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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Enough is enough

When I set out my goals for the year back in January, I studiously avoided putting anything about losing weight...partly because it wasn't a big concern for me at the time, mostly because I wanted my goals to be attainable.  Lately, I've been reading other bloggers' posts about weight loss, and my comments have all been of the yeah, I'm right there but not quite ready to do anything about it yet variety.

Well, now I am.

It started with a really, really bad picture of me from the Skippo.  And today, in the dressing room of Sports Authority trying on my new waterproof pants for the Castlewood 8 Hour (this Saturday!!), the switch flipped.  That's just not what I want to see in the mirror.  Just like that, the commitment to actually do something about it was there.

My focus is still going to be on doing all the fun, awesome, challenging things that look good, but dropping some extra weight can only help with that.  That means getting back to training more regularly and especially being more conscious of my food choices, snacking, and portion sizes.  I don't need to be skinny; I mean, I'm never going to have that stereotypical runner's body.  I'd just like to be a little happier with what I see in the mirror.

So I'm putting it out there.  Things are going to change.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Meramec Park Turkey-O

When I made my plans for the rest of the year back at the beginning of November, I had no idea my mom was going to switch our family Thanksgiving celebration to this Saturday.  Normally, that would be a relief for me because it would free us of one round of the holiday shuffle while still allowing us to see everybody, but this year it interfered with my plans to do the St. Louis Orienteering Club's Turkey-O.  I could've skipped it, but the orienteering meets are both good practice for me and a way to get my family involved in some of the things I'm doing. 

I pretty much weaselled Jeff into doing the first orienteering meet by branding it as a date night.  We took J with us for the second one after convincing him it would be fun ("It's like a treasure hunt! Only you don't get anything."), and he more or less thought it was fun for about the first half (45 minutes).  The Turkey-O was a 3-hour meet, so I was a little worried about how J would do, but when Jeff asked what we were going to do with him and I said, "Take him along," J piped up, "Yeah, I want to go!"  There was actually a 1.5 hour option, but since the drive was 2 hours each way, it seemed a little silly to do the short course.  We were taking a calculated risk, though; the long course would make us over 2 hours late for Thanksgiving, leaving a good possibility that all of the food would be gone.

We got to the park at about 9 a.m., and I had my first experience copying the controls (the markings that tell you where the places are that you need to find) from the master map onto our map. 

Finished product
There were 35 controls, so after I had them all marked on the map, J called out each number from the clue sheet while I checked the map to make sure we had them plotted.  Next, we went over the clues and wrote them on the map.  And then, we waited and visited with some familiar faces.  Chuck from ROCK Racing was there Lori and their son, as were Luke from Team Virtus, my friends Melissa and Scott, and lots of people wearing shirts from past adventure races.

Table full of friends
We had a general plan of attack for the first several controls, and once we hit the end of that we'd decide our next steps based on how much time we had remaining and how we were doing. Strategy was definitely required, for several reasons.  First, different controls were assigned different point values, ranging from 10 to 50.  Second, since we would be primarily hiking (one runner in recovery mode after last week's 30K, one non-runner, and one 8 year old), we were going to be very limited in how many controls we could get to.  Third, there was a steep penalty for missing the time cut-off: 10 points per minute.  Since we weren't going to be a high scoring team, we couldn't afford to lose any points.

When start time finally arrived, we took off at a jog.  We'd gone about 100 yards when J said, "I'm already tired!"  The sad thing was, so was I.  I was also having wardrobe issues, as I was trying out some new pants and they kept sliding down onto my hips. 

Maybe it wouldn't have been as awkward if I'd been wearing something as full-coverage as boxers.
Trying to avoid this look at all costs, I spent the beginning of the race doing a combination of hiking my pants up and pulling my shirt down.  It made for a fantastic run.  It was a huge relief once we were on our own in the woods and I didn't have to worry about offending anyone but my own family.

Already dogged by clothing struggles, I next realized that, though we'd decided which control to hit first, we'd neglected to talk about how to get to it from the road.  Now I was running (sort of), pulling up my pants, pulling down my shirt, and trying to look at the map.  I definitely needed an extra hand (or a belt).

J leading the way
We found the first control (#12 on the map below, a 10-pointer) pretty easily and then headed along a reentrant to the next one.  Although Jeff can take one look at the map and know where he's going, he was really good about letting me hold the map and try to navigate, and I got us to our next control (#32, a 30-pointer) successfully.

Closer view of map
Up to this point, both in this meet and the others we've done, we had navigated primarily by terrain features (roads, creeks, etc), but to get from #32 to #11 as planned we had to make a choice.  We could either hike back down to the road and go around, or we could go cross-country (shorter, as long as you go the right way, though potentially more difficult than walking down a road).  We opted for the cross-country route, which required breaking out the compass. 

Now, I know that ability with navigation and maps and such doesn't require testosterone, because my friend Melissa is a kickass navigator, but if Jeff's and Luke's and Chuck's brains move like the second hand of a clock, my map processing speed is more like the hour hand.  I had even just reread my map and compass book on the way to the meet! I knew that I knew how to use the compass to keep us on track, it just took me a while to remember the process.  Finally, it clicked, and we hiked almost directly to our next control.

