Monday, November 29, 2010
I am once again listening to Anna Karenina as I run. I got the book at the library last year as a Playaway (a portable digital audiobook the size of a playing card) and, through multiple renewals, listened to it all winter. I saw it there at the library again a couple of weeks ago and grabbed it. Let me tell you, it's even better the second time. I will forever associate running in the early morning dark with Anna, Vroksky, Levin, Kitty, Steva, Dolly and all the rest of them. They feel like old friends to me now.
Sometimes I get in one run per day, and sometimes I fit in two. For the first time in a couple of years, I feel like I am getting in shape. Real shape. Possibly even 100-mile shape. So far, aside from a twinge here and there, my foot and lower leg are holding up well. They do better on trails than on roads, but it's difficult to fit trail running into my schedule. I don't want to run on trails by myself at 5 in the morning or at 5 at night. So I mostly stick to the roads, running on people's grass whenever I can get away with it (which is often, since most folks are sleeping as I hoof it across their front yards), and run trails on the weekends.
I am thinking about investing in some of those compression socks. Do they help? I'd greatly appreciate any recommendations.....
Susan and I had a beautiful 3-hour run at Bluff Point last Sunday. We ran in the dark and watched it get light. Susan's dad was with us for the first hour. It's always great to run with him. Susan is thrilled to be able to run with her dad, and I'm sure he feels the same.
We started in the dark.
And then the sun came up as the moon went down....
And so, the day began.... We circled over to Haley Farm, an old working farm that is now a series of trails, maybe three miles total. Lots of people come here to walk their dogs.
Little stop to take care of business.
And on it went..
Just yesterday I went back for a 4 1/2 hour run at Bluff Point. Susan ran 2 with me, which was great. And I ran the rest by myself. Which was also great.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
The state of New Jersey does not strike me as a hotbed of trail running, but what do I know? Looks like they have a great series of trail races going on down there, including the NJ Ultra Festival starting March 19th.
The course is a flat, repeating T-shape, 25 miles long. Do the whole thing four times and VOILA! The trails are not technical, but they are somewhat scenic (cow farms, horse farms and the like). The surface is described as "crushed stone." So it's kind of like a road race on a soft surface.
Ideally, I'd love to run one of the big mountain 100s. I like to think myself a bit gnarlier than "crushed stone." But I have to be realistic. I have limited training time, zero travel budget, and I live in coastal Connecticut with nary a mountain in sight.
This race feels safe to me. As safe as any 100-miler can feel. I don't want to get too complacent. 100 miles is 100 miles, and it will be difficult no matter what the surface. But it ain't Hardrock and it ain't Leadville, that's for sure.
I like the idea of having a long race in early spring. (Though March 19th is technically still winter, I guess.) It will be good for me to have an eye on the pie all through my winter running. And it will be good knowing that all of my local runs are hillier than that course. Anything I run here will be more than sufficient hill training.
So I am starting to ramp up my mileage. I'm waiting to see how my foot holds up during the next month before I actually sign up for the race. Signing up always jinxes me. I lost a lot of money last year signing up for races too early, thinking my VT injury would heal much more quickly than it did.
So far all systems are GO! I'm loving the training. I feel motivated, you know. As I sit here, it's 5:30 in the morning, dark and absolutely pouring outside.
And I'm leaving you now to go for a run.....
Thursday, November 4, 2010
After taking a few days off after Bimbler's Bluff 50K, I started right back into my running routine and had a glorious week. I feel like I am finally getting into good shape. My foot doesn't hurt at all anymore, so I am not afraid to pile on the miles.
By some fortuitous accidents of scheduling, I got out twice several days last week. I ran loops every morning up the biggest hill in Mystic, and was able to sneak in two early evening runs during swim practice, as well as a 2-hour afternoon run on Thursday during the kids' Nature Class. I walked hill repeats behind the yoga studio during the kids' yoga class Monday as well.
By Saturday I was pooped. I swam during swim practice for 90 minutes and it damn near killed me! Sunday, Susan and I ran for a couple of hours on trails. All good.
This morning (Monday) it's snowing and slushing outside. The wind is blowing ice balls against the windows. I'm not going out in that! Time for a day off.
Here are a few photos of our life over the past few weeks. Fall in New England: what could be better than that??
And Spanish on the beach!
Halloween, of course.....
Annual Homeschooling Day at the Corn Maze!!
And the last day of apple picking....
Happy Fall, everybody!!
