Garden Chronicles 2021: Part 2

So I mentioned in my last gardening post that my daughters really wanted a butterfly garden this year. We did a little research about what plants would welcome pollinators in our area, especially butterflies, and I bought a few plants that fit the bill. (The photo above is of a wild mountain laurel now blooming in my yard.)

What did we buy?

  • Butterfly bush
  • Spanish lavender
  • Milkweed (from our local farmers market)
  • Chamomile (from our local feed and seed store)
  • Mixed sunflower seeds

Some of the plants we wanted to buy were not easily available. I am super happy that we lucked into finding some milkweed! I hope we will host some monarchs in the coming years!

Milkweed plant

As is true to fashion for teenagers, this ended up becoming an all mom effort to install the garden. It took me a while to figure out where to actually put it. I wanted it to be near our vegetable gardens, but in a place easy to plant. I ended up making a bed with an existing peony bush, and I think it turned out well! 

Spanish lavender

To finish off the garden, I harvested some larger rocks from our gravel driveway, making a border with these. I’m still debating about whether to fill in with pea gravel to keep the weeds down. We’ll see how the garden evolves!

Our new butterfly garden!

Do you have a special area in your yard devoted to pollinators? I’d love to hear about it! As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy. 

Vegan Protein Bars: Are they a necessary evil? I review a few for you.

I recently met with a dietitian to determine if there was some other cause to my pandemic weight gain rather than pure forced laziness on my part. Well, it turns out that I’m mildly insulin resistant thanks to my body shifting toward menopause. Yay. 

I was sufficiently underwhelmed by her advice, however, as it was clear she really didn’t know how to deal with anyone who chooses a plant based diet. The summation of her analysis is that I need more protein and less carbs. Sigh. 

I hesitate to use an app like MyFitnessPal because when I did this in the past, I got a bit obsessive with it. I would “buy” treats with activity to cancel out the calories. It was a bad pattern to develop. The dietitian understood this, so instead of obsessing over macros, she suggested that I just aim for at least 75g of protein a day to support my running. That seems doable. However, adding up what I actually consumed in protein in a day really opened my eyes to the lack of it in my diet, considering all that I ask of my body in a week with training. This revelation made me ask my fellow vegan runners who are high performers how much protein they consume each day. Most of them are are in the 100g range. 

So, what’s a vegan to do? In a pinch, the obvious answer is to use supplements in the form of protein bars and powders, which my RD recommends. I really hate relying on these, but, alas, these are simple ways to consume more protein, especially if you’re busy. The market is saturated with these, so it’s easy to get overwhelmed. You must read labels, too. Just because a bar says it’s plant based doesn’t mean it’s vegan. And some have a TON of added sugar. Still others have lots of fiber, so it’s important to time these properly! 

I consider these bars to fall in two categories: snack and recovery, depending on protein levels. Also, the higher the protein, the denser the bar, it seems. Here’s what I’ve tried thus far:

My top 3 vegan snack protein bars

Snack bars, which have under 20g protein:

One Plant

  • This bar is on the low end of protein with 12g which is derived from peas, rice, and nuts, but with a stunning 1g of sugar! It has the typical dense, chewy texture of a protein bar, but is also on the thin side, which makes the yummy chocolate coating stand out on the chocolate peanut butter flavor bar. So if you are looking for a non-soy based bar in this range of protein level, this is a good choice. I would buy this one again. Be aware that this company also produces products that are not vegan, so read your labels! Available at Kroger, Whole Foods, and Amazon. I would rate this at the top of my list for a snack protein bar, both for taste and low sugar content. 

Think Plant-Based Protein Bars

  • These have a lighter texture than most protein bars. They are almost fluffy, like a dense Milky Way bar as its base, and are covered in chocolate. These are available at Kroger, Whole Foods, and Amazon. They make two vegan flavors: Sea Salt Almond Chocolate and Chocolate Mint. I found both very tasty, but of the two the chocolate mint is my favorite. They are on the lower end of protein levels with 13 grams each. Low in sugar with only 5 grams, they make a good snack when I’m doing my afternoon documentation at work. I will definitely buy these again. Note that this brand also makes non-vegan bars, so check your labels! I’m rating this one second on my list of snack bars for taste and convenience, since they are readily available at Kroger in multipacks, and have a lower sugar content.

NuGo Dark 

  • Deliciously chocolatey and with a crunchy texture, this bar is a nice change from the dense chewiness of most protein bars. I tried the chocolate chocolate chip flavor. Although it only weighs in at 12g of protein from soy, it’s really tasty! On the sweet side with a whopping 14 grams of sugar, so it’s more like a candy bar than a protein bar as far as taste goes. I will definitely buy this again as a sweet treat. Keep in mind that this company also has a non-vegan line, so read your labels! Available at Whole Foods and Amazon. I’m rating this one third among snack bars because of its high sugar content.


