February 22, 2009

Kahtoolas Spur Memories of Tibet

In July of 2004, I was in Lhasa enjoying the thin mountain air, the scent of burning yak butter and the sounds of spinning prayer wheels among many monks, locals and pilgrims. When I researched Kahtoola MICROspikes I was pleasantly surprised to learn that, Kahtoola, is the Tibetan word for "directly." I then reminisced my adventures in Tibet and China.

I was already running at that point in my life and even attempted to jog at elevation in Lhasa—GASP! For most of the trip I trained on hotel treadmills but managed a run along the Great Wall, too! I don't know how the Great Wall marathoners hold up on all that stone!?
It's no coincidence that something as simple as a piece of running gear linked me back to an earlier experience in my life. Running has a way of bringing things full circle—like khora. Now that I think of it, the name of the YakTrax Pro gear probably is NOT a fluke either as the yak animal is a significant aspect of Tibetan life.

Where does this lead?
Through "Kahtoola's 1% for the people" program, the company "contributes 1% of sales to the preservation of indigenous mountain cultures world wide," so your greenbacks and runs are also going directly to a good cause.
Furthermore, the simple, repetitive and meditative act of running brings mental, physical and spiritual well-being into life. Knowing something about the background of the gear (e.g., Kahtoolas) also connects us to another part of the world.

Due to their 1/2-inch spikes, the Kahtoola MICRO's
should NOT be worn inside unless standing on a carpet to try them on. Wear them outside and on the trails! Road running while wearing the Kahtoolas is noisy and I find it a bit awkward under foot (much more so than road running with the YakTrax Pro). Still, the MICROS are fine for short snow-, and ice-free transitions from road to trail. They also appear to be a made of a slightly gooey rubber and a bit heavier (but not HEAVY) than the YT Pros.

I love my YakTrax Pros and will continue to train in them on hard-packed, snowy surfaces. I'll reserve my MICROspikes for the times when the trails are icy, muddy, hilly and fast!

A note about sizing.
If you are in between sizes—go with the smaller, slightly tighter, option.
I wear a size 8.5 to 9 women's running shoe (road & trail, respectively) and I wear a small for both the MICROs and the YT Pros.

Long after I'd left Lhasa, the 2004 International Half Marathon Championship was held there; it was the first time for China to host such a running event in that high-altitude region. For the not-quite-as-strong-hearted there was also a 10k and 5k. The course started from the Potala Palace and finished at the Tibet Race course, passing temples along the way. (If you can find any actual results and more news that would be a coups!). Yes, if I was in Lhasa when this was happening I would have joined in a heartbeat.
Maybe someday my path will direct me back around through Lhasa.

February 20, 2009

Elephant Rock Run

In early February I visited one of my favorite "stomping grounds," Elephant Rock, which is near Boston Hill. I don't actually stomp along trails but instead pick, wog or scoot (pixie-style). Sometimes I plod, slip and bumble-a-bit, too! When I run technical trails I imagine my form resembles a game of zig-zagging rock & root hop-scotch. In general running trails hones my mental focus and motor skills—with or without snow.

The footing in Ward Reservation is tricky regardless of the season. Trail running is meditative and I must be present every step. When I started running trails some years ago, I was quite clumsy the first few times (and still can be especially when I am tired & out-ah-gas). Yet, the more I run on a variety of terrain the efficient I become & the more proficient I am in handling what nature tosses my way!

In the spring I enjoy the surprise of punching through the snow. This is different than post-holing, because it is nearly unexpected. There probably exists some "nature formula" with landing pressure, temperature of day, and snowflake quality that enters into the equation of precisely when a foot breaks through... Still I prefer the surprise! The act of falling/tripping and the immediate recovery afterwards also requires personal experience and skill. However I don't recommend intentionally falling to get better at it.

Several trails lead to the summit of Boston Hill and the one I usually take has a small stream crossing and rocky technical terrain. When I am in tip-top shape I can usually run/jog the whole way up. But this time I wogged it, which is more enjoyable to me anyway. Wogging is a term referred to a mixture of jogging and walking. It's a technique that's essential to me on long runs.

For your inner-geologist, Boston Hill is a "glacial drumlin, which is a rounded hill that was formed when moving ice sheets pushed together molded masses of sticky glacial till" (ATC's Trail Guide). The retired Boston Hill ski area is fenced off but is a welcome sign that I've reached the top of it. I recall skiing on Boston Hill as a little kid. It's steep slope and proximity to the road terrified me. After the ski area closed down, it was briefly an alpine slide park. I found a great site exploring Boston Hill's history at The hill is now all overgrown and thankfully still UN-developed! The trail towards Elephant Rock runs along to the right of this defunct chair lift on a level surface before it opens up onto a beautiful field where the Elephant waits. The hill by Elephant Rock is a great for running repeats.

