Saturday, April 30, 2011

Some Days You Just Don't Have It...

...and today was one of those days. I tried to run 10 miles. From the beginning, it felt like I was running with a ball and chain around my leg. At mile six I had to stop and take care of a gut emergency in the bathroom of a medical clinic. Once I finished there, I started running again...but failed to hit the right button to re-start my Garmin and didn't realize it for what I think was about a half-mile. So I re-started it then, hoping to soldier on, but in the end, disheartened and still dragging despite the lighter tummy, I gave up at about 7.5 miles.

It's the first time in months that I failed to complete a run as planned. I'm not sure why it happened, but it was probably a combo of factors: poor sleep this week (my kids are loving the trip, but not the being away from their own beds part of it); poor eating this week; 15 miles last weekend; and (ironically) no cross-training, which keeps my engine humming--I just haven't managed it between all the visiting and other non-routine activities away from home.

Not meeting a training run's goal always puts me in a grumpy mood. When I got back to my mom's house (we're in Columbia again after returning from Macon on Thursday), it took some guacamole and a mug of hot tea to make me feel sort of normal again. Though I know today's run doesn't bode well for my return to altitude, I'm looking forward to getting back to Boulder and our normal routine.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

I'm a ZOOMA Colorado Ambassador!

Well, folks, I've added another race to my 2011 calendar. But this is so much more than a race!

I am going to be serving as a ZOOMA Colorado race ambassador for the next few weeks, culminating in the runnning of the ZOOMA Colorado Half-Marathon and 10K in Colorado Springs on July 17. I've already registered for the half. My duties come down to two things (both of them fun). One is leading training runs on most of the Saturdays between now and race day. My runs will probably be in the Boulder area, but other ambassadors will be leading runs as well in other Front Range spots. The second part will be recruiting people to run either the half or the 10K.

Guys can enter this race (and last year around 150 did), but the target audience is women of all ages. Here's what the site has to say about ZOOMA's mission: "Imagine a powerful sea of women on the move--encouraging fellow runners and celebrating personal running triumphs.  Picture a post-race party and expo all wrapped up in one memorable 'after-party expo' where these strong goal-oriented women come together for well-deserved partying and pampering.  This is ZOOMA Women’s Race Series presented by New Balance."

Each ZOOMA race also partners with a great charity. Our race charity will be the Got Your Back Network, which works to help and support the families of those serving in the military. GYBN works to bring some brightness, joy, comfort and encouragement to military families who feel adrift or are facing a difficult time in their lives through a variety of special events, activities, mentoring and guidance services.

The Colorado race is just one in the ZOOMA series (others are in Austin, Annapolis and Atlanta). So if you can't run with me on July 17, please consider one of our other events (the Austin one just happened and sounds awesome!).

I'm very excited about doing this. My running has always been too high in the "me me me" department and too low in the "helping others, volunteering" department. This will be a nice antidote to that. And it can only help my larger marathon dreams to help others in the process of achieving their own running goals.

Thanks to the nice women at ZOOMA for giving me this chance! I can't wait to get back to Colorado to start the fun.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Running Rural Macon County, MO....With Dogs

Macon Lake would by idyllic, if it weren't for the dogs....

There's a reason city people are stereotyped as dumb by people out in the country. The reason is....we are.

This morning I went for a seven-mile run in the town and around some county backroads in Macon, MO, about an hour north of my hometown of Columbia. My dad and stepmom live here, so the kids and I drove up yesterday to hang out with them for a couple of days. The kids have now watched all of Finding Nemo, The Little Mermaid and The Lion King in the space of 24 hours and eaten more Easter candy than I thought their small bodies could hold. The sugar withdrawal back in Colorado may be tough next week.

For me, Macon is another homecoming. My grandparents lived here my whole growing up, and my sister, brother and I spent a lot of time up here, swimming in the pool, knocking around the railroad tracks, making up ghost stories about the people buried in creepy, mossy Oak Lawn Cemetary up the road. As I got older, I did a lot of running here and have a few favorite routes that take in both the downtown scene of grand Victorian houses with huge porches and the rolling farm country north of town. Now my dad lives in my grandma's old house, so I can still run here.

I had forgotten about the dogs.

Now, I know there are some territorial dogs in places other than the rural Midwest (I had to work around one on a Boulder training run earlier this year). But there's definitely a higher density out in places like the road around Macon Lake where I ran today.

I started out running in town, loving the chilly why-didn't-I-pack-a-long-sleeved-shirt overcast weather and cold breeze. Then I did a quick loop in the cemetary before turning north, into that wind, to my old route around Macon Lake. The first dog lunged at me near the top of a steep hill, about 2.5 miles total into the run. A big fluffy white guy, he had a throaty bark but quickly lost interest in me when I slowed to a walk and spoke to him. I was able to resume running pretty fast after encountering him.

