Take a Hike!

When I was growing up, “Take a Hike” was a rude way of telling someone to leave.  But I have found that taking a hike is a great way to exercise – or if you are training for a marathon, a great way to cross train.  It can get boring when all you do is run on the same routes.  Hiking changes things up, gives you a chance to see some new scenery and work your muscles in a different way.

Last year when I was training for the Rim to Rim of the Grand Canyon, I went hiking every weekend on the Appalachian Trail (AT).  The AT is a 2,180 mile footpath that stretches from Georgia to Maine.  Hiking on the trail was a great workout – much more enjoyable than doing the Stair Master at the gym.  The portion of the trail that I hiked is particularly challenging with lots of ups and downs that gave my quads and hamstrings a good workout.  I was happy I had hiking poles with me.  They were like another pair of legs.

The AT attracts people from all over the world. I met hikers from the UK, Germany, and all over the United States.   Several of the hikers were also marathon runners so we compared experiences at various marathons and they gave me recommendations for races.   Some hikers were planning to hike the entire trail (thru hikers) including a large group of German men who had seen a documentary on hiking the AT.  Most people don’t have the time to commit to a thru hike and end up doing it in phases.  If you are interested, Bill Bryson wrote a very funny book about his thru hiking experience called “A Walk in the Woods”.

With my broken arm, I can’t hike right now so I did the next best thing this week.  I watched a documentary called “Mile . . . Mile And a Half” about a small group of five photographers and videographers who hiked the John Muir Trail (JMT) in California to capture the beauty of the trail.  The JMT runs from Yosemite National Park south through John Muir Wilderness and Kings Canyon National Park, ending in Sequoia National Park.  This is the same area made famous in photographs by Ansel Adams.  Although the JMT is only 219 miles long, it includes 10 mountain passes, 6 of which are in excess of 11,000 feet.  The pass at Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous US, is at the southern end of the JMT and is over 14,000 feet.  The altitude and strenuous hiking proved to be too much for one man in their group and he dropped out.

The hikers were carrying their food, camping gear and all their camera equipment.  When completely full their backpacks weighed between 55 and 75 pounds (they had 4 cache drops of new supplies along the way).  The year they did their hike was a 200% snow year, meaning that there was two times more snow than average years.   They were hiking in July and the snow was still deep in places.  The conditions were so difficult that many other hikers they met along the way had turned back.  But this group kept going, even when all they could cover was one mile an hour.  It took them 25 days to hike the JMT; 14 of those days they were hiking through snow.  There were also many river crossings and a couple were down right scary because the water was higher than normal and flowing very rapidly.

The thing I found most fascinating was that during the hike, their group grew to 12 and included teachers from Colorado; a brother and sister who had brought 128 pounds of paint and canvases so they could paint the incredible scenery; musicians; and a Japanese woman who was hiking the trail alone. The Japanese woman asked to join their merry group because she didn’t want to drink a beer by herself when she finished.

When they finished, the group had over 5 hours of video, 2,967 photos, and 25 finished canvases.  The four hikers from the original group had lost a combined total of 55 pounds too.  It was an experience that they will remember for a long time.

I can’t say that I have the ambition to hike the AT or even the JMT.  I am more the day hiker type.  But I enjoy hearing about the adventures of others who do.  I can live vicariously through them.

Patience, Injured Runner!

It has been two and a half weeks since I fell during my 20-mile training run and broke my arm in four places.  My broken arm will take three months to heal and I will miss five races I was looking forward to running.

The universe has an interesting way of reminding me that I am on injured reserve.  I still get e-mails about my upcoming races.  I see my friends’ posts on social media about their training runs and I wish I was out there with them.  Each time I read one of those e-mails or a post about someone’s excitement about a race we planned to do together, I get the same lousy feeling that I had the moment I fell.  My friends should not let my injury prevent them from enjoying their upcoming races. I just wish I was going to be there with them.

I enjoy running more than anything and it is the one thing I can’t do right now.  When I hit a particularly low point last week, my friend, Buzz, suggested that we go to Children’s Hospital and visit the patients there.  She put things in perspective; I stopped feeling sorry for myself.  All I have is a broken arm.  Many of the children in the hospital have bigger problems.  Those big races will still be there next year.   Some of those kids might not be.

