In which I get carried away (an accidental 13-miler)

This afternoon, while the sun was still high in the clear blue sky and the windchill was still in the high teens(!), I set out to do a quick three-miler. I’d taken the past three days off, one for recovery and two for lethargy (laziness + cold), and spent the five and a bit hours I’d been awake mostly just watching Friends. A good Saturday. After walking the dog woke me up, I got myself out the door. Just three miles, I told myself, then you can go back to bed and eat chocolate.

Two hours later, I came back.

You see, the planets aligned for my run today. Three and a half rest days, loads of carbs, and nice weather had me feeling great. By the end of the first mile, I knew I’d be running more than three. I felt six, at least, easy. I felt smooth and fast and fresh. Fresh legs do wonders. The miles began to tick by as my mind wandered in a way that it hasn’t been able to in months, and as they did, I noticed that this was indeed a Very Good Run. I wasn’t checking my watch, but I felt that my pace was good. I continued down the same dirt road and ventured into uncharted territories – no mile markers here. It was all by feel.

The sinking sun at my back cast cold golden light over an otherwise blue and brown landscape, fields and fences and closed woods. It was quiet, just the crunch of my feet on scattered dirt and snow. Herds of deer peered out at me between trees, nervous, silent, still. Curious? Scared? Mourning doves and possibly owls cooed out, resounding weirdly through the empty forest. I slid around on ice-sheeted sections of road; I flew over the rest.

Though I was still in the zone, I eventually realized I couldn’t just keep running out – I had to turn back at some point. (Well, I didn’t have to, but I didn’t have a phone, so my other options were hitchhiking back or a slow-freeze death overnight.) I turned around at what I thought was around 5. Keeping pace on the return, I ran off into the sunset, pastel streaks above the shadowed ground giving way to dusty blues and purples of the night sky. The sun finally dropped and, as I turned east, the moon rose low and orange, gradually turning yellow to silver as the sky around it darkened and stars emerged – Orion’s belt, the dippers big and small, the North Star. I kept running. I had glanced at my watch and based on what I thought my pace was, and how I felt, I figured I could probably make it 13, or an even two hours. I passed my apartment and added an out-and-back section of paved road, then passed it again to round out the final ten minutes. One hour and fifty-five minutes after I’d left, I opened the door and greeted my (rightfully) concerned roommate and her ever-energetic corgi. My knees hurt, my back hurt, and my breathing was still a little ragged, but I was happy. I took the dog out for a little cooldown walk and, after some stretching, crashed on the couch. Amazingly, I managed to not only make dinner and shower, but I scavenged up the energy to shave. What a champ.

While today’s run was definitely not a wise move, it came naturally to me. It wasn’t planned at all, and I didn’t question it for one minute. I felt good during the run and surprisingly not sore afterwards (muscularly, anyway – joints are another issue entirely). Most importantly, for me, was the motivation behind it. I wasn’t dragging myself through a slog of a long run because I had to, or for any number of weird guilt reasons. I was just back in the zone, and boy have I missed it there. For so long – years – I’ve worried that I would never be able to run long again, or want to. Running had become such a powerful part of my identity that that questioning led to some issues. Over the past few months, even with all my other health issues, I’ve felt that intrinsic motivation so necessary for long distance creeping back. I began remembering my goals and how good it felt to be working towards them – to be able to work towards them – with all the ups and downs that come with it. I’m not going to let running take over my identity again, but I certainly welcome it back into the mix.

Now the trick will be to not run stupid and get injured… and that’s where my friends come in, always ready to talk me down from signing up for races I’m not ready for and reminding me to rest. It’s hard to do those things on your own, and I’m glad I have them.

That being said: I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions in the traditional sense. It’s arbitrary and it doesn’t work for me. But I feel like this is the year in which I will be able to do an ultra again, even just a 50k. I need to be smart about it, but I’d like to do it before grad school starts (assuming I get in somewhere). Today’s 13 actually felt pretty easy, but I’m not going to take that and run with it – it was most likely an exception to the rule, given the rest and carbs. So I’ll stick with building base miles, probably 30-35 miles a week, and go from there. (All my crazy inflammatory issues will likely keep me in check, anyway – blessing in disguise?)

