Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


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Hey Everyone, I’m Back!! …….Hooray?

hellogif

Hi.

Yeah.

Well, that felt awkward. Writing on this blog again, after all this time letting the dust bunnies accumulate, feels pretty weird. It’s kinda like when you miss a class in college, and then you miss the next one too because you fell behind, and then you miss another because now you’re SUPER behind, and then when you finally show up again, you step through the door with a squinty face and that awkward smile that says “I know I’m an asshole for abandoning everyone, but yeah! I’m back!…..(pause)…Hooray?” and hope nobody throws a stapler at you.

It’s no secret I’ve taken a bit of a hiatus. And by that I mean a hiatus from writing on this blog, from ultrarunning, from racing, from reviewing stuff, even from my friends who still run a lot (sorry guys. But I’m back….hooray?). And the reason is simply that I’ve filled my days with other stuff. I still run sometimes, but I also surf a lot in the summer, go hiking, socialize, travel more, and take weight training classes. I’m just as active as before but I just haven’t written about it.

And then a good friend of mine, the author of socalrunnergal.com, nudged me during a recent dinner date: “I’m pretty disappointed in your blog lately, woman. Yours was one of the blogs I always loved reading, and you just abandoned it!” Well, this one’s for you, Kate: I’m finally training again.

I’m not sure what purpose this blog is going to serve me in the unforeseeable future, but I do know for certain that I like to write when I’m running. But the thing is that running, well – it serves a much different purpose for me now than it did in the past.

The last two years have brought some major changes to my life. My marriage ended in early 2014, which was both a huge surprise and an absolute inevitability. Since then I have experienced an insane-feeling mixture of deep sadness and intense happiness. I have learned so much about myself that at times, I am truly at a loss for how to apply what I’ve learned to my new life. I guess the easiest way to put it is that my reasons for doing the things I used to love doing…have changed. Or disappeared altogether. It’s been an eye-opening time.

For example, I used to run long distance because of loneliness and boredom. Back when I lived in New Hampshire and none of my friends were runners, a 3-4 hour long run was a nice thing to look forward to on the weekends. And it gave me a sense of community to write about it on my blog and know that other runners were reading it.

So what’s it like when your blog isn’t your only friend? Well, you just live your life instead of writing about it! You go on roadrtips and take snapshots for Instagram. You get a second dog. You take up a new sport you never tried before, like surfing, and realize you love it even more than running. You spend all your extra hours enjoying your significant other. But then again, you also miss out on getting to write that artful description of the time you chipped your tooth on a surfboard fin.

Truth is, I still love writing. Writing is like a favorite sweater that I never wear in the summer but relish the feeling of wearing it again when the cold months return. When I’m not writing I feel just a little bit lost. Or no, lost isn’t the right word really. More like…empty. Void. Wasted. Like, missing a train because you were too busy counting birds on the rail.

Also, I really do like to write about everything, not just about running, or barefoot running. I don’t even run barefoot anymore, although I probably still walk around enough without shoes on to qualify – just this summer a random dude at the gas station asked me why I could afford gas but not shoes. Ha! So I guess the other big reason this blog sat here for so long is because I didn’t know what to write in it if I wasn’t going to write about running. I felt like I needed to stay on topic here, yanno? Or at least keep it in the realm of physical activity. Perhaps I should have started another blog and forced myself to write short stories or something just to keep up on it, but the reality is I didn’t. I just let life take over.

So, speaking of staying on-topic: I’ve recently started to pick up running again. The winter waves are getting a bit big out here for an amateur like me to surf, so might as well do some other activity to pass the time until spring-suit weather is back. And running, well, it is just as meditative as surfing. So I’ve started training for the Carlsbad half marathon. It’s an easy race, it holds my time PR and I’ve run it twice already. This year, I want to PR again. This will be the first time I’ll ever train for a distance race using regular weight training classes as a supplement (2-3 times per week). Shit….it’s also going to be the first time I’ve ever trained for THIS particular race…period. So I’m thinking hey, I might have a chance.

I’m not exactly what you would call the “consistent” type (just ask my friends), but I like the idea of keeping a little journal with my thoughts and progress as I go through training. I think it’ll feel a lot different this time than it did in years past. I’m interested to compare.

This week was my first “official” training week, on my “training” program. Since I sold my running watch last year and started using the MapMyRun app on my phone to track runs, I thought I’d try their training program. My first “long run” was yesterday. It asked me to run for 45:00. That turned out to be 4.2 miles at a 10:47 pace. It’s not bad considering I haven’t been running consistently for nearly two years, but I do still run (mostly hash) and when I do, it’s usually between 4-6 miles so this didn’t feel like much of a long run. Still, I kept a spot-on pace the whole way and didn’t stop to walk at all, which has been a challenge for me lately. I’m looking forward to watching my pace improve over the course of training. Or more accurately, I pray it does.

Tomorrow my trainer calls for a “pace” run, which is the only kind of run I have never done, because I just don’t get how they work. I mean, running for intervals “at half marathon race pace, with ‘easy’ running in between” is quite a confusing feat when you only ever run one speed…..and that happens to be your half-marathon speed.

