Monday, April 29, 2013

Alexis's Promise Land 50k Race Report

The one where 'Little Miss Efficiency' fights by the skin of her overly bitten nails to scrape out a Top 10 overall female finish and a PR.

Promise Land 50k++
Big Island, VA
Saturday, April 27th, 2013

If you were in contact with me Friday evening at the Promise Land camp I would have liked to think I appeared calm and collected, I was trying hard to pull off calm, I realize collected is a stretch when you're missing so many marbles. Kathie told me Saturday after the race that she was a nervous wreck hoping to find serenity in my smiles and jokes of which she swore I was absent during the race briefing the night before. Truth is there was an ominous feeling surrounding the race for me.

I've been treating a calf calamity since late February and just when I think I've made it through the injury it comes back with a vengeance, snickering and finger pointing. Monday, because I'm in such a need of reassurance, I went out for a flat not-quite-tempo pace run. Hoping to run four miles in under 32 minutes I thought I performed a sufficient warm-up and embarked on my workout. To my dismay my calf started in before the first mile marker. I thought I could just run through, give it added attention by way of rolling and stretching later. At two miles the pain had forced me to stop, after a few minutes massage I headed back to my car, frustrated and crushed.

I immediately headed over to The Aid Station to seek the advice and support of either Jake or Jeremy. I realized a few seconds too late that I shouldn't be there, shouldn't be troubling them with my petty problems. They tried to be helpful and they were certainly friendly but I was embarrassed that I had come to them and just wanted to disappear. Standing there, a pest to their afternoon, I was fighting back tears, please don't cry, get out, quick, go. I managed to hold it together but for the rest of the week I did little running, even skipped a few planned workouts, and lost the interest to even be stressed about this race. Usually I make a huge deal of race week, but my frustration with the calf had drained me to new levels.

There's easily 40,000 words and enough to be said about Friday evening and early Saturday morning to fill its own post, but I'll sum it up by saying that there is something very special and unique that takes place at the Promise Land camp each year come late April.

The hour before the race was busy with PB&J consumption and bag balm application and the race itself began before I was truly ready. I was still standing under the pavilion fixing my hat as runners began pulling out of the camp. I started my simple stopwatch feature on my watch at least a few seconds after the race had begun, but I wasn't sure exactly how late.

I had spent some time during the week convincing myself that it was, as my friend Chelsie had told me before Masochist last fall, just a long run in the mountains with friends, but I couldn't completely wrap my head around that, I want to feel better and run strong again. Leaving the camp I was very focused on running easy  and warming the calf up nice and slowly, hoping that would be enough to keep it happy. Last year I'd run all the way to the 'End Road Maintenance' sign before having to walk, this year, I didn't make it half a mile. And for some reason the walk break just seemed to make the calf even more angry. I tried to alternate between walking and jogging but the tightening started to get intense about two miles into the race.

So little miss basket-case did exactly what some may expect of her at this point, she fell apart. I've experienced the desire to quit races before. I've wanted to donate my running shoes and pick up juggling or collecting postmarks but never this early in the race, never before the first aid station. It caught me so off-guard, this mental debacle, and all the negative swarmed me so quickly I couldn't throw up any kind of defense. Here I am, in the dark, climbing slow and painfully to the first aid station and I decide that I actually hate running. I even took it as far to assume that someone at the aid station would drive me back to the camp, because even if it was all downhill back to the car I was that through with running.

In full disclosure the resulting struggle was so nasty that I thought I might have a personality disorder, these thoughts were moving through me far faster than I was making it up that first climb, "Horton is right, you're too weak mentally to do this," (He never actually said that, but it hurt me all the same) "Why do you think you can do this? You're not going to Western States, you won't finish. Who do you think you are? Let's just quit." But then there was the side trying to get us to stay in this thing, cheering us on, "It's a long race, you can come back, hold on, hold on, it doesn't always get worse. Your calf will loosen up, you will run again. It isn't over, you still have more than a 50k to run. Deep down you are a strong runner. Just keep moving forward. Remember: 'Tree to tree'."  Some days I really don't know why I run ultras, to be alone with myself and my thoughts for all that time can be a real struggle.

