Runners Notes
By Heather Cass Erie Times-News staff blogger
If you want to know anything about the local running scene, ask Heather Cass. A member of the Erie Runners Club for 10-plus years, she is immersed in the local fitness culture, and she's taking your questions.   Read more about this blog.
Archive for the ‘Just Write’ category
Posted: April 8th, 2014

I knew it would die eventually, I just didn’t expect it to be on a random Tuesday afternoon. That’s how these things are though. We never really “expect” them. There were signs. It’s battery life was growing shorter every year. It was becoming “temperamental.”

When I grabbed it for a lunchtime walk last week, it was stuck in some strange diagnostic (think Courier font) mode. I couldn’t get it back to the main menu and when I returned it couldn’t be revived at all.

I tried everything. A  hard reset didn’t work. Plugging it into the charger didn’t work. Syncing it with my computer didn’t work.

I finally had to accept that my beloved iPod nano was dead.

I bought it as a refurb from the Apple site in 2005 for about $100.  If I figure conservatively, we’ve run about 10,000 miles together since. Much as I love to bash Apple, I think I got my money’s worth.

It’s so old it was a 2nd generation. While it was classically sleek and thin, it was no longer cool or sexy. It was plain black and silver–iPods didn’t come in colors back then. It was my constant running companion before I had running partners, and was still my “go to” for solo runs and distance races.

Several years ago, I had a major iTunes issue on my PC (involving upgrades) and I lost everything. I got the music back, but it was no longer in the orderly categories that you know my anal self had them arranged in and I never found the time to reorganize them. So I listened to the same playlists for years, literally years, until I found the energy to figure out the iTunes mess (mostly because the kids got iTouches).

I ordered a new one Nano weekend. It’s purple and has twice the memory.  But I can’t bring myself to toss (recycle) my old one yet. We’ve been through too many miles and milestones together.


About Just Write
“What ends up revealing itself when free writing is that everything has meaning. That is a magnificent gift of writing. If we write from a free heart-gut place, our souls start speaking.

Posted: April 1st, 2014

Everyone hates March in Erie. I get it. The weather is completely schizophrenic (it’s hot, it’s cold, it’s hot, it’s cold…all in one dang day, sometimes) and, after a loooonggg, cold winter, we’re all anxious for spring.

I saw lots of signs of spring at Preque Isle State Park this weekend — ducks galore in the bay, red-winged blackbirds (the true harbingers of spring), fishermen in hip waiters, boats being uncovered, a turkey tom fanned out and guarding his hens, etc.

long run

Weekend Run No 1: We thought it was spring on Saturday morning at PISP.

But, we know winter isn’t over yet.  We know that spring — flowers, grass, regular sunshine, and trees full of songbirds — doesn’t really arrive in Erie until Mid-May, yet every freakin’ snowflake that falls after March 20 feels like insult to injury.

Snow doesn’t bother me now. Because it can’t last forever. It can’t. And it’s on it’s way out.  (I get depressed when it snows in October and we’ve got months and months of it to go).  In March and April, we get a few warm days mixed in with the cold ones. Like little previews of spring. Soon, those nice days outnumber the crappy, cold ones. The daffodils push through the last of the snow, the ducks fill Presque Isle bay, and office A/C kicks on.

So while the six to eight inches of fresh snow that fell overnight Saturday sent many off the deep end — as if their anger alone could melt the icy heart of Jack Frost — I saw it differently. I realized it might be my last opportunity this season to run in a winter wonderland. I’m sure most of you hope that it is.

Weekend run No. 2:  A mere 24 hours later and winter is baaaackkk! 



Yes, I look forward to solid footing again, but I’m not so quick to wish the winter running season away. I like running in cooler temps. I like cozy layers of Under Armour. I like having pockets to carry my stuff. I like not sweating to death. I like feeling like a badass because I run 8 miles on days other people don’t want to leave their house. I like running in the peaceful silence of winter.