I’ve been sitting here asking myself: do I run extra slow that day and speed up to my regular pace during the one-minute “pace” intervals? Or do I go faster and just essentially do speed intervals? It’s a confusing mess of running semantics that even started a novelette-sized comment thread on my Facebook page today. I’m sure I’ll figure it out, but these are actually the kinds of things that keep me up at night when I’m running. And I realize that’s probably droll AF to everyone else, so….if you plan to keep reading this blog throughout my training, best of luck to you. You already deserve a medal for participation.

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A Place Called Home

carlsbadbeach

I am now approaching the eve of a full year spent living in San Diego, on the other side of the country from where my life began. I have been procrastinating this post for awhile now; partly because I’ve been keeping myself too busy to write (more on that later), but mostly because I wasn’t really sure what’s left to say on the subject without worrying that it’ll sounding braggy or trite. But I think I’ve finally come down from that surreal, vacation-like state of having first moved here, and I’ve had time to reflect on what this year has changed about me.

To be honest it doesn’t even feel like a whole year has passed. More like five or six months. A strange thing happens as we get older: the world just keeps spinning faster and the years fling by like boomerangs. Christmas, birthday, Summer, Autumn, Christmas. I remember being a kid and thinking how very long a year was. “Summer is right around the corner,” my Grammy would ponder, but to me it felt as if decades passed before swimsuit weather was upon us again.

Speaking of my Grammy, she lived here in San Diego once. She and my Grampa schlepped themselves west for promising work right after high school, along with my Grampa’s brother Pete and my aunt Pauline. They only stayed for a year, living for a time in the North Park area with my aunt Marion and her husband. It was tight living quarters for sure, but that was part of the family-centric culture back in the 50’s. Even though it was short lived, my grandmother definitely loved it. I know this because she told me so many stories about San Diego when I was a child that I think the soul of this place was permanently imprinted on me even back then.

Views of Lake San Marcos from the top of Double Peak, just ten minutes from my house.

Lake San Marcos from the top of Double Peak. My house may actually be in this photo.

This was apparent when I first vacationed here with Shawn in 2005 – and then kept finding excuses to come back. I knew it then as much as I know it now: this town, by the truest definition, is my home. For 33 years I existed in eastern New England, floundering a lot, finding friends and losing them again, moving from town to town. I looked hard between the forests and the cities for a place I could call mine. A town I would fall in love with. In 33 years I never found one. Finally I began to fancy myself a floater: I figured I must be just one of those people who prefers to be unbound to a particular place in favor of trying everywhere. I realize now I was just unsatisfied.

Unlike just about everyone I knew, I never retained a close-knit group of longtime friends who would drop by the house to borrow a cup of sugar or feed my cat while I was away. I had one or two very close friends whom I love like siblings, but because I moved all over the state we always seemed to be an hour’s drive away from each other. I’ve never been very close to family; both of my parents are deceased and my family of aunts, uncles and cousins are spread out all over New England. And frankly, our emotional distance is even wider than that. I’ve never felt I could count on anyone to be there for me the way I saw others could. I always thought it didn’t bother me, but I understand now that it really kind of did.

But you know, I think we all live our lives normalizing whatever is around us. Palm trees and year-round temperate weather is business as usual for a native Californian. But they were a far-off daydream to me, as I dug my car out of snowdrifts all winter long. A dream so big that I think part of me simply waited to begin living any actual life until I had a permanent tan and a back yard full of queen palms.

sunset

The SoCal Sunset.

And so here I am. Home, and finally living my actual life. This place suits me like a soul mate. I now get to look out the windows of the loft I’ve made into my home-office at a landscape rife with southern Californian beauty. Rocky hills and mountains in the distance that make way for sun-struck glimpses of the great Pacific, hawks flying above, coyotes howling at night, and skies so wide and so blue that I finally understand what it’s like to feel miles of open space and the roundness of the earth as it curves away before my eyes. The mercury hardly ever rises so high that I need air conditioning, nor falls so low that I need to put socks on my bare feet. That perfect happy temperature and humidity level, which tends to elude New England for all but ten days per annum, is the absolute norm here. And so is the sunshine. Sunshine, which has ever been the perpetuator of my deepest personal happiness, couldn’t be more plentiful: it has rained only 6 or 7 times since we arrived.

The beach-sandy, easy-living culture of SoCal plays to all the best parts of my personality. All 70 miles of San Diego coastline is public turf, which means you can park anywhere and walk, run, swim, surf, kayak, paddle or relax on the beach all year round, any time of day or night and never have to be elbow-to-elbow with a bunch of annoying overly-tanned strangers. There are stretches of beach, and even an entire island, dedicated to San Diego’s love of dogs, and a large number of restaurants welcome our canine friends with spacious outdoor seating and plenty of doggy water bowls.

neighborhood

A view of my neighborhood

San Diego is one of the largest hops-brewing cities in the world, housing over 100 breweries and microbreweries within the county lines. The city’s passion for beer has spurned some of the best hashing in the country as well, with something around 15 kennels of trail-running, beer-drinking Hash House Harriers, littering the earth with chalk symbols and baking flour dollops on just about every day of the week. People who become Hashers and Harriettes tend to be a lot like me: they are mostly educated, laid-back people with a love for good trails, fine beer and dirty jokes. Many of them with either no kids or grown kids, they are free to live the social lives they desire. They are athletic but not competitive, health-conscious but not militant. They tend to be quite comfortable within themselves, which makes for an exceptional (and exceptionally large, for me) network of friends and acquaintances who have kept me busy, entertained and running dozens of insanely awesome local trails for over eight months now (which explains my lack of time for blogging). Because of Hashing, I finally have the opportunity to gain that centralize social circle that has always eluded me in life.

