Thursday, October 25, 2012

I'm in!

It's official.

My next marathon humiliation will be the Lost Dutchman outside of Phoenix on Feb. 16.

I'll be here in 3.5 months! (Lost Dutchman Marathon: Photo credit)

MM is in, too.

Sweet! Maybe I'll finally beat him. It's kind of my goal (sorry, babe). It keeps me going when I don't want to run. I think to myself: If I have a really, really good race and he has a really, really bad race, it's possible yet highly unlikely that I could zoom past him as he crawls to the finish.

Look! Campfire before the start. Too, too cool. (Photo credit: I dunno, but thanks)

It's a cheery thought, though I doubt it will happen.

Plus I really don't want MM to crawl to the finish (though sometimes, I must admit, such thoughts bring me malicious pleasure).

My goals for this marathon? To finish. To not die. To finish. That's about it at this point.

I don't seem to race well. I hit all my target paces on runs, I practice fueling and then, I don't know, I stand there at the starting line and I'm all hyped up and excited yet, at the same time there's this part of me that longs (longs!) to be out running by myself on the trails.

Running beside people I don't know feels cluttered, like standing with strangers on an elevator, and everyone just stands there and no one says anything, and if you do say something everyone looks at you as if you're a freak or, worse yet, laughs like you just told a joke, even though you didn't.

Luckily, we don't have many elevators in Alaska. (stock photo)

Racing feels like that to me. And yeah, I'm that woman who talks to everyone she passes. Last marathon a guy got so fed up with my chatter that he sprinted ahead in the middle of a hill (I caught back up on the downhill and he sprinted ahead again. I think I scared him).

What I love the most about racing is the anticipation and planning, the dreaming and the training. I love the training. And I'm going to really love slogging out long runs in dark, subzero Alaska weather.

So pretty! But so cold and so icy.

Friday is my last day in Nebraska City. It's storming now, thunder and lightning, which we don't often get in Alaska. Such a treat.

Earlier today I took my last swim at the Ambassador Wellness Center, which I will miss terribly.

Goodbye, goodbye. We had ourselves a time, yes?

So far:
Monday: Swim, 1 mile
Tuesday: Run, 8.35 miles
Wednesday: Swim, 1 mile

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

My next marathon (oh, yeah!)

Since being here in Nebraska City and rediscovering the joys of running in warm temps, my next goal is a marathon in warm temps.

A getaway during the cold winter months, when the chill refuses to rise above 10 degrees and it's dark and brutal and I'm so damned sick of chopping ice off my windshield in the morning and freezing my butt off each time I go outside; a getaway during such a time would be a small piece of heaven.

A marathon would be even better.

Best yet, this marathon:

This takes place near my old stomping grounds of Flagstaff, just a few hours south. It ends in Apache Junction, a cool place. Actually except for the politics, which I totally don't support, there isn't much about Arizona that I dislike.

I am SO eager to register for this marathon, but first MM has to check with his boss to make sure he can get the time off.

Please MM's boss, please grant MM the time off to come and run with me. I need him as my pacer. I also need him to fly with me so that we can use my companion fare and divy up the savings.

Hopefully I'll be registering, my Visa card clutched in my oh-so-eager hand, by tomorrow evening.

It's so much fun to plan a race, isn't it? So much more than the actual race which, face it, hurts like crap a good part of the time and especially the end. The planning and training are the allure, at least for me, since I don't enjoy running when there are a lot of people around me, which pretty much rules out most races. But this is a small event with a small-time feel, a race that should satisfy this introverted Alaskan's needs for a homey run in the sun-filled mountains around Phoenix.

And when we're finished, we're zooming off to here:


Okay, MM doesn't know we're zooming off to Sedona yet but I'm sure he'll enjoy the vacation I'm mapping out for both of us.

Once, and this is a true story, when I first moved to Alaska with another man (most women move to Alaska because of a man; that's just the way it is), we lived with another couple and the woman mapped their weekend to the hour: 10 a.m.-noon, tennis; noon-1 p.m., lunch, 2 p.m.-4 p.m., walk the dogs, 4-5 p.m., grocery shopping, etc. I wasn't in the least bit surprised when they later divorced.

