Looking back at 2014…

I haven’t posted in a while. I could give my excuses (school, Gilmore Girls being on Netflix, not running due to injury, not running due to Gilmore Girls, etc.), but let’s let bygones be bygones, shall we?

I last posted in late November, before Thanksgiving. That’s right around when the semester started to heat up. I ran a little on and off, a few miles here and there, but weirdly enough, my left hip was giving me problems. Not hurting, not really feeling sore – just  tired and weak, like it did back in high school. This is probably because I took so much time off from not only running, but lifting as well. My poor hip muscles had atrophied. I ran about 40 miles in the whole month of December. My motivation is back, but I need to get my hips back in shape (the rest of me too, to be honest). It’s frustrating because cardiovascularly, running is fine. I ran about 7 a few days ago, and there were only two things that prompted me to return when I did: the fear of overdoing it in terms of mileage even though my shin felt okay, and the fact that my hips were blown out. The end of all my runs is uphill, and my left hip was barely firing. My quad felt heavy and dead. I wanted to run more but felt like it would go better if I just amputated my leg then and there and hopped away lopsidedly. I was good and stretched for a long while afterwards, but my hip still has a little remnant soreness today, still.

Thankfully, my hips aren’t actually hurting, at least. There’s no pain, only weakness (throw that on a t-shirt!), so I can grit my teeth and make myself run. It just feels like I’m operating at about 40 percent.

But hey. I can run, and I want to run, which is more than can be said for past me. I’ve written before about how rough the summer was for me, and how I was very fit earlier in the year (January-April) but at a cost to my sanity, basically. Or maybe it was the hormones. (I went off the pill in November and have felt so much better, like the old, happy-go-lucky scamp I knew I was. Which definitely contributed to my shitty summer – I just didn’t realize it at the time.) Only in the recent months has my desire to run actually returned beyond “I’d like to run again sometime.” Now it’s back to how it should be – waking up and just wanting to be running. Just writing this is making me itch to get out for my run. So in perspective, having weak hips is a very manageable and easily-solved problem. Once the gyms open back up, I’ll just start doing my physical therapy things again, which I think is primarily why they weakened so much last month. I don’t know if I’ll be in shape in time to do the local 50k at the end of April, but there are 50ks every weekend. I’ll just find one elsewhere.

So here’s to the end of 2014. Raise a glass to happiness and health. And start the new year off with a run.


PS. I dyed my hair and got a fish yesterday.

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I think he thought the camera lens was another fish because he got all big.

It’s the simple things.

It’s not quite Thanksgiving, but I’m still allowed to be grateful, right?

Yesterday was bitterly cold. We’re going through something of a miniature polar vortex this week, meaning I haven’t run since… Sunday, I think. But not running gave me the opportunity to hang out at a bookstore, get dinner, share desserts, and study with two of my best friends. We’re all busy with school and jobs and social lives, so it’s supremely comforting when we can actually all hang out together. Especially once we’ve settled in for the evening with plenty of pillows and blankets, hot tea and calm music while the far-too-early winter winds howl outside. The radiators hiss and fill the apartment with steamy heat. The cats curl on our legs. We sip our tea. We laugh. We talk. We don’t talk. We show each other cat pictures. We avoid running in the near-zero windchill because hey, it’s November. We didn’t sign up for this.

Few things in life are perfect, but to me, my friends are. They make me happy when skies are grey… which is a lucky thing, since it seems like these stubborn clouds have moved in for the winter.

peace and love,

The overzealous runner

I, like most of you, like running (to say the least). When injury sidelines us, whether for a week or a year, our whole life is thrown out of balance. We get anxious, depressed, irritable – generally unpleasant to be around. So when we’re finally ready to run again, we run the risk of letting our excitement cloud our judgment. Maybe it’s a lack of self-control, or maybe it’s just an overabundance of enthusiasm, but personally, once I can run pain-free again, I go at it 110% and repress the memory of my seemingly distant months of injury.

In my mind, I’ve been back to running for what feels like months and months, but really, it’s only been since the beginning of September. Had I been keeping track of my weekly mileages like a responsible runner, I would have seen that my averages of 20 to 30 miles were far from the lofty 60-, 70-, 80-mile weeks dancing in my mind. Had I been keeping track of things, I would not have run 22 miles two Sundays ago and attempted 26 this past Sunday. Had I kept track of things, I wouldn’t have had to bail on my long run a mere six miles in because of shin pain, hip weakness, foot cramps, and a fun new outer-ankle pain that appeared a few days ago.

