Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Stone Cat 50

Last Saturday marked the one-year anniversary of my ultrarunning career (if , as I do, you only count races of 50 miles and up). What better way to celebrate than run the race that started it all: the Stone Cat 50 in Ipswich, MA.

This year's course was a different. It was still four 12.5 mile laps, but single track sections were added (hooray!), and I could be mistaken, but it seemed like the course looped backwards from last year's direction. Admittedly, I have no head for remembering terrain, but I recognized almost nothing from last year's course, save the in and out section at the beginning and end of each loop. (But then again, each loop seemed like a brand new course to me, so take whatever I say with a huge grain of salt.)

I liked the new course. The single track was twisty and fun. Kept my mind off running. Every time I came off the single track onto the wider carriage road my body felt heavy and clunky.

I must be getting used to running these long races, because the whole day went by in a weird time warp. Hours and hours drifted by without my quite noticing. At one point I looked down at my watch to see that I had been running for something like 5 or 6 hours, but I swear it felt like 15 minutes. It was a very enjoyable day.

I kept a conservative pace for the first three laps, because I was worried about my stomach. I ran with Penny, whom I found in the bathroom just before the pre-race meeting. We moved in and out of a big group of women for the first two laps. Oddly, most of the women had three kids at home. There was lots of parenting talk, Halloween stories, etc. I have to say, I wanted no part of that conversation. This was my parenting vacation.

The aid stations were wonderful. I recognized many of the same people working them from last year. I think many of the GAC runners work this race to satisfy their volunteer requirements for the VT 100. It's so great when the volunteers are ultrarunners themselves, because they know exactly how you are feeling and exactly what you need. Penny used to run with these guys before she got injured, so everyone at the aid stations knew her by name. I felt like I was running with the mayor of the race.

Just before heading out for the fourth and final lap, I changed my shoes and socks, which had been thoroughly soaked during my three traverses of the beaver dam section of the course. This gave me new life, and I fairly flew through the last lap (or at least it felt like I was flying -- I think I kept up a 12-minute mile, hee hee). I felt bad leaving Penny behind, but she had run a road marathon the weekend before and a 50K the weekend before that. I think her legs were done.

Miraculously, my stomach held up all day. As per the advice of Vespa Peter, I have continued to cut back on carbs in my daily diet and to eat minimally at all the aid stations during races. And Penny, who is a trainer and dietitian, gave me great advice as well: no fiber and minimal dairy for the last 2 days before the race.

I ate a little pasta with ground beef and mushrooms the night before the race and a sunflower bagel with jam a couple of hours before (while driving in the car listening to my book on tape). At the aid stations I had only a single piece of potato with salt or a couple of Saltine crackers. This was just enough (with the occasional addition of a Clif Block left to dissolve between my cheek and gum like those guys back in high school with the milk carton spittoons at the back of the class) to get me from aid station to aid station. The aid stations were roughly 4 miles apart.

After picking up the pace in the fourth lap, I kept waiting for the old queasiness to kick in. But it never did. At the last aid station I had a little chicken broth. It tasted like the best, most expensive meal you can imagine. After an entire day of nothing but potatoes and Saltines, the broth was like manna from heaven.

I once again passed on the Scotch at Fred's Cafe, though I must admit it was tempting.

By the end of the second lap I noticed that someone had tapped a keg in the woods and there were a few people milling around it. Mind you, this was maybe 11 in the morning. By the end of the third lap the crowd around the keg had grown and the unmistakable smell of sour beer, reminiscent of fraternity parties and office Christmas galas of old, wafted across the field. These people were clearly having too much fun.

I finished the race half an hour faster than last year, though I'm not sure how significant that is given the course changes. But I felt way, WAY better. Last year my father had to practically carry me to the car. This year I spent half an hour trotting up and down the road trying to figure out where I had parked the darn thing.

All in all, it has been a great year of running. Happy anniversary to me, and here's to another healthy, enjoyable year!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

One thing leads to another...

Today was one of those days that unfolded to its own rhythm. These are the best kind of days, unasked for and freely given.

We started out at the big table in the playroom drawing and writing -- Nell from Draw Write Now and Simon from Draw Then Write. Ben colored pictures of his choosing that I drew for him. We listened to a Rabbit Ears Radio collection of Christmas stories.

When the drawing had run its course I pulled out David Macaulay's book, The Way Things Work. We had a little discussion about the inclined plane, and then made a couple of ramps with out K'Nex. We used a spring loaded scale to pull Webkinz up the ramps. We proved to ourselves that longer ramps make for less effort, steeper ramps less distance, though more effort.

We then raided the loose change bowl and had fun estimating how many quarters, how many nickels, etc. The combination of money and Webkinz naturally led to a rousing game of Pet Store. We slapped a price tag on each animal and sold them to each other. Ben made 10-cents-off coupons. This was the first time Simon got the abstract concept of money. A dime is worth ten cents, etc.

