Saturday, December 31, 2011

Looking back on 2011, forward to 2012

Everyone tells you this, but you don't really believe it until you yourself come face to face with your own aging tendons and muscles and bones: It sucks to get old.

I think I have finally come to a place in my life and in my running (or, more to the point, lack thereof) that I must acknowledge my age. I'm 44, and it's time to change a few things. Gone are the days when I can simply head out the door with no real plan and run until I can't run anymore. Day after day, week after week. The thing I have always loved about running is it's simplicity. I have never given any thought to specific training, goal planning, actual workouts. Running for me has always been 85% mental, but mental in sort of a negative capacity. Time to switch off the thinking brain and tune into the wild mind.

This is my brain on everyday life;

this is my brain on 30 miles of beautiful trail.

This year has been a terrible running year. I was sick most of the summer with Lyme's Disease, which recurred in late September for another less intense month long bout. And every time I returned to running I'd injure something. Always soft tissue; always overuse.

I won't go into the heartbreaking recoveries followed by immediate re-injury. How many times will I spend weeks rehabbing, only to go out and run too much too soon before I realize that I'm not eighteen years old, that my 44-year-old body needs time to heal. Currently I am nursing tendinitis in my left foot and in my right knee. I have run about ten miles during the month of December, none of those miles productive, most of them landing me right back at the PT (where, incidentally, I return early Tuesday morning to begin yet another round of foot and knee rehab).

Dear or dear, I sound like a pissy old crank. Like one of those self-absorbed old ladies who pins you to the wall at the deli counter in the grocery store and exhaustively lists all of her aliments and medications while your kids run wild in the bakery aisle. No one wants to hear about it!

So. Onward and upward.

You will be please to hear that I have not been sitting on my keester all these quiet months. I have been swimming. I have re-discovered swimming! There is no competitive swimming program for adults at the pool I belong to, so I have been downloading workouts from the internet and gradually moving up to about 4500 yards a day, all four strokes, maybe four times a week. It feels great to be back in swimming shape, and I look forward to getting to the pool at 5 o'clock in the morning almost as much as I used to look forward to my early morning runs.


I do miss running. Viscerally miss running. Miss being outside. It's starting to feel like something I used to do.

I have also been working out in the weight room and taking the occasional spin class. I sit in the back of the spin class because I can't stand up on the bike, which you usually do for more than half of the class. Standing hurts my knee. So I sit in the back with a couple of other degenerate (degenerating) 40-somethings and we laugh about Advil and injuries and getting on. I like the spinning because it features short bursts of intensity and speed, both of which have been missing in my running workouts for decades.

I'm hoping this will change in 2012. I have two New Year's resolutions this year (which is odd -- I never make New Year's resolutions. Or maybe I've never had to). Number One: run less, run smart, cross train more. Number Two: number two has nothing to do with running. I have started to try to write a story (or something) and I'd like to finish it (or at least make a decent start) in 2012.

I read Rachel Toor's piece in last month's Running Times about training with Bill Pierce, co-author of Run Less, Run Faster. I bought the book and plan to use it when I do return to running. He lays out specific training schedules based on a three-day running week (one track workout, one tempo run, one long run close to race pace), supplemented by three days of cross training and weights. He does not address ultrarunning at all, and one gets the impression that he disapproves. Whatever. My plan is to do the marathon training program starting in February (I'll be running by then, RIGHT?), and tweak the long run, maybe add a few more long runs.

If anyone out there has used his training programs for ultra training, please let me know. I'm wide open to suggestions.

The other thing I have been doing in my free, non-running time is working on getting leaner. I have always carried 5-10 extra pounds (extra from a runner's perspective rather than a normal person's perspective). When I was younger and everything was high and dry these "extra" pounds sat well on my frame. But three pregnancies have irredeemably changed my body shape, and those few pounds were no longer doing anything for me, aesthetically or otherwise. Time to enter the second half of my life a little lighter, a little tighter.

I cherry picked chapters from a couple of books (Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes by Monique Ryan and Racing Weight by Matt Fitzgerald), tweaked my eating habits a bit, and lost most of the extra flab in a couple of months. In a nutshell, I now eat small meals throughout the day, ideally (but often not actually) timed to most benefit performance and recovery. I never get really hungry, never feel horribly full. My stomach has not felt this good in years. Small meals every few hours! A revelation.

The only race on my docket at this point is the Vermont 100 in July. My husband Brian has agreed to pace me for the last 30 miles, and my running friend Bob says he will crew. So all I have to do is get healthy, stay healthy and train smartly. Here's hoping!!

Happy New Year!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

TARC Fall Classic

You gotta love TARC, a.k.a. the Trail Animals Run Club, a group of trail runners (I'm not sure if they are exclusively ultra runners) up around Boston. They are finally bringing more races to our area. And these are just my kind of races: low key, low entry fee, no schwag, and everybody contributes to the aid station tables. They are more like Fat Ass races than big, produced ultras, commonly run in loops with a single aid station at the start/finish.

This is the first year of their series, and they put on several great races spanning May to December. I ran the Summer Classic 12-Hour back in August and loved it. Last weekend was the Fall Classic.

This was a 50K comprised of 5, 10K loops. There were also 10K, half marathon, and marathon options. All in all, I'd say there were probably 100 or 150 people at the start. It was chilly in the morning but promised to get up to 80 later in the afternoon, unseasonable for mid-October in Massachusetts. After much hemming and hawing, I started out in shorts and a short-sleeve top with a sweatshirt over it all, which I promptly regretted and ditched after the first loop.

I ran the first three loops with Dan, whom I had met briefly at the Summer Classic. I have been a fan of Dan's blog for years, so it was nice to finally run together in person. The first loop, the getting-to-know-you loop, was fun. I love discovering new trails. This was definitely a suburban trail. We ran through a schoolyard, up a power line trail, past people's backyards, and then out to the highway. The trail literally ran mere feet from, and slightly below, the screaming traffic on I95, the major east coast interstate connecting Maine to Florida. I could have reached up and touched the far edge of the breakdown lane. Dan and I pretended the traffic noise was a flooding mountain stream. One continuous roaring waterfall.

Stay on the road up there, babies. Stay on the road.

After following the highway for about a mile, the trail cut in and up. This course was surprisingly hilly and slow. Lots of ups and downs, lost of twisty turns. We then encountered a labyrinth. This part of the trail must have been a moto-cross course for bikes. We ran back and forth around switchback turns, up and down dirt half-pipes, with other runners vrooming at us then veering one way or another at the last second. It was like a video game. We probably covered almost a mile within just 100 square yards. It was dizzying and weird.

The trail then went through an old dump site complete with a bulldozed berm which we skirted across. We pretended the berm was a high mountain ridge. We were cracking ourselves up. Such funny runners!

We ran through some nice single track, through a high meadow, and then boom!, we were back on the powerline trail, back through the schoolyard, and back to the start.

