Monday, November 2, 2015

Niagara Falls Race Recap

It's tough to decide where to begin with this one. I think a few weeks before the race is actually the best starting point. After completing the Mountain Goat series I didn't slow down or take any breaks. The following weekend I had the BAA Half marathon. Physically I was ready and able to run, but mentally I was as checked out as one can be. Only days before I had to put one of my cats to sleep unexpectedly. To say I was devastated would be a huge understatement. I hadn't really eaten anything in about 3 days and hadn't slept much either, but I was determined to get out of the house and do the best I could. I'm so glad I went.

Just like last year, I met up with my friend Marcy and we ran together for the first 10 miles (then she took off like a rocket and finished a few minutes before me). We chatted and the miles went by ridiculously fast and I felt really good. I finished exactly where I wanted to be 2 weeks out from the marathon and figured I could expect to do a 5:15 if the weather was good and no issues came up.

The next weekend was the Boston Firefighters 10K, one of my all time favorite races all year, because obviously....firefighters, duh. Oh and they have unlimited free beer at the finish. Again I ran really solid and felt amazing. My friends Lisa and Antonio ran together and a little ahead of me, but I settled into my own groove and just focused on my pace and trying to run negative splits. I nailed it. And in the last half mile I passed Lisa (she has a tendency to go out a little too fast). Another awesome run before the marathon and I was ready.

The week went by really fast and before I knew it, my mom and I were driving to Boston to fly to Buffalo, NY and then drive across the border to Niagara Falls. As far as stressful trips can go this one was pretty high anxiety with all the little pieces that needed to fit together perfectly to get us to our destination. AND an international border crossing too. Right from the start I was on edge and uneasy, worrying about every possible hiccup and a little worried too about sleeping in the same hotel room with my mom, we hadn't done that since Big Sur and that did not go well. I packed my ear plugs and was trying my hardest to stay calm knowing it was only a few days and I could get through it.

Anyway, we made it to Buffalo and after a little confusion about the rental car we finally got it and drove across the border and about 45 minutes north to Niagara Falls Ontario. Our hotel was directly across from the falls and it was the race sponsored hotel where the shuttles would be picking runners up on race morning so at least that part was taken care of. We checked in and then decided to do a little exploring. I had pre-purchased "adventure passes" for both of us to do all of the touristy things like the boat ride and the platform behind the falls. Upon walking across the street and seeing the falls for the first time, my mom said "That's it!?!" (looking at the American Falls). I couldn't stop laughing, it still makes me laugh. She wasn't impressed. "It's just a big waterfall" she said. Yeah, not sure what she thought it would be.

Friday, I booked us a wine tasting tour of the Niagara region. Four different vineyards/wineries and a chacuterie plate and lunch at Niagara on the Lake. It was a small van maybe 14 people total. We had a blast. It was a long day, but at the end of the tour the guide even dropped us off at the expo so I could get my bib number so it was perfect! The race is really small, only 1500 runners in the marathon, so the expo was also pretty small. Not a lot of vendors or free stuff. The coolest part was getting my bib because I had to go through a customs and border patrol person first. After the expo we headed back to the hotel and got some dinner and called it a night.

Saturday it was sort of rainy and overcast and we had already done most of the touristy things so we kind of took it easy. There were two more attractions we wanted to check out so we ventured out and hopped on the 'WEGO' bus and did the Whirlpool aerocar and Butterfly conservatory, plus the white water walk along the river. We did an early dinner at our hotel and got back to the room nice and early. I was asleep by about 8:00.

Race morning, I got up and got ready. Buses left our hotel at 7:30am for a 10:00am start (sort of similar to Boston). The ride itself wasn't very long, it was the stop at the border and unloading the buses and everyone going through customs and getting back onto the buses that took some time. Oh and I learned that you cannot take a selfie inside the Customs and Border Patrol terminal. Outside is ok, inside is not. We arrived at the start area around 9:00am. It was sunny and cool. Kind of perfect conditions. I was a little nervous, but mostly excited.

The race organizers made a few announcements, they played the Canadian National Anthem, and then we were off. No waves or corrals, just a small group of runners, ready-set-GO! The first 4 miles were weaved through the streets of Buffalo, NY and then we made our way across the Peace Bridge into Canada.

The next 10 miles felt amazing. It was cool and overcast and I was right on pace to finish somewhere around 5:15. I actually crossed the halfway point at 2:32ish so I was feeling very confident and comfortable. Then somewhere around mile 15 or so the winds picked up and of course they were in your face relentless headwinds. My pace slowed, but I still felt good. The last 10K was rough. I felt like I was running through wet cement. I wanted to go faster, but the winds made it so difficult. I ended up finishing in 5:50 and the finish area was just as cool as advertised. It is right at the Canadian Falls and the sun had come out so there was a huge rainbow. The medal is really cool too.