Trails in Escondido

Trails in Escondido

And at least two-thirds of the people I have met here, hashers or not, are transplants like me. They have been equally drawn in by the magnetic pull of the SoCal life. It only figures that people who are bold enough to leave their original lives behind for something better tend to have a lot of other personality traits in common too. Because of this I find it much easier to be present in the friendships I have made, and I feel much more understood. Nobody here bugs me to have kids or to buy a home, or alienates me for my divergent choices. I no longer feel surrounded by complainers who hate their lives but are too lazy or cowardly to improve them. I sense more independence amongst these San Diegans: people play more active roles in their own lives and don’t seem as likely to expect from the world (or their parents) that morphine-drip of emotional and/or financial support that I saw so often back east.

I once heard the advice: “Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Southern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.” I used to worry that losing my east coast roots would bring forth the departure of my soul, my grit. But now I see that’s a completely bullshit notion. The only thing I have lost since I’ve moved out here is my bitterness: bitterness about the weather, about the traffic, about friends lost, about the insane cost of living and the life-sucking obligation to always settle for less than what I wanted. I don’t feel that way out here. I don’t feel poor like I did in New England, even though I make roughly the same amount of money. I don’t live in a crappy neighborhood because that’s all I can afford. Instead I live in a nice house in a quiet community, close to the beach and a few minutes from the nearest mountain views.

No, I have not lost my soul: instead I have introduced this soul to the joys I never knew I could afford or deserve. I have not lost my grit: instead I’ve applied it to more positive endeavors, like running for miles up mountains and learning how to stand on a surfboard (it’s much harder than it looks, by the way). I have learned that people desire different things in life and that there is just no good reason – not family, not a job, not fear – to relegate myself to a place or a lifestyle that’s less than what I ultimately desire. I only get one body and one finite period of time to live in it, and I’ve done myself a disservice to have even for a moment wasted it at the hands of my lesser obligations.

surfboards

A photo taken after my first surf lesson

As a result of this realization, I have come to no longer care what my distant family members think of my free-wheeling lifestyle. I don’t care how new parents feel about my rejection of the parenting life. It means less than zero to me whether other married couples think Shawn and I act married enough or spend an adequate amount of time participating in each other’s chosen pastimes. I don’t care if fellow runners think I drink too much beer or if fellow hashers think I run too many races. It took me 33 years, but my choices finally feel like they’re completely mine. I finally feel beautiful. I finally feel whole. I finally feel happy. And I mean really, honestly happy. And I don’t even give a shit if you don’t believe that. This is what it means to “find yourself”.

This, my friends, is what it feels like to find your home.


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Defiance {Prompted}

The following post is part of what I hope will be an ongoing writing exercise that my friend Kathy and I have decided to undertake together. We are currently choosing topics from a list of prompts that can be found here. I intend to use a varying array of writing styles and techniques, and to limit my editing. Therefore many of these posts may not look anything like the rest of the stuff I write on this blog. I’m okay with that, if you are. I invite those of you with blogs of your own to participate with us! But if you’re not into it that’s okay too. I’ll title these posts differently so they are easy to skip past if you wish to do so. And as always, thanks for reading!

*   *   *

sky

de·fi·ance [dih-fahy-uhns]
noun
1.
a daring or bold resistance to authority or to any opposing force.

2. open disregard; contempt (often followed by of): defiance of danger.
3. a challenge to meet in combat or in a contest.

On the whole of my life, I have never really done things the way that I was supposed to.

It all started when I was a baby. My father told me several times the story of my milk bottle. Whenever I had a bottle I would hold it in my left hand, and if he took it from me and put it into my right hand, I would switch it back every time. I defied him to change my left-handedness.

But I guess I never noticed my defiant streak until rather recently, as I’ve spent more time looking back on my life, and surveying the people I have chosen to surround myself with. I used to think that I was the obedient type, because I’m a nice person and I don’t really get into any trouble. But now I realize that even though I wasn’t a troublemaker, in very subtle ways I have always been as defiant as they come. And this defiance has led me to be headstrong, but also quite stable and independent in many very important ways.

When you’re a kid, being different from everyone else is a bad thing. Kids don’t really have enough perspective to find the value in differences: they see any all variation from their own likeness as an obvious negative. Well, come to think of it a lot of adults still think that way, always judging those around them for daring to do things differently. But this post isn’t about them.

As I think more and more about it, I realize I have always been kind of different from everybody else. Growing up, I was the only girl in my family with brown hair instead of blonde, and the only one who wanted to go outside and build forts instead of playing with Barbies or helping the adults cook in the kitchen. I was also the only girl in my grade who went to gymnastics class instead of joining the basketball team.  When all the kids wrote stories for a school-wide literary publication, I wrote a poem with an illustration. In a world full of teachers, nurses and electrical engineers, I got my degree in art.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to embrace my individuality. I feel that it helps me to know myself, and knowing myself has helped me to make decisions based on what I want, rather than what I’m supposed to want. For example, knowing that I don’t want to have children. That I don’t like the idea of owning the home I live in. That I prefer the west coast over the east. That I prefer to run barefoot. That I’d rather live in the mountains of North County than in the close, crowded downtown San Diego, where all my cool friends live. I support gay marriage, dig Paleo over Vegan, and would prefer to run with a bunch of obnoxious, tutu-wearing, beer-drinking Hash House Harriers over serious road marathoners, any day.

