Saturday, July 30, 2011

Return to the motherland...or "how to hurt yourself with what are, at first glance, really great ideas" Part II

Okay, it wasn't actually blizzarding in Steamboat - it was blizzarding on Rabbit Ears pass getting into Steamboat.  Steamboat looked much more pleasant.

It turns out that was only the beginning of the pleasantness.  In true motherland fashion, it was roughly 75 and sunny every day we were there.  We ran on beautiful trails, up mountains, around waterfalls, through unicorn nests, etc. for an entire week.  It really was an incredible week, as we were able to spend it with an assortment of our best friends from a variety of stages of our lives, but as gushing isn't funny, I'll leave that segment of the trip at that.  On the funny side, we were inspired by Josh and Becca, who are fancy and buy art when they go on vacation so they have something to commemorate the trip, and bought a moose carved out of a log by some guy with a chainsaw... because we're klassy like that.

pretend this is a moose.  and not holding a welcome sign.
yes, i'm too lazy to go upstairs and take a picture of the real moose.
and also too lazy to use capital letters.
On packet pickup day, we walked to the 'expo' venue and picked up our stuff.  We also met the Honey Stinger guy, who was to become our new best friend.  We ran into him approximately 14 times over the next 48 hours and will be working with him for the Umstead marathon next year. So if nothing else positive came from this whole trip, the marathon got a gel sponsor.  We also figured out that the bus pickup on race morning was about 3 blocks from our house and the race finish was about 1.5 blocks.  Talk about random dumb luck (okay - Steamboat's not that big, but seriously - 1.5 blocks??? That's some serious serendipity there.)  Once we had our packets, we scoped out the rest of the expo, which consisted of our Honey Stinger friend, some guy peddling some sort of oxygenated water (??), a new recovery drink, and a tent outside from a local running store.  The water guy warrants additional mention because was all sorts of happy to talk your ear off and had a table full of his fancy water, but I'll be darned if I saw him give away a single sample.  He seemed weirdly protective of his stash.  Or maybe didn't want to give the whole field an advantage???  If you listened to him, you would be convinced that you would pretty much sprout wings and fly to the finish of the race if you drank his miracle water, which, as far as I could tell, was filtered a million ways and then had oxygen bubbled through it.

So race day finally arrived and our house full of assorted friends began to ready ourselves for what looked on the published course profile as a run off a cliff.  This included a 300-mile bus ride to a lovely little outpost in southern Idaho, where some weirdo was maniacally peeing on a wagon wheel while holding a thermometer.
This actually isn't even the start - I have no idea why they
have this in my official race photo set
At about 7:15, we were instructed to put all our drop bags on a bus, which then cruelly drove off down the road, leaving us half naked in the cold morning air, waiting to initiate the destruction of our quads. (did I mention we were to be running off a cliff??)

As we made our way through the early miles of the race, I realized two things: 1) I was not in marathon shape and was relying on inborn talent that did not exist, and 2) the apparent cliff in the race profile had masked some not entirely insignificant uphills.  Regardless, I was making not entirely embarrassing progress through about mile 15 when the somewhat annoying 'something's not quite right' feeling in my left foot turned into what felt like a cherry bomb exploding in the vicinity of my second toe inside my shoe.  I stopped momentarily to determine if I had stepped funny and just fired off a weird nerve impulse or if I had done something dramatic, convinced myself it must have been the former, and loped off down the road, a little slower than before, but still making forward progress.

forward progress...sort of

When I reached the aid station at mile 17-ish, I stopped for some stinger chews and gatorade, and as I tried to start off again, it became abundantly clear that this was not going to be a possibility.  I literally could not run, and even walking was causing intense pain in the region of the toe that I was pretty sure at this point had actually exploded in my shoe.  So there I sat, 100 yards from the aid station, wondering if I was actually going to have to settle for my very first DNF.  The very strong argument against such a thing was "You CAN'T DNF.  YOU brought all these people here.  How much of a tool would you be if you didn't finish???"  The possibility was just too much to bear.

