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!!!

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…

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…

Finally…some distance!

24 08 2008

At long last – was finally able to do a “long” run for the first time since Burning River.  “Long” meaning 15 miles…laughable, I know, but I’ve been getting some “issues” straightened out.  Today I headed out with my friend Jill for a truly enjoyable 15 miler up at Daley Ranch in Escondido.  I’ve run here a bunch of times by myself, as it’s one of the only real “safe” places to go trail running alone.  Of course, even alone, I’ve nearly stepped on rattlesnakes, but we’re not going to go there today…

I met Jill at 6:30 am in the parking lot.  She had already completed 5 miles before I arrived (I’m jealous of those early morning miles in the dark!) and we headed out immediately onto the trail.  Great weather (overcast for most of the run) and great conversation predominated throughout.  I’ve only recently realized how fantastic it is to have company on long runs.  I trained alone for years through my first marathon and my first year of running ultras; I sort of just accepted the loneliness and convinced myself that I was stronger for training like the Lone Ranger.  Of course, this was probably just to cover up the fact that I was dying to meet some training buddies!  Denial’s always fun, isn’t it?

I’m very grateful now to have made some new training friends…Jill, you rock!  Thanks for today!

Ultra Jilly in front of the old tank, Daley Ranch

Ultra Jilly in front of the old tank, Daley Ranch

One inspiring moment today happened when we met a 73 (!) year old runner on the trail.  I think his legs were waaaay more buff than mine will ever be.  (What’s up with that?  Different genetic material?)  We traded some running stories and had a couple of laughs.  Jill and I left and I immediately said, “OK, that guy officially qualifies as a bad-ass.”  Seriously.  He was just running up a steep incline that I’d probably choose to powerhike.  Did I say 73 years old??!!  Let’s hope I’m still WALKING at 73.  Geez.

Sometimes I take the scenery here in San Diego County for granted, having lived in southern California now since 1994.  Even a little trail run like today’s at Daley Ranch has spectacular dramatic beauty – nothing like you’d see back in Ohio (that’s just a different kind of beauty, reserved for those who like rolling corn fields).  Check out the view from the top of Stanley Peak, looking out over the clouds.  Mount Woodson and Cuyamaca Peak were visible in the distance.  Too cool!

early morning from the top of Stanley Peak, over the clouds

early morning from the top of Stanley Peak, over the clouds

I felt great during most of the run today, despite some cramping at mile 14 (mild dehydration).  Looks like I’m getting my stomach issues squared away as there were no running into the woods moments this morning.  I have to say that Imodium is a beautiful thing – if any of you fellow ultrarunners have tummy issues, I highly recommend trying a dose of this before a long trail run.  Emailed my coach as soon as I got home, in hopes that he might up my training mileage for next week.  Gotta get over that 20 mile hump for a Saturday run ASAP or else I might go insane!  And I’m just dying to sign up for a new race…am thinking about doing the 12 hour option for the San Francisco One Day.  Let’s hope Coach gives me the green light!


20 08 2008

OK – haven’t written much in a while as I’ve been recovering from my 75 mile effort at Burning River.  If there’s one thing I HATE about ultrarunning, it’s that lovely “recovery” period after a race.  I think I could deal with recovery a little bit better if I had actually finished the damn thing.

I took a whole week off after my DNF, and the blow was softened by a stay with friends in the northern KY/Cincinnati area where I did some official shop time in a tattoo shop in the city (yes, I’m apprenticing right now – anyone want free tats?).  So that was fun.  But, when I got home, the first thing I wanted to do was run.  Luckily my coach is a sane person and realized I probably wasn’t quite ready to go out and do a 50K trail training run over the weekend.  He had me do a couple of 8 milers during the week, and I was slower than ever.  A 10 minute mile felt like speedwork.  Now that’s pathetic!  Reluctantly, he approved me to do a 15 miler over the weekend with my friend Jill up at Daley Ranch.

Saturday morning came and I was feeling enthusiastic and well-rested, ready to tackle my first “long” run since the race.  The first few miles went smoothly – good scenery and good conversation!  But at 8 miles, the familiar feeling of “Oh crap I need to run out into the woods NOW and dig a hole” hit.  After that explosive incident, both the terrain and my state of being went rapidly downhill.  By 12 miles I had to call it quits unless I wanted to leave some nasty souvenirs along the trail.  That night, I laid down on the couch at 8 pm to watch the women’s marathon on the Olympics and immediately conked out.  Woke up the next morning in my bed at 7 am with no recollection of getting up off the couch and going to bed.

My coach threatened impending doom if I didn’t go to the doctor on Monday morning to check out what was going on with the tummy drama.  Evidently, this sort of exploding stomach isn’t exactly “normal.”  I spent a couple of hours in the doc’s office waiting, only to be told that there’s not that much she can do since it’s IBS and I’m vegan so I’m just going to have more issues than most people.  Ahh.  That’s comforting.

In any case, I’m feeling better now after a couple of more nights of 10+ hours sleep and was able to do a half-hour of cardio and an hour of weights at the gym yesterday morning with an easy 8 mile run in the evening.  Hopefully, I’ll get that 15 miler in this weekend!  Can’t wait to get back to normal – whatever that might be!

The trailmonster becomes the road monster…

28 07 2008

As most of my friends and family know, I’ve spent the past year obsessed with running my first 100 mile race. I chose the Burning River 100 ( because it’s near where I was born in Akron, Ohio. Consequently, I knew I’d have a lot of moral support from family members since so many of them live in the Midwest region. I’ve trained long and hard for this race, which takes place on August 2-3, including getting over a nasty IT injury that lasted for about four months. I’ll be writing some more in coming days about some of the lessons I’ve learned during training for this race (and I’ve got some cool pictures to post too!), but I thought I’d do an entry today about what it’s been like to run through my final couple of weeks before the race. I scheduled myself for a full three week taper to get myself into race mode!

