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North Face Endurance Challenge, Bear Mountain, NY

Four years ago, I ran the marathon at Bear Mountain (post here —Little Boy was three years old and as cute as a bug!) I was getting back into running after a self-imposed hiatus. I carried about 15 extra pounds and had never run a trail race longer than 7 miles. I had tremendous fear of the Bear Mountain marathon; it was unknown territory in more ways than one. I finished in a rather feeble time of 6 hours, 27 minutes (I recall jogging/walking/stumbling a majority of the last ten miles). I never considered going back to Bear Mountain for a longer distance because it’s not my type of course: it’s technical, steeply rolling, grizzly. I prefer runnable ultras with sustained climbs and descents.

Mr. P., on the other hand, has raced on some of the most difficult terrain on the East Coast, so Bear Mountain is right up his alley. He signed up for the 50 miler. I felt zero envy.

We left for New York mid-Friday afternoon when Little Boy’s school let out. (He was sore at us for making him miss his after-care program fun.) We arrived at the hotel around 7pm, had a surprising dinner at Pizzeria Uno (nice cobb salad — who knew?), then went to bed to arise the next morning before 4am. I drove Mr P. to the start, then Little Boy and I went back to the hotel to (unsuccessfully) try to get more sleep.

I studied the race course map and decided we could meet Mr. P at around 20 miles, which was a nice lake aid station easily accessible by car. We waited by the lake for over an hour; it was clear Mr. P was off his projected pace, and when he arrived he confirmed that the course was more technical and slower than he anticipated (I did warn him!)

Smiles at mile 20

Smiles at mile 20

This poignant-looking picture is actually Little Boy asking Mr. P if he can help connect the iPad to the hotel Wi-Fi after he finished his 50-mile race.

This poignant-looking picture is actually Little Boy asking Mr. P if he can help connect the iPhone to the hotel Wi-Fi after he finished his 50-mile race.

After wishing Mr. P well, we had about 5 hours to kill before meeting him at the 41-mile aid station. We went back to the hotel, rested, went to a WalMart, and showed up at the aid station a good two hours early to play frisbee and football in the adjacent grass field.

Mr. P came through. He was moving okay and was within reach of his “B” goal, which was to finish in under 12 hours. He had nine miles to go and was eager to finish.

Little Boy and I took the shuttle to the starting line. There was an informal 1 km kid’s race that Little Boy started in the back and was frankly not motivated to do. This kids’ race was memorable because, right after the start, there was a toddler stampede that resulted in two little kids getting (harmlessly) trampled by other toddlers and everyone was like “Awww!” and laughing.

Coming into the finish

Coming into the finish

The minutes ticked by. I was anxious for Mr. P to meet his goal of under 12 hours, and at 11 hours 50 minutes, I spied him approaching the finish chute. Hurrah!

Mr. P running with respectable form to the finish

Mr. P running with respectable form to the finish

After he finished, the rest of my day was spent happily waiting on him, hand and foot. However, I was signed up for the half marathon the following morning, which I was a little apprehensive about because of the rainy weather, and because it’s a 700-person trail race.

Trail races with 700 people are not fun. They are crowded, impersonal, tense. It was a thirteen mile conga line, up and down the hills. Half the runners were in a total anaerobic state the whole race. It was hard to pass people safely because many people lacked trail etiquette and/or were wearing headphones and seemed oblivious to others. After the final big climb at mile 11, the pack finally spread enough that I could practically fly to the finish. I had hoped to finish under 2:20, but actual time was 2:35. Do not underestimate Bear Mountain!

The photographer made me laugh by asking, “Didn’t I see you running yesterday?”

 

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TARC Spring Classic 2016, Half Marathon

Results: 2:05, 7th girl out of 63

I raced the half marathon, hoping to inject some serious speed into a schedule weighed down by long, slow mileage. Since I finished the 50K Spring Classic last year in a respectable 5:36, I thought I could maybe do the half in around 2 hours. Alas, a little too ambitious: though it’s a flat, fast course for a trail run, there’s still some rollers and muddy/watery sections. More excuses: the week before, I had a knot in my calf muscle the size of a golf ball that left me unable to run for three days until I successfully loosened it by repeatedly rolling the knot over a lacrosse ball. At work, I was overseeing a major software release, which was racheting up my stress levels to the point I’d wake up at 2am, unable to sleep due to worry.

At the start of the race, I immediately noted the shortness of breath at speeds I should have been able to cruise on. (It also gently rained, which I actually LOVED.)