  • Although the label boasted “protein pleasure,” I thought it was just ok. I was expecting this one to be really sweet since it has 14g of sugar for its 11g of protein, but it was only mildly so. Again, I went for the peanut butter chocolate bar. This one is dense and chewy without a chocolate coating. It does have real chocolate chips in the mix, though, which was good. And although I wasn’t super excited about this bar, I would try another flavor. These bars are sustainably sourced and soy free. I’m awarding this one fourth place. They are available at Kroger and Whole Foods.

Plnt Organic Protein Bar

  • This bar from the Vitamin Shoppe’s Plnt line surprised me. I’m not really a fan of this line of protein powders, so I was expecting to hate these. And, yes, it’s got that typical chewy texture, but also real chocolate chips and peanuts in their peanut chocolate chip flavor. It really broke up the monotony of the chewy base. They normally have these buy one get one 50% off. This one has a fair amount of protein at 15g and sugar at 8g. I had one of these after a weightlifting day before I went grocery shopping. It definitely kept me from buying all the things I don’t need to eat! Bonus that these are also organic. Ties for fourth place.

BHU Fit Vegan Keto Protein Bar

  • This one is another on the low end of protein at 10g. It’s one of the only fruit flavored ones I have tried, however. Apple Chunk. Although the texture was dense, the taste was OK. I was not a fan of the oily layer surrounding the bar, though. Like I opened the package and the bar nearly slipped out for all the oil. Maybe I just got a bad batch? I’m hesitant to try the other flavors and will likely not buy again. 
My top 3 high protein vegan recovery bars.

Recovery bars with at least 20g of protein:


  • I tried the chocolate peanut butter bar (are you picking up on a theme here?) It packs 20g of protein from peas and rice, but is pretty high in sugar at 18g. That being said, this bar is delicious. Two layers, one more dense than the other, surrounded by a dark chocolate coating. Even with the high sugar content, it’s not overly sweet. I will definitely buy this one again and try other flavors as well. I think it will be great after a double digit run. Vega also makes a snack version with lower protein and calories as well as a sport bar with 20g protein and BCAA’s. I would rate this at the top of the 20g protein bar list for taste.

Garden of Life Performance Sport Plant-Based Protein Bar

  • These definitely have more of the texture of a traditional protein bar. Dense, chewy, almost stale brownie-like texture. However, the taste of the flavor I tried, peanut butter chocolate, was pretty good. At 20g of protein, it’s a great recovery snack after a double digit long run. Lower in sugar at 8g. Bonus that these are organic. I’m awarding this one second place.

No Cow

  • I tried these a couple of years ago when my husband and I owned a gym. They were nice enough to send a sample pack to see if we wanted to be a retail partner with them. I really wanted to like these bars, but honestly, some flavors I just couldn’t eat. I tried the lemon meringue pie bar this time, which is a variety I never tried before. This one was decent. With a protein content of 22g with only 1g of sugar, this one might be worthwhile if you need to watch your sugar content. It is sweetened with stevia and is gluten and soy free. I’ll rank this one in third place.

Pro Bar

  • I tried the peanut butter chocolate flavor, once again. This one is average in taste and sweetness, but I do like that there is a bit of crunch with the chewy. It packs 20g of protein and 14g of sugar. I likely won’t buy again just because the Vega bar is so much better with the same sugar/protein content. I give them fourth place. They do have other products I would like to try, like their Bolt energy chews. These sound promising for marathon training!

I consider all of these bars “processed foods,” although some are cleaner than others, and macros vary. I would definitely prefer to get my protein from whole food sources. Protein bars that I tried generally fall into a “snack” category with lower protein levels vs. “recovery” category, best for after workouts, with 20g of protein or better. I found some to have higher sugar and fiber contents. I would definitely not eat a high fiber bar as a meal before a run! Although I hate to admit that to support my activity levels that I may have to bump up my protein intake, I’m grateful to have so many choices on the market to fill any gaps I may have in my daily intake in a pinch. I hope you found my reviews helpful!

Do you supplement your protein intake with bars? What’s your favorite, if so? As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy. 

Garden Chronicles: First Edition 2021

Our local meteorologist, Andrew Freiden, has declared May 1st as safe for planting your gardens. I took this to heart, and I worked over the weekend to start my garden. What resumed last year as a cure for pandemic boredom has become a seasonal ritual once more. I’m also lucky that our wild pink lady’s slippers survived the final late frost!

My first step? I had to clear my decaying raised beds of the winter weed cover. I also pulled down the remaining plastic net fencing from last year. That took all of Friday, it felt. I also took a trip to our local lawn and garden store for more soil and compost as well as fertilizer for these beds, and I bought some plants for a butterfly garden. 

One set of raised beds. I have tomatoes and annual herbs in the beds, perennial herbs in the ground.

Last year I had also put in deer netting to protect our plants, but don’t plan to do that again this year. I rescued 3 birds and a black snake from the snares of the netting, even after placing ribbons on the nets to make them more visible. I took it down as soon as the growing season was over.

My other pair of beds. One is no longer exactly a raised bed! I’ve got squash, herbs, small tomatoes, and now peppers in these beds, again with some perennial herbs in the ground around these.

