Race Recap: The Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Half Marathon 2022

I can barely walk today. That about sums up how my body appreciates what I did on Saturday. I returned to Roanoke, VA to run the Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Half Marathon. Aptly dubbed America’s Toughest Road Race, the half course navigates over 2 mountains. Just like last year, I am more sore than I ever have been running any of the full marathons I’ve done, which leaves me in even more awe of the runners who completed the full marathon and the double marathon! The discomfort I feel leaves me feeling a bit embarrassed, since it was only a half! I’m hoping that by tomorrow, I will feel more normal.

Swag from the race!

The ambassador experience this year felt more robust than last year. I’m sure emerging from Covid helped! But in addition to free entry to the race of our choice, we got VIP access on race day, free tickets to see The Wallflowers for their Saturday night concert, a super nice quarter zip, free entry into the Slow-K Sunday, and lots of exposure on social media. I really appreciate all they did for us! With so many of us taking advantage of the VIP area, I got to meet several other ambassadors, including a local Richmond runner who is involved in the Richmond Road Runners Club! It’s a small world.

This weekend was great, though! My husband’s cousin, who lives just a couple of miles from the race start, was a gracious host. 

This is from the Roanoke Greenway looking toward Roanoke Memorial Hospital and Mill Mountain. Look at all of the gorgeous colors! I completed my final clinical experience to complete my PT degree at this hospital over 20 years ago!

I drove down Friday afternoon, making my way over Afton Mountain on 64, then to 81 all the way to the expo. It was a beautiful drive, with mountain views for days, and the colors of spring emerging: bright greens of new leaves, white flowers of the dogwood trees, and the stunning light purples of the red buds. The expo took advantage of this beauty, as it was outdoors. I really liked this setup because it felt more like a festival!

Weather for race day seemed a bit iffy all week, with rain predicted. I was mentally preparing myself to get wet. But, luckily, there was a dramatic shift in the forecast overnight, and the chance of rain plummeted to 15%. It never rained a drop! I’m positive it’s because I deliberately left my sunglasses in the car. I still had my Boco Gear visor, though! Can’t run without it!

The early morning view from the VIP area.

This year felt a bit more relaxed, as Covid restrictions in place last year were not necessary. Elmwood Park, the site of the finish line festival, was open to anyone.  Last year, only participants could enter the start/finish areas, and masks were expected. The VIP area was nice! It was great to have a special place to hang out and relax before and after the race, on the patio of the library overlooking the race festival. (If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know how much I love books, so the library felt like home.) We also had access to real bathrooms. All of which was much appreciated!

Before the start of the race with Richmond friends Tina, Selina, Misti, and Shannon!
The information gurus for the day!

I started the race with my friend Tina, but she was having a great day and left me after the first mile. We had met another runner at the start line named Anna, and I struck up a conversation with her. We ran together for a while, up and down Mill Mountain, through the Greenway, and then up Peakwood. I struggled so much up Peakwood mountain, and I don’t remember it feeling that tough last year. This is where my new friend had to take off. But after running down Peakwood, the course got easier. I was fueled bySport Beans and SaltStick fast chews, which I definitely needed!  It was humid, and it got a bit warmer than forecasted. In the end, my time was about the same as last year. 

Heading toward Mill Mountain in the first mile.

I’m still absolutely awestruck by the views on this course, the beautiful neighborhoods, and the crowd support. 

At the top of Mill Mountain. This is the Roanoke Star, which lights up at night.
The view coming down from Mill Mountain.
This mannequin was on the course last year, too, at around mile 11-12.

I really wanted to go to the concert Saturday night, but I was spent! I stayed in. 

My Slow-K mug!

Sunday morning was the Slow-K presented by Altra Running. I didn’t do this last year and then deeply regretted not going. The mug was amazing. This year’s mug was also cute! With coffee, donuts, music, Altra shoe demos, and goats! The goats were there to support this year’s race weekend theme, Be the Goat, and were super cute! And if you didn’t get your fill of donuts at the start, there were race officials on bikes delivering them along the route! The 5k walk was a great way to work out some of the stress from the day before. Tina and I struck up a conversation with a married couple who live in Roanoke. All in all, a highly pleasant way to start the day!

I returned home yesterday afternoon, making a pit stop in Farmville to have lunch with my daughter. The drive back via 460 was far less crowded than the interstates, albeit a bit longer. But it’s nice to be home! 

I’ll be back for another year of challenge for sure! The mountains are my happy place, so it was great to have an excuse to be among them for a weekend. For my runner friends, if you live anywhere near Roanoke, I highly recommend putting one of the Blue Ridge races on your bucket list. 

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Ok, runners! What races are on your bucket list? I’d love to hear about it!

