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Quote of the Day: Ultrarunning

When people find out I’m an ultrarunner, they typically do one of two things:

#1. Seem politely disinterested in a way that I assume that, to them, ultrarunning is such a bizarre, foreign concept that they don’t even want to try and comprehend it and would prefer to drop the subject. Sort of what I do when someone says they are really into country music.

#2. Show varying amounts of incredulous interest: “How is it possible for anyone could run that long? How do you train for that? How do you eat? How do you sleep? How do your legs/feet not hurt?”

They ask me the “hows,” but very rarely the “why.”

Which is good, because I can’t even really justify why I love running long distances to myself.

  • “Oh, you get to run in beautiful remote places…” Well, you can hike in the beautiful places. And honestly, running is a bad way to relish in scenery since you have to keep your eyes down.
  • “I love challenges.” Honestly, I don’t really love it. At my last ultra (The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 miler in December 2016), I spent the last 20 miles just praying for it to end. It was brutal. But it was the second time I did that race, and I very well may do it again someday.
  • “The people in the ultra community are great.” Yeah, they are, but for me that’s more of a bonus, not necessarily something that’s keeping me there.
  • “I can eat whatever I want!” I can probably eat more than the typical person and avoid weight gain, but I don’t “eat whatever I want.” I actually seem to have to eat less than other people just to maintain my weight.
  • “I get such a sense of accomplishment after finishing an ultra.” So this is true. But, what’s to stop me from getting a sense of accomplishment after a 5K PR? Or even from some decidedly less selfish pursuit, like volunteering?

It’s not just that I can’t articulate why I like ultrarunning… I honestly don’t know why I do it. It’s a hobby that makes no sense. In fact, it’s an extremely impractical pastime (and I am generally practical to a fault).

So this quote by David Blaikie (who, from what I can tell is a runner and a journalist) really strikes a chord in me. I will try to hold onto this idea as I struggle through that final miles of my next ultra — miserable, with my head down, trying to coax more PB&J sandwiches in the deepest realm of my being.

“Perhaps the genius of ultrarunning is its supreme lack of utility. It makes no sense in a world of space ships and supercomputers to run vast distances on foot. There is no money in it and no fame, frequently not even the approval of peers. But as poets, apostles and philosophers have insisted from the dawn of time, there is more to life than logic and common sense. The ultra runners know this instinctively. And they know something else that is lost on the sedentary. They understand, perhaps better than anyone, that the doors to the spirit will swing open with physical effort. In running such long and taxing distances they answer a call from the deepest realms of their being — a call that asks who they are …”

– David Blaikie

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

At The North Face San Francisco 50 Miler, Dec 2016

At The North Face San Francisco 50 Miler, Dec 2016

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MLK Day

For me, MLK Day started at 4:15am. Drink coffee, eat some carbs, drive to Prospect Hill. Nothing like a 5:45am hike at 15 degrees. 6 miles, 1800 feet of elevation gain. My hands were so numb, I alternated one hand functioning within my glove as designed (securing both hiking poles) and the other hand clenched into a warming fist within the palm of the glove. By the time I made it back to my car, I had a (justifiable) rabid craving for eggs.

One advantage of hiking in the winter is you don’t have to get up as early to see the sunrise.

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Sunrise on Prospect Hill

I had off work, but I did work anyway. Mr. P did not have off. Little Boy was not in school, so I made him watch the MLK speech in its entirety before the playdates began.

The playdates! 3 boys arrived, one after another… sweet distraction while I worked (ha, work??! It’s a holiday… I monitored my email, triaged issues, while cleaning and readying life for the commence of tomorrow’s Routine, and of course kept an eye on the boys…)

Play date Victims

Play date Victims

 

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DeCordova Afternoon

The DeCordova is our default art museum, for these reasons:

1: Located in nearby Lincoln, MA, there is no need to venture into busy, crowded, nightmaresque Boston.

2: The DeCordova offers a mixture of indoor and outdoor exhibitions in a scenic setting, so we can stroll through woodsy environs while also being cultural, and…

3: (this is a newfound reason) The cafe serves beer and wine! (so long as the patron simultaneously purchases food, hence we bought a bag of potato chips. A toast to public health?!?)

