Monday, May 24, 2010

May column

I have a monthly column in the local newspaper. Sometimes I re-print it here, sometimes I forget. This one was particularly difficult to write. It deals with my mother's stroke and my own visions of mortality. I did not want my mother to ever read this (I don't know how people who write bestselling memoirs get away with the things they say about their family and friends). I have always shied away from writing about my parents. Mostly because, unlike my kids, they are old enough to have opinions about what I say. My kids are largely oblivious to their mini fame here in town. When people say (and why do they say this?), "I read all about you in the paper!" the kids give them blank stares. Which, I guess is how it should be.

My mom did end up reading this after she was well on the road to recovery. "Was I really that bad?" she said.

Hard to say. Hard to know how much I draw from actual facts and how much I make up. Brian seems to think I make up quite a bit. I think of it more as improving the story.

All this to say, my mom is much, much better since I wrote this. She is sounding like her old self again on the phone and I can't wait to see her in June.

Actual column in paper here.


It’s a freak warm day in early spring and the kids and I are at the beach. We build piles of shining rocks and shells on a bleached driftwood log. Everything here is glowing in the sun, polished by water and time.

It gets hotter, and we strip to our swimsuits. As I slather sunscreen on everyone’s winter white limbs, I marvel at how tightly each kids’ skin fits their frame. It makes a perfect seal, elastic and unscarred. There are no sags, no bags. These children are light and taut like raw new energy.

The contrast with my own skin is shocking. Mine’s much loser on the bone, speckled and dabbled with the years. I rub the sunscreen into my arms and watch my skin pool at the wrist. My hands are becoming old-woman hands. Ben pulls at the veins and asks if I have swallowed worms.

Three weeks ago my mother had a stroke. This is the thing I cannot get out of my head, even here on this gorgeous day with the kids.

Three weeks ago I wrenched myself from my little family and took the night train to Virginia to sit with her in the hospital, and then back at her own house. I was gone for three days. Simon still blinks back tears at the memory of that parting.

My mom has recovered physically, but she’s not the same. Our relationship, I think, may never be the same. My mom lost her sister this year, the person she talked to every night on the phone. I have always been a once-a-week caller, but I now call almost every day. I am taking nothing for granted.

My lovely, independent mother is diminished. Her body has betrayed her and she is rightfully scared. She wishes I lived closer, and sometimes so do I.

I sense the shift beginning. I have always known it would come and I’m in the middle of it now. My parents, always formidable and well in charge, are becoming less like parents, and I, less like a child. The roles are starting to rotate. I have taken a few warm-up swings of the bat and I feel myself stepping up to the plate.

My mother’s body is dwindling. Parts are missing; organs are missing. The arms that held me will no longer carry a bag of groceries. This woman, a public health nurse who once knocked on doors in city slums, no longer trusts herself to drive.

I sit in the sand and watch my children splash and run in the freezing ocean water. I cannot keep my feet in there for more than a few seconds, but the cold does not touch them. They are invincible, these kids.

If all goes well, I too will grow old. My grown kids will call once a week and visit when they can. They will bring me stories and treasures from their far-flung lives.
And I hope they’ll remember this shining day. Remember me as I once was.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Thinking too much

When I am not actually running, I spend a ridiculous amount of time thinking about running. All of the where's and when's and why's percolate through my brain like a long, crazy strand of Mardi Gras beads, all clanging and bumping into one another, creating nothing but a whole lot of noise.

Perseverating, I believe it's called.

I'm like a junkie looking for the next hit, plotting and planning how to score the good dope without inconveniencing myself and my family overly much.

But it's a HEALTHY addiction!

This mental activity always reached a fever pitch whenever I'm injured (which seems to be happening more and more lately) or tapering/recovering from a race.

Today, I am still in slight recovery mode from Wapack, and I may or may not have an issue with the top of my left foot (feels great at the moment; not sure how it will feel when I run on it.)

