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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Three of the Loveliest Words...

... to hear when arriving home after an 8 mile run on a blustery day:

"The sauna is hot"

A few rounds in the heat interspersed with sitting in the backyard and watching the moon peek out between the rapidly moving clouds. Then it was indoors for a late dinner.

Perfect Duluth Evening

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Bald Eagle

Noticed this Bald Eagle hanging out in the cottonwood in our neighbor's yard (the same tree that the Goshawk was in a few months ago).  The local crows, blue jays and "tweety birds" were not happy and made a point of perching nearby and commenting on it's presence.  

Bald Eagle being harassed by the neighborhood birds

Giving a cold shoulder to the crows

Just before it gave up and headed for a less crowded perch

Step back week, so today's run was 14 miles. Headed back to Fox Farm Rd, this time with Sam and Cedar. The gravel road was soft, but not too soft.  The sun was out this time and there was a bit of a head wind - in both directions!

Tomorrow I am off to St. Paul for my first race of 2015. Joining my Northwoods teammates at the Irish Run 8K. This should be interesting as I have not been focusing on running fast. I have had a couple of speedy miles in the past few weeks, so hopefully I can at least run close to my previous best times. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Sauna!!

190+F

Ahhhhhh........

And for those readers not familiar with the tradition:
The Truth About Sauna: The Truth About Finns

Sunday, March 15, 2015

A Taste of Spring

A week ago we had 10 inches of snow in the woods, today.... well, the woods are nearly bare! Temperatures have been in the 50's many days this week, with 63F recorded at my house today. Needless to say the snow is mostly melted and the streams are breaking free of their coating of ice.

Since I have lived in Duluth for 28 years I have learned that you never, ever trust that just because it seems warm that will hold true for long. A wind switch, especially at this time of the year when Lake Superior is still sheathed in ice, can mean a 20 degree drop in temperature in a matter of minutes. I headed out the door yesterday for an 18 mile run wearing half tights (really 3/4 tights on me); long sleeve top, jacket, gloves and a light wool hat. Within a mile I was stopping to shed all but the base layers. Fortunately I was wearing a hydration pack so had plenty of places to stash my extra gear. While stopped I was passed by one of the Skyline regulars. We ended up running a few miles together and having a nice chat.

My course took me along Skyline Boulevard from Piedmont Ave (Hwy 53) to Stewart Creek and back. There are plenty of hills on this route, and lots of curves, which makes for a fun run. Plus the views are fantastic! It is a pretty lightly traveled road on this end of town which makes for a relaxing run.

Why am I running roads you ask? Well, with the big melt the trails are in a very fragile state. What isn't still sheathed in ice, is covered in slush, or is bare dirt/mud. Only the top few inches are thawed and this makes the trails very susceptible to damage. Until things dry out and thaw out my runs will be confined to roads.

But, back to yesterday. Despite the lovely weather I had a hard time getting going. When I finally did head out the door it was with the intent to complete 18 miles, but in the back of my head I was ready with excuses for turning back earlier. I persevered though and did finish up the planned distance. I allowed myself a few walking breaks on the steepest hills (and once when I just felt like walking). I am glad that I brought a hydration pack as I went through nearly all of the 30 oz. of water I had along. I am pretty sure that the stop at the rest area with a long drink from the water fountain is the only reason I didn't run dry.

Stats:
18 miles
3:03:10

Today I planned on running 10 miles, but really wanted to avoid pavement as much as possible. The solution: Skyline Boulevard! The far western and far eastern sections are closed off in the winter (beyond areas with housing). For the most part these sections of Skyline are gravel, though years ago the city decided throwing down chewed up blacktop from other road projects was a good idea and some sections are now just really crappily paved road. I headed west again, but this time started at the Magney-Snively trailhead parking lot and ran on the closed section of road towards Becks' Rd. For those of you have have run either the Eugene Curnow Trail Marathon or the Minnesota Voyageur Trail Ultra, parts of this road will be familiar.

