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So I’m not superhuman

My training for the OAT Run trail half marathon has gone really well. I’ve been running lots of hills and getting in plenty of unpaved trail time. I’ve been delighted by how much stronger and faster I’m becoming on hills — I can run a few miles up a steep trail without having to walk or stop! I can really feel the difference in my hill strength as a result of all the hilly runs and bike rides I’ve been doing.

So yesterday I set out to do 11 miles on the Adventure Trail. I had planned that this would be my last really long trail run before the race on 4/26.

There was rain in the forecast that hadn’t happened yet. The rain started right about the time I started running. Mud puddles quickly formed. Eventually large sections of the trail began to resemble a small stream. I slowed down and watched my footing more carefully, but I was feeling great so I kept bounding along.

At 10.3 miles I was congratulating myself on my awesomeness. In that brief lapse of focus I stumbled over a rock and went down hard. I got up slowly, marveling at the mud all over myself. The damage seemed to be limited to a few abrasions on my forearms and knees and a small cut on my chin. But my left shoulder was a bit sore.

I ran the last bit back to the car where my friend, who’d ridden the trail on his bike, was waiting for me. By the time I got home my left shoulder was becoming extremely sore. It was all I could do to get out of my wet, muddy clothes and into the shower.

I had a full range of motion in my left arm, so I didn’t think I’d done anything to warrant a trip to the emergency room. However, during the evening my pain-free range of motion got smaller and smaller. There was no swelling or bruising, but eventually I could barely move my left shoulder at all.

So this morning I went to my doctor’s office, where they immediately sent me to the emergency room. The X-rays revealed a “closed fracture of the left proximal humerus.” It’s a small chip at the very top of my arm bone where it meets the shoulder. You can’t put a cast in that spot, so I’m in a sling. I’ll be in that sling for 4-6 weeks. No running. No bike riding. I’m left handed, so I’m currently typing very slowly with my right hand and wondering how I’m going to feed myself.

I am extremely disappointed to miss the trail race and other upcoming planned activities. But I’m trying to be okay with all of this. I sat in the ER waiting room this morning surrounded by overweight people with weak, tired bodies. I’d much rather injure myself in the pursuit of health and vigor than succumb to diseases of inactivity. I will heal. My knees will appreciate a few weeks of rest. I’ll keep up the daily activity with walks around town.

I’m not superhuman, but I’m strong. I’m stubborn and determined, and I love to run. I’ll look forward to running another NODM half marathon in June!

 

 

 

 

I’m back in training mode — yippee!

Gosh, it’s been too long since I last posted here! After my big push to complete 1,000 running miles in 2013, it’s been nice to dial down the intensity just a bit, so there really hasn’t been much running activity to write about.

So far this year I’ve been enjoying the opportunity to simply run — as much or as often as I feel like — with no particular goals in mind. It’s a good time of year to be relatively fallow. January and the first half of February were unusually dry, but very cold. Then in mid-February the rain started, and it essentially hasn’t stopped raining since then. Think I’m exaggerating? In the 37 days since February 10, we’ve had over  8.50 inches of rain (about a third of our annual average), and we’ve had measurable rain on all but 7 of those days.

On a rainy, windy day with the temperature in the mid 40s, I have to talk myself into going out to run. Once I finally get out there, however, it’s usually easier to keep going. Therefore, most of my “casual” runs lately have ended up as 8 to 11 milers. An enduring benefit of my marathon training last year is that I still think of a 9 mile run as sort of a fitness baseline. I can knock it out in an hour and a half, no big deal.

Knowing that, I’ve allowed myself to be casual about training for upcoming spring races. I have no real concerns about my ability to run 13.1 miles on any given day. I’ve racked up over 200 running miles so far this year in this no-stress way.

But suddenly it’s mid-March and my trail half marathon is less than six weeks away! While I know I can go the distance, I have done very little trail running over the past year. I’d like to go out and run the trail on which the race will be held, but due to the stormy weather it has been plagued with downed trees (recently as many as 160 down at one time), to say nothing of mud. I confess… I haven’t run that trail even once this year.

I took this photo during a hike (not a run) on a different trail, but the same principle applies — when a landslide obliterates the trail, it’s a good idea to turn around. It’s hard to tell the scale from the image, but this slide was over 20 feet across.

