Winter Running Safety

The other day I was driving down a busy four lane road with Rock and he shouted, “Look out!”  I was carefully watching the cars in front of me and for the life of me couldn’t tell what he was talking about.  “Runner,” he shouted.  Right there in the road was a guy running against traffic in a white jacket.  I couldn’t see him and I am the first to slow down and move over for any runner.

I am always happy to see other people out enjoying the activity I love the most.  But there were several offenses being committed and I felt this was a perfect time to discuss running safely for the winter.

Pick a safe spot.  The area where this gentleman was running is a local favorite.  There are sidewalks galore heading into the downtown area.  But we have received an unprecedented amount of snow very early into this winter (as in 30 inches and counting).  The sidewalks have not been plowed yet in this particular area.  While this is the main drag, there are SO many side streets that are far less traveled and much safer to run on.  It might mean making a bit of a detour, but when the safety of your life is involved, changing up your route is a must.


Had this gentleman just moved over one street, he could have reached the same destination and run in the road without putting his life in jeopardy.

Make light a Christmas tree and go bright.  Wear the brightest colors you have.  Throw on a vibrant running vest.  Deck yourself with lights.  Fa la la la!

When you wear neutral colors in the winter, you blend into the snow.  Even worse, the sun reflecting on the snow is blinding for drivers.  Don’t assume that people will see you.  Make it your business to be seen.  Wear a bright jacket.  Pick out a running vest that has reflectors.  Running stores have all sorts of great lights that clip to shoes, jackets, gloves and hats.


Bright and lights!

Stay warm.  When the temps get frigid we can put ourselves in very dangerous situations.  My best rule to run by is to ensure that your head, hands, and feet are nice and toasty.  Find a nice comfortable hat that covers your ears.  Pick out a pair of cozy running mittens.  While gloves are great, having your fingers together helps keep your hands much warmer.  Find a pair of winter sweat wicking socks.  I am a huge fan of Smart Wool.  They make great socks for all sorts of winter athletes.

Keep in mind that running tights actually keep you warmer than running pants.  The material is meant to make your cold runs more comfortable and streamlined.  I know, I know, most of us don’t love wearing tights.  But once you get past that first awkward feeling, you will wonder why you didn’t convert sooner.  That goes for you too, gentlemen!

Stay hydrated.  Just because it is cold out, doesn’t mean that you no longer need hydration.  Make sure you drink plenty before you leave.  If you are training for long distances, have a game plan for how you will hydrate.  Many parks turn off their water fountains in the winter, making it difficult to get water along the way.


What I would give to be running with this on the beach right now!

This is the time of year that I love using my Simple Hydration bottle.  Because it sits up against my body and under my jacket, my body keeps the bottle warm enough to avoid freezing the water!

How do you like to stay safe in the winter when you run?

Just Drive. Just Run. Just Focus.

Over the past few years there has been so much information about the dangers of texting and driving.  We have read the facts and seen the horrific pictures from deadly accidents.  And yet, it surprises me how many people still continue to text and drive.  I have been driving a lot more lately and with that I have noticed how prevalent not only texting and driving is but distracted driving in general.  I see it on the interstate, down highways on the way to work, and a lot on neighborhood streets.

Yet, it isn’t just the drivers.  The other day I was walking down the street and a girl descended the steps from a train and walked right into me while she texted.  She looked up, said nothing, and then continued to walk in front of me and finish whatever she was doing.  Not only was she distracted and possibly putting herself at danger, but we forget common courtesy with these behaviors.  We get so wrapped up in our conversations on our phone that we forget about the people around us, including their safety.


On Friday I went out for a lovely run.  The weather was incredible and it felt like spring had fully arrived here in Chicago.  As I was running the streets of my neighborhood I came to an intersection where I had the right of way.  But a car pulled up to a rolling stop (I am being generous with that term) and without looking up continued on.  The driver had both hands on the wheel as he texted at the same time.  I didn’t realize that his driver’s side window was open and I shouted something at his car.  He stopped abruptly when he heard me and the look of fear on his face was impossible to miss.  He was shocked to realize that he could have hit me and didn’t even notice I was there.  Fortunately for me I always assume drivers won’t pay attention to a pedestrian and that kept me safe.

