Friday, February 25, 2011

Living and Training in Snow Country

I grew up in southern California, 20 minutes from the beach. With only a 20-degree temperature swing between summer and winter, I was a child without seasons.

Considering this, I think I've adapted fairly well to a climate which receives an average of 30 feet of snowfall per year. To be sure, I love the mountains. We get very little rain (most of our precip comes as snow), and if it's not absolutely dumping outside, it's sunny. Friends in the valley complain of the fog and how they haven't seen the sun in weeks, while I wouldn't dare leave the house without my sunglasses for fear of snow blindness.

Here in the Sierra, we lack the frigid temps of the midwest. Even in summer we're absent the heat of the desert and the humidity of the coast. The only real challenge we have is vast quantities of snow. With last week's storm dumping five feet in four days, and today's storm already totaling two feet at my house, I wanted to share a few of my strategies for running through a winter of snow.


Some days, my house looks like this:

When that happens, I generally don't run. Trails are chest-deep in powder, making snowshoeing and cross country skiing ridiculous endeavors, and roads are full of cars sliding around with drivers who can't see - not a good scenario for running.

If getting to the resort is a viable option (taking road conditions into account), then powder skiing is the best crosstraining around. (I don't recommend backcountry skiing on big storm days!) Think a gravity sport like skiing isn't a good workout? I dare you to try doing it all day in deep powder.

Other good options for big storm days include shoveling, snowblowing, snowball fights, and carving out sled runs in the neighborhood.   

Andrew gets his snowblower on, along with all the neighbors.

After the driveway is cleared, head inside for some yoga and strength training. This is a great time to do some serious stretching!

On non-storm days, snowshoeing, skate skiing, and telemark skiing all make for excellent crosstraining.

Skinning up and skiing down is a serious workout for me!


Drive for Dirt

Getting tired of running the roads or snowshoeing? If you're lucky enough to live within driving distance of snow-free trails (like I am) then take your Saturday to drive somewhere that you can get in a long run on dirt. It's a welcome respite!

When the Storm Breaks, Go Big

I took five days off during our last storm. I actually needed the rest, but when a clear day coincided with a day off work, I made the most of it. Not only did I drive for dirt, taking an hour to get to Auburn and the Western States trail, but I joined a friend for a 36-mile day. It was wonderful, and I'm glad I did since I'm back to crosstraining for the next couple of days.

Embrace the Life

When people complain about the snow, I often wonder why they live here. This is what you get in the Sierra! If ultrarunning were my highest priority, maybe I would live elsewhere. I find, however, that doing multiple sports early in the season not only helps prevent injury, but it also helps prevent burnout later in the season. I haven't been running like a madwoman all year long, and that is a good thing.

I guess embracing the life is about attitude. I make the most of good weather, and I don't let myself get frustrated if mother nature throws a wrench in my training plan. I simply adapt.

I also recognize that there are a myriad of wonderful things about life that have nothing to do with running. Crazy, I know.

Here's one way the people in my neighborhood embrace the life. At the moment, our street looks like this:

After the blower plow comes through, the snow banks become sheer, white walls. And what do you do with a blank white canvas? You draw on it, of course!

Some of the snow bank art on my street:

Peace, and a flower.

Smiley face and "Hi."

Flower. Someone is ready for spring!

I think maybe this poor guy got run over by the snow plow.

More smiley faces.

Apparently we're a happy neighborhood.


Your standard pooping duck. Clearly we have children living in our hood. :)
And of course, declarations of love. Aww.

I'm excited about my upcoming races, and I have been training hard. A six-week spell of warm, sunny weather in January and February allowed me to get a solid early-season base. Now that I'm back to winter-style training though, I'm enjoying the pleasures of winter in the mountains. I make the most of my running days, and play hard in other arenas. I think, for me, this is the best approach, as I have a tendency to get obsessively focused on things if given the chance.

As spring approaches, I know my training will increase in intensity and mileage. For now, I'm content with a "quality over quantity" approach.