Until conditions improve on my race trail, I’m improvising a training plan. I’m focusing on running hills, and throwing in bits and piece of local off-pavement trails whenever I can. Fortunately my immediate neighborhood is very hilly, so I don’t have to go far to do that sort of training. The other day I ran almost three miles straight up the road from my house, climbing over 850 feet, and then dove into the forest to return via a trail that was not TOO muddy. Now my plan is to adopt that route as one of my regular weekly runs, adding to the mileage and incorporating more of the trail as I go. Eventually I’ll get out there on that race trail — for sure I’ll get out there on race day!

So I’m optimistic about my upcoming race, and not stressing out about it — much. It’s my first trail half marathon, so it’s a guaranteed PR, right? I know I’ll be a couple of minutes per mile slower on dirt/mud/rocks/roots than I am on pavement. So I expect to amble in somewhere around the 2:45 mark, stuffed chock-full of wonderful endorphins. Then I’ll hoist my post-race beer with heartiness and glee.

What could possibly go wrong?

One step at a time!

Feeding the streak

Well-chosen, realistic but challenging goals, once established, have a funny way of sticking — of taking root in your heart. I didn’t really know what I was signing up for when I set my somewhat modest running mileage goals for 2013. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was really signing up for a joint commitment with CFL to be active every single day for… who knows how long we’ll last?

I think I figured out I was hooked on the streak before the end of the first week. It’s now 35 days into 2013 and I have accumulated the following mileage:

  • 89 running miles
  • 61 walking miles
  • 4 hiking miles

That’s a total of 154 miles!

At this rate I’m going to blow my modest goals (730 running miles, 1200 total miles) out of the water.

I’ve run/walked/hiked those miles in Washington, California, and Oregon. I’ve run on pavement, gravel, rocks, mud, sand, surf, and grass. I’ve walked inside an airport terminal and I’ve done laps around shopping mall parking lots — just to keep the streak intact.

Along the way, I’m discovering that as I get stronger and more accustomed to this increased level of activity, my self-imposed challenges get bigger and my response to them gets better.

Just over a year ago I set myself some big hairy audacious running goals:

  1. Sub-30 minute 5k
  2. Sub-60 minute 10k
  3. Sub-2:30 half marathon

#1 turned out to be rather easy, and I’ve now done it several times, although never officially in a race. I’ve also surprised myself by hitting #3 handily in my last three races. My current half marathon goal is 2:10, which would be a sub-10 minute pace.

Goal #2 still eludes me. I haven’t really set out to do it, but I’ve glanced at my watch several times at the 6.2 mile mark during longer runs. The best I’ve been able to do is just under 1:02. Well, the other day I started out to run 7 miles on a hilly trail (paved) and noticed that I was hitting my first few miles at a comfortable 9:50 pace. With just a bit of a push I had a shot at the elusive sub-60 minute 10k! I didn’t quite make it, but I clocked that distance at 1:00:45. The sub-60 minute 10k will be mine, the next time I give it a real attempt on a flat section of trail!

Even more impressive (to me) is the fact that I’m regularly running longer and recovering faster. Over the past five days, I’ve run that brisk 7 miles on pavement, 6.5 miles on a steep rocky trail, and 8.25 miles on pavement. On today’s 8.25 mile run, I backed off the pace to a comfortable 10:15 (which I used to consider a blistering pace) and finished not even feeling winded. It wasn’t so long ago that I would have needed four days or more to recover from any of those three runs. Now I run them, chafe on my “off” day when I might only walk 4 miles, and can’t wait to run them again.

Part of the “problem” (or the thing that keeps luring me on to try longer and more frequent runs) is the fact that CFL has been coming along with me to ride his bike. And you guessed it, he wants to ride longer and longer distances (we are learning that team streaking is a highly addictive activity).

We typically do out-and-back runs and agree to turn around at a given time, which theoretically gets both of us back at the car at the same time. He’s not really satisfied with anything less than a 90-minute ride. So I find myself agreeing to run longer distances… and I find myself loving the distance and feeling great afterwards.

I warned him today where this is likely to lead. When an “easy mid-week run” has me going 8+ miles, how much longer will it be until the mileage creeps upward into double digits? How long until I tackle a 15 mile long slow run? And once I’m doing “fun runs” that exceed the half marathon distance, can a decision to attempt a marathon be far behind?

I confess that I am playing with the idea of running a marathon.

Dad, don’t faint. I’ll be intelligent about it, I promise.

