Archive for April, 2014

Trolley Run 2014

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

Trolley Run kit

I had really wanted to have a good experience this year at the Trolley Run. Last year, when I ran it for the first time, I was pleased with my performance. But I hoped in the time since then that I had gotten even better and would turn in some impressive numbers.

I assumed I was fully recovered from the half marathon I did two weekends ago, though I have been running less in the subsequent days. I guess I was eager to find out of if my reduced training would help or hinder my performance on these four easy, downhill miles. Plus I had tried to take it as easy as I could on Saturday at Roundrock, planting trees and dodging raindrops.

Unlike most runs, I got to the start with only an hour before it was to begin. That’s cutting it close for someone with as much pre-race anxiety as me. But I immediately ran into some friends from the running club, and as I wandered around, I met more. City busses were pulling up constantly, disgorging runners who had parked at the finish and were being shuttled to the start. I understand there were about 10,000 runners and walkers this year, which is even more than last year. I suppose I was lucky to see anyone I knew but I’m glad I did.

I was afraid my luck would be thwarted, however, by the gathering clouds in the sky. It was nearly 70 degrees at 7:00 that morning, and the benevolent sun was shining on all of us, but a storm was rushing in from the west. The forecast estimated it would reach the city by around 10:00, and even if I walked, I’d be finished before then. It looked as though the storm had other plans, though, and was as eager to be at the start of the race with the rest of us. The sky to the west was filled with dark clouds and they were getting closer every minute.

I was in the green wave once again, the third group to start. The first wave was to start at 7:45, but according to my watch, they were let out of the gate several minutes early. (Maybe I wasn’t the only one watching the sky.) By the time my wave was shuffled to the start, we were only a few minutes past the official start time. The small gang of friends I was with at the start all wished each other a good run. We would run at different paces, so we wouldn’t see each other again until the finish. I got my watch to find some satellites, and after a moment, I was on my way.

Too fast.

As I said, I wanted to have a good run, but that meant marshaling my energy so that I could sustain it across even the comparatively short distance of four (downhill) miles. I made the mistake, then, of looking at my watch and seeing the pace I was running. Much, much too fast. A lot of runners start out too fast because the whole pack is surging then. I knew I would burn out quickly if I kept going at that pace (which didn’t really feel fast to me at the time). So I tried to throttle back. I did not look at my pace but merely trotted along at what I felt I could sustain. And after a few turns and elbows in the ribs (the pack was dense for about two-thirds of this run) I reached the first mile marker. Of course I was already trying to negotiate a short walking rest with rational myself because my lungs were really pretty angry with me. They say you should always be able to carry on a conversation while running and that if you can’t, you’re going too fast. I couldn’t at that point, but only because my lungs were monopolizing the conversation. I’d had a chest cold several weeks back. In fact, I was in the last stages of it when I ran that half marathon two weeks ago. I suspected I was not fully over it because I was breathing harder than I thought I should be at that point.

At mile two the first water stop loomed before us. I was running down the middle of the road (less slope there to avoid potential knee or hip ache) and had to cut over quickly to grab a cup. I try to be charitable in my assessments of other people’s efforts, especially those of volunteers. But I have to say the water stations on this run were terrible. Perhaps they were unprepared for the number of runners. Or maybe those of us in the middle of the pack were coming along a little late. But they didn’t have enuf cups filled (though they were frantically trying to) and wound up just handing us the bottles of water intended for filling the paper cups. This is problematic for two reasons. One, even an eight-ounce bottle of water is too much to drink on the run. So then you have the half-filled bottle to carry along with you. Or, two, you take a couple of sips and then throw the bottle, mostly still filled with water, down on the ground. That’s what I did. As had hundreds of others. So there were plastic bottles in the road that our fleet feet had to race across. (I had thrown my bottle to the curb.) Something similar had happened to me on the St. Patrick’s Day run when they served (too much) water in large plastic cups that then littered the ground beneath our feet. Ugh. I didn’t even bother with the second water station on the Trolley Run.

All the while, my lungs were screaming at me to STOP THIS INSTANT! By this point I was on the true downhill stretch of the course, a straightaway before the last turn to the finish arch — my absolute favorite finish stretch in the city. I wasn’t about to stop, and I had more or less vowed to open up on this stretch and maybe grab a fast enuf mile to beat my performance last year. Except I didn’t have anything left in me to open up the run. I just plodded ahead, throwing one foot in front of the other and, curiously, continuing to pass people.

