Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Just How Does One 'Suck it up'?

The plan was five miles. In the dark. Alone.

Five miles at this point in my training is either recovery or a warm-up, it wasn't the distance that was daunting. And not really even the dark skies, for which to be honest only half of the run would take place. It was the solo part that ultimately defeated me. I had purposefully not announced my run, not invited anyone. I want to be stronger, at the moment I believe this means finding the strength to run more by myself. Problem is something deep inside me is putting up a struggle, something that I can't even pinpoint though I've tried.

On the drive to my mountain I thought I did a good job building up courage. You ran Hellgate, sissy girl.It's only five miles, besides if something happens, imagine the blogpost. OK, perhaps I didn't do that good a job building up my defenses. But I thought I could handle it, when I pulled into Snoflex and didn't recognize any cars I started to doubt myself, I suppose I was secretly hoping to fall into someone else's run, add to this the fact that it was getting darker faster than I had anticipated and I knew I wasn't going to run the five mile course Todd had outlined for me before I had left the house.

As punishment I decided to run hill repeats instead, from the cul-de-sac at the base of the Monogram to the fenced in control station at the top of the Monogram, a distance of only a few hundred yards. I ran hill repeats until I threw up a little in my mouth and decided to stop. Might sound tough, until I divulge that it was only five times. Hating myself to the core and with the sun long finished for the day I ran back to the parking lot. The Garmin, as if laughing at me, had my distance at just over three miles. I really wanted that five miles. I ran past the Suburban and started out on Panama but took an immediate left that took me on a new trail I was unfamiliar with, praying that my adventurous-self would show up I trudged on several paces before the dark and the few small stumps I encountered made me turn, tail tucked, and run back to the car. You are the only real thing you have to be afraid of, ever thought of running from yourself? Brow beaten I headed home.

Holiday Lake is next Saturday. Tomorrow begins my 'taper'(I think), but my mental training has already begun, today's run was a part of the mental training. It was a failure. I have come to believe that distance running is as much about what goes on in the mind as it is about pace, the stronger I can make my mind and my body the better we will endure through new and further distances. When I can't overcome the self-doubt on a short run I feel little pieces beginning to break away from the foundation I work so hard to establish over weeks and months of training. A lifetime of never feeling good enough has established quite the blockade in the confidence department. My fear of running alone is as much about being left alone with this self-doubt, allowing it the time to surface, than about the act of being alone. If I can't fight off the internal struggle that occurs how will I fight off real danger should it present itself? Then the body chimes in, a twinge in the knee, an ache in the calf. Running with others becomes a much quieter, safer affair.

There has been a small reference or joke here or there, that I remind people of Frank Gonzalez. Humbled by a comparison I don't deserve, I can't help but feel I am about to let a lot of people down. Frank is a tank, I am a ball of nerves. He has his pain cave, an enticing idea that ultimately scares me as much as running a three hour second loop next weekend at Holiday Lake. I mean pain is suffering, caves are dark. Yet the disappointment of not pushing myself to the door of that cave is just as discomforting a thought.

Chelsie Viar has said that you aren't ready for your race until you've had a bad run, well now I've had two in less than a week, why don't I feel ready already?


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Old Man Winter!

I have always hated running in the cold.  In fact, there are a couple of races in the winter that I just didn't look forward to, because I hate to train in the cold.  But this winter I am having a change of heart.

What do you do when your breath freezes in your beard making you look like Jack Frost?  Run harder.  Our bodies are great heaters, when pushed hard enough.

I may actually be getting in better shape this winter, as oposed to my usual slacking off from Deep Hollow to Terrapin.  The hardest part is getting started, but everybody knows that already.

I have decided to embrace this frigid weather, and hopefuly use it to make me faster.  I have already run in the snow more this winter than I have in the whole three years that I've been running.

I'm not saying that I'm hoping for a bunch of snow at Holiday Lake, but I am saying that I think I'll be ready for it if it happens.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Bonk Run

Perhaps it was to be expected, that the week after a particularly good Wednesday run, one that I may have gone so far as to reference as the best Wednesday run ever, should be followed by one of the worst.

The run started off, to be honest, with me in a mood. I knew I wanted a mid-length run, somewhere in the ballpark of 15 miles, but I was beginning to feel the threat of fatigue in my no-rest-since-Friday-legs. To make matters worse the brisk January temperatures bore into the lazy procrastinator within. I tried to entice other runners to come out for our run, and a few did, but this did little to warm me up to the idea of our weekly run. 

