M and I emerged from winter hibernation to attend a writing conference in Boston last month. One of the seminars we attended was on the topic of teaching writing at community colleges, and one of the panelists, in sharing his personal experience, said that many students arrive in the classroom having had negative experiences with writing. Specifically, in students’ pasts, writing frequently had been used as punishment. So beyond having no current “relationship” with writing, many of them had a well of negative emotions associated with the topic.
Unexpectedly, my own latent writing memories rushed forth, strange elementary school flashbacks of writing the same phrase over and over again until I filled a piece of lined paper or writing an essay explaining why our class misbehaved for a substitute teacher. For many students who have similar experiences, writing becomes permanently associated with negative events or emotions. They never return to writing freely or for their own interest or benefit.
Fortunately, I had a pre-existing positive relationship with writing, even as a kid. I started keeping a journal in the 3rd grade, a practice that still continues today. I wrote short stories and poetry and essays, largely to help process and escape from my own youthful angst. Writing punishments in the classroom were alternately frustrating or annoying, but I never internalized them in a way that changed my relationship with writing itself. Writing was too important to me to let outside circumstances interfere.
Being a mental wanderer, I began to reflect on my relationship with running in a similar manner. Why did I not become a runner until my mid-30s? What took me so long to discover my interest in and the actual joy I get from this simplest of sports, a freedom and joy similar to the one I experience when free-writing?
To find the answer, we have to travel back in time to the 1980s, when elementary school me started playing town rec league soccer. In those early years prior to high school, running was just part of the game. It was something we did naturally and for fun, the same way most kids still run today. We ran at recess, we ran to warm-up, and we ran during drills. We ran during scrimmages and during games. In those early years, I don’t recall ever thinking about “running,” just about “playing.” I was either at practice or at a game, but I was always “playing soccer,” never “running.”
Then I reached high school, and things changed. I showed up at tryouts as a wide-eyed freshman who had ignored the mandatory off-season conditioning plan. Why would a 13-year-old-girl, obsessed with boy crushes and babysitting, want to spend any portion of her dramatic “last summer before high school” running laps around her neighborhood when she could be riding her cool 10-speed bike to her friends’ houses?
The conditioning plan called for running something like 2-3 miles 2-3 times a week in the weeks before official pre-season practices started (easy breezy for me now, but torture back then). Pre-season itself meant double-sessions, practicing from 7-9 AM daily and returning again for practice from 4-6 PM. And practice took on a whole new meaning in high school. Gone were the days of having fun on the pitch, giggling and running drills. We were simply running.
And run we did. We ran laps, we ran complexes (laps around the entire set of sports fields at our high school), and we ran sprints. We ran to reflect on our failures after a loss, and we ran to build momentum after a win. We ran and ran and ran. I was no longer playing soccer. In fact, I was no longer playing anything. I was running, and I hated it. I loathed the coaches and their whistles. I struggled to keep up with the faster girls. I was bored, and I wasn’t having any fun. I was being punished, twice a day, every day, all August long. The pattern continued for years.
Eventually, in my early 20s, I stopped playing soccer, distracted by depression and work and life. I struggled to figure out who I was and what I wanted to be. Although I was experiencing professional success, I developed negative relationships with food and people and other things that weren’t so good for me. And then, at 35, in what can only be interpreted as a desperate act of madness, I started running.
Out of shape and overweight, my first tentative steps took place on a treadmill in a dark corner of the gym. At first, I was jogging 30 seconds at a time, followed by 90 seconds of walking. 30 became 60 and then 90, working up to running for two minutes in a row before I needed a walk break. I kept at it, three or four times a week. Eventually, two minutes became five, and one mile became two. As motivation, I signed up for my first 5K, followed four weeks later by my first 10K. (Go big or go home!) I was slow, but I was running.
Fast forward two years, to last year, during which I ran more than 700 miles and participated in 14 races. I’m on pace to surpass that mileage number this year. I’m set to conquer my third half-marathon this weekend, and I just signed up to run my first marathon this fall. I consistently run 20+ miles per week and actually look forward to most of them. I’ve coached friends and family and clients on running technique and introduced several to the sport.