How do you deal with the training challenges presented in your neck of the woods? 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

3 Non-Joggers: The Interview

I’ll admit, I’m not generally a big listener of podcasts. This might be because I don’t often listen to my ipod while running, (although I certainly have no problem doing so if the situation involves a long, and potentially painful, road race). The only podcast I’ve listened to with any regularity is NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.” Yeah, I’m kind of a nerd that way.

But since we don’t do television around our house, we’re pretty big on audio, whether it’s via radio or the internet. We’re huge music lovers, but we also get all our news from the radio. So, when I found out one of my favorite bloggers was putting together a podcast … about running … I was totally onboard for the listening ride.

I’ve been reading Russ’s blog almost since I began blogging, and I even had the pleasure of meeting him last year at the finish line of Western States. A talented writer, and helluva nice guy, I knew any audio segment that he put together would be a good time, and I was not wrong.

Russ, along with talented, non-jogging buddies Gary (the) Vale and Carl The Mailman, are the voices behind the internet podcast, 3 Non-Joggers. Coming to you from a basement in Portland, hilarity ensues when these gentlemen agree to an exclusive interview with Daily Adventures. Ladies and gentlemen, The 3 Non-Joggers …

Daily Adventures: So, what was the inspiration for putting together The 3 Non-Joggers podcast?

Russ: To be 100% honest, I noticed a void in running podcasts: Most of running podcasts have TONS of information in them, which is fantastic, but I figured other non-joggers out there would like to break it up every so often with some screwing around. Plus, as we recently discovered, our goal is to be your “running buddies”. This is just how we yap to one another on the trails. Including all of the cussing and bathroom talk. Mostly the bathroom talk.

Carl The Mailman (CTM):  Russ & I are friends.  He mentioned that he wanted to get a podcast going.  I kind of invited myself into this, offering up my producing / editing skills to help him out.  

Gary:  Russ and I met in the summer of 2009 and started running just about every long run together after that.  We talk about so many things out there, we thought it would be good to talk and let people listen to it.  Russ had the idea of doing this in podcast form, and I think we initially were going to call it "After the Long Run."

DA: How did you guys meet? (Please tell me you met Carl when he first delivered the mail to your house!)

Russ: I’m kind of the linchpin of the relationship: Carl and I were friends, having been introduced by mutual friends, and Gary and I had been running together for over a year.

CTM:  Actually the first time I met Gary was about 20 minutes before recording episode #1.  If I were Russ' mailman I would totally tell you what dirty magazines he gets.

Gary:   Russ and I met by chance as we were both running a long run in Forest Park in the summer of 2009 and we struck up a conversation and realized that we were both training for a Hundred mile race later that summer called Hundred in The Hood.  We have been friends ever since.  Carl and I met 20 minutes before the first podcast and I had no idea what to expect.  Turns out Carl is pretty cool!

DA: Your podcast has a very laid-back style to it, and that is clearly part of the appeal. I feel like I'm hanging out in my living room with friends listening to you guys, (except I'm usually driving, and you make me wish I had a beer in my hand). How much planning/scripting do you do for each episode? Do you have specific goals for each one? Do you ever edit things out?

CTM:  We are pretty up front about this show being made by 2 runners and a mailman, pieced together $5 bucks at a time.  They (Russ & Gary) try to have helpful running info in each episode, and Gary (the) Vale truly knows more about running than anyone I have ever met, but where we have found our place seems to be in becoming everyone's running buddy.  I am very comfortable with the arrangement.  I jump in from time to time when the running talk gets to be too much.

Gary: We constantly joke about how we are not ready for this episode as we usually do very little planning.  We have developed a few segments that will repeat each episode.  Carl is the master editor and I am sure he edits out when necessary.  But I think mostly we just say stuff, and you get what we say.

Russ: Oh, good! That’s our goal! Well, except the part that you’re jealous you can’t have a beer in your hand. I joke a lot on the podcast about how unprepared I am, but I do actually do some show prep. Although you’d never guess.

We’ve implemented having a single subject we can always come back to after we go on our idiotic tangents. But our only goal is to have a good time. As far as editing goes, we try to not cut out too much, but sometimes it’s necessary. You bet your ass Carl will NEVER cut out Gary’s beer spills and mike blowouts.

