Sunday, December 23, 2012

Holiday Giving

I often wonder if I am the only one in this life to find myself trapped in clichés, the current one being, “The Holidays are a Tough Time of Year.” I always think about that exchange between Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally, where Sally says in simple annoyance, “Yup. A lot of suicides.” Ha! I don’t know why I find that to be so funny. Is there something wrong with me?

I actually love the holidays because I get to see friends and family. (Two weeks off from work doesn't hurt either.) But the frenzy of activity, and the number of things that don’t get checked off my To Do List, send my stress level to uncomfortable heights. I find it all enjoyable when I remember, (and here comes the next cliché) that it’s all about giving, and gratitude, and love, in all of its beautiful, strange and often messy forms.

With the giving portion in mind, it is once again time for Nathan Bransford’s Heifer International Fundraising event! For every comment you leave on this blog post between now and Christmas Day, I’ll donate $2 to Heifer International. Super easy! Head over to Nathan’s blog as well to see who else is participating and leave them comments to raise even more money.

Giving, people. Giving! (It will make you feel good. I promise.)

Update 12/26: Thank you for all the comments, everyone! With 17 comments, plus a few from Facebook and Twitter, I made a $40 donation to Heifer. I went for sheep this time because right now with all the cold and snow, I am really appreciating wool! We sponsored 1/3 of a sheep. Nice work, you guys!

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Highs and Lows

Thanksgiving sunset from Tunnel Creek Road - a lot to be thankful for this year!

My husband Andrew has a question he poses to everyone on their birthday. He asks it of dear friends at birthday parties, as well as the woman in front of him in the lift line if he happens to learn it’s her birthday. He wants to know, “What was the high and low of your year?” I find it to be a dauntingly personal question, but he always gives people the out of “just thinking about it.” Surprisingly, they usually give an answer, even if it takes a bit of time, often trusting us with intimate details of their lives.

It’s the “thinking about it” that turns out to be the important part, in my opinion. I’m big on reflection, and often I don’t think we examine our lives enough so that we can learn and grow. Also, it’s fun to relive the good moments!

For myself, I am horrible at answering this question. I can never narrow it down, and I certainly don’t want to reveal anything painful in front of a bunch of strangers. As far as I can tell, I’m in the minority on that one.

My low is something that has stretched on for the entire second half of the year: my digestive woes. I thought things had healed up after Hardrock since I felt great all through August and the beginning of September. It all came back with a vengeance this fall though, and to sum it up: it sucks. Being in pain is totally crappy, and it keeps me from running which makes my mental health even worse. You know who deserves the most sympathy in all of this though? My students. I am not a fun person to be around when I am in pain, and my temper is short. Sorry, kids!

I even spent a month on the Whole30 program, which Olga tipped me off to, in an attempt to heal. (As a side note, if you’re looking for inspiration for your next crazy goal, Olga’s blog is a pretty good place to hang out. She’s always got something going on!) The Whole 30 is basically a 30-day super strict paleo diet. I ate only veggies, fruit, meat, and eggs. No grains, legumes, dairy, or anything processed or with added sugar, preservatives, etc. No alcohol, and although coffee is permitted, I thought it best to skip that as well since it could be an irritant to my digestive tract. In other words, it was total deprivation.

This isn’t the kind of thing I would have ever considered if I wasn’t trying to solve a health issue. Whole30 does not choose foods "because that's the way our ancestors did it," (which, frankly, I don't find to be a convincing argument for anything) but rather, based on their nutritional value. I did a lot of reading about it and learned why consuming a lot of foods that we normally consider to be healthy could possibly be causing me problems. I can’t help but believe that my intestinal pain can be healed by simply choosing the right things to put into my body. If only I can figure out what those things are!

It was actually a great experience, even though it didn’t turn out to be magical solution for which I’d been searching. (I had a flare-up of pain in the middle of the month.) I slept so much better, my energy levels were more stable, and I didn’t get hungry all the time. The hardest part came during the first week with all the meal planning, researching what I could make for myself, grocery shopping, and cooking. Eating healthy takes a lot of time! I became dependent on my slow cooker, and made more frequent trips to the grocery store. Of course, grocery shopping became a quicker affair as I didn’t need to bother visiting about ¾ of the store – just the produce and meat departments for me! I cooked fabulous dinners, and Andrew, who was initially bummed about this endeavor, became a huge fan of the paleo meals.

Even though I went off the program after my 30 days were up, I learned a lot and it has definitely changed my eating habits for the better. I am still eating “Whole30 style” for breakfast, lunch and snacks. I’m mixing paleo –friendly dinners with occasional other meals and I feel good about it. My biggest indulgence since going off Whole30 has been a lot of sweet treats. It’s a tough time of year to avoid that. But for me, that's true all the time. I love sugar!

Although weight loss was definitely not a goal for me on Whole30 (I was still hovering around racing weight when I started the program and didn’t have any weight to lose.), I somehow lost 3 pounds and ended the month with 16% body fat. I found this to be pretty surprising since I was doing only moderate exercise that month, consumed a ton of yummy food, and was never hungry. If weight loss is your goal, I’d say this is a pretty healthy way to do it.

