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Happy Holidays!

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Another Backyard Burn

I ran the fifth and final Fall Backyard Burn at Hemlock Overlook Regional Park on Sunday. As usual, EX-2 put on a well-organized, fun event on challenging trails that featured plenty of hills.

It was a chilly morning, thick with fog on the drive to the start. After I got my packet, Hubz and I spied Kate and Tracy and jumped in their warm car. 

Tracy, Kate and Kirstin before the start
There was lots of joviality as we compared our small, well-organized race in the woods to the horror stories circulating about The Great Chocolate Debacle.

I've always run the 10 mile distance of the Backyard Burns, but this time I opted for 5.5 miles, thinking it would be fun to change things up. 

That turned out to be a good call. Thanks to a stomach bug, I'd spent most of Friday sleeping. I wasn't sure if I'd have anything in the ol' getaway sticks just two days later, but I figured I'd have a nice short run/hike regardless, and anything more would be a bonus. 

Mentally, I've been itching to get back out and race. I took it really easy the month after Marine Corp Marathon. And I mean easy: I ran six times for a mind-bending sum of 26 miles. 

We gathered, grinning, at the start line with about 100 other runners, and then we were off. The starting loop is designed to thin out the pack before runners hit the lovely, leaf-blown singletrack. The three of us hung together for the first mile or so, chatting and laughing, enjoying the morning in the woods.
Kate kicking butt on one of the many hills, Tracy just behind
My legs were feeling fine, so I reluctantly picked up the pace. After all, I was only doing one loop, so I ought to see what I could do. I'd left my Garmin at home and only wished I'd had it to see what the elevation profile was like. Gotta love the hills!

Passing someone about a mile before the finish. Dumb shadow.
I kept my effort hard, but below my normal "racing threshold," and it felt like the right pace for the day.

About a mile from the finish, the trail narrowed. I caught up to my friend Katie from Highlands Sky 40M and ran with her for a short bit (she too was running the 10 miler) and then it was time to start my final kick. 

Katie, all smiles
After a short but bouncy boarded section, there was one more hill to keep it interesting. I saw Hubz with his camera and then I was sprinting my little heart out.

I really *was* having this much fun
I grabbed a piece of pizza out of sheer habit and joined Hubz in time to cheer on Tracy and Kate as they ran past.

Kate (in white) and Tracy (in green), running through the woods
We hung around, catching up with trail runners we knew, cheering on runners and enjoying the crisp air and warm sunshine. I don't think I saw anyone out there who didn't look happy.

After another piece of pizza or two, we convinced Kate and Tracy to join us at Paradise Springs Winery, which just happened to be right at the entrance to the park. 

And that, my friends, is called a perfect ending.

Thanksgiving Leftovers with a Kick

We've been exploring Virginia wine country in earnest this fall. We're enjoying this new shared hobby immensely, and Hubz is developing a discerning palate. The other day we rented Sideways - an amusing flick for anyone who's ever gone wine tasting.

Hubz was bowled over by the delicious lunch I made out of our Thanksgiving turkey leftovers and the bottle of Virginia wine we were drinking. He insisted I post it on my blog, so I had him type a mini guest post blurb.

Thanks to Elise at Simply Recipes for the killer recipe!

Pay attention you culinary aficionados. I am going to share with you a palate-pleasing pairing that might be a bit unorthodox. 

Kirstin has once again experimented and subsequently created a robust pairing of Turkey White Chili and a 2009 Sharp Rock Merlot. 

That's right - a frickin' Merlot




I topped mine with avocado and shredded Monterey Jack. Mmm!

60 Miles for Cancer

I recently walked the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure in Arizona with three of my girlfriends. I'm proud to report that our team raised $11,600 $12,375 for breast cancer research and support. If you donated, THANK YOU!!! If you'd still like to do so, click the link above.

I walked for my mother, who is a breast cancer survivor. They caught it very early, luckily.

I walked for her best friend, Bobbi Gordon, who got breast cancer more than 25 years ago, before most people had even heard of the disease. After several remissions, she lost her battle.

