Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Spots of Time

There are in our existence spots of time,
That with distinct pre-eminence retain
A renovating virtue, whence--depressed
By false opinion and contentious thought,
Or aught of heavier or more deadly weight,
In trivial occupations, and the round
Of ordinary intercourse--our minds
Are nourished and invisibly repaired;
A virtue, by which pleasure is enhanced,
That penetrates, enables us to mount,
When high, more high, and lifts us up when fallen
~William Wordsworth 

 One of the most valuable takeaways so far from my marathon training is all of the times when I found myself completely immersed in the moment. When, cycling up a hill on a foggy morning, I'd look up and see the yellow-gold soybean fields stretch down in neat rows into a foggy cloud where barn roofs and a silo rise up out of the mist in front of a backdrop of green hills. Or hiking through the woods I'd feel myself moving through a bright cathedral of leaves, the overhead branches arching above the trail, and nothing else exists but the sound of my breath and the steady footsteps through the sanctuary. At those times, mundane or weighty thoughts are far away, and I can be fully present. And those times stick with me. Those are the spots of time that Wordsworth mentions in "The Prelude", the memories of which come back and lift us up when we are feeling troubled.

The MRI results for my knee showed signs of tendonitis. Now a couple of weeks after that diagnosis, I'll be starting physical therapy today, and hopefully I will be on my way to an injury-free marathon next month. Still, I feel that this is all a little too late. I expected to have been much farther along in my training by now, and even though I'll most likely be able to finish the marathon, I will not be able to pull off the performance I had imagined I could.

I will see what the physical therapist has to say about it. No matter what, I am so grateful to feel so fit and strong. I want to always feel so healthy. And when I think back to all of those amazing experiences I've had along the way, the fears about this one race seem pretty trivial, and I feel better about the situation, because it really is passing, but those experiences stick.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

It's dark, and we're wearing sunglasses

I'm going to Chicago! 

On October 12th, my running buddy will be toeing the line at the Chicago Marathon, and I'll be there to cheer her on.
She's had a rough training cycle because last winter she tore her meniscus. She was originally going to try and BQ, and to be honest, I wouldn't be surprised if she did, but surgery mid-training set her back a lot.

No matter what time the clock reads when she crosses the finish, it's going to be pretty amazing. I've visited Chicago once before, and as far as cities go, I liked it. I can't wait to be there spectating with all of the crowds and taking in the experience.

I just have to think of some good posters to carry along the route...

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Pathetic Fallacy

Whatever images or mood your mind conjures up when it hears "Wuthering Heights" is pretty much how I felt on  my run/hike last week.

Anna the adventure dog runs ahead on the trail
My schedule called for 2 hours of hiking and one hour of running on trails. I look forward to these long workouts every week, because they feel like good benchmarks for progress in making it to 26 miles, which is still a hard distance for me to fathom, considering the longest I've ever traveled by foot is 15 miles. 

Anyway, the weather forecast called for PM rain, so I figured I'd get it out of the way in the morning. I didn't, so it started raining on the way there.

The rain was on and off as I started hiking. I wore a short-sleeve shirt under a windbreaker, which was comfortable enough. I think it would be a good idea to get a light-weight, vented rain jacket for running and hiking, though.

I hiked on the Appalachian Trail along the Kittatinny ridge, which was like walking through a cloud, in a misty, gloomy kind of way.

Think "Wuthering Heights."

I tried to hike as quickly as possible, but the rain had made everything so slippery that I couldn't keep up a consistent pace. When the rain fell harder, it became more difficult, so I just went along as fast as I could. I figured that being on my feet moving forward is helping prepare for the marathon, so it was progress. After almost 2 hours, I made it to Sunfish Pond, a natural pond sitting at the top of the ridge and skirted around by the AT. One part of the shore is covered in rock fragments that hikers have stacked into hundreds of cairns. I avoided the rocky section that day to give my ankles and knees a rest, but it's an amazing spot to visit.  Here's a view from a previous trip:

After reaching the pond, I stopped for a wardrobe change to prepare for the run back. I took off both shirt layers and put on a dry long-sleeve technical tee that I had stashed in a plastic bag inside my pack. How glorious it was to be dry! (Temporarily dry, but still, it was wonderful.)

