Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Best 83 Cents Bill Has Ever Spent

Last week I got a pair of $109 cross-country ski boots for 83 cents. Such a steal. A mere $145 later and I had skis, poles and mounted bindings. Bring on the snow, please.

Today Bill scored a returned, but seemingly fully functional, Timex GPS watch that retails for $325 for ... 83 cents. Someone returned it and it was put out for sale at more than half-off but no one bought it. Then it was $75. No one. Then $50. No one. Then 83 cents. After clearing it with his manager, Bill brought the thing home.

Crazy. It's all his, as I generally don't even run with a regular watch, but if another 99.89 percent off sale comes my way, I will gladly purchase one of my own. Or maybe I will just save my dimes and borrow his for the Philly marathon.

Saturday, October 29, 2011


It is snowing here in Philadelphia right now. Snowing hard. It is October. I hope this is a sign of piles of snow to come this winter so I can use all of my snow toys a ton.

Melie at G(r)eek Melie tagged me. I am it. Ten things about me that you didn't know before. I am not sure what  "you" I am supposed to be writing for so I apologize if none of these things are new for your.

1) After undergrad I went to law school for a bit more than a semester. I hated it. A lot. One day in the middle of contracts class I walked out and never went back. I left my books in class, stuff in my locker (yep, we had lockers in law school) and spent about three years writing for a newspaper and a medical publishing company before going to grad school to get my master's in social work. And now I love my job.

2) Our dehumidifier is broken, Bill just informed me. Bet none of you knew that already. He is also refusing to turn on the heat until next week so I am currently on the couch in flannel pants, a long-sleeved shirt, a fleece and a ski hat.

3) The book nearest to me at this exact moment is "Runners World Guide to Adventure Racing: How To Become a Successful Racer and Adventure Athlete." It is Bill's. He's been racing for about 13 years. I am wondering if there's anything he can actually learn from this book, especially considering that chapters are titled things like "Everything You Need to Know About Eating." Elio's and Gus, my friends, Elio's and Gus.

4) Staring at this little chunk of horror is how I spent a piece of my Friday night. I posted a plea to Facebook, begging someone to explain why these things exist in the first place, let alone cost more than I make in a week. I am going to go as these pants for Halloween. I will just put my legs through the armholes of a grey t-shirt. Tadaa. Costume.

5) My first-ever race was about 10 years ago, a fast and flat 10-k not too far from where I live now. I was convinced I wouldn't be able to finish and, that if I did finish, I would be DFL. Neither happened, and I was hooked. I raced 10- and 5-ks almost every weekend for about three months, did a 13.1 and the guy I'd just started dating convinced me to train for the Philly marathon later that fall. Now I am married to that guy and the Philly marathon marks the 10-year anniversary of my first 26.2.

6) I am fairly certain I could exist entirely on coffee, Stacy's Pita Chips and Nuun. At least for a week or two.

7) I am short to begin with, and fairly sure I am shrinking. I swear I used to be five-foot-two, but now I am much closer to five-foot-one. At this rate I will be under four feet by the time I am 40.

8) In college I had an irrational fear of getting scurvy. I ate vitamin C by the handful. And it worked -- I never got scurvy.

9) I was at the slow end of the bell curve when I was learning how to downhill ski. I was extra bad at it. For the first part of the first season I skiied I learned how to stand up and how to get off of the lift without falling every time. For the second part I worked on moving forward down the hill.  I didn't get to stopping that season -- once I managed to ski into the lodge because I didn't know how to stop going. I am still a horrible skier. While I can mostly keep up with Bill, who snowboards, I have every bad habit there is and I refuse to take lessons to help me shake some of them.

10) When I was little my dad mad me paper dolls. I named them Fee-Fong and Wee-Woe. I think I was about two at the time. My parents found me a bit odd. My little brother had an imaginary friend, a bird named Fragile. When Fragile was about two, my little brother came walking into the house with a giant dead blue jay. "Fragile died," he said, as he handed my mom the bird. And that was the end of his imaginary friend. But yeah, I was the odd one.

I am supposed to tag ten more people but I am stubborn and refuse to do so. But please feel free to share random things about yourself anyway. Plus I don't read ten blogs to begin with. If anyone has one that you think I would like please leave a link in the comments section. I am not a fan of blogs that focus on close-up pictures of food. I know what a fruit smoothie or a loaf of whole-grain bread looks like, thanks.

It is still snowing. In fact, it is starting to stick! Yay!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Marathon Meh

Here's what I've learned this year -- I like off-road racing more than road racing. Give me an adventure race or a trail run any day. My marathon training has been mentally painful and physically slow. Why do laps around the block when you can bound up and down trails and rocks, you know?