This will all be over before we know it.


Pix by Eloise

About Just Write
“What ends up revealing itself when free writing is that everything has meaning. That is a magnificent gift of writing. If we write from a free heart-gut place, our souls start speaking.

Posted: March 25th, 2014

I considered blowing the run off when my alarm went off at 5:15 a.m. Sunday, but I knew I’d regret it when I saw all the photos on Facebok later. I told myself what I always do when I get up early on a weekend: I can take a nap later. I never do though.

“What’s the temp?” I ask Dan. He’s going this time because it’s gawd-awful early and that’s how he likes it.

“17″  he says.

“Awesome,” I say.

Why did I even ask?

We are 15 minutes early but there are already two or three cars full of friends there. Several cars, trucks and vans pull in until the little parking lot next to Findley Lake is full. Two dozen runners jump around in the dark and cold, hopping from foot to foot to stay warm. I stay in car, reading the Sunday paper by dome light. I can’t bear to spend one more minute out there than I have to.


We didn’t even get out of the car for this photo.

When they start running up the road, we jump out and join in. Dan runs ahead. Way ahead. He’ll do two loops (10.5 miles) in the time it takes me to do 1 and 1/4 loops (8 miles).

“If he laps us, we all get to punch him,” I say to the 4 or 5 runners I’m in line with.

We come up on something in the road. The headlamps of the front runners reveal it to be a squashed opossum. We weave around it with an “Ewww…”  and run on.

A minute or two later, we hear “Oh, gross!  Ewwww!” and lots of laughter. The second group must’ve reached the critter’s corpse.

It wasn’t the only roadkill we came across.


I graduated with CJ, above, who — surprise — was our class clown. You can always count on CJ to lighten the mood, for example by casually running past you while petting and talking softly to a flattened, frozen-solid muskrat.


See why I love these people? Who else is this happy to be running around a frozen late at 6:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning?


The sun comes up while we’re running, but I never see it.  Lost in conversation and a constant internal dialog (“I’m freezing. Run faster and get this done,”), I suddenly notice it’s light out. If the sunrise was pretty, I wouldn’t know. I was head down, moving forward. Running only to stop.

That’s not like me. I usually enjoy the journey. That’s why I run, but this winter has beaten me down. Wore me out. Froze me into negativity. This winter’s mantra:  Let’s just get this over with.

There’s a reward though: This winter will make us truly appreciate those first days of spring (when it actually arrives here in mid-May).

There’s a reward after Sunday’s run, too: Buckwheat pancakes with real maple syrup and smoked sausage at Red’s Best Pancake House in Sherman, N.Y.


All you can eat for $9.25. There are no menus. You sit down and they serve you coffee and OJ and then bring everyone a the table a plate of pancakes and country sausage. The atmosphere is country eclectic. The tables are thick wood with bench seats and the griddle is in full view of the kitchen. There’s a fireplace roaring and next to it are books and games and couches that make waiting less painful for families with kids on busy mornings. Judging by the packed pancake house crowd at 8 a.m. on Sunday, I’d say waiting is probably to be expected at Red’s.



Who knew Eric Carle wrote a book about pancakes, too?

When we arrive, most of us are shivering uncontrollably, which is normal after a long run in 14 freakin’ degrees. I grip my styrofoam coffee cup in both hands for the warmth and to keep from spilling it all over myself when I shiver.

Eventually, we warm….from the body heat of our friends on the benches next to us, from the pancakes with warm maple syrup, from the hot coffee, from the laughing and joking, from the sense of accomplishment…but, ultimately from the camaraderie of like-minded running friends who warm up even the coldest of winter days.





Hat tip to Eloise for this photo…with the perfect sentiments.

About Just Write
“What ends up revealing itself when free writing is that everything has meaning. That is a magnificent gift of writing. If we write from a free heart-gut place, our souls start speaking.

