Thursday, May 12, 2016

Dear William (81 months)

Dear William,
Today you are 81 months old!

You continued with your favorite pastime this month: jumping on the trampoline.  You discovered that if you go out at dusk and jump high enough, you can see the moon rising above the house.

You still love astronomy.  Here you are with a construction paper model of the nearest star system to us: Alpha Centauri A, the Earth's Sun (included for scale), Alpha Centauri B, and Proxima Centauri.

When daddy's friends came over one afternoon, you taught them about the planets (and moons).  They wrote you a thank you note.

I bought you a light saber toothbrush (which turned out to be the best $4.99 ever spent).

We ran a May the Fourth 4K here in town and wore costumes.  You were Boba Fett, Daddy was R2D2, and I was Rey.

Your class did a music performance.  In one of the songs you had a small bit to play on the xylophone. I was so proud of you I almost had a heart attack.

On Mother's Day, you sent me a text.

You also had prepared me a card at school. The card was a worksheet that had sentences for you to complete, with things like "My mommy is _________."  (You wrote, "My mommy is nice.")  One of the blanks to fill in said, "My mommy weighs _______."  Why on earth would the education system think that having a child guess his/her mother's weight would be a good idea? I have no clue. At any rate, you guessed 150 pounds.  Not exactly, sweetie.

One of the other sentences on the card read, "It bugs my mommy when I _______."  You didn't fill that in.  You told me, "I don't do anything that bugs you." And you're right.  Another sentence said something like, "I wish my mommy would _______."  You left that one blank too.  You told me that you thought it would make me sad to hear that you wished I would change something about myself.  So I asked you if there was something you wanted to write in that blank.  I said you could tell me anything.  But you shook your head and put your little arms around me.  You preferred to leave it blank.  You had no complaints.

Watering a peony bush we planted on Mother's Day. Grandma Florence would have wanted this.

Of course, it could have been that you figured out if you left those things blank, it meant you'd be done with your work quicker, and with less writing involved.  Either way.  You're brilliant.

We went to the movie theatre this month with some of daddy's running friends and watched a documentary about a race called The Barkley Marathons.  It isn't actually a marathon.  It is a shrouded-in-secrecy event (seriously, no one even knows what you have to do to register for it) that is more like 130 miles and takes place (on a date that is not publicly announced) in the hill country of Tennessee.  The course is unmarked, is nearly entirely off-trail, and involves 60,000 feet of elevation gain (the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest twice).  Many years, there are no finishers within the 60 hour time limit.  In fact, since the race began (I don't actually know when the race began, but it has been going on for at least 21 years), there have only been 14 finishers.  

You were just completely overwhelmed by this documentary.  The next day you announced to me that you wanted to run The Barkley and that you wanted to be the youngest person ever to finish the race (move over Nickademus Hollon). You calculated that you would be ready to compete at age 19.  You asked me to help you train.  

I said alright and fitted you with my Jenny Jurek hydration vest filled with 40 ounces of water.  You decided we should go to Red Fox Meadows (a completely flat 1/2 mile dirt loop), and so we headed out into the dreary afternoon.  On our second or third lap, it started to rain, but you said, "It's okay," and kept going.  I told you that was really good training, to keep running even in bad weather.  We covered 2 miles in 37 minutes, and then you decided that was enough for the first day.

William, if you want to go to The Barkley, I will do everything I can to help you get there and cross the finish line.  I am so proud of you for dreaming big but also knowing you have to take little steps each and every day along the way.

Love always,

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Dear William (80 months)

Dear William,
Today you are 80 months old!!

We started off the month with S P R I N G  B R E A K and a weekend camping trip to Salida, where daddy ran a trail marathon.

You and I found an adorable place called Café Dawn, where you ate a piece of coffee cake for breakfast. When the waitress came over to check on us and asked you how you liked your coffee cake, you said it was deeee-licious. She asked if you'd like another piece and you said, "Yes please." You are so cute.

Then you ran a kid's race. I think it was a 400m dash.  Usually in these things, you get scared and let the other kids rush past you. This time you held your own and finished near the front of the pack. You said, "I'd like to do another lap." And so you did.

After we got home from Salida, we spent a lot of time studying astronomy during Spring Break.  You listened to the Liftoff Podcast "Moon Draft" episode three times, and then you made your own moon draft.

You are particularly fond of Ganymede.

You asked me to take you to the library to check out planet books, but really, I think that was a subtle ploy to get to use their iPads.