Aside from finishing a little slower than I wanted to I felt really good and since the race was really small they even announced me coming into the finish line, "From Lowell, Massachusetts.....ALICIA LEEMAN!" It would have been really cool for my mom to see and hear, and there was a super easy shuttle from our hotel to the finish area and she knew the window of time I would be finishing, BUT she decided to stay in the hotel and watch the Patriots football game instead. Kind of disappointing, but not totally surprising. 

Marathon #21 in the books, not fast, but not painful and a lot of fun plus checked off Niagara Falls from my 'To-do' list. I've seen it, probably won't go back, but it was cool and I'm glad I went.

Monday, October 5, 2015

I'm officially a mountain goat

And I have decided based on my experience doing the USATF Mountain Goat Series that I HATE trail running and they should not call it trail "running" because it is impossible to "run" up a mountain. They should call it "Extreme Hiking". You basically do your best to move quickly up a hill on loose gravel, squishy uneven grass, muddy wash out ruts, and big rocks. Then sometimes, if the race really sucks, you have to try and navigate your way back down the hill without taking a wicked bad digger and destroying your hopes and dreams of ever running again. Oh and all of this takes twice as long as the same distance would take you to complete in a regular road race on pavement.

You might ask, if it was so awful and I hated it so much WHY would I do it? This is the really crazy stupid part. The reward for running up and sometimes back down 6 really horrible not fun mountains is......wait for it......wait for it....... I get to run up ANOTHER really really big mountain (Mount Washington) next year. On the bright side, Mount Washington is a road race and it is run on pavement and you only have to run up, not down. It IS however 7.6 miles up the highest mountain on the East Coast with the most ridiculous weather in the world possible at the top. I've done it before in 2013 and I had a blast, but back then I just entered through the lottery. This year I thought it would be "fun" to try earning a bypass and completing the Mountain Goat series. It was NOT fun.

The first race I did was in Vermont in May. It was my birthday weekend and I figured it's only a 10K it should be easy. I was wrong. I mean out of the 6 races I did, this one wasn't the worst one, but it wasn't my favorite either. It was really difficult and the 3rd mile took my almost a half an hour to "run" up.
The second race I did was the following weekend. No rest or recovery for me. At least this one was closer to home in Massachusetts AND part of the course was on paved roads. I felt great and loved it. It was another 10K up and back down Wachusett Mountain. It was difficult and there was a HUGE elevation gain, but there was more down than up and that made me happy (until the next day when I had to run a half marathon and my quads didn't want to).
I had two weeks to recover before my next race, Pack Monadnock 10 miler. This one was my favorite. It was the longest of all the races, but the entire thing was on paved roads (well, a little section was dirt roads, but they were well maintained dirt roads and not trails). I might have been one of the slowest finishers in the race but I felt really good and ran strong by my standards. It was a really warm day and I didn't realize until after the race that they had offered an early start for slower runners. The last mile or so of the course was ridiculously steep, but I was smiling and dancing the whole way up the hill.
Race #4 was Loon Mountain and I had heard many of the runners talk about it in the weeks leading up to it and I looked at the elevation profile and knew it would be awful, but I did a really stupid thing that made it even more awful for myself. Two days before the race I decided it would be fun to go on a 9 mile hike over the Franconia Ridge basically up one 4000+ft mountain over another one and then down a third 4000+ft mountain. I could barely walk the morning of the Loon Mountain race, never mind 'run' up a 40% grade hill. It hurt A LOT. 

Race #5 looked like it would be easy in comparison to Loon Mountain, but NO, it was NOT. Cranmore Hill Climb Challenge was indeed a challenge. Unlike Loon where you run up a really steep section of the mountain towards the end of the race, Cranmore was a two loop course up a very steep hill TWICE. And to make things worse, I ran a half marathon the day before in 90 degree heat AND there was a swarm of bees attacking me the entire time I tried to "run" up the damn hill. I wasted so much energy trying to swat the bees away and I was so tired and sore to begin with I wanted to cry or punch someone.
There was a huge break between that race and my 6th and final race, but only because I had other non-goat races already planned for the days they had other options available. This past weekend was the last race, the Bretton Woods Fell race. And I learned that "fell racing" is a thing and it basically means choose your own adventure. They do not mark the course, they only define certain checkpoints that you have to go through and the order in which you must reach those checkpoints. They had a long and short course, I had signed up for the long course before I realized I hate trail running, then switched to the short course the week before the race. Thank GOD I did. The short course was 4 miles and it took me over an hour to complete it. BUT I DID IT! I am now considered a "mountain goat" and I have earned entry into next year's Mount Washington Road Race. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

If this is a dream, I don't want to wake up.

