Scatter my ashes here...

Scatter my ashes here...
scatter my ashes in the desert...

Monday, August 18, 2014

Close Encounters of Three Kinds...

1. Touroidus celluloidus

When I was in forestry school at NAU (where I got my bachelor's degree way back in the ancient times, when dinosaurs still ruled the earth) we used to have a joke among our classmates, that when we went out to forest recreation sites, among the many wildlife species we would encounter were Touroidus celluloidus. The fat-assed tourist.

They drove as much as they could, parked as close to the destination as possible, the picnic was the highlight of their trip, and they always asked stupid questions.

It's true, we really did say that. Not PC at all. But that was also back in the days before the obesity epidemic really took hold, the early eighties. Reagan was president, the "gourmet" food craze was just starting out, and fat was only beginning to be thought of as the demon. What followed was the removal of fat from the junk food diet and replacement by carbohydrates, which led us to the great waistline expansion and Type II diabetes explosion of today.

When I think about my life back then I think I was some kind of alien among my classmates who were mostly male, very conservative, a few were rednecks, they listened to annoying, twangy country music and chewed and spat tobacco, always had a blob in one side of their jaw, spit into soda cans, drank cheap beer, and drove big pickup trucks with long antennas on top and wore pointy boots, jeans, and flannel shirts. And hats, always cowboy hats or baseball caps.

I was one of a small handful of women in my class. An alien race for sure.

Speaking of aliens, I have always been curious about Devil's Tower. I've been to the Black Hills many times for races and runs, but never took the opportunity to go see it, even though it's only about an hour out of the way. This time I made a point of going there on my way to Spearfish, where I was running the Leading Ladies marathon.

I drove north on a little highway from Douglas to Gillette, Wyoming, though oilfield country. Nothing but oil rigs, oil wells, oil tankers, and antelope. Then took a road off of I-90 to the monument. I could see the Black Hills from Gillette and the scenery got better as I drove north.

I drove over the Belle Fourche river, and from a high point on the highway, I could see some rock formations in the distance, and I knew the one by itself had to be Devil's Tower.

Approaching it on the road, it became more impressive the closer I got. People were beginning to turn off the road to take photographs, and I did too. I wished I could be there at sunrise or sunset so the light would be better, but it was noon.

I drove down a hill, around a curve, and there it was...Disneyland! Ugh.

Prime Touroidus celluloidus habitat. There was a long line of cars leading up to the entrance station, and I momentarily considered turning around and bagging it. But then I knew I'd be disappointed, so I stayed, sitting in line with the line of cars blowing exhaust, surrounded by tourists at the KOA and little stores advertising ice cream, trinkets, and other touristy garbage. There was even a car show going on.

There were lots of overweight people milling around eating ice cream, giant RVs parked in tiny parking lots, and people sitting there, in folding chairs, alongside the road, breathing exhaust, watching I'm not sure what...the line of traffic waiting to go through the entrance station to pay $10 to see the tower?
By the time I got a quarter mile from the trailhead, it got quiet and the crowds disappeared, with only occasional walkers, many of whom spoke German or Japanese. But there was one guy who easily topped 300 pounds, who was walking along, pouring sweat, and talking to his companion about how he feels like his body is pushing it's limits, that he could tell he was getting if he were on some long remote trek in the wilderness...
I ignored the drama, but I really thought I would have a chance to practice CPR before I made it around the trail once. So many VERY unfit looking people. Very bad. It looks like this might be the most exercise most of them had in a long time. Huffing and puffing to get up little baby hills, maybe 20 feet high.
Looking up at the giant columns of "phonolite porphyry, a...greenish-gray igneous rock with conspicuous crystals of white feldspar" according to the Tower Columns, a newsprint souvenir freely distributed at the little booth at the park entrance.

The tower was different all the way around, many interesting views from each angle. Again, I wish the light had been better, but I got the best pictures I could.

2. Leading Ladies Marathon

After the tower, it was about an hour drive to Spearfish. First I stopped off at the Holiday Inn to pick up my race packet. It's an all women's marathon, so there were a lot of colorful items in the expo. Close encounters with a lot of pink stuff. Nothing I was interested in.

