The Miracle of 2017

It's the day after Christmas, after the tearing open of a pile of presents, and the pretty wrapping paper still strewn across my living room floor. Maybe I’ll clean it all up tonight, or tomorrow. But today, while my kids are skiing down the slopes of Mt. Hood, I’m taking some time to write, to reflect on 2017, a year that unfolded in ways I never could have imagined. 

On August 18, I found my biological father, whom I’ve wanted to know since I was old enough to understand what it meant to be adopted. Some years ago, he searched for me too, his only child, but couldn't find me. Maybe the time wasn’t right then. I believe that things happen, that people connect, when they’re supposed to. As it turns out, he’s a well-known, award-winning poet and novelist, the author of eleven books and a twelfth forthcoming. And the way I found him? Through writing. Through an essay-writing class I took over the summer in which we were assigned to write about a family secret. Writing about being adopted--about feeling like a secret myself, about the void that I'd always felt by not knowing my genetic past and family--spurred me to search for my birth parents in earnest. When I started the search, many people cautioned me that I might be rejected or might not like what I find, and so on; and sure, those things could have happened, but I trusted my intuition that all would work out. Once I started searching, it was as if angels appeared to steer me in the right direction. It's amazing what happens when we're on the right path, when we open to love and not fear.

During the last few months, I’ve been devouring my father's books as well as his sweet notes, his writing as beautiful and brilliant as he, and each day, I seem to fall harder in love. It's uncanny how many of our passions overlap—our love of literature, music, the outdoors, hiking, good wine. The list goes on. Definitely a nod to nature. It’s also interesting to finally know my ancestry, Irish and French Canadian. There’s so much more to discover and perhaps write about, if and when the time is right. But for now, I'm just soaking it all up, and above all, feeling grateful for this pure love that has come into my life. 

In the past, holidays have been difficult for me. I don't know exactly why. Perhaps in part because there are too many expectations around them. "The most wonderful time of the year" is just not so for many. I'm usually glad when January 2 rolls around. But this year has been different. I've not only embraced the holidays, I don't want any moment to pass too quickly; I want to stretch each one. How? By being more present, observing more closely, looking at social media less, traveling to new places, spending as much time as possible with the people and pups I love, being outside more than inside, and as I've done for years, by reading and writing each day.  

As for running, it feels great to have finally nabbed a BQ in December after chasing it for three years! I may not be naturally fast, but I don't give up easily. I've learned that with hard work, you can increase your speed, if that's your intention. I'm grateful to have found a fantastic coach, elite runner Katie Kellner, and a running program, Hansons, that really works. In 2018, I'll work with Coach Katie to meet a new, challenging running goal that I look forward to tackling, and writing about soon. 

Happy holidays to you and yours and all best wishes for the new year!

From Bonking to Clanging the BQ Bell at the California International Marathon

On Sunday Dec. 3, I ran the California International Marathon (CIM) in Sacramento with one goal: to get a Boston Qualifier (BQ)—my third attempt after a couple of disappointing races. In 2015, I missed a BQ by about 4 minutes at CIM, and in May 2017 by about 6 minutes at Eugene; both times because I hit the wall at mile 20 and faded during the last 10k. Something had to change as I seemed to be getting slower, not faster.

To add to the challenge, this time I wanted to BQ by at least 5 minutes because that’s what it takes anymore for a good chance of actually getting a Boston bib. Why? Because over recent years, more people have registered for Boston than its allotted spots. Using a rolling registration schedule, the Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.) accepts the fastest qualifiers according to their age group and gender until the field fills; once it does, a cutoff time is determined. For instance in 2014, qualifiers who were 1 minute, 38 seconds (1:38) or faster than the qualifying time for their age group and gender were accepted. That year, I was 2 minutes, 22 seconds faster than my qualifying standard, so I squeaked in by just 44 seconds—the first and only time I’ve run Boston. However, that time wouldn’t have cut it last year with a cutoff of BQ minus 3:23. It keeps getting tougher, but that’s okay. It’s a fair process and if anything, I think it makes us more determined.

