Archive for the ‘running’ Category

Rules for Ragnar and other relays

June 1, 2017
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chugging along Lake Ontario

The smell hit me and nearly made my eyes tear up: it was something acrid, like a solvent. Great, I thought, it’s impossible to hold my breath and run at the same time. Maybe the chemical in the air will kill me before some ax murderer steps out of the bushes and grabs me. (It happens, read this.)

This sort of fatalistic thinking is not normal for me, but nothing was normal that day. I was in the midst of a 36-hour relay race with people I didn’t know, in an unfamiliar place, it was nearing midnight and I was on a dark, desolate stretch of industrial road between factories with no one else in sight.

Compounding my growing panic was the following calculation: I was probably on the wrong road, headed in the wrong direction (what race director would send runners down an isolated, unlighted industrial road on the fringes of a city?). The course was sparsely marked and it would have been easy for someone to move the relay race’s last directional arrow, sending me to my death. Even better, I realized —  if I got lost in Toronto at midnight and couldn’t find my team of near-strangers, I wasn’t carrying any identification or money or a working cell phone (mine stopped functioning at the border). Great.

Doesn’t this sound like fun?

Believe it or not, I paid for this experience. I was doing one in a series of popular “Ragnar” relay races that each covers 180 miles (or so). They’re all over, this one being along the shore of Lake Ontario in Canada, ending at Niagara Falls. Six of us decided we could take turns running 4-9 mile portions, each covering a total of about 30 miles in 36 hours. Other teams had 12 people in 2 vans, each covering approx. 15 miles.

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Obviously I survived being on this side of Toronto.

However… in the 6 years since I ran my first Ragnar (Greenwich Conn. to Boston) the emphasis has apparently shifted from running to a silly group bonding exercise on wheels. It’s a trap. My observation is that lots of people get sucked in by the party atmosphere, the option of wearing silly costumes like tutus and viking hats, decorating their vans, as well as buying all sorts of Ragnar branded crap to show that they’ve done one of these expensive weekends … and the running is secondary.

That’s not the way it works.

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Viking hats, how original.

Oftentimes the “bonding” experience flops when people are tired, cranky, and wishing they hadn’t bought into this trip. The fun part of spending two days in a van with 5 other people lasts for about the first 4 hours, and after that you need to focus on running. Sadly, lots of people are not prepared to deal with the less-fun parts of completing their portion.

Here are some suggestions to make your decision to run a long relay race go smoothly:

No smelly food in the van: it’s one thing to share the aroma of your favorite dish with those around you, it’s something else entirely when the smell is amplified by your moist breath when you fall asleep. Nix the jalapeno chips and garlic chicken in favor of bland, energy-rich food like bananas. Please.

Control your mess: before the race I saw a great article about giving each person a bin for clothes and shoes to limit the piles of cast-off gear that others had to climb over between seats. Whether that might work in practice is still unknown to me, because our van devolved from orderly to chaotic, leaving us crawling across seats layered in clothing and others unhappy about people falling asleep on our stuff..

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Van management and navigation should be required courses.

Train the driver: Part of the issue with my team was the isolation of running an hour through unfamiliar territory with the same misgivings I described above. There were several desolate stretches on this race. However if your van actually stopped midway on each leg or otherwise accompanied the runner when possible, thoughts of axe murderers might be alleviated.

Stop: Part of getting cranky and uncomfortable was the lack of facilities. Filthy port-a-potties were easy to find, but running water and actual soap was elusive. With a little planning and flexibility, everyone would be happier using a Dunkin Donuts/Tim Horton’s bathroom (and getting hot coffee) once in a while. We didn’t do this often enough.

Change: dry clothes make a huge difference in a runner’s attitude and comfort. Strip off the wet layers when you’re sitting in the van waiting for your next running leg. Bring warm layers even if you don’t think you’ll need them (our weather turned cold and rainy).

Plan for priorities: Costumes and markers and group t-shirts are not even secondary to logging training miles. Things like 18557438_1827871270863859_1406266920653950139_nappropriate food, access to your stuff, and small comforts (like coffee) become far more important once the race starts. These are the important things to plan for, as well as having a fallback if someone gets hurt and can’t run.

Van necessities: Get a vehicle with separate controls for heat and ventilation from front to back. We had a van with lots of room (for lots of crap) but temperature was controlled on the dash only, and windows only opened at the far ends (front and back). Discomfort and noxious smells resulted in further unhappiness.

