Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Running with scissors. I mean kids!

First things first. A huge congratulations to my friend and training partner Susan who not only finished the Umstead 100 all herself (meaning without me), but buckled with a time of 23:18!!! I am so thrilled for her. Her dad ran the last lap with her and then they drove the 12 hours back to Connecticut the same day. That is some kind of ultra family!

For the non-ultrarunners out there, to "buckle" generally means to finish a 100 mile race in under 24 hours. It's a rare accomplishment.

I managed to eek out about seven hours of running over the weekend with no major aches and pains, for which I am appropriately grateful and satisfied.

I ran for an hour and a half Friday morning in the dark with Eddie on a hilly course. This is long for a weekday morning run, but I felt good and just kept going. I keep raising the bar higher and higher on these daily runs. Last year it was five miles. This year the morning runs have been closer to 7 miles. Friday's run was 9 or 10. I don't see myself running 10 miles every morning, but you never know.

Saturday afternoon I challenged my husband Brian to run for an hour and a half. He hasn't been running much this year. Most of his time is taken up during the school year with the robotics club. They prepare to build a robot in the fall, build it all winter (this is intense) and then take the robot to competitions in the spring. Next weekend is their first big event.

I sent Brian out on the hilliest run I know. This course generally takes me 1:45 to finish. I was curious how close to 90 minutes Brian would run it. He is faster than I am, but a bit out of shape and certainly not trained to run longer than 6 miles.

He ran it in 1:35. I went out when he got home and ran it in my same old 1:45. Or maybe even 1:50. Late afternoon running is really not my thing.

I started my long run Sunday morning at 4:30. I had checked the Umstead website before leaving the house and knew that Susan was on her last lap (she ran 8 12.5-mile laps). So I tried to send her energy as I loped through the dark and quiet streets. I ran the first bit of the run on roads because I was too chicken to run on trails by myself in the dark.

Susan called just before 6 to tell me she had finished. At the time, I was in the sleepy little hamlet of Noank, CT. I can only wonder who I woke up with my big WHOOP into the phone when she told me she buckled.

I didn't know how I was going to feel about Susan's Umstead finish until she called. Was I going to be jealous that she was down in North Carolina finishing a 100-miler while I was stuck up in CT doing my same old run? Was I going to be mad at myself for not going down and trying? As I have written here before, I had initially signed up to run this race, but I bailed out mid-winter because my lower shin was still giving me trouble. I do not want to be injured again, and running 100 miles on a newly healed tendon is not a good idea. I'd rather be able to run every day than to run 100 miles and be injured for months afterward.

I am thrilled to report that I felt only pure happiness for Susan and I remained resolute in my decision that Umstead was not a good idea for me this year.

I met my running friend Davnet at the Haley Farm trailhead at 7 and we ran for a lovely couple of hours through Bluff Point. We talked about Susan and about our racing plans for the spring (oh, and Russian novels, duh!). It's all about schedules and kids and families and balance.

Which brings me to the point of this post. All of the women I train for ultras with have kids. We meet early in the mornings to run and then to get home in time to spend our days with our kids. Susan and I homeschool, Davnet runs a nursery school and Grace works as a chemist. We are all busy, all committed to our children, and all more or less obsessed with running. When we run we talk about our kids. When we're with our kids, we think about running.

It seems that running and parenting go hand in hand. Raising children is difficult work. It's fun, rewarding, exciting, lovely work, but hands down it's the hardest job I've ever had. Children are loving and cute, but they're not rational. They're intelligent and creative, but they don't understand the adult world. They are fun to talk to, but farting jokes only get you so far. Intellectually. You see what I mean? Raising children, for all of its rewards, can get a bit isolating for a reasonably intelligent adult looking to discuss, say, Russian novels or the finer points of tapering for a 50-miler.

Which is why I so treasure my running friends. Why I so miss my old friends Nan and Karen who used to run with me a couple of times a week back when I was pushing babies in strollers. We are all trying to make our lives work, and running is an integral cog in the machine. It keeps us moving and engaged. It allows us quiet time to think as well as open time to talk. It's essential to our sanity.

I'm curious whether all of this running is fueled by the emotional demands of parenting. I mean, I often fantasize about all of the running and racing I will be able to do when the kids are older and need me around less. But will I even still be running then? I tend to think yes, but who really knows? I have two friends here in town, one an ultrarunner and the other an Ironman triathlete, both of whom trained and raced a lot during their kids growing up years, but now that their kids are off to college, not so much. It's like they don't need it anymore. They are happy to run a few miles a day with no immediate race goals.