I can’t say that I make a very good patient. Patients need to have patience with the healing process.  Unfortunately I am not a very patient person.  Three months sounds like a long time to me. I was frustrated one day and I asked my husband how many more days I had to go for the three months to be up.  At the time he told me it was around 75 days. Now I have a number in my head and can check off each day as it goes by.  There is light at the end of the tunnel.

I have been trying to come up with ways to keep myself somewhat in shape as I recuperate. The pain from my arm and shoulder, though, prevents me from even taking brisk walks right now.  I can only do two activities that I enjoy but are not aerobic – reading and watching films.

This weekend I watched the film “Ride the Divide”. It is an interesting documentary about the 2008 Tour Divide, a self-supported bicycle race that follows the Continental Divide from Banff, Alberta, Canada to Antelope Wells, New Mexico at the Mexican border.  At over 2700 miles, it is the world’s longest off-pavement bicycle route.  The climbs are the equivalent of going from sea level to the top of Mount Everest seven times – on a mountain bike.  The riders cover all sorts of terrain including snow packed areas and water crossings. They can encounter black bears, grizzly bears, and wolves along the route.  There are no entry fees and no prize money.  I am still trying to figure out why one of the riders was doing the race for the sixth time.  Wouldn’t once be enough?

As you would expect, the attrition rate during the race is pretty high, between injuries and extreme physical and mental fatigue.  While there was a group of four riders that stayed together the whole race, most of them were alone.  Being alone in such harsh conditions depressed some of the riders to the point that they quit. It reminded me of solo around-the-world sailing races and how depressed some of the sailors can get being all alone at sea for weeks on end.  The 2008 race had the first female participant.  She was in last place and the race stopped being fun for her. She dropped out of the race but then had second thoughts.  After a few calls home to her husband and a visit from her twin sister, she got back on her bike.

Yes, I’ve had a setback in my marathon running career but I’ll be back in my running shoes soon enough.  In the meantime I will catch up on my reading and find more interesting and inspiring films to watch.

If you would like to read more about the race, check out the Tour Divide web site.  I hope you find the film and watch it. It is amazing what people will do for adventure.

Running/Biking Documentaries

I love documentaries. Documentaries tell the stories of real people living out their dreams or in some cases, just crazy freaking ideas.  There are some incredible stories out there.  Here is my list of favorite running/biking documentaries plus two that I am anxious to see.

Spirit of the Marathon – I saw the “Spirit of the Marathon” a few years after my first marathon.  This film follows six runners, both elite runners and amateurs like myself, as they train for and run the 2005 Chicago Marathon. The film also gives the history of the marathon – from ancient Greece to the modern day race and includes interviews with famous marathon runners.  I like this quote from the LA Times on the film “Even if you’ve never run for anything but a bus, you’ll get swept up in this movie’s inspiring journey”.  The film is great for anyone who is not a runner because it helps them understand what the race is all about. I remember watching it the first time and realizing how much it captured my own experience training and running my first marathon. I still like to watch it when I run indoors on my treadmill. I feel like I’m running another race.

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Spirit of the Marathon II – This film has the same format as the original “Spirit of the Marathon.” Instead of the Chicago Marathon, the film follows seven runners from around the world who train and run the Rome Marathon. I’ve only seen this movie once when it had a showing in June 2013 in movie theaters.  One of the people interviewed in the movie put it so eloquently – “The marathon is the biggest totally peaceful community activity in human history. “  I will never forget a woman from California. As she was running the race, she was chattering to everyone. There was an older Italian runner who looked at her and said “No talking! Only running!” This film was the one that made me start thinking about running a race in Europe.

Running the Sahara – As crazy as it may sound, there were three ultra marathoners who ran across the entire length of the African Sahara desert, over 4300 miles, through Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Libya and Egypt – from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea.  They ran the equivalent of two marathons a day for 111 days with no days off.  I like to watch this film when I train on the treadmill for warmer weather races.  The soundtrack includes a Pearl Jam song – “Given to Fly” – that I love (and I don’t really like Pearl Jam).  When I run in the heat, that song pops into my head every time.