I got another mile in, but some deep booming barks emanating from two houses set back from the road above the lake made me worry about what might be in store for me along the rest of my intended path. And sure enough, I rounded a corner to find two scruffy mutts rooting in the reeds by the lake for ducks. The smaller one let loose a cacophany of shrill barks (I love big dogs, but I'm not a fan of tiny yap dogs), and when his bigger friend looked up, he too took up the chorus and both of them raced toward me. I once again slowed to a walk, but unlike the dog on the first hill, these two didn't lose interest and followed me for a half-mile before I rounded a corner and lost them.

The lake road ended soon after that, and I turned up the steepest hill of the run. I braced myself. There are several farmhouses along this road. I didn't doubt there would be more dogs. Sure enough, two large Labradors spotted me when I was about halfway up. Baying, they ran straight at me. I stopped for the third time and fell into a submissive crouch, speaking in what I hoped was a soothing voice. These dogs were big and stocky.....and right in my path. I would need to get around them just to get home.

Lucky for me it worked. Once they got a whiff of me and heard my voice, they turned into puppies, rolling in the dust at my feet, leaning against me, wagging their whole back ends. They stopped following me at the edge of what I assume was their yard. And I ran on.

The rest of the run's dogs (yes, there were lots more) were chained in their yards. I didn't have to stop again, but due to all the unexpected dog placation I almost made my dad and stepmom (who were watching the kids) late to a funeral. Looking back on it now, I guess I'm lucky no one had to take me to the emergency room for a dog bite.

It make me sad, but I don't think I'll run the Macon Lake route again when I visit in the future. And I warned my dad, who wants to start running again, not to do it either. Funny to say, the cemetary is a much safer place. What is it about living in the country that makes people want to keep mean dogs? Have they read In Cold Blood too many times? Give me Boulder's spoiled hippie trail hounds any day!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Weighty Issues

Visiting with your family, when you're not around them all the time, is interesting.

A lot of my extended family members have been following this blog through Facebook and so they know that I'm trying to qualify for Boston (or run Boston...some have asked me, "So have you done that Boston thing yet?" Don't I wish!).

Yesterday, my mom, kids, sister and I went up to my dad and stepmom's house for Easter dinner (my parents are divorced but luckily get along well). One of my aunts and her husband and one of my uncles and his wife were also there--it was quite a crowd. And somehow, as we dished up green bean casserole, creamed corn, glazed ham and other foods patently NOT on the Quick Start Racing Weight program, the subject of my weight came up.

One of my aunts, sitting next to me, told me I look thin. I told her I'd lost a few pounds thanks to the running. She told me not to lose more weight. I told her I do plan to lose a few more pounds, but that I was doing it safely. She asked how much (this particular aunt is a straight shooter, which is refreshing), and I told her I'd like to lose another 13 pounds to get down to 120 in time for the marathon.

Her eyebrows shot up. "That's too much," she said. "I'm 5'2" and my doctor told me that I could weigh up to 130 without being overweight. You're four inches taller than I am, and you have broad shoulders." I told her that I weighed 116 in high school. She said, "Well, you're not in high school any more." And later she told my mom that I was looking "too thin."

I admit....I kind of basked in this. For four years now I've been on the heavy side of healthy, and it was nice to have aunts tut-tutting over my weight being too low again. Of course she didn't convince me to change anything (other than to have another bite of green bean casserole and get back to Quick Start later), but it did make me think again about the difference between "racing" weight and "healthy" weight. I look "healthy" at 130. But I know I'll run better at 120, as long as I can keep the loss in fat and not in muscle.

The sea level running continues to be fun. This morning I went to the local rec center and knocked off 6X800 on the treadmill, dipping into the high 6-something minute/mile paces for the last ones. Not something that happens often at home. My legs felt quite good despite the 15 miles on Saturday. Ah, home!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Hometown 15-Miler

Fifteen sea level miles: done!

It went well. The weather was perfect: cool, rain-washed and overcast on the backside of a bunch of thunderstorms that moved through Thursday. The route I chose included lots of hills until I hit the MKT trail for the last five miles.

Despite those hills, the first six miles felt like flight. I warmed up by climbing the hill from my mom's house at the end of a cul-de-sac. The house, where I lived from age 10 until I moved to Texas for college, is nearly surrounded by woods covered in enthusiastic lime-green baby leaves and all manner of flowers: lilies of the valley, sweet william and others whose names I don't know. Once I started running, I took in dogwoods, pink and white, and so many cardinals flew by that I lost track of them. You don't see cardinals in Colorado.

I also passed the street where my cousins used to live when we were kids; the street where my friend Angela grew up; the Tiger Hotel, where Dan and I had our wedding reception six years ago; and my favorite ice cream and pizza places.

I then ran back toward home the way I came, but continued past my starting point to begin the next leg (about four miles), down busy Stadium Blvd. and then up the run's most significant hill next to A.L. Gustin Golf Course. I wasn't quite flying any more, but I still felt good. A lingering soreness in my left quad from last weekend's Mesa Trail adventure actually got better as the run went on. And it was as if all of the extra oxygen (I'm about 4800 feet lower than I usually am) had endowed me with seven-league boots ("leap tall hills in a single bound").