I made it to the first aid station three minutes slower than last year, and went past without even stopping, I didn't trust myself to get too close to the table or the volunteers. I was with Tommy and Wade but I don't even think I spoke to them I was in such a bad place I was afraid any words I spoke would be venomous. I hiked a lot of this next section, it's hard to say if my calf was even still really tight or if the race was currently lost to my being a complete headcase. When I came across Chelsie directing people in the woods she told me I was in twenty something place for females, honestly she'd lost count, and Todd was eight minutes ahead already. You can make it up in the grassy section my optimistic side cheered. Unfortunately for Team Optimism, I was passed by another half dozen or so runners in the grassy section, the section that I usually look forward to the most.

Then, as if things couldn't get worse, I became nauseated. This was also a first for me, I had to slow and dreaded taking my second GU. When the time came to fuel I was seriously worried that consuming the GU would send my nausea over the edge, but I forced it down and waited for any repercussions. Unfortunately, the nausea remained but I didn't lose my GU. I felt like Alexander in that book about the terrible day, I considered moving to Australia. I kept looking at my watch hoping that it wasn't time to refuel yet as I couldn't shake the feeling that I was going to throw-up.

I decided that I should ask for cola at the next aid station and just began focusing on making it to there. I saw Blake and Kevin up ahead but I just couldn't convince myself to pick up the pace with the nausea. The aid station was sort of a mess when I finally arrived, there were a lot of runners at the aid station when I got there but I had to wait a long time for someone to fill up my bottle and they didn't have any soda out so I had to find the cola and a cup and the aid station was empty other than volunteers when I finally left. Turns out there had been some trouble with this aid station finding their location, but I was even more frustrated with the whole day when I left the aid station. I was running on empty. I had hoped in the previous miles that if I could catch up with and keep up with Kevin and Blake that I could take my mind off of all the mental collapsing and nausea but I was having a hard time just simply running at all yet alone trying to catch up with them.

And then, shortly after entering the White Oak Ridge trail I happened upon Lauren Brown. Lauren is a great runner that I met through the Mountain Junkies races, she is strong and competitive and in some ways she reminds me of me. I was surprised to see her. Turns out she was also suffering from stomach upset. We were both hiking, remembering this section more pleasantly from Terrapin, exchanging our day's dose of woes.  But the few minutes of conversation with Lauren did two huge things for my day. One, it awarded me that reprieve from myself that I needed to take my mind off of the rough start and nausea but more importantly it was the tangible proof that even strong runners have bad days.

For the first time all day I began to feel just the slightest ounce of strength, I left Lauren hoping sincerely that she would feel better and hoping to finally move forward with my day. I still hiked more than I felt like I should but I came across Kevin and then Blake and again these quick conversations were a gift. Shortly after passing Blake I realized we were about to cross the parkway. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zero's came on the Ipod, 'That's What's Up' and the song including the lyrics "While I was feeling such a wreck, I thought of losing my mind' also helped me along.  I saw Kelly Reece and Tim Spaulding up ahead and set my sights on them. Again, these brief conversations were the highlights of this half of the race.

I ran to Sunset Fields better than I had all day but being careful not to run too hard. I met a man training for Wasatch and then came upon Blanks out taking pictures who said we were near Sunset Fields.  Tim Perry was there to offer me some aid and I was very thankful, though I may not have showered him with the appreciation I should have, it had been a long morning up until this point. I arrived to Sunset Fields about fifteen to twenty minutes slower than last year. Jared Hesse was there and I confided in him that I'd expected calf trouble but not the nausea, he encouraged me to keep drinking and eating on schedule despite the stomach trouble. I drank more cola and headed off for more descending.

