Tuesday, June 29, 2010

First personal training session: Take 2

I was a little apprehensive after last week's aborted training session. Would the roof fall in? Sprinkler system malfunction and spray the room? Toxic gas release?

None of that happened and I had my very first ever session with a personal trainer. As a little background, I have done absolutely positively no upper body training since my tri season, 2 years ago. That training was shortened because of injuring my back, although I did continue swimming which granted a bit of upper body toning and strength. And last year I did the bike century but the only upper body workouts I did was holding the bike upright, nothing extra. Before that, I might have lifted a weenie weight or two when I started running, but for real weight work it's been since I was married. Since I divorced in 1990 we can see that it's been a while since I've paid true attention to strength work.

All that is to say: oy, what have I gotten myself into? I arrived at the gym at 6:00 am and "Katie" was set up and ready to finish the paperwork and measurements. Again, oy. Dudes. I'm really big. As in, big. I'm continually surprised that I let it get this far (again...) although to be fair, I've been bigger in the past (uh, yeah. Like that matters). We finished the paperwork and headed to the torture chamber workout area.

First up, squats. No problemo since I already do lots of squats, right? Hmm. What's this big old contraption? Squats with weights, huh? Never did a weighted squat before. Fifty pounds?? Are you out of your mind?? These were superset with step-ups. I only tripped the first couple of times on each foot (especially my left foot). Three sets of each and my legs were a little wobbly. Wimp.

Next were sit ups. With a medicine ball. After almost smacking my knees with the ball (and I warned Katie to get out of the way so I wouldn't accidentally knock her out) I made it through the first set. These were superset with twists. After 3 sets my arms were a little wobbly from the ball. Wimp.

Then my nemesis: push-ups. Since I have oodles of body weight and no upper body strength, these are a challenge (understatement). Push-ups were superset with planks. I kept falling on my face. The last set of push-ups were while standing and I still wasn't doing very well. Last plank I managed to hold the entire time without collapsing, but I was shaking so hard the people around me probably thought there was an earthquake. After that my arms were very wobbly. Wimp.

Thus concluded my first session. I felt so wiped out that I signed up for 22 more sessions. Obviously the blood had completed left my brain to do something like that. But to be perfectly serious for once, it's something I have to do. I'm not only trying to build strength, I need to lower my weight to ease my running. I need to be accountable to someone other than myself (in this case, my trainer and my wallet) and this will do it. I want to be pushed in a way that won't make me want to cry or quit, and be taught the correct way of doing the exercises.

I'm happy with how it went, enjoyed working out with Katie. The timing worked well to get home afterward and shower and still be on time for work. The only downside is getting out of bed so early but since I'm normally not asleep anyway it shouldn't be an issue. I think I'll be sore tomorrow but I need to remind myself that it's a "good" sore that I earned with hard work.

Stay tuned!

Thursday, June 24, 2010


I'm going to try to report on each of my workouts with my new personal trainer at my new gym. This morning I dragged out of bed at 5:30 am, took a quick wake-me-up shower and walked in the gym at 6:00. My trainer, who I'll call "Katie," was there waiting for me with forms and health questions. I filled out the forms and then she weighed me (verdict: heavy). Either she's an excellent actress, or she really thought I weigh at least 20 pounds less than I do.

After finding out that the gym's scale is very similar to mine, Katie took out the calipers and measured my body fat (verdict: lots of it). My guess was that I'd be about 40% BF and I was close, it was 38% (good grief, what would it be like if I didn't run??). Then Kathy pulled out the tape measure to find out my starting dimensions (verdict: none). Just as she was about the wrap the tape around my neck, the lights flickered and died.

The entire gym was silent and dark. And stayed dark. I don't know how extensive the power outage was, if it was just that building or if it was the neighborhood, but the gym was out. All the employees, including Katie, had to scurry around leading people out of the building. Yeah, even those in the dark dark showers.

All I could picture was the power going off and people flying off the back of their treadmills, like a bad comedy. I don't know if there's a fail safe that slows them down, but I bet there was a whole lot of swearing over in the cardio section. And in the pool. And in the pitch black bathrooms.

I went back home and decided that I might as well get to work early. Then I decided the hell with it and got on the treadmill. Three miles later I was tired out and ready for bed again, so I got ready and went to work.

And thus ended my first day of personal training. Hey, not sore at all!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Once more, starting over again. Again.

Sometimes I think I should just rename this blog "Another New Start." Apparently I'm not that great at follow-through and I'm pretty shabby at keeping up with my plans to change my life and improve my health.

After I ran my last marathon I told myself I HAD to make 2 changes before I ran another. First I needed to cut my hair since it was heavy and hot, slapping me on the back and the arms and spraying water everywhere and just an annoyance I didn't need. That was easily taken care of (although if it had been that easy, why did I wait for 8 months between cuts?). Less easy was my second issue which was to lose 10 pounds and get in better running shape. That's where I have to start over.

