The Art of Losing

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

– Elizabeth Bishop

Yesterday I headed out for what I thought would be a short run at Lebanon Hills Park, a place I’ve run a dozen times before. I got started a bit late in the day, but I’d decided to do a short run since my hips have been bothering me and I would only be out there for an hour, so I knew I’d have daylight left. I didn’t take anything besides my car key since I was only going for a short run and I didn’t have any zippered pockets big enough for my phone. The parking lot was a bit full, so I decided I’d run the cross-country ski/horse trails that are normally off-limits to hikers due to either groomed trails or equine traffic, depending on the season. (I realize people still hike those trails despite the rules but I’m a stickler for following trail rules. And I hate horses.) Because I was unfamiliar with the trails, when I turned to add what I thought was just an extra half mile or so, I ended up heading in the wrong direction (you can see on the map below where I turned around and retraced my steps in the center-east section of the park), adding time and mileage to my run.

I realized at this point that I was going to have to get my butt in gear, because the sun was starting to go down, and I started checking the maps at each intersection to make sure I was on the right track. Things were going well until I missed a turn and continued to go south when I wanted to go west. I ended up at a road that dead-ended with private driveways, and I was having a hard time reading the trail maps due to the rapidly disappearing twilight, so I finally decided I’d just take that road and eventually get back to a major street that I could take back to the parking lot.

Except that when I turned onto that road, I thought that I was heading south instead of west. And the road was much longer and lonelier than I thought – there were only a few houses along the way and what I should have done was stopped at one of those houses and asked for help. There was a good opportunity as a group was outside having a fire, but I was feeling stupid and embarrassed and decided to continue with my plan. I thought that I’d come out at what shows up as McAndrews Rd on the map, I’d take a right turn, and then another right turn to end up on Pilot Knob Rd. It would be a long walk, but I’d make it.

When I finally got to the end of the road (I wasn’t really certain it actually went through – I just guessed based on the fact that it ended in a dead end in the opposite direction), I was so shaken up and confused and full of self doubt that I decided to abandon my plan, and ask for help. I heard some kids playing basketball at a house nearby and headed in that direction. I walked through a field of long grasses/prickly-stemmed plants/burrs to get to the house, asked the kids if their parents were home, and the world’s nicest people asked me in (even though I didn’t have a mask!) and drove me back to my car at the trailhead. I was so incredibly grateful and relieved, although I had one final moment of horror as I reached into the zippered pocket in my pants and pulled out only the carabiner that my key is attached to, not the key itself — but the key was in my pocket too, it had just separated itself while I was running.

This morning I woke up and couldn’t stop obsessing over all the things that went wrong and that could have gone even worse. I could have ended up wandering around in the woods. I could have gotten chilled and become hypothermic – I was sweaty but also not dressed in warm clothes. I could have not been at a spot close to a road. I could have been pig-headed and refused to swallow my pride and ask for help, and wandered around and around in an area I wasn’t familiar with. I could have been unable to find a house that had people home to help. (Unlikely, since people are home most of the time.)

There are so many decisions I made that led to my predicament. Putting on my quality engineering hat, I can pinpoint all the mistakes that I made along the way:

  • I started running later in the day than planned. I wanted to start around 3:15 but ended up starting at 3:50, which meant I had less daylight.
  • I got too warm in my car, which meant I was a little bit sweaty to start.
  • I wore clothing that didn’t have a secure pocket large enough for my phone, so I chose not to carry it.
  • I decided not to put on my headlamp (which was in my bag!) because I didn’t think I’d need it, although I did consider bringing it.
  • I ran unfamiliar trails.
  • I got “greedy” and thought I could add another half mile or so to my run because I didn’t think I’d get “enough” mileage.
  • I didn’t start reading trail maps soon enough, once I realized that I needed to start heading back.
  • I assumed more than once that I was heading in a correct direction without verifying that was true.
  • I misread the trail maps a couple times.

