Let the Taper Begin 
Sunday, October 26, 2008, 05:10 PM
Posted by Administrator
Yesterday, I set out at 6:30am and, 4 hours 1 minute and 40 seconds later, I returned home with 21 miles under my belt. Three weeks from today, I will run 26.2 miles at the inaugural Rock 'n' Roll San Antonio Marathon.

Every marathoner knows to simulate the race as much as possible during training runs, and so I wore my Camelback with the bladder full of XOOD - love the pomegranate flavor - and the pockets stuffed with a flask of espresso-flavored Hammer Gel and my cell phone. However, a lack of clean laundry forced me to make some regrettable clothing choices. My comfy green running top and awesome new compression socks were in the dirty pile and so I threw on another favorite running shirt, but one that I had not yet worn with the Camelback. After a few miles, I discovered that it did not come high enough on my neck, leading to some irritation where the Camelback rubbed. And my Injinji socks, the ones that are like gloves for your feet and are specifically designed to prevent blisters, actually gave me two blisters. I made a pit stop at home at mile 13 and pulled a pair of socks out of the laundry basket. Yes, they were dirty, but, after 13 miles, so was I.

During the last few miles, my stride became a dead man's shuffle, through which I tried to gain as much forward movement as possible while bending my joints as little as possible. My lower back was tired, my hips and hamstrings hurt, and my feet were killing me. I was thrilled to be close to the end of this run, but a bit unnerved thinking about the added 5.2 miles that would come with the marathon. Despite this, I actually feel pretty ready! I've been dedicated to my training plan, even including speedwork for a change, and I feel confident that I can go the distance and set a PR. Mind you, none of this means that the race will be fast or easy, but that is part of the allure.

Yesterday, I also received my race confirmation card in the mail. The marathon recently sold out, reaching it's capacity of 30,000. I have been placed in starting corral #18, along with 999 others who run a similar pace. Paul, on the other hand is in coral #2. He also completed his final long effort yesterday (23 miles) and is feeling ready to run a 3:10 race.
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Bisbee Stairclimb 
Wednesday, October 22, 2008, 10:56 PM
Posted by Administrator
Since our very first year of dating, the Bisbee Stairclimb has been a tradition for me and Paul, making this our 6th annual Bisbee weekend as a couple. While advertised as "The 5K that feels like a 10K," the race is actually about 4.3 miles (according to the shoe pods of various runners) and involves climbing 1,034 stairs spread among 9 staircases. It's killer. In fact, the winner of this year's event said that he has done stair climb races all over the country and this race was the hardest he's come across. And yet...it's somehow fun and we keep going back for more!

For the second year, we stayed in suite 201 at the Gym Club Suites. It's a spacious apartment with a huge balcony overlooking the town.

Last year, we shared the rental with two other couples, but they have since moved out of the area, and so we were on our own for the overnight. We made the two hour drive to Bisbee after work on Friday and, the next morning, enjoyed the rare race morning treat of sleeping in.

While picking up our numbers and chips, we were thrilled to discover that the race organizers FINALLY decided to have a staggered start. In past year, when the gun sounded, 1,000 people would take off running until they reached the first set of stairs, at which point an enormous bottleneck would form, forcing racers to actually stop and stand in place while waiting for their turn to ascend the two-person-wide staircase. Very frustrating.

Paul and our other speedy friends started in the first of the four waves, while the less speedy (a.k.a. the wives) positioned ourselves at the back of wave #2. Well, that's where we thought we had positioned ourselves, but, apparently, the people in waves 3 and 4 didn't know enough to get the hell out of the starting line area because, when we saw our wave leaving, there was a whole crowd of people in front of us who were not moving. We had to fight our way through the crowd and duck under the starting line tape to catch up with our wave. Not a big deal since the race was chip-timed, but it's not a good feeling to start a race in a state of panic.

Staircase #1
There is lots of chatter on the course until runners reach the first set of stairs, at which point they remember that climbing stairs is hard. It gets rather quiet except for the sound of heavy breathing and the occasional announcements by those who actually count the steps as they go. Yes, all 1,034 of them. While my marathon training has given me plenty of endurance, stairs are a whole different story and they send my heart rate skyrocketing.

Staircase #3
Three out of the five years I've run this race (I sat our one year due to injury), my downfall has been side cramps. I'm fine on the stairs, but as soon as I pick up the pace, it's like I have a knife twisting in my side. So I walk; I stretch; I massage the cramp (as you can see in the photo below). I run until the cramp comes back.

Staircase #5
Still cramping... I'm frustrated that I cannot run. I have a lot more to give in my legs and lungs, but the cramp is too painful to run through. I see a guy throwing up at the top of the stairs. Okay...my situation could be worse.

