Planoiras Part 2: Seeking Confidence and Resilience

Note: This is the second of two posts about my racing in Lenzherheide, Switzerland, this weekend. For the first post, click here.

Saturday morning I woke up to one of those emails you don’t want to get at the start of the weekend. A paper I had submitted was rejected. Argh!

This happens all the time if you are an academic, and I think I have generally gotten slightly better at dealing with it. I was able to find some positives: the paper did go out for review (rather than getting rejected by the editor without review, something that is quite common), and all of the reviewers and editors agreed the premise was interesting. It’s not like they were telling me I, or my science, was garbage.

But it was still very disappointing. It was the chapter of my dissertation that I felt the most ownership over: the thing I felt like I had come up with all by myself and then convinced my supervisor and co-author to pursue, and that had turned out to have really interesting results. I had sent it to one of the journals I admire most in my field, and to have it published there would have felt like an incredible milestone.

Luckily, I was meeting some friends for a ski that morning, so after reading the reviewer comments over breakfast I hopped on the train and got some beautiful, sunshiney snow time. Glide. Good therapy.

Later in the day, I skyped with Steve, who is traveling for work. We chatted about a bunch of different things before I even remembered to mention the paper rejection. Then he asked if I was ready for my ski race the next day.

“I’m trying to be,” I said. “But it’s hard. The weather is going to be pretty terrible. It’s just blah.”

“You’re paper got rejected and now everything is painted gray,” he responded. “I know how you will be. The weather is gray and I don’t like it. The skiing is gray. This breakfast is gray, yuck. Gray gray gray.”

I laughed, because he was right, kind of. I definitely get that way. Sometimes when one bad thing happens, it leads me right down a chain of negativity until everything seems overwhelming, bad, and unsolvable. I can’t seem to see anything good in the world.

But I also laughed because it’s something I’m working on. For Christmas I bought myself Kara Goucher’s new book, “Strong.” It’s about building confidence. Some of the presentation is a little too girly for me, but there are aspects of the book that I love. It all works because Goucher is completely honest about her struggles, and she’s easily convincing when she relates how mental training helped her.

One section is about reframing negative thoughts and turning them into strengths, and this is something I really liked.

Here’s an example. These days when I go to a ski race, I’m aware that I probably don’t train as much as most of the people who are around me – people who look all pro in their shiny suits, who own the newest skis and boots and poles, and who probably poured a couple hundred Francs into their wax jobs. I certainly don’t have as much time on snow, because I live in Zurich, and most of them live much closer to the mountains, if not actually in the mountains.

As I see all these people warming up and putting their skis on the line, sometimes I feel like a complete imposter. What am I doing here!? These people are so much better prepared than me! Look how fit they all look!

And, well, some of them are better trained. But physical preparation is not the only thing that makes you go fast. You could have done the best training this year, but if you show up at a race and don’t work hard, you’re probably not going to reach your goals.

I work really, really hard in races in order to make up for my lack of ski-specific (or some years even total…) training. I try to target my effort in the ways that will help the most, take advantage of my love of downhills and corners, and attempt to finish the race having spent every bit of energy I have.

And so when there was an exercise in “Strong” to write down a common negative thought you have and reframe it, this is what I picked.

“Everyone here has done better training than you,” I wrote down for the negative thought.

“You know how to get the most out of the training you’ve done,” I wrote down as a new mantra.

I hadn’t really thought about things that way before, but it felt good.

Did it help me in my race on Sunday? I don’t know. The race still wasn’t that fun, but I did stay focused even though I was performing worse than I had hoped. N=1. Maybe I would have anyway.

A few days later, I was listening to the Science of Ultra podcast when an episode came on about mental training. The host describing the RISE approach: recognize, identify, switch, and execute. His example for recognizing your emotions hit home.

“First, recognize the thoughts you’re having. Be aware of negative, unhelpful, and destructive thoughts…. maybe you’re going much slower than expected, and disappointed that you’re not going to make your goal time, or embarrassed that so many people are passing you.”

As I wrote in part 1 of this blog post, I need to clarify why it is that I race. Skiing doesn’t really have goal times (one of the things I love about it!) and you never know who will show up at a given marathon. Setting results-based goals seems particularly futile when you’re in a field of competitors you don’t know anything about, and I wouldn’t say that I am driven to race because I think I’ll do “well”. I don’t train full time. I’m getting worse at skiing. I know that.

And yet, that embarrassment when lots of people pass me is real. That’s something I need to recognize. Even though results are not the main reason I do this, it feels bad.

