Friday, December 30, 2011

Looking Back on the Week and the Year

This past week has given me some great trail runs. Wonderful winter trail conditions continue here in southern Maine. I hear plenty of trail runners lamenting the lack of snow but I don't get it. What's to complain about when the trails are rock hard and fast? What's not to love about the scritch scratch of screw shoes on icy frozen dirt? Snowshoe running is fun, but for me it's only for when conditions demand it. Then again, if we get a freak storm and it snows a foot tonight, I'll be singing the praises of running in snowshoes in my Blog. I'll also be posting about joyous gliding through the woods on cross country skis. Snow, no snow... it's a win-win situation.

This was my first week back to work and it's been extremely busy. I've had to do my first two evening headlamp trail runs of the winter because of my work schedule. (I enjoyed them immensely). My other runs were a bit rushed and shortened. Scout has only gotten in two trail runs and a jog around the Kezar Falls streets this week. (I think being so well rested has made him a faster runner. He sure made me work hard today). The house is definitely less tidy, we ran out of cream for coffee, the laundry is over-flowing, and I haven't shaved my legs in a week. But I am starting to find balance again. I am settling back into a good routine.

I will be working this New Year weekend, but will make time to reflect on what a happy and wonderful year 2011 has been. Many of us could whine and complain about the economy, injuries, illnesses, personal finances, losses, relationships, injustices, prejudices, and evils. Or we could count our blessings! I have a loving husband, two great kids, a fun puppy, two cool cats, a comfortable house, my health, a job, the woods, the rivers, and the mountains. Also, I have the use of my right arm back. And think of all the good things ahead! Happy New Year! Have fun and be safe. Count your blessings.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Prime Trail Days

I'm still getting in good mileage with lots of medium and long runs at a modest to medium effort. The weather and trail conditions are spectacular! This has been a good base building period for me. Today I ran about 8 miles on the hilly single track in Parsonsfield with Scout. I've had a cold this past week and my runs have fluctuated between wonderful and terrible. I don't know how my energy is going to be until I start running. I set out each day anyway, run when I can, and walk when I have to. I don't let it bring me down, it's just a cold.

Today I was able to run the first (mostly) uphill mile without any problems so I knew we had a good run ahead of us. With a sunny sky and temperatures in the mid 40s, I was surprised to find patches of ice here and there. Scout likes to dash off ahead of me, so I can spot the icy patches whenever I come to them. He slips and falls, then skids across the icy patches on his side or butt at full speed, sweeping all the leaves off the trail so I can see the ice. He's a good trail friend.

My P90X strengthening program is going well. That is to say, I can't take a deep breath without my chest muscles hurting, I can't cough or laugh without my abs killing me, I can't brush my hair without feeling the burn in my triceps, and I can't walk up and down the stairs without my quads throbbing. In a few short weeks I'll be getting into shape and missing those aches and pains. I'll find myself wondering if I'm working out hard enough since it doesn't hurt anymore.

So my endurance training is going well and my strength work is kicking in. But I'm still lacking in the speed department. I keep threatening myself with speed work. I'm just waiting for the mood to hit. If it doesn't come to me on it's own, I'll start the first of January. The very words, repeats, intervals, tempo runs, threshold runs, and progression runs give me a queasy uneasy feeling. I'll probably have nightmares tonight now that I have put them in writing.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Double Workout Days

Since injuring my shoulder in July and then finally having rotator cuff repair surgery on it in September, I haven't been able to do any upper body training in almost six months. This is the first time since college that I haven't worked out. It's starting to show! So I re-started P90X a few days ago. With this program, you do the exercises along with a video of four ridiculously fit and energetic people doing the workouts with you. They make me jealous, so I work harder to prove something to myself. It's a weird concept, but it has worked well for me in the past! Sure, the trainer, Tony Horton, is annoyingly corny. Plus the music on the videos sounds like something out of a porn movie. But the workouts are very effective. I considered shaking things up a little by switching to "P90X 2" or "Insanity", but today I looked online for costumer reviews of the original P90X and found over seven thousand positive reviews and about eleven reviews that claimed they followed the program exactly and it didn't work for them. So I decided to stick with something I know works. My abdominal muscles, upper arms, chest, and shoulder blades are delightfully sore and tender today. It's already working!