Staircase #7
I ascend some stairs overlooking the finish line and see Paul, Chris and Chase enjoying post-race bananas and energy drinks. I'm happy to see them...and a bit envious that they are all done. I try to just keep a steady pace up each staircase and, along the way, I see many people stopped, hanging onto the rail for dear life and wearing a"Why the hell am I doing this?" look on their face. The cramp goes away for short periods, but always comes back. I walk; I stretch; I massage the cramp. I even try the "ti chi" breathing another runner recommends. Somewhere around here, I'm passed by Tri Girl Kristin who is looking great!

Staircase #9

It's all downhill from here! Of course, I still have the freakin' side stitch and so I'm not exactly flying. And there's Paul, my number one cheerleader and personal photographer!

The Finish
I crossed the line in 1:02:40, which falls squarely in the middle of my five finishing times for this race. I placed 541st out of a total of 1,109 racers and 32nd out of 78 in my age group. It's slightly disappointing because I know I could have done much better without the cramps. However, as my focus has been on the marathon, I was not expecting great things for this event. Paul, on the other hand, did a fantastic job, finishing in 36:09 which was good for 19th overall and 2nd in his age group! He got a beautiful hand painted tile to add to his collection of Bisbee awards.

The Rest of the Weekend...
...was pretty much a reading marathon. Paul and I both had books with which we were completely absorbed and so we literally read for hours. We did take breaks to browse the stores in downtown Bisbee and enjoy the sunset over wine and cheese on our balcony.

On the way home on Sunday, we stopped in Tombstone to check out their Hell Dorado Days celebration. It was quite a spectacle!

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Just Normal 
Sunday, October 12, 2008, 11:32 PM
Posted by Administrator
My plan for Saturday was to do some speedwork, specifically 8 Yasso 800's. This is also a bit of an endurance workout for me as the warm-up, cool down, half-mile repeats and recovery intervals add up to about 9 miles. During my warm-up jog to the track, I was somewhat concerned that I just didn't seem to have any juice. But, I figured my legs would wake up once I upped the intensity. I became much more concerned when my first 800 felt hard. This is only the beginning - it should be cake! After my second 800, I conceded that, not only had my legs not awakened, but no part of my body was cooperating. I had nothin'.

Then I realize that, just 6 days earlier, I had done a 5-hour trail run. For me, this is a monumental undertaking. For Paul, that kind of run is pretty standard. And therein lies the danger of sharing your life with an ultrarunner. Paul suggested, "Maybe you need more protein to help you recover." I'm thinking, "Maybe I need more TIME to help me recover!" Five hours of running is like running a marathon (okay, for some people, two marathons) and, not even a week later, I expected to do a quality, 8-mile speed workout?!?

When your husband runs 22 miles round-trip to work and you have multiple friends who have run 100-mile races, it's easy to forget that you are just...normal. Normal is not bad. Normal just means that I need to follow certain commonsense rules to stay healthy and injury-free. Things like starting my marathon training 3 months ago (Paul started last week); gradually building up mileage (Paul can pretty much jump right in at 20 miles); taking one rest day each week (Paul occasionally takes a day off if he needs to catch up on sleep). But, we're a great pair. He inspires and amazes me every day...and I keep him connected to the normal people.

So, Saturday turned out to be a fairly slow 4.5-mile day. The remainder of the weekend brought rest, as well as lots of motivation. On Saturday, I watched bits of the Hawaii Ironman live online and then, on Sunday, volunteered at the Tinfoilman race. The Tri Girls were out in full force (and lots of purple) and I had a blast cheering them on!
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Short on Miles, Long on Time 
Sunday, October 5, 2008, 06:48 PM
Posted by Administrator
Paul was the run director for yesterday's Tucson Trail Runner's event at Charleau Gap. Being an out-an-back course, runners could go any distance they desired, up to 21 miles. Three weeks ago, I ran 17 miles and so my plan for today was to do 19. I liked the idea of doing my last few long runs on trail to minimize my risk for injury. However, this trail turned out to be a lot more technical than I expected. I've run parts of Charleau Gap three times in the past few years and had fond memories of a fairly runnable trail, well-shielded from the sun by the mountain. I don't know whether I have a poor memory or the trail has been changed in the past year by monsoon rains, but I did a lot more hiking, rock-hopping and sliding than actual running yesterday.

