Friday, June 29, 2012

A Rare Look at My Non-running, Non-biking Life

I spend a lot of time with old people. I don't mean old like me, I mean old like 80's and 90's and on a rare occasion, 100's. And most of the ones I see are in their right minds and living at home. I like old folks. I like the way they say what they mean and after they say it, they don't make apologies or take anything back.

Last week I forgot to bring a birthday card to a woman who was turning 90. When she realized I didn't have a card for her, she gave me Hell. She didn't pretend she didn't notice or didn't care, because she did notice and she did care. She plunked down into her kitchen chair with her arms crossed over her chest and said, "Well Good Night!" making it sound like a swear word, "I thought you were a nicer person than this. Everybody else remembered my birthday." So I stopped by later with a card and she was thrilled. "Well Good Night!" this time as an exclaimation of joy,"Aren't you sweet!"

A few days ago, a woman misunderstood the statement from her insurance company and believed I was pocketing an extraordinary amount of money each time I visited her. "No wonder you always seem happy to see me," she said, waving the statement in my face, "I'd be happy too if I was making that kind of money!" When I explained that our visits supported an entire agency, not just the clinician who made the visit, she put the paper away and offered me a cookie.

Old men in this part of the country are very practical. Yesterday an elderly gentleman proposed to me saying, "I need me a young one with a good back so she can mow the lawn and weed the garden." When I pointed out that I was already married, he said in a flat, serious tone, "well, ask around. Tell your friends I have nice eyes, or something like that."

One of my favorite things about working with old folks is the compliments I get. It is very common for me to be mistaken for a teenager several times in the course of my work day. "What?! You have grown children? I thought you were just a kid yourself!" or, "Aren't you a little young to be a nurse?" These comments are wonderful to hear...even if a little later in the conversation the flatterer will usually admit, "My vision is terrible. I can't see a thing!"

Many of them, on first meeting, will exclaim, "My, you're a wiry one, aren't you!" as they squeeze and poke my arms and ribs like I'm some sort of farm animal. This is followed by something like, "You need to eat more." or "Tell your husband to stop working you so hard so you can put some meat on your bones." I normally don't tell people I run, but admit to it if they ask. The ones that ask are usually ones that ran themselves when they were younger. Believe it or not, running is nothing new!

One old gentleman I visit on occasion still runs the streets of Portland. He does it in Dickies work pants and a tucked in white dress shirt. He wears Walmart running shoes. I've seen him running, he can move! He likes to stop the young runners on the Back Bay path and talk running with them, so some of you may have met him. He always has a big smile on his face when he brings up the subject of running. "It's like a drug for me," he says.

I once visited an older man in downtown Portland who claims to have won one of the early Portland Patriot's Day Races. The way he described that race made me believe it. It went something like this, "yes, Joe was ahead and Jimmy was right behind me. I knew Joe always went out too fast, so I wasn't worried about him, but Jimmy had a kick. So we rounded that last corner and started up that little incline..."  He gave a stride for stride description, including what color shorts he was wearing. He probably relives that race in his head all the time. I wondered how often his children and grandchildren have heard the story.

There is a 90-something woman I see regularly who has taught me a lot about happiness. She gets a thrill about every little thing that happens. One time she excitedly showed me a new bottle of laxatives her neice bought for her, "Look at the gift my neice gave me! Isn't this great?" and she meant it. She often shows me uplifting stories or pictures she likes from newspapers or magazines, and chuckles with glee as she explains them or reads them to me.  She got a piece of corn bread with her Meals-on-Wheels once, and you'd have thought it was Christmas!  She once watched a stump in her backyard with binoculars all morning, thinking it was a deer. She was so excited, I hated to tell her it was a stump. When she finally realized she'd been watching a stump for hours, she was even more tickled than she had been about the deer.  If you ask her what the secret to happiness is she'll tell you, "Just choose to be be happy. It's a choice."

