Remembering Where I Came From: The Last Running of the Wildwood Trail.

Today, I went for what will be my last long run on Wildwood Trail, in Portland, OR.  I was having a very nostalgic day, as I ran the path I’ve been frolicking on for the last 2.5 years.  My old friend Wildwood decided to give me one hell of a ride today, which I obviously expected.  I should’ve known that the last one would have to be a doozy.  That damn trail has chewed me up, spit me out, tripped me, whipped me with branches, left me bloody and bruised, and given me the worst conditions I have ever experienced in my life.  Ever.  And yet, I am so enamored by the mere thought of running on it, you’d think there’s something really wrong with me.  And maybe there is!  But getting laid out over and over again has taught me a very important lesson in life:  Always get back on your feet.  As many times as you fall, get back up.

The forecast today said that it might be in the 50’s and sunny.  HAHA!! It’s springtime in Portland, I don’t think so!  I left my house wearing tights, two long sleeves, and a vest just in case it was cold, gloves and my backpack.  It’s a good thing I wore all that, just in case.  It started out cloudy, but things quickly took a turn for the worst.  It started pouring rain, then that turned to sleet which came down with such ferocity that I started looking for an overturned tree just in case I needed to take cover.  That turned to snow, which came down in huge, soft flakes.  One landed on my eye, which I’m sure would’ve been entertaining for a passerby.  Looked like a giant cotton ball was affixed to my eyelid.  Then, as if someone hit a switch, it became blissfully  sunny.  The sun sparkled off every surface due to the sleet and snow on the ground, and I felt a burst of energy.  It stayed sunny for about an hour and a half, then started sleeting and then pouring rain again.  What a ride!  18 miles of crazy weather, one near face plant with an end result of a really cool half-cartwheel, and one epic 10 foot slide down an especially muddy hill.  Ok, maybe it was only 5 feet, but 10 sounds better.

I arrived back to my car sopping wet, muddy, and smiling.  The thing is, that trail has lit a fire within me.  Wildwood was the first trail I ever ran consistently, and it’s made me who I am.  It has created in me a love of running and experiencing the outdoors.  It has showed me that hills are not impassable, but rather a change to be embraced and overcome.  It is because of Wildwood that I now realize my potential to be an ultra runner, and I am stronger of mind and body.  In fact, it was two months ago exactly that I had surgery, and I know that trail running has helped me with recovery.  I was strong before surgery because of the trail, and I know it mentally prepared me for the demons that I faced.  I will always remember the lessons that Wildwood has provided me.

While I was running today, I also thought back to my recent trip to California with Mike and my side of the family.  I had a rare chance to run with my mom and dad, who are my original inspirations.  They are why I run, this I know for sure.  We ran together in Santa Barbara, 4 miles of sunshine.  My mom is still faster than me.  She is crazy!  Off she went, trotting ahead as my dad and I laughed at how we couldn’t keep up.  She recently won Grand Masters in a half marathon, and I really hope I’ll be able to keep up with her one day. Maybe when she’s 80?  My dad never ceases to amaze me either, as he never has any running injuries with as long as he’s been running.  He sure is noisy though, burping and blowing snot rockets every few minutes.  He even blew snot on me twice!  As I rounded a corner today, blasting up a hill, I blew a misguided snot rocket that landed right on top of my foot.  Ah yes, I can see myself in both of them.  A strong, snotty woman.  I won’t forget where I came from: I’m forever a runner because of two strong parents and I’m forever a trail runner because of Wildwood.

I decided today that either the universe was angry with me for leaving Portland or it was showing me a big flashing sign that it’s time to move on.  Again, thinking back to our California trip with my family, I have warm, sunshiny memories of running next to the ocean with my parents, running on the Arroyo Verde trail with Mike, and a feeling of home in Ventura.  I do feel that it’s time to move on, but it sure will be tough to leave my old friend, The Wildwood Trail.  But alas, I know it will always be right here in Portland, OR whenever I need a good ass beating.

Here are a few pics of my family from our California trip:

cute parents!
cute parents!
Mom, dad, Mike and I, Jill and Corey
Mom, dad, Mike and I, Jill and Corey
The ladies
The ladies
Dad and I
Dad and I

Here are some pictures from the Wildwood Trail today:  And yes, this is the same day!

Sunshine!
Sunshine!
The blue diamond, mark of the Wildwood.
The blue diamond, mark of the Wildwood.
SNOW
SNOW
18 miles on the trail with Energy Bits! Don't forget to get 30% off with the code BAREFOOT and www.energybits.com
18 miles on the trail with Energy Bits! Don’t forget to get 30% off with the code BAREFOOT and http://www.energybits.com

Podcast! Interview About Barefoot Running, Ectopic Pregnancy, Energy Bits, and Born to Run 50k!

