Thursday, November 12, 2015

To Stay the Course or To Turn

"If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading." - Lao Tzu
This post is not about running. It's more about what I am always learning FROM running. One day recently I looked up from the crazy life I've been living, took a deep breath, and realized that some of the habits I have quietly slid into are leading me in a direction I may not wish to pursue. This has certainly been the case for writing, or the lack thereof. There are other trends, but I will leave it at that for here. 

If you like where you're headed, keep going that way.
If you don't like where you're headed, change now or you are likely to find yourself where you never wanted to go.

I have been itching to write - for the past several weeks, months perhaps. Oh, I don't know how long now. And it's all getting rusty...Atrophying. Such a depressing phenomenon, atrophy. Like running, like anything, if you don't use it you lose it...I'm losing it. And what you do one day and the day after that, and again and again and again, becomes what you do. Who you are.
"Consuetudinis magna vis est" ~ Cicero
“The power of habit is great” and I suddenly find myself with some undesirable habits, while I've allowed some essential habits to fall by the wayside. Over the past several months the pressures of work and training and parenting and paying bills and dealing with big stuff going on with my family far away and travel and just so much busy-ness, which may be tedious or exciting, but both can serve as focus distracters - I'm feeling like I have a major case of ADD. These distractions slip insidiously into each day. And before you know it, they are your life.

For me writing, like running, has always served as a clarifier. A cleanser of the mind and soul. A detox. And I need a major detox. So here I am. I am setting boundaries, priorities, limits. The direction I am going is not taking me to where I want to be.

Okay. So that's life. Life is rough and tough and messy and rich and frustrating and hopeful and exhausting and innervating and enervating. Running is easy. So. I think I like the direction I'm taking in running and I will try to take what I do there and apply it to the other things. I will take what I do in running and apply it to life, easy-peasy. NOT! Habits, good, bad or otherwise, are hard to break and hard to develop. So, this (the act of writing this) is the second action I've taken this week to change my direction - the first had to do with setting some, baby-step, boundaries to nip some workaholic issues.

What have I learned from running that is life applicable?? Well, lots, but in this case I'm zooming in on one particular skill I've learned and developed over the years: Planning. Looking at long, medium, and short term goals. Recognizing that one can NOT do all the things one WANTS to do simultaneously, and accepting that some tough choices must be made - In running some goals must wait for another day, another year. What we do today sets us down a path, in a particular direction. We may not even know that direction until we get somewhere and see new options present themselves that we had not anticipated. Being open and receptive to opportunities does not preclude having ones eye set on something. The journey may be the point, but those who achieve great things don't do it by just allowing the fickle winds of circumstance to blow them through life.
"To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all." - Oscar Wilde
What we do is an expression of what we care most about. We may say: "I wish I had time to do X" but what we are really saying is that we don't really care about doing 'X'. We say we do, but our actions show what we really value. I keep saying, next week will be better. Next week I will catch up. Next week I will be able to do that thing I really WANT to do.

Next week never comes.
"Never give up on something that you can’t go a day without thinking about."
~ Sir Winston Churchill
We all need to choose the path we want to TRY to take. And, even if we don't choose an end, a path, an aim, THAT is a choice. We cannot NOT choose. And if we choose not to choose we end up traveling willy-nilly down a path to...where?  We know not. Maybe that's okay too. Maybe some want to jump at the chance to do things as they present themselves and see where that may lead.

Either way, plan or no plan, chances and options unexpected will reveal themselves. How you deal with those, though, may be important. Planning is not the death of spontaneity. But it is all too easy to stray down a path only to find yourself somewhere you don't want to be. Time to check back in with myself and do for my life what I have done in running.
“If you don't know where you are going,
you'll end up someplace else.”~ Yogi Berra

Saturday, September 5, 2015

One Bad Apple

One bad apple don't spoil the whole bunch, girl.
Oh, give it one more try before you give up on love.
One bad apple don't spoil the whole bunch girl.
Oh, I don't care what they say,
I don't care what you heard now.
~ The Osmonds

And another marathon season quickly approaches, and with it the anxious energy and anticipation begins to climb. The training ticks along as planned. Things are, generally, going great, you're making your runs, hitting your paces, which mysteriously (Not!) seem to be coming gradually down. Yeah, there are some days you're not as 'on' as others, but hell, there's still time to make up for those.

And week after week, you feel strong and do things you once could not fathom, and along the way there's an occasional bump in the road but you bounce back fast, physically and mentally. As time presses on and the weeks are crossed off the calendar, it starts getting real. And then you realize you're, oh, 7...6...5 weeks out. Taper looms ahead. And then, of course, the main event. And suddenly the stakes get very dire. Now every single bloody run MUST be perfect or doom is sure to follow. And though everything is still going well, as it has been, there comes that dreaded day, and...

You have a bad (gasp) run! 

Maybe you 'fail' to hit your tempo paces. Or, perhaps you hit them but it feels so hard. Harder than it has felt (conveniently fail to recognize the fact that it's a faster pace now). Harder than it 'should' be. Maybe that last long run felt harder than you thought it should feel. 

And thanks to that one run you begin to question and doubt all those goals you set so many weeks ago. You wonder about the goals you may have refashioned to reflect the progress you've made. With that one run you forget all the runs where you felt strong, capable, fast...where the impossible became possible.

There is this thing about human nature, or at least runner nature, when it comes to training and goals and confidence: We often allow a few bad runs to outweigh dozens upon dozens of good runs. We fear that somehow things have taken a turn for the worse. And in one run, on one day, the whole thing is cast into question and a deep self doubt set in.

The one caveat here is if there is actually a trend showing up: Are you tired and sore and that doesn't improve with a rest day or two? Are you unable to hit your paces over several days or weeks? Is your resting heart rate elevated? Are you inexplicably gaining or losing weight...cranky...depressed, etc.? Then THAT is a sign that something needs to be changed and some blood tests might be in order as well. But one bad run? No. The doom and gloom alarms need not start screaming in your head.