Monday, October 25, 2010
Over at the sign in tent, I had the great pleasure of finally meeting my longtime FB and blog friend, Michele Hammond, and her husband, Russ. I feel like I know Michele, but we had never actually met face to face. So great to see you guys!
One by one, my running buddies trickled in. These local ultra races are like mini-reunions.
(Grace, Pam, Davnet and Paul. Photo by Susan.)
Can't wait to get started!
As you can see from these photos, we had a bit of rain in the morning. It started pouring while most people were driving to the start. This got everyone's nerves up. But once it stopped, it stayed stopped for most of the day.
The pre-race meeting was concise. Best kind of pre-race meeting! And even better, I was able to hear the whole thing perfectly from my spot in the porta-potty line. I guess our RD, Jerry Turk, had read my VT 50 blog, because when he finished he sprinted over to me and asked, "Short enough for you?!"
Lovely, Jerry. Perfect. I think I may have even retained a few sound bytes. And if you're reading this, may I suggest that you open next year's meeting thusly:
"If you are a big guy, say more that 200 pounds, and you find yourself in the position of wanting to pass a fellow runner half (or in Grace's case, less than half) your size, might I propose that you announce your intentions and clearly state which side (left or right) you would like to hoover on through."
I came close to throwing a bony elbow once or twice out there!
But enough about that. This race was sublime. I loved every step. It was beautifully marked both high and low, and it ran through some lovely single track trail.
The first ten miles were blissfully uneventful. Susan, Grace and I ran together. Davnet and Paul were both slightly injured and planned to start very slowly. We tore through the trails at blazing speed, sending waves of shock and awe through the field.
Not really. But it did feel like we were running fast. We completed the first 10 miles in two hours. Considering that it took Susan and me three hours to run the first ten miles two years ago on this course, we were well on our way to hefty PRs.
Somewhere between miles 5 and 10 I fell on a rock. Luckily I was on a slight uphill at the time and was not significantly hurt. But I did get some nice blood to show off for the rest of the day.
(photo courtesy of Michele Hammond)
The second ten miles give this course its reputation. Anyone considering a trail race in Southeastern Connecticut (as opposed to, say, Leadville, CO or Park City, UT), might very reasonably smack her head and say, DOH! How hard could it be?
I'm here to tell you that these ten miles or so are very tricky. There are lots of pissy little hills, lots of rocks, and a few serious climbs. Steep, sustained climbs. The kind of climbs on which you find yourself eye to eye with the very spot where you foot will be in two or three more steps.
(photo courtesy of Davnet Schaffer)
I powered up the big hill to the top of Bluff Head all alone. I thought I might be by myself for the rest of the run, but up near the top I heard a bunch of huffing and puffing. Lo and behold, Grace had run up the damn thing and caught me. Hooray! We stayed together for the rest of the day.
The view up at the top was stunning. The fall colors were all out in mighty fashion. But I didn't stop to take in the scenery. Lucky for us, however, Davnet and Paul did. So here's what it looked like up there.
(photo credit: I'm guessing Paul Schaffer)
Grace and I took turns leading each other through the twisty, windy ups and downs of this section. It was fun, but very taxing on the quads and calves. My shin muscles continually threatened to cramp up. But they held on like good troopers.
Once we came out of the tough 10-mile loop, the trail straightened and widened. Grace has been training for the NYC marathon, and has been running 20 milers on the flat roads at an 8-minute-per-mile pace. Grace is fast.
She ran out in front; I did my best to tuck in behind and hold on. She was running much faster than I was comfortable with. She was blazing. But I wasn't really in any pain. I wasn't particularly out of breath. I was simply well out of my comfort zone.
Duh! Isn't that why we race!!
A little aside: All day Saturday I had sat on my ass on the living room floor and disassembled K'Nex projects. Our living room was overrun by a huge K'Nex amusement park. It had been there, in various interations, since early September. I had bruised my feet, over and over, stepping on those tiny pieces. I had almost killed myself dodging the Swing Ride carrying a fully loaded laundry basket.
This was not how I wanted to spend my Saturday. I really wanted to be running. But I was supposed to be tapering. I had a race the next day. So I disassembled K'Nex projects. Which were evidently very efficiently re-assmembled while I was out there on the trails. This was the scene that greeted me when I got home Sunday evening.
Anyway, all this to say that the memory of sitting on that hard floor in the living room got me through the fast miles with Grace. I kept telling myself that all day Saturday all I had wanted to do was run. So freaking run!!