We had already planned a trip to our local Ashland Farmers Market and to Lavender Fields Farm for some plants on Saturday. I picked up some tomatoes, herbs, and milkweed (for the butterfly garden, of course!). If you’re looking for something unusual, either of these are great sources for unique plants, but especially Lavender Fields. I planted all the herbs and veggies between Saturday and Sunday. I meant to get some pepper plants too, and I totally forgot! I picked up a few today along with some marigolds. These are already in the ground, as it was in the upper 60’s today and sunny. Perfect planting weather in the RVA!

One view of Lavender Fields Farm. They have built two new greenhouses and have expanded their plant selections. It’s a pretty farm to visit, plus they sell essential oils, lavender sachets, Bev’s ice cream, and lavender lemonade!

Now, I need to figure out some deer defense that won’t cost a million dollars. I still have the fence stakes in the ground, so I could do something different with those. I’m open for suggestions. Rope fencing? Milorganite? Scarecrows? Some other type of fencing? I need help!

Are you putting in a garden this year? I’d love to hear about it! As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy. 

It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

That’s right, fellow runners. We are about to enter fall marathon training season! And if you’re lucky, you are part of a marathon training team like mine. There is absolutely no way I could have run any of them without the help of the Sports Backers Marathon Training Team. 

During one of Blair Just’s famous benedictions before a group run in 2019.

Meeting with my team again each year feels as fun as summer camp! This will be my 8th training season with them. To run with a group of like-minded individuals who have the same goals is super motivating. To work with fellow coaches who also strive to improve and help others fuels my inspiration as well. To have the headache of planning routes, hydration, and nutrition during my runs taken out of the equation is such a relief. Speaking of hydration, Sports Backers will provide Nuun Endurance and water on our long runs. As a participant, focusing on the run itself is the only real worry. 

Although last year’s experience was a bit different, and this year’s certainly will be too, it may also start to feel a bit more like normal. Like last year, Sports Backers MTT will begin on your own or in small groups on June 6th, and the weekend of June 12th, we will begin meeting at the stadium again. This avoids the large group meetings and allows runners participating in Monument 10k weekend, which coincides with the first week of training team, to do so. Pink Nation plans to meet at Dorey Park to run one of the official courses for this race on June 7th.

With fellow coaches on race day in 2019

I am back coaching with the Pink Nation, one of MTT’s subteams. We are a “500” team, meaning novice, but the names of teams were changed to reflect total mileage, not experience level. Another key difference between the 500 and 700 teams is that we only run one 20 miler instead of three. I will forever choose to run a novice schedule for marathon training and incorporate more cross training to reduce my risk for injury. That’s just what works for my body. But if you are a more experienced runner chasing a Boston qualifying goal, or perhaps are running an earlier fall marathon, the 700 schedule may suit your needs better. There’s a subteam for everyone on MTT!

As our world begins to return to a new normal, what better time to chase that marathon dream? I feel optimistic about the likelihood of at least some bigger marathons, including the Richmond Marathon, having a real race on the traditional course this year. Last year’s move to the Virginia Capital Trail was a great adaptation, however! 

As I cannot run Richmond since I will be supporting our team race day, I must find another fall marathon. I’m open to suggestions, preferably within driving distance of Richmond! I’m considering Rock ‘n Roll Savannah and the Outer Banks Marathon right now, if they actually happen in person. But then my best friend Patty, the woman who inspired me to run the marathon to begin with, is trying to tempt me with running my first ultra in December. Decisions, decisions…

With my friends at the finish line of the 2015 Richmond Marathon.

Are you considering running a marathon this year? If you’re on the fence, look back at my previous post, The Power of the Marathon for inspiration! If you’re in Richmond, I strongly encourage you to run with the Sports Backers Marathon Training Team! Your race entry is included in your training team fees. But hurry! Prices go up May 18th! Look for my blog to trend toward more running related content as I shift toward educating our team in the next few months. As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Fall Line Trail Update!

It’s been a while since I’ve updated you on the progress of the Fall Line Trail! I’m happy to report that the first leg beginning in Ashland is complete! Once finished, the proposed trail will connect the town of Ashland to the city of Petersburg for a distance of 43 miles, spanning through multiple counties and the City of Richmond. 

The first portion of the trail will follow the former Richmond-Ashland Electric trolley line that existed in the earlier part of the 1900’s that carried passengers from Ashland to and from Richmond. It closed in 1938. My husband’s grandparents remembered riding the trolley!

The new boardwalk is now open!

I’ve been closely watching the development of this first portion of the trail since I run this frequently. It’s been so exciting to see it come to completion! There is a boardwalk along Waldrop Lane that has taken a while to construct. Given that it is several feet over a ravine and with the delays from the pandemic, this is understandable. It officially opened earlier this week. 

So today, I took the time to run it! Even though it was 83 degrees, there was intermittent cloud cover and a steady breeze, so conditions weren’t the worst. Sure, it could have been cooler, but the thought of running on the treadmill was even more awful than running in the relative heat. 

