Sunday, June 26, 2016

Training plot twist

I was running Coyote's Den at Ellison, down a trail I have run at least a hundred times by now, when suddenly and seemingly for no reason, I was on the ground, having twisted my left ankle. It was 12:30am on Saturday, which may or may not have had something to do with it. My thought process went something like this:

  • You Eediot! (In a Ren, from Ren & Stimpy, voice). You just had to go running around in the middle of the night like a damned fool.
  • Swears. More swears. (For medicinal purposes. Swearing lessons the perception of pain. It's science. So does holding someone's hand. But I was alone so I went the swears route.)
  • Well, trail running is inherently dangerous. Things happen. But everything is ok. Yeah, I'm sure my ankle is fine. (Standing) I hope it's fine. (Walking) Dear Ultra Gods, please let it be fine. (Running) I'm just going to run for another half hour to make sure it's fine.

I'd started running from my house at 11pm and did a few loops at Corbett's Glen. Then, tired of that trail and my inability to run faster than it took for spiders to reconstruct the cobwebs that I'd run through on the previous loops, I'd decided to run to Ellison. It seemed like a good idea at the time. The moon was bright, the streets and trails were quiet and I felt great.

En route to Ellison. BF (Before the Fall)

Until I twisted my ankle on nothing and fell hard on both knees. But at least I didn't fall on any of the multitude of slugs that were also out and about on the trail. I walked back to the trailhead, then ran roads for half an hour, arriving home at 1am. I had intended on going to join the crew running the 0spf course at 7am, but when my throbbing ankle woke me up at 5:30am, I decided that would probably exceed my stupid ideas quota for the day. So I rested instead.

Sunday morning I ran four miles on roads to test out my ankle. It hurt to the touch, but there was no pain when running or walking, so I decided to go to the Candlelight Preview Run at 8am. I walked  the two 1-mile course options with the Valones, after which everyone present agreed that option two was the better course. The RD seemed to be leaning that way as well, so I then ran 7 loops of the second course. My ankle felt fine while running. And I think Saturday's fall/twist may have actually been an unwittingly fortuitous training move. Much of this course consists of fields around a horse farm and parts of it are like running on a Whack-A-Mole game board. If I spend 12 hours on this course on race day and don't twist an ankle or fall into a divot, it will be a miracle. I have no idea how I'm going to stay awake and keep moving for 12 hours, let alone refrain from falling into a hole. Let's hope July 23rd-24th is a night of miracles.

Lyric of the moment: "When people run in circles it's a very, very mad world, mad world..." ~Gary Jules "Mad World"

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Things that are awesome Thursday

Semi-weekly gratitude list/word hugs...

  • Roadtrips involving a Mike Doughty Living Room Concert and Saratoga Springs. I'm all for getting everyone on board the excellent adventure train, but sometimes it's nice to take yourself on solo adventures. Because you get full control of the radio. And all the peanut butter pretzels. And you will be the only (read: best) dancer at the dance party in your car. So last Friday I drove to Albany after work to see Mike Doughty perform in a stranger's living room. It was the actual best. There were no annoying crowds or lines, plus I got to relax and listen to Mike and Scrap play "27 Jennifers" and "Your Misfortune" from the comfort of a couch. And then I drove to Saratoga Springs, spent the night at the lake house Alison and Bob were renting, talked to Pete on Saturday morning while sitting outside watching hot air balloons take off across the lake and explored Saratoga Spa State Park with Bob and Alison, before returning home Saturday night. The whole ride home I was thinking, I would totally rather run for 3 hours than drive for 3 hours. And Life is the best, man. I am the luckiest.

  • Todd also ordered Toucan shorts. Which makes 3 of us. A legit gang. We have many assets. Now we just need a name.