I put my pack on again and started running back along the AT. Unfortunately, the rain kept coming down, making the exposed rocks so slippery. I normally feel confident running on technical trails, but I didn't have any traction and was slipping and sliding and yelling a lot in frustration. Luckily, every time I start to twist an ankle, I unconsciously slacken the twisted leg, bending the knee and absorbing it with the whole leg. So no major injuries, although my knees did not feel great afterwards. I saw two other trail runners out there, as well as several groups of backpackers. I couldn't believe how many people were out and about. 

I ran back in half the time it took to hike there, berating myself for the poor choice of location the whole time. Was the gloomy weather reflective of my mood and experience? An English teacher would probably say so. The literary term for giving human emotions to nature like that is "pathetic fallacy." I guess that the real problem of this run wasn't the emotion factor, but rather the planning. Although I put a lot of thought into my route/location for this hike, I didn't take the right factors into consideration. Single track bike trails would have been a much better choice in the rain. I think that I could have really enjoyed all of the gloom and mist on a different trail if the footing were better.

Luckily, when I got back to the car, there was a bag full of dry clothes waiting for me, which was the most welcome sight, and the next week, under full sun and a blue sky, I had a perfect retribution hike.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Marathon Training

Back in July I entered and won the lottery! The lottery for a race, that is: the Stone Cat Trail Marathon.

A Stone Cat finisher's sweatshirt posted by
I signed up because I thought that after all of these years of running, I am finally ready to take on the challenge of a marathon.

For the past 11 months, I've been training with a corrective exercise trainer/kick-ass ultra runner to even out muscle imbalances and get past all of the obstacles that have been holding me back. I've noticed improvements in my gait, posture, heart rate, and race times. And all throughout this year, I've been inspired and motivated by my trainer, her trail running team members, and other clients. Check out Mountain Peak Fitness to see what I'm talking about. Race reports about utlra races like Wasatch, Badwater, and Western States have stuck with me on my own runs and give a totally different perspective to things.

Of course, there are always little setbacks that pop up. Mine came days after I found out that I was picked for the marathon. An area under the inner knee started hurting after I overextended the knee while jogging on a hiking trail while wearing heavy hiking boots (I couldn't help it - I love running!) and then ran a 5 k later that week. After that I scaled down mileage and intensity, iced it, and replaced a lot of running with cycling, and it got a little better. Not completely, though. Two months later I am still taking things one step at a time, cautiously seeing how the knee feels, and tailoring my workouts to it. I went to the doctor this week and will be getting an MRI for more info. Whatever it is, I don't think that it's very serious. With cycling, elliptical training, and hiking to prepare me, I'll be crossing the finish line on November 8th.

So this is it - I'm getting ready to go 26.2 for the first time!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Turkey Trot 4-mile Trail Run

After warming up before this race in Carolina Beach State Park in North Carolina, I hopped onto a picnic table to stretch, and I felt the weirdest clash between being pumped up and very peaceful and relaxed.  Sunlight was filtering through tall pines on a clear, chilly morning by the inter-coastal waterway. I leaned into the stretches and felt very good and very ready for a run through the woods.

I ran this race 5 years before, when it had 100 fewer participants and when I won my first age group award. I expected to be faster now, but I didn't know by how much, and part of me just wanted to run it again for the experience of a trail that is so different than those I run on in the northeast.

I was excited and pumped up for this race, and I felt great during the warm up. I hopped onto a picnic table to stretch, and when the race started, I felt well prepared.

After the gun went off, I started with a pack very close to the front and was swept up in the speed. I went a couple of steps and accidentally stepped on the heel of someone in front of me, which could have been a major fail, but it only caused one or two faltering steps before I got back into my rhythm and continued at a fast pace down the road before turning onto the trail.

I knew that I was going faster than I should have. I was too fast in my warm up, too. But at a quarter mile, my phone read out that my pace was over 12 minutes per mile. Was I already slowing and didn't even notice it? I kept pace with the people around me and felt the distance pass by with each step.

When we turned onto the trail, there was a little bit of a bottleneck. I noticed that the race directors tried to mark the roots on the ground with orange ribbon, which was unexpected, but nice. I noticed that I slowed down a lot, though. I haven't been trail running lately, and I didn't have the nimbleness that you need.

