Monday, December 19, 2011

Checking in...

So I haven't written in forever. I'm still running, though! At least two days a week I try to bring my running gear to work and run around town before going home. I've also been doing a lot of hiking and some biking to cross train. Right now I'm going to head out for an after-work run. It was sprinkling a few minutes ago, so I hope it won't be too wet!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

ABF Mud Run Report

I don't mind getting muddy, so when my friend asked me to run a Mud Run with her, I was all for it. Little did I know what I was getting myself into!

The run was held on November 5th at at YMCA camp about 2 hours south of where we live. It was a cool but sunny day that was perfect for running. I had been trying to figure out the best outfit to wear and way to arrange my hair so it wouldn't get wet or caught in barbed wire. I settled on a longsleeve Smartwool baselayer top with spandex capris (the same ones I fell in the river with when I went canoeing in April), and monkey buns for my hair. Good choices all around.

We arrived to registration about an hour before our wave started and registered and got our faces painted. Then I jumped around and did the pee-pee dance because there were no portapotties around. We had to wait for the shuttle to come and drop us off at the camp right before our wave started.

Nervous and painted

Closer to the portapotties! Yay!

Once we got off the bus, there were a blessed line of portapotties waiting for us, and once I made use of one, I was ready to run. Here I am looking very fearsome a few moments before the start.

The run started off as a nice jog through a dirt road in the woods. And then...the water. We ran through a muddy parking lot right up to a murky moat-like pond in a shaded area. We took turns sliding down a tube into it and swimming across. The best description I can give you of what this felt like is from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, when Harry first encounters a Dementor:

"An intense cold swept over them all. Harry felt his own breath catch in his chest. The cold went deeper than his skin. It was inside his chest, it was inside his very heart....Harry's eyes rolled up into his head. He couldn't see. He was drowning in cold... And then, from far away, he heard screaming, terrible, terrified, pleading screams. He wanted to help whoever it was, he tried to move his arms, but couldn't... "

The water was probably 50 degrees, which is shockingly cold when the air temperature is in the 40s. It hit you hard, and all I could think about was how cold it was until I realized that my lungs were so shocked that I couldn't breathe. It actually took a few seconds before I remembered that I needed to start swimming to get to the other side.

When I got out on the other side, I was freezing. I immediately started jumping up and down to get myself warmed up. I have a condition called Raynaud's, which involves my fingers and toes turning a waxy grey or white and going completely numb, so I'm vulnerable to frostbite, and I thought I was going to get it if I didn't warm up. Unfortunately, it was right back in the water for us for a rope line obstacle. A woman in front of my was crying hysterically and being encouraged by a teammate. I couldn't wait to get this water part of the course done and to start running. We balanced on a rope through the water to get across, and someone snapped a picture of me at just the right moment when the rope sank too far for my short little legs to reach, lol.

I still made it across without falling in. Not like it mattered, though, since the next thing we had to do was turn around and swim back across to the other side before crawling up through a tube to get out.

The problem with the tube was that the rope we needed to use to get up was coiled at the top. So most people cheated and just climbed up and over the tubes instead of crawling up through them. Most people. Except me. See the little warrior face peeking out of the tube? Yep
After that, we ran for a stretch, had some more waist-deep wading, and started the climbing obstacles. I had lost my friends with the first water obstacle, and I had to keep running to keep warm, so I kept going forward.

When I got to the first climbing obstacle, a wall, some guys behind me offered me a boost. I had no idea how to utilize the boost and actually make it all the way to the top (8 or 9 feet) and down again without killing myself. They pushed and lifted my legs as I jumped and used my upper body to pull myself up. I somehow got on top, lying along the length of it and clutching the 5 or so inches of width, and was kind of terrified. I had lots of encouragement, and the guys went to the other side to help me down. Once I got the nerve to lower both legs down, the guys guided me until I could drop safely. It wasn't too bad. I thanked them and continued on to a series of similar obstacles. Some of them included ropes, others had ramps and cargo nets. None of them were easy, but I could do most of them on my own.

When I finished this round of obstacles, I ran off through the woods again, but the course wasn't that well marked. I turned around when I figured that I was going in the wrong direction and met up the with guys who had helped me over the wall. They weren't entirely sure which way it was either, so we ran together and tried a path next to one of the course markers. After a few minutes, we came to a water station, and the volunteers there told us that we had skipped a large portion of the course! So we turned around and tried it again.

