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Respite, and Snow Shoe

Primarily, it’s the consistently insane cold that’s been keeping me on the treadmill. Yesterday morning it was -6 without the wind chill. I felt no shame spending 2 hours on the treadmill. I mean, what, I’m going to run in -6 degrees, on sporadically shoveled sidewalks, surrounded by 5-foot high snowbanks? Really?

But today was a different story. Today was a brief respite from the cold, with a warmish morning (30 degrees) warming up to a sunny 40 degrees!

I needed to be in the woods. I had hoped to run bare-sneaker, but the trails at Prospect Hill weren’t packed enough. So I strapped on the snow shoes and galavanted for 4 hours (actually, I galavanted for 3 hours and then got sidetracked for another hour… I got lost trying to get to the trail I had hoped to take back to the car, then when I reached that trail it was completely unbroken, forcing me to trudge through thigh-high powder to break the trail). Still, it was lovely to be outdoors and not suffering.

View of Waltham & Boston from Prospect Hill Summit

View of Waltham & Boston from Prospect Hill Summit

Obligatory selfie

Obligatory selfie

After a leisurely lunch, Mr. P went for his long run and I took Little Boy in search of sledding. He rejected all our usual haunts so I decided to take him to an unconventional sledding hill: Lone Tree Hill, a conservation area off the beaten path with few suitable sledding slopes. At least we would have soothing solitude and sustaining sunshine! (and Little Boy did get a few good runs in)…

Attempting to sled at Lone Tree Hill

Attempting to sled at Lone Tree Hill

Gorgeous afternoon!

Gorgeous afternoon!

A relief to spend so much quality time outdoors. Winter, you have not won yet.

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I’m Not a New Englander After All

This was our front yard last Friday:

Could it get any worse?

Could it get any worse?

It couldn’t possibly get worse than that…

Could not possibly…

Can’t get worse…

BAM.

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I got home from the gym this morning at 7am. It was -2 F degrees without the windchill, probably -15 or more every time the bitter Arctic wind gusts. Mountains of snow are everywhere. There is more snow coming. There is not a day over 32 degrees in the 12-day forecast (and that is a snow day).

“I’m done,” I told Mr. P. “Done.”

I’m so ready to run away to San Francisco. It turns out I’m not a hardy New Englander. I like being outdoors. I don’t mind some cold, I don’t mind some snow, but…

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Snow Day #6

This is the third Monday/Tuesday in a row that school has been closed because of the ridiculous amount of snow that is besieging Boston metro. It’s the third big storm that has dropped between 1-2 feet of snow on our densely residential neighborhood (which has become a treacherous network of unofficial one-way roads because of the ten-foot high snow banks). It’s absurd. Absurd. We can’t even go outside and sled because there’s too much snow. And it’s cold. There’s not a day over 25 degrees and a night over 12 in the ten-day forecast (which also has, alas, more snow).

We have the good luck to share a small-dwelling condo with a man who loves, loves his snow blower. He’s out there for hours, carefully moving piles and grooming our driveway and sidewalks, creating access points, clearing the storm drains, etc. Before this latest storm, he moved all of the snow near the driveway to our front yard. If we didn’t have this neighbor, this is the winter that would have buckled our resolve to remain hardy shovelers and bought a snowblower of our own. It would be the only way. You simply cannot shovel your way out of this.

In the below picture, Little Boy is laying on his stomach on a huge solid block of snow (and this was in the middle of the storm).

Our new front yard

Our new front yard

It’s a historic, unprecedented amount of snow. The only bright side is that it’s mid-February, and up until a few weeks ago we were having a pretty nice winter — cold, but dry. This will all end soon. It’ll melt…. probably in June, and probably ruining our grass and flooding our basement, but it will melt. We’ll beat you yet, snow!

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Smiling on the outside, crying on the inside

 

 

 

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The Woman in the Iron Vest

Winter continues: Snow, ice, cold. Another foot of heavy white stuff is expected to add to the heaps during the next two days. I’ve been treadmilling and such. We went XC skiing today at Great Brook Farm. It’s winter, and given that it’s near mid-February, I know that, theoretically, it will all be over in 6 weeks or so.

