Saturday, January 29, 2011


Winter in the mountains can have its harsh moments - snowfall measured in feet rather than inches, and sub-zero mornings. But a little known fact of life in the Sierra is that there is often more respite from the weather than there is actual weather. These spring-like days in the middle of winter bring about a condition known around here as Juneuary.

Remember this picture?

Today marked the third Saturday in a row that Gus and I walked up the hill, settled onto our favorite rock to look at the view, and I found myself happy and warm in a tank top. The sensation of sunshine on bare shoulders was so vivid, it was almost a tangible caress. The heat reflected off the surrounding snowpack was a blinding, bright oven, making 50 degrees feel like 70.

Ah, summer in winter.

These are the days we ski in our t-shirts. We take the canoe out on Donner Lake and have it all to ourselves - the water blissfully calm without the hordes of ski boats that summer brings. We sit out on the deck in the afternoon to split a beer or read a book. We take the dogs for long walks across expanses of sun drenched snow.

Another bonus of these weeks of warm weather is what they have done for my training. Normally mileage this time of year hovers in the 30-40 per week range. Not this January. With no forced "weather days," hitting the 50-60 range has not been an issue. Roads are clear, trails in Reno are dry, and even local, snowy trails are hard-packed enough for great morning runs with Yak-Traks. Yesterday's 10-miler on the trails of Peavine was mid-day perfection in shorts and a t-shirt.

I'm sharing my current appreciation for these beautiful mid-winter days because the forecast shows they're just about over. As January comes to a close, so too does Juneuary. Next week I'll be wearing hat and gloves again on my daily runs, and dreaming about the real beginning of spring. Dreaming about the real June of this year.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Tahoe Rim Tour Snowshoe Race

Showing up to a Nordic race with snowshoes in hand is kind of like being an ultrarunner at a triathlon. You are surrounded by slim, fit athletes with the very best, top-of-the-line gear their niche sport has to offer. And you? You’re wearing a down jacket and a pair of ragged Nike tights and feeling a little self-conscious about how they make your butt look. Or maybe that’s just me.

This was the scene at the start of last weekend’s Tahoe Rim Tour, a half-marathon ski and snowshoe race from Tahoe City to Northstar resort in Truckee. In the 20 degree morning chill, I made my way towards registration across a parking lot full of lanky skiers. I plowed through a sea of Craft tights, Toko tops, and approximately a thousand Swix beanies. Don’t forget your Swix beanie!

I immediately found my friend Helen, who was signed up for the classic ski division, and confessed, “You know, I kind of wish I was skiing since I know I would finish faster, but at the same time, I’m glad I’m not, since all these people would kick my butt!” She nodded in sympathy.

At least I know my place—and that’s with the runners. The one’s who aren’t coordinated enough to be real skiers.

I found myself standing around, a bit lost because I don’t know anything about wax. Seriously, you can’t have a conversation with a Nordic skier before a race unless you know how to talk about wax. What colors, how many layers, klister or no klister. People were busy with last minute scraping and buffing, running fingers across perfect bases.

One skier did ask me about my snowshoes though, and I was happy to feign my expertise on the subject for him.

Eventually I found Jamie and Jack at the registration table, and we all made our way to the start, where we gladly let the skiers take the lead.

I had hemmed and hawed about even entering a snowshoe race this far, since my previous two racing experiences on snowshoes, both 5K, showed me the challenges of this sport. Last year Jamie had horror stories about how hard this race had been, so I couldn’t believe she was back for more. She didn’t bother trying to talk me into it, but her mere presence shamed me into showing up. Having a training partner who’s tougher than me is such a good thing!

As it turned out, we set a decent, but reasonable, pace, and Jamie and I ran together the whole way. All we did was talk and run. It was perfect! There weren’t a ton of snowshoers, but we spent our entire two hours and thirteen minutes gradually catching and passing many of them.

The weather was perfect—partly sunny, warm, but cool enough to maintain firm trail conditions. Fast!

