29 September 2011

Home...

As always, Stefan and KJ made a beautiful homage to Black Rock City in their video, "Home." For those who don't know, many Burners call the playa "Home."

And you get in one of those moods...

...where you start rethinking everything.


I woke up late, threw a comfy running outfit and hit the streets. I met N, one of my favourite running partners, and we did what we do best: ran while pouring our souls out. We talked about psychiatry and depression and love and running and politics of running and what's next and racing and friendship and basically, everything that matters. That's what comes up. I felt great, I ran with ease, and it felt like a perfect (though humid) run. 


And then on the subway, there was that rare smile. I miss the days where I didn't commute on the train, where I walked or rode Mabel my bike to the Boulder Public Library. But I ended up making a connection with a human being, oh-so-rare, talking about Howard Zinn and how we got busy and stopped protesting and activism and what's going on on Wall Street.


Well, technically it's not Wall Street because of course the police didn't give the permits. Instead, it's that plaza where you go to the Farmers' Market or the falafel stand on the way to Century 21. And it's beautiful the way democracy is being made, or at least, how people are sharing their voices. I've been heading over there the past few days and being impressed.


I thought to myself, "I must bear witness to this history being made."


And then I thought to myself, "No, I mustn't do that. I must influence, I must partake in how history is being made."


But what am I doing? Washing my dishes and playing with my cat and not sleeping enough and letting work take up a lot of space in my head and riding my bike around Brooklyn and trying to do all these things but not accomplishing them. Like what happened to my novel. I need to move on that.


But I have no solution. I'm going to figure out how to break out of this shell of routine and live with my heart open. I don't want to live anymore a life where I have to put on that stare-straight-ahead-total-bitch look because the stupid construction workers/guys smoking cigs are all staring at me, rating me, talking amongst themselves after I/other women pass. I want to live a world where we hug hello. I want to live a world where dreams are realized every day...and everyone's there to help you.


(It sounds like I want to live at Burning Man every day...)

26 September 2011

Vermont 50 Miler: Fun, Friends, Laughs, and Fun


                Some races are about PRs. Some are about proving how tough you are. Some are about finding yourself, or taking yourself to the next level. Some are about just being a training run.
                And some races are just about having fun.
                The Vermont 50 Miler this year was about having fun. It was a blast. Besides the Burning Man 50k, it was the most fun I’ve had in a while at a race. There was mud, there were good friends, there was mud, there was homemade cookies at mile 25, there was mud, there were hilarious stories, there was mud, there were dirty stories and songs, there was mud, there was sweat, there was mud, there were hills, mostly uphill, there was mud.
                And we all had fun.
                Iliana is good at convincing. She convinced me to sign up for the Vermont 50, which I love because I love Vermont. Vermont 100 is still my favourite race ever, and my first ultra, Jay Challenge was in Vermont. So I have a special spot in my heart for Vermont. So despite the fact that I ran Rio del Lago 100 Miler just two weeks prior, and ten days prior to that, ran the Burning Man 50k, and despite the fact that my legs are t…i…r…e…d, I signed up. Why? Because I’m an ultrarunner and we’re not always smart with our racing plans.
                Iliana procrastinated signing up and the race ended up filling up. But I was still signed up. She decided she’d go up and pace. Then I found out despite having signed up, Tony wasn’t planning on running it – he felt really undertrained. I told him I was running slow. Hmmm…that sounded fun. So he joined me in the journey. “Think training run,” was my mode.
                The fun started with the drive up – Iliana was hilarious, Tony was ridiculous, and I almost peed twice while laughing. Almost. Iliana and Tony split a 16 piece Popeye chicken and we couldn’t stop laughing over it. Sixteen pieces? And then we also stopped at the Vermont Country Deli to get mac and cheese (Tony), pulled pork and carrot ginger soup (Iliana), pesto pasta (me). And then there were conversations about OKCupid, beets and toilets, the Bear Mountain witch/hiker, Iliana stopping so I could pee every two minutes, Tony complaining…it was hilarious.
                At the race start, we ran into Emmy and Chris. Oooh fun! We started together, and for the most part, stuck together. And the results – an absolute blast!
                The course was muddy, but that seems to be nothing unusual from our experiences. Lots of spots where your shoes get completely covered, spots with big mud pits, but no one lost shoes. Because it’s Vermont, the entire course is up and down. Flats? Um…maybe a teeny bit? And lots of beautiful summits and trees and views and meadows and barns and horses and pretty leaves and all that good stuff. Yeah, you’ll love it.
                We stuck together from the start, exchanging stories, laughing, complaining, avoiding or splashing in mud. Some of the aid stations seemed a little chaotic and disorganized and unhelpful, but for the most part, they were great. I carried one handheld, and just one time did I run out of water before the aid station. It was super humid so I opted to carry my water bottle instead of wearing a waist belt that would’ve chafed; as it was, the tag or the liner in my running skirt caused chafing.
                It was humid. So humid that when a runner passed me early on, sweat splashed off him onto me. Perspiration dripped off our faces. It was pretty gross. My armpit got chafed, so I took off my shirt. It was one of those days.
                Racewise, it was a good race. I had a good appetite, and ate gels, Honey Stinger chewy things, Honey Stinger waffle things, Odwalla Bars. Delicious.
                Tony and I pulled ahead a bit, running and laughing. And suddenly Chris wasn’t there. Emmy told us he wiped out in the mudpit and took a bit to recover. But in the end, he was feeling great. He was able to join in for valuable conversations, like Asshole Flavored Heed (how to make it). Emmy’s legs felt dead from running a marathon a week prior - hardcore!  Tony had a bad headache. I had blisters. But our struggles were suppressed by our friendship, our laughter, our jokes, our good spirits. We really motivated each other to the finish.
                This race was not about a goal time. It was about a good training run, a fun run. Tony and Iliana shared a beer at mile 47. Iliana, Emmy and I peed right next to each other, right at the side of the trail (Okay, on the trail.), earning us the nickname “Reverse Moon Girls.”  Tony made up songs and talked more than we wanted about certain topics. (Okay, I lied, we loved it because he was so funny.) We experimented with food to eat. We looked at beautiful vistas. We cursed our hills. We pushed each other and ourselves…and had so much fun. We got that ultimate high, especially when we got to those beautiful downhill sections – and we just flew…until the next uphill. Until the next mudpit. Until someone tripped.
                But even if you tripped, you weren’t down because we were all there to keep each other having the ultimate runners’ high.
               

