Monday, July 31, 2017

The Longest Mile

I was standing in my house in my running clothes, all set to go running and I was crying. Not the active kind of crying but the kind where tears silently just pour out of your eyes, down your cheeks and you think that maybe if you don't move or breathe you won't start convulsing. 

It's just running.

I could hear my friend's words from the night before when I mentioned I was nervous about my first run in a very long time. 

I remembered I had joked back with him, saying he might not be teasing me if he also hadn't gone for a run in so long that he wasn't even sure how to anymore. 

The truth is, it really is just running. 

But I had been stressing about it for 48 hours.   

I had done everything I could to postpone the run that I had so desperately been looking forward to for so long. I changed running clothes twice, switched shoes from a newish pair to a trusty old pair, downloaded Strava, watched youtube videos on how to use Strava, drank some water, put my hair up, put my hair down, back up, into pony tails, into pig tails, added a hat, changed to a bandana, back to a hat and then a sweaty-band, waited for my phone to charge, waited for my watch to charge and now, it was time to run. 

My last run of any distance was Death Valley Half Marathon, 7 months before. I had been gigantically fat,  and just getting a long term, and long undiagnosed illness under control that had caused that weight gain. I toed the line at this mountainous trail race without having trained much at all in the 4 months before that - with a power hike up, run down strategy that gave me a medal for my 6th Half Marathon and my very first DFL. 

The emotions of that race, and the desperate need for a major recovery which would require weight loss and strength building pointed me to a decision to take a break from running. I found something new: I began to learn how to power lift to help me get my fitness and confidence back.  

I worked hard. I found an amazing trainer who I love. I let myself be ok with having to take medicine every day that keeps me alive. I joined my boss for his next work adventure at an amazing company. I counted macros. What the eff with the macros! Slowly I started to feel and look like myself again.  

At the six month mark, I was ready to run. And then I broke my toe. "Nearly in half, that's pretty amazing," my doctor remarked as I tried to not pass out. "No running for 6 weeks." I was devastated. "How about 4 weeks?" He understands. "Come see me in 4 weeks and we'll do another x-ray and I'll tell you that you can run."  

And now here I was another month later, toe healing, body getting fit and strong, able to deadlift 245 lbs, yet I was crying over the prospect of merely putting one foot in front of the other and hustling down the street. 

Most people would tell you that I am nearly always happy and smiling. I am a happy, positive person, but the illness had taken a huge physical toll on me and with it, a mental one as well. I was standing there crying because of my fear of failure, because of the loss of 7, no really 11 months of missing running, the very thing that had given me sanity for the last 8 years. I was crying because I was overwhelmed about the seemingly simple yet mentally huge task ahead of me.  Even though I knew there was nothing I could have done to keep running while I got well, it still felt like my fault for letting it go. And now it had been gone for so long that taking the first step was so intimidating that it paralyzed me. 

I didn't have an epiphany. I didn't come to the conclusion that everything is going to be alright. I put on a pair of sunglasses to hide my tears and did what a lot of us do on days when we're not sure we want to run, but we know we have to run. We have to run for a training cycle, for our health, both physical and mental, we have to run so we can stick to our routine. We have to run because we are runners. Even when we might not want to, we run. And at that moment I didn't have to tell myself consciously what I already knew, and what you know, that even the worst most terrible run is better than no run. And so I went out the door and I began to run. 

You can find me on twitter here. 
And IG here.
Or if you want to follow my progress as I learn how to run again, I'm on Strava here. 


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Death Valley Trail Half Marathon

We arrived in Death Valley and I knew I had three options for the weekend:

1. DNS
2. DNF
3. DFL

These were bleak choices that somehow also made sense with regard to running a Half Marathon in a place that has been described as "harsh and hellish," and "parched and inhospitable." 

For those of you who aren't runners, my choices came to this:

Do Not Start: Just don't even do this to yourself. Cheer your brother in his race and save yourself the pain and torture, avoid the potential humiliation of the day. Do not start. 

Do Not Finish: Go ahead and try, ya dummy. This race is going to likely kill you and in the end you could be in a situation where you're pulled from the race and you Do Not Finish.

Dead Fucking Last: Need a description of this one? I didn't think so. But I'll give you one anyway.  

The story of Death Valley has been running around in my head for nearly three months now. It's still pretty much the only running that's been happening in my life lately. 

But the slow death of my running happened long before the race. We moved out of DC at the beginning of August and I had plans in mind: to run in all the places we would travel during our cross country trip, and then to establish a new and amazing running routine in San Diego, a place exactly the opposite of Death Valley, one that allows for running at nearly any time of day, 365 days a year. There would be no extreme heat to deal with. No winter plan to make with months of running on snow or on the treadmill. It would be cool breezes and mild sunshine all the time. And I'd become faster and fitter and race my heart out. And on the way to San Diego I'd enjoy one of my favorite things to do in the world  - run in exotic locations.  

In anticipation of my new life in California, I registered for the Death Valley Trail Half Marathon in December. My brother would race the marathon (his second DV trail marathon) and I'd race the Half. I would have a solid 3+ months of training to crush this Life List race. 

As we left DC I was filled with the exciting idea of adventures and a new world to explore.   And our cross country trip was filled with amazing adventures. Except running was just not a part of it. I didn't run in Rehoboth Beach where we began the trip. I didn't run in Cape May, New Jersey. Not in Philly either. Didn't run a step in Pittsburgh. St. Louis was a blur of friends and fun and rain and I didn't even unpack my running shoes. Tulsa was a vast wasteland of weirdness and there was no running for me there. Tucumcari is not a place to run. And I mean, at that point...what was the point? And then we arrived in Tucson. I would run in Tucson.   

