Friday, December 27, 2013

Love Christmas; glad it's over.

Winter-time training is hard. Usually, I take the winter months to work (very strenuously) on my wine drinking and cupcake-eating. Then, I inevitably have 10 extra pounds to tote around when I get back into my running routine on the flip-side of the holiday season.

This year, I'm choosing not to be a lardass; its much more difficult! Its not just the cold-weather or the lack of daylight that makes winter training hard. Its all the other stuff that I've got to focus on, places to go, family to hug, recipes to (attempt to) make, presents to buy, etc, etc. Even when I'm able to squeeze in a run between all the other things on my list, I'm distracted, unfocused and thinking more about what I probably should be doing than what I'm actually doing. One day a couple of weeks ago, I planned to do about 6-7 miles on a nice little loop trail at Rockwood Park. I only ended up running about 3 miles, because every time I passed the car, I thought of the errands I needed to be taking care of while Lucy was in school. Ultimately, the Mommy got the better of the Runner in me; I ended up at the Target with all the other errand-runners.

So, while I DO love Christmas and the whole holiday season, I'm pretty relieved its all over. Lucy & I got super crafty with presents this year, which was so fun but SO time consuming. Also, I'm pretty sure there is paint and/or glitter splattered on nearly every surface of the house.

Yesterday, I went for an awesome 12-miler @ my favorite spot, Pocahontas. It was amazing to feel totally focused on my run; not thinking about what I needed to grab at the store on the way home. With the 35K coming up in 2 weeks, its time to really get focused and ready to attempt my first-ever 20+ mile run. I've got one "long" run day left before I begin to taper down to get rested for the race on Jan 11. I'll likely tackle about 18 miles on Monday or Tuesday; after that, the preparation is over and I'm either ready or I'm not. I do feel less prepared for this race than usual, I think mostly because I've been so mentally distracted lately by all the holiday excitement. But, that will just make it even more of an adventure, right?

Off to clean my now-totally demolished post-Christmas house. Bah humbug! ;)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Nobody said it would be pretty.

Last week, my hubby went to a Redskins game (HTTR!), leaving Lu and I to fend for ourselves. I decided to head out to hang with my folks and (hopefully) get a nice long run in while Lu got some quality grandparent time. Of course, again, its a rainy day. Blah with the flippin' rain already! Anyway, I planned to do my thing anyway...what's a little rain? Whateves.

Well, if you're going out to see Maw & Paw on a Sunday, you can bet your tushy that you're gonna end up going to church, unless you're a horrible person who's gonna let your Ma down at Christmas. So, we went to church and then hit up one of our favorite little Mexican spots. My kiddo loves some guacamole and salsa. "Ok," I'm thinking, "its all good, I just won't eat much and still feel good for a run after we get home." Now, I don't know about you but I cannot resist that dang white sauce at a Mexican restaurant. That mess is the BOMB. I tried to restrain myself, but probably had about a bowl of chips. Lucy and I shared a quesadilla; I tried to take it easy so I wouldn't feel like a total cow while I was running. Unfortunately, I love quesadillas almost as much as I love white sauce. It didn't help that I was starving. Anyway, we headed home and I got Lucy settled with Mimi and headed back out in the drizzling rain to get my miles in before the downpours that were headed our way arrived. The weather guys said I had about 3 hours before it would get nasty out there. When will I learn to stop listening to those fools?!

I headed to Powhatan Courthouse to run the trails of Fighting Creek Park and around the quaint little sidewalk areas surrounding the courthouse. My brother put on his first 5k out at Fighting Creek Park last month; it was a great success! He did a wonderful job of organizing everything and hopefully bringing out a lot more trail runners to the park. Check out this link The trails are super nice and connect nicely with the roads and sidewalks in the area, providing ample mileage when you combine the two.

The beginning of my run was smooth; rainy but smooth. I really like the trails at Fighting Creek; however the end of the trail system isn't quite completed, and I came out behind Scottville in the Courthouse, which is under constant development and is covered with red clay. That made for an interesting little trek; my shoes weighed about 10lbs each on the other side of that spot. I forgot my hat at my Mum's house (drat!), so the raindrops are smacking me in the face. Nevertheless, I felt pretty good for the first 4-5 miles, considering the white sauce sloshing in my belly and the steady rain getting heavier with every mile. Red clay, rain in my face, bring it on.

And then I felt it...that feeling. That feeling of my Mexican "mini-lunch," ready to make its exit. "Oh, dear." Now, most runners have had this happen to them, and its never pleasant. Damn white sauce. Of course, I'm nowhere near the local restaurants or the port-a-john that I sometimes have to dart into. I'm in the middle of the flippin' forest in the pouring rain. Cursing my decision to eat a single morsel of Mexican food, I do what has to be done. In the woods. With a leaf for toilet paper. Three times.

