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First Tracks

The first sticking snow of this winter came last Saturday, mid-morning. Sizable flakes precipitated at a leisurely pace, gradually coating the roads, but not quite managing to put the busy weekend day at a standstill. The snow accumulated to about 5 inches over the course of the afternoon and evening. Stunted snowmen were built.

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This early in the season, people are diligent about removing snow. I think some of us actually look forward to it. Our downstairs neighbors are notably fanatical; they had two (of their six! total!) snow blowers going simultaneously around our driveway and sidewalk for about an hour. For less than a half of a foot!

Despite our neighbors’ MUCH-appreciated snow removal efforts, over the course of the night the street plows came through, and so I ventured outside Sunday morning at 6am to find a small mountain of gray slushy street snow blocking our driveway. I had my XC skis in hand and I was intent on making “first tracks” on the local conservation lands, so I grabbed a shovel and set myself upon the removal of a sizable pile of gray soupy slush. Oooof, my weak old lady arms and upper body, frail from lack of upper-body disuse…

I headed to the trail head — about two miles away — in Mr. P’s freshly snow-cleaned Subaru. The world bloomed with fresh heavy snow clinging thickly and winsomely to every tree, house and fence. I drove with some caution through the streets, which were plowed but still messy. The sky was brightening and I was excited to start skiing at dawn. There was evidence of one other skier having beaten me to the trail, which can be fortuitous if the snow is difficult to break trail on… but this skier had a much wider ski stance than normal. Following in his or her tracks was downright uncomfortable.

Wider than typical piste

Wider than typical piste

I soon found out it was a her, as I passed a woman around my age doing loops around the meadow, slightly bow-legged. Her too-wide tracks disappeared when I crossed the bridge to enter the woods, where I had first tracks — except for the coyotes.

98% sure these are coyotes

98% sure these are coyote tracks

I was marveling in unblemished fresh snow. This is winter’s joy! This is why winter is worth the freezing cold bitter icy gloomy misery.

Nice sunrise over the meadow

Nice sunrise over the meadow

I’m a happy lady when I’m out there in fresh snow on the skinny skis. There was just enough powder to make for a pretty good romp, and part of the sweetness of it all is I could tell it wouldn’t last. Towards the end of my forest loop I passed a dog walker whose boots turned the powder into compressed disks of slush. A few more pedestrians would render the trail unpleasant for skiing, but by then I would be home, eating breakfast, with an inner glow lighting a path for the day.

Happy lady

Happy lady

 

 

 

 

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Turkey Waiting For a Bus

Lazy Sundays are nice. After enduring a hectic Saturday that caps off a non-stop full work week, the prospect of a day with few pressing commitments got me out of bed at 5am, so eager I was to begin a casually productive day.

I drank two cups of coffee and consumed more than a few spoonfuls of honey-twinged almond butter while watching last night’s lackluster SNL sketches on YouTube, and otherwise preparing myself to head into the 40-degree grayness of this early December morning. Originally, I planned to head to the town conservation lands to hit the trails, but lately I’ve been more inclined to head to the Charles River. I jogged east, up the hill leading out of my neighborhood, cresting at the construction-heavy Cushing Square, and then continued down the major thoroughfare towards Cambridge. As I floated down the hill past the ritzy Oakley Golf Club, I perceived this:

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It was a magnificent turkey tom, all by his lonesome, standing motionlessly in a bus stop shelter. He faced the oncoming traffic, as if patiently waiting to spot the approaching bus while ensconced from the cool gray wind.

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Aside from some cars speeding by, the turkey and I were alone on the street. He was so regal. It is not uncommon for me to see flocks of lady turkeys trotting around the streets in my town, but to spot a tom amid so much concrete was a first for me.

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The tom seemed non-phased by my presence, behaving, in fact, how I would expect most people would behave, if a woman jogging past their bus stop suddenly stopped and stared at them: He politely ignored me.