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Beer break at the lovely cafe

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Little Boy’s “Old Lady” puppet, constructed in the “Mash-up Zone”

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Taking in soothing yet questionable audiovisual art

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Making our own art! “Untitled (Eye in Lemonade bottle)”

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Making our own art “Untitled (GIMMEE CHIPS)”

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Resurrection 2017

I’d like to begin blogging again. But before I do, I need to address the lengthy period of silence. Nothing dramatic… I could blame the decidedly amiss frequency on the general hectic nature of my normal life, but upon reflection I find that I have time to do a lot of of non-essential things if I make it a habit. I am a creature of habit.

So why is blogging no longer a habit?

Blogging used to fulfill me in a way that my professional life did not. Up until a few years ago, my job used to be boring, monotonous, and I needed an intellectual outlet. (Yes, blogging about a trip to Johnnie’s Foodmaster was sooo intellectual). But now, work keeps me busy… in fact it consumes me most of my waking hours. In a way 2016 was a hallmark year in my career, with a big fat promotion to accompany some big fat project deliverables that have the VIPs at my company crowing with satisfaction. But the lead-up to each project completion left me fraught with stress and worry; I’d awake at 3am to peck away at work. My actual work day is consumed with so many meetings that I don’t have time to work at work.

When I’m not working, the last thing I want to do is sit at a computer and think. I’ll sit at a computer and watch mindless stuff on Youtube, I’ll read Reddit, I’ll peruse ultrarunnerpodcast, but I just want to switch my mind off. Which is a bummer, because I feel guilty about all of the time I waste watching (and rewatching) SNL skits and looking at the aww sub-Reddit when I could be adding to my blog canon. Aside from my Ultrasignup profile, this blog could be the closest thing I have to a digital legacy that defines who I am.

So I didn’t make any New Years resolutions about blogging (in fact, I didn’t make any resolutions at all) but I am resurrecting my blogging resolve without trying to put too much pressure on myself. First step is to make it a habit. Second step is to make it something worth reading.

And here’s how we’re all looking these days — this was on a ski cabin in France over the holidays.

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“Bye, Summer” 2016 Camping Adventure

Thursday Sept. 1

I woke up in my bed around 4am, a pretty standard waking time when I sleep the whole night without rousing to empty my seemingly ever-shrinking bladder. 4am is its breaking point.

The morning run was ugh muggy. I jogged three miles to the gym, where I’m a mainstay in the winter and an oddity all other seasons. Nonetheless, the desk guy James greets me with his unflagging warmness and tosses a small towel in my direction. He doesn’t bother to scan my card, which I have long stopped offering to him. I head to the stretching/weights area, where I roll out my calves and quads with a long plastic tube, do yoga-inspired standing stretches, hold planks for the duration of a song chorus, and trifle with light kettle bells. 20 minutes later, I’m jogging along the Charles River to soak up another 2 miles of ugh mugginess before heading home.

Today’s the day we leave for our 3-night camping trip, and there’s a flurry of activity preceding the 9am departure in the fully-loaded Subaru. On the highway, occasional rain showers in Mass. give way to blue skies in NH. We stop at the Flume parking lot to start our day’s hike: an easy climb up Mt. Pemigawasset (aka the Indian Head), roundtrip about 3 miles with 1200 ft elevation gain. Little Boy complains a bit but moves easily and even remarks several times — spontaneously, unprompted — on the scenic beauty!

On Mt. Pemigawasset

On Mt. Pemigawasset

After the hike, we head to the campground. En route we stop in Twin Mountain for ice cream at a general store. A sign on the door barred certain named people from entering the store for reasons of “moral turpitude.” Thankfully, we were not on the list, and the owners actually seemed pretty normal. Upon reaching the campsite, we set up the tents, tarps, alcove, and start a fire, and enjoy relative calm and snacks.

Friday September 2

I woke up completely at 6:15am after having woke up dozens of times since we zipped up our tent nine hours ago. Little Boy turned and said “Good morning!” when I started to egress the tent; I whispered “Go back to sleep!” and he buried his face back in his sleeping bag.

Confession: I slept in my running clothes, including a somewhat compressive running bra. Camping brings out the uberpractical side of me. I pull on my sneakers and jog to the campground’s meager but convenient trail system. I have a map, and some vague memories of the trails from 5 years ago — when Little Boy was 3! his first camping!

