Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Fountainhead Backyard Burn Race Report: A Lesson in Humility

I get the Runner's World Daily Kick-In-the-Butt emails. Last week had one that was absolutely on target:

I wouldn't say that's always true. But it certainly applies to the Backyard Burn trail race out at Fountainhead Park I did a week or so ago.

It's a little tiny race. A lot of my friends were doing the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler at this same time, so I was digging this.

I got out there all. fired. up. I had just had a successful half the week before, and was looking forward to a pretty easy running schedule for a little while, so this was my day to

Go For It and Leave It All On The Course.

But the course had other ideas. It was a double-loop of five miles for each loop. By the end of the first loop, my legs were pulverized by the hills. I actually stopped for a minute at the five mile point and started walking to the start/finish, ready to bail out.

I don't know what changed my mind, but I did and trudged off for a second five miles of hilly, muddy, running adventure.

The first time around the course, I was hard charging with the pack. Only a mile in, I was huffing and puffing like a horse and I told myself I should slow down but my ego momentum wouldn't let that happen. On the second loop, most of the pack was done so I not only slowed my roll but made a point of walking up the hills instead of running them. 

Still, it was tough! Three miles into the second loop there was an aid station. I grabbed one of the volunteers for a pep talk.

"I need a pep talk," I told her. "Do you think I can finish this?" She offered that I probably could.

(No, I'm just joking: there were a couple of volunteers and they all told me of course I could. LOL.) 

There was a Two Miles to Go sign and a One Mile to Go sign in the appropriate spots. They were beautiful. At about the 8 mile point, I got passed by a couple who looked like they knew what they were doing. They were going fast and taking pictures and talking, too! They became my beacon. She had a yellow shirt on, and I used that shirt to strive to keep them in sight. 

When we finished (and we did finish!), I went up to thank her for leading me in and realized that we were already old friends. We'd met in line for the ladies' room before the race. Her name is Deb and she writes a terrific blog called Deb Runs. I urge you to read her race report on the Fountainhead trail run because it's a wonderful write-up with pictures (including pictures of me trying to follow her and her husband, Bill) and it even includes the elevation profile of the race. I made my whole family look at the elevation so I could be like: look, I did some hard stuff.

This is me with Deb after the race. She is holding me up. And she came in first in her age group!

My legs hurt badly for three days after that run. By the time I drove home, I was wondering why people think trail racing is fun, but after I saw Deb's write up I felt a lot better. There's one more race in the series, and I changed my registration to the five-miler, but now that ego ambition is creeping up on my and I'm wishing I stuck with the 10.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Reston Half Marathon Race Report

Last weekend was my first half of the season, the Runner's (Half) Marathon of Reston. I signed up for it based on locality and the way it fit into my spring schedule, and it couldn't have been a better race.

The event was on a Sunday, so I was able to meet up with a few of the Red Felt people for lunch before packet pickup on Saturday. The race had very impressive swag: not just a (nice) technical shirt, but a buff, a hammer gel, and a pair of throw-away gloves (mine are purple with reflective stuff on them -- I will not easily toss them). And a fridge magnet.

Was I nervous for this race! Especially when I woke up to hear rain pounding on Sunday morning. The forecast had been for light, diminishing rain, gradually clearing to a lovely day. Nope. It rained the whole drive out there. Fortunately, we were able to wait inside South Lakes High School until it was time to run, because when we made our way out to the starting line (over by the school buses), the rain was actually being blown sideways by the wind. Yikes!

Something that made this race great was sharing it with a bunch of local runners I like a lot. While waiting to go outside, I saw Steve and Michele R., and met Steve's former colleague Scott, another runner. They are in the same line of work as my husband, so we had a few laughs at Jim's expense along the lines of him still being home in bed. Once we made it outside, it started to look like Jim was the smart one.

There were only about 350 people doing the half, among them, to my surprise, Deb and Grant, two really marvelous people I went to college with who got married after college and they're still marvelous. Deb is super fast, too -- she won our age group that day -- and Grant was awesome because he not only had a ski mask covering his lower face, but light blue swim goggles on. "I'm going to be out here for awhile," he explained. "I'm going to be comfortable."After finishing up I saw another couple, Joel and Vera -- Joel ran the thing and Vera and their lovely girls were supporting his efforts. With such a small field of runners, it had a very nice, home-towny atmosphere.

I have no photos of the run because it was so wet that I didn't want to soak my phone. It was WET! And windy and very chilly. The race ran through the neighborhood streets and the trails of Reston, which were a little bit flooded but still very pretty. The race volunteers were first rate -- enthusiastic and extremely encouraging. Given the weather, I was so impressed with all of the support along the course.

