Running Goals for 2017

2016.  I started the year knowing I was going to run the Missoula Marathon in July. I didn’t want to put it off another year.  I wanted to get my first marathon out of the way.  However, the next few months would make me question whether or not I could do it.  My work life became busy and stressful.  At one point, there was talk I would be relocated within the company (obviously, that didn’t happen).  Additionally, traditional training plans are boring to me.  I found a 20-week program that, initially, sounded like something I could stick to.  After three weeks, I was over it.  I wasn’t enjoying any of the runs I was going on.  I felt restricted to how far I could run on a given day, because of this training plan.  I threw out my training plan, and started hitting the trails.  I’ve always enjoyed power hiking up the mountain, and then running down.  I wasn’t getting in distances more than 10 miles, however.  A few weeks before the marathon, Bryan and I went on our longest run – 16 miles.  I was kind of following a training plan of slowly increasing my miles, and then tapering.  The marathon came and went, and I’m still disappointed in my performance.

The next race I had a goal for was the Snowbowl 15k in August.  We had run this race in 2015, and afterward, I told Bryan I wanted to come back in 2016 and beat my time.  Long story short, I didn’t.  In fact, it was one of my worst mental races.  I wasn’t in shape.  I was tired.  Honestly, my heart wasn’t in it.  I knew I was there, because I said I wanted to run better than I had previously.  There was a brief moment during the race that I thought I could do it.  Then, as quickly as that thought had entered my mind, it was gone.  I didn’t even break two hours that day.  Another disappointing race.

The next race I had a goal for was the Sweathouse Half Marathon in September.  This was it.  After Snowbowl, I knew I needed to finish strong.  My goal was to finish in under two hours.  It didn’t happen.  Part of me wants to blame it on my carelessness, when I sprained my foot on a trail up the mountain (where I probably should not have been running the week before a race).  Ultimately, I just didn’t train for the race.  I didn’t put in the time or effort to be able to break two hours.

Finally, the Blue Mountain 30k was happening.  When I signed us up, I knew it was going to be tough.  My mind was elsewhere, not at all focused on running.  I was excited to be there, though.  Only one hundred people are able to register for the race, and I was one of them.  It was a beautiful morning, and I ran alone (for the most part).  This race was exactly what I needed to end the year.  I finished under my goal time of four hours.  Barely, but I did.

So, what happened in 2016?  I have thought a lot about this.  I got ahead of myself.  I had a few races under my belt from 2015, and I thought I knew what I was doing.  I learned a tough lesson in 2016.  In order to be a better runner, you have to put in the time, effort, and energy to achieve your goals.  It’s not an option.  Running isn’t like school, where you can stay up late the night before an exam and cram, or throw together an ok paper to get a grade.

2017.  I’ve thought about what my running goals are this year. I have two:

  1. Run a sub-two hour half marathon
  2. Run 1,200 miles throughout the year

2016 was full of a variety of distances and terrains, and I think it was difficult for me to separate a training run from a relaxed day on the mountain.  Being able to define what my goals are, why they are important to me, and how I will achieve them is something I have put a lot of thought into.

I’m determined to see this through.

-A-

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Eggplant Parmesan Spaghetti Squash Boats

It must be the frigid weather we’ve been experiencing, but all we want to eat is some type of warm squash dish!  Last winter, we bought a spaghetti squash to puree for Sydney, thinking it would be good enough compared to a pumpkin or butternut squash.  However, we haven’t actually had one in a dish until now.

Roasting the spaghetti squash, and then shredding the inside into the “noodles” was super easy.  I loved that the squash wasn’t overly sweet.  Sometimes the butternut squash is a little too sweet, depending on the dish.  My one complaint about this dish, was we went a little too heavy on the sauce.  I don’t love a lot of sauce on my pasta, and I should have known I wouldn’t like a lot here either.  Just food for thought!