To wit: I was so excited to be able to run kind of far (18 miles) with relative ease that I let my mind get ahead of what my body is currently capable of doing safely, which is especially dangerous coming off of a long period of injury. I had this idea of myself as still being in the shape I was in 2012; I couldn’t accept that I’m not exactly in great distance shape right now. Mentally and cardiovascularly, maybe, but my shins aren’t ready to jump into the 45 miles I did last week (a huge jump from 28 the week before).

I spent a while yesterday reading sections on running addiction, overtraining, and shin stresses and fractures (as well as the female athlete triad) in The Lore of Running. While reading each of those sections, I found myself thinking, “Yep, that’s me. Exactly.” Increasing volume too rapidly – check. Vague shin pain – check. Reliance on running for mental stability/happiness – check. (Delusions of grandeur – check.) What I got out of it was a simple message: be realistic and be smart about running. Recovery and mileage buildup takes a long time. I can’t expect to be back in good, safe 50k shape after two or three months of running, no matter how many times I’ve read Eat & Run or To Be A Runner in that time.

So I’m going to bite the bullet of being realistic and aim for about 30-35 mile weeks for the time being. I cringe typing it when I think of my heydays of 70-80 mile weeks, but I’m at a different point in my running life right now, and that’s okay. I’d rather take as many months as I need to safely build back up to higher mileages than push too hard now and end up out of commission for another year.

Because if I’m grumpy for an entire year again, I will have no running buddies left.

peace love and grudgingly being smart about running,

PS. My long run on Sunday turned into a 6 mile run out, then a 4ish mile walk through the woods, which allowed me to take some (iPhone, but still) pictures. The park is beautiful this time of year; pictures don’t do the colors justice.


One of my good friends is a photographer, and she wanted to get some shots of me running (and do an interview for a project, which makes me feel special). So we went to the Arb, a hotspot for hill repeats and – let’s be honest, it’s a college town – ingesting various illegal substances. Needless to say, we were there for the former reason.

The morning had been overcast and a little chilly, but because we both slept in, we weren’t out until after one. By then, the clouds had cleared and the sun was beaming warmly down on us. Which was good, because there was a strongly-gusting October wind for several hours. There were plenty of people out and about, which was nice to see but was also a little inconvenient since we were trying to get nature-filled shots of me and the leaves, not a gaggle of sorority girls venturing off the sidewalk for the first time. (Forgive me, I shouldn’t judge.)

Anyway. We were just out a few hours ago so I don’t have any media to share yet, but it really got me thinking about what a huge undertaking it would be to try to get good enough to get sponsored. That’s the dream, isn’t it? Have someone give you race money and shoes and food, allowing you to just train and run, and to hopefully run well… sigh. I’ve been focusing on just building up mileage, but recently, I’ve also been thinking about the quality of my training as well. Seems like a no-brainer, but upon reflection, I’m pretty sure – no, I know – I could be running better, harder. It’s just so easy to plan 10 miles after class, then have an easy 10 instead of a good, moderate effort. I get stuck in the long slow distance mindset; I think I mentioned that in a previous post. So I need to make a real effort to work harder on my middle-distance runs, and that should help with my long runs. I just need to go out with a specific goal in mind on each run – a pace to hit, faster middle miles, something like that.

Let’s sidestep into the speedwork debate. It seems like the distance community will never come to an agreement on whether or not doing 800 repeats will help in a 50-miler. Personally, speedwork feels good, but I don’t really do it much, and I tend to think that more moderately-paced but longer runs, like 10-13 miles, are more beneficial for someone whose goal is more ultra-based, especially trail versus road. Hill repeats seem like a much more practical workout, since you rarely encounter a 400-meter oval in the middle of a trail ultra (other than the Western States finish, of course). Hills, though, you do run into. (That being said, there’s just something so fun and satisfying about ripping off a few sets of fast repeats. Like… bam. Still got it.)

I wish I could afford a coach. That would be so great. I’ve read so many ultrarunning books and blogs and listened to podcasts and watched videos, but there’s such a mass of knowledge out there (and so many conflicting viewpoints) that it would be nice to have someone to help me sort through it all and to develop a training plan for my goals. Which, other than getting back into better ultra shape than I was in 2012 and, more eventually, UTMB, are essentially nonexistent.

In short, I need a plan – but a plan for what?

