Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Powhatan State Park: Creepy, but good.

Sunday, 1/26/2014
Distance: 6.5 mi
Time: 1:10

I guess I must have missed something, because it seems as though we've moved to CANADA. This Virginia winter weather is ridiculous. I've heard a lot of people saying, "If it's gonna be this cold, the least it can do is snow also." This logic doesn't work for a summertime girl like me. I mean, O.K., sledding is pretty fun. Also, snuggling up in front of the fireplace; I'm a big fan. But, not a big enough fan to enjoy these insanely cold temperatures for any length of time. Snow or no snow.

It looks like we snagged that YMCA membership just in time. I've become a bit of a renewed fan of the gym and even a reluctant treadmill-runner. I do consider myself a bit more hardy than most when it comes to outdoor running, but anything sub-*15 and I'm OUT. Throw in some snow/sleet/rain/Polar VORTEX and I'm extra out.

Conclusion: admittedly, many of my runs lately have looked like this:

Badass treadmills @ the Swift Creek YMCA. You can pick from a ton of "locations" to visit. This run was a mix of trails in California. Pretty RAD. Very good for fidgety, easily-bored button pushers like me.

Enough of that wussy treadmill-talk. On Sunday, I decided to brave the chill on a real trail run. The temp was around 35, which was cold-ish, but totally tolerable in comparison to the weather we've had lately. However, the wind was brutal, and part of the reason I decided to call it a day after 6.5 miles. The other factor? Mainly, fear for my life.

 (pause for dramatic effect.....)

Powhatan State Park is the newest of Virginia's 26 State Parks. Located along the James River, the park has a TON of potential for awesome trail-running. Most of the trails are still under construction, but there are a lot of fire roads and plenty of room to explore. Before Sunday, I'd only been out there briefly with my little family for the park's grand-opening last summer. I decided it was time for some more exploration, as far away from the treadmill as possible. Powhatan State Park Trail Map.

 Granted, it was a freezing January day, but there was no one else at this park. I mean totally deserted. The contact-station had a big Closed sign in the window; the only sign of life was a single car parked at what I assumed to be the Park Ranger's house, near the entrance. Snow still covered the ground and there was a sort of errie silence as I got out of the car, looking around for anyone, anyone? else. Nope, nadda. Fresh out.

I planned to run for about 90 minutes, or around 9 miles. I headed out onto Cabin Trail, towards the river. I quickly realized that I was maybe the first person to venture out on this trail since the snow; not a single human footprint in sight. But, there WERE tons of footprints; this trail is well-traveled by critters of all sizes, it seems. I started to become very aware of how silent it was, how alone I was, and how no one would hear me if I hollered. I began looking more closely at the many footprints on the ground. My imagination started rolling.  

What paw prints do we have here?
Squirrels, cute. 
Deer, awwww.
Chipmunks, adorable.

hmmmmm....not sure about these tracks.

Mountain Lions? 

Just as my imagination was setting sail on a terrifyingly hairy adventure (trail runner gets eaten by bears AND gophers!), a HUGE flock of pigeons flies up RIGHT next to me.  

Snapped this pic right after I was semi-attacked by a giant flock of possibly rabid pigeons.

 I'm not exactly sure what came out of my mouth, but I think it sounded something like, 

(that's the edited version, of course)

Not that anyone would have seen or heard if I had been attacked and mauled by a herd of crazy pigeons, anyway. 

Damn. Pigeons.

Alright, so I've got an okay sense of humor. That was actually pretty funny. I spent the next few minutes trying to regain a somewhat normal heart-rate and a smidgen of composure. After making sure I didn't actually pee my pants, I head down the trail, reminding myself not to return down that path on the way back. Even without the crazy pigeons, it was a little too deserted and quiet in that field. New potential phobia: pecking flesh-eating pigeons. Great.

I headed down the trail to the river: Turkey Trail. I didn't encounter any turkeys (enough wildlife already!); the path ended at the boat launch and campground area. Eventually this trail will make a loop, according to the Trail Guide, but it doesn't seem to be completed yet. They have a nice picnic shelter and tables and benches; definitely a spot that we will visit with our kiddo, once the Polar VORTEX subsides. Anyway, after poking around down near the water for a bit, I headed back up toward the fire road. 

