Sunday, January 27, 2013

Full moon and northern lights

It's cold up here in Alaska: Brrrr!

So cold that Friday I wimped out on my longish run. I bundled up in layers, two hats, two pairs of gloves, etc., walked out the door and was immediately hit with a wind so sharp and brutal that I turned around before I made it to the end of the driveway.

I've NEVER done that before. I've braved temps of -15. Maybe I'm getting old or maybe I'm getting wimpy.

Which meant because I had to get in my semi-long run, I hit the treadmill later that evening for 15 sweaty miles. I sweat at the gym like I never do outdoors, sweat until my shirt is soaked and my hair is dripping and my socks are so damp I can wring them out afterward. I suppose most people sweat like that in the summer, but since we don't have hot summers I miss out on that pleasure.

But last night, oh, last night I redeemed myself and took a long and beautiful moonlight walk with MM and the dog. We walked about six miles, and it was -3 when we headed out just after 11 p.m. The moon was so bright we could see our shadows, and it cast a bluish tint over the snow. We walked until we reached the Coastal Trail, blocks of frozen ice along the shore, swaying white and ghostly.

No one else was around. We had the trail to ourselves. What was so perfect was that we could see the shadows of the tree across the trail so that it was like walking over a tapestry of branches weaving and criss-crossing at our feet.

On the way back we saw the northern lights, faint in the sky and then billowing out greenish gold. I could almost feel them humming, feel the energy. We stopped and watched, and even though we were cold, the wind piercing its way through our layers, we couldn't move. We stood there in awe, watching the sky.

I didn't have my camera but this is how it looked. Source: Alaska Dispatch.

It was cold; it took me hours to fully warm up once we got back home. But it was So. Worth. It. That's the thing about Alaska. Sometimes you have to suffer a little bit to fully immerse in the beauty. Last night was one of those times. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Midfoot or heel striker?

Well, shit.

I spent a good part of my writing residency in Nebraska teaching my feet to land mid-stride instead of heel strike, and now the New York Times comes along and says that it might have been for nothing.

Heel striker? Probably not, but hey, I like his shoes. Source

Here's the story, but if you don't want to link, I'll use my stunning journalistic talents and summarize.

A study in a journal with a really strange title (PLoS One) highlighted the results of a group of what the Times called "barefoot tribespeople in Kenya" that pretty much shoots holes in the whole bare- foot-mid-or-forefoot-strike-is-best running philosophy.

According to the article, evolutionary anthropologist zeroed in on the Daasanach, a tribe in northern Kenya that, while physically active, doesn't follow a tradition of competitive distance running.

And guess what?

When they ran, almost all of them landed on their heels.

Here's what the Times said, "When the researchers had the 38 Daasanach tribespeople run unshod along a track fitted, as in the Harvard study, with a pressure plate, they found that these traditionally barefoot adults almost all landed first with their heels, especially when they were asked to run at a comfortable, distance-running pace. For the group, that pace averaged about 8 minutes per mile, and 72 percent of the volunteers struck with their heels while achieving it. Another 24 percent struck with the midfoot. Only 4 percent were forefoot strikers."

It went on to say that when sprinting, most of the Daasanach runners landed more on the forefoot, closer to their toes.

But I found this, toward the end of the article, very, very interesting: "In a 2012 study of more than 2,000 racers at the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon, 94 percent struck the ground with their heels, and that included many of the frontrunners."

I guess the point is that we should all run in whatever footstrike pattern feels the most comfortable with our body motion and form, and the hell with what the magazines and so-called "experts" tell us. Because when you think of it, that while this whole midfoot strike craze has been a huge boom for the running shoe industry, it's caused a lot of runners to try and change something that may have never meant to be changed.

9.5 miles of blue-tiful views

I love running in the late afternoon, when the sky begins to darken and the air becomes quiet and still.

Today I hit one of my favorite running routes for 9.5 miles of slumpy snow, with patches of ice hiding beneath (is there such a word as slumpy? If not, I just made it up: lump + slushy = slumpy). I slid around a bit, but no matter. The temps were warmish and the air just cold enough to give off that I'm-alive! vibe.

Ahhhh .....

Ice chunks in the inlet. Look at those blues!

It was an almost perfect run. My legs were fatigued from interval work the night before (MM's first dose of intervals, and he nailed them, too), yet this didn't slow me down. I kept a pace so even that I had to keep smacking my watch to make sure it was working.

