Not Born To Run: A year in the life of ultra-running in 20 slides

Or, how I ended up wearing hurache sandals next to Silvino Cubesare Quimare.

In case you missed it, here’s the slideshow I presented for the Mount Desert Island Pecha Kucha event at the Bar Harbor Inn on March 19, 2014.


I’m still nursing a pretty serious bout of plantar fasciitis in my right foot, so I’m trying to figure out what fun trail endeavors will be possible this year. In the mean time, I’m open to any and all original advice on how to heal my heel. (I’m a barefoot runner, please don’t tell me to run barefoot, I wear all kinds of shoes and they only makes things worse, I’m a yogi and my calves and hamstrings are super loose, I eat well and I’ve spent the last five months strengthening my gluteus, adductors and outer shins)

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Thawing winter habits so you can jump into spring

A niggling, growing urge to bust out of winter

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“Is it spring yet?”. (A snow-covered bear resting in her den.)

My daughter and I were just sitting in a sunny warm spot on our couch listening to a lovely story about crocuses blooming (Sparkle Stories are the best!). When, alas, as the story ended our eyes rested on the piles of icy snow that still blanket our yard. With forecasts in the zeros and another big storm on the way our moods are not feeling very springy. The cozy, tucked-in feeling of winter is no longer comforting or nourishing – instead it’s starting to feel pretty claustrophobic and stagnant about now . . .

Emerging from the den

There is a funny paradox during this Spring-on-the-way time of year. One foot firmly rooted in the dark bear-den of winter with the other tentatively reaching out for the soft tickle of green grass.  We long for spring but we are reluctant to give up our winter comforts. Maybe it’s the primeval drive to insulate ourselves that keeps us from wanting to swap out the ice cream, meat loaf, lattes and waffles or in my house the fresh out the oven cashew butter cookies and coconut milk cocoa. We long for the promise of bright-green-goodness only to get sucked back into the stale, bland heaviness of winter. We are like grumpy late winter bears roaming the bleak blackbearawakelandscape, raiding bird feeder and returning to our dens worse then when we left.

Like bears, humans are creatures of habit and winter is just long enough for us to form some very tenacious habits. For the last 14 years I have done one form or another of a Spring Cleanse and I want to share with you the strategies that have helped me effectively change my habits over the years. How do I break up the winter ice and jump into what can feel like very chilly water!?

Four strategies to help you change your habits

1)   Pick a plan and commit to it.

You can juice kale until you pee green, eat brown rice until it comes out your nose or feast on watermelon until you are pre-diabetic but basically any effective cleanse routine is a cleverly disguised way of getting you to give up your beloved processed, packaged, refined flours, sugars, fats and chemical crap. Just by giving up the crap your liver will begin to heal and your gut biota will blossom. Though hotly debated among modern-health-freaks, I would argue that the specifics of what you ingest instead of the crap is less important than committing to not eating the crap.

2)   Pick a start and end date and commit to them.

There really is never a perfect time to do a cleanse. Trying to ride the natural momentum during the change of seasons is super helpful but not necessary. No matter which month you pick I guarantee there will be a holiday, birthday, wedding, anniversary, family vacation or race right in the middle of your supposed cleanse time. Pick a start date. Since you are committed to completing the cleanse, you’re also going to commit to navigating those events in a way that they become part of your cleanse success.

3)   Have no doubt that you will be able to do what you need to do to succeed.

Self-efficacy is your belief in your ability to complete a task or reach a goal. When it comes to seasonal cleansing I have both failed and succeeded. I’ve failed in the sense than I have been miserable enough to quit and fall back (hard) into bad habits. Those experiences significantly lowered my sense of self-efficacy heading into my next round of seasonal cleansing. Instead of skipping out, I simply set the bar lower. I picked a regime that eliminated some but not all crap or I made sure I would have enough calories to keep me calm and out of binge mode. Over the years I’ve succeeded more often than  failed. This is because the great thing about cleansing is that you get to set your own rules. Remember, the goal is to eat less crap. There are a lot of plans to help you do this but the best one is the one you will actually do. When I lead my group cleanses I provide a very clear set of rules, but I also encourage participants to add their own rules such that they can start the cleanse with a strong sense of self-efficacy.

4)   Set yourself up for success.

Believing you are going to succeed means planning for success. Effectively changing a habit requires actual effort. You’ll need to stop wishing for change and actually get up out of your barka-lounger, take that tub of margarine out of your fridge and throw it out. Along with the chips, popcorn and peanut oil hiding in your cupboard. I pack a box of foods I want to avoid during my cleanse but know I will come back to later (i.e. maple syrup) and put it in storage for the duration. It makes it so much easier to stick to the plan when the only food in your house is the food you’ve committed

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to eating during the cleanse. Which also means you’ve planned ahead and stocked your fridge and cupboards with this food. The quickest way to fail a cleanse is to starve yourself the first day because of poor planning and then find yourself mysteriously in front of a plate of cookies or chips.

That’s it. Four strategies that will help you successfully transition from the dark, sucking weight of winter into the bright, lightness of spring. Register now for my April 1-21 Spring Cleanse if you are ready to commit to a start and end date.

Healing achilles tendonitis and plantar fasciitis

Too much of a good thing

I had planned on finishing my 2013 six month ultra running and racing season with the Mount Desert Island Marathon on October 20. But then a couple late season opportunities came up that I just didn’t want to pass up. The main one being the 100k La Ruta Run trail race in Costa Rica. That meant that I had to prolong my season by an unplanned month. A wiser me would have turned that month into a nice long relaxing sauna-session, focusing more on heat training than over training. But the newbie ultra-runner in me didn’t feel confident enough to leave well-enough alone and during the few weeks after the MDI marathon I stacked up a couple 30 mile training runs and then some short fast trail races. It was a really fun month and I figured why take a break when nothing’s broken? 

Ouch, that heel pain.

I knew I was in trouble the week before La Ruta when I felt a tell-tale sharp pain in my right heel. Fortunately I had a taper week ahead of me and I spent most of it on a bus toodling around San Jose. The dull achy pain migrated around my heel from side to side and front to back. Not always worse in the morning, sometimes completely gone, and then back again. I don’t take pain killers and I didn’t have any tape so I just kind of hoped for the best during the race itself. Which in the end turned out to be fine and almost entirely pain free despite the 8,000 feet or so of elevation gain. Compared to how Joe Fejes describes his achilles pain during his six day run at Across the Years, I got off easy!

The straw that broke the runner’s tendon

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If I had just stopped there I might have spared myself, but noooo, the Crows were planning an early morning Thanksgiving run up and down Cadillac Mountain, how could I possibly miss that? Coming down the mountain I felt an ominous crackling in my Achilles tendon. It’s a feeling no runner wants to feel. That “oh shit, this is going to take a long time to heal” feeling. I limped home and pretended I was fine while standing on my feet all day cooking.

The next day my sister and her kids invited us on a hike up and over Champlain Mountain. Again, how could I possibly miss that? Four hours into the hike my foot and ankle throbbed and burned and I whimpered back to the car, tail between my legs. I know better. Really I do. A week off turned into a month, and then another month started to slip by. I ran 8 miles total  in December. I wasn’t too bummed because I had planned to take it easy for a month anyway, but when middle January rolled around and I was still limping I decided it was time to get more serious about healing myself.

1) Identify the obvious source of stress

I had stopped running but my injury wasn’t healing. There must be another source of stress causing the tendon and fascia to stay inflamed. One obvious culprit was my diet. Ever since the VT50 I had really let my diet slip. Gu and Tailwind (or any sports drink) are like gateway drugs for me. Add a few holidays to that and suddenly sugar and grains had crept into almost all of my meals. A muffin here, a cookie there. Here a pie, there a pie, every where a pie pie . . .  until a couple of weeks into the New Year I looked in the mirror and noticed a pair of puffy tired eyes staring back at me. As if the Achille’s pain wasn’t enough of a warning sign now I was showing other signs of systemic inflammation. My back ached, my period was painful, my sleep was sucking and my mood was bleak.

2) Take away the most obvious source of stress

Out went all the sugar and grains. In came at least 30 different vegetables and fruits a week, a good amount of super-high quality protein in the form of locally raised and pastured furry and feathered beasts and super-high quality fats like avocado and coconut. Within a week my heel pain had subsided enough to get back to running every other day. The third week I ran 35 miles and this past week I joyfully skied 60 pain-free miles. (Why run when you can ski?).

 3) Prevent future occurrence

I’ve been backing up my clean-diet with some other  healing strategies. First, I’m trying to get 8-9 hours of sleep a night, especially on the days I’m running.  I’m not great at this but I’m working on it because there is a ton of evidence that sleep promotes recovery and decreases inflammation. Second, I’m cross-training as much as possible by xc skiing, biking on my inside trainer when it’s really crappy (or dark) out, and swimming, and third, I’m working my ass off. Literally.

Look for other sources of stress or causes of imbalance

Besides treating the systemic inflammation, I need address the obvious alignment and strength issues that I know added extra stress to my Achilles tendon and right foot during that period overtraining at the end of the season. My achilles was just the weakest link in a stressed out chain. To heal that link I’ve got to strengthen the whole chain.

I’m practicing glute and adductor strength routines four days a week (classic Pilates mat classes plus this “myrtl” routine). I’m also consciously working to keep my intrinsic core muscles awake and firing while I run. To help with my alignment I’ve gotten a few chiropractic adjustments though ultimately my left hip is so dysplastic that skeletal symmetry is not going to happen for me in this life time. The adjustments do seem to help me access my glute and hamstring muscles more and I think that helps take some load off my right foot.

Becoming my own expert

Over the last few months I’ve researched a lot of advice about plantar fasciitis (aka fasciosis) and Achilles tendonitis (aka tendonosis). There are “experts” coming from all different angles. Some say you need more arch support, some say you need to go bare foot, some say you need flat shoes, some say you should only run with heel lifts. Some say you just need to align your toes and stretch the front of your ankles while others say you should align your hips and stretch your calves. Some say only run on flat even surfaces and others say trails and hills are the way to go. What all of this tells me is that the origins of pain in the lower leg and foot are varied and complex. Ultimately:

The key to resolving pain is to bring the system back into balance. How you do that depends on what took you out of balance in the first place.

As a yoga teacher and an athlete I have a few generalized templates of balanced alignment and action that I keep in mind as I help people reduce their stress and get out of pain. I often know what I need to do in my own body to get there and I can often help other people move toward balance too, but the reality seems to be that human health is an ongoing experiment. Not all things work for all people, we are biological not mechanical and the attributes of sensitivity and responsiveness are critical in a healthy biological system.

You are the experiment

That’s why at no point in this injury cycle have I been tempted by the quick-fixes of pain killers or shots. I need the sensation of pain as feedback to assess my healing strategies. I need to know if I got enough sleep the night before, if running barefoot or in shoes (and which shoes) is helping or hurting, and I need to know how that breakfast of turkey and spinach is treating me. I don’t need an expert to tell me to avoid lateral standing poses in my yoga practice (side angle, triangle, warrior 1 and 2 . . .) when I have the wisdom of pain to warn me away, and I don’t need a company-funded study to tell me that their $500 pair of orthotics is my only salvation when a cheap pair of boots with the insoles taken out feels great.

