Returning to Running

Lake Ivanhoe – my regular running route

Among the other things that have taken a pause during the pandemic (this blog included, at times) is my running regime. Mind you, there was never much of a regime there in the first instance – but typically there were one or two 5ks per week on the Y treadmill and a longer weekend run. Just enough to make sure I had some real cardio to accompany yoga and stair climbing for whatever that next big hike/climb might be.

The Y is no more for me, at least until Orlando looks like it’s on the road to recovery. Somehow a gym full of people all breathing deeply on one another just doesn’t make sense. But surely, you say, the wide open spaces are still there for a run?

Well, yes, but I must admit it’s hard to get motivated when when your past plans for adventure (Katahdin in Maine) all fall through and it’s well nigh to impossible to make any plans certain for the future. We were hoping for Bolivia, but now, due to schedules, not to mention an uncertain political situation, that’s not for sure. J dreams of the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco, as do I, but who knows which countries will even allow us in next summer? You get my point. Normally, by October we’d be booking plane tickets.

The olden days of 2019 – flying over Istanbul

Since running for me is instrumental, lack of a defined goal is hard. But one thing that I have discovered over the last couple of months is audio workouts. Chained to my Fitbit as I am (see Chained To My Fitbit, a post from 2015 when I got my very first one), earlier this year I bought the Premium package, which comes with a steady diet of online workouts for every part of your anatomy, mindfulness and sleep meditations, and yes, audio work outs for running, intervals, and walking. And they work! Even without that defined goal, when a cheery voice in your AirPods tells you there’s just two more minutes at threshold pace – you do it!

So off I toddled this morning to try out a new workout – this time a running meditation. I was doing pretty well with it but for the distraction of a witch paddle board event on Lake Ivanhoe. It’s hard to keep repeating a mantra when you’re being entertained by 50 plus paddle boarding witches! In any event, I’m back at the running. And I’ll just keep dreaming of what next summer could hold. Mountains of the Moon in Uganda? Alaska? Rather than think about the current situation as an absence of a plan, I need to consider it a point of infinite possibility.

Mountain dreaming

To the Balkans via Red Rock, Nevada

Turtlehead Peak, photo by Bob Wick

Last Sunday I spent a wonderful 35 minutes running up St. Charles and winding around the Irish channel neighborhood of New Orleans.

The Irish Channel

Yes, after almost a year long break I’ve decided I’m back into the running world. Not sure I’m ever going to make it back to seven milers, but it felt wholly liberating to run up one of the most beautiful boulevards in one of my favorite cities in the world.

But I’ve been having a motivation set back. J and I looked up the difficulty level of this summer’s adventure to the Balkans and it was a whopping 5 on a 10 point scale. Everest Base Camp was a 7. Stok Kangri a 9 (and I think that’s an underestimate). Without some sort of “you might die if you don’t train properly” incentive out there it is very difficult for me to put on the backpack and hike those extra flights of stairs in the office building, much less brave a run in the mid 90 degree weather we are already experiencing.

So, what better than to try to combine work trip number 3 to Las Vegas with a hike.

The mountains in the distance call…

I started off by googling “hardest hikes around Las Vegas.” Uniformly, Turtlehead Peak kept showing up in the search results.

It is a high desert hike with 2000 feet of elevation gain in 2 miles. There’s no shade and “bring lots of water” seems to be the main advice. Start early before it is even hotter seems to be another one.

We haven’t hiked in that environment since Sedona, during the year of the Grand Canyon (see Journey through Time -Out of the Grand Canyon and on to Sedona – Part 3 ), so our desert boots may need some shining.

Frankly, from what I’ve read this hike promises to be more difficult than any we are doing in the Balkans (famous last words; I could be totally wrong). Any difficulty will be compounded by the fact we plan to take a red eye back to Orlando that night to make it to a Saturday wedding.

The upcoming combination of heat and dry desert air, extreme steepness, and lack of sleep should be enough to get me out there. We’re going to hike in the Black Bear Wilderness today. Despite the mid 90 degree heat.

Yes, that is an alligator.

Running – The World is Flat After All


What's up; what's down
What’s up; what’s down

As I plowed uphill on the first half of Saturday’s seven miler, I reveled in the knowledge that the backside was going to be all down. I was running a new route – through “downtown” College Park, our area of town, all the way up Edgewater Drive, past the public high school, the Catholic high school, an abandoned juke box store (who has thought of those for a while?), a gun shop, a driftwood designer, and assorted and sundry other small establishments.

But after I turned around at the half way mark, to my utter horror, nothing but uphill faced me. I kept running along, confident that at some point I was bound to find the downward trajectory of the long hill I was sure I had climbed. But none was to be found, at least until I reached the very short half block leading down to our lake.

I’ve been punked like this before. Mt. Elbrus has a fake summit that after several hours of climbing looks like the real thing. And on the long slog down, the random metal structures that dot the slopes of Elbrus all resemble the barrel huts we were staying in. Not to mention our explorations of the buttes around Sedona, Arizona where I was convinced that each arch must have been the one that would lead us out of the vortex and to the parking lot that housed our rental car and escape to civilization.

I can’t risk thwarted expectations on the way up Cotopaxi, much less Chimborazo or whatever other mountains we end up climbing. They stop you in your tracks; they bring you down – figuratively, and in the case of climbing, literally. I just need take each step in the moment, so that when that summit finally appears, or the refuge hut out of the winds can be seen, it’s a wonderful surprise.

And maybe it’s not so bad not to have the downhill stretch. There’s either an optical illusion where long flat stretches ahead of you appear to rise up in a gentle swell – or, it could just be the fact the prescription in my sunglasses is wrong. But the real point is that maybe something that can feel so hard is really easier than you’re letting yourself believe. Maybe the world is flat after all.