Still, I manage to get lost — panicky lost. The map actually made it worse because it did not depict one of the intersections accurately, so I questioned my whereabouts and forged ahead instead of back-tracking 3 miles. I was disoriented, lost, clapping my hands and shouting “Hey Bear! Hey Bear!” every minute. I strayed into an adjacent ATV trail system before finally finding a sign that pointed back to the Park HQs — 1.5 miles downhill. My planned 50-minute run turned into 90 minutes.

This was all before my morning coffee. So all annoyance at the map and myself dissolved when I arrived back to the campsite to see Mr. P pull a pot of boiling water off our little camping stove. Instant coffee never tasted so good!

After breakfast, we headed to Mt. Washington for the day’s hike. Our goal was to make it to Tuckerman’s Ravine; if Little Boy moved well and was motivated, we would push to the summit, but truthfully our 9:30am start would be too late, as we did not want to be descending in later afternoon. This was fine, as Tuckerman’s is still a worthy destination.

Little Boy has a love-hate relationship with hiking. He primarily hates it, but sometimes he loves it. And the thing is, he’s really good at it when he’s motivated. Things that motivate Little Boy: Candy (both the promise of and immediate aftermath of), anger (he will bound up the trail in defiance of hiking, without irony), a good conversation (I’ve indulged many a vulgar topic just to distract Little Boy from the fact he’s hiking — times I’ve peed myself, if girls fart, what happens to poop when it’s buried in the ground).

We made it to the “Lunch Rocks” in Tuckerman’s Ravine (named for the rocky outcrop along the trail that remains visible during late winter and early spring, when crazy people come to ski down the ravine). Having come about 3 miles and 2500 ft of elevation gain, it was already a formidable hike for Little Boy so we had lunch, took some pictures, and then headed back.

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In Tuckerman’s Ravine — note the little hand ;-)

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Smiling because of kit kats and the promises we’ll go back to the car

After the hike, we return to the campground for a dip in the swimming pond.

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Saturday Sept 3

This was to be the most momentous day of the vacation. Mr. P tackled a Presidential Traverse (19 miles, hitting all seven of the Presidential Range’s 4000+ footers) while Little Boy and I would be tackling one of the Presidential peaks, Mt. Pierce. We had tried to time our respective adventures so we would all meet up at the end of Mr. P’s traverse, but we moved a bit too fast and he moved a bit too slow, so we only shared the last 1.5 mile together (and more importantly for Mr. P, the car ride back to the campground).

Still, a great day. We dropped off Mr. P at the Appalachia trailhead early so he could start his traverse at the northern-most part of the Presidential Range, then we headed back to the campground for a lazy breakfast.

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Early morning drop-off of Mr. P at the start the traverse. I joked with Mr. P that I took this picture so I could tell the rescuers what he was wearing.

Then Little Boy and I drove to Pinkham Notch to start our ascent of the southern-most Presidential peak, Mt. Pierce. This is an “easy” hike for a 4000-footer, less than 3 miles one way and 2500 ft. elevation gain along the nicely-graded Crawford Path. I’ve noticed Little Boy moves much easier when he is with one parent as opposed to both of us. Perhaps he feels more like a hiking buddy and less like he is being dragged into the woods by his crazy parents. We stopped for two Kit Kat breaks along the way but made it to the summit in less than two hours.

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We waited. Mr. P projected his arrival to Mt. Pierce before 2pm, but at 2:30pm he wasn’t there. Since I had no cell phone service, I assumed all sorts of bad things. I decided Little Boy and I would start to descend and we’d take it from there.

Then, disaster on the descent: Little Boy, who is normally so fluid and agile on the rocky downhills, slipped on a wet rock and banged his right knee badly. He howled, tears screaming down his face as I hugged him and weighed my options if Little Boy was unable to walk. Could I carry him down? Should I enlist other hikers’ to go radio for help at the nearby AMC hut? Fortunately, after about two minutes Little Boy started to walk — or hobble, rather — down the trail. He couldn’t flex his right knee without pain so he was descending slowly straight-legged, which looked so wrong. My head marinated with negativity; now my son was maimed, and my husband was missing.

Then, Little Boy began to pick up the pace. In fact, he was flying down the trail and I could barely keep up. I even lost sight of him. I began to call his name. I called it a half-dozen times when I heard a noise behind me. It was Mr. P!