I’m pretty pumped right now because tomorrow morning, I’m going back out to Pinckney Rec to run 26 or, if I’m feeling it, another 5 for a practice 50k. So depending on how tomorrow goes, I may or may not race a 50k in November. I’m torn – do I enter a race (pay for it, get there, etc.) if I’m in suboptimal shape? That result will be out there, good or bad. We’ll see after tomorrow, but I’m guessing it won’t be stellar. But on the other hand, races are fun no matter what, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t totally suck since I’m feeling good about where I am with my running right now. I feel solid, but still improving. And there’s always the need to be aware of how my shins are doing – can’t overdo it.

Ah well. These are just thoughts. The real decision-making will have to happen tomorrow. (And don’t even ask about my post-graduation plans. Right now, it’s “Move back in with my parents until I can bear to face reality. I’ll be hiding in my room if you need me.” Plus I have field camp in July-August, which complicates internship hunting.)

So if anyone is reading this and wants to give me free shoes or a sweet tricked-out van for traveling the country and training out of, email me. Until then… *desperately thinks of things to do other than study* I’ll be doing dishes.

peace love and grand aspirations,

Running is always a good idea.

And to think I almost didn’t run today, I thought as I sat among the leaves, stretching my hips and feeling the rare warmth of October sun on my bare arms.

Also, as I stretched my calves on the steps, Damn, my legs look good.

I had my mineralogy midterm this morning. It’s over until next time, thank god. So when I got home around 1, I was feeling pretty mentally drained, like I’d been in a mind-sprint for the last three and a half days. I just wanted to lay in bed with chocolate and my cats and go to sleep. Which I did (minus the chocolate) for an hour or so… but when I woke up, all my energy came rushing in at once and I was out the door in a matter of minutes.

It was a gorgeous afternoon, blue sky and unseasonably warm (probably about 60), which was a pleasant change of pace. I kicked the first mile down relatively fast and just kept feeling good, even once I got on the main trail loop and had to powerhike the one big hill. I’m so glad I’ve learned how to work hard during a run. Don’t get me wrong, easy runs are great, especially for taking in the fall scenery, but cranking out 11 decently-paced miles is much more satisfying and fulfilling. There were more people than I usually see out there (including one of my professors), but the trails loop around enough that I was on my own for most of the time. I did have one encounter with a deer, though. I crested a hill and saw it standing a few meters in front of me, frozen in the middle of the trail. I jogged, then stopped. The deer peered at me. I peered at it. It bobbed its head. I bobbed mine. We had a moment. After maybe two minutes, it snorted and bounded off to the side, breaking the spell. I ran on.

It was the middle of the afternoon – you could read that from the sun’s rays slanting through rows of tall, dark, bare trunks topped by golden canopies far above. Running quietly, efficiently, and alone, I felt insignificant in that special freeing way that comes from spending time reflecting in nature. A few resistant clouds of gnats hug in the still air, haloed in contrast to the dark trees behind them. I use “golden” far too often to describe fall – especially the past few weeks – but it’s the most accurate word I’ve come across for this time of fall, late October when the reds and oranges have mostly quit their branches and only the stalwart yellows still cling on. With the three o’clock sun serving as a backlight and more yellow leaves littering the trail and forest floor, the scene becomes dreamlike, ethereal, as you float through it. The only sign of your presence is the trail of fluttering leaves in your wake. It is the golden hour.

It was probably around this time of the year when I first ran on those trails, because I very clearly remember telling my friend, “It’s like a magical golden forest in here. I expect to see a unicorn around the next corner.” Just surrounded by glowing golden autumn. That’s something I feel I really missed out on last year because I wasn’t running. Not running every day, you miss the little changes in the season. Today, for example, the forest looked different than it did this time last week – you guessed it, more golden. And it looked differently two weeks ago. Running keeps you outside, in tune with nature and the seasons. When I was just lifting in a gym last fall, I felt totally disconnected, like fall had slipped by me without me noticing. Winter was upon me very suddenly. So it’s good to be back in the thick of things this year.

A little over two miles out, I saw a guy enter the main trail a little ways behind me. Once again, my cross country gut reaction kicked in and I held him off for the rest of the way home – which is saying something for the end of an almost 11 mile run. It felt good. I averaged around 8:30s, which is pretty decent for me. I usually fall into the LSD trap even for the not-so-long runs. I’m going to try to run about 10 miles at a decent clip a few days during the week, then do my long run on the weekend. All as long as the shins allow it, of course.

Righto. I’m off to rustle up some grub. I think I have frozen peas, applesauce, and a three-pound bag of raw potatoes. This should be fun.

peace love and gorgeous fall running,

Two miles to midnight

Studying… right. 

