Monday, June 28, 2010

park city mini-trail series, 5k edition (& a giveaway)

Saturday was the first in a 3 race series for the Park City Mini-Trail Race. The entire series is dedicated to getting people off the roads and onto the trails. If you've never tried trail running, it's definitely something you should. Utah has some of the best trails and the views are ridiculous!

Saturday was the 5K. This was a great event! Most of the trail races I've done in the past have been over 10 miles and on crazy courses! The Park City Mini-Trail Series is a completely different event. The course was fantastic--nothing too difficult to climb, but still challenging enough to make you feel like a "tough chick" when you cross the finish line. And, you couldn't have asked for my perfect weather for a trail run.

The best part about this race: the race director is herself a trail runner. I've learned in all my years of racing that the best races are put on by athletes--they just know what people are looking for in a good race. The course was clearly marked. There were plenty of volunteers on the course to direct you if there were any questions. The pre-race emails were informative and helpful. And, there was no race shirt--ok, I know what some of you are thinking, No shirt?!? Well, as someone who has done a number of races over the years, I need another cheap, ill-fitting race shirt like I need a whole in my head. Instead of a shirt we got a very cool draw sting bag that's perfect for the gym! And, I happen to know that the items at future races are just as great.

I've been very lucky to personally know the race director for the Park City Mini-Trial Series. In fact, Rhielle is the person who got me into trail running. It's her passion for trail running that led her to organize this trial series. She was even on Good Things Utah to discuss trail running and it's benefits (and, you'll find out just how easy and fun trail running can be!)

In an effort to continue spreading the passion for trail running, I'm giving away one entry into the Park City Mini-Trail Series 10K on July 10th. Even if you've never done a trail run and have merely thought it might be fun, this is the perfect race to get started!

To enter, leave a comment telling my what motivates you to get out and run, walk, hike, bike, hit the gym, swim, do yoga or whatever it is you're passionate about.

**Entries will be accepted until Friday, July 2nd at 8pm Mountain Time. The winner will be randomly selected and emailed with instructions on how to register for the race. Please be sure to include your email so I can contact you.

***This is not a sponsored giveaway. Yes, the Park City Mini-Trail Series race director is a friend of mine, but she is not sponsoring this giveaway.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

i'm just disappointed

Recently I started a new job. This is a job that I absolutely love--I work with great people, for a great company and I'm finally back doing outside sales (something I truly love and am very good at) With this new job comes some travel. Because of the company that I work for, I am required to fly Southwest (not because of cost but because of a partnership they have) For years I've heard how amazing Southwest Airlines is--great customer service, always on-time, such a fun airline, and on and on. Well, my experience has been none of those things. In fact, its been the polar opposite.

Last week, I flew to Southern California. Because of reasons I don't understand, I can't get a direct flight from SLC to California. Not really a big deal. However, on this initial leg of my trip, both flights were delayed. Now, remember what everyone has been telling me? Well, that didn't hold true. Not really a huge deal, but a little frustrating and I got to spend a good chunk of time in the Phoenix airport. With an over 2 hour layover, you'd think they would manage to get my baggage onto my next flight. Well, some how my "bags fly free" piece of checked luggage didn't make it to the Orange County airport on my flight. And, I wasn't the only person with this problem.

After deplaning, I headed to baggage claim to get my luggage. After about 15 minutes, you begin to realize that its all the same luggage you see ridding around the baggage carousel and as much as you keep believing your luggage will magically appear, it just doesn't! So, me and about a dozen of my fellow passengers head over to the Southwest baggage office. You'd think that with that number of people involved in a "lost luggage" situation, they could at least offer an apology. Not even close! All I was told was that my luggage was still in Phoenix and they hoped it would show up on the next flight and I could come pick it up then. Well, on this particular trip, I wasn't getting a rental car so no, I couldn't come pick up my luggage in a few hours. The lady agreed to have it delivered to my hotel. She also promised a phone call when the next flight arrived, around 8:20, to let me know if my luggage had indeed made the trip and would soon be delivered to my hotel. Well, finally around 10pm when I hadn't heard from Southwest, I called the baggage office. I was informed that yes, my luggage had arrived and would "be on the 10pm delivery." When I inquired what that meant, the woman rudely informed me it meant my luggage would be delivered to me. Obviously, I knew it would be delivered but I didn't understand the "10pm delivery." As far I was concerned, that meant at 10pm my luggage would be arriving at the hotel. Again, not even close! The woman on the phone treated me as if I were an idiot and rudely explained to me what the "10pm delivery" actually meant. Apparently, Southwest luggage delivery is akin to the cable company--my luggage would arrive at my hotel sometime between 10pm and 2am.