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Eggplant Parmesan Spaghetti Squash Boats

  • 1 spaghetti squash, cut in half lengthwise and seeds removed
  • Olive oil
  • 1 medium eggplant, cut in one-inch slices
  • ½ cup flour
  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 cup Italian bread crumbs
  • 1 jar of your favorite tomato sauce (we used a garden veggie blend)
  • Mozzarella cheese, shredded (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line baking sheet with parchment paper.  Brush cut sides of squash with olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Place cut side down onto baking sheet and bake for 40-50 minutes, or until tender.  Remove from oven and let cool.  Using a fork, scrape squash into spaghetti strands.  Reduce oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Heat olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Place flour, almond milk, and breadcrumbs into three separate bowls.  One eggplant slice at a time, dip into the flour, almond milk, and breadcrumbs, in that order.  Once coated, place eggplant slices into hot skillet.  Brown each side of the eggplant, about 5 minutes per side.  Remove eggplant from skillet.  Cut eggplant into cubes.
  3. Assembling the boats: remove some of the scraped squash from the boat and place in a bowl.  Layer the boats with squash, sauce, and eggplant.  Repeat twice.  Top with sauce, and cheese if using.  Bake assembled boats for 15-20 minutes, or until heated through.

 

Superhero Muffins

Run Fast. Eat Slow.
Nourishing Recipes for Athletes.

We came across this cookbook on social media.  One of the several professional runners (Shalane Flanagan) we follow had posted something, most likely on Instagram.  I go through phases, like most people, where I think, “This is it!  This will be the cookbook that changes the way I eat!”  Bryan was able purchase get the digital version for next to nothing, thanks to some gift cards.  He flipped through the pages first, taking in a quick glance.  I, much later, eventually did the same.

I actually had my first encounter with the cookbook when I was at a Oiselle get together back in September.  We had all heard of the cookbook before it was coming out, and talked about it briefly.  But there it was, sitting in Jackie’s kitchen.  She had fresh Superhero Muffins made for us girls to snack on while we made out tutus.  (See the Diva Day post for details and photos.)

Fast forward to the middle of December, Bryan and I were finally trying a recipe from the book.  After taking a look through some recipes, they were very meat-friendly.  Still being relatively new to the no-meat scene, I get intimidated by trying to substitute meat in recipes.  But that’s another post…

We tried the Superhero Muffins recipe first.  They didn’t include any meat, and I love muffins.  In fact, to date, it’s still the only recipe we’ve tried.  But we both love the muffins.  They’re perfect for grabbing in the morning when we’re heading out the door to work.  Or for a mid-morning snack on a day off when breakfast was early and you don’t want to make lunch.  We have tweaked the recipe to work for us, moving towards a vegan version.

These muffins will definitely continue to be a weekly staple in our kitchen.  The recipe is easy to modify, so you don’t get tired of the same ingredients.  Don’t want raisins again?  Perfect, don’t put them in; or better yet, substitute a different dried fruit.  Don’t like nuts?  Don’t use them.  Listed in the ingredients below are what we prefer, but like I said things are interchangeable.

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Superhero Muffins

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)
  • ½ cups mini chocolate chips (optional)
  • ½ cup craisins, raisins, or dates (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons ground flax seed + 9 tablespoons water (or 3 eggs)
  • 1 cup grated zucchini (about 1 zucchini)
  • 1 cup grated carrots (about 2 carrots)
  • 6 tablespoons apple sauce (or 6 tablespoons butter, melted)
  • ½ cup maple syrup or honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Position rack in the center of the oven.  Preheat oven to 350F degrees.  Line or grease muffin tin.
  2. In a large bowl, combine flour, oats, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, salt, walnuts, chocolate chips, and craisins.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix together flax seed, water, apple sauce, zucchini, carrots, maple syrup/honey, and vanilla extract.  Add to the dry ingredients until just combined.  The batter will be thick.
  4. Spoon the batter into the muffin cups, filling each to the brim.  Bake until muffins are nicely browned on top and a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean, 25 to 35 minutes.

Cheers to the New Year!