Still, overall, pretty happy. My calf is recovered and still, inexplicably, almost the same width as my thigh, the software release was successful, and this pic of me around mile 4? ain’t half-bad! Trail racing with the TARC folks… that’s happiness!

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Heartbreak Hill 1-miler

Results: 7 minutes, 30 seconds. Third place!

It was Little Boy’s second year at the Heartbreak Hill 1-miler for kids. Last year, he raced with the 7-year olds, despite being only 6 (because 7 is the youngest age group and we wanted him to give it a go). He finished in 8th place out of about 25, which was very good, and not too surprising because this is his type of race: uphill for a half mile, downhill for a half mile. He’s got the endurance and grit to go uphill and I’ve seen him fly down hills at speeds that make me cringe.

To be honest, Little Boy isn’t very excited about the races we sign him up for (about 3-4 a year). But he does them willingly and tries his hardest and usually seems happy at the end. And he’s getting less non-excited about them, if that makes any sense. I think the competition is good for him. There’s a bit of pressure, but dealing with the pressure and knowing you have to try your hardest if you want that trophy is ultimately a good thing for kids of the sporting kind, like him.

We arrived at the registration about an hour beforehand. After getting his number, Little Boy spent a good 30 minutes on the bouncy house, which was probably an excellent warm-up. Why don’t more races have bouncy houses?

Pre-race warmup

Pre-race warmup

His heat was the second heat, after the 7-year old girls. When the 7-year old boys lined up at the start, boys jostled for spots in the front, and the ever-good-natured Little Boy wound up in the back. The announcer said, “Listen, this is a long race! If you’re fast enough, it doesn’t matter if you start at the front or the back!“ None of the boys yielded their spots at the front.

The horn sounded and they took off. Little Boy was in the back along the small stretch of flat that would eventually climb to the notorious Heartbreak Hill. Some parents where running alongside the boys. Mr. P also took off up the hill, albeit walking, as the boys disappeared from view up the hill.

Starting in the back, next the boy who would finish first.

Starting in the back, next the boy who would finish first.

 

Look at that stride!

Look at that stride!

I waited at the finish. The clock ticked. Around 6 minutes later, the leading police motorcycle came in sight, coming down the hill. I could see a blond boy following it. Behind him, another fair-skinned boy. And behind him… Little Boy!

I started to get crazy. If he was in fifth or sixth place, I would not have gotten crazy… but he was in third and there were two boys hot on his heels. I could see he was slowing and they were gaining on him, and there was still a long stretch to the finish.

I started yelling. Crazy parent yelling. “Go, Little Boy, go! Keep going! You’re in third, don’t let up! Go! Go!”

He made eye contact with me and began to noticeably pick up his pace. I kept yelling. Other people were staring at me but I didn’t care. He coasted into third place at the finish.

“Look at that, the kid who started in the back ended up in third place!” said the smug announcer.

Third place at this race is a big deal. There’s a trophy and you get to talk into the microphone. Little Boy was thrilled.

Talking to his adoring fans

Talking to his adoring fans

 

Third, second, first place

Third, second, first place

“I’m so proud of you!” I told him.

“I’m so proud of myself!” he told me.

He later told me he was glad I was yelling at him at the finish line, because “I knew I had to go faster.” Good. When he’s a teenager, I’m sure he’ll remember my demented hollering differently.

Little Boy was also thankful for Mr. P’s advice, which was to never let the leader out of his sight. Apparently the podium winners all jostled for the lead at some point near the top of the hill.

All in all, Little Boy’s confidence in himself has risen measurably since the race. For all his trophies and medals (the kind that everyone gets), he keeps saying this is his “first real trophy.”

Beaming with pride

Beaming with pride

 

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Runamuck 50K

Results: 5 hours, 39 minutes; 33 miles, 4800′ elevation gain; 39th out of 108th overall, 7th girl out of 36th

Last Saturday I woke up at 6am in a hotel room in Vermont, momentarily disoriented. I had a foggy notion that there was something important I had to do that day, but my waking mind could not grasp it… and then I remembered with some dread… “The Runamuck 50K!”

My last ultra had been the Vermont 100 in July 2015, and it was a doozy. In the months since, I have begun to question… why do ultramarathons? I’ve finished 20+ races marathon distance or more (including 100 miles!), so I’ve got nothing to prove. Been there, done that. I could remain in decent physical shape running shorter distances, and reduce the number of injurious niggles that I must tend to, plus spend more time with my family, and get more sleep, and refocus on graduate school, and possibly even take up other hobbies. Why ultra??

