Helsinki Running Day Half Marathon (May 18, 2019)

Helsinki City Running day is an impressive (and very popular!) event with something for everyone. There is a 1K mini-marathon for kids in the morning. Then a half marathon, full marathon, marathon relay, double (half and full) marathon and a 5K.

We did the half marathon which was the second event of the day (after the kid’s mini-marathon). The half was split up into 5 waves with the first wave starting at 11:30 am and the last one at 12:10. We were in the very last wave based on our projected finish time (i.e. slow).

Unlike at the race we did in Belgium, the lines for the port-o-johns were really long. We also quickly realized that it must not be taboo to wear the race shirt on race day in Finland. Maybe that’s only a U.S. thing? Anyway, I’d say at least half of the crowd was wearing the purple race shirt.

Lots of purple in the port-o-john line

Even with so many waves, we were pretty bunched up for a while at the beginning. It didn’t bother me at all though. Brian and I were running together and he was counting on me to set the pace (he’s notorious for going out too fast). I had settled into my all-day-ultra pace (pretty much the only pace I know these days). A little exercise and a nice tour of the city was all I was looking for.

What was strange was how quiet it was. We were in the very last wave, where, especially so early in the race, just about everyone is usually chatting away. But we were the only ones talking. And we tried not to say too much because everyone could hear what we were saying (because nobody else was talking!), which was awkward. Plus we didn’t want to be the annoying loud Americans. The spectators were quiet too. A few people would say “hyvä” in a normal speaking tone as we ran by.  Hyvä translates as “good” but we reasoned it must mean something like “good job” in this context. Even the music was quiet. Strangely, someone early on was playing the “Footloose” album for us as we ran by. I definitely approved!

We ran through a park by some marshland,

followed a paved bike/pedestrian path, skirted the water,

ran on some soft dirt (heavenly!)  through beautiful green woods,

IMG950405crossed several bridges,

ran through some not-so-pretty areas of the city with quite a bit of construction and finished up back at the Töölön Sports Hall.

IMG950415There were several water stops along the way with Sportyfeel and water. I had some Sportyfeel at two of the stops. It tasted fine. Kind of like Gatorade. But both times I drank it, I got a side stitch. So I switched over to just water after that.

It was really hot out. I kept hoping someone along the course would have a sprinkler on so we could run through it. No such luck, but at one point there were a couple of people with spray bottles offering to spray down runners legs. Brian and I both said yes to that! It felt really good. With about four miles to go we ran back by the water. I told Brian that if the finish line was anywhere near the water I would definitely jump right in as soon as we finished. Unfortunately, it was several miles away.

The last three miles were pretty excruciating. I thought I was just dehydrated because it was so hot and I wasn’t carrying any water. Less than a mile from the finish line we turned a corner and I suddenly felt light-headed. I told Brian I needed to stop for a minute. He was carrying a couple of bottles of Carbo Pro. I always make fun of his Carbo Pro. It is supposedly flavorless but has calories and carbohydrates. So basically it’s water with calories. I prefer my calories to have flavor. I don’t understand the point of Carbo Pro. Just before the race he had asked me what it would take for me to drink some. I told him I would just have to be really, really thirsty. And now I was. I drank some stupid Carbo Pro. And it actually tasted like sugar-water as opposed to plain water but I’m not sure that’s really any better. Regardless, he felt pretty smug and I felt a little defeated, but also physically a little better.

He asked me what I’d had to eat and I told him nothing. I had a couple sips of Sportyfeel twice. Maybe 8 ounces total. But it was just a half marathon! I thought that I had read that they would have gels at the water stops, but I guess I was wrong. But I hadn’t thought that I would need anything, anyway. I really thought my problem had more to do with dehydration than lack of fuel.

But once we finished, I realized that we hadn’t started running until 12:10. I would have been fine if the race had started at 8 or 9. Probably even 10. But it had started after lunch time. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. It was close to 2:30 pm and I’d been running for more than two hours. Of course I needed fuel!

After we crossed the finish line and were handed our medals, we were led through another buffet line of goodies. I downed several cups of water and a vanilla recovery drink and started feeling much better.

IMG950420Helsinki City Running Day was (mostly) pretty awesome!

Helsinki City Running Day Expo and packet pick-up

The Expo and packet pick-up were held inside the Töölön Sports Hall.

It was a little confusing for us because all of the signs were in Finnish. Just about everybody in Helsinki speaks English, but it felt rude going up to people and just speaking in English, assuming they would understand. We knew how to ask “Do you speak English?” (Puhutko Englantia?) but had found that people often didn’t understand us and we’d end up just asking in English if they spoke English to which they would quickly reply “Yes, I speak English” in perfect English.