We found the right way and came up to another round of obstacles, which was probably the muddiest part of the course. There were some more walls and other climbing obstacles, and then a swamp to wade through. The swamp was murky and filled with plants, tree roots, fallen logs, and probably more. The challenge was that you had no idea what was underfoot. The roots and logs were at all different depths, so one moment you'd be waist-deep, with your legs stuck in a maze of roots, and the next moment you'd nearly have to get out of the water entirely in order to climb over shallow shelves or submerged logs.

I totally felt like I was in this scene from Apocalypse Now:

After the swamp, we hit the Snakepit, which was a ditch covered with logs that we had to crawl under. When we popped out of that, there were these logs to get over:

What a face! I actually did not feel as bad as I look there. I think I was just focusing on watching the technique of the girls ahead of me.

Anyway, the course had a lot more running and climbing obstacles. My favorite part was a tire carry up a hill. I totally rocked that hill! I was so happy not to be in the water that I felt I could run forever.

There was one more major water obstacle, where we had to swim about 100 yards across a lake and climb over logs in the way. I wasn't looking forward to this, but I jumped in and had a go at it. By the time I got to the first log, I was really feeling the cold. I had a little difficulty getting over it, and I paused to think about strategy, and one of the guys I was running with started saying he couldn't breathe. I couldn't either, and I looked around. There were people at the halfway point being fished out of the water in a rowboat. I knew that I wasn't going to be able to make it all the way across without getting hypothermia, and instead of going through the trouble of being rescued (and running the risk of capsizing the rowboat in the process), I figured that I would quit while I was ahead. I turned around and went back the way I came. It wasn't very far to where I could touch bottom, but I had a lot of trouble getting myself to that point. There is no way that I would have been able to get all the way across that lake. Instead, I ran along the perimeter of the lake to wait on the other side for the guys before continuing on.

After the lake, we were feeling tired. My forearms ached, and I couldn't flex my fingers. I have no idea how I managed to grasp boards and ropes to pull myself over obstacles. Somehow it was done, though, and we made it through the next 2 or so miles of trail running and climbing. A few times I ran ahead of the guys to stretch my legs and warm up some more. They always caught up at the next obstacle, though.

At about the 10K spot, we came to the very last water portion, which was a piece of cake. It was shallow and sunny, and my support staff was waiting to say hi and snap some pictures!

There was another quarter mile to go after this, and I couldn't wait to cross that finish line.

I was all smiles when I finally did finish!

I was looking forward to seeing my friends come through the finish, but my main priority was changing into dry clothes, which was not a speedy process. My motor skills were greatly affected by the cold, and by the time I got access to a bathroom to change in, I spent forever because I physically could not pick up the dry clothing articles and put them on. Perhaps the moment of greatest mental and physical stress for me was when I had to untie my shoelaces before I could take my capris off, and my weak, cold fingers simply couldn't do it. It must have taken me 5 painstaking minutes just to finally untie both laces.

So this run was designed to be both physically and mentally challenging, and it definitely was. It was also designed to require camaraderie and teamwork, so I'm glad that I found some people to run with and wish that I hadn't gotten separated from my friends.

It was nice meeting people on the course and helping and being helped, but to be honest, I didn't feel like it was that much fun. I am much more of a trail runner than a mud runner. When I read about Tough Mudders with their electric shocks, I can't understand why anyone would willingly sign up for it. At least I can say that I've completed a mud run. It was quite a challenge, and now I'm ready to take on challenges that are more meaningful to me, like running new distances and conquering hills and mountains.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Invoking my inner puppy

The countdown is on - Saturday is the 10K mud run I've signed up for. To prepare for it, I'm using a special strategy inspired by a German Shepherd named Anna. That strategy is to act like her when confronted with a muddy puddle, pond, or lake: jump in it!

It comes down to not caring about being cold or damp or dirty and just going for it, which can be a lot of fun. I've had my share of very muddy bike rides on the trail, and they were some of the best. The key is to have fun!

So, on Saturday I'm going to invoke my inner puppy and go for the mud and water obstacles without holding back. Do these pups look like they mind? Nope, so I shouldn't either.

I heard that there will be face painters at the registration, so I've been thinking about going for the war-paint look. Haha! I can't really imagine myself doing it, which is what would make it that much funnier. I'll definitely bring my camera along in case I do...

