Monday, November 24, 2008

If A Garmin Falls In The Forest

...and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? Or will it make a sound even if there is someone there who should hear it?

Answer: No.

Don't worry, this story ends well, unlike the sad debacle that was the Michigan-Ohio State game. Or at least the UM-OSU game ended well for some people who will remain nameless THOUGH YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE.

I decided I needed a change of scenery for my long run Saturday so I drove up to the Lakelands Trail State Park in Stockbridge. It was a brilliant, frigid late fall morning; the temperature was around 25 degrees. The trail was covered with snow, but I had a pair of YakTrax so I was not worried about slipping. I wanted to do at least 10 miles if not 12 on this lovely straight, level, out-and-back path. My iPod was freshly charged and beefed up with some new tunes and I set out at a nice casual pace. My fingers promptly froze and then thawed out around mile 2.

Around mile 3 I felt the familiar twinges of the beast in my gut and knew that sooner or later I was going to have to pull over. Fortunately the trail passes through rural farmland and woods so I was assured of privacy (and of course there was no one else out there on the trail with me-- only crazy people go running when it's that cold). I peeked at Garmy at 3.74 miles and just after mile 4 I took my leave to the side of the trail. I battled briefly with some groping thorn bushes that wanted to do away with my earband and sank their teeth into my nice New Balance NBx top-- goddammit let GO, fuckers!-- and took care of Business. I was back on the trail and feeling much better when I looked down at my wrist because something about it felt odd, sort of light and airy, and suddenly my good mood vanished, vaporized like my breath in the cold air, because Garmy was no longer on my arm.


I screeched to a halt and turned around. Wild thoughts blew through my head: It can't be that far away, because I just looked at it at 3.74 miles, and I know that wasn't that far back, I took my pit stop just after mile 4, it has to be close by, OH PLEASE LET IT BE CLOSE BY OH MY GOD! I ran back the way I came, eyes frantically scanning back and forth across the trail. I knew its black band would stand out against the white snow. I thought: I wonder if it fell on the ground when I was going to the bathroom? Those bushes were pretty grabby, maybe one got a hold of it in just the right place and popped it off my wrist. I began looking for the spot where I had stopped. Everything looked the same: tangled bare twigs, lumpy snow. Would I be able to find it? I stopped again. I knew I had gone too far. I turrned around. There. There it was. The place where I had stopped. And LO AND BEHOLD, THERE WAS GARMY LYING IN THE SNOW. I thrashed through the bushes and snatched it up. It was still faithfully whirring along (my pace was now 17:30/mile) and I brushed the clumps of snow from its face and wrapped it around my wrist so tightly it hurt. Oh, Garmy, I almost lost you!

For the remainder of my run (I ended up doing 12 miles-- 12 agonizingly slow, ankle-bending, knee-twisting miles over the very uneven trail, uneven because horse hooves have ripped it to shreds and the cloaking snow cover lay just so in all the cavities) I remained extra-conscious of its presence, sneaking peeks at it constantly, swinging my arm farther out so I could see its red case out of the corner of my eye.

Strange coincidence of the day: as I was listening to the Fleet Foxes' "White Winter Hymnal" I came across a trail of blood spanning the path; I suspected a wounded deer had crossed there. It's firearm deer hunting season in Michigan and I wasn't surprised to find this. The bright red blood stood out alarmingly against the snow. There is a line in "White Winter Hymnal" that says "turn the white snow red as strawberries in summertime." How freakishly weird that just as I heard it, I came across the blood trail, yes, red as strawberries against the white snow.

Speaking of snow, it's snowing here. Again.

Oh, and this is my 200th post. Yippee!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Past Lives

Viper recently re-revealed he used to be a hockey player (and then upbraided his readership by chiding us for not remembering this tidbit of personal information).

Which got me thinking. Many of us have long-buried talents, childhood aspirations, lost dreams. For most of my life I wanted to be an artist. Instead, when I reached college I became a geologist. Art faded into the background. Then, in the summer of 1996, I went to northwest Wyoming for a month to live at a guest ranch and conduct field work for my undergraduate honors thesis as a participant in a Keck Geology Consortium project. That trip changed my life in many ways. To give you all a hint of just how much, when I die, I want my ashes to be thrown from the bridge over the Sunlight Gorge and into the river below. Sunlight Creek merges with the Clarks Fork River and the Clarks Fork empties into the Bighorn Basin. I did field work from one end of the valley to the other.

