Sunday, November 29, 2009

November - The Green Month?!

So often we think of November as that brown, dreary month that we need to get through before the snow accumulates and we can get out to ski or snowshoe. I was going along with the collective wisdom until recently when I started tuning in to all of the green in the woods.

Now, I do live in an area with a lot of evergreens and I am not including those in my sightings. Instead I have been noticing the smaller things - moss, lichens, and lycopodiums (club mosses).

Moss and staghorn sumac

Oh, and did I mention the reds? Not only sumac, but mountain ash and highbush cranberry. Then of course, with the leaves and underbrush down it is so much easier to see the bright orange jelly fungus and various hues of lichens on the trees and rocks.

These are all small, easy to overlook items but bring a splash of color to what can otherwise be a monotonous background of shades of brown.

I arrived at Scharr's Bluff for the UMTR Awards Fest on November 14th rather early so went for a walk on the trails around the Gathering Center. The park is located along the Mississippi River just north of Hastings. As I headed out onto the trails a bald eagle flew by at eye level along the cliffs edge. So cool, but no time to get my camera out.

View from the bluff, north(?) along the river

I spent some time exploring the single track trails along the cliffs edge before heading more inland and onto the ski trails.

Some fungus emerging from the soil in a pine forest

asters in the setting sun

After my hike I settled into the back of my car with a warm blanket over my legs, sun shining in my face and my knitting to wait until it was time for the party to start. And it was a great party! Good company and the opportunity to meet/see a few folks I only know by names on race results. And the food! Went away well fed and impressed with the culinary skills of this group. The awards were all well-deserved and the artwork was amazing.

The next morning I met a few friends (Karen, Wayne and Leslie) for a run at Lebanon Hills and then, after a brief break to change clothes, eat lunch, buy kim chee (thanks to Leslie who spotted the asian grocer on her way to Lebanon Hills), headed to Battle Creek Park for another run. Yup - two running dates in one day! Gotta make the most of the trip to the Cities!

A friend had left a map of the park taped to the door of the building so I could find my way around as I have only been there once before. Never a good idea to take a new trail runner out and get them lost. Ended up running a hilly 4+ miles to add to the 10 that morning. About mid way through the run we were surprised by a large bird flying down the trail in front of us. Silent flight = owl. It landed in a tree ahead of us and we stopped to watch each other. My best guess is that it was a Great Gray Owl (based on size and activity during the day). So cool...

The Heart Blanket is finished - a day late! I had miscalculated how long it would take and despite knitting like crazy on the way south to the baby shower and knitting through the baby shower I couldn't get it done. On the bright side this means I could take it home and, once it was finished, give it a good soaking and block it - bringing out the lace pattern even more.

Finished off a pair of mittens that were a commissioned project. Got to use some Bemidji Woolen Mills "Homespun". Great stuff, feels wonderful to knit up and made a lovely pair of mittens that had me wishing they were for me! Tried to eek a pair of half mitts out of the remainder of the skein but, after weighing the skein, knitting up one half mitt (minus the thumb) and reweighing the skein I have determined that I will run short. Ah well, just means I have to fall back on the resources of the stash where I found a nice single skein of Knit Picks "Wool of the Andes" in a lovely blue (Sapphire Heather).

The hat is still waiting for completion (so much for the plan to have it done by the Awards Fest). I am being distracted not only by mittens but a search for a dove pattern (for church - they are looking for dove ornaments to decorate one of the trees).

Running is progressing well at this time. Feeling recovered from the ultras. Long runs are down to about 13 miles, anything less seems... well, pointless. Enjoying the time out on the trails. Wednesday night Lakewalk runs are back which means I am getting a weekly dose of speedwork ;-> One last race for 2009 (Bridge to Peace 5K) and then it will be maintenance mode until I decide what races I will do in 2010 and work out a training schedule.

An interesting quote from Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (aka the Yarn Harlot) which I find applicable to both knitting and ultra-running (with a little word substitution):

"If you are in a yarn shop and are distracting yourself from buying things by assisting your friends with finding beautiful yarn, there is a good chance that you will be called an "enabler". Enablers are both feared and respected, for they lead their friends down the path of temptation and cost them tons of money, but they really do find the best stuff. If you are ever called an enabler, just remember, if you think about it right, enabling means the same things as "helping".