I walked around a little, got my number, t-shirt, and chip, and the information I needed, and then I went across the street to my hotel and was able to check in. Once I got up to my room, I cranked the air conditioning as cold as it would go, and started getting my stuff organized for a 3 am wakeup. The buses were leaving the Holiday Inn across the street at 4 am, for the 6 am race start.

I went out to get some food. I didn't see anything that interested me except a Mexican restaurant that someone told me was good. So I decided to go there and get take out, and go back to the room and eat. I could not believe the size of the portion they gave me. There were enough refried beans for an army. I happen to like refried beans if they are the really really bad kind, the Mexican kind, probably made with lard and they taste awesome. Well that was the case. And I ate them. It was 4 pm. I figured I was eating early enough that I'd be able to fall asleep.

I organized my clothes and stuff for the morning and thought about my plan, sitting down on my mat on the floor to stretch.

I was thinking if I could keep a 9 minute pace that would be good, so my goal in my head was to finish in under 4 hours. I had fantasies of running 3:30 a few weeks back, but given the fatigue in my legs I dismissed that altogether, even with the downhill. My goal would be to run sub 9s average.

I only ran 26 miles before the marathon that week. But one day I did do almost 16 miles and felt pretty dead at the end of it, so I knew my legs weren't going to perform any miracles. Plus with my tight hips and gluteals that I've been obsessively stretching and strengthening only for about a week, I knew I was limited.

I slept okay, turned off the lights at 8:30 and woke up once to pee but went back to sleep. No hot flashing, thanks to the AC.

I woke up at 2:55, and did my usual prerace routine. Coffee, thyroid pills, stretch, shower, dressed, eat something. I packed a sandwich to eat on the bus along with some water and a vitamin water zero. I took my running pack and a water bottle half filled with ice.

I left the room at 10 to 4, to walk across the street to catch the bus.

The bus went to the park where the finish line was, to pick up more runners, then up to Deadwood and past the town of Lead up to the country club for the start. We passed places I remembered from my trip with Ed, like the burger place on the highway that was our motivation. And I remembered getting lost trying to find the trail head and almost driving to Wyoming in the process, and finally coming back to the same road past the country club.

The woman I sat next to on the bus was doing the 50 states so she picked my brain for some ideas for marathons in different states. I was able to help her with about half a dozen.

We could see lightning in the distance, but there was no rain. When the sun rose it was clear. I hit the portapotties first- got at front of bus with that in mind. After 3 trips I thought I was done. I stretched in the dark, waiting for the start.

When we lined up at start, I was surprised to see pacers. A man was pacing the 3:45 group-the fastest paced runner group. Then there were women pacers: 4 hours, 4:10, 4:20, 4:30 and who knows what else was back there. The women pacing the pace groups looked like they might struggle with the times they were supposed to be pacing, but I do my own thing so I really didn't care. There were two women who looked like twins at the front. They looked to be older than me but had dark hair, they looked fast and skinny and had some sort of Boulder shirts on. I figured they would be up front so I got several rows behind them.

I stood in line next to the 3:45 pace dude, not intending to stay with him. The horn sounded, and we were off, on a gravel road, going straight up a fairly steep hill. After a couple of miles we were on pavement.

3. The Shrubbery

Shortly after mile 2 I realized I needed to use the facilities, which were nonexistent. They promised portapotties at most aid stations, but I knew I wasn't going to make it to the aid station, wherever it was. I spotted a place just up and off the road in some thick trees. It was a good three or four minutes before I got back on the road. Even though I was smart to bring some TP and baby wipes, I didn't bring enough. I was in trouble.

Then I was worried that my intimately close encounters with the shrubbery might have been poison ivy since I remembered it from my trip with Ed.

My splits looked like this (for those who are interested in such things): Mile 1 10:23, mile 2 19:57, Mile 3 33:53. Then it faded into an amorphous mess of uneven splits broken up by sprints into the woods. I was only focused on finding the next spot to take cover. I resupplied myself with toilet paper at one of the aid station portapotties.