When I finished the long straightaway and turned toward the finish arch perhaps a quarter mile ahead, something clicked and I did manage to pick up the pace a little. I’m sure I looked ragged. I felt ragged. I knew that there were photographers in the area, and I didn’t want to look the way I felt, but by then it was all about finishing the run as well as I could regardless of how I looked. So I threw my mouth open, threw my feet before me, and threw everything I had left into the run.

And then I crossed the finish mats and switched off my watch. I was panting, but I wasn’t about to spiral to the ground or empty my empty stomach. I was done, and my lungs were grateful. The chute after the finish was crowded (just like last year — ugh!), but I managed to get the timing sensor clipped from my shoe, and then I went in search of chocolate milk. Libby and Seth found me, and we pushed our way through the crowd to the party booths beyond. One bottle of Propel (not too bad), one slice of pizza, one whole wheat roll, and four bottles of chocolate milk later, and I was ready to go. I met some of my running friends and we shared high fives. But I was beat.

I had really wanted to have a good run this year. But I did not. I had a GREAT run this year. The reason my lungs were so angry was because I had run — and sustained — a very fast pace for what I’ve been able to do. I had shaved four minutes off of my time from last year. I ran faster for longer than I ever have. And I beat the rain.

So I’ve had a good Rock the Parkway half marathon and two weeks later a good Trolley Run. Seems like I’m going to have to keep this up now.

 

pine persistence ~ part two

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

island pines

 

I’m not sure I’ve mentioned that in recent months (actually reaching back to last fall) several of the landowners down by my woods have been slowly getting themselves (and their money) organized to improve the road in to our common area. After dozens of emails and phone calls, after several bids and counter proposals, after plenty of checks and promises of checks, the stars aligned in mid-April, and work was begun on the old, axle-snapping gravel road in to our common properties. This route involves a steep descent, a muddy track through a valley, and then an equally steep ascent. The two hills were the focus of the work, and we were eager to see the results when we visited last Saturday.

A thing of beauty! We drove down the first hill on fresh, flat gravel, not needing to pick and weave our way between the ruts and potholes and washes. We didn’t have to splash through the mud hole at the bottom (which I will miss a bit since fresh mud splattered on the side of my truck gives me real street cred back in faraway suburbia). And then we could glide up the farther hill without worrying that we might lose our fillings. It was money well spent, and the consensus is that now that this big work is done, we need give it yearly attention with a little more money, a little more gravel, and some vigilance about the ditches on the side.

We might have lingered at this new marvel if we didn’t have trees to get in the ground before the storm arrived. Thus we pressed on to the cabin and got ourselves organized.

The first job was to plant some pines on Danger Island. We had feared that given all of the rain that seemed to have fallen in the area since our last visit that we would have to wade to the island, and we had forgotten to pack our water shoes. We needn’t have worried. The poor lake was no higher than it was on our last visit, which I suppose is a good thing since nearly a month had passed and it was no lower than before. In any case, we could walk dry-footed to the island and get the pines in the ground.

But first we got busy clearing the area within the fence. It had gotten overgrown with grasses, and poke, and buckbrush, and blackberries, and all sorts of non-pine things. And while we know we cannot permanently defeat these “invaders,” we wanted to give our tiny pines at least some chance at sunlight before the other plants outgrew them. So Libby and I got busy with the loppers and the grass whip. We cut and we cleared and we threw the stuff over the fence until we had the ten-by-ten square looking pretty sharp (for the Ozark wilderness). I knew that three of our pines from last year had survived (of the fifteen we had planted), but in our clearing work, we found a fourth that was hanging on. So then we got busy planting. I used the spade to wedge my way between the rocks that make up the island, trying to open a crack large enuf for Libby to drop the little tree’s roots into. Then with our feet and the shovel, we would close the crack and wish the pine well. We managed to plant eleven new pines on the island, bringing the total count to fifteen up there in the enclosure. (The fence is intended to keep the browsing and thrashing deer off of the pines until they are big enuf to defend themselves.) But we couldn’t rest. We still had fourteen pines to plug in the plantation and then the ten hollies. And the clouds were gathering. We heard thunder over the ridge. And we even felt a few drops occasionally.

We had decided we would work in the rain if we had to in order to get the job done that day. We’d rather not have had it that way, though, so we hoofed it back to the cabin and then got in the truck to speed over to the pine plantation and get right to work there.

