Friday, August 19, 2016

Digging Deep and Hitting Bottom

The 100-mile finish remains elusive. I am 0 for 2 in my attempts, but I think I understand myself and my motivation a bit better for having tried...again.

First, I will start out by saying that I am okay with this un-finish.   Unlike last year, where I was devastated by my inability to cover 100 miles, this year's race was a long shot to begin with.  Tendon injuries going into training gave me a good excuse in the event that things went wrong, because training was never going to be what it shoulda, woulda, coulda been.

I guess I should gladly grasp at that excuse as my reason for a race not well run and leave it at that, but the truth is that I don't think I really wanted this finish. What I wanted was the start. Let me explain.

After last year's failed finish, I wasn't even going to do another 100 ever again. But, it wasn't too long before I started feeling a bit differently and shortly after that when I signed up for my second 100-mile attempt at Burning River. For a long time I thought that I really felt compelled to run a 100-mile race, or to at least say I had finished one. But the more I thought about it during my ill-fated march across Ohio, the more I realized that it wasn't the finish that was important to me, it was the start. I had only wanted to prove to myself that I wasn't afraid to try again - to brush the dust off of my first failure, dig in my heels, and give it another go. Actually finishing the race was at best a secondary goal. I always have been more of a journey person than a goal person. (Training for a 100 was fun; running it, not so much. Running on shredded feet and a pulled tendon for 67 miles was fun; suffering through all that for another 33 just to say I had finished, not so much.)

And, the journey was educational. No, I didn't finish the race. Yes, clearly, I have limits I must face. No, I guess I didn't want it badly enough to gut it out, overcome all the insufficient training and lingering injuries, and persevere despite all. However, what I did do was have the courage to start, knowing that my training was sketchy at best, and knowing I didn't have a track record that would lead me to believe success was in the offing. Dammit, I knew the cards were stacked not in my favor, but ... I. Did. It. Anyway.  And, that is worth something, at least to me. 

So, now that I have failed twice, surely I'll go back out and try again, right? After all, I need to prove to myself ... again ... that I don't give up just because of repeated failures, right? Well, not so fast.  Because, another epiphany that I had while doing this event, marching into the night on aching feet and pulled tendons, was that I am not ready to complete a 100-miler.  

As someone who suffers from serial injuries, necessary long breaks from running, and the resulting woeful lack of consistent training, it is clear that I need to get stronger both physically and mentally before I can try this again.

And this shouldn't come as a surprise! After all, when Andy did his first 50-mile event (which was a crazy concept for me at the time!), I told him that I could never run that sort of distance until I could spend that kind of time in my head with myself.  You see, for some people (in fact, most of the people I know), running ultras is a social endeavor - an extroverted romp through the landscape hanging with friends or meeting and making new's a giant party on the move. But that's not me. Not always, anyway.

For me, long distance running has been more akin to a Zen exercise (or at least an attempt at one) - a moving meditation, a time to go deep inside and see what is there, a time to connect with God or whatever moves this world. In training, I often like to run with friends, but during race events I like to disappear inside myself, to go places in my head and heart that others cannot follow.

Failing at this second 100-miler attempt, I realized that I am not ready for that kind of distance yet. My spiritual, meditative abilities remain stunted at the 70-ish mile mark and I have not been able to stretch them beyond that point yet. Of course, that is aided and abetted by a body that doesn't really want to go much beyond 35 miles.  So, rather than be upset by the DNF, I take it as a lesson in my personal growth. It has shown me where I am at and what I need to work on. I may or may not yet get to the 100-mile distance, but in the meantime I am no less valid as a distance runner - a thought that plagued me after last year's DNF.

At this point, I have no plans for signing up for yet another 100. Instead, I plan to enjoy shorter longer distances (i.e., marathons, 50Ks, and 50-milers) and really just enjoy the process of digging deeper, getting stronger (and perhaps a tad faster), and working on what is important to me - which is to be healthy and strong for myself and my family, and to be distance running well into my dotage.

If my journey takes me further than 70 miles one day, so be it. In the meantime, I am happy of the reminder that some things come naturally, and some things you really have to work for.  After all, there was a day when 50 miles seemed beyond my abilities, but I have grown into that distance. A 100-miler is most likely not impossible, it's just not now.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Mt. Taylor 50K Race Report....Um, Finally

So, my husband and I disagree on whose idea it first was to run the Mt. Taylor 50K, but whoever the brilliant one was, it's an idea that took hold in both of our minds. So it was that after following the event on Facebook for a couple of years, in 2015 the vacation stars aligned just enough so that we could sign up.

Part of the reason for Mt. Taylor's allure was certainly timing. After all, it takes place right around our anniversary, and what better way for an ultra-loving couple to celebrate their wedded bliss but by an ultra? (I could probably draw a metaphor between ultra running and marriage, but I'll spare you...for now.) Aside from the anniversary angle and the fact that I just liked the idea of traveling to New Mexico as I had never been before, there was a cultural backstory to this event that I felt drawn to.