  • There was a black bear in Henrietta this week! I left the gate to our backyard open in case the bear wandered over into our neighborhood and decided to live there. But then the DEC captured the bear at RIT. The government is really foiling all my plans this year. Plans like fill the house with Pete and bears. And send Swedish Fish to Afghanistan (The very first package I sent to Pete, containing, among other things but most importantly, Swedish Fish, never arrived. But no worries, I will prevail in my Swedish Fishing mission.)

  • Summer days. Summer nights. Everything about summer. Except bugs. Well, at least the bugs that get all up in your personal space. I like bugs that can respect boundaries.

  • The times when you think you will die if you have to run one more mile or spider crawl backwards up an incline. Or it just feels like dying would actually be preferable to doing those things. But then you do them. And your awesomeness increases proportionally, like so:

Lyric of the moment: "You might be the one that I've been seeking for. You might be the strange delightful. You might be the girly who shall end all girls. You might be the sweet unspiteful..." ~Mike Doughty "27 Jennifers"

Monday, June 20, 2016

Toucan go bananas

I am not a "stuff'" person. Shortly after we moved into our house, some of Pete's friends came over and one of their wives said "Where is all your stuff? It looks like a retreat in here." I laughed because it's a pretty apt description. I want our house to feel like a retreat - relaxing, comfortable, uncluttered. I prefer to spend money on experiences rather than things. Unless those things are A) functional and/or B) bring me joy. Like a giant bed. Or a super comfortable couch. Or a banana costume and toucan running shorts. Because, let's face it, most of the things that bring me joy are running related and/or ridiculous.

I bought the banana costume to wear while cheering at races. Or on Halloween. Or wherever there is a shortage of is that a banana in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?  jokes. The banana debuted at the Ontario Summit Marathon a couple weekends ago, where I was an aid station volunteer. During races, I love to see anything that is weird or makes me laugh. So when I'm not running, I'm happy to be the weird one. Life is hard. Humans do some really fucked up shit to each other. And it's depressing to watch. I don't know how to open people's minds, hearts and arms and fill them with reason, kindness and hugs. But I do know how to be a banana and fill people's water bottles and hopefully make them laugh, even though they just ran uphill for 3 miles. It's not much but it's a start. After the race, some dude came up to me and said "You were really great at the aid station, thank you!" That alone made the $20 I spent on the banana totally worth it. And of course it is quite fun to go bananas on occasion.
With the toucan shorts, it was love at first sight. I am no fashionista. I like clothes that are, above all, comfortable. Bonus points for being able to run/climb trees in them and extra bonus points if they are weird/ridiculous. So the toucan shorts were a home run. But when they arrived in the mail and I tried them on, I had a twinge of regret. That my squats-done to cookies-eaten ratio wasn't much, much higher. The shorts And I say that as a trail runner who pees in the woods and changes in parking lots and regularly wears spandex. I thought that running had relieved me of the vast majority of my self consciousness. But the shortness of these shorts cannot be overstated (understated?). So I was faced with a dilemma. On the one hand (or should I say thigh?), I loved them. On the other hand, I wondered what people would think. Am I too old to wear these? Are my thighs too jiggly? Too pasty? But ridiculousness was calling me, and I had to heed the call. So I decided that if anyone has a problem with the way I look, it is exactly that: their problem. This is my body. It is built for running and hugging and ice cream ingesting. And since those happen to be three of my favorite things to do, I am lucky indeed. Life is too short not to rock the ridiculous short shorts. So the toucan shorts and I went to 5am Fit1 with Laura last Thursday. Under a fushia-orange-blue sunrise. In jungle-level humidity. Perfect toucan weather! And a funny thing happened. I wasn't self conscious at all. I forgot I was even wearing the shorts. (Pistol squats have a way of making you forget about everything except how bad you are at pistol squats). Except when I happened to look down and see a bunch of brightly colored toucans looking back at me. Then I just smiled. It's hard to be anything other than happy when you put on your silly shorts and start your morning outside with excellent company.

Thanks to Gustavo for the awesome pics!

So, my friends, the moral of this meandering story is: fill your life up with people and experiences and yes, sometimes even things, that you love. Toucan go bananas. I highly recommend it.

