Sunday, November 30, 2008

8.6 Miles and Two State Borders

Yesterday my beloved and I set off for Woodstock, Vermont--for no other reason than for a new place to run, a "destination run," if you's been months since we've done one of these, and I admit to having missed the adventure part of seeking out and finding a new and scenic place to run.

With I in my thermal capri pants, Under Armour, and hat, and Jared in brand-spanking new tights (you read correctly--tights), hat, and a couple warm layers on top, we were prepared for some cold Northern weather. Luckily, though, we were blessed with a balmy, sunshine-filled day, that create dappled, tree-lined roads, the light sprinkling of snow in the fields bordering the road only making the beautiful day all the more miraculous.

On the first leg of our out-and-back course, we made note of miscellaneous interesting and/or entertaining sites--the first mile tripped above the road along a narrow gravel path, edged by a low rock wall. The second mile began with a strong smell of cow, as we reached and gamboled past a large farm. The third mile took us up and around low, rolling hills, past the "Suicide Six." The fourth looped along more hills, past a babbling river, and onto a silent, peaceful stretch, culminating at a large fir.

These sites greeted us along the cruising miles back, as we settled into what has become the standard, faster second half of our runs together--as we pushed ourselves and each other a little further and a little faster, our legs protesting, we joked about the poor choice to play three hours of hoops the day prior.

After logging our miles, we cooled down with a couple of hot (and hard) ciders at the local watering hole, along with a tasty shared lunch of chilliburger (he) and French Onion Soup (she), and fries (we), before heading to a little shop across the street for a cinnamon bun and a gift for my mother.

Later, on the drive home, we both blogged, happy at what may seem to many as a bit of a ridiculous trip--a 2.5 hour drive, to run less than two hours, then drive home--but what was for us an opportunity to get out of the city and appreciate the world and its nature beyond the Massachusetts' state border. This run had it all--beautiful, empty paths, an empty road to run on, friendly drivers who slowed or moved aside to let us pass, a light dusting of snow hinting of holidays to come, hills to challenge our legs and spirits, mountains jutting into a cerulean sky, and everywhere, tiny bridges looking like delicate sculptures over crystal clear brooks and streams. And of course, good company. A run such as this, on a day such as this, is all the better shared with a loved one--I can never put into words exactly how I felt at a moment of loveliness or sheer vitality experienced when running.

Luckily, though, I didn't have to, as my beloved was there to share it all. :)

Now, its off to decorate the Christmas tree, and to have what is surely the best post-run treat in the universe--and perhaps the best treat, period--a Tom & Jerry.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Gobble, Gobble, Gobble...and the case of the bad gravy

This year, I, along with my other half, opted to spend the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays in Boston--primarily due to the horrendous cost of flying, but also partly due to my procrastination in looking at ticket prices.

At the urging of B, we'd agreed to run the Gobble, Gobble, Gobble, a 4-mile road race starting and ending in Davis Square, only a five-minute walk from our humble abode. As luck would have it, yet another running pal, Kate, was also running the race.

We wandered over to Davis to pick up our numbers around 7:45 a.m., and in a happy quirk, ran into B on the way--we planned to meet her at the local water hole in a few minutes pre-race. (Note: We never did see Brenda again, though--there were over 2,000 runners, and it apparently was not meant to be.)

After picking up our race numbers, along with a snazzy maroon long-sleeve T-shirt, we realized we had 40 minutes to kill until race time, and we needed somewhere warm to spend it--where else but Starbucks? At 10 minutes to racetime, Kate walked in the door, noting, "I had a feeling I'd find you two here..." Too true.

The race started as a bit of a mess, with people clustering about the start line in a mad melee to begin the bolting course, which had no official start that was apparent--no gun, no shouted "Go!", no pad for the supposed "chip time" start. The first half was primarily uphill, and starting late in the pack, the three of us lost some time warming up and dodging around turkey-suited, feathered runners, climbing the hills to a passable 20:35(ish) at 2 miles. By 2.5, we'd each loosened up, and were coasting down long hills, climbing the few short ones left, and stretching warm limbs in a more than respectable pace, finishing the course in a mad dash around 37 minutes.