Punching the passport
One really cool thing about this meet is that, despite the fact that we've been coming to Meramec State Park for 13 years together (in fact, our first date was a camping trip here) and Jeff has been coming here since he was a kid, everything we hiked Saturday was new to us.  We had a long hike from #11 to our next control (#34, if you're following along on the map).  To find this one, we followed a creek for quite a while.  It was easy as far as route-finding, but staying dry as we picked our way along the sides of the creek was a little trickier.

After he was smacked in the face by branches a couple of times, we learned that J couldn't follow closely behind me.  I was careful with any branches I pushed aside, but my pack kept catching onto others which would hit him.  Our backcountry route wasn't without its rewards, though.  We found a cool turtle shell along the way.

I've never seen one like this.  It reminded me a little of all the dead things at the Deuce.

He has a big smile on his face, but J wasn't too excited about holding it.
We found our next control just as the rain started to fall.  I had brought my waterproof jacket, but between the mild temperature (low 60's) and all the hiking, the rain actually felt pretty good.  We had another long hike up another creekbed to get to our next goal (#2).  This one wasn't too wet (other than the rain), but you had to be careful where you stepped because it was pretty rocky.

It seemed like we hiked forever, but eventually we got to control #2, a 50-pointer.

At this point, we were feeling pretty good.  We'd gone more or less straight to every single control with no problems.  In fact, Jeff even said something about how well we were doing, and then added, "I probably just jinxed us."  I laughed, but I wasn't worried.  The next control was a straight shot up the creekbed.  We'd gotten all these others; we were sure to find this one, too.

Yeah, we didn't find it, of course.

We must have hiked right past it, or right close to it.  When we got to the top of the hill and could see the road, we realized that we had missed it.  Unfortunately, right at that time D. called with some questions and issues about the rest of the day that, in my mind, had already been answered to at least two different people.  After a somewhat frustrating and annoying conversation, conducted through Jeff whose phone actually had a signal, we were kind of off our game.

This highlights an issue that I need to work on with my navigation.  I think I need to get better at paying attention to what the map shows along the way so that we have more clues that we're getting close (or going too far) besides finding/not finding the control. Well, that and maybe keeping track of distance covered.  The smart thing to do would've been to backtrack and see if we could pick up the control, but instead we headed onto the road.  Because we weren't sure if we'd gotten off track, we weren't completely sure where we were.  Rather than wander around aimlessly, we decided to take the road until we knew where we were.

Luckily, as we walked down the road, I spotted a control flag in the woods. Now, we at least knew where we were, but we had less than an hour to get back to the finish line before we started losing points.  We chose a route that would allow us to get two more controls on our trip back.  We had to take the trail until it crossed a creek, then head off through the woods.  I was ahead of my guys, and I loved listening to J tell Jeff what fun he was having and how he was going to bring his kids here some day.  :) When we got to the creek, though, we had a difference of opinion about which direction to go.  It wasn't a huge difference, but we didn't come across the control (we went Jeff's way). 

We didn't look too hard for it, though, because time was slipping away and we saw another racer run through the woods to our left and decided to follow him.  Well, follow his direction, anyway, we were way too slow to keep up.  Going that way, we came across another control, but it was the second one we were looking for (less points, boo).  If we'd had more time, we might have been able to backtrack to the other one, but now we were down to about 25 minutes, a pretty good hike back, and a tired little boy.

We got back onto the trail, which led us to an unpaved vehicle track.  This must be where the state park people store all the broken-down stuff, because we saw stacks of pallets and herds of old trash cans, among other things.

Where picnic tables go to die
We were definitely getting nervous about the time cut-off, but J kept up like a trooper. 

Yes, we trusted our 8 year old with our map and passport.  Briefly. :)

There was a powerline trail that was pretty much a straight shot to the finish line but promised to be much rougher going than the road. Being familiar with the park, though, we knew the road might be smoother, but it wasn't much flatter, so we opted for the powerline.  We took it all the way back to the road near the cave we had visited early on in the meet, and then we ran the rest of the way on the road.

For all that I'm the runner in the family, I was definitely struggling more than I expected to.  I don't know if it's the residual effects from last weekend's trail race or just the additional demands of hiking over hills like we did, but that last run was rough.  It was so cute, though.  J was holding my hand as we ran (which made it waaaay easier, as you can imagine), and he told me, "It's ok, you can do it, hang in there mommy."

I was wondering if I looked as bad as I felt, that my 2nd grader thought I needed the support, but I got my turn to encourage him as we got closer to the end.  Still holding hands, we were running across a parking lot when he said, "I'm going to need to walk soon."  "Come on," I told him, "Let's just make it to the road.  Stay tough...you're doing great."  After a brief walk break, he took our passport and ran it in to the finish.  We made it back with about two minutes to spare.

You can see J in the red jacket just about to round the corner.
It was a huge success all-around.  Rain or not, it was a fantastic day to be out in the woods.  J hung in there without any complaining at all for the entire three hours, and even better, was enthusiastic and excited about the whole thing.  I'm starting to see some real progress in my navigating ability (though I have a loooong way to go to even achieve mediocrity), we had a really great family day together....and there was even food left when we made it to my brother's for Thanksgiving dinner.