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Where I Run: Cambridge Reservoir Loops

My preferred weekday running routes can be typified by seasonality. This time of year, I’ll hit the Cambridge Reservoir loop 3-4 times a week, as compared to rare visits in spring and summer. The characteristics of Cambridge Reservoir match what I’m looking for when I head out of the house at 5am in October:

  • It’s about one mile from my home (When it’s dark, I like to stick close to home, in quiet, safe neighborhoods.)
  • It’s dirt trail (When it’s dark, I’ll generally avoid the local conservation lands; I am comfortable running in darkness but can get jumpy on trails when I’m alone. But I like dirt!)
  • It’s a short .4 mile loop (my running “season” is winding down and I don’t have to plan out longer routes)

The reservoir is located in my town and serves the adjacent town of Cambridge, MA. It’s a parcel of grassy land located on a hill, circled by a dense ring of upper-middle class homes that cost more than mine. The tanks of reservoir water are buried underground; around the perimeter, a tall black wrought iron fence keeps out most everything but the bunny rabbits. There is enough width for vehicles in between the iron fence and where the hill drops steeply into the street. So, naturally, the perimeter loop serves as a popular place for residents to walk their dogs and otherwise recreate.

The dirt perimeter around the reservoir

The dirt perimeter around the reservoir

This morning, I saw two people who I usually see at the Cambridge Reservoir. One is a trim, turban-wearing middle-aged man, who is sometimes accompanied by a dimunitive elderly man that I imagine to be his father. I’ve been seeing this man for at least three years. The other is a young man, tall and I’m almost certain Chinese, who wears headphones the size of pancakes. He is a slow but consistent jogger. This morning, he audibly farted right before I passed him. He actually really ripped one! I wasn’t sure if he had fully detected my presence behind him, so I sort of froze and contemplated turning around, yet inertia carried me past him, cringing.

The main reservoir facility

The main reservoir facility

What I appreciate most about the Cambridge Reservoir is that, when the weather is amenable, I witness the sunrise over Boston. And some mornings, it is spectacular. I may not get my dose of nature by heading into the woods, but to me, sunrises are concentrated hits of eco splendor. This humid morning, the layers of clouds burned the east a bright pink. It lasted for about 5 minutes before the pink that radiated from the horizon faded into stark whiteness.

I’ve come to a point in my life where I viscerally appreciate sunrises. Viscerally, in that I literally feel it in my gut. I feel a lifting of darkness when I look at a sunrise. I feel comfort when I think of all the humans before me who have witnessed a glorious sunrise, and all those after me who will witness a glorious sunrise. It is universal art, a universal experience, a universal metaphor for hope and love. I did not go to a church this Sunday morning, but I soaked in a sunrise.

 

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(Taking a classic fall at the) TARC Fall Classic 50K 2017

Five years ago, the TARC Fall Classic 50K was my second ultra ever (here for a vague blog post on the matter). I made a lot of newbie mistakes: I overdressed, I went out too fast and eventually bonked, I didn’t pay attention to the markings and made a wrong turn that resulted in 4 extra miles, and I had run the Chicago Marathon the weekend before. A more experienced ultrarunner with more miles in their legs could probably handle this volume, but the end result for me was an injury to my right quadricep tendon that persisted for about four months…

…but aside from those lessons learned, the memory that lingers is how when I finally finished after nearly 7 hours, the finish line was deserted except for two guys manning the timing and aid station. They congratulated me, filled up my water bottle, and commiserated about the extra miles. I later found out they were both insanely fast ultrarunners who could finish 50 milers in less time than it took me to finish the 50K. But I never got any sense that they thought any less of my accomplishment because I was slower than them. In fact, they sounded impressed that I kept going after the crushing setback of getting 4 bonus miles at mile 22. They admired my grit.

This was an obvious contrast to other athletic events I participated in, and to a reluctant jock like myself, it was immediately appealing. Despite the bad race and subsequent injury, I was hooked. I have since run more than 20 ultramarathons and a fair number of them have been TARC races. The courses themselves are nothing special, but I just love the vibe.

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I signed up for my third Fall Classic 50K about four weeks ago. My legs don’t have a ton of speed in them right now and my training ramp-up was rushed, but my overall fitness is good.  I wanted to go under 6 hours, with 5:30 being my dream and 5:45 being my goal.