Even with all of those mistakes and all the things that went wrong, all of the worry and fear and danger could have been avoided if I’d just carried my phone or my headlamp so I could have read the trail maps. Even if I still made all the wrong turns, I wouldn’t have had to walk all the way down 120th St W if I’d had some source of light and/or method of navigation and/or way to call for help. You can bet that I won’t be going on a run for awhile without my phone on me, even if it’s just a short one.

I’m naturally a more cautious person when it comes to physical risks, so this incident has really thrown me. I try to remind myself that I did end up making some good choices, and that once I got out of the woods I wasn’t in any real danger (I passed some other houses where I could have asked for help, I could have flagged down a motorist, etc.), but the what ifs keep rolling around in my mind. This situation has also caused me to question if I have any business trying to run an ultra that goes into the night. Of course that’s a ridiculous question, because while things can go wrong during a night ultra, I’ll also be going in there more prepared because I will know I’m running at night.

Hopefully writing all this out helps purge this incident from my head, or at least the immediacy that it induces in my brain. I hope it also serves as a reminder to help people in need – I think about all the anecdotes I read about people who don’t answer their doors, don’t answer strange numbers on their phones, don’t talk to strangers, who wall themselves off from anyone they don’t know. I am extremely lucky that the first house I approached was owned by kind, generous, big-hearted people; I will remember that and look for ways in my life to seize opportunities to show the same generosity they did toward me.

The Setting of the Sun

Pour one out for my headlamp.

The other day I picked it up from the tote where I store my running stuff and it wouldn’t turn on. I figured the batteries were dead, that it had accidentally gotten stored with the power button depressed, but when I changed the batteries it still didn’t work (and there was plenty of corrosion product in the battery compartment, ugh). So as we head into the darkest part of the year, I’m left without illumination. Good thing there was a sale at REI so I could order a new one at a discount! Perhaps we could call that… the light at the end of the tunnel? How many metaphors can I use here?

I suppose I should consider myself lucky this year, that I don’t have a commute to tack on at the end of my workday, so I can head out before the sun sets and get part of my run done in the fading daylight. I went out anyway yesterday, sticking to suburban streets that weren’t too busy and wearing a light-colored jacket and a reflective vest. The streetlights did an ok job, I suppose, although there were a few places that weren’t well-lit (and didn’t have sidewalks!) I’m still not really looking forward to running in the dark.

I’ll get used to it, like I do every year, and before I know it, I’ll have some usable daylight at the end of my workday, but it’s getting tough to imagine getting in more than 4-5 miles in the evenings for the next few months, especially when I factor in the cold on top of the darkness. I feel like I can’t recall if the adjustment period is always rocky, or if this year is worse, or if I’m just in a funky mood right now and it’s going to be fine in a couple days. (The weather is warming slightly for the next week so that’s probably a yes, if an impermanent one.)

Now would probably be a good time to revisit some of the well-lit trails in the area that I’ve set aside in favor of my street-running goals. It might also be a good time to reconsider a lunch run — even if it’s just a few short miles with a second run in the evening. Something to get me outside during daylight, since I’m not going to the office, grabbing lunch, taking a walk with colleagues, or bathing in the glow of OSHA-approved foot-candles of light. And of course I’ll have a brand-new, slightly fancier headlamp to test out once it arrives next week! Overall it seems like the best strategy is to find any small thing that I can do to make running slightly easier while the elements conspire to make running significantly harder. Any and all tried-and-true coping suggestions are welcome!

Cooler Heads Prevailed

In case it wasn’t obvious, I didn’t run the Mankato Marathon last weekend. It was a good decision, for many reasons, which I will enumerate here.