The Fall Line Trail trailhead is officially Carter Park in Ashland. You follow the multi use path across Ashcake road along Maple Street, continuing along Waldrop Lane onto the boardwalk, and then connecting to the existing Trolley Line Trail

The new portion, the boardwalk, is absolutely solid. I was expecting a bit of bounce that is common among boardwalk style bridges and walkways, but this was not the case. There is little protection from the sun, but this portion is only maybe three tenths of a mile, so not a big deal. 

The existing Trolley Line Trail.

Once you get to the existing Trolley Line trail, you are on dirt/gravel again. You can see that this actually used to be a rail line of some kind, as it is raised and flat. On breezy days, you get an interesting mix of cool and warm air, as the trail is wooded on one side, but not the other. It’s as if the two air masses on either side are having a conversation, and you get to listen.  I also thoroughly enjoy the wildflowers that bloom here. In the spring and summer months, there’s always a new surprise as the seasons evolve. The trail dumps you onto Gwathmey Church Rd, and if you look to the right across the street, you can see where the trolley line continued. 

The trail yet to be developed on the other side of Gwathmey Church Road.

From Carter Park, you can easily make just this portion of the Fall Line Trail a 2 mile journey round trip. If you are looking for more trails to enjoy in the area, there is a one that connects Maple Street to Center Street that runs behind the Carter Pool and has a stream adjacent to it. On the other side of the railroad tracks at the intersection of Center Street and Ashcake is the Stoney Run Trail. There is a creek alongside this trail as well, and a beaver has been busy building a dam! Running all of these trails out and back can easily get you to 4 miles. Both of these trails are gravel. 

Biking the existing Trolley Line Trail last fall.

If you are looking for biking access on any of these trails, they are all bikeable, but I wouldn’t recommend doing this with a true road bike with skinny tires. My cruiser works just fine, and I’ve ridden all 3 of these with ease, but a mountain bike or hybrid would probably be even better. There is even a bike repair station in Carter Park if you need it!

The bike repair station at Carter Park, made possible by REI.

Another popular place to park to access these trails is the Patrick Henry YMCA. This is a great place to start if you are a member, since you can access bathrooms. Carter Park is right down Ashcake Road from the YMCA, and there is a sidewalk connecting the two. 

While you’re in Ashland, check out some of the cute restaurants and shops while you’re there! My favorites are The Caboose, which is a restaurant and wine/cheese shop, Origin Beer Lab, which is a collaboration with COTU Brewery, and Refunkit, an eclectic little gallery that has great art and jewelry for sale. There’s also a new escape room that has opened, Red Vein Escape, and the Town of Ashland has Fourth Friday events going as well. If you venture out on Saturday, the Ashland Farmers Market is in the morning at Henry Clay Elementary School. There’s always something to do in Ashland, even if it’s just train watching!

If you’re in the Metro Richmond area, the trip to Ashland is worth it! Come check out our little trails! As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy. 

Vegan Restaurant Review: 821 Cafe

Near the bustling campus of VCU on Cary Street in downtown Richmond is 821 Cafe. It’s a small restaurant with an eclectic feel. In other words, just the kind of funky place you’d hope to find near an artsy school like VCU! 

I’ve eaten there a few times now, and I’ve always received great service and amazing food! With a variety of choices to make both vegans and omnis happy, it’s a great place to satisfy all diets.

The last time I dined here was with my younger daughter after a trip to the VMFA. We ate inside, and the tables were spread out well to remain compliant with Covid guidelines. I was a bit overwhelmed with all the vegan items on the menu! After our server offered the suggestion and a sample, I ended up getting the vegan curried chicken salad sandwich with fries and a slice of vegan cake for dessert, which my daughter and I shared. My meal was absolutely delicious!

The curried “chicken” salad sandwich and fries. Seriously one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever eaten, and their fries are perfect!

This trip, both my daughters joined me! We decided to eat there to celebrate my older daughter getting her second Covid vaccine, hoping to finish dining before she started feeling the immune response from the second dose. We dined in their outdoor space, which was small, but lovely. It was a bit chilly with so much cloud cover yesterday, and we were regretting out choice to not go back to the car for jackets, but we were warm enough when the sun was out. 

Vegan chai French toast, which was not overwhelmingly spicy, and the home fries.

We all ended up ordering from the brunch menu, although we were all torn between sweet and savory. To solve this dilemma, I ordered the vegan chai French toast for the sweet and home fries for the savory. I would have tried their vegan special, which was biscuits and gravy, but they had sold out! My older daughter ordered the lemon curd stuffed French toast, while my younger daughter got the regular brunch special: smoked Gouda grit cakes with eggs. Both vegetarian meals. We were very happy with our choices! We also got a slice of vegan cake to go. All of their vegan cakes are made by Buttermilk Bake Shop in Petersburg. They had sold out of every variety but the cotton candy cake. It was very good, and very sweet, but definitely tasted like cotton candy. 