Once I started the final five miles on the MKT (this is where you see things flattening out on the Garmin's altitude profile below), I started to feel tired. It reminded me of the last six miles of the New York Marathon, where my lungs still felt like rock stars while my legs were protesting. But I never had any doubt that I would finish the distance. Unlike the last time I ran 15 miles, I had no GI problems, stopped only to eat the jelly beans that I stole from the Easter candy my mom bought my kids and was able to smile and wave at other runners until the end.

My pace was well below what my program dictates for this kind of run, but not so much below that I don't worry a little about whether I'll be able to duplicate the effort back in Boulder. I certainly doubt I'll be able to do it on Green Mountain or Magnolia Road.

When I got back to my mom's, she and the kids had colored the Easter eggs already. I climbed into an ice bath for the first time since last summer, something I should have done after the Mesa Trail--time to get back in that habit!--and then took a hot shower. Later that afternoon, the kids down for a nap (or in Will's case, solitary chatter time in his room), I sacked out on my mom's bed with the window open. I felt relaxed as you can only in your childhood nest. A cool breeze wafted in through the open window. I dreamed of pasta, red sauce and garlic bread. In the evening, this dream came true.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sea Level Here I Come

The MKT Trail in Columbia, where I did my first runs
Tomorrow morning I have a 5-mile tempo run followed by bootcamp...and then on Friday I head to sea level--to my hometown, Columbia, MO--for a little over a week's vacation.

One reason I like Boulder is that Columbia is also a college town, home of the University of Missouri Tigers. There's more in-your-face stunning natural beauty in Boulder, but the two towns have a lot in common: reasonable size, young people, good restaurants, laid-back vibe. Towns like this are my natural habitat.

While Columbia doesn't have the Mesa Trail, it has a lush hilliness that is beautiful and comforting every time I go back to visit my mom and sister. It's hard for a runner to avoid hills in Columbia, unless you opt to run on the MKT trail (see photo), a pancake-flat former railroad track. I plan to run a lot while I'm there, starting with a 15-miler (I hope) on Saturday morning that will have both the MKT and lots of hills.

Going to sea level makes me both excited and nervous as a runner. Excited because, well, it's just easier to breathe and therefore easier to go further faster. (The excited part of me is tempted to sign up for a 5K just to see how fast I could do it down there--but there really won't be enough time for this, and the 15-miler is more important for my long-term goal.) Nervous because I have to come back and be ready to run Green Mountain, Mt. Sanitas and the 8,000-foot Magnolia Road when I return to altitude. Supposedly a week isn't long enough to wreck altitude adaptation, but I swear I do notice a difference every time I come back and have to readjust.

For this reason, much as I love the MKT with its easy surface, neat mile and half-mile markers and green vistas, I'm going to stick to hilly roads for most of my runs in Columbia. These hills are not trivial. The Heart of America Marathon, held there every steamy Labor Day since 1960 (and on my bucket list for after I qualify for Boston--everyone should do their hometown marathon!), has an elevation chart that rivals that of any of my Boulder runs in terms of steep ups and downs. The higher humidity can add a running challenge, too, but I'm hoping that will be minimal at this time of year. In my opinion, heat and humidity are even worse than giant wind for running.

I'll write again from Missouri! Happy Passover and Easter to those of you who celebrate those holidays! And Happy Spring to those of you who worship Nature! :^)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Boston Envy

I had a roommate in college who used to say that guilt is an unproductive emotion. I disagree with that (maybe because of my Catholic upbringing). I think legitimate guilt over something done wrong can spur better behavior and purer motives in the future.

Jealousy, however, is another story.

Jealousy is a truly unproductive, crippling emotion. To use an unfashionable word, it's a sin. Yet it's a sin I commit and suffer from on a regular basis. I'm jealous of people who are better writers than I am, of people who are better looking, of people who are more carefree than I am, of people with fewer financial constraints than I have...and of people who don't suffer from jealousy and are always glad to revel without adulteration in the accomplishments and happiness of others.

Today, I'm jealous of everyone who is running Boston this year, who are running even in this moment as I type, jealous that they have done the hard work and are now living the dream. Whereas here I sit, the future uncertain, my recent race times too slow, the clock ticking toward 40, lots of work ahead that may never get me there.

It's ugly and adolescent, I know, but it's true. Reading the posts and the tweets and the news stories all weekend has sent the running part of me into a funk and stoked my jealousy into a noxious green flame. My quads--still sore from Saturday's run on the Mesa Trail--aren't helping my confidence.

All the old self-defeating questions are popping up: Why am I wasting my time? Only 10% of the running population can accomplish this. What, really, are the odds that I am in that group? Even if I work hard, hard work can only get you so far without talent...and if I had talent it would have come out a long time ago.....

Don't get me wrong. I'm hoping everyone I know who is running Boston has a great race, especially Jim of 50after40 (and from the way the pros did today, I bet they are all having a fantastic race!).