I think I set my original pines about twenty feet apart, in staggered rows. That seemed sensible at the time since I wanted them not to compete with each other for sunlight. What I’ve learned since then is that they can grow quite successfully much closer together, and they may even protect each other that way from the wind and ice. I had a general idea of where I wanted the new pines to go — in some of the open area where I either had not planted before or where pines had died. But if I ran out of space, I was going to begin planting them between the trees already there.

As I’ve noted before, the soil in the pine plantation is very nice. The spade sinks into it like butter. Wedging a crack open is easy and quick, and we made great progress getting the remaining pines in the ground. We did not need to resort to putting them between the existing trees, but if I order more next year (who thinks I won’t?), I know where I can put them.

The difficult work came when we began slamming the cedar posts into the ground beside them. The soil is good here, and it will readily take a post, but I had outsmarted myself when I was cutting all of the cedars, making them too long and too stout for the work needed.

Imagine wielding a sledge hammer, trying to strike with force the top of a post that your dear and long-suffering wife is holding, and the top of the post is above your head. Clumsy and awkward. And not very effective at first. With continued effort (and remember, I wanted to be rested for my run the next day) I would eventually get the post to sink into the ground far enuf that its top was no longer taller than I. And sometimes I could sink the post nearly six inches with a good strike. But not always. After perhaps four of these, I hit upon the idea of using the shovel to open a wedge in the ground for the post. Then the work got much easier. Of course not all of the posts were taller than I was. And the work took less time that I probably thought. But I still need eight more posts so that we can wrap fencing around the pines, and you can be sure I’m going to be much more selective in the cedars I harvest going forward.

So we got all of the pines in the ground, and at least one post beside each one. Our latest belief is that the mere presence of the cedar post may keep the deer away. Whether it is the smell of the cedar or some other factor, I can’t say. But we left the plantation feeling good about our work.

And then it was time to plan the hollies. I had planted ten of the deciduous hollies last year in the open area below the cabin running down to the lake. The long-term idea is that they will grow and flower and bring forth their bright red fruits that will linger in the fall and winter and be picturesque and feed the birds and all will be right with the world. But I don’t think the soil or the conditions there on that south-facing slope are ideal for them. Some of those ten had died. Others have brought out only one or two leaves so far this year. One is doing fabulously. Anyway, I figured if I planted another ten there, beside the ten already there, (and maybe kept doing it for a few years), eventually we’d have a nice avenue lined with the hollies. And who can blame me for trying?

We got the work done, though the “soil” here is just about as Ozark as it can get, and I have a hard time in most spots even getting the space wiggled and wedged deep enuf in the ground to plant the poor plants.

Then it was time to sit back and enjoy the day in the woods. Our work was done by 9:30 that morning. Libby took a hike across the dam to see what there was to see while I stayed at the cabin and just puttered around. The rain began to fall when Libby was about as far as she could get, and she sheltered under some cedars for a while before making her way back. We had lunch. We went for a nice walk after that. We tidied up around the cabin. And then we decided to head back to faraway suburbia for a pasta dinner (to carb load, of course) and put our feet up.

Spring Tree Planting 2014 was successful. We’ll monitor them in the months to come, fully away that many and perhaps most won’t survive. And we’ll begin planning for next year.

 

pine persistence ~ part one

Monday, April 28th, 2014

April 26, 2014

April is the month I generally choose to have my Conservation Department trees shipped to me each year. March is sometimes too wild to count on a free weekend to also be warm enuf or dry enuf to plant. May is generally better in terms of planting opportunities, but I fear that I’m putting the trees in the ground too late for them to get established before the heat and drought of the coming summer begin their assault. Yet even with all of this clever planning, I never know just when in April the trees will arrive. And, well, it’s spring racing season. (You knew I’d get a running reference into this post, didn’t you?)

This past weekend included one marathon on Saturday (that I was to volunteer at, handing out cups of water and shouts of encouragement at one of the aid stations) and a run on Sunday that has become a tradition for me (if you can count two times a tradition). There was certainly no time for a trip to the woods, which would involve four hours of driving plus an uncertain number of hours planting thirty-five trees in the ground, especially with iffy weather. (The marathoners ran in driving rain and even hail — in their faces — on Saturday.) Yet my trees arrived on Wednesday, and they needed to get into the ground as soon as possible.