It was such a good day, in fact, that  it leads to the only "negative" about the whole thing.  When we first started doing the meets, I wanted to compete together because Jeff's help was my only chance to figure out where we were on the map.  My plan was always that, once I achieved some competence, we'd run the course separately.  I can't imagine missing out on that time together, though.  I could do it on my own now, but it's totally worth slowing down...at least, until my kid's the one outrunning me on the course.

Which is probably coming sooner than I think.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

It seemed like a good idea at the time (the Skippo 30K)

Hey, I've never run a 30K on the trails! *
Wow, 18.6 miles of trails will be a great challenge...*
Hmmm, that'll be a great training run for Pere Marquette...*
*Famous last words

The training: After signing up for the Big River Running's Skippo 30K because it seemed like a good idea at the time, I actually did do a little better with my training: I ran on the Marquette Park trails a couple times, on the local singletrack trails a couple times, and did one 16-mile run on the trails at Castlewood (my only double digit run), and two shorter trail races.  I also did a couple of nighttime sidewalk jogs, and that was pretty much it.  Stellar preparation for a demanding race.

The taper:   And by "taper" I mean 16 miles of mountain biking  Saturday morning.  My friend Robin led a group ride at our local trails, and though she made me be there at 7 a.m. it was pretty awesome...once I was out of bed. 

Photo credit: Robin Rongey
You can read all about it on her blog, but here's some video from the ride.  I'm in yellow (with braids, as opposed to the guy in yellow), and while you can't see it in the video, I don't think I ever smiled in the video because I was concentrating on not falling.

Though it's not on the video, I did fall once.  True to form, it was on a not-tricky part of the trail.  I took a dip wrong and went over.  It didn't really hurt, but apparently I still made my displeasure known.  Chuck, who was ahead of me, told me, "Well, at least you're consistent...you curse every time you fall!"  Come to think of it, he's been riding ahead of me for all of my falls but one, so I'm starting to think he's sabotaging me for entertainment value or something.

Pre-race: I wasn't surprised when I woke up and heard the rain, but I'd hoped the forecast was wrong.  I briefly (ok, maybe not so briefly) thought about wimping out and going back to bed, but that wouldn't be very Super.  Plus, I'd paid my registration fee, and I hate to waste money.  So, I hit the road, learned that my tires suck in the rain, made it to the park in time to park in the park, and sat in my car for the next 45 minutes or so, only getting out when I absolutely had to.

Everybody huddled under the tents and near the heaters before the start.  Sooo chilly.
Though I didn't realize it when I registered, I was going to be running the Skippo alone.  Vanessa was supposed to do the 20K but sprained her ankle.  There was a time when racing alone was my norm, but now I'm kind of spoiled by having friends to ride with or see there.  As it turned out, Jeff, Krystal, and Dave from the tri club were all there as well...not that I'd be running with them because they're all much faster (and saner, having opted for the 10k or 20k) than I am.

About 5 minutes from start time they pried us away from the warming stands had us line up on the road, and despite the temps in the high 30's and slight rain, I wasn't too miserable.  I had opted for a short sleeved tech shirt over a long sleeved compression top, running shorts, and tall striped socks.  I've finally accepted that being comfortable pre-race means overheating during the race, so it was worth shivering for a bit.  I did glance around for someone to huddle up to, but I didn't want anyone to get the wrong idea. :)

And we're off!    The race course was a 10K loop.  The bulk of the runners (176 finishers) ran the 10K (one loop), 136 finished the 20K (two loops), and a whopping 42 crazies runners finished the 30K (three loops).  I'm listing finishers because no DNFs were mentioned on the results page but a volunteer mentioned people dropping out.  Also, there were a lot more names listed on the registration page than results page, but people may have taken a look at the morning's weather and rolled back over in their warm bed.If they did, though, they screwed up, because it was a great morning for a trail run.  Yes, it was chilly and windy and generally crappy out at the start, but once you were running the weather was perfect.

Lap 1: With all 350ish runners on the trails for this lap, the singletrack was pretty congested.  This didn't bother me because I used all those other runners to keep my pace in check.  I'm not fast, but sometimes my body thinks I am at the start.  Instead of trying to pass people who were slower than I was, I focused on sticking behind them and running a conservative pace; after all, I was going to be out there for a while.

Despite all the runners, I did virtually no talking during this lap (shocking, I know) other than the occasional "on your left".  Nobody around me had much to say, I guess.  We started off down the road, onto the trail along the river, which was the only windy spot .  Mile 1 came up quickly, and yes, I mentally counted down all 18.6 of them.  This first section was nice and flat, but that was remedied by the infamous 200+ Castlewood stairs. People had reminded me not to run these, as if I physically had the option of doing so.  If a man with a chainsaw and hockey mask had been chasing me, I couldn't have run these. Kill me now...