Of course, by the time I'm done squatting in the woods like a buffoon, wiping my ass with a wet leaf (three times), and attempting to regain some form of focus/composure, that storm that was supposed to arrive in a few hours decides to make an early entrance. At this point, I look at my mileage. 10 miles. Yup, that'll do.

This marathon journey has already been a wild little adventure, and I've still got miles and miles to cover before the finish line. Its sweaty, muddy and it sure ain't always pretty. And, sometimes, 10 miles is enough.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Ode to Pocahontas, A Trail-Running Gem

I LOVE Pocahontas State Park. The more places I explore, the more grateful I am for this amazing park, practically in my backyard. Today I pumped out a gorgeous (and challenging) 10-miler through the trails @ Pocahontas.

 Top 10 reasons that Pocahontas ROCKS
(There are many more, but I've got Christmas gifts to wrap, so let's scoot!)

1.) Miles & Miles & Miles. Over 80 miles of trails covering almost 8,000 acres of beautiful Virginia Forests. I've been running there for a while and haven't come close to being bored yet. For someone who bores more easily than most, that's saying something.

2.) Lessons on Gravity. Lately, I've been trying to "let go" more when trail-running downhill. It feels more natural (and FUN) to move with gravity by running quickly downhill, than to go against gravity by going slowly. However, my instincts (controlling little buggers) want to slow down and take the more cautious approach. Unfortunately, the "safe" option is too lame & boring... that's where the practice comes in. Pocahontas has some great short hills and plenty of longer climbs, giving me lots of opportunity to hone those down-hill skills (and, of course the inevitable uphills that follow). The result: I'm feeling more and more like The Man from Snowy River in that kick-ass downhill scene.


3.) Maintenance. The Friends of Pocahontas State Park organization, along with park staff, does an incredible job of maintaining and clearing the many miles of trails at the park. Pretty enormous job, considering how much mileage we're talking about. KUDOS! The bridges at the park are top-notch, strong enough to support horses, bikes and my thighs after a big holiday meal. I keep meaning to volunteer with them, but being a semi-horrible person, haven't done it yet. I'm thinking "New Year's Resolution"?

4.) Single Track + Fire Roads = Happily Married.  When searching for a great trail run, its fairly easy to find either single track trails (Buttermilk/North-bank) or fire roads (Dutch Gap). Its harder to find a place that offers so much of both. During one outing @ PSP, I'll travel along challenging twisty single track trails, flat, open fire roads and lots trails that fall somewhere in the middle. I know that a lot of trail-runners prefer mostly single-track action, but when I've got the dogs with me, we need a little ( or A LOT) more room. Its so nice to have so many options, with all routes departing from the same parking space. 

 Beaver Lake Trail

5.) PSP is for Lovers. Along Beaver Lake trail, you'll find lots of trees (not sure what kind they are...whoops!) with initials and names of local lovebirds, professing their undying love & affection. I dig it. 

6.) WATER, WATER, EVERYWHERE! Not for me; that would be silly...water fountains along the trail= not rugged enough (Duh?!).  Water for the mutts, of course! Numerous streams, creeks, waterfalls and of course, the area around the Swift Creek Dam provide plenty of water stops for my 4-legged running buddies. This means I don't have to carry their water on my back. Loyal park visitor = you betcha. 

 Porter hanging @ the Swift Creek Dam, Fendley Station Trail

 Beaver Lake

7.) Beer & Music. Oh wait, that's unrelated to trail-running, but still pretty dang awesome. PSP is not only a great place to run, its a great place to hear some music, get some fresh air and enjoy a few brewskis. We went last summer to see one of our favorite bands, JJ Grey & MOFRO. It was our first concert-outing to Pocahontas, but definitely not our last. We had a ball and were totally impressed with the whole event. Check out their concert info here; its rockin'!

8.) Lack of Audience. While I love the thousands (ok, maybe hundreds) of cheering (adoring) fans at the finish line of a race, I appreciate the total lack of spectators while on a regular run. Its not pretty, folks. I told my husband, Maybe I should be running with some kind of protection, you know, in case someone tries to kidnap me. He laughs...Honey, you look like a crazed-karate-sweaty-ninja-runner, No one is gonna mess with You. Should I be offended or flattered? Anyway, pepper spray is still on my Christmas list. 

In addition to the karate-kid look I've got going on, sometimes, I even have to take a tinkle along the route. That third cup of coffee before heading out the door is rarely the right idea. Potty-break @ Pocahontas? No PROBLEM. The squirrels and rabbits don't give a hoot about your hoo-ha. But, try dropping your drawers in your neighborhood and the Po-lice will arrest your sweaty ass for exposing yourself to the poor little old lady who was innocently watering her plants. I'll see you on the ten-o-clock news, bro.

Long story short... Solitude = Yes.