The first few miles were marked by hassles with  my headlamp and I fell behind the group several times. I was just warming up to the idea of our weekly run when a canine encounter threw the run to bits and pieces.

First, let me say that I do not want to be plagued with fear. I believe myself to be a mostly rational individual and I know that several of my fears prevent me from being a better runner. That said I have had a growing fear of dogs that was exasperated last summer when my own beloved pet attacked our toddler in our own backyard. Our daughter bears the physical scars that remain from his attack, my body carries the mental anguish and mounting anxiety. If I could do something to lessen the memory of the horror that I witnessed, I would. Instead I bolt when I hear the bark of a dog. This has come to pass as a sort of running joke on Wednesday when we run our usual route, that I will sprint past the group when I hear the first bark, and I let it pass in stride, these well meaning jokes made by friends. I worry that they think that part of it is exaggerated, I only wish it were the case.

Last night we were running a route I was unfamiliar with, I had a vague idea where we were, but I was taking my time. Todd, who I count on to protect me from far too many things, was up ahead running with a few of the faster guys when I heard a dog barking. It was mostly dark by this point in our run and I turned my head just slightly to see a dark, seemingly large, dog running towards our group and barking. I immediately panicked, I sprinted to catch up with Todd and the others. The beating of my heart drowned out the reassurances from friends that the dog was chained up, I ran hard until I caught my husband.

It was here that I began to plummet. The appearance, if only misjudged, that I was being chased had sent my body into a flight or fight scenario to which I responded with flight. The adrenaline coursed through my body until I caught the group but the aftermath over the next mile or so was like that of whiplash. My muscles immediately began to scream in rebellion. To top it off, I was angry. I didn't want to be angry, but I didn't want to be afraid either. I want to be strong and happy, fearless and tough. But I wasn't. I'm not. I felt weak and over the next mile we began a climb that wore me down further. I began walking and the darkness that usually appears late in an ultra or other grueling event arrived just in time to kick me down, laugh at my Achilles heel.

Nearing the top of Raptor Run I could make out the reflective apparel of the other runners, I took to a run, further berating myself for the group having to wait on me. You're not strong at all, gypsies carry less baggage than you. Coming into the parking lot, I began to dread the extra mileage I had claimed I wanted earlier in the day. I just wanted to pack it in, go home and drown in a bathtub of my own self-loathing and call it a day. And then Joe Alderson pulled in.

Curse you Joe for showing up, your appearance simultaneously adding to the draw of the extra mileage and the growing concern I was having of being able to complete the mileage (and Happy Birthday, too). With so little desire it was immeasurable, Todd, Blake, Joe and I embarked on the second half of our weekly run. The first mile was downhill and I still didn't want to run, I knew there was a dog on Top Ridge road and my mind and body were at odds.

I tried to get the group to go around Top Ridge Road but they quelled my desire to take the easy, short way out. They promised to protect me from any dogs, to stay close from this point on, Blake's plea so tenderhearted that I agreed. The next few miles were inconsequential, Todd gave me a GU and the miles while not fast passed by with little pain or struggle. The group as a whole grew quiet and a feeling of fatigue began to permeate the air. We were growing tired.

Except for Todd. All evening Todd had been in a great mood, running strong and mostly ahead of us. My hopes that Jeremy had worn him out on the first six miles were dashed as he bounded up the hill to the Monogram. He was having a good run, I was not.

On the final stretch between the Monogram and the parking lot at Snoflex, with legs so heavy I felt I had run an ultra and not just a hair over 13 miles, I fell in behind Todd. For a minute or two I focused entirely on Todd. He was having a good run, this can't be argued, but I began to believe he was having an even better run because the people he was with, me in particular, were having a rough run.  I know because I have been that runner fueled by other's suffering. And so I decided to fuel off of his good run. I decided in that moment to see if I could change the run by simply changing mindset. This isn't a bad run, this is a great run made even better by the fact that you're going to push your tired, weary body to stay with Todd. And so I fell in with his stride the best I could, he immediately noticed and answered the call, feeling particularly good he could push harder and so he did. Joe answered the call as well, passing by moments later calling "Fartleks". I fell back for a moment, Joe pulled further ahead, Todd remained steady. And just like that the run that had been so hard and had made me angry, was saved in the final mile. I dug deeper as the lead they had grew and I found a final push. There was nothing spectacular perhaps in the pace itself, only in the act.