It’s still just an idea at this point.

But I know when and where I’ll try it, if I decide to try it.

Feeding the streak… what shall I do tomorrow? It’s the stuff of sweet dreams…

One step at a time!

Running back to the beach: One year later!

I’ve just returned from my annual January getaway in Santa Barbara, California, for Fielding Graduate University‘s national Winter Session. I’ve made a point of attending Winter Session throughout the years I worked on my PhD as well as after I graduated in 2009 (I only missed 2011 when Kurt was in the middle of chemotherapy and unable to travel). I can no longer imagine not being in Santa Barbara for one lovely week in January, soaking up the sunshine before returning north for the long, slow wait for spring.

Now that I’m an alumna, I no longer have to attend seminars, so I make the most of the opportunity to be active in the sun. Last year I ran barefoot on the beach — and as I planned for and dreamed about this year’s trip, it was running on the beach that most captured my imagination. I couldn’t wait!

As luck would have it, I arrived in southern California in the midst of a record-setting cold spell. On my first afternoon run I faced a brisk, cold wind. It was so cold that I decided to keep my shoes on and run on the semi-soft sand several feet above the surf line. There was actually sand blowing on the beach! The haziness in this photo isn’t camera shake — that’s blowing sand.

I ran about four and a half miles, mostly on grass and packed sand, and was delighted with my easy, comfortable pace of just over 10:00 minutes per mile — about a minute and a half faster per mile than I’d run a year ago!

Two days later I was ready to go out and do it again. It was still cold and breezy, but the brutal wind had abated. I stopped a few times for photos — who could resist views like these?

But at last, after four shod miles, it was time for the main event — take those shoes off and dance in the surf!

A year ago I ran carefully, slowly — but with immense joy! — and stopped quickly when my calves screamed “STOP NOW!” The next day I was extremely sore.

And this year? I ran carefully, not so slowly — and with immense joy! — felt great, could have run for several more miles but didn’t want to overdo it because I had big plans for dancing that night. One delightful barefoot mile was enough.

So then I danced for hours, felt great, and woke up the next morning feeling strong and not a bit the worse for wear. No soreness at all.

Trail running has changed my life!

I’m not bothered by uneven ground. I feel like I have a firm yet flexible base of muscle that simply takes things in stride (literally). The difference from a year ago is astounding. It almost makes me think that one of these days, I might have the guts to run on solid ground in shoes that are a bit less structured than my trusty Asics 2170s.

Or maybe I’ll just go run some more trails — wild, steep, and free in a beautiful place like this one. As soon as the snow melts!

Running the numbers for 2012… and planning for 2013

Today I ran a chilly and invigorating 7.5 miles along the waterfront, which brought my total mileage for 2012 to 600.54 miles (I had to run that last half mile just to be sure!). At the beginning of December my 600-mile goal for the year had been looking a bit iffy, but I dug in and managed to do 40 miles over the final two weeks. I didn’t quite meet my original goal of hitting a lifetime total of 2,000 miles this year — I’m 21+ miles short. However, this sets me up for a nice goal for 2013!

If I do 650 miles next year (a modest increase over this year), I’ll hit a lifetime total of just over 2,620 miles by the end of 2013. That would be the equivalent of 100 full marathons — or for that matter 200 half marathons — I like that!!

As for the number of half marathons I’ve actually run, well, this year I did four and continued my streak of a new personal record with each race. Starting in Palm Springs CA in February with a 2:37:44, I worked my way down to 2:14:29 in Victoria BC in October. I’m not sure how I’m going to beat that time next year… but I continue to surprise myself.

In addition to doubling my lifetime total half marathons from four to eight, I also ran a staged “marathon” in Alaska, completing four races over a five-day period that added up to a slightly short 24.9 miles. I ran in pouring rain on muddy trails and fell in love with trail running.

It was a very good running year!

For next year, I’m registered for two half marathons so far: the Whidbey Island Half Marathon on April 14 and my fourth North Olympic Discovery Half Marathon in my local town on June 2. After that I’m not sure… I’ve promised CFL that I’ll do more mid-summer hiking next year.

