Thursday, March 14, 2013

Prize winnings and the life of a run bum

When people ask me what I want to do with my life, I've noticed I get defensive because I really don't know what I want to do with my life. When I'm feeling particularly apathetic, I daydream about what it would be like to be a run bum. I'm sure you've heard of these types. They live in their van and spend all day running in exotic locales. They slackline in their freetime and make short-term friendships wherever they go. They spend most of their money on food - foody foods. They let their hair/facial hair grow wild mostly because they would rather spend money on new shoes over a hair cut. They lead their lives wherever they feel like going and they look darn happy doing it.

I wonder if we will see more of these types in the future. With the increase in prize money coming into the sport of trail-running, this lifestyle will become more of a possibility for a lot of top runners. For example, the 100 mile event of Run Rabbit Run is in it's second year and if you go to the race website you will find a big link that says "Prize Money." If you click that link you will see tantalizing numbers including a big 5G to 1st place. If my husband didn't eat so much, that amount would sustain a run bum lifestyle for us for three to six months.

There are a lot of great things that come from the increase in prize money offered at trail races. It draws a lot more competition to the field and gives an incentive to push hard, but I see it causing more harm than good. Runners who push hard for the prize money only to fall out of contention towards the end of the race are more likely to drop out all together so that they can save their bodies for other races. At the end of the day the person who won the prize money might feel that they deserved it as payment for all of the work they invested in training, but by that logic every person should be getting paid for their hard work.

Prize winnings aren't a need or a right. They are a luxury. If I had the chance to become a run bum, I would sure as hell take it. It's alluring. We all want to be our own master, punishing our bodies as we choose, rewarding ourselves as we see fit, and answering to no one. But I don't necessarily think that is a healthy way to live. We humans function best within communities, relying on each other's strengths and abilities.

In the end the people who inspire me most aren't the run bums. I'm inspired by women, like Liza Howard, breastfeeding their babies at aid stations during races. I'm inspired by braniacs like David Riddle who somehow manage to work in aerospace engineering in addition to competing at an elite level. I think the best runners are people who live a full and well-rounded life. When things aren't going well at work, these people can turn to running. When things aren't going well at home, they can turn to running. But when things aren't going well with their running, they actually have other things to turn to.

Prize money doesn't do anything to enhance the quality of your life, I would argue that it feeds an ego and promotes an unattached lifestyle. If someone handed me $10,000 tomorrow and said, "Go run," it would take everything in my will power to not quit my job. I would love to just run, eat, and slackline! But that money would just take away the joy that running gives me. You don't receive money without an expectation to keep performing.

Last weekend I ran a marathon in a little town called Salida. At $50 it was a bargain to run and the winners received local art as a prize. For that price we got a shirt, a beautiful and challenging course, good aid stations with enthusiastic volunteers, and a hot meal afterwards. The race still brought out a competitive field and though Nick Clark ran his best time ever, someone was actually faster. It goes to show that when races are affordable and actually use the money towards things that are important, top competition will show up.

I want races to stay like the Run Through Time Marathon. I'm not some old person reminiscing about the past and not wanting things to evolve. I'm only 23. I'm just entering the sport. And there is a reason I'm not doing road races. The trail running community has created a good thing. Let's keep it that way.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Salida Run Through Time Marathon

This was quite the adventurous weekend. All week long the weather was warm and beautiful, but the forecast for Saturday called for a blizzard. We weren't too worried about running in a storm - I've had my fair share of running in the snow and I actually enjoy it. We were more concerned about the driving conditions. We headed up to Salida on Friday night and stayed at the cheapest motel we could find. It was fun reminiscing about memories from years ago, driving on the road where Cory and I first exchanged phone numbers or going to the Walmart where we sat in the parking lot to talk about what was going on between us (there was no other place that summer to get away from the other camp counselors).

Our group doing trail work on S mountain the summer of 2009. Now the marathon winds through these trails. (July 2009)

We (Sarah Yon and I) didn't do much of the grunt work... mostly I just serenaded the guys with my recorder. (July 2009)

Fortunately the conditions were good on Friday and we explored downtown a bit, stopping at our favorite shops and talking to some locals. Most people told us they heard that Salida was going to get 2-4 inches of snow and that it was going to be a horrible day for running. Then we went to pick up our packets and I talked to  the race directors, Rickie and Jon, who said they thought snow was unlikely and that they heard the high was supposed to be 43 degrees. Anyway I had already resolved to wear shorts no matter what.

When we woke up Saturday morning I felt really nauseous. I've been on antibiotics for an infection all week and I needed to shove some food down my throat in order to take the medicine. I could hardly eat a poptart before I felt like I was going to throw up. After spending the morning dry heaving but trying to keep down the medicine, I was pretty nervous about my energy levels for the race. I just couldn't eat anything.