What’s funny about all of this is that I have been thinking about mental resilience a lot lately, but not because of sports. Instead, I’ve been thinking about it in my life as a scientist.

Finishing my dissertation was really hard, and I still don’t feel like I’m fully recovered. It took a lot out of me intellectually and emotionally. Two months after handing it in, I sit down at the computer to write on one of the other papers I owe my boss and I just can’t. The words don’t come out. The ideas I had disappear.

And even before that, sometimes I get into these negative spirals. Everything gets painted gray. Science has highs and lows and sometimes I feel like I’m swinging wildly between them from one day to the next. Going through something like a dissertation doesn’t help you deal with all the “normal” lows like getting a paper rejected.

I love science, and I want to keep doing it. But I need to do everything I can to be healthy.

And so when I was at the British Ecological Society annual meeting in Birmingham, England, in December, I headed to a lunchtime workshop about mental resilience in academia.

I was relieved to see that the room was full of people. I wasn’t weak for thinking I needed help in this department. Apparently, this was something that everyone thought sounded like a lifeline. Including people I recognized and admired.

Some things we talked about I already knew. Others I hadn’t thought about, or not in the same way. One of the latter was the instruction to recognize and accept your emotions.

“Sometimes we think that resilience is bouncing back, getting over it and soldiering on,” the workshop organizer said. “But there’s a danger in that. You need to recognize and deal with your emotions, with how you feel about the bad things you’re experiencing. If you bury them in an effort to just ‘soldier on’, that’s not going to work in the long run. That’s not resilience.”

All of these things – confidence, recognition, resilience – seem tied together for me, even though I’m not doing a good job of explaining why. But even though I’m exhausted by my PhD and frequently overwhelmed, I think that thinking about all these things has made me more balanced in the last month or so.

Kara Goucher’s book is about keeping a confidence journal. The premise is that every day, you write down something specific, that you will remember immediately, and that will make you feel more confident when you go back and read it later.

I’ve enjoyed keeping a confidence journal so far. I always write something about the training/exercise session I did each day (or what was good about resting instead of training), and some days I write about science, too. Both sides of my life are places where I need to go back and find some extra confidence sometimes.

My weekend started off with a rejection, but it didn’t have to end that way. I recognized my disappointment and frustration with racing, but found the positive side in my journal entry.

My Ford Sayre ski coach, Scottie Eliassen, always had us talk about one thing that went well and one thing to improve on for next time after every race. This is what I channeled.

“I didn’t go fast, but dang I worked hard. My threshold HR is 177 and my average for the 25 k race was 175. Despite the snowstorm and feeling bad, I hit my process goal of not getting complacent and giving up. I kept pushing.”

Next time I’m about to race and I begin worrying that everyone is more fit than I am, maybe reading that message will help. I’ve been doing this for a long time and I know how to get the best out of the training I’ve done.

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Planoiras Part 1: This Doesn’t Feel Fun (A Pity Party)

Note: this is the first of two posts about my racing in Lenzherheide, Switzerland, this weekend. It’s going to be a little negative. Tomorrow’s will be positive though, so stay tuned! (Edited to add: Part 2 is posted here.)

Every year, I have a giddy feeling as the snow starts to fall. That means it’s ski season! Usually I’ve been waiting more and more impatiently for months.

This year was no different. I had trained for a marathon and completed it in late October. After a few weeks of minimal exercise to let my body recover (and to let me finish writing my dissertation), I couldn’t wait to get on skis. I wanted to get moving again, but while running less than I had been in the months leading up to my marathon. I sought glide.

Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate, and it was a very warm early winter in much of Europe. The skiing got good about the time I headed home for Christmas. Back home in New England, folks had been skiing for weeks – but it rained the day after I got home and much of the snow melted, so I didn’t ski much there, either. Of course, there was a huge snowstorm the day I left. I just had horrible timing.

In the last month, I’ve had a few skis here and there, about two of which have been in good conditions.

Just as I had been dreaming, gliding on skis was bliss.

***

Every year since 2003 I’ve done at least a couple of ski races, and it would feel weird not to plan some into my winter. My first race of this year was the Planoiras 25 k skate point-to-point in Lenzerheide this weekend.

I’ve done the race a few times before. Last year, I was recovering from a major ankle injury. I entered only to realize partway through that my injury still significantly limited my range of motion. I couldn’t get the ankle flex I needed to skate at speed. Worse than that, by halfway through the race skating was getting painful, including acute sharp twinges in my ankle whenever I slipped in the icy conditions. I slowed way down and limped my way to the finish.

