Thursday, June 16, 2011

Top Ten Reasons...

I don't blog very often. See above, on imbalance. Or just generally having many other things to do! Since the last entry, I've been to a conference in Krakow, Poland, which was great professionally, and also an opportunity to get in some runs (mostly along the River Vistula, where there's a nice path in either direction; and to the Kosciuszki Mound, which affords of nice view of the city; and to the edge of the Las Wolski Forest). The days are long and the humidity was low, a nice contrast to central North Carolina.

My trip to Poland also included a sobering visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The scope of the atrocities committed, and the deliberateness with which they were undertaken, is difficult to comprehend, even today.

Our group also made a visit to the Wieliczka Salt Mine, which has a bit of a "have to see it to believe it" quality. It includes lots of sculptures carved from rock salt -- Copernicus; the Seven Dwarfs (plus an eighth one for good measure); and a version of the Last Supper in relief.

After Poland, I squeezed in a long run, then took my little girls to Florida to visit their grandparents. I realized that, as much as I had complained about the recent heat and humidity in Chapel Hill, Florida is in an entirely different category. Even a five mile run early in the morning left me a tired, dripping mess. But it was fun to spend time at Lake Weir, and at Homosassa Springs State Park, and to visit with family.

So, this brings me to today -- in the middle of a week of solo parenting, but also worried about getting in enough miles. The Vermont 100 is 4+ weeks away; now is the time to log the training. But today, the only time to fit in a run was at night. 

I get antsy if I don't get my run in the morning. To distract myself from that antsy-ness today, I started the Top Ten Reasons to Go on a Night Run list. Now that the run is over, I've finished it. Enjoy!

10. You didn’t find time during the day to fit in a run…and you really need to run.
9.   In the dark, your running partners can’t tell that your socks don’t match (not that most of them care, of course).
     8.  It really is cooler at night.
     7.  Those 100 mile races involve some running in the dark, so it's good to practice that now and again (for me, winter means lots of running in the dark, usually early in the morning; but I don't get out in the dark much during the summer months).
     6.  You received a new headlamp recently, and this is a good chance to try it out. (For what it's worth, it -- the Petzl Myo XP -- was great).
     5. Even at your age, there's a certain thrill to doing something -- running at night in the woods -- of which your father wouldn't approve. (The local police may not approve either, but they rarely turn up for these things).
      4. You like the look your sitter gives you when you tell her that you're heading to the forest for a run in the dark. (In truth, our sitter has been with us for four years, and she's used to this sort of thing. But she did say that her roommate found it very odd).
      3. The night run reminds you that there's almost always some subset of the Trailheads who are up for a run, no matter the time, place or distance.  
      2.  If you can't see the copperheads or the coyotes, they're not there. (Right?)
      1.  Meeting up with a group of friends to hang out in a church parking lot and drink beer (with a run through in before the beer) reminds you of high school.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Shoes, Shoes, Shoes

Just a quick note, as an excuse to post a couple photos. It seems that one of my Trailhead friends has a little too much time on his hands. So he made me a present that fits with “the imbalancing act,” allowing me to wear my La Sportiva Crosslites on all sorts of occasions. These were presented to me last Saturday morning at (of course) the Open Eye.

As it turns out, the heels are about 3 sizes too small for me (so I don't have to wear them to my next academic conference, thankfully), but another Trailhead woman was kind enough to model them for everyone (thanks, Trip!). But you get the idea. Note the craftsmanship – I especially like how part of the Crosslite has been nailed to the heel of the pump. Thanks, Edge (and photo credit to Sidetrack, aka a Breath of Fresh Air Photography).

(Yes, they are even cooler in Hipstamatic view).

Training for the Vermont 100 continues, although I don’t know if I’m getting in quite as many miles as I should. Then again, I’m tired enough – and busy enough with other things -- that I can’t see adding in more training. I was in Washington, DC earlier this week, so I had a couple shorter runs along the Potomac. The C&O Canal is always a pleasant place to run (especially in a heavy spring rain), and I also explored the trail (although there’s not more than a couple miles of it) on Theodore Roosevelt Island. And there’s always something nice about running among DC's monuments.

New trail shoes have arrived – another pair of Crosslites (my go-to shoe; my last pair has way too many miles on them, so time for new ones!), as well as the Quantum, which just became available a few days ago. I haven’t tried out the Quantum yet, but I like the fit – and my four year old daughter is very excited that her mom finally has some pink running shoes. 