A couple of weeks ago, I was so lucky to have an interview with Caity McCardell of www.runbarefootgirl.com.  She is the nicest person, and I can’t wait to meet her at the Born to Run 50k in May!  Speaking of Born to Run, Caity interviewed Christopher McDougall, the author of the famed book right before she interviewed me!  Needless to say, I was very flattered to be featured on Caity’s show.  She really has a way of drawing people in, and I get the idea that we will get along very well…  After all, we are going to be pushing each other in a wheelbarrow for the majority of the race we are attempting to run.  We talked about everything from running, to posture, to ectopic pregnancy, to Energy Bits and life in general.  Thanks for a great experience Caity!  Here is a direct link to the interview: Leigh’s Interview

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Meeting Hal Koerner and Rogue Valley Runners

Today, Mike and I began our road trip down to California to do some exploring.  I will be updating once we have covered more on our journey, but for now, a quick post about Ashland!  We left Portland this morning, and it was monsooning.  Sheets of rain were coming down as we were packing up the car.  A sign that we were heading in the right direction?  I think so!  To top things off, we met our neighbor for the first time today, even though he’s lived above us for 2 years.  After talking for a minute, we discovered that he is from… where?  Oh yes, Ventura, CA, the exact location we are headed to.  He said he loved it, and he would move back any day! He even gave us tips about where to go, where to avoid, etc.  As if we haven’t had enough signs from the universe already, there it was today in big, flashing, blinking lights.  I have never felt so right on our path.

Our first stop was in Ashland today, where we had a mandatory stop at Caldera Brewing.  I had an incredibly delicious, beautifully colored Ginger Hibiscus Ale.  Oh my… In combination with my Stinky Hippie sandwich (zucchini, hummus, grilled onions, garlic spread all on sourdough) I was in Ashland Heaven.  I have never been to Ashland before, and I can honestly say that I can’t wait to go back!  It’s Stinky Hippie heaven!  There was even a drum circle in the quaint downtown.  On a Wednesday.  I’d live there, but alas, there is no surf for Mike.  In addition to beer, sandwich and drum circle heaven, this little town is a runner’s dream.  And if you know of one Hal Koerner, an ultrarunner’s dream.

As I was slowly chewing my Stinky Hippie, Mike and I were discussing the fact that Hal Koerner lives in Ashland.  In fact, we knew that Hal actually owns Rogue Valley Runners, a running store in town.  Yes, we are on a first name basis now.  So we strolled along Main Street, a delightful throwback to everything that has ever been delightful.  Sweet smells of incense and sunshine filled the air, and there was a relaxed feeling of anything goes.  And of course, Ashland is known for the Shakespeare Festival, so there are hints of that claim to fame everywhere.

We finally stumbled upon Rogue Valley Runners, the store we were hoping to find.  We went in, not really expecting to see Hal, but who can resist a running store, really?  They have group runs at the store, and there was a trail map on the wall.  Elevation gain is an understatement.  I found a cute shirt, and asked the sweet girl at the register if they had my size.  As she was looking for it, I continued to look around.  I turned around, and hey, there was Hal.  For real? I hesitated for about 3 seconds, and then walked up and said, “Are you Hal?”

As if I didn’t know.  “Yes,” he said nicely, looking around looking slightly embarrassed.  I quickly explained to him that I was a big fan and we wanted to stop by his store, but never expected to actually see him.  What a nice guy!  He told us a little bit about the running around Ashland, explaining that it was either up or down.  Judging by the mountains and hills that towered all around the little downtown, I could see what he was talking about.  No wonder he likes this place to live!  He said that the community group runs that meet at the store routinely turn into 8 miles or more with some pretty huge elevation.  I wouldn’t expect any less from this cute little town, that is seemingly home to a pretty hardcore group of runners.  You’d have to be strong to run around here!  He did admit that he was thinking of having other groups that did shorter distances, but in this town, I’m not sure that anyone would show up.  It kind of seemed like it was go big or go home around these parts.  I love it!  Hal certainly lived up to his reputation of being a hell of a nice guy.  He was very humble, and he has that rugged appearance that shows his experience and miles on the trail.  I hope to run into him at a race one day!  I was giddy for several minutes after our time at the RVR store.  And I got a new shirt! Mike and I are already thinking about taking a detour on the way home and going back to Ashland for some trail running.  But first, we’ll have to ask Rogue Valley Runners where to go….

Tomorrow, adventures in Redding, CA on the trails.  We are planning a nice trail run tomorrow with Mt. Shasta towering over our heads.  Not a bad place to be!

IMG_0827
Hal Koerner and I at Rogue Valley Runners!
The Magic of Ashland
The Magic of Ashland
Caldera Hibiscus Ginger Beer
Caldera Hibiscus Ginger Beer

True or False: Running is a Contact Sport!

