The blog of the adventures (or mis-adventures) of an active mountain woman.
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Older and Wise(r)

It was just two weeks ago when opened my cell phone calendar and saw a curious entry. “Skunk Hollow Sneaker Chase, 8 AM, 7/27/13”. My heart briefly fluttered when I realized that I had indeed registered for an 8-mile trail run in early June, than promptly forgot about it. Which means I forgot to train. Oops.

I hadn’t exactly been sedentary; it’s summer and well, I’m me. I was actually quite focused on swimming in preparation for my sprint-distance “Triathamom” in August. But lack of preparation has never stopped me, so I stubbornly forged ahead. And I’m soooo glad I did.

Race day dawned with a bleary-eyed but excited Michelle. The baby hasn’t been sleeping for very long stretches at night and my coordination was a bit off as exhibited by my morning shananigans including dropping a Gu shot in the dog water bowl and knocking over my latte on the counter. I ignored my inner sarcastic voice about the auspicious start and loaded up the baby to drive up the mountain.

Part of my race excitement can be attributed to the location. I will take an 8-mile trail run over a 2-mile pavement run any day of the week. Add in aid stations and race volunteers (I love those people) and my participation is pretty much guaranteed. This particular trail was also located on Casper Mountain, which rises 3,000 feet above the town at 8,130 ft. This meant cooler temperatures, more variation in elevation (read: hills) and a little bit more huffing and puffing.

The race offered an eight mile OR sixteen mile option and during the pre-race meeting, someone asked “What if I’m feeling plucky after 8 miles and want to continue?”. Since I had no such delusional thoughts, I chuckled along with the rest of the “completion not competition” runners. The race began and the field inevitably spaced out to leave me keeping pace with a nine-year-old and his parents. I couldn’t decide whether to be annoyed or empowered. Chatting with his mom occasionally, I found myself at the aid station at the halfway (four mile) mark before I knew it.

I stuck to my “drink at least one water and one sports drink” rule while I downed a Gu. Actually, it was a Hammer Gel Espresso shot (my favorite), but I digress. I always force myself to drink slightly more than I want at aid stations and it serves me well. Overall, I felt fantastic and naturally started reflecting on this odd experience. I hadn’t slept but I HAD eaten properly, and it had made all the difference.

I ate my usual breakfast of two eggs and a bowl of oatmeal about 1.25 hours before the race. I drank a latte and then downed a Hammer Gel with water 15 minutes before the race started. Having good carbs and some protein with plenty of time to digest is key. Equally key is refueling about 45 minutes in. I kept a nice even pace and found myself (somewhat smugly, I’ll admit) flying by the nine-year-old, among others, around mile six. My refuel and even pacing left plenty in the tank for a strong finish while others were commenting on the end of race difficulty. Even though my training wasn’t very strong, my day of race preparation was smart, and that may be worth just as much.

Totally-awesome-female-product-advertising: Hello Flo video spot and website

Beware the Bike Path

Note the exact positioning of the sun and puddle edge.

Note the exact positioning of the sun and puddle edge.

I really, really wish I loved running. It’s efficient and can be accomplished almost anywhere with minimal equipment. And best of all, my body seems built for it. But my brain is not.

My brain is usually saying something like “why can’t we be biking?” and “how long do we have to do this for?”. Trail runs are slightly more entertaining as they require some mental engagement navigating various obstacles, but I resort to coping mechanisms for the boring-est of boring, the bike path.

My favorite coping method is a good audiobook. To be fair, it is a luxury to be able to tune out and listen to a book in a valiant attempt to forget that I am indeed exercising. There are certain places where this is ill-advised, like in National Parks where you may inadvertently startle large hungry animals. But I was less concerned about the wilds of the Boulder Creek path. This was foolish.

The Boulder Creek path is 7.5 miles and traverses the CU campus and downtown Boulder. While there were undoubtably a few hungry animals along the way (Colorado did just decriminalize marijuana), I wasn’t exactly concerned that they would give chase. So off I jogged, laughing at the lanky college kids floating the creek in inner tubs and bike helmets (true story).