We caught up to Little Boy and all my gloom lifted. Sure, Little Boy had a bruise but it would heal. And Mr. P was there, so there was no reason to call 911. Not an unequivocal success, but still a nice day.

Sunday Sept 4

Our last half-day camping. Even if Little Boy could hike with his swollen knee, we knew that he had reached his tolerance level… as had Mr. P, after his Presi Traverse. So they went to the Mt. Washington Cog Railroad while I planned to explore the trails within running distance of the campground.

I started on the Jimtown Logging Road. I had planned to hike up Mt. Crescent and back to the campground on the logging road, but I quickly developed hatred of the route, which was overgrown with meadow grass to the point that walking — let alone running — proved difficult and kinda gross. So I mapped out an alternative plan back to the campground. Instead of going up Mt. Crescent, I would descend to the Appalachia trailhead through a bunch of little-used local trails (all maddeningly labelled “Path”) and take the Presidential Rail trail about 5 miles back to the campground.

On the way to Appalachia, I passed Lake Durand, which was a pleasant surprise. There was a great view of the Northern Presidentials from the lake.

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View of Mt. Adams from Lake Durand

The five-mile jog along the Presidential Rail trail was actually quite beautiful. It felt strange to be doing something so flat in the White Mountains, but compared to the jam-packed trail of holiday hikers, the isolation of the trail made me feel like I was truly getting away from it all.

I returned back to the campground at around 11:30am, which was prime time to snag a hot shower without a line.

After lunch, and breaking camp, and a quick dip in the swimming pond, we headed back home. Bye, summer… we hope we gave you a good send-off.

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Tahoe Rim Trail 50 Miler, 2016 Race Report

The first thing I did on January 1, 2016 was check my email to learn I had “won” entry into the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 miler via the lottery — which inspired many brash resolutions around training and lifestyle. But my training did not go as vowed. In the winter, I built up a good running base, but didn’t follow through on cross-training or strength/mobility/flexibility work. When spring came, for various non-running reasons, I wasn’t able to put in the hard, long efforts I needed. I bowed out of the Wapack and Back 42-miler; I lost some crucial weeks in June recovering from the San Diego marathon.

I knew that the TRT 100 would present many challenges for me: altitude (most of the race takes place between 7000-9000 feet above sea level, and I live at sea level); elevation gain (over 20,000 feet, which is difficult to train for when my nearest “mountain” has a measly 350 foot climb); and travel (I’d be arriving with Mr P. and Little Boy in Sacramento late Thursday night and traveling to Nevada on Friday for the early Saturday start, meaning I’d start with a certain amount of weariness).

The week before the TRT 100, I took an honest look at my training and decided to downgrade my distance to the 50-miler. Since the 100-miler is two loops of the 50, I’d still see the whole course. I’d have more time to relax on the beach with Mr. P and Little Boy. And, I would rather comfortably race and finish the 50 than suffer and probably not finish the 100.

The travel went well. On Friday, we arrived in Carson City in the early afternoon to pick up my bib and check into the hotel before heading to Zephyr Cove beach. Mr. P and Little Boy enjoyed periodic bursts of snorkeling in the brisk clear waters while I waded and mindfully hydrated.

Snorkeling

Snorkeling

Aimlessly Wandering

Aimlessly Wandering

On Saturday morning, I woke up at 3:45am. We stayed at the Carson City Plaza for the shuttle to the start/finish line at Spooner Lake, so Mr. P wouldn’t have to drive me. I had all my gear readied the night before so my priorities were to drink coffee, eat some nut bars, and use the bathroom. I arrived at the shuttle bus early and eavesdropped on other people’s conversations about the race and the course. I felt anxious so every little bit of knowledge gleaned was reassuring.

The bus arrived at Sooner Lake in time to see the 100-mile race start at 5am. I felt a little wistful as the 100 milers ran by with their headlamps. As the 6am start for the 50 mile and 55K race neared, the sun gradually rose.

Sunrise at Spooner Lake

Spooner Lake at Sunrise

The race started with the national anthem and then Pink Floyd’s “Run Like Hell.” I ran comfortably in a tightly-packed line of runners as the trail climbed gradually. Some runners already had audibly strained breathing; it always amazes me how people basically guarantee fatigue and misery in the last stages of an ultra in order to gain a few minutes at the start. My plan was to maintain a slow, steady pace, promising myself that if I wanted to go “beast mode”, it would wait until mile 43, where the 7-mile downhill to the finish commences.