I am, after all, a student. Senioritis is knocking. Actually, I take that back. It’s far past knocking. It’s barged in, uninvited and unwelcome, and has been crashing on my floor for the last month or so. It kills motivation. “Nah man, you don’t need to go to class! You don’t need to study! Hang out with me and watch Netflix instead! I have tea and mac and cheese…” Luckily, most of my midterms are behind me, with just one looming on the rapidly approaching horizon of tomorrow at 8:30 a.m. I’ve been relatively studious the past couple days because it’s my mineralogy exam, a class as infamous as calc in terms of difficulty and the curve needed so that everyone doesn’t fail. (I didn’t know that when I registered last spring, needless to say.) I was understandably feeling stressed last night after studying for hours and still feeling overwhelmed and confused by the material. It was 11:30 and I was bouncing around my tiny apartment with the nervous energy of a highly caffeinated chihuahua – which is not a particularly productive state to be in. What else could I do but head out for a quick little run?

Weirdly enough, I tend to get a lot of running energy late at night, which I would love to indulge in but usually don’t because I’m worried about my safety. Last night, though, I just needed to get out and get moving, get my heart beating and get some good cold October night air in my lungs. I stuck to well-lit streets and bolted a quick two miles around campus before stretching silently in my driveway, unnoticed by the few passes-by.

Seeing the city at night, especially when there’s cloud cover to reflect the light pollution, is always a little surreal. Sometimes I forget that the world at night is the same world we see during the day. Nothing changes but the light shed on it. And before midnight during midterms, there are still plenty of students out and about, shuffling from Starbucks to library (to bar) to home. The fact that it’s dark out changes nothing. Yet running through the dark night always feels faster, lighter – like the world is slipping by in a blur, as though seen from a train speeding by a city. Your feet barely touch the cement. The sound of your steady breathing is the loudest thing you can hear. Your senses are more limited, so you turn inward. You become aware of how fast your legs swish by each other, how each part of the foot feels on landing, your breathing, your form. Shoulders square above the hips, short, efficient stride, arms pumping smoothly, shoulders back and still, back straight, eyes peering ahead, not quite straining to see what’s next.

I run out a mile. It’s mostly downhill, so my stride lengthens and I feel fast and smooth. A ghost runner – here, then gone. At the bottom of the hill, I go one block right and head right back up, working harder now, all thoughts of crystallographic axes and crystal systems temporarily banished as I force myself to do a negative split uphill. A few blocks from home, I hear someone strumming on an acoustic, mellow chords echoing around the street. As I pass the massively graffiti’d alley, I glance in and see a couple guys sitting along one wall. One of them has the guitar; the others, drug-rug clad, are just listening. Reminds me of nights at crags all across the country. I run on and the strains are distorted until they fade away entirely. I’m in my neighborhood; the streetlights thin out and I race invisible to my driveway. I jog to a stop after my sprint finish, stretch, and go back inside, where my studies await me.

Studying. Right.

peace love and the end of midterms,

Pain and ecstasy (22 golden miles)

I had 23 scheduled for this weekend, out at Pinckney Rec Area. I think I did a little less than that because (a) 3:35 seems pretty speedy for 23 trail miles for me, and (b) I think I cut off about a mile at the beginning, based on what I remember from races there. So I’m guessing it was closer to 22, which is still the farthest I’ve run since (pulls up years-long training log) WOW. December 2012 – the Bigfoot 50k. Wait, really? That can’t be right. But maybe it is. Sheesh. Wowzers.

Anyway. When I checked the weather last night and saw that it would be in the low 30s this morning, I thought, Screw it, I’m not sacrificing a sleep-in to shiver through the first half of my run. Having skipped setting the alarm, I woke up a little after 10 a.m. and was at the trailhead about half an hour shy of noon. Early bird gets the frostbite, I always say. I was chilly for the first couple miles in just a tee and capris, but warmed up quickly enough and was soon comfortable. A little too comfortable, in fact. About 40 minutes in, as I was sailing along a little ridge between two golden leaf-filled valleys, my mind drifting to who else but Tony Krupicka and one of his interviews (maybe in In The High Country?) in which he talks about the need to be outside pushing yourself, making yourself at least a little uncomfortable every day. Literally – literally – as I thought, “Hmm, I’m pretty comfortable right now,” my right foot rammed into some rock or root hidden by leaves and BAM. I ate it. Comfort gone, replaced with some scrapes, a little blood, and a hole in the knee of my favorite capris.

What’s fall without a little fall?