Saturday, May 7, 2011

One of Those Weeks

Things that I should have done during the last week:
  •  Data analysis for a conference paper (not late yet, but will be very soon).
  •  End of the year evaluations for graduate students.
  •  Getting in touch with contributors to an edited volume.
  •  Reviewing grant proposals and dissertations for two different review committees.
  •  Running lots of miles – the Vermont 100 is two and a half months away!
  •  Beginning to engage in the annual, Sisyphean fight between what grows in my yard and me, whilst attempting to avoid the poison ivy that permeates the landscape (and I’m very allergic to it).
  •  Power yoga class…haven’t been in a couple weeks, and miss it if I don’t make it once per week. I'm no good at it, but I'm certainly more flexible than I was a year ago, and I like the "in the moment" that it requires.
  •  Physical therapy exercises. Really must fix that hamstring.
Things that I did do during the last week:
  • Stayed home to take care of one or both kids while they were sick. A GI bug made the rounds of our preschool (and of our town, it seems), and my girls took turns having it. A husband traveling means that I got all of the sick kid duty (and all of the vomit, too…). They’re on the mend now. 
  • A field trip to the North Carolina Zoo with the girls and their preschool. I’d never been to the NC Zoo before, despite driving by it many times on the way to the Uwharrie National Forest. We had a lovely day, despite torrential rain early that morning. And it was fun to spend time with both the girls and their classmates’ parents. But this was far more exhausting than my typical Wednesday! Oddest moment: having just been in the Sonoran Desert last week (quick work-related trip to Tucson, with early morning running outings to Sabino Canyon and Catalina State Park…Great scenery, fabulous trails!), visiting the Sonoran Desert pavilion. The saguaros are cool either way, but cooler when accompanied by canyons and mountains! 

  • Reviewed some grant proposals. Ever so slowly.
  • Ran some miles – usually after morning dropoff (see above, re. solo parenting). The weather is still bearable for an 8:30 or 9am start, but it doesn’t bode well for productivity at work. Favorite run of the week: a 25 miler at Umstead State Park, with some Trailhead friends, plus Shannon. Weather was near-perfect, and so nice to be on different trails, playing hooky with friends. I also ran a 9.5 mile loop from Carrboro that included four miles of hilly Damascus Church Road, and a return via Jones Ferry. I liked crossing this intersection, too:  
  •  Helped with the Philosopher’s Way Trail Runs, one of the two annual Trailhead-sponsored local races. Packet pickup on Friday, course monitoring on Saturday, the latter with the little girls in tow. Highlight: four year old doing her first kids’ race. She also loved hanging out with the Trail Goddesses, ringing a cowbell and borrowing a tiara (here’s video of the Trail Goddesses’ aid station at last year’s race: My two year old also wanted to do the kids’ run, but her idea of doing it consisted of allowing me to carry her, while jogging next to my four year old, for the entire mile. 
  •  Did some gardening, with help from the girls. This was the first time that both of them were interested in what they could find out in the yard – earthworms, centipedes, slugs. They stayed out “working,” with their gardening gloves on, for over an hour. Definitely a record, and we did manage to clear out about five percent of the overgrowth.
Next week, I’ll try to get some balance back – definitely more time spent on work (my co-authors and colleagues would like a little more balancing in their direction, I’m guessing), and finding time for yoga and physical therapy exercises. And I plan on enjoying the return to two-parent normalcy at home.

In other news, I received my La Sportiva team kit last week. What fun…I am so lucky to be part of their team! I’m looking forward to wearing the various race jerseys from Greenlayer and the DeFeet socks, as well as using my new Petzl MyoXP headlamp and the Ultimate Direction hydration pack.  I’ve run many times in the Greenlayer shirt that was done as a special edition fundraiser for Uwharrrie 2011, and it’s super comfy. Reviews to come….

Monday, April 18, 2011

My Tuscan Run

On the “You Might be a Running Addict If….” quiz, I’d suggest “If your luggage is lost for a few days while you’re on a trip, and what annoys you most – and very deeply -- isn’t wearing the same clothes over and over to the conference, but not being able to run each morning.”

When I was invited to a conference at the European University Institute, on the outskirts of Florence, I said yes almost immediately. My last visit to Florence was in 1997. It would be just the right time of year (great weather, not too overrun with tourists), and the conference would bring together people from political science as well as sociology, history and economics, a bit of an eclectic group, all working on issues related to transnational governance and regulation, with several people whose work I knew but hadn’t met. At work, it wasn’t the best time to run off to Italy, because it coincided with the last couple of hectic days for graduate program admissions, but oh well.

One of the things I love to do when traveling – whether it’s to College Station or to Bangalore – is to run. This is partly about keeping up my mileage, but it’s also such a great way to see a new place. One can cover lots of ground (especially useful if it’s a work trip and there’s not time for long, leisurely walks), and one usually ends up in places that one wouldn’t find on a sightseeing walk (not that there *would* be a sightseeing walk in College Station, but that’s another story).