So that’s where I’m at. And now – SLEEP.
peace love and running,
bec

Alive and relatively well

I haven’t posted on here in ages, mostly because I haven’t been running much – primarily due to heath reasons which, frustratingly, are still partially unresolved. But I can at least run again, even though I’m still pretty out of shape. The farthest I’ve run is about seven, which is still good. And one unforeseen upside of this long, long, long break from running is that I have all my motivation for it back! I had gone through a period a while ago, I don’t even know when at this point, but I was questioning whether I actually liked running or was just pushing myself to keep running because it had defined me so much at various points in my life. But now I’m so happy to run anything at all again, and pretty much pain free (unless my chest freaks out and fakes a heart attack, but whatever), and my life is nicely balanced right now. It’s actually been a very nice transition back into running.

The downside of the health stuff: I have serious trepidation about going back to climbing and lifting because of all the joint pain and random, assorted inflammation I have going on. I still can’t do pushups or get strong hugs without my chest hurting. I threw a tennis ball a the dog park last week or so and my chest literally hurt for three days… so yeah, I’m thinking lifting heavy things is a bad idea. But doing some light freeweight work has been okay, so I’ll just stick to that.

Non-running things: applying to grad schools, finishing up a couple quantitative calc and chem classes to boost my background, and working in a geology lab. It’s busy but pretty great. And now I live with a corgi and a best friend PLUS my cats, and I built a table, so life is generally pretty great.

It’s late. I’ll do a photo review of the last couple months soon: I went on two geology field trips plus field camp out in Jackson Hole, so I have some Really Neat Rocks To Show People.

– bec

Race report: Pinckney Trail Half (and general life update)

After far too long a break from doing any kind of trail race – I think it may actually have been in 2012, though I’d have to check – I finally got one under my belt this Saturday at the Pinckney Trail Weekend. I just did the half, but it went way better than I thought it would, actually – especially since the farthest I’ve run this month, and most of last month, is about 8 miles. But I’ve picked up my pace a bit on those short runs, which I think actually helped.

The weather was pretty much perfect for racing – cool (low 40s) and overcast, no rain, not much wind. I ran into one of my friends from high school cross country who said that she was aiming for around 2 hours, so I decided to run with her even though I expected, realistically, to roll in around 2:20 or something. So we got in the “9 min/mi” pace wave – there were waves, which was different from the last trail races I’d done where there were a couple dozen people – but of course the trail was pretty bottlenecked and congested for the first maybe 2-3 miles so those went by at closer to 11 and 10 min/mi, which I wasn’t thrilled about. But of course it eventually thinned out and I began to figure out a decent pace and pick my way up. Roughly the middle has a couple big hills (for Michigan, anyway), and I focused on actually working the hills, powerhiking up and cruising down. (A couple guys behind me were talking about hills and racing, and one of them said something like, “Yeah, people always get to the top and slow down, like, ‘Whew, that was hard!’ and that’s when you’ve gotta pass ’em and fly down the hill. Classic race mentality,” which kind of made me go Ah yes, this is a race, I should think at least a little about that.) After grinding out the middle hilly miles we hit a really nice fast part, still some hills but very runnable with nice flow. I always love that part on my runs out there, it just flies by. At an aid station around maybe mile 10 one of the guys I know from the running scene in Ann Arbor was working and offered me “Gatorade or beer?” I thought he was joking so I said “BEER!” and was handed a Sam Adams IPA. It actually tasted pretty damn good. The last four miles or so went by pretty quick (with the exception of that one last big hill about a mile and a half out). Also, my calves started cramping around mile 11, but I just kept my stride long and ran it out and it was fine. By then, I was really in the groove of things and I felt like I could go all day (with a pace adjustment, of course!). It was like my muscle memory was kicking in from so long ago. I pushed it the last mile and came through in 2:05:59, which I think was actually one of my fastest times on that loop… which just goes to show how big a role mentality plays in running distances (even just a half), and also that I probably wasn’t working hard enough in the past, because I was in way better shape than I am now  :P  I was 14th woman overall and 3rd in my age group. I suspect I could have broken 2h had I not been stuck for the first three miles. Also, my dad came through at 2:00 flat… had I known he was so close, I would have tried to catch him!

