Tag Archives: trail running


It’s still winter outside, despite what the calendar says, and running outside has been difficult. Normally, I don’t mind running in cold weather, but after a bout with the flu and a subsequent pulmonary infection, I’ve found that running when temperatures are below freezing just HURTS. I wheeze. My nostrils and throat close up. I gasp for air when I go above even a slow jogging pace.

Consequently, the treadmill has become my friend, even for the longer and slower runs. Last week, my ankle had improved to the point that I thought I’d try 15 miles. The longest I’d run so far was 10 miles, and I was starting to wonder if I’d be ready for my trail marathon in May. I wasn’t in panic mode yet, but I needed a good run to boost my confidence, something to show me that I was indeed making progress toward my races in May and June. Slow mileage progression is essential, but there comes a point when darn it! I need to test my limits!

At first, the weather promised to be mild enough – upper 30s – but by Friday morning, the temperature dropped to the 20s with a windchill around 10. Then the snow started. Scratch the outdoor run…

I’ve been panting to get outside, but there was nothing for it, I couldn’t go out. It was a massive disappointment. I needed that run though, so…treadmill.


Choose a string of trail videos, get my water and nutrition set up, then hop on.

No layers, no wind. It feels like cheating.

My races are going to (hopefully) be in warm weather anyway.

I set the program to run a hilly course, going from levels 2 through 9. Obviously, treadmill hills aren’t the same as actual trail hills, but at least I could do some climbing. As the snow came down outside my window and the plows rolled down the road, I stepped on the mill and pressed “go.”

Fours hours later, I stepped off, having run 20 miles and climbed 2499 feet. BAM! Confidence boosted!

Yes, it was boring. Consider it mental testing.

Yes, it was warm in the room. The races will be warm anyway (maybe).

But I finished 20 miles.


I couldn’t copy the technical trails I will need to run, but at least I could gauge my pace and heart rate and test myself at different intervals. I figured out how much water I’ll be likely to need and how many calories I’ll require to maintain my effort. These details are important for trail runs and ultras, and now I can better envision how my races might play out on those days.

I won’t be fast, but I know I can finish the first race at least, and I am confident I’ll have a good shot at the second. I’ve come a long way since that teary-eyed session at the doctor’s office in December, wondering if I’d be able to run at all. 20 miles was a milestone for me, and while these next races are my focus, I have my autumn goals in my sights as well…

It’s so good to be back.


Snot Rockets, or Be Kind and Look Behind!

Winter runners, you know what I’m talking about – the air is cold, you’re trying to breathe through your nose, and you begin to experience that incessant drip, drip that annoys the crap out of you and everyone else (if there is anyone else) because of the constant SNIFF! SNIFF! you have to do to keep it in. What’s a runner to do?

Personally, I hold out as long as I can, sniffing until I can’t stand any more. I then use my glove or sleeve to wipe my nose if I have to, but sometimes, sometimes I just have to clear it all away. I do have tissues in my pack but they’re for…uh…other reasons. I also am not going to stop to fish them out over and over again.

Snot rockets. They are the only other alternative.

Many athletes, including cyclists and runners, do them. I really don’t like them, however, for a couple reasons: one , they aren’t pretty. I don’t care who does them; two, if done improperly, they can come back to haunt you – if you catch my drift – or worse yet, haunt somebody else.

Unfortunately, I’ve been that “somebody else” too many times!

It’s disgusting.

So, if you have to launch them, consider these pointers before you strike:

  • MOST IMPORTANTLY, make sure NO ONE is around you! Winter running often means windy running, and that mucus can carry. If you gotta blow, don’t do it when someone is next to or even behind you;
  • Point your head down and to the side, away from your body, to avoid hitting yourself;
  • Usually, for me, the need to blow occurs only on one side. To increase trajectory force, I close the opposing nostril by pressing it with a finger, taking a breath, and blowing hard to the side of the trail.

That’s it. Not too difficult. Unless the wind is so strong it’s ripping the snot right out of you before you can even blow. In that case, the snot rocket is futile. Trust me, I’ve tried. Better to just let it go!

If you need more coaching, here are a couple of articles you can use:


http://talk.brooksrunning.com/blog/2016/04/12/running-101-master-the-snot-rocket/ (this one also talks about proper spitting technique)

Sorry, no videos. They were all too gross for me.