I also volunteer with a national organization that introduces running to elementary school girls as part of a larger curriculum. Through that work, I am reminded of that joy, that sense of play I felt when running in my youth. Although it disappeared for the better part of two decades, most of that joy has returned. Somehow, despite years of enduring running as punishment, I’ve managed to reclaim running. I’ve reclaimed it for me, returning to it freely based on my own interest and benefits. Sure, there are days I don’t feel like running, days when I’m sore or down or the weather is nasty. But there are never days when I hate it. Because it’s not punishment; it’s a choice. I choose to run, and I choose to be a runner. I choose joy. -J
At the start of 2012, we decided to pursue the goal of running at least one road race per month for the entire year. On top of this goal, given our wanderlust, we set out to run races in as many different states as possible. Although we visited 28 states in 2012 (travel summary to follow in our year-end post), it proved much more difficult to find races that aligned with our schedule. First, some areas of the country have more races than others. And second, most races occur on the weekend, further limiting our race options as we traveled around the country.
In January, we established a racing budget and got down to the business of scheduling races. Although there are some races that you can register for on race day, there are others that sell out quickly. We had our eyes set on a few specific ones and were open to being flexible on others. Races can cost anywhere from $15 to $100 or more per person to run depending on the distance and level of coordination required to manage the race course. The cost is worth it, though, since most races come with race swag (t-shirts, water bottles, pens, first aid kits, coupons, you name it…) and often benefit a local charity. In 2012, we ran races benefiting community literacy programs, local scholarship funds, volunteer fire departments, state parks, the NH Children’s Hospital, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund, and the Alzheimer’s Foundation, among others. It’s also fun to run on a closed course with spectators (and police escorts, traffic detours, string bands, DJ’s, belly dancers, beauty queens…the list goes on).
Yesterday’s Santa Shuffle in Manchester (complete with 3,000 runners in Santa costumes) was the closing event in our 2012 racing season, and we thought it would be a good time to reflect on our year of running.
- We each completed 14 races in 2012. This doesn’t include the one race that we didn’t start due to a visit to the emergency room to repair my ear (now healed, thank you…).
- We ran races at all kinds of distances: 3 miles, 5K, 5 miles, 10K, 10 miles, half-marathon (twice each!) and full marathon (my first-ever in Maine in October). We also had the privilege of being part of a team for a 200-mile relay event (Reach the Beach NH).
- Total racing mileage this year: 86.8 for J. and 114.6 for me
- We raced in a total of five states (MA, ME, NH, VA and CA), and we set personal best times in many of our races.
The end to our racing season was yesterday’s relaxed run on a snowy course in Manchester, and it was a fitting end to a year filled with traveling and training. J is poised to finish 2012 with 600+ miles, and later this month, I will hit my goal of 1,000+ miles on the year. Running isn’t easy, but it is definitely rewarding. Looking back on 2012, I’m glad for each time I laced up my shoes to go out for some “me time” or to head out for a chatty run with my best friend and running partner, J.
Now that winter is approaching, the temperatures are dropping and our 2012 season is over, it’s time to do what runners do in the winter: bundle up, lace up the shoes and hit the pavement! Our 2013 race season starts with a Super Bowl Sunday Mid-Winter Classic 10-miler in Maine, and I need to beat my 2012 time! –M
“Should I give up / or should I just keep chasing pavements / even if it leads nowhere?” -Adele
We went chasing pavement this past weekend, but in our case, it didn’t lead “nowhere”…it led to the beach! Hampton Beach, to be specific, the finish line for the Reach The Beach Relay (RTB), a 203-mile team relay race. We started our adventure at 7 AM Friday when half of our team picked us up in a stylin’ mini-van at our meeting point in southern New Hampshire. We cruised two hours north to Cannon Mountain where, after a brief orientation and safety meeting, our first runner set out on his 8+ mile leg a little after our scheduled 11 AM start. (They stagger the start times based on expected pace so all the teams have enough time to complete the race before the closing of the course Saturday evening.)
After our first runner disappeared down the mountain trail, the rest of us piled into two vans and hit the road. We were underway! In our team of 12 runners, M ran in the 8th spot in the rotation, while I was in the 12th. There were a total of 36 legs of the race, meaning every runner ran three times in a pre-determined order. Each leg varied in length, elevation, and terrain. M’s rotation (three runs totaling ~23 miles) was arguably one of the hardest in all categories, but it provided fantastic training for his upcoming marathon. My rotation was a moderate one (~15 miles across three runs) that also gave me the honor of crossing the finish line for our team.