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Camp, Biking, Running, and Gardening

Kevin and I spent a three day weekend mountain biking the Kingdom Trails and painting the camp. We both hate the "Old Caboose Red" that so many camps and barns wear, so it was a priority to change the color of our camp as soon as possible. Without much discussion, we agreed on what we like to call, "National Forest Brown." This is the color that all state and national forest buildings seem to be painted. We easily found the color in Lowes paint department, but for some reason they call it "Mulch."  The paint job is coming along very nicely. Camp is starting to look like a little ranger station. Soon people will be stopping by asking for maps and directions and to use the rest room.

This past weekend was NEMBAfest at the Kingdom Trails. Kingdom Trails had a big turn out and the entire town got into the action with "Welcome NEMBA" signs and banners at businesses and homes. I heard that over 800 mountain bikers registered for the event (which gives them access to the expo, events, camping, shuttles, trails and lifts) and many, many more just bought trail passes and lift passes. Most of the event was centered at the Mountain, with shuttles out to the Darling Hill trails. Kevin and I avoided the mountain and enjoyed the event by riding the Darling Hill trails. When we attended NEMBAfest at Bear Brook, we always missed all the events and expos because we were out riding the trails. We never did make it back in time for the food even once at Bear Brook! So this year we didn't even try, we just rode. The weather was great and the trails were in good shape. We rode ourselves into complete uselessness by the end of the weekend. We had to quit our ride early Sunday when we both realized that our legs had turned to quivering blobs of Jello.

Kevin's mountain biking friends from New Hampshire joined us at the campfire on Saturday night. They were staying up at the mountain and volunteering at the event. We never did run into them on the trails. We had to use every piece of furniture we had when they came to visit and some still had to stand. We aren't quite set up for entertaining yet. We had a nice visit and Kevin got a chance to catch up on all things New Hampshire mountain biking related.

Back at the home front in Kezar Falls, we have been having good success with our gardens. Fresh vegetables are on the way! Mother Nature has been very good to our gardens this year.

Vermont 100 still looms in the near future. My original pacer, Bob D had to withdraw as the race he helps direct happens to fall on the same weekend this year. He apparently has been busy recruiting another pacer for me because I have been getting offers left and right. Bob N is going to be the man for the job, I believe.

Training is going well (on a low key kind of level). On Friday Kevin dropped me off on the way to camp so I could run the rest of the way on hard packed uphill gravel road in the hot sun with deer flies buzzing in my hair, which is as close to Vermont 100 race day conditions as I can get. I have been running Green Mountain and the Ossipee River Trails regularly and will get at least one more long run in on the Leavitt Plantation Trails before my taper. As long as I don't get too ambitious, I should do fine. It would be nice to have a new buckle to add to my collection, but as I run the race I will try to keep in mind the famous words of my friend Joe, "AFF beats a DNF."

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Week in Review

 Last week I ran up and down Green Mountain on two occasions and ran lots of easy trail miles on local trails. Yet, I still don't feel like I am actually  training, I'm just running and riding and having fun. While everyone else is racing every weekend, I'm off in the woods meandering. Sometimes I feel a little guilty about this. Should I be racing more? Am I no longer a real runner since I am doing more of the Forest Gump sort of thing than the Steve Prefontaine thing? Then I come to my senses and I wonder, why is everyone I know racing all the time? Do they actually enjoy it?  Where do they find time for hiking and mountain biking and kayaking and trail work and gardening? I have to do what's right for me. I'm loving life so I'm doing something right.

I have the Vermont 100 coming up and it is going to be my first "race" in a very long time. I know the fitness is there, but will I be able to find my race mode?  Probably not, but I think I will be fine. Feeling competitive will get you nowhere in a hundred miler.

I am finishing up my working weekend. It's been busy, but I fit in an awesome 12 mile run Saturday after work. I had noticed, while driving between patients' homes in the Standish/Windham area, that there is only a surprisingly short stretch of road between accesses to two of the trails I run frequently. For a couple of months I have been waiting for the opportunity to connect them into a nice loop. Saturday, all the pieces came together. I was seeing patients in the area, the weather was perfect, and I still had a few hours of daylight left at the end of my work day. It really was a great loop! The first 5 miles was single and double track dirt. Then came the three mile road connection, over big hills through beautiful farmland. Next was 3 miles of flat paved bike path followed by a last mile of traffic free dirt road. Wow, was that a nice loop! I can't wait to get out there again.