Right before this trip, I was feeling a little fatigued from running, without much motivation for long runs. The Mountains to Sea race wasn’t long – after their 50k was cancelled, I instead ran the 12 mile – but my effort to run fast (which wasn’t very fast…I was a whopping 16+ minutes behind the women’s winner, and another 6 minutes behind the second woman) seemed to have worn me out a bit. I knew I wouldn’t be able to run for more than an hour at a time during my trip, and that this would be a good rest. But I certainly *did* want to run in Florence, especially given that I’d be spending the bulk of my time – all but my first afternoon there – on conference-related activities. So I packed my La Sportiva Fireblades, liking the idea of running in my Italian running shoes while in Italy, and figuring that they’d be cushy enough for roads but also useful on any trails I might encounter.

I planned to run a bit when I arrived early on Thursday afternoon, as a way of resetting my body’s clock after the overnight flight to Europe, and then to run on Friday and Saturday mornings. The civilized starting time for the conference on Friday (10am, very un-American) might even allow for a longer run.

But here was my mistake: I lingered too long at work on the morning of my departure, and so I found myself frantically hurrying to pack my bag. Not wanting to have to make tough decisions about exactly what to pack (or what not to pack), and also thinking about the three flights it would take to get to Florence, I decided to take a slightly larger suitcase, one that was too big to carry on. I might have thought better of this once I got to the airport, where I found out that my original flight was delayed by a couple hours. After about an hour, I was rerouted through DC, bag checked through to Florence. I had a short layover at Dulles, not quite 50 minutes, but certainly enough for my bag and me to make the change.

As it turned out, we were about 20 minutes late arriving at Dulles. I broke into a sprint once off the plane, because I had to change terminals. And then another sprint after the train, up the stairs, and down to the Lufthansa gate, where they were paging me and another passenger (she’d also been on the flight from Raleigh, but I had managed to outrun her. Yes, I was happy with myself for that -- one of those rare times when running is useful in "real life"). I was thrilled that I made it just in time, and also pleased to learn that Lufthansa had my checked bag. And I was happy that I had worn sensible non-running shoes, and that I hadn’t had to sprint through Dulles with my suitcase dragging behind me.

When I arrived in Florence, after a change of planes in Munich, my suitcase was nowhere to be seen. I wasn’t the only one missing bags, so I waited in line to fill in my report. Florence is a small airport, and they have one office that handles all lost luggage, regardless of the airline. And one person working there, it appeared. They couldn’t find the bag anywhere in the computer system, but they assured me that there were three more flights in from Munich that day, and that they’d bring the bag to my hotel.

I headed to my hotel, which was in San Domenico, on the edge of Florence and a 10 minute walk to EUI. I was disappointed not to get in a run, but I walked to the city center, maybe about 3 miles, which was a nice opportunity to get some fresh air (and some gelato). I wandered around various tourist sites, and I bought a couple of shirts and a pair of pants, since I had to go to the first conference dinner that night. Once back at the hotel, I called the luggage office, and I was told that they had no report. I phoned again after dinner but, of course, they were closed by then.

I was beginning to get annoyed:  the downside of the hotel was that it was far from the Duomo, the Uffizi, the Ponte Vecchio – all the usual Florence tourist stuff. The upside was that it was perhaps a mile or two from the village of Fiesole, near the top of a hill, and apparently with some nice running routes beyond it. On Friday morning, the sun came streaming through the windows of my tiny hotel room, and I really wanted to be out for a run. After breakfast, my phone call to Lost Luggage turned up good news: my bag had been located, and it would arrive on the 12:30pm flight from Munich. They’d send it out with the courier after that. I decided that I’d sneak out of the last session of the conference (we were scheduled to go until 6 or 6:30, also very un-American) and get in a run before dinner. Oh, and that I’d be able to stop wearing the same two sets of clothing (and one pair of socks – ick).

Around 5pm, I happily made my escape, walking a slightly longer way back to campus. I was treated to a view from some of the other buildings at EUI. EUI is housed in a collection of villas – really fabulous, and some great views both of the hills in Tuscany and of the city of Florence. I can see why people like to spend time there! But the news at the hotel wasn’t good – no sign of the bag. Another call to Lost Luggage yielded the news that, yes, the bag was in Florence but, no, the courier hadn’t yet left with it. I begged the nice woman to send my bag (why didn’t I just go to the airport to collect it myself?), and she promised that it would arrive by 8pm. Of course, our dinner was at 7:30, so I just had to trust them.
In the meantime, I took the bus up the hill to Fiesole, where I had an hour or so to wander around. I went to the ruins of an Etruscan amphitheater, and then up a steep hill to a great lookout and a monastery. And then I wandered down a steep series of back roads, the other way back to San Domenico. If I couldn’t run, at least I could get a bit of a sightseeing walk.

