Friday, August 30, 2013

It's Not Always That Bad

Occasionally I'm confronted with truths about myself that are not pleasant. Sometimes when this happens I can become slightly offended because, while true, I've yet to come to terms with the truth and it stings. Other times when people point out my flaws I just smile and laugh along because it's a truth I've come to own, made no real headway in changing or at least decided that laughing is better in a restaurant than crying.

What exactly am I skirting around? My sister called me a whiner. On more than one occasion. Maybe the day after every post I've written this year to paint a more accurate description. I can laugh and smile because, most of the time, while this might surprise you, I read my own blog. I know it sounds whiny. I am whiny. Not always. But my blog is like an extension of my running journal, it's meant to be cathartic. If I can't whine and let it all hang out then it loses my interest if not yours. But maybe I've been perhaps a tad too whiny of late?

So in an honest effort to not lose a reader, I present you, in my best effort, a good run.

But first, the backstory.

Last summer Todd and I took the kids out to see this thing, you may be familiar with it, it's called the Appalachian Trail. We hit the footbridge that crosses the James River and did about a half hour's hike in one direction. I was in love and pumped to go for a run on the "AT". So a few short weeks later we organized a run on a Sunday afternoon where we planned to run from the Footbridge to Petits Gap and back. A few people said they would meet us out there. But no one else showed and we started the trek alone on what would be one of the hottest runs of the entire summer. We ran too hard at the start and I cursed the ridge line  as the sun beat down upon us not even halfway into the entire run. We turned around at Petits Gap which wasn't even much to see to be honest and headed back to our car. Two miles later both our hydration packs were empty. We had no water, no food, it was hot as Hades and we still had seven miles to the car. I wasn't whiny, I was irrational and may have become unhinged. Fortunately, Frank Gonzales showed up with water and a GU and saw us back to the creek crossings. It goes down as one of the worst runs I've ever had. Yet I've been meaning to go back.

So exactly a year later, on another hot and sunny Sunday afternoon much like the one last year another Petits Gap run was planned.

This time we actually organized it with people who showed up; Kevin Corell, Chelsie Viar, Joe Alderson, Sam Dangc, and then of course Todd and I. And we were smarter, or at least had a smart, generous friend (Kevin) who was willing to drive an extra hour and stash water at Petites Gap for us.  So before we ever got started we were in better shape than we were last year.

After a few minutes in the parking lot we started off on the day's run. Todd, Sam and Joe were planning a slightly longer route where they hit the Belfast trail down to the Devil"s Marbleyard and then took a gravel road up to Petites. I wasn't sure which way I was going to go but decided at the shelter to hold up and wait for Kevin and Chelsie. I decided that the day's goal would be to best my effort from last summer, complete the run in a time better than 4:52. I knew this shouldn't be hard as wrong as last year's run went, but I still wanted to be careful until the turn around.

Chelsie, Kevin and I hiked most of the next climb and then ran easy along the more level sections, I was feeling good. At about mile five I was just running really smooth and comfortable and even enjoying the occasional spots of rocky terrain, seeing them as training for Iron Mountain coming up this weekend.

Nearer the top Chelsie took the lead and went up and over that last rocky climb well. I let Kevin and Chelsie pull away and ate a Strawberry Waffle (the tummy hasn't been in love with these but my taste buds and I are!). I went at my own steady pace up and over the final climb to Petites Gap, remembering how difficult it had seemed the year before. Now other than how grown up this section was it was relatively smooth sailing. I was having a pretty good day.

We made it to Petites Gap in 2:13, I have no idea how long it took us to get there last year but I knew that I had taken it far more conservatively this time around to the top. We refilled out packs and ate some cookies killing about 6-7 minutes, all the while time clicking away. I generally will not stop my Garmin for any reason on a run, not for any reason in particular other than I seem to ALWAYS forget to restart it. We headed back out, in the direction of the car, at 2:20. I hoped we could cover the second half which is predominantly downhill in less than 2:10.

The first section of a half mile or so back uphill over some rocks and back through the grown up grass and weeds we took easy and hiked. But when it leveled out I started running with that 2:10 on my mind. I took the downhills comfortably hard not too concerned about my quads or Iron Mountain coming up in less than a week's time.

I ran a ways and came to a split in the woods that I was uncertain of how to proceed I waited for the group. Moments later Chelsie, Kevin and Sam Dangc appeared. Sam had caught us despite having run approximately 3 miles longer. He's fast like that, we didn't hold it against him. Then Todd showed up and after a bathroom break I was worried we had dilly dallied too long and took off downhill at a quicker clip than was probably necessary or smart.

