Monday, May 25, 2015

Another week, a lot more runs

Well, heck, another week's gone by. Where did the time go? Oh, yeah, I was running for a good part of it (but not as much as I would have liked).

First though, I have to say Happy Memorial Day to my father, a Korean War vet who died when I was six. I never really knew him well, since I was so young when he departed, but I think he would have been proud of how I turned out (except for those not so stellar years in my early twenties when I went, ummm, a little wild). I think we would have much to talk about, if his ghost every decides to visit (please visit, Daddy, okay?).

But back to runs. This week was another gearing-toward-longer-weekend-runs week, and while the beginning was easy enough, the ending kicked my butt, and in the best possible way.

Early in the week runs:

Mountain sheep! See them? Those little white dots?

Saturday's long run was slated for 20. MM ran the first 10 miles with me on the Campbell trails. It was raining and we were practically the only ones out. I didn't take any photos but it was an amazing run, the light filmy and dreamy, due to the rain, and the footing soft and muddy, and we ran for almost nine miles without passing anyone. We ran us some hills (hills!) and some dips and rollers and then it was time for MM to drive off and leave me to run all the way home alone. In the rain. Which I loved.

The way home was over paved bike trails. I've noticed that running trails is quite a bit more difficult than pavement. There are more and steeper hills, rougher footing, more concentration needed due to rougher footing, and did I mention more hills? And so the second part of the run, on cushy pavement, was quite a bit faster than the first (negative splits, baby). I never bonked or wanted to slow down. The only low point was when three drunk men hassled me around Valley of the Moon Park. I told them to "Leave me alone, thank you," and pointed my mace in their faces and they scattered. Still, it sucks that women have to worry about being hassled when running alone. It really pisses me off, in fact.

When I arrived home my Garmin read exactly 21.16 miles and, best of all, MM had dinner ready, a huge spread of rice and past and veggies and tofu. What a man! What a life!

Spent the remainder of the evening foam rolling while watching "The Squid and the Whale."

Sunday came around and I popped out of bed and, with my tired legs, tackled 10 miles out at Kincaid Park. For those of you who don't know, Kincaid Park is a series of winding ski trails, and I get lost every. single. time. I run there. It's also all hills, with almost no (no!) flat areas. My legs protested the whole time. I never reached that happy I'm-running-and-everything-is-glorious phase but I made it through, which is good because after this coming week, which is a step-down week, my mileage increases dramatically (gulp!).

Mr. Moose, out at Kincaid Park. 
Old, abandoned car surrounded by green (green!) along the Jodhpur Trail.

And oh, here's the elevation chart for the Resurrection Pass Ultra Race. If I can make it to mile 30, then it's basically all downhill. I know it will still be tough and awful and agonizing, but no major or steep climbs. It's just making it to mile 30. The total elevation gain is slightly under 5,000 feet, and since I've run 15 miles with about 2,400 gain, it should be doable. Not easy, but doable (fingers and toes crossed).

Weekly stats: 
Monday: Rest!
Tuesday: 5.2 miles, hills
Wednesday: 9 miles, fastish pace
Thursday: 6 miles
Friday: Rest
Saturday: 21.15
Sunday: 10, hills (some big ones, too)
Total: 51.35

What I'm reading: Epilogue: A Memoir by Will Boast, and it is so, so good.


Monday, May 18, 2015

I bonk, and I long to sit in a port-o-potty

My first 18-miler in over two years is in the bag (in the shoe?) and it was everything a long run should be: Challenging, glorious, tough, meditative, frustrating and joyful.

I didn't feel good when I began. I wasn't sick; I just didn't feel energized and excited, the way I usually feel before a run.

I ran the Campbell Trails, with loops around the Service and Hillside trails, for added hills in the beginning, just to make sure my legs were nice and trashed. The day before, I did a 5.5 mile tempo run, again, to make sure my legs were fatigued.

And they were. In fact, they fell off around mile 8 (Mile 8! Not even half of the way!). They decided that they had had enough, thank you very much, and while I kept on running, they departed for a bit and I felt only heaviness where they should have been.

By that point, the only thing I could think of was: There's a port-o-potty in half a mile and then I'll get to sit down for a minute.

Yes, I actually wanted  to sit down on an icky port-o-potty seat! In fact, it became a song that played over and over inside my head: In half a mile I'll get to sit down. In a quarter of a mile I'll get to sit down. In 500-feet I'll get to sit down...

And then, there it was! The port-o-potty! My shining blue knight of armor!

The lone port-o-potty on the trail. Why is it here? I have no idea.

And so I sat. I did my business. But as so many things we long for, it wasn't at all what I expected. It was smelly and I didn't linger. I barely sat at all.

I wish I could say that it got better from there, but it didn't. I bonked two miles later, up by the Tank Trail. I was only 10 miles in, barely past the halfway point, and something inside my head said: Okay, that's it, we're done here.