I am planning to head out the door in a few minutes to run for hour or so before the kids get up. It's that "or so" that's giving me so much trouble. Because I may or may not have a free couple of hours later this morning. Nell and Simon have an art class in New London from 10-12. Ben may or may not want to go. If he goes, I'm free for two hours. These free hours are rare, and I always use them to run. But can my foot handle two more hours of running today? Shouldn't I simply walk the dog during these early morning hours, and run during the class. Or run now and grocery shop during the class? Shouldn't I just go grocery shopping? Isn't that what most of the Other Mothers do?

But if Ben decides not to go to the class, I'll take him to the playground and miss my running altogether if I don't run now. Last night, Ben was on the fence. One minute he wanted to go to the art class, the next minute he wanted to go to the playground. He has no idea how he tortures his Poor Mum.

You see how it goes. These thoughts have been non-stop since I got up an hour ago.

Blogging as Purging Exercise.

I'm going for a run........

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Recovery: Not an easy week

Here's the thing: When you have kids at home, you never really get a vacation day. I'm not complaining. I adore my life with my kids. But I have to admit, last week was tough.

Monday I was barely walking. That Wapack race did me in. I was trained for the distance, but not for the hills. I definitely bit off a bit more than I could chew with those hills. My quads were nothing but nubbly bubblies for days and days and the top of my left foot hurt every time I came down on my heel. It seemed like a tremendous effort every morning to get up from my seat at the kitchen table and wobble over to the screaming tea kettle. Stuff like that. Moving across rooms was not taken lightly. Getting out of chairs (never mind getting off the toilet! forget stairs!) required strenuous effort.

What had I done to myself?

Monday we were out all day between Marine Biology classes, libraries and playgrounds. Lots of walking outside in the wind. Lots of mad dashes to sit on benches. I helped coach swimteam Monday night. I kept losing the thread of my conversations. I was very old on Monday.

Tuesday was better. Art and music at home. A stolen afternoon nap.

By Thursday I was up for taking the dog for a walk even though my foot still hurt. Thursday afternoon I biked for two hours while the kids were at farm class. Not hard. I fiddle-dee-deed up and down Al Harvey Road, giving my legs a little spin.

I don't remember Friday.

Saturday, at last, I ran. Maybe 14 miles total. By far the bast part of the day was the 3.5 mile road race I ran with Nell. What a tremendous joy that was.

All of the kids have been taking a trail running class on Tuesday and Friday evenings. We absolutely love this class. Between all of her swimming and this new running class, Nell was definitely in shape to run three and a half miles. She turned 9 last month, which is right around the age I started running the 3M Needham Fun Run every year when I was a kid.

And she ran beautifully. She is a smart runner. She did not get sucked into going out too fast, as almost all the other little kids in the race did. She started with her 10.5 minute mile and held it steady for the entire race.

It was a tremendous pleasure to run beside her. She didn't whine and complain, just kept plugging along. Only after the race did she tell me that there were times during the run when she wanted to stop. But she didn't stop. She clip-clopped along and finished strong. I'm so proud of her.

A delightful end to a difficult week!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Wapack in the Rain

It's the evening before the Wapack 50M race and I am sitting in the car in the Bluff Point parking lot partly reading my book (Mary Karr's Lit -- amazing), partly watching the kids finish up their trail running class, mostly dreading the notion of getting up at 2 in the morning to drive myself up to Ashburnham, MA to run Wapack.

The idea of getting up so early in the rain feels frightening and unfriendly. I haven't run an ultra in almost a year and I am no longer brave. As my kids get older it is becoming more difficult for me to leave them, even for a day. I don't want to miss anything. They are all at such great ages. The thought of driving away from them in the middle of the night, very likely in thunderstorms, is not sitting lightly.

But my alarm goes off at 2 and I do it. I get up and drive in the dark and the rain, white-knuckling it through Fitchburg, where the roads are all torn up, no lines, huge bumps, blinding rain, thunder and lightening. Yikes!