And it was an honor. Our teammates—many of whom we met for the first time on Friday morning—were friendly, funny, focused, and rock-star runners. Although several of them had run together before, they welcomed us with warmth and an appropriate level of good-natured ribbing. Each one of them ran their hearts out, some clocking personal bests and some happy just to hand off the baton at the end of a grueling section. We ran through heat, darkness, rain, and sunshine as we weaved through more than 30 towns and interacted with hundreds of other teams, race staffers, and volunteers. We reached the beach around 3:30 PM Saturday, roughly 28 ½ hours after we started, and celebrated with burritos and beer.
RTB is not an ordinary race; it is an event. And it’s not the kind of event that you just wake up that morning and decide to run. For starters, you need at least five (and ideally, eleven) other people capable and willing to run on a team with you. Then there’s the training and the planning and the packing for a 36-hour adventure that is long on port-a-potties but short on sleep and showers. It’s also not the kind of event you just wake up and decide to put on. It takes months of planning and coordination to pull off an event of its size, rallying hundreds of volunteers to provide services at all hours of the day and night. And in its 14th year, the team behind RTB absolutely has it right. From my perspective as a rookie runner, event execution was flawless.
On a personal level, this event tested my endurance, my mental toughness, and my chops as a runner. I just started running two years ago, and in that time I’ve worked to drop more than four minutes off my average pace per mile (from roughly a 12:30 during my first 5K in 2010 to an 8:33 at a 5K last month). I’m not naturally speedy, but I’ve been working hard to improve. I ran two of my legs during RTB at a sub-9:00 pace, and the third was just over that. Others on our team logged impressive times in the 6:00-7:00 range, which I can only hope to attain, but I was psyched to hold my own and mix in with a crowd of runners I respected.
Because of the staggered start times and varying paces for each team, you never knew if the runners you were near on the course were going to finish ahead of or behind you in the final standings. It really didn’t matter. Everyone was doing their own thing, and everyone was generous with the weekend’s refrain: “Nice job, Runner.” I heard this as people passed me, and I said it as I passed them or cheered them on along the course. There were more than 400 teams on the course, and most of them were not in contention for any kind of place or prize; they were out there for the camaraderie, the experience and the personal challenge. They were out there to run, and they—we—were all runners.
Running is an individual sport, but events like RTB provide an opportunity to create community, even if it’s temporary. It’s a community that rallies around challenge and celebrates accomplishment with a pure joy unlike any I’ve ever experienced. There’s a magical feeling at the finish line, even as a spectator. Racing—especially in an organized endurance event—provides a forum for individuals to challenge themselves in a different way than normally available. I am grateful I had the opportunity to join a team (partially composed of folks from M’s alma mater) and stretch my own boundaries to see what I could do to help get our team to the beach.
After running alone on a dirt trail through a dark state park with only a headlamp to guide me and a teensy bit of terror to motivate me…
…after running in the only rain of the event as the sun was rising, producing a gorgeous double rainbow…
…and after chugging along barefoot in pace-sucking soft sand for the last 1/3 of a mile as my teammates waited patiently to join me across the finish line…
…well, after all that, I’m pretty sure I can tackle anything, including tomorrow’s planned 3-miler. Our next half-marathon is two weeks away, and there’s plenty of pavement to chase. -J
We’re down to the last month of training before our challenging series of fall races begins. Between mid-September and late October, we’ll each run four races ranging in length from 10K to half (me) or full (M) marathon. Our first fall event, Reach the Beach NH, kicks off in four weeks, and each of our big events takes place less than a month later. All of that means we’re in the thick of things when it comes to our training plans…and before yesterday we were in a rut, too.
Training for a long race serves multiple purposes. Beyond basic conditioning of both the cardiovascular and skeletomuscular varieties (so you can actually finish an event…), training runs help you figure out what to wear, what to drink, and what to eat during long runs. Those particulars are specific to each runner, and it’s best to figure them out long before race day. Training runs also help your mind push through walls your body encounters and your body push through walls your mind erects. They expose you to different terrain, weather conditions, and levels of physical and mental fatigue. Every runner wants conditions on race day to be ideal, but they rarely are. Training in less-than-ideal conditions makes it a little easier to handle any race day hiccups.