If you asked me this question last week when I was face planting and rolling on the concrete, my first response would have been, “TRUE!”  If you asked my friend Brian the same question the night before, he would have said, “TRUE,” as he was also sprawled out.  Unfortunately, both of our falls were in front of people, which means that our pride was probably hurt more than we were.  Or at least mine was!  Trail runners would probably also say, “TRUE” because of all the contact with the ground, trees, bushes, rocks, mud, mountain lions, monsters, and whatever else we encounter on the trail.  Running in Forest Park in the mud in the winter has definitely brought some humor into my life with all of the wipeouts… Luckily, there’s no one else around when it happens though…

I recently started running “longer” distances of up to 5-6 miles.  This is the first I have done this since my surgery on January 21st.  I got off to a bit of a slow start, but I just decided to sign up for the Born to Run ultramarathon in May, to give myself a little kick in the pants.  I sat around for about 5 minutes when I found out about Born to Run, wondering if I should do it.  Then, I realized that the bigger question was, why wouldn’t I do it??  The Born to Run ultramarathon is in Los Olivos, CA, which is only about 1 hour and 15 minutes from Ventura, CA which is where I’m likely going to be living in May.  And think about who is going to be there!!  Christopher McDougall, author of best seller Born to Run, Barefoot Ted from Born to Run, and Caity McCardell of runbarefootgirl.com.  Three legends of the barefoot running world.  Not to mention, the race is directed by Luis Escobar, also appearing in Born to Run.  It looks like one hell of a good time, so even if I can’t run the whole thing, I’ll finish it somehow.  It might take me a while, but at least I’ll have the experience!

When I first started running after my surgery, I was having a great time with shorter distances of 1-2 miles.  When I finally got up to 5-6 miles, I was feeling disconnected, like a thundering elephant running down the street trying to put one foot in front of the other.  I couldn’t figure out what was going on!  It took me two to three runs of this distance to figure it out.  It was during one of these first longer runs when I was really focusing on my form, when I saw a hooded man walking towards me.  I am a creature of habit, so when I’m running at night and I see any kind of figure approaching me, I immediately try to act like I am bigger and badder than whatever it is.  I even read something recently about what rapists look for in potential victims.  The main trait they look for is weakness, someone who avoids eye contact and looks like they won’t put up a fight.  So ladies, this is something to file away for your personal safety.  However, please don’t do what I did in this specific instance.

So, hooded man was walking towards me wearing headphones.  I gave him my best mean mug and looked him straight in the eye as I confidently ran past him.  I probably took two steps past him when my toe hit some imaginary object on the sidewalk and I immediately hit the deck, rolled and sprang back up in hopes that he didn’t see/hear me eat concrete.  Wild-eyed, yet feeling like I had succeeded in my graceful roll back to my feet, I quickly turned around to assess the situation.  Did he hear me?  He was wearing headphones after all, and I didn’t want to give up the impression that I intended to give him with my mean mug and cool confidence.  No chance.  “Holy crap!! Are you ok?” he cried while pulling his headphones off.  He was crouched low to the ground in a wrestler’s stance and frantically looked around in a paranoid state, as if some creature might lay him out on the sidewalk too.

“I’m fine!” I tried to yell cheerfully although I was painfully aware of my knee throbbing. “Sorry…” I muttered to him for some inexplicable reason.  I was so embarrassed, I guess it’s the first thing that came out of my mouth.  Sorry he had to witness my idiocy?   Needless to say, I only made it about 3 miles that night, but I intended to run further.  I guess the combination of the thundering elephant and the throbbing knee didn’t exactly scream longevity.

On the bright side, I finally figured out what the problem was.  It took a couple 5 mile runs over the next few days, but I finally realized that I was having a hard time with longer distances because my deep abdominal muscles were fatiguing. When I had surgery, I had four incisions, all of which went through my deep abdominal muscles.  I had a very difficult time getting out of bed in the beginning, so you can imagine that during any longer runs, I would not be able to maintain my pelvic and abdominal stability.  One aspect of barefoot running that I found out early on, was that the pelvis plays an important role in running form.  In order to maintain proper positioning and stability of the pelvis and thoracic area, a strong transverse abdominis and obliques are important.  This gentle, active, sustained contraction is considered by some to be called abdominal bracing.  We’ve all heard that a strong core is important for runners right?  The transverse abdominis (TrA) is the deepest abdominal muscular layer, whose job is to hold all the innards together, to put it one way. Additionally, the TrA reduces vertical compression in spine, so strengthening exercises for TrA are widely used in rehabilitation for stability of the lumbar spine.  For  runners, strong TrA and obliques connects the pelvis and thoracic area, which is important for power in running and proper alignment.  During running, think about a gentle sustained contraction of the abdominals by bringing your belly button in towards the spine and leading with the pelvis.  Here is a good video for aligning the body during running.  I really don’t know much about Chi Running, but I do like this video.  