Posted: February 18th, 2014

Fashion and beauty annoy me.  I don’t have the time, inclination or money to keep up with trends, and I wouldn’t know if you do either. Color me clueless. When I was editor of Her Times magazine, I wanted to dump those categories of content altogether, but my boss would have none of that and would often remind me that I’m in the minority when it comes to not giving a flying rat’s a@#about fashion or makeup.

I do what I have to to get by — mascara, blush, lipstick, eyebrow waxing — but suffice to say, you aren’t going to find me getting pampered at any spa in town. Not my thing.

That said, I’m pretty religious about painting my toenails.

Who can guess why?

Tick, tock…tick, tock…tick, tock.

Ding-ding-ding….we have a winner.

Every runner knows that toenail polish is the perfect cover up missing nails. Ah, finally…one way in which fashion actually HELPS a woman out.

My husband who has to suffer through sandal season with blackened and/or missing toenails from his spring marathon, though he doesn’t seem to care. (Oh, to be a guy.) It kinds grosses me out, though.

I painted my nails the other day — a festive red with sparkles for Valentine’s Day — because I signed up for swim class and felt my feet had to look presentable (cause you know…you can really see them when they’re underwater all the time, right? standards are stupid). Anyway…for the first time in months, perhaps years, I actually have all 10 toenails. Holla!

A full set. A real rarity for a distance runner, so I took a picture.


In reviewing my spring racing schedule, which includes, a 10K, three half marathons and a tough mudder in two months, it’s likely they won’t last for long.

Easy come, easy go.

About Just Write
“What ends up revealing itself when free writing is that everything has meaning. That is a magnificent gift of writing. If we write from a free heart-gut place, our souls start speaking.

Posted: February 11th, 2014

I don’t even look at the temperature. Why bother? It’s cold as h#@ …it has been this whole frigid winter. I dig out my thickest, fleece-lined tights. They’re like form-fitting sweatpants — too hot for all but the coldest of winter runs. I don’t think I wore them at all last year. This year, they’ve seen plenty of use, as have my Yak Tracks.

I’ve gotten hardier as this sub-zero winter drags on. There was a time I drew the line at running in temps less than 20 degree. Psshhh…20 feels like a freakin’ heatwave now.

If I wait for 2o degrees, I may not run until flippin’ April, so I put on my thicker running socks, and three — count ‘em three — fleece-lined layers on top — a cold gear mock neck, a fitness hoodie and a double-layer windbreaker. I make sure to pick a winter hat that will completely cover my ears and put on a pair of gloves and top those with a pair of thick mittens.

Yet, a half mile into the run, I am still freezing. I stop as we run up Jordan road to pull up both hoods over my head and tie them tight. I feel and look like a complete dork, but I don’t really care.  There’s no room for vanity on single-digit (1 degree) long run days.  You do what has to be done to get the miles in.

There’s no wind, other than the breeze we are creating by running, which isn’t much because though we seem to be putting in maximum effort, we’re barely moving. Our mouths move faster, discussing everything from our weekend plans to upcoming races to spoiled kids to Yack Tracks versus Stabilicers.

Ten miles fly by in a flurry of conversation, the weather goes virtually unnoticed for nearly 2 hours. We’ve got grinding uphills, bratty kids, and other, more pressing issues to distract us from Jack Frost’s attempts to thwart our Saturday morning run.

Winter running can be exhausting. Gearing up to go, working so to hard to move forward, prying my frozen eyelashes apart, but I’ll still take it over the “dreadmill” any day.

About Just Write
“What ends up revealing itself when free writing is that everything has meaning. That is a magnificent gift of writing. If we write from a free heart-gut place, our souls start speaking.

Posted: January 21st, 2014


Megs Menzies (Facebook photo)

At 8 a.m. on Monday, January 13, Megs Menzies, 34, and her husband, Scott, of Richmond, Virginia, were out for a morning run when Megs, a mother of three, was tragically hit and killed by a drunk driver.  A Hanover, Va., physician is facing charges of involuntary manslaughter and driving under the influence in connection with her death.