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Comfort Movies: The Sound of Music

The closing song for the Elliot in the Morning show on DC101 is a punked up version of “So Long, Farewell.” It makes me chuckle every time I hear it. He even mashes up a bit of Ozzy Ozbourne in toward the end. It’s brilliant. And that’s a testament to the lasting influence of the great Rodgers and Hammerstein songwriting duo of the Broadway golden years. 

When I was in high school, our drama teacher, Ms. Quinn, loved all musicals Rodgers and Hammerstein. We became well versed in the music of Oklahoma, South Pacific, and the like. We never did recreate The Sound of Music, though. It seems that the first time she did the musical at the school, she felt it was the best they could do. We must have watched the tapes of the production at least 20 times during my 3 years of drama classes. And it was very good!

I have loved the movie ever since I was a very young child. In fact, one of the stories my parents love to tell about me is the one time I tried to run away, packing up this ugly, very 1970’s avocado green bag with some clothes, walking down the block, and returning home. I said I was running away to go live with Julie Andrews, only to find that she wasn’t home. I guess I’ve always thought the world created by this movie was hopeful and comforting. 

I looked forward to watching this movie on TV each holiday season, as did my parents. It was their favorite. So, of course it made sense that they would enable my love for it as well. 

When we finally had devices to play movies at home, the VHS tape quickly became a part of my collection. Does anyone else remember when longer movies were issued on two tapes? Later, I upgraded to DVD, and now Blu Ray. I even have the CD for sing-a-longs. 

I wouldn’t call my love for this movie an obsession, but it is among the movies that I classify as comfort movies. You know the ones. The movies you watch when you are feeling anxious or sick, and you just really need a familiar, good, uplifting story to restore your faith in humanity. My blu ray got lots of play time during the height of the pandemic.

My younger daughter just returned from a trip to Hampton for a robotics competition, and she was exhausted. She wanted to watch this movie on her first day home. I completely understood. It seems I’ve created the next generation of The Sound of Music fans.

What could be more badass than a family fighting fascism? Truly. Mixed with a tremendous love story, too. And maybe the songs are cheesy, but who cares? If it’s cool enough for Elliot in the Morning, well, that speaks volumes for its continued cultural significance. This movie brings me comfort and joy. And some days, that’s exactly what we need. 

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This movie is perhaps the reason why I became curious about learning more about World War II and the atrocities of the Holocaust, reading books like The Diary of Anne Frank. On bad days, I will watch this movie for comfort like it’s a weighted blanket. It’s currently streaming on Disney+.

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

It’s my 5 Year Vegan Anniversary!

This month marks 5 years as a vegan for me. In some ways, it seems like forever. In others, I can’t believe it’s been that long. I didn’t get here overnight, though. The evolution has been slow, from transitioning to pescatarian as a new college student, to vegetarian later in adulthood, then finally to full vegan in my 40’s. 

The week I chose to make the transition coincided with the Ragnar trail relay race. That weekend was, well, interesting. I packed lots of vegan-friendly items so I wouldn’t have to count on any provided food that may not accommodate my new diet. But I’m not sure if it was the adjustment to eating vegan, the miserably hot and humid weather more characteristic of August than April in Virginia, or the lack of sleep that made that weekend terrible, but it was. I did survive, obviously. And eating vegan became much easier. 

What have I learned about myself?

  • Going vegan wasn’t as challenging as I thought it would be, especially transitioning from vegetarian.
  • I don’t need cheese. Perhaps the food I miss most as a vegan, this item has few suitable non-dairy substitutions. I will say that my favorite is Kite Hill ricotta cheese, an almond milk based option. It’s wonderfully creamy, and delicious with pasta or on pizza. Unmoo vegan mozzarella, which I’ve had on pizza from local favorite The Hop Craft Pizza and Beer, is another favorite.
  • I can still do amazing athletic things without dairy and eggs. Last year, I ran my first ultramarathon!
  • If it’s possible, I’ve developed more compassion for other living beings. 
My “medal” for finishing the Freight Train 50k.

I went vegetarian for the animals, but vegan for my health. So, how has my health improved? 

  • Eating so many plants with lots of fiber means I never get constipated. Really. 
  • I still haven’t had a major respiratory illness since going vegan. I used to get bronchitis 2-3 times a year. 
  • My cholesterol is lower than ever: 142. 
  • My skin is the clearest it’s ever been. 
  • I look younger than I am. My patients all think I’m in my 20’s, and I get carded on a regular basis, especially if my kids aren’t with me! I’m pushing 50…
During a run last year.