And for something personally new, this race featured my very first running tutu. I've never been a huge fan of dressing up for a race, but after the flap a couple of weeks ago where Self magazine made fun of a couple of women in tutus (they even fired their editor over it), and inspired by Red Felter Elena who routinely makes them part of her race attire, this was the time. The morning of the race, I was still on the fence about it but one of the young women in the bathroom beforehand told me if I didn't want to wear it, she would, so I popped that tulle on and headed out.

Cats + tulle = havoc.

I was the only runner out there sporting a flouncy skirt. The only negative was that it got waterlogged a little, and I had to keep hiking it up. The positive: I've never gotten so much love during a race. Every group of spectators had at least one person who cheered for the tutu or told me they loved it. One guy running near me even commented, "Wow, you're getting a lot of attention! Maybe I should get a tutu for my next race!" Rock on, dude, but between you and me I'm not sure he had the hips for it.

And maybe there is magic in the tutu, because I got my second best half marathon time yet, squeaking in at just under two hours! I finished up exhausted and COLD! I couldn't even stay for the extremely fantastic array of pizza and chili, but I will plan better next year, because I found out that South Lakes's locker rooms are available for hot showers after the race. I didn't get to warm up until after I drove home in what had become sleet by that point (and after I made Jim take my picture).

I've spent the last week telling everyone about this race. It is put on by the Reston Runners and benefits their Community Fund, which provides scholarships to local athletes. I don't know when I have been to a better-organized, friendlier event. Except for the weather, I loved everything about this race, and am looking forward to being back next year.

Red Felt runners Liz, Amy, Traci, Jeremy, Ilham, Michelle, and me. And that skirt.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Running While Irish, with Cake!

This past weekend was a huge running weekend here in VA. On Saturday, there was the Rock 'n' Roll marathon and half marathon here in DC, and on Sunday, the Shamrock marathon and half marathon took place down in Virginia Beach. Both races were well-populated by the venerable Red Felt Run Club -- some of them even did a double-dare, running the DC race in the morning then flying down I-95 to do Shamrock the next day.

I was not among them. The races coincided with the one weekend of the year where I do not travel: Jim's birthday weekend.

I learned that lesson years ago, when I took a trip with a friend and her business-school friends to Cancun while Jim and his parents celebrated their birthdays at home (Jim and his mom share a birthday and his dad's is just a few days later). Guess who had (much) more fun? Hint: it was not the girl with Montezuma's revenge.

That Jim puts up with a lot of running-related talk, travel, bragging, expenditures from me for the other 51 weeks out of the year; it's only right to fuss over him for that one weekend.

So we had cake and presents on Friday night:

Ring of Fire

As a bonus, on Saturday night, our friends Mike and Kerry had their annual St. Patrick's Day dinner for the neighborhood, with plenty of homemade corned beef and cabbage, plus Bailey's Irish Cream in great quantities:

Here's Dannie, me, Meg, Susan, Debbi, Piedad, Lorenda, Aviva, Kerry (our hostess, that lady can corn a beef!), Jen, and Robin. I don't get to see these ladies often enough!
And I even got to sneak a run in on Sunday, which started much later than planned because of the aforementioned Bailey's Irish Cream. But I wore my green sparkly headband for St. Pat's cheer and had a good run. Not to mention a snow day on March 17 to recover!

I love my subtle green Bondi band.

So here's a short Irish proverb since we're all Irish today: 

Your feet will bring you where your heart is. 

I hope your feet bring you somewhere particularly nice. And that there are cozy slippers there.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Ordinary, Average Run

There was supposed to be another trail race today, but with the extra snow we got last week, the race director deemed the course to be in too crummy shape for running. I appreciated that, because after last week's run I found some trail shoes online in a pretty color that were half price in my size! I took that as a sign that I had to bring them into the fold. But when I was breaking them in this week, I got a nasty blister on the bottom of my foot, and was figuring out how to run in the new shoes anyway (I was thinking of a band-aid/duck tape combination) when we got the word about the race cancellation.

So I got my mileage in on the road this morning. It was not trail-y at all, but there were some hills

(This hill was more legit than it might look in the photo. Seriously.)

and a little bridge
Running across bridges is super fun. I feel like one of the 3 Billy Goats Gruff. Later, Troll!

and even a stream (well, drainage ditch) crossing.

Awwww, yeah, that is fun.

And I saw my neighbors Pat and Sandy at the end, which made the run far better than some muddy old trail.
They have perhaps the best exercised (and photogenic) dogs in the area.

The bonus was that I got to run in my regular old shoes, so the blister is happy. The trail series starts up again (for me) in April.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Trail "Run" -- the Good, the Bad, and the Mysterious Popping Noise

Yesterday, I got to do something I've wanted to do since our friends Michelle and Steve first mentioned it a couple of years ago: a Backyard Burn trail race.

EX2 Adventures puts on all kinds of adventure races, including the Backyard Burn series each spring and fall. I did a 10K with them last fall, and have wanted to sign up for a series for a long time. This year, I was determined.

