a girl’s guide to ultra training

24 11 2013

Yes, there’s been a long silence on this blog – I’ve been through a lot over the past year and half, having torn ligaments in my ankle three times within a matter of months. It hurt.  Badly.  See picture of the damage below!


I discovered that the best method of recovery was not to cross-train, but rather to eat copious amounts of bacon and donuts (bacon-covered donuts were really the best option here, killing two proverbial birds with one stone). I always used to justify my donut habit with “10 miles in training = 1 extra donut,” but that flew out the window with an ankle the size of a small elephant.  So, it became, “10 days of no training = self-medication with as many carbs as possible” instead.  Did wonders for my mental state, not to mention my self-image.


Having gained roughly 10 to 20 pounds and growing to two sizes bigger than I was when last running ultras, I’m finally getting back into shape.  And I am, obviously, the expert on such topics, so I figured it was time for me to share with other ladies how I “get serious” about ultra training.  After all, I win so many races, yes?  The following are the secrets to my success!

Tip #1 – save money by only buying one pair of shoes.  This way, you always have an excuse to skip a training day if your shoes are still wet and muddy from the day before, plus you can “odorize” your entry way with “foot perfume.”  Your husband will appreciate this.  Even better – purchase a really butt-ugly pair of shoes at a minimal price from the outlet mall, hence providing an embarrassment factor that keeps you off the roads as frequently as possible, even more so than due to stench.

Tip #2 – again, budgeting is of foremost concern at all times, so be sure to only own two pairs of shorts.  Wash them as little as possible, which will ensure that all of your laundry will smell like stinky crotch…which means that your husband will fold laundry as quickly as possible.  This doesn’t really have to do with training at all, but it’s kind of a fun tip nonetheless, don’t you think?

Tip #3 – why waste money on a watch?  Instead, run by “feel.”  This way, you can make all of your running friends run more slowly with you (hence, burning more fat, of course!) as you gauge training pace by “conversational pace.”  You can always fake “sucking air” if you had a late night the night before.  And when you run a 10K, your pacing strategy will make you feel mildly superior to others, even as the leader in the 90-95 age group passes you like you’re standing still.  YOU CAN STILL TALK.  He can’t.  See how good you are at pacing?  At controlling yourself?  Pfffft.

Tip #4 – during cross-training sessions at the gym, make sure to lift less than half the weights that your training pals lift.  Look for the old-fashioned dumb-bells that are super-big, but only weigh 10 pounds.  If your friends “call you” on it, simply claim you’re doing “more reps,” and then distract them with chatter.  Again, feel mildly superior when your friends are sore the next day and you feel fresh as a daisy.  You worked hard, yes?  You’re just that more in shape.

Tip #5 – milk those ligament tears for all they’re worth.  Pun intended: get some real mileage out of your excuse!  Feed the injury (mentioned above), and when your ass grows, say that you’re “gaining muscle.”  Don’t EVER run on hard trails – they’re hard after all!  You don’t have to anymore as you’re permanently “injured.”  Now you have an excuse even on roads to run more slowly than ever.

Tip #6 – get a friend to literally “run errands” with you.  There’s a mall two miles down the road?  Run there and back.  You can eat Kit-Kats en route, bonding over shared chocolate (every girls’ favorite past-time), or even drop by happy hour for jalepeno poppers and a quick drink, all while having a partner in crime.  Oh, and be sure to wear your most flattering spandex, and swing by the gaming store so that you get checked out by a group of pimply-faced awkward pubescents (“it’s a woman…what do we dooooo?”), knowing that you’re being worshipped by larpers.  It makes the run home so much easier, floating on the air of your over-inflated ego, talking about how “hot” you are with your friend.  This, by the way, makes for the most serious workout of a weekly routine.

Tip #7 – this one follows on the tail end of tip #6.  Work running into your daily routines, such as getting pedicures.  Run to and from the nail salon!  It’s infinitely practical and saves you gas money.  Plus, you can ask for a 40% discount, since you only have six toenails anyhow.

Tip #8 – hydrate well and often.  After any gym workout or cross-training session (see tip #4 above), you’re extra tired as you’ve been working those muscles in a different way than during running…so you need more nutrition!  Locate all bars within a five mile radius that have a good microbrew selection and happy hour specials on nacho appetizers.  Be sure to replenish all fluids lost (remember, “drink before thirst”) and calories (“eat before hunger”).  Extra guacamole especially helps in replacing electrolytes.  Just sayin’!

Hope that these great tips help you achieve all of your ultra dreams!!!

new snowshoes, new adventures

27 01 2012

Winter has finally (sort of) arrived here in southern New England.  Yes, as I type this, the sleet is falling, and all of the snow has melted away…but at last we finally had SOME snow over the past week.  I’ve been absolutely jones-ing in a terrible way for crazy winter weather, especially after the freak snowstorm that dumped nearly a foot of snow on us back in October.  I grew up in Ohio, but moved to southern California in 1994.  With the exception of two years that I spent in Michigan (working a Master’s degree during the late ‘90s), I haven’t experienced the full duration of a winter season since high school!

While southern California was a very “convenient” place to train in many respects due to its fantastic weather, it wasn’t terribly exciting.  My husband and I would often joke about the enthusiasm of our local San Diego weathermen/women during the infrequent rain “storms”…a headline would tear across the television screen, screaming something like “Winter Storm 2009!,” while outside in 55 degree temperatures, gray cloud cover would produce a misty haze necessitating the occasional use of windshield wipers.  Traffic would consequently come to a grinding halt on all of the freeways and multiple car pile-ups would result, all because of a little water on the road.  As a community college instructor, attendance in my classes would suffer, and those students that attended would envelop themselves in furry-hooded parkas and scarves.  Crazy.