My first race ever was the Race for the Cure 5K in Washington, DC, and that was for Bobbi, too. Somewhere along the line running and Bobbi and breast cancer became inextricably linked, the way certain scents bring back memories.

It actually felt wrong to be walking instead of running, but I knew that was just in my mind.

Early morning start, piece of cake for the East Coasters!

The scenery and weather could not have been more pleasant. Aside from an all-night downpour on our second night of camping, and a few sprinkles on Day 3, the temperature was perfect for walking or running, and as swamp dwellers we really appreciated the arid desert air. It was overcast for much of the time, but the sun peeked out on occasion, slipping behind the clouds just before it started to get hot.

We walked around Camelback Mountain and through lovely neighborhoods

Walking 20 miles a day makes your feet hurt and your body tired, even if you are trained in long distances, no matter how slow the pace.

Feeling good at the end of Day 2 and 40 miles

The crew and crowd support was impressive. There were a lot of creative outfits on the volunteers that included pink fur motorcycle shin guards. I saw some hilarious signs, such as "Save A Life, Grope Your Wife!" and this t-shirt:

The walk itself was like a really crowded race course start, but with no running allowed. Also, we had to wait for pedestrian crossing signals in huge groups. Confession: I'm not particularly good at waiting. It's probably one of the main reasons I stumbled into running in the first place.

The prohibition on running only got to me when we were a mile from the end of the day's walk. I had to suppress the urge to shout, "If we RAN we could be done in 10 minutes!"

I have to admit, walking for three days put me in a serene state of mind. It seems to have had a calming effect on my usual impatient, get-places-quickly mindset. Here's hoping that newfound patience takes root for good.

Team Wonder Women Walking after 60 miles

Bikram Yoga after a 3 Week Hiatus

I was afraid of how tough my first Bikram yoga class in three weeks would be. But it really wasn't difficult at all.

Some postures that are usually very frustrating for me went well. I actually got completely into the second posture, Pada Hastasana (Hands to Feet pose), right off the bat! I can NEVER seem to get remotely close to having my stomach on my thighs or face on my shins, even in the second set. 

Hands to Feet Pose

Others I did better than usual: Dadayamana-Janushirasana (Standing Head to Knee!) and Dadayamana-Bibkhaktapada-Paschimottanasana (Standing Separate Leg Stretching Pose). 

Standing Head to Knee Pose
Standing Separate Leg Stretching Pose
My body still stubbornly refuses to come anywhere close to "aligned" in Tadasana (Tree Pose). 

Tree Pose
Salabhasana (Locust Pose) really worked my right hip. I'm always tight on that side, and it had been noticeable during my Three Day 60 Mile Walk. It was encouraging to feel how effectively this pose worked it during even this short interval.

Locust Pose
It didn't seem unbearably hot at any point, and I didn't sweat as much as I usually do, which could be quantified as POURING. 

I felt relaxed about my practice. My ambition took a backseat to a sense of serenity. It was a really good feeling.

I wonder how much difference that made to the perceived difficulty of my class?

Perhaps I was simply more flexible and low-key because I've only run twice since my PR at Marine Corps Marathon

Early in my Bikram practice I read that in order to run efficiently, you need a certain degree of tightness in your hamstrings. Therefore, serious runners will never be completely supple in Bikram class. Anyone else heard that? I can't seem to find a study to cite. Found it, here: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/25/phys-ed-how-necessary-is-stretching/

Marine Corps Marathon

I won't bury the lede: I spanked my PR from 2005 (my last road marathon) by 42 minutes! 

I'm really happy about that.

The only photo in which I don't look like death
My race report in a nutshell: Crowded. Shuffling. Accelerating. Weaving. Jostling. Slowing. Avoiding. Tripping on gloves and random discarded clothing for the first eleven miles. 


I kept expecting, any moment, that the crowd would thin. But it didn't, much. It was tough to execute form and maintain a consistent pace when you're more focused on avoiding collisions with other runners (and spectators). It was completely mentally and physically exhausting. 

Deep in the Pain Cave.
How it all went down    
Apparently, I've become a trail curmudgeon. Give me a 50 miler on trails, any day!