9.)  Two words: Fendley Station. Its pretty hard to find a nice, long loop trail like this one. Its well-marked, easily accessible from all parking areas, hilly and beautiful. I still remember the first time I made it all the way around the 13.5 (ish) mile loop. That was an awesome day.  
10.) Location, Location, Location. When we bought our house in 2009, I loved that it was close to Rockwood Park. So, I love Rockwood, but can't believe that it didn't even cross my mind to venture out to Pocahontas until a few years ago. We're within 10 minutes of more than 6 different parking areas for PSP. The convenience and features of this park cannot be matched on the Southside. I'm always amazed at how few people I see out on the trail on any given day. I guess they're at work (sorry, soft subject?) or are just at home doing weird things like cleaning their houses while the kiddos are in school. I guess I should be cleaning more, eh?

Martha Stewart I'm not (surprisingly I've never been arrested, so that settles that), but trail- runner I am. I may never teach my daughter to be a great chef, or how to sew (that's what Google is for, yes?), but I hope to pass along to my gal a love for the outdoors, a responsibility to take care of our Universe and just maybe a love for trail-running. Her floors will likely be very sticky one day, and that'll be my bad.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Bear Creek Lake

Days 'Til 35k- 24
Days 'Til Marathon- 87

Location- Cumberland, VA (Bear Creek Lake State Park, Cumberland State Forest)
Distance- 11 miles
Time- 2 hrs

We are very lucky in the State Park Department around here. VA State Parks are beautiful, nearby and perfect for trail-running. On Sunday, I made the trek west to Cumberland County to check out the trails @ Bear Creek Lake and the surrounding area of the VA Dept of Forestry. I was a little confused about how the State Park and Forestry Dept land connected and how some of the trails flowed between the two. Luckily, they had both a Park Map as well as a Forestry Dept Map available and on display at the trail head. I ended up exploring a little of both. The 35k I've got coming up (quickly!) starts at Bear Creek Lake and winds through the woods via the Willis River Trail. I definitely wanted to scope that out a little and see what kind of terrain/elevation I'm in for. I also ran on the Cumberland Multi-Use Trail, which can be accessed at the BCL trail head as well. I made sure to plan to be out on these particular trails on a Sunday, since they are both in areas that are open for hunting. So, on a beautiful and not too chilly Sunday afternoon, I set out to do a little exploring, Cumberland-style. 

The Cumberland Multi-Use Trail (CMT) was not exactly what I'd call ideal for trail-running. Although it has some nice rolling hills and stream crossings, they have dumped a ton of baseball-sized rocks intermittently along the trail. I guess this is because there is so much red clay back there, the rocks help with traction for jacked-up pick-ups and 4-wheelers. As nice as this probably is for those guys, it made running a bit less than pleasant. But, a nice challenge for my ankle/calf muscles (ouch!). The hills back there were pretty big, so my quads got in on some muscle-building action, too. Nice! But also, ouch.

Pretty Stretch of Cumberland Multi-Use Trail

Anyway, my flighty sense of direction did not come through for me this time and I ended up dead-ended at what looked like someones very large backyard, complete with dual (his & hers?) tree stands. I looked at my map, and it looked like in order to pick back up with the trail, I'd have to run along the red-clay ridden power-line for a mile or two. Eh, that trail wasn't that fun anyway; I turned around and headed back to the parking area, eager to find a new trail to play with. 

From here I headed out to the State Park Trails surrounding Bear Creek Lake. Turns out Lakeside trail was a little too close to the lake (a lot of it was flooded/impassable) and Willis River trail looked more like an actual river than a trail. Lots of out and back-ing, lots of turning around, lots of MUD. But, it was a gorgeous day, my legs felt strong and the squirrels really seemed to be enjoying my company.
 RUN HAPPY!  :))

Bear Creek Lake

Cool Bridge

Towards the end of the run, I found Channel Cat Loop, a nice little 1.75 mi loop trail with a few easy stream crossings, single-track action and a noticeable lack of flooding (woohoo!). I know there are a bunch of other really nice trails back there, so I'm already looking forward to getting out there once everything dries out. I'll be curious to see all the route changes for the 35k next month...if the trail is still flooded, that is. I'm gonna go ahead and start researching "no-rain" dances on YouTube. Otherwise, I'll need to bring my flippers to the start line.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

How to (sort of accidentally) run 15 miles in the pouring rain.

Location- Pocahontas State Park 

Trails- Fendley Station, Lakeview Mt Bike Trail #1, E. State Park Rd, Old Mill Bike Trail

Distance- 15.1 miles

Avg Pace- 10:30 min/mile

Time- 2hr 41 min

 Idiot's Guide to Accidentally Running 15 Miles

1.) Start with fairly lofty expectations.