The usefulness of pain

Pain is complicated but it’s not that complicated. At a basic level pain provides us with critical information about how we’re managing the stressors in our lives be they emotional, environmental, dietary, biomechanical or other.  We think pain is complicated when we’re sure we’ve done all that we can to mitigate the stress but the pain persists. And it’s true, sometimes you’ve done all you can but your pain is in fact a result of a stress that is not under your direct control. When you are in this kind of pain it can really really suck to realize that you are not the master of your own universe. I’ve had this experience too many times (like the time my wrist bone broke and died and then took three painful years to dissolve and in the mean time I couldn’t open doors or slice my own bread. Holy crap that sucked.)

Pain is a sign of stress

The message of pain is “You are overloaded by the amount of stress in your life”. Stress from a combination of sources that are personal to you (accident, illness, birth defect, environmental, diet, life style, relationship etc.) You can respond at the first niggle of pain, or like me you can wait until the pain becomes intolerable. Either way your response should be to systematically remove the stressors that you can, starting with the easiest and most obvious ones. Hopefully for most of us most of the time this will give us relief. For me diet is one of the easiest places to start and that’s why I offer my seasonal cleanses – because it is my experience that by removing dietary and some key life style stressors pain often resolves itself. At best it’s cheap, low risk self-care, at worst it’s a good start.

When a clean diet and rest aren’t enough

For those of you actually experiencing plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendonitis I want to share some of the useful resources I’ve come across. Remember, there are as many ways to get back into balance as there are ways to get out. Some people need to take their shoes off, some need to put shoes on. Some people need to strengthen their feet and some people need to strengthen their butt. The key is to be sensitive and responsive – which means sensible and responsible in your own recovery process. Sometimes pain just needs you to change your socks, sometimes it needs you to change your life.

Resources

I’m absolutely loving ROLL Recovery‘s R8 contraption. The cost seems totally outrageous but considering how expensive bodywork is it has more than paid for itself over the past month. Seriously, the ability to work trigger points along the sides of my shins and ankles and get blood flowing to the belly of my calves and hamstrings, plus the targeted work I can do on my ITB (not just smashing and trashing it with a foam roller) is absolutely fantastic. Oh, and I’m using it to tease apart the scar tissue from that old wrist injury too . . .

As a barefooter with good strong feet I found the Sock-Doc’s recommendations for foot and ankle stretches to be really helpful.

If you are a shoe-wearer Dr. Ray McClanahan at Northwest Foot and Ankle has some good thoughts on how poor foot wear and toe alignment can contribute to PF and AT.

And here’s another one geared toward how stiff ankles and wearing shoes with toe-spring might contribute to plantar fasciitis. I don’t wear stiff shoes with toe-spring, but if you do, you’ll want to check this article out.

And finally, if your misery needs company listen to Caity McCardell’s funny and poignant rant about her own struggles with plantar fasciitis and the wide spectrum of remedies she’s tried.

21 Day Spring Detox – 2014

Spring Detox

Spring Detox April 1-21, 2014

Your body is super smart, all you have to do is give it a break and it will start to heal. Just like that. Nothing fancy required, just a simple break from processed, refined, packaged food and over-scheduled lifestyle stress. Chances are you could use a little help taking this kind of break, and that’s what my group cleanses are all about.

Are you ready to embark on a 21-Day transformative food journey?

First Time Cleansers register and PAY HERE $155 via Pay Pal
Returning Cleansers register and PAY HERE $110 via Pay Pal

Need to know more?

farmacySustainable, life-changing, seasonal cleansing is not about starvation and fasting yourself into a binge-worthy state of depletion. It’s not even about getting squeaky clean and green.

It’s about eating just the right amount of good, real, homemade food to nourish your cells and your soul. It’s about convincing your body that you are a trustworthy ally and that you can be counted on to rest it, feed it, love it and exercise it.

When you’re body feels your love and devotion, when you give it time to off-load the junk and on-load the love, it will begin the process of deep renewal and healing.

It’s about learning what your body needs to thrive. So much of my cleanses are about teaching the cool ins and outs of body-maitenance, from blood sugar to hormones, clear skin to constipation, and a whole lot of fun and easy to apply Ayurvedic philosophy. I love inspiring you to feel  great in your body.

Spring Cleanse Details:

1. Six live, group webinars/teleseminars where I fill your head with great information and inspiration, and then you get to ask questions. You have the option of watching useful and fun slides on your computer while I talk. You can also listen to and watch the recording later on your computer or download the audio to your computer or mp3 player. Calls will be every fourth night from 7:00-8:30pm (EST) and recordings will be available immediately following. The first call is Tuesday April 1 at 7:00PM.

2. Clean Living Guide (fifth edition). A comprehensive guide that contains all the information you need to prepare for this particular 21-day Spring Cleanse including menus, recipes, daily practices, a Quick Start Guide and much much more. It will be available as a pdf to download the week before the course starts. This guide is only available to cleanse participants.

3. Online group forum to discuss, ask, collaborate, inspire and commiserate with fellow participants.

4. Daily blog posts that address common cleanse issues and your questions to help keep you informed, motivated and inspired throughout.

5. Two local meetings in Blue Hill for local participants to meet each other and share your experiences. (RSVP: Wednesday April 2, 5:30-7pm  and Sunday April 13, 4-5:30pm).

6. Hand-holding. You can call me, email me or bump into me on the street. I’m here to guide you into (and out of) an optimal cleanse experience.

yourenutssmWhat kind of cleanse is this??

It has been proven over and over that humans thrive on a wide variety of diets, from all vegetables to all meat, from low fat to all fat, from all greens to all oranges . . . And that yes, ultimately a diet of moderation in all things should keep most humans healthy and happy.

But the reality is that most of us are pretty far out of balance to start with. Our guts are damaged from a lifetime of chronic dehydration, processed foods and antibiotics.  Our blood sugar is whacked out from our caffeine, sugar and snack habits. Our metabolism is a train wreck of stress and over or under eating and training. Which is why a temporarily austere diet correction, such as a Spring Cleanse can be very helpful. One that let’s you heal your gut, balance your blood sugar and reset your metabolism so that you can thrive even when your diet isn’t perfect.

Bring yourself back into balance

Plan 1 is for those who are run-down, tired, weaker than normal, get cold easily, don’t like to fuss about food, nursing mothers (baby is at least 12 months old), and vegetarians and vegans. This plan includes eating the traditional Ayurvedic kitchari mono-diet (a specially spiced one-pot-meal of warm mung beans and rice) for 7-10 days. You will also take gentle liver cleansing herbs and teas, and enjoy a vegetable-rich diet before and after your week of kitchari.

Plan 2 Is all about balancing your blood sugar, kicking your sugar habit, reducing inflammation and healing long-term allergies (including asthma and eczema). This is a grain and bean free, vegetable-full, meat and nuts diet plan that will create a vital relationship between you, the plant world and your kitchen!  There is a vegan option that includes the use of beans and fermented soy products. The goal of this plan is to eat a HUGE variety of vegetables raw and cooked (we’re going to have a little competition to see who can eat the most different kinds of vegetables in 21 days). It ends with you sugar-free and vibrantly healthy.

Both plans are complimented by the use of traditional Ayurvedic herbs and spices and a daily self-care routine.

There is no perfect cleanse. There is no one way to detox. I am here to support you in developing your own deep-listening so that your relationship to food is joyful, creative and naturally intuitive!

First Time Cleansers: $155




Returning Cleansers: $110




If you don’t like paypal you can send or hand me a check  (Charlotte Clews, POB 1333, Blue Hill, ME 04614)
please include your email address so I can send you the ebooks and the webinar registration information. 

Outrunning the polar vortex

Learn to love the cold

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When I raced cross-country skiing in high school and college, -4F was the official low cut-off temp for competition. Because of this we spent many weekends standing around in our thin spandex suits freezing our asses off waiting for the mercury to rise a scant millimeter. I don’t remember any spectators at our races, probably because they were all hiding in their cars wishing their child had joined the swim team instead.

We would take turns zipping out and back on the course to warm up (futile, but better than freezing to death in place) and peeing in the bushes (less effort spent heating the water in your bladder means more energy available to heat your toes). It was during those sub-zero races that I learned the insulating value of nose hair and eyelashes, what real lung-burn feels like and how cold is too cold. I also learned the secret to loving winter:

Get outside everyday no matter what and keep moving.

The key to getting myself out the door is a non-judgmental attitude when it comes to weather. Weather is not good or bad. It is guaranteed to happen no matter what I think about it, so I try not to waste my energy thinking about it. A grudge will only slow me down and make my toes colder. I try to go out the door with my shoulders rolled back ready to receive whatever the day gives.

Winter running

Dress based on how confident you are that you’ll be able to keep moving

Running, skiing, hiking or walking in sub zero temps is only dangerous if you are forced to come to a halt.How much cold weather gear you choose to bring with you when you head out the door depends on how much you trust yourself to get back to the door without being forced to stop or slow down along the way. As long as you’re moving, you don’t need much. While I might fetch wood mostly naked I wear a bit more when I head out on to the trails for a run. But not too much more because I don’t like to be a sweaty mess, plus I’ve always had a minimalist streak – I prefer light and fast. Partly because I’m cheap and partly because I like trusting my body as much as my gear.

Here’s what I wore and why this morning on an eight mile ran up and down Cadillac Mountain at AcadiaNational Park. I started at 6am, it was still dark and the thermometer read 1˚F.*

• A neck gaiter is a must for sub zero temps. I like my synthetic Buff

Charlotte on Cadillac

because it is thin enough to breathe through but thick enough to keep my nose, cheeks and ears frost-bite free. When it’s really cold it freezes solid with my breath and creates a wind proof layer over my face – which is just what’s needed when it’s that cold. I also wear a thicker fleece neck warmer around my ears and a pair of Swix ear warmers, because I find most hats don’t come far enough down over my ear lobes. Once you’ve had your ears frost-nipped you’re unlikely to let it happen again.

• Thin, wind proof gloves are less sweaty than fleece mittens and good for adjusting laces and clothing without exposing flesh, but they won’t stay warm if you are forced to slow down. Sometimes I stick a pair of homemade waterproof mitten shells in the back of my underwear as backup. (I made them out of the same silicon-impregnated nylon that I made my tarp-tent out of. Buy a couple yards of this stuff and the possibilities for lightweight cheap, windproof, waterproof homemade gear is endless . . .  ) This morning I opted for windproof fleece mittens and sure enough they were soaked on the inside and frozen solid on the outside by the time I got back to my car.

• When I’m road running I often wear cheap acrylic leg warmers bunched up around my ankles. They keep my feet warm without having to wear thicker socks (which would make my shoes too tight). This morning I wore a pair of short stretchy nylon gaiters to keep the deep snow out.

• The rest of my body is covered by a pair of Patagonia wind proof tights (the same ones I wore under my spandex race uniform 20 years ago**), long and short sleeve wool t-shirts and a water resistant windbreaker with a hood. I consider the tight-fitting hood part of my emergency back up gear.