The Cotton Candy cake. Big enough to share!

I highly recommend 821 Cafe, especially if you are going out to dinner with a crowd with mixed diets. It’s often that I sacrifice vegan options to please the rest of my family when we dine out, but that is definitely not an issue here. With plenty of vegan choices on the menu, you can never get bored! We will definitely be back!

Are you in the Richmond area? Have you ever eaten at 821 Cafe? As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Guilty as Charged

The jury got it right. Why does it feel like for the first time, a policeman will actually be held accountable for his wrongful actions? As my daughter says, the police are here to enforce the law, but they are not above it. I’m so relieved. I’m not joyous. I’m just able to breathe. This wasn’t justice, though. It was merely accountability. Now we await sentencing and appeal.

Is this a tipping point in proving that Black lives matter? One can hope. However, I feel like we took 3 steps forward in the fight for social justice, and now there will be a major push back from conservatives who want to maintain systems of suppression that have existed for so long. Just like once we elected Democratic Senators in traditionally Republican Georgia, the Republican state lawmakers quickly passed laws limiting voting rights. As great as this verdict is, I’m waiting for the blow back. 

It’s really difficult to fathom the mindset of anyone who now thinks our country is going to hell because someone in uniform was held accountable for murdering someone. Abuse of authority is wrong. Period. 

Even in the conservative county where I live, it is rumored that the police here will be out in “full force” targeting Black drivers to pull over in the next few days. Or, in other words, doubling down on their normal. How can one begin to fathom how doing this is justified? Punishing everyone who looks like George Floyd for the rightful conviction of a man who murdered him? 

We have a corridor along a major road that leads from the East End of Henrico into Hanover County. Cops sit there in pairs and pull people over for the most minor offenses, hoping they will find something bigger when they pull their records. I’ve seen it with my own eyes, as I used to do home health in that area. My husband used to be friends with a sheriff who used to brag about how many people he’d arrest using this tactic, almost always Black. 

When I did home health, my best friend from grad school was my mentor. We had a couple of weeks together with many hours in the car and with lots of time to talk. One of our discussions took my breath away. We were talking about how we were raising our kids. We both have girls, but she has a son as well. She and her husband had to give him “the talk” about how to not get killed if he got pulled over. I had never thought about the dangers of being pulled over by the police. My biggest fear was getting a ticket. Her biggest fear, especially for her son, is that they don’t make it out alive. Until this conversation, it never occurred to me how different our realities are, just because she’s Black. We have the same degrees. We have the same job. We are both happily married and own our homes. But in this, we are not the same. It’s not fair. 

I keep thinking about that scene in A Time to Kill, the screen adaptation of John Grishom’s book. Have you seen it? Starring Matthew McConaughey and Samuel L. Jackson. In the closing arguments of the trial, Matthew’s character has the jury close their eyes as he describes what happened to a little girl as she walked home, how she was abducted, raped, and tortured by two white men. He then asks the jury to picture that she is white, and everyone gasps, and finally understands why the father shooting her rapists was justified. That’s what white folks need to do. Don’t dismiss a tragedy for a black family because they don’t look like you. Think about how you would feel in their situation. Feel their pain. Feel their fear. Feel their frustration with a system designed to oppress them. 

Furthermore, the meritocracy we subscribe to as Americans is all fine and dandy, however, the bootstraps are significantly longer for people of color and the poor. What we hold ideally as liberty and justice for all, that anyone can work hard and succeed, isn’t reality. It’s at best a means for hope, which we honestly can’t survive without. It’s at worst a government scheme designed to kill dreams. That is the truth. 

Our society deteriorates when we dehumanize our neighbors. Excessive brutality by police is terrorism; targeting people of color for this is akin to genocide. To make a conscious choice to target a certain group, harass them for minor offenses, and kill over something as benign as a fake $20 bill or a hanging air freshener, while simultaneously peacefully arresting white men who committed mass murder, what does that say about our police system? And the after-the-arrest looking back to prior offenses or someone’s lifestyle to justify violence against them is also wrong. People are people. We are all human and deserving of respect. A white person’s life is not more valuable than someone’s of color. 

Is there power in this verdict? I hope so. I hope this verdict is the beginning of reforming a system that doesn’t work for everyone. And although I have hope, I also fear that this is merely a token gesture in the big picture, and no real change will come from it. Let’s not let that be the case. 

Black lives still matter. 

Last year at Marcus-David Peters Circle in Richmond on Monument Avenue.

What can we do right now? Contact your senators and let them know you support the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act which has already passed the house. This offers fewer protections from prosecution for law enforcement while also making it clear what acts will not be tolerated under police control, including sexually assaulting people in custody. Read the linked article to find out more.

Don’t know how to reach your senators? Find out here.

