Faithful readers

I forgot to mention in my Hensley Off Road Races 10K post that I got to meet a faithful Mind Over Miles reader from Madera. I absolutely LOVE hearing from readers that they enjoyed my column or that it inspired them. That is hands down the best thing a columnist could hear.

I didn’t quite catch his name. I think it was Roland? I was beaming when he said, “Your columns really inspired me. I actually kept a few of them.” How freakin’ cool is that!!

“See, I told you! People really miss your column! And they miss you writing for the Tribune,” said Audrey, who was also at the race.

It feels good to be missed 🙂  I kind of felt like no one would even notice that I was gone, and it’s nice to know that isn’t true!


A fond farewell from ‘Gazelle’

  • This was printed in July of 2015 in The Madera Tribune, a newspaper in Madera, California. This was the 111th — and final — installment of my weekly column, Mind Over Miles.

More than two years ago, just after the Boston Marathon bombing, I decided I was going to run a marathon.

“That would make a great column,” said Chuck Doud, the publisher of this wonderful newspaper.

Thus, “Mind Over Miles” was born in May 2013.

I chronicled my marathon training — in addition to the life lessons I learned along the way — in my weekly column and ran the Santa Rosa Marathon that August.

I assumed my weekly writings would come to an end upon the completion of my first marathon, but I felt like I had unfinished business. I asked Chuck if I could continue to write Mind Over Miles, this time focusing on my quest to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

He, being the coolest boss I’ve ever had, agreed.

“I think people enjoy your column,” he said.

Week after week, I found new running-related topics to cover. I’ve gotten to know some very inspirational Maderans who have shared their fitness journeys with me, and therefore with other Tribune readers.

I’ve seen running and fitness groups boom in the last two years.

Madera is home to T-100, a group of men and women who have committed to at least 30 minutes of exercise daily for a minimum of 100 straight days. The Warriors and the Gladiators are two other groups whose members enjoy working out and encouraging each other. Then there are countless runners who choose to pound the pavement of Madera solo.

I encourage each and every one of them to keep it up. They are inspirations to their friends and family members — and even to perfect strangers who may see them trotting along the Vern McCullough River Trail or over the Ellis Street overpass, aka Mount Madera.

Through my column I’ve recounted the accomplishments of Audrey Crow, my closest friend and running buddy, and myself. We qualified for and then ran in the
Boston Marathon. We finished our first ultramarathon. We’ve logged miles and miles on the roads and trails, and lived — sometimes barely — to tell about it all.

Thank you, readers, for being there every step of the way — through our injuries, triumphs and defeats.

I appreciate each email and word of encouragement I’ve received. I am especially grateful for every time someone has told me that my column has inspired them to become or stay fit. The purpose of my column, after all, is “…to inspire others to lead healthy, active lifestyles.”

Even after more than two years — this is my 111th “Mind Over Miles” — I haven’t depleted my inventory of things to write about running. That would be like running out of things to write about life.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end.

Tomorrow will be my last day at The Madera Tribune. I will miss the people of Madera and all that they have given me. The love, support and fellowship in this town are unparalleled.

I look forward to hearing about the continued success of the Second Wind 5K, AAUW’s Madtown 5K, the Greater Madera Kiwanis’ Mother’s Day Run, and all of the other Madera running events that draw this community together.

See you on the trails!

07-30-15fm MOM-Farewell

The columnist looks out over Millerton Lake from the top of Pincushion Peak during an early morning solo run.

Find your discomfort zone

  • This was printed in July of 2015 in The Madera Tribune, a newspaper in Madera, California. This was the 110th installment of my weekly column, Mind Over Miles.

“Success in running means leaving your comfort zone. Learn to love your discomfort zone.”

I read this quote online a few days ago and it put words to what I had been feeling for a couple of weeks. Faster runners have joined my group and I’ve felt compelled to try to keep up with them.

I had fallen into a lull in my training. I felt like I was still in recovery mode from the 100K (62-miler) I ran on May 2. I kept saying that it was okay that I wasn’t running as fast as I used to, because my legs were worn out from that race and I had been training more for endurance than for speed.

But with upcoming races approaching at the end of the summer, I knew I was going to have to get serious about speed training. I just didn’t want to. I was content
running at a relaxed pace and chatting with friends.

Then a woman, who at just three months post partum was still easily a minute (or more) faster than me per mile, showed up and gave me the motivation I needed.

Unfortunately, it only lasted two weeks. Due to scheduling, she hasn’t run with us since.

I didn’t have a chance to settle into my old, dawdling ways, though. A power couple moved to Fresno from Florida and accidentally ran with my group one morning.