On the other hand, many ultrarunners, like myself, actually thrive in what the average person (especially the average person from SoCal) might consider to be “severe weather.”  We like challenges, live for extremes, and relish new adventures.  One example of my predilection for seeking out ridiculous running conditions occurred this past fall, when we were hit by a second tropical storm (after Hurricane Irene) that called for heavy rains and winds.  I had a podiatrist’s appointment in the next town on a day when my SUV was unexpectedly in the shop and my husband was out of the country; we had just moved here, and I didn’t really know anyone local yet let alone know of any options for public transportation.  I DID know, however, that I was going to be charged the full amount for a missed appointment with less than 24 hours notice.  So what did I do?  I put on a waterproof jacket and an emergency poncho…and ran the 8.5 miles to the doctor’s office.  After that, I ran to the auto repair shop and picked up my Xterra, making for about a 15 mile training day in heavy rain.  Not too many miles in the grand scheme of things, but enough that I ate an entire pizza after a hot shower.

Given the above, you can imagine my excitement at the prospect of a cold, harsh New England winter!  And then, you can probably imagine my disappointment as days passed through December…and into January…of 40-50 degree weather?!  Add to this receiving a shiny new pair of Dion racing snowshoes from an ever-supportive husband for a Christmas gift…and imagine my mounting frustration.  Day after day passed of checking the 10 day weather forecast, hoping for snow, and feeling ever thwarted.

That is, until last week, when we received a modest few inches after a steady snowfall all day on Saturday.  We also enjoyed some frigid temperatures earlier in the week, during which I happily completed a 2.5 hour run in 12 degree weather, and an easy 8 miler in similar temperatures with a couple of inches of powder that called for my trusty Yaktrax.

snowy run, bundled up like the Yeti

Ah, but on Sunday, we finally had some REAL accumulation – a beautiful blanket of white that beckoned, “get those snowshoes and head to the trails!”  I couldn’t ignore the invitation.  I put on several more layers of clothing than normal as the temperature in town was a whopping one degree; this meant that the temperatures were I was planning to run were likely zero or possibly even below.  Cold.  I also grabbed my running pack and those shiny new racing snowshoes.

I had my husband drop me off at the trailhead, as I had gotten stuck a week prior in snow (apparently my Xterra doesn’t do too well in the snow).  With the snowshoes in hand, I had a few minutes of “how the hell do I strap these damn things to my feet” but finally figured it out.  And then I headed down the hill.

ready to roll!!!

At the beginning of my last blog post, I talked about that crazy nightmare that many of us have where we’re trying to run away from a bad guy or a monster and our legs just don’t work, feeling like we’re wading through jell-o.  That was pretty much my first experience in snowshoes.  No one had really been on the trail – at all – so I was blazing through fresh powder, several inches deep.  Talk about a full body workout!  It took me a bit of effort to stay upright, as at first I kept tripping on the back of the snowshoes.  My running form changed, being forced to keep my legs further apart to avoid tripping and falling on my face.  After about a half mile of downhill, I turned onto another trail, heading south and uphill, and started to get the hang of things.

After switching to a different trail, I had one of the best surprises of my first snowshoe excursion: getting to see a variety of animal tracks, including coyote and moose.  MOOSE!  I knew that these were in the area, given that my husband brought home an antler (which he had found on the same trail) as a “happy new year” gift a few weeks ago.  Yeah, weird, I know, but that’s how we roll.  But wow, it was cool to see evidence of moose in person!  Those prints were BIG, as in the size of my hand.  I’m not sure what I would do if I actually came face-to-face with a moose on the trail…not sure at all how I would react.  If it’s anything like the time I saw a mountain lion cross the trail in front of me (yes, this happened last summer on one of my last trail runs in the mountains of eastern San Diego County), I’d probably freeze, stare…and possibly crap in my compression tights.  Might be time to develop a better game plan.

animal tracks: coyote, moose, and me

The rest of my first snowshoe experience went uneventfully.  I slogged back up to the trailhead, completing 2.6 miles in 52 minutes.  Slow.  But exhilarating!  Here’s hoping for some more REAL weather so I can hit those trails again in style sometime soon.

some tips for winter running!

20 01 2012

Ever have that crazy nightmare where you’re trying to run away from some nasty monster and it feels like you’re treading through Jell-o, not making any headway?  Winter running, particularly in snowy conditions, can certainly have the same effect.  That is, if you’re even able to muster up the courage to head outdoors when the mercury falls below the freezing mark.  Luckily, you don’t have to be trapped inside or resort completely to “dreadmill” training during the long, cold winter months.  With the right planning and the right “gear,” it is possible to train for ultras even in snowy conditions.

I have to admit, I’m a bit of a newbie to extreme winter running myself.  While I grew up in Ohio and lived for several years in Michigan, I haven’t run through an ENTIRE winter in about fifteen years, since I first moved to southern California.  That said, I’m rediscovering a lot of old tips and tricks about cold weather running this winter – my first entire winter in western Massachusetts.  Here are some things that have been working for me so far, and that have worked for me in the past as well!

1. Dress appropriately and make the investment in the right gear.
Winter is not the time to go out for a jog in your favorite cotton t-shirt, sweatshirt, and other layers.  Why?  When cotton gets wet, it stays wet.  And, if you’re wet when it’s freezing cold outside…well, that’s just a recipe for disaster.  Think about it…do you want your clothing itself to freeze???!!!

