Category Archives: running

Mt. Washington Road Race: Recap

Last Saturday, I ran up Mt. Washington (getting an entry is a feat unto itself, then you have to run 7.6 miles uphill with a 4696′ vertical gain (assume your half marathon time and maybe a touch more). At the start, I heard people sharing their strategy: run the first three miles, then walk/run. Walk/run the whole way. Power-walk it.

Running is good for you, and so is oral hygiene. Slightly terrifying inflatable tooth race mascot by Northeast Delta Dental.

My ultrarunning crowd says to walk the hills; you’re going the same speed as anyone running it, but conserving energy. I tried this and passed a lot of people (I walked, they ran).

“We need to run up to there.” Photo credit: Rick Ando

Due to injury, I’d been unable to train. I don’t mean training on hills. I mean running at all. Two miles into any run, my tendonitis kicked in. I gave up months ago and knew this race — this getting to the finish line — would be a crapshoot.

Anyway, it’s up up up, no break, no flats, just up. At least it was shady for the first three or so miles (fact: I’ve done a lot of hiking in the Whites but have only been up Mt. Washington once, on foot, in winter, never by the auto road).

Occasionally, after mile five, I gave my calf injury a break and walked backwards a lot (hey, guy who said the relief was “all in my head,” nope. It was real. It gave my calf a rest and used my quads for a change and then maybe I passed you, but even if I didn’t, well, walking up backwards gave my injury some rest, so…).

Around mile 5, soon after that section of dirt road started (slightly steeper), I stuffed in one earbud and turned on my iPod shuffle to “Defying Gravity.” I tried to sing along but had little lungs left at that point. A guy in a Reykjavik Marathon t-shirt said, “Good for you!” as I tried to choke out the words. But what I thought about was me, defying gravity, taking a leap after way too long to save myself.

Up, up, up…Photo credit: Rick Ando

I looked over the edge of that mountain road, suffering and wishing for it to stop, and I recognized how much strength I have summoned over the past year and how much I’ve had to turn away from and hold my head high, and how much I’ve given up and just how much I have gained.

I thought about how calm and happy I am now, and how hard I have fought for that.

I ran as hard as I could, give the circumstances — OK, I walked. And yes, I got badly sunburned in the process. It’s a metaphor. I can survive this burn. I can survive this endless hill that is a metaphor for everything right now. I am strong enough.

At some point, slightly dizzy and hoping for a break (I don’t do well with sun and heat), I sat down on a rock and put my head down between my legs. A person in our group (with whom I’d started, he having done the race several times and planning to take it slow, me having no idea what to expect from myself and intending to go it alone), came by and said “hi.” I felt obliged to get up and walk/run with him for a while, but his race strategy wasn’t mine, and I let him go on ahead.

Turns out before he’d come upon me on my rock, he’d come upon another person in our group, also untrained and sitting on a rock. And he got him back up running, too.

Photo credit: Rick Ando

I was going to get up again, anyway. I always do. I knew there’s no exit on the Mt. Washington Road Race. I wasn’t about to hang out in the blaring sun on the side of the road waiting for the road to re-open so I could hitch a ride. I knew I’d get up there to the top.

Eventually, near the very very end, the road leveled out for about two-tenths of a mile, and it was glorious, and I saw some of our group.

Then I looked up. It was only about four minutes of hell in front of me, but it was some seriously steep road (steep) that I had to get up before I could cross the finish line.

Did I dive deep and run up that hill and switchback to get there?

up up and away! Photo credit: Rick Ando

Hell no. I was sunburned and hot and had a terrible dehydration headache, despite drinking at every single water stop, and I decided that since I wouldn’t make the sub-two-hour mark, forget it. I’d get there when I got there.

Slog, slog, slog…Photo credit: Rick Ando

Then for the last 30 feet or so (I could be wrong about that distance) it was somewhat level and I managed to run to get myself across the beautiful finish line.

There I am (yellow visor)! Almost done! Photo credit: Rick Ando

Finally done!! Photo credit: Rick Ando

And that, dear people, is what it is like to run up the Mt. Washington Auto Road in blazing sun on a warm day when you are injured and haven’t been able to train and are going through a lot, life-wise.

The only other time I’ve summited Mt. Washington was in the middle of winter, and we came up Lion Head trail with snowshoes and crampons, and it was cold and snowy and beautiful, and we were careful to keep an eye on each other for signs of hypothermia — a very different scenario.

Do I want to do it again? Yes. 

97-year-old going up Mt. Washington Auto Road; apparently he participates in the race every year

(With more sun protection next time…)

Ugh. Just, ugh. Too hot for a shirt, but I wasn’t expecting so much exposure! Oops.

Ahhhhh….

 

Easy Tasty Angel Hair From an Empty Pantry

The cupboards are bare. Or nearly so. My kids haven’t been here the past few days, and I’ve been very lazy about grocery shopping. I’ve lately been living on flatbread (locally-made flatbread which I top with homemade arugula pesto, whatever veggies I have on hand, maybe some diced tofu, and cheese) as well as eggs.

But I don’t feel like going to the grocery store at 8 p.m. on a Saturday night. So I grubbed around and realize I have the ingredients for three great meals tonight:

    1. Spring rolls (filled with tofu, carrots, cilantro, and bean sprouts, as I recently sprouted a bunch of mung beans). I happen to have a bunch of spring roll wrappers, rice vermicelli, and a sweet chili dipping sauce.
    2. Stir-fried bean sprouts on rice. Probably tasty, but not at all what I’m in the mood for.
    3. Angel hair with the last few tired cherry tomatoes, (jarred) garlic, fresh parsley, and fresh Parmesan. That sounds like the most appealing (and low-effort) option right now.