Our current training plans have us running four days a week, with one or two days of cross-training and one or two days of rest. Weekly mileage for me averages between 15 and 20 with a planned max of 25. M’s weekly mileage averages between 25 and 30 with a planned max of 35. Neither of us has run with such frequency or consistency prior to now, and we’re both feeling the effects, physically and mentally. We’re not injured, but we’re sore. We’re not surrendering, but we’re struggling.
Distances and routes that were routine a few months ago have become tough to tackle, and I was wondering if I would ever run more than seven miles again. So in the spirit of notching a mental victory, I suggested we take our scheduled 8-mile runs to the beach yesterday. We are fortunate to live 20 minutes from the coast where the sidewalk is long, the terrain is flat, and the views are a nice distraction.
Music was also a good distraction yesterday. I’ve been running without my iPod lately, in part to simplify my routine (one less thing to remember or carry) and in part because many races discourage the use of headphones (for safety reasons). I don’t want to be dependent on a soundtrack to run well. But yesterday called for some serious tunes to help me get my groove back, so I cranked the volume. Thumping bass and inspired lyrics and silly hooks…I heard them all and sang a few out loud (much to M’s amusement on the crowded boardwalk).
Part of the route we ran covered mileage that we’ll revisit during two of the fall races we’re signed up to run, including my final leg of the RTB relay: Stage 36 of 36, a 4-mile leg from Winnacunnet High School to the finish line on the sands of Hampton Beach State Park. By the time I start out on that journey, our team will have been riding in vans and leapfrogging each other for nearly 200 miles. Yesterday, while passing the intersection of 101A where I’ll round the corner with three miles to go, I tried to imagine how I will feel that day. Exhausted? Exhilarated? Anxious? Determined? Probably all of those things, but I still have several long runs ahead of me before I get to find out.
In the meantime, I’ll keep training. Before yesterday’s run (which was a fast and flat success, just as I hoped it would be), we were sluggish and struggling. After it, we have renewed focus and a spring in our steps. After a much-needed day off, we’ll hit the pavement again tomorrow and keep marching toward the finish line…all of them. -J
So we’ve been in our new apartment for exactly two weeks, and we’ve been going a bit nuts. In fact, we may have each lost our minds completely at one point or another. But we’re slowly reclaiming them, and along the way, claiming this space—and this life—as our own. We’ve unpacked, organized, purchased, assembled, recycled, and figured out exactly where everything will live here. Our new apartment is less than half of the size of the house we sold in May, and it’s the perfect size…perhaps even a little too big, if I dare say that. But it’s home. It’s also a bit loud (an adjustment to communal living in an old building) and quite scenic (the river and myriad sea birds are right outside our windows). We walk out our front door and cross the street to our favorite coffee shop and breakfast café. We’ve returned to our favorite New Hampshire farmstands at peak season for zucchini and cabbage and peppers. And although we last lived in this town just a few months ago (and for years before that), our time on the road has given us new perspective on things. Our standard running routes, which we tirelessly and willingly logged hundreds of miles on from the old house, now seem like new roads we’ve never run before since we’re approaching them from a different direction. We are having trouble finding a groove. Last weekend, we ran in a 5K race here in town and both posted PR times (personal records, or the best time we’ve each run in a race of that distance). And then today, I went out for a routine 4-miler, while M set out on his longest run to date, a (crazy hilly lousy) 17-miler. But there were no PR’s today; we both came up a bit short on both speed and distance. I think part of it was the weather—hot and humid and stormy–but part of it was also our mental state. Neither of us is centered. We’re off. We are unpacked, but we are not settled. We’re antsy. We miss the road. We’re not cut out for settling down. Or so I think. And then things happen to make me wonder if I should take a deep breath and (ugh!) settle down for a while. After we returned home from our runs and rehydrated and showered, it started to downpour, and my first mill rainbow appeared across the river. And then we walked upstairs and across the bridge to a fantastic new restaurant in our complex where we ate local brie cheese and beet salad and a smoked cheddar and butternut squash panini that were perfectly paired with a few local beers on tap. When we arrived back at our apartment, there was a package waiting by the front door: a new reflective running vest (so we each have one for the Reach The Beach NH relay event we just signed up for…) and a textbook we ordered online yesterday: Essentials of Personal Training, 2nd Edition. We both recently started studying to become personal trainers, part of a career switch and grander plan still in the early stages of formation. But even with that direction, we’re not settled. We leave next week for another stint on the road, two weeks across Michigan and the Midwest, visiting friends and checking out graduate schools. At this point, we are exploring our options. We have no idea what we’ll be doing in a year, and we’re not in a rush to figure it out. But we are on a mission, because if we don’t keep moving, we just might go insane. –J