It was a long, hard day on the trails, many ups and downs both on trail and within me. But to finish the way that I did made me proud of myself, something I am almost never. To be able to tell myself that I can in fact do better and then do better was uplifting. I came home and reflected in the tub instead of drowning. Can I make myself do better by simply telling myself I can?

Well you bet I'm certainly going to try.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

My Trail Papa

A few weeks ago Todd and I set out to run the old half marathon course that extends from the Ed Page entrance at Blackwater Creek out to Amherst County and back. We pulled into the empty parking lot, a mix of snow and rain falling, and silently but harmoniously dreamed of our warm bed at home while we waited for the rest of the group to arrive. We gradually made our way to the restrooms and let the fact that no one else was showing up sink in. I was headed back to the car to grab my gloves when I saw Grattan Garbee pulling in, late, but right on time. We embarked on a run that no one really wanted to do and came back soaked, goose-fleshed and shivering but uncomplaining, a personal best for the half marathon distance had made the run beneficial for me, the showing up of a friend who helped carry me to that personal best had made the run worth it.

Later, after patting us all on the back by way of my Facebook status, a friend whom I've run trails with from the very beginning commented that we had gotten too fast to run with. I was taken aback, crestfallen, at the comment.

I don't really remember when I met Mike Mitchell. When I think back it must have been over the course of several Wild Wednesday's, the weekly trail run put on by Riverside Runners every May that continues once monthly over the rest of the summer, that a small group of us now carry on weekly throughout the year. If I don't remember meeting Mike officially I certainly remember what Mike has come to mean to me over the past few years.

If Rebekah Trittipoe is Sarah Quigg's self-proclaimed trail mama, then I like to think of Mike as my trail papa. Just as my father taught me how to take my first steps walking, Mike directed me in my first trail running steps. His advice still resonating with almost every trail run, be sure to pick your tired legs up. He is an ongoing source of encouragement. His pride in my accomplishments filling a need that is sometimes left empty by the parent who is absent in my life.

So I realize, as alone as we may seem in this sport of running, how much we come to draw on one another, lean on each for support, advice, and recommendations. This fellowship transcending to a sense of community the more involved you become before ultimately becoming like that of family.  I may not always spell it out, but I am immeasurably grateful for all that I have learned and shared with this family of runners in our hometown. Constantly moved, I am inspired to do better by Jeff Harrington's sunny disposition, Heather Cavaliere's self-discipline, Frank Gonzalez's industriousness, Chelsie Viar's perseverance, Malcolm Miller's friendliness, Marshall Roberts' passion, Cheyenne Craig's fearlessness, Sam Dangc's ambition, Sarah Quigg's toughness and the list goes on and on, countless others with so much to offer, strength and tenacity, companionship and advice, when you look around the effect of this community is overwhelming. I hope to be a part of it for an awfully long while, and I hope to inspire others just as I have been inspired.

When I first took to running I was a funny dressed girl, a little on the pudgy side who had come hurt and it came to pass that I had hurt others. I was still new to parenthood, feeling helpless and perhaps a little depressed. Running gave me some direction and new friends, a keener sense of self and a different view on things that extend far past the daily run. Now three years later, though still a funny dressed girl, I want to give back, if only an ounce, what has been offered to me. I am not sure exactly yet how to go about this, but I have an idea or two swirling around in my mind.

My pace may change, my goals may too. I may someday overcome my fear of running alone and incorporate it more in my training, but I will always need to be surrounded, if only figuratively at times, by my trail papa, and my other family in the running community. It is part of the human condition. I need you all as much as I need running itself.

So I'll see you Wednesday, Mike.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Race Report: Frozen Toe 10k (Alexis)

Isn't there some saying, 'Third time's the charm' or something to that effect? I am great at butchering idioms, so perhaps there isn't. This past weekend was my third attempt at the Mountain Junkies Frozen Toe 10k held the first weekend of January in Roanoke on the Chestnut Ridge Loop. In 2011 I ran it for the first time, the course was snow covered and I started out fast, possibly too fast, and fell apart shortly after the halfway point. The race, in the simplest terms, went something like this: I started out too fast, even ahead of Todd, I met a hill halfway, I admitted defeat, I began walking, Todd passed me, I groveled for a few more hundred feet, I started running again, realized it wasn't so bad, picked up the pace even more but too late, finished third overall female. I returned to the Chestnut Ridge Loop in 2012 when I ran the 10k just two months postpartum, I settled on walk breaks before the start and knowing I was still recovering and returning to fitness, ran it conservatively. It was a pretty good day, I didn't fall apart like in 2011, but it was decidedly slower than the year before. This year I knew I could and rather should be able to run it faster, but I was considerably unsure of how fast.