The pack was spread out by the first aid station (Hobart) at mile 6. I grabbed some PB&J (my staple ultra food) and filled up my soft flasks. The next part of the race climbed some more to the Tunnel Creek aid station, where I grabbed more PB&J and applied sunscreen before starting the Red House loop — a part of the course known as “the taste of hell.” It wasn’t as bad as all that, though (and especially not as bad as the hell that awaited at mile 30).

After the Red House loop, the course climbed some more and the views got amazing. The trails started to fill with mountain bikers, who were very courteous but added some apprehension as their presence divided my attention. Around mile 20, I tripped and fell in front of three mountain bikers. Luckily I landed in soft sand so I only suffered some surface scratches on my elbow and a heavy dousing of dirt on my quads.

At mile 22, they warn you to fill up on liquids because the next aid station is in 8 miles. Unfortunately, the water tasted horrible — like glue. (I later found out the taste was due to the new PVC pipes that were being used to transport the water. Yikes.) On this mostly downhill section, I did share some miles with some nice folks, and the chatting helped to pass the time going into Diamond Peak at mile 30.

Mr. P and Little Boy awaited me at mile 30. I arrived just before 1pm, which was my optimistic target for Diamond Peak.

Arriving at Diamond Peak

Arriving at Diamond Peak

 

My drop bag was at mile 30, so I changed my socks and retrieved my trekking poles, which I knew would come in handy for the impending 2 mile climb up a ski trail. I sat down for a bit, drinking water and eating PB&Js while smiling like an idiot at Mr. P and Little Boy. I told them to come to the finish line around 6pm, as it looked like I might be able to pull off a 12-hour finish.

The steep, 1600-foot climb out of Diamond Peak was hell, but it was a hell I had trained for. I used my poles to push myself up the sandy slope, passing more than a dozen other runners, some of whom commented on my “nice pace” (although I was moving at about a 30-minute per mile pace). For the first time in the race, my breathing was not so relaxed but it never got out of control.

Miles 32 to 42 are sort of a blur. I was still running steadily but slowly, and felt good. The highest point of the course is Snow Peak at mile 43; it was on this climb that I started to feel nauseous. The views were amazing but there was some serious wind! I realized the altitude was getting to me. I choked down three tortilla chips and some pickles at the aid station; I tried a peanut M&M and nausea quickly welled. Finishing the last seven miles on only water was not ideal, but I knew I could do it. As I took off jogging slowly on the downhill, there were some moments I had to stop, thinking I was going to puke. Breathing became harder. My legs were also starting to feel fatigued. It was a slow jog to the finish and I counted down the miles with a wee bit of impatience.

Reaching Spooner Lake was such a relief. The last part of the race is along the perimeter of the lake, wth the finish line in sight. I could see Mr. P and Little Boy just before the finish line and again, I started smiling like an idiot.

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Nearing the finish

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High Fives from Little Boy

I crossed the finish in 12 hours, 35 minutes. The race director George greeted me and urged me to sit down. He asked me how I liked the course and I said something about how I loved it, it was the most amazing race I’d ever done, and I’m from Boston so it was extra special for me. He commented that I must be very “well-trained” to come from sea level to run without much affect from the altitude.

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At the finish

A nice woman asked me if I need anything to drink. I still felt queasy so I asked for more water. I started to give her my soft flask to fill up and she chuckled. “You’ve been drinking out of that thing for 50 miles. Let’s get you a cup, dear! Wouldn’t it be nice to drink out of a cup?”

Oh yes, it would!

After 20 minutes of drinking water from a cup, I was finally able to eat. There was some Mexican food but I was more intrigued by the ramen soup. There was free beer for runners but I let Mr. P drink mine.

Finishing the 50 miles in 12 hours, 30 minutes is actually a really great time for a low-lander (and flat-lander) like me. I placed 12th lady out of about 50 ladies. And, I did not regret switching from the 100-miler to the 50. I had good training for a 50 miler, but frankly, I do not think I would have finished the 100 miler.

We headed back to the hotel, where I took an amazing shower and we ordered takeout salad and a meat/cheese platter. I sipped wine until bedtime and awoke Sunday feeling stiff but not too bad. Mr. P went for a morning run. We were leaving Sunday night but still had the day to enjoy Tahoe. Overall, it was an amazing race and wonderful little vacation.