The second loop went much more quickly. We picked up with another TARC runner, Rob, for a while, also a blogger, and we were passed by Emily Trespas, who was running the half marathon, testing out her injured hip. These three all knew each other pretty well, so I just ran along and mostly listened to the chatter. I just love ultra runners.

I guess I should mention that here on the second loop (the SECOND loop!) we were lapped by the first place runner, Adam, in the Old Dump section. I had met Adam a couple of years ago carrying a twenty pound rock along the Pittsfield Peaks 53M course (anyone who carried the rock for the last miles of the race would win something like $200, and evidently Adam needed the rent money). He is young and wicked fast. He went by so fast I didn't even recognize his smiling face.

We didn't let it get to us. We shook it off. We're slow. So what!

Dan and I stuck together for the third loop. By this time we were in a pretty good rhythm. I let Dan lead as much as possible, because whenever he was behind me, he kept tripping. What were you looking at back there, Dan??! I was still feeling okay, but not great. Just like at Pisgah a few weeks before, I could tell that this was not going to be my day. My stomach was upset from the get-go, and I started to get a headache on the third loop. The day was heating up. I was taking in plenty of water and eating lots of Honey Stingers as well as salted potatoes (my fave) at the aid station. But my energy was definitely on the wane.

Toward the end of the third loop we ran into Emily running the other way, getting in a few extra miles after finishing the half marathon. She turned around a ran with us, and that got us going. New blood in the group.

Dan dropped after the third loop. His IT band was acting up, and he didn't want to get into trouble with another long lay-off. I contemplated taking my iPod with me for the fourth loop, but decided I'd save it for the 5th, which turned out to be the drive home.

About half a mile into the 4th loop, I met up with a very mellow dude, feeling groovy, running in what looked like slippers. "These loops are just flying by," he told me.

"I guess," I said, slugging along the powerline hill, not feeling very well at all.

"It's so freaky. I'm just feeling my breath and moving along. Man, these loops are just flying by." And with that I started walking and he was gone.

Fifteen or twenty minutes later, running along in almost-misery, I started catching a whiff of something in the air. Something that I would not necessarily associate with trail running. Something I would associate more with college dorm rooms and Grateful Dead shows. No! No way!

Yup, sure enough, I came around the corner and was met full in the face by a cloud of pot smoke. Pwwwwwwaaaa. My groovy friend and another guy, an old guy, were passing a meaty spliff back and forth on the trail, sending all the second hand smoke my way. There was no one else in sight.

"Dude, that right there is a freaking huge, ig.....ig.....ig.....ig....igneous rock! Bwaaaa haaa haaa haaaa!" They were killing each other.

What to do? What to do? I'm no prude, but I was not feeling up to running with these two stoned guys. Unfortunately they were running exactly my pace. So I picked it up for a while and dropped them. And then I started to feel really bad. My head was pounding. My stomach ached terribly. I just felt weak.

I have been tired in ultras before. But the quality of that tired feeling, so similar to how I had felt at Pisgah, was something new. I just wanted to stop and lie down by the side of the trail. The world was swimming around me. (And no, it wasn't a contact high....) This was not right.

I finished the lap with lots of walking toward the end, and dropped out. I didn't want to do the death march for the last lap. After sitting in a chair for 20 minutes sipping ice water I summoned the energy to walk a mile to at least finish the marathon.

Back at the finish line the only thing that looked remotely appealing at the aid station table were the corn chips. I sat down with Emily, who was still there cheering people in, and through mouthfuls of corn chips I told her about the guys getting high on the trail.

"Oh, yeah," she said. "That's So-and-S0. He always gets high in these races."


Emily stopped and looked at me, took in the scene. "Looks like you have the munchies."

Hee hee. I freaking love ultra runners.

I called the doctor Tuesday and he advised me to get another Lyme test. I had been exhausted in the weeks leading up to the race, and to fall apart twice in a row after just 20 miles is not typical for me.

The test came back positive. I'm back on the Doxy for another 30 days. I'm hoping to be back in good form for Stone Cat 50 in November. Wish me luck!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Pisgah 50K

I love this race. The Pisgah Mountain Trail 50K was my first ultra back in 2007 and I've run it twice since. It's a quiet little race up in Chesterfield, NH, just across the Connecticut River from Brattleboro, VT. The course is soft and pine-needly through a primordial enchanted forest, mostly runnable, and the hills (at least as I remembered them) are friendly -- just long and steep enough to keep you heartbeat jumping along.


Wrong wrong wrong.

My darling husband Brian decided to race the Pisgah 23K this year, so I had good company for the drive. We left the kids with Grandma and drove up early. It was nice to spend a couple of hours chatting with Brian in the car. It's rare.

He and I were standing in the little crowd at the starting line toward the end of the inaudible Pre-race Meeting ("Bees?! Did he say something about BEES??!"), when Brian decided he wanted to run with his headphones. He was sprinting back across the parking lot from the car as the starting gun went off. I of course was left standing there like a dope in the dust holding his water bottle and his Yummy Chews as all the runners took off up the first big hill.

Brian loves video. He took this little video of us hoofing it up the hill, threading our way through the back of the back. He's all excited to be racing. I'm a little concerned about our DFL situation. We probably shouldn't be running so fast up this hill.

At the top of the hill, about a mile and a half into the race, our paths diverged: 23K went right, 50K went left. Kiss kiss and goodbye.

My plan was to settle into this race slowly, run my own pace and enjoy the solitude. But that near sprint up the first hill kind of set the tone for the first half of the race. (You see where this is going.) I quickly found myself in a little pack of four, two guys and two girls, all very chatty and kind. So I pushed the pace to stay with this group, hoping they would carry me through at least until the Kilbourne Loop at mile 19.

The four of us talked about races, about training, and ultimately about parenting (it always comes back to that). The other woman, Sarah, is mother to a 2 1/2 year old boy and an 8 month old daughter. Woo boy, I told her, it does get easier. I sometimes miss my babies (what happened to those doughy, amiable little creatures?), but I am much better suited to parenting older kids. Chatting with Sarah brought it all back.

So the four of us more or less hung together through the first two aid stations. I could tell it wasn't going to be my day. I didn't feel terrible, just kind of weak. My legs didn't have the pep they usually do and I couldn't seem to catch my breath on the uphills. I have been struggling to keeping my iron up lately, and on this particular day it felt low. Also, I had spent the week before the race moving and stacking three cords of wood. I think that heroic effort may have taken the oomph out of my hamstrings and quads.

Somewhere in this section Sarah was running a little ahead of the rest of us. All of a sudden we saw her jump up in the air and take off like a shot. "BEES!!" That was the last I heard or saw of Sarah for the rest of the day. The bees must have fueled her to the finish, because I see from the results she finished twenty minutes ahead of me.