So here's how it went:

The Good

EX2 puts on a wonderful event! The runs I've done with them have been organized, friendly, and fun, and they have unbelievable food at the end. All of the racers, staff, and volunteers seem to know each other and it's like one big, devoted family. The field was pretty small, just a few hundred runners, and it was a really nice contrast to some of the big razzle-dazzle race events in the city.

The race was held at Hemlock Regional Park, part of the Northern VA Regional Park Authority. It is not an exaggeration to call the scenery breathtaking. The ten-mile race comprised three loops up and down hills, down by Bull Run (still frozen in parts) and through the woods. After the first loop, the runners really spread out and I found myself running down a long hill all by myself. I actually stopped and looked in every direction and it was just me. And with one notable exception (discussed in a minute) it was absolutely silent. No cars, birds, planes, teenagers. I have never felt anything like it. I can't tell you how beautiful it was, and I can't really show you, either, because the picture I took didn't come out. But here's the general idea:

This image is from http://geocachechronicle.com/2013/01/22/hemlock-overlook-in-snow-and-sun/, which you should check out because they have wonderful park pictures.
And one last thing. Last fall, our family got a Jeep. When the pre-race instructions counseled bringing a 4x4 vehicle because of muddy parking conditions, I was all excited. I got to roll up to the Trail Race in my Jeep. With my North Face Hat. Who is the rugged queen of the trail?

This girl. Wondering what I was doing here.

The Bad

There was nothing bad about this race. Except me. I am not so adept at this trail running thing. To sum it up, it was HARD! Of the four courses in the spring series, I've heard from a number of people that this was the toughest one. That was a relief.

Before the race, I was sitting around in this little lodge place with the other runners, trying to keep warm. It occurred to me that everyone else looked like a BAMF. Fit and tough looking, and I kind of felt like a fake. A poser. Even with the North Face hat.

Then we got out there and I found out that everyone there really was a BAMF! I brought up the rear of that course. I was not the last person to make it in but I think you could count on one hand the people who came in after me. And one of them had real blood on them. It was quite humbling.

There were seven women in my age group and they give prizes to the top five. I was not in that top five. I felt glad just to make it through the ten miles. These runners are out of this world!

And it was ultra muddy. We were slipping all over that mud for a good chunk of that run. There was even a prized for the muddiest runner (not me because at least I didn't fall down in that mud, probably because I run like, "Ew, mud," which I need to get over).

The Oh-No

Remember I talked about the majestic silence of the woods? During the second lap, off in the distance, I could hear a distinctive pop-pop-pop, which sounded a lot like a gun. I don't know if it's hunting season, and I'm pretty sure you can't hunt on Sundays in Virginia, but I was a little relieved I had on my blaze orange shirt.
I mean, I'd hate for anyone to think I was a turkey. This was the end of the race, so that is sweat keeping my bangs all pasted up like that. 

I got home and stretched out . . .

With the help of Stormy the cat. She's all about savasana (downward cat?).
Then I got a shower and ate everything in sight.

And I'm all set to do it again next weekend! Even with all the mud and the humility, I am so glad I got to do this. To be able to be out in the woods and doing something challenging was painful, yes, but also seriously exhilarating. And there was pizza at the end.

Saturday, February 22, 2014


I took my long run early this morning, which worked out for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was that Jim had to leave at about 8:30 for his annual office retreat, poor guy, and I got to knock out the run before he had to go.

And because I went early, I got to run around in an unbelievably gorgeous sunrise.

And that run didn't interfere with Saturday chores, either.

One of those chores included bringing the teenager to her SAT review class around lunchtime. On the way there, I saw another person out running in the decidedly more temperate climate than the one that greeted me this morning at 6. "Ah," I said aloud, "it looks like Mrs. So-and-So is getting out for her run a little late."

Teenger: "Hatin'."

Me: "What?"

Teenager: "You're hatin.'"

Me: "Certainly not. Just making an observation."

Teenager: "You know you're hatin' on Mrs. So-and-So."

I kind of was, because it was about 55 degrees out when we were driving to SAT class and it was about 30 when I was out running all bundled up in my hat. I'm tired of winter.

Of course, on the bright side, I don't have to go to SAT class today, either.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Is It Spring Yet?

I got up this morning to run and realized I am quite tired of winter. It wasn't crazy cold out, in the 20's, but pulling on the tights and the layers and the hat is just getting old. What pushed me to not go back to bed was an article in Runner's World about using running to treat PTSD. It's a bona fide mood booster and I figured I could always use a little of that.

And of course my run was better than I anticipated it would be. Still doing short hops, this one was just 3.4 miles. There was a little bit of ice leftover from yesterday, easily navigable. I've been putting a strip of KT tape on the bottom of my foot and I think it helps a little but that may be just a band-aid effect.

Anyway, warming up with coffee and the lowly raisin English muffins I bought by accident, which no one but me will touch, I'm glad I got it knocked out.