DA: Where did you get that theme song from? Because, um, totally cool! 

Russ: I KNOW RIGHT?! My good friend, Mike Henry, is a comedy writer in Los Angeles, and an (obviously) incredibly talented musician. I sent him about 7 bullet points for ideas for the song. 2 weeks later, that showed up in my inbox. I burst into tears, I was so blown away. We’re hoping to have him on the podcast as a guest. And yes, I am a crybaby.

DA: I love the title of the podcast! I've had to educate many a non-running friend about the difference between running and jogging. What exactly do you think the difference is between running and jogging, and why are you all non-joggers?

Russ: The funny thing is, if you listen to episode 1, we actually come up with the name while recording. As soon as the words left my lips, we all looked at each other and said, “THAT’S IT!”

Gary:  I like to describe the difference between running and jogging is that joggers are the ones who wear the fancy sweat suits, jog on the streets, and they keep jogging in place at stop lights.  Runners wear shorts and when there is a chance to stop for a break, we do!  Oh and of course the obvious thing is the pace.  Runners move faster than joggers.

Russ: Gary and my joke on the trails is when one of us says, “Hey, can we stop for a second?” the other answers with an emphatic, “YES!”

DA: On the show, you’ve commented on the attractiveness of both Hal Koerner and Shalane Flannigan. I’m curious; whom do you find to be better looking? Any chance of getting either of them on for an interview?

Russ: It would be an honor to have either of them on as guests! Having that much speed under my roof might cause the roof to collapse, though.

Who’s best-looking? Whew, that’s a toughie. Hal without the scruffy beard makes my heart aflutter, but looking at Shalane’s abs makes my eyes twitch. Having only met Hal, I’m gonna have to go with…Shalane.

CTM:  Hal is a friend of the show, and is welcome to come in at any time.  I have actually been in contact with Shalane Flannigan's manager.  It seems like she has been swamped with interviews lately, but we have traded a few emails about having her on the show in the spring.  No promises though.  I would love to see either of them walk into our "studio" just to watch Gary freak out.  

Gary:  Well I guess I would choose Shalane, although I know Hal and he is very charming in person.  I would love to get either of them in for an interview.  We will see.

DA: You might interview Shalane? Really? How cool is that! Although, you’re all completely wrong about her. Hal is much better looking.

How long have you guys been runners? Ultrarunners?

Russ: I’ve only been running for about 7 years, and an ultrarunner for 6. Yeah, you could say I have a bit of a compulsive streak in me.

Gary:  I have been running since 1986, the year I graduated from high school.  I ran mostly shorter races and road marathons up until 2006 when I decided to try a 50k.  I also ran on a trail that year for really the first time, and have not looked back.  I love the tranquility of the trails, and the length of ultras.  I get to run, in the woods, for a long time! 

CTM:  I hate jogging.  The only thing I could imagine worse than jogging would be jogging an ultramarathon.

DA: Okay, Carl, but we’re talking about running here, not jogging. I’m going to assume from your answer that you hate running equally, if not more than, jogging.

I notice two of you appear to have the same middle name of "the." Could you explain this, especially where Gary is concerned? (Obviously, Carl is a mailman. Um, right?) And why doesn't Russ have a nickname? (And can we create one for him, please?)

CTM:  Gary had never been in front of a microphone before, and we have had the pleasure of watching him grow and get a bit more comfortable with his role as co-host. When he realizes that the mic's are on, he really does turn into Gary 'The' Vale.  

Gary:  That nickname was given to me.  I didn't really ask for it.  I guess it's a show biz thing.  Carl's name is simply a description of him.  Russ needs a nickname.  How about Russ the McGarry.  Wow.  That was creative.

Russ: Carl has always been “Carl The Mailman” to me. He actually introduces himself with that moniker to everyone he meets. Gary (The) Vale happened rather by accident: I introduced Carl The Mailman during a podcast, then turned and said, “Gary The Vale, how are you?” or some such. It just stuck.

As far as my own nickname goes, take it away, folks! Feel free to brand me. Not literally. I have sensitive skin.