During the 30 minute drive to Great Brook Farm at 5am, rain was coming down at a decent clip. The forecast promised more; I toyed with the idea of driving home like one would toy with the idea of buying a one-way ticket to Canada. I arrived with enough time to get my number, use the restroom, apply Glide, and stretch before the 6am start.

The first 5-6 miles were with headlamps. The pack spread out relatively early and I played it cool, with low effort and comfortable breath. (Yet again) I was amazed by the number of other 50K runners who were audibly breathing in the early miles. (That is one of the newbie mistakes I had made 5 years ago!)

Around mile 12, I made a newbie mistake of my own. After having deftly navigated a section of rocky uphill, I was cruising down a gentle downhill of relatively smooth trail. I relaxed my gaze on the ground when my left toe caught a small rock in a sparse patch of grass on the side of the trail.

In one second I went flying onto my stomach, my elbows and knees taking the brunt of the fall. I made an animal-like noise when I landed on the ground and the air was punched out of my torso: “UhhhhOhhhhggggggg.”

There was one man behind me. The noise I made was so primal that he sounded pained. “Are you okay?”

Amazingly, I was. The advantage of falling on a smooth bit of trail is that I didn’t land on any big rocks, just dirt and pebbles. My body scanned itself and didn’t detect anything particularly painful. “Uh, yeah, I’m okay,” I said as I got up. I immediately started running again.

A normal person would have stopped and assessed, but I was so mad at myself for falling I just wanted to keep going. I glanced down at my left knee and saw an alarming amount of blood trickling around the knee cap. My right knee wasn’t bloody but did seem to be bruised. My elbows burned and I saw each one bore some scratches.

I ran another 2 miles to the aid station, which had a pirate theme. “Arrr… arrrr…” the volunteers in eye patches said. I asked for some paper towels and pointed to my knee, which looked horrifically gory. But after we cleaned it off, it turned out to be just a really bloody scratch.

(I later found out that volunteering at the aid station was Joe McConaughy, a young man who just broke the speed record on the Appalachian Trail. He very well might have been the guy who helped me with my knee — it’s hard to tell, what with the eye patch and other pirate accoutrements.)

Falling really peeved me. But in a way, it kept my mind occupied and engaged with my body. The miles ticked by as I ran steadily on. I regularly scanned my body, checking in with each part: how are my quads? My calfs? The major concern was a progressive tightness in my left hamstring.

A surprising non-issue was the rain. Drizzle turned into rain, but only for about an hour, and then abetted.

In the final 5 miles, to motivate myself to finish, I manufactured drama between myself and the few 50K runners that I passed. Don’t let ’em catch up! They’re chasing you! I told myself in order to keep plugging away at a 10-11 minute mile pace.

But no one was chasing me. I finished in 5 hours, 37 minutes, 7th woman. It was in line with my expectations and I was relatively comfortable.

The next day, the sorest part of my body was by far my neck. Falling was like whiplash. It hurt to nod and shake my head, and it was near impossible to sit up from a prone position. My cuts turned out to be minor.

Yet, I’d be lying if I did not admit that falling made me consider if I should really be trail running at my age. What if my kneecap had slammed against a rock and shattered my patella? I’m old enough (40) that an injury that like would likely stick with me for the rest of my days. But on the other hand, I’m way too young to start talking like that. I’ve still got some grit left in me.

 

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Cruel Human Tricks

On Saturday’s taper long run of 10 miles, I ran to Weeks Pond, which is burrowed within my town’s sparse patchy network of conservation lands. To describe Weeks Pond, I’ll earnestly employ an overused idiom: It’s a hidden gem!

Weeks Pond and the adjoining meadow are a part of the popular local Audubon sanctuary, but few people know about it; to access the trails, one must walk down the road from the main entrance and take a sharp left onto an obscured, little-used road. It took me a few years to discover the trailhead, which has tiny signage, no parking, and appears to be just another grand backyard in a neighborhood of grand homes.