You did find some good books though.

It is always good to keep this in mind.

At the end of your spring break we took another camping trip to Monument Valley, Utah (and Arizona), on the Navajo Nation.

Utah is rad.

You read to us about the planets, and then we looked out at the sky and saw a big star that wasn't a star at all: it was Jupiter.

You and I took a hike in Caynonlands National Park while daddy went for a run.  You made up stories about the planets the whole time. You were so engrossed in your stories, you forgot to complain about being made to hike, but I don't think you even noticed the beautiful landscape all around you.

"And then Jupiter's Great Red Spot said to Saturn's rings..."

You ran with daddy on his way back to the trailhead.

Monument Valley is so beautiful. 

You were such a trooper while mommy and daddy took turns taking care of you and running.  On the way back home we stopped at a dinosaur-themed theme park in Moab, and you had a blast. Mostly you played in an old Utah-style pick up truck that was part of the playground.

You also pretended to be a dinosaur doctor and counted their teeth.

Right after we got home from Spring Break, there was a snowstorm that was so bad school got cancelled.  You couldn't jump on the trampoline that day, but we baked banana bread, made play-dough, and otherwise kept ourselves entertained with books and toys and cartoons.  And planets.

The snow melted quickly enough, and soon you were back out on your bike. You rode in the dirt and I ran along beside you. I was so happy you thought this was fun.

It was hot that day, so we needed a refreshing drink when we got home. We took the juice of 2 lemons, some ice, some water, a drop of peppermint extract, and blended that up. Then we poured it into glasses with a peppermint candy on the bottom. You were a big fan.

We attended a few events put on by the Northern Colorado Astronomical Society.  One was a talk about Pluto's moons.  We had to leave soccer practice early to get there on time.  You were so good sitting in the audience. You were the only kid there.  When the speaker was done giving her presentation, she asked if there were any questions. You looked like you really wanted to say something, but I had no idea what it was. You whispered to us that you didn't raise your hand and ask in front of everybody, so we waited until everybody was filing out, and we went down to talk to the speaker.  

You asked her: "How much bigger than Ganymede is Mercury?" After some discussion, she explained that it is like how you are the third tallest kid in your class. Mostly, the first graders are similar in size, but some are a little bigger than others.  You are like Ganymede. Your more petite classmates are like Mercury.  The speaker did not seem concerned in the least that your question had nothing to do with Pluto or its moons.

Later, when I asked you what you learned from the talk, you said you learned that Nix (this is one of Pluto's moons) has a red spot on it because it got hit by something big that knocked off part of the surface, and the red stuff is the material underneath Nix's icy exterior.

We also went to a Northern Colorado Astronomy Night, where you got to look through a giant telescope at Jupiter.  We could see bands of tan, white, and orange on the planet, but not the great red spot.  It was cloudy that night.  We also could see the four Galilean moons: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. (You can name them in order, I always have to look it up).  I think seeing this impressed me more than it did you.  You were just kind of like, "Neat."  You spend so much of your time looking at pictures of the planets, drawing pictures of them, reading or having me read to you books about the planets, that actually looking through a telescope and seeing them really is kind of like no big deal.  You know they're there.  They're practically all you think about, all the time. And maybe it is more impressive to look in a book at picture of Jupiter than to see it, kind of grainy and very far away, through a telescope, on a cold night.  Even so, I think we'll keep trying to go back to these astronomy club meetings.  The people there are really nice and they know so much about space.

Will, you're the best.
Love always, 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Monument Valley: It Doesn't Have to be an Ultra to be Epic

Last summer I read a book that took place in Monument Valley, and although the plot was lackluster, the characters and description of the setting was amazing.  I wanted to visit this place, and when I stumbled across the Monument Valley Ultra, which was scheduled for the same week that Will and I were on Spring Break, it seemed like the thing to do.  

The question was: whether or not I could.  It is always hard to tell from a race website what the terrain is actually like, and since we've already established that I suck at running technical trails, it is important for me to know what I'm getting into.  

From the information I could find, it seemed like I would be able to do this course, except for the Mitchell Mesa section, which involved a 1 mile climb at a 28% gradient, and then turning around at the top and descending back the way you came.  Some of the race reports I found also indicated that this part was technical and rocky and may have involved sheer drop offs on one or both sides.

This concerned me.

Given my teaching load this semester, and fear of 28% grade ascents/descents on technical terrain, I opted for the "half marathon" (14.4 miles) instead, which shared part of the course with the ultras, but did not include Mitchell Mesa.  