Here's a candid photo of Elephant Rock—with a clear view—snapped during a hike in October, 2006.
NO Snow!

I love this field and the surrounding woods because I've seen a gang of wild turkeys, deer parcels as well as, fallen—head over heals— two times!
What's next?

February 15, 2009

Gettin’ My "Giddy-Up" On At Horse Hill

Yesterday I ran my first-ever snowshoe race: Horse Hill 7k Snowshoe Race. It was fantastic and surprisingly not as hard as I anticipated! With the sun shining, a light breeze and hard-packed, minimal-slush trails, conditions were perfect for this first-timer! Was this nature’s and SS’s way of telling me I was in the right place?

The first and last time I strapped on my snowshoes was February 12, 2006—nearly three years ago to the day. I wrote in my log that P and I hiked in the Cochran Bird Sanctuary during a blizzard and that it was difficult. Time to dust off those Atlas Electra’s and take up Dan S on his invitation to join in the SS fun. I signed on with Dungeon Rock Racing in hopes of helping them with a few points in the series scoring. I did a lot better than I ever imagined (3rd female overall) and earned some points for them but, alas, not enough to nudge out their competition.

I left Andover, Mass. with oodles of time to spare and I’m relieved I did because I got lost finding the Nature Preserve in Merrimack and instead ended up finding Amherst and Hollis, NH. Eventually I arrived at the race with five minutes to run from my car, register, strap on my SS and line up in the rear. My .3-mile run from the car was my warm up. Seeing the familiar faces of Jay, Dan, Brian, and Jeanne was a calming relief and after the race I was happy to catch my breath with them as well as Diane and Laurel (who’d caught her breath long before).

Lesson #1: SS racing is hot—hotter than trail running! I figured if I was cold at the starting line, I was properly dressed for the race. Not so. At about 3.5k into the course I was stripping off my
headband and gloves, and wishing for fewer top layers. For comic relief, I imagined self-combusting on the trail and having the next runner come upon my smoldering SS frames! Lesson #2: carry water (no watering holes in the woods).

I loved the thunderous sound of the start—the click clack of 100-plus snowshoes moving forward like a herd of wild horses. After the 1-2k mark, I was in the middle of a small team. The pace was comfortable and I already learned from racing in general Lesson #3: do NOT go out too fast. I did not and felt comfortable, as though I was on a training run for the majority of the race. As the hills arrived I power-walked passed people and found myself a ways behind Diane. Then we pulled away from the others. At about 3.6 miles I started to fatigue. My runs haven’t been longer than 4.5 miles since last year and I’m averaging about six to 12 miles per week, so it’s no surprise I faded. Lesson #4: SS running is a harder work out than running on hilly snowy trails, even when post-holing.

I was thankful for Diane being in sight; she was a wonderful carrot that kept me on pace and focused. She led us up and over hills with her incredible stamina, consistency and grace. I think I would have started to build snowmen in the woods if it wasn’t for her. Lesson #5: there is a time and a place for building snowmen. SS racing is not one of them.

With about 1.5k remaining I decided to pass Diane. She asked, “Emily, is that you?” I thought she knew I was behind her. When I passed her, my tank was on “E” and thought “what the heck am I doing?” I playfully Trail-Pixie joked, “yes, come and get me!” She did. I anticipated sprinting it out with her over the last 1/2 mile (with her finishing ahead) but not today. I thought for sure she’d pull ahead. We both must have been tired and I finished fewer than 30 seconds ahead.

Diane continues to inspire me. In past years I ran with her on the Rochester Runners. She’s a consistent and phenomenal road runner who’s successfully added trail running to her resume. She’s an awesome uphill runner (I learned this at Northfield Mountain '08) and in this SS race she proved it once again, pulling away from me on the ups. I am an adventurous down hill runner so that’s where I closed the gap in this event. I must say I am relieved that we are in different age groups because it keeps our trail racing company playfully competitive and motivating. Furthermore, the older I get the less competition I feel with other runners and the more I aim to challenge my own ability to greater heights. I also enjoy being part of a team and working together.

Lesson #6: There is a Right and a Left foot for SS. The buckle and straps face the outside. After the race Jeanne asked me if I had put my SS on the correct feet; she thought she saw that mine were possibly, switched and on the wrong feet. I found hilarious because it is just the kind of goof-ball thing I would do! Purely by accident, I did end up putting my SS on the correct feet. Still I suffered many snowshoe (and other) malfunctions during the race. Apart from accidentally flinging my car key into the woods two times and a garment conundrum, I had to stop a lot to tighten my SS straps!