Kevin and I mountain biked for two and a half hours before work on Sunday. Scout came along and had a lot of fun. We finally got brave enough to ride the Leavitt Plantation single track. I've been running these trails for many months, but riding seemed like a terrible Taboo. I have explained this before, but I'll briefly tell you again. The single track mountain bike trails were built on private land (with permission) by a man who makes a living doing guided trips on his trails. Then the land became property of the town and was opened to the public. The man continues to run his business and does not welcome mountain bikers to use his trails without permission. It's a bit of a sticky situation.

I run there all the time and never see anyone. Wouldn't you know it, on Sunday about a half hour into our ride we met up with a man and a woman walking the trail. Once we got past, I whispered to Kevin, "was that him?!" in a paranoid sort of way. It wasn't, and we moved on. Just as we were getting ready to start uphill on the next trail, we saw mountain bikers coming down from the trail, so we stopped to let them by. The first three went by and I whispered again, "Was that him?!"  Kevin said, "no, but that is him, coming down next." And Kevin casually rode down the fire road out of sight and I followed. We hid in the bushes (not really, we just hid around a curve in the road) for a few minutes and then continued our ride. What a crazy situation! We have the right to be out there, yet we hid.

The trails were fun and challenging. I have been riding them in my mind every time I have run out there. I would think "could I get my wheel over that?" and "I would have to swing wide here to approach the bridge at the correct angle." and "This loose dirt on this steep long hill could be a problem." and "I'm definitely walking my bike around this."  So it was great to actually get out there on the bike. Most of the spots I thought would be difficult were do-able. Some spots I never imagined would be a problem on the bike, were.  We enjoyed ourselves and never did get into trouble. It was a great way to set myself up for a good work evening.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Lone Wolf or Wolf Pack on the Trails?

I ran alone for 5 hours of hilly Leavitt Plantation Trails on Friday without seeing another person for the entire time. I kept thinking how lucky I am to live in an area where I can get out into the woods alone and enjoy complete solitude and tranquility. This led me to thinking about how different many of my running friends feel about being alone on the trails. There are some who, when shown a beautiful network of trails, immediately say, "someone has to put on a race here! Why is there no race held here?!" as if showing three hundred runners a single track trail system is going to make it a better place to run. These are the types that can tell you their exact pace and distance and elevation change thanks to GPS, but admit that they didn't notice the Red Fox in the field, the newly felled beaver tree, or  the call of the Raven up in the pines above. As long as they are enjoying what they are doing, it's all good.

There are many who want to run the trails in groups, maybe to help pass the time or distract them from the task at hand. For them trail running is social. Their Blogs and Facebook posts read something like this, "Susan and I talked about the benefits of minimalist shoes for the entire run and it was over before I knew it. I didn't even notice which trails we ran on." And it's competitive for some. They write stuff like "Me and Mark ran stride for stride up the first rise, but Tony caught us on the slight down. Luckily, I had something left at the end and took them both before we got to the summit."  I enjoy reading  and hearing about other people's take on the trail experience.

 Then there is the "safety in numbers" philosophy that a lot of female (and probably a few male) runners and hikers go by. On many occasions in the White Mountains, I have been asked by other hikers on the trail if I was scared to be out there all alone. Two women hiking together on the ever popular Hedgehog Mountain even admitted that they were a little worried with just the two of them together. How sad, they are missing out on something special!  And some people just don't like to do anything alone. How many times have I been out with a group and one woman decides to visit the restroom and one or two others feel they need to keep her company?