The run began at 6:00am, just as it was getting light out. Recent runs have started a bit later, but, for reasons of safety and good ol' peace and quiet, Paul wanted to minimize the time we had to share the trail with ATV'ers...and he was counting on them sleeping in. Knowing that I'm on the slow end of this group and not wanting Paul to have to wait for hours for me, I hopped out of the car and hit the trail, getting a 15-minute head start on the other seven runners (which is why I'm not in the photo above). My lead was short-lived, but I made it about 2 miles before the front-runners caught me.

There is a fair amount of climbing on the way out with lots of areas of loose rocks, making for slow-going. On the climb to the second gate, I leap-frogged with some dirt bikers who joked with me about a McDonald's at the top of the hill. When I finally reached the gate at the saddle, they had stopped for a snack and told me I was their idol for running the trail. Everything is relative in life. I may be a back-of-the-packer among trail runners, but my consolation prize is admiration from the dirt biking community!

After cresting the hill, the trail descends again. The welcome break for my aching hamstrings was tempered by the knowledge that this would be an ascent on the way back. About 7.5 miles into the run, I crossed paths with Renee who had recently turned around. We chatted and she took some photos before heading on her way. At this point, I started having doubts about my 19-miler. I had already been running about 2 hours and 15 minutes, and my hamstrings and ankles were not happy. (Note: My calves felt fine thanks to my new socks!) I was stuck on the idea that I HAD to do 19 miles to adhere to my training plan, but gradually rationalized that road miles and trail miles are not equal. My previous 17-miler took me 3:15 and, at this rate, this 19-miler was going to take me 5:30...which is longer than it will take me to do the entire marathon, unless something goes terribly wrong. So, at 8.6 miles, after deciding that time on my feet should be factored into my training plan, I turned around.

I had assumed that the way back would be much faster with all of the downhill, but I was slowed by the loose rocks. It seemed to take FOREVER! With two miles to go, I was thrilled to see Paul hiking back to meet me. My joy was short-lived, however, as he told me that Renee had fallen and broken her wrist. I felt terrible for her! She slipped on some loose rocks and landed on her bottom, but her wrist took the brunt of the fall. Luckily, Joel had just caught up with her and so she was not alone. And an ATV gave her a lift to the trailhead where an ambulance was waiting. Renee had surgery today and I'm sending lots of good thought her way for a quick recovery.

My legs are somewhat sore, but in a healthy way. My next and final long run before the marathon will be in three weeks. I don't have a plan yet, but, if it's on the road, then I'll shoot for 21 miles. If it's on trail...we'll wait and see how technical it is.
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Mystery Weekend - Destination Corrales, New Mexico! 
Wednesday, October 1, 2008, 11:24 PM
Posted by Administrator
On Friday morning, Paul left the house in the dark, both literally (it was only 5:15) and figuratively (he had no idea where we were going). During the previous week, I had left him little clues and packing suggestions which, apparently, had led him to believe we were traveling to Salt Lake City. It wasn't until we got to the gate that he found out we were headed to the Land of Enchantment.

After picking up our rental car, we headed to Annapurna's for a late breakfast. I should warn you that Paul and I like to eat our way through the places we visit. This is a huge part of the journey for us - we love food! But, not just any food. You'll almost never catch us in a chain restaurant. We want unique, local food. We want quality, healthy food. And, due to Paul's allergy, we want gluten-free food.

Annapurna's turned out to be one of our greatest finds ever! We feasted on cardamom pancakes and a beet and cranberry salad, before rounding out the meal with pecan pie (all gluten-free, of course). We left sated, happy and, if you believe in the benefits of ayurvedic cooking, "balanced in our bodies, minds, spirits, senses and emotions." Ohm...

We hit the GO Downtown Albuquerque Arts Festival, which was a smaller version of Tucson's Fourth Avenue Street Fair, and then checked out Old Town, a quaint area of adobe shops and restaurants - very southwest.

Having worked up an appetite again, we stopped by Le Crepe Michel for a yummy buckwheat crepe filled with smoked salmon and capers. It was divine. Paul then talked me into visiting the National Atomic Museum. I was not too jazzed about this idea, but actually learned quite a bit of interesting history.

Finally, we hopped on I-25 and headed north to our final destination, the village of Corrales. The surprisingly short drive took us out of the city and into a rural town complete with farms, llamas and a welcome sign that read, "Drive slow, see our village. Drive fast, see our judge." We settled into our cozy quarters at Casa Entrada Guest House and our hosts gave us restaurant recommendations. Yes, we're back to food.

With Corrales being such a small place, we left the car and walked to dinner. But first, we happened upon the local bike shop where we made arrangements to rent a tandem for the following day. Then we enjoyed an early meal at the Indigo Crow. The brief report - fabulous food, spotty service and a chef who could not tell us if his dishes contained gluten. That last part was somewhat concerning.

