Monday, November 24, 2014

Old Dog New Tricks

A running partner I can keep up with, I laughed to myself as I ran along with him in the quiet darkness. The irony did not escape me. My current partner, steadily holding pace, was Max the Lion Hunter. I dreamt of this. I wrote of this dream. And now it was a gorgeous reality. 

He doubled as a security guard, though there is nearly zero crime in my town, but having a strong guy beside me certainly made the darkness feel safer. 

Once much faster than me, Max now had been limited by a halti, and an autoimmune illness, both of which take just enough out of his speed to create the perfect running partner for me. It might be the first bright spot we've found during his illness, which has caused weight loss, pain and rashes, and obviously slowed him down quite a bit.

I've slowed down a bit too though. Since the Stump Jump 11 Miler in October, runs have been sporadic, and though I've been lifting and doing other cardio, it only takes a couple of weeks of inconsistent running to take a toll on my form and speed. Settling into a winter running routine has been more in my mind than a reality. I needed a warm breezy night and someone to run alongside me to get going this evening. 

Tonight I forgot that I had not been running nearly enough, forgot that winter is here, forgot about Max's lupus and just settled in for a run. We dodged tourists in town, waved to shop keepers closing up for the night, glanced longingly at bar patrons enjoying a beer on the patio on this unseasonably warm November evening, and kept running. 

At no point did Max pull, he instead was a dutiful pacer quietly keeping me company while we wound along our route on the brick sidewalks of our town. There may be lions to hunt in the future, but for this evening, we'll just run. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

We Came, We Saw, We Swam, We Biked, We Ran, We Kicked Its Ass: Tri4Love Triathlon

I was about to be body marked for my first triathlon. Which would have been fine if I hadn’t just realized I couldn’t find my bike helmet. I quickly let the official mark my arm and calf with my race number, 252, and then started running back toward my car. Which would have been fine if I wasn’t stumbling through the cold pitch darkness in knee high fur boots. A quarter mile later, I arrived at the car – no helmet. WHERE was my helmet? I now had 30 minutes until the Transition Area was going to close, and 45 minutes to the start of the race. I hauled back toward Transition, still negotiating the darkness and breathlessly begged the DJ/Announcer to ask if anyone had found a silver bike helmet, marked 252.

And so began my Adventure in Triathlon. There’s a lot of gear involved in Triathlon. First you swim, so you start out in a tri-suit or swimsuit, some type of foot wear to get you to the start (fur boots in my case, perfect for a cold autumn 4AM wake up), a headlamp so you can see and a sweatshirt or something to keep you warm. A swim cap and goggles round out your gear for the first discipline. 

Next comes the cycling. First: you need a bike. Then, the previously mentioned missing helmet, sunglasses, bike shoes, socks if necessary, and a belt that holds your bib number (252, remember?). If you’re not wearing a tri-suit, you’re likely going to supplement your swimsuit with bike shorts and a t-shirt and if it's cold, a jacket to wear while cycling. Then you run. Helmet is replaced with a cap or headband, bike shoes changed for running shoes.

In addition to all of this stuff, you likely have a towel to dry off with, a bottle of some kind of liquid nutrition and a bottle of water, maybe a gel or two depending on the length of time you’ll be racing and for me, definitely a chap stick. You can imagine that trying to get all of this gear to the Transition Area is slightly complicated in the early morning darkness. But losing the helmet? Really? Unless you were to lose the bike, it couldn’t get much worse.  I was in a panic. 

Dawn was arriving, my adrenaline was pumping, and my muscles were all warmed up from my unexpected search. The DJ made my plea and someone shouted out that there was a helmet lying on the ground “right over there” and I sheepishly picked it up and made my way back to the Transition Area with 25 minutes to spare.

