Speedwork Under a Full Moon

                                   Image courtesy of:

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Rising in the early morning dark has its benefits. When I set out in the humid air this morning, I was blessed to see the full Sturgeon moon. Since moving here, I don’t think I have really see one in all its glory until today.  I was lucky enough to have a regular monthly siting when I lived up North. Less artificial light and a more rural setting really spoiled me in that regard. The whole house would light up and I often would go outside for a little while just to look. In fact, the boys and I even went “owling” in the deep woods on a frigid and snow-filled January night. We had no need for flashlights to guide us. Incredible memory!

Forgive me, I digress…. Recently, I have felt much like the sturgeon itself, at least when it comes to running. I feel ancient, that’s for sure, but certainly not threatened or endangered as these unique fish once were. Still, I was in need of a comeback, much like them. I needed to take action. Yet, somehow I lacked the motivation to do it all by myself. So, imagine my delight when just 3 weeks ago, I came upon a group of people doing speedwork just one mile from my house! I was even more excited when they invited me to join them the following week. It turns out that the guy who coaches the group lives in the apartment complex next to my house and works at the running store where I buy my shoes! I have 2 weeks under my belt, and while getting up @ 4:30 to be ready for a 5:30 run is not everyone’s idea of fun, I really look forward to it. Today I was asked if I have a next race. I don’t. My goal is to get out of my running rut and feel better about myself and my body. If the work reveals a race to me, I’ll go with it. Right now, I’m just happy to be in the peace of the morning with just the moon as my guide.

 

 

 

 

 

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Mountain Oasis

 

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View of Mt. Lafayette from the deck of the house

We’ve just come off a 12 day trip to New England, most of which was spent in the mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire. I had been looking forward to the trip ever since we planned it in back in February. Not only were we to take up the challenge of a half-marathon in the heart of the Green Mountains, we were also reconnecting with our tribe-our children, sister, niece and closest friends.

Emily and I at the summit of Artist’s Bluff

I love the new life I am building with my husband. He makes me laugh every day; we are true partners in our relationship. I am grateful that I am in a situation where I don’t I have to prove myself with every breath I take. Also, I have really enjoyed exploring some parts of this new landscape in addition to re-establishing myself as an educator in a supportive and positive school community. But hiking and being in the mountains is one of the things I miss the most about living up north.

If you are neither a hiker nor a runner, it may be hard to understand the joy found in the challenge of a long hard run or a long hard climb. Or even the purpose of arising early in the morning to begin the trek! Although my half-marathon time was slow and the hills nearly impossible to run, the landscape raised me up and the weather cooperated by staying cool. I was so happy to be there! Rolling hills, farm houses, red barns, fields of green and friendly folk enveloped by misty mountains had a medicinal effect even during the hardest parts of the race.

One of the best cures for post-race muscle fatigue (besides yoga) is a good, solid, short hike. My husband and I chose the Sterling Pond Trail at the top of Smuggler’s Notch. At 3000′, it is Vermont’s highest trout pond. With a 1000′ elevation gain, it proved to be the perfect antidote to the previous day’s rolling roads. Slippery, wet rocks and muddy paths were rewarded by the view at the summit.

Sterling Pond, Smuggler’s Notch, Vermont

I knew this was only the beginning of finding my joy and, despite my aches and pains, I was ready for what the White Mountains had to offer us for the rest of the week.

Upon our arrival at the house in Franconia, we were greeted  by this view:

Mt. Lafayette on a sunny afternoon

My eyes welled up. I felt as if I was coming home. And indeed, home came to us in human form as well. My friends rented a place five minutes down the road and we shared many a meal and hiking paths together that week. My sons and stepdaughter arrived a few days later along with my sister-in-law and niece. We had girlfriends, boyfriends and other young adults added to the mix. At times, it felt like herding cats for hikes, but in a good way. Emily and my youngest  and his girlfriend (along with my sister-in-law) were always up and ready to go. And truly, everyone else was a good sport about heading out and attempting (and completing) the climbs.

We talked a lot about finding the joy in the challenge. For me, it isn’t only about reaching the summit, but in touching the earth along the way.

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Wildflowers across from Cannon Mountain

Being in the mountains makes it possible to be embraced by nature in ways that living here does not. The silence, the evergreen scents and sounds and the refreshing tingle of cool air are a reminder of how blessed we are to live on this planet and the need to preserve it.