 

Resist the urge to succumb to Ragnar’s increased commercialism. Do you really need to pull out your credit card at a (lousy) transition area and buy a hat, sweatshirt, or souvenir with the Ragnar logo on it? Really? Why not withhold that additional cash until the race director(s) supply decent (clean) facilities, frequent and reliable route markers, or, God forbid, a snack for runners along the way. That way, when you get to the finish line and find that they don’t give you so much as a freaking free beer and burrito you don’t feel like so much of a chump for buying their brand along the way.

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There were no “extras” for the runners — no hot coffee, power bars, and not even a free beer at the end — but they’d take your money for branded crap even at a transition area in the middle of the race.

Be honest: are you in it to push your physical limits, to test yourself, or are you in it for the silly costumes and party atmosphere? Think about it. If it’s the latter, do a 5k. Don’t screw up another person’s budget and training just so you can wear Ragnar gear and say you were part of a team.

Agony of the feet

March 12, 2017

There’s a phobia for everything. Podophobia is fear of feet. Agliophobia is fear of pain. So I have Agliopodophobia, I guess. And the headache to go with it.

Some runners have shin splints or sore knees. I have feet that have morphed and changed over my 40ish years of running. They no longer conform to traditional running shoes, and shoes that worked in the recent past have been discontinued, so finding the right pair is an endless cycle. The pain issues are kept at bay when I’m home chugging around my usual trails and cross training on my bike or swimming to keep from wearing my feet out, but right now I could use some relief.

It’s with great irony that I write this as Nike unveils the shoe that’s supposed to help the most elite runners in the world complete a marathon in less than two hours. That’s great, but what kind of resources is the shoe giant expending to keep over-50 runners on their feet a few more years? We’re certainly a bigger demographic than those twiggy Kenyans who defy gravity.

So, this is what’s on the floor next to my workspace.

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Worst part is that they’re all rejects, collected within a week. I had high hopes for each that they’d solve my issues and allow me to keep hitting the pavement. So far, no dice. I even went off the reservation for the Altra Impulse (yellow/pink ones) which look like “corrective” shoes of a bygone era. I had such hope — I waited for their delivery with desperate anticipation — but sadly their weirdly exaggerated square toe shape just didn’t do the job.

Not shown are the Hoka Cliftons that I wore for a couple weeks then sold online when they caused one of my toenails to violently detach from my foot. That wasn’t good, but other than the toenail they mostly didn’t hurt my feet, so I kind of liked them. They’re the kind with almost clown-like huge soles, called “maximal” cushioning. It was a new feeling for me to run a good 8-10 miles one day and not have sore feet the next day (other than the one toe that was in pretty constant agony), so the Hokas had some redeeming value.

The reason for this exercise in footwear testing is that there’s a race event on my schedule this spring that I already have something like $300 invested in. I don’t want to miss out on training and I’m actually enjoying “long” runs again (long for me). I’ve figured out the right mix of Tailwind to avoid dehydration and cramping (which is HUGE), started getting some speed work in on short run days… it was all lining up for me until I had to admit I couldn’t wear the Hokas any more. Back to square one, and no running for a week as I waited for new shoe orders to arrive.

Don’t tell me to check online reviews — I’d catch holy hell if Someone knew how much time I’ve spent trying to research the right shoe. Forget the online gurus and comparison guides and “best of the year” articles. It all comes down to how it feels on YOUR foot, which today meant blowing most of a Saturday trying on one pair after another.

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Apparently after working my way down the above pictured wall of shoes today IN EACH OF THREE DIFFERENT STORES, the simple request for shoes that fit and don’t harm my feet may indeed be elusive. It’s strange that New Balance makes great trail shoes that work for me (Leadvilles) but it’s been such a challenge to find NB road running shoes that fit right (note the purple Vazees in the “rejects” photo — never even wore them across the living room!). There were even Nikes and Asics in the mix during a full day of running shoe shopping today, and I haven’t worn those brands in many years.

I’ve thought about keeping a spread sheet of all of the different types of running shoes I’ve had — or remember having — so I don’t go back to bad ones that didn’t last or caused problems. It’s a waste of time though because manufacturers are always coming up with new styles and materials.