I knew how to set up my spot in the TA from having obsessively read Your First Triathlon by Joe Friel, and having watched approximately 7,000 you tube videos. The transitions of triathlon are nuanced moments in time. You want to be as organized as possible so you can change gear as quickly as possible and get right out to the next discipline. In fact, Transition is known as the 4th discipline of Triathlon. That's why the Towel & Bucket System seems to be universally used by first timers right up to the pros. It involves laying a towel on the ground and placing your stuff on it in an organized fashion. Then as you finish with each piece of gear, you throw it into a bucket. OK, it’s not really the most technical system but everyone uses it. The TA looks like a sea of bikes with tiny festival blankets laid out beside each, topped with supplies for the day.

I nervously rearranged my chap stick to a new place on the towel for the 6th time and began to chat with the guy and girl next to me. “I’m going for the heaviest bike award today," I stated, horrified at my amazing but reeeeeally heavy mountain bike complete with knobby tires. They laughed and asked me a few questions. I admitted I had no idea what I was doing and that my friend who I was supposed to be racing with had become injured so I was all alone and really nervous but that I was going to try really hard, and in a moment the girl said, “Are you in the on-line running group, My Running Girlfriends?” “YES! ARE YOU!?” I shouted. Was this a virtual friend from my women’s running group on Facebook? “I’m Kim,” she said, “You’re Clythie. I thought that was you!” I was instantly relieved. 

 I had my Love hoodie on for the occasion: Tri4Love, with Kim

I started My Running Girlfriends a few years ago as a virtual running group for women and it’s grown to include friends of friends of friends so there are lots of “girlfriends” in the group who I don’t actually know even though I know all about their running habits and what music they like to listen to when they run and how their races go. Kim had responded to a post I set up when I first signed up for the triathlon. She had done the same one last year as her first tri as well, and she had given great words of wisdom and now, here were both were, having randomly racked our bikes next to each other in the dark on race morning. “This is PJ,” she said, referring to the guy next to her, “And this was his first tri some years ago as well. It’s a really great race and you’re going to be just fine.” PJ chimed in with genuine words of encouragement and all of a sudden the Debacle of the Missing Helmet seemed to fade into the background and I had a feeling that everything was going to be alright.  

My Running Girlfriends played a big part in getting me to the starting line of the triathlon. When my partner in crime, Lauren, became injured, all of a sudden I was doing a race that I was quite intimidated by, alone. Three disciplines in one fell swoop. Three sports that I am alright at but by no means a star. Plus the fourth: Transition. The girls in my running group gave me incredible encouragement and advice. My friend Emily gave me a tri-suit. Annie and Kim had both previously raced the tri I was about to attempt, so they told me all about it, solving the mystery of triathlon logistics. Anne had done other tris and gave lots of advice. Lauretta had finished her first only a few weeks ago and sent me a race report with every question I could have ever thought to ask, answered in perfect detail. I am always thankful to this group of women from around the world, who are always there for each other, even if it’s typically just virtually.

We lined up in the warm pool area in number order. I was 52nd according to my predicted ¼ mile swim time. A respectable mid-pack swimmer.  The RD said to line up and ask the people in front and behind you if they were faster/slower and rearrange yourself accordingly. There was no pretension. Everyone humbly stated swim times, most in my section (8:00 min) that they weren’t sure if they were going to be faster or slower today, and that we should all feel free to tap and pass. I nervously watched the first couple dozen swimmers jump into the pool and swim, 15 seconds apart. Before I knew it, I was jumping in and off for my first snake swim ever, and first competitive swim since my senior year of high school. 

 Pretending like I know what I'm doing in my fancy blue tri-suit, with Kim

A snake swim is basically a long line of swimmers snaking up and down each lane, ducking under the lane line at the end of each lap till you reach the end of the pool and complete a ¼ mile swim.  Unlike an open water swim where everyone is competing at the same time for water space, therefore kicking the crap out of each others heads, arms and legs, you have a half length (+/-) in between each swimmer so unless someone is in the wrong placement order, it’s quite calm. If you consider crushing a quarter mile swim to be a calm affair, that is.