Lyric of the moment: "I'm flowing prose to cons and cons to pros. I'm like Toucan Sam when I follow my nose. I'm giving shouts to Gandhi, Gravy and King, his holiness and all enlightened beings..And more ink from my pen and more tears from my eyes. And more crimes are committed as I say these lines..." ~Beastie Boys "Flowin' Prose"

Friday, June 10, 2016

Fun things to do in the dark

I woke up this morning and everything hurt. Or rather, I woke up this morning because everything hurt. As if my body had become an alarm clock, rousing me with aches instead of "Awake My Soul" like my iPhone alarm clock does. I turned around on the bed, positioning myself into legs-up-the-wall pose and laid there for a few minutes. Then I got up, drank a lot of water and foam rolled. Well, mostly I just laid on the ground on top of the foam roller. I'm pretty sure that's how foam rolling works. Good job, I congratulated myself, lying on the ground is an important part of training.

Why all this lying around you ask? Well, July 23rd is fast approaching. And that is the day that I will try to run for 12 hours in the dark at Candlelight 12 overnight ultra. It will be like Christmas in July, where we'll find out if I am on the Nice or the Naughty list this year. Will I get the present of lots of miles and aid station candy or the dark black coal of terrible no good very bad failure? Only the Ultra Claus knows.

I do not know how to run for 12 hours overnight. (Or, more accurately, how to move forward for 12 hours. I assume there will be crawling at some point. Possibly some skipping if caffeine is involved.) But my goal in training has been to practice running on tired legs in the dark. This past Saturday I ran a hilly trail marathon, which was an excellent start to the whole tired legs thing. Then I ran Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings and did Fit1 on Wednesday night. This was in preparation for the main event: running loops at Corbett's Glen from 8:00-11:00 on Thursday night.

I don't know how to run for 12 hours, but I do know how to talk about it incessantly until people agree to join me on the nighttime running adventure train. So Mark, in his awesomeness, met me at my house a little before 8:00pm and we ran to Corbett's Glen. There was a car in the parking lot with a license plate that said 100ULTR. I got very excited that there was an ultrarunner somewhere in the park. We tried to think of some non-running related interpretations of the vanity plate, to no avail. Our brains saw signs of running everywhere. There were two other cars in the parking lot, one with a plate starting with FLT and another with a plate starting with GUU. Mark said Look, Finger Lakes Trail! and I said And that one is Gu! And living in a runner's paradise played in my head to the tune of Coolio's "Gangsta Paradise." Once on the trail, we ran into a guy with a huge camera who told us he was an ultrarunner from Ohio, here for work, and asked us about the trails in the area. We told him about Ellison, Mendon and the TrailsRoc app, and he said he knew Ron. Small world.  We also encountered a painter, a deer, some people out walking their dogs and kids, and a few trains.

About an hour in, it started to get dark enough to turn on headlamps. And then all of a sudden it was really dark. I was testing out my new Petzl headlamp, which is awesomely bright, though it did leave a red mark on my forehead. For the race, I may try to attach it to the front of my vest instead of to my head. After two hours of loopiness, Dave appeared at the trailhead with impeccable timing. Mark headed home and Dave ran loops with me for an hour, then I ran the half mile back to my shower/chocolate milk/bed. Infinity of thanks to Mark and Dave for telling me stories and keeping me moving out there.

I've come to find that the hardest part about night running is not actually the running at night. Once I start running, I'm wide awake and loving it. Running is my new favorite thing to do in the dark (since my most favorite thing to do in the dark is away in Afghanistan this year). It's the trying to fall asleep afterwards and the trying to be awake/functional at work part that's tough. I'm lucky to know so many people who think running for hours at any time of day or night is a good use of time. Now I just need to find a job where napping is considered a good use of time. Does anyone have a vacancy for a mattress tester/ice cream taster?