But it's hard to be the wallflower, watching the happy dancers.

At least at my advanced age I know enough to be ashamed of these feelings. So last night I decided to fight the jealousy with the only antidote to it that has ever worked for me: gratitude.

I'm not going to attempt to wax eloquent here about that. There's a lot of New Age talk about gratitude out there these days, most of it a lot of sound and fury. My approach to it was to write two thank-you notes: one to my spin teacher, Tammy, without whom I couldn't have run a half-marathon PR with a cold last month, and the other to Mei, a volunteer at the rec center who comes in to staff the childcare there a half-hour early because my bootcamp class starts before their regular hours.

There are plenty of other people I should write to as well: my husband, Dan, of course, for countless things, including putting up with me sneaking peeks at my blog or reading running books when I should be, oh, say, bathing our children; my friends Christine and Kathy; the eleven not-easily-bored souls who follow this blog regularly; and lots of others.

Thinking of these folks has definitely taken the edge off the jealousy, and the topic-du-jour will move on from Boston when the sun sets today. But I know jealousy and other forms of despair will be back.

The trick is to keep running through it, like I'll need to do with bad weather, sore legs and other obstacles. It might help me to write a thank-you note every day. After all, I'm lucky that I get to run, whether I ever make the Boston cut-off or not, that I have a family who loves me, that I am healthy and employed and live in a beautiful place.

The roads taken by others will not be my road. That's still unfolding at my feet. I need to trust that wherever and however it leads, I'll end up in the right place in the end.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Boulder Classic Run #1: Mesa Trail

Trail running is a spiritual experience. I had forgotten.

After letting myself sleep in until the kids woke us up, I took my time getting out of the house for my first weekend Boulder running pilgrimage. I debated running up to the trailhead at Chautauqua but decided to drive and park up there, so as to do as much of the run on the trail itself as possible.

I knew straight off that this would be a beautiful run. A cool breeze that gusted occasionally to something stronger ruffled the branches of the evergreens. The sun shone in a cloudless sky, but it's early enough in the year that it wasn't hot as it will be in two months. At 9 a.m., the parking lots were already full, so I parked on the streets in the neighborhood just down from the park and walked to the fire road where the trail begins. The hill looked daunting, so I started the Garmin and walked briskly instead of starting off at a run. Nobody passed me, and I passed lots of people, so I figured the pace was OK.

Once I left the fire road and took off on the trail proper, I knew it was going to be tough, probably tougher than I had in me for 12 miles. But I decided to let it be what it was and not fret about my pace. I minced over the stones in the trail, slopped through the odd muddy spot and inhaled the smell of crushed pine needles released by my footsteps. I love that smell. It's what surrounds you when get up into the real mountains in the summer. It feels like therapy for the lungs.

Looking back on the out part of the trip, I remember two distinct climbs. The first was the one that began at the fire road and crested at about 1.5 miles. The second began after the trail rejoined another fire road, near the intersection with the Bear Canyon trails. Around this point I passed a huge crowd of Asian tourists out hiking. This climb was shorter, about 3/4 of a mile, but steeper. In between, there were lots of smaller ascents and some welcome descents.

But the descents on trails don't offer as much relief as they do on roads. This is because, if you're like me, you're worried about tripping on a stone or a root and smashing face and knee (the knee part has happened to me, on this very trail). So while I managed to run all of the descents except for a perilous one composed of literal stairs in the side of the mountain, I took the downs easy as well.

When I got near the end of the 5 miles out (I had decided at this point that this would be a 10-mile run, not a 12-miler), the trail widened again and turned sharply downward. I have a feeling the rest of this run to the end of the trail would have been down in this fashion, and I felt wimpishly glad that I wouldn't have to run back up it. I also thought about making the Mesa Trail part of a long marathon-training run. It's got lots of shady spots, which I'll be seeking out for summer 20-milers.

The way back felt much easier. The two steep ascents were now turned in my favor, and even the stairs didn't feel so horrible. I let myself fly down the fire road for the last part of the last mile (no stones to worry about there).

Still some snow in patches, but mostly beautiful!

Negative things about this run:

1. I set out to run 12 miles but ran only 10.

2. My pace was more "speed hike" than "run" (see pace and results below).

3. The big hand-held bottles are still driving me crazy. I think I need to write them off as a failed experiment. Since I hate waist belts, too, I must come up with a plan for those long runs in the summer. Water isn't optional. Even today, still early spring and cool, I felt dry.

Positive things about this run:

1. The two-mile shortfall is OK. My quads haven't been this sore after a long run that wasn't a race in a long long time. My breathing was aerobic the whole time. I got my long workout. I also felt like a trail-running badass.

2. I did not get lost. When planning the run last night, I looked up the distances for some key trail crossings, and thanks to this and my Garmin didn't make even one wrong turn.

3. I tried a new fueling strategy. In addition to fruit and cereal at breakfast, I ate a pack of Sport Beans before the run, one Hammer gel on the way out and one on the way back. I had no problems, had to make no pit stops, and felt energetic the whole time.

