Saturday, February 27, 2010

Colchester Half Marathon

Driving to the Colchester Half Marathon this morning I was joyful, almost tearful, at the prospect of racing again. I haven't raced since last summer when I hurt my foot/ankle running the VT 100. I almost didn't run this one because it snowed and sleeted off and on all night. But the race didn't start until 10 and by the time I had to leave all was fast and clear.

I love the Colchester Half Marathon. I used to run it back in my road running/triathlon days. Back then the entry fee was $2 and maybe 50 people used to show up. I guess folks were a lot less hardy back in the 90's. When I pulled into the parking lot at the high school 15 minutes before start time there were only a couple of spaces left. Weird. This race has gotten bigger. (And the entry fee has gone up to $12!) I think there were something like 200 or 250 starters. Which is great because the race director is wonderful and deserves every runner he gets. The course is lovely and quite hilly. It goes up and down through farm country on some lovely dirt roads. It was in places reminiscent of Vermont.

Despite all of the runners milling around in the school lobby I was surprised to not recognize a living soul. Have I been out of the game that long? I felt like Alice down the rabbit hole......all the names and faces had very suddenly changed.

Just before the start, bringing up the rear of the herd heading for the line out on the street, I found my people. There were the ultrarunners, Bogie and Nipmuck Dave, unconcerned about getting a good place in the pack, unconcerned, really, about starting with the pack at all. And then to my thrilled surprise I heard my name, turned around and there was Grace, my dear friend with whom I have not run nor talked in a couple of months. Hooray!

Grace and I started out together and ended up running the whole race side by side. Grace is faster than I am, but she hasn't been running as much over the winter and wanted to keep it fun. We had a marvelous time gabbing our heads off, keeping the pace challenging but not overly so. We both wanted to get our heart rates up, churn up the legs a little, but not so much that we finished in a heap like a couple of Olympic cross country skiers.

The first ten miles clipped by in a dream. I could not believe how quickly those first ten miles flew past us. I guess when you're used to running for hours and hours on Saturday mornings, a little ten-miler fails to register all that much. Mile 11 was a bit more challenging. It was mostly uphill (or at least I remember it as uphill) on ice. But I think we still banged out a low-8 minute mile.

Mile 12 got a bit tougher. We were back out on the paved roads, a long strait stretch, rolling, with little to break the monotony of the long line of runners stretched out in front of us. At this point putting one foot in front of the other was mostly a mental exercise. I struggled to keep my head in the game. I don't think I ate enough before the race or in the days leading up to it and I was starting to bonk.

The last mile was tough. The wheels fell off. I heaved myself up the last hill with tunnel vision and burning legs. I thought a lot about those Olympic skiers during that last mile. I couldn't talk anymore. I felt like I was slowing Grace down and told her to go ahead, but she was having none of it. "I haven't seen you in months," she said. "I'm staying with you."

Thank you, Grace. You got me up that last hill.

Our finish time was somewhere around 1:50. I don't know the exact time and cannot find the results anywhere yet. Doesn't matter. We got what we wanted: a fun run with a little extra effort at the end. It felt great to get the legs churning and burning. First time in a long time.

I was wiped out for the rest of the day. The kids and I watched the Olympics, played a few games, read some books. At 5 o'clock I went out for a slow 5-miler with Eddie to work all the nasty stuff out of my legs. That little run felt surprisingly good. And the late winter light at dusk was beautiful. I was reminded of the difficult days after our 3rd child was born 5 years ago. I was a post partum disaster, not eating, not sleeping and having one panic attack after the next. It was nightmarish. I remember dusk being the absolute worst time of the day. Night was coming and there was nothing I could do to stop it. The horrible feeling of dread would take over my head. It was scary. So as I was running I was conscious of being very thankful: thankful for my life now, and thankful for having survived that difficult year.

I highly recommend a little warm down the evening after a shorter race. It made a tremendous difference.

