Thursday, December 30, 2010

On Becoming A Junkie

In the year since I began running, I have run more than twenty races.  From running on the hilly streets of downtown Lynchburg to the boardwalk at Virginia Beach, among the apple trees of Gross’ Orchard, and the flat streets of our state’s great capital, no race is exactly the same.  I have learned a bit about racing, and even more about myself.  I have, for example, discovered that I am, and have possibly deep down always been, a trail junkie.
For my first few months of running I stuck solely to pavement, and not yet having a Garmin, mostly to those places where the quarter miles were marked for me.  It was after all, in those first few months anyways, all about the miles.  I hadn’t yet truly developed an appetite for running, though I had definitely enjoyed my first few tastes enough to keep pursuing it.  So it wasn’t until my first winter of running when the race calendar was still empty, that I came across a trail race in our town that looked appealing.  Without much thought or second guessing, I signed myself and my husband up for the 5k on the trails of Candler’s Mountain. 
I barely ‘trained’ for the next few weeks; it was cold and wet outside so I barely hit the track or the Black Water Creek path system where I usually trained at so often and instead forced a few runs on the treadmill and watched as the race grew closer, realizing I was about to run my first race on trails having never run on a trail before.   Race week came and with it snow and ice.  Race day came as well as reservations and regret for having registered.  The race began, on a downhill no less and I fell in behind barefoot runners and trail enthusiasts. 
What happened next surprised me.  I ran my worst ever 5k, as far as the clock was concerned, and yet had one of the most exhilarating experiences of my entire life. 
And just like that, I was hooked.
I immediately came home and signed up for the next trail race I could find.  It happened to be Mountain Junkies Explore Your Limits 5k.  Taking place just two weeks after the Candler’s Mountain 5k, we had little time to train.  However, we did talk several others into this crazy thing called trail running and went with a full car load the next Saturday morning in search of Explore Park on the outskirts of Roanoke, Virginia. 
This race was well organized. It was apparent from emails received from the race director the week leading up to the event, as well as the condition of the trails, that these self proclaimed Mountain Junkies take their races serious and are as committed to what they’re doing as are the runners who come out to run.
There were two races that morning, a 5k and a 10k.  I ran the 5k, a beautifully scenic course with winding trails, muddy slopes and what felt like at the time, torturous hills, but was probably more like moderate hills when looking back.  Everything you could want from a trail race.  But then to top it all off, there was wonderful post-race food (I understood immediately why the website calls the Pumpkin Bread 'famous'), numerous door prizes and camaraderie.  And then there was my first ever placement in my age division at a race, and that most coveted medal that accompanied it.
If I was enchanted by trail running before, now I was addicted.
I went on to run every Mountain Junkies and Liberty Mountain Trail Race I could.  When schedules conflicted, I secretly wept.   I joined other runners from the area to run weekly organized trail runs and grew more enthusiastic with each run, with each new trail discovered. 
Trail running has made me a better runner and has given me even more appreciation for the sport of running.  The trails never get tiresome and the scenery is always changing.  There isn’t the hustle and bustle found on most roads, there is true peace, though seldom is it quiet.  My husband has said it best when he compares trail running to a religious experience.  Where else could you feel closer to God, more in awe of his creation?
I’ve decided that next year in addition to a few other races and goals, I want to run several local trail series including the entire Mountain Junkies series, R NUTS (Ronoke-Non Ultra Trail Series).I was really distressed that I couldn’t run their whole series this year so I’ve moved it to one of my top priorities for next year.  Their obvious commitment to what they love and their desire to put on exceptional, challenging events that are fun and rewarding have me devoted to the 2011 series. 
The first race of the 2011 series is a 10k at the beginning of January, the second annual Frozen Toe 10k.  You’d better believe I’ll be there with bells on, and two layers of socks.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

I Want to Run.

I turned 36 years old a couple of weeks ago and wrapped up my first full year as a runner.  And what do I have to show for it?   A knee injury that is healing slower than I run, twenty-two race bibs on my wall, two fewer toenails, and a desire that rivals most crack-addicts to get back out on the trails and run.  But I'm not.  Not yet.  I want to run next year, stronger and faster than I did this year, and before I can do that I've got to get healthy.  And believe me, getting healthy feels like it is killing me.  Every morning when my wife gets up at 5:30 and goes out and runs in the rain and the cold and comes home to tell me how great she feels and how fast and how far her and her running buddies ran I want to kill her.  I want to be cold and wet and sweaty and out-of-breath and sore and stinky.  I WANT TO RUN.
My wife and I took up running last fall for our own very different reasons.  Her to lose weight, she had just given birth to our third child.  And me, well because I've always wanted to run.  I tried a few times in the past, and it just never seemed to click for me.  I always knew that I could run, I just didn't.  As a matter of fact I was always telling my wife that anyone could run, even her, to which she always replied something along the lines of, but nothing quite as civil as, "Go jump in a creek."  I'm confident that the fact that we started running together this time is one of the main reasons we're both still running (or at least trying to run), even if we are becoming totally different runners.
She is a speed demon.  I mean fast, especially for a girl.  I don't mean to sound sexist, but lets face it, the running community in general is to blame for this.  It was not my idea to seperate race results into genders and age groups.  But in the last year she has morphed from the girl who couldn't run one lap around the track without complaining, into one of the top women runners in our little town.  Next year she'll probably run a sub 20 minute 5K and a 3:40 marathon.
Me, on the other hand, I just like to run, and run, and run.  I am a distance oriented runner, the longer the distance, the greater the challenge, the bigger the appeal.  I want to run farther every time I run.  Of course I want to run fast too.  Enter my knee injury. Midsummer, after I'd been running for about six months, I read an article about Scott Jurak in Runner's World, and decided in that instant that it was my Destiny to be an Ultra runner.  So, I signed up for a forty-miler in September.  A forty-miler that ran three loops around a mountain with 2500 ft. of elevation gain every lap.  So I upped my milage from about 25 (comfortable) miles per week to about 45 miles per week over the span of about a month.  I trained like that for about two months, I ran (and finished) my first Ultra, and limped away with this knee injury.
So, I'm taking a month and a half off from running, and planning on starting my new training year on New Years Day.  I'll spend the holidays on the stationary bike, watching old movies and trying not to go crazy.  I've spent this first year as a runner just running, so perhaps a little cross-training will do me good.  My running friends and every article I've ever read about training all say that cross-training is important, but so far it's been hard for me to get on a bike when I could be running.  It somehow feels like cheating.
      Who knows, maybe this injury will help me build some better training habits.  Maybe I'll end up a more rounded athlete.  Maybe I'll try a triathlon next year.  Maybe even an IronMan.  Or maybe I'll go crazy sitting on a couch listening to my wife's running stories and attack the next person who mentions running with this spoonful of cookie dough.