Continued challenges:

  • Sometimes I feel like a burden when going out to eat. Since I have the most restrictions on my diet, my family and friends feel obligated to choose someplace that has vegan options. 
  • Speaking of dining out, I can tell if my food isn’t vegan or has been contaminated. My stomach will let me know. I keep antacids on hand for cases like these, and don’t travel without them.
  • Speaking of travel, it’s really difficult to find places to eat on the road, especially since my husband is not a fan of Taco Bell! I always travel with snacks. 
The vegan pho at my favorite local Vietnamese restaurant.

Even with the challenges, the benefits of a vegan diet outweigh the difficulties for me. I know I’m healthier eating this way. I also love that I’m reducing my impact on the environment. Although preserving the planet may be a lost cause at this point, I’d like to think that vegans might just save the world after all.

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Want to know more about going vegan? Look at my post earlier this year about Veganuary, where I’ve linked vegan recipes and all of my grocery store tours for vegans!

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy. 

Shades of Gray: Freedom of Speech. Where do we draw the line?

In the landscape of ridiculousness that we see in our nation lately, one would think that a quiet county in a more rural part of the metro Richmond area would stay just that way: quiet. But someone saw fit to make some noise in our little slice of RVA. It’s really just agitators who want attention. The fact that I’m writing this post is nonsensical in that it gives these folks what they want most. Alas, I present my case:

My daughter called me as soon as she got to school Friday morning. It seems that our regional agitator, who has been making his rounds to all of the area high schools, finally landed at ours. He and his buddy, both older white men, held signs, one with “F*ck Biden” on one side and an image of an aborted fetus on the other, and the other sign simply saying “Infowars.” Today, they also had a camera, and were apparently filming any of the students who chose to heckle them. (If you don’t know, Infowars is the far right “news media” organization founded by Alex Jones that pushes conspiracy theories. They have been banned by all legitimate social media websites for the level of misinformation they peddle.) 

How is this legal, you might ask, for these men to be on school property? Well, it literally pushes the boundaries of what is lawful. Confirmed by the school, protesting on the easement, that is, the 10’ border between the school grounds and the road, is perfectly legal, no matter how vulgar the signs. “Our hands are tied,” stated the school administration. It’s the equivalent of preschool children who are asked to not touch each other, and the teacher yells at Johnny because he’s got his finger an inch from Sally’s arm, ready to poke her, but insists that since he’s not actually touching her, he’s not breaking the teacher’s rules. Sigh. 

The school would never allow such language or images on school grounds. So why is the easement in play? Our schools are evolving into a political playground. 

The recent school board vote to allow a far right religious organization to review our public school system’s policies on equity is a signal, whether the board will admit it or not. It’s administrative choices like these that help to embolden these agitators. The leaders of our county, not only in this vote, but also in allowing things like the display of non-campaign related political signs on our roadways, with school board members proclaiming our county as “God’s country,” creates a culture that makes folks like this think our county is a safe space for them to spew hate. I’m in support of freedom of speech, but where do we draw the line? When does free speech become hate speech?

The same school system that claims their “hands are tied” suspended several students for 2-4 days last week for participating in a peaceful protest of that very school board decision, for merely sticking up for their trans and non-binary peers. It seems hypocritical to me, especially when other counties and cities with similar protests on the same day respected the rights of students to participate in civil discourse, as it is a lesson in how we participate in American democracy. 

Why is one action that spreads hate and misinformation lawful, and the other protest, an action of love and respect for their fellow students, deemed so despicable that the students are suspended? Are we telling our kids that it’s fine for grownups to protest, no matter how vulgar the gesture, but not them? Students don’t have equal rights in protesting?

If we can’t arrive at answers to these questions that keep our students safe and free from harassment by strangers while on school grounds, while also allowing our students avenues for civil discourse, maybe we need to change the laws. 

This opens up a whole mess of shades of gray. What is right? What is wrong? I say, it’s right for our kids to protest on school grounds about a violation of their rights or the rights of their peers, especially in their environment. The line gets drawn for me when strangers who don’t even live in our community come to the school for the sole purpose to agitate and intimidate. My child did not need to see the images she saw as she started her school day. It left her feeling vulnerable, especially knowing that these men had cameras rolling. Our kids deserve protection from people like this in a place that is supposed to be safe: their public school. This is yet another example of someone who has chosen to chip away at social norms and decency, simply for a few moments of fame, and in this case at the expense of school children. Just because something is “legal” doesn’t make it “right,” or even decent. Sigh.

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Is this like the internet trolls? If we ignore them, will they go away? We shall see. I don’t have hope, though.

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

About Writing

When I was a kid, I had dreams of writing an epic novel. It was mostly modeled after other beloved books I have read, but I did begin a story. One of my teachers in middle school took note, and she nominated my best friend and me to attend a young writer’s conference. I don’t remember much of the event, but I do remember where it was: Hampton Institute, now Hampton University. It was my first time on the historic campus, even though I lived in the next city. 