Regardless, my final race of 2011 will be the Philadelphia Marathon. I hope to cross the finish line before Christmas.

Training has been a bit meh. I've been putting in the miles, mostly (if adventure racing counts as a long run) but I haven't been doing the speed work. I know I have the endurance to finish, barring something unforeseen, but I don't have the speed to do anything special on race day. And, honestly, nor do I have the desire.

My lack of motivation this training cycle has impressed me. Why go run for three hours on the road when you can bound around on a trail? When you can get your feet wet? When you can get your legs muddy? A 50k sounds less daunting to me right now than a road marathon (and, speaking of, will someone please do this with me?).

As I am running for the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House, though, it is only fair that I at least put forth some effort in training, even if I am not feeling particularly passionate about the race. There's neither chance nor desire to qualify for either Boston or a PR and I am struggling to latch onto a time goal that will keep me motivated on race day.

On the upside, yesterday's 20-miler with Abby (read her account of it here ... Personally, I plan to read it before every 20-mile run for inspiration) didn't suck at all. Not entirely sure why, but it didn't. Some guesses as to why it wasn't terrible:
  1.  It was early in the morning, at least for me. The shock of such an early wake-up call got me going a bit.
  2. There were a ton of other runners out. I commented to Abby no less than 10 times that I couldn't believe how many other runners there were. She was all "Welcome to the world of adults who get out of bed before noon and get their long runs in before dinner time" and I was all "Geeze, it's a whole different world out here before 3 p.m."
  3. The weather ruled. Thank you, Nature, for that gift.
  4. Nothing really hurt. A few pings in my right ankle toward the end but I woke up today feeling fresh.
  5. Company! Usually for long runs, Bill will go for a bike ride and we will meet for a few minutes at pre-determined points so he can give me fuel and water. This time, though, the conversation with Abby about everything from adventure racing (shocking) to future travel plans made the miles tick by quickly. I am still sort of convinced that her Garmin was off and we really only did about 5 miles, but if she insists we hit 20, then I guess we hit 20.
I did about 6 miles of recovery today along a flat path and felt fine. Legs were a bit heavy but nothing hurt or was sore and I had to make a concerted effort not to go hard so that was a bit uplifting.

The race is only 4 weeks away. Hopefully next weekend will bring at least 25 miles between an organized group 20-miler on Saturday, possibly an orienteering meet on Saturday night and another group run on Sunday. Toss in another 20 miles or so the following weekend and then it is taper time already.

Maybe this marathon thing isn't so terrible after all.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Best 83 Cents I've Ever Spent

I found myself running early for a hair appointment after work on Tuesday -- an oddity already. I rarely get my hair cut (I am cheap and lazy) and I even more rarely run early, especially for after-work things as I get stuck late at the hospital more often than not.

What to do with the 45 minutes I had to kill? REI, right down the road from the hair cut place. I had about $25 in cash and no credit card as my wallet was stolen last week (fun) so I planned to just wander around, maybe try on some downhill boots and drool over the skis just put on display.

Cross-country gear was tucked behind the massive downhill display. And there it was -- a pair of xc boots marked down from $109 to $9.93. Brand new with the tags still on! Size 37 -- too small for me, I thought, but I decided to try to stuff my boat feet into them anyway. They fit! A miracle! Neither too big, nor too small, neither too hot, nor too cold. Just right!

I skipped to the check-out, hugging the boots to my chest. And it turned out I had a random $9.70 credit on my REI membership, bringing the grand total of my purchase to a bank-breaking 83 cents.

The downside to my purchase? I don't own cross-country skis. Or poles. Or bindings. So right now I have a sweet pair of boots that I got for a steal that will lead to about $300 leaving my bank account. A bonus, though, is that Bill apparently ordered skis and boots last week so at least I will have someone to ski with. Here's hoping for another winter with 787 feet of snow.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

If I Knew It Was That Kind of Party I Would've Worn Pants

I am going to start at the end. We won our co-ed 2 division of 14 teams at The Edge sprint adventure race Sunday. I don't want to be like that kid we all knew in high school who swore she failed a test and then set the curve but I don't want the fact that we placed well to negate the fact that we weren't overly happy with the way we raced the race.

Bill and I both know that we should have done better and shouldn't have left more than one, if any, checkpoints on the course. When we both realized we weren't going to clear the course we both yelled fuck. A lot. With some shits and dammits thrown in just to keep things from getting too boring.

The first four hours were sort of great. After a brief opening orienteering segment (teams had to find 6 checkpoints and could split up -- I found my three points all by myself like a big girl! And Bill fell into a thorn bush, rendering him covered in blood a mere 15 minutes into the race! Excitement!) we were on our bikes for a sprint to another checkpoint that would serve as the main transition area for the race.

