Tag Archives: running

Willow Winter Solstice Race Recap

The single word that best sums up Saturday’s Willow Winter Solstice trail run is “pivotal”.  While my performance had nothing to do with that designation, time, place, and company were everything.  Some of the turning points from the run are:

Family

As the only declared “runner” in my little nuclear family unit, I’ve generally doomed myself to lonely race days.  I sometimes have my tiny fan club at the finish line, but I’ve taken myself to 5 of my last 6 races.  With small boys, and a sometimes long wait time between start and finish, it often makes more sense that way.

For this run, I was trying to figure out the logistics of racing in possibly finicky weather conditions as a nursing mama with a hungry infant waiting with a daddy who was also entertaining a preschooler.  Overall, the situation sounded pretty selfish of me.  Inspiration hit, and I emailed the race director.  She was prompt in her reply that the 5k was indeed a fun run, and my kiddos would be welcome on the course. I registered both John and myself for what would be a first 5k for 3 of the 4 of us.

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Alaska

Usually, my pre-race prep involves the following list: Shoes?  Check.  Shorts?  Check.  Sports bra?  Check and done.  For this weekend, I wasn’t even certain where I should begin.  Do I even need my running shoes?  Can I use those with snowshoes, or just spikes?  Should I just wear snow boots?  How many clothing layers will be warm enough, but not too warm?

Last year, the run, which also hosts a half and full marathon, was held in -30* weather.  This year, the forecast predicted temps in the 20’s and some snowfall.  Since I planned on not actually running much, due to the dual tasks of coaxing a 4 year old through 3 miles of snow and simultaneous babywearing, I opted for slightly warmer layers.  I ended up with fleecy tights under ski pants, snow boots, an Icebreaker top, fleece, and light water-resistant shell.  John and Silas layered similarly.  I put Skye in fleecy onesie jammies and a plush bear-suit, with socks on both his hands and feet, and planned to fit him into a front-carrier with a fluffy blanket covering the whole assembly.

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Post-baby

Even though I’ve been going to the gym regularly since Skye was three weeks old, I’m not even close to being fit enough to actually run a 5k.  On the treadmill, I’m up to half a mile at a time, which is a joke compared to the effort it takes to run three miles in 8” of fresh snow.  The most liberating part was that none of that mattered.  Brushing all preconceived notions about racing aside, my biggest goal for the day was to have a memorable day with my family in the beautiful place we live.Image

Winter Solstice

The particular day of the year for the run represents the largest scale pivot point of the day.  The first true day of winter is really something to celebrate in Alaska, because from here on out, the days are just getting longer.  I’m pleased to say that the short days really haven’t been “that” bad.  Our sunrises have been around 10am, with sunsets at 4pm.  That leaves a modest portion of the day with sunlight.  It really only messes with my head on days I don’t work, when getting ready for the day with a cup of coffee mysteriously lasts until lunch.

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The Race Course

The race site was a little over an hour up the Parks Highway from home.  We left around 7am for the Willow Community Center.  The driving directions from the race website only said “Parks Highway, Mile 70”, which turned out to be completely adequate.  In the Community Center, I took the opportunity to see what the other runners were wearing.  Everyone was in running shoes, some with spikes or snow tires, and some with gaiters, some without.  Black running tights, presumably fleece lined, were the universal choice, with a variety of running jackets concealing whatever top layers were chosen. Everyone was topped with a headlamp, including us, as it was the only required equipment.  Start time was 9am, and still in the dark.

The three of us pinned on our race bibs, I situated the baby, and it was time to go!  John was feeling ambitious, and started out encouraging Silas to try to run, at least to hurry, but the attempt turned out to be futile, for a few reasons.  For one, the newer snow layer was soft and deep, turning every step into a trudge.  Mainly though, Si is 4.  “Sense of urgency” is not a factor in his MO.  He spent at least 2 miles of the 5k holding my hand and jabbering away.

The 5k course was easy enough to follow: out across a field, down a road, around a lake to the turnaround, then back.  Taking up the tail end made it even easier to navigate: in the hour before sunrise we only had to follow the twinkle of bobbing headlamps.

The three of us marched along over the snowy landscape, with the baby sleeping snuggly.  About 2/3 of the way to the turn around, it started getting lighter and we began crossing paths with the actual runners on their way back.  Every runner we passed appeared to be struggling with the resistance the snow was providing. Only one runner was in snowshoes, but that seemed like the smartest idea of all.  I really wished I had been in mine.  A few runners looked downright annoyed, and I had a hard time imagining signing up for 26.2 or even 13.1 miles of that abuse, though I may feel differently next year.