Here’s my rating:
“fresh foam” soles that everyone is selling: good if there’s enough in the right places. not everyone is a heel-striker and the foam is too thin under the ball of the foot in so many shoes

stretchy mesh uppers are a great addition to shoe options, especially when paired with fewer stiff design components that rub against the foot over long distances (even some Asics have bonded designs rather than their old stiff style on the sides as shown in photo below)

integrated tongues that are seamlessly part of the upper rather than a separate piece sewn in — fantastic!

 

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I love running shoes, but I love running in them most — not spending a beautiful Saturday schlepping from one store to the next, hoping to find something adequate and not painful.

In the end, I forked over an extortionate amount of money at a specialty running store after trying on at least 10 pair and listening to the advice of a saleskid who wasn’t born until I’d been running 20 years. I took the shoes home and did 6 miles in them.. and will probably take them back tomorrow. The struggle is real.

Inspiration for propulsion

December 12, 2016

The pond iced over last night. All morning I sat in my sunny porch and ruminated about getting outside, but the sight of the ice and thought of frigid temperatures were holding me back. Plus, there was sad news online: a guy I “knew” only through Facebook had died. It was not unexpected, but his passing added significant weight to my decision to run today.

His name was Darrell Henry, and he lived in Arkansas. He was a runner and an inspiration to a lot of people all over the world. Darrell had suffered many physical challenges: a brain tumor, significant bouts of cancer and related complications, plus removal of a large part of his intestine. But he never stopped running, or wanting to. He was very open and frank about his ailments and his ongoing treatment. Hundreds of people knew when he had chemo, when he went back to the hospital for fluids, how he struggled to keep food down in the last few weeks, how the once-strong runner struggled to stand and walk.

In recent months I’ve also watched someone close to me go through cancer treatment. Driving to radiation appointments was all I could do to help. The disease as well as the treatments can be physically and psychologically damaging but now I grasp the importance of finding a way to look past the immediate treatment and pain, to have something like running to look forward to. If you stop making plans, I guess, you stop living.

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Friends of his made t-shirts with this logo on it.

Darrell had been a marathoner with great philosophical insight about the act of running, plus a burning desire and need to run. He brought together a great variety of people who enjoyed his quips and took inspiration from his experiences. I often had to reconsider my petty excuses for not lacing up my shoes when he’d post something like this:

“The best remedy for throat, inner ear and jaw pain from chemo? Hill repeats. Find a steep hill and run up and down that thing till the pain from the act overshadows the pain from chemo. Punish yourself harder than life can, and life will cease to cause you fear.”

One woman posted a long exchange she had with him in which he described a terribly difficult race with cold winds and hills — while he was having chemo treatments that made him ultra sensitive to cold. He thought about laying in a ditch out of the wind, he said, but instead used the wind to pull himself to the top of the hill. “I did what I advise others to do,” he wrote. “Fall forward one step at a time until you’re finished. That’s running isn’t it?”

Here’s a post of his I found that pinched my heart, because we all have those trails we dream of escaping to, but he had so many more reasons to want to escape the confines of his medical bondage: “In the past week we discovered I have a blood clot that nearly affected the entire length of my left arm. Fairly common with chemo, plus it happens with ports. Just part of the game. A few days later I developed an intestinal obstruction … I can’t exert myself in any way for a week or two because of the clot, so I’m doing something I did in the hospital following my colectomy. Closing my eyes and daydreaming of a trail in the national forest that I love to run. I’ll be back there soon.”

My struggle has always been mental: overcoming the comfort of my status quo, like putting on multiple layers of shirts and socks to go out on a cold day. His, I realized, was the opposite, it was making his damaged body do what his mind never stopped wanting.

So I went out to my favorite trails today and enjoyed a beautiful run with Darrell in mind, like thousands of other runners who knew him. I have so little to overcome and so much to be thankful for. The colors may be dull this time of year but the feeling of strength in my legs and air in my lungs made this one to treasure. It was better than falling forward one step at a time by a long shot.

I miss winter

April 8, 2016

It’s not a popular statement to make, I know. Nor will friends sympathize when it’s revealed that I was swimming in warm ocean waters off Florida for a couple weeks in March. But I miss winter, I really do.

April sucks, there just isn’t another way to put it. We had snow last weekend and a monsoon yesterday. The temperatures are soaring into the 40s for the weekend, a good 10-15 degrees below normal for this time of year. Spring keeps making promises and breaking them.

