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running and smiling

I recently read an article on Outside that smiling makes you a more efficient runner. The article went on to say that “a hard effort makes you frown, and, conversely, frowning might make an effort feel harder—and smiling might make it feel easier“. Seems reasonable. Apparently, a study was even conducted, which pretty much proved that smiling does make you a more efficient runner.

I liked what I was reading and wondered if that was indeed true. Not that I am doubting science, but I just wondered anyway, as a personal experience. I thought about my past races, especially when Julia and Joel cheered for me or when others cheered for me… I feel that their presence and inspiration definitely helped but I was unsure about the smiling part. I do tend to smile a bunch if I see someone who I know, especially Julia or Joel. Did that brief period of smiling really help? I definitely think that their cheer was a distraction, which helped reset my thoughts at that particular point in time. But the actual smile… I was skeptical. So I decided to conduct my own experiment (because that scientific study did not convince me… ha!).

The article could not have been written at a more perfect time… I had a race coming up. This past Saturday I raced the 10k option of the Mendon Trail Run, which took place in Mendon Ponds Park. Joel ran it too. The weather changed a bit drastically and it was a chilly morning so I did not want to get to the start line too early. But once at the start line, there was no pep talk from the organizers and all of a sudden we were off. I hardly had enough time to start my watch. Also, as the pack hastily took off, the front group did not pay attention and missed the required turn. All of a sudden I found myself at the back of the pack. Joel ran past me annoyed. I was annoyed too… we just started and already got lost. Ugh!

As I was trying to settle on the route, I noticed that I was frowning and felt very annoyed. I was going up a small hill and I felt out of breath. That sudden start and missed turn really affected my mood. I then thought about my experiment and I laughed. And I kept smiling for the entire race. I even found myself bursting into laughter thinking about the experiment. I wondered if the other runners saw my smile and heard my laughter. That made me laugh too… I must have looked a bit ridiculous. I ran past the only aid stating, which was located at the half way point, and the volunteers cheered for me and one actually said “good job and you are still smiling!“. That made me smile even more! So with the biggest smile on my face, I thanked them for their cheer.

As I was coming close to the last stretch, I ran as fast as I could… still smiling. I felt super good and finished strong. Joel finished ahead of me, so we chatted about our runs. He mentioned that he did not feel too good. I told him that it was one of my best races and felt super!

I believe that the smiling really helped my run. Throughout the race, I felt super good. My legs were not in pain as they usually are. Even my breathing was calmer. Also, throughout the race, I really enjoyed the run and was not dreading each mile, especially towards the end of the race. I also felt like the run was easier than any of my previous runs or races. And lastly, I think that smiling really changed my overall mood and attitude.

As Joel and I were hanging out in the lodge resting and having a snack, the organizers presented the race awards. For my age group, she called my name. I could not believe it! Also, looking at the results, I placed 23 out of 65 for the overall group and placed 7 out of 32 in my gender group. That is just crazy! I thought that I had a good race, but I felt like there were a bunch of runners and women who were much stronger than I was.

The convincing part of this experiment was the pace. Recently, my pace has been around 11 to even 12 minute miles for 3 to 4 mile runs. I have actually been pretty disappointed about it lately since I feel like I was much faster in the past and even at the beginning of the year. Granted that I have only been able to run twice a week and I do run on my own a lot, so perhaps those are some of the reasons. Running or cycling with a group has always motivated me… I know this for a fact. For the race, my pace was 10:19… and this was a 10k! I am really excited and proud of myself that I was able to run it at that pace! And although there were many runners around to motivate me, I definitely think that the smiling helped. Every athlete should give this a try! And if you do, I am curious to hear all about it.

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I am always on a lookout for easy dinners. Recently, I have discovered a new dish… One Pan Creamy Tuna Pasta.

I have been subscribed to the Martha Stewart Living magazine for a super long time. Over the years, the magazine has evolved; however, recipes have always been spotlighted throughout. In recent editions, towards the back of the magazine you can find four recipes that are printed on a perforated page, which can be torn into four small recipe cards. I have discovered a bunch of good finds over the years. The pasta dish is one of them and is definitely a keeper!