A huge thanks to fellow WUS member Brian G for jumping in around mile 16 and pumping me up with encouragement and positive talk. It really made a difference in my race. I'd have walked a lot more without him at my shoulder.

I missed my "A goal" by quite a few minutes. Honestly, I felt it was overly optimistic. Perhaps that became a self-fulfilling prophecy, but I'd had trouble holding my pace on tempo runs most of this training cycle.

As Hubz would say, "in police work that's called a clue."

I'll admit to feeling disappointed when I hit the wall and my pace fell apart. But after a day to reflect on it, I can't be anything but overjoyed with my big PR.

At one point I seriously considered lying down on the side of the road for just a few minutes. I can't remember the last time I ran that hard. 

I know that I gave everything I had that day. I left it all on the course. 

I think that's the best one can ever hope to do.

A broader question: Are we ever truly, completely satisfied with our time in a race?

If we were, would we keep coming back for more?

I have no recollection of posing for this photo.

Road Weary

Marathon training. There's a lot encompassed by that phrase.

I've been diligently training for my fifth Marine Corps Marathon

(I'm pretty sure it's my fifth. It has been so many years since I last ran it, even the Internets don't remember, so I can't be certain.)

I'm finally coming up for air and starting my two week taper.

Pace. Miles. Splits. Hill repeats. Intervals. Long runs. Recovery runs. Easy runs. It's all so ... regimented.

Some of that rigidity is good. I'm enjoying having a schedule to follow, testing my limits, building strength, and logging consistent workouts. Without a plan my training devolves into whatever I feel like running: I tend to run too many fast runs (but not fast enough to benefit my overall speed). And after a few weeks with no plan, I usually find I've only run an average of four times a week. That's alright if you're running purely for the joy of it, but it isn't the kind of training that will make me a better runner.

There are parts of marathon training I truly enjoy. The ritual and routine of the Sunday long run. Meeting up with friends to share a few miles. Lazing around weekend afternoons in the name of recovery. Spending time in the Virginia countryside taking in the beauty of Fall and tasting some really lovely wines. And one of my favorite indulgences - brunch! - made possible when your run is done by noon.

This past weekend, I did my run along an exposed parkway, next to cars. The sun beat down. There was a headwind in both directions. It was the kind of specific and mental training that will pay off in spades when I hit the 14th Street Bridge with about 10K to go until the finish line. 

After a soul-sucking 12 miles, I finished my run on a half mile section of shaded trail. What a contrast! Sun-baked asphalt gave way to soft footing amidst colorful foliage. The wind ceased to be my foe, now gently cooling my hot face. The sounds of traffic were far away, and all I could hear was my leaf-crunching steps. I almost cried thinking of the trail runs I’ve missed this Fall.

The dappled light through the leafy canopy. The rhythmic sounds of my footfalls. The scent of wildflowers. The sounds of the trees as they move in the wind. The protective shade the woods provide. I'm looking forward to my return to trail running.

Wordless Wednesday: Old Rag

October is for hiking Old Rag. It doesn't get any better than rock scrambling and fall colors. Go!

Rookie Mistake

It was my eighth running of the VHTRC Women's Half Marathon Trail race.

That's a lot of years worth of experience. In fact, this race had been my one and only streak (7 straight years, until my bulging disc injury sidelined me).

My running partner and many of my girlfriends were running. The best trail running club in history, the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club puts this race on every September. I love the tough, hilly, middle-distance course.

Bonus: My parents were visiting from Kansas! It was the first time they'd seen me race. I didn't start running until after college, so this was their first opportunity. It was wonderful having them, my mother-in-law and Hubz out cheering for me.

My Personal Cheering Section

I'd done four training runs on the course in preparation. I'd been putting in strong, consistent mileage as I trained for my upcoming fall marathon.

I warmed up thoroughly. I felt good.
Photo by A. Schwartzbard. Note the quicksand.
Despite all my years of racing here, I made a rookie mistake. 

If you look at my splits below, you might think "ooh, she went out too fast." But that's a necessary evil, as the first mile is on a paved road. Start too conservatively and you'll find yourself behind a tentative, impassable conga line of runners who aren't accustomed to running on trails. I've raced this both ways, and as much as I dislike fast starts, it's a must, and I've trained specifically for it.