I went with option #3…easy comfort food. Much needed, today.

So here’s how you make yourself a quick, easy dinner with no recipe and very little on hand. And I’m sorry that all the images are sideways/upside-down. New plugin, see.

Get a pot of salted water boiling. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a skillet. Add a glob of jarred garlic if that’s all you have, or a pile of minced fresh garlic if your pantry is better stocked than mine.

Chop up your last tired cherry tomatoes. Toss them into the skillet. If you have some remaining fresh spinach leaves, add them, too. Add any other leftover veggies you might have; I had steamed broccoli in the fridge, so I put in a few florets and mashed them as best I could.

Squeeze in a healthy dose of tomato paste and half as much anchovy paste. These are things that you should have in your fridge at all times, even if you run out of bread and milk and beans and everything else.

Stir it around. Add about half a cup of the pasta cooking water to the skillet.

Drain the pasta. Add it to the skillet, tossing everything around. Let the extra water cook off.

Shower it all with a pile of freshly-grated Parmesan. If you need to use pre-grated cheese, I understand and won’t judge, but do yourself a favor and grate it fresh if you can.

Because you’re worth it and had the absolutely shittiest and most disappointing race/run of your life today, because you ignored your tight calves and sore creaky Achilles and went into a six-hour trail race on ice/snow/mud with very little training,

and at mile 4 your calf pain shifts to a sharp Achilles pain and you know the day is over, and you are at this point down to a T-shirt and capris (no hat or gloves or any warm layer tied around your waist) and it’s 40 degrees out and you try to shortcut back through a snowy bramble field,

possibly crying with anger and disappointment, and when you’re back on trail, scratched and bleeding and limping and shivering, you reassure concerned passing runners that you’re fine and making your way back to the start/finish, and one woman looks extra-concerned and you burst into tears because THIS IS YOUR FAULT,

and she turns around and walks back along the course with you and is very kind and doesn’t even attempt a hug until you’ve gotten yourself under control and are able to recognize that you knew going into this race you had some physical issues you’ve been ignoring and at least this time you didn’t run through the pain but instead stopped when it felt significant, and then you hugged and thanked her and sent her on her way,

and because you drove four other 6-hour runners to the race, so you had to wait around another five-plus hours in the cold drizzle waiting for everyone else to finish.

anyway, toast some bread crumbs in olive oil and toss them in with the pasta. It is delightful. You deserve it. Sprinkle some fresh chopped parsley on it if you have it.

Sprinkle salt over all of it.

While it’s good and hot, eat it. Unless you are me, in which case you realize your younger son’s hamster, in his new hamster ball, has been too quiet for too long, and you discover this:

Where is the hamster??!?

Eat your cold pasta, after you finally catch and re-cage the hamster. It will still be tasty.

 

Print Recipe
Empty-Pantry Easy Angel Hair
Haven't shopped in awhile? Make this easy, healthy angel hair with what's in your fridge and pantry! Angel hair with tomatoes, spinach, and Parmesan.
Course Main Dish
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 12 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Course Main Dish
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 12 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.
  2. Heat 1-2 T olive oil in a skillet.
  3. When the oil is hot, add the garlic. Saute for 1-2 minutes.
  4. Add chopped tomatoes. Add spinach if you have it. Sautee 1-2 minutes
  5. Add broccoli and smash with your spatula.
  6. Add a squeeze of anchovy paste and twice as much tomato paste.
  7. When pasta is done, splash about half a cup of the pasta water into the skillet before you drain the pasta.
  8. Heat oil in another skillet. When hot, add bread crumbs and toss until lightly toasted.
  9. Add drained pasta to the skillet. Toss with tongs. Keep on heat long enough to evaporate extra water.
  10. Shower with grated Parmesan and fresh chopped parsley. Add toasted bread crumbs and toss.
Share this Recipe
 

Yeah. Stuff Is Hard.

My old pal and running partner Sasha used to say that you can only do three things well. At the time, we both had small children and were training a lot for races. Her three things were running, writing, and parenting. Mine were….running, parenting, cooking, working, knitting….I might have been trying to do too many things, actually. I’m like that. It doesn’t mean I’m doing them well. It just means I “never have time” and I have too much going on.

I’ll be honest: I am having a hard time lately. Obviously, I cannot say too much here. But that is the truth.

A big part of it, I’m sure, is the damn election. As for probably every other woman out there, it’s triggering rage at the lifetime of sexism, minor assaults, etc. No need to belabor this point. At all.

And divorce. It’s hard. I’ll just leave it at that.

The cat I lost custody of* went missing for several days (one of which was cold, rainy, windy, stormy). Thankfully, she’s been found, and in other happy news, my landlord said I can get a cat, so the boys and I will start looking around for a kitty for our home. So that is very happy news.

Here’s what I’m doing:

  1. Parenting, trying to help my kids be happy and healthy and thriving during this big transition in their lives.
  2. Working (and I have an extra client right now, one I want to impress, of course, but it means the current couple of weeks are kind of a strain on me).
  3. Training for an ultramarathon (go ahead and say, “WTF are you thinking?”).
  4. Socializing and trying to recover myself and my interests (climbing, mountain biking, baking, etc.).
  5. Finishing unpacking and setting up this apartment (actually, screw that; I’m hopefully here only 10 more months and I don’t want to put much more money into this apartment or unpack anything else; we still need some rugs and some storage items, but I’m not doing much else).
  6. Figuring out what happens next regarding the divorce, where we’ll all live next year, future employment, and so on.