That was a super frustrating day – one of the most frustrating in my rehab process. It had been six months since the injury, and I thought I was recovered. Turns out, I wasn’t. I skated only minimally for the rest of the winter, licking my wounds and (luckily) enjoying classic skiing pain-free.

This year, just signing up for the race was a reminder of my injury. But I feel like I’m legitimately healed, so it actually brought a smile to my face. I am still a little bit wobblier on the left side when I do balance drills, but I haven’t had pain in months.

I recognized that I haven’t been on snow much this season; when I tried doing some skating intervals last week, I was floundering all over the place. So I didn’t have super high hopes for the race.

But I thought it would still feel triumphant: I would do a lot better than last year, and be able to actually ski an entire race without having to pull up short and walk it in.

***

There was basically nothing about the day that felt triumphant.

The weather forecast called for a major snowstorm, and I did my best to psych myself up. “You can’t just wait around for a race with perfect conditions,” I admonished myself. “You have to go race anyway. Enjoying nice weather is not what this is about.”

I think I did a pretty good job with my mental attitude. I had accepted that it wasn’t going to be a beautiful day in the mountains, and that things were going to be slow and sloppy. I was just going to make the best of things and ski hard.

I did try my best. But everyone just kind of skied away from me. I felt slow and ineffective; my legs felt like lead. The climbs were such a drag. The way my legs were burning, I felt like I should be moving like Jessie Diggins. But, ummm, I wasn’t. (Let’s leave it at that.)

At first I wondered if I’d just picked the completely wrong skis. I might have, but that couldn’t explain the way that I just felt weak, heavy, and slow. I didn’t have any zip.

And at some point, I started wondering, is this fun? Why do I do this?

I managed to push that question from my mind and stay pretty focused. I pushed hard, even though it didn’t make me go fast. Looking at my heart rate data afterwards, I was hovering right around my anaerobic threshold for an hour and 39 minutes straight, often going above it. I can’t say I didn’t try hard.

I crossed the line to no fanfare, not happy with how I skied technically or speed-wise. I had been snowed on for more than an hour and a half and I was wet and cold and bedraggled, the top of my head actually covered in a crust of snow.

The sun was literally not shining on my face.

***

A lot of things about the day didn’t make me feel happy. But the feeling afterwards, as I struggled through a 10-minute jog, developed a race hack, and then proceeded to fall asleep on the train (narrator: this never happens, she’s terrible at sleeping), did make me happy.

One thing I love about racing is the feeling of completely emptying the tank and knowing that you worked as hard as you possibly could, that you are physically 110% spent. That might make me a crazy person, but it is a rewarding feeling. And I think it’s one that a lot of people don’t experience often if at all. When I push myself that hard, I am proud of myself, proud that I can do it.

Regardless of how fast I go, having this relationship with my body. I can ask it to do this massive effort and it delivers. To me, that is an accomplishment.

***

As I skied around the course, I had pushed the questions out of my mind. But on the way I kept mulling over that question: is this fun?

It’s been a few days, and the mental tricks we play on ourselves have already come into force. I’m painting the race all rosy, proud of how hard I tried, thinking it wasn’t so bad.

But I do remember. While it was happening, it didn’t seem fun. At all. Except for a few scattered moments here and there, I wasn’t really enjoying myself.

It hurt, and not in a good way. I wasn’t getting any power or speed out of the burn I was laying into my legs. Pushing hard is rewarding especially when it gets you somewhere, but it didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere.

Then there’s the reality of racing as a woman in Switzerland.

I don’t want to offend anyone with what I’m about to write, but sometimes it is less fun than it could be.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s great that everyone is racing. Keep racing, masters men! Start racing, folks who are just getting into skiing! It’s fun and healthy and I am all for more people ski racing.

But just 40 of the 313 finishers in this year’s Planoiras were women, or 13%. I would go long stretches without seeing another woman, and men just ski and race differently than women. In my experience, we women are more likely to set a steady, even pace (don’t @ me: this is backed up by research). In my part of the race, we also often have better technique to go the same speed as the men –we aren’t as big and strong , so we get to go that fast by other means – and so it’s nicer to ski behind another woman. I will never get passed by a woman who sprints by me in an effort to not get “girled”, only to run out of steam in the middle of the trail later and then try to block me from passing once I catch up. It’s men who do that. The same ones who repeatedly ski over your skis and step all over your pole baskets, but then turn around and yell at you if you accidentally do the same thing to them even once.

