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.


  1. Oooo, I love that eerie hollow sound that good snow makes underfoot :)

    I love that you've upgraded back up to the will be a grand adventure!

  2. I hope so, Paige! It's good to have a real challenge sitting out there....

  3. Good luck with NJUF 100M. See you on the trails!


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