I get the the Watatic parking lot with a few minutes to spare before the 5 a.m. start, quickly assemble my clothes and drop bags, grab my number from a hearty soul in a white van, say a quick hello to a few folks at the starting line, and off we go, 30 or so lights bouncing up the trail to Mt. Watatic.

I don't know how long we climb, maybe half an hour. Just as we reached the rocky summit, big bolts of lightening brighten the sky. For seconds at a time the runners and the landscape light up around me like The Great Stage Director in the Sky has thrown a switch. And then back to complete darkness. Light. Dark. Light. Dark. It is quite a show.

At the top of Watatic I fall in behind Michelle Roy and her running partner, Kevin. Michelle has run Wapack several times and knows the course well. She is a wonderful guide for the first ten miles. She is fearless and balletic on the slippery, wet rocks, and I do my best to emulate her gazelle strides up and down the steep little climbs between Watatic and the first aid station at the Windblown Ski Area.

Michelle and Kevin stop just before Windblown for a nature break, and I lose them for the rest of the day. She isn't feeling well, and I suspect she might be dropping somewhere near the aid station.

The next bit of trail is mixed up in my mind. Best I can remember, I run up some big rocks with Deb Pero who is a wonderful runner I have always admired from afar, but never met. So it was great to chat and share some miles with Deb before she and Steve decamp for New Mexico forever.

(Please see Steve and Deb's blog for pictures and a map of the trail. It rained all day, so I took no pictures.)

I can start to feel my climbing muscles petering out along this bit of trail, which is not good news. Miles and miles to go. Since injuring my tibialis tendon last year at the VT 100 I have been wary of running hills. But I am pleased to say the I never hear a peep from that old tendon during the entirety of this run. It's definitely time to start looking for a bit of elevation gain on my training runs.

Deb and I top out along a lovely ridge line which I imagine has gorgeous views on a good day. Alas, this is not a good day. This is a sucky, yucky day. And I am getting cold. The wetter I get the colder I get. Especially on the downhills, I cannot generate enough body heat to warm up. I am cursing myself for not stashing extra dry clothes in my drop bags out on the course. But somehow I manage to stay just this side of hypothermia until late afternoon when the sun makes a brief appearance and shines its heavenly warmth on my goose fleshed self.

Somewhere in here I catch up off and on with 2 guys, Al and Jim, who are both around the same height and both sport white running caps. I cannot keep track of my conversations with these guys because they look exactly the same to me.

"I tried to get Grace to run today," I tell Jim, a good friend of Grace's.

"Who's Grace?"

"Who are YOU?"

"I'm Al."

And so it goes.

Deb and I leapfrog each other for a long stretch, all the way to the turnaround at mile 21. She is a phenomenal downhill runner, even on these slippery, wet rocks. I, on the other hand, am a weebly-wobbly, fainthearted pussyfooter down the rocky cliff faces we "run" down. I catch her on the uphills and then lose her on the downhills. We chat at the tops and bottoms of the pendulum of our cat and mouse day. Nothing is flat. Nothing. Deb is deeply familiar with this trail. This is her home turf. She gives me lots of great information about what's coming up, what to expect.

Can I just say that I have never in my life run on such a consistently steep and rocky trail? And the rain sure isn't helping matters. I mean it takes me 6 hours to run 21 miles. 6 hours. God help us. And I'm not even last.

I get a little psychic thrill at the turnaround. It doesn't last long, but the notion of running for home gives me enough of a lift to power up Pack Monadnock and North Pack (or something) with a bit of bounce in my stride.

Coming down the second Pack I lose Deb for good. I can still catch glimpses of her ahead of me on the trail for the next ten miles or so, but I never catch her again. This is when all the negative talk starts in my head.

I'll drop at the next aid station. Sure somebody there will give me a lift back to my car.

Stuff like that.