After Jared and I managed to seduce Kate back to the apartment for a cup of coffee, we went out to do our day-of Thanksgiving meal shopping. Six hours of cooking and a collective four Tom & Jerry's (wheee!) later, we sat down to enjoy our first Thanksgiving meal together, just the two of us, with a delicious, crispy-skinned turkey, some tasty potatoes lightly flavored with paprika, stuffing replete with celery and bits of more turkey, noodle "stewp" (a saucy, brothy noodle concoction created by Jared), and a thick, viscous substance that could have, in another life, become gravy. But I have no one to blame but myself for that last one...

Post-dinner, in the mood for pie, but short the pack of gelatin needed to make the pumpkin cheesecake we'd planned on, we headed for the open road--and found ourselves enjoying something only the city of Boston has to offer--a shared cappuccino and chocolate-chip canoli in the North End on Thanksgiving.

Happy Belated Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Wish I was a little bit taller...

What? I know, it seems a strange thing to say--taller? Me? But recent events have come to shed new light on my so-called height--none of which I was originally planning to admit. But last night's basketball game at the CAC, the last game of the regular season (We lost. Badly. Again.), got me to thinking about this song, a favorite of a high school buddy.

As I go into this week's Tuesday playoff game, I admit to being torn: on the one hand, I'm ready to focus on running...and the Sunday/Tuesday random game night has been wearing on my poor attempts at scheduling. I'm ready to remove basketball, and replace it with true cross-training and strengthening--last year's attempts to play basketball two nights a week as cross-training having lead to a full week's hiatus from running as I rested an aching knee. On the other hand...I feel like kicking a little ass. This conflicts with my desire to (of course) get to the gym an hour early to get in a quick loop around the river and some lunges and push-ups. (Note to self: Remember that pushups before games lead to even more airballs than usual.)

In any event, wish the Hoosier Daddy Remastered team luck in tomorrow's game--playing one of several stacked teams in the league, we'll have our work cut out for us.

Back to the original topic. In high school, playing hoops, I was the tallest girl on my team. In my high tops (you know we all wore them, me with mascot-emblazoned knee socks--which I wore to work today under my slacks, ironically), I stood perfectly between 5'11" and 6'0". My coach usually left it up to me what height I wanted to be on the game program. I imagine that the girls I'd been playing against for four years wondered how it was I suddenly shrank an inch my senior year.

Two years ago, I went for my annual checkup, and was told...that my supposed long legs only took me up to 5'10". WHAT?! All my life, I had been living a lie! Later I calmed down enough to realize that one measurement was certainly not conclusive evidence that I was in fact shrinking. I could sleep again, secure in the knowledge that there had surely been an error.

Until last year, when I was told--again--that I was only 5'10". Dammit.

Slowly, though, through the power of running, at last snatching up my mate, and overconsumption of alcohol, I came to terms with my newfound short stature.

Most would agree it could hardly get worse, but it did--as only two weeks ago, I had my exam, and found out that not only had my blood pressure gone up, I had shrunk again--as was only about 5'9-1/2". And I may have rounded up to get that 1/2".

Crap. At this rate, I'll be knee high when my gigantic children reach puberty.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

An unexpected 9.5-10 miles at Ponkapoag

Ok, I admit it, I've been slacking again...but I HAVE been running, with 5 last Thursday, 8 on Monday with Jared, and then...a couple days of actual slacking--but only in running! I did play basketball two of the four days!

But I planned to get myself out to run on my favorite trail, Ponkapoag, for a nice, solitary 8-miler. With the weight of the work world, et. al, crushing down on me the past week or two, I knew myself to be in dire need of some rejuvenation via a solitary run in the woods.