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More Snorkeling

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Mountain Adventures

Many months ago, we booked a site at the Lafayette Place Campground in the White Mountains of NH for the Fourth of July long weekend. Mr. P and I have stayed there a couple of times before, but Little Boy had never had the pleasure of camping below some of the most impressive mountain ridges in the northeast.

Last weekend, I ran the Catamount 50K in Vermont, so my plan for this weekend was for more “time on my feet” and vertical as opposed to raw miles. Thus, Mr. P and Little Boy dropped me off at the Lincoln Woods trailhead so I could hit Mts. Flume, Liberty and Lincoln before meeting them at the top of Little Haystack.

I was a bit nervous about venturing into the Whites by myself. Though I’ve hiked them extensively, I’ve always had the pleasure, safety, and assuredness of Mr. P’s company. But I moved steadily and easily through the mountainous terrain, and only slightly freaked out when encountering the numerous ladders up the steep slopes of Mt. Flume (which I forgot all about). Fortunately, I was going up and not down, so my vertigo did not kick in, too much.

It was a windy day. I did not pause for very long at the summits.

Mt. Liberty Summit

Mt. Liberty Summit

It took me about three hours to reach Little Haystack, which Mr. P and Little Boy were ascending from the trail at the campground. Given the time it would take them to drive to the campground and ascend, we figured we would converge there, but I was still surprised to get to Little Haystack and see Mr. P and Little Boy preparing to descend. The wind was wicked strong and cold, and they couldn’t wait for me. But when we saw each other, they went back up to the summit and we cowered behind some rocks from the wind so that I could mow down the most disgusting Cliff Bar ever.

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Near Little Haystack Summit

The 40+ mile per hour wind was too strong and dangerous for Little Boy to continue along the ridge to Lafayette; he had to go down. I had originally planned to go to Lafayette, and I was equipped to do so, but decided to descend with Little Boy and Mr. P for the pleasure of their company.

I *think* I’m speaking subjectively when I declare: Little Boy is an impressive hiker. The trail down from Little Haystack (the Falling Waters trail) is notoriously technical, with the never-ending blocks of rock and slick slabs. We passed people going down — so adept and agile this kid is.

At the campground, we had some well-deserved fun, relaxation, and food. I love this picture not only for Little Boy’s smile, but because this is the picture that could get Mr. P’s  French citizenship revoked.

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The next day, Mr. P was racing the Loon Mountain race, which is the USA Mountain Running Championships. So there were some real hardcore mountain runners there… and then, a surplus of serious, good-looking amateurs 😉

Loon Mountain Start

Loon Mountain Start

Mr. P’s got a bit of goat blood in him, though, so he certainly did respectably in the 6.5 mile, 2500 foot climb. Little Boy and I took the gondola to greet Mr. P right before the final, agonizing climb to the finish.

We cannot comprehend the Hell.

We cannot comprehend the Hell.

Later that day, we took a small hike to Lonesome Lake, which is just a small 1.2 mile, 1000+foot climb from our campground. And it was busier than the Mass. Turnpike at rush hour! But we did find a quiet spot.

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Mountain adventures are the best. Little Boy is proving to be an able and (mostly) enthusiastic hiker. I hope to share many more adventures as he get bigger and exponentially faster than me.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.
—Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”

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San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon 2016

Time: 3 hours, 39 minutes, 37 seconds. 90th girl out of 2610?! BQ by 23 seconds.

Way back in January, the opportunity to be a charity runner at the San Diego Marathon – fully sponsored, flight and hotel expenses paid – came up through my work. I had to weigh the perks (free trip to and 26.2 mile foot tour of San Diego, where I’ve never been) with the downers (running a road marathon in June, which didn’t really fit in with my 100-miler training, plus massive, crowded road marathons exhaust me for reasons having nothing to do with running, and if I was going to try another Boston Qualifying marathon, San Diego would be a risky pick due to its hills and potential for hot weather).

In the end, the perks won out. I still have some residual road speed from the Hyannis Marathon (an event which, in retrospect, has grown in my mind to become a debacle because I missed my Boston Qualifying time by 4 and a half minutes), but the bulk of my training since March has been slow trail runs with endless hill repeats. Like:

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EEEEk…

The five-hour plane ride to San Diego was deeply uncomfortable. I flew United economy… and I was in a middle seat. The definition of hell. Thankfully, I was flanked by normal-sized people who were considerate with the arm rests. I alternately worked on work stuff (release notes) and read Matt Fitzgerald’s How Bad Do You Want It, a book about the psychological side of endurance sports. It was fascinating, inspiring stuff.