Bring backup

I admit I like to play the edge on winter gear. I often ski or run a 15+ mile loop around Acadia National Park’s remote carriage roads with no more than my wind breaker tied around my waste. But a wiser athlete would pack one or two instant hand warmers, a space blanket (I saved one from my last marathon for just this purpose) and something sweet into their waist pack. That way, when you accidently end up sideways in a snow bank or limping home into a 30-knot headwind the local police beat will at least report that you were “prepared”. A friend is great backup too, there’s always the get naked and shiver together strategy . . .

Eat your warmth

I pre-fueled this morning’s run with a nice warm baked sweet potato sprinkled with unsweetened cocoa powder, coconut milk and hazelnuts. I added an extra tablespoon of coconut oil for good measure.

Oil inside, oil outside

Every day in winter I coat myself in oil head to toe. Yup, that’s right, just like Joe Uhan does. I use sesame oil (untoasted!) after every shower  - I feel naked and cold without it.

Never underestimate the value of a Hot Drink

I also always leave a thermos of hot tea in my car for when I’m done. The first few sips are truly life-giving. I find at 0˚F and below I need nearly twice as much water as I do on an average warm (30-60˚F) run. Warm water is absorbed more quickly and will keep your body warm even as you cool down post run. I also leave a change of dry clothes in my car for when I’m done running or skiing. I change right away and it helps me sustain the post-run glow until I can get warmed up inside for real.

If loving winter and cold weather running is just a matter of attitude and gear, I’m not sure why more people aren’t moving to Maine. But a least maybe after this winter’s polar-vortex, more people will fall in love with the cold?

* Some people really LOVE cold weather running. This morning Gary Allen started chasing down the Polar Vortex on his 500 mile run from the summit of Cadillac to New Jersey and the Superbowl (#maine2superbowlrun). He’s raising money for the Wounded Warrior Project. Read more here or track his run here.

**Have you seen Patagonia’s short film Worn Wear? It’s a fun look at the special bond we create with our most trustworthy gear.

Gary Allen Running #maine2superbowlrun

Gary Allen taking off down the road from the Summit of Cadillac. (Photo by Melissa Ossanna)

 

New Year’s Day 108 Sun Salutations in Blue Hill, Maine

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We’ll start at 9am at the Blue Hill Center for Yoga and go until we’re done. You can stick with me at my pace or find your own flow. Begin and end whenever you wish, but do try to arrive before 10am so you have enough time to get a good flow going and enough time for a 10 min svasana.

There will be music, warmth, light and good company. See you there!

This will be a drop-in, donation-based class.

suryanamaskar

Why get out of bed?

The perils of an embodied life

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And then some people just backbend. No existential crisis required.

In a recent yoga class I had just finished a too-legnthy rant about the perils of unskillful back bending, when a visiting student asked “Sooo, if  it’s so dangerous, why are doing backbends?” Right. Damn good question. And while we’re on the topic, I want to know, why do we even get out of bed in the morning?

Creation of a meaningful life

During my hippy, alternative grade school years I was taught numerous creation myths. Men and women born of fire and ice, emerging from divine armpits, crawling up from holes in the earth, molded from clay, brought forth on a wave and breathed into being . . .

But my favorite story remains a smashed-up version from the Indian Samkhya and Tantrik traditions. Here, a mysterious imbalance between the forces of nature (the three Gunas) compels the infinite-absolute (Shiva) to know itself more completely.  But in this limitlessness and formlessness Shiva is incapable of any kind of self-referencing experience. Thus, out of a desire to know itself more fully, Shiva becomes embodied in the limited form of the world as we know it (Shakti).

According to this version of things, the purpose of creation is to experience the full wonder and power of the universe through embodied life.

We are here to live.

And living is meant to be a fully engaged, sensory experience. At least that’s how I talk drearymainemyself out of bed every morning. Especially in the middle of December when there’s no wood in the firebox and the sun gets up to slide sideways across the horizon before disappearing again.

Why do I get out of bed in the morning?

I’m writing this to encourage my inner-hibernating-bear to stay awake. To engage with the world, with you, with my hands and my heart. As a moody intellectualist I am prone to bouts of severe depression and I don’t have the luxury of sitting around waiting for life to solve my existential crises. Purposefully engaging my hands and moving my feet provides a more potent relief than any drug can. I’ve learned this through trial and error and many many amazing mentors.

Shopcraft as Soulcraft

This is not only the title of a great book, but it is a phrase that (coincidentally) sums up everything that was right about Bill Copperthwaite’s life. No rumination on living through your hands and heart is complete without a tribute to this great man.

I first met Bill 20 years ago. After hiking nearly an hour down a rough, snowy woods trail near Bucks Harbor, Maine I came to a clearing with a yurt in the middle, smoke drifting from the chimney. Bill came out to greet me and I shook his strong hand. After I introduced myself he reminisced about working with my parents 20 years earlier on a windmill somewhere nearby and welcomed me in. Over the next month he showed me how to carve knife handles and birch baskets (he’d recently learned how on a trip to Siberia), we stewed apples and oats on the woodstove, bathed in the cold spring by the shore, and pulled up the unwanted red spruce seedlings that seemed to sprout everywhere on his land. He taught me that handcrafting is far more than a quaint, archaic pass time. It is a deeply satisfying engagement with the world and with each other. Skillful crafting requires a breathless balance between peril and flow and there is nothing more deeply satisfying to the human spirit than to walk the razor’s edge between the absolute and the infinite. I left Bill’s with a blue jay perched on my shoulder, very much wanting to live this kind of useful, happy life.

Several years later I was attempting to make myself a useful woodswoman by studying natural history and land conservation at University of Vermont’s Field Naturalist Program. Our winter ecology professor was Bernd Heinrich who also happens to be a world class ultrarunner. We spent all day literally running through the woods chasing after him while he chased down golden crowned kinglets to see where they roost. As the afternoon sun set, we would jog back to the cabin to find our all-day-stew sitting hot on the woodstove. In the evenings I stretched and drew in my field journal by lantern light, or sat by the campfire watching Orion swing overhead. Running through the woods, watching, waiting, greeting the raven’s quork. This is a useful, happy life.

Now I live in a fully finished log cabin on a dirt road. We have hot running water and a pretty efficient wood stove, it would be easy to hunker down and hibernate, to let my body soften into the couch and watch my hands and feet grow weak. Instead, each morning I wake up to nurture that little spark that willed Shiva into being. The spark of desire to discover something brand new about the world. Sunrise turning the red crest of a pileated woodpecker into a burst of flame, the feeling of my arms and legs swinging in perfect sync as I glide through the woods on my skis, an otter sliding above the stream, the divine softness of my daughter’s cheek as she rubs it against mine. There are so many reasons to get up, there are so many ways to move forward into the world. Find one. We are here to feel the edges of the infinite through the world, not in spite of it.Champlain Mountain

 

P.S. Here’s the study about standing up without your hands that I’ve been telling my yoga students about. (They all pass with flying colors).

And here’s a little bit about how exercise can change your mind.

Four Yoga Poses For Runners

Read here about the four poses I do almost everyday to balance out my less-than-perfect running form.

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Part 2: La Ruta Run, 2013 Race Report

La Ruta Run 100k & 52k Race Report, October 16, 2013

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Gallo Pinto is the traditional Tico breakfast: rice and beans fried up together with a little onion and pepper.

Race day morning started with a 4am minibus ride to a prerace breakfast of fruit and some particularly greasy gallo pinto.

When we got to the start line it was like letting a herd of antelopes out of a cage. Everyone was so psyched to finally get into the mountains to run!

40 or so racers gathered at the start line. Most were from Costa Rica, with a handful of indigenous runners from the BriBri and Cabecare tribes and some well-acclimated ex-pats. The rest of us were traveling from cooler, drier climates and were easily recognized by glisten of sweat gathering on our faces before the sun had even risen. Before the race the Tarahumara burned kopal and performed a short prayer ceremony with signing and dancing.

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The pre-race shoe lineup.

And then we were off . . .

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Headed up the first big climb looking down the valley toward Jaco (behind the clouds).

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Maria Isidora ran the 52K race in her plastic sandals. She’s carrying a water bottle, pinole and a few cookies from the aid station.  Photo by Eduardo Reyes Paniagua.

The first aid station was 14 miles and 4,000 feet of elevation gain away.  I knew I’d be slow on the more technical trail sections so I wanted to keep at least a 10 min/mile pace on the roads to make sure I would make the first cut-off time. With the heat and humidity I was pushing my edge going that fast up hill but I held steady hiking as fast as I could. I normally don’t drink much the first couple of hours of a race, but in this case I finished my full liter of water early on. The last three miles to El Sur aid station were down a steep, slick, rocky ATV trail. I slowed down considerably, admiring the skid marks that the faster runners had left behind. I was loving the traction and drainage of my brand new New Balance Minimus trail shoes and was sad that I was too slow to watch the Tarahumara run this section in their sandals. I made it to the first aid station at exactly three hours, grabbed a couple of water bottles and kept going.

Ahead was a mix of jeep trail and slick mud with several refreshing river crossings. The route follows the eastern edge of Carara National Park, which is the northern most section of remaining Pacific Coast Rain Forest, and is suitably wild and beautiful. There were toucans and aracari’s calling and emerald hermits chipping away as I ran down the steep trail trying not to grab hold of acacia trees, thorny vines or worse, vipers that look like vines. As I was picking up speed to pass three Talamanca runners, a family of rancid-onion smelling peccaries crossed the trail in front of us. The Talamanca boys were in no hurry, calling to me “Tranquillo!” as I ran by.

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Dave James making it out of the jungle well hydrated. Photo by Victor Zuñiga / 30 Grados Trail Running.

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Caballero. Photo by Barry Donaldson.

A short while later I came to another river crossing and without thinking much about it, I continued straight across and up the jeep trail on the other side. The mud was so deep and wet that it didn’t hold distinct footprints and only after 30 minutes of climbing did I begin to wonder why the Talamanca guys weren’t behind me. But they had been running slow and stopping to take breaks so I figured they were cooling off in the river below. There had been only a few orange flags marking the route thus far so I didn’t think it was odd that there were none on this section. About half way up the hill I came across a man in a jeep parked at a trail intersection. He asked me how many runners were behind me and I told him about ten. I figured he was a race volunteer and I was happy to confirm that I must be going the right way after all. I continued up the impossibly steep, slick muddy trail. It was hard not to use my hands climbing and soon I was totally covered in the sticky red tropical mud. The whole time I was thinking “holy shit, this is one hell of a course!”. Up and up I went. Another 30 minutes of climbing brought me to harder packed mud and I immediately noticed there were no sneaker or sandal tread marks here, just horse hooves. Uh oh. A little further down the trail brought me to a gorgeous overlook. I was officially at the top of whatever mountain I was on and there was definitely no aid station around. A farmer and his horse came up the trail from a field behind me. I asked him if he’d seen “anyone else with numbers on”. He looked at me the same way I would have looked at him if he’d shown up in my front yard in Maine. After a brief moment of bewilderment, his already impossibly wrinkly face crinkled up inhysterical laughter and I had to join him. It was clear I was way off route!