I stuffed down a low-glycemic Gu (Chocolate #9), added a handful of nuts and trudged wearily onward. I was barely running by that point. I probably could have walked faster.

Nice view but bad bonk.
Than wham!, a mile later I suddenly felt better. In fact, I felt great. The sun shined through the spruce trees and I was on my favorite trails (Black Bear and Brown Bear and Moose Meadow) and there were hills and downhills and soft spruce needles over the trail.

I passed a woman in a blue shirt going the opposite direction and we stopped and momentarily chatted and later, when I was too far away to go back and catch up with her, I wished I had gotten her name. Not many women run alone on the side trails and something about her reminded me of myself; it would have been cool to occasionally meet up for runs together, to get to know one another better. It felt kind of bittersweet, as if I had missed an opportunity, and maybe I had.

Regardless, I felt increasingly strong the longer I ran and picked up the pace the last two miles. In fact, I couldn't stop smiling, and I know I must have looked like a crazy woman, all sweaty and dirty and smiling like a dork. Yet I was so happy.

Sometimes I feel sorry for people who only run pavement, who never venture out on the trails. Do they have any idea what they're missing? The smells and sights and the overwhelming and vast silences, broken only by bird calls and the crack of a branch off in the brush. Yet, probably they find their own sense of peace and serenity, probably they experience the same amount of joy and challenge during their own runs. Still, I can't quite imagine such a life. It's obviously not for me.

Weekly stats:
Monday: Rest!
Tuesday: 5.4 miles and weights
Wednesday: 9.2 miles
Thursday: Rest and weights
Friday: 5.5 miles tempo
Saturday: 18.2 miles
Sunday: 10 miles
Weekly total: 48.3 

Monday, May 11, 2015

More bears, and 25 miles

Well, it's been quite the weekend.

It started on Friday, when I stuffed my face with my homemade bean dip and half a bag of organic corn chips (organic = no guilt). I stayed up ridiculously late writing, and Saturday I popped up all excited. Because it was my Long Run Day.

I don't know about you but I look forward to my long run. I think about it and obsess about it and worry about it. It thrills me, in an odd sort of way.

I planned on running the Turnagain Arm Trail, from Potter all the way past Rainbow and then back again for about 16 miles. This is a tough trail, with ruts and roots and iffy footing, and lots of killer hills. The total elevation gain is about 1,300 feet, one-way. Which means over 2,000 feet roundtrip.

I secretly enjoy hills, enjoy the pain and the struggle and the muscle burn. What makes the Turnagain Trail so obstinate, however, are the oh-so-many rocks and roots littering the trail so that you have to pick up your feet higher than normal. It might not sound like a big deal but trust me, after about 10 miles it kind of is.

Roots, just waiting to trip me.
It was cloudy as I drove to the trail and drizzling by the time I arrived. I wore a short sleeve shirt, shorts and my arm warmers, with my Nathan hydration pack strapped my back. The trail was pretty much empty. I passed two people the first half mile and then no one else for over three miles.

By then it was raining, hard, and by the time I ran down the big Rainbow hill (wheee!), over a mile and about 1,000 feet elevation drop, I was soaked and cold. Really cold. My shoelaces were loose but I couldn't work my hands to retie them.

I warmed up on the mile of switchbacks back up, up, up the hill. By the time I reached the top, it was hailing. Hailing, for christ's sake. I was miserable yet strangely exhilarated. Because everything was wet and the air smelled good and the footing was soft and no one else was around. I didn't see anyone until I hit McHugh Creek, over four miles away. By then it had stopped raining, and my shorts were almost dry. And I passed, no lie, a guy wearing a puffy winter jacket, winter hat and gloves. And I had on shorts, hee, hee. He gaped at me as if I were crazy.

View from the top of the McHugh Creek hill.
As soon as I hit the Potter section of the trail, I cheered up. The footing was better and the sun peeked out and I felt so happy that I couldn't stop smiling.

Then I saw the oddest thing: A man in shorts and a white doctor's jacket sprinted out of the brush. Close behind was a guy in a suit and a hardhat. I couldn't help it, I had to stop and ask.

"Excuse me, are you filming a movie?" I said.

"No," the suited guy laughed. "We're on a scavenger hunt."

I loved it! A bunch of geeky people out on the trails looking for treasures. I wanted to take their photo but they hooted and ran back into the brush.

A mile later I came across a black bear at the top of a hill. It looked at me and scampered off toward the woods. By then the sun was out again and I was almost finished with the run and life was good.

Guess who's waiting around the corner?