If we can remember the good, the quantity and quality of which far outweigh the bad, then we avoid this unnecessary worry, or worse, nervous anxiety that actually can cause under-performance. You know the quote: "She believed she could and so she did.", well it's true to a great extent. If you allow one run to undermine your confidence then this could actually have a material effect on your training. The house of cards of training is held together by the strength of the mind and the will: Your heart (not the organ in your chest) but your spirit. If you allow the bad to outweigh the good when that is not really what's happening, then it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy: She believed she couldn't and so she didn't

The fact is, we are not machines, we are humans, and we have good days and bad days. As I recently said to a runner: "This is not as simple as making a car go faster." We are more than matter and the variables that affect us are numerous and often mysterious.

 Don't allow the few instances of 'bad' to overshadow the abundance of good, in running or in life.  

"Believe you can and you're half way there."
~ Theodore Roosevelt

One bad run don't spoil the whole bunch, girl.
Oh, give it one more try before you give up on that goal.
One bad run don't spoil the whole bunch girl.
Oh, I don't care what they say,
I don't care what you heard now.
                                                                                       ~ Me :)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Tales of a Longtime Runner: Crossing Paths

Every individual has a place to fill in the world and is important in some respect whether he chooses to be so or not. ~Nathaniel Hawthorne

Runners tend to be somewhat habitual creatures - Habits can be good things. It's the habit that gets us out there day after day, week after week. Year after year. Once habit is established it's harder to break the habit. In this case that means it harder to not run than it is to run - even on the bad days.

Habit can also be revealed through the routes we run. I know for myself I have favorite routes that I've run now for years and years. I have a selection or 5, 10, 15 milers that I call up whenever needed. I even have routes I've run since high school that I return to when visiting my childhood home.

Over time the houses and the people in them change. The businesses change. Sidewalks are added or deteriorate to rubble. Dirt roads are paved. Empty lots are bulldozed and houses, malls, or parks replace the urban wilderness. Roads are widened and trees removed. Narrow country roads, once sleepy and peaceful, are now car choked thoroughfares of distracted and stressed drivers.

Running is both regular (runners do it everyday ;) and it's a grounded, relatively slow, manner of locomotion.

As a result, there are those interactions we have with others on foot, on roads or trails, that over years become more than just casual encounters. If we run certain routes regularly we start to see certain people, the same people, over and over. Over days, weeks, and years, we exchange greetings. Maybe a 'Good morning' or 'Beautiful day, isn't it?', or just a nod of the head and a wave of a hand. And over the months and years we both become fixtures on the trail for each other.

We see those with their dogs. We watch as their dogs, and our dogs, grow older. And then they aren't there one day. And we wonder. We watch ourselves, and others, get older, and one day we may realize that it's been a while since we've seen that one person we always used to see.

Unlike driving or even cycling, running and walking, moving on foot, is a somewhat naked and intimate activity. For some people this is what makes running so uncomfortable: People can see them. For me it's about as human a thing as we can ever do.

I nod to a passing stranger, and the stranger nods back, and two human beings go off, feeling a little less anonymous. ~Robert Brault

There's a trail I've run fairly regularly for the past 15 years. It's a very short trail, about 1.2 miles long, and is often part of a longer run for me. It is flat and often shady, winding along a creek. Being short and shady and flat and close to where many people live, it's very popular with dog walkers and causal walkers.

Many years ago, when running with my dog Willa (who is now gone) I would see an older woman out walking with her German Shepard. She walked with determination and strength even with a subtle limp. We would pass, say our hellos, smile and go on. She lived at the north end of the trail and I would often see her driving her vintage 1970s giant brown sedan around the area, her dog riding shotgun.

About 10 years ago I moved a little farther away from this trail, and as a result frequented it less often. But I was usually out there at least once a week, and in winter more so. And I continued seeing my trail acquaintance and her trusty walking partner.

But one day, several years ago, I saw her without her dog. I passed, and gazed down at my now 13 year old dog, and really wanted to stop and give this stranger a hug.

And so this continued. And then my dog became very ill and after 10 months of hospice, died. And then one day I realized that I had not seen my trail acquaintance for a while. For how long? I don't know. It's funny how these things happen. At first they go unnoticed. Then after a time the awareness hits you and then you realize that it's actually been a while but you can't figure out how long.

And I have wondered ever since.

Yesterday driving home from town, I drove past her house as I do dozens of times a week. At the end of the driveway stood a "For Sale" sign. I looked down the winding driveway to the house and it looked entirely empty and cleared out.

The sadness that hit me and welled up in my throat was instant and intense.

This is not the first time, nor is it likely the last time, this has happened to me.
There's the wife and husband, whose daily constitutional was walking the entire circumference of my neighborhood everyday. She was always slightly ahead of him as though dragging him through his paces. Where did they go? There's the man with the two enthusiastic black labs never tiring of playing fetch. Where did he go? (I have learned that he died of prostate cancer - now I wonder about the dogs). There's the woman who saved me from a dog attack a few years ago. I still see her, but she no longer has her small dog with her. And the list goes on and on and on.

Never underestimate the effect you may have on others. Those you don't even know. Those you simply cross paths with. Others see us out there. We see others out there. They may be walking, running, even driving, and you are a part of their world.

If you are lucky enough to pass the years watching and experiencing the change of season, of people, the world, then that's a pretty good life. The world may be full of people you just happen to see around, but when you start to notice them day after day, they may become something more.

I now see two older women everyday that I'm out on this same trail. They walk together chatting happily. And we have become trail acquaintances. Someday either they or I (and of course at some point all of us) won't be there any longer. Will we notice?

I wonder if someday I will be that old woman, so full of life, who someone sees everyday and then suddenly thinks about once I'm gone...

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Random Thoughts on Running a 100 Miles

“What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us.”~ Henry David Thoreau
One of many signs posted along the course of my first ultra: GCI 50k
I'm now two and a half weeks into my first post-100 recovery. I've had some time to think about the whole experience and to experience the whole after-the-fact thing. And there are some thoughts that just keep popping into my attention deficient brain. So, I'm gonna write them down 'cause I don't know what else to do with them. 