  1. It was an overreaction.
    I wanted to run the Mankato Marathon because I was upset with myself for my poor performance/DNF at the Twin Cities Marathon. I was mad at myself for not achieving my main goal for the fall, getting a marathon PR. I have signed up for races on an impulse before, and I am sure I will in the future, but any time I can restrain myself from making a reactionary and overly emotional decision to enter a race, I consider that a win.
  2. It would have expensive.
    The race itself would have been nearly $100, plus I would have needed to get a hotel room the night before the race in order to safely get to and from the race. It’s an hour and a half drive from my house to Mankato, and I’d have needed to arrive there well before race start in order to get my bib and handle the rest of the logistics. We all know I don’t sleep well before races even in the best of circumstances; it’s highly likely I wouldn’t have slept a wink before the race, knowing I had to drive and deal with packet pick-up, and then I’d have had to drive home after running for 5-6 hours. NOT SAFE.
  3. I have two other races coming up.
    I’ve already paid for Icebox 480 and Mustache Run. It’s likely my performance at Icebox would be negatively affected by running a full marathon two weeks before. I can focus on trying to get a 50K in less than 8 hours and set myself up for success now.
  4. I was less ready than I thought I was.
    I ran 9 miles on Saturday afternoon and I felt pretty fatigued after the first 5-6 miles, and that’s after sleeping in! I have had a lot of stress at work lately and I think that affected me a lot more than I realized. My resting heart rate has been up, too, which is another sign of fatigue. I might have ended up crashing and burning again, but without an easy way to bail out this time.
  5. It was really, really, really, really, really, really nice to have a weekend with no commitments.
    I slept in! I ran when I wanted to! I vegged out! It was great. I enjoy running, but with a lot of commitments lately, doing nothing was far preferable to running a marathon. Of course if I’d destroyed it with a 4:55 time or something I would probably feel different.

I’m moving forward and trying to put my disappointment behind me. I hate that I have to wait until next year to get redemption at this race, but I can’t let that get me down. Not every race is going to go well, or even go decently. Time to move on.

Road to Redemption

As you might expect, I am having a hard time coming to grips with my non-performance at Twin Cities Marathon last weekend. I’m questioning my decision to drop out of the race, still wondering what happened, not sure if I’m past whatever it was that did happen, and looking ahead to what I can do to wash the stench of failure off of my body.

I signed up for the Moustache Run the same evening as TCM, but I was planning on doing that anyway. And of course I already have the Icebox 480 coming up at the beginning of November. But I really, really, really wanted to get a marathon PR this year. Early last week, I started searching for another marathon nearby to try to capitalize on my training.

Enter the Mankato Marathon, which is October 19th. No, I haven’t actually signed up for it yet, but I’m still thinking about it. Registration is still open, and the price isn’t going to change between now and race day, so there’s no reason for me to jump the gun. What’s stopping me? Two things: money and health. Pretty important things!

This race has been on my mind so frequently that last night I dreamed about it. In the dream, I signed up and then showed up on race day completely unprepared. The race started and I wasn’t even in my gear! I rushed to get ready and tried to start, and they didn’t let me. The worst possible outcome: paying for a race I didn’t even start, thanks to nothing but my own logistical incompetence! Not ideal.

Money is the most important factor in the decision to run or not. The race is far enough away (the drive is about an hour and a half long) that I wouldn’t feel comfortable driving down there on race day and would need a hotel room. There is actually packet pick-up the day of the race, but the race itself starts at 7:30 a.m. As we all know, I can’t sleep before races even when I don’t have to do much on race day to get to the starting line. Driving for an hour and a half to get to the race start with enough time to pick up my packet, drop off my finish line bag, and get to the start would be extremely stressful for me. I’d almost certainly be driving down on an hour or less of sleep, and then driving back after a sleepless night and 5-6 hours of running. That’s not safe. So it’s either rent a room for the night or don’t run. I had a third option of staying with a family member but I didn’t feel comfortable asking any of my extended family.

The other question is health. Obviously something was up on race day, and I need to be sure that whatever the problem is, I’ve fixed it. I have run a couple times since then (once at Battle Creek, and once on the treadmill) and have felt okay both times, but I’ve felt cold-like symptoms coming on a few times thanks to the cold snap (complete with snow!) and the rain. I’m not going to sign up until I can tell if I have a cold or if it’s just some allergies.