It's so easy to give in to this stuff. So easy to feel sorry for yourself when your tummy is sick, your legs are done, your head is aching, you can't get the Bob the Builder song off your mental soundtrack, your back is cramped, and when you stop to pee you notice that Auntie Flo has come to town. (The bane of female ultrarunners and adventurers everywhere....).

Oy vey.

I am pleased to report that I talk myself out of all of that negative stuff. I do my best to remember what my friend, Eric, the kids' outdoor adventure teacher tells us all the time at nature class. The number one thing you need for survival in the wilderness is a Positive Mental Attitude. And, friends, this run is beginning to feel like a wilderness survival scenario. Up and down the slippery rocks with not a soul in sight. Bear Grylls has nothing on me!

So I keep a Positive Mental Attitude. I really do. And it works!!

Somehow I drag myself to the last Aid Station at Binny Hill, four miles to go for a 42-mile finish. I have long since given up the dream of a 50-mile finish. 42 will be good enough today.

There is a cool looking couple cuddled together at the aid station, blanketed and hunkered down under a tarp. There is food and drink, but I want none of it.

What do you need? they ask.

Here's what I need. I need you to tell me that anyone can run 4 miles.

Anyone can run 4 miles!

Tell me not to be a wuss.

Don't be a wuss!

Say you won't give me a ride.

No ride!

This could have gone on and on, but here comes Steve Pero getting ready to turn around for the last time and head home for a 50-mile finish. This aid station is the 50-mile turnaround point for those brave souls strong enough to leave the comfort of the finish line and run 8 more brutal miles. (Even a million dollars would not persuade me to do this today.)

I pull myself away and try to keep pace with Steve for the last four miles. No dice. He is walking and I am running, and still he pulls away from me. He is a man on a mission. Go, Steve, go!

I don't know how I do it, but I manage to finish this damn race in just under 13 hours. And hoo, boy am I proud of myself. I feel like I have been through the fires of hell. A nice lady at the finish line hands me a cup of chili and a bottle of finisher's maple syrup.

And then the fat lady sings........

Three days later, I am still sore. I am a cranky parent, an exhausted parent. But I hold the little glow of this finish somewhere deep in my soul. And I hope that light shines for days to come. Because I'm so very, very happy to be back running ultras.

A million thanks to Norm Sheppard for taking over the directorship of this race from Bogie, who had done it for several years past. Please, Norm, keep this race alive. This is a true adventure! I want to do it again!

And thank you to all of the volunteers who stood out in the rain all day and cheered us on. I mean, where else does a homeschooling mom get people to clap for her and tell her she's doing a great job?? Thanks so much. It means the world to me!

Here are the results:

50 mile results
Place First Last M/F Age Town State Time
1 Ryan Welts M 29 Milford NH 10:09
2 Dana Royer M 34 Middletown CT 12:19
3 Steve Pero M 58 Jaffrey NH 12:41
4 Justin Contois M 30 Holden MA 12:43
5 Damon Steed M 34 Wilton NH 12:45
6 Shad Hansen M 39 Milford NH 12:53
7 Bogie Dumitrescu M 35 Woburn MA 13:18
8 Joel O'bryan M 48 Northborough MA 13:49
9 Craig Bennett M 39 Lunenburg MA 14:00

43 mile finishers
Place First Last M/F Age Town State Time
1 Joe Carrara M 47 Charlotte VT 8:50
2 Matthew Davenport M 32 Framingham MA 9:43
3 Greg Veltkamp M 38 Winooski VT 9:43
4 Mike Weigand M 36 Middlebury VT 10:16
5 David Boudreau M 38 Brookline NH 10:19
6 Neil Feldman M 39 Boylston MA 10:40
7 Dima Feinhaus M 47 Newton MA 10:44
8 Jeff List M 50 East Falmouth MA 10:47
9 Scott Patnode M 29 Marlboro MA 10:47
10 Davey Edwards M 38 South Glastonbury CT 11:44
11 Brad Overturf M 43 Norwich CT 11:44
12 Paul Lahham M 30 Cambridge MA 11:54
13 Bill Butcher M 45 Fairview NC 12:23
14 Tammy Godin F 46 North Grafton MA 12:23
15 Julian Jamison M 37 Cambridge MA 12:36
16 Deb Pero F 55 Jaffrey NH 12:38
17 Pam Dolan F 43 Mystic CT 12:54
18 Jeff Godin M 42 North Grafton MA 13:10
19 Al Catalano M 57 Newbury MA 14:02
20 Charles Therriault M 25 Newmarket NH 14:12
21 Claire Martin F 46 Newbury NH 14:26
22 Eric Winn M 55 Charlestown RI 14:2

