Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year, Seward style

Happy New Year, everyone!

Today I woke up to almost a foot of slush over the roads. The yard is a mushy lake of melting snow, ice and water; I can barely walk to my car without drowning. And it's so cloudy and misty that the mountains are hidden from view. A very moody and pondering day. So I shall sit here and ponder over important issues and goals for the new year.

I want to start living my life more through the eyes of a child, with wonder and discovery.

I want to wake up each morning excited by possibilities.

I want to break through barriers and confront the unknown with fearless gusto.

I want to be dazzled by life.

I also really, really want to run a sub-1:50 half-marathon.

This past year I finished my novel rewrite (hooray me!), won a few writing contests, had a few poems published and was awarded a writing residency.

I moved to Seward, a very small Alaska town at the end of the road system:

Exceeded my goal and ran 1,167 miles, thanks to Tall Mom's awesome 1,000 Mile Club and her cunning spreadsheet that kept me on my toes. Thanks, Mel, you are a true bloggy friend, and inspiration!!

I ran my way through three pairs of trail shoes and two pairs of road shoes:

Took over 13 minutes off of my Mount Marathon Race time, managed to finish the race without crying (!!) plus ended up with an awesome gash on my arm (battle scars, baby):

Me, ready to run down 3,062 feet in 22 minutes, before falling twice, blooding my arm and fracturing my finger, and loving EVERY damned minute.

I PRed in a four mile trail race (31:40 and 2nd in my AG) and 10K road race (50:51), mostly because they were my FIRST four mile trail race and 10K road race, hee.

And I ran my first half-marathon ever with my sis, CK, who flew up from Philly just to run the race with me. It was also her first half, and we rocked that Skinny Raven Half-Marathon course, yes we did!

My sis made me promise not to post any pics of her until she loses weight (she's not fat!), so I shall refrain, sigh, sigh. But she ran a 2:15 and I was so proud to watch her run across the finish line. She blew a guy off at the last minute. You go, CK!

My time was 1:55, which I was happy with, seeing that I had NO clue as to how to pace myself, mile splits, etc. I simply ran, no checking my watch, no worrying about time. It was such a glorious experience that I swear, I wept a bit the first few miles. I thought: I'm doing it, I'm running a half-marathon! The coolest feeling was when I hit the first mile marker and I felt so strong that I knew I could do it, that I had trained enough for it and there was no question in my mind that I would have a good race.

I simply can't wait to run a marathon this summer. I'm sure I'll weep through the whole damned race.

And, what the heck, here is me and CK before the race, scared out of our minds because suddenly 13.1 miles seemed so very, very far:

But what I remember most about the year are the many, many trail runs I took around Anchorage and Seward. Racing is great but running in the mountains with all of that stillness, all of that beauty, is what I love best. It feeds my soul.

And I saw a few of these:

And really, really miss these guys:

My running buddy, DS, who ran a 1:46 HM her first try, but I still love her

And these two:

H and T, on our wild trail run to Williwaw Lake and beyond

And I really, really miss my favorite mountain, Bird Ridge, and the glorious misery of running it in the rain:

And thanks to the best, most devoted, good-natured, stubborn and loving running partner in the world, The Beebs, who ran over 800 trail miles with me this year, not bad for a 10.5 year old gal:

And finally, thanks to the running bloggy friends out there: Reading your posts this past year has inspired me, touched me, moved me and comforted me more than I can ever say.

Hugs and happy New Year to everyone,

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Mayor's Marathon pre-registration

Midnight tomorrow, Alaska time, is the last day to save big-time on pre-registration for the Mayor's Marathon in Anchorage June 18.

Here's the dude who won both the Mayor's and the Humpy's marathons last year, Erik Johnson. And he lives in Seward!

I see this dude out running in every kind of weather, putting in mega miles along the highway (cars splashing him with snow and mud) as I drive to the trailhead to run my very much shorter distances on the beautiful and peaceful trails. Which is why he's winning marathons and I'm finishing so-so in half-marathons, sigh, sigh.

But back to the Mayor's Marathon: The course includes about 8 miles of mild trails plus a killer hill at the end. Yours truly will be running the half, since I'm hoping to tackle the Shiprock Marathon in AZ May 1 and the Humpy's Marathon in August.