Random thoughts:

1) For me I knew running 100 miles would be 99% mental:
Fact: it was at least 99.9% mental. I ran nothing longer than 26.2(ish) miles while training - Yes, 3 marathons in 3 weeks is great, and lots of high-for-me mileage weeks, but it ain't 100 miler training - not in the traditional/rational sense. My kind of training, for me only (I'd NEVER recommend this to others) was pretty piss-poor for a 100. Especially a first hundred. Of course foolhardiness is easier when you have no idea what you're in for. So, chalk one up to innocence...or ignorance...or stupidity. That innocence is now gone forever. Knowing what I know now, I think some things would change...or maybe not.
"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them." ~ Henry David Thoreau
If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them. – Henry David Thoreau - See more at:
If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them. – Henry David Thoreau - See more at:
If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them. – Henry David Thoreau - See more at:
If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them. – Henry David Thoreau - See more at:
2) I had a picture in my mind's eye, and that's all I needed:
Since the race allowed you to stop at the 100k finish and call it good there and receive an official finish (though no AG/place ranking), without changing ahead of time, I knew from the get-go that leaving for the last 38 miles would be tough. I also knew that there was no way I was going to stop there. I saw myself, over and over again, finishing that 100 miles. In my mind it was daylight and I was clearly finishing a race, so I knew that what I saw was the 100 mile finish, not the 100k finish. This is probably some form of visualization, which I've practiced, not on purpose, but just because that's how my mind deals with things, since I was 12 years old (this was the first time I remember doing it anyway) - the night before the NJ State diving meet. I lay in bed seeing myself do each and every dive flawlessly. The next day I did what I saw and left with the second place trophy (I guess it wasn't flawless ;).  You may call this silly, but I've learned over the years that what I see in my mind matters tremendously to the outcome. 40% of the 100 miler field did not make it to the 100 mile finish. I assume some dropped or didn't make cut-offs. But many stopped at the 100k mark. It is a little cruel that the race lets you do this, but it's also a major test of will.
Set your mind where you want to be. Keep that image before you and don't let it go.
The soul can not think without a picture. ~ Aristotle 
3) I ate things I've never eaten while running before:
When I got to the Emma Carlin AS at ~14 miles, I grabbed the baggie from my vest, filed it with boiled potatoes, dumped a ton of salt on them (Mmmmm. I LOVE salt!) and continued down the trail, happily munching away. Now, I've never eaten potatoes on a run. This is a BIG no-no. We all know this. But I never gave it a second thought. I looked at the table of goodies and thought to myself "What sounds appealing" and that's what I grabbed. Turns out it worked, for me. Then when I got to the 50k AS I again looked for potatoes.
I must have looked confused, for a volunteer asked: "Can I help you find something?"
Me: "I'm looking for potatoes"
Vol., pointing: "Last I knew those were potatoes."
Me: "They are?" I picked up one of the pale, off-whitish oval things. I squeezed it between my fingers. It was all spongy. "These are potatoes?"
Vol: "Yes. Canned potatoes."
I held it, tentatively. "I've never had canned potatoes."
Vol: [speechless with an expression of non comprehension]
I bite into it. Tasteless, mushy, gritty, ick.
I look at the table. I grab three PB&J sections, fill my baggie with pretzels, and I'm off again.
From that point until the bitter end I am a PB&J eating machine. No. I've never eaten PB&J while running, nor cookies, which as it turns out, get me through miles 76-90ish. And the pretzels. So many stinkin' pretzels! Yeah, never eaten those while running either. With the exception of bottle upon bottle upon bottle of HEED and a couple Luna bars and Clif Shots, all the other things I ate were new to me. Luckily I have a pretty forgiving stomach. And when I started feeling queezy I kept it all down, again, by asking myself, "What sounds appealing" and that seemed to serve me well. Sometime the simplest things, the things that make sense, work even though they go against everything you've been told. There comes a time to trust that.
Let's face it. I did it all wrong, and yet it worked out pretty alright.

4) As with most hard things, when you are going through it you say over and over to yourself  "Never again. I will never do this again. Never."
I said many many times to Sandra and Abbie and Jeni, at some point far into the run, that I just couldn't stop now because I've gone all this way and I don't ever want to have to do this again and if I don't do it now then I'll have to do it again! And the thought of having to do it again after getting to this point of no return, of having to do it again, because of course I WOULD have to do it again if I didn't do it now, well, I just couldn't handle the very possibility of that. This wormed insidiously into my brain over the last 7ish miles with LOTS of very steep, loose ups and downs - the thought that I might fall, break my arm and not finish. Oh my god. That would just kill me at that point. No no no. Neuroses at its best, I assure you!
But of course, as we all know, some of us are very good at forgetting about all of that. The seconds of happiness and deep down contentment drown out the hours and hours of misery. And as many friends prepare to begin the Western State Endurance Run this Saturday morning, I am suffering from the deepest, most profound sense of envy. The problem is, that the contentment and satisfaction fades quickly. And then you want more. More of what? More of THAT.
Things that matter to you, matter to you, no matter how hard, no matter how much they hurt. And when you follow your heart, these things grip you and never let go and allow you to do things you once thought impossible.
"Destiny is no matter of chance. It is a mater of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved" ~ William Jennings Bryan
And some more bits 'o thoughts:
The lungs take longer to recover than the muscles. This I was not expecting.
Yes, it does take longer to recover from 100 than from a 50, or 26.2, physically and mentally.
Post-race depression still hits, it just take a few extra days.
The support and kind word of others increases the deepness of the felt experience exponentially.
(Likewise, those who take the opportunity to put you down or make jabs, really suck!)
You will feel able to deal with things you never knew you'd have to deal with or could deal with.
You will rely on people, even if you hate relying on people, and that will make the experience richer.
You will doubt the whole thing ever happened.
You will have moments where you think it's still yet to happen.
You will want to do it again.
You will acknowledge that you're nuts for wanting to do it again.
You start combing through UltraSignup daily.
You will hatch new plots you never fathomed 6 months ago.
Things will matter that may not have mattered before. Experiences, all experiences, change us if we let them - and hopefully for the good.