In the mean time, I'm going to walk and stretch and rest up. Lately I've been running, walking, biking, and doing a Jillian Michaels workout video, so it's time to rest and cultivate my inner puppy!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Mental mud prep

11 days until the mud run. I haven't really trained for this one - I'm just keeping active and doing a combination of workout videos, hiking, biking, and running. I have not tried simulating running in mud and water, nor have I prepared for the climbing/crawling obstacles. I've thought about what I'll wear, and now I need to prep mentally. I have to remind myself that I am definitely tough enough to finish this!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Vermont adventure

"I want to see mountains again, Gandalf, mountains!" -Fellowship of the Ring

It sounds ridiculous, but having lived my life in northwestern NJ, among the rounded hills of the Appalachian Mountains, I had never seen mountains with peaks before this past weekend's trip to Vermont. While there, I visited the area's must-see museums, farms, and food-related attractions (Ben & Jerry's factory!), but the highlight of the trip was hiking Vermont's tallest mountain, Mount Mansfield.

I love the outdoors and was game to take on this mountain, even though it was a lot tougher than anything I was used to in New Jersey. I prepped the day before by going to an outdoors store on Church St. in Burlington and buying a Camelbak and fleece, as well as hiking boots for future hikes (they need to be broken in first).

It turned out that I didn't need the fleece. The weather was unseasonably warm, and the air was dry and clear - perfect for hiking.

Half-way up the Sunset Ridge Trail when we popped out of the trees and saw the amazing view for the first time.

Trail marker with fantastic scenery

Almost at the top! The rocky ridge in the background is the trail we had just hiked.

A small pool int he rocks along the ridge near the summit

The summit!

View from the top

It was a perfect day for a hike, and everyone else thought so too!

We relaxed and ate our lunches of peanut-butter, jelly, and banana sandwiches, apples, and Sharkies.
The Saucony Progrid Ride 2s didn't do too badly as hiking shoes.

At the summit, in addition to about a hundred other hikers, we were greeted by a member of the Green Mountain Club who stays atop the mountain to inform people about the wildlife and make sure hikers don't do too much damage to the delicate alpine vegetation. When we picked our way to a spot to sit and eat our lunch, one of these mountain keepers reminded us not to step on the grass. We were careful, and I didn't know that we actually did step on any grass, but I'll be extra careful in the future.

When we were finished eating and taking in the view, we pointed it downward and began the scariest part of the hike. I was so afraid of slipping on the rocks that I used my hands and climbed down crab-like a lot of the way. I slipped a little a couple of times, but it wasn't anything to worry about. Once we got below the tree line, the going became a lot easier, and we picked up speed.

By the time we reached the smooth and slighter inclined trail in the last mile before reaching the car, I felt amazing and had the urge to run. I hopped up on rocks and jogged along, practically skipping. The 6- or 7-mile hike took us about 4 hours total to complete.

Mount Mansfield is in a very pretty section of Vermont (ok, almost all of Vermont is very pretty), and we left the mountain for a scenic drive on the way to grab some cider donuts and to visit the Ben & Jerry's factory.

Smuggler's Notch Pass, which looks suspiciously like Rivendell...

We spent one more day in Vermont after our hike, and although I was a little sore, I felt remarkably good. The weather continued to be perfect, and I'm looking forward to my next visit there.

Battery park in Burlington, looking over Lake Champlain

Since I've been back home, I've been wearing my hiking boots around trying to get them broken in. I hope to wear them this winter both hiking and snowshoeing (although I still need to buy some snowshoes). I had tried running in snowshoes for the first time last year (the post about it can be found here) and wanted to buy a pair of my own, but I wasn't sure I'd be able to use them much without anyone to go with. Now I think that I'll have plenty of opportunities, and I can't wait. Here's to many more hikes and outdoor adventures!

Oh, and what vacation would be complete without a visit to the local library?

Friday, September 30, 2011

Mud Run

I've officially signed up for a mud run in November. It's not a Tough Mudder, so there won't be any fire or electric shocks or anything, but it might be a little insane nonetheless.

My friends Dave and Jo told me about it and will be running it as well. None of us are mudders, so it will be an adventure!

Here's a video of a test run of the course. I am now a little scared.

I've been filling up my free days hiking and biking, but I haven't been for a good run in a long time. My last run was a Vibram FiveFinger run the day after I did a Wii personal trainer workout on a hard surface with no shoes. The result was a lot of pain in my arches midway through the run. So I've stuck to other exercises since then. If I'm going to be ready for this mud run, I really need to get running...and climbing...and practicing balance...oh boy.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Trails and towers

In between hurricanes, flooding, and generally gray, dreary days, I've managed to get out for a few nice hikes and runs.