After my last marathon, I took some time to analyze everything about the race and my training. My overall insight was that if I wanted a different result, I needed to train differently. Maybe that’s kind of a “duh,” but I honestly thought I was training really hard. I wasn’t. Or at least, I wasn’t training hard enough to get the results I wanted.

After researching a number of plans, I decided to go with Hansons Marathon Method (HMM) and to hire a coach, pro-runner Katie Kellner, through Hansons Coaching Services. I knew what I was getting into—running 6 days a week with regular strength/speed runs and running more miles than I ever had in my life at age 49, soon to be 50, and with a busier-than-usual writing and family schedule. I wondered if my body and mind could handle it. 

All summer, I worked with Katie to gradually build a comfortable base of about 45 miles a week so that when I started hitting 55 to 62 miles a week in October, I’d be ready. I also began working with a local personal trainer, "Rick the Trainer" in Hood River who is also an endurance runner, to build core and functional strength. Further, I revamped my approach to fueling, both for training and racing. Perhaps one of the best things I did early in my training was to purchase a Vitamix which I used daily, if not twice a day. For me, making a wide variety of smoothies and smoothie bowls (topped with delicious homemade granola from Run Fast Eat Slow) was the most convenient way to ensure I'd get the nutrients, especially an abundance of phytochemicals, I needed to stay healthy.

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Over 24 weeks of training, I never missed a day except for a 3-day break when my Achilles tendon got sore and my coach and I thought it prudent to take a few days off, which along with icing and a couple of Graston sessions with my chiropractor, did the trick. By late November, taper time, I felt like a racehorse (albeit an older one!) ready to rock that course. 

My strategy was to run the first 20 miles conservatively through the rolling hills at my practiced marathon pace (8:55) and then speed up as much as I could during the last 10K, which is flat. While it required some patience, the pacing plan worked well. I felt strong and relaxed throughout the race, even when I dropped my pace to 7:30 for the last half mile (this is fast for me). I felt like I had lots of gears, which I attribute to the weekly interval work--all those mile repeats! The dreaded wall never appeared and I ended up qualifying by more than 6 minutes while negatively splitting the course with fuel in the tank at the finish. (My finish time was 3:53:49. BQ standard for my age group, 50 to 54, is 4 hours.)

I also consumed more fuel both before and during the race than in the past, which I'm sure helped to avoid the bonk. At 4 a.m. I ate a bowl of cereal with almond milk (I used to run without eating breakfast to prevent stomach upset, but with 3 hours' lead time, it doesn't bother me). Thirty minutes before the race, I slowly sipped 8 ounces of Nuun Performance (electrolytes and carbs). During the race, I drank both water and Nuun Performance at every aid station until the last 5K, after which I didn't need anything more. I think I had a cup in both hands at most stations. Hats off to CIM for serving Nuun on the course! Additionally, I took GU Roctaine (gel) at miles 5, 10, and 15 and GU Espresso gel at miles 19 and 22 (I safety-pinned 4 gels to the elastic waistband of my shorts and stashed one in my pocket). 

On CIM itself, it’s a fantastic point-to-point, net-downhill course that runs from the Folsom Dam to downtown Sacramento, although the "downhill" is not as easy as you might think—there’s still plenty of uphill, though nothing too steep. Plus, it's an easy course to go out too fast on, which I learned the hard way the first time I ran it. If you plan to run it, train on hills. It’s also one of the most well-organized and community-supported marathons out there. 

Here are a few pics from the race. We had ideal running conditions—low 40s at the start and mid 50s at the finish, light winds, no rain, low humidity and lots of delicious sunshine. Oh, and the intense energy from a supermoon! Every once in a while, the stars align. Sunday was one of those days. 

Feeling good around mile 20

Feeling good around mile 20

Finishing

Ringing the BQ Bell

Saturday shakeout run on the American River Trail just across the street from our hotel, Larkspur Landing, in Folsom. The Larkspur is a good place to stay because the rooms have kitchens so you can cook the pre-race meal you're used to. For me, that's white basmati rice, sweet potatoes, beets and chicken breast. And there's a Whole Foods close by. And an Italian ice cream place, Rita's, which has the best custard-style gelato.

