Monday, December 1, 2014

Favorite Runs: Yorktown Battlefields (New and Improved)

A few miles south of the tourist mecca of Colonial Williamsburg in southern Virginia, quietly sitting on the banks of the York River, surrounded by the serenity of meadows and swamps and woods, you will find the humble historic burgh of Yorktown.

Most of the time, it appears to be a rather sleepy little town.  There's an artist's gallery or two, and some antique shops tucked among the historic buildings open to tourists and the preserved homes available only for admiring from the outside.  At the bottom of the river bank, the town did some remodeling in the last several years and created a tasteful little cluster of shops and restaurants almost directly beneath the Coleman Bridge.

I think part of the reason that Yorktown remains understated in comparison to Williamsburg is that there is no larger, modern town growing out of the historic nucleus.  Instead, Yorktown is surrounded by natural space.  The battlefields of the Revolutionary War are preserved as a national park, which means lots of forest and meadow and marsh for miles in every direction.  Also dirt paths and gravel-paved tourist roads which are never particularly busy.  Translation: runner's paradise!

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Boston Bucket List

The first summer after I moved to Boston, I drove up to Vermont for a race, and one of my wonderful teammates from the New England Relay let me crash at his apartment.  It was a fateful visit that precipitated the creation of the most discussed decoration on my refrigerator for the next three years: the bucket list.

My friend had taped to his bathroom mirror a bucket list of the things he wanted to do while he lived in Vermont, because he knew he would only be there for a couple years.  He had crossed off the things he'd already accomplished, and left plenty of room to add new items as suggestions and ideas came up.

I immediately started to draft my Boston Bucket list in my head, and put it on paper as soon as I got home after the race.  It changed drastically over the years as I learned about more and more awesome things to do in New England.  Every time friends came over, they would inspect the list to see what new things had been checked off since their last visit, and people were constantly suggesting things that I could add.

I know many people view the bucket list idea as a bit cliche and tired.  But you know why it's a brilliant idea to make one and keep it somewhere very visible?  Because then you actually do all the things you wanted to do!  And when it comes time to move on, you have no regrets.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Cannoli Queen of the North End

A young couple pushing a large stroller paused on the narrow North End sidewalk and peered into the bakery, only to see an impenetrable horde of people filling it from display case to display case.  Clearly the place was popular, although they had never heard of it.  But was it worth the battle to get in and place an order?

A man emerged from the melee and stepped down onto the sidewalk.  He noticed the young couple vacillating, and advised, "Just get one of their cannolis.  Best in the North End."

The young man stared blankly and said, "I don't know what a cannoli is."

(Note: This falls under the category of things you should NEVER SAY when you're in Boston's North End!)

The man, in true Boston fashion, reacted loudly: "What??  You've never had a cannoli?  What are you even doing here?"

People paused.  People stared.  Other people chimed in about the mandatory requirement to try a cannoli.  The young man became quite flustered and embarrassed.

Desperate to divert attention from his cannoli faux pas, the young man glanced around and spotted my friend and I standing in the street.  We must have looked friendly, or pitying, or nonjudgmental, because he zeroed in and asked us where they could just get a slice of pizza.  We sent him back down the street to Ernesto's and continued to wait for our other friends to escape the bakery craziness with our order of--what else?--cannolis.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Mwenzie's Favorite Dog-Friendly Things To Do in Boston

This is Mwenzie.

If you've been reading along for a while, and/or you follow our Instagram, you're well acquainted with Mwenzie.  She's my travel buddy.  She likes adventures too.  I spend more time with her than anyone.  She gets me out of the house in all weather and all moods, which has a way of lifting the worst moods even in the worst weather.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime dog.  You may assume I'm biased because she's mine and I love her, but random strangers regularly vouch for her friendliness and model behavior.  Because she's so awesome, I take her everywhere, which of course makes her more awesome because absolutely nothing fazes her.