Other resources for the movement:

General information


The struggle to create wellness is made more difficult when we face unfairness. How can we feel well in a stressful, uncertain world? Discrimination happens in policing, it happens in retail, it happens in voting, it happens in healthcare, it happens in schools, it happens in church. No one in authority should abuse their power. We need real change now. How did you feel when the verdict was announced? As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Blue Ridge Half Marathon 2021: Race Recap

The space between getting ready the morning of a race and starting is usually met with the same thought: this was stupid. It’s a typical race anxiety cycle thought process. This was my mental place before the Blue Ridge Half Marathon. It wasn’t in a bad, angry-with-myself way. This was in a “my friends have all told me how hard this race is and I’m about to climb two mountains” way. I just had to laugh and roll with the punches. 

The view from I-81 as Patty drove us into Roanoke. Pictures don’t do it justice!

My best friend Patty and I drove up the afternoon before the race, checking out Roanoke and all of its beauty. It’s a gorgeous city! Even though I did one of my clinical rotations in PT school in the rehab hospital at Roanoke Memorial, I forgot how pretty it is. We wondered if people who live there ever get tired of the spectacular mountain views. We even rode up to the top of Mill Mountain to see the star and take some pictures on the very road we would both run the next day. 

The Roanoke Star on top of Mill Mountain. It lights up at night!

The race expo was small, but organized. There were lots of good giveaways from all of the sponsors. I loved the race shirt, which has a really cool retro 80’s vibe. There was free ice cream, too! 

Race shirt and medal.

The morning of the race, we found ample free parking near the start. They had staggered start times for all 3 races, ensuring that the staging areas would not be too crowded under current state Covid guidelines, and there were plenty of porta potty areas with actual hand washing stations. The weather was perfect: partly cloudy, low humidity, and temps in the 40’s with highs topping out in the 60’s. 

In my corral before the race.

According to my bib, I lined up to start in corral B. My Richmond friends were in corral U, and Patty would start the 10k a bit later. How I ended up in that corral, I don’t know, because I’m nowhere near an 8 minute mile runner! But I was grateful for the early start. Once we were out of downtown proper, we began the journey straight up Mill Mountain, all the way to the star. 

My pre-race feelings of stupidity were confirmed by the end of the first mile, when I quickly realized that although I had trained to run this distance, my choice to neglect the recommended serious hill training was a poor one! I mean, I’d run hills, but not mountains! I was already taking walk breaks, and I was in good company. Sometime during the second mile, one of my Richmond friends stopped to walk with me and determined that this would not be her race. (She ended up finishing in her goal time, anyway!) And shortly after that, I struck up a conversation with another runner, and we ended up running the rest of the race together. 

Suddenly, the most humbling of races became fun again! We basically ran all the flats and downhills and walked the uphills for the rest of the race. We discovered that we are both ambassadors for this race! It was great to run with someone who was not a newbie to the Blue Ridge half like me. She confirmed what my friends told me: that, indeed, the uphill on Peakwood was so steep, there are points where you could reach out to the road ahead of you and touch it while still standing. It’s true! And as steep as the uphills were, the downs were equally so. Trying to stay upright for those was a battle for eccentric muscle control. So it was either go all out, allowing the hill to guide your speed, or walk. We took a cue from Frozen and let it go. Besides, Patty always says to never waste a downhill! And nothing passes the time more quickly than exchanging all of your best stories with someone new! So grateful for Jenn’s company on the course!

The mimosa stop at the bottom of Mill Mountain.

The view from the top of Mill Mountain at about mile 3 was spectacular. The downhill from that was spicy, but such a relief from the incline we just ascended. And waiting at the bottom? Mimosas. We then spent some time running along the beautiful and fairly flat Roanoke Greenway, and then the climb to the top of Peakwood Mountain began. The houses through these areas were so amazing! I did find points where I truly understood the idea of reaching out to touch the road in front of you during that climb. At the top of the second mountain were all the snacks, anything from fruit to pretzels to chocolate to Skittles, and there was also champagne and strawberries! We made our way an even spicier downhill and back downtown to the finish, stopping along the way to take pictures with a mannequin and to enjoy some treats from people in the neighborhood, including mustard packets and shots of Coca-Cola!

With my new friend Jenn sipping champagne!
With the mannequin on the course.

The post-race event was well organized with plenty of space to socially distance. Our names were called as we crossed the finish, which is always fun! People were generally compliant with the mask mandate, and the Blue Ridge Marathon even provided fresh, disposable masks at the finish. Instead of someone hanging your medal on you, you picked it up from a table. Post-race food was pre-packaged to limit exposure. And post-race free beers were from local craft breweries and in cans instead of from kegs in the name of safety. I enjoyed my brew from Three Notch’d, which happened to be a Buskey cider from my native RVA. 

Enjoying my well-earned Buskey cider after the race!

I’ve got to say, although the Blue Ridge Half Marathon lived up to its name as America’s Toughest Road Race, I would totally run this one again. The course is beautiful, even if it’s challenging, the race is very well organized, and the support on the course is outstanding! The evening of the race, there was an outdoor concert for participants, and you could also register for a coffee and donut fueled “slow-K” on Sunday, a walking 5k along the Roanoke greenway. This was definitely a race to check off my bucket list! And, y’all, as tough as the half was, there were marathoners and even about 100 double marathoners! They are a special kind of crazy, and I mean that in the best, only runners could understand, way!