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Silvino Cubesare on his way to victory.

I turned around and as I plunge-stepped and glissaded down the steep muddy track. Once again I couldn’t help but love the security and traction of my shoes and I wondered how the Tarahumara navigated so much slick mud in their sandals and ran as fast as they did. (I know several of them took some nasty falls and a few had pretty sore knees at the end, but they all seemed fully recovered by the next morning.)

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Drinking pinole. Photo by Ever Obando.

Down I went. Weeee. I passed the mysterious man in the truck, and when I finally got back to the river I arrived at the same time as the last runner, Christian, with his support crew. They were on another road across the river that I hadn’t seem the first time through. Happy to be back on track but totally starving and thirsty after my detour I gladly accepted a bottle of ice cold water from Christian’s crew. A little while later I made it to the Laguna check point. I flopped down under the tent and immediately consumed the only food they had left – a dozen small potatoes, and poured the remaining salt straight into my mouth. I had another 8 miles to finish the 52k course and there was no way I was going to make it by the cut-off time to continue for the second half of the 100k.

charrunning

That’s me, lucky #16.

I was disappointed and starving. I left the Laguna aid station running but after a mile or so, I simply could not get my legs to move faster than a fast walk. I kept thinking that once the potato starch hit them they would pep-up, but they remained lead weights. Since I’d initially planned to make the 52k mark in ~7hrs I’d left the bulk of my Gu and Tailwind supply on the bus that was supposed to be waiting there. But now I was a couple hours and several hundred calories behind. Christian and his crew caught up to me and when I admitted I was ravenously hungry and had nothing left to eat they kindly shared a couple Gu packets with me . . . it was enough to keep me moving forward, albeit very slowly, for the last five miles. At about 2:45pm I was the last of the 53k racers to finish. I ate the three remaining bananas on the table and the volunteers started packing up the finish line as soon as I sat down.

Silvia Castillo Ramírez. Photo by Eduardo Reyes Paniagua.

I was incredibly grateful that I got to run as much of the course as I did, but I was sad that I got off-route and missed out on running and finishing with the group. In the end, nine of the 40 runners continued on to complete the 100k course, five of those were Tarahumara men. Silvino Cubesaré was the first man to finish with a time of 11hrs 15 mins and Katelyn Tocci , an American living in Costa Rica, was the first female in 13hrs  32mins.

I stuffed myself into the cab of the volunteer truck, along with several water coolers, the inflatable finish line and a lifetime’s supply of Red Bull. We were headed to El Rodeo to meet up with the rest of the runners who had already been bused to the 100k finish line. On the way there the volunteer crew decided to stop for food at a roadside café.

TarahumaraWaistbelt

Tarahumara hydration pack. Photo by Eduardo Reyes Paniagua.

I just about passed out! I had no money on me and I knew a gourmet post-race meal was waiting for me at El Rodeo but who was I to deprive these hard working volunteers of their chicharrónes! Another hour passed as we wound our way (lost) through the narrow foggy mountain roads . . . finally arriving at El Rodeo as the first Tarahumara men were crossing the 100k finish line. I gratefully crawled out of the truck and unfolded myself at the bar where the host and chef at Hacienda El Rodeo promptly handed me a steaming bowl of bone broth and beef parts and two cold bottles of Imperial. Pura Vida!

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The San Pedro finish line!

Over all, La Ruta Run was a fun and challenging race. Any runner that takes on this course needs to be a confident and self-sufficient runner. Aid stations are 10-18 miles apart, and some parts of the trail are only accessible by foot and horseback. The indigenous runners didn’t carry much – just one water bottle each and some pinole (and of course Dave James ran as naked as was practical). But most of us carried larger than average running packs with fancy hydration systems, extra food, clothing and headlamps. I took my favorite super-light Ultimate Direction AK pack, a ziplock bag full of Tailwind drink mix and a dozen Gu packets. I forgot my hydration hose, hence the two ½ liter water bottles strapped to my chest. Next time I would double the amount of calories I carry with me . . . and with the exception of the water bottles I would keep my gear the same. I loved my white Columbia arm sleeves and I used a bandana around my neck – which I dunked in every stream crossing to keep cool.  My new shoes worked well even with the pile of volcano pebbles I accumulated at each stream crossing. At size 12, I’m maxing out my potential in the women’s shoe world, and my hot, swollen feet quickly filled the extra space. I ended up down four toenails, but the rest of my body remained intact and pain-free. I consider that a huge success!

More About La Ruta Run 2013:

Thirteen Tarahumara, a minibus and me

Running with Tarahumara Women (an article I wrote for the Natural Running Center)

Mike Place’s Race Report at iRunFar

El Heraldo de Chihuahua (pre-race PR)

El Heraldo de Chihuahua (post-race report)

UPDATE: here’s a lovely video slide show of the race. You won’t see much of me because between my invisible cape and my incredible speed, I was hard to capture on film!

Thirteen Tarahumara, a minibus and me

How I ended up in a minibus with thirteen Tarahumara Indians driving around San Jose, Costa Rica for five days

On a rare rainy day this summer I was wrapping up an equally rare full morning of work at the Public Library when my phone rang with in unfamiliar area code. I stepped outside into the rain and found myself engaged in a highly animated and instantly intimate conversation with a stranger from California. Bill Katovsky had come across my how I ditched my shoes video on Youtube and was interested in sharing it on the Natural Running Center website. I sat in my car for over an hour talking to Bill about all kinds of mutual interests, including our dislike of chairs, shoes and whiny writers. By the end of the conversation he had given me the name of his good friend, Roman Urbina, the race director of the famously difficult three-day mountain bike race La Ruta de Conquistadores, and more recently, the 100k La Ruta Run which goes from Jaco on the west coast to El Rodeo near San Jose (the same route as the first day of the bike race). I emailed Roman and was soon invited to join a group of Tarahumara and elite runners in Costa Rica for the week preceding La Ruta Run.

Tico Style: loosely organized, well managed

Communication about the details of the adventure were fuzzy in typical laid-back Tico style and while getting ready for the trip I realized I had no idea where I would be staying or traveling for the week, no idea what the running route looked like, or who else was running it . . . I found myself wondering “Am I crazy? I’m traveling alone to run in the jungle with a bunch of men I’ve never met, my Spanish is horrible, I have the heat tolerance of a harbor seal, and nobody has heard of this race.” But  . . . I am also a sucker for adventure, I love Costa Rica, and I figured if the Tarahumara were brave enough leave their village to run this race, I would be brave enough to meet them there.

San Jose

Roman and his girlfriend Erika met me at the airport, easy to spot in their super-sporty La Ruta jackets, and I was whisked off to the hotel by taxi while they waited for the rest of the runners to arrive.

Our hotel, Kaps Place, is in one of my favorite old San Jose neighborhoods. Its bohemian funk might scare the average uptight American tourist but it was absolutely perfect for our group. There was a pool table, open air  rock gardens, plenty of incense, a communal kitchen and bottomless plates of gallo pinto every morning.

By Tuesday morning everyone had arrived. Thirteen Tarahumaras, two Chihuahuan chaperones, a Mexican reporter, Melissa and Jonathan from Canada, Dave James, and Mike Place from iRunFar from the States and myself. Two of the Tarahumara had run the race the previous year, but several were leaving Chihuahua for the first time. At first the men had said they wouldn’t travel if women came too, but in the end, two Tarahumara women were allowed to join the group. Their names were Maria Isadora and Sylvia Castillo and I had the great pleasure of getting to know them over the course of the week.

Tarahumara in Costa Rica

And thus began our week of minibus adventures together. We visited museums,churches and coffee plantations. We met up with Costa Rican Bribri and Cabécar indigenous runners from the Talamanca Mountains and together with the Tarahumara they performed traditional songs and dances for various public relations and cultural events.

Our groups preferred food was corn tortillas, beans, stewed meat and hot chilies. Though Subway generously sponsors La Ruta Run, after the second meal of bland Subway sandwiches there was a revolt and an emergency order of beans, roast chicken, tortillas and chilies had to be made.

Gaia Hot Springs

Silvio Bonomelli’s biodynamic farm and hot springs.

The Tarahumara brought their instruments and Silverio, a shaman who is both a great singer and comedian so we were never lacking in music or entertainment. I tried playing one of their violins but they keep their bowstrings very loose and I had a difficult time pressing it down hard enough to make clear notes. They also hold the instrument well below their collarbones, which is more comfortable but these instruments are heavy and without the leverage of my chin it was hard work!

One thing that was missing from the week was running. I asked Silvino if he usually runs the week before a big race and he said “Claro, que si!” but he didn’t want to get lost and he didn’t know when he’d have enough time. I was sick all week with a nasty cough/sinus infection/fever/conjunctivitis thing that I caught from my dear husband before I left the States so it was an ideal week for me to not run. However, Thursday morning I decided I should test out my new trail shoes. I ran a few laps around a loop that included a neighborhood track and a set of stairs. My heart rate soared, my legs were shaky, my left sinus throbbed and the air was humid enough that I was soaked with sweat after 5 minutes. Arriving back at the hotel I had to discipline myself to obey my own Ultra-Training Rule #1: I could not let myself think about how much further and harder Saturday’s run would be!

Yoga with the Tarahumara

We made it to Jaco Friday afternoon. Just in time to watch the sunset on the beach. I taught a brief and very funny yoga class, for which I was teased mercilessly by several of the guys for the next two days. (“Look, Eagle!” while attempting to cross arms and wobbling around on one leg). Apparently you can be a world class athlete and have terrible balance. This should make all my yoga students feel much better about tree pose.

Slide Show and 

Part 2: La Ruta Run 2013 Race Report coming soon . . .

Day 2 with the Tarahumara in Costa Rica

We spent all day together – we sang, we danced, we ate and we bathed in holy water. We visited coffee plantations and a gorgeous permaculture farm. But the highlight of the day was Silvio’s fart on the run. Because, as my girls already know, fart humor is universally funny.

I can’t wait to write more about this trip, but for now I will leave you with these images.

Typical Costa Rican sight seeing includes being packed into these minibuses. Fortunately we have live musical entertainment onboard.

 

The holy waters at Basilica de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles in Cartago. This is the Roman Catholic mecca of Costa Rica.

 

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Enjoying a fantastic cup of coffee after eating lunch at a coffee plantation in Valle de Orosi.

 

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Tarahumara huraches, plastic chinese sandals (yes, she runs in these!) and some new fangled Xero shoes.

 

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These women can run!

 

La Ruta Run!

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In a little less than two weeks I’m headed to Costa Rica to run La Ruta Run. The details are still a little fuzzy to me, but here’s what I know so far. We start in Jaco, a beach town on the west coast and head up into the mountains gaining something like 14,000 feet of elevation over 100 kilometers until we end up somewhere near San Jose. This is the second year this course has been run and it is based on the first stage of a popular and challenging mountain bike race, La Ruta de Conquistadores. Last year 21 people ran the race including several Tarahumara who had traveled from Mexico’s Copper Canyons to run the inaugural race.

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I’m joining the race as a yoga teacher and natural running ambassador. I can’t think of a better way to end my first year of ultra-running!

