Race Recap – Hillbilly Hike Half-Marathon

This Hillbilly Hike race recap is LONG overdue. I’ve wanted to write a post extolling the praises of the organization of this race for a very long time, as I feel it has significant potential and will only become an even more popular race in the Central Iowa region over the next few years. What a great race!

My “racing” career has been very brief, but I’ve completed enough races to grow a bit tired of the typical downtown Des Moines and Chicago area event starts. Understandably, the downtown views and traffic control that accompany most distance races are attractive to runners, but I deeply desired something different at the end of the the 2015 racing season. The Hillbilly Hike event promised that the woodlands, farmlands, wetlands, and the prairie would showcase “a rainbow of the state’s natural heritage,” not to mention a downhill, flat, and fast course. A gorgeous prairie and wildlife? Sign me up!

After pushing myself to finish my second half-marathon in less than two hours, I wanted a more scenic and relaxed 13-mile run to close out the year. The Hillbilly Hike race would allow me to check out a part of town I otherwise would not, without having to think about stoplights or running out of water. I also loved the idea of running a small race (less than 500-700 runners) on Summerset Trail, which spans from Indianola to Carlisle, in south-central Iowa.

This race turned out to be exactly how it was described! There were multiple bridges, and it starts out completely downhill. A word of caution: it’s extremely easy to run the first half of this race too fast! It’s not the greatest sign of events to come when you roll out a new 10K PR during a half…and you still have another 7 miles to run.

Regardless, the scenery was crazy-gorgeous, and there was a high of 47 degrees that day. After barreling through the first 6.2 miles at 8:37 pace, I decided to take my time and catch my breath. Around mile 8, I saw deer, and then I passed geese. I wish I would’ve stopped running to take pictures, but the race photographers took great shots of the participants. This one looks totally photoshopped, but that’s how pretty the scenery was:


At the finish line, there’s biscuits, gravy, and pie baked by sweet little church ladies (at least, in my head), as the race is hosted by Indianola Christian Union Church. You can also have your name and finishing time engraved into your medal for a couple of dollars. Although I didn’t run this race faster or as fast as the half-marathon I completed three weeks prior, it isn’t very often that you can get your medal engraved on-site in Iowa.


If you are in Des Moines or a surrounding area, and would like a different race experience with a natural backdrop (you might even see wild turkeys!), the next HillBilly Hike (with 10K or half-marathon options available) will be on November 5, 2016.




Building Mileage

Ah, base-building…..

Since I’ve started running consistently in 2014, I have trained for races on 2 to 3 runs a week, with an occasional 4 runs a week when I can fit an extra day in. This is low for most runners, especially those running half-marathons and longer distances, but I do other activities to build lean muscle mass and strengthen my body – weight-lifting, resistance training, HIIT workouts, and yoga – and sometimes, I’m just too tired to run another day or two in the same week.

I’ve decided that if I want to shore up my weak points, I need to make running and recovery my priorities, so I’ve started a new method of slowly adding a mile to each extra day of running, and holding the volume steady for 3-4 weeks until I reach my desired weekly mileage. This is congruent with the 10% rule that most running experts advise, where you increase each week’s mileage by no more than 10% (assuming you are recovering well and not feeling excessively tired and sore after each mileage increase). I’ve finished my first phase of base-building (we’re in week 4!) and I’m feeling pretty good about the way I warm up and cool down to promote faster recovery.

I’ve also added Dr. Jordan Metzl’s IronStrength for Runners DVD (yep, old school) back into my workout regimen, which left me a bit sore since I haven’t done the exercises in a few months, but I trust that I’ll adjust after a few weeks. Of course, I am building in a down week of reduced mileage and low-impact exercises every 4 weeks to stay healthy.

How do you build your base for additional mileage?


How To Turn a Weekend Getaway Into A Mini-Runcation!

My husband and I visited a couple of friends of his family’s in northeast Iowa recently, and although I attended undergraduate school in northern Iowa, I didn’t do much exploring off-campus, save for a random trip to Hartman Reserve¬†every once in awhile. So when my husband approached me with the idea of a weekend trip, I thought the scenic, picturesque views would be perfect for a couple of low-key, minimal-fuss runs, both solo and with our dogs.


Luckily, my husband understands exactly how much I want to #runallthemiles everywhere I visit, so he brought his bike to cycle behind me. The actual execution wasn’t as flawless as we anticipated…we had so much we wanted to see (and consequently, a bit of driving to do to reach all of our planned destinations), so fitting in an actual run was a bit of a challenge.

The best way to exercise flexibility (see what I did there?!) is to just wear your running clothes and gear to any and all of your outdoor trips. Whenever we’d get close to a trail, the dogs and I would take off running, with my husband and friends within earshot range. Easy miles, done. And if your friends and family are already walking and taking in the sights, they’ll eventually catch up to you, or you’ll be able to circle back and find them. Whenever I do this, I usually use the RoadID app for my husband to pinpoint my location.

These gorgeous views were well-worth my coordinating efforts:


When is the last time you turned a getaway into an opportunity to get some scenic miles in?


Winter Running (Even in the Midwest…)

Running in the winter is a feat that is to be respected. Layer incorrectly, and you flirt with the possibility of extreme overheating, or on the other end of the spectrum, a scary case of frostbite. Either occurrence can wreck the confidence you’ve cultivated as a runner, ruin your outdoor experience, and force you to limit yourself to treadmill workouts, with your Garmin failing to see the light of day until Spring. As someone who has finally made nice with Midwestern winters after twenty-seven years (Chicago upbringing notwithstanding), I understand your reticence, but I also want you to experience the joy of a winter run. Let’s cover a few basics….


The clothing rule of thumb, generally, is to dress for 20 degrees warmer than the weather you’ll actually encounter during your run. Of course, this rule of thumb is not nuanced enough to factor in windchills, freezing rain, and other elements crazy acts of nature,¬† so this requires a bit of trial and error. I’ve found that I’m usually warm enough to comfortably chase an endorphin high in 15-35 degrees Fahrenheit in a sports bra, long-sleeved, moisture/dry-wicking shirt, a shell jacket, compression pants/fitted leggings, sturdy running socks, ear warmers, and good gloves. After 35-40 degrees, I can lose the sleeves and swap out the shell jacket for a long-sleeved, hooded Henley. Of course, this changes in windy and/or wet conditions. You will quickly discover how to avoid over-dressing and under-dressing on the run with time and experience.


Some runners swear by Yaktrax and similar products when running on snow and ice-covered sidewalks. Personally, I don’t use these implements, and prefer to just slow down or run on the grass when the sidewalk doesn’t appear to be safe. In this respect, winter running can be very similar to trail-running as a novice – it requires watching your step and paying close attention to varying terrain.

Hardcore Training/Pace Improvement

Much like running in warm/hot weather, your body begins to make adaptations to running in the cold after a few weeks. You might find that you run slower than your typical pace during your first couple of runs, and then regain your normal training pace or better after those physical adaptations have occurred. As I’m not training for a particular race event or distance right now and using the winter as a time to work on strength and flexibility, I’ve given my average pace very little thought; instead, I’ve focused on effort. Did I get my heart rate up? Did I work up a sweat? Am I smiling at the guy who cut me off in traffic on the way home, because I’m on a blissed-out endorphin binge? Success!

Your first few weeks running in winter weather will feel strange and at times, uncomfortable. During my first few cold-weather runs, I craved the feeling of the sun on my skin and wearing just shorts and a tank top. Now, I embrace the the thin air and how easily I can see my breath – it’s surprisingly an invigorating experience.