Lyric of the moment: "As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. I take a look at my life and realize it's the best.  'Cause I've been running and laughing so long. That even my mama thinks my mind is gone. But I ain't never crossed a trail that wasn't fly as shit. Making everyone who runs it feel legit. You better watch how you're talking and where you're walking. Or you and your homies might see something shocking. I really hate to trip but sometimes it happens, yo. Gotta get back up and keep going though. Be the kind of G the little homies wanna be like. On my feet in the night thinking this is the life. Spending most our lives living in the runners' paradise..." ~Me butchering Coolio's Gangsta's Paradise"

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Things that are awesome Thursday

Semi-weekly list of word hugs/awesome sauce:

  • I've sponsored a child in Bangladesh since 2012 through Plan International. This year they notified me that her village is doing so well they no longer need sponsorship! So I was assigned a new child to sponsor in Vietnam and they sent me a letter about her that said "Nu likes eating meat. She loves singing. She likes jigsaw puzzle. She likes playing tug of war." Which totally made me want to do puzzles and play tug of war.

  • So I just discovered that Netflix has like 87 seasons of Murder She Wrote. Which is the most terrible and best show ever. I mean, J.B. Fletcher's jogging outfits, you guys! She wears a towel around her neck, tucked into her matching sweatshirt/sweatpants ensembles! And makeup! Because who goes jogging without blue eyeshadow? No one. But I especially love how wherever she goes someone gets murdered. And then police detectives are all like sure old lady mystery writer, why don't you just go poking around all the crime scenes touching everything!

  • Yesterday morning's SAJ (Steven-Alison-Jen) run at Ellison Park featured a giant rainbow! And a giant snapping turtle! You can find a lot of awesome giant stuff in the woods!

  • My eternal (approximately) love for Pete. And my newfound love of composing ridiculous and terrible poetry to that effect:
I will love you forever.
Or at least until I die.
I don't know what happens after that.
So I can't make any promises.
But if there is some kind of afterlife or reincarnation or whatever,
I will love you there too.
Even if it's hell.
Or I come back as something weird.
Like a hippo.
(Hopefully not a mushroom. That would be tragic.)
Hippos kill the most people annually of any animal.
But if I were reincarnated as a hippo, I would only use my hippo powers for love and not for murder.
So yeah, basically I love you all the days.
Be it as a person or a hippo or some other energy form.

  • I am the soon-to-be owner of a banana costume and (lady sized) toucan print running shorts. Because if I make any mark on the world in my brief time here, I want it to be one of utmost ridiculousness.  

Lyric of the moment: "I have to step away sometimes, to see how much I love my life. And now I am grateful. If something's worth all my time, it's to make sure you know you're on my mind. And I will be there..." ~Gene Evaro "This Kind Love" 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Cayuga Trails Marathon Race Report: A series of increasingly terrible haikus

Taper Madness
Random aches and pains,
Thoughts increasingly inane,
Patience starts to wane

You'd think that taper would be a time of joy. You're running less, letting your body recover and rest before a big race. You'd think your body would be all, this is the best, this is amazing! But you'd be wrong. Instead, your (or at least my) brain gets all Why does my back hurt? And what is that weird pain in my groin? What if my leg falls off and I die, like less than a mile from the finish line? What size ice cream do I want? That one, the biggest one. No wait, do you have a child size? No I mean an ice cream cone the size of an actual child? Yes, I'll take that. The hardest part of a race may actually be the taper leading up to it. Too much time on your hands and not enough time on your feet. And it's easy to get trapped in a downward spiral of increasingly illogical thoughts. The internal cacophony of The Doubts, The Fears and Every Single One Of Your Failures is unrelenting. Until you start to run. And then everything is beautifully painful and painfully beautiful.

Let go of the "shoulds."
Eat everything at Moosewood.
I'd sleep if I could.

