Friday, June 19, 2009

Once again, not running

So here I sit on my recently purchased cold gel pack absolutely willing my hamstring to get better.

It's not that bad, really. But it's not getting better. I hurt it two weekends ago at Pittsfield Peaks when I took a spectacular digger running downhill on a rocky jeep road. Once all the regular post-race soreness wore off, the hamstring problem remained.

I have been swimming and run/walking for the past week and a half, but it's still all twangy back there. After yesterday's attempt at a run, I decided to stop. No running, no swimming, no nothing until it gets better.

It has been 24 hours and I am DYING!

All that energy! Yesterday I cleaned the house. I mean I really cleaned it. I located (half hour) and attached the little brush thingy to the vacuum cleaner and DUSTED THE BASEBOARDS! Sweet Jesus, I've never done that in my life. What's the point? It all recycles right back to that tiny ledge in a matter of a week anyway. WHAT'S THE POINT???

Anyway, the house is clean. Or as clean as it's ever going to get. And we are leaving for a family vacation to Williamsburg, VA tonight, so there's all that laundry to do today. And it's pouring rain, so no hanging anything outside on the clothesline.

I can see that without running I would quickly fall into domestic drudgery. I'd turn into Ma Ingalls, making soap from pig fat and churning butter with a baby tied to my back.

Heal, you freaking hamstring, HEAL!

On the upside, I read Born to Run and loved it. Got to the end, spun the book around, and started page 1 all over again.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Recovery Week?

Man, that Pittsfield Peaks race took the stuffing out of me! This has been a tough week, mostly because life does not stop or even slow down even though I am absolutely wrecked.

My quads and hamstrings were sore for a couple of days. Stairs and toilets, as always, were challenging. The quads quieted down by midweek, but my right hamstring is still sore. I took a nasty fall while running downhill early in the race and I think I may have pulled something back there. My foot hit a rock, I took a couple of big steps trying to right myself (all in graceful slo mo, of course), and then went down, ass over teakettle onto the trail. I got just bloodied enough to look tough in my skirt. Which is the best you can expect from a downhill tumble.

So I am trying to baby the hamstring this week because I have a big, hilly run scheduled with Susan on Thursday.

I didn't do anything much on Sunday except fend off the kids' requests for pushes in the swing and the like.

"Will you push me?"

"No, honey. I can't."


"Because I can't get out of my chair."

Monday was homeschool beach day. The kids and I went to Harkness Park, which requires a quarter mile downhill stroll across grassy gardens before you hit the beach. Woo, boy. Burdened as I was with all of our beach gear, that was a difficult walk. Downhill on the quads. Yowza!

I swam Monday evening while Nell did her swimteam practice. Slow swimming felt good all over. I did maybe 1500, 2000 yards. Everyone in the pool was passing me. The geriatrics and the three year olds with their floaty bubbles.

Tuesday I walked Eddie. He was going through run withdrawals. When this happens, he chews things. He chewed the insoles to my trail running shoes while they were airing out on the front lawn. Bad dog, Eddie.

Wednesday I did a slow trot with Eddie and swam again. The swimming was much more brisk this time. I passed the 3-year-olds like they were standing still.

I tried to run Thusday while the kids were at Farm Class, but my hamstring hurt. So I did a run/walk instead. I think I did 6 or 7 miles. Took about an hour and a half. But I was all by myself in the middle of the day, which by that time in the week was priceless.

The most difficult part of racing for me is getting through the week that follows. Our three energetic kids are used to having an energetic mom. They don't quite understand that I did myself in over the weekend and need a few days to recover. As my energy wanes, theirs builds up as if to take up the slack. Especially the 4-year-old. Yikes!

My daughter, Nell, and I did a great 7-miler Saturday. She rode her bike and I ran. We had a great time. But that hamstring is still tender. I think I'll just walk today instead of my usual long run. Hamstrings scare me. Visions of months-long lay offs loom. The horror.......

Monday, June 8, 2009

Up and Up at Pittsfield Peaks

Damn, I wish I had my camera. This was such a lovely race.

Actually, I did have my camera. I packed it and brought it up to VT. But when I went to take a picture of Brian working on some esoteric physics project in our tent the night before the race, the lens would not open. Someone broke my camera!

I'm not naming any names here, but I have my suspicions.

A whole bunch of pictures stored in the camera look vaguely like this......

I think the finger points on one direction. I can't prove anything. I'm just saying....

Anyway. In the days leading up to the race, reading thorough some of the finish times from last year's Pittsfield Peaks race, I was a bit nervous (read: terrified). And our scenic driving route up to the race, cutting through the middle of Vermont, did nothing to quell my fears. The big hills rolled on and on in an unrelenting undulation of steep, dark greenery. Yikes!

Brian and I arrived at the general store in Pittsfield to get our numbers and shirts just before nightfall. I was too stunned by the drive to say much to anyone. I chatted briefly with Nate (we always recognize each other: I was the helpful volunteer at Lake Waramaug a couple of years ago who duck taped Nate's earbud into his ear), then Brian and I went off to set up our tent in the small tent city perched on top of the septic system of Amee Farm (picture a lush hillock with a pipe sticking out the top dotted with tents). Ahh, ultra runners.....