Saturday shakeout run on the American River Trail just across the street from our hotel, Larkspur Landing, in Folsom. The Larkspur is a good place to stay because the rooms have kitchens so you can cook the pre-race meal you're used to. For me, that's white basmati rice, sweet potatoes, beets and chicken breast. And there's a Whole Foods close by. And an Italian ice cream place, Rita's, which has the best custard-style gelato.

Perhaps the best big greasy post-race burger ever at Marley and Moo in Old Folsom.

Perhaps the best big greasy post-race burger ever at Marley and Moo in Old Folsom.

On writing and running

It’s hard to believe it’s already September. While I haven't written here since May, I have been writing like crazy all summer. In June, I began a 10-week essay-writing class through Stanford University, during which we wrote short essays each week, as well as a longer piece toward the end of the course. Among other topics, I wrote about how heartbreak led me to both long-distance running and writing, which over the years have become inextricably linked. The story also focused on how we shape our patterns and how they shape us. Women’s Running Magazine published the essay last week. Here’s the link if you’d like to read it: Focus on the Mile You're In.

On changing patterns, I realized in May, after missing my goal of qualifying for Boston by more than six minutes, that it was time to try a new training plan. After a month-long post-marathon recovery period, I hired a coach in June through Hanson’s running program. Coach Katie and I have been working on increasing my mileage base this summer by running six days a week (my old routine consisted of running five days a week) along with incorporating more speed work and strength training. Yes, it's tough, but I do feel stronger and I love having a coach. Over the next few months, I’ll work up to 62 miles a week (from about 42 now) for an early December marathon. If I can stay healthy, I'll be ready. During the last five days, I've been training in the Wallowas in Eastern Oregon (on a family vacation) at elevations between 4,000 and 8,200 feet. I'm sure I was breathing harder than usual, but in the midst of such immense beauty, I hardly noticed... 

Training at 8,200 feet in the Wallowas, a.k.a. Oregon Alps

Training at 8,200 feet in the Wallowas, a.k.a. Oregon Alps

Tamanawas Falls

Waterfall
Don't ever change your ways
Fall with me for a million days
Oh, my waterfall
-- Jimi Hendrix

Lyrics from May This Be Love--the song that came to mind as we soaked up all this magic at Tamanawas Falls, one of my favorite short hikes close to Hood River. After all the rain and snow we've had, the falls are especially powerful this year, gushing and plunging with breathtaking force. However, our wet weather also caused a huge boulder slide about a quarter mile from the falls, so be prepared to scramble a bit which was tricky with our pups, but worth it.

Getting there:  From Hood River, head South on Hwy. 35 for about 25 miles and look for a large gravel parking area on your right just before you hit milepost 72. The trail head is marked. 

Miss Heidi, small pup Foster and 5-month-old Harper

Miss Heidi, small pup Foster and 5-month-old Harper

Eugene Marathon

If you're looking for a smaller marathon with a fast, flat course, Eugene is a great one. It's well-organized and logistically easy (convenient shuttles, bag drop-off, etc.). A good portion of it runs alongside the Willamette River on shaded bike paths and finishes in historic Hayward Field. The temps are usually ideal. Yesterday it was about 39 degrees at the start and warmed to the mid-50s. The crowds and volunteers were awesome. Favorite signs included: Chafing the dream and Pain is just a French word for bread and Remember, you paid to do this! 

Despite near-perfect race conditions, my body felt far from perfect, unfortunately, and I did not meet my A goal of qualifying for Boston. I felt sludgy from the start and bonked hard around mile 21 (UGH!). At least I finished healthy (no injuries) with a time that I was relatively happy with. I gave it everything I had, but it just wasn't my day to BQ.

In an article I recently wrote for Competitor Magazine on how to bounce back from a disappointing race, pro-marathoner Matt Flaherty said, “There’s as much to be learned and enjoyed from the journey as the race. If you achieve your goal every single race, you’re probably not setting challenging enough goals.” So true. His words have encouraged me to keep setting the bar high and not beat myself up when things don't go as planned. Despite slamming into the wall during my last two marathons, I still love the distance. I love that it's really f*cking hard. That it humbles and inspires. That it illuminates our fragility and our fierceness. While it's always tough to fall short of a goal you've worked hard toward, it's certainly not the end of the journey. Perhaps it's time for a new training plan. Or time to hire a coach... we shall see. Most importantly, I'm just grateful to be running, period. 