A friendly volunteer handed us our passports and we learned that we would be heading out for the foot section first -- teams were randomly assigned foot, bike, canoe or special challenges. Eleven points that we hoped to clear. And we did, but not after ripping through some nasty thorn bushes, barbed wire(!), brier, a creek crossing or five, a thorn to my eye, a wrong turn (although I managed to figure out where we were in about two minutes by looking at the map ... I helped with navigation! Redonk!) and lots of running.

The course was great -- challenging but not impossible even for first-time teams and the design took advantage of the park terrain and features. The entire race was rogaine format -- each checkpoint was optional and had a point value. The team with the most points wins. A tie goes to the team with the fastest overall time.

Our legs were shredded, bloody disasters by the time we worked our way back into transition. I wore capris and bike shorts and Bill just wore shorts. Had we known that we'd spend more time dragging ourselves through thorns than on trail we would have worn pants.

If you don't like grody legs, skip over these pictures that you've probably already seen by now. In real life, Bill isn't bow-legged. And I also like how my leg has "XTC" carved into it. One of my favorite bands from high school, hooray!

We dropped our bikes and sprinted (sort of ) to the canoe put-in. Four points up- and down-stream. The down was easy and the up wasn't as bad as we thought aside from one narrow section of the creek where we were sprinting paddle-style and getting nowhere. I was expecting the paddle to take more than an hour but we were out of the water in about 45 minutes. Sweet, because after the Storm the Eastern Shore paddle everything else in a boat is boring.

Special challenges were next. For some reason, challenges seem to be a staple of just about every sprint race. And, frankly, I think that they are silly so I am not going to go into detail. Here's a tip, though: Never have a medical emergency if you are stuck with me or Bill in the wild. One of the challenges was a wilderness first-aid quiz. We failed miserably. Several times. Although we did mock ourselves a little and giggle a lot so that was sweet.

We headed out on our bikes with about two hours before the 6-hour race cutoff. After that points would be deducted for every five minutes we were late. We pushed the pace and found the first few bike points easily.

Then the trail got technical, at least for me. I had to get off and carry my bike over boulders and other junk that I didn't think I could ride.

And then we couldn't find a point. In hindsight we probably blew right past it without noticing but instead we rode around several fields for a while, getting progressively more frustrated as we realized we weren't going to clear the course. At one point we were even on our bikes in a pumpkin patch with toddlers and their parents. A bit disoriented were we.

Then we ran into the nicest team ever. They ended up coming in right behind us in our division and it was their first race of all time. Silly overachievers. We agreed to team up to find one of the bike checkpoints that was a bit confusing on the map, especially considering that we weren't entirely sure where we were.

It only took us about 10 minutes to get to the point we were looking for. A bit off the bike trial, the CP rested in a pit of steaming green and black filth. I made Bill go get it. And then felt bad because I started having flashbacks to Artax getting sucked into a swamp in The Neverending Story and got concerned that Bill was next.

I felt less bad just now when Bill watched this clip and said it reminded him more of when the swamp tried to eat me in the Storm the Shore.

We were down to 30 minutes and had neglected four points. We still had to check back into the transition area before continuing on to the finish line -- a ride that was all uphill. Not what we had hoped for. We quickly nabbed one more point (well, sort of quickly ... we only found it because I was stomping around having a minor temper tantrum because the point wasn't right where we thought it was when I happened to look up and see it on top of a rocky hill), sped back to transition and then headed off for the uphill slog to the finish.

We ened up in a line of more than 30 teams, all trying to cross the finish before the 6-hour cutoff. I've never seen a finish like it in the 20 or so adventure races I've done. Usually teams trickle across the line one at a time, minutes or even hours apart.

This, however, was a hot mess of teams all going for broke, not wanting to lose any points for crossing the finish too late. Some teams were going for broke better than others and, not to sound like a dick, some got in my way. The uphill trail was single-and double-track, and some teams got a bit tired and just hopped off their bikes and stood there, getting in everyone else's way. Sort of inconsiderate and, as we were in a bit of a rush to, you know, finish the race in time, I was pissed. We finally just rode a bit off trail to get around people and when the trail gave way to a giant open hill we pushed to the top.

Bill was off and riding and I realized I could run with my bike faster than I could pedal. I hoppped off, picked up my old Trek and ran up the hill. Lungs burned, legs hated me, but we got there with several minutes to spare.