Wicking fabrics are key in the winter, as is layering.  Here’s an example of what I typically wear, if the temperatures are in the teens to 20s:
long sleeved base layer
wind breaker or “weather proof” running jacket (I own three)
a pair of running tights
thicker socks – I recently bought several pairs of Drymax “trail running” socks and they have kept my feet very toasty even in incredibly snowy conditions…almost TOO toasty!
light skull cap
wicking gloves (I have a pair by Injinji plus a thicker pair by Nike)

Once the temperature gets to…oh, 10-ish…things really start to feel uncomfortable.  In this case, I tend to add:
some kind of tighter sleeveless layer around my core, occasionally with my fleece-lined Moeben sleeves under the long sleeved base layer
a “Buff” – coolest running product ever! – around my neck
a Smartwool balaclava.  If you don’t know what a balaclava is, it’s basically a ski mask that keeps everything except for your eyes covered up, and makes you look like a bank robber (which is always kind of amusing).  The Smartwool option is nice and light!  This helps keep water droplets from freezing inside your trachea and lungs.
a fleece hat on top of the balaclava
if cold enough (sub-zero), a pair of clear glasses or goggles (so my eyes/contacts don’t freeze)
an extra pair of socks – usually Thorlos meant for hiking – on top of the Drymax
a pair of wind pants over my tights
And if it’s snowing and really windy, sometimes I add a waterproof jacket by Marmot on top.  It’s actually my husband’s, and is ten sizes too big consequently, but it covers me to my mid-thighs and keeps me very comfortable in extreme conditions.  I’ve worn it in a hailstorm in the San Juans of Colorado, for example, and had no issues.

To summarize, put on layers (and strip some off if you get too warm) and keep the fabrics breathable.  Can’t emphasize that one enough!

Snow isn’t so bad, but ice can be a killer, especially if you slip and fall on it unwittingly.  I did this on an icy run a few years back and really hurt my knee in a bad fall!  (I ended up having to take almost a month off to heal.)  Using some sort of traction system for your running shoes is key in extreme weather conditions.  Two companies I know of make great options that simply slip over your shoes.  These options are Yaktrax and Katoohla microspikes.  I personally own the Yaktrax (be sure to buy them in a size larger than you think you need…got that tip from the helpful folks at Northampton Running Company and they were right!).  They only cost something like 25-30 bucks and will save your neck.

If you don’t want to spend that amount, look into making your own traction system by creating “screw shoes.”  All this involves is putting a bunch of shorter sheet metal screws into the treads of your running shoes…takes a little bit of effort, but is by far and above the most economical method.  You can find a nice, detailed article of instructions on how to make your own screw shoes here.

3. Stay hydrated!
Cold winter air has less humidity than you’d expect.  Also, you seem to sweat less in the cold, and so you don’t really drink as much as on a warmer or more humid run.  This can be a recipe for disaster, particularly in long runs.  Always remember to keep up with your hydration – in the cold, DO drink before thirst (within reason).

A particular challenge in winter weather is keeping your water from freezing.  I’ve read some things from folks on the ultralist about additives for water that lowers the freezing point, but I’ve never personally experimented with those methods.  Instead, I use a hydration backpack, and keep the tube/straw feature INSIDE of my clothing, close to my core.  The bite valve still seems to freeze shut on occasion, but thaws out after chewing on it for a few seconds.  I really like the hydration packs by Ultimate Direction, personally.  The bladders are a pain to deal with – they have a funky roll top – but they include a really cool INSULATED tube/straw that keeps your water cold in summer, and relatively unfrozen in the winter.

4. Don’t be afraid to slow down.
Cold will slow you down in a parallel manner to heat, even though you think it may not.  Check your ego at the door before you leave the house!  For me, my most comfortable long run pace on roads is something like 9:30-9:45 miles, but in cold, snowy conditions that pace could easily become 11:30-12:00 miles.  Or even slower, depending on the terrain.  I recently did a hilly trail run in 20 degree weather where 15:00 miles felt like a sprint, uphill in several inches of snow.  Ouch.  Lower your expectations of your speed performance as the temperature lowers.

5. Consider running for “time” rather than “miles.”
Because you’re going to slow down inevitably, getting in “x” number of miles on your training schedule might not be practical, taking too long.  Try going out for the same duration of time that it would typically take you to complete that mileage goal in better weather.  You’ll still get the training benefit of being on your feet for an extended period of time, plus running in cold/snow is MUCH more strenuous than running on flat roads in 50 degree weather.  Trust me.

6. Be flexible in your training schedule to accommodate extreme weather changes.
I can’t stress this one enough.  If you know a severe weather pattern is rolling in, get your workout completed before the weather hits (and always carry some emergency supplies in your pack in case it hits while you’re out!).  No one is holding a gun to your head, saying that you must run your speed workout on Tuesday and your long run on Saturday.  Just get the workouts in when you can!  And if you miss a long run because of inclement weather…well, the world won’t come to an end.  Go to the gym and cross-train.  Or stay home and practice “recovery.”  That’s not such a bad thing.

7. Consider splitting up your long runs into multiple parts by taking a short break in the middle.
This really works great when you have to get in a 20+ mile run in very cold weather.  Go out for the first ten or so…come inside, rehydrate and eat, warm up and go back outside after a half hour.  This is also a good method for practicing eating meals during ultras, I’ve found!  Plus, it helps to train the mind.  You’ll find you want to stay inside, in the wonderful warm air…you’ll have a similar experience at mile 80 of a 100-miler…actually, one that is MUCH more challenging to overcome.  Practice the mental resolve you need for an ultra finish in your training.

8. Run with the wind at your back whenever possible.
A good running friend, Paul Schmidt, gave me this tip when I first told him I was moving to Massachusetts.  And believe me, when someone with an ultrarunning resume like multiple grand-slammer Paul tells you to do something, you listen!  Simply have a friend drive you “x” number of miles out on the road, first taking note of the wind direction.  Then run home with the wind at your back the entire way.  This way, you’ll avoid getting chilled; running INTO the wind often will have this time of debilitating effect.