It was exactly a year ago that I decided to train for the Vermont 50 and  ran my first half-marathon in over ten years. Jerome and the girls met me at mile 10 to cheer me on and bring me hot water and snacks. It’s been an incredible year and you can read about some of what I’ve learned here.

I am as well trained as I can be for this run, though I am pretty nervous about the heat and humidity. It’s been cold and dry here for at least a month and I’m thinking I might need to find some friends who are willing to let me do some jogging in their saunas! This will be the longest distance I’ve ever run and while I don’t plan to be fast, I do plan to be tough.

And tough doesn’t mean I’m not scared, anxious or insecure. It means I’m all that and more. That’s the thing about a run like this – it’s way bigger than I can imagine being, and the only way to do it is to expand myself into it as it is happening. And isn’t that why we take on the impossible?

So be sure to follow me next week as I report back . . .

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Six things I learned during my first year of training for ultramarathons

I had a solid four years of barefoot running behind me

But I hadn’t run further than 8-miles since before my girls were born. I had heard about the Western States 100 when I thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 1999 and now that I felt my feet and knees were safely rehabilitated I wanted to see if something like a 100-miles would even be possible. But being somewhat reasonable, I decided to aim for the VT50 first.  It still seemed like a solidly impossible dream . . .

reversingfalls

Last fall I ran into Kim Parrot, a fellow runner, at the Blue Hill Co Op right after she had finished her first-ever 13-mile run. She was beaming! She told me that it was exactly 6.5 miles from the Library to the Brooklin town sign . . . So that weekend, buoyed by her success, I stashed a water bottle and a snack in the snow bank next to the sign and took off from the library on my first 13 mile run in over 10 years.The South Blue Hill route is a good one with lots of gorgeous Bay views, the mountain in the background, wintering ducks at the reversing falls and a porta-pottie at the boat launch. On the return I was grateful when Jerome and the girls pulled up beside me to cheer me on and offer me some hot water. When I got back to the library I was both elated and terrified. Which is why I came up with . . .

Ultra-Training Rule No. 1:
Never, ever ask yourself “How could I possibly run another x# of miles on top of what I just did?”

Running has taught me that time and distance are far more elastic than I ever thought. Running ultras isn’t about how far you run, it’s about running. And you don’t really need to know how much longer or further you have to run if you just keep running!

portapottyI had another memorable training moment late last winter. The trails were still icy and hard to run so I planned a 24-mile training run on the roads around the Blue Hill Peninsula. I stashed some water and snacks behind the North Blue Hill Grange and on a friend’s porch in town and off I went. It was a long lonely run on one of those bleak, not yet spring days and I was really wishing I had a running partner. And then there was the moment that I had to pee so badly I quickly squatted on the side of the road and landed right on top of a rose bush as not one, but two acquaintances drove by – ouch! In my haste to pull myself back together I scratched myself so badly that later when I got home my underwear was stuck to the dried blood on the back of my legs. (And I wasn’t even trail running!) Which leads to . . .

 

Ultra-Training Rule No. 2:
Go before you have to go.

Give yourself more than a second to find a semi-private, thorn-free spot preferably out of view from your neighbor’s window and your friends driving by.

bridgethegapThe day after that long road run, I ran the 10-mile Bridge the Gap race on Verona Island. Jerome and the girls ran the first mile with me and then I headed off on a lonely (but incredibly scenic) loop. It was cold and I was barefoot and because I had run the first mile very slowly with my family, I ended up all alone on the course (unless you count the chase car flashing it’s lights behind me).  Plus, I was really hurting from my long run the day before. I spent the last hour of the race alternately swearing at and singing to the crows like a mad woman. I’ve never had so much fun running in so much pain. Hence . . .

Ultra-Training Rule No. 3:
It is better to go crazy than to go home.

Just because it hurts doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. You’re already crazy enough to be running such long distances, why hold back?

By late Spring my confidence as a runner was building but my foot was hurting. I was looking forward to my most competitive race season yet and I didn’t want it to end before it started. So out came my bike. I ended up biking about half my training “runs” in April and May and I’ve had no foot problems since . . .

Ultra-Training Rule No. 4:
Cross training is a great way to keep yourself in the game. 

Training for triathlons has allowed me to gain fitness while at the same time healing many of my older running injuries. That seems like a win win strategy to me!

FBCgroupI’ve never thought of myself as a real runner. If real runners are gazelles, I’m more of a moose. But even mooses like to be part of a herd, and that’s why racing is fun, or as some people call it “running together with bibs”.  Maybe you don’t know this, and you have been too intimidated to try running races because you don’t think you’ll fit into the herd. But I guarantee that at every race you attend there will be elks, gazelles and lots of fellow meese. Just knowing that makes the running world a cozier place . . .

Ultra-Training Rule No. 5:
Everyone is a friend when you get to the watering hole. Smile often, make room for one more, get to know your fellow runners. We’re all part of the same herd.

I had planned to end my race season with the MDI Marathon on Jerome’s birthday. But that was before I got a great offer to run a brand new 100k race in Costa Rica in November. Suddenly the VT50 and MDI Marathon became training runs, and last weekend’s casual long run became a 30 miler that included running up Cadillac and into the hinterlands of the Roosevelt carriage roads that only Gary Allen knows the way out of.

And that’s how in one year I’ve gone from celebrating the success of a 13-mile training run to running 70 miles a week. Which is how I know . . .

Ultra-Training Rule No. 6:
You always have one more mile in you.

Flying

50 miles down, 0 to go

Running is a great way to spend 12 hrs

I had fun. That’s right, running 50 miles in one day can be fun! I was secretly prepared for my first 50-miler to possibly really suck and figured at some point I might be reduced to a sniveling pile of pain and misery. But that never happened.

Vermont 50

Ok, maybe it’s because I was run-walk-hiking

Maybe it’s because I stopped to take a photo at every turn in the trail (“look, more flaming red trees, sweeping vistas, stone walls and rumpled green mountains”). Maybe it was reliving the two years I spent in the Vermont woods as a Field Naturalist (“ooo, is that a butternut? Check out that hand-twisted barbed wire. Oh, look three old apple trees and there’s the cellar hole!”) The Vermont 50 race flows through a splendid mix of logging roads, high pasture farms and soft CCC pine plantation trails. The weather was the height of New England Fall perfection. A cool misty morning filled with the happy dee dees of chickadees, followed by a brilliantly clear, cricket-chirping afternoon.

Pre-race jitters

I drove over to Ascutney after teaching my Saturday morning yoga class. For the last few days I had been developing a fluish cold and by Saturday I was feeling pretty miserable so I spent the seven-hour car ride feverishly chewing on homeopathic cold remedies, and washing down herbs and vitamins with a few gallons of hot tea. I arrived just in time for dinner with my awesome housemates whom I’d met this summer at the Greater Cranberry Island 50k. My taste buds and appetite returned just in time to appreciate the delicious roasted vegetable dish that Jim and Doug made. And of course there was gluten-free pasta, because even vegan, paleo, raw food, macrobiotic ultra runners carbo-load.

Vermont 50 first mile

The first mile, and the first hill.

After dinner I spent too much time sorting out drop-bags for the next day. This was my first 50 miler, and first race without Jerome available for last-minute rescue backup (“Honey, can you grab the low-sugar Emergen C packets in the glove compartment and add them to the 2.3 liters of tepid, ionized water that are in my dayglo green water bottle, the one with the Velcro strap on the front, not the one with the pocket. Oh, and I need my other socks, the blues ones that are crumpled up under the passenger side seat or mayb they’re in the trunk shoved into my other pair of Newtons . . . rinse them out first, ok?”). Wait, I’m not that high-maintenance . . . but I am still figuring out this ultra-running stuff and I’m not exactly smooth as butter either.

I filled three thermoses with Kitchari (mung beans and rice), bagged up several servings of Cocohydro and Tailwind, and distributed various gels and blocks among my bags. Then off to bed. Where I discovered a very loudly snoring, soundly sleeping roommate. So I relocated to a quiet, comfortable couch, where I proceeded to not sleep for the next six hours. Because no matter how quiet or comfortable I am, I don’t sleep well before events or in new places, and tonight was both.

Race Morning

At 4:45am, we were all up stumbling around the kitchen making coffee and toast. I made my favorite post-race protein smoothie and packed it for later (for which I was very, very grateful). We checked-in for the race around 6am and watched the final waves of mountain bikers take off just as the sun was coming up. It was a chilly and foggy morning, but overall, incredibly pleasant.

At 6:35 we were off. The start is an easy cruise down the road with lots of camaraderie and everyone walking up the hills together. At least that’s how it was at the back half of the pack. Which is where I stayed for the duration of the race. For the first 20 miles or so I was in great company, chatting and enjoying seeing the same faces over and over. I would pass them on the uphills (I discovered I’m a speedy uphill hiker.) But then I would get passed on the downhills. My feet were tender from the sharp gravel and lack of insoles (the liners of my Newton MV2′s felt really rough). I found myself ogling everyone else’s cushy midsoles and even lusted after a pair of Hokas as I gingerly picked my way downhill. The biggest draw back to running barefoot while I’m training is that it is very hard to get faster at downhills. The other drawback is that I still haven’t found a tolerable pair of shoes to wear for racing.

VT 50 Garvin Hill

The view from the Garvin Hill Aid Station

Still, I had some company up until the backside of Garvin Hill (the highpoint of the course) where I had to make a pit stop in the woods. There I sat. And watched people fly by while I rustled in the leaves over my cat hole . . .

Bringing up the rear

From there on out I was the back of the pack and I ran alone until mile 40 where my brother-in-law Paul met me to pace me for the last 10 miles. Somewhere around mile 45 I ran out of water and food and any shred of agility I might have had on rooty, rocky trails. I slowed way down. Besides everything hurting in the usual I’ve Been Running All Day kind of way, nothing hurt particularly badly, but my legs felt heavy and slow, my mouth was parched and I could barely keep a 13 min mile pace. Paul kept urging me to run faster . . .  determined to get me to the final aid station before the cut-off time. Which he did – with four minutes to spare!VT 50 running

Lex was there waiting patiently for me with my bag full of restorative goodness. Given that it had taken me something like 4 hrs to run the previous 16 miles, she rightly wondered what the hell had happened to me – just how many pictures was I taking??

The final three miles kind of sucked. Mostly because I was anxious about finishing before the 12hr cutoff. Though there was some confusion as to when that was. Someone had told us the race started 15 minutes late so we had an extra fifteen minutes (my watch didn’t agree with this theory), and we had also heard that once you make it past the final checkpoint they count your finish no matter what. In the end it didn’t really mater because I simply could not move any faster. I was sure I was going to puke (I didn’t) and it was getting dark enough that I really had to pay attention to the trail.

Vermont 50 running

Slow and slower

Paul tried to set a 9-min/mile pace, which was hilarious from my perspective. He said things like “if it’s not at least a 6 in pain you can run faster”. And while this is a wonderful concept, it is rarely pain that holds me back. I fear that I am slow simply from a lack of fast-twitchness at the very core of my being. And for that I need better genetics and ten pounds less per leg, neither of which are likely in this lifetime.