Mt. Taylor is considered one of the four sacred peaks to the Navajo people, the other three being Mt. Hesperus, Mt. Blanca, and San Fransisco Peak. When I read in the race literature that the race would begin at daybreak, so as to run in the Navajo tradition of running east to greet the rising sun, I just had a feeling this was something that would be completely unique to my experience, and something I wanted to take part in. Despite having a small slice of Native American heritage in my background, I cannot claim to know much, if anything, about the Native American history, cultures, or peoples of our country, and I saw this as an opportunity to learn. Proceeds from the race go to the Nideiltihi Native Elite Runners (NNER).

The Mt. Taylor 50K was scheduled for September 26, 2015. After flying into Phoenix the night before, we arrived in Grants, New Mexico, on Friday afternoon. Grants, a small town of about 10,000 people, is about 70 miles west of Albuquerque. My first impression of Grants was of a small town suffering somewhere on the mild-to-severe scale of economic depression - not unlike a lot of small towns in the U.S. Of course, that was just a quick first impression. In all honesty, Grants could have been the most charming town in the world, but I would not have noticed. My impression was carved out of a quick drive in to our hotel (the Red Lion Hotel - official race hotel), a pizza dinner at Surf Shack Pizza after the race (very tasty, by the way), and the drive back out Sunday. However, even if it would offer nothing else, Grants has what they call location, location, location. Situated in New Mexico's high desert and surrounded by the Cibola National Forest, in Grants you find yourself within driving range of a number of national monuments, forests, and historical parks in New Mexico, not to mention some of Arizona's finest treasures - such as the Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest.

Packet Pickup

The first order of business after checking into the Red Lion Hotel was to go to packet pickup. Set up conveniently in the hotel, it was a short walk. Among other things, our packet included a shirt, socks, and some other goodies.
Back of shirt
Tables were set up with race information and town and regional information. There were plenty of volunteers there to answer questions. At packet pickup we were also encouraged to pick up a colored dot sticker to wear on our clothing if we were in need of a ride to the startline the next morning. Another colored dot differentiated those who needed a ride from those who had room in their car to give rides. Although it goes against my nature to seek rides from strangers, the idea of taking our economy-sized rental car up the twisting and winding mountain road, some of which was advertised as economy-car-eating rutted gravel, did not appeal. So, I proudly wore my dot in the hopes of catching a ride.

Pasta Dinner

Seeing as Grants was such a small town and we didn't know what would be available, the husband and I had selected to pay for the pasta dinner. So, when doors opened we were among the first to filter in, grab some food from the buffet of pasta, marinara (or meat sauce), baked potato, bread, salad, and a dessert. Drinks available were lemonade and water.

At the dinner, there were the usual talks given by area officials welcoming runners and some tips and directives from the race director and staff, but it is the featured speaker which makes the dinner stand out in my mind, even months later.

Shaun Martin was the winner of the inaugural Mt. Taylor 50K in 2012 and race director of the Canyon de Chelly Ultra. Being Navajo, Martin's talk centered around his roots. He gave a moving talk about what running means to the Navajo people, his family's history with running, and a brief talk about the four sacred mountains. At this late juncture, I cannot do justice to Martin's talk, if ever I could. What I do know is that I left the pasta dinner that evening feeling just a little bit wiser, a little bit humbled to be a part of such a meaningful event, and a whole lot pumped up and ready to tackle whatever would come the next day.

Before leaving the pasta dinner, the husband and I managed to secure a ride - not from the dot system so carefully implemented by the race staff - but rather a very nice Grants couple who just happened to be sitting at the same table with us and who were willing and able to give us a ride to the start. So, although they would have to get up a bit earlier to drive back to the hotel to collect us in the morning, they did offer to pick us up at o'dark thirty. 

The Race

The alarm woke us up early the next morning so that we could get up, eat breakfast (free to Red Lion Hotel guests!), and be ready to catch our ride to the 6:30 a.m. start. Because the cynic in me worried that we would be forgotten on the doorstep of the hotel, I was already making contingency plans when our ride - the nice couple from the evening before - showed up to start us on our journey.

The ride to the start is, as advertised, a good 40-minute drive up a twisting, winding mountain road, the last five miles of which is gravel, the last several hundred yards of which is hardly a road - pitted as it is by huge potholes, deep ruts, and littered with football-sized rocks. In other words, if you don't have a high-rise vehicle and four-wheel drive, you would be better off parking further down the road and resigning yourself to a hike in to the start. As it was, our driver's pickup truck seemed more than adequate to the chassis-challenging task of navigating the last couple hundreds of yards to prime parking.

At that early hour, it was extremely dark on the mountain despite the strands of lights the race crew had managed to string around the start area. We found our headlamps helpful for getting around - from car to start to porta-potties, etc. After getting organized, dropping our 16-mile drop bags, and using the porta-potties one last time, it was time to go.

