St. Patrick’s Day 5K Run Report

The last time I ran a 5K race was in 1991. As a long-distance touring cyclist and occasional marathon runner, I don’t participate in many short-distance running events. I have many excuses for this: the price per mile is high compared to a marathon or a brevet; I’m not fast; and mostly, I prefer endurance stuff.

However, this year, Felkerino and I thought it would be a fun family activity to run the St. Patrick’s Day 5K , sponsored by Pacers. Felkerino recently took up running again to diversify his physical activities and see what it is people like so much about running.  We lined up together at the starting line, but agreed to run our own paces.

After two days knocked out with a cold, I wasn’t sure what to expect from my body and, having only run two other 5K events before in my life, I was confused about how to pace myself.

As I brooded about that, the race announcer said, “Irish you a good run!” (runners love their puns), and yelled “Start!” explaining that their air horn wasn’t working because of the sub-freezing temperatures.

Over 1,700 runners ventured onto the course. As I took my first steps, I resolved that my strategy would be “uncomfortable.” I would move at a pace faster than my whatevering run pace, but where I could still control my breathing and avoid panting. My goal was to use up all the snap in my body by the time I crossed the finish.

With no time to waste, I wove around a few people and enjoyed the rapid turnover of my feet. I was wearing my lightweight “Diva Pink” Brooks Pure Flow shoes, which I learned don’t suit me for marathon distances due to their lowish heel to toe drop, but are perfect for shorter runs like this.

My breath momentarily got away from me, and I regulated my speed back to uncomfortable. One mile done. How fast? I didn’t know since I hadn’t brought my watch.

The course travels from the Washington Monument down Independence Avenue and around the John Ericsson Memorial (or as Felkerino calls it, the Propeller Memorial, because Ericsson invented the screw propeller) to Ohio Drive. After circling the Jefferson, runners go over a gentle rise past the Bureau of Engraving and head back to the Washington Monument to complete their 3.1-mile loop.

Katy and Felkerino Felkerino St. Patrick's 5K Run

Sleet and snow peppered us intermittently and temperatures refused to rise above freezing, but winds were light and, all in all, running conditions were pleasant. No worries about overheating on this day.

The hardy volunteers along the course shouted encouraging words as we ran by. Without my watch I had no idea how fast I was moving, except to say uncomfortably fast. I was running a few feet behind a leggy eight-year-old girl who ended up winning the 1-10 Years Old Age Group (no kidding!) and I used her swinging pony tail as my bunny rabbit.

Mile marker two appeared before we circled the Jefferson Memorial and I still had no idea how fast my feet were going, except they were not as fast as that little girl. With about a half-mile left in the race my body started direct messaging me. “Walk. WALK.”

Queasiness gripped my stomach, and my legs didn’t feel so fast anymore. Soreness ripped my throat when I took a breath. My uncomfortable run plan had worked perfectly because I was feeling awful in several places.

I thought about walking, but couldn’t bear the thought of my fast footwork going to waste. Some people passed by, but others kept pace with me. The eight-year-old was still well within sight. Maybe despite going to pieces internally, I was doing okay on the outside. I couldn’t know for sure without a watch to time myself. (Note to self: next run, bring watch!)

A voice in my head shouted, “That’s how you’re supposed to feel! You’re supposed to feel bad if you run uncomfortably!”

It always surprises me when a voice in my head manifests and tells me things, but it seemed like sensible feedback. I continued to run as hard as I could, while I idly pondered whether I would use a different strategy for the next short run, one that didn’t include words like uncomfortable.

Felkerino St. Patrick's 5K Run

The gentle hill by the Bureau of Engraving appeared and I ignored the road’s incline working against me since it is an old friend I regularly encounter on my bike commute. After crossing Independence Avenue, I made for the finishers’ chute.

I heard the emcee say something about us coming in below an eight-minute pace and that motivated me to push the final meters as best I could on my fatigued legs. At 23 minutes and 55 seconds overall, I ran 7:42 per mile.

I’ve never “officially” run a 7:42 mile ever, and while it was certainly uncomfortable at the time, afterwards it felt awesome. And fast, which is a word I would never use to describe my running. The voice inside my head was right, after all. Uncomfortably fast feels uncomfortable, but it delivered good results.

I grabbed a bottle of water, my discomfort ebbed, and I stood at the spectators’ side of the finishers’ chute, expectantly awaiting Felkerino. He ran the remaining steps to the finish with gusto. His body was relaxed and he was smiling. Yeah, I was pretty proud.