The recipe is simple… shallots, pasta, broth, water, a couple of veggies, tuna, lemon zest and juice, and cheese. What I really like about it is that you make the entire dish in one pot! Super easy cleanup! You simply add the shallots, broth, water, pasta, and salt and pepper and boil until the pasta is tender. Next you add your veggie. Once the veggie is tender, you remove the pot from the stove and add the tuna, cheese, and the lemon zest and juice. That’s it!

The first time that I made the dish, it came out very dry and I had to keep adding water to it while cooking the pasta. I later realized that the recipe required 8 oz of pasta and I used 16 oz. It made perfect sense why my version was so dry. Since I like to make enough to have leftovers, I adjusted the amount of water. I usually add enough to cover the pasta, which I think that it is somewhere between 4.5 or 5 cups of water, depending on the pasta.

Speaking of the pasta, I used gemelli and penne and both worked. One thing that I would like to mention is that my version has never had a sauce. If you look at the recipe photo, it includes the clear sauce on the plate. Not sure how that is realized. I just made the dish using penne and this is the first time that I have actually had some sauce, but definitely not enough to add it to the plate. Not sure if the gemelli absorbs more liquid during cooking or not, but when I used it, I never had a sauce.

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The recipe requires asparagus and arugula. The first time that I made the dish, I did not have either, so I used peas and spinach since I did have both. I have also used peas and kale. All worked! I am sure that you can also use green beans or any other veggie such as corn and broccoli. As far as the greens go, I am sure that swiss chard or any other greens would work as well.

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Another adjustment that I have made is the required cup of shallots. I tend not to like a lot of onion in my dishes, so I have cut it to 2 small shallots and it was plenty. Same goes for the cheese… the recipe requires a 1/2 a cup of Paremsan. I used about 2 tablespoons of Romano cheese and that also seemed plenty. But if you are a big onion fan, use the full amount. Same goes for the cheese.

One last thing that I would like to mention is the salt. I use the Better Than Bouillon (which really is better than any bouillon) for the broth and it is a bit salty, so I never add salt to my dishes until the very end. Most of the time it is plenty salty.

I hope that you will enjoy the dish as much as we do! It is one of Julia’s favorites!

This past Saturday I ran my longest distance ever… 13.1 miles! I finally accomplished my goal of running a 1/2 marathon. Joel and I ran the Sehgahunda Trail Marathon and Relay as a two person relay. The race took place on the Finger Lakes Trail, which is on the east side of Letchworth State Park. It was super hilly. It was hard.

Two years ago, Joel and I ran this race as a four person relay. At that time, my leg happened to be leg 1 and Joel’s leg was leg 3. I felt amazing after completing my leg. It was actually pretty easy. Joel’s leg on the other hand was not as easy… he mentioned that it was pretty hilly and technical.

This year, Joel ran legs 1 and 2 and I ran legs 3 and 4. Julia and I sent him off and cheered for him along the way. He looked great at the end of leg one, which was 6.1 miles… he maintained a good pace and seemed happy. The next checkpoint was around 8.6 miles and he still looked great and mentioned that he would probably finish his second leg after an hour and 10 minutes or so.

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Off they go!

Julia and I caravaned to the third checkpoint and I prepared for my run. My allergies (or whatever it was) during the week leading up to the race were terrible! I was super congested, my nose was running like a river, and had headaches. The allergy pill that I was taking did not seem to do too much for it. I hoped that by race day it would be better, but no such luck. So after taking some acetaminophen and some saline spray in my nose, I was set.

Joel took a bit longer to finish than what he predicted. I was was not worried, but I felt a little uneasy. As soon as I saw him, I grabbed Julia’s hand and we headed over to the trail. He did not look as great as he did at the last checkpoint. He mentioned that the terrain got more technical and hillier. He was tired. He just ran 15 miles. I grabbed the timing chip race bib and off I went.

The Finger Lakes Trail runs along the Genessee River. There are about 8 inlets, which allow you to access the trail, and that is where the checkpoints were stationed. Those inlets were super muddy. Deep, wet mud gardens… I was tired of running in mud. Luckily the actual trail was in perfect condition.