After the second (third?) aid station, roughly half way through the race, the course starts to climb. This is the part I had forgotten in the two years since I last ran this race. The course climbs Mt. Pisgah. Up and Up and UP. The trail is all beautiful single track. The weather was picture perfect sunny and 60 degrees. The course was dry for the first time in recent memory (every other time I've run this race it has been raining). I should have been flying. But I wasn't. I was slugging up the side of the mountain, barely holding my head up, barely keeping my Honey Stingers down.

It was going to be a long day.

The second half of the race turned out to be a survival fest. I would feel okay for a while, think to myself, Phew! I'm out of the woods (so to speak), only to turn a bend or hit a hill and have my whole body come crashing in on me again.

It never got bad enough to stop. Just when I thought I'd have to lie down and the trail and wait for the helicopter, something would happen (a soft downhill, a sugar rush, even a little sunbeam shining through the trees), and I'd pull it together enough to keep going.

The Killbourne Loop came and went in a haze. The first two miles were on a fire road heading ever so gradually downhill. So gradually, in fact, that I was shocked and dismayed by the continuous uphill around the other side. Three miles of singletrack: up, plateau, up, plateau, repeat in infinitum.

The last six miles went a bit better. I trotted, I slogged, I walked, trotted again, heaved and ho'd and la dee dah'd my way back to the finish line. With a couple of miles to go I (literally) ran into my friend Will bent over by the side of the trail massaging his calf. He was cramping. I was tired. I was happy to bend over with him for a few moments of blissful stasis.

Will and I leapfrogged each other through the last trail section, then once we got to the road home, Will took off. I could see him way ahead of me, but gave up any notion of catching him.

Brian and Will were waiting at the finish line. It's always nice to have people waiting at the finish line. (Though, to my shame, I ran right past Brian. I didn't recognize him in his weird black sweatpants/black tee-shirt/black hat get-up. I thought he was a random ninja.)

Brian snapped my photo, we collected a lovely bag of apples, and drove home.

For most of the way home we talked about money. Brian is a high school physics teacher/unpaid robotics coach. I am a sometimes-employed (though not at the moment) freelance writer/unpaid assistant swim coach/unpaid home schooling parent.

How are we going to pay for college?

They'll all get full scholarships, Brian confidently informs me.

For what?

For wonderfulness.

Oh, right. Of course....

Monday, September 12, 2011

Crazy weather, know what I'm saying?

I guess the official term is Hurricane Season. Though we haven't seen much in the way of apocalyptic destruction, we have had our share of Mother Nature this month.

Hurricane Irene, later downgraded to Tropical Storm Irene, took out a bunch of trees and put us out of power for almost a week. That was a trip. Camping at home! Luckily we had running water. Folks on well water did not, and that sucked. We even had hot water, thanks to the solar panels on the roof. The week after the storm was sunny and bright. Hot showers for all!

I saw downed trees all over the place during my runs that week. Most of the trees that had fallen in the woods were totally uprooted, as opposed to the downed trees in the neighborhood, which were mostly snapped and broken. It's sad to see these big, beautiful monsters lying on their sides. You know it took many, many years to grow so big.

It poured rain for a solid week after that. I cannot believe how much rain came out of the sky. I don't know why the whole town wasn't flooded, but it wasn't.

Thursday morning was just like all the rest. Pouring! Our ducks love this weather. Just after lunch I sent Nell out to gather them from the drainage ditch next door (recently transformed into a temporary duck pond) where they were happily spending their days. It was time to get them into the chicken run because the kids had a class at the Nature Center.

"The sun's coming out!" Nell announced, and indeed it was, and we haven't had a speck of rain since. I ran on the Nature Center trails for a couple of hours during the class. The trails were rivers. The water in some places was up to my knees. Woweeee!

(What we have here is a failure to communicate)

Then on Friday, Nell had a Marine Biology class for three hours in Stonington Boro, so the boys and I dropped her off and continued to Watch Hill in Westerly, RI to check out the waves cooked up by Hurricane Katia way out to sea.

Holy roiling surf, Batman! These waves were six feet high. This may be a normal thing for the North Shore of Hawaii, but to us it was quite a spectacle. I didn't even need to tell the boys not to go in the water. In fact, I had to encourage them to wade in up to their ankles. The waves were awesome. They would build and build until you thought they couldn't get any higher, then they'd add just a little bit more, and then BOOM they'd crash and explode. Shazam!

I had my phone/camera with me, but I couldn't get a good shot of the waves. It was too bright to see anything through the view finder. I shot a few blind snaps, but I didn't catch anything really huge.

We went back the next day with Brian and Nell, but the surf had died down. Perfect for boogie boarding, but not nearly so dramatic.

Here's a piece I wrote for Patch about our week without power.

Toward the end of our fourth post-Irene day without power, my daughter Nell and I were driving home from our “get-dinner” trip to the grocery store when we noticed the traffic light near our neighborhood on Route 1, which had been dark when we left the house, was now lit and functioning.

“Do you think we have power?” Nell asked as we turned onto our block. “Let’s roll down the windows and listen for generators.”

A few houses in I heard one. Then another. “Oh, good,” said Nell. “Phew!”

Nell and I are enjoying the power outage. We are campers in our very souls. We should have been pioneers. Nell worships at the twin altar of Arthur Ransome and Laura Ingalls Wilder. I love the idea of living simply. Do we really need sixteen lights, three appliances and two computers running every night?

(Let’s not think about the laundry piling up in every bedroom as we speak. I’m not sure my back is up for the old washboard and ringer.)

Granted, we have it easy. I do not mean to be blithe. Our hot water, solar-powered and plentiful, is pumped into its tank by a borrowed generator shared with our neighbors. Likewise the refrigerator and the iPhone are intermittently juiced. It’s sort of like camping in a really big, incredibly well accommodated yurt.

And it’s fun to see the neighbors. Families are taking evening strolls around the block. All the chatter tends to blind surmises: When the Power Will Come Back On? Maybe tomorrow. Maybe next Wednesday. No one knows for sure. With the exception of Nell and me, the neighborhood is uniformly in favor of restoration to the grid.

But people are working together and sharing, which is always nice. I see folks moving from yard to yard with chainsaws and work gloves. My husband has become the resident troubleshooter for camp stoves and generators. We offer hot showers to anyone who comes to the door.

Early morning is best, well before the generators growl and grumble to life. With no ambient distraction from streetlights, the stars are thick and bright. In the glow of my headlamp up on the deck, I have become adept at lighting our temperamental, white gas stove. My morning tea feels well earned out there in the darkness and the chill.

Late evening is nice as well. Once it gets dark, we all sit around the family room with books and games, blinding each other with our headlamps. I ask the boys if they are enjoying the power outage, and they are non-committal. Much as they love flashlight tag and eating outside, they miss watching roller coaster videos on YouTube. They miss the Myth Busters.

The return of electricity, whenever it happens, will be bittersweet. At this writing we are heading into Day 6, quite possibly the last day of our idyll. Soon the house will be brighter and louder than I can right now imagine.