Felkerino St. Patrick's 5K Run

We hung out with our BikeDC buddy, Katy, who had also completed the 5K and was preparing to put up a personal best on the 10K race (which she did. Go Katy!) that started immediately after the 5K ended.

As Felkerino and I walked the mile-plus home together, we discussed the miles we’d just done and tossed around future running plans. While I imagine that riding bikes together will always be our thing, the idea of participating in local runs together also appeals.

Many thanks to Pacers and the excellent volunteers for organizing the event and cheering us!

Blink and You’ll Miss It: Rediscovering Home

An unexpected trip to Iowa gave me renewed practice with the geographic vagueries I use when describing my childhood home.

North-central Iowa. Sixty miles from Des Moines. Seven miles off the interstate. Blink and you’ll miss it.

I spent years resenting my no stoplights, “never heard of it” hometown. I yearned for the urban life– shopping malls, restaurants, movie theaters, and people-filled streets.

Iowa mailboxInstead I was a hick, mired in a “town” covering less than one square mile, plopped in the monotony of the Midwest, a cornfield behind our house and another field just beyond the place across the street. A town where the only excitement was high school sports and, on a lesser scale, school plays and band and choir concerts.

“You can’t change where you’re from,” one of my high school friends moped to me once. I remember exchanging sad nods and sighs with her. I’ve never felt such discontent as I did during those teenage years in Iowa. I was thrashing about to become my true self, certain my hometown was condemning me to an ordinary and dull existence.

Trestle bridge Iowa

After high school, I left home in a huff, nose in the air, certain I hadn’t learned much about life or who I was during all those years spent surrounded by cornfields, except where I didn’t want to be. My small-town days were over, I declared to anyone who would listen.

That was over two decades ago. I imagine I had to go through those feelings and machinations in order to establish an independent life, or maybe I give myself too much credit, and I was purely a malcontent.

Regardless of the reasons for leaving rural Iowa, time away and years of crowded urban living brought me back to my hometown with a more receptive disposition.

Iowa running

My grown-up lifestyle as a runner also helped change my perception. I’m like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. I put on my running shoes. Click those heels together. I say “There’s no place like home,” and I mean it.

milkweed Iowa

A town with less than one mile to gravel roads entices, rather than traps. Open roads with no people on them are a gift to a runner. The wind blows into my body, only to be stifled when I intersect the occasional farmstead. Dried milkweed plants long ago gone to seed enthrall me with their delicate tenacity.

Iowa corn

Stray cornstalks somehow missed during the harvest bend from the wind’s persistent gusts, but refuse to keel over. Plants I considered weeds as a youth have transformed into wildflowers.

Iowa wildflower

Miles of road roll out in front of me. South of town, wind turbines churn through the air. Fields lie to the north. I hurtle myself into the westerly wind, but turn around and I’m nudged back toward town.

When I run in my hometown, I can’t believe all that I missed seeing while growing up there. I spent too much time focused on what home wasn’t, and couldn’t appreciate what it was. Maybe when people ask me about my hometown, I should change my description.

Iowa cornfield sunset

My hometown is a place where the milkweed pods are like snowflakes, each one slightly different from the other, worthy of examination. Wildflowers will always find a way bloom. The wind has personality, and corn husks flit across the gravel to greet you.

You can watch the sun’s every movement as it blankets the landscape in afternoon gold and incrementally drops its rays below the cornfield-laced horizon. You can be alone. You can be your true self.

Winter Challenge: The 2015 Errandonnee

Hey winter, you’re not the boss of me. It’s time for a March challenge designed for the utility cyclist with errands to do, even during cold winter days– the Errandonnee!


The tweet version of the Errandonnee is:

Errandonnee: Complete 12 errands in 12 days and ride a total of 30 miles by bike between March 5-16, 2015.

Since we must run errands, anyway, let’s take the opportunity to recognize the utility cycling we often do, but seldom celebrate.

The term “errandonnee” was developed in my friend Eric P.’s language laboratory and is a hybrid of “errands” and the French word “randonnee.”

Conceptually, these two words may not initially fit well together, but string 12 errands together for one long ride interrupted by sleep and other diversions, and you have… an errandonnee.

Errandonnee is almost as much fun to spell as Mississippi so how can you not want to participate in this challenge?