And, in case there's any question, this all has to do with much more than running. Running, like life, is so very simple, and not easy at all.
“Running makes you an athlete in all areas of life…trained in the basics, prepared for whatever comes, ready to fill each hour and deal with the decisive moment.” ~George Sheehan

Thursday, June 11, 2015

In Over My Head: Kettle Moraine 100

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” ~ Haruki Murakami
On January 1st, 2015, I woke to a new year, headed to the computer, and registered for the Kettle Moraine 100 Miler, the thought of which caused both heart palpitations and 3 a.m. waking terrors, and smiles that caused my spine to tingle. What strange animals we are...

Fast forward...through April: Boston 2 Big Sur
May: Colfax Marathon

And suddenly it's taper time, and the reality sets in. Am I actually going to do this? Wait. I forgot to train for this! Shit. What was I thinking? I have no idea what exactly I have gotten myself into because this is all new to me. The 3 a.m. panicked wake ups become a nightly thing.
"If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?" ~T.S. Eliot
Sandra, Abbie and I pull into the parking lot at the start/finish area for packet pick up. It hits me square in the face that I have no business being here. I am not 'one of these ultrarunners'. For one thing, I have no tattoos ;)  (guess I should remedy that!).  The thought makes me feel a little sick. Anyone can click 'register' on a website. Who am I to think that I can do this?

I try to push these thoughts aside. From the start I've known that the ONLY thing I have going for me in all of this is my mind. I've known from the get-go that my body is not the thing to get me where I want to go. This is a mind thing. A spirit thing. Always has been. I need to want it, really really want it. I cannot let these thoughts seep in now. And yet they continue to worm into my mind and spirit. I can't seem to conjure up the positive things I've been repeating over the weeks - and those I recall sound stupid and false now. What am I thinking. I am nothing but a charlatan. I silence these thoughts as best I can...

...It's 6 a.m., June 6th, and I'm at the start, gazing off into the woods, down the path that will lead me to places I've never been before...

The Start
And we're off...

The first few miles tick along. I'm keeping the pace easy (probably not easy enough). The ups and downs are VERY steep. I walk the ups, and run the downs, trying to let gravity help and using as little muscle power as possible, but the truth is that these are so steep, with lots of loose rocks, that relaxing on the downhills is really not an option. These early downhills will prove to be my physical undoing in the all too soon future.

As I pound down one hill, a guy behind me says: "I'm just following you and watching your feet.", I respond, "Be careful who you follow."

And so it goes...mile after mile. The trails are much more technical than I anticipated. Colorado hubris, perhaps, has bitten me in the ass. It's Wisconsin. How bad can it be? Well, as a matter of fact, pretty freaking bad. 

I'm trotting along listening to all the conversations. It seems that I am the ONLY person out here who is running her first 100 AND, importantly, has only run one 50 miler, and an easy one to boot! I will not share my story of foolhardiness right now, but again the 'what do you think you're doing' thought rears it's ugly head. 

We make our way through the steep, narrow, rock-rooty section between Bluff and Emma Carlin, and people are falling all over the place. Luckily my legs and brain still feel fresh, so I manage to stay upright. 

Mile 15ish I hit the first crew station, and Sandra and Abbie are there waiting for me. 

Coming into Emma Carlin - Outgoing
At this point I'm not dilly-dallying too much. Sandra grabs my bottles and refills them with HEED while I hit the potty. Then a quick perusal of the buffet, fill a small sandwich bag with potatoes, dump some salt on them, and head back out. The next section is 9 miles of mostly steamy-hot, exposed open, rolling meadow. It's mowed to about 4-5 inches of tufted grasses and very uneven footing. My wimpy road shoe choice is starting to become an issue.

We pop into a section of forested, packed dirt trail between meadows, working through mile 20 and I'm not sure if it's the sudden darkness after the bright, hot sun, but I suddenly feel myself flying through the air. I land hard on my left knee, and my left calf goes into an immediate spastic, hard, locked up cramp. A couple runners stop to see if I'm okay, and I just feel like a dope. How could I fall here? This is just bad. I want to cry. But I get up and start running, assessing the possible damage as I proceed. More hot meadow follows...and my knee is throbbing. This is just not good.

I get to the Hwy ZZ aid station, feeling pretty ragged, blood dripping down my leg.

Hwy ZZ - Outbound
I see Sandra and Abbie, "I went down. I just don't know." We move quickly, more food, more HEED, rinse off the blood, and I'm off again. The next 5 miles are tough, described as a 'seemingly endless series of ups and downs' it does not disappoint. As I head for Scuppernong (we've nicknamed it Scuttlebutt) at 50k, my quads are done. Just completely done. Shot to heck by those early downhills. Every step hurts now, and it's only 30 miles in.

I hobble into the aid station, change socks, rub some icy hot on my wasted quads, and look at Sandra and Abbie, and say "I can not see another 69 miles happening right now." Abbie and Sandra just dismisses what I've said (Yes. I notice) and one of them says, "Well, we'll see. Let's get going".

And the next 6...miles tick along. Wait. 6? It was only 5 between these stations. My GPS is now dying, but it's still with me as I discover what could be a runners worst nightmare. I've gotten lost and I've done a giant loop and am now BACK at the Scuppernong checkpoint. It actually takes me a while to figure out where I am. I first think I'm at the station past Hwy ZZ, and have to go back because I missed a turn. After about 20 minutes of sorting things out, the person in charge ascertains that I have run a giant loop. I am on the verge of tears realizing that I've not only run longer, but now need to go back out and run it all again. I refill my now empty bottles and ask if someone can radio to Sandra and Abbie at the next station so that they don't worry. But here's the thing. These two stations are literally 400 yards apart. Runners run a 5 mile loop between them, but you can see Hwy ZZ from Scuppernong. I am completely oblivious of this at the moment. The guy in charge puts his arm around me and says, "We aren't going to let you run that again. You've already run farther. Your story totally checks out." and they walk me over to Hwy ZZ, though Sandra and Abbie are curious as to why I'm coming from the wrong direction. (It turns out that several others also did what I did. We aren't sure if flags were removed, but the usual ground markings were not allowed this year, and clearly something happened.)