It's difficult to decipher the above chart unless you know where the big uphills and downhills are on the course.

I wasn't breathing hard. My heart rate wasn't out of control.

But around Mile 5, my legs ran out of gas. I wrongly assumed it was from all the marathon training I'd been doing. They weren't hurting, or burning, just lazy feeling. I actually thought I was running and would suddenly I'd notice I was walking. What?!

My rookie mistake? I only consumed two energy gels.

That wasn't nearly enough calories for my pace, on that hilly course.

Lots of Hills

What was I thinking?

I was thinking, I only need one gel for a 10K race, so two should be plenty for 12.5 miles (yes, the course is short. But you don't feel robbed with all the hills you get). 

My mind has been immersed in marathon training. Mostly flat road running. Different animal. Different fueling strategies.

I could have grabbed some food from the aid stations, but I didn't feel like I was bonking. I've been running ultras for so long, I kind of forgot that it was too short to truly bonk.

I slogged it out, and managed to finish with my friend Sara, which was way better than sprinting it in alone. 

Finishing kick with Sara D

I didn't truly realize my mistake until after I'd finished. I was explaining my tired legs and lack of energy, and Hubz looked at me incredulously when I exclaimed, "But I ate two GUs!" 

Though I had hoped to PR, I wasn't too disappointed. It was my second fastest time.

It was a warm, sunny, beautiful day. I got to run on amazing trails, something I don't take for granted. I raced in the middle of a tough training cycle for my A race, the Marine Corps Marathon. 

I got such a rush
cheering on my friends and seeing the joy on their faces as they finished, happy with their efforts on the challenging course. 

My running friends (photo by J. Ambrosius)

Having my family there was the icing on the cake. My race time just didn't matter.

Besides, there's always next year!

My Running Partner

I feel I've been neglecting my blog. I haven't had much motivation to write.

Oddly enough, I'm running - a lot. More than usual, in fact. But I haven't felt I've had much to say about my training.

Oh, I've had all the typical runs: the I-love-running runs, scenic runs, it's-way-too-hot runs, the fast runs that felt pretty easy, the breakthrough run (fast, with hills!) and yes, a couple of demoralizing, no energy, slow, anybody-wanna-buy-a-registration? runs. 
It's good having a goal, a plan, and a daily workout to accomplish. It's fun to log those miles.

So what gives?

Normally, I'm running trails and ridiculous distances but not training all that much. I'm surrounded with friends and the whole run is like a big party, even the suffering. Then, there's a party at the end. Fun!

Lately, training runs have been like Solitary Confinement for this girl. I've skipped most of the ultras this summer, as they aren't what I need to prepare for this marathon.
I haven't planned to run with friends, or a running group, and lo and behold, I've ended up training alone.

Hubz had joined me on some days. Before this summer, we rarely ran together because he runs a faster pace than I do. But as a result of the amazing improvements in my body since I began practicing Bikram yoga, as well as doing speedwork, hill repeats, and running more miles, I'm running faster. Hubz and I are more evenly matched.

We were both really enjoying these shared training runs. As two people who tend to prefer doing their own thing (athletically, anyway), I think it surprised us both.

He showed me some new routes in our neighborhood, I shared my knowledge from my four previous marathon training seasons. We commiserated about the quirks and pains of road running. 
Then, he got injured.  

Running the Fancy Pants 5K together in April
I miss his company out there. While he's always happy to hear about my running, there's less joy in sharing my running stories knowing he can't do what he loves.

I've been dragging him to Bikram yoga recently. He's excited to have a new challenge. I'm hoping he gets as much out of it as I have, and that he'll heal quickly. 

I'm really looking forward to running with him again.

Training Run

The Bull Run Trail, Fountainhead Regional Park
Dirt trail, uneven in places. 

Sticks, leaves,

The chatter of friends.

Hills. The Do Loop. 


Sweet, runnable downhill. 

Lovely footfalls, breath, rhythm.
A trickle of sweat meanders down my temple.

A meadow. Solitude. 
More hills.