Now, I will take some responsibility for my errors when packing. However, I've never had my luggage lost before (and I've traveled a fair amount). I made the mistake of packing my medications in my checked bag and now, at 10pm I was experiencing great anxiety. It was imperative that I have my luggage in the morning so I could take my medication. I realized at about 11pm there was nothing I could do but go to sleep and hope my luggage was at the hotel in the morning. Unfortunately, I didn't sleep very well (remember that anxiety) and at 3am woke up, called the front desk and headed down to retrieve my luggage.

The next couple of days spent in California were great. I enjoyed working with some of my co-workers, dinner on the beach and a general a nice, uneventful business trip. I figured my return trip would not be anything like my journey to California and certainly, I would experience some of this greatness that is flying Southwest Airlines. The reality of my trip could not have been further from this thought.

My return trip was out of the Ontario airport. And again, my flight was delayed. I'm beginning to believe that an on time Southwest flights is like a unicorn--I've heard rumors of their existence, but it's just a bunch of lies. Well, we did finally leave the Ontario airport headed to Las Vegas and this is where the trip becomes increasingly interesting; and by interesting I mean the most frustrating flying experience I've ever had!

Upon arriving in Las Vegas, I notice that my flight is delayed by 30 minutes. Not a big deal at this point, it's just par for the course. However, at about 30 minute intervals, the flight is continually delayed by 30 minutes. So, my fight that was scheduled for a 6:55pm departure keeps getting later and later. And, come to find out, it's not just my flight--EVERY Southwest flight departing out of Las Vegas is delayed (no other airline is experiencing this problem). Around 8pm, our gate agent gets on the intercom and informs us that our flight is still delayed and it has something to do with Air Traffic Control and the number of flights and some nonsense. Well, I'm not a genius, but I'm pretty sure that ATC deals with the issues of getting flights into and out of airports everyday. And, I'm also pretty certain that the number of flights on any given day is pretty consistent. So, this whole story is not making any sense. And, why is Southwest the only airline that is dealing with ATC issues?

Needless to say, the passengers waiting around the terminal are getting more and more frustrated with the passing time. We're getting no answers and only a delayed flight time. We finally learn that our plane is coming from San Francisco and it hasn't left the airport yet. Once it leaves, it will arrive in Las Vegas in about an hour at which point in time we can board and head to Salt Lake. In the meantime, there is an 8:40 flight to Salt Lake (which of course is also delayed). Well, not only does that flight leave before ours, it actually lands in Salt Lake City before our plane even takes-off. Yes, there were some very upset passengers in the terminal waiting for my flight.

When we finally did board our plane at around 10:45pm (almost 4 hours late), the entire crew on that plane was just unpleasant. I get that they were tired; however, so were all the passengers boarding that flight. And, we weren't paid to be there. We were inconvenienced by the inability of Southwest Airlines to manage their flight schedule. We did finally arrive in Salt Lake at close to 1am. And, the silver lining, at least when I arrived at baggage claim, my luggage was there and not stranded in Las Vegas or some other random part of the country.

