Sunday, July 24, 2011

What Counts in the County

My husband and I visited Aroostook County last weekend and felt like we were in another country.

The landscape was incredibly beautiful in its summer height, and unlike the seaside beauty we witness every day, we saw acres and acres of rolling hills, green farms, pastures, old trees, vegetable gardens, modest yet substantial houses, and blossoming potatoes, all as far as the eye could see.

The rural towns were also unlike the cityscape we experience every day. There were fewer storefronts and restaurants, friendly, conversant folk, minimal car traffic and the occasional horse-drawn buggy or gigantic farming vehicle tooling down the street.

We arrived in Fort Fairfield on Friday about five hours from our home. Banners on lamp posts announced a welcome from "Friendly Fort Fairfield". Everybody seemed to know everybody else, and there was a lot of energy surrounding the ongoing, week-long Fort Fairfield Potato Blossom Festival.

Our trip was multi-purpose: a visit with friends, a work-related appointment, and to participate in the Potato Blossom 5-Mile footrace the following day.

There were literally no available places to stay in the county on account of the festival or the Maine Land Speed Races at Loring Air Force Base in Limestone, but we lucked out with a Friday night cancellation. PJ and Rene picked us up at our Caribou hotel room and treated us to dinner at a favorite haunt. We were joined by Susan, Thomas, Marie and Dillon. Good food and good times followed, including a preview of the race course. And before we parted ways, Susan offered us a place to stay the following night. Awesome.

The road race course was tough - uphill for a couple miles, then a mile across a potato field before a nice, mostly downhill finish. There would be no shade and high temps, as the race went off at 9:00 am.

We were ready to go on race day having done an early (beautiful!) warm-up and arriving in Fort Fairfield with plenty of time. We toed the line and ran our races. I thought it was a fun, albeit challenging run, with pregnant Rene cheering from the sideline, a frolic through a rocky potato field, and two young Amish fellows spectating from their wagon.

PJ, Susan, Paul and I all received recognition for our efforts. The awards were made out of wood and shaped like guess what? Potatoes! I will cherish my trophy and tee-shirt from the county since this was my first visit.

We had a fun night grilling at the aforementioned free (thank you Susan and Chad) cabin in Stockholm (did you know that there is a distinction between cabin and camp in Maine?) and visiting at the local bar, before rising to the occasion of a Sunday morning group run in and around Caribou, followed by a hearty breakfast at Reno's.

If I can capture the essence of our visit to Aroostook County in one word, it's hospitality. We were welcomed, taken care of, and reminded of what it important. Friendship, camaraderie, running and keeping things simple. Thank you to our friends up north.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Ryan and Philip

Yesterday was a steamy sunny Sunday in southern Maine with a low tide at 12:50 PM and everyone had the same idea. My choice destination was Pine Point Beach.

As I walked off the path from the dune grass the first thing I saw was a small pack of familiar runners easily making their way on the flat hard-packed sand, shirtless and tanned, one in bare feet. The scene made me smile and I felt a warm wave of kinship.

Fast forward about four and a half hours. The tide is well on its way in and my husband reluctantly removes his fishing pole from its stand after the last unsuccessful surf cast for the day. I sit very contentedly watching him and many others as they play in the water, walk, chat, read and do any number of things one does at the beach.

I watch a little guy as he runs past, and even though the sand is no longer hard-packed where he runs, he is light on his feet with a very quick turnover and seems to be moving with purpose. And I mean he is little, no more than four years old. He holds a large broken quahog shell and wears a black baseball cap, tee-shirt and yellow Sponge Bob shorts. The little runner catches my eye and I watch him go by.

And I keep watching because this little guy is alone. There is no adult chasing him and he does not veer up to his family's umbrella. He keeps going - running and running and looking. I stand up to keep him in sight knowing that this is not right. He's lost.

I set off in a jog behind him clad in my long beach skirt and cap, and realize he has covered more ground than I thought! Finally, he stops, looks and circles around a bit just as I approach him. I say in my friendliest non-threatening voice, "Hi! Are you looking for your mom?" He says "No, my dad," and starts to cry, except he really doesn't want to cry and now he's nervous. So in my most confident voice I say "All righty then, let's go find your dad. What's his name?" "Philip" he blurts out, and "Yours?" "Ryan," his voice slightly panicked and holding back the tears.