In addition to remembering proper running form, a variety of core exercises should be utilized in order to increase strength.  I am a huge advocated for Pilates, and finding a good instructor is vital when beginning a Pilates program.  I also love body weight exercises in the form of planks, stability ball exercises and bridging.  I really probably just need to do an entirely separate post about core and stability exercises.

So, the moral of the story is, be safe when running, and if you want to avoid looking like a thundering elephant, increase your core strength and endurance!  If you’re going to mean mug someone, make sure you know what’s going on on the sidewalk or on the trail to avoid faceplanting.  Here are some battle pictures:

Brian's hands
Brian’s hands
IMG_0814
Brian’s knee

IMG_0813

Leigh's Knees
Leigh’s Knees

Running Free? Or Running Bound? And Earth Runner Huaraches!

The past few days, I’ve been celebrating learning how to run again after about a month off, including surgery on January 21st.  I have had a series of short, barefoot, giddy runs that have left me wondering why some people don’t run.  And on the other hand, I saw a runner that have left me wondering why some do.  During my brief, restorative runs, I have felt so completely free that I theorized that perhaps I am actually becoming more bound.  More bound to the sport, more bound to the love of running, more bound to the earth and its healing qualities, and most importantly, more bound to myself.  

Admittedly, I struggle with resting and allowing my body to heal.  The thing is, while I was sitting around doing all that healing stuff, my mind was lacking its usual outlet, which of course, is running.  All that sitting around can do funny things to a person, and that’s why I decided to head out the door and try to find some peace and quiet for my mind, which was consequently running amok.

So, I started with walking, which I did for a couple of days.  The next day, I walked again with Mike and was able to run four times for about 1 minute each time.  Now, I don’t mean really running exactly, more of a funny little skip/waddle combo that felt just perfect with the healing incisions in my belly.  Not to mention, I looked good, which is what really matters.  A few days later, I was up to my gentle skip/waddle for up to a half mile, which I did a couple of times, and I was starting to resemble a wannabe runner. Two days ago however, I had a real breakthrough.  I put on real running clothes, including my brand new huaraches, courtesy of www.earthrunners.com.  Thank you Earth Runners!   I will do a review of these guys once I’ve had more experience with them, but in the meantime, check out their website and what they have to offer.  I had a great first impression.

 

Earth Runners

 

Anyway, I went out for a run, and decided to start out very slowly, go until it felt right, then go back.  I gently plugged along for about a mile, then decided to turn around.  I took off the Earth Runners because I wanted to really feel the ground, and continued along barefoot.  I was going REALLY slow. And I felt REALLY good. Nothing hurt, and my body felt like it was drinking in the gentle movement and energy I was collecting along the way.  Afterall, that’s what healing is all about! Collecting energy vs. expending energy.  Whether I was barefoot or wearing the Earth Runners, I really felt connected, or bound to my surroundings.  This is good, Earth Runners nailed that part of it!

Last night, I decided to try that same 2 mile jaunt again, with the same choice in footwear.  Half in Earth Runners, half barefoot.  I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was meant to be running and finding happiness again.  Now, I know that recovering from ectopic pregnancy and surgery takes a toll on the whole person.  While the people around me have been instrumental in my recovery, it was as if I was in need of an old friend in the way of running outdoors.  So on I went last night, again slower than heck, but happy.  I was even whistling my new jam, Justin Timberlake’s “Suit and Tie.”  Don’t judge me, you know you love that song!

Anyway, I was whistling and shuffling along when I heard chaos behind me.  What the… I turned around, and I was about to get passed by another runner!  She was stomping towards me, with a look on her face that read, “GET OUT THE WAY!” and she had headphones on, but there wasn’t much point because I could hear her music blasting.  It was something I didn’t recognize, but I remember thinking it was hilarious because it was a bubbly, poppy tune with a fast beat.  It was a funny paradox because the girl attached to the tunes looked like she would sooner die than try to have a bubbly conversation with me.  She actually looked like she might die if she had to take one step around me, so I decided to give her some leeway and hop onto the grass next to the sidewalk so she could charge by. As she passed, I turned and gave her a lopsided smile and a cheerful wave, but she just glared and stampeded on.  I wanted to ask her if she was enjoying herself, but I figured she a) couldn’t hear me b) might kill me and c)I already knew the answer.

So, while I was pondering why some people don’t run, I found my answer through Miss I’d Sooner Die.  Unfortunately, instead of enjoying ourselves, feeling the chill in the air, experiencing the ground beneath our feet, and drinking in our surroundings, we blast music in our ears, lock our feet up, put on an “eat shit” face and try to barrel through a 3 mile run and hope to experience none of it.  Other times, maybe we hop on the treadmill to avoid the elements and put on a TV show and let the machine think for us.  My intent is not to criticize these runners, because I have absolute respect for anyone who is getting out there and putting their health first.  But, I do think that we’ve become a society that is much more bound to technology and distraction than bound to ourselves and relationships.  Relationships involving each other as well as relationships with our surroundings.  I’m guilty of this as well, when I’m networking on social media or sitting here on this blog instead of talking with my husband. But taking the time to escape those vices is valuable, and well worth the time.