It was a screaming downhill for a while, I hit 10 miles in 1:35:56, then there was a mile uphill gravel road section to some waterfalls. I actually considered quitting at mile 10!! I felt so crappy I just didn't want to do it anymore. But then I decided to continue with a tourist stroll. Maybe I would feel better later, I could only hope. I was behind the 4:10 pacer, I could see that group of three or four runners far ahead of me.

Walking uphill to the waterfall a young runner came up on me and started chatting. she was running and I was walking, she asked me if this was my first time. I smiled and said, I wish! I asked her if it was her first and she said it was. She asked me how many I've done and I said, I don't keep track, but it's a lot. I started to talk with her and started jogging along with her. It got me going.

She said her goal was to finish without walking. I gave her my nicest-toned gentle lecture about walking, which is, never feel bad about walking, there is nothing wrong with it, it gives your muscles a break and you end up going faster in the long haul. I walked for about 3 minutes before she caught me, and that was it for my walking.

Just before 13 miles there was an aid station. I stopped for some bananas and more water, then I took off. My legs were sluggish, but they were moving. By then I was only thinking about making it back to the hotel room in time to check out and get a shower before I drove home. That was my new goal, 5 hours.

I wasn't even mad at myself for not bringing my phone to take pictures. It was beautiful, but I was not in an enthusiastic mood.

I hit the halfway mark, the half marathon start, in 2:08:25. I had a couple more portapotty and shrubbery breaks before 17 miles. I ate a gel at 14, and another one at 18, plus a few banana pieces at the aid stations.

I saw a dead snake on the side of the road that made me jump. Maybe it was the adrenaline from that, but something happened after 17 miles, suddenly my legs kicked in, my gut felt better, and I started moving. My splits started to be consistently under 9 minutes and kept getting faster.

I didn't need any more pee or poop breaks, I must have gotten rid of whatever it was, the alien that took over my insides was finally expelled. I had exorcised the demons, or the other-worldly thing that followed me from Devil's Tower.

We had cool shaded canyons for the first 20 miles, a few sunny areas after halfway but it was quite pleasant and didn't really get warm until the last hour.

Around 18 miles I passed the 4:10 pacer, then around 21 miles I passed the 4:00 pacer, who were each running alone. Yup.

As I was descending the canyon I was passing people left and right, and not just the half marathoners who were walking. I must have passed about 25 marathoners on my way into town in the last 9 miles.

Whenever you're in a race and feeling good in the second half, spectators always see you and cheer for you. "You're looking great!" because compared to everyone else who passes them in a semi-death march state, you look good. That was happening to me, and of course that helps.

When I made the turn that takes you to the bike path that delivers you the last 3/4 mile to the finish line, I was flying, relatively. Eight minute pace is flying at the end of a marathon. I felt good and cruised into the finish, but really glad to be done. 4:10:52 on my watch. Not bad. Not good, but not disastrous. I know that without the poop breaks it would have been easily under four hours, I had to remember that.
At the finish they handed us COLD bottles of water, some scented towels (lavender?), and red roses, along with our medals, which said, "Queen of the Road". It was actually refreshing. I went looking for the shuttle that would take me back to the hotel and it was leaving in 10 minutes, so I looked for the results and had just enough time to see my first-timer buddy from the rough section finish her first marathon. I had passed her around 20 miles. I went over to congratulate her. She was still emotional and elated from her experience. It HAS been a LONG time for me.
I got on the shuttle and headed back to the hotel. I forgot about my drop bag, but all it had in it was half a sandwich that I never ate, some gels, and an old t-shirt I don't care about.

I showered, checked out of the room, and hit the road to drive home. It took 6 hours, and as I drove, my left thigh was screaming for about two hours. It seriously hurt. I was afraid to step on the clutch, I cringed every time I had to shift. I briefly wondered if I had fractured my femur, it was so bad. I was planning to take some ibuprofen when I stopped for gas, but by then it had quieted down and I didn't take any. Now it doesn't feel any different from the right leg. Not sure what that was about, but it's gone.

And now I'm home. Back to the routine. I'm slightly sore but not too bad. I walked and stretched today and didn't run. I'll see how things unfold this week, I might wait until mid-week before I start to hit it hard again. Only two more weeks and I'm tapering.

So it wasn't my best day, but I forgot about marathons. They are a different creature. Sort of alien to me now.