On Monday I did something I haven't done since I was married: I joined a gym. Yup, the woman who has her own workout room with treadmill and exercycle and weights and a step. The woman who as 3 -- count 'em, 3 -- bicycles in her garage. That woman: me. I not only joined a gym, I joined a gym that will cost me a lot of money. All so that I can pay even more money to work with a personal trainer. In the morning. Before work. At 6:00 am. Holy Early Riser, Batman!

It was Claudia's fault. Just like when I joined the tri team and when I joined the century team. Heh. Way to take some personal responsibility, Amy. Actually, it's all on me with just some friendly assist from Claudia. See, she gets up in the middle of the night and drives to the gym and works out with a trainer. If I had someone to meet I'd actually show up too. Especially if I have to pay for it. So she escorted me to her gym (which is 5 minutes from my house), introduced me to her trainer, and now I'm committed to not only paying the money, but to showing up. And by showing up, to work my ass off.

And since it doesn't make much sense to get back on the regular exercise wagon without paying attention to my food intake, I've started keeping a food diary and counting points. By writing it down I can see exactly how much I'm stuffing in my mouth and get a handle on controlling my out-of-control diet.

I think we all know I'm not good at dealing with new and uncomfortable situations. My anxiety level is through the roof right now (full disclosure: not all of it is due to the gym/trainer, some is due to family). My normal sleeplessness has degraded even further. Even though I'm awake at 5:30 am (... and 4:30 ... and 3:30 ...) I find I'm too weary to get up and run, although I'll be getting up and meeting the trainer twice weekly. When I get home from work I'm so pooped I just want to nap, again getting in the way of my running. The biggest thing I'm going to have to change in my life is to convince myself that even if I'm exhausted, I still have to get in my workouts. Regularly and constantly. Otherwise I'll be back here in 4 months starting over again.

See Jane Run Half Marathon Half-Assed Race Review

I just realized I hadn't yet written up a review of the See Jane Run Half Marathon in Alameda on June 5th. One reason is that it was almost exactly like last year and the year before. Another is that it took me so long to write up the Vermont reports. So this will be a report without pictures, just because I'm lazy. This is a very expensive race to run, so expectations were high.

The ways in which it was exactly like last year:
1) early packet pickup at the store in Oakland (and available at the other stores);
2) goody bag made of plastic containing a Luna bar and not much else;
3) tech shirt in white with similar design to last year;
4) horrific lines to check sweats at the start;
5) stupid long lines for the porta potties at the start;
6) late start;
7) crowded path after the bridge;
8) abundant water stops;
9) abrupt stop after the finish;
10) I clocked the first mile .1 mile too long and the finish at 13.25 miles (even on tangents);
11) champagne glass with chocolate;
12) regular medal on a ribbon;
13) abundant finish area food;
14) many vendors selling stuff and/or giving samples.
The ways in which it was different from last year:
1) the timing chips had to be picked up race morning, meaning another long line;
2) Anita and Bree were running this year;
3) there weren't enough volunteers, most of the water stops were self-service;
4) there were a lot more walkers and slow runners, so it was crowded for longer on the route;
5) the bubbly was free-flowing. Very free flowing;
6) it was hot and sunny.
I was overwhelmingly disappointed by the lack of course support. It's ridiculous to have to pour your own water as if it's a training run. Yes, there was plenty of water (and some electrolyte drink) available, but with only 2 volunteers at each table, they couldn't keep up with the crowds. I recognize that it was warmer than it had been and people were taking more than 1 cup at a time, but even so it was poorly planned.

The starting area is a mess. I've said it for the past 2 years and I'll say it again. They should have this down by now, the organizers should be able to have better flowing traffic and they should be able to start on time.

That said, I still like the route. Of course, it's almost exactly our normal Alameda training route, but I like it. It's pretty and scenic running along the Bay. It's fun to see all the regular people on the trail trying to figure out why there are so many women with numbers pinned on their chests. I like running in the middle of the street instead of on the canted parts. I love seeing women of all shapes and sizes and talents and ages running in a pack.

I didn't have an easy day, which I expected since I had run a full marathon less than a week earlier. Also, my lungs were still crapped up from the smoke in Vermont. We all ran together for a couple of miles, then Bree dropped back to a different interval. Anita and I ran together until about mile 8-9 where I just fell apart and told her to go ahead at her own speed. I walked for most of a mile but when I crossed the bridge for the final 3 miles I was able to start running again. My goal had been to finish the race under 3 hours and I didn't. According to Mr. Garmin, I finished the 13.1 miles under 3 but it took me a couple of more minutes to finish the long course and I'm a believer in official times.

Will we do it again? It's unlikely. It's a hell of a lot of money for a training run with fringe benefits. I don't like the shirts and I could buy lots of bottles of champagne for the entry fee. On the other hand, I like supporting women's races where any rookie can feel secure in her first race. But there are so many races out there, lots of competition for my buck, and I think they'll have to work harder for it.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Vermont City Marathon Race Report

The Vermont City Marathon was both the best and the worst part of my wonderful vacation in Vermont. My 32nd marathon (I know!) in my 20th state (I know!) was completely memorable. Even those parts I'd like to forget.

