A Fitness Snob…Walks!

To all who are kind enough to follow our blog: We regret we have been out of touch so

Go "Molly's Army!"

Go “Molly’s Army!”

long! We are preparing to walk in the Susan G. Komen 3 Day walk in the Twin Cities. Here are some of my thoughts; Chad will be posting soon.

I am an athlete. It has taken me a while to say that. First, because I’m slow (and athletes are supposed to be fast, right?). Second, I am definitely an amateur. No one sponsors me, and aside from one travel mug, I have never ‘won’ anything, neither fame nor fortune. Third, the events and activities I do I do for me; for my health and wellness and for fun. I have been realistic about my ametuer athlete status and have not taken myself too seriously, always looking at the bright side. How can you not have that attitude when you consistently finish in the 33%-tile?

That’s why I was so surprised at myself when the opportunity to walk a Susan G. Komen 3 Day event came up, and I, casual, fun-loving amateur athlete that I am, thought to myself, “Aren’t I too good for that?” “After all the progress I’ve made towards bigger and longer activities, wouldn’t this be beneath me, a step back?” [Please note: I am embarrassed and ashamed of these thoughts and am a bit mortified to admit to them.] Yes, I could have refused, but how much more would I hate myself if I had?! So after a millisecond of thought, I agreed to walk with Chad this year. I did this basically for two reasons: 1. Cancer research is one of the most important causes to me and my family, and 2. Part of my casual athlete code is that I try different events and activities. So after I got out of my own, conceited damn way, I realized it was a wonderful opportunity to fight against the ravages of cancer, and to test myself (and in more ways than one, as it turns out.)

[Another note: Cancer research for cures and treatments is the predominant reason for this event, and raising money to help those we love is why we are doing this. You only have to read our other posts and blogs to realize that. Having said that, I am about to focus on the walking and training experience only. Please don’t think the fight against cancer is not constantly on my mind. The perspective I am hoping to give here are just my own; what a fitness snob has gone through alongside all of my other experiences with the 3 Day. Again, I apologize for how snobbish some of this is about to sound.]

In order to walk 60 miles; basically all day for three days in a row, you’ve got to train for all those hours. That takes time. The training schedule basically consists of walking both weekend days, plus two other days of walking, two cross-training days and one rest day. That means less kayaking, running, biking, and more time walking…and walking…and walking. I knew that in committing to this I would be sacrificing other events, just trying to sneak them in when I can. So after months on sidewalks and trails, we are 3 weeks away from finishing our 24 week training schedule and getting to the main event. We have had to juggle the schedule around a bit to fit in holidays, vacations and other summer obligations, but we have tried to stay on course as much as possible. After finishing what will probably be our biggest weekend of walking, we start to taper slightly (though the mileage on the weekend before the event is still 18 miles!) Spending hours walking over the last months, I’ve time to think about my attitude entering this experience. I was curious at the beginning about how my training would go and what would happen to my fitness, and I have come to realizations on several different topics:

“Casual Activity:” There is more and more evidence that panting on the treadmill for 30-60 minutes before going back to your desk job or spending the rest of the weekend on the couch is not the answer. We are seeing that sitting less and moving more is better for health and longevity, and I can say for certain that the weekends I was training for races, even half marathons, involved less activity than the weekends I spent walking.

(Here’s an interesting article for you couch potatoes and marathon runners alike:http://www.runnersworld.com/health/sitting-is-the-new-smoking-even-for-runners)

Injury: While I have been fortunate enough to be basically injury-free throughout my life, I am getting more aches and pains as each race season comes and goes. In past years, I have had issues with runner’s knee and plantar fasciitis, and the reduction in running days has made these almost disappear, while still staying fit. Plus, I am (so far) spending a season not adding any new injuries, which is a bonus!

Weight: Because a healthy weight is associated with a longer life, I of course want to stay at one, and I wasn’t sure how this switch would affect my weight. However, I found that I have easily been able to stay at the same weight as when I started this training schedule. (I have confidence that if I was really wanting to lose, I could accomplish this, as I haven’t spent too much time restricting my diet or increasing the intensity of my other workouts.) There is also the fact that my muscle mass has increased, which isn’t addressed when you stand on the scale. (see below)

Strength: I often push myself on runs and leave any weights for last, and then I am too tired to really get something out of them. Admittedly, this is my own fault. However, with walking, I am able to come back not completely spent, allowing me to work on strength, which is also important for several areas of health. Plus, its pretty cool to be able to do more push-ups than I ever could before!

Enjoyment: Walking can be a bit boring, and one of the things I was dreading was walking laps around our small town for hours! However, with a bit of planning, we were able to get some added value out of our longer walks. We hiked some miles of Glacial Drumlin and The Ice Age Trails we had never been on before. We even walked around Lake Monona, which is something we do on our bikes in an hour, but because this took over four, we were able to see some things close up that we miss at 13 mph. On an even more personal note, Chad and I were able to spend many of those hours together without too much distractions, which was nice after a winter of long commutes, long work hours, and phones and technology always buzzing in the background.