Then I came across a bear that wasn't so accommodating, a blackie sow with two cubs. I ran around a curve and there they were. The cubs scurried up a tree but Mama Bear wasn't having any of that. She stood her ground. I backed up. She moved toward me. I backed up some more. As soon as I was out of sight I stopped and gave them time to get off the trail. I ran back around the curve again--Mama Bear was still there, and she was sitting in the middle of the trail as if to claim it as her own (a bear, sitting in the middle of the trail!).

When she saw me, she got up and walked toward me again. I back away until I was around the curve and I waited, longer this time.

The thing is, I had to pass that section of trail in order to get to the trailhead where I parked my car. I couldn't go around, since the brush was thick and I didn't trust the bear. So I waited. And waited. I was hungry and cold and my legs were beginning to tighten so finally I ventured slowly forward around the curve again. I was sure that they would be gone.

Mama Bear peeking staking out the trail mere moments before walking toward me.

They weren't. As soon as the sow spotted me, she came toward me again and this time she meant business. She walked fast. It wasn't a charge but it wasn't a lumbering gait, either. I booked in the opposite direction. I walked fast but didn't run because you are never supposed to run from a bear. When I looked over my shoulder, she was gaining on me. I was so scared my legs wobbled. As soon as I got around another corner, temporarily out of sight, I sprinted like hell. I didn't look back for about a quarter of a mile. When I did, the bear was no longer there. I was so relieved that I cried.

I ended up running back to the previous trailhead and getting a ride to where my car was parked. This cut 1.5 miles off of my run, which really bummed me out. But being charged by an ornery black bear would have bummed me out even more, so I think I made the right call. Still, it shook me up. Except for when a bear charged my dog a few years back (that one was kind of my dog's fault), I don't normally encounter assertive bears. Usually, they scamper off as soon as they hear or see me.
When I got home, I told the story over and over to MM until I know he was sick of hearing it, poor guy, but I couldn't stop thinking about how damned big that bear look, and how damned small I am. (I had bear spray with me but it was a little canister, probably too little to have don much good. I'm totally buying a larger canister before venturing out on that trail again.)

Sunday I had 10 miles scheduled so MM and I hit the Campbell Trails for an easy-paced run. It was close to divine, one of those runs where we talked and laughed and enjoyed ourselves and each other's company. We didn't see any bears but we did come across three moose. I didn't take their photo, though. Sometimes I like to pause and savor, without interruption. So that's exactly what we did.

Brown Bear trail--pure heaven.
View from the trail

Hope everyone has a great week.

Last week's stats:
Monday: Rest
Tuesday: 7 mile tempo run
Wednesday: Race!, 4.75 miles
Thursday: 6.5 miles
Friday: Rest--weights, upper and lower body
Saturday: 14.5 miles
Sunday: 10.5 miles
Total: 42.5 miles 

Friday, May 8, 2015

Bears, moose and first race of the season

We kicked off the spring with our running club's first run of the season, and I didn't totally suck. This was news to me since I'd done no speedwork (ummm, what is speedwork?) and very little pace work. I also hadn't raced in two years. Add in that it was a 7.5km and I've never been known for my speed and, well my only expectation was to finish without puking.

I'm happy to say that I did just that. In fact, I felt strong the whole way. I realize that this probably means that I didn't push myself enough but so what, eh? I had fun, and that's what counts.

I've become obsessed with wearing my bright orange hat on every. single. run.
My time wasn't the best but wasn't the worst: 37:01. My 10K time used to be faster but I need to take into perspective that I haven't raced for two years and only began running consistently again earlier this year. Mostly, I just blessed to be able to run, and race, again, injury-free (knock on desk).

MM did well, too, so it was a good evening all around. Anchorage Running Club puts on some great events, very low-key and friendly. I love the vibe. Plus there are usually cookies at the end, which is a huge motivator the last few miles.

The next day, MM and I hit the Turnagain Arm Trail in the evening for 6.5 miles of rutted trail, and hills. It was one of those magical runs when your legs feel fatigued but your minds says 'Go, go, go,' and everything blurs and comes together until you feel transcended by it all.

And then we came around a curve and saw the bears. The first bears of the season, a blackie mother and three cubs, all of them scurrying off the trail, no doubt due to the loud warning of my bear bell. We stood there, close together but far enough away to feel safe, and watched the cubs scamper up an old tree as the mother nudged them off into the brush.

Black bears moving off the trail, right in front of us, such a treat.

I wish I could describe the feeling: heart-pounding, the taste of danger in our throats and yet that thrill, that exhilaration of coming so close to wildness. We waited for a few minutes after they disappeared and then continued running. At the top of the very next hill, we encountered a moose.

This was a youngish moose with an attitude, and it wouldn't get off the trail. Because of heavy brush, we couldn't go around it, either. We crouched in the bushes and waited. Whenever we crept too near, it splayed back its ears and kicked out its legs as if to say: Come any closer and I'll cream you good."