I was only a few hundred yards in when I turned to see Phil Layman behind me, I didn't remember passing him and even considered him a possible hallucination on my part when he didn't come barreling past me in the following miles. It was here that I finally started to actually do some running. I passed a few groups of people and remembered chasing Todd last year through this very section, as his jersey disappeared from sight. I caught sight of Kathie up ahead once or twice but wasn't gaining on her despite my increased pace. I ran a little harder in the hopes of catching up with her. Then my left ankle turned to jelly on a rock when I was paying more attention to up ahead and not down in front through a rocky spot. I fell down for a moment, legs going in two different directions, water bottle in another. Don't get cocky, you'll catch her or you won't. The first few steps back on my feet I was anxious that I may have twisted the ankle but it appeared fine, just a momentary lapse of bone and tendon in that leg I suppose.

I navigated the creek crossings trying to focus on keeping a good pace over staying dry and I caught and passed a few more runners. Then through a technical section I caught Kathie, she told me she'd been waiting for me to chase her down ever since she'd seen me as she ran into the White Oak section. We continued to run hard and talk and then I noticed Andrew Charron up ahead. Oh yes, I whispered aloud to Kathie with no further explanation and picked up the pace just a tad bit more. Closing in on Andrew but without him even turning back to see me he said "Oh nooooo" to which I responded "YES!" And just like that a chase, a mini race, began. It was awesome, I loved all forty eight seconds of it. We came into the aid station giving high fives and joking that we were done, Andrew had just won the race. We had made the aid station in 3:22, ten minutes slower than last year. Doubling the time I realized that I wouldn't run a PR unless I ran very strong on the dark side. I grabbed more cola as my water bottle was being filled and was headed out when I saw Horton sitting in a seat with a clipboard. "So am I still 25th female?" I asked. "No, you're 15th or 16th" he answered. In a surprisingly good mood having just encountered Andrew I joked "Good only five more to track down" and away I ran. In no way did I think I would actually get into the Top 10. I was just so thankful to be somewhat enjoying myself, it is after all a long day to not find yourself enjoying even a moment.

I dislike this section, truth be told I've only run it a few times, but it just confirms my weaknesses as I struggle to maintain a decent pace on flat, easily navigable terrain. Kathie pulled ahead quickly and I envied her strength and speed. I settled into a pace that would suffice and realized that now I was having stomach troubles of a different kind, the find yourself a tree quickly kind. Andrew and Clifton Williams caught back up and we ran together but just briefly. Up ahead Kathie slowed and then we were together in a big group and I was really starting to eye every tree stump and patch of brush. Kathie said she needed a pit-stop when I finally confided in her that I needed to stop and we stopped quickly. Fortunately, the stop didn't kill too much time and we were off and running within a few minutes. I was very happy when we saw the markings for the turn into the woods a few minutes later.

Last year it was in this following section that Todd and I fell apart. I knew if I was to have any hope whatsoever of pulling the day back together I would have to run stronger through here. Kathie and I caught another female here but Andrew and Clifton pulled away. We ran with just a few walk breaks but somewhere just before the Colon Hollow aid station Kathie started to drop off. The guy ahead and I joked that it was so cruel to place this aid station at the top of such a hill this far into the race but we walked anyways, heads hung low.

I turned down the offer of ice cream and just drank a small cup of soda as my water bottle was filled. I was surprised how quickly I'd made it to this aid station and knew that the next aid station would be further than it would ever seem possible. In this next section I came across Clark Zealand running the opposite way of the race as well as a few other runners, including Andrew. I saw Randy on the road climb and he asked about Lauren and told me that Courtney was only a few hundred yards ahead of me. I was feeling better but knowing that Courtney was up ahead helped me keep up the strong pace. I saw Mike Donahue along this section and he was in a very uplifting mood even though I don't think he was running quite as well as he had hoped. At some point we were back on a grassy section and I saw Courtney.