Happy running!

The Disease, the Parasite, of Doubt

(and how I beat it, this time)

It has been a l-o-n-g hiatus from running for me because of an injury with complications. After a tough, teary-eyed session with my physical therapist last week, however, I think l’ve turned a corner. You may think it’s hokey, but that emotional release during treatment might have been just what my body needed to finally let go of the injury and truly begin to heal. Today, I ran my first mile in over two months. It was slow, deliberately so, and I walked another 1.8 miles after that, but it felt sooooo good to be moving in a way that is much a part of who and what I am.

The next steps are going to require a lot of patience. I am anxious to start running and training, as I have some big plans for next year. First, I plan to run a difficult trail marathon in May. A month later, I will run a tough forty-miler in the same gorge as the marathon, a new race that already has a reputation for being a killer event. After that, I have a solo fifty-miler planned in the fall. For someone who doesn’t race much, this is a packed schedule.

Following some good advice from a recent podcast, I’ve chosen the trail marathon to be my A race. That leaves me a tad over four months of training, so long as my ankle recovers properly. For now, I will just keep rehabbing and rebuilding my base, focusing on heart rate recovery and bringing my body back into balance.

One important take-away I’ve learned from working with my therapist is that my notions of what is and isn’t right for my body are correct, and I should stop doubting myself. I was beginning to see myself as a failure because I wasn’t getting “back out there” fast enough. I wasn’t taping up and gritting through pain to complete a heavy session, and it seemed like everything I’d been reading was saying I should. Or, at least, that I should have been out there much earlier than what my body seemed to be telling me.

This sort of thing had me asking myself, “Am I really able to be this kind of athlete?” I couldn’t help but feel that I had no right to set such expectations for myself. Maybe I am not a true ultra trail runner. Maybe I’m not good for anything beyond mediocre. Perhaps I’ve just been kidding myself, thinking I had the ability within me to do amazing stuff.


Even as I write, those lines above make me feel sick and knotted inside, like I’ve allowed a parasite or disease to enter my body. I’ve felt this disease before. It’s the same one that tried to convince me I’d never succeed at college, or learn a language, or be worthy of wonderful relationships. It’s the sickly look from others who judged me even before I had a chance to try, like the high school English teacher who once said to me, “I know you,” in a way that meant, “I know what a good-for-nothing you are; you won’t succeed and you can’t be trusted.”

Well, I am not going to let that disease take hold. I am not going to let that parasite in.

I believe that is why I cried last week. I struggled with that same doubt, and I made it through, this time.

There will be more times like it, I’m sure, but for now, I am looking forward, believing I can do some amazing things.

I give myself permission to go for it.

I Don’t Fit the Box

Running, I am slow. After moving to a new region, I find I am slower still. New surroundings, more road, still adjusting.

I miss my home.

To be sure, there are wonderful things about this move.

I have my family, including two dogs, for whom this move was made. I have neighbors who all seem to be terrific people. I once again have a yard to putter around in. The area around my home is also very pretty.


There is no wild.

My spaces are limited; tamed trails trapped by property and roadways, with nothing to fear except humans, whom I rarely encountered before. Oddly, I fear them more than wild dogs, rock slides, and boar (can you blame me?).

Without the element of wild, there’s a beauty missing.

I don’t feel I belong here. I am trying but I do not yet feel connected.

The same goes for my professional life.

There, in my former home, I was connected. It was hard work: intellectually, emotionally, and sometimes even physically challenging. 

My life’s history had meaning there. People saw it and connected.

Here, people see the history and don’t connect. They can’t fit me into the right boxes.

Overqualified here, title not quite right there. Certified, yes, but not exactly in this state’s way or with that exact stamp.

Interviews happen with comments like “Impressive,” and “Well, you certainly have a lot of experience.” These, I have come to realize, are code for “You don’t fit.”

Perhaps the only box I fit is the one labeled “Other”?

Maybe so. Maybe so.

The loss I feel…

The loss, I feel…

…is theirs.

(as you may have guessed, I’ve moved. Same country, new continent. It has not yet been a month.)

Pushing the Boundaries, MY Boundaries

I am not a celebrated runner. Heck, I don’t even race much. Ever since I was a kid, however, running through the woods behind my elementary school and hopping rocks and running paths in parks around suburban Philadelphia, I’ve been a trail runner. Even when years of debilitating migraines kept me from running, my joy was always to be out in the woods or on a prairie path, walking. After turning my life around by changing my lifestyle, In my late thirties I found I was able to run again. What a joy of rediscovery that was, and what an empowering experience to know that my physical ailments did not have to rule my life.