4. I had a tangible, visible and aural reminder of why I love running. I love being outdoors on trails and challenging my body. Yes, I found out that I still have a ways to go. But I'm getting there. The proverbial trail markers tell me I haven't gotten lost on the way.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Slushy, Sodden Slog

In retrospect, I maybe should have cashed in one of the two passes I have to Flatiron Athletic Club this morning. On the docket were seven miles. It was supposed to be so neat and tidy: 1 mile easy warm-up, five miles at tempo pace (8:24) and then one more slow and easy cool-down mile. Would have been a snap on one of FAC's fine treadmills.

But no. Partly it's that I'm sick of treadmills, and truly trying to stick to my resolution of running outside more. Partly I'm lazy, and I'd already laid out outside clothes and didn't want to dig out shorts and a short-sleeve shirt. But mostly it was this:

Sometimes you want to be that crazy runner lady.

So when I looked outside and saw the snow drifting down--big fat flakes loaded with water, the kind that skiers hate because they are the opposite of "powder," the kind that coat sidewalks and streets and even grass like sand--I said, "I can do it. I'm tough" and forth I sallied before the sun rose.

The weather wasn't a surprise. Last night, Dan and I had a rare date night, and when we came home around nine p.m. it was raining. I checked the weather before going to bed and saw that it would turn to snow overnight. But it wasn't supposed to be cold (32 the low). Out came the tights, the jacket, the fleece hat. I like running in rain and even snow if it doesn't stick.

As always with these kinds of runs, at first it was fun, and anyway I was going slowly to warm up for the tempo section. The big wet flakes felt good on my face, and the concrete under the mushy stuff wasn't slick. I ran roughly the same seven-mile route that I had a week and a half ago on a recovery run.

It's the kind of route my spin teacher would call "rolling hills"--you go up some, then enjoy some down, then turn up again, for the whole trip, but none of the ups or downs are huge. The hills felt easier than they had the last time I did them. It felt good to be totally recovered from the race two weeks ago.

The light grew, gray and white through the falling snow. Cars and trucks whooshed by me. I forgot how loud they sound in weather like this. I'm used to running in town on Saturdays, when fewer people are heading to work. Now I found myself on the snowy side of the early stages of morning rush hour. And neither cars nor snow were slowing down.

I was, though. The fat flakes didn't feel so good by the halfway point. I kept wiping them out of my eyelashes. I was thoroughly wet everywhere else too. Snow hides puddles well. A few of them had found me. And not all the sidewalks were as slip-free as the first ones had been. My pace was tortoise-like. Only one of the miles--a downhill one through the university, whose sidewalks had been plowed--got below the required 8:24.

I saw no other runners and only one cyclist (it's a toss-up in Boulder as to who is crazier, the runners or the cyclists). A small crowd at a bus stop on Broadway gaped at me. I can only imagine how I looked at that point. My skin turns a lovely shade of salmon when it's cold, and with the snow flakes seeming to come from all directions I probably had snot and/or drool on my face that I couldn't even feel. I was definitely the crazy runner for the day (at least for that hour).

Truthfully, though, I love runs like these. I did see other footprints on the sidewalks. I wondered who had broken track for me, and whether they were running or walking. I startled a rabbit at one point, and crossed his distinctive little paw marks a few seconds after he bounded away. Above me, obscured by the cloud, the Flatirons loomed unseen. I thought of how I will soon be running their paths again, and of how muddy they would be when this snow melts. When I finally got home, the shower felt much better than it does after a treadmill session. My iPod stayed in my pocket, forgotten, for the entire effort.

On Saturday, I have the Mesa Trail on tap. Today I got some practice for its rigors.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Moving, and Movin'

I wrote last month about the fact that, unexpectedly, we have to move sooner than we wanted to out of our shabby but inexpensive and oh-so-convenient Boulder condo. After some back-and-forth and weighing various options (none of them in the city of Boulder, where you practically have to have a trust fund to live in a reasonably-sized place for a family of four), we settled on a cute house in Longmont, another Boulder County town about 14 miles up the road from here.

I'm about 95% excited and happy about this. It will be wonderful to have some breathing room, a yard for the kids, a place that has some character (a fireplace! hardwood floors!) and storage. But I won't love commuting to work, leaving my wonderful neighbors and their awesome kids....or departing my well-loved, tried-and-true running routes.

Yeah, yeah, I know that 14 miles isn't that bad a drive for those times I will want to run in Boulder. And finding new places to run in Longmont will be an adventure. I do believe in running where you live. Part of the beauty of running is that, with the right pair of shoes, you can pretty much just walk out your door and start, and most of the time that's what you should do.

But living in Boulder as a runner makes you feel like part of an elite group, even if you are as far from elite as I am. I'll miss being passed by Olympians, CU cross-country runners and other god-like types on a regular basis. Getting to the rec centers and Flatiron Athletic Club will be harder (though you can bet I'm still going to cash in those unused free passes to FAC at some point, and my free membership to the rec center isn't going anywhere either). And I won't be able to bike to the Bolder Boulder this year.