Of course this is a completely crazy and desperate idea. And of course it’s going to be detrimental to my race at Icebox. But it’s still nagging at me, even after a week of pondering it. I’ll make the final decision Thursday, based on my health and also my financial situation. If we get some good financial news this week, and I don’t have a cold, then I’ll go for it. If we get no news or bad news (not catastrophic, don’t worry), or if I still feel sneezy, then I’ll rest up for Icebox and work through my emotions in some other constructive way.

Four more days of equivocating! I’m so excited.

Twin Cities Marathon Training: Weeks 14 and 15

It’s the final countdown…

Monday (9/16): 4.8 mi, trail (Battle Creek)
Tuesday: 5.8 mi, road (6 x Wabasha St. Bridge)
Wednesday: 5.2 mi, road
Thursday: rest
Friday: 5.3 mi, paved trail (MRT, 30 @ tempo)
Saturday: 5.2 mi, trail (Frontenac State Park)
Sunday: 11.1 mi, trail (Fort Snelling State Park)
Total: 37.4 mi

Monday (9/23): 6.7 mi, paved trail (MRT and Crosby Farms)
Tuesday: rest
Wednesday: 5.2 mi, paved trail (Hyland)
Thursday: 5.2 mi, paved trail (30 @ tempo, MRT)
Friday: rest
Saturday: 6 mi, road
Sunday: 6.1 mi, paved trail (Fort Snelling to Minnehaha Falls)
Total: 29.3 mi

I’m in the home stretch now of marathon training! I can’t even believe it. Of course now I’m also terrified.

I’ve slowed down my training somewhat, but Week 14 was my last “push” of sorts. I had some relatively unremarkable runs, although my tempo was pretty miserable as I felt oddly nauseated.

Saturday morning I volunteered at the In Yan Teopa 10 miler at Frontenac State Park. That place is gorgeous! It is right along the Mississippi River and there are some amazing views. Oh, and also some STEEP climbs. According to my friend John, this park hosts one of the steepest climbs in the whole state. I believe it since I thought my legs were going to fall off at one point. And also I thought I was going to slip on the stairs and fall to my death during the descent.

Sunday I did my final long run around Fort Snelling. I am so happy the park is open again! There’s still some sections of closed trail, and the impacts of the flooding are visible throughout the park, especially on Pike Island. I did the FANS loop and the Pike Island loop, plus just about every other trail out there, until I cobbled together enough mileage to call it a day.

Week 15, I didn’t do much in the way of quality workouts. I did do a tempo run on Wednesday which went remarkably well, but the rest of the week was easy miles for the sake of miles. And also to get steps in for the heated steps challenge I’m in at work. It’s rather aggressive. I took an unplanned rest day on Friday because I was exhausted and coming down with a bit of a cold/allergies situation. I probably could have run a few miles, but for what purpose? Oh yeah, steps. But I managed to resist the competitive spirit.

Saturday, even though I still wasn’t feeling great, I wasn’t feeling any worse, so I went out for a run on Summit. The next time I run Summit, I’ll be finishing the marathon! I was pretty excited about that. I felt better as the run progressed, although after I got home, I started to deteriorate a bit. Sunday, I wasn’t feeling any better but also not any worse, so I got back out there despite the misty weather. I started at Fort Snelling and ran to Minnehaha Falls and back, and again felt better as the run progressed. When I got home, after I showered, I felt really terrible (achy and chilled), but I rallied to go to a movie that evening.

I’m looking forward to taking it “easy” and getting over whatever this illness is during the upcoming week, and then crushing the marathon! I managed to match my September mileage from last year despite not running a marathon like I did in 2018, so I’m in a good spot to finish ahead of last year’s mileage with three months to go, despite a rather large deficit that’s built up.

And I’m really, really glad I won’t have any more bridge repeats for awhile! Although now it will be cool enough that they won’t be torture, so maybe…

Twin Cities Marathon Training: Week 13

Friday the 13th on week 13? Spooky!

