Saturday, January 29, 2011

Revelation: Exercise is good

Saturday morning, and both kids were up at 5:30AM. On the weekends we usually head out to the park right after having breakfast and getting dressed - today would be no exception, especially as the kids were already getting whiny.

So, I dragged them forcefully away from their slouchy chairs in front of their Diego DVD (Diego is the cousin of Dora the Explorer, and not only does he have equally exciting adventures, but he also insists on yelling at the screen in the manner of his well-traveled cousin and her monkey pal), piled them both in the car, and we headed to the park.

I wasn't sure how this morning was going to go, as Caden (our not-quite-2-yr-old) was already showing signs of a meltdown. Tantrum's a-comin', I thought to myself. Catagory 3. Medium intensity with sustained gustiness. I'd just have to keep a close eye on him, then call "time" when he started to get so tired he didn't know what to do with himself. 

At the park, we climbed out, and I was pleased to note that we were the first ones there. Having other kids to play with is fun, but it's also fun to have the whole place to yourself. Sevilla immediately ran over to the stairs and started climbing up to the highest levels of the play set... and Caden immediately started crying in frustration that he couldn't keep up. 

"AUUUGGHHH!" he screamed, and stamped his feet on the ground.

"Buddy! It's ok," I leaned over and grabbed him under the arm to support him as he started to throw himself in frustration on the padded floor. "C'mon, I'll help you. Let's go up." 

Together we climbed up the steps, then went down the slide. Sevilla darted here and there around the apparatus, but Caden was slower and feeling very impatient... tired kids have a short fuse, and this was definitely the case with our boy. When I refused to let him near the bigger kids' fireman's pole (and a sheer drop of over 10 feet that made my skin crawl), he again threatened a tantrum, but I managed to distract him away from it. 

On the ground again, Caden grabbed my legs, wearily. I checked my watch - only 9:09AM. I sighed. 

We had been planning on going to the toy store, but it didn't open until 10 and it was just 5 minutes away... still way too early. But, I had no idea how I was going to entertain this little guy for the next 45 minutes. 

Then, Caden pulled away, turned around, and started to run. He ran over to the wall at back of the park, about 15-20 meters from where I stood. At the wall he turned back around and looked at me mischievously. 

I narrowed my eyes and tipped my head to one side, teasingly, and we smiled at each other. Then, he began to run to me.

Caden loves to run. He's a little guy, so his spurts are short, but like most kids he takes joy in running around any open area. Caden runs with that instantly recognizable style of childhood, in uncoordinated motions with his hands flapping around at his sides, giggling and shrieking as he plods forward in random directions, with no apparent path or even purpose except to enjoy the activity.

He ran to me with a smile on his face, which grew wider as his neared. When he reached me, he opened his arms so I could catch him in a wide hug. We embraced for a quick cuddle, then he pulled back and ran back to the wall again. At the wall he stopped, turned, and ran to me again.

Over and over he ran, and over and over I caught him in my arms, then released him again. After about 6 times I started counting. He didn't stop for 17 laps.

I watched his face as he ran, feeling an increasing sense of wonder at his steady plodding. I was watching for signs of exhaustion - sometimes when Caden is tired he will begin acting randomly (like most kids) and do things like spin in circles or run into things... which might sound funny, but it's sad to watch when you realize he literally just doesn't know what to do with himself - but here, he looked... happy. He looked so happy.

When I caught him in my arms, I could feel his little heart pounding in his chest, and hear his heavy breathing, and after he stopped, he pointed toward the water fountain, then ran over in that direction.

At the water fountain I lifted him up to drink. The cold water ran down his face and soaked his shirt, but he drank deeply, stopping only to snort and snuffle as he got it in his nose. Then he'd go back to drink again.

Caden getting wet on a water break

After letting him drink for a while, I set him on the ground, where he stood for a few minutes and continued to play with the water fountain. Caden has always loved water too. I watched as he stood on his tip-toes, pushing hard against the post with one hand where you trigger the spout of water, then reaching up with the other hand to play with the water as it streamed out. The water ran down his hand and into his sleeve until the whole left side of his body was soaked. I started to stop him,then remembered I had a dry jacket in the car and thought better of it. I let him play.

Caden played for a few more minutes, then glanced at me and pointed back towards the park. "More," he said.

I tipped my head in a slight nod. "Ok," I said, and gave him a smile.