MM fees are listed below:

December 31, 2010
January 1 - May 21, 2011After
May 21, 2011
Marathon$60 ($50 AK)*$75 ($65 AK)*$85 ($75 AK)*
Half Marathon$40$50$55
5 Mile Run$20$25$35
Youth Cup$5$10$10
Marathon Relay (4 person)$100$110$150

*Alaska residents receive a $10 discount on marathon registrations.

Hope to see some of you folks there.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Writing, writing and a little bit of running

Wow, what a week. Hope everyone had a great Christmas.

This guy has been spending time with me.

That would be my shaggy-haired son, C, who will soon be heading back up to Anchorage to stay with friends for the rest of his vacation break, sigh, sigh. I don't blame him: There's not much to do in Seward for a geeky college aged kid, bless his heart.

I've been writing, writing, writing like mad and finished (hooray!!) my novel edits, though I still have to format everything and correct all of my many, many typos and grammatical errors. I am exhausted, my head aches, I haven't been eating as healthy as I should and I have a pimple on my chin. But I. Am. Finished.

And that means that I didn't lose the bet and this woman will NOT be getting my money, hee, hee:

Writing is a horrible and terrible thing sometimes. I think it's like love. It can be glorious and heady, but it can also be agonizing and dreadful. I suppose this always happens whenever we open up our hearts and allow ourselves to be vulnerable. It is a beautiful and scary thing.

I haven't been running much distance-wise, since I've been putting all of my energy into writing, but I have been getting in shortist, 3-6 mile trail/road runs.

I ran past Mt. Marathon a couple of times. In five months I'll be staggering up and then hurling myself down three or four times a week, to train for mountain races. I cannot wait.

It looks so peaceful and quiet, doesn't it? I love this mountain, though I also fear it. It isn't gentle. It's fierce and ornery, which is why I so desire it. I've bled, sweated and cried on this mountain. Just thinking about it makes my blood pump faster.

I also took C to the Alaska SeaLife Center. We saw birds:

And Squirt the Octopus.

An octopus is a cool and odd thing, isn't it?

We also learned that jellyfish have no heart or brain. Huh? How can that be? But that's what it said:

My favorite part was watching the seals and sea lions swim around in their underground tanks. There's something magical about watching their bodies skim through the water; they look so free and happy. Here's a pic of one of the seals following the motion of a woman's hands:

As we were leaving the woman in the gift shop told us that the center is free to Alaska residents every Wednesday through winter. Bummer that we went on a Tuesday but hey, all of you Alaskans out there have no excuse to drive down and check it out. And when you do, please bring me a few bags of kitty litter, okay? It's ridiculously expensive down here.

And finally, I discovered a new writer and am totally and madly in love with this woman's words:


That would be Heather Brittain Bergstrom, and she just won first-place in Narrative's Fall Contest. Check out her work at Narrative magazine. She is the REAL thing. I wanted to be jealous but I swear, her words just swept me away. Amazing writer. I wanted to send her a message but could find neither a Facebook page or Website.

So hey Heather, if you're reading this, I love ya!

Running: Not enough but enough, you know?

Reading: Heather (of course), and also Peter C. brown's "The Fugitive Wife"

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Treadmill run and onward to the "big" city

I got up ridiculously early yesterday morning, ate a rice cake with peanut butter (out of bread, sigh, sigh), walked the dog in the moonlight and stuffed the back of the car with emergency cold weather gear for my trip to Anchorage to pick up my son.

Then I hit the gym for a short-but-killer-sweet treadmill work out. Because I didn't have much time, I did speedwork: 8 x 2 minute intervals at 7 minute pace, followed by 1 minute recovery at 9:30 pace, on a 1% incline. Warm-up and warm-down and I was done in less than 40 minutes.

It was just getting light as I began the drive, that hazy time between dust and dawn, the moon still out, everything hushed and quiet and almost no other cars around. I stopped by Kenai Lake ("Avalance Area: Do Not Stop" the sign said, hee, hee) and snapped these pictures of the moon behind the mountains:

The roads were icy in places and covered in snow, but I only slid once and thankfully no one else was around.

Two and a half laters, I was in Anchorage, stuck behind my first traffic light in 3 1/2 months. Ugh. I hadn't realized how ugly traffic is, all of us driving, driving around buying, buying things we really don't need. Really depressed me.

So I cheered myself up by doing what any person would do who had been stuck in a small town for almost a quarter of a year: I went shopping.