In my case, the goal was 13 miles. Not too far off from the 15 that I ended up doing; not too wimpy of a goal...but not exactly 15 miles, either. My better half took the day off to watch our kiddo at her Christmas program @ preschool (cute-ness levels= OFF the charts!). This was great not only for the way-important family bonding time; it also meant he'd be available to pick her up later... Voila!  Looks like I'm free to scoop up a random long run on a rainy Tuesday morning. SCORE! I planned to run Fendley Station, a 13(ish) mile loop route around the south end of the park. This trail includes long and short hill climbs; single-track mixed with fire-roads, well-packed dirt and rocky sections; bridges and creek crossings. In other words, trail-running awesomeness. I usually park in a pull-over lot on Qualla Road and pick up Fendley heading south. 

Planning to kick 13 miles of trail-booty, I smooched my hubby and headed to the park.

2.) Disregard the fact that its raining.  

I'm not usually someone who sees rainy weather as an excuse not to go running. Unless, of course, I'm looking for an excuse that day, anyway. I get most of my running gear @ Wal-Mart. I know, Wal-Mart is awful; however, their line of Danskin work-out stuff is totally on-par with the more expensive versions at Dicks and other sporting goods stores. As somebody on a budget, I'm all over it. So, I layered on my cold/wet running gear, doubled up my socks, put my hood up and hit the trail. 
Take that, Andrew Freiden. Your forecast don't scare me OR my long johns.

 3.) Underestimate severe rainfall and its consequences. 

As I set out on the trail, the rain isn't pouring down too hard, but the trail itself is SOAKED. I've never seen so much standing water on that trail; it was pretty messy. Eh, this isn't so bad. I have in the back of my mind the creek crossing at the Swift Creek Dam about 8 miles down the trail, wondering how high the water will be but not really worrying about it too much. If my ankles get damp, so what? It'll be all good. 

Those first 8 miles were maybe the strongest and smoothest 8 miles I've ever run. I mean cruisin'. My legs felt great, my cozy Wal-Mart rain hoodie was warm and Pandora was rockin' out my favorite songs on the "Pop Fitness" channel. My breathing was smooth and the hills came and went easily. 

Then, as I'm nearing the dam and the creek crossing that I'd almost forgotten about in my euphoric "muddy trail-runner" state, I start to hear what sounds like a giant waterfall and the rushing river beneath it. I start to wonder just how intense this tiny water element might be. 

Here's the sign I usually smirk at right before rock-jumping to the other side. 

Ohhh, snap. 

Yep, that's the trail, on the other side of that raging river. Even though I'm already soaking wet, I'm SO not trying to travel the last 5 miles of this so-far-ahhhmazing run with the lower part of my body frozen to the bone. Its 30-something degrees out here, ya'll! Normally, this creek is about 3ft at its deepest, and pretty easy to cross using the rocks that are (usually) poking up from the bottom. Currently, its looking about waist-high or higher. So, I spend a few minutes doing what any normal trail-runner would do...taking photos and stalling.....err... I mean planning out an alternate route. 

Swift Creek Dam


4.) Ignore that little voice in your head.

At this point, I'm 8 miles into what was supposed to be a 13-mile trek. Part of me was ready to turn around, suck it up and tackle my first-ever 16-miler. As fate would have it, I happen to have a severe dislike for an out-and-back style route. It just seems silly to travel the same trail in reverse when there are so many different trails to explore. So, I decide to set out on a new path and find another route back to my car. That little voice reminds me..."your beat-up Sentra is on the other side of a 7,000 acre park, you dodo." Turn around!

Awww...I got this

Stupid, Stupid, Stupid.  

5.) Overestimate your sense of direction. 

 Although I knew pretty much which direction I needed to be headed, I wasn't exactly sure of the best (direct-ish) route to get there. I ended up on one of the main park roads (which is paved, blah!), and somehow got mixed-up in one of several campgrounds at the park. I knew the main road would eventually take me where I wanted to go, but wasn't sure how far down the road it was or if one of the many small trails jutting off to the side might offer a better (and more interesting) option. 

I had a trail map handy (I'm not a total moron), but couldn't really tell if this park road was 1 mile or 5 miles long. Hmmm, tricky. After pounding the pavement for about 4 miles (4 miles?!) I finally reached the intersection of Old Mill Bike & E. State Park Rd near the park entrance. I knew this path would take me back to Fendley Station and to my finish line for the day. 

The frustration of being somewhat turned around and running on pavement made me wish I'd just done the blasted out & back least that would have been all-trail. Anyway, once I hit Old Mill Bike, I had about 3 miles to get over my aggravation of being navigationally challenged (and stubborn) and enjoy the rest of my run. 

6.) Just keep going. 

Now that I was on familiar ground and solidly NOT lost, I did a quick assessment of how I was feeling and how my legs were handling the mix of hills, distance and mental irritation. I really believe that running, especially long-distance running, is almost all mental. Feeling annoyed and not knowing exactly where I'm going can sometimes have a real impact on what my body can and does do. Thankfully, those first (blissful) 8 miles were still fresh enough in my head that I bounced back from the semi-lost debacle; surprisingly, my legs felt solid and ready to finish strong. 