The Clarks Fork River valley, my most treasured place in this world. The Clarks Fork River runs through the deep gorge in the right-hand side of the picture; Sunlight Creek runs through the cut visible in the foreground (if you enlarge the picture you can just barely make out the bridge over the gorge on the left. Follow the highway and you'll see it.) They join just out of sight on the other side of that hill.

Towards the end of the project, after I had collected my samples, I accompanied some of my project-mates to their field area as a fun, leisurely activity. With nothing better to do, I found myself drawing in my field notebook. Soon enough my simple sketches had blossomed into art like I hadn't made in years. My field notebook became the one place where my artistic talent, long-unused, could flourish.

The mouth of the Clarks Fork River, Wyoming. A spectacular exposed tilted sequence of Paleozoic strata is visible. That sort of thing is enough to make a geologist squeal with delight.

The same section, viewed from the ground. This picture was aken by John in 1994 during the University of Michigan's summer geology field camp, two years before I made my drawing.

Clarks Fork Canyon, Wyoming, slightly upstream from the previous picture.

The Clarks Fork canyon. I took this picture the day I made my sketch.

I went to western Ireland after graduation in 1997 for five weeks for my geology field camp experience. There were 25 of us living at a educational center in the small village of Clonbur. I learned to drink beer at the pubs in the village, where we would go in the evenings after dinner and homework were complete. Lush Ireland, as far as drawing went, was the opposite of dry, brown, rocky Wyoming. My sketches, though predominantly different shades of green, still brought me pleasure in their creation.

Finny, County Mayo, Ireland.

Lough Corrib, near Clonbur, County Galway, Ireland.

Once my learnin' days were over (I finished my MS in 2000), my drawin' days were too. The last entry in my field book is from May 12, 2000, ending the renaissance of drawing in my life.

Sometimes I think I should have continued with drawing, somehow combining my love of rocks with my love of art. How could I fit opera singing and running in there, too? That would be one wacky career.

(P.S. Ohio State 42, Michigan 7. I knew it was a very, very long shot to hope for a big win to put a shine on this awful season, but it was not meant to be. I will, however, continue in the grand tradition of Clevelanders by saying, "Wait until next year!" Your team won this round, sir...but watch out.)

(P.P.S. For those truly gluttonous for punishment, here's my thesis research from the 1997 Keck Symposium conference volume. Yeah, I was-- and still am-- a total nerd.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

White Winter Hymnal

(With apologies to Fleet Foxes.)

The snow fell on Sunday, huge lazy drifting flakes that gently covered the last remains of fall's scattered leaves. The bird feeders grew puffy helmets; a male cardinal paused for some sunflower seeds, bright red against the white. I, in my Sunday not-so-best (comfy pants and fleece), spent the day ensconced in warmth, feet tucked into wool clogs, nestled in a blanket on the sofa with the two tabbies by my side. Guilt at not going out for a long run nagged at me only slightly. I was having a difficult time coming to grips with the sudden change of seasons. I knew that the surprise Indian summer weather of two weeks ago would never last; however, I just wasn't prepared to have winter shoved in my face so soon.

Monday morning when I released the hound into the backyard at 5:45 the frigid air reached in through the open door and slapped me in the face. A few flakes were still spiraling out of the sky and my motivation to go out withered, black and dead as the leaves on my basil plant after the first frost. I fled for the warmth and safety of the gym where I did three insufferable miles on the treadmill and then caught up on my celebrity gossip with Us Magazine while pedaling on the recumbent bike.

This morning I steeled myself. No more of this lackadaisical foolishness. The cold weather is here to stay and I need to accept that it will be around for five more months. I cannot run on the treadmill all winter.

I strapped myself into my cold-weather best (Asics Thermopolis pants, Pearl Izumi thick base layer, Asics Storm Shelter jacket, Sugoi neck tube, hat, gloves) and stepped onto the crackling snow on my doorstep. It was 19 degrees F. The sky was clear, the stars brilliant. The nearly full moon hung low in the sky, its still-bright light making the fresh snow glow. My breath plumed in the cold as I crunched down my driveway. I set off and the cold air burned into my lungs, brought a flood of tears to my eyes. My fingers and nose grew numb and protested this cruel treatment.

