Thursday, October 24, 2013

Five moose, 11 miles and lots o' mud

Oh, oh, oh--how I love running in mud!

Our Wolverine Trail/Middle Fork/Powerline Pass run served up so much mud that by the time we finished, I was pure mud past my ankles. My shoes weren't even recognizable. It was cold mud, too. Cold and mucky and smelly.

We initially set out for a four mile run up toward Wolverine Peak. But my foot was feeling solid, with no pain, so we tacked on a few more miles and ended up running about 12. I love when that happens.

What can I say about this run except that it was perfect. Per.Fect. We passed one person the whole way, a guy with two dogs. After that, we had the whole valley to ourselves.

We didn't talk much. We simply ran through all of that silence. The air was cool in places, cold in others, and the lower lying areas were muddy. After a few miles we simply gave up and ran through the mud. P.S. I found out that while I love my Brooks Cascadias, they don't drain well. They became heavier and heavier we each large, muddy pond (lake?) we ran through until it felt as if I were running with leg weights.

I didn't take any photos of the mud, though. It didn't really matter. It was like an itch, something we noticed for a few minutes and then, as soon as we found ourselves on semi-dry land again, forgot. Until we reached the next muddy, swampy area.

We came across the first moose after about an hour. It was a large bull, off grazing to the side of the trail, and we managed to run past with no problems (I ran fast, too, as I blubbered to MM, "It isn't following me, is it? It isn't charging me, is it?" As if that moose had been standing there for hours waiting for me to run past so it could charge me.)

Half a mile later we hit two females standing in the middle of the trail. They refused to budge and we had to hike around them through heavy alder scrub and mucky water. They watched us the whole time. I think I heard them snickering.

I didn't take any photos of any of the moose, since it's the end of rutting season and I just wanted to get past them, fast. I did get this, though. A panoramic view of the valley. Isn't it to die-for lovely? It's one of my favorite places.

The beginning of the run was all uphill so that ending was all down, and the last four miles are my favorite part because it slopes down away from the mountains and toward the inlet, and you can pick up speed and really run, and it's the greatest feeling. We ran as the sunset streaked the sky the most haunting shades of pink and lavender.

We got caught in the dark the last few miles and my headlamp was cheap, the battery low so that we had only a dull shadow of light. The footing was rocky and we slipped and stumbled, and then I saw two yellow lights reflected in my headlamp and threw out my arms so that MM would stop. Two moose stood at the edge of the trail, neither very happy to find two humans running through their dark.

Once again we had to bushwhack through alder brush, and this time the footing was rough and the ground was so swampy it almost pulled off my shoes, and we were like blind people, groping through the semi-darkness. After we got back on the trail we walked the last mile. It was too dark and wet, the lamplight too weak; the last thing I wanted was to trip and re-injure my foot.

On the drive back, I put my bare feet on the dash next to the heater vents and blasted hot air and marveled at the early Alaskan pioneers, who navigated this land without expensive sweat-wicking fabrics, dry-weave socks, headlamps or any of the luxuries we take for granted. Then I stopped thinking because we were home and I ate a whole box of Annie's mac and cheese by myself (I made two, so that MM wouldn't starve) and even though I call myself a vegan, I make exceptions for Annie.

Reading: OMG! I read "Marathon Man" by Mark Singer. It's in "Best American Sports Writing 2013" and utterly fascinating. (I'm seeing if I can find a link to the original New Yorker story right now.) Here's the link:

Has anyone read this? Basically, a 40-something guy named Kip Lipton, a Michigan dentist who racked up sub-3 hour marathons, was suspected of cheating and disqualified from numerous marathons. The fascinating thing is that no one can figure out just how, exactly, he pulled this off. His splits through race timing mats reflected his finishing times yet he's not in any race photos except for the beginning and ending; there's usually no sign of him on the course.

And, get this: In some race photos he's wearing different clothes in the starting line photo and the finish line photo: Different shoes and shirt and sometimes even shorts. Two different people racing? Except no one else has ever stepped forward.

I'll shut up now and let you read it for yourself. Cheers and happy running and reading, everyone.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Running Flattop, in the wild wind

Yesterday I found myself with that itchy feeling of being stuck inside too long so I headed out to run Flattop Peak.

It was nice in town, a warm autumn day in the low 50s, a running-in-shorts-for-the-last-few-weeks kind of afternoon. That changed as soon as I drove up the Hillside to the Glen Alps parking lot. It was windy, and the air was sharp with the feeling of winter. There was almost no one else around, either, which I took as a good sign.

What wasn't a good sign is that the few people I saw in the parking lot all had on winter coats. And hats! And mittens! They looked at me as if I were mad when I got out of my car in capris and windbreaker. For a moment, I doubted myself (Oh, don't you hate it when you do that, forgo your own good sense and start worrying that perhaps you should  do this or shouldn't do that?).

