Monday, July 16, 2012

Xterra NC - 6 days after the first, No watch=no limitations!

July 14, 2012

Start of Xterra NC 
The days of road running may be closer to an end than I thought.  I quite possibly may have replaced it with trails. Much more serene, laid back and more mentally challenging than ever, I never thought in my old age that I would be drawn back to the days of my childhood of playing in the woods. I thought I had outgrown such things that I would refer to as simple.  It is so nice to feel like I am playing and due to the fact that everything I do is for such a long amount of time, playing is a wonderful thing. 

Well this trail race is number two in my whole four times on a true trail, why not make the fourth another race, another longish race.  Like my thought process? To me if I am not challenged, uncomfortable and out of my zone of comfort, I feel like I am wasting time. 

I digress for just a paragraph or two.  When I was young, I had my first child, I was seventeen.  Until a few years ago my life revolved around my children. The older they get, the more freedom I have to explore.  I get to go back and do the thing that I didn't get to do years ago. Now I am more daring, fearless, and throw caution to the wind. 

Trail running (and I am just a novice with a lot of grit) has taught me already that I am smarter than I thought. Who knew I would be able to run, while trail marker spotting, watching all around me and managing to not fall this time in completely foreign areas. Trail is one time that I am not worried about speed, just enjoying myself.  I set out and have in my mind what I would like to do but if it doesn't happen not the end of the world.  The first Xterra, I only missed my goal by 2 minutes, the second one (because I had no watch) I beat by 15 minutes. Let me just say that the trail at Harbison is technically more challenging than the Whitewater Center in Charlotte, however the red clay and the fact that it had rained all week in Charlotte made caution flags come up regularly during the race. 

I had the privilege to see a gray fox run across the trail and a wasp nest that stopped me dead in my tracks because I couldn't figure out if the tree had a fungus or if it was a nest, nest it was. Any run I do is a privilege, I do not take it for granted. 

We began the trek up to Charlotte's Whitewater Center. Having no clue that the destination was closer than we thought, near the airport, we left early to give us plenty of time. It was foggy and I was thinking great, rain and Nik and Irma would be outside waiting on me. We arrived. Small group as I had expected, all different ages, all extremely fit. I get my packet, pin on my number and wait. The set up group, Dirty Spokes, did a fantastic job. Start and finish ended at this covered area where bathrooms and changing rooms were attached. Eased my mind a bit, at least they would be sheltered if there was rain. The clouds start to burn off and the sun appears, start time is near.  My goal was two hours for this race but guess what I had forgotten, my watch, so I was just going to go.

Ready, set, GO! 

All of us loop into the woods, and then come to a screeching halt. Single track, no passing, should have staggered the race for those who are faster and want to place. Walking continued for a bit and then we were off.  Miles one and two, I am thinking that I have lost my mind completely, my muscles are tired.  I blow it off.  There are two distances in the race, the shorter distance is running with us and turns off at mile three. I can hear the crowd cheering and have to go the opposite direction, gah! We had been told at the start that if we chose to take the shorter route and were signed up for the longer distance that we would get a DNF (did not finish) and nope, not happening, unless I had to be hauled out and listen I would put up a good fight. 

I shook off mile three turn off and trudge along, where the trail is all red clay and boulders, roots too numerous to count and dips and ruts and drop offs that required jumping and did I mention that it had rained all week. Rain all week and red clay with steep descents equals slippery terrain. We had been also warned to "Embrace the Suck" of certain parts of the race which ended up not being less difficult than Harbison, maybe because I was prepared for the worst. The funniest part was the mile stretch called "The Toilet Bowl" which spiraled down and at the bottom was an old toilet. "Goat Hill" was supposed to be the most challenging part however, compared to "Spider woman" in Harbison, not so much.  

Along the way I met a lady, Nancy was her name, aged 57 years. (I am learning every time I do something that age is merely a number.) Along the route she and I discussed many things, her two full Ironman finishes within the last 3 years, her many half ironman finishes, two completions of marathons, her taking up stand up paddle boarding last year, about her husband who is an incredible athlete (seriously 3 time Kona qualifying under his belt) and their 34 year old son and grand children. She told me about vacationing in Guatemala and roasting marshmallows over the volcano coals. We both talked about how we wished we had done the shorter distance so we would feel like playing at the center after (we both said playing simultaneously).  She said turn around I need to see your hair, and then squealed, we both had braided ponytails, she said our meeting was meant to be. Throughout the course she told me I could pass, I told her nope, I'm just gonna ride in your back pocket and ride in her back pocket is what I did. Over and under and through the trail until we see the parking lot, the covered area and the finish! Yahoo! Yahoo except the finish ends up a gravel road, embrace the suck! 

