Harbingers of Spring

Spring came early to Central Illinois - the trees bloomed in early April and most have fully leafed out. It was so short lived that I didn't get to enjoy it.

However, I made a last minute trip out east to the Boston area and got to enjoy an early spring all over again. I normally visit the area in summer, so the landscape was very different from what I am used to.

Morning Glory

Veridian

Show Me the Way

My runs took me to a local pond and even in the off season, it was calm and inviting.
Off Season #shirleyruns

Even with a bit of rain, there was no wind (in Illinois, rain is almost always accompanied by straight line winds).
Tentacles

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May 2017 Free Calendar Download - Black Beauty

I post a lot about my daughter's equestrian adventures, so I always make sure to feature a horse in my photo calendars. We encountered Black Beauty in the heart of horse country - at Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington - while waiting to compete in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association's National event.




To download this month's calendar, click on this link from Box.com
Link -> May 2017 Desktop Calendar - Black Beauty


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Tulips Make Me Happy

There's not too much to add. I hope Spring is blooming around you.

Lipsticks
Lipsticks
Saying Grace
Embellishments

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April 2017 Desktop Calendar Free Download - Sakura

We are having an early spring, with blossoms abound. The streets are lined with flowering pear trees and the cherry trees at the local Arboretum are showing off their fluffy white flowers.
It is fitting that this month's free desktop calendar features the same blossoms.



To download this month's calendar, click on this link from Box.com
April 2017 Desktop Calendar - Sakura

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Clinton Lake Ultra Recap - The Mudfest

If Running Events were people, the marathon and big road races would be the glitzy, gregarious, trendy and popular Hollywood stars; they are the big name rock artist with the high octane light show in a stadium filled concert. By contrast, the Ultra is its earthy and quiet sister playing in an indie, acoustic band; the venue, an intimate performance house.

At the Start. Photo by Second Wind Running
Members of the Second Wind Running Club before the start of the race.

Stripped of all the glamour (but maintaining the brawn of a marathon), an Ultra is a simple run in the woods or the mountains. There are no massive crowds, no bag drop service and no big-podium-pulsating music at the start. There are no cow-bell yielding cheering stations – out on the course, you imagine the chattering spring frogs as applause, the birds crying overhead calling your name. There are aid stations, but they are stocked with real food, even freshly prepared hot items. Instead of electronic timing chips, mats, online runner tracking or other technical conveniences, there’s a guy at the check in station logging your number while encouraging you on. Many runners experience the later miles alone, conquering the course on their own.

So I completed my first Ultra Marathon! Here's the the short race recap summary:
I finished in 6:31 and something seconds, 37th out of 98 runners who started the race. I felt great throughout the race and (most importantly) didn’t fall and hurt myself. Due to rain the night before, the course was slippery and got extremely muddy which made the hills extra fun. Instead of the forecasted heavy rain and thunderstorms, we ran in light rain and mist with temperatures in the high 50s. I was happy with my race and enjoyed the overall (muddy) experience. I ran the entire race with my training partner and friend, Pramod. Our friend, Nancy, joined us for our last loop as a pacer, keeping us focused on finishing.

The longer version:
For a Saturday morning race, I take Friday off from work in order to relax and prepare my bags with my running gear. The weather was not looking good, with a 90% chance of rain and thunderstorms starting Friday night and all day Saturday. Due to the nature of the course, runners have access to their car after each loop, so I decided to pack multiples of everything. For during the race – 3 long sleeve shirts, 3 short sleeve shirts, 3 pairs of socks, 3 hats, 2 rain jackets, 2 pairs of shoes, an extra set of shorts, a pair of gloves (and a partridge in a pear tree). I tend to get cold if I leave my sweaty running clothes on after a long run, so I always pack a set of dry clothes to change into – a long sleeve shirt, fleece pullover, sweatpants, hat and a towel.

Then there was my bag of food – almond butter / Nutella / tortilla sandwiches (pre-race fuel), Miso rice sushi rolls (fuel between loops), Tailwind Endurance drink (electrolytes and fuel), water, salt tablets and a bag of sports beans. I’ve learned that I perform better if I eat “real food” while running long distances and had trained with all these items without any digestive issues (I must have an iron stomach).