Historically, I’ve received a lot of flak for my individuality. People just don’t like it when you aren’t exactly like them. But even though I was nice about it, I’ve always remained defiant to the end: I don’t have to be like you, or your daughters or your sister or your last girlfriend or your best friend or the person whose job position I’m replacing. I only have to be me (so screw you).

These are all things I’ve learned about myself, on my own. Nobody influenced or told me to do these things. I don’t follow anyone, nor do I try to cut the first trails. I do what feels right for me, not for someone else. I don’t need anyone to agree with me in order to validate my choices. I just am who I am. I love this chick, and I defy anyone who would try to change her left-handedness.

 


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I Left My Mojo in Carlsbad

The afternoon sunset at my favorite sand-covered spot, Carlsbad Beach.

The afternoon sunset at my favorite sand-covered spot, Carlsbad Beach.

For weeks, it was nowhere to be found. I searched everywhere I could think of. I looked all over the house, in cluttered closets, under furniture, between my dog’s teeth and in the back seat of my car. It just wouldn’t turn up, and I couldn’t remember the last time I saw it, either. I asked some of my friends if they’d found it anywhere, maybe left behind in their car after a trail run or something, but nobody had.

I even ended up making an excuse to see my buddies Vanessa and Shacky, so I could look under the tires of their Rialta RV myself, because that had to be the last place on earth that I didn’t look. Or heck, maybe Vanessa stole it herself! I mean, she’s been running an awful lot of hundos lately, and nobody is really sure where she got all that mojo.

But, Vanessa is way too sweet to do something like that, so I had to let my suspicions go.

After awhile I made some “Lost Mojo” signs and posted them all over my neighborhood. No calls, not a single one. I started going door-to-door, but this is California, so I just got a lot of weird, uncomfortable smiles and no real answers. So I resigned myself to the reality that I might never find my running mojo again. I took up yoga and even looked into Crossfit as a possible replacement, but alas, it just wasn’t the same.

Then one day I went to the theater and watched a movie that was set in the east coast. It gave me that dull ache of homesickness for the first time since I moved to California. Those cracked old sidewalks and oak trees with their leaves that fell to the ground and made a crunching sound beneath my Merrells. Then I realized, that was it! Had to be. I must have left my running mojo behind when I left New Hampshire. Surely it must have been swept up and thrown into the garbage by the new owners of my house. It’s gone for good by now. What a goddamn shame.

Since then I haven’t been running much, if at all. And when I do lace up, my runs just don’t have the same fire that they used to have. I have been reduced to slowly gaining weight from lack of exercise and bad afternoon television, as I stare blankly at the pile of beautiful unworn INKnBURN clothing and tester shoes, for which I still have yet to write reviews.

Fast-forward to last weekend, when I actually, miraculously, showed up for the Tri-City Carlsbad Half Marathon. I wasn’t going to run it at all because, I mean come on, I haven’t trained in months! After all, I’d lost my mojo! My last long run was fifteen miles, sure, but that was way back in November. I just wasn’t physically prepared for a half marathon. Not to mention the fact that I’d signed up for the full marathon originally, and had had the Race Director demote me to the half over a month ago. There was shame written all around the idea of this big ole’ race in the fine city of Carlsbad, California. So why show up?

Well, last week I was talking with Shacky, while we stood around uselessly in front of the Rialta at the San Diego 50 Miler and Trail Marathon (I had also signed up for this marathon originally and then bailed on it, which begs the question: is there any end to my bad habits?!). I told him I wasn’t planning to run at Carlsbad at all. That’s when crazy old Uncle Shacky convinced me to just go ahead and do it. “Just half-ass it,” he said. “It’s one of the prettiest road races in the San Diego area. If nothing else, you can walk most of it and take tons of pictures.”

I take a lot of advice from Shacky. I’m not really sure why, since most of it tends to end horribly, while Shacky just sits by laughing. Maybe it’s the beard, it makes him look so sweet and avuncular while so successfully hiding his true maniacal intent. I’ve been burned by Uncle Shacky advice more than once and I don’t want to talk about it.

So naturally I decided he must be right, and showed up for the race.

The morning was gray, rainy and dreary, and the marine layer was so thick you could taste it in the air. I was pretty sure we wouldn’t see much of the ocean, nor many of the other sights that typically make this so called “Surf Sun Run” so memorable. Once again, the joke was on me. Thanks, Uncle Shacky.

Look at that beard, totally disarming! *Photo by Vanessaruns

Look at that beard, totally disarming! *Photo by Vanessaruns

But all that aside, I’m glad I showed up to race, and I’ll tell you why. Even though there were something like 10,000 runners signed up, the whole event was exceedingly well-organized by the volunteers and race directors. There was water available literally at every mile, energy gels ever so often, and even pretzels and oranges (which I’ve never seen before at a road race) handed out on the course. Despite the absolute lack of sunshine, the ocean was still awesome to look at. The sight helped me ignore my aching hips and roiling tummy, which forced me to stop twice for the porta-johns (I’d made some bad nutrition choices the night prior). Conversely, because of the lack of sunshine the temperature was fantastic, in the upper 50’s, with nice cooling winds.