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Stopping at checkpoint 6…

I felt pretty good during the run, I guess. It was definitely hilly and technical… lots of roots and some rocks. I cannot even tell you how many stream crossing I ran over. I remember a couple of times where I had to jump into the stream since the ground was eroded and there was no step. Also, a few places included a decent climb after crossing into the ravine in order to get back on the trail. The entire first leg, which was 6.5 miles, was pretty much up and down over and over and over again. There was no room for getting into a groove… no constant pace. My shins cramped a couple of times, probably due to all that constant up and down.

Checkpoints 4 and 5 were closed to spectators, so I finally saw Joel and Julia at checkpoint 6, which was at the end of my first leg. It was nice to see them! Joel was able to give me some Skratch Labs and a couple of gels. I told him that it was really hard.

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The last leg, which was 4.4 miles, was not as technical and was flatter. I feel like that was even worse than the first. It seemed to take forever. I was tired by that point and I just wanted to be done. And finally there was a road (on a hill of course, since all the finishes for all events have to end on a hill!!) and I heard Julia cheering for me. I was so happy to hear her voice. As I was heading towards the finish line, I saw her standing on the side. I yelled asking if she was going to run with me and she said yes. So that is what we did… we ran together to the finish line. That was the best part of this entire race!!

So I was not really done yet. The 2 legs that I ran equaled to about 11 miles and my goal was to run 13.1. So yes, I went back to run an additional 2.1 miles. That was the hardest 2.1 miles that I have ever run!! It seemed worse than the 11 miles that I just did. Joel told me about this other trail that was nearby, so I decided to run there instead of on the race trail. As Beck was blasting in my year… “WOW!”I imitated it as I came to this vista. The sight blew me away and for a moment helped me think of something other than my remaining mileage. As I continued on, I came across two other vistas. Since the trail was short, I had to do a bunch of laps to reach the 2.1 miles. Not even the vistas inspired me anymore. As soon as my watched read 13.1, I stopped. I was so happy to be done with the entire thing.

Once the results were posted, I found out that our team placed 5 out of 12. SO proud of us!! This was a huge accomplishment for both of us!

Looking back, I do not think that I could have done anything much different. Not being congested would have been a big plus. It did not seem to bother me too much during the run… I think that the acetaminophen and saline spray helped. I did have to ask for a tissue at one of the checkpoints and it made it better from a breathing perspective. But it definitely affected me. As soon as I finished, I was SO tired! I am sure that the congestion/sickness was a big culprit. Also, later in the day and on Sunday, I was in so much pain. I could not breathe without my chest and upper back hurting. I have spent the last 5 evenings with a heating pad on my back, chest, and face. I also started to cough, which did not feel too good. The run really did a number on my lungs and body.

The terrain was not too surprising, since Joel warned me about it. But I guess that talking about it and actually experiencing it during a race is different. I trained on the Cerscent Trail, Whiting and Gosnell, Bay Park West, and Mendon Ponds, which all are pretty hilly trails. I think that was good from a training perspective.

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This says it all!!

From a nutrition perspective, I think that I managed well. I had 2 gels, a PBJ sandwich, a bunch of watermelon, and some pretzels. The watermelon tasted SO good! That was my favorite. I also drank close to 4 12 oz bottles of Skratch Labs/drink mix and some water from the aid stations/checkpoints.

The last thing that I want to mention is all the checkpoints. The 2 legs that I ran, which as I already mentioned was 11 miles, included a lot of checkpoints… 6 to be exact. I was required to run to all of them since each checkpoint had a timing mat that you had to cross over. Honestly that was too much!! Especially since a bunch were only after a mile or so. I feel like that made the run seem longer. I realize that I did not have to actually stop at all of them, but it was definitely an incentive. The volunteers were there for a reason and I felt that I had to use them. The worse part about it is that Joel’s portion was 15 miles and only had 2 checkpoints. I realize that this is due to the access points along the Finger Lakes Trail, but it seemed unfair to have 2 checkpoints for a 15 mile run and 6 checkpoints for an 11 mile run. They could definitely cut it in half or something like that.

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It has been 6 days since I completed the race and I am still recovering. My legs are completely fine and my chest no longer hurts, but I am still a little congested and coughing a little.