Other than that minor spill (which mainly reminded me to pick up my feet), the run was relatively pain-free, although my left hip was once again giving me shit on the uphills until about two hours in. I hit 18 miles around 2:40 into my run; I wasn’t speeding along, but I felt good. I almost always hit an anti-wall about two hours in. I’ve never had a problem with a “wall” at 18 miles because, up until a certain point (50-miler, I’m looking at you!), I just kind of hover at the same level of pain and weariness. Before that, my hip might bother me on hills or my foot might threaten to cramp, but after I pass that point it all kind of evens out and I just push on. Hip feels weak? Go up the hill anyway, hands on thighs and keep up the pace. Knee’s bleeding? As long as you’re not bleeding out, no worries. Tired? Well, yeah, you’ve covered 20 miles. You’re tired and sore now. This is your existence. No use feeling worse about it, it just is. And so you keep going until you’re done, because bailing is failing and failing is DNFing and DNFing is the runner’s nightmare. That’s the mentality that takes over and allows me, and all you other distance fiends, to keep moving – it’s that not moving forward isn’t an option. It doesn’t cross your mind. Because if it does – if the couch and its giant heavy fuzzy blanket pop into your head, if you imagine what it would feel like to lie down in the warm crunchy leaves and watch the sun fall and slowly freeze to death overnight (if it’s one of Those runs) – then it’s awfully difficult for the distance mentality to prevail. The spell is broken.

That’s one of the things I love about running, especially distance and trail running. It requires a strong mind in addition to a strong body. Training miles will only get you so far; you have to train your mind too, otherwise your dedicated hours will have been for naught. It’s a strength that comes entirely from within, and is then translated to the external physical form of you, and only you, pushing yourself (mind and body) to greater feats and beyond greater boundaries – reaping greater rewards.

Pain and ecstasy. These are two things which running offers us, and though neither is guaranteed, we sign up for both every time we step onto the trail, having mentally committed to spending three, four, six-plus hours out there. Pain is expected, assumed, sometimes sought. Ecstasy – an endorphin high – is bestowed upon those who are dedicated enough to put in the time and lucky enough to have one of those perfect, or maybe imperfect, runs with just the right combination of… I don’t know what. Mood, chemicals, mud, music, anything. But not every long run ends in a rush of happiness and satisfaction and contentment and positivity. Sometimes we trudge to the car, cold, damp, and broken, and huddle miserably by the heaters and are just thankful that we aren’t running anymore. Pain rules those days and takes its mental toll. Ecstasy seems worlds away, a physical impossibility. But as the aches subside and we warm back up, it seems less impossible. The next run holds not the promise of ecstasy, but the possibility. A chance at reaching that perfect state again, and not through drugs or booze or anything else external. The utter bliss felt from an endorphin high, like the distance mentality and tenacity required to cover that distance, is produced entirely by you. Self-produced high. Now that’s satisfying.

And when you do have one of those excellent runs where you reach the parking lot tired but revitalized, weary but satisfied and proud and content, and stretch in the sun, and climb exhaustedly into your car and blast your favorite post-long run songs, you’re hit with an overwhelming surge of pure ecstasy. It’s not just about how great the last 22 miles were. It’s a culmination of all the miles you’ve run, the places you’ve run, the people with whom you’ve run. And where you’ll run in the future, and with whom, and all the miles you’ll cover. It’s where running has taken you and where it will take you. It’s… inexplicable. Many have tried and many have failed, myself included, to fully describe the near-religious experience that is the ecstasy of completing a long run. It is impossible to be sad or negative. It’s almost impossible to think, it’s so overwhelming. It’s a tidal wave of emotion and memories and thoughts all so near and dear and happy – flashbacks to standing atop mountains, running along bare ridges as storms brew, crossing finish lines… every run you’ve ever been on is suddenly there with you again, and all the time you spent and struggles you got through to get you to where you are now.

Which is tearing up in a parking lot full of mountain bikers as Alpha Rev’s Highways comes on.

No shame. ALL THE FEELS. *mic drop*

So yes, today’s run was phenomenal. Depending on whether or not I was running uphill at the time, I toyed with the idea of doing the 13-mile loop after the 18 and just going for 50k today. Wisely, though, I stuck with my plan and found that 22 was quite enough, thank you (say my knees). But I suspect that in a few weeks, I’ll be out there loping around by myself for 31 miles, because races are far away and cost money and I’m just running for myself anyway. Although they are fun. I drove home to an awesome playlist, took a hot shower (heaven), and ate many an oven-roasted potato. And completely neglected studying, which I should probably do at some point.

I hope you all reach ecstasy after your next long run.