I was off, after kissing my beloved goodbye--he planned to go for a solitary hike on Mount Monadnock. Clad in thermal capri pants, an Under Armour turtleneck, hat, and gloves, I shied from bring along my thermal fleece, and began happily running the first of the two loops I planned to complete. I shambled along in a lazy manner, careening around corners, eying the skimpy-cloaked trees, now bare without their manes of leaves; I gazed at the cold, clear water of the bog sparking between the tree bones, and inhaled deeply the smell of campfire as I slowed down, passing the youth camps. I smiled at strangers, with bundled-up babies, and romping dogs (including one German Shepherd that I saw twice--both times holding tight to a green tennis ball), and inhaled the cold, brisk air. I laughed and apologized profusely to a woman with a black lab for startling her in passing. I shivered a time or two, wondering if I ought to have worn my fleece, but was committed to running fast enough to stay warm, and happy to be outside and healthy enough to know I could do it.

And then I saw it. A giant, silvery, chain-link fence, blocking my route. The good news is that this renovation appears to be a buildup of the part of the path that seems to flood at the slightest amount of rain, meaning I won't have to plan for different routes if the weather is or has been inclement. The bad news is that for now, the path is off limits--meaning a detour.

Those who know me well know that there are many things I'm good at--and many things I'm not. Sadly, keeping my sense of direction falls in the latter category.

I followed the detour at first, a little grumpy, my zen run having been thrown a loop with this detour. Still, running down an uninhabited, grassy golf course green, I decided to try to see this as an adventure.

I looped left at the bottom of the green, following the neon green flags tied to trees along the way, until suddenly...I ran out of flags. Looking at the two possible options, both uphill, I opted for the right branch. I ran up the hill, reaching the top, then immediately deciding I'd made the wrong decision, and turned around. Back at the bottom, I searched in vain again for the continuation of the green flags, then headed back up the hill. I crested the top of the hill again, and found myself at another branch. This time, I was positive. I headed back down the way I came. Luckily at the bottom I saw the woman I'd startled earlier--headed down a third path that I hadn't with neon green flags marking the trees.

I felt a little stupid, but kept on, running now with the thought that maybe one loop, if one could be made, would be sufficient. At the next detour, I could make neither heads nor tails of the detour signs, and found myself running through the golf course itself. With no trees to protect me any more, I realized I. WAS. COLD.

At the entrance to the golf course, I asked directions from a very nice woman who offered me a ride (being a goldarned athlete, I politely refused), and some directions. After having asked for directions once more, from an elderly man who continued to wave merrily at me through his car window as I motioned for him to roll the window down (Really, did he think I had an encyclopedia set hidden behind me, available for only 10 payments of $24.99??), I realized I had committed to running...the wrong direction. The fastest way to my car was the Interstate, hardly a safe place (not to mention, I think its actually illegal) for a runner, even a cold one.

It's entirely possible there was a way to get to my car from where I was, but at that point, I was tired of getting lost...and decided the best course of action was to simply head back the way I came from.

Happily, once I got back on some familiar terrain, I was able to get back to enjoying my run. The beauty of being out in the cold is that there are very few people out there with you--and those that are, are usually there for the same reasons--to enjoy the solitude, and the stark beauty of nature hibernating for the year.

I like to think of winter as a chance for nature to do what I was doing today--to rejuvenate, and to prepare for a rebirth. Today for me was a chance to rediscover some of myself, the pieces of me that are easy to lose in the mad dash that is life--but also the pieces that are really the most important to my overall health and happiness. The truth is that this is therapy, and therapy that was much needed.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Say Hello to Captain Crankypants

Let me just say this--I'm tired today. Tired of getting up early, making the long drive to work. Tired of picking up slack and cleaning up messes. Tired of being asked to do more than one person can do, and tired of my seeming inability to come out and say so.

I'm tired of coming in early for Tuesday meetings that start before my workday begins. I'm tired of staying late for Tuesday meetings because of a time change on another end. I'm tired of rushing out, only to sit in the car another hour before I can see the man I love, or do the things I love. I'm tired of parking tickets from the City of Cambridge fascists, and I'm tired of dog poop in the back yard.

As I ran the normal route around the Charles, at last with my beloved, accompanied by the now-familiar dull ache of my right buttcheek and hamstring and an ominous scraping in my left knee, I thought about the basketball game I'd surely be late for. I thought about my shitty day, and the aches in my body from Sunday's half marathon. I thought about whether my body was prepared to take on the Boston Marathon again, and even knowing that it was, how I'd find the time to train. I thought about all of the emotional crankiness my beloved has had to put up with these last couple weeks (though he's 100% wonderful about it).