One of the highlights of yesterday's race was when a lady who must have been in her 70s zoomed past me somewhere around mile 20. She rocked it. People like her give me hope that I can keep doing what I love for many years to come. Onward...

My sweet strong running girls, pup Harper and daughter Amelia

My sweet strong running girls, pup Harper and daughter Amelia

Pre-marathon ramblings...

In a few days, I’ll attempt to qualify for Boston at the Eugene Marathon. I don’t feel nervous yet, but my subconscious tells me otherwise. Last night, I dreamed that I decided to run a half marathon two hours before the marathon to warm up. The night before, I dreamed that at mile 20, I took a wrong turn and ended up in an amusement park, in a funhouse with way too many weird mirrors that I couldn’t find my way out of. Tonight, I'd love to dream about running into Hayward Field strong, which is what I'm visualizing each night, although it doesn’t seem to be sinking in!

In 2013, I got a BQ in Eugene and ran Boston in 2014, which was one of the most amazing experiences of my life; however, I ran it with health issues and inadequate training. (I wrote about my struggles here for Runner's World.) I managed to shuffle my way to the finish line, but the brutal course ate me up. I've wanted to go back and try again ever since. In December 2015, I attempted to BQ at CIM (California International Marathon), but missed it by a few minutes after going out too fast and hitting the wall hard at mile 20. Lesson learned. You can't bank time in a marathon. I've promised myself that this time, I won't bolt out of the corral or push the pace too soon. 

The debate I’m having today is whether to wear my watch for the race (you would think I’d have this stuff figured out by now). When I ran my marathon PR, I ran by feel—no watch—but only because my watch died that morning, which turned out to be a good thing. If I’d known the pace I was running, I might have doubted I could maintain it. 

I’ve created a playlist for the drive down to Eugene (I don’t listen to music while running). Lots of favorite artists: Ryan Adams, Neko Case, Wilco, My Morning Jacket, The Jayhawks, Liz Phair and always, some AC/DC. No matter how the race turns out, I’m planning to rock this weekend with thousands of other crazy runners, including many from the Hood. The marathon is the party—it punctuates all your hard training through rain, snow, wind, niggling aches and pains or whatever shows up when you push yourself hard. It's time to do this thing...

Four sweet miles on the lovely Deschutes this morning. 

Four sweet miles on the lovely Deschutes this morning. 

Running and Trekking in Patagonia

I've just returned from trekking and running in the Patagonia region of Chile and Argentina, which offered some of the most dramatic, breathtaking views of nature I've ever seen. If you ever have a chance to visit this amazing, remote part of the world, Go!

The trip has changed and filled me in ways I'm not even sure I realize yet--that's what pure, stunning beauty does to you. Best of all, I experienced it with longtime and new friends. Here are some photos from Torres Del Paine National Park in Chile and Glacier Perito Moreno in El Calafate, Argentina...

(L to R) Halina, Melissa and I in Torres Del Paine

(L to R) Halina, Melissa and I in Torres Del Paine

View from our hotel, Explora Patagonia, which I highly recommend. My room overlooked the Salto Chico waterfall, which lulled me to sleep each night. Simply divine. 

View from our hotel, Explora Patagonia, which I highly recommend. My room overlooked the Salto Chico waterfall, which lulled me to sleep each night. Simply divine. 

A full day's hike to the base of the towers in Torres Del Paine. No filters here--the water really is this milky turquoise color. 

A full day's hike to the base of the towers in Torres Del Paine. No filters here--the water really is this milky turquoise color. 

The W circuit in Torres Del Paine

The W circuit in Torres Del Paine

Glacier trekking in Argentina 

Glacier trekking in Argentina 

Ten-mile road run in El Calafate, Argentina

Ten-mile road run in El Calafate, Argentina

At long last, our trails are back.

The snow has finally melted from most of our Gorge trails, thank God. End of next week, I'll be running and trekking with dear friends in one of the wildest places on earth, Patagonia. Grateful to be getting some singletrack miles in beforehand... 

