Sunday, October 28, 2012

Never have I ever put a bumper sticker on my car

But if I did ever put a bumper sticker on my car it would say, "We love Jeffco Parks!" And just so you know "Never have I ever" is a drinking game. If you've ever put a bumper sticker on your car. Take a drink. Today we saw a guy with a bumper sticker that said, "Does this ass make my car look big?" and it had a picture of Obama's face. Never have I ever wanted to flick someone off more than today.

Back on track. Jefferson County has an amazing park system. Technically Jeffco has 26 Parks and Open Spaces but this is deceiving because sprinkled in between are many city-operated parks. The foothills are covered with trails and the best part is that you can get the same kind of elevation that you would get if you were starting from some cozy mountain town, except you are at a lower elevation. For example, you still get 1,000 foot climbs but you are starting at 6,000 feet instead of 10,000 feet.

Literally the beginning of the Rocky Mountains. They start here, folks.

We started at William Frederick Hayden Park on Green Mountain. I'm not sure who thought of that name but it is a mouthful. And if you are an Arrested Development fan then that should have triggered a Tobias quote and you can find a delightful montage here. Most people just call the park Green Mountain, but the problem is that there are a ton of "Green Mountains" including a much more well known one that I have blogged about here. The other problem is that the Green Mountain that we ran today is never really green. In fact it is totally exposed with only a few spotty shrubs and cacti.

Despite the egregiously long name and the lack of foliage, I love Green Mountain. You can find a link to a map here. We ran up and over the mountain, scraped the mud off of our shoes, and headed up Dinosaur Ridge. Dino Ridge is beautiful and actually has trees. The terrain is more technical and the views are more stunning. Unfortunately, it is very narrow like a Stegosaurus' backbone (though I think the ridge is actually named for the smaller fin-like rocks you can find on the trail) so you are up and over it in no time. But all you have to do is scamper across the street and you are in Matthew Winters Park.

Matthews Winters is also awesome and well-maintained. No need to tinkle behind a bush because there are fantastic year-round facilities! You can find a map of the park here. There are some rolling trails and then you  have the option to head up Morrison Slide or skirt around the mountain on the Red Rocks trail.

View of Green Mountain from Morrison Slide

If you are feeling expeditious you can keep following the trail to Red Rocks and go laugh at the people doing stadium workouts in the ampitheatre. I have not gone that far yet. On my way back I played tag with some mountain bikers on Dinosaur Ridge. I would pass them on the way up and they would pass me on the way down. It was a little frustrating but in the end it pushed me to go faster and take less uphill walk breaks. I did feel pretty good about myself when I realized that I could run faster than these guys could bike.

Enjoying a rolling section in Matthews Winters.

This feeling of pride quickly eroded after I headed back up Green Mountain. Even though I passed two more mountain bikers, my legs felt like lead. I saw some strange coyote poop and a girl being pulled by a dog. She had tied a rope to her waist and connected her large dog to it. May be advantageous on the uphill, not sure about the down hills. At the top I decided to try a new gel for the first time. It was called Chocolate #9 and it was disgusting. Tasted like a mash of those nasty calcium chews that moms and doctors try to convince teenage girls to eat.

When I got back to the car I was almost as tired as when I ran my marathon. I think that's a good sign. We went to Chipotle for post-run burritos and they were playing a Bollywood version of "Man of Constant Sorrow." Confusingly wonderful.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Where does the motivation come from?

These past two weeks since my marathon, I've had a few conversations that have made me question why it is that I love to run. It started with a phone conversation with my mom. After I told her about the race she said something like, "I don't know why you and your dad like to do these crazy running adventures. There's nothing wrong with a little walk or a run, but I don't think I would ever want to do something that painful. What kind of enjoyment do you get out of it?" This was a very valid point and I didn't have a good answer for her.