So in honor of Boulder and the inspiration it's given me, I have decided to spend three of my five next long run weekends--my last as a resident of the city--doing some classic Boulder runs. (The other two weekends I'll be traveling for Easter--more on that later.)

These runs, which will be done in increasing order of difficulty, are:

The Mesa Trail
Bonus mid-week run (if I can): Mount Sanitas
Green Mountain
Magnolia Road

Here is what I know about each of these runs:

1. The Mesa Trail--I ran part of this 6.7-mile one-way route regularly last summer and fall. In my pre-kids life, when I was training for the NYC Marathon, jobless after grad school and therefore free to drive all over the Front Range to run in cool places, I ran it no less than three times--and got lost every time. I still think I might get lost, but I plan to study it more carefully this time. And carry a cell phone.

The Mesa Trail begins in Chautauqua Park on a fire road going up, up, up. I took this picture two weeks ago after an early morning hike on adjoining trails with my friend Christine.
2. Mt. Sanitas (bonus mid-week run)--This loop trail is only 3.3 miles, and it's the one I'm most familiar with of this group. I've hiked it countless times, usually with my friend Christine, occasionally with my husband. But short and familiar do not make easy. It starts at 5,520 feet and tops out at 6,863 feet--that's 1,343 feet of elevation gain. Much of it is more like stair climbing than hiking--I'm not really sure how much of the steepest parts I'll really be able to run. But I've seen others doing it. It's a Boulder classic. It's my turn to try. If all goes well, I'll do two loops and call it my interval workout for that week. If all goes well, I won't sprain an ankle or fall on my face, either.

3. Green Mountain--There are many ultrarunners who live in or near Boulder, among them Anton Krupicka. I read somewhere (unfortunately I forget exactly where) that he ran Green Mountain 297 times last year. Asked if that made him compulsive, he apparently replied that if he were compulsive he would have made it an even 300. Like Sanitas, the Green Mountain loop is deceptively short (5.3 miles). But it gains nearly 2,200 feet in elevation. Unlike Krupicka, I don't plan to run this more than once, at least not this spring and summer. If I do make it (NOT a given), I plan to hang out at the top and enjoy the view before heading back down.

4. Magnolia Road--Perhaps the grandaddy of all runs in Boulder, this is the highest and, by all accounts, the toughest of these runs I'll be attempting. This article says it all. I'll pull one quote out. "Says Team KIMbia athlete manager Peter Tanui, a former elite Kenyan road runner who trained in Colorado for most of his career, 'Up there, it's never easy. But if you can run strong up there, you can do it anywhere.'"

Learning to run strong anywhere is what I'm after. I'm gonna do it, even if I make a complete ass of myself on some of Boulder's most famous routes. At least I'll be saying good-bye to Boulder in style.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A Lucky Two-In-A-Day Day

Kathy and me after our 5 RLAM miles.

Today I faced a dilemma. I have vowed that no matter how lazy I feel in the next two months before marathon training starts I will run no fewer than 10 miles on any of my weekend long runs. But today marked the anniversary of one of my favorite running books, Run Like a Mother, and one of the authors, Dimity McDowell (who--lucky me--lives in Denver), threw a big party and invited readers to come celebrate with a five-mile or 5K run, some yoga, some prizes, and some cupcakes. My friend Kathy could go (though she needed to do 10 today too). Dan had no problem with me going. How could we say no?

So I fell back on plan B to get my 10 miles in: the ol' two-in-a-day.

Yes, folks, I drove down to Denver bright and early, ran a cool and breezy five miles with Kathy (and a whole bunch of other fans of the book), learned some wonderful stretches from a yoga teacher at Qi City Park, ate an amazing Caramel Salt cupcake (nope, that's not in the Quick Start plan, but I figured it would be fuel for later), won (!) a copy of Dimity's next book (Train Like a Mother, due out next year), had tea with Kathy and then drove back to Boulder.

I was so high from the morning's fun that I stopped at the Dick's Sporting Goods at Flatiron Crossing Mall and registered for the Bolder Boulder--and scored a free race poster signed by the artist. (True, everyone else who signed up for the race got one too, but it was a nice surprise to me.) My lucky day on several counts!

Back home, I fixed lunch for my kids...and set out on my *second* five miles as they were going down for their nap (they are still asleep as I type--did I mention this was my lucky day?). I thought it would be more difficult solo, without Kathy's company and the promise of yoga and a cupcake at the end (and after already having done five earlier)--but I felt great. The sun, largely absent this morning, had emerged, but the cool breeze was still there, and I had my half-marathon playlist going.

Now, I'm home, showered and feeling inspired ahead of the next six weeks of 10K training and weight loss. Thanks to Dimity (if she's reading this--that would be lucky indeed) for the party, to Kathy for hanging out and to Lady Luck for the prizes.