Will I ever be that mellow? Does that come with the empty nest territory? I wonder.....

It's a tug of war I'm living. I don't want to miss any of the good stuff. I want to be there for all of the amazing things my kids are doing. But I also want and need to get out and clear my head on a regular basis on a long trail.

Had I gone to Umstead, I would have missed Nell get her Outstanding Achievement trophy at the swim team banquet (she broke the record in the 25 yard butterfly). I would have missed her win the Grand Champion (or something, I cannot follow this horse stuff) at her horse show. I would have missed Simon reading to Ben in the family room. I would have missed Ben's sick and sleepless night. These were pivotal moments in my kids lives. I want to be there. I want to be everywhere.

Come to think of it. Had I gone to Umstead, I also would have missed these immortal words screeching out of Ben: "If you don't give me another chocolate Z-bar RIGHT now, I am going to CUT ALL YOUR SKIN OFF!!!"

Maybe I should have gone after all.......

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tired, but still reading the Russians

Man, I am wiped out. After a winter spent running every single livelong day, sometimes twice, always in inclement weather of one kind or another (my favorite kind of weather, of course) I am simply exhausted. The minute Spring hit, my body decided to shut down.


I ran 3.5 hours Saturday morning and every footfall felt like my last. I haven't run since. It's Wednesday morning. This might be some sort of all time not-running-even-though-not-injured record. I swam yesterday, but even that felt lumpy and slow. Like I was swimming through sand. Or bricks.

I think I must be channeling Susan. She is tapering for the Umstead 100 this week. And I am tapering right along with her. All of my free time (maybe 20 minutes a day) is spent asleep. I sleep anywhere. Couch, kitchen chair. I even briefly fell asleep sitting on the floor in front of the woodstove while waiting for the fire to get going yesterday.

It's as if the warmth of the sun has sent me into deep slumber mode. It has turned off the energy taps. I'm toast.

And the weather last weekend was picture perfect. I could have been running all weekend. I think it hit 70 here in Connecticut, which is unheard-of in March. But I didn't. I walked around with the kids, had picnics, pick-axed the potholes in the driveway and slept. It was very nice. It was a downright conventional weekend, but not much for a running blog.

I did carry the camera around with me. So here you go......

Nell and I went on a woodcock walk Thursday night with the Dennison Pequotsepos Nature Center at the Manatuck Preserve. The male woodcocks are preening for the females right now at dawn and dusk at the edge of fields all over the northern states. It is quite a spectacle. The male woodcocks stand on the ground and yell, "Peeeeeent, peeeeeent," in their very best Star Wars voices, then take off with a whispry Weeee Weeeeee Weeeeee Weeeee Weeeee, and spiral up about 300 feet in the air. They return down in a pendulum pattern before dive-bombing the last few feet to the ground. It's thrilling!

Here's Nell looking for woodcocks at dusk.

Woodcock habitat.

We went back out the next night with the boys because they just had to see this.

We were hoping to get a photo of a woodcock, but boys will be boys. They kept crashing through the undergrowth to get a good look at the birds and scaring them away. Boys cannot help themselves. Even nice boys like these boys.

So Nell and I went out again Saturday night and did manage to get a few shots of the woodcocks on the ground.

Nell was helping out at her stable with Spring Break Horse Camp all week, so the boys and I had some QT together in the mornings. Friday was a drop dead gorgeous day. We went to the Mystic Seaport and galloped around with our homeschool friends.

At one point we ducked into the membership office to get a drink of water. The ancient volunteer lady, certainly a museum relic herself, insisted on making hot cocoa for the boys and then proceeded to take endless amounts of time measuring out the chocolate and pouring the hot water. Bless them, here are the dear boys waiting patiently for their cocoa.

Saturday we drive up to North Franklin, CT and hiked to the waterfall at Ayers Gap. Lovely, lovely. It was so warm the kids went into the water. They all got wet in direct proportion to their age and level of good sense (ie, Nell stayed pretty dry; Ben got soaked).

And, to sum up this totally non-running post, I am still reading the Russians. I am hooked. I finished Anna Karenina last week and started A. N. Wilson's biography of Tolstoy, which is a fascinating read. I must get on with War and Peace after this. I tried it once a couple of years ago and didn't get much past the first 100 pages. I am going to give it another try. I think I may be ready for it now.

I think there is a right time in a life for every book. You have to be on the lookout and you have to be patient. The time is nigh for War and Peace. I'm girding my loins and preparing for the battle.

Tolstoy. The Old Master.

I'm listening to Dostoevsky's Brother's Karamazov on my iPod. I'm planning to go out running right now and listen. I hope I can hear the story over the roaring of the wind out there. Spring has sprung! Time to get out and run.......