Since the race was following the Navajo tradition of running east into the rising sun, the start was timed to coincide with daybreak.  As we began, it was still dark enough that a headlamp seemed prudent but probably would not have been absolutely necessary as it wasn't too long before there was enough light to see by.

Starting out, I knew the race would be hard. I was under no illusion that it would not be, if for no other reason than the elevation. The entire event - all 31 miles - were to be run between 9,000 and 11,305 feet with 7,000 feet of vertical change! So, distance aside, coming from Northeast Wisconsin, where the elevation is 700 feet, I knew elevation would be a challenge. I told myself I was going to take it easy. I had plenty of time to get in under the eleven and a half hour cutoff. But, I wanted to run, too. I didn't realize how much that lack of oxygen was going to suck the run right out of me.

Being the introvert that I am, I don't know how I did it, but I somehow managed to talk my way into running with the couple who had given us our ride as well as a friend of theirs. They were planning to start out slowly (the gentleman had run the race before and said a conservative start was the way to go). They were very welcoming about me hanging out with them (or tolerant). The husband of course started more towards the front and was prepared to give it his all, as is his wont.

As the race started, we did indeed start out quite slowly. In fact, we walked pretty much all of the first three miles since they went up, up, up. A lot of that was through the trees, but by the time we emerged from the forest, the view expanded and we could see the sun had risen up beyond the mountains. As promised, it was a fantastic sight!

After taking in the expansive views, it was time to make the last slow-marching push up the first looong and steady climb.With the summit in sight, I was ready to change things up and actually run for a bit.

The first aid station came up at around mile 4.5. By then, I needed to use the porta-potty, but sadly they did not have any. Nature, they pointed to, was all around. And, indeed, most people in need were trotting off over a slight ridge behind the aid station to do their business. And, aside from that there was a toilet behind every tree. Um, no thanks. Not being a huge fan of nature squats, I took comfort in the trees being there and thought I would just press on, and if needed stop and squat when desperate.

After that first big climb which ended shortly before the first aid station, we were finally able to run steadily. And, until about mile 10 we trotted along at a modest pace.

To be honest, at this point, I was pretty pleased that I could run at all. I had run at elevation before (only 7,500 feet, to be exact) and I remember how that had sapped the energy out of me, feeling as I had that I was wearing an old-fashioned corset around my rib cage. To be able to run at all for any length of time during this event, I'm not afraid to say it...I felt pretty badass.

Seeing as they were local, the group I was running with did not have the same oxygen issues that I was having. They seemed quite comfortable maintaining a slow steady jog (averaging about 11-minute miles), walking only on the steepest inclines. I, on the other hand, found it necessary to stop quite frequently and walk a bit to catch my breath. This seemed to work out, though, since my natural running pace seemed faster than theirs. I would drop back to take a quick walk break (and gasp for air!) and then run and invariably catch up. I'd hang on for as long as I could before I had to walk again to catch my breath.

This part of the run was quite pretty, albeit without the stellar views. We alternately ran through wooded forests and open spaces. Pine and aspen were all around. It was lovely. At this point, we were on a lot of rutted jeep roads, which had been washed out in previous rains, so there were a LOT of large rocks and ruts to navigate, which slowed our progress considerably. But, all in all, it went well and I felt fairly good. Relatively speaking, of course. At about mile 10, we came into a valley at the end of which was another fully stocked aid station. They even had a porta-potty. Hurray! After doing my business and availing myself of the amenities, it was time to check out. I was still hanging on with the little group at this point, but that would soon end.

Aid station at Mile 10.
A look down the valley from Aid Station at Mile 10. Still happy!
At about mile 11.5, the race course took us off of the gravel jeep road we had been on for much of the race so far and turned us on to the Continental Divide Trail, which we would follow for the next eight miles or so. Sweet single track! It was fantastic!

Continental Divide Trail
Through the aspen groves
It was turning onto the Continental Divide Trail that I finally had to let my little group, which had pulled me along for a full third of the race, go. Their ability to steadily chug up the smaller inclines (not to mention the fact that they were more acclimatized to the elevation than I could ever hope to be!) gave them a definite edge. I realized that it was becoming way too much of a struggle to stick with them, so I started falling back.  I was sad to do this, because they had been such nice company. I got a bit of a lesson, listening to them talk about local goings-ons, events, gossip, and such, as well as learned more about the Native American culture and life in New Mexico.

After losing my posse, I struggled to keep myself moving forward with purpose. Any sort of incline knocked the air right out of my lungs, so soon I found it hard to run for any length of time whatsoever. I ended up doing short little 20-50 foot spurts of a run, followed by an indefinite length of slow-march trudging to catch my breath. It was pretty, though!

At mile 16, I made it back into the halfway point aid station....this was back at the start/finish area. Although they had quite a spread there, I really did not want to linger too long, so I probably did not eat as much as I should have. The first place finisher came in right around this time, which only added to my sense of urgency to get the heck out of there and keep going. And I just didn't want to make this an all day affair. It already had taken me just over four hours to go 16 miles, and I knew there was still a long way to go with a couple of brutal climbs still ahead.