Boat launch @ Powhatan State Park

 Last stop: a short little 1/2 mile trail called Gold Dust, which also leads to the water. Pretty nice, other than the spooky SHACK along the trail. I seriously felt like I was the idiot chick in a horror movie when I came up to this "cabin." I was going to stop to take a picture, but I was so freaked out, I ran past it as quickly as I could. It was a broken-down old wooden shack, 6-ft ceilings, tiny dilapidated chimney, windows blown out, front door cracked open, rocking chair perched next to the front door. Admittedly, I've got a pretty active imagination, and after getting ruffled by those dang birds, I was already on edge. This ram shackled possible torture-chamber was exactly what my wild imagination needed to create a whole narrative surrounding my imminent capture and gruesome demise. I think I read too many novels.

Icy creek winding down to the river, Gold Dust Trail, Powhatan State Park

I scooted back out to the main park road. This is when my old friend Mr. WIND decided to visit. I think the wind gusts were amplified by the wide-open field, and I know it was a windier-than-usual day, but it was WINDY windy. I had to duck my head and give it all I had just to keep an 11-minute pace. The snow underfoot didn't help. Around this time, I checked my mileage; 6.5 miles. Just then, I see the first other human I've seen out here all day; a single dude in a jacked-up truck, his guns displayed in the back window.  

My possible kidnapper.

Yep, I'm getting the FRICK outta here. Peace out, Powhatan State Park; I'll see you when its less deserted, less freeeeezing, less ridiculously creepy. 

Now that would never happen on a treadmill. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Forest Hill Park, Treadmills and the "Jitters."

Welp, its official. I am slightly addicted to running. Outdoors. On dirt.

Its been a weird running week. On Saturday, my brother and I had an amazing trail run at Forest Hill Park in Richmond. Weather was crisp, pace was comfortable and terrain was single-track gold. Company was questionable, but we can't have it all, right? hehe. Forest Hill Trail Map.

Anyway, our run was 5 miles long; a respectable distance for a mid-week run, but still short-ish, especially for a Saturday. Its becoming clear that if I don't get a long run once a week, I become a weird, twitchy, restless person. My brother-bonding trail run was wonderful and a great workout. BUT, it wasn't the long, fatiguing, "takes all day to recover from," run that I've gotten used to tackling on Saturdays. But, since it was technically a "recovery run" from the 35k, I was cool with it and very happy with the distance and terrain.

On Sunday, I went to my little weekend cleaning gig with a ridiculous amount of energy. I've never cleaned that office so well and so quickly, ever. I daydreamed about sweating and dirt-jumping the whole time. Weirdo!

On Monday, I carted my kiddo to the YMCA. Cue the congratulatory back-patting; we are brand-new members, thanks to their January "no enrollment fee," deal. Woot-Woot! After plopping Lu in the child-watch, I hit the ever-loathed treadmill to log some miles.

Like woah, if there is one place I don't belong, its on a dang treadmill. I don't know how these people run on these flippin' treadmills for so long; it's maybe the MOST boring thing I've ever done. My plan was to jog 6 easy miles at a nice 9-min/mile pace and watch Kelly & Michael on the precariously-suspended TV. The lady beside me looked perfectly content, jogging easily, at a steady pace. I can do that. I hop on, start jogging. Adjust my headphones. Adjust the incline. Adjust the speed. Adjust. Adjust. Adjust.

 I. Can't. Stop. Pushing. Buttons. 

After what seemed like an hour, I looked at the screen. 6 minutes. WHAT?! This is madness. I've scanned the room a dozen times, checked out the body builders, had an inner-chuckle with Mike & Kel and I'm already bored to tears. I guess sticking it out and making myself keep the same pace would be a good exercise in patience and sitting still (two areas that I've always struggled with), but we'll work on character building another day. Guess its time for some sprints. Yep. That will keep me entertained.

Long story long, 30 minutes later, I crawl off the treadmill after 10 sprint-sets, drenched and cursing that damn treadmill. The lady who was jogging happily beside me when I got there is still bouncing away, more merrily and content than she was 30 minutes earlier. HOW?! Peace out, super calm-zen treadmill lady; you win!

