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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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Jeb! and Bode

The stars aligned for a skiing weekend in New Hampshire. After completing our respective weekly long runs on Saturday morning (me with a killer 20-mile progressive run that would seem to indicate I am theoretically capable of qualifying for Boston at the Hyannis marathon in four weeks; Mr. P with an “easy” 12 miler), we left Saturday afternoon. We arrived at our hotel in time for a quick dip in the pool followed by dinner in Littleton, NH… which is of course a political epicenter these days. Evidenced by:

Jeb! Jeb! Jeb!

Jeb! Jeb! Jeb!

“What’s Jeb!?” Little Boys asked, inflecting the word with the enthusiasm or perhaps surprise required by the exclamation mark (as a dutiful second grader would).

Excellent question. What is Jeb!? Since it never occurred to Little Boy that it might be a person’s name (for such a strange name it is, and anyway where we come from people don’t advertise themselves in storefronts), I was tempted to tell him it was a type of soda, because looking at the signs, the first thing that came to my mind was soda!

After a nice relaxing night, we woke up Sunday morning, attacked the breakfast buffet, and then headed out to Cannon Mountain. With its relatively steep (for New England) terrain, Cannon has a reputation as being an “expert” mountain. This could also be attributed to the skiing prowess I observed by people of all ages and genders throughout the course of the day. I’m a competent but slow skier, yet it’s pretty rare that I’m the slowest skier on the whole damn mountain.

For the White Mountains in January, it was a warm but cloudy 30 degrees. Little Boy had a blast. As usual, he complained and moaned about not wanting to go all the time until we got on the ski lift for the first run. Then it was (mostly) all smiles.

I think his eyes are closed but it doesn't matter

I think his eyes are closed but it doesn’t matter

I look like a giant

I look like a giant

Chillin' on the ski lift

Chillin’ on the ski lift

We skied for about four hours, with some lunch in between. By the last run, my quads were burning; the soft (manmade snow) plus the steep slopes made my first ski of the season quite a little workout.

Before hitting the highway back home, we stopped for gas and I bought a six-pack of Tuckerman’s, a local New Hampshire brewery, the Bode Miller edition (in honor of our day at Cannon Mountain, Bode Miller ‘s home mountain and the home mountain of scores of aspiring Bodes.)

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Sunday Snow Play

Here in Boston Metro, we received about 2 inches of substantial powder from the winter storm that otherwise ravaged the East Coast. And while I feel bad for the mid-Atlantic folk who lack the infrastructure to deal with the heavy snowfall that they received… I don’t feel too bad. Because last winter we got three storms just like this one within two and a half weeks, and no melting in between. It was snow hell.

But I could have used a few more inches for my morning XC ski frolic, to cover the rocks that caught my skis on the downhills. Still, overall, unbeatable conditions! I went for 6 miles and rejoiced in every minute.

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Following the tracks of my fellow unknown XC skiers

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Long skinny shadow, long skinny skiis

The day was sunny and warm. In the afternoon Little Boy and I had a great time sledding and otherwise acting silly at the playground.

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Burying Little Boy in the Snow

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Making Mini Snow Caves

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Little Boy posing proudly with his three snow caves

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And then I ate everything

If I had a blog that was a strict “training log” blog, that would probably be a good name for it.

Today was one of those eating days. It was also the first substantial (2-3 inches) snow of the season. So the day started with a slow 5-mile recovery jog on Yaktrax on the streets. After having logged almost 30 miles this past weekend, this nothing run ignited a serious craving for calories. Yet since I planned to go XC-skiing in a few hours, I had to restrain myself to a 2-egg omelet with some ham and cheese.

I had the MLK Jr. holiday off and can tend to Little Boy; Mr. P agreed to go late to work (having worked most of the weekend) so I could enjoy an hour in the woods on the skinny skis. A few more inches of the fluffy white stuff would have greatly improved the conditions; in many sections, the rocks consistently scraped the bottom of my skis. But it was great to get outside.

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When I returned home at 9:30am, I peeked at the weather forecast and saw that arctic temperatures and frigid winds would kick up after noon. So I quickly whisked Little Boy to the local sledding hill before it would get unbearable. The timing was good. There was still snow on the hill and plus one of Little Boy’s friends showed up soon after, so they romped around for about 80 minutes. I should have taken a picture, but I was a little disgusted by how all the parents were standing at the bottom of the hill with their phones, yelling at their offspring to “Look up! Move your hood up! Smile!” as the children descended the hill.

By then it was 11:30. I was starving, but equally interested in taking a nice long hot Epson salt bath. Ahhhh.

And THEN I ate everything.

 

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Bring me my chariot of fire!

Despite all my nattering about running, the majority of my lifespan has been spent engaging in sedentary activities like reading, writing, eating Doritos for breakfast (a college habit), slaving over a computer in a cubicle, and smoking (the ultimate anti-running pastime). I began running over 14 years ago, because I had reached the clinical definition of overweight at 165 pounds. I immediately strived for “more distance” over “faster” because to run even 3 miles, at whatever pace, was an accomplishment .

