Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Series of Fortunate Accidents

Except for that I was riding my bike when the following event happened, this post is a complete diversion from my usual subject matter.

Mary and Raven on the night I bumped into her on the Towpath

I was coming back from a late afternoon ride, an easy spin through the early golds and reds of fall. One of those days when you lose yourself in the moment. Lots of traffic on the trail tonight, but for some reason it didn't bother me. Up ahead, I saw a woman walking a black dog, and as I got closer, I recognized the dog as a Belgian Sheepdog. Not a super-common breed around here, but since I have two of my own, I had to stop to chat.

We made small talk. She introduced me to Raven, who had a grizzly white muzzle,  just like my old dog. In a flash, she and I were kindred spirits, this woman and I, and her dog. She told me that just last night, she had to put down her other dog, an old male who was suffering some health issues. Raven, the dog left behind, was missing her companion.
And that is when I looked into the woman's eyes, and I recognized her immediately.

Some back story first.

This is how I met Mary: Some 15 years ago, my husband and I lived in a condo with ready access to the Hike and Bike trail. I walked my two 'boys' on that trail every day, without fail. At that time, my dogs were young - Tahoe was an 'adolescent', and Durango was still a lanky, floppy puppy.

It was on one of these daily walks that I was mildly alarmed by a sudden eruption from one of the houses whose backyards opened on to the trail. This crazy woman was running at us, waving her arms and yelling something I couldn't quite make out.  Mary, if memory serves, was very pregnant, possibly in a nightgown, and absolutely effusive over my dogs. She told me that she saw us walking every day, and the boys caught her attention and now she had a million questions: what breed were they, were they nice dogs, could we talk, etc. This is how we became acquainted, Mary and I, and we stayed more or less in touch even after we both moved out of that neighborhood. We wanted more space for ourselves and our dogs, Mary needed room for her growing family. And, as it turned out, for her own BSDs. We visited Mary years later, when her son was maybe 5 years old and she had just brought her second BSD into her life. (For some reason, BSDs often come in pairs).

Years went by and we lost touch, but every once in a while her name would pop up in unexpected places. A funeral guest list, for example. A twisting and complex connection with a relative. Weird stuff, and maybe it was a premonitory sign. But we never re-united.

Tough to resist that face, no?

Side story: Aleron Dogs
For some ungodly reason, my husband had/has been following a Belgian Sheepdog breeder on Facebook. Aleron Dogs, out of Youngstown, Ohio, has been chronicling the lives of their recent litter of puppies. We watched them go from blind little piglets to fuzzy black puffballs to their latest state of how can anything be so-freaking-cute. We watched them grow into their own personalities. I won't lie: the thought of bringing a third dog into my home crossed my mind. It was a brief moment of insanity, and I'm glad the moment is gone. But that didn't stop me from keeping an eye on which of these puppies found homes, and which were still available. *

The Confluence of Chance:
Why was Mary walking on the towpath at the exact same time I was riding it? Why was it that I bumped into her not one day after she had to put her older dog down?  How was it that I was closely following Aleron and knew that at that moment they were actively seeking homes for their puppies?

I have to tell you, I don't believe in miracles, or any sort of cosmic 'plan', for that matter. I absolutely don't believe in a supreme intelligence that guides any direction or creates serendipity. But I like to think that there's something to this story, some vibe that traveled between points of energy and maybe, on a completely unconscious level,  recognized in each other the ability to put a few small pieces together to create something.

Something bigger than the sum of those pieces.
Tuscan, the newest member of Mary's family

(Suggested soundtrack for Mary and Tuscan, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YLTFbtOfmxk)

*Belgian Sheepdog disclaimer: This is NOT a dog you want to own. They are TROUBLE. They are quirky, energetic beyond belief, too smart for their own good (and their owners, mostly), and they are non-stop interaction. This is not a dog you want if you want a dog that is laid-back and easygoing. Like any sheepdog, BSDs need something to do ALL THE TIME. And they are not satisfied doing things by themselves, or even with other dogs in their family. They are amazingly needy and, let's be honest, a total pain in the ass.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Barreling through Kentucky: The 2014 Bourbon Chase

The distillery tour guide poured another splash of amber liquid into my glass, and I was thinking that maybe today I would gain an appreciation for the official state drink of Kentucky.

"This here bourbon is our top of the line, barrel-aged 28 years. It sells for $400 a bottle, if we had any bottles left to sell. But we don't.  So you're lucky to get a taste of it. Swirl it around and take a sniff, but don't drink it yet."

A rich aroma of caramel, and vanilla, and a hint of butterscotch filled my nose. And the unmistakable vapor of turpentine.

"OK, now take a little taste."

I held it in my mouth, as directed, waiting for the flavors to open up and blossom on my tongue. I swallowed, trying not to cringe from the burn. I concentrated on what I was tasting. Sure enough, it was turpentine.

"Pour in just a couple drops of water, now taste it again." (Only filtered, pure, reverse-osmosis water need apply).