In the week or two before the event I analyzed the data; course records and registrants, previous finishing times and similar events. It is my goal to focus less on these details as the year unfolds, but I take pleasure in the specifics. I love numbers and statistics, graphs and grids. Where as I look to better myself by focusing more on my own training this year, I would be lying to say I will leave Ultra Signup or race result pages alone, I just enjoy it too much. I want to be better but I don't expect to change the very core of my being.  I'll sum it up by saying I knew Courtney and Lauren would be there and that they'd both won it previously including the setting of a course record last year by Courtney. I wholeheartedly thought I stood no chance, I decided a sub 50 would be all it would take to make it a good day and found peace in this goal. With a babysitter lined up, a clean pair of Zensah sleeves and a rereading of past years journal recaps I was ready for the first event of the year.

Saturday morning went smoothly. I was happy to be sharing this event with my sister Erin who has recently committed to running a marathon this year. She rode to Roanoke with us, along with Blake, a past participant of the RNUTS but a newbie to this event as well. We weren't as early as I had hoped but we did make it to New Hope Christian Church, the event headquarters, in time to get a one mile warm-up in.

Mountain Junkies events are fundamental on my race calendar because of what they mean to me as a trail runner. The presenters of the second trail event I ever participated in, they are what addicted me to trails. Their events have come to feel more like family reunions perhaps than races, attendants feeling more like distant cousins than competitors, an 'I haven't seen you in a while, how have you been?' feeling permeates the air. Such an awesome, inspiring group of people. They offer a competitive series of races but with a friendly, caring overtone that is welcoming and supportive of all ability levels.

But then there were those jackets. This year overall top male and female winners would be receiving a Mountain Hardware jacket from event sponsor The Aid Station. Courtney, upon seeing me, inquired whether or not I had 'touched' the jacket. Gina did too. I touched the jacket, figuring it would be the closest to the jacket I would come. In retrospect, I don't think I really went into the Frozen Toe hungry enough. I had my time goal, I assumed defeat beforehand. Honestly, I don't think I can interpret my training or fitness level enough to know how I should be able to perform. And I don't really know how to 'race' although I enjoy the opportunity to learn. As much as I race you would think I had it all figured out, but I don't, not yet.

And to top it off I think my expectations exceed my abilities and so even when I aim to remain calm, keeping the nerves in check, it is almost impossible when the clock starts ticking towards the start of any event. Standing there, listening to the race briefing minutes before the start, Todd looked over at me and asked about the location of my bib. I looked down to find I had neglected that important step. I sprinted to the car to find it, this jaunt convinced me for some reason to also leave behind my hat, gloves and water bottle. I did suck down a GU. I reached the starting line and instantly regretted the leaving behind of my gloves. I pulled my sleeves down over my hands and hoped my body would warm up once we started moving.

The race began and I aimed to stay in sight of Todd and Courtney. They flew on the road section that led to the trail entrance and I slowed just a bit. I suffer from a fear of burning out. I don't know how to exert enough energy to run the best possible for a certain distance yet not hard enough to bonk, this is particularly true for everything under a half marathon distance. Jeremy Ramsey suggested this comes from running Ultras.  I let Todd and Courtney pull slightly ahead but picked up the effort on that initial climb, I stayed behind Courtney but Todd began to pull away. I ran right behind Courtney for the first mile or so with Todd's green Masochist finishers shirt still vaguely in sight on long open stretches of trail.

I had vowed at the start not to look at my Garmin watch, but rather run by feeling in the hopes that would include running a sub 50. Yet I also wanted to stay with Todd or Courtney, especially after the race began and neither pulled away instantly. I was running hard to stay with Courtney but I also knew I could run even harder. With Todd no longer visible I decided, rather hesitantly, to pass Courtney.