Below are the 9 Errandonnee categories (or controls) in order for you to plan and map your Errandonnee accordingly:

  • Personal Care
  • Personal Business
  • You carried WHAT on your bike?! (Thanks to Rachel C. for this suggestion!)
  • Arts and Entertainment
  • Non-Store Errand
  • Social Call (includes restaurants, coffee, and other social activities)
  • Work or Volunteering
  • Store (includes bike shop, grocery store, etc. You know, a store.)
  • Wild Card (surprise me!)
Ultrarunnergirl modeling the Errandonnee patch
Ultrarunnergirl modeling the Errandonnee patch

Of course, as this is a Chasing Mailboxes challenge I’ve added some rules. These may initially look like a lot, but I think after you read through them you will find this challenge to be quite manageable.

  1. Complete 12 errands from Thursday, March 5 through Monday, March 16, 2015.
  2. Complete the Errandonnee Control Card as you go (many thanks to @americancyclo for creating this!). You can save a copy of this control card for your use or make your own.
  3. There is no minimum length for each errand, but you must complete at least 30 total miles of bike riding over 12 days to successfully qualify for the Errandonnee. That’s an average of 2.5 miles per errand.
  4. Complete all 12 errands by the end of Monday, March 16. You can ride all 12 errands in one day, do one errand per day, or any other combination that works for you.
  5. You must complete errands from at least 7 of the 9 categories represented on the Errandonnee Control Card.
  6. Each category may be used a maximum of two times. For example, you may count a ride to work a total of two times.
  7. The Wild Card errand is for any trip you make that does not fall into any of the categories listed on the control card.
  8. If you carry a baked good for the “You carried WHAT on your bike?!” please provide a before and after photo.
  9. Please provide a short description of your Errandonnee bike (or bikes!).
  10. To evidence your errand, take one photo during your outing and submit at least one thing you learned or observed during your trip. Photos may be provided in the following ways:
    • If you have a blog, you can post them there and send me the links.
    • You may also use a site like flickr or Picasa and link me to your photos.
    • You can send me the links to your Errandonnee tweets.
    • Finally, I will accept 12 photos via email if that works best for you.
  11. There are no geographic limitations on the Errandonnee. OK, one limitation. Earth. All participants must be from somewhere on Earth.
  12. If the Errandonnee stresses you out or offends you or makes you feel bad or sad or competitive, you should stop. This is supposed to be fun and if you are not having fun then please do not continue because that is not what the Errandonnee is all about . That’s what family is for (KIDDING!).
  13. Deadline for Errandonnee submissions is midnight or so in your area, March 24, 2015.
  14. Submit all Errandonnee paperwork, including your Errandonnee Control Card to me at gersemalina “at” Send all qualifying rides together. That is, send me all 12 in one go, NOT ride 1, ride 2, etc.
  15. Everyone who successfully completes the Errandonnee is eligible for a prize. The premium will cost $4, which covers my costs. To purchase your prize, you may PayPal me at the gmail address above, or send your money by snail mail like grandma used to do (email me for my address). If you are an international entry, your premium will cost you $5 via PayPal. Please include a snail mail address in your submission so that I may send your Errandonnee swag to you. Note: prizes will be the same patch design as last year.

Heart sharrow

Also, please feel free to tweet or Instagram as you go using the hashtag #errandonnee. Remember, errandonnee is a word with triple double letters. Two r’s, two n’s, two e’s.

If you have a blog and errandeur, please let me know in the comments so I can put together an Errandonnee blogroll!

Additional questions?

I have an additional Q&A post here. If that still doesn’t address your question, ask in the comments of this post or send me an email.

The Errandonnee: March 5-16, 2015. It’s time to ride and get stuff done.

Run Cocoon

During a week of intense uncertainty and worry, the running routine has become an effort to keep emotions in check and preserve some aspect of normal.

I’ve been unexpectedly grateful for the cold snap in our area. Cold has scattered people to indoor havens, leaving a more conducive environment for rumination. The few people left outside concentrate on their own matters, allowing my feelings to roam in open air.

My running pace surges, heaves, and pauses in time with my thoughts, but only to a certain point. Too much shoegazing and the unsentimental cold scrapes my cheeks, or teams up with the wind to deliver an ice cream headache and yank on my ears. I get the message and pad off in search of the run cocoon.

Snow day run

The run cocoon is a blanket of shelter that I weave for myself with the continued movement of my limbs. My arms swing lightly as my feet rock back and forth. I bend my body into the headwind. Gradually, the ache in my forehead fades, hands grow warm under my wool mittens, and the head heats from the inside out.

My steady though inelegant gait wraps me in the run cocoon. Feet step along and emotions flow out. The coziness of my self-generated run cocoon contrasts against the frigid air and my worries and fears momentarily lessen.