I feel completely confident we will find Philip and only want this little guy to know he is safe. I ask him if he'd like to hold my and he refuses but sticks close as we head back in the direction he came. I start chatting, mostly asking questions, and saying over and over "We are going to find your dad." I tell my husband what we are doing and grab my water bottle as we pass. Ryan refuses water and to hold my hand, and says he isn't tired when I ask.

This little guy is precious. When I ask about the broken shell, he easily tells me it's his tool for digging holes in the sand and in fact had dug a REALLY BIG hole that day. We laugh and I say "Okay, let's find that hole." (Seriously.) He tells me about the waves that had toppled him over and how much fun that was, and as I scan the people on their blankets and chairs I wonder out loud if Philip "might be asleep on his towel?" "No," Ryan is certain that's not possible.

As we near the municipal beach area, a woman rushes toward us asking if this is my child. I start to respond, understanding she's somehow involved with his situation, and Ryan takes my hand. Apparently a full blown search is underway and poor Philip is a wreck. Many others are up and about looking in the water and two police officers have arrived.

Just then Ryan tells me he has a really funny joke so I bend over to hear, and he gleefully shares about four words which I can't understand and he laughs, so I laugh. It's funny and it's a happy ending.

As I walk away, I feel an obvious sense of satisfaction but greater than that is another, much more complicated feeling that takes me a while to articulate. It's related to the connection between people and more specifically the resilience of children. I am reminded of the day I met my daughter in an orphanage in Cambodia. Within an hour after leaving, she realized I was "it" and she let me take care of her. She connected.

This little guy too gave me his trust, he connected, and I feel honored.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Winter White

The temperature reading was negative 12 degrees Farenheit this morning in southern Maine, with nearly two feet of snow encasing the landscape. Not perfect running conditions for sure, but beautiful in its way. The ocean was steely blue and there wasn't much movement in the air. Everything was still.

Yesterday morning was a bit milder and I met a hardy group of runners in Cape Elizabeth to run the Mid-Winter Classic 10-mile course. In my last blog entry I mentioned registering for this race, which is now less than two weeks away. Yesterday was my first run over the course this season! Historically, I train there most of the winter but this winter has been very different - much lower mileage. My husband reminded me tonight, "You're not training for the Boston marathon." I do hope the run on race day is better than yesterday's debacle. Frozen eyelashes combined with sunscreen in my eye, and a frozen balaclava on my forehead like an icepack just resting there for the final four miles. Tough.

One thing I have been doing this winter is getting together with Nor'easter Run on Tuesday evenings for a workout. We run for about 45 minutes then do a light weight-training session at World's Gym in Portland. I love the instant gratification from lifting weights. All of a sudden body parts have muscle definition. It's so cool.

Still working on those resolutions to become better disciplined about going to the gym, running no matter the weather, getting consistently good sleep and nutrition, and thinking good thoughts. I can check off taking a yoga class and snowshoeing when possible, and working full time.

I guess it's a damn good thing I didn't get in to the Boston Marathon this year!

Monday, November 29, 2010


Well, here I am again, end of November, not running much, trying to get focused and settled on a work/family schedule that enables me to be a competitive athlete. I haven't been able to achieve this in months and months. I need a goal. More importantly, I need a grip.

You see, I became derailed from my training and racing earlier this year. I started a job in March. Yes, that's right, a j.o.b. - "just over broke." I had to - I wanted to. A Running Conversation was just not viable in this economy. Perhaps it could have been if I was a different person, one with a tireless entrepreneurial spirit and laser sharp focus and determination. But I was just me and a very very tired me. I didn't have the energy.

I didn't entirely throw the dream aside. I continued to work with runners to help them accomplish some of their running goals - a 5K, half-marathon, or a marathon. But mostly I had to get to work to make a living. And at this point I'm not sure what will come of ARC, but that's another story.

I want to run. And when I run, I want to run well. This means competitively. I am not ready to say "Oh yea, the 50's. Everything goes to hell after you turn 50. I should just run because I love getting out there and smelling the salt air." I am not willing to go there. I ran a personal best in the marathon this year at 51 and I am not ready to stop competing.

The truth is I had to back off on account of a tugging hamstring and an Achilles tendon inflammation. After the Beach to Beacon 10K in early August, I decided I needed to get serious about my recovery. I had to pull way back and deal with this problem. I've heard horror stories about athletes doing significant damage to tendons and muscles, etc. I wanted to be prudent. And successful.