But wait… I was talking to a friend the other night and we somehow agreed to run across Olympic National Park one long summer day next year. It’s 44 miles of steep trails and stream fords from the Quinault River to the Elwha River. She is a marathoner and might conceivably pull it off in a day, but I’d be thrilled if I could do it in TWO days! I might have to back away from that “goal.” Still, it’s calling to me a little bit… there is so much romance to the idea of traveling across the Olympics on foot, at whatever pace I’m able to manage. CFL even tells me he’d join me for a two-day trip. Stay tuned…

As I prepare to say goodbye to 2012 and welcome 2013, I have so many things to be grateful for and happy about. It’s been a year of big changes and grand new adventures. I continue to believe that wonderful things are possible if we can just slow down, put one foot in front of the other, and enjoy the views every moment along the way.

Happy New Year, and cheers!

Rediscovering the joys of slow happy running

It’s been a while since I have run purely for fun rather than because I was training for a race. My knees have needed and appreciated the near-complete break from running after the Victoria half marathon four weeks ago, but over this past week the itch to run has returned.

I ran an easy four miles along the waterfront the other day, accompanied by the calls of an unusually vocal common loon. Today I was ready for something a bit more adventurous.

I haven’t done any trail running since the Alaska trip last summer. This morning I suggested to my friend that we do the nearby Adventure Trail — he on his mountain bike and I on my two feet. It was not raining when we set out, but we both wore our waterproof jackets in anticipation of a sudden downpour. I normally wouldn’t consider running in a jacket — much too warm — so I was setting myself up for a leisurely run.

As it turned out, I was correct about the “leisurely” part. There were so many leaves on the trail that the numerous rocks and roots were completely hidden in many places. Every footfall became a planned, tentative event. The sensation was almost like running in slow motion (and the result was definitely slow).

But this wasn’t about pace! I had my GPS watch on but that was because I wanted to know how far I’d run. I wasn’t at all interested in how fast. I took a lot of walk breaks and stopped completely several times to capture scenes like this one.

The story gets better. By stopping to take that photo, I created a space and time in which to experience something truly rare and remarkable.

I heard a tree fall in the forest.

I didn’t see it directly. I heard two sharp cracks, the second louder than the first. I looked just to the right of the trees in the photo and saw branches shaking as though a large animal had just run through them. I heard a couple of soft whooshes as the tree (or it could have been just a large branch) fell through other trees — then a loud BOOM as the timber hit the ground.

My friend, who was out of sight ahead of me on his bike, did not hear the tree fall. For him, the tree falling in the forest did not make a sound. For me, it was a breath-taking audio experience!

Philosophical conundrum solved! It’s all about whether you have made yourself receptive to that tree at the moment of its fall. I had chosen to stop, look, and listen… and there it was.

I finished my run a little tired (trail running uses different muscles than road running!) but very happy. It was wonderful to be out there, finding my way through the leaves, rocks, and roots and not stressing one bit about how slowly I was going. Sometimes just the simple fact of forward motion, with nothing in my ears except my thoughts and the sound of my footsteps, is enough.

I hope you too found some happiness today… at whatever your favored pace. One step at a time!

On writing versus living

I love to write. I really do. I have been writing almost as far back as I can remember.  In my pre-teen years I wrote short stories, mostly about horses. As a teenager and young adult I wrote moody poetry about feeling out of place and yearning for a beautiful place in nature that I was sure would make me whole. I have journaled off and on since I was about ten years old.

One of the reasons I did well throughout my educational career was my ability to write clearly and crisply (the other reason is that I have a genuine knack for taking multiple choice tests). I developed my scholarly writing skills to a fine point as a graduate student. One of my dissertation committee members, a man who is notoriously hard to please, gave me his highest praise when he told me that my writing did not get in the way of my thought process… he could clearly see my brain thinking through my words on the page.

When I ended my corporate life this past February, one of the things I was most excited about was having more time to write. I literally blocked out two hours a day on my calendar for writing. I had ideas for a couple of books. I was going to blog more frequently. I was finally going to live the life of a writer.

Six months later, I’m blogging much less frequently than I did while I was still working. And I have done exactly zero with the book ideas.

This situation bothers me… a bit.

There are days when I look back in the evening and can’t figure out what on earth I have done with my time. There are other days when I know very well what I’ve done (slept in, ran, hiked, read, whatever), and I’m satisfied that I’ve had a wonderful day. Yet I regret not having found time to write.

I tell myself that I am not yet done detoxing myself from corporate life. There is some truth in this. I am enjoying being lazy, simply gazing at the water or the mountains. I am enjoying not forcing my body to wake up on command in the middle of a sleep cycle just because the alarm clock says it’s time to get up and go to work.