I’d like to stay a while longer in this nowhere time and place, in this darkness and quiet that could be anywhere, anytime. It’s good to have your life pared down every now and then. It’s good to realize how little you actually need.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Parentus Interruptus: Back to the Whites

Brian goes back to teaching next week and the kids and I go back to the way-more-hectic-than-summer homeschool lifestyle. I'm not sure I'm ready. It really has been a great summer.

Brian's parents (his mom, mostly) offered to take the kids for a couple of nights earlier this week so Brian and I could take a few moments to catch out collective breath before plunging back into the fast shallow water of the Traditional American School Year. Thank you thank you thank you!

Where to go? Well, duh! Back to the White Mountains. An absolute no-brainer. Our only Big Question was weather to backpack or car camp. And given the difficulty of finding tent sites up high in the Whites (not to mention the fact that we haven't truly backpacked in more than ten years), we decided to camp in Crawford Notch and day hike.

It's always bittersweet leaving the kids. I do look forward to a couple of quiet, I-am-not-in-charge-of-anybody-else days, but when push comes to shove, I really hate leaving them behind. They are so much fun right now. I almost caved in at the last moment and packed their sleeping bodies into the car with the tent and the backpacks.

Brian and I, all by ourselves, hit the road at 5 a.m. and made it to the Falling Waters trailhead in Franconia Notch by 9. That first day we hiked up to Little Haystack and over the ridge to Mt. Lincoln and Mt. Lafayette. The ridge there is all above treeline, and the view that day was far and wide with Franconia Notch on one side and the Pemigewasset Wilderness on the other.

Next year (or, who knows, even this year) I'd like to do a Pemi Loop. Sitting just below the peak on the far side of Mt. Lafayette (well away from the obnoxious Vince Vaughn character singing bad Top 40 at the top of his lungs) we could clearly see the the perimeter of the 50K loop.

I don't have any pictures of this day. I tend not to take photos when the kids aren't around. But Brian shot some video up there on his phone. (I'm not sure if this even works. I've never downloaded/uploaded video before.)

We made it back down via Greenleaf Hut and the Bridal Path, drove to the campground at Crawford Notch General Store, and popped the tent up just before The Deluge. It poured all night. Thunder, lightening, wind. It could not have been raining harder. I was very happy to be down in the valley, though I imagine it was exciting for all the backpackers and hut-goers up high.

Nothing to do but listen to the rain and re-read Jonathan Franzen, which as you can see makes me bug-eyed.

Our Monday hike was somewhat less strenuous. We were trying to save ourselves for Mt. Washington on Tuesday, our last day. We took the Crawford Path from the Highland Center up past the Mitzpah Springs hut to Mt. Eisenhower. Woo, baby, the wind was blowing up a gale above treeline. There was no view, save for the isolated moments when the wind cleared the clouds sufficiently to catch a glimpse of the valley below. We might as well have been on the surface of the moon.

But it was beautiful nonetheless, and much conducive to talking and laughing as we picked our way across. There's no way we could have brought the kids up there in such weather. They would have been picked up and tossed like balloons.

The late afternoon sun was just starting to come out when we got back to the campground, so we hiked over to our old swimming hole and sat next to the water. It was too cold to swim and the water was running very high. But we sat and remembered this day two years ago when we first came here with the little darlings.

Tuesday promised the best weather, so we saved Mt. Washington for the last day. We woke up, broke camp, found coffee for Brian, got stuck behind a truck carrying the long (impossibly long) blade for a wind turbine up Route 16, and still made it to the Pinkham Notch Visitor's Center by 8:00.

I have never climbed Mt. Washington from that side. It's much more rugged and exposed than the Amonoosuc Trail, which we did with the kids a few weeks ago, up the other side. We started up the Tuckerman Ravine trail (and I use the word trail loosely -- it's more like a very rocky fire road) to the Lion's Head trail (steep scramble), then up the scree (or is it talus?) to the summit.

What is up with all the people hiking with ski poles? Did I miss something in the last ten years? We passed almost 50 people (Brian counted) poking up the rocks with ski poles. Those things can only slow you down in my opinion. I don't get the ski poles everywhere. Somebody somewhere is making a ski pole fortune.

The summit was socked-in and windy, 38 degrees. We stopped at the restaurant at the top (mayhem), descended from the summit along Crawford Path toward Lake of the Clouds Hut, then veered out toward a long bluff marked by a line of cairns.

These hours were the best of the trip. We saw very few people out there and the view was constant and breathtaking in every direction. No photograph can do it justice, but here are a few anyway.

By Tuesday evening, driving home, I was missing the kids terribly. We pulled up around 9 to a beaming Simon face in the window and little Ben running down the driveway and into my arms. Nell (being Nell) was more subdued in her welcome, but she was grinning. Everything went beautifully with Grandma. All good. Home again.

Monday, August 15, 2011

TARC Summer Classic 12-Hour

(I didn't win this, but it sure is a cool award.....)

From what I can tell here in my remote location deep in southeastern Connecticut, it seems that the Trail Animals Run Club (TARC) up in Massachusetts is starting to do some moving and shaking on the Northeastern ultrarunning scene. They have lots of small, fat-ass type races planned spanning all four seasons. This is wonderful news!

A few months ago, back when I was running quite a bit and had high hopes for myself, I signed up for the TARC Summer 12 Hour run in at Noon Hill Reservation in Medfield, MA. And then I proceeded to get sick for the month of July with Lyme's Disease and anemia and didn't run very much or very fast at all.

Two weeks of antibiotics and five weeks of iron pills later, I decided to go ahead and try to run this inaugural TARC race. I figured I would run for a few hours then settle into a nice long walk in the woods. The race was perfect for my intentions: a 10K loop on moderately hilly trails with lots of rocks and roots and twisty turns to keep me nice and slow. I was actually looking forward to a day by myself when all I had to do was keep putting one foot in front of the other. It sounded very pleasant indeed.

I loved this race. It was low key and friendly, mostly local. There were a total of 40 runners signed up for both races (there was a 6-hour option), with 16 of us signed on for the full day. The race director, Chris Haley, seemed to be everywhere at once. And the volunteers were wonderful, cheering like mad for each runner at the completion of every loop. The whole scene was beautifully uplifting.

I walked out of the starting gate in last place and was delighted to finally meet in real life my blog friend Dan, as well as Emily Trespas, whose name I have often seen but have never actually crossed paths with. We chatted briefly, and then I started to run.

I was very conservative on the first loop, because I was feeling the morning woozies, which have been part of my life for the past month. I find that as long as I start out slowly, my sluggish legs and labored breathing eventually settle down and leave me in peace. So I walked every uphill no matter how mild the grade, and trotted the downs and the flats. After half an hour or so, I felt absolutely fine.