There were so many great things I could go on about during this race. But the greatest and most unexpected outcome happened as I rounded that one corner during mile 4, and saw those delicious foamy waves to my right for the first time. Because that’s when I finally found it: my mojo. It was there all along, on the sands of Carlsbad Beach!

Of course! I must have dropped it and left it behind on one of my early runs out here on the west coast. I was so freaking happy, I almost completely forgot I had no reason to be running 13 miles that day.

All joking aside, I’m not going to say this was the easiest long run for me to complete. In fact, I found myself walking a lot more than I typically do during a half mary (which is almost none). I had to employ my get-through-it mind-tricks a little earlier than usual, because my feet and hip flexors were on fire as early as mile 8. But despite all the pains I suffered from lack of preparation, my attitude didn’t suck the whole time. Well sure, I had a lot of trouble getting my ass out of bed that morning, but we’ll leave that aside for now. I crossed the start line of that race with a smile on my face, and that’s exactly how I crossed the finish.

I’m not going to say that there was any stellar kind of performance going on, either. I don’t even know my finish time exactly, but it was at least ten minutes behind my PR (a blazing fast 2:35)…and well, I don’t give the first shit. This race wasn’t about my finish time, it was about my attitude.

I’m not even sure what exactly it was about that day’s events that turned on my mojo. All I know is that I finished a half marathon race without any real training, equipped with nothing but my two feet, some good tunes and a boatload of determination. And that takes some mojo.

So I dunno. Maybe there’s something to be said for racing, at whatever distance. Maybe it’s that excitement we all share as we stand shivering in one large group at the starting line. Maybe it’s the camaraderie, the equality we find as we traverse the same course and overcome the same challenges. If you really think about it, the race is a place where we are all brothers and sisters, where we are a family of trials, determination and grit.

Whatever it is, whatever it was, I hope I never lose my mojo again. It was a bitch to find.

menalysacarlsbad.

Also thanks to my amazing cousin Alysa, who participated in this race as a bandit, but nonetheless inspired and impressed the hell out of me by completing her first 13 mile endeavor, despite not even being a “runner.” I love you, kid.


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Ready for the Raptor

This Sunday, I’m running my first distance race in San Diego. It’s the Raptor Ridge Half Marathon. Those of you who might know this race, and also know me, are probably laughing right now. Why? Well, I didn’t earn the mock-nickname “Hill Killer” for nothing.

You know. It’s sorta like nicknaming the 300lb Samoan dude “Tiny.” And you’re not really sure if you should call him that to his face because he’s been known to have a “mood problem.”

I love to run, that’s a given. But probably nobody in the trail running community bitches about hills as much as I do have. Hell, I complained so much about the relentless hills at my 50K (that nobody else seemed to notice…what was that about?), that my friend Krista designed a “Hill-Killer” t-shirt for her online store because of me.

And dammit, why didn’t I think to order one for Sunday?

Anyway, the Raptor Ridge Half Marathon takes place near Lake Hodges, amidst the various hills and valleys of nearby Escondido, California. The first four or five miles are completely flat and prairie-like, and then the course climbs this pretty gnarly hill for about a mile, back down the other side, and then turns around and goes back up. I stole an elevation chart from the blog of someone who did this race last year:

It looks like Batman. I should show my husband.

Now, this race wasn’t totally my idea. I have some friends to thank for my participation in it. First is my friend Shacky, who coerced encouraged me to sign up for Raptor Ridge back when I was still living my safe, flat-trailed New England life. Having run the race before, he knew how hilly it was going to be but still managed to keep a straight face while I rambled on excitedly about “my first San Diego race.” Shacky is like that funny uncle who puts toothpaste in your Oreos and super-glues quarters to the sidewalk. You always trust him when he suggests that you do something “really fun”, even though it’s usually a bad idea.

And then there’s my friend Kate, who has spent the last month dragging me and my hydration pack all over Escondido to run up and down hills until we were both bent over at the waist, breathing heavy like two old men with emphysema. It’s been pretty awesome, actually. I’ve been looking for a friend to really push me for years, and it seems now I’ve finally found one.

Lucky for me (or perhaps not lucky, depending on your perspective), I got to run most of this course already. In two parts. The first time, Kate and I parked at the Raptor Ridge 1/2 trail head one afternoon with full packs, ready to crush that hill. But we never found it because we didn’t realize it was over four miles away, and also we wanted beer. The second time we parked at a lot much closer to the hill and ran up it with Shacky and Vanessa, the two of them bouncing up the ridge like it was an easy straightaway. Jerks. But I made it up both sides, and we even got to look out over the valley for a moment before flying back down like a bunch of wild, noisy antelope. Okay, not anything like antelope.