A memorial, worthy of the Boston marathoner Megs was, has sprung up at the corner of Hickory Hill and East Patrick Henry Roads in Hanover.


But, even more impressive, are the more than 98,000 people from across the world who pledged to run a mile for Megs this past weekend, tagging their miles on Facebook and Twitter. Meg’s friends created a Facebook event, which went viral, inviting everyone to run a mile for Megs and raise awareness of athlete safety on the roads.

“This Saturday, January 18, 2014, no matter what your distance, no matter where you live, run for Meg. Take in the fresh air, be aware of your surroundings, keep your headphones on low, feel the heaviness in your lungs, the soreness in your legs, and be grateful for it–for all of it. The sweat, the pain, the wind, the cold…everything. Be grateful for that moment.”

On Saturday, I met with my usual Saturday morning group at Presque Isle at 7:30 a.m. It was 11 degrees and the trail was icy in parts. At the five mile point, we turned around and crossed over to the lake side, hoping to avoid the head wind. We didn’t. My fingers were frozen and my hat was frosted with fresh snow. I smiled, I laughed, and I enjoyed my friends. Eleven degrees or not, everything was perfect.

I can’t imagine losing any one of my running friends, especially in such a tragic, senseless way. (Who the hell is drunk at 8 a.m.?). I can’t imagine what it must’ve been like for her husband,  a sergeant in the Ashland Police Department, to witness his wife’s death. I can’t imagine telling her children the sad news.  I can’t imagine the giant hole left in her community.

But, I can imagine it happening here. I’ve been running the roads long enough to see distracted/drunk drivers at 7 a.m. ( and at 2 p.m. and at 6 p.m. and at 8 p.m. ).

Once, when the kids were still little, I had just come home from a Sunday morning run and Dan had just gone out (we had to take turns back in those days) when he came across a young guy stumbling in the road three-quarters of a mile from our house. The guy had just hit the tree at the curve, his car was half buried in the deep ditch nearby. He was clearly under the influence of something. Dan stopped to make sure he was OK and had called for a ride home. We laughed about it then. (What a dumb a@#!). But, now, I think… There but by the grace of God go I. Five minutes earlier, I’d run right by that tree, 5 minutes later Dan did.

I ran very early Monday morning by myself. I left my headphones at home. I didn’t want the distraction. I wanted to think — about a story I needed to work out, a costume I needed to design, and about Megs and how it could be any of us on any given morning.

Even in the dark of a winter morning in the country, I could still see the scars from that collision on that tree up the road. It, and the trees around it, bear many scars from drivers who have missed the curve.

We runners tend to feel invincible, but we are defenseless against 2,000 pounds of metal and a driver who has had too much to drink or a mom in a minivan who just got a text message.  Megs’ death is a call to action for us, runners and non-runners, to fight against drunk and distracted driving and for greater safety on the roads.

I didn’t know Megs, but if I did, I’m sure we’d be friends. Never met a runner I didn’t like. It’s like we’re all members of some big, crazy, weird family.

Rest in peace, Megs

No….wait, runners hate to rest.

Run in peace, Megs.


About Just Write
“What ends up revealing itself when free writing is that everything has meaning. That is a magnificent gift of writing. If we write from a free heart-gut place, our souls start speaking.”

Posted: January 14th, 2014

I used to be very regimented about running. I ran 5 to 6 miles on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and at least 10 on Saturdays. It didn’t matter what else I had to do that day, how fatigued I was, or what the weather was like. If it was a Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Saturday, by God, I was running.

That sort of rigidity serves it’s purpose, particularly for new runners who, without a solid no-excuses routine, can easily slip back into their pre-running days—sleeping in, putting off workouts, waiting for better weather.