It finally wandered off into the brush and we kept on running and believe it or not, less than a half mile up the trail we came across yet another moose, this one a lot more mellow; we were able to run around it with ease, though I held MM's hand and made him run on the side of the moose, so that if it charged he would be attacked first, hee, hee.

On the way back, we saw two more moose up on a hill and off the trail. It was wild. It was like running through an open zoo. I felt charged and free and alive. And everywhere around us were perks of green: grass shooting out of the ground and leaves budding on the tree. Such hopeful shouts of color!

The last half mile of the trail is downhill and groomed and fast. It's also very peaceful, almost serene, with views of the inlet on one side and trees, trees, trees on the other.

I don't really have any big expectations for this year's running season. I want to run, and as much as possible. I want to run trails, as much as possible. I want to see how far I can go, push my limits, venture out into that no-man's zone (no woman's zone?) where you bonk and want to die but keep on going and then, magically, you feel strong again, and whole and complete and reborn. I so look forward to reclaiming that feeling.

Until then, have a great weekend, everyone. Run, hike, read, but mostly, do whatever it is that makes you feel the most alive.

Sad news: Our last cat is dying. We just got the lab reports today, her kidney function is almost zero and there is really no hope. Tears my gut. We lost my most favorite cat last year, my dog earlier this year and now Fluff-Busters is going, too (The Last Pet Standing, as we call her). She has lost so much weight yet she's still feisty, still kept me up last night, wanting to go outside. Having pets, and loving them fully, is such a joy, and such a heartbreak. Here's to you, Fluffers. You've been a great friend, and a warm, fluffy spot to lay my head during hard times. Happy journeys, little one.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

I want! I want! New shoes

Okay, I'll admit it: I'm a bit obsessed with running shoes lately. I have no idea if I'm compensating for a lack in my personality, using them as a fulfillment in my not-so-exciting life, or if running shoes simply, as my grandmother would have said, float my boat.

Whatever the case, my new Merrell All Out Rush trail shoes arrived in the mail yesterday. Is there anything better than new running shoes? Or at least new running shoes that fit. I unfortunately ordered the wrong size and had to reorder (seems my feet have gotten a little bigger, fancy that). What this means is that I have to wait another week, or longer, until I can actually slide them on my feet, take them out to the trails and do all sorts of dirty things to them.

Aren't they sexy? Kind of masculine yet just girly enough to let the guys know that I mean serious business.

I was perfectly happy with my perfectly wonderful new shoe choice, even though I couldn't actually run in them yet.

Then Sunday happened.

Sunday, you see, was MM's birthday, so naturally I took him out to REI for new running shoes (I mean, where else does a woman take a man for his birthday?). He tried on a pair of Sportiva that were so colorful and bad-assed that I almost salivated, so of course I had to try on a pair for myself. I couldn't just sit there and do nothing.

And I kind of, sort of fell in love with the Sportiva Bushido. I slipped my foot inside. I tightened the laces. I took one step, and then another. Before I knew it, I was running around REI, dodging mother's toting little kids and bearded dudes in scruffy but expensive outdoor gear. My feet felt happy! My ankles felt sturdy. I started to slyly calculate in my head: If my partner picked out an inexpensive pair of shoes as his birthday present, I just might be able to swing a pair for myself, hee, hee.

Sadly, these aren't my shoes and this isn't my yard, either.

He didn't. After considering a pair of yellow Altra's that made his feet look like duck feet, he settled on the Sportiva. I sighed,kicked off my Bushidos, put my smelly Hokas back on (love my Hokas but they don't do well on technical trails) and plucked out my credit card. I was very gracious when I handed him the box. I think I even smiled. I might have even said, "Happy birthday." I might have said this with little to no grudge.

So now I'm torn. Do I take the Merrell's back and get the Sportiva? Or keep the Merrell's and be satisfied with my first choice? The Merrell is light and flexible and airy with a kick-ass ridged sole for firm footing. The Sportiva is more durable and firm and hearty with its own particular kick-assed sole yet not as flexible or roomy.

I want them both! I need them both! My checking account, however, begs to differ.

Whatever the case, last week was a jump-back week. This is when, after two or three weeks of increasing mileage, I cut back, relax and recover, and eat like a pig. During this jump-back week I also managed to hurt my back (is it a coincidence that I hurt my back during a jump-back week?) at a new job I took for the summer and consequently didn't run at all Monday-Wednesday. I ended up with 25 miles for the week, a disappointing amount but as my partner often says, and usually when he's mad at me: It is what it is.

Last but not least, pics from Saturday's trail run, where I bonked big time and almost cried due to the over 1250 elevation gain in 8 miles.

One of the few straight areas of the whole damned run, trust me.

Dandelions (I call them dandy lions) are my favorite flower of all time.

Look! The trees are blooming! So. Exciting.
Have a great week, everyone.