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Trail Running/Awards Ceremony Tradition

Tomorrow I am off to the Twin Cities for the UMTR Awards Fest. It has become a tradition to make Gypsy Soup for the NMTC last race/potluck/award ceremony festivities in the fall, so when thinking about what to bring to the UMTR Awards Fest potluck I settled on this soup. It is a crowd pleaser (so much so that a few folks expect me to bring it to Pine Valley), uses autumn vegetables and is pretty simple to throw together. Soup can be a bit problematic to travel with, especially when leaving my neighborhood (steep hills + gravity = spilled soup) but Mr. Wildknits and I think we have figured out a solution that will keep the soup in the pot and off my floorboards.

Gypsy Soup (Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen, 1977 edition) has the added benefit of being vegetarian/vegan (since so many runners seem to be turning to that diet right now). Mollie describes it as "... a spiced and delectable brew of Spanish and Dickensonian origins". Mine even includes some locally grown (right out the front door) garlic!

Creating Gypsy Soup

Ingredients: olive oil, onion, garlic, winter squash, celery, tomatoes, sweet peppers, chickpeas, stock or water, paprika, turmeric, basil, salt, cinnamon, cayenne, bay leaf, tamari.

wildknits garlic in the garlic mincer - takes some effort but gets the job done

soaked the chickpeas yesterday and then forgot how long they take to cook!

a little refreshment while cooking

finished product - this soup usually has an amazingly orange color from the squash and tumeric which is hard to see in this photo

The Heart Blanket is about half way done - which leaves me a lot to do before next Saturday. I have been trying to complete a pattern repeat each day. I also have a hat waiting in the wings which I had hoped to have completed by now and I have been thinking a lot about the linen lace curtains that have been a long term occupant of the unfinished projects pile.

Surf the Murph 50K:
It has been two weeks since I finished my second 50K. I set another PR (6:20) at this race and finished 4th woman overall (and first in her 40's ;-> ). It was a tough race mentally for me. The course is not as technical as Wild Duluth but Les managed to find some very interesting single track to throw in, including one section with a wicked climb! Starting in the dark was fun - I really enjoyed running at this time of day and being able to spy other runner's headlights as they wound through the woods ahead of me. The sunrise was spectacular and I wish I had been able to get a photo of it.

I had figured I could finish this race somewhere between 6 - 6:30, barring a disaster. Unlike previous races I did not have a slip of paper with splits written down, I planned on just running what felt right. After all I was only two weeks out from my first ultra. I arrived at the first aid station sooner than I expected and then it was on to the truly wicked hills on the north side of Murphy-Hanrehan. I was glad I had run out here before and had a sense of how many there were before you came out to the road and the horse trailer parking lot and aid station.

After a quick stop at my drop bag to replenish the gel flask and refill my water bottle I was off to the next aid station. At this point I was running near or with other folks and would chat on occasion as pace permitted. I met Dave, other wise known as the "rookie" who caught up to me and stated some other runners told him to run with me because I was "tough" and would finish. Nice compliment. He had a great story to tell and we ran together for quite some time. This was his first race beyond half marathon distance I believe - and first trail race as well (he finished).

Came into the Natchez Aid Station and was greeted by Helen who had some terrific pumpkin soup waiting for the runners - just the thing on a cool, blustery day. Took off from the aid station onto what appeared to be newly created single track, where I picked up a glove and then on to more new looking trail through reeds(?) that reached well above my head. I eventually caught up to the owner of the glove and was able to hand it off. Throughout the race I would take my mittens on and off, mostly depending on the wind. My hat stayed on until later in the day and I never did remove the blaze orange hooded sweatshirt that was part of my 'costume'

The southern loop is fairly flat and I am not a fan of running long on flat surfaces.
Dave heading up one of the inclines on the southern loop a bit before reaching the horse trailer aid station

Soon enough though we were back to the horse trailer parking lot and then it was onto the single track and back to the starting area. The course wove from ski trail to single track as we made our way back towards the main parking area. It certainly kept your attention watching for flagging and guessing what would be up ahead! I ended up finishing my first loop in about 3 hours and ran in with friends that were participating in the 25K - a nice way to transition into the second loop.