But, over the years, I learned to be more flexible. Baring a major injury, I can’t imagine anything that would keep me from running for more than a few days. And, so I’m not afraid to rest if my body says it really needs a break, or run long on Sunday if a snowstorm is raging on Saturday, or to lift weights instead of run.

Missing one or two or even five runs isn’t going to affect my performance or turn me into a couch potato or cause me to gain five pounds. I know this now and so I can enjoy a more spontaneous running schedule. I run when the running is good. I run when friends invite me or expect me to be there. I run days in a row when the roads are clear and the winter temps a “balmy” 30+.

This sort of flexibility requires a lot of 4:50 a.m. laying-in-bed decisions, checking in with my legs and head. Do we or don’t we? What other workouts do I have scheduled this week? What’s the temperature?

Monday morning it was 35 degrees and weekend rains had cleared the roads of ice and snow. Perfect running weather. So I headed out solo, even though I had run both Saturday and Sunday.(See the flexibility thing works both ways). I do most of my runs with friends now, but I also love the solitude of an occasional early-morning run alone, cruising along in the dark on the streets I’ve been running for 12 years.  It’s as beautiful as I thought it would be, the kind of running weather I relish—clear streets, cool (but not too cold) temps.

My earphones are distracting me. They keep feeling like they’re going to slip out of my ears and it’s driving me nuts, so I take them off and stuff them in the pocket of my windbreaker. Much as I’d like to listen to the new Eminem LP, I can use the time to think.  It’s very quiet. The birds have all gone south. The only sound is my feet hitting the pavement.

There are no streetlights in the country and without the snow to reflect light, it’s very dark.

Where is the moon?

I round the nearly-90-degree bend—the one drunk drivers often miss before they crash through the split-rail fence and smash into the row of old thick-trunked trees that bear scars from collisions gone by—and the moon answers me.

It’s there, hanging above the hill, full and bright orange, partially obscured by misty clouds. A harvest moon. A spooky moon.

I try to take a picture with my phone, but it shows up as a white dot in a solid black background.  A camera — at least my phone’s camera — can’t capture the striations of the sky, the shade of gray, the stars, the oversized moon in all it’s orange glory.

I’ll just have to enjoy this one right now — take it in, savor it. I can’t save it for later.

I’m glad I got up.


About Just Write
“What ends up revealing itself when free writing is that everything has meaning. That is a magnificent gift of writing. If we write from a free heart-gut place, our souls start speaking.”

Posted: January 7th, 2014

Just don’t throw up.

That’s all I can think during the mile of the first race of 2014. Not a great way to start the year. I’m tired, hungover, caffeine-free, and deeply regretting signing up for the ERC’s New Year’s Day Five-Miler. But, God forbid I don’t complete the ERC Winter Series.

Why do I feel compelled to do these things?

There are several inches of snow on the course, but it provides traction and it’s better than ice, which is the usual footing at Presque Isle in winter.  And I’ve got Yaktrax.

After that first long mile, once I know I’m not going to be revisited by the midnight jalapeno dip I ingested, I find my groove, pick up the pace and pass several people. I started too slow and now I’ve got catching up to do.

Oh, who cares? Just put in the miles, Heather.

I catch up to a Pheobe, a friend I’ve been racing with for years, and manage to stay a few feet behind for the next four miles. We don’t talk. I couldn’t have anyway. I stay tucked in behind her, each of us silently pushing the other. I’m just trying to stay with her. She’s just trying to stay ahead of me.

We come up on another girl who takes off every time Pheobe starts to pass her. Then she slows down until we come up on her again. It’s kind of amusing, this back-and-forth.  Classic sign of an inexperience racer.

We make the right turn onto Fisher Drive, less than .20 miles from the finish. Pheobe and the girl have some kick left.  I don’t. I keep my pace as they battle it out the finish.

You can get her, Phoebe. 

She doesn’t. The newbie has just enough — energy? guts? determination? youth? drive? sheer will? —  to stay out front.

I finish a few seconds behind both of them with a respectable time given my physical condition and mindset when I started.