After two weeks in the Virginia mountains, we hit the road yesterday with the goal of picking up a few more “new” states and national parks before we head back to New England for a while. We spent Saturday night in Kingsport, a small manufacturing city in northeast Tennessee we first discovered on our March road trip. Upon arrival, we made full use of the hotel’s fantastic gym, indoor pool, hot tub, and restaurant. This morning, we drove to the Kingsport Greenbelt, a recently-completed mixed-surface fitness trail that traverses nearly ten miles of the town. We were a bit surprised by the hilly terrain, which was a change of pace (literally) from the flat rail trail we’d run a few times in Virginia, but the pleasant scenery helped the time and miles pass. We completed an enjoyable 4-mile run before heading back to clean up and repack the car. We took a driving tour of downtown and then hit the highway to conquer the remaining stretch of I-81. We picked up I-40 into Knoxville, home to the University of Tennessee, where we made a spontaneous decision to take a break and check out the downtown area. We parked in a city garage (free on Sundays!) and wandered around a bit before deciding on a place to eat. We enjoyed the weather and the people-watching as we ate a late outdoor brunch in Market Square. We picked up coffee for the road before driving the last leg of the day down to Chattanooga, on Tennessee’s southern border with Georgia. Chattanooga was featured in a magazine article we read last year as the best place to live for outdoor enthusiasts, and it’s been on our list of places to check out ever since. The weather is looking stormy tomorrow, so we’re off to study the hourly radar with the hopes of picking the right hour for a running tour of downtown… -J
We started our day today just outside of Charlottesville, VA (C’Ville) at Thomas Jefferson’s famous home, Monticello. The rain held off as we walked through the gardens and took in the view. As we toured the home itself, the place that Jefferson loved more than any other, a quote from Jefferson about his home struck me. “I am as happy nowhere else and in no other society, and all my wishes end, where I hope my days will end, at Monticello.” This is how I want to feel about the place that I live, at least most of the time. It should be enriching and inspiring, while providing a venue for both the social and recreational activities I enjoy. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
In addition to exploring ourselves, the United States and the National Parks, one goal of our road trips has been to seek out places that we someday may want to live. Each new city or town we enter goes through a review process either openly or in our minds. All locations are ultimately compared to the New Hampshire Seacoast. Why the Seacoast? Aside from it being our current home and a familiar place, it has several characteristics that we look for in a home base: Not too crowded and not too rural (our ideal is somewhere between 8,000 and 100,000 people), great places too run (long roads with low traffic, low risk of crime, beaches and/or bike trails), an arts/music/literary scene, and a downtown with quality independent restaurants and coffee shops. Our current hometown has most of these characteristics, but given our recent freedom, we enjoy entertaining the idea of moving to new places.
One mistake we’ve made during our travels is to build up new places in our minds before actually visiting them. No town is perfect, and unrealistic expectations can ruin a place before even getting there. The first example of this for us was Portland, Oregon. We had built Portland up to be the ideal place to live: progressive, artsy, West Coast (sort of)…it sounded perfect. When we arrived in Portland, it was raining, gray, cold, filled with homeless people and nothing like the place we wanted it to be. Although we eventually grew to like Portland, we were disappointed by its inability to live up to our escapist/utopian expectations. It’s easy to overlook the flaws in one’s hometown. They are familiar, which by nature makes them less threatening. The flaws in a new place stand out, especially when you haven’t imagined there would be any.
Before we came to Virginia, a friend recommended that we check out Charlottesville, home to the University of Virginia. “You’ll like it,” she assured us. We asked our host, B, about it, and he concurred, mentioning the pedestrian mall, Friday night live music, yummy pizza, etc. as highlights. Despite the threat of severe storms, we left Monticello and continued to downtown C’ville, anxious to give it a look before we headed out of Virginia for a few more stops on this leg of our journey.