I’d forgotten how much I love being out there for hours, just chipping away at the miles for hours, just getting it done… and the feeling of having a strong, steady pace that pays off the more miles there are. I think only one or two people passed me in the last couple miles (mainly on the hills that I would have run had my calves not been spasming). It’s just the best feeling. Doing this race was so good for me. For the last probably two years, my lack of racing or really running far has been messing with me. I’ve felt incomplete, like I lost a big part of who I am. The race this weekend, even though it was just a half, helped me find that lost part. Before, I was doubting my interest in running long – like I wanted to want to run long, but it just wasn’t there yet. Now that desire is back, without a doubt in my mind. I would have signed up for the 50k the next day had my friends and dad not reminded me that I haven’t been running and that my shin would probably just explode. So there’s one in June I have my eye on. I can’t wait. Waking up too early, having that feeling of “Oh god why did I sign up for this, the bed is soooo comfy,” but getting up and putting on your running clothes and meeting at the start line in the early morning, when the air is cool and dew is on the grass and the sun is just peeking up, then your little group trots off into the woods to emerge five, six hours later, tired and triumphant… then laying on the couch under a giant comfy blanket and falling asleep. So good.

So anyway. I’M BACK! I did a shakeout seven yesterday, and my left calf is still sore/tight where it was cramping during the race, but thankfully my shin feels fine.

Life update time! I’m graduating this weekend, which is kind of terrifying but mostly exciting, I guess. The plan is to take a “year off,” which I put in quotes because it’ll be a year of calc and chem classes to prep for grad school, which I will hopefully be attending next fall (2016) for geology. So now I have to focus on narrowing down my fields of interest and finding a professor to work with (in a town with good trails and a good running community, of course!). But I’m pretty excited about that, and very pleased with my decision to go into geology. The work is interesting and I love the people – they like craft beer possibly more than trail runners and climbers, which is saying something. So that’s good.

Ok, time to go pick up graduation tickets and start packing. Blah.

peace love and long-distance running,
bec

 

March mileage, week 2

36 miles for this week.

Sunday: 8.5 mi, 70 mins
Monday: off
Tuesday: 7.2 mi, 60 mins
Weds: 4.75 mi, 36 mins
Thursday: 6 mi, 54 mins – felt sluggish (and it showed)
Friday: off
Saturday: 9.2 mi, 78 mins.

With the exception of Thursday, I’ve been clocking in the mid- to low-8 minute range, which I like. Wednesday was tempo; I meant to do 5 but my costochondritis was flaring and it felt like a mini heart attack. And today I was supposed to do my long run, 13-14, but I ended up hanging out with friends in the afternoon and being productive instead, then headed home, so my run was under the stars. I’ll do 14 tomorrow; I’m feeling good.

– from today’s run –

There is something so delightfully otherworldly about running under the stars, especially if you start when the last few rays of limp sunlight are trickling over the horizon, pale pinks and reds and dusty purples. The world slowly fades out around you and you become acutely aware of your stride, your footfall, your breathing, the swing of your arms… and then, without your realizing it, that too all fades away and you are left in a twilight haze. Tonight, a strong wind blew from the west, gusting across lake Michigan all the way to our little abode. But it wasn’t the bitter wind of December, January, February that we’ve come to know – it was strong, yes, but it was humid and warm. Spring was blowing in mightily, and it smelled of damp earth and rain and spring storms and light.

That wind blew away the clouds and the whole of the sky was bared above me, sparkling stars and planets unfathomable distances away. Shy at first, but as their numbers grew they grew bolder and brighter and clustered in constellations, the traces I’d learned in the sky as a child here, that children across the globe learn though the names may change – the big dipper, its little companion, orion’s belt – and a few planets shone brighter than all the rest, mars rising red in the west. I paced unworriedly below the universe expanse and saw my life in perspective – terrifyingly insignificant, and consequently, absolutely free. Unlike the sun, if I expire, nothing terrible will come about, though some may grieve. I will not change the course of the stars or the fate of galaxies. I am free to roam about this small rocky orb and do as I please with relatively little consequence, though that is no excuse to wreak havoc on this earth as some apparently believe.