And so, I head out toward the meadow now baking in the heat of the 2 pm high sun. For the first time ever, I pull out the iPod and pop in the earbuds. A total life saver at this point. I can't take anymore thinking about how doomed I am. About how I have no business being here. About my aching knee and quads. About how I might let everyone down. About the next 60 miles to go...

Emma Carlin - inbound
I hit Emma Carlin at 47+ miles. My feet are killing me, I have a giant blister one my right heel, and I'm feeling a bit underfueled. I change shoes, switching to my Brooks Grits, deal with the blister, Sandra delivers a steady stream of PB&J sandwiches, I down an Excedrin...A guy heads out just ahead of me, his crew cheering him on as he hobbles, painfully. I follow shortly after, feeling the absurdity of this whole going on thing. I joke as I leave that I'll feel great once the Excedrin kicks in. I start a painful jog, and soon pass the hobbling guy. He's not looking any better...

I arrive at Bluff, mile 55+, not expecting to see anyone there, when I see Sandra and Abbie.
Sandra grabs my bottles (they now just do their thing. They have this down. And they have become a great team). Sandra informs me that "Abbie's going to run to Nordic with you." We grab head lamps, more eating, and we head out, 7+ miles to Nordic, the 100k point. And darkness moves in.

For many, the 100k point is the crux of the whole thing. If you stop here, you still have an official 100k finish. If you head back out for the final 38 mile out and back to Rice Lake then you are committed. If you DNF you end up with nothing. A lot of people end up finishing here. I have no intention of stopping. I didn't come here to run the 100k and I told Sandra weeks ago, "Unless I have organ failure, don't let me stop there."

But it's really not a debate. Abbie and I saunter in to find Sandra and now Jeni is here. I wasn't expecting to see her until Hwy 12, another 14 miles down the trail. I'm happy to see her. All around us I can hear runners urged to continue, or urged to stop. There are emergency vehicles lighting the night sky in red and blue, as the paramedics zoom down the trail on an ATV with a rescue sled in tow.

Fresh socks, more clothes, some soothing broth and noodles, more PB&Js,and Sandra and I are off.

Outbound from Nordic - My response to Jeni saying "Run as fast as you can."
Leaving Nordic is hard. I'm going away from where I want to be. This thought continues to vex my mind for the next 18 miles. We pass others running in. Some are finishing other races, or the 100 miler. Some are still coming in before the turn around. As we turn off toward Rice Lake, I look at those returning with envy. "Ugggg. I want to be them. I don't want to be me" I moan to Sandra. The miles are going so stinking slow. I check in from time to time on the mile count. At this point I'm counting down, not up and I need a 2- in front of the second number. I just need to get to 29. My energy goes up and down, and I work the ups and push painfully on during the downs. I don't trust myself to run much of this in the dark and I feel more hot spots on my feet.

I don't know what time it is when we roll into the Hwy 12 AS, but the robins are up and greeting the impending dawn.
Hwy 12 - outbound
I switch into my Pearl Izumi EMs a pair of shoes I've never worn before - stupid, maybe, but I have no alternative. If they suck I'll be back here in 9 miles and can switch back - and they're about a half size bigger to accommodate my now swollen feet.

Jeni and I leave for Rice Lake and the turn around I so desperately want to get to. Now we also know that we are racing some weather coming in. So we try to keep it moving but the next section is very technical. We pass a lot of people in worse shape than me and finally reach Rice Lake and the turn around. From here I am 'Inbound' for the last time. I have more broth, some coffee, pack my baggie with pretzels, and we head in the direction I want to be going. For the past 5 or so hours my stomach has been feeling a little uneven. I have to watch how much I eat and drink and nurse things slowly. Every sip of HEED now brings a slight queezy feeling. But I know I need to keep at it and so I do. Suck on a pretzel, sip of HEED, repeat...

At about 6 am the rain hits, about 2 hours earlier than predicted. The stone along the trail is limestone, and the soil is limestone soil, super slick and not at all absorbent or porous. The water pools on the hard dirt turning it into a glassy slickness waiting to take me down.

Push on...Push on.
We make it back to Hwy 12 where Abbie jumps in for the final 14+ miles. I force myself to eat. I stick with the Pearl Izumis which feel pretty good, but I'm out of socks. Sandra presents me with a couple 'fresh' pairs - having dried them with the car heater and beaten the dirt out of them.
Who wouldn't be thankful to see these smiling faces along the way?
Abbie and I take off in a steady, hard downpour. And the miles to Bluff crawl painfully as the mud gets thicker. But the sky is light now and I can jog a bit more. When we get to Bluff I stop only briefly, grab the last PB&J of the day, fill my bottles for the hundredth time, and off for the 7+ mile roller coaster ride that I've now run 4 times. There's no more HEED on the course, so I need to make due with what I have and gels.

I look at Abbie, "There's no way I can get there by noon."
We have not, until now, spoken about time or pace. This has all been about survival and getting there, and I'm kicking myself for thinking of this NOW. I've spent way too much time at all the crewed aid stations. I know that now. I should have realized this earlier. God. What a stupid, obvious, newby mistake to make. Those minutes added up. Trying to make up for it over the last 7 miles is a fools errand.
I have 2 hours. I can usually run 7 miles in a hour easily. Not now.
"I just want to pretend that I haven't been running and I'm just going out for a 7 miler. I just want to run a 7 miler."
Abbie looks at me "You can do that but it's just going to be frustrating."
"Do you want to know what you need to get there?"
We've miscalculated the distance because at this point we don't know that the course is .6 long, but she looks back at me, "Do you want me to maintain the pace you need?".
Without a word she strides off  - Note: this is an easy WALK for her. I'm 'running' and breathing hard.
We are completely silent. She looks back at me from time to time, but we say nothing except for my occasional "There's no way. There's just no way" and then I press on. All I can manage to do is focus on her shoes and press on with everything I have. It's so frustrating to be trapped in this stupid used up body right now. My god. I just want to run. I just want to be done.