I met Sarah 3 miles out, and we headed back to Magney-Snively, ended up passing by the lot and running across the Stewart Creek bridge to the 3.5 mile mark for her. Turned around at that point and headed back to where she had left her car (stopping by mine to drop off our extra layers as it was much warmer in this part of town then at either of our houses).
Snively Memorial - adjacent to the Stewart Creek Bridge

The road was 95% snow free, with some standing water in areas and a few "streams" eroding the road bed in others. It was nice to run on a softer surface, but with decent traction. There were a few other folks out enjoying the lovely day, but for the most part we had the road to ourselves.

Stats:
10 miles
1:52:18

12.5 miles of Skyline Blvd covered over two days (nearly half it's total distance).

Today was Sarah's birthday and she had requested a lemon cake, with lemon frosting. I dived into our supply of cookbooks and found a couple of recipes that seemed reasonable (aka not too fussy). Lots of lemon zest and fresh lemon juice were required, never mind butter and sugar (it is cake after all). The batter mixed up well and I poured it out into a well greased bundt pan (no tube pans on hand). Apparently you really can't grease a bundt pan well enough! Getting the cake out intact was a bit of a process and damage was done. I didn't think things through well and more damage was done while I was trying to level the cake (aka slice off the domed top). Sigh... To top it off, it is apparently harder then I thought to cream butter into powdered sugar. I probably gave up too soon and after adding the lemon zest and lemon juice ended up with a lumpy lemon glaze to pour over the top. It is not pretty:

But it is very lemony and tastes quite good.

Still working on the February Baby Sweater (Baby Sweater on Two Needles; Practically Seamless) from Elizabeth Zimmerman's Knitters Almanac. I am just reaching the point where I need to divide for the sleeves. Her pattern was written knitting the sleeves flat and seaming them up. Other's have adapted the pattern to be done completely in the round, with no seaming necessary. I am leaning towards following the pattern as originally written at this point.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Lobster Mittens, a Little Running and Signs of Spring

Apparently I am still on a bit of a mitten knitting jag:

Back of the Lobster Mittens
Palm side of mittens
"live long and prosper" (RIP Leonard Nimoy)
Knit on sz 3 needles using Juniper Moon - Moonshine (40% wool/40% alpaca/20% silk) yarn. As you would expect with that fiber combination they are quite soft and cozy. 


My new job came with a much longer commute and I have essentially said goodbye to "Tuesday's and Thursdays are for running to work". I tried it one day and didn't especially like how early I had to leave and all the time on pavement. I am planning on switching to bike commuting as soon as the weather warms a bit and the salt and sand isn't being laid down on the roads on a regular basis. These mittens, while not windproof, should help on cooler commuting days. 

My next project is a baby sweater: Elizabeth Zimmerman's Baby Sweater on Two Needles, Practically Seamless. Once again I will be using the Juniper Moon yarn, this time in a lovely green. I have already cast on, but am beginning to doubt my needle choice so may be ripping back soon. I also forgot to add in the buttonholes that are to be worked every 8th ridge.

Long Run
"The Plan" called for 16 miles this week. I talked Marcus into joining me for the run and, because the trails had been softening up a lot in the past few days and I wasn't in the mood for a 4 hour slog, we decided to head north of town to Fox Farm Road, a nice section of gravel that is lightly traveled by motor vehicles. The hope was that the previous sunny days would have softened the road a bit. Unfortunately that was not true; the road was frozen, snow covered, and in some spots quite icy. The skies clouded as we headed north and by the time we started running there were occasional snow flakes being tossed about in the strong northwest winds. 

The run went well overall and it was nice to have company. One great thing about this route is that the last 1.7 miles are downhill. Combine that with a tail wind and I ran an average 8:09 over the last mile, and even dipped under 8 for the last quarter mile or so. 

Today's plan called for 8 miles. Sarah and I run together on Sunday's and her plan called for 6. My legs were tired and a bit achy starting out and I wasn't sure, initially, that I was going to tack on the extra 2 miles. As we headed back towards the car, my legs started loosening up and the lingering aches went away. I decided I would run the additional 2 miles, and lucky for me the trail head is exactly that far from Sarah's house. 

