Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Bye, bye mom and sis, hello long miles

Well, my mom and sister have left, sigh, sigh. It was so great having them up here. I hadn't realized how much I had missed them.

Isn't my sister beautiful? She looks like a model.

In Seward, we went to Exit Glacier and did tourist stuff.

My mom's 76 and walked all the way up the mountain to the glacier--so proud of her!

My favorite thing, though, was running with my sister along the bay here in Seward. I can't begin to tell you how wonderful it was to run behind her, the waves crashing the shore, mountains in the background and our legs moving together. My sister and I are very different: She's big city, I'm rural Alaska; she wears designer clothes, I wear my son's old Nike sandals. Yet we share this love of running, and it's really a beautiful thing.

On the way back to the Anchorage airport, we stopped at Portage Glacier along Turnagain arm. I love, love, love the mountains around here, they are so green and lush.

We also got cozy with a famous bear.

And saw bears and moose and elk (oh my!) at the wildlife conservation area. This elk was fascinated by my sister, I think it was love at first sight.

After I saw my mother and sister's plane off (and all the tears!) I stocked up on foods I can't find in Seward, visited a friend and her cats and then drove back home in the twilight.

Here in Alaska, it never gets truly dark in the summer. Instead, the sky is bathed in a lavender-silver-blue twilight. This twilight energizes me.

Back in Seward, I took my dog for a swim in the bay.

Then I tackled my 15 mile marathon training run, and it went SO well. I was so happy the whole time. I love running distance. It is so me. I love how the first few miles always feel awkward until my body finds a flow. And how after 7 or 8 miles, my mind wanders and I lose myself. It's almost like a meditation, I think. Sometimes I look down and see my legs moving and I think: Oh legs. Wait, those are my legs. I love when that happens, love how still and complete I feel doing this simple thing called running.

Running: 15 miles
Reading: "at the sign of the naked waiter"
Writing: Almost, almost done

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Mayor's half-marathon report

Like the beginning of "The Tale of Two Cities," the Mayor's Half-Marathon was the best of times and it was the worst of times.

My sister and my mother flew into town for the race and also for a week's vacation, so I drove up to Anchorage and found myself caught in this:

Yeah, my first traffic jam in like six weeks. Bummer, and welcome to the city, my dear.

My mom, sister and I stayed in a really nice vacation apartment rental. Best of all, it was walking distance to the race start.

Check out the cool Bondi Band I bought at the expo.

My sister wore one that said, "I love running, I hate running, I love running, I hate running." Wish I had remembered my camera so we could have gotten some pics but alas, these things happen.

Race day morning was uneventful. I ate. I pooped. I put on my clothes and remembered my timing chip and we all got to the starting line in time. My sister and I seperated, since we run different paces, and when the gun went off I started off strong and ran with a running buddy I met at the Exit Glacier Race for the first couple of miles. We held a steady pace and chatted for a bit. Around mile four, I surged ahead. I felt great. My stride was fluid. I was on target for a 1:51/1:52. I was sure that I had it in the bag.

 I was so stoked. I maintained an even pace. I rocked the hills.

Mile 5 and I'm feeling great.

Mile 9, and I passed me a couple of boys on the hill, hee, hee.

What I neglected to do, however, was refuel. I have low blood sugar and need to take a Gu every 8-10 miles or I crash. I know this. I do this on practrice runs. It's pretty much second nature.

Except mile 8 came, and then 9 and then 10 and I felt so great that I just kinda told myself that I didn't need a Gu. "I'll do it at the next mile marker," I kept telling myself.

Then mile 11 came and I bonked. I mean totally.

I couldn't open my Gu so I chomped down some Shot Bloks but still, the last two miles were not good. My pace slowed waaaayyyy down and I just wasn't feelin' the love.

1/2 mile from the finish and I am toast.
I did manage to perk up at the end and do my Bondi Band proud by passing five (five!) dudes coming up the last brutal hill before the finish, hee, hee.

I crossed the finish in 1:55.21, not that bad but not what I had hoped.

My sister was slower than she expected too. It was just one of those days.

After the race, I got to sit with my mom on the futon, eat pretzels and relax because, you know, life is so much more than racing.

Still, I wish I had nailed that damned 1:52.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Just, you know, four little-bitty miles

I don't like running short. Anything under five miles seems a silly reason to tie on my shoes. Nevertheless, I ran 4 miles today, as part of my taper. And oh, how I wanted to keep going.

I ran on the historic Iditarod Trail, and everything was so green and wet from the rain that it almost hurt my eyes, but in a good sort of way.

I love these funky trees, like something out of a fairy tale.

What I dislike about running short is that I don't usually kick in until about five miles, so when I run four miles, I never really reach my groove. I just kinda plod along, you know?

The creek was high, due to the mountain run-off, and the water flowed past my ankles. I always make the dog go first, hee, hee.