my new slower pace allowed me to
fully enjoy the scenery
So I sat down by the side of the road and took off my left shoe to assess the situation more fully.  I found that my toe was already turning a different color and my foot was a different size and shape than it was when I started (the downside).  The upside, however, was that it didn't hurt nearly as much now that my evil shoe was out of the picture.  So there I was on the side of the road, performing some quick calculations to determine whether I had time to walk the last 9 miles in before the cutoff.  After determining that I did if I kept myself under ~18 min miles, I headed onward, barefoot, aiming to reassess at the next aid station (which was 2.5 miles down the road).  I met a number of very nice individuals this way, including a bike monitor who checked up on me periodically for the next 4 miles and a police officer who drove by twice, trying to convince me I should just take a ride back to the finish.

you can tell I'm excited because you can see
my belly button
Unfortunately, something about the way I walk and the status of the pavement caused me to develop ~2 inch blisters on the backs of both heels after about two miles, and I was forced to put my shoes back on.  Luckily, the fresh air had done my toe some good, and it was content to hang out inside the shoe as long as I didn't try to run anymore.  So that's how I finished out the race.  Clipping off 15-minute miles, taking in the scenery (which, to be fair, was quite lovely, and I probably would not have enjoyed as much had I been attempting to race back into town).  Luckily, my friends fared much better, with Ronnie running a solid 3:06, Jim close behind at 3:11, Becca taking 2nd female overall, and everyone else turning in reasonable performances.  Except maybe Josh, who also apparently had some special moments of his own out on the course, but now has empirical evidence that you do need to train for more than 7 days if you want to run a good marathon.

So all in all, toe-sposion aside, I would call it a successful trip - we learned some things, we had some good times, and I can now cross Colorado off my states list if I ever decide to get into that sort of thing.

...for those who are interested, we never did figure out exactly what was up with my toe (after ruling out a clear break and determining the course of treatment would be pretty much the same regardless, we decided to forego additional imaging), but I got to spend 2 weeks in a super sexy surgical shoe, and avoided horsefly season at Umstead almost entirely with the minor caveat that I then got to spend most of July learning how to run again.  Oh.  And I am taking this as a sign that my body had totally rejected roads as a running option.  No big loss there.
I'm pretty sure this guy beat me

Return to the motherland...or "how to hurt yourself with what are, at first glance, really great ideas" Part I

Let me just preface this story by saying it's all Doug's fault.  Doug is generally my default scapegoat as a result of a particularly insidious combination of years of misguided race selection and uncanny powers of persuasion (or perhaps just really malleable friends?). In this particular instance, however, I have documented proof that it really is Doug's fault - if not completely, at least mostly. Without him, none of this would have happened.

So the story begins sometime late last year with an IM from Doug saying something to the effect of "would it be stupid of me to do this?" followed by a link to the Steamboat Marathon.  "Probably." Was my reply.  This is generally my automatic reply to such queries.  However, I followed the link and noticed that the race date was June 5, which, after a quick cross-check to confirm the date of Memorial day this year, placed it slightly less than one week after my annual pilgrimage to Colorado for my favorite race in the whole world (and that's saying a lot given my feelings about Uwharrie), the Bolder Boulder.  So now that I've actually typed those words, I have to pause and pay homage the the holy grail of 10Ks.  Okay, I paid so much homage, it turned into a separate post. Back to the task at hand.

Don't these people look happy and injury-free?

So anyway, as I am always looking for an excuse to spend more time in CO and the race website had pretty mountain pictures on it, the wheels started a-turnin' in my head. The quest then began to convince Ronnie that we should a) honeymoon in CO, and b) that it would be awesome if Doug came with.  For those who don't know us that well, this may seem super weird, but for those who do, you know that Doug is an integral part of our running adventures, and that NOT having Doug along would be even weirder. To ease the confusion of who was going to sleep where (Doug and Ronnie have probably shared a tent more times than Ronnie and I have), we suggested Doug bring his girlfried Erin.  We also invited ~10 other people to share the week with us so we could rent an unnecessarily large house in downtown Steamboat.