In addition to the strength work outs, I have been running trails almost every day. I guess my explorations of the Leavitt Plantation trails are not going un-noticed. Yesterday I found thin string stretched across the trail in various places. It was difficult to see until I ran into it, breaking it each time. This string wasn't there last week. I think the mad trail builder is on to me. He must have suspected someone is using his trails and put the string across to find out for sure. As I mentioned in past posts, the land is open for public use so I really don't think there is any reason I shouldn't be using these awesome trails. If the guy would accept volunteer trail work or even a trail pass fee I would probably be willing, because I know building and maintaining trails is hard and time consuming. But he doesn't operate that way. He only offers guided mountain bike rides for a fee. So I'll keep running around out there until we run into each other and talk things over one of these days.

I've also been out on the Ossipee River Trails regularly. This afternoon I put in a quick four miles with Scout. I did the P90X Plyometric workout earlier in the day, which is a killer. Plus I have a cold. So I had a little trouble getting myself out for the run, but once I got going it was great. I need to start working on picking up the pace of my runs. I am just so darned relaxed and happy out there, I forget to put a little work into it now and then.

I'll be returning to work the day after Christmas and the runs and workouts will be harder to fit in, but I'm hoping I can keep it going through the winter.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Just for the Joy of Running

This morning I woke to icy roads and a cold rain. It took me all morning to get motivated to go out and run. I finally left the house around noon. I ran the Ossipee River Trails with Scout. I've been putting in a lot of miles on the Leavitt Plantation trails lately so it was nice to be back on our own local trails.

Today I found out that I have been getting into good running shape without intending to. All those miles of exploring Parsonsfield over very hilly terrain has done wonders. I never even thought of it as training. That is how running is meant to be for me. It is an opportunity to enjoy the feeling of moving fast through the woods, to see, smell, and hear the Forest, to feel the trail beneath me, and to wonder what's around the next bend. It's the same for me with mountain biking. It sure doesn't feel like a work out or training. It brings me back to the way we all played as children. We played hard and stayed fit, but we never thought of it as exercise!

I know a lot of runners like the rewards of training. They want to see their times improve. They want to race to prove they are working hard enough. I have four big U-haul boxes full of a life time's worth of trophies, so I can't deny that this was what running was for me for a very long time. I might get back to that some day, or I might not. But for me right now, running is a joyous celebration, as is cross country skiing and mountain biking.

Today we ran all the Trails out there for a total of about 6 miles of single track. It was wet and slippery, but we ran fast and smooth. And we had a lot of fun!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Bending the Map

I am still having an incredibly good time running in the Parsonsfield woods! There are rumored to be over thirty miles of single track mountain biking trail in the area and I have found about half of it. The exploration and mapping of the area is becoming an addiction. I am thinking about calling in sick for physical therapy tomorrow so I can check out a new trail head I found today. That's how bad it is.

This kind of trail running is doing wonders for my weekly mileage. I don't ever run for less than two and a half hours out there. I just have to see what's around the next bend. I wore Scout out completely today.

Sadly, my map making skills are a bit limited. I came out of a very long stretch of single track onto a tote road today. I knew just where I was, in my mind. But why was the pond on my right The map showed it on my left?! I ran down the road a ways, turned and went up the road, turned and went back down. I repeated this over and over, trying to figure things out. Scout thought it was a ton of fun, running back and forth like that. When a person tries to make the map work to fit what he thinks things should be like, it's called "bending the map," and this always leads to disaster. The first rule to wilderness navigation is to trust your map. Yet here I was, an hour before dark (sound familiar?), and my map wasn't fitting with what my brain was telling me.

Finally I decided to go with my gut...but for only fifteen minutes. If I wasn't somewhere I recognized within that fifteen minutes I would re-trace my steps back over the twisty turning single track and hope to be out of the deep woods before full dark. Well, my gut was right. Within ten minutes I was out on a recognizable dirt road. For once, bending the map worked. On the drive home, I figured out that I had been mistaken when I drew the map in the first place. The tote road I came out on was on the opposite side of the pond as I had mapped it.

