Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Summer of a Little Bit Wild: Yellowstone

After recovering from the marathon as best I could, we headed to Idaho Falls to stay overnight with friends.  This visit had been one of my ulterior motives for running the marathon-- it was only 2 hours away from friends I really wanted to see and hadn't for a couple of years. 

As soon as we arrived, Will set off with our friends' two boys, and these 3 tow-headed little children spent the rest of the day and night romping through the house and yard like a small pack of wild animals who were having the time of their lives.  Will even slept upstairs (in bed with one or both of the boys), which is the farthest away he has ever slept from me except for the one time I was away overnight for the Frisco Railroad Run.

Playing with friends
Will showing his friends our camper.
Our friends made a delicious curry for dinner and then helped us devise a plan for Yellowstone, which basically involved trying to leave their house by 6am the next morning and get there as early as possible.  The campsites are on a first come/ first serve basis and if you aren't there by 8 in the morning or so, you are out of luck.  Our friends had warned us that you just have to drive around the campground and watch for people emerging from their tents to brush their teeth, and ask them if they are leaving and you can take their site.  If they say yes, you just sit there idling as they pack up their stuff.

This is the exact procedure involved in finding a parking space at Target in St. Louis on a Saturday or Sunday.  Horrifying.

We managed to get out of the house at a fairly reasonable hour and make it to the Norris Campground, where we found a site without too much trouble. (I think we were kind of just dumb-lucky).

Then it was time for some sightseeing.  The thing about Yellowstone is that it is HUGE.  That meant a lot of driving.

Norris is kind of centrally located, and we decided to do the north loop of the park first, which included the hot springs of Mammoth Country and a small detour into Montana (because none of us had ever been to Montana before).

Hot springs

Then we decided to hike on the Yellowstone Picnic Trail because it seemed like something Will could do, and it would offer good views of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

Yellowstone River trail
I was surprised how great I felt just one day after the marathon. I had no pain in either my injured leg or blistered foot.

Yellowstone River

We had taken so long just to accomplish these few things (did I mention that the park is huge and everything is far apart) that it was already late in the day and time to head back to Norris, where I got creative with the camp stove for dinner.

On most of the other times we have been camping, it has just been for one night and I have made pasta for dinner.  But this time I had tried very hard (and expended much effort) to figure out what else I might cook during our more extended adventure.  Our first night in Yellowstone, I made Roasted Garlic Cous Cous, which was brilliant and easy.  It is just a box mix you can buy at the grocery store, and to make it, you add boiling water and cover it for 5 minutes (more like 7-9 at that altitude).  I also opened up a can of vegan baked beans and heated them up, and for our vegetable, we had raw broccoli still fresh in our fancy new Yeti bear-proof cooler (it keeps stuff cold for a really long time).

I was pretty darn proud of myself for putting this together.

Norris had a ranger program that evening, and we went to it.  The program was about earthquakes and the geology of the Norris region.  Will was aiming to complete his Junior Ranger booklet (so he could get a fancy Junior Ranger badge), and attending the program fulfilled one of the requirements.  Will sat rapt, listening to the ranger's every word.  It was so much more educational than the education system.

The ranger who led the program talked about how the Norris campground was notorious for the presence of wandering bison, and on our first night there, the bison did not disappoint.  On my way back from the bathroom, I found this between me and our campsite.

Campsite bison

When I woke up the next morning, my left food hurt a lot as I tried to climb down from the camper, and I could barely put any weight on it as I tried to hobble to the bathroom.  I discovered that my initial blister had a sub-blister that I had completely overlooked, and at some point between the marathon and this moment, it had become inflamed.  To make matters worse, my injured right leg was throbbing in pain.  

This whole situation made walking quite difficult, if not impossible, and meant that for me, hiking was out of the question.

We started out exploring the Norris Geyser Basin, which was really cool and sulfuric, but even the little paved nature trails were difficult and painful for me to manage.

Norris geyser basin

We then continued south on the Grand Loop towards Old Faithful.  Because you've got to see Old Faithful, right?