Hooray for off-season rates!

 I had been planning to only run the half marathon because I was a little dubious about my ability to bounce back from Boston and then train effectively in the weeks leading up to the wedding, but somewhere along the way, Jim managed to convince me that I should run the full because "what if the pretty part is at the top?" So I did what anyone would do - registered for the full and then convinced everyone else to also register for the full.  Peer pressure has an awesome snowball effect - we even managed to convince Becca, who had no intention of running period, let alone running a full marathon, to run the full. So now we had a plan.  All we had to do at that point was get married and train.

As is usually the case in my life, I found that I was a little overcommitted with the above plan, so I downgraded to 'get married and rely on inborn talent and a penchant for doing stupid running-related things'.  Joining me in the second half of that plan was our friend Josh, who was trying out the new 7-day marathon training program in the week leading up to the race (you start with a 10k and work your way up to the marathon 7 days later).

Once we had the married part out of the way, a good chunk of the crew assembled in CO for phase one of our trip: the Bolder Boulder.  Because we were of varying abilities (and had varying levels of qualifying times available ... oh and a distinct lack of organization), we were pretty much all in different waves.  Ronnie and I had initially planned to run in our wedding clothes (and he was going to drop back to my wave), but alas, it was about 50 degrees the morning of the race, and I deemed it a tad chilly for my wedding dress.  The minute I bailed on the formalwear, he bailed on me in favor of running with Jim (makes a girl wonder what happens if she gets fat??).  So I was left alone in Wave C with just my thoughts and some guy dressed up as a banana.

slip n' slide induced race number attachment failure
My strategy this year was 'you're running a marathon in 6 days - try not to break anything', which seemed vaguely attainable, though I have blown out an achilles tendon at this race, so not entirely in the bag.  One thing contributing positively to the goal is they changed the course this year (don't get me started on how this messed with my flow), removing the .75 mile downhill that used to start the race.  The downside: you lose the .75 mile downhill and now start at the lowest point on the course.  The upside: you do not lead out with a 6:00 mile (while this may seem reasonable to some of you, this is totally unsustainable for me - yes, I know from personal experience).  The other downside: I apparently have some sort of muscle memory of there being two miles of uphill in the first half, which I was now burning through in miles 1 and 2 instead of 2 and 3.  Thus, when I got to mile 3, my body was much dismayed despite my feeling that I was running at a totally reasonable pace.  Fortunately, I spied an improvised slip n' slide to my right, which brought my body and soul back into balance, and made my clothes and shoes very heavy.

 Just as that was resolving itself, I spied ANOTHER slip n' slide.  "Wow!"  I thought to myself, "I have a golden opportunity here to set a Bolder Boulder slip n' slide PR!" (a speed PR was WAY out of the question).  So I did.  And ripped my number.  Which I then had to hold with my hand as I was finishing so they would let me make the turn into the stadium and finish.  Totally worth it, though.

Then we left Boulder to make our way to Steamboat Springs.   ...where it was blizzarding.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Bolder Boulder - why Memorial Day really IS my favorite holiday

Seriously.  If you haven't run this race, you need to.  Not because the course is particularly inspiring (you do get 6 miles of Flatirons views and a nice little tour of Boulder, but I've run far more scenic courses), not for the challenge (it is a net uphill now, but it's nothing that compares to most of the hills we run every week at Umstead), not because you hate oxygen (though it IS a crutch), and not because you think you might win (you won't). You should run this race because the whole experience of the race is something you won't get anywhere else.  There are bands along the course, ranging from people you might actually see at a legit music venue to some random family band (not quite the Partridge Family), there are belly dancers, there are more people in tutus than you would expect, there are multiple opportunities to stop for a beer, there are runners and spectators in costume, there are people holding signs to make you laugh (my favorite was during a drought year that read "Are you all sweaty yet?  If so, please roll around on my lawn - it needs water"), and most importantly, there are SLIP N' SLIDES!  
The epitome of Bolder Boulder-ness: a girl in a tutu epic failing at  the slip n' slide