This was the first time I’ve ever run on a race course before running the actual race. I’m curious to find out if it makes any difference for me mentally, but I think it will. I have always told myself that I’d rather not know what I’m getting into because if it’s scary, I don’t want to be privy to it. But I think maybe I was wrong all that time, because all week I have been able to put this course into perspective, plan out my pace goals, and mentally prepare for the tough spots. I’ve run this course a hundred times in my head. For the first time in any race I’ve done, I’m approaching it like something to conquer, not just something I hope to finish.

And by conquer I don’t mean foolishly attempting to beat my half-mary PR by thirty minutes or anything crazy-stupid like that. In fact, I’m not even sure I can count on breaking my PR at all. Or even meeting it. My last half marathon was on a completely flat, easy course, and I still didn’t break 2:30. I’m not hoping for any miracles here, but I did just notice that there’s a 3-hour cutoff time. I’ve never run a race with a cutoff time less than an hour outside my personal best. Combined with the added difficulty, I’m a little nervous that I’ll be crossing the finish line on a golf cart with the course sweeper. I sincerely hope that doesn’t happen.

It’s times like these (trail races) where I’m always reminded of how slow a runner I really am. And I’m not saying that so you’ll try to reassure me in the comments section. I am just a really freaking slow runner. I know a lot of it is because of the extra weight I’ve been carrying around these days, and that just adds shame to the slow factor. I’m the slow chubby girl in the slow stragglers section at the end of every race I run, except for the really huge and popular road races that attract 10,000 C25K’ers who just started running for the first time six weeks ago.

But then again I know lots of heavier runners and most of them are faster than me, too. Damn.

So, I don’t know what the real problem is, but it’s certainly not for a lack of trying. I’ll be cruising along at a pace that I’m sure is pretty fast, and I’ll be patting myself on the back for pushing my limits…and then some lithe little number in LuluLemon whizzes past me, pushing a baby carriage.

So I guess my only choice is to take the good with the bad. I’m probably going to be pulling up the rear on Sunday. But I’m also probably going to finish, hopefully before the cutoff, and I’m going to have some friends at the finish line to greet me when I do. Also I’m going to have finished my third half marathon, my second trail race, and my first one among the mountains of San Diego. No matter what happens, it’s going to be an achievement worth smiling about. And there’s also going to be beer.


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Notes from 3,000 Miles Away

One of the really bright flowers growing in my yard. What is it? No idea.

Shawn and I are about a month into our new life on the West coast, and a lot of friends have been asking me how I like it here. My answer is always: “It’s Great! I love it!” because, well…I simply don’t have the time (nor do they) to sit down and explain my whole array of feelings about it. The true and short answer is that my feelings about the move are great, but mixed.

Just yesterday Shawn and I were talking about this, and I’m pretty sure we feel roughly the same way at this point. The “oh-my-god-we-are-finally-here” honeymoon is over and the real feelings are starting to move in like so many storm clouds. I have a tendency to hold in my feelings, but I think it affects Shawn in a more outwardly obvious fashion. As he explained it to me, he’s been feeling sort of “blah,” and as a result he’s been unmotivated to do much more than sculpt and watch television. It’s hard to get him to even come out for a walk or go to the movies. He knows that he made the right decision to move out here, and he knows intellectually that his feelings of homesickness and uprooted discomfort will pass, but it still bothers him at the moment. It doesn’t even matter that he grew up here. The friends we have known for a dozen years are 3,000 miles away. Our families, our favorite restaurants, roads and highways we are able to navigate without help from technological devices, they are no longer things we can get to without a pricey plane ticket. And although we thought the decision through for several years, no amount of sureness and careful planning can circumvent that feeling of having been transplanted into such an unfamiliar section of the world.

I love San Diego, and I have no doubts in my mind that I belong here. In a very general and sweeping way, southern California people are more like me than New England people are. They’re…sunnier. More calm and trusting. Open-minded. They like to be outdoors a lot more, and are healthier in many ways. To them, life is less complicated. Of course, I’ve made some great friends with all of these qualities back in New England, but here I see people like this just about everywhere I go.

This is a beautiful place to live in, as well. Yes, of course there’s those several hundred miles of beaches and ten months of summer each year, but it’s a little deeper than that. We have mountains. Everywhere. In the next town. In your back yard. I’ve seen views from places less than ten miles from my home that stop my breath and make me so thankful to be alive that it’s almost like praying. There are bunnies and lizards, coyotes, hawks and deer everywhere, and there are even a couple of bats that like to sleep in our palms. There is a myriad of trees and flowers all around me that I’ve never seen before, like eucalyptus and olive trees, cacti, three types of palm tree, and several decadent, bright florals that I can’t yet name. There is so much sky that I don’t know what to do with it, except feel really, really small. And it’s blue…all the time. I know that these things are all novelties to some people, but I’ll never get tired of seeing the beauty the world has to offer. And this is one incredible place to see it from.

See if you can figure out what’s different.

But upon my inevitable exit from that sweet, rose-colored honeymoon phase, I’ve found myself mixing old home comforts with the new ones. I put the same books on the same book shelves and kept most of the old knick-knacks from my cubicle desk in the Boston office. I work the same hours every day and go to bed around the same time at night because routine comforts me. I listen to radio stations that play the same seemingly incongruent mix of 80’s hair band, 90’s alternative and Mumford and Sons that populates my iPod. I pump Florence + the Machine through my earphones during runs because the sound of it reminds me of winter long runs back home. I spend as much time as I can keeping up with my friends back home, texting them, reading their blogs and watching their lives unfold on Facebook. I make the same recipes and shop for my favorite food brands.

