This Open Road

A season walking southbound on the Appalachian Trail

Tag Archives: running

Pennsylvania (But First, a Half Marathon in Yosemite!)

Dear Reader, I finished my southbound thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail on January 19, 2016! I hiked 2,189 miles from Katahdin to Springer in just under six months. I did not mean to leave you hanging, but I found it increasingly difficult to keep up with the blog, conduct my online lessons and do everything I needed to do in town (laundry, resupply, rest, talk to people at home, etc.) and still hike. At the end of October I suspended my online lessons until January, and decided I would catch up on the blog when I finished the trail.

I knew that I would need to stay as focused as possible in order to finish the trail before it got too cold. As it turned out, it was a fairly mild fall and winter. I had some cold days, but not as intense as I expected and not cold enough to force me off the trail.

The Appalachian Trail is so much a part of my life and who I am. To have been able to hike it three times is a blessing and something I’ll always treasure. I’ve walked northbound (1998), section hiked (2010/2011), and now, hiked southbound. (I also began a thru-hike in 1994, going almost 700 miles before stopping.) Writing about this journey after I completed it will allow me to process what transpired, relive it and share the experience with you. Thank you for your patience.

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At the end of January 2015, shortly after I returned from Japan, and before I made my plans to hike the A.T. again, I committed to run the inaugural Yosemite Half Marathon with my good friend, Jannele. Some people from her job were forming a group and she invited me to join them. It took me about five seconds to make a decision. I was ready to train for another race, I’d never been to Yosemite, and I would get to spend time with Jannele, whom I’d not seen in several years.

Later, I realized a thru-hike was possible and although I’d have to leave the trail for a few days to go to the race, I decided to do it all. It would be an adventure within an adventure and I was ready for it.

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Back on the trail… After crossing into Pennsylvania, I walked to the Church of the Mountain Hiker Hostel in Delaware Water Gap, a hostel that has been serving hikers since the mid-70s. It’s located in the basement of the church, and has a bunkroom, shower and common area for hikers to use. One aspect of a southbound thru-hike, is that there are very few hikers still around at this time of year. The northbounders have long passed through Pennsylvania and most southbounders are well into Virginia. There was only one other hiker staying at the hostel when I was there. This was where I would leave the trail for the next nine days.

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Getting from the Appalachian Mountains to the Sierras was not as complicated as I expected. From the hostel, I walked about a mile to the bus station, took a bus into NYC, then a shuttle to the Newark airport, flew to Kansas City (by way of Atlanta), was met by Jannele and spent the night at her house. The next morning we flew from KC to Fresno, CA (via Phoenix) and drove a rental car to Oakhurst which is the nearest major town closest to Yosemite.

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The weekend was wonderful. It was fantastic to spend that time with one of my dearest friends, whom I’ve known since college. Ours is a friendship built on ease and gentle camaraderie. We can be talkative and we can be quiet. Our shared history, respect for each other and mutual sense of humor create the foundation of our relationship. And we both like to run.

Yosemite National Park was absolutely more astounding than I imagined. Even after seeing many pictures of iconic features such as Half Dome and El Capitan, I was still amazed by the magnitude and grandeur of it all.

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We both ran better than we expected. The morning was cool, the course wound down a curvy, tree-lined road and we glided easily toward the finish line. I had not run since mid-July, and was a little concerned about how I’d do. To my advantage, I had strong hiker legs and that helped me maintain my sub-two hour goal for half marathons (I finished in 1:53:02).

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Jannele also did really well, but we both paid for our efforts after the race. By the end of race day we could hardly walk. I had made plans to visit my family in Colorado after the race and I was glad for the rest days. It took several days before I felt normal again.

After the race weekend, I did all of the flying activity in reverse. By the time I was back on the trail nine days later, I’d been on 10 flights due to the stopovers each flight entailed. Not complicated, it just required organization, timeliness and a little luck (only one flight was late in this whole itinerary).

Finally, I was back in Delaware Water Gap ready to resume my walk south. I stayed another night at the church hostel, got a shuttle to Wind Gap and started hiking. It was a chilly morning and it was the first time I really knew the rest of the hike would be a race against winter.

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Back on the trail at Wind Gap.

 

Living and Running Around Adachi-ku

Life has been good! My lack of posts have been more to do with new-camera issues than with lack of material. So we start where we are.