My cell phone, on the other hand, went dead right after the (very pleasant) Map My Run lady announced that I'd just finished 15 miles. My Bruno Mars went poof! and I was left to finish out the song (and the run) on my own. Looks like I outran my own expectations and my iPhone4.


Monday, December 9, 2013

On being one of "Those" people

I am not the kind of person who signs up for a race, then doesn't show up. First, I'm too cheap (races aren't free, yo). Second, I refuse to have/wear a shirt from a race in which I flaked out. Lastly, I'm not a slacker.

Now, my brother (we'll call him Bart), and I were signed up to run a 10-miler Trail race out at Bear Creek Lake State Park this past weekend. In case you hadn't noticed, it is winter-time and the weather can be a bit unpredictable. As luck would have it, the first real ice-event of the winter decided to roll in ON race day.

So, Friday comes around: the weather-guys are giddy because its looking like we will have some winter weather action on Saturday and Sunday. Bart calls, its obvious he's checking the weather, wondering if (hoping) he will have an excuse not to get smoked by his kid sister at a race (again). This is my suspicion, anyway.  Its actually a pretty solid hypothesis, given the way the past few races have gone, har, har, har.

Sunday morning... Yep, Bart is OUT. Says there is a sheet of ice out his from door. Hmmm....

Checking weather...looks FINE to me, just a little freezing rain, nothing to get all twitterpated about. I've got traction on my tires and long underwear on my butt, OK? What's the problem?

So, I'm still planning on heading out to have a little adventure of my own with the other "real" trail runners who will brave any (ANY!) elements in order to prove how tough we are......Drinking my strong black coffee (loaded with cream and sugar, what?), blaring Lady Gaga (you know I love my Pop music), and steering my hardy little VW Rabbit west through the freezing rain, feelin' HYPE! Gaga's song "Applause" is my JAM.

Phone starts ringing, why (WHY?!) do I answer it? Yep, that's my Mom. Says shes worried about me driving and running in this severe weather. Says she'll pay me not to drive out there. Says "its not worth it," "have you seen the sleet? it's SLEETING!" all the while my Dad is crackling in the back-ground, "here's addiction at its best, folks!" So, I may be mildly addicted to running, at least its not to Cinnabons or Porn. Oh, there's another text from Bart, asking me if I'm REALLY planning on driving out to run this blasted race. 

Thing is, I could tell my Mom was actually super worried and would continue to worry (and WORRY) about me getting stuck on the side of the road or falling and breaking my face on the trail somewhere. Ten years ago, I would have (halfway) listened to her input and done what I wanted to anyway. I sort of understood how much my own Mom worried about me, but I did a lot of really stupid things that she had specifically told me NOT to do, so obviously I didn't let it stop me very often. Fast-forward a decade, I'd like to think I'm a bit older and wiser. If there's one thing I've learned in these 30 years, its that my Mom is usually right. Its actually pretty infuriating how often she's right. I'd feel like a real dumbass if I DID wreck my car or I DID fall on my face and ruin my training completely, just because I was in the mood to be more bad ass than my brother.

So, that's how my wimpy (and very persistent) family talked me into being one of "those" people. Those "no-show," "hungover," "I've got the flu" types on race day. My run was relocated to the wild wilderness that is my neighborhood; I also now have a pretty cool race shirt that is of no use to me. It'll make a nice birthday present for my Mum; now SHE earned it.

I think I'll tell her the 35k is on a treadmill at the gym.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

RVA Trails around the James.

Urban Trek Thursday

Location: RVA James River Park System. Buttermilk & North Bank Trails 
Distance: 8 miles
Pace: 10:56 min/mile
Elevation Change: 2,765ft (Gotta include this today to make my time seem better, ha!)
Link to Map:

Today I decided to leave the pups at home and venture out to the James River Park trails while Lu was hangin' with her peeps. Hoping that I wouldn't get lost and leave her stranded at preschool, I carried along my map (security blanket) and phone (binky). I've been out on those trails a handful of times, but never solo. The James River Scramble 10k is a trail race that I look forward to every year, but I'm usually trying to get a decent time and paying little attention to navigational information. Maybe this is why I love races so much; I don't have to pay a bit of attention to where I'm going, just following the pack. This is likely not a wise method, but old habits die hard, eh? 

I trust my sense of direction as close to zero as possible without offending myself, so I was a little nervous about maneuvering through new trails and making it back to get my kiddo in time. Although I did get a little turned around at a couple of places, I was pretty proud of myself for making it back to the car without getting entirely lost in the woods. 

OK, so I did get a little confused getting onto the Nickel Bridge from Buttermilk. After ending up at the train-tracks, practically IN the river, I got the feeling I must have missed a turn. Whoops. It added a nice little climb to the run and I'll never make that mistake again! The jog across the Nickel/Boulevard Bridge provided some nice views, worth the extra chiggers.