We went to the expo/packet pickup on Friday, late in the afternoon. Although the set-up was a little strange (go upstairs for your number, go downstairs for your shirt, visit the vendors all over), we quickly were able to retrieve the necessities. The goody bag was a backpack (in my colors of black and gray) with the race logo and was filled with this:

my first goody bag with maple syrup

nice sturdy bag to carry all my stuff

There were no advertisements, no leaflets, no coupons. All of that had been contained in our "e-bag" that we had received earlier. How very green of them, and I for one was quite thankful to avoid the massive waste. I had printed a couple of coupons that I intended to use and the rest of the items took up only cyberspace and not my trash.

The race shirt was quite a treat. It's a nice technical fabric, short sleeved bright blue shirt with all the relevant info and the logo. The other races (a 2 person relay and a 3-5 person relay) had another color shirt, so the full marathoners were set apart.

a race shirt I'll wear for running

The expo was pretty good for a small race. Yeah, I said small for a race that had about 3500 marathoners and 700 relay teams. I guess I'm getting so used to those megathons. I prefer this smaller size, it just seems that most races have 10,000 or 20,000 (or 40,000) participants. Smaller is definitely better. But I was talking about the expo which was indeed impressive for a race this size.

Heck, any expo where they're giving away samples of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream and Cabot Cheese and Oikos Greek Yogurt and fancy Vermont peanut butter is a-ok in my book. Throw in vendors selling everything possible you could need for a race, often at a discount, I'm happy. We spent a lot of time there, not because we needed to but because, well, why not? We looked at clothing and sweatbands and watches and socks and assorted food and other races and had a good ol' time. I bought very little, but made sure to get my requisite running cap with the race logo (oy, like I need another running cap).

The race was using a type of timing device I hadn't seen before. It's like 2 little plastic strips on the sides of the bib, meaning nothing to attach to (or fall off of) your shoe. But it means no bending or folding the race bib either. I know there was a little trouble with the timing (just ask Sandy who really didn't massively PR at this race) but I don't know if that was related to the devices or something else. The volunteers at the counter explained the thingies carefully to make sure you didn't fold them or lose the bib.

The VCM provides a shuttle service to/from the race from various local hotels. Sunday morning we easily caught the yellow school bus (adults should never have to be subjected to those awful things) to the start area. Once there, it was unclear where we should go or where anything was located (including the start). It was very crowded with racers, families, pets, volunteers, assorted community members. I didn't see any signage at all but we did manged to get where we needed.

There were ample porta potties in a couple of areas. Bag check was difficult since there weren't any bags. It hadn't been made clear whether a cheapo bag would be provided or whether we should bring our own, so we didn't bring one. There were no bags available, except one volunteer took her lunch out of a plastic grocery bag and let us use that. My thanks go to that anonymous lady! This was one of the very few organizational missteps of the day; there was nothing about this that I could find on the website and nobody at the expo knew either. But for us, at least, it worked out ok.

The race area wasn't too well organized either. There were a few pacers standing around with their signs, the last of which was (I think) 4:30. Uh, right. The race was officially open for 6 hours and 4:30 was the slowest pacer? There weren't any signs showing where different paces should line up, so we went to the back. As did everyone else who was slower than a 4:30 marathon pace, so it got crowded. Knowing how slowly I've been running, I headed to the back of the back.

I was nervous. I was already warm, and jittery, and scared. My training for this race suffered from, in part, the 2 long-lasting colds (and the sinus infection and bronchitis) with asthma related breathing problems. My training also suffered from my not eating the right stuff all the time, and just not training enough. Sure, I got all my long mile runs done, but the short, strength building runs were highly absent. So yeah, I was nervous that I hadn't prepared well enough for this race. I knew I could do 26.2 miles, I just didn't know if I could do it in time.

The gun went off (or whatever it was, I didn't hear it as usual) and the crowd shuffled forward. Finally we crossed the mat and were off! My short-term plan was to start strongly enough to get me past the cutoff at 8.5 miles where you absolutely positively had to be running faster than a 13:25 pace, even with a bigass hill at the end. My long-term plan to to save enough from that to bank a little time in case I fell apart in the last miles. I intended to run:walk my normal 9:1 plus walking water stops through the half, then to reconsider and see what I could do.

Surprisingly enough, it started according to plan. The first bit was uphill, through the downtown area. We ran up Church Street which was thronged with people cheering while they drank their morning coffee and had breakfast. Crowd support, through almost the entire race except the freeway bits, was incredible. I normally don't care if anyone is out there cheering, but it can't help but make you feel good to see how much the locals enjoy and support this race.

Past mile 3 is the start of a long out-and-back section on a closed freeway. Many people were complaining about this section, but I thought it was pretty. The first half was a sharp downhill, but it's very obvious that the second half would be that same pitch uphill. I got to see the leaders of the race as I plodded along and they sped up the hill.