I did the first loop in about 1:25, which turned out to be my average for the day. I met Scott Livingston and his almost-2-year-old daughter, Dahlia, in the transition area. They were there to support Scott's wife, Deb, who would go on to handily win the day. Scott was taking photos and encouraging all the runners. I saw Dahlia and Scott often throughout the day and had quick little chats, which made such a huge difference to me, especially later in the afternoon/evening.

And so the day went. I ended up running four laps during the first 6 hours, mostly by myself, ticking off about 1:25 for each loop. I was surprised that I wasn't dead. Beyond that, I was surprised that I felt like I could keep running. Very surprised indeed.

So I did.

The sixth lap was tough. If you have strong objections to reading about a woman's menstrual difficulties, read no more! Skip this next paragraph entirely!

I had discovered when I woke up at 4:00 in the morning, that Auntie Flo had come to town. Ain't that grand. So I planned accordingly, packed all my necessities, and got on with my day. (But I forgot to pack Tylenol. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.) So by lap 6, maybe eight hours into my run, I started getting terrible cramps. It felt like my ovaries had descended to my hips and settled in for a good long cry, dragging those whimpering fallopian tubes along behind. By some miracle, there was a woman coming out of her house along the 0.1 mile stretch of road on the course. I flagged her down (not completely out of the blue -- I had waved to her earlier in the day) and begged some Tylenol off her, which she was happy to provide.

Back at the aid station 45 minutes later, I felt a bit better, but not altogether healed. How to explain to a crowd of men that I needed just one more Tylenol because I still had terrible menstrual cramps? I had no energy to make up a story about an ailing ankle or knee. I simply bit the bullet and told them. There was some hemming and hawing, some sympathetic words of encouragement, but no Tylenol, no Ibuprofen, no Advil, no nothing. And then one of the 6-hour runners popped out of her car with a bottle of Extra Strength.


I don't know what was in that Tylenol, but that 7th lap was by far my fastest and most enjoyable of the day. I was flying. Deb Livingston had just passed me in the aid station heading out for her 8th lap (meaning she was already 6 miles ahead of me), and as I trotted out after her, I found myself kind of keeping up with her. Which is just not right. But there it was. I tailed her for most of the first 2 uphill miles of the loop (this being some sort of SuperHero-TimeWarp zone), and then she ducked into the woods and promptly dropped me forever on the downhill. But still!

I was feeling snappy. Dare I say zippy?! It was so weird. I have no idea where that odd little second wind came from. The RD threatened to have me drug tested after the race. Cocaine Tylenol? I ran that lap easily 15 minutes faster than any other that day.

Which left me 1:45 minutes to try to finish an eighth lap. I ran the last one slowly, deep in Stay on Your F'ing Feet mode. It was kind of like a warm down. There was no reason to run it fast. There was no way I'd ever run a ninth. So I trotted and enjoyed. It was a pleasant finish to an unexpectedly delightful day.

I ran just over 50 miles in about 11:50, putting me in second place for the females. Deb won the whole race with just over 56. I'm not sure what place I came in overall, because I haven't seen any results yet.

I saw Emily on the way out and she told me she had walked all day and still covered 40 miles. Damn! That's some serious high steppin'!

Thanks so much to Chris Haley and all of the folks at TARC for putting on this event. It was perfect in every way, and I look forward to running the TARC Fall Classic in October. I'd do the winter race in December as well, but it looks like that one's full.

Next up: Pisgah 50K in Chesterfield, NH on September 18th.

Monday, August 8, 2011

White Mountains

I woke up last Monday, finally feeling better, with a yen to get out of town. We deliberately set up the summer for this very thing: being able to hit the road at a moment's notice. No regularly scheduled camps or classes for anyone. We all needed to get off the schedule treadmill. We all needed to take a breath.

The only glitch to our get-up-and-go lifestyle this summer is the pets. With a dog, a cat, 2 guinea pigs, 3 ducks and a bunch of chickens coming soon, finding pet sitters with one day's notice is a bit like pulling the proverbial rabbit (no rabbits here!) out of the big black hat. But we did it. Dog to grandma's, ducks to Terra Firma Farm, and our ever obliging neighbors Mary and Max to handle Annie and the Pigs here at home.

(That Annie and the Pigs business always gets me going on Elton John's catchy but terribly annoying song, B-b-b-bennie and the Jets. Nice.)

SO in one strenuous day, we shuttled the pets, stormed the grocery store, stuffed clothes into our packs, grabbed games and books, jammed all the camping gear into the Rocket Box on top of the car, and zip, zoom, zam.......we were off to the White Mountains!

Four hours later, we found an open campsite at Sugarloaf 2, a somewhat remote, $16/night campground on the Zealand Road, a couple of miles from the crossroads at Twin Mountain between Franconia Notch and Crawford Notch. Our site was nice and big, close enough to walk down to the Zealand River, directly across from the only water pump (an ancient thing that provided the water-getter with an excellent morning workout), and not too close to the pit toilets, which, while clean, did not smell 100% pretty.

Not wanting to overwhelm and exhaust the kids on the very first day (I have made that mistake one too many times already), our first hike was a modest 6-mile out-and-back to the Zealand Falls Hut on an easy trail. I wanted them to see an AMC Hut and to have plenty of time to eat a leisurely lunch and hang around at the falls.


Here's Ben testing out the bunks. He had never seen a triple bunk before. Big stuff!

And here are the kids heading up to the falls.

Day 2 was our epic day. Brian and I decided (and hoped to heaven we were right) that the kids were strong enough to give Mt. Washington a go. Brian spent a long time looking at the topo maps at Zealand Hut and figured our best bet was to take the Ammonoosuc Trail up to Lake of the Clouds Hut, which sits on a shoulder between Mt. Washington and Mt. Monroe.

Lake of the Clouds as seen from Mt. Monroe.

The Amonoosuc Trail is only three miles up, but it's steep and somewhat treacherous, winding up through waterfalls on exposed, often windy ridges. We were lucky with the weather: calm and mostly clear, with only the peak of Mt. Washington lost in the clouds.

The kids were troopers. Brian and I carried all of the food, water and extra clothes on our backs, which somewhat leveled the playing field. Free from carrying packs, the kids scampered ahead of us and I had to really move to keep up. After years of coaxing and cajoling slow little feet, this felt like bliss. We have arrived!!

Here are a few shots heading up the trail.

We stopped for a couple of hours at the hut. We had lunch, explored the bunks (quadruple bunks here!), and Ben took on all comers at Uno while Nell, Simon and I scrambled up to the summit of Mt. Monroe, about 500 feet above the hut.

It was so beautiful being up there above treeline looking down on the mountains rolling off in every direction. I don't say this lightly: I was so proud of the kids for making it all the way up there. And they were truly thrilled by it all. They'd never seen anything like it.

Here we all are outside the hut just before starting the descent.

I don't have any descent pictures because everyone took off without me. Brian and the kids are fearless descenders. I am more of a picky-pants, inching my way over the wet rocks, trying not to look as the little ones sprint and jump over the slippery boulders, courting destruction at every turn.