If you’ve read this far, maybe you can guess what happened on Friday night: a late return to the hotel  (with a belly full of pasta, chianti and biscotti), no bag, further annoyance. No Thursday afternoon run, no Friday run (did I mention that Friday was an absolutely gorgeous day, not a cloud in the sky?), and no Saturday morning run. By this stage, I was beginning to wonder if my bag would arrive before it was time to fly home. On the one hand, I was happy to know that it had been found (I would have hated to lose my Garmin, my Lululemon running clothes, and everything else in that bag); on the other hand, it was almost more annoying – It was in Florence, but it wasn’t with me. And I was realizing that, as much as I don’t consider myself much of a materialist, I’m attaching to my running stuff, and I’m not one for wearing the same clothes over and over and over.

Saturday morning brought what may have been the best exchange of all with Lost Luggage: they said, yes, my bag had been there since yesterday. And, yes, they had given it to the courier, around 9pm Friday night (later than they said they would, but whatever). And, yes, the courier had the address of the hotel, and he would bring it. Sometime. Wait, he’s had the bag for 12 hours, and this doesn’t worry you, and I’m supposed to be ok with it too? She explained that the courier’s contract requires him to drop a bag off within 24 hours after it’s given to him. So, yes, while the bag had hit Florence at 1pm Friday, it was completely acceptable for it not to get to me until Saturday at 9pm (after I finish this post, do I have the energy to write a whinging letter to Lufthansa?). After some begging, pleading and fibbing (“I’m leaving the hotel at noon today”), I extracted a promise of a noon dropoff. And, when I called the hotel from the conference, just after noon, I found out that yes, finally, the bag had arrived. Less than 24 hours before I was to leave Italy, and definitely a bit worse for the wear, but still, it was there.

So, after all of this, I once again ducked out of the conference early. I headed out for a run around 6:45pm, with lots of light left, and another clear blue sky. I ran up the road in San Domenico, past EUI, and then took the turnoff for the Vecchio, the back way up to Fiesole. Wow, what a climb – slow and unrelenting, a very narrow road, lots of villas up the hillside. I managed to run all of the way up, but I was worn out only a mile and a half in. But I was also so happy to be running – the addict, getting a little fix, and with fabulous views to boot. Through Fiesole, then just guessing about where to go, after I realized that the runs to the other villages would take too long. After I passed through town, I saw a turnoff for a “forest park” (as well as for something Olympics-related, but I never figured out what that was). I ran through a school, and then onto a wide path into Parco di Montececeri. I have no idea how large or small this park is, but it featured some double and single track trail, often rocky and rooty, with more climbing, views out to all sides, and some rock formations, I did a loop almost all the way around, then popped out on the other side of the park.

I began to head down the hill, then realized I had no idea where I was going. I used my four words of Italian to get directions from locals, and then enjoyed the downhill run back through Fiesole, and then on down the main road back toward Florence. The sun was setting over the city and the green hills. Wisteria was in bloom, peeking out from the walls of some of the villas. A perfect way to end the day. I saw some of the conference group halfway down the road, at Le Lance, the site for that night’s dinner (I turned up about an hour late, but didn’t miss much dinner, since the dinner seemed to be about a dozen courses – and very yummy too. I didn’t say no to any dessert while in Italy, and Italian coffee – the coffee itself plus the way its done – is great). I carried on down to the hotel, perhaps a total of 8 miles, and such a wonderful run. I was sad that it was to be my only run – so much to explore in those hills beyond Fiesole – but also thrilled to finally get out for it. My body and my mind need to run, no doubt about it.

And at dinner, I think that the rest of the group was thrilled that I was finally wearing clean clothes.   And next time I fly to Europe and want to check a bag, I will. (Although maybe not next time I go to Italy!). But I’m putting the running shoes and running clothes in my carry on. Showing up a bit crumpled and disheveled to an academic conference is ok. But not having the option to run is not.

Unrelated: check out this hairdo, on a US Airways agent in Frankfurt. It almost didn’t seem real.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Umstead 100....the Pace Report

Think back to college. Perhaps you had this experience: there’s a party on campus, and you and your friends plan to go. But, for some reason or another – maybe you have some reading to finish or a paper to write for Monday, or maybe you’re arriving back late from a cross country meet, or your parents are in town and want to take you to dinner  – your friends leave for the party without you. You eventually make your way there, a couple hours later. In that time, your friends have been somewhere or another in that frat house, doing shots of tequila or playing quarters. And so, when you walk in, you’re the only sober person around. It’s not pretty, seeing everyone in their various states of intoxication. They think they look ok – or even good – but they don’t. They think that they’re moving well, maybe dancing a bit, walking in a straight line, but they’re not. They think they’re making sense, talking coherently, but they’re not making much sense at all. And all you can think to yourself is “carnage.”