It was cold, too, and the wind was strong and the bottom half of my legs, which were bare, quickly became wind-chapped, but no matter. As soon as I ran up Blueberry Hill I was, if not quite warm, at least better able to tolerate the cold.

After that, I saw no one. No one except for one man coming off the mountain who warned me of dangerously high winds and slick root toward the top. I thanked him and kept going.

Then I had the mountain to myself. All. To. Myself. Can there be anything better? Often I wonder why I'm not scared when I'm alone on a mountain. I should be scared, should have been scared yesterday. The wind was so strong that I could barely walk in places, and if I tripped or fell off the trail, it would be a long, long time until anyone found me. But I felt completely calm, completely at home.

That's a lie, I didn't feel calm. I felt energized and wild with wind and how it threw itself against me and scattered my hair and blew my hat off my head. I loved that wind. I couldn't get enough of it, even though my eyes watered and my face ached.

I made it almost to the saddle before the wind knocked me flat, twice. The gusts were so strong that I had to climb a few areas on my hands and knees. That's when I decided to turn around. At first I balked; I wanted to run at least to the saddle. Then I realized how dumb that was. The saddle was an arbitrary point--what did it matter if I reached it or not?

Still, part of me longed to keep going. I wanted to pit myself against the wind, see how much I could stand. I wanted to fight that wind. Of course I would have lost. I am a puny woman and the wind is much bigger and fiercer.  But still ....

Running back down the wind was behind me, which meant that I barely had to move. I simply lifted my legs and the wind pushed and I was running, fast and smooth. It almost felt as if I were flying. Of course, I was exerting almost no energy but I think it still counts as running, no?

My foot held up and I iced it when I got back home, to be safe. I think if I'm really, really careful and don't push it too fast/too far too soon, I'll soon be able to start training for (gulp) the Little Su. In the meantime I've been doing killer long work outs at the gym, to compensate for the lack of mileage.

(I keep mentioning the Little Su so that you will all hold me accountable and I won't be able to back out, hee, hee.)

The best part of yesterday's run? After almost three months of being sidelined with an injury, I finally, finally got my trail shoes dirty. And not from hiking, mind you, but by running. I swear, I wanted to sink down in the mind, dunk my face, cover myself--I was so happy to get good and dirty again.

Is there a more beautiful sight than a pair of muddy trail shoes? Well, it would help it they were more worn and rugged-looking. I shall work on that.

Reading: I am behind on my reading (sorry, to all of you waiting for me to review your books). I have been reading running blogs instead. I've been devouring them. I found a great line about a race gone bad over at Jen Benna's A Girl's Guide to Running. I don't know if any of you read her blog but I'm hooked (I have so many, many bloggy loves). In her race report of the Run Rabbit Run 100 she wrote, "No, I didn’t have the race I am capable of, but  I had the race I was supposed to that day."

Isn't that wonderful and lovely and profound? I think I shall print it out and tack it over my running shoes.

I also got to interview local Anchorage running gal Michelle from The Runner's Plate last week for a Q & A in the Anchorage Press. She recently won the Kenai Marathon and is crazy fast; I think my race pace is slower than her easy pace. It was great meeting her, her hubby and their very affectionate dog.

Speaking of dogs--poor Beebs! She had a sore on her leg and licked it silly so we had to strap her in the blue-inflatable-cone-of-shame. Poor stumbling-with-a-pillow-thinger-strapped-to-her-head Beebs.

Please, someone get me out of this, okay?

Happy weekend and long runs, everyone.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Alyeska Mountain in the snow

Yesterday I pulled myself away from my writerly isolation (is there such a word as writerly? I dunno. Maybe I just made it up) and drove out to Alyeska Resort in Girdwood to visit MM, who was staying at the lodge for three days for a work conference.

I've been at the resort but I've never been inside one of the actual rooms, which are pricey. But since the State of Alaska was footing the bill (thank you, MM, for working for a company that frequently sends you us to conferences in cool places like Hawaii and Portland and now Girdwood)

The resort is situated against the mountains and the views are incredible, yet the actual building is heavy and clunky and looks terribly out-of-place. But no matter. As I said: The views are incredible.

Why do I always think of "The Shining" when I see this? Source: Alyeska Resort

So of course we hiked and ran up Alyeska Mountain. It was late afternoon, the end of a sunny autumn day, the air crisp with a lingering warmth. Except for one other hiker (who was faster than we were, even though we were booking it), we had the mountain to ourselves. The tram was closed for the interim before the ski season and it was so quiet, and the leaves were turning, and the mountains were topped with snow, and all around was a paradise.