The benefit of my slowness is that I never get truly wasted. Unable to raise my heartbeat into the anaerobic zone, I never reach the screeching, puking, muscle spazing-halt that often waylays faster runners.

Some say that if you reach the finish line with anything left, you didn’t run hard enough. But I say, if I hit the finish line ready to do it all again, life is good. Which is how I felt as I headed down the last few switchbacks and saw my twin brother and my housemates cheering me on. I crossed the finish line bawling with joy and gratitude.

12:03:24

At which point Zeke, the RD came right up to me and said “I’ve got to give you the bad news”. He was so serious I thought for sure he VT 50 finishwas going to tell me something tragic had just happened to my kids or husband. So it was with great relief that I realized he was there to tell me I had just missed the 12 hr cut-off time. He handed me a jar of maple syrup and I thought maybe this was instead of getting a medal and I wondered how I was going to explain to my kids that not everyone who finishes the race gets a medal after all  . . . And just then someone handed me a medal too, and someone else told me that the exact time doesn’t really matter, and someone else told me to ignore what Zeke had said because I was still on the leader board.  And then I was hugging anyone who would hug me back and crying and realizing that suddenly it was very cold and almost dark. So with chattering teeth I cheered-on the final woman who finished a few minutes after me (who also got maple syrup and a medal) and headed straight for the car where my delicious (and smelly) spinach protein smoothie awaited.

So yes, I would definitely do it again.

Major thanks goes out to my housemates-turned-support crew: Alexis, Alyssa, Doug, Jim, Jeremy, Jonah, Eric and Marcus. Wow, you guys rock.

Mountains for lunch

IMG_44682-602x1024

IMG_44682-602x1024It’s the end of summer. Our garden has done what it’s going to do, the kids need to go back to school before they permanently convert the back porch into dirt-clay, flower-petal soaking, bike zoo. The crisp air and red leaves (yes, red leaves) have been calling to me and where better to spend the end of August than Acadia National Park?

This is not my usual sort of blog. It’s really just a bunch of photos because even after hiking most of these trails dozens of times, it is still a beautiful place to live and I want us all to know that. In case we forget while we’re cleaning up the flower-petal mud shop.

More specifically, I needed to tire myself out today – I needed a little pain training. I’ve got a month to squeeze in a few more long runs before the Vermont 50, and I’m seriously thinking about heading down to La Ruta Run in November (check it out and come with me!). So here goes, my Five Mountain Sandwich at Acadia National Park today.

 

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At the last minute Ginger decided to stay in bed. He hates the rain

 

forgot to make kitchari last night, but I had time to steam some beets and potatoes (freshly dug from our garden). And there’s a rice-bread sandwich slathered with cashew butter and a bag of Cocohydro powder. Plus some Lara bars. And it all fit nicely into my favorite running pack.

forgot to make kitchari last night, but I had time to steam some beets and potatoes (freshly dug from our garden). And there’s a rice-bread sandwich slathered with cashew butter and a bag of Cocohydro powder. Plus some Lara bars. And it all fit nicely into my favorite running pack.

 

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I started at Eagle Lake and sort of followed the horizon left to right.

 

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It’s really hard to run up the West Face trail of Cadillac. I walked.

 

On top of Cadillac, my first summit. Yes, I’m wearing shoes (and socks!)

On top of Cadillac, my first summit. Yes, I’m wearing shoes (and socks!)

 

The trail down to the Gorge before heading up to Dorr.

The trail down to the Gorge before heading up to Dorr.

 

Dorr, my second summit.

Dorr, my second summit.

 

Canon Brook Trail. Somehow I’ve never hiked this trail before but it’s made the news a lot this summer (people falling and needing to be rescued). It didn’t seem particularly perilous, but the geology was fabulous.

Canon Brook Trail. Somehow I’ve never hiked this trail before but it’s made the news a lot this summer (people falling and needing to be rescued). It didn’t seem particularly perilous, but the geology was fabulous.

 

Super steep heading back down the west side of Cadillac from the Featherbed.

Super steep heading back down the west side of Cadillac from the Featherbed.

 

Pemetic, my third summit. Those beets and potatoes hit the spot.

Pemetic, my third summit. Those beets and potatoes hit the spot.

 

Heading up the Spring trail to Penobscot (from Jordan Pond). I don’t remember ever seeing this safety railing before, is it new?

Heading up the Spring trail to Penobscot (from Jordan Pond). I don’t remember ever seeing this safety railing before, is it new?

 

Steep, but dang, they build nice trails here.

Steep, but dang, they build nice trails here.

 

Glacial erratic on the way up Penobscot.

Glacial erratic on the way up Penobscot.

 

Penobscot, my fourth summit.

Penobscot, my fourth summit.

 

Sargent Pond. I only stopped to splash my face, but a swim here would have been amazing!

Sargent Pond. I only stopped to splash my face, but a swim here would have been amazing!

 

Sargent, my fifth summit.You can see where I’m headed – all the way back to the north end of Eagle Lake.

Sargent, my fifth summit.You can see where I’m headed – all the way back to the north end of Eagle Lake.

 

I finally hit the carriage road and could really run again but Eagle Lake still looks far away.

I finally hit the carriage road and could really run again but Eagle Lake still looks far away.

 

Aunt Betty’s pond. Who was Aunt Betty?

Aunt Betty’s pond. Who was Aunt Betty?

 

 

Great Cranberry Island Ultra 2013 – my second 50k

Warning, apparently ultra runs require ultra blogs. You might want to grab a Gu for this one . . .

Prelude

lobsterClassic-300x150The first road race I remember watching was the 10-mile Lobster Classic held in Hancock, Maine every summer when I was a kid. My twin and I manned the water table at the halfway point. At the time 10 miles seemed an unfathomable distance only runable by summer people with blue-blood talent and fancy running shoes.

I was a knock-kneed misfit kid that liked to wiggle and since running wasn’t something anyone I knew did, I joined the aerobics class at the Blue Hill Town Hall and jumped around to the Pointer Sisters with my friend’s mothers.

But there is something very cool about doing something you weren’t made to do, something you never thought you would do, something everyone you know scorns as indulgent or dangerous (or both).

So, the summer before high school I started running the one-mile into town from my mother’s house. A former teacher pulled over to tell me that landing that hard on my heels might not be safe and a class parent, also the local chiropractor, winced at my poor footwear (boat shoe knockoffs bought at Ames in Ellsworth). But I liked how far I could run. A mile, three miles . . . five miles! I started running further than my mother drove me places. I ran under the blazing summer sun and I loved to run in the rain. In high school I ran off hangovers and break ups and I discovered the joy of running for hours through the woods alone.

In college I ran to train for xc ski season, and later to train for thru-hiking. I ran through stress fractures and torn knee ligaments, I ran to lose weight and to keep up with my mountaineering partners and one particularly fast grad school professor. I ran up and down bleachers and up and down 14,000 ft peaks.

I didn’t know how slow I was until I ran my first marathon and fell into step with a 70-year-old doctor from Ireland. We ran the last 10 miles together talking easily and at the end he thanked me for slowing down to join him. But I hadn’t slowed down!

I ran a few more marathons and once I practically killed myself trying to come in under 4 hrs. I accomplished neither. (Killing myself or finishing under 4hrs).

Then, I was forced to stop running for six years, because yes, hard heel striking and shitty shoes were a bad idea. I was told all kinds of stupid things which can generally be summed up as “humans aren’t meant run and even if we were, you most definitely were not”. But my absolute favorite nay saying/bullshit advice was given to me by a former Olympic chiropractor “Charlotte, your angry 3-year-old alter-ego is hitting you in the back of the knees with a baseball bat trying to get you to stop running”. Right.

So I got creative and five years ago I was able to start running again. First I ran up my driveway to Curves where I joined the same wonderful ladies I had done aerobics with 30 years earlier. After a few months I was in good enough shape to run past Curves. Thank god. I still remember the day I worked myself back up to 3 miles, and then 6. It was only last fall that I could finally run 13 miles again.

The point of this entire prelude is that my running isn’t pretty, and it isn’t fast, and it’s a damn miracle.

GCI Ultra (Great Cranberry Island 50k) Race Report

Training

I tried to join the Crows for a Sunday morning group run in July, but no one showed up, so my cousin and I ran the 12-mile “Around the Mountain” loop from the Brown Mountain Gatehouse on our own. That turned out to be my single long run between the Pineland 50k and the GCI Ultra. Otherwise I did a good amount of swimming, biking, yoga and Pilates and raced a couple of sprint triathlons. because I will always think of myself as the fat slow kid, I was worried about beating the 7pm cut off time and wondered if I should take advantage of the early start time . . . I opted for the extra hour of sleep instead.

Food planning

I started the day with a handful of these amazing enzymes that have absolutely no scientific basis whatsoever but have worked miracles on my Achilles tendons anyway. An hour later I had my every day breakfast of green juice (kale, lemon, apple, celery and lettuce) and chia seeds soaked in homemade hemp milk and I also made a cashew butter and marmalade sandwich on brown rice bread and a thermos of my favorite Earl Grey tea to enjoy on the ferry.

As for actual running fuel I packed several Lara and Luna bars, caffeinated and extra salty Cliff blocks, some random Gu’s from previous race packets and plenty of Cocohydro and Emergen-C powder. Since I missed out on buying tickets for the post race lobster dinner I also packed my own awesome post-run meal. I made my usual green smoothie with Vega protein powder, fresh blueberries and tons of greens, and for dinner I put together a container full of black beans, avocado and all the fresh vegetables from our garden and King Hill Farm CSA that I could find. If nothing else, I was going to eat well!

Pre-race clothing planning

The only reason clothes were even an issue for me was because on that very hot “Around the Mountain” run a few weeks ago I discovered chafing for the first time and I was not going to suffer like that again. So I scrounged up some black spandex shorts (ewww!) and was still on the hunt for a comfy jog bra. I threw in a brand new stick of Glide and some socks just in case. Oh, and some shoes. Oops, I almost forgot those!

Getting there

IMG_4125-300x225It was a gorgeous, cool summer morning and even though I grew up here, I fully appreciate the beauty of where I live.

When I arrived at Southwest Harbor’s Upper Town Dock I was surrounded by  brightly colored compression socks, way too short shorts and out of state plates. Since I still don’t think of myself as a “real” runner thin legs and sharp cheekbones can easily intimidate me. But, when I joined the crowd of runners on the dock waiting for the Mail Boat everyone was super-friendly and by the time we arrived at Cranberry Island I had already met some great people.

Great Cranberry Island is the bigger, quieter sister to Little Cranberry Island. Together they make up the town of Isleford (not to be confused with the island of Isleboro).  It has a general store, post office, library and an uninhabited grade school.

Walking up the road to the start of the race I saw two girls setting out a table of water cups and IIMG_4130-300x225 remembered how I’d done the same thing 30 years ago. I didn’t know then that one day I’d be one of those runners sloppily (but gratefully) grabbing a cup of water as I wobbled by.

I had plenty of time to get ready, which might be a first. Without kids to feed, entertain, take pee, and otherwise raise, I was free to browse the vendor booths. Where, as luck would have it, I was given a nice new jog bra with the Crow Athletics logo on it. The print was faded and thus apparently unsellable, but it was lovely and soft and fit me perfectly (thank you!).