After a brief stop to replenish gel and water and grab a couple items off the aid station table (so many choices!) it was onto the second loop. Soon enough I was back in the hills and enjoying the lovely woods.

This stretch of boardwalk was much less slippery the second time around with the frost off of it (note - this is looking back along the trail)

I reached the "first" aid station and who do I find hanging out but a bunch of "shady characters":

Wayne, Bill S, and Rick B.( I think)

At this point the lies started! And the whole aid station seemed to be in on it. I swear it was Wayne who said "Leslie is just 5 minutes ahead of you"! I expressed my disbelief only to hear a chorus from the guys gathered around the table that it was true. Hmmm.... highly unlikely. Leslie (from Duluth, traveling companion this weekend, second woman in the Wild Duluth 50K - her debut at the distance, and all around great friend) is FAST. If I was within 5 minutes of her she was having a terrible day. If she was having a terrible day what did that mean for me?!? We had both run our first ultras two weeks before and were both experimenting with two ultras in two weeks.

I am not one to linger at aid stations - refill the water bottle, graze from the table and then I am off. Ran this section with Wayne, Rick and eventually Karen who were all in the 50 mile race. They kept me laughing throughout! What a great way to knock off those steep hills without hardly noticing them.
The trio just prior to the start of the 50 mile race

I managed to get ahead long enough to capture a photo as Rick and Wayne climbed a hill

Then it was back to the horse trailer aid station and out onto the flat southern section. By now I was alone again and not having a good time. Physically I was okay - or as okay as someone in the second half of a 50K can be. Mentally though I was having a tough time. I have gone through this before (first Half Voyageur especially) and know it is transitory and often an indication I am not getting enough calories. I found the flat bits to be harder to run than the hills and it seemed to take forever to get to the landmarks I could remember (like the canoe chained to a tree near the lake - makes me want to go for a paddle every time I see it). I kept bargaining with myself: run x far and then you can walk a bit; and waiting and hoping to see the next aid station. Thoughts of Helen's pumpkin soup kept me going through this rough patch. The bonus when I finally made it to the aid station: Bonnie and Don were there. Even more friends to encourage me! Stuck around at the aid station a bit longer than usual, drank a large cup of soup, chatted a bit (though I think it may have taken some coaxing from Bonnie to get much out of me) and then shuffled off to the promise of "only 10 more miles to go" (it was less). Single track is always good at cheering me up a bit, the tall reeds had some interesting birds flitting in and out, and soon I was back out onto the wide trails and renegotiating with myself (you can walk the really muddy spots).

The sun had also decided to come out and the day was warming up a bit. Never enough to take off the hoody though (blaze orange hoody and green tights = pumpkin... I know, lame costume but I just could not conceive of running in much more than that). I did catch up to one runner (50 miler) as I made my way back to the horse trailer aid station but then was on my own again. It was here I finally had a stern talk with myself about the need for an attitude adjustment. I began to focus my attention on what was going right: I was still feeling strong, legs were good, stomach was good, it was a beautiful day, the light on the prairie grasses was incredible, the sun was shining...

From here on out it was a matter of ticking off the miles. Only 4 to go after horse trailer and it included some fun single track! Anybody can run 4 miles, thats almost nothing. It is amazing what a change in attitude - and breaking a task into smaller pieces - can do to turn things around!

the trail

a really poor attempt at a self-portrait near the end of a 50K

I began to run into more people (marathoners? 50Kers? 50 milers? - so hard to know) and was looking for all of the landmarks I could remember to indicate how close I was to the finish. At one point I thought I had missed a turn as it was a long way between flags and I thought I should have been on single track by now. Just about the time I was thinking I would need to retrace my steps (yikes!) I saw the flagged turn ahead. Yeah! No missed turns.