I'm not sure how I got to be so lucky, and I am really not trying to brag, but I have to pinch myself sometimes because I cannot believe how amazing my life is, it really is a dream. I don't know when I realized it or when the turning point was in my life. Somewhere along the way I learned or decided that no matter what the situation is, if you focus on the positive things and all the good in your life vs. what you think you are missing or the things that don't work out the way you planned, it leads to a ridiculously happy life and that positive energy you send out to the World comes right back at you ten fold.

People often ask me "why do you do so many crazy things?" or they mention "I wish I could do all the fun stuff you do" or they ask "how do you find so many fun things to do?" The answer is always the same. I have a list. When I see something or think of something I'd like to try, I write it down on the list. That second part is key. WRITE IT DOWN. So many times people think or say, "I'd love to do 'X' or try 'Y' or go to 'Z'" but then life goes on and they forget about it and get into the routine of daily living and no one ever does X,Y,Z. Well, when you have a list that is written down and you are bored or stuck in a rut or just have a day off, you look at the list and think what can I do today? Easy as that.

Not everything has to be exotic or far away or really difficult or time consuming. It can be as simple as changing the paint color in a room in your house or donating to charity or signing up for your first road race or going to a local museum that you always wanted to go to but just never do because it's so close and you can go anytime (but let's be honest we never do). I have decided there is a simple equation for adding adventure to your life - If you have the MEANS (money) + The ABILITY (physically capable) + the OPPORTUNITY (the time is right and the thing you want to do can be done at that time) = DO IT! Do not wait for another day or someday or sometime. Just do the things you want to do (within reason and legal boundaries of course).

Following this simple equation and constantly updating my list (which now has 448 things on it that I want to do, and 133 of them already done), I am having the time of my life and truly LIVING. So don't call it a bucket list, I am not dying, I am not kicking the bucket, I am living my life to the absolute fullest full possible and squeezing every ounce of awesome out of every single moment and opportunity that comes along. Life is like those choose your own adventure books we all read as kids, you can choose to turn the page and continue on with your daily routine or you can jump ahead to a new chapter and discover a whole new world is out there waiting for you.

Just a few of the most recent adventures I have gone on:



Thursday, August 13, 2015

Summer of non-running fun continues

I was just catching up with a friend yesterday and reviewing all the things I have been up to this summer and it occurred to me that this has been the "Summer of non-running fun". Don't get me wrong there still has been a few races and running, but it's been kind of crazy. Almost every single weekend from May thru mid-September has had or does have something scheduled.
It started out with some running in May, just another little 26.2 mile run through Cincinnati, followed by a pub run, and the first of many mountain goat series races, then the Run to Remember half marathon. The first non-running fun was on my birthday weekend, I went to check out the 'Lawn on D' an open space in the city with live music, food trucks, art installations, and rotating other events.
June was also jam-packed with fun. I went to my very first Scooper Bowl, a local fundraiser for cancer research that serves up all you can eat ice cream for a $10 donation. I ran another mountain race up Pack Monadnock. Went on a little adventure to Vermont and scored some Heady Topper (IPA beer) and stopped at the Ben and Jerry's factory for a tour and a mini Vermonster. Finally got around to running the Freedom Trail in Boston. Then I flew a plane! Still can't believe that happened. Ran another half marathon. Went to a good friend's wedding up in NH. Saw the Barenaked Ladies play on the Maine State Pier in Portland and then celebrated my brother's 40th birthday.
July, with an extra week to work with and a holiday thrown in, I managed to do even more fun stuff. I went sailing in Boston harbor. I hiked the Franconia Ridge trail in NH. Ran 2 more mountain goat races and a half marathon. I went to the Lawn on D for a special exhibit of giant inflated bunny rabbits. I took a Stand Up Paddle board lesson. Went to a minor league baseball game in Lowell and partied at Folkfest. And I went to the Boston Tea Party museum.
August is not even half way over and I feel like I have accomplished a lot. I ran the Beach to Beacon 10K, a very popular race in Maine that sold out in a matter of minutes. I rode on the green way carousel in Boston as part of 'free fun Fridays' in the city. I learned how to play polo (yes, like on horses). Went out for Ethiopian food with a friend that had never tried it. Then most recently, I rappelled down an 80ft waterfall in NH in the pouring rain. I have to keep looking at the pictures and video because it was so unreal and so much fun I seriously can't believe I did it and I kind of want to do it again.
I thought skydiving was pretty awesome and would be tough to top, but I think the combo of all the crazy things I have done this summer might come close. Summer is almost over (only 25 days until Labor Day) and I am trying to squish just a few more adventures in. I have a triathlon this weekend that I am totally not ready for, haven't been on my bike since the same race last year. Then I am doing a wine tasting on a sail boat next week. Either this weekend or next I need to use a Groupon for a high ropes obstacle course at a local ski mountain. Then I am going up to Portland for a weekend of fun. Then Labor Day weekend I fly to California for the Dumbo Double challenge and my Coast to Coast medal from Disney. Somehow mixed in with all of this I need to train for Niagara Falls. I've done a few 10 milers, but need to be getting up into the 16-18 mile range soon.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Invasion of the funsuckers

Over the past few years I have noticed a change in my environment and my interactions with many of my running friends. It is getting difficult if not impossible to find time to see my friends that I used to see quite regularly. Some friends moved out of the neighborhood to larger homes far away, some friends have become very busy and/or unavailable. No one can book fun race vacations anymore. In 2014, I actually went to Disney World by myself because all the people that used to go and said they wanted to go bailed.