In the middle of a lush (by New England standards) 1-2 acre of forest, there is Weeks Pond — small, man-made, with a thick cover of pale green algae. Putting aside the distant drone of cars and trucks from the Boston metro highways, it is the only outdoor space in my town that allows for content solitude. I tend to visit to Weeks Pond on recovery runs, when I want to stop, walk, and meditate.

There are ducks. One gem-like quality of Weeks Pond: the rich guy who built it (i.e., Weeks) intentionally included an island so that ducks would have a safe place from the local coyotes.

Weeks Pond

Weeks Pond

I like watching the ducks swim through the algae. It is one of those oddly satisfying things. To lure the ducks to make tracks over to me, I tossed a small wood chip into the pond.

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Here they come

Of course, the ducks quickly discover that this is not one of the local elderly gentlepeople coming to feed them stale anadama bread. It is a deceitful human with no food. I feel bad for undermining their trust. But watching their paths through the algae-covered pond is still pleasing, and I vow to return some day soon with hot dog buns. At least I am not a coyote.

 

 

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Metaphor

In the past week, I can recollect using running-based metaphors to make figurative comparisons to project management, driving, elementary science and math education, and life/aging. (That last one was just in my head, as I jogged half-lost on an unfamilar side trail in local conservation lands: “Life is like an 18-mile trail run. Early on, it’s okay to be lost, with no clear direction, because you have lots of miles left to find your way. But getting lost late in the run can be defeating; you are tired, maybe a bit broken, and all you want to do is find comfort and surety in knowing where you are and what lies ahead.”)

Here’s another one: The habit of blogging is like the habit of running. Life gets busy and you stop blogging for a few days. Those days turn into months, and you’ll think about blogging, but dismiss it in favor of another activity, because you forget what you like about blogging and only remember the exquisitely painful aspects of blogging.

The trick to restarting blogging is to start slowly. Don’t hammer out posts at top speed for hours at a time; don’t expect to glide and dance over syntax and vocabulary; listen to your body and your mind, and remember the most important thing is to get out of the door.

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My last blog post was near the start of summer, which just yesterday slipped through my fingers with start of  the Autumn equinox. We had a few adventures, but never enough adventures.

Below is the picture that LB used to sum up his summer vacation to his 4th grade class. They use this horrible one-star app to share the photos. It took us about 90 minutes to figure out how to upload the photo (with a caption) to the particular folder where they were supposed to post their summer stories. Delete, upload, delete, upload…. LB typed in the caption about a dozen times. Four days later, I still remember it: “Hiking in France with my family. We saw lots of cows and cow poop. We climbed Mountain Saint Jack and Pierra Menta. We also ate a lot of cheese!”

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Vegan Power 50K, 2017

I signed up for the Vegan Power 50K six days before the race, which in the world of ultramarathons is a relative “spur of the moment” decision. But my training in the last few months — a mix of 8-16 mile trail runs, punctuated by weekly 4-5 hour hikes with focused elevation gain — could support a 50K, and I was fretting about not having run an ultra since last December. The best way to prepare for running long distances, is running long distances!

Mr. P ran the Vegan Power 50K a few years back and gave it a positive endorsement… mostly because after the race, he was served the best smoothie he has ever had in his life. It was vegan, of course. Aside from the course’s rolling hills, that’s all he remembers. (Sadly, no smoothies this year.)

I came to understand that this race is affiliated with a vegan distance running team “Strong Hearts Vegan Power.” They do Ragnar relays with A/B/C/D teams (and the A team apparently does very well, usually placing in the top 5 teams) and all the runners wear cool sexy black shirts with white lettering, like this:

Strong Hearts Vegan Power

Strong Hearts Vegan Power

Had I known the extent of the vegan connection to this race, I might have thought twice about entering. The website said that the race was open to everyone, but it was hard not to feel like an outsider intruding on an event for a very niche community (even though the race director and volunteers were extremely polite). Adding to this feeling is the fact that, though I was a vegetarian for about 10 years, I now eat a mainly paleo diet and rely on animals for the bulk of my calories.  Shhhhh… but my health has never been better. I do try to be an ethical carnivore and avoid products coming from factory farms, which are abhorrent. We have a meat share with a local farmer and will pay a premium to purchase eggs and cheese that come from small farms. I don’t think that would win me any accolades from this crowd, but it makes me feel better about “crashing” the race.

