Wednesday, February 20, 2013

There's nothing more annoying than hearing Californians complain about Colorado winters

It is February and it is beautiful. Actually there has not been a single time this winter that it has not been beautiful. So when I hear California and Texas-natives complaining about how cold it is, I'm not very sympathetic. After enduring many Wisconsin winters, I fully appreciate every day above 0 degrees. In Wisconsin it is almost impossible to train through the winter. The trails are snowed in and the sidewalks are covered in sheets of ice.

Today I ran Mt. Falcon before we got hit with a little snow. I think I did about 2700 feet of climbing in the first six of ten miles. Just when I feel like I'm starting to improve my fitness, I can always count on Mt. Falcon to kick my butt and remind me that I'm just an average human being. And then when I finally am humbled by that thought, I can stop at scenic vistas, let my heart swell with the beauty of it all, and not look at my watch.

Here's some pictures from the last month. Some are from a "hill" near our place that connects up with the Highline Canal Trail. It was so pretty after a fresh snow. The other pictures are from a run at Mt. Falcon last week.

P.S. Update on the toe: I took a week off and it feels a bit better, though it's still a little swollen. I'm doing some icing and strengthening exercises.

Mayla doesn't really like the cold.

Good views of the city on a clear day.

Beautiful distant mountains...

The flat, bare hill is green mountain. The spiny hill is Dinosaur Ridge. You can't really see Morrison Slide very well, but you can see part of Red Rocks. Sometimes I link them all together for a good winter long run.

View from the Parmalee trail near the west end of the park.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The "Awakened" Runner

Many running fanatics can look back and pin point a time when they had a “running awakening” - that is, a time when they went from non-runner to runner. I was reading Dean Karnazes’ book, Ultramarathon Man, and was drawn into the part where he describes his all night 30th birthday 30-mile running awakening. He describes it in an almost spiritual way, the same way that someone would describe their sudden realization of who God is. People refer to this as a testimony.

You see, after growing up in a Christian home, going to many Christian camps, and even working at a Christian camp for 3 years, I’ve heard a lot of testimonies. If you do not consider yourself a spiritual person or if you are spiritual of a different nature, don’t stop reading. You won’t get preached at. Consider this an opportunity to get a peek inside what it is like to be a part of the (sometimes strange) world of Christian families/community.

When you boil it down, most testimonies follow a basic formula: I was lost and now I’m found. The most compelling stories usually involve the storyteller being mired down in some sort of “sin” and then they realized that what they once enjoyed had enslaved them. In their discontentment they cry out and they get an answer. Sometimes people really like to amp up their “sins” because it makes for a good story.

These kind of stories always seemed to get under my skin. It wasn’t because of the actual story; I was glad these people had found more fulfillment in their life. It was because, after hearing these stories, I felt like no one would want to hear mine and it felt odd trying to compile a list of bad things I had done just show that I had really “lived.” After growing up in a Christian family, there had never been a time in my life where I didn’t have an understanding of who God was.

And, furthermore, I seemed to have come out of the womb as a people pleaser (some probably call me a suck up). The truth is, I just want to bring happiness to others. I felt uncomfortable in bars because guys would always talk me with the wrong idea and I would feel bad rejecting them because, after all, I was a girl in a bar. So I never really got into partying. I hated that people thought I wasn’t spontaneous.

Similarly after reading Dean’s story of being a drinking yuppy whose life was redeemed through running, I felt like my story wasn’t that great. I don’t remember ever not being a runner. In middle school we would run the mile in gym class as a fitness test twice a year and the gym teacher would put the top 3 boys and girls on a board. I always HAD to be on that board. As I grew up, I never gave up running because I felt like my body was the one thing that I could control. That was probably why I never experimented with drugs or alcohol. Why give up control of the one thing that is yours?

And then I started realizing how my spiritual story and running story are very similar. As a kid I never felt like I belonged because I didn’t have any Christian friends and the few Christians I knew weren’t very nice to me. Though the non-Christian friends that I had cared about me, they knew I was different. Similarly, when I ran Cross-Country I never really felt accepted. I ran Varsity freshman year but when I had anxiety issues before races, I felt like no one on my team was there to encourage me, they were just ready to take my spot.

Even though I quit competing I never stopped running, I probably ran more. And even though my family didn’t regularly attend church, I never stopped believing in God. I pretty much ignored him for a  few years, but that’s another story. I guess when I went to college I had some experiences and friendships that renewed my excitement in both God and running, but I can’t really find a specific moment when I was “awakened.”