I have a weighted vest. It’s a vest with about 20 pockets in which one can stuff bags of sand, with a maximum of 20 pounds. When I was shopping for the weighted vest on Amazon, I was actually considering buying a 40 pound vest. Woah. That would have sucked.

So why did I buy a weighted vest? Oh, come now. I think my sanity is a well-established wild card.

I wear the weighted vest as I’m doing chores around the house — taking loads of laundry to and fro the basement, vacuuming, tidying. It does stress my back enough that I can pretend it’s a form of legitimate training for a 100 mile race.

It feel so good to take it off. Such a relief.

Behold the Weighted Vest

Behold the Weighted Vest

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Training Log (One Snowy, Cold Hot Mess)

No training logs these days … not because I haven’t been training, but because it would read something like “5 miles treadmill, 7 miles treadmill, 12 miles treadmill (yikes)” with the occasional “2 hours backcountry XC ski bliss!”

Winter has smacked New England hard in the face. Sure, we won the Super Bowl… and that was oddly satisfying… but we have mountains of snow on the ground and more on the way. 4 snow days in the past 2 weeks. Frigid temperatures and running out of room for snow.

This was after the first big storm last week:

After First Snow

After First Snow

Woah, look at that… big snow, right?

Then yesterday this happened:

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Another 14 inches

(6 miles treadmill, 8 miles treadmill…)

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His “ninja” pose

Pretty soon it’s going to be “15 miles treadmill” and I will sob.

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Training Log: Week Ending 1/23/15

A terrifying thing has happened: I won the lottery and gained entry to the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc, a 104-mile, 30K foot elevation gain race in the Alps next August. I joke with Mr. P a lot about how the UTMB will probably kill me, how there’s no way I’ll finish in the 46-hour time limit, how I’ve made a horrible mistake… but actually I do think there’s a chance that I’ll be able to finish. I can climb these steep but mostly non-technical Alpine trails all day (and night — I also handle sleep deprivation pretty well). I think major challenges will be the downhills — will my knees hold up? I’m planning lots of downhill sprints in the spring.

Since getting into UTMB, I’ve bumped up the training several notches — not going ‘all-in’ because it is still January, but definitely getting a base. I’ve signed up for a number of races, including the VT 100 in July (6 weeks before UTMB). I’m excited and scared. This is a challenge, and I may not succeed in finishing… but that’s the sign of a true challenge!

Sat 1/17: Very, very cold this morning — 10 below with the wind chill. I headed to the gym and started with my 30 minute jump-rope and mobility circuit, then 90 minutes of the treadmill, varying the speed and the grades — about 7.5 miles. Later, when it warmed up, I took a 30 minute walk in my new weighted vest.

Sun 1/18: Warmer today, so I headed to Prospect Hill. The road and the trails up the hill were icy. 10 miles, 2.5 hours, 1200 ft elevation gain. In the afternoon I hit the gym for some mobility work and a short but speedy treadmill run (30 minutes, 3.4 miles).

Mon 1/19: 5 miles slow jogging on slightly icy roads. Then — pleasure! Skiing 4 hours with Little Boy at Wachusett. This kid is a fast skier. He did ask for frequent lodge breaks, but when we were on the trails we blazed.

On a ski lift

On a ski lift

Tues 1/20: Gym: short mobility workout, then 50 minutes medium effort treadmill. Evening: 1.5 mile walk with weighted vest.

Wed 1/21: 9 miles, Bread and Butter loop plus extra hills, 750 feet elevation gain.

Thursday 1/22: 8 miles (ran to gym and home, with extra hills); some mobility work at gym

Friday 1/23: This should have been a rest day, but snow is forecast for tomorrow, and next week it looks like there is another 2-3 feet coming. I’ll probably rest then. I had to work from home for some work we’re having done on our house for the new dishwasher, so I was able to sneak in some running in the mild snow-free sunshine — last time until April, probably! 2 miles hills (walking) in the morning, followed by 5.5 miles running at lunch, followed by 8.5 miles on trails in the early evening.  (And happy anniversary! Today is the 7th anniversary of our “living room” wedding.)