Finish happiness: Me, Tony, Emmy, Chris
               

20 September 2011

"You're the runner."

I was fiddling with my new Garmin, a few weeks back, waiting for the satellites to load, when a man I don't know said, "It's a little late for you today, isn't it? You usually run much earlier."
 

"Um, yeah. Well, I ran earlier, but now I'm doing my second run of the day. I'm doing heat training, so trying to run in the heat of the day." The watch was taking forever.


He bent down to scoop up dog waste, and said, "What? Second run? How much do you run?"


"Usually about an hour and a half to two hours. A lot of days more."


"That's crazy. And two runs?"


"Yeah."


"What are you training for, a marathon?" (Ha!)


"I have a couple ultramarathons coming up. I'm running a 50k and a 100 miler."


"100 miles! That's crazy! No wonder I see you out here so much."






I was stunned. I had never seen this man in my life. I waved to him.


The next day, on my second run of the day, a guy said, "I always see you running. You never stop." Again, it was a man I never saw before.


Just like when our car driver to the airport in June recognized me.


They all know me by my running.


I see neighborhood: the new buildings, the lilac bushes on Oak Street, the cafe's proud proclamation of a new menu, how pretty the new park on North 6th looks at dusk, all the people from my health food store, the bartender at my favourite bar, the changed hours of the ice cream shop, the new classes at the yoga studio, the construction everywhere. I see people, yes, I see the woman who hoses her pristine front porch in her frilly nightgown, I see the old guy smoking cigarettes on my way to the ferry, I see the cowboy on my old block who always waves, I see my favourite Italian-American barber wave over trimming a man's hair, I see the staff from the local library. But I don't see everyone.

But they see me. And they recognize me for who I am: a runner. I guess it's a lot bigger than I realize.

18 September 2011

For the Beauty of It

I sign up for ultras based on the beauty of the course. Likewise, Killian Jornet embodies the beauty of an ultrarunner on these amazingly gorgeous trails in these videos.

Decompressing From Many Things

Burning Man. California Trip. Rio del Lago 100 Miler. Another two races I ran poorly in. When will my running pick up again? My apartment’s a mess. My cat’s eating my plants. I have to kiss more ass at work. I have to think about strategy more. I have a mountain of dishes to wash. I have to spend more time with my grandma and my family. My sister is pregnant and far and I can’t even get to help her that much. I’m scared of my bank account. My Macy’s bill is overdue. I have a really long to-do list. I am trying not to think of all that is overwhelming.

But sometimes I get in these periods of decompressing. And I pull in closer to myself. I pull away. I spend days at caf├ęs, in bed surrounded by fuzzy blankets and a good cat, writing, editing, making my manifesto. Baking, cooking. Food will heal.