Anyway, with slightly different versions of this scenario playing out a couple of times we navigated our way through. The free samples were incredible. If I had actually been planning on “racing” the next day I would have skipped them. You know, that whole don’t try anything new before the race thing. But this was just going to be a sight-seeing jog for us, so I was free to partake. And I took full advantage. I tasted a carbonated energy drink, a vanilla recovery drink, a fruit and veggie smoothie pouch (which was…interesting), and some flavored sparkling water . I grabbed a (not-small!) cup of nuts and poured it on top of a nearly full-sized scoop of high-protein ice cream (yum!). And there were even more samples that I didn’t try (including the Heineken). By the time we left, I felt like I probably didn’t need to eat dinner.

But of course I still did.

We picked up our bibs, then followed a line of people that took us by all the tables handing out freebies, and then funneled us into an area filled with merchandise (running clothes, accessories and fuel).

We then had to cross back through the main entrance into a separate area to pick up our race shirts. I noticed big signs over the tables and made my way over to the “S” table, thinking that we were supposed to line up according to our names. There was a very young girl behind the table. We went through the whole “Puhutko Englantia, Do you Speak English, Yes I do” thing, before I looked up and it finally registered that the letters were “S”, “M” and “L”. Oops! I moved over to the “M” line and was handed a shirt.


Total miles run: 1280.1

It took me a while to bounce back (both physically and mentally) from my two ankle sprains in late 2017.

The winter months were tough. I just didn’t have my normal drive to get up and out on those cold, dark mornings. So my yearly mileage was fairly low and (unlike other low-mileage years) I wasn’t biking and swimming instead of running. Mostly, I was curled up in my chair with a cup of tea, a book and a kitty on my lap. Embracing the hygge. Time well-spent I think, as I lost my cuddliest kitty later in the year. I’m happy to have had that extra cuddle time.


2018 Races


Blue Ridge Marathon

Jogging de la Ligne

Conquer the Cove 25k

I feel bad that I never wrote anything about Conquer the Cove this year. It is possibly my favorite trail race, which is why I ran it even though it was held the weekend Brian and I got back from Belgium. I was jet-lagged, fighting off a cold and exhausted from vacation, but I really didn’t want to miss the race! It went about how you would imagine. Although in truth, it surprised me just how much that combination of circumstances affected my run. It took me three hours and forty-two minutes, which is almost a full HOUR longer than the last time I ran it (2:47). Yikes! It was still a great race and I loved jumping in the lake afterward just as much as I always have.

In addition to my dismal performance, I didn’t take any pictures this year. And these are the only two of me from the race pics (I’m in the peachy/orange tank top.)


Odyssey Trail Running Rampage Half Marathon



Non-running 2018 highlights:

My first (and second!) trip(s) overseas.


View from our Airbnb in Compogne



London and Scotland with the family




Edinburgh Military Tattoo

2018 was a mixed bag of high highs and low lows.

Life, I guess.

See you in 2019!

Scottish Highlands and Loch Ness

We took a day-long bus tour from Edinburgh through the Highlands up to Loch Ness. While the Highlands were spectacular and I’m so glad I got to see them, one day on a bus was not long enough! I wanted so badly to explore, but there just wasn’t time.

Now I want to go back and do some hiking, biking and trail running.


The Kelpies


I’m at my happiest in nature.


We saw Nessie!

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There were so many bike and hiking paths and we didn’t get to explore any of them!

IMG_20180807_180842374IMG_20180807_183201179 (1)I searched every field hoping to spot a Highland Coo and actually saw a couple, but wasn’t able to get any pictures. They’re such cool creatures!

I may have developed a slight Highland Coo obsession while I was in Scotland.

Glasgow, Scotland (August 2018)

My grandfather, John Smart, once told me that he considered himself the nut on the family tree and possibly out of step with the rest of the world. He then quickly assured me that he’s always been happy doing his own thing and does not regret the way he lived his life.

This is precisely why I’ve always admired the man so much.


He was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1917.

In August, my family took a trip to his hometown.

The house he lived in is still standing.


A couple of blocks from his house, my nephew scattered some of his ashes in the river Clyde.


We took refuge from the chilly, wet, (typical) Scottish weather in a funky little bar and made a whisky toast in his honor.



To John!

I think he would approve.

But I still don’t like whisky.



Scotland (August 2018)


Such a beautiful and walkable city.

Scott Monument


Manna House Bakery & Patisserie

Our daily coffee and breakfast spot. The man at the cash register was there almost every day.  He told us he’d like to visit the U.S. sometime “when there’s a different president and my skin is a different color”.