 

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France, Christmas and New Year’s 2015

We spent Christmas and New Year’s 2015 at our too-rarely utilized condo in the French Alps, mostly skiing, visiting family, and dodging the multiple strains of sickness that were thriving in our social circle. Of course it was me, the one who “never gets sick” (but seems to anyway) who ended up with a draining case of stomach flu, which manifested two days after Youngest Nephew vomited spectacularly during the evening aperitif. I was XC skiing and felt just horrible. I chalked it up to the dismal conditions (ungroomed trail covered in 15 inches of fluffy snow; frigid temperatures) but after I returned home for lunch, I could. Not. Move. I stayed in bed for 20 hours and remained without appetite or energy for the next four days. I passed up countless glasses of bordeaux and slices of cheese. I was left so dehydrated that, as soon as my digestive system recovered, I promptly got a sore throat and lost 90% of my voice.

Still, the trip was relaxing, and Little Boy remained healthy and happy, and had way too much fun with his cousins.

A grand snowshoe adventure in two feet of fresh powder with Mr P and his father -- we slowed him down!

A grand snowshoe adventure in two feet of fresh powder with Mr P and his father — we slowed him down!

Cow encounter

Cow encounter

Above the clouds, a great little bar for vin chaud

Above the clouds, a great little bar for vin chaud

I was very proud of this picture I took. I call it "Vaches de Neige" (which sounds classier than "snow cows")

I was very proud of this picture I took. I call it “Vaches de Neige” (which sounds classier than “snow cows”)

Mr P and Oldest Nephew, relaxing slopeside at a rendez-vous point

Mr P and Oldest Nephew, relaxing slopeside at a rendez-vous point

Smiles and fun as we stayed warm in a telecabin

Smiles and fun as we stayed warm in a telecabin

Mr P with a fat little mouse we met on the slopes

Mr P with a fat little mouse we met on the slopes

Descente aux flambeaux skiers on New Year's Eve

Descente aux flambeaux skiers on New Year’s Eve

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Little Boy and his cousin with their torches after the descente

Medal ceremony for Little Boy's ski school -- he got his Third Yeti medal, meaning he's ready for black diamond trails and slalom.

Medal ceremony for Little Boy’s ski school — he got his Third Yeti medal, meaning he’s ready for black diamond trails and slalom.

 

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Christmas Comes Early…

I thought for sure this year would be the unraveling of the Santa myth. He is six, he is developmentally-appropriately intelligent, and Christmas/Santa/presents had to come early this year, for reasons necessitated by impending international travel. I mean, wouldn’t it be positively insane if Santa came 4 days early? Would’t that create permanent and irrevocably doubts?

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Nope! And the cat was pretty stoked, too.

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The North Face Endurance Challenge, San Francisco 50 Miler

In retrospect, the whole thing was ridiculous: running TNF EC in San Francisco, a hilly 50-mile race, for the sole purpose of qualifying for the 1-in-3 chance of running the world-notorious mountainous 102-mile UTMB in the Alps. I need 8 points to enter the UTMB lottery later this month, and TNF EC San Francisco was the most palatable race to give me my last 2 points. The race takes place on many of the same amazing trails I ran for last May’s Miwok 100K. I could fly out to San Fran fairly cheap on Friday morning, get a hotel, take a shuttle to the starting line, and return to Boston on the red-eye later Saturday night, bringing me home to Boston on Sunday morning so I could spend the day with Mr. P and Little Boy. Perfect plan, but ridiculous!

What Went Right

  • I finished the race in 11 hours and 14 minutes, well within the wide range I projected (when asked beforehand by incredulous non-runners  “How long will it take you!?”, I said “Between 11 hours if I’m having a dream day, and 13 hours if it’s a nightmare.”) I believe this time is better compared to Miwok, which took me 14 hours and 18 minutes. Granted Miwok was 11 miles longer, 3000+ feet more elevation, and much warmer, but I definitely moved better in TNF despite the muddy course… and:
  • I didn’t fall. After taking a very bloody dive during Miwok, I was extremely cautious on every bit of course. Especially when I neared the exact spot where I lost the majority of the skin on my left elbow.
  • I paced myself well. I went out a tad too fast at the beginning and probably rankled my quads unnecessarily. But after mile 10, I calmed down and kept a steady, relentless pace as I slowly picked off more than a few runners in the mid-pack. After mile 35 I started passing lots of slower runners in the other races (50K, marathon, marathon relay) and I flashed back to TNF Bear Mountain marathon that I ran more than 3 years ago, when I was a plodding marathoner being passed by the fierce 50-milers at the end. I craved and ate copious amounts on PB&J sandwiches and drank only water, which really seem to work for me in races, and drank only water.
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My blurry pic of the race starting line, 4:45am