I'm too lazy to schedule our vacation hour-to-hour. I just wanna see Sedona again. I love the red rocks and the energy and the hippie-healing-New-Age vibe and the smell of the ground. The first time I ever hiked down inside Oak Creek Canyon, I was so excited that I licked the rocks.

If the Lost Dutchman Marathon doesn't work, we will resort to another choice (Catalina? Red Rock?) working around my novel publication date and MM's work meetings schedule. I wanted to do the Sedona Marathon but alas, it falls smack before my novel date and it seems there are publicity things I must attend to.

Anyone else doing a spring marathon in a sunny location?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Poor, poor Alaskans

Hee, hee, just checked the weather in Anchorage and it's 18 degrees.

Yep, 18.


Poor MM is slogging out a run in tights, long sleeve tech shirt, windbreaker, mittens and a hat. While I'm wearing shorts and a tank. And sunscreen!

Yes, folks, that says 78 degrees!

The Lower 48 sure is grand.

Living in Alaska it's easy to become jaded against the rest of the country. We often feel superior. We have the mountains. We have the wilderness. We have the silver-specked inlet. We have bear and moose in our backyards.

But we too often don't have this.

I swear, it's going to be hard to go back. Maybe I won't. Maybe I'll stay here in Nebraska City and work as a bank teller and run on cobblestone streets and swim at the Ambassador Wellness Center and recreate myself as Midwestern Woman.

I'd have to change the name of my blog, though. And somehow, Ah Ah Nebraska doesn't have the same ring, no?

Wherever I end up in the future, right now I'm heading out for a run. Hope everyone is out enjoying the autumn weather.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Running in a cauldron of soup, and a small death

Today was hot, with a high of 81 plus high humidity here in Nebraska City. Naturally, I ran during the hottest part of the day.

It was like running in a cauldron of soup. The air was clammy and moist, I was clammy and moist. Even the webs between my fingers were clammy. Sweat poured off my shoulders and landed on the backs of my legs. It was wild.

But what a run! Leaves scattered over the path and crunched beneath my feet, the smells  reminding me of growing up in northwestern Pennsylvania and how we would rake leaves, run and jump in them, our arms held high, our legs kicking out from under us. I need to jump more. I need to be reckless and throw myself into piles of leaves. I need to take more chances.

Leaves along the Steamboat Trace Trail on Thursday's run.

Running opens me up to possibilites and reminds me of the desires I ignore, the ones I think I don't deserve or aren't good enough for or am not smart enough or clever enough to recieve.

I say this because I'm in the process of applying for two large (over $50,000) writing grants. I don't have a chance in hell for either of them. Yet I'm applying, because by the mere act of sending in my application I'm telling myself that I am worthy, that my writing is worthy. That my dreams are worthy. Running has taught me to think this way.

Today a bird flew into a window. I heard a thud, ran out and discovered its body lying on the balcony floor.

RIP, little guy

I don't know if birds are capable of thought process, but I like to think that as this one flew it felt the same way I feel as I run: pure and fluid and strong and beautiful. That right before it hit the sun-speckled window, it was cruising towards its own PR.

It's a nice thought. It's probably not true, but so what?

Weekly stats:
Monday: 1 mile, swim
Tuesday: 12 miles, run
Wednesday: 1.2 miles, swim
Thursday: Rest (Mary! Look--I took a rest day!)
Friday: 4 miles, run
Saturday: 14 miles, run
Sunday: 8 miles, run

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

12 miles in Arbor Park

Some days, you just don't want to run. Maybe your legs are heavy or your stomach is upset or you didn't sleep well the night before.

I had all three today. My stomach was queasy from too much Mexican food, I didn't sleep well and I had swum a mile, fast (or fast for me) at the pool the night before. My legs were toast.

Plus (drumroll here, please) it was 78 degrees. We rarely see temps above the 60s in Anchorage so 78 is HOT.

A cute historic cabin I passed on my run. I tried to go inside but it was locked.

Maybe my body was in shock from so much sun, but I wilted after two miles. My stomach protested, my legs protested and I did. Not. Want. To. Go. On.

Then I hit Arbor Lodge State Historical Park.

And there was free food!

The sign says to please not pick the apples. I picked one, hee, hee.. (Note my shadow. This is exciting--I don't see my shadow much in Alaska.)