(Accidentally, because they thought we were a different group they had read about online.) Thankfully, they love our group and have joined in our training runs ever since.

I really have to work to keep up with them. I feel like I’m always struggling to catch my breath, my muscles are burning and I’m always longing for them to ease up and give me a break. They never do.

That’s what a discomfort zone is, and I’ve learned to love it. A really good workout is one that you hate while you’re doing it, but love when you’ve finished it.

If you need some motivation to amp up your workout routine, find someone who hits it harder than you do. Chase after someone who is faster than you. Pump out as many reps on a weight machine as the person who seems to own the gym. Take a spin class and sit behind the rider who doesn’t give in; don’t stop until they do.

Swim in the lane next to the person who can swim longer and faster than you can.

Leave your comfort zone and don’t enter it again until your workout is finished.

Trust me, nothing can ruin your day after you’ve given it your all during a workout session. When you’ve voluntarily put yourself through such discomfort, anything you encounter throughout your day will slide off your back like water on a duck.


If you see Madera ultrarunner Oswaldo Lopez around, wish him good luck on the Badwater 135, which begins July 28 in Death Valley National Park.

The 135-mile ultramarathon from the lowest point in the continental United States (Badwater) to the portal of the highest point in the continental U.S. (Mt. Whitney) is called the World’s Toughest Footrace for a reason. Temperatures can soar well over 100 degrees during the day and runners must traverse three mountain ranges.

Talk about a discomfort zone.

Step to it

  • This was printed in July of 2015 in The Madera Tribune, a newspaper in Madera, California. This was the 109th installment of my weekly column, Mind Over Miles.

Activity trackers, like the Fitbit, are all the rage among active people and those who are beginning their journey toward a healthier lifestyle.

But is it worth it to fork out anywhere from $80 to $600 for a glorified pedometer?

Experts say yes — these gadgets motivate people to increase their activity and live healthier lifestyles. For that reason, I’m all for it.

These trackers, usually worn on the wrist like a watch, can tell the wearer how many steps they have taken that day, how many calories they have burned, how many hours they’ve slept, and sometimes more.

Back in the day of the simple pedometer, which only tracked steps and was usually clipped to the wearer’s waistband, a popular goal was to take 10,000 steps a day, the equivalent of about 5 miles.

My Garmin 920xt, a GPS watch, also tracks steps and sleep like the FitBit. My daily goal is set to 10,000 steps. On my run days, I complete this goal by 6 a.m. and then don’t think about the watch hardly at all for the remaining 16 or so hours in my day.

On my rest days, I struggle to walk 10,000 steps because I’m stuck in front of a computer most of the time.

Thankfully, my 920xt yells at me to get my butt up off of my chair.

No really, it does.

It beeps, vibrates, and “Move!” appears on the screen if I haven’t taken a step in about an hour.

“Okay, okay!” I say. Then I get up and walk down The Madera Tribune’s hallway to the break room, where I open the fridge and grab a snack.

I might be doing it wrong.

Hopefully my readers can get it right. Here is a look at popular activity trackers, along with their prices and brief pros and cons:

Fitbit Flex

Perhaps the most popular, it retails for $100 and monitors your steps and distance, calories burned, number of minutes that you are active, and how long and well you sleep. It syncs wirelessly to your phone, so that you can track your stats and progress day to day. It’s slim, comes in 10 colors, and now can even be dressed up with designer leather bands or stainless steel bands in gold, silver or brass.

Fitbit Surge

This $250 GPS watch that does everything the Flex does, plus includes a wrist-based heart rate monitor and GPS tracking that calculates distance, pace, elevation, and split times for runners and cyclists. Phone call and text message notifications can also be seen on the watch face.

Samsung Gear Fit

It costs $150, but only pairs with Samsung cell phones. All of the features of the Fitbit Flex are included, plus the watch has a touch screen that displays emails, texts and alerts so that you can stay informed while you work out. (I think that’s annoying, but perhaps doctors, nurses and such who work on-call would appreciate that feature.)

Garmin Vivofit 2

Like my Garmin, but with less bells and whistles for just $130. It pairs with the Garmin Connect community to compare your daily activity and sleep with friends. It also has the “Move bar” that tracks when you’re sedentary and reminds you to get up and walk around every hour or so during waking hours.

Jawbone UP2

Matching the Fitbit’s price of $100, the Jawbone tracks activity and sleep, and also provides food logging capabilities and suggests fitness plans through its app. These features could be helpful to those following a diet plan or a beginner who needs fitness coaching.