We started our visit with a walk hand-in-hand down the pedestrian mall, taking in the mix of independent and chain stores, shops and restaurants. So far, so good. We stopped at the most highly recommended pizza joint in town, Christian’s, for a slice and a local beer. Lots of veggie options and definitely delicious! We sat by the window and enjoyed our late lunch while watching the eclectic mix of passers-by: business people, students, children, grandparents and homeless folks, and they all seemed right at home in this downtown center. It’s a welcoming place.
After lunch, we waited out a downpour in a used bookstore called Blue Whale Books. We chatted with the cashier, a UVA poet, and picked up two used books for $2 (a biography of Rilke for J and an analysis comparing Jungian philosophy to Tibetan Buddhism for me). We left the pedestrian mall and headed for a drive around the UVA campus where the academic buildings were right across the street from the coffee shops and pubs…my kind of town.
The final test for C’Ville, and any town, was the grocery store. As vegetarians who do our best to cook and eat healthy, local, organic food whenever possible, the quality of the grocery store is a key factor in determining the livability of a city or town. When it comes to grocery stores, a town with a Whole Foods is pretty much a sure thing. With the exception of higher prices, Whole Foods is like a candy store for vegetarians. It’s a place to buy the specialty items that most grocery stores don’t carry. Tack on a weekly supplemental trip to a regular grocery store for staples and a farmer’s market for seasonal items, and you’ve got everything you need. The C’Ville Whole Foods was clean, bustling and close to downtown, rounding out the Words Per Gallon livability checklist.
So how did C’Ville stack up? We could definitely see ourselves living there. For now though, there are so many other towns to explore, more roads to run on and more National Parks to visit. Plus, our new place on the Seacoast beckons; it will be ready later this summer. Maybe we’ll move next year… -M
After our week-long stay in Maine and a weekend stop in Portsmouth for our friends’ wedding, we’ve made our way to a friend’s house in the mountains of central Virginia. In a happy scheduling coincidence, our friend (who travels frequently) happens to be at the house for the first week of our planned three-week stay. It’s been nice catching up with him over shared meals and late night card games, and it will be nice to find a rhythm of our own once he’s on the road again. We arrived late Sunday night and have spent the week becoming familiar with the area and our new temporary home. The house is set back about a mile down a gravel road, with few neighbors to encounter and many acres of woods to explore. Each morning, I’ve taken my coffee outside and listened to the land come alive from my perch on the wooden swing. We’ve napped in hammocks and walked along winding paths. We’ve witnessed deer grazing in the front yard, turkey vultures and coyotes scavenging along the main road, and countless birds and butterflies and bats and other things with wings. We’ve also managed to keep our fitness routine somewhat intact, with some creative adjustments. When the weather’s been nice, we’ve brought our workouts to the back yard, and when it was raining, I set up my yoga mat on the covered front porch. We’ve explored sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway and hiked to a remote waterfall swimming hole. Today, we ventured to the next county in search of a safe running route and ended up finding a converted rail trail that was perfect for today’s training run. (We’re running a 10K here in Virginia on Saturday, and it’s been a little tough keeping up our mileage on the road.) We’re now back at the house, enjoying a quiet afternoon and watching storm clouds roll in from the west. I think it’s going to be a good night to hunker down on the mountain. -J
Today was the first day in weeks I’ve been able to take a deep breath and fully exhale. We had no plans except those of our own choosing, and no schedule to keep except to get a run in before dark. We slept a little later than usual, huddled under the covers in the guest room. (In a story too long and boring to tell here, we sold the bed we’ve been sleeping in at the yard sale last weekend, and we’re keeping the heat off so we don’t have to pay for another oil delivery before we sell the house next week. It’s really a circus of the absurd around here.) Once we finally rallied downstairs, we cooked up a delicious breakfast of lentil hash and eggs scrambled with sweet onions and cheese. We sipped cups of coffee and read the news and paid bills. We relished the return to quiet normalcy, to a day when we did not have strangers or appraisers or buyers pushing their agendas on us. We drove to Portsmouth to procure boxes and tape for packing, grab a few fresh veggies at the grocery store, and pick up a replacement screen canopy for our upcoming camping trip to Acadia National Park. We were back by early afternoon and each headed out for a run. Distance didn’t matter today; just getting out there mattered. Our next race is in Virginia on Memorial Day weekend, so we have plenty of time to train. What we needed today were fresh air and clear minds, and we found both. We capped the day with a delicious dinner collaboration, one so tasty that it will probably make its detailed way to my food and fitness blog soon. The short version: spicy apple tofu roasted over fresh asparagus and paired with sweet potato fries and a chipotle-lime aoili. Pick a word: delicious, fantastic, balanced, amazing. They all apply to dinner, and they apply to the rest of the day as well. I hope your Monday was as balanced as ours, but if not, there’s always hope for tomorrow. -J
Although the majority of our miles this year will take place via plane, train, or automobile, at least 1,500 of them will take place via sneaker. M plans to run at least 1,000 miles, and J plans to be right behind him at 600 or so on the year. We are off to a good start, having logged nearly 300 and 200 miles respectively. 26.2 of those occurred on Saturday, when we both ran the 13.1-mile Great Bay Half Marathon. Here’s J’s Race Recap: 2012 Great Bay Half Marathon.