We wiled away the afternoon at the Nature Center. Simon studied centipedes and millipedes while Nell learned how to make a stick and leaf shelter in the woods. Ben and I went to the health food store and then wandered around after Nell's group. Ben spent a long time rolling a slug down a big rock and retrieving it. Sorry, slug.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Little Jacksons Everywhere

Today Grandma came for art class and the kids make Jackson Pollock splatter paintings. They were tired from an afternoon at the beach (IN the water on November 4th!), but they perked right up for this art project. It was a tremendous hit.

Here's everybody getting started with the brushes and the paint outside on the driveway. We were lucky that it wasn't too cold.

And then the kids got to work.

Jackson Pollock must have been quite a child at heart, because these kids took to this project like pigs to the mud bath. And the results weren't too far off the mark. All three kids spent about an hour channeling our friend Jackson.

When all was said and done, it was hard to tell the artist from the art.

Training Eddie, Raising Kids

Here is a piece I wrote for my newspaper. I thought it was funny, but some of the commenters thought I was inhumane for crating the dog while we run errands and for bringing the electric fence into the house. No sense of humor? Or am I inhumane?

Training Eddie

About a month ago we brought home a 2-year-old Walker coonhound named Eddie from the Quaker Hill Humane Society. Eddie is a lovely dog with a sweet personality, but he has spent much of his young life being shunted from shelter to shelter and has never been properly trained.

Having just escorted our spirited third child through “the terrible twos” and half way into “the turbulent threes” I have a few thoughts on the differences between training a dog and training a child (and yes, I realize we do not TRAIN our children, we RAISE and NURTURE them, but please bear with me).

I have always been against bribing the kids. This doesn’t mean that I have not on occasion stooped to saying, for example, “Get in the car right now and I’ll give you a bag of popcorn,” but these instances are few and far between, and most often uttered in moments of extreme duress – late picking up my mother at the airport, or late for a sibling’s very expensive horseback riding lesson. And I always feel slimy afterwards.

But training the dog is a whole different thing. Dog training is nothing but bribery:

“Come over here, Eddie, and I’ll give you a hot dog.”

“Get off the new sofa and I’ll give you a heart-shaped organic dog treat.”

“Get into your crate and I’ll give you a pig’s ear.”

I was at first reluctant to partake in these blatantly shameless and corrupt enticements. My parenting instinct was to reason with the dog, make him see how it was in his best interest to come down off the new sofa, make him WANT to get down off the sofa from the center of his being. Let him learn for himself how his dog nails were ruining the upholstery and greatly reducing overall quality of this fine piece of furniture.

I do this with the kids every day: “Stop jumping on the couch. You’re wrecking it!”

Never works. The couch is just too cushy and fun. But Eddie gets off in a hot second whenever the treats come out.

I worry that all of this bribery will stunt his emerging sense of ethics. How will he truly know right from wrong when his entire moral structure is based solely on the presence or absence of a kosher beef frankfurter?

Oh, Eddie, what are we doing to you?

I especially appreciate Eddie’s dog self whenever its time to, say, go to the grocery store. 2-year-olds are the worst grocery shoppers. You have to force them into their jackets and shoes, stuff them into their car seats, and keep a constant eye on them in the store to make sure they are not tossing candy and cinnamon buns into the back of the cart from their high perch in the front.

Eddie is so much easier. You simply bribe him into his crate with a pig’s ear, where he will munch and take a little nap until his people return. Easy as pie.

Another remarkable fact: Eddie can go outside and play in the yard ALL BY HIMSELF. He does not leave the yard (or at least not very often – we’re still working on this), because crossing the border to the neighbor’s yard results in an electric shock (or, as the invisible fence people so comfortingly state it, a STATIC CORRECTION) from a wire buried two inches under the grass.
There is simply no equivalent for the kids. You have to watch them every second.

And if you REALLY don’t want the dog on the sofa, and you don’t want him chewing the toys, and you feel like you are going out of your mind because you are trying to home school your three kids, but you are getting nothing done because you are spending all of your time making sure the dog doesn’t nip the boys’ butts, well – you simply demand that your handy husband splice into that wire outside and run it through the middle of the house. And when he tells you it will take three or four days to figure out a path for the wire under the floorboards and through the joists, you count to ten and growl, “No! No! We will run the wire in through the window and tape it to the floor. RIGHT NOW!”

And then you head out to T.J. Maxx to purchase a few funky throw rugs to cover the unsightly wire snaking across the floorboards.

Eddie now receives a static correction whenever he tries to venture into the living room or the playroom. One little shock and he never tries it again. My life is like a dream!

I really could have used this device when Simon and Ben were going through their bookcase-climbing phase. And their kitchen-counter-scaling phase. And their banister-sliding phase. And their table-jumping phase….