I held Ben's hand during the last mile because his little legs were getting tired. He kept trying to run to keep up with Nell and Simon, which made him fall. A lot. Lucky for him, he's fairly close to the ground and bouncy. He was fine.

On the way back to the campsite we stopped at the Mt. Washington Inn, an old hotel that has been recently remodeled and re-vamped. It's gorgeous. Trooping in all muddy and smelly, we felt like peasants crashing the castle, though that didn't stop us from wandering around and partaking of the amenities.

Back at the campsite, much at Ben's urging (Ben, unlike the rest of us, does not have an introverted bone in his body -- he keeps us on our toes), we played games and roasted marshmallows and once it got dark made weird shadows in the tent. (So much for reading my book....)

Everyone was tired the next day. We did a mellow hike up the Falling Waters trail in Franconia Notch, stopped at Echo Lake for a swim, and headed home.

All in all, it was a great trip.

Next up: TARC 12-hour run on Saturday in Medfield, MA.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Letter from Lyme Country

If anyone's still out there, I apologize for the long silences here. Most of my writing energy has been taken up with my Patch job, which, if you're interested, you can read here.

At the beginning of the summer, my running had been going well. I was starting to incorporate a little (very little) speed work and more hill work. I signed up for Escarpment, a tough 18-miler in the Catskills, somewhat legendary among east coast trail runners for its technical difficulty. I also signed up for a timed 12-hour run in Massachusetts on Aug 13th.

And then a couple of weeks ago, I started feeling poorly. No energy, weeklong headache, fever. I figured I must have picked up some sort of virus. After almost a week of this, I finally got a Lyme test, which came back rip-roaring positive. Alas.

I've been on the doxycyclene for about 10 days and I'm feeling much better, but I get so tired. I can run for about an hour every other day right now. Escarpment is in a week and a half. We'll see....

All of that bad news aside, we are having a great summer here in Connecticut. Brian and I (mostly Brian) built a chicken coop which we are planning to fill with possibly illegal chickens (shhhh) at the end of the summer, and we are now starting on a ambitious deck project which is well underway.

Here I am digging the footings. BWWWAAAAA haaa haaaaaa!!!!

It's kind of amazing how much time there is in the day when you're not constantly filling your free hours with running. Because this kids are bigger this year and so much less in need of my undivided attention, I have been doing lots of reading this summer. I'm making my way through Doris Kearns Goodwin's Lincoln biography, Team of Rivals, interspersed with some good novels: A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, The Ten Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer, a bunch of Alice Munro short stories, and a little bit of Hesse's Magic Mountain.

I feel my eyes starting to go. This is the first year I feel kind of old. I might need to invest in a pair of those little rectangular reading glasses you see in the drugstores.

It is a great year for the garden. I'm going to run outside right now and take a picture of my lovely vegetables for you.

And finally, after hatching two sets of incubated duckling eggs for the local farm we volunteer at last spring, I agreed to let the kids keep the last batch, so in addition to everything else going on here, we are raising three Indian Runner ducks that hatched in our own living room about three months ago.

And here they are now: Scooter, Cheepers and Smiley.

We got home from a lovely evening at the beach last night and Nell (who adores the ducks almost more than life itself) went out back to put them into their house for the night. I was just walking in the front door, loaded down with bags of wet towels, when I heard her yelling, "I can't find them! Mom!! I can't find them!"

Panic. Sobbing. The child never cries.

I am really not emotionally equipped to deal with this sort of thing.

We all started looking for them. Brian headed into the woods, I ran down the driveway and the kids more or less stood in the yard crying and yelling, "Cheepers! Smiley! Scooter!" until I thought my heart would break.

Suffice it to say that twenty minutes (i.e., an eternity) later, just as it was starting to get dark, Brian found them in a neighbor's yard snuffing under the bushes looking for bugs. He said he heard them quacking from the street.

Never was I so happy to see those three bobbing heads following Nell back to our yard.

As I am learning this summer, you really can have a lifetime of experiences right in your own backyard.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Traprock 50K

Actually, more like Traprock 52 or 53K, but who's counting? I ran a race!! Holy bejoly, I actually, for the first time since last October, ran a freaking race!! No injury, no issues, no problem.

I met Bob Buckingham in the New London Staples parking lot at 6:45, and we drove the hour or so to West Hartford/Blooomfield in Bob's truck. We have so few local ultras here in Connecticut, it was a joy to sleep until a normal hour and still make it to the starting line with time (actually very little time, but still) to spare.

Bob had hurt his back cutting down a tree earlier in the week, so he wasn't sure he'd be able to finish the race. But he assured me that he was "out for the day" and he'd wait for me if he had to drop out early.

The first 5 miles or so are brutal: constant steep ups and downs. There were no long climbs, but everything was quad-burningly steep. It was impossible to get into a good rhythm. I didn't bring my camera because rain was in the forecast, so unfortunately I don't have any photos to share. But picture stairs cut into rocks and rocky trails going strait up and straight down.

The second 5-6 miles were much more runnable. Longer, gentler ups and downs, with a 1.5 mile section on old, beaten-up pavement. I used the pavement section as a mini tempo run each time around (progressively less tempo-y with each loop). It felt good to stretch out my legs and move.

The first lap went well. I finished the first lap in just over 2 hours, and got to finally meet in person my longtime FB friend, Betsy Maniero. Betsy had just run the New Jersey 100 (the one I was supposed to run in March, but didn't because of my darn foot) in great time, and she was getting in her volunteer hours for VT 100 at the start/finish/turnaround aid station. Great seeing you there, Betsy!!

As I was heading back up the monstrous hill to start the second lap, I saw Bob limping back down. He was done. The pavement section killed his back.

Just after cresting the hill, I hit my toe and went down in a sea of rocks. My sainted Irish mother must have been praying for me, because I landed serpentine fashion in the dirt around the rocks and came up fine. I was constantly stubbing my toes after that, and my race motto became, "Stay on your f---ing feet." It worked.

The second lap was otherwise uneventful. My legs were tired. The first and second place finishers stormed past me like I was standing still. I saw Bob back at the start/finish/turnaround. I told him I could easily be talked into dropping and we could both go home. He said, "NO! Somebody has to finish this race!"

Thanks, Bob. You're a trooper.

So I ran the last lap. By the last aid station with 4 miles to go I felt like I was crawling along, depleted and slow. I mixed half, Coke, half water into my bottle and trotted off. This stuff, let me tell you, was like rocket fuel! I thought I'd be walking the last three miles, but I ran them faster than I ran anything all day.

Zoom, zoom, zoom and I was done. 6:50. Middle of the pack. Finis!

Many thanks to Steve Nelson, who chose to direct this race despite falling 100 feet and shattering his leg in a rock climbing accident last year. It takes a special kind of guts to direct a race when you yourself cannot run. It's a miracle he's alive, and I look forward to running this course with him someday.