I hate to sound like an old lady (although I really am).  But I remember a time when I was in high school and I was dating a boy two states away.  Our parents let us call each other twice a week and talk for 15 minutes, because it was long distance and we had to pay by the minute.  Hard to believe, but I grew up in the age of no cell phones.  How the heck did we make it?  In fact, let me age myself just a touch more.  My first cell phone was a giant one my parents bought me for my long road trips and it came in it’s own bag that also charged through the lighter in the car.  It was huge!  My point is that there was a time not that long ago when we weren’t completely and constantly attached to a phone, and you know what?  We survived.

I am by no means perfect but when I am in the car I make a point to have it be a phone free space.  The phone sits on the passenger seat and despite the fact that I get many texts and Facebook messages during my daily commute, I leave the phone there until I reach my destination.  I repeat this a lot and I truly mean it: How many texts could possibly be worth putting yours or someone else’s life at risk?  The truth is none.  The odds of you getting an extremely pressing or urgent message that must be answered in the next 30 minutes is very rare.  It can wait.

While I see a lot of texting on the interstate or daily commute, the one space where I see the majority of phone usage in the car is in our neighborhood.  We live in a lovely residential area of Chicago.  We fell in love with the tree lined streets and thought it would be the perfect place to start a family.  But this is the spot where cars drive at a slowish pace and drivers spend most of their time on their phones as they move from stop sign to stop sign.

Over the past few decades there has been a huge push towards multitasking.  Doing one thing is great but you are more productive if you can take care of a list of jobs all at once.  Sadly, this mantra seems to roll over into all of our lives.  We hang out with friends and Facebook at the same time.  We walk around on a beautiful spring day and message friends as they do the same thing, instead of meeting for lunch or a cup of coffee.


While multitasking can be helpful in many areas of our lives, we need to take back the focus.  As drivers we need to put our focus on the road, on other drivers, and most importantly on those who are not in cars.  We have got to get rid of the notion that it is other drivers who are creating the problem or are dangerous.  Anyone who is texting or playing on their phone while driving is putting themselves and others in harm’s way.  As pedestrians we need to focus on where we are going.  And as runners we need to pay attention to the dangers that surround us and not think we are immune to them.  Always assume that the driver is not paying attention and don’t take your right of way for granted.  Until a driver acknowledges your presence, don’t cross the street.

Let’s all focus and stay in the moment.  Remember what is important and not put our lives or others as risk.

Running Myself Into a Wall and Then Climbing Dunes

Happy Monday!  I hope you all had a wonderful weekend.  I apologize for my blogging hiatus for a few days.  I was having so much fun on vacation that I decided to forego the computer for the last few days.  It may have also had to do with the state of exhaustion I put myself in as well.

Two of my favorite things to do when I am on vacation is run in new places and over indulge on delicious food and a few cocktails.  Usually when I am away I tend to combine these two activities.  I love running in new places and to me it is the perfect way to try and sweat off my less than stellar decisions in the food and beverage department.  This can be a slippery slope sometimes because long runs make me rungry!

After a dreary and rainy day on Tuesday I woke up on Wednesday ready to set the world on fire.  There was a brand new bike path that just opened up in Glen Arbor and I decided that I was going to use the Heritage Trail to go on a nice long run.  Thus began a day of making some really dumb decisions.  Yes, even we running coaches make rookie mistakes.


As I was prepping to leave some family members asked me how far I was going to go.  I said that I figured it would be about 12-13 miles.  Bam.  First dumb mistake.  I didn’t have a real game plan.  I had looked at the bike map and did a quick mental guess of how far I thought it was from our house to the next town.  The map wasn’t drawn to scale and it didn’t account for where I was starting from.  Normally I would get online and plan it out so that I knew where exactly it started and ended and what to expect along the way.  I should have known right then that it wouldn’t end well……

As I was about to leave I made just about the only smart decision I would make all day.  First I always wear my RoadID and carry my SPIbelt.  I had also thrown a twenty dollar bill and a few ones in just in case.  But as I headed to the door I figured it might be wise to take some sort of fuel with me.  Usually when I go for runs under 15 miles I do okay without any fuel and can manage runs under 12 miles without stopping for water.  But somehow I figured that it might be good to have something just in case.