The final push.

Cold watermelon.



I love summer. 

Yes, even when it's traumatically hot and unbearably humid. 

Butternut squash volunteer in my garden
I love the long days, the heat of the sun on my skin, the sounds of the cicadas in the trees.

Life in the summer feels relaxed. It's still broad daylight when I arrive home on weeknights.

I can go sit in my backyard with a cool drink, even if I get chased inside by mosquitoes before I can finish it. 

Kayaking and taking photos
Summer is for kayaking, biking, camping, having drinks on patios, observing creatures in and plants in the garden, spending more of life outdoors. 

I'm taking it all in, enjoying every aspect. It's what will get me through the cold, dark winter months that will be here before I know it. 

Happy Summer!

Hanging out in the parking lot after a trail run

Wordless Wednesday: Shenandoah National Park

Friends at Big Devils Stairs Overlook

A pause to take in the view and refuel

Waterfall along White Oak Canyon

Another lovely view, only slightly hazy

What kind of snake is it? All our nature nerds were left guessing.

An old stone wall, built by hand

Five Days of Bikram Yoga (in.a.row.)

Why?  I bought a 10-class pass. It expires in 10 days, with 6 classes remaining. I’m not willing to forfeit that money. Yes, I had three months to use it so I am teaching myself a lesson in the process.
So?  I feel like I’m a good beginner case study, because up until this week, I’d done exactly six Bikram classes, over a four month period.
Day 1
I was slightly worried about my five-in-a-row plan. Would I hurt myself? Would I be able to get through them all? How likely was I to be hospitalized with heat exhaustion or dehydration?
But I felt good in the heat, and strong.  I had some real breakthroughs this session. Something clicks and my body is one step closer in several poses I've not been able to do at all thus far.
Asana #8. Dandayamana-Bibhaktapada-Paschimotthanasana (Standing Separate Leg Stretching Pose). I finally grabbed my heels!
Asana #14. Pavanamuktasana (Wind Removing Pose). HUGE! ACTUALLY GRABBED BOTH ELBOWS. For the record, no wind has been removed from me so far.
Asana #20. Supta Vajrasana (Fixed Firm Pose). Got legs flat and butt on floor, leaned back further than ever.
Asana #21. Ardha-Kurmasana (Half Tortoise Pose). I was able to get much more flat on the floor.
Asana #22. Ustrasana (Camel Pose). This one always makes me feel faint. Got further back than ever before.
Asana #23. Sanangasana (Rabbit Pose). Figured out that hips stay down on feet, mostly stayed in pose.
Asana #24b. Paschimotthanasana (Head to Knee Pose). Got my head and knee to touch with leg almost on floor!
Every day after class there is a fresh, cut up pineapple or other fruit. It’s insanely good and refreshing. I desperately need it after climbing the two flights of stairs from the yoga room to the changing room.
Day 2
I was one of the last to arrive at class this evening. I slunk to the only space left, near the back windows where there are no mirrors. The towel I brought was too small, making it nearly impossible to perform the poses where my legs are four feet apart. Also, I‘m well hydrated and positively pouring sweat, so the towel is sopping wet halfway through class.
It was so hot & humid in Bikram tonight, halfway through the instructor OPENED A WINDOW. This is unheard of! And guess who was right next to the window? Honestly, I thought I was having a heat-induced hallucination.
Also, I nearly drowned in this class when we did a pose where we bent over and all the sweat ran right into my nostrils. Note to self: find headband!
My back is sore, but in a good way. And I'm not nearly as exhausted as I feared I'd be at this point. However, I’d recommend you not get between me and food after I come out of class. Hubz almost got his head bitten off.

Day 3
It was a little tough getting out of bed, having left class just 10 hours before.
But I love Wednesday morning Bikram class because Lukas teaches. He's so helpful, explaining every little thing you need to do with each body part and focus on for each pose. It really makes me work harder. And, he sings. What a voice!
I sing the body electric
I celebrate the me yet to come
I toast to my own reunion
When I become one with the sun

And I'll look back on Venus
I'll look back on Mars
And I'll burn with the fire of ten million stars
And in time
And in time
We will all be stars
As class ended, I was momentarily sad that this week seems to be going so quickly.
I almost forgot to get coffee when I got to work. What is happening to me?