On Labor Day weekend, I went for a 5-mile hike with my own personal guide and bear protector (that's what we call boyfriends nowadays) in a local state forest, where we hiked to a fire tower and through some trails that he frequently mountain bikes on. The tower was stable and didn't sway very much, but it was all see-through mesh, including the stair steps, so you could see all the way down. Luckily I'm not afraid of heights, and getting to the top was worth the climb.

The view from the top was a little misty, but still amazing.

My tour guide's 3-year old German Shepard came along and enjoyed scampering around in the woods (read: treeing a family of bears). My favorite trick is when she hops up on a rock on command. So cute!

The trail to the tower was steep, and my calves were really feeling the burn on the way up. I could tell that I was not in great shape, but I really enjoyed getting out and walking in the woods after being cooped up inside with no electricity and lots of rain for ages. After hiking back down the mountain and taking a loop around some other trails, I was itching to run, and it made me realize how little trail running I've done this summer.

After hiking, we kayaked on pedal kayaks. Very cool. You push the pedals back and forth with your feet and steer with a little knob that works the rudder. It takes a lot less energy than paddling with your upper body. (Believe me, I stopped pedaling, raised the rudder, and used the paddles instead just to see, and it was quite difficult in comparison - and wetter.) The only downfall is that you can't go backwards. It was a lot of fun and made for a great day of outdoor activities.

So this morning I woke up to a gloriously bright sunny day. It was 60 degrees and just perfect, so I put on some running gear, packed my bug spray, and drove down to a state park to go for a run.

I've run a few trails here several times, but there are still some that I haven't been on before, so I decided to do a little exploring and check out a new one. It turned out to be a great choice. Aside from a few rocky areas and stream crossings, it has great footing for running. It has just the right balance of technicality and runability. It was still a little wet from all of the rain we've had lately, which was a little bit of a hindrance, but in drier conditions, it could be one of my best trail-running options close to home.

I noticed in the beginning that I was feeling pretty good - entirely better than I was two weeks ago on the day I saw Momma bear and babies. This time I felt lighter and nimbler and more powerful. Maybe the fire tower hike had some good effects on me, and maybe the other exercise I've been doing is improving my fitness a little. Whatever it was, I was in a great mood and was just thankful to have the opportunity to be able to go out and enjoy the forest like that in the morning before work.

If the weather cooperates tomorrow, my tour guide/bear protector and I might go for another hike, location to be determined. Should be fun!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Mamma bear...and babies

It was a beautiful day Monday, so after work I drove up to a park with some single-track bike trails to go for a run. The road to the main section of the park was closed thanks to the effects of Hurricane Irene, so I parked at another end of the park and ran along some paved roads to get to the trails. I didn't go far before I was tired. In fact, I was tired before I even got to the trails. When I did get to the trail, I leaped around over some tree roots and started to get into it. I had some speed going up some little inclines, and it felt good to stretch my legs. I came out into a field that last month was filled with black-eyed susans, but this time was just filled with a lot of standing water from the storm. A friend asked me to do a mud run with her this fall, so I decided to get a head start training for that and plunged in. The puddles were fairly clean, since the path was more grassy than muddy, and the water was warm. I didn't mind splashing along down the trail. I came to some very deep puddles, and it wasn't until I was calf-deep in one of them that I heard some noise on the path ahead of me and saw a mother bear and two cubs. Oops. I waded backwards, clapped my hands, and tooted a whistle that I wear for that purpose. All three of them scampered into the woods, and I waded and then jogged away in the other direction.

After I was out of view, I was still a little scared that I might run into them when I got back into the woods, so I clapped or blew the whistle a little every once in a while. And so ends my terrifying bear attack story. I ran back to the car and drove around to another section of the park, but by then I was feeling like my wet shoes and socks were going to cause some blisters, and I decided to head home. Definitely need to get out running regularly again.

Friday, August 26, 2011


So I spent the second week of August at the Jersey shore with some friends. We rented a house and spent the week swimming, hanging out on the beach, eating clam chowder, and, of course, running. Here are some photos from an early-morning run on the sand:

Just after sunrise

Some of my friends were there already watching the sun rise, so they took a picture of me before my run.

I heart sandpipers!

I had no idea how far I was running. In my mind, I wanted to run until I could see the Barnegat Lighthouse in the distance. Every once in a while I left the water's edge to climb up on a life-guard stand and scope out the horizon. Below is the view from the stand, where the lighthouse is just barely visible. It was actually clearer in person.

I ended up running 8.4 miles that day. On the way back, my IT band was aching from running on the steeply-slanted shore, so I took my shoes off and felt better immediately. When I reached the beach entrance to get back to the house, I jumped in the ocean and let it splash my legs. It felt great!