As the 10:30 early crew headed off down the road I once again wondered if I’d made a mistake by not joining them, the cheerful, slow paced, Clydesdale crowd looked an awful lot like me!

Running

IMG_4134-300x225I decided to run barefoot as long as I could. I had broken my second toe the week before and I hadn’t even tried to wear shoes since the fateful groundhog trapping, boulder-dropping, toe-stubbing incident. At the last minute I decided to set my shoes out on the lawn near the turn around point, just in case.

I love the beginning of a race because it is so easy to run fast. I know I shouldn’t, I know I should hold back and trot along at my usual ultra-sustainable plod, but it is just too much fun to feel the ease of the crowd and get caught up with them. I don’t usually drink or eat the first two hours of a run, and at the 2:08 mark I had run a half marathon and I was on empty. Oops. Also, my foot pads were scorched. The sun was

GCI2013_legs-300x172overhead and there wasn’t a white line to run on. Plus, they had recently filled some potholes with soft sticky tar, pieces of which were scattered across the road and attached to my feet like sea urchin spines. Ouch! I stopped to put my shoes on, then I stopped to take the insoles out (I swear my feet get bigger every week), then I stopped to poke out a hole in the fabric over my broken toe . . . I was hungry and hurting and the stop and go was killing my early momentum. That’s when Jerome came running toward me! He had taught my morning yoga class in Blue Hill and then caught the ferry over to join me.

Running and crewing 

This is the first year that Jerome has trained for anything and it is beyond fun that he can run with me now. Running up to me fresh and excited like a labradoodle puppy, he helped me grab some cliff blocks, took a few pictures and then proceeded to bounce along beside me and . . . not talk. That’s when I realized that women generally make better running company. When I threatened to put my earphones in he indulged me with some work gossip, and then cheered me on with things like “Look Char, a downhill, free speed!”. (Hint to long-distance pacers, unless your are Killian Jornet, downhills are not free speed, they are a painful reminder that your quads have become lactic-acid jello shots.) At one low moment I forgot to grab any fuel when I passed the turn around so once again I slowed to a crawl . . . just barely passing the 26.2 mark at 4hr52min, Jerome misread his watch and told me it was 4hrs12mins, which I was pretty psyched about and it gave me a new shot of strength. Until mile 28 when I realized the mistake. But who’s counting? One way or another we all end up finishing in the same geologic epoch right?

Running and pooping

Over the course of the last ten miles I stopped several times to off-load my pre-race, fuel. I know one is supposed to eat low fiber, perhaps even constipating foods before a race, but I haven’t figured this part of long-distance running out yet. In the mean time, I’ve gotten really good at the fast squat. And no, I’ve never used your alleyway. I swear.

Running and making friends

The best part about this race was how we all passed each other at least a dozen times, and how by the end I was feeling this mushy love and admiration for all these people I’d never met before. There was Doug with a Mohawk (and his daughter Charlotte), Eddy who plans to run a barefoot marathon in all 50 States, Caolin a running coach from Colorado, Dave the friendly lobster hat guy who ate his weight in ice cream bars and took a million pictures (while running the race), Wayne with the pink beard hanging tough, Roger with the Hawaiian shirt, Jackie and Alison, a mother and daughter team running together, Jeremy with the toe shoes (who will also be at the VT50), Bill the green turtle-hulk, Mark from Paris and Maine (but not Paris, Maine) and of course Gary Allen, running his final GCI (last minute) with a good amount of focus and grit.

Running to the end

IMG_4158-225x300I crossed the finish line at just under 6 hours, no fanfare, no high kicks or sprinting, no cheering throngs of family or friends, no tears, or passing out, just (my favorite husband) Jerome clicking off a few photos and a very patient volunteer waiting to put a lobster claw medal around my sweaty neck. I chose out my finisher’s rock and lay down with my feet propped up against a tree, happy to stare into the sky.

Where I lay wondering why I do these things . . .

Since I never once doubt that I will finish, why do I even need to start in the first place? If you know you can do something do you really need to prove it? Well yes. I am more than a head and a heart, I am a body too. My head can know, my heart can feel but my body needs to do. I was not born into this world to sit back and watch, I am here to live through my senses, to feel the sun on my skin and the earth beneath my feet. I am here to literally smell the roses, not simply imagine their sweet fragrance. Maybe that’s why I run ultras.

The final mile

IMG_4159-224x300I drank my green smoothie and shared a coconut bar with a fellow runner who looked like he might pass out from hypoglycemia. Then, while I was enjoying a quiet moment of bliss rinsing off  under a spigot shower, Jerome starting yelling at me to hurry up so we could run the half-mile back to the dock to catch the ferry in time to put the girls to bed! I thought “I’m a mom, I can do this!”  When we got home the girls jumped all over me while I lay on the floor lamely trying to stretch my hip out. They told me all about their very exciting day with Uncle Leithan, how they were still hungry, how their feet were sore and sunburned and how their legs could use a massage . . . . Maybe one day I’ll write a book called “The Final Mile: Running and Parenting”. It will involve a lot of horizontal poses, some benign neglect, and a good amount of transference (“Mom, my legs reeallly ache tonight!”)

Run hard, recover harder

I wish I could say I slept like a rock that night, but it took a solid 8 hours for the deep-muscle aches to IMG_4165-300x242subside. That’s the thing with running far, it’s not like when I stop running everything goes back to normal. There is generally a fairly hellish period (up to a day) after the run that things actually hurt more than they did while I was running. Since I’m not just in it for any single run or race I don’t take painkillers or drink alcohol because they slow my muscle recovery way down. Instead I take lots of Ashwaganda, Shatavari and vitamin B’s to help counter the effects of stress hormones on my system. My recovery this last week included a day of easy yoga and foam rolling, a day of swimming, a day of biking and by Wednesday I was back to running. In two weeks I have a half ironman, and two weeks after that the Coast to Katahdin challenge. And in a mere two months the VT50 (because really, how hard can an extra 19 miles be? ; )

Thank you Gary and Mary, the Crows and all the GCI residents for hosting a fantastic event.

Yoga on Blue Hill Mountain

Blue Hill Yoga

Saturday August 10th, 11am-12pm. Meet me at the summit of Blue Hill Mountain for my annual free community yoga class to celebrate our common ground and Blue Hill Heritage Trust’s Mountain Day.  (This year the mountain class will immediate follow my regular indoor Saturday 9-10:30am class. Feel free to join me for both classes with a brief hiking intermission between!). All ages and abilities are welcome, yoga mats make nice padding, but not required.

Re-Wilding

Wild animals that live in wild habitats move with economy and grace. wildbaby-300x216They are sensitive, responsive and calm. I was once a wild animal. I walked barefoot across the earth, crouching, squatting, creeping and kneeling without restraint. My back was strong and my hands and feet were even stronger. Then I came inside. And I started to sit. At school, at work, to and fro in the car. And I put shoes on my feet, abandoning the rough, tangled trails in favor of hard, level surfaces. And I didn’t even notice when the zookeepers started feeding me special all-in-one people chow.

But one day I awoke, pacing, gnawing and howling, longing for my old wild self. Longing for the freedom to run across the dark plains under the silver moon. Longing for the sweet smell of earth and sunlit ferns. Longing to feel the power and delight of my full wild self. I was 9 years old and I ripped off my shirt and IMG_3989-300x111shoes and biked around our peninsula as fast as I could with my long hair streaming behind me. The craving for freedom hits me over and over. I was 18 when I took off hiking north on the Appalachian Trail and 22 when I hiked from Mexico to Canada alone on the Pacific Crest Trail. I hiked across the Alaskan tundra, and climbed to the top of the rainforest canopy. I climbed Half Dome by moonlight, blew snot rockets into the wind and was struck by lightening on the Continental Divide. All along I feared the dark and predators (what wild thing doesn’t?) but I taught myself to stay calm and present amid my fears.IMG_3997-300x211

Yoga helped me to re-awaken and ignite the fire of intelligence in my body and to connect all the pieces of myself into one useful, sensitive, responsive whole. Yoga in the form of reconnecting is the foundation I use for all of my mindful athletic movement.

I also realized that wild strong bodies need more than people chow and antibiotics to sustain themselves. I started eating real food. The kind that grows out of the ground. The kind that foxes, moose and chickadees prefer.

A wild life does not wind up neat and clean, there is no grand conclusion or sustained form of perfection. Like us, wildlife get hurt; they loose their babies, their homes, even their way.

IMG_39961-300x228And, like us, they seek comfort in each other, in a favorite view, in starshine and in the warmth of sun on their backs.

The idea of how to re-wild myself and of how to live an authentic,wild life has guided me my whole adult life. It is why I live in rural Maine, why I birthed my babies at home and why my husband and I choose to live a media-free, barefoot, tangled life together.

It is why every day I choose to practice yoga and go to the forest. Wild animals need to keep their senses keen and their presence near.

Report on the Pineland Running Festival and my first 50k race.

Finding ourselves in the middle of what appears to be new weather trend – spring hurricane season – we georgiarunningwisely opted not to camp out Friday evening. Instead we drove down early Saturday morning and the four of us arrived at Pineland Farms, New Gloucester, ME in the pouring rain. Not just rain, but 37-degree wind-driven pouring rain. The girls stared out their car windows in disbelief. We weren’t really going to make them run a barefoot 5k in this right? Yes, we were. I had gotten a sub for my Saturday morning yoga class (thanks Becka), I was signed up to teach a Yoga for Athletes workshop after the race and the girls had been excited about running this race for months (I’m pretty sure my 5 year old was motivated entirely by the promise of finish-line bling).  We were committed. So we tumbled out of the warm-car-cocoon into the refreshing elements. We quickly regrouped and huddled under the tiny registration tent and watched as it periodically caught the wind and dumped several gallons of cold water onto the backs of unsuspecting runners. Georgia thought this was hilarious, even after it happened to her.

Pre-Race Kid Pee

It was almost time to start running and I insisted the girls pee in the porta-potty. If you have a 5 or 6 year old you understand that 1) They hate taking off and putting back on wet rain gear and 2) They would prefer to pee directly into their rain pants rather than get anywhere near a porta-potty. I am deeply sympathetic to this point of view and the next morning before my own 50k race I chose to pee a few feet into the woods next to the start line. But I am fast and experienced and have developed a nearly invisible ninja-like stealth pee-on-the-go

lucyrunning1-199x300strategy. My girls have not, and so, like forcing cats into their crate for a trip to the vet, into the porta-potties they went.

Mud

The 5k barefoot runners lined up in the ankle-deep soggy mud-grass at the starting line and off we went. Itwas wet and the mud was fabulously soft and slidey. At first both girls were giggling and having fun plunging full-on into the pudding-like goop. But after the first mile Georgia began to slow. Fortunately that’s when Jerome showed up to run with her (we decided 5 year olds should be allowed to have pacers even on 5ks). Lucy and I forged ahead and had a fabulous time running together. She chatted the whole time and she seemed to get faster and stronger with each mile. In between her steady stream of cheerful chatting she would mention “a really bad side cramp” or “it’s hard to breath” but she kept right on running. For the first time I could really see my running self in her. With a ¼ mile to go she stripped off her raincoat and sprinted. She glowed and pumped her arms harder as the crowd cheered her across the finish line. It was a magnificent and a true highlight of my parenting life so far. Ten minutes later Georgia and Jerome came up the trail. Georgia hates the feel of raingear and had taken it all off, so now she was cold, which kept her from running so she was getting colder. It took a little cajoling to get her to finish line, but she made it and she was very happy to receive her very own gold metal water bottle. I think she’ll stick to fair-weather running for now.

