the next day.

Whether you buy into the hype or not, Christmas seems to demand attention even before the Thanksgiving plates and utensils have made it to the drying rack.  From there the anticipation builds and builds (especially if you have children) until there's no possibility that the day can live up to its billing.

And just like that, even if it did prove a lovely occasion (and, thankfully, this year it did), it's gone again.

Falling as it did this year on a Saturday, the holiday was kind enough to deliver another day of rest before kicking us back to the curb that is the work week (unless you're my wife who headed immediately back to the "office").

Knowing that Lindsay would be leaving for her shift at the hospital in the early afternoon, I had set the alarm for just before 5:30 AM to make sure I got in my miles without disrupting her day.  I'd received a pair of New Balance MT101's from my sister the day before and had excused myself for an hour to put them immediately to the test.  They'd seemed, right out of the box, like familiar friends and I was eager to see how the felt on a return trip.

I met up with Jefferson just prior to 6:00 and we did our customary catching up while stretching, tying laces, donning headlamps, letting the GPS locate a satellite and such.  Between my wanting to get back in a timely fashion and Jeff's careful monitoring of a yet to be fully diagnosed leg issue, we decided to just do one small segment of the criss-crossing sections of trail that overlap with the Horseshoe Trail, Camp Mack and the surrounding state game lands.

In a little less than an hour, we'd put in just under 4.5 miles, including a couple of challenging climbs and some speedy downhills.  I'd been a bit tentative because of having switched to a more compact headlamp and immediately missing the brightness and sharpness of my usual light.  Otherwise, I felt great and was further convinced that I'd found a minimalist shoe that almost perfectly mirrored my foot.

I arrived home just as Lily emerged from her bedroom, rubbing the last of the sleep from her big blue eyes and affixing her customary rise-and-shine grin.  We agreed to spend the whole day in PJ's and I tucked her into the couch, turned on Thomas the Tank Engine and hurried off for a shower.

As I stepped out of the shower, I heard Piper Bea singing softly to herself from her bedroom.  She was surprisingly chipper for one who does not normally take kindly to the arrival of morning.  I changed her diaper and clued her in on the lounge-about plans.

Naptime arrived in what felt like mere minutes.  We'd read countless books, test-driven a bevy of new toys, hounded the dog and even played demolition derby with a pair of unsuspecting baby strollers.  I received no protests as I placed Pipe in her crib and ushered big sister Lily to her room for her "rest".  Lindsay was still sound asleep and, seeing no need to sabotage her slumber, I settled into the couch for a nap of my very own.  I do not remember the last time I dared such a luxury and it was exquisite.

I roused the girls and remembered (how could I forget?!?) the camera I'd been given the day before.  While I hardly qualify as a "photographer", I do enjoy taking pictures and had endured a painful stretch after dropping and breaking my camera back on Halloween.  My mother, who had originally gifted me that camera and witnessed first-hand its destruction, was kind enough to give me a model that was its specific update, sparing me my normal agonizing learning curve upon acquiring a new camera.

Piper, refusing to part with a new companion, was placed in her high chair.  Click.

Lily joined me in enjoying a bowl of soup.  Click.

Soup can be messy and tubby time wasn't far behind.  Another photo op.

A return to pajamas found us waving goodbye to Mom and hoping that impending weather wouldn't leave her stranded at work overnight.  After she was gone, we played and played.  We watched birds at the feeders, oohed at the falling snow and played some more.  The day, a rare specimen that saw little bickering between my two spirited daughters, passed swiftly.

After putting Piper down for the night and singing songs and reading a few last books to Lil, I discovered that Clouseau had also decided to turn in.

Which left me, still in my pajama bottoms and slippers, to decide what to do with the rest of my evening.  So here I sit, with my legs kicked up, a tall glass of ginger ale, a newly warmed slice of apple pie (Mom's recipe, my execution) researching the reported update to the aforementioned MT101 and hoping that New Balance doesn't undue perfection.

Even if they do, it's just a shoe.  And they can't take away this perfect day.


stepping stones.

With apprehension that I am summoning a jinx, I have decided to unfurl the map and plot a course that leads towards running my first 50-mile event in late 2011, the Stone Mill 50 Mile Run in Damascus, Maryland. 

I've daydreamed about tackling the distance for the last 2 years but admittedly the concept hasn't evolved beyond "some day" status.  Rather than push the idea out any further, I want to approach the preparation as though the event has already started and apply the same dogged tenacity to finishing as I would on any other race day.

While I hope to take part in any number of events over the next 11 months, there are 5 key test pieces that I've picked to gauge where I'm at as Saturday, November 19 draws nearer.

I'd initially thought that I'd spend the first couple of months of 2011 simply not allowing short days and cold weather to keep me from logging miles.  Luckily, an unexpected invite appeared on my Facebook profile alerting me to the return of the Buzzards Marathon, a 26.2 mile trail run in the Clark's Valley area of Dauphin County.

The heavy snows of 2010 kept the event from being held, but on March 6th, off-road marathoners will return to a challenging course that overlaps portions of the Horseshoe and Appalachian trails.  An elevation profile of more than 4000 feet of change should provide a good early test.

In April I plan to head to Clinton County to participate in the Hyner View Trail Challenge.

I used to camp and hike regularly in an area slightly northwest of Hyner and was disappointed a few years ago when I learned that the event had happened just a week prior to my visit.  I've wanted to return ever since but haven't managed to make it happen.  I sent my registration check a few weeks ago and am not going to miss out this time around.  At 16 miles, the Hyner Challenge is the shortest of the races on this list, but may just be the most daunting.  Before reaching the 4th mile, runners will have climbed over 1400 feet and will give it almost all back in the downhill mile that follows.  There are two more similar climbs and quad-thrashing downhills to be tackled before the finish line.  The total elevation gain exceeds 4300 feet.  I'm really, really looking forward to this one but must own up to some anxiety as I intend to push as hard as I can.

With any luck my quads will have recovered enough by June 11 to allow me to enter the Laurel Highlands Ultra 50K Race in southwestern Pennsylvania.

This will be the 6th annual running of the abbreviated alternative to the esteemed 77-mile race that occurs on the same day.  I hope to someday try the full course, but for this year I'm going to be satisfied to do the 50K.  Last June I ran the first 11.6 mile leg of the 50K relay and am itching to try the full 31.1 miles on my own.  I was fairly pleased with my time at the relay but sorely disappointed in the wicked cramping that resulted from the effort.  Unless unexpectedly mild weather breaks at the Hyner Challenge, this will likely be the first 2011 race that bring the additional obstacles of heat and humidity.

On July 25th I will turn 37 and would like to celebrate with a run of that same distance.  That would mean running 10 kilometers further than I've ever run before which should serve the dual purpose of measuring my progress towards 50 miles and convincing me that I'm not yet over the hill (entirely).  I haven't decided on where to go about doing this and am very much open to suggestions.  If anyone would like to accompany me, I would consider it one whale of a birthday present.

A couple of months ago, I wrote of the Keystone Trails Association's Susquehanna Super Hike and Ultra Trail Run held in south central Pennsylvania's York and Lancaster Counties.

My employer, Backcountry Edge, served as the gold sponsor and I was thrilled to be able to serve at one of the aid stations, secure and deliver door prizes and giveaways and provide moral support to all of the runners and hikers.  It was a fantastic day, but it left me wanting to actually enter the 28.4 mile race.  On September 10, 2011, I intend to do just that.

Once I've crossed the line at the Super Hike, I hope to concentrate on simply staying fit and healthy enough to attempt 50 miles on the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail and doing so without any reservations or excuses.