So there is my very un-Jersey Shore-ish experience at the Jersey shore. It was a great time and a great opportunity to get some barefoot running in on the sand. My legs have been feeling really good lately, so I hope to be doing a lot more running this fall.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Back to work

Last weekend, I got back from a week-long vacation at the Jersey shore. It was a great time - completely devoid of fist pumping and poufy hair - and I have some great photos to post from my two early-morning runs.

Although I had good intentions in running in the mornings, I still ate lots of not-so-healthy food and planned on making it up by exercising more when I got home. I came down with a cold though (who gets a cold at the beach?!) and only yesterday did I manage to get out for a short run. It wasn't much, but it made me feel energized throughout the whole day, and I'm thinking about getting up super early while it's still summer and running before work as often as possible. I guess that will depend on how early I can get to sleep the night before!

Anyway, I have pictures and details from the vacation that I will post later. You really can't get much better than a sunrise run along the ocean on the east coast! For now it's back to work...

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Morning run

I set my alarm for 6:30 am so I could go for a 4.5-miler this morning. I thought it would be a good distance to get used to doing every Tuesday (since my shift at work starts a little late on Tuesdays).

Definitely didn't get up at 6:30 though. By 7, I finally dragged my sleepy self out of bed but didn't want to run. I forced myself into running clothes and said I'd do something athletic, and I ended up putting on the FiveFingers and going for a 2-miler.

I ran about 1.25 last night and was dragging the whole way, and this morning my IT bands were a little sore, so I stretched, and I think the FiveFingers were a good change, because my legs are feeling pretty good now. On the run, I started off feeling tired, but I picked up the speed for some intervals, and that seemed to energize me. It was cooler out than last night, and I love how light the FiveFingers make your feet feel. The 2 miles went by pretty quickly, and when I got home, I spent a little time on the bike trainer before hopping in the shower and getting ready for work.

I was happy to notice that my arches weren't sore at all with the FiveFingers, which means that my feet are adapting to them very well. It won't be long before I can wear them for a 5k.

I'm definitely out of my usual running shape, but it feels good to get out and be active, and as long as I can convince myself to put the running clothes on and take those first few steps, I'll get that fitness back.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Working my way back

Biking, hiking, kayaking, swimming, canoeing, and finally running: I'm getting back to my usual summer activities.

Thanks to overdoing it over Memorial Day weekend, I was set back a lot, but I'm finally back in the game and am thinking seriously about training for some races and epic outdoor adventures.

I ran 4.5 with my running buddy last week and was pretty out of shape, but I'm going to be exercising regularly now that the knee/IT band issues seem to have mostly cleared up. I'm also trying to get some saddle time on the bike. I went out for a morning ride on Saturday and had a nice 17-mile ride that didn't feel difficult at all. One of my friends suggested a ride on tow-paths and canal paths that, if done there and back, would be almost 50 miles. I know that I can do 20 easily right now, so with some practice I could probably handle 50 in the next month. Right? So I'm hoping for an epic 50 mile bike ride and definitely some running races this fall. So here's to getting out and active and actually remembering to log on and blog about it!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Falling in the river, Fivefingers, and more.

So I fell out of the blogosphere for a while, but I certainly kept myself busy. Since I last wrote, I've run three more races, two of which I placed in my age group. I also went hog wild in a local running store and got lots of great new gear - including a pair of Vibram FiveFingers. Yes, I finally caved in and bought them! And they're awesome!

Let's see, then I agreed to run 11 miles with a running buddy - the farthest I've run since the half-marathon last year - and followed that with a 15-mile hike the next day. I was so proud of myself for being able to run it, but the hiking the next day was too much, and made my IT band and knee a little problematic.

One of the races I mentioned was a 4-mile trail run, which was held by my town's environmental commission in conjunction with an Earth Day festival. In addition to the race, they held guided canoe tours on the river, and loving kayaking but never having been in a canoe, I thought that I'd try it out. I was put in a boat along with a gentleman about my father's age who asked that I steer because he had a weak wrist. I didn't mind, but that meant that he sat in the front and I sat in the back, which was not an even distribution of weight. When we got out on the river, the current was pretty strong, and I didn't have to do much paddling, but there was a lot of work going into steering due to a lot of downed trees in the river. It was really beautiful, and I wished that we could have gone a little slower to enjoy the scenery even more. I got very nervous every time we came near rocks in the water or had to maneuver around trees, especially because my boat-mate and I didn't have much of a communication system worked out for steering and paddling, but we didn't have any collisions. We were just about to the end of our trip when the river branched out into two directions, and I lost sight of the guide ahead of us. There was a lot of debris in the water here, and I didn't know quite where to go. The current carried us along, and I realized a little too late that it was going to take us right into a tree. I started to paddle ferociously to get us to turn and probably would have succeeded if, all at once, the water didn't disappear from under my paddle as we hit a sand bar. It happened so quickly that there was nothing I could do. We ran aground, tipped over, and fell right into the river all in one fell swoop!