When we showed up at the Steamplant before the start of the race, it was pretty evident that this was going to be a competitive event. This race doesn't have a super-developed website and there is no way to see who else is going to be running until you line up at the start. In an age where you can usually go to ultra signup and check out all of the other runners rankings before the race, I could see how this might unnerve the top guys a little. And when we walked in the door there was Sage Canaday. I'm sure all of the potential leaders were just a little bit more nervous about their game plan. There was a little cluster buzzing around Sage in one corner and another cluster around Nick Clark in different corner.

When the gun went off the sky was overcast but there was no snow, and fortunately for the guys Sage was just there to cheer for who appeared to be his girlfriend - I think it was eventual 2nd place Sandi Nypaver. The first mile is on gravel roads so that the field can spread out before the switch backs begin. I really had no course knowledge because the website doesn't give much of a description. All I knew is that we were going to go mostly up for the first 15 or so miles. As we started the switch backs I started to feel really faint from not being able to eat, but because the group was so tight I couldn't stop to eat anything without pissing off a lot of people. I was nervous because I was running as the 7th or 8th woman which meant I went out too fast. Finally at the first aid station I stepped off, took a shot blok, and let quite a few people pass.

Even after slowing the pace a bit and putting down a little food and water, I felt like I was going to hurl. There was a guy running behind me who sounded like a buffalo but refused to pass because he wanted to pace off of me. He informed me that after a few miles of rolling switchbacks we were going to hit a jeep road  and it would be straight uphill for the next six miles. I forced myself to run through nausea and planned to walk a little after hitting the jeep road. It kind of unnerves me when people run so close behind me so I was really looking forward to being able to do my own thing.

Once we hit the jeep road, I found myself in a cluster of women. Surprisingly I started feeling much better and I put in my headphones to break this hill up into some intervals. I would run for two songs and then take a walk break during part of the third. It was nice to feel like all of my hill work was building to this and I felt good as I started picking off a few people. As we ascended we starting hitting more snow and by the time we got to the end of the jeep road at mile 12 it was thick and there wasn't much visibility.

At this point I think I was around 12th place for women and it had been 2 hours 20 minutes. I hadn't looked at my watch the whole time and I was nervous maybe I was still running too fast, but it felt good. Then we got off the jeep track onto some snowy trails and continued uphill. The nausea and dizziness started coming back. I knew there were about five women close on my tail and so I tried to keep pushing, but the overcast sky made it feel like you were just running into a white abyss. This was probably the hardest thing to deal with because you couldn't see where you were going or where you had come from. My spirits fell and I started to get passed.

Finally we started to get more downhills but they were a lot more technical than I expected. The snow dusted the rocks and it was difficult to pick your footing. I'm used to running in snow but after 15 miles I was starting to lose my ankle strength and agility. Just when I was started to get this hopeless feeling, this girl I had been yo-yoing with the whole race came alongside me and chatted. There were no mileage markings and I had no idea how far we had run. She told me we had gone 17.5 miles and then cheerily passed me. I knew that I would start to fall apart mentally around mile 18.

When I rolled into the aid station at mile 20, two more people had passed me. We turned onto an even more technical trail where my shoes got gunked up with mud. Cory said there was no mud for him, which I guess is just a perk of being in the front. Those six miles were the hardest for me and I was so lonely at points that I started to second guess if I was even still on the course. Finally around mile 23.5 a guy in a Hawaiin shirt passed me and filled me in on where we were going. He pointed to S mountain that was just barely visible and said we had to do some uphills to get there. At this point I was mostly walking the uphills and another girl passed me.

Within 1.5 miles of the finish we came to a point that was poorly marked and we waited there for a minute trying to figure out where to go. Another woman caught us and fortunately she had run the course before. We had seen some people go down a service road (which would have been a nice shortcut) and we saw some others going down some single track. We took the single track which was the right way, but I was kind of mad that apparently some people were cutting the course. Pretty tempting thing to do near the finish line.

I ended up finishing as the 20th girl in 5 hours and 3 minutes. I almost cut a full hour off of my time from the Blue Sky Marathon so I was pretty happy even though I had slowed a bit at the end. Cory almost didn't see me finish because he thought it would take me another half hour. It gave me a lot more confidence to finish closer to the front. Cory finished in 17th place in 3 hours and 40 minutes. He did better time-wise than he had hoped, but he was little disappointed at his place. The field this year was pretty competitive especially for the guys.

It's interesting looking at the stats from past years. If we had run the race last year, Cory would have been 13th place and I would have been 12th place. If we had run it in 2010 (still using the times we got this year even though the course was faster that year) Cory would have been 10th place, just minutes behind Geoff Roes. My point is just that it is interesting that trail running is becoming so much more popular, especially among 20-somethings. While we are working and building towards become better runners so are an unprecedented amount of other people our age. For example, Nick Clark ran his fastest time ever but he was beat by 26-year-old Josh Arthur who only has two other races on ultra-signup. While Cory is hoping for a breakout year, so are a lot of other guys his age and it's going to take a lot of work to get there.