Friday, March 19, 2010

Unbearable lightness of stuff

Most days, this is the state of the kitchen. I posted this picture about a month ago, and here it is again. Because this is what the kitchen looks like. Again.

Cleaning has never been a big priority. For some years of my life this wasn't a big deal. I didn't have much stuff. Messes were slow to accumulate. But these days my life is full of stuff. My stuff, Brian's stuff, the kids' stuff. There is stuff freaking everywhere. And more stuff keeps coming in.

So I wrote about it for the newspaper. Here it is.....

I was having dinner with four wise friends the other night when the talk turned to stuff. Specifically, the stuff we accumulate through our kids' growing up years.

These friends are all a decade ahead of me in life experience. Their kids have either left or are preparing to leave home. This process of separation must occur naturally and gradually, because my friends were not screeching and rending their clothing. They were taking their children's departure in good stride.

My friends are empty nesters. They are going through their houses room by room and throwing stuff out. They are tossing the reams of yellowing worksheets, the old skates, the worn-out board games, the shelves of picture books, the puzzles.

These women are in the cleaning-out stage of life. They are paring down to what is essential. They are creating sleek, clean spaces at home.

I, of course, had nothing to add to this conversation. Our family is at the height of the piling-up stage of life. Our house is a museum of clutter.

But as I listened to my friends chat about filling dumpsters and Goodwill bins, my brain started to feel light and clear. I imagined a great and loving hand magically sweeping the piles of stuff out of the house.

This, it turned out, was quite a heady little fantasy: light-filled rooms with gleaming floors and empty spaces. A contemplative motif to replace the utter chaos. A monk's cell, perhaps: a bed, a desk, a single change of clothes.

I felt myself lifting off the chair. Oh, the lightness of the empty nesters!

But then, next morning, sitting quietly with my tea before the kids woke up, there among the mountains of books and art projects, sports equipment and toys, I felt the cold wind of decay.

There is no other way to put it. I saw all the carefully preserved piles of stuff as nothing but future dumpster fodder. All the beloved things, so well used, so carefully constructed, all tainted by these visions of mortality.

That very same morning, my mother-in-law called to say that she is moving from her 3-bedroom house to a much smaller apartment. Almost everything must be purged. She said Brian and I should come immediately and tag the stuff we want.

We would be fools to let this opportunity go by. My in-laws have very nice things. But where exactly are we going to put more stuff?

I know what you're thinking: There are people starving in the world, people with nothing, and here you are whining about an abundance of stuff. I hear you. It weighs on me.

And I don't have a good answer. My brain is as cluttered as the living room. The inside of my head is brightly decorated with half-baked pictures; there are puzzle pieces everywhere. I am inextricably rooted to this accumulated tonnage. It is the stuff of my life.

And so we'll keep bringing it in. Until, someday, the time comes to pass it all on.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Possibilities for Spring

I have been thinking about clean spaces. I just finished an article for the newspaper about my empty-nester friends and their clean, bright houses. I contrast that with the museum of clutter here at our house. There is just no getting to the bottom of it. Not even worth trying. These are the clutter years. We are homeschoolers with no energy to clean. So be it. I am trying to embrace the joys of childhood. No sense spoiling it with nag-nag-nagging about clutter. It will all be gone soon enough.

Obviously, I love to run. (Run away?) I think I am particularly drawn to running at this moment in my life, as opposed to triathlon or other more gear-intensive sports, because it is so clean. So easy. A person may choose to run simply, uncluttered by lots of stuff, lots of thinking, lots of noise.

Of course running can get noisy and cluttered. You can easily get obsessed by things like mileage, diet, shoes, training plans, etc, etc. But for now I am choosing to ignore most of that stuff and just run. Whatever I feel like running on a particular day (given the constraints of family life) I do. And it is total solace for my cluttered brain. A little hermit cell in my soul. I run early in the morning, in the quiet dark. It's lovely. Sometimes I run at dusk. Sometimes, though rarely, both. These, for me, are the beautiful times of the day.

During my violin lesson yesterday my teacher asked me why I run so much. This woman is decidedly not a runner. She absolutely doesn't get it. And I couldn't give her a reason that she could understand. "I just love it," I said. "It's my thing. I love everything about it. The long days, the people, the training, being outside, everything." She just shook her head, unsatisfied. She thinks I'm nutty.

"How can you run everyday?"

"How can you NOT?"

As I mentioned in my last post, my foot and ankle seem to be healing. I never thought I would see the day! This injury has lingered since July. But I have been upping the miles this month, and so far, so good.