My strategy for the entire race was to take my time and just finish. I know that’s not really the most competitive spirit, but according to Joe Friel, it’s what you’re supposed to do for your first tri, and I'm pretty good at following instructions. So, once I finished the first lap, I slowed down a bit, and relaxed, taking my time cruising along, saving energy for the bike and run. In a flash, I was climbing out of the pool waving to my mom, my husband Jeff, and my best friend and running partner, Matthew. I was on my way to T1, the transition from swim to bike. 

 Making my way out of the pool toward T1

So, T1 was located a bit of a hike on pavement and grass from the pool. I wasn’t sure about running barefoot on pavement, so I tried to walk as fast as possible and then ran once I made it to the grass. Running on pavement and grass was absolutely not part of my training and in fact, I never ever go barefoot. Add that to the list for next time. Practice being barefoot and running on pavement. Wha?? Noted.

I took my time in T1. I was in T1 for 4 minutes. I know! 4 minutes does not seem like a long time to put on sunglasses, take them off because they're fogged up, put them back on, take them off again, hook them into your tri-suit, put helmet on, dry off your feet, shove socks on, shove shoes on, attach your bib belt, chug water and Gatorade, apply chap stick, un rack bike and get out of the transition area, but apparently people do it in one minute.  Whatever. 

All of a sudden, 4 minutes later, I was out on the bike. My bike strategy was to let the bike do as much work as it could for me, push as much as I could and to keep in mind that I had one of the heaviest bikes in the race. The bike was nearly perfect. I finished without a hitch until mile 12ish (of 15) when I could feel my feet going numb. I wondered what I would do when it came time to run. Well, I thought, I’ll walk the bike into T2, and hopefully by then I’ll be able to feel them.  A nice guy passed me on a proper road bike and shouted, “WE’RE ALMOST THERE!” I said, “GREAT!” and he said, “YEAH!! NEXT COMES THE REALLY SHITTY PART!”

The run. I had been looking forward to the run. Of the 4 disciplines, it’s really the only one I feel comfortable doing. I figured I could make up time on the run. Maybe I could pass some people who happened to have fast bikes but weren't really runners.  I shouted back to the guy who was now fading off in front of me, “YEAH, I’M NOT SURE WHAT I’M GOING TO DO BECAUSE I CAN’T FEEL MY FEET.” And I rode in the last 3 miles to T2.

I saw Jeff as I hopped off the bike and then my friend Tora, who to my delight, surprised me by showing up, and when I said to them, “Um, I can’t feel my feet!” Tora said, “Well, you’ll feel them soon enough because it’s time to run!” Good point, I thought. 

 Headed toward T2 with numb feet

I halved my time in T2. I was in and out in just about 2 minutes. I hopped toward the trail. Running would have to wait a bit, because I was concerned that I would break my toes, or completely fall over. Nice, a runner signs up for a triathlon and when it comes to the run, she walks out of the transition area.

About halfway through the run, I began to run. That’s an improvement, I thought. The rest was uneventful in a good way. The trail was easy, and the crowd was roaring as I came into the finish. I passed under the arch, stepped onto the timing mat and immediately saw my friends and family cheering for me. I had finished my first triathlon. I was a snake swimmer on a heavy mountain bike with numb toes and very slow transition times. Fabulous! 


 A triathlete!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Crash Course in Pacing

My head hit the pavement so hard I thought I had knocked all my teeth out. I popped up off the ground, adrenaline rushing through my veins, and kept shouting, “Are my teeth ok? Are my teeth ok?” Matthew came running back to see if I was alright, and the look on his face told me that he was surprised I was conscious.

We were 26 miles into a 30 mile run that I was bike pacing, and I had taken a fall off the bike, landing full force on the right side of my head.  So much for rolling into a fall. My hands never left the handlebars.  I guess that saved my wrist from breaking, and the helmet saved my brain quite well too. But the impact was astounding.