Running has to be one of the purest forms of exercise, because you really don’t need any equipment.  We could even run nude if we weren’t risking getting arrested!  Now that would be entertaining… anyway,what was I talking about?  Oh, right, running is pure.  Yes, so the question is, are you running free?  Or are you running bound?  Both? And if you’re running bound, what are you bound to?  Maybe the best answer is to run free to find yourself bound to your heart, the earth, and your surroundings.

 

 

Goodbye Oregon, Hello California! Happy Trails…

Well, it’s official.  Mike and I gave notice to our wonderful director at work on Friday that we will be setting sail in February.  Since we both work for the same company, we decided it was only fair to give a 2 month notice in order to give them plenty of time to fill the positions.  It’s a scary thing, really, when you love a place and you’re comfortable there to find the courage to spread your wings. I was feeling that 12-21-12 was going to be the beginning of a new era, and so it is.  It just so happens to be exactly 2 months from when we are planning for our last day.

2.5 years ago, Oregon was supposed to be a temporary stop on our way to California.  This place is something special, I guess!  I said a long time ago, this city has soul, and I think it always will.  Mike and I have really grown here, both individually and as a couple.  I found a love for trail running, barefoot running, racing, and eatin’ greens.  Mike also found a love for trail running, triathloning (is that a word?) and snowboarding.  And all of the sudden, we have incredible friends and relationships that we didn’t think we’d find here.  All of the sudden, it feels like home.  And now, we’re leaving.  Why?  I’m glad you asked.

Ever since I met Mike, he’s been California dreamin’.  Mike is more at home in the water than most people, and definitely more so than anyone I’ve met.  He lives for the ocean, it gives him energy and then quiets him.  This is important, because otherwise, he has so much energy he bounces all over the house and he’s difficult to deal with.  And all this after he’s run for 10 miles, completed a Suffer Fest video on the bike trainer, and lifted weights.  I’m exhausted just watching him. The only thing that seems to wear him out is surfing, and so we’ve come to the conclusion that we need to live basically on the coast.  But, I will go crazy if I’m taken away from trails for running, so we found the seemingly perfect place: Ventura County, CA.

Ok, ok, so we haven’t been there yet.  We’ve been on a trip to Northern California and Southern California, but never anywhere Central.  In March, we are going to meet up with the family to check out Ventura County and of course, Santa Barbara for vacation.  There’s supposedly good surf there, and supposedly good trails nearby to explore.  I’ve also heard there’s mountain lions… I will crap my pants if I see a mountain lion.  Please, someone tell me they’re just a myth?  Like sharks, right?  Sharks are the main reason I don’t surf more!

So the world didn’t end Friday, but it did signify the beginning of a new era and a new adventure for us.  We can’t wait to live in a sunnier, drier place and begin to lay down some roots.  We’re looking forward to buying a house and becoming part of a new community.  That being said, we sure are going to miss Portland!  What an incredible place we chose to start our lives together.  Portland will always feel like home and I think our new friends are going to turn into old friends.  And I’m definitely going to leave my heart on the Wildwood Trail, where I found myself and my love of running.

Ventura, CA
Ventura, CA

Tears for Sandy Hook and Running in the Darkest Hour

I’ve spent the past few days fluctuating between sheer elation for the gift of life and utter despair for the premature loss of life and hope last Friday.  How can we move forward?  How do we keep our faith in humanity?  I honestly don’t know.

On Friday, my last patient of the day had a 5 year old and a 3 year old.  Two precious babies who were spared from knowing the gory details of the massacre, but who seemed somehow aware that all was not well in the world. My patient’s eyes were glassy as she held them close and tried to participate with therapy.  We both were in a different world though, as we watched her two healthy boys wriggle around, their little faces glowing with wonder.  How? Why?  Who could do this?

On Friday after work, I went for a run.  I didn’t know what else to do, and I was getting ready for the Holiday Half Marathon on Sunday.  I went for 4 miles in the darkness, and let the tears flow.  While I don’t have children of my own, I’ve felt the joys of holding little ones close as a babysitter and as a friend to mothers.  Their eyes, full of life and innocence, can never seem to open wide enough to take in all the world has to offer.  At times I felt numb, and other times so full of emotion that I had to stop, squat down and cry.  It was a healing cry, and a yearning to reach out, to do something.  A cry for help from the Earth to pick us up and put us back together.  Especially our friends in Newtown.