I think there may be a deeper reason why I’m not writing very much right now, and on balance it’s a positive thing.

During my poet years of my teens and early 20s, I took myself very seriously as a poet. Some people work through their adolescent angst by acting out and doing wild and crazy things. I kept my turmoil mostly to myself and worked things out metaphorically on the page through my poetry. As I grew older and some things began to resolve themselves, the irrestible urge to write faded. I still wrote, but I found myself crafting poetry rather than writing it from my heart. My poems became stale and artificial, and then they finally stopped coming at all.

My journaling career has taken a similar course. I journal feverishly when I need to think through things or get unstuck, and set the journal aside when I’m ready to fully reengage with life.

When Kurt was diagnosed with lung cancer, I started the blog for him as a gift to both of us. He used it as a convenient way of keeping family and friends informed of his treatment progress. I used it to provide my perspective on his condition. At first we both blogged, but when he got sicker I became his voice. We would come home from another unpleasant procedure or another trip to the emergency room, and as soon as I made him as comfortable as I could I would fly to the keyboard and get it out of my head and out there as a physical object that was then somehow separated from my experience. Writing it all down and then clicking “publish” could be a genuine insulation against the pain.

I started this blog (a year ago next week!) as a place for me to grieve, to relearn who I had been before the diagnosis, to learn who I had become during my caregiving year, and to try to figure out who I might become next. Running was the thing that had held me together during that year, and so running became a strong focus for this blog. My readers have been friends, other grievers, other runners, and (to my surprise) those who found me through the series of posts I wrote about mid-century modern architecture in Palm Springs.

We are complex beings, we humans, each of us with our own constellation of interests, passions, fears, and the things that happen to us along the way.

This slow happy runner has become less slow and a lot more more happy.

When my life is full and I am happy, I don’t feel the urge to write.

It’s the tag end of a short but glorious Pacific Northwest summer. The snow had hardly melted when I left for the cruise three weeks ago, and now already the wildflowers have peaked, the meadows are turning brown, and the maples have their first hint of fall color. I should be up there hiking for all I’m worth, but there are so many other things to do.

I’m getting into full training mode for my two upcoming half marathons. My 4-5 mile midweek runs have become 6+ miles, and my long runs are 8+ miles. I went down to southern Oregon a week or so back to test-run about 9 miles of the course for the Rogue Run. It’s not nearly as “all downhill” as the course profile diagram implied, but it is a beautiful paved trail along a river. I do hope the weather is cooler by then; running in 85-90 degree weather was pretty brutal. Yesterday, back on home ground and 60-degree weather, I ran my fastest 9 miles ever (in just over an hour and a half) despite including some major hills on my route. I’m feeling strong, and I am fully “owning” the fact that I am truly, completely in love with running.

There will be more time to write when the days are much shorter and the nights are cold and dark. But now? This is not a time for reflection. It’s a time for doing. It’s a time for enjoying my life as fully as I possibly can.

I’ll leave you with a couple of photos (from more than 500) from my Alaska cruise.

This is one of the more “interesting” sections of the 10-mile trail run in Juneau. It’s a steep area that gets frequent avalanches and landslides.

This is me with running guru and writer John “the Penguin” Bingham, one of the group hosts, on the same trail in Juneau. When I stopped running to get this photo, I realized just how wet I actually was. It was pouring!! (And yes, we are coincidentally wearing the male and female versions of the same hydration pack.)

It’s a glorious day outside. I think I’ll click the “publish” button and go outside to enjoy it. I hope you do something wonderful with your life today as well!

Where do I begin?

It’s been several days since I returned from Alaska, but I still don’t know how to blog about it. Everything about this running/cruising vacation exceeded my expectations — the people I ran with, the places we ran, the local runners who assisted at our events, our gracious hosts John Bingham and Jenny Hadfield, the food onboard the cruise ship, my cabin, the cruise line employees, the scenery, and the wildlife. It all was, in a word, AMAZING.

I have more than 500 photos and I can’t imagine how I’ll ever choose just a few that capture how wonderful it all was. It may be that I’ll never successfully blog about this. I may have to just count it as a lifetime highlight experience and move on.

But I can’t let it pass without sharing just a few tastes.

I saw wolves running on the beach in Glacier Bay National Park.