I hadn’t planned on doing a long run on vacation so I didn’t bring any fuel with me.  I scoured the house and finally came up with the best option on hand.  Fruit snacks!  A big thanks to my nieces!!

Now that I was properly fueled I set out on my long run.  After two miles I finally hit the trail and quickly had a realization….. It was rather hilly!  For some reason when I thought “bike path” I assumed it was a rail trail.  Now this was a pretty dumb mistake too because I grew up in the area and knew this wasn’t an actual rail trail.  Somehow I just associated the notion of a bike path with rail trail.  So imagine my surprise when I started seeing signs along the path warning about 10% grade hills.  Oops.


I wish you could see the other side of that hill. It was nuts!

As I continued on this run I started to see mile markers for the nearest town and quickly realized that I was off by a good five miles in my earlier guestimate.  Admittedly I ran in denial for another mile, assuming they meant to the center of town.  But only six miles into my run I knew two things; it was at least 8 miles into town, and I was going to have to run there because even if I turned around now I wouldn’t make it home without water.

When I run in the city I rely on the luxury of water fountains or being able to pop into a store to buy a bottle of water.  Normally when I run on trails or other paths I plan my run out so that I have water at a turn around point, or bring my Simple Hydration bottle with me.  In fact, I emphasize to my runners all the time that it is hot and humid in these summer months and you must plan your hydration out.  Since I hadn’t planned on doing this run, I didn’t have a water bottle with me on vacation and would need to rely on the closest store to find hydration.

Just when I thought things were about as bad as they could be, I started to realize that the final three miles into the town of Empire were all downhill.  Sure it was fast and easy, but I knew that when I turned around I had a seriously steep climb for the first half of my return.  Once again, I was wishing that I had looked this route up on line.  Research Sarah, research!

That bottle of water I bought tasted so good, and I do have to say that fruit snacks work perfectly in a pinch.  As I stood and quickly refueled I texted my husband to tell him I was getting ready to return home.  As I headed out I passed a bike rental store and was so tempted to try and snatch one!


As for the return, you can imagine how fun those first three miles were.  I would love to say that the second half got better but the final two miles were simply ugly.  In fact, I chanted a mantra to get myself back home.  It would be awesome if I could say that it was something inspirational and empowering but I went with, “Please don’t cry.  Please don’t cry.”  I was very tempted to call for a pick up or walk the final mile but I am admittedly way too stubborn and clearly prefer to suffer.

I made it home safely and I can laugh about it now.  But there is a good lesson here.  Whenever you go for a long run there are certain preparations you should always take.  Whether you are new to the long run scene or have been doing them for years you have to respect them and remember that bad runs can sneak up on you at any moment.  Just as you might feel awful at the start of a run and have a magnificent finish, the opposite can definitely hold true.

Plan ahead and always tell someone exactly where you are going and how long you expect it to take you.  I did do both of these for the most part.  My family knew where I was going and I did text my husband with an ETA.  But if you are new to an area you should also do some research and be aware of where you are running.  I should have known just how far I was going to be traveling and what the terrain was like.  Had I known that there wasn’t water along the route I may have altered my course a bit.

Take a lesson from the Boy Scouts and always be prepared.  Pack your phone, an ID, some cash and fuel of some kind.  In a bind fruit snacks work well.

On the bright side I felt great after a shower and a sandwich.  To top the vacation off I took my husband to one of my favorite places; Pyramid Point.  This steep 3/4 of a mile climb takes you up to some of the highest dunes in the area.  From this location you can see South Manitou Island, North Manitou Island, South Fox Island, North Fox Island, a ship wreck and dozens of soaring eagles.  It is a magnificent sight!




A special shout out goes to my friend Kyle who won the Marquette 50 mile Trail Run and set a new course record.  I could learn a few things from him for sure!