As I crested a hill I came upon a gentleman sitting in a lawn chair reading the paper.... interesting. Then a little further along was Leslie! She told me I only had a quarter mile to go. I managed to pick up the pace a bit - like a horse heading for the barn ;-> There is a small rise just before you reach the finish line and I could see my sister standing at the top with her camera in hand.... She kept staring down the trail, never raising the camera and it was then I remembered that I had never told her what I would be wearing! I had to shout at her and she managed to get a couple of shots of me coming into the finish.

Now it was time to share race day stories and wait for other friends to finish/pass through the aid station. Leslie was the first woman finisher in the 50K! Wayne finished his first 50 miler (as did Kel) and great races were run by many folks.

Les and Cindy put on a great event. The volunteers were fantastic! I was so well cared for at each and every aid station - a woman could get spoiled running these things. I got to meet some folks I only know from the blogosphere (Londell and Westy, whose wife recognized me from reading my blog). And I was able to work myself through a rough patch and come out the other side feeling pretty positive about what I had accomplished.

2009 has been a quite a year for me! I went from rarely racing to: a 25K each in April and May; a 5k in June; a 10 K and a marathon in July; a 192 mile relay (12 person team) in August; a 10 mile in September; and two 50k's in October. In each setting a PR for that distance or that particular race. I have put more running miles on my feet this year than ever and seem to be holding together. One more race to go in December and then it will be time to relax a bit, hopefully get out on the cross-country skis and plan for next years racing season.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Something Other Than Running...

because I still have not digested Surf the Murph 50K enough to write a race report.

In brief, for those who may want to know: I finished; I ran a race Sunday; Monday I was exhausted (combination of lack of sleep over the weekend, running and work); Tuesday I engaged in alternative activities (see below); Wednesday I ran a hilly 45 minutes on the SHT from my back door west and then home again; and then today, being a Thursday and "Thursdays are for running to work" after all, I ran a nice mellow 2.5 miles.

But I have been busy with a few other things:
  • Planting Garlic: I needed to get this in before the ground froze and we are running out of time up north. Tuesday morning was sunny and warm - relatively speaking - and I did not have to be in to work until noon so off to the garden I went.
preparing the bed

using an antique potato planter to make the holes for the garlic

planting the garlic (harvested from my garden earlier this fall)

Due to lack of time I did not expand the garlic bed this year. But I did plant the largest of the bulbs so am hoping for a bigger harvest next year. It will be a sacrifice, but I am sure we will manage to eat the remaining garlic in the next month or two ;->

  • Knitting:
This is a baby blanket for a niece who is expecting her first child. Those are size 5 needles - large for me (I normally work on 0's and 1's) and the yarn is an acrylic/wool blend (Plymouth Encore worsted weight) for easy care. The pattern is called Heart Blanket (Fiber Trends CH-24) and is a favorite of mine. Nice lace pattern but not too complicated... well I guess that depends on your perspective. Embiggen the first photo and tell me what you think. The original pattern came with both written and charted directions. In this case I transferred the written directions to card stock - one row per card - which makes the project more portable and easier to follow, especially later at night when my eyes are tired and do not want to focus on tiny symbols in a chart.

Never let anyone tell you knitting is not a blood sport! Last night while knitting away on this blanket I managed to poke a hole in my right index finger with the tip of the above pictured needles. Ouch!!! Drew blood - and a laugh from my daughter S who was sitting across from me. I think this is the first time I have impaled myself on such large needles. If I am careful I can still knit and avoid hitting that spot. There are few things worse than re-impaling yourself on a knitting needle - and the tips always seem to find that weak spot.

Plans for the weekend include getting straw for the garlic and strawberry beds; finishing up the weeding and rearranging of the strawberry bed (whose idea was it to put in a bed large enough for 78 plants anyway?); spreading straw on the above mentioned beds; attending eldest daughter G's UMAC (college) championship playoff soccer game; running some unknown distance on a trail somewhere in the vicinity; and making some serious progress on this blanket as the shower is in a few weeks.

Not too ambitious am I?