  • No travel travails. I planned the whole trip with military-like precision. I woke up Friday morning at 4:30am, took a bus to the subway, to the subway to a bus, took the bus to Logan airport, took a JetBlue flight to San Francisco, took a train to pick up my race number near Union Square, walked to my hotel, went to a corner store for food, watched guilty pleasures on the Bravo channel while eating pre-race guilty pleasures like Ramen and beer, fell asleep at 6:30pm, woke up at 2:30am Saturday morning, got dressed for the race, packed, ate, checked out of my hotel, walked in the rain to the shuttle to the starting line (and I got street harassed 3 times in the 12 minutes it took me to walk there, which was scary), got on the shuttle which was slowly loading with other runners, drove to the starting line across the Golden Gate Bridge, dropped off my aid station drop bag and my gear bag, ran 50 miles, retrieved my gear bag (but NOT my drop bag… see below), took the shuttle back to San Francisco, took a taxi to the airport, and retuned to Boston on the red-eye. Precision!
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3:15am Saturday, Ready to go to the Shuttle

 

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Ain’t nothing like Boston!

 

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Oh, the view…

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Pirate’s Cove

 

What Went Wrong

  • Quads. I know my quads are my weak link. I pass people on the uphill, only to have everyone plus more scream passed me on the downhills, as I plod along, beholden to my weak quads. After Miwok, I did thrice-a-week quad exercises to try to build some strength in the pitiful things. These helped… maybe a little? The downhills massacred me.
  • Mud. A huge swath of the trail was essentially a river of mud. Luckily, I wore my Innov-8 Gore-Tex shoes, a heavy but protective and tough choice that allowed me to power through the  glob while others  struggled to gain traction and stability. So the mud didn’t suck for me nearly as much as it sucked for the saps in their airy minimalist shoes.
  • Headlamp. Note to self: replace batteries.
  • Drop bag. TNF events are well-oiled events, yet when I reached the finish line, my drop-bag was not there. I wound up leaving a nearly brand-new pair of Innov-8 at the event because my drop-bag was not there and the kindly volunteer could not tell me when it would arrive. Shame on me, for even leaving a drop-bag in the first place, but those where the clean shoes I was counting on for a socially-unnoticeable flight back to Boston. Without them, I was left with my mud-drenched race shoes, so I bought a 15-cent bag, threw the shoes in and tied the bag up tight, then plodded through the airport and airlplane shoeless. And exhausted. And dying for a freaking drink.

Season’s over! Where’s the wine?

 

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photo credit: Nate Dunn

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TARC Fall Classic 50k, 2014

After running the Miwok 100K last May, I took a sane and sensible break from ultra distances. In fact, my longest run over the summer was probably 10 miles (though I was logging about 40 miles a week). In September I started to ramp up the mileage, ramp up the speed, and ramp up the long runs — with the goal of finishing TNF San Francisco 50 miler in December… which will give me the 2 points that I need to enter the lottery for the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc (aka, the race that will probably kill me).

I entered the TARC Fall Classic as a training run for the 50 miler, and because I love the welcoming, fun, chill vibe of TARC events.  The course is a 10K loop on relatively flat and mostly non-technical trails in a state park, so the race offers a 10K distance, half-marathon (2 10K loops with a extra loop around a field), marathon (4 10K loops with two extra loops around a field), and 50K (5 10K loops). I originally signed up for the marathon distance but switched last Wednesday when the weather forecast looked positive (LOOKED) and I felt strong. The race coordinator emailed me that I was the only person to switch to a longer distance out of the 20 or so people who switched distances, which made me feel like a crazy person.

I woke up at 6am and ate my typical pre-run breakfast (black coffee and spoonfuls of chia seed peanut butter, supplemented with generous drizzles of honey for the race). As I made the final preparations with my gear, Little Boy woke up and asked me to draw with him. It’s hard to refuse him, knowing I would miss his soccer game and be MIA for most of the day. So I drew Pokemon while applying Glide under my bra straps. Little Boy worked on his Laval portrait, which made me smile and beam with pride!

