Thursday, December 11, 2008

First Impressions

I’ve been in El Salvador now for almost 2 months. This is my 3rd trip to El Salvador and had you asked me, prior to this trip, in which country in Latin America I would never want to live, I would have answered El Salvador. Why? Hard to say. First impressions, I guess, from my other trips—too much traffic, an overabundance of shopping malls and US chain restaurants, security issues, smog, and maybe that which influences my decisions most—not a great place to run, based on some of the things I just listed.

This time, I didn’t venture out of the Holiday Inn to run during my first couple of weeks, and made do with the treadmill—thankfully placed directly in front of a TV with HBO and the food channel. I managed a couple of long runs (3 hours), but my desire to train waned quickly. Luckily, a colleague of mine knew of my running needs and introduced me to a local group of marathon/ironman types. I met up with them for the first time on a Friday morning—Jose Alberto picked me up at 3:45 a.m. to meet the group to run 30km. Sounded crazy at first—setting the alarm at 3:30 on a weekday sounds brutal—but these early morning runs have become the highlight of my week. I hate to get out of bed in the morning, but I love to watch cities wake up, so dragging myself out of bed is rewarded by getting to know San Salvador in my favorite way, running around its neighborhoods in the early morning hours. And running up the hills of San Salvador with views of the sunrise and volcanoes in the distance—que maravillosa! In terms of running, besides the fact that 90% of our runs are on roads (and the rest are on gravel/dirt roads that are as close to trail running as I get), San Salvador is a fabulous city to run in, with great climbs and great early morning views.

There are still some issues. To enjoy running in San Salvador one has to be on the streets at the crack of dawn to avoid the traffic. The drivers here are the worst I’ve seen, anywhere. Salvadorans are ridiculously friendly people—warm, helpful…but behind the wheel of a car and it’s like Jekyll and Hyde. There is absolutely no respect for pedestrians here, rather, I feel like they aim for me as a pedestrian, and they certainly don’t avoid hitting other cars. I witness the scene of at least one accident every day. Yesterday I saw the carnage of 3 accidents in one drive across town. I’ve had a couple of near death experiences, and were I to be here long term, I might consider giving up running, to avoid the inevitable outcome of someday being smashed flat by a car. Luckily I’m here only 6 months, and the chance of me getting hit in 6 months?

I’m happy to say my first impressions of running in El Salvador were wrong. And I’ve been lucky to get in with a great group and hope to influence at least a few of them to continue to venture off of the city streets and into the mountains around San Salvador and beyond.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Catching up and moving on...

It’s been a while. I guess I feel I need to write entries in order, and I avoided writing anything after Wasatch. So, I guess I’ll start with a short summary of Wasatch. I was in great shape. I had put in the miles following MMT and was feeling confident I could run up with the top of the field. I had some health issues the week of, on top of some personal stress, and the combination contributed to a bad mental state and a DNF at Lamb’s Canyon. I awoke the Thursday before Wasatch with issues of maintaining consciousness. I’m a fainter, and when I’m in pain, I tend to pass out. Not knowing what was wrong, I imagined all sorts of issues, from a hernia to a tumor. It turned out to be some ovarian cysts that were acting up, but it’s hard to start 100 miles with an unidentified health issue. Anyhow, on to other topics….

I was in a funk for a couple of weeks after Wasatch and didn’t run a step. But luckily it ended quickly and I ran well at the Big Schloss 50K, and had a great time while taking first overall, which is definitely a first. All of the speedy boys (and girls) stayed home that day. OK, now that that is out of the way, I'll promise to post again and talk about the present.....

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Up until about 5 weeks ago it had been 10 years or so since I had entered a swimming pool for the purpose of swimming laps. I had gotten into it one summer in grad school, and had faithfully gone several days a week to swim a mile. I don't know what it is about that distance, but whenever I get into a pool, I feel compelled to swim a mile, no more, no less. So, with the encouragement of a work friend, I made my way to the pool one day after work to make another attempt at lap swimming. I re-geared myself, and was prepared for this torture fest. Of course, the day we happened to pick, was the one day the pool was closed. We arrived to locked gates, so I went to get a manicure instead.... but I went back the next day to a pool in my neighborhood, jumped in, and swam a mile. It was challenging, but once I got past the first 5 laps or so, it felt really good. Running kind of squashes you down with all that constant pounding, whereas swimming really stretches you out. I went back the next Monday and have been going Mondays and Wednesdays since, for a total of about 10 miles now.