Traveling with a dog is challenging because there are so many bad dog owners and unruly dogs that have set a negative standard for the rest of us.  So I'm always ecstatic when I find places that are truly dog-friendly.  Boston, surprisingly, is one of those places.  Let us introduce you to the many ways that your canine friend can also have a great Boston experience!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Mom, I'm Running Away to Join the Circus

The first time I ever tried to do a zip line, I was in high school and acrophobia was not part of my vocabulary.  I'd been on the tops of mountains and ski lifts and tall buildings, crossed bridges, peered over cliffs, flown in planes, and none of it ever bothered me.  Until now, when I was securely seated on the T-bar with my legs over the edge of the platform, completely incapable of shoving myself off into the air.  I looked back over my shoulder and asked, 'Can someone please push me?'  Someone did and I zipped the line and it was fun!  But what the heck!

A few years later, I'm standing on the platform at Kawarau Bridge outside Queenstown.  My ankles are trussed together and I'm peering down at a frothy river over 100 feet below.  I'm a shade nervous, naturally, but then that darn zip line pops into my head and suddenly I'm terrified that someone is going to have to shove me off the platform because experience has proven that I won't be able to make the leap myself.  Of course then I get annoyed and even though it's shaky, my own muscles propel me into open air and I'm bungy jumping in New Zealand.

So I'm obviously not afraid of heights.  I'm not keen on falling from heights, which comes into play sometimes with things like obstacle courses, but that's not a show-stopper, nor is it an unusual fear.  This fear that I've convinced myself I have is specifically fear of flinging myself into space.  Is there a word for that?  There should be.  (Ready, go.)  It's okay when someone else is responsible for the flinging into space, which is why I have zero problems with skydiving.  But YIKES when I have to rely on my own muscles, my brain gets way too involved.

All of these things are zinging around in my head as I'm climbing the stairs to the top level of the trapeze platform, trying to make myself believe the coach's instructions.  Just follow my commands, he says.  Just bend your knees and jump forward, he says.  Point your toes and keep your body tight, he says.  It'll be easy, he says.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Quest to El Mirador de Las Torres

I hadn't even set foot on the trail, and already the odds were stacked against me.

About ten days prior to my arrival in the remote, beautiful Patagonian wilderness of Torres del Paine National Park, I ran a marathon.  My knee was pretty upset about this marathon, and even though its complaining had subsided, I expected it to flare up as soon as I started to hike.

Also, because of a string of uncontrollable circumstances, I arrived at the trailhead around one o'clock in the afternoon.  The only map in my possession was the one provided at the entrance to the park, which naturally provided excruciating detail of the walking paths (not).  I wasn't entirely sure how long the hike was supposed to take, since ten kilometers means a lot of different things when you're in the mountains.  And I definitely needed to be back to civilization before dark.

Also, it wasn't exactly a gorgeous sunny clear spring day.  It was crazy windy.  There were ominous grey clouds sitting back on the mountains.  The odds were good that even IF I made it to the end, there would be no view whatsoever.

But, this was my only opportunity.  Foul weather had forced a change to my plans to take a liesurely week and hike the path known as the W.  Now I had only 24 hours in Torres del Paine and not a moment more.  And I absolutely could not miss my bus in the morning, which meant it was now or never to find the famous stone towers for which the park is named.  Weather be damned.  Lack of directions be damned.  Knee be damned.  At least I'd remembered a water bottle!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The CZ Book Club: 2014 Part I

The first time someone ever made fun of me because I love to read, I was in preschool.  I was maybe four years old?  Five?  I remember the taunt because I actually thought that it was directed at how I was wearing my hair that day (side ponytail of course, all the rage in the 80s), and I could not for the life of me figure out the relationship between my stylin' hairdo and my propensity for reading.  Sorry, preschool bully, you didn't make me cry, but you sure did confuse me!

Fast forward 25 years.  I'm wandering around Europe with my best friend and her cousin for a few months, getting my first taste of toting a backpack and sleeping in hostels.  In addition to my trusty red backpack, I carried a second, smaller messenger bag.  It was the library.  No joke, that poor cloth bag contained nothing but books that we picked up along the way.  When we finished one, we'd swap it out for something new from a hostel bookshelf.