Look, there are lots of great men racing out there who excellent to ski with. In fact, I ski around a lot of them a lot of the time! Thanks, guys! It would be lonely out there without you.

But what I mean by “it’s less fun than it could be” is that for the men who are maybe prone to ski like idiots or jerks, I don’t think that the gender imbalance in these races contributes to bringing out their best behavior.

The numbers of women are better in the U.S. in many long races. I checked some data and at last year’s City of Lakes Loppet, between the skate marathon and 20 k combined 166 of 684 racers were women, or 24%. In the Tour of Anchorage 50 k, 43 of 172 finishers were women, or 25%. In the Rangeley Lakes Loppet, 25% of the 80 finishers were women. And in the Boulder Mountain Tour 34 k in 2017, 178 of 534 finishers were women, or 33%.

That might not seem like a big difference – in none of these cases are anywhere near equal numbers of men and women competing in ski marathons – but the difference is meaningful.

Think about if one out of every four people around you is a woman, versus one out of every eight. You’d notice.

So as my legs burned and I floundered in the sections of soft snow, I’d periodically get annoyed at unnecessary, impolite race behavior. Like, chill out! We are not at the front of this race. We are the slow people. We’re all out here trying as hard as we can, and it’s just unnecessary to make other people’s race experience worse in your pursuit of that goal.

Afterwards, the thought stuck in my mind. If I could ski in a pack like this for an hour and a half – worrying all the time that my poles are about to get broken and I’m about to get tripped and land on my face – or I could go have a nice quiet ski by myself in the mountains somewhere, which one sounds like more fun?

***

Then there’s the fact that I’m only going to get slower.

I trained a lot more when I was 23 and 24 and well, kids, it’s all downhill from there. Especially when you live in the city and there’s no skiing within an hour.

I’m probably never going to improve at ski racing again. And despite all the process goals I can make and all the other reasons that I race, that might mean that ski racing is a little less fun. I’m a competitive person, and as hard as I try to let go of that and detach, it’s a little brutal to watch yourself do worse and worse. It’s embarrassing to admit that I have a little bit of ego in this. I’m mediocre, so there shouldn’t be vanity involved. But I’m only human.

***

This is a passing hissy fit. Okay, so I did a race and I felt slow. Grow up.

But as I kept thinking about it – does this make me happy, and if so, what about it does that? – I decided maybe it was important to actually consider those questions, instead of just doing a couple ski races every year because that’s what I’ve always done.

If I think about the answers to those questions – really think about them – then maybe it will feel less disappointing next time I feel slow and weak, or finish twenty places worse than the last time I did a race.

Maybe my next race will be in the sunshine, with perfect kickwax, and I won’t have been too incredibly stressed about work all week, and I’ll feel great and have fun! I sure hope so.

But even if that’s true, too, having the answers to those questions won’t hurt. I don’t have them yet. But I’m working on it.

Why do you race?

Maybe it’s a good conversation to have.

***

Part 2 is posted here.

things I said at Peter’s service.

grabie

I will try to keep this short, but I always write too many words. I actually talked to Pete about this quite a number of times. He always claimed that he had no great talent as a writer, but I think that was Peter being self-deprecating. Regardless, through his years in advertising and his classes in journalism at Northwestern, he knew how to put sentences together. He’d tell me that there was a right word for everything, and that there was a great value to being concise.

I hope I can do that for him today, but I’m not sure.

Last week I was in the Czech Republic, working as a journalist at a large sporting event.

About the time that my grandfather Peter passed away, I was collecting my credentials from the media office. I handed over my passport and in return received a laminated name tag with my picture on it. And then a woman approached me with a box. “The gift,” she said.

It’s traditional for organizing committees to offer some item to journalists and athletes at events like these, but I was not expecting a heavy cardboard box. I’ve previously received coffee mugs and backpacks. As I carried it home, the handle cut into my fingers, and I wondered what could possibly be inside. When I opened it, I found six bottles of Czech wine.

Looking back, I think this was perfect. Peter would have been smiling. He knew how to combine hard work with fun, adventure, and mischief, and that attitude towards life is something that we should all aspire to.

As kids, we don’t understand that our grandparents had lives before becoming our grandparents. When we’re little, we see only a pair of old people, who alternately scold us and dote on us. Luckily, as we get older, these relationships become deeper and more complex.

Peter believed that any of us could become anything that we wanted to, and that we should have the opportunities to try to do so. Many of us are still figuring out what that thing is, but Peter has always been supportive of all of us all the way through.