After passing the lake, which was indiscernible from a snowy meadow, we made a right to the turn around, which was a woman in a red jacket.  At the halfway point, John, who had been trying to maintain some dignity by at least hiking quickly, gave in to our casual plodding pace.  He even pulled out his e-cig, which is quite the epic sight during a 5k.

As the sun rose, we were able to take in our surroundings, which was nothing short of absolute serenity.  We trudged on, and the community center came into view.  During our final approach to the finish, cheering and shouting began, and we were surprised by  the little crowd that was waiting to usher us in, even though we had easily taken twice as long as the next runner before us.

Inside we were greeted with hot soup and the relief of no more slogging through the snow.  We stayed until 11, two hours after the gun, and no half marathoners had returned.  When the results posted two days later, I saw 2:20 (men’s) and 2:46 (women’s) were the 13.1 winning times, and the first marathoner came in at 4:36 (5:37 for women).  Winter events are certainly a different kind of racing in Alaska.

This run did turn out to be a meaningful way to celebrate the winter solstice.  Though we still have plenty of winter to go, potentially until May, the days are indeed getting longer, albeit quite slowly.  Because the idea of the longer races holds very little appeal at the present moment, I’m thinking the 5k would make an amazing family tradition.  Every year will present something new and unexpected: wildly different conditions to plan for and navigate through, as well as adapting to the changing and developing abilities of my two little boys.  It will take years, and plenty of practice, but we may even reach a point as a family that this 3.1 mile, first-day-of-winter race is, in fact, a run.

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Ground Zero and The Plan to Rebuild

Under normal circumstances, I can confidently refer to myself as “A Runner”. 5 miles? Piece of cake. 10 miles? Sounds like fun. 15 miles? Let me check my schedule, but I can probably fit it in.

These days, I’m not facing ‘normal circumstances’. On Monday, I ran 0.1 miles. And that was my highest mileage day in months. And what caused my little jaunt on the treadmill to end abruptly at one-tenth of a mile? Oh, just the feeling that my pelvic floor was going to fall out.  Yuck.

Recovery from baby #2 is definitely following a different timeline than baby #1. The first time, I started running with the jogger at three weeks postpartum. This time, at a month in, I’m barely able to plod along for 60 seconds, pushing nothing. Luckily, I was in super-good shape when I got pregnant last winter, or who knows the state I’d be in now.

The last race I ran was as a leg in the Redding Marathon relay in January. I thought I could squeeze in a couple more races even after I was pregnant, but that became not so much of a priority after the fact, and my 2013 race calendar was cleared. 2012 had been a pretty good running year for me.  I ran my first road marathon at the Carlsbad Marathon, had two solid 15k trail races (even won third in my age group!), and got a 50k PR at the Siskiyou Outback.

ImageI will never be this tan again. Thanks, Alaska. Siskiyou Outback 50k, July 2012.

Feeling ambitious, I filled out a 2014 race calendar online. I added in every Alaskan race I was even remotely interested in. Then I actually looked at it. And smacked myself.  My motivation was rooted in both in antsiness from taking the year off, and the novelty of the new and amazing selection of races available, but it was just stupid. I was looking at a half marathon on a Sunday, and a 24 mile trail race the following Saturday. Without seriously abbreviating my plans, I was sure to be a sad, quivering pile of injured mess by next fall.

Here’s what my edited, annotated (and still ambitious) calendar looks like:

  1. Willow Winter Solstice 5k, Willow, December 21, 2013. This is extremely tentative depending on if I feel ready.  If anything, it will probably be more of a 3 mile hike in snowshoes.
  2. No Canoe Loop 11-miler, Willow, March 8, 2014.  In the summer, this loop covers a long stretch of lakes. Paddle across one lake, hike your boat to the next, repeat.  In winter, no floating is required.
  3. Kal’s Knoya Ridge Run, 8.5k, Anchorage, May 22, 2014. Part of the Alaska Mountain Runners burly series.
  4. Red Shirt Lake Trail Run, 6 mi, Willow, May 31, 2014.  A nice looking trail race for after the snow season.  It looked like a fun reintroduction to running on actual dirt (read: muddy as hell!).
  5. Robert Spurr Memorial Hill Climb, 3 mi, Bird Ridge, June 15, 2014.  Another in the Alaska Mountain Runners series.
  6. Mount Marathon, 3 mi, Seward, July 4, 2014.  This one’s kind of a big deal.  It even has a Wikipedia page. It was created on a bar bet that no one could run up and down Mount Marathon in under an hour. The lottery opens January 1.  The drawing system is weighted by the number of times you’ve tried to get in.  Being my first time, I’m not counting on this one, but I’ve been known to be lucky.
  7. Crow Pass Crossing, 24 mi, Girdwood, July 26, 2014.  This is my ‘A’ race of the year.  Traveling from Girdwood to Eagle River by car is a 50 mile drive, because the highway circles all the way around the Chugach mountains.  This is only a 24 mile run from Girdwood to Eagle River because is shoots straight over the mountains.  The first 4 climb, and the last 20 descend.  Downhill running is not my strength, so I have my work cut out for me.
  8. Alyeska Classic Mountain Run, 2.5 mi, Girdwood, August 16, 2014. The final race in the Alaska Mountain Runners series.  May be passed up if my almost-kindergartener is ready to run a 2k in Anchorage the same day.  He’s already expressed interest, and his running interests will certainly trump mine.
  9. Lost Lake Run, 16 miles, Seward, August 23, 2014.  I’ve been advised that this run is amazingly beautiful.
  10. Kesugi Ridge Traverse Trail Run, 28 mi, Denali State Park, September 6, 2014.  6-9 hours of running with Denali as a backdrop?  Count me in.  Photos I’ve seen from this point-to-point trail are breathtaking.  Hopefully the weather will be such that views are available, but September can be quite squirrely and unpredictable.  This will be my toughest race ever.  

