Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Estes Park Marathon: Lucky 13

I ran my 13th marathon last Sunday in Estes Park, Colorado.  It turned out to be a lucky day.

The weekend before the race, we took a family trip to Leadville, where Rob ran (and dominated) the Leadville Trail Marathon.  Leadville is about twice as high as Fort Collins in terms of altitude, and I was having trouble breathing while simply sitting down.  I began to worry a little about how altitude would effect me in Estes Park (not as high as Leadville, but higher than Fort Collins).  I tested the waters by doing a 12-mile run on the Mineral Belt trail (paved).  It was fantastic.  I was maybe a little bit light-headed while I was running, but only enough to be euphoric rather than ill.  And I ran faster than I had ever run at the lower elevation in Fort Collins.

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The sparkling town of Leadville below, at 10,200 feet.

Mineral belt

The first 6 miles seemed like I was climbing straight into the sky and I kept thinking “Am I above the tree line yet?” (The tree line is 11,500; I wasn’t even close).

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Running past the old, abandoned mines all by myself was a little creepy.  I didn’t see any other people for the first 11 miles of the 12 mile run.  

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The descent back into town.

Marathon weekend arrived, and we headed out to Estes Park early Saturday morning—the day before the race.  Rob ran for 5 hours in the mountains while Will and I drove around town, picked up my packet at Estes Park High School (I love marathon “expos" that take place at high schools), and found a playground where we could also have a picnic lunch.

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It was the longest day of the year, but we all went to bed early so that we could get up at 4:45am on Sunday and head back to the high school for the 6:00am start.

My one and only goal for the marathon had nothing to do with running: it was to go “cup-less,” which is to say, be self sufficient in terms of hydration and not take any paper cups of water or gatorade at the aid stations.  There’s so much waste in that.  I wore my hydration pack (actually, it is Rob’s, but I’ve kind of taken it over) with about 50 oz of water.  The hydration pack was brilliant, because it made me feel like this was more of an ultra than a marathon.  And ultras are more relaxed for me.  Plus, I could use the extra pockets of the pack to store everything I might possibly need: sunglasses, phone, Endurolytes, Fig Newmans, pretzels, and gel (which I can now again eat without getting sick!!).

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Rob got me a pair of Colorado arm warmers before the race!

The start line was pretty low-key, and also, had a very nice view of the mountains.  

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I situated myself towards the middle of the pack, and we were off.

I’d made the conscious decision not to wear a watch or GPS or any time/distance tracking device.  This was a hilly course at ~8000 ft elevation, and I was coming off a 3-month injury.  It wasn’t going to be a PR for me, and I didn’t want the pressure or stress of tracking my pace per mile.  I just wanted to run, in the mountains, with several hundred new friends.

Mile 2

Mile 2.

The course first did a small loop around Lake Estes, then headed north of town for two big loops.  The elevation map on the marathon website was from last year and out of date because the route had been changed as result of the floods last fall.  I didn’t really know when to expect the hills.  A guy I was running with in the early miles told me he’d driven the course the day before and the long uphill section lasted from mile 7 to 10 along Dry Gulch Road.  We’d hit this again on the second loop from mile 17 to 20.  

In retrospect, knowing this helped immensely.  I ran at a comfortable pace, never really pushing it, and when I got to mile 7, I was ready to tackle a 3-mile uphill.  The people around me seemed to be struggling, but honestly, I felt fine.  It was a really gradual incline, and even at 8000 ft elevation, it didn’t hurt.

Around mile 8, we got to some really beautiful scenery:

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The clouds sort of hid the mountains from view, but kept the air cool.

 I just kept climbing, ticking off the miles, and knowing when I got to mile 10, there would be a long downhill.

The descent felt nice, although there was one more kind of steep uphill thrown in, maybe around mile 11.  I figured that would hurt a lot worse the second time around.

Rob and Will found me around mile 12, when I’d caught up with some half marathon walkers.  Will’s superman costume and cowbell was a crowd pleaser for everyone.

Mile 12

Somewhere around mile 14 or 15, we split off from the half marathoners (their course was different, this was near the finish for them).  We ran past the famed Stanley Hotel and began the second hilly loop.

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 I didn’t actually take this picture while running, but you get the idea.