Misfit Flash

This is the least expensive at just $50, but you get what you pay for. It tracks steps and sleep, however just a halo of lights on the Flash’s face signal your progress toward your daily step goal. To see any actual numbers or analyze your information, you have to check the accompanying Misfit App.

How to choose a local race

  • This was printed in July of 2015 in The Madera Tribune, a newspaper in Madera, California. This was the 108th installment of my weekly column, Mind Over Miles.

More than 19 million people finished a running event in 2013.

We’re in the midst of the “Second Running Boom” (the first was in the 1970s)

according to Running USA, an organization that monitors race trends in the country.

Last year, more than 28,000 footraces, including 15,200 of the most popular

distance, the 5K, were held across the United States.

Because of this boom, a runner doesn’t have to travel far at all to race on any given

weekend. Valley runners may have to take a short road trip to run a full or half

marathon, which are less popular and harder to put on than a 5K, but generally

there are at least two races between 1 mile to 10 kilometers each weekend in the

Fresno/Clovis/Madera area.

It makes it really hard to choose which ones to participate in.

Here are some tips to narrow it down:

Research the cause

Typically, some portion of the proceeds of each race benefits a charity.

In Madera, the Second Wind 5K in March gives all of its proceeds to the Madera

Rescue Mission and the Madera County Food Bank.

The annual Mother’s Day Run hosted by Greater Madera Kiwanis donated a portion

of its proceeds this year to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, and the rest

went to local scholarship and youth programs.

The Madtown 5K hosted last month by the American Association of University

Women raised money for local scholarships and to send middle school girls to a

science and technology camp at Fresno State.

If you’re stuck deciding between two or more races, visit the event’s website or

contact its director and ask what charity the race will benefit and what portion of

the money will be donated.

Coming up on Aug. 2 is the Miguel Reyes 5K in Fresno’s Woodward Park (sign up at that will benefit the

family of the late runner. Reyes, of Fresno, was killed in a car crash in March while

on his way to work. He was 38. The local running community will come together to

run in his memory.

Run to compete

When you race locally, you get to know who is in your age group and who runs close

to your pace. Friendly competition can ensue. Your opponent may know you’re

competing with them, or they may be completely oblivious — either way it’s fun!

Some races will list their registered participants, and you can take a peek to see if

your nemesis will be there. If you’re feeling in shape, register and push yourself! If

you’re recovering from an injury or just not feeling up to par, pick the other race so

you won’t feel obligated to keep up with your rival.

Go for the perks

Who can resist swag (also known as “stuff we all get”)? If I’m really having trouble

choosing between races — they are all for causes I support and I know who my

competition will be — I go for the race that will give me the best loot. How cute is

the t-shirt? Will I be treated to a beer and a koozie at the end of the run (check out if that sounds like your cup of tea), or will there be breakfast?

Always the bargain hunter, I try to get the most bang for my buck!

Vacation — relax or run?

  • This was printed in July of 2015 in The Madera Tribune, a newspaper in Madera, California. This was the 107th installment of my weekly column, Mind Over Miles.

Summer is a time for vacations, especially to escape the Valley heat. But how do you

stick to your exercise regimen while traveling? Should you?

If you’re already an active person, chances are you’re going to want to continue your

active lifestyle away from home. You’re probably not going to have very much fun

doing nothing but lounging around; I know I’d get restless.

Maybe you run around Madera, and on it’s one hill (Ellis overpass), every week. On a

weekend trip to San Francisco (so many hills!), you’ll likely make time to go for a


There’s not much to run on here except road, concrete and the occasional dirt edge

of an orchard. Visiting the sandy beaches of Pismo or Monterey might motivate you

to kick off your running shoes and take a barefoot jaunt along the waves.

You might practice yoga at home. If you make a day trip to Yosemite, you may be

inspired to do some warrior poses in the middle of a peaceful hike.

Perhaps you swim laps in your backyard pool or at the gym. If you visit Hawaii, why

wouldn’t you break the monotony of pool swimming and dive into the waters of the

Pacific Ocean, or try snorkeling?

Vacations are a break from your day-to-day life, but that shouldn’t mean you forgo

your workout routine. After all, you don’t stop brushing your teeth just because

you’re in Las Vegas.

Use your vacation to stay active in a different locale. Explore new trails. Skip the car

and rent a bike to get around town.

Many runners I know will register for a race, be it a 5K or a half marathon, in the

area they’re visiting to ensure that they’ll eat right and exercise while on vacation.

Others register for destination marathons or half marathons to have an excuse to

travel! Rome Marathon (Maratona di Roma) or Great Wall Marathon, anyone?

My friends at organize group hotel and meal packages for

marathons in Europe, if that interests you.