The distances got longer and the weight disappeared. In 2011, I ran my first road marathon (Philadelphia). I finished in four hours and 18 minutes, with legs so sore I could barely walk back to the car. I was hobbled for a week after. But I achieved the distance, I didn’t give two sh*ts about my time, and I wanted more. Having also gotten into trail running around this time, I read about ultra races and my mind just marveled: Normal people like me, running for 50 miles or more!

So I trained and raced ultras, which requires running slow for long periods of time. In ultras, I race in the mid-pack. But I noticed something: when I race short distances on the road (5K, 10K) I am pretty fast, despite not doing speed work in my training. It turns out that my ultra training (heavy, slow mileage with lots of hills) also makes me fast. When I add in a few days of actual speed work, I get even faster.

The only other road marathon I ever did was Chicago in 2012. I finished even slower than Philly (4 hours, 20 minutes) but that’s because I ran the first 15 miles with my college housemate Tim, who is a “bucket list” kind of marathoner and wanted to maintain 11-minute miles. At mile 15 I took off (at his insistence) and ran a negative split. It was fantastic experience, mostly because Tim and I spent those 15 miles talking a lot about the new kid’s series he was in the process of creating, which turned out to be the wildly successful Odd Squad.

Anyway, my road marathon PR is 4:18. And that has to change. Given my road half marathon PR is 1:42, I know that I can do significantly under 4 hours… maybe even a Boston Qualifier (which is 3:40, though I would need to have a 3:37 for a legitimate chance at winning entry). So I signed up for the Hyannis Marathon at the end of February, which give me 7 weeks to do tempo runs on the bicycle path whilst pining for the woods.

When I signed up for Hyannis, I had to pick a division. Choices: “Open Women” or “Filly Women.” A “filly,” apparently, weighs 140 pounds or more (incidentally, most other races put the “filly” or “Athena” women at 150 pounds or more). As I mentioned last week, my winter weight is currently hovering right around 140 pounds at the moment. So I am categorically a female horse! (Incidentally the Clydesdale division, for men, starts at 190 pounds. Which seems a little more strict.)

It’s probably true that a 140 pound woman like myself cannot compete with the short, slim women who generally win road marathons. And looking at the times of women who won the Filly division in the past… I would have a legitimate shot at making the Filly podium.

If I HAD registered as such. I didn’t though. Mostly because I really hope to be several pounds under 140 by the time of the race, but also because I don’t believe my weight is a disadvantage. I will beat plenty of women who weigh less than me.

Allow me to allow you to take a mental gander at my legs: Thick, almost obscene calf muscles, with body-builder-like veins feeding through them. Rock-hard thighs and hips. A butt that defies the gravity tugging at this nearly 40-year old body. These muscles are not a disadvantage. In trail running, these are the physical rewards I reap.

What is a filly, anyway? A female horse, so young they do not allow her to race. Would I really demoralize myself to register in a race as such?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!

 

 

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Artists Don’t Live in Vacuums

Instead of taking the time to compose a thoughtful and more lengthy blog post (in the spirit of my resolution), I consciously choose to use those precious minutes of my day… to vacuum! Ha-ha — vacuum the floors of my condo! for no real pressing reason other than the hunching instinct that it would make me feel better than if I were to sit down and exercise my creativity.

What have I become?

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Cartooning

Since last Spring’s vacation camp at the Arsenal Arts center, most of our at-home art activities revolve around cartooning. Thru my endeavors to create cartoons alongside Little Boy (since he needs a partner in crime for everything), I now appreciate the creativity required to produce a truly amusing cartoon.

From a second grader’s perspective, cartooning is rather sophisticated, as it combines drawing, writing, and story-telling. I swear I see Little Boy’s skull pulse every time we sit down to cartoon.

Most if not all of our cartoons revolve around our cat, under the totally outlandish premise that our goofy cat is, in fact, a “Super Cat.”

Here are today’s creations. First, Little Boy’s:

Super Cat vs, Tiger, by Little Boy

Super Cat vs, Tiger, by Little Boy

And here is mine. It’s pretty savage, but until I begin to master this extrinsic art, I consistently resort to primordial themes of violence.

Super Cat versus Snow Man

Super Cat versus Snow Man

 

 

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Crunchy Run thru Snow and Ice

In regards to yesterday’s ambiguous resolution to “blog more,” I should have set up a guideline: Try not to always write trite blog posts about running, buffeted by selfies taken in the woods. But, I didn’t offer any such caveat, so I can blog with wild abandon about today’s 11-mile trail run.

I had planned to leave the house at 7am but Little Boy was awake at 6:15am. I made him go to bed at 8:30pm last night because it was my turn to read the story and I was exhausted due to several nights of poor sleep this week. Mr. P was still sleeping and I have a hard time saying good-bye to Little Boy when he’s all by himself, so I didn’t actually get outside until 7:20am. It was 30 degrees. I had my lightweight Inov-8 backpack with some water, a pair of Yak Trax, and my phone. I felt good and ran easy on the sidewalks to the trailhead.