The sad news is is that the DC outdoor pools close on Labor Day. DC has a number of outdoor pools, and they are all free to DC residents. There are a few indoor pools, as well, but the number of people that want to swim far outweighs the number of indoor pool lanes, and the indoor pools tend to be crowded. One thing I love about my pool is that, perhaps bc of its location, it does not attract many lap swimmers. Last night I was the only one in the pool for a while, before a couple of families and another lone lap swimmer showed up. It means I never have to deal with anyone in my lane. The indoor pools are another story, with only a few dedicated hours of lap swimming a day, and lanes filled with more people than I care to share a lane with. So, my lovely Monday and Wednesday night swims might soon come to an end. And be replaced with getting over my fear of swimming in crowds.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Catoctin 50K+

I've been a very neglegent blogger. I'm not sure that blogging is for me, but I will make another attempt before I ditch all blogging efforts. I did start this blog entry a while back, so I'll go ahead and finish it, before trying to write some pre-Wasatch thoughts.

The Catoctin 50K is an area favorite. Run in the peak of summer heat in DC, it's usually a torture fest that everyone seems to love to hate. Last year was one of those years; 90's and humid. This year was blissful; 70's with some rain at the start. I had goosebumps, which is not usual in DC around this time of year, and had I brought a long sleeve shirt, would have been dumb enough to put it on for the start. Luckily I didn't bring anything warmer than a sleeveless shirt, as I warmed up in the first 100m.

This was my second Catoctin. I can remember saying after last year's run that I had to make an effort to do some more training runs out on these trails--might be the best the DC area has to offer. We so often go out to the Shenendoah or MMT trails, but Catoctin trails rival them in technical difficulty, and they're only an hour's drive from DC vs. a 90 minute or more trek out to the others.
I ended up putting on my Hardrocks Saturday morning before I left the house, mainly because I was lazy and they were beside the front door. I put them on thinking they were overkill, as I usually reserve them for MMT or similarly rocky trails--but I'm glad I did. Even after running on the Catoctin trails a couple of times, I had forgotten that they are similarly rocky to MMT. Smoother rocks, perhaps, but a lot of rocks. As much as I don't want to like the Hardrocks, they don't tear up my feet, and they're the only shoe I trust for really long runs. I hope to find a light weight shoe that I can replace them with for less technical stuff, but so far, no luck.

I went out pretty hard, and stayed in about the same spot the entire race. Besides the first few miles, I didn't run with a soul throughout. To be honest, that's kind of how I like it. I don't really like running with people on most occasions, although there are exceptions. Especially on trails, I find it hard to not alter my pace if I'm running with someone. It's rare to find someone who climbs and descends at the same pace as I do. I'm not so strong going up, but I love to come down. Catoctin is an out-and-back, which is a good way to see everyone once, and is really nice on a local run like Catoctin where you know most people and can chat a bit as you pass. I ended up in 5:54, which was an improvement over last years 6:17 and good enough for 1st female and 8th overall. I'll save my fear of racing for another blog entry, perhaps.

I did get lost once, which drives me nuts. Apparently Catoctin used to be a harder course to follow, but re-blazing efforts have helped make it a pretty easy course to follow. Except when you make a wrong turn, go back and check it, and continue down the wrong path. I added about 3/4 of a mile to a course that was already long, so ended up registering about something over 33 miles on my Garmin.

Kevin and his merry crew of volunteers put on a great race. Popsicles at every aid station and a great post-race party afterwards. Good times.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Running in Paraguay

MMT recovery has been fun, and painless. After one week, I felt pretty much recovered, except for some toenail issues. Week 2 was spent running, doing a little yoga, windsurfing and hanging on the beach in Aruba. Great times. I was back in DC long enough to unpack and repack and departed for 12 days in Paraguay. Giddy is the only way to describe my first 24 hours back in Paraguay. I checked into my hotel (new and super chuchi--or upscale in paraguay-speak) and made a bee-line for the shopping mall next door, where I knew there to be a delightful chipa stand. I enjoyed a supper of chipa (traditional bread) and cocido (charred yerba tea with milk and sugar) that I'd been dreaming of for weeks. Ahhh...home.