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Arethusa Falls, Crawford Notch

 

Dew Point 76

 

Photo Courtesy of: dailyburn.com

Running is a road to self-awareness and reliance-you can push yourself to extremes and learn the harsh reality of your physical and mental limitations or coast quietly down a solitary path watching the earth spin beneath your feet

.Doris Brown Heritage

Early Saturday morning, my husband returned from a short run and said “Take it slow and walk before you have to.”  I packed my gummies in my back shorts pocket, took the icy water bottle from the freezer and made may way out for an 11 mile run. The air was thick and the trail was still.   The usual weekend warriors were out-none exhibiting their usual speed of feet nor swiftness of wheels. It was not hard to hold back. I let my mind wander as I dodged other walkers or runners. We  whispered “Good morning” to one another or simply smiled, nodding ‘hello’. This was work. At the 4 and 1/2 mile mark, I stopped, following my husband’s advice. My legs were just this side of tired. Heat has a way of making all parts of your body feel heavier. Even your breathing. Each intake feels as if I’m rowing, pulling through water. I resumed running, passing by a homeless man soundly sleeping on a park bench.  Rounding the bend, through the underpass, I noticed the newest street art- gorgeous murals covering the extra wide posts in brilliant reds and yellows. I was nearing the turn around point. A small part of me wanted to push myself further but I knew the long slog back would be a challenge to say the least.

I don’t recall how many more times I stopped to walk. I remember developing a strategy, however. Run up all overpasses and run all away across the long bayou. I made the overpasses but stopped short on the bayou, in need of gummies and the last of my water. The campground on the east side of the trail allowed me to replenish my water bottle before heading further north.  I made myself move-not propel-just lift my legs through Blossom Lake Park and towards another overpass.

The shade provided zero relief.  The breeze was non-existent. At this point, all I could do was talk myself into running from one point to another. The split in the trail. The telephone pole. The couple walking side by side.

I noticed my shoes were soaked and my shorts and shirt clung to me like a wet bathing suit. Everything was dripping from my body. Beads of sweat were flying into the air. I was out of water again. The last leg of this soggy session was upon me, though.  A walk through the park behind my house and then a short jaunt down my street brought me to my doorstep.

My body has had a tough time adjusting to this climate. So training for our upcoming half-marathon in July has been awful. Actually, I told my husband on Thursday night (after completely our weekly bridge repeats and, again needing to walk), that this will go down as the suckiest preparation of my running life.

Lucky for me, my husband is quite positive and consistently encouraging despite my complaining and near apathy about this whole process. He reminds me that I’m still out there doing it. And my father says all this heat will only help when we get up to the mountains of Vermont. I hope so!

It’s easy to make excuses NOT to do something or even to set goals. But I know the reward is coming. The journey continues.

 

 

 

Freedom of Movement

                                          Image: www.suggestkeyword.com

In my long running career, I have often been asked why I run. Or, are you training for something? ? Do you have goals? The answers have varied depending upon my age. In my teens, I was competitive. Therefore, I was ALWAYS training for races. In my twenties, I was either rebellious (refusing to run) or so injured it was impossible at times to even walk. In my thirties, I ran to get back in shape after my second son was born. In my forties, I was running to stay sane, struggling to function in a disintegrating marriage and an ugly divorce. I reached fifty. Free and forging new paths in my life and setting new goals that included competition once again, though never nearly matching the intensity of my teen years.

When I lived in New England, much of  my running took place in the early hours of the day, often in that space when it seemed darkest, minutes before sunrise. I would rarely see a fellow harrier. I didn’t mind and I always felt and was safe. These days, my route is different. We live on a  city park that abuts a bike and running trail.

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But sometimes I take the short drive to the beach and run with just the sound of the Gulf surf and forgiving sand.

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I run as early as I am able to safely do so. No dark starts here for a lone female. However, there are benefits to these delays. I see many more runners, walkers and cyclists. And the more I’m out on the trail, the more regulars I see. For a small town New England chick, it brings a sense of comfort as I continue to adjust to a more densely populated area.

And there’s a terrific variety of fleet footers out there as well. All doing their part to stay in shape, work on their goals and maybe even achieve a little peace of mind. One of my favorite groups to observe is the FAB 50 women who run on Saturday mornings. All shapes, sizes and ages out there working really hard while clearly enjoying the camaraderie. Whenever I see them, I am always brought back to the times when the sport was closed off to women. (Heck, I remember when many sports were non-existent for women!)  I know and understand the history behind the fight to participate in and create sports for girls and women and I appreciate the battles won, even more so as I get older. If it weren’t for the efforts of those unnamed many, none of us would be enjoying the right to discover and uncover parts of ourselves that we never knew existed.

Image: 9gag.com

It would be easy for me to write a political opinion or cite the landmark court cases and laws that allow me and other females to throw on our running shoes and shorts, enter races and compete against men, each other and ourselves. Simply put, this right to participate happened as a result of long struggles and hard won legal battles that in some instances seem to have little to do with running. But every single one of them is connected to each other and the present day independence from which women and girls continue to benefit.