We would stay in Tucson for several days and I would have some awesome desert runs. I did run in Tucson. The desert was awesome. My running was not. Temps were in the 100s, the air was dry and I had been driving a car cross country for days. Most disturbing of all was that my legs swelled. Like really swelled. Nothing else on my body was swollen. Fingers were fine. Everything felt fine. But I woke up one day and my legs were like tightly stuffed sausages about to burst. Why? I googled. Don't do that. Just do yourself a favor and don't google potential illnesses ever because you'll likely be running straight to the ER. Or, if you're like me, you'll quietly close the Internet and pretend like you're fine. You're just fine. And you're going to be fine. Except I wasn't fine. All of a sudden I didn't feel fine at all. 

I ignored my legs and we had a blast in Tucson, with family and friends and swimming and exploring and then we were on our way to the final destination: San Diego. I'd figure it out there. Everything would settle down and my legs would be ok and I would run again and there was plenty of time to train for Death Valley. I had been traveling so much in the last months: Singapore to DC to Vegas to DC and then on the road for weeks. My body was probably just freaking out or something. 

Without going into the horrific details of the symptoms that followed (that my family had to suffer with me as well, which I know was awful for them, especially my daily freak outs, and from time to time, complete mental break downs), I started to suffer from other ailments. I felt awful all. of. the. time. My doctor was back in Virginia. I tried to find a new one in San Diego, which took a few tries (if this wasn't a running centered blog I would tell you all about my insane visit with the first doctor I went to see). My symptoms did not allow for much running (or exercise) at all and I still didn't know what was happening to me. I felt horrible. I became a person who had a hobby of going to the doctor. Instead of running I'd visit what seemed like doctor after doctor trying to figure out what was happening. 

And in the meantime, I tried to pretend like everything was ok. One day I was having a pedicure and I could tell that one of the other ladies in the salon was talking about me to Mindy, who was doing mine. I asked Mindy what they were talking about and she said, "Oh, she's saying that your legs are really really swollen." I sat there smiled and tried really hard to not cry. 

Finally, at the end of October, I found the two doctors who would eventually get me healthy again. I had visits with each of them one day apart, and I remember the first one telling me right away that everything was going be ok. And the second one, who told me with confidence that not only was I going to be OK, but that I was going to run in a month, I was going to race in Death Valley. I had such a sense of relief that someone (2 someones) finally told me that I was going to be ok that I started to believe it again myself. 

But my body had completely fallen apart. I had worked so so hard over the last several years to become fit and healthy and now I was a mess. Not only had I not been able to run or do much of any other exercise on a regular basis (yes, I had been running and hiking and biking a bit but not far, not fast, not much), the illness itself also had fucked my body up so badly. It had caused a ton of weight gain in a short period of time, which now posed a compounding problem. With the help of some magic medicine from these two amazing doctors I was ready to run again, but I was so out of shape that I didn't even know where to begin. And I had one month until Death Valley.

I had 4 weekends to figure out how to race Death Valley. The race itself is completely daunting. The Half Marathon course goes straight up through Titus Canyon for 6.5 miles to a turn around and then 6.5 miles straight down. Optimally a runner needs the cardio fitness to get herself up the mountain and the quad strength to get herself down. I had neither and I was carrying around a sack of potatoes' worth of extra weight. A rather large sack. During the week I'd run around the flat areas in my beach town and on weekends my husband, brother and I, sometimes accompanied by my nephews, would head out to the mountains for long runs. These were hikes for me. I could run down but hauling the potatoes up the mountains was so hard. I loved being out in the gorgeous mountains of Southern California but I wondered more and more with each passing weekend if Death Valley was going to kill me. 

Training run on Cowles Mountain in San Diego, with an amazing pay off at sunrise.  

On the negative side, I was out of shape, overweight and scared. What had become of me? I was a runner who could not run. Who hadn't been running. I have three awesome companies who support me mentally and financially who I was afraid of letting down. Medi-Dyne gives me their products to use because I'm a runner. Honey Stinger gives me an insane discount because I'm a runner, and I sport a Oiselle team singlet because I am a runner. In fact it would be the first time I was going to wear my Oiselle singlet in competition. Not only was I terrified of letting my team down, I wasn't even sure if the singlet still fit. 

On the positive side, I've wanted to see Death Valley for as long as I can remember. My brother had told me stories of racing the marathon before. It's a tiny race, with only 250 people in both the Half Marathon and Marathon combined. It runs through one of the most spectacularly wild National Parks in the US. My entire family would be there to support me no matter what happened. And I'd raced 5 Half Marathons before. I'd climbed mountains before. I was out of shape and overweight and scared but I had muscle memory and I wanted so badly to have the experience of running in Death Valley. With my brother. 

So DNS wasn't an option. I was left with DNF and DFL and I needed a new plan. My shake it out run in Death Valley through the beautiful Natural Bridge Canyon revealed what I had feared, among other things, that my cardio fitness was gone and there was no way I was going to be running uphill. At. all. 

Looking back down through Natural Bridge Canyon at the top of a shake it out run that took my breath away. Literally.  

The weather forecast leading into the race was for cool temps. Contrary to popular belief, it's not always hot in Death Valley, especially when you're running up mountains through shady canyons. In fact, in the 25 years of this race, it's been rerouted 5 times and completely cancelled once, all due to extreme winter weather conditions. 

I layered my Oiselle singlet (I was seriously relieved that it still fit me) over a long sleeved shirt and capris. I slathered 2Toms Sports Shield all over my body and tossed a couple of Honey Stinger energy gels into my race pack. My race pack is from Mountain Hardware and it's perfect. You can put a couple of gels and some water in it, and it's light weight, or load it down for a fast pack overnight. At the last second I switched from my awesome New Balance Leadville trail shoes back into Altra Superiors. I didn't have enough mileage in the Leadvilles to feel confident in them just yet. (See above: She really has not been running - really not hardly at all. Not in months).  