I’m so very grateful to run a real, in person, race again! I hope this means that more live events will happen this year. I’m also super grateful to be fully vaccinated so that I have more confidence in safely traveling and participating in events like this. Many thanks to the Blue Ridge Marathon for asking me to be a part of their ambassador team and to the event planners for managing to adapt their race to the evolving Covid restrictions and still make it a fantastic event. I will be back next year!

Today, my legs are more sore than if I’d run a fast and flat full marathon. It’s crazy! Have you been able to run in a live event yet this year? If so, how was it? If not, would you be comfortable yet participating in a live event? I’d love to hear your thoughts! As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy. 

The Pollening

In Virginia, we have a series of sub seasons before we really get into the full swing of the weather we are actually supposed to be experiencing. Spring is no exception. We’ve got early spring, second winter, spring of deception, third winter, etc… and our current season? The pollening. It sounds like a campy horror movie. 

Pollen season always happens so suddenly, right? I mean, we see the slow transformation from the bleak that is winter. We see that the landscape is beginning to brighten. But it still seems like out of nowhere, all the pine trees decided it was time to reproduce! My favorite local meteorologist, at least, blames this surge of yellow on the pines. 

Ugh. This stuff is everywhere. Fine, yellow silt covering our cars, being inhaled, coating our clothes. It’s as if Mother Nature has cast a yellow filter on our world. Clouds of the stuff waft up from the trees into the breeze, landing on all the surfaces. Light rain brings rivers of pollen that collect in swirling divots. A friend had to brush off the pollen from my scrubs the other day when I sat on a bench outside with one of my patients. And even though we were only out there for about 30 minutes, the stuff had gotten all over my patient’s shoes, too! No surface is off limits, it seems.

One of my favorite stories from Longwood was from the spring semester that I took botany. Now, I only had to take this one plant class for my biology degree since I was in the pre-PT track, but it was certainly memorable. Dr. Scott was our professor, and he was, in true tenured professor form, what one would call eccentric. He was certainly old enough to be considering retirement, and looked like a really nice grandpa. Sure, he was a square on the outside, but once he spoke, he was just, well, different. 

During one of our labs in the spring semester, we went outside on an especially beautiful day. Dr. Scott took in a deep breath, let out an audible sigh, and exclaimed, “You smell that kids? That’s plant sex!” Oy. What a way to make a bunch of college kids feel uncomfortable and silly all at the same time! We erupted into giggles and exasperated groans. 

Would not recommend opening a window during pollenation season…

Over the weekend, my daughter opened a window in our house. I kind of forgot about it. But after seeing all the yellow film on my car, I went to look and see if any of the pollen had made it through the screen indoors. Indeed, there was a fine coating on the floor. I should know to not open a window during tree fornication season! Oh, well. Nothing a swiffer couldn’t handle!

Look at all the pollen my Swiffer picked up!

Not only are the trees having fun, but most of the early season flowers that many would consider weeds are in bloom. These are the first foods for our pollinators. Is anyone else just a little more compassionate toward honey bees these days? I used to fear them. Now I try to just sit still and watch them do their thing. Pollen can be good, right?

For my friends in the northern hemisphere, where are you at with regard to spring? Is the pollen as bad where you are as it is here in Virginia? As much as the yellow stuff is annoying, it’s a sign of healthy trees and plants! So don’t fret. It’s just plant sex!

Just one of the color varieties of wild violets we have in my yard.

Don’t get me wrong, I really do love spring! I’m looking forward to putting in a garden soon. If the pollen is wreaking havoc on your allergies, hopefully the rain we got last night has cleared it out! I’m still waiting for my pollen headache to subside. But we should enjoy this time, as Virginia’s worst season will come later this summer… known as Hell’s Front Porch. I’m really not looking forward to that. As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy. 

The Power of the Marathon

Ultramarathons aside, in the world of running, the ultimate test of mental strength and physical fitness is the marathon. Why is running the marathon such a powerful testament to a person’s will and mental toughness? One reason: the pain. We’ll revisit this point in a bit. 

In my wildest dreams, 26.2 miles is a distance I never fathomed I could complete, especially as a new runner. I was the girl who got out of running the mile in gym class. I signed up for my first marathon training team with every intention of dropping to the half. But as I checked off each new distance PR, I started to envision crossing that finish line. I’m fairly certain my mother thought I would die running my first one. Now, I’ve run 8 of them. 

With one of my sole sisters, Sarah, after we ran our first marathon together, which happened to be the Richmond marathon in 2014.

On the first day training for my second marathon, our head coach of the Pink Nation, Blair Just, reminded us: only 1% of the world has ever run a marathon. Marathoners are exceptional. Blair would remind us each week to breathe, relax, and believe that we could do this. This is a mantra I share with my patients often. 