The next 2 hours are plagued with mind games and thoughts I need to just keep pushing aside. I just feel, for the first time, that I really can't do this. And then I start thinking about all the people who believe in me. I think about Sandra and Abbie and Jeni who have been here for me, ME. Who haven't slept and walked through the night and the mud and the rain. Who have sacrificed for ME. There's nothing in it for them. They're here for me. I think about my daughter, about going home and telling her, "Well, Mommy didn't finish but she tried really hard". Fuck that. I won't do it. My god. I can't do that, not at this point.

Every up and every down hurts like nothing I've felt before. I'm very concerned about tripping at this point since that might mean the end of everything and I just can't stand the thought of that. About 2.5 miles out, Jeni and Sandra wait, whooting as we approach. They all stay ahead of me by about 20-30 feet, and we continue, but at this point I can't even jog any longer. Walking feels like a herculean effort. It's hot and swampy and I'm milking the last remnants of HEED. Sandra drops back for the last mile and I occasionally mumble some obscenity to her.

I've been suppressing the urge to cry, now, for several miles. I'm not even sure why I want to cry, but it keeps welling up in my throat. As we round a final turn, Sandra points out the finish, and I feel like I'm just going to breakdown, right there. As we are about to come out of the woods I say, "Okay. Let's run." And we do, well sort of...

And then I cry. And I'm glad Jeni stops the video there as I start gasping for air. I see people around, but nothing is really registering. The RD, who I've seen throughout the event (he kept saying "Good job kiddo." which I thought was cute ;) shakes my uncomprehending hand, and then a woman hands me my tiny copper kettle. I've honestly never cried after finishing a race.
Crying but happy and relieved beyond description
I walk around for a bit, not really knowing what to do with myself, afraid to sit down. But then I am assured that sitting would be a good idea and a gracious woman offers me her chair.

I fall into it and I'm handed a beer. All is well with world at that moment. I am so deeply exhausted, so done, so thankful - physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. I feel so much love and gratitude for my crew - my friends. This was not just about me. Sure, I'm the one who ran 100 miles (actually the course was long, 100.6 miles, plus the extra for getting lost, so I'm giving myself full credit even though I got lost!), but this was so much more than that. I don't take help well. I rarely ask for help and I feel uncomfortable taking it when it's offered. But for some reason I never felt uneasy about this. I told them how I felt, gosh, weeks ago, but then it was gone - not because of me but because of them. Not once did they get frustrated with me or express anything but 100% support and belief. I might have been able to finish solo, but it would not have been the 'run' it was without them. This is about so much more than the miles. We did this together. We got through this together.
“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art.... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” ~ C.S. Lewis

A few days later, I'm left with that gnawing feeling of disbelief, or, I don't know what it is, but it's this feeling that nothing big really happened over those 30 hours of my life. I know, intellectually, that that's not the case but just as it was hard to get my head around the idea of doing it, I now find myself unable to grasp the idea of having done it. Yes. People run 100 miles all the time. They run it a lot faster than me. So what's the big deal? This is not earth shaking stuff. But, we are all on our own personal journey in this life, and our challenges are ours only. This is my story. And my story matters. Yours does too.
"There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you." ~ Maya Angelou

Friday, May 29, 2015

Digging Deeper Than Deep Goes

“It is not the strength of the body that counts, but the strength of the spirit.”  ~J.R.R. Tolkien 
This is not about me. I'm not entirely sure I could ever dig this deep. I suppose part of all of this is the journey to find out how deep it all goes...

Early this year Jeanette turned to me for help training for her first marathon, the Colfax Marathon, having finally coerced her doctor into granting grudging consent for the whole enterprise. A runner most of her life and healthy and vital, Jen suffered a heart attack, 6 years ago, at the age of 38. And with that her whole life changed. It has taken her years of trial and error, learning, researching, exploring all the avenues available, weekly experimental treatments to grow new nourishing vessels feeding her heart, constant angina, migraines, debilitating exhaustion, reluctantly leaving her uber high stress but much loved job as a Boulder County Deputy Sheriff, changing her eating entirely, and on and on. She does everything she can do to take control of a situation no one would ever choose and most would use as a reason to quit doing all the things that could actually kill them. She would be justified to give in and give up. Take some nice easy walks everyday.

But no. She wanted, more than anything, to run a freaking marathon.

I decided to help her because: a) Her doctor gave the thumbs up (She had just begun taking a 'wonder drug' that seemed to be helping with the constant angina, so things were looking promising or at least reasonable), and, b) I believe in personal freedom, which means that sometimes someone might pursue something risky because it is essential to their well lived life (assuming that their choice effects themselves only, which arguably isn't the case, but she had the support of her family). Was I nervous about this whole thing? Yes. Most definitely. So we monitored things VERY closely, and adjusted, sometimes daily, what she did.

The first thing I did, which I believe now was absolutely essential for her, was I added swimming to her schedule - For her I actually wanted lap swimming, not water running because swimming is a horizontal activity. Since we aren't dealing with the pull of gravity in the vertical position, it's more difficult to get your heart-rate up when swimming. This allowed her to increase her workout volume without the deleterious effects of higher running volume. I'll admit that this was a bit of an experiment and something I've been researching, and I was using her as my guinea pig, but, she is such a special case I had to try. Lots of runners are reluctant to get in the pool. At first she balked. Her two daughters are accomplished, talented swimmers and she felt self-conscious swimming. So I challenged her to meet me at the pool one Sunday morning. It was immediately apparent that she is actually a naturally talented swimmer (where did her daughters get it from??) AND she enjoyed it! Score!

We then embarked on a hyper-response-regulated training regime. We adjusted things as we saw that daily short runs worked better than fewer, longer runs. We adjusted when we learned that long runs took a couple days to recover from involving migraines and exhaustion. tweak, tweak, tweak...

Add to the cardiac issues, a knee problem that began many months earlier (which we determined via docs and an MRI would not be made worse with running, it might just hurt like hell!), and you have quite an interesting challenge. The result: She approached her marathon VERY undertrained, BUT with a resolute mind. I told her point blank, a month before the race: "You are not trained for this. If you were ANYONE else I would tell you not to do it. But I know you, and I know your reasons. Based on that, I will support this. But understand that this is going to be very hard."
Before the start

On a chilly morning, May 17th, 5:55 am, we stand in the corral, nervously jumping and wiggling about, waiting for the start. And then we are off.