But then towards the end of February, I injured my foot.  It was the kind of thing I thought would be completely better after a day or two of rest, but it wasn't. It got worse and better and worse again.  I could still run, albeit in a lot of pain. I knew there was no way I should run this race in Monument Valley, and I was feeling really stressed about all the plans we had made to go there.  I didn't want to pull the plug on this, but I didn't want to attempt the race and end up even more seriously injured. I took a week off of running to see if that would help.

We left on the Thursday before the race (I was still in a very grim mood) and stayed in a campground somewhere outside of Moab.

Will, with the moon over his shoulder.
The sun set that night and Will read planet books to us and we all saw Jupiter in the sky with diamonds.

The next morning we woke up in Utah.

It is always nice to wake up in Utah.
We drove on into Canyonlands, where Rob ran while Will and I hiked.  My foot felt okay, at least to walk, and Will (who normally complains when he is expected to hike), did not complain at all.  He talked the entire time about the planets and did not notice any of the beautiful scenery.  I was thinking how some kids have imaginary friends, but not Will.  He has the planets.

Will: "And then Saturn's rings said to Jupiter's great red spot..."

I learned a lot about the planets on this hike.
Will may not have appreciated the landscape around us, but I did.  It reminded me of the Grand Canyon, except instead of not being able to see anything through the crowds of people, we were the only ones there.  It was pristine and quiet and ten thousand times more lovely.

When we got back to the trail head, I made us lunch, and Will ran out to meet Rob as we saw him approaching on the trail.

Then we got back into the car and drove, and at last we arrived at Monument Valley.  It was every bit as beautiful as I'd imagined, and then some. 

The view from our tent. We saw Jupiter again at night.
We camped at The View Hotel's campground, right across from the start/finish line of the race.  It was perfect.  The campground had a real bathroom, with flushing toilets and running water and showers for after the race.  This was an asset.

Also, my foot felt a lot better.  Or at least I thought it did.  It could have been that my back and neck hurt so badly (unrelated to running) that I couldn't even feel my foot pain anymore.  Either way, I decided to consider this an asset.

We ate pasta, and then I spent a sleepless night, trying unsuccessfully to find a way to lie down that didn't hurt my back.

Before I knew it, it was time to get up the next morning.  The ultra runners started at 7am, around the time that the sun looked like this:

The 50-milers ran right by our campsite on their way out.  Once they were gone, I got ready, which went as smoothly as it could in the freezing cold desert.  But at least the sun was up so I could see what I was doing.  And the bathroom had warm water.  Assets.

When I put on my shoes, I discovered that the velcro backings where I attach my gaiters were missing. WTH.  I still have no idea what happened. Did they fall off? I swear they were there the last time I wore these shoes.  Now I was faced with 14.4 miles in sand, and no gaiters. Duct tape to the rescue.

This is a photo from after the race. They actually held up pretty well. The tape on my right foot stayed in place through at least 14 miles, and the left one stayed the whole time.

Soon enough, I lined up with over 300 of my newest friends to start the half marathon. The race instructions had said to make sure to "line yourself up accordingly" because the start is on single track trail and passing would be impossible for the first couple miles.  Great.  I've never run a trail race that was shorter than an ultra before.  It is always so hard to know where to line up in these things.  But when I saw the local Navajo track team (not sure if they were high school or college), I made sure to get way, way behind them.

And then we were off.  Well, sort of.  I took like 5 steps and then came to a screeching halt as we all funneled onto a trail that was no wider than my foot.  We weren't even walking.  We were just stopped. This is another reason why trail races frustrate me.

Eventually movement began.  There was sand and rocks.  It was mainly downhill. It wasn't super technical, but was more technical than I'd thought it would be. I tried my best to take in the beauty of my surroundings without falling face first in the rocks and sand.

After the first 3 or 4 miles, we turned onto a dirt road and could finally spread out a bit.  I was feeling pretty good at this point: my foot didn't hurt, and I was handling the terrain okay.  I realized it was also very nice to be running a half marathon at this pace, near the back of the pack.  Running it like it was an ultra.  Ever so much more enjoyable than red-lining it at your absolute maximum, all-out for 13.1 miles. 

We got to the one aid station on the course at ~5.5 miles (we'd go past this again, after we turned around on our way back to the finish).  When I saw it, I thought, oh, so that's why they call it the "Three Sisters."

