Boston, MA; Ciudad Juarez, MX; Las Vegas, NV; Salt Lake City, UT; and Cincinnati, OH)

Changes are ahead for us with home leave, training in DC and then on to Shanghai.  I’m not sure how I will work out, but I know I will find a way.


Spintencity en la Ciudad

So last night I participated in a four hour spin-a-thon in Ciudad Juarez. I’ll leave why I subjected myself to that particular kind of fun for another post, but the amazing thing is that the event was held in downtown Ciudad Juarez, in an open plaza, with approximately 200 participants.

When in August 2011 I was assigned to Ciudad Juarez for my first post, the city had a per capita murder rate that gave it the unfortunate distinction of the murder capital of the world. The rate had however dropped enough from the previous year to warrant a drop in the danger pay from 20% to 15% by November 2011. I had heard that officers in Ciudad Juarez during that time period generally stayed indoors and outings were reserved for border crossings to El Paso, Texas.

By the time I arrived at post in late July 2012, the city was already experiencing further improvements in security and a sort of rebirth was occurring. This has only continued throughout the time I have lived here, with families venturing out to visit family and friends regularly and filling restaurants and parks. The Plaza de la MeXicanidad and La Rodadora, a world-class children’s museum, both opened in Juarez last year.

This is not to say that all is well in Juarez. During the time I have lived here, there have been at least four armed incidents at the shopping mall just across from the Consulate and an easy 10 minutes walk from my home. This included a robbery of a jewelry store, a robbery of one of the parking attendants, and a shooting of a local employee at a gym. I twice adjusted my regular running route when shootings occurred along it. One morning as I prepared to head to work, I heard what distinctly sounded like gunshots as I prepared to head to work one morning. Even one from our Consulate community–a locally employed staff member–was gunned down in front of his family by armed men who burst into a children’s party.

But, when I see people taking control of their lives and participating in healthy activities, I think that it is a sure sign of a healthier community too. When out running I have always run into other locals running. Not a lot mind you, but if the prospect of insecurity wouldn’t keep people from running, then the harsh desert climate (hot, dry, dusty) with few running-friendly places ought to – and yet people are STILL out there running! Gyms have been sprouting up all over the city and these gyms are sponsoring events such as the spin-a-thon. Last October I took part in the 4th Maraton Internacional Gas Natural de Juarez. Despite a less than scenic course, I was impressed with the organization and participation from both runners and spectators. A local gym also organized a year-long series of 10Ks for this year and our Consulate organized the first Green Race held in May.

So there I am last night, some time into the third hour of the spin-a-thon and I start to feel a bit misty-eyed. I think about how far Ciudad Juarez has come in the two years I have lived here and what an honor and privilege it has been for my daughter and I to experience the city at this pivotal time. It could have been because the spinning instructor, waxing on at length over the physical and spiritual benefits of spinning, suddenly yelled “Viva Juarez!” or because my bum and palms were losing all feeling, but I felt extremely grateful not only to be participating in the event but to be in Juarez.

Viva Juarez indeed.