After Matthew assured me that my teeth were all still in place, my thoughts turned to the matter at hand. I may have royally screwed up the last four miles of this run, I thought. Pacers are supposed to help the runner, not vice versa, and it was looking like I was the man down.

Ultra runner and coach, Tim Long writes a great blog about running, and in his entry about pacing he calls it “one of the most selfless acts a human can perform.” That certainly wasn’t going to be the case if the guy I was pacing had to carry my bike and me for the last four miles of his long run.

Let me back up. Pacers usually run with an ultra racer, typically for the last half or quarter of a 100 mile run. The pacer is there to help, not hinder, the racer. 

Bike pacing a runner works the same way pacing a runner on foot works.   The pacer leads, goes alongside or follows the runner (runner's choice), offering a predetermined amount of moral support, and company. There are rules about what a pacer can and cannot do, such as mule water or food for the racer, and there are rules about how soon a racer can pick up a pacer, but on this particular day, since it was a training run, we set out together from mile one. It was to be a total of 30 miles, and since I can’t keep up running with Matthew until he is about 70 miles in, I was riding my bike.

All had been going well: there had been no complaints from Matthew, the pace was strong, his body was feeling good and we were cruising to the end. And then I crashed.

As soon as I mentally counted my teeth, I formulated a plan. I would go with the pacers motto of always telling the racer how great he seems/looks, and apply it to myself for the last four miles. That combined with the old adage “if you fall off the bike, get right back on and start peddling again,” helped me to squeak “I’m totally fine, I can ride, no big deal, it’s ok, let’s go!” 

I hurt. My hip hurt, my shoulder hurt, my head now knew the phrase “got my bell rung,” but there was no way I was going to let Matthew know this. For a rather lazy girl, I can be pretty hard core when it comes to pacing.

Not in the dark though. No. Have you ever tried to ride your bike up and down rolling gravel hills on a moonless night without a head lamp? One night, Matthew and I were out on another bike/run, and it became dark before we were able to make it back. And we were in the woods. With a lack of moonlight, and any ambient light being blocked by tree cover, I was flying blind. He was alright. His feet could help him feel each step. I was terrified that I would topple over the handlebars at any moment. Finally, as he disappeared into the darkness ahead of me, I began to walk the bike.  Lesson learned: throw a headlamp into your bag or around your neck if you think you’ll be out anywhere near dusk.     

But the day of The Crash, I was determined. It was the last training run before the Boulder 100 and it needed to have a strong finish. This is why I’m a runner, I thought. You don’t bash your head while running.

Until you do. Another day, I was riding alongside Matthew during a long run with 2 miles to go, when suddenly he hit the dirt with a slam! I jumped off the bike, and looked at him – now lying in the dirt catching his breath. Holy hell! Are you ok, I asked. He said fine, I caught a toe, and he continued to rest there for a few minutes. Turns out, runners can get smashed up too – and they don’t even have helmets on for protection.

The day of The Crash ended well. We finished the 30 miles and ended at a great restaurant where Jeff was waiting for us with food and beverages that we were all happy to enjoy. We might have been a little sore, but there were no complaints because we were looking good, totally fine, and we did it. But it was time to buy a new helmet. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Boulder 100

Matthew and I arrived at the Boulder Reservoir for a recon run, the day before the Boulder 100. The race would consist of 14+ 7.14 mile loops around the Reservoir with two well stocked aid stations and no elevation gain to speak of. Flat and fast with no worry of getting lost in the mountains in the middle of the night. It sounded like a pretty great course for a first 100 attempt.

The recon run proved out a few things. The course was flat. The Reservoir was gorgeous. The elevation was 5,200 feet. That's a fine enough elevation for say, someone from Denver, which sits at 5,000 feet, but East Coast runners can feel it. We looked at each other and said nothing, because we were both breathing harder than usual. And I hadn't even gone on the recon run.

