Saturday, October 31, 2009

Temperamentally not a sprinter

Lately I have been wondering how much temperament has to do with the kind of racing we choose. By temperament, I mean our natural inclination toward showing emotion. Are you the kind of person who puts it all out there, or do you hold back? I suspect (though I could be wrong) that most ultramarathoners are more of the hold back variety.

Last night I was helping to coach my daughter Nell's swimteam practice. I told the kids that we were going to swim 4 x 100 freestyle. The first and last laps of the 100's could be easy, but the middle 50 was to be an all out sprint.

Nell is kind of like me. As a kid I was hesitant to show much emotion. For whatever reason, I always tried to present a calm face to the world, regardless of what was going on inside my head and heart. I didn't much enjoy being the center of attention. Did not enjoy praise, and often felt devastated by criticism.

The other morning, Nell told me, more or less out of the blue, that when she is feeling excited she doesn't like to show it.


She couldn't answer why.

I told her that people like to know when you're excited because it makes them feel excited, too. What I did not tell her (and I think I will now that I have given the matter some thought), is that it has taken me most of my life to reach that simple conclusion. Emotions are worth sharing. Emotions connect us to other people.

But perhaps that simple fact is not one of those things you can just tell someone. Especially someone like Nell. Perhaps it's one of those things that you must live yourself into. I don't know.

But the fact remains that Nell does not like to put it all out there. And this conversation came back to me last night at the pool. Nell does not like to sprint. She had a hard time sprinting the middle 50 during that 4 x 100 set. And it's not because she's lazy. She swims the 10-and-over practice and she's only 8. She loves to go long. I think, temperamentally, however, she does not like to sprint. Sprinting requires a full exertion. You must give it everything you have at that moment. Nell is reluctant to do this. She holds back. She saves herself.

Same thing in soccer. She'll run her little butt off all over the field. She stays in position (usually halfback), she passes, she runs next to the ball. But she does not want the ball itself. She likes to be on the field and she likes to run, but she wants nothing to do with the ball. She cannot get rid of it fast enough.

(Yes, I was like that, too. Which makes it all the more difficult to watch.)

Funny kid.

Perhaps she is destined to be an ultrarunner. It's perfect for people like Nell. There is no danger of being the center of attention. No one can see you way out in the woods. And there is very little sprinting. Actually, I believe it's safe to say that there is no sprinting whatsoever. I have never sprinted in a ultra.

I hate sprinting!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

20th College Reuinon: A Different Kind of Endurance Event

It's Wednesday morning; three full days since I said goodbye to my old college friends in Williamsburg. My throat still hurts, my voice still sounds like Bob Edwards and my feet just don't wanna run. This is going to take a bit of time to recover from. This, my friends, calls for some of my ultrarunning recovery skills: week off, lots of water, plenty of protein, and of course, whenever possible, naps, naps, naps.

How did we do this in college? How did we stay out until 3 or 4 in the morning every weekend, (every single everlovin' weekend!), and survive, let alone get anything done?

Ah, youth?

I am so far out of practice it's ridiculous. I go to bed at 8:30 for chrissake. 9 tops. If I stay up past 10 I feel very hip indeed. Before last weekend, I cannot remember the last time I saw 11 go by on the clock.

But oh my goodness did we have fun! There is nothing like getting together with old friends, with people you knew well (or even not so well, it turns out) 20 years ago. The minute you put yourself back in the original habitat (Paul's, the College Delly, The Greene Leaf, for example), BOOM, it's like no time has passed. One beer (or even no beers, Glen) and you're back in business. Laughing (god, did we laugh), and as Joey says, laughing about yourself with old friends is the best kind of belly laughing you're likely to find.

I was an excellent student in high school. My GPA was well above 4.0. I took all the hard classes, lettered in 4 sports, had some good friends, had some good times, but generally put my nose to the grindstone and churned out quality work. I was not terribly original. I did not particularly stand out in any one area. I was just a hard working kid who got good grades all around. A teacher's dream student.

Once I got to college, I sort of let that all go. In retrospect, I think I may have spent so much time in high school trying to please other people (teachers, coaches, etc.), that by the time I got to college I was thoroughly sick of it all. I still thought of myself as smart, but I wasn't so interested in proving that to other people. I didn't do what I was supposed to do: work hard, befriend my professors, join clubs, make a name for myself.