I think I'll take Dan and the kids out for (cheese-free, whole-wheat) pizza tonight! And maybe I should buy a lottery ticket.....

Here's the first five-miler, mostly in Denver's City Park:

Here's the second one back home in good old Boulder:

Thursday, April 7, 2011

An Updated Image...and an Old Dog Learns a New Trick

Boston is the tallest mountain on that horizon.
I have a new banner on my blog! My talented little brother, John Ewing, was in town today hanging out with Will, Ruth, Dan and me. He's a camera operator and set electrician, often for reality TV shows (Ludo Bites is the one he's currently working on, and it's what brought him to the Denver area; Dan and I are hoping to get a reservation for whatever Ludo cooks up). John is also a good artist. He was sitting at my kitchen table today and drew the sketch above in about five minutes. He can do things that are much more ornate, but this is exactly what I wanted--humble, geographically accurate--and a perfect image of the type of challenge I'm facing. Thank you, John!

A New Trick: My boot camp instructor, Chris, sometimes likes to shake things up by having our class engage in activities that you'd associate more with playing than exercising, like shooting baskets and jumping rope (not that either of those things isn't exercise, which is his point). Today he threw in hula hoops.

I am terrible at things like hula hooping, and actually I'm terrible at anything that resembles dancing or requires coordination and grace. Aerobics classes are useless for me because I have to concentrate so hard on the moves and the steps that I never really start breathing hard. So when Chris pointed us over to the brightly striped hoops I figured I'd just get through it and then move on to the next exercise.

I always try...but in the case of hula hooping trying has always meant failing. I picked up my hoop--a pink and green striped number--and began to swivel my stiff hips in a way that someone unkind but honest might describe as geriatric. Of course the thing clattered to the hard gym floor within, oh, about 3 seconds. If I had to save my neck by charming the Sultan with sultry belly dancing, my head would long ago have been separated from my body. But since nothing so vital was at stake, I picked the hoop up and tried again. And again.

Then a funny thing happened. Chris told us to change our stance, and put one leg forward and the other back. Maybe it was the stance change. Maybe it was the doo-wop CD playing in the background. Maybe some child spirit from the 50s possessed me. Whatever it was...I suddenly GOT IT. Suddenly, it was fun.

When class was over, after everyone else had left and Chris was cleaning up the equipment, I asked him if I could do some more hooping. I wanted to see if I could repeat the experience. I could! It was so much fun, I think I might buy one.

It's a feeling I've had three other times in my life. One was that moment when, at the relatively mature age of six, I suddenly found myself pedaling my two-wheeled bike without either training wheels or my dad's steadying hand behind me. The third time was in my early thirties in a yoga class, when I found myself balancing my knees on the backs of my arms in a crouched-down pose called the Crow.

The second time? When, at the age of 22, I crossed the finish line of my first race, a 10K in Central Park that at the time was called the Advil Mini-Marathon. Before that time, running had been a sort of drudgery for me--drudgery I was faithful to, yes, but not something I ever dreamed I would call fun, inspiring, vital. After that day, it was a whole new deal.

Probably I'm lucky to have experienced this feeling of unexpected success four times in my life. But I'm still hoping for one more time, the biggest and best of all: the time when I cross the finish line of my BQ marathon, whatever and whenever it may be. Reading the blogs of those who are getting ready for Boston in just a week and a half has been reminding me of the Big Picture, which I sometimes forget among the daily details.

I'm going to buy a hula hoop so that a) I remember that anything is possible and b) I don't forget how to do it!

Weight Update: Something is working! Despite continued dalliances with black licorice, my weight this morning was 133.8, the lowest it's been since the nauseated days of early pregnancy five years ago.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Cross-Training Crossroads

The FIRST program, which I'm following for all of my races at least through September's Top of Utah Marathon, calls for at least two days a week of strenuous cross-training. All winter, my cross-training of choice has been a spinning class twice weekly.

This is what our spin bikes look like.

These classes have been perfect. Unlike running, which is just viscerally interesting to me, cross-training is hard: hard in the sense that I hate activities that require more equipment than I can afford to buy or maintain on my own, and also hard in the sense that I have trouble pushing myself enough to get anything out of them.

Spin class takes care of both problems: it's at the rec center, which is free for me, so no equipment or cost issues, and the instructor, Tammy, is a bad-ass motivator with a great sense of humor and taste in music. Also, my good friend Christine usually comes, too, so for this portion of my training I have a workout buddy.

But at yesterday morning's class, Tammy announced that instead of going through May, as it has in the past, the class would be wrapping up at the end of this month, something the rec center bosses decided would work better. I knew I'd have to find another cross-training activity in June...but I didn't think I'd have to think about it so soon. And I'm frankly scared that I won't be able to keep my fitness at the same level trying to do something on my own.

The FIRST book details some cross-training workouts that in principle would work well. One involves the rowing machine, which appeals to me because it would work my arms and back as well as my legs and because I could listen to music while doing it. But that might get awfully boring done twice a week. Stationary biking without an instructor would be certain death-by-dullness for me. So that leaves....swimming.