Jenny and I swore we would change the world. That’s what we were gonna do. Sixteen with those smiles, we were confident we’d make a difference. And now, we sit, chopsticks in our hands, and think, “What have we done? What’s next? Will we accomplish all that we wanted to?”

And I wonder, will we?

Naked Feet

I’ve been enjoying Vibram runs on the regular. I find my feet feel lighter, my form is vastly improved, and it requires less socks to wash. Okay, the last part is not why I wear them, but I like wearing them.

During the Burning Man 50k, I had a pair of old sneakers I was running in. At Burning Man, I generally wear a pair of sneakers that I was planning on tossing near the end of its life, and after running all week, throw them out. I planned on doing that with these shoes…until mile 12.

The shoes felt tight, and it felt like a massive blister was forming on my big toe. I wasn’t sure if there actually was one (You know how you never can tell?) but when I started altering my toe, I decided something had to be done.

I removed both my shoes and continued running in socks.

The playa surface is rather soft, most of the time, so except for two sections in Deep Playa, I was great. It felt heaps better than running in those wretched shoes (which, for the record, are in a landfill somewhere near my friend’s mom’s house in Santa Cruz where we left our garbage), though the blister slightly hurt. When I finished, I removed the sock and saw an incredibly massive and disgusting blister close to the size of my small toe attached to my big toe. Ow.  (This required the medical tent and a patient boyfriend who helped me clean and wrap it all week.)

But I ended up running about 17 or 18 miles in just socks. After, I was completely fine (except the extra toe…), no intense calf pain. I realized my Vibram runs of 11 miles this summer really helped. Basically, most runs under 10 miles or 11 miles, I’d run in Vibrams. My lunchtime runs I ran in Vibrams. This all helped prepare me to run more than half of an ultramarathon in just socks – and to have a blast while doing so.

The Hotter, The Better

I’m a summer girl, a beach girl. When it’s 98 and humid and everyone’s melting, I’m complaining a little but mostly loving it, loving my tequila lemonades, my skimpy dresses, the teeny bikinis, the long hours under the tree shelter on the trails, the walks around Brooklyn at night, the sitting on the waterfront with my best friends sneaking drinks out of Sigg water bottles…I love the heat.

But this summer, I knew that two of my races would demand expertise with heat – the  Burning Man 50k, an absolutely fun race that I direct, and the Rio del Lago 100 Miler. Both were hot – Rio del Lago was 97 with lots of miserably exposed sections and lots of dust.

I knew I needed heat training. My weekend runs were great, but I needed more training. Luckily, my boss is understanding (though she doesn’t comprehend why I do such things) and my job immensely flexible. So I’d work at home from 8am-noon, and then head out for a run for 90-120 minutes in the hot hot hot heat of the day. I’d wear sunblock, carry water, put on a visor, and go. The heat would drain me. Post run, I’d shower, eat something, and often just sit zombie-like on my futon, finishing the workday, glad my work only required me to sit and not move. The heat and humidity would drain me.

But it prepared me. As much as those runs sucked, as slow as I went in 95 degree temps, it prepared me. Rio del Lago felt ridiculously hot, yes, but I felt mostly okay. I attribute it to the heat training.

And now it’s getting cold. Autumn demands more snuggle time, long-sleeved tea shirts, and tea with pumpkin cookies post run. I’ll miss my sports bra-and-shorts-only runs…oh, yes, I will.

17 September 2011

Black Rock City 50k: A Race Report of the 2nd Annual Burning Man Ultramarathon

When I went to Burning Man for the first time, I kept thinking, "I should organize an ultramarathon." Everyone told me I was crazy. On my second Burn, my friend Rich told me if I organized it, he'd help me. So last year I organized the first 50k, and this year, I did it again.

Burning Man is all about crazy, so an ultra fits just perfectly.

We started at 5a.m., playa time, on 10:00 and Liminal, past Opulent Temple and Temple of Boom and all the clubs with all the people still raging, clad in el wire and fake fur and glitter and dust. We ran straight up 10:00, made a right on Esplanade (Black Rock City's "Main Street"), ran past the big camps, the people stumbling around, the people still partying from the night before, and past the sleepy-eyed few who rose early to catch the sunrises, which are almost always glorious in Black Rock City. We made a right on 2:00, running down past some of the big party camps, waving at Hookah Dome, hoping for champagne from Bubbles and Bass. And then past the heckling camp, where many of us heckled back, alongside 2:00 and the walk-in camping, and then a left at trash fence, another left, and then a left on 10:00. Four full loops, and the fifth loop, we did an out and back, all the way out to 2:00 between Birthday and Coming Out (yes, those are the names of streets there).