Jump to this morning, 7am. I have jitters in my legs. When I was a kid, I'm pretty sure I had Restless Leg Syndrome. I'd lay down at night and try to go to sleep, only to be plagued with "the jitters," as we called them. I could not keep my legs still or relaxed. This usually happened on days that I didn't run around outside enough our "get my wiggles out," as my mom used to say. I'd creep into my parents room in the middle of the night, asking my Mom what I should do and complaining about the annoying jitters. Her solution: jog a few laps around the house. Totally not kidding. This is why my Mom is awesome; moments just like these. So, there I was, an 8-year old running circles around our house at all hours of the night. This happened in spurts throughout my childhood. Barefoot, I'd sprint a few times around the house in the moonlight. It almost always worked; I'd come back inside feeling much better, collapsing for the night. "The good ole days," ha!

This morning, I awoke with that same familiar feeling in my legs. I needed to get out and run. The treadmill wasn't gonna cut it; no yoga session would do the trick. Tuesday is one of my usual trail-running days because Lu usually has preschool. Problem was, Snomageddon! was in the forecast, meaning that the schools had already closed for the day and I had an adorable little sidekick that I could not shove in the jogging stroller in the freezing temps (child abuse!) and who was not feeling the gym thing for a second day in a row. I couldn't stomach the idea of the treadmill again, either. So, what to do?!

Drumroll....Snowmageddon! to the rescue!!! Jump to 1pm, text from my hubs, its snowing on the other side of town and he's heading home. YES!! Here's where my obvious running addiction becomes ever-clearer. Like a kid getting ready to go to Chuck-E-Cheese, I run to the closet, grab my running gear and get dressed; ready to skip out the front door the minute I hear our busted Sentra roaring up our street. I'm gonna get to sneak in a real run afterall, SCORE! It won't be a trail run, but at least it will be outside. In the snow, if I'm lucky. I must be a little crazy, but this is how my brain works.

My jaunt around our little neighborhood was cold, windy, speedy and RAD. I woke up this morning feeling jittery, chubby and weird. One nice run (outdoors) later and I feel rejuvenated, refreshed, non-jittery, non-twitchy and like "me," again. In other words, no longer a cranky, bitchy, cabin-fevered version of myself.

Best 5 miles all day. You're welcome, Mister Baltz!

Verdict: I might be an addict, but my drug is a good one. For sure.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Days 'Til Marathon- 57

Today's Location- Pocahontas State Park
Trails- Fendley Station, Loop Trail, Fendley Station B
Distance- 4.35 miles
Avg Pace- 10:08 min/mile

Today was my first trail-run since the Willis River 35k and also my first real run since the death of local marathoner Meg Menzies. I did a lot of recovering on today's run, letting my legs loosen up and getting back to business after taking a few day's rest after the muddy adventure that was Willis River. I also thought a lot about Meg. It was a pensive, grateful, beautiful morning jog with my critters. 

On Monday, fellow Richmond runner and Boston Marathoner Meg Menzies was killed along a stretch of road in Hanover County around 8:15AM, while out for her morning jog. A drunk driver struck and killed her. Just like that, her husband became a widower and her 3 beautiful young children lost their Mom. I haven't been able to stop thinking about those kids and her entire family. I didn't know Meg personally, but her photos look very familiar; I'm sure I've seen her around at local races with the RRRC. Her death has struck so many of us in the running community as well as the world. Such a preventable and heart-breaking tragedy has brought together people from all around the world to bring more awareness to distracted drivers, drunk drivers and running/cycling safety. 

On Saturday, Jan 19, friends of Meg have organized #megsmiles, a world-wide event in which runners and walkers dedicate whatever distance they complete on Saturday to Meg, her husband, children and family. I'll definitely be thinking about and praying for Meg's family during my run on Saturday, but I thought about them during today's run as well. 

Snow-covered tree branches along Fendley Station

It was a serene morning, chilly but gorgeous. The dogs were SO happy to be out on the trail again; it had been about a week since I'd gone out with them; partly because of the nasty weather, partly because I didn't feel like smelling the stench that inevitably follows a trail run with those crazy mutts. As I type this, they are quarantined in the kitchen until I muster up the motivation to throw them in the bathtub. Anyway, today was their lucky day; I just wanted to get a few easy miles in and the weather held off, making it a perfect day for us to hit the dirt (or mud, as it was).