I just want to take a second and say, I know you know, I'm an ambassador for 2Toms (Medi-Dyne) and I run with the Honey Stinger Hive and on the amazing Oiselle VolĂ©e team, but I wouldn't mention any of them just because I felt I had to because they support me. I genuinely love their products just as I love my Mountain Hardware pack, NB Leadville and Altra Superior trail shoes. On the contrary, if I didn't use and love HS, 2Toms & Oiselle products I wouldn't be a part of their organizations. But that's a topic for another blog entry. One that will be obnoxious and mention product names a lot more. Haha!

My strategy was to hike up and run down. I knew that strategy would put me squarely DFL but I took a deep breath and glanced up toward a small opening in the mountain that was letting light into a dark trail leading up into the beautiful Titus Canyon and I told myself to try to enjoy the pain. The gun went off and I headed into the pain with a smile on my face. I was trying very hard to not cry. 

I'm pretty sure the smile on the way up was a grimace. It was tough by any standards. It was humbling. I've never walked a step of any of the Half Marathons I have run. I was exhausted. But I kept looking around at the gorgeous canyon walls that kept me on course and tried to remember this was the best I could do. Hiking up was the best my battered body would allow. And I would just keep it up the best I could until I got to the turnaround. 

In the early morning over coffee, my brother had said, "Well, my goal today is going be to beat you." I was laughing. "You're going to gloat about beating your sister who has had an illness for nearly 4 months?" He was laughing too, "Well, yeah, it's not every day that you get to lap your sister running a Half Marathon when you're running a Marathon!" He had a point. "You are a total jerk!" I shouted at him (or something more vulgar but our Mother reads this blog). "I love you and I'll see you on the course, Clythie!" And he was off toward the marathon start which was a point to point that began on the other side of the mountain. 

And I would see him on the course. But when I got to the turnaround, I hadn't seen him yet, and I was thrilled about it. I knew I was DFL and a lot of the marathoners (now at their half way point as well) were taking breaks at the aid station that were timed more like mid-pack ultra runners, so I gave myself a break too and caught my breath. This was another first. I've never stopped at an aid station during a Half Marathon before. I always carry my own water and 2 gels, so that I won't have to stop at all. Today, I practically camped out. My body needed that. 

Eventually I started down the mountain. 6.5 miles to the finish line. Gravity would take me there. For the first time all day, I was running. God it felt SO GOOD. I can run down hill. My quads and knees felt amazing and despite the rocky terrain I could fly down the mountain. I was running alongside marathoners so I wasn't ever alone. I knew all the other Half Marathoners were ahead of me but it no longer mattered. I had crawled to the top and now I just had to fly back down. I heard footsteps behind me and instantaneously knew it was my brother. "You got your wish Mike! Looking good brother!" "You look good too!" he shouted in return. "Keep it up and I'll see you at the finish!" I thought I would be horrified to see him. To have him pass me after running 22 miles when I had merely gone 9. But it didn't matter anymore. I was thrilled to see my brother. Happy to get that energy burst from seeing someone you love on the course. Happy to be alive and not dying of some strange illness. Happy to be headed down through Death Valley to the finish line.

At the last aid station the Ranger there shouted to me,  "So glad to see you! We've been rooting for you!" I had become famous for being so slow. In some ways I wanted to crawl into a hole. This is who I am now? DFL? I stopped to explain myself. In a race. I just stopped running, walked to the aid station table and talked to the Ranger for a couple of minutes. "I've been really sick. I just feel lucky to be alive and out here." The Ranger nodded and handed me some water.  "We know. We're so glad you're out here too. We've all been rooting for you. Now get going - the finish is just down there!" I had this overwhelming sense that not only was my family routing for me, but that all 249 other racers and every aid station volunteer was as well. I owed it to myself and all of them to finish. DNF was not an option. I might be DFL but I was going to run those last miles as hard as I could and keep a smile on my face. 

DFL in a Half Marathon within a Marathon is not a bad way to finish. There are a lot of (marathon) runners coming in with you so you still look kind of cool even though inside you know you're DFL. For my first DFL, it was still a pretty awesome finish. It was downhill so I was trucking, there were others crossing the finish with me, there was music and lots of cheering and cow bell. My nephews ran me in and my family stood at the finish line cheering along with everyone. 

Second Brother Sister Epic Race Weekend in the books! What's next? First I have to learn to run again.  

Later that night when we were all at the Awards Presentation at the Corkscrew Saloon, the Race Director, an animated man who made a hilarious speech before the race and then drove the course up and down and up and down shouting words of encouragement from the sweeper car, came up to me. "I just wanted to tell you that it was a pleasure to see you out there racing today. All day long I was driving that sweeper car up and down and up and down the mountain and I kept seeing you and thinking, that girl has had a smile on her face all day long. She's going to make it just fine. She's going to finish this race with that smile on her face. We're all so happy you did."

I'm happy too.   

Postscript: This story was really hard for me to write. It took months for me to even want to write it all down and when I finally began to write, my lips and tongue and jaw hurt from trying to hold back tears. Admitting shortcomings, failure, even that something is hard, is tough for me to do. Admitting I was sick is something I struggled with mentally and physically, and coming back from that is still really hard. I didn't want anyone to know I had been sick. I didn't want anyone to know that I was DFL. But there's a lesson in this story somewhere. In Death Valley I found life again, or something like that - but that feels trite, so I'll just say that  I'm really happy that I had this race, this experience, this trip, with my brother and my family and I'm really glad that I'll never have to worry about getting my first DFL again. And I'm getting well and I don't know if I'm going to run again for awhile but I have some other plans and I'm thinking these might work out a little better than the last ones I made. But if they don't, maybe I'll find happiness in whatever my next experiences are, regardless. I bet I will. 