When I started running again, I didn’t have many trails to run. I was living in a foreign country, in the city of Hiroshima, Japan. While in Japan, I was keenly aware of my position as an outsider, a female, and a mother. There were behaviors that I perceived to be the norm for those roles, and running was not one of them. At the time, in that city, women just did not exercise outdoors. Especially women my age, and certainly not foreigners. I was intimidated by custom and my perception of social expectations. I did manage to find some paths to plod, running along the river or in the Shukkeien Garden near my home. When it came to being in real wilderness, however, I never ran, and never went alone. Always, I was with family.

After that came our move to China, and that is where my running became a more serious endeavor. There was a lot of treadmill running at the start, as the city where we lived, Chongqing, is pretty polluted. Still, in a place surrounded by mountains and mist, how could I not explore? I started by running the city, exploring side streets, then running through a sports park where people would watch me through the fences, as you had to pay 2 yuan to get in. Next came Pipa Shan, a small peak right in the middle of the city, filled with old men playing their erhus or playing chess while their birds sang in cages, and grandmothers walking with their grand babies or carrying their washing or whatever they shopped for on their backs. There were the trails in the park behind the university I attended, where I met a family who showed me how to catch, fry and eat cicadas, and another small mountain as well, a supposed botanical park, on the top of which was a small makeshift village. I would run through that and people would laugh and smile and point, commenting loudly about the white woman running down the dirt street. They were always polite and I loved stopping to chat now and again.

Gradually, as my running expanded, my experiences with people and myself expanded as well. In each new place I visited, each new country I lived, I started with something small, a circle or straight distance that was well-defined, safe, and predictable. Even on vacation, I’d start that way. Walk the city and decide, “okay, tomorrow I’ll just run here,” but then the next day, push the distance even further. Read the maps and envision. Settle the butterflies and decide to go just a few blocks more.

I think back on these times and am filled with wonder at the places my running has taken me. There are other countries and other paths, from cities to mountains to beaches. The wonder is not so much about where I ran, however, as it is that I managed to do it at all. You see, I was not a very outgoing or confident person. I was really quite shy, unsure of myself, and downright afraid of doing something new on my own. I still am in some ways, but I am nowhere near where I used to be. Running changed that for me.

I reminisce because a few weeks ago, a woman posted a question on a Facebook running forum I subscribe to. How do people get over there fear to run trails alone? She wanted to desperately, but couldn’t figure out how to conquer her fear. People posted helpful advice, the most common of which was, “just run.” That’s all fine and dandy, but when you are as timid as I was, and possibly living in a new place, “just run” is advice that doesn’t cut it. The fear paralyzes a person. It paralyzed me. It took a lot of effort and soul searching and thinking about what to do before I could break through the wall that kept me bound.

As I read that woman’s post, I thought about how to answer. What could I tell her about my experience? For me, learning to run alone is about a gradual expansion of boundaries, from running what is close and familiar to taking a new turn one day and sticking with it for a few weeks, then taking another and adding that to the mix. Little by little, the familiar ground widens, and every little trial on that ground helps boost my confidence that I can overcome similar situations in new territory.

When I thought about my answer to her, I realized that this advice did not only reflect my experience on the trail, but it reflected an experience I was having with myself. Each bout of butterflies in my stomach and the subsequent joy that came from setting those butterflies free made me more sure of myself, more confident in my own judgment. I could do this, because I’d proven mile by mile – sometimes just half-mile by half-mile – that I had faced my fear and succeeded before. Surely a half-mile more wouldn’t be so bad. Little by little, the half-mile becomes 2, then 5, then 10. And I discover there is more in me of courage and strength than I realized.

I know there are others who would look at my runs and think they were nothing compared to the amazing adventures and distances they’ve explored. I know there are others who would see the pace of my self-expansion as way too slow for them. For me, however, it’s perfect. Whether it’s my own hometown or one of the many places I’ve been to around the world, taking the time to expand my physical boundaries has helped me to broaden the limits even within myself.

I say to you, woman, go at your pace, add inches or miles, but move forward. You will find so much more than distance.