Saturday will be another "resting" run, to complete recovery from the ridiculous 35k last weekend. Then, with just 8 training weeks until the Marathon, it'll be time to get back with the program. March 15th is showtime!

Sunday, January 12, 2014


I usually feel that "you're crazy," regarding running IS a compliment. Yesterday, during the Willis River 35k, it felt like what we were doing actually WAS crazy. Not "cool"-crazy or "bad-ass" crazy, just plain CRAZY crazy. 

5 reasons this trail "race," was pure INSANITY

1.) Its pouring, you morons! 

When I checked the weather, once again the guy in the suit told me it was going to be in the 60's, with a light shower here and there. NOPE. Try 45 degrees and raining buckets.

2.) Was that lightning?

When the race began, there was very little drizzle. Of course, that would soon change. To make things even more interesting, the booming thunder and flashing lightning showed up to keep everyone entertained. Plus, we were soaking wet...I was waiting to be struck down by lightning (punishment for being so dumb) at any moment.

3.) I should have packed my flippers. And brought along a lifeguard. 

About 4 miles in, we come to the first of 3 "creek crossings." Of course, because of the crazy wet weather we've had, the normally cute little creek was more like a raging river. Sloshing through the knee-deep (frigid) water, I was one of many who slipped and tumbled right in at that first water crossing. Great. The course was an out & back, so we all knew that we'd be seeing each crossing twice. Looks like we're in for a VERY wet day. The second crossing was the deepest of the bunch, with icy water coming waist-high. Luckily, this was also the calmest of the crossings, so the current wasn't an issue (how's that for a nice break?!) The third and craziest crossing featured waist-high water levels and currents that would take you right down the river if you took a tumble. A few of us linked hands and braved that one as a human-rope. Here's about the time when I started to wonder if we all actually were insane. 

Hitting the mid-way point, mile 11

4.) Is this what frostbite feels like?

For the first 10 miles, the temperature was around 45 degrees. Not below freezing, but dip your toes (or your entire body) into some icy water and throw a little (or A LOT) of soaking mud on top, and you've got yourself a pretty uncomfortable situation. My toes were screaming in frozen protest and my shoes felt like they weighed about 10lbs each. I began to wonder how I would be able to tolerate this level of pain and discomfort for another 12 miles. I know that it was at this point that more than a few of my fellow runners threw in the towel. Guess I wasn't bright enough to do that. Kept trudging along. Luckily, God didn't see fit to confiscate one of my toes to frostbite this time; the temperature rose about 10 degrees very quickly. The power of prayer, AMEN!

5.) MUD.

I was expecting a little mud, a lot of mud, even. What I wasn't expecting was for the entire 21.8 miles to be covered in mud. Inescapable, slippery, steal your shoes kind of mud. Towards the beginning of the trek, everyone very nimbly went around the puddles, laughing even at how muddy the trail was. Poor saps, we didn't realize that the beginning was the driest portion of the entire course. By the second half of the course, when we all knew what we were in for, no one even tried to avoid going straight through the mud (or swamp, as it was). No use expending valuable energy trying to avoid the unavoidable. 


To balance things out.....of course there were a few highlights!

1.) Camaraderie.

I've never witnessed such a feeling of community and camaraderie at any other event. I ran mainly with a little group of 4-5, all strangers. We helped each other cross creeks, slide down embankments and find lost shoes that had been swallowed by the mud. It felt more like a team-building exercise than a race, which was so refreshing and so different than anything I've done before. Without knowing their names, I got to know these fellow runners who were also out in the crazy weather, attempting the same crazy feat. Very cool. 

2.) Log-shimmying.

At the final river crossing (thank God!), the river seemed even angrier than it had a few hours earlier. Of course, this was the same spot where I had (ever-so-gracefully) tumbled straight into the water on my first attempt. I wasn't about to get drenched again when I knew that just 4 miles stood between me and the finish. Another girl and I saw a large log suspended about 20 feet above the river, just 15 yards downstream. Shimmy across the log? You betcha! I would have taken out my camera and snapped what would have been an awesome photo, but I since I was soaking wet, covered in mud and in a slightly precarious position, straddling a log above an angry (but still cute) "creek," I left it in my pack. You'll have to use your imagination.