Friday, August 5, 2016

Ode to a Running Partner

"There's a bench up here, let's just sit down for a second." It was the middle of the night, 80 something miles into the Boulder 100 and my running partner was tired. "There's no bench, Matty, let's just keep going." I said, worrying that if we sat down we'd never get up. It was my pacing duty to keep him going, to make sure he made it to the finish line, but he was determined to take a break. He sat down on the bench and managed a laugh. "You thought I was hallucinating this bench didn't you?" And so the story of the bench that appeared out of nowhere became legend. "And we're running along and I saw this bench and I say we should sit down for a second and Clythie thinks I'm hallucinating because she couldn't even see it! How did I end up with a pacer who can't even SEE?" And I would try to say that I just thought we should keep going, and the story always ends with him explaining to the audience that I was the one who was so tired I couldn't see the bench and that I was convinced he was hallucinating when he was completely fine. And we always laugh, at me. I've learned to laugh at myself a lot over the last 6 years that Matthew and I have been running together. Maybe that's what I've given to him. A lot of great laughs, mostly at my expense. I tell him he is awful and he says "You're laughing too." And I say, "Well, if the story was about someone else, I'd be laughing so I guess it *is* funny." And we laugh more. 

We met at work at a winery in Virginia and together with a group from the winery, we joined the Fauquier Running Club. During the day we would haul cases of wine, count wine, clean the winery, pick grapes, bottle wine, plan events, present tastings to customers, whatever the winery needed. And at night, we'd run. Neither of us had been runners growing up, but we were fascinated by it, and we wanted to get better and faster, and soon all we talked about was running and runners and more running. On Tuesdays we'd join for a group run, and on Thursdays, speed work or hill workouts. Before we started training on Thursdays we'd run The Fast Mile. It was an insane mile, starting out from the track downhill through a parking lot, with 2 big turns and then around a baseball field and through the woods, back to the track. We would all run our hearts out. Matthew was always in the top 3-4 finishers. And I was nearly always in the bottom 3-4 runners. And he was always there waiting at the end of The Fast Mile to cheer me in. And after track work or repeatedly climbing Hades Hill, we'd go back to the track and cool down and talk about our lives at the winery and our running and our shin splints and our aching backs and the sun would go down and we'd go home to sleep and wake up for another day of wine and running.  

Soon we signed up for our first race, a 5k in Front Royal, Virginia. Matthew finished first for his age group and I did not finish last and this became somewhat of a pattern for both of us. We've always been unlikely running partners. Not matched in age or pace or gender, but we shared a similar schedule and a love for running and a friendship like no other was born. 

Front Royal 5k. The real genius of this pic is the fact that we were both running in gigantic gym shorts.  

At another 5k, a mountain 5k, which was also our first trail race, by the time I was coming up the last hill, I was exhausted and near tears. Matthew finished racing and came back for me, as was now tradition, and started shouting. "YOU CAN CRY LATER. FINISH FIRST! RUN NOW! RUN!" And that day we both won age group medals. Full disclosure, his was first place and mine was for 3rd place in a field of 3 women in my age group. But I wouldn't have even made it to the finish line without him. That medal means more to me than 3rd out of 3. It's the one that reminds me to run through the pain, cry later, finish, run NOW. 

This picture was taken moments before they called my name to come pick up my medal. Needless to say I was surprised. 

We flew out to California and ran America's Finest City Half Marathon, the furthest we'd ever run in our lives at the time. My brother and Matthew finished and came back to run me in. Matthew would do that again for me a couple of months later at the Annapolis Half, a race which gave us both Half Marathon PRs and dual hangovers - the Annapolis runners know how to throw a great after party.

Big smiles after our first Half Marathon

And even bigger smiles after our second Half Marathon, double PRs and a few beers too.

I crewed for him at the Bull Run 50 Miler and when he started training for Boulder 100, I'd do my long runs (for Half Marathon training for Reston and Chicago) on Saturdays and then pace him with my bike on his long runs (17-30 miles) on Sundays. 

Between races, we'd run trails, always creating a great adventure out of a run. We'd start and end at the same place and run our own paces and then report back afterward. "I had a great run today, Matty!" I'd say, excited about how great I felt. "Yeah? Do that for 3 days in a row and report back to me again," he'd reply. Or he'd give me sage advice, "You, know, Clythie, if you want to run faster, you're going to have to run faster." He always pushes me, always encourages me to be better, work harder, not to let up. And I've always, I don't know? Been there for him?  Laughed with him? I can't keep up with him, even when he's tired. But we somehow help each other out. 

We've run many many miles on the Appalachian Trail, on the W&OD, the C&O Canal, through Rock Creek Park, in the mountains in West Virginia and at running camp in Colorado, and too many races together to recount. Despite the fact that we rarely run the same pace, we always run together. There's more to running together than matching pace. We're each other's running support system.

And now, in four days, I'm moving to San Diego and Matthew and I will no longer be running together. For 6 years we have run together and now we'll be 3,000 miles and 3 hours time change apart. How do you say goodbye to the best running partner on the planet? Hopefully with more laughs than tears but it won't be easy.  

I suppose it won't be that strange after we get used to it. After all we don't really run together. At least, that what I've been telling myself. And I'll have my brother and my sister in law, who are both amazing runners, and I have a group of wonderful running girlfriends in California. And I'll join a new running group. And Matthew has his friends in Woodley Ultra Society and other friends who  he runs with as well. And we'll plan running vacations and meet up for races and we'll see each other, not every day like we're used to, but we'll make it happen as often as we can, and we'll be there for each other as much as possible, like all running partners are. And we'll run at our own paces, and catch up with each other at the end and he'll likely elbow me and say, "Remember when you thought I was hallucinating that bench at the Boulder 100?" 


Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Lost and Found in Plain Sight

"I'm really exhausted today, I'll just run with you." Uh oh. My running partner was tired, which meant he wanted to run with me and it also meant that I would definitely still struggle to keep up. We usually start and stop our runs together, or meet up halfway through a run, but his typical speed is nearly double mine so we really don't actually run together at all. I've written before about how I don't like running with people very much but I thought for a second and made a suggestion. "OK, that sounds great and could you show me how that right hand trail where the trail splits into three trails, over by the weird sign, you know, like how it links up with the Western Ridge Trail? Or is that the Valley Trail?" 