I’m a biologist, and Peter was certainly not a scientist. But because of his love of fishes, of flowers, of the landscapes of the forests and lakes of the upper Midwest or of the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico, we could always talk about the things that I was doing, and I find that amazing.

I feel like I am obligated to speak a little bit on behalf of all of my cousins. Abie and Peter both were devoted to the idea that we should be able to have the best educations, and they were proud of us no matter what we did. I don’t know too many other grandparents who attended each and every one of their grandchildren’s graduations, from New Hampshire to Texas. They did.

But it’s not until we are adults that we realize that our grandparents were truly remarkable long before we were even born. In the last few years I was lucky to begin to have some grownup conversations with Peter, even though I’m not a grownup.

After our last visit in particular, I was looking forward to the coming years when I could ask him more about his life, after receiving tantalizing stories about growing up on the Upper Peninsula. I’ve been lucky to travel there, so I feel like I can begin to understand his childhood – but not really, and I wanted to hear more from him. And stories about  traveling in the peacetime navy, which he always described as a plumb gig. Starting in advertising, and traveling around the southeast in train cars. Parties with Abie and their friends that would leave any of us grandchildren reeling if we could time travel back fifty years and try to keep up. Fishing trips to remote and beautiful parts of the world that most of us can only dream of seeing.

But even though I feel a void where those future stories should be, I am left looking back on wonderful times with as sweet and loving a grandfather as anyone could ask for. My cousins and I prospered from Peter’s life twofold. We had him as a grandfather, and we had his sons as fathers and uncles. I look at my father, Geof, and know that he is the best dad. I look at Keith, Chris, and Todd, and know that they were the best uncles – I remember screaming with delight when we would play when I was growing up. Where did they learn all of this, if not from their own father?

So thank you, Peter, for all that we have gained from all five Little boys.

petegarden

Peter, walking off into the garden forever.

Gloomy Days

When you open your eyes and see this out the window, it’s hard to get out of bed:

Dark. Gloomy. Rain in the distance. These are things that seriously hamper my motivation to go train.

Yesterday was particularly tough – the morning workout was threshold around the lake, something I often struggle with. “Around the lake” sounds flat, doesn’t it? And Big Hosmer Pond isn’t that big, is it? Well. The loop is actually 7.1 miles long, and starts with a long climb – about 200 feet of height differential in a mile.

Threshold work is supposed to be light and fun. The idea is that you are working hard, but not accumulating too much lactic acid. For me, I try to keep my heart rate at 180 to 185 beats per minute for threshold work. That’s about 90% of my max.

When you do 8 minute intervals at threshold pace, it feels good, like you could keep doing intervals at that pace forever.

When you run for 7 miles straight at threshold pace, it doesn’t feel so easy. Except for the fact that you don’t sprint at the end, the pace is not all that different than racing over the same distance.

Anyway, yesterday morning I woke up and looked out the window. It was gray. It was drizzling. It was a little bit cold. And I didn’t have a training partner for the workout: Ida, Susan, and Hannah are gone on extended trips, and Lauren was in Jericho doing biathlon. I ate a quick breakfast and set out on the workout.

Even on gloomy days, you have to suck it up and try to motivate yourself. Was I as excited for the workout as I would have been if it was perfect running weather and I had a buddy to run with? Absolutely not. But I did manage to get the workout done and accomplish what I was supposed to accomplish. When I got home, I made zucchini bread, with lots of chocolate chips, and ate it warm out of the oven. Gloom calls for hot baked goods with melty chocolate.

This morning, I was faced with another similar situation. Before I went to bed last night, I checked the weather, which called for rain all day. Lauren and I had planned a 3 1/2 hour bike ride, and we had to do the workout no matter what the weather did. When we woke up, it was indeed wet and cold. But we put on our long-sleeve shirts and headed out promptly at 8 a.m. anyway.

On the first downhills, our fingers and toes felt frosty. But after ten minutes of riding, we were headed up the East Craftsbury road, which climbs about 700 feet in 4 miles. It’s no mountain pass, certainly, but it did warm us up.

On numerous occasions we felt sure we were about to ride into the rain. We could see it, right there, on the hill across the road. But after a minute of light sprinkles, the rain would disappear, and we would once again be riding through the wet, cold air – nothing to get too excited about, but at least it wasn’t wet, cold rain.