Monday: 5 mi, treadmill
Tuesday: 6.3 mi, paved trail (7 x 0.5 mi, MRT)
Wednesday: 5.4 mi,
Thursday: rest
Friday: 6.1 mi, paved trail (40 @ tempo, Bruce Vento Regional Trail)
Saturday: 6.1 mi, paved trail (3 @ marathon pace, Battle Creek)
Sunday: 12.1 mi, trail (Afton State Park)
Total: 41 mi

I took Monday off after Superior, knowing I’d need a day to recover from the hectic pace. I thought I’d be able to run somewhere fun since I had all day, but it rained and was cold so I ended up on the treadmill again. That was disappointing, but I did manage to get in a nice groove and only had to pause twice in the beginning (once because getting on the treadmill always makes me have to pee, and once because something fell off the table behind me and I wanted to make sure nothing was broken or in danger of getting stuck behind the treadmill).

Tuesday I meant to do 8 x 0.5 mi repeats, but after 2 repeats I didn’t want to do them anymore, after the third repeat I realized I needed to do them in control rather than as fast as possible (especially since I’d eaten an excess of goldfish crackers prior to the workout), and after the fourth repeat realized I wouldn’t have time to get home by 8 PM if I didn’t skip the last repeat as well as the usual mile cooldown I do afterward. Whoops. So I did seven repeats and a wimpy cooldown and went home to play HQ trivia.

Wednesday’s workout was great! I had thought I was going to be stuck on the treadmill again due to rain, but the rain passed through earlier than anticipated and I was able to get out and run around Crosby Farm and the Mississippi River Trail. It was cool and the last few miles felt effortless in a way running hasn’t felt in a long time for me. I took Thursday off due to the weather, and then did a tempo run on the Bruce Vento trail along Swede Hollow and Phalen Blvd on Friday. There were several, um, events occurring in Swede Hollow Park (especially around Swedehenge); one of which appeared to be something staged by the Life and Death Brigade from Gilmore Girls. I felt like crap during the run and my legs felt like they weight a ton each (do I write this every week? I think I do), but I did manage a decent overall pace and was happy with the results of the run even if it was miserable to do.

Saturday I had a couple things to do in the afternoon (a housewarming party for friends and a visit to see my mom’s new tiny kitten), so I needed to get my run done quickly. I went to Battle Creek because it was easy and did a loop around the dog park area, then a loop around the water park/playground area, and then another dog park loop. I tried to run 3 of those miles at marathon pace, but dialing that in wasn’t easy. It was either too hard of an effort or too easy, I couldn’t ever really settle in to 11:29. So that’s going to be my battle the next few weeks; understanding what marathon pace feels like. I’m paying for the “marathon effort” workouts done in the heat this summer!

Sunday I wanted to do a longish run, but also needed to pick up a state park pass so I can be ready for my volunteering stint next weekend at In Yan Teopa. I decided to go to Afton and did 12 miles, which was fun but also slower than I wanted to be. Afton is hilly and it was hot! I need to go back there once the weather is slightly cooler and see what it’s like to run there when I’m not baking in the sun on the prairie loop. I do love running there, although I hate running along the river when there are so many power boats roaring up and down it. It’s not very peaceful.

I was glad to get over the 40 mile threshold this week, not just because I’m in a hyper-competitive steps challenge at work, but also because I’ve been slacking on my mileage lately. For good reason, of course – spending time with my family over Labor Day weekend and spending time with my friends at Superior was far more important than an extra 5-10 miles of training.

Twin Cities Marathon Training: Weeks 11 and 12

I had a couple down weeks in training thanks to a fun Labor Day vacation and an amazing weekend volunteering at Superior. Well worth it in both cases!

Monday (8/26): 3.1 mi, road
Tuesday: rest
Wednesday: 6.3 mi, road (7 x Wabasha St Bridge)
Thursday: 6.4 mi, paved trail (50 @ tempo, Mississippi River Trail)
Friday: 3.4 mi, trail (Battle Creek)
Saturday: 6.2 mi, road (Pike Lake loop)
Sunday: rest
Total: 25.3 mi

Monday (9/2): 13 mi, paved trail (MRT and Crosby Farms)
Tuesday: 6.4 mi, paved trail (Big Rivers)
Wednesday: 6.2 mi, paved trail (45 @ tempo, MRT)
Thursday: 3 mi, treadmill
Friday: “rest” (Superior volunteering)
Saturday: “rest” (Superior volunteering)
Sunday: 4 mi, trail (Battle Creek)
Total: 32.7 mi

I’ve felt pretty tired lately, so it was good to have some down time and some extra rest days. Running 6 days a week gets kind of annoying, but I just don’t have the time to get in that mileage over 5 days. #Slowrunnerproblems I guess.