Running with Mark and Ida (the beloved Shortt Supply shop dog) up Hospital Hill, White Salmon, WA

Running with Mark and Ida (the beloved Shortt Supply shop dog) up Hospital Hill, White Salmon, WA

Post long run on the Deschutes with long-time running partners Tim and Heidi

Post long run on the Deschutes with long-time running partners Tim and Heidi

Gear for running on snow and ice

Had I known two months ago that we would have the snowiest, iciest winter in 50 years, I’m not sure I would have signed up for a spring marathon. But I'm glad I did because the extreme conditions have forced me to push my boundaries out a little farther. Through it all, my running friends and I have learned how to run safely on slick roads and stay warm when getting pelted with sleet (I refuse to run on a dreadmill). Aside from the obvious, e.g., layer up, wear warm gloves, here are a few things we’ve found to be especially helpful...

Today's run after 6 inches of new snowfall last night

Today's run after 6 inches of new snowfall last night

Traction devices are key. Due North Ice Cleats ($24) work really well on ice, packed snow, and plowed roads—that is, most conditions except for deep snow, which I’ve avoided. The design is simple, streamlined, and they are easy to strap onto your shoes unlike other devices that are more bulky or have coils. You can also stash them in a pocket if you only need for parts of your run. My friend Brandi and her ultra-running friends have been using Kahtoola nanospikes, which also get great reviews ($49). 

Short gaiters keep snow and slush out of your shoes. I wear strapless Altra trail gaiters which attach to all Altra trail shoes. You won't even notice you're wearing them. 

Wear warmer tights. I've recently discovered the Patagonia Borderless tights, which are super stretchy, soft against your skin, warm but not too warm, not too tight (you can wear knee-high wool compression socks underneath), fast-drying, and they have no annoying seams or tags (I'm super picky about clothing). They also have side pockets and a zippered back pocket. Stylish, too. I need more than one pair. 

Be flexible with your schedule. While I'm getting my weekly mileage in, the most challenging part is nailing tempo paces on slick surfaces, so I do them when nature cooperates, which sometimes falls on Saturday as planned, but often not. For instance, last Thursday, we hammered out an 11-mile pace run when the pavement was visible for a change--felt like we were flying without clawing the ice.

Also, remember that running in extreme conditions burns a ton of calories. For the past couple of months, I've added several tablespoons a day of vanilla almond butter to my diet. I keep it in the frig and eat it by the spoonful right out of the jar--it's like dessert. 

If you're dealing with a tough winter too, hang in there. It's so hard, but I keep reminding myself that spring is not too far off now and we'll be flying once again in shorts in the sunshine...

Kite Skiing on the Spit

 

A few days ago, I was driving across the Hood River Bridge on the way home from a run when I noticed a kiter below. Surely, I thought, no one is kite boarding when it's 20 degrees. Then I realized that the kiter was on skis. I had to learn more, as I'd never seen this before, so I drove down there and introduced myself. I learned that in the Gorge, we don't usually get the right kind of snow and good wind at the same time--but when we do, wow! Here's Peter Hill, a Gorge realtor and ski instructor, doing his thing (and who was kind enough to answer all my questions about kite skiing). 

Ice, Baby

I have just been blown away by nature's beauty lately. Logged some singletrack miles on the PCT this morning from Cascade Locks to a semi-frozen, spectacular Dry Creek Falls. I passed quite a few ultrarunners who seemed to glide over the snow--so sure-footed. I'm not there yet, but working on it. Yesterday, I ordered gaiters and the waterproof version of my favorite trail shoe (Altra Lone Peak) and finally bought warmer gloves so that my fingertips don't turn purple and white and go numb (Raynaud's syndrome) in freezing temps.

Dry Creek Falls

Weldon Wagon 5-miler

If I were a white oak, I would want to live here. The trail traverses the White Salmon Oak Natural Resources Conservation Area, which includes hundreds of acres of these magnificent trees. I especially love the area's magical winter landscape when the oaks' curvy limbs glow with tufts of lichen and their lovely furrowed bark is in full view.

Oregon White Oak--what a beauty! 