-A-

Cremini Mushroom Gnocchi

We’re making a more conscious effort to find recipes and cook meals from (almost) scratch.  Bryan found this recipe, and we both thought it sounded good enough to try.  This wasn’t our first experience with gnocchi.  One of the recipes we’ve had previously was through Blue Apron.  Since we don’t venture much with gnocchi, this recipe sounded simple enough to try.

Overall, the recipe was very simple.  Boil some water, sauté some mushrooms, and mix it all together.  Basically.  The smell of the mushrooms cooking in the white wine was delicious.  I couldn’t wait to try it all together.

The dish itself was great.  The simple white wine reduction with the mushrooms, then cooked with the gnocchi was perfect.  The mushrooms soaked up the sweetness of the white wine, adding extra flavor.  We probably should have browned our gnocchi a little more, but we were a little impatient.  My only thought was that it needed a small side salad.  The gnocchi dish alone was a little heavy.

We’ll definitely be keeping this recipe for future use!

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Cremini Mushroom Gnocchi

  • 1 pound potato gnocchi
  • 6 ounces cremini mushrooms, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped parsley
  • 2/3 cup white wine (we used a Pinot Blanc from Oregon)
  • 1/3 cup Crumbled feta cheese
  1. Bring water to a boil.  Add gnocchi and cook according to package instructions.  Drain and set aside.
  2. While gnocchi is cooking, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add mushrooms and cook for about 5 minutes, letting them brown.  Add garlic and parsley, and cook for another minute.
  3. Add wine and cook for 3-4 minutes, until the wine is almost evaporated, but leaving some liquid remaining in the skillet.  Add the gnocchi, stir everything gently and continue to cook for 5-7 minutes until gnocchi is browned slightly.
  4. Remove pan from heat and sprinkle feta cheese on top.  Serve hot.

Until next time.
-A-

Race Report: Mt Jumbo Elk Ramble

At the beginning of November, I ran the Mt Jumbo Elk Ramble 15K.  I am just getting around to writing the race report, for no other reason than work kind of got in the way of life.  I have been traveling and a blog post took a back seat to sleeping and trying to get one decent run in every weekend.

This was the first race that I was flying solo.  Ashley was out of town for the weekend, so I had to get prepared on my own.  The morning started off as usual for a race day.  I got up early, drank some coffee, ate breakfast and did everything I could to not worry about the race.  I tried something different that morning.  I tried to put my race number on my shirt before I put it on.  The success rate was 50%.  When I went to put the shirt on, I had pinned two of the four safety pins through the back of the shirt as well, and I couldn’t put it on.  Great start to the day.

It was 30 degrees that morning and I was contemplating wearing arm sleeves, but I went with just gloves and a short sleeve shirt.  I had just purchased a new pair of shorts and I thought I would try them out.  It was cold initially, but I knew that the sun would warm things up and hopefully my effort would warm me up from the inside.

The race started at 10 am.  I stayed in the warm car until about ten minutes before the start.  The gun went off and I started out slowly as usual.  Not half a mile into the race, my abdomen started to bother me.  I don’t know if it was a side ache, or if I had strained a muscle at work that week.  Either way, my abs were uncomfortable all morning.

The race started up a long hill and usually I pick people off going uphill.  Today was different.  My training had been subpar for the few weeks leading up to the race.  I was content to bide my time and just take it easy.  The hill was lengthy and most of the people around me were suffering equally.  It finally leveled off and headed downhill to the aid station and the turnaround point.  I caught up with a few people on the hill, but my abs were still bothering me so I took some time at the aid station to drink some Gatorade and water before heading back up the trail.

I ended up behind a few guys that were pacing the hill well, so I stayed with them until we hit the top and two of us broke off and headed up yet another hill.  It was slow going.  I was not in a great frame of mind and I knew the steepest part of the course was still to come.  I kept moving forward but I found myself walking up some of the hills.