College, for me, was a long delayed social education. I made wonderful friends. For the first time since well before my teen years, I had close friends. People I could talk to, dance with, run with, be with, without feeling outside of myself. I am not the most talkative and forthcoming person in the world, but any social skills I now have, I attribute to my college "education."

Because man oh man, did we have fun.

Starting last Friday afternoon, I tossed myself back in the soup. I dropped Nell off with my sister in Richmond (thanks, Maria!) and the boys with my parents (thanks, Mom and Dad!) and I joined the Homecoming Train, which had started a week earlier picking people up along the way: Connecticut, New York, Alexandria, Richmond and finally Williamsburg. By the time I arrived at the Ho House (Hospitality House Hotel) the revelers were mere lumps on the bed. They were gravelly and shaky and pale. They needed to get outside!

So we crossed the street, got our name tags and hit the Greene Leaf.

All photos here are courtesy of Cathy, our own Events Coordinator, pictured at right. Thanks for being diligent with the camera, Cathy!

That drink there is a bourbon and ginger ale, which was our drink of choice back in the day. Tracy ordered one for old timey sake and it came in this huge pint glass. I noticed all the drinks came in huge pint glasses. We had to pass it around to finish it. Drinks used to come in little cocktail glasses. What's up with that?

So excellent to see people as they drifted in. Some married with kids, some single with maddeningly interesting careers, some juggling both, some not. Funny how everyone ends up. And never what you would have predicted. (Why is it that the biggest f%$ ups in college -- excluding self here -- now make the most money? You go, my people!)

Here are my peeps.

You can see the bitter remains of a calamari appetizer sitting there on the bar. We all shared those fried little babies, and that was the last food any of us (except Tracy!) saw until our Cheese Shop sandwiches early the next afternoon. Again, I ask you, how did we survive in college? How did we not drop dead from vitamin deficiency?

Around 9 we headed over to the Class of '89 gathering at the Alumni House.

All good. Cool to see everyone.

Just as we were getting ready to head back to the Ho House for late night festivities I turned a corner and literally bumped into my old friend, Dave, one of my staple people from both high school and college. I screamed, he laughed and we hugged over and over. I could not believe he was there. But there he was, calm as the Buddha, chuckling and nodding, big as life. Amazing what you find at reunions. I wanted to pull him aside and talk for hours. Talk all night. But it was a reunion, after all, and you must move on.

We sat out on that patio at the Ho House until we got kicked out in the wee small hours of the morning. I was shocked they let us stay out there so long, because we were not quiet. Evidently no one complained. Here I am with Tracy, who I lived with all four years in college and now lives in the Bay Area and is one of the few people I love talking to on the phone, and Katie who is one of those amazing people I wish I had known better in college but am thrilled to have in my life (at least as it exists in FB) now.

Most people went back to Ducie's suite after this for more good fun, but I called it a night. I was hoping to get in a run Saturday morning. In retrospect, I should have gone. But I was feeling done, done, done.

And indeed I did run Saturday for a couple of hours through my old college routes. It was good to be alone. Good to be moving. Good just to be outside.

Saturday was all about tailgates and finding lunch. We heard my freshman roommate Val's band play by the Sunken Garden. Rock on, Val! You sounded amazing. When we rolled in she was jamming on the drums with a huge smile on her face. Freaking awesome!

Tracy, Glen and I walked over to the Cheese Shop to pick up sandwiches for everyone. Fun to talk to Glen, who is now 8 years clean and sober. Glen making sense is kind of a new thing. We had an extremely enlightening conversation, which I will not go into here.(For those of you with curious minds: picture that famous bar conversation between Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell in Four Weddings and a Funeral, and, as Tracy says, add a zero.) My goodness, Glen. Who knew?? (Everyone but me, evidently!)

Just look at him!

Maybe you had to know him before, but look how focused his eyes are! Look how lean his face is! And he's signed up for an Ironman next fall! (Thump.......I'm okay...........just a sec........I'm getting up......). I'm back. Well done, Glen!

The cocktail-less Cocktail reception that evening was excruciating. Tracy and I and almost everybody else in on the Homecoming Train had taken an afternoon nap, which made us (only me?) a little grumpy. Being forced into a long room with no circulation, bad food and a bunch of faces I could just barely place almost put me over the edge.

The whole ultrarunning thing is kind of a conversation stopper. One person would tell another person. You ran 100 miles! We all have our addictions, people. I'm sure half the people reading this have run 100 miles. It's just what we do. For the absolute love of it. I love the whole scene. No big deal.