Some people dislike the cold weather and retreat inside, but if they just ran around a bit they might find their own run cocoon and like it. I do. The cold reminds me it’s good to keep moving forward, even during less-than-ideal times.

Whatevering Runner

After a few hours spent contemplating Facebook and the gray of the day, I convince myself that I am letting something good slip away by not going outside for a few running miles. I shelled out all that money on winter gear, why not give it a chance to shine.

A clumsy sort-out of layers and I’m off. I plan to run as I feel and hope to end up with about six miles. The grating flip flop of my Brooks Glycerins accompanies me down the road.

Argh, these shoes. They sound like clown shoes. Fortunately for them, they are one of the more comfortable pairs of footwear I own or I’d rip them up. I turn on my headphones to dull their undignified noise and plop plop forward.

I run a couple of miles and see an area by the Potomac River that I recently determined warrants further exploration. I brought my camera just in case of a photo emergency.

Ice blankets the Potomac today. My exploration spot is calm, and mostly clear of garbage which, unfortunately is often not the case near this river. I awkwardly haul out my camera with my mittens and take a few photos.

Near the Tidal Basin and Potomac

I’ve gone two miles in 30 minutes. Ha ha ha! So much for the cold keeping me in motion. The ‘teens and low twenties of the day may not be able to inspire a faster pace, but my cold toes eventually send out warning signals that say it’s time to move along.

I bee bop alongside the river to my tunes. My mind is in one place, pondering some worrisome happenings of the last week, my feet solidly in another. My mind continues to process while acquiescing to the feet’s wishes to visit the National Mall. Hmmm, I didn’t even know they wanted to go there today.

Plop plop plop. I see a runner or two. We exchange smiles. Solidarity. Pass a few tourists, though not too many out today. It was so pretty by the Potomac. Feet, let’s go back there. We’ll have a tailwind. I veer away from the Mall. I am one with my noisy feet.

More sonorous shoe flip flopping, and my eyes rest on the straggly remains of some wildflowers near one of the willow trees I like to visit on my bike commutes. Photo time.

As I contort my body for the very best angle, I laugh. I have become a whatevering runner. Damn it, I have! I can’t even look at my Garmin watch because I can’t handle the truth on its face.

Winter Wildflowers along the Potomac

I wasn’t always a whatevering runner. I used to follow a basic training plan for all my runs, especially when I was gearing up for a marathon. Then I began hanging out with Felkerino, and learned the ways of the whatevering ride– ride to wherever you like or as far as you like. Ride some. Snap pictures. Stop for lunch. Ride some more. Have a coffee. Repeat.

The whatevering ride contaminated my running program, probably around the time when I developed some confidence in my running fitness and my ability to balance both running and riding/randonneuring.

Not every day is a whatevering run, but overall I would consider whatevering running my favorite because it allows me to savor the many elements of my environment, and it’s a truly freeing experience.

Potomac River Run

After my dead wildflower photo session, I resume my running. I watch the incoming snowstorm make its way down the river, blurring the Wilson Bridge and the control tower at National Airport. I remove my headphones to soak in the day’s sounds. Flurries skate across my path and begin their light tapping on the surfaces around them.

Along Hains Point a bald eagle in a tree notices me, and takes flight. Minutes later, the geese around the river are thrown into a tizzy for some reason I can’t figure out. I listen to their throaty squawkings among each other. It’s an impressive wall of sound.

I enjoy my plodding so much that I extend my planned jaunt from 6 to 11 miles. This dreary day in the ‘teens didn’t start out so great, but I guess all it needed was a whatevering run to change that around. Whatevering run success.

Errandonnee 2015 Preview

Errandonnee fans and scenesters! Cold and snow are here, and soon the Errandonnee will also join us.

Save the Dates: March 5 – March 16, 2015
12 days.
12 errands.
30 total miles.

Complete rules to follow in a couple weeks. The rulemaking panel is currently in negotiations to reduce them from 50 to a more manageable number.

In the meantime, here is a preview of the UPDATED Errandonnee categories to help put you in the Errandonnee mood. They have been revised based on previous participants’ feedback.

The intention behind these changes is to broaden the categories as well as update them to suit the diverse errand-drive life of errandeurs everywhere.

1. Personal Care
2. Personal Business
3. You carried WHAT on your bike?! (Thanks to Rachel C. for this suggestion!)
4. Arts and Entertainment
5. Non-Store Errand
6. Social Call (includes restaurants, coffee, and other social activities)
7. Work
8. Store (includes bike shop, grocery store, etc. You know, a store)
9. Wild Card (surprise me!)