That is a lot. 

Honestly, fitness has fallen right out the window. I’m not going to the gym. I’m barely running. I should be doing multi-hour runs at this point. Instead, I’m trying to get sleep or get extra work-time in when I can.

And sometimes, like tonight, I just need to spend some time baking and vacuuming and then curled up on the couch watching old episodes of “House.”

So if, by Sasha’s rules, I had to pick three, it would be parenting, working, self-care/sleep. Some of that self-care involves time with friends; some of it involves baking; some of it involves time on Facebook, and I am not ashamed of that. Some days Facebook provides my only social interaction, since I work from home. Don’t judge.

Anyway. Lately things feel hard. Maybe I’m doing too much. The ultra training, much as I hate to say it, has to go. I just don’t have the time or energy for it right now, and it’s not where I should be putting my energy, and it’s becoming a stressor instead of something to look forward to. I hate to let go of it. But I need to take care of myself and conserve energy (physical and mental) right now.

So that’s where I’m at. Feel free to give me an unsolicited hug. Or ask how I am. Or tell me a joke.

*because when I found this apartment, it was “No pets allowed,” so C took the cat when we all moved in August. But now I can have a cat, YAY THANK GOD.

How to Scare Your Child Away From Running: Vegan Black Bean Nut Brownies

I whirred the blender after the boys’ bedtime.

“Mom!” called Max. “What are you doing?”

“Sorry about the noise,” I said. “I’m making vegan black bean nut brownies.”

Even in the darkness I could see the horror on his face. “Who would eat that??”

“I’m bringing them to a race on Saturday,” I said. I have a trail race Saturday. Despite my grand training plans, I barely ran in August: according to my Garmin, I got in 4 slow miles per week (PER WEEK), withhttp://training plans no running at all in the last two weeks. I mean, come on, I’ve had a lot going on. But I have a trail half marathon Saturday followed by a trail 5-miler Sunday. I will slog through. Wonder how I get overuse injuries?

“But who would EAT that?” he repeated, his face still curled in horror.

“Oh, the runners,” I answered.

“But WHY? Why would anyone EAT those? Why would RUNNERS eat those?”

Let’s hope the runners eat them. Two months ago, I was making a recipe that I ended up not having a key ingredient for. I’d already ground walnuts, cashews, and pecans in the food processor with soaked dates. So I froze that mixture.

Now, both in hopes of having a nice treat to bring to Saturday’s race and to make room in my tiny freezer (I sold my chest freezer before the move, and my new fridge/freezer is SMALL), I pulled out the mixture, thawed it, and decided to make energy bites.

But after adding coconut and cocoa and cinnamon, I didn’t feel like rolling a million little balls. So I added a can of black beans, ground flax seed, water, oil, vanilla, and maple syrup, threw it into the blender (at least the beans/flax/water part) and now I have a pan of weird vegan brownies in the oven. I hope they’re edible!

 

 

 

Back on the (Running) Horse

I’ve become a total slacker, not running, barely going to yoga or weekly (just weekly!!) boot camp. Except for the magical Loon race, I really haven’t been running.

It’s a mix of being unmotivated, lazy, and rather taken over by the apartment hunt (nothing yet). Plus, the heat! I am personally responsible, however, for ending our heat wave in the Northeast, and you’re welcome. How did I do it? I singlehandedly lugged home a borrowed air conditioner, hauled it in, and installed it in the kids’ room, all on my own, without crushing my feet, cutting a finger, or dropping it out the window. I am a total rockstar. And that feat literally broke the heat wave, overnight.

I clearly have superpowers.

But anyway. I can’t run in the heat. Not like I’m a wimp, but I had a heatstrokey experience a few years ago (heat exhaustion, heat-related illness, what have you, I don’t know the proper term — let me just say it was Rather Bad), and since then I tolerate heat/humidity even less well than I did before, and so a recent afternoon running-in-the-heat attempt turned into a mere two-miler that left me beet red, dry-skinned, superhot, and feeling chilled. Yeah. I don’t sweat well. So. I officially give up trying to work out when it’s hot and humid.

While I’d made my peace with becoming one with my chair/sofa, I also know that I need goals. And my planned September 50-miler can’t happen, because I haven’t been running. Time to get off my ass and do something about this before I melt into a sad puddle of endorphin-less squish.

Oh, I love the endorphins.

Plus, with so many things in my life up in the air right now, I need something regular to count on and to do for myself that’s positive. Also, I “met” this woman while training for my ultra last December (we only met online, ran the race near each other [me somewhere behind her], and still haven’t met in person), and she’s very inspiring. She’s been training hard, recently won a 50K, and posts all her training online. I love following it (she’s also a vegan and posts pics of her meals — also inspiring). And it has inspired me to get off my ass and get back out there.

So I finally downloaded a marathon training plan, pinned it to my wall, and am sticking to it. I downloaded some new tunes to my iPod (a healthy mix of Sia and Highly Suspect, if you must know) and knocked out five miles today. Alone. Happily, even. With some box jumps on a big rock near the end of the run.