Screen Shot 2013-06-12 at 10.05.54 AMAll was fine and comical in a uniquely Boulder way until one of the many underpasses. I’m not sure if I even noticed the puddle (Where was I looking? Who knows…) until my ankle was suddenly wet. My entire foot, up to and including my ankle had stomped into an alarmingly deep puddle. I may have let out a sound mimicking the rare Colorado Macaw, which echoed nicely off the surrounding concrete. My shoes were throughly soaked in the sloshy soggy sort of way.

Which is a really long way of saying that you can’t really ever completely check out while exercising. And if you fall off your treadmill downloading a new book while updating your Facebook status, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Stay-of-the-day: Millennium Harvest House is in a great location if time is extremely short. You pay for the location, NOT the hotel or amenities.

Capitalizing on “mis-adventures”

2013 Trail Mix finishers. Obviously, 2.5 hours was not realistic given that these people are in top running condition with significant training.

2013 Trail Mix finishers Obviously, 2.5 hours was not realistic given that these people are in top running condition with significant training.

The thing about blogging is that you pretty much owe it to your readers to follow up on the event you talked up in the previous post. In this case, that would be the run. Oh, that run. At  one point during that now infamous run, I said “oh sh(oot), I’m going to have to blog about this. Well, my masthead does say ‘mis-adventures’.”

The issues started when we left the house, and my husband left his cell phone on the dresser, thus preventing communication during the race should baby assistance be required. The next issue was all me. Before the first of four water stations, my running partner and I had ventured off-course to complete an extra mile and somewhat significant hill. While we’re not quite sure how this happened, I have a few theories.

1) We are chatting.

2) The pin flags marking the trail were a bit sparse.

3) She has an 8-month-old. I have a 4-month-old. Our best calculations estimate that two baby brains equal about 3/4 of one average adult brain.

Enter the race coordinator, who picked us up in her car and dropped us back off on the trail we had already run with explicit instructions for the next mile.  She also gave me her cell phone number should future questions arise. And arise they did.

Unfortunately, she gave me her husband’s cell phone number by accident. This means that my calls went unanswered. While frantically dialing various phone numbers (I had already forgotten that my husband did not have his cell phone), I realized I had one more resource. Wiping sweat off my screen (I’ll save you the details of where I stashed the phone, but most women will figure it out), I pulled up last weeks post on mountainkidd.com to view the topo map. This helped in a very generalized manner but still resulted in us completing a few extra hills. By the time we reached the second water station, it was clear that we were in a race of our own.

We had estimated our completion time at about 2.5 hours, which was critical as both our nursing babies eat every 2-3 hours. Also, my husband had a flight to catch. But we had a backup plan – if I didn’t finish promptly at 2.5 hours, he would leave the baby with a good friend who was volunteering at the finish line.

My confidence in this piece-meal plan was low for good reason. Largely, because it was piece-meal and there was a misunderstanding about the exact location of the finish line and backup baby rendezvous point. But back to me.

We were at 2.25 hour into the race and running up a looooooong slow street (Ridgecrest, for the locals) when the number the race coordinator had given me was finally answered. I was looking for a mileage estimate since we knew hungry babies wouldn’t wait forever. The dismal report from her husband was “a little more than half way”. Having a sneaking suspicion that my husband was about to miss his flight and with some concern about the babies state of mind, we threw in the towel and asked the coordinator to pick us up. She confirmed that with our “variations” (the ones she knew about…), we had likely completed 7 – 7.5 miles. We clung to the 7.5 mile figure and figured that next year, we would train, sleep more than 2 hours in a row, and watch for those little pink flags a bit more closely.

Non-profit-of-the-day: Soroptimist! I’m a Soroptimist and the Trail Mix run was a fundraiser for us!

Sense of Impending Doom

2013 Trail Mix Course

2013 Trail Mix Course

It started with the best of intentions. Surely signing up for a 10 mile, mixed surface run would spur some serious training, right?  As the race date looms near (THIS Saturday), I’ve realized once again that “planning” and “babies” are not necessarily compatible terms.