That scene – turning up once the party is underway, and almost unable to comprehend how ugly it looks – was my first experience at the Umstead 100, in March 2008. I had run one ultra, a 40 miler, and I’d never been anywhere near a 100 mile race. Sure, I’d heard a few of the Trailheads talk about them, but I didn’t really have any sense of what was involved. But I had decided to volunteer as a pacer for Umstead (one of the great things that Umstead does is to provide volunteer pacers to runners who request one). The race had begun at 6am, but my pacing shift was to start around 10pm. I arrived in the dark, slowly made my way to Camp Lapihio, the race headquarters and site of the main aid station, and I walked into the main lodge. I couldn’t quite comprehend the scene in front of me: a huge fire in the fireplace, and runners in various states of alertness (or not) and distress (quite often). They had family and friends taking care of them, but they often were unable to stand, or they weren’t making sense, or they just seemed dazed. Welcome to the party. Carnage.

As it turned out, that night, I bumped into a friend who was – unbeknownst to most of us – attempting his first 100 miler, and I paced him for one 12.5 mile lap. Out on the course, it was a similar scene – pitch dark, some runners walking, others managing a jog, some headlamps moving in a straight line, others weaving from side to side. Pacers attempting to keep their runners fed, warm and motivated. My friend, aka Trailhead Gumbi, went on to a great finish and has since done many more 100 milers. I left wondering why anyone would do such a thing. Then again, by that stage, I had already sent in my entry for the Cascade Crest 100, so it was only a matter of time before I’d find out for myself.
The Umstead 100 attracts many first-time 100 milers. It has excellent and loyal volunteers. It’s run as a 12.5 mile loop, repeated 8 times, on the wide trails of Umstead State Park, in Raleigh. There’s no single track to navigate and, from the point of view of family and friends, it’s so very easy – just hang out at the main aid station and wait for your runner to come through. If you get cold, go into the lodge, where there’s yummy food in the kitchen and a warm fire at the back.

Given the layout of the course (which includes an out and back spur), runners see each other over and over. The weather is often perfect, cool temperatures at the start, mid-60s during the day, not too cold at night. There are some hills on the back side of the loop, but nothing too big (maybe 1000 feet of elevation gain over the 12.5 mile loop). Of course, there’s the boredom factor, eight times around the same route. But many people use Umstead as their first 100 miler.

And the setup of the course means that one has an experience that one doesn’t get in point to point or single loop 100 milers: you see people from across the spectrum, from the front of the pack to the back. As the day goes on, the runners at the front of the pack finish (this year’s men’s winner was done around 4pm); and so one is more likely to see people who are, perhaps, struggling through the race. It’s both inspiring and – back to the party analogy above – a little frightening.

Last year, I did the 50 mile race at Umstead, which starts with the 100 milers and just involves 4 loops. I was happy to be done, since I was getting bored with the course (and wondering how people could do 4 more laps of it!). Several friends did the 100, some as their first 100 mile finish, but I was glad to be at home and relaxing while they ran into the night. 

This year, I had the opportunity to pace a friend, who was attempting to complete his first 100 miler. He’s a lifelong runner, someone who used to focus on things like 10Ks and road marathons (and someone whose marathon PR, set at the age of 45, is 2:49…not too shabby). He’s done many 50Ks and 50 milers, and he’d attempted Umstead a couple years ago, but dropped out with a nasty case of plantar fasciitis.  He was in great shape this year. A friend of his had hoped to come in from out of town to pace, but couldn’t make it, so I offered to do the last 50 miles. We talked a bit about time goals and race strategy, and we decided to save any other conversations for race day, when we’d spend lots of time together.

The short version: my runner finished in 23:12, a bit slower than he had hoped, but comfortably under 24 hours. I like to think that I helped get him there, although he was certainly very well trained and prepared. Had he not had a tough time with nausea (and therefore with getting calories down), he would have been a bit faster. One of my primary jobs was to figure out what he was willing to eat, and to collect it for him while he sat down. And to then stand nearby, subtly tapping my foot, reminding him to get up and get moving again (see the photo below, from our 7th lap, at aid station 2). It was great fun to be out – I got to start running just before 4pm, when it was a beautiful, if windy, spring day. 

It was nice to start early enough to be able to see runners from across the spectrum, including some folks familiar from various races. And, as night descended, I saw more familiar faces – several Trailheads who had volunteered for pacing duty, other Trailheads who had come to hang out at the main aid station to see if they could lend help with anything, and other folks from the NC running scene, both those doing the race (congrats, Sultan!) and those volunteering out on the course (thanks for the photo, Shannon!). But most importantly, it was really nice to pace someone. I can only begin to describe how wonderful it was to have a pacer and crew, all there just for me, at Western States in 2010. So nice to be able to offer a tiny fraction of that to someone else.

