Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Christmas Run ... and a Gift from God

After a week of icky weather, we had a glorious break and a sunny day on Christmas Eve.  One would only assume that Christmas Day would follow suit.  Well it looked somewhat promising at first, as the sun came out early.  But it deteriorated quickly and became cold, windy and dark.  I think it is the worst weather I can remember experiencing on a Christmas Day in a long, long time.

We had, however, predetermined that we would run in the afternoon.  Before I changed into my running clothes, I stepped out onto the porch, looked at the threatening sky, felt the cold wind hit me, smelled moisture in the air, turned to John and asked, "and why exactly are we running today?"

It had been predetermined and was therefore set in stone.  We were running and knew we eventually would not regret it.  I put on running tights, gloves, and my warmest running turtle neck.  I looked down at my Nike Free running shoes and began to lament over the hole that had developed in the upper.  That hole made my foot bleed the day before during our track workout. 

I looked up at the shelf in my closet and saw the Newton box.  Newtons are .... expensive.  And I owned this pair only because I won them in a race.  I take special care of my Newtons and use them only for races.  Even so, I've had them for 1 1/2 years and they were very worn.  I worried over my Newtons because I knew they were at the end of their life cycle.  I couldn't afford to wear them on a casual Christmas Day run ... that is, unless I had a replacement pair waiting for my under the Christmas tree.

If you could see me now, you would see my arms thrown up in victory.  I DID have a new pair waiting for me ... in the form of a gift certificate for Newtons.  YES!!  Not only did this mean my racing career could continue (I thought it was going to die with the Newtons), but it also meant I could wear the old girls on my Christmas run, and fore go the holey Nikes.

We ran along a bluff, up on the cliff above the ocean.  Our first obstacles were the incessant mud puddles that infiltrated the sandy trail.  Cold water sloshed in and I began laughing.  This is so fun.  And it was going to get even more fun.

Next, we made our way to the trail that ran literally 1 foot away from the edge of the cliff.  It was amazing as I looked down hundreds of feet of jagged rock to see the rough ocean churning from the imminent storm.  There was a strong updraft that hit us and we were blown around on the cliff's edge.  There was this glorious thrill of danger and I was laughing all along the way.

We finally came to some solid, safer ground as we came back to a road that lead us to the bike path.  Then it began to rain.  Wet feet, mud slung all over our backsides, and now rain ... hitting our heads, and splashing up from the road to soak our legs.  "This is excellent!!"

And that's when I spotted it.  The "Gift from God" up ahead, faintly through the wet air.  It was rectangular and in a hue of blue.  I thought to myself, it can't be.  Is that what I think it is?  Such perfect timing?  As we trotted closer my hope was confirmed.  It was an uncaged, fully available, legal to use (maybe) ... port-a-potty :)  It sang out to me in Christmas "Hallelujahs" and a light shown from from heaven all around it.  It was as if time stopped and the weather ceased.  To have four plastic walls instead of the cloak of a bush.  To have toilet paper instead of a leaf.  Well, that's as graphic as I'm going to get, but you get the point.

It was a happy Christmas run full of little gifts.  The gift of old Newtons.  The gift of wet socks and brown puddles.  The gift of a windy precarious cliff.  The gift of rain.  And the miracle of the port-a-potty.  It just doesn't get any better than this.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Repetitive Stupidity

Fridays are the planned torture day ... speedwork.  In order to force myself into consistency with speedwork, I have to simply set it as the routine.  Thankfully I have a faithful husband and running partner who joins me on torture day.

Sooooo, yah.  Last Friday was the beginning of "the week the sun forgot to shine."  It was cold, sunless, raining, dark, and ugh! very windy.  Well, at least by SoCal standards.  Now, under such "harsh" (I know ... I'm a weenie) conditions, a long rhythmic run might not have been so bad.  I could just sort of buckle down and get it done, plot my course so that I ran mostly with the wind, and maybe even wear an ugly plastic garbage bag and suffer through the sweat.  That wouldn't have been so bad.  BUT, it was Friday ... torture day.  Speedwork day, which I do on the SBCC track.