The opening miles tick away, I'm doing my usual "slow down" refrain, as Jen argues that X:XX is okay, and I say, "No. No it's not. Slow down". We talk...she apologizes for the 'slow' pace as I reassure her that I DO NOT want to go any faster (this is my peak mileage week for a 100 miler in 3 weeks, so I have run a LOT of miles that week leading up to this 'training run'. I just pray I don't bonk on her!). I know the course well, so I try to give her a little mental tour as we approach certain sections of the course - the hard bits to get through and the easier parts to look forward to.

And this is how it goes..until about mile 15...

Not surprisingly, it gets hard here, a) because she is undertrained, and b) there is a LONG uphill, and we've been going uphill for the past 12 miles.

In mile 16 we see Heather. Hugs and we move on. It's a big boost for Jen (and me!) since she got through miles 14 and 15 hoping Heather would be there.

And then we head for the long, gentle downhill along Colfax Ave. heading back into Denver. It's getting warm, but we pick up the pace a bit - some tummy issues pop up, but settle down, and then finally her knee revolts. Mile 18 we walk twice to workout her knee, and then she's off again and that's the last we hear from the knee!!!...back through Sports Authority Stadium...past Elitches. And here things hit. Hard.

I can tell that she's hit the proverbial wall: The glazed look in her eyes, the heavy, labored gait. The silence. The single minded determination to keep putting that next foot forward. She hands me her Garmin: "Give it back to me at mile 23". We head into downtown along Cherry Creek and I can tell it's taking all her mental energy to put one foot in front of the other. I've been here. I get it. I slide in front of her, on the narrow bike path and say, "Just follow me" as I navigate her through the other runners, many of whom are also in a marathon daze...

Mile 23 and she sees Nancy ahead on the sidewalk. Ok. I didn't see her. Jen's doing better than me! More encouragement just when she needs it! Then we turn the corner and the 17th Street hill looms ahead, and for the first time I recommend walking. This is around mid-mile 23. She hasn't yet asked for her Garmin back. I'm not offering.

We crest the hill and we start jogging. Then she stops and says, "I'm sorry Caolan. I'm done. Let me have my watch back". I do not even entertain what she might mean by the 'I'm done'.
"Okay. Let's walk it out. Light and quick. Just keep moving". She does it without argument. We walk, we get some Gatorade from an aid station and Amy comes up behind us, grabbing a drink and walking for a second.
"OMG. My hip flexors are killing me." she says sipping her drink.
"Almost there. Keep moving" I encourage, and she painfully runs off.

Jen pulls out her baggie of meds.
"I need to take some." She peels open the baggie and downs some pills.
Prior to the marathon she sent me very specific instructions on how to deal with different situations and possible signs of trouble. She's had zero issues until now. At least she hasn't said anything.
"How long do those take to kick in?" I ask (I've been willing to push her through the fatigue and normal marathoning pain, but NOT heart issues!)
"A while."
"Should you put on a nitro patch?"
"No. Not yet."...and a second later, ""Okay. Yes." ( I am after all supposed to be watching out for this stuff! And it actually scares me a bit, so I keep asking questions).
“And one has to understand that braveness is not the absence of fear but rather the strength to keep on going forward despite the fear.” ~ Paulo Coelho
During mile 24 she says, "Let's try running."
"Are you sure? We are getting there. This isn't worth dying for!"
"No. It's leveled off. It's not getting worse. That's what matters. I can run".

We round the last turn before entering City Park.
"Three-quarters of a mile to go. You're going to do this." I encourage.
"This is the longest three-quarters of a mile ever."

We start winding through City Park. I'm leading her, cutting the tangents. We round the corner and pass the cormorant nesting area and there's Denise and Dawn, screaming and waving signs.

Just ahead we catch the first glimpse of the finish. I'm feeling chills. "You're almost there. You're going to do this." As we hit the final 50 meters, she grabs my hand and starts what feels like a sprint.

Sprinting to the finish
Hand in hand

As we cross the mat tears start welling up in my eyes and I give her a hug. Jen's husband, Boscos, and daughter's, Erin and Darcy, rush to the fence so excited, and I'm sure also a little relieved. Pictures are snapped and the glasses have to go back on since I'm a red-eyed blubbering mess.

Letting it all settle and sink in
We make our way through the finish area, Sandra finds us, a bit concerned since no splits showed up after mile 16, and we join back up with all our friends and bask in the sun and the deepest satisfaction of an amazing day. A special day. A day in our lives that matters greatly.
Hugs for mom
“Courage is found in unlikely places.” ~J.R.R. Tolkien
Over the years I've written a lot about courage, fierceness, risk taking, betting against the odds, living a well lived life, but this run and this friend showed me what it really means to 'dig deep'. This wasn't just about physical pain. This was about mortality, and what makes a life worth living, which only the individual can determine.

Sometimes we have to do things that others believe are unwise, even foolhardy, but which mean so much to us. I knew this was the case for Jen and while I was a little scared to be part of it, in case things did not go well (how would I feel if something bad happened?? Would I be to blame?), I knew I needed to to support her. My fears concerned how I would feel, but this wasn't about me. This was her choice. She's a big girl who knew all too well what she got herself into, and gets to make these choices, choices that make all the difference to her and her well lived life on this planet. I applaud her toughness, fierceness, courage and resolve in going after what matters to her.
“Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.” ~ Amelia Earhart
And now I am one week away from a huge and scary undertaking myself. As I approach my first 100 miler I only hope that I can be half as determined and courageous as Jen. I hope it rubbed off a bit on that sunny spring day in Denver. I fluctuate between confident resolve and determination, and abject terror of the unknown. But, hell, for me it's just a run, or a walk, or a crawl, not mortal battle. And I need to be brave enough to try, even though I may fail. And when it all comes down to it, that is what I'm most afraid of...

To be continued. I hope...