As I said, I'm mostly disappointed in Southwest Airlines (it does me no good to be mad at them). Here's why I'm disappointed and what I think they could have done to better meet the needs of their clients:
  1. All of my experiences speaking with employees of Southwest Airlines were awful. I was treated like an idiot because I didn't understand the Southwest lingo or way of doing things. First and foremost, I'm your client! Apologize for my inconvenience and then explain to me what you're going to do--and explain it as if I'm unfamiliar with your procedures (because I am)
  2. Southwest is on Twitter. If you're going to have a Twitter account as a business, you should actually use it. During the entire ordeal, I was tweeting about how awful things were, my disappointment with Southwest and the need for an explanation (and I wasn't the only one). I did not once receive a response from Southwest via Twitter. I pulled their account, they do reply to some people on there, but it seems they only reply to the people who are happy with their service. Well, note to the powers that be--you should really be replying to the people who are frustrated with your service. People will tell 15 people about a bad experience and only 1 person about a good experience. 
  3. When a flight is delayed for 4 hours, do something for the passengers that are stranded! A sincere apology always goes a long way. But even a small gesture would have been nice--several passengers just wanted something from Southwest. Offer a free drink coupon for this or a future flight, meet us at the gate in Salt Lake with a tram so all the weary travelers don't have to walk a mile to baggage claim, have your flight crew at least acknowledge us as we exit the plane (yes, they were standing at the exit, but even when addressed they didn't respond to a single passenger that I saw!)
I really hope that this experience was completely removed from the normal situation at Southwest Airlines. Because, unfortunately, I will be flying Southwest in the future. And, if all my experiences are like this I just might lose it!

Friday, June 18, 2010

charity cake monday

Apparently, Monday is charity cake day. I learned this from the incomparable Jay! On Monday, I left one job to start a new one the next day. Of course, Jay and I had to spend my last day of freedom enjoying lunch on the Trio patio and delivering cakes for Charity Cake Monday!

Who's Jay? you may be asking yourself. Well, I could go on for hours about the fun thing I attend with Jay--Oscar parties, HRC Galas, Utah Arts Council events and more. But, all you really need to know is this: American Express, eBay, Jay Shaffer!

Yes, he comes in third to these other large organizations and he's okay with that!

But, back to Charity Cake Monday. You see, Jay loves Betty Crocker (yes, the maker of the all the mixes and tubs of frosting) and he loves a coupon. As such, he has hundreds of boxed cake mixes and tubs of frosting just waiting to be used. It wasn't unusual to have a couple of cakes or a few dozen cupcakes sitting int he break room on Monday morning (this was back when I worked with Jay and got to see him everyday!) Now that Jay has been in Salt Lake for 18 months, he has his own consulting firm and is heavily involved in several charities (he's a giver!) The cakes are no longer for the staff but are now designated for all his various charities (or the occasional to the doggie day care where LJ--the cutest three-legged chihuahua you've ever seen--spends his time). Hence, he's adopted Charity Cake Monday as one of his new "causes"! And of course, Charity Cake day falls on Monday; Sunday is the perfect day to bake.

So, this past Monday, my last day of freedom before starting this new job (more to come about this later, I promise), I had the privilege of being a participant in Charity Cake Monday. After tying up a few loose ends, I met Jay for lunch (one of our favorite dining experiences--a gorgeous Monday on the Cafe Trio patio; we're "ladies who lunch"!) Upon meeting him, I learned we had a few cakes to deliver before and after lunch. So, before heading into Trio we stopped at Planned Parenthood. For anyone who has never had the opportunity, witnessing Jay in action is a treat! We run into the building; a cake is dropped on to a desk; Jay says "tell them Jay Shaffer stopped by" and we're out! No fan-fare; because of course everyone knows Jay Shaffer!

The next cake is delivered after lunch to the Utah Museum of Natural History. Again, we run in with a cake with the intention of running out quickly. I guess Jay is far more popular at the museum as we were there for a total of 3 minutes (as opposed to the 30 seconds at Planned Parenthood). The few people we saw at the museum were so thrilled and grateful to have received a cake! The funniest thing Jay said upon leaving the museum, "Why give $10 to the homeless shelter when for a $1.75 you can win the love of an entire museum!" (and, for those who don't know Jay--he is the most kind, generous and giving person I know! so, if you're offended by this statement, you obviously don't know Jay!)