By mile 1 I was warm inside my clothes, the first beads of sweat moistening the band of my hat. By mile 2 the first hint of light appeared on the eastern horizon, the coming sunrise ready to do battle with the moonlight casting my shadow ahead of me, blue on the snow. The streets of my town were deserted; only the truly brave, hardcore, or insane would venture out on foot at this hour, in this cold. By mile 3 I thought: Why did I wait this long? Why did I fight so hard? This is delicious and refreshing! By mile 4 I felt like I could have run 4 more, but alas, duty called and I crunched up the driveway in the opposite direction.

I am now ready to take on the worst a Michigan winter has to offer. Bring it.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Spreading Far and Wide

My little blog is turning up in unexpected places these days!

When I started this blog almost a year and a half ago I did not anticipate that more than a handful of people, mainly close friends and family, would ever bother reading it. Who would want to listen to me complain about weight loss and running road races, of all things? Why would anyone be the least bit interested in what kind of shoes I wear or the things I eat? (speaking of that green lentil soup, I made it for dinner the other night and it was, as always, fabulous.)

Now I have y'all, my fellow running bloggers (or would that be blogging runners?)-- close by, far away, some I've met in person, others I hope to someday (soon!), fellow foodies, boozers, beer lovers (those last two might be interchangable, actually), the similarly tabby-obsessed, the inspirational, the hilarious, and everything in between. I'm continually flattered and pleased that you take the time to stop by this sweaty, smelly corner of the blogosphere.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Font of All Useless Knowledge

Scene: the gym, about 6:30 am this morning. I am rifling through the piles of magazines for some reading material for my elliptical session. I find the latest issue of Us Magazine (OMG Jessica Alba's post-baby diet! style tips from Lauren Conrad!) and then unearth the holy grail of gym magazines: Runner's World! I pull it out and then look quizzically at the cover. "London Marathon! Khalid Khannouch breaks his world record and sets new world record of 2:05:38!"

Wait a minute...I think. Exactly how OLD is this magazine? Haile Gebrselassie just set the world record of 2:03:59 in Berlin at the end of September and he broke the world record he set in Berlin last year!

I flip rapidly through the interior of the magazine and discover it's from July 2002. (Why a six-year-old magazine is at my gym, I have no idea.) This magazine is so old Deena Kastor is still shown as Deena Drossin!

Then I think, Oh my god...I have achieved a new level of dorkdom. Not only did I instantly know this magazine had to be hopelessly out of date because of the obsolete marathon world record on the cover, I knew the name of the current record holder, his world record time, and the race at which he ran it.

I am not sure whether to be proud of or kind of scared of the fact that I know these things.

Edited to add: ALL RIGHT I CONFESS, I LOVE CELEBRITY GOSSIP. OKAY? I'm sorry to burst y'all's bubble, but I am NOT the intellectual and cultural snob you think I am. I read Us Magazine (and OK! and In Touch when I find them) at the gym and every single day I visit my favorite celeb gossip Web site: The Superficial. I have to stay abreast of all celebrity news.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Race Report: Ann Arbor Turkey Trot 5K (2008 Version)

37 degrees and spitting rain.

In other words, a fantastic day for racing!

This was the third year in a row that I ran the Tortoise and Hare Ann Arbor Turkey Trot. It was at this race in 2006 that I commenced Phase II of my running life by finishing-- without walking!-- in a time of 32:58. Last year, with substantially more running under my belt, I finished in 25:01. This year, having already broken my 5K PR twice, run another half marathon and my first marathon, I didn't really know what to expect. I haven't run a 5K race since June. I've backed off from the high mileage weeks I was putting in before the marathon (though I ran 28 miles last week, which isn't exactly skimping on the miles) and I haven't been concentrating on speed work (my warm afternoon of 800s notwithstanding). I just wanted to get out and have a good time and whatever happened, happened.

The first thing that happened is I saw one of my RF501 training group partners, Ted of the Blue Shirt. I miss seeing everyone from the group every week now that the training season is over so that was a nice surprise.

The local high school cross country teams were out in full force, as they always seem to be for this particular race. Indeed, one of the standouts from Saline High School won the women's race with a time of 18:21.