3.) Volunteers.

 I was in awe of the incredible volunteers who came out to cheer, to keep everyone hydrated and fueled and to make sure no one was injured. They were so enthusiastic and, in one word, amazing. While we had our activity to keep us warm, they sat in the crazy rain and bitter cold to be there for us. Incredible.

4.) Lessons in Perseverance.

Here's the quote on the t-shirt for this race:  
"Perseverance is not one long race; it is many short races, one after the other. With ordinary talent and extraordinary perseverance, all things are attainable." 
 What a great way to look at it. If nothing else, this crazy day was an exercise in not quitting, even when every part of my body says, "enough is enough!"  One girl I was running with jokingly said, "this is great character- building, ya'll!" You said it, lady. 

After 4hrs, 44 mins, my adventure came to an end. With an average pace of around 13 minutes per mile, I've officially recorded my slowest race ever. I've also never been happier that a race was over. 

5.) New Perspective.

With the full marathon still looming in March, I've got a whole new perspective on racing conditions and level of difficulty. I was talking with an avid trail-runner who's been racing for 15 years, and I told him that I was running the Instant Classic @ Pocahontas. I jokingly said how I thought it would be a breeze compared to this 35k. He burst out laughing, saying that he'd done the marathon at Pocahontas (twice!) and that it was easily 5 times easier than what we were tackling at that moment. 

How's that for a training run?

Monday, January 6, 2014

Running "Unplugged"

You've seen them. Those 50-something dudes trekking solo through the woods with nothing but a bandana, some short-shorts and a smile. Those "unplugged" runners who don't need an iPod or a $200 GPS watch to tell them how far they've gone or how their calorie burn is looking. No headphones, no pedometer, no agenda; those guys are also known as my "zen running" heroes. They are among the friendliest people I've met on the trail and also the most mysterious.  
How far are they running? 
Where is their water? 
Katy Perry playlist? 
How is it possible to run long distances without these things? 
Judging by their bulging quads (they're hard NOT to notice), leathery skin and well-worn trail shoes, they are running long distances. They run happily and with very few supplies, it seems. Unless, of course, they have giant pockets full of energy bars, Gatorade and a well-concealed boombox (in which case, never-mind this whole post). 

I feel very 2014 when I come across these guys; geared-out, plugged-in and un-zen. Nevertheless, on a regular day, I'm loaded down with my hydration pack, iPhone, gels/snacks, car keys and small ninja weapon, ready for any hiccup along the way. I wish I didn't feel like I needed all that crap, but when I'm out on the trail solo (with a questionable sense of direction), I want to be prepared. I've seen Dateline NBC, folks. Bad stuff does happen. 

Of course, my favorite (if fictional) "unplugged," "zen-ish" runner is Forrest Gump. I make my husband watch that movie with me at least once a year; this is no small feat due to the fact that he also has to listen as I recite almost every word. Not sure why, but he finds this slightly annoying (?!). 

Anyway, its hard to choose a favorite Forrest Gump scene, but the running scene gets me every time (I'm also a sucker for the shrimp-boat part, but that's not exactly relevant here). I think most runners can relate to his journey. It's about finding yourself, defining your life, staying grounded and, in Forrest's case, moving on (damn you, Jenny!). Running is therapy; for your mind, body, soul and quads. Periodically removing all the extra gear/baggage aids in the therapy-area of the running routine, for me, anyway. 

To truly un-plug from the rest of the high-speed world is to plug-in to your body, to quietly focus on your blessings and to enjoy the beauty of the trail and the world around you.

So, I make it a point every now and then to go for a run totally solo; no devices, no distractions. Just me & the trail, for as long as I feel like it, sans agenda or goal. I try to do my "zen-running" in an area that's well-traveled, safe and usually with a loop trail, so I'm never too far from my car. I'm not gonna go totally backwoods, ya'll. 