I was a decent enough writer that in college, my English 101 professor awarded me the only A in his class that semester. I learned later that he used my research paper as one of 5 or so examples of the best work over his years of teaching. That’s a high honor in my book! He now lives on the Outer Banks, where my family vacations once a year, and I reached out to him during our last visit. Never in my college career did I imagine meeting up with one of my professors for a drink one day, but that’s what happened! We caught up over a nice glass of wine.  

The Blog

I’m by no means an expert writer. I’m simply a blogger. Anne the Vegan is not my first blog. It is the one I’ve kept going with the most success, however. I just realized one day that I had so much to say! I wanted a place to share about running, living vegan, new recipes, and overall wellness. This journey has led to being published in a real print format publication! And I’m now also the assistant editor of the same journal: Miles and Minutes, the quarterly magazine for the Richmond Road Runners Club. I’m having lots of fun learning from my editor and helping to shape new issues. 

The first publication where my writing appeared!

Writing is a process, but creating content on a regular basis has made this easier. Even if it’s not necessarily true that practice makes perfect, repetition does lend itself to a more efficient, less intimidating process. It has also helped me to provide some tactics to my own daughters as they work to meet multiple writing deadlines all at once when completing their own schoolwork. 

I have a few ongoing series of topics that I like to cover. You might be familiar with my grocery tour series for vegans, vegan restaurant reviews, and race recaps. Those posts now have a kind of formula and are typically easy to produce. Sharing original vegan recipes are also regular posts. During marathon training season, I may produce articles related to topics my coaching group needs to teach our runners! These typically require a bit more work and research. Others, especially recently, are simply commentary on current events that I just can’t keep silent about. 

The Process

Sometimes I have fleeting thoughts that need to rest somewhere. I can be doing the most mundane things, like grocery shopping, or exhausting, like going for a run, or trying to solve all the world’s problems during the witching hour in the middle of the night when insomnia strikes, and I’ll think of something seemingly profound. I love the notes app on my phone for this. I promise myself that I’ll remember that really profound statement that came to me out of nowhere, only to realize later that it has simply vanished from my brain. I used to carry notebooks with me. But now, these fleeting thoughts find a place on my phone. It’s a relief to have a place to keep these thoughts safe. My mind can be free to create new thoughts rather than ruminating; thoughts that often become the jump start of a new article or blog post. 

Typically I begin the writing process with what I refer to as “word vomit.” I simply drop a bunch of thoughts on the screen. They may or may not be in paragraph form. Once all the thoughts are there, I may leave them for a bit and do something else. Then the editing begins. Sometimes it’s simply choosing better words to express my thoughts. Sometimes it’s taking pieces out to make my thoughts more concise. Sometimes it’s adding research to support my opinions. 

Reflection

Sometimes I look back on my past work and become hypercritical. It’s like any art. In the process, it looks great; upon completion, it may seem like some of your best work. But given time and distance from it, you look back and think… wow. This is really garbage. But is it really terrible? Or have I just grown? I’ll let you be the judge of that. 

Anyway, I hope that my blog has been a valuable source of information and a place to feel like we are not alone in this world. I sincerely appreciate the support from my readers. And I equally appreciate your patience as I have used this medium as an outlet for my own personal traumas and disgruntled feelings. You may have come here for the vegan and running content. If you have stayed despite my ramblings about current events, I thank you. And maybe one day, I’ll write something worthy of a major publication. That’s my goal!

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Thanks for reading and for your support!

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy. 

Pho 95 Hai Ky Mi Gia: Vegan Restaurant Review

My daughter needed new shoes. Like, seriously. Her feet were on fire from standing up all day at a robotics competition the day before, where she was co-lead for building and driving the bot. (They won, by the way, for the first time in her school’s history!) But her poor feet just needed something with better support than her years old tennis shoes. This meant a visit to my favorite local running store, Lucky Road Run Shop in Willow Lawn. 

When we pulled into the parking lot, the first thing my daughter noticed was the sign for Pho 95, as pho is one of her favorite things. “Moooommmmm!!! Can we go?” Well, I obliged after she chose a stunning pair of Hokas. That makes 3 out of 4 of our family Hoka fans! (I solemnly swear that I did not make her choose the Hokas!) Now that she won’t grow anymore, I don’t mind investing in quality shoes. 

Willow Lawn is an area of Richmond that historically has had challenges keeping restaurants open. There are currently 2 empty restaurants in the shopping center, sadly. Zoe’s Kitchen was recently taken over by CAVA (an upgrade, in my opinion), with a relatively new IHOP, Chopt, Tropical Smoothie, 5 Guys, and Panera as the main restaurants remaining. So this mom and pop Vietnamese restaurant is a welcome addition to the long list of national chains there. 

