Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Best Shoe for...

Which shoe is best for sub-alpine climbs in late spring, when there’s still some ice and snow, as well as some mud? Or for toe protection as well as traction across acres of slickrock? And what about a shoe that will easily go from sometimes-dtechnical singletrack, to asphalt and finally to doubletrack fire trail?

Sure, these are important questions, and there are lots of trail runners, running blogs and independent running store employees who will attempt to answer them for you. So I won’t, at least not now.

Instead, let’s try this one: “Which trail shoe is best for sprinting through the San Francisco airport at 6:15am, when you’ve missed a connection the night before; have pretended to sleep on the airport floor for a couple of hours (while simultaneously entertaining and feeding your three children, including a seven year old who is determined to pull her first all nighter); and have suddenly realized, after the plane has finished boarding, that you’ve left an essential item somewhere between the nursery area in the departure hall (good place to sleep, if you can find it and get in) and Gate 61?”

Hands down, it’s the La Sportiva Bushido.

Sure, it looks like it’s a relatively lightweight trail shoe with a 6mm drop, which has the stability to handle some rocks, roots and mud on single track, while also having enough cushion for the occasional swathe of pavement. And like it’s a shoe whose bright colors will attract complements and who’s snug midfoot fit and roomier toe box has a nice feel.

But it’s even better when one needs to move quickly over super slick airport floors, all the while dodging bleary-eyed Saturday morning travelers, flight crews and airport employees (hint: “On your left” is not terribly effective among an airport crowd).

I know this because, a few days ago, I found myself having one of those “Oh, no, did I forget that???” moments. They usually end in relief (“no, of course I didn’t; it’s right there. Stop obsessing.”). But it had been a long trip already, with one car booster seat left somewhere between airport security in North Carolina and the airplane door in California. As it dawned on me that I was without the ever-important (for the mother of a five month old, and someone who was headed to an out-of-the-range-of-big-box-retail destination) breast pump, I began to panic.

The flight attendant let me leave the plane to check the gate area. I made it back outside, but realized that it wasn’t there, and that it must be at the security checkpoint. We had sailed through the check, but then had to wait a while for our running stroller (damn running!) to clear security, and I had been thinking more about coffee than about gathering all of our belongings.

I asked the gate agent whether I could retrieve it quickly. He looked at me skeptically. “I’ll be quick,” I offered. And then, “I’m a runner,” to back it up. “You have five minutes,” he agreed. Of course, we had used the shorter, elite status TSA line, which was furthest away. I ran all out, making pretty good time – for a middle aged woman who avoids the track like the plague.

The TSA agent confirmed that, yes, they had my lost item; they wondered why it had taken me an hour and fifteen minutes to return for it. And they needed to fill out and print a form before I could have it. And they needed to scold me for having left the plane without my boarding pass. I attempted to explain that time was of the essence – that my two minutes out left me only three minutes to get back. After what seemed like an eternity, I made the return portion of my sprint. Even though I was pulled off balance by the extra five pounds over my left shoulder, and even as I was nearly blocked by a gaggle of oblivious teenagers, the Bushidos performed exceptionally well.

I don’t think I made it back under the five minute cutoff, but the course official – no, wait, the gate agent – was kind enough to re-open the plane door for me. I think he sensed that I needed to be on my flight, lest the screaming baby in 7D drive the rest of the plane mad for the next two hours. Or perhaps he just liked my shoes.

They may not be a fashion statement off of the trails, but wearing them to fly leaves more room in the suitcase. And you never know when you will need to do some airport speedwork. 

I love to run. I love the physical challenges which running presents, the mental health benefits it offers, and the camaraderie with my running friends. I love running familiar routes near home and, even more, I love running in new and beautiful places.

That said, there’s something fun about those times when one’s running fitness is helpful in a direct way. It doesn’t happen often, but when I have to run from the ferry dock to the Ocracoke Coffee Company and back (2005…couldn’t give up our car’s place in line to go back for misplaced wallet), or through Dulles airport to make a connection to fly to Italy (2011…guess airports are a common place for this), it’s an extra running-related reward. It’s even better, of course, if one is wearing the right shoes. (And, for what it’s worth, the Bushido also has been great on single track trails in Washington state…).

Next time: best running nutrition products for hungry, cranky preschoolers. 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Yes, The Years are Short. And Busy.

Nearly every post on this blog begins by noting that it’s been a while since the last post. At least I’m consistent in that way.

My husband celebrated a birthday this week, and I remembered how much life has changed in since his last birthday: a year ago, a late spring 12 mile run at Eno River State Park left me completely exhausted. Sure, the trail was rough in places, the humidity was high, and I wasn’t in the best shape, still having a less-than-perfect hamstring. But, all of that considered, it was still a surprise that a two hour trail run would leave me crashed on the couch for much of the afternoon. I couldn’t remember a time I’d felt so exhausted, except for when…(the previous post has a photo related to how this part of the story ends)

Fast forward to this May, when my husband’s birthday coincided with our baby hitting the four month mark. They say that, when one’s children are small, the days are long but the years are short. I often agree. But the last twelve months has had lots packed into it, not least welcoming a little boy to our family.