After the stairs, we climbed a slight hill and then a bigger hill, but that took us to the best part of the race for me, a long, somewhat technical downhill stretch.  I've definitely grown as a trail runner because I had a blast on this section.  I really focused on letting gravity take me and keeping my feet moving.  Another highlight was the creek crossing.  A slight rock bridge had been raked up in the creek, but I ran right through the water because 1) I prefer to run on the nice, flatter rock and hopefully not turn an ankle, and 2) it's just way more fun to run through the water.

The next section had a long, hateful hill.  I didn't manage to run too much of it.  This was followed by more level trail and then a shorter, less hateful hill where I got stuck behind some people who were walking in a spot that was hard to get around them.  We crossed the road at the top of the hill, where the volunteer was holds up some really pissed off drivers, and then ran through the muddiest stretch of trail, which was weird because it was one of the upper trails that was the worst.  I finished lap one in about 1:10, which was more or less what I'd expected.

Lap 2: Passing the finish line after the first lap wasn't too painful, but I did start doing some math (never a good thing).  Nearly 400 runners + 2 kegs of beer + and only 50 or so of us running the full 30K = little chance of any beer left when we finished.  The funny thing is, I don't even really like beer that much, but I started obsessing about it.  I decided they should've gotten 3 kegs, one for each distance, and the 30K keg doesn't get tapped until the first 30K runner crosses the finish line (and probably mentioned this plan to everyone in earshot.  I'm sure it wasn't annoying at all).  On the other hand, I love food, and I didn't worry at all about there being food left.  Go figure.

As I ran onto the trail along the river, the guy next to me and said, "You aren't likely to get shot by a hunter in that outfit!" (You'll have to take his word for it because the one--one!?!--race picture of me is hideous). That started a great conversation about running/biking/adventure racing/family/etc. that lasted until the top of the stairs when Chris dropped me.  Among other things, I had shared with him my beer concerns and tried to convince him that if he finished ahead of me he should meet me along the course with a beer handup.  How cool would that be?? As Chris ran ahead of me down the trail, I called out, "Don't forget my beer!!" Alas, it was not to happen.

On the stairs (just as bad the second time around), however, I met Jim, a fellow adventure racer who was also certifiable doing the 30K, so we spent the next couple miles talking about adventure racing, how cool the adventure racing community is, how I got obsessed with interested in adventure racing, how he learned orienteering, races we've done, etc.  With a couple of miles remaining in the lap, he moved on as I just tried to keep moving.

I spendt the last couple miles of lap 2 with Terri, who was running the 20K.  I'd let her pass once, thinking I was slowing her down, but then she had to stop and tie her shoe.  When she came up behind me again, I offered to move over, but she said it was a good pace for her.  I think for pretty much everyone I ran with, I was that slow person who helped them keep their pace nice and easy, just like the ones I followed in lap 1. That's OK, though, because she was great company, and we got to swap marathon stories as we ran .

The power of social media: Lap 3 actually happening had been in some doubt for a few days as I started realizing that I wasn't ready for this race.  I mean, 30K is 18.6 miles! That's a distance I didn't get to until well into my marathon training, and this was going to be on trails.  What were the chances I could actually do this?  I had toyed with the possibility of stopping after 20K, BUT, I'd been talking about this race on my blog and on Facebook for a while.  I'd have felt like an ass if I wimped out and didn't at least try to run the distance I'd signed up for (and of course I'd have owned up to it if I'd quit...there's no fun in telling what you've accomplished if you don't also admit when you fall short.)  So, while I thought about calling it a day after 20K, I never seriously considered it.  For long, anyway.

Lap 3: Kevin joined me as I was walking away from the water stop by the finish line, and we ran together for the rest of the race.  Funny...he went to Big River Running to buy trail shoes after signing up for the Pere Marquette race and got talked into the Skippo--a 30K for his first trail race!  It's amazing how much you can find to talk about with total strangers...and how much better the time passes when you have company.  AT the next water stop, a volunteer told me I was the 11th woman ("Out of 11?", I asked, but apparently there were more).  I really wished she hadn't told me, because I didn't want to feel like I had anything to hold onto.  Luckily, there were no other women in sight, so I didn't have to do much to protect my "ranking".

As we reached the stairs, another guy came up behind us.  I offered to let him go ahead of me because I knew I'd be dragging on the stairs, but he said, "No thanks, I've been following those socks for the last couple miles."  So then we were three. I can't tell you how much better the last two laps were because of having people to talk to.  I had a blast. Trail runners are awesome people.

The three of us stuck together for the remainder of the race. I think this was the first trail race for either of the guys, which I guess makes me the wily veteran (or at least the one who should have known better).  I think they both enjoyed the trails, though Paul mentioned that he felt like he was the very last person.  I was a combination of feeling pretty good (considering) and really wanting to be done. Around the halfway point of the lap, I noticed a couple a ways in front of us. Eventually I realized one of them was a girl. "She's probably not in the race, right?" I said, "so it doesn't matter that she's ahead of me."