9. You can do a decent workout indoors, believe it or not. 
Join a gym…try some of the other aerobic machines, like the elliptical trainer or the rowing machine.  Lift weights.  Run on the treadmill, but vary the pace and incline…you can even mimic a “mountain run” by setting the incline to something relatively steep and running/walking on that for several miles.  I do this, actually, to practice for mountain descents; I set the incline to a negative number and practice downhill running for several miles at a faster pace than usual…we don’t have the long grades here in New England that I used to run back in the mountains of California (or Colorado).

10. And if none of the above work for you…
How about taking an off-season during the worst winter months to hibernate?  Just schedule your racing season at the opposite time of the year for the worst months for weather.  After all, we always could use a break now and then to recover.

Do you have any tips you’d like to add?  Let me know!  And happy winter running…it really can be fun!

don't forget to enjoy yourself...take the time to be a kid again and make some good snow angels!!!

my top 10 of 2011

12 01 2012

The beginning of a new year…always is a great time for setting new goals and resolutions!  However, instead of resolving to do a particular “something” this year (a trap I usually fall into, often abandoning the goal within a week or two), I’ve been reflecting about the past year.  2011 was a year of change for me on so many levels.  The biggest change was my relocation to the other side of the country with my husband, forcing me to rethink a lot of the major life choices I’ve made, such as my career path.  Despite my personal life being in a state of transition, I’m grateful for the continuity that running has provided me over the past 20+ years, since I started running cross-country as a middle school student.

2011 was a big running year for me.  I raced in two ultras – both of (slightly over) 100 miles – along with countless training runs of marathon and beyond distances, on both trails and roads.  As I get older, I find that I become more and more of a “soul runner.”  I’m honestly not a big fan of running with the iPod; instead my training time is a form of meditation and inner contemplation away from the distractions I typically face, working from home as a telecommuter.  It seems like I’ve learned a great deal about life in general through meditative running.  As a result, I thought it would be a fun exercise to compile my “top 10 of 2011” running lessons…things that I’ve learned in the past year that have helped me to complete two 100-milers.  This is also my top 10 list to keep in mind for LIFE in 2012.

1.  There are NO magic solutions for success; avoid falling into the traps of trendy “quick fixes.”  Only purpose, persistence and patience will get you to the finish line…not to mention a hell of a lot of hard work.  Yeah, hard work might be a dirty word in today’s internet-obsessed culture, where anything and everything seems to be available at the touch of a button on the iPhone.  But anything worth doing, worth having, or worth achieving rarely comes easily.

2.  That said, the closest thing to a magic formula for health is: good nutrition, enough sleep, and stress reduction.  Again, avoid the trends or anything extreme that tells you that certain things are always forbidden…eat a balanced, sensible diet and be sure to adequately fuel your activity level.  Make self-care a priority…get that 7-8 hours of sleep every night and you’ll feel better, get less sick, and have adequate time to recover.  Don’t kill yourself with stress.  I find it funny how doctors never seem to ask questions about stress, but in my own experience, I get the sickest (or most injured) during periods of intense personal stress.  Don’t undermine the power of stress over your health.

3.  With setbacks or injuries, treat the cause and not just the symptoms.  Sure, it’s easy to pop a pill to make the pain immediately go away, but what caused that pain in the first place?  The best fixes to problems aren’t always obvious, and sometimes it’s a challenge to go beyond the surface level to discover the real issue at hand, but it’s worth the trouble in the long-term.

4.  Just because you can do something, it doesn’t always mean that you should.  Just because something feels good today doesn’t mean that it’s the best thing for tomorrow.  Unwise choices and habits (like overtraining) tend to be cumulative over a long period of time – as in years – before negative effects are noticed.  Do the right thing for yourself and your body.

5.  Only you are responsible for your own success (or failure).  And only you are able to set the terms for both.  It’s so easy to get caught up in what other people are doing and to compare yourself to the achievements of others.

6.  We are all “an experiment of one.”  What works for someone else – a certain type of shoe, a particular training regimen, a dietary plan – may not work for your own unique body and psychology.  Trust your instincts and listen to your body to discover your own path.  And always remember…many times, the best solutions are often the least sexy!

7.  Don’t base your self-worth on validation or recognition from other folks.  At the end of the day, you answer only to yourself.  Whatever you choose to do in life, do it for YOU.

8.  Let’s all just face it…in ultras and in life…there is a certain inevitability (despite our best efforts) to times that simply suck.  Knowing when to muscle through it or when to throw in the towel is true wisdom.  There is an appropriate time for each.

9.  There is no shame in deciding to take much-needed time for yourself.  Everyone needs time to recover and recharge.  It’s always important to help others, but you can’t do that if you yourself aren’t in top shape.

10.  Balance in all things is key.  Remember that there are always other things in life…keep it in perspective.  Enough said.

Hope you’ve enjoyed my top 10 of 2011, and that you have a wonderful 2012 of adventure and discovery.

making new friends on the trail

5 01 2012

It’s a new year, and my off-season following my last hundred miler is officially over!  This week marks the first training week since November, and I’m stoked to be back on the trails.  I have some racing plans for the coming spring and summer; I’m VERY excited to try out some new races in my new home of New England!  First up will likely be the Jack Bristol Lake Waramaug 100K in April.  After that will definitely be another hundred miler, although I’m not sure which one yet…I’m first on the waiting list for the Viaduct Trail Ultra in PA, and I’m really keeping my fingers crossed that I get in!  It has all of the hallmarks of a more “old school” type of race that I love…little aid, little support and little whining.