I drove to Ithaca Friday after work, checked into the hotel and went to dinner with Laura and Todd at Moosewood, where I  devoured black bean and sweet potato quesadillas, chips and guacamole. Sleep, as it often does the night before a race, proved to be elusive. I was a bundle of nerves and excitement. The anxiety stems from uncertainty more than anything else. I'd done the work - the hill repeats, long runs, strength training and miles of intervals on the stair climber. But racing is a crapshoot. Sometimes you have a good day, sometimes you have a bad day. When you're running for hours, anything can happen. And I know at some point it's going to hurt, so the anxiety is just fretting about the unknown extent of that suffering. Runners talk about their ideal "race weight" but I don't really have any goals in that regard. I run year round and my weight basically stays the same, give or take a few cookies. So race weight to me is more of a mental thing. I try to leave my expectations and ego at home. Because that shit is heavy and can really drag you down. Before a race, I have little pep-talks with myself: Brain, whatever happens, embrace and enjoy it. Body, I love you. Thank you for letting me do this. It's cheesy, sure. But cheese is good. And it works.

Saturday morning I woke up early, ate a bagel with almond butter and went to watch the start of the 50 mile race, which took off at 6am. Then I rode with Eric and Picasso to the first aid station to cheer everyone on. Eric dropped me back off at the starting line on his way to the second aid station and I hung around waiting/peeing approximately 17 times until the marathon start at 8am.

The Way Out: Start to Underpass Aid Station
This is beautiful.
But seriously, these trails.
Wow. This is the life!

The course is basically an out-and-back from Robert Treman State Park to Buttermilk Falls, about 12.5 miles each way, with a few deviations so it's not exactly the same route in both directions. The marathon course had an extra 1 mile loop before the first aid station to bring the distance up to 26 miles total. TrailsRoc runs the aid station at Buttermilk Falls, the turnaround point. And by runs, I mean totally rocks. I knew there would be a lot of friendly faces and beautiful waterfall views to look forward to, so I told myself all I had to do was run there and then run back. I followed Mark off the starting line and figured I would try to keep up with him for as long as I could. My back had been hurting all week, which was slightly worrisome, but luckily it didn't really bother me during the race. I was having a great time. These trails, I cannot overstate how beautiful they are. Single track and double track. Shady trails and fields of tall grasses. Roots to dance around. Logs to climb over (I was running with Mark, so naturally we made a lot of jokes about hard wood). Gorges and waterfalls. Dude, the waterfalls. It's like running through a series of postcards. Postcards filled with hills and stairs. And more hills and stairs. The one mile loop for the marathon was uphill. Of course. There was a bagpiper playing at the start of the loop and the sound followed us for the whole mile. I associate bagpipes with funerals because there were bagpipers at Papa's funeral (the first one I ever went to, when I was in fourth grade) and because no matter what song they play it sounds so somber and depressing. So I felt like we were on some kind of weird uphill funeral march. But a very scenic funeral march! I ran past the first aid station without stopping and only stopped briefly at the second aid station to get a couple peanut M&Ms and a piece of PBJ sandwich (I had plenty of water in my pack and had been taking a salt tab and eating half a Picky Bar every hour or so).

Happiness in the woods.
Photo by Steve Gallow

The Way Out: Underpass to Buttermilk
Run to Buttermilk.
Beware of The Lopata!
TrailsRoc: Best Ever!

The miles had been passing fairly quickly as Mark and I chatted and joked around. The most awesome part of this course is that you get to see a pretty constant stream of 50 mile runners going in the opposite direction (and later on, the 50 mile leaders going in the same direction), so it's like running a race while watching/cheering for a parade of super badass ultramarathoners, many of whom I'm lucky enough to know. The only thing is, I need to think of better/funnier things to say than "Nice job" and "Looking good." Mark helpfully suggested "Nice ass." Just after the Underpass Aid Station, the course goes through a creek that was waist deep, and the cool water felt amazing on my hot and tired legs. After more miles of hills and stairs, a nice road section where I could give my brain a rest and just run without thinking, and a long downhill, we arrived at Buttermilk, where there was a sign warning us "Beware: Lopata ahead." We stopped to refill our water, while Laura gave me some Ginger Ale and Dan Lopata heckled us with gems like "Keep running! What shoes are you wearing? RUNNING shoes! Get running!" Mark stayed at the aid station longer than I did, but I figured he would catch back up to me soon enough. I grabbed another PBJ square and an Oreo and ate them while walking up the Buttermilk Falls stairs. I was just past the halfway point and now all I had to do was run back to the start/finish.