Training peaked last week with a 6-mile hike with 14-lb Owen in the Ergo carrier. Two days later, I ran four miles (sans baby) and thought I was going to be pretty well setup for success. Then the baby stopped sleeping.

The doctor is coining Owen’s current lack of sleep preference “day/night reversal”. It involves severely limiting Owen’s day naps to two, one-hour segments. That’s it. He normally sleeps about 4.5 hours a day, which is on par for his age. Otherwise, it’s stimulation all day to teach him that day is for play! The ultimate hope is that Owen will stop waking up every 45 minutes – 2.5 hours during the night, which would be brilliant.

It is extremely difficult to “train” on no REM cycles. With sleep deprivation comes marked declines in memory, overall cognition and – here’s a fun one – balance. Swwweet. So Saturday’s race is pending, but if history is any indication I will likely forge ahead and pay the sore muscle consequences later. If anyone wants to painfully shuffle by my side, register here. No training required for the truly bull-headed.

Cool-movie-of-the-day: Living on One

Humbled at a Biathlon

Last weekend I watched my hubby participate in sport that had never really entered my radar: the biathlon. But it appears it isn’t nearly as obscure as I once thought.

While every athletic endeavor requires body awareness and control, my new found belief is that biathlons take this to a whole new level. At its core, a biathlon is a sporting even made of two very different disciplines. Classically, it’s nordic skate skiing and rifle shooting, but summer variations substitute running, biking or swimming for the cardio portion of the event. My current home of Casper, Wyoming happens to have its very own biathlon club (check them out on Facebook here) and I was blown away by some of the athletes at this event.

One cool thing about being in a “regular” town like Casper, versus a town where every block has a sponsored skier (Jackson) is the variety of people at athletic competitions. There were overweight  40-year-olds and gangly 11-year-olds having a genuinely fun time. But the guys that blew me away came from the club’s association as a US Paralympic Sport Club.

Most of the athletes with disabilities were injured military. I believe this was 7 guys at an event with a total of 60 people. That’s a noticeable number and it hit closer to home than any newspaper article or statistic I have seen. This is my generation and younger, with men and women missing limbs and having other less obvious impediments due to war. How have we not evolved past this?

Of course, the sport did originate as military training for Norwegian soldiers. In 1861. That’s a long time ago. And sadly, the skills it promotes are still relevant in today’s world as evidenced by the former men in uniform participating for the fun of it. And it was even fun to watch. Between the shooting and multiple laps, there’s a lot of action happening in one spot for spectators like me. Who knows, maybe next time I’ll be a participant. Because running and shooting an electronic rifle sounds like a neat challenge. Running and being shot at while trying to return fire sounds less fun. Thanks to the men in uniform that choose to do that so I can have enough adventures to blog about.

Comic-relief-of-the-day: Whew! You need it after that blog post, right. Get your Calvin and Hobbes fix here.

Tiny Houses and Hungry Ghosts

Manufacturer and provider of floor plans for tiny houses.

What would you be willing to give up to ski/bike/fish/hike/play five days a week and work two days a week? Your daily latte? Sure, that’s probably a no-brainer. But unless you drink really, really expensive lattes, that’s probably not enough to make up for the three (or five) missing workdays. What about your house? Your car? Would you share a $3,000 car with your spouse if it meant a significant lifestyle increase? Now we’re getting into the hard questions.

Like it or not, our default pattern for the American lifestyle is not to “give up” things. In fact, it might even be focused on getting more things. But at what cost? Do we have a choice? I say we do, and I would like to promote more of us exercising our choices (including myself).

The biggest investment most of us will make in our lifetime is a home, and our homes are getting bigger by the decade. Home theaters, once the bastion of the rich and famous, are now commonplace in middle-class American homes. Homes are bigger and families of five can easily spend weekends “together” in one home not interacting with one another, much less the larger community outside the front door (if a nearby community exists at all).

