Monday, 28 May 2012

Long Weekend in Columbia, MO

On our Canadian long weekend (May 19-21; Victoria Day; thank you Queen Vicky for your birthday present!) we took a trip to Columbia, Missouri, a place we had encountered on our drive out west last year. It's a smallish University town/city with lots of funky places to visit, vegan restaurants and brewpubs, in fact, some of the best brewpubs we know (and we know a lot of 'em). We also did a fair bit of mini-hiking while there in nearby state parks. I'll focus on the parks in this late mini-report.

We arrived on Friday afternoon after more than a few misadventures. It became almost like the movie "Groundhog Day" as we attempted to get from St. Louis (we had flown in there) to Columbia. I won't go into the details because I'd probably punch a hole through the keyboard from typing stressfully hard.
Anyway, suffice it to say that we made it. A visit to the Main Squeeze restaurant and Broadway Brewery soon made us forget the preceding nastiness.

The next morning, Saturday, dawned very warm, and it just got warmer. We headed out to Rockbridge SP relatively early and headed out on a trail (after saving two box turtles from the busy road). We did about 4 miles on this trail, which led to the natural rock bridge of note and on the trail across the road (Gan's Creek Ridge trail), but I can't be sure because my Garmin Forerunner decided to stop working. I don't know if it was the thick tree canopy or not, but it should have worked on the ridge trail. Very frustrating. Anyway, here are some pics courtesy of Mike:

Boardwalks and overlooks throughout the forest made for great views! From here, I could hear voices through the dark patch in the left of the photo!!!??? Little did I know.

This is the other side of the "dark patch", the actual rock bridge that gives the park its name. You can go right inside this and it is lovely and cool, with water flowing broadly through.
Here Mike is inside the cavern looking back out at me.

The ridge trail across the road was exposed with lots of long grass. It was becoming quite hot, but luckily there was a breeze. The long grass posed its own problems, however, as we were to discover after returning home.

Lots and lots of butterflies!!!!
On to Jefferson City for lunch at Prison Brews (really cool place!), then poke around the historic district of town. Back to Columbia to clean up and on to Flat Branch Brewing Co., one of our favourite places. They have really good cask conditioned ale and a wonderful housemade vegan burger. After dinner, we walked about a mile on the MKT trail (a rails-to-trails path) that goes right from the brewery and eventually connects to the long distance Katy trail. They've done a nice job of making the trail accessible and friendly for families and visitors:

While at Gan's Creek on Saturday, we saw that they had a "wildenress" trail which is our cup of tea, so we opted for this on Sunday. It was an incredible walk, about another 4 miles, a lot of it quite hilly, with great overlooks:

Lovely trails, lovely woods.

The big surprise! We came around a bend in thrail, up on a ridge, and there was this still-wet snapper ambling along! Must have been a female looking for a place to lay her eggs. They travel quite far to do this.

That evening, we decided to check out Ragtag Cinema, an alternative film house, and saw two films: "Footnote", an Israeli film about the life of an aging academic and his disfuntional relationship with his son and others, and "Kid with a Bike", a French film dealing with how both utter rejection and unconditional love can affect a 10-year-old.  If this theatre was near me, I'd be hanging out there constantly. The seating is a "ragtag" collection of sofas and armchairs in the smaller theatre, and the cafe/bar that is part of it has microbrews, wines, coffee and edibles that you can take in the theatre. Great, attentive audience, too.

Monday we had to make our way back to St. Louis to fly home, but stopped at Graham's Cave State park for a 3-mile amble enroute. Very cool place: built up, but not overly so, and very well-maintained. The cave is an archaeological site that has provided a lot of valuable info about the early indigenous people.

Again, beautiful forest walk.

The cave - impossible to give scale (those white blobs on the left-hand side of it are large signs), this cave must have been a incredible find to the people who lived here. Shelter for the entire group, reliable water nearby and great hunting.

We flew home that afternoon. Our flight was an hour late, but that didn't really affect us much. What a great weekend!