Well, I finished, yet another one, and a third is already in sight. Mentally taxing, cruelly demanding on the body, more sweat than can be fathomed and memories that will last a lifetime. 

When I am on trail, I feel like a kid, so free and though there is a determination in my eye there is also a twinkle there, a spark and a swell of pride that is immeasurable.

My friend, Nancy and  me at the finishing

Oh the lure of the trail...

Monday, July 9, 2012

Xterra, Hunger Games, Grit Prevails, again...

Embarked on another new adventure yesterday, Xterra Trail Series Harbison Race, a challenging trail half-marathon, that is HILLY!!

Always searching for a new challenge, new territory to explore and as a fellow adrenaline junky said " you live the life of - Do something that makes you uncomfortable everyday - I think she summed me up pretty well.

When we sit still, we become stagnant and you know what stagnant does? Smells bad, grows algae and mold and attracts mosquitoes, hmmm? Chew on that for a bit, I choose not to just be, thanks.

Here is the elevation chart:
And I love hills. Well, got up, had breakfast, filled my camelbak (which would be a lifesaver), removed my first aid kit (dumb idea), added in my sports beans w/o caffeine, packed my post race beer, knee socks, braided hair and bandanna.  Ready to roll to Harbison Park!

Excitement is looming but to digress for just a sec to Saturday afternoon.  Nik and I went to HalfMoon Outfitters to pick up my packet because I was borderline losing my mind from having to rest, then decided to eat at Mellow Mushroom (yummo) and then head home.

As we are eating lunch I get a text from Lori that read, "picked up my packet, going to church tonight in case I die tomorrow, I'm good." May have been the best text I ever received.  My friend Lori is a devout Catholic, sometimes I call her to ask her to cut church on Sunday to run with me.  She does but usually will attend on Saturday instead of cutting church all together.  My two best friends are polar opposites and let me tell you there is never a dull moment. Here's Melinda, we are in Puerto Rico of course already drinking and she looks down the beach and sees something that looks like a baptism going on.  What does my friend do? In a bikini, beer in hand, has to go see what's going on. Those two girls mean the world to me. 

We are definitely a motley crew. So we are off at the start after having to walk 2 miles to the start, I mean seriously that is a long walk, (go ahead and laugh) and then once we get there, yeah only a two stall bathroom for all us women who are well hydrated meaning we all have to pee.  Well we started off by peeing in the woods before the race started because they were calling us all to line up for the official start and National Anthem. Follow red flags through the trail in the forest and we are off!!!

It was all our first trail race, I had signed up a while ago, then Melinda signed and then Lori and what an adventure we were about to have.  First thing I notice at the start of the race, trail races are small scale, I would assume because of safety issues and traffic on course, and everyone seemed nice. Trails are marked with red flags, like landscaping flags, miles are not marked every mile, thank god, and aid stations are fewer than road races.

The first few miles were just getting a feel for what was going on around me, meaning, narrow trail, rocks, roots, pinestraw, sand, red clay, trying to find footing while making sure I was paying attention to what was overhead, beside me and below me. Trail is much more than mindless running where I can just zone out and go through the motion of running. On trail, focus is key, so being aware of everything even remembering to drink was taxing on me.  (I forgot to mention that at 6 am yesterday the temperature was 80 degrees.)  I am running along and here comes Lori, she had fallen skinned up both knees. Poor thing was bleeding. Kept running, we met a guy who was talking Lori's ears off, I didn't talk much, I don't usually unless I need distraction. The landscape out there was so beautiful, untouched somewhat, downed trees that I must confess I wanted to walk across of dance like "Dirty Dancing" but I had to stay on task.  

Running on through narrow winding trails, getting to watch the sun come up during the beginning, not too much can be better, well damn that root jumped up and grabbed my foot and wham, I am falling not regaining footing, falling...slide, ouch. I regroup, look around, nobody was insight, scraped thigh, knee and elbow. I get up and start again.  Here comes Lori, I said I fell too! We both laughed. So we are running on and come upon these ruts where we have to kind of bounce from one leg to the other to get through this part.   Lori said that she was glad she had been playing Dance Dance Revolution because those dance moves were helping  her out. I said well I'm being a ninja on Ninja Warrior. We both laugh and trudge on. 