I did some work with Dr. Jamie Raymond, a chiropractor that is also certified in active release technique, which is a soft tissue treatment. He helped me to get my hips lined up better to minimize the extreme pull that was happening on one side and the Achilles seemed to get better. He suggested I continue to run, but then the inflammation malingered.

Then I raced the Tufts 10K in Boston in October two minutes slower than last year. A serious ouchy.

Late last month, I went to see Deb Merrill, a massage therapist in Brunswick, Maine. Deb is a genius. I have known her for nearly 20 years and have always thought this about her and her work. Deb is a scientist in an artist's body. (She helped me design the logo for A Running Conversation.) As a scientist, she prefers to tell you the problem(s), issue the solution(s) and send you home with homework not to be seen or heard from again. She's that spot on and confident.

Deb is also very practical. Her treatment of choice for my Achilles tendon was an eraser, you know, the soft, flesh colored rectangular kind that you used in grade school. The goal is to soften the lumpiness on the tendon, to break down the scar tissue, to massage it out using cross-fiber, eraser driven massage. The trick is to hold the tendon steady with one hand and with the other, rub the lumpiness up and out! Scrape it out using the eraser.

It can be painful and it's a bit awkward to do on oneself, but this treatment, combined with ice after swelling, and some eccentric stretches she showed me, have me back running! Not much but some. I'm officially on the mend.

This evening I registered for the Mid-Winter Classic 10-Miler in February.

There's nothing like having a goal.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


I'm intrigued with the notion, more aptly, the practice of "vacation as a state of mind."

I live in Maine and its moniker is "Vacationland." If you've ever been to Maine, or live here, you know why this is true. The Atlantic ocean, beaches, rocky coast, islands, lighthouses, mountains, lakes, art, restaurants, skiing, boating, biking, blueberries, lobsters - I could go on forever about all things pleasurable, delicious, fun, relaxing, and extracurricular!

Maine also features a tough economy and a challenging place to do business. I'm not sure where we land on the poverty index or unemployment stats, and we certainly are not all Rockefellers, Stewarts, Beans or Kings; it takes a lot of hard work and commitment to make a gainful and comfortable living here. But that's true of a lot of things.

Fill in the blank, "_______ takes a lot of hard work and commitment." It's that value that garners excellence and a sense of accomplishment, healthy self-esteem. The blank could be - Training, Competing, Partnering, Mothering, Homemaking, Landscaping, Being a good friend, Creating - whatever it is that is meaningful. And this practice and mindset of hard work and commitment is great, but it can certainly become exhausting. What about leisure, relaxation, harmony, and vacation?!

I realize it is just a thought away.

Living in Maine, particularly this summer, specifically this month of July 2010, has been like living in Vacationland at its finest. And I've been working full-time! But that doesn't mean I've been missing the greatness of a classic Maine summer. There is always a chance to pause, look where I am in any moment, breathe in 'that feeling' of vacation, and simply 'make pretend' I am living it. I am on vacation. Just think vacation.

It completely works for me. I get to thoroughly enjoy the farmers' markets, to shuck fresh corn on the patio, fish in Saco Bay on the weekend, slide in waterfalls over granite rocks in western Maine, and smell the sea when the air is warm and wet. I love this summer in Maine, and maybe someday I'll be a woman of leisure, and enjoy it all for an entire "vacation."

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Catching Up on the Conversation

There has been an inordinate amount of time lapsed since my last post, and I am not quite sure where to begin. I could always fill in the blanks since my last post about the Boston Marathon, which I ran seven weeks ago.

Wait, really? It's been only seven weeks?! Oh, okay, this sheds some light on the current situation.

The most current situation is that I am recommitted to my family relationships, my need for rest, and my desire to live in a neatly kept home. I want to do good work in my day job, be available and resourceful to all the runners I work with, and feel good about the part-time waitressing job I took to earn extra cash.

This renewed sense of commitment has not been evident until very, very recently. I guess one could say it takes a bottoming-out, of sorts, to heed the wake-up call.

My bottom has been mainly emotional/psychological, save the unkempt house, the poor race results, the dissatisfied family, the missed appointment, and the wretched lines on my face. These are tangible evidence of my being overdrawn, unavailable and lacking in grip.

The emotional proof is the over-riding feeling of being a little bit out of control, as if things are moving just a bit too quickly, and I don't feel rested or replenished. Sometimes I long to be different. This is never a good thing.