DA: As much as Gary’s suggestion still has me laughing, I think we should take Russ at his word. Nickname suggestions, anyone? Feel free to comment!

I particularly enjoyed your interviews with Amy Sprotson (especially since I learned how to pronounce her last name) and Yassine Diboun (who's name, believe it or not, I already knew how to pronounce). Portland seems to provide a wealth of talented ultrarunners for you to interview. Who's next?

Russ: We’ve got some other incredibly talented, local runners in the works. It’s pretty funny when we escort our guests downstairs and they see that, yes, this is an actual, unfinished basement we’re dealing with. Kind of a “Silence of the Lambs” vibe, I’d like to think.

DA: Uh, really? Cuz I was sort of picturing something more like “Wayne’s World.”

CTM:  If you could call Alberto Salazar for us I would really appreciate it.  He's not in the phone book.  MR. SALAZAR!... EMAIL US!  3 Non Joggers at Gmail dot com!

DA: What else do you guys have in the works for our listening pleasure?

CTM:  More jogging talk... and busting Gary's chops.  Starting on February 7th Carl The Mailman dot com will be up.  I am in post production of my first feature film, set to be finished in August. Full disclosure:  Russ & his wife Annie are my producers, and have been instrumental in helping get this film close to completion. 

Gary: More of the same.  With hopefully continued improvement in creativity and maybe more running talk!  If I have any say!

Russ: We plan on cranking out 3NJs every week that we can. Other plans involve remote podcasting from different locations, and, once we’re even more established, possibly a live 3NJs podcast in front of an audience.

I know for a fact that last statement made Gary crap his pants a little bit.

Awesome, guys. Let me know when you want to remote podcast from Tahoe. Thanks so much for your time, and for the laughs. I promise a few bucks into the swear jar, and we will all go out for beers next time I am in Portland.

You can download the podcast of The 3 Non-Joggers at iTunes here.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The Sound of the Sunshine Coming Down

There are certain elements that can combine to turn an otherwise typical weekend into an actual story. Beauty, excitement, serenity. Adventure, tragedy, love. Exuberant joy and connection. This most recent Saturday at the California coast comprised just such a story.

Our day arose late in a morning of coffee sipping and conversation around our friends’ Oakland apartment. Plans emerged from cinnamon-roll-sticky lips, and by the crack of noon we were unloading the car at Tennessee Valley Road – I for a 2 ½ hour trail run, and Andrew and Brooks for some hiking and beachside chilling.

I buckled on my Nathan pack and headed up the trail. My stride shortened as I aimed for an easy, efficient running pace, climbing steadily up past the stables. Five minutes into the climb and I immediately realized two things: 1) I was way overdressed in a T-shirt. Why hadn’t I worn a tank top? But seriously, who wears a tank top in February? And 2) Running uphill was easy. Wait, who do I think I am? You just started your run, chill out girl! Nah, instead I think I’ll make it a goal to run up every hill today. And so, stuffing my shirt in my pack, I ran, sports-bra clad, up and down sun-drenched, beautiful single-track next to the ocean.

Except when I saw the mountain lion. That part I walked.

“Um, there’s a mountain lion right over there.” Two women on the side of the trail flagged me down.

Errrrrrrrr! I immediately put on the brakes.

“Really? Are you sure it’s not a bobcat?” I stood on the trail looking off in the direction they’d indicated. “Can you see it right now?”

No sooner had I asked than a large cat emerged from the bushes across the hillside.

“Oh. Yeah,” I agreed, “that’s not a bobcat.”

By this point another female hiker had come up behind us, and a group of teenage girls was approaching on a perpendicular trail.

The lion was headed generally in our direction, but appeared to be veering off to the right. Most who were present decided to head for the trail from which I’d just emerged. The hiker, whose name was Lisa, and I decided to go cautiously forward together, keeping a wary eye on the cat as we went. Nothing brings two strangers together like fear of a common threat.