This phenomenon is sometimes known as the lack of the “third place”, a point where Americans in particular seem to lag. We have work (where we spend A LOT of time) and home, but community gathering places like cafes, pubs, bookshops, etc are on the decline as we spend more time in our spacious homes. One of my least spacious fixed homes (this does not include summers in cars/tents) was a cabin on Fish Creek in Wilson. It was probably all of 600 sq. feet and I had a neighbor on each side in a similar size abode. Because of the tight quarters and scenic location, we often had inpromtu gatherings based on the fact that we were all meeting in the yard, which was basically a share public (or “third”) place.

What if we all had smaller homes that encouraged us to get out in the community AND saved us a ton of cash with lower utilities and, of course, a lower total cost. There are a few companies peddling houses as small as 65 sq. feet to as large as 874 sq. feet (check out some tiny houses here). For less than the cost of a new car, you can get a complete house, which begs the question: what would you do without a mortgage or rent payment?

 

Learning Humbleness

Ice

Image from my photography class, offered through the Continuing Education department of Casper College.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say if you’re an ‘expert’ at, well, anything, and find yourself in the teaching capacity (even if it’s an informal situation), you owe it to your students to learn something new. Why? Because it’s incredibly humbling/frustrating/rewarding AND it will make you a better teacher.

So what have I been learning? Oh, where to start? I took my first Pilates class a few weeks ago. It was a mat class, which means that the only equipment used was a yoga mat and, of course, our bodies. Confession: I kinda expected to be “good” at it. After all, I’m relatively young, in very good shape with a strong core and I’ve been practicing yoga for 10 years. I was wrong. From my limited, one-class experience, Pilates is an exercise in subtleties and micro movements that are learned, not inherent. While the same could be said of yoga, I’ve committed much of it to muscle memory to the point where many of the less-obvious yoga movements are blissfully ‘built in’. It will take a while to get there with Pilates.

And I’ve blogged about my recent escapades skate skiing. It still strikes me as odd that I can transition from a scenario where I’ll turn around, fish out chapstick or generally not pay attention to an adrenaline-inducing OMG-please-don’t-fall-scenario based merely on the type of skis underfoot.

Now, there’s a third scenario on the scene. It’s a sport I know and love in a new format. My favorite sports (skiing, mountain biking, kayaking, etc) are decidedly individual, but I’m struggling in my new home to find places to bike (I get lost) and trails to run (again, I get lost). Enter Windy City Striders and Fat Fish Racing. The Striders have running races pretty much every Saturday and I enjoy having a preset distance to run and the subtle peer pressure from running in a big group, as opposed to my typical “run until I feel like turning around” style. Fat Fish Racing is a group of mountain bikers with a monday night race series running throughout the summer, and quite frankly I have no idea what I’ve gotten myself into. My biggest rides to date have been in groups of eight friends that typically involve more margaritas than ribbons at the end of the ride. I entered myself in the intermediate “sport” category based mainly on the intel that the people in the beginner “rec” category can get a little agro. I am opposed to agro, unless it’s me versus hill. But me versus other bikers sounds like a losing proposition based on body mass. I’m just hoping my times will be a mild lesson in humbleness rather than a severe smack in the face. The first race is May 21, so stay tuned.

Over and out.

 

Tough Mudder – Only Kinda Tough: Part 3

The half-pipe, where one team member lost a ring- out of his nipple.

Welcome to the  not-so-epic conclusion of Tough Mudder! I last left off berating the Chernobyl jacuzzi for drying out my skin, but I have not yet addressed the obstacle that gave me the most anxiety before the race: the 12 foot high walls.