We idled near a glacier in a sea of newborn icebergs for nearly two hours and watched/heard the glacier calve… and calve… and calve yet again.

I ran 10 miles on a steep trail in Juneau in a downpour.

I watched a thousand or so salmon packed tightly together in suspended animation just up from the mouth of a stream in Sitka, their bodies adjusting to the change from salt water to fresh water before they could resume their final journey upstream to spawn.

I ran 7 miles through a rain forest (that looked remarkably like home) near Ketchikan, and somewhere on that last run of the week I found a groove. I knew that I could have kept running like that all day. I fell in love with trail running.

Our official mileage for the week was a bit short of the promised 26.2 (perhaps I found a short cut on the find-your-own-course sightseeing rally through Sitka?). I recorded something like 24.9 miles, but I’m not complaining about that. It was all wonderful. It was also quite non-competitive, in that “winning” involved guessing your predicted total time. I finished about 30 minutes faster than the time I’d predicted, mostly because I never saw a bear so I never had to stop, wait, detour, or backtrack.

If you are a runner with a taste for adventure and a yen to travel, or if you are looking for a running-themed vacation with appealing alternatives for non-running family members, I can confidently recommend any of the Marathon Expeditions events. John and Jenny know how to do it right.

I could go on and on like this, but — I’ve got some trails to run…

Trail running on a real trail

I finally did it.

The stars, my knees, the weather, and my surprisingly busy schedule all aligned perfectly at last. Yesterday I completed a 7 mile trail run on an honest-to-goodness trail. No more running through a county park on well groomed, wide pathways. This was a narrow, often steep, winding trail through woods and clearcut meadows, zig-zigging up and down across ridgetops with alternating views of strait to the north and mountains to the south.

While the views were inspiring, I could only snatch quick glimpses of them because I had to keep my eyes sharply focused on the trail surface 5-15 feet ahead. There were lots of cobble-type rocks that demanded I set my feet down very mindfully. The trail was no more than two feet wide in most places, and bounded by either hillsides (up/down) or thick brush. In some areas, if I had wobbled just a little off trail center, I would have found myself knee deep in stinging nettles.

This was a tough and challenging workout for me. The net ascent was probably about 600 feet from parking lot to highest ridgetop, but my GPS watch was bouncing around a bit with an erratic satellite signal in the thick trees, so I am not sure of the exact altitudes. With all the little ups, downs, and hiccups my watch recorded 1,200+ feet of ascent and the same amount of descent. I was wearing my hydration pack with a few ounces of water, and I definitely felt the 1.5 pounds on my back. Coming right away from the parking lot, the trail is steep uphill. I didn’t have time to settle into my stride before I got anaerobic and was gasping for breath. I was forced to walk a bit and recover before I could settle into a steady pace.

I was surprised (and a bit humbled) by how slow that steady pace turned out to be. I’d already learned that I’m two minutes slower per mile on the county park trails than I am on a paved trail. Well, my pace on this more challenging trail turned out to be two minutes slower than that. I was out there running 14 minute miles and still feeling like this Amazon woman doing this heroic feat of adventure running!

Well, the fact is that I was the only female out there and the only runner.

I AM SLOW, HAPPY AND HEROIC!

My friend was with me on his mountain bike, riding ahead of me and periodically turning back or stopping to make sure I was still upright and achieving forward motion. His actions reminded me of when I’d go on family hikes as a child with our collie Chief. That wonderful dog usually logged 2-3 times as many miles as the rest of us with his constant running between the first and last hiker. Just as Chief was my protector and hero, I felt safe out there on the trail knowing my friend was close by. We saw two or three hikers and three other guys on bikes. Despite my dire fantasies, we did not see any bears.

I figure this 7 mile trail run was a pretty good simulation of the 7 mile trail run out of Ketchikan, which will be the last of the four races on the Great Alaskan Marathon Cruise. Well, almost a simulation… I figure I’ll already be pretty tired by the start of that race, after running three races totaling 19.2 miles over the prior four days. I know now that I’ll be seriously slow — factor in photo stops and I’ll be lucky to finish at a 15 minute pace!! But I also know that I’ll be able to rise to the occasion and do it.

Even if I have to do it one step at a time, one foot in front of the other.

This morning my knees are no more cranky than usual, but I am definitely getting sore muscles in my hips, legs, ankles, and feet. I had a vigorous workout but overall I feel rather great about it. And I’m even more excited about heading off to Alaska very soon!