The film also focuses on the struggle that the people in this area go through to find clean water to sustain their life.  There is one scene that is etched in my brain forever.  They came across a 7-year old boy left alone to watch the family’s goats and sheep while his father went to find water.  His father would be gone 2 days.  He had little food or water and no shelter, just sitting there in the dark, and along come a bunch of white men. He had never seen white men in his life and he was terrified. They gave him food and water, and a flashlight. The last image they show of him is of him sitting in the dark turning the flashlight on and off. I get upset every time I think about that little boy sitting alone in the dark. It is a fascinating documentary that I highly recommend. Check out the web site for the  film and the H2O Africa Foundation that came out of this adventure.

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Running on the Sun: The Badwater 135 – I have never seen this film but I am intrigued by the story behind it.  This film focuses on a 135-mile race through Death Valley in July when the temperature is so high it has been known to melt the soles off your shoes.  A place with a name “Death Valley” can’t be good.  Why anyone would want to run through the desert in July is something that boggles my mind.  I would love to see what sorts of runners take on this challenge.  (Apparently, due to safety concerns of the National Park Service, the 2014 race was not held.)

The Ride – Some of you may know the reality show “The Amazing Race” hosted by Phil Keoghan.  This documentary is about the bicycle trip Phil took across the US. We’re talking 3500+ miles of biking in rain, snow, heat, up mountains and screaming down the other side. He met lots of interesting people in his trek across the US too.  Although he originally was doing the ride to mark his 40th birthday, Phil also raised over $400,000 for the National MS Society during the ride. He has a cousin with MS. Phil said “the sad part of it for me is that MS takes movement away from people and I treasure being able to move so much. It breaks my heart that they get this gift taken away from them.”

Phil is making another documentary called “Le Ride” also to benefit the National MS Society.  In 2013 Phil rode a circa 1928 bike (no gears!) and followed as closely as possible the 1928 Tour de France route and schedule.  The clips that I have seen from his video diary show this one will be equally as interesting and entertaining.

Bicycle Dreams – When my husband started biking, I bought this DVD for him.  The film is about the Race Across America, a 3000-mile bicycle race from the Pacific to the Atlantic.  The best cyclists ride over 300-miles a day, barely sleeping (more like naps), and complete the race in under 10 days.  That is just nuts. The film also shows how dangerous it is out there and the risks of sharing the road with cars and trucks.

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I am sitting here recuperating from my broken arm, unable to run for 3 months.  Maybe now is a good time to watch one of these videos again.

Updated:  now that I have mastered embedding YouTube videos, I added them to the original blog post and made one factual correction.

Good Samaritans

This week’s post is a public service announcement.

I was out running my 20 mile training run for the Berlin marathon this past weekend when the unthinkable happened. I had just finished my first 12 miles and was heading back out for my last eight when I tripped over a root on the trail and fell. I went down hard. I knew as soon as I tried to standup that I had broken a bone in my arm. I was running by myself which was my first mistake. I was able to call my friend and ask her to come get me as I struggled back to my car in the parking lot 0.2 miles from where I fell.

As I walked back, everything was spinning and turning black. I was going into shock. What amazed me was the number of people who saw me and did not stop to ask if I needed help.  Maybe it was like that scene from “Moscow on the Hudson” where they tell Robin Williams, the immigrant, to look like a crazy man so no one would mess with him. I probably looked pretty crazy at that moment too. There was one woman who I had passed a couple times when I was running earlier who saw me. She commented to me about what a nice day was to run. I responded that yes it was. I realized then I needed to ask for help, which is not something I normally would do. I turned to her and asked her to please help me because I had fallen. I will never forget what she said.” Today is your lucky day. I am a physician assistant.”  Her name was Rebecca and she immediately went into first aid mode and got me settled. She moved my car closer so that I could sit in the back while I waited for my friend to arrive. She got my Hammer Recoverite drink so that I could drink that. I had been going into shock and having that drink made me feel much better.

I was still surprised at the number of people who had passed me and not stopped to ask if I needed assistance. I asked Rebecca if I looked bad, like I needed help. She said yeah I looked very bad. I commented to her about the number of people who did not ask if I needed help. In fact one man asked me if there was a path down to the river. Couldn’t he see that I was in agony?

