Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Back in the Gord

What a great 2 week vacation to the southeastern part of the country! It started on Emily's birthday in Little Rock with a party of about 15 seven- and eight-year-olds (and a couple of 4-year-olds). While it was lots of fun, it may have been the longest 3 hours of my life, since I felt the need to help entertain and serve them. Really they were fine on their own, running through sprinklers, doing backbends, swinging in the back yard, and playing soccer, among the "planned" activities. 

The rest of the week was regular school, gymnastics, art class, and soccer practice. Days flew by with this schedule, but Jenny and I managed to get some running and working out in. As a side note, I expected running at the lower altitude to be easier; I blamed the steep hills and the pushing of the 120lb double-stroller-with-the-two-big-kids-in-it when it wasn't.

The second stop on my tour was in Germantown at my parents' house. Jenny's birthday was celebrated here, with lots of playing outside and even a brief dip in the pool (by Jackson). In the backyard, a pickup game of baseball began. Jackson was at bat first, urging me to throw the ball harder. When I did, he hit harder, and it went further. Then I took a turn. Apparently my batting skills are not where Coach Jackson expected. He told me, "Joy, you're not very good at baseball." So I became the pitcher again.

Ethelyn came up for the party, but wasn't coerced into batting practice this time. She manned the swing.

While I got a little running done in Little Rock, the vast majority of my working out involved lifting a wriggling 25lb weight. He goes by the name of Ethan. He is interested in everything, so lunges from my arms frequently; it's quite a dynamic exercise. My biceps were screaming the first few days, but I found out in body pump class yesterday that I had no trouble at all with the usually challenging curl section.

After the children and Ethelyn left, Mom and I spent some time shopping, going to the barn to get the horse feed ready, watering plants at the cabin, and some more shopping. Have I mentioned the lack of shopping opportunities in the Gord? Unless Walmart is your venue of choice, you're left without much. Mom and Dad both made some great food for us all week, but this time I couldn't take the leftovers home. :(

I was excited to see my teammates at a team meeting while I was home, and of course I had to go out a few other times with Laura, Jonathan, Charlie, and Olaf. I even got to see Nancy, home from her latest locale two time zones away from mine. I'm not very good at taking pictures, but luckily Damie is, so I can steal one from her. Thankfully she didn't post my surprised-eyes picture.

Wow, that sure was easy to steal from her blog. Thanks D!

I got to run on "my" old trails, the yellow and the Tour de Wolf, along with a few laps around the neighborhood. I ran my very first mapped 5k route. I still remember the day I actually did the whole thing without stopping to walk. I maaaaay  have done it slower this time. Even with the flatness of Memphis, my running didn't return. Luckily Barb and Nancy were easy on me during our run. We took walk breaks. Just like old times when training for IMFL.

And then Saturday, time was up. J and I had to head back to the southwest via some very delayed flights. I'm back now, in some beautiful fall weather, still unpacking, getting used to the altitude all over again. To jumpstart it, J and I went up to what turned out to be the nearest shooting range and ran (um, walked) up a thousand feet or so to a beautiful view of the valley. This time my heart rate soared due to something other than animal tracks: the gunshots. It was exciting. And a good way to return "home."

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Something That Scares You

I have fulfilled my quota for doing something that scares me everyday-- for at least this month. Last Friday before leaving for a two week vacation to the southeastern part of the US (yay!), I went to find a trail I'd been sighting halfway up the mountain. I also was able to find this trail online on some trail website, so I figured it would be 1) well populated and 2) well marked, at least. I set out to do a "long" run, but figured being off-road at 6000ft with 1000ft of climbing, that would consist of about 10 miles. 

I parked on the side of one of our mountain climbing back roads that winds up the back side of the mountain and easily found the trail. You could go either left or right at the fork a quarter mile down the hill, so I chose left first. Most of this trail is an old railroad line, so it's relatively flat with some small gravel and an occasional tie. They had built a bridge where a train trestle had stood 50 years ago, the last time trains traveled up the mountain. I continued on down the trail -- down the gradual slope toward the basin -- and found that there are many ravines that they didn't build bridges over. I had to climb down and back up, mostly through prickly bushes. Side note: it seems that every bush has some prickly defense system in the desert. After almost exactly a mile, I decided that my legs were bleeding enough from thorns, and avoiding the prickly pears was becoming harder and harder. I turned around. 