I gazed up to the sky, looking up into a crystal ball of the past, and flew.

Marching into March with meager mileage but good strides

Yeah, word play, etc.

March has been good to Michigan so far, with sun and balmy temps as high as 46 (aka tank top weather!). The last week wasn’t high in mileage, just 26, but I was satisfied with the runs that I went on. The trails have been rather sloppy, so I’ve been running on paved/flat surfaces which is kind of a bummer but (a) allows me to wear the NB1400, which doesn’t seem to bother my arch (either that or it’s the trails’ uneven surface) and (b) get up some speed, which is nicely in line with the weather picking up. I didn’t run long during the week, but yesterday I did a surprisingly good 11 on the dirt roads around here. Averaged about 8:30s for that run, with two mostly downhill miles in the latter half hovering around 7:30s. Then today I did 8.5 back at home on muddy sunny dirt roads, and hit closer to 8:10s.

As it turns out, as I’ve probably said before, pushing and working hard and putting in effort feels good and pays off. I’m going to take Monday as a rest day, probably lift a little and bike, then Tu/W/Th will be 7/5/7, Friday rest, and Sat/Sun will be 13/10. (40 mile week) Hopefully the ever-warmer temps this week will help the trails clear out – I’d love to get my trail pace up too!

Sorry this is a little scattered and unpoetic, I’m very sleepy. Just wanted to get something down.

Six weeks until undergrad is over! Help.

Bec

In which I run on a treadmill and do not want to eject my body out the window in front of it

Last time I posted, I had decided to just focus on consistency and getting a good base again. I am happy to report than over the last two-three weeks, I’ve been running pretty much every other day, though I’ve only done about 8 for my longest. But that is a-okay because things are feeling fine.

My feelings towards treadmills are, I think, pretty universal among trail runners: AW HELL NO. I seem to remember the longest I could run on one before being consumed by misery and drudgery and all those things is about two miles. But sometimes, in the dead cold dark of February in Michigan, although the windchill may be hovering around zero instead of well below it, you just can’t bring yourself to run outside.

I wanted to run seven miles today, and to and from the gym is two, so I just needed to do five. I told myself that if I needed to, I could even split it up – though I knew that wouldn’t really be a quality run and didn’t want to do that. Weirdly enough, I felt guilty for running inside, like I was cheating on running outside even though it was cold, and even though that is totally irrational. I felt weak, like I should be running outside because it wasn’t really that cold… but I just ran and it was fine. I started out with barely any incline and slow, 9:10s or so, for the first mile. Sped up to 8:50s for the second mile and increased the incline. The third mile I went down to 8:35s and played with the incline a lot. Mile 4 was more steady, still on a slight incline and kept about the same pace, I think. Then for the last mile I upped the incline and ended up at 6:30 pace, walked a little afterwards, then did some light upper body lifting (what little my costochrondritis allows – I’ll take some over none!).

What I learned (subtitle: What I’ve read before but not paid attention to): Treadmills, though they may come nowhere close to comparing to running outside, do serve their purposes. They let us run comfortably when the weather would have us do otherwise. And, perhaps more importantly, they let us run uncomfortably in the same case. Running on snowy and icy trails is, as one would imagine, quite a bit slower than your normal pace. You’re still working hard, mainly trying to keep your feet under you, but it’s not the same as being able to push through a tempo run. Treadmills let you really control your pace – negative splits, hello! – and you can make things interesting (and better for trail training) by playing with the incline and pace. All in all, the run actually went by a lot faster than I thought it would and was much less boring than I thought. (I didn’t use music.) I could even see myself doing a longer run there, as long as I kept changing things up.

And now… SPRING BREAK 2015! In which I can do lots of physical activities in one day AND read AND make food without stressing about things too much. Good times.

peace love and making it through winter running,
bec

PS. On the other hand… People are always saying, “How do you run in this cold? That’s CRAZY!” Well, it’s pretty simple. Layer up and cover your face and you’re pretty much good to go. Maybe some yak traks too.