The vegetarian menu at Pho 95.

The restaurant itself is small, but the menu is large, diverse, and omni-friendly, including a multiple option vegetarian menu, which, in the absence of eggs or egg noodles, is essentially vegan. The staff were very friendly and kept our water glasses full. I chose #64: a dish with tofu, vegetables, fried rice noodles, and a brown sauce. I did request no fish sauce, as sometimes this gets sneaked into sauces despite a dish’s vegetarian designation. 

My dinner choice at Pho 95.

I was not disappointed. This dish was beautifully presented as well as delicious! The fried rice noodles kind of reminded me of a hash brown patty, but better. The sauce was very flavorful, as were the tofu strips. The veggies were perfectly stir-fried. I would definitely get this dish again. It was so good that my omnivorous daughter regretted her pho order.

I’m always in favor of supporting a local business over a national chain. So if you find yourself shopping in Willow Lawn, check out this amazing Vietnamese restaurant! I’m already contemplating what dish I will try on my next visit!

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Do you love Asian food, too? The first time I tried tofu was in an Asian restaurant, just because I knew that the chefs would cook it well. Although my skills with this vegan staple have vastly improved in my vegan evolution, they still do a better job than me!

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

It’s Getting Hot in Here! (Tips for Summer Running: Part 1)

If the song by Nelly is in your head right now, I’m sorry. Or maybe I’m not?

I set out for a run last week in less than favorable conditions. Temps were in the upper 60’s in the morning with a humidity of 84%. Yikes! It’s still March! But Mother Nature was just giving us a preview of what’s to come. I just thought we’d have more time with crisp early spring weather than this! 

The heat and humidity that are the curse of summer in most of the mid-Atlantic and Southern states can be brutal. Training for many an autumn marathon through these hot summer months taught me a few tricks for enduring the conditions, and it centers around hydration and electrolyte replacement. 

Let’s talk about hydration first. As I’m sure you are aware, by the time you are thirsty, you are already becoming dehydrated. It’s really essential in these conditions to carry a vessel of some kind for water. I’ve used all the main types, and I’ll break them down for you, plus the advantages and disadvantages of each one. 

Nathan handheld hydration bottle.

Handheld Hydration Bottles

  • These are a great option for shorter distances. This is what I carry for most runs 6 miles or less.
  • They are easily refillable. Pack with ice on hot days! If you are running with a supported training team which provides aid stations for their group runs, this simple vessel is still an adequate option even for double digit runs.
  • Not a great option for longer distances on non-supported runs, especially if you would like to have both water and an electrolyte replacement drink with you. It’s only one vessel!
  • Typically has a pocket to hold your phone and/or a key. May not accommodate larger phones. 
  • Fairly affordable, and a great investment for a new runner.
Nathan hydration belt.

Hydration Belts

  • Another great option for shorter runs, but also for mid-range distances. I’ve made it up to 10 miles using a belt with 2 bottles without refilling. This is what I have used for every marathon I have run thus far, but not for my first ultramarathon.
  • Many of these have 2 bottles. This gives you the option to have water in one and an electrolyte/carb replacement in the other. 
  • Bottles are also easily refillable at aid stations. Pack with ice on really hot days!
  • Typically also have a pocket to hold small personal items, like your phone, car key, and nutrition. 
  • These do tend to slip a bit, so it takes some time during the run to make adjustments before the belt settles, which is a process that has to be repeated every time you access the pocket, it seems. 
Nathan hydration pack.

Hydration Packs

  • These are, by far, the most expensive option. 
  • Best for long runs, especially double digits, and even more especially for unsupported long runs. 
  • It’s a great idea to try these on in person, as there are many manufacturers, and they are all cut differently. 
  • Most provide lots of storage for your phone, an additional bottle if you need an electrolyte/carb replacement as well, and nutrition.
  • I have recently invested in my own hydration pack, and I’m pleased with my purchase thus far. Just like my other hydration gear, mine is made by Nathan.
  • These typically come with a bladder that you must care for to keep it clean. This is why I only use water in the bladder, to reduce the likelihood of mold growth. 

Upkeep

These hydration vessels require some upkeep. Nathan bottles are top rack dishwasher safe, but if you have left your bottles for a while with remnants of any product containing sugar, you may find some slime and possibly unwelcome growth in the bottom of your bottles. This may require some extra attention! 