Throughout the week customers at the store would notice me hobbling around and I would tell them not to mind my slowness because I had just run a trail marathon. Every time I offer information about my running to a customer I secretly hope that they will exclaim, "I'm a long-distance trail runner as well! Let's be running buddies and bff's and we'll conquer the mountains together. Girl power! Do you like dogs? And beer? And do you promise to never talk about politics?" But alas, that never happens. All I got was, "You ran a marathon? Did you do the Rock N' Roll Marathon?" And then I realized what it must feel like for ultra-runners who tell people they are going to Europe for a race and that race isn't UTMB. That's what you get for loving obscure sports.

Then, last Sunday, my husband and I went for a long run at Golden Gate Canyon State Park (we both want to do a 50k race there in June). We got back, showered, rushed off to church, rushed off to a friend's place to watch the Packer game and came home late. Cory brought up the very valid argument that now that we are done with our racing seasons we should actually rest. He said that we shouldn't just keep going off for all-day running adventures every weekend. Though I now see the wisdom in his point, I reacted defensively. But then I had to take a moment to examine why I am so possessive over my "right to run."

Obviously people all run for different reasons, but I think long-distance trail runners tend to run for similar reasons. If you are reading this and you are a runner (long, short, trail, road, treadmill) and you understand your own running motivations, I would love to see your comments. I don't think there is a right or a wrong reason to run and I don't want it to come across that my motivations are better than others'.

Whatever my motivation is to run, I know that it has pushed me to abandon road-racing and that I now hate running on pavement at all. I know that if I were to ever do a 5k or 10k again it would have to be pretty cheap (why pay $35 for a 5k when a trail marathon costs around $80?). I know that I would be reluctant to do a race with a big field where you have to wait for all-eternity to use a port-a-potty and where you are stampeded as you try to grab a cup of water from a race volunteer. I know that I have no interest in doing a color run, zombie run, warrior dash, etc. though I think that those races are great because they attract people who are motivated by other things. Cory loves orienteering races where you use a map to navigate a wilderness area and find the greatest number of checkpoints within a time limit. I have no desire to do those events.

So now that I know these things, what is there to deduce about my running motivations? Sometimes it's easier to realize what doesn't motivate you. I am not a social runner (though I am a social person) and large races with an overwhelming sense of camaraderie just make me anxious (read: I will never run Boston). I'm not motivated by a need to pursue a PR otherwise I would be more attracted to flatter road races. I do not need distractions like paint, costumes, or mud pits to take my mind off of the pain because I like the pain. I am not motivated by a need to "master" something because after I complete a distance I usually want to take on something more challenging.

Alright so I guess it's time to figure out what I am motivated by. I have a few ideas that don't totally mesh together, but here we go. The greatest thing that motivates me is a need to feel connected to creation. Your not going to get preached at here, but I think that I was designed by a creator and when I'm out in creation I feel content. Confession: When I'm running back to my house I have to head east and sometimes I run backwards so that I can look at the mountains. Something stirs in my heart when I am surrounded by natural beauty and I feel overwhelmed by a peace that transcends understanding.

But it's not all butterflies and cute,fuzzy marmots. I'm also motivated by a desire to feel pain. I don't really know how to explore this. There are a lot of psychologists that have theories on these types of things but I don't want to over-analyze what happened in my childhood or what's going on in my brain. One thing I do know is that mastering your pain gives you an overwhelming sense of control. And when there's not a lot you can control in your life, it's nice to know that physical pain doesn't have a hold on you. The idea of constant, unending pain sounds like hell, but in a race situation your pain has parameters. You know roughly what kind of pain it will be, when it will end, and how to manage it.

And the motivation that I struggle with the most is the need to better myself. I hate to admit, but my running is a selfish activity. I don't help make the world a better place through my running. I'm never going to be a running icon and I'm never going to inspire people with my physical feats. I'm pretty average. But when it comes down to it, we all want to be special.  When I'm out running miles of trail I'm doing something that most people cannot do. The average person could complete a 5k. Therefore, 5ks do not interest me. To take this thought a little further, when I completed my first half-marathon I was doing something that I could not previously do. Maybe it wasn't super-human, but it was super-self. Someday when I finish my first 100 miler I will have accomplished something that I cannot currently do now.

