Friday, November 14, 2014

Stone Cat 50 Mile

The bucket list
I use this term loosely to mean anything you really want to do that seems just far enough out of reach to seem impossible. Finishing the Stonecat 50 miler was exactly that for me. What worried me the most about this run was what it would be like to recover. If I did actually finish the full 50 miles, what shape would I be in? Hospitalized? Maybe. Unable to move, very likely. Silly that I would willingly put myself in this situation. A little crazy? Maybe.  The sensible me tried to talk me out of doing the race but the adventurous me kept pushing ahead.

When I stopped by to pick up my friend Mary who was running the marathon, I chatted with her husband Joe for a bit. He said to me "It is really something that you are even TRYING to do this distance, that is really brave of you".  Up until that point, I had not thought that "brave" was a way to describe what I was doing.

What about all the training?
I was accepted into the Stone Cat 50 via lottery back in July. That's when the training officially began. Nearly every weekend was back to back running, 10+ miles on Sat followed by a 20+ mile long run on Sunday. There was no sleeping in, no coffee with the paper, no cuddle and snooze. When I would get discouraged and sick of putting all the miles in on weekends I would think about how the day would come where I could sleep in and wake up slow. 

There were also the weekday runs before the kids had to get up for school. I like to be home to wake them and make them breakfast, this I did not want to sacrifice. But I don't want to sound like I am complaining because I enjoyed all of these runs and I have never once regretted getting my ass out the door to do it. Its just not always easy to stay motivated. I think everyone can speak to that.

If only...
Time for training does not come easy with a full time job and family. I used to think that I did not have any excuse for "no time". I would just sleep less. This is not sustainable. There is a point where if you don't get enough sleep, you can't think clearly. Its all a balance. Yes, it would have been great if I had a several hours to train each day but it never was the case. After I took a new and more challenging job in early September, my window for training was even smaller. BUT, I decided to stay the course. Stubborn? Maybe. But I also realized that there was never going to be a perfect time to go for this goal. There would always be something in the way or a voice telling me "don't do it".

The run... The Stone Cat consists of 4 x 12.5 mile loops through wooded New England forest. Mostly single track. The course is not very technical or hilly but its still capable of tripping you up and sending you flying through the air, landing on your belly (yes, this happened to me). The trails are far from crowded. There are miles that pass where you may not see another runner. Its very quite out there. The volunteers at the race are fantastic. It really is a very well organized event and the vibe is mellow and friendly. The group of 133  50 milers gathered in a field and we were set off into the woods at 6:15 a.m.

I felt great the first few laps, eating regularly, managing to get down my electrolyte drink, 1 hammer gel and some small nibbles of "real" food at the aid stations. During the 3rd lap I noticed that my hands were very swollen. They looked like "Barney Rubble feet". Anyone who grew up in the 70's knows what this looks like. My fingers were fat and swollen. Not a good sign and I realized I was taking in too many electrolytes and not urinating. TMI you say? I can expand on the GI issues that often come with ultra running but I will spare you those grim details. In short, retaining water can be dangerous but it might not be. Its all a science experiment. I decided that I was most likely not going to die so I should just keep moving. My strategy was to switch to water. The swelling did not get any worse so I eventually stopping worrying about it. I was getting close to that last loop.

With the 3rd loop finished, I felt strong. 38 miles complete, I was going to finish this thing. What I did not realize at that moment was that the hardest miles were ahead of me. The last 10 miles of Stone Cat were tough. I felt broken, very fatigued and sick to my stomach. I just did my best to keep moving.

It really helps to have company along the way
I met another 1st time 50 miler on the course named Laura. When we first met, Laura was not feeling well and was struggling with her own physical challenges. I tried to cheer her up, distracting her with my mildly(?) entertaining stories and motivational rants. During the early loops, I was feeling great so it was easy to be the motivator. Lap 4 was another story. I kept telling my new trail friend to go ahead, don't wait for me, just go. She would not leave me. She responded, "I'm not gonna ditch you and leave you alone out here in the woods." Then it got dark. My headlamp was useless. Laura had a flashlight in her hand and this made all the difference. Running side by side I could navigate through those last few miles.

The best support team, ever!
"I'm just doing the marathon Mary"

The finish
My first thought when I crossed the finish line was, "Holy crap, you really did survive this!"

Oh what doubt I had put myself through. My friends Mary, Malanie and Trish were there for me at the finish. It was wonderful to see their smiling faces and I could not wait to clean myself up enough to grab some real food and a pint of IPA.