We slumped over to our car, Bill threw the bikes onto the roof and we discussed what went wrong. A few minor nav errors, a lack of first aid knowledge -- but what it seemed to come down to was that we just hadn't gone fast enough to clear the course. Another 20 or 30 minutes and had we not blown past that one bike CP, we could have done it.

But we didn't do it. And we were grumpy.

As the results were posted and we saw that we won our division, our grumpiness was only mildly mitigated. And the sweet beer stein and Road ID gift card that were our prizes helped a bit more, too.

Alas, AR season is officially over for us. At least it ended on a fun, well-designed course. The rogaine style meant that most teams finished in the last 30 minutes of the race-- the winners cleared, the newer teams didn't, but everyone got to be on the course for just about the full six hours. Usually, the super-speedy teams finish a sprint in three or four hours, sitting at the finish for hours while the rest of the field completes the course.

Next up, the Philly marathon. That I haven't trained for a lot. A 20-miler is on tap for Saturday followed by about 10 miles on Sunday. The race is soon -- less than a month away. Little speedwork, nothing more than 18 miles as my long run up to this point. Should be a disaster! But hopefully a fun one.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A, B, C

A) Because neither one of us likes to sit still for too long and because I will apparently do anything to justify getting out of a long run, Bill signed us up for this today. At least I am assuming it was Bill. I checked my e-mail at work today (don't tell my boss) and found a race registration confirmation in my inbox. This year, The Edge is at a park we've raced in once before. The course designers were mean  -- made us paddle for 2.5 miles upstream which was more terrible than you might think. But then they got nicer and the bike course was the most fun I've had on my mountain bike in a race, ever. Too bad I haven't been on my mountain bike in more than two weeks.

B) We have a new buddy in our house. His name is Archie and his favorite book is The Hunger Games.

SPOILER ALERT: He cried when Rue died.

C) My new favorite thing to laugh at is collection of photoshopped pictures taken from a stockpile of photos from a hidden camera in a haunted house. I realize I think this is so much more hilarious than it actually is.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Storm the Eastern Shore, The End

I apologize in advance if this post makes even less sense than usual. After literally years with not even a sneeze, I find myself at home in a benadryl-induced haze trying to fight off something grody that is attempting to take over my person.

After the boys stared at the map for a bit and we shuffled around for about a mile trying to figure out exactly where we were we found our first point. And then the second, third and fourth in about 45 minutes. The points were almost right on top of each other -- two were less than 30 yards apart.

So, instead of just going for the mandatory four points we ended up with seven. Hooray! The sun worked its way up, our headlamps went back in our packs and after less than two hours (I think) we were rolling out of transition on our bikes for a few more points over 20 miles. And also a few more mosquito bites. At one point I was standing still to pay a toll we had to go through on our bikes and I was instantaneously covered in mosquitoes. Delicious.

We rode in a pace line most of the way and were moving along quick enough (for us) as we worked our way to the put-in for the final kayak, about 8 k down the Chesapeake. Didn't sound too bad.

We didn't waste too much time in transition and were off.

And then I got hit in the back of the head with Bill's paddle.

"Oh, sorry! I was just looking at the maps!" he said.

A few yards later I was clunked in the back of the head again. And then again. I turned, careful not to throw the boat out of balance.

Bill was sound asleep but still paddling the air.

Great. After a few failed attempts to keep him awake I realized I would be mostly paddling for two. I was pretty tired myself and made B.J. keep me engaged in conversation to keep me awake.

And then we saw sharks swimming toward us -- three fins popping above the water. Except I soon realized that the fins, fortunately, belonged to dolphins that swam right up to us, curious toward a bunch of smelly people in kayaks in their space.

How amazing -- probably the coolest thing that I've ever experienced during a race (aside from a few awesome hallucinations I had at my first 24-hour). Our new friends woke Bill up a bit and we continued down the bay.

The take-out came into view and we all started to pick up the pace, motivated by the finish line. We beached our boats and started to figure out the best way to rig them in order to complete the half-mile portage to the finish.

And then, a miracle! The dude from the team that stole back their portage wheels rolled up in a car and handed us a set of wheels!

We pushed and pulled our way to the finish (the portage was uphill, of course) and tadaa! All done!

The results still aren't posted but I am guessing we finished toward the middle.

I loved, loved this race. So fun, well-organized, the course took advantage of what the terrain had to offer and amazingly friendly volunteers. The fact that I felt physically strong for most of the race and only had one near-meltdown when I was stuck in  the swamp didn't hurt either.