Finally, I crested the steepest hill and the highest point of the course.  It was all downhill from there.  I started to push, knowing that I would have momentum and gravity on my side.  I caught several people on the downhill and caught up with a guy I had met at a few beer runs.  We ran together for a half mile or so before I started to let loose and cruised down the pavement.  There was one girl in front of me that I could see so I tried my best to catch up with her.  I passed her about 300 yards from the finish and started to speed up.  I was tired, but I could see the black Runners Edge arch of the finish line.  I crossed the finish line in 19th place in a time of 1:13 and change.  It was almost a 30-minute PR from the year before.  I had won my age division in the previous two races I had competed in.  I ended up in 6th place in my age division at this race.

It was a solid experience and I couldn’t wait to eat the grilled cheese sandwiches at the finish line.  Although I always pick my races apart and figure that I could have raced them faster, I was content with my finish.  I’m sure I could always run a little faster, but I think this will be last Elk Ramble for a few years.  I like to race a course at least twice.  Once to figure it out, and once to race it hard.  Now it is time to start volunteering more and focusing on running some longer races.  This community is filled with talented runners and I want to start making a name for myself.

-B-

Race Report: Diva Day 5k

I keep telling myself “This will be my last race;” and then I sign up for another race…  However, Diva Day was different.  Our Oiselle group leader, Trisha, sent us all a message about a month before the race to see if any of us were interested in forming a team.  Of course, everyone starting immediately responding yes.  I knew if I didn’t run, I would feel like I missed out on a fun team run.

We all got together a few weeks before the race and made tutus that would match the singlets we would all be wearing.  It was the first time all of us had gotten together since becoming birds, and it was great getting to know the girls over mimosas and tutu making!

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In addition to running on race day with the Oiselle birds, I had planned on volunteering for Diva Day.  After my experience as a race director, I now have a new appreciation for volunteering at races.  Both Bryan and I have previously volunteered, but I definitely make a greater effort now!  The day before the race, I helped with late on-site registration.  It was a lot of fun seeing a wide range of women coming out to run this annual 5k that raises funds for a local breast cancer research group.  I also helped out with race day registration.  Bryan didn’t skip out on volunteering for this race – he helped with setting up the tents for post-race activities, and handed out mimosas at the Runner’s Edge tent to all the (of age) women who finished the race!

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We took a few pre-race pictures as a group, and then broke up into our smaller running pairs.  We have a couple birds who are really fast, a few in the middle of the pack (like me), and then we had a few injured birds who walked this race.

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The weather was wonderful – a cool 60 degrees and a little wet from rain we had the night before.  The course was a simple out and back at Fort Missoula.  I had never been out there, so I was more interested in looking at all the buildings and construction they were doing!  I ran with Hillary, one of the RWM executive directors and a Oiselle bird.  I knew running with her I would be able to keep a comfortable pace and not go out too quickly.  Near the end of the race, she began to pick up speed and I knew I had to finish strong with her.  We crossed the finish line at 27:59.  Technically, this was my fastest 5k!  However, I’ve only run two 5ks…  In longer distances, I’ve actually run a faster 5k.  Either way, I was happy to come in under 30 minutes.

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After the race, there was a photo booth we took advantage of, snacks under a warm tent, mimosas, and lots of little goodies.  In addition to all the usual post-race fun, they had a raffle for several different prizes.  Of course, I didn’t win anything, but that’s ok!

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Diva Day was a great opportunity for me to get to know other Oiselle birds, and become more involved in our running community.

Race Report: Blue Mountain 30k

Ashley’s Recap:
Back on July 5th, registration for the Blue Mountain 30k opened at 8AM.  I happened to hop on Facebook while I was on a break at work and saw some people had posted about being able to register.  I knew if I didn’t register Bryan and myself that moment, we weren’t going to be able to run it this year.  The race is capped at 100 participants, and it usually fills up within the first few hours.  I was able to get both of us registered.  My initial excitement was brief; this was still a few days before the Missoula Marathon – my biggest race ever.  I didn’t really have time to think about what I had just gotten myself signed up for.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago.  We had just finished running the Sweathouse Half and a friend of ours mentioned that Blue Mountain was just two weeks away.  In that moment, it still hadn’t sunk in that a 30k was 18.6 miles…  I was registered for an almost 20-mile trail race!  My foot still wasn’t feeling great, and I was starting to have other minor aches and pains in my left knee.  Was I really going to be able to run this thing?