In the last mile, I finally decided to catch this man in a blue top whom we had been seeing for the past hour. I was annoyed at the fact that he hadn’t been getting any closer to us! I kicked it up a notch and caught up to him. I immediately confessed that I’d been trying to catch him forever. There wasn’t time for a response before he zoomed ahead of me again. Ha! I was actually quite enjoying the chase.

I had nothing at all at stake, so I gave it another go. We were flying downhill, and my only concern was that I might trip and fall—a real possibility!

I caught up to him one more time, but in the end, I never did pass the guy. After we crossed the finish line, we immediately exchanged high-fives and smiles. Clearly we’d both enjoyed ourselves. I love early-season fun at races!

Post-race activities included a chili-fest, some sitting in the sun with friends, and a huge number of raffle prizes. Cash prizes were given away to skinny young people who all seemed to have names like Bjorn and Hans, and snowshoers got cash prizes, too. I came away with a sweet pair of insulated Salamon Nordic gloves.

After Jamie left, conversation seemed to center around wax again, and I decided it was time to bail. I caught the free shuttle back to the start, and realized that maybe this snowshoeing thing isn’t so bad when you have a friend to run with.

Thanks to all the skiers for putting up with the goofy snowshoers on the trail, and thanks to Farwest Nordic and Northstar for a beautiful January day!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Best of Your Blogs - 2010 Edition

I’ve realized a stark truth about this blogging thing: Namely that it’s completely narcissistic.

And while I am a bit chagrined about this fact, I continue to plow forth with race reports, reflections, personal revelations, and opinions in which you may or may not be interested. (Although, ever since Victoria assured me that all writers are narcissists, I don’t feel so bad about it.)

The irony, and my primary comfort here, is this: The best stuff you guys write about is you. For me, that’s what it’s all about. Sure, you write great gear reviews. You talk about training techniques, race logistics, favorite trails, and who might win Ultrarunner of the Year. These are all interesting topics of discussion, (some more so than others).

But these are not why I read your blog. (Honestly, I’m pretty much a skimmer if it’s not about YOU. Sorry.)

I’ve learned that I read blogs for two primary reasons.

1) You know how to write. Seriously, it doesn’t matter if you’re writing about running, other endurance sports, your quirky job, raising your bright but impertinent children, the pointless yet painful argument you had with your Alzheimer’s-afflicted father-in-law, or the way you slipped on the ice in front of your hottie neighbor. You know how to put words on a page, and you convey something meaningful to me in the process. Thank you!

2) I like you. I want to hear about you and what you’re up to. Yes, I want your stories. You’re a cool person (as far as I can tell) and I can relate to you.

That’s it. You don’t have to be fast. You don’t have to know a lot about training, or gear, or what witty thing Jon Stewart said last night. You just have to be you. (Isn’t that nice?)

That’s why, this year, instead of writing some huge reflection piece on my racing season, I’m writing a huge reflection piece about your racing season! Well, no actually, don’t worry; it’s just about your blogs.

You guys write awesome blogs!

So, enough with the introductions. This is what I recall seeing in the blogosphere this past year.

Favorite Photos

Two bloggers easily come to mind for this one.

Banff Trail Trash. If you lived in a place as beautiful as Banff, then you, too, could have incredible photos in every single post like Leslie does. Mind bogglingly beautiful scenery there. You’d have to put up with a lot of cold and darkness though. I prefer the photos, I think.

On the opposite end of the quantity spectrum, though possibly superior in quality, is RunJunkie’s Singletrack:Photos. Expertly taken, well chosen images of outdoor life. Simply beautiful.

Favorite Blogger Who No Longer Posts

Zero to Boston. It seems now that Dean has qualified for, and run, Boston, he’s less inspired to post. Who knows what’s going on, maybe it’s that Publagia, but I really miss his sense of humor and quirky insights about running. (Dean, are you okay???) Peruse his archives to learn about topics like smart alec marathon posters, running sub-culture, and why all runners are liars.