Reluctantly, I decided not to volunteer at the Saturday marathon (and so did not have to stand in the driving rain and hail for an hour trying to sound upbeat). I still had my Sunday run, and though the forecasted weather was not being cooperative on either day, this gave me a one-day window of opportunity to dash down to Roundrock, drive the shovel repeatedly into the Ozark “soil,” and give all of those trees a decent start. Even so, it was going to be a dash. There was rain in the forecast for Saturday morning down at Roundrock but only as a prelude to the thunderstorms expected Saturday afternoon there. We would need to get to the woods, get the trees in he ground, and get out of there in time for me to get as much rest as possible for Sunday’s run. All the while facing the likelihood of rain on our heads and backs as we worked.

We chose to leave the dogs at home. They love the woods, of course, but a wet and manic Border Collie, and a wet and willful Pomeranian who is mostly predator bait would not be much help as we raced to get our work done. Sure, we could have shut them in the cabin as we planted, but then what would have been the point of bringing them at all? We were on the road by 5:00 a.m., forsaking our customary bagel breakfast (since the bagelry wasn’t yet open) and driving the pleasantly empty highway under the crescent moon. (The fact that we could even see the moon was a hopeful sign that we might be outracing the rain clouds.) We might have left even earlier except that we would have gotten to Roundrock before there was light enuf to work.

We had twenty-five shortleaf pines and ten deciduous holly to plant this year. The pines would be spread between the top of Danger Island and the pine plantation. The holly were to go on the sides of the open avenue below the Cabin at the End of the Road, to supplement the ten we had planted there last year (some of which have actually survived).

About half way to Roundrock, the weather caught up with us. I had to use the wipers intermittently, but the rain was not coming down hard or consistently, and I thought that if this were as bad as it would get, then we could get our work done without too much torment. And though the clouds were claiming more of the sky as each minute passed, we reached the turn off from the paved road with plenty of light for working. Then it was simply a matter of pounding our way the last two miles to our cabin, getting our tools and motivation organized, and hiking to the first planting site on Danger Island.

 

 

molten wax

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

candles

Not long after the cabin was built, I had the notion that I needed to infuse it with the scent of pine trees. Every time I stepped in the door, I would smell the tang of the pines and feel a part of the wild. I soon learned that any concentration of such a scent hurt my nose. Plus, I could rarely find a candle that was pine scented, at least with a scent I liked. I thought about burning some kind of incense, but that generally requires more babysitting than a candle, so I gave up that idea.

Then my daughter-in-law Amber gave me a big fat cinnamon scented candle and I thought maybe I could abide that smell in the cabin instead. And so I got on that project right away, burning the candle whenever I was out there, even at night if I slept at the cabin. I soon had myself a second cinnamon candle and burned them in earnest.

Except they didn’t really infuse the cabin with their scent. It was nice as they were burning, but once they were out, the scent did not linger. I burned them dutifully until the wicks were gone. And then they sat in the cabin. Not serving any purpose other than to collect dust (and I suspect they might have attracted vermin — I’ve read accounts of mice eating candles).

On our most recent overnight visit to Roundrock, when we had a fire, I decided to throw the spent candles on the logs just to see what would happen. Of course they melted. They melted faster than the flames could consume the wax, and it pooled in the ashes below the logs. You can see the orange-ish pool in the photo below, just to the left of that largest log. (The orange is a reflection of the flames.)

molten waxFlames licked across the top of the pool of wax for a while, and then I guess it was effectively consumed. By morning, when I returned to examine the ashes — something I generally do after fires though I’m not sure why — I saw no sign of the wax.

I don’t think I’ll try candles in the cabin again. But who knows. It might happen.

 

 

neighbor’s pond

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

Brian's pondWhat you see above is Good Neighbor Brian’s pond. It sits just west of my pine plantation, and as you can see, it’s silted in quite a bit. I’ve seen it in some years when there is virtually no water in the bowl at all. In other years, it’s been encircled by a robust stand of cattails.

His pond is on the ridge top, but it must have a decent watershed nonetheless since it usually has at least some water in it. Good Neighbor Brian has talked about using his Bobcat to dig out the pond and try to refurbish it. I have no objection to that since I suspect it’s keeping the soil in the general area moist, and that favors my pines just across the property line.

And speaking of property lines, I was told when I bought my 80+ acres that my northwest corner was actually in this pond. That little black speck you can almost to the far shore in the photo is a fence post. That may be my actual surveyed corner. Of course I would never lay claim to a chunk of Good Neighbor Brian’s pond. From a practical point of view, I consider the fence line running between our properties to be the effective border, even though that places it about twenty feet east of what a surveyor would probably find.