So thoughts turn to races. To the idea of running all day with like-minded folks, to being tired, to finishing. I am so much looking forward to all of that. It has been a long, dry couple of seasons with no races in my life.

I love to see all of the blogs out there written by people who race all the time. I love to imagine myself on the courses, so picture the mountains, the trails, the views. I wish I could race more often, but I have made peace with the notion that these are not going to be big racing years. These are the child-raising, family-centered years. I am lucky that I am able to get out as much as I do. Lucky that I have such an understanding husband. Lucky that I take a day every now and then to just run, nothing else. It feels selfish, but it is so necessary for me. I am lucky that I realize that.

My first race will be the First Annual Traprock 50K right here in Connecticut on April 17th. I cannot pass that up. There are so few ultras here in the Nutmeg State, I definitely want to be part of this.

Depending on how that goes, I may or may not run Wapack 50 up on the New Hampshire/Massachusetts line on May 8. I tried to run this last year, but my stomach was bothering me terribly the week before the race, so I went up and volunteered instead. Turned out to be a fun weekend with Brian.

I definitely want to run Pittsfield Peaks 53 on June 5th. I loved this race last year. It's very tough and draws a fun group of hearty souls. Brian and I went up to VT together last year (his parents took the kids for the weekend: another reason I am lucky). He ran the 10-mile race, which gave his a huge dose of empathy for me. Late in the day, he ran back through the course and found me trundling up the last steep hill of the last mile of the course. "How are you still running?" he kept saying. How indeed!

So those are my plans. More to follow for summer and fall. Happy trails!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Susan's 8-hour Adventure

Here we are, Susan and I, at 5:00 Saturday morning at the Bluff Point trailhead. We look oddly awake! We were just getting ready to start Susan's 8-Hour Adventure. This was her last long run leading up to the Umstead 100 in three weeks. I had originally planned to run Umstead as well, but my foot refused to heal back in the late fall and early winter so I bailed. I figured the least I could do was try to hang on for 5 hours with Susan on her last long run.

For me this was going to be a little test for my foot and stomach. My foot has been feeling much better and I was hoping it had 5 good hours of running in it. My stomach, which I have been tending to for the past 6 months with a gluten-free, dairy-free diet is also much better. I feel like I am coming back out into the light.

Susan and I started in darkness. The half moon lit the way.

Susan has never been a winter runner. (While winter is my absolute fave.) This is the first year she has not taken the winter off completely from running. Previous years she has strength-trained through the cold, dark months, but not run. Signing up for Umstead, a 100-miler in March, forced the issue. So she went out and bought a Gore-Tex suit and faced her least favorite running weather with admirable gumption. Amazing, Susan. I am pleased and proud! I hope I can come up with a similar sense of fortitude during the bright, hot summer months.....

Susan and I circled around for two hours, then met our friend, Davnet, who is just coming off a slow running winter and starting to build up her miles. She ended up running 2.5 hours with us, which was her longest run this year.

An hour after meeting Davnet, we circled back again to pick up Grace. Grace was running the 3-hour middle shift, overlapping with my 5 hours and the start of Susan's dad's final 2-hour shift.

It was very cool running in a pack of four ultra-running mamas! We had a spectacular time trotting and gabbing in the woods.

And look.....no big bulky jackets and hats! This was the first relatively warm day of the year.It was in the 30s when Susan and I started, but I think it hit 50 later in the day. Off came the Gore-Tex, the fleecy mittens, the big hats, the thick tights. We were free!

I ran for exactly five hours with no problems. No foot trouble, no stomach trouble. All systems go! My next step is to sit down with the calendar and figure out a race schedule for the spring. Stay tuned......

Susan finished her eight hours with her dad. She said the trails got very crowded later in the day. Maybe 100 cars in the parking lot by the time they finished. I'm glad I missed that. We didn't see a soul during my shift.

Sunday turned out to be another gorgeous day. Brian and I packed the kids and the bikes in the car and went to Harkness Park. Harkness is a CT state park with an abandoned mansion (popular for weddings), and lovely gardens sloping down to Long Island Sound. It's the perfect place for kids on bikes.

The dreadful Putting On Of Helmets. Watch that chin!

Biking toward the mansion.

A few shots of the winter garden. Don't you just love the bare sticks?

And a couple of signs of spring. Even I am ready for spring now. Especially after this lovely weekend weather.

We biked down to the water and spent a long time building a village in the sand. The sun was so warm the kids took their jacket off. Both boys, of course, ended up in the water. You gotta love those boys!

Happy early spring, everybody!