And now for a footnote...remember I mentioned that the long grass at the ridge trail caused some problems? Turns out that Mike picked up some ticks, probably there. One large female Lone Star tick and five seed ticks. Not surprising we didn't notice them until much later. There probably had been more seed ticks originally, but they are really, really tiny. Anyway, I now know how to effectively remove ticks (it can be tricky!) and a quick trip to the doctor will be in order if any symptoms pop up. So far, a week later, none. We don't really encounter them here, but now know some preventive measures for the future. Live and learn.....hopefully not the hard way.

World Steam Expo 2012

Yes, folks, Steampunk! We only went for one day of the event, but will likely take in more next year. It was a very popular event at the Hyatt Regency in Dearborn, MI. To find out the details, check here World Steam Expo .  I'll just give a few of my impressions as well as the costumes we went in.

People-watching is one of the main events at a convention like this. People of all ages attended, most in costume. Believe it or not, we didn't take any pictures at the convention itself! (more on this later). Standouts were: the baby carriage (occupied by a baby in a sweet little suit) decked out as the gondola of a hot-air balloon, with the balloon suspended above! An older gentleman eerily authentic as a silent Bismark. The young lady with the da Vinci-esque wings that could unfold and flap. The spitting image of Tom Baker's Doctor (why Dr. Who was there? A Time Traveller fits anywhere, my dear!). Late 19th century cowboys, military, gentlemen, ladies, pirates, all tweaked out very steampunky; a 1920s-era zeppelin stewardess. The thing I really love about SP is that you're not simply buying into a ready-made character like one does at Anime Cons: you have to create your own character. I have to say there were no two people dressed alike at this con, and the variety was astonishing!
There were some really incredible costumes. We didn't have any, so I set about making ours about a week before. Having been the head costumer for our elementary school Drama Club, I learned how to make something from absolutely nothing. Mind you, our costumes weren't anything too special, but the only thing I had to buy were the hat forms. Everything else (including the 200 or so grommets) I had hanging around the house....yes, it is an unusual house. I decided on a ladylike pseudo-pirate and Mike was going to be a photographer to show off one of his antique cameras; then I set to sewing, gluing, cutting, forming, attaching, detaching, hammering grommets and transforming. Here we are in a vintagy-looking pic:

You can't really see many details here (like the cool buttons and working pocket watch on Mike's vest, his spats or the lacing in the back of my jacket or on my bodice). However, here are some closeups of some of our gear:

Mike's camera and hat. The camera actually had film in it and works. He took pics with it. When they're developed (we send them off to a specialty place), I'll post some. The clockwork hat was especially fun to make! A few people actually commented on it!

My tricorn hat (with little veil down the back) which matched my skirt and the piece de resistance - my camera purse! Mike generously gave me one of his old cameras that was beyond repair which I gutted, took the top off and hinged it as a lid. A strap and buckle closed it, and I put on a gold buckled chain as the strap. The flower matched the one on my hat. The purse was small, but big enough for credit card. ID, rolled up cash and a lip gloss! I love that purse!

We checked out the merchant hall (drool, drool!). All I could afford to buy was a bar of Edgar Allen Potpourri soap. Maybe next year...I shall budget! We checked out a movie made in the industrial wastes of Detroit: it was an alternate WWI thing with lots of zeps, etc. (the location was perfect as wartime wastelands). Next, a panel on Vegan Steampunk (all that leather, you know). Then a quite fascinating talk on the actual airship sightings, "Mystery Airships of 1897". I knew nothing about these and will do more research. The speaker did a great job and held our interest. Our friend Randy M. from the dojo came with us and he focussed on the many martial arts offerings. You could learn anything from "Flashing Fisticuffs" to "The Martial Mechanic: Crowbar and Hammer fighting for Airship Crews" as well as "Combat in Corsets: Hand-to-hand Combat for the Well-dressed Victorian Lady", LOL! A board game room was well-used and they also had a video game room. Hold it - way too many things to list, so check out the link to the expo itself.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Sudbury Rocks! Half Marathon Weekend

In many ways, this would be a special half marathon: we would be visiting Mike's family in his hometown, the town where I grew up from about the age of 9: Sudbury, Ontario. Mike and our sister-in-law were going to do the 5K. Also, the race would be on Mother's Day, and it is also Mike's mom's birthday!

Living as we do now in the flatlands of the industrial southwest of Ontario, I am always delighted at the change in scenery when we take the long (9 hours!) trip to our old stomping grounds in the north.