Tokyo is a-mazing! Bright lights big city in all its crazy glory. I love every bit of it. I’ll keep saying it: Sometimes I cannot believe I live here.

And then there are the suburbs. Where regular people live normal lives, exercise, catch the train, buy their groceries, ride their bikes, go to 7-11 for sushi and white bread egg sandwiches. (They’re not bad.)

This post is about my daily life. I run, I take the train to work, I walk to the store. I live in Adachi-ku, which is in the far northern reaches of Tokyo. Not Tokyo Tokyo (bright lights big city), but still Tokyo. I’d love to be a real author just so that on the book jacket it would say, “Robyn divides her time between Tokyo, the Appalachian Trail and Colorado.” Now I just need to be a real author.

 

My Leopalace apartment. Same floor plan that I've had for the past five terms.

My Leopalace apartment. Same floor plan that I’ve had for the past five terms.

The houses across the street with their front yard gardens.

The houses across the street with their front yard gardens.

The street behind my apartment.

The street behind my apartment.

A shrine in my neighborhood.

The road I walk to the local grocery store.

The road I walk to the grocery store.

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Kita-Ayase. This is my train station and the last stop on the Chioda Line.

Kita-Ayase. My train station and the last stop on the Chiyoda Line.

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I’m still running four days a week: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday. I love it and it’s what keeps me grounded and happy. On Tuesday and Thursday I’m usually running by 6:15, on the weekend, a bit later.

There is a river nearby with a path. On my way back I can see Tokyo Skytree and Mt. Fuji. (They’re too far away for my camera to capture their images).

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Stairs leading to the bridge that crosses the river.

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There are a group of retired people that I usually see in the mornings at this spot. They always wave and say "Ohayou gozaimasu!"

There is a group of retired people that I usually see in the mornings at this spot. They always wave and say “Ohayou gozaimasu!” (“Good morning!”)

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Proof.

Proof.

A late fall morning.

A late fall morning.

I usually see this man at this road construction site when I run in the mornings. Today he smiled and shook his head in that better-you-than-me kind of way. On my way back we attempted a short chat which ended with this photo.

I usually see this man at this road construction site when I run in the mornings. On this day he smiled and shook his head in that better-you-than-me kind of way. On my way back we attempted a short chat which ended with this photo.

Another local shrine.

Another local shrine.

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Life in my neighborhood is quiet. I feel safe, secure and content. I could not ask for more.

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Morgan Valley Marathon Report

And so it is done. I ran that marathon. Oh, yes I did. Crushed it. Showed it who was boss. I am the boss! Ha-ha! No, I did not and no, I am not.

But I did finish (Yeah!).

In 4:22 (Boo. I ran my last marathon in 3:45 seven years ago, but who’s counting…).

2nd in my age group (Yeah!).

Out of six (Boo).

(16th out of 46 women; 42nd out of 98 finishers.)

* * * * *

I loved it. I loved the excitement and anticipation; the adrenaline, planning and lack of sleep. I loved it right up to about mile 18 when I began to think, this is so stupid. Why do I do this? Why am I not picking up sea shells by the seashore? Why am I not sleeping in on this Saturday morning like most normal people? I even convinced others to go with me, change their schedules and lose sleep for this event. No – it’s worse – they volunteered! My dear parents actually thought it would be fun to tag along for this.

My crew.

My crew, the troopers.

 

My folks came to Laramie on Thursday night and we drove five hours west on I-80 to Utah. We stayed in a hotel in the small but tidy town of Coalville, 20 miles from Morgan where the race was held. We went to Morgan first to get my packet which had my bib, time chip and various swag. We took advantage of the pasta dinner (included in my entry fee and $7 for non-runners) and enjoyed taking in some of the pre-race excitement and being with other runners and their families.

The next morning my dad drove me to the start. I would meet him and my mom at the finish line.

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Pre-dawn prep.

 

The race started at 5:30 a.m. The course meandered through the local valley, passing farms and houses. We ran by one homestead bearing a worn sign: “Stoddard est. 1880.” I imagined families ecstatic to find this sheltered valley during the westward migrations which took place in the 1800s.

I didn’t carry a camera but my dad caught up with me at a few places during the first half and captured the early morning segments.