             Kesugi Ridge comes with a warning:

Please be aware: This is not a course for beginning trail runners. There are significant climbs and difficult terrain. If you have never traveled the course before, we strongly encourage you to do so. The trail will not be marked, so familiarity with it will be very important. Please do not over-estimate your abilities! The most common, recurring theme regarding weather descriptions reads “lousy weather, cold winds and poor visibility are common”. If you have never run a marathon or race of this distance, please reconsider signing up. If you have only run road marathons, but never tackled trail running, please reconsider signing up. Running the Crow Pass Crossing or Resurrection Pass 50 would be good personal pre-requisites.

             It’s also self-supported:

There will be no aid stations. There will be a race official at Ermine Hill and a trail sweep, but no refreshments out on the course. You will be responsible for your own food and water. Drink water along the course at your own risk. There are plenty of available streams. There is no mandatory gear BUT a few things are recommended: long sleeve tech shirt, wind jacket with hood, wind pants, stocking hat and enough water and food for 28ish miles, plus a trail map. If you choose to drink water along the course, a filter bottle is recommended. Reflective gear and a headlamp may help depending on weather and in case you get lost.

             Sign me up!

So my goals are in place. I’m not going for any speed records this year, just finishes. Crushing old times will be business for 2015. The only problem now is that there is a significant gap between running 28(ish) unsupported, rugged trail miles in possible inclement weather and plodding 0.1 miles on a treadmill. Fortunately, I have over 7 months until Crow Pass and almost 9 to get ready for Kesugi Ridge, and I’m already making progress.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been hitting up the gym Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. To start out, I walk on the treadmill for a mile, with intermittent attempts to slowly pick up the pace to something that resembles running. Not an exciting way to start my workout, but it’s already getting easier to accomplish the task.

After warming up, I throw in some weights. The first day back, I did some barbell dead lifts, dumbbell overhead presses, and lat pulldowns, with my little audience of Skye napping in his carseat nearby. The second day I started with barbell squats, but was interrupted by gym management. I was fully expecting the confrontation sooner or later, but hoped I would skate by without a liability lecture. Despite Skye being tucked in a corner far away from any [reckless and blind?!] weightlifters, other than myself, the possibility was too great that someone would walk by and drop a weight on him, so we were banished to the machine weight area.

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The past few days, I’ve been limited to machine leg curls, extensions, and presses, and the variety of push/pull upper body choices. I like, and benefit from, free weights much more, but machines will have do for now. I’m making the most of it.

To finish up my workout, I do some 100m and 500m rowing intervals. The whole workout is interspersed with breaks to tend to baby needs, so the process usually takes about 1 hr. 45 min. That works fine for Silas, who is never ready to leave the play area when I come to pick him up. The whole gym situation is a win-win for all three of us: workout time, nap time, and play time.

In the months to come, I’ll be adding in skate skiing (a trail quite literally goes through our backyard), trail running (as conditions permit: we’re mere miles from trailheads in the Chugach State Park), and track workouts (an all-weather track is about a mile from the house).  My current gym workouts are a far cry from where I hope to be in the near future, but they’re wildly effective. I’m back in most of my old clothes, my waist has shrunk an inch in the last week, and on Wednesday, I finally ran 0.25 miles.  Only 27.75(ish) to go.

Alaskan Idealism

I love a good project. I love to learn what tools, skills, and materials I need to start and finish the project, be it making, building, or learning something new.  I love to marvel at how my life will be improved upon completion of the project.  