I inserted myself into the pack close to the front because this was one of those races with a chip mat only at the end so the closer I was to the starting line, the more accurate my time would be. It was astoundingly cold so I bounced up and down in place to keep limber.

I did the first mile in 7:30 and held that pace or even slightly better for the rest of the race. This was a novel development, as I am overly prone to going out too fast and then fading with each successive mile. I didn't feel that drain this morning. I felt strong for the duration and cruised to a time of 23:10 (Garmy said 23:04, but whatever) which was good enough for third in my age group. Immediately after the race I saw Kara, another one of my RF501 comrades, who totally rocked her 5K (you go girl!).

I improved my time over last year's by 1:51 and ran my second-fastest 5K ever. Not bad for a Sunday stroll in the park. I also shaved my Shave Your 5K Challenge Stubble Time (23:19) by nine seconds, which was, let's be honest, my primary goal today. Even if I fail to reduce the stubble any more for the rest of the year, I can say I pared 9 seconds off my stubble time.

Final stats:

23:10 (7:28/mile average)
3/33 age group, award-worthy, though I don't know what I won since I didn't want to stand around freezing my ass off waiting for the 10K to finish
86/376 overall (I don't know about my place among the women)
Second-fastest 5K time ever!
2 friends/fellow runners encountered
ZERO: Race T-shirt, as I was not one of the first 600 participants because I uncharacteristically did not preregister (adopting a "wait and see approach" to the weather situation) and therefore, doing race day registration and becoming participant #662, I did not receive a race shirt, which really irked me for two reasons: one, because THERE WERE BOXES OF THEM STILL LYING AROUND AFTER THE RACE, and, two, because this year's shirt was a technical tee in a choice of colors, which was a vast improvement over last year's lackluster heather-grey cotton tee which is the most boring race shirt I have in my collection.

Additionally, I think that as an age-group award winner I should get a goddamn race shirt on principle.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Get The Lead Out

I received an unexpected gift yesterday afternoon: a couple of free hours courtesy of my employer, who kindly saw fit to release everyone early in order to vote. I had my bag o' athletic equipment in my car because I went to the gym early Tuesday morning, so once I had finished voting, I changed inside the community center and headed out to the track for a good hard run.

The weather up here this week has been unbelievable, people. It's NOVEMBER, and it has been 70 degrees. I was wearing shorts and a T-shirt and the warm sun and gentle breeze felt like summer. I did a couple of warmup miles (8:30, 8:31) and then got down to business. I decided to bust out a few 800s, shake the dust off my legs that's been accumulating since the marathon and remind them that yes, they can go fast.

3:34, 3:32, 3:32, and 3:32. I don't know how I did it. Consistency is not my middle name.

But damn it felt good. There's nothing like a really hard run to make you feel alive! Or alive once you straighten up from gasping with your hands on your knees.

I wrapped up my 2-mile cooldown and went inside to my Weight Watchers meeting and I lost another 1.6 lbs. I'm back over the 60-pound hump. Next stop: 65 lbs. I reached that point way back in May and then got derailed. I've been fighting over the same 5-8 lbs since then and I'm determined to pass 65 and head for 70 which would put me at 148 lbs. I'm going to get there, by golly!

Speaking of other things that are making me happy today, for the first time ever, the Presidential candidate for whom I voted WON. It is a wonderful feeling.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Least Creative Costume Ever

You know you're a runner when... dress up as one for Halloween. Or would that be you dress up as yourself?

My shirt and headband say it all, I think.

Last night John and I went to a Halloween party at a local brewpub. I wanted to fully participate in the spirit of the evening; however, lacking in both creativity and advance planning skills, I decided to dress up as the runner me. A pair of tights, "Obsessed Runner" shirt, a bunch of old race bibs, and my marathon jacket later, I was all set.

Enjoying some Espresso Love. My eyes are closed because it's that good.

Don't mind John. He just got out of prison. (Grand theft auto, if you must know. Prisoner number 8675309.)

With my Brasserie Blonde. Or maybe it was the Sacred Cow IPA at this point...I don't really know...

Me and my fellow beer-a-holic friend Patti (dressed up as Britney Spears) who can also be seen here.

And no, I did not bounce out of bed this morning and go for a long run like I had intended. Why do you ask?