Having written all of that, I have a confession: I went to Disneyland last weekend

and didn’t run a single stride.

However, according to my Garmin GPS watch that tracks my steps, I walked more

than 14 miles on Saturday (Disneyland) and more than 11 miles on Sunday

(California Adventure).

Plus, paddling a canoe in Disneyland and dancing at the Mad T Party in California

Adventure counts as cross training, right?

I may not have gone for a run in the perfect, breezy weather of Anaheim, but I made

up for it by speed walking everywhere (and dodging obstacles like strollers, mini

princesses, texting teens and tired parents). It was a mini-vacation from running,

but not a break from staying active.

Run faster with explosive strength moves

  • This was printed in June of 2015 in The Madera Tribune, a newspaper in Madera, California. This was the 106th installment of my weekly column, Mind Over Miles.

It’s the question that I get asked most often regarding running: how do I get


I have read dozens of articles over the years in Runner’s World magazine

alone on the topic, including “How to run faster”, “Two training techniques

to get faster” and the most recent “Three ways to get faster in a single


I even offered these four steps to running faster in a January column: Make

your hard training days harder, make your easy training days easier,

incorporate surprise speed work during moderate-paced or long runs, and


Something happened last week that made me revisit the topic. A woman

— who had a baby just three months ago — joined our running team and

left every last one of us in her dust.

The mom of two, a professor in her late 30s, recently moved to Fresno and

is a member of the San Francisco-based Impala Racing Team, an all-

women’s elite group that competes in track, cross country, road and trail


A moderate training pace for “Impala” is easily faster than 7 minutes per

mile, which leaves me and even the fastest men on our team trailing

behind her. When she cranks it up a notch for speed work, she disappears

from our view.

I am thoroughly excited to have someone to chase, because I know it’ll

only make me faster as I try to shorten the gap between us.

In addition to my tips from earlier this year, I’m going to incorporate specific

exercises to improve my cadence and stride length. Here’s my plan:

1. Increase cadence

Speed is a combination of cadence (how often your feet hit the ground)

and stride length, according to experts. To get faster, a runner must

increase one or both.

The average runner has a cadence of 150 to 170, meaning they take that

many steps per minute. Elite runners touch the ground 180 times or more

per minute.

To determine your cadence, count the number of times your right foot hits

the ground during a 30-second run. For example, an elite runner might

count 45. Double it (90) figure out how many times the right foot would

touch the ground per minute, then double that (180) to account for the left

foot’s steps.

My nifty Garmin Forerunner 920XT GPS watch measures my cadence for

me — usually 175 steps per minute.

To increase one’s cadence, practice makes perfect. Experts recommend

running for 30-second intervals at the goal cadence, focusing solely on

quick leg turnover. Increase the number and length of intervals, and

gradually your normal cadence will speed up to your goal cadence.

2. Increase stride length

I’m 5-foot-2 and have short-ish legs, but I can still increase the length of

my stride, or the equivalent of two step lengths.

Stride length isn’t just picked up in front of you, experts say, but also in how

far your legs kick back behind you. Reaching your legs forward and

landing in front of your center of balance can actually cause injury.

So how do you lengthen your stride? Put as much ground behind you while

“in flight,” or when both feet are off the floor.

To “fly” farther, you need to increase the explosive strength that will propel

you forward (not upward), while decreasing the amount of time your foot

spends on the ground with each strike.

3. Incorporate explosive strength drills

Working on explosive strength doesn’t just come from running, but from

conditioning muscles and tendons through drills to make them more


I plan to start with 10 minutes of jumping, squatting and skipping exercises

two days a week to get my legs ready for a longer stride length and faster


See my “explosive strength workout” at right, but take caution; trying these

moves before you’re in good condition can cause injury.

Farin Montanez is a 27-year-old ultramarathoner and mom of two who runs

for the San Joaquin Running Team. With her column she hopes to inspire

others to lead healthy, active lifestyles. She can be reached at Follow her on Instagram @mind_over_miles.

Explosive Strength Workout

10 jump squats: Start in a squat position, jump as high as you can, both

feet coming off of the ground, then land with knees soft and lower quickly

into another squat for one rep.

One minute of high skips: Skip, focusing on propelling yourself upward.

One minute of distance skips: Skip, focusing on propelling yourself


One minute of speed squats: Squat so that thighs are parallel to the

ground and back is straight, then stand, squeezing glutes. Repeat as

quickly as possible while maintaining form.

One minute of speed calf raises: Stand on a step a few inches high, on the

balls of the feet. Raise up onto toes, then lower until heels dip below the

step. Repeat quickly.

Repeat all moves, for a total workout of about 10 minutes.