Hopefully the weather will remain decent. MM and I have done a lot of treadmill workouts this year, and I mean A Lot. We have a 22-miler up this weekend and the idea of pounding it out on the mill depresses me to no end.

Memory flash: Last week I was running here:

Except for the road sign, it looks like a Christmas card. Maybe next year, eh?

Turns out I didn't lose a chicken, either. There were only four to begin with. They laid me four eggs before I left, too, and I ate two of them, even though I'm pretty much vegan. But when a chicken lays you  an egg, you eat it without apology.

Talking about eating, my newest guilty pleasure? Costco croutons (supersized bag, of course) covered in hot salsa: Yummmmmm. Can't get enough.

Happy running, everyone

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A new running low

It's happened. I've reached a new running low.

This doesn't appear to be my fault. I'm housesitting out around Hatcher Pass and earlier this weekend, the chinook winds brought about a winter thaw, followed by colder temps that brought about ice.

It's so icy that this morning the dog fell in the middle of the driveway, which is more like an ice rink, and couldn't get up.

Rocky is 15 years-old and weighs about 120 pounds. His hips are weak and no matter how he struggled, he couldn't muster the oomph to pull himself up. I threw on my running spikes and tried to help. I fell. I fell again. He struggled and I fell and it was like a bad comedy routine.

Finally I grabbed Rocky's collar and pulled like hell. I fell down again but managed to get the poor dog over to the side of the driveway.

Here's how he looked when he got back to the house.

And here's what he did the rest of the day:

There was no way I could possibly run outside. I couldn't even get my car out of the driveway to drive to the nearest gym (about 12 miles away). So I did the most depressing thing possible. I ran inside, in place, in the living room.

I ran while watching "Toddlers and Tiaras" on cable. When that finished, I watched a bad movie called "The Shunning" about an Amish woman shunned by the community.

Anyone else think it's sick to dress a young girl in a swimsuit and make up her face to look like a 30-year-old woman?

I ran for 90 friggin' minutes and never moved from the living room carpet.

It was the most depressing run (was it even a run??) of my life. Yet I had to move. I had to exercise and work up a sweat because I was going crazy stuck inside the house for days, unable to go anywhere. (I think they call this cabin fever, and I suppose it's better to run in place while watching trashy TV shows than drinking whiskey and shooting up the house.)

But the good news is that my book received a great review from Library Journal Review. Here's the summary: "First-time novelist Ritchie writes engaging characters and creates a sense of place that brings Alaska to life. For the reader of women’s fiction who can handle a bit of the risqué.”

Ahhhhhh--I wrote a risque book, hee, hee.

Happy running, everyone. Hope it's not too slippery wherever you happen to be.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Slipping and sliding

It's been raining for almost three days, temps in the 40s, a chinook wind carrying that hopeful smell of spring.

Except it's really the middle of winter and the once night hits, everything freezes into an ugly and cruel sheet of ice. Walking is impossible without spikes and even iffy with them.

This is how the road looked by the end of my run--pure ice.

Still, I had to run. The air felt so clean and damp and I needed to get out of the house. I tied on my Asics-with-spikes and headed out the door. I overdressed, expecting to get splashed since the roads were a mess but alas, no one splashed me. Not one driver! I guess people are a little more polite out here in the Mat-Su Valley. In the city, drivers splash walkers, runners and bikers with wild abandon.

I ran 10 miles and the views were incredible.


Alaska sure can have miserable weather but oh, it is so damned beautiful.

Off to write letters to famous authors in hopes of pleading/begging/bribing so that they might agree to review my humble little book. I doubt that they will; probably they won't but still, this is what one must do, it seems. Writing and publishing a book is like running a marathon. The writing is the first 20 miles; the publishing is the last six. Need I say more?

Happy running and reading (and writing, Mary, and yes, I still have to get back to you and swear that I haven't forgotten!),

Saturday, January 12, 2013

I think I lost a chicken, and five fast miles


Here's what I found when I went out to feed the flock tonight.

Uno, dos, tres, cuatro. Huh?

I thought there were five.

I'm not sure if there really were five or I just thought that there were since it's a more solid number. Maybe there were originally only four. I do know there were and still are two turkeys.

Wild turkey

Meet George. He's a three-year-old domestic turkey and his breast area is so fat he can't walk (they're bred to be that way, for Thanksgiving feasts). He's seems happy enough to lounge around the pen eating and getting fatter. Kinda like me after marathon training.