As I wrote a few weeks ago, I am in the final weeks of training for my first half-marathon. I reworked my training plan before hitting the road to ensure I would be able to fit in both short and long runs in between our road travels. This week’s plan called for 15 miles, and I planned to pick up 2 in VA and 3 in TN before a long 10-miler when we reached my aunt’s house in Tampa. I researched running trails in her neighborhood and found a nature park with a 7-mile paved loop. The entrance appeared to be right around the corner from the house, perhaps a mile away, so if we ran there and back, we’d get 9 miles. Good enough for a safe, scenic route.
As it turns out, I grabbed just 1 mile in VA, 2 in TN, and zero in the Smokies…although we did hike 11 miles on Wednesday, which definitely counts as cross-training and a short-mileage substitute. So I arrived in Tampa on Thursday night with plans to go for a long run on Friday morning early enough to beat the heat. I thought we could do 10 miles in just over 1 ½ hours.
We set out early, entering the park via the North Tampa Nature Trail, just a half-mile from where we were staying. We wove our way through a bug jungle before we connected to a spur of the main Flatwoods Loop trail that I had read about. At the time, we didn’t realize we were on a spur and thought the 7-mile loop had begun. We stuck together for the first three miles and then broke off to run at our own paces…specifically, for me to slow down. I was feeling the effects of the heat and humidity, and I contemplated cutting my run short, to 6 or 8 miles instead. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep pace for 10.
We agreed to finish the loop separately and meet back at a water station we had passed earlier. It was a loop after all; as long as we kept running in the same direction, we’d get back to where we started. Or so we thought. I watched M run out of sight around a bend in the trail. There were plenty of people around—several bicyclists and a few other runners—so I didn’t feel unsafe. Plus, I had my cell phone with me, and the park was patrolled by rangers who could be also be contacted by phone (every water station listed the emergency number). I kept running, hydrating and enjoying the scenery of the first few miles.
After five miles, I needed a break. I walked a bit of Mile 6 and refilled my water bottles. I jogged a bit more, and then walked again. Somewhere around Mile 7, there was one fork in the road, where two separate loops appeared to join. It wasn’t clear which direction to go, but after some debate with myself, I decided to stay to the right. I was running clockwise in a circle; best to stick to the inside track.
Friday turned out to be an unseasonably warm day in Tampa—86 degrees before noon—and I quickly finished the water I had brought with me. Fortunately, the park had basic water stations every mile or two around the loop. And that loop…well it turned out to be further than I estimated. Not the loop itself, but the fact that we had started on a spur instead of the main trail. I was expecting to meet back up at around the 8-mile mark on my watch. I kept running. The sun shined brightly in a cloudless sky. It was hot, and there was very little shade on the trail. I ate a Goo (an energy product) and ran a bit more.
The GPS distance tracker on my watch kept increasing— 7 miles, 8 miles, 9 miles—and the trail kept twisting and turning with no end in sight. What happened to a 7-mile loop? There were fewer and fewer people on the trail. I ran long stretches without seeing another person while lizards and armadillos darted into the brush beside me. I kept running, drinking, running, walking. 10 miles, 11 miles. I kept thinking back to that fork in the road. What if he went left when I went right? What direction were we supposed to go? Why did we split up? Why didn’t he have his phone with him?