But it felt good to run.  It felt good to go fast and feel something so real that it was terrifying.  While everyone is dealing with this tragedy differently, I feel that it’s important to face the reality that it happened.  And it happened at an elementary school, the most horrible place I can think of for a massacre.

2012 has been a wild and crazy year for just about everyone I know.  A year of trials, a year of lessons, accidents, triumphs, and love to name a few.  On December 21st, 2012, some believe that the world will end, thanks to the Mayan calendar ending on this date.  While I’m not sure that will happen, I do think that we are entering a new era of sorts.  A time to reflect on the changes that need to be made and a time to realize what is really important to us.  So what is really important?  For me, it’s relationships.  Relationships with ourselves, with each other, and with our environment.

Running is the glue that brings all these relationships together.  Running strengthens us physically and ignites within us the inner glow we need to move forward.  Running with others captures the moments that are most raw, when we’re not afraid to be ourselves and seek help from our friends.  And running with the Earth beneath us provides the healing energy needed to keep our faith in humanity.  Running in the darkest hour, like I did on December 14, 2012, can provide us with an inner peace and courage to go towards the light.

While I hope that the world doesn’t end on December 21st, I do hope that we can all continue on our journey, one foot in front of the other. Hopefully, stumbling towards the light.

A QUESTION FOR YOU:  WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT IN YOUR LIFE GOING INTO 2013?

Sandy Hook Parents
Sandy Hook Parents

Jingle Bell Run Review and Portland Monsoon Season

This time of year in Portland, OR is infamous for forcing one to question their own sanity for choosing to live in this place.  This place where it rains ALL THE TIME.  When the interstates are flooded and cars are stalling out due to high water in a place like this, you KNOW it’s seriously pouring outside.  Apparently, the Pineapple Express from Hawaii is here, and it’s also wreaking havoc in Northern Cali.  The Pineapple Express might sound like a happy little train with pineapples and tropical joy, but it’s actually the monsoon that’s beating on my windows and convincing my two little dogs that they should stay inside instead of ducking their head into the wind and rain to go out and poop.

meh... too much rain señorita
meh… too much rain señorita
Mom, it's raining out
Mom, it’s raining out

Unfortunately, the ugly Pineapple also wreaked havoc on some big races in California over the weekend.  The California International Marathon in Sacramento looked like a scene from the movie 2012, and the North Face Endurance Challenge was cancelled on Sunday after Saturday’s 50 milers got pummeled by the storm. http://instagram.com/p/Sv_wFIl8oY/

Miraculously, on Sunday morning in Portland, the clouds lifted and the sun shined brightly on all of us Jingle Bell Runners.  It was predicted that we were going to be destroyed by heavy rains, but instead it was quite the opposite.  The big orange ball in the sky was nearly alien as it pushed its head through the clouds and we all stared at it bewildered and blinded as we tried to find our place in the lineup.  Dumb and blinking like crazy, I asked someone, “Where in the heck do the runners go?”

“Left!” he said, looking to the right.  Finally, I think we got lined up in the correct spot, where other runners were waiting for the gun.

The Jingle Bell Run is a nationwide event that benefits the Arthritis Foundation and is a wonderful fundraiser.  At our event, there was even a costume contest before the race which Mike and I of course, took very seriously.  I raided the thrift stores and found the perfect Mrs. Claus and Santa outfits.  Mike and I decided not to race this one, but instead run with friends, which made our costumes even more fun to parade around in.  We were also able to meet up with the Portland Barefoot Runners before the race, and they were hysterical as always.  The chapter president’s husband was wearing women’s red lingerie with jingle bells on his ta tas, making him the unofficial winner of the BEST costume at the entire event.

Also, our wonderful co-worker Becky was there with her husband Shane and their cute little elf, Bella.  Bella won the cutest elf award, that’s for sure.  Becky had on a killer christmas sweater, and Shane was Buddy the Elf.  I LOVE BUDDY THE ELF!  They are great runners, and Bella is surely going to be a runner herself!  She loves to be in the stroller in the fresh air, and apparently sings along as Shane and Becky run.  CUTE!

Mrs. Claus and Santa
Mrs. Claus and Santa

Our friends Ellen and Nate decided to run, and it was Ellen’s first race.  It was very exciting to be able to run with them for Ellen’s first 5K!  Nate and Ellen made it clear that they were not planning on running with Mike and I and that we could go on ahead, but we had other plans.  We decided to force them to run with us, even though we were embarrassing as Santa and Mrs. Claus.  Ellen’s goal was primarily to run the entire race and secondly to come in under 35 minutes, a great goal for her first race.  I had my Garmin watch and knew that if we kept at least an 11 minute/mi pace we would come in under 35 minutes.

Before the gun, I took off my Xero Shoes/huaraches and prepared for my very first totally barefoot race.  The ground was pretty cold, so I tried to dance around in place and ignore all the open mouthed stares.  Surely, they must have just been admiring my green and red painted toe nails.  They were sparkly.