I drove about 2.5 hours to Pittsfield State forest — basically crossing the entire state of Massachusetts — to arrive about 25 minutes before the 7am start for the 50K. It was cloudy, about 70 degrees with palpable humidity that increased during the day. Course conditions were wet due to heavy rain the previous day, but the heavily-eroded trails bore little mud; in fact, the main issue was extensive and slick tree roots.

When I picked up my race shirt, the nice volunteer asked me what size. “Medium?” I guessed. She said “Yes, I’d say medium’s right, because you’re very long, and not so slim and trim.”

I took the shirt, speechless. I can only surmise that since she herself was rather rotund, she is into body acceptance. (Purely an observation, but I’d say my body type — muscular — was different from the vegans I saw. They were mostly either rail-thin or chubby.) By the way, the medium is way too big.

The race consisted of 6 loops of 5-miles each. My plan from the beginning was to run the first two loops very conservatively; the next two loops with more effort; and then the last two loops with whatever I had left. And I followed that plan.

The first loop I was in a “train” of runners, following three women (none of who were wearing the black vegan shirts) moving at about 11 minute mile pace. Although the course was very runnable, it wasn’t particularly a fast course due to the afore-mentioned rolling hills and roots. My breath remained steady and I had that “I could do this all day” feeling. During the second loop I was still in the train of mostly the same people.

The third loop, I pushed the pace a bit. So did one of the girls, who was running well. I followed her for about a mile and then she slipped badly on some roots. She assured me she was fine and she got up quickly, but after that I didn’t see her.

I happened to finish the third loop right when the 25K race was starting. That was a bummer, as not only did I completely disrupt the race start, I was looking forward to running a bit by myself. Running over semi-technical trails surrounded by people can be depleting; it’s harder to see the obstacles further ahead of you, and it’s distracting to have footfalls behind you.

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Me in the green shirt, starting loop 4 during the 25K race start

So at the start of the fourth loop, I was back in a crowd. I quickly worked my way past the slowest 25K runners and, as I did, I “picked up” two women in the black vegan shirts who apparently decided to use me as a pacer. They were right on my heels and declined several offers to move ahead of me.

But, they didn’t talk to me. They talked to each other. “So how long have you been vegan?” (Both about 6 years.) “And how long have you been running?” (Both under a year. Neither had ever run a trail race.) Despite their ragged breath, they followed me the whole loop. I like to think I taught them something about trail running etiquette. When we passed slower runners, I called out brightly “Nice job, keep it up!” By the end of the loop, they began calling out similar things. (I later passed one of them right before I finished and she greeted me like an old acquaintance).

So I did the majority of the 5th and 6th loops alone. By then, my major issue was nausea.  I was so good about eating for the first 10 miles, but I wouldn’t be able to eat anything past mile 17. My legs felt great and my energy was surprisingly good, so it was a bummer to have to take walking breaks to temporarily abet the nausea.

The last loop was a grind. I had no clue about my place but was determined to finish in around 6 hours. I chatted to runners as I passed them — many were walking — and tried to smile through the urge to puke. When I crossed the finish in 6 hours, 1 minute, I was told I was third female in the 50K and would get a trophy.

Award Ceremony -- 3rd Female, 50K

Award Ceremony — 3rd Female, 50K

The trophy has a sheep on it, which I think is hilarious and cool. (All the trophies had animals).

I was still unable to really eat but I choked down some tortilla chips. On the long drive home, I drank whey protein shakes. My appetite finally came back for dinner, which was a wonderful grilled salmon with fennel.

Next race, I’ll be back in Western Mass. for a 24-hour run (which I’m planning to walk 80%).

 

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Lordy, Lordy, Look Who’s Forty

In a little more than a week, I’ll be 40 years old. Generally, I have not been feeling dramatic about this milestone. My tendency to stew in cringey, birthday-induced self-reflection has abetted as the years have gone by… probably because I now indulge in bouts of introspection constantly: When I’m running, when I’m commuting, when I’m walking to pick up Little Boy from school, when I’m digging out weeds from the rose beds, when I’m standing in the kitchen at work waiting for the single-serve coffee to brew.