I think the lesson is to stay calm and stay disciplined. The fifteen minute limit I allowed myself to locate my position was reasonable and if it hadn't panned out, I had allowed myself enough time to retrace my steps. Also, as much as I would like to have trusted my "map," I have to admit that it is a home made map and it might not be 100 percent accurate. Was I scared? No, I had a plan and I knew I'd get back home one way or another. Will I be out there again tomorrow? You bet!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Cartography 101

I've been taking advantage of the snowless trails. I have been out in the Parsonsfield woods or the Ossipee River Trails every chance I get. I bring Scout with me every other day. On Wednesday I ran alone and retraced my route from the day before. What do you know, I found Scout's cow bell! I have made myself a fairly good map of the area from my explorations. You might wonder why I don't just track it all on my Garmen and print out a map from that. Well I tried that, but there is so much out there and the trails are so winding and twisting that it didn't work well. Also, for a map like that to be useful at all, there have to be landmarks or roads to use as a reference. So I printed a Google map of the area, which just includes the surrounding roads, and drew in the trails and tote roads myself. After many exploratory runs and several attempts at map making, I feel like I can safely navigate around the area now!

Today I postponed my long run with Mary. First, I've been running long every day this week and I felt like I needed an easy recovery run today. Second, it was Scout's day for a run and suburbia isn't his idea of running, he is a trail dog! And third, I had a few trails left to map out in Parsonsfield and wanted to do it today. So we ran a very easy paced 5 miles. It was cold and windy. Branches were snapping and cracking all around us. I kept thinking I heard someone talking, but finally realized it was the trees squeaking and whining as they rubbed against each other. Wow, was it blustery!

Tomorrow I'll get my long run in with Mary in the North Yarmouth area. I'll be returning to work at the end of the month so my mileage will probably slip back a little at that point. For now I'm going to run like crazy while the trails are still clear and I have all day free to do it!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

More Exploring

Today I spent two and a half hours exploring the labyrinth of unofficial, unmarked, and unmapped trails in the Leavitt Plantation. There is so much more for me to find. I hope I can get out there a lot more before the snow falls. Once the single track and more remote tote roads are covered for the winter, there is no way I will be able to stay on trail. There is always snow shoeing and skiing to look forward to, but right now this rambling through the woods is a blast!

It felt like the temperature was probably in the mid fifties when I set out with Scout at about 1:30 this afternoon. It was cloudy and we got showered on a few times, but it felt great. The trails and roads we ran today were extremely hilly and fun. There were a few wet areas, but nothing bad. I did manage to get a little misplaced near the end of our run. We had already been out over two hours and Scout was tired. We were within a mile of the car when I spotted a single track trail off to my right. There was no resisting, I had to see where it went. It was very long and winding and hilly. It just kept going and going and turning and twisting. I became totally disoriented, but had to see it through to the end.

Finally I came out on a narrow tote road, but I didn't know which way to head down the road. Just then I noticed that Scout had lost his cow bell and his orange vest. I have a hard time keeping track of him without both of those things. He is hard to see in the woods because of his color and the vest makes him very easy to spot. The bell let's me run on ahead when he stops to explore, and still be able to know he is nearby. We back tracked a short way back on the trail we had just come off of and I did find his vest, but no bell.

By now I was starting to worry a little that it would get dark before I could find my way out. Scout seemed to feel we should turn right on the tote road. His guess was as good as mine so I went with it. In a few miles we were back on familiar trail! Scout amazes me with the way he can find his way around in the woods. Maybe he can teach me a few things! Scout was exhausted during the home stretch, and I felt a little guilty about taking him on such a long outing, but we made it back to the car right at dusk. He napped all the way home and will sleep good tonight. I'll leave him home tomorrow when I go back out there. It's addictive!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Weekend Ramblings

Saturday, Kevin and I drove down to Merrimack, New Hampshire for a mountain bike ride and pot luck dinner holiday celebration hosted by Kevin's friend, John. Sixteen of us showed up to ride the nice single track of Horse Hill. I had been on the trails a few times in the past, once for for a snow shoe race and a few times for trail runs, but I didn't remember much about them. Kevin had ridden there a couple of times in the past. He tells me that John and Matt have made enormous improvements and the riding is much better now than it was last time he rode there. All I know is that it was a lot of fun and great riding!