Four of us carpooled together to the race – Jeff, Pramod, Minh and me. Fortunately, Jeff’s minivan provided ample space for our week’s worth of clothing, shoes and food! We left town at 6am under cloudy skies and barely damp roads. We felt hopeful for similar conditions at the race site, 35 miles away, until we encountered the steady rain en route. A light rain had been falling for several hours. I felt chilled, donned the rain jacket I wore during last spring’s marathon in the rain and braced for a repeat of running in constant rain.

The race started at 7:30 under dreary and rainy skies. The course was wet and already muddy. Add in 100 pairs of tromping feet and watch the mud grow. Since we start right into the single track trail, it was slow going for 2 miles while the field spread out. The rain stopped (or it was less noticeable in the forest) and I got hot, so off with the rain jacket, tied it to my waist and continued on. We got into the groove, successfully finding our “trail legs” to navigate the slippery declines. On the first loop, Pramod, Jeff and I stayed together. At the start, Minh forged ahead of us, so we didn’t see him the rest of the race.

The first aid station is after 4.5 miles, at the “top” or north side of the 10 mile loop. You cross an iron bridge to reach the aid station / parking lot, so the race organizers have dubbed this aid station the “Iron Bridge Grill”. Yes, there is a grill and yes, they are cooking food. I didn’t take anything other than water the first time through.

I am familiar with the course and know the second 5.5 miles of the loop is harder than the first 4.5 miles, with challenging inclines / declines and narrow, root filled straight sections. Miles 6-8 are the hardest to maneuver, then the terrain eases up and by mile 9 you know the end is near. The milestone I look for is a steep meadow crossing which immediately turns back into the woods via the last hill of the loop. As I started up this hill, I slid in the mud and it took me down to my knees. Our little cluster of runners start crawling through the mud to reach the top which emerges out to the street. We run downhill on asphalt to the starting line, ending our first loop.

Out in the Woods
Along the trail, taken in February during a training run

After each loop, I changed into a fresh short sleeved shirt and consumed my sushi roll, refilled my fuel bottle, took extra fuel, water and a salt tablet. The rain stopped and a bit of hazy sun peaked out of the clouds - it was getting warm out and I had to make sure I took enough fluids.

The first part of the second loop went by quickly and at the Iron Bridge Grill stop, I considered taking some additional food - I opted to try the roasted potatoes dipped in salt. Yummy! I think I needed extra fuel because during the rest of loop 2, I consumed my back up sports beans.

We finished loop 2 in just over 4 hours, right on schedule. My shoes and calves were caked with mud and little rocks had made their way into my left shoe, so I took the time to take off the shoes and get fresh socks (felt so good). Nancy was ready to pace Pramod and me through the last loop. On the last loop, Pramod led the way, keeping the pace at an even, slower keel (and keeping me reined in because I wanted to run faster). Pramod learned from his experience last year that going out too fast on the start of the last loop caused him to hit the wall after mile 26. I started to experience those little muscle pings, the precursor to muscle cramps that tend to plague me after 20 miles. At our final stop at the Iron Bridge Grill, I took extra - extra salt with my potatoes and tried the sugared bacon. Wow, that bacon was really good and I ate a couple pieces. We had 5 and a half miles left.

In addition to the conversation between the three of us, I occupied my mind by noticing all the signs along the trail. When the hazy sun filtered through the trees, it cast a golden glow on the moss. The forest floor had greened up since our training run three weeks ago. Once barren branches were now tipped in chartreuse. I didn't notice the little white flowers dotting the forest floor during the first two loops, but on the last 5 miles, I couldn't help but see the abundance of delicate blooms. We took the hills with care after Pramod slipped and tumbled off the trail into some branches. Nancy and I had to help him back on his feet. We were prepared for the last slippery slope after the meadow and finally hit the final stretch of asphalt leading back to the start line.

Our friend, Brenda was there, cheering us on and taking photos of us as we finished. 6 hours, 31 minutes and something seconds. Minh had finished about 10 minutes ahead of us. Jeff would finish at 7:45, just under the 8 hour cut off.

You can see some the mud splatter on the front of my shins. The backs of my calves were completely encrusted in mud. Of all the things I packed, the towel I brought came in super handy for cleaning all of that up.

With Nancy, our 3rd loop pacer. I guess I missed the memo about wearing Illinois Marathon shirts (I wore mine on the 2nd loop)
With our Fabulous Pacer

Then there were my shoes - after the race and a day later, after I hit them with the hose and washed them in the sink.