By this time Sevilla had found a friend to play with, and as the girls played tag and hide-and-go-seek, Caden continued to run from one end of the playground to the other. The three of them played like this, separately, for 15 more minutes.

I watched him, fascinated. He had such joy... but beside that, it was his stamina that astounded me. I've seen him run for certain periods of time but never like this. He had probably covered close to 1000 meters by now. I had no idea kids his size ran for this long, but wondered why not.

As I watched, also I noticed that his motions were more consistent, more smooth than they had been originally. He looked steady. He looked happy. He looked how I feel when I run.

With that, I pulled my thoughts away, realizing I was probably projecting way too much of my own feelings and experiences onto our little guy. He was just a kid running, and enjoying the endorphins, that was all.

But at the same time, it cannot be argued: the human body is designed for motion and exercise. We are supposed to walk, to run, to climb, move, dance, do whatever it takes to be active, if we are able. It makes us feel good. It makes us happier. It's good for adults, young and old, and it's good for kids too. It keeps us in balance. It helps us feel alive. It's our natural state of being.

Well-earned slumber in the car
As for Caden? He didn't have anymore tantrums, even at the toy store when I had to pry the Kit-Kat from his little hands while we were waiting in line and tell him no, we were not going to get any candy. There will be more tantrums, that's for sure, but for this morning they were displaced by something better.

Not surprisingly, when I put him in the car to go home, he was asleep before we even left the parking lot. I expect he'll sleep for some time. He's earned it.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The inconvenience of ultras

While having lunch with a coworker today, she asked me about my next race.

I told her about the Coyote Two Moon. That it's in Ojai, about 6-7 weeks from now. I also described the format of the race and why it's called the Two Moon - because while most 100 miles races will start on Saturday morning and end on Sunday, going thought one night, the C2M (as it's known to it's fans) begins sometime Friday night and ends early Sunday morning - so you end up running through two nights.

Hence: Coyote TWO Moon.

"Wow," my friend said, looking surprised. "that seems like a really big oversight." She furrowed her brow. "Why would they start on Friday night? That seems pretty inconvenient!"

Inconvenient. I smiled to myself as I considered how much my fellow runners and I will regularly pay for the inconvenience of running a 100 mile race.... the dirt, the hills, the sore muscles, the miles... yeah, it was all pretty inconvenient. Yet, there is something about every one of those things that make it so, so incredibly joyful, fullfilling, and... wonderfully convenient.

It's a convenient inconvenience, I decided.

I made a firm mental note to bring this up to the Race Director when I saw him, then let the conversation carry on, my friend munching on her fries.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Another Plan of Retribution... Foiled

After attempting the Twin Peak 50 Mile race last February 2010 and, at mile 42, being mercilessly bitch-slapped by the course with the first DNF in my immature career, I was eagerly anticipating the 2011 event.

I signed up for the race as soon as registration opened.
I joined the Facebook page.
I signed up for e-mail updates.
I even returned to the scene of the crime between 10-15 times for training runs to familiarize myself with the area.

This last action more than any other seemed particularly wise, given that my 2010 race had unraveled as a direct result of not knowing which path to take at a fork on the course, a situation I quickly made worse by pausing for just 0.2 seconds before picking a path at random and charging along it, full speed, for 5 miles... running ever-deeper into the woods, at night, in the wrong direction, with no water, no working cell phone, and 1 gel... stupid.

Thank goodness for that troupe of Boy Scouts.

The group was just finishing up their own 18 mile hike, and were kind and patient enough to listen to my confused questions ("but... where is the START from here?"), my defensive reactions ("I didn't miss the cutoff! I nowhere NEAR the cutoff! I'm telling you, I did not miss the cutoff..."), and my frustrated, tearful implorations, once I realized I desperately needed their help to get out of there ("I... don't... {sob}.. know... where... {whimper} ...I am...").

So, after finally getting home that night (where I promptly threw up in the front yard before dragging my sorry butt inside) I vowed that in 2011, in Corona CA, I would be back.

In 2010 I did some more races. I trained, finished races, learned, trained, and learned some more. Specifically, I trained for the Twin Peaks 2011, going back to the course in Corona and running the sections I found most challenging in the 2010 race. Five weeks from the race, I thought I was ready... until the e-mail letting me know the February race would not be happening.

My first reaction upon reading the e-mail was to gasp, then say "No!" aloud (which I instantly regretted, as I was sitting at the airport next to a young man I didn't know, who immediately started giggling).