I was struggling to keep a decent pace going. My body and my brain just weren't into the whole "I'm running 26.2 miles" thing. I 9:1'd it downhill and then 9:1'd it back up again, and saw I was well within my time limit. I eased it back on the pace as I was flushed and nauseous and breathing heavy. This area had quite a bit of cant on the road but I was able to run straight down, then up, the middle which also served to help me cut those corners and run the tangents.

Before mile 9 I was hating the race and hating myself for getting into this. We ran back down Church Street where the crowd, while having thinned out a bit, was still cheering loudly for all the runners. For the next several miles I was seriously in doubt that I would finish the race. I was thinking this would be my first official DNF and I didn't care because Vermont is pretty and I could come back and do it right. I was hoping that I'd pass out, or that I'd fall badly enough to hurt myself enough to stop. I was thinking I could quit if I thew up, then I remembered that marathoners always continue on after they vomit so that wouldn't work. I saw a sign that said "beware falling rocks" and hoped that one would hit me on the head. Nice. Throughout this section I switched to a 4:1 with little effect.

All the while this was going on in my head I was moving forward, and enjoying my views of the city, the crowds and the other runners. Go figure. My appreciation for the water stop volunteers soared each time they helped me fill my water bottle and quickly sent me on my way. I took my gels, drank water and my Ultima moved on.

Somehow at the half point I got my second wind. It might have been the view of the Lake, it might have been the fresh breeze cooling down my fevered brow, it might have been the quiet flat path, it might have been all the fluids I had taken in. Whatever it was, I changed back to 9:1 and for the first time that morning knew that I would indeed finish the damn race, and I might even do it on time. Life was grand, life was wonderful, and I was out there doing it.

That lasted until I hit the hill at mile 15. All I could do was wonder what sadistic sonofabitch had designed the course with that gratuitous hill. I walked almost the entire 6 blocks of it, and even so was huffing and puffing and wheezing and almost crying (when I wasn't ready to burst out in obscenities at anyone who told me "lookin' good!"). I hit the top of the hill and was officially fried. With 11 miles left to go.

But what's 11 miles to me, I thought? That's a mere training run, a mere jaunt on the treadmill, a ... oh, who was I fooling. It was 11 more freakin' miles to go and I knew at that point that it would be unlikely that I'd finish in time (although I knew for a fact that I'd finish at some point). I did what any marathoner in her right mind would do: I continued on.

The day started getting warmer. The overcast skies were clearing and the sun was popping out. The temps felt like it was in the low 70's but it could have been cooler or warmer. It was very humid which was great for my asthma but not for my cooling system. An intermittent breeze drew cooler air off the water and was very welcome when it arrived.

The route took off through a couple of neighborhoods and even at that late hour, that far into race day, there were still people out on their lawns or at block parties or sitting with a hose full of cold free water to spray down hot runners. It was embarrassing to sadly trudge past these friendly cheering throngs, so I'd suck it up to look good until they were behind me, then start trudging again. My 4:1 deteriorated to what was probably a 2:2 at that point, but I was still running regularly.

When the route turned onto the bike path at mile 21-ish I knew without a doubt I wouldn't make the cutoff but it didn't stop me. Official or not, I was finishing. Although there were signs posted that the path was closed for the race, it's a busy route and many people were using it for recreation and transit so it was crowded. At this point I was telling myself NOT to fall, NOT, to throw up, NOT to pass out because it still wouldn't stop me, only delay me. I got to the point where I stopped looking at my watch and just ran when I could, walked when I couldn't.

There were several race personnel on bikes riding back and forth to make sure (1) that none of us laggards were dying on the path, and (2) that we were going to finish the race some day soon. They were kind, considerate, funny, and also annoying to a grump like me who just wanted to be finished, not to converse about how I was doing. Still moving forward, so I must be ok, right?

I was right when I had thought, 2 days earlier, that the changes in grade would irritate the bejeebers out of me. Walk up, run down, rinse and repeat. Run around that person, walk around the other. Get passed by someone else. Pass them again in turn. Drink more, breathe deeply, try to smile, move on.

I finally saw the finish area ahead, saw the crowded pathway leading to the finish, and tried to pick it up. Right after the 26 mile marker I had to pick it up; the beer tent was directly along the path and everyone inside was loudly cheering and clapping. What could I do but pretend I could run it all the way in? There were 2 tight corners to turn (at one of which I almost collided with a little girl who came to a stop right in front of me), then pound it on home. And I was done.

I don't remember exactly what happened next. I know I got my medal, got my space blanket (which I didn't need yet), got my water. There was a table with food but I had no interest in it. I needed to cool down and and steady my breathing. Sandy came to meet me and we walked around for a couple of minutes. I let myself start feeling the pain I'd been ignoring for hours but I couldn't remove the smile from my face. Then I remembered: free beer!

Not that I was interested in beer, but it's the principle of the thing. If there's free beer after a race I always at least take a sip. This time I was more interested in sitting down before finding the bus. Sitting down with a beer was just a bonus. The tent was starting to clear out so we got a table along the route to see the last few marathoners bring it in. No, I wasn't the last person!