I lived in Paraguay as a Peace Corps volunteer for 3+ years from '99 to '03. I've been back 4 times since then, and this is the first trip that I won't go visit my old PC site. It's a trek to get out there (12 hours on a bus), and I don't have the time or energy to make it this trip. I feel twangs of guilt, but Perla (host mom) and Gondra (community), have to know that I still love them. Here's a picture of my PC counterpart, Alejandro, and his family, hanging out in their yard drinking terere on my last visit.
Work travel has taken me to a lot of interesting places. I've always appreciated being a runner on the road. Unless I add on some vacation days or have the weekend to play tourist, I don't often have time to see much on a work trip besides the hotel and the office. However, morning runs at least give me a chance to explore a bit and see more of a place than I would otherwise. And I love to experience how different places wake up-- especially Paraguay. Even in Asuncion, it's still possible to hear chickens, smell cocido being brewed, and be passed by horse carts on the streets. Of course, there are countries where I choose not to run on the streets and that have forced me to familiarize myself with a treadmill. I'd run almost 20 years before I ever set foot on a treadmill. But the streets of Kabul or downtown Nairobi are not the most comfortable places to run and it's not always best to stick out as an obvious foreigner.

Luckily, I'm not always forced inside. And while I often run around the streets of whatever city I'm in, finding trails to run on--and ones where I feel safe running alone--is rare. However, on some occasions, I've had the opportunity to do some exploring, like my recent trip to Bolivia, where I had the chance to run 'El Choro Trek,' a ~35 mile route, popular with backpackers that starts at 16,000 feet and descends to around 3,000 feet, passing along Incan trails through the altiplano, and down through tropical forests. I'm not usually one to go for long solo runs in places I don't know, and without having much of an idea of how many miles the run is, how long the run might take, and how to get back home afterwards, but some adventures are too inviting to pass up.

And back to the present. I had forgotten just how bad air quality is in Asuncion. I slept in on Monday, so ended up at the gym on Monday night on the treadmill. I figured I could beat morning traffic on Tuesday and got up at 6 to run. Traffic was bad by 6:30, and while I enjoyed a run through some familiar neighborhoods, the intake of diesel fumes was annoying. I do remember that the year I lived in Asuncion and ran outside in the morning, I had a constant nasal drip. I got used to the fumes or can't remember really noticing them, but it couldn't have been healthy. I'm sticking to the gym most days this week--what can I say, I've gotten soft--I used to drink water directly from a cow pond--picture at left was my water source my first year in PC-- and run ihnaling exhaust fumes from decrepit buses. Alas, no longer.

The gyms in Paraguay are definitely a different scene than gyms in the US. I'm the only girl in shorts and maybe the only one sweating. I have enjoyed a couple of good speed workouts, and some hill training. A workout I did on Wednesday, which I started doing when my hand surgeon ordered me to stop running back in March after an MMT training run resulted in hand surgery, was to walk at 15 minute mile pace at a 15% grade. I did this on Wednesday for 30 minutes and my heart rate was between 180-200. Yowzers. It kinda kicked my ass. Hope to work up to an hour at that pace. Otherwise, just boring treadmill running, watching myself run for an hour or so through my reflection in the window in front of me, and passing the time by counting the number of passing cars vs. motorcycle on the street outside (85% cars/trucks, 15% motorcycles).
It's Friday night now, and I'm in bed with a head cold. I guess the combination of MMT, vacation, an all night flight to Paraguay, and chipa overload has done me in. I'm hoping to recover before my flight on Tuesday afternoon, as I have a history of fainting on airplanes when flying when congested. I tend to pass out from sharp pain, and the pressure builds up in my ears until I faint. Tomorrow I hope to get up early and head out to the park near the airport to run. It's not an exciting place to run--paved, flat trail--but the air is a bit clearer out there. Then I plan to spend the day getting pampered--massage, facial and shopping. This trip is turning into a down time for running, but that's not a bad thing, as long runs can wait until I'm back stateside again. While Paraguay is a favorite place of mine, it is not my favorite place to run.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

MMT 2008: Rock On!

I was pretty nervous the week leading up to MMT. I wanted to run well, as my only 100 miler to date had been a death march at Bighorn last year. I really wanted to figure out the 100 mile distance. And, in terms of nerves, I’ve always had an issue with racing and nerves. I can still fondly remember dry heaving at the start line before races in high school. Someone had told me earlier in the year that I would basically suck at MMT, because ‘good runners’ never do well there. An interesting comment, and I guess it wasn’t a complete insult as I think I was called a good runner in there somewhere, but pretty laughable when you look at all of the great runners who have run well at MMT over the years.

I realistically thought I could finish around 25 or 26 hours, so that was my goal. I didn’t care about place so much, but figured that if I ran my goal time, I’d be up there. I talked about my time goals at WUS because I think it helps in holding me accountable. I also had a crew and pacer because I figured if people were giving up their weekends to support me it was all the more motivation to suck it up and not fade or drop.