I carried those thoughts over to the weekend of mountain biking at the Kingdom Trails. I don't have that same love-to-be-alone feeling on the bike as I do on foot. For one thing, I have a history of getting hurt on the bike, so it's nice to have someone with me. I have ridden alone and enjoyed it, but not as much as I enjoy riding with Kevin. I have also done a few group rides on the trails and found them to be quite fun. But mostly I just like to ride with Kevin. There is no need to discuss or debate which trails to ride, we are both flexible and open minded about things like that. There is no competition between us whatsoever. Technical stuff? Kevin might gain quite a bit on me and have to wait at some point down the trail. Crazy fast downhill? He lets it rip, and I tap my brakes the whole way down.  Long up hill near the end of a ride? I might finally have to wait for him. But mostly, we just move along together with a smile.  If there is a rider coming up from behind at a faster speed, we pull over. If we come up from behind on someone who is moving too slow for us, we stop and take a break if there is no easy way to get around. We're pretty relaxed about that stuff, even though we're working pretty hard on some of our rides.

There are a lot of mountain bikers on the Kingdom Trails on the weekends, but there is plenty of room to spread out and find your own space. Strangely, some riders instead chose to chase us down and pass, only to stop for a rest as soon as they get by. Or a group of riders will jump on their bikes and start pedalling as fast as they can when we go by, when they had been taking a break until they saw us coming. Others will crank up their speed (complete with grunts and panting) to avoid being passed. One guy in a flashy roadie jersey chased me down after we passed him on Sunday. I swear he was setting himself up to fight me for first dibs on a narrow long bridge! Crazy stuff, and dangerous. I stopped just before the bridge when I heard him huffing and puffing behind me.  Kevin stopped and let him and his two slower friends go by after he got over the bridge. And guess what? We passed them right back again about a hundred yards down the trail without ever changing our speed or effort. It can be annoying, but I don't think any of those riders are being malicious, they are just having fun in their own ways.

I ran trails for many years before I ever raced trails. I ran tons of road races at all distances and my first Ultras were road Ultras. I still remember when, many years ago, Ultra legend KW asked me why I didn't do trail races. My answer without giving it a thought was, "I don't want to ruin trail running for myself." Well, I've done plenty of trail races since that time and enjoyed them for the most part, but I think on some level I still feel like I did back then. Let's face it, I'm a bit of a lone wolf  on foot(although I don't mind running with the pack on occasion.)  And on the bike I prefer to run alone with my partner. Hoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooowl!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Running in the Rain

It was a cold and rainy weekend in Maine and in Vermont, so we decided to stay home for a change.I had a very nice run in the rain at the Leavitt Plantation single track on Sunday. Scout had run into something and bruised his shoulder a few weeks back, so we had him on anti-inflamatories with no running for several days, and then light running for a few more days. Kevin took him out with the mountain bike Friday evening and reported that he did fine, so I took him with me Sunday. He ran the trails with great enthusiasm and no limping afterwards, so I think he's back to one hundred percent.

We stayed on the more solid, higher trails for Sunday's run. Running in mud is fun, but since Kevin got me started doing trail work with him, I have a new appreciation for staying off the trails when they are muddy. Funny how a little manual labor can change a person's habits! The trails we ran on Sunday had some standing water in spots, but the ground beneath it was solid. I was soaked through to the skin within about a minute. But as long as I kept moving, I stayed warm. It is nice to feel my legs getting stronger and faster each time out there. There are some good hard climbs, but I don't have to walk any of them at this point. I also try to get a little time in on the gravel roads, as there are plenty of them on the Vermont 100 course.

After I went home and dried off, I headed back out into the woods to help Kevin clean up the Woodchuck and White Tail Trails on the Ossipee River. I was already exhausted when I got there, but managed to help out some. It was fun seeing and hearing the river so high and so fast. I wouldn't be surprised if we saw some flooding around here in the next few days.

I have Friday off from work and will head back out for a six hour run without Scout. Most participants in a hundred miler lead up to their race with other shorter Ultras. I just don't like to race! Hopefully I am doing enough training to make up for the lack of racing. Time will tell.