I was doing surprisingly well on nutrition and hydration, considering that I typically vomit, or at least feel like vomiting, during these things.  The hydration pack helped a lot.  I drank little sips of water constantly rather than a cup every 2 miles.  A lot of the aid stations had orange slices and bananas, and whenever these were available, I took some.  The volunteers were really great.  Whenever a runner was approaching, they’d call out to ask what you wanted and then have it ready to hand it to you.  This made it feel like an ultra.  I hadn’t anticipated oranges and bananas on the course, but I was thrilled that they had them.  I did okay eating a Peanut Butter Gu, but the orange slices tasted amazing, and they were really all I wanted.  I think because of the oranges and bananas, I was able to get by without having any electrolyte drink, and I never felt sick.  I was also wearing my sea-bands (I’d had good luck with these at Farmdale), so maybe that helped keep the nausea at bay too.

Mile 17 began the second long uphill section.  I’d figured it would feel a lot tougher this time, but surprisingly, I felt fine.  I could tell I was going a little bit slower than the first time I’d done these hills, but it wasn’t bad at all.  I passed a lot of people who were walking (and offered encouragement when I could) and just counted down the miles.  I was definitely eager for the downhill section to come, but never got in a bad patch.

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The clouds drifted away by this point I could actually see the mountains that had been obscured on the first trip down.  Even at mile 21, it’s hard to feel bad when you look ahead of you and this is what you see.

I leapfrogged for a while with a lady from Nebraska who was doing a walk-run strategy— she’d take walk breaks, and I would pass her, but when she started running again, she went faster than me and would pass me back.  Whenever we caught up with each other, we gave each other a little cheer.  Nebraska’s walk-run method seemed to be working really well for her (conserving her energy on the steepest parts of the hills), so I decided to walk up that nasty little jag around mile 21 (it had been mile 11 on the first loop).

Rob and Will found me again around mile 22.

Mile 22

Immediately after I smiled at them in this picture, I felt a sharp, searing pain in my left lateral knee.  That had never happened before.  Going downhill was quite unpleasant, and I had several miles of it.

Mile 22

Longs Peak

I’m hunching a little bit in these pictures.  Ouch.  That big mountain is Long’s Peak.

Around mile 23, I stopped to hold onto a post in the road and stretch my knee.  By this point, my IT band felt like it was shredded, although I certainly hoped it wasn’t.  Nebraska caught up to me and asked if I was okay.  I said it was just a little twinge and we ran together for a while.

Around mile 24, we had to cross Highway 34.  If you have never been to Estes Park, let me just say that Highway 34 is the main thoroughfare going into and out of Rocky Mountain National Park.  Which on a weekend in June, is a lot.  Major gratitude to the volunteers whose job it was to stop traffic so the runners, mainly very spread out and going through singly now, could cross.  And also major props to the motorists, who didn’t get road rage and instead opened their windows and cheered as we crossed the highway and then ran parallel to it for a while.  That was pretty amazing— to be running along 34 while a giant line of people stuck in traffic cheered us on.

So close now I could smell the barn.  I tried not to worry that I was causing irrevocable damage to my IT band, and whispered shut up, legs. The pretty mountain views were behind us as we coasted around Lake Estes and towards the high school, retracing our steps from this morning.

It took forever to get to mile 25, but at last, I did.  Just one mile left now, and some change.

Finally, Estes Park High School came into view.  I could hear the cheering and music.  I wanted to get to that track.  Would I ever make it there?  Nebraska was on my heels.  We coasted onto the track together.  One lap around and we would be done.  

I could hardly believe it when i saw the clock and it said 4:18.  I’d expected my finishing time to be closer to 5 hours, and without a watch I’d had no idea I’d been running this fast.  I was thrilled.  I felt fantastic.

“Photo finish!” Nebraska said.  I tried to keep up with her, but she crossed the line about 2 seconds before me.  We said congratulations to each other, and a volunteer handed us our medals.

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I stood there on the track, bewildered for a moment, and a guy in a sky-blue Altitude Running t-shirt said to me, “Welcome home.”  Maybe he had an Australian accent or an English accent or no accent at all.  I didn’t know if he was some kind of race official or volunteer or just another runner himself.  But I think I started crying and told him this was my first race in Colorado and that it had been such a long, long journey, but I really and truly was finally home.

Miraculously, the instant I stopped running, the pain in my knee completely disappeared.

Will and Rob found me at the finish line, and we discovered that my time of 4:18:29 was good enough for a third place age group medal.  Not that that’s saying much— there weren’t a whole lot of 30-39 year old women out there running the Estes Park Marathon that day.  William was impressed with the medal, though, and I gave it to him so he could play with it.  We headed back to the playground for a while so he could run around and burn off some more energy.  Then we headed back home, to Fort Collins.