I set my own workouts for the track, and lest I am too easy on myself, I try to make the workout difficult.  So the plan for dark Friday was 12 x 400 (gradually increasing intensity with each set of four).  There was, not surprisingly virtually no one else on the track, which immediately caused me to question my sanity.  The track was soaked, and even though it has a new beautiful surface, there were still pockets of water all over it.  But the most disturbing scene at the track was the sideways rain.  It was coming down heavy but gosh darn it, it was windy.  On a track, it is impossible to run 400 meters without doing at least half of it straight into the wind.  This was going to be a workout in repetitive stupidity.

It was so cold, but I figured it would be ok once I warmed up.  I jogged a mile, but every time I hit the back straight away I cried out in agony, "OMG, you've got to be kidding.  This is so stupid."  Never warmed up, and just got wetter.

Then I figured after a few intervals I would feel better.  Not!  My legs were stiff with frigidness and although each repeat began fresh, within 20 meters I hit the wall of cold wind and pushed through it, not only in discomfort from the cold, but also from the fatigue that immediately set in.  Although the final 150 meters was with the wind, I was too pitiful to give it any gas and just sort of made it to the finish line.  This was the stupidest workout.

After the first set of four, keeping in mind that we took a very short recovery so as not to obtain frostbite, I thought to myself that maybe 12 intervals was too many.  I reasoned that the wind factor should at least count for 4 intervals.  Eight sounded better than 12.  This was so stupid anyway.

After the next 4, which were harder and faster (still hardly any recovery), somehow I began to become fondly acquainted with the "wall of icy wind" and I hardened my determination.  I said we were supposed to do 12, so 12 we would do.  But it was still stupid.

The last set of 4 were supposed to be the hardest and they were.  But we did it.  We did the last 4, we did the full 12, the conditions remained difficult, we were freezing ... but satisfied.  I was now full on stupid.  Bring on the rain.  Bring on the wind.  The ice, the hail, the dark days.  I was empowered because I made it through the stupid repeats.  Isn't that what running does for us?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Trail Run Gone Wrong ... or Right!

Wednesday's run started out normal enough.  Six mildly deranged runners gathered pre-dawn for our fun in the dark ... and cold ... and fog ... and drizzle.  We decided on a typical default loop around Questhaven, but would cut it a little short by cutting back over the mountain on the trails.  That would make it about 4 miles on roads, 2 miles on trails.

This morning we were joined by a couple of newbies, one who was visiting from Arkansas on business.  He was the one dressed in shorts and a t-shirt.  The rest of us SoCal weenies had hats, gloves, long sleeves, but still managed shorts.  Poor Ryan from Arkansas ... he thought it was going to be a normal run with normal runners.  Oops.  Sorry Ryan.

We headed out gradually down Questhaven, a nice 3 miles descent and we were all happy, a little moist, but the sun was beginning to show up in the cloudy sky.  By the time we had gotten down the hill and were ready to climb back up toward home, our group had spread a bit.  As we approached the trail we were to take back, the one among us ... the ONLY one among us who knew the trails, needed to double back to make sure everyone found their way.  He asked me if I knew my way back from here so that I could lead us home, and I clearly said "No."  I followed that up with these fatal words, "But I'm sure we can figure it out."  Wrong.  The one bit of advice we had to go on was, if we get to a barbed wire fence, we should turn around.  That's a little vague ...

Yah, so Dax, the trail knowing San Elijo native left Ryan from Arkansas, Paul the barefoot runner, and myself, and went back to collect the others.

So the three of us ran up the obvious trail, following Dax's general philosophy ... "if there's a choice between two trails, take the one that goes up hill."  We actually went the right way for a while, but then lo and behold, we came upon that dreaded barbed wire fence.  The command, "turn around" crossed all three of our minds, and we did.  We turned around, ran about 5 steps and promptly took another trail that went ... up hill.  Wrong trail.  WRONG trail.