See those wires in the upper left-hand corner? Those are the tram cables. But it didn't matter because it wasn't running and we had the whole place to ourselves.

The biggest thrill was running in snow toward the top. Okay, by mid-winter I am sick of running in snow but since the temps were still warm and it was the first snow, it was kinda special.

Dear Brooks: This is snow. Get used to it. You'll be running in it, a lot.

We went back to the room and did something I've never done before. And it was so exciting!

We ordered room service.

Isn't that tiny bottle of hot sauce the cutest thing?

After we ate, we swam, and the pool at the resort is amazing. It was delicious and warm and the bottom was painted deep blue so that with the lights on it waved the most deep and haunting shadows.

And then it was 11 p.m. and as MM curled up in the very cozy room, I had to get in my cold car (there was frost on the windshield!) and drive back to Anchorage because dogs aren't allowed in the hotel and we couldn't find a sitter and poor Beebs is old and set in her ways and poops on the floor whenever we leave her alone.

It's heartbreaking watching your dog age. Just. Heart. Breaking. I had no idea. I want to take her old and smelly head between my hands, lean down close and whisper: Stop aging. Please? But of course there's nothing I can do and Beebs is happy sleeping through the day and taking short walks and eating everything in sight. She's getting a bit chubby but so what? Food makes her happy and I'll be damned if I'll put her on a diet, not when she's 13.5 years old. I'm planning on eating like a pig the last couple years of my life. I'll still run, though, so I probably won't get too fat.

Oh, oh: I interviewed Ron Nicholl for a magazine story. He's 70 years old and runs the Susitna 100 Race each year. It's 100 miles through off-road winter trails around a series of lakes and swamps.  (Karen and Matt did the 50K a few years ago). This year he'll be almost 71 at race date. So inspiring. He said that he runs around 40-60 miles a week. Unbelievable. And when I called to interview him, he was in Idaho getting ready to run a 50K the next morning. That is so going to be me at 71. Or at least, I hope. Now I just need to run a 50K and 100 miler now, eh?

Happy weekend, everyone.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Hello, Peak Two. It's been a while, no?

When the sun peaks out and the birch leaves glow yellow, autumn in Alaska is the best place in the world.

The air is crisp and the sun is warm and you can smell the scent of berries and leaves and the soft, damp odor of the ground.

On such days, it's impossible to stay indoors. And if you're in the middle of a large writing project and don't have a lot of time, you can head up to Glen Alps and be up in the mountains in less than a half hour.

My brooks are too damned clean. I need a good, muddy, long run.
A lot of people scoff at the idea of hiking/running Flattop, the most climbed mountain in Alaska. But if you go late in the afternoon and hike/run up the backside, you can basically have the mountain to yourself. I passed four people the entire way, and once I cleared Flattop and headed up to Peak Two, there was no one around. In fact, there wasn't a person in sight; I had the place to myself. And the views were incredible.


I power hiked up and ran down. I shouldn't have run because the footing with iffy and, wouldn't you know it, I twisted the very foot that's still recovering from an injury. But such outings are worth a little pain. I can't wait until I can run the entire mountain again but patience, Cinthia. Patience.

I love how these little roots. They are so white and pure and bare.
This was the first time I've hiked/run Flattop and Peak Two alone, without The Beebs. I thought I would be lonely, but I wasn't. How can one be lonely in the mountains? It's funny. When we were in Portland, I often felt lonely in the city (though I loved, loved, loved the 85 degree temps) but I never feel lonely out on the trails. I can run and hike for hours and not pass another person and feel totally content. The mountains and trees, you see, are good company.

When I got home I made my too-lazy-to-cook-goto-meal, a Salad of Salads. This one includes mixed greens, chicken veggie burger, tomatoes, chia seeds and dried seaweed, with the last of the Trader Joe's Goddess dressing. (Oh, Trader Joe's, I miss you so!)

I'm posting another food picture! I hope I don't turn into a food blogger. Then I would have to actually cook.

Reading: I seem to be reading three books at a time. I'm not sure how this happened but I'm going with it.

Anne Tyler's Morgan's Crossing. I've read this countless times and it never fails. No one writes dialogue like Tyler. No one.

David Roberts' On a Ridge Between Life and Death. The ultimate climbing memoir. I don't climb mountains, I hike and run them, but I enjoy reading such adventures. A big plus: Roberts is a damned good writer.

Michael Brookes' Faust 2.0.  This is an indie book I got for free when I signed up for a newsletter. It's an action-packed quick read about a computer virus with the ability to rationalize and think coherent thoughts. It's not my usual reading genre but sometimes it's nice to kick out of one's comfort zone.

P.S. Can't get this song out of my mind. Think I might have to go rent "The Full Monty."

Cheers and happy Tuesday and Wednesday, everyone.