It is a weird sign, right? 

He raised his eyebrows. "You know, for a person who purports to have a good sense of direction, you have a really awful sense of direction." We'd been running regularly in Rock Creek Park for 15 months now and he was right. I get turned around in the woods nearly every weekend. Before our runs he'll patiently explain where he's going to run and where I should run. "Take this trail," he'll say, "and don't worry if you get lost because they all loop around." And I get completely confused and most often meet up with him, coming from somewhere totally random, far off the trail that I had planned on running. But I always have a blast and Rock Creek Park is in the smack middle of DC, so I don't worry because I'm never far from civilization. My handy google maps app has helped me from time to time as well. 

"Yes. I will show you." And we set out. The pace was such that Matthew was barely moving and I was hustling my ass off to keep up with him. At one point he reached the top of a hill, turned around and just started laughing at me. I laughed back with the very precious little breath I had left. It's a pathetic situation trying to keep up with him but it makes for a good workout. And a lot of laughs.

"Is this the Western Ridge Trail?" I asked. "Nope. I don't know what this one is called but it loops back around so don't worry." And then he took a left turn up another freaking hill and I called out, "Is this the Western Ridge Trail?" "No, it isn't. But we're going up to the top on it and then we'll connect to the Western Ridge." And so I found myself huffing it up a steep ass trail that had no name which we had run to from another trail that had no name and I realized I would never be able to understand where the heck we were. So I just followed him up the hill as fast as I could. 

I'd stop from time to time to get my heart rate down a bit. "I'm taking a couple of pictures so I have landmarks for when I get lost in here by myself," I called up to him. He shook his head and ran up the trail.   

 Trail markings in Rock Creek Park. These are easier to spot than the more traditional flash markings on the trees.

"I'll be right there, don't feel like you have to wait!" I tried to call out to him but it was more of a whisper as I tried to breathe and move and live. 

I made it to the top of this hill, turned around to catch my breath and saw this appropriately placed skull-n-bones staring back at me. 

Soon after we reached the top of the hill we were running along a flattish path and I was starting to feel pretty good, and Matthew once again took a left. "Is this the Western-" He cut me off. "OH MAN I'VE WANTED TO FIND THIS PLACE FOR SO LONG!" He shouted.

I turned left behind him and looked ahead to a clearing filled with what looked to be large rocks. 

My brain was still trying to figure out what it all was when Matthew disappeared through a hole in the rock wall.  Do you see him there in the middle far left of this shot? 

I caught up to him and he explained where we were. "I can't believe this is where we are!" he said. "I've run by here so many times and I've never realized it was here!" I still didn't know where we were. "It's so cool right?!" Yes, it was magical. But where in the heck were we? The only thing I knew was that we weren't on the Western Ridge Trail. At least I was pretty sure about that.   

It's a magical land of slabs of stone. I'm positive gnomes live here. 

Finally he explained. The stones were brought to Rock Creek Park from the US Capitol building, and they're the remains of the eastern facade that was renovated in the fifties. The sandstone and marble pieces date back as far as 1818. Some are huge plain slabs, others are ornate corner pieces. Some have decorative accents. Some are stacked into walls and others are piled high as if they were tossed there by giants. It has the quiet feel of a cemetery and the mystique of stonehenge and there's moss everywhere and interesting numbers and markings on the slabs and you could just climb around or take a rest for hours. 

It's a secret land of stones and moss in the middle of the city.

Some stones are marked with numbers, others carved with flowery accents.

We stayed awhile, enjoying the quiet and checking out as many details as we could take in, and I managed to catch my breath and get my legs back under me. Before too long it was time to set off again. We continued on, beyond the horse stables, we crossed a road by the Nature Center and then we took another left and Matthew said to me, "Clythie, this is the Western Ridge Trail." 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Get to Know 2Toms Give Away!

It's the Get to Know 2Toms Give Away and it's super easy to win!

You probably already know I'm a huge 2Toms fan, and if you aren't already, you'll soon be a fan as well. Your chafing woes are about to disappear my friends. 

All you have to do is follow directions, and cross your fingers! I have TONS of prizes for a bunch of you lucky people! And a ton of exclamation points because I'm so excited about this give-away!


And I also have:

SportShield Roll On
SportShield Towelettes
SportShield 4 Her
SportShield 4 Her Towelettes
Blister Shield Powder
Blister Shield Powder Packets
Butt Shield Roll On
Butt Shield Towelettes
Captain SportShield T Shirts 
Stink Free Sports Detergent
Stink Free Sports Detergent Travel Size Samples
Stink Free Shoe & Gear Spray

There will be

2 Grand Prize Winners who'll each win:

The Captain SportShield Power Pack (filled with an insane amount of prizes)

10 Awesome Prize Winners who'll each win:

The Captain SportShield Mini Pack (filled with a few amazing prizes)

Here's all you have to do to enter below:

1. Follow 2Toms and me on twitter.

2. Retweet my contest announcement by copying this tweet (or RT me directly from twitter):

Get to Know @2Toms Give Away! Win Prizes! #ShieldYourself #CaptainSportShield

3. Comment on my blog. I suggest commenting on my SportShield for HER! Review. You can make any comment you'd like, but I hope it includes how excited you are to try 2Toms products!

Enter by clicking on this thing: 

a Rafflecopter giveaway    

You'll get 1 or more entries, depending on how much you love me. I mean you'll get 1 or more entries depending on how many times you enter based upon the criteria above. 

It's really that simple. Follow and retweet and comment and you're in! The contest will run for a week and I'll announce the winners on twitter and notify them via email. 

Good luck and as always, thank you so much for reading my blog! It means the world to me!