Sparkly toenails
Sparkly toenails

The gun went off and slowly we started to ease forward toward the starting line where we got held for the second wave.  Finally, we crossed the timing mat and off we went through the streets of Portland, the alien sun pressing on our shoulders.  The streets of Portland are ROUGH!  It took me about a half a mile to really get used to the feeling of the chewed up asphalt streets.  We started out just a little slower than our goal pace, so after getting the ok from Ellen, we quickened our steps and quickly got down to 11 minutes.  The race was out and back, so it wasn’t too long before we started seeing the speedsters heading back towards the finish line.  It was really exhilarating to see everyone go by!  I got to see a couple of the barefooters flying by, light and nimble.

Finally, we started the ascent up the bridge to the turnaround spot.  Halfway already!! And Ellen was looking great with Nate by her side.  While the hill on the bridge didn’t bother me, the bridge surface was really rough!  That was the main area where I noticed my feet.  Ouch, my feet were a little tender at that point.  I found some relief however, when I began running on the white lines of the road.  We turned around and headed back down the bridge, breathing a sigh of relief that we were halfway done.  I was secretly hoping that Ellen wasn’t paying attention to the Negative Nancy next to us complaining about how we were only halfway and she’d never make it to the finish.  Our glasses were half full, whereas hers was apparently half empty.

On our way back to the finish line, we had the chance to see all the walkers who were more dressed up in costume than the runners.  They were so entertaining!  To top it all off, Mike was literally yelling “HO HO HO!!!” the entire way back with Mrs. Claus at his side cracking up, asking the childrens what they wanted for Christmas.  I had a lot of pointing and staring at my feet too!  All of the sudden, we rounded the corner onto the riverfront, and we were about a half a mile from the finish line.  As the finish line loomed into view, I saw Ellen put her head down and get ready to dig in for the finish.  She looked determined.

We all charged across the finish line at what turned out to be about 34:55, 5 seconds to spare for her 35 minute goal.  We were all so excited! I had such a good time running that race with Nate and Ellen, because I loved seeing the pure grit and strength from Ellen as she powered through the race.  Afterward, she looked like pure joy as she told the barefooters her time and that she was able to run the WHOLE RACE!  She was so proud, and it was delightful to see her glowing face after she crossed the finish for the first time.  Mike and I could have tried for a new PR, but I truly think we had a much better time seeing the results of Ellen’s hard work after completing the Couch to 5K program.  So while the costumes were fun, the highlight of the race was seeing a new runner spread her wings, so to speak.  So Ellen, welcome to health, welcome to your new-found strength, and welcome to your new status.  You’re a runner!

Mike, Leigh, Nate and Ellen
Mike, Leigh, Nate and Ellen

IMG_0629Running this race barefoot was also significant for me and my cause to promote barefoot running.  I was told in my early twenties that I had decreased space in my right hip as seen on XRAY, possibly indicating early onset osteoarthritis.  This, I was told, may lead to the need for a hip replacement at a young age.  Afterall, I had a leg length discrepancy, the right leg was just going to take more stress and that’s it and that’s all.  At the time, of course, I was trying to run in the most supportive shoes on the market, leading to higher impact on the ground with my right heel as my foot searched for the hard surface, leading to more hip pain and inflammation.  My light, low impact barefoot running style has eradicated any trace of hip pain, knee pain, etc.  Welcome to a stronger body and a peaceful mind, as the foot just barely kisses the ground while traveling forward.  Along with healthy, plant based eating, barefoot running may just be the key to maintaining a healthy weight and building lower extremity strength, thereby reducing stress on joints.  Reducing the stress will decrease inflammation and deterioration of the joint space, greatly reducing the number of osteoarthritis cases.  So for me, the Jingle Bell Run for the Arthritis Foundation was my chance to demonstrate to others that they have other options besides the most expensive shoes on the market and custom orthotics.  I know that if I had seen other folks running races barefoot back when I was arthritic, I would have done my homework sooner.  Luckily, we had a great turnout from the Portland Barefoot Runners, so there were several examples of healthy, barefoot runners.

Next race will be Portland Holiday Half Marathon!! Stay tuned for more holiday costume madness.  Hopefully the Portland Monsoon will take a hiatus again for the Holiday Half and our orange, spherical alien friend will come back to join us. For an hour or two anyway.

The Bent Knee Concept + Jingle Bell Run Preview

I am currently reading Barefoot Ken Bob’s Book, Barefoot Running, Step by Step, and I highly recommend it.  Barefoot Ken Bob was one of the first people that I’d heard of as a barefoot runner, and that he was the master, the guru, THE MAN.  I’d checked out his website several times, and all I really remember from that was that every other line he was saying, “Bend your knees!”  I didn’t really appreciate this though, until I started reading his book.