Patience Sweaty Grasshopper

Right now is the time of the year when I head out for one of my usual runs and a mile in I begin  to feel horrible.  I feel slow, sluggish, and like I can’t go on.  That is when I start to cry (and whine).  Usually my husband is with me for this run and he gets the brunt of these emotions.  “I did 10 yesterday what is wrong with me?  I can’t even do three!  I’ve lost everything.”

The sad part is that this happens every year, around the same time of the year, but I do go on to continue my usual running at some point and will do the same thing over again next year.  Hey, what can I say, even we running coaches lose our minds sometimes.


Running in Aruba? Hot, but I wasn’t complaining!

If you have been feeling like this lately, fear not.  It is just the darn humidity.  It is a runner’s nightmare.  It makes you sweat like crazy, run much slower, and feel just plain awful.  Sadly, humidity can impact your running more than any other weather condition.  It can also cause some dangerous things to happen, so it is important to understand just how humidity affects your running.

When we exercise our core body temperature rises, and as this happens our bodies sweat to help cool off.  The humidity also causes our core body temperatures to rise even more and it also keeps that sweat from evaporating from your skin, hindering your body’s own cooling mechanism from doing its job properly.

As your core temperature rises from both your running and the humidity, blood is also released throughout your body to areas near your skin to further help cool you down.  While this is great in some ways, it directs blood away from your lungs and other organs such as your GI tract.  Therefore your body has a much harder time refueling as well as removing waste and delivering oxygen.  Moving blood away from the GI tract can also be the cause of stomach distress when you take gels or other supplements on hot days.  All of this is a terrible combo for a runner.  Even worse, the faster you run, the more heat your body produces.  So good luck with your speed work!

This all sounds pretty terrible, and honestly it really is.  But there is some good news.  Your body is an incredibly adaptable machine.  As you continue to run and train in hot and humid conditions it will learn to handle everything much more efficiently.  However, it is important that you understand how you can help your body out with these conditions as well as how to look for signs of much more dangerous problems.

First of all you need to learn patience.  When heat and humidity are factors during your training there is just no way you can run at the same pace as you normally do under ideal conditions.  Running at 75-80º can slow you down by almost a minute per mile and at 80-85º you might even see that go up to two minutes slower per mile.  Add in humidity over 60% and you might expect your running to slow down yet another minute per mile.  There really are no other ways around it.  So when you are stuck running in this weather, just be patient and slow yourself down.  It won’t ruin your training.  These conditions will likely abate in the near future and your body will somewhat acclimate to running in these conditions within 7-14 days.

This girl who complains about hot weather runs did 10 miles on a beach. Last winter helped put that in perspective.

Plan ahead.  Wear light, sweat wicking clothing.  If you’ve been thinking about trying a pair of skimpy new running shorts, or you gents have been admiring those bicep flattering tank tops, now is your excuse to wear as little as possible.   Steer clear of bright and dark colors that absorb the sun and look for lighter colors that reflect instead.

Hydrate, hydrate, and then hydrate some more.  Like yesterday or better yet the day before yesterday!  When summer rolls around plan on drinking a lot around the clock.  Don’t hydrate the day before a run, but instead plan on hydrating the whole week.  This will help your body out before, during and after.  Just make sure you know where the closest bathroom is at all times.  Seriously, I speak from experience!

Story of my life.  "Where's Sarah?"  She had to go to....

Story of my life. “Where’s Sarah?” She had to go to….

Know the signs of heat stroke and other heat related issues.  Remember when I said that the heat pulls blood from your major organs?  That includes your brain, heart and lungs, and that is scary.

Early signs of heat illness: profuse sweating, exhaustion or fatigue, muscle cramping and extreme thirst.

Signs of heat exhaustion:  dizziness, nausea, headaches, vomiting, dark urine

Signs of heat stroke: extreme rise in temperature, hot skin, shortness of breath, fast pulse, confusion, seizures or unconsciousness

It is very important to understand these symptoms well and assess yourself during hot and humid runs.  A lot of these symptoms sound a lot like how we often feel as we push through hot runs.  You need to be responsible and assess yourself wisely.  Know when it is time to pull off to the side of the road or flag down help.  It isn’t always easy to do and we runners pride ourselves on how “strong” we are, but many a runner has been rushed from a marathon or other endurance race because they tried to tough it out and push through these symptoms.  We have all heard the scary stories of runners collapsing at races due to heat stroke.  Don’t allow that to happen to you!