Super playground

I really liked the Estes Park Marathon—it was one of the best organized races I’ve ever run, and the volunteers were fantastic.  I never struggled too much, which might mean that I didn’t push myself enough, or maybe that I prioritized looking at the mountains and being happy rather than striving for a fast finish.  It is my slowest marathon to date by about 2 minutes (I ran a 4:16 at the Illinois Marathon when Will was around 8 months old and I was still nursing him), but I don’t really care about the time.  I felt good, never got sick, and enjoyed the mountains.

It was a little weird running a road marathon again after a couple years of doing ultras.  It was definitely easier and over a lot faster, but I think I prefer ultras anyway.  At the moment, I don’t really know what is next.  I am terrible at racing on trails, but I don’t really feel quite like I belong on the roads anymore either.  I guess I will have to look around for a while, and hopefully find something amazing.


Thanks for reading.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Voting with our feet

When I was an undergrad, I took an anthropology course on lifeways of the Pleistocene, taught by a professor who is a world-renowned expert on the subject.  She had a couple catch phrases she used frequently during class discussions, including:

  1. The jury is still out.  (Example: “We know there are Venus Figurines all through Europe and Eurasia during the Upper Paleolithic, but the jury is still out as to who was making them and why.”)
  2. Voting with their feet. (Example: "When the climate changed and their food source dried up, people voted with their feet and followed the big game.")
The voting with their feet one—that has come to mind a lot in the past few weeks and months, because it seems, almost literally, what we have done.
St. Louis just did not work out for us.  I met some really nice people, but the whole experience was nauseating.  We do not belong in a big city.  Especially not a big, crumbling city that is so precariously poised on the edge of decadence and decay.  There is such a huge divide between rich and poor, county and city, black and white.  The Delmar divide is real, and we never fit in on either side.  
When we were first contemplating our move to St. Louis nearly 4 years ago, a friend from the area contacted me to give me some information about life in the city.  William was only 1 at the time, but I was interested and curious about the school system and wanted to have a general idea of what was to come.  “Everybody will think you’re slumming it if you send your kid to a school that costs less than $13,000 a year,” she said.  She didn’t necessarily agree with this mindset, she was just telling me the truth as she’d experienced it.  Catholic schools were the way to go.  They were on the lower end of the price spectrum.  Non-religious schools cost upwards of $18,000 to $20,000 a year.  From kindergarden.  To 12th grade.
This made my head hurt, but it didn’t deter me.  I didn’t foresee myself caring if random “people” thought I was “slumming it.”  And besides, you couldn’t tell me that everybody did this.  Not with such massive, egregious poverty in the city.  There were definitely people who didn’t send their kids to private schools.  And the rest of them?  Who gave a shit what they thought.
When we were looking at houses in St. Louis, I kept asking our realtor what school district they were in.  I could tell she was trying to keep a polite face, but otherwise assumed I was crazy.  School district? As in public school?  She probably didn’t work with too many clients who were planning on slumming it.
I only realize now, but the St. Louis I knew was all about money, money, money.  Which I guess makes sense if you are faced with the prospect of spending upwards of a quarter million dollars on each of your children’s educations before they even get to college.  It kind of hit me last summer when some friends of ours decided to move to West County, and they put their house on the market.  It was a huge deal.  They hired the best realtor in town.  At the realtor’s behest, they took everything out of their house and put it in storage, then they had the house staged.  As you do.  They had several offers within minutes of their house officially going on the market.  But they ended up in a stressful situation with a buyer— and endless back and forth over a zillion tiny things, quibbling to the bitter end about a $2,000 credit the buyer demanded.  My friend remained firm in her conviction that they would not cave to the buyer.  “I need that $2,000 for a sectional in my new house,” she said.  Their current furniture just wasn’t going to go with the way she was planning to decorate.
I nodded numbly in agreement with her, to be supportive, but in truth I was completely bewildered.  This isn’t in any way to say that I felt my friend was “wrong” to have her heart set on a certain piece of furniture, it’s just that I couldn’t imagine ever feeling that way myself— about a sectional, or a $2,000 credit, or a house in a location that would require me to take 3 interstates to and from work.  I just didn’t fit in here, and I never would. 
I think the last straw was in September, when there was an armed police chase that ended in the parking lot of Will’s daycare.  The suspect was a 19-year old kid, who had no money, no opportunities, no one to look out for him.  He robbed a gas station or a Church’s Chicken, got caught, and was running like hell from the police.  
This kind of thing is going to go on and on, as long as the people who are (supposedly) in my social circle keep sending their kids to $20,000 per year private schools, all the while never considering that maybe, just maybe, if we all pool our $20,000 and put it together so that there isn't such a disparity of opportunity, such a sharp divide between the "haves" and "have nots," there wouldn't be so many gunfights and robberies and police chases that end in daycare parking lots.
Obviously, it’s more complicated that that, and many people certainly have contemplated the possibility of pooling resources to make the entire community a better place, but in practice, it just didn’t seem like anything was ever going to change. 
So we voted with our feet.
The vibe in Fort Collins is completely different.  I noticed that right away.  The main difference is that it’s not always all about money.  The people I’ve met here are totally, keenly aware that they live in a breathtakingly beautiful place, and they don’t take that for granted.  The bike paths are heavily traveled, and they are located all over the city.  Every person I've met either bikes, hikes, runs, climbs, or all of the above.  At least in my area of town, no one seems concerned with what the neighbors will think of an unkempt lawn or peeling paint on the trim of the house.  There are more important things to attend to, such as the great outdoors.  The mountains aren’t just a “leisure” activity— they are a way of life.
Earlier this week, I went to a book club with some new friends (two of the women in attendance had biked over) and was sort of able to articulate how I felt so much more at home here than I ever had in St. Louis—how I had never found beauty in its crumbling brick buildings, and I had never been able to muster a worry that the neighbors would think I was slumming it.  The women sitting around the table nodded enthusiastically—totally getting what I meant.  Money doesn’t guarantee happiness, and the important things in life are those which you cannot buy.  One of my new friends said she had some colleagues on the east coast who all seemed to do that expensive private school thing, plus expensive after school extracurriculars and tutoring, plus a different kind of camp (costing several thousands of dollars) every week of the summer.  She laughed at the absurdity, telling her colleagues, you know what we did last weekend?  Biked the Poudre Trail.  Hiked to the top of Horsetooth Mountain.  Had the most amazing time of our lives, and all of it for free.
I’m glad that there are people in cities like St. Louis who are working to make it a better place, because I understand not everyone is as fortunate as me— not everyone has the privilege to be able to get out. And I’m sorry, but I am not the one to stay and fight.
I am grateful that we had the ability to vote with our feet, with the wheels of our bicycles, and go to a place where we finally belong.
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Long term, I suppose the jury is still out as to whether or not we will continue to feel at home in Fort Collins, but in the meantime, life is pretty good.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Dear William (58 months)