Unrelated: earlier this week was the funeral for my colleague George Rabinowitz, who died very unexpectedly. He was 67 years old, on sabbatical in Oslo this semester, waiting to catch the bus one Friday morning, and suffered a massive heart attack. His death came as a shock to all of us; his wife is also a colleague, making it all the more upsetting. At his graveside service, many wonderful things were said. George was the nicest man one could imagine, welcoming each new faculty member and graduate student into the department, and always genuinely interested in how one’s life was going. And he was also a tough critic and a very sharp mind, with high standards, someone who was always ready with tough questions about papers and presentations. What was wonderful was the way in which he combined these things. 

Of the many beautiful things said, I was struck most by something from his younger son: that George was happy, and that he found happiness in all sorts of everyday things. He loved his wife, his children and his grandchild dearly. He loved going to work, working on papers, teaching class, meeting with graduate students. The night before he died, he went to the opera with his wife. That morning, there was fresh snow on the ground, and he took the dog for a walk before heading to the bus.  And so, his son hoped, he was, even at the moment of his death, happy. Finding happiness in the small, everyday things that are part of the fabric of life – something to remember to do.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

My "New" Shoes (or New "Shoes"?)

I've been fortunate to receive several new pairs of shoes during the last few weeks -- La Sportiva's Crosslite 2.0 (which isn't actually a replacement for the original Crosslite, but a new shoe altogether. More on that another time), as well as La Sportiva's Fireblade (ran Duke Forest hills in these this morning, and I really like them).

But the best pair I've received came from Squonk, one of the original Trailheads. He very kindly converted a much-abused pair of Crosslites into "Sport Slippers." This involved much toiling in his secret workshop, a significant amount of branding with a Sharpie; and the careful application of duct tape (including the part where he had to touch the insole of my shoes -- knowing where my shoes have been, ick!). Squonk even managed to take my new SportSlippers to the woods for a visit without me:

And then he presented them to me at the Open Eye yesterday. I happily took off my running shoes and my wet socks and slipped them on. Immediately, I wanted to go out and run another 20 miles. Or something like that. Thanks Squonk!

Last week, I spent a few days in Montreal, for the International Studies Association annual meeting. I had time for a couple runs, mostly around Mount Royal Park. There was still a good bit of snow on the trails, and ice/snow on the main gravel road (I took my Crosslite 2.0 shoes, rather than road shoes, and I was happy to have the great traction....and they felt just fine for the mile or so run on road/sidewalk from my hotel).

The sun was (mostly) out, and it was a balmy 40 degrees for my second run (closer to 30 on the first day). Lots of locals were out running, walking their dogs, or commuting across the park. The views of the city from the top are great, and the run up the main road was a gentle climb the entire way (of course, it helps that the peak is only 764 feet above sea level!). I also ran a bit on the trails -- nice to have one more dose of winter for the year. I've never been to Montreal in the spring or summer, but I'm sure that the running is even better then.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Very Belated, Far Too Long, Uwharrie Race Report

Disclaimers: This race report is very late, over a month – not bad in the academic world, but not so good in the blog and running world. And it’s very long-winded as well (perhaps, again, correlated with being an academic?). But better late than never, right?

I love Uwharrie, perhaps more than one should. Uwharrie was my first trail race, in 2007. I did the 8 mile. My first daughter was exactly one month old, and leaving her to run race was the longest I’d been away from her at that point. I remember a fun drive to the race with my friend Wendy, a tough romp in the woods in my first-ever, brand new pair of trail shoes, and fabulous cookies at the end of the race.

In 2008, I did my first ultra – the 40 miler --- at Uwharrie. I was in decent shape, having run a marathon a few months before; but I also was terrified. I was intimidated by the runners at the pre-race dinner who seemed to know one another, to be wearing their various belt buckles, and to be completely relaxed about the whole undertaking. But I had the great fortune of running about 35 miles of that race with Trailhead Gumbi, who pulled me through; and my husband and daughter were there to say hi at miles 20, 29, 32, 35, 38; and I got to run right into my husband’s arms at the finish line. I was thrilled that I finished – and shocked that I managed to finish as the second woman. It definitely was the athletic accomplishment of which I was proudest.  Finishing the ultra felt so empowering: for at least the next couple weeks, I felt (irrationally) invincible at home and at work.

And it was just before that first Uwharrie that another of the Trailheads (Snally), in response to my anxiety about the race, offered this race strategy:

“When you crest the first big hill at mile 1, look to the east and you'll see the sun just starting to rise up over the hills.  It will probably be sort of cloudy so there will be some nice color.  You'll have that mixture of excitement, anxiety, wonder, etc. Think about settling into a pace and just focus on letting the time pass by as you keep moving from aid station to aid station. 

Run 38 miles.