Ego: As we live in the same town as Trek bicycles world headquarters, we see some pretty serious bikers, as well as the usual casual runners, walkers and bikers. I do admit that as someone would pass me as I was on a training walk, I felt embarrassed. I had urges to break into a run in order to show them that “I can run, really, I’m just CHOOSING to walk.”  In my defense, I honestly DON’T judge other walkers/runners that I see. I remember having to walk as I was building up to running, and I am always glad to see people out and being active. So the fact I had such an ego (even as slow as I run!) was a very interesting revelation.

In the end, I have found this training experience fascinating. I have seen the theories about walking and cross-training and “sedentary athletes” first hand–even things I thought I already knew were shown to me in a new way. I learned that moving forward can be done by taking a “step back.” I learned that no experience or activity is beneath me. I hope I never forget these lessons, and I hope that if a similar situation crosses your path, you’ll ignore any condescending snobbery yammering in your head, and just say “Yes!” (Or for all you secret snobs out there, you could help us in our fight by donating to www.the3day.org. This link will take you to our team page, Molly’s Army, and you can donate to any one of our 4 team members. Thanks from the bottom of our hearts for helping us in this fight.)

As a bonus for my data-geek friends, here’s a little comparison (Calories are estimated using my data from myfitness.pal):

Biggest weekend of walking: We did need to split Saturdays miles due to scheduling conflicts.



Estimated Calories



1 hour 43 min




2 hours 50 min




5 hours 12 min



34 miles

9 hours 45 min


Biggest weekend of half marathon training:



Estimated Calories







2 hours 18 min



Cross training

45 min

356 (a brisk bike ride)


12 (+ cross-training)

3 hours 3 min



Michelle’s Half of the Madison Half Marathon Race Report

Madison half before 5.26.13 CroppedMay, 26, 2013 was a landmark day for the fishstickstosushi blog, and the 40 X 40 (now 35 X 40) project. Chad and I both participated in the Madison Half Marathon! Since I am writing both as myself and Chad’s partner in his 35 X 40 effort, not only will I give a race report, but will also share some thoughts on Chad’s great accomplishment!

As anyone who has read the race report for my first half marathon ever has learned, I am a BOP-er (Back Of the Pack-er.) I am not fast. I don’t have long legs, or speedy genes in my DNA. I have never even necessarily trained to be fast, so again, its no surprise that I finish in the bottom third of my races. My training has been to make it through the race, and yes, I strive to improve if I am repeating a race, but that pretty much takes up most of my training time.

In order to stay focused and provide a final goal to help me through the dark, cold winter months, I decided to do the Madison Half Marathon, a spring race that’s part of the Madison Marathon Events series of races. (Actually, the reason this all came together is that Chad was supposed to walk this distance this same weekend as part of his Komen 3-Day training schedule, so it seemed destined.) When it came time to consider my goal time, I was at a loss, as usual. Having only done one half, I didn’t know what kind of improvement to expect. The course, number of participants and weather might be different, so as I always do, I tried to just look at my own race. What could I expect for improvement? I had originally hoped for 2:25:XX, which would be a 10 minute improvement over my last time of 2:36:32, which, admittedly, was me just trying to make it though the 13.1 miles. Could I get 2:25:XX if I tried for it? Again, I used Hal Higdon’s training plan, but I upgraded from Novice to Intermediate, which added some speedwork, which I needed! As I was training, I thought that the 2:25:XX goal might have been to ambitious, and I decided on the following “grading scale” for myself:

A=2:25:XX (or better)

B=2:30:XX (or better)

C=Better than last time of 2:36:32

On race day, wakeup time was 5 AM for the 7 AM start. It was cloudy and breezy with a bit of chill in the 50 degree air. I planned for shorts and a tank top, but instead wore a running t-shirt. I knew I’d be chilly at the start regardless, I just wasn’t sure how much it would warm up! I had an Einstein’s whole wheat bagel and peanut butter at 6, (I just can’t NOT talk about food!) and was able to eat 75% of it. (I always have trouble eating before a race; I still get nervous!) Chad and I got to the Capital square, made one last port-o-potty visit, dropped off our extra gear at the gear check station, and waited at the back of the pack, where the runners turned into walkers, to wait for the start. I kissed Chad good-bye when my 2:20 and 2:30 groups started off, and was more nervous for him than me as we parted ways!

The weather cleared up nicely, and since we ran up Observatory Drive, most people who wore jackets were taking them off before mile two. As it turned out, my clothing choice was just right! (Only runners who have made bad choices will appreciate the joy of this statement!)