Many years ago, I worked with a patient who had suffered a stroke. She was a relatively young woman to have gone through this, and she was really struggling mentally. She was also a marathoner. I got to use that 1% line with her, reminding her of what a badass she was! If she can get through a marathon, she can do the work to recover from her stroke. She didn’t realize how small of a percentage of the population had actually tackled that distance! It became a mantra for her. Even if I wasn’t working with her that day, I’d catch her eye, and say, “ONE PERCENT” to her. She started to believe she could heal. She left inpatient rehab walking independently.

You can’t just decide one day that you’re going to run a marathon. This race takes planning, training, and discipline. My fall marathon training schedule begins 6 months before my race, and that’s assuming that I’ve kept up with a winter, off-season running routine. 

With my BFF and running partner, Patty, who convinced me that I could run the marathon!

I’ve found running to be hugely beneficial for many reasons. Other than my main means of maintaining my physical fitness, it’s my outlet for mental fitness as well. It’s my time to meditate when I run solo. It’s social time and possibly even a group counseling session when I run with friends. It’s also my way of generating endorphins. Have I ever felt a runner’s high? Yes. Yes, I have. It doesn’t happen every run, but they do happen from time to time! 

But running the marathon distance (or longer) brings its own special experiences, most notably with pain. Yes, the marathon is painful, both during and after the race. But greeting the pain during the race becomes expected, especially after running multiples. Typically this starts for me at about mile 17. If you’re familiar with the Richmond Marathon, this is along Main Street, where you are often greeted by drunk brunchers who will loudly chant your name to cheer you on. On the Marine Corps Marathon course, this is on the National Mall, where you have the distraction of the Smithsonian museums and the threat of the first gauntlet to keep you motivated. 

Even with these distractions, you must let that pain in, acknowledge it, and exist and persist despite it. We have other tools to help combat the pain of fatigued and spent muscles like replacing electrolytes, restoring glucose, taking walk breaks, or pausing to gently stretch, but these don’t take the pain away. You still must face the hurt to finish your race.

Regardless of the course, by the time you get to the final 10k, you just want to be done. Your legs are screaming. Your will is spent. You are questioning your sanity. You may or may not have made a deal with the universe pending your completion of this race. Most competitive marathoners will tell you that this is where the race really begins. I think the best part of the race is in the last couple of miles, because this is where the crowds are usually the biggest and loudest, and you know you will finish. 

With 3 of my friends after we all crossed the finish line of the Richmond marathon in 2015, my third marathon. This photo was taken by our 8k training team coach, Tammy Harrison, who happened to be at the finish line.

Overcoming the pain and crossing that finish line never ceases to amaze me. I experience a huge emotional release after every marathon. My Richmond races are the most special, always finding at least one person I know at the finish to award my medal. Sometimes my husband joins me for the last few miles of a Richmond race. But for all but one, I’ve cried. Not just a few tears, but a sobbing mess of ugly tears. One year, my husband captured video of me as I approached the finish, and you can clearly see me winding up to cry. Last year’s marathon was virtual, and I think I actually shouted expletives in jubilation rather than crying. 

Coaching the Richmond Marathon and supporting my team on the course in 2019, it was crazy to meet my runners near the finish and instantly know what mental space they were in, simply because I had been in all of them at one point or another in each of my own marathons. You can see it in their faces. You can hear it in their voices. You can see it in their gait. Whether injured, delirious and repeating mantras, focused and unaware of how close they were to finishing, or having the best race of their lives, I had been there and knew what to do. Part advisor, part cheerleader, part dealer of salt tabs and band-aids, part medical professional: that was me. Serving in that role was so much fun! Especially watching my runners approach that finish line. I was so happy to witness them realize their dreams! 

On the course of the Richmond Marathon in 2019. This is on the Lee Bridge around mile 16. Photo courtesy of Eric Nachman, who took the selfie! The Pink Nation asked Kelly (grey hat) and Lisa (cowboy emblem) to join as as coaches for 2020.

The marathon is so much more than a race. It’s a teacher of discipline, resilience, and determination. The quest to complete this goal teaches you how to focus. It teaches you how to have a relationship with pain. The rituals of training bring calm and centering to an otherwise hectic life. Training for this race builds communities. Running these races also teaches you so much about the cities in which you run. 

Mentally, whenever things get tough, I remind myself that I have run not one, but multiple marathons. To choose to put myself through the pain of the race is one thing. To choose to do it again is quite another. I’m either incredibly brave and persistent, or incredibly stupid. You decide. But the brain has a funny way of making you forget how bad the pain gets, just like childbirth. One thing is certain, however. I am part of the ONE PERCENT. And no one can take that away from me. That’s the power of the marathon. 

Have you considered running a marathon? Trust me. If I can do this, so can you. You, too, can be a part of the one percent. With working toward any goal, help is always helpful. In Richmond, we have the resources of the Sports Backers Marathon Training Team to guide us. If running this distance is a dream of yours, I encourage you to find a local running group to train with. As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.