 

in and around the pond

Monday, April 21st, 2014

pond1

There are two bodies of water at Roundrock. There is the lake, which comes and goes like Brigadoon. And then there is the pond, in the northwest part of the property, near the pine planation. The pond abides. It was there long before we came to this little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks, and it will likely be around long after we’re gone.

The pond is growing more wild in recent years. Before, when it was the most distinctive feature on our land, it was our destination each trip. And we would spend much of our time manicuring the land around it: cutting away lower limbs to improve the view, clearing out the encroaching blackberries, planting this and that here and there. I even made a couple of attempts to manicure in the pond. I planted a water lily along the shore, thinking it might grow and spread and look lovely. It bloomed — white — one year and looked like a scrap of paper floating on the water, and then it never came back. I also sank two posts into the loathsome goo in the bottom of the pond to erect duck houses on. The ducks were never interested in those, and now the posts rise from the water looking stupid, but I don’t want to venture into the loathsome goo again to tug them out.

As you can see in the photo above, I may be getting some unexpected help in managing the blackberries around the pond. It seems that they’ve been attacked by the wasp that leaves its eggs, resulting in a gall along the cane. I don’t know if this will kill the blackberry plant, but the few that were “infected” would hardly be missed by the invading forces. Still, it makes for something interesting when our feet do steer us to the pond.

pond 2

I want to say that this little island of grass in the pond is comprised of cattails, but I’m not sure of that looking at the photo now. I suspect it is, but I’ll need to make a closer inspection on my next visit. This island is new. It wasn’t there in years past, and like other cattail islands I’ve seen in the pond, it may not be here next year. It does appear, however, that some critter had used this island as a nest. You can see the parted section in the middle. Within there the leaves were matted, and I suspect a goose had a nest here. It warms my black and shriveled heart to think that the wild things find Roundrock to be a hospitable place to raise a brood. I don’t want to disturb any future nesting birds, but I do intend to keep and eye on this site and see if anyone moves in.

pond 3

 

This semi-aquatic reptile is still seen occasionally around the pond. It seems to overwinter well, and it doesn’t seem to be bothered by heavy-footed humans stomping around nearby. All it ever does is sit still, in the same position, as though it were made of plastic.

 

Rock the Parkway 2014 recap

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014


Rock the Parkway

I don’t think I was being too coy about the struggle I had completing my first half marathon last fall. I recounted it in two posts: here and here. It was tough. More than tough. And so it was with considerable anxiety that I signed up for Rock the Parkway, another half marathon here in Kansas City. But I knew I had to do it.

Of course I was full of fret and anxiety in all of the months leading up to RTP. I had “bonked” on the earlier half; I had run out of fuel and had to run on little more than determination and the muscles my body apparently had to consume to keep me going. It was the hardest, most grueling thing I had ever done (and that includes the calculus course I took in college). Yet I was going to attempt to do it again.

So I spoke to as many of my running friends as I could — those who would listen anyway — and asked what went wrong before and what I could do right this time. The bottom line was that I had likely fueled inadequately for that last run. I hadn’t eaten properly in the days before, hadn’t kept my body hydrated in advance, and hadn’t consumed enuf energy on the actual run to sustain my effort.

And so I set about correcting that for this run. In the week before I had been slamming bottles of Gatorade (lemon-lime G2) each day. I had two pasta dinners on days when I generally never ate dinner at all. And I organized plenty of GU (chocolate outrage and salted caramel) and energy bites (Honey Stingers and ShotBloks) to carry with me on the run. I was determined to get my glycogen and electrolyte levels as elevated as I could in preparation. (I barely know what I’m talking about.)

And I watched the weather report. Early in the week, the forecast called for a chance of rain and possibly thunderstorms on Saturday. But unlike when I’m planning a trip to Roundrock, as the week progressed, the threat of rain diminished. By Thursday, all chance of rain was removed from the forecast and the temps were expected to rise into the upper 70s. Maybe a little hot for a long run, but pretty close to ideal, at least to me. I decided to do without the long sleeve shirt and risk being a little cold at the start. That would correct itself once I got moving. And I would wear a cap because the sun was expected to be out and likely in my face both directions of the run.

