Monday, April 27, 2015

Runner's trot (or sprinting towards the woods)

Saturday's run begam well, as runs usually do.

That's a bit of a lie. It's started out okay. Nothing dramatically awfully or stupendously wonderful. Just okay.

I snagged my partner (i.e., bribed) into accompanying me on a 14 miler through the Campbell Creek Trails. My stomach was a bit off but the sun was shining and temps were in the 50s, a perfect Alaska spring day.

So we drove to the trailhead and I buckled on my bright purple and orange Nathan hydration vest and we took off.

I "borrowed"this pic from Why someone would wear a hydration vest while swimming is beyond me.

We started off slow. The trail was rutted and muddy and the first six miles were my least favorite section. I kept glancing at my watch. Time dragged.

"Running slow sucks," I said to my partner. He nodded his head wisely (he's learned to agree with me while we're running).

Finally we reached the better part the trail and I perked up. There were hills (hills!) and curvy areas (curvy areas!) winding through birch trees and the sun was out and life was good. And we had eight more glorious miles to run.

I've been following training advice from Runner's Connect coach Jeff Gaudette, who sends informative emails a couple of times a week (wish I could afford to hire you as my coach, Jeff, but think that will have to wait a bit, sigh, sigh), and geared this run around his philosophy of starting out slow and then progressively picking it up and finishing at half-marathon pace.

I started picking it up at the ten mile mark and by the last mile, I was sprinting, fast. This may or may not have been because I was in desperate need of a few sturdy bushes.

I was, you see, paying for my "sins" from the previous night, which had come back to haunt me, and they haunted me with a wicked and mad vengeance.

I'm ashamed to admit that I have a bit of a problem (an addiction?) with hot sauce, mainly Huy Fong Sriracha Sauce, which is pretty much a staple in my diet. I've been known to drink the stuff. I put it on everything. I seriously become depressed if I don't have any around.

The sad truth about eating too much hot sauce, though (warning: TMI?) is that it works both ways: It's hot going in and coming out.

Feeling a roaring heat in your stomach inch ever-so-merrily down your digestive tract while running a fast last mile of a 14 mile trail run is not exactly enjoyable.

I moved like crazy toward the finish and bolted off to the bushes, where I crouched in agony (agony!) for a good five minutes. It was a sorry end to a run that began with a lackluster mood but progressed to a strong (but hot) finish.

An hour later found me curled on the couch, still damp from a bath, and happily squirting sriracha sauce all over my dinner. I doubt that I will ever learn.

But look at this! Earlier tonight our moose friends paid a visit, such a treat to look out the window and see their knobby and ridiculously-shaped heads peering in at us (and no, I wasn't eating hot sauce at the time).

Have a great week, everyone.

This week's stats:
Monday: Rest, weights and 60 minutes bike
Tuesday: 8.5 miles, hilly and steep trails
Wednesday: 8.5 miles, hilly and steep trails
Thursday: 7.5 miles, paved Coastal Trail
Friday: Rest
Saturday: 14 miles, hilly trails
Sunday: 7.5 miles, paved Coastal Trail
Total: 46 miles 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Kissing trees

Oh, I had a really bad run on Wednesday. And yet it was also a really great run. Let me explain.

I'm tentatively thinking of running the Resurrection Ultra 50-miler this year and have been doing back-to-back trail runs, not really long distance at this point so much as agonized distance, you know, a lot of gnarly hills and bad trails conditions: mud, rocks, roots higher than my ankle. And did I mention hills?

Tuesday I tackled Turnagain Arm Trail, in all of its muddy glory, and felt strong most of the way, even on the steep and frequent hills. So I went back on Wednesday and did it all over again, and I just wasn't feeling it, you know? My legs were heavy and my back sore from lifting weights the evening before and I mistakenly wore a new pair of shoes without the proper lacing, and they flopped against my ankles with each leap over each rock, and I was soon irritated and hungry and discouraged and muttering to myself... you get the picture.

My floppy-laced new shoes! Don't they look embarrassingly clean and tidy?

Mostly, though, I was disappointed to realize that I wasn't in as good as shape as I had assumed. Running for two weeks on mostly paved trails and streets in Philly and then last week on paved Coastal Trail, I had deceived myself into thinking I was stronger and faster than I actually am.

Then I hit the trails and the frequent and never-ending hills and bad footing put me in my place.

Yes, this is part of the trail.

On the way back, after straggling up the Rainbow hill (over a 1.25 miles of relentless incline and switchbacks), I seriously thought of stopping and calling MM to pick me up. But I knew I'd hate myself for quitting so I struggled on and then, I don't know, I somehow ran right past that shitty mood and started feeling happy and glorious and oh-I'm-running-on-beautiful-trails-and-everything-is-perfect. And it got so bad that I stopped to kiss a few trees, just because I could (and because no one else was around).