We made it to the last aid station, which by Grace's GPS watch, should have been one mile from the finish. I quickly downed a cup of Coke and got ready to get out of there when the friendly woman behind the aid table said, "Just 2.8 miles to go!"
She cheerfully informed us that the race included 2 bonus miles at no extra charge.
Reader, I wanted to deck her.
Grace and I were completely deflated. We didn't have 2.8 miles left in us. We had 1 mile left in us. We had emptied out tanks out there on the fast trails. We were done done done.
But what can you do? You simply go on. And we did. In complete silence we hoofed it slowly and deliberately toward the finish line.
And then we were really done. 6 hours, 52 minutes. (This was 2 hours, 10 minutes faster than I ran this 2 years ago.) We sat on the grass and waited for Susan and ate garden burgers. It was a day well spent.
One million thanks to Jerry Turk (Mr. Bimble) and all of the Bimbler volunteers for putting on a fantastic race. This one will hold a permanent place on my racing calendar for as long as they care to keep it going.
Saturday, October 16, 2010
That VT 50 race kicked my butt. Susan and I have pledged to come back again next year better trained for the hills. We want to finish in under 10:30.
I rarely have definite running goals. For me, running is a daily vacation from organized thought. Because I am always fitting runs like jigsaw pieces into the puzzle of family life, I usually have a definite idea about how much time I can run each day. But the intensity (or lack thereof) of each run generally unfolds in its own good time.
Having a yearlong goal changes that somewhat. I have started runnin hills on Wednesday mornings, as well as a serious 20-minute treadmill uphills on Mondays during Ben's swimming lesson at the Y. I will also be incorporating more hills into weekend long runs. And I'll probably try to power walk the huge hill behind the Dragon's Egg during the kids ' weekly yoga class Monday afternoons.
Love the hills!
With all of this hill running burning my brain, it was difficult to take a week or so to rest after Vermont. Difficult, that is, after the requisite first three days of stiff-legging around town, taking stairs backwards, and powering my painful way into and out of any sort of sitting position.
Two days after the race, we were back to doing farm chores, as we do every Tuesday morning at Terra Firma Farm.
I had quite a time of it, hauling 5 gallon buckets of feed and water to the chickens and the pigs! Nell, thank heavens, is getting bigger and stronger now and she absolutely loves the animals, so she was a huge help that day. There she is up there feeding the 5 new piglets.
The boys, on the other hand, have a different sort of fun at the farm. They love to chase and catch the chickens and the goats. I watched them enviously from behind my wall of stiff soreness as they bounced and danced and sprinted around the barn and the yard.
By the weekend after the race, I was feeling well enough to go for a long walk at Hammonasset State Beach in Madison, CT. We spent a long time on the rocky beach turning over rocks and catching the little green crabs that live underneath.
We walked out to Meig's Point along the trail, which was lovely on the bright fall day.
And we came back along the rocks, which of course the kids loved. And it was good for me to jump from rock to rock. The landing and balancing gave my poor old stabilizer muscles just enough of a post-race workout.
After a week of fairly hard running, I am once again in taper mode. The Bimbler's Bluff 50K is this Sunday in Guilford, CT. It is thrilling to have a good race so close to my house. This is the third year of Bimblers and it's reputation (and entrant's list) continues to grow each year.
The course is surprisingly difficult for coastal Connecticut. There are lots of pissy little hills, lots of rocks and twisty turns to trip you up, and many, many ways to get lost in the rabbit's warren of trails through the Guilford woods.
I am again running with Susan. The last time we ran this race we got so ridiculously lost so many times that it took us literally all day to finish. This year we are hoping to be Much Improved.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Here is a piece I wrote last month for the local paper (I have a monthly column in there). I have been thinking and reading a lot about solitude this summer and fall. I met a master of solitude on Cape Breton Island back in August.
This is his house.
And these are shots taken well within the view from his front porch, where he sits most afternoons and reads.
I have never experienced a long stretch of complete solitude. I admire the hermits and the monks, the ones who renounce worldly things and live close to the rhythms of the seasons. The insights, it seems, come fast and furious out there in the lonesome wilderness, and these quiet people have the time and space to pay attention.
I know I’m romanticizing. My life now is so inextricably tied up in my family that solitude rarely happens. I am deep in the child rearing years. Much as my brain, indeed any parent’s brain, sometimes craves a long quiet, it’s impossible to divert my attention away. I really don’t want to miss a minute of this.
Over the summer our family drove up to the northern coast of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. We spent two weeks on a cliff-strewn coastline with eight or nine houses dotting its length. And here I met a real, if reluctant, hermit.