In the days leading up to the race we spent time with Matthew's coach, Tim. I think the general consensus was "Hey - you're going to run this thing regardless of worrying about it or not, so you might as well have fun. And run." Tim has the ability to be the most intense yet laid back guy, so when you talk with him, especially about running, you tend to believe you can accomplish feats of strength, or at least you know that you're going to keep going till you no longer can, *and* you'll likely have a laugh about any nerves leading in.

And hell, I wasn't going to be running - all I had to do was stay awake for 24 hours while handing Matthew food and drink.

Have you ever tried to stay awake for 24 hours and help/support someone at the same time? It's not as easy as you would think, especially without the benefit of speed or cocaine. Jeff and I set up our base camp while Matthew began to race. We clicked off loops as friends arrived to visit us: my dear friend Dayna and her girls, Hannah and Maddy, Jeff's old roommate Matt - it became a bit of a party and we cheered for Matthew every 7.14 miles and wished him well as he headed out for yet another loop.

Things were going fine for the first 50 miles. Matthew wasn't feeling good but he kept it to himself and we told him he looked great every chance we could. He had to check in every loop at the main Aid Station and at the secondary Aid Station on the backside of each loop. I was jotting down splits as well, though I wasn't being as diligent as Bull Run 50, because he had to officially check in at the Aids anyway and they were keeping count.

Darkness fell and the party quieted down, friends went back to their lives and we settled in for the evening. Tim had left and returned, in time to begin pacing at mile 50, after the 7th loop.  Tim and Matthew ran off into the darkness and before we knew it, they were right back to begin another. After another 7+ miles, Tim let Matthew go on his own for the next one, and while Matthew was gone, Tim said, "Clythie, I think you should pace him for a loop."

This was quite unexpected. Matthew is my running partner, but we run our own paces and rarely run together. I was planning on crewing but had never paced before. But like I said, Tim has a way of making you feel like you can accomplish things so, I said yes, and changed into my running clothes and joined in after Matthew had run more than 70 miles.

We headed out onto the course, jogging along and talking a bit, mostly about the light that was coming off of my head lamp, which was bothering Matthew. His eyes had grown used to the darkness so the headlamp bulb was a hindrance. I turned it off and ran along in the dark. I could not see anything. What kind of pacer was I going to be if I was dependent upon my runner to lead me? But quickly my eyes adjusted and we hit the backside Aid, turned around and headed to base camp.

We grabbed a grilled cheese sandwich, chicken noodle soup and coffee, checked in and headed back out, this time walking. We walked and ran and made it around again. We talked and hiked and jogged a bit and Matthew hallucinated and I tried to pretend that it was alright that he was seeing things that were not there, and we kept going. Tim took over for 2 more loops and then switched with me again.

The middle of the night does strange things to the body and mind. Add massive physical exertion, sleep deprivation and cold, and humans just start to break down. Matthew was getting tired. Tim, Jeff and I were getting tired. Things were starting to blur a bit.

At each Aid, Matthew diligently checked in. Sometime in the 70s, he either was not marked for a loop (which another racer, Becca, also complained about) or someone's calculation was off, because Matthew was told several times he had "this many" more loops to go to get to 100, and several times, he was told different numbers. It was confusing and maddening and frustrating and we were all really really tired.      

By the time dawn arrived, The Low had been reached. None of us were sure what number loop he was on, including race officials. Tears were shed. Objects were thrown. But there were moments of rational conversation too: Should he DNF? Should he go on, potentially to race 107 miles? Which was the better choice? We were blearily debating this when Jeff, who had been quietly listening, said, "I'd like to go out for a loop with you, Matthew."

Jeff does not run. He says he'll run only if something is chasing him or if he is chasing something, but that's it. Matthew, Tim and I stopped talking, looked at Jeff and we all nodded. Yes. Jeff should go out and run with Matthew. Jeff took Matthew out into the rising sun, as everyone at the Reservoir began to awaken, and hauled out the fastest loop Matthew had had in hours. It was beautiful. It was what Matthew needed. It was what we all needed. Matthew was going to finish this race.