A few babies cried in the night, but I am well past my days of lactation so I slept pretty well.

The race began precisely at 6. Race director Andy Weinberg told us to go, and like lemmings to the slaughter, off we went.

Brian did get this one picture of the start with our good Cannon just before the battery died. I am not actually in the picture because I started way in the back, but Nikki Kimball (eventual women's winner) is, and that's even better.

The course went immediately uphill and did not let up all day. I didn't even try to run that first mile. No sense in it. There was WAY more climbing to come. This course goes up a total of 14,670 feet. That is the same elevation gain for the whole of the VT 100 concertina-d down into 53 long miles. Woo, boy!

I settled in with a bunch of sweet guys for the first 20 miles or so. There was Donny from western NY and Chip the cardiologist from Brooklyn (I stayed with him rather deliberately!). And I very much enjoyed sharing the trail with the father/son team, Rik and Josh Robert. Rik regaled me with tales from his life as an EMT in Northern Vermont and his son egged him on. They were a delightful pair. I do hope that my kids and I will be such friends when everybody grows up. Talking with Rik gave me a chance to bring up one of my favorite books, Here If You Need Me by Kate Braestrup. It's a wonderful book about a Unitarian chaplain assigned to work search and rescue with the Main Game Wardens.

The course to this point had been unrelentingly up and down. After Mile 18 there was a horrendous half-mile climb up a wicked steep hill and then back down again. I saw Nate and Sherpa John barreling down as I was starting up. That was the last time I saw either of them. The woman working the aid station at the bottom of the hill loved my running skirt. She said that in her three years of working this race she had never seen a running skirt. Evidently I am on the cutting edge of fashion in this one very specific, very small sub-culture of women. (There were 8 of us who finished the race this year).

After another big climb and descent we circled back to our drop bags and started out into the Blood Root section of the course.

I had been hearing about this section all morning. All the talk was of huge, exposed climbs and bears. Sherpa John had marked this section and let everyone know that the bear scat and the mud were abundant. I ran a bit with a guy named Joe, one of the founders of the race. He is a bit of an endurance freak, having biked across the country and run 300 miles in one shot last year. He told me that if I finished this race, woke up Sunday morning feeling fine and then popped off a 20 then I'd be ready for a 300.

(Flash forward 24 hours: I am lumbering down the stairs on all fours, and every time I sit down it feels like a permanent condition. Bang out 20? Yuh, right!?)

All this time my stomach was feeling great. I was carrying Rolaids and every time I felt a twinge of nausea I'd pop a couple. I ate a Clif Blok and 2 peanut butter crackers every hour and alternately sipped water from my Wink pack and Nuun from my bottle. All was well in Digest-o-ville.

I left Joe behind when he stopped to soak in the stream and started up Bloodroot Mountain all on my own. Yes, I saw bear scat. Yes, I was utterly freaked out and alone. Yes, I was tormented by black flies (or something) and stinging nettles. Oh, the joy of it all! I think I climbed for two hours. Up and up and up. The downhill was not much of a relief. It was steep and boggy and overgrown. Every time I got a good trot going, I would hit a lengthy patch of ankle- and sometimes knee-deep mud. Time went by, but I barely noticed it. I was in the zone, baby!

I circled back to my drop bag at Mile 37 and tried really hard to remember everything. By this time in the race my brain was practically useless. It took me a ridiculously long time to get my flashlight, more Rolaids, crackers, iPod and jacket into my pack. It was here that I got the news: Vikki Kimball had finished in just over 9 hours. Ihad to sit down when I heard that, because here I was with 15 miles to go, 10.5 hours into the race. The friendly volunteers were beginning to accuse me of stalling. Eventually I grabbed a few sips of juicy Coca Cola and started on my way.

A mile or so down the road (this little section was on dirt road) I decided to give my iPod a try. I popped in a Julia Sweeny monologue. Again, this took way, WAY longer than it should have. My fingers would not work properly and I could not get the ear buds to stay in my ears (hello, Nate?). In my difficulty, I may or may not have missed a small piece of the course. Fifteen or so minutes later I caught up to another woman and she mentioned a loop through the woods. WHAT? I had been on road this whole time. I turned around and ran back for 10 minutes, trying to figure it out. I saw another guy running down the road who told me there was no loop through the woods. Weird. So I turned around again, losing maybe 20 minutes in the process.

After this brief bit of relatively flat road running (NIRVANA ITSELF), the course turned up again and into the woods. Up and down and up and down. And then it hit a maze. Switchbacks and trail crossings and more switchbacks until my poor head was a-swimmin. And my poor belly gave out. The Rolaids no longer spelled relief. I was sick.

And on top of it all, I was obsessed that I was going to be disqualified for missing some small, possibly imaginery, section of the course. All of this work for nothing! It took me 10 miles to come up with this brilliant plan: I would get to the finish line, not cross, tell Andy that I think I owed him 5 or 10 more minutes of running, turn around, run 5 or 10 minutes, then finish. I AM A GENIUS!