Running gives a woman positive bodily integrity.  The sheer act of it is an example of how women should not be controlled by restrictive laws or narrow thinking that seeks to put us in our place or shames us into choices that someone else is making for us and our lives. Running restores broken spirits. Running returns control of one’s own life to the person it matters to the most-HERSELF.

So why do I run? I run to stay EMPOWERED. My goals? To remain a FREE and SELF-DETERMINED WOMAN. And what am I training for? MY LIFE.

This post has been churning for a while. The final push came after listening to Terry Gross’s Fresh Air interview with Gloria Steinem (ww.npr.org/2015/10/31/453029648/fresh-air-weekend-gloria-steinem-the-witches-carrie-brownstein), a heroine of mine since I was a teenage girl in the 1970’s. 

My Legs Will Never Be the Same

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I gripped my fiancé’s hand with such a fierceness that I almost felt like I was pulling his entire left arm out of its socket. We had completed a grueling half-marathon earlier that day and my feet finally gave out after imbibing and lamely tempting to rehyrdate with a thousand other souls at the post race festivities.  The tent and wine tasting tables were being broken down-a clear sign that the party was over. I had pulled off my running shoes in a desperate attempt to relieve the pain that was coursing through my lower body (despite my sincere efforts at numbing it through my many trips to the sommeliers “relief stations”!)

We were  making our way back to the car and to the sweet respite that Linda at Dreamgivers Inn in nearby Newberg, Oregon would be providing us. But it really all started back in February when my beloved had the idea to once again combine a half-marathon and our summer vacation. Being both lovers of the outdoors and good wine, Oregon seemed the perfect destination.  Fueled By Fine Wine promised to set itself apart from all other half-marathon events we had previously entered and run.

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And let me tell you, the course alone will be different from anything you may have previously experienced!   Think hills, vineyards, gravel roads, more vineyards, gopher holes, hills, hills and more hills and one last vineyard at mile 12.  Oh, did I mention the heat? An unusually warm day with a forecast of  92 degrees Farenheit. At the start, my fiancé remarked, “This makes the Mad Marathon look easy.” Surely, it looked that way since we immediately began climbing a steep hill which could have been more easily approached by crawling up it. Relief was soon found at mile one when we made a turn into our first vineyard. Hah! Not so much. Gopher holes galore and then the climb up and out and up again. At mile 2, my legs had a mind of their own as I began a running ascent of this hill:

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Our friend Eric doesn’t think the photo is accurate based on the angle of the shot ( I am standing at the bottom sir!), but I am sure you get the idea.  At this early juncture, I began to walk. My fiance’ continued his run and I gave up all romantic notions of running and finishing it together. But I was determined not to give in. Better to have a PW (personal worst) than a DNF (did not finish). So onward I chugged with others who appeared to be readjusting their racing strategy as well.  Run as much as you are able and hike the hills.  Purely survival in nature for this course. And the views are stunning! Many runners brought their cameras and were taking photos along the way. ( We waited a few days and visited the wineries that we passed on the course instead.)

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Even so, the going was rough. It was hard to separate myself from the searing pain on the outside of my thighs as I ran both up and down the roads and paths. When it became nearly impossible to move, that’s when I walked. And even though my pace was snail like I never felt that the course was endless. The miles ticked away quickly and with 5k to go, I met a lovely young woman who became my companion for the remainder of the race. Stephanie and I chatted about everything not related to running ( food, love, bits of our life stories) and encouraged each other through the thunder and lightning storm that appeared with a vengeance at mile 11. We finished together in a downpour with me looking very definitely worse for the wear!

My body was no doubt done in by the Dundee Hills. It took three full days to walk normally down the stairs at the inn. And I will admit that I lost it in a fit of tears on Monday afternoon (the day after the race). A moment of worry about aging and my continued ability to both compete and recover well.  A soothing bath back at Dreamgiver’s soothed my aching legs. And the rest of the week was spent enjoying early morning coffee on the front porch followed by a scrumptious breakfast.

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And there’s nothing like the hair of the beast to provide one with a full physical recovery. A  hearty hike up the ashen and snow covered (!!) paths of Mt. Hood took care of any remaining stiffness.

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Please don’t get the wrong idea. We did not summit this beauty; we leave that for the experts. But we did enjoy high altitude climb in the sun and a delicious late lunch at a local pub.

The memories of this vacation will live on in my heart and mind. But with each step I take in my future runs, I will carry the dirt of the hills with me.