A note about shoes: I ran the race in my oldest, most worn out, least cushioned pair of trail shoes (Salomon XA Pro) and my foot and ankle held up beautifully. As I wrote in my last post my ankle often bothers me in road shoes (Saucony Progrid Triumph and Adidas Supernova) on the road, but not in trail shoes on the trail. Nor does it hurt in trail shoes on the road, though this is a bit uncomfortable. The trail shoes were actually perfect for the icy portions of dirt road on the Colchester course.

I am going to post a question on the Ultra list about this shoe issue. I always get great advice from the folks there. I'll let you know what I find out.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Long, lovely trail day at Haley Farm

I am way, WAY into Anna Karenina. How could I have come this far in life having never read Tolstoy? I ask you? In my vague and misspent youth I read Dostoevsky and loved every minute of it. I read Crime and Punishment in high school. I was suffering from a late bout of the chicken pox at the time which allowed me to perfectly identify with the feverish, guilt-ridden protagonist, Raskolnikov.

I was house sitting all by myself in Oregon for a weekend in my early twenties when I read The Brothers Karamazov. One of the best weekends of my life. Again, it was the right book at the right time. I have tried to re-read it since, but to my dismay found that the magic was gone.

And now, here in my mid-forties, here in my own house, I am loving Anna Karenina. I listen to it on Playaway from the library when I am running and read the actual book (which I bought at a used bookstore last week) when I am not. I'm about half way through and I never want it to end. Oh, the subtlety! The sublime psychology! The characters caught up in chance and deliberation. So good. How did he do it? And why did he renounce the novel late in his life? These are the things I want to find out. I am on a Tolstoy Adventure Ride!

My plan this weekend was to do a long solo run and listen to Tolstoy for hours. But that didn't work out. Nell and Brian had to be on the road to a swim meet at 6:30 Saturday morning. I managed an hour or so out on the roads before having to come home, wake them up and get them on their way. I got in another 45 minute run during the boys' Saturday morning gymnastics class, but I forgot to bring the Playaway.

Sunday morning I was beat. Absolutely exhausted. I slept in until the boys woke me at 6. I intended to get out at 4:30 and run all morning but never did get out the door, which, for me, is rare. So I must have been tired.

But the morning was lovely and blue, so I rallied the kids into coats, hats and mittens and headed to Haley Farm for some fresh air.

We looked for birds.

We climbed trees.

We hung out by the railroad tunnel hoping a train would come by. None did.

But mostly we walked. We did the loop it takes me 20 minutes to run in a blazing 2 hours. And we didn't even do the whole loop. You have to love that pace. The boys got new backpacks for their birthdays and they were psyched to use them. Ben's pack (orange) had pretzels. Simon's (blue) had binoculars and his bird book.

Brian came home from robotics for the afternoon shift and took the kids on a Mystery Ride. (Bowling!) I called my dear friend Karen, whom I hadn't seen since Christmas. We went back to Haley Farm and walked for 2 hours. It was great to talk, to catch up, to mind meld with another living, breathing adult.

Colchester Half Marathon next Saturday. This will be my first race since July. I'm looking forward to it. I'm going to wear my trail shoes even though it's a road/dirt road race. My ankle never hurts in the trail shoes. It sometimes hurts in the road shoes. I think the trail shoes have a lower heel. They definitely have less cushioning. As soon as I can put a few coherent thoughts together I'll research road and trail shoes and try to find the right ones for me.

Happy Trails!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Telescoping at warp speed

Here is my monthly parenting column for the New London Day. One of my mother's sisters, one of the big people in my life, died this month. This set me down the sad, reflective road. I'll put the link here, but I think it's only good for a few days. Entire column follows.

Reflections of a Graduate of the Kid Table

I grew up in a big, extended Irish-Catholic family. Holidays were major logistical events. Polished leaves for enormous dining room tables were lifted from front hall closets to accommodate grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Card tables covered in hand stitched cloths were scattered about for the kids. Bone china dishes, Wedgwood cut glass and, of course, the good, heavy silver were teased from drawers seldom opened most of the year.