The Way Back
Getting hot in here.
The carnage is everywhere.
Stairs. Stairs. Fucking Stairs.

I hadn't really noticed the heat until I left Buttermilk. Maybe it's because I was now by myself and no longer had the distraction of good company. Or because the temperature was now in the 80s. Luckily, I was built for hot, sunny days, so other than being sweaty (and probably terribly smelly), I felt fine.
And I say 'by myself,' but really I was never alone out there since every few minutes I would see other runners and friends. I got super excited when I saw Danielle as she was heading out to Buttermilk for the second time looking super strong, in full-on beast mode. And when I saw Sheila cruising along towards an epic 50 mile PR, on a bitch of a course and an inferno of a day, crushing it like it's nothing. And then when I saw O'Brien rocking the toucan short shorts (it's amazing what you can accomplish via limericks, ridiculous sartorial suggestions and peer pressure). At mile 20, my legs started to grow weary of all the climbs, but it was only mild soreness and nothing hurt, so I just kept chugging along. My brain was alternating between repetitions of "You gotta put in work, work, work, work, work, work, work" (from Fifth Harmony's "Work From Home") and "All the dirt you wander through" (From Mike Doughty's "All the Dirt"). In the later miles, I encountered some of the carnage from the heat. I gave a ginger salt tab to a woman hunched over on the side of the trail who said she'd been having stomach issues. Another woman told me how she was having trouble breathing because she'd bruised her ribs last week. I asked her how and she said "You're going to laugh. I did a long run and the band on my sports bra was too tight." We chatted a bit, then she wished me "Happy Trails" and took off. For the last 2 miles I followed a guy who, when I caught up to him, told me "I just went through a bout of dry heaving on that hill." Fun times. I felt extremely lucky that I was feeling pretty good in comparison. I mean, I was definitely tired and sweaty. But I felt strong and I was having a most excellent time playing in the woods. Especially after I got a blue Freezepop from an aid station. Let me tell you, there are few things better than running through the woods on a summer day eating a Freezepop.

The After Party
Finish. Hobble. Sit.
Sore. Happy. A day well spent.
Ice cream. More ice cream.

I got to spend 5 hours and 40 minutes running through the woods and wading through creeks. I got to talk to Pete, who unbeknownst to me was following my progress from Afghanistan. (I can't wait until he comes home so we can get back to doing this crazy shit together). I got an ice cream sandwich when an ice cream truck showed up at the park! Then I got to spend the rest of the day cheering for friends old and new. Friends who had good days and achieved new distance or time goals. Friends who suffered in the heat and still finished strong, with smiles on their faces and awesomeness in their cramping muscles. Friends whose races didn't go as planned but who gave it their all and went as far as they could. I am in awe of them and their epic feats of endurance and heart.  After everyone finished, Alison, Bob, Todd and I went to Ciao! for dinner (Their advertised "Black and beige motif" was underwhelming but their pizza was excellent) and to Purity for ice cream. And then I fell asleep full of carbs and happiness.

Thanks to Red Newt Racing, waterfalls, stairs and Freezepops for one hell of an adventure. And infinity of thanks to my friends who volunteered, spectated and ran their inspiring little asses off. I am so happy to know you. Let's keep this party going for as long as we can.

Lyric of the moment: "You can do a lot in a lifetime if you don't burn out too fast. You can make the most of the distance. First you need endurance. First you've got to last..." ~Rush "Marathon"