I entered the woods at Lone Tree Hill with the goal of capturing a course record on a particular Strava segment. This segment is about 1 mile, with 250 feet of elevation gain. I scoped out the women’s course record and felt that even with the ice and snow, I could still beat it. But I took a wrong turn up the hill and then lamented the hard effort for “nothing” (except for my personal betterment and fitness). When I got home and synced my watch with Strava, it turns out my wrong turn took me to a different Strava segment and I somehow got the course record for that, despite tiptoeing around sheets of ice and frozen mud. Strava link.

The trail got progressively worse in Beaver Brook and I stopped to don Yak Trax. I frequently walked, but even when I could run it wasn’t very fast. My heart rate remained low but I feel like dealing with difficult terrain is excellent training.

I returned home ravenous for eggs. One recurring source of annoyance for me is the discrepancy between the “calories burned” reported on Strava versus Movescount, which is the website for my Suunto watch. According to Strava, I burned 1,447 calories; Movescount says I burned 831. That’s a difference of two glasses of wine! Of course, I choose to believe Strava.

Winsome winter meadow

Winsome winter meadow

 

A better section of trail

A better section of trail

 

Obligatory Selfie

Obligatory Selfie

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Thoughts on the New Year, 2016

Last Tuesday morning, pre-dawn, I peered out the window at the solid blanket of rain-soaked snow that had fallen overnight. We had returned from our Holiday travels a day early due to the forecast of wintry weather and slippery highways, so I know it was coming. But I still had a visceral reaction, an emotional kick in the stomach, a Pavlovian reaction of profound despair and dread of the New England winter to come. This was compounded later in the morning as I struggled to remove the wretchedly heavy slush from the sidewalk and driveway. Mr. P broke his right pinky finger during our Holiday, which means I’m on the hook for a lot more domestic duties, like shoveling textbook New England “heart attack snow”. Since he can’t fit a glove or mitten over his splint, this also effectively means he can’t spend prolonged periods of time outside for the next 4-6 weeks. Just in time for snow season!

At least Little Boy experienced profound child-like joy in making a snowman as freezing rain slowly soaked us. It was hard to believe that, only four days before, Mr. P and I were sweating through a steamy humid tempo run in Pennsylvania. With none of our fingers broken.

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The snow has since half-melted, with just enough pockets of ice lingering to make a below-freezing morning run rather treacherous. Conditions on the trails are not much better. This is what I’ve been waiting for: the off-season, treadmill season, focus on pure speed and not elevation, hills, endurance, and terrain. Yet, the timing is a little daunting, as today I “won” entry in the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 miler in July. This is my big goal race for the year (if I hadn’t won the lottery, I would have signed up for the Vermont 100 again). The TRT 100 is a relatively tough 100-miler that will require a lot of fast-hiking practice. Though the race is 7 months out, I’m already feeling a bit frenzied in my need to train for it. Couple this frenzy with the obligatory “New Year’s” focus on self-betterment, and I’m feeling pretty anti-snow this year.

I actually had already half-entered my off-season in November. In fact, I weighed myself on our digital scale around Thanksgiving and saw, to my horror, 145 pounds! About 12 pounds heavier than I weighed in the summer. I told myself that some of it was muscle (I was swimming and weight lifting, and contrary to what they say about women not easily gaining muscle mass, I bulk up instantaneously) but I knew most of the weight was my almond-butter-from-the-jar habit and beers-after-work habit coupled with decreased mileage and general lower levels of activity (i.e., not walking to Little Boy’s school for afternoon pick-up, not spending hours romping around the playground, etc). So I gave up the almond butter habit and cut down on beer. I am already down to 140 pounds, which is a pretty good off-season weight. Besides, most of it is muscle 😉

So I don’t need to make resolutions about running, exercise, eating or weight, because those are things that I am motivated do anyway. There are two things, however, that I used to “naturally” be motivated to do that I no longer do… and that’s reading and writing. The luxury of being able to sit down with a book — a bonafide book, made from paper — had alluded me for the past, oh, five years. Also eroded is my ability to consistently write and blog. A lot of factors have contributed to this: the joys of parenting and domestic servitude, slowly grinding my way through Grad school to get my Masters, an exponential increase in responsibilities at work, and, of course, ultra running. But it is up to me to combat it. I have made no specific measurements of success around this resolution. I could say “Blog twice a week” or “finish a book every month,” but I don’t think that’s a valid way to make something become, once again, natural. And if I have to choose between spending time with Little Boy or writing a blog post, well, it’s obvious what I will choose. But I can certainly commit to maximizing my time in other areas so I can make incremental steps towards more writing and more reading.

So here’s to a more verbose 2016!

 

 

 

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