Not Race Reports

Isn’t It Good?

Preparing for the North Pole Marathon

Holy cats, only three weeks left until the day I’ve been planning for since I first got home from the Antarctic Ice Marathon over three years ago!  I’m going through my gear checklist, making some last minute purchases, and feeling stiff and sore from my exertions this weekend.

I spent Saturday romping around the White Tanks pursuing my first ultramarathon goal, which alas eluded me.  Mesquite Canyon 50K – last spring I raced the 30K distance and vividly remember scrambling up the near vertical two miles of Goat Camp while the 50K and 50 milers rained down on me from above.  It was my turn to scramble down this year.  At Black Canyon aid station they said I looked out of it, came in bent over way to the left, and made me sit down for a rest.  I’d been feeling pretty good before the descent and so thought that once I got back up over the top I’d be fine.  Filled up with water and sent off with a pocket full of dates, I swore and cried the two miles back up Goat Camp and finally won over the top to a magnificent view of the cotton fields of the West Valley.

Over the next few miles I turned the decision over in my head, listening to my body and trying to decide whether I was making excuses or making a rational judgement call.  If the ascent to Ford Canyon was anything like Goat Camp – and my memory of the course’s elevation profile said it was – then I didn’t have enough left in the tank to tackle that last nine miles.  When I reached Mesquite aid station circa 22 miles it was well after the cutoff, but I’d effectively scrubbed the race well before.  From Mesquite it was another two miles out to the nearest aid station where I could catch a ride to the start/finish area and my car.

So, while I was disappointed that I didn’t earn a finisher’s glass and an Evolution Pass series medal, I did manage to get my long run in, and a full-body workout as well!  That night at the Symphony I kept nodding off during Tchaikovsky’s 5th; fortunately I’d booked a hotel room across the street as a treat.

Sunday I dragged out my Mom’s old blue cardboard suitcase that I stored my Antarctic gear in and tried it on for size.  I’ve gained some inches in the butt area and needed to get a new pair of wind shell pants in a larger size – I want to be able to move, after all!  Although the middle layer fleece pants still fit tolerably, I decided to get and alternate pair to wear pre- and post-race and have available as a swap during the marathon.  In Antarctica I hadn’t planned on using the fleece bottom layer during the race, but found I needed it.  There I’d been able to rent down-filled pants for my non-race wear from ALE, which won’t be available in Longyearbyen.  Fortunately Eddie Bauer still makes the same fleece pant and wind shell, and their website is having a smokin’ sale without which I would probably have a heart attack over the price of the latter.  Better than freezing my buns off, I suppose.

Goggles – yes, replaced those after leaving them on a shelf in the dining hut at Union Glacier.  Hey, I was tired!  Also drunk.  Surprisingly I have three complete sets of long johns, so I’m all set in that area.  Sufficient hats and gloves and still have my Untraced face mask.  Need to check my supplies of handwarmers/footwarmers and motion sickness tabs.

Finally, I have been attempting to learn a bit of the local language, despite leaving this a bit too late as usual.  So far I have mastered, in Norwegian: “I don’t understand Norwegian.”

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If your mind don’t move and your knees don’t bend

“No plan survives contact with the enemy” – Helmuth von MoltkeIMG_2462

The Plan

Following Rio de Janeiro, I’ve been in cruise mode, basically maintaining my running with 5Ks over the summer and fall, with the occasional longer race.  Now it’s time to start getting ready for the Bunbury 3 Waters Marathon in April.  My basic training schedule will follow the training plan I used for Tokyo, with some revisions to build in some cross-training: I have a new personal trainer at the gym for strength work, and I’ve discovered that the branch over at Tempe Marketplace runs BodyCombat twice a week.  I have a shiny new Garmin Forerunner 235 that locates the satellites in seconds rather than minutes, doesn’t chew battery and has a built-in heart monitor, yay!

I like to do races for my long runs, so I sign up for a bunch;  although Bunbury is a street race I sprinkle some Aravaipa trail runs into the mix when they correspond to the distance I need to run that weekend because the Aravaipa events are always tons of fun.  There’s a hill just around the corner from my house that mimics the profile of the few hills on the Bunbury course, so I can train there on weekdays – perfect!

The Reality

Barely two weeks into my training plan, I’m car #3 in a 3-car smash-up.  My GP tells me no running and no weights until my broken ribs and sternum heal, 6-8 weeks at least.