Favorite New (to me) Blogger

Run Home Pam. Pam is so obviously a writer. A very good one. I don’t know why I insist on loving things that make me cry, but I adore this post. And if you’re not interested in shedding a few tears, try reading this one - still heartfelt, just less painful. Pam doesn’t post often, but I’m completely okay with that. I’ll take this kind of quality over quantity any day.

Favorite Race Reports

Race reports are often my favorite blog posts to read, but as such, they have a tendency to blur together by the end of the year. I chose three favorites here, not because they were necessarily the best, but because they still stand out a bit in my mind, each for their own reasons.

TNF 50 Mile SF by Geoff Roes. I don’t regularly read too many blogs of the elite runners, but I really appreciated this report on a second place finish from our 2009 and 2010 Men’s UROY. Geoff’s well chosen words convey a sincere respect for his competitors that is a nice compliment to his immense talent.

Father/Daughter Day at the Big Sur 5K. A few things I could say about why I like this post: 1) I love it when girls love running, and, 2) I’m especially impressed when first-time racers pace themselves well. Also, 3) it kind of reminds me of when I used to attend 5K races with my own dad. You know, back in the days when he could still beat me.

Marathon des Sables. Epic race, beautiful piece, amazing writer. Just go read it.

Favorite Poem

RunJunkie’sThis is Just to Say – Ultrarunner’s Edition” Believe it or not, there are a number of runner poets out there. I find the two activities go together quite well, actually. And even though Hank wrote this one back in 2009, he found occasion to repost it last spring, so I feel quite justified in including it as a 2010 piece. I love the simple beauty of William Carlos Williams, and this one is inspired by his poem, “This is Just to Say." It makes me smile.

Favorite Humorous Post

I can’t say I saw a lot of competition in this category this year. Maybe that’s just a reflection of my own mindset. Or maybe this is what happens when the economy tanks and unemployment rises: We lose our funny. WHAT HAPPENED TO THE FUNNY?

Honestly, I still recall funny posts from years past, like the time Claire rode in a bike race with John Kerry and a fellow competitor shared her plan to nip by him right at the finish and then turn and berate him loudly for being such a loser. (This made more sense back when the post was written, around the elections, and it was much funnier the way Claire described it.) Or what about that time at a triathlon when Donald declared to an obnoxious girl in the port-a-potty line that he was only in possession of eight toenails, just to shut her up? Then there were the old Mark Tanaka posts, such as the year-in-review with a lustful French beauty queen, and an awesome, quirky race report. (To Mark’s credit, I’m already giving him the 2011 award for most backlogged race reports posted in the shortest amount of time - seven reports in as many days!)

It seems to me that there is just a bit less goofiness out there. What’s up?

Fortunately, I know this girl, Meghan. Maybe you know her too? She wrote this brilliant and hilarious recap of Fastpacking in the Land of Phalli. She must have been online with Urban Dictionary to write this one, because her vocabulary here is truly impressive. A pillar of wisdom, that woman.

Favorite Non-Running Post

Russ’s “How I learned to Love a Loincloth” series. An account of his one-time summer job acting as various superheros at children’s birthday parties in L.A., most of this series was written in 2009. The last one, however, just squeaked across the line in January, 2010, so I say it qualifies. Equal parts hilarity and charm, these posts are sweet surprises in the running blogosphere. Here are the individual links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and The Finale. Read and enjoy!

That about wraps it up for this year. Thanks for all the beautiful blog posts, everyone – including the many that I didn’t even mention. I really appreciate the time, effort, and love that you guys put into your posts.

Now go out there and write something I can link to in my 2011 review. (Thanks!)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Cool, AR, Miwok, States

Well, there it is. My 2011 race schedule.

Rather than write a whole, lengthy post, pontificating on my thought process and goals regarding each race, I thought I'd just summarize my impending season in the post title. I've spared you. (Mostly.)

I'm calling this
The Season of Humility. Or possibly Running with the Fast Girls. Or maybe just Getting my Ass Kicked. I haven't decided yet. Regardless, it's sure to be a damn good time. I like racing.

