Sunday, September 30, 2012

Adversity: A condition marked with misfortune, calamity, or distress

Today my husband told me that he's not sure that he wants to race anymore. I am 99% sure that when he wakes up in the morning he will start thinking about his next race. And then when he's crewing for me during my race next Sunday he will be methodically thinking about his race that he suffered through today trying to figure out how to make improvements next time. I can already picture him making notes in his little black moleskin journal that he brings everywhere.

This morning we woke up at 4 am and headed out to Lakewood for the Bear Chase Race. After parking, we hopped on a bus to be shuttled to the start along with a crew of sleepy athletes. As we rode along in the dark, one flustered man sitting behind us got on the phone with his significant other and started ranting about how he forgot his race belt back at the car. Everyone started looking uncomfortably at each other as his conversation escalated. Finally he asked the bus driver to pull over at a gas station and let him out. Then he proceeded to pace back and forth on the bus until he finished his phone conversation and gathered his belongings. As soon as he got off the bus there were a few snickers and the girl next to us make quite a funny joke that I will not repeat.

Anyway, as the bus resumed course Cory realized that he forgot his hand held water bottle in the car. Seeing that I am not a morning person I did not handle the situation gracefully. I ended up taking the bus back to the car while Cory made pre-race preparations. It was a good thing because the extremely friendly lady driving the bus did not know how to get back to the parking lot where she was supposed to pick up more runners. When we finally got to the pitch-black parking lot I played a wonderful game of hide and go seek with our black car because Cory had the headlamp. Fun times.

The sun rose and the runners were off (and Cory was very happy to have his water bottle). We had discussed Cory's race plan in depth so that he would not run his typical race... which is run fast until you don't have anything left. He was aiming to be between 7-12th place in the first half of the race and move up steadily from there. Additionally he had set time goals for each lap. This year was a little more competitive than previous years and so he was pulled into running 4 minutes under his goal pace for the first lap. By the second lap he had slowed up a bit and hit his goal pace.

Hamiltons (I'm assuming brothers) burning through their second lap on their way to a record setting finish.

There is really only one climb on this relatively flat course. On his last lap I met him at the bottom of the climb  at mile 24 because he wasn't looking so happy at mile 19. Shortly after this point the vomiting began. Unaware of his GI distress, I was panicking at the finish line because an hour and twenty minutes after his projected finish he still wasn't in. I wanted so badly for him to have a successful race to cap off the season. With help from aid station volunteers who forced him to take electrolytes and liquids, he somehow managed to get himself to the finish line.

Shortly before throwing up.

We are still not sure what brought on this "adverse" situation. He got good sleep, ate a good breakfast, and kept a consistent eating schedule during the race. I'm betting my money on the expired Clif Shots that he insists we keep (He's napping right now so I should probably sneak off and throw them out). At any rate, I'm proud of my guy and I'm going to be thinking of him next Sunday when I'm racing. If he was able to drag himself through those horrible miles, then I can't think of any excuse that should stop me.

To be honest, though, I am really nervous. I've felt so successful at other distances, but my last marathon experience left me in a funk. Quitting at mile 18 from nerve pain in my hip, left me feeling incredibly depressed. You invest so much time into marathon training that when you drop out all you can think about is all of those Saturday or Sunday mornings that you were out running instead of spending quality time with other people and how you spent the rest of those days feeling post-run nausea. Why do we do it? Why is it so addictive?

Personally, I think I do it because I want to see how much pain I can handle. Some people say that they trail run because they want to enjoy the scenery, but I think that's just an excuse to cover for some sort of masochism. If you just wanted to enjoy the scenery you would go backpacking or hiking instead and wouldn't do the same punishing routes over and over again. The scenery is a bonus, but I think I want to show myself that I am capable of something extraordinary. Let's face it, I'm not going to be the first woman President or discover the cure to cancer. There is nothing about me that proclaims greatness. I'm never going to change the world. This isn't meant to sound depressing; I am ok with this reality. I just want to live a humble life where day by day I push my own physical and mental limits.