We were going the wrong way, up the wrong hill, but we were disoriented by the fog and couldn't really tell which direction we were running.  We figured we could at least get to the top of the mountain and look out to get our bearing.  When we got to the top, we looked out and saw ... fog.  But we still sort of knew we need to eventually go left.

The trail we chose from there started out going left, but then curled around to the right.  But it was the nicest trail we could hope for.  Ryan said it reminded him of Arkansas.  Paul liked it because it was grass covered and he was running in Vibrams.  I liked it because it was downhill.  We all figured we would eventually come across a trail that branched to the left.  But ... there was no other trail.

The trail we had happened upon, we learned from signs along the way, was called Alpha Trail.  Amazingly, even though we were running the totally wrong direction, we found our way to a familiar spot.  We found Questhaven road.  Yeah!!  We're saved.  One problem.  We were behind a very stable chain link fence and there was no way out.  Caged, like Mountain Lions ... and unfortunately we were also in the Mountain Lion cage.  No go.  Couldn't get over the fence.

We had to run back UP the Alpha Trail.  It isn't as nice going back up.  And we still had no idea how to get going in the right direction.  By this time the comments began about how the others will begin to worry and wondering whether we would make it back on time to get to work.  Finding ourselves a little desperate, we decided to blaze a new trail thinking we would or course eventually find the right way.  That was another ... mistake.  We got into an obscure field of thick brush, found no trail, and then wondered how to get out of the brush back to where we entered it.

Well, this was the way it went, and we wandered thus until we made it back to a mountain top and back tracked down and finally found a very thin, little trail that at least went in the right direction.  Holy cow! We found the barbed wire fence again.  Hmmm .... we ran from there and found the correct trail.  And our way home.

Paul had scrapes from the attempt to climb over the chain link fence, Ryan chaffed from his wet t-shirt (remember it was drizzly) and was now shirt-less and kinda cold.  I was just a little muddy.

When we finally hit pavement, Dax was up ahead running toward us.  We could tell it was him through the fog because of his fluorescent orange shoes, and he is now affectionately now known as Rudolf.  He said to us, "Hmmm. Did you guys get lost?"  Duh. 

Actually we didn't get lost, we "found."  We found a new way to run that loop for those days when we want to increase the mileage by 2 miles, and the climbing by 1000 feet.  Excellent.  I have a new favorite trail run.

Guess what I'm going to do on Monday.  The new trail :)

Sunday, December 12, 2010


The end of one year ... the beginning of another.  The reality of life is really just a series of transitions isn't it?  Growing up, growing older, growing wiser, stronger, faster.  These all require transitions and change.  Nothing seems to stay the same for long and as soon as you think you've found the sweet spot, life moves on again.  So it has been for me.  Many practical transitions for sure including relational, employment, physical relocation, spending 3/4 of the year healing from a stupid Achilles injury, and now I find myself in a new place.

When I was a kid, I remember playing on the monkey bars until my hands were blistered and bloody.  Swinging from bar to bar, the challenge was finding out the hard way how many bars I could successfully skip and still catch myself from falling.  Transition is a lot the same way.  There is the challenge of finding out how far you can reach and there is the catch of your breath as you are momentarily suspended between two bars, touching neither.  You could actually fall.  But of course, that is the challenge.  And that is the challenge also of transition.  Often you have to let go of something secure in order to reach something greater.

Running.  I thank my God that I can.  After a season of pain with every step, now every painless step is so appreciated.  Running has gotten me through many transitions and even though I still find myself suspended between the two bars, I am somehow stronger, and serene in the moment.  Not a feeling of panic, but a feeling of freedom and exhilaration.

I've had to slowly say goodbye to some of the most amazing people, my running buddies.  Anyone who runs with buddies knows how much of a camaraderie there is in such a group.  I will be meeting new running buddies.  I look forward to that too.  Another transition.

My name is Cindy.  I've been a competitive runner since I was 9.  I've now entered the era of my life when I get to be a Master runner.  Basically it just means I'm getting older.  But that doesn't mean I can't still get faster.  This blog begins today and will serve as a chronicle of my training, racing, and life within that context.  I've decided it will be an amazing journey.