I can't wait until I get to participate in Charity Cake Monday again. And, maybe someday I'll start my own version of Charity Cake Monday (which will most definitely include cupcakes! and probably cookies) Now, I just need to find some charities that are deserving of my amazing baking. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

just a small town race

 *me nearing the finish line in my "cute shoes"

I recently completed the Teton Dam Half Marathon; an event that takes place in Rexburg, Idaho--the epitome of a small town. You may be asking yourself--why would I run a race in Rexburg? Simply put, Meggie & her new husband live there and invited me to stay with them and run the race.

This was my first visit to the little town of Rexburg, Idaho and I guess my sister wanted to show me a good time! Upon arriving, we decided to head tot he local farmer's market. I'm not joking when I say there were about a dozen vendors. We were able to get a scone (the size of Texas! with raspberry butter & honey butter, delish!!) and some corn on the cob (also pretty amazing) to enjoy while we perused the offerings (about 12 times before we finished eating our treats) We decided to get some rhubarb and a watermelon. The rhubarb was no big deal to get home. However, we should have done a bit more planning if we were going to get a watermelon. Did I mention we rode bikes to the farmer's market? And, did I mention we had no means by which to carry a watermelon home? (The wise thing would have been to bring a backpack, but we definitely weren't wise that afternoon) Let's just say, Rexburg was very entertained watching us get that watermelon home (and I have the bruised arm to prove it!)

Later that evening, we headed to packet pick-up and the pre-race potato dinner (hello, this is Idaho! of course it was potatoes!) Packet pick-up was relatively fast and easy. They didn't even check photo ID--I'm guessing they knew 90% of the registrants. Then on to our potato dinner. The dinner was a bit disappointing---so few toppings for my potato! At least there was lots of cheese, but no bacon! No chives! Luckily, there were some delicious brownies (the prefect pre-race carbohydrate!) There was also a "pre-race briefing" of which I couldn't hear a word! Who uses a megaphone in a school cafeteria?!? My expectations for the next days race were dramatically lowered.

Race morning! The race started at 7:30am. Silly me thought I should be there around 7am. And so, my brother-in-law dutifully dropped me off at Smith Park at 7am; I was about 25 minutes too early! Being used to much larger races and races where I needed to catch a bus or train to the start, I significantly over-estimated my arrival time. And, I apparently didn't pay attention to the fact that only 400 people were allowed to run the half marathon. Before starting, the race director did a great job of laying out the course, markings, signs, mile markers, volunteers, etc. to help us all get through the race. And then we were off!

Here are the race highlights:
  1. wind
  2. wind
  3. TONS of volunteers (I heard there was 1 volunteer to every 4 racers--an unheard of number; must be the "Dam Volunteer" shirt they all receive)
  4. wind
  5. being caught by the kid (later learned he was 22) I was using to draft and block the wind
  6. said kid thinking I thought he smelled good being the reason I was sticking so close to him
  7. more wind
  8. hills from mile 4 to mile 9+
  9. learning that all Rexburg has is the university (BYU-Idaho) and WalMart
  10. the fact that having a WalMart is something to brag about
  11. did I mention the wind? because it was relentless
  12. hearing 2 girls discuss my "cute shoes" after running through an aid station
  13. having a girl tell me, "I love your shoes, they're so cute!" at the next aid station
  14. seeing my sister & brother-in-law at the finish line
  15. beating that 22 year old kid after telling him at mile 6 "it's going to be embarrassing for you when you get beat by an almost 40 year old woman!"
All in all the Teton Dam Half Marathon was a great race. After my lowered expectation from the previous night, I was blown away at how well this race was organized! I absolutely loved the race in spite of the wind and all the hills. And, it was a great weekend with family.