Full of hope and visions of glory. Ha.

Full of hope and visions of glory. Ha.

I felt great and knew that the half-marathon I ran two weeks prior was working its magic for this run. I passed the halfway point feeling strong and ready for the second half. The sun started to crest over the surrounding hills and within a few miles the heat began to add to the challenge of finishing under four hours.

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Somewhere after 18 miles the marathon part of this marathon showed up. It got tough and I felt like I was wading in mud up to my waist. I had to walk-run-shuffle the rest of the way. There were aid stations every mile for the second half. Cheerful volunteers handed out water and Gatorade, sponges, candy, gels and ice pops. I took advantage of every station. At one station there were a few cheerleaders doing what they do best in uniforms and with pom-poms. They had signs at their station; one happily advised “Rah Rah Ree! Don’t blow out your knee!” Thanks, gals!

There was also a couple in a golf cart driving up and down the road watching for flagging runners and handing out wet towels to anyone who wanted one. I saw one runner take advantage of this ride and jump in. He was done and in that moment I wanted to be done too. But I kept on.

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Eventually, a million years later, when the earth decided to burn up, I shuffled to the finish line, which may as well have been 100 miles away, the way I was feeling. But there it was, the end. I did not care at all about running at that moment. I was empty, distracted, and despite having just (mostly) run 26.2 miles, I could hardly walk.

The final turn. I didn't even notice that cute little girl at the time.

The final turn. I didn’t even notice that little girl at the time.

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It was great to have my folks there to be with me and celebrate my finish. We hung out for a long time, watching and talking to other runners. We met another runner before the race, Tori, who had locked her keys in her car. My dad helped her by using his AAA membership and arranged for someone to come out to unlock her door. She was very grateful. We got to know her a bit and really bonded with her. Meeting Tori was a highlight of the morning and we missed her after she left.

Fellow runner, Tori.

Fellow runner, Tori.

 

We returned to the hotel, packed, and began the road trip back to Laramie. I felt satisfied even though I didn’t achieve my goal of finishing under four hours. I ran farther, better and faster than I had during my training runs and felt much better at the half-way point than I did in the half marathon two weeks ago. I redefined this race as another training run in preparation for my next marathon…which will be on August 17!

I knew on the drive home that I’d try again. I’m in peak shape now, and again, have reached a tapering level. I’ll run for maintenance for the next three weeks and trust my body to do what it’s prepared to do. We are made to move. Given the right fuel, rest and training, I believe we can go beyond self-imposed boundaries. I want to test that belief. I love to run and I want to continue to train my body to go far. It’s a journey I’ll stay on for as long as possible.

 

Summer Days

So much has been happening! The summer has been good and the pace is starting to pick up. I have exciting goals that keep me energized and focused every day.

Last weekend was really fun. My sister and niece came for a visit and it was great to spend time with them. They come to Colorado every summer to go camping with our parents in their RV. I couldn’t join them for the camping trip due to teaching obligations, but it was awesome to see them for a couple of days.

Sister, me and niece (making an important call, apparently.)

My sister, me and my niece (making an important call, apparently).

 

I also ran the Sand Creek Half Marathon in Denver on Saturday. I was so glad to have my dad and good friend, Chris, there to cheer me on. It was a great boost to have them at the start and along the route yelling for me. I didn’t do as well as I usually do in half marathons, but still finished under two hours and recovered quickly. This half was a bit of a pep rally for the full marathon which I’ll run next weekend.

 

Running

I’m enjoying the tapering part of my training, gradually easing up on the long weekend runs these last couple of weeks. Yesterday I ran an easy eight-miler and today I went on a two-hour hike on the trails east of Laramie. I’ve pushed this training and may not be as ready for the marathon as I could be, but I’m excited and up for the challenge. There are many training schedules online for all race distances and I’ve been following this one. I felt that I could have followed the plan for the Intermediate 1, but since I was already cutting it close, I opted for Novice 2. (For other plans on this site, click on the “Training” link at the top of the website and select the race you’re interested in.)

Whatever the outcome of next week’s race, you’ll get the full report right here. :)

 

High plains training terrain.