Yesterday I ran for about an hour at Robious Landing Park in Midlothian. This is a nice little spot right on the James River. I ran 4 laps around their 1.5 mile loop trail. If I were a truly unplugged runner, I wouldn't have been counting laps, but we all have our quirks. The mostly-flat trail is hard-packed gravel and dirt, with some pretty serious mud in certain spots, especially close to the river. I would have snapped a photo, but I that would have been a very un-Forrest Gump thing to do.

It was so quiet; the only sounds were the river rushing, my feet hitting the ground (or slipping in the mud) and the squirrels throwing acorns at me. Every now and then, I'd hear a dog barking or a kid laughing. After 6ish miles, I figured that was far enough; I headed home to hang with my little family, refreshed and feeling pretty dang zen. 


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

19-miler to Finish 35k Training. BOOM!

Ready or Not...
Days 'Til 35k-10
Days 'Til Marathon- 72

Today's Location- Pocahontas State Park
Trails- Fendley Station, Beaver Lake
Distance- 18.7 miles
Average Pace- 10:30 min/mile

What I Know

1. The Willis River 35k is next Saturday @ Bear Creek Lake State Park.

2. 35 kilometers = 21.75 miles.

3. I'm signed up for this race.

4. I've never run that far.

5. I'm ready anyway (let's think positive).

I've never gone into a race without at least attempting the distance prior to race-day. Today, I ran my longest distance to date, a pretty successful (almost) 19-miler at my favorite spot, Pocahontas. With just 11 days until the 35k, its time to start tapering and resting, whether I'm ready or not. Even though I feel less prepared for this run than I've ever felt for any other race, I do feel confident that I'll complete the distance (hopefully, in one piece and still smiling...at least on the inside).

The holiday season proved to be a difficult time for training; the extra food and booze hasn't helped too much; combine that with the crazy weather, family obligations and shorter days and you've got a tricky training schedule. I'm assuming (hoping) that the other trail runners out there next weekend are as "slightly unprepared," as I am. I'm crossing my fingers that I'll be able to halfway keep up with someone, greatly improving my chances of not missing a turn and getting lost in the wilds of Cumberland County with the backwoods crazies.
Not only did I go out for my longest trek ever today, I decided to take along my new gear (running toy), a Nathan Trail Mix2 fuel belt. In the past, I've run with my Camelbak, which I've had for years and just recently decided to replace. I've found that the Camelbak (mine is a "Minimule") is great for hiking and for 5-8 mile runs with the dogs, but it isn't ideal for longer distances. There is no accessibility to anything inside the pack unless you remove it. This is a total pain in the booty when trying to run and to keep up a respectable pace. Stopping to take off the pack, get whatever I need from the inside, readjusting and putting the pack back on...you get my drift. Ob-NOX-ious. The lack of accessibility isn't a big deal on shorter runs when I don't need any chews/gels, etc, or when I'm running with the dogs and time isn't a concern. But, when I'm solo and in "training mode," this method isn't exactly time-efficient.

I'll add that Camelbak does make other models that would suit my needs more efficiently than my MiniMule (which is actually a youth pack), but I've been curious about the belt (fannypack?) style for hydration systems, and chose the Nathan belt based on online reviews (stellar) and price point ($45). The model I chose has 2 10oz bottles and a nice, roomy pocket for my phone, gels, key and chap-stick.

My route today began at my usual spot on Fendley Station, heading out from the Qualla Rd parking lot. I took Fendley to Beaver Lake, took a quick spin around that nice little 2.6 mile loop, then headed back to Fendley for an out & back to the Swift Creek Dam. My calculations told me this trek would total about 19 miles, a nice number for my last long run before the 35k.

Well, even though I ended up loving my new belt, it took (admittedly) 4 miles to get it adjusted correctly. I had a hard time figuring out exactly where around my waist I was supposed to position the belt; put it too low and the bottles were jumping all over my butt cheeks; too high and it felt weird on my stomach. There was a lot of stopping/adjusting/cursing in that first stretch, but finally (4 miles later), I was comfy and the belt felt great. I shed my light jacket that I should have left in the car to begin with, stashing it behind a tree and planning on grabbing it at the end of my run. Finally, I was into a nice rhythm, my belt was situated and I had on the correct amount of layers. 4 miles down, 15 to go. Let's do this. 