But the best news is, it wasn't poison ivy!!!!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Obesification: Soccer Parents

I am amazed at the excuses people make for not having time to exercise. The other day I was talking to a woman who told me that she wishes she could lose weight but she's too busy with her work schedule and her kids' soccer schedules.

This morning I went for a run where I go past a schoolyard that is often filled with kids playing soccer. The parents park alongside the street during the practice. I am always amazed at the number of people I see, sitting in their cars, sometimes running the engines, presumably for air conditioning, and texting.

When I first ran by, there was a VERY overweight woman sitting in her front seat, texting away. On my way home, about an hour later, she was still there, sitting in the car, still texting. I think it's a safe bet she hadn't moved the entire time.

In that hour, she could have gotten up and walked around the soccer field, getting some good exercise. I think her kid would have respected her more for doing that.

People like that woman in the car are contributing to the enrichment of pharmaceutical and hospital executives and sucking the life out of the rest of us.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Manhattan Beach Week

We just got back from vacation. Flew into LAX and stayed with my parents in Manhattan Beach for the week.

I ran over 70 miles in 4 days, ran along the Strand and the Marvin Braude bike path between Redondo Beach and Marina Del Rey, and went south through Hermosa Beach and Redondo up and over the Palos Verdes peninsula in the direction of Long Beach, but didn't go that far over the other side.
The day I was running to Marina del Rey, I saw a Badwater acquaintance, Dan Westergaard, who was so kind as to give me some tips before my road double a few years back. He was on his bike riding on the bike path and I recognized him when he passed me. So he slowed down and we talked for a while.
The day I ran south to Palos Verdes was really beautiful, climbing up the side of the peninsula and running alongside the cliffs that overlooked the ocean and up north toward Manhattan Beach.

Of course I spent a lot of time on the beach, played in the ocean, and we ate a lot of good food. Walked around some, and in general, just relaxed. Made a lot of margaritas in the blender too.

My sister and brother-in-law were there the first 2 days so we got to see them and spend some time with my nephews, who are 5 and 10 years old.

So many beautiful scenes, day and night. The weather was perfect the whole time we were there. I could sleep on the beach, listening to the waves crash. I think I could listen to that sound forever.

Now we're back and life goes forward. Lots of work to do, and a bit more running before taper time for Cleveland.

The way the running went was encouraging, because my legs felt consistently good, even after running 40 last Saturday and only taking one day off to travel on Sunday. I came back with 18, 21, 11, and 21 miles Monday through Thursday.

Now I'm planning to back off just a little this week since I had 90 and 80+ mile weeks, next Sunday I'll be in Spearfish South Dakota for the Leading Ladies Marathon, a training run that I hope to run at a decent pace. Don't ask me what a decent pace is, I don't know. It's anything faster than 9 minute miles, at this point. Any time that makes me feel better about my training. It's a mostly downhill course, so depending on my legs, anything goes.

My body does feel like it wants to fall apart sometimes, but running feels good. I feel better when I am running than when I'm not running! As long as I keep moving I'm okay.

The garden is exploding out of the boxes in the yard, we got some rain while we were gone and everything is green. Usually by now things are all brown and dried up, but not this year. The girls are happy that we're home, too.

I'm happy to be home, though every time I get by the ocean, I wish I could spend more time there. I hope that in the future, we will.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

8HOP: Eight Hours of Power

I needed a long training run that would allow me to create conditions as close as possible to NorthCoast so I could practice my walk/run pattern and see how I felt doing that on tired legs.

My options were few: there are no good asphalt or concrete loop courses that are 0.9 miles with close parking. I could have gone to the track and set up a table, but I'm not running on the track for this race. I could have gone to the cemetery for the 0.98 mile loop, but that's gravel.

I chose a stretch of the Power Trail that is only about a mile from home. I found a double out & back course that measured out 2.7 miles. I measured a quarter mile from my car and used that as my walk break. I mapped everything out with GPS and double checked it on my phone, plus I am already very familiar with the course, as I run that section all the time. I used my car as my aid station, and parked next to some tennis courts in the shade.