The ride went perfectly except for one thing: I flatted twice. The first time, I was upset, but changed the tube and used one of Lauren’s CO2 cartridges to fill up with air. As neither of us had used one of these handy tools before, there was a lot of giggling and screeching, especially when the cartridge seemed to freeze onto my valve. New skill: check!

The second time, we were in Irasburg, with less than 45 minutes left to ride. I chickened out and didn’t feel like fixing another flat so close to home. Luckily, my housemate Anna happened to be driving through Irasburg and picked me up! So I got a ride home, where I took a long, hot shower and ate some more zucchini bread.

Fall is in a way the toughest time of year for finding motivation. It should be easy, because racing is so immediate: you need to get out there and get ready. But at the same time, you’ve been doing dryland training for months already, and you’re kind of sick of it. Do you really want to go for another long rollerski now that it’s cold and, invariably, raining?

I know that I have to buckle down and stop being such a gloom-bucket myself. There’s always a hot shower waiting for me at home – so how bad can it be?

What's wrong with this picture? Look closer....

Ice, ice baby.

The most traumatic (well, the only traumatic) part of my trip home was a visit to the doctor’s office. For almost a year now I have been suffering from tendinitis in my left elbow, the result of a little too much rollerskiing. Feet are designed to absorb the body’s impact on a hard surface; arms are not. This spring the tendinitis was identified as medial epicondylitis, better known as golfer’s elbow, and even though I did everything I could to minimize the damage, it continued to be a problem.

So I decided to get a cortisone injection.

Which turned out to be way more intense that I thought.

Don’t get me wrong, I still would have gotten the shot, because I really want this problem to go away. But it would have been nice to be better-prepared, mentally. For some reason I thought it was going to be like getting a flu shot, but in my elbow instead.

Then they wheeled in the ultrasound machine, took several minutes to shoot me up with a numbing agent, and then quite a few more minutes with a big needle stuck in my arm, spreading the good stuff around in there.

It hurt.

It hurt in an unnatural way.

And afterward, the numbing agent ran down to my hand and I couldn’t feel my fingers for the next four hours.

I just really wanted my mom to be there to drive me home. Instead, I cruised along the windy back roads from Sharon to Lyme trying not to hyperventilate while thinking about how much it still hurt, and reaching over the steering wheel with my right hand every time I needed to use a turn signal.

The good news is that things got better fairly quickly. For the last few days I have had random-ish shots of pain when I flex my arm a certain way or grab something, but the constant pain faded after an hour or two. I’ve been icing it quite a bit – “Ice will be your new best friend,” the doctor said – and I think that tomorrow I might even rollerski with poles. Just for a little while, to see how it feels.

The other good news is that being forced to take some time off from rollerskiing (and biking, since leaning on handlebars wouldn’t have been good) gave me an excuse to do a long run I had been dreaming of for months. The Dartmouth team always runs Cube-Smarts, a 16-mile jaunt over two 3,000-foot mountains. It’s one of the toughest OD workouts of the year, second in my mind only to Kinsman (which they don’t even do every year). I wanted to make the run a bit longer and harder by running back to my house from the Smarts trailhead, another 5 or 6 miles on dirt roads.

My mother agreed to drop me off before she went to work (even though it was NOT on the way), so I started running at about 7 in the morning. The only thing I hate about being the first one on the trails is that you have to run through the spiderwebs! I have this terror that the spiders are still in the webs and will be crawling all over you. It took me about an hour of running/hiking to reach the top of Cube, where I was offered a lovely view of my next conquest.

Shortly after beginning the run down Cube, I banged my ankle on a sharp rock. Hard. A large gash immediately opened up and started bleeding everywhere. Great. If my elbow hurt at all, I sure wasn’t noticing it now.

When I reached Jacobs Brook 45 minutes later, I had another sip of water (which I had to ration carefully) and the first of my snacks. It was kind of a bummer not to have Cami there with the bus and a cooler full of fresh water, but I was having fun. I put my drink belt back around my waist and started heading up Smarts.

I was getting tired, so I was walking a bit more than I had on the first mountain, but still carrying pretty good speed. I made it up the mountain in less than an hour, which had been my goal. Even though I’ve been up the Smarts fire tower a million times, I had to climb up those wooden steps again to enjoy the view of the ground I had covered and relax for a moment while I had another snack.

By the time I was running down Smarts, I was really tired. I had to remind myself to slow down as I picked my way over the rocks, because tripping and hurting myself would have been a disaster: Tuesday morning on the AT, miles from home, with nobody to pick me up or find me except for the occasional through-hiker…. yikes.