Despite their stated 6 hour cut-off of services, I felt fully supported the entire route. Sure, lots of the later water stations had gone down to 1 table and they were sweeping up cups in front of me, but there were still lots of people handing out that water and cheering. The finish line fencing was being taken down but the finish line stayed up until the last person crossed. I don't know of the variety, but there was still at least a little to eat for the late finishers. There was certainly beer.

We had a wait for the bus, but when the last one showed up the driver offered to take everyone, whether they were on her route or not. All of the tired runners, all of the tired family members got that one last favor.

Overall impressions of the race? Incredible. One of the best organized of the races I've done. One of the best supported by volunteers. Some of the best crowd support I've seen and embraced more by the locals than any I've seen before except for maybe New York. The route had a few more twists and turns than I like but we got to see various parts of the town, the Lake, parks and businesses. The topography was varied from dead flat to grades to bigass hills. There were a few problems such as the disorganized start area and sweat check, the mile markers weren't too clear (I missed at least 3 of them), the rumors of ice cream at the finish were only that, and people were allowed to cluster on the finish route while others were still running. Other than that, it was a great race. I'm glad I did it. And glad I don't have to come back to do it again!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Vermont Teddy Bear Company Factory Visit

Nine years ago I ran my first marathon. Not only did I discover that I love going the distance running but I also love going the distance to get to the race. When my number of completed marathons reached somewhere in the upper 20's, and my number of states where I had run those marathons reached the upper teens, I admitted that I would very much like to run a full marathon in every single state of our United States of America. I've completed all my local, close states and now I'm going for those that will take more effort on my part.

Along with my own obsession with running marathons is a country-wide growth of obsessed runners and the corresponding number of marathons. I decided that I'd like to combine my joys and travel to areas for marathons that also have something else that interests me. Thus, the Vermont City Marathon and the Vermont Teddy Bear Company. Hey, it's not that strange for me considering I ran a couple of half marathons in Chicago only because I wanted to be there the same weekend as the Stitches yarn market (and I've also visited yarn shops in every marathon city I've been to since I started knitting).

A common misconception among people who know me is that I collect teddy bears. Nope, I don't. I've just happened to accumulate a whole crapload of them! I got my first bear when I was in high school and somehow, many years later, I have a house full of bears. Big bears, little bears, tiny bears, black/brown/tan/purple/white/red/pink/gray/younameit colored bears. Hard bears, stiff bears, funny bears, sad bears, floppy bears, ornamental bears, fuzzy bears, naked bears and dressed bears.

I received my very first Vermont Teddy Bear in October, 2002. My sis sent me a bear to wish me good luck when I ran the Silicon Valley Marathon. On the back of this Superstar Bear's shirt is embroidered "Go Amy," which I did in the race by knocking 12 minutes of my previous fastest race time. That was the start of my sis and me sending each other Vermont Teddy Bears.

For birthdays, for achievements, for illness or injury or just because, one of us would go online and send the other a bear, usually as a surprise. Along with this, I started getting bears from the Vermont Teddy Bear Company for myself. First it was for special occasions, then for commemoration, then for "just because I like her!" or for no reason at all. All of a sudden, I realized that when I put together all my Vermont Teddy Bears, it looked like this:

yes, there are 14 bears on my sofa

Slightly disturbing for a grown woman, hmm (especially when you can see the other bears in the background)? But that didn't stop me, because a couple of years earlier I had discovered a full marathon in Vermont only minutes away from the Vermont Teddy Bear factory. Too many bears or not, I was going to see the mothership, I would get to tour the home of them all. I would just have to put on my big girl panties and not buy out the entire place.

You might remember that a couple of years ago I was contacted by a representative of the Vermont Teddy Bear Company and offered a free bear (an offer which I happily accepted). He's the little guy in the tux in the upper left hand corner of the picture. To satisfy the latest full disclosure laws regarding product reviews (which I guess this really is, in the long run), yes, I got a freebie. But that was after I already had bought oodles of Vermont Teddy Bears for myself, my sis and my friends and in no way changed my admiration for this "product."

Anyhoo, when I realized I would be in Burlington, VT in just a week I sent an email to VTB (sorry, tired of typing the entire thing out) and asked if he'd be available to meet me when I showed up. To my delight, he indeed would be there and would be able to come out to say hello.

Sandy and I arrived at the VTB factory early Friday afternoon. I seriously felt like a little kid going to Disneyland or having her first Christmas morning (full disclosure: I never went to Disneyland as a kid and I'm Jewish so I never celebrated Christmas. But I felt like I would imagine a kid would feel at those times). I was actually giddy. Sandy was amused.