Swimming. I loved it when I was small. My mom said I was a fish. And then I started having one ear infection after another, at a much older age than kids are supposed to have them (age nine). So I had to have tubes. Which meant wearing silly putty in my ears whenever I entered the water. If water did get in my ears, it was painful. I developed a phobia about water (and any object, really) getting into my ears that has never really dissipated. Unlike small children, who grow fast enough that their tubes often come out on their own, older kids like I was may have these things in the ears for a long time. Mine didn't come out until I was 14 years old.

Of course I know it was a good thing I had them. I was apparently suffering with a 40% hearing loss that they entirely corrected. But to this day, water sports are not my thing. I'll never do a triathlon, mostly because of the swimming portion. That static-y sloshy sensation of water in my ears still sets my teeth on edge. Yes, I've been told that there are very good ear plugs out there now that will keep all the water out. But putting ear plugs in my ears gives me the heebie jeebies too.

I'm not afraid of water per se. I'll put my head under water gently, and if I were lost at sea, I could keep myself afloat for a while. I do get into the lap pool with a kickboard when my kids have a swim lesson, just to burn some extra calories. But the splashing and head turning, not to mention the quick diving movements, that go along with truly exerting swimming....I just won't do it.

There is a kickboarding workout included in the suggested FIRST cross-training. It looks like that will be my next best option. I'm just afraid it won't be hard enough. If anyone has an opinion, please share it with me! Remember, this cross-training isn't just an extra. It's key to getting me to a faster marathon time.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Book Review: Once a Runner

Despite being a classic from the 1970s that someone in Runner's World called the best-ever novel about running, Once a Runner started off on, um, the wrong foot with me. That's because it started off with this:

"The night joggers were out as usual.

"The young man could see dim figures on the track even in this pale light, slowly pounding round and round the most infinite of footpaths. There would be, he knew, plump, determined-looking women slogging along while fleshy knees quivered. They would occasionally brush damp hair fiercely from their eyes and dream of certain cruel and smiling emcees: bikinis, ribbon-cuttings, and the like. And then, of course, tennis with white-toothed males, wild tangos in the moonlight.

"And men too of various ages and levels of dilapidation, perhaps also grinding out secret fantasies (did they picture themselves a Peter Snell held back only by fat or fear as they turned their ninety-second quarters?)."

Quivering fleshy knees? 90-second quarters? Rendered in purple prose? Let's just say, I can relate more to the night joggers than I can to Quenton Cassidy, the young miler with Olympic-level abilities who is the center of this story. And I dislike purple prose in any context.

At the beginning, the book dwells too much for my taste on Cassidy's track-team buddies at the fictional Southeastern University. The author's descriptions of their testosterone-fueled antics and 1970s dating rituals (words like "co-ed" crop up) also turned me off. But as Cassidy's talent attracts the attention of Olympian Bruce Denton and the action moves away from the track team and its dorm, the book grabbed me and did not let go.

And while the writing still had some overwrought moments, I found myself increasingly forgiving them. After all, Parker was writing about running, and all of the elemental fury and passion that goes into it when you love it. Even if I am more of a "night jogger" than anything else in Quenton Cassidy's world, I've seen and felt enough of what Parker is talking about through his gifted young hero's experience that toward the end, when the story culminates in one key race, I had fallen for this story, hook, line and sinker.

I recommend this book to anyone who loves running. You'll imagine its scenes during your own races but also on those beautiful runs by yourself, when you are aware with every tingling fiber of your body and every soaring thought that running is something you, too, were meant to or not.

Friday, April 1, 2011

March Recap

So I've decided to just bag this Boston thing. I'm tired and I miss drinking wine, sleeping in, those extra four pounds....

......April Fool!

March always feels like the longest month ever to me, and this one was no I'm very happy to bring you that lame joke of an intro...and the March Recap.

1) I ran a mere 87.6 miles due to tapering, but the month did include a new half-marathon PR in last Sunday's Boulder Spring Half Marathon. For the year, I am up to 283.1 miles.

2) I attended five 1-hour spin classes and six 45-minute bootcamp classes. I also swam/kickboarded three times for about 20-25 minutes each.

3) I got the worst cold I had all winter, but missed only one run (an easy 3 miler, so no huge loss) and one scheduled cross-training workout.

4) I learned that Jelly Bellies work pretty well with my touchy gut, but I also learned (in the race) that I still need to work on my mid-run fueling. It always seems to be too much (resulting in humiliating ditch episodes) or too little (woman cannot run on Jelly Bellies alone).

5) I hosted my first giveaway. This one was of Justin's Nut Butter. I also ate some myself. Yum!

6) I learned that you guys want more photos on this blog. I will do my best!

April will feature some fun things, including 10K training, this blog's first guest post, another book review, a trip to sea level (woo hoo! oxygen!) and attendance at some workshops focused on running form and barefoot running. Stay tuned for reports on all of that! Now I'm off to take a pair of four-year-olds to a train museum.