Hey, if I didn't tip us, there wouldn't be a fun story to tell, would there?

So those are some highlights from the past few months. I'll have to get back into blogging, because once my IT band/knee start feeling better, I want to train for another half. A full marathon still seems like it might kill me (or at least cause lasting injury), but a half is definitely very doable.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Now that I've buried my old PR...

Have you ever been in this scenario:
You want to buy something, but you really can't afford it or justify the expense, so you think up some impossible thing that can only happen with a miracle and say that if that thing happens, you'll make the purchase?

That's what I did last week when I was looking to buy the HBO series Six Feet Under on DVD. It was $110, which is pricey, but I told myself that I'd deserve it if a miracle happened and I broke my 5K PR in the first race of the year without training or preparing at all for it. And there wasn't much chance of that happening...I thought. Now here we are, 50 seconds faster than my record, and I'm deciding not just if I should spend $110, but if I should spend $190 on the larger gift set (which is supposed to protect the discs better than the thinner, less-expensive packaging).

Decisions, decisions.

I will end up getting it one way or another, not just because I promised it to myself as a reward, but because in a weird way, the show has had a significant impact on how I appreciate life, and I never want to forget how important that is.

I had originally just watched a few episodes from season 5 in which Chris Messina made appearances as a secondary character, and when I got to the end of the season (and incidentally the series), I was really affected. It stuck with me for months, and I ended up going back and watching the entire series, which moved me even more to try and get out and appreciate life while I have it.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

RIP former personal record!

Goodbye 25:xx+ finishing times.

Goodbye 8:xx+ paces.

RIP my former personal record in the 5K!

Today I ran the Foxtrot 5K to raise money for Parkinson's research and had an awesome race. To be honest, I expected for it to be awful. In January, I started a new exercise regimen with very little running, and since then I've done almost nothing to prepare for flat, fast, road running. And when I ran this course last September, it was with a hugely disappointing time of 27:54, which is just about a personal worst. Awful, this was not, though. Apparently the exercise routine is perfect for me, seeing as it has resulted in a huge improvement in my finishing time: 24:26 (for a pace of 7:51 per mile), which is 50 seconds better than my last official PR!

Since I haven't been running consistently, I had no expectations coming into this race. I didn't even know it was happening until 2 weeks ago. There was one person who had run it last year who I wanted to beat if she ran it again, but that was my only goal.

When the race began, I started at a pretty fast pace. I had been listening to Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" (yes, I freely admit it - it's like an anthem for runners - especially in NJ!) and played it over in my head to stay pumped up. I waved and gave a thumbs up to volunteers and people watching from their houses and enjoyed what was turning out to be a very nice day. It was chilly, but the fog that had covered the town that morning was beginning to lift, making for a sunny day.

My first mile was in 7:30 minutes, and at that point, I felt pretty good. I figured that if I could maintain that pace, I could set a new PR. I began to feel tired at the halfway point, and I know I began to slow down there. A few people passed me, but I hung on and kept going. I played a few different songs over in my head and tried to catch my breath without slowing down too much. With about a half mile to go, a girl about my age passed me. I knew that I was probably giving up a placement in an age group category, but I was giving it my all and couldn't summon up any more speed to pass her. When the finish was in sight, I was able to pick up the pace, but I didn't have a sprint in me. My main focus was the clock. I was shocked to see that I was probably going to come in under 24 minutes and 30 seconds.

And that was it. I crossed the finish with unimaginable triumph gasping for air like a smoker climbing stairs. The combination of my fingers being frozen from the cold and shaking from oxygen deprivation made it a little hard for me to remove the tearaway strip with my name and age from my bib, but I managed to get it off and made my way through the chute without incident. I finished only 6 seconds behind the girl who passed me.

As if unexpectedly breaking my personal record by so much wasn't good enough, I was surprised again by winning a free raffle. The prize was a $25 gift certificate to a running store! Could my day get much better? But wait! It could! I was second in my age group - 6 seconds away from being first - and received a medal. I was so pleased because I really felt that I deserved it after running so hard. It was an awesome run, and it benefited an important cause.