The wild life

With my Alaska marathon cruise now only three weeks away, my running continues to be a good day / bad day sort of thing. I don’t want to push too hard with my training and injure myself to the point that I can’t run at all in Alaska, so I have backed way off the ambitious training plan I’d created for myself. I’m now letting my knees be my guide as to whether and how far I run on any given day. I’m confident that I haven’t lost much, if any, speed and strength. If I really want to, I can put it all out there on the trail. I’m also aware that I won’t have many opportunities in my life to experience those trails in Alaska. Any ambitions that I might have had regarding pace will be completely forgotten when I see bears, caribou, or who knows what else along the trail.

Of the several new elements of my current training, I believe the culprit that is bothering my knees is the hydration pack on my back. I did fine when I tested it with just a few ounces of water, but when I bumped it up to 20 ounces my knees were very unhappy the next day. I’m now running shorter distances and leaving the hydration pack at home. Bingo — knees are much better!

I don’t really think I’ll need to carry a lot of water in Alaska, as the 10-mile race does have one aid station. So I may be fine running with just those few ounces of water… oh, and my camera too!

Because I’ve become accustomed to lots of exercise, I decided to augment my abbreviated running plan with as much hiking as possible. Although it seems strange, my persnickety knees actually feel better after an uphill hike. It’s like they get kinked one way while running, and the hiking kinks them in some other way and it all comes out better and stronger in the end.

Or so I’m telling myself, as I’m enjoying some amazing early summer hikes into the mountains. I’ve had the opportunity to see lots of wildlife as well as the flowers that bloom almost immediately after the snow melts.

I like to say that Olympic National Park is practically in my back yard. Here is some local wildlife that I saw right outside my window! Here are two baby raccoons that are about half the size of my cats (who were going crazy next to me when I took this photo).

Life gets a little wilder out along the trail. One day I encountered a group of half a dozen Olympic marmots who were intently rooting in the dirt, grunting and growling like kids squabbling over pizza. Other hikers and I theorized that someone had made an unauthorized pit stop along the trail, creating a small “salt lick” that was irresistable to these guys. I don’t have a good photo of the crew in action, but here is another marmot that I saw near that spot a couple days later:

Also near that same area, I spotted a bird I’d never seen before — I got to add the Horned Lark to my life list. This guy was strolling (they do walk rather than hop) through the tall grass and singing his little heart out:

At the top of the hill, my friend and I stopped for a snack. He was eating nuts, and it didn’t take long for a pair of chipmunks to find us. We didn’t feed them, but they certainly tried to convince us that we should. These guys were fearless, running right into my friend’s hands, up his back, and even briefly on top of his head! I believe this is a yellow-pine chipmunk:

The approach to this hilltop is through a sub-alpine meadow at an elevation of 5,500+ feet. The wildflowers are just beginning, but this patch of glacier lilies was wonderful (no, I don’t know what the small white ones are):

The trail I was hiking meets another trail that I have wanted to do for several years. I actually ended my dissertation with a photo of that trail meandering through the meadow from the trailhead and a promise to myself that I would hike it soon. That day finally came. I went less than a quarter mile before meeting deep snow in the trees and having to turn around, but soon I’ll return to follow it all the way down to the Elwha River. Wouldn’t you dream of hiking here too?

I’ve just given you a teaser of the mountains with that last photo. Here is a bit more, for context:

I’ve saved the sweetest wildlife story for last. Returning down the hill, my friend and I saw a family of deer… a doe and her very young fawn along with two adolescent deer. The fawn couldn’t have been more than a day or two old; he or she was still wobbly on its legs. The family drew a crowd of hikers, and the fawn was briefly separated from the others when they crossed the trail. This sweet, brave little guy stood there all alone, while we all wondered if mom was going to go off and leave him!!

Finally he bleated, a soft mewing sound like a kitten. Mom, who was up the hill on the other side of the trail, heard him and turned around. She stood waiting while he darted across the trail and clambered up the hill. I captured the reunion and the happy ending to this story:

All’s well that ends well!

I feel like wildlife sometimes myself. My life, too, can seem a little wild and unpredictable. Sometimes I think I lose my way, lose sight of the trail or whatever overly-ambitious goals I may set for myself. But in the end, one step at a time — whether I run, walk, or meander slowly through the meadow — I’m going to get to wherever I need to go.