Oh sweet Buttermilk Trail, how I’ve missed you

Since I am going to run this cross-country expedition on pavement 99% of the time, I’ve pretty much been running on roads as much as possible these days in preparation. I’ve always been more of a trail runner, it is so much more satisfying to my spirit to spend hours tearing through the woods, not seeing anyone else, jumping about on rocks. And, if I’ve never said it before, Richmond is a runner’s paradise, especially a trail-runner’s paradise. You can run trails along either side of the river for 20 miles, and only run into a handful of people. I always feel super-tough when I head out for a run in the middle of a rainstorm, or during all the snow we got last year, and I don’t see any other runner. It is such a satisfying feeling, and I know that I’m not the only person that thinks this way. Everybody wants to be the toughest in the room.
So, anyway, I’ve had to sideline most of my trail running adventures and concentrate mostly on pounding the pavement everyday. When I was home in Maine a few weeks ago, I spent one day primarily on the trails near Westbrook, and I have to say I have never felt like more of an idiot while running. After a few minutes it was apparent that I had forgotten how to run on the trails. I didn’t think that could happen, but I was stumbling over rocks, misjudging my hops, and clumsily stumbling down the abrupt downhills. I gradually adjusted, and it was a great run externally, with the beautiful views and the sounds of the forest, but inside I was feeling a bit discouraged.
So since I’ve been back to Richmond, I’ve allowed myself some trail running almost every day. Maybe just a mile, maybe 3 or 4, but just a little bit so that I don’t go too crazy running on the roads all the time.
In any case, I’m still running the majority on pavement, and when I have the choice, that’s what I try to stick with, especially since I have a stroller for most of my runs now. For example, out on Riverside Drive on the south side of the river, I’ve stopped running the Buttermilk Trail in favor of running right on Riverside Drive, which still has breathtaking views, and ridiculous mansion houses to keep me distracted. However, yesterday I was on my second 10 miler of the day and feeling a bit, well, blah. I was lacking that spark. So I treated myself to a whole 6 miles on the trail, and it felt so so good. I might have still been tired, but when you’re enjoying your run so much, you forget about being tired.
Getting ready for this run, I’ve been so focused and concentrated, must run this distance today, must do this workout tomorrow. I enjoy it, and there is definitely something to be said to accomplishing what you set out to do, but it felt so good to let that go for the afternoon and just run wild.

PS New photos are up!

I’m a Mom!

No, not really, but I’ve got most of my neighborhood fooled. Ever since I’ve started running with my stroller, it’s like I’m part of this secret Mom club I never knew about. People smile at me compassionately, motorists drive slower and move out of the way, and fellow stroller joggers/walkers share a knowing glance with me. I always manage to smile and wince at the same time, wondering what they’re thinking once I’ve past and they’ve seen there is no baby in my stroller. I swear it makes me laugh every single time.
I gotta say it is pretty cool though, getting treated with the reverence of a Mom. And the stroller has become my little baby, it makes running fun in a different way, makes it almost entertaining. It is also, coincidentally, teaching me parenting skills – it is the single most expensive thing I’ve ever bought, and I treat it as such. I might not sing it lullabies every night, but it does sleep parked right next to my bed.
I never thought I’d say these words, but my friend Mussie and I are working on making a baby together. A fake baby. To extend the entertainment of running around with an empty stroller, and to practice training with weight.
I’ll keep everyone up to date on the baby-making process. And I should have some pictures to put up here soon.
Also, thanks to everyone so far who has offered me a place to stay along my route. If anyone has friends or family in the towns along my route, and you think they’d be willing to host me, please let me know. I appreciate your generosity : )

There is no such thing as bad weather.

“Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.”

I read this quote this summer and I immediately liked it. At the time, it was like a sauna outside, and I remember telling myself that I’d have to reread this poem when the weather went to the other side of the spectrum. It is not quite winter-time yet, but I forgot how much it rains during the fall in Richmond!! Last Wednesday, I went out for one of the longer runs of the week, and I was both surprised and humbled to realize that, even after running countless miles in different climates, I had managed to misjudge the rain.

I left my house in a t-shirt and a very light rain-jacket, after 15 minutes I was still cold, and regretting my decision, but too hard-headed to just turn back and grab a better jacket. I didn’t really get much warmer until an hour later, and even then, the rain jacket I had chosen was not stopping any of the water from soaking through to my skin, so I was pretty chilly the entire run. The great thing about running in the cold rain however, is that you never want to stop or slow down, cus you know you will just get colder and uncomfortable. I ran hard for 16 miles, out along Riverside Drive to the trails behind Pony Pastures. My old stomping grounds, from when I was up the street at the University of Richmond.

