Monday, July 22, 2013

50k at 50: Great Cranberry Island Ultra Marathon

“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”  ~ Andy Warhol
In 5 days time I will be running the Great Cranberry Island Ultra Marathon which is also RRCA’s 2013 National Ultra Championship and the last year this race will be held.

So I suppose that's all a pretty big deal, and yet none of that really matters to me, because I suddenly realized that this little race is a much more personal journey for me.

19 years ago I moved to Colorado from Maine. Most of my prime racing years were spent in Maine. Most of my PRs were set in Vacationland. When I was 26 I stopped racing, just like that - burned out from the pressure I put on myself. When I was 30 I decided to run the Maine Marathon, my first marathon, on a whim and minimal training. It remains my fastest. I wouldn't run another marathon for another 16 years.

Now, almost 25 years after those racing days of my youth, I return to Maine for another first.

And I have just turned 50, and well, running a 50k seems appropriate. It's been a while since I've attempted to do something I am unsure that I can actually do - as in, I never have, so who knows - right?

Time changes everything 
except something within us 
which is always surprised by change.
~ Thomas Hardy

And now I am a very different person, and I am exactly the same person. I love Maine - and it will always feel like my second home, or maybe even my first home, because it was the first place I chose to live - To make my home. No one understood why I would move to Maine, way up north, where it's freaking cold, in the middle of nowhere, with a population equal to one block in Manhattan. Why would this Jersey girls do such a thing? Why? Because that place spoke to me and I fell in love instantly and deeply. The only reason I left was because it is a tough place to make a life as a young person. Educational options were limited, and so I had to leave or forever stay stuck in service jobs. That's how saw it then, anyway. I always planned to go back.

And so this all seems very fitting to return in the month of my 50th birthday, a birthday I tried to ignore. A birthday I shrugged off with the usual glib saying "Age is just a number".  But the reality is no glib saying. And it turns out that the reality is more akin to that tuned in Talking Heads all is 'same as it ever was'...but it is never the same... 

 ...You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?
Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by, water flowing underground
Into the blue again after the money's gone
Once in a lifetime, water flowing underground
You may ask yourself, how do I work this?...
Time isn't holding us, time isn't after us... 

Letting the days go by, letting the days go by, letting the days go by, once in a lifetime (?) 

It feels right to return now to do another 'first' in Maine.

And all of these thoughts, and my past self and my present self, and I now know (because age has brought some insight from reflection), that my future self, will all be there on that small island ushering in the next stage of this life...

I feel like I am watching everything from space 
And in a minute I'll hear my name and I'll wake
I think the finish line's a good place we could start
Take a deep breath, take in all that you could want 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Some Myths That May Be Killing Your Running: Part 3

I began this back in November, 2012. This is the third installment but deals with Myth #5...

Myth Number 5: Online logging sites/social media offer a new opportunity for measuring ourselves against our peers and keeping us on our (competitive) toes, and offer opportunities for free training advice and that's always a good thing.

Now, as I see it there are two problems here: 1) Competing and comparing oneself may or may not be beneficial, and 2) While there's lots more advice to be had out there than in the dark ages (pre-interwebs), advice can be good or bad.
“Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives - choice, not chance, determines your destiny.” ~ Aristotle
I'm going to start with #2:

Let me begin with some Philosophy that seems to make a lot of sense, and ideas that weave through so many theories about how we learn and how we achieve personal excellence.

Aristotle argues that there are three necessary elements in mastering anything:  Practice, desire, and a teacher. Today I want to focus on that last element. By "teacher" what Aristotle is really trying to get at is someone who sets an example of what it is to do X well. If we are surrounded by those who know what they're doing, then we are more likely to learn well.

So let's say you want to master the game of basketball. If you are surrounded by Michael Jordans then you are likely to learn good technique and develop good habits with regard to playing basketball. But if the only basketball players you know do not know how to play basketball (they run down to court holding the ball, can't get the ball near the basket, etc) then you are unlikely to learn well. Why is this? Well, when we don't know much about something (and we all start here for everything we do) then how do we judge good from poor skill??

So if I know nothing, it's hard for me to judge good advice from bad advice. In this regard, Aristotle concedes, we are very much subject to the whims of fickle luck.

But wait just one second! We do each also have the ability to reason and sort through what does and does not make sense. Perhaps all is not in the hands of the fates after all. But reasoning, as well, is developed like all other skills - we learn how to reason well and value reasoning well IF we are surrounded by those who live that value and exercise that virtue.
“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” ~ Aristotle 
There are many people out there, well intentioned people, who offer heart-felt advice to those seeking answers. BUT that advice, even when it is very well-meaning, does not make it good advice. It is up to each of us to sort the wheat from the chaff.

And if I hear "Go hard or go home" one more time I will scream!

Now moving on to #1 above:

We live in a hyper competition obsessed culture (even though this doesn't seem to be getting us much of anywhere). In Facebookland we are all shiny happy people living lives of brilliant perfection - for runners this means: stronger...faster...farther... On Dailymile, or Strava (or any of the other social-logging sites) we run hard. We compare our times, our distances, our training plans, our goals. We sometimes allow what others are doing to direct our own goals (or we beat ourselves up for not being as awesome as runner-x).

All of these issues can also hit those in running groups (face-to-face rather than online). Groups can easily slip into 'group think' where everyone is expected to do the same races and train the same way, and if they don't fall into step then they are left out, criticized...sometimes ostracized.