Always carry your phone with you and some form of ID.  Don’t forget your hydration.  Bring water with you and know where you can find more.

Happy safe running friends!

Running And Dogs…At Times a Scary Combo

This was my best buddy Stu Grimson.  We tend to name dogs after hockey players.

This was my best buddy Stu Grimson. We tend to name dogs after hockey players.

I grew up my whole life with dogs and pretty much adore just about any breed.  My husband on the other hand did not grow up with dogs.

When we first met he wasn’t much of a dog person and a random one coming towards him would invoke a bit of fear.  This is why one morning I was rather shocked to turn around in the park and see him happily waiting as a decent sized dog came running up to him.  He petted the dog and said hi to him and then as his owner came up to fetch his dog I realized why there was no fear in greeting this unleashed pup.  My husband is a huge Sopranos fan and James Gandolfini was the owner of that dog.  That’s a good way to introduce yourself to canines!

As much as I love dogs, it really is their owners who give them a bad name.  I have been on countless runs where an owner doesn’t have a firm hold on a leash and the dog leaps up at me or the dog is simply off of it’s leash to start.  I can’t blame the dogs, I really don’t think they mean to scare you and most of them really do have kind hearts.  I wouldn’t be surprised if I look like a really big squirrel or a giant ball on legs just asking to be chased.

It drives me nuts when a dog lunges at me to hear the owner yell, “Don’t be scared, he likes people.”  I get that you love your pet.  I love my family dogs.  But I know my family dogs and I know their personalities.  I know that our dog Chelios is a giant ball of activity.  He will run at you full on and just before he plows into you he will jump into the air and land at your side.  I don’t expect you to know that and assume that if he did this to you, your heart would be in your throat.

I don’t know your dog and if I trusted every person who told me their dog was sweet, I’d have bite marks up and down my legs.

This is why I give a simple plea on behalf of runners everywhere to keep in mind that while most of us probably love dogs and think your dog is adorable, it is scary to run up to a dog not held tightly on a leash.  When you let your dog jump up at us when we run by, it scares us A LOT.  It scares some of us enough to react in a defensive way that might cause us harm or even your dog.  By the way, those long expanding leashes are almost as dangerous as being off leash.  I got tangled up in one as an anxious puppy barreled around me on an ice covered path.

For runners I do have a few ideas to help you if you are to encounter an off leash dog on your run.  Keep in mind I am no Cesar Millan, but these are lessons I have learned or were passed down to me over the years growing up with dogs.

When my husband first met Chelios it was as if Chelly knew that he needed to make best friends with him and convert him to a canine lover.  He is the first person the dog runs up to and jumps up and down around him, charging at him and dancing.  There is no way anyone who didn’t know him wouldn’t be a bit freaked out as this big black dog comes happily charging at you.

The best thing to do is to be firm.  Stand your ground.  Speak loudly and firmly.  Yell, “Down,” or “Sit.”  Use a strong and demanding voice.  Even if you feel afraid try your best to sound strong.

Last summer we were running down a rural dirt road and a dog came running up to us barking and charging.  We were the only people around for at least a mile or two.  My husband used these words and the dog at first ran circles around us, but soon he sat at our side and we were able to continue on our way.

I'm sure we've all felt this!

I’m sure we’ve all felt this!

If you are alone and a dog comes up to you, stop running.  This happens to me countless times during the summer in our rural vacation area.  Look straight ahead and keep walking.  Try not to make eye contact with the dog and try to stay calm.  I have been alone in rural areas and had a dog start following me.  If you keep running they might chase you.  By slowing down and just walking, you give no reason for the dog to continue to come after you.

A family friend taught her kids to, “Be a tree.”  If a dog comes running up to you stop and put your hands down at your side and stand still.  This works really well and I think this is a great thing to teach children who may feel uncomfortable around dogs.