The Plan

My GP also says “let pain be your guide”, so I’ll start with walking short distances, then increase my mileage and mix in some easy running, and see how it goes from there.  I can walk the New Year’s race I’ve signed up for, and when I fly up north for my Mom’s memorial service I’m staying near a park where I can walk.  I’ve also got the elliptical trainer at home that I can work with.

The Reality

I manage the 5K doubleheader over New Year’s, but I’ve caught a tenacious cold that on the flight to Seattle blows into my left ear and turns into a hellaciously painful infection.  The doctor at Urgent Care grounds me and I spend the rest of the week holed up in a Holiday Inn Express chugging OJ and watching true crime shows on TV.  My training is suffering from serious failure to launch.

The Plan

It’s now the second week of January.  I look for low-impact activities I can do that will get my cardio back in form, and find CycleZone classes at my gym – great aerobic workout according to my heart monitor, and there’s also lots of core work.  For my trail races, I’ll drop down the lower distances and walk them until I get the all-clear from my GP.  I’ll also try walk/running at the Saturday morning EVR group run in Gilbert.

The Reality

My first couple EVR outings, using the walk/run strategy, are tough.  I’m hyper-vigilant that I don’t stub my toe on the pavement and trip, feeling fragile like I might shatter if I fall.  I start out only running short stretches of a few hundred yards and I’m out of breath quickly, my ribcage not wanting to expand.  Gradually I expand my running stretches, ending up with a strategy of 1 mile running to ½ mile walking that works well.  Walking the trail races is frustrating but at least I’m getting some good exercise.  Meanwhile, I’m sticking with CycleZone and the elliptical.  By the end of January I get the word: my ribs are completely healed and I can resume all my normal activities.  Things are looking up!

The Plan

It’s the first week of February and clearly there’s not enough time for a traditional buildup to the marathon with built-in recovery weeks, especially starting from where I’m at now.  From here I can only do a straight ramp up and hope I can get my long run to 18 or 20 miles before marathon day.  I reset my goal to finding a run/walk ratio that will let me finish Bunbury before the 6 hour cutoff.  I also decide to ditch the 30K Mesquite Canyon trail run in March in favor of the same mileage as a street run; I need to be training to the terrain that I’ll be running in the marathon.

The Reality

Hey, I’m back to weight training again!  And expanding my run/walk ratio.  On February 25 I run the HM distance at the Mesa-PHX Marathon using 2 miles running to ½ mile walking, and finish in 2:32 – not a PB by a long shot, but not shabby either!  The following weekend, I’m so sore on my 15-miler that I have to switch to longer and more frequent walk breaks and I’m feeling like crud by the end.  By Monday I clearly have an upper respiratory infection, by midweek I’m in bed coughing up green shit, and Friday my GP is telling me “Yep, I’m seeing a lot of that this year.”

The Plan

It’s now the third week of March.  My training is in the toilet.  The Aravaipa homepage entices me with photos of record wildflower blooms in the White Tanks and I say screw it, I’m doing 30K at Mesquite Canyon, just throw myself at a ridiculous course that’s going to be nothing but an endurance exercise where I come in dead last and just have some fun!

The Reality

Following a grueling grind up Goat Camp trail, I find myself cruising along at altitude hip-deep in yellow brittlebush, orange mallow and gloriously blue lupin, just enjoying the day.  Somewhere between miles 12 and 13 I trip and face-plant into a boulder.  It’s two miles to the next aid station, where they patch me up.  1.5 miles to the aid station after that, where they patch me up some more and offer a ride to the finish line.  I decide to walk it.  It’s only two more miles, and I want my damn finisher’s glass.  Curiously, I don’t feel fragile any more.

The Plan

It’s now the fourth week of March.  The Phoenix Pride Run is this weekend, and I’m signed up for the HM + 5K “Challenge.” My strategy: repeat my Mesa-PHX run/walk strategy for the HM to finish at about the same time, then treat the 5K as a cooldown.  This should be easy-peasy.

The Reality

I get hung up on the 2:30 pacer, who is running hot by about 5 minutes (as I later reckon) and push the running segments too hard, finishing tired, sore and cranky in 2:28.  The 5K is a true recovery as I walk most of it (albeit a brisker walk than many of the families taking part).

