Sunday, October 26, 2008

Running in the Heartland

Okay - admit it. Iowa has never been anywhere on your list of places you just HAD to visit in this lifetime. In fact, you can't think of a single person who HAS Iowa on their list - even the extended "What if I live to be 105" list! Which means I can also confess it was never on my list.....UNTIL, of course, the list included ALL 50 states, including a few in America's Heartland, that might not have otherwise been on the radar screen. But notwithstanding your list or mine, Iowa is exactly where we spent last weekend and I came home realizing that my appreciation for such "heartland states" continues to grow and I continue to be surprised by what each and every state has to offer. Yes - Iowa has a LOT of cornfields - stretching just about as far as you can see in many places. Yes - Iowa has a lot of flat land. And Yes, it has at least it's share of small farm towns that look like they barely survived the last century, let alone the current one. But I suspect I am learning that, more than anything, people make a place what it is.....and there are almost always places most people from anywhere else don't know about....and together they contribute to making each State's visit something unexpectedly interesting and memorable. Such was the case with Iowa.

Our race (Siouxland Lewis & Clark Marathon and Half) was in Sioux City, which is on the Missouri River, where it traces the western boundary of the state at an intersection with both Nebraska and South Dakota. The city traces its heritage to Lewis & Clark who came through the area twice on their exploration - once headed upriver and the second time on the return. There are some impressive bluffs along the eastern side of the river with some beautiful forests, parks and inspirational views to the west across the Missouri River Valley. Even the aging city has its charm in an historic district, riverfront parks and a very interesting Lewis & Clark interpretive center. We also found unexpected charm in Council Bluffs (across the river from Omaha) and scenery in the Loess Hills. Council Bluffs introduced us to the Main Street Cafe - a true heartland eatery with wonderful homemade food and soups and a staff to match, not to mention Halloween decorations that alone were worth the visit. The Loess Hills are a remarkably rugged area of hills and forest over ancient dunes between Sioux City and Council Bluffs. And mixed in there were farmscapes and reminders of their heritage that were pretty remarkable.

There you have it. Is Iowa now on your list? Even though it is no longer on ours, we certainly don't regret our visit - and, in the process, that we checked off State #23. The race, itself, was good. It was relatively small (fewer than 200 participants in the half-marathon), but the logistics and support were excellent, the pre-race pasta dinner really good, the post-race snacks and pizza great, and the people warm and friendly - to include Vicky Eliesa - who we found through the Sioux City 1st Ward and proved to be a superb choice to watch Rachel for a few hours during the race. The course was relatively fast - but you remember those impressive bluffs I mentioned early on? Well, we had to climb those between miles 3 and 4.5, and they were pretty grueling. Luckily, the forest parks made it at least scenic (when you were seeing beyond the racing heartbeat and lack of oxygen during the climb). I ended up with a time in the 1:45 range, so felt pretty good, and Karen was likewise not disappointed with her time.

Another fun trip - another increase in understanding what America's Heartland is all about. And considerably more information about Lewis & Clark! The thought to share? I think you'll find it above - don't underestimate people or places and what they have to offer.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Running - A Team Sport!

Procrastination? Inattention? Call it what you may - but have you ever intended to do something that required you to register or apply - and then either put it off so long or forgot about it that when you finally got around to it - it was too late? Such was the case with our most recent race - the Adirondack Half Marathon in Schroon (pronounced Skroon) Lake NY. Funny thing, this had been one of the races we had most been looking forward to. It came highly recommended by a coworker from upstate New York, was in a beautiful part of the state (an area neither of us has ever spent any time in), and on a course around Schroon Lake that is rated one of the prettiest around. Alas - having no idea it might reach its capacity - I put off registering too long and found it full. Even my well-articulated, "hear our story" plea to the race director was to no avail. However - he did have a suggestion: there were still slots open in the 2-person marathon relay. We could register for the marathon as a 2-person relay team - with each of us running a half. Notwithstanding the first "half" being slightly shorter than the second (and having the internal debate about whether this should "count" as a half-marathon for each of us), we elected to go for it, since we already had airline tickets, we had been planning on it for months, and it would have the built-in advantage of us not having to worry about finding someone to watch Rachel! Whoever ran the second half could watch her while one of us ran the first half and vice versa. (Incidentally, when Karen discovered that the first half was a bit shorter, i.e. 12.8 or 12.9 miles, instead of 13.1, but that it was VERY hilly, whereas the second half was basically flat, I was nominated for the hills.)

So - how did our first relay go? The course and area were very pretty - forested, some fall color, a very pretty lake setting and pretty good weather (overcast, cool, very little wind - although it got cooler and breezier as the day went along). Indeed, my half had hills - lots of them - to include steep ones, long ones, and one right after another! (Are you feeling sorry for me yet?) And my half - while near the lake - was only along the lake shore the last mile or so (Karen was along the lake most of her half). However, I hung in there pretty well and considered my effort a worthy one - not to mention I gave Rachel excellent care during the second half of the race! However - what I gained insight into after this race was, at least in my mind, pretty profound. I felt I ran a really good first half - and yet I didn't get an official time. The only official time we got was our total, combined time for the entire marathon. And I'll admit I was a bit disappointed in it...but it wasn't long after that it really hit me. How often do we really think we can "go it by ourselves?" When I run myself, I have full control and have only me to blame or to credit for the results. But how often is it really the case that we can "go it alone?" And since it just happened that the results of this race depended upon both of us - which I suspect is QUITE analogous to a marriage - why do we even think sometimes that our success or effort is dependent on just one of us or that we are unequally yoked? In the parlance of today's business and performance consultants, certainly we do not want to be independent, nor do we want to be dependent on each other; I believe the word they use is interdependent. That made me wonder; how am I doing? How are WE doing? How well do we recognize that where we really want to go we must go together? And that getting there isn't just one of us doing our best, or always striving for a new "PR"?
In many ways, this race was one that reminded me of some important principles. And although it has taken me three weeks to share them with whoever might read this - they are no less meaningful - at least to me. Running out front can sometimes lead us to the conclusion we can run by ourselves - but I think this helped me remember that just isn't the case. Ultimately, the only race that really matters is the one we run......and finish, together - with each of us contributing our strengths, our values and our commitment to the common goal - complementing each other in the process and learning that this is the only way that the whole can be greater than the sum of the individual parts.

By the way - will we be running marathon relays often? Not likely. But hopefully, the lesson will not be forgotten.

Oh - and the Adirondacks were beautiful! We enjoyed a half day in the State Capital of Albany (where we were the official witnesses of a State Legislative session) and our day drive through Adirondack Park was great - to include Lake Placid, several scenic byways and a hike to the top of Mt Baker for sweeping panoramas of adjacent mountains, fall foliage in many areas and Saranac Lake and a chain of lakes through the valleys. Very impressive - and we recommend the area highly.