Aptly named the “Berlin Walls,” the wooden planks were distinctly void of ropes, ladders or handholds. While I had trouble finding pictures of the walls, I bet even the least imaginative can image a 12 foot tall wall. My anxiety was due to the fact that I cannot solo get myself over a 12 foot wall, but luckily this was a team-oriented event. While our method for getting over the wall varied, the easiest for me was when two people clasped their hands together and I put one foot in each hand. Once I got my hands on the top of the wall with my body weight moving in that direction, I could push all the way up. On the top, I straddled the wall then fully extended my body down the other side before dropping to my feet. However, I saw more than a few women yelling for help down the other side. Since I was down, I went over to one such woman and provided a spot used in rock climbing when someone is bouldering (climbing low elevation technical rock). The spot isn’t designed to ‘catch’ someone and doesn’t actually touch them until they are dropping, which is when the spotter ‘guides’ their descent so they don’t land flat on their back. But in this scenario, my spotting skills were grossly overlooked by someone judging me for my rather insubstantial size, which is a long way of saying this: a man on top of the wall who was apparently on the same team of the screaming woman took one look at me with my ‘boulder spot’ and started yelling “could I get some DUDES over here to help her?” Whatever man.

I bruised the front of my hip going head-first down the giant slip-and-slide. This guy obviously gets more style points.

But the walls weren’t my only concern – I was a little worried about this whole ‘electric shock’ thing. The site showed live wires and touted 10,000 volts, which seemed like an awfully high number to me. Someone more electrically minded than myself said, “it’s not the volts you have to worry about – the amperage is what kills you.” Reasoning that it was unlikely that they would be ‘killing people’, my plan was to watch others go through it – if someone outweighing me by 100+ pounds was knocked down, I might just skip it.

However, by the time I actually reached the obstacle I formed a new plan; pick the biggest guy on the team, let him get a head start and run right behind him. It worked brilliantly and I may have been the only one on the team that didn’t get shocked.

Pick the part of this picture that gives you a reason to run. Everyone over 21 gets a free beer at the end!

My final pre-race anxiety was what to wear and I’m hoping this helps out future Tough Mudders. Beaver Creek, the ski resort where the race was held, has a base elevation of 8,100 feet and a summit elevation of 11,400 feet. At the end of June, those elevations are maybe starting to think about summer and the numerous water features had me more than a little concerned about hypothermia. I finally decided on my long REI cycling tights with neoprene shorts on top and my thinnest (hence quickest drying) synthetic Patagonia top. In hindsight, I would have ditched the shorts (they fell down when wet and running) and an even tighter shirt. I would recommend only skin-tight, synthetic clothing. Wet fabric flopping around is just annoying and clothing that has any extra room will shift when swimming. As for hypothermia, I did finish the race cold but not cold enough to lose motor function.

When all was said and done, I’m super glad I did the race and while it’s not all that ‘tough’, it has raised over $1.75 million dollars for the Wounded Warriors Project, which helps out severely injured service members and is the best reason to run I’ve heard in a long time.

Music-site-of-the-day: Songs to lie on your bed and stare at the ceiling to

 

 

 

Tough Mudder – Only Kinda Tough: Part 2

The race start was a controlled fall down a steep dirt slope with loose gravel. Impressive.

Last week, I gave an overview on a 10 mile race called “Tough Mudder” that bills itself as “probably the toughest event on the planet.” This week, I’ll break down the specific obstacles that made me say “probably not.”

The start of the race was impressive. We hiked up steep vertical for about 10 minutes while a charismatic announcer gave us the skinny: if you’re pregnant, don’t go through the electrical shock obstacle because it’s like being inside a microwave. Duh. If you brought gloves to wear (tighter fitting mechanic-like gloves), pat yourself on the back. If you didn’t, say “that was stupid” (after which a few hundred people obediently chanted). After the national anthem and a bang, we were off. Our team choose a steady shuffle for the descent, of which I wholeheartedly approved of as a few of the more aggressive and less coordinated runners ate dirt HARD.

After the hill, we hiked up the better part of a blue (intermediate) ski run before coming to the icy ponds. The first was a huge muddy hole about chest-deep. I half-swam, half-ran through the pond until a banged my shin hard on a massive boulder completely hidden by the murky water. It felt how I always imagined a certain fall while climbing: the one where you clear a ledge and take a whipper (fall) and bang your shins at a steep 45° angle into a 90° rock corner. And I have the scar to prove it.

My sister and I noted a surplus of guys willing to lend a helping hand.