Then, I re-read the e-mail and lightly scolded myself (quietly, this time) for my reaction. A race being postponed, or even canceled, is not the end of the world. Sure, this was to be "my" race, but these things happen.

As the race director explained it, the recent rainfall in CA has simply made the ground too unstable in some parts of the course for the run to be safe - indeed, there is even a section where the trail had collapsed entirely, so extensive planning would have had to be made to re-route the course and volunteers around this area were the race to go on... but it all seemed too challenging and uncertain, especially if more rain was to fall in the meantime. The result was that the race would be postponed until October of the same year, when better conditions were more likely.

It's not my ideal result - after all, I have been building up to this race for the last 6 months or so - but it is certainly justified, and it's the right thing for the organizers to do (I'm sure they are relieved to have my approval).

And, it gives me more time to train. Train, train, train... and study. And learn. And get rid of every last excuse.

So when October 2nd dawns, on the bright winter's day in Corona, CA... I'll be ready. And I'll make that course my own... sans Boy Scouts.

I'll be ready for you, Twin Peaks... will you be ready for me?

Sunday, January 16, 2011


The following dialog came to me as I was running over the trails in local Griffith Park in Los Feliz. While closer to the city than I typically like, I have a soft spot for these trails as they were the first I experienced in my ultra-career, and gave me a taste of how trail running differed from road running.

I enjoying going back there now not only for the hills and the views, but also as it's fun to see how far I've come.... which is never more apparent than when I tackle a particular hill or piece of landscape that I used to have to walk up, chest heaving for air all the way...

Whose Legs Are These?
Whose legs are these?

They can't be my legs.

Strong, sure, moving forward with certainty and confidence... climbing one set of hills, then looking for more.

Hey - whose legs are these? Anyone? Anyone recognize these legs? They look familiar... yet, there's a freshness there that suggests they are brand new. And that subtle bounce, in each step, a bounce - that's something I've not seen before, no, not with these legs.

But, when did this happen? How did they get here, these legs that feel like they could go for miles?

They could use a tan, that's for sure - and a shave too, please, while we're at it. But, below the surface, there lies a strength that cannot be argued.

Look here, at this calf - it's hard as a rock. And there, on the left, another one just like it.
And these feet - well, the feet have seen better days. Only seven toenails between them, and with heels that have clearly not seen a pumice stone in years... yes, the feet, I recognize. But these legs - there's something that feels distinctly different about these legs.
Tell me, please: whose are these legs?
Well, they are my legs - and they have carried me over many mountains.

They have carried me in the early morning, in the dead of night, and in the light of day.
Over asphalt and rocky trails, through snow, and sand, and mud.
Over fallen trees, along dried-up creek beds, and around neighbors' garbage cans.
In front of the yapping, frothing mouths of fenced-in dogs - and dogs that were not fenced-in.
Up sheer cliff faces and over mossy logs bridging running streams, then into the steams themselves.

I'll take responsibility for these legs.

I have pushed and pummeled them, I have coaxed them and cursed at them. I have dragged them out of bed (and vice-versa) at 3AM on a Saturday morning, when in younger days we would have only just been staggering home... together, we have climbed
peaks I would have never dreamed I'd climb, much less run.

I have pushed these legs to go farther and faster than ever before, and they have responded
These are my legs, and I'll take them now
It's only 8AM here, and there is still much time
to run.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Having recently succumbed to a momentary fit whereapon I found myself on ordering a variety of ultra-related books that have been recommended to me at one time or another, I was excited to get home and see a package from Amazon waiting for me.

I eagerly pulled open the box. My husband, Zach, said "What did you get?"

I held it up, showing him the cover of
Bunion Derby: the 1928 Footrace Across America, by Charles B. Kastner... I had read a story about this particular race in a magazine once, then forgotten about it until the race was remarked on by a fellow runner.

Me: It's Bunion Derby! It's about a race!
Husband: (folds arms) Uh-huh.
Me: It's about a transcontinental footrace, over 3,400 miles long, from Los Angeles to Chicago.
Husband: Uh-huh.
Me: (gesturing wildly with arms to better communicate exciting content of book) It started back in 1928! This book is all about how it came about, and what the racers and event organizer faced trying to keep it all going.
Husband: (raising eyebrows and sounding suspicious) And is it still going on now?
Me: What? Oh, no! It was just a one-time thing!
Husband: (relieved) Ok, good... because I was about to say, there's no way in HELL you're doing it!

Based on his reaction, I submit that my physical conditioning is not the only conditioning going on around here.