Dear William,

Today you are 58 months old.

An amazing thing happened this month: we moved to Colorado!


It was kind of an ordeal.


Luckily, your grandparents entertained you while we were busy packing:

Saying goodbye

And just like that, we said: See you later St. Louis! See you later forever.

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It was a long trip.  

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Daddy drove the U-Haul.  You and mommy followed behind in Esmerelda.  You must have gotten very bored, but you were so good.

When we finally arrived at our new house, EVERYTHING WAS AWESOME!


Do you see that rainbow? It’s awesome!

You love your new room because it has a cubby in the wall where you can hide your things.  You got started unpacking right away.

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But it got a little hard to keep up with the unpacking when there are so many beautiful things to see, basically in our own backyard.

Rocky Mountain NP

Foothills Trail

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One of our first orders of business after we arrived in Colorado was to get you a proper Big Boy bike.  At first you were very cautious, but every day you are getting better and better!  Pretty soon I won’t be able to keep up with you.

Track bike


You love being outside all the time now that we live in Colorado.  We have a nice yard and driveway; you can run circles around the house and I can keep an eye on you while I am inside doing things.  It makes me so happy that you like to play outside.

You and mommy have been going on lots of adventures every day.  Sometimes we drive to the places we are going, and sometimes we bike.  You call these latter ones Bike Adventures.  You ride behind mommy’s bike in the trailer, which you call the Batmobile.  The bike paths and bike lanes all over town make it pretty easy to get just about anywhere.  We have biked downtown a few times to several different story hours, and we have biked to your favorite playground (even though it was a little bit of a rainy day).

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We even biked to the Old Town farmer’s market, where bought an Indigo Rose tomato plant from a really nice farmer.  You held onto the tomato plant as we biked home, and we made it just fine.

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Every once and a while, we need a break from so many bike adventures.  Last month, your friend Stuart (and his older brother) introduced you to something called video games.  And even though I told daddy, “There will be no video games in this house,” he said something something about hand-eye coordination, and all of a sudden you are allowed to play Tetris.