To say I was panicked would be an overstatement, but my level of anxiety was rising with every mile. Finally, around Mile 11, I flagged down a bicyclist and asked if she had passed a water station at a four-way intersection. “Oh, sure,” she replied. “About half a mile back.” I don’t know where the speed came from, but I practically sprinted the next half-mile. As I rounded the last corner, I caught a glimpse of the water shelter: empty. M wasn’t there. I lost steam and started trudging, thinking about my next move.
And just then, he emerged from around a bend, walking in my direction. I waved my arms to catch his attention. I was sweaty, sunburned, exhausted, and safe…but I wasn’t done running. We still had another mile to go before we got home. Final distance: more than 12 miles. What should have been an easy training run turned into a test of conditioning, endurance, and mental toughness…and I think I passed. I also think running 13.1 hilly miles in New Hampshire will be easier than yesterday’s run in the park. -J
We spent last night at a hotel/conference center/golf resort in northeastern Tennessee. We selected it based on location and price (which was free…one of the benefits of years of business travel!), but the amenities were an added bonus. We were the only people in the pool and hot tub last night, and we were the only people on the golf course this morning. No, we were not up for an early round. Instead, we headed out at sunrise for a speedy two-mile run, weaving our way through the cart paths and footbridges along the rolling fairways. The only other people we saw on the course were members of the maintenance crew tending to the greens. We capped our run with weights and stretching in the spacious gym before heading back to our room. We treated ourselves to long showers and room service breakfast, knowing we have two days of a shower-less campground and outdoor oatmeal ahead of us.
We will arrive in the Smokies this afternoon, and we might go off the grid for a day or two. In the meantime, by special request, here is a list of the first 10 songs from Sunday’s roadtrip playlist (which we continue to listen to today). All of these songs have lyrical significance, and many are just plain fantastic. First up on today’s drive: replaying “Wagon Wheel” as we roll through Johnson City. -J
First 10 Songs from Sunday’s Drive
- Takin’ Off Today (Adam Ezra Group)
- Runnin’ Down a Dream ( Tom Petty)
- Cruisin’ With Jack Kerouac (Hot Sauce Johnson)
- Stuck Between Stations (The Hold Steady)
- The Times They Are A-Changin’ (Bob Dylan)
- Country Road (John Denver)
- Wagon Wheel (Old Crow Medicine Show)
- The Gambler (Kenny Rogers)
- Born to Run (Bruce Springsteen)
- The World at Large (Modest Mouse)
T-21 hours and counting! We’re busy as bees cooking meals and snacks to take with us, getting the house ready so it’s sparkly clean when we come home, and packing our gear and the car. We both have a long training run planned for this afternoon, so we’re working our other chores around them. In many ways, it feels like a regular Saturday around the house, but there’s a building sense of anticipation with every tick of the clock on the kitchen wall. Still no decision on the first song, but the tunes are cranking right now!
The timing of our first few weeks on the road will coincide with the last few weeks of our training before we run a half-marathon back in our hometown. It will be my first half (his second), and despite a recent bout of bronchitis, I’ve done a decent job sticking to my training plan during what turned out to be a mild New Hampshire winter. What’s proving to be a bigger challenge is ensuring we stick to our training plans while on a road trip. Planning our workouts (especially our long runs) will be critical to ensuring we return home at the end of the trip ready to run the race. I spent part of today mapping out a workout schedule, taking into consideration which days we have extended drives planned (making it tough to fit in any kind of workout) and which days look like they’ll offer us a big block of free time (perfect for a long run). We’ll control for the variables we can (like choosing to stay in locations that seem to offer decent running routes) and be flexible when faced with ones we can’t (like weather or terrain or quirks of a small town road). We’ll also need to be more careful than usual when hiking during the first week of the trip. We’re planning to tackle some moderately challenging hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains, and what might be normal fatigue or a nuisance injury on any other trip could become a race-ruining injury on this one. No amount of internet research or advance planning will prepare us for exactly what we’ll find on the road, but having a plan in hand when we set out will give us the best chance of sticking to it while we’re out there. –J