**And, if you're looking for a fun race, don't forget there is an awesome 5k trail run in Park City on June 26th. Use the promo code: blog5k and you'll get 50% off your race entry!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

the joy of trail running

You've heard me talk about trail running before. Remember my experience at Kenebec? You can read about it here: part 1 and part 2. Well, that same company that I wrote those blog posts for is making an offer to all readers of my blog. Register for the Park City Mini-Trail series 5K and use the promo code blog5k and you'll get 50% off registration. That makes the price for this great race only $17! You'll get to experience how great trail running is (it's a perfect beginner friendly trail) and get a cool shirt and a great swag bag!

Please come join me for a great race. And, help support my amazing friend, Rhielle (read this post if you want to know why I love Rhielle so much!)

Monday, June 7, 2010

showing a little love

Remember the cute picture from Meggie's wedding? The one where we decided to pick her up? Yeah, its one of my favorites too!

This seems to be a theme in the Stratton family. For some reason, we like to pick people up in pictures. I mentioned in Meggie's wedding post that there was a great picture of all the sisters holding up my Pops. I even put out a request of the photo and someone heard my wishes. Ironically, it was my mom (the woman who can't upload, email or send a photo--yet she figured out how to do it--way to go mom!) who sent me the photo. So, since she went to so much trouble to get it to me, I thought I'd share:

I absolutely LOVE this photo!! I think we all look so great. Plus, how fun is it that we're all in dresses and heels (ok, the bride was actually in tennis shoes---sorry to spill that secret Mandy) and we're holding up my Pops. It's a great picture that always makes me smile!

And, here's a bonus photo:

It seems we always like to pick up the bride on her special day as well!

Friday, June 4, 2010

it's a serious competition

*Even Yo-Gabba-Gabba wanted to get in on the action. Fortunately, we never had to implement
an interference policy. He just wanted to have some fun!
One of the best parts of a holiday weekend, at least around my family, is the obstacle course. Everyone participates. Everyone has fun. And there are always prizes.

This event is typically organized by my Pops and my mom always comes up with some great prizes (think toys from the dollar store and Peruvian candies) These are complicated events. Each participant must possess skill, dexterity, speed, agility and the ability to not be embarrassed by looking like a fool. The obstacle course is truly a highlight of any holiday weekend. Once the course has been run by each participant, my Pops takes great care and effort to utilize spread sheets to calculate the winners. All scores are tallied, averaged, numbers are extracted and serious calculation takes place. Upon completion of the task, winners are declared and prizes are awarded in an awards ceremony that is only topped by the Oscars.

Sadly, with my parents off on an exotic vacation (serving an LDS mission in Peru) the organization of the events were left to Meggie and me. Meggie designed a simple, yet fun course. Kick a small volleyball (I guess she couldn't find a soccer ball?!?) to the line. From there run to the "cul-d-sac" of the backyard, spin three times and toss a frisbee into a buck. Proceed to ladder golf and toss 3 pieces (and hope to earn a few bonus seconds). From there run to the three balls---one basketball & 2 rubber 4-square balls. Toss all three into the bin (and try not to hit the kid holding the bin sturdy in the face). Sprint up the hill and tag the timer to stop the clock. It's a very high tech timing system we employ for the event. With the kids left to run the show, there were no spread sheets involved this year. We reverted back to the stone age and used paper, pen and a stop watch (at least the stop watch was on an iPhone, so we're not that lo-tech!) With simple math we calculate the winners--total time minus any bonus seconds earned on the course.

 *me getting ready to start the course. yes, it is that serious (& that fun)!

Luckily, I keep a stash of candy in my house. We were able to provide some delicious treats to the winners. Grey was very disappointed to not have the overall winning time--Jonathan beat his time .1 seconds (but only after bonus points were deducted). And, if you were wondering, I did have the fastest overall female time--yes, I beat 3 girls under the age of 10, a mother of 6 and my younger sister (and I still feel good about myself!)

Once all prizes are awarded the fun truly begins. You see, everyone wants to beat their previous time, get the fastest overall time or some other equally as worthy goal. The course is run a million more times! The best part--a few of my 25 year old brother's friends were over for a BBQ. We made a couple of them run the course. And then got to tease them for having slower times than a 9 year old girl! Hey, if you take the harassment that is part of the game, then just don't show up at our house on a holiday!