Arbor Park is a wonderful place. There are trees all over (duh, Arbor Day, Arbor Park). Best of all is a paved road that winds through the park, up and down hills, around curves and veering off for short dirt trail loop. And I saw other runners! Nebraska runners! They really do exist! I was so happy.

This looks flat but trust me, it's a gradual  uphill.

The loop is exactly 1.3 miles, according to my Garmin, and I thought I'd go crazy running it over and over but it was soothing, and the trees gave it a welcoming energy.

It was one of those runs that was just-so-tough, and it never became easy. What gave me inspiration was this this gal's recent and rough 21 miler. Sometimes it helps to know that others also struggle. It makes you feel less alone.

When I got back to the Arts Center, there were tiny dead bugs all over me (Nebraska gnats?). Poor magnanimous things, giving up their lives so that I could suffer through a crappy run.

Another blurry autumn tree. I cannot get enough of these colors.

Running: 12 loonnnggg miles
Reading: Lots of "The Sun" magazines (such great writing!)
Writing: What? I'm supposed to be writing?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Runner caught cheating

Anyone see the New York Times article abou Christian Hesch, the runner who was caught cheating? He wasn't an elite athlete but was still able to make his living off racing, netting about $40,000 a year.

He looks kind of squirrely in this photo, eh?

According to the article, he drove down to Mexico, bought, erythropoietin, known as EPO, a blood booster, and injected it into his system.

He did this for two years.

He says that he noticed results pretty quickly and that his red blood cell count increased and that racing felt like flying.

"Your running feels like what you imagine when you see all those Kenyan runners floating down the road,” Hesch said about competing with the aid of EPO. “And two to three weeks in your cycle, you start feeling like that yourself.”

He kept winning, too.

What kills me is at the end of the article he says that he could easily race those same times without the drug doping.

“I can and have run all those times perfectly clean," he says. "It’s not that difficult to run these times, and it doesn’t take any outside help.” 

Right, buddy.

I don't know about you, but stuff like this burns me up. Most of us train hard and race hard and still will never win a major race. Yet we do it. We put in the time honestly. We accept our shortcomings.

We don't make excuses.

This dude lied and cheated. I'm glad he was caught, and I hope they make him repay all of his prize earnings. I hope he has to get a "real" job, too, like the rest of us poor slobs who work full-time, raise children, etc., and still find time to train and race.

But still, it causes me to wonder: The next time any of us lines up at a regional race, will any of the competitors have the added edge of blood doping?

It's a scary thought.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Steamboat Trace Trail and homemade energy bars

It's autumn in Nebraska City, even though the temps are close to 70 and Tuesday it's supposed to reach 80. Heady stuff for this Alaska gal.

Bush outside the Arts Center. Look at those colors, so vibrant and bold!

Today fellow residents M (painter) and A (musician) and I headed out the Steamboat Trace Trail for biking/running.

I've been running back roads since arriving in Nebraska almost two weeks ago, and for two weeks people have been telling me I should run the Steamboat Trace Trail, a 21-mile stretch of wooded trail.

Steamboat Trace Trailhead

Except everyone said that, no, I couldn't run to the trail because you have to take Highway 75, and Highway 75 is this big, busy interstate (we don't have interstates in Alaska so it's thrilling to watch the big semi trucks roar past).

Imagine my surprise when we drove out today and I realized that the trailhead is less than a mile from the country roads where I usually run.

Duh! So much for my map reading abilities.

M and A took off on their bikes and I took off running.

A and M getting ready to hit the trail.

The trail was soft dirt and lined with trees, amazing autumn colors all around. M and A saw a deer but I only saw a squirrel. No matter. The trail was quiet, lovely and peaceful, and it was SO nice to finally get off the roads.

Hello, trail! Nice to finally meet you.

On the drive home we saw wild turkeys. I tried to take a pic but they were too fast. Have you ever seen a turkey run? These critters were speedy! They held their necks really straight and tall, too, as if they were proud of their form. If anyone ever says, "You run like a turkey," know this: It's a damned fine compliment.

That brown smudge ahead of the sign is one of the slower turkeys.

The only odd thing about the day is that there were no other people out. I ran 10 miles and M and A must have biked 14 or so, and we passed no one the whole entire time.