And finally this: One perfect brown egg. Laid just for me!

Before the chicken feeding, I ran five fast tempo miles in the wonderful late afternoon twilight. How nice to run in the country again. It reminded me of living in Seward, which I miss terribly.

Oh, I must, must, must move to a smaller Alaska town!

Cheers and happy running, everyone.

Friday, January 11, 2013

19.68 miles, and then I died

Wednesday night I crumbled during the last half mile of a 20 mile run.

And I mean crumbled. Like barely able to walk. Like crouching in the shower for ten minutes because I didn't have the energy to stand up.

Because I was heading out to housesit the next day and because I had spent the afternoon writing and it was dark by the time I closed the lid of my laptop, I decided to run on the treadmill. I don't like running long distances alone at night and MM wasn't in the mood for a 20-miler.


So we trudged to the gym, where he pounded out 11 miles at a decent pace and left around 9:45 p.m., and I continued at my much slower pace until past midnight.

Yeah, I was still running past midnight.

It was unusually hot in the gym and I was wet with sweat by mile 5. By the time I reached 10, I was so wet that I had to wring out my hair. I drank water and ate small pieces of protein bar for fuel but didn't have any electrolytes because frankly, I hadn't thought I would need them.

By mile 16, I was woozy. I noticed tiny little spots on the TV screen above my head. "Oh," I thought, "the TV is going dotty."

I wasn't exactly in my right mind. By mile 18, I was sure I was going to puke. I didn't slow down. Instead I thought: "I'll just hold my tee-shirt like an inverted parachute and puke inside that."At the time this sounded like a perfect solution.

By mile 19.68, my legs began to collapse and I felt hot all over. I stumbled to the restroom and threw up. The next thing I knew I was crouched in the shower and the only thing I could think was: If only I could cut open my veins and fill them with water!

I don't remember getting dressed or driving home. I do know that I collapsed on the living room floor and passed out for a couple of hours.

When I came to, I couldn't walk. I crawled to the bathroom and got water out of the bathtub faucet, and there was this odd voice narrating inside my head. "Drink some water, yes, that's good, and then we'll crawl out to the kitchen and get some Nuun."

I was talking to myself in plural, as if my mind and body were separate, and I suppose in a way they were. After I sipped the Nuun, I slowly began to feel better. Then I ate and felt much, much better. I still don't know: Was it a blood sugar crash? A dehydration crash? A combination of both? I honestly don't know.

What strikes me was how unaware I was that I was reaching a danger point. I am not the type of runner to push beyond my limits. If something hurts, I slow down. If it keeps hurting, I stop running. If I had known I was as bad off as I apparently was, I would have stopped running at the 16 mile point and called it a night. Yet I truly did not know. I truly could not think straight.

But today I am well and in a good frame of mind (me thinks). I'm sitting out at Jonnie and David's in Hatcher Pass with the three dogs and watching the snow fall through the trees. Soon I will go out and run 5 or 7 or 9 miles. I'll send pics the next post. It's beautiful out here, and much more peaceful than the city.

Cheers and happy running, everyone!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Running in the dark and Brooks Utopia jacket review

I love running in the dark.

Up here in Alaska I don't have much of a chance, since it rarely gets dark in the summer and the footing is often iffy in the winter.

These last few weeks, however, with the trails packed down and temps in the 20s and 30s, I've been having a blast.

Last night MM and I ran a 13-miler along the Coastal Trail, with only my headlamp for light, and it was magical and wonderful with the inlet beside us and the sky dark and the snow a lighter shade so that after a few miles it was as if no one else existed in the world, even though we occassionally passed other people.

Still, it was a wonderful run, one of those where your body feels effortless and your legs fly and when you glance down at your Garmin you discover that you've been running a 7:40 pace, which is much, much faster than your normal pace but you know that this is because of the dark, and the snow, and the energy of the night.

I also wore this:

Okay, the pic isn't that great but it's the Brooks Utopia running jacket.

I LOVE this jacket. It's lightweight but delivers a huge warming punch. Seriously. It was the first time all winter that I've been totally cozy on a run.

It offers lots of pocket room, including one for media devices, and the sleeves are banded to keep out the chill. The only problem I had is that the bands sometimes prevented me from viewing my Garmin, a small price to pay for comfort.