Race plan:

  • July: Mudderella (5-mile mud/obstacle race, pure fun)
  • September: Trail half marathon, followed two weeks later by a road half marathon
  • December: Trail ultra (yes, will use the marathon plan to get my mileage up and then build up from there)

 

It's just an intermediate training plan, but i's a good way to get my mileage back up.

It’s just an intermediate training plan, but i’s a good way to get my mileage back up.

Seriously, the new songs helped a lot. I haven’t updated my playlist in four years. Ugh. No wonder I don’t want to run!

And the half marathons on the training plan sync perfectly with a local half on a weekend I don’t have the kids (win-win!). However, I’m not sure how I will manage my weekend runs when they’re here. Make them bike alongside? For 14 or 20 miles?? Remains to be seen. I might have some 4 a.m. weekday runs in my future. We’ll see. I will definitely have to tweak the training based on when I have the kids, but I’ll get it all done and mark it all off as I go.

Plus, right above this training plan on the corkboard is this delightful drawing by Ben, which I love so much:

img_8643.jpg

 

I think he was four when he drew it, and while it looks as though Max might be about to take a swig, if I recall correctly he’s poised to throw something at Ben, according to the artist — who might be holding a self-defense rock in the drawing, come to think of it. Sweet, sweet children (no, seriously, they are — JUST THIS WEEK they started playing board games together, checkers mostly, and this morning Max was teaching Ben to play chess! You have no idea how much pure joy this brings me).

What are you training for? Who or what inspires you? How do you get off your butt when you’re becoming one with your chair?

Obstacle Challenge: Mudderella, A New Race for Me

I haven’t been running much lately, for various reasons, but  next up is Mudderella, a five-mile obstacle challenge race created by women, for women.

Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 12.04.08 PMI’ve always been interested in these kinds of races, not just running but also getting up and over tricky obstacles — I love to climb and play and such, and it’s hard to keep myself off the monkey bars at the playground — so obstacle challenge + running + mud + a team of friends? Yes. Apparently at times we have to help each other up and over the obstacles, which should be a hoot.

obstacle challenge

Copyright: Mudderella

Details: 

  • July 30, 2016
  • Exeter, NH
  • “A unique course that takes you through miles of back-wood trails and hilly motocross tracks…less than an hour outside of Boston”

Cause:

This race isn’t just for fun muddy bruising sweaty adventure with your besties, however. Mudderella is partnering with Futures Without Violence as their national charity beneficiary. All proceeds raised by participants support Futures Without Violence’s mission to protect women against domestic and sexual violence.

Fitness: 

You’re gonna be fine. But if you want to up your game a little, Mudderella offers some training workouts. These things are always good to do no matter what you’re training for.

Doesn’t this sound like fun?  Join my team — or put together your own! I have a discount code (15% off) for you, too: enter MUDMOM when you register. Sign up, challenge yourself, and have fun!

Loony on Loon: Loon Mountain Race Recap

For reasons I can’t articulate well, I signed up for the Loon Mountain Race weekend before last (July 3). It’s a NE Mountain Running Championship race. Or the championship. To pick people for the U.S. Mountain Running Team.

I had no fantasies of even meeting people on the team, let alone running anywhere near them, but it can be fun to race near far behind the elites.

I hadn’t been running much, and I hadn’t been running any hills, and while I’ve done several trail races, I had never done a mountain race. It’s a whole different thing.

It was spectacular. The race had a really good feel to it, in terms of overall vibe — laid-back but mostly well-coordinated. The route was great. The trails were gorgeous. There was some not-quite-single-track through the woods (the nordic ski trails), with plenty of mud. There was up. There was down. There were cross-mountain views that made me want to throw out my arms and sing “The Hills Are Alive.” There was steep up on loose fill. Not gravel, not dirt, but what can only be described as “loose fill.” Have you ever tried to run up steep loose fill that’s slipping away under your feet?

Loose fill is fun! PHOTO CREDIT: SNAPacidotic

Loose fill is fun! PHOTO CREDIT: SNAPacidotic

Then there was a long steep uphill. The woman next to me, a three-time Loon racer, warned me there’d be a big downhill before Upper Walking Boss, the last big uphill (at a 40% grade). She was really nice. And then we crested our hill and she was gone. I don’t know how anyone runs downhill that fast without just falling and rolling, but she flew. I struggled along behind and then started up the Boss.

I knew to use my core and stay upright and push my hips toward the hill, but I’d been doing that for more than an hour and my core was TIRED. Imaging holding plank pose for a week or something. Yeah. Looking up, it was clear there was no human way to climb that grassy wall that looked about five miles high. And I couldn’t physically walk right up it.

I turned sideways. One-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight. Backwards. One-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight. Sideways the other way. One-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight. Forwards. One-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight.

I kept on like this until I finally looked down and realized I’d somehow gotten halfway up! So what if I looked like an insane spinning person. I was getting up that mountain as fast as I could. Which was, to be honest, no faster than the people just walking up it. It’s possible some of them passed me when I stopped to rest.

Kept counting. Changed count to six. Changed count to four. A sign indicated 100m to go. It looked like a few miles, honestly.

Got to a cheering crowd at a crest. [Links will take you to Scott Mason’s official race photos.]

“Where’s the finish? Over this crest?”

“One more crest! You’ve got it!”

Random guy to plodding me: “Pump your arms like you’re running!”

Right. I couldn’t possibly run but there was no reason to trudge like I was headed to hell. I pumped my arms. It helped a ton.

Second crest. Cheering crowds. Was this the finish? Cowbells.