"There's tenth place," Paul said, and as much as I tried not to care (I mean really...tenth place...big deal), I felt myself picking up the pace.  We steadily chipped away at the distance and passed her with around a mile to go.  And then I was done.  It was ridiculous.  All we had was a downhill, a little field to cross, and the finish line, and I could hardly make myself run.  Paul pulled ahead of me, so I told him, "There you go...not last anymore!"  "No," he answered, "c'mon, you've got this," and the guys pulled me the rest of the way as it started to sprinkle.  It really started to rain once we were under the pavilion. Timing is everything. 

Time: 3:43:13, which is more or less what I expected my time would be.
Overall: 40/42
Female: 12/13
Age group: 4/5

Part of me wants to feel sad looking at those numbers, but I'm mostly happy just to have finished.  Third last is actually a bonus, because I truly expected to be last.  There are no walkers to pad my place in a race like this.

I'll run 30K, but I won't walk to my car: Because I arrived so early, I scored a parking spot about .1 mile from the start/finish, but it might have well have been 10 miles.  There were shuttles running racers to the overflow parking at a nearby school, so I begged a ride with one of them.  He didn't even make me feel bad for being such a wimp.

All in all, it was a fantastic race.  Big River Running has put on some of my favorite races.  They outdid themselves this year: organized parking, great race shirts (Nike dry fit), heaters at the start/finish, a fun course, a bag drop area, enthusiastic volunteers, good music, food and beer afterwards, and plentiful water stops.

Oh, but while there was beer left, all the BBQ was gone.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Fun photo Friday

Saw this at a gas station on the way back from Land Between the Lakes. How could you resist?

It actually smelled much better than one would expect from the name. :)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Girl Power

Ask many women, and they'll tell you that there's a huge difference in learning to mountain bike with men and learning with other women.  Now, I have had nothing but great experiences riding with the guys who've gone out on the trails with me, but there is something special about riding with a group of ladies. 

I joined Team Revolution, a women's cycling group based in St. Louis, as part of my "join a group" goal for 2011, and my year in mountain biking has been bookended with their events: my very first mountain bike ride ever in January and this weekend's trip to Land Between the Lakes, KY.  While I haven't managed to attend many of their events, the ones I have made it to have been great.  I've been reminded that everyone has to start somewhere, encouraged by the positive atmosphere, and inspired to ride things I never would have considered.  This weekend was no exception. 

Since we had the day off (thank you, veterans), Lori and I headed down to Kentucky early to do some riding on Friday.  We were the first to arrive at the rental house and were really impressed with how nice and big it was inside. 

I could totally live here.
It was an ideal home base.  Some of the other ladies arrived just as we were getting ready to leave, so we talked for a little bit before we headed out.  After getting information at the visitor's center at the Planetarium (and being warned that the trails south of there were for "horses and humans only"), we got onto the North-South Trail at the Jenny Ridge picnic area.

We assumed that it would be pretty hard to get lost on an out and back trail, but we were quickly disabused of this notion after losing our way 100 yards from the trailhead.  The doubletrack leading down from the picnic area was strewn with straw, as if it had just been seeded, and a narrower trail seemed to go off in a different direction.  We eventually noticed a trail marker on the trees to our right and breathed sighs of relief that our adventure racing teams for the Castlewood 8-Hour aren't counting on us to navigate.

Lori on the North-South trail
The first part of the trail wasn't too challenging, though it made me a little nervous that we didn't know what kind of roots, rocks, or other obstacles were waiting under the thick cover of leaves blanketing the ground.  There must not have been anything too treacherous, though, because we both managed to stay on our bikes.  Eventually, though, the nice flat trail gave way to a rooty climb, and we didn't make it too far before we were pushing our bikes uphill.

I won't lie...as we pushed...and pushed...and pushed, I was internally certain that I'd also be walking my bike down the hill. I've made no secret of my fear of downhills, and this one had tons of roots and thick leaves and little drops and looked plain scary.  After what seemed like forever walking, we made it to the top and got back on our bikes.  There was one more hill where we had to walk partway up and all the way down, but we made it to our goal before it was time to turn around to beat the dark.

My inner adolescent boy finds this name hilarious. 
We joked that that's where you stay when you've been on a bike too long.
 Since we hadn't reached our planned turnaround time, we decided to go on a little further.  This turned out to be not such a great decision for me, as my tire hit a root wrong and I ended up grabbing onto a tree for dear life.  Lori came around the curve and saw me hanging there, looking like I was waltzing with the tree, and asked, "What are you doing??"  Unfortunately, I managed to extricate myself before we thought to get a picture.

As if I needed a sign to tell me to go slow!
We headed back and I made it partway up the hill we'd walked down, but I had to walk part of it.  As we got to the top, I was already thinking about that scary downhill coming up.  We got there, and I figured I'd just ride as far as I could manage and then walk the rest.  Somehow, my bike just kept rolling over the bumps and managed to not flip over, and I made it to the bottom on two wheels.  We both did!  We were both a little shocked and very proud. 

