Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Tucson Marathon, 12-8-2013

On a chilly morning that eased into a warm afternoon, I ran through beautiful Arizona landscape and completed my fourth full marathon. The Tucson Marathon was a small race with just under a thousand runners in the full. Point-to-point downhill with some rolling hills (and one aggravating monster at mile 23), and starting 2000' below my normal elevation, it had the potential to be very fast. My training this round has been only okay, however, with excuses of the "I've been stressed and emotionally drained" or "I want to do all the things, like hiking-lifting-MMAing-dancingbriefly, so I don't rest much" or "of course I need a trip to Jamaica [and I do actually intend to blog about it, you people who know who you are] with my girls, where I will exercise by floating in the Caribbean" variety, so I didn't really have a time goal. Spoiler alert: the PR is still 5:01:50, from Seattle. Despite a promise from my boss that he'd buy me coffee if I broke 5:00:00, I set my goal simply to not start off too fast (I've been burned) and to run consistently and strongly the entire course. SUCCESS.

Bethany and I met in Phoenix on Friday, where we spent a fantastic evening with Mandy, Bob, Sarah, and the puppy girl Stella. Bob cooked spaghetti for the weary travelers, and I was excused from a very late night of revelry and got a good night's sleep. After a lazy morning, Beth and I drove off to Tucson. 

The expo was held at the Hotel El Conquistador, which was gorgeous. It was the smallest of the marathon expos I've attended, consistent with the race itself. The layout was cramped and confusing, but I did emerge with a great new shirt and my bib! While white's not my best color, I'm using short sleeved shirts more these days--I typically run in either tanks or long sleeves, but for my new martial art and gym habits, I prefer a bit more moderate coverage.

We took our stash of Cliff bar samples off to our hotel, the Catalina Inn. Don't let the very drab exterior scare you--it was quite clean and comfortable inside, for the money I paid. They were extremely accommodating to the racers: breakfast started at 4am and a shuttle took us directly to the start line!

Bethany was exhausted from her previous night of partying and I was looking at a 4:15am wakeup call, so we decided to head to the nearby Olive Garden and then call it a night. We waited in the crowded lobby for 45 minutes in a hungry stupor. Apparently, Olive Garden is THE place to be on a Saturday night in Catalina, AZ. A couple struck up a conversation with us--after I told them I lived "near Santa Fe," the husband asked if that was close to Los Alamos. "…well, actually, I live THERE…"

We eventually carbo loaded successfully and returned to the hotel, where I performed my race-eve ritual of dressing the imaginary person:


My alarm rudely woke me from a dream (in which Katie, Auna, and I stole pizza, got arrested, and rode off on motorcycles) to something even more strange. The lights turned on as soon as I stopped the clock and an extremely chipper Bethany said, "IT IS YOUR MARATHON DAY! I'VE BEEN WAITING FOR YOU TO WAKE UP FOR FIFTEEN MINUTES!!!!" We both got breakfast, and she went back to bed, while I shuttled off to the start line!

It was freezing, with wind chill, up over 4750' on Mt. Lemmon. We were able to sit in the warm buses for 20-30 minutes, which was lovely. Finally, the portapotties called, and we shivered en masse for another half an hour. I wore my beloved UW sweatshirt, purchased freshman year, 2002. Mom said I could part with it. May it rest in peace or bless someone who needs it more--I ditched it when we were told to line up. (Volunteers collected the piles of discarded clothing and donated them.) 

The race MCs played a terrible recording of the Star Spangled Banner, and then with the dulcet tones of Run, Run, Rudolph, just after the sun peeked over the hills, we were off! 

The course was winding and fairly steep downhill for a couple of miles, and the flattened into a gradual downhill for *most* of the rest. Soon after the start, a good-looking guy struck up a conversation, asking how many I've done (this was his first) and whether I had any goals (his was to finish). He ran off ahead, but I'd run into him much more later in the race.

I felt so strong! There was so much oxygen, and we were going downhill! I stuck to my plan, though, and reined in my pace. I walked the few legitimately steep inclines, but breezed up the more gradual rolling hills that were on the four-mile roundtrip out-and-back portion off the main highway upon which we ran for about half of the race. Normally out-and-backs kill me mentally (SO FRUSTRATING), but this was fine! It was pretty! The volunteers and spectators on that stretch were especially welcome, as that main highway part was almost completely devoid of them. I also used the turn around to verify that there were plenty of people behind me. Heh heh heh. Sweet.