Still, I persist. I signed up for Runamuck 50K as a training run for other, more arduous ultras, plus it’s the third time I’d be running this race (making me one of the very few who has run it every year since its inception; the previous two years, it was called the Twin State 50 and attracted far less people). But I did feel some dread. Running 50K on the hills of Vermont is just hard.

Mr. P and Little Boy came with me. We made a weekend out of it, with Mr. P excited to get his own miles on the Vermont hills. They dropped me off at the start at 8am and I reluctantly let them leave, with instructions to pick me up in “five or six hours.” Compared to the first two years, with about 40-50 entrants, it was quite a large crowd.

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As I stood at the very casual starting line, surrounded by ultra jocks and ultra wannabes, I reminded myself that my goals for the race has little to do with speed, and all to do with the distance. I would not push until mile 25. I would preserve my quads and knees by taking it easy on the downhills.

By mile 4, I was reminded that I do ultras not because they are easy, but because they are hard (to paraphrase JFK). And to paraphrase some obscure ultra runner in the recent Barkley Marathons documentary… “Most people could benefit from having more pain in their lives.” Which sounds (at best) cavalier and (probably) horrible to people with actual, non-self-inflicted pain.

I seriously hate this picture but it’s the only one the course photographer captured of me. I’m the agonized looking lady with the light blue hydration pack and gray/black ensemble between the three runners in the foreground. I was still being cautious at this point.

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I plugged along. As usual, I passed people on the uphills, and they passed me on the downhills. Only to be re-passed by me on the uphills. I got serious uphill endurance. I passed people, but slowly.

Disaster struck at mile 15, right around that halfway milestone that should give a serious mental boost. I was leapfrogging with 3 excitable Quebecois as they scorched past me on the downhills and I plowed past them on the uphills. Coming off a long downhill, I came to an intersection and saw them hiking up a hill to the right side of the fork. Not even checking the course markings, I blindly followed them up the road.

About a mile later, we encountered runners coming the other way. Anguish all around: we took a wrong turn.

The bright side is the camaraderie. I started talking with two guys who I leap-frogged with the rest of the race. In ultras, the camaraderie is key.

The down side was, of course, two extra miles. Fortunately my energy was good, my quads were holding up… and hey. Bonus miles and elevation!

Yes, I was amazed my quads were in good shape! I knew the downhills were relentless and I wanted to preserve them, but then again, these quads have seen these hills before. I began pushing my pace at mile 26, then started to rip down the last miles of the course. I think I passed around 10 people, including my two “lost boys.” My endurance was tip top.

I finished in 5 hours, 39 minutes. I am sure if I hadn’t taken that unfortunate detour I could have done at least 5 hours, 20 minutes. Who knows? I blame myself for blindly following other runners. In any case, I am pleased with the race and my recovery; I think the road marathon training as well as my weight training has been hugely beneficial.

Mr. P and Little Boy also had a great weekend. Little Boy spent much time in our hotel’s racquetball court, and he ain’t half bad! Mr. P got two longish runs in, so everyone was happy.

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Give me the streets of Manhattan!

Give me such shows — give me the streets of Manhattan! — Walt Whitman, “Give me the Splendid, Silent Sun”

This weekend we headed to New York City so that Mr. P could test his road speed in the New York City Half Marathon. He originally entered in hopes of running a 1:28, which would allow him to bypass the lottery for the New York City Marathon in 2017. But just a few weeks ago, he gained entry to the 2016 NYC Marathon via the lottery, relieving him of the pressures of attaining a time that he was not entirely confident he could attain in order to run a marathon he will have already had done.

We cashed in some Hilton loyalty points to stay at the Doubletree in Times Square. It was mile 7 of the half marathon, but right at the starting line for the 1-mile kids race that Mr. P had signed Little Boy up for. It was also right across the street from M&M’s World, which is Little Boy’s new favorite place on Earth.

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While spectating, we caught a glimpse of American Molly Huddle battling it out with a Kenyan Joyce Chepkirui in the Elite women’s race. Apparently the battle came down to a controversial photo finish in which Huddle appeared to elbow Chepkirui. Funny enough, in my picture it looks like Chepkirui is making contact with Huddle.

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Many minutes later, Mr. P finally came into view. I was tracking his progress via an app and knew he was hovering right below his goal pace. He finished in 1:29:09, a teensy yet torturous bit under his goal.

I yelled and he waved. He hates this picture, but since the official race photos cost $29.95 for one, this one might have to do.

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Little Boy’s race was a bit unfair, as he was in the 7-10 year old boy’s division. I was shocked at how many kids had real track uniforms and running shoes. These kids were serious. I reminded Little Boy to go out slow and finish strong, and was very pleased that he did just that. He started in the back of the pack and worked his way up to finish firmly in the middle.