So that's all I got. If you are still reading, I guess I'm wondering what motivated you to make it to the end. I would love to know more about others so please comment. Dad, I know you have something to say. My marathon report got 79 views not including my own so I guess I'm wondering if Blogger is lying to me.

Me leaving my other love (my road bike) to go for a run in Cherry Creek SP

The view from the top of the Coyote trail in Golden Gate Canyon SP

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A lot can change in a year

A year ago from today I ran my first half marathon, the Buffalo Creek Half Marathon in Pennsylvania. It was an incredibly easy net-downhill half marathon on a crushed gravel rails-to-trails path. I was pretty happy to finish in 1:50, but on the drive home I told Cory that I didn't think I could ever run a mile more than what I had just raced. I was certain that I never wanted to do a full marathon. And here I am a year later with a trail marathon under my belt.

One thing's for sure, training for and running a marathon wasn't doubly as hard as a half marathon. After finishing my marathon I said to Cory again that I don't think I could possibly run more than 26 miles. But now I've been thinking that the same principle should apply to running a 50 miler. It shouldn't be doubly as hard, right? As of now I'm thinking of sticking to some 50k races...

Hopefully I'll be back in Wisconsin running the Ice Age Trail during the North Face Endurance Challenge.

Monday, October 8, 2012

What's Done is Done: Blue Sky Marathon Race Report

This morning when I got out of bed I was unable to move but felt oh-so-relieved that I had finished my race. On Saturday I insisted that we camp at Horsetooth Reservoir so that we would be near the trailhead for my marathon on Sunday. From the get-go Cory didn't think this was a good idea and gently questioned my reasoning without telling me "no." My thought was that I would rather wake up at 5 am, get dressed, and check in with enough time to hit up the port-a-potty line than to wake up at 3 am, drive two hours, stress out about parking and experience an overall state of "flusteration."

In theory my reasoning might have been good, but I can be stubborn and when the forecast called for night-time temperatures in the mid 20s and a 26-degree race start, I didn't want to be dissuaded from my plan. I came up with excuses like, "We have good down sleeping bags," or, "It will be easier to get going if we wake up in a frozen tent instead of in our warm bed." So on our way to Fort Collins as we were driving through snow flurries, I kept my mouth shut. I didn't want to admit that maybe my plan was a mistake.

As I fell asleep that night with my contact lenses stowed away in my pants pocket so that they wouldn't freeze, I pushed away the regret and reminded myself, "What's done is done." I couldn't let myself start conjuring up excuses for poor race performance. That night we woke up many more times than we would if we were sleeping in our own bed and various horror movie trailers that we had seen before the movie "Looper" started playing through my head. But morning came and I stripped off my two pairs of pants and 3 shirts and got ready for the race.

When we arrived at the race parking lot, we were informed that it was a 1.2 mile walk down to the race start. This didn't bother me because the walk would help us warm up (we were already frozen from the night before). After picking up my race bib, I realized how much of a mistake it was to arrive early. There were no buildings to warm up in. All around us were race volunteers and runners who had carpooled together staying warm in their cars. Apparently if we had one more person in our car we would have been allowed to park there. I tried to stand by peoples cars and give them my most plaintive cold face but no one invited me in to their roomy SUVs. Race start neared and I figured, "What's done is done." No excuses.

By the time the race got going I could not feel my feet, a problem that I thought would be remedied in the first mile or two. Wrong. Finally after 3 miles, I could feel a few of my toes. Unfortunately this warming process was excruciatingly painful. For a long time I thought that my second and third toe on my right foot were crossed. I kept reasoning with myself that there was no way that that could actually happen, but this began a day strangely filled with mind games. Later on in a hot and sunny stretch I thought that a rock was a mountain lion and that I was carrying my water bottle upside-down and panicked because I thought all of the water had spilled out (it was right-side up the whole time).