Timing clock was up above some scree. Up there. No one’s up there. Not even a “Finish” sign. I kept going. Timing clock. Dying. Moon landscape. I crossed two timing mats and the clock.

“I’m DONE! I’M DONE I’M DONE I DON’T HAVE TO GO UPHILL ANYMORE I CAN STOP I’M DONE!”

That was me. Some guy was pouring cups of water. I stood by him and drank and drank and cheered that I was done.

I went back down to the upper crowd to cheer in friends and strangers. A woman came hobbling up the hill, limping badly, lurching side to side. I threw down my water and went to her side to run her in. “Hey, you’re almost there. The worst is over. The finish is just up there. You’re gonna be OK. Let’s just get up this part. We’re almost there. See the clock? Come on. You’re doing great. Keep it going. Come on.” She crossed the finish line; I ducked out just before the timing mats and got her some water.

And that was that. My friend Dana had very kindly gotten up early to drive me from our campsite to the race and bought a gondola ticket to be near the top to cheer me and take pics (but somehow we never saw each other, whatever). I got conflicting info on where she was and ended up walking almost halfway down Upper Walking Boss before realizing I’d be insane to go further down, because I’d only have to go up again.

I found her at the gondola. We rode to the bottom and she gave me a beer (I know! What a friend!!). I got her a bagel with peanut butter. Her tired dog slept. I sat through the awards ceremony (a 12-year-old girl finished 6th in women). Then our campsite pals met us and we all spent the afternoon hanging out by the river.

Now I want to do more mountain races….and some hill training, too.

Camping, and Camping, and Camping

“So, do you have a fun getaways planned this summer?” I get asked this sometimes, yesterday by the woman who cut my hair.

I’m never quite sure how to answer. I have no big trips planned. But I’m camping this weekend for the third weekend in a row.

I’ll be honest: it’s starting to wear on me a little.

The first weekend was awesome. It was trail running camp! All I had to pack was a lot of running gear and a headlamp for night runs, my tent/sleeping bag, and a plate and fork, basically. Wonderful volunteers took care of all the meals (and plenty of snacks), so I didn’t have to even think about the food. I just ran, swam, learned, laughed a lot (some very funny people there), ate, slept.

The second weekend was awesome but more tiring. It was me and the children meeting a friend and her children (friends with my kids), so I had to pack the big tent, sleeping gear for me and the boys, clothes for all three of us, swimming stuff, the camping grill, the big box of “camp kitchen,” coolers of food, bikes, scooters, snacks. Lots of fun, but it was a lot to keep track of and load/unload/load/unload.

This weekend I’m heading up to the White Mountains to run the Loon Mountain Race and hike Mt. Lafayette the day before (yeah, I know, but I have no major goals for Loon except to finish without dying on Upper Walking Boss*). I’m camping with about a million other people (that’s an exaggeration, but there will be a bunch of us in a big group site. I don’t know all (maybe half) of them. I’m carpooling up but still sorting out my ride. I need to figure out how I’m getting to/from the race, since only two of us in the site are running it and I’m not sure of the other person’s plans. I haven’t thought about food (what do I even eat these days, anyway?), and since I’m not driving my own car up, I can’t just load up my car with all the possible food things. I have to actually plan.

Here are two photos of the race: http://www.runwithken.com/2013/07/on-mountain-we-are-all-smallbut-we.html and (my favorite) http://www.runwithken.com/2013/07/on-upper-walking-boss-some-runners-fall.html (I’m going to be Crawling Guy, I suspect). It looks like a blast, right? So why aren’t I excited? Am I just too tired? I might just be too introverted for this scenario right now.

I know the best thing to do is to make a list. Just dump it all out on paper, everything I need to do: sort out the camping gear so C has the big tent/kids’ sleeping bags in case they go camping, decide  what I’ll need for the weekend, figure out how to pack it compactly so I can carpool with other people and their gear, and so on.

Probably other stressors are playing in right now: work, finding an apartment, finding more work, my total lack of training and yoga lately, when to get to the pet store to buy cat food before I leave for the weekend. Sleeping, or lack thereof. How the kids will deal with camp next week and for the rest of summer. And other stuff.

Mostly, though, I think I’m just tired. Today I had set the alarm for a gloriously late 7:01 (which would make for a rushed morning getting the kids up and out the door) but popped awake at 5:15. Woe to me. The coffee maker hadn’t even started yet.

Wish me luck this weekend. I might skip the hike and curl up with a book all day Saturday. Who knows?

*From the race site: “The reputation as one of the region’s toughest races is due in large part to the kilometer ascent of North Peak via the black diamond trail known as Upper Walking Boss. ‘The Boss’, as it’s affectionately known, is roughly a kilometer of grassy slope with angles that exceed a dizzying 40% grade!”

My First Ultramarathon

I say “first” because then I went and signed up for a 50-miler a few days after this race, because an ultramarathon is an addictive thing. I want more. I want to do this for days.

Pre-Race Calm, and the Weather

Last weekend I finally ran the 32-mile ultramarathon race I have been training for (TARC Fells Winter Ultra). Unlike almost all the races I have run in the past two years, I did not have an anxiety dream the night or a few nights before. I have had terrible anxiety dreams before my last two marathons. I had an awful anxiety dream a few months ago, when I paced someone for the last 25 miles of her 100k (in the dream I forgot my shoes, among other things!). So you’d think, since I’ve psyched myself out of ultras for the past few years, I’d have a doozy of a dream. Nope.