We managed to get back to the car without getting lost, and several more people were at the house when we got there.  Ladies trickled in in groups, and the amount of food that built up on the counters was nothing short of astonishing. Put a bunch of girls together, and we can eat.  This is both good and bad: the food was delicious, but I was a little worried about elastic failure on my bike shorts.

food Jackie pic
Just a small sampling of the culinary bounty
Dinner was followed by some highly competitive air hockey, ping pong, and foosball in the game room, and then we headed outside for a bonfire.

ping pong
Judy and I took on Suzanne and Jackie...and lost.
I'm sure our defeat had NOTHING to do with my refusal to set down my drink.

Lori and Lo take on Alice and Judy while Kelly and Jean watch.

campfire group
The fourteen of us were spread among 4-5 bedrooms, the basement game room, and the laundry room (Jackie's room of choice on the second night after sleeping in the living room left her awake every time someone got up to use the bathroom).  Lori, Judy, Vanessa, and I shared the kids' room.

kates bed
I got the top bunk!!
The plan was to leave the house by 9ish and be hitting the trails around 10, and we actually managed to stay pretty much to the timetable.

Loading up
For this ride, we drove north to the Canal Loop trail.  Since it has connectors and some good bailout spots where you could just ride the paved road back to the parking lot, it was a good option for a mixed-ability group.  As it turned out, though, there wasn't a need for shortcuts.

heading onto trail
Ready to hit the trails!
As we headed out of the parking lot, I took my typical place near the back of the pack.  Vanessa and Lori, who are both newer mountain bikers, hung back also.

The leaders would ride for a while and then stop so that the group could come back together.  Vanessa, who was on her third ever mountain bike ride and waaaay out of her comfort zone, was definitely feeling some anxiety, but she hung in there like a champ. 

Riding the dip...it looks a lot scarier at the top than it does from the picture.
Thanks, I guess, to 10 months of rides with people far above my level, I felt pretty comfortable on the trail.  It definitely had its share of roots and hills, but I was able to pick good lines and ride with confidence.  The whole time I just kept thinking back to my first ride and how nervous I was.  This was a completely different  (wonderful!) experience. 

We rode a while longer and stopped for a snack break/photo op.


On the trail again, we encountered an older couple out hiking.  They tried to warn us about some trees down on the trail and the lady suggested that we might want to turn around.  Her husband mentioned something about going around them (which to me is kind of an obvious thing).  We figured we could probably get past the trees one way or another and rode on as the lady exclaimed to her husband in a thick Kentucky drawl, "Those girls ain't hardly ever ridden a bike! Why are you tellin' them to keep going when the man who rides all the time wouldn't do it?!?"

The doubting hikers and downed trees weren't the only obstacles we met.
We were riding from the far side (top) of the picture towards the near side (bottom).
I don't remember who went through the logs first, but I thought to myself, I'm pretty sure I can do that.  Jean went next, and then I went through with no problems.  It was so cool to finally have the confidence to ride through some challenges.  We all hung out there and cheered on the girls who took on the logs.




Cheering section
There was a great vibe with this group.  Very encouraging to people who weren't so sure about trying to ride through this section, lots of cheering and support, it was awesome.  And it's fun to watch people try and succeed.  I know it helps me a ton to watch someone else ride a spot that looks tricky.  You see that yes, it can be ridden, maybe it's not as hard as you're making it out to be, and you get a better idea of what line to take.

While I readily tackled the above section, the next tricky place stopped me short.  There was a tree fallen across the trail, and smaller logs had been used to build a ramp up to the tree.  It looked intimidating, so I opted for the bypass trail, but then Lo rode up and over the tree like it was nothing.  "You going to do it?" Judy asked me, and I decided yes, yes I was.  I'm not sure who this new, daring me was.  The crazy thing is that I didn't even let the tree scare me; I looked it over, decided where I wanted to ride it, and went for it.  I got over with no problem, and I know I had a huge smile on my face. Although the whole ride was just wonderful, that was a real high point for me...finally feeling like I can do this

over tree
Looking at the picture, it doesn't look that scary.  It's more intimidating in person. :)

Next, Judy went, and she made it to the top before she had to put down a foot.  Not satisfied with that, she headed back and rode it again.  Her wheel went just a bit too far to the right and slipped down.

I'm really glad this happened after I rode over!
It was the most graceful fall you ever saw.  She kind of dove down into the log.  She got a few scrapes but was fine.

Then Sara went.  I kind of feel like Sara was my kindred spirit out there.  She talked about balance impairment and falling a lot.  Really, a lot of those girls were like kindred spirits.  The guys I ride with seem fearless; maybe that's because they really are, or maybe it's the confidence of experience, or maybe they just don't talk about being nervous because they're guys.  Some of the ladies had that same kind of kamikaze spirit, but others talked about dealing with fear and the mental aspect of mountain biking.  It's nice to hear that you aren't the only one...and then to watch as people overcome their nerves.

Sara got up to the top of the tree twice, falling once on the way.  The third time, though, she nailed it.  The look on her face as she came down the other side was pure joy.

Sara on her way up
Jackie making it look easy.
We finally reached the area the older couple had warned us about, and there were indeed a few trees fallen across the trail.
Who put these here?
 So we shouldered the bikes and started carrying them across the trees. 