It was an okay run, nothing special. No poems went through my head, no profound thoughts slammed my mind. I ran through the green, green woods in an ordinary state of mind on an ordinary day with an ordinary summer drizzle falling over my head.

I head up to the big city of Anchorage tomorrow morning to meet up with my mother and sister. Traffic lights, noise, people, but shopping (!!) I need more Sports Beans, trails shoes and a water bottle for my hydration belt, though probably I will fizzle out after one store. My shopping muscles have grown wimpy from living in Seward for nine months. I think I need to exercise them more, no?

Running: 4 inky dinky miles
Reading: "Dalva" by Jim Harrison
Writing: Yes, yes and oh yes!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Taper! But first, 13.4 miles of agony

It's taper, taper time, taper, taper time.

Can you tell I'm excited? The Mayor Marathon half is this weekend, and my mom and sis are coming in from Penna. My sis and I are running together--yippeee!

Yesterday I ran my last long run. It was scheduled for Saturday but I fell unexpectedly sick, maybe something I ate? Whatever the case, I woke up Sunday feeling about 60 percent better and that sly running voice in my head said: "Listen, if you can run 12 miles while you're half sick, you can easily run 13.1 when you're well."

So I ate my perfect before running meal (organic shredded wheat and a banana with peanut butter), tied on my shoes and, with my stomach sloshing and not feeling oh-so-very-well, I headed out to Exit Glacier Road.

Here's a pic of the road. It's paved, curvy and has continual inclines/declines.

Ron Niebrugge/photo credit

I'd like to say that it was a great run, that the scenery was awesome, that my legs felt loose and my pace flowed. But that didn't happen. My legs were tight from my Mt. Marathon practice runs, and my stomach felt like lead The. Whole. Frigging. Time.

But the scenery was awesome, the mountains rising up like immense and solemn gods. I saw four eagles, a ptarmigan and tons of squirrels.

I planned on running 12 miles but messed up the markers and ended up doing 13.4.

The last four miles were dreadful. I wanted to quit. I wanted to sit down by the side of the road, take off my shoes and play with my toes. But I kept plodding along and recited this line from Richard Siken's poem Scheherazade, over and over: "That means it's noon, that means we're inconsolable."

I almost wept when  I ran up the driveway. I was home! I could take off my shoes! I could eat organic junk food and feel terribly pleased with myself.

Hope everyone else out there had better weekend runs. But the thing is, sometimes a bad run when you still keep pace is a good thing. It's a great mental tactic. It reaffirms that you can fight through the pain and agony, that you can keep going. It makes you tougher. It makes you a stronger runner.

Running: 13.4, 1:59.14
Writing: Finished with Chapter Five. One more to go and I am. Done!
Reading: Here is Richard Siken's poem. I love it so much. I want to meet him. I want to touch his hand or pat his balding head in hopes that the beauty of his words transfers over to me.

Richard Siken
Tell me about the dream where we pull the bodies out of the lake
                                               and dress them in warm clothes again.
        How it was late, and no one could sleep, the horses running
until they forgot they are horses.
          It’s not like a tree where the roots have to end somewhere,
    it’s more like a song on a policeman’s radio,
               how we rolled up the carpet so we would dance, and the days
were bright red, and every time we kissed there was another apple
                                                                     to slice into pieces.
Look at the light through the windowpane. That means it’s noon, that means
     We’re inconsolable.
                                 Tell me how all this, and love too, will ruin us.
These, our bodies, possessed by light.
                                                      Tell me we’ll never get used to it.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Baby moose!!

This little guy was in the neighbor's yard when I came home from the library today. Isn't it the cutest thing in the world? Got separated from its mother. Was terrified that the cow would come charging out of the weeds and trapple me dead but thankfully that didn't happen. Yet.

Ouch, my butt

Yesterday was breezy and cool, with a slight drizzle, perfect mountain climbing weather, so I headed up Mt. Marathon with J.

J at the almost top

We were a bit sore from Monday's climb but pushed it anyway. We are both that type.

We hit the halfway point in great time but then veered off the trail in the foggy portions on the upper peak and lost some minutes.

Coming down, we decided to slide on the snowbank. Is there anything better than sitting on your butt and flying down a steep mountain of snow? It's like a water slide, only 100  times better.

So there we were, zooming merrily down the mountain until we suddenly hit rocks and gravel, and it was like: STOP!

We struggled through slippery, knee-deep snow to the trail. Kind of amazing to realize that that much snow had melted since Monday.

Rest of the downhill was awesome. I'm learning how to let go of fear and just run, carefully but fast, on the steep downhill.

Got to the bottom covered with mud and sweat, and then I had to pull an Emily and attended two work functions without showering or washing my hair. I was a sweaty mess, and didn't smell so great either. (A good tip when you can't shower: scented handcream, the fruitier the better.)