Today was one of those days when I was reminded of why I love running so much, especially on trails.  By traveling on foot instead of by car, one has the chance to observe everyday surroundings with much more detail.  A good past example of this occurred a couple of months ago when I decided to run 34 miles in celebration of my 34th birthday.  My birthday is in mid-October, when the fall leaves are at their color peak here in New England.  My birthday was an incredibly rainy day this year, so I was greeted the morning of my epic run with a near deluge on the country roads along with a sideways assault of windy water.  Nonetheless, I went on the run, leaving from my home at 5 am, and ran the seven miles from the house to Quabbin Reservoir.  At Quabbin, I ran twenty miles on dirt trail, and then ran the remaining seven home on the windy, hilly country roads common to this area.

This run was magical, because I felt like I got to see something that most people never get a chance to experience: a visible change from autumn to winter.  At the beginning of the twenty miles around Quabbin, the trees were filled with colorful leaves.  But, within about three and half hours, almost all of the leaves had fallen on the trail, and only bare branches remained.  I remember thinking, “How many of us actually get to experience this moment?”  It’s so easy in this hectic, ever-connected online society to forget to notice what is right in front of us.

fall leaves at Quabbin

Today was another equally interesting experience.  I woke up to a frigid “arctic blast” in terms of the weather.  By the time I went for a run at about 9 am, which was rather later than I typically prefer to run, the outside temperature had warmed UP to a positively balmy 12 degrees with a wind chill of 3.  Not bad!  I pulled on a few layers, along with a new balaclava I received as a Christmas gift and headed out down one of my typical mellow, easy week-day running routes, down the Norwottuck Rail Trail that runs right behind my house.  On a typical day on the rail trail, I generally see a handful of other runners, some fitness walkers, people walking their dogs…OK, maybe an occasional cow or chicken (or ten) as well.  But nothing really weird has ever happened to me on the rail trail.  That is, until today.

I stepped onto the rail trail at the entrance of state route 116, right behind Amherst College.  Heading west toward Northampton, I ran maybe a quarter of a mile and suddenly got the eerie feeling that I was being watched.  You know, that whole hairs on the back of the neck sticking up kind of thing?  Sure enough, I looked up the wooded ridge to the south and saw a very large canine.  I stopped, thinking it was probably just someone’s dog, but quickly realized that this was no house pet.  The canine bounded down the steep hill and crossed the trail maybe ten feet in front of me, running up toward the college athletic fields.  I had a chance to look at it closely – it was about waist-high with dappled grey and brown fur, muscular legs, a large shaggy wolf-like head (and snout), along with a big fluffy tail.  No pet.  Coyote, or probably really what’s called a “coywolf.”

Coywolves are also called “eastern coyotes” and are a hybrid breed between eastern wolves and western coyotes.  They are larger than the typical coyote that I’ve encountered out in California, and are known for being a bit more aggressive than coyotes.  They are also less fearful of humans, a trait I can certainly verify first-hand now!

an image of a coywolf...not the one I saw though!

Once I realized what I had seen, I turned to head back to the trailhead, figuring I’d just stick to the roads today…after all, it was only about a quarter of a mile back to the main state route, and I could easily run a four or five mile loop around town.  However, this coywolf wasn’t so eager to just let me go easily.  After I turned around, the coywolf began to circle around me on the trail…up one side and the hill, then back down the other…probably five or six times before I got back to the road.  Wow!

I’ve run that rail trail more times than I can possibly count, and I’ve driven on the state route by the area a million times over.  But, to see a coywolf up close for the first time…this was a priceless experience, and one that never could really be experienced sitting in the driver’s seat of a car.  I love being a trail runner!  Although, I have to say, it’s both comforting and unnerving to know that I’m never truly “alone” out there in the woods…

finally done…JJ100 race report

28 11 2011

Well, it only took me two weeks and two missing big toenails (oh, the carnage of my feet!), but I finally finished my Javelina Jundred race report.  If you want to read all of the gory details about my first 100 mile trail finish (in 26:42), you can check it out right here.  Enjoy!

I’m recovering well, and am running again, albeit short distances.  Aside from a week’s worth of severe “cankles,” I’m no worse for the wear…and I’m trying to plan which race will be the next 100.  I’m thinking a mountain race, or something with some gnarly terrain…we shall see…

welcome to New England??

27 08 2011

The past summer has been a crazy, hectic period…sometimes life interrupts training and barely keeping one’s base going becomes a challenge.  Last spring saw major calamities at my job due to massive statewide budget cuts.  Our beloved cat of thirteen years died in June after a two year battle with lymphoma.  Then, we traveled abroad for a month in eastern Europe; I wrote a musical several years ago that received a workshop performance at the Hungarian National Theatre in Romania, so the weeks leading up to the trip were filled with frantic revisions and preparation.  Unfortunately, I caught the worst case of bronchitis I have EVER had in my life while in Budapest (a long story related to a smoke-filled club in a meat-packing district), resulting in a solid four weeks of coughing, during which I couldn’t run a step.  Not that I would have had time.

Ten days after our month-long European adventure, we left in a 26 foot moving van to relocate to the other side of the country.  It took seven days – and seven nights of disgusting motel rooms (don’t even ask me about Amarillo…that city must have redeeming qualities, but we certainly didn’t experience any of them!) – before we were to arrive at our new home in Amherst, Massachusetts, where my husband found a job as a professor of music at the local college.  I have been absolutely swamped with unpacking the house and getting settled in, not to mention with my job duties back in San Diego…I’m still telecommuting and teaching online courses for a community college downtown.

