Monday, October 25, 2010

2010 Bimbler's Bluff 50K

I cannot tell you how thrilled I am to have a rugged, all-trail 50K less than an hour from my house. The start time is a very sane 8 a.m. Being a ridiculously early riser, I was actually able to sleep an extra hour Sunday morning and still make it in plenty of time for the start.

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.

Here's hoping.....

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A time for everything

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.