Diluted turpentine? Really, though, I couldn't tell a difference. I have to believe that my palate is not cut out for the nuances of bourbon. It's disappointing.

I was in the Heavenhill Tasting Room with half of my Bourbon Chase team, 'The Bourbon Chafes'. There were 10 of us running the 200-mile length of Kentucky's Bourbon Trail, which takes a meandering route from Louisville to Lexington, hitting all the major bourbon distilleries along the way.

We had just come from the start line at the Jim Beam distillery, where our lead runner recently took off for the first leg of this 36-leg journey. The team was divided 5 and 5, in two different vans, and Van 2 AKA Disco Daddy (the one I was in) had some time to kill before we got going in late afternoon. Naturally, we spent that time sampling bourbon. And avoiding the rain.

I'm not sure what I was thinking when I jumped at the chance to join this team. I love to run, and I'm finding that I'm gravitating more to running events that challenge me.  I think I was drawn to the culture around the Bourbon Chase: the silliness, the scenery, the promise of a fun-loving team (any friend of Brenda's, my Summit Freewheeler teammate who invited me along, was sure to be a blast), and, of course, the jaw-dropping Kentucky landscape. And maybe even the bourbon.

What I wasn't ready for were the hills, the rain, the challenge of running in the dark and in the middle of the night and in a sleep-deprived state. I hadn't factored in how my legs would feel having to run multiple legs of the route (including an extra one I hadn't planned on), without a lot of recovery time in between, or what I would do if it rained during every run and now I had no dry clothes to change into. My Bourbon Chase experience reminded me a LOT of my RAAM experience, complete with the whole communal sleeping arrangements (translation: no sleep), living out of a gym bag and in a space-constrained van (although I was allowed to bring a French press, even though I never had a chance to use it), and coordinating hand-offs with team members. The difference here was that I was just a runner in this event, not a crew member or a coordinator. All I had to do was get set down on the road when it was my time to run, and then run until I was told to stop. Super easy.

And run I did. Over leg-scorching hills and twisty 'hollers' opening up onto tobacco fields; along highway shoulders with ankle-deep puddles from the never-ending rain; through pitch darkness with unearthly moo-ing echoing from the abyss; with my only motivation being a tiny red bouncing dot somewhere far in front of me indicating another runner, and presumably I was not lost.

We ran all day and all night for 29 hours and 22 minutes, crossing the drizzly finish line in Lexington and heading straight to the after-party.

I didn't really know my teammates before I signed up. I was immediately struck by the fact that everyone was a gifted athlete and determined to do this thing, but even more than that, everyone had a killer sense of humor and there was an instant rapport that carried us through from start to finish.   Aside from the rare times we were crashed out in Disco Daddy, we were laughing non-stop. My teammates were an interesting mix of ultra runners, trail runners, ultra trail runners, at least 5 runners who claimed that they hated running, at least 3 triathletes, one swimmer, and some non-runners who were there to drive and navigate. Team Captain Andy was a logistics genius, predicting our finishing time to within 17 minutes of our clock time. We all hit it off immediately, and that was the coolest thing about this race. Unlike a lot of competitive events I've done over the years, this one truly felt like we were all there to have a good time, and so we did.

The Bourbon Chase is one of those events that, while I'm really glad to have been a part of it, is a one-and-done kind of ordeal.  Like my appreciation for bourbon, long distance running must be an acquired taste or, more likely, you have to be wired for it.

Back home on Sunday, after a full night's sleep and a steamy hot shower, I decided to give bourbon another chance. I found a recipe for a bourbon drink that included a little lime, a little cranberry, and a splash of simple syrup. It smelled like heaven, and it didn't burn as it kicked my ass into a sweet oblivion.

Maybe I can learn to like this stuff.

Disco-themed costume, or bad taste in running apparel?


This is what a $400 bottle of bourbon looks like
Bourbon tasting

Distilleries dot the hillsides everywhere

The After-Party
Andy, Adrienne, and I at Heavenhill


Big thank you to my teammates: Andy and Adrian, Dawn and Larry, Megan, Eric, Matt, Joe, Brenda and Ryan, Sara, and Cathleen! (And I stole their photos and video, too...)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Tim Marks rides into the 508 Hall of Fame!

Chapeau, my friend!

What are you gonna do next year?


Geiger grade, descent into Reno, NV. Probably as mind-bending for Tim's stellar support crew (driving close enough to keep him in the headlights of the vehicle) as it was for him to descend through the blackness.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Silver State 508

Anyone who has been following my blog knows that this is the 5th year that my friend and second-favorite riding partner, Tim Marks (Pileated Woodpecker) will be competing in the 508 race.

The 508, this year known as the Silver State 508 due to a venue change, begins on Sunday, Oct. 5th in Reno, NV and covers 510 miles and 20,000 feet of elevation.

Successful completion (the cut off is 48 hours) of this race will earn Tim a place in the 508 Hall of Fame.