It made me think about what I would do if I came across someone who was in obvious distress. As runners we are out there a lot of times by ourselves and can get into trouble. We are relying on the kindness of others to keep an eye out for us. I hope that I would be a Good Samaritan like Rebecca and help another runner out. I am not sure how much I could do because I am pretty squeamish when it comes to medical issues but I certainly could make phone calls and do other things to help out.

It also made me realize that I am not as tough as nails like I would like to believe. Sometimes I need to ask for help too. It is not in my character to ask for help. I am pretty independent.  I am grateful that I had one moment of clarity where my brain realized that I needed someone to help me.  It is important to be able to be open to accepting help from others as well as giving help to others.

Sadly the Berlin Marathon got left in the dust on the trail on Sunday. I won’t be running for about three months. I’m hoping that some of my other races in 2015 will still be possible. Time will tell.

My Year of “Stupid” Races

I have decided that this year is going to go down in the books as my year of “stupid” races.  In 2014 I have run in four multi-race weekends.  As if it wasn’t difficult enough to run one race in a weekend, I felt I needed to raise the bar and ran races back-to-back.

I kicked off the year running the Inaugural DisneyWorld “Dopey Challenge”.  For four days in a row I got up at 2:30 AM to go run a race; each day the distance got progressively longer.  We started with a 5K on the first day, then a 10K on Day 2, a half marathon on Day 3 and finally a full marathon on Day 4.  It was a total of 48.6 miles.  It was a runner’s version of Groundhog Day.

In the pictures of me from that weekend, I had a big grin on the first couple days – hey, we were doing something nobody else had done before, the Inaugural Dopey!  By the 3rd and 4th day, the grin wasn’t nearly as big.  When I was running the marathon, I was questioning why I thought it was such a bright idea to run this challenge.  I was also getting tired of running.  Heck, it was more like a job than something I do a few days a week for fun.  But I made it through all 4 days and had over a pound of medals to show for it.

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Then I found a race weekend called the “Nut Job”.  Now how could I pass that one up?  The Nut Job was a 5K on Saturday evening followed by a half marathon on Sunday morning.  There were only about 12 hours between races.  As soon as the first race was over, I had to get to bed so I could get up and head back out for the half marathon.  I was not as rested as I would have liked for the half marathon but I got it done.

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Runners World sent me an email advertising their first running festival in Boston in June.  The festival included the “Hat Trick” – a 5K followed immediately by a 10K on Saturday morning and then a half marathon on Sunday morning.  It was a challenge I could not resist.  Clever marketing and race name and I was hooked.

On Saturday there was only about 45 minutes between the finish of the 5K and the start of the 10K.  It was crazy.  There was no recovery time.  On top of that, the 10K course included the infamous Heartbreak Hill of the Boston Marathon course.  I had to run back up that hill after expending part of my energy earlier on the 5K course.  Sunday morning I got to run down and up Heartbreak Hill again.  Although I knew what to expect, the second time was not any easier.  I earned my Hat Trick though.

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This weekend I capped things off with the Disneyland “Dumbo Double Dare”.  The Dumbo Double Dare included a 10K on Saturday morning followed by a half marathon on Sunday morning.  In comparison to some of the other things I have done this year, it was tame.  There were only two races in the Dumbo Double Dare (though there were some people who ran the 5K on Friday morning too, even though it was not officially part of the series).  Plus I had 24 hours to recover between races.  Although my last training run had been difficult, I was able to achieve negative splits (where the second half of the race is faster than the first half) for both the 10K and the half marathon.   From my perspective the weekend was a real success.

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One of the spectators along the Dumbo half marathon race course had a sign that spoke to me – “Run, Dummy, Run!”  Yes, I felt like a dummy for challenging myself like I had been doing.  But I find it interesting to see how far I can push myself with back-to-back races.  They are my version of an ultra-marathon with dinner and lots of naps in between.

I am not certain that multi-race weekends are the best thing for me.   With back-to-back races, I find you end up focusing on just being able to finish all the races instead of on getting your best finish time – the quantity versus quality dilemma.  That said, I would be remiss if I did not disclose that I do have one more crazy back-to-back race weekend in my future – January’s DisneyWorld “Goofy Race and a Half Challenge” – a half marathon Saturday and a full marathon on Sunday.

And please, don’t let me know about anymore of these crazy multi-race weekends, especially if they have funny names like Nut Job.  I can’t seem to resist these kinds of challenges.