Finally, instead of a finisher's medal, we were given these really nice stainless steel cups. Perfect for filling up with water.
Clinton lake Ultra Goodies
We also received a long sleeve quarter zip technical top with the same squirrel logo. The little squirrel charm was attached to my set of bib safety pins - I think that was just for the women runners.

Two days post race and I am definitely sore, especially my quads. The mud made things extra challenging. Will I do another similar race? Probably! I don't have a race lined up for the fall, so maybe another local 50K Ultra as the leaves are changing.

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Along My Run | 24 Clinton Lake Ultra Training

I haven’t posted much about running since October, after I ran the Chicago Marathon. Yes, I am still running. Yes, I am still taking photos out when I run. Yes, I am signed up for a Spring Race. And since it is officially Spring, yes, the race is this coming Saturday! No, it is not a marathon – it’s a little crazier than that – it’s my first Ultra Marathon!

In the beginning of 2016, I looked back at 2015 and set some future goals. One of those goals was to complete an Ultra in early 2017, before I turned 50 years old (this May). So here I am, ready to tackle 30 miles with 2,100 feet of elevation change on a single track trail.

16 Weeks Training
1. Happy Trails, 2. Be my shelter, 3. On Saturdays We Wear Pink ... and Go Trail running, 4. Magic Carpet, 5. Landmark, 6. Trip the Light Fantastic, 7. Tracks, 8. Winter white glow, 9. The Rest of the Story, 10. Surreal Saturday, 11. The Sun Came Out! , 12. Oh Sun, How We've Missed You, 13. Such a Perfect Day for a Run in the Woods, 14. First Real Run in the Snow!, 15. Back to winter training on Campus, 16. Green Sparkles, 17. Wide Open Space, 18. Diversity, 19. Our Last Long Training Run, 20. Twin Peaks

I signed up for the Clinton Lake Ultra in November, the day race registration opened. The race is limited to 125 participants and I knew it would sell out before the end of the day (it sold out after 6 hours). The trail is a 10 mile loop around, you guessed it, Clinton Lake. I ran the loop for the first time in May last year, and it was the longest, hardest 10 miles I had ever completed. My average pace was 14 minutes / mile and a complete struggle. So I knew what I was getting myself into when I signed up – this would be something challenging and to be quite honest, something that scared me. Fortunately, a few of my friends signed up for the same race so I knew I would have training support (and consolation when it really got tough).

Starting at the end of November, I changed my running schedule to include two days of trail running at a forest preserve about 20 minutes away. During the 16 week training program, I estimate running a little over 50% of my miles on the trails. The hallmark of an Ultra training plan is back to back long runs on the weekends – at our peak weeks, we logged 35-38 miles over two days, including runs on the actual course. My running comrades and I have stuck together through the ice, wind, snow and cold conditions; we’ve run through the mud and ankle deep water. We also enjoyed the beautiful trail scenery, watched the deer thunder through the woods and been refreshed by a light misting rain while the spring frogs started to sing.

I am ready for the upcoming adventure, even if it rains (yeah, in the weather forecast). My goal is to finish within the allotted 8 hour time limit, and if the conditions are like what we trained in, I believe I can finish in a little over 6 hours.

One of my friends, a seasoned Ultra Marathoner (she’s completed two 100 milers and casually completes 50 milers like they are 5Ks) gave me this advice: “Walk all the hills (we’ve practiced that), and don’t stop moving forward. Walking is faster than standing there crying. Because I’ve done the crying thing and it doesn’t get you to the finish line any faster”.

Something to remember if it gets really tough on Saturday...


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New York State of Mind

From my visit to the Big Apple back in August. Erica and I traveled there with my sister and her family via train from Boston. It was an unexpected, last minute trip. We crammed a lot of stuff into 48 hours - the Natural History Museum, the 911 Memorial and Museum, the MET, walks through Central Park and a ferry ride to Brooklyn for its amazing pizza.

Manhattan at dusk, from Brooklyn Park:
160809_iPhone_3085.jpg

Cousins having a blast:
160809_iPhone_3069.jpg

Julianni's Pizza, so yummy!
160809_iPhone_3072.jpg

The Brooklyn Bridge At Night:
Reverie

Bright Lights, City Nights
Overlook

Later this week - Scenes from the Highline.

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Out of the Panhandle - Palo Duro Canyon

Did you know the panhandle of Texas is the home to second largest canyon in the US?