His name is Sonny, and he’s a widower in his mid-70’s. He’s been a fisherman all his life, but the fishing has dried up and most of the local people have moved away. He and his silent, unmarried son are the only ones still there. When the summer people leave in September, they see no one until June.
Late every afternoon on Cape Breton, our family would bike past Sonny’s house on our way to a rocky beach cut into the cliff. He’d be sitting out on his porch reading, his day’s work done, ready for a chat. I always stopped for a half hour. I loved to listen to Sonny talk about his life.
One particular day, it had rained all morning, and the sun was just coming out as we biked to the beach. Sonny loved to see the kids going by, because he misses having children in his life. He chatted with them for a few minutes, but they had been cooped up in the house all day and were eager to keep moving.
He told me I was lucky and I agreed. He said the years he raised his own kids were the best years of his life.
“But you have this,” I said, gesturing to his perfect cabin set between the mountains and the sea. I confessed that I envied him his solitude. I banged my bike helmet on my head and said, “I never get a minute to really think. Sometimes it makes me a little nutty.”
He looked at me hard. “Forget all that,” he said. “There’s a time for everything. I had what you have, and now I’m down to this.” And he, like me, waved his hand at the cabin and the view.
I stood there dumbstruck. Chastened. It’s like he handed me my life on a plate. This man who grew up without electricity and held his hands in warm water every dark morning of his fishing life just to get them moving, gave me the best advice of my life.
Forget all that. Of course.
Thursday, September 30, 2010
If so, then Susan and I succeeded beautifully at the 2010 Vermont 50.
With the exception of my very first 50, the 2006 Stone Cat 50, for which my father flew up from Virginia to crew, I have done all of my 50s by myself. Since I don't sleep well in tents or hotels, my MO has always been to get up insanely early the morning of the race (usually around 2:30), drive up and drive back same day. This works for me. It limits family disruption, gives me a few hour's sleep and makes for quite a solo adventure.
But, oh what a difference my friends make!
This year Susan and Grace said they'd run VT (Susan: 50M, Grace:50K). So we drove up together, checked in together, ate together and split a motel. This made the whole pre-race, jazzed-up hoopla so much fun.
We ate sushi at a Japanese restaurant in White River Junction. This was an inspired choice and I don't know why I've never thought of it. Sushi rolls are, for me, the ultimate pre-race dinner. No gluten, no dairy, as is my diet. Carbs from the rice, protein from the fish, and a wee hit of exotic je ne sais quois from the seaweed wrap.
Back at the hotel, the three of us spent a fair amount of time on our feet.
We clipped and painted our nails. I recommend this activity the night before a race. It's captivating yet brainless. Just what you need.
And then we ordered a bunch of stuff on eBay. Also captivating and brainless. My new, Susan-inspired DVD of Ab Ripper X should be arriving soon. I should have a kickass bikini stomach next summer, wait and see.
But maybe don't hold your breath.
Early the next morning, Susan and I opted out of the 5:15 pre-race meeting. Our race wasn't scheduled to start until 6:25 and we did not relish the idea of standing around in the cold for over an hour waiting, waiting, waiting. This is not the Boston Marathon. This is not New York! I have yet to retain a single piece of useful information from any pre-race meeting. Ever. All of those details evaporate from me like dew from a misty meadow. Ploof.
We arrived just before 6 with a whole bunch of other runners, just as the first wave of mountain bikers was taking off. Yes, the Vermont 50 includes mountain bikers. Last time I ran this race I caught lots of mountain bikers throughout the day. This year.....not so much.
Here's a picture of Susan and I right before the start. And we kept smiling all day long. Which was our race goal.
We took off at the back of the pack and still lots of people passed us during the first few downhill road miles. We were not going to get suckered into going too fast. We were not optimally trained for this race. We have not been running many hills. We were in survival mode right from the start.
Here is Susan near the start of the race with Mt. Ascutney (start/finish) behind her.
The scenery and the foliage were drop dead gorgeous. It was like the trees were on fire. Every now and then we'd pass a lone maple in the middle of a field and its colors would jump and dance. The trees were sublime.
We ran for about 10 or fifteen miles with a pleasant fellow named Stuart. We talked about Annie Dillard (my current favorite writer) and Isaac Asimov (his) and the general state of American education ("interesting"). It was a great talk.
And then we hit this hill.