The Parkway of Rock the Parkway is Ward Parkway, a pretty, divided boulevard that runs through some very nice neighborhoods and terminates at the Plaza, Kansas City’s upscale shopping and dining district. The course would take us north on the Parkway (more or less uphill until mile four despite what they say), then around a beautiful urban park, taking us back to the other side of Ward Parkway for the return (which is correspondingly — and blessedly — downhill).

I slept well on the night before, though I remember having a dream about being unable to find the timing chip I needed to add to my shoe. I woke before the alarm and decided not to fight for any more sleep. I let the dogs out, drank another bottle of Gatorade, got online to surf a bit and reduce my anxiety, and slowly dressed myself in the kit you see in the photo above. About two hours before the run was to start, I swallowed three Advil and ate the entire packet of ShotBloks. I also ate two slices of bread with peanut butter on them and a banana. All that was left to do was to drive the few miles to the start where I could wait and fret.

The temperature was already 60 degrees when we arrived. I knew I would not be cold as I waited. Just fretful and nervous. We met with some of my running friends, but with more than 6,000 runners at the event, I didn’t hang around and instead wandered over to my starting corral. I had reported my expected finish time based on my performance at that earlier half, and that put me at the back of the pack, which was fine. That meant there would be fewer people to pass me since most were already in front of me. (See how I think these things through?)

Being at the back of the pack (of 6,000) meant that even though the race started at 7:30, I would not be starting for at least twenty minutes later. The start of the course headed south for a short distance and then turned and ran up the other side of the Parkway. So as I stood there, waiting to start, I could see hundreds and hundreds of runners already underway, just to my left. Well, that was fine. I knew I had only one runner I needed to pay attention to.

The shuffling eventually got my wave to the start. I started my watch and hoped it could grab some satellites before we were ushered across the starting mats. And though I always worry that this won’t happen, it always does happen. I crossed the mats at a trot and settled in, knowing I had a great deal of time and distance I had to manage.

I was determined not to look at my watch as I ran, and by that I actually mean not to look at my pace. Generally one of two things happen when I do this. Either I am disappointed that I’m not running fast enuf, or I’m instantly exhausted because I see I am running too fast. Rather, I intended just to run at the pace my legs and lungs (and determination) set and do that for as long as I could (preferably 13.1 miles). I did occasionally look at the distance my watch reported, and by the first third of a mile, I was already hot. There was nothing I could do about that, no clothes I could shed or water I could spray on my face, so I just pressed on.

I was laden with GU. I had four packs of this energy gel pinned to the waistband of my running shorts. I also had a packet of Honey Stingers in the tiny back pocket of my skimpy running shorts. And I vowed to grab a cup of Gatorade and a second cup of water at each of the aid stations along the course. I intended to stay hydrated and nourished this time. My plan to was suck down a GU at miles 2, 4, 8, and 10. I would snarf down the Honey Stingers at mile 6. I hoped that regular infusions like this would satisfy my long-term energy needs. (On that half I ran last fall, I had only eaten some ShotBloks at mile 9, much too late to restore the lost energy in time.)

And so I ran my plan. The first four miles of this run are pretty much one long uphill adventure. There are some level spots, and two or three places where you go downhill briefly (only to recapture that elevation soon after), but for the most part, it is uphill. At the top of that hill is a very nice fountain in the middle of the parkway. This is, of course, where the photographers sit and wait for the runners to pass. It’s very photogenic: your smiling face with the fountain in the background. Except that you’ve just run four miles uphill. Now I’ll grant that for many (and perhaps most) of the runners on this course, four gradual uphill miles at the start are not much at all. They arrive at the fountain looking fresh and frisky, and they probably look fine in their photos. Me, on the other hand, not so much. I think I saw most of the paparazzi, and I did my best not to look too frazzled. I tried not to gasp as I passed. I don’t know if I succeeded. In fact, I don’t know if they took any shots of me at all. The pack was still a little dense at this point, and I may have been lost in the crowd.

But onward. After this point, the course was mostly level. I was mostly tired, and I was already negotiating with myself about where I would allow myself to stop or walk or somehow rest. I knew that the highest point on the course was around mile 7, and I thought that if I achieved that, I had really earned a break. But then I remembered that I had made it to mile 8 on that earlier half marathon before stopping, so I thought maybe that would be a more respectable point. Whatever, it seemed like it had to be done.