The following day, I headed out into the rain again, this time with a better rain jacket, only to realize it was at least 10 degrees warmer and really only drizzling. Mother Nature will always outsmart me.

On the business side of things, the organizing continues to move along. I’ve been running with my stroller and have gotten oddly attached to it, it sincerely keeps me company on my longer runs. I need a name, anybody got any suggestions? I’ve started writing to more companies looking for sponsorships, my goal is to write to about 5 companies a week, and I’ll keep the blog updated with that process. I’ve met more and more people who are enthusiastic about everything and want to help out with lodging, donations, etc., and I cannot say enough how encouraging it is to receive such kindness, especially from strangers.

Also, while I was running the other day, I was thinking I should start posting music that I run to, because sometimes there is just that one song that really pushes me through a tough spot, or gets me grinning and dancing along like an idiot, and it’s always nice to share some good tunes. On this run, it was a Toots and the Maytals cover of the Otis Redding song “Dreams to Remember”.

I am tired.

I like to think I am invincible. I’m 23, in good health, run many miles a week, try to sleep a solid 8 hours a night. But today, I am exhausted. I woke up this morning at 6, with the plan in mind to run a 19 miler out across the river and up to Pony Pastures near University of Richmond. I pulled myself out of bed, had a drink of water, and started my short morning ab routine. 4 hours later, I woke up with a stiff neck and my face plastered against my exercise mat. I don’t even remember falling asleep. I guess my body must have needed it, because even after finally pulling myself off the floor, my brain has been in a fog, with the only clear message being “must. sleep. now.” Even now, I’m wondering why the heck I’ve decided to write a blog post, as I’m sure it is going to be full of rambling, muddied content about nothing in particular. And yet I think I’ll continue my desultory scribbles. I apologize.

I think the busy trip back home, the 16 hr bus ride back to Richmond on Saturday, followed by a late night bartending really killed me. My friends make fun of me for my insistence on getting enough sleep every night, but as soon as a I go a few nights without it, I am literally hit with a wall of exhaustion. Tease me if you want, but I believe running around so much deserves a good night’s rest.

So, today I am tired. I’ll get through it, and it will make tomorrow and the next day seem much easier. I know there will be days on the road where I’ll be exhausted and I’ll have to push on through anyway. But still, this sleepy, torpid feeling is one of my least favorites, a real challenge to my commitment and endurance.

I think lots of people have this idea that runners never suffer from a lack of motivation, or that they never have a day where they just do not want to move. As far as I know, this is absolutely not true. I love to run, but I can say with confidence that this morning it was the last thing in the world that I wanted to do. The good news is that there is usually a simple cure for exhaustion and lack of motivation: Rest. Easy peasy.

So I will go to bed early tonight, and I’m certain that in the morning my feet will once again be anxious to jump in my sneakers and run out the door. I sure hope so.

My Home by the Sea

I made a quick and quiet getaway to Portland, Maine this past week. It was a wonderful escape from Richmond’s heat, highlighted by a week of my mom’s cooking, my dad’s jokes, and hanging out with my brother Gabe. I usually like to dip away to Maine for some rest and relaxation, but this visit was mostly business.

Last week, my friend Jeff told me that our good friend Charlotte would be up from NY this week, with a film crew and professional equipment, shooting her thesis film for NYU. If I could get up to Maine in the next few days, they would do their best to help me shoot a short advertisement for the run and fundraiser. I was on the bus the next day. Not only did Charlotte and her film crew get some great footage of me running with the stroller out at Crescent Beach, I got to hang out on a film set all week with friends from high school, and watch how everything is done, all the different tasks, right down to who sets up the lunch table. It was really cool and I wish the best of luck to Charlotte, though I know luck is not something she’s really ever needed.

I also had a very encouraging meeting with Ann Messinger, the Development Director for the Boys & Girls Club of Southern Maine. We had been emailing for a while, and it was nice to finally get to meet her and talk to her about my plans for the run, and how I hope to support the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Maine directly. She is also a runner, and was enthusiastic and helpful about the whole project, so I left feeling very happy.