I haven't been writing much in this blog because I've been busy with my other writing job. Feel free to catch up here.

Next up: Soapstone 14 Miler, May 15th.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Cross Training and Me

It has been two and a half weeks since I last ran. My ankle is still a bit achy, but I think it's getting better. I think, I think, I think.


I see my PT later this afternoon and I am expecting to get the okay to start up running again later this week. Here's hoping I don't go out and run 20 miles off the bat and undo all this healing on the very first run. So tempting.....

I have been cross training my butt off. Literally. Have you ever taken a spin class? Holy guacamole! These classes are killer. Especially to a poor little runner like me with nary a cycling muscle to bless her. These classes are short and incredibly intense: the polar opposite of my usual running style (slow and mellow, dude). I get off the bike after 45 minutes or an hour dripping sweat and gasping. It takes a few minutes for the walls of the room to stop pulsing in and out.

You might say I am becoming mentally tough, which has never been a particular strength of mine. We'll see.

I have also been swimming, which was my first love in the grand scheme of things. I grew up on swim teams and now help coach my kids' swim team. I am slowly getting back into swimming shape. Just yesterday I banged out five 200 IM's in a row and felt great. I am once again getting acquainted with my arms and back and core. And it's all good. I feel better overall.

Sometimes I cry because I miss running so much. But swimming and biking are pretty good, too. Just a bit more difficult to fit into my crazy schedule. I really do need to incorporate more cross training into my running life. When I run every day, often twice a day, I get injured. I need to get that through my thick head. I really am going to try to keep up the cross training once I start running f'real (hi Paige!) again.

Here's my Monday Patch post. The temps hit 50 here last week, so the kids and I hit the beach! There are a few more photos on the link.

We are visiting friends in Stonington who just happen to live near a beach. It’s chilly outside, but sunny enough to wander down to the shore to see what’s going on.

Out on the sand the snow is mostly gone, save a few patches of scaly, salty slush. This stuff is oddly textured and impossible to walk on. It slides with your foot and sends you reeling. The kids run from patch to patch like drunken sailors.

They are all in explorer mode, prying the sand for treasure. There is a shocking amount of life for a mid-winter beach. Live scallops open and close in the shallow water. A few of their cousins are stuck in the tidal mud, and the kids throw these back in. Gulls and ducks float just out of reach looking for food. There are black-headed mergansers here as well, I’m proud to tell you. I am slowly learning the local birds.

My daughter Nell finds a horseshoe crab shell. She tells me the shell has been shed by a live crab (rather than left behind by a dead one), because the front is missing. I didn’t realize horseshoe crabs shed, but it makes all the sense in the world. I’m so happy the learning channel is starting to run in the other direction.

Our friends tell us they recently saw mink tracks, though we don’t see them today. We do however see deer tracks in the sand as well as flappy, triangular duck tracks in the sticky mud.

The kids find a dead cormorant belly up at the water line and everyone gets wet. They take sticks to the carcass and start a crude dissection. They get the mouth open and look down past the tongue to the long esophagus. Everything beyond that is picked clean to feather and bone. It’s too cold and clean to stink. When they flip it on its back red blood flows into the water and they all run away.

The next day is oddly mild, a February thaw, and we still have the beach in our heads. I have an afternoon appointment in Westerly so we stop for an hour at Nappatree Point. It’s like we’ve stolen into another season. There is no snow here and no ice. Tucked into a dune in the sunshine it almost feels warm. The water looks so inviting; it’s difficult to remember we are wearing coats and hats.

But these quickly come off. Who cares if it’s still a bit chilly, we’re at the beach! We shed socks and shoes and stand in the 34-degree water for as long as we can take it. This is a contest I always lose. I bolt for the warmish white sand and bury my aching feet. What is it with kids and cold? They never seem to feel it like I do.

I’m not a huge fan of summer beaches, but I love them in winter. The muted light on the water is beautiful and the place is usually empty. Today is no exception. There are a few people walking their dogs way down the beach and us. That’s it. Paradise.

I lie back on the sand and point my face to the sun. I hear the surf and the kids playing and I swear I’ve found a little piece of summer.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Jut like freaking clockwork

The minute I decide to run 100 miles, my foot and leg go all wonky. I'm beginning to think it's all mental. I'm beginning to think I'm psychotic.

Literally the day after I upped my registration from 100K to 100 miles, my right foot and ankle started to feel a bit squishy. Of course I went ahead and ran too far anyway, and now I'm downright injured. Not terribly so. I have hope that this is a passing thing. That I stopped running in time for it to heal in a week or two.

Here's hoping.....

Last Thursday afternoon, after I ran a bit too far on my aching leg, I stopped into our local running store, Kelley's Pace, to try on a pair of Saucony Kinvaras. The legendary (1957 Boston Marathon winner, two-time Olympian) John Kelley himself was behind the counter chatting on the phone.

He finished his call and scurried over -- a wizened, almost toothless sage with a lifetime of experience to draw on.

"Hi Pam! What can I do for you today?"

I love my town.

We had a long, philosophical talk about running. (John is a talker.) We talked about his grandson's third place finish at the JFK 50 this past fall. We talked about early mornings and Hemingway and clean, well lighted places. I told him about my sore foot.

That's an overuse injury, he told me. I know you think you can't give up the training, but you really should take some time off.

When a living legend tells you to take some time off, you damn well take some time off.

So I haven't run since. Today is Tuesday. I did a three mile trot in the neighborhood this morning and the foot felt about 85%. Which is better than yesterday. Which is better than the day before.....

The rest was nice. I was exhausted. I swam and lifted and walked. I read and wrote.

Here's my weekly Patch column. An uncomfortable encounter at the Goodwill. Not my most shining moment!

The kids and I are at Goodwill and we have been standing in line for quite some time. I hadn’t realized it was 50% Off Day when I agreed to stop in here, and the place is packed. This is the kids’ favorite store. Unlike almost every other store in their experience, this is a “yes” store.

A pair of jeans for $2.00? Yes!

An old wooden game of Scrabble for $1.50? Yes!

A glass bunny figurine for $.50? Yes, yes, yes!

When we joined the line it stretched half way down the center aisle. We’ve been inching forward for ten or fifteen minutes and weirdly no one has jumped in behind us. We’re all in our sledding clothes, which are uncomfortably warm. The boys are getting fidgety and keep trying to wrestle. With just one person now ahead of us in the line, which has been branching right and left as cashiers become available, we are still last.

The woman in front of us finally moves to the left-hand register, her cart brimming with glassware, each piece of which must be carefully wrapped and artfully placed in a big plastic bag. We, at last, are first.

Just then a rather glamorous (for Goodwill) woman with a pile of white coats slung over her arm sashays up to the right-hand register, which has almost completed its sale, ignoring my ragtag group completely.