WHAT A beautiful fall day. I was going to run today in the forest near my home, but a change of plans (happens frequently when one moves to and tries to settle in to a different country) meant a walk through the woods with my dogs instead. The change of plans happened for a reason, I now know, and I’ll explain that later.

I used to be jealous of all of you who get to run in beautiful places and forest trails that go on for miles. For various reasons, I was often limited to the trails in the city parks that dot the landscape in and around my old town in Michigan, USA. I appreciated them, but not enough! I realized that by connecting them with short road sections, I could easily put in 20 miles of terrific running, with short, steep hills, wildlife, and natural beauty.

I live now in Russia, just outside the beltway around Moscow. It is flat – flatter than Michigan! – and, well, populated. Here, very, very few people run, especially women. The only place I have seen women running is at one sports park I sometimes run to and in the little international enclave in which I live. Light joggers, mostly. A fellow, newly-arrived American and I are trying to create a group to run/walk in the morning once a week, but so far, there isn’t any interest.

It has been tough, a little. I don’t have a car. A sweaty female in running shorts on the Metro or the bus attracts a lot of stares. Heck, a female on the road running at all attracts a lot of stares. I’m used to the road stares – I have experienced that before in other places I’ve lived – but the Metro and the bus leave me a bit uncomfortable. For that reason, most of my runs take place in parks that I can, well, run to. They are nice, but they are small, often paved, or the trails are in no way technical. SIGH – I miss my old town!

There is one big potential though: in my backyard, there exists a huge national forest. To enter it, I have to knock on the guard’s door to pass through the gate. I have to have a pass if I want to return the same way. The terrain isn’t hilly or too technical yet, but I have only explored perhaps a 10 mile area so far. I need to move further in.

At first, I was nervous to even try because it is easy to get lost (very!) and there have been incidents of wild dog attacks. I was warned about groups of wanderers making camp there, and certainly, I have come across abandoned encampments during a couple runs. For a time, these warnings had me thinking that my one salvation, this forest called Krasnogorsky, was going to be off limits. Without language skills, without a map (haven’t found one yet), and on my own, the idea of running far in that forest seemed pretty daunting. I was, honestly, quite depressed.

I don’t know when it was exactly – perhaps one evening as I faced the forest from across the lake, soaking in the seemingly endless horizon of beautiful shades of pine and oak green, birch white, and deep shadows – but I just determined to not let the warnings and fears control my need to be free and run. The warnings were from people who are not trail runners, or even runners at all. They don’t know what I have learned so far. It seems to me that many people limit themselves with expressions of fear and danger in order to avoid putting forth energy to move outside their normal lives. I don’t want to be like that. That person, for me, was put to rest a long time ago.

As I’ve been exploring, I find it interesting that my real nervousness does not come from the forest, but from running in the city. I have to run along a few industrial roads to get to some parks. I face a good number of men while I am alone on a trail or pathway, aware that for some cultures, a woman acting outside the normal constructs of femininity is fair game for abuse, as she must obviously be a bit brazen to begin with. These places make me more nervous than being alone in the forest, though I have to admit, I have met some real gentlemen as well, including the man who insisted on fixing my bike pedal when I lost the nut and the pedal fell off. He did not speak a word of English and I could understand only a minute amount of his Russian. His help enabled me to get back home, though, safely.

So, once again, I am learning that my fears are not necessarily justified. Each day, in fact, sees an expansion of the sphere in which I exist. The forest is beautiful and, I hope, one day I’ll be able to run 20 miles there. Meeting people on the street really helps one to get to know the area, even though it also a bit scary at times. Often, it is simply my old self wanting to find ways to hold me back. I won’t let it.

The rewards to my determination are perhaps small to some people, but significant to me. I now believe I can train well enough, so I have signed up for the The Wall Ultramarathon in England next June, a 69 mile race along Hadrian’s Wall. I think the terrain here around Moscow will be perfect for that. I won’t do the marathon, but I will run the 10k portion of the Moscow Peace Marathon on September 21 (road race).

And, even better, though I haven’t found much interest in a running group, I just got a call from a woman who responded to a note I put up on a bulletin board, asking if anyone would be interested in running trails with me. She is a runner from Sweden, I believe. Because my plans had gotten changed, she and I are able to start tomorrow.

My first ever running partner. Yes, I’d say I’m beginning to find my way.