Heading out of the aid station, there were a couple of people around me, and they looked about as pooped as I felt. At that point, no one seemed to be too chatty; perhaps we had all fallen into that zone of misery and resignation when you realize that you signed up for something that is flipping hard but there really isn't a choice but to keep going.

Right as I was about to get back on the Continental Divide trail from the aid station, a couple of volunteers directing runners and cheering us on asked me if I had seen any wildlife yet. (They actually said that like that would have been a good thing!) I said, um no. Thank God. You see, the night before at the pasta dinner, we had been given a nice little lecture about the local fauna, the upshot of which was: don't wear headphones so you can hear a bear or mountain lion before they surprise you. That was it. That was the extent of their advice. After that, I was only able to go through with the event because I had decided to do a mental finger-in-ear-la-la-la-I-can't-hear-you thing. The volunteer's question snapped me out of that self-deception, so I stopped and asked her what should I do if I saw something bigger than myself and furry.  But she just laughed my question off. (I think she thought I was joking.) She said, oh, just ignore them and they would ignore me. Um, right. Those New Mexicans, I tell you. They're made of sterner stuff than I.

So, continuing the race, I ran when I could (which meant I walked much of the time), and walked when I couldn't (which meant I death-marched slowly much of the time). At about mile 19.5, the course left the Continental Divide Trail and put me on a jeep road again. This stretch would be about a mile and a half long before we would finally turn on the trail that would take us to the summit of Mt. Taylor. Don't look up, advised the sign. I looked up. And groaned.

So, you would think looking at this nice, flat stretch of road I would have been able to run a bit more consistently, but I couldn't. I wish I could have, but by this time I felt like the stuffing had been knocked out of me. It was too hard to breathe, and I had struggled too much already. I was almost 20 miles into this race, and I still had a good 11 more to go. If you are able to run at this point consistently, it is a good place to do it. As it was, I just moseyed along, running here and there but mostly in la-la land just moving forward slowly. I did pass a big pickup truck with a bunch of dogs on it and a couple of men. I was mildly curious about that but did not bother to ask about it. And, it is a good thing I didn't as I found out a couple of days later from the husband that he had asked and found out there had been a bear sighting, so the dogs and men were there to try to chase it off or round it up. Oh boy.

At mile 21, you get to the Gooseberry aid station. This is the last aid station until the Caldera Rim aid station at mile 25. The path between the two is an amazingly beautiful trail that goes up, up, up, and up to the summit of Mt. Taylor. Now, having done Pikes Peak in the past, as well as other mountain marches, I really did not anticipate the suffer fest that was to come.

The march up to Mt. Taylor I can only describe as sheer and utter, agonizing misery. I'm sorry. I guess I should dress it up a bit, but honestly I cannot think of a time when I have felt more out of it during a race. Even the last 20 miles of my failed 100 (so, between miles 50 and 70) were not as all-encompassing miserable as this slow and painful death march. During the 100, my pain was localized to body parts - blisters on the feet, IT band that was finally getting grumpy, sore quads, etc. During the Mt. Taylor 50K, I just felt generally like some ominous invisible force was pressing me down trying to keep me in one spot. Mainly, I just couldn't breathe, and the lack of oxygen was no doubt playing havoc on what my muscles felt like they could do. I slow-walked up that mountain like molasses trying to drip uphill. I would literally trudge a few steps and then stop to catch my breath, leaning heavily on my trekking poles before starting to trudge a few steps again.

I can't even begin to describe all the thoughts going through my head during that climb. Even through the filter of several months' time, I still feel the intense level of despair that flooded me during those few miles. Looking up and seeing what I thought was the summit and how far I had to go, and wanting to cry over the work still ahead of me. The fact that I couldn't breathe well. The fact that I had no energy reserves to call upon. The idea that I had it in my head that we had to go up this mountain twice and this was just the first climb! (That was wrong, by the way.)  The fact that I couldn't move faster if I wanted to. The thought that this climb was never, ever, never, EVER going to end.

And then it did!

Quicker than I expected, the summit was there....and an official photographer. Say cheese!

The only thing that got me through this climb was the beauty. Nothing will take away from that. It was simply a stunning locale, and I so appreciate the ability to be able to do things like this and take it all in.

Heading off the summit, I immediately perked up. I don't know if it was the added oxygen I gained with every step I took on the way down, or maybe it was the high I felt having accomplished something that was so darn hard. Either way, I was virtually flying heading down the trail. (Okay, "flying" is relative, but I did feel pretty darn good.) I was even in a chatty mood. I exchanged pleasantries with more than one runner during my brief descent, and it wasn't too long before I got to the Mile 25 aid station.