National Monument


Dean Cemetary
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Pizza, yummy local beer and a few hands of War
backyard at our airbnb

Holyrood Park

We were so lucky that our airbnb was less than a mile from this park!

I ran to Arthur’s Seat (the highest point in the park) on two of my morning runs and we did a family hike there one afternoon.

The 640 acre park has many miles of trails and offers 360° views of the city and the North Sea.

It was one of my favorite things about Edinburgh.




IMG_20180805_082045975_HDR (1)
Salisbury Crags



IMG_20180809_072722187_HDR-EFFECTS (1)
St. Anthony’s Chapel


The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

An awe inspiring performance and display. It did an amazing job of celebrating diversity and unity all at once.


I also really enjoyed the bagpipes.

There’s definitely some Scottish blood in my veins.

London (August 2018)

Inside our Airbnb.

Borough Market

A farmer’s market on steroids.

So heaven, pretty much.


Everything from fresh fruit, vegetables and meat to vegan burgers and baked goods.

I had some Ethiopian food and a brownie. So many foods to try and so little time. I could go to this market every day and never get bored.


Bombay café

Just the girls.



Avery Jo discovered she likes garlic naan and I finally got to try jackfruit.

The jackfruit biryani was salty, sweet, spicy and delicious. Shredded jackfruit is disturbingly meat-like. Now I know.

The mixed drinks weren’t bad, either.

The Tour for Muggles


Oh yes, we did.

It was obvious the tours drove some of the locals crazy and I understand why, but our tour guide was great and it was a lot of fun.

Post-tour conversation with my niece:

Me: “I definitely wouldn’t be in Gryffindor or Slytherin. So I guess I’m either Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff. What is the main Ravenclaw trait again?”

Avery: “They’re really smart.”

Me: “Guess I’m Hufflepuff then.”

She went on to explain more about Hufflepuffs to me and I realized that there’s no question. Hufflepuffs have no particular talent but they value hard work, patience, loyalty and fair play.

Totally me.

Avery Jo says she’s Hufflepuff, too.

The London Eye



Breathtaking views of the city, but a little unnerving if you have issues with heights like I do (I’m definitely not Gryffindor).

Bicycle commuters

Photo: Michaelpuche/

There are so many cyclists on the London streets during rush hour! The first morning we were walking to a local coffee shop and I noticed them, I thought some sort of bicycle race or event was happening. Large hordes of cyclists were moving together from streetlight to streetlight. It was really quite wonderful to see.

In some parts of London, more than 30% of vehicles on the roads during rush hour are bicycles.

London may soon have more bikes than cars at rush hour.


Vancouver, BC on bicycle

The hotel we stayed at in Vancouver had a couple of bikes that they allow guests to use.

I was excited about the pretty blue cruiser the bellman handed to me, until I realized that it didn’t have hand brakes. It was one of those bikes that you back pedal to stop. I hadn’t ridden a bike like that since I was eight years old.

Navigating city traffic was going to be interesting.


The  bike lanes in Vancouver are pretty amazing, though. It didn’t take me long to get comfortable with the old foot brakes.



There weren’t bike lanes like this on every single road, but there was obviously some sort of network that seemed to get you wherever you needed to go. It wasn’t a direct shot, but we eventually made our way to Stanley Park.



There is an 8k bike loop on the seawall that circles the park.


The loop is one way for cyclists, which makes a lot of sense. Even though we got an early start, it was already getting busy with clumsy tourists on rental bikes. I will include myself in that category. Having bike traffic all move in the same direction probably eliminates a lot of accidents.


I noticed that the more serious cyclists were staying off the path altogether. They were riding on the roads instead.

There are some beaches, playgrounds and even a beautiful swimming pool along the path.


A crow was helping himself to a drink from the poolside water fountain.

I couldn’t resist stopping at the playground.


The Vancouver Aquarium is located in the park as well. It is a non-profit dedicated to wildlife conservation. The aquarium rescues, rehabilitates and releases about 100 marine mammals each year. We saw so many fascinating animals, but the sea otters and sloth were my favorites.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped for lunch at the Loving Hut, a local all-vegan, solar-powered food truck. My barbecue veggie burger was delicious.


It was fun exploring the city on bike. I wish it was easier to do that in more places. Bicycles seem to be a popular mode of transportation in Vancouver. The bike lanes got pretty busy, especially during the morning and afternoon commuting hours. As a pedestrian, you need to be careful to not inadvertently step into the bike lane. I learned that lesson the hard way. I stepped off the sidewalk to pass someone in front of me and nearly got run over by a bike.