Thursday, November 26, 2009

Time to Heal

I got an email from my friend, Bob, this week saying, "I checked your blog and this is the longest you've gone without writing. Are you okay?"

I told him that my tendinitis was flaring up again, so I wasn't running much.

"That explains the not running," he typed back. "What about not writing?"

Well. That's more complicated. I guess I haven't wanted to once again document my Not Running Life here on my running blog. Because the Not Running is not bothering me nearly as much as it was over the summer. Perhaps my Mental Health is improving and I am not so dearly dependent on running to keep me (relatively) sane. Or maybe that's all hooey and I am in complete denial. I honestly don't know.

Anyway, here on Thanksgiving morning, a time generally reserved for a pre-meal long run, I am Not Running, and I'm okay with it. The weather has been mild this November so I have been able to get out on my bike. And I have been swimming and lifting at the Y a couple of times a week. I am thankful for so many things in my life: family, friends, homeschool, pets, writing, music. Missing a few runs pales in comparison.

Pretty much.

I am looking at this as a time of healing. A necessary down time at mid-life. I am trying to re-group, re-think, re-prioritize. And it seems to be going well.

I just started taking violin lessons. What a joy it is to make music again. I played the violin growing up, played in orchestras in grade school and middle school, dabbled in college. The kids all play the piano now, as does Brian, and Nell started violin earlier this fall. One morning, listening to them all take turns on the piano, it occurred to me that everyone in the house was making music except me. So I signed up with Nell's teacher (picture Emma Thompson with a violin under her chin) and have been playing for about three weeks.

When I look at the music and try to make my fingers respond to the notes on the page, I can feel all the old firings in my brain. It's like a brain massage. Old synapses quiet for decades are springing to life. It's very cool. Pop pop pop goes the inside of my head. Squeak squeak squeak goes the instrument. I'm not very good yet, but I'm working at it.

I think its valuable, as a homeschooling parent, to really suck at something and work to overcome that suck-i-ness. Because that is what I am asking of my kids on a daily basis. It's good to remember, as I try to help Ben learn to read, what if feels like to begin a difficult task, what it feels like to fail, and what it feels like to finally crack the code. It's a good exercise.

My other challenge these days is my stomach. A couple of years ago I was diagnosed with a non-bacterial gastric ulcer. I was put on Nexium and told that I should stay on it for the rest of my life. Sometimes the Nexium works and sometimes it doesn't. I started researching the drug and discovered that it is intended to be taken only for two week periods.

So I am trying to get off the Nexium. I am working with a Naturopath and we are doing our level best to get to the bottom of my stomach distress. It has been an uncomfortable process, but ultimately worthwhile. I am off the Nexium now, feeling mostly okay (the nausea is gone and I am left with only heartburn, which I can handle on a daily basis), and working though dietary changes. I am off dairy and wheat at the moment and waiting for the lining of my stomach and esophagus to heal. Then we'll go from there.

It's funny, but since going off wheat almost a week ago, I find that I am much sharper. I am chattier, less dragged out, more clear in my thinking, especially when I am talking to people. Weird. It's like a veil has been lifted. And there are so many gluten free products on the market now (expensive!!), that making the switch has not been much trouble.

And my tendon will get better. Eventually. This I know because my long-suffering PT tells me so. I haven't run since last Saturday (5 days). I hurt it again on the roads last Saturday during a long (which turned out to be not so long) run with Susan. I had noticed twinges down around my ankle all week (why do I so consistently ignore the warning signs?), and then on the long run something gave and the hurting started again. I walked back to the car, but the walk was long and the ankle was sore. And then I spent 4 hours standing on the hard pool deck tiles at a swim meet. By the end of the day, it was really sore. So. Back to square 1. Or perhaps not square 1, maybe square 3 or 4. I don't think it's too bad this time.

But overall, life is good. Biking is fun. My swimming is getting better. I actually did a 1000 yard IM yesterday morning and felt marvellous afterward. I am helping to coach Nell's swimteam again this year. I love coaching swimming. The kids are great, the parents are wonderful, and this year's coaches are phenomenal. Swimming is such a great sport for kids. Nell would go every night for two hours if I let her. Clearly she has the exercise bug. But she's only 8. Three times a week is enough.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone reading here. This life is a gift and today I am conscious of being endlessly thankful. Thankful without ceasing. All day long.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

(Didn't Run) Stonecat 50 (Un) Race Report

As will soon become obvious from the pictures here, last Saturday was a drop dead gorgeous day. Temps in the forties, sunny, not terribly windy (unless of course you're on the bow of a ship). Perfect conditions for not running 50 miles.

It is always hard to not start a race you have signed up for. Especially a race with a no-return entry fee policy (yes, I understand why they don't refund the money, but it's difficult to swallow nonetheless). You see, my foot is better. So much better. But not all the way better. After three or four hours running it starts to ache. Just a little. But enough to be worrisome. Enough for me to realize that running on it for nine or ten hours would not be such a great idea. Indeed, would probably have me back on the couch for another month or two of difficult rehabilitation.

No fun, right?

So I didn't run the Stone Cat 50. Stone Cat was my first 50 two years ago. I had a great time running it last year. And when I signed up this year, back in August, I was quite certain that my tendinitis would be resolved by November. NOVEMBER! It felt like a million years away.


Just for the sake of argument let's suppose that in some bizarro parallel universe I did run Stone Cat. Let's say my avatar ran Stone Cat while I went about my business all the livelong Saturday. Because somewhere in my soul, I did run Stone Cat. It was never far from my thoughts.

I started running at 5:30 Saturday morning at Bluff Point with Susan. This put me 45 minutes ahead of the Stone Cat start time 75 miles north in Ipswich, MA (the race started at 6:15). The trails at Bluff Point are very similar to the Stone Cat course: rolling fire roads and single track in new growth forest.