We had a long wait among throngs of people until the next eruption, but that gave us plenty of time to help Will work on his ranger booklet and earn his badge.

The school district is doing away with "Eco Week" because learning about the environment and natural world doesn't meet Common Core standards.  Thank goodness for national parks and junior ranger programs, which still value teaching kids useful things.
At last, the geyser erupted.
Old Faithful

It was okay, I guess.  Pretty cool even.  But the masses of people who had packed into the Old Faithful Industrial Complex made it seem kind of as awful as I imagine Disney World would be.  

Also, my foot hurt.  And my leg hurt.  And I hadn't had coffee since Thursday.

Requisite family photo by Old Faithful.

We spent so much time in the gift shop and general store (Old Faithful Industrial Complex was an honest-to-god city) that by the time we were ready to leave, it was almost time for the geyser to erupt again.  We thought we might as well stay, but in the end, we felt like we'd only wasted too much time there and left other amazing parts of the park unseen.

When we finally left and continued driving around the south loop, I fell asleep right around the time we passed Yellowstone Lake.  I had really wanted to see this, though I hadn't mentioned it to Rob, so he didn't wake me.  Luckily he took this picture.

Yellowstone Lake

We drove past Hayden Valley and saw a lot of bison.

More bison


Then we stopped at the Lower Falls and Upper Falls, which give amazing views of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and the Yellowstone River.

Yellowstone River lower falls

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Even the short (yet steep) walk to see the falls was excruciating, on both my open blister and injured leg.

We headed back to our site at Norris campground, where I again tried to get creative with dinner, but this time, with much less success.

The quinoa mix I attempted to make seemed like it was never going to cook at this altitude, and the beans were kind of like a large unflavorful blob.  We did find however, that Will will eat roasted chickpeas if you call them "chickpea popcorn," so that was a plus.

Yellowstone campsite

We settled in again for the night, and I hoped that in the morning both my foot and injured leg would be better, as we planned to move on to the Tetons.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Summer of a Little Bit Wild: Running the Bear Lake Marathon Like I've Lost My Mind

When I decided I'd like to run a marathon this summer, I stumbled upon the Bear Lake Marathon Races.  Three marathons, three days, three states (Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming).  It was highly geared towards Marathon Maniacs and 50-Staters, but was also open to people like me-- who wanted to run just one marathon on dirt roads and then go to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons "on the way" back home.

My right calf started giving me trouble in early May, which prevented me from training like I should have, but I was mainly so preoccupied with getting Rob through the Quad Rock 50 alive (why, I don't know, it was his race) that I didn't have time to stress about it.  Even 2 days before the marathon when it hurt just to walk, I was just kind of like, meh, it will probably be okay once the race starts.  Like what magically and inexplicably happened last September when I ran the Bear Chase 50.  I didn't know how or why, but I just felt like everything was going to be okay.

We drove to Montpelier, Idaho on Thursday (the race was on Friday) to pick up my packet, and then spent the night at the Montpelier Canyon Campground.  The mosquitoes were terrible, and the campground itself did not appear to be maintained very well because there were patches of grass up past my knees at our campsite.  I was glad we had the pop-up and didn't have to pitch a tent in the knee-high grass. Also, the bathroom situation was not ideal.  It was a pretty uncomfortable place to spend the night before a race, and I think I got maybe, oh, say, a half-hour of sleep the entire night.

Camping outside Montpelier, ID

The only other time I've camped before one of my races was at the Bear Chase 50, and the morning had gone terribly.  This time, I felt like I had things more dialed.  Also, it helped that the sun rose around 5am, so it was light enough to see while I was packing up and getting ready.

I ate a Berry Pomegranate Clif Bar (this may be the only kind of Clif Bar I haven't thrown up) and we headed to the start line in plenty of time.  Will was in a very chipper mood, so I felt less bad about getting the family up so early.

The start was super low key (I think I moseyed from the warm car to the start line about 2 minutes before the race), and I loved that.  The whole thing was really more of an ultra-runner's marathon, which was one of the main reasons why I picked it.