I’m thinking of going back on Whole30 in January, with the exception of allowing sugar for fueling and recovery of long runs. My one long run on the program (4 hours) was an interesting experiment in fueling without Gu or any of those other things. I ate mixed nuts, avocado, and those squeezable mashed fruit pouches they make for kids. I refueled afterwards with butternut squash (yum!) and a little Udo’s Oil/turmeric cocktail (yuck!). It felt pretty good, but it was a very mellow pace, and I could tell I couldn’t have gone any harder without bonking.

Anyway, as far as the gastritis-gall-bladder-who-knows-what-the-problem-is thing, I did return to the doctor. He was fairly unhelpful, except to refer me to a specialist which will take me 3 months to get in to see. I’m finding the whole experience to be a bit frustrating. It’s no wonder people just walk into the emergency room for medical care. Alas. I’ll let you know if I figure anything out.

And now that I’ve told you all about my tummy troubles, I’ll share half of the truth: That’s not my real low. But it’s low enough, and it’s all intertwined, really. Life is complicated, you know? It’s funny how your physical health can be a reflection of your mental health, and vice versa. I’m well aware that without difficult experiences in life we’d be unlikely to grow as individuals. Still, sometimes I’d rather skip the really hard experiences and just remain static and shallow.

Enough! On to the high(s)!

I have to include Hardrock as one of my highs. Honestly, I can’t remember anything about this year prior those two days in July. Did anything else even happen? Because even if it did, it was all consumed by my obsession with Hardrock. Racing-wise, I was happy with my performances at Napa and Sonoma (It was a wine-country year for me!), but those events weren’t soul-digging like Hardrock. That one will stay with me for a long time. I think it’s the only race in my entire running career where I was immensely proud to simply have finished. It was a race where one of my faults (my ability to be single-mindedly stubborn) turned out to be my greatest asset. Anyway, I’ve already spent enough words on this race. Suffice it to say, it’s an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.

HRH, somewhere in the last 25 miles.

My other big high is Andrew graduating (near the top of his class, no less) from the Fire Academy. It was an epic summer for him. I wish I could tell you the stories, but they are not mine to tell. The best part: Two weeks before graduation he’d already landed a part-time job at Northstar Fire, just fifteen minutes from home. His second day on the job he came home all stoked about his first 911 call. It makes me so happy.

Graduation night, downtown Sacramento.

Looking back is always something that helps me look forward. For 2013, I’m thinking about shifting my racing to a little later in the year so I can spend my winter skiing instead of worried about getting in my long runs. I don’t have any 100-milers on the schedule. If I decide to enter one, it probably won’t be until the fall. I’m just not prepared to think about that kind of training any time soon. I’ve got a few 50Ks and at least one 50-miler on the plan, and that feels like enough for now. I love this time of year because all the time away from racing has me excited to get back to it again!

Even if it’s not your birthday, it is nearing the end of 2012. I’d love to hear about some of your highs and lows, so please share in the comments!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Lost Sierra 50K

Just east of the Sierra crest, about an hour north of Truckee, the tiny community of Graeagle played host to the first Lost Sierra50K Trail Run. Late September is a beautiful time for a race in the mountains, and as with most days this fall, this one turned out to be especially warm, sunny, and beautiful.

I hadn’t done any real training since before Hardrock, but I’d been getting out on the trails for a bit of fun. In spite of waning fitness, I knew I wanted to check out this new race that took place on trails I’d never seen. Am I glad I did!

Katie and Annie, bundled up and ready to be the awesome support crew.

I started out in my tank top, although most people were more protected against the chilly mountain air at that hour. I knew we'd spend the first several miles climbing and that it would warm up quickly. The challenge of being cold for 10 or 15 minutes is totally manageable when compared with the irritation of having a jacket or shirt tied around my waist until the first drop bag location.

After about a half mile of road, we moved quickly to singletrack.

The climb up Mills Peak was long, about 10 miles, but it was so gradual that I could run almost the entire way. We were in the trees the whole time, steadily gaining elevation. It was quite a nice way to begin the day.

Cruising along in the early miles. (Photo courtesy of Lost Sierra 50K)

I found myself running near this friendly runner for several miles...

She was clearly a local, and dropped information now and then about the trails, and what was coming up. I was totally unfamiliar with the area, so it was helpful to run with her. Once we hit the Mills Peak summit, she blazed the downhill and I ran on alone.

Mills Peak Fire Lookout

Spectators had been telling me I was 6th woman, but apparently some of the leaders were running the 14 mile race. Once I passed through their finish line, I suddenly found myself in third. 

Based on what I could tell of the map, it looked like a challenging course. That, coupled with the fact that I'd only been getting slower in the second half of my summer, led me to a guess of finishing between 6 and 7 hours. I felt like I was more or less on target for that, and I was having a blast!

