Showing posts from November, 2010

I see a darkness

Feathers of sunlight escaped a quilt of clouds in the early afternoon. I used my usual half-hour lunch break to wander the streets of downtown Missoula, soaking in a bit of daylight before the clouds closed in and it was time to return to the desk, until 5 p.m., when the sun sets. That's when I planned to go back out for my two-hour run.

"The winter darkness is hitting me harder this year than it did last year," I confessed to a co-worker later in the afternoon.

"How is that?" he asked. "Last year, you lived in Alaska. It's lighter and warmer in Missoula."

"Actually, it's not either," I replied. "Well, I guess there's technically more daylight here. But I don't often see any of it. I go to work just after the sun rises and leave just before it sets. When I lived in Juneau, the sun set at 2:30, which was also about the time I went to work. So I had all of the daylight hours to myself, every single day. I miss that schedule. …


An overstuffed Subaru Forester with four adults and only one set of skis attached to the roof rack pulled up to the tiny border crossing in Roosville, Montana. The Canadian border guard stepped into the single-digit cold, collected three American passports and a Swiss passport, and boredly rambled through his routine.

"Where are you from?"

"Um, we're from Kalispell, she's from Missoula, and he's from the Bay area," said Ted, the driver.

"And were are you going?"


"And what is your purpose in Canada?"

"We're going to celebrate Thanksgiving." (Long pause.) "Um, American Thanksgiving."

It sounded suspicious, even to us. We smiled and held our collective breath. The border guard returned our passports and without another question, said, "Welcome to Canada."

And thus began our holiday in Canada that our Canadian friends dubbed "Yanksgiving," because in the Great White North, the harves…

How to go for a run at 0 degrees

Not only am I new to the idea of running as a form of physical training (rather than as a last-ditch method to catch a tight flight connection), I am new to dressing for comfort in cold weather while running, necessary knowledge to have when training for a cold-weather race. Last night provided the perfect opportunity for gear testing: Low, low single digits dropping into the negative single digits.

Step 1: Never start a run without taking advantage of an opportunity to test some new, preferably slightly ridiculous cold-weather strategy, such as ways to keep water from freezing solid. Taping a Camelback bladder to your skin can work, as long as you're not opposed to carrying around a cold, sloshing water baby.

Step 2: If you are using a more traditional method for protecting water and gear, such as a wedging a backpack inside of a coat, make sure you can actually fit your coat around all of the crap you want to wear and/or bring with you.

Step 3: Don't forget the loose final piec…

... It's DARE

I expected to feel something like euphoria after completing the Sustina 100, but found the experience to be closer to the opposite of that. Geoff loaded my bike in the back of the truck as I stood in the bright sun with my head lowered. My skin felt clammy and chapped, my lips and mouth parched. Geoff gave me a Diet Pepsi, a special treat, but the cold liquid tasted like fire and sea water — a result of extreme electrolyte imbalance, mild nutritional deficiencies and of course dehydration. I was out of energy but I had no appetite. Geoff produced a cold pizza — he purchased it the evening before when he expected me to finish around 2 a.m., not 10 — but I couldn't even choke down a full slice. We drove in mostly silence an hour back to Palmer, where I peeled off my still-wet clothing and prepared to take a shower. My hair was wet and so knotted around my hair band that I couldn't untangle it. My bloodshot eyes stared back at my blotchy face in the mirror. I tried to yank my ha…

Embracing the cold

(Yes, I'm getting around to finishing my Susitna 100 story. I haven't had time to blog this weekend, so this is just a quick photo post.)
Sunday morning crept toward afternoon. The temperature outside was 11 degrees F with a brisk wind, overcast, and more than a little blah. Beat's in Montana for a week for the Thanksgiving holiday, and is pretty much fresh out of California in every way. This is his first time in Montana where it's really been "winter." His total experiences with winter as an adult are minimal at best, and he's still trying to acquire gear that most people consider standard issue, like mittens. Despite all this, he's willing to putting himself out there, in the thick of the ice and snow and bitter chill, even with untested gear and no prior experience to give him understanding of how his body will react to the cold. We went out for a shakedown hike on Saturday, in similar temperatures with a severe wind. We climbed more than 3,000 fee…

... it's coming up ... it's coming up ...

