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.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Challenging weather

Okay so yes, I did go out and run for two hours yesterday afternoon while the kids had a class at the Mystic Seaport. Perhaps I need to be committed to some sort of mental institution? I think my husband would gladly drive the padded white van. After I came home from my first run of the day, in the early morning dark, glazed in ice, he thought I was nuts. When he saw me suiting up to head out again that very same day in the sideways, 35-degree winter-rain-creating-slush weather, he just shook his head. He just stood there shaking his head.

But I don't get to run in the afternoon very often. I am training for a 100K in March. I will not run on a treadmill. A girl needs to do what a girl needs to do.

And I had a lovely run. "This is a beautiful day!" I said to my daughter Nell as I dropped her off at her class.

Which gave her the perfect opportunity to use her new, 9-year-old vocabulary word. "Are you being ironic?" she asked.

I guess maybe I was. The weather here this past week has been challenging. Single digit temperatures last weekend made my Saturday long run a bit tough. After three hours I was exhausted and cold and called it quits. And we had a blizzard right after that. I love snow, love running in snow!

I wrote a little piece about running in that blizzard.

The Day we Got 2 Feet of Snow in Connecticut

I should have been a pioneer, working outside all day digging and plowing and whatnot. Days spent entirely inside are wasted on me. I start to feel like I’m filling with dust.

The day all the snow fell last week was a perfect day, full of hard work, all outside. It was dark when I woke and the wind was blowing icy snow against the windows. It sounded like someone was out in the yard tossing up handfuls of sand. I sat at my desk with a cup of hot tea and told myself, “I’m not going out in that!”

But an hour passed and I got fidgety. On went the boots, snow pants, jacket, hat and gloves. I stepped out and squinted into a sublime world of black on gray on white. A faint half moon lit the clouds and everything shimmered. I post holed down the long driveway in the wet snow. To my great surprise, the road was plowed. Not plowed so you’d want to drive on it, but perfectly groomed for running.

I didn’t even think about it. I stumped back up the driveway and changed into my running clothes, which were patiently waiting by the front door. “What does this say about me?” I wondered as I trotted through the blizzard, wet snow hitting me full in the face.

With the exception of a distant plow, no one else was out. Closer to downtown Mystic a single set of footprints appeared along the side of the road. I saw no dog prints running alongside, indicating a dutiful chore. Some odd loner had simply wanted to walk out in a blizzard.

On Main Street in Mystic I saw a big guy bundled up on a three-wheeled ATV. He had a gut-buster belly and a loopy grin. “Hey, lady,” he yelled over the engine noise, “you’re in great shape. Go home and have a cuppa coffee and a donut!”

I giggled and kept running. He was right, of course. I wish it were that easy. How to explain that I’m just not wired that way?

A few miles later, still dark but slowly starting to get light, or perhaps a lighter shade of gray, I saw a live human out shoveling the high ridge of plowed snow off the end of his driveway.

“Good on you!” he shouted with tremendous enthusiasm. “I’ll finish up here and then I’m out to join you!” Clearly this man is on my team.

Lucky for me, my kids seem to have embraced their genetics. Back home, it took three hours to shovel the cement-ish snow off our 50-yard driveway, and they stayed with me the whole time. Never mind that their tunneling into my snow banks was actually reversing a good bit of the work I had just done. Life is short, and they were having fun.

We all went out again later in the day, the kids to sled on our little hill and me to play Pa Ingalls and dig a path to the woodpile out back. I took a few sled runs with them until then it got dark, then went inside to take a much-needed shower.

Later, as I was getting dinner started I heard a rustling at the front door and a snowy creature burst into the hallway. Evidently my 9-year-old daughter Nell was just coming in.

“Where were you Nell?” I asked, all astonishment.

She smiled and sort of shrugged and said, “Everywhere.”

Monday, January 17, 2011

Anna K in the morning

I usually get up at 4 in the morning, work at my desk for about an hour and a half, then go for my morning run. In winter this means piling on the layers, including a reflective vest, pulling poor Eddie from his warm dog bed, and pushing off into the cold, dark outdoors.

It has been a wonderful gift both this winter and last to have Tolstoy in my ear during these early morning excursions. I am once again listening to Anna Karenina on my iPod as I trot through the quiet streets of town. I lose myself in the narrative. I love the characters and feel for them with all of my heart. For an hour or so every morning I am in Russia, and there is no place I'd rather be.

Here is a review I wrote of Anna Karenina.

And here are some shots from our snow fire yesterday.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Winter wonderland

It has been snowing here in Mystic, and we're due for another big dumping tonight. The world is so beautiful. I have been loving my early morning runs and watching the world go from black to cobalt to blue.

I wrote about it in my weekly column. Enjoy!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Making Time

It has been difficult recently to make time to write in this blog. I just took on a new job writing two monthly columns as well as a weekly column for a local news website called Patch. It's more work than my old newspaper job, but much more interesting and fun. This job allows me to stretch my wings and write about stuff other than parenting. After six years, I was getting a little sick of writing about parenting, not to mention running out of things to say.

So I will post links to some of my articles here, and do my very best to keep this blog alive. I love being part of the ultra running community, and this blog has been a great way to keep up with everybody's running adventures. So, onward.....

Incidentally, I have decided to run the 100K at the New Jersey Ultra Festival rather than the 100 Miler. Winter/Spring is a busy time of year at our house. My husband is the robotics coach at his high school and this is the build season. They have six weeks to build the perfect robot, then take it around to competitions all over New England. So he's not home all that much. The hundred was feeling like too much of a time commitment. I feel greatly relieved and happy to be taking on the 100K.

Here is the first article from my monthly running column.

And here is a little photo essay I did during the blizzard just after Christmas. I ran around town with my camera in the ridiculously strong wind. Pam Dolan: Girl Photojournalist!

Complete list of articles written so far here.