Miles 5-11 were along a great stretch of trail leading down the the Swift Creek Dam. Its mostly dirt/hard-packed gravel, pretty flat and very pretty, especially near the dam. Because trying out a new hydration system wasn't enough of an adjustment for the day, I decided to try a gel "fuel" for the first time in a long while. I typically use Power Bar Gel Blast Chews (Raspberry = YUM); today I took those along with a couple of PowerBar gels as well. I'm sorry, but those things are gross. I had the berry flavor and while the actual taste wasn't bad, the gooey-oooey texture of it was SO yucky. I've heard they just take a little getting used to, so I haven't ruled them out completely as an option for the 35k or Marathon, but I'm definitely not stocking up on them, either. Just thinking about them now is giving me the heeby-jeebies. BUT, I will say, I do think that once (painfully) swallowed, the PowerBar gel did give me a little boost.

Around mile 11, I hit the turn-a-round spot at the Dam, gagged on my PowerBar gel and headed back up the the trail, 8 miles to go. 

I've noticed that as I've added to my mileage, little tweaks have popped up unexpectedly. About a month ago, I developed whats called a Morton's Neuroma, or inflamed/aggravated nerve between the 3rd and 4th  toes on my right foot. After dealing with escalating pain and discomfort, I ended up buying new shoes (one size bigger), and that problem has since pretty much been resolved. I love my Brooks Ravenna 4 trail shoes; they are perfect!
As long as my tootsies have plenty of room to wiggle and aren't crowded, I'm good to go. But, if it isn't one thing, its another....

About 12 miles into today's run, I feel a weird twinging in my left arm, starting under my armpit and going all the way down my arm, into my thumb. What the hell? It feels almost like a pinched nerve, but more annoying than super painful. My thumb feels weak and a little numb. I adjust my stride, keeping my arms more straightened out so that the blood flow isn't restricted. I check my posture and continue flexing my hand, wiggling my fingers and demanding the obnoxious pinching feeling to go away. Finally it did (take that, weird tweaky feeling), and left me wondering if I have Carpel Tunnel or some rare life threatening arm disease.

I was so busy trying to self diagnose my arm twitch and readjusting my stride that I didn't realize that my homegirl on MapMyRun hadn't beeped in to tell me I'd gone another mile. I'm a big fan of the Free MapMyRun app. It keeps track of your distance, pace and location. Its usually pretty accurate and the GPS strength is typically dependable. I've never had it cut off mid-run or lose signal. Until today. I yank out my phone, and sure enough, the app is frozen. Great. I get it rebooted; luckily it kept track of my time and I'm able to pick up where I left off. Trouble is, it lost signal for about a mile and a half, resulting in inaccurate total mileage for the day. If this was a service I was paying for, I'd be a little ticked. But its free, so Eh, good enough. Since most of the run was an out & back, I was able to estimate my distance pretty accurately anyway.

My friendly MapMyRun lady is back online and pipes up to tell me that I've gone 17 miles. Woah, I think. Maybe I really can do this. I'm amazed by how great my body feels, over 3 hours and 17 miles into this run. Before I know it, I'm turning the corner where I know I'll hit the 18 mile mark. Oh yeah, let me grab my jacket. I dart over to the tree where I left my inexpensive but beloved little black zip-up. Its gone. What the flip?! Who sees a jacket placed neatly by a tree and thinks, Yep, I'm gonna take that. Friggin jerks, all ya'll! After a quick mental "goodbye" to the $12 Wal-Mart running jacket I've had for years, I jump back on the trail, ready to finish strong, eyes peeled for a little jerk wearing my blasted jacket.

At almost 19 miles, my run comes to a close. My big bottle of Chocolate Milk awaits my return to the car, following a nice long stretch and a little happy-dance. I'm dancing because I just ran almost 19 miles and still can dance. I'm dancing because the 35k is next weekend and I'm ready. I'm dancing because Jessie J is on my iPhone and I can't help myself. My JESSIE J JAM

Here's what my Mom's face (probably) looked like when I told her about today's run....

You ran HOW far?!
What a great way to finish 2013. Cheers!