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Wapack Taper at Macedonia Brook

The weather man said Beautiful Weekend! Get out and Enjoy!

I always have a hard time not running long the weekend before a race. I know I'm not supposed to, but I'm so jazzed to run. I just want to get out there and run all day, screw the race.

This weekend I came up with a brilliant plan. Family camping! It was supposed to be 75, 80, even 90 degrees the first weekend in May. No rain in sight. And if we camped, there would be no opportunity for me to run long. No way I could leave Brian alone with the kids at a campsite for hours and hours.

So we packed. Damn, did we pack. One night in the woods for five people takes an unbelievable amount of stuff. And we had very graciously given Susan's dad our cartop Rocket Box for his month long visit to Florida (who knew we'd be camping in early May?!), so the car was stuffed.

This the way our van looked the morning we left. Two of the back seats are folded down. All this stuff for one night out......

Our destination was Macedonia Brook State Park in Kent, Connecticut. It's about 2 hours away in the Litchfield Hills, at the bottom of the wild (!) northwest of CT.

Camping with kids is kind of like running an ultra. It sounds like a great idea when you sign up. You look forward to all the great times you are going to have. You imagine the hikes, the swims, the idyllic children running wild in the great outdoors. The marshmallows, the hot dogs, the open fire, the birds singing merrily at dawn.

And then 8-hours in, you are tearing your hair out, because the kids are overstimulated and exhausted and out of their element. You have no place to put them; they have no Off Switch. You very much wish they had an Off Switch. It's kind of like that big hill in the middle of an ultra, when you're half way up and you're sure that you'll barf all of your gels if you take another step.

And then it's over. You survive the weekend, you finish the race, and already you are making plans for the next one. You remember the great times you had; you promptly forget the insanity. You just know that the next one will be perfect. And it is. It is.

So here are some pics from our trip. (You can click on them to see them bigger.) It was 90% great, 10% nutty. I think that's pretty good.

We hiked to the top of Cobble Mountain in the 90 degree heat. We are not used to that kind of heat yet. We were hot. Hot, hot hot!

Those are the Catskills behind Ben. Possible destination for our next trip!

Our campsite was right on the brook and we had the whole place to ourselves. No other campers around for a quarter mile. The kids swam and caught frogs. I was thanking my lucky stars all weekend for my last-minute decision to toss in the swimsuits. This water is cold! And full of trout. I took a furtive naked plunge after my run Sunday morning and my skin tingled for hours.

We went back up Cobble Mountain by a different route Sunday morning. We went straight up a cliff face. It was very cool. I want to come back here with my running buddies for a long trail run this spring. There is a great 7-mile loop with lots of climbs and descents. Anyone up for some loops? Anyone?

What are they looking at? Do you see a yellow frog here? How did they find that frog??

And up we went. This bit was really fun.

I did manage to get in about an hour and an half of running. Just enough to whet my appetite for more. I definitely want to come back here.

Wapack next weekend! I am thoroughly psyched to run all day. The only scary part is getting there. I hate staying in motels or camping by myself the night before a race. I never sleep. The race is just over 2 hours away, and it starts at 5 a.m. The best solution for me: wake up ridiculously early in my own bed and drive up the morning of the race. This feels like the coziest plan. And that's what I'm going to do.

Here's to standing at the starting line! It's all downhill from there.......