The truth is I am stretched too thin. And I'm tired of it. I know that tomorrow brings more deadlines at work, that I've yet to finish a fundraising distribution list, let alone send a letter, that I've been reading the same book for two weeks and magazines are piling up. I know that there is no easy fix, and that sometimes we have to grit our teeth and ride it out. But, oh, right now I am just plain exhausted, mentally and psychologically.

Tonight, though, I will try to put this out of my head. I'll focus on the smell of long grain rice, and revel in the knowledge that Jared has steaks on the grill, that there is hummus in the fridge, and a Sam Adams in my hand.

I like to think of many things like this:
When you can't sprint, run. When you can't run, walk. When you can't walk, crawl. If it takes the force of your will alone to do it, it can still be done. And remember that this too shall pass.
And sometimes, take a break and have a cold beer.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Seacoast Half Recap

Today, the cramming came to an end, as team "Rock(y)ing the Coast" completed its inaugural half marathon.

In that crew, we had the following (see photo, from left to right):
Jared: 1st half marathon
Shane: 1st half marathon
Abby: 3rd half marathon, one marathon completed
Tony: 2nd (?) half marathon
Kate: 5th (?) half marathon, one marathon completed
Tara (see below): Several half marathons, at least one marathon to her credit
Kristin (not shown): 1st half marathon

Of this crew, we each ran our own race, and of course, I can only tell you about mine--but before I get into that, take a moment to consider the HUGE accomplishment the two first-times achieved today. Not only did Kristin and Jared complete the farthest distance either of them has ever run before, but both of them finished strong in a difficult race. Congratulations to both of you!

Now for my story...

Having (again) gotten up too early, Jared and I arrived early at the Portsmouth H.S., and snagged a clutch parking spot near the entrance--not such a big deal before the race...but, oh, is a little treat to only walk a short way to the car for the trip home.

Teammate Tara Kelly (see photo at right, center) happened on us as we lounged in the school entrance, ostensibly stretching. There, she regaled us with tales of what seems to be her utter awesomess--Tara, a very small, pretty woman, is also into lacrosse, and mixed martial art. Like Jujitsu.

Good God.

We weren't able to run into any other teammates before or after the race, but we did happen across the stellar fan base three times--once taking our leave of them with the sweet strains of "Eye of the Tiger" blaring at us.

The first miles were hard and fast, as I was chomping at the bit, yearning to stretch my legs on the course. Jared reminded me a few times, and finally at about four miles, I listened to his honest comment--the pace I had set wouldn't hold for long, and I was cruising for an early burnout.

It was this realization that saved me, I think. We churned through another mile, me keeping myself in check. At 5 miles, Jared mentioned he'd loosened up. I agreed, and we found ourselves cruising along at a comfortable pace for the next several miles.

True to around 9 miles, it got harder. I'm not sure what it is about this mileage. Give me 8, even 8.5, and I am happy. Tired, but happy, and floating on my runner's high. The fickle, fickle high, however, seems to abandon me between 9-11 miles EVERY TIME...and Sunday was no different, as it took all of my effort and the gentle haranguing of my beloved to keep me moving and motivated.

Still, with 2 miles to go, we were maintaining a comfortable cruise, and were nearing the last two, beautiful mile markers...

Less than one to go, and I looked up at Jared's comment to see it--a hill. A big hill. My Everest, and Jared's Mass Ave bridge. He put the screws to it, leaning into the hill like a lover, while I attached it angrily as a foe. We both reached the top, and as we rounded the corner, I saw the clock, ticking along at 2:01, the second invisible to me. I grabbed Jared's arm, and urged him to run, knowing we were so close to the thin, scraping edge of a PR, and unsure if we would make it.

He didn't question at all, taking off like a shot. I gritted my teeth, forcing myself to hold pace with my other half, as we pushed each other across the finish line in 2:01.36--about a minute faster than my last half. Next time, we plan to destroy the 2-hour barrier. Jared's caught the bug now, I think, and there'll be no stopping him...