Courtney had taken a tumble on the descent to Cornelius Creek and was bleeding. She joked that she was a klutz with a blood phobia, she seemed in pretty good spirits despite her tumble but her shirt looked as though she'd lost a fight. We hiked a ways together and I would have loved to traverse the woods longer with her but I was seriously beginning to think I could still pull a PR out of my hat if I kept up my new found race.

I started to do all sorts of mathematical equations and distances from aid stations to see if I could still pull out a PR and somewhat save the day and caught up with another group of runners just as we made it to the single-track, muddy trail that completes the loop back to Cornelius creek. And once again there was Blanks taking pictures as we crossed the poor bridge and headed to the aid station.

Headed into Cornelius creek on the out and back I was surprised to see Zach Quigg and Kristen Chang, two people who should always be much further ahead of me at this point in a race. A further reminder that even strong runners have bad days. At the aid station I was confused for a volunteer and filled up a water bottle of a runner coming down from Sunset Fields before I could begin the hike up the falls. I came into the aid station at 4:50, two minutes faster than last year. I had made up some time on the loop and was hopeful that I could climb better than last year up the falls.

I started up the falls and ran more than I ran last year in this section. I passed Kristen here, she had been suffering all day with stomach trouble and I felt really bad for her. I ran some more and caught up with the group ahead of me that included Rick Gray, Marlin Yoder and Laura Duffy. I felt okay physically but I just couldn't seem to go any faster, it was a little discouraging. I was running more than I recall running last year but wasn't really making any better time. At the falls we saw Blanks again, he ran a little ways up the trail with us taking our picture, and we joked that we had our own personal photographer. Despite feeling better I realized as we crossed back over the road we'd taken down to Cornelius creek the first time that I wasn't going to make it much faster than last year. I wondered if a PR would be at all possible but pushed ahead regardless.

My water bottle was empty and I was beginning to feel that particular tightness in my calves that signifies cramps coming on so I took two Endurolytes even though I didn't have water and hoped for the best. I absolutely love my Mountain Hardware vest, I carried everything, probably an exceeding surplus for the day, but it was lightweight and more than sufficient to carry everything for a 50k without a crew, however I probably should have carried another water bottle. Exiting the woods I found I was having a bit of a hard time walking straight. At the aid station I filled my water bottle and drank some Mountain Dew.

Photo Courtesy Blanks Blankenship

Photo Courtesy Blanks Blankenship

Looking down at my watch I realized it was 5:48, I'd climbed the falls just barely faster than last year. A tad discouraged I ran on in hopes of still fighting for a sub 6:30 finish even though my hopes were mostly dashed at this point. I ran until just past the little clearing where it becomes a hill. I should have run this hill but I also felt like I should take one last break as once I started to run again it would all be downhill and hard downhill at that. 

This next part is very simple. I was vested enough at this point that I really, really, really wanted something positive out of this day. That something was a PR, and a sub 6:30 PR if at all possible. And so I ran hard, and prayed that my calves would hold up. I have a tendency towards cramps when I try to push hard at the end of a race.  When I got to the last aid station I had nineteen minutes to run in a sub 6:30, again I didn't feel overly hopeful but I had to give it my all. At the end road maintenance sign I had fifteen minutes. I saw a guy up ahead and set the short-term goal of chasing him down. Fortunately, my legs were holding up but then I saw the bridge and glanced at my watch. I wasn't going to make 6:30. I thought about backing off the pace, but I told myself that even if I wasn't going to break 6:30 I should still give it everything to try and break that time even if I fell short. I saw the squirrel at the driveway,then Dylan Perry, then the entrance to the camp. 
Finish Line Photo Courtesy Joyce Perry
When I could finally see the clock I unexpectedly could still break 6:30, so I ran a little bit harder. They have me down as 6:29:48, I'll take it. I ran across the finish line as Horton delivered even more surprising news, I had squeaked into the overall Top 10 female finishers. I had assumed that I was further back but tenth spot in addition to just barely scraping together a sub 6:30 was, I won't lie, very nice. 