I was feeling really nervous about my calf and tibia, so I ran gingerly for the first several miles, half expecting my leg to burst into flames or fall apart at any second.  But it seemed fine.  Just like what happened at Bear Chase.  I think it was finally around mile 8 that I began to unclench my teeth and relax my shoulders a bit.

Bear Lake Marathon start
Start line. Nervous. Will my tibia survive this.

Mile 3
Mile 3, I've caught up to the 4-hour pace group.

The course was beautiful.  It was very green as we ran through farmland and grazing cattle (including a couple of cattle grates) and at one point, even a caramel-colored horse that raced back and forth along the length of its fence as though to cheer us on.

For several miles I ran with two other women, one of them was the 4-hour pace leader, and the other was a Marathon Maniac who had run something like 47 marathons but never done an ultra.  I told my new Maniac friend about how I gave up marathons for a while and switched to ultras because they were more laid back for me.  In marathons, I was always chasing down my PR of 3:37--a race I had run before hyperemesis, before having a child.  I knew I was never going to come close to that again, and there were times that felt more sad than bittersweet.  But my new friend shook her head and assured me: women in their 40's and even 50's can run stronger than when they're young.  Your children grow up and don't require so much of you anymore.  You can be your own person again.  "Your best race is yet to come," she told me.

Mile 6
Mile 6: We are the 4-hour pace group

The 4-hour pacer lingered at the aid station around Mile 6, but my Maniac friend and I kept on.  Leaving behind the 4-hour pacer so early in the race is a classic Stupid-Melissa move (so many times I have done this and ended up finishing in the range of 4:05-4:15), but I did it anyway.  I figured that the pacer was just refilling her bottle or something and would catch up soon, and besides, my Maniac friend and I were in a serious groove.

I ate a Peanut Butter Gu from mile 7 to 8 and refilled my water bottle (it was a cupless race, good for them) at the next aid station.  At mile 10, I dropped a Cherry Limeaid Caffeinated Nuun into my bottle and drank it slowly until the next aid.  I started to feel really, really good.  There were whole bananas at the aid station, and I took one, eating it bite by bite for about 2 miles.  This was fantastic.  There were more bananas at the next aid station, so I took another.  I wanted to hug the race organizers for having bananas.  At this rate, I could get through the race by alternating bananas and Nuun, and I wouldn't have to try to force down any more Gu.

Mile 11
Mile 11. Feeling good.  Left the 4-hour pace group behind. Rocking the one calf sleeve, so the other one stays clean and I can put it on after the race.

By mile 11, I noticed that my Maniac friend and I were slowing a bit, even though the 4-hour pace leader was still nowhere in sight.  We also started catching up with the runners who had done the 5am early start, and they told me I was the 5th woman on the course.  It wasn't long before I pulled away from my Maniac friend, and then promptly passed another woman.  I felt amazing.  I felt like I was on fire.  I'd been worried that my leg would hurt or that I'd cause serious damage to it by even attempting this, but it was totally fine.  What was the point in holding back?  I might as well go for this.  I might as well give it to glory.

Mile 15
Mile 15. Banana in my hand, everything is awesome.

A Jenn Shelton quote kept going through my mind, back from when she was live tweeting the 2014 Boston Marathon and Shalane Flanagan's heroic run.  
Of course, we all know how that ended for Shalane.  She didn't win the race (as I'm sure she had hoped to), but she did set a personal record (just for perspective, her time was over an hour and a half faster than what I was looking to finish in).

I felt like, you know what, I might as well.  I could end up dying for a while on the side of the road, or I could run the best race of my life.  Or both.  Come what may.  I might as well run like I've lost my mind.

Mile 15

Now a couple of hours into the race, the sun was beating down with a vengeance, and shade was minimal.  Nuun and bananas will save me, I promised myself.

My left foot began to feel like I was stepping on hot coals with each footfall, but to hell with it.  My injured leg was fine.  As long as I could still move forward, I was going to keep on running like I've lost my mind.