The run was in support of the Michael J. Fox Foundation. An elderly library patron who has Parkinson's Disease was there and participated in the 1-mile walk, and you can tell that the fundraiser meant a lot to him. I just wish that more people could have participated. There were so many community volunteers who had worked to promote it and put it on, and I think that there were only 60 or 70 runners who participated. Maybe I can persuade some of my runner friends to come along next year.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Maybe it's an addiction

This afternoon found me driving around, not knowing where I was going, and totally rocking out to James Blunt's latest CD. I had a serious runner's high. It wasn't 72 degrees, but there was a zero chance of rain, it had been a nearly perfect day, and I got to run some great trails for the second weekend in a row.

Last Sunday was my first time out on a technical trail since December. I originally was just going to go for a run on the road, but my brain turned on, and I realized that I would be able to navigate hills, rocks, and tree roots without worrying about ice or snow. (I never did buy any traction devices this winter). I visited a local state park about 15-20 minutes away and started on the trail that had become my standard run in that park. I did a little bit of hiking on some of the steeper and rockier parts, but it wasn't long before I got warmed up and got to running, high-stepping around the rocks and flying down hills with my arms windmilling.

When I got to a cross-road, instead of taking the path to the end of the trail I had been on, I decided to turn right and try a new trail. I didn't know what to expect from this one, and I honestly didn't think that it would be that steep. There were a few flat stretches, but for the most part, it was very steep, leading down the mountain to a lake. And it was amazing. I had to walk down some of the steepest parts, which had terrible footing from being littered with leaf-covered rocks, and it was very poorly marked, but as I got closer to the lake, I saw hints of green creeping up along the edges of the trail. Green ferns began to grow thickly on either side, and a stream ran down along one edge of the trail while the other side was cast in the shadow of giant rock formations that had been dropped there long ago by the glacier that carved out the mountain ridge. At that point, this became my new favorite trail in the park. I followed it down to the lake and stopped for a little to admire the scenery.

In the past, I've had a hate-hate relationship with hills, but now that I've gotten into the habit of running up mountains, I have begun to respect and really enjoy them. I knew that the way back up this trail would be a steady incline, and I wanted to run as much of it as possible. So I started, and once I got into a fairly steady rhythm, I didn't have much trouble at all. I think that all of the foundational strength-training I've been doing with the Wii EA Sports Active Personal Trainer program has made a huge difference with my leg strength. And it felt great.

As much as I loved the trail, I did begin to curse it when I got off-course due to poorly placed trail markers. Not only were they faded and difficult to see, but there just weren't enough, and those that were there weren't placed in helpful spots. I actually got "lost" because of this. I made it back all right, though, and I couldn't wait to get back out on the trail again.

Of course, it snowed at least 3 or 4 inches during the week, and I thought that I'd have to wait a long time before running technical trails again. Maybe it's an addiction, but I wanted to get back out again so much that I decided to try some trails even with the snow. So today I drove up to another state park with pretty smooth single track bike trails. My last attempt at running here had turned into a frantic quest to be reunited with civilization when I got lost using a woefully inadequate trail map, so I don't know why I felt so comfortable running here in the snow, but it turned out to be great. Either most of the trails received a huge amount of traffic in the past week, or someone actually cleared the snow, because about 80% of the trails were clear while the rest of the forest was covered in several inches of snow. And I guess that I ran around in circles enough last time to get pretty familiar with the trails, and I had a pretty good idea of where I was most of the time. I was feeling so good that when I finished, I decided to take the dirt fire road up to Tower Hill (there's a cell tower at the top) and back again, just to get some more miles in. I had to do a little walking up the fire road, but I really enjoyed myself, and after I made it to the top, I flew down so fast that I almost lost control a few times in the snow and mud. When I got back to the car, I lay down on the blacktop in the sun and did some relaxing stretches before turning up the volume and completely rocking out to James Blunt. It was pretty awesome.

Can't wait for the snow to leave for good so I can do some more exploring!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Fear factor

Domestic dogs
Crazy people

That's my list of greatest fears when running/biking. Notice that bears are number one. I've lived around bears all of my life, and I know all of the things that you're supposed to do when you come across one, but for some reason I'm terrified of them. What, then, could be scarier for me than coming face to face with a black bear in the middle of the woods at sunset?

Coming face to face with four black bears in the middle of the woods at sunset.