The surface of the trail was sand and pine needles. The roots thinned out, and some sections were completely sand, dry, lumpy, and uneven from the feet of every runner before me. I remembered the sand from when I ran this race before, but I had pushed a lot of it from my memory. My phone kept reporting a pace of over 10 minutes per mile. How could that be? The last time, I averaged 9:28 per mile. Surely I was in better shape now!

I kept thinking about what was making me so much slower this time. I was breathing heavily, and I felt bad because it must have been annoying to the people around me. As my phone ticked off the miles and read off my slow pace, I felt discouraged. What did I accomplish in the 5 years of running since I had run this race before? How could I be so much slower?

When my phone read off 3.5 miles, I heard cheering and music playing at the finish line. I remembered that from last time - I thought I was at the end because of the cheering, but the course snaked its way much longer than I thought. Except this time, it wasn't really that long. All of a sudden I saw the people ahead of me step onto a bridge - the bridge that drops you off at the finish line. Then I could see the finish. I pushed as hard as I could and crossed the finish line in 34:34 - 3 minutes and 15 seconds faster than my first time and good for second in my age group.

My phone, it seems, was off by quite a lot, and I am disappointed that I let that discourage me like it did. I should have enjoyed the race for what it was and not for how fast I could run it. The park was so pretty and unlike the scenery I am used to. I wish I had remembered to take some pictures!

I'll take this as a lesson to enjoy running for the experience and not to be so concerned with the clock. It's always good to set goals and to try and make improvements, but in a sport that has such a strong mental component, truly having a good time and enjoying the experience can be more important.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

River Ramble race report

The morning of the River Ramble Fall Classic race, I posted about my goal to just give everything I had. I made a conscious effort to push hard during the race, and doing my best made it really fulfilling.

Spreading the sparkle love along the scenic Delaware River
It was also a blast because the Sparkle girls were out in full force for this run, and we all had a great time. And, among us, we had a 5k PR, a first-time 10k, and two age group awards. Go Team Sparkle!

I started out a couple of rows back from the front of the pack, but not too far from the front, since it wasn't chip timed, and I let the energy of the pack sweep me through the beginning. There is one small,  steep hill in the first quarter mile, and the rest of the terrain is rolling, so I kept the effort moderate up the hill and then pushed. I didn't listen to any music, but (no judging, please) I had Katy Perry's "Firework" stuck in my head and let that pump me up.

I felt myself tiring after a mile, and I made conscious efforts to push harder every time I started to slow. I find it a really hard balance to run fast enough but not so hard as to burn out too quickly.

This was an out-and-back course, which I like, because I know exactly how much further until the end. Somehow, turning around and going back the way you came feels easier on me mentally than a loop, where the finish is somewhere up ahead. I think I tend to reserve more energy in a loop rather than use it when I need it. In any case, this was an out-and-back, and although I slowed down a lot on a very slight incline, I knew that I had a downhill and then a straightaway before the finish. 

I let gravity take me down the hill. A guy passed me at the bottom, and I just kept the pace quick and even. It's a long straightaway, and it's easy to start sprinting too soon. I passed one of the race directors and gave her a thumbs up, and I pushed a little harder. I realized that I had enough of a kick to sprint all the way in to the finish, so I turned it on all the way, caught up to the guy who passed me, passed him, and crossed the finish line in 25:05, sparkle skirt flying.

Congrats to Jo for setting a 5k PR, Ashley for running her first 10k, and Erin for 2nd in a very competitive age group. I came away with first in my age group and a great feeling. I was so energized all day, and I just felt pleased with the effort and how good it felt to run.

Friday, November 29, 2013

200th post!

Happy 200th post!

I started this blog five years ago, in a flurry of anxiety over my  first trail run. I searched the web for information about the course and read blog post after blog post about 4-mile trail runs. I didn't know what to expect, and reading other people's accounts of their experiences made it a little less scary.

Well, here I am, 5 years and 200 posts later, getting ready to run the same trail race. I won't go overboard on the difference between then and now, because a lot has changed, and a lot has stayed the same - and it would be weird if it weren't like that. I do have to say that I like the roundness of those numbers, and the symmetry of it. I've begun a training plan to even out muscle imbalances and to prepare myself to tackle some of the larger running goals I've imagined for myself, so I think that I'm at the beginning of something new now.

There will be a lot more trail runs, miles, craziness, down days, goals achieved, and new ones made. As a pretty awesome author once wrote, "The Road goes ever on and on." I hope to see you on the way!