Once I finally reached the trailhead I finished off the last of my water, ate the last of my snacks, and started trudging along the road. It seemed like those five miles were really thirty, and it felt like it might take me hours to get home. But as I jogged along, the reliable pace and the fact that it was no longer necessary to place each foot so carefully meant that I felt a little better, and I actually covered the distance in a respectable amount of time.

When I got home, I chugged at least two liters of water and had to fight hard to resist the urge to sprawl out on the floor. Food: I knew I needed some. I had just run most of a marathon over some fairly gnarly trail. Luckily, we had yogurt, raspberries, maple syrup, and apricot nectar in the fridge, so I crushed up some ice and made myself the smoothie that I had been dreaming about for the last three hours (since I had started up Smarts, more or less). It was great.

As I drank my icy treat, I slapped a cold pack back on my elbow. There’s no such thing as too much prevention.

Tomorrow it’s back to rollerskiing. I loved my mountain run – and the one we did on the Long Trail yesterday – but my running and uphill-hiking muscles are tired. I never thought I would say this, but rollerskiing will provide some welcome variety, even to my most-favorite training type.

Prouty on!

Don't be fooled, it was NOT sunny out.

Yesterday was the 29th Annual Audrey Prouty Memorial Ride. The ride, which is not a race, has options of biking 20, 35, 50, or 100 miles, starting and ending in Hanover, and is a fundraiser for the Norris Cotton Cancer Center. This year the Prouty had 4,500 participants and raised over $2 million. I decided to ride my bike 100 miles – how hard could it be compared to some of the training that Pepa makes us do?

I had another reason, too, for choosing the longer option. I was riding in memory of my grandmother, Jean McIntyre.

I was a lucky kid growing up, because my grandparents lived on the other side of town. I could go over to their house after school every day, and I got to know them and spend more time with my grandmother than many kids get to spend with all of their grandparents combined. “Mommom” was a truly amazing lady: kind, thoughtful, hard-working, creative, and very nurturing. My first pony lived at their house, which made it even more exciting to visit. I learned my first lessons about taking care of animals, and always got to help name the lambs when they were born. I’d go over after school, and Mommom would make me cream cheese and homemade cherry jelly sandwiches, cut on the diagonal just like I liked. She taught me how to bake cookies and how to knit, using yarn that she had spun herself from the wool from her flock of sheep. When I was in high school she gave me a Canon A-1 camera and taught me how to use a darkroom.

But more than any of the skills she taught me, she taught me to be a good person (to the skeptics out there: think of how much more of a bitch I would be if it weren’t for her). I really enjoyed all the time I got to spend with her.

Jean.

I rode my first Prouty (that I can remember) after Mommom was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2001. Even though she was going through treatment and the cancer was wrecking her body, she and the rest of our family rode 20 miles together. It was amazing to see the willpower she used to get herself through that bike ride, and she was incredibly cheerful the whole time.

After Mommom passed away in the spring of 2005, I decided I would ride 100 miles. I had never done much bike riding and back then, I wasn’t in the kind of shape I am now – I was a senior in high school, a decent runner but not a great skier, and I didn’t even own my own bike. Nevertheless, my aunt Liz, my friend Julia Schwartzman and I rode 100 miles in the rain in memory of Mommom.

I missed the next few Proutys because I was working in Colorado. Last year, when I started living in Vermont (a manageable commute!), I rode 100 miles again, this time with my neighbor, Ray Clark. Ray is in great shape for being 60 and no doubt rode his bike much more than I did, but still rode kind of slowly. The 100 miles didn’t seem to hard.

This year, I rode with Sara Cavin and Ed Meyer. Ed is a really, really good rider. He goes to Cyclocross National Championships and stuff. Sara is also a very good rider. She rides about a million times as often as me (I hadn’t ridden in the last three weeks).

Not surprisingly, the ride felt a little bit harder this year! We rode much faster, and I would be lying if I didn’t admit that there were moments when I doubted I could stick with them for the whole 100 miles (this might have been in part because the first 25 or so miles, until we went down the far side of Mount Cube towards Wentworth, were in the rain, which was pretty discouraging). But in Haverhill, when I realized that we had already covered 50 miles, things started looking up. I knew I could ride the next 40 miles, which were basically flat, with Sara. Hills were my real problem. So we rolled along, taking turns leading and joining up with two other riders (whom we didn’t know) to make a 5-person pack. It was fun. It even stopped raining and turned into a nice day, and the scenery was beautiful: acres of farm fields in Woodstock, Newbury, Bradford, Fairlee, and Orford.