Iceland Cometh – Travel With Friends


Powder paint at Gentlemen of the Road - Travel With Friends
Powder paint at Gentlemen of the Road – Travel With Friends

Many years ago, when daughter #1 was still being carted around in the plastic contraption we called the rocket seat, we would go out to dinner with our then childless friends, M and S, and drool over all the places we could explore once our parental responsibilities had lessened. But then daughter #2 came along, and M and S had their own equally charming off spring and those days seemed to get further and further away.

Oh, there was the moment when we thought there was a possibility of a two family trip on a Russian icebreaker to see an eclipse in the Arctic Circle. S, who is an amateur astronomer, had seen an ad in one of his magazines that suggested such an adventure could be had for the sum of $1500 a person. Unfortunately, in the cold light of Monday, he realized he had ignored the extra zero in the price.

A couple of years ago we did all make it to St. Augustine for a long weekend to see The Gentlemen of the Road tour (Mumford and Sons etc). A great time, but aside from the paint powder extravaganza shown above, it wasn’t what you would call a particularly adventurous weekend.

Althugh we have yet to convince the Friends that they too can reach summits we have all decided to spend several days in early March in Iceland. The plan started because at that point – for some unknown reason – there was a straight through flight from Sanford, Florida to Reykjavik on Icelandair. We were also all under the impression that Iceland was located closer to where Greenland is and there would be a minimal time difference, making it a good long weekend destination. We’ve now determined there is no direct flight and it is a five hour time difference but we are going just the same. I also bought husband J a globe for Christmas.

I have little idea about Iceland except for an early episode of Anthony Bourdain’s first series, No Reservations, but trips with no expectations are sometimes the best. And I am confident that we can get M and S onto a glacier – at least for a little bit.

So now when I’m training for the June trip to climb Cotopaxi and Chimborazo at least I have something else to occupy myself with – the 7 mile run yesterday was a lot more fun when I thought of volcanoes, hot springs and ice. I decided to ignore the dried cod.


Training and the Power of the Shoe

The Power of the Shoe
The Power of the Shoe

For several years I have had a semi-inflexible yoga schedule. What I call “regular” yoga on Wednesday nights and Sunday afternoons, with some cardio thrown in on the step mill or treadmill, accompanied by Bikram on Saturday afternoons. But all things change, and my long beloved 4 pm Bikram class is, at least for now, no longer. What’s a girl to do?

True, I could go to a 10 am class, which I have occasionally done, but I find my balance is not nearly as good in the morning. Somehow I need the day to be underway before I have the necessary focus.

So, without making any commitments one way or the other to what my new Saturday routine will be, yesterday morning I ventured off to a high end running shoe store. It’s one of those places where customers are called guests, and you’re assigned a salesperson (although I’m sure they call them something else) as soon as you walk in. The process starts with extensive foot measurements, followed by a video of you running along the sidewalk in front of the store so they can frame by frame analyze how your foot strikes.

At the end, I was the proud owner of a remarkably expensive pair of Asics, together with super feet insoles. But I don’t mind spending money on those things – the cost of shin splints or otherwise wrecking your feet, legs, or back is way too great when you have mountains to climb.

And it turned out to be worth it. Fall finally fell in Central Florida and my new shoes and I went for a 4 1/4 mile run around the lake we live on. The difference between running in 90 and 65 degrees should have been self-evident, but I was still surprised by it. There was a decent breeze that was behind my back for a bit, not a cloud to be seen, and the pink seed casings of the tabebouia trees served as a very acceptable substitute for fall leaves.

Ok, so my left hip now hurts and maybe I really shouldn’t have used my new insoles for the first time on a four mile run against instructions, but whatever.  Letting go of one training routine and opening up some new possibilities – I think that’s the flexibility it’s going to take to get up all 19,500 feet of Cotopaxi.


Why I Decided to Run (Sometimes)

I have hated running for as long as I can remember. It started in junior high or high school when our gym teacher decided an appropriate way to avoid the mutual torture that comprised our gym classes was to require each student to do an independent series of workouts for about six weeks. Every week we each had to accumulate a certain number of aerobics points after which we were free to return to eating Pringles, drinking cokes, watching Star Trek and I Love Lucy reruns, and the other activities that made up our generally somnolent 1970s lives. I’m pretty sure the book upon which this brilliant exercise in avoiding actually teaching (much less seeing) your gym students was Kenneth Cooper’s The New Aerobics.

I would stagger around Duke’s east campus in the hot North Carolina afternoons, convinced that I must be running at least 3 or 4 miles. It was only much later I found out it was barely two miles door to door. But my aerobics points were much higher when I self reported the greater number of miles, and hence my completion of the task much sooner.

In any event, it was those memories that faced me each time I thought of running as a form of training. But as Elbrus has drawn nearer and nearer, the fear factor ever increasing, and the conflict between the time needed for other types of training and my work responsibilities seemingly sometimes insurmountable, running has occasionally seemed like the best solution. Hence, off I have gone, Pandora radio plugged in, and at a steady 11 1/2 minute per mile pace. And very occasionally I have actually hit that point where your stride feels rhythmic, breathing even, and you feel you can keep going indefinitely. I have to admit that the purchase of real running shoes as opposed to what we wore in the ’70s has also made a difference. I’m certainly not into speed – in fact, the few times my much taller husband has run with me he claims my pace is impervious to topographical features. But in my view you shouldn’t have too much fun running downhill – I figure that it’s the sheer mental endurance that may be the most needed quality for the long slog up Mt. Elbrus.

So, I will now grudgingly sometimes go for a run – and maybe even enjoy it (but not too much!). Nonetheless, I must point out that Jim Fixx, the author of The Complete Book of Running dropped dead of a heart attack at 52. Need I say more.