But let's talk about better things, like food. Last night I made my very own energy bars. They were good, too. So good I finished them off after today's run.

Yum, yum, yummy

I didn't write down the recipe but it sorta goes like this:

High Protein Energy Bars

A couple handfuls of raw oats
Four heaping tablespoons rice protein powder (soy would work, too)
A small handful brown sugar
A couple big spoonfuls of natural peanut butter
A big handful of sunflower seeds
A pinch of baking powder
A bit of salt
A bit of cinnamon
One egg
Enough cooking oil (or margarine) to moisten and hold together

Spray cookie sheet with cooking oil and spread mixture out flat (as if making brownies). Cook on 350 for 10-15 minutes. Cut when cooled.

These bars are packed with protein and deliver enough sugar and carbs to fuel while running/exercising. They worked well with my hypoglycemia, and the protein/carb/fat ratio kept my blood sugar stable (though I'm not recommending them for others with blood sugar problems since I'm not a doc).

Weekly stats:
Running: 12 mile Monday, 6.25 Wednesday, 14 Thursday, 10 Sunday
Swimming: 1.5 miles Tuesday, 1 mile Friday
Reading: Anne Tyler, Kathryn Harrison and lots of writing magazine
WritingOh, oh, yes!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Bliss in the cornfields

Thanks for the encouraging comments from my last post, where I whined about having to run on roads. Really, I should be thankful that at my age (I am a wee bit older than most runners reading this post, hee, hee), I'm able to run and enjoy it as much as I do.

So yesterday I stopped my whining, got on Google map, found a series of country back roads, mapped out a couple of longer routes, tied on my Adidas and hit the streets.

Grain facility I run past. Scenic, no?

After 1.5 miles of traffic (semi trucks filled with grain blaring past as I squeezed the narrow shoulder), I reached dirt roads and 11 miles of bliss, just me and the cornfields, hayfields and occasional dog wandering out to see why a human was doing something so strange as to run (run!) down their road.

It was peaceful and quiet, the temps warm (70ish), the sweat poured, I was in The Zone, and while the scenery rarely changed, I was ecstatic because it was all hills. Whoever said Nebraska was flat? These country roads contained no flat areas. It was one long, sloping hill after another. Loved it!

Also loved the smell of cow manure. I grew up on a farm. Cow manure is like perfume to me.

Lean forward and sniff: Ahhhh!

Now I'm in my writing studio, surrounded by books, scattered papers and stink bugs. Nebraska has been taken over by stink bugs this year and it's impossible to keep them out of the house. They like to perch on my desk and watch me write. They're good company. They keep their mouths shut, never complain, and each time I read a passage out loud, they wave their little front legs as if applauding (They really do this, though probably they are tellling me to shut the hell up.)

Happy Friday, everyone.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

I don't want to run today

I don't want to run today.

Being here in Nebraska has made me realize something I often forget in Alaska: I hate running on roads.

I mean I hate it.

The roads here in town are picture-perfect, with a canopy of trees hanging over the streets and old-fashioned houses with sloped yards.

Pretty, no?

I know that the streets are pretty. I appreciate that they're pretty. Heck I even think as I'm running: Wow, this is pretty. But I still hate running on them. I hate having to move over for cars. I hate worrying about having to move over for cars. I hate not being able to get into The Zone and stay there.

I truly think that if I had to run roads day after day, I would stop running. I would swim instead, and I'm not even that great of a swimmer.

Trail running has spoiled me. Or maybe Alaska has spoiled me, because I didn't mind running on roads as much in Seward.

A road in Seward, not sure which one. Third Ave.? Second Ave.?

Sometimes I worry that I'm not a "real" runner. I'm not sure what a real runner is, exactly, but I'm sure it's someone more committed and dedicated than I am, someone who would be happy to run on any surface, regardless of traffic or scenery.

Sadly, I'm not "that" type of runner. I hate running roads. I don't care much for racing. I don't even notice how fast I'm running most of the time.

I just like to run. I like splashing through mud and smelling the ground and hearing the wind and feeling my legs strain and jump and leap over rocks and fallen trees.

But, damn it, I'm a runner so I'm putting on my shoes and readying myself to run eight to 10 miles over cobblestone, picture-perfect streets in my muddy (Alaska mud!) adidas trail shoes.