The week of the 26th, my legs felt heavy and yucky. This is probably in part because on Monday, after my short run around my neighborhood, I went to see Iron Maiden and rocked out super hard. I had to take the next day off because my poor legs had taken such a beating. My bridge repeats were tough on Wednesday were tough, too. I got them done, but it felt like my legs weighed a ton apiece. My tempo run went a little better, though I wasn’t sure at the time (I try not to look at my pace during tempo runs, I run by effort). I don’t usually stack up two speed workouts back to back, but there wasn’t any other way to get them both completed.

On Friday, we decided to head up to Duluth in the evening to avoid the bulk of the Labor Day traffic, so I got in a short run before the drive. I managed to pry myself away from the craziness on Saturday (sailing, jet skis, etc.) to go for a run around Pike Lake, but I couldn’t muster the energy on Sunday so I took that as an extra rest day. We headed home on Sunday afternoon, later than planned, and by the time we got home, I didn’t want to do anything but veg out on the couch.

That rest day on Sunday was helpful because it allowed me to get in a long run (13 mi) on Monday, without having super tired legs. I didn’t realize pretty much everyone in the Twin Cities metro area had decided to descend on Crosby Farms and Hidden Falls, so it took me a really long time to find a place to park. Both of the Crosby lots were full, and there was a huge backup at Hidden Falls but I managed to snag a spot by being in the right place at the right time, when someone else was leaving. I started at Hidden Falls, looped around to Crosby Farms and then came back around Hidden Falls from Mississippi River Blvd, continued to Shadow Falls (running into my husband, who was out for his daily walk, along the way!), and then turned around headed back to my car.  It was a decent long run but I should have started sooner so that I could have gotten a few more miles in. If there’s one thing my marathon training is lacking, it’s long runs.

I had a great run on Tuesday at Big Rivers; my legs felt good for the first time in awhile, and I had a spring in my step. That’s probably because the weather was pretty good, although the wind kicked up at the end. I wanted to add some mileage so I ran across the Mendota Bridge and then came back, and the wind on the return trip was brutal. I was glad it was to my back, because it was blowing sand against my legs hard enough that it stung. I felt sorry for the cyclists headed the other way. The next day I ran a tempo run (only 45 minutes! I’m on the downward slope of my training cycle now!!!) that went pretty well despite being rather hilly. I was pretty pleased with my overall tempo pace, which included just over a minute of waiting for a light, so my actual running pace was even better! I didn’t bother to calculate it because of course a break is a break, it’s part of the run.

Thursday I got in a VERY quick treadmill run before we headed up to Lutsen. I haven’t been on a treadmill in months, which is awesome, but I was too anxious about getting everything packed up and getting on the road with plenty of time to get to the 100 mile packet pickup site in Two Harbors, so I didn’t feel like I had time to get in a road or trail run.

Friday and Saturday I was too busy to get in a run, and I needed to channel all of my physical and mental energy into my volunteer duties. Naturally I’ll be recapping all of that in its own post. I got in a short trail run on Sunday after we got home – it was nice to be out on the trails for myself, instead of just watching others run. I think I ended up with my best time on the Battle Creek ski trails! It’s nice to see my legs come back around and recover from the heaviness and tiredness I’d been experiencing earlier.

There are only 4 more weeks until the marathon! I can’t believe it! I also need to take advantage of this cool weather and get in some runs at marathon pace so I actually know what it feels like. I’m a little nervous about that sub-5 goal. Maybe it’s possible? I ran a half marathon at that pace on minimal training. But that was a half marathon, not a marathon. I do still feel like if I make smart choices on race day, I can get a huge PR, and I’m excited about that!