Running groups, whether virtual or real, and logging sites are ONLY helpful when they further our own aims. But when the aims of the the group cloud our own minds and confuse our own internal navigation, then I believe its nefarious influence undermines our own learning, our own journey and even our own lives.

Examples Offered: 
* I've had runners confess to me that they stopped a run early and/or turned off their GPS because their pace dropped and they didn't want to have to post a slower overall pace logged onto Strava.
* I've had runners confess to "stalking" my training for their own purposes - usually to measure their own training or to try to copy mine.
* I've read posts where someone comments that they are going to copy another runner's training (usually an elite).
* I've seen comments indicating that a runner decided to run a race, usually a marathon, because that would make them a "real" runner.
* I've seen people get upset and indignant when other runners don't post their paces for runs (on Dailymile, et al).

Does any of this help your running?? Not really. Can it hurt? Yes! Others can inspire us to reach higher and farther, but it has to come from within first. We must use the running community for encouragement and examples of what might be possible, but not as examples of 'oughts' - I ought to do X. It is so easy to confuse 'wants' with 'oughts'. It is so easy to look at what others do and judge oneself as not good enough, not tough enough...

Each one of us 'out there' is a role model for someone else. Whether you want to recognize this or not it's true. What you may think is no big deal another may admire beyond belief. Be careful with that power and be aware that others may influence you - and that can be good or not so good for you.

As Jean-Paul Sartre convincingly argues, when we act we are making a statement about how best to live - we are all role models - and with our freedom comes responsibility:
"I am thus responsible for myself and for all men, and I am creating a certain image of man as I would have him be. In fashioning myself, I fashion man" ~ Jean-Paul Sartre

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

That Wild Creature Called Yearning

“There are a thousand thoughts lying within a man that he does not know till he takes up the pen to write.”  ~ William Makepeace Thackeray
It's been over a month since I've written anything...anything at all...and it's not for the loss of anything to say but rather all the things swirling around the drain of my mind and clogging it full of gunk. Around and around thoughts race through my head in great, tail biting circles. So many thoughts. So many things to say. Nothing gets out but garbled gobbly-gook.

After a very trying spring, emotionally and physically, I slowly began reclaiming myself. I never would have guessed that it would take me this long. So much yearning remained unrealized, unquenched. What to do with it all - with all that yearning.
“The swallow that hibernates underwater is a creature called yearning.”  ~ David Quammen
I became like Pandora desperately holding the spirits in, not because they are evil, but because they are all just too much or too untamable - obstreperous little beasties. And yet in reality it is I who was shut-up in that box. I peaked out from time to time, a slice of light burning my eyes, quickly shutting the top afraid something essential might slip out.

And yet all that bottled up gunk struggled to get out and pushed and pulled and poked me in the eyes. And I held tight to the lid against the unruly beasts of my own making.

In May I left my teaching job of 16 years (ah, the fear and trembling!), and I thought, in all naive innocence and wide-eyed excitement, that this would somehow liberate me - body, mind, and soul to follow my proverbial bliss. But alas, that only began the insanity as I threw myself head first, with great gusto, into the trials and tribulation of growing a new business, pursuing ongoing educational opportunities, and training for my first 50k. All of this left me frazzled.  And wanting...wanting more...yearning...wanting it all NOW.
“The ancestor of every action is a thought” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
And during this time I did force myself from the box to do and not merely think. I ran the Estes Park Marathon, which remains a blur of unthinking doing, and quietly kept plugging away at my training. Then last week I went through an intense week of USATF training - something that demanded a different part of my brain and body - and through all the sleep deprived stress of that week something was pulled away from my eyes. I noticed something as I walked to my biomechanics exam - completely terrified of failing - I realized that I was completely THERE again. Why then? I don't know. Perhaps a yearning was satisfied in the challenge that required doing. And the box burst open on that cool morning in Hayward, CA. And my beasties did not flee. They stayed by my side and I made peace with them. For now...And I did not fail.
Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.  ~Carl G. Jung
And now I realize that all that thought was necessary - all that being stuck in my own head had a reason. It's happened before and it will happen again, but you never really recognize what's happening until it is past.

Running is, in essence, a solitary endevour, even when we run with others we are ultimately on our own and it is all up to us (I can't help but notice that it is a lot like dying in this regard). We can use others to help us through this aloneness (and I don't mean loneliness) and they may serve to distract us from this nature of running, but it either happens because of us or it doesn't. And this is what makes running both liberating and terrifying. It's completely in our own hands.

I think we all go through these phases of turning inward - and they are necessary and regenerative - but at the same time they feel somehow wrong and alien and disconcerting. And yet, like any metamorphosis, we emerge a different person in some important respects. But the fact remains, that that metamorphosis is somewhat painful, unnerving, disorienting and weary-making when we are in it's midst.
My 50k, Great Cranberry Island, is now a week and a half away and I can actually imagine doing it now. Perhaps I needed that to hit me before all the bottled up stuff could be set free. Or perhaps I'm open to the thought that it might reveal something I do not yet know...
“I know well what I am fleeing from but not what I am in search of.”~ Michel de Montaigne


Appendix: It was brought to my attention after publishing this that my title sounded like something written by David Quammen (who I'm afraid to say I've never heard of - hate to have to admit these things), and so I will give him credit (and edited above with said quote) instead of changing the title. Though I didn't get it from him, he said this first - so I'll credit him for sending it out into the ethers, where it must have seeped into my gray matter. So be it. I see these yearning creatures much the same as the wild things, gnashing their fearsome teeth.

Everyone Seems to be Looking for "Motivation"...

  "Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going" ~ Jim Ryun It's January. For many of us that means cold...