I remember the first time I heard about an ultramarathon. I had a friend, Ami Hutchinson, who was in the room next to me my freshman year in the dorms. She was also a Christian AND a runner. Crazy world! We became fast friends but we were maybe a little too much alike. Sometimes when you meet someone who has the same problems you have, the more you talk about those problems, the more you push each other apart. We were both going to work at camp in Colorado that summer, but only I went and after I got back we just didn’t hang out much. Something I regret to this day.

Anyways, we got together a few years back and as we sipped coffee at my favorite Madison coffee shop, she told me about two things: That she didn’t believe in God anymore and that she had decided to run her first ultramarathon and won. As she told me about running the North Face Endurance Challenge 50k in Wisconsin, I became fascinated that a person could run that far. The farthest I had run at that point was eight miles, and after my first summer in Colorado, living along the 105-mile Rainbow Trail, I was just starting to get into trail running.

I didn’t amp up my miles right away. I didn’t have time and it wasn’t as much a priority to take time from other things to give to running. When I went back to camp, though, I had these great spiritual experiences while running and I tried to recreate them when I went home. They could only be recreated on the trail and the Kettles became a refuge to me. And since then, I’ve had a lot of ups and downs, which pretty much parallels my relationship with God.

The irony is that’s how I like my running... lots of ups and downs. Road races start with a bang and are filled with miles of flat pavement. Trail races, well, I’ve had experiences where I didn’t even realize the race had started. And then the course is broken up into distinct sections characterized by terrain. And that’s my story. Mountains and valleys, parts where I took things slow and parts where things progressed quickly. Nothing particularly exciting, but things were always moving forward.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Running tunnel vision = Runnelvision

If you know me, you know that I put my heart fully into things. If I commit to something then come the zombie-apocalypse I am going to accomplish that goal. At one point I was a full-time student, planning a wedding with the groom long-distance, and holding down two jobs. I almost died. Also the caterer didn't show up to the wedding and many guests and the bride almost perished from starvation. Since then, I have become better at saying "no" to things when I am already over-committed.

All of this is to say that I'm either experiencing an emotional high about my endeavors or I am in a depressive funk. Rarely am I in-between. After finishing my first half-marathon ten minutes faster than my goal pace, I felt like I was ready to go take on 100 miles. After failing to finish my first marathon, I curled up in a ball at my in-laws' house wanting my life to be over. And I am not a cute crier. Fortunately Cory is pretty much always in a happy medium. Even when I've annoyed the crap out myself, he sits there dispassionately spewing extraordinary pearls of wisdom.

Well yesterday I was in a funk. After pushing myself and completing some breakthrough long runs, I realized that this "bruised" toe of mine probably has a stress fracture. It is inexplicably swollen with nothing to explain it but a low bone-density and an increase in training. I was reflecting on why runners get so upset about injury and was realizing that the reason why most of us runners love running is because it makes us feel like we have some sort of control over our bodies. When injury strikes, we are reminded that we actually have little control over what our bodies can and can't handle.

As Cory consoled me and tried to convince me to see a sports specialist, I realized that I get upset because really I just want a quick fix so that I can have control over my body again. I don't want to learn whatever lesson this injury is going to teach me. I just want to have one solid season where I can build endurance without my bones rebelling. Then my pup comes over to me and puts her paw on my shoulder. She licks the tears off my face and deposits her bad-breath goo all over my neck. And I remember that my life is not all about running. I have a loving husband, a loving dog, a job with people that I love, and every day I get to see mountains that I love. I'm pretty ungrateful.

Cory reminded me that it is better to show up for a race under-trained rather than injured. The embarrassing reality is that I want to show up trained AND healthy so that I can prove to myself and disbelieving others that not only can I finish this marathon but I can finish well. And secretly I am requiring myself to go sub-5:30 so that I can qualify for the Pikes Peak Marathon which I've told Cory that I'm not going to do this year. And then I want to crush it at the Golden Gate Dirty 30 so I can show the ultrasignup algorithms that the time it predicted for me is too slow. Then I want to go back to Wisconsin for the North Face Challenge and show that the Kettles are for suckers, they aren't real hills.

So a February injury isn't just an injury, it's a mountain lion that leaps up and eats all of your dreams. It's the rattlesnake that bites you and at first you think you just got scratched by a stick but then a few minutes later you are on the ground unconscious. No, but really, it's the reminder that I need to get over myself and care a little more about other things. Maybe I'll never have a break out year, but if that's why I run then I should be ashamed.

So Cory and puppy, I will listen to you. I'm going to take a few days off and see if the swelling goes down. If it does not, does anyone know of a good doctor in the Denver area?