And I shopped, baby. I walked around the stores dazzled by the allure of so many things I didn't really need but suddenly wanted.

But I stuck to my list and bought mostly practical things: Tons of fresh veggies and fruits (yum!), cagefree eggs for only $2 (they're $5 down here), a desk lamp, kitty litter and doggie chew bones, etc.

And this. Oh this I have been dreaming of this for months:

Don't snicker! You might not think vacuuming is fun, but try getting by without one when you've got a dog and two cats and you'll suddenly start fantasizing about them in the oddest places.

I also stocked up on my guilty pleasures:

And last but not least:

I was hoping to catch my friend S for lunch but alas, she had to close on her condo, so I picked up my son from his friend's house and we headed back down over the icy roads to Seward. The traffic was heavier coming back; by heavier I mean maybe we'd see a car every 20 minutes or so, hee, hee. Some of those SUVs and pickup trucks cruised past us going at least 70. Couldn't believe it. I kept it to a conservative 55-60 mph. I very much wanted to live to use my vacuum and eat my chocolate.

Caught the sunset when I stopped at the side of the road so that my son could go to the bathroom in the brush (no sissy rest stops for this kid, probably because there are no sissy rest stops--it's unAlaskan to pee in comfort during a road trip).

Got home right at pitch dark, so I timed the day perfectly. It was cold in Seward with high winds, and unloading the car was the least enjoyable part of the day.

But later, the dog chewed on her new bone, the cats scratched on their new pad, I curled on the couch with a new book and my son escaped into his room, doing whatever 19-year-old boys do when they're stuck in a small and isolated town for Christmas break with only their mothers for company.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Uh-oh, and speedwork

There I was, merrily going through my work email box and deleting as much as I could, when I came across a message from my friend J.

J is a pilot who flies sightseeing tours up here in Seward in the summer and then scurries back to Colorado in the winter 'cause he can't handle the brutal cold, hee, hee.

Seriously, though, he's also a writer. At the end of last summer, we (I?) stupidly made a bet that if we weren't finished with our novels by Christmas, we would have to make a $25 donation to the Republican party.

Now some of you very well might be Republican and that's cool--I was happy when Lisa Murkowski won out over Joe Miller. In fact, I was even quite cozy with her during her write-in campaign. Here's a pic of me and Lisa over at some dude's house during a Seward rally (I accidentally swiped the guy's socks--sorry!).

Lisa is a great lady, and I wouldn't have much qualm over donating money to her account, even though I'm a very liberal Democrat. Sometimes you just gotta cross party lines.

But, the thing is, we also agreed that we would have to contribute to, gulp, Sarah Palin's fund.

This is a "fake" Palin pic, but I love it. So there!

Anyway, readers in the Lower 48 might think that Sarah is cool. Watch her reality show and she's out huntin' and shootin' and acting all Alaskan.

Most of the people in Alaska believe that Sarah turned her back on us and is using the great name of Alaska to make a name for herself (and why isn't her daughter in, like, college or something?).

So the idea of donating any of my hard-earned money to Palin's fund is a like suffering through a marathon when you've never run a mile in your life.

It's that agonizing.

I have four days to drink a lot of tea, chow on the chocolate and write like mad.

My editor will be very happy when I'm finished. My book is already months (gulp!) overdue.

I probably won't be running much, sigh, sigh.

Of course I'll run, hee, hee. But I'll have to be very time conscious, which means speedwork, and most likely intervals, my very, very, very least favorite type of run.

And to keep my inspired, I hung a picture of Joyce Carol Oates over my desk for inspiration (oh, that prolific lady with the very large glasses and the long, long sentences that go on forever).

If you don't hear from me again it's because I'm over at my good buddy Sarah's house, sitting on the deck and kinda, sorta glimpsing something that kinda, sorta looks like Russia.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Eight miles in the Seward moonlight, and I won a beanie (!!)

Wow, what a busy weekend.

Friday, my horrid diesel stove broke and leaked diesel fuel all over the living room. I came home to the most awful smell, like the grittiest, most disgusting gas station in the world. Yeah, that kind of smell.

I frantically called Wally the Repairman, who rushed out with his son and carted the ailing stove out on the deck. Then the stove pipe fell off and almost bonked him in the head. According to Wally, the stove wasn't in the best of conditions. Actually, he called it unsafe, so in a way it's good that it broke.