(above, exploring Ames Nowell State Park in Abington for the AMC hiking book)

If I had a choice between two adversaries, I prefer the one that’s more direct and perhaps predictable. That’s why winter is better than spring: you know it’s going to be damned cold, so you’re mentally prepared to have your face stung and your nose hairs frozen when you step outside. There’s little guessing at what to wear, there’s no hunting around for gloves that are only needed for a few minutes one morning a week because in winter you need them every time you go outside. Which is why I own dozens of pairs of gloves.

More reasons:

  • frozen ground that supports my bike vs. tire-sucking mud
  • trails that are unbroken vs. the unpredictability of flooded streams that are much more difficult and time consuming to cross
  • layers: putting them on and taking them off — and carrying those that are shed. ugh.
  • black flies: they’re coming. and there’s nothing you can do about it.
  • visibility: do we really need leaves when we’d rather enjoy the full, 20-watt-bulb strength of the sun this time of year?
  • animal tracking*
  • the trail race I signed up for is happening way too soon, and it’s going to be a muddy, layer-carrying, cold, why-did-I-do-this experience

*April is so .. equivocal. It’s a little of this and a little of that. In April I won’t be skiing in the woods, finding coyote tracks that, hmmm, are just fresh enough to make me look over my shoulder and make my skin prickle with anticipation and fear.

(above, views from the Mt. Major winter hike)

Also, this winter I had a great hike in 32 degree weather: Mt. Major, south of New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee. The conditions were just right to make me want to keep moving yet enjoy the distant views of the lake and dream about going back in summer when the blueberry bushes that cover the summit will be bursting with fruit. I wanted to go back and do more of the 52 with a view (see map view here) during the winter — but I ran out of time. It was a much better experience than my attempt to bag the Kinsmans in the snow, which turned out to be a lesson in humility.

(When I saw these photos of my bike leaning against trees I thought twice about posting them.. but I was so juiced about riding in the snow that I actually did a lot more riding than just posing it for photos. A bonus about winter riding: I can tell when I’m going in circles because of the tracks!)

There was sadness seeing my skis in the corner of the living room when I got home from Florida. It felt like they were accusing me of abandoning them, of cheating winter. Now I’m having second thoughts.

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I can’t wait for June, when I’ll be able to complain about the heat.

 

 

It’s the mind that matters

November 15, 2014

My spinning instructor was so nice to us last week. “Don’t worry about it, this won’t be a big hill day,” she said. “We did that on Tuesday. Today will be easy.”

That’s exactly what I needed to hear. But man, what a liar!

Fifteen minutes later I was drenched in sweat and gasping for breath as she told us to slow down, get off the bikes and get our weights for rows, crunches and lunges. I glanced at my odometer — we’d already done nearly 8 miles and my aerobic threshold was roadkill a long ways back.

The great part is that her psychology totally worked on me. I KNEW it wouldn’t be an easy class. I don’t want to go to an easy class. But lie to me and I’m good with getting my ass kicked. After a sorta easy summer, I really need this. I gotta wear a bathing suit in February again, for God’s sake.

Like many women in (cough) middle (cough) age (argh!) I’m in a duel to the death with creeping deadly assfat, and thus far it’s a draw. I’m fighting so much more than cellulite, biology, and age — assfat also has human instinct on its side. When I try to get ready for a run my instincts kick in and distract me with a million little things I have to do that would keep me in the house until it’s too late to go. Then the first mile or two are so unpleasant that I really have to crank up the ipod to plow through the ancestral voice in my head telling me to go home, pig out on whatever is left by the fire in the cave and hibernate until the woolly mammoths come back from the grasslands.

the truth is, very few women can actually embrace their curves -- the rest of us are locked in a duel to the death

the truth is, very few women can actually embrace their curves — the rest of us are locked in a duel to the death

Working out is something like 40 percent physical and 60 percent mental. My running brain is like a squirrel on crack telling me I should stop, it’s not necessary to run without a raptor chasing me; my feet hurt, my stomach is queasy, this sand really isn’t fun to slog through, etc etc ad infinitum. I have to remember that voice is my assfat trying to get the upper hand. Psychology Today agrees for the most part, saying we’re wired to avoid discomfort, even if we know it will result in a reward (such as not being embarrassed to wear my bikini in -gulp!- two months). Runner’s World says you’ll run better if you think about your form rather than the random voices in your head reminding you of something more important you should be doing.