Now that this is done, I am looking forward to riding my bike a bunch! It has been too long!!

This past weekend I raced the Medved Madness Trail Race. Last year was super fun, so I decided to race it again this year. Just like last year, I ran the race as a relay with Joel and our friend Marc. We were “My So Called Legs”.

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Since I needed the extra miles due to my 1/2 marathon training, I decided to start the first leg and then run the second leg unofficially. Joel needed the extra miles too, so we decided that he was going to do the opposite and then add a couple of extra miles more so he can get 12 miles. Marc did not need any extra miles, so he just ran the last leg… lucky him!!

The week leading up to the race was a wash. It rained everyday for five days. It was awful! Not only that, it was also cold… in the 40s at times. Joel and I kept watching the forecast, hoping that it would improve. It did improve a bit on race day. No downpours, but still a chance of rain and 40 for a high.

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Listening to the pre-race speech.

About 300 people signed up for the race, so the turnout was amazing. As we were all huddled waiting for the start, we were sprinkled with a little snow. “Oh, perfect!”, I thought. Once the race started, the sun actually came out for a while. That was a welcomed sight!! But then around mile 7 or 8, it started to rain pretty hard. Luckily it only lasted for a short period of time. Nevertheless, I was drenched.

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Off we go!

Overall the race was not too bad, I guess. I ended up with 9.31 miles and with a 10:47 pace. I am not sure how I managed that pace. The trails were crazy muddy!! In multiple spots, it was a pond with deep mud. After a few of those, I just accepted them… the goal was not to fall or loose a shoe. The cold did not bother me too much. I wore tights, a short sleeved base layer, a long sleeved shirt, my lightweight rain jacket, gloves, and a headband. I was not cold, but a combination of sweat and the rain definitely got my clothes pretty soaked.

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(Photo credit: Medved)

As soon as I finished, I went to the car and changed. As I was walking back to the race event lodge, I ran into Dave Farrands, who works at Medved. We chatted a bit and then he asked me if I wanted some hot cocoa or tea and brought it over to me. That was super nice of him!! I felt cold and was shivering uncontrollably, so I went into the lodge to warm up by the fireplace. Then I saw my sister who stopped by to bring my rain coat, which I forgot at home. As soon as she saw me she told me that my lips were purple. It took 2 cups of tea and some food to stop my shivering. I guess that the cold and wetness affected me more than I realized.

The post-race food was once again an amazing feast! The Medved folks are so nice!

I checked the race results and we placed 14 out of 35. Super proud of my team and our efforts!!

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Joel finishing up his leg.

Julia did not race this year. She planned on it but ended up getting a fever and had to stay home. She was so upset that she was missing it! During the week leading up to the race, I mentioned that it will probably be raining during the race, but she insisted on racing. Also, on the Thursday before the race, I overheard my sister asking her if she will still race if it was raining and her answer was “Yes. I can just wear my new rain coat.”… love her!! :) Turns out that the kid race was canceled anyway, so when I mentioned it to her, she felt a little better about not being able to go to it.

The Medved store posted some nice photos of the run on their Facebook page. It definitely shows the race conditions. Not pretty!!! Haha!!

training

On a fine November day last year, Joel and I decided to sign up for the Sehgahunda Trail Marathon Relay. We ran it as a four person relay two years ago, which was fun, so we thought that it was a good idea to run it as a two person relay. Hmm…

The official training started in February. Luckily for me, Joel figured it all out. Run two short runs during the week and then a long run on the weekends. Seems easy enough. I quickly realized that running two days a week was not very feasible. Working full time and taking care of our daughter, the house, etc. kind of put a damper on my training plan. My weekday runs were 5 or 6 milers, so they worked well enough to run longer during the weekends. But once I hit the 9.5 mile mark, I also realized that I did have to run two days a week, otherwise I would not be able to start increasing my mileage without risking an injury. Luckily for us, my parents live in town so they have been very helpful with watching Julia for us so we can do this thing. I am super grateful for it! Even our neighbors helped us one weekend… so grateful!!