That was the scenario I found myself in yesterday as I enjoyed my second bike ride of the year.

It was a perfect day with temperatures in the lower 70s and lots of sun, and because it would have been a crime not to, a friend and I took our bikes to the trail for a ride after work. My legs were feeling a little tired, so we stopped quite a few times during the first half of the ride. Around the midway point we took a long break sitting down near a lake to have some snacks, and I realized at that point that it was getting late and that we might not be able to get back to the car before the sun set.

So we set off at a faster pace and started to make pretty good time. It was getting steadily darker, though. At one point, I looked past my friend, who was in front of me, to see two black shapes ahead up the trail. They were walking toward us as we rode toward them. I asked if they were bears, and almost the moment that I did, my friend stopped, jumped off his bike, shouted, and waved his arms. The two bears took off into the bushes to the right of the trail, but another bear ran from the bushes on the left across the trail and to the right. He raised his bike above his head and shouted more. I believe that at this point, another bear ran from the left to the right across the trail. I, of course, was paralyzed with fright and just watched. Since when do bears travel in packs of four? I've never seen more than two together, so this really shocked me.

After being sure that there weren't any more bears hiding in the bushes, we continued on, making lots of noise as we did, and we continued to push the pace to get back before it got really dark. We were biking faster at the the end of our 15.5-mile ride than at the beginning. Considering how tired I had felt at the beginning, I was surprised by the strong finish. It felt great, though. This time I wasn't worried about going slowly through the mud puddles (or small lakes, as it seemed sometimes) and ended up soaked and muddy, but I felt really exhilarated. It turned out to be a great ride.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

NJ Trail Series - Snow shoe 2011

So the organizers of the snowshoeing event put together a video of the run. I appear (in my stylish hotfingers hunting hat and a blue jacket) at 0:56-1:12 and 3:22-3:53. You can definitely tell the difference between the pros and those of us who were on snowshoes for the first time. We all had a great time, though!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

I want pizza. Or BBQ. Now.

If there were a pizzeria within half an hour of my home that were actually open right now, I'm pretty sure that I would have to go and order a slice or two. Toppings would be roasted red peppers and pepperoni.

You know, I'd even settle for a frozen DiGiorno at this point. I just want pizza. Or BBQ. I almost stopped for lunch at a barbecue place this afternoon when I was on my way home from a friend's house, but I didn't know the name or exact location of it. If I had known at that time that when I got home, there would be nothing to eat but salad, I would have made a point of finding the place. But I didn't. And oh how I wish I did.

It was a beautiful day, and when I got home, I went for a 3-mile run. I wasn't feeling particularly peppy, probably due to the fact that in a 24-hr period, my food consumption consisted of half a chicken-salad sandwich, chips and salsa, heavily-iced sugar cookies, fudge, chocolate, Cap'n Crunch cereal, and salad. I don't think there's much on that list that can be considered a good fuel for running. But I didn't feel that tired, so I did a Wii personal trainer workout after dinner. Dinner, by the way, consisted only of lentil soup. It was yummy and healthy, but oh how I wish it were a rack of barbecued ribs or a pizza. Not only am I starving right now, but I probably could have put a lot more intensity into my workout and felt better about my run. I noticed that my foot turnover was really fast on the downhills - better than I've ever noticed before - but I felt pretty slow for the rest of the run.

So, I guess that the lesson for today is to properly fuel for exercise. It will be nice to check on a good day to see if my running has improved in any other ways besides the foot turnover speed.

Monday, February 21, 2011

In honor of President's Day...

So, it's winter again here in the Northeast. I would have loved to go for a long run today, but after last night's snow, the roads will be gravel-ly and narrow, so I'll probably stay inside and do another personal trainer workout with the Wii and run on the treadmill. In honor of President's Day, though, let's take a look at some of our country's leaders keeping healthy by running:

President Carter was the first U.S. president to get into jogging when it broke onto the exercise scene in the 60s and 70s. He may have been onto the current trend in minimalist footwear, but I don't think those socks will be catching on anytime soon.

Apparently Ronald Reagan was more into horseback riding than running, but his successor, President George H.W. Bush, often laced up and hit the pavement. Kinda wish he had gone for a regular t-shirt, though.

The kid in the front of the stroller doesn't care that Mom and Dad are keeping pace with President Bill Clinton. He just wants to go faster!

Like his dad, President George W. Bush also liked to hit the pavement. Made for some better photo ops.

If it's true that President Obama quit smoking, maybe we'll see him doing a little more running than this in the future.

Happy running!