About a half mile from Rich Crain’s tent, I rounded the cliffs of the river bend and plunged back into an all-encompassing darkness. I stopped to tighten my seatpost rack and contemplated changing my base layer. There was a strange chill in the air. I couldn’t quite place it. It didn’t feel like bitter cold, frosty or sharp; it was more of a dull, penetrating chill that saturated the air. I looked up at the starless sky and felt tiny needles of moisture bouncing off my nose and cheeks. Until that moment, I hadn’t realized it was raining.

Rain! Rain wasn’t good. How often does it rain in Southcentral Alaska in February? I had planned for blizzards, I had planned for outer-space-like cold, I had planned for snow and ice and even sunlight, but I hadn’t planned on rain. The light drizzle picked up volume until large droplets were bouncing of my ultra-breathable — and therefore minimally water-resistant – shell. The trail’s thin crust began to break apart. I could feel my tires churning up …

... it's coming up ... it's coming up ...

This is the continuation of my story of the 2006 Susitna 100.

Morning light had not yet fully emerged at the 9 a.m. race start, although it was difficult to discern beneath the thick clouds that filled the sky. Snow reflected the dull gray, black spruce trees stuck out of the drifts like skewers, and the only thing that broke the winter silence was a tight cluster of about 60 skiers, cyclists and runners, perched at the edge of a colorless infinity.

Geoff’s race didn’t start until 11 a.m., so he buzzed around shooting photographs. I was so nervous that I couldn’t bear to smile at him or even glance at anyone else. I stared at my feet and legs, wrapped in what looked like a moon suit, and tried not to think about the alien landscape that lay ahead. Suddenly, I heard the dry crackle of tires on cold snow. I looked up and watched the other cyclists launch toward a narrow corridor that cut into a tangle of trees. Skiers and runners nudged around me. Like a diver who waited too long to come …

No sleep 'til Courmayeur

No sleep 'til Courmayeur from Jill Homer on Vimeo.

Beat sent me his video clips from the Tor des Geants, and I asked him if he minded if I edited some of them into a short video. The Tor des Geants, held this year from Sept. 12 to 19, is a 200-mile race through the Italian Alps, with a couple dozen passes, rough and rocky trails, and nearly 80,000 feet of climbing. Beat finished the race in 132 hours - more than five days - on less than five hours of sleep. He said he didn't necessarily think racing on no sleep made him faster - if anything, he admitted, not sleeping probably added to his overall time because it slowed him down. No, he just wanted to see what it felt like to race something like the Tor des Geants on no sleep. One thing I love about Beat is that he, much like me, values experiences much more than results. He also, like me, manages to finish most of the crazy things he sets out to do.

When I threw together this video, I didn't intend to try to convey the enti…

It's coming up ... it's coming up

Have I ever told you the story of the 2006 Susitna 100? I know it’s out there — this blog essentially blossomed around my training log for that race. I wrote about my experiences before and after I finished. But, amid the relentless march of time, I quickly left it behind and moved onto whatever came next. I don't feel like I gave the 2006 Susitna 100 the reflection it deserved. After all, it was the pivotal moment of transition between a former version of myself — then more tentative, fearful, and inexperienced model — and the stronger, more adventurous and independent version that I’ve continued to develop in the aftermath. As with all major developments in life, this change is an ongoing process that will never end. But it began at the Anchorage REI, on a snowy November afternoon just about exactly five years ago.

I was walking out of the store when "the document that changed my life" appeared in my peripheral vision: A brochure, torn, wrinkled and taped to a bulletin …

Sprained ankle

It's been a quiet week for me. On Tuesday I rolled my ankle while running along the Rattlesnake Corridor and ended up with a first-degree sprain: swelling, pain and minor bruising. I have ambitious hopes for the winter season and can't afford to prolong an injury right now, so I took it very easy all week. When exercise and activity is your default setting, it can be a little unsettling to cut back. I've felt a bit off all week, with pent-up energy simmering on low in the background, and gray, wet, Juneau-like weather swirling around me. I still don't know if I'll ever be able to get this winter training season off the ground, but I'm at least mature enough now as an athlete to not get overly frustrated by injuries, even silly ones caused by my own ineptitude (better to have a silly injury than a major one.)

I got lucky that this week's Thursday Night Ride was a relatively inactive one, with a "skills clinic" at the park and a jaunt/sprint-before-c…