Great Group of People. Photo Courtesy Joyce Perry

The finish line was full of congratulations and that was nice but I was not overall very happy about my day, just happy for it to be over really. I was most proud of pulling through and a strong finish but there at the finish I was silently vowing never to run Promise Land again. But then as I began to compile my thoughts over the rest of the weekend for this report I kept being reminded of many things that I truly enjoyed: pitching the tent with Sam and Dennis, Wade's surprise Cherry Coke Zero, my favorite food group-pizza, the bonfire, the Gonzalez camper tour, Kelly's pre-race squeeze, talking before the race with Jamie, Lauren, Courtney, Dacia, and countless others, the dip in the creek afterwards, the sprint race with Andrew, Tim's help, Joyce's cheering, seeing out of towners like our fellow Mountain Junkies and Mike Donahue, meeting baby Roberts, Blanks all over the course taking pictures, Phil's granola, Tommy's trick to get me to wait for his burger, Sam stealing my Life Saver's and giving them to the kids, running back for Wade with Andrew and seeing Marshall out there with him, even Jeremy's little quip that I'm "Little Miss Efficiency",  there was so much more to this weekend then the run. And I decided that if I have to run through the collective suffering of a 34 mile race to get the rest of the experience than I guess that's what I'll do...besides I'd like to think there's an even faster time at the Promise Land somewhere in me.
Top Ten Patagonia bag, race shirt and finisher's shorts.


Friday, April 19, 2013

Today is a Gift.

If every run were like this than there would be no question. There would be no question of confidence or why I run my body into the ground.

I met Kathie at about 5:30 in the parking lot. The plan was to run a few quick miles and then meet a group assembling to preview the Bald Mountain 10k course at 6. We started down Lake Trail at a comfortable pace talking about our busy days and how we wouldn't change them for the world. We were almost at the camp when I started to tell her about Wednesday's run, I told her about our final climb the night before and then inquired Want to see it? And just like that, about-face on Lake Trail we were headed to the Radar Tower climb.

The climb was hard, but perhaps a little easier than the night before when I had seven miles already on the legs. We were two-thirds up the climb when I realized it was already 6 pm, the group would soon be starting. We picked up the pace and headed for Snoflex.

When we reached the parking lot it was five minutes after six and there was no sign of runners, we asked a pair of gentleman had they seen a group of runners. They pointed us in the right direction and we were off. Headed down Monogram we didn't see any runners or even a sign that there was a fun run occurring.  But Kathie picked up the pace in pursuit and I fell in the best that I could, remarking that this was my race pace.  Which is true, I am after all an ultra runner. Reaching the base of the Monogram we saw Josh Yeoman and a few runners. Pleased that we were on the right path we didn't slow but hammered the whole way down to Five Points.

It was in this descent that I found my legs.

For weeks, going on months I've been waiting for a run like this. When it happens, and you feel it happening, it's best to realize how lucky you are and just go with it.

We started to happen upon more and more participants and I started in on the chase. If you know me, than you'll know there is just about nothing I like more than a good chase, I realized then that starting at the back of a fun run is a perfect way to play this favorite game of mine.

The course was well marked and had a number of aid stations, just like a race and the game was even more fun this way. A few times I slowed, to make sure Kathie's ankle was okay when she turned it, to recover on a long climb, to talk to Craig about his injuries and new orthotics, but there were a few times where we turned it up and ran like Cheetahs (or so I'd like to think). But instead of pressure of performance I ran with intense enjoyment, a child-like energy pulsating through me.

At one point Kathie told me that I was a strong runner and she came across so honest that I knew she meant it. Better yet, for the first time in a long while, I felt it.

We played hard through to the end and afterwards I had a hard time pulling myself away from the wonderful community of friends and extended family I have made. I could have stood around until dark enjoying their company. I came away from the evening's run recharged, a reminder of so many things I treasure about running; the people, the trails, the power these legs can employ on a good day, on a good run.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

For Boston

A few weeks ago, moments after crossing the finish line at the Terrapin 50k I realized that my sister who had come out to crew me was not at the finish line like we had planned. Worried that she may have gotten lost traversing her way back from the aid station she had spent the day at I headed back out to look for her. My concern for her whereabouts continued until Frank G.'s brother told me she had stayed at the aid station longer than anticipated. Turns out she had stayed at the aid station after a runner suffering from nausea had dropped out of the race, offering her blanket, my leftover electrolyte tablets and any other support she could.