I have Pheobe to thank for that.  So I do.

About Just Write
“What ends up revealing itself when free writing is that everything has meaning. That is a magnificent gift of writing. If we write from a free heart-gut place, our souls start speaking.”

Posted: December 24th, 2013

I wake at 6:38 a.m. to the sound of wind and rain. I reach for my cell phone to see if there are any text messages. Nothing.

I group text Cyndie, Lisa, Carol and Jan:  “OK…raining and windy…but 60 (so my phone says…haven’t actually gone outside, yet) Still running? Can anyone go tomorrow instead? Thoughts?”

I knew as soon as I sent it what I’d get back. They are hardcore and, by God, we run long on Saturday mornings….hell, snow, wind or high water.

“Still going!”

“I’m running today. Tomorrow could be worse.”


I groan, roll out of bed and mutter “I hate them all” as I stumble into the kitchen and slide open the glass door to check the temp and know how to dress.

It’s warm. Warmer than it is inside the house.

Well, OK then. My whole attitude changes. Wind and rain isn’t so bad when it’s 60 degrees. (Funny how low our “good weather” standards go in winter).

I put on lightweight capris and a long-sleeve running Tshirt. I don’t even bring my gloves or jacket.  Wasn’t it just last week we were running in a foot of soft snow?

Wonder what next Saturday will bring.

Like it matters.  Mother Nature won’t stop this crew.

group run2SMALLER

(photo taken earlier this year).

About Just Write
“What ends up revealing itself when free writing is that everything has meaning. That is a magnificent gift of writing. If we write from a free heart-gut place, our souls start speaking.”

Posted: December 11th, 2013

I’ve been reading a lot of Buddhist articles and books in the last few years. It speaks to me – faith without all the trappings of religion, living a life of compassion and kindness without all the “rules” (mostly designed to keep us in line, morally…and largely ignored by even the most “faithful”) of modern religions.

The Buddhists all say, and I believe it’s probably true, that the key to happiness lies in staying in the present moment and in accepting it for whatever it is.  Sounds easy, but it’s very hard to do.  In “The Power of Now” Eckert Tolle says our minds are to blame.

“The pain that you create now is always some form of nonacceptance, some form of unconscious resistance to what is. On the level of thought, the resistance is some form of judgment. On the emotional level, it is some form of negativity. The intensity of the pain depends on the degree of resistance to the present moment, and this in turn depends on how strongly you are identified with your mind.

“The mind always seeks to deny the Now and to escape from it. In other words, the more you are identified with your mind, the more you suffer. Or you may put it like this: the more you are able to honor and accept the Now, the more ore you are free of pain, of suffering – and free of the egoic mind.

Why does the mind habitually deny or resist the Now? Because it cannot function and remain in control without time, which is past and future, so it perceives the timeless Now as threatening. Time and mind are in fact inseparable.” ― Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment

I try to practice mindfulness, but there are days… oh, there are days… that I don’t want to be anywhere that I am. I don’t want to be at work. I don’t want to be at the grocery store. I don’t want to be at home listening to squabbling sisters.  I don’t want to be Christmas shopping.

“All negativity is caused by an accumulation of psychological time and denial of the present. Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry – all forms of fear – are caused by too much future, and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of nonforgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough presence.”  ― Eckhart Tolle

I had one of those days earlier this week and, like Tolle suggests, I examined the thought and asked myself:  So where do I want to be? Where am I happy?

The answer was immediate: When I’m running with friends.

Feet and heart pounding, blood pumping, conversation flowing as we blur the world around us. Moving through time—or rather, the Now—together.

“It is not uncommon for people to spend their whole life waiting to start living.”  ― Eckhart Tolle


Photo credit: Eloise

About Just Write
“What ends up revealing itself when free writing is that everything has meaning. That is a magnificent gift of writing. If we write from a free heart-gut place, our souls start speaking.”

Posted in: Just Write

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