Around mile 15, I warmed up enough to remove my long-sleeve shirt. So many runners ran the entire thing bundled up. 

Dear Arizonans, 
50-60F is NOT run-in-sweatshirt-and-gloves-and-hats weather. 
the Girl from WA/NJ/NM 

At mile 17, I had my first moment of despair. You know, where you wonder why you would ever choose to run this far, or really, why anyone would EVER run at ALL. That was a hard mile. I took a couple of walking breaks, switched my music up, and shook it off by 18. 

This race, I fueled with alternating Espresso Love Gu and Honey Stinger packets. I ran with my own water, but drank a swallow or two of Gatorade at aid stations. They handed out Cliff Shots, and I tried one…but it was just weird enough to make me stick with my regular fuel. I had six gel packets total, approximately one every four miles, starting at mile 1.1. Somewhere in the low 20s, a station passed out M&Ms! The first few were delicious, and then I almost choked on one. No more M&Ms while running. A motherly volunteer at another late stop forced a couple of goldfish crackers on me, as I apparently looked like I needed salt. Again, I choked. I am not allowed to eat solid food while running, okay?

So, my friend! I passed him around mile 20, and we exchanged "WE GOT THIS" encouragements. I was running pretty consistently at this point, so I'd pass him during his walk breaks, and he'd pass me when he ran. He fist bumped or yelled encouragement every time. It's amazing how much that helps. This happened (as it always does) with another couple of people. One woman found me after and we congratulated each other. Runners (in my pace group anyway) are so *NICE*.  

I was impressed with the sheriff/deputy presence--many, many were out, blocking and directing traffic for us. I did almost get hit once, and that was pretty uncool, but for the most part, they managed to keep roads half open and runners fully alive. 

I really started losing it physically around 22, and at 23, I was pretty convinced that the race was never going to end. Ever. That mean monster of a hill didn't help, nor did the steep descent that followed. My knee had been hurting for the past two days and the entirety of the race (ssshhh I'm fine; I shouldn't confess these things on the internet), so the downhill made me very nervous. I survived, and I had less than a 5k left. When was the last time I couldn't finish a 5k? I got this!!

I started counting the evenly spaced orange cones of protection: run past three or more, take a walking break, but only until the very next cone, then run again. That worked.

I continued my tradition of crying during half and full marathons near the end. I apparently cannot fight the combination of exhaustion, pain, anticipation, and excitement of being ALMOST DONE! 

Mile 26! Only 0.2 miles to go!

Mile 13, for the lucky halfers! ONLY 0.1 MILES TO GO SPRRRRIIIIINT! YEEEAAAAH!!!

I finished strong with barely anything left in the tank, so was ecstatic.  My time was 5:29:38, and I finished without injury.

Bethany's beautiful face met me after I got my medal and water. She led me slowly back to our car, where she had a caramel brûlée latte and Subway sandwich waiting for me. SO GOOD.

She drove back to Phoenix, where we were fed fried chicken, fried risotto balls, and macaroni and cheese, and watched the Seahawks barely lose to the Niners. It was an excellent afternoon.

Now, it's kind of hard to walk, due to good soreness. I'm resting up and planning my next moves. I'm going to take a couple of years off of full marathons now, to work on my strength for and with MMA and my speed with 10ks and halfs. I also want to do more of our awesome local trail races, and become a decent skier of bumps. I'll get back to fulls when I have a good shot at that sub-5:00:00 time. Did I say that before? I mean it this time!!

Friday, April 5, 2013

A new passion for the slopes

Skiing became a passion on par with running this winter. If only because it was so new, it may have even surpassed it. I feel so strongly (so many warm and fuzzies) that I'm going to just write a bit about each day I skied...scroll through and just see the pictures if you get bored. :)

I bought my own skis!
And a helmet to protect my expensive brain!

Laying out gear the night before my first ski day in about seven years was nerve wracking. The forecast said Pajarito Mountain would be in the teens, but I remembered getting really hot while skiing. So naturally, I packed enough clothes for three people to wear. I had my shiny new skis and boots, but the bindings weren't adjusted. I hoped the rental shop could fix them for me. Early the next day, Jenn, Kris, and I nervously drove the fifteen minutes up to the ski area, bought lift tickets, found out that the rental shop would not fix my bindings, rented skis instead, left our extra fifty changes of clothes in the lodge, squished our poor feet into what would be their prisons for the next several hours, and shakily headed out on our first run.