Imagine the grand errandonneuring times that await us! Just a few more weeks.

Like Father, Like Daughter: Passing On The Running Routine

My dad ran every day when I was growing up. Weekdays, weekends, even when he wasn’t feeling so hot. Every day I saw my father configure his days around work, family, and his daily run.

Subconsciously, I memorized his running routine. Part the kitchen curtain to squint through the window at the outside thermometer. Crack the back door open to get a “real feel” for the temps. Test the wind’s direction to then choose a route that saved the tailwind until the latter half. Mentally calculate the day’s layering system. Dress and put on shoes. Run.

Upon return, my father would open up his desk calendar and note his overall miles for the day, the shoes he wore (so he could track the wear on them), and other details he found memorable.

Simultaneously comforting and eccentric, I observed variations of this running ritual for years.

Dad was a daily runner in a small Midwestern town during a time when such commitment to physical activity was fairly uncommon, and he was more than occasionally mocked for doing it. Not even public scorn would deter my dad from running.

Other kids would ask us what was the deal with our dad and his running. We didn’t know. We did not understand his dedication or why running mattered so much to him, but my sisters, mom, and I all respected it.

Over time, injuries took their toll and the run schedule relaxed to three or four times a week, mixed up with more walking. Dad still runs, just not like he used to do.

I don’t think most parents are aware of their constant influence over their children. They know that, as parents, they are their children’s primary teachers, but I don’t think parents can fully anticipate what aspects of their own being and lifestyle are sinking in and how. They just hope some of their good habits stick.


In recent years, I turned to running as one of my primary ways of maintaining and building fitness. My routine bears many similarities to that of my dad’s. I check the temperature on-line, and try to at least poke my head out a window before I layer up and pad away. If possible, I tackle the headwind first. I track my running miles in a paper calendar, although in a more streamlined fashion.

While I still don’t know exactly what Dad’s run routine meant to him then or what it means now, I have some suspicions. Running was his “me time,” one of the few times he could be alone with his thoughts, removed from the classroom or a house full of five people. It helped him stay trim and fit. Also a marathon runner, Dad met personal milestones through running.

He never pushed any of his kids to run, and I don’t know that Dad ever meant to teach me anything or inspire me through his running. But over time this puzzling devotion to running compelled me to try it myself. Eventually I was hooked on my own version of the run routine. Like father, like daughter.

The Randonap

Since beginning my glamorous randonneuring career in 2005, I’ve not only ridden in places I never imagined, but I’ve dozed in an assortment of spots I never before would have considered comfortable or conducive to sleeping.

Ride long enough, sleep little enough, and you too will find yourself mastering the strategy of the perfect randonap.

PBP Randonap

As the body pleads for rest, the eyes become sharper at identifying flat smooth surfaces the size of a person’s body. Benches, church parking lots, covered gazebos (particularly helpful if it’s raining), parks in a town center, and grass-lined ditches make for some prime randonap locations.

Because domestic events do not have the same number of people participating in them, it’s more difficult to spot someone in the midst of a randonap. During the 2011 edition of Paris Brest Paris, though, we saw plenty of people demonstrating their mad randonap skills.

randonap PBP

People could be found catching a few winks at controles and in the countryside. Many riders brought along mylar blankets to wrap themselves in while they slept. I called them baked potato people, while my friend Andréa gave them the title of human burritos.

Others didn’t sweat the mylar blanket. They identified their randonap location, dismounted their bikes, and closed their eyes for a brief snooze.

randonap on PBP

The randonap contingent was particular visible on the final day of PBP. As we rode along, randonappers peppered the countryside. House, cow, randonapper. Barn, pasture, bench, randonapper.

I’ve become a big fan of the randonap, especially during 1000K and 1200K events, even 600Ks. The reenergizing powers of shutting down for 15 minutes or so are remarkable, especially if you succeed in staking out a quiet open air location accompanied by a smooth piece of pavement or ground. Ahh, you randos know how good it feels!

randonap PBP

The randonap is kind of like camping, only with a brevet card in your hand, a bike parked nearby, the clock constantly ticking, and hundreds of miles crammed into your legs.

The theme of randonapping is also a good conversation starter among rando-friends, say, at the post-ride pizza party or after you’ve had some real sleep. What’s the strangest place you ever slept? Best randonap you ever had?

What are the best places for sneaking in a randonap? Don’t give away your secrets when you answer this last question. Craft your response carefully. You don’t want anyone stealing your most treasured randonap real estate.


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