Aspects of my life exhaust and deplete me, yet these moments of meditation rouse me to the conclusion that: “I am fortunate.” Even on less optimistic days, I can still muster an assertion that: “It could be much worse.”

The local trails I get to run on, resplendently green this wet spring

The local trails I get to run on, resplendently green this wet spring

I have now lived in New England more than half my life. There is a joke told in New England, about New Englanders, usually to New Englanders: When it’s a nice Spring day, New Englanders will say: “Well, we waited long enough.” When it’s a nice Fall day, New Englanders will say “Not too many more of these left!” And it’s totally true — both the people and the weather.

I have been counting the number of “nice weather days” that Boston metro has had so far this year. My measure of a “nice weather day” is purposely objective: It must be 65-75 degrees, partly to fully sunny, nothing more than a breeze, zero humid, and nothing falling out of the sky. I’m excluding subjectively nice weather days, which are the New England days that feel good only because it’s been crappy, cold and sunless for the previous days on end. We have many of those. But we have only had two (2) objectively nice weather days in 2017. Both days were in the previous week.

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Early Spring Raindrops falling in the meadows

In terms of subjectively nice weather days… it’s Day 140 of 2017, and I will estimate that we have had 130 days of subjectively nice weather. Unless there’s massive amounts of wind-driven precipation coming down, I will go outside and “enjoy” the weather, no matter how objectively crappy it is. I will even drag my family along.

Mother's Day "Anything Mom Wants to Do Hike" in chilly 45-degree steady rain

Mother’s Day “Anything Mom Wants to Do Hike” in chilly 45-degree steady rain

I am turning forty, and the cat has turned 4. According to Purina’s cat age calculator, this makes him 32 years old. And he’s still got this thing with the boxes. He will overtake me in age in 3 years, when I turn 43 and he turns 44.

Cat in Box in Box

Cat in Box in Box

Little Boy is turning 9 next month. There is not a day that goes by that I am not in awe of him.

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Post soccer game, with our dogwood tree in blossom

I don’t have a lot of life advice that I can generalize for other people. For me, running long distances in the woods is beneficial. May is a wonderful time of year to do that. By 5am, full dawn is being heralded by the songbirds. The trails are empty and I can start my day knowing that, no matter how many meetings at work I have, no matter how many deadlines I am facing, no matter how much I stress over all the little details, that I have at least had these precious moments, gliding past the trees and paying homage to the strength within myself.

Early Spring on the Western Greenway

Early Spring on the Western Greenway

Today I ran a trail race called the Big Bear 30K. There was a 50K option too, but I opted for the 30K just to preserve my legs through the next big training block. It was a small race in Taunton, MA on idyllic and relatively smooth, flat trails. I told Mr. P that I wasn’t going to race, but after the first 10K loop, I assessed the labored breathing of the ladies around me and decided to take off. I didn’t know if there were any women ahead of me, but I felt confident no female behind me would be able to catch up. The last 3 miles were a bit tough — luckily, I have fresh memories of much tougher ordeals, like the Glass City Marathon. I finished in 2 hours 56 minutes and got a wooden medal (what a contradiction) for being the First Girl. I got to stand on a podium and smile at applauding strangers.

Wooden Medal

Wooden Medal

Last March, I decided to do an Ancestry.com DNA test. I think the desire came from a thought I had during one of those long runs training for the Glass City Marathon along the Charles River. I wanted to find out for once and for all how “Irish” I am. It sounds ridiculous but since the Boston area is a bit of an enclave for the Irish, and having Irish heritage is a point of pride, and I love traveling in Ireland, I wanted to know for sure if I was genetically able to feel Irish.

It turns out, according to the saliva DNA test, I am a wee bit Irish. I’m mostly classic Anglo-Saxon mutt. The most interesting thing about the results was the “genetic community,” which correctly identified my American ancestors as Pennsylvanians. I already knew that, but seeing it borne out by my spit was pretty cool.