I know you will do this, Tim, and I will be following you the whole way! I wish I could be there to see you cross that finish line.

Best of luck and only tailwinds to Tim and all my other friends racing the Silver State 508 this weekend: (George 'Red Eyed Vireo' Vargas, Lori 'Hutton's Vireo' Hoechlin, and Patrice 'Blue Frog' Pellerin).

Saturday, September 20, 2014


Cold and crisp morning, start of the Rollfast Gran Fondo, Carmel, IN

Fall seems to have arrived just a bit early this year. I'm not real happy about the morning chill, especially when I have an early workout planned. And now that it's pitch dark at 8 PM, I see an indoor trainer in my near future. Ugh.

On the other hand, I'm ready to shift the balance back or, as Angie says, it's time to hit the reset button.

Tomorrow is the last TT of the year, and I'll be happy when it's over - further motivation to ride as fast as I can! After that, I'll be ready to relax my standards a little, not adhere to such a tight schedule, maybe even embrace some non-compliance/hedonism. The end of another season reminds me that all of us amateurs do this, after all, for fun and fitness.  Emphasis on fun.

So, as much as I hate to see the summer - and the cycling season - end, now is a good time to regroup, refresh, maybe set some new goals for next year. Get a little muddy on a 'cross bike. Drink a bloody mary after a half marathon. Maybe even learn to ride in the snow? (I suspect I won't have to wait too long for that to happen.)

My new snow/fat bike! Yep, it's as much fun as it looks!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Death before DNF

St. Croix River Valley is gorgeous, the perfect place for a long and brutal ride.

As long as Tim Marks continues to compete in the 508 races, I will make sure that I invite myself along on one of his ridiculous training rides.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to tag along with Tim on his Prescott ride, which roughly follows the invitational Hill Fest route with another 25 miles or so tacked on. This was my third attempt, and I was ready.

I say 'attempt' because this is a stupid hard ride, and last year I didn't finish it. In fact, last year I kicked out on Monster #4 (or is it #5? I lose count), at mile 75, when the road sloped up to a brutal 23% slog. Pissed off, I walked to the summit and got back on, but I knew right then I was done. And 5 miles later, in a no-man's land of heat and rolling nothingness, I lost my will to live. Luckily,  uber-support maven Jill was there to hand me a cold beverage and clear out a spot in the back of the SUV for the remaining 40 miles. That was not a good day.

As any competitive and endurance athlete knows, this is a game that requires everyone to show up: lungs, legs, and head. Last year, I brought along the first two, but had zero motivation to complete this ride. Maybe I was smug (I've been known to be smug sometimes), thinking that, after a kickass road season, I was just going to fly through the 125 miles of 9000 feet of climbing. But it wasn't like that at all. It was a test of my will, and I failed it.

There's always some outside inTIMidation on this ride, and that doesn't help, either. I can always count on the regular Marks-isms along the route: "Mile 20! Only 105 more to go", or "Better catch your breath, because it's about to be taken away", or (my favorite): "What's in the forecast? PAIN!"

Tough events require some element of motivation. Luckily for me, I had created my own motivation by not finishing last year, which also earned me a top spot on Tim's list of most memorable training rides. If you know Tim, this is not the place you want to be.

This year, I was itching for that old familiar rivalry, because I was ready for it. It's subtle, and it's more or less friendly, but it's there. It's why we like to ride together, I think - we motivate each other to ride a little stronger, a little faster. It's the reason why I invite myself along on stupid rides like Dante's View or this one.

This time, there would be no quitting. Even with Monster #whatever looming large in my mind, I was determined to get to the top, even if I had to walk, and continue to the end.  I adopted Tim's 'Death Before DNF' mantra, and I meant it.

Somewhere around mile 90, when the road turned to gravel momentarily, I caught myself thinking "I'll never do this again."

But the next week, with Jill posting pictures of Tim and some friends riding the Saturday stupidity once again, it prompted me to text my second favorite person in the world to ride with, with this message:

"Are you cheating on me, Bitch? Don't deny it. I have pictures."

Yep, I'll be back next year, as long as Tim will be.

Tim trying to take off on me. 
This is more like it.
At the summit of one of the Monster climbs
Tim at one of the many summits

This almost makes it look like fun
Rounding third and heading home!

Done! 125 miles of Tim Marks and still smiling!
This is scary. We're even starting to dress alike. 
Maybe there's just a little rivalry...

Until next time...

Monday, August 11, 2014

This time it was mostly luck...

Not that it wasn't a tough race, and not that I didn't give it everything I had. I honestly just didn't have a whole lot, at least not compared to last year. But it was good enough to eke past the 2nd place gal by a blistering 4 seconds.

I'm not gonna write up the details. My coach, Rob Kelley, did that on his blog

All I know is that next year, Chance will have very little to do at this race.

Next up: 126 miles of Tim Marks/pain. I'll let you know which was worse after next Saturday...