Everyone was excited at the start. People found our glowing bikes on the corner of 10 and L, just past a large Washington Monument-like sculpture. There were hugs, people giving out glow bracelets, sharing running snacks, stories, excitement. Some people got to the start just minutes before after being in the gate line to get into Black Rock City. 

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The course was much simpler than last year, so most people pretty much understood it. The terrain is the playa sand - alkaline sand. It is flat, at high altitude. Dust storms can come, insane heat, who knows what else? Runners ran with bandanas around their neck for protection from dust storms. Everyone was instructed to carry water.

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Everyone was in it to have fun. Most people ran with their full heart, some people ran until the painful point, some ran a few laps until they couldn't/didn't want to do any more, some people accepted beers/vodka shots/champagne (me on the latter!). I ran in a fringed sports bra and a tutu, both made by me. And a silly visor so I'd avoid last year's lip sunburn.

I felt great the first lap, but my shoe felt kinda tight. The second lap a blister was definitely growing on my big toe. I complained to the English guy I was running with, who specifically came to Burning Man to run the ultra. I was turning my foot inward to avoid pain. Finally, at the start of the third lap, I removed my shoes and ran in just my socks. Heavenly. I still felt the blister, but it was a million times less painful and I didn't have to alter my stride. I carried my shoes until I reached the second aid station a few miles later and proceeded to run the rest of the ultra in just my socks - which worked because I have been training a lot in my Vibrams this summer, and because the majority of the course was rather soft, and rocks are rare.

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The male winner, Duncan Hancox, won in 3:50, and the first woman, Kathy D'Onfrio took 4th place overall with 4:51. Full results can be seen here, though a large number of DNFs and just-for-fun runners are not included due to it being Burning Man the results not being 100% perfectly recorded.

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North Brooklyn Runners, a running club I am a part of, had five runners, including the 2nd place man, Johnny Max. I had hoped to run faster than last year, and the course may have been slightly longer - or it may have just been the playa or my blister. Upon completion of the race, I removed my sock to see a blister that was the size of my little toe attached to my big toe. I had to leave sooner than I hoped to get some medical attention for my footsie - and keep my feet as clean as possible the rest of the Burn.

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What's so special about this ultra? Encouragement. I have never had such great appreciation from the audience. As I am a trail runner, most of my races lack any kind of audience, so this was a real treat for me. The crowds were lively, hilarious, and encouraging. The runners were as well. We had one runner finish completely naked (but he, unlike me, kept his sneakers on!). Homemade numbers and homemade medals contributed to the loving, homemade vibe. Runners brought one bottle of water plus a running snack to share, so everyone contributed towards everyone else's race.

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Lessons were learned - next year, the start/finish will be arranged at Camp Twin Bikini to offer shade, space for relaxation, and post-race party. The aid stations will be spread out slightly more. And perhaps we'll even have a few bottles of celebratory champagne for runners!  


Ode to My Bike





I've had Mabel, my purple mountainbike, since my 18th birthday. I was excited when I got her - finally, I got rid of that wretched pink road bike I sped through the suburbs on. I pictured myself riding Mabel on dirt roads, but really, she tends to stick to real roads. The Williamsburg Bridge is a regular haunt for her.

Biking in NYC is a tricky thing - there are cars that hate bikes, cars that don't like for bikes, oblivious pedestrians, weather, potholes, but honestly, the freedom my bike gives me overpowers all of that. 

I love biking in miniskirts while singing at top of my lungs. It's kind of a signature move for me - a friend in my running club said a while ago, "I saw some girl in a short miniskirt and pink legwarmers singing while biking down Kent and I knew it had to be you." Of course.

And in honour of my beloved Mabel, who will hopefully never be stolen, I share a bike cheer we did years ago on Critical Mass on the eve of the anti-RNC protests when several friends were arrested (Booo, NYPD!):

I like to bike-bike
Because to bike is what I like!
On all cars and trucks we call a general strike!

I like to bike - bike
Calling all bikers to unite!
I think I'd like to trade that car in for a bike!

'Cause there ain't no power like pedal power 'cause the pedal power don't stop!
--Say what?
It's an anti-fossil fuel revolution from the bottom up to the top!

So fuck cops when they try to keep us
from taking the streets
Every day is critical mass!
So jump on a bike
and join with us
and together we'll kick the gas!