Stone Cat consists of four 12.5 mile loops. It usually takes me between 2 and 3 hours to run each loop. Susan and I ran for three hours. We had a great time. We talked, we laughed. Right smack at the three-hour mark my foot started to ache a little. And I was actually a teeny bit glad about that. Because it meant that I had made the right decision. Stone Cat would have wrecked my foot again.

So Susan and I looped back from our 3-hour run at 8:30, which is just about the time I would have been finishing the first loop of Stone Cat. So let's say with perfect confidence that I ran the first loop.

I then dashed home and in 45 minutes made 5 lunches and umpteen snacks, packed 3 changes of kid clothes, baked a batch of bring-em-with-ya chocolate chip cookies, and funneled everyone into the car for the hour drive to Point Judith to catch the Block Island Ferry. It was sort of a last minute decision earlier this week: Brian and I took the kids to Block Island for the day. This, my friends, is an ultra event all by itself!

By the time I would have finished Loop 2, we were on the boat.

Loop 2 was delightful. We go off the ferry and took a little hike to a nice picnic spot.

Loop 3 was fun, too. We walked around the beach, jumped on rocks, burrowed through secret tunnels in the dunes, and visited a crazy, random island zoo.

And then we had to make the decision that every single person running Stone Cat had to make: do we really want to head out for Loop 4, or do we call it a day. Here was our dilemma: we were all happy. We were having a nice day. We could take the 2:00 ferry back to the mainland while we were still ahead of the game.

Or we could risk another 3 hours on the island and take the 5:00 ferry. The very last ferry of the day.

We consulted maps.

We took stock of our supplies. We mentioned the fact that, after all, we were here on this island, we had come all this way, and so and why not finish out the day.


We decided to stay. And not only that, we set off along the road (at least a mile and a half) to the Southeast Lighthouse. It took us an hour to walk an mile and half. Reader, need I say more? You would not believe the whining and the moping that went on. How do people walk this slowly, I ask you? Three toes sloths were passing us on the street. Centuries came and went in that mile and a half.

But eventually we made it. And there was, thank goodness, stuff to look at and climb. A hearty snack and a nice sit set everyone back to rights. The last loop is always the hardest.

The walk back from the lighthouse to town went much better. We found an old dirt road that made a little shortcut. It was mostly downhill. And when we got close, we bought the kids a treat. Because nothing gets you to the end of an ultra like a little ice cream in the last mile (even if it IS 35 degrees outside).

And just as we came back into town, we could see the lights of the finish line glowing in the distance. We made it!

So good to finish. SO amazing to sit down in the warm ferry with a cup of hot cocoa knowing you have run a good race.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The leaves are falling and my heart is singing

Zipping down the freeway on the way to our fantastic homeschool nature class at Bushy Hill in Ivoryton, CT last Friday I noticed that most of the leaves were down from the trees. I could once again see the bare tree skeletons, gray sticks against the gray sky, and I literally felt my heart lighten. I am a winter person through and through. The oppression of all that greenery through the summer weighs on me.

Oh, it weighs on me.

But driving last Friday, the heaviness lifted. It rose from my heart and was gone.

"Like you've been holding your breath for a really long time?" asked Nell.


By Halloween night, with it's spooky clouds and wind and almost full moon I was light as a feather and full of joy.

The kids had a blast trick-or-treating with their friends in the neighborhood.

And the next morning I met Susan and Grace at Bluff Point for a long trail run. We were scheduled to meet at 7 to allow for a bit of a post-Halloween sleep in. But with the time change during the night, I was rearin' to go at 6. So I ran a little extra hour by myself at the front end and took a few pictures in the early morning light.

Bluff Point is a lovely place to run. The main trail is a four mile loop on a wide, rolling fire road circling a little peninsula which used to be a seaside retreat. The Hurricane of 1938 (that date may be slightly wrong) blew down all the beach houses and rather than rebuild, the whole place was turned into a nature preserve. Over the past ten or fifteen years, mountain bikers have opened up lots of single track trails inside and around the main loop. If you run these trails and connect over to Haley Farm via the railroad track path, you can make an 8 to 10 mile loop. All good!

I circled back to the parking lot at 7 to meet Grace and Susan and Susan's dad, Gary, one of our life-giving pacers at the VT 100. I hadn't seen Gary since VT and I had not run with Grace in many moons, so it was wonderful to see them both.

Yes, Susan, always a pleasure to see you, too!

Gary ran the first loop with us then called it a morning because his calf was bugging him.

Susan and Grace.

The day was perfect. Cloudy, a little windy, with temps between 45 and 50. The leaves were a little wet and slippery, just enough to keep things interesting.

The three of us ran for 3 hours. We talked about our kids, food (Grace has gone vegan and I am dairy and red-meat free and feeling oh so much better, off all stomach meds, etc.), politics, sports, you name it.

Here is Grace taking off. Grace is really fast. She keeps it slow for Susan and me. Actually, Susan is pretty fast too. I'm not. And that's okay.

Susan and me at Haley Farm (an old working farm, now trails)

Susan has never been a huge fan of trail running. She turned her ankle a couple of years ago at the Northern Nipmuck Trail Race and has been sort of worried about such things ever since. She does not like to get lost. She has just always been a road runner. But this run converted her! She even enjoyed the single track. We had such a great time. No cars. Beautiful scenery. Good pace.

Susan is now a trail runner. I could not be happier! We are meeting up again this weekend to do it all over again. I have decided not to run the Stone Cat 50 on Saturday. My tendon issues are still not fully resolved and I do not relish the thought of another long lay-off. Tough decision made easier by the fact that Brian will tie me to a chair if I try to drive up to Ipswich Friday evening.

There she goes. Run, Susan. Run!!