On Monday when I saw the first images of the explosions in Boston I immediately thought about the runners who were finishing at that time, their friends and loved ones who were at the finish line cheering for them and offering their support. I thought of the friends I knew who were there that day to run, hoping Jordan Whitlock and Jeff Harrington were unharmed. I saw the time clock in the breaking images and thought of how many of the squeakers I'd read about in Runners World were likely finishing at that time. I saw the images of Jeff Bauman and my heart just hurt beyond words, my eyes could not stay dry.

This is how I ache for those in Boston. I ache as a runner, a sister, a mother, a friend, an American, a hopeful-someday-squeaker.

In the hours and days that followed Monday's events I ached with empathy and yet I just didn't find the solace in the hashtag run for Boston that others did. I wanted to do more, I wanted to be the aid station that those hurting and suffering might need, I wanted to somehow be the fuel to replenish those effected, the space blanket to comfort them. But the more I thought about what little old me could do the more discouraged I became.

But then, as silly as it may sound, I thought about the Grinch. Yes, the one who tried to steal Christmas, the one who waited on Mt. Crumpit to see the Who's down in Whoville defeated and crying but instead got to witness their resilience, their joining of hands and their continued merriment. And with the help of the brilliant Dr. Suess, I realized that running is exactly what we need to do, we need to come together, show our resilience and run. Terror feeds on fear, we need to run to show our strength as well as to stay strong.

Last night a group of twenty or so gathered at our usual Wednesday night spot, the trails of Candler's mountain. We joined hands in the figurative sense and we made noise in the literal sense and we ran. Because in the face of this horrendous terrorist attack we need to raise our awareness and reflect but we also need to continue doing what it was that we were doing, to prove that we will not allow fear to restrain us.

And so we'll continue to do what we love to do, we'll run. We'll #runforboston.


Wednesday evening's group. Photo courtesy of Melissa Early.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Good Enough?

Here I was thinking I was healed and on the upward turn. Despite being well aware that I wasn't invincible and that injury beckons I was hoping that I could finally proceed with my training when I started out on Sunday's Promise Land training run. I had begrudgingly agreed to start at the camp with Todd. To be fair, I never actually voiced my opinion about leaving from the camp, but I wasn't in love with the idea, wasn't 'feeling it'. Most of the group assembled for the run were driving to the location of aid station one to avoid this very climb. Within a half mile my calves, both the generally angry one and the amiable one, started to tighten. I continued to run for a ways before I finally had to succumb to walking.

And walk I did. As the car loads of smarter individuals drove past, Andrew loudly but playfully wondering why someone who loves hills wasn't running while encountering one. Horton inquiring if we knew our way. Sam and Frank passing by like we were standing still, actually maybe we were at that moment. Todd, understandably frustrated at my hike, suggested we call it a day and head back to the car. I wouldn't even entertain the idea, I'm nothing if not entirely stubborn, I wasn't going to turn tail and run back to the car, miserable or not I was moving forward. I encouraged, nearly begged, Todd to just leave me and move forward with his run. Being a dedicated spouse and an all around nice guy he refused to leave me while I was not only the last runner, but now a good twenty minutes behind the group who had started at the top of the hill.

Truth is I was over-brimming with anger and embarrassment. Hating my weak and softened legs and a reputation I don't deserve and bewildered by the sudden flare up in the legs after a solid weak of good runs and the three rest days preceding this run. You should have run this defeating hill before submitting your application, Fool. That's right, you want that silly sweater, crawl on then. It went on like this, the down and out self pep talk that really wasn't, well past the end state maintenance sign when I finally saw a runner up ahead. Once again I encouraged Todd to run on, I wanted to be left to thoroughly wallow in self-pity and degradation.