Photos taken from Nickel (Boulevard) Bridge

 Navigational issues aside, the James River Park system is a blast. I'm looking forward to gaining more confidence navigating back there and discovering new spots to get muddy  :) Lots of steep, short climbs made it difficult to get into a great rhythm, while also making it an awesome workout. These trails are super popular with mountain-biker types, so I wanted to get out there during the week, when most of those poor saps are stuck in their offices instead of zooming past (and scaring the bejeebies out of ) me on their mountain bikes like a bunch of maniacs.

North Bank Trail
Not only was the trail a bit rockier than I remember, another little surprise arrived about halfway through my run: RAIN! What the flip, Andrew Freiden?! I specifically checked your forecast this morning and you very cheerily told me that it would be a cloudy but pleasant day with NO rain. I should have recorded you telling me that, then posted a pic of myself around 10:45 this morning, soaked head to toe, slipping down the side of the North Bank trail and almost falling into the James River. What. The. Flip.

Luckily my killer pair of Brooks trail shoes didn't let me down. I had impressively solid traction and no near-slips, even though much of the route traversed over slippery rocks and wet bridges. It was a much more technical run than I usually tackle, so even though I was griping a little along the way, it was a groovy run overall.

I had to stop to snap a pic of this train near Hollywood Cemetery. Lucy is train-CRAZY, and I knew she'd love to see it. I showed it to her on my phone and she carried it around with her for 30 minutes, having a melt-down every time my phone went to sleep and "her" train went off the screen.

And, just like that, my day went...

from this...

to this  :)

Back to our regularly scheduled toddler-programming!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Tail-waggin' & Trail-stompin'

Days 'til 35k- 38
Days 'til Marathon- 102

Today's Location- Dutch Gap Conservation Area, Chester VA
Here's their website with a map, etc. -

Distance- 6mi
Pace- 10:20 min/mile (running with my Mutts is always entertaining but never speedy)

My plan this morning was to head to Pocahontas after dropping Lu off at school to log about 7 miles with Porter & Val. Unfortunately, I found when I got to Pocahontas, it was CLOSED for a "Managed Deer Hunt." Now, there's a nice little curve-ball in my morning. Of course, P&V knew where we were; they were practically foaming at the mouth with excitement, itching to get out on the trail and cause some mayhem with the squirrels. You can imagine the dancing, 4-legged tantrums that took place when we drove right past the parking area.

So, since I was already halfway there, I decided to head out to Dutch Gap, which is just south of Richmond in Chester. A Chesterfield County Parks & Rec area, they have a 5-ish mile loop trail that's super flat, easily accessible and very pretty. It made for a nice little 6-miler on a gorgeous morning.

Dutch Gap is a sort of strange place, in that its located directly next to a HUGE Dominion VA Power facility. So, there's all this smoke and metal and barbed-wire adjacent to the nature conservatory area, which is filled with wildlife, quiet and beautiful. Here's the view across the water.

I couldn't believe how many birds, ducks, geese & heron we saw (and heard) this morning. They were EVERYWHERE! A bird-watcher's paradise, we saw a few people out with their big-lensed cameras, waiting to get that perfect shot.

Today's run was all about the dogs and just enjoying being out on the trail. For me, running isn't "work", or something that I dread at all (usually). I've got distance-goals and some idea of how long I'd like those distances to take me, but I really try not to forget why I fell in love with trail-running in the beginning: the dirt, the sunshine, the breeze, the unpredictability and the views. These things seem to be the dogs' favorite things about being out on the trail, too. Watching them bound along beside me, wrestle in the mud and chase squirrels and birds makes me smile. I love my little 4-legged trail mates, even though they do sometimes cause mischief.

If Dutch Gap wasn't 30mins from my house, we'd go there a lot more frequently. Its never crowded and the pups LOVE the sandy water areas. The required bath-time upon arriving back home is a pain for everyone involved, but totally worth it.

Hooray for sand, water and MUD! Val got completely soaked, head to toe. I picked Lucy up from school today with the dogs still in the back. Her reaction, "Eww dogs! Need bath!" ha! Dirty dogs are happy dogs  :)

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Finish Strong

Its Scenic Route Saturday!

Today's location- Pocahontas State Park. Trails traveled: Bright Hope, Outer Lick (yes, its ACTUALLY called that), Fendley Station, Mosely Forest, Old Mill Bike, Muddy Buddy.