The 9.5 mile run was not too bad. On that run I surpassed my longest distance that I have ever ran since I started running about 5 years ago. Then two weekends ago, we ran 10.5 miles. “That was crazy!”, I thought. I felt super good and it gave me more confidence that I will be able to do this race.

Then, as I was running mile 10ish of my 11.5 mile training run on Sunday and Parachute Youth was blasting in my ear “Can’t Get Better Than This…“, I thought to myself… “Oh yes it can, actually!!”. At least I was in the woods and the song distracted me a bit and made me think of the mountain biking video where I discovered the song.

I remember after riding for a few years, a bunch of my friends were asking me why I was not racing. “You would do well!”, they said. My answer was always that cycling would become work. You have to ride a lot of hours to be able to have the stamina and fitness to be a racer. I ride because I love riding and because I love to explore the area on my bike. It is not my job… it is my hobby. The same goes for running. I love being in the woods and exploring our parks.

I recently read this article, which made me laugh but also resonated with me. It was called “I Hate Running” and the writer’s statement after finishing a 50 miler was on point. When someone congratulated him for finishing the race, his answer was something like “I just ran 750 miles… you just saw the last 50 miles!“. (Another great article to check out is “People Who Say That Running Is Fun Are Lying To You“.) Although my feat is not as great as his, this idea of running three times a week in order to complete a half marathon is kind of a chore. It has become work.

I am not sure why it feels this way. Perhaps all those years that I spent on the bike riding thousands of miles burned me out and this is starting to feel that way. Or perhaps the fact that I love to ride, run, hike, and other things makes me feel like I am stuck with this one thing. I guess that is the downside of having multiple hobbies. Ha!

Nevertheless, I am glad that I signed up for this race. I never in a million years would have thought that I would be able to run 10 miles, 11 miles, or even a half marathon. It is a good challenge and I do not want to stop. The race is on May 20th, so I am almost there. I guess that this race also made me realize that long distance running is not for me and that I am happier if I am able to do everything that I love instead of only one single activity.

As I write this, the weather forecast is calling for rain for tonight, on Thursday, and on Sunday. Another reason not to sign up for a race in Spring. Hooray for training!

Christmas Eve Dinner

A couple of months ago, my parents told me that they were thinking about going to visit my brother for Christmas… they live in Boulder, CO. I was so sad! I have spent every Christmas with my parents… only one time we were not together. And then I thought about the Christmas Eve dinner… my mom and I always make the traditional Romanian dinner together and I have never actually made any of the dishes on my own. I could not have Christmas Eve without the traditional dinner! I asked my mom to write the recipes for me so I could make them.

The dinner includes 7 dishes. It seemed a bit overwhelming to make all of them, especially since some are pretty time consuming. I decided to make my favorites… grâu, bob, and colțunași. I also debated about making the smoked fish dish, but decided on making a simple fish instead. And I did have a helper… sort of.

Grâu means wheat in Romanian. The dish is made with this wheat, which my mom found at a local Greek store. She experimented with a few over the years and the current one seems the best.

 

You have to soak it in boiling water over night, then you change the water, let it come to a boil, and then bake it in the oven for about an hour. Once baked, you add sugar, finely chopped walnuts, and poppy seeds. My mom also adds chopped walnuts, but I forgot to buy some so I did not add it. I actually liked it better without the chopped walnuts.

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Bob is pretty much just fava beans. You sauté onions and garlic with some salt and pepper, then you add the drained fava beans, and sauté until all of the liquid is absorbed. My sister mentioned that she skinned the fava beans before cooking them, so I tried that. It was kind of a pain to do, but perhaps it did help with the digestion.

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Colţunaşi, which means dumplings in Romanian, is definitely my favorite dish from this dinner. I look forward to it all year. They are super tasty but also the most labor intensive. I have been helping my mom make them for years. The most labor intensive part is rolling the dough and actually pinching them. It would take my mom and I hours to make. We had an assembly type line in her kitchen… my dad would roll the dough, my mom would cut the squares and fill them, and I would pinch them. We would make anywhere from 200 to almost 300 of them. Crazy, no!?! :) Then one year, one of us bought my mom the pasta attachment for her Kitchen Aid mixer. That was the best gift ever! It cut our colţunaşi making time in more than half.