We paged Nate and he came down to the shop to say hello. More than say hello. We got the grand tour, the behind the curtain view of Emerald City. We were introduced around ("this is the crazy lady who has as many bears as the factory and who runs marathons"), shown things that most visitors never get a chance to see, and made to feel right at home. Ok, maybe not right at home, I think Nate sensed that I could easily move right on in if given half a chance. Hell, I think he was a bit taken aback to see the tattoo on my leg (it's their logo bear. But only because it's the best line drawing of a teddy bear that I could find. I'm not their "biggest fan" and I'm not going to lock the employees in some room and break their legs until they design my perfect bear. I promise.).

Nate spent quite a bit of time with us, answered all our questions, gave us a good idea of the workings of the company and the sister companies (go to their websites and check them out yourself. I'm busy writing here). Since he then had to go perform his actual job, he left us in the capable hands of the general tour guide, where a tour was just starting. Thank you Nate, for a memorable time!

We joined the tour in progress and followed along with the (about) dozen parents and children. We seemed to be the only adults without little ones, which was a little surprising to me. But the kids on the tour added to my own wonder and joy at the whole experience. I took lots of pictures which I won't be posting here, mostly because of blogger's annoyingly inept picture interface.

It was fascinating to learn about construction of a VTB. Since obviously mine all arrive in one piece, I had no idea how many little bits it takes to make a bear. There were actual employees assembling little teddies while we watched (and kudos to them for not pacing nervously back and forth the way a caged bear in a zoo does). We were shown the bear hospital where injured teddies are repaired (yes, fully guaranteed, even if they're chewed on by the dog or spit out by a lawn mower). This tour was short, probably because a little kid doesn't have the greatest attention span, but quite complete.

Y'all know that I can be quite the grump when it comes to screeching kids. We didn't hear any of that during the entire tour (or indeed, the whole time we were there). Yes, there were a gazillion kids, both little and big. Yes, they were noisy. But they were happy laughing giggling noisy, not cranky greedy noisy. They were running and playing and not one screech came out. A small miracle in itself.

Along the tour route I found my newest friend, but they wouldn't let me take him home:

oh c'mon, he likes me! he wants to move to California with me!

Then came the tough part: the shopping. There's a room with almost every single bear that they make. Shelves and tables and displays of bears. I walked around and pointed out that "I have that one" "and that one" "and that one" "and that one" and on and on. But there were even more that I didn't have. Many more. And I had told myself I could have 1.

Hahahahah! Yeah, we all know how well that would work. The one bear I had permissioned myself to buy was a dark brown colored version of this sweet girl:

For some reason this lovely, soft, floppy, squishy, huggable bear had disappeared from the website and catalog and I hoped that I could find another one. I knew they originally came in this golden color, the dark brown, pink and pale blue (and maybe yellow, or maybe I'm just imagining that). Luckily I saw an entire display shelf filled with these bears. Unluckily I then had to instruct myself that I only needed to get the dark brown, and not the pink and blue.

But I didn't stop there. There was a bear that I had never seen, that belonged in my house. Most of you who have seen my knitting and my yarn know that my colors are black, red and gray (or white). The previously unseen bear was black fur tipped with white. Wait, maybe it was the other way around, white tipped with black. Anyway, he was a beautiful bear and matched my furnishings so he had to be mine also. Oh hey, I just found him on their website. Mine doesn't have the tie, he's nekkid and don't need no steenkin clothing.

But wait, there's more! I've wanted one of their little bears, but they're normally only sold with the mama or grandmama bears as a set. I just wanted a lil 'un for me. Ok, and one for my sis too.

No, I wasn't done yet. I've never been to the stuff-it-yourself bear emporium and VTB has their own select line of stuffers. Including a fluffy bright red teddy bear. I got the thrill of being there for the stuffing of my very own Friend for Life (Conceived by Vermont Teddy Bear, Born Abroad, Stuffed in Vermont) red bear.

At that point my arms ran out of room, my wallet ran out of money, and the day ran out of time. Sandy walked out of the VTB showroom with 3 bears, I walked out with only the one brown bear. One day this week, hopefully soon, the others will arrive in their cozy box.

I had the BEST TIME EVAH! Honestly, the people couldn't have been nicer, the merchandise was irresistible, my dreams were fulfilled and exceeded. If you're ever in that part of the country, even a couple of hundred miles away, you have to go visit.

Tell 'em Runner Girl Knits and her large family of bears sent ya!

MINE, ALL MINE! Bwahahahah!
oh wait, my sis gets one of the little ones

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Runner Girl's Great Vermont Adventure

Last Thursday I gleefully hopped a plane to head to the eastern part of this country. I arrived on time in New York and proceeded to go nowhere fast. They were experiencing thunder and lightning at JFK and didn't think we should try to fly in it. Sissies. On top of my expected 3 hour layover, there were an additional 2 hours of delay. BORED! (Which is completely sad since I had 2 books, my knitting, several movies on my computer, airport internet, etc. etc.)

I finally arrived in Burlington, VT before midnight and made my way to the motel. Sandy had an easy drive up from New York and was comfortably snuggled in her bed. I made sure she was awake and we popped open a bottle of wine to celebrate seeing each other again. Chatter chatter until the wee small hours when we finally realized a little sleep would be helpful.