Although I've been reading since before I can remember, that summer of backpacking was the first time I really branched out from my usual categories of books-assigned-for-English-class and books about horses.  Hostel bookshelves contain very eclectic reading selections, and it was really fun to grab something I'd never heard of before and dive in just for the fun of it.  We've all heard the saying about judging a book by its cover, but you should actually try it some time.  Grab one that strikes you simply because of its title, or the pretty cover art, or because its the perfect size to hold in your hands, and you may be remarkably pleasantly surprised!

Enter 2014.  Still reading like crazy.  Still getting teased about it, but usually in a good-natured way these days.  Still carrying books when I travel and leaving them along the way as I finish.  In addition to heaps of Nietzsche reading for class, here are a handful of the other books I've enjoyed in the first half of this year.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Montreal in One Word is Not What You Might Expect

Have you ever noticed that when someone tries to get you to focus your mind on one thing, it immediately shoots off in a million directions?  They ask you to spit out the first thing that pops into your head, but your mind has ten things combating for dominance and as a result, you're completely tongue-tied.

What one word would you use to describe yourself?  Brain: What time of day is it?  How much sleep did I get?  Where am I right now?  What am I doing?  Who else is around me?  Am I hungry?  All of these things majorly impact the best adjective for the moment!

What's the best country to visit?  Brain: What type of trip are we talking about?  Does weather matter?  Are language barriers an issue?  Are you okay with a little dirt?  Do you want to see animals or landscapes or people or buildings?  Every country marks its place on my heart for its own reasons.

I am not a fan of reducing people or places or things or experiences to single dimensions and solitary words.  So to avoid being hypocritical about something that bugs me so much, I've waited a few months to write this post.  Since I've written a couple other posts about Montreal which include music events and touristy fun, I now feel that it's okay for me to admit that there is indeed miraculously a single thing that pops into my head when someone mentions Montreal.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

I Scream, You Scream, Boston Screams for Ice Cream!

One of my favorite things about Boston is the local flavor.  Sure, we've still got McDonalds and Starbucks for the die-hards, but it is so EASY to avoid those national chains and find local favorites instead!  This goes for everything from groceries to beer to coffee shops to ice cream.  You don't necessarily know what to expect from the local places, since they don't have clones all across the country, but that's part of the fun.  And they're always delicious!

For example, Boston has Cold Stone and Dairy Queen.  Boston has Ben and Jerry's (which still gets an honorary 'local' mention since it's a New England original).  And then Boston has J.P. Licks and Emack & Bolio's.

Never heard of either?  Ever spent any time in New England?  Or Boston, specifically?  Well, that explains it!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Halfway: A Hike and a Pit Stop

I did not know I was on a quest.  But it would seem that I am.  And it only took 18 months for me to notice.  This quest that I didn't undertake consciously is to haul myself up the tallest mountain of each of the six states of New England before the fall of 2014.

New Hampshire's Mount Washington: check.

Vermont's Mount Mansfield: check.

On a chilly spring day, Jason (remember him from this adventure?) and I piled into the car with Mwenzie and set out to conquer Connecticut and Rhode Island.  We knew there would still be snow and ice in the mountains, since winter put up a heck of a fight this year and spring's hold on April was extremely tenuous, but the peaks of Connecticut and Rhode Island aren't exactly daunting.  Frankly, even 'hill' is a generous description for Rhode Island's summit!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Sporting Chaos in Boston

Complete strangers embrace and jump up and down and laugh together.  Someone clutching a pint glass sends beer showers over the roiling crowd.  Voices raise to a deafening crescendo in a unified chant.  Car horns blare persistently into the early hours of morning.  Flares glow eerily red and emit clouds of smoke among the gathered crowds, providing a dramatic background to a scene already exploding with emotion.

Protest?  Demonstration?  Nope.  Celebration.

This is Rome in 2006 when Italy won the World Cup.