However, despite the insanity of not being able to find half of my worldly possessions due to the ridiculous number of boxes strewn throughout the house, I’m very happy to be in one place, instead of hopping another yet another flight to go to who-knows-where.  And one great thing about being in one place is that I’ve been able to explore the area on foot, as I get back into my training mentality.  My next race is the Javelina Jundred – a 100 miler in the desert outside of Phoenix, Arizona.

I loved running in San Diego.  My friends there were amazing!

"the girls" and I on our last run together

It took years of training on my own before I was able to meet a group of like-minded ultrarunners; I miss these folks SO much.  And the local races…seeing people I knew…the beautiful mountains…Cuyamaca Rancho State Park…mountain lion sightings…sunrises over Anza-Borrego Desert…I miss all of these things.  However, the big drawback to running in San Diego was that I really had to drive a long way to get to any decent trails.  I found myself waking up at 3 am or even earlier at times to meet my running buddies out in the mountains for early start times.  I experimented many times with long runs from my front door, in order to avoid a long drive in these times of inflated gas prices.  However, it was at least a seven mile run to get to the closest beach access.  And those seven miles were frankly ugly…I would have to run through my neighborhood (which was a bit sketchy) down through Mission Valley, past endless strip malls and car dealerships, down very busy streets, and playing chicken with oncoming traffic at freeway entrances that inevitably had to be crossed.  Southern California is hardly pedestrian friendly.

The immediate benefit I noticed about living in Amherst is that miles and miles of beautiful conservation lands are just steps away from my front door.  Gone are the days of driving for an hour or more to get to the trails!  During my first few runs here, I started making mental comparisons of running here versus in San Diego:

Running out my door in San Diego = pavement pavement pavement, seeing people shoot up on street corners, watching hookers (who don’t wear pants) walk up and down El Cajon Blvd., and dodging cars on freeway ramps.

Running out my door in Amherst = trail trail and more trail (single-track and dirt roads), literally running into a flock (?) of chickens, and dodging large cows hanging out on the bike path.

(Hmmm…I think I like this.  Of course, I say this now…in August.  How about in February?  We shall see.  But I think I’ll take chickens over pants-less hookers any day.  Call me crazy.)

This week’s runs included:

1. Exploring the KC Trail, which is located on Amherst conservation lands.  Beautiful single track, none of which stays flat for even a quarter of a mile, complete with rocks, roots and “bog bridges” – which are essentially flat boards laid down in swampy muck.  This trail is tough to navigate, as are many of the long, local trails.  What happens is that you’ll be seemingly deep in the woods, but then suddenly you’ll appear on a busy state route and have no idea where the trail picks up again, or how far you are from the trailhead.  And one I actually found the trail again, it was impassable due to “beaver flooding.”  (Insert any bad joke you want right there!)  That definitely was one of those “we’re not in Kansas anymore” moments for me.

2. 18 miles at Quabbin Reservoir before the oncoming hurricane (yes, you read that right).  Hurricane Irene is on its way as I write this, so I figured I should get a long-ish run in before hunkering down in this old house…and before internet and the power cut out on us all!  But back to Quabbin…the whole area is really, really weird.  Miles and miles of dirt roads/double-track (again none of which are flat) through a beautiful wooded “wilderness.”  Quabbin itself is the main water supply for the Boston area, and was created by literally flooding out a number of towns in the 1930s.  Yes, there are towns at the bottom of the reservoir.  The result is that you run through a seeming wilderness, but there’s something just eerie about the place.  Occasionally, you’ll see stone walls that were obviously part of a home or town border, for example.  I’m someone who enjoys a good ghost story, so I’m fascinated by Quabbin.  But I have to say…I spent the first hour of the run a bit sketched out by the place.  Between the idea of towns being completely submerged in the area, there are bears here, apparently.  One climbed a tree just doors down from our house and went to sleep in the tree branches just a week ago.  As I don’t know any other runners in the area yet, if I want to run trails, I have to go it alone, which is a little bit freaky.  I can’t help but be scared of bears.  And lyme-disease spreading deer ticks (I pulled a few ticks off of my leg mid-run today).  All the same, it was a great run…and I’m sore now, so it was worth the risk!  Post-run soreness, after all, is alleviated best by a massive bacon cheeseburger, which I inhaled for lunch.

dirt roads at Quabbin

beautiful streams...just watch out for ticks!

remnants of a stone wall

At the moment, I’m looking forward to more exploring in the next week.  I have a feeling that training year-round in New England is going to turn me into one heck of a tough runner.  Nothing about this area is “easy” – the terrain is rugged, as is the weather!  I can’t wait for the next adventure…although I’m not a fan of hurricanes or earthquakes, both of which have happened here in the past week…

new race report…Peanut Island 24!

3 01 2011

Raced the Peanut Island 24 over New Year’s Eve…you can read the race report right here!  I finished as the second place woman, and completed 101.18 miles in 23 hours and 11 minutes, after which I promptly fell over.

new race report, OC100K

21 02 2010

Raced the Orange Curtain 100K on Saturday; check out my race report!

You don’t need the race

24 01 2010

As runners (and ultrarunners), so much of our focus goes to preparation for some kind of race as an ending goal.  Racing can be extremely fun.  We get to socialize with our fellow runners (my “tribe”, I call them!), run in a supportive environment, and get an official finishing time.  Also, a lot of times, we receive some kind of “schwag” – you know, the T-shirt and all kinds of goodies.  I have some running buddies who rate the races they do based on the extra perks, in fact.

I’ve run numerous races in my life, mainly the shorter distances when I was younger and running on the high school varsity cross-country team.  Now, I exclusively focus on ultra distance races.  I haven’t done that many in comparison to some people I know; there are a lot of ultrarunners who sign up for a race nearly every weekend.