Ken Bob has been running barefoot his entire life, mostly out of necessity, due to his sensitivities running in shoes.  Because he has been running for so long barefoot, and because he is THE MAN, he really has some of the best words of wisdom on barefoot running out there. If you haven’t checked out his website or his book, PLEASE do it.

This weekend, I went for a long run on the Wildwood Trail, my home away from home.  I went solo because Mike went surfing, and decided I would try some COLD barefoot trail running.  It was about 37 degrees when I started, so I knew I would have some cold feet if I didn’t warm up first.  I was wearing my VFF Spyridons for the first 9 miles, then took them off for the last 5+ miles for some sweet sole time on the trail.  During the time that I was wearing my Spyridons, I really tried to think about this bent knee deal.  I know that I always bend my knees when I land, but I get the feeling that it’s not ENOUGH.  So I really got into this, and even thought about the image that Ken Bob uses with his landing, which is this:  Your forefoot should swoop into the ground like an airplane coming in for landing.  What?  Yes, that’s right, turn your foot into an airplane.  The point is, if the knee is bent enough, this is quite easy to do.  Sure enough, I was really exaggerating this knee bend on landing, and I started feeling like an airplane.  And my legs started spinning underneath me like I was riding a bicycle.  It was nearly effortless!  It’s funny that I’m using all these other forms of transportation to describe how it felt to run, but honestly, it still shocks me that running can be this easy.  That it can be this rewarding and feel this good.

Going downhill, on level ground and slight uphill did actually feel effortless.  Going up steep hills on the other hand, I don’t think I’ve quite mastered the bent knee there.  Since I used to be a booty runner, I still have that tendency to bend at the waist when going uphill.  I’m constantly reminding myself to tuck my butt and lean my whole body into the hill, not just my upper half. Going downhills, I was FLYING.  I decided to relax into the downhill more than ever and really let the knees bend, giving into gravity instead of resisting it.  It was fantastic, and I felt more confident than I ever have.  I didn’t slip as much in the mud either, because I wasn’t resisting, I was just going with it.

I ran the last 5+ miles barefoot on the trail, which was wildly entertaining.  That is my longest barefoot trail run so far, and you can bet I’ll be doing a lot more of it.  There is simply no other feeling or connection like barefoot trail running.  The pine cones, sticks, leaves, and mud that come in contact with the feet is something that you never feel otherwise.  I never realized how much I was depriving myself by keeping my feet cast away in sloppy, soggy, wet shoes and socks before.

However, I forget that I am still very much the minority among runners and hikers, especially when I run into people like the Tracksuit Poodle Man. Tracksuit Poodle Man is a regular on WW Trail, but this was the first time I’ve seen him when I was totally barefoot. In case you’re wondering, TPM has two standard white poodles that he dresses head to toe in shiny track suits.  I’m laughing out loud just thinking about them!!  They’re always perfectly groomed little boogers, so they stick out quite a bit in the muddy wilderness with their prim and proper outfits.  He’s one of my favorite characters though, so as I was running towards him, I said my usual, “Hi, how are you?” while trying not to crack up.

He looked like he might be sick as he was staring at my bare feet.  “Looks like you forgot something at home,” he growled, still looking vomitous.  Well, I suppose not everyone is a fan of us barefooters.  But then again, when looking at me versus TPM, an outsider would probably say we are both a little odd.

What is up with the gravel though?  I suppose they’re trying to prevent erosion, so they lay down gravel along sections of the trail.  This does not help the barefooters’ image (we all know image is the most important thing right?) because as I was running past the fellow hikers on the trail, I would frequently get the question, “Barefoot eh?  How’s that?”

If it happened to be on a gravel section, which happened a few times, I would grit my teeth and say a little too loudly, “It’s GREAT!  BEST DAY OF MY LIFE!”  Under my breath, I was cursing the gravel.  I have to admit though, the gravel was serving a purpose other than supposedly preventing erosion.  It was preparing my feet for this weekend, The Jingle Bell Run in downtown Portland!!  In case you haven’t seen the roads in downtown Portland, they appear to be eaten, chewed up, spit out and pooped on.  Hopefully not pooped on.  But seriously, those are the roughest asphalt roads I have ever seen/felt in my life.  During the Portland Marathon, the rough roads taunted me when my mental strength started to waver.  And I was wearing my VFFs.  This weekend though, no sir, I’ll be barefoot!

This race benefits the Arthritis Foundation. I happen to firmly believe that my barefoot running prevents me from having early onset osteoarthritis, so I will definitely be barefoot.  I will also be Mrs. Claus and Mike will be Santa!  I did lots of thrift store shopping today, here is a sneak peek of my costume.  Full body Mrs. Claus shots to come, but only after the race.  She’s killer.  One thing’s for sure, this Mrs. Claus will be bent knee barefootin’ through the streets of Portland this weekend!