At Caldera Rim the volunteers were in a jovial mood, and it was there that I learned my skewed perception of reality (namely, that I would never finish the race in time) was wrong. I was doing fine on time: not fast but with plenty of time to make the finish-line cutoff. It was also there that I learned that the next climb wasn't actually a repeat up Mount Taylor as I had somehow thought. (I cannot even explain how elated I was by that news. Even the fact that I would have to do another steeper - but much shorter climb - in a few miles could not put a damper on my mood.) So, out of that aid station I headed to tackle a four-mile loop that would ultimately lead me back to the Caldera Rim aid station.

The first three miles of the loop were not too bad. Mostly, it was either downhill or flat. I ran as much of it as I could, but again that is relative so it probably wasn't as much as I would have liked. At about the three-mile mark of this loop, the trail took a turn up a steep, one-mile climb back to the aid station. While I can't say this climb was any more palatable than the last one had been, it was shorter and it also had the added appeal of being the last major climb of the race. Also, it is at this point that I fell in behind another runner. We got to talking, and that helped pass the time.

Before I knew it, we were back at the Caldera Rim aid station. From here it was a short two-mile "victory lap" to the finish. But, wait! There was more after all. Not too long after passing the aid station and turning towards the finish, there was a downhill so steep that even digging in my trekking poles I could barely arrest my forward momentum. I managed to skid down a good portion of it and thought it a cruel joke on quads that were already pretty much shot. After such a long day, it was certainly a tough grind down the hill to "greener," more easily navigable pastures but I considered it as paying my final dues before the finish.

My new-found friend and I stuck out the rest of the race together. She couldn't manage more than a painfully slow jog, due to some leg issues. In fact, her jog was so slow I was able to fast walk next to her, which amazed her no end. (I don't think she realized exactly how slowly she was running. But, hey. Whatever gets you through.) New Friend did encourage me to run ahead, since by this point I was actually feeling pretty good. Sadly, though, that feel good was only physical. Mentally, I had played all the cards I had and I was quite happy to hang out with her. The company and the talk were much more valuable to me at that point than a slightly earlier finish.

Finally, after so many hours on the trail, we made it back to where it had all begun so many hours before. I did have enough oomph to run into the finish where I found my husband, the small circle of new running buddies I had made at the start of the day (who were also our ride back to town!), and the winner of the overall race, whom I had seen finish about five hours before. They were all just hanging out waiting for me. Well, not the winner. He was there just to cheer folks on and chat with everyone.

As a female finisher of this event, I got not only my medal, but was also able to pick out a handmade Navajo bracelet made by the race director's wife and friend.

All in all, this was a really tough race, but one that had a fantastic story behind it. It was hard, but with the passing of time, there is a part of me that wouldn't be opposed to trying it again. I know that I have limitations placed on me just because of the elevation, but the sheer beauty of the region far overshadows any of the perceived pain. Additionally, I don't think I have ever run a race where the hometown feel, the overriding friendliness of the people who put it on and the fellow participants just outshone anything else.

Happy Running!

A few more pictures from the event:

Monday, March 14, 2016

The promise of SPRING

For years and years, a neighbor of ours has held a 60-degree party. Regardless of day of week or what else seemed to be going on, on that first day in the late winter/early spring when the mercury reached above 60 degrees, the neighbors would get together for an impromptu cookout in said neighbor's driveway. It seems like most years we have missed it just because we haven't been paying attention. This year, however, the neighbors didn't have their party. And while I am a bit sad at this lapse in tradition, we did make sure our little family got out to enjoy the day.

Saturday turned out to be a beautiful, sunny day, and the temperatures did indeed top out just over 60 degrees. So, while all the kids in the neighborhood, including ours, ran around and did whatever it is that kids do outside on the first warm day of the year, the husband took off on his 36-mile training run. Lucky him!

I would have loved to go out and run, but since I am still not running I took the bike out instead. Ten miles on my heavy hybrid were enough to get the heart pumping and the quads aching a bit, so I would call that successful. There were a number of times I thought I should stop and get a picture, but then just kept going. So, in the end, I only have this one picture to show for my first sunny-day bike ride of the year. I thought it turned out pretty artsy, though!

As soon as I got home, I barely had time to change clothes and grab a snack before we headed out again to join some friends at a local park. There the kids rammed around in the woods and up and down a small hill. They got muddy and worn out, and it was just great fun.  We wrapped up the two-hour outing with a 1.5-mle (or so) walk on this boardwalk. I didn't even know this existed, so what a lovely surprise it was to find it!

These early days of spring (or in this case last days of winter) need to be embraced, because they are short-lived. Sunday it was back to overcast skies, temps in the 40s, and even some rain. In other words, blah weather. Probably because of that, I didn't mind going to the gym to tackle my planned two-hour workout. I was curious to see how it would go with the stitches, as towards the end of my 1.5-hour workout the Sunday before I could definitely feel them pulling. Yesterday, however, after an hour and ten minutes on the elliptical and 50 minutes on the recumbent bike, all was still well. I didn't feel the stitches pull at all, which made me very happy. I can't wait to get the little buggers out tomorrow, though!