The pond with barrels to swim under came immediately after the mud hole. If you missed last week, a photo and synopsis of this obstacle is there. What I didn’t mention is the hundreds of heat foils laying on the ground and bushes immediately after the barrel pond. I got a hand out of the pond (there was actually a surplus of hands from male non-team members throughout the race. Very gentlemanly.) and wrapped myself in a foil for a few minutes before we all started running again to heat up.

The first aid station was awesome – electrolyte drinks, water and cliff blocks. All the aid stations after this featured water and bananas and I didn’t even need to break out the packet of Justin’s honey and peanut butter I had on me in case of bonking.

The icy 'Chernobyl jacuzzi'. You can't say they're not creative. And yes, that arrow means 'swim under'.

But I know what you really care about is the obstacles. Quite frankly, there were quite a few weak attempts before the next obstacle of note. On the way up to a wooden tank, an elderly lady with perfectly coiffed hair and a sun umbrella leaned over from the sidelines (crowds were gathered at a few key obstacles) and yelled in my face, “you go girl!”. If made me feel good. But then my killer logo recognition made me feel bad. Piled in front of the tank were hundreds of plastics bag sporting a cute little polar bear. They were ice bags. I climbed the wooden slats to the edge of the tank and confirmed my suspicions with an added bonus – the water was glowing. The tank I was about to plunge into was bright red, but the one next door was neon green and next to that an electric blue.

Note to the coordinators of Tough Mudder: my skin massively freaked out after this race. Super, painfully dry. I blame the dye in this obstacle.

But there’s more! The Tough Mudder eval concludes right here, next week.

Recipe-of-the-day: I find solace in chocolate and this one is from the lady herself: Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake by Martha Stewart. Don’t worry – it has video.

 

Tough Mudder – Only Kinda Tough: Part 1

No one I know is in this picture, but I like their expressions just the same.

On June 25th, 2011 I finished a 10-mile trail run with obstacles which bills itself as “probably the toughest event on the planet”. My short answer is, “probably not”.

As anyone who has been on www.ToughMudder.com can see, the hype for the race is high. For some people, this build-up is completely legitimate and it may be the toughest event they will ever do in their lives. But for others that have had ‘epics’ of some sort or another in the outdoor arena, no event can compare.

With an event like Tough Mudder, there is a built-in ‘stop’ button that is distinctly lacking in other arenas. For example, if you happen to be up on Buck Mountain in the Teton range and you slip on some rotten spring snow, you are completely and wholly responsible for self-arresting (aka stopping) yourself with an ice axe before sliding over a 50 ft. cliff. And should the worst not happen, you’ve now got a helicopter ride between you and serious medical attention.

In Tough Mudder, if you’re so exhausted to the point of losing bowel control (this happens in another tough event known as the Leadville 100, which is a 100 mile trail run), you can get a buddy to flag down an EMT on a 4-wheeler. But there was an unexpected consequence to the amount of control the event presented.

I discovered this gem of a surprise early into the race, probably somewhere in the second mile. The obstacle was swimming through a pond with three or four sets of big blue barrels strong across the surface of the 39° water (see photo). I plunged into the pond, took a breath and came up on the other side of the barrel with the start of a killer ice-cream headache. Now, my various whitewater exploits have led to way too much time in 39° water, but this was different. When you’re swimming a class IV/V rapid like Dowd Shoot during spring run off, there is no thought process in dunking your head underwater. The river takes care of that for you. But here, suddenly, I was in charge of what seemed like a very obvious decision – why would I choose to go underwater when I was perfectly capable of swimming on top, or better yet, getting out? Yet all around me, friends I have revered as intelligent beings were doing that very thing. This is when I realized there is a certain amount of self-discipline and yes, stupidity in the the whole ‘adventure race’ equation. Just call me stupid.

So what exactly made the race tough and what was silly? It’s all coming in photos galore (provided by the Tough Mudder webiste) next week right here.

Kitchen-gadget-of-the-day: Bodum Frother. Do you have one? Let me know how you like it!

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