Mile 19

My last sub-9 minute mile came at mile 20, at least according to my GPS.  For the entire race, the mile markers along the course had been off, and they'd been becoming progressively worse.  By this point, they were about 0.75 miles off of what my GPS said.  As in, my watched buzzed for mile 20, and then three-quarters of a mile later, I arrived at the mile 20 marker. This began to concern me.  I'd assumed that eventually, everything would even out, but we were running out of time.  This might be a "heavy" course.  No matter.  I would just keep running.  I would keep running like I had lost my mind.

I thought of Rob at the Quad Rock 50 the previous weekend and how otherworldly hot it had been then.  "During every race you reach a point where you know you aren't going to be able to eat or drink anything more, and you just slug it out to the end," he'd said.  For him, that was mile 47.  For me, that was now, mile 20 of this marathon.

I saw Rob for the last time at what should have been mile 24.  He cheered for me and I thought, he has no idea how terrible I feel.  I should have saved my energy but instead I crumpled a little and said to him, "The mile markers are way off."

I rounded a corner that seemed to have a slight incline and for the first time in the race, I began walking.  Jebus Crist the bottom of my foot hurt so bad.  And for the life of me, I couldn't figure out why the 4 hour pacer hadn't caught up with me yet.  I knew I'd been a little ahead of schedule for a while, but by now I must be way, way behind.  I had no idea how I was going to get to the finish line.

In one of the most gutsy moves of my life, I began running again.  I told myself, it doesn't have to be fast (it won't be fast), but just keep running.

My Maniac friend returned and passed me now; I hadn't expected to see her again, especially considering that she was running another marathon on Sunday.

The next mile marker sign I got to said 25.  I'd never seen one for 24, and my GPS hadn't quite made it to 25 yet.  What was going on? Was my GPS right, or the course markers?  How much distance was left to cover?

Even in my disoriented state, I could do the minimal math required to arrive at the conclusion that I could still finish in 4 hours if some kind of miracle happened.  I'd just been looking at my mile splits during the race, not the overall elapsed time.  But now, I flipped screens and saw I'd been running for 3 hours and 49 minutes.  If I was really at mile 25, I still had 11 minutes to make it to the finish and THIS MIGHT HAPPEN.

I ran like I'd lost my mind.  The 4-hour pacer never caught me.  I have no idea how I did it, I didn't even know my suitcase of courage went that deep.  There was no clock at the finish line, but when I crossed it, my watch said 4:00:47. (Official results here)

Bear Lake Marathon finish
I feel every bit as terrible as I look in this picture.

It turns out, if the course is short enough, I can still run a 4 hour marathon.

The Garmin often "shorts" me on mileage (which is why I rarely use it), and this is about the difference I might expect for a marathon.  But in my heart of hearts, I do think the course was short.

Do I care?  No.

I couldn't talk or see or think after crossing the line and eventually staggered over to lie down in what was probably someone's lawn because I was desperate to get off my feet.

(Note: when the finish line is at an LDS church in Idaho, there isn't any beer).

Once I finally got my bearings, there wasn't much else to do but head back to the car just as the first waves of nausea hit.

Damn.  I had been so sure that I'd dodged the bullet on this one.  The bananas and Nuun were supposed to have saved me.  I sat on the curb in abject misery, fighting off the waves with what minimal reserves I had left.

Rob decided I'd feel better if he drove us back to the campground and set up the shower for me.  As I peeled off my shoes at the campground, I saw why my left foot had hurt so bad.  A silver-dollar sized blood blister festooned the ball of my foot, raised from the skin by about a half a centimeter, I swear.  Just seeing that sucker put me close to passing out, so I rinsed the grime and salt off me as quickly as possible and got myself sitting down again.  I could put absolutely zero weight on the foot, it was useless to me like that.  I swabbed my foot and a safety pin with alcohol, and I popped the blister.  Blood spewed out like one of the geysers we would soon be seeing in Yellowstone.