Today's mileage- 13.1. (The cheapest 1/2 Marathon EVER, just missing the fanfare and fun swag bag)

Avg Pace- 10:03 min/mile

Time- 2:11:49

The onset of hunting season has made me expand my exploration at Pocahontas, which has been mostly fun and only occasionally frustrating or confusing.The areas of the park that are the most convenient for me to park & run are also the only areas of the park that are open for hunting. (Well isn't that just SUPER?!) I know I could run on Sunday when the hunters are at home skinning and gutting little Bambi and eating beef jerky like a bunch of hoodlums, but some of us gotta work on Sundays, yo. So, for the past few long runs, I've been exploring trails that I've used little to never in the past. That's one of the great things about a long run...if you get lost, its all good! You need those miles, anyway! 

Today I went over to the equestrian side of Pocahontas, which I very rarely do. Other than the big frozen piles of horse poop along the way, it was pretty nice! I'm reading The Hobbit right now and all the pine trees reaching way up into the sky and dropping pine needles to cover the path totally reminded me of Mirkwood Forest. (Dork alert!!) Anyway, it was a nice change from the leaf-laden trails I normally run. Twisty roots and rocks like to hide under those pretty fall leaves and twist your ankle in a hot second. I even stopped to snap a pic on Outer Lick because it was so pretty. Of course a photo is never as good as real-life, but it was worth a try!

My sense of direction is FINALLY improving a little (woohoo!). I was able to run on some new trails and pretty much knew exactly where I was and where I'd come out (most of the time). My husband is the navigator in the family and since he's what you might call an "anti-runner with his wifey-er," I'm on my own, folks.

The first 5 miles of my run today were pretty awful. I'm not sure why, but the longer my runs get, the longer it takes me to get into a good rhythm. Today, I was freezing, then I was sweating, then the sweat made me cold, then my pants needed re-adjusting, then a bad song came on that I could NOT listen to, then the pull-strings on my jacket were flip-flopping everywhere (that HAD to be addressed),then I thought, "Well dang, I might as well stop to take a picture." That was the first 5 miles, in a nutshell. I got myself together, gave myself a little pep-talk. It went something like, "MOVE your butt, you sissy!" Just as I'm shaking it out and regaining my composure, my Pop Fitness channel on Pandora saved me. Nothing gets my arse moving like some teeny-bopper music , and I'll admit "Call Me Maybe," is my JAM! Popped 2 Power Bar Chews (the lemon kind are YUM), and was on my merry way.

Miles 6-10 were in the sweet spot, felt great and even threw in a few dance moves along the way. (People I meet on the trail probably think I'm drunk, which is only true about half the time).

Miles 11-12 were the toughest for my legs. I'll have to make note of 2 GIANT hills on Fendley Station that I had forgotten about until I saw them in front of me (Fancy seeing YOU here, Mister Tiny Mountain).

Mile 13- Its all about the finish, duh!...As long as you finish strong and do what you set out to do, it doesn't make much difference how ugly certain parts of your run were.

For me distance running has been a great teacher of patience, determination and commitment. Today, for the first hour of my run, I felt like there was no way I was going to be able to finish the distance I'd planned for. But, with a nice stubborn attitude and some really bad pop music, my legs and I ran a nice little 1/2 Marathon and got over all the mental and physical hills along the way. I'll take it!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving! I've got a ridiculous amount to be thankful for; its overwhelming to think about how blessed I am in this life I've been given. I'm thankful for a husband who doesn't give me a hard time (very often) about disappearing into the woods for a few hours at a time every Saturday morning.  My running buddies have 4 paws each and make every mile on the trail interesting (and protect me from bears and squirrels). My daughter has taught me patience and filled my heart with so much love and joy. I thank God for my family (4-legged and otherwise), today and every day.

OK, I've got a date with the pavement this morning. Honestly, I don't find many things less enticing than pounding out a run in my cute but totally boring neighborhood. However, its Thanksgiving and I've got 2 casseroles to make, so we gotta get this run knocked out today. I'll take the scenic route on the trail on Saturday. I plan on eating the biggest piece of pie you've ever seen later today, so it's time to burn up some pavement.

Happy Thanksgiving! Que the Christmas music!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Jogging strollers and other stuff

Days 'til the 35k- 46
Days 'til MARATHON- 108

This weather is ruining my trail-running mojo, big time! Choosing to do these long races that require winter training may not have been the smartest decision I've ever made. Today its freezing rain and totally gross outside. I really hate going 2 days without running, but it looks like that's just the way the cookie is crumbling this week. Tomorrow I'll shoot for about 9 mi, and then my long run on Saturday will be around 13. I feel like I'm running out of training weeks as these races draw ever nearer!

So today instead of running, I'm writing about running. Talk about OB-sessed, huh? What can I say, trail running takes up a lot of my brain-time, the rest of which is devoted to singing "Wheels on the Bus" and trying to build the world's largest block tower without knocking it down. So glad I'm putting that college degree to good use, ha!