The whole town really stops what they are doing the morning of Memorial Day (the roads are all closed for the race anyway), and comes out to watch 50,000 plus people run through the streets of Boulder. The energy is nothing short of amazing.

That's just the beginning, though.  Once you finish, you can line up for a 15-minute massage from students at the Boulder School for Massage Therapy (I've never been disappointed), grab your lunch bag, which generally contains one or more varieties of granola, a selection of new health food-y snacks (some of which look, and taste, suspiciously like something you raked up during leaf season in your yard), a random piece of fruit, some soymilk, and something that approximates a dessert.  and beer...well, beer-ish (Michelob Ultra).  You can get your very own Michelob Ultra and drink it before 8AM, which is a nice throwback to the ol' college days (note to readers: I'm pretty sure this is rhetoric as I don't think I ever actually drank beer before 8AM in college...possibly because I would never have been awake at that hour... but I digress).  ...Or you can do like me and skip the beer and opt, instead, for two Sierra Mists.  I don't know why I do this.  I don't actually like Sierra Mist that much, but I guess I feel like I should get two cans of something for my efforts.  Regardless of the reason, I do this every year.

Once you have retrieved your lunch, you can do like half the participants and meet your friends "at the buffalo".  Anyone familiar with campus knows this is a stupid idea - everyone meets at the buffalo.  It's the most obvious landmark in the area of Folsom field. It, however, and your friends, will be obscured by the other 20,000 people who decided to 'meet at the buffalo'.

This is the buffalo - you will not be able to see it on race day through the throngs of people.
You know where you can meet your friends, though?  At the mailboxes across from the buffalo.  Or at the atomic clock across from the buffalo.  Just sayin'.  If you want to meet MY friends, we all collect in section 107 sometime after hitting the expo to watch the Memorial Day festivities and the elite race.

Ah yes, the expo.  The Bolder Boulder expo is truly something to behold.  There are two must sees at the BB expo: 1) the Dryer's/Häagen-Dazs booth - they always have something yummy and full-sized they are giving away, and 2) whoever is giving away bags - you will need this bag to carry all the other crap you absolutely must have (but will never use) at the expo.  There are also a variety of other booths giving away things like soup, breakfast burritos, sports drinks, dairy and non-dairy milk, race info, vegan dog treats (it IS Boulder, after all), etc.  There are also opportunities to buy things like the Bolder Boulder line of clothing proclaiming that "Sea Level is for Sissies", which always makes me laugh.

Once you have expo'd your heart out, you travel back into the stadium to watch the rest of the finishers.  Highlights include the Marines, who assemble and do a bunch of push-ups before they finish, a handful of people dressed up as Waldo (Where's Waldo?), and a variety of other nutters in costume.  In 2001, the Stanley Cup ran the Bolder Boulder (yes, I saw it - it's shiny and dented).

The final events of the day come in ever-changing order, but consist of three can't-miss events: the Memorial Day Tribute (complete with skydivers!!!), the men's elite race (complete with Kenyans and Ethiopians), and the women's elite race (also complete with Kenyans and Ethiopians).  The elite races in the past couple of years have drawn such greats as Meb Keflezighi, Adam Goucher, Dathan Ritzenhein, the Torres brothers, Alan Culpepper, Ryan Hall, Deena Kastor, Elva Dryer, Uta Pippig, Magdalena Lewy Boulet, Sarah Slattery, and others that I can't remember offhand.  With advances in technology, you don't even have to fashion some elaborate plan to run crazy across Boulder to catch them at a couple of locations.  Yes, you can now sit comfortably in the stadium, drink your 'beer' (if you didn't get to it before 8), eat your sticks and leaves, and watch these folks cover the same course you did in half the time!!  If you find this upsetting, a) you are doing it wrong, but b) you can take solace in the fact that THEY did not get a beer and a popsicle before 8AM, so at least you have that going for you....