In the end, he finished. In the end, he won his age group. In the end, we all cried again. And later that night, when none of us could walk very well, we smiled and shook our heads and made a toast to Jeff for turning it all around, and to Matthew for running his first 100 and to Tim for being the best coach ever and to all our friends for coming out to see it happen.  

A good morning beer in one hand, proper hydration in the other. 

Post Race Bliss + Sunburn

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Spring Thaw: REV3 Adventure Trail Race Series

The start was as intense as the carnage that followed. 200 meters in, a girl in front of me face planted, tripping over a shoe that became stuck in the mud by a runner in front who was apparently now continuing on semi-shod.

Tough Mudder? No. Spartan Race? No. We were running an incredibly tiny race, the first of the Spring Thaw Trail Series, a mountain biking and running series of three 5 & 10ks which, while incredibly muddy due to weather, were not supposed to be Mudders nor Spartanesque, nor were they, despite the event organizer’s name, REV3 Adventure, supposed to be particularly adventurous.

I signed up at the suggestion of my running partner, Matthew, and before we knew it, our good friends Alyson, Scott and Tora decided to join us. REV3 sponsors all kinds of adventure races, and people compete by boat, bike and on foot, both in shorter distances and multi-day orienteering races. Those are not the kind of races I'm trying to do. But this series was just a set of regular running and mountain biking trail races. And it was billed as rather benign: 3 trail races close to my town, on familiar terrain, described as semi-technical, but similar to what we run on locally every day. You could cycle or run, or do both, with two short distances to choose from. Racers would win points for placement in each race, and most important of all, there would be beer and burritos at the end. It would be fun to train through the winter, plus the distance might favor the foot that I had broken and re-broken last year.

I chose the 5k series, which the description said would be 5k, or longer, or maybe a little shorter depending on the race. The first “5k” would be 3.8 miles.

Over the winter I ran my heart out in what felt like strangely different training blocks with 4 and 5 mile “long” runs. In my heart I knew I would never become a competitive short distance runner, but I figured I would go for it the best I could, and post race, I would partake in my other favorite sport: enjoying alcoholic beverages.

Not long into the first race, as I watched Matthew and Alyson cruise off into the distance, the 5k (no, not just 5k, but longer! 3.8 miles, not 3.1 miles! It’s important to know that!) and 10k routes split, and we were plunged into mid-calf deep mud and snow.

In honor of the first race of spring, Mother Nature had created a small snowstorm followed by a freeze, then a thaw and a finally an incredibly warm sunny race day. This meant that we were sliding and picking our way through a deep ice bog. At some point I wondered, how could we be running over this terrain and still be upright? Or mostly upright. But as faster runners moved along in front of me, I just tried to keep up, figuring if they could run on this mud slick, uh, I had better make my best effort. It was the opposite of running across hot coals, but the intensity and terror was similar. Not that I’ve run across hot coals, but I’ve seen people run across hot coals on TV. And I can kind of understand choosing hot coals over deep mud and snow. Maybe.

I ran down a hill to the first water crossing. I’m pretty sure the creek would have been a mere trickle in an optimal situation, but in this case there was a line of runners, waiting to attempt to leap across knee deep ice water onto a muddy 45 degree slope. There was no way my short legs were going to clear the creek, plus I'm a badass, so I ran through the creek. This allowed me to get in front of several people, which in any race is a miracle for me. Being in front of ONE person in a race is a miracle for me. Good plan, I thought, and I implemented this method at the next two crossings as well.

My Salomon Cross-Max were draining perfectly and my feet and legs felt good but ohmyfuckinghell short distance races are tough and there's no time to breathe or to stop breathing, which is what I felt like doing. And then lie down. And heave. Or just expire. And we still had a half mile to go.  And it was so slow.