This is Boston in 2011 when the Bruins won the Stanley Cup and again in 2013 when the Red Sox won the World Series.

This is any stadium or arena or cafĂ© or bar or park where fans gathered to watch their favorite athletes battle against another team in some epic sporting event and those athletes WON.

In Boston, the celebrations don't end with the final buzzer or the clock hitting zero.  Imagine a pot of boiling water.  It bubbles and spits like crazy until you lower the heat, but even then the surface moves and the steam keeps rising.  The second you turn up the heat, the water instantly boils.  This is Boston, where the post-game excitement simmers until it erupts again for the Rolling Rally.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Montreal in 24 Hours

A few years ago, during a very unusual but amazing time in my life, I became friends with some awesome people.  Later, when life became a bit too usual, I went on a road trip to hang out with some of those awesome people.  And it's all their fault that I started to fall in love with Canada.

They introduced me to some of the highlights of eastern Canada as I worked my way through Ottawa and Quebec and into the Maritimes.  But I glossed right over Montreal; I only spent two hours walking around the Old Port in the rain with the pups during a break on my way from Ottawa to Quebec.  So last January, when I was still wanderlusting after an amazing time in Antarctica and Chile, I took off to spend a bit more time in Montreal.

Montreal is a fun city.  I got completely soaked on my first short experience and it was bitter cold January on my second trip, and I still think its fun!  So without further ado, here are some suggestions if you've only got a day to explore.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

When I Needed a Hug, Antarctica Was There

It's been a rather rough few weeks.  Restless thrashing nights plagued by strange dreams that dissipate upon waking, but leave sticky cobwebs on my consciousness.  Unfulfilling days plagued by a persistent sense of absence so vague that it can't be captured and therefore addressed.

For one thing, I'm in the middle of moving from a place that I really love to a place that I'm really not excited about.  Everything I do is shadowed by the knowledge that it might be the last time.  I'm leaving behind my favorite running trails right when I need them in the middle of marathon training.  I've found the good hangouts and fun bars and secret beaches.  I could lead a wicked foodie tour through the best bakeries judged by cupcake or cannoli.  I have absolutely maximized by time here, and I have zero regrets or nagging feelings that I missed out on things.  I'd be okay with leaving, but I don't want to go where I'm headed.

For another, regardless of years in a city surrounded by an endless array of people, I am still remarkably alone.  I refuse to believe that they are not out there, but despite my best efforts, I never found similar souls here.  Instead, there are good people who occasionally accept an invitation, but rarely extend them.  Good people who are occasionally game for an excursion, but only if it's in the vicinity of their neighborhood.  Good people who grasped my extended hand, but never pulled me in for a hug.

And everyone else disappears.  Former friends march on with their lives, getting married, having children, and the minimal effort of picking up a phone and pressing 'dial' suddenly requires too much time and energy and planning.  Friends who mere months ago were brimming with enthusiasm at the mention of a potential visit suddenly turn their backs and coldly converse in monosyllables.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

It's Raining in Boston ....

.... so what should we do??

Fortunately, there is more to Boston than all the cool historic stuff which requires you to spend a lot of time outside making tracks around the city.  Art!  Animals!  Beer!  Museums!  Chocolate!  Something for everyone!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Songs for the Wandering Soul IV

There's a song that's been at the top of my wanderlust playlist for months now because it ignites that adventure-craving fire in my blood and it has pretty much perfect lyrics to provide inspiration for wrestling with the challenges of embracing change.

It touches on all those insomnia nights when you're exhausted but when your head hits your pillow, your mind suddenly takes off sprinting through ideas and plans and hopes, and your pulse picks up and you're laying in bed silently yelling at your brain to give it a rest because it's late and you would really really love to get some sleep!

(I've been losing sleep dreaming about the things that we could be)

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Favorite Runs: Breakheart Reservation

Spring might have finally settled into New England.  And I probably just jinxed us by typing that sentence, but it's JUNE for crying out loud!  Let's get some sun and warm weather!  Let's go for a run in shorts and a tank instead of piling on the fleeces!