Now that you've read this far, as an extra thank you, I have 4 Captain SportShield t-shirts like the one I'm wearing below, in size Men's XL. Comment here in my blog and tell me you'd like one. The first four people who comment that they'd like a shirt will be instant winners!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Let's Get Real: An Analysis of Virtual Racing & The Leap Year Dare

I never understood why people would run virtual races when there are real races to run. But I also never understood why people would watch 50 Shades of Grey when there are real pornos to watch. It was time to figure it out. 

Virtual races are similar to real races in that you sign up, pay a registration fee and receive some sort of race pack (likely with a bib, t-shirt and medal or some combo of those items) but when it comes time to toe the line at the start...well...there isn't one. You just race yourself when it's convenient. It might be on a certain day or within a certain time frame but you can race your race from wherever you want and pretty much whenever you want to get it done. 

It seemed like...well, like not the real thing. It seemed like "a run." Or racing light. Fake racing? But to be fair, I hadn't ever tried one before. The only way to try to understand the appeal would be to experience one for myself. I focused on the part about not having to wake up early. I'm all about sleeping in so that part sounded pretty good to me. 

I signed up for something called the Leap Year Dare. Instead of one race, it would be 5 races throughout February (2016 being a Leap Year), starting with 2k, then 4k, 6k, 8k and culminating in a 10k race on the 29th. For $27 I would get a bib and a medal and I would run 5 "races." For an additional $20, I could order a t-shirt. Sounded reasonable enough for my experiment.  

The first thing I did when I received my race pack was put the medal away in a safe place without looking at it. I'm not about to even touch a medal that I have yet to earn. That's bad racing juju.  The medal would stay stashed until I completed all 5 "races." 

Next, I asked a bunch of my friends if they'd like to join me. There was a lot of confusion. "Where is the race?" "Um. It's virtual. You run a certain distance each week, leading up to a 10k on Leap Year Day." "Ok, but where do we race?" "Anywhere - that's the thing, it's a virtual race." "This sounds weird." "How do we get an official time?" "Uhhh I think you just time yourself?"

I inquired with the Leap Year Dare Race Director, asking if we were to time ourselves and then report it somewhere, like, on line? Or were we to email our times to the RD? I received a really nice reply. "You can post them in the Facebook group if you want, but really it's just for fun. We don't record the times." 

This is the first time I heard someone say a race would be fun. Haha! There are a lot of things I love about racing, but racing is not fun. Racing is stressful and rewarding and challenging and tough and insanely exhausting. It would be for fun? And there would be no winner? This virtual racing thing was getting more confusing by the moment. But since I had already received the medal before even running a step of the race, I had to see it through.   

I glanced at the Leap Year Dare Facebook page the last week of January and discovered that we were actually supposed to complete the first "race" that week! There were 5 to complete so the first one actually began the last week of January. I rallied the troops. "Reminder that we have our virtual 2k for the Leap Year Dare this week guys!" My friend Isabelle was the first to reply, "If I run 10 miles does that count?" We were all still confused. We were to "race" 2k, or 1.24 miles. "Should we do this on the track?" "Can you "race" on a treadmill?" I didn't really know but we decided you could do whatever you wanted, whenever. That was the beauty of virtual racing, right? 

So racing was now going to be fun and there was no pressure and it was to be convenient? I mean, it sounded kinda good. But what happened in reality was that without any motivation I completely forgot about it, and the week was nearly over when I was like, shit! The 2k "race"! I have to do that! And by then honestly, I didn't really care. I can knock out 2ks in my sleep. I had already done several runs much longer that week, and now, in the basement of my apartment building I cranked up the treadmill and "raced" my official 2k. During the "race" I slowed down to take a phone call. Then I stopped to retie my shoe. I really wasn't in a hurry because there was no one around to race against. And when it was done, it was just...done. I snapped a pic of myself with my bib, cracking up.  I sent my friends a note. 2k race in the books, bring on the next one!" It felt silly and weird.   

Are you supposed to wear the bib? Awkward. But go me!

The next week was 4k, or 2.4 miles. I decided that if I was going to make something of this experiment, I had better revamp my plan of action. Instead of going into the 4k with no pressure, for fun, I would PR the 4k and even though I wasn't racing other humans, I would run the hardest I could for 2.4 miles. That worked a little better. I ran hard for 4ks and then rounded out the run with a couple more miles at a more comfortable pace. Then I hopped on my bike and went on a 12 mile night run around the monuments at The National Mall. "Race" two was complete. 

4k "raced" on a mild February DC day

For the 6k, I was up in Canaan Valley, WV, so I decided to XC ski that week's race. I mean, cross country skiing is as tough a workout as running and this race appeared to have no rules, so why not? I skinned up to the top of Mount Baldy as fast as I could and skied back down for 3.7 miles of virtual racing. 

I skinned up the mountain from all the way down in the Valley. In true virtual race form, I had the course to myself. 

I even took a little break at a warming hut on the way down - it's not like I was trying to beat anyone, right? 6k "race", complete. 

Why not take a little break? I seem to be the only one here "racing" anyway. 

By this time, the enthusiasm amongst my runner friends had dissipated both virtually and in reality. "Are you still doing that pretend racing thing?" "I ran a 10k race over the weekend - do I count that as the 10k even though I didn't count a 4k or 6k? Cause I forgot about those." Some had just stopped logging the distances. "Who cares if I ran 6k? Honestly I have no motivation to "race" when there isn't an actual race!"  

That was my problem too. This whole "convenience" thing really was not a motivator for me. I was conveniently forgetting about the "races" since I didn't have to do them at any specific time. Sure, I was running, but was I "racing"? I still wasn't sure what it all even meant. And I wondered how many people bought the virtual race packs and never actually got around to actually running the "races"? But I had two more weeks of "racing" to complete. The medal was waiting for me. 

I was in California for the 8k and 10k "races." 