Running Strong near the finish

Running Strong near the finish

I was so proud of him. He paced himself perfectly and told me he didn’t walk at all. they gave all the kids heat wraps though it wasn’t that cold and they all walked around proudly with them.

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Another memorable part of our weekend was the view from our hotel room. Here are the runners making  their way through Times Square as the Green M&M lords over them.

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The Crying Octopus

I truly believe that a child’s drawing is a reflection of their inner world, a creative expression of emotions and thoughts that may be difficult to articulate in other ways. So I was a little baffled when Little Boy brought home this:

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Of course I am touched that he was thinking of me while drawing during his after school program, and as usual his artistic talent is pleasing, but let’s analyze what’s going on here. It’s an octopus, with long hair, crying and squirting green ink, with tiny fish in its mouth.

“Is that supposed to be me?” I asked Little Boy, after expressing proper appreciation.

He seemed confused. “Of course it is,” he said.

So when Little Boy imagines me as an animal, he thinks of a large multi-armed sea creature, covered with suction cups and with the power to cling furiously and suffocatingly to objects. Furthermore, I am simultaneously crying, eating, and spurting ink, which Little Boy knows is something that octopuses do to escape predators. (I like that he choose green, knowing it’s my favorite color.)

Okay, I’ll try not to read too much into this.

Also interesting is that he wrote “For Mom,” even though he still calls me “Mommy.” He’s realizing his peers no longer say “mommy and daddy.” The day he starts calling me “Mom” is the day I’ll embody a crying octopus.

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France, February 2016

We’ve been back for two weeks from our skiing vacation in France so I gotta get this post up, as it is annoying congestive.

Vacations should just blog themselves.

After taking two planes overnight from Boston, we arrived in Geneva in the midst of a small snow storm. There were some tense moments in our rental car as the highway turned treacherous; then, we’d pass into a stretch of rain and we’d relax. Then, snowy road. Then, rain. Then… snowy mountain road! We tried to ascend the unplowed uphills, then finally relented and attempted to attach chains to the tires (we got one out of two). That is when we learned a basic life wisdom: If you should ever need to attach chains to tires, the time not to learn is during a snowstorm on the side of a narrow, mountainous road with cars and trucks hurtling by you.

Arriving at our condo was big relief. We cranked up the space heaters and took a group nap.

The rest of the week was relatively uneventful. We skied, ate, drank, and spent time with Mr. P’s family. I ran a bit, and hiked, but mainly skied. No one got sick except for the 3-year old nephew. The week was over too soon.

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We resisted the urge to catnap this French kitty at a cafe in Montalban.

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XC skiing solo at Fountaine Froide.

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Le Mont Blanc in the clouds (he did not often grace us with an appearance)

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Running/hiking up to Plan Bois with Mr. P. It looks like his leg is hyper extended but that’s his jacket, both legs are on the ground.

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A man happy to be in his native land!

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Little Boy’s skiing class. He got his Super Yeti medal! Notice he is the smallest member of his class (with the possible exception of the kick-ass Frenchie girl on the far right, who also got her Super Yeti.)

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Little Boy with 2 of his English cousins at a chocolate chad/ vin chard brake. Hey, those are my sunglasses.

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Chocolate chaud, with the chair lift in view.

 

 

 

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2016 Hyannis Marathon

The blog-time continuum is about to get disrupted, as I have yet to finalize the post about last week’s (two weeks ago?) February vacation, where we did little more than ski, eat, and drink with Mr. P’s family for a solid week. But today was the Hyannis Marathon and I wanted to write about it while it was still fresh in my mind (and legs).

I had viewed Hyannis Marathon as a potential Boston Qualifying run. I would have needed to finish in 3:37 (about 3 minutes under the official qualifying time for women my age) to actually be able to register … and honestly, it was a crapshoot. Aside from 2 progressive long runs and some speedy intervals in my regular weekly miles, I didn’t do any specific road marathon training, and I even skipped runs so I could go XC/Alpine and otherwise frolic in the woods. My road half-marathon and 5K times indicate I have the fitness to run well under 3:37, but I fully admit to not putting in the proper training for a road marathon. I hoped my ultra-training base could carry me through.

And it almost did. I finished in 3:42… I was on pace (or below) for 18 of the 26 miles, and I fought an insanely gusty headwind for some of the course. Can’t complain about the weather otherwise, and my digestion/energy preserved. My legs simply got tired and sore and I couldn’t push through. I didn’t walk at all, but fell to a 9 minute mile pace in the eight miles, which was enough to sink me.