 The bunny hill looked steep from the base. That was not a good sign. My breath caught and my heart fluttered in my chest as I wondered, with a little bit of real terror, if I could get on and off the lift without falling. I passed that first obstacle.

Then, I stared with a tad more apprehension down from the top of the steepest "beginner" hill I've seen. Kris took off; Jenn and I found a flatter route down around the corner. Second obstacle: conquered. Barely.

We stayed on that hill until after lunch, when we tried another of Pajarito's green (aka easy) runs. This required skiing from the bunny hill over to a big chair lift (which I survived), then skiing across the mostly-flat tops of several blue and black diamond runs (which nearly gave me vertigo) all the way to the right side of the mountain. The views from here were incredible--we could see down to town and across to the Sangre de Cristo mountains, and into the Valles Grande Caldera on the back side.

Jenn! (Stolen from Kris)

Sadly, this "green" run was steeper than anything I had ever skied, and was not what I should be on my first time off the bunny hill in seven years. Kris and Jenn headed down with different degrees of confidence, and I figured that the only way I could get home was by following. I survived a turn or two, before I skied over a large rock (did I mention the low base of 20''?) and fell hard. There went the last shred of confidence and excitement I had. My only goal was to get back to the lodge. Alive. I sent my friends off to enjoy themselves. Several more falls and an interminable amount of time landed me at the bunny hill. I did a few more shaky runs before my quads and spirit were completely shot and broken. Not the most illustrious start to the season.

The three of us decided to try a ski area that had legitimate green runs. Of the myriad available in our great northern New Mexico, we settled on Taos, as much for name-recognition as anything. Could it live up to its reputation?

Rio Grande gorge on the way to Taos Ski Valley

Turns out, it very much did. The quaint ski village was welcoming and comfortable. The lifts were new and fast. The views  of the craggy peaks with their high tree lines were beautiful. And the green runs? Ooooh the green runs, they were so manageable! I was still slow, I still tired early, but I enjoyed myself. These were the right challenge for me.



Auna told Jenn and me about the K2 Women's Weekend, a ski event held at Pajarito one day and Taos the next. We were in wholeheartedly. It kicked off at Fuller Lodge with a silent auction to raise money for the Anita Salas Memorial Fund and talks from families of cancer victims and survivors. I won a private ski lesson with a Taos instructor for about 1/3 of the regular cost! The next day, we ate breakfast burritos at Pajarito and were broken into groups based on ski ability. Jenn and I were both in the green group. The leaders were fantastic and gave us excellent advice. I still tired early--and left early, knowing we were heading to Taos the next day--but I was improving. I at least made it safely down several Pajarito greens and even a blue run (which was easier than the greens...because why not). While mortified (we had to wear bras over our skis coats--breast cancer awareness and all?), our green group even completed the "Sloppy Slalom" without breaking bones in the almost white-out conditions.

Taos experienced the same blizzard, which meant we had amazing powder the next day. It was phenomenal.

We skied a bit with the leaders again, but then they went off to play. I stuck to greens and worked on not squatting so much (this is why my quads were giving out so early--I was doing "a month's worth of wall-sits in a day" according to one instructor). When I was tired, I sat in a mid-mountain chalet and had red chile hot chocolate for half an hour. Then I kept going until the lifts closed. It was brilliant. I was most definitely hooked.

Balaclavas are LIFESAVERS.

I scheduled my private ski lesson, and drove the beautiful two hours out to Taos alone. While a bit lonely, it was also incredibly peaceful--both the drive through the desert and up the mountain, and navigating the slopes without speaking to anyone. I spent the morning warming up, and quit to eat and read in the lodge with enough rest time to be fresh for my lesson. 

Literally no place I'd rather be.

It's my run.

Leslie is a professor emeritus of English literature who retired to be a ski bum, and she completely rocks. She was interesting to talk to on the lifts, perceptive when it came to my core skiing issues, and creative in her suggestions and solutions. I can't stress enough how valuable that private lesson was and I highly recommend taking one. I had more red chile hot chocolate at the crepes place by the Whistlestop Cafe, because I love it.