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Finally, to wrap up… here is the cat during last weeks’s bizarre 95-degree heat wave. Because I said at the start of this post that turning 40 is not big deal, so ending the post with a screenshot of my DNA results just seemed to contradict that.

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The 2017 Glass City Marathon

We went to Toledo, Ohio for one reason: So I could race the Glass City Marathon and have another shot at qualifying for the Boston Marathon (this time, by enough of a margin that I can actually run it). Two previous failed attempts had turned the whole endeavor into a thing of urgency, so this time I choose my qualifying marathon very carefully (with Mr. P’s tutelage). In addition to finding a course with relative flatness (unlike hilly San Diego) and usually great weather (unlike windy/freezing Hyannis), other considerations included the exact weekend (Glass City is the weekend after Mr P would be doing the Boston Marathon, plus it was during the tail end of Little Boy’s Spring Break so we could take an extra day for traveling) and the location (we’d never go to Toledo without a specific reason, but there was enough diversion to make it interesting).

Friday

We left Boston early Friday morning and landed in Detroit around 9am. When we originally planned the trip, we vaguely talked about visiting on the Great Lakes and doing some walking, but the weather around the entire region was in the 50s and overcast/windy, so we headed to Ann Arbor to spend the day before going to Toledo.

In Ann Arbor, we visited the Hands-On Museum, a fantastic kid’s science museum. I worried that it might be too babyish for Little Boy, but after the initial tentativeness he was all about the Hands-On Museum (as was Mr. P, a perennial geek).

Hands On Museum, Water Works

Hands On Museum, Water Works

Hands On Museum, giving the weather

Hands On Museum, giving the weather

Hands On Museum -- dancing in the media room

Hands On Museum — dancing in the media room

After the museum, we headed into the streets of Ann Arbor to find some lunch and serendipitously happened upon an Ethiopian restaurant. How could we not go in? The Ethiopian food was pretty good (although the experience did not feel as “authentic” as the restaurants in Boston.) We stuffed ourselves and then resolved to go walking in the nearby Nichols Arboretum, a little bit of urban nature near the Univ. of Michigan campus with surprising stout hills.

Blossoms in Nichols Arboretum

Blossoms in Nichols Arboretum

After an hour of unseasonably cold walking, we drove 45 minutes to our hotel in Toledo. While Little Boy and I relaxed, Mr. P headed out to find some beer. I didn’t ask him to buy any wine, but he bought me a bottle anyway:

No, but what do you really think of me?

No, but what do you really think of me?

(He claimed it was one of the few bottles over $8 that did not require a corkscrew).

We finished the day at the Maumee Bay Brew Pub, where we discovered that Chicago-style pizza with egregiously thick crust is in fact a regional thing.

Saturday

I slept to 7am, which is rare. Like, twice-a-year rare.

We headed to the race expo to pick up my bib and to gently pressure Little Boy to partake in the Kid’s race. Distance choices for the kid’s race were 1/4 mile, 1/2 mile, or 1 mile. We wavered between the latter two before reasoning that he regularly raced 2 miles in XC last fall and could handle one mile, no matter how hard he complained.

The University of Toledo football team came to help the kids warm-up with totally ineffective and possibly damaging static stretching before the run (but at least it was cute).

Before the kid's race

Before the kid’s race

After the 1/4 mile race and the 1/2 mile race took place around the track, we walked a small distance for the start of the 1 mile race, which was around the campus. There were plenty of big kids and the start was chaotic, with at least three kids falling and getting partially trampled.

Still, Little Boy managed to come in the top ten (out of about 70? 80 kids?) He came into the track next to a Univ. of Toledo football player (who after came over to us to give Little Boy a fist bump and told me that Little Boy was pacing him!)

Smooth finish!

Smooth finish!

Smooth and steady

Smooth and steady with a strong finish

After the race and the expo, we headed to a pizza place for lunch (although only Little Boy had a pizza).

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And then we headed to the Toledo Museum of Art, which is apparently so internationally renown that we would have been negligent not to have visited it while in Toledo. Even better: Free Admission, as museums should be.