John, who is an incredibly speedy mountain bike racer, had his girlfriend, Kathy (just as speedy as John) take him out for a six mile run before the ride so he would be able to restrain himself to ride with some of his slower friends. It must have worked, because John rode sweep all afternoon. Before this, all I had ever seen of John on the trail is the back of his shirt in the first few seconds of a ride. I settled near the back of the pack and was quite happy there. Honestly, it was a little difficult for me to keep up with even the rear of the pack so I had to work pretty hard. That made it very fun for me. We had a nice little party afterwards with great food and a few cold beers. It was a really nice day.

Sunday found both Kevin and I feeling a little under the weather from too much holiday cheer. We shouldn't have continued the day's celebration when we got back home. So we weren't up to mountain biking, but went for a long meandering walk on the Parsonsfield trails. Even walking, I managed to fall and bang up my knee. Good thing I didn't try to bike! I got in a few miles of running near the end of our walk. Kevin and Scout returned on the road and I ran the winding single track, thinking we'd all get back around the same time. As I was running down the last steep slope toward the road, I could see Kevin driving the truck up the road to meet me at the trail head. I arrived at the passenger door at the exact moment Kevin brought the truck to a halt. Talk about perfect timing!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Lions and Coyotes and Bears, Oh My!

Yesterday, I pulled the car into the little remote pull off where I have been parking to gain access to the tote roads and trails of the Leavitt Plantation. Scout was sitting in the passenger seat beside me. Normally, he would be ready to get out to run the minute I stopped the car. This time he just sat with his head forward, snout against the windshield, staring down the trail intently. His body was shaking all over. He was letting out a long low growl with every exhalation. I'd never heard him growl like that before and never seen him scared of anything. I looked where Scout was looking, but saw nothing. I left the key in the ignition and the doors locked, and sat waiting for whatever had him so upset to come into view. We sat there for perhaps five minutes. I didn't see anything. Scout continued shaking, growling, and staring throughout this wait.

He likely smelled a coyote or black bear. I have seen lots of sign from both in the area. There are also moose. Whatever it was, I wasn't about to get out of the car! You couldn't have forced me to get out. I am not afraid of wildlife. I've seen plenty of bears, coyotes, and moose in the woods. But there was something about Scout's behavior that sent a shiver up my spine. I always listen to my intuition, and my intuition said to get out of there. I backed out and drove away. I parked at another access about a mile down the road. As soon as I pulled in, Scout started wagging his tail and ringing his cowbell. He was ready to go! We had a wonderful two hour run over the trails.

I woke up at about two o'clock this morning from a nightmare about a greasy haired mountain man with fangs and a big bloody knife. He had been hiding and waiting for me on the tote road where I had originally parked. In my dream, Scout opted to wait in the car (coward) and I had gone down the trail alone despite his warnings. After awakening, I lay for a long time thinking about how much I enjoy the woods and wondering why I would risk mountain man attack, bear mauling, and moose trampling to pursue this passion. All I could come up with is that it's in my blood. I can't help it.

I know a lot of women who are afraid to venture into the woods alone. I also know a lot of men and women who think I am crazy to do so. Not in an admirable sort of way, like "you must be crazy to run ultra marathons!" It is more of a "you are an irresponsible idiot for venturing out into the woods alone, you crazy bitch" sort of way. All I can say is that being alone in the woods feels right and makes me happy. I haven't met a single greasy haired mountain man with fangs in the woods, but I did meet a weirdo in leisure clothes who spooked me on the Jewel Trail once. I kept my distance and warned women heading up the trail that he seemed weird and out of place. He was probably harmless. I have been leery of a couple of black bears who seemed too comfortable around me (one on the Lower Nanamocomuck and another in Virginia,) and I had a bull moose make a bluff charge at me once (there was no incontinence, so I think the whole thing about sh*ting yourself is a myth.) Those were three times out of hundreds of wildlife encounters, and I reacted correctly each time and was unharmed. So after spending thousands of days in the woods alone, I can name four incidents in which I felt a little threatened. I've had many many more close calls running on the roads!

My friend, Mary has an unreasonable fear of meeting a mountain lion on the New England trails. I tease her about it and she teases back, saying I will change my tune if I ever get attacked by one while I'm out running. I promise her that if it ever happens I will use my last dying moment to scratch into the dirt with my finger, "Mary was right." Laying awake this morning I decided that I would add to that if I had time, "...but it was worth it!"