I also kept banging the cleat/frame of my SS into my right ankle, wincing in pain each time. I new I was bleeding but Trail-Pixie is tough! On the drive home I gooped some hand sanitizer (gross, I know) on the area and took two Advil. When I saw P later that day and showed him my battle wound, he said “Em, that’s swollen!” Indeed it was and I was off to ice! Lesson # 7: Pin car key to inside of pants; Lesson #8: Crank down SS straps very tightly, or invest in Dion Snowshoes; Lesson #9: Wear some protective gaiters or apply moleskin with duct tape to ankle area (thanks Brian); Lesson #10: If it feels right, for the right reasons, carry on......snowshoeing.

For photos by Steve W go to: or via his blog: have2run. Thanks for being out there, Steve! Dan, Thanks for encouraging me to come and SS!

February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day!

He is my favorite ggrrrrizzly creature who roams year round, along Route 28 on Cape Cod in South Yarmouth, Mass. I was on Cape in January saw him in his dashing new outfit: red and white baseball shirt, fresh socks and trainers, too. Up until a year ago, he donned a tired, ribbed tank-top. He looks so cute! But beware...

With a bulbous hunched back and a seemingly belligerent ggrrr attitude, he has a case of
Have a playful and fun Valentine's Day.

February 12, 2009

Handmade 2 x 4 Calf Stretcher

I made this little device in about 20 minutes from two, 12-inch long, 2 x 4 boards.
I glued them together, slightly offset (by 1/2 inch), with wood glue (see above).

This simple construction proves to be an essential part of my daily stretching routine. I believe that tight calf muscles lead to all sorts of maladies, such as plantar fasciitis. I gently stretch my calves on my "mini staircase" two to three times per day for about five minutes each session.

February 11, 2009

Spring (Strip) Tease

These signs of spring emerged in my flower garden this week during the warm weather & receding snow banks. I love the way the bulbs curiously pushed through this leaf like they're wearing a skirt. I defrocked the vulnerable shoots & found more signs of innocent spring. If I recall, I planted both daffodils & tulips in that vicinity.

Black Ice & Banana Peel

Today's weather was unseasonably warm and nearly reached 60 degrees by mid-day. What a spring tease. Ensuring I got a run in before my day slipped by, I ran before 7 a.m. when the roads were still a bit slick in spots with black ice. As I moved along the road, I came across this forlorn & strewn banana peel in my midst. I found this very silly and felt compelled to take a photo. First I had to beware of black ice and then banana peels?!

I dedicated this run to the color yellow. Here's a yellow triptych from my morning run (hydrant, sign post and school bus). I opted NOT to capture any yellow snow but did see some markings on a nearby snow bank. (You'll have to imagine it!)

February 08, 2009

Some Pre-Dawn Running Safety

Last week I headed out for a wake-up run at 5:30 a.m. Snow fell in the hours beforehand and balanced on the tips of branches like white spherical ornaments. The air was crisp but not painful to breathe like bitter sub-zero cold that threatens exercise-induced asthma. As the sky lightened, I detected almond-shaped hoofs along the side of the road for a few meters before the tracks disappeared into the woods. I decided not to follow them but continued on the roads to further warm up before heading into an A.V.I.S. reservation. Post-holing new tracks proved exhausting but added a brief and intense variety to my workout.

One benefits of pre-dawn (winter) runs is traffic-free streets. I have the option to run down the middle of side streets and secondary roads without concern for an abundance of commuters. While it may be loopy to mention running down the middle of a road, when sidewalks aren’t clear nor in existence, it’s a viable option depending on the time of day and the particular road. When I choose to do this it’s usually in neighborhoods with which I am very familiar.

Since the plows had long since passed that morning, the streets were a leopard pattern of slick packed snow, ice and asphalt. Footing was tricky and I was able to test out my
Yak Trax on more surfaces. Even when caked with snow, their springs still confidently gripped the road.

I was taught to drive defensively and I road run with the same vigilance. I assume that cars do not see me and I swiftly move to the side or off of the road entirely before they pass. Not wearing headphones while exercising (at least outside) allows me to hear and focus not only on my surroundings and safety but also on the rhythm of my breathing and my foot fall. When I head out in the dark (dawn or dusk) I wear my Princeton Tec Aurora head lamp for visibility (both to see and to be seen). Here's what the head lamp looks like before sunrise on a flashing-blinky mode:

Another benefit to running along the center or a road is that it tends to be less cambered than towards its sides. Running frequently on slanted surfaces might lead to increased injury, could aggravate running form and tinker unkindly with bio mechanics. Years ago a podiatrist told me to "get off the roads and head to the trails." What a wise man. Of course the uneven terrain of trails offers its own challenges but more importantly to me are its numerous benefits (more on that in the future). For starters, trail running strengthens the ankles and feet, tunes agility and focus and gets me exploring and appreciating into nature.