For even more fun pictures, compliments of the AMAZING Meggie, visit our family blog

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

how do you define success?

Over the weekend, I attempted to do my first Olympic distance triathlon. I say attempted, because for the first time in my life I got a DNF. This is difficult to say even as I type this 3 days later. Saturday was a very difficult day for me. I was embarrassed and upset. I was, in my mind at least, a quitter and felt like a complete & utter failure. Quitting is not something I do. Quitting is not something we encourage or teach in our society (or at least in my family) When you start something you finish it! So, how do I come to terms with getting a "did not finish" as my race result?

So, what happened on Saturday that led to a DNF? Truth be told, I felt prepared for the race. I had done an open water swim on Wednesday and had one of the best swims of my life. I'd got in a few good runs and bike rides throughout the week. The night before the race I'd gone through my visualization exercises (yes, I'm a dork!) and felt ready and prepared for anything that might be thrown at me the next day. I packed up my gear and thought I had everything under control and prepared for race day.

On Saturday, I woke up early and went through my "race morning" rituals. I ate my typical breakfast, a piece of toast with peanut butter (if you were wondering). I left with plenty of time to arrive at the race venue, get body marked and get my transition set-up. I was body marked by Shannon and her high energy and excitement made me feel great. As it got closer to the start time, I did final preparations and headed down to the lake. I got in the water for my wave start and began the swim. Half way through the swim, I made the decision that the smartest thing for me was to pull out of the race. And I've been dealing with that choice and how its affected me ever since.

I had several friends racing and my brother and 2 of his kids had come to watch, so I decided to stick around and watch them finish. While hanging near transition, I ran into a couple of people I've met through Rhielle. They were teasing me about not racing (having no idea that I had recently pulled myself out of the race). I explained to them what had happened and their nine your old daughter said to me, "That's NOT acceptable." I completely agreed with her, quitting is NOT acceptable. (As a side note, her father spent the better part of the next 2 hours trying to find me again to apologize. I explained that I completely understood his daughter's reaction--we teach our children that quitting is not acceptable. There are no hard feelings and I still consider them to be dear friends!)

The aftermath of that race made for a miserable Saturday for me. I couldn't get over the feelings of hatred I had for myself. I realize that I am far harder on myself (aren't we all our own worst critic?) than I am on others. Had anybody else told me that they had pulled themselves out of a race I would show nothing but love, care and concern. So, why could I not show myself that same mercy? Why did I have such loathing for actions that I would find acceptable in another? I even began to question everything I knew about myself. I've never quit before, so was I now a quitter? Did I just open up a door to allow myself to quit everything I started? Maybe everything I knew and believed about myself was never true and I didn't know who I was.

After many hours of self-loathing and more tears than I care to admit to, I realized that I could not allow this one incident to define me. How many mishaps (a word I prefer to "failures" when it comes to cooking) have I had in the kitchen over the years? I've had hundreds of mishaps, but have always gone back for more--it's the reason why I now make perfect cookies, amazing pies and continue to show-off my baking skills whenever the opportunity arises. So, why was a "mishap" as an athlete suddenly considered a failure? It took a lot of soul-searching for me to reach this decision: the difference between "success" and "failure" is the choice I make after I fall down. And, the choice I make is to learn from my experience, to pick myself up and try again.

I have to live with the choice on made on Saturday. And every time I am asked about my race, I will have to admit to what happened. And what happened is I didn't cross the finish line of this race on this day. However, I have decided to not allow this one incident to define me. This one choice does not make me a failure. I made a choice, a smart choice, to pull myself out of a race. But, I learned a lot about myself from that race and my decision. I cannot look at myself as a quitter or a failure because I truly haven't quit. (Besides, that word isn't in my vocabulary!) I am not, nor will I ever allow myself to be a failure. I have already picked my next Olympic distance triathlon. And this time I have every intention of crossing the finish line!