We quickly realized that an assembly line would be a more effective method.  That was a great opportunity to realize just how heavy my bike is; I couldn't believe how much lighter a lot of the other bikes are.  A lighter bike isn't going to go on my wish list any time soon, though.  Too many other things I want first. :)

Another regrouping spot.  Pretty view, but windy.
The back half of the loop held more technical climbing, with the kind of rooty areas that are always hard for me to get up. It's not so bad to ride over roots and small ledges when you're on level ground or going downhill, but I have a much harder time keeping momentum and getting my wheel up onto the higher spots when I'm going up. Even so, I was pretty successful on the early climbs. Some of the later uphills were harder (and longer), so I didn't make it all of the way up and had to walk the rest of the way.

k climbing hil
Where there are uphills, though, there are also downhills, and that's a good thing for people who embrace speed.  For me, though, downhill riding is always a pretty tentative affair, punctuated by the squeal of brakes and a muttered curse or two.  I had a blast on the last long downhill, though.  It had twisty roots and some areas that dropped down a bit and was the type of thing that generally makes me want to throw up a little when I look at it.  This time, though, everything kind of clicked.  I still hit the brakes, but I cruised down that hill at a much faster pace than normal...and enjoyed it!!  I had such a feeling of...triumph, I guess, like finally, finally, all these months of dragging along at the back of every pack I've ridden with are paying off.

This was a great trail.  It had long stretches I could ride comfortably, where I could work on maintaining some speed and handling without riding my brakes, and it had plenty of areas that challenged my abilities, conditioning, and courage.  I can't even tell you how much I loved the ride.  I really can't wait to go back, and I'm so thankful to have had the chance to experience it with such a great bunch of girls.

As awesome as the riding was, it was improved by the company.  The entire weekend was embued by a sense of camaraderie and fun.  For someone who grew up with brothers, is surrounded by sons, and has a family life that doesn't leave nearly enough time for a social life, this time away was a real gift.  I found not only thirteen other trail companions and bike mentors, but new friendships.  If you have a chance to do something like this, jump on it.  You absolutely won't regret it.  And if you're a woman in the St. Louis metro area who loves biking, check out Team Rev.  You'll be glad you did.

(Note: All the good pictures are courtesy of Lori.)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

I miss me

The runner me, I mean.  The disciplined me. The one who got up ridiculously early a couple mornings a week to get in her training runs.  The me who ran 8 miles before work one morning.  I liked that girl. 

This me is full of excuses.  It's cold.  It's dark.  I'm tired.  And a truly pitiful excuse from Wednesday morning, when I was wide awake in bed at 5 a.m. after a pretty dramatic electrical fire in our backyard due to a transformer (I guess) going out in a big way.  I couldn't fall back asleep and thought about getting up and rubbernecking at the linemen from the power company going for a run, but instead I decided I just colored my hair last night.  I can't wash it yet, so I don't want to get all sweaty.


I hate getting up early, but once I'm up and out, it's great (as great as stumbling around in the dark can be, anyway).  It's just getting over the "get out of bed" hump that's stopping me.  I know it's all about building a habit. It'll only take a couple morning runs before I'm back on track.  It's just a matter of prying myself out of bed to start.

I have been running a little, though.  There was last Saturday's trail race, and then I ran a couple of miles Wednesday night during N's volleyball practice.  I had dressed to run but was feeling very ambivalent about it.  I don't mind running alone in the dark at home in my neighborhood, mostly because I take my big dog along, but it makes me a little nervous in St. Louis with no furry protector.  After sitting for about an hour, though, I couldn't stay inside any longer.  My legs have been driving me crazy, I think they're restless because they just aren't getting that much exercise.

So, out I went, despite the fact that I hate the road, which is just busy enough that you have time between cars to get used to the dark before being blinded by the headlights of the next oncoming car.  I hate the sidewalk I run on bc it's the most technical paved surface I've ever run on.  Between the cracks in the asphalt and the wavy surface, it's a little nerve-wracking at night.  Even so, it was a great run.

I don't know what it was, but I really enjoyed running Wednesday night, and that's rare for me if I'm not with friends or on a trail.  On the way back, I was running as fast as I felt comfortable on that crazy sidewalk and just smiling as big as I could.  It felt hard and good and fun.

I'm off tomorrow, and I'm headed to Land Between the Lakes in Kentucky for a women's mountain bike weekend.  I. Can't. Wait.  I'm so excited to get some time in on my mountain bike, to be somewhere new, and to ride with some ladies who are great on a bike.  It's a great, supportive, fun atmosphere, and any time I ride with better riders I find out I can do things I'd never try on my own. 

If only I was packed.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

One down, two gone, and I've got a problem

One down:

The Wild in the Woods 5-Mile at Broemmelsiek Park was a great race.  St. Charles County Parks puts on a well-run series, and I'm really hoping to make it to all of them next year (October's Klondike Park race was part of the series also).  Vanessa and I headed towards St. Charles around 7 a.m. this morning, leaving us plenty of time to get lost (you know, just in case) as well as coffee and still be there by the 9 a.m. start time.  We threw our bikes in the car, too, because we were planning to ride with our friend Lori after the race.