I have two solutions for this:

  • Rice method. Take about a tablespoon of dry rice, and add it to the bottle. Add a very small drop of dishwashing liquid and about an inch or so of water, put the lid on, and shake vigorously for about 30 seconds. This should clear most of the mold and residue. 
  • Bottle scrubbies. I found a set of these in the dollar section of Target last year, and I wish I’d bought more! Although they are no longer at Target, they are available for a great price at Kroger. These are basically mini-sponges with a marble inside. Add these to your bottles with a bit of water and a drop of dishwashing liquid, and shake. Works even better than the rice, and easier, too. 

Caring for a bladder from a hydration pack includes emptying it, including the line leading to the bite valve, after each use. Try to keep the bladder bag open so that it can dry out between uses. 

Another tip with using a bladder: to avoid sloshing, before loading the bladder into your pack, turn the bag upside down, and draw the air out through the bite valve until the water is “sealed.” Place the bladder in your vest like usual. Voila! No more sloshing.

Electrolyte Replacements

As important as it is to replace water, it’s equally important to replace the salts that you also sweat out during a run. Replacing only water will create an electrolyte imbalance called hyponatremia, causing muscle cramping, fatigue, and headache most typically. If these electrolytes are not replaced, more serious symptoms can develop, including vomiting and confusion, or worse.

The sports nutrition market is saturated with electrolyte replacements (pun intended!), from old school Gatorade, to Pedialyte, to Tailwind. Some also have carbs as well. But what’s right for your running buddy may not be right for you. It takes some experimentation using these during runs to find products that settle with your GI system. 

My favorite electrolyte replacement is SaltStick. I personally love their Fastchews. It’s not a drink. It’s a chewable tablet, and comes in several flavors. My favorite is lemon-lime! All but the tart orange are vegan. So easily portable, they basically taste like sweet tarts! Taking 1-2 every 30 minutes or so on a run helps prevent muscle cramps for me. If you aren’t a fan of sweet tarts, SaltStick also makes electrolyte replacements in capsule form; each batch is banned substance tested and are race ready, approved for use in elite competition. I’m biased, since I’m an ambassador, but I only rep products I love and use myself!

A pack of Fastchews in the pocket of my Nathan hydration pack!

Get ready for summer!

As Mother Nature thaws out from winter and ramps up to summer temps, make sure you are ready for warmer runs! If you already own hydration vessels, make sure they are in good condition, do some deep cleaning, and upgrade if you need to. If you have a marathon or ultramarathon in your race plans this year, and you don’t already have a hydration pack, now is the time to invest so you can practice using it long before race day. And if you haven’t found your perfect electrolyte replacement yet, shorter training runs in the beginning of fall marathon training season is the perfect time to figure out what works. Happy running!

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Will you be training through the summer for big fall races? I’d love to hear about your race plans!

What’s your favorite hydration vessel? 

If you are interested in trying SaltStick products, I’ve got a discount code for you! Go to their website here, and use Anne2022 for 20% off!

I’m contemplating writing a part 2 on running in the heat and humidity, discussing best gear to wear and anti-chafing! 

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Notes from a Caregiver

“No!”

This was my father-in-law’s response when I walked him to the car the other day, and I asked him to get in. My father-in-law, despite his Parkinson’s induced dementia, is still pretty congenial, so this reaction took me aback. 

As he paused to process how to get in the car, I realized that the last 3 times he did so, it was to visit the doctor, with one of these appointments involving several injections. And then I understood his reaction. 

“It’s OK. Today is a spa day! We’re going to get your haircut. No doctors or needles today!,” I explained.

He gave me a little giggle, cracked his usual smile, and complied with getting in the car. 

My mother-in-law needs help getting him to appointments now. Parkinson’s not only robs you of mobility due to tremors and rigidity, but also of motor planning and problem solving skills. Your brain plays all kinds of tricks on you, making changes in flooring seem like holes, and turning on your feet a somehow impossible achievement. Performance with simple tasks like standing up are unreliable; sometimes it happens with little help, sometimes it takes all you have to lift him up. Tasks that should take 5 minutes may take 30. My father-in-law also has the added issues of cognitive decline and difficulty managing his secretions. We are quickly approaching the time of needing a wheelchair for adventures outside of the house.

There are multiple tricks I’ve learned over my years as a physical therapist to help break these motor planning pauses, these festinations. Counting out loud. Pausing to “reset.” Verbal cues to “take big steps.” Subtle tactile cues to weight shift. These all work to some degree.

But the mental challenge of not wanting to go to another doctor this week? That I can’t help. I wish I could make him better. He deserves more. These are the days that I wish I had a magic wand to take it all away. Sigh…

One thing is certain, though. Somewhere in that brain ravaged by Parkinson’s is a guy who still knows how to set boundaries. And that’s a good thing.

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Are you caring for a loved one with an illness or disability? I’d love to hear about your experience. 

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Religious Freedom? Or Freedom from Religion?