As a kid all of this fine stuff was mysterious. Had I been a more precocious child I might have said that these hidden treasures, rarely displayed and much admired, symbolized the whole unfathomable realm of Living Adults. I didn't understand the fuss. Wouldn't paper plates make more sense? Why spend all of your time doing dishes?

I was well into my teens before I graduated from the kid table. The generation above my parents was slowly disappearing, making space at the big table first for the oldest cousins and then eventually for me.

At the time this felt like a natural progression. I never got to know many of those Irish-accented elders as real people. I was a shy kid. I politely answered their questions and moved on. I never got their stories. My parents could tell them apart, but all of those great aunts and uncles ran together in my head.

And then they were gone.

Now that I am firmly though reluctantly entrenched with the Living Adults, I am doing my best to pass this old tradition to my own kids. I am beginning to understand the fuss. As often as we can we travel to the bosom of that big family to celebrate, to eat, to reconnect. While the kid tables quickly empty for greener pastures, Brian and I linger at the big table and help with the dishes. We discuss ailing parents, struggling children, all the good and bad things about work and family and life. Because these are the people we trust. These are the people I have known my whole life.

Increasingly we are meeting for funerals. I lost two aunts this year, two real women who have been in my life from infanthood. My children see my grief, but they don't understand. Not really. I am just beginning to understand myself. We are the rising generation. When the old ones die they take huge chunks of life with them: all of their memories, their stories, their carefully handled, bone china secrets.

Brian and I are hovering just under the top tier of these family gatherings and it freaks us out. Life is telescoping at warp speed and there's no going back. Our kids are going to grow up. With any luck we are going to grow old and die. And it's all so breathtakingly quick. Be here now, I keep telling myself. Be here now.

Because it wasn't that long ago I was sitting at the kid table myself. More and more it seems like a blink of the eye.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Days are Just Packed

This is what my kitchen looked like this afternoon. Stuff everywhere, drawers blown open, cabinets swinging in the chaos. This is what the inside of my head undoubtedly looks like, too. I feel like my drawers are all pulled out and my cabinets are spilling stuff all over creation.

This is not necessarily a bad place to be. It's not boring, for example. It's not necessarily dull. But it is a bit hectic. A bit messy. Things are not getting done. The days are simply not long enough to encompass everything I want and need to get done.


But onward we go. The kids are I are (mostly) enjoying ourselves. We went to our nature class last Friday and found lots of animal tracks in the snow and talked about the different types of tracks made by different species. Cats, for instance, place their back paw smack into the spot just vacated by their front paw. Just try that. Cats are incredibly strong.

Thursday was more typical. We did some math and writing and then the boys and I dropped Nell off at violin class in the morning, walked to the Stonington Library, then walked back to pick her up. We ate lunch at home then dashed off to farm class. The kids made cheese and I ran for 2 hours. Then Nell and I dropped Simon and Ben at the Y for swimming lessons (Brian met us there) and hoofed it to my violin class. After violin I dropped Nell at swimteam then picked up the boys at the high school, where Brian had taken them after swimming lessons for his robotics meeting. I brought the boys home, gave them dinner and we all drove back to pick up Nell at the pool.


No time for reading, for writing, for taking a breath. I fell into bed at 8:30, well before Brian got home. Well before even Nell went to bed. Toast.

During my 2-hour farm class run I did manage to get myself a little culture. I listened to Anna Karenina on the Playaway from the library. I am loving this book! All my years and years of education and I never read it. I had to go out and buy myself a copy from the used book store. I picked up where the Playaway left off this afternoon. I read one chapter (short chapters) and promptly fell asleep.

Susan and I ran just over four hours early this morning on the snowy trails at Bluff Point. We started in the dark with Susan's dad. He hasn't been running much, and the footing was terrible. After an hour, he was done. Susan and I dropped a 67 year old man. What does that say about us?

The sun came up and the light was beautiful on the snow and the water and the trees. But, man, the running was tough. The conditions alternated from icy ruts to uncut, sandy snow. Susan was planning to run for 6 hours, but she quit after four with me. We were exhausted. It was a great workout. Lots of glutes and lots of shoulders. Lots of balance muscles. I am tired, tired, tired.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Holding steady

Whew! Long time, no post....