Palo Duro Canyon State park, 30 minutes from Amarillo, emerges from a crest in the highway and you wonder if you've been transported out of Texas.

I visited the Amarillo area twice in 2016 - once with my daughter for her Collegiate Equestrian Competition, then again in September for work. During the first trip, I saw travel brochures featuring the Canyon, but I didn't have time to explore the area. In the fall, several of my co workers and I decided to take an afternoon to explore and hike one of the trails, the popular Lighthouse trail (6 miles round trip).

From the scenic overlook at the Visitor's Center
Overlook

On the Lighthouse Trail, looking toward the Capitol Peak
Views of the Capitol

The Road Runner doing what he does best - running away!
Beep Beep

We made it to the Lighthouse.
Lighthouse Rock
You can climb up to the very top of the left structure. I chose not to. A group of teen boys passed us on the trail and they managed to get to the top.

Two of my co workers started the ascent to the top, but they stopped short when confronted by a 10 foot vertical section of rock. Age makes you smarter I think.
Climbing Down

Proof I was there!
We Went Past the End of the Trail and Up Towards the Famed Lighthouse of Palo Duro Canyon #texas #canyon

The sun started to set as we made our way back to the parking lot. Such beautiful colors in this canyon. If you ever find yourself traversing the Pan Handle of Texas, it's a great place to visit.
Tequilla Sunset

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March 2017 Desktop Calendar - Free Download

After a crazy warm February, March has entered in like a Lion.

It's time for a serene sunrise calendar download to offset the high winds here today.


I took this photo one morning while out running. I coordinate a group of runners and we run together every Wednesday morning. This time of year, just prior to the change to Daylight Saving Time, gives us a great view of the sunrise. You can enjoy it too, without the running!

To download March's free calendar, click on the link from box.com:
March 2017 Calendar Free Download

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Shades of Blue

The weather this past week has been crazy - warm. Highs in the low 70's and lows in the 50's.

Really, too warm for mid-February. Too warm for March!

Now that we have warmer weather on the brain, here are some shades of Blue Hydrangeas.

Moody Blues

Moody Blues

Crepe Paper

Enjoy your Monday!

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Creating the Story - Importance of the Crop

I read a recent article on Street photography via PetaPixel on how to make better street photos.

The article reminded me of a photo I took last summer during an impromptu visit to New York City. We were walking around Central park, a bevy of people and activity all around us. We paused at the Bethesda Fountain, as it was clear to me it was a significant landmark in the park.
NY Minute
The photo above was taken with my "big camera". The shot is just "OK" in my opinion. What story does it tell? Like most summer afternoons, it was crowded at the fountain. Yawn, just another day...

As we explored the area around the fountain, I stumbled across what looked to be a wedding photo shoot. Or maybe it was a magazine photo shoot. I mused to myself "this feels special and unique to everything else I have seen today", and I quickly snapped a photo on my phone. I didn't have time to get out my big camera before the scene dissipated into the crowds. (It felt apparent that the bride wasn't happy with the throngs of people around.)

Here's the original photo I took of that scene:
Original Wedding Shoot
Yeah, not so impressive. I didn't get myself close enough to the scene, there's that woman to the right creating visual clutter, and the exposure is too dark. But instead of hitting the garbage can icon, I decided to crop it in. My focus was of the bride and her groom, patiently waiting in the wings and the archway framing the bride. I converted it to Black and White to play up the groom's silhouette as the original photo was too dark to get any details. I did these edits right in my phone, using the Instagram app.

The final edit:
Waiting in the wings
With all the extra "stuff" gone, the scene is focused and I want to know more about this couple's story.

Don't be afraid to crop away to bring emphasis to the story you want to tell.

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Running, Lately

This is for my family and friends on the East Coast who have been hammered with snow this past week.

We got a surprising amount of snow almost a week ago. Surprising because the two days leading up to the snow were quite warm and sunny.

I'm running in short sleeves! I'm wearing tights but could have gone with shorts that day.

Then the snow came last Wednesday, in big flakes that stick to everything and make the trails particularly beautiful:

I braved the icy highways to get to this particular forest preserve, but I knew the running experience would be worth the drive. I hadn't had an honest to goodness run in snow all season long. The snow wasn't easy to run through, but the scenery was fantastic, just like a snow globe.