The meek little me of yesteryear would have let it go. I would have stood there like a mouse while this aging beauty stole my place in line. I would appear to any onlooker (what onlooker?) to be the patron saint of patience. But inside I would be seething. I’d be peeved at the woman for cutting, but even more frustrated at myself for allowing it to happen.

These days I’m a bit bolder. I don’t know if it’s parenting that has opened the floodgates of assertiveness or if it’s simply a function of age. In my case, the two go hand in hand. Perhaps by the time I’m eighty I’ll really be a force to be reckoned with.

Last summer our family was out at a restaurant with my parents in Virginia. When my son Ben’s grilled cheese arrived at the table slightly burnt, I did not hesitate. I tracked down the waitress, sandwich in hand, and politely requested a new one.

My parents almost toppled out of the booth. I guess they don’t see me out in public very often these days. Surely this was not the same person who spent her entire childhood dying of embarrassment at the slightest hint of conflict? The girl who would expire under the checkout counter while her mother returned all manner of unwanted clothing? Who would almost pass out the moment her father had the slightest disagreement with the teller at a bank?

Like all new skills, assertiveness is coming to me in fits and starts. Because I’m a beginner, I don’t always do it well. Often I let things go too far before jumping into the fray, after I’m already a bit heated up. My unruly emotions, rather than my rational calm, sometimes win the day.

Which is what happens here at the Goodwill. I wait too long to speak to the woman with the white coats. Surely she will notice us here and recognize her error, I think to myself. Surely a grown woman would not blatantly and deliberately cut in front of a bunch of children in line. Surely she will not force a confrontation?

Unfortunately, no. I am, it seems, forced to take action.

“We have been waiting here for a long time,” I tell her, with perhaps a slight edge to my voice, a sort of high-pitched squeakiness common in women on the verge of a nervous breakdown. “This line is for both registers.”

If only she had left it at that.

“Oh, no,” she says. “That’s not the way they did it the last time I was here.”

I think my hands start to shake. Why is this such a big deal? Why can I not calmly deal with this woman and get on with my day?

“It’s a new world,” I snarl at her, seemingly out of nowhere. “Get used to it.”

My daughter Nell sort of giggles nervously in a mad attempt to diffuse the situation. Clearly I have crossed the line of civility. How did this happen?

The woman gets in line behind us and we move to the right-hand register to ring up our sale. I feel about two inches tall. Not only did I lose my cool, I did it in front of my kids.

I apologize to her on the way out. “I’m sorry I was short with you. We were in line for a long time.”

She looks at me agape and says nothing.

Back in the car I tell the kids I behaved badly. These little encounters always leave me shaken. I don’t even sleep well that night.

Next time I’ll try to speak up before I lose my good humor. Next time I’ll keep my cool. Next time at least I’ll be civil.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Arctic Explorers and a Wishy Washy Runner

First, the wishy-washy runner.

A month or so ago when I decided to downplay my ambitions and sign up for the 100K rather than the 100 Miler at the New Jersey Ultra Festival, I was greatly relieved. We were right on the cusp of the most busy crazy-busy time of the year at our house.

My husband, Brian, is the coach of the robotics team at his high school, and January/February is the Build Season. They have 6 weeks to build the perfect robot. This means nights and weekends at school for Brian and his team. This makes it tough for me to get in my runs.

Another factor: swim season. Two of our kids, Nell and Simon are on the local swim team and they practice most evenings. Simon, who just turned 8, practices for an hour 3 times per week, and I help coach those practices. Nell, who is 9, goes just about every night for 2 hours. She is a bit of an endorphin junkie like her mom. ("I just love swimming. It clears my head.")

And the third: I just took an a writing job with doing one weekly column and two monthly columns. I love this job, but it keeps me busy. And gets me up at 4 every morning, because this is the only time I can get a guaranteed block of quiet.

So, I thought they'd be no way to train for a 100-miler on top of all of that.

Weirdly, it turns out I was mostly wrong. My 4 a.m. rising schedule has given me the time to get out and run every morning. And now that my kids are a bit bigger, I can often drop them off at their various home school classes and sometimes get a second run in during the afternoon or evening.

I'm tired, but it all seems to be working. I emailed the RD of the NJUF and upped my registration to the 100 Mile Race. I will not be ideally trained, but I think I will be adequately trained. Onward and upward!

And here is a bit of my weekly column. We've been having tremendously wintry weather here in Mystic this year. It snows and snows and the temperatures are cold. The kids and I get outside as much as possible. Here is one of our adventures......

The snow this year is wonderfully relentless, the bitter cold and the snow. This is the kind of winter I hope for every year but nature so rarely delivers. This winter will be remembered.

The kids and I are outside and dressed to the hilt. The temperature this morning read zero. Nothing. Nada. That kind of cold is elusive, sublime. It holds its cards close to its chest. It’s the kind of cold that really could kill you, quietly taking your breath away.

We are arctic explorers out here in the snow. Our boat is caught fast in the pack ice. We are setting out on foot to see what we can see. We have our faithful dog and we’re on our way. All we lack is that vast Antarctic space, with ice indistinguishable from sky. But we do our best; we head for the woods.

Eddie the Coon hound is ready to go. He has been cooped up on the ship far too long. The kids have his leash and they’re all in a tumble. The snow is loose like feathers and makes an eerie, hollow sound under our boots. The dog has caught a scent and we’re off.

There are animal tracks in this unexplored wilderness. Eddie has found a set of dog tracks wending through the woods. Who is this mysterious dog? Whence does he come? A rival expedition on the loose?

Eddie’s snout is deep in the snow and he vacuums the scent. It’s like food to him. When his head comes up he looks silly all masked in snow, but he’s deadly serious. He spreads his back legs wide and takes off, a giggling mass of bundled children in his wake.

He pulls the kids deep into the woods. They bust through low growing brush and half dead stands of twisted mountain laurel. They throw themselves on their bellies and trundle under downed trees. Everyone is wild with snow. They are breathless, but they don’t let go of the dog.

All the way out to the main road they follow these tracks, and then Eddie loses the scent. Explorers have no use for roads, and they pull the dog back into the woods. We retrace our steps at a more leisurely pace.

We’re following the tracks of two small rodents now, too little for squirrel, maybe arctic mice. (Wouldn’t it be something to see a penguin!)? Our old boot tracks mingle with these delicate prints in a complicated braid. These tracks are fresh. These critters were just here.

The snow tells their tale. The two sets of tracks suddenly break from the main trail (was there a shadow?), and then circle each other in a clearing. There must have been a kerfuffle. I’m guessing it was a hawk. Just a single set of teeny footprints leaves the scene on the other side.

Our time here is short and there are hawks everywhere. Explorers know this only too well. There is nothing to do but press on.

The sun is starting to set and the cold is working its way through our layers. Only the tops of the trees are lit up now. We on the ground are all in blue shade. The lights from our ship blink in the near distance and we take up the trail for home.