We exchanged pleasantries as we walked slowly forward, leaving the trail to gain more height, and thus a better eye on our feline friend. It didn’t seem at all concerned at our presence, but it also appeared to be heading away from us by this point. Lisa and I walked together for a few more minutes before parting ways, each now with a story to tell upon rejoining our respective companions.

I dipped down briefly to Rodeo Beach, where families and friends were gathered in great numbers, soaking up more of this summer in winter. The breeze was briefly cooler here, and I sighed in pleasure at its touch before heading back up the hill. (Running, of course.)

I rerouted my original plan just a bit to avoid what I now thought of as “the mountain lion zone,” and headed north towards Muir Beach. The ocean lay vast and blue beside me, the sky the same above. I reveled in the powerful feel of my legs, and the oxygen-rich air. Nothing fills me with serenity more than a long trail run on unbelievably beautiful trails. My heart aches for days like these.

Retracing my steps along the Coastal Trail, I eventually made it back to the beach at Tennessee Cove to meet up with Andrew and Brooks. More sunshine, crashing waves, cold drinks, and good friends. Life could hardly have seemed better. It wasn’t until we’d gotten all the way back to the car that tragedy struck.

I reached with thumb and pinky to twirl my wedding band, a constant habit, and looked down, horror-struck, at my naked finger.

My gasp was enough to alert Andrew that something was wrong, and predictably, I burst into tears. Immediately Andrew went into comfort mode, and Brooks went into search mode. I got in an extra 3 miles, albeit at a very slow pace, combing the pathway to the beach and back. Done completely without hope, but still, it had to be done.

Those 3 miles weren’t so much a search for the ring, as they were a chance for me to reconcile myself to this loss with the best therapy I know: running.
Ultimately, a ring is just a symbol, and I knew it wouldn’t change anything, really. I felt thankful that I am not a flashy-diamonds type of girl and that Andrew and I had chosen unique, but inexpensive, rings.

Still, that ring had barely left my hand for ten years, and I couldn’t imagine how it had fallen off. And to be honest, I have a desperate love of symbolism. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a symbol is worth at least a thousand pictures. The more one studies literature and writing, the harder it becomes not to attach meaning to all manner of things, to see symbolism everywhere.

“But Gretchen,” he insisted, fingers laced through mine, “I married you, not a ring.”

“I know.” I sighed deeply, both in sorrow and comfort, and rested my head against his chest. Perhaps it wasn’t a tragedy after all. Perhaps it was just sad.

Over the next several hours I practiced my very best “letting go” mindset. We had plans for our evening and it would be just like me to feel beset with trauma to the point of wanting to stay home.

But no. We were going to The Fillmore to rock out with Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. And rock, we did. Right along with Grace.

I have often wondered if movement isn’t the purest form of expression, and if that, in turn, doesn’t somehow explain my drive to run. To keep running and not stop. And when you pair movement, in the form of dance, with the depth of expression available in music, the combination can be intense. Almost as jubilant, joy-filled, and therapeutic as running.

I danced my ass off Saturday night.

Another thing that brings strangers together, besides that common fear thing, is common joy. When you look around and everyone else is jumping just as high, sweating just as hard. You know they’re feeling the same excitement, and the collective energy boosts you all up just a little bit higher.

If you’re familiar with Grace, and you’ve seen her Ooh La La video, you know the woman is the very definition of sexy. And while her best songs Saturday night were her own, I also particularly enjoyed her Journey/Heart/Jefferson Airplane tribute.

Waves crash, tears stream and sweat pours. And it's all filled with the sound of the sunshine. While I’m still meditating on the symbolism of a lost wedding ring, it seems safe to say that joy and love outshone sorrow on this sunshiny, California weekend. That’s good, because I’m a sucker for a happy ending.

“It could have been worse,” Andrew assured me. “You could have been eaten by the mountain lion.”

“I know,” I whined, unconvinced. We were standing in the parking lot at Tennessee Valley Road, trying to leave. I was still crying.

“We can get new rings,” he tried again.

“Okay,” I agreed slowly, wiping a sleeve across my soggy face.

“Maybe,” I added after a pause, “we should take another honeymoon, too. You know, to make it official and all.”

“Definitely,” he agreed.