And all talking ceased. The hill went on and on. My leggies were tired. Very tired. I was starting to worry that I'd have to call it a day. But it was so beautiful up there, so exactly where I wanted to be, that I kept plugging along, walking fast, and eventually made it to the Garvin Hill Aid Station (mile 18.6).
These guys were great. They gave me soup, salted potatoes and a few sips of Coke. I was a new woman. Susan and I pushed down the long descent like resurrected zombies. All good.
From here on out, we made a more or less silent pact to stay together. Sometimes I would feel sparky (usually on the uphills) and sometimes Susan would (more downhills). But we helped each other along. No sense dropping each other and finishing five of ten minutes quicker. Who cares how long it takes us to finish? We're out for the day!
I didn't take many more pictures after this. I didn't want to stop. Much of the course was single track: switchbacky and twisty and dark. Labyrinthine was a word that came often to mind. I felt like I was chasing down the Minotaur. The monster in the middle of the maze.
We plugged on. We talked. We didn't. We laughed. We really did enjoy the day. But the specifics of how we got from A to B elude me now. Suffice it to say that most of the time we were either going up or down. Nothing was flat. Quads were fiery at times.
My stomach held up, which is a minor miracle. I started this gluten free/dairy free diet about a year ago and my stomach problems have all but disappeared.
Here the scene just past halfway at Smoke Rise Farm, fabled starting line from VT 100's of yore.
Once we got to the 30-mile mark, we knew we'd make it. The second half of the race is psychologically so much easier than the first. You know you're headed home. You can let your guard down a little. You can enjoy the miles ticking down. Each one a little miracle. We are actually going to finish this thing!
Somewhere between 35 and 40 miles I fell on some rocks. I'm not sure what I tripped on, but I went down like a bag of bones. I saw the ground coming at me so slowly, which gave me plenty of time to yell out, "Shit!" before my head, shoulder, elbow, hip and ankle thunked down.
Susan said the sound of it was sickening. Literally sickening. She thought we were done. But I rolled over, sat up, caught my breath, and except a few sore spots on my pointy bits, I was okay. My shoulder would hurt for a week, but nothing worse. On we went.
Getting on toward the last five miles we were both weary. By this time we were passing all of the poor souls who started out too fast and silently congratulating ourselves for our superior (feminine?!) intelligence. This provided spurts of much needed boost.
We knew the last aid station was coming up, but we weren't sure where it was. I remembered it from two years ago as a house with cows grazing in the front yard, about 2.5 miles from the finish. It was just about the only thing about the course I retained from two years ago. Who could forget such a thing?
But where the hell was it? I kept running and running. Susan was falling behind a little, but I had to keep running. I would wait for her at the goddamn aid station, of course, but I absolutely had to keep moving forward to get there.
Susan later thanked me for this bold move. She too kept running, though everything in her body was telling her to stop, just to keep me in her sights. She didn't want to lose me. She didn't want to stop.
So on we went. A spectator on the trail told me, "Half a mile to the aid station!"
Reader, that was the longest half mile of my life. More like a mile, I'd say.
But, hooray, we made it. You can always make it. Especially if you don't feel like vomiting, if you know what I mean.
Susan changed shoes for the last three miles and I hit the porta-john. Once I sat down in there, it was 50/50 whether I was getting up and coming out.
Well, obviously I came out. Here I am writing this, after all.
We decided to treat the last 2.5 miles of the race as a cool down. We could walk 2.5 miles in well under an hour, or we could run them in half an hour. I figured walking in would give us a leg up on our recovery. We are both homeschooling parents with children waiting for us at home. There is no down time in this situation. No day off. No reason to kill ourselves.
So we walked. And we actually still passed a few people.
And then we ran a little because we could hear the finish line. We ran the last mile across the grass and down, down, down the Mt. Ascutney ski slopes.
Little kids waiting for parents to finish popped up here and there along the last half mile, darting in and out of the long grass. I amused myself by stopping and earnestly asking each of them, "Are we in first place?!"
Answers varied. Some tough boys yelled, "Not even close!"
A shy girl smiled while backing up and said, "Um, I don't think so."
The best response was from a earthy, hearty little girl who just giggled and yelled, "Go!"
We ran down the big hill. We laughed. We had finisher's medals placed around our necks. And we drove home just in time to kiss our respective children good night.
Thanks so much to the organizers and volunteers of the VT50. Between the mountain bikers and runners, many of those aid stations were open for many hours. We were close to the back of the back, and we were treated like royalty at every station. There was still plenty of food and good humor by the time we arrived, which is such a gift when you're out for a long, long day.