Finally, finally we all filed down to the basement ballroom where a kickass opening band, The Velveteens, put the spark back in my step. Ska, baby! Love it. No one would dance with me, so I danced by myself. I look like a dork here, but I was wildly happy.

Look, I have even forgiven Tony, who thought it was a good idea to call my room over and over early Saturday morning (4 a.m. early) to try to get me to come back out. I'm okay, you're okay, Tony man. Can you guess which one is me? People used to get Kathy and me mixed up in college. Not so much anymore!

All good. All fun. We danced and danced. But, man, it's a good thing these events happen only once every five years. Perhaps by then I'll be ready to do it all over again.

These photos (thank you, Tuna) say it all. Bob and Kim seeing each other for the first time in years.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Ma and Pa's Mountain Adventure

I'm not saying I'm thrilled that Christopher Columbus mistakenly steered his boat into the black shoals off the Bahamas and embarked on a murderous spree spanning decades, but I sure am glad we had last Monday off. Brian and I had a lovely long weekend in the White Mountains. And the kids and Eddie had a great time with Grandma and Grandpa, to whom we are massively and eternally grateful.

The leaves in New Hampshire, unfortunately, were at their peak. This meant that hordes of other people, all the freaking Leaf Peepers, were also on the narrow roads to New Hampshire Friday night. We hit traffic jam after traffic jam on our way up. There is nothing on this earth that I find less appealing than a traffic jam. There should have been a magical express lane for people who don't really care about peeping at leaves. For people who want a mountain adventure way up above treeline, past all the leaves and all the peepers, way past all of that and into the great lunar landscape of the Presidential Range.

Alas, not so. It took us more than six hours to make the four hour trip. But enough said about all of that. We got there. Eventually.

And, man was it cold. Here I am in my campsite attire: two down jackets (one of which Brian had on his climb up Denali in the late 80's and hardly ever wore because it was TOO WARM), fleece jacket, fleece sweater, base layer, two pairs of pants, hat, hood, thick socks and woolly clogs. And I was still cold.

I'm always cold. Brian (who took almost all of the pictures on this trip) had on a pair of jeans and one measly fleece jacket. And he was fine. I have the metabolism of a giant tortoise. He has the metabolism of a goat.

Our idea was to take it relatively easy on Saturday and save our big Presidential hike for Sunday, which promised better weather. So Saturday morning we set off for Mt. Carragain, just a few miles from our campsite in Crawford Notch (same campsite we took the kids to back in August).

Carrigain turned out to be a bit more than we bargained for: Five miles of steep up followed by a mile or two of even steeper down and then a long six or seven mile loop back to the trailhead. It was great! There were lots of people on the trail with dogs. Turns out a special dog hiking club was climbing Carrigain that day, so we passed pooch after pooch along the rocky trail. The dogs and owners were all lovely. This hike marked the 48th peak over 4000 feet for a little black terrier. Sadly, she was one of the slower moving dogs, so we didn't stick around at the top for the celebration.

There was a cool fire tower at the top. I stood up there for a long time watching the fog and rain blow up the mountain. There was no view. I may as well have been on a ship in a gale in the middle of the ocean.

The descent, as I mentioned was scarily steep. The rocks were wet and slippery. Brian, of course, bolted down (he is, after all, The Great Descender: if he ever entered a trail race he could walk it and still win as long as there were lots of nasty descents). I was terrified of straining my newly healed tibia tendon so I minced and mealymouthed my way down like a spider spinning a web.

I stopped at every river crossing to soak my foot. The water was screamingly cold. I couldn't keep my foot in there for more than 20 seconds at a time. Yowza! But it worked. No problem with the foot after this hike.

We had lovely spaghetti back at the tent in the cold darkness and were in bed by 7:30. What else are you going to do when it's 30 degrees and dark at a tent site, I ask you? We slept something like 10 hours, which was much needed by both of us.

Our hike the next day up Crawford Path to Lake of the Clouds hut on the side of Mt. Washington was epic. The first three miles up to Mitzpah Springs Hut are relatively easy, if all uphill. The whole hike is actually pretty easy, just long and weather-beaten and cold. Here I am scarfing down a peanut-butter bagel at the hut. Lovely, I know....

Up from the hut we ran into snow and occasional views. The weather was not fine. The report said partly cloudy. The reality was all cloudy with snow and hail. AWESOME!

Brian took about 100 pictures. Here are a few.