For posterity
After working out, I got home to find the husband and kids all ready to head out the door to the climbing wall. Although I miss climbing, I am not ready to cram my feet into my climbing shoes yet, so I wished them well. The rest of the day was grocery shopping, cleaning, and cooking dinner for my parents, which we then all enjoyed together that evening.

Actually, the dinner turned out really good. A friend had sent a link to a lentil and black bean taco recipe, which I am ashamed to say confused me at first. I wasn't sure if the mix was supposed to be served as soup or served inside tacos. Since said friend is on vacation currently, I couldn't very well ask, so I decided to do both. Soup for the adults; tacos for the kids. Okay, okay. The latter of which was just an attempt to mask the lentil and black bean mix, since I knew they would never eat it on its own. So, I smothered it in cheese and lettuce and slapped it on taco shells and called it good. They ate it, but declined seconds. The adults thought the soup was delicious, though! And, I must be thinking spring and summer and warmer weather, because I also bought and served fresh strawberries and ice cream for dessert. Normally, I am NOT a fan of strawberries out of season, so I can only explain this lapse in judgement on wishing for a change in the weather. As expected, the berries did not taste as good as they will once they are in season and local, but they were good enough to please the less finicky among us (and I didn't even think they were all bad.)

Today is another blah day weather-wise. It seems the sun is trying to peek out a bit, but mostly it seems content to hide behind the clouds and wait for another day to come out and play. After my typical oatmeal breakfast, I hit the rowing machine for 30 minutes of easy effort rowing, which then turned into 45 minutes of easy effort rowing, so that I could finish an episode of Downton Abbey I was watching on the Roku. Sad, I know, but it got me another couple thousand meters down my imaginary river!

Happy Running! Or Rowing....

Saturday, March 12, 2016

You had one job, Mom...

...and you blew it.

Well, I have a crapload of guilt resting on my shoulders right now. Today was summer school sign up for the kiddos and I failed to get online at the opening bell, which of course means that everything is now filled. I know, I know. If you're like me, you probably think of summer school as punishment, being sentenced to weeks of remedial reading, writing, and math and other drudgery while staring out the window at sunshine and other kids playing and having fun.

Oh, so not so. My kids LOVE summer school. It starts mere days after regular school gets out for the summer and it involves many hours a day - at school - for many weeks. And, while they do have remedial reading, writing, and math for those who need it, what my kids look forward to are the arts and crafts classes, Star Wars-themed jedi training, theater, sports, cooking, gardening, games, you name it. Anything that would be remotely fun to a kid is offered. And. They. LOVE. It.

And. I. Missed. Signup.

By 45 minutes.

All the fun stuff was gone.

Oh, the guilt.

I am really not looking forward to breaking the news. Not to mention, now that they are NOT doing summer school as I have been planning for months and months (I even did have it on my calendar; how I missed it this morning, I'll never understand), I now have to scramble to figure out what they WILL be doing this summer. Luckily, we live in an active-minded community, so I am thinking between parkour, swim, karate camp, and more, we should come up with something. I just can't deal with that right now, though. Later.

So, besides all that, life is just hunky dory in an I-am-not-running kind of way. My husband is currently out running a 36-mile training run (yes, you read that right), and two friends are heading out to run some trails, and I am sitting here wondering when and if I will be able to run again. I do have that marathon in three weeks after all. Ugh. On the bright side, I at least do get my stitches out on Tuesday, so I am hoping to get more information then. I know the doctor said it would be iffy to run even after the stitches are out since the scar would only be at 15-percent strength, but I am hoping that if I tape the skin oh-so-carefully together that I might be able to get back at it.  I guess I'll know more in three days.

As for today, I can look back on a week that hasn't been that productive. After my good intentions for taking a second walk on Wednesday (since last I posted), I failed in that endeavor. Instead, I headed to our running club's fun run and took pictures for the event. Mostly, I just wanted the free wine that was part of the program. The run itself was fantastic with over 100 people turning out for it! Who would have thought. I think the venue was a little overwhelmed, but hopefully we made up for it in business. I just enjoyed socializing with my running friends, especially now that I am off of Facebook, the wine and pizza.

Thursday promised to be a bit of a bust exercise-wise, but I managed to crank out an hour on the rowing machine. I have to say since doing all the rock climbing in the gym rowing has definitely become a lot easier. Yesterday, instead of finding some sort of cross-training to do, I went out to breakfast with my neighbor and ate stuffed French toast and hashbrowns....probably counter productive to the whole exercise thing....but really darn delicious.

Happy Running!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Ready to run, but happy to walk

I am getting antsy to get training again. Not just run. Train. It's hard to see
My Pearl Izumis want to run!
your training plan go down in flames. What's worse, however, is feeling like you are ready to put out the fire and move on but you still have to wait just a wee bit more.