Curiosity was killing Lori about where we were and in my experience with trail, usually I don't want to know as on trail, distance is hard to judge. Well we get to a mile marker 3ish is what it said, I swear it was more like 6 but 3ish it is. Moving on, miles passed, water stops passed, people passed, we passed people, water stops without water were passed, direct sunshine was encountered. Dear lord it was hot and Lori and I start having delirious conversations.  I said I feel like I'm on a reality show, she said, the Hunger Games, and we are waiting on the storms and wild animals, because at the moment we are in baking sun. We laugh and keep  going.  I look at her and tell her if she never speaks to me again after this race I completely understand.

Then we are at mile 9, I think. The sweetest children in the world helped us, no I wasn't hallucinating, we were at a waterstop and these kids filled up my camelbak and were so attentive. We met a couple from Ireland there. I told Lori we just met a leprechaun, she said yep, our good luck. 

Dave and Me
Mile 11. Only two more to go and them .1ish.  There was a lot if "ish" out on trail, ish. :) Then there was 12 and 13. The course was wrapped around and looped and curved that when you were on one trail you would see the next, very deceiving as it appeared the end was nearer than it was in actuality. ("Is this real life?")  The cars, the finish and the gazebo were in plain view however the red flags did not lead me to it, they lead me parallel and cross ways beside. I had met up with a guy named Dave out there. I said to him that if I could I would cut straight across this and just go to the finish but I wouldn't be able to live with myself for cheating. 

Then the field we had started in, the finish clock is somewhere ahead of me, I scream, "Where the hell do we go?" And I am told to run straight for the clock, I proceed. I hear Nik, calling my name. I finished.  I finished my first (it will not be my last) Xterra Half-marathon.

Lori, Melinda and I finish within minutes of each other. We all hugged, got our shirts, laughed about experiences on the trail.

The Coldplay song "Fix You" was playing at the end. What a great Sunday, to spend with my best girls, three supportive husbands and children in tow.  Beer in the truck and Hudson's BBQ for lunch and  yes we went to lunch dirty, smelly and still drenched in sweat, and we wore our Xterra shirts to boot.

Lori, Me and Melinda
The greatest friendships are built on the road and even better ones on the trail. Another one down, everyone survived, grit prevailed, again.

By the way...they are both still speaking to me. :)

 Until next time...happy trails to you until we meet again!

"Fix You"

When you try your best but you don't succeed
When you get what you want but not what you need
When you feel so tired but you can't sleep
Stuck in reverse

And the tears come streaming down your face
When you lose something you can't replace
When you love someone but it goes to waste
Could it be worse?

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you

And high up above or down below
When you're too in love to let it go
But if you never try you'll never know
Just what you're worth

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you

Tears stream down your face
When you lose something you cannot replace
Tears stream down your face
And I will try to fix you

Tears stream down your face
I promise you I will learn from my mistakes
Tears stream down your face
And I will try to fix you

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you...

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Knee socks, a trail, and a camelpak…Oh MY! On-On!

Well, who would have thought I could find something else to entertain all my spare time, because I have so much. I did, and it is called trail running.  The lure of trail is something so new to me and so intriguing, almost difficult to put into words. 

Imagine this, no matter the temperature, time of day, due to shade and the ever so faithful camelpak, running is doable. Imagine having to be so focused in the moment, that thoughts can not veer, your mind cannot wander, the focus is straight ahead, the next marking, the tree root underfoot, snake or rock or downed tree, limb overhead, or drop off. Imagine it, being constantly in the moment, no cars sounds, no music, only nature.

Poetry in motion. I never thought I would be observant enough to run trail.  Here is a phrase that came out of my mouth during a recent trail run with my friend, "Stay behind me, I will keep us on trail." Weirdest thing because I, in the past, would have never dared take the lead. Pretty proud moment actually.

Embarking on a new adventure, always makes me giddy and if it be difficult, all the better.  It makes my poor husband nervous, but we bartered this time.  I will keep my phone in  my camelpak, which is so nifty it has pockets to keep stuff, and that I will check in throughout the race Sunday. I also keep it with me when I'm on trail, poor guy. I have been told by a dear friend that I am a lot to handle. Whatevs!

Oh this always happens, I blog about it and start daydreaming about being on the hill in Sesqui that I call the stairs. (Insert pout here.) I wish I was there right now instead of taking the afternoon off so I can go to the gm in the morning.

Then there is this group of the most delightful drinkers with a running problem that I have been so fortunate to encounter. They are the Hashers. Every other Saturday and on opposing Sundays and on Full Moons, a group of knee sock wearing, beer drinking folks, show up at the designated spot, at the determined time and trail run from one stop to the next. The Hounds chase a Hare through the trail that the hare has marked, watching for symbols, signs, toilet paper, and the most wonderful one, BN or Bcheck. It is all in good fun, which is what I want to do, have fun and wear knee socks.

Happy Trails!


NFHN Pam :)