The first 5 miles of the course are supposedly the hardest. Between miles 3 and 5 we climbed almost 1,000 feet. After we started the descent I ran with a guy named Mike who had run a ton of marathons and a couple of 50 milers. He said that he has a tendency to go out too strong in the beginning of races and that he thought I was running the perfect pace. In exchange for my "pacing," he regaled me with stories of rattlesnakes and mountain lions on his races in Utah and told me about the time he got stuck between a moose and her calf.  We swapped over-use injury stories. This was probably my favorite part of the race; the miles ticked by quickly. Most of all, this just really made me miss running with my dad who's always been my best running buddy.

Unfortunately during these miles I started feeling stomach discomfort. I had only eaten one gel but I felt like I was going to throw up. By the end of the day I wish that I had thrown up instead of what really happened. The most important lesson I learned is that you should always make sure your crew has an extra pair of underwear for you. I'll let you fill in the blanks. All together I spent 5 minutes on a pit toilet and 5 minutes behind a cactus. And as I was running I began thinking about how unjust it is that a runner can say at the end of a race, "I threw up on the side of the trail and it threw my whole race off, " and everyone nods understandingly and asks if they've replenished their electrolytes, etc. If you have issues on the other end and you started talking about it, people would cut you off saying "TMI!" and make an effort to never talk to you or read your blog again.

Moving on... overall my day was characterized by running with "old" men. I prefer to call it "running with the masters." One guy from Wyoming told me about how grueling the Quad Rock race was and kept making jokes about there being couches and potato chip mirages on the trail. Sadly this guy started to slow down and I soon realized that I was towards the back half of the pack. This was a very disconcerting thought for me and I pondered it for the next 10 miles. Instead of beating myself up I thought about the type of people who are drawn to rugged trail marathons.

If I had run the Denver Rock N Roll Marathon two weeks ago I probably would have been in the top third of women finishers. If I had run the half marathon, there would have been a large pack of slower women behind me. But at this race, where women composed less than 40% of the overall field, those "weekend warriors" weren't drawn to the crowd. All of the women running this race were tough and experienced. Therefore, I'm forcing myself not to feel too bad about how I placed. Interestingly posted an article by Ellie Greenwood about female participation in ultramarathons that you can read here.

Finally I began the switchbacks over the last small mountain/ large hill. Just after I crested the top my last gel fell out of my vest. At this point I was so tired and so frustrated with my vest that I decided that there was no way in hell I was going to take any more uphill steps than necessary and I left the gel where it lay. Now I mention this in order to segue to how unhappy I was with how the Mountain Hardwear Fluid race vest performed for me. Gels fell out of the vest three times during the race and the first time was within the first mile when everyone is running close together like a stampede. The pockets in the vest just aren't deep enough to hold anything. The worst problem was that there was a hook on the back of the vest that kept catching on my hair. Since I didn't want to stop and take off the vest I had to grab my braid and rip my hair. By the end of the race I had an enormous hair ball attached to my vest and my scalp was aching. Male runners seem to love this vest but I don't think I will ever wear it again.

But this is not a gear review, it is a race report. The last 5 miles were torturous. Nothing prepares you for the pain that you will experience at the end of a race. The pain you feel doing interval training or hill repeats is different; I consider that pain a tolerable and somehow pleasant burn. The pain at the end of a long race is overwhelming. It forces you to change your stride because certain muscles stop working altogether. Finally when I reached the finish line I started tearing up (fortunately I was wearing sunglasses). The emotion wasn't because of the pain, it was because I didn't truly know if I was capable of enduring to the finish.

I realized at mile 22 that I wasn't going to make my time goal of 5:30 in order to qualify for the Pikes Peak marathon. Again I reminded myself that what's done is done. My revised goal was to break 6 hours and I made that goal with 30 seconds to spare. Strangely I'm not all that upset about my time. I'm just so happy to be done.

Photo by Erin Bibeau Photography