If you're traveling through the Boston area and looking for a nice place for a stroll or run (and swim!), or you live around here and are tired of the Fells and the Charles, I have a new option for you!  It's not exactly downtown, but it's close enough and it's worth the small trek.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Bienvenidos a la Region Magallanes y la Antarctica Chilena!

November 2013 was a huge month for me with the epic adventure to Union Glacier for the Antarctic Ice Marathon.  But one of the bonuses of that trip was that it also provided my first introduction to travels in South America!  It was a brief introduction, thanks to our extended stay in the Great White South (which I still do not regret at all), but I made the most of my limited time!  I'll confess I was a shade nervous to be traveling alone in Chile simply because it was my first solo trip to a wholly unfamiliar place, but I had nothing to worry about.

Monday, May 5, 2014

That Time I Didn't Get Eaten by Bears or Fall Off the Mountain

Three-day weekends are for adventures.  I can sleep and hang out and watch movies on regular weekends; that third day offers a chance to go further afield and explore places that are normally just slightly out of reach.

One year after the most challenging hike of my life (at least up until that point), I found myself facing a three-day weekend with zero plans.  Even worse, my regular adventure buddies had moved on and I was tired of trying to convince new people that my adventures are NOT insane, they are FUN.

So, in typical form (read: on a complete whim), I threw a tent and a sleeping bag in my truck, grabbed the pup, and headed out to see if I could survive my first solo camping trip AND first solo significant hike!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Bird's Eye View of New Hampshire

I wonder who was the first human to observe a creature in flight and wish they too had that amazing gift.  Flight is an obsession we've had for centuries, both in other creatures and for ourselves.  How many animal mash-ups were made even more exotic through the addition of a pair of wings?  (Gryphon!  Hippogriff!  Harpy!)  We even stick wings on regular creatures (Pegasus!) and give them magical powers to defy every law of physics (Rudolph and team!) to make them special.

Then there's the history of attempts to give humans wings.  Think how far we've come!  From the story of Icarus to the wacky efforts by various people to glue feathers on themselves or strap wings to their arms and jump off something tall to man-carrying kites to hot air balloons to gliders to the Wright Brothers to the fighter jets and passenger airlines of today to base jumping and wingsuits.  We are a tenacious and creative lot when it comes to achieving the dream of flying!

I wouldn't say that I've ever been overly obsessed with flying, but I definitely have a penchant for high places because of the amazing views that usually come with them.  This is why I climb mountains, run to the top of monuments and tall buildings to see a city, always try to get a window seat when traveling, jump out of perfectly good airplanes, fling myself headfirst into thin air with a giant rubber band attached to my ankles ... okay, maybe there is a small flight obsession here.  So it's not so crazy that last summer (2013) I took the opportunity to experience a whole new high point and method of flight by HANG GLIDING!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Boston in 24 Hours

Boston is a great city.  It's definitely my favorite city on the east coast of the US.  Might be my favorite city in the whole country.  It's small enough to not be intimidating like the urban jungle of New York or endless sprawl of Washington, D.C., but it's still a proper city full of the requisite hustle and bustle.  There is a never-ending supply of places to eat, history to absorb, concerts to enjoy, and fun things to experience.

But you've only got a day.  Or maybe a weekend.  How do you really see Boston in such a short amount of time?


Friday, March 28, 2014

The Day I Learned How to Surf in a Waterfall

I'm over winter.  I have no problem with cold, and snow is well and good, but now we've just got crusty blackened thrice-melted-and-refrozen ice-snow that is nothing but treacherous.  I miss running on terrain that isn't salty street and sidewalk.  Even the track is still buried!  Also, days of endless sunlight are the best (one reason why Antarctica was awesome!!) and it's about time for the doom and gloom of midwinter darkness to succumb to the lengthening hours of daylight.

Perhaps some time spent focused on happy summer adventures will strengthen spring's arrival!  Brain, it's time to relive last summer's whitewater rafting adventure on the Penobscot with Three Rivers, the Home of Serious Fun.