Its been almost 1 week since Stone Cat and I am feeling like my old self again. Tomorrow morning is Saturday and I am looking forward to getting up early for a run.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Finding peace on the trails

Nipmuck Trail Marathon

A lot of what I get out of running long on trails is clarity. I was hoping that while running in the woods last weekend, that moment would come upon me where everything made sense. Over the past month, I have seen a lot of loss, friends have passed unexpectedly and way too young, disease that the world can't seem to control, fanatics beheading innocents, war and more war… I was (still am) feeling overwhelmed. I can't remember a time in my life where I felt so vulnerable.

When I lost my mother several years ago I thought that was the worst I would ever feel. My father is suffering from Alzheimer's, it is sad and difficult. These are things you can expect to deal with in life as your grow older. The past few months have been heavy but there is more to it, there is something feeding the anxiety. I have two healthy and happy kids, a great marriage, financial security and friends that mean a lot to me. What the hell was wrong?

Back to last weekend. 

As I was pushing my way along the Nipmuck Trail I met a boxer. His name was Bernie. Bernie the boxer told me that he did not run much. The Nipmuck Marathon was just something he wanted to do to help his agility in the ring. I never met a boxer before and had lots of questions, like, "So, have you ever been knocked out?", "Have you ever knocked anyone out?"…. We talked for a few hours and I learned a lot about amateur boxing but what I really took away from this interaction was that people are resilient. After a few miles Bernie told me that he was having a hard time keeping my pace. I pushed it the last few miles, running as hard as I could, Bernie was right behind me, I could hear him breathing hard. I know that I could not slow down or complain, I was helping him to the finish. When I crossed the finish line, Bernie was right behind me. I gave him a hug and told him he was amazing. He looked at me and said, "Thank you." I made a difference in this guys day, as small as it may seem.

Ebola, sick kids and media propelled hysteria?

Just look at this subhead, these topics are what I have been  thinking about in the middle of the night when I find myself suddenly awake. Ridiculous, right? Maybe. I am not sure that I found much clarity on the trails last week but I have been actively seeking a way to shed my fears. One logical step to this is to limit my exposure to media hysterics. I believe media should serve the public, not feed people's fear. Not to mention, we really can't control most of the things they are feeding us. It really is an unhealthy part of today's culture in America (I can't speak for the world, there are likely many different approaches to informing the public in other countries).

So now what?

I am going to limit what news I take in. I will say goodbye to Facebook for awhile (a big source of news for me). From now on I will choose my own news outlets. I don't have network TV so that waste is already taken care of (I can't imagine how bad it would be if I did have it). Hopefully these steps will bring me closer to that clarity I was seeking last weekend. Consider it a cleanse, getting rid of the clutter that clouds up my day. Lets see how this goes. And when you see me out and about in the real world, don't forget to say hello, I might not know about your latest status update and YES, I do care about whats going on in your life.

Along the way…training run in my hometown

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

2013 Raid Amazones, Langkawi, Malaysia

This was an incredible adventure …it really was such a cool thing,  the least I can do is share some of the photos...

Take a look at this fabulous video that documents some highlights of the adventure…  Video from Raid Amazones Malaysia 2013

After 2 days of travel, arriving to Langkawi

Runing through villages

Team USA at start of kayak event

"shining bright like a diamond"

BBC interview

The bus to our daily adventure

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Bimbler's Bluff 50K 2013

The Bimbler's Bluff 50K is a fantastic trail race. Thirty two (maybe a little more) miles of mostly single track, pristine, forest trails. The field of 120+ runners gathered next to a local school in Guilford, CT. After a quick briefing, the runners sang the national anthem and then took off into the woods. There is one very steep climb up to "The Bluff" but the views of the surrounding area are so stunning that the difficult climbing is soon forgotten.  On this particular day I could see as far as the Long Island Sound.

The call of the wild?
The decision to run the Bimbler's Bluff 50K came to me while folding laundry, exactly one week before the event, what most people would think of as a last minute decision. For reasons I don't fully understand, I was compelled to enter, I mentioned to my husband that it was kind of like  "The call of the wild". He gave me a puzzled look and then responded, "You are going to drive 1.5 hours by yourself and then run 32 miles by yourself and then drive home by yourself?"

The call of the wild

My husband understands that I usually have some type of distance event on the calendar, but this particular entry was abrupt. I tried to explain that I had a strong desire to run the course, I described to him how beautiful the trails were and although I felt a bit under trained for the distance, I was confident that I would enjoy the experience. Then there was the connection to my father, who was at the finish in 2011, a very fond memory. Maybe I was looking to run through some of the sadness I have felt after his recent Alzheimer's diagnosis. I admit, I find clarity on the trails, it does not always last, but you know it when you feel it. It is when everything in the world make sense.