Finally, if you are running in urban areas just be aware of your surroundings.  If you see a dog ahead of you and the owner seems to be oblivious try to give a soft warning that you are coming.  Simply saying, “Behind you,” can help avoid startling both dog and owner.  Don’t expect the owner or dog to move aside, do it yourself.  Just as I assume drivers will not give the right of way, I do the same thing when running.  If it will keep a dog from lunging at you it will help keep your run safe.

And if an owner is respectful without your provoking and pulls the dog to the side or has them sit, make sure to acknowledge them too.  Sometimes I say thanks and other times I even thank both of them, “Thanks guys!”  I never mind some friendly dog interaction moments.

Happy running.

Ice Ice-Safety

The polar vortex came and went, and with its departure left piles of snow and then warmer weather.  The past few days I have been feeling like this on my runs:


It is seriously no joke.  With the warmer air I can’t get enough running.  Add that to the mass amounts of puddles that were all over the running paths the past few days and I felt like Lolo Jones sprinting and hurdling all over the place.

And then yesterday arrived.  The air cooled a good 20º and where puddles had marked the path the day before, ice had taken over.  Bound and determined to get my run in I did 7 miles that consisted of some decent running, some penguin-like shuffling, and some ugly attempts at not breaking a body part.


Moral of the story: ice is no joke.  If you are going to go for a run there is a good chance right now that ice will impede your travels.  Just as you would slow down if you were driving on icy roads, you are going to have to check your ego at the door on your way out and plan on a slower run.  Turn your music on low and take some extra caution to pay attention to each footfall.

Plan on having to stop and start.  If you live by the pace on your watch you might just want to leave it behind.  Yesterday I ended up relaxing and deciding this wasn’t going to get the better of me.  I chalked it up to a series of interval training; run a bit, slow down, repeat.

If you know that the paths you are going to be running on are snowy or icy, plan your route ahead of time and let someone know where you will be going.  Give them an idea of when you will be back and take your cell phone with you.  A few weeks ago I went for a run after a snow storm and I had to call my husband to let him know that I was ok but that I was going to take longer to get home because of the heavy snow.

I always carry a cell phone with me when I go for a run, not just for my safety but also for others.  I have come across several emergencies over the years that have required me to call 911 or be there to help others take care of a situation.

Pick a route that you know well.  Yesterday I ran a path along the Chicago River.  I know the area well and I know where the icier areas are.  In fact, some ladies from my running group told me in the fall that ice always forms under overpasses, so I know to slow down there.  They were right!  The picture above speaks for itself.

Bring some sort of identification with you.  Last summer a runner near my home town finished their run with a splash in Lake Michigan.  He had a medical emergency and rescuers were unable to revive him.  He had no identification on him and the police had to go from room to room at the local resort looking for his family.

I used to always carry my driver’s license with me, but I was lucky enough to place at a trail race a few years ago and was presented with a gift certificate for a Road ID.  If you don’t have one already, check them out.  They are very inexpensive and comfortable.  I wear mine all the time.  In fact I had to be reminded on my wedding day not to wear it to the ceremony!

This is the sample from their website.  They come in several colors.

This is the sample from their website. They come in several colors.

I have yet to try on Yak Trax or other forms of cleats but these are certainly another option to try out.  There are also some great YouTube videos that show you how to make your own spikes on your shoes with screws.

Be safe and happy running.

One last note on safety:  On January 13, 2014 fellow runner and mother of 3 Meg Cross Menzies was stuck and killed by a drunk driver while out for her morning run in Virginia.  I urge you to join the running community on January 18th for a run in her honor.  Take a picture and tweet it or post it on Facebook with #megsmiles.


Today’s Slow Cooker Recipe:

Yesterday I also mentioned that I would add another slow cooker recipe to my post so today I am adding the delicious Spinach, Goat Cheese Cornbread my husband made the other night.

This was so good! Only 130 calories per slice.

This was so good! Only 130 calories per slice.


2 boxes of Jiffy corn bread mix (or 17 ounces of mix)

3 eggs

1/2 cup almond milk (you can use milk but we are dairy free here)

1 ten ounce box frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

1/2 cup goat cheese


Coat inside of slow cooker with cooking spray.  Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl.  Pour batter into slow cooker.  Cover and cook 1 1/2 hours on high.  Remove and place on cooling rack.