It is now two weeks out from the Bunbury 3 Waters Marathon.  The other drivers’ insurance companies have just, finally, contacted me about the accident in December.  I need to, right now,  fill out medical forms for my Kilimanjaro trip in July.  My water heater just broke.

The Plan


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Half a page of scribbled lines

A month and two days ago, my car slammed into two others at a speed of 50 mph.

Among my great simple pleasures is opening a brand new calendar and filling its blank pages with plans for the coming year.  I’ve also long enjoyed poring over maps; as a girl I’d pull out the family atlas and flop on the floor, conjuring images from place names: Sargasso Sea, Craters of the Moon, the Great Australian Bight.

Last year, I had mapped out my final push to img_2348-squaremembership in the Marathon Grand Slam Club: Australia in April 2017, Africa in July, and on to the North Pole in 2018.  Next came studying the elevation profile for the Bunbury 3 Waters course, finding to my delight that the few “hills” matched the one just around the corner; then selecting the local races from Phoenix’s vast smorgasbord to ramp me back up to the full marathon distance in a scant four months’ time.

The best laid plans, as they say.

I’m sitting out on the porch now with broken ribs and a cracked sternum.  The good news from my GP is that my level of physical fitness prevented worse injury* and is also helping me heal faster than average.  The bad news: OMG NO running, NO anything that might jar or strain my ribcage, and above all if it starts to hurt, STOP!  The Midnight Madness 5K doubleheader changed into a brisk, furious walk, and I dropped Aravaipa’s San Tan Scramble completely.  I have an elliptical trainer in my kitchen, and my gym has bikes and other low-impact equipment that I can build up my endurance on.  But I’m frankly going stir-crazy, and the only cure I know for that is a good run.

So yesterday morning I joined East Valley Runners group run.  I walked five miles along the canal in my Hokas with occasional short running breaks, using a deliberately low impact gait that probably looked super dorky.  And it didn’t hurt.  It didn’t hurt later, either. 

Bunbury is still in my sights – I’ve just had to lower them to finishing before the 6-hour cutoff.   My overall pace on Saturday was 15:22, so I’m not there yet, but I will get there.  My first marathon was the Dutchman, which I was poorly prepared for, and which I walked part of, and finished in 5:35.  I’ll get there.  And I’ll be blogging my progress here.

*I’ll also give a nod to the inventors of seatbelts, airbags, and safety glass; those who lobbied for automobile safety standards to be made law; and those who designed, engineered, and built my car to essentially give its “life” to protect mine.


I’m still raising money for the Amazing Girls Fund!

I would be really stoked if we could come up with $500 because that’s enough to see one girl through four years of high school!   A donation of any amount through *this link* will get you a postcard from me at the Amazing Maasai Marathon in Kenya!

Oh yeah and while I’m at it

Follow my FB page, Journey to the Top of the World

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Taper Town

Tempe Canal looking eastStand in the place where you live.

It’s taper time!  Meaning that I’ve run my last high-mileage week before the Antarctic Ice Marathon, and from here until the Big Day it’s all easy-peasy, starting tomorrow with the 3TV Half Marathon in downtown Phoenix.  According to my ARR diary I’ve logged 1003 miles so far this year.  Tempting as it is, I think it’s premature to pass judgment on my training, so instead I’d like to reflect, without judging, on the events of the past year.

About half the specialist cold-weather gear I bought last winter has since been replaced.  Tokyo showed me that the lined wind pants were fine for ordinary wear, but wouldn’t be comfortable for running.  I replaced the winter tights that kept creeping towards my ankles during the Soulstice trail run with a style with a closer fit.  The first wind shell jacket I bought turned out to be too heavy – again, fine for ordinary use, and I’m certainly not throwing it out.  My running gear is sorted now, although I’ll probably be futzing over gloves and scarves till the last minute.  Since the summer heat is only just now breaking as I type this (we are literally experiencing a 15-degree drop in temperature over this weekend), I haven’t been able to give my full kit a proper workout, so fingers are kind of crossed on that point!