What do I have to say for myself? Still running. So that's good. And still enjoying life. January and February are always crazy months here at our house. Four birthdays fall between January 7th and February 7th. And robotics season kicks into high gear.

Brian, is the head of the robotics team at the high school where he teaches physics. In theory, this is a very cool team. They build a robot to do a specific task (this year the robot is supposed to play soccer on a "field" laden with speed bumps and other robot opponents), and then take it to competitions around the state. It's a national program (First Robotics started by Dean Kamen) for high school kids and adult mentors. Lots of scholarship money involved for the kids. Lots of creative opportunities for adults of a certain engineering-computer programming-building-type mindset.

They have six weeks to build the robot. This means that Brian is gone most nights for six weeks. And oh, how I hate this. I am not much of a whiner generally, but if not here, WHERE?? After long days of homeschooling three little kids (which I absolutely and wholeheartedly love), the evenings can get a bit hectic. Dinner, dishes, baths, bedtimes, practices, classes: YIKES! Two more weeks......

We did get up to Boston with Nell a few weeks ago for a long weekend with my parents. Brians' parents took the boys. This was a lovely interlude. Kind of a calm-before-the-storm moment in time.

I had a fabulous run early Sunday morning in the dark smack down the middle of Newberry Street. I mean I ran right down the middle of the road and nary a car appeared. Hello Dior, Hello Kate Spade, hello Chanel, hello Life is Good. You all look very spiffy in your expensive finery, but right now this street is all mine!

I ran back the very aptly named Commonwealth Avenue. Houses and apartments gleamed with affluent cool. I tried to imagine myself living in one of these stately places, walking out onto this scene every day. A lovely fantasy.

How easy and delightful it was to walk around the city with just one child. And a perfectly reasonable and enthusiastic child at that. We walked all day. Perfect!

Train to the Museum of Fine Arts. We spent lots of time with the mummies!

We also walked through the North End where Brian and Nell ate delicious slices of authentic Italian pizza. I am off wheat and dairy, so no pizza for me. But my stomach feels way better, so I sat and watched them with very little envy in my heart.

This bar is on the edge of the North End. Nell wasn't thrilled about standing in front of it, but I couldn't resist.....

Our second day in town we went to the famous Museum of Science. By this time we were all a bit worn out. Here is Nell looking very tired in the Butterfly House.

We ended up buying a membership to the museum. It's good for a year of free admission, as well as admission to the Peabody Museum (Yale's natural history museum, about an hour from us) and the Roger Williams Zoo in Providence, as well as lots of museums and zoos around the country.

Just yesterday, in fact, the kids and I bundled up and went to the zoo. We literally had the place to ourselves. There was one other car in the parking lot, but we never saw its occupants. The animals were thrilled to see us. We hadn't been to the zoo in many moons. This was our first trip with no stroller. And more to the point, no tantrums! (Ben has thrown some doozies outside the elephant house.) I have arrived!

And running is going great. All seems to be well with my ankle as long as I keep to a two-hour limit most of the time. My little governor. Susan and I had an adventurous night run on the trails a few weeks ago. Five hours I think it was. The starlight and moonlight on the snow was all the light we needed. It was enchanting. (Except that one moment when Susan got dove-bombed by a vampire bat or something -- that was decidedly spooky.)

Susan is still running Umstead in March and I am doing my best stay with her on her long training runs. I am not going to run any 100s this year. They don't agree with me. Too hard on my tender tendons. But I am planning some 50s. UltraSteve is planning a 50K right here in Connecticut on April 3rd. The Traprock 50K in West Hartford. Hooray!! And I'll probably do the 42-mile option at Wapack in May and Pittsfield Peaks (the course that kicked my ass last year) in June in VT. So here's hoping my body holds together for all of that.

It's blizzarding outside as I write this. I could not be more thrilled!

And yes, we have been skating most weekends. Nature's Bounty...