When you get a chance, read "The terrible and wonderful reasons why I run long distances" by The Oatmeal, in this comic, you get a glimpse into the mind of an ultra runner. It is a raw, beautiful and very funny story. 

The people you meet on the trails
One of the things I love most about distance trail running is the people I meet. Around Mile 14 I noticed a women running off the course, down a side trail, I shouted and called her back, she was smiling and laughing and then pointed out how her knees were bleeding after a few tumbles. I was sympathetic and assured her that she could most likely pick up some bandages at the next aid station. Then she fell again, and again. I asked if she was OK and she replied "I must just be jet lagged, I just got off a 22 hour flight. We talked for a while and I mentioned to her how I thought trail running was like a metaphor for life, you fall, you get up, sometimes you take wrong turns, sometimes it hurts, often it is beautiful and you just need to keep going.

Then there was the guy with the Spanish accent running in five finger shoes. I could tell he was in a lot of pain navigating over the rocks and roots. I asked how his feet were doing and he replied "not good, very much pain". But he kept going. Again I was reminded of how tough (crazy you say?) some of these runners are, but more than that, of how the people I meet at these events are usually running for the pure joy of it, even if completely exhausted or in pain. Why? Is it for the clarity? A love of nature? The challenge?

Sometimes you make wrong turns
We are never really lost
I made four wrong turns between miles 16-22, the course may not have been well marked in spots or more likely... I was not paying attention to my surroundings, I was in a zone, focusing on my feet rather than looking up. Talking to another runner. In deep thought. Spacing out.  I was in a pack of runners each time, nobody was particularly upset. I heard one of the runners say, "It doesn't matter how many wrong turns we make, we are not lost, we will eventually get there." A metaphor for life? Maybe it is.

The trails of "The Bluff"
Enjoying every moment
I was expecting to want to quit at some points, to feel intense pain, to wish I could just get to the damn finish. These feelings never surfaced. I had a great race, the weather could not have been better, the course was gorgeous, the runner's and volunteers were very friendly. Of course it was a challenge, I did feel a certain amount of fatigue, aches and pains but these feelings did not trump the pure joy I had running through the woods. My husband and kids were waiting for me at home with a full chicken dinner ready to be served up. As I poured a Sam Adam's Pumpkin Ale into my Bimbler's Bluff pint glass, sitting down to dinner with my family, I once again felt like the luckiest person alive.

Finisher's prize

Next up....Stone Cat Marathon on November 2nd

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

(SURFING) A Date with Fabian, September 6, 2003

This article was written back in 2003 for NESURF online after Hurricane Fabian brought epic waves to the RI coast. 


It starts in about July, constantly in my thoughts, the idea of the perfect hurricane swell. Daily checks of the tropical update, planning, dreaming. Long before the first hints of the swell hit, I start to lose my head a little. Its the only time in my life when balancing work, family and surfing become an issue. The first day of the swell, It's clean and chest high and I think to myself how the anticipation of what is to come is almost the best part of being out there. I think how with each set, that hurricane is getting closer and the waves growing. It is a perfect scenario; the storm track keeps it just far enough off shore to avoid damage on the coast.

Fabian lining up!

I have been surfing for a good amount of years, I consider myself experienced, I have traveled a bit, frequent trips to the Outer Banks, winter swells in Puerto Rico, beach break in Costa Rica, a hurricane swell in Barbados. I grew up on the Jersey Shore, spent a few summers in college as a lifeguard. I feel confident in the water. I was not questioning my fitness level; I am an avid runner. I enjoy running long distances for fun. With each passing year, I have become even more comfortable in bigger waves. Rhode Island is not exactly a big wave spot but we do get some decent size waves in the winter and during hurricanes. No problem.

I got ahead of myself, I became overconfident. The ocean can be unpredictable, especially in the turbulence of a storm. Saturday, Sept 6th, my wedding anniversary, was a beautiful sunny day with light offshore winds. The waves were double maybe even triple overhead. We had a babysitter for the day; we planned to surf until we could not paddle anymore! 

What a fantastic session it was shaping up to be. I caught some incredible bombs, the drops were exhilarating, the rides long. Some of the waves were beginning to close out but why worry; I would just need to have good wave judgment. The forecast was for the swell to get bigger as the day went on. Occasionally we needed to paddle further out. Three hours go by and I am stoked, I’m lying down on my board, resting a bit between waves. My arms are like jello. I was joking with friends about how I was so tired from paddling out after long rides. What a great thing, being able to have such a long session in such epic conditions. Everything was perfect.