There was also the usual travel mixed in, affording opportunities to sneak in runs in new places. In addition to always-lovely Moran State Park and Turtleback Mountain last summer, the fall brought trips to (and runs in) San Diego and Claremont; Trento, Italy; and Portsmouth, New Hampshire (plus more urban running destinations, like Chicago, Providence and New Haven).  The visit to Trento, while short, took me very close to the home of La Sportiva – although the quick trip and the conference schedule meant no time to venture into the nearby mountains.

I ran the majority of my fall miles – road or trail – in the La Sportiva Helios, after discovering last summer that it has plenty of cushion for roads (at least, for me), and that it’s therefore a great shoe for runs that cover a variety of surfaces (and for trail-only runs, for that matter. For people who pay attention to such things, it's got a 4mm drop).

In 2014, I was happy to make it to the 9th Annual Little River Trail Runs, for which I was co-race director. The race was two days after my due date, but my body cooperated: I went into labor (fittingly, it started on a run) two days after the race. With a record number of runners and a stellar effort from our race volunteers, we managed to raise $10,000 this year for Little River Regional Park (more here).

In the four months since, life - running included - has been (understatement) different. The third baby has been more exhausting than the first two. There are good reasons for this, not least the fact that we’ve transitioned from playing man to man to playing zone defense (obligatory basketball reference, since I’m a Duke Ph.D. and a UNC professor). 

We have two girls who are very excited for a new sibling, but who also have their own activities and demands. Add to that a baby who much preferred to eat rather than sleep at night for the first few months; and parents who are trying to maintain some semblance of their professional lives (but we academics do get great parental leave benefits, relative to most in the US economy). The result was lots of groggy morning runs.  (We could add in the fact that I’m older with this baby, or the weeklong trip to Dublin that baby and I made in April, but who wants to go there?).

Pushing through an hour’s run has often seemed like enough – enough to reset me mentally, and enough to feel like I was getting back into shape. The nice thing about this state, beyond the incredibly cute baby who has caused it (and who is now getting better at that sleeping thing), has been running for the sake of running. While I like having events to train for and look forward to, there’s also freedom that comes with running for its own sake. Sure, I did a 25k in March (couldn’t resist the chance to run from Chapel Hill to Durham, in celebration of Merge Records’ 25 years). And I’m very excited about another chance to run on the trails of Orcas Island this summer. And I’m thinking about what race I should do in the fall.
Moran State Park, home of the best trails on Orcas.

But, for now, I’m running because I like to run.

And this brings me back to a run on my husband’s birthday. We planned to run together in the afternoon, something we hadn’t done in months. Of course, this included pushing the baby in the stroller, in 90 degree temps, but it was still fun to get in time on the double track trail together.  I started a few minutes early and, in my six outbound minutes on the trail, I ran into two different TrailHead friends (and one dog), both of whom were nearing the ends of their runs. We joined together and turned back, three women, one stroller and one dog greeting my husband when he approached. The four of us had a nice run together, talking of all sorts of things. After a couple miles, one of the women headed home; another mile later, the second one also left us. My husband headed for the car after a couple more, and the baby and I finished out our run alone.

This run made me happy (although it also nearly made me melt), not only because it was a rare date run for us, but also because I love running into people in the woods. We have a great running community in Chapel Hill/Carrboro, and there are a lot of folks with flexible work schedules, so one often bumps into familiar face on a run -- although it's often hard to predict *whom* one will encounter.

And, as the heat began to really get to me, the run seemed a nice analogy for life – I had started alone. Along the way, I found a friend. And then another friend. I hadn’t planned on running with either one of them, but that surprise made it more fun. And then there was my husband, of course (and our youngest child), who was there as promised. And, at the end of it all (and, at that point, I did feel like I might be close to death, via heat exhaustion), I was back to running on my own. It might be a nice analogy for life – we start alone, we leave alone, but in between, we meet folks along the way, sometimes in unexpected ways, but often in ways that bring us joy. Or, that could all have been the heat talking…

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Perfect Afternoon

Blogging has, yet again, been non-existent for many months. Since the last post, I've spent a few more weeks on Orcas Island, taught a semester's worth of classes, run maybe 1200 miles, traveled to various conferences...and (saving the most im-balanc-y thing for last) had a baby. One of these days, I'll write about these things in detail.

But, for now, and in the spirit of bidding farewell to a long and cold (by central NC standards) winter...what a glorious day yesterday was. It wasn't just the cloudless Carolina blue sky or the ease of parking around town that comes with UNC's spring break. Rather, it was a lovely walk with baby (and with a friend and her baby) to the daffodil field that emerges along Morgan Creek each spring. We walked a few hundred feet to the daffodils and, after some failed attempts to photograph baby on his own in the flowers, we sat and had a lovely conversation and some much-needed coffee.

And -- the second piece of fun for the afternoon -- the day's run also brought a new discovery. I thought that I would, for the first time in a long time, and in anticipation of running the "faculty mile" at UNC again this spring, do some repeats on the track. I ran up to campus, but a lacrosse game meant that the track was closed. Disappointed, I carried on with a road run...and I managed to discover some trails that I'd never been on. Having lived in Chapel Hill for nearly 10 years, and having run all of that time, it's a rarity to find a new local spot. But there I was, on a dead end street on a warm afternoon, and realizing that the dead end included a trailhead. It was perhaps only a mile of trail, but it included some lovely forest and a gently flowing creek. I'm so glad that the track was closed, and I'm now figuring out how to work this bit of trail into some of my local runs. Yippee for spring, and for discoveries close to home!