15 September 2011

It Wasn't Fun: Rio del Lago 100 Mile Race Report

Rio del Lago 100 Miler sucked. It was hot, it was hillier than I thought, it was dusty, I got tons of rocks in my shoes, I had blisters everywhere, I was SO tired I hallucinated like crazy (bushes of skeletons, people in the tree stumps, cars that were really trees...) - and somehow, I finished. I finished 100 miles, tears in my eyes, miserable, hating it -


- but somehow, loving that I am unable to quit.


I wasn't having fun. I remember when my friend Kim quit a 100 miler and I asked her why. She said, "It stopped being fun. And if it's not fun, why bother?"


I offered this excuse to my pacer when I wanted to drop out. She said, "You don't do this because it's fun. You do it because you're TOUGH. You do it to measure your toughness." I whined, tears in my eyes, "I don't care about toughness. I do it for fun." And she made me suck up my tears and keep moving. I was so frustrated at her, but at the same time, I'm glad she pushed me.


The race itself is pretty: it's a 100 mile race that includes a lot of loops, out-and-backs, so you end up seeing the same stations (and unfortunately, the aid stations didn't feature a lot to look for). Views of the lake, the river, pretty trees. It's a lot of and downs, rolling hills, rocks, dust, exposed sections. You have some random loops and they actually felt kind of pointless. No one I talked to was in love with the course. But it was pretty. And kind of neat that you get to run on part of the Western States course, including the infamous "No Hands Bridge." The course includes two truly hellacious hills, Cardiac, which sucked, but K2 was way worse, especially since it was so exposed.


The heat killed a lot of people. 35 out of 85 people finished, and I bet the heat was a contributing factor to the high DNF rate. I carried two water bottles, and some times, it wasn't even enough. The aid station volunteers usually had ice, which was absolutely delicious (and for my pacer, Kathy D'Onfrio and I, it was also a bit of a luxury as the two of us had come from Burning Man the week before where ice in drinks is rare). I had sunblock in one drop station bag, but wished the aid stations had some. The aid stations had only the bare minimum - M&Ms, sometimes gus, sometimes cookies, sometimes chips, rarely (but deliciously!) grilled cheese, sometimes (but not always, which I think is crazy!) band-aids and First Aid. The latter should have been at every aid station - first aid is important. I had the blisters from hell, and band aids would have helped. I ended up wrapping a blister in toilet paper at one point. Ghetto, but it kind of worked.


Up, down, when is this over? The miles trickled down. Stomach issues plagued me miles 13-18. And again at mile 30. And it was so hot. I ran almost the entire race in just a sports bra, even in the middle of the night.


The worst part was the hallucinations. I was so sleepy, I stopped twice right on the trail, sat on a rock or some dirt, and slept into my hand. My pacer was telling me, "You can't sleep. Get up." I ignored her. My 5 hour energy shot unusually lasted maybe 30 minutes.  Finally, I allowed Kathy to force feed me half a Vivrin, which is the only way I finished. But in between the sleepiness and the Vivrin, and even after finishing, I was hallucinating like crazy. Everything turned into something else. We saw what I originally thought was a deer but what Kathy said was a bobcat but what my friend (who knew the woods) thought was a mountain lion. Either way, I proudly represented my New York roots and let out a blood curdling scream. The animal hurled itself into the far distance.

Chafing got bad. I took off my underwear, and kept running/stumbling/hobbling. I wanted to wallow in self-pity and cry and Kathy wouldn't let me. "Don't cry. Put that away." I felt like she was being harsh because I just wanted to sob my heart out, but she pushed me to run my heart out. Of course that's what I needed to do, but all I wanted to do was curl up and sleep at the side of the trail.



When I was done, I was done. I just simply accepted my 6th belt buckle and removed my shoes, which were causing my many blisters excruciating pain. I examined my feet and shuddered. I rinsed off in the beautiful lake and then hobbled back to the car. Kathy and I ate and I admired her strength and perseverance. Two Western States wins, the course record and another win for Rio del Lago...she's fast. She's got it mentally. Me, like everyone, I need a little more work.


Still hallucinating post race, I napped at the Auburn aid station. And woke up ready to leave. And run. I don't know if I'll do that next 100 miler in Louisiana in December, but you know what? I'm not quitting ultrarunning anytime soon.

DNF is not in my vocabulary.

Great Comments...But Really, What Would You Do?

I got some great feedback from an old, good friend about my recent Re-Entry blog post. He IMd me, 


 Dont forget that the hectic world we live in needs people like us, more than ever.  So many are content with their day to day lives, i phones and all that and dont stop to think about making a difference.  Imagine the outside world if people like us lived on the playa all the time, scary huh?  You came to some good conclusions. 


And yes, are you content? What are you doing to make a difference? Because isn't making a difference what we're all about? How are you making a difference?