Fabian in Rhode Island!
This day won't be my last

I had not seen my husband in a while. We were not really sticking together in the lineup since the rides were so long and frequent. I was in my own little world of bliss. I see a nice outside set coming in. I paddle into position and take off on the first wave. The peak is a little shifty and I end up on the wrong side of it. I make the drop but need to kick off the top to keep from getting worked. I jump off the back of the wave but my board gets caught. I feel a strain and "poof" the board is gone, the leash broken. I look behind me and there is a very large wall of water cresting and about to break on my head! I dive under and then up, then again and again and again. When will the set end? Where is the lull?

There is a rip that day. I don't really know how strong it is, but I spend a good amount of time swimming and diving under waves trying to make my way to calmer waters, get to the shoulder. I was starting to panic. I didn't think I could take another seemingly endless tumble underwater, I needed to rest, to breath, to not get pounded anymore. I looked for someone who could help me out. No one. After what seemed like a long time (probably wasn't though) I see a guy on a shortboard, a stranger. I call for help. He hesitates since it would bring him into the impact zone. But he says o.k. He grabs me in a bear hold and attempts to keep me afloat. He thinks I am drowning. Am I? I think he is more afraid than I am. He keeps saying, “Oh  my god” when a wave comes. I think how this is not helping me, just making the situation more dangerous, I've got to get myself out of this, I think I remember telling him that we needed to get over to the channel, find a longboarder I can float with. 

I don't know what happened to this guy who was willing to help me, maybe he paddled away or maybe he got caught inside? I finally saw some longboarders and called to them for help. I think my exact words were, "Will someone please help me, I don't think I can swim anymore!" They kept waving to me to swim out of the impact zone, to swim to them, obviously they didn't want to get caught either. If I thought I could swim to them I wouldn't be asking for help! 

I dove under a few more waves and got over to one of longboarders who helped me up on his board (another stranger) and we paddled over to a channel, there I found my husband who helped me in to shore on his board. He only knew I lost my board and at the time didn't seem to understand what I had just gone through.

Saturday should have been one of the best surf sessions I've had in years. It was - up until that moment when my leash broke and I began to question my survival. If I didn't get caught, I probably would have taken one or two more waves and gone to lunch with my husband, relaxed and content with my perfect morning. I've heard people say, "It was probably an omen". Maybe, but I'm still going to rely more on my own abilities. I'll be more aware of what can happen on a big day. I plan to surf more often with no leash at all and to work on my swim endurance. If you can't swim in from the lineup, you have no business being out there.

Back in the 60's, before they wore leashes, people were out there in large surf. The difference then was, if you weren't able to swim in, you would drown. I have an even deeper respect for people like Greg Noll who would surf Waimea on waves twice the size of what I was on... leashless. I was relying on my board to keep me afloat. There is something to be said for purity and getting by on what nature gives you.

As for the fate of my board, someone noticed it rocketing by and managed to grab it before it hit the rocks. When I finally did get to the beach, I saw someone bringing it out, looking for the person who used to be attached to it.

Article by Janet Sanderson. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

TARC Spring Classic, Weston, Mass, April 27, 2013

Shoeless in paradise

When I signed on to run the TARC Spring Classic 50K, just three weeks after the Paris Marathon, I knew that I was most likely not going to feel great. There was Paris and then there was a week of work and travel and no running. And then there was my one week vacation in Puerto Rico. I intentionally did not bring my running shoes thinking I would be forced to sit in a lounge chair and read a book. My focus would be on relaxing and hanging out with my family. This vacation strategy would be good for me.

Sounds great, right? Yes, well, in PR, the closest thing to a vegetable that I ate was a fried plantain. After reading my book for nearly 3 hours by the pool I started to get bored. This is when I discovered that there was a "swim up" bar at the resort. This idea fascinated me. I indulged in Pina Colada's before noon for a couple of days but the novelty wore off.  I was definitely stir crazy. I tried to convince myself that I was content by doing a few hours of snorkeling each morning, then it was renting a stand up paddle board. One day there was a small swell, the waves were about waist high. I quickly rented a surfboard with sand caked into the melted wax. As I paddled out, I noticed my knees were bleeding from rubbing on the sand. Given I was alone, my husband peacefully relaxing back at our room, I started to have that "sharky feeling". After two or three quick waves I called it a day. If I only had my running shoes....