 “I’ll never have to buy eggs again after I build a chicken coop!”

 “My feet will always be warm after I knit this sock pattern!”

 “My life will be complete when I learn to churn my own butter!”

 The only problem lies in the disconnect between the idea of the project and the actual completion of the project, which is best expressed by this illustration from Dirk’s Big Bunny Blog:

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Most of my projects live out their lives in the realm of my perpetual thought bubble.  Fortunately, I know this situation is not hopeless.  I have many projects that have come to fruition over the years, it’s just that my ratio of planned to completed is not very good.  Alaska, though, seems like the perfect venue for improving that ratio and honing my follow-thru skills.  I expect that exceptionally well developed DIY skills could be quite the boon in Alaska.  Hungry?  Go catch a fish.  Chilly?  Knit up some mittens.  Bored?  Play some guitar, make some soap, or put a new addition on the house.

 In true “me” style, I already have quite the list of Alaska projects living and thriving in my thought bubble.  

 Knitting

Knitting is one area where I’ve, at least, already acquired some essential skills.  At several points, I’ve even sold some of my projects.  Most of my knitting has consisted of small projects, mainly hats and beanies.  I’m particularly proud of an almost-finished sweater.  I followed the Central Park Hoodie pattern, and used the exact yarn from the model photo because I loved it so much.  The only hang-up with this sweater is that I started it back in March…of 2010.  I’m now publicly committing to completing it before crossing the border into Alaska.

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So close. 

It appears that other knitters have been able to finish the same sweater in a few weeks to a month.  I’m hoping the finished product will give me the confidence and drive to start having my knitting turn over as quickly.  I’ve been on Ravelry an unhealthy amount of time lately, and my knitting queue now has 20 different projects, including more sweaters, a few baby things, and couple choices for my holy grail of knitting projects: a man sweater that will actually be worn.  If long Alaskan winter nights are any assistance to my knitting ambitions, churning out one per month seems reasonable, and gives me almost two years of happily busy fingers.  My current rate of 3+ years per item puts me knitting into the grave.  The former option sounds much more pleasant.

 Playing Guitar

I’ve ambitiously owned a guitar, an antique that belonged to my grandmother, for 13 years.  Once I was able to recognizably strum out the first few bars of “Under the Bridge”, but that’s about it.  The aforementioned Alaskan winter nights, ideally, will prompt a quicker ascent on my learning curve, particularly since we’ve decided to not turn on cable.   

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Decorative wallhanging no more.

General Homesteading

Even though we’re, truth be told, probably going to be living in the ‘burbs, I still can’t shake the image of Alaskan frontier living.  Canning, soap making, eating seasonally, tending chickens and pigs, milking my own goat, and ample hunting and fishing to stock the freezer are all fairly essential elements to my Alaskan dream.  My experience in those areas ranges from “Some” to “Zero”, but I’m working on it bit by bit.  Yesterday I whipped up a fabulous batch of mayo, and Sunday I’m planning on butchering a chicken.  I make no prediction on the outcome of the chicken; it might walk away unscathed.  However, I do feel it’s a certain rite of passage in omnivore-hood.  I’m hoping that certain conditions in Alaska will make my homesteading plans morph from whimsy to mandatory.  If tomatoes in January cost $12 a pound, all the better.

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 Dinner.

Running

One of my most pivotal ideas that became victimized by project-block was running a marathon.  I had at least three false starts, where I picked a race, started a training plan, and then completely derailed after a couple weeks.  I can’t pinpoint the cause of those failures, because I was indeed finally successful in running 26.2 miles when I raced in a 50k, which is over 30 miles.  After that, I ran a marathon a few months later “just for fun”.

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I suppose the ideal running conditions that come with living in San Diego at the time had plenty to do with it, as well as being a bit older, somewhat more disciplined, and having actual responsibilities that were a pleasure to get away from for just a little while.  Regardless, running long is in me now, but I know year-round living in Alaska will certainly present some challenges.  I will likely have to invest in both a treadmill (the horror!) and these beauties to keep up with 50k’s, move on to 50 milers, 100k’s, and beyond, in what promises to be the most amazing terrain and trails I can imagine. 

 Last Thoughts on Thought Bubbles

I realize that my particular situation in Alaska will not mandate that I actually complete any of these.  I’m certainly not, in the near future, going to starve without a self-caught and filleted salmon, or freeze without a homemade quilt.  But Alaskan living adds a certain quality to self-sufficiency.  Day to day responsibilities, having a job, taking care of a family, and not a small sprinkling of flat out procrastination have made the back burners of my life much more crowded than the front.  The time is now to address all of those pots, add seasoning, and bring them to a boil.