Photo credit: Lori Vohsen
Shivering pre-race with Krystal and Vanessa
It was a chilly (36) and start to the day, and right now we're in that part of fall where dressing is really tricky.  Is it going to stay cold or warm up? How fast will it warm up? You know the drill.  I settled on shorts, a long-sleeved tech tshirt, and knee socks.  I always have to have my ears covered when it's cold, too, or they hurt like crazy.  I got my warmup in with a quick jog to the extra bathroom the rangers opened up (thank you thank you thank you!), and before we knew it, start time had arrived.

Photo credit: Lori Vohsen
The race started on the paved park road, moved onto a maintenance trail, and then into field trails and finally to the singletrack. 

Another great picture by Lori

I went out a little too fast in the beginning, which meant I was hurting by the end of the first mile, but this was more or less a training run where I was wanting to push myself and see what I had.  For about the first half of the race, the trail wasn't too technical, just a few rocks and some roots, but nothing all that tricky.  That left me able to actually look around me. 

Since I rode at Broemmelsiek in my first mountain bike race, I'm semi-familiar with the park, but it's a whole different view running than riding as a newer rider.  There were several sections where I saw views I have no memory of from this summer.  I think I was just so focused on the trail then that I missed everything around me. :)  Of course, a lot of leaves are down now, too, so there's a pretty unobstructed view.  I had to retie my shoe during the second mile (when will I learn to make sure they're double knotted?), and then I walked up part of a hill during the third mile (total failure of will...I know I could have made it up the hill and kept running).  Otherwise I ran the whole thing.

As the trail got more technical, I had to pay less attention to the view and more attention to where my feet were going.  The whole time I was running, though, I was thinking about lines I'd take on my bike.  I'm pretty sure that now I'd be able to ride the couple of sections that gave me trouble in the bike race.  I had lots of time to think because, unlike Klondike when I ran with my friends, this time I was running for myself and spent a surprising amount of the race completely alone...the trails in front of and behind me empty.  Weird. 

Hurting towards the end.  I think I had just told Lori, "This is a lot more fun on a mountain bike!"
I was passed several times during the second half of the race, one couple passing me right at mile 4, and I was determined that nobody else was going to pass me before the finish.  I also really wanted to walk, but I wasn't letting myself walk with only a mile (less than a mile now! You can do it...) left in the race.  I could see a guy in an orange shirt out of the corner of my eye, so my goal became staying ahead of him.  I heard him closing in as I came through the last creek crossing (they were all dry enough to jump over), but a quick sideways glance showed that he was far enough back.  Still, I really pushed coming into the chute...and some other guy passed me right at the end! Never saw him coming. 

Oh, well.  I finished in 50:57, so a 10:11 pace over 5 miles.  Once again, I was in the bottom half of finishers, but I was 4th in my AG...out of 4. :)  I was about 6 minutes out of third, so there were some strong runners out there ahead of me.  Overall, I'm pretty happy with that pace on trails, though I'm hoping to keep improving on it.

Two gone:

I just posted my list of upcoming fun, and I've already had to mark two items off.  Today's mountain bike ride didn't happen because the trails were closed to bikes due to wet conditions, and the orienteering meet on the 26th conflicts with my family's Thanksgiving celebration.  I'd like to go, but not enough to miss out on our family party.

I've got a problem:

Since I couldn't ride my bike after the race, that left me free to go check out the cyclocross race my tri club helped to sponsor today.  I have friends who race CX, but I've never actually gotten to watch more than some short videos.  I begged convinced my husband and son to come watch with me, kind of thinking that J might take an interest in the race since he'd be able to see so much of it.

Halloween & Cycloscross 034
Photo credit: Keith Timmins
Several of my friends from the club were there spectating and volunteering, so it was great to get to hang out with them and introduce them to Jeff.  Jeff and J spent quite a bit of time playing catch with a football, and J made a new friend.  He did watch some of the races and thought it was really cool to see the riders jump the barriers or dismount and carry their bikes over the bigger ones.  During the men's open/40+ master's race, J and his buddy were remarking on how far back one of the riders was, and it gave me a chance to talk about how great I thought it was that he was out there.  "You know, seeing somebody who's that far back means that he's out there taking a risk and doing something that's hard for him.  That's pretty brave...and pretty cool."  Hopefully they got the message...and maybe they'll be the ones spreading it next time I'm bringing up the rear in a race.

Halloween & Cycloscross 039
Photo credit: Keith Timmins
Neither of my guys was all that excited about the race, but I thought it looked like a blast (well, the kind that's fun once you're finished and know you aren't going to die of a heart attack right there in front of everyone).  Tight, twisty turns, barriers to jump or to dismount and lift your bike over, numerous laps on a hilly course...basically all of my weak spots combined...so of course I want to try it.

Halloween & Cycloscross 050
Photo credit: Keith Timmins
You can see part of the course staked and roped off in the background
Now I'm wondering how quickly I can accumulate some money for a cross bike once I'm finished paying off my road bike.  And if there's any way to sneak another bike into the garage without my husband realizing that would make four bikes in my stable (to be fair, I'm only keeping one of them for him).  And if, indeed, I'll ever reach the limits of my athletic stupidity. :)