"The road to hell is paved"

TARC T-Shirt Logo
Five loops. When you have the attitude that you hate running loops and expect to feel like a "gerbil on a wheel" before you even start the race, you should probably consider doing a shorter distance. The TARC Spring Classic is a well organized, friendly event that takes place on the beautiful trails of Weston, MA. The event had 10k, 1/2 marathon, marathon and 50k distances, something for everyone. The atmosphere was great and the weather could not have been better.

I carpooled up with a couple of my logical friends who planned to run the 1/2 marathon. They had a beautiful stocked cooler of beer and food for after the race. I already looked forward to finishing and I had not even stepped out of the car.

My thought was, I will just start running, my love of trails will take over and I'll have a great time being out in nature. I kept waiting for this feeling to hit me. On my first loop I started up a conversation with an older man, he was in his 70s and looked to be extremely fit. I asked him how many ultras he had run. "Well Miss, this is my 57th ultra and I have run 63 marathons". This is the point in a race where I realize that I am not in fact crazy, there are people who do way more running than me. I mentioned how I loved running trails and he shouted out "The road to hell is paved!" and then he quickly vanished ahead of me.

Trail Animal
At about mile 20 my knee decided to stop bending (IT band), I had about 5 miles left to the loop. There was intermittent walking and some cursing. IT band pain is not easy to run through. I decided to call it a 4 loop race or a 40K. When I did finally arrive at the aid station my friends were waiting with a cold beer and an ice pack.

Overall, the TARC Spring Classic is a great 50k, if you don't mind loops. I suppose if I had no option to stop I could have continued on but the pull of the lounge chair got me in the end.

Next up....getting in shape to run another ultra!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Paris Marathon, April 7, 2013

For the past 3 years I have been part of a project that brings me to Paris in April. This year my visit aligned with the 37TH annual Paris Marathon. Not only was this great luck for an obsessive runner like myself but also this particular year would be very special, Schneider Electric would be the first ever title sponsor in the history of the race.

A true melting pot
At the running expo I met other Schneider Electric employees from all over the world, Israel, France, Canada, Turkey, Argentina, Mexico and Japan to name just a few. This was truly an international marathon and all of us recognized how incredible it was to be able to run a marathon in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. In this very public event, a connection was being made between our company’s mission of creating innovative energy efficiency solutions and the energy generated and conserved by individuals. I was thrilled to be participating.

Hotel de ville
I made arrangements to meet a friend and colleague from Mexico who was also running, she had been part of the Schneider Electric team in the Raid Amazones in 2012 and I was looking forward to seeing her again. There were several other runners from Mexico who I met, we had a great time hanging out and discussing our various race strategies and training.

Race Day upon me
The race was very well organized with time corrals stretching down the Champs-Elysees. I was packed into my zone feeling like the only person in the world who did not speak French. Despite not understanding what was being said around me, there was no mistaking the positive energy and excitement.

The race start on Champs-Elysees
The early miles flew by, it was a beautiful sunny day with temperatures in the high 40s, perfect for running. When I began to feel fatigue, I just needed to look up and around me at the historic monuments, the Eiffel Tower, La Défense, the Louvre... how could I complain? Another highlight for me was hearing the drum groups along the course, the drummers appeared to be having a fantastic time, all smiles and laughter.

Oh no! Twisting spasms from hell!
Around mile 16 began the calf cramps.  I will call them “twisting spasms from hell”. I was thinking to myself, “What is this? You feel great, this can’t be happening.” Every few minutes they would hit like a bolt of lightning, I would see stars and yell some obscenity while hopping on the better leg. During a few of these episodes, a fellow runner would pat me on the back, an understanding, sympathetic pat on the back. These runners knew this was not good and for marathoners who spend months training, the unpredictable still happens.

I just kept telling myself to keep moving. For the next 10 miles the spasms would continue every few minutes, specifically if I was running on cobblestone (mostly), weaving (constantly) or if I attempted to increase my pace (once in a while when feeling particularly brave).

When I was approaching the finish line, I knew there would be a photo taken and it took all I could to try not to grimace or hop like I was playing hopscotch. I don’t really think that worked out, I don’t think I was able to mask the pain very well. (see photo below)

The finish line was not so pretty
I am not angry or disappointed with my performance. The race was nothing short of magical. I did the best I could on this particular day and even with the crazy pain, I managed a PR. Marathons are just hard, don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise. Even though my mind was fully cooperative, my body did not agree. In hindsight, maybe I should have taken sodium tablets or electrolyte supplements but I don’t know if that would have helped me avoid these spasms. As I hobbled back to my hotel, my knee and calves aching, I was looking forward to a shower, some good French food and celebrating with friends.

Next on the list?
The TARC Spring Classic 50K on April 27. For this one, maybe I have learned a few new strategies. We will see.