The trail is primarily single track with some double track. The surface, a mix of grass and dirt, is perfect for running; however, it's a lungbuster--you'll climb about 1,300 feet in the first 1.5 miles or so. 

Getting there: From Hood River, cross the Hood River bridge and turn left onto Hwy. 14. Go 1.6 miles and turn right onto WA Hwy. 141 ALT. Drive 2.2 miles to Hwy 141. Continue on Hwy 141 for 4 miles to Husum and turn right on Indian Creek Rd. near the rafting outfitters (before you hit the Rattlesnake Creek bridge). Drive .6 miles and turn left onto Indian Cemetery Rd. Go .3 miles and look for a gated primitive road on your right. Park here. Head up the primitive road a few hundred yards and you'll see a sign marking the trailhead on your right. 

Herman Creek to Dry Creek Falls 8.7-miler

This is an awesome lightly-traveled hike/run that includes beautiful streams and waterfalls through lush, old growth forest. It's also less rocky overall than many Gorge trails. Start by taking trail #406 at the Herman Creek campground near Cascade Locks (exit 44 off I-84). After climbing for a half mile, take the Herman Creek Bridge trail (#406 E) that veers to the right heading down to the creek. Around mile 2, you'll connect with the PCT (#2000) and soon come to Pacific Crest Falls. At mile 2.5, you'll see the Herman Creek Pinnacles--a couple of cool monoliths. While this is a good turnaround spot for a shorter run or hike, you can continue on the PCT to the spectacular Dry Creek Falls for a round trip of 8.7 miles.

Herman Creek

Dry Creek Falls

You can also do an easy 4.4-mile hike/run to Dry Creek Falls starting on the PCT at the Cascade Locks trailhead.

Viento State Park to Starvation Creek 5-Miler

If you haven't checked out this recently-completed, car-free section of the Historic Columbia River Highway, you're in for a treat! Starting at Viento State Park (exit 56 off I-84), you can now run 2.5 miles heading west to the end of the Starvation Creek trail (5 miles round trip). The paved path rolls alongside several waterfalls and streams while offering sweeping views of the Gorge. Learn more here about the historic highway's future restoration projects. 

Columbia Gorge Half Marathon

The Columbia Gorge Half Marathon is one of my favorite road half marathons anywhere (you can also run 26.2). Stunningly beautiful and well-organized, it draws runners from across the country. Be sure to register early because it sells out. Pups can run, too! They even get their own timing chip and results by accompanying their owners in the dog leg categorySo darn cute! I was cheering for all the doggies along the way. 

Photo by Scott McMullen

Today, we had ideal running conditions—low 50s, no wind, no rain, peak fall colors, and AC/DC blaring at the start, always a good thing. After climbing about 400 feet over the first 3.5 miles, I settled into a comfortable 8:25 pace finishing in 1:50—two minutes slower than last year, but a time I was happy with nonetheless.

I was definitely inspired by meeting Olympian Shalane Flanagan, one of my running heroes, and Chef Elyse Kopecky, who also ran the half marathon, at their Run Fast Eat Slow book-signing event yesterday at Shortt Supply in Hood River, where we picked up our race packets. Shalane and Elyse were so kind and engaging, and their cookbook is fabulous. My 8-year-old daughter and I have been making the (addictive) superhero muffins lately. Elyse suggested substituting apples for zucchini in the recipe this time of year, which I'll definitely do. Yum! 

In the last blog post, I wrote about tapering for the Portland Marathon, which I didn't get to run because I got sick a few days beforehand. As I lay in bed wracked with fever and chills, I finally accepted that no amount of elderberry, echinacea, or vitamin C was going to get me to the start line healthy. Of course I was heartbroken—all those miles over the summer! And worse, this was the second marathon I'd recently trained for but didn't start due to illness or injury. I was discouraged and depressed, but the support of my husband and dear friends helped me put things in perspective. Interestingly, both local marathons I'd signed up for had problems with their courses: the Vancouver USA Marathon was too short; Portland was too long, at least for runners in corrals C through H, which likely would have affected my goal of qualifying for Boston. Perhaps running 26.2 just wasn't meant to be this year. I still enjoyed all the training, which is what running is about for me anyway—the pure joy of it, even on the hard days.