Six hours later, I finally had a chance to sit down. Ouch! My butt was scratched and cut from sliding down the snowbank in the tempo running shorts. Too funny! Looks as if someone attacked it with a cheese grater. I'd post pics but hey, it's my butt and all.

Running: Mt. Marathon
Reading: Nothing so far today, unfortunately
Writing: What's that?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Mt. Marathon

Today: Sunshine!

So I did what anyone would do after enduring six days of rain: I ditched work and headed up to Mt. Marathon.

Oh, yes!

I was supposed to meet up with S and J but was running late and missed them so I started off by myself. It was deliciously hot and dusty, and by the time I made Squirrel's Den, which is about halfway to the halfway point, I was wet with sweat and covered in dirt.

I booked it, fast, trying to catch up. I passed two people: A guy coming back down in a pair of Xtratufs (don't recommend this) and a good looking dude without his shirt who took a short breather before sprinting off ahead of me (Oh honey, stay a little while, okay?).

Mount Marathon is steep and basically climbs 3,000 feet in about a mile. The climb is relentless. You gasp. You snort. You bend over. You clutch your thighs, trying to get them to move faster.  You basically move down the evolutionary ladder from upright to hunched to four-legged to a useless sloth.

I caught up with S right after the halfway point and stopped and snapped a pic (which gave me a good excuse to stop for a breather, hee, hee).

I didn't catch J because she is FAST, especially on the downhill. That girl can book, and I hope she teaches me some pointers because I kinda suck on the downhill.

The second half of the mountain is easier, since there's usually a wind and it's a wee bit less steep. Plus it's open and vast, and you feel as if you could climb right up to God.

Me at the top

J and S at the edge

Unfortunately when one climbs up, one must also climb back down. Imagine running a mile of nearly straight down trail covered with ankle deep scree and you kind of get the picture.

The last section of the bottom consists of cliffs running through a creek. The rocks were wet and slippery and before long I was wet and muddy, my feet soaked, my shoes filled with small, sharp stones.

Then, praise be, the very and absolute bottom of the mountain.

Here are some pics I got off the Internet that better describe the cliff areas.

Start: You basically rock climb and pull yourself up with tree roots.

Waterfall area through the creek toward the bottom.
Today: Mt. Marathon
Sunday: 10 miles, easy-medium pace
Saturday: Speed intervals: 9 x 400: 1:50, 1:49, 1:44, 1:43, 1:43, 1:42, 1:40, 1:36, 1:33

Reading: "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert (am I, like, the last woman in the world to read this?)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Slick and sweaty with Anne Sexton on the Lost Lake Trail

Today I ran the Lost Lake Trail with my faithful and limpy dog, The Beester. She doesn't limp during the runs, but after we get home the poor girl often can't get out of bed without a push. But she loves to run! She scolds me with little yipes whenever I pause or slow down (she's 11 this year, a lab and husky mix).

The run was awesome. It was overcast and humid, and I veered off on the winter trail, which is steep with killer hills as it heads up the mountain. I was wet with sweat after the first half mile and for some reason, and maybe it was the green of the new leaves, I couldn't stop reciting lines from that Anne Sexton poem as the trail became steeper and steeper: "I know well the grass blades you mention, the furniture you have placed under the sun." I repeated that to myself over and over until it found a cadence with my breathing.

How odd that I would repeat lines from a poem titled "Wanting to Die" when I felt so very much alive. But poetry can do that to you, get inside your blood and swim up when you least expect it.

The trail was muddy. I didn't have my camera with me but here are my shoes after I got home:

I almost lost my shoes in a couple of spots. I love running in mud. It makes me feel tough and gritty to finish streaked and dirty.

I clogged the drain when I took a shower, I was THAT muddy, hee, hee.

Unfortunately, when I got up higher on the mountain there was still snow, and I mean deep snow. I postholed up to my hips a couple of times. That was miserable, since I had on shorts and a tank. I thought about turning around but Beebs yiped so I kept on until we reached the cabin.

Coming back down was fast and furious after we cleared the snowy spots. Think running down a mountain for 2.5 miles and you've kinda got the picture. Mud sucked at my shoes and Anne Sexton cleared out of my head and instead I sang this refrain, over and over: "Turn the beat around, turn it up, turn it up, turn it upside down."

What a glorious thing, to run down and down after killing yourself struggling up and up.

My time sucked, since I had to walk through the deep snowy parts, but no matter. It was an easy run day and I had a blast, and except for the first 500 yards by the parking lot, I passed no one. I had the mountain to myself, just me and The Beebster.

Later, after I got home, I thought about Anne Sexton and wondered if she would have been a runner, if she had been born a little bit later, in a little bit different time. I can imagine her digging in deep and running a marathon. I wish I could have run trails with her. I like to think of her running beside me and singing out poems as we wind through mountain trails. (Anne, wherever you are, today's run was for you.)

My very favorite Sexton poem.

Her Kind

I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.

I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.

I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.