It's been a week (and a day) since I had that pesky mole removed on my foot. Thankfully, the news that came back was good: no further treatment is necessary; they removed all the "abnormal" cells. Hooray! So, now I am ready to get back into things again - to pick up the shattered pieces of my good intentions and put them back together. But wait! I have to allow the skin more time to heal. It wouldn't do to bust the stitches at this juncture and have to start all over AGAIN. So, here I sit. Getting antsy.

I would not say I have been the best post-surgical patient. Although I have not run at all, I did only give the foot three days off before I started cross-training again. Here's what my week post incision has looked like:
Tuesday: Minor surgical procedure/rest/DUH!
Wednesday: REST
Thursday: REST
Friday: REST
Saturday: 30 minutes rowing; 2-mile walk
Sunday: 60 minutes elliptical; 30 minutes recumbent bike
Monday: 45 minutes rowing
Tuesday: REST
Wednesday (today): 30-minute walk
I hope to follow up that 30-minute walk this morning with another 30-45 minutes this evening.

With the incision being on my foot, and with the fact that I only look at it once a day when I change the bandage, I have to go completely by feel in regards to whether or not I am "pushing things." At this point, though, it does seem that recovery is going well. In fact, except for the longer workout on Sunday (when I definitely could feel the stitches tugging towards the end), I feel fine.

So, here I sit and kind of sort of keep things going with cross-training. Otherwise, I have been using this time to get things a bit more organized around the house, catching up with appointments, meeting up with friends when I can, playing referee between the kiddos, and filling out paperwork for another temp job I have coming up in another couple of weeks. In fact, it's been busy enough that I wonder how I will fit the running in again once I get the all clear. I'll cross that bridge when I come to it, I guess.

So, in the meantime, Northeast Wisconsin is enjoying a beautiful early, pre-Spring thaw.  Here are some pictures from my walk this morning:

 Happy Running!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Why Lent?

Yesterday I headed over to the coffee shop where our local running club holds its Wednesday morning runs. With my wounded left foot in tow, I knew I would not be able to run, but I was determined not to miss out on the camaraderie of the coffee klatsch that typically follows. After four months of not being able to participate due to my temporary employment, I felt I had already missed enough.

It was great to be able to catch up with my friends whom I have only seen sporadically since last year. And, now that I am off of Facebook, I really felt that in talking with my friends, for once, I really had news to share. It felt nice to honestly be able to fill my friends in on what was happening in my life and to hear about what was going on in theirs.

Of course, after rehashing my foot story for the third or fourth time (as people filtered in, got their coffee, and then finally sat down and invariably asked why I hadn't run), I realized that the joy in Facebook would have been simply broadcasting my foot news far and wide - and all in one fell swoop. It's not so much that I minded telling everyone over and over again. (In fact, it gave me an inflated sense of self-importance, if I am honest.) But I did feel sorry for the first couple of people I had told the story to, as they got to hear it again - over and over. Welcome to a non-Facebook world, I guess!

So, it's been three weeks since I gave up Facebook for Lent. Hard to believe. The time has both flown by and dragged by in equal measure. Conversation with one of my friends yesterday, and a further e-mail exchange on the matter, got me thinking about this entire Lenten challenge for myself. Why did I do it?

Lent as part of a religious season is not something I observe. I am not Catholic, but a rather lax (if not lapsed) Lutheran. However, If I am going to give something up, I like the idea of doing so at Lent for a number of reasons: it is long enough to be uncomfortable but yet it has an end date. And, it is understood by most people. So when I say I am giving up XYZ for Lent, they get it. I can forego any lengthy explanations as to the whys and what fors.

The texts I have read (read: Internet articles) describe Lent as a time of fasting. The idea of giving up something more - beyond the traditional fasting - is a relatively newer concept. As to why I personally do it, I like this quote from Catholic Online's FAQs about Lent page at
Lent is about conversion, turning our lives more completely over to Christ and his way of life. That always involves giving up sin in some form. The goal is not just to abstain from sin for the duration of Lent but to root sin out of our lives forever. Conversion means leaving behind an old way of living and acting in order to embrace new life in Christ. For catechumens, Lent is a period intended to bring their initial conversion to completion.
While I may not whole-heartedly embrace the religious overtones of this, I do believe this is a good, well-defined time to make a change.

The last time I was moved to give up something for Lent was several years ago, and the "vice" was chocolate. I had gotten into the habit of eating the candy every day, and I was thinking it was becoming more of an addiction than an indulgence. I was looking to make a change. 

When I give something up for Lent (or if I were to add a good behaviour instead!), I am not doing so for these few weeks only to go back to my old habits or behaviors once Easter rolls around. Rather, as is stated in the quote above, I am looking for a more permanent conversion to come out of this.

I am denying myself this candy or that behavior in the hopes of coming back to it a new person. I hope to bring that item, denied to me for so many weeks, back into my life with a new outlook. In this particular instance, I want to get back to Facebook with a healthier and more balanced approach to my social media usage.