And now I am bored. I want to get out there again immediately. Well, not immediately, as I am currently still in my pjs after 14 hours of sleep with more meds and tea pumping through me than is allowed by law. But soon.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Storm the Eastern Shore, Part II

It was 7-ish or 7:30-ish or something when we headed out on our mountain bikes for a quick 25-mile ride, all on roads. The race director made it clear that the bike sections could be ridden on road bikes but we were mandated to use mountain bikes. Our tires were changed out from quite knobbies to just a little bit knobbies so we could zoom along as much as possible.

We put ourselves into a pace line and felt like we were flying after the slow hours in the boat. In just over 1.5 hours we covered more ground than in the first 10 hours of the race. That's a bit crazy.

One checkpoint was a bit hard to find -- we had to write down what year the giant  court house that clearly was RIGHT IN FRONT OF OUR FACE moved to its current location. No indication anywhere -- we rode in circles around the building, smooshed our faces up against the front door to see if the date we were looking for was inside, looked for cornerstones ... nothing. Finally we found it on a tiny plaque on the side of the road (it was moved in 1677, in case you were wondering), 10 minutes wasted.

We continued on... and zoomed right past the turnoff to the transition to orienteering. So did just about every other team. Bike lights ahead, bike lights behind as we all rode back and forth looking for the proper turnoff. A friendly solo racer who ended up coming in second overall took the time to stop and show us that the road we needed wasn't actually on our map and pointed us in the right direction. Fortunately, we weren't too far out of the way and pulled into a muddy little patch of grass in the middle of nowhere that would serve as our transition to a 14-point orienteering course.

We had to get 8 points in order not to be short-coursed so that's what we did. In hindsight we could have gotten at least three or four more but, as the course maps were handed out section by section, we didn't know what was ahead of us  and decided to go just for the 8 points.

After throwing on our trail runners we were off. B.J. took the navigational lead and we soon found ourselves scraping through chest-high thorn bushes in the dark. Thorn bushes that hid sharp rocks and giant damn turkeys. Do you want to know how trippy it is to find yourself face to face with a wild turkey at 2 a.m. after 17 hours of racing?

Here's how trippy: Very. Very damn trippy.

Fortunately, we stumbled upon the first two or three points easily and thought we were well on our way to snagging our 8 points.

Then, a swamp tried to eat me. I am not making this up.

We were searching for a point along an reentrant. In case you are new to these parts, reentrants are not my friends. As we slogged along through swamp that reeked, the muck sucked at our ankles and threatened to take off our shoes. The point was visible just over and up the side of the swamp, though, so we continued on our route and punched the point. Hooray!

But all was not well. We headed a bit east through the swamp. And then I started sinking. Sinking fast. The boys were a few yards ahead as the Swamp Thing tried to pull me under. Within a few seconds I was in the putrid, rotting, thick mess up to my hips.

I was stuck. Impossibly stuck. And sinking.

What to do? I know! Freak the F out!

I started screaming and shrieking and flailing around. Oddly, this behavior did not get me unstuck. But it did get Bill and B.J. to turn around and come stare at me.

"Get me out! Get me ouuuut! GET ME OOOOUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUTTT!," I demanded while waving my hands in the air like I just didn't care. Too bad Bill didn't have the camera out for this.

So they did. First they tried to have me lean over and yank my arms. I got more stuck. Then they had me try to lay on my side and unstick myself. Not happening. Finally, they managed to stand far enough away that they didn't sink and they each grabbed me under an arm and yanked straight up.

Free at last! My shoes managed to stay on too so I guess I can't complain too much. We got a few more points (including one that was within the ruins of a house that made me feel like we were living The Blair Witch Project ... sort of awesome and sort of scary) and soon were up to six. We headed back to transition to take a bearing -- the points looked easy on the map and both seemed to be a straight shot on the far side of a soybean field.

But, no. More swamp, more stickers, more rocks and more swamp. We moseyed along with a few other teams and were starting to get a bit concerned that we were lost when we found one point and then, after more time being stabbed by thorn bushes, the other, neatly tucked within a sticker bush, hidden behind a tree. Ouch.

We headed back to transition, put on clean socks and  were off on our bikes again. I didn't wear a watch for this race, hoping to avoid the phenomenon of feeling awake, then looking at my watch, seeing that it is 3:30 in the morning and then suddenly feeling achingly tired, so I am not sure what time it was -- sometime between sunset and sunrise.

Ahead of us was about 25 miles on the bike to the next orienteering section. We found ourselves in some sort of apple orchard/sheep farm/swamp where race volunteers handed us a hand-sketched map with 8 points on it, with no clear markings delineating where we were in the map. Four points were mandatory, four were optional.

I sat in the grass while Bill and B.J. tried to figure out exactly where we were located on the map. This took a bit, so I stuffed my face with more chicken nuggets and a cheeseburger and waited for the fun to begin again ...