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Solitary 5.25

There's something wonderful about running with others, be it a friend or a lover...the reasons for this are myriad, and none of us are a stranger to them:

* Companionship: There is something great about spending time doing something difficult and/or de-stressing with a partner, someone also reaping the benefit of the run.

* Conversation: I can't deny it--I'm guilty of asking leading questions to get my running partner(s) to jabber away, thereby allowing me to save my breath for the effort of a run. Then again, I'm also guilty of shamelessly rambling away, having horded any news of interest, prepared only to share it while running.

* Competition: It would be too far to say that I am "racing" my running buddies. That aside, no one wants to be the first to back down, to say, "Do you...[gasp]...mind if we...slow down...[wheeze]for a bit?" Running with someone else pushes me further than I necessarily want to go, and I know that I am giving back the same.

But...ah. There is another kind of bliss in the solitude of running. A kind of bliss in the only sounds magnified in your lonely ears--cars cruising by, snatches of passing conversation, trees rustling in the wind, and the slap-slap of sneakers on pavement, road, and ramp.

I listened to these noises, to the chirping of the Walk sign that seems to take 5 minutes to come around, then is gone again before I can sprint across the intersection; to the rush of cars along Mass Ave. as I cruised along, slap-slapping my sneaks along; the excited yammering bark of two dogs, pulling at their leashes near my turnaround point, the Starbacks near the Rt. 60 intersections. I tuned in to car doors opening and closing, the sound of a woman's high heels in front of me, the popping crunch of her date's shoes as he bounded up the curb to walk at her side.

And then I was distracted--by smell. The smell of garlic, roasting meat, and all kinds of delicious, to be exact.

As I rounded the last curve, surprised to find myself at home so quickly, I mopped away the rivulet of sweat pooling along the bow of my upper lip.

Running alone is a gift, a wonderful thing, in that you again notice the details--the sounds, smells, feeling of speeding along. You notice the hitch in a random step, and can tune completely into your body, seeking with mental tendrils along each limb for sore muscles or joints, weak points, hot spots.

Is it so strange to think that each makes me appreciate the other all the more? That running with others makes me see anew the wonder of a solitary run? That running alone makes me yearn at the same time for company, for someone to share each step and moment with? It's an enigma. But it's a good one.

Side note: This Monday was the kickoff Dana-Farber meeting. Soon I'll be running on a weekly basis with friends of last year, and at last--I won't be one of the rookies.

See below for the official (and very large--do banks even take those?) check from the 2008 DFMC runners.

I know. It's tough to see. Let me help you.

The check says $4.65 million.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

11 Miles by the Numbers

Yesterday's long run was disgustingly tough....and I hate to get too into detail about tough runs. Instead, I will give you this run--by the numbers.

2: Weeks in a row we've seen our favorite blue heron sitting on the bank, staring out at the Charles. We've decided that, given our ever increasing level of relationship, we shall call him "George."

11: Long and slogging miles we ran yesterday. (Seriously, some days running is just so hard.)
53: Ceramic, concrete, porcelain, or metallic frogs observed and counted in yards.

1: Blocks the aforementioned frogs were observed in.

46: Frogs counted in one yard alone.

1: Singing/yodeling goat, as presented by an elderly British lady walking by Jared, whilst I was counting frogs.

3: Different Starbucks runs have ended at, in the same number of weeks.

2: Movies watched in our underwear after said 11-mile run (The Happening and Casino Royale).

6: Days until the Seacoast Half Marathon...

Saturday, November 1, 2008

A Well-Earned Rest

Friday: short run (3 miles) with Jared
Saturday: FitGirls event with Brenda and Sarah (more to come on that later)--probably not really a legitimate day of exercise.
Sunday: 9 miles with Jared
Monday: short run (3 miles) with Jared
Tuesday: hoops

And on the fifth, sixth, and yes, seventh day, she rested....

Off to bolt through 11 with my beloved now, though. Seems the eighth day is the charm:)