When we made it to Lyme, we were almost home. Just 12 more miles left. Unfortunately for me, we faced more hills, too. It’s not that they were big hills in any sense of the word, but for some reason my legs just weren’t with me yesterday. Sara and Ed dropped me at one point and it took me a while to catch up on the downhill – just like in the Tour de France, if you’re one rider trying to catch a group, it’s tough work.

In the end, though, we rode into Hanover together, triumphant, tired, and covered completely in sand and road grime. We munched on pizza and burritos, drank chocolate milk, and caught up with Sara’s parents and their adorable puppy, Cider.

Remember how white this jersey was in the first picture? I'd never worn it before. Not so shiny and new anymore!

Remember how white this jersey was in the first picture? I'd never worn it before. Not so shiny and new anymore!

I’m proud of myself for riding 100 miles in the rain, and sticking with Sara and Ed even when my legs felt like rubber. But I’m much more proud of my mother.

She’s the one standing next to me in the top picture. My mom has ridden the 20-mile loop numerous times, but she doesn’t really like biking. Last year she volunteered instead of riding. But this year, she decided to do the 35-mile loop. To get ready, she’s been riding her bike to work (15 miles) twice a week, and I think she’s even starting to like it. Yesterday morning, her riding partners bailed at the Lyme support station and decided to do 20 miles instead, because of the rain. So my mom rode on, by herself, and finished the longest ride she’s ever done in her life.

I like to think that my grandmother would be proud of both of us. Mommom, this was for you.

Training notes: Autumn in Vermont

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Pepa has been in Bulgaria for the last two weeks. Ida, Hannah, Tim, and Lauren have been in Lake Placid for the last week. The rest of us have just tried to hold down the fort.

Training without Pepa is bizarre – I never thought I would say that, because I am proud of the fact that for the last three summers I trained almost entirely by myself. I also just enjoy being alone – there are training days where I like to ski along chatting, but there are also days when it is a relief to be able to use that time to think your own thoughts and be inside your own head. When some of my teammates expressed dismay that we would have to train without Pepa, I basically told them to grow up.

But, really, I miss Pepa. Now there’s nobody to tell us “Good morning, my sleeping beauties,” and nobody to make sure my technique is good when I’m skiing. Some days it was hard to motivate ourselves to go train. It’s especially hard when it’s gray, rainy, and less than 50 degrees out. Those days are toughness training. On one such day, I decided to run our negative-split workout instead of rollerskiing. Ollie decided he was sick, and Matt didn’t decide anything. Instead, he sat around in his training clothes in a perpetual state of indecision about whether to go rollerski, and at the end of the day said, “I blew it. I really need Pepa to come back”.

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One of the amazing things about Vermont is that each town seems to have its own weather system. This morning, we started rollerskiing in sunny East Craftsbury. By the time we got over Johnson’s Hill, it was hailing, which wasn’t so bad since it didn’t get us wet. In Greensboro the hail turned to a cold rain. Ida and I, soaked and freezing, turned around to go get jackets and gloves; coming back over Johnson’s Hill it was snowing, but in East Craftsbury it was still sunny. We put our jackets on anyway.

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On a less cheerful note, I have developed tendonitis in my elbow. It’s from rollerskiing. It first appeared after our 5-hour classic ski a few weeks ago. I’ve been liberally applying some Bulgarian anti-inflammatory gel, and I thought it was getting better; this turned out to be because I took a break from training, and now that I have skied four days in a row, it’s back with a vengeance. It’s in my left elbow, and Lauren’s theory is that the roads are crowned so the inside pole is planted slightly above the outside pole every time you stride. I am hoping I can make it to ski season without it getting much worse, and that snow will provide a nice low-impact cushion. Until then, I hope to avoid 5-hour rollerskis…

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Yesterday morning’s rollerski also left me pretty wet. My boots were literally full of water, to the extent that I could pour it out of them (note: I need to make fenders for my rollerskis). Then in the afternoon, when it was beautiful and sunny, we had BKL practice. I really didn’t want to put my feet back into my soaking-wet boots, so instead I broke out my brand-new pair of Salomon S-Labs, which I had been saving up for when we got on snow. When I went to put them on, I looked in the left boot and saw…. fluff. A mouse house. Apparently nothing is safe from the mice. Luckily, they hadn’t chewed up the boot at all, and also luckily, there weren’t any actual mice in the boot. I was still bitter though.