Rest in peace, horrid stove:

What is not a good thing is the smell, which I cannot get out of the carpet, no matter how many times I steamclean with the nifty red Rug Doctor machine I rented from Safeway. I washed the smelly area 18 times (no lie!) and went through three bottles of heavy duty "eliminates all odors" rug cleaner.

The only thing left to do was go for a run. Unfortunately, by that time it was around 10 p.m., so I hit the gym (it's opened all night with a pass key) and ran 12 miles on the treadmill.

You know how sometimes you feel like crap the first couple of miles but then everything evens out and you hit that great running zone?

Well, that never happened. I ran and ran and ran, and the treadmill whizzed and whizzed beneath me, and I never got over my sluggish feeling.

But my time was decent and my stride was strong, so I kept plugging along. I had uploaded new songs on my iPod: Prince and the Grateful Dead ('cause I'm grateful that I'm not), Peter Gabriel, Talking Heads and one of my favorite running songs, "Jackson" by Johnny Cash but sung by Joaquin Phoenix (sorry, Johnny).

Saturday one of my friends, D, came down from Anchorage and we took the dogs out for a walk in the evening. It was cold and clear, the moon out, and we walked down to the Two Lakes Trail and through the woods to the lakes, the dogs running ahead so that when they turned their eyes green glowed in our headlamps. "Demon Dog," I call my dog whenever this happens because she looks like one of those possessed dogs in a horror flick.

Today I woke up feeling congested, steamcleaned the carpet some more, blah, blah, blah, and finally made it out to the trails around 3:45 p.m., right after sunset.

This is who I saw around the third mile, Cedar Bourgeois. (Photo was taken by ANI photographer Roy Corral and last year's Mount Marathon Race.)

Cedar is the racer on the right, with the hippie-chick running top. Around Alaska running circles, she's something of a legend, winning the women's Mt. Marathon Race seven times. (That's Olympic skier Kikkan Randall next to her in the headband.)

Her time up and down the mountain is faster than my time reaching the top of the mountain, lol!

I had the most marvelous run. It was dim on the way out, and after chatting with Cedar, I had the trail to myself. It was quiet, nothing but the sound of my shoes hitting the snow, and the dog running ahead, and my mind wandered in that wonderful way that it does when I'm running. On the return section it was dark, so I turned my headlamp on, and the moon was alongside my left until it faded behind clouds, and it was so dreamy and peaceful. I thought of the book I'm reading by Lisa See, about a young Chinese girl who has her feet bound. Her toes were arched all the way back until they broke and attached themselves to the bottom of the foot. Then the arch broke and split. Back then, the ideal lenght of a woman's foot was three inches. Can you imagine that?

I got this pic off the Internet. You can see the toes permanently folded under:

Running in the dark I suddenly wondered if perhaps the reason that I loved running so much was because I was reincarnated from a Chinese woman with bound feet, and now in this life I needed to feel free, needed to feel my legs move, my feet firmly hitting the ground.

Then I wondered if all of the women who run and love it were reincarnated from the almost billion of women who had suffered through foot binding. I know it sounds crazy right now but running through the woods in the dark, it all made perfect sense.

After I got back home and ate my perfect post-run meal (organic mac and cheese smothered with fresh veggies), I found out that I won a beanie from Punk Rock Tri Guy , who has to be the funniest running blogger out there.

Thanks Punk Guy! I shall do your beanie proud.

Running: 12 miles Friday, 8 miles Sunday

Reading:  "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" by Lisa See

Favorite poetry line: This is from Richard Siken's "Scheherazade," one of my favorite poems: "Tell me how this, and love too, will ruin us."

Friday, December 17, 2010

Freezing my butt on the Iditarod Trail

The wind died down a bit so I decided to hit the Iditarod Trail for an 8-miler.

It was COLD. My head, torso, hands and feet were warm but my thighs and butt were freezing, even in my Brooks insulated running pants.

I planned on running to where the trail meets Bear Lake Road but I didn't make it that far. My thighs were so tight that my stride was off, and instead of pushing it and risking an injury, I turned around after three miles, for a 6-mile run.

Even in my cold misery I couldn't help but notice the beauty of the moon coming up over the mountains.

Well, you can't see the moon in this picture, since I didn't aim the camera that far, but trust me, it was there, a little fuller than half and already beginning to fatten.