(Sidebar: Technically, this adventure was supposed to be whitewater rafting AND skydiving in one action-packed weekend.  But reality kicked in and the weather decided to nix the skydiving portion of the trip.  Jump and Raft therefore turned into just raft.)

Considering the myriad ways I've traveled on water, it's a bit odd that my first legit whitewater experience was just last summer.  I've kayaked in Norway, canoed in Virginia, taken an overnight ferry in Italy, jet skied in Maryland, and even rafted down a river in Russia for a week, but there weren't any rapids involved.  This time it was serious whitewater in Maine -- I even had to wear a helmet!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Gallon's Worth of Awesome Pubs in Boston

I am ashamed of myself. 

This blog is over a year old and I haven't written a single post about the best city on America's east coast.  NO not NYC, I'm talking about BOSTON!  With St Patrick's Day looming on the horizon, it's the perfect time to start ... with a tour through some of my favorite pubs around the city.

I wish could tell you exactly how many pubs are in Boston, and the immediately surrounding cities that aren't technically Boston (I'm looking at you, Cambridge and Somerville), but I'm finding this statistic rather elusive.  Suffice it to say, this nightlife scene is extensive and fantastic.  (To provide a baseline, here's a map with a pin for every pub/bar that's been graced by my presence at some time or another.)  Irish pubs dominate, but there are loads of places that don't have a specific affiliation and definitely do not qualify as bars.  Pubs have a different (better) vibe.  I love them.  All of them.

BUT I have narrowed down some favorites so you won't be overwhelmed by the selection!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Songs for the Wandering Soul III

Some of you may have been curious about the quote that currently decorates the heading of this blog.  Or maybe you weren't curious.  Maybe you never even noticed there's a quote.  Surprise?  I'm going to tell you about it anyway.

There's a great little Celtic-influenced band from Virginia that writes heaps of great songs with beautiful music and insightful lyrics.  They've already been featured in Songs for the Wandering Soul, actually!  They have a brilliant tendency to put to music those thoughts and emotions that we wanderers struggle with all the time. 

So about that quote.  Paloma.  It's a beautiful song that expresses that overwhelming urge to move, to get out and experience things that are new and unfamiliar, because that's where you find your happiness.  It sounds so easy, right?

Friday, February 28, 2014

Favorite Runs: Notre Dame Lakes

They say that you will marry the first person with whom you walk around the lakes while holding hands.  Perhaps this is one reason I'm still footloose and fancy free, because I'm pretty sure I never walked around the lakes.  And running and hand-holding don't really go .... well, hand-in-hand!

The University of Notre Dame, tucked away in the otherwise unremarkable northwestern Indiana city of South Bend, has a gorgeous campus.  The beautiful architecture of classroom buildings and dormitories is built around a series of grassy quadrangles criss-crossed by sidewalks that make perfect geometric patterns when seen from the sky.  Garden plots are tucked around statues and other pieces of art scattered across the campus, and there are trees everywhere that reflect the changing of the seasons in a constant riot of color.  And then there are the lakes-- St Joseph's and St Mary's.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Antarctica Still on My Mind

Life is full of the most bizarre surprises.  We all know this, but sometimes we need reaffirmation.  And true to form, that reminder comes from unexpected quarters!!

Here's my current example.  I'm taking a class studying the works of Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher probably most famous for proclaiming that God is dead.  Seems like a somewhat downer topic, eh?  But SURPRISE!  I am finding sprinkled throughout his writing wonderful comments on the beauty of the world around us and overcoming challenges and traveling and embracing life.  For a guy who died very young and was sick for much of that time, this is wholly unexpected!