I think I’ve discussed a bit about the goings on in my county, especially in regard to our school board. They recently voted 4-3 to allow a Christian group known for discriminatory practices to review our equity policy in our public schools. The only member to reply to my initial email with concerns was excited that the Alliance Defending Freedom would provide this legal advice for free. Well, we all know that nothing in life is free, especially in this transactional society in which we live. The ADF is the group that successfully defended a bakery who wished to not make wedding cakes for same sex couples, based on religious freedom; this case made it to the Supreme Court. They have been classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. 

It’s interesting to me that when you search Southern Poverty Law Center via Google, the first thing that pops up is an ad by ADF. It warns, in sharp language, that SPLC is not a civil rights law practice, but a “partisan political group.” Basically, projecting the accusations. Sigh. I wonder how they managed to do that? ($$$) Further exploration down the rabbit hole will lead to a number of articles slandering the SPLC. But this is not the only civil rights organization expressing concern with the ADF. 

The Fight

My community is fighting back. We are getting organized. The ACLU, Equity VA, the NAACP, and many local LGBTQ rights orgnaizations are working with other concerned citizens to prevent evangelical Christians from influencing our laws. One of the first organized actions was an email blast to both our school board and our board of supervisors. 

In Hanover, we maintain the antiquated system of school boards appointed by our supervisors; we do not hold free elections for these offices. This is a method of preserving the systemic racism policies that continue to exist in the United States, ensuring that only voices which echo the views of the leadership in the county will shape school policies. Our school board is mostly older, white men.

One of our supervisors was less than impressed by our email blast, sending out a canned reply that essentially expressed that he received the same message from several constituents, rendering it meaningless. He also discounted the notion that ADF is a hate group, noting that by his (apparently) limited research, the only organization who deems it so is the SPLC. Which, as you now know, has an ad slandering it by the ADF as its Google introduction. 

Here was my response:

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Dear Supervisor:

I’m happy that there are so many other concerned citizens of Hanover. Maybe these emails will open your mind to the notion that not everyone sees this “free” legal advice as beneficial. They, like me, are witnessing the flagrant dismissal of our nation’s constitution. 

In life, there are many shades of gray. In this, however, there is only right or wrong through the lens of the Constitution, which outlines the separation of church and state in the Establishment Clause of the first amendment. It is simply wrong to allow a religious organization to advise our local government in public school policy. Believe it or not, not everyone in Hanover is Christian, or at least the type of Christianity of the ADF. 

The decision of our school board to approve of a religious group, especially one known to discriminate against LGBTQ citizens, to be involved in the development of policy for our public schools is a barometer for the health of our democracy. And Hanover County is failing.

As a healthcare provider, I’ve worked through the pandemic to help victims of Covid fight to get their lives back. And, yes, I’ve lost some patients along the way, which is heartbreaking. I’m exhausted, like many others in my profession. I’m also tired of fighting the battle of misinformation. Now I also have to bear witness to the dismantling of our respect for our fellow humans. While I fight to protect, you are fighting to reserve your right to do harm.

I request that you reconsider this decision by the school board.

Thank you for addressing my concerns.

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In addition to our email campaign, showing up to school board meetings, and organizing with the ACLU, two of our high schools staged a walkout in support of transgender and nonbinary students’ rights on Friday. Schools in other Virginia counties also participated. Although some counties were supportive of the brief measure for students to voice their concerns, my county sent an email to parents noting that this action would be a violation of code, and that students would be punished appropriately, leaving no room for civil discourse. This is Hanover. 

Nature vs. Nurture

My county leadership seemingly fails to recognize that we can’t choose our biology at birth. How we are wired for sexual orientation, gender identity, our skin color, our intelligence level; these are not choices. We can, and should, however, choose to treat our fellow humans with dignity and respect. This includes recognizing students by their preferred pronouns, not discriminating based on sexual orientation, by not doling out unequal punishment to students based on multiple factors (like socioeconomic status and skin color), and believing children when they report bullying or assault. 

As a biology major, I spent a fair amount of time pondering the question of nature vs. nurture. We are all born with a genetic code that includes our natural tendencies, including our personalities. And although we can’t change nature, we can nurture values and behaviors that promote respect. Sometimes the very organizations that society views as wholesome and positively influential in shaping values are anything but. This includes religious organizations. And religion has no business being a part of a public education. 

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you may recall that I am a product of a Southern Baptist upbringing. And although my home church was and continues to be moderate, in fact leaving the Southern Baptist Convention entirely, and my own parents did not echo some of the harmful rhetoric I was taught in church, there are still some issues from this influence that are harmful to me to this day; scars that will remain a part of my very soul. 