I felt so thankful to be back running, you see. Last year I barely hit the trails, due to a combination of a fall that messed up my knee and a brutal work schedule, and the year before I injured my foot mid-summer and was out through winter. So yes, even a tortured and agonizing run is better than sitting on my ass, watching movies and feeling terribly sorry for myself, which I'm ashamed to say I happened more than I'd like to admit.

But being injured makes a person really, really thankful to be running again, and times be damned, just putting one foot in front of the other and gliding over a trail can be enough to bring tears (the good, happy kind of tears) to the eyes. And maybe, just maybe, stop along the way and kiss a few sturdy (and sexy!) spruce and birch trees.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Running while traveling: Philly editon

When I arrived in Tucson 10 weeks ago, the first thing I did was get on blogs and map out running routes, and I found them, too, everything from paved bike paths along dried river washes to canyon and mountain trails. Discovering places to run in Tucson was easy.

Then I flew out to the Philly suburbs to visit with my sister and mother, and the running got a little bit more complicated.

I'm not a city person. My ideal view is of mountains. Yet, surprisingly, I found running through the city to be exotic. Weaving in and out of crowds, with buildings on one side and the Schuylkill River on the other, was a blast. And thanks to Google map, I found more than enough running routes including everything from flat and paved bike paths to wooded trails and out-of-the-way hilly trails tucked around a college campus. Below are a few of my favorites.

Kelly Drive: A paved and flat bike trail winding around the Schuylkill River, past boat houses (on weekends you can often catch the regattas). The path leads past the Philadelphia Museum of Art, also (sadly) known as the "Rocky" museum, which features the steps that Sylvester Stallone ran up in the movie. An interesting note: My sister is friends with a man who was one of the kids running with Stallone in the movie and, according to him, they had to do numerous takes because the kids kept beating Stallone to the top of the steps, hee, hee).

Haverford Nature Trail: This 2.5 mile wooded loop spanning Haverford College in Ardmore, outside of Philly, was a welcome surprise. The surface is packed dirt, with just enough rutted areas to keep it interesting. It also varied enough in scenery that multiple loops didn't become boring. An added plus: Afternoons often included yummy college guys running shirtless.

Forbidden Drive Trail: Oh, I loved this trail! Wide packed dirt, smooth surface, lots of trees, and Wissahickon Creek running alongside. A good place to pack on the miles, though according to my sister, it isn't always a safe area for a woman running alone, there have been numerous rapes plus an area by the covered bridge without cell phone reception. My advice: Run on weekends during peak times or with a running buddy.

Cynwyd Heritage Trail and West Laurel Hill Cemetery: The Cynwyd Trail is only a couple of miles from my sister's house and offered two miles of paved and dirty trail (four miles out and back). A nice place for a quick run and to get away from traffic. The bordering West Laurel Hill Cemetery offers great hills and a relaxing place to zone out and pick up a few extra miles.

The most surprising thing about running in Philly, though, was how much I enjoyed it. The weather was warm, and as long as I stuck to side streets there was little problem with traffic.

I've always believed that I could never be happy without mountains or quick access to wilderness area. But walking and running through Philly, alone and with my sister, offered me a different perspective, and I soon understood that happiness comes from within, and that as long as I have places to run, places that offer long, uninterrupted miles, I can be momentarily and spontaneously content.

A quick cheer: A big yippee (yippee!!) to Karen Kidwell, who PRed in Boston Marathon on Monday with a killer time of 3:30. I've been following Karen's blog for years and had the opportunity to meet her last year, which was a welcomed pleasure. Way to go, Karen! You are awesome and madly fast. P.S. Her hubby Matt also PRed.

Rock the Boston hills, okay, Karen? P.S. I "borrowed" this pic from your blog, hee, hee.

Mileage last week:
Monday: 10 miles (last Philly run)
Tuesday; Traveling
Wednesday: 7.5 miles, Coastal Trail
Thursday: 11 miles, Chester Creek Trail
Friday: Rest day: Weights and bike plus power walking Kincaid Park hills
Saturday: 6.5 miles, Turnagain Arm Trail
Sunday:  5 miles w/ surges, Campbell Tract Trail
Total: 40 miles

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


I must admit that I had a bit of a time adjusting to Alaska. After seven glorious weeks in Tucson and two in Philly, Anchorage felt gloomy and cloudy and cold.

Probably because it was gloomy and cloudy and cold.

Still, once I hit the trails I felt better. I ran the first couple of days back on the Coastal and Chester Creek Trails, which are paved bike trails through wooded areas and along the inlet. The views are beautiful and while I enjoy running these, I couldn't wait to revisit my beloved and rugged "real" trails.