I smashed the hills at this February’s Sedona Half Marathon, and feeling better prepared than for any race before, headed into the Tokyo Marathon – where I tanked.  In March I carried the torch for a pair of evening stages for One Run For Boston, feeling a little embarrassed by co-worker’s exclamations of “You’re running 14 miles, after work, in the dark?  That’s Ragnar crazy!”  I finished the last mile of the Whiskey Row half with one shoe off, one shoe on, thanks to a massive blister on my toe.  At the Bucket of Blood half in Holbrook I got lost – not unusual for that course – but had fun anyway splashing through the monsoon puddles.  The E.T. Full Moon Midnight Marathon left me drained, finishing with a Personal Worst after hours of staggering through the darkness repeating “Why do I do this to myself?  Why?”  Soulstice Moutain’s 7,000 foot start line led to my very first DNF.  If I may temporarily ease my ban on passing judgment, don’t ever just throw a high-altitude race into the mix without specifically training for it.

Not to mention all the every-day obligations and crises that get in the way of training, because please, who doesn’t have those?

So here I am, 17 days out from the Big Day that I first started planning for two years ago.   So now there’s a sense of relief, a sense of release, because my preparation is done, because there’s nothing left for me to do, except not screw things up between now and the 18th.  Don’t try any exotic new gels or socks or stretches.  Don’t drop a bowling ball on my foot.  And above all, don’t think of purple penguins dancing the hula!

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Running in Central Asia

And you may find yourself in another part of the world

And you may find yourself on a more sedentary package tour than you’re used to.  And you may find yourself trying to cram in training for a major race.  And you may say to yourself, my god, what have I done?

At least, that’s where I found myself when I decided to tack the Istanbul Marathon at the end of a tour of central Asia – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.  Well, all I can say is it seemed like a good idea until the hour drew nearer and I started comparing the tour’s tight itinerary against the last weeks of my coach’s training plan – uh oh!

Here are some tips that worked for me.  Tell your co-trippers what you’re up to.  They’ll help keep you on track by asking you every morning at breakfast whether you ran that day.  This led to the following exchange one particular day that we all had to be up and on the bus by stupid o’clock – She: “Did you run this morning?”  Me: “Get real.”  She: “Hey everyone, Nancy’s human!”  Keep your eyes open as you’re riding to your hotel for good running routes.  You can plan ahead using Google Earth, and ask your tour guide for suggestions (like nearby parks), but your own boots-on-the-ground reconnaissance is the best resort – and stay flexible!  Don’t worry about motivation; after sitting on a bus all day I was itching to get outside for a run.  Are you ready?  Dust off your high-school Russian and let’s go running in Central Asia!

First, accept the fact that you are a weirdo, and you will be stared at.  People in these countries just do not run, except when they’re in a hurry to get somewhere.  I encountered at most a handful of joggers out on my early morning runs – that’s total, not daily.   Reactions ranged from amused greetings from old men in traditional garb, to incredulous stares from businesswomen in tailored suits, to giggling girls in school outfits, to sheer goggle-eyed wonder from little kids.  I’m not sure what impression this strange and fleeting apparition might have on their future life – inspirational or traumatic?  The only bad experience I had was some guy yelling at me from the back seat of a car in Almaty, and I reacted by adjusting my route to avoid any further encounters.

A legacy of the Soviet era, the major cities almost all have wide, tree-lined boulevards and a central park.  In some areas the pavement is the worse for wear, due to spotty maintenance and decades of freeze-thaw cycles.  You might need to watch your step more than you do at home, depending where you live!  In the evenings both are crowded with young couples and families, and during the day the car exhaust fumes can be a bit much, so the best time of day to run is usually early morning – some sites, like Lake Issyk-Kul or the ancient walls of Khiva are absolutely spectacular at dawn!

As for nutritional support, well, see the above about running not being a major pastime.  You won’t find GU or Gatorade in the stores, so bring your own of whatever you need.  For some local flavor, good snacks you can get at the farmers’ markets include halvah, nougat, and roasted apricot pits.  For gear, I packed three different weights knowing the weather would be variable in the fall, and used all three.

Finally, a note on personal safety.  The day before my flight left, I left the house at 4 AM for my long run, only to have to change my route because the police had blockaded a stretch of the canal to catch some fugitive.  Bad stuff can happen in your back yard, and not just in places named “Stan”.  By all means do your research and use common sense when running abroad – but don’t let fear of the unknown keep you away from having a unique and wonderful running experience!

The following list is for anyone who may have stumbled across this page looking for info about specific cities in central Asia.  These link to my Garmin traces and brief notes.

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