If it’s this difficult for me some days (and all joking aside I LOVE working out, cycling, running etc once I get going) I can’t imagine what it feels like for someone who’s uncomfortable taking the first step. So if a new outfit helps, or a hot playlist on the ipod or uploading to endomondo and comparing with friends, it’s important to find that wedge you can put between yourself and staying inside and immobile.

I’ve figured out  if I can get myself to the gym on my toughest days, it’s a different story. At the gym I can’t just stand there, I have to DO something. And showing up at a class introduces competition into the equation — I look around and think, I can’t slack off and let that guy cycle faster than me or do more burpees. There’s also a nice variety of classes to mix things up and keep me working. Just when I think I’m doing pretty good I go to a class like tonite’s Boot Camp and realize (shit!) that I can still get my butt kicked in a “simple” class (we did five things — mountain climbers, jack knives, pushups, burpees and overhead presses — for an hour!).

For a solo runner/biker/whatever, going to a class is weird but really effective for drowning out the assfat voice in my head. It gives me motivation and momentum to keep that endorphin rush going. Needless to say, I never average over 20 mph on my bike when I’m out riding alone (ha, barely went that fast in my last race) so classes really motivate me to work hard and consequently improve my performance when I am out by myself.

After all, there are only a couple women on the face of the earth who can actually embrace (and profit from) their assfat, including the butt that broke the internet a couple weeks ago and the girl who sings about her “bass.” I had to laugh when Mike said (with great surprise) “hey, is she actually singing about her BUTT?” Yeah, sweetie, and you’ve only heard the song ten times a day for months.

OK enough for now — I have to get off my BASS and go for a run!

A family in motion

September 29, 2014

There was a long straightaway around mile 3 of the race, and I was finally starting to think I could finish this thing, my first Olympic distance triathlon.

Then I saw them. Oh God. My parents were walking along the street opposite the runners. Really. They’d made their way, 50 miles from home, into this giant, poorly marked state park on a hot sunny day, to cheer me on in a field of 100-plus.

Like a 15-year-old caught with a red solo cup at a party, I turned to the guy running next to me and said, “What are my parents doing here?”

I’d tried to be vague about the race. I tried to discourage their curiousity. I said, “It’s way down in the park and I don’t know if you’ll be able to drive in, and I don’t know about parking or how you’ll find me. Why don’t you just go to my house and sit on the porch and watch the boats on the lake instead?” But there was no stopping them.

For the next 4 miles I had flashbacks of my mother shoving a peanut butter and honey-smeared rice cake in my mouth between field hockey practice and a race when I was a freshman in high school. She was onto something because that styrofoam-dry platform and gag-inducing topping propelled me through a 10k. I remembered her entering me in a 10k before I had any grasp whatsoever of the distance (maybe age 12?) and nearly got lost along the way because I didn’t know the route and basically followed people who looked like they were running too. And how she’d gamely participated on a sprint triathlon team (our biker) something like 10 years ago when she was closer to an age divisible by “7” (shhh!).

mom the triathlete, second from right

mom the triathlete, second from right

Back then my father loved the fact that I’d finished second to the rich kid who had a private running coach. He and I went through a running phase when I was about 10, me trotting along behind him on the dirt roads near our house. Swimming with him was better, he’d throw us over his shoulder to dive into deeper water (and he took us to the beach after work when there was no lifeguard to tell us what we couldn’t do). Too bad he didn’t drill me on laps, I would really appreciate that now when I have to keep to the outside of the swim course or be run down.

We bought them matching bikes about 25 years ago, and they were thrilled. This was to be their retirement activity (outside of cheering on grandkids at various soccer fields, softball games and freezing cold hockey rinks). Since then they’ve probably been on every bike trails in New England. I think they’ve worn out and replaced three or four sets of bikes. Last spring they showed up to do the canal path with me and completely amazed me with their speed and comfort level riding through crowds of people. They’re not ready for rocking chairs yet.

 

not slowing down

not slowing down

So I was the only runner today finishing the race with her parents cheering like crazy on the sidelines. And they both took pictures. The the questions started: why does that guy’s bike already have shoes on the pedals? can I carry that for you? did you get a t-shirt? aren’t you going to eat something? how early did you get here this morning?

Imagine what I might have missed if I had done this alone.