But what I loved the most is how it felt as I ran. It moved with my body, allowing free arm motion without bunching. It was close to perfect.

Okay, enough of this dribble. Off to run. Hope everyone is having a great week.

P.S. Got two great reviews on my soon-be-released-book this week, one from Romance Times (for women's mainstream, not romance) and the other from Booklist. Yippeee!

P.S.S. Congrats to this gal, who placed first in her age group at the Crystal Springs 50K this past weekend. You rock, Karen!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Girls on the Run (!!)

This is so exciting: I've applied for a coaching position for the Girls on the Run program. GOTR, which involves students in 3rd-5th grade, works to build healthy body image and self-esteem through running. It's an 8-week program, with a 5k race at the end. Just thinking about "my" girls running their first race almost makes me cry, and I haven't even met the kids yet. Heck, I haven't even been accepted into the program. (Keep your fingers crossed, okay?)

This makes me almost cry, too. It's very inspirational. It's me in, oh, about 33 years or so (do the math--yes, I'm that old).


Today's run: 8.75 mile tempo over packed and smooth trails. Running outside when the temps are warm and the trails are good? Awesome!

Next week I head out to Hatcher Pass to housesit for David and Jonnie, their two dogs (plus my own dog, of course), two turkeys, five chickens and indoor parakeet. Wild times. I'll take many pics to post. The mountains out there are breathtaking.

Happy weekend, everyone.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

1,538 friggin' glorious miles

OMG. I reached and surpassed my 1,500 mile running goal for 2012 and totaled 1,538 glorious and awesome miles.

Best yet, I did it without any running related injuries and I'm old, too. (Disclaimer: I injured myself twice, but both times were due to falls during trail runs, not overuse/stress injuries.)

I also transitioned from partial heel strike to a midfoot strike. My stride feels so much smoother, and I feel so much stronger. I swear, sometimes I feel as if I am floating. Unfortunately, I haven't gotten much faster, but I'll take stronger over faster any time.

It was a damned good year.

My muddy mug after Mt. Marathon.

Another marathon finish.
Running with my best girlfriend.

Half marathon with my sister.

Did I menion Hawaii?

Running trails.
More trails.

Mountain trails.


And MM finally buys decent running socks (!!)

I don't have many goals for 2013. I'd love to break 1,750 miles and I'd also love to race a marathon where I'm not continually pooping in the woods or peeing blood in the woods, but maybe that's a bit too ambitious, no?

Mostly, I want to keep loving my runs. I want to look forward to my runs. I want to run happily and goofily. I want to smile and laugh and sing stupid songs off-key.

I also want to learn to take better photos, sigh, sigh. Or at least remember to take photos. Or at least remember to take my camera so that I can forget to take photos. (So much to remember!)

But on to better things. Like recent runs. And blurry photos. And me on recent runs in blurry photos.

My secret superpower: Stretching my arm until I touch the top of tunnels. (So why can't I stretch my leg so that I can run a 7:30 pace???)

Don't I look a little bit like a super hero in this pic? This is because there is so much snow and hardened ice on the trails that I can touch the top of the tunnel connecting the Coastal Trail to the Chester Creek Trail. So exciting! I had to stop for a photo. This was around mile 17 of a 21 miler, and I was feeling great.

Of course I was feeling great: The weather was 44 degrees (44!) when we started. After weeks of single digit temps, it was like running in Hawaii. Added plus: Many areas of the trails have been groomed/ packed down so that we could actually run instead of slog.

This is exciting because the previous week I logged 46.5 miles on the treadmill. MM and I pounded out side-by-side 19 milers at Planet Fitness. We were there forever, and there wasn't anything good of TV, either.

Good news: Santa brought me this:

Barbie! But wait, where are your running clothes?
Anyone who reads my book (releases from Hachette Books Feb. 5, and buy one if you can, please, so someone other than my mother reads it.) will understand the Barbie joke, hee, hee.

Hope everyone had a great holiday season. Happy running.

Oh, oh: And this came, my Christmas present to myself. It's a YA novel I read years ago and just had to order. Do you ever do that, suddenly remember a book you've read and it nags and nags at you until you simply have to read it again? I also have been thinking of "Kentucky Love" by Joe Coomer, so probably I will order that soon, too.

Weekly running total: 42 mile plus two days of cross training
Reading: Everything in sight, including the toothpaste container
Writing: Oh, yes!