I don't know why I love trail running so much, if it's the rough footing, which forces me to use more of my senses, or the feeling of being surrounded by trees and mountains and water, which makes me feel smaller and less significant but also part of a larger whole.

All I know is that the longer I run, the louder my heart sings.

I can't wait for the snow to clear in the higher elevations so that I can hit the mountain trails. Until then, I've been loving the Turnagain Arm Trail, which is south facing and filled with steep hills and roots and rocks and all manner of wild and wonderful things.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Bye, bye Tucson (and visits by two rattlesnakes)

A week and a half ago I left Tucson. It was 85 degrees and I had a twisted ankle, bad cold and a heavy heart. I didn't want to leave. Living for so long in Alaska, I had forgotten what a gift it is to wake up to warm temperatures and sunshine. It made me realize that I'm more of a warm weather person than an Alaska person, though I do love Alaska dearly and madly, especially in the summer when the twilight spreads out over the land and I run Flattop after midnight, no one else around, and all of that silence.

Trail to Seven Falls
Catalina State Park
Phoneline Trail, Sabino Canyon

Black Bear Trail.
My last week in Tucson MM arrived and we moved from the beloved house I had sublet for six weeks (hopefully I'll be back there again in December and January) to a week-long vacation rental with a very tiny kitchen and very lovable dog, Ben. After losing Beebs earlier this year, it was nice having a dog to pet and hug, nice having the smell of dog in my nose, nice curling up with his head pressed against my leg.

I ran a lot while in Tucson, averaging about 40-45 miles a week, and most of it on trails during the weekend, when I rented a car and headed to Sabino Canyon or Catalina State Park. During the week I ran at Reid Park or around the side streets. What I love about Tucson is the low-keyed atmosphere of the side streets. Third Avenue is a designated bicycle route and cars aren't allowed access off main streets, which keeps the traffic down. Riding a bike and running through Tucson, with the heat pressing down on my shoulders and the sky blue and nothing but the sound of my feet over the pavement and birds singing (the birds there sing all day, not just morning and evening) felt so peaceful and serene that I often couldn't stop smiling.

The second to last week I twisted my ankle and stupidly kept running. Why do I never learn? Why can't I accept the fact that when something hurts, it's probably time to stop running and start walking to the trailhead?

View from Blackett's Ridge.

Sabino Canyon
I bought a cheapo ankle brace at Target and MM and I ran lightly and hiked for the rest of the week. Okay, maybe I didn't exactly run lightly but I did try and keep my mileage down. We hiked Blackett's Ridge and ran (lightly!) all over Sabino and Ventana Canyon.

Top of Blackett's Ridge

One of the most memorable times was running up Phoneline Trail at dusk and then down to upper Sabino Canyon Road. We crossed the creek and lay in the sand, staring up at the sky. Then we ran to the top of the canyon and back in the moonlight, no on else around, the canyon gleaming white in the moonlight. It's something I'll never forget.

Two days later, we returned. It had become hotter in that short amount of time, with temps rising from the 70s to the high 80s, and we started off right before dusk, to escape the worst of the heat. A half mile up the trail we heard a rattle and both jumped back. "Rattlesnake," I yelled, but I wasn't too worried. The snake was off the trail in the brush and basically saying, "Hey, I'm here, just let me be, okay?"

Our friend, the snake
Later, we lay on a large rock stretching out over the canyon and watched the sun set, the sky glowing pink and darkness falling around us.

Halfway down, in the dark, we heard it again, another rattlesnake (what are the chances of coming across two different snakes in one evening?), this one louder, more persistent. We jumped back and rummaged in our packs for our headlamps. We didn't see the snake in the trail but we could hear it, and it was close. I led, since I knew the trail, with MM close behind me. We had to walk past where we knew the rattlesnake was, and we had to do so in the dark, with the puny glow of our headlamps. There was no other way, since directly to our right the trail dropped down to the canyon and to our left was the ridge.

So we moved forward and really, it wasn't that bad. Right when I rounded the bend, right when I thought we had made it, there was the rattle again, and it was loud and fierce and angry sounding. MM pushed me and I ran like hell, stumbling through the dark until the rattle died down.

We had to walk the rest of the way (about two miles) down to the bottom of the canyon in the dark, with every step wondering if we'd encounter another snake. We sang dumb songs and laughed, the way you always laugh when you're on edge and trying to distract yourself from your own precarious vulnerabilities.

When we reached the creek we lay in the sand again and stared up at the sky. There was a large ring circling the moon and it felt like such an undeniably perfect moment, the warm darkness and the sound of the creek and memory of the rattlesnakes leading us in and out of danger.