And I think this comes back to why I am so nervous for my upcoming race. I've dropped out of a marathon once. If I drop out again does this mean that I've reached my physical limit? I don't want to know what my physical limit is. I don't want to be cut short in my 20s. I don't want to tell my kids about how, back in the day, I tried to run marathons but was never successful. Damned sure I'm not going to let that happen.

So even if I throw up, even if I have shooting nerve pain down my hamstring, even if there is record October heat, I'm going to get myself to that finish line. After witnessing Cory's extraordinary effort to persevere through his race, I'm not going to let myself do any less.

Need inspiration? Here's Jeanne Cooper breaking the women's record by 28 minutes.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Long run ordeals

Sometimes long runs can be empowering therapeutic sessions that can sustain you through the next few days, weeks, or even the month. I have had long runs where I receive surprising mental clarity and peace of mind. After these runs I rest well, sleep hard, and wake up refreshed and motivated for days to come. I have not had a long run like this in a long time.

Yesterday I was supposed to get in my last 20 miler before my trail marathon in 3 weeks. This run was really important because I've been forced to skimp on some long runs lately. Last weekend we ran in Indian Peaks, but different factors forced us to turn back early cutting our run down to 11 miles. The weekend before I was supposed to do 19 miles in Fort Collins where my race is going to be, but again I had to turn back early because I started experiencing heat exhaustion (not a shred of shade on Devil's Backbone or the Blue Sky Trail to take refuge in). Obviously I had high expectations for my long run this past weekend.

Things started out fine. The weather was sunny but cool and Cory and I got an early enough start. I brought extra food and water because I was determined that nothing would make me turn back. I ran familiar trails at Bear Creek Lake Park. Nothing could go wrong, right? About 6 miles in I started noticing red signs with arrows and started hypothesizing that some sort of race was in progress. I didn't see anyone around so I kept trying to make myself believe that some crew had just come through to set up markers for an event in the future. The markers followed my predetermined route for the next 2.5 miles and I came across an unmanned aid station but still no racers. Finally I came upon a crowd of spectators and asked what was going on: an off-road triathlon.

Right as I got my response a mountain biker whizzed by and headed on to the trail I was about to run. Determined not to be discouraged, I plunged in after him and got quite a few dirty looks from the spectators who obviously thought the trails should be shut down to the public. In ordinary circumstances I would agree with them. I already felt sick to my stomach from the run (mostly because I had eaten pizza the night before despite my lactose-intolerance), but knowing that I had mountain bikers behind me made it even worse. I could blend in with runners but I knew the mountain bikers would be annoyed with me and possibly aggressive. Which they were. I soon fell in to a routine of looking over my shoulder every thirty seconds, twisting my ankle, getting yelled at by a biker and stumbling off the single-track trail.

By mile 10 I was discouraged. I had only been followed up by the mountain bikers for 1.5 miles but the constant stepping on and off the trail made it take forever and it was impossible for me to get into a rhythm. If I continued on my route, the bikers would  behind me for 7 of the last 10 miles. Abort mission. For me running is much more a mental game than a physical one. When I get discouraged and angry, embarrassing tears start to sting my eyes, my legs become lead, and my throat starts to close off. When competing in the Kentucky Derby Marathon this last April, sciatic back pain made every step after mile 17 excruciatingly painful. Soon I felt overwhelmed and had to quite because of my stupid tears.

Well I was determined to make sure that I didn't let myself induce an asthma attack on this run. I changed my route to avoid the bikers as best as possible. It meant that I would only be able to squeeze in 17 miles, 1 more mile with bikers and 6 miles without. As I started back around I felt fear creeping in. I started to worry that not getting in 20 miles meant that I wouldn't be able to finish my race in October. I haven't had a single good long run this training cycle. I started beating myself up and telling myself how I'm a failure. I see other people finish marathons like it's no big deal. This past year I watched my sister-in-law post a 3:24 marathon debut on little training. I met a co-worker and friend who runs 3-4 road marathons a year without injury. I met a 65-year-old man hiking Pikes Peak with his family even though he had just run the marathon the day before. I watched numerous people less fit than I pass me crying on the side of the road when I dropped out of the Derby Marathon.