We drove back to Montpelier, where Rob and Will got lunch at a Subway, and I threw up in the bathroom.

I'd expected only to have a brief window of time before the nausea took hold of me again, but the one puke seemed to do the trick.  I was able to drink water, and in about an hour, I felt like eating something.

It was time to head on to Idaho Falls, where we'd be staying the night with friends and beginning the second leg of our trip.

What I learned from this race:
Bananas and Nuun FTW, even though I puked in the end.

Would I do this race again?
Yes.  Cattle grates and all, this was by far the most beautiful marathon course I've run.

The people who do this kind of thing are hard core.  The woman who won the entire event ran all three races between 3:22 and 3:43.  I couldn't even walk for two days after (although that was mainly because of the blister), much less run 2 more marathons.

Mile 1 - 9:10
Mile 2 - 8:54
Mile 3 - 8:50
Mile 4 - 8:48
Mile 5 - 9:11
Mile 6 - 9:14
Mile 7 - 9:07
Mile 8 - 9:39
Mile 9 - 9:00
Mile 10 - 9:25
Mile 11 - 9:05
Mile 12 - 9:00
Mile 13 - 8:52
Mile 14 - 9:07
Mile 15 - 9:02
Mile 16 - 8:50
Mile 17 - 9:07
Mile 18 - 9:02
Mile 19 - 9:17
Mile 20 - 8:59
Mile 21 - 9:23
Mile 22 - 9:55
Mile 23 - 10:20
Mile 24 - 10:49
Mile 25 - 10:36
Mile 25.8? - 7:54 (mile pace was 9:49)

Friday, June 12, 2015

Dear William (70 months)

Dear William,

Today you are 70 months old!  And it is summer vacation!!

We started celebrating before school was even out for the summer with a quick trip to Rocky Mountain National Park and some Big Mountains.  The trails were still covered with snow at Bear Lake, but that didn't stop us.

You and dad.

Dream Lake

Looking out at Longs

We followed that up with a long weekend in Utah over Memorial Day.

Utah was A M A Z I N G.  And also crazy.

You saw some dinosaur tracks.
Dinosaur tracks

And some arches.

We walked hand-in-hand.

We slept in a B E A U T I F U L place.
Utah golden hour


Your bunk in the pop-up tent. We are wondering how much longer you will fit in there.

In the morning, we went for a hike.


Taking a break
This is my favorite picture of you, ever. The expression on your face is so resolute. I want a copy of this to hang on my office wall.

You got tired and told us you didn't feel good.
Feeling sick

Then you threw up. It was time to leave Utah.

We got home just in time for you to finish up kindergarten.

At the All-School Barbecue. I packed you homemade vegan pizza, cantaloupe, and carrots/broccoli because I am pretty sure you are the only v*egan kid in this entire school district.

Last time at the playground with your friends!
They misspelled your name on your kindergarten completion certificate.  That pretty much sums up your experience in the education system thus far.

Needless to say, you are SO EXCITED that school is out for the summer.

We have been making the most of it.

Back yard
Backyard camp out.

Reading a book about the moon, under an almost-full moon.  You still love the moon, stars, planets and all things outer space.  We have spent many hours reading astronomy books.
Running through the sprinkler. "You don't see that face too often outside the Tour de France," your dad said.

Our new neighborhood has a community pool, which may be the Best Thing Ever.

Westridge Trail, Lory State Park
Morning ride

Chocolate face
I love your curly hair, but it's harder to wash when it's that long.  You finally agreed to let me cut it, so long as we kept the rat tail in back.

We went on another camping trip last weekend, this time to State Forest State Park near Gould, CO.  You discovered that you love looking through my binoculars.  We saw a fox together.

I spy

Golden hour at State Forest State Park

When we got home from camping, you started a four-day soccer camp at Rocky Mountain High School.  You had a great time, but I think what you enjoyed most about it was that they gave you popsicles for a snack.

So far, this has been the Best Summer Ever, and it has only just begun.  We have been having the most fun together, and I am looking forward to every single day.

I love you so much, William!