I headed out, sticking to the gravel(mud) shoulder of the main road as much as possible. About a quarter mile in I glanced down and noticed I was running in the low 8's so I decided to see how fast I could run these last two miles. It was easy enough at first as the road descends for the first mile, but once the road flattened out, and especially on the little hill on one of the side streets, things got to be a bit more of an effort. I finished up the two miles in just under 16 minutes. 

While not classic speed training, it is something, and I am a bit more hopeful that my first race of the season (road 8K, team race = expected to actually, you know, RACE) will actually go fairly decently. 

Spring
Pine siskins are hanging out at the feeder and in the yard in big flocks; mixed in are a few Redpolls. The Black-capped chickadees bide their time in the lilac waiting for a turn at the feeder. Downy and Hairy woodpeckers are regulars on the bear fat in the suet feeder (as are the chickadees). Juncos are seen from time to time, but since they are mostly ground feeders it is hard to catch sight of them unless they are scavenging for seed on the front porch. 

Raccoons showed up for the first time tonight. They too like to scavenge for bird seed on the front porch. While cute from a distance, they are rather mean and I try to discourage them from hanging around. 

With the warm temperatures and strong sunlight we are starting to lose significant amounts of snow pack in the yard. There are a lot of bare areas appearing and I have even spotted some green things on the south facing slope adjacent to our stairs. I know it is too early to get excited for spring, but it is nice to see signs of the end of winter. 

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Moonshadow, moonshadow

Tonight was one of those perfect Duluth winter evenings. Clear skies; brisk winds; 3-4 inches of fresh snow; unbroken trails and a nearly full moon.

A night for playing in the snow and with our shadows as we ran trails in the Piedmont neighborhood.

At one point it just seemed right to make a snow angel.

At another we needed to stop and just stand still for a bit absorbing our environment: the trees, wind, shadows, stars and moon.

Ahhhhhhh.......

Came away refreshed and having planted at least one earworm in my running partners mind:
Moonshadow 

I  also introduced her to a refrain from an even older song:


"By the light of the silvery moon,
I want to spoon, to my honey I'll croon love's tune,
Honeymoon keep a-shining in June,
Your silvery beams will bring love dreams, we'll be cuddling soon,
By the silvery moon."



Sunday, March 01, 2015

Welcome Meteorological Spring!

Today is the first day of Meteorological Spring and you can feel the change! Well, it does help that we are leaving behind one of the coldest Februarys in years (it is possibly in the top 10 for our area).  Temperatures in the 20's F with sunny skies feel downright tropical!

It is much more fun to contemplate spending 3-4 hours outdoors running when the temps are in the double-digits and the sun is shining.  Yesterday a few of us headed out on the trails in the Piedmont/Brewer's Park area. My goal was 16 miles which I figured would take 3.5-4 hours. We ran out on the Superior Hiking Trail towards the west with a planned turn around at Cody St. The single-track was in excellent condition until we got into the Keene Creek Valley where abundant overflows covered the trail and made for very sketchy footing. We actually abandoned the trail in a couple of spots and ran/hiked down the river.
Marcus and I standing on the bank of Keene Creek, under a massive overflow.
Above us, on the top of the slope, and under all of that ice, is the SHT.
Photo courtesy of Sam.
As you can see in the above photo the trail has been totally engulfed by the ice. The river was a much better choice in this section!