Over the past few years, as I’ve dealt with stepping up to the ultra distances, I’ve had to deal with injury frequently.  This often interferes with racing plans, particularly if I’ve scheduled a race out of state and paid not only the racing fees, but also for the flight, hotel accommodations, and a rental vehicle.  More than once, I’ve had to bail out – at the last second – of a race due to an injury.  Last year, I had made all of the arrangements to go to the FANS 24 hour race in Minneapolis…and then I injured my peroneal tendon rather severely.

How did I deal with it?  Predictably, I got pretty damn depressed, less so about the money I lost and more about just not being able to “race.”

More recently, right before the OTHTC High Desert 50K this past December, I did something mysterious to my hip (I don’t have this one completely figured out yet, but I will soon!) which caused an omnipresent aching pain that still hasn’t completely gone away.  A few days before the race, my poor husband got to listen to me crying over the phone about how I wasn’t going to be able to “race” and how depressed I was, yet again.  I ended up just going to the desert anyhow – and ran a PR – but that was only after I had a bit of an attitude shift with the whole thing.

Why do we NEED a race?  I mean seriously – if we’re not one of the elite front runners, and we don’t rely on this to make a living, what is there really to prove?  Don’t we just love running itself?  Isn’t that why we do this?  I know for me that running is pretty spiritual.  My favorite days usually involve going for some kind of twenty plus mile adventure in the mountains, often with good friends.  Back in December, I started thinking about my favorite runs ever.  Not many of those took place at an organized event, although I have wonderful memories of different races I’ve run over the years.

Don’t get me wrong.  I still have “race goals” – this year’s is to finally FINISH a 100-miler – but I’m putting less emphasis psychologically on these events.  It’s easy to slip into the mentality that only one’s race performance counts; instead, I’m trying harder to appreciate the enjoyment of the training along the way.

I have this crazy long-term idea about running across the US someday, probably in a few years when I can finally afford to quit my full-time job as a tenured professor of music.  My husband is on the edge of getting a full-time, tenure track position himself, and once he does, it’s back to the freelance world for me, which really suits my personality MUCH better than having a single day gig, which I personally find stifling.  I love “journeys” of all kinds – things like road trips, backpacking, long hikes.  So, lately, I’ve been incorporating the idea of the journey into my running and I’ve been finding that I enjoy these runs infinitely more than races.  They’re unpredictable – weird things tend to happen along the way, and you never know who you might run into.  Furthermore, I just love the idea that “adventure begins the moment you step outside your front door.”  That’s a Dean Karnazes quote (for you avid ultrarunners out there, don’t flame me for quoting that).  Whether or not you’re a DK fan, there’s something to learn from that idea.  Adventure can begin anywhere, as long as you’re open to the idea of it.

I’ve done several road “journey” runs recently.  One was an ill-fated intended 29 mile run when I was visiting my family over the holidays in Florida.  It seemed like the race was slated to fail from its inception.  I was planning to run from my family’s front door in Ft. Myers across the causeway to Sanibel Island, all the way to the Ding Darling Nature Reserve on the island (cool place!).  However, once I got to Florida, I found out that pedestrians weren’t allowed on the bridge, so I made arrangements for my mother to meet me right before the entrance to drive me across.  But then, the night before the run, I got some major stomach upset and ended up spending most of the morning of the run in the bathroom.  I took a dose of Imodium to try and help – and it did for the first 12 miles or so.  But ultimately, it caused even more problems.  This run will forever go down in my mind as the one run where I was witnessed to by a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses at a gas station and then, ummm, pooped my pants several miles later in front of a retirement community called “Siesta Bay.”  (Oh dear Lord, who names those places?)  I have to say, though, despite the gastric issues, it was a fun run and certainly makes for an interesting story.  I’ve never experienced an attempted religious conversion on the run before – that’s would take too much space to describe here in this blog entry!

Yesterday, I went on my favorite journey run to date.  I left my home in the North Park area of San Diego at 4:30 am, literally running out my front door.  My goal was to run 34-35 miles from my house to my friend’s home up in San Marcos, just to make it in time for lunch.  It’s a long way.  The drive itself takes about 40 minutes!  My friend and I don’t get to see each other that often, partly because she has a baby at home, and partly because of the driving distance.

supplies all ready for my 35 mile excursion!

Yesterday’s run was one of these days where everything just seemed to go “right.”  The start of the run, through my neighborhood, happened at such an interesting time.  Everything was quiet.  I live in an extremely noisy area, and one frequented by prostitutes among all other types of vagrants, so it’s incredibly rare to be on the streets and not see or hear another soul around.  Nothing around but the small circle of light from my headlamp…nice.

I ran through Mission Valley, an area where there’s basically nothing but a ton of strip malls and shopping areas.  Lots of neon, and again, no one around.  Then it was up a steep ascent on Ulric Street to Linda Vista Road, and north on Genesee Ave. through Linda Vista and Clairemont.  The best time of day to pass through these really urban areas is before sunrise – no traffic, no vying for the best spot in the parking lots, and the strip malls aren’t open for business yet.

I made it to the University City area around daybreak.  There was a lovely sunrise that I could admire between the executive high-rise buildings.  After that, I ran around the campus of UCSD, my alma mater, and went through some really cool eucalyptus groves…literally “cool.”  It was chilly, as I was getting closer to the ocean, and pretty foggy!  The fog leant a bit of a mysterious quality to the thick groves of trees, and for a while, I almost forgot I was on the road.