After getting some food in our systems we headed back via Colorado Springs where we ran into bad weather. The high winds were whipping snow across I25 causing a whiteout. We came across a rolled SUV and then there was a 10 car pile-up involving a semi in the Southbound lane. After seeing so many crushed cars and crying people we decided to get off the road for the night. There was zero visibility and the sky was getting dark. Finally we got home safely today and now we are exhausted.

Some scary pics of road conditions last night:

When we passed the accident there were a lot of firemen trying to wrench this car out.

We passed the accident shortly before this.

This was on a different highway last night, but essentially this is what the roads were like.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Whoever decided that February would only be 28 days was smart

I've only survived 23 Februaries, but I would have to say that it is the worst month of the year. Thankfully, it is also the shortest month of the year. With the coining of the phrase "Seasonal Affective Disorder" a lot of people like to excuse their moodiness with something official-sounding. The thing is, people actually have this disorder, people like me, and it is different than the simple winter blues. Feeling a little tired and passive is different than wanting to curl up and die.

The coming of winter used to terrify me, because I knew that I was going to experience something horrible and there was nothing I could do to control it. I remember talking to a doctor who tried to put me on meds and I voiced the concern that I would become dependent on these drugs. She said, "Oh no. We will start you on the meds every September and then crank up the dosage. By May or June you will be able to go off of them." Really lady, I would be drug free for maybe three months of the year. When I did try the meds they gave me side effects that were as bad as the SAD. No thank you.

Every subsequent year, though, I've been able to notice patterns that make me regain that feeling of control that I was so afraid to lose every winter. Knowledge is power, right? By sheer will, I can remain myself through mid-January. But come February the symptoms starts to creep up: apathy which leads to self-loathing, which produces an unbearable hopelessness. I've come to learn not to share my feelings in these times because in a few months it will all seem so foolish and unfounded. Then towards the beginning of March, after countless months of inordinate amounts of sleep, comes the insomnia... like right now. Some nights I can't fall asleep and some mornings I wake up inexplicably early.

And how does this all relate to running? Well, I've definitely noticed a motivational drop these past two weeks. We finally got some good snow in the front range and I'm reminded why I never want to move back to Wisconsin. The truth is, I love running in snow, but my training dictates that I accomplish a certain number of miles in a certain amount of time. After a week of pavement-pounding I started to go crazy and hit the trails for my final long run before the Salida Marathon. I ran up through my beloved Apex park in shorts, post-holing to the knee, rubbing the skin on my calves raw, and falling in huge snow drifts.

Bushed from the effort I started taking the Lookout Mtn Road back down to Golden only to be overcome with curiosity about a trail that I had never run before. I took a few steps down the trail, looked at my watch and felt guilty, started running back up the trail, felt stupid for caring too much about numbers, ran back down the trail, repeated the process, then noticed a guy in his car giving me weird looks, then bombed back down the trail. It was slushy. I was soaked. It took me almost twice as long as it should have. But I was somehow pleased with the effort.

The thing is, people don't run because it is easy. Even in optimal weather on perfect trail conditions, it's not like I head out thinking, "Gosh, this is just going to be such an easy 20 miles." So instead of letting imperfect conditions become an excuse, I think about how it is going to make me tougher on all of my future runs. We are out there to endure, right? I started to notice this after leading a few backpacking trips. The most memorable trips that students raved about weren't the trips with ideal conditions. The trips that students didn't forget were the difficult ones where they were stretched to their limits.

I've heard a lot of people and some therapists employ a method of positive thinking. I had one therapist who had me do an exercise where I jumped up and down until I felt happy because she said that was the posture of happy people. When people try to ignore the bad thoughts and replace them with good, but irrelevant, thoughts, they are robbing themselves of the experience of enduring. If someone gave you a difficult calculus problem you wouldn't try to solve it by focusing on how nice your pencil was or how it was great that you get to live in the age of calculators. So when life dishes you out a hard problem, face it head on and relish the process.

When I wake up and I know it's going to be a down day, I acknowledge that I feel bad. I acknowledge that the next day I will probably feel bad. I also remind myself that there will be a day I won't feel bad and on that day I will have such joy that everything will seem easy. When I'm running, I use the same trick. When I'm in a low spot, I acknowledge the pain, I tell myself that the pain will continue, and I remind myself that it is going to pass.

So if I could go back in time and take away those horrible Wisconsin winters where I was overcome with SAD, I wouldn't. The best runners I know are the ones who have been through hard things. You have to make it through hard things before you can feel confident that you can face more hard things. Sometimes I FEEL like I can't go on, but I KNOW that I can. That applies to both life and running.