But even still, the unfamiliar has crept into my bones and caused a melancholy sort of homesickness that will take me some time to recover from. I am eternally in love with the sunshine but it is so strong here that it sometimes feels alien, as it leans heavily over my shoulder during an afternoon run. I have become a friend of shadows, darting from one to another and seeking the rare tree cover that was so prevalent in New England.

I miss the tall and shadowed forests of trees, and I miss the smells that the air carried in – the scent of fresh life. Wet grass, rich soil, pine. Here the air smells heavier, spicy. It’s so different, in fact, that it was the first thing I picked up on when we arrived.

In this heat I have learned the usefulness of house-cooling window blinds, which were previously a nuisance to me, always keeping out the precious light of day. I’ve learned to appreciate the cooler air, as well as the hot summery days. That’s something I didn’t exactly expect to happen.

But I have also embraced so many things quite seamlessly. I relish the prevalence of runners, bikers, dog walkers and lots of other folks getting exercise and enjoying the day. I appreciate the wider roads and freeways, the fresher produce, the prolific Starbucks stores and Mexican restaurants. I can’t stay away from the beaches, and the thought of driving only twenty minutes to one puts a huge smile on my face.

The trails here are achingly beautiful; moreover, they feel so much more like real trails to me. I don’t know why, could be all the books and blogs I’ve read with photos of western trails have shaped my own internal definition of what a trail should look like. They’re dustier, more sandy and dry. The hills are astounding. And, surprisingly, I have found myself seeking out hills during runs, rather than shying away from them. It’s as if I’m finally making peace with them.

I miss my friends back east. Some I miss so much that it’s difficult not to cry a little when I think of the vast new distance I’ve put between us. At the same time, I appreciate the few friends I have made since we arrived. Friendships are important to me. I don’t need many, but I enjoy nurturing the good ones.

Working from home has been a blessing I didn’t quite expect. I mean, of course I knew it was going to be awesome to be able to work in my pajamas. But would I thrive working this way? Could I keep motivated and stay happy working outside an office environment? I didn’t know. But what I’ve learned is that working in my home suits my personality much better than working in an office. I like having my own space, and the relative quiet helps me focus better. I like being able to start work early and end early, or work later if something comes up in the morning. I can get to my work files at 8pm on a Sunday if I think of something, and I can go for a run on the beach before it gets dark. It’s like I’m always working, but also never working. This is an ideal situation for me. And for my employer, who gets a happier, more motivated employee out of the deal.

Overall I can see myself slowly becoming a much more centered individual, with more balanced priorities and a healthier outlook on things. Almost everything is better for me here, but I still need to get used to it, give it all time to sink into my soul and start to feel like home again. And that’s okay because I’ve got lots of time.


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Review: Vibram FiveFingers Spyridon and Spyridon LS

Take a look at all that California dirt. 🙂

Just the other night I went for my first trail run at Torrey Pines State Park, near my new home in San Diego. My friend Vanessa has talked about this place enough for it to have become a place of legend in my mind, and once I arrived I could see just why it deserves such legend. Lining the shores of the Pacific, several windy, sandy paths cut through the brush and tan-colored cliffs, every one of them elevating and descending at whim toward the golden sands of the state beach.

My new running buddy Kate took me here, and after run-walk-climbing the first big hill toward the bluffs, we bounded up, down and through the trails at ankle neck-breaking speeds (well…not really, but it seemed like it, anyway). Sometimes the ground was hard-packed, and sometimes the sand slid under our feet, revealing all the loose stones hidden beneath. Ever so often we came upon a sharp downward turn that merely avoided a 20-foot cliff. The air was thick with salt, the ocean view was simply vast, and the setting sun grew heavy under the thick marine layer that was blanketing itself over the land and sea.

Yesterday’s run rivaled that of any run I’ve ever done, in beauty and in sheer enjoyment, with a person I’d just barely met but already felt bonded to. We ran four quick miles before it got dark, and by the time we were done my face ached from smiling.

And luckily for this review, I had chosen to wear my Vibram FiveFinger Spyridons.

I wore the Spyridons for this run because it was a new trail for me that could have had anything on it, and there’s just something so rugged and so sure-footed about this shoe (which I will of course explain shortly) that it felt like my safest choice among the many which populate my closet.

I’ve been running in the Spyridon trail shoe for several weeks now, most of them while I was still living my previous life in New England. I loved the trails there, because they were mostly made of hard soil with rocks and roots all over (easier to trip you with, my dear). With experience I have learned that I am very picky about a trail shoe. I need it to be lightweight of course, but also supremely flexible and grippy (the WordPress dictionary tells me “grippy” is not a word, nonetheless I’m using it; to hell with proper grammar usage).

I have learned that I must have a feeling of control over my feet when I am running trails; the notion that I can sense and respond to everything beneath me in a split second. That my feet are part of the trail floor. And if you feel the same way about a trail shoe, then you are probably going to like the Spyridon as much as I do.

Specs and Tech

Top: original Spyridon LS (laces)
Bottom: new Spyridon with hook-and-loop closure

So, what I’m really reviewing today is two shoe models, the Spyridon LS, which came out earlier this year, and the Spyridon (sans laces) that just hit the market sometime in July.