The long and late drive home is when I missed my buddies the most.

It was getting easier, this setting out of clothes and gear.  Packing the car. Driving across the river gorge and up the mountain. Finding a locker. Stuffing each foot into its unyielding boot. Clomping out to the snow. Dropping skis to the earth. Awkwardly trying to snap boot to binding. Feeling secure and ready. Sliding over to the chair lift. Catching breath a bit--still wondering if you're about to fall. Sitting down successfully. Being whisked up the hill. Absorbing the cool, crisp, fresh air and bright, clean, wild views.

This was the life, man. We were in Taos again, for a beautiful spring skiing day with a base of 60'' and high of 60F. I felt another twinge in my chest--would I fall at the top? The chair approached the "unload here" sign, I touched skis to snow, and glided down safely. We paused to confirm our next route, and away we went. A bit clumsily and a tad nervously, we freely crisscrossed the glistening hill. So thrilled to be near the green trees, under the blue sky, and flying through the white snow. Zip, zip, zip.

Now, sometimes, I feel totally in control and completely graceful. I eat up greens and manage the blues. Even when my quads start screaming, I'm happy.

We stopped for lunch at the Phoenix grill and devoured mediocre yet absolutely perfect green chile cheeseburgers, and returned to the slopes with a vengeance.

So high right now at the Phoenix Grill.
My peaceful demeanor was shaken and my heart dropped when Jenn and I accidentally arrived at a fork in the road: a blue with moguls, or a black diamond through the trees.  There was no choice, really. We took the bumps. Very slowly. Without much (any?) grace. But we completed them IN ONE PIECE.

Jenn and Kris' mountain-guide friend later taught us some tricks to manage bumps, so we actually chose to do two mogul runs for practice. We may not really like them, but we can handle them if necessary!

 Jenn, Kris, and I ended our fantastic ski season together (along with our friend, Bill) with one last trip to our dear Taos Ski Valley. In the morning, we couldn't believe how much we had all improved, as we flew down blues with skis more parallel than ever before! I actually kept up--a far cry from our first trip to Pajarito this season. I did two bumps runs, and even made a string of three moguls look pretty darn good. (Don't worry--I fell on the next try.)

Kris--not the slowest in the group.

Bill--enjoying the mountains.

Jessica and Jenn--reveling in our new-found skills.

After green chile cheeseburgers and Christmas chile fries, the sun turned snow into heavy, slippery slush. I fell back on my squatting, wall-sitting ways in a desperate attempt to maintain control. A pause for hot chocolate and crepes was necessary. I became much slower and made my friends wait for much longer at the bottom of each run, but I stuck it out until the lifts closed.
I'm only here for the food.

Yay! The lodge!

During any ski day, the final run is a bittersweet relief, but more so this trip. Removing the shoes of torture was a beautiful release. We got mochas one last time at our favorite mountain chocolate shop. Balancing skis, poles, duffel bags, and espresso, we lugged ourselves onto the shuttle, yelled "WHOOOA" when it neared the car (the system works), and tiredly repacked the trunk. The drive home in the starlight, through the wide-open desert vistas of New Mexico, mountains at each horizon, was calming. We looked for cow-crossing signs with UFO stickers, remarked how yet again we forgot swimsuits for the hot springs, and listened to my admittedly hit-and-miss playlist. Driving through the jarringly-bright lights of Española always feels a bit offensive after the long trip through the middle of beautiful desert nothing, but I always inwardly sigh in relief soon after when we hit The Hill--it means we're almost home.

A hot bubble bath is a terrific treat, and then a soft bed is the best reward for all the hard, exhilarating work you put in having a blast up in nature. Sleep soundly, skiers, and dream of just how amazing next season is going to be!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Faraday's Fourth

Happy 4th Birthday, Faraday cat! 

 Muffin had a pretty exciting birthday party last night...or that was my St. Patrick's Day party. Either way, he enjoyed hanging out in the circle of people, watching and listening to our silliness. He even got to see the great outdoors for a heart-stopping sixty seconds, as he slipped past a departing guest and down the porch. The big world is cold and scary, though, so he allowed himself to be caught and taken back to the warmth of his indoor domain.