I would never in a million years have guessed that Nietzsche would have a contribution to the ongoing efforts to put words to the Antarctic experience.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Story of the Keys and the Mountain

Once upon a time, there were four friends. Over the years, these four friends had run various road races and obstacle course races together, and ventured off onto various camping and canoeing adventures together.  So when Sasha came up with the brilliant idea that they should tackle Mount Washington, the tallest peak in in New England and self-proclaimed home of the world's worst weather (for good reason), Jason and Thor immediately agreed.  Once Nicole was kitted out with borrowed boots and a backpack and had been convinced that she wasn't going to die during this undertaking, she was game for the adventure as well.  So on a beautiful October Saturday, four intrepid hikers and two intrepid pups piled into vehicles and with a few detours which do not pertain to this story, they made their way to Dolly Copp Campground in New Hampshire, a few short miles from one of the trailheads for summiting Mount Washington.

Monday, February 3, 2014

For the Runners, and People Who Want to be Runners, and CrossFitters, and Basically Anybody Who Likes to Get Off Their Bum and DO Things

I don't understand my legs.

Exhibit A: rolled the ankle this past fall.  Suffered through two extremely painful runs wondering what the heck was going on, went to the doc and was informed -sprain.  SUPER.  Two weeks of no running, then eased back in cuz there was a marathon in my near future!  Ankle was a persistent issue.  Decided to do a trail half as a training run.  After that, the ankle was right as rain.  Hasn't caused any problems since then.  What did I do, pummel it into submission??

Exhibit B: one year ago, something popped in the left knee.  I couldn't even go up and down stairs for days.  Gave it six weeks of ZERO exercise ... zip, zero, nada, nothing, no bike, no CrossFit, no running, NOTHING.  (It was an awful six weeks, let me tell you.)  Then physical therapy for two months, then back into running, and miraculously no problems!  Granted, the orthopedic surgeon warned me I would not be running any marathons any time soon (as in, until 2014... oopsie, I was already signed up).  So I made sure to start very slow ... didn't run more than a 5k until June.  Marathon training went along okay without irritating with the knees (messed with other joints instead), but by the end of the Ice Marathon, my left knee was hollering quite persistently.  I had to talk it through the last couple miles.  (Yes, I was talking to myself while running through the great white nothing, don't judge)  Did a short run in Chile about 10 days after the marathon and it complained quite a lot.  Didn't run again until a 3.5 mile race the second weekend in December.  Every step hurt, but I finished anyway.  After that short race, the knee hurt every single day.  Stopped running on it.  Biked, went to yoga, and did CrossFit, since those didn't seem to exacerbate it and all help with strengthening.  After three weeks, I couldn't take it anymore.  Went for a short (read: less than 2 kilometer) run on January 1.  Every step hurt.  Same thing on Jan 2.  And Jan 3.  Jan 4.  Jan 5 there was finally no pain during the run, but some twinges when I finished.  Ran Jan 6 (in sleet, that was fun) with no issues.  Have run a minimum of 1 mile every single day of this year thus far, and there is no longer pain during the run or recovery.  Again, what did I do, pummel it into submission??

I have no idea what's going on with these pesky appendages.  But I am so very glad I'm able to run again, even though it's only 1.5 miles at a time.  Was going a bit bonkers.

So!  What's the point here?  To help all of you (runners, walkers, CrossFitters, cyclers, yogis, beginners to all of the above, basically anybody who does anything besides sit on their bum) avoid putting yourself in my annoying situation of being incapacitated for lengthy periods of time.  It really messes with your training rhythm!  And sanity!  Weak hips equal messed up knees (that's my problem).  Weak knees mean weak ankles.  And ankles are just weak in general.  If your core is strong, your hips are strong, and your knees are strong, you can keep doing what you love.  So here are the exercises I've learned from the docs and therapists over the past year or so to help strengthen those weak points.  Although some of them should be used more intensively as injury-recovery, ALL of them should be incorporated with regularity into your training regimen.  Even just once a week will make a difference!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Hi Ho the Cranberry Bog

If you're from the U.S. or Canada, the word 'cranberries' likely brings to mind Thanksgiving dinner and the purple-red jellied mass that comes out of a can and is served with your turkey.  (Looks weird, but still tastes like cranberries if you can get past that texture...)  Or perhaps the first thing that pops into your head is the Ocean Spray commercials with two guys wearing overall waders standing waist-deep in a flood of red and pink berries being silly and trying to convince you to drink some sort of cran-fruit juice.  Or maybe you just think .... Craisins!  Which are way better than raisins, in my opinion.