I fully understand the cause: Over the course of the past few months, I have started a new job, finished with one training group and have started another, and began a part-time job one night a week. My hard-drive crashed destroying three years of data. I've continued to run and have tried to remain competitive in races: the Sugarloaf 15K, Cabot Trail Relay and today's half-marathon. I have a nine-year old daughter and a devoted husband and have been on the receiving end of the "loveness" in our home. I want to do it all well.

Today, my husband and I ran the Covered Bridges Half-Marathon in Vermont, and are presently sitting back, reading and writing, and finally taking some time out. This is a turning point. I do not want to be a complete maniac simply because I over-do it. I want to know a better sense of balance. My sun sign is Libra; I'm supposedly all about balance. When I get over committed and things move too quickly, I become ineffectual, and this, definitely goes against my grain.

I won't promise to write more frequently. But I can say I'd like to write more frequently. I'd especially like to hear from you - thoughts, feedback, interests, questions. I'm back, and love the running conversation.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I Did It

It's been nine days since the Boston Marathon and I am just getting to my race report! Actually, I made an entry on the Forum and in one felt swoop, made it disappear without a trace. I was too tired to try again.

The 114th running of the marathon was last Monday the 19th of April, Patriots Day in Maine and Massachusetts. The weather was terrific. We could have used a cloud cover but 'cool and clear' was fine with me. It rained for a couple days leading up to it so I think we were all relieved that it stopped.

All 25,ooo of us.

But the enormity of this race goes beyond its number of runners. There are many races that have more participants. There is something else about Boston that has given it its Grand-daddy status, something separate from the crowd swell lacing its way from west to east through the suburbs of Boston which makes it legendary.

It might be that the course is narrow and downhill at the beginning; that the half-way point is renowned for an introduction made by screaming Wellesley College students lining the street; that there is a nice undulating calm before the right hand turn onto Commonwealth Avenue that marks the beginning of a series of hills, culminating in the infamous Heartbreak Hill; that the Red Sox traditionally play an early game the ends while the race is still in progress and fans spill out to the sidewalks along the course; or that the course seems to narrow again in the last couple miles until opening up on Hereford and Boylston Streets to the finish line. I think it's all of this, and more, that make it difficult to say 'no' to being a part of it.

But I don't get overly sentimental about it. I didn't buy any schwag at the expo - I really didn't enjoy the expo as it was overcrowded and uncomfortable. On race day, I rode the subway to Park Street where I caught a bus to the start. I met up with teammates Alan and Randy for the trip, and when we arrived at the athletes village, we hung out for a little while before the first wave set off. There was a good stiff wind and soggy ground so it wasn't like we were hanging out at a summer concert. In fact, we sat on the pavement, killing time and lacing 'em up.

I have to admit something: When I was waiting for the gun to go off, I was wishing it could be over. Let that be an indication of the kind of time I had for the next few hours...

The first several miles were straightforward, actually quicker than I expected, but on pace so I was okay with that. But between miles 10 and 11 I started to feel tight! I was unhappy about how my quads and calves felt and I knew I was going to have to bear down. Then of course my mind went south and I got cranky. I had to work and wished it was more fun. At one point I thought about my husband meeting me at mile 20, and fantasized that somehow he would make it all okay and magically get me to the finish line. Talk about a Cinderella complex! But that kind of fantasy-world was an excellent distraction for a couple miles!

Another time I forgot abut my discomfort was going by Wellesley College. The young women waved all sorts of signs and screamed as loudly as they could. One sign said, "Kiss me. I'm graduating!" And I laughed. I proceeded to come up with a litany of reasons why someone should kiss me in that moment!

Anyway, the hills were my friends. I actually enjoyed them. My quads needed a break and they are not bad hills compared with what we're used to training on around here. And then I saw Paul. He was happy to see me and seemed chipper, and I was not very friendly. I immediately gave him to carry the two Gu packs I had stuffed in my running shorts pocket, since they had chafed my poor hip bone to tears. And I didn't want to talk much. I didn't particularly care that our kids and friends were at mile 23, but when we went by it was nice to wave and say hi.

And then it happened. At mile 24, I looked at my watch, and saw 2:58. I knew I could make my goal of 3:15 if I really wanted to.

And I did. Official time 3:15:54.

Just don't ask me about next year.