I had been running on the far right of the roadway most of the time. This left plenty of space for the swifter runners to pass me without breaking a sweat. I noticed around mile three, however, that my right hip was beginning to send me messages of complaint. The camber in the road meant that my right foot was striking just a tiny bit lower on the ground than my left, and I think my hip was trying to make that clear to me. So I changed my route a bit. I moved to the left side of the road to give my hip a break. I realize that might seem like advanced-level thinking for someone in the grueling early miles of a road race, but the fact is I had experienced this before and worked out the solution then. I hadn’t anticipated this happening, but I also realized that the benefit of those three Advil I had taken early in the morning was probably gone by then. Regardless, the plan worked.

Until it didn’t. At mile 6, my left knee began to register its complaint. Apparently the lower footfalls on the left were now wreaking their havoc on my body. Worse, mile 6 was exactly where my left knee had begun to bother me on that earlier half marathon, and that was a sign that my IT band had had enuf. But I was on the run, and more importantly, I was still running at mile 6, not having taken one of the breaks I allowed myself, so it was back to the right side of the road. This seemed to work, more or less. The ache in the left knee diminished, and the ache in the right hip did not return. I figured that if it did, I would just run down the middle of the road where there was no slope either direction. And some of the time I did that.

In the meantime, I was swallowing my GU on schedule and drinking the Gatorade and water offered at the aid stations. I had those aches, but what I didn’t have was fatigue. I was apparently keeping myself fueled properly. Mile 7 was a chore. The biggest hill on the run hit there. Many people were walking this hill, but I was determined not to. Yes, I was tired. Yes, my brain was telling me what an idiot I was. But I was determined to reach mile 8. The trouble was that despite my corrective efforts, my left knee was hurting. At that point I was just over half way; I had a lot of distance still to cover with a knee that didn’t seem like it was going to cooperate. So I made a regrettable but unavoidable decision. I walked two hundred feet to give my knee a break.

I had realized after I topped the hill in mile 7 that I had the energy and the mental fortitude to run the entire 13.1 miles. What I didn’t have was a left knee that was on board for this. So although running the entire distance would have been a great personal achievement, I knew that I had to leave that for the next time. In the end, I only walked about two hundred feet. It was such a short distance that the slower pace barely registered on the pace chart for the run (after I plugged in my watch and downloaded the adventure). And then I was running again.

At mile 9, I was back on Ward Parkway again (having looped around that urban park), and the route from this point was mostly flat and generally downhill, with a few climbs thrown in that mirrored those on the earlier part of the Parkway because, well, we were running along it again. And that seemed to be enuf. I ran. I kept running. I passed the mile markers. I ate the last of my GU at mile 10. I hit all of the Gatorade and water stations. (And, yes, I always did ask if they had Bud Light.) And I kept running.

We passed through some very nice neighborhoods, but they were lost on me. I was deep inside myself. Concentrating. Pushing. Ignoring. Running. I was far behind all of my running friends, many of whom were already likely finished. I was alone on the course, surrounded by hundreds of other runners, but alone nonetheless. I could only call on myself for help. Except at mile 11. It was there that I spotted one of my friends from the running club. She was sidelined with an injury but was working as a course monitor (which meant blocking one of the side streets so we delirious runners didn’t accidentally turn down it, and that actually happens more than you might imagine). Seeing her at that point in the long run was exactly what I needed. I felt a kind of emotional recharge that buoyed me for the rest of the run.

The last mile is literally downhill. Not a steep downhill, but a consistent downhill. Because I was fueled (apparently) I was able to coax a little more speed out of my legs. At least that’s how it felt. It felt as though I was running faster and harder, and that I was able to sustain it for a last mile. (And when I downloaded the run later, my watch confirmed that I had.)

I came pelting down that last little bit running like I knew what I was doing. I thought that some of my friends might be on the sideline to cheer me on, but if they were, I never saw or heard them. It didn’t matter. It was all about me at that moment. I pushed and pressed and ran and ran, and then I crossed the finish mats and it was all done. 13.1 miles, and nearly every inch of it run by my legs and lungs.

I switched off my watch as I crossed the mats, and I fell into a staggering walk, suddenly limping because my left knee asserted itself again. Maybe I exaggerated the limp. Maybe I didn’t. I don’t know. I think I was more pooped by that last quarter-mile push than by any mechanical failure of my running mechanism. I stopped at the man who would clip the tag from my shoe and nearly fell over when I tried to lift my foot. He graciously told me to leave my foot on the ground and he would remove the tag that way. Then I greedily accepted the bottle of water someone offered me. And then I stepped up to the man who hung a medal around my neck.