Now comes the running! If I was to get an “A” on this race, my average pace would need to be about 11:04 minutes per mile. During the Madison Mini last year, I vowed not to look at my watch until after we came out of the Arboretum, which is around mile 8 or 9, since I wanted to enjoy the run and didn’t want to obsess over times. For this race, though I was still very casual about my time, I was curious about my pace. So I checked my watch at each mile. This is where it gets interesting! I never looked at seconds, just the minutes, but I averaged 11:XX for EACH mile, and there were never enough seconds to throw me off pace! What I mean is, my watch looked like this:11, 22, 33, 44, 55, 1:06, etc.! I was pretty darn proud of myself; not only was I consistently going faster than last year, but my mile splits were a thing of beauty!

A little more on “food;” I stuck with pretty much the same plan as last year. I took water at almost every station, and water + Gatorade when it was offered, and walked through each stop while I tried to drink the whole cup. (I wasn’t walking for more than 1 minute.) A couple exceptions: they were out of cups at mile 10, so I kept going (too bad, what with a huge hill coming up!) and skipped the last station after mile 12…every second counted by then and I was feeling well-hydrated. Also, I did not take any oranges, bananas or Gu offered on the course; I trained only with diluted Gatorade, and my one experience with Gu did not end well.

This course’s mile 10 mark was when we exited the Arboretum, and I thought I had it in the bag, but there were differences in the two courses, and this one was a doozy! We went up a VERY steep hill right in the middle of mile 10. Its one of those hills that from a distance looks like its going STRAIGHT UP! I had to make a choice here. I figured if I walked, like I saw a LOT of people doing, I would loose my shot at 2:25, and it also might give me a mental pass, and I wouldn’t push myself the rest of the race, either. I also knew that I couldn’t try and power up it at a fast pace, so its not like I could gain any real time here, and I didn’t want to bonk because of this hill. Deciding that I would be pissed at myself if walking led to a slower time, I decided NOT to walk. Granted, it could have been the slowest run in the history of running, but I KEPT RUNNING! I heard spectators talking to their runners, saying that more than half were walking up the hill, but they also said there was water and a downhill coming up. I think I may have passed one or two people during the hill, which was nice, but wasn’t the point; I needed to keep up my pace. As it turned out, that was my slowest mile, at 11:50, but it actually kept me thinking that I could make my goal.

After mile 10, I was trying to slowly increase my pace to finish strong, but with enough gas to get me to the line. I was able to pick off several runners and was feeling pretty good. But, for those who are used to running on the isthmus in Madison, all roads that lead to the Capitol (and the finish line) are gently rising uphills! The last three blocks were TOUGH, and it was touch-and-go whether I could make 2:25. This was the first time that I can remember REALLY having to push myself to get to a number that might be just outside my reach. Coming around the final corner, with just a half-block to go, I saw the clock had just turned to 2:25…I kept sprinting (I’m sure that’s not what it looked like at this point) until I heard my name and crossed the line. My time: 2:25:46!

Half Marathon Data

Fall 2012

Spring 2013

Net Time







212/244 (86%)

151/215 (70%)


1489/1725 (86%)

1098/1469 (75%)

Again, Madison treated me to a great race day! I walked through the finishing chute, picking up food and drink as I went. I was stiff and my butt was feeling that huge hill, but I was too happy to care. When looking at the results of my two different races, as shown above, I have to be loose with any comparisons. I do take a bit of pride, however, from the facts that:

  • My pace improved by an average of 49 seconds per mile!
  • My overall time improved by more than 10 minutes!
  • As mentioned earlier, my splits were quite even!
  • In both the division and gender categories, the percent of runners finishing ahead of me dropped by over 10%!
  • One more parting thought about my racing times and finishing places…I am about to enter a new age division, so LOOK OUT!

While this was definitely a lot to take in, the day was still only half a success at that point! After finishing and grabbing food, I picked up my gear bag and completed my Capitol Square walk to wait for Chad. We had signed up for Facebook updates, and just as I was checking my phone, I saw he passed the 10 mile point with a pace of 13:42 mile pace. I knew that would put him in ahead of schedule, but my mind couldn’t really do math at that point, so I didn’t dawdle and went to the line to greet him.

Madison half after 5.26.13I will let Chad give his own race report; no doubt it will be shorter than mine! But as he was training for this, and as I was waiting for him to finish, I couldn’t help but think of a conversation we had years ago, when I was just starting to do sprint triathlons. I had asked him if he wanted to do one with me, or maybe just a 5K. His response was something to the effect of, “No, because I wouldn’t be able to win, and I’m not doing something I don’t have a shot of winning.” Then there I was, years later, watching him walk a half marathon after losing 100#, with a 3-day, 60 mile walk still on the schedule for this year. I think he DID WIN!

Half marathon results 2.26.13 cropped

Click to enlarge