The 8k was one of my favorite runs ever in my life, and completely unexpected. My boss and I ran the Greenwich Steps in San Francisco and had a total blast. Was it a race? Most definitely not. Did it really have anything to do with the Leap Year Dare? No. But it happened to be the correct distance and since no one else seemed to care, I counted it. 8k, done. There was one more "race" to go!

Leap Year Day fell on the first day of my conference. We had meetings scheduled from 7AM until 10PM. It was one of those non-stop days when you barely remember to catch your breath. I fell into bed exhausted after finally making it back to the hotel after our business dinner and then remembered today had been the day to "race" my 10k for The Leap Year Dare. I thought about going to the gym and jumping on the treadmill. Then I looked at my mileage tracker for the day and there it was staring back at me: 6.7 miles! I had walked, very quickly in fact, I would even say *racing* from meeting to meeting (in heels by the way) just a bit more than a 10k that day. Leap Year Dare was done! I had crossed the virtual finish line! I fell back into the soft pillows, settling my tired body into the bed, and wondered if I would ever recall where I had hidden my medal.   

The race was over and now I could try on my Leap Year Dare tee!

This is the back of the super cool Leap Year Dare shirt. I still haven't found the medal. 

My experiment was over. I had completed the Leap Year Dare. I earned my medal. But I still didn't understand the allure of virtual racing. So I decided to ask some experts. I put this question out to the Run the Year 2016 Facebook group - Why do you participate in virtual races versus real races? And I received more than 100 insightful comments. Some people didn't understand my question and they told me their reasons were "to support the charity" or "for the bling" or "so I can give my 'I Run 4 Buddy' the medal." I gently responded, "Right, but you can support charities and get medals at real races. What I'm trying to understand is why do you do virtual races instead of real ones?" This has always been the part that I didn't get and even after completing the Leap Year Dare, I still didn't understand. 

What happened next opened my eyes. And if you agree with the few who commented that they, like me, feel that virtual races are kind of a waste of money, or that they seem to be just the act of buying a medal to reward yourself for a run, take a look at 

The Top 12 Reasons Why People Run Virtual Races: 

I paraphrased the comments and analyzed them, and learned a lot!

1. I hate crowds. {Ok, yes, I agree. People are gross. Especially early in the morning. Very good point.}

2. I live in the middle of nowhere {Valid. Getting to races is tough even when you actually have races to be able to get to. If you live in a remote location, real racing might not even be a choice.}

3. My best friend lives across the country and we pick the same day and time. We FaceTime at the start and finish - We virtually race together! {I love this. This so cute and sweet and awesome! I want to do this with one of you or a bunch of you. It sounds really fun. Who will do a Facetime Virtual Race with me? I'll provide prizes from 2Toms!}

4. This particular virtual race has a unicorn medal {Yes, we know that unicorns are a high motivator, of course. Interestingly, more than one person said they race virtually for unicorn medals.} 

5. I use the virtual race medals and themes to organize real races for my kids. {Once you throw kids into the mix I'm not going to debate you. I can barely take care of myself. The idea that you would do this for your kids melts my heart. Love it.}

6. I am a soccer mom and we spend all weekend at soccer during the time real races are run. {Same as above. I would die as a soccer mom. Proud of you for even finding time for any virtual races at all after all that soccer.}

7. I hate port-o-potties. {YAAAS. This person wins.}

8. I live in Alaska. {Anyone who lives in Alaska is a badass to me and therefore I defer to your judgement on what is and is not awesome.}

9. I live on a remote island and cannot leave. {What?}

10. I'm doing 45 races this year for my 45th birthday and didn't want to take up that many weekends. {For real? You should be lying by the pool every weekend with that many races planned for during the week. Wow!}

11. When I was Active Duty I couldn't go to races so I ran virtual races. And I filled my candy jar with my medals. {Anyone who defends our freedom can race however she wants, and thank you for your service so very much.} {Side note: I bet I would be at my goal weight if I replaced candy with medals. Nothing tastes as good as a win, but actual medals taste awful.} 

12. I get annoyed by people who pass me in real races. {Cannot. stop. laughing.}

See? There are a lot of reasons to participate in virtual races after all! 


We race with The Power of the Unicorn!

I'm not only glad I tried one virtual race (or five if you really think about it) but I'm especially glad I took the time to ask why others are drawn to this form of racing (and thankful for everyone who took the time to respond so graciously). 

I learned a lot. I learned that while virtual races are not my preferred kind of racing, that for some people, virtual races can be quite satisfying. I was glad to try it, to branch out, to experiment, to learn. And now if you'll excuse me, I guess I should probably try watching 50 Shades of Grey.  

Thursday, May 12, 2016

2001: A Marathon Odyssey - September 11th & My First Marathon

My September 11th story is unremarkable in comparison to so many, but it is mine and the horror of it will likely never completely leave me, despite my efforts over the years to forget. Not much really happened to me that's worthy of reporting, but the feeling of that day will never go away. It's right there as soon as I start to think about it, and sometimes when I don't even try. 

It was 8:30 in the morning and I was chatting with my girlfriend Carolyn on the phone from my apartment in Arlington, Virginia, as we watched the Today Show. Katie Couric was interviewing Harry Belafonte (we liked Katie's shoes, but we felt her hair style choice was poor) and I finished getting ready for work during the commercial break and then half listened as Matt Lauer interviewed someone about Howard Hughes. I called Carolyn back as Matt broke away from the interview to report the first plane.  It seemed strange, but far away. "I'm so late for work," I said to Carolyn, "This is really weird. Let me know what they say - I'm headed out the door." I turned off the TV and made the short commute down Columbia Pike to my office while the second plane hit. This is getting really weird, I thought, but I needed to get to work, and New York seemed really far away. I took the elevator up to the PH, the penthouse, named so in my office not just because we were located on the top floor, but because it was the 13th floor and PH made for a nicer floor name than the somewhat ominous 13th. Up in the PH, my co-workers were discussing New York, the Trade Center, the planes and how strange it all seemed. Moments later I quickly headed back down to the garage because I realized I had left my laptop at home. I sped back up Columbia Pike still not fully aware that our world had changed. I grabbed my laptop, and as I rushed back down Columbia Pike again, the 3rd plane flew into the Pentagon. 