 We left on Friday, and mind you, things don't change much for the first 3 hours or so - just flat road and flat fields, but....

After bypassing Toronto on the 407 tollroad, and weaving through the heavy traffic on the 400, things began to change rather rapidly. The land begins to roll rather like rural England. Between Barrie and Moonstone, there are many roadside woodlots carpeted in white trilliums (our Provincial flower).
 Once we passed Port Severn, we knew we were now in Northern Ontario. The land changes dramatically to flat shelves of rock topped with windblown trees. This was the stomping ground of our "National Artists", the Group of Seven, and yes, the trees really do look like this painting by A.J. Casson:

Soon you're on highway 69, the main N-S link. There's an interesting phenomenon that occurs on this highway from here to Sudbury: little inukshuk (usually around a foot or two high) created on the top of every rock-cut or rocky outcropping (and there are a lot of them; some very, very high and precipitous). These little inuit-inspired rock men seem to have almost taken the place of graffiti painted on the rocks, a kind of "I was here" (a substitution of which I heartily approve!).:

The first "Moose Crossing"  and "Snowmobile Crossing" signs you see also indicate that you're not in Kansas any more! Lots of wetlands skirting the highway (most of them the work of beavers damming extant creeks) are the perfect habitat for the moose (although when I think "moose", somehow the phrase "Eenie meenie chili beanie" always comes to mind). Also, many snowmobile trails actually cross the highway!
Illustration of warning sign - moose crossing

As we drove north, the seasons seemed to go in reverse: we left Windsor in early summer and arrived in Sudbury to  early spring! The trees (mostly white and silver birch) were just getting their first tiny bright green leaves, and some shrubs were just beginning to flower. Here I inspect some "bug flowers" with our 3-year-old niece. She calls them this because the bees like them!

We arrived about 6:30 pm, just in time for dinner and wine! Saturday we would pick up our gear at the marathon expo, then on to the race on Sunday.

divider line graphic

We picked up our bibs, chips and shirts at the Saturday expo at the YMCA (the site of the start/finish). I use the term "expo" loosely as there really was only one retailer there (the Running Room), and the prices were exactly what they charge in their store!...did I mention that this is a relatively small marathon, albeit a Boston Qualifier? There was a lot of info on other Northern marathons and races, though.
We had a big blowout family party on Saturday evening, it being not only Mother's Day but also Mike's mom's birthday! There were aunts and uncles, nieces and others in attendance. I was good and mainly continued to hydrate with water, although I did have a celebratory glass of red wine.

divider line graphic

After little (almost no) sleep on Saturday night for no apparent reason (not just me, but Mike as well), I was up and doing my pre-marathon prep by 6:30. Mike dropped me off to do my warmup and drills by 7:25 for a 7:55 start at the Y. He and Lynne (our sister-in-law) would start the 5K later at 9:00. By chance, a childhood and teen-years friend of Mike with whom he had lost touch and who was now living in Toronto was re-discovered on FB because he was going to run the 5K! More on Doug later.
Things were very well oganised, and it being a relatively small event, it was easy to get into a (very disgusting) porta-potty and to the start line. They also had the YMCA open for restrooms and gear drop, but it was a mob scene. On a funny note, a new and very funky candy store next to the Y opened at 7:30 for any last-minute sugar fixes! There were also a couple of cafes that opened especially early for marathoners.
The weather was gorgeous: 49F and sunny, with a high later in the day of 68F. I joined the BOTPC (Back of the Pack Club), a real psychological advantage I find because you get passed by few and end up passing quite a few!
Although the course had been described as flat and fast, it really was a series of large rolling hills interspersed with flat bits. Sudbury is, after all, built in and around rocky hills. We would pretty much circumnavigate the city today! I was not feeling my mojo and had a lot of trouble finding my comfortable pace; maybe it was the hills, but more likely because I went out a tad too fast. I would suffer for this in the doldrums of the middle miles. We really ended up doing an urban/suburban route with the exception of Minnow Lake and Lake Ramsay. This is a bit of a shame as there is so much incredible natural beauty around the city, but that would have made the route far too hilly. There were lots of aid stations and lots of volunteers out and about, and a large police presence making sure we didn't get flattened by motorists.
Although I passed a couple of runners, there was a space when I was virtually alone: runners ahead, runners/walkers behind and me in the middle in my own little racewalking world. The course was always extremely well marked, however, with people at every turn to make sure you didn't get lost. They were very enthusiastic and boosted my spirit as I trucked along. I started catching up to bunches of runners and at around mile 9 I started targeting some of them to pass. I must say they were some of the nicest runners I've encountered, complimenting my pace and and commenting positively on my speed and mode of transport. I wasn't winded, so was able to talk to them as I pulled up beside them....some of them were breathing rather heavily, though. At about mile 12.5, the first full marathon runner passed us (they did two loops of the half course), and he was obviously way out in front because no other fulls passed me for the rest of the race. Just before this, I finally came up beside one girl whose blue shirt I had been chasing since mile 5 or so. She was a very nice young first half-marathoner who was starting to get a bit tired and welcomed the company. We approached the finish together and I told her when to pump in the last bit of gas based on my Garmin distance. Off she went! [I saw her again after the end of the chute and we high-fived each other]. As I came around the corner to come into the finish chute, I started hearing my name being shouted. As they didn't put our names on our bibs, this made me look around. There, on the sidelines, was the clan: Mike, Lynne, our cousin, aunt and uncle and Doug, the friend I mentioned earlier as well as his brother! They had come down to the finish or waited quite a while after their race to cheer me in!!!!! This is the first time this has happened and it was quite a rush! Really made me feel special! 