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Shut Up and Run

Credit: www.heidiwestover.com

A few weeks back, my fiance’ and I  ran in a 12k race on what turned out to be a sun shiny spring morning. For the most part, I enjoy competing in these events regardless of the distance as they are one of the best ways to shake up one’s running routine and give yourself over to just plain hard work of physical exercise for a part of your day.

Running is meant to be a simple sport. No extra equipment is necessary in order to participate. I also like to consider runners to be humble creatures, generally speaking. After all, the race is really between you and the clock and perhaps your own mind. We don’t like to be fancy or flashy. So I guess that’s why I was overly annoyed when a group of runners showed up at the starting line with their health club’s over-sized flag and bellowing voices. “Ugh,  I thought, what a bunch of egomaniacs.”   Of course, they needed to be at the front of the pack as well. Right away, I knew that I would need to stay ahead of these creatures.

Well, the gun went off and I must admit that my irksome state was set for the race. Sure enough, the bantering banner carriers were loud and obnoxious. One woman clearly needed everyone to know that she was running a marathon the next weekend; that was absolutely necessary for her in order to qualify for Boston. She then proceeded on an even longer rant about the pros and cons of other marathon courses in the area using her best runner’s lingo, as if she knew it all. My finance’ made a snide comment to me signaling he’d had enough of  her boasting and we picked up the pace.  I don’t know about you, but I cannot take endless chatter in a race at all. It just seems out of place. The focus should be on the course and how you feel, period. And no one wants to hear the tin, tin, tin of your ipod either. For me, the sound is like nails on a chalkboard.  Hey, I know music can psych you up, but there is such a thing as keeping a song in your head!  Back in the old days, I used to blast my Fleetwood Mac album before I left the house. “Second Hand News” was the perfect song to keep my pace fast and furious. 

I guess you might say that I miss the straightforwardness of  racing. The real test is in your effort and ultimately your performance. Maybe even in the satisfaction of finishing even if you’re having a bad day. Like my dad used to say: “Put a number on and meet me at the starting line.”

The Magic of a Long Run

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One of my favorite parts of the week is Sunday morning. Actually, Sunday mornings when I am training for another half-marathon to be precise.  By the time I have laced up my shoes, I have already mapped out the run in my head. There is a kernel of excitement and an inner energy stirring in my brain. I feel almost twitchy in my muscles (stretched to near perfection from Saturday morning’s 90 minute marathon of hot yoga!).

I am what you call a running purist. I keep things simple. No doodads or hoohas of technology adorn my body. No solid foods for energy boosting during the run. Definitely water, though. I have been known to place water bottles at strategic mile markers along a route as I despise water belts (although I own one and have worn it from time to time) They interfere with my stride, really. I actually prefer a loved one to meet me along the course with liquid refreshment; it’s a great incentive to keep going!

That being said, there are times when I have too many thoughts spinning in my head and demons dominating my domain. Most of the time, a straight-on run with the sounds of nature give me peace. But on the rare occasion when music is a soothing solution, I confiscate my oldest son’s Ipod. You never know what you will find  when you listen, just as you never know how you’ll expect to feel as your feet hit the pavement and pound out mile after mile. The music is the best kind of mix. I can be cruising along and Wyclef Jean will pop on, only to be followed by John Coltrane and then Adele. Seventies rock, Dave Matthews, Lady Gaga, Brad Paisley and Frank Sinatra keep me company on my ever changing route.

On this particular Sunday, I chose a more challenging route than usual.  Of course, the area where I live does not lack for hills but the route I planned has more than its usual share. And to add to the pain, the last 3 miles were essentially uphill!  At times during a run, the most difficult parts of a course can reek havoc on my mental strength- most especially when I feel vulnerable or have a lot on my plate. And this is where my rare use of the Ipod comes in handy.

With 2.5 miles or so to go,  a favorite song of mine came on. Martina McBride’s “Independence Day” is a piece that gives me strength and makes me want to shout out loud.  Although I have not directly experienced the exact situation spoken of in the song, the theme certainly is the same.  The refrain, ‘let freedom ring’ is my anthem! And days or hours or even minutes when the devil of the past pokes me, this song lifts me up. I was so grateful for the timing. I was dog tired with fatigue and I had six more hills to climb. With each refrain, I was able to dig deep, lean in and lift my legs (needless to say, I replayed it!). With a mile to go, the hills were done and so was the Ipod.  The battery gave out just in time and I ran the last mile in perfect peace.

And really, this is all I need. Quiet and room to breathe. A means to slough off the negative energy that invades my spirit sometimes.  I haven’t felt as good on my subsequent runs this week as I did on Sunday, but that is okay. The mornings have been cool and beautiful with the sun rising earlier each minute. The birds serenade my miles.

I think of Sunday and dream of distance.