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We have also done a lot of baking this month— all those bike rides and fresh mountain air have made us hungry.  We made vegan sugar cookies (you did the frosting):

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 And baby donuts too (again, you were in charge of frosting).

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Last weekend, Daddy did his first ever race in the mountains.  It was called the Pilot Hill 25K and was in Laramie, Wyoming.


At first it was a little cold in the morning, and you were not very happy. But you warmed up when you started running around and riding your bike.

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We also took a day trip to Boulder, where we visited Long’s Iris Garden.  Mommy got a little bit emotional, as she has always loved irises.


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We finished off this month with a haircut. Mama did a pretty good job, didn’t she? My goodness, aren’t you handsome.

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William, it has been a month of many adventures.

In car


We’ve travelled a long way to get where we are, but from here on out, it’s all blue skies.

Blue Sky Trail




Monday, June 2, 2014

May 2014 Mileage: Everything is awesome

May did not begin with unicorns.  It began with a Real Estate Crisis that induced a 5-day migraine, during which I could neither eat nor drink.  Only puke.  And writhe in white-hot blinding pain centered behind my left eye.  This was, however, not nearly as bad as hyperemesis because 1) it only lasted 5 days  -and- 2) I briefly experienced a modicum of relief after every time I threw up.

Before the migraine hit, I’d been cautiously approaching near normal with my ankle.  I still couldn’t really run every day, or as fast or as far as I would have liked, but things were finally moving in the right direction.  In hindsight, I now suspect that there may have actually been 2 injuries going on here (running injuries do tend to occur in multiples): an initial injury to the posterior tibialis tendon, which led to a mild stress fracture in the medial tibia. Consequently: months of pain, limping, and not being able to run.

On the morning the migraine hit, I woke up feeling nauseous and terrible, and when I attempted to run, I only made it 3 miles at an incredibly slow pace.  After that I had to take several days off.  I tried to jump back into things with a “long” run the weekend after the migraine passed— I managed 8 miles and felt about as awful as the first time I went back out to the forest after 2 weeks of Vortex in Nicaragua.  

Then came the rush of packing up boxes so that we could move.  On May 16th, I ran one last time around big loop at Forest Park.  It was nothing spectacular.

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Three more days off for the move.

And then suddenly… EVERYTHING IS AWESOME!!

The morning after we arrived in Colorado, I stepped out my front door and onto this trail:

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And I thought I would miss running in Forest Park.


But wait, it gets better.

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Foothills Trail, which is beginning to feel like my "turf."

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Do you see the grazing deer? (above)

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The last two weeks here in Colorado have been the highest mileage I've run since January. They've been slow though. I am mainly terrible on the rocky trails here. They remind me of the road on Ometepe, which I considered un-runnable. Plus, even parts of the Foothills/Pineridge trails (on which I am mainly comfortable) are narrow, rutty, and rocky. The trail is essentially v-shaped single track, which forces your ankle into hyper-pronation. Which is a pretty bad thing if you are dealing with the remnants of an over-pronation ankle injury. Plus, the trails are relatively highly used, and I frequently meet hikers, runners, and mountain bikers. And dogs. Everybody is generally courteous (except some of the dogs, but that is another story), but when you meet someone on narrow single track, one of you has to get off the trail so the other can pass. I haven't gotten used to who does this and when (mountain bikers are supposed to be the ones who yield, and they generally do, but many times I feel it is most safe for me to be the one to just step aside). This is further complicated by the possibility that apparently, there may be rattlesnakes hiding in the grassy or rocky crevices just to the edge of the trail.


Could this be the deal-breaker, Colorado? I don't think there are rattlesnakes in Eugene.

We'll give it some more time, though. See how it works out.

I've done two long runs since I've been here. The first was mainly on trails. I was fine, but my ankles (both of them) didn't feel so great after the extended hyper-pronation for 17 miles.

So yesterday, I decided to run through town on the sidewalks and biking/running trails. In other words, concrete.

It's pretty much six of one, half a dozen of another. The excessive mobility of my ankles on the rocky, v-shaped trails, or the pounding of the concrete.

But, so far so good. The injury hasn't returned. I'm thinking (if registration is still available) it is a distinct possibility that I may attempt the Estes Park Marathon on June 22.

Because why not celebrate tentative recovery from injury and completely starting over your life by running 26.2 miles at approximately 8,000 ft elevation?


Stats for the month:

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118.4 miles. 458.38 year to date. About a hundred and fifty miles short of where I thought I would be at this point. But we'll see where I can go from here.

Thanks for reading.