Bryan and I arrived at the race start with plenty of time to spare.  If you know us at all, we are both very punctual people.  We sat in the car for a bit, keeping warm; it was only 37 degrees outside.  Eventually, we made our way out of the car and talked with a few other runners.  Some of them had run this before, and others were first-timers like us.  I always think I’m better off not really knowing what I’m getting myself into, and this was definitely the case today.

They called the runners to line up, and we all gathered in the shoot; Bryan much farther up than me.  I quickly said hi to my friend, Megan, and the countdown to race start began.  We were off running on the paved road, and then quickly began into the Blue Mountain Recreation Area.

There was a group of 8 women, with me at the tail end, all running together.  We were supposed to follow the yellow flags that marked the course.  Our little group was doing well, until the first five women went running right when they should have gone left.  The sixth women yelled out that they missed the flags, and they quickly rejoined us on the correct trail.  From then on, I was very vigilant in checking for yellow flags.

By the time I reached the first aid station just before mile 6, I was still feeling ok.  We had already ascended the first major climb, and we were finally making our way down.  The next 7 miles were pretty uneventful.  Climbing up a lot, and then there was a little reprieve with some downhills.  The highest point of the race was at mile 11ish.  It was beautiful up there; roughly 4,800ft.

Then came the cascading downhills.  We were running on motorcycle tracks, so there were a lot of S-curves.  Everything was going well enough, I didn’t want to quit or anything.  Then we crossed a dribble of a creek and continued downhill running along it for a short period of time.  This is where my race had a little hiccup…  I was feeling great, running at a descent pace, and my toe hooked a rock in the ground.  I went face first straight to the trail!  Luckily, my softball instincts are still pretty good and I laid out as flat as possible with my arms in front of me.  As soon as I knew my whole body was on the ground, I quickly tucked and rolled to a stop.  I laid on the ground and stared at the blue sky for a few seconds.  I was clearly alive, but was anything sprained/broken/bleeding?  Nope.  Perfect.  I got on my knees and started to stand up when another runner behind me hollered out to make sure I was ok.  I got up and got moving.  The adrenaline was flowing enough that nothing hurt, yet.

The last few miles were rough.  I really just wanted to be done, and we were finally back on trails that I recognized, so I knew we were getting close to the end.  My quads were really tired, and for the first time ever, my calves were burning.

I made it to the bottom of the rec area.  I just had to run a little over a half a mile on pavement, and then I would be at the end!  I jogged for a bit, and then took a moment to walk.  I wanted to be able to run across the finish line, and I knew I needed to slow down.  I began running again, rounded the final corner on the paved road, and could see the finish arch.  I was so close.  I could see Bryan up ahead waiting for me to finish.  I saw the clock and knew I would be able to break four hours.  In order to push myself, I tried to beat the clock to 3:58:00.  Picking up speed, I could hear a couple people starting to cheer louder, it was exactly what I needed.  Coming in at 3:57:42 was a great finish to my trail racing season.

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Bryan’s Recap:
I was nervous for the Blue Mountain 30K this morning.  I lined up near the front but I didn’t anticipate that I would stay up there for long.  As the starting gun pierced the early morning air, we all took off and settled in to a solid pace.  I found myself in the top 20 as we cruised along the first half mile of asphalt and funneled into the Blue Mountain recreational area.  From here, the trail quickly turned to a dirt track and then into a single track and we settled into a single file group and pushed along at just over 8-minute mile pace.  I settled into the tail end of the pack and tried to control my breathing.  The trail began to switchback up a steep hillside.  At this point, I continued my pace and passed several people as the trail ascended the hill.  I was looking for someone to pace with, but many seemed to have started too quickly and I was feeling strong, so I went off on my own and pushed my own pace.