Screen shot 2015-12-12 at 10.00.36 AM

Photo credit: Douglyss Giuliana

Well, OK. I did dream that I showed up for the race and ran two or three loops but then found out I’d arrived too early and hadn’t picked up my bib … so I had to get my bib and start over! But this dream didn’t bother me.

Seriously, I have never been so calm before a race. The only drama was the previous night, when I was checking the weather and really torn between shorts and capris (looked like 30 degrees at start of race, increasing to 39 degrees … but since I’d be going slowly, I wouldn’t get as hot as usual … see my dilemma? I get really hot when I run). My friend Dana checked in with me to say good luck and when I told her I was down to the huge question of “shorts or capris” she said shorts.

What.

Turns out she was checking the weather much closer to the race location than I was (don’t ask, but it looked like closer to mid- or high 40s later in the race). So I made a last-minute decision for shorts. THANK GOD. I ended up in shorts and a T-shirt, with arm warmers both up and rolled down, depending.

Anyway. I’d told my husband and kids that if they wanted to come watch — and I totally didn’t expect them to or need them to, and it’s a tricky race to spectate — I might be passing by Panther Cave at 8 a.m., 10 a.m., noon, and 2 p.m. That was a rough estimate based on my plan for two hours per eight-mile loop, allowing myself two-and-a-half hours for my final loop.*

This worked perfectly with my training, expectations, and the prediction that UltraSignup had for me (the registration site makes predictions based on your past races and the general field of racers). UltraSignup had me at a finish time of 8:37, which was pretty close to what I’d predicted for myself. My “hope” was 8 hours. I’d be happy with 8:30 (that means eight and a half hours). And I’d be fine with 9. Honestly, I knew it was a tough course and that a lot of people don’t finish, so my main goal was to finish my first ultra … smiling.

*They showed up!! But I missed them, because my timing was all off. They went and got lunch and came back … and I missed them again!

Shoes

I also had shoe issues in the weeks leading up to the race. My trail shoes (NB Leadvilles) were pretty worn out. I’d tried one training run in an ancient pair of Salomons, stiff and heavy, not ideal. I tried some runs in my old Leadvilles, which felt mushy. Mushy like you’re running in your grampa’s old floppy wool socks. Not exactly responsive, you know? And I did my 24-mile training run in a brand-new pair of Cascadias which turned out to be too narrow for my poor triangular flipper feet (why oh why do you all keep narrowing your toebox??). While they were nice, my pinky toes deserved a lot better, and I wasn’t going to risk trashing them on race day.

I bought a new pair of Leadvilles, which I didn’t get a chance to run in before the race. Crap. You know how it can take a little time to get the lacing adjusted just right, especially if you have big deep feet like mine? Yeah. (Did not wear them.)

Race Day

I had my drop bag ready (warm clothes, a baggie of ibuprofen and spare contacts and this and that — and I am really impressed with how weirdly organized I was for this, even though I didn’t need any of it), the plastic heat blanket I’d been given two weeks earlier at the Philly Marathon (I walked the half with a friend), food, a thermos of of coffee. My hydration pack was all packed and ready … though I didn’t have my snacks well organized, it turned out, with just one Honey Stinger Waffle available to me and the rest of the stuff unreachable unless I removed my pack (love my hydration pack, but it’s a pain to remove it/put it back on).

I was so calm before the race. I have never been so calm before a race. I even offered to help set up tables with the race director. I chatted with people. I met a lovely woman in the Portapotty line (I ended up going in the woods) who totally cranked on the trails and remembered my name and greeted me each time we passed and she won for the women in my race (go, Hannah!).

 

I think this is Loop 2 for Hannah. She rocked it. Photo credit: Jeff LeBlanc

I think this is Loop 2 for Hannah. She rocked it. Photo credit: Jeff LeBlanc

 

 

My plastic heat blanket was awesome; I pulled off my sweatpants and wrapped the heat shield around me as a a quick and easy way to stay warm.

First Loop (Miles 0-8)

Screen shot 2015-12-11 at 10.39.58 PM

Loop 1. Photo credit: Jeff LeBlanc.

First loop, great. Except instead of running it in two hours, I finished in an hour and a half. Oops. Crap. I’d be sure to pay for that later, right? The course was  short lollipop stem and then the loop, and you had to go down the stem each time to check in at the Start/Finish area each time.

When I paced Annette at her 100k back in October, I’d been a little embarrassing at the aid stations. They’re so full of food! Sandwiches, soup, candy, chips … and I hadn’t eaten well before the race, and a few times Annette left without me while I chowed down (sorry, Annette!). This time I was better prepared and better fueled, and my goal was to spend as little time in the aid stations as possible (there was an aid station at the Start/Finish and one at the halfway mark).

First loop, I breezed in, checked, in, ditched several layers, ate fast, and headed out again. Didn’t even stop at the halfway aid station.

Second Loop (Miles 9-16)

Second loop, stopped at halfway aid station, hugged my pal Alyssa, and marveled at the fact that I was standing out in the woods in December in New England, eating fresh raspberries. Amazing!! Isn’t that amazing? I don’t think I even stopped at the Start/Finish this time except to check in my bib number.

Oh, so here’s the deal: You could run the loop in either direction. I did two counterclockwise, one clockwise, last loop counterclockwise. I had mostly run alone so far. I’d passed my sometime massage therapist standing on a rock outcropping (“Hey, are you here for me?”). I’d run for a bit with a nice guy named Will from New Hampshire, who gave me a gel when he learned I’d forgotten to bring any (THANK YOU, WILL!). He handed it to me on a flat, smooth section of trail, and of course I tripped and fell flat on my face reaching to take it from him.