It also looks like a "W"... for William

After heading out from the Three Sisters, we went back onto single track and climbed up the first significant hill-- rocky and covered with several inches of sugary sand.  I caught up with a Navajo lady and we leapfrogged back and forth and chatted with each other for a while.  The views along this section were amazing.

My new friend and I stopped to take pictures.
After the uphill, there was a descent that included a small section that was incredibly steep, rocky, and sandy.  And terrifying for me.  I was glad there wasn't somebody on my heels in that section because I slowed down a lot and the people I'd been running with just kept on going.  This part of the course was like that time on a trail run when my feet skidded out from beneath me on a sandy, rocky descent and I fell and thought I broke my hip.  Only worse.  I was so glad I'd worn my Salomons with slightly better lugs, even though they seem to irritate my foot worse than my Sketchers, which are more cushiony but not good for trails. This was the kind of thing that if I'd known about, I would not have signed up for the race.

But the steep section was very short, and I made it, and I caught back up with the people who had passed me and kept going.  I'm not good on technical descents, but I seem to have enough endurance, so when people go by me on gnarly terrain, I often pass them back when things smooth out or even start going uphill.  This is what happened during the second half of the race. It wasn't as rocky but involved pretty deep sand, which felt a lot like running through a Colorado snow storm (just not cold).  I got plenty of practice with that during the early months of winter, so I don't think this bothered me as much as it did for some people, who didn't necessarily have that kind of training.  It was tough, but not something I couldn't handle.  For once, I viewed all that snow we'd had as an asset.

We passed back through the Three Sisters aid station again around mile 10.5, and from there it was a dirt road for the last 4 miles.  It started out downhill, which felt easy and great.  Then it went up, and up and up.  I recalled that the course was supposed to have about 1250 elevation gain, and we hadn't gone uphill all that much until this point.  This is where it all began, in the last 2.5-ish miles.  It felt like doing Towers, after having run for over 2 hours in deep, loose, sand.

I passed a lot of people who were struggling hard during this last bit.  This was definitely an ultra runner's half marathon.  Not something you should sign up for if you are used to running on roads and run races with the mindset that you should go all-out and try for a personal best every time.  In other words, the way I used to run back when I regularly ran marathons and half marathons.  On the road.  I was very glad that I was coming into this race with several years of ultra running experience and with the simple goal of seeing a beautiful place, rather than having a "fast" time.  The race website has a very inclusive "come one, come all" type of attitude, which is great, but I think that if anyone is looking into this race, they should be prepared and know that it is going to be tough.  At the very least, this is 14.4 miles, which is longer than a half marathon, and the sand you run through for most of the race makes it feel like a much harder effort.  Not to mention the significant climbs you do during the last several miles.  As I was running those hills, I kept thinking: it doesn't have to be an ultra to be epic.

I saw Rob and Will standing up on the hillside as I came into the finishing stretch, and at last I was done.  A race volunteer (or maybe one of the organizers?) gave me a high five.  I'm not sure there was a timing clock at the end, and I forgot to stop my watch for a while.  The best I can figure is that my finishing time was about an hour slower than my (road) half marathon "PR." But really, that seems beside the point.  I was so happy to have held up well throughout the race, and to have completed a course that involved fairly difficult terrain. My quads and hamstrings were wrecked from the effort, but what mattered most was that my marginally healed foot injury felt okay (and has continued to feel okay).

Half marathon finishers got a bracelet, which I think is 10 zillion times cooler than a medal. I will actually wear this instead of put it in a drawer and forget about.

I got to take a real, actual shower at the campground, and then Will and I had lunch and rested while Rob went out for a run.  He never stops training.  I had initially hoped he might go out and check this 28% grade on Mitchell Mesa for me, but since the ultra was still going on over there at this time, that didn't seem like a good idea.  

We stayed over night again, and my back finally stopped hurting enough so that I could get a few decent hours of sleep. The next day (Sunday), we took Will to an outdoor dinosaur exhibit near Moab, where he had the time of his life.

#Utah #Rawr

On Sunday night we stayed in Fruita with @angelmurf and family, who are the nicest people ever.  Seriously. I would have stayed with them forever, but eventually we had to get back to work and school.

I'm so glad I did this this race, and I hope Rob and Will enjoyed visiting Monument Valley as much as I did.  It was a great event-- well done and well organized in every way, from my perspective.  I still don't know what Mitchell Mesa is like and if I could really handle that ultra, but I'm already wondering if maybe we'll go back again next year.

Thanks for reading.