There is one common denominator to all of these issues – my friends all had babies (which I now call “funsuckers” because they instantly suck the fun out of a person’s life, and by association they suck a little fun out of my life). Friends can’t do that race unless they allow strollers, can’t run that day because they don’t have a babysitter, can’t have an adult conversation at dinner because the funsucker is cranky/tired/hungry/needs a diaper change, can’t even meet for drinks to talk about how much fun it used to be to run together because they have to put the funsucker to bed promptly at too-effing-early-o-clock.
I don’t even feel like I have anything in common with my friends that have had funsuckers. I don’t care about breast feeding or formula or rice cereal or day care drama or potty training or how many words they know or the cutest little outfits and activities they have. I want to talk about restaurants and recipes and books and movies and adventures and races in far off places and even common running topics like “going” or “not going” pre-race or God forbid having to “go” in the middle of a race.

I get it that I am at the age where that is the normal thing for people to do. I am happy for my friends and their adorable families. I DO love that all my friends are awesome, smart, healthy, active types that will raise awesome, smart, healthy, active kids. And I know it is extremely selfish and maybe a little rude, but I WANT MY FRIENDS BACK (without funsuckers). I’ve realized that I have no interest in taking care of a helpless little human copy of half my DNA and the little funsuckers my friends have while they were cute at first kind of really annoy me now. Not because they individually are bad kids or do anything particularly annoying, only for the single fact that they rob me of time with my friends.  
I’ve tried to branch out and meet some new running friends, but the only runners without funsuckers are 20-somethings without my 30-something metabolism that can eat and drink whatever they want, maintain a lean body and clock in an 8 minute mile easily and say “ugh, I feel so slow.” Meanwhile I’m over here swearing at my scale and giving it the middle finger trying to remember what the eff did I eat this week that made me gain 2 more pounds and why do all my runs feel like I am sprinting up a hill with a sled full of sand bags tied to my waist. When I think I actually ran pretty fast and I look down at my Garmin and it says the last mile was 12:09, I just stare in disbelief. It has to be broken.

I’m in a funk lately and I think that makes me even more irritated by the funsuckers and absence of my old routine with my running friends. It’s not their fault. Several things contributed to it. Getting hit by a car on my bike made me stop riding and running more which I think kind of burnt me out and made me not want to run as much, then I got laid off from my job last summer, took a while to find a new job, and the new job is not as close to good running routes, and we had the worst winter ever which made it all too easy to slip back into my couch potato Fatty McFatterson habits. I know these are all just excuses and I have no one to blame but myself. I am struggling to find my groove again and I need to find the motivation I initially had to do it all on my own and get back to a place and a pace where I feel comfortable. I need to get back on my bike and I need to increase my mid-week mileage and I need to cut back on beers and burgers and get back on track. I know what needs to happen and I know I CAN do it because I did it before, but it has been really hard lately. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Where does the time go?

I officially started training for my next marathon this past weekend. Just a nice easy 8 miles although it was embarrassingly slow and sluggish. I got it done. 16 weeks to train for the Niagara Falls International marathon. It took me forever to decide on a fall race and I was torn between a few different races, but I think this one will be really cool. I mean I get to run across the border into Canada and finish near the Canadian side of the falls.
I have been kind of slacking as far as running goes and I blame that for my slow sluggish pace and the 10lbs. I've probably put on. I'm lucky if I get 20 miles in each week. I need to get back up to the 40-50 miles a week range to get my speed and weight back to where I want it to be. But I am having an amazing summer and living life to the fullest doesn't even begin to capture the amount of awesome I am cramming into every moment.

Quick recap of the things I have done since I last posted: 3 more mountain goat races (Pack Monadnock, Loon, Cranmore) each one a little tougher than the previous one, one of them included a 48% grade hill. 2 half marathons. Ran the Freedom trail in Boston, Flew a plane, saw the Barenaked Ladies, went sailing for the first time, hiked the Franconia ridge trail across three 4000+ footers solo, and tried stand up paddleboarding. Oh and I ate frog legs and crickets. Here are a few highlights:

Up next on my "to-do" list: Run Beach to Beacon 10K, learn to play Polo, go waterfall rappelling, do a high ropes course, and maybe a few other things thrown in there too.