Funny moment: Will and I passed an older gentleman out for a walk, who stepped off the trail to let us pass.

“You look good, you guys,” he said encouragingly.

Will said, in the most polite, sincere, earnest tone imaginable: “You look good.” I don’t know if he added “sir” but he might as well have. It was tremendously funny to me.

Near the end of that loop, though, I recognized a tattooed calf (this happens when you run behind someone even once) and realized I was running near a guy named Eric, who I should not have been anywhere near, because he’s really fast … so I was still ahead of schedule (that loop was about 1:45).

Change of buff, ditched a few top layers, still happy! Photo credit: Jeff LeBlanc

Change of buff, ditched a few top layers, still happy! and wow is my vest adjusted all wrong!! Photo credit: Jeff LeBlanc

Third Loop (Miles 17-24)

I caught up to Eric again, somehow, and others. It was nice to run near a group of people for a while. But I felt weird. Dizzy. Lightheaded. I couldn’t talk to them. I knew we had one more small hill to get over and we’d be at the halfway aid station.

I thought I might black out.

Ahead, one of our pack turned his ankle. Runners stopped, gathered near him … “Are you OK?” I asked, hoping like hell he wouldn’t need me because I was about to sink to the ground and what is wrong with my head and he smiled and said, “I’m OK” and others were with him so I struggled on, mile 20, my head is a balloonkeep moving

Aid station. I ate a lot of quarters of PBJs, and there were pickles, so I ate those too. I ate and ate. My group caught up, fueled, ran off. I watched them vanish up the hill. I couldn’t care. I felt weird. I felt better. I could run again. I should go. I left the aid station.

I was alone again. I couldn’t lose more time. Sure, I’d lost a lot of time at the aid station, but I still needed to keep this loop to two hours. But then there were only orange and green blazes, no white blazes.

For chrissake. I’ve been running these trails for 11 years. I backtracked. I couldn’t find the white trail. I stood there in the trees, still lightheaded, confused. Where did the Skyline Trail split off?

Soon enough, a runner trotted up from the opposite direction. I greeted her, thanked her, and ran off from where she’d come. Hooray! Back on track! I checked my watch. OK, you need to keep up this pace to stay in your two-hour limit. Hahahahaha. The minute I picked up speed, after cruising up a hill, I realized I’d lost the white blazes again.

I cursed myself for choosing to go the opposite direction on the third loop. I’d already directed several runners who’d missed turns, but now here I was missing all the turns and going off trail. I wasn’t dizzy anymore, at least. The food had kicked in. I felt solid again, and I’d simply not paid attention in my quest for speed.

Oh, did I not mention the Yeti? TARC standard. I was sad to not see him this year, and then -- loop 2 -- there he was! Where I needed him! Out in the woods! And we high-fived and I said I was so happy to see him. Which is weird because I have absolutely no idea who was in the Yeti costume this race.

Oh, did I not mention the Yeti? TARC standard. I was sad to not see him this year, and then — loop 2 — there he was! Where I needed him! Out in the woods (not where this photo was taken)! And we high-fived and I said I was so happy to see him. Which is weird because I have absolutely no idea who was in the Yeti costume this race.

I found the white blazes again and made it back to the Start/Finish. Someone tried to take my pack to refill it, but I wouldn’t let her. I guess I still felt weird (also, my hydration pack is a pain in the butt and if you don’t get the top on right, it leaks all over my back). I didn’t know what I wanted from the aid station. The race director came up and asked if I was OK, and I babbled at her. But I was OK. Just not making a ton of sense. The aid station had cola. Cola! I haven’t had soda in more than a decade. It was cane-sugar sweetened, no high fructose corn syrup. I had three mini dixie cups of it and it was divine. My god. So good.

Fourth Loop (Miles 25-32)

And off I went. This time, I remembered to grab my visor. Remember, I knew from all my training runs to have this? It was on my “must have” list from the beginning … and I forgot it for the first three loops, which probably contributed to my dizziness. Sharp bright sunlight hitting from above, below, the side, straight on … With the visor on, I had a lot more control.

(Oh, control! My shoes! The old mushy Leadvilles! As I said, like running in Grandpa’s old floppy wool socks that puddle around your feet! Sure, my tread is worn almost smooth on those things, but they stuck when I needed them to, going up rock or down rock. They never slipped, they held fast, they might have been a little thin on the cushioning since they’re so old and worn, but they got me through! Thank you, New Balance!)

thumbs_DSCN3246

Photo credit: Douglyss Guiliana

I could see, and I was fueled, and I’d had cola. I had a sandwich in easy reach (confession: sandwich is still in my hydration pack nearly a week later! I will remove it tomorrow). This last loop, I’d allowed myself 2.5 hours, but I did it in under two again.

Finish time: 7:22. Second in age group, ninth woman finisher. More than an hour under my projected time.

Screen shot 2015-12-11 at 10.09.40 PM

In my favor: Extremely mild weather, good health, good training, a sense of calm. Visor for the fourth loop.

Surprise factors: My old beat-up trail shoes held up admirably. I thought I had my fueling down but didn’t make it accessible so all but one fuel waffle was available. I didn’t expect my first loop to be that fast and thought it would come back to bite me, but it did not.