Day 4
I’ve gotten my first Bikram injury. I have serious towel burn on my right elbow.
I did the next step in Vrksasana (Toe Stand pose) today. And my Dandayamana-Dhanurasana (Standing Bow pose) was pretty good. Padangustasana (Camel pose) still makes me nearly faint, even when I’m only doing the first part of it, and I can’t get my hand on my knee in Ardha-Matsyendrasana (Spinal Twist). My favorite pose, I think, is Garurasana (Eagle Pose).
There was no fresh fruit cut up for us today. That’s a first.
Also, I’ve drunk so much coconut water I’m gonna start sprouting palm leaves out of my arms. My solid, concrete, one piece, lamppost, unbroken arms. Wait, that’s dialogue about the leg. Whatever.
I got up from my desk, headed for the kitchen at least twice, but I got sidetracked and never got coffee.  I’m not looking to quit caffeine; it just seems superfluous these last couple of days.
My back is no longer sore. In fact, it’s noticeably stronger. When I open massive doors, shovel mulch into a wheelbarrow and hop astride my bicycle, I no longer sense that weakness. Also, the ever-present slight tightness in my right glute/piriformis – that’s right my constant troublesome spot, injury waiting to happen, Gone!
Dare I put it in words? Bikram yoga is beginning to seem miraculous.

Day 5
The office closed early, so I went to the 4:00 class. The yoga room is definitely hotter, humid as a jungle, and more crowded.
I picked a spot by the west-facing window. I became aware of my mistake when we relaxed, face down after cobra pose and I found that the sun had made the floor quite hot!
What a great session. My body seems to be better at this yoga business later in the day.
I got my hands almost on the floor in Toe Stand. Improved at Cobra and Locust, and my arms are finally getting used to doing this and not feeling like they have been run over by a truck afterward.
I went deeper in many poses. But the grandest accomplishment of all was that I TOUCHED MY HEAD TO MY KNEE in the second to last pose while my leg was flat on the floor. ME! The inflexible girl!
I hit the showers, proud of myself. Wait, why are the tops of my feet stinging? Ah, they have chafing in Bikram yoga, too. That or I burned them on the sun-baked floor.

Bikram is sweaty, uncomfortable, challenging, arduous and laundry-producing. Carrying my yoga mat and towels is a chore. Ninety minutes of class plus changing and showering takes up a lot of time.
I’m not in love with Bikram yoga. But you better believe I’ll be in class on a regular basis. After only eleven sessions, there have been tangible benefits. That’s a pretty impressive return on investment.

Sour Cherry Frozen Yogurt

Sour Cherries
Cherries with pits removed
Cherries and sugar, boiling
Cherries, cooling
In the blender. Forgot to snap a shot when I added the yogurt.
Pouring the chilled yogurt and cherry mixture in the ice cream maker
Almost done!
I always fail to take photos of the finished product in a pretty dish.
Sour Cherry Frozen Yogurt (recipe adapted from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop)
3 cups fresh sour cherries
3/4 cup sugar (I used a little less)
2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt (original recipe called for 1 cup, so taste as you add)
3 drops almond extract (measure carefully, this is potent)

Remove the pits from the cherries, and dump them in a medium saucepan with the sugar. Bring to a boil,
then lower heat and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Cook until cherries are soft. The aroma will nearly kill you.

Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. To hasten the process stick the pan in a wide, shallow dish half-full of cold water.

Puree the cherries and their liquid in a blender with yogurt and almond extract until smooth. Chill for at least 2 hours. Then freeze in your ice cream make
r. If the mixture is really well-chilled, it only takes about twenty minutes (it won't freeze as solid as store-bought, because it doesn't have all those chemicals).

Spoon it into the container you'll store it in and stick it in the freezer so it can firm up a bit more. I recommend taking plenty of tastes during this process.

Don't have an ice cream maker? You can simply freeze in a container, and stir every half hour until it freezes. The texture won't be quite as smooth, but I doubt you'll care.