You see the blanket of reds and yellows there? Picture thousands of people driving around in their cars, getting out at the pullouts on the roads, looking at the views (which were admittedly quite pretty), getting back in and driving to the next pullout. Every campsite, motel, hotel, hut, hostel and inn was full to capacity that weekend. I think we saw six people above treeline. And they were all wonderful.

The wind was fierce. I did have moments of real fear that I was going to be blown off the side on the mountain. You can see me leaning into it here. When the gusts hit me sideways I stumbled and almost fell. It was like being hit by a big wave in the ocean.

We walked like this for a couple of hours. I loved every minute of it.

Our destination was Lake of the Clouds Hut. Brian was wild for some hot soup. I kept telling him we were turning around at 1:00 no matter where we were, because I did not relish the idea of hiking up there after dark. I had a few What Would Bear Grylls Do moments, always keeping an eye out for places to make emergency shelter for the night.

By 12:30 we knew we were getting close to the hut, but where the hell was it? On and on we trolled across the surface of the moon with the lunar winds fighting our every step. Hailstones pelted us from all angles. We literally did not see the hut until we were 10 feet from it. We almost walked right into it. Brian ran up to the door and pulled. Nothing. Closed for the season! No soup!

We went around back to The Dungeon, which is an emergency shelter that is always open.

The Dungeon is a cold, stone room with six bunks bolted to the wall. Brian and I spent a night there once about ten years ago when we got caught up high with no place to pitch our tent. It smells awful and some guy snored all night, but we woke to amazing views, which made it all well worth it.

After we got inside and our eyes adjusted to the darkness we saw that there were two cousins in there wrapped in sleeping bags waiting for a third cousin to meet them (he had evidently taken the Cog Railway up). These guys were hilarious. They regaled up with family tales for the fifteen minutes we sat there getting cold and eating more bagels. They were planning to spend the night in The Dungeon and hike around the next day in the sunshine. The next day was indeed bright and sunny, so I hope they got their wish.

True to our plan, we bundled up and met the wind at the stroke of 1:00. And we would have made it back to the car well before dark had we not taken the wrong trial down from Mitzpah Springs Hut. But we did. So our long hike was made longer by about 3 miles. All good. We hit the car just as the sun was disappearing behind Mt. Crawford and calling it a day.

We did a quick 5-miler on Monday morning up andaround Hedgehog Mountain off the Kangamangus highway. Here are some of those leaves that everyone is so wild about.

And then we fought the throngs of Leaf Freaking Peepers back through Woodstock and Lincoln, pulling off, getting out, getting back in. How can that be fun?

Finally, finally we made it back to our lovely kiddies. And such a grand reunion it was.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

On the trail before dawn

Man, oh man, have I mentioned how fabulously great it is to be running again? Can I just say how perpetually pleased I am to be moving across the earth again.......good pace, good distance. The crazy wonderfulness of it all!

I met Bob at 6 on Sunday morning to run the trails at Bluff Point. The plan was to run for three hours. We met at Bluff because it's not very big. To do a 3-hour run (assuming you are not crawling) you must do several loops of varying distance and difficulty. I liked the loop idea because I wanted to be relatively close to the car if my ankle gave out. I'm still not sure how much is too much.

I thought it would be light at 6. It wasn't. It was pitch dark. Bob was in his truck when I pulled up with the light on. He looked like a big glowworm. He jumped out and gave me a present: a new Salomon shoelace for my old trail shoes. The left lace broke a few months ago. Brian re-rigged it for me, but I can barely open the shoe wide enough to fit my foot in. I didn't know you could get replacement laces. Salomon has a "unique" lacing system. I love the shoes. Not so thrilled about the laces.

Thanks, Bob!

Off we went into the darkness with headlamps and flashlights. I had not run in the dark on a trail since VT. (I run in the dark on the streets almost every morning.) It was fun. And it was slow, which was good. Helped my foot warm up a bit. As soon as we came to the clearing where the small plane went down last year (all on board were rescued by our local bike shop owner who happened to be out mountain biking when the plane crashed), the darkness dissolved into a lovely, dim morning.

On and on we went. We looped, re-looped, followed new trails, and even got a teeny bit lost. It was wonderful. We ran for exactly 3 hours and my foot held up beautifully. After the run I soaked it in the Sound by the parking lot. All good!

Next up: Brian and I are heading up to the Whites for the long holiday weekend to do some hiking in Crawford Notch. Without the kids. I'm going to miss those little pookers, but I sure am looking forward to some long days on the trail with my everlovin' old husband.