B
The trail winds around these waterways that are normally hidden from view. The snow reveals all that you don't notice.

I hit the same trail on Thursday night, the snow illuminated by the silvery glow of the full moon. There's a local group that does these Full Moon Runs - I rarely participate, but each time I have gone, it's because there's snow on the ground.

By Sunday morning, all the snow had melted away, like it had never happened. I'm glad to have gotten out in it while it was still around.

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Vegetarian Chinese Dumplings

For Superbowl Sunday, I always make Chinese Dumplings. I've written about them before when the kids were young, then shared the full recipe three years ago.

This year, I experimented with a vegetarian filling. My son has been eating vegetarian for a few months and he loves dumplings, so I attempted to make them as close to the meat version.

To accomplish this, I used all the same ingredients as the traditional meat filling - shiitake mushrooms, green onion, spinach, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil - while substituting in seasoned tofu for the ground pork.

For the tofu, I marinated super-firm tofu cubes in a mixture of soy sauce, garlic sauce, sesame oil and cornstarch. I recently found Nasoya Super Firm Sprouted tofu in the local market and it is perfect for replicating some of the texture of meat. After marinating them overnight, I pan fried them so that the cubes develop a crispy crust:
Tofu

The cubes are good for snacking on, too. Side note - use any marinade on the tofu cubes to change up the flavor. Some ideas - BBQ sauce, Chipotle sauce, Buffalo Wing Sauce.

I cut the tofu cubes into smaller pieces and added it to the other ingredients:
Veggie Dumplings
I also incorporated an egg into the mixture as a binder. Wrap and cook just like the meat version.

The finished dumpling:
Veggie Dumplings

They won the approval of my son, so I call that a success.

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February 2017 Desktop Calendar - Milkweed

I'm back again with a free desktop calendar download.

When I took this photo, I thought the hollowed out milkweed shell looked like a perfect little place for a small creature to make its home. Or a nice place to rest. I took the photo by the retention ponds in the neighborhood - there was no snow last year and there's no snow now. Even though the groundhog saw his shadow yesterday, it hasn't been too much of a winter here, so 6 more weeks of repeat doesn't seem so bad.



To download February's free calendar, click on the link from box.com:
February 2017 Calendar

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Kane The Thoroughbred

I wrote several months back that my daughter had decided to sell her Appaloosa horse, Caesar. At the time, she was trialing another horse, but we weren't sure this new horse, Kane, was the one. An examination with our vet identified some breathing issues with Kane, so I thought we would pass. As it turned out, even with his breathing issues, Kane is a good fit for Erica at this time.

Cross Country with Kane

Cross Country with Kane

He's a thoroughbred and quite larger than Caesar.
She's been working with him in Dressage. I believe this summer they will start to compete in various equestrian events.

Dressage Clinic

Dressage Clinic

I am happy to report that Caesar is doing well with his new family. Erica visited him over the holidays and although she mentioned he was looking a little chubby, that's actually good as he had always been on the skinny side.

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Back Again

I hope to fill this space with images that invoke beauty, calm, grandeur, stillness, movement, happiness and light.

I realized I've neglected this space because of other things, things I need to let go of.

Today's photos: from last June, a weekend escape to Saugatuck, Michigan. It's a wonderful place to visit - with quaint shops, a vibrant art community, sand dunes and access to the sandy beaches along Lake Michigan.

Right in the middle of the town is a lovely garden square:
Angular Softly
Welcome In

Farmers Market
All the Reds with Greens

Basket Fare

Saugatuck Dunes State Park - You have to walk a little over a half a mile from the parking lot, but when you see the glistening lake through the trees, you know you have arrived.

What Will You Discover Today? #water #beach #dunes #lakemichigan #puremichigan #path #leadinglines #blessed

Respite

Dunescape

Further to the south you can climb the stairs at Mount Baldhead Park - it's over 300 stairs, but worth the view at the top, looking down at the Kalamazoo River
Aerial
On the backside of the stairs, the sandy path takes you right to Oval Beach, one of the very popular beaches of Lake Michigan.

It might be time to plan another weekend getaway there!

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All images on this blog (unless stated) are the intellectual property and copyright of Shirley LeMay Photography and Shirley Behind the Lens (© 2005-2014). Do not steal, borrow or pirate the images here.

The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code. and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act) prohibits the use of digital property to be used without the consent of its owner.

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