RTP

It was a good run. I had been fearing a repeat of my first half marathon, but I ran my plan and seemed to have conquered myself. (I beat my last half marathon time by 8 minutes!) Clearly I need to do some exercises to strengthen that knee. And somehow I need to wrap my poor brain around the fact that I must do twice this distance in October when I run a full marathon in Portland.

But there was chocolate milk to be drunk. And a foam roller to be pressed to my flesh. And a hot epsom salts bath to take.

And I need to start preparing for my next half marathon, just over two months away. The boy is insane.

 

shagbark

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

shagbark

Looking generally up, I snapped this photo of the solitary Shagbark Hickory that sits on our north-facing slope. I guess the last time I mentioned it was in this 2006 post. I’ve been by this area plenty of times since then, but like the subject of yesterday’s post, I guess I never saw fit to take a picture.

In that old post I mention how this solitary hickory sits near our solitary walnut tree. In my stompings around Roundrock in the many years that have passed since then I’ve since found many more walnut trees. They’re not particularly common, but there are more than I knew back then. I’ve also spotted at least one other Shagbark Hickory in my woods. It’s much younger than this old tree, and its bark is not nearly as shaggy, but at least there’s another. Maybe then can pollinate eventually, and even if it doesn’t result in more trees, the squirrels in my forest (of which there do not seem to be many either) can feast better.

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It’s interesting to go back to these old posts on this humble blog and read the comments that were left. Some of those oldtimers are still regular visitors and commenters here, but others are absent, and their links no longer work. Two I know of have been liberated from their earthly toil. Reading these comments gives me a melancholy kind of comfort.

carry that weight ~ revisited, again

Monday, April 14th, 2014

carry

On our last trip to Roundrock, our feet found their way to the western end of our woods and in the neighborhood of this balanced, fallen snag. I’d first written about it way back here. Then again here (with a lot of ambitious dreams thrown in). And again here (more than six years ago).

I’m sure I’ve been by the area in those last six years, but I guess I never stopped to take a photo. I certainly never wrote about it again. I did take a photo this most recent time, and you can see that the snag is still balanced on that poor Blackjack Oak. You can see from the angle of this photo that the top branches of the fallen snag are resting on the ground, and that is why, I am sure, the rest of the tree — the bole — has been able to stay “balanced” as it has.

What you can’t tell from this photo is that the bent and put-upon Blackjack Oak has died. It’s always a race to the sunlight for the smaller trees, and with its leafy parts pressed to the forest floor, I think the poor tree just couldn’t make a go of it.

So now the drama may enter a new chapter. I suppose with all of the tension on that dead oak, it will eventually snap under the weight of the tree resting on it. Then that snag can finally rest on the ground as it has been trying to do for a long, long time.

 

Skywatch Friday ~ kite

Friday, April 11th, 2014

kites

This is actually a significant picture. Since we had the dam built — now a decade ago — Libby has attempted to fly a kite off of it. The woods are, of course, too dense to fly a kit in. And the open meadow on the ridgetop is our neighbor’s property. There really is no open space at Roundrock besides the top of the dam, with the expanse of the lake behind it and the acre of young pecan trees below it. Perched atop the dam, on the few feet of earth between these openings, Libby has tried over the years to raise a kite into the sky.

The winds coming from the west are, alas, variable. They are rarely constant enuf to sustain the flight of a kite. Libby can usually get it into the air, but then the wind fails and the kite falls into the dense growth on the face of the dam. Then it is often a small chore to extract it, with is plumage, from the tall scrub that grows there. (I’m supposed to mow that stuff, but the side of the dam is too steep. And it’s much too much expanse to attack with the grass whip.)

On our last trip to Roundrock, Libby tried once again to fly her kite. The wind had been strong in the days before (I know this first hand as a runner), so her expectation was high. And as you can see, she did get the kite into the air. I took this photo from across the pecan plantation where I had wandered to look at this and that. This was her greatest success; she had never gotten the kite as high in the blue as she did on this attempt.

But the wind failed her. Not long after I took this photo, the wind died and the kite fell. She made more attempts, but she never repeated this success that day. Nonetheless, she has left the kite at the cabin, and it will be there with its potential for our next visit.

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That gray smudge you see snaking up from the bottom of the photo is yet another bit of clutter within the lens mechanism of the camera I have and use.