Both of these shoes are pretty much the same, but the Spyridon LS is essentially just the model with laces. I received a pair back in May, but the upper is made to fit so precisely along the mid-foot that I quite literally couldn’t get into them without some major discomfort. It was just too tight for me. So, despite the laces being there, the shoe is just not made for someone with a wider foot. I never ran in the shoe, so really the only things I can write about here are width pitfall (which shouldn’t be a problem for people who don’t normally have width issues) and the overall look, which is earthy and tonal for both the men’s and women’s models. Oh, and I also took some pictures before sending them back. 🙂

So you can imagine how thankful I was that my contact over at Vibram was feeling charitable enough to send me out a pair of the non-lace model to test once it was available. It fit me so much better! The lace-less Spyridon is made with an upper very similar to the KSO and Treksport, with the same hook-and-loop closure that runs around the back of the heel. But of course everything else is different about this shoe, from its Coconut Active Carbon upper and 3.5mm Vibram rubber sole, to its super deep, aggressive lugs and tough mesh “rock-block” layer molded into the center of the sole to your feet from trail debris. Not to mention it’s altogether pretty spiffy-looking, with its fuchsia, black and lime green colorway (the men’s shoe has two colorways: orange/ black and green/black).

Here, you can see the width of my foot as compared to the Spyridon LS. The tightness occurs where the laces are, although it’s not just the laces that make it tight – it’s the whole upper. Sorry about the bad manicure.

Fit and Feel

The rest of this review is going to be based on the hook-and-closure model, since it is the only one I really used.

Like the historically popular KSO, the Spyridon also has an elasticized collar that grips tight to your ankle and…well, KSO (Keeps Stuff Out). I appreciate that aspect of this shoe because there’s nothing more annoying than feeling a tiny rock digging at you inside your shoe while you’re trying to enjoy a trail run.

Elastic collar keeps stuff out.

I like the ground feel on this shoe despite its aggressive tread, and I’ll tell you why. To me, there’s just something about the basic structure of a FiveFinger sole is just perfect for trails, so I was psyched when I found out Vibram was developing a trail-specific shoe (finally, no more having to make do with the Bikila). Like I mentioned earlier, I base a lot of importance on having a trail shoe that is flexible and pliable. I need my foot to sense and react to rocks and bumps and debris, to curve around objects and make minute and immediate corrections to my balance at all times. A thick-soled or stiff shoe doesn’t do well for me, I just tip over and injure myself. But in the Spyridon, with its infinitely pliable sole, I feel extremely sure-footed and confident on trails. I can feel the rocks and bumps and respond to them, without getting as many dings and bruises. The molded mesh rock plate does a pretty okay job.

My one complaint with the fit is, believe it or not, the hook-and-loop closure. It’s actually the one reason I never bought a pair of KSO’s. The fabric of the upper stretches over my foot just fine, but the closure has no give at all and when I close the velcro strap at its widest point, I can still feel the nylon strap digging into my heel. I’ve thought about just cutting out the whole strap contraption altogether. But strangely enough, it doesn’t actually bother me at all when I’m running (a similar outcome as with the SeeYa and its droopy heel cup – review here), so I just left it. I know that seems weird, and well yeah…it is. Can’t explain it. It is what it is.

Performance

I have a lot of darlings on the trail side of my running shoe collection, and they’re some mighty fine players. I’ll be honest: I didn’t think the Spyridon was going to fare well amongst them. I mean, I’m talking Merrell Pace Gloves and New Balance Minimus 00’s here. Some mighty fine minimalist trail shoes. But the Spyridon really  stacks well up to them, believe it or not (and I know there are some non-believers out there). The two biggest factors are the excellent tread that really lets me tear up some trail without sliding around like a cat on ice skates, and (again, believe it or not) the benefit of separated toes, for that added feeling of control in the front of my foot. Our feet were built with those digits on the end for a reason, folks. And putting them in an anatomy-driven shoe that allows them to work independently of each other is really beneficial for balance and proprioception. Which I, for one, really need…because I am remarkably accident-prone by nature (see left-handedness).

Lots of important movement in these.

You can still decide to knock a five-finger shoe if you want; but the Spyridon impresses me. It serves me well and does it silently, no bells, whistles or cushioning needed. If you’re looking for a lightweight or minimalist shoe that will give you back some control on the trails, I’d say this one’s definitely worth a try.

So to wrap up, here’s the quick-reference rundown:

Pros

  • unique tread pattern and mesh “rock plate” provide excellent traction without taking away too much ground feel
  • still a relatively lightweight shoe at around 6 ounces each
  • separate toe pockets add to your control over tricky terrain
  • two options, lace closure or traditional KSO hook-and-loop
  • stink resistant coconut active carbon upper
  • no-seem liner for sock-free wear
  • gnarly color ways for the Spyridon, earthy ones for the Spyridon LS

Cons

  • the LS model might be too tight in the mid-foot if you typically fall into the “wide” category with your other shoes
  • hook-and-loop closure was pretty much a non-necessity for me (similar to the SeeYa)
  • would have liked to see one or two more color ways in both models

Have you tried the Spyridon yet? I’d love to hear your thoughts.