Stats from yesterday's run:
 - 16 miles (15.73 on GPS, had an episode of stopping it and forgetting to restart between miles 9-10, that amounted to about .3 miles lost mileage)
 - 3:39:03 (some lost time in there due to stopped watch)
 - Elevation gain: 1, 705 ft (there was at least one 600 ft descent, then climb, over about a mile,  in  addition to a lot of small climbs and descents)
 - 1351 calories burned (not sure how accurate this is)

I learned from last week and brought along three gels (ate two) and a sunbutter-craisin on homemade sourdough sandwich (ate half and gave a quarter away, snacked on last quarter post-run). Since I didn't finish the flasks of water I had brought with last week I thought I was safe just bringing 10 ozs of water with again this week. Wrong! I found myself rationing water and supplementing with snow (harvested from off trail a bit) and still finished feeling quite parched. Marcus offered up another 5 oz. of water post-run. I got home, drank 20 oz. of my recoverite/hot chocolate concoction and headed out on some errands with a pint of water which I finished off pretty quickly. I was able to snag a small bottle of gatorade at Austin-Jarrow and was still feeling thirsty. At this point I was mid errands and there was nothing much I could do about it till I got home. It took a couple more hours of drinking to thirst before I felt the need to urinate. So, obviously it is time to bring more water along on runs!

Today I headed back out for another run. The plan was to run 8 miles, the first 5 miles with my daughter Sarah and her dog. She is training for her second trail race, this time moving up from the half marathon to 25K. Her long runs are fitting nicely into my plan to run a mid-distance length on Sundays. We decided to check out the western section of Skyline Blvd which gets closed off in the winter, becoming a playground for snowmobiles, fat bikes, runners and the occasional skier. The route is composed of some long, gradual uphills and lovely views of the St. Louis River estuary. Sam joined us and planned to continue on with me for the full 8 miles. The footing was decent initially, if you found the firm track. By the time we were heading back to the car it was feeling a little softer (temps warming into the upper 20's F). Sam and I headed back out towards the western terminus of the road while Sarah drove around to meet us. By this time the trail was definitely getting softer, even in the packed sections, and we were both glad we only had 3 miles to go.

Knitting

I have been playing around with a pattern for Lobster Mittens I found on Ravelry. As I read through the pattern I realized it was based off a standard mitten pattern, just not one I was familiar with. So I rewrote it to utilize the mitten pattern I use. After splitting for the fingers I did my usual decreases for the top of a mitten. The more I looked at the finished mitten the more I disliked the decreases (and they didn't fit all that great either. See the issue?

Lobster mitten in progress

On my hand - fingers are also a bit short which makes the split fall  in the wrong spot.


Close up of the decreases on the first/middle finger section. 

Close up of the ring/little finger section. 

Too pointy! I (and I suspect most folks) do not have pointy fingers. Back to the drawing board. I did a bit of thinking, measuring, and have come up with a better plan. Now to rip out an inch and a half of knitting on each section.

Race plans

I tend to be one of those people who enters races, especially ultras, later in the registration period when I am more sure of my ability to compete. This has changed slightly in recent years as some of my favorite events have begun to fill up quickly. Last year I signed up right away for the Spring Superior 50K (it filled in 7 days) and then ended up dropping out in the first mile when it became abundantly clear to me that the injury I had suffered a month before was not sufficiently healed and I would only be doing more damage if I continued on.

This year the Spring Superior races filled in record time (despite a server crash). I was one of the fortunate folks who managed to get in, but only because I had assistance in the form of a family member who registered both of us (smartphone savvy and a well-timed break at work).

Because of the exponential growth in the Superior races over recent years they are instituting a lottery for the Fall races. This has come as a shock to many in the upper midwest running community as we are not used to lotteries in this area. I agree with the race director that a lottery is much fairer to all then the current system which favors those who can be at their keyboards anytime of day or night.

I will admit though that my first reaction was "But I don't want to have to commit financially to running a 100 miler in March! What if I end up injured... or life/work gets in the way?" Then I stepped back and looked at it from a broader perspective. I am already training for this race. I have already made the mental commitment. I still have almost a month to gauge my fitness and training progress and make a final decision. If I get in I still have 5+ months to make arrangements for accommodations and recruit crew. The only real difference this year from 2012 will be that the race fee will have already been spent. If I don't get in, I have the time off already and will either crew/pace for a friend or volunteer at the race (something I believe every runner should do, at least as often as they race).