The Memorial Day tribute is also truly magical, with skydivers coming in to the fight songs of each branch of the military, culminating in the final skydiver coming in with the American flag to the tune "Proud To Be An American" and a fighter jet flyover. Say what you want about our country, it's hard not to be patriotic when you're honoring our vets in such fashion.

After the conclusion of the festivities, you make your way back through the streets of Boulder, perhaps on the Boulder Creek path, to whatever the rest of the day holds for you, feeling, if nothing else, like you've accomplished something for the day, and looking forward to doing it all again next year.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

We got married... a month and a half ago...

I am so behind on this writing thing... So yes, Ronnie and I are married.  It ended up being a fantastic day with a little bit of adventure thrown in for good measure.

Adventure #1: The unexpected closure of THREE LANES of I-40 the morning of the wedding.  I say this was unexpected, but this is not entirely true.  In fact, one of the wedding guests absolutely expected this because he is the PR director for the NC Dept. of Transportation.  ...and the widening of I-40 is one of his projects.  So HE, of course, knew to leave early for the event and showed up with plenty of time to spare.  HE, of course, did not share his information with us, so most of our guests were not as well prepared.  Ah well - weddings never start on time, anyway, do they?  Luckily, our friend Deb had thoughtfully provided the BEST wedding favor ever - FLYSWATTERS (just in case horsefly season started early in the park this year).  SO the people who were on time were able to entertain themselves by beating on each other with flyswatters until the rest of the guests (including our families) arrived.

Adventure #2: Don't use your GPS to get to Umstead.  As the guests continued to trickle in, we received a call from our friends who had travelled something like 3000 miles from Seattle to attend our shindig.  They had GPS-ed themselves to the other side of the park despite the instructions posted on the website and the ones we had provided verbally the night before.  They had figured out that there wasn't time to drive around (see Adventure #1 above), so they were trying to run through the park to get there.  Unfortunately, they were still 3.5 miles out.  We made the executive decision that we probably shouldn't hold up a 2 min ceremony (no kidding - 2 min) for 30 more minutes and risk a mutiny as the buffet was consumed by other park patrons, so we went ahead with the intention of meeting said friends on our way out for the post-nuptials run.

Adventure #3: How does one start a wedding??  As we had exactly zero plans for how to get the actual ceremony started (or who would walk in where and when), we hastily threw something together and knew it was time to walk when our friend Heiko started playing the processional music: an instrumental version of "The Final Countdown" by Europe.  So we walked in, had a wedding, and then milled around for a bit trying to figure out how to get to the next phase.
Luckily, our friend Shawn helped with that, giving us souvenirs that would allow people to find us as we trotted down the hill toward the trail.
Upon returning from our little jaunt around the park, we discovered that the non-running guests had grown tired of waiting for us and had, for the most part, left, taking many of the awesome looking strawberries with them in their bellies.  Fortunately, they left enough shrimp n' grits and killer breakfast sammiches to keep us happy, and we knew we would be seeing them again at the reception, so all was well.

This brought us to Adventure #4: will 80-100 people actually fit in our yard?  The answer was yes - they fit beautifully. did the tent (*whew*).  So we had a lovely afternoon with some amazing food (bleu cheese deviled eggs?  Sure I'll have another...or 4 more) and an absolutely lovely mixture of friends and family getting to know each other.  Who knew that my sister would have the same music tastes as our friend Jim?

..and so ended our wedding day... a most fantastic day for us, with many thanks and much love to all who were able to attend.

Including Leonard, who oversaw much of the reception.