With the promise that I would survive, he left me shortly after the turn onto single track. I think he thought I would pick up the pace as soon as he left but I just continued to walk, even after the calves had started to quiet down I continued on hiking, not wanting to catch the couple of guys ahead of me in such a funk of disappointment.

I walked, hiked and ran the eighteen plus miles like it was my job, not the hobby that I hold near and dear. The highlight of the entire run was coming upon Bethany Williams on the White Oak Ridge, where were you during Terrapin my dear lady, there is nothing more that I love than a good chase up a hill, but then she was behind me and I was left to my own devices once again, more demeaning self talk but now with sweat in my eyes.

I caught up with Kelly and Nicole at Horton's truck parked at Sunset Fields but I was terrible company I'm sure and when we arrived back at the first aid station I ran on through still having to make my way back down to my car. Knowing that we were behind on time and just wanting to be over with the run I ran this section somewhat hard. Unfortunately, it seemed to take as long running down as it had going up, I was thankful to finally pass the squirrel silhouette edging a driveway, the sign that the run was virtually over. Arriving back at the camp I'm sure I was a ray of sunlight, I hurried Joe and Todd into the car, happy to have this most blah feeling run over with.

And I thought that is where the humility would end, with the run accomplished I thought I could move on, but then I came home to record said training run.

Turns out, last year, the week before Promise Land, we did this very same run. Except it was cold and rainy and yet a full four minutes faster.

You're probably asking yourself: Seriously, Alexis, you're going to sob about four minutes? 

Yes. Yes, I am.

At this point I've been running long enough to have a certain expectation that comes from prior accomplishment and performance. I'm of the mindset that I should always be improving, getting better and yet now I'm beginning to wonder if I've been running long enough now (about three years) that I'm plateauing. Wondering if I've gotten as good as I'll get. Despite the fact that I have been injured I still feel as though I should be improving. There are good arguments I've been trying to make, for one I didn't remember or know how long last year's run had taken me, had I known, realized it was a competition with myself, maybe I could have run faster. Instead I'm realizing that my training before Holiday Lake carried me through Terrapin, I'm now feeling those six weeks of injury, the lack of intensity of any kind, the complete absence of road running or quicker leg turnover. The four minutes is just a small thing in the grand scheme, but all the proof I need to suggest I won't PR this year at Promise Land, that I'll be lucky to run what I ran last year. Instead of getting back to real training I am finding myself focusing on my weaknesses, I'm lazy, anxious, pessimistic and doubtful. An all around head case if you will. (This is where you might whisper to yourself, like I sometimes do, poor Todd.)

Really struggling in the confidence and morale department. Wishing I could borrow the opinion some others seem to have of me, borrow a little confidence too.

I think it all stems from the fact that I have never felt good enough.

When I was all of about nine years old I compiled a handful of poems I'd penned, typed them up on our word processor, printed and stapled them together. One afternoon my father who had apparently stumbled across the project titled "Lexi's Limericks" came to me with the booklet in hand and asked me where I had copied the poems from. This was the nature of compliments I remember from my childhood, the praise was present but hidden in the fact that my poems would be good enough to bring my father to think I'd plagiarized them.

Skip ahead a few years, my parents separated and me taking it quite poorly skipped school quite a bit in my eighth grade year. There was a bit of attention seeking in this I'm sure in hindsight. One particular day my gym class ran the mile as part of the presidential fitness requirements while I was out playing in the woods with two other neighborhood kids who had also run from the bus stop. Turns out unlike dissecting a frog, skipping this day of school didn't free me from partaking entirely in the event. I had to go out and run the mile with another student who had been absent with my gym teacher timing us. Unlike previous years, when I had walked in an act of defiance with my friends, I fell in behind the other student making up the mile. I ran right behind her, just watching her feet as we ran our loops around the gravel track. When we were finished I'd run just over eight minutes for the mile, not fast, but surprising for my little rebel self. The gym teacher asked me a series of questions, why did I always goof off, why didn't I try, and suggested that I could even run track if I wanted to, if I cared enough to try. I, taken aback and a tad proud, went to my father as a sounding board and told him the teacher thought I could run track. To which he responded that I couldn't just decide as a high school freshman that I wanted to run track, that it was pretty much too late for me. This was the extent of my running until three years ago.