I decided not to stop at the first aid station and continued down the road.  Then I almost missed the turn to go back into the trees and onto single track.  The course monitor shouted at me and pointed me in the right direction and I was off on a long gradual downhill.  From my position, I couldn’t see anyone in front of me.  I knew I was somewhere near the front, but I didn’t know what place nor did I really care.  The long downhill turned into a shallow uphill and I tried to keep my body moving forward.  At this point, I spotted a runner ahead of me and slowly caught up to him on the next long downhill.  He seemed to be running at a steady pace and I decided to stay behind him and use him to help me pace up the next climb.

The downhills were great on my legs, but the next climb was going to be a pain.  The runner in front of me kept up a decent place and slowly pulled away from me.  I decided to start power hiking to conserve me energy on the hill.  Just before the top, the trail became extremely steep and I had to just put my head down and keep moving.  I crested the hill and headed down a motorcycle track to the next aid station around mile 8.  I stopped for some water and grabbed a gel, said thanks to the volunteers and headed back up the road looking for the next trail marker.

From here the trail just kept going up and up and up, seemingly forever.  I spotted the runner in front of me for a brief moment and that was it.  The trail turned off the road and onto another single track and was steep enough to induce another bout of power hiking that lasted a while.  At the top of the single track, the race director, his girlfriend and the course monitor were nice enough to point me along the trail which continued to ascend and turned to a super technical, rocky slope that ended in the third aid station.  I joked with the volunteers for a second and then headed back down the trail.  This section was an out and back so I saw some runners going up and I saw plenty of runners behind me on the way out.  The volunteers at the top told me I was in 7th place.  I didn’t know if that meant 7th overall or 7th male, so I took it with a grain of salt and continued downhill.

The course traveled along a four-wheeler track that was more like a roller coaster with several ups and downs.  Then the trail serpentined through some trees and I was running quick enough that my eyes weren’t focusing well.  I thought I might get motion sickness, but the section quickly passed and I headed down another steep, technical descent to the fourth aid station where I grabbed some water and tossed it down my back and again headed back uphill.  By this time in the race, around mile 14, my legs were getting heavy so I power hiked all the way to the top of the hill.  I was close to the runner in front of me and as we descended the downhill, I continued to use him to keep me moving forward.

Mile 16 passed and the runner in front of me pulled off the side of the trail and stopped.  Again, I was on my own and flying downhill on switchbacks.  I didn’t know what place I was in, or who might still be in front of me.  My intent at the beginning of this race was to enjoy the course and maybe win my age group, but with only a few miles left, I began to push a little harder.  Coming out of the trees, I saw another runner that I hadn’t been in contact with since the beginning of the race.  I was in chase mode and I slowly closed the distance before we headed up and across a field.  The runner began punching his leg which I thought wasn’t normal, but at this stage of the race, most things don’t feel normal anyway.  He was cramping so I offered him some water even though he was wearing a hydration pack.  He said he was cramping but he would be fine.

There was a long downhill stretch before heading back onto the pavement and the finish.  The runner might have been cramping, but I wasn’t going to let him keep in contact with me this close to the end.  I pushed downhill and back onto the asphalt.  A few months back, I bonked terribly when a steep up and down half marathon hit the flat section before the finish.  My mind was racing and I was insecure about what would happen when I hit the flat.  I love mountain running because of all the ups and downs.  Flats scare the hell out of me.

I hit the flat and pushed myself knowing that someone was behind me.  I wanted to finish strong and prove that I could keep a solid pace along a flat stretch of road near the end of a race.  My legs were toast but there was going to be a downhill finish if I could get to the 90 degree turn up ahead.  I hit the corner, crossed the road and pushed hard to the finish.  The clock was slowly counting up and I saw that I was going to finish well below my 3-hour goal.  Crossing the line, a complete sense of relief flowed through my body.  I was tired.  I had impressed myself and as I looked around, there did not seem to be that many people wearing race bibs.  Maybe I had finished in the top ten.  Awards were a couple hours later and not only did I win my age division, but I was 3rd male overall in a time of 2:44:46.  For my efforts, I received two bags of caramel popcorn.  Not a bad take for a Sunday morning run.