Cranberries are a big thing in Massachusetts.  It's the second largest producer of cranberries in the U.S., which is saying something since almost all cranberry farming takes place in the U.S. and Canada.  Eastern Massachusetts, especially the area south of Boston towards where the arm of Cape Cod extends off into the Atlantic Ocean, is dotted with cranberry bogs.

For most of the year, the bogs look sort of strange.  They are clear, open spaces in an otherwise very woodsy part of the country.  They typically have ditches bordering them, and the tangled mess of shrubs that are the cranberry plants often have a pinkish hue when viewed from a distance.  You can actually see the pink from the air too; keep your forehead glued to your window next time to you fly in to Logan Airport in Boston!

But then there's harvest season.  Harvest season is awesome.  In autumn, when the berries are ready, the bogs are flooded.  The ripe berries float, so the bogs become liquid swirls of pink, red, and white berries.  Some towns hold cranberry festivals, and many of the berry farmers open their operations to tourists who are curious about the cranberry-harvesting process.  They'll let visitors wander around the bogs and they'll talk through the various pieces of equipment and harvesting process.  But why just watch when you can do?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Three Things I Learned At Igloofest

A five-hour EDM rave.  On a pier.  Outside.  In Montreal.  In January.

I ask you, what about this is not brilliant??

I just happened to be in Montreal for opening weekend of Igloofest 2014.  And although I was traveling alone, I was not about to let that stop me from experiencing the madness!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Three Peaks Challenge

The National Three Peaks Challenge: within the time limit of 24 hours, you must summit the highest mountains in Scotland, England, and Wales.  And that 24 hours includes travel time between peaks.  Who comes up with these crazy ideas?  And why do so many crazy people then jump onboard to make it happen?

Ah well, pot kettle.  I don't come up with the ideas, but I always think they're brilliant.

I don't have a clue where the Three Peaks Challenge came from, and the omniscient Internet is remarkably silent on that account as well.  I first heard about it from someone at some point in England (how's that for vague?).  I wasn't much of a hiker or climber back then, but I will always pounce on any excuse to go to Scotland and I had not yet been to Wales, so I was immediately keen.  And fortunately I usually have one friend in the immediate vicinity with enough screws loose to join me!

We did a bit of research and decided the best route starts with Ben Nevis, then heads south through Scafell to Snowdon.  Ben Nevis is Scotland's tallest mountain, and the tallest in the British Isles, at 1344 meters.  It's near Fort William in the Lochaber area of the Highlands.  It's also the toughest hike, so we figured we'd rather do it when we were fresh.  Then it would be six-ish hours to drive to Scafell Pike, England's tallest peak at 978 meters, in Lakes District National Park.  Scafell is short, but very steep.  Then four hours to Snowdonia National Park in Wales to climb Snowdon, 1085 meters high but the gentlest climb of the three.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Ice Marathon Survival Gear

There is a blizzard raging outside.  I already went for a run in it, so now seems an appropriate time to hunker down with a cup of tea and write about Ice Marathon gear!

I started experimenting with my layers a year ago, and was surprised to discover how very little is required to stay warm and toasty while running in really cold weather.  Of course, I was not training in Antarctica or anywhere with comparable temperatures, so I was still a bit nervous when I received the gear list from Richard.  Running tights and wind pants?  That's it?  Regular trail running shoes??  No freaking way!

But the reality is, yes freaking way.  In fact, I overdressed!  It wasn't super critical since we looped back through camp once and were closely monitored by the staff the entire time, but wet clothes turn into frozen clothes and unless you have a place to warm up and dry off (thank goodness for the shower after the race, and the dining tents!), you're toast.  The guides liked to remind us often: You sweat, you die.