This did work for chocolate, by the way. The habit I had had of indulging in chocolate daily was broken and remains broken to this day. I eat it now and again, but it is not something I crave anymore. I am hoping that will happen with Facebook too. It was important to remind myself that there are other ways to communicate with friends and family and there are other ways to squander away my free time. In this case, I needed to relearn OLD habits.

So, I guess, if Lent is to be a time of reflection, then it is working for me. I certainly have spent a lot of time thinking about how I interact with people and what I value in others' interactions with me, and I think I will carry that new found (re-found?) knowledge going forward.

Do you give up anything for Lent? Take on new habits? Try new things? What do you think about this challenge? Let me know!

In the meantime, happy running!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Just a little minor foot surgery to kick off 100-mile training

As I have just been reminded, in running, as in life, timing can be everything. After weeks of aggravation and uncertainty caused by a pulled calf muscle and an IT band and quad strain, I was finally starting to feel more confident in my running. Now, there seems to be another setback, this one handed to me by something no bigger than an oversized freckle. 

It all began almost two weeks ago when I went to the dermatologist to get an annual skin cancer screen. Out of all the sunspots, freckles, and moles that occupy my skin and make it that unique palette I can call my own, one little spot caught the attention of the good doctor. I am not quite sure what set this one spot apart from all the rest, but I can say it is the self same spot that had caught my attention as well and prompted me to schedule a skin screening in the first place. Unhappily, this spot was located squarely on top of my left foot.

Almost two weeks ago when I went in the dermatologist gave me the choice to let it go and we would check it again in a few months or to scrape it off and biopsy it to see if there was any concern. I opted for the latter, figuring that if there was anything to it better now than in a few months when I would - with any luck - be deep into 100-mile training. Well, it turns out there was something to it. The mole did not prove to be skin cancer, thankfully, but it was termed severely abnormal, meaning it could grow into something more sinister if left to its own devices. Because they couldn't be sure they had gotten everything with the initial removal, I was scheduled to go in yesterday and have the skin surrounding the newly formed scab more completely excised. This meant about a one-inch incision and a good chunk of skin removed.  And, it meant about eight stitches in two layers. Sadly, it turns out, that eight stitches on the top of one's foot limits running ... indefinitely.

Okay, that sounded dramatic. Actually, by "indefinitely," I simply mean I am not sure when I will be able to start up again. In an ideal world, according to my surgical dermatologist, I would not strain the foot for the next six weeks. So, you can imagine his surprise (read: mild shock) when I said I actually had a marathon scheduled for four weeks hence and a long run for two weeks earlier.  After raising his eyebrows and giving me a look that I can only describe as quietly assessing and mildly resigned, says my doc, well, since you are probably going to run anyway, you should invest in some kinesio tape and make sure to tape the skin on top of the foot together so as not to pull apart the stitches or newly formed scar tissue - when that time comes (which, according to him, will be no sooner than two weeks from yesterday). And, I need to exercise my common sense before starting any activity to assess whether said activity will cause too much tension in the upper foot.

So, there I have it. After yesterday's minor surgery, I left the office and came home to a driveway that needed to be shoveled, which I did. After that, I rested the foot as much as possible and made plans to do some rowing on the rowing machine today. As it turns out, I learned I should never make plans for exercise when, in fact, it turns out the foot has been pumped full of pain-reducing chemicals. Waking up in the night and discovering that someone had stabbed an ice pick through my foot the drugs had worn off, I decided maybe a few days of post-op recovery/rest would be in order. So, that is where I am at. At this point, I will play things by ear, but I am thinking I will be looking at 3-7 days of inactivity, followed by cross-training. Once I get the stitches removed in 13 days, I will look at cautiously starting up running again.

I suppose I could get all bent out of shape about this development, and I suppose I am a bit. It would be unrealistic to think this isn't going to impact the marathon next month or even the 50-miler after that in May. But, to be honest, I prefer to focus on what I am grateful for:
  1. If I am going to have something like this happen, then better now - when my 100-Miler is still six months out.  
  2. I am grateful for the fact that this is "just" a skin issue. (It's not like I had surgery on the muscles, tendons, or bones of the foot, after all.) 
  3. I am grateful I had one really good long run beforehand (I ran 15.5 miles Sunday and felt pretty darn fantastic throughout and after!!! Woot!!!) 
  4. Given all the turbulence the past few weeks, I am guessing that with this enforced rest any remaining IT band, quad, calf, what-have-you issues should iron themselves out, so when I do resume running I am mildly optimistic that I will do so feeling pretty good. 
  5. Finally, I am grateful that this was caught early enough that hopefully the extent of any intervention is limited to this minor surgical procedure.
All in all, I just choose to be optimistic. I will do what I can and go from there. I cannot change the path that I am on, so I will march forward on it as happily as I can.  Hopefully, whatever your path is, you are marching on it happily too.

Happy running!