I was exposed to more fundamentalist teachings at other churches that I attended with friends, and I couldn’t believe that the church would teach children that homosexuality is a choice, like a curse. Even as a young teenager, this belief struck me as fundamentally wrong. I guess I’ve always been a student of science. 

I also refuse to subscribe to the evangelical Christian notion that people are born bad, becoming “good” only by the grace of salvation through Christ. Also not true, which is a lesson I had to teach to my then 4 year old after attending a neighborhood church’s event for children. 

Keep It Simple

In my arguments with the county government, I’m trying to keep it simple, reiterating that the separation of church and state is one of the stones in the foundation of our nation. My views, and their views about religion, are of no matter, as long as religion does not influence our policies. This is the most basic argument in this fight for social justice.

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As for my email response, I’ve received nothing back. 

These grumblings at the school board level are happening all over the country, as evangelical/Christian Nationalist groups are grasping to control our laws, mostly successfully. We are watching the pillars of democracy crumble as reproductive rights are stripped, as voting rights are dismantled, as LGBTQ rights are blocked. I fear this is just the beginning. As I have stated in the past, if we sit back and watch these injustices unfold, doing nothing, then apathy wins. This is not the time for apathy. We need to speak up, no matter how small we think our voices sound. 

One action you can take? Google the Southern Poverty Law Center yourself. If you see the ad from the ADF pop up first, click on the three dots in the upper right of the ad. Report the ad as “violates other Google ad policies.” In the next step, report it as “misleading or spam.” In additional details, put whatever you like, but you can simply say “slander.”

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Sports Backers Half Marathon 2022: Race Recap

Who doesn’t love a hometown race? I mean, you get to sleep in your own bed, you typically see lots of friends on the course, and you are also usually familiar with the organization putting on the race! And another bonus: if you are a procrastinator signing up for races like me, there’s far less planning with regard to places to stay. 

Sports Backers put on their newish format, semi-pandemic cautious, multi-day race again this year. It’s just casual enough to not create too much anxiety about race day, but with distances from a 5k to a full marathon, it’s serious enough to suit any runner! You may remember that I ran the half marathon last year with my best friend. We are so lucky in the Richmond area to have the Capital Trail, a multi-use path that connects downtown Richmond to Jamestown, and this race uses portions of this path, beginning and ending in Dorey Park in Henrico County. The course was scheduled to be open Friday through Sunday, 7-3. 

With friends and fellow MTT coaches Malerie, Kelly, and Donnie before the race. You can see the start/finish line behind us.

Mother Nature had some wicked plans for this race weekend, however. Although Friday was gorgeous, sunny and in the 60’s with a warm breeze, Saturday was a typical Virginia late winter/early spring temper tantrum. I was awakened early that morning by thunder, lightning, heavy rain, and howling wind. The temperature was in the upper 50’s when I left for work Saturday. And although I took every patient who desired to do so outside on Friday, I wouldn’t have dreamed of it Saturday. By mid-morning, temperatures had dropped into the 30’s, and it was snowing. We got almost 2 inches of snow by the time the storm was done! Sports Backers wisely closed the course on Saturday, as parts of the trail are prone to flooding. Sunday was sunny, but the high was only in the 40’s, with temps at 7am in the teens! 

Running over one of the many bridges on the course, covered in snow!

Well, you already know that I worked Friday and Saturday, leaving Sunday as my only choice for my run, with the added bonus of springing forward for daylight savings time. (Who needs sleep, right?) Plus, my friends wanted to run that day, too, as soon as the course opened. But, wow! It was cold! Sports Backers actually had to wait to open the course until it was light enough that you could see all of the black ice. All of the bridges were covered in snow. And it was a really good idea that the course was closed Saturday. We ran through sections that had clearly been under water the day before. 

The half course was essentially two out and back routes, beginning with a 5k that headed east on the trail, followed by a 5 mile out and back west from Dorey Park. 

The giant bike sculpture at 4 Mile Creek Park, a popular start/finish point for cyclists on the trail.

Overall, I had fun with my friends, and having run this course before, I knew what to expect. There was water and Nuun available every couple of miles with adjacent porta-potties, too, as last year. What was new were the ice patches and debris from the storm. Just enough to keep things interesting. We walked the ice patches, since none of us were super interested in falling. Safety first!

The swag was great! The shirt was a pretty turquoise blue technical tank, and the medal was substantial. Both designs were inspired by the trail itself. We also received a branded headband!

The race swag!

I’ve heard a rumor that this race might not happen again next year. But I do appreciate this open style of race, allowing you to pick your race time, stalk the weather for the best conditions, and choose your day to run. What’s not to love about that? Sports Backers once again put on a great event!

After the race at the finish line.

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Have you run any spring races yet? This is my first of two half marathons this spring. Up next? The Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon in Roanoke. 

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.