In a move that surprised both of us, we decided to actually go for the run we had talked about before sleeping. I slathered on sunscreen and dressed in a tank top and shorts - first time for sleeveless this season. We drove to the waterfront and after driving in circles for a bit, parked and started on our way. The plan was for 4 easy miles on the lakefront trail.

We were ignoring that "easy" means a different pace for us both. Although Sandy tried to slow down to my slug-pace, I'm easily rabbited and when she'd get ahead of me, I'd speed up too. The remarkable thing was that as long as I stayed slow enough, my breathing was better than it's been since that first cold I got this winter.

The trail on which we were running, the Burlington Bikeway, is part of the marathon route, toward the end of the race. I knew that even though it was "flat" or "flattish," the little changes in grade would drive me batshit beyond mile 20. The trail was well maintained asphalt with glimpses of Lake Champlain on one side and greenery or houses on the other.

It was fun to me to once again be in the type of vegetation in which I grew up (I grew up in a house, not a garden, but you know what I mean) (don't you?). I had just missed the Lilac bloom which was too bad since it's one of my favorite woody plants and they don't grow well in the East Bay. I seemed to hit peak Peony time though, and from what I could see they weren't the ant attractors that mine are. It was nice to see the varieties of maples and oaks and other hardwoods that don't grow as well (or as big) in the Bay Area, and the green green undergrowth of ferns and vines and flowers. I really felt completely at home. I also realized that I've quite forgotten the names of all the viney plants and wildflowers. They were pretty to look at, whatever they were.

It was a warm, breezy, sunny morning and after about 2-1/2 miles I started getting lightheaded. Because we had forgotten to eat anything or have coffee before starting. D'oh! Here I was, pushing it just a little past my comfort zone speedwise, and I was empty. Dummy. I should have known better. Luckily I had some Sport Beans in my pack and I knew it was only 4 miles. We made it to the end, feeling quite righteous.

After cooling down we returned to the motel for their free breakfast and then showers. We had a full day ahead of us and had to get on the road. Luckily Sandy had a GPS unit since the Gmap directions I had brought with me were complete confusion. We started out for our yarn crawl.

After a while of driving in circles we arrived at our first stop, Northeast Fiber Arts center. Since my stash is a bit out of hand I was only going to buy yarn if it was from a local sheep/spinner/dyer/company and whatdaya know, I found some. I bought a few skeins of a lovely electric blue hand dyed Vermont Border Leceister. [Note: this was very odd to me since I was reading John Scalzi's "The Android's Dream" which involves a sheep with bright blue wool, which I picture as looking exactly like this yarn. ]

I also fed my sock yarn addiction and bought a skein of Ella Rae Lace Merino. The shop was lovely and welcoming and the owner (I think she was the owner) showed me around and pointed out local yarns. The selection of yarns was great but I was being reasonable and stopped while I was ahead.

I thought See's was the candy store for knitters, but I stand corrected

That didn't stop us from moving on to the next yarn shop, Kaliedoscope Yarns. Although this looked from the outside to be someone's home, inside it was all yarn. Once again I was helped by the friendly staff, although they weren't quite as willing to just let me look at only the local items. Because of this, I walked out with a couple of skeins of Madeline Tosh DK Yarn in Tart as well as the relatively local (at least to a clueless Californian) Lobster Pot Yarn's Lobster Sox in Salt Rose (and I would have bought another skein in the gorgeous Lobster Bisque had it been in stock). If you're in the area I recommend visiting both of these shops!

We were getting hungry by then but didn't want to take too much time out of our busy touristing, so we found a local sandwich/Vermont-y store and got sandwiches. We gobbled them down and headed off to my real goal of the entire vacation, the Vermont Teddy Bear Company factory. That will be a story in itself. A long story with lots of pictures. And bears bears bears.

mine mine mine mine mine

After many hours (yes, we went well beyond "couple" and "few") we bid a fond, expensive farewell and left. Next stop, right up the road, was a brewery with free tasting. Marathon, schmarathon, we wanted beer!

The Magic Hat Brewing Company tasting room looked like a combination between a pub and a tourist store. I'm pretty darn certain I was the oldest person in there. Their beers were all listed on the wall and the kind servers poured us whatever we wanted. Between the two of us we tasted most of the choices, liking some more than others. We decided to buy a bottle or two for that night, although we never did end up drinking them (too much wine, I guess). Sandy got to take them home with her, lucky girl!

We were heading toward our motel when we remembered that we were supposed to go to the race expo between 4-7 pm. Funny, all that yarn and bears and beer and we forgot why we were in Vermont in the first place. We went to the expo, which I'll talk about in the race report, then finally made it back to the motel.We were exhausted by that time so we just had dinner at the motel's pub. Very healthy option: salad bar and wings. Well, we needed protein, didn't we? Then we headed back to the room to attempt to sleep.

We spent a night tossing and turning (usual for me, not as much for Sandy) and decided we should eat the free breakfast and get a move on. Again, we had lots to do. Our drive was a little longer this time, out to the Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream factory.

ice cream cows!