Etienne. A TARC staple. He was just out for a run but it is always a joy to see him.

Etienne. A TARC staple. He was just out for a run but it is always nice to see him.

 

Oh, and I forgot about this, but I was bitten by a dog in the third loop, maybe mile 23. It was leashed, too! (There were a lot of off-leash dogs in the Fells that day, some not very voice-trained.) It bit me on the wrist, but I had on thick arm warmers and my Garmin, and it didn’t break the skin, and I didn’t want to stop and hassle the owners about it.

Post-race: Ate a lot of chips, ate a big dinner (burgers — thanks, husband!). Was hungry as hell the next day (there was just not enough food for me) but my body felt fine. Quads hurt Monday/Tuesday (the downhills!) but then fine. I ran 5.5 miles today, all fine. I feel like this was much easier to recover from than a road marathon. I’d like to run 10 miles tomorrow but just don’t have time.

Next step: I signed up for a fall 50-miler but am quite sure I need to run another ultra before then. This stuff is addictive!

(There are more pictures of me, from Douglyss Giuliana.)

Big Thanks

Bill Howard, who agreed to meet me for a weekday loop and calmly agreed a third loop would be good for my state of pre-race calm.

Dana and Justine and Florentien and Alison and all of you who were never fazed by this idea but instead encouraged me.

Hilary, who met me for a weekday loop and tried to give me an “out” (which I refused), and Lein, who cheerfully came along for a loop one day.

Dana again, for suggesting shorts.

Samantha and Carolyn, online support.

Ardith, all the boot camps and running (Burpees????).

Chris, who not only didn’t mind my taking time for six-hour runs (WHAT) but also knew I’d want burgers the night after the run and got the stuff and MADE THEM. Yeah. While fending off kids so I could just eat chips and shower and feel pretty buff. Thanks for all of it.

All my awesome running people, road and trail, SRR and Weekday Pancake Runners and TARC, because you all are fantastic and supportive and you believe.

TARC, who always put on the best races and aid stations and cheering and support.

 

 

24 Miles in the Woods

I did another long trail run this week. I wanted to have a stronger run than I did last time, and I wanted to do three loops of the trail I’ll be racing on in a few weeks, just to know that I could. The race is four loops, so three seemed to be a good training peak — the 20-miler, if you will, if this were a marathon.

A fellow trail runner (and ultrarunner) agreed that three loops would be a good confidence booster.

Three loops, by the way, is 24 miles. That’s hard to think about sometimes, these days, so I simply viewed it as three loops.

Thanks to the excellent local trail running community, I found someone to run with on Wednesday. He would join me for two loops, and I’d do the last alone. We had a similar training pace goal of two hours per loop (don’t scoff: with this trail, that is a healthy pace).

There's a lot of this on the trail.

There’s a lot of this on the trail. As in,THIS IS THE ACTUAL TRAIL. See the blaze on the tree up there?

Unlike my two-looper a few weeks ago, I wasn’t sleepy this time. Nor was I craving eggs and toast. I’ve really been packing in the protein, by which I mean eating ridiculously large amounts of red meat. Yes, I do occasionally consider going vegan, but I love beef. Keep your chicken, pork, and fish, but I need cow. I crave it. Maybe it’s an iron thing. Anyway, I’ve been eating a lot of it, and I’ve been feeling really strong.

IMG_6789.JPG

Gorgeous, right? I love this trail. It’s so much fun to run, and so beautiful.

The first two loops went great. I stayed at two hours per loop, bidding farewell to my running partner halfway through our second loop (he wanted to slow down a little and take it at his own pace). I made a very quick stop at my car to refill my water bag (the bag itself didn’t leak this time but the mouthpiece did, so I had a wet leg instead of a wet lower back. I’m still not sure what I’ll do on race day — use it, or carry a handheld, which might annoy me).

Oh, also this time I brought new fuel with me (and was in new shoes — apparently my thing this year is to break out brand-new shoes for my prerace long run!) What’s that about nothing new on race day? Right! That’s why I headed out for a 24-mile trail run in fresh-out-of-the-box Cascadias and some Honey Stinger Waffles, which I’ve never tried before (YUM). I also had a peanut butter chocolatey granola bar from Costco. Probably on race day I’ll need a little more fuel but hopefully not much — I don’t want to lose a lot of time in the marvelous aid station.

I was definitely going to keep to a two-hour goal for the third loop. I kept track of my pace this time instead of just meandering along. I mean, I noted how long each mile was taking me. I hit the fire tower (about halfway) a little early, wooo-hoooo! Right after that, I ran into a parent of one of my son’s friends, and he asked how long I was running, and I said I was at mile 19 (!!!) and then had to revise it to say “halfway through my third loop.” I mean, come on, isn’t that so much easier to think about?

On I ran. And ran. I didn’t quite push it, but I wasn’t easing off.

And I finished that third loop in 1:55, five minutes ahead of my goal.

Talk about a confidence booster! I now feel a lot more ready for the race. I know anything can happen on race day — GI issues, ice, blinding sleet, a turned ankle. But I’m excited. I’m a lot more excited than I’ve been about a race in a long time. I’m glad my first ultra will be on my home turf, even though this is one of the tougher trails around.

And now it’s time to eat, run, rest, repeat. And head to Philly to visit and old friend and do the Philadelphia Half Marathon with her. And eat some more. Did I mention my appetite has been insane?

This race is a big head game for me. It feels like the perfect goal for me right now, running-wise. Can’t wait ’til race day!