After several steep uphills, Genesee Ave. meets up with Torrey Pines Rd.  The road flattens out on top, and I passed by the golf course where the San Diego Open will be taking place this week.  I’m not a golf fan, so I wouldn’t have known this except for running by the course yesterday!  Past the golf course, I was treated to an exceptional descent down Torrey Pines Rd, alongside of the famous cliffs (gorgeous).  And then, the ocean came into view.  It was a spectacular sight, worthy of a soundtrack, especially after running 16 miles through urban terrain.

that awesome moment where I could finally see the ocean off in the distance...

I stopped for a bathroom break at Torrey Pines State Beach, and then headed up the coast via the Pacific Coast Highway.  The road passes through all of the cool little coast towns of Del Mar, Solana Beach, Cardiff, and Encinitas.  By this time, the sun was up and I was able to ditch my jacket, skull cap, and headlamp.  It was pretty funny seeing all of the people out for their morning workouts.  Occasionally, someone, always a man, would get competitive, huffing and puffing to pass me (let’s be honest, I’m slow, so that’s not exactly a huge accomplishment).  It made me laugh, as “competitive ego guy with something to prove” would have no idea that I had been running for over twenty miles and several hours already!

beach view from Torrey Pines

There were two hilarious episodes during the PCH stretch; these are the funny things that I love about running these point-to-point routes.  Obviously, I couldn’t carry enough fluids in my hydration pack to accommodate a 35 mile run, so I had to stop at some point to refill.  I stopped at a CVS in Solana Beach, somewhere around mile 22 or so.  I headed into the store, all stinky and sweaty and salt-encrusted from over four hours of solid running, and picked up two one-liter jugs of water, plus a smaller bottle I could then use as a hand-held.  I also got a bag of Lay’s potato chips, as I was starving, and I had already eaten all of my chips and saltines that I had brought with me.  The cashier at the counter gave me a really weird look, especially when I said I didn’t need a bag.

“Why?” he asked.  (Does it really matter, I thought to myself…)

“I’m just going to drink all of that right now and store it in my extra hump, you know, like a camel,” I answered, not really wanting to explain what I was doing and how my hydration pack worked.

“Well, the chips are in a bag,” he quipped.

“Yeah, and I’m eating those now.”

“But it’s only 8:45!”

“I’m aware of that.  I’m hungry.  Don’t ask.”

And out the door I went.  He kept staring at me through the glass door as I sat down on the front step of the store and filled up my pack, mixed up more Vitalyte, and stuffed my face full of chips.  I guess you don’t see many hungry and thirsty ultrarunners at CVS in Solana Beach at 8:45 in the morning on a Saturday.

The other funny incident was up in Cardiff, near the state beach area.  I was passing a bar called The Kraken (I can’t help but want to over-pronounce that word like the actors do in “Clash of the Titans.”  That’s SO one of my favorite movies!)  On the other side of the road, next to me, there was a car coming out of a restaurant parking lot.  The car skidded to a halt right in front of me, and the passenger rolled down his window.  He projectile vomited RIGHT AT ME.  I had to jump to get out of the way.  I guess he must have passed out after spending a late night at The Krrrrracken (!) or something, and had too many eggs for breakfast (well, it sure looked like egg yolks on the sidewalk).

I finally turned inland at Leucadia Blvd.  I called my husband, who was planning to meet me at my friend’s house later, as I was running across PCH and up the hill toward the 5 freeway.

“You’re running while you’re talking on your cell?”  He started laughing.

“Well, yeah.  I just wanted you to know that I’m OK and I’m about 7 or 8 miles from Linda’s place.  So I’ll be there in about an hour and a half – there are some climbs coming up, so it’ll take a while.”

“OK.  Let me let you go so you can run.  This is kind of weird.”  He was still laughing when he hung up the phone.

Then I called my friend.  She had the same reaction as Jason.

The route up Leucadia Blvd was really nice.  I passed by Encinitas Ranch golf course (quite pretty, although like I said, I’m not a golf person), and a bunch of idyllic housing developments set into the green hills.  We had had a major rainstorm the several days prior to this run, so there were still epic looking clouds scattered around in the clear, bright blue of the sky.  I have to say, though, a 600 foot ascent starting at the 30 mile mark wasn’t too fun.  I kept running, instead of walking the whole thing as I would have done in the past, although I did curse quite a bit because every time it seemed I got to the top, the damn hill just kept going.  F-ing hill.

And finally, I arrived at my friend’s street.  I called her house.

“Linda…” I moaned, sounding like I was really in pain.  “I pooped my pants and I’m lost.  Can you come find me?  And can you bring some wet naps?”

“What?  Are you OK?  Where are you?”  She sounded really concerned.

I started laughing hysterically.  “Sorry.  Just kidding!  I just turned onto your block.  Be there in a minute.”

is this the kind of sweaty freak you want to see ringing your doorbell?

My friend was pretty shocked that I looked relatively normal after running 35 miles from my house to hers, and that I was completely coherent and still cracking jokes.  I think it hits home for people exactly how far you’ve run when they drive the same distance regularly and think that it’s a long way.  Numbers are just that – numbers – and they’re hard to relate to.  “I did a 25 mile run today on trail.  Isn’t that cool?”  Sure, I’ll get in return.  But the person probably won’t “get it” in the same way until they’ve covered that route in a car or something like that.

I ended up having a lovely afternoon with my friend, her husband, my husband, and our godson.  And I think I ate an entire bag of chips, along with three cookies, an enormous sandwich, a bunch of soy jerky, a bottle of kombucha, and several cans of ginger ale.  My lunch cost $21…and I ate every bit.  Oh yeah, and I was hungry again about three hours later.

It was a great time.  I need to do this sort of thing, a creative journey run, more often.  Talk about cheap entertainment…well, except for the food budget afterward.  I’d rather have these kinds of memories over a technical race t-shirt.

It’s not about the race – it’s about enjoying the journey.