Lessons from Adventuring in a Foreign Forest – Run Report

This summer has been an exhausting whirlwind of move preparation, international visitors, and selling our home. My last days in the U.S. ended with a car crash due to exhaustion (I did not hit anyone, thankfully, and I was fine too), sending my dogs off on their week-long journey to get to our new home, a wedding, and finally, a few days at the beach. I barely had time to process the fact that I was moving to a new country, a new culture and a new language. It didn’t really hit me until I was on the plane and there was no turning back.

One thing I did continue to think about, however, was the area we were moving to. It is in a region outside Moscow, near a national forest named after the provincial town, Krasnogorsk. With all the work I was doing, I had little time to run far, and so I spent a good deal of time looking forward and visualizing what the forest would be like. We were to be living in a gated community and I would have limited access to a car, so I was envisioning and holding the image of the forest as my key to freedom while living in our new compound – uh – home.    

          photo-1         image       photo

Then, the other day, the shoe dropped. I was told by a Muscovite that this particular forest was dangerous. There are encampments of homeless people and packs of wild dogs. He himself had been attacked there once. He suggested that I run in those woods only if I have a partner, for safety.

As I know very few runners who run the way or do or who even like trails, I figured I was screwed. Fat chance I’d be able to get anyone to come with me, I thought. The guards already thought I was crazy when I went for a short run there last week, just after arriving. Now I knew why.

I can’t tell you how sad and disappointed I was. I have been trying to visualize my training for an 80-100k race next year (narrowed the choices but have not completely decided on which one), and images of running each morning from my home through Krasnogorsky were quite vivid. Moreover, it is the only forest area easily accessible without a car. Moscow has many beautiful parks, but they are not wild, and they require a bus, metro, and additional running to get to. How was I going to make this work?

I was pretty deflated for about a day, but deep inside, I knew I was not going to let the threat of dogs or people keep me from the run. Moreover, the forest is huge, and it was likely that the safer area was on the eastern side, where my neighborhood lay. I shouldn’t allow fear to keep me from exploring just a little. I woke this moning with the intention of running just a half hour within the woods, then continuing in the neighborhood. I would stick to main trails, stay as straight as possible, bring my gps watch, and take pictures at any juncture I came across.

Things went well the first 15-20 minutes. The woods were pretty and the terrain a little hillier and more technical on the south part than on the north part, which I had explored last week. I was on high alert for dogs, but did not come across anything except a pig. At least, it looked a bit like a pig and squealed like a pig, but I’m not sure if wild pigs are supposed to be up there. Perhaps it was something else.

When my time was up, I turned back to head home. Despite my attention, I must have missed a turn and found myself quite lost.   A myriad of pathways criss-crossed each other in all directions, and even with the photos, there were too many that looked alike.   I doubled back but could not find the path I needed to take. It was then that I discovered that my awesome (sarcasm intended) gps watch had stopped tracking for some reason, and did not know where I was. So much for European quality – ha!

I had to be back by 10 am.


Fortunately, I had my new phone with me. The iPhone map feature is not all that great, but after a little creative work on the address, I got a general sense of where I wanted to be and began to head towards it. I was wrong at first and so found myself heading in the direction of a different town than mine, but eventually, I realized my mistake and set my steps in a direction to a place on the map that looked more like where I wanted to be. It worked, and 1.5 hours later, I made it back. The guard was worried, he said (or at least, I think that’s what he said), and was happy to see me. I even got home on time.

When I think about it, it wasn’t all that far out or dangerous. I did see encampments – empty ones. I did hear dogs, but not near me. I did see the pig, but he wasn’t the large boar I’ve seen in pictures. He was about half the size. And I’ve encountered them before. I did have pepper spray, and I did have my phone.

Being lost in the forest of a foreign country, however, where one does not yet know the language with the potential for attack by dogs or (worse) people – wow! Were my senses every on high alert! Finding home felt like a major triumph.

I will most definitely go back there, but next time, I will rely on lessons learned and, instead of just technology, I will use a compass and mark my coordinates. I will bring something to mark my turns (there are large “Vs” painted in red, but they mean to point out any number of exits from the woods, not just my particular location), and always, always, always, carry a weapon of some kind. If I can find a partner, that would be even better.

Here’s to adventure and freedom. Despite the risks, these things are so worth it.