Then, when you're finishing the run, you'll come back along that same ridge and look to the west and you'll see that same sun settling low into the sky.  Take a minute then to reflect on the fact that you had the privilege of  spending an entire winter's day out in the woods running and walking through some beautifully rugged terrain.  Feel pride and satisfaction that you accomplished this and that you were lucky/fortunate enough to have this opportunity.  And realize that you're almost finished and that there is delicious hot soup and Uwharrie cookies waiting for you at the bottom of the mountain.  Also, step lively because Taz or Squonk will appear from behind some rock to snap your picture...”

Wonderful advice, which I’ve since shared – especially the “look east, run 38 miles, look west” part – with other first timers. 

I missed Uwharrie in 2009 -- pregnant again, with a due date a few days before Uwharrie. Friends kindly made sure to get me a race T-shirt, delivering it the day after the race – when I happened to be at home, but in labor. I managed to get a quick race report from Plank and Gumbi before telling them that I should get going, since I was supposed to be en route to Labor & Delivery.  I still associate that year’s Uwharrie shirt with my younger daughter’s arrival.

2010 brought a different sort of race: I was excited to see if I could improve on my 2008 time (7:47), and I was in decent shape. I figured I could run 7:30, and perhaps 7:20 if I had a good day. I was excited for the race – nervous, as I always am, but also confident that I’d finish, and more curious about what sort of day I’d have. It didn’t quite turn out as I’d expected: sometime late on Friday night, after a day of torrential rains, the Forest Service told the race directors that the stream crossings in the last six miles of the trail were too treacherous. The RDs had to decide between canceling the race and changing the course. So, the course was changed: we’d leave the Uwharrie Trail at Mile 14, head onto a fire road, and run that to the turnaround at Mile 20. We ended up with a run that was closer to 37.5 miles, and without some of the toughest climbs, which are on that 12 mile section of single track. I had a great day, finishing as first woman, but with a time that wasn’t at all comparable. Yes, it was much, much faster than the year before, but it also wasn’t at all the same course. But, hey, I’d adopted a new ultra theme song (ABBA’s Super Trouper) in the process, and I had another great piece of pottery to take home, so no point complaining.

Which brings me to 2011. In late October, it didn’t even occur to me to ask myself *whether* I would sign up for Uwharrie, or which distance I would run. I had developed a high hamstring pull just before Western States in June 2010. I’d continued to train through it, although I hadn’t done my usual back to back long runs, and I’d done a good bit less mileage than for 2008 or 2010. I also had been a less-than-star-student when it came to physical therapy-assigned exercises.  I hadn’t done a race since Western States (June 2010), which had begun to feel like a very long time. And, with La Sportiva sponsoring the race (although it was the 20 mile, rather than the 40, that had become part of their Mountain Cup series), I really wanted to be there. But, of course, I also knew that my relative lack of training, plus the almost-constant pain in my hamstring might not make for a fun outing.

After weeks of worrying about this, I decided that, of course, I’d do Uwharrie. I’d try to run it for fun, to worry less about my time and place, to gut it out if I had to, and to treat it as more of a training run. I had the blessing of my physical therapist, who assumed that I wouldn’t hurt my hamstring anymore. And I had my husband reminding me that, if I decided to sit the race out, I’d be insufferable at home.

So,  on Friday evening, I found myself at the pre-race dinner in Asheboro. It was great to meet Ian, from La Sportiva’s US headquarters in Boulder, and I loved this year’s Uwharrie shirt (both the regular one, and the special Greenlayer “Going the Distance” shirt).  But dinner wasn’t as fun as in the past, because I knew that my daughters were sick at home and that their father had received some negative and unexpected news at work that afternoon. I was very aware of the imbalances, and I wasn’t sure what to do – I could skip the race and head home to try to take care of everyone there, or I could try to enjoy my day in the woods, knowing I could deal with home once the race was over. On Saturday morning, even as I rode to the race with a friend, I wasn’t sure that I really wanted to choose the latter. The downpour didn’t help. But, hey, I was out in the middle of nowhere in central North Carolina, there were lots of Trailheads around, working at the aid stations and tending the fire at the start line, and there were some first-timers there, looking forward to the full Uwharrie experience. Time to enjoy the present, and to worry about everything else later.

I don’t remember the details of much of the first part of the race, beyond the fact that I ran the early miles with Helix, another Trailhead (who eventually finished seventh overall, in his first ever ultra). The stream crossings were fairly high in places, including water up to my hips on a couple. I was glad that my Crosslites dried out so quickly (I'd rather run through water than try to get across a creek with dry lack of balance makes it likely that I'll end up falling in anyway).

Somewhere around mile 10 or so, I found myself on my own, and that was just fine. I had decided that I’d see if I could finish in 8 hours, and that I’d even be OK with hitting the turnaround in 4 hours. It was good that I didn’t have a faster goal, because my legs felt as if I was doing quite enough. Being alone probably wasn’t the best thing, because it gave me a lot of time to think about non-running stresses, and to worry about everyone at home. I was so impressed when the leaders of the 20 mile course passed me (what fast times this year!). And I loved seeing Trailhead Goofus sitting on a rock, playing the banjo, around Mile 19. Not too far from the turnaround, I saw the first two women – Grace, with whom I’d run a few of the early miles; and Shannon, who’s always got her camera in hand, no matter the race.