“Mind is everything. Muscle – pieces of rubber. All that I am, I am because of my mind.” –Paavo Normi, Finnish Runner

As a city, San Diego seemed to me like a cross between San Francisco and Phoenix. I grabbed a shuttle to my (all expenses paid) hotel, which was smack in the downtown.

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View from my hotel room

From there I walked roughly a mile to the Convention Center to pick up my bib. Let me say, I’ve been to Race Expos before… but this was by far the best. Sure, it was crowded and exhausting, but pretty much every exhibitor offered free samples. I mean, that’s what an Expo is about– free samples! (Special kudos to Honey Stinger for their buffet of broken up pieces of Honey Stingers.)

I walked through the Gaslamp District back to the hotel. It seemed like a lot of upper-class chain stores mixed in with restaurants and breweries. The sun was hot.

Headed to the Gaslamp District

Headed to the Gaslamp District

I stopped at a tourist shop and bought tchotchkes for Little Boy and Mr. P.  Back at the hotel, I watched this crazy Animal Planet show called “My Cat From Hell.” I rolled out my calfs with a lacrosse ball and bidded my time until the charity run’s pasta dinner. I didn’t eat much pasta. Jet-lagged, I fell asleep at 8pm and woke up at 3:30am. Walked about 1.5 miles to the start line.

What a scene! Over 20,000 runners. Madness. There were about 30 corrals and I was starting in corral 5 (based on my estimated finishing time of 3:40 — which is the qualifying time for the Boston Marathon for women my age). I noticed I was in the same coral as the 3:40 pace group, which was led by a very small young man who looked like he could easily do 2:40. I was tempted to run with the pace group but I decided I wanted to run my own race and see where that would take me.

Starting Line, Corral 5. Yes, some guy is wearing firefighter gear.

Starting Line, Corral 5. Yes, some guy is wearing firefighter gear.

The race started. I clicked off 8-minute miles, one after another. I felt strong and relaxed, even on the hills. My breath was not only conversational, it was oratorial. Mind is everything. Muscle – pieces of rubber.

Another nugget of wisdom I gleamed from How Bad Do You Want It is that, during an endurance sport event, it is counterproductive to focus on the goal. For one thing, it produces cognitive overhead, which has been proven to reduce physical performance. Related and more importantly, it prevents athletes from getting into the flow. I was flowing from miles 1 to 18. Most miles were right around 8:00/mile

The hard part started around mile 18. It wasn’t a surprise. I was getting hot; all my clothes were already soaked with sweat. My breathing was no longer relaxed. I was drinking at every water stop and had a major side stitch from all the water consumption paired with vigorous body movement. And I began to feel on the verge of dizzy. My pace slowed to around 8:20/mile, but it was still okay for my BQ.

I actually had little idea of what my total time was. The clock time at every mile had started when the elites in Corral 1 started; I figured Corral 5 started about 5 minutes back, but I wasn’t sure. And my watch simply gave me the total distance and my current pace. So I knew I was hovering around 3:40. But I still hadn’t seen the 3:40 pace group.

The 2-mile long hill at mile 22 was hell. I was at a 10-minute mile, trudging, spent. Still, I had built in enough of a buffer to stay on pace.

At the crest of the hill, I willed my pieces of rubber to move. Downhill. It’s just 2 miles.

Just before mile 26, the 3:40 pacer guy screamed past me, flanked by 2-3 guys. I couldn’t believe it. I sped up to hold pace with the group, then looked at my watch: 7:30/mile. What kind of a pacer is this? Finishing a 3:40 marathon at a 7:30 pace?!? I fought to keep up. Beside us, separated by cones, the half marathoners were finishing, mostly at a leisurely 11 or 12 minute mile pace.

I checked my watch: Indeed, a 7:30 pace. The finish line neared. I crossed it. Relief.

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Not knowing my exact finishing time, I passed through the gauntlet of medals, food, beverages. I grabbed my cell phone and checked my texts. I knew Mr. P was getting texts about my progress, and would send me my results…

“Nice BQ. See you in Boston.”