We walked to the transition area. “Wow,” my father said, “have you ever seen so many bikes in a lot like that?”
“Yes, I was in there with them a few years ago!” Mom reminded him.

Wait, Dad has to take a picture of all the bikes (he uses disposable cameras for heart-stopping images of antique trucks and stuff).

Then we walked to the lake and I jumped back in. The cold water felt really good this time, nearly 4 hours after the plunge the race started with in the morning. They sat on a picnic table and watched. For a few minutes I felt like the 10 year old again, showing them how I just learned a new stroke.

As I close in on an age easily divided by “5” I really appreciate that these two set my life in motion, literally. They haven’t stopped and I won’t either.

35,000 guests, what a party

April 21, 2014

Hopkinton-20140421-02828If you’re thinking about throwing a marathon and inviting more than, say, 35,000 people, first you’ll want to make your town a complete fortress* —

Then, put up your biggest circus tents (which still won’t hold all of the partygoers)… and get an early start.

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Because once you open the floodgates there’s no going back and rearranging the place settings.

Be sure there are lots of .. um .. facilities and stuff. Because they’ll need it.

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Then they’ll run away and leave a mess. A REAL mess.

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AN EPIC mess. (Thanks to volunteers the cast off clothing gets donated to charity!)

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Fortunately many are nice people who say “thank you” a lot. Even when you’re not doing much.

So they’ll clog things up for a while on their way out of town. Make that a few miles worth of clogging…

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Hopkinton-20140421-02826And leave us once again to our own devices.

If we didn’t have a sense of humor about all this it wouldn’t be worthwhile (which applies to the cop I worked with this morning at the athlete’s village who innocently said, “This has to be the safest place on earth today, there are so many cops here we’re bumping into each other.” Then he told me how much some were making for overtime on a holiday and I’m still reeling..)

*oops, about the fortress: I wasn’t screened by security until I had spent 6 hours in contact with thousands of people and walked a half-mile back toward my car among the crowds.. you’d think, for what they’re spending

What a great tradition! Let’s do it again next year!

Happy Flu Year to you

January 1, 2014

A couple days inside with a flu is enough to make anyone feel crappy. Particularly during the post-holiday period. Add to it that today’s New Year’s Eve and we’ve got the formula for a sorry ass situation in the making.

life feels this way sometimes

sometimes I’m just not feeling it

But I decided to turn that frown upside-down! Yessirreee.

First, I let my phone battery die in order to avoid all those happy party shots and new year’s greetings (or worse yet — if none are texted to me!). Then I dug out my calendar and decided to tally up my notes for the year. Turns out I enjoyed runs, skating, skiing, snorkeling, hikes, mountain biking, SUP, swimming, kayaking, fishing, yoga, spinning classes and weight lifting an average of 18 times a month. And I didn’t even count a couple of trips when we were just enjoying ourselves on auto pilot.

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I’m glad I kept this calendar of ups and downs through 2013 because I might have just assumed —  influenced by the chill and ache fluctuations over the past couple days — that the year averaged on the sucky side. Upon closer inspection, I see notes about beach days and remember SUP’ing for hours around Narragansett RI. Things like “90 min bike S.Woodbury/run around pond/swim” go a long way to ease the discomfort of sitting on the couch wrapped in a blanket. And then there’s the mid-July day that’s marked “All Day Adventure on the Ammonoosuc” and it’s impossible to discount the year as a complete suckfest.

No day is truly that bad when I’ve spent an hour or two out in it. Tomorrow I’m starting the year with one resolution: to improve my average.

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”
John Muir

An imperfect season

December 22, 2013

Running in winter has so many challenges: early darkness, roads narrowed by snowbanks and unpredictable weather.

Today I saw a couple running alongside traffic on a busy road (no sidewalks). They were probably training for the marathon in four months, God help them. As much as my body wants to run in the cool weather, my mind is aware of the dangers. Yet a few hours later I was doing it too, combining my ability to screw things up with a burning desire to get lost.

I should pause here and give thanks that I didn’t get drawn into training for the next Boston Marathon because of last April’s bombs. It really wouldn’t have helped or proven anything — except perhaps my ability to act impulsively. No, I have already secured a place as a volunteer, I’ll let others with more knee cartiledge brave the course. If I were running it, I’d be doing a LOT more of this slushy, un-fun training than I’d like.