About this time, I saw Donny again, a guy I ran with at the start of the race. I (rather desperately) asked him if he had run through a wooded section after the last aid station. Donny is such a nice man. He took the time to listen to my delerious ravings, told me very gently that he did not remember if he ran through the woods or not, and let me know that he thought my plan was unnecessary. Just finish, he said. Nobody cares about 5 minutes. And then he left me in the dust.

Nobody cares? This was a novel thought.

And then I hit the last two hills and forgot all about my troubles. The penultimate hill was bad. Steep. I almost threw up. And I thought it was the last one.

And then I rounded a corner and came face to face with the last hill. Reader, I wanted to cry. It wsa the steepest thing I have ever seen. And it went on and on. Trudge, trudge, stop. Trudge, trudge, stop. Half way up I put my hands on my knees and looked up. "You have to get up there," I told myself, "You have to!"

Man, it was like the last stages of giving birth. You have been in labor all day. You have been pushing. You are exhausted. And there is absolutely no turning back. It hurst like hell, but you have to get that baby out. You have to!

That's all I could think about as I went up that last hill.

As I crested the hill and started down, there was Brian coming up to find me! What a sight for sore eyes he was. A little less than a mile, he told me. He could not believe I was still running. He had done the 10-mile course earlier in the day and he barely made it up the hill I had just climbed. Turns out Brian had quite a few adventures while I was running. He rescued a baby bird, he found some guy's car keys in the grass after an extensive search, and he won the men's division of the 10 mile race (a woman beat him!).

Brian ran that last mile with me in his crocs. I gave him my addled pitch about running an extra 10 minutes when I got to the finish line (which, by the way, sounded impossible to me now). He echoed Donny's sentiments. "At this stage of the game, nobody's gonna care."

I got to the finish line and started yelling, "Andy! Andy! I think I have to run another five, ten minutes. I think I missed a small section in the woods after Upper Michegan Road!"

He handed me my finisher's award (an awesome spike!), grabbed me by the arm, looked me in my two crazed eyes and said quite firmly, "No. You didn't."

Ah, relief. I didn't. Nobody cares.

"What did you think of that course, huh?" he asked me.

And this sweet little mother of three looked up at him and said, "Andy, that was a FUCKED UP COURSE!"

He could not have been more pleased.

The results arrived in my email this morning. 13:39. I finished toward the late-middle of the pack. I was fifth of eight women, first over 40 (by over an hour, so my possible 5, 10-minute lapse did not matter).

What a great race. Highly recommended. I'll be back next year.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Most Emphatically, Not Running

It's 5:00 on a Wednesday morning. This is the time I'm usually getting back from my morning run with Eddie. But not today. I'm tapering! And from what I hear about the Pittsfield Peaks course, I really do need to rest.

(Eddie. See his tail? He's a skittish dog. Every since we got him last fall.)

But it's so hard. I'm absolutely wired to run. It's built into my muscles and my bones.

Shut up. No running!

Actually this particular morning, it's not that hard. In fact, it's a no-brainer. I didn't sleep much last night and I'm tired. My daughter Nell woke me up last night around 11 because she couldn't sleep. And then I didn't get back to sleep myself for hours.

Nell is 8, which is a fabulous age. I sat on her bed and rubbed her back for 20 minutes until she finally blinked out. It was so pleasant to sit quietly in a dark room physically connected to my daughter. Every night of her first year we did this. She would wake and I would quietly nurse her back to sleep. I loved those times.

Or at least I love the memory of them. I must admit that I am mostly glad the kids aren't babies anymore. There was a six year stretch back there (2001 - 2007) in which I rarely slept through any night. Nursing babies, bad dreams, post-partum stuff: all of this strikes in the wee hours. I am starting to take a good night's sleep for granted. I am grateful for my time last night with Nell.

(Nell on her 8th birthday)

I am starting to take pieces of my life back. When the kids were little, they hated for me to leave. I felt like I was always rushing back home. All of my runs felt frantic. They were all short and guilt-laden, because I knew somebody back home was crying.

Ah, no longer. We are all developing our own interests. Our own lives.

I am off to VT for Pittsfield Peaks and I don't feel too badly about leaving the kids. Brian is coming with me to run the 10-mile race, so Nell, Simon and Ben will stay overnight with Grandma and Grandpa. We are lucky they live so close. We'll leave Friday, late afternoon, and come back Saturday night.

Sunday will be an interesting parenting day!

Even still, leaving them is not easy. The logistics alone are daunting. Pack for three kids, ages 4, 6 and 8, get them to Grandma's house (half an hour away) and soothe worried brows (Nell is at the age when she is starting to worry. I remember when I was 8 myself, crying at the front door as my parents prepared for a weekend away, certain something terrible was going to happen to them).

Then get home, pack a drop bag, a running outfit, bottles, packs, etc, etc. I need a Personal Organizer. This is really not my thing.

I cannot wait to start running! Once I get going up in Pittsfield, all of this will have melted away.