It was getting dark and about two miles from the trailhead I heard howling in the distance, and for some reason I started spooking myself out about wolves.

Last winter, a 32-year-old woman was killed by wolves in Chignik Lake while she was, get this, running. She had just arrived in the village to teach school and was unaware of the existing wolf problems.

She was only about a mile from town when the attack happened.

The funny thing is that I always feel safer the closer I get to town or the trailhead, which is an illusion. But I suppose that feeling safe is always an illusion.

When I got back to the house, it took a long time to unthaw my thighs and butt (thank you, God, for inventing the heating pad!).

Last summer I did see a wolf when I was running Flattop Peak around midnight. It ran out and then away, and oh my god, it was so beautiful, loping away with a wild and fierce stride. It was one of those heart-in-my-throat moments, not from fear so much as the sheer beauty of the moment.

Anyway, after I finally warmed up my behind, I threw on a pair of jeans and headed to the high school to cover "The Worst High School Play in the World." If you get the chance to see this, please go. It's very silly and funny, and I was impressed with the students' performances.

Here's Baily Lespron and Kara Knotek as the narrators who eat throughout the show and get really fat at the end (kinda like what would happen to me during the long and dark winters if I didn't run, hee, hee):

Earlier in the day I was at the elementary school (which is always a treat) covering the second-grade Hanukkah lesson:

Isn't this a beautiful Menorah? It's from South America.

Then I slipped over to the kindergarten classroom for rousing Christmas songs. These kids were adorable. I love the little girl with her arms crossed in the corner of the picture, as if to say: No way am I singing!

Here's what always amazes me about covering stories at the school: The view. This is what it looks like from the elementary school parking lot. The moutains are immense and gorgeous, and to the kids it's no big deal:

I finished out my very full day with a short run on the gym treadmill, to up my mileage.

Running: 6 miles trails, 4 miles treadmill tempo run

Reading: "Crush" by Richard Siken, a poetry collection that is SO good I can barely stand to read it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

My heart aches, but in a good way

There I was, all cozy in the bathtub this afternoon reading a book I pulled from my bookshelves, when out popped this:

Coupons my son had given me when he was how old, third grade? Fourth? I swear, I almost bawled. That same son is in his second year at Lewis & Clark College and towers over me by almost a foot. He'll be home soon, his large feet stomping to and from the refrigerator as he consumes everything in sight. How can he eat so much and remain so skinny? (Or more importantly, how can I eat so little and still not reach my running weight?)

C is a good kid, serious and shy and kind. He's also independent and very, very smart. He's made the Dean's List every semester so far (you go, C!).

It's so bittersweet, letting your children go, watching them fumble towards adulthood. They think they know so much but really they are so clueless, so vulnerable. So determined.

Talking about determination, this is what I had to do to keep myself focused on writing:

Yep, tucking the 'ol Netflix DVDs up out of sight so I won't be tempted to watch any more episodes of "Ally McBeal."

I had to tuck them waaayy up on top of the kitchen cabinets:

I don't have a TV. The reason I don't have a TV is because I'm supposed to be finishing a novel. Instead, I order TV series on DVDs and watch them on my laptop.

The mind is a terrible and clever thing.

The weather is also a terrible thing. High winds again today, so high I could barely walk the dog. No outdoor running, so I planned on hitting the gym after the town hall meeting. Imagine my surprise when I noticed the north part of town dark, all the streetlights off.

The wind had ripped down some of the lines and electricity was down, so the gym was out, sigh, sigh.

I told myself that I would be good. I would go home and do yoga.

I came home, ate a muffin and obsessed over why I wasn't writing. Then I ate another muffin and obsessed some more.

Running and writing are such difficult things, aren't they? Why then do I love them so much?

Running: Are you kidding?

Reading: I thought of that Adrienne Rich poem "Like This Together" as I fought to keep my car on the road tonight. I so love that poem. I got to meet Rich when she read at the University of Alaska a few years ago. What an honor!
Here's the begining of Rich's "Like This Together." (Oh, to write such a perfect jewel of a poem!)

Wind rocks the car.
We sit parked by the river.
silence between our teeth.
Birds scatter across islands
of broken ice. Another time
I'd have said: "Canada geese,"
knowing you love them.
A year, ten years from now
I'll remember this--
this sitting like drugged birds
in a glass case--
not why, only that we
were here like this together.