The first half of this course, or rather the first 2.75, always seems fast and somewhat easy. In the past it has been the second half that breaks me. When I came to the downhill that leads to the water stop I braced myself, let words of encouragement flow through my mind and body. It was a lesser goal of mine to not succumb to walking as I had done both previous years. When the hill that always does me in appeared I was ready, slow down if need be, shorten your stride but don't walk I told myself. I appeared to be gaining on Todd. At one particularly sharp switchback he was close enough to shout words of encouragement at me. However, I think I was close enough to make him pick up the pace as well because it wasn't too long after he seemed to be building the gap. There seemed to be more climbing then I remembered but I was also feeling pretty good. I hadn't seen Lauren in a long while, I knew she had it won, but I also couldn't see Courtney behind me in the switchbacks. I may have slowed down here. My Garmin suggests it, Todd's lead suggests it, the kick I had at the finish line suggests it. I had a runner right in front of me whom I could have passed but I didn't. I forgot how quick 10k's are, that like 5k's there really isn't any room to make up time lost.

When we emerged from the trail just a few hundred feet from the finish line I knew I had not given it all that I had in me. With the event clock in sight I sprinted towards and past the finishing line, beyond pleased with my time (47:47) but knowing I had too much left to say it was my best effort.

When Courtney crossed the finish moments later we prepared ourselves to hit the loop a second time, a matter we'd arranged in the prior week. Todd, Blake and Lauren accompanied us. It was perhaps my high of the day, to run those trails a second time with the other top females, my spouse and my friend. Call it a cool down, it was a welcome  affair to run with these strong runners with the competitive air completely absent, to enjoy our sport together. The second loop further suggested I could have run the race faster, I find  solace in this, that I've still room to improve, still growth left to occur.


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2013 Goals and Resolutions

Yesterday morning we went on our first run of the year. A run in the mountains on the beautiful, yet snow and ice covered, Terrapin course. It was a group run but I found myself alone for a fair amount of it, being one of the slower runners in attendance. While I sauntered through the chilly air and icy terrain I let my mind wander to thoughts about the new year. Since I began running in the fall of 2009 I have ached to be faster, sometimes quite literally after punishing my body for its limitations with particularly grueling training runs. It should come as no surprise for it is no secret that I am competitive. It is always with me, the desire to be stronger, faster, fitter.

However, despite the attraction to be all that I can be, I am by nature lazy and take procrastination to levels unprecedented. Though easily inspired and it's true when on task my determination can be hard to rival, I often take the easy route. Rest days are as numerous as excuses, and despite knowing that I want so much more for myself I am often halfhearted in the carrying out of my training plans.

There has been some suggestion to how much better I could be, if I could focus and commit. Drink more water, run more consistently, be more in-tune with my body. And where as I know I want it, I just don't know how badly. I realized yesterday in the mountains that I'm always comparing both my accomplishments and shortcomings to other people. The self-proclaimed Data Queen I compare myself to others times and accomplishments. I thought this was the way it should be done. And yet yesterday I began to wonder, how much better could I be if I really did just focus in on me?

In the weeks since Hellgate I have become secretly despondent about my race, especially about my time. People have quite generously congratulated me on my effort, my place and my time. And yet I struggle, the words of Gwen Stefani echoing within "I'm just a girl", my sex a handicap I can't evade. Is this my future? To be plagued no matter how good I become, with thoughts of just how far I've still left to go and yet possibly never reach? On this current path angst is certain to become my new best friend. Yesterday with my mind clearer then the day's skies I think I finally reached resolution. I'm tired of apologizing, even if only inwardly, for the things I cannot change.

There will always be someone better. There will always be someone who is more experienced, smarter, less injury prone, faster, younger... The most I can hope for myself is to be, as cliche as it may sound, the best that I can be. It is essential that I stop comparing myself and start qualifying myself. It is to this effect that I aim in the weeks and months to come to mend my mindset, to recalibrate the reasoning and the desired outcomes. There may always be someone better but why not continually strive to be exceptional? Whatever the outcome it's bound to make the adventure more worthwhile.

I could list off the numerous accomplishments I would love to see reached by years end, personal bests and record distances, but I honestly don't see the need.  Those things need no bulleted list. Rather my goals for 2013 are at this point of a simpler variety. I want to answer the mountains open invitations to come and explore, to make more memories, seek more adventures. If not faster, then farther. And if not farther, then just because.