I went out about as hard as I planned. I had my Garmin on, and we were running between 7-8 minute miles on the roads. I ran and chatted with Brennen, who is a teammate on the Wasatch Speedgoat Mountain Racing Team. I run commute and 7:30 is a normal pace, so it felt comfortable and I didn’t feel like I was pushing. I probably should have slowed it down a bit, but there are few parts at MMT that are just easy running, so I figured I should take advantage of those various sections of road miles in the first 25 miles. My plan was to do as much as I could while it was light, and then survive the night. I basically either wanted to run my goal time, or crash and burn trying. I, of course, did not mention this to my crew or pacer.

I'm not going to give a blow by blow, but will just point out some highs and lows.


Falling. It’s something I do well. I started running on trails about 2 years ago and can claim 4 broken bones in my left hand during that time. This go round I fell twice. Once was up on Kearns, which is probably the most technical part of the course, and a pain even on fresh legs. The second was a front roll up on Short Mountain. On the Kearns fall I cut open my middle finger on my left hand. Nothing major, but it’s the same finger I broke in March while training on MMT trails, so I had a moment of panic when I first went down. Especially knowing that I need to go back for a check-up with the hand surgeon in the next couple of weeks, and he’s going to ask what the big scab is from. The next fall I landed on my back up on Short Mountain. I’m not sure how I managed that, but no real damage done. I was pretty proud to have only fallen twice. Two falls and no broken bones is a definite high.

Music. I am a changed runner. I have never listened to music in the 20+ years I’ve been running, and get annoyed by people I pass on trail who are plugged in and can’t hear me. Well, I’m converted. I borrowed a friend’s iPod Shuffle and loaded 3 hours of my favorite 2 bands: Scroat Belly and Split Lip Rayfield. Kind of like blue grass or rockabilly on acid. I used the music a good deal during the day, and at some point in the night had to plug in again to try to get back into a faster rhythm. It was like being at a live private show in the woods all day. I used to claim I wanted to ‘hear’ the woods, yadda yadda. No more of that silliness. I did have some ‘quiet’ time as well, and enjoyed the whippoorwills and conversations with my pacer. I might consider loading on more music in the future—3 CDs over several hours is OK if you REALLY like the CDs. In this case, I’m kinda a groupie, and can listen to them for days.

My crew and pacer. I was psyched when Rick Kerby and Jim Daniels asked me a few months ago if I wanted a crew. I had seen them crew for Rick’s brother up at Vermont and knew that they were pros. They were indeed rock stars. And two of my non-running friends came out from DC for aid stations 5-7. That was great, too, as they have a better understanding of what it is I do when I disappear on the weekends. And my pacer rocked, as well. The whole bunch took great care of me, and even though I think I scared them in the beginning, they didn’t freak out too much. I was in the best hands possible.

VHTRC. The home course advantage of MMT was great—both in knowing the course and in knowing so many of the volunteers and other runners. At Bighorn last year I got really lonely and down. Not possible at MMT. Fun times. The VHTRC puts on great events and it was fun to see many VHTRC friends working the aid stations and out on the course during the run.

Potato soup. I had problems wanting to eat much of the day and night, but that potato soup at Edinburg Gap was awesome. It might have saved me.


Habron Gap, Aid Station 5. I was running slightly faster than my crew anticipated and I beat them to the aid station. I saw Keith, my pacer, and barked at him as to where everyone was. They had just pulled up, and I was not friendly to any of them. Jim told me I was moving too fast, and I think I just growled at him. I left the aid station, and then felt extreme guilt over the next 9 miles until I saw them again, and expressed my love for all of them.

The finish. I really didn’t have much left after about mile 90, and slogged it in. There were a couple of other low points during the day and night, but the last aid station was probably my lowest point, and then that final climb. It was longer than I expected and my legs were toast. I just couldn’t lift them over rocks.

Ensure. Ew. I've tried soy milk and yogurt on runs, and like it, and gave Ensure a try. I think I'll wait until I'm at least 75 to try it again. Eating in general was not fun, and I avoided it most of the night, which factored in to the slog-fest towards the end.

Toenails. I lost at least 4, and it’s the start of cute shoe season, dammit. No pedicures for me for months. Blisters were pretty bad over the last 20 miles but not bad until then. It was just too wet for too long. It’s 2 days post-MMT and I think I could run today or tomorrow if not for my feet.

Overall, I can't complain. I finished in 26:08.57 in 10th overall. A beautiful day in the Massanuttens and I set out what I had hoped to do, give or take 9 minutes. A huge thanks to Jim, Rick, Keith, Susan, Rina and all of the volunteers and runners who made this such a great day. Massanutten rocks, as does the VHTRC!