The dough is very simple… flour, salt, a bit of oil, and water. The filling includes finely chopped granny smith apple that is mixed with poppy seeds. To finish them off, you add some sautéed onions on top and mix them. I made 84 colţunaşi this year. I think that it took me about an hour to make them, so it was not too bad.

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The traditional dinner also includes two types of fish dishes. Both include lots of onions and a bunch of smoked and non-smoked fishes. I decided not to make them. Instead, I got some Mahi Mahi filets, but I was unsure exactly what to do with them. After a quick text with my brother, he told me to sauté some onion, add a few lemon slices to the pan, add the fish filets, pour a bit of white wine, put the lid on the pan, and cook them for a bit until done. And that is what I did. :) It was super tasty!

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Our friend Yokko joined us for dinner. She brought a Cauli Cream Spinach dish, which was tasty and it went really well with the rest of the dinner.

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I am proud to say that the dishes were a success! I must admit that I was kind of stressed out about making them. I was unsure if they would come out as good as my mom’s. I was also worried about ruining the dinner… that would have been a bummer, especially since my parents were not around either.

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Merry Christmas… or La Multi Ani, as we say it in Romanian. It was also the first day of Chanukah, so Happy Chanukah!! :)

 

 

I ran the Ready Set Glow trail race on Saturday. I was pretty excited to run it. I mean.. does it not sound fun to run in the woods at night with glow sticks?

I planned to run it last year too, but I waited too long to sign up and it filled up. I was so bummed! So I added the date the registration opened on my calendar and I signed up super early. Joel signed up for it too.

We invested in a bunch of glow sticks so we were set. I was not sure what to expect. I have never run in the dark before. Also, the race was at Dryer Road Park, which has a bunch of super twisty trail sections with lots of switchbacks. I ran in there a bunch of times and I always found myself questioning where I was… and that was during the day. It was going to be interesting.

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Since it was a mass start, we decided to start towards the front to avoid the inevitable bottleneck. We started fast. Joel started even faster… I lost him as soon as we entered the woods. Our friend Jeff stuck with me for a bit, but then he took off too. There were a bunch of runners behind me so I was not left alone. Everything was going fine until I came to a spot where the trail split into two directions. I stopped. I did not see a race marker. I was not sure which was the correct way. But then the girl behind me so confidently took the trail that veered left. So we all followed. As I was running, I noticed that there were no trail makers on the trail. A few others made the same comment. But we kept going. I was on the fence about it, but I decided not to turn around. Serves me right!

The rest of the group split up once again and I found myself running alone. I must admit that I was a little uneasy being out there alone in the woods at night… I run alone all the time and I have never felt this way before. The fact that it was dark was different. I did hear and see other runners in the distance, but my uneasiness did not fade. I also felt like I was just going in circles since the terrain looked so similar in a bunch of places.

Then all of a sudden I found myself in the field near the finish line. “How can that be??”, I thought to myself. My watch showed not even 4 miles… the race was supposed to be close to 5 miles. There were two people standing in the field and they told me that a few others finished early too.

I was so upset! I decided to go back into the woods. I ran for a bit but then decided that it was pointless. I had no idea where I was. I did not have a map to check. It was dark. I was alone.

I ended up with 4 miles. As I crossed the finish line, I told the folks who organized the race that I got lost and off the course and that I only ran 4 miles. I was so disappointed!!

Joel and Jeff finished about 10 minutes after I did. They were upset too… apparently they also got lost. They ended up with 5.5 miles. At least they did not finish early! As more runners finished, getting lost was the conversation of the night and everyone shared their experiences. So at least I was not the only one, but I still did not feel any better about it.

Then the results got posted, which made me feel even worse. I was placed with a “U”. What the heck is a “U”?!?! Apparently it means unofficial result. Blah!

I guess that I should not care too much about it, but I do not run many races, so when I do, I try my hardest. I guess that I do have a little competitive spirit in me. Ha! And I have learned my lesson… I will never follow anyone without double checking the trail markers. I am not sure if I will run this race again in the future. If I do, I will have to make sure that I will have a running partner.

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