On top of that, I also met with two local sponsors. On Wednesday I visited Carla Manganello, the Real Estate Manager at Olympia Sports, and shared my excitement about the run. I was beyond appreciative to accept Olympia Sport’s generous monetary donation, as well as a pair of my favorite running sneakers that they had special-ordered for me : )

Last but not least, I got my stroller!!! I am so excited about it, I took it out for an evening 8-miler right after I walked out of the store. I was unsure about which stroller to get, and the owner of Allspeed Cyclery and Snow, Mike Davies, was incredibly patient and helpful with me, as I spent a lot of time going back and forth over various features. I explained to him what I was doing, and he ended up giving me a very generous deal on the stroller to help support the cause. Now I am just working on my Mom to make me a cinder-block baby to put in it, so I can get used to the weight, and stop getting weird looks!

I’ll post the video footage from this week, as well as the stills, as soon as I get them from Jeff and Charlotte. Thanks again guys!

I think I might be cheating….

Well. The Blog Honor Code Society may tell me I’m cheating with this post, but I’m going to go ahead and do it anyway. I received a very nice email from a good friend of mine this week. I haven’t been able to get it out of my head all week. One read-through and it was stuck. This friend of mine, Jeffrey Hains, has always been a writer, even if he doesn’t know it. I wanted to figure out a way to share it on the Blog, so I am just going to paste it all here. They are his words and his feelings, but they mirror perfectly my excitement and anticipation for this trip. It begins:

“I’ve been a scheming schemer.

What you are planning to do is so audacious I can’t help but laugh giddily every time I identify it in my head. Then I go back and read your plan for the 10th time and my schemer brain goes to work. I think about sitting in an airplane, looking down at the ant villages and highways and I think that you will be tracking your way across this vast country. Then I try to imagine four consecutive 20-mile days. I try to imagine even one 20-mile day, double what I’ve ever done in a stretch, which makes me sore and hungry all at the same time. Then I think about your style of expedition; essentially self-sustained a la push-stroller, camping most nights, trying to link together couches when you can and holding out for a hotel room maybe once a week. I think about my own bicycle journey. The difficulties; getting lost most every day, sourcing and storing enough food and water, finding a place to crash every night and unpacking and repacking, flat tires, bad weather, the New Jersey Turnpike System. I think about the rewards; exploring new and mind-bogglingly beautiful landscapes, the kindness of strangers, the self-confidence of eating miles and chasing hills, the total re-organization of reality around the daily experience of moving fast and well under your own power. This journey you are to embark on will force you to look at yourself and the world in ways that are hard to replicate “in the real world.” It is curious to imagine Zoe coming out on the other side with these new perspectives. I want to help you on your way.”

The guy is a writer, no? Thank you very much Mr. Hains : )

And P.S. new photos are up!! The one you see here was taken by my roommate, it is in the Japanese Gardens in Maymont Park. Anyone living in Richmond who hasn’t been there, get off your couch and go check it out!

photo credit: gabrielle pedraja

Running is a mental sport — and we are all insane.

This entry was prompted by a question I received from a friend a few days ago.  He asked me if I had any doubts about this run.  I replied that once I’ve made up my mind to do something, I know I will do it because if I don’t it will kill me knowing that I could have done it but didn’t.  We humans are all capable of amazing things, it is just a matter of deciding to go after them.  To me that willful determination is tested everyday in a runner’s world, so I thought I’d write a post about it:

Running is an incredibly humbling activity.  I know of no other sport where one could train for two hours a day, 6 days a week, and receive so little recognition or reward for being a dedicated athlete.  I played soccer throughout my childhood, and even if I was not a pro, I at least got recognition on my team and in my league.  And some compassionate soccer mom was always feeding us orange slices. Running, on the other hand, is such an individual activity.  I have to cut my own orange slices these days!

I have a magazine clipping taped above my training calendar on my bedroom wall — the clipping states quite simply: “it’s you vs you”.  If you skip a run, or drop out of a race, you are only letting yourself down.  No teammates  or coaches rely on your performance to measure their success or failure.  At first, that is a very freeing concept, and in some ways it might make quitting seem a lot easier – and logistically it is.  There are no teammates out there at mile 22 who are depending on you to get to mile 26.

But there is a flip side to this autonomous nature of running.  It quickly becomes an immense mental contest with yourself.  Because you know what you are capable of, and you know every day that you reach that potential, and every day that you choose not to.  Because ultimately it is a choice – a choice every time you lace up – will I run hard today?

And that to me is what makes running so simple and still so rewarding.  Because I know everyday that I got up and chose to challenge myself when it would have been just as easy not to.

It might require some sacrifice, but I’ve never doubted whether it was worth it.