Pushing through Hyannis wind, some around mile 15

Pushing through Hyannis wind, somewhere around mile 15

I did finish 1st place Filly (filly=woman over 140 pounds). Ha. When I previously blogged about this race, I mentioned my disdain for the concept of a “Filly Division” and my intention to bypass it. However, my body is still clinging fiercely to its winter coat of fat, and when I weighed myself yesterday morning, I thought “Screw it. Filly it is.” So I changed my registration and winded up 1st Filly.

The Filly from Philly!

The Filly from Philly!

I had floated the idea to Mr. P back in France, on a ski lift. “Maybe I should switch to Filly?” Little Boy was intrigued by the word, and when explaining it to him I joked lightly about “It means I’m a big fat lady.”

Obviously a joke, but Little Boy seemed to remember my wording.

Confession: I have an unhealthy relationship with whipped cream. I call it “whipped crack.” I cannot be in the same house with whipped cream without repeatedly emptying the contents into a ramekin and licking it off a spoon. I have begged Mr P. (who likes an occasional dollop on his ice cream or fruit) to stop buying it… but in response to always finding the whipped cream gone, he just buys more. Two, three cans a week.

So after dinner one night, I was fixing myself a ramekin of whipped cream when Little Boy wondered into the kitchen. He probably heard the telltale noise of the cream being dispensed.

“Mommy?” he said. “Maybe the reason you’re a Filly is because you eat so much cream.”

Little Boy said it, of course, in the most helpful, supportive way ever. Like it as an intervention. And he’s probably totally right. I cracked up.

I am glad I tried another road marathon, but honestly, these things are not for me. I am hankering to get back into the woods for some slow and steady ultra training.

Big thanks to Mr. P and Little Boy for coming to Hyannis with me. We had a blast in a salt-water swimming pool, watching some good cable TV, ate some delicious sashimi, and had an overall nice weekend.

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The Trees’ Beautiful Burdens

Yesterday’s snow hung around, on the trees. It was a day-long storm that yielded perhaps 3-5 inches… with much of it clinging to the trees. Our front yard at sunset:

Ten Minuts After the Snow Stopped...

Ten Minutes After the Snow Stopped…

Oh, it was gorgeous. It still is gorgeous, as the winds have not picked up and relieved the trees of their meteorological burden. This morning I headed to the Fells for a 2-hour long splurge of XC skiing. The conditions were incredibly slow due to the low-hanging trees that blocked the trail as well as the exposed rocks underneath (’cause all the snow was on the trees). Yet the sunrise that greeted me at Bellevue Pond at 6:45 am made my day complete.

Bellevue Pond, sunrise

Bellevue Pond, sunrise

During my XC ski, I finally managed to take a not-horrible trail selfie! Granted, I was not running and sweaty.

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Later this afternoon, I ventured out into the woods again with Mr. P and Little Boy. I was on my XC skis and they were romping and running around. We had a blast in the warm sunshine and beguilingly woods.

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This is winter. This is winter! Today, I remembered that I love winter, I love snow, and that last winter was just a freakish aberration that killed my enthusiasm for New England through the overabundance of snow and cold. Winter is good. Winter is fun. Winter is a time of loveliness and purity and contemplation.

 

 

 

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Hole Foods

I had my bi-annual tooth cleaning on Monday. I pride myself in my dental hygiene, so it went well. No surprises… unlike last appointment, when a close co-worker of mine was seated in the semi-private chair next to mine and I heard wayyyy too much talk about his plaque.

That was the most surprise I’ve had in a dental appointment since ten years ago, when a disingenuous dental practice adamantly tried to convince me I needed adult braces to fix a slight overbite of my right lower lateral incisor. Hey, okay, as Louis CK once noted… at some point in our lives we just stop trying to fix things. Since my livelihood is not dependent on the correct position of my right lower lateral incisor, and because I can still eat a gristly steak, I can likely ignore it until my demise.

This time, the stranger in the semi-private chair next to me was receiving his first dental care attention in over ten years. I wonder what goes through a dental hygienist’s mind when they hear that, and realize what horrors they are about to tend to. Jeez. Even six months feels too long for me. I LOVE the feeling of the metal pick in my gums, ferreting out all the debris. Such satisfaction, like vacuuming dust bunnies out from under a bed.

In Little Boy news, he brought home a paper about his community (below). He goes to “Buttler” school (actually Butler) and we shop at “Hole Foods.” Hmmm… interesting. I also loved his visual depiction about how we get around in our community (’cause I don’t think that’s the Jetta, and that’s surely not the Subaru).

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