Woonsocket turned out to be the unlikely location of today’s snafu. It’s because I wanted to run on the beach yesterday but it was high tide (makes perfect sense, right?) — the longer the urge to run is held in check, the more likely I am to make stupid decisions about where and when to run.

the beach I imagined running on ...

the beach I imagined running on …

versus where I ended up...

versus where I ended up…

So, why Woonsocket? I wish there were a coherent answer. Blame my GPS for sending me to the center of that post-industrial mess when I was trying to get to North Smithfield. I envisioned a run alongside the Blackstone River and had checked the website of the Greenway there that seemed perfect — offroad, a good length (like 10 miles!), not far away, not in traffic..

Instead I was in a disjointed, unsigned area where I could see the river but could only imagine a greenway path. So I went in search. Ended up at a power plant on a dead-end street. Creepy, the perfect setting for a slasher movie. Went the other way and found a park that appeared to mark the beginning of the greenway (hello, maps, has anyone heard of maps??), okay, despite it being an unplowed slushy mess I was going somewhere. Alone. Nobody else around. Earphones, check — yup, I was dumb lost runner bait for anybody who was bored and wanted to steal a smartphone.

The river was attractive here, as long as I didn’t turn too far to the right or left where industrial plants lined the banks.

slushy but not completely unattractive

slushy but not completely unattractive

I turned around at 5km (thanks, Endomondo .. I think I’m addicted) near the really pretty holding tanks shown above.. wouldn’t a little colorful graffiti do those a world of good? I figured I’d try the other direction a bit to add a few miles… but couldn’t find the path that way either. Technically, that doesn’t mean I was lost, right?

there's almost no avoiding it, winter running is wet and dangerous

there’s almost no avoiding it, winter running is wet and dangerous

So I ended up running through Woonsocket’s blighted streets, over blackened snowbanks and through muddy puddles.It was ugly, but I got my miles done. Why do cities have such an issue clearing sidewalks, are they just betting that the temps will go above 40 every few weeks and wipe it all out? Ahh, the joys of winter running. I’m so glad it’s optional this year.

Maybe I’ll return in summer, with printouts of all of the little segments of the greenway that are offered online. No snowbanks then, and a little more daylight to aid in the search. Because I’m a glutton for punishment.

Tiptoeing around the seasonal bend

November 14, 2013

Fall in New England is spectacular: running on trails of bright yellow leaves and vivid orange pine needles. Rounding a bend on a trail to find a tree on fire ahead — wait, that’s just Mother Nature messing with you, it’s another amazing tree turning color. Pretty soon, you’ve run an hour and barely noticed because the beauty of your surroundings is so distracting.

Sometimes I forget how beautiful fall can be here

Sometimes I forget how beautiful fall can be here

Mother Nature is not subtle

Mother Nature is not subtle

view from my desk

view from my desk

Hitting the trails is fantastic this time of year of course, except that the leaves can disguise rocks and stuff, making it a little exciting. I went back to some of the trails I used to ride a lot in Rocky Woods a few weeks ago and had one of those sudden “oh crap!” moments on a fast downhill that was littered with loose rocks under the leaves. Rocks in Rocky Woods, who’d’a guessed?

But those obscured obstacles are of particular concern this fall. I hadn’t been to one of my favorite haunts in months (well, yeah, we’ve been traveling but) because I was injured last time I ran there. Fortunately it was summer, in the afternoon, and the sprain didn’t necessitate calling in a rescue ‘copter. Limping back to my car sucked, but not nearly as much as staying off that foot did — no running at all — for more than a month. I’d only been injured once, about a decade ago, and it’s a sobering experience. Made me feel like Time was tapping me on the shoulder.

Running is a great way to clear my mind, as long as that euphoria doesn’t backfire on me. I went for a little jog around Halfway Pond one weekend, enjoying the solitude of a football Sunday (which only elevates the superior feeling of not sitting in front of a TV stuffing my face) and –oops– I only had about 45 minutes of daylight left — right about the time I realized that euphoria-induced ADD got me  lost on trails on the back side of the pond. But I refuse to believe it’s possible to get too much of a good thing, so I just ran a little faster. God, it was beautiful. How soon can I go back?

Halfway Pond solitude

Halfway Pond solitude

Lost meant I had to run this particular stretch about 3 times before I figured out what I was doing wrong

Lost meant I had to run this particular stretch about 3 times before I figured out what I was doing wrong


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