I got into running when I was about 19. I adopted a 6-month old pup from the shelter who needed a lot (a LOT) of exercise. So, I started jogging a little with her when we'd go for walks. Then we jogged a little more and even more. Before long, we had our favorite routes and ran together almost every day. I'll always be grateful for that little mutt and the love of running that we shared and that I keep alive even though she's up in doggie heaven now. Probably running laps around those fatties who sat on the sofa chowing on biscuits all day. My first race was on my 20th birthday. It was a 5k and I somehow won my age group even though my time was unimpressive. Anyway, it didn't matter; I was hooked.

My love for being out on the trail was really born in Idaho. After floundering through my first 2 years of college and suffering a broken heart, I ventured out west to have myself a good old-fashioned adventure. The Dixie Chicks song "Wide Open Spaces" was my theme song that year. In Idaho I found not only some of the most beautiful trails I'd ever seen, I found kindred spirits to share that time and those miles with. I came back that winter with a ton of great memories and a fresh outlook on my future, but most importantly with a pair of killer quads earned hiking and running in the mountains of Northern Idaho. I knew if I planned to keep those beastly beauties, I was gonna have to step up my running game at home. And this is how I became a trail runner.

For a while I ran mostly on the roads and hit the trail whenever I could get out there. My first 1/2 Marathon was in 2007; I did all of my training and the race on the road. My knees paid dearly for it, and have never been quite the same after all that pounding and impact. If you're ever going up a flight of stairs beside me and hear a "snap, crackle, POP!" its not the cereal, its just the sound of my knees slowly falling apart. After that race, I was tired of the knee pain and just a little burnt out from running in general. I took a couple of years and got into other things, mainly indoor cycling, yoga and swimming. Running and I took a little time to see other people, if you catch my drift.

Then, in 2011 my daughter was born. WOW, that was pretty awesome... BUT it jacked my bod up some kinda bad. I mean like 50 POUNDS bad. Yikes, yeah?! Also, I couldn't really get to the gym because I didn't want to hand my precious little cherub baby over to whatever 14 year old they had working the child-watch. I mean I wanted to work out, but damn, can I get a college- student at least?! So, that just left me and my jogging stroller. My relationship with running was about to get rekindled, whether I liked it or not.

Let me just say this, Moms who run with jogging strollers are way more bad-ass than the dudes lifting 300-lbs at the gym. Those guys are hyped up on Muscle Milk and can go home after a long day of pumping iron and veg-out in front of Duck Dynasty all afternoon. Running with a kid in a jogging stroller is literally one of the hardest physical things I've ever done. Here's why:

1.You lose one of your hands, completely. Going up a big hill and need to pump your arms? Fresh out, homie. Your legs gotta work that out.

2. That stroller weighs like 45lbs, plus however much your kid weighs. Plus, kids get bigger and bigger, which means that no matter how much better you get at running with the stroller, the load you're pushing will continue to get heavier. Especially in the winter, when you bundle your kid up in 12 layers just to make sure that CPS doesn't get called on that crazy lady running with her toddler in a jogging stroller when its 30 degrees outside.

3. Jogging strollers are a beast to turn; your arms will be really sore for a while unless you live at the beach and can find miles and miles of straight road. In which case, screw you.

4. The most obnoxious thing about running with a jogging stroller is the fact that your passenger is a tiny little human who is on a mission to ruin your workout and make you lose your mind. Those little sippy-cup throwing, snack-eating, shoe chucking angels that you're chauffeuring around your neighborhood will no doubt be the biggest obstacle in your path to MILF status. And, unlike the Dwayne Johnson wannabe at the gym, there is no shower and protein shake waiting for you at the end of the workout. Dream on, lady.

So, here we are in 2013. Lucy is 2 and in preschool, which has freed me of my chains to that awful jogging stroller. So, for at least 2 mornings a week and one nice long run on the weekend, I'm free to roam the wild forests in Central Virginia. I'm signed up for a 35k at Bear Creek Lake in January which is sure to be interesting. My first Marathon is March 15 at Pocahontas State Park, my "home court," as far as trail-running goes. At the end of this very cold and muddy journey, I'll be one of those jerks with a 26.2 stickers on my car. You betcha!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Its Raining

I dropped my kid off at preschool today wearing my running gear, even though it was miserable, freezing and raining outside. I had every intention of going by the store to grab some stuff for Thanksgiving, then heading to the park to log a few miles. But, the guy at the grocery store was obviously on his first day, making my wait time to buy my junk like 20 minutes. As I was walking to the car, the rain began pelting down. I took these two events as a sign...I was NOT meant to run today. I usually take the "let's be a hard-ass" approach to running in the rain/cold. Today, I went shopping. I'd be lying if I said I feel bad about it. Shopping sans kiddo screaming at my feet and opening the dressing room door while I'm half-naked was AMAZING. I think that playing hookey from the running routine every now and then actually helps my running. Or maybe I'm just telling myself that now while envisioning how great those new purple skinny jeans are gonna look in the Thanksgiving photos. Cheers to a lazy day without a bit of running in sight.