The Toledo Museum of Art featured an exhibition by Kehinde Wiley, an African-American artist who creates vivid portraits of black people in classical art scenes.

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The Toledo Art Museum had a photo booth that allowed us to pose on a Kehinde Wiley background.

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We then headed over to the Glass Pavillon to learn why Toledo is nicknamed the “Glass City.” Actually, we didn’t specifically learn that (I believe they just manufactured a lot of glass), but we did get a demonstration on how to blow glass and then toured the collection.

Looks like my recycling bin, ha (no really it doesn't)

Looks like my recycling bin, ha (no really it doesn’t)

By then, I really needed to chill out for my marathon the next day so we headed back to the hotel and I propped my feet up for the evening.

Sunday

I slept surprisingly well and woke up about 10 minutes before my 5AM alarm. I tip-toed into the bathroom to fuel myself with coffee and Honey Stinger waffles while doing the usual pre-race prep: Changing, applying glide, fixing my hair, etc.  Although I was fully prepared to walk the 2 miles to the starting line, Mr. P and Little Boy roused themselves to drive me. It was perfectly cold — 40 degrees. I could not fault the weather at all, because it would be ideal (if not a wee bit hot and sunny at the end).

The week leading up to the marathon, I fretted over my goal time and pacing. I officially need 3:45 to qualify for Boston, but to safely make the cut-off, I realistically need 3:42. My PR is 3:39 (in San Diego), but that was a hilly and warm course, so I was tempted to follow the 3:35 pace group. The smart time to aim for was 3:40, and I told Mr. P that’s what I would do, but of course within one minute of the start I found myself following the 3:35 pacer (unfortunately there was no 3:40 or 3:45 pacer). It was a large pace group composed mainly of younger women and older men who need 3:35 to BQ. We were hitting 8-minute miles consistently; obviously the pacer was trying to “bank” time, a strategy that rarely works but is soooo tempting to follow.

The race course was nice enough, with long stretches through well-to-do neighborhoods and paved trails in parks. It did not inspire me as much as some of the big city marathons I have run, but I appreciated the crowd support. I kept the 3:35 pace group within sight until about mile 16. Although I felt fine, I could tell my body would not be able to sustain another 10 miles, so I decided to fall to an 8:15 pace. Nausea started kicking in and my calf were slightly cramping. There were already people walking. I hit mile 20 (seeing Mr. P and Little Boy!) and did some quick math in my head: I could drop to a 9-minute mile and still go under 3:40. This seemed a much wiser choice than trying to sustain 8:15 and exploding.

Even a 9-minute mile took a tremendous amount of effort. By mile 22, my body was willing me to stop. The sun was starting to get hot and I knew I was dehydrated and bonking from lack of calories. I kept thinking about Mr. P and Little Boy, who came to Toledo with me to see me succeed. I kept thinking about how I just needed to qualify for Boston and get this over with. Then, I told myself to stop thinking and just do it.

The race ended in the University of Toledo stadium at the 50 yard line. Oh how I struggled through the last 1.2 miles, just willing for it to be over. As I approached the football field, I could see the clock at 3:39:30, and I managed a good pace to cross under 3:40 (my final official time was 3:39:19, owing to the gun differential — a 20 second PR).

I was a bit of a mess after finishing. I just wanted to sit down but Mr. P forced me to walk over to the food tent to get a plate (which I couldn’t eat) and then the beer tent (I was going to give Mr. P my beer but I got two free beers, so I decided why not).

So my odyssey to qualify for Boston is over, and I can now safely consider myself an entrant for Boston Marathon 2018. I think Boston may be my last road marathon; these events are grueling and not particularly enjoyable to me. There is a big difference between running 26.2 miles on concrete and running an ultra on a trail in the woods.

Mile 20ish?

Mile 20ish?

On our way to Detroit, we stopped at a pier to visit Lake Erie. We walked a little (slowly) and enjoyed the tail end of our journey.

Walking along the shore of Lake Erie

Walking along the shore of Lake Erie

 

 

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Easter Egg Bonanza

What if your blue is my green?

What if your blue is my green?

Looking rather rabbit-like

The cat looks rather rabbit-like

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