I'm not a quitter. But lately it seems that I keep falling short of my goals. I'm not sure what the solution is. Should I make easier goals for myself? How do we determine what is realistic and what is not? This past weekend was the Run Rabbit Run 100 mile race in Steamboat Springs. Before the race I was reading's preview and it mentioned that "Despite his experience, Karl [Meltzer] ain’t gonna add this year’s Run Rabbit Run to his list of 30+ 100 mile victories." I read that and agreed. Karl is getting older and there were a lot of stellar young runners competing in the event. Guess who won the race? So I guess I gleaned from that lesson that you can't even let other people tell you what you are capable of.

Maybe this is why I'm so drawn to distance-running. It's unpredictable. It's one of the few sports where you can surprise other people and you can even surprise yourself. I didn't get my 20 miler in but I've been through a lot of suffering this race cycle. I can guarantee that I'm going to endure a lot of suffering during my trail marathon. Maybe I've gotten everything I needed out of my training. Physically I know I can go the distance and getting in an easy breezy long run wouldn't have helped. Instead I faced heat exhaustion, dehydration, GI issues, unexpected route failures, foot and back pain, "woman pains", and other obstacles. If I've been able to endure all this then I'm going to be able to endure what ever race day dishes out.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

I blame it on the Hunger Games

I've been a writing delinquent these past two weeks and I'm sorry. My only excuse is those darn good Hunger Games books. My life has been working, running, and reading. I should never be allowed to read fiction because my mind gets too carried away and I end up dwelling on how I wish my life had as much purpose as someone struggling to bring down a dystopian governmental system while keeping all of her loved ones alive. In order to get my head out of the fog I had a few adventures of my own.

1. Cory at the Breck Crest Marathon
To be honest I spent most of the day reading book two. I kept shaking all day and I couldn't figure out if it was because the book was so riveting or if it was race excitement. Normally I try to meet Cory at multiple points during a race to give him food, water, and encouragement but this course is difficult to spectate from. The aid stations are remote and so I waited anxiously at the start/finish line. Cory has a tendency to start fast. After a lot of road racing and training, it's hard to know how to pace yourself on trails. He held third place for the beginning of the race and gradually slipped back to seventh by the end. Considering that we haven't been doing a lot of climbing during training runs, I'd say he did pretty well. Notably first place Nick Pedatella finished at least 15 minutes ahead of the next competitor.
Cory keeping it together at the finish.

2. Long run in the Indian Peaks Wilderness
Cory's sister Kristen came to visit and we took her out for a little mountain running. Apparently Linfield's don't need time to acclimate because based on her ability you would think that Ohio must be at 9,000 feet elevation.  Still trying to convince her to move.
This guy is only happy in the mountains.

I guess I'm pretty happy, too.

It's starting to look like fall in the mountains.

Kristen doesn't get many hills in Ohio.

Up by Devils Thumb lake... thinking about lunch.

3. Climbing at Ampitheatre Rock in Boulder
Until yesterday, all the climbing experience I had was at indoor gyms. Now that I've had my first outdoor experience, I think that I could easily get hooked on climbing. It's strange to realize this, but I think I honestly enjoy being in pain. I tend to day dream a lot but pain keeps me in the moment. It helps me focus and motivates me to pursue tangible goals. When you are climbing there is a simple goal... to reach the top. I'm very goal-oriented and I like to get things done, but lately I've felt very confused about what I'm supposed to be striving towards in life. It was so refreshing to climb, see where my goal was, and to feel tangible and motivating pain along the way. After coming back to the ground I would relish those brief moments of accomplishment before entering back into reality. We only did two climbs. Cory's uncle Roger has decades of climbing experience took us to a popular location in Boulder. After showing us how to set up a top rope he had us warm up on a class 4 crack. We found that pretty easy and tackled a 5.6 climb next. It took us a while but we all got it done. Linfields aren't quitters.
Cory taking on the Class 4 climb

Roger happy to have an active nephew to belay.

Kristen warming up on the Class 4 crack.

Cory at the crux of the 5.6 climb.
Taking some time to focus on my second attempt.

I learned that I'm one of those swear-under-your-breath climbers.