My plan at NorthCoast is to walk a quarter mile every three laps. On the track it would be close to doing 10 laps of running to 1 lap of walking. At Cornbelt I ran/walked 6:1 and that was very doable. Not sure how the 10:1 plan might go, but I wanted to see how it felt, at least for 40 miles, on dead legs. The other things I considered are: it's at 5000 feet altitude, it's warm, there are some good rolling hills on the Power Trail that won't be there in Cleveland, I'm not rested or tapered, it's at the end of a 90 mile week, and the car is an inconvenience that would take extra time to mess with things than a table.

I planned to run 8 hours at my race pace, and cover 40 miles. It was a good compromise for a long run, less recovery needed than if I raced a 50 miler, but challenging. I would not shut off my watch, all of the elapsed time would include aid breaks, bathroom breaks, walk breaks, and anything else that might occur. I wanted to run steady for the first 6 hours and then pick it up the last 2 hours if I had anything left.

I wore my new Zensah compression shorts for the first time. I've been considering getting a pair since Cornbelt and decided to try them. I didn't use compression sleeves on my calves today, though. I will on race day.

I figured on starting around 6 and being done by 2 pm. As it turned out, thanks to those reliable night sweats, I woke up at 2:55 am. I figured what the hell and dragged myself out of bed. I made PBJs and filled the cooler with ice water and vitamin water zero. I ate a PBJ for breakfast because I didn't feel like making anything else. I drove over to the trailhead and parked, and started about 4:30 am.

It was 55 degrees, it felt perfect. I didn't need my headlamp, there was enough ambient light. I started out at a slow but steady pace and held it. I didn't vary the pace much at all the whole time, my fastest loops were 30 minutes, most were 31 or 32 minutes, and a few were closer to 35 when I took bathroom breaks. My walking pace was my typical 14 minute mile pace. I count on 15 minute miles but after many loops that buys me extra time, for things like bathroom breaks or occasionally being indecisive about food, drink, clothing or supplies.

I took pictures early in the morning but I didn't feel like messing with my phone later in the run. There is some interesting variety alongside the trail, like the elaborately painted utility boxes. The trail runs parallel to railroad tracks but doesn't follow the railroad grade. It has some challenging rolling hills.

By 8:30, about halfway through, I was right on schedule, and it was starting to get hot. I pulled out my ice bandana but I had no ice cubes, I soaked it with ice water from my jug. That was enough. I continued to be consistent on my splits. The southern end of the course has some nice shade for a quarter mile stretch, and doubling back it extends it to a half mile, across from the golf course on Horsetooth Road. That was my reward each time.

My stomach was not too happy with my food choice, that breakfast PBJ didn't sit well, and I only ate one more PBJ about halfway through. I only had 3 gels in addition to the sandwiches. I was peeing enough, but not a lot. I had S Caps in vitamin water and ice water in my bottles, switching off every other loop. I don't eat much bread anymore normally, and sometimes I think that wheat doesn't always agree with me. It was getting warm, too, so maybe it was just that.

At 6 hours I decided to crank up the pace, but I didn't have much to give. I ran a few loops close to 30 minutes but I felt better when I ran closer to my average pace. My legs were tired. The walk breaks were perfect, I think I'm okay with that, and on rested legs I'm sure I'll respond even better.

I thought about running the entire 8 hours, which would have given me just over 41 miles, but decided against it, and stopped at 40. I finished 40 in 7:47 and it was nearly 80 degrees. I could have kept going for a while like that, but I was starting to feel it along with the heat. No need to overdo it. I need recovery and fresh legs more than anything else now.

This run rebuilt some confidence. I've been feeling so crappy for the past month that I was starting to worry that I wouldn't be ready for NorthCoast. This turned things around for me, mentally. I needed this for my head more than anything. I have 7 weeks left until NorthCoast, and that will be my longest training run. In two weeks I run a marathon, and I'll probably do a fairly high mileage week two weeks after that, but I'm not doing any more long runs. Nothing much over 20 miles. I need to keep things focused on a faster pace from here on into the race, and recover from my workouts.

Time to go home, refuel and hydrate, and take a shower. When I took off all my sweaty stuff, I had Zensah legs. Time for some chili, lots of fluids, and later on, beer and a nap. I had a job to do, I got it done, and I'm happy.

Seven weeks!