Getting ready for my 50k

We were supposed to camp out that night but thankfully my brother’s apartment in Portland was available and we gratefully drove our mud-covered, drenched family half an hour south for the night. epoxy1-225x300

I spent the evening doing foot-repair surgery. I had a deep crack in my forefoot from what else? Shoes. Over the last few years my tender unshod feet have lost all their shoe calluses (it’s true, barefoot running makes your feet softer and lot less funky than shoes do). But this spring I needed more forefoot padding to ward off a stress fracture and nearly constant top of the foot pain so I picked up a pair of Newton MV2s. Which I’ll admit make running pretty cushy. Except for the blisters. I had already spent several weeks trying to heal the crack that resulted from one particularly hot 26 mile run through Acadia National Park earlier in the month. And I thought I had it made until I plunged into the mud that morning. A few hundred feet down the trail I felt an ominous “ripppp”. The whole crack reopened and was now packed full of mud.

 

I soaked, scrubbed and tweezed the dirt out. Then I carefully super glued three steri-strips and a bandaid across the whole thing and went to bed.epoxy2-225x300

 

Actually there’s more to the pre-50k-race evening. Before we left home that morning Jerome had filled three thermoses full of warm kitchari for me to eat during the race, but somehow in my super-glue induced delirium and his over all super-hero exhaustion, we determined we had left them at home. So while I sat sorting out coco-hydro and Lara bars, he kindly headed off to Whole Foods to get replacement soup. An hour later he returned with a quart of split pea soup and we were just about to go to sleep when he accidently kicked a bag on the floor and it clinked. Yup, there were the thermoses of kitchari. (Thanks honey.)

Race Morning

Seven hours of sleep later, I awoke with my period (Five days early. Nothing like tapering to induce a shorter cycle.) And of course my sister-in-law had nary a tampon to be found. So I mentally willed my body to postpone the flow for a day and off we all went, 30 minutes north in a light drizzle.atstart-300x225

 

We got there with just enough time for me to get out of the car, pee in the bushes and walk to start line. Perfect timing.

 

The runners who hadn’t run the day before were all trying to keep their feet dry for the first few hundred feet – skirting puddles and running through the woods to avoid mud. That left the middle of the trail open to me, and off I went, right through the calf-deep soup. Soon after, everyone surrendered and brown became the official color of our race.runninguptoaidstation-300x206

I ran really well for the first 10 miles. I was excited to be running with a group of runners that ran my pace. That has literally never happened before. I am such a slow runner (10+ minute miles) that in any shorter length race I am quickly dusted and left with one or two slow-bees. Usually a retired doctor, or an out of breath mom running her first ever run ever. But here I was, solidly in the middle of dozens of other runners. Wow, that was cool.

 

CharFunnyLooking1-228x300

The race photographer was excited about the flower in my hair (a Georgia touch) but I don’t think he bargained for such a photogenic race face to match!

But somewhere around 15 miles I lost the pack. It must have been while I was drinking the amazingly delicious hot thermos of kitchari that Jerome and the girls left for me at one of the aid stations. Or perhaps when I stopped to give them all hugs at the Yurt aid station where they camped out to cheer me on where I passed three times during one of the hardest sections of the race. The deep mud in the fields was incredibly hard and tiring to run through and there were several steep muddy hills and a few knee-deep stream crossings to navigate. More than anything, the feeling of “slow going” is mentally hard when you know you have a long ways to go.

Once out the woods (at around mile 24) I tried to pick up my pace. I was alone on the trail. I played leap frog with a few of the same individuals, but didn’t find any company to stick with. The whole concept of trail-racing camaraderie definitely didn’t apply to my firstultra experience. The rain held off, the sun even came out briefly, and the birds kept me company. I made a mental list, it was all the usual suspects, old friends really, but still, I wished I had a fellow runner who could share in my warbler enthusiasm:

Chestnut-sided warbler
Black-and-white warblerBlack-throated green warbler
Yellow-rumped warbler
Common yellowthroatcharandl-225x300 American redstart
Dark-eyed junco
American crow
Red-eyed vireo
Mourning dove
Ovenbird
Cow bird
Great crested flycatcher
Eastern phoebe
Black-capped chickadee
White-breasted nuthatch
American goldfinch
House finch
Winter wren

I was running fine though my ankles were tired from all the mud-wobbling. No matter how much I felt like Iwas pushing the pace, I couldn’t break 12 minute miles. So at mile 27 I decided to trade in bird songs for human songs.

I pulled out the itouch and earbuds I had stashed in my back pocket and rocked out to U2, Stevie Wonder, Led

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The best crew ever.

Zeplin and R.E.M. (Thank you 80’s).  I crossed the finish line at 6hrs 48 minutes, well fed, well hydrated, well sung and well loved! I was hoping for a sub 6hr run, but this was my first ever ultramarathon race (by 5 miles), and I’m proud of how I ran it. My epoxy foot patch held, kitchari is still the greatest running fuel ever and Jerome is the best friend a running-mom could ever ask for!

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Why Women Should Run (and why they need to have more fun doing it)

This is my response to the article ”Why Women Should Not Run“.

To spare you the tedium, I’ll summarize his main point: Running is stressful. Stress contributes to weight gain. Bridgethegap2sm-199x300Therefore women should not run. Running will only make them fat.

Right.

Ok, I’m not going to argue that point, but I will argue with the title of the article “Why Women Should Not Run”, which very effectively got my attention and that of  about 60,000 other readers.

I am a runner. I love to run. I run 35-65 miles a week depending on my mood and whether it sounds like fun or not.  I am also a recovering exercise-bulimic. Which is not as odd or rare as you might think. In fact, the women in the article above are all apparently overeating and then compulsively trying to run the calories off – which is the definition of exercise bulimia. In fact, most of the long distance runners I know admit to using running as a way of managing their weight and the effects of overeating (or drinking). Exercise is considered a socially acceptable way to burn off excess calories, after all, how can doing something as wholesome and noble as sweating to work off a meal be problematic? But the truth is (as revealed by this article) sweating off your lunch is just as stressful as puking it back up.

The stress caused by exercise-bulimia is the actual problem with running, not running itself

I can attest to the fact that over-running to over-eat is a very stressful. Not only is chronically overeating emotionally and physically stressful, but over exercising with a punitive, calorie-burning attitude is a double whammy that can indeed result in a hypothyroid, depression and yes even weight gain. In college I was one of those women that went to the gym late at night (after getting up before sunrise for ski practice, studying all day, and then working minimum wage for several hours). I would pound away on the ergometer or stairmaster ticking calories off while I watched the endless barrage of CNN newsflashes overhead. Talk about stress! And just as this article points out, I never lost a pound. In all the thousands of miles that I have rowed, hiked, swum, run, skied and skated, I weigh the same today that I did when I was 18. That’s a whole lot of calorie burning, for a whole lot of nothing.  . . .

I would (almost) do it all over again

My greatest wish is not that I didn’t work out so much when I was younger, but that I didn’t stress out about it so much. Because the truth is, I gained a tremendous amount of self-esteem and personal power from being fit enough to hike, run, ski and bike as far as I wanted to. Throughout my 20’s I confidently strode miles, days, weeks, even months off the beaten path. As a young woman I loved moving solo through the wilderness relying entirely on my own cultivated strengths and skills to hike 40 miles a day through canyons, rivers and glaciers. I hiked and ran myself to the ends of the earth and  came face to face with myself, utterly capable and wildly self-reliant. Despite the pain and injuries I caused along the way, I wouldn’t trade-in those years for anything.

But then I was forced to

As wonderful and romantic as it all sounds, about ten years into this crazy-making calorie-burning gerbil-wheel routine I stopped. I was forced to stop. My body was in too much pain to keep going – broken, torn and tired, I was forced into a life-saving period of senescence. It totally sucked. I sought out all kinds of healing gurus, from yoga teachers to chiropractors, past-life mediums to physical therapists – anyone that could get me back on the gerbil-wheel.

Ten years passed, I lost some weight, I gained some weight, I ran a little, I yogaed a lot, I lost some weight, I gained it back, I lost it, I birthed two babies, I nursed them, carried them, lost sleep over them, gained and lost more weight, and miraculously, life went on without me having any idea how many calories I was eating or burning and miraculously, ending up at the exact same weight where I started. Hmmmm. Maybe there was an easier way.

Movement is freedom

Then my babies became girls. And I missed the feeling of freedom, the feeling of complete trust in my body and that it could take me anywhere. The feeling that I could propel myself through a 1,000 miles of wilderness, up a big wall, or over an entire continent. I missed my own independence and wildness.

So I started running again. Barefoot of course. Through the woods, over mountains, on beaches, and along the sides of gorgeous, fir-lined narrow frost-heaved Maine roads. But I made a deal with myself. I’d only run for fun. No calorie counting, no rationalized food-binges, no added stress. I had to continue eating a good, nutrient dense diet and if running impinged on my ability to dance, sing or paint, or made me grumpy at night with the girls, or kept me from having fun in any other way, I’d have to cut back. (Or take to Dance Walking through Blue Hill.)

Just because running is a perilous game doesn’t mean we need to play it safe

So how’s my experiment going? At the moment I am giving myself a C with a call to improve starting immediately. I missed out on dancing with my girl friends last night because the top of my foot hurt too much, and last weekend I ran 34 miles and couldn’t sleep Sunday night. That’s a bad sign. Too much adrenaline and cortisol in my system and I was left run down and unenthusiastic for the rest of the week.  The reason for this overdoing is that I temporarily left behind my intuitive, responsive self in favor of ticking off the miles in preparation for the Pineland 50k next month. (Something my wild animal friends would never do.) Like so many women before me, I let the fear of being under-prepared keep me from being present in the moment. This lack of presence, of striving to complete a goal at all costs, causes the very same stress as calorie-counting and midnight gym sweating.

But I’m not giving up. I didn’t quit yoga when learning dropbacks hurt my back. I didn’t quit drawing when I wanted to cry over the gray lump that was supposed to be a kitten. I didn’t quit dancing when I flunked out of ballet in 3rd grade. We women are smart, evolutionary creatures. I learned to drop back gracefully and painlessly, and I can learn to run again too. Not for the sake of running, but for the sake of evolution. The question is not “am I strong enough” but rather “am I sensitive and responsive enough.” It’s a game totally worth playing, and worth getting better at.

So here’s to running happy. To feeling the sun on my face, the wind in my hair and the earth beneath my feet. To hearing the raven’s quoark, the peeper’s peep, and deep woosh of great blue heron and goshawk wings taking flight. And here’s to women being sensitive enough to play by their own rules.

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