Just before the turnaround, which I hit around 3:45 in (a guess, as I had accidentally stopped my watch about 5 miles in, and didn’t realize this until several miles later), I tripped on a rock. I caught myself mid-air, but my hamstring screamed at me. By the time I came to the aid station, which was manned by all sorts of fabulous volunteers, I was nearly in tears – worried that I had injured myself further, and also concerned about my girls and husband. I did something I’ve never done before; I borrowed someone’s phone and called home to check in. I didn’t get anything but voicemail, but at least I assuaged my guilt a bit.

As I began the second half of the course, I was treated to seeing both 40 mile runners approaching the turnaround, and 20 mile runners finishing their race. This is one of the great things about Uwharrie – the out and back, plus the large number of Trailheads who run the race, means that one gets lots of distraction from both friends and strangers for several miles. I heard the same report from lots of 20 mile runners – I was third woman, the second place woman was only a few minutes ahead, the first woman was not too far ahead of her.  They had mistaken me for someone who was out to win, but I was happy just to be upright. 

I knew that too few long runs was going to catch up to me. I started making all sorts of calculations…why bother with sub-8 hours, when I had done that before, when I was in much better shape? How long would it take me to finish if I walked all of the last 15 miles? Would it really be so horrible if I decided to DNF (answer: yes, duh)? Of course, whenever I’d go too far with the negative thoughts, something would happen to jar me back to the task at hand – for instance, I’d trip on a huge rock.  I was at my low point, in terms of fatigue and attitude, around the mile 26 aid station. Alicia came past me, looking strong, and I was happy to let her go.

And then, somewhere soon after that (my memory fails me, a month later), I caught up to Shannon. I pointed out that she was having a great race; she agreed, but said that she was starting to tire, and that she was worried that she wasn’t going to hit her secret stretch goal, a sub-8 hour finish. Suddenly, the idea that I could encourage Shannon – whom I knew from the local race circuit and from her great blog, but not much beyond that – gave me a second wind. We moved reasonably well for many miles, talking about all sorts of things, eating Sour Patch Kids, and just generally loving having company. We caught up to Alicia around mile 30, and I managed to lead the three of us across an unnecessary stream crossing (sorry!). I was still tired, but I also was doing the math to figure out whether sub-8 was in range for us (it was, but it meant that we had to maintain a decent pace). Mile 32 provided a big boost, with an aid station staffed by Trailheads (although I declined the whiskey that was on offer). Shannon and I carried on through the Mile 35 aid station, when the climbs began to feel very steep. We took turns leading, until somewhere around Mile 36 or 37. I made a pit stop, while Shannon motored up the hill. 

And that was the last I saw of Shannon.  Shortly after the Mile 38 aid station, the trail was marked 2.0 miles to the end of the Uwharrie Trail. I checked my watch. It was 2:42pm. I knew we’d started 6 minutes late, so that gave me 24 minutes to do 2 miles, if I wanted to get under 8 hours. I loved the fact that I might still make it, but my legs weren’t particularly cooperative. I didn’t mind the climbing, but the rocky descents in that last part that are no fun. I tried to remember the “run 38 miles and think how lucky you are” advice – to enjoy it. But, mostly, I was annoyed that I had dallied too much in the aid stations (including my mile 20 phone call).

I finally hit the last descent, and sprinted (well, I felt like I sprinted. I’m sure it wasn’t pretty) down the hill across the line, and practically right into Shannon’s arms. She seemed so happy – at the time, I didn’t realize that she had not only managed to meet her sub-8 hour goal; she also had caught the woman ahead of us, giving her the win. I called over to the timers (who, coincidentally, happened to be a graduate student in my department and her husband) to get my official time: 7:59:53. I was thrilled – under 8, by the skin of my teeth, and with a lovely piece of pottery to take home.

I loved Uwharrie again this year, even though I wasn’t close to the PR I’d wanted in 2010, and even though I never really had a chance of winning. It meant so much to me to see Shannon realize, and exceed, her goal, and to feel like I had helped her do that. That experience made me appreciate Uwharrie in a whole new way. I also enjoyed seeing other friends finish their first Uwharrie 40 and, in some cases, their first ultra of any sort. (We celebrated the latter by dancing to Culture Club’s “Karma Chameleon” in the parking area. New theme song, perhaps?)  It was good to realize that I don’t have to be perfectly trained to finish respectably; I can sometimes manage to tough it out.  And the woods were, as they often are for me, a respite from everything else – time that is selfishly, and wonderfully, just mine. So thanks for another year, Uwharrie.