Little Boy's Portrait of Laval, from Chima

Little Boy’s Portrait of Laval, from Chima

The race is about a 30 minute drive. After collecting my race number and putting my gear bag on the tarps near the aid station/starting-finishing line, I chatted with friendly runners while the 10K runners took off at 8am and the rest of us waited for the 8:15am start. Two women who were doing the half-marathon commented that, compared to the other 50K runners, I looked so minimalist because I didn’t have a hydration pack or even a handheld bottle (my plan was to start carrying my handheld on the third loop). Indeed, I felt under-prepared in general — mentally, because the idea of five loops was daunting. One thing that I learned from Miwok is the benefit of starting ultra-distances with the mentality that the race is already done. The training is done, the hay is in the barn, and you just have to execute. I just didn’t have that feeling. I was worried about tripping and falling, I was worried about getting injured, and I couldn’t get into the mindset that “the race is already done, just execute” because my longest training run had only been 18 miles and that was mostly on road.

The Barn at the Aid Station/Start-Finish Line

The Barn at the Aid Station/Start-Finish Line

So the race started, and like most people I went out too fast. Not as “too fast” as some of the 50K runners, who were panting up hills at mile 2 (!). My breathing was relaxed enough to chat with a very animated guy, but I knew my pace was not sustainable. Unfortunately, it only got faster when the half-marathon runners (who had to take an extra loop around a field) started to pass us. It’s hard to quell that competitive edge and keep a sensible pace when dozens of people are passing you.

Also unfortunately: the temps were on the cool side, but it was muggy. Ugh. Being extremely sensitive to humidity, by the end of the first loop, I was already drenched in sweat. And I was still going faster than I wanted. And “four more loops” was even more daunting than five loops seemed before the race.

Fortunately, I starting running with two guys whose chatter distracted me from the nay-saying voices in my head. It was the first 50K for both of them and they just wanted to finish. I gave them encouragement and avoided voicing Debbie Downer opinions like “You shouldn’t be wearing a long sleeve shirt” and “You’re breathing too hard, it’s only mile 9″ and “We’re going too fast.”

At the end of the second loop I spied my co-worker. She runs occasionally and just moved here from Florida, and told me she missed having a running community, so I encouraged to come and volunteer at the race. She was helping to cheer and direct runners at an intersection; as I headed out for the third loop, I said half-joking “Why don’t you take a loop with me?” and she immediately jumped on the trail! She paced me for the next 4 miles or so and we chatted. Again, following her fresh legs, I was going too fast but was thrilled to talk to someone about non-running topics. (I did trip over a rock on this loop, but landed into a pile of soft leaves, which made me happy). The power of a pacer!

She returned to her volunteering duties and I headed out on the fourth loop. I removed my shirt, which was soaked and serving no purpose, and ran in my sports bra — an act that indicates far more pride in my body than I actually have. This loop was the low point. All the earlier speed began to manifest in my tired legs. I was running with people who felt just as defeated as me. “One more loop” didn’t sound palatable. It started to rain. As I neared the aid station to finish my fourth loop, a speedy 50K runner passed me, whooping because he was finished.

But then, who’s that waiting for me at the aid station? It’s Mr. P and Little Boy, coming from the soccer game to cheer me on! What a boost to see them. I resolved to finish the last loop as fast as I could so they wouldn’t be waiting too long. And just like that, I finally got into “the race is already done, just execute” mentality. At Mile 25, but better late than never! My legs felt strong and revived; I ran up hills that I previously walked; each mile got a little faster than the last. Meanwhile…

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Little Boy, hanging at the Aid Station — who wouldn’t run fast on dead legs to see this smile?

With one more mile to go, I got it in my head that I didn’t want anyone to pass me (and I knew there were a few runners who were close) so I ran a strong 9-minute mile to the end.

I can see the end!

I can see the end!

People cheered. It was wonderful.

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Can’t help but to smile at a 50K finish line

I finished the 50K in 6 hours and 22 minutes, which was squarely in the mid-pack and good enough for 8th out of 24 girls. My optimistic goal was to finish in 6h 30m, so actually I wasn’t going excessively fast in those earlier loops. I didn’t get injured or incur any open wounds. I ran with excellent people on a beautiful course. And most important, I got my ultra-mentality back.

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My primary need at this moment was the need to put on a shirt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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