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Somewhat related to running/going places, I got my new passport this week! The last time I looked all dreamy-eyed at a new passport was 10 years ago when my friend Jan and I were getting ready for our trek in Nepal. I remember thinking, I’m going to fill up this little blue book so much. Besides our trip to Nepal, I was sure I’d find time to return to the UK (the reason for my first passport and my first solo international destination when I was in college), and explore other European countries. Instead, my old passport is filled with stamps and visas from Colombia, Bolivia, India (just stopovers en route to and from Kathmandu), China and multiple trips to Japan.

 

Good to go for another 10 years!

Good to go for another 10 years!

 

I don’t know when passports began to have microchips embedded, but they do now. The pages are actually interesting, with depictions of historical events from U.S. history and quotations from various people.

 

From the early days of our country...

From the early days of our country…

...to an era of space travel.

…to an era of space travel.

 

Just as I did 10 years ago, I intend to fill this passport with stamps from countries I’ve never been to and at least one that is quite familiar to me now – Japan. This fall, I’ll be returning for a fifth term and my sixth working for Westgate. (I’ve been teaching for them through their E-learning program while living in Laramie.)

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Speaking of Laramie, my time here is almost over! If you’ve followed this blog for the last several months, you know what a positive experience it has been. But I love movement and thrive on change, and it’s time to get going again! Already I’ve been packing up, purging (actually, there’s not much left to purge – it’s just maintenance now), giving things away and preparing for the next phase. The transition between gigs energizes me so much. I love wrapping up the last experience, organizing and prepping for the next one. I still have two more weeks of online teaching, a marathon to run, a short road trip with KRC to South Dakota (Mt. Rushmore) and northern Wyoming (Devil’s Tower), and a backpacking trip in Colorado! (More on that later.)

To be continued…

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Travel as much as you can.

My thoughts, exactly.

Long Run Report

Yesterday I ran my last long run before the marathon. I did my 20, but it was painful. I’m not sure why it was so hard except that it was the longest distance I’ve run in several years. It was another morning of pushing through walls and breaking boundaries.

I felt ready for this run. I ate and hydrated well the day before; I slept great and was out the door at 6:35, only five minutes off my intended starting time of 6:30.

Just as with previous mornings on my favorite road, it was beautiful and cool. I felt great. In fact, I felt fantastic all the way to the 10-mile marker, which culminated in some hilly sections, and was my turn-around point. I was really happy. There were segments in the first half where I was tempted to run faster than I should, but I held back, saving some energy for the return trip.

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Then, somewhere just past the 13-mile point, everything felt tight. I kept stopping to stretch, but I felt like my body was locking up. I brought an energy bar, cashews and water, so I refueled a bit. On my other long runs, I brought too much water, so I carried less this time. The morning had heated up quickly and I was regretting not having the extra water. It was a walk-run the rest of the way home. So I got the miles in and I didn’t stop. Psychologically I felt really good. But I just couldn’t relax or regain my stride.

For several hours after I got home, I felt semi-exhausted. I stretched, ate and continued to rehydrate. Surprisingly, I recovered quickly and felt much better by the late afternoon. Today I had only a little soreness. For the next three weeks, I’ll do short runs during the week and exercises at home. I’m running a half-marathon next weekend which is just a little longer than the 12 miles I was scheduled to do.

I don’t know what this means for marathon day. I was frustrated that I had to walk so much during my last long run and it makes me wonder how I’ll do.

I've crossed a line.

I’ve crossed a line.

 

I’m hoping a few factors will work in my favor:

1) The elevation along the course in Morgan is 5,069 ft. I’ve been training at 7,200 ft., so I’ll have a 2,131 ft. elevation bonus.

2) The race starts at 5:30 a.m. which means a brutal wake-up, but the lack of heat will make for a nice start.

3) I’ve been running with a small pack which has been a distraction. I won’t need that during the run, since there will be aid stations along the route.

4) The excitement and energy of the runners will carry me to some degree.

I started training for this later than is recommended, but I’m still excited for the challenge. I’m hoping to run under four hours, as that is the cut-off for my age group in order to be eligible for the Boston Marathon. (Making the time does not guarantee a spot, as explained in this post.)

I’m still loving the training. I love running in this wide open land. If I don’t make the qualifying time in this marathon, then I’m in good shape to adjust my training and run another qualifying race.

Transformation is happening. I’m pushing myself to new limits and it’s going to feel uncomfortable. But it’s all good with me. I love to run.