In hindsight one would think my natural inclination would have been to get away from my tall office building, located so close to the Pentagon, but I was compelled to get to my coworkers. I headed back up to the 13th floor and into complete chaos. People were screaming, crying, hugging, holding hands, as they watched the Pentagon burn from our windows. Someone came running through the office shouting, "EVACUATE THE BUILDING! GO HOME! GET OUT OF HERE!" My co-worker John grabbed my hand and pulled me into the stairwell. "WE'VE GOT TO GET OUT OF HERE!" As we made it down to the garage, in full panic mode, I realized I had left my purse on the 13th floor. John looked at me, at the stairs, at the elevator and said, "Let go of my hand for one sec. Wait right here. I'll be back." He got into the elevator and went up for my purse. And I wondered if I would ever see him again.  But he was back in a few moments, my purse in hand. We hugged and ran to our cars. I drove back up Columbia Pike again, now listening to Jack Diamond on Q107 reporting complete insanity: there were still planes in the air, there were planes headed into many buildings, no one knew what was going on.

In the moments between the Pentagon crash and my 5 minute commute back home again, the Red Cross had set up a triage unit at the Salvation Army on Glebe Road, next to my apartment building. All roads were blocked and only emergency personnel and residents of the street were being let in. I talked to a police officer and he asked me for my license. "I can't let you in unless you live here," he said. My license had an older address on it. I asked again. I just wanted to go home so I could find Jeff and my mom and all of my friends.  He let me by. An hour later I left again to pick up Jeff at the metro and we once again begged our way back into the blocked off triage area so we could get home. We were running from the parking lot to the apartment when we heard and felt the sonic boom. In my panic I fell to the ground. I was completely and totally out of control. I realized the feeling of being terrorized.

In the days following, the skies were silent but there were near constant sirens on the roads, or so it seemed. Maybe I was just hyper aware of every noise. Paranoid. Terrified. Stressed. Every little normal life act seemed scary. What was going to happen next? So, when my mother casually reminded me that she would be flying to Dublin in a month for the Dublin Marathon, I freaked out. Dublin was really far away. "What if your plane gets blown up? I'm going with you." 

I was making absolutely no sense, but the world no longer made sense and everything felt out of control and I wasn't sure what to do about any of it. So I told my mother that I would fly to Dublin with her and we'd do the marathon together. What? In 2001 a good bit of exercise for me was walking  a couple of blocks to the bar. I was not yet a runner, I was in terrible shape. I was overweight. I smoked tons of cigarettes and I spent many late nights per week with a whiskey and a beer in hand at my favorite dive bars. 

My mother, on the other hand, had been training with the Leukemia Society's Team in Training for months, to race-walk her first marathon (her first half marathon was the year before, Mayor's Midnight Sun in Anchorage). But I was thinking, how hard could it be to walk 26.2 miles? And my mom was 30 years older, I could certainly keep up with her right? And I'd never been to Dublin. I would protect her and we would race together.   

I went along with her to a couple of TNT training practices before the race and learned a few things. Race walking is NO JOKE. A lot of race walkers haul ass. I went on to continue respecting them when I first became a runner and would routinely be passed by race walkers. Both younger and older race walkers. They wiggle walk their hearts out! I also learned what it felt like to be sore. Ouch. I could barely move after those training walks. Barfly to marathoner in 3 weeks is not recommended. But I was committed. And my mom agreed to slow down a bit for me. Mostly I was so proud to have some insight into this training world that my mother had been so involved with that I had been paying very little attention to prior to September 11th. She was amazing. She made it to every training practice, during the week and on weekends, and she also did a ton of fundraising for the Leukemia Society. I was beginning to learn that being an athlete is fun and despite the soreness, it's a lot more rewarding than a hangover. And in the next few weeks I had something positive to focus on instead of the terror. Before we knew it, it was time to get on a plane and race a marathon. 

Once we landed in Dublin, there was such a warm welcome by everyone we came into contact with and we felt so at home in this great little city. And we raced!  We wiggle walked our hearts out! We had such an amazing time together. Like my personal September 11th story, nothing much worthy of reporting actually happened to me that day. We raced all over Dublin with a ton of people from around the world. Unlike my September 11th, where I can remember every single mundane detail of that day, the marathon day is a bit of a blur.  But like September 11th, the feeling of that day will never go away. Only this time, the overwhelming feeling and memory is of joy and achievement and being with family and being surrounded by people cheering and smiling and laughing. That is what I will always remember. And when we'd crossed the finish line, my mother and I ended the day in a little pub, drinking our very first ever Guinness to celebrate, while we planned our next marathon. 

 The medal seems old school now, like someone printed them in local trophy shop but it remains one of my favorites.

There are a thousand reasons to love this photo. Please note where we're wearing our bibs. What? Did  we not notice we were the only ones wearing our bibs on our collar bones? We clearly had no idea what we were doing but we were so happy doing it. And I need to give a special shout out to my Le Sportsac fanny pack! That thing was retro even in 2001 (but I think they might be back in style now, cause I've seen the Petworth Hipsters slinging those things around on their hips on Georgia Avenue). I also love our cute little matching cotton bandanas. And the fact that we crossed the finish line together holding hands.  

The smile on my mother's face in this one says it all. Proud. Happy. The smile on my face says I'm ready for a beer! 

This poster was rolled up in the marathon swag bag. My mom had it mounted on wood into a 3D poster for me. I treasure it like I do the memories of that day. I look at it and think, you can do anything. You can get through anything. Grab someone's hand and make it happen.