We were just in time to catch the next tour and walked around the factory. Since it was a Saturday, nobody was working on the floor but the guide was still able to show us how ice cream would be made, if anyone was working. At the end of the tour we got our taste of one of the newest flavors, Boston Cream Pie. Very delicious. In fact, when the tour guide asked us to please take seconds because otherwise they'd be thrown out, we were happy to comply.

waste not, want not

a decent tour would let us taste each of these

From B&J's we moved down the road a bit to A Special Place where our first stop was the Cabot Cheese Annex Store. We sampled all of their tasty varieties of cheddar cheese and ignored the fact that this wasn't quite the nutrition we needed for the race. We ignored that even more at the Snow Farm Vineyard Tasting area, where we tried mouthsful of their wines from the Champlain Islands.

Next up was Lake Champlain Chocolate factory outlet, where the samples were ok and the chocolate was expensive. We bought not one thing there, the first place we'd gone to without spending money. Since we were there, we also went into the Danforth Pewter shop and browsed through their pretty merchandise. I didn't get off as cheaply there, I bought a hair clip and a letter opener.

Since we hadn't tired ourselves out enough, we decided to next (and last for the day) check out the Church Street Marketplace. This is a street that's closed to traffic and made into a pedestrian mall lined by restaurants and shops. And cows. Seriously, the cows came home to Burlington. For a change, these didn't scare me in the least.

the cow jumped over the moon

how pastoral

a porcelain bovine

groovy, man

ok, maybe this one scared me

a little busy

gift wrapped!

I'm seeing spots

mooing in a winter wonderland

We decided it would be nice to rest a little so we headed back to the motel and both took a short nap. We wanted to be lazy once again and had dinner at the motel restaurant for a second time. We tried for an early night but it didn't look like either of us would be having a lot of sleep.

We were right. Although it was late for a marathon (the race didn't start until 8:00 am) the alarm went off at 5:40 am. I spent the night with bizarro oddball dreams and nightmares and didn't mind getting up to shower.

The race was long, and hard, and wonderful and the race report forthcoming.

Sunday afternoon we didn't make it back to the motel until 4-ish. We took turns standing under the pouring hot water in the shower and each climbed into our bed for a little shuteye. Not much sleep, mind you, just resting. The vast quantities of caffeine Gu kept me from sleep.

No motel restaurant for us again, we wanted pizza and beer! We queried the motel staff and were told of a close-by pizza joint, Marco's Pizzeria & Grill, that was very good. A couple of minutes later we had ordered a Go Greek pizza (feta, sundried tomato, artichoke and black olives), wings and beer (that protein thing, again!). Despite not having had anything to eat all day except performance food, our eyes were much bigger than our appetites.

While we were lazily eating our pizza and drinking our beer, we noticed (couldn't have failed to notice) 2 little kids running around the restaurant and playing together. They were loud but not screeching. The sound of their laughing and giggles was fun to listen to. It turned out the family was part of the owner's family. We were talking to the owner's sister and told her we had run the marahton. She was so impressed that she offered to buy us another round of beer. Neither of us was too inclined to drink more but neither were we inclined to move, so we happily accepted her gracious offer. When we got back to the motel Sandy had to pack, I just had to pack it in. I crawled into bed, read a little, and hoped the beer would help me sleep. Notsomuch.

Although I was staying another day, Sandy had to drive home. We had breakfast and decided to go to the waterfront and take pictures. Upon stepping outside we noted it was very hazy. And very smoky. As people who live (or lived, in her case) in a place where a season is called "Fire Season" we knew there was a big fire somewhere. We didn't know there was a huge forest fire in Quebec and the smoke was drifting southward and piling up over Vermont. It was way beyond nasty. Our photo op was spoiled by the thick haze. We went back to the race finish area and walked around a little, but our breathing was bad enough that we didn't go too far or stay too long.

pretend you can see New York and a lovely shoreline

Oddly enough we were getting hungry again so we decided to take another look at Church Street and find a restaurant. We walked up and down and the air was clearing just enough to make it ok to eat on one of the shaded patios. We picked one of the very similar restaurants and I had my annual or semi-annual Reuben (I normally don't eat beef, but I make that exception). Along with the brightly fluorescent orange sweet potato fries, it was utterly delicious. A couple of quick stops later Sandy packed up her car and deserted me (sorry Sandy, just kidding).

yum, orange food!

I intended to take a walk, or knit, or read, or load picture onto the computer. Instead, I closed my eyes and took a nap. Mostly a toss and turn, but I think I grabbed a wink or two. Afterward, the rest of the day went quickly. I did a little of this and that, went for a walk and got a sandwich for a late dinner, watched a little tv and went back to bed.

And that was it. A great vacation with a great friend in a great area. I can't say enough about the friendliness and kindness of the Vermonters we met. Almost everyone was welcoming to these Californians (which isn't always the case). Even the worn areas around Burlington are pretty and lush and green. When I win the lottery I'm getting a summer home there!