He sniffed, but did not eat, a multitude of green foods:

 He also patiently wore a tiny green hat for a minute or two, to the delight of our guests.

(He wore this hat for his third birthday. For his second, he got to wear a bow.)

Today, both of us recovered from having so many people over so late. He chose to dedicate his daylight hours to sleeping. I chose to walk seven miles, and revel in New Mexico's beautiful weather. Happy Spring, Friends, and I love you, silly cat!

Friday, March 8, 2013

A Wedding of Geeks

On the weekend of February 24, 2013, I flew to Philadelphia to celebrate the marriage of Erica and Dan. I met Erica in 2008, at the Lindau Meeting of Nobel Laureates and graduate students in physics in Lindau, Germany. We were thrilled to discover that we lived a mere hour or two from each other, and have spent the last four and a half years knitting together when we could, and talking online almost every day about physics, Doctor Who, Star Trek, travel, being women in science...and knitting, of course. So when I moved to New Mexico, we just kept on with the friendship as nothing much changed. She's about to move to Canada, meaning I have another fun place to visit!

Dan is perfect for her. He is smart, loves the Doctor, and makes a mean cocktail. I assumed this wedding would have delicious drinks. I was not wrong.

So, I flew in Friday and took a train to Center City, where I met the girls at our swanky hotel for the Bachelorette Party. The details will remain hidden, but we danced until 2am and then had hashbrowns and eggs until 4am. Erica had a blast (as did we all). 

After a few hours' sleep, another accidental nap, and a frantic ten-minute shower-and-pack-up session, I met Kelsey for a day of eating our way around town. She found an amazing brunch place, The Dandelion Pub, with the best scones I've ever had. We bought delicious-smelling things at Lush, had cappuccinos at La Colombe, and a cocktail at The Farmer's Cabinet. After dinner in Newtown, PA, with Lee, we attended a party at 12PL in Princeton, NJ, home of a bunch of Princeton plasma grads. It was almost like old times.

The next morning, after saying goodbye to Kelsey's kitties,  I had brunch at Craig, Melissa, and Erik's! Erik is going to be TWO YEARS OLD in July. He is walking so well and talking up a storm. He gave me the best tour of an apartment I've ever gotten. We saw the table, the chairs, the toys, the dog, and countless other items. He's a complete joy to be around. (Says the person who doesn't live with his almost two-year-old self.) Melissa made scrumptious stuffed French toast, and then Craig drove me to the train station, and then I said goodbye to Princeton. It was a beautiful fifteen hours in a place that still feels an awful lot like home.

I merrily read my way all the way into Philly, made my connection, and happily read almost all the way to Media. I could have sworn I was supposed to get off in Media, but at an earlier stop, the conductors yelled, "IS THERE A JESSICA HERE????" 

"Ummm, yes?" I said.


"I really don't think I am..."


I skeptically dragged my things to the door. Sure enough, Marianne was waving at me with a big smile. 


Okay then! We drove to her beautiful house where a gorgeous bride was enjoying strawberries and champagne while waiting for the gals and photographer to arrive. We giggled, we reminisced, we primped, we ironed, we posed. We packed...and we drove to the ceremony!

Dan and Erica had a sweet, quirky, intimate wedding with only about forty people. I felt so privileged to be there. I met family members, physics classmates, psychology classmates, restaurant business friends. Their vows were touching and included scifi jokes. They looked fabulous together, as always. We all signed their marriage certificate as witnesses. People toasted, with more scifi references. The dinner was amazing (I had the pasta), and I had a terrific time chatting up several of their friends. They know very interesting and diverse people. After the main event, we retired to Diego's, the tequila bar Dan manages. The staff decorated it like a speakeasy with Doctor Who influences. The place was packed with more friends of the happy couple. It was terrific. Marianne, her husband, Jeff, and I were exhausted by 11pm, however, and we retired to their house, where we caught about fifteen minutes of the Oscars before succumbing to the very long weekend. 

Jeff was kind enough to give me La Colombe French press in the morning before he drove me to the airport. Bless him. The trip home was not the best I've had, but I'll leave you with the high point: knitting in a sunny spot in the Philadelphia airport for two hours while drinking my first latte of the day.  It was the perfect way to unwind from an exciting weekend, jam-packed with amazing people and food. Thank you, Erica and Dan, for getting married, and for inviting me to the party! Love you!