After toning down the racing last year, largely for financial reasons, I'm cranking it back up again this year, and I'm pretty excited about it. While the title races will be the backbone of my season, comprising the races where I'll push myself, there will also be a few more short races sprinkled in there for fun. Western States, of course, is the goal race, and the only one that will get a real taper.

I don't have anything on the schedule after June, but I plan to take advantage of my fitness by spending some long days in the wilderness with friends throughout the Summer and Fall. And no matter what happens in my races, that will be the best prize I earn.

Mike runs through Desolation Wilderness, October 2010

What races and adventures are on your schedule this year? Will I get to see you out on the trail?

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Year of the Dog Walk

Mornings are dark in January, particularly at 5 AM. After the coffee is brewed, mukluks laced, warm hat, jacket and
gloves donned, I am ready. I don’t need to call the dogs; they sprang from their beds at the first sound of my jacket zipping and are standing expectantly at the door, tails wagging.

We'll walk together, as we do each morning, unleashed, through the starlit, snowy streets of our small neighborhood. The houses slumber in darkness, greeted by the soft snuff-snuff of Gus’s nose hunting delightful doggie smells deep in the snow banks. My hands clasp the ceramic mug. Its penetrating warmth provides a much needed assist to my fleece gloves, while coffee tickles my nose with steam. It’s tranquility, stolen before the onslaught of each day.

My neighborhood is a dog-neighborhood. It’s also a kid-neighborhood, which pretty much goes hand-in-hand with a dog-neighborhood, as far as I can tell. Dogs and kids run loose, and we like it that way. We’re mostly full-time residents—no vacation homes—and we don’t have much in the way of fancy landscaping for any of them to trample. So, walking the dogs during daylight hours is frequently a social experience: throw a football with a kid; share a beer with a neighbor; help someone shovel the steps; divert your path to join someone else’s walk. And if there are no human friends out and about, you’re certain to be joined by at least a few doggie-friends who will gladly add their number to the roaming pack.

At the end of my street is a plowed road with no houses, leading up to a beautiful view of Donner Lake. It’s about a quarter mile one-way, and it’s the destination for most winter dog walks, when darkness and snow are prohibitive to longer hikes. It’s on this road where I have gotten to know my neighbors.

It was late in 2009 when I envisioned a photography experiment: Take a photo of that Donner Lake view every time I walked the dogs, developing a collection that would show the changing conditions of the seasons.

The Year of the Dog Walk was born.

And, as often happens when I begin a new project, I began with enthusiasm. Most winter dog walks happen in darkness (before and after work), but I brought my camera along on every weekend walk. I greedily harvested pictures through January, February and March. I was especially interested in shots that showed weather, since I knew that summer’s arrival would bring with it an unchanging landscape of blue water, green trees and cloudless blue sky. I decided pictures of simply the view might not hold enough interest, so I tried to take pictures of friends and dogs encountered on walks, to give a sense not so much of the seasons and landscape, but of the joy of the dog walk itself.

And, as often happens when I get to the middle of a project, I got bored and lazy. The month of May garnered me zero pictures. June: one, July: zero, August: zero, September: one. I didn’t get a single picture without snow on the mountains.

But, the saving grace of procrastinators is that we are deadline-driven. And, (as often happens when a deadline approaches) I snapped photos with a renewed vigor as the year neared its close. I even managed to gather most of them from the various folders on my husband’s and my computers and throw them together into a slideshow.

To be honest, I can’t say that it turned out as I had hoped, although it was a fun project. For me, it doesn’t do enough to capture the experience. I love the dog walk because it can connect me with those who share life in this beautiful setting. It can also provide a meditative renewal, a beautiful contrast to the challenges of life. Unlike running, where I’m keeping a close eye on the footing of the trail, walking allows the particular freedom to look around and appreciate the beauty of the mountains. The enthusiasm of the dogs is contagious as they romp and play in the snow, and every time I gaze out on that view, I smile and know just how lucky I am.

The photos I've already included give a pretty good feel for what you'll see in my project, but if you enjoy pictures of snowy landscapes, feel free to click "play" on the full slideshow below.