I had BQ-ed by 23 seconds! It might not be enough to actually qualify me for the Boston Marathon, but that is secondary.

For almost 10 years, I have been telling people I would never do Boston because I was too slow.

I thought it would never be achievable… not because I tried and failed, but because I never tried. Because I never tried to be fast. Because I thought “fast” was something you were born. Why would a ungainly ex-smoker, ex-overweight book worm like myself ever be able to qualify for one of the most prestigious amateur sports events in America?

I finished in the top 10% overall, top 5% girls. I was pleased. Thank you, San Diego… thanks to the charity I ran for… thanks to Mr. P and Little Boy for all the inspiration you give me… thanks Keith Richards for the guitar intro to “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” and Lil Wayne for the entirety of “A Milli”… thanks to Matt Fitzgerald’s How Bad Do You Want It, which primed and awakened my mind for the task at hand.

 

 

 

 

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Charlie Horse Half Marathon: Mud, Sweat, and Beers

Results: 2 hours 14 minutes, 8th girl, 1st 35-39 lady

My 39th birthday this year fell on Memorial Day Sunday. And so did one of my favorite races… the Charlie Horse Half Marathon, run on the bucolic trails (and some roads) of Central Eastern Pennsylvania.

It was our third year doing it. Last year, the race mixed up Mr. P and mine’s ages on our bibs, so I inadvertently won 1st Masters (40+) female, while Mr. P placed 1st  in the 35-39 division. It was sorta funny, but at the time I thought, “Maybe I can never do this race again. Because someone might remember and question why I’m suddenly not a Master.” But of course, no one is that invested in the results of this nifty yet obscure trail race.

I like this race for a number of reasons.

  • It’s a race that Mr. P and I get to do together because it coincides with our Memorial Day pilgrimage to PA to visit family. This year, Mr. P is nursing a knee injury and wasn’t excited about racing, but we were both pretty excited to get to go on a “date” while Little Boy hung out with his grandparents.
  • Charlie Horse is a race with a little bit of everything. It’s billed as a trail race, and yes, the majority is rolling trail with a few steep climbs and semi-technical descents. But the race also has sections of flat, non-technical trail that you can practically fly on. Then there’s a road section, with a loooong descent followed by a killer climb. At mile 12, the obstacles start: logs, mud pits. The last mile is just a grind of rolling trail that never seems to end. This is a race for the versatile runner.
  • Finally, because they have 5-year age groups, it’s pretty easy to win a cool medal made from a real horseshoe. (Probably one quarter of the runners win a medal!) And there’s free beer and BBQ at the finish line, which is at a nice, relaxed country club.

At 9am, just as the morning was beginning to turn uncomfortably warm, the race started – a dash across a parking lot, and then into a river crossing. I don’t care anymore about getting my feet completely soaked within the first minute. (This is also a good race for the runner who never seems to blister.)

The trail climbed uphill for a bit, and then flattened out. At the mile 3 out and back, I counted five girls ahead of me (not knowing if there were any really far ahead I might have missed). My pace was solid on the flat/downhill section; I passed some guys who went out too fast while trading places with two other girls who ran well. The mugginess of the day affected me a bit and I regretted not carrying water.

At mile 9, one of the girls and I encountered some volunteers directing runners up a steep hill. The volunteers knew the girl and informed her she was 7th girl (though I was only a step behind her). This invigorated me and I chugged past her up the hill. That was followed by a long descent on a road. Luckily, I’ve had a lot of long concrete descents in my training, and I went at the downhill with wild abandon.

The subsequent uphill was much harder. Compared to last year, I was much slower due to the humidity and creeping heat. I did pass a number of men and saw some women further ahead, but I took it easy.

After a short descent, the race returned to trail and the obstacles. There was girl on my heels as we plunged through the succession of 4 mud pits.

She seemed full of energy. I asked her how old she was, and upon hearing “29”, I told her to go ahead and pass me.

“How old are you?” she asked.

“Today is my 39th birthday!” I told her.

She said something to the effect of “Wow, you’re so old, I’m hope I’m still this fast when I’m so old!”

I finished behind her as 8th girl, first in my age group. I got a medal, beer, BBQ.

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Mr. P finished 30 minutes after me due to his knee. He was not pleased when he finished, but brightened when we dug into the aforementioned beer and BBQ.

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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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