For about two of the three weeks I had to spend some time up in Los Angeles – which I affectionately call la-la-land based on the time I used to live here – for an interminably long software workshop on Pro Tools. That’s the software used in most recording studios; I still engineer on my own part-time and do a ton of MIDI production for theatre projects, so the whole thing was relevant – but ill-timed since I was having a tough time concentrating with my first 100 miler on the horizon. Squeezing in my final hours of training was, well, “entertaining” in more ways than one, especially considering I couldn’t seem to get an endless litany of key commands from streaming through my brain. Talk about information overload!

Tuesday, July 15, was a scheduled 15 miler, and being the dedicated runner I am, I wasn’t going to miss it, even after an 8 hour day in workshops and 2 hours in the wee hours grading online papers (yeah, I still work as a college prof and I teach a bunch of online courses). There’s a definite lack of worthy trails in the greater LA area, so I ended up at Venice Beach on the bikepath. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Venice, it’s certainly “interesting.” Picture a bunch of surgically enhanced ladies in bikinis, skater kids with tons of attitude, and throw in an aging rasta-dude on roller blades who follows you around with a psychedelic looking electric guitar. There’s an image for you. Couldn’t pass this one up. However, Venice can be a bit sketchy, especially after nightfall, so I knew I was going to need company to do this run.

In the past, I’ve rarely run with friends. I learned REAL quickly that if you value a long-standing friendship you don’t want to rock the boat by adding running to the mix. Let’s just say I’ve learned that from experience. My friend Linda ran a marathon with me three years ago and she still hasn’t quite forgiven me (or her husband) for talking her into it. I remember one particular training run in pouring rain when I pushed her over the edge –harsh words were definitely present. I think they were probably directed in my general vicinity, although I prefer to not dredge up the past and ask for clarification. And this coming from a person who’s normally “Miss Sunshine.” Sorry, Linda!

When my friend Austen volunteered to come along with me to Venice, I balked at first, but then quickly reconsidered. He wasn’t going to RUN. Rather, he decided to try to skateboard with me for the entire distance. How cool is that??!! Talk about a sight – me in head-to-toe winter weather gear (still heat-training!) and my big hydration pack and him, an ex-rocker with super long hair on a skateboard careening down a bike path singing Black Sabbath songs phrase by phrase (we alternated) at the top of our lungs.

Yet, at fourteen miles, our idyllic jaunt came to a close as the poor guy’s heel gave out. I’m suspecting plantar fasciitis. He couldn’t walk quite right for the next three days. I don’t think he’s going to be coming along with me again. I don’t know if he’s forgiven me yet. Lesson learned – don’t invite your well-meaning friends along unless you’re willing to be hated and cursed for the next year.

I tried the Venice thing again on Thursday, July 17 – this time alone – and was plagued by horrible stomach issues. The heat along with excessive consumption of Uncle Eddie’s vegan cookies took its toll. I don’t recommend eating three bags of these before a 10 miler (hey, I’m “carbo loading!”), as it’s not fun to continually squeeze one’s sphincter in public for fear of “gambling and losing.” Furthermore, I don’t recommend Venice for its public facilities. You have to fight street bums for a chance at using the nasty toilets. Let me just warn anyone reading that you should under no circumstances allow your dropped running shorts to approach the ground. Eeeeew. I will never again be squeamish about going in the woods. Much preferable to this alternative.

I made it home for a “long” run on Saturday, July 19. I ended up doing a road 20 instead of a trail 20 just because of time constraints. Yeah – the trailmonster became the roadmonster for a week! I took the run nice and slow and easy. Wait – that’s the ONLY way I ever do runs!

On that 20 miler, I began to think I was the human camel. I theorized that I had a hidden hump somewhere on my back as I was able to consume 84 oz of fluid in the first two hours. I had no idea that I was drinking that much until my hydration pack ran out. Imagine my shock when I couldn’t even pee. It took until 9 pm that night to resume normal bodily functions. Just didn’t get it.

Luckily, I’ve got a great coach, Gordy, who immediately was able to recognize the problem. NO ONE should be able to consume that amount of fluid in that short of a time frame, not even a freak like me. The condition is called “hyponatremia”, meaning an overconsumption of fluid paired with a lack of electrolytes. In a lot of ways, being hyponatremic is worse than being dehydrated, because the tissues around your brain can swell up and you can die. That would definitely suck.

I’ve always thought I was too well-informed to allow myself to become hyponatremic. A lot of ultrarunners are good at living in states of denial, doing things like training through injuries (been there, done that), and in my case this time, hyponatremia. I guess we tend to think we’re invincible or something. There’s a fine line between positive visualization (I can DOOOO it!) and extreme stupidity. I think I crossed that line, and luckily, I have someone helping me out who can recognize these things. Another lesson learned. I’m just glad it happened NOW.

I spent the past week in a state of what I like to call “taper madness.” In my case, it usually involves a complete aversion to doing anything physical along with an overconsumption of smoothies and potato chips (the greasier, the better). I had a hard time dragging my butt along a series of short 6 and 8 milers. What’s the point with those kinds of runs anyhow? Boring. Now I’m at the end of my taper with my target race only a few days away and am wondering how in hell I’m going to motivate myself to run 100 miles when I’m having a hard enough time going for 4. This should be interesting…