"Free your mind and your ass will follow." Mountain bikers are so funny!

The scenery up at the higher elevations was spectacular: classic high Sierra. This also meant that the trails were quite technical, and progress was slow.

I found myself running alone for the entire second half of the race. I was thrilled to find such beautiful trails, and around every corner there was another reason to stop and snap a photo.

Peter Fain on his way to the 50K win.

I made the second big climb of the race, up Mt. Elwell. This climb was much shorter, but it was also steep, technical, and warm. Still, I enjoyed the hike and the solitude.

By the time I made my final descent to the finish, I was feeling pretty beat up from the terrain. My feet were sore, and I had trouble making use of the downhill. As I dropped in elevation, the temperature rose, and I was ready to find that finish line.

It appeared quite suddenly, and with little fanfare, I crossed in 6:44. Just about what I'd expected.

It turned out my friend Camille finished right behind me, and we stood around chatting a bit and sharing thoughts on the race with Annie, who'd finished sometime before I had. Eventually we all made our way to the finish festivities (Music and beer - the important things!) which were, oddly, about a ten minute walk down the road.

Truckee represent! Me, Camille, Annie, finishing 3rd, 4th, and 2nd respectively.

We spent an hour or so after the race kicking back on the lawn, cold Sierras in hand, listening to the band. They presented some nice schwag for age group winners, and I took home a bottle of wine for taking second. This struck me as hilarious, since Annie, who won our age group, was awarded a large Sierra. I'll take the wine over beer any day, thank you! (And it turned out to be quite a good bottle of wine, too.)

And, guess who else was there to make her racing comeback?

It's Betsy! Running strong and taking the age group win. It was awesome to run with her and see her healthy and happy.

The Lost Sierra 50K was the brainchild of Reno ultrarunner David Funk, who had been running these trails and saw the potential for a great event. (He was right!) He designed the course, and then approached the race organizers of the Downiville Classic mountain bike race, who did an awesome job of putting it together. It's also a fundraiser for the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship and the Graeagle Fire District. I can't see how they could have done a better job of pulling off a first time event.

Lost Sierra was a wonderful race on a beautiful course. It was well marked with plenty of aid stations, and friendly volunteers. A lot of Truckee and Reno locals showed up to check out the action, which gave it a great community feel. I would definitely recommend it for next year. I know I'll be back!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Wake Me up When September Ends

It’s the angle of light, more than anything I think, that speaks of autumn. The sun rests slightly lower in the sky, and I feel it. Shadows are a bit longer, even at midday, and light filters through the pine needles, lending a golden quality to the landscape. Autumn, for some reason, makes me feel sentimental and a tad melancholy.

The traditional symbolism for this season about change, and death, and such, is, in some ways, the opposite for me. Being a teacher, every autumn is the start of something new. It holds all the hope and promise of a blank page. Anything is possible.

This year, that particular sentiment is going to be helpful. I am teaching Writing and Literature to grades 5-8, and there is a lot going on in my department! Needless to say, my own writing exploits will be minimal.

But check out my new classroom!

It's gigantic. And beautiful. With huge windows. And when I stand at the front of the room teaching and look out those huge windows, I get to watch the cows peacefully grazing in the pastures.


Cows are very soothing to a frazzled teacher.

This fuzzy brown girl is in a pasture all her own, and she likes to come over to the fence nearest me in the afternoons, snuffling the grass and chewing contentedly. She's adorable.

I had to stop class in the middle of a lesson yesterday morning so we could observe this huge hawk perched on a light post just outside the window as well. (Sorry, no picture for that one.) I swear we do more than just look at cows and birds in my class though!

Books in my classroom library:

It's going to be a full year. I'm pretty excited for it, even while a bit anxious.

And, like any good crazy ultrarunner, I have still managed to scrape out a few running adventures.

I finally made it back to the Bay to Bliss (aka The Emerald Bay Trail Run). This year, instead of running this point-to-point 7.5 mile trail race along Lake Tahoe, then running from the finish back to the start (like I did in 2009), I did it in reverse. I arrived at the finish just before dawn to run through an incredible lakeshore sunrise to the starting line. This is definitely the way to do it!


I met a few friends at the start, like Dave and Turi:

And Meghan!

Best finish line ever ...

I also had the pleasure last week of playing trail angel for the baddest assest southbounder on the PCT - ultrarunning's own Leslie!

 She is now somewhere loving up the High Sierra. Go Leslie!!

And speaking of High Sierra, my last big adventure of the year was 37 miles of it with Jamie, Caren, and Clare. We got our butts kicked but our hearts filled running through Yosemite and the Ansel Adams Wilderness this past Sunday. (More to come on this one in an upcoming post, I hope!)

Sometimes just getting started is the hardest part. Yes, I love the potential of a fresh start. But the anxieties of September are the same ones from childhood. So many questions to be answered. 

Once the gun goes off and you're five miles into the race, warmed-up and smiling, all those anxieties just seem to melt away.

I'm looking forward to the fall colors and cool days of October.