Checking out my cheering section!

Afterwards, pics with the racers, and an interesting conversation with Doug about the Ontario Racewalkers and the races they do in Toronto. Apparently he knows the head racewalking coach really well!!! A somewhat local lead (Toronto is four hours away)!

The intrepid racers: Doug, me, Lynne and Mike

Doug is a real runner and came first in his age/gender group for the 5K! Mike and Lynne took it easy (so they said) and had identical times of 46:29 (Mike's knee seems to be healing well after that injury last year). My time for the completely racewalked half was 2:38 (a duplicate of my PB in Columbus! Considering I didn't feel I did that well in this race, I was pretty darned happy with this result!).  I learned a few lessons about strategy and technique in this race that I hope will be applied in future ones. The 5K field was HUGE; the half and full marathon not so much. They didn't post half walking times separately, but there was a full marathon walk posted separately. Only two people finished it (sisters), with exactly the same time of 8:52 (ouch). They had given an early (6:00 am) start for the full walkers.
Back to Mike's family's place for a sauna, more great food and company. It really is like staying at a luxury hotel and spa, and his family always treats me Soooooo well! It was quite wonderful to visit with them!
Our long drive home on Monday was uneventful with relatively light traffic, and the seasons started going forward again. Back to warm Windsor and early summer.

A good time was had by all!

Thursday, 10 May 2012

IAAF World Race Walking Cup

It's this weekend, folks, in Saransk, Russia! You can get more information and follow live results here:

World Cup

Sunday, 6 May 2012

One more reason to love flowers.

"Celtic Lilies" by yours truly

As if we needed extra reasons, but guess what? The scents of most flowers stimulate the pituitary gland to release endorphins, so training outdoors in this lovely lilac-scented spring weather will give you a double-whammy of that "endogenous morphine" flooding your system to make you feel great...provided you're not allergic to pollen, that is!

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Taper Time!

Yes. it's that time again. I'm about to embark on a taper in prep for my half marathon next weekend in Sudbury. Now, I've done tapers before, and really they've only consisted of doing the regular week's training, but cutting back significantly on mileage and numbers of intervals, etc. But I've been reading a few articles on the subject, specifically this one at Dave McGovern's site: Tapering and Race Preparation for Racewalkers and these two, which although geared towards runners are very appropriate for racewalkers as well: Coach Brian Mac and Coach Joe English . The studies referred to in these articles gave me a whole new way of looking at tapering, and a way to keep the old "taper madness" at bay as you're doing something a bit different. So, based on the info in these articles and with my average weekly mileage at about 32, I've come up with a series of diminishing daily intervals designed to keep my peak going and be rested but rarin' to go next weekend! Guess I'll have to wait until after the half to report on its success.