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Faith Of A Runner: Boston To Big Sur And Beyond

 “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards." ~ Søren Kierkegaard
Boston 2 Big Sur: The Beginning, middle...But not the end.

Faced with the blank screen staring back at me, imploringly, impatiently, begging me to write something 'inspired' and 'inspiring' I found myself wondering. What do I really have to say?

Yes, I could write another 'race report' type post, but the fact is that I really don't feel like doing that. I don't want to write the blow-by-blow. The trip to Boston, which begins with a huge fight and blow-up with my husband caused by a misunderstanding, and me driving off to the airport in tears, not wanting to start things this way...turning around, going back to give my daughter and husband a hug, and a kiss, but still driving off in tears...

The trip itself: the beautiful day before...

...and the forecast of horrible rain and headwinds waiting to accompany us all the way from Hopkinton to Boylston Street.

And then the beginning...

And we're off...and the rains pour down from the heavens in wind driven sheets of water, soaking us to the bone, streaming down the roads, but somehow we make it...and round that turn...down Commonwealth. Right on Hereford...

Left on Boylston...

...down Boylston...To the finish. 3:46:42

Not the race I wanted, not the race I know I could have run, but the race I have on the day we are given.

The faith of a runner...

I could write about that long, cold walk toward the Common. The painful, shivering hobble down the stairs at Arlington to catch the T out to Somerville...collect my things, change into dry clothes...see Jeni and Family off...

Back on the T, on to North Station waiting for the Blue line to Logan. The T comes to a shutdown standstill - workers running down the tracks trying to find out what's happening...I collect some fellow Logan bound runners and we're back up onto the rainy streets. I hail a cab...and finally I'm at the airport, finding smiling friends and a very welcomed and savored beer. Cheers!

I could write about Big Sur, 6 days later. Flying into San Jose, expo, meeting two new friends who are crashing at the sub-sub-par Motel 6 with me, 3 am wake up, the long and winding bus ride in the dark to the start...

And off again...

Through the forest out to the sea.  The views are, as promised, more amazing than anyone can really know unless they have been here. Pictures do not do justice. But the headwinds. Oh the bloody, blasted headwinds! Those I can do without. I decide to back off my 8:30 pace and just enjoy the ride from here...

The faith of a runner...

4:03:25, marathon/ultra #21 and not my best, of course, but I don't care and I feel strong the whole way (even with a tweaky ankle issue) ...and I place 6th in my age group for the Boston2BigSur event.

I make my way to the B2B tent, collect my B2B medal and jacket hop on the bus from Carmel to Monterey back to the car, off to the Motel 6 for a quick shower, and off I go, heading back to the airport with just enough time before boarding to enjoy, yes, a large IPA.

So, I could write about all of that, but that's all so played ;) So I have other things to say about all of this. 

I want to talk about the faith that is required for all runners who have dreams and goals and wishes and aspirations. For runners who take the risk to aim for something. Maybe it's something new or big or emotionally necessary. But whatever it is, we take risks investing in those dreams.

Since returning from this trip and continuing my training for my next big race, Kettle Moraine 100, I keep hearing the same (encouraging and supportive) comment: "You must be so happy about Boston. You did great!"

Well, thank you, but not really. I mean, I'm happy with it and I'm also disappointed. We all know that training is tricky, trying business. Training for spring races means toughing it out through winter ice, snow, sub-zero temps, insanity-making winds, darkness, etc. We invest a lot in our goals. This investment is the result of FAITH. Believing that it matters. Believing that it will make a difference, even when there are no guarantees. Even when the whole plan can go to shit due to weather, illness, injury. We still go out there and fecking try. We give it our all and hope for the best. 

So when I headed off to Boston, having done the work, having my A, B, and C goals clear, I knew what I knew I was capable of and what I might be capable of (though I still had a hacking cough from a 2 week old cold), what months of training had prepared me for. But of course that's only part of the story for marathons. 

You also need to: Have a good day. What that means varies, but arguably temps in the 40s, with pouring rain (and please note: Only those in Waves 3 and 4 had rain for the WHOLE race. I was in wave 3), with a steady headwind and gusts up to 38 mph, does NOT qualify, by most standard definitions, as a 'good' day. So I adjusted my goals, and did what I could do. I am satisfied with the job I did. But that does not mean that I'm happy with it. Based on my training, my goal was 7-10 minutes faster than what I ran. On the plus side, I ran strong the whole way, but still...And so I did wonder, just a little, if I could do it in Big Sur, and truth be told, the first 5 miles I tested this. But the hard truth was that neither my body nor the conditions that day were conducive for that goal. I accepted that and, once again, did what I could do.

The faith of a runner...

What else can we do? We can't control the uncontrollable. We can't really function thinking: "Well, maybe I'll bail on this tempo run because the day of the race might suck anyway, so why even try?" Runners don't think that way. Runners are by our very nature optimistic and hopeful, even when we don't sound like it. We would never go out, day in and day out, working hard when we'd rather not, pushing on through it all if we didn't have faith that it will matter. But the fact remains that often we get a totally crap day. But you know what we do? The next day we wake up and start concocting plans for the next one. 
“The future depends on what you do today.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi 
SO when someone comes to me, worried about some uncontrollable something for an upcoming race, or bemoans their bad luck in being dealt a bad day, all I can say is: "Look. This is the nature of the beast. It's what we do. A lot of times it sucks. A lot of times it may not suck, but it's not great either. And sometimes, and it doesn't happen often, but sometimes, it all comes together at just the right time." And THAT's what we have faith in.

All runners who pursue aims must share this faith in the future, while finding the present satisfying in its own right. The faith we have makes the present worth it. It makes us more alive everyday and keeps us moving forward even when we are pushed down by fickle luck, by injury, by illness, and by aging. Our actions show what we really believe, not our words. And when we continue on, in pursuit of the things that matter to us, those actions show that we believe in what's possible. We have faith that it will happen, even when we have no assurance, no guarantee. Even when the odds are against us and the fates slap us down. We get right back up on that horse and point ourselves in the direction of that next big thing. The faith of a runner...
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

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...