This isn't to say my parents screwed me up, I mean they did, but I turned out normal enough and heck I'm probably screwing my kids up right now with something I'm doing, not doing, said yesterday, etc. It's what parents do, we screw up our kids, at least it's what we get blamed for. Besides, I'm quite at peace in the knowledge that we are all imperfect and I believe that my dad did the best that he could, he probably thought he was protecting me from disappointment or potential failure. In fact it's this opinion that I'm so imperfect that I believe holds me back, I'm so wrapped up in my imperfections that I fail to see that even though I may never be perfect I can be better than I am.

Lately when I pass runners while I'm driving I wonder Are they running hard? Could they run faster? Are they having fun? And I realized today while I was doing this, that really it's as though I'm asking these questions of myself. On Sunday morning, before the Promise Land run I told Todd that I really want, more than anything, to be sustainable. I want to be running for years and years to come. However, even though that's what I want the most, I still really want to be good, keep improving, to someday feel within, that I'm good enough.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Between Valleys and Peaks

Have you ever had the flu or a cold and missed so desperately the ability to breath through your nose? Just hoping to wake up tomorrow and feel good, no headaches or fever? For the past almost two months I have just so severely missed the ability to run comfortably without pain. Dreaming that the next run would be accompanied by relief, result in real enjoyment. Instead, solo runs were spent convincing myself to take another step, yet easy and cautiously. Group runs were spent aching for what others were doing so effortlessly, praying that the tightness would slacken in that weak and angry calf, that some day I would in fact feel good again.

The week before Terrapin I could sense the pain was departing though the leg lacked quite a bit of strength. Then the week after Terrapin I got sick, this along with my new approach on recovery and rest, forced me to take the whole week off with the exception of a slow run with the Wednesday group where everyone was up for a pedestrian's pace.

Saturday, squeezed between Easter egg hunts and family dinner plans, I ran solo at Candler's. The entire run my leg felt good. I kept the run short and ran a recovery pace but it was the first run in six weeks that didn't require a long warm-up or result in muscle cramping or tightness. It was like the world's best gift.

Yesterday, a group met at Candler's. Mike Donahue, one of our original weekly Wednesday night participants, was in town and had arranged a trail run. A large group took off out Panama from the parking lot and before I even realized it and without consideration I was running fast. When the heart began to suggest that the pace was one I wasn't really trained for I offered the compromise that I would only continue that sprightly pace until we reached the camp.

There was a great deal of rapture wound up in this run, in the fact that I was able to run among the friends I've longed to run with over my injury. That I was, in the simplest definition, just running. My legs felt fine, they carried me well. I was grateful for the chance to play in the woods, to play chase, run unfamiliar trails. I knew a mile in that I was having the best run of the past several weeks, but miles later when we began to visit more hilly sections I felt a solid strength that has just been absent from my runs for far too long. I was running hills. Have I told you lately that I love hills? I may not be great at them but they empower me, they force all of my being to compile our strength and work together. There's accomplishment awaiting every hill I run, a certain satisfaction that fuels me, nourishes the desire to feel strong, powerful, healthy.

Running up Peak to Peak my calves were working hard to get me to the top. There was a pain, but it wasn't the crippling, fear drawing kind but rather the kind that suggests weakness being pushed aside to make room for strength to come. For someone who suffers at times from a severe self-confidence deficit there was great reward in feeling simply capable.

I know I must remain cautious, that I could very easily go out and do something stupid and end up all too soon on the injured list once more, but yesterday, I felt like my old self a little. I felt at home.