Each step consisted of one of the following:

1.   Land and slide 6-8 inches on top of mud, ice or slick meadow grass.
2.   Land and sink beyond your ankle into mud or snow, then attempt to pull your foot out as it becomes sucked into the vortex of cold wet mush.
3.   Land and feel incredulous that neither of the above happened, causing you to forget that you're on precarious terrain, landing again to either #1 or #2 on the next step.
4.   Run through ankle to knee-deep water, washing off a lot of caked on mud, but sending a shock of coldness up through your body.

Give me a Half Marathon any day of the week and I will crush it. Slowly. Happily. This 5k racing stuff uh, hurts.  

I ran up the last hill, and across the finish line, purple faced and maniacal. Alyson greeted me with the news that she had won her 5k age group and we watched Matthew come across the 10k line as his age group winner as well. Tora came in triumphant a few moments later and we all celebrated as we waited for Scott to race with the mountain bikes. And it wasn’t a Mud Run. And it was longer than a 5k. And we all made it. And we laughed about it afterward. And the beer tasted really nice. 

In Race 1, I managed to meet all my goals:

1.   Do not get injured
2.   Finish
3.   Do not finish last
4.   Chick at least one guy (sorry to the one guy I beat and also thank you)
5.   Have fun

To give you an idea of how slow this race was, the winning time for the (long) 5k was 24:29. I placed 41st out of 49 people total, with a time of 47:20. We had two weeks to get ready for Race 2. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Building a Base

“Take it easy. Just run. You’re building a base.”

“Yeah, but I want it to be this like, AMAZING run.”

“You need a base. You’re coming back from an injury. Stop trying to be amazing and just run. Build up to amazing.”

Sometimes I subconsciously set up mental roadblocks with both my running and cooking where I want so badly to be amazing that I feel myself failing before I take the first step. I have to remind myself, and listen to advice: first build the base. 

Recently one of my girlfriends posted a recipe for Fennel-Tomato soup. She told me how delicious it was, so I wanted to try to make it. I pulled it up and went cross-eyed. The recipe was in metric. Five hundred hours later, I had converted the recipe into ye olde system, and made a list of ingredients.  Fennel, tomatoes, garlic, off to the store I went. Turns out, the only grocery store in my town doesn’t carry fennel. And since the metric conversion had taken so long, dinnertime was looming.

“What the fuuuuuuuuuuck this store has no fennel how am I going to make fennel soup without fennel and it was going to be so amazing Carol said it’s awesome and now what the fuck am I going to do?”

I was starting to annoy myself and my friend and all the other townspeople shopping in the produce section.

“Well, calm down. What’s the base?”

“The base?”

“Like, what is the base of the soup? Maybe it doesn’t have to be the most amazing fennel soup on earth. You could use the base to make something that’s also really good.”  

“Well. I guess it’s really a tomato soup base.”

Running and cooking and building a base. Getting used to it and training my body and brain to get going, keep going, do it without thinking too much and just make it happen, all the while building strength and knowledge and experience.

So, I made tomato soup. I quickly looked up a recipe promised by Martha Stewart to be delicious and easy, combined it with the Fennel-Tomato soup base, and jacked up the garlic content to number 11. It consists of simple ingredients: tomatoes, stock and garlic. Together they make a beautiful base. And sometimes building a base is the most amazing thing. 

Tomato-Garlic Soup

         6 T. butter
         2 medium onions, chopped
         12 cloves garlic, chopped
         24 oz. crushed tomatoes
         3 C. homemade chicken stock
         2 t. sea salt
         1/4 t. black pepper

Cook the onions in butter for 15 minutes. Add the garlic for 3 more minutes. Add the rest and cook for 20 minutes. Transfer to a blender and blend until smooth. Heat back up on the stove and add additional stock as necessary. 

Serve it with grilled cheese on rye after a winter run.