Saturday - The Harvest Festival
Saturday morning marked the beginning of the 22nd Annual Corrales Harvest Festival. We had a mediocre breakfast at Hannah & Nate's before finding a spot to watch the Pet Parade - definitely one of the highlights of the weekend!

We then headed to the bike shop where we were offered a single-speed tandem with a basket and bell on the front, as well as a life-sized decorative black cat attached to the back. I'm not kidding - check out the photo.

For some reason, Paul made the decision to rent the undecorated 21-speed tandem instead. We donned our loaner helmets, dingy from God-knows-how-many past users, and hit the streets to check out the festival offerings.

We quickly discovered that Corrales is beautiful! We pedaled down quiet, shady streets lined with wildflowers and the occasional farm animal, and then went off-roading on the Bosque, a natural area along the Rio Grande. Not surprisingly, our ride brought us to lunch. This time we checked out the Flying Star, a casual, pay-at-the-counter kind of place with fun decor and a fun menu. Two thumbs up on the tofu scramble!

As a portion of the main road was closed to traffic, the bicycle was the perfect way to enjoy the festival. It was just us, pedestrians and tractors driven by guys in overalls pulling hay wagons full of festival-goers. We hit a farm, the arts & crafts fair and the book sale before returning our trusty wheels and having our only disappointing food experience of the trip. If you find yourself in Corrales, don't eat at the Old House Gastro Pub. I'll just leave it at that.

Sunday - the 10K
Sunday morning came and we put on our running shoes for the Corrida de Corrales 10K. I had planned to make this my speedwork for the week, but was concerned that two days spent on my feet along with the elevation (5,000 feet) would make this a slow event for me. About 60 people toed the line for the 10K - quite small by Tucson standards but, as we later found out, pretty typical for Albuquerque which often has two to three race options on a single weekend. As is always the case on race morning, I had gone to the bathroom a dozen times, but then had to go right before the gun went off which left me scrambling into the bushes with about 30 seconds to spare.

The course was beautiful, almost all of it on shaded, dirt trails. We had been forewarned that, due to some recent trail work, the dirt was of the beach-like-sand variety, rather than the packed-down, easy-to-run-on variety. This meant that, when the gun went off, those of us in the back of the pack literally ate the dust of Paul and his speedy buddies leading the charge. After a mile or so, the pack spread out and I found a spot about 10 feet behind two women. They kept a nice, steady pace - about 10-minute miles - and so I just concentrated on sticking with them. They chatted away the entire race, but I was already pushing it to keep up with them, and so kept my mouth shut and hung a bit behind them for motivation.

The course was not marked and so, after realizing I had a shoe pod, the women called out occasionally for mileage, pace or time. When I finally called out "5 miles" they kicked it into high gear and just took off! One looked back, yelled "come-on" and gave me an encouraging wave...but I was already in my high gear and had nothing in reserve. So, kept chugging away at 10-minute miles as I watched them get farther and farther away. My legs felt okay, but holding this pace for this long was definitely a challenge for my lungs.

At 6 miles, I began to get excited about finishing. At 6.1, I began to realize that the course was long. At 6.2, I was pissed. Where is the #%@!&* finish line?!? Around this time, Paul met me to get some photos and cheer me along. I greeted him with, "The course is long!" but managed to smile for the camera. Finally, at long last, I saw the finish line and picked it up just a bit as I crossed. In case you're wondering...6.56 miles according to the shoe pod.

After the burning in my lungs subsided, I checked my stats on my watch and was pretty darn pleased with myself. I averaged a 9:43 pace! I'm not known to push myself at races. In fact, I'm much more likely to find a new friend with which to pass the time and also to take periodic walk breaks. It was a great feeling of accomplishment to not only have run the entire distance, but to have pushed myself the whole way. I was also proud of Paul who finished 12th overall and won an award for 3rd in his age group.

We wound down the weekend with a leisurely morning reading on the guest house patio before packing up and heading into Albuquerque. We couldn't leave without visiting Annapurna's one more time for a delicious South Indian Sampler Plate and sweet potato pie. Yum! And then, before heading to the airport, we stopped by Great Harvest Bread to pick up an order we had placed the day before for fresh gluten-free bread and scones to take home. Paul is set on carbs for a while.

At the airport, Paul and I agreed that the Mystery Weekend Christmas Present experiment was a fabulous success! We each had a ton of fun masterminding a surprise getaway and we also both loved being on the other side of the surprise. This truly was a gift that kept on giving, and we're already thinking about our mystery trips for 2009!
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