Happy Thursday! Hope everyone else is in a more optimistic frame of mind.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Running and writing news

This is too cool: I just heard that my essay on running (titled "Running"--sorry, I've never been able to come up with catchy titles) won the Sport Literate literary magazine essay award. I am SO stoked.

I wish I could include the entire essay here, but I think I signed away first rights when I entered the contest. But here is a small tidbit:

"During a mountain race out on Knoya Ridge a few years ago, a young man collapsed and died. It was an overcast day in late spring, the air damp and moody. About thirty of us lined up at the start and ran through curved and wooded trails that slowly evened out the higher we climbed. Our pace slowed and sweat ran down our backs, and during one fierce ridge I leaned down and rubbed my fingers in the dirt and stuck them into my mouth, just to have something to taste. Up above the tree line the world opened and breeze picked up and there was nothing but silence and mountains and a stuttered line of runners."
Knoya Ridge, with Beebs in the corner, hee, hee.
Spring hike up the Dome, near Knoya Ridge.
Hope everyone is running, writing, working, hiking, biking or doing whatever else they enjoy. It's 65 and sunny here and I'm heading off for a run. Poor MM is back in rainy Anchorage, stuffed in a suit and tie and suffering through the Board of Fisheries meetings. Please pray for him.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Hello, Nebraska

Life is funny, no?

Here I am in Nebraska City for my month-long writing residency at Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts. I never thought I'd find myself in Nebraska. I hadn't even thought much about Nebraska, actually.

Yet I'm loving it. The weather has been awesome, sunny almost every day.

Kimmel Harding Nelson Arts Center. My apartment is off the second story balcony--sweet!

Always good to be neighbors with an undertaker, no? Feels as if I'm living next to a "Six Feet Under" espisode. Love it.

Nebraska City is right next to the Missouri River, so it isn't flat. There are hills! Trust me--I just ran 10 miles of 'em.  There are also a lot trees swirling with autumn colors. And a cemetery.

Ran past this today and had to stop. I've always loved cemeteries. And look, there I am in the cemetery, or at least my shadow.

My perfect running road. Dirt, hilly and I passed no one the whole run. Did see a few cows, though. And lots and lots of corn fields.

This small town feels a world away from Alaska, which is probably because it is. When I left Anchorage it was in the 30s. I wore a sweater, with another sweater over that and carried a down vest. When I arrived in Omaha nine hours later, I was embarrassingly overdressed. It was 73 and everyone else had on shorts and flip-flops.

Taku Lake with The Beebs a few days before I left. Overcast and gloomy but still, home is where the heart is. Or, home is where the running is best.

Autumn in Anchorage lasts, oh, maybe a week. Then it snows and it's over.

My last Alaska run before my residency was a nice 12-miler over the trails and, yes, the inevitable snow in the higher areas. I had on shorts and my poor thighs were purple with goosebumps, yet it was exhilarating to feel that cold, damp air against my tired and straining legs. There was also a lot of mud. I so love running in mud.

Trail up toward Hilltop ski area.

Alaska is kinda gloomy without the green from the trees, but the mountains look splendid topped with snow.

I have to admit this: Autumn is much more cheerful down here in Nebraska with the warmer air and the sunshine. And temps in the upper 60s and low 70s? Yes, please. Come to think of it, that's Alaska summertime weather.

That said, I miss my trail running. I miss the mountains. Living in a small, walkable town is great, and the weather is great, and I've been running almost every day. And my runs have been great, too (as most runs usually are), but I do miss running over muddy trails and hopping over rocks and passing ornery moose.

Yet it is good to be here. I am writing hard and well. Words are flowing from my fingertips. I stayed up until 5 a.m. last night, writing like mad. And the other residents are pretty cool: Two photographers from New York City, an artist from New Jersey and a young musician from LA. A nice group of people, and such creative energy!

Happy weekend, everyone. Hope you all get in some awesome runs and anyone living next to  mountains, please throw them a kiss for me, okay?

And now, back to writing ....

Running: 10 miles Friday, 8 miles Wednesday
Reading: "This Boy's Life" by Tobias Wolff (P.S. The teenaged girl in my novel dreams of becoming a famous poet and one day kissing Tobias' bald head)
Writing: Oh, yes!