Back up almost to the fork again, I stopped dead in my tracks when out the corner of my eye, I saw some other tracks I hadn't seen before. 

I analyzed this print for a minute, and couldn't find where it had come from or gone to because of the rockiness of the surrounding trail. Although I know dog tracks have toenails, I eventually convinced myself that this was a dog. A large friendly dog. 

Continuing on the other way at the fork, I tried to push thoughts of cougars out of my mind. The trail was overlooking Fresnal Canyon, with some steep drop offs right beside me. Here you can see the trail below the road. No parks or playgrounds or people near.

There were more ravines to cross in this direction of the trail, but most had well worn paths dipping down and back up onto the railroad trail. A mile in, I got to Bridal Veil falls, which is a constantly running stream, even in drought years. 

A couple of uneventful miles later, I had to cross a huge ravine and find my way to the continuation of the trail again. It was a steep rocky climb, but easy to navigate. Soon I came to what became the end of the trail for me. I found no path across this creek, even though I could see the trail on the other side. For some reason this picture came out with a very surreal look.

Turning around and climbing my way down that large ravine I'd recently crossed, I suddenly found myself climbing over rocks and thorny bushes with no trail in sight. Thoughts of rattlesnakes, tarantulas and cougars kept creeping back into my mind. I kept climbing. Realizing that not only was there no sign of human life in this area, but I also had no cell phone service, I started to panic. I could feel the anxiety creeping up from my chest as my breath got heavier and my heart beat faster and faster. The grass covering some rocks would be perfect cover for rattlers, and those shrubs all around could hide a stalking cat. Carefully checking placement of each footstep, I barely caught myself before almost stepping on the web of the only spider worse in my mind than a tarantula: a black widow. My mind was racing with thoughts of everything that could possibly go wrong when finally finally I spotted the trail 50 yards down the hill.

Still shaken up, it was almost impossible for me to run without looking over my shoulder the rest of the way back. I kept hearing sounds behind me and repeating to myself, "look big and scary, don't lose eye contact, throw rocks, and fight back."

I've never been happier to see my little car, or to end my 10 mile run 3 miles early. The adrenaline I pumped through my body in those 7 miles was worth at least 20 unpanicked miles. I've decided that Eleanor Roosevelt might not have meant running alone on a trail in cougar country when she said "do something every day that scares you." I'm going to pick my somethings a little more carefully next time. But I'm definitely taking Jeremy back to that trail soon. It was kind of exciting.

Friday, October 8, 2010

No Pain, No Gain

I've started to believe more in this statement. I spent so long trying to convince people to just get a little bit of exercise every day -- easy, non-painful exercise -- that I guess I started to believe training goes the same way. Well it doesn't. At least not if you want to improve your fitness, or just not suck at running anymore. 

For years I was perfectly content with the slight fluctuations in my running speed. It usually depended on how tired I was that week, or if I'd done some ridiculous workout the day before. Now it's slow all the time. I will have taken 5 days off running, done little else except some yoga, and I'm slow. I can run every day for 5 days straight, and every run is slow. I can warm up for 3 miles before trying to pick it up, but the pickup is still SLOW.

And it's all painful. If not physically painful, then the pace reading on my garmin produces psychological pain. Sometimes I get both kinds. I went to the track at the end of an extremely flat (but slow!) 8 mile run the other day to do some strides. Suddenly upon getting onto the track my legs switched into this gear that I'd forgotten they had. My stride gets longer and stronger, and it's easier to run faster. Four times around the track with pickups on the straightaways had me going faster and faster each time. I looked down at the garmin to see evidence of my warp speed, only to see 6:30. I actually used to run 10ks at this pace? It must've been another set of legs. But now that I've jogged the memory of those faster running muscles, I'm expecting them to take over any time now.

But in the meantime, I'll go on with my painful yet gainful runs. How about this afternoon's long run at 6800 ft? Don't mind if I do! The next two weeks will be at sea level, and I'm hoping to blame some of my pain on the elevation. Time will tell.

Until then, my running motto will be:
"According to the pain is the gain." - Rabbi Ben Hei 

And finally, good luck to Maggi and Mark and everyone racing in Kona tomorrow! I'm thankful it's you instead of me this year.