I finally slowed as my pack was upsetting my stomach once again and I let Sam pass by me. I ran a little further on but my stomach was only getting worse. I was worried of a repeat of the misery that was the Grindstone training run but I was also worried about dumping my water from my pack and having a repeat of last year's frightening Petites run on dehydration. Todd offered me one of his water bottles (that was empty) so I stopped, poured as much of the water from my pack into the bottle and then dumped the rest of my hydration pack. During this Kevin and Chelsie caught back up with us and we took off once more in a group.

My stomach was instantly feeling better and I was running well and then I lost the trail. I mean I stepped off the side of the trail and a downhill section. I went down, throwing Todd's bottle off the side of the trail in the interim. He helped me up and I estimated the damage done while he went down the hill to rescue his bottle. I had scratched the side of my knee fairly well but I could run on it. We took to running again and not more than a few hundred feet downtrail Chelsie did a very similar thing. It was almost funny the fact that we couldn't stay on the trail. It's narrow, but not that narrow. We laughed and mosied for a minute. Then I heard Todd yell "JOE". I thought he'd seen Joe, apparently he was just yelling for Joe while we were meandering along laughing about our inability to stay on trail.

Well when Todd yelled Joe something clicked in me. I asked Chelsie if Joe who had also gone the longer route was really behind us. She said "I don't know, but run like he is." If you know me, you know that 'race' is my trigger word. It was kind of like Chelsie had yelled 'race'.

So I did what made the most sense.

I took off.

It was downhill and full of switchbacks and I ran just nice and hard. It wasn't that I was running from Joe, I was just ready to pick it up after the stopping and starting and falling. It wasn't long before I came to the second to last creek crossing that you cross on the way back to the footbridge. Sam was there soaking his leg. He'd fallen twice during the run and had a nice egg sized bump on his shin. I stopped long enough to ask him if he was okay. He said he was, I told him to get up, Joe was on our trail or he wasn't but either way I had a goal of 4:30 for this run.

He got up and we ran along and then the trail started to descend even more. Sam Dangc is far faster than me. Even if he's been in California all summer just running for fun he is and always will be faster than me. But I was hellbent on not being slow enough on the descent for him to need to go around me. So I picked up the pace even more. Again, with Iron Mountain approaching maybe this was dumb. But I do not care. I enjoyed every step of that decent. I mean I ran faster and better on that decent (mostly) than I have at more races I've ever won. I needed that descent. Stupid or not.

We made it to the shelter and the creek crossing and without a word between us went into that creek, washing our faces, drinking the water, taking in it's cool refreshing power. Todd came along shortly after and made me feel even better, he said he'd let it all go to catch us and couldn't. That made me feel even better.

Now it was just a little further back to the car, maybe a mile and a half? Two miles? Well being that close I decided that I would continue on eating nothing (because, mostly, I'm DUMB). I'd be in the car soon enough with cookies, I could wait. I hadn't eaten anything since the cookie at Petits Gap. I ran along and Sam passed me and then Todd. Before long I recognized that the slipping speed was a bonk. I was bonking because I'd chosen not too eat anything on the second half despite knowing that I wanted to negative split the run. But I'm dumb and still didn't eat anything. So my pace slipped and slipped. I even walked a level section once the bridge was in sight. But I didn't care. I knew I was going to be well within my goal of 4:30.

Todd was slowing too so I caught up with him and we ran mostly together, suffering quietly but collectively back to the footbridge. We made it back to the bridge in 4:13. I had managed to take nearly 40 minutes off of last year's run. I was, with what little energy I had left, ecstatic, even if I'd run the second half STUPID. Which I had.

Joe, as it turns out, wasn't right behind me. It didn't matter anyways. I wasn't running from him, I was running from the memory of that terrible first run on the AT. Overall, despite the fact that I still run foolhardy at times I can tell I'm becoming a stronger runner because I knew I was choosing to run dumb and noticed these things for what they were as they were occurring unlike last year when we took the AT for granted, started way too hard and fell apart, with no water or fuel between us.


Monday, August 26, 2013

100 miles on my mind

Earlier this year I decided that I was going to run the Beast Series.  Or maybe it was last December when I was pacing Alexis at Hellgate.  Either way, I decided that I was going to tackle the Beast Series this year, and then run different stuff in 2014.  You know, some of those cool races that the out of town runners talk about or wear shirts from when they show up to run the Lynchburg Ultra Series races.  So I decided to go ahead and get the Beast Series behind me before I get too old, and then I'd be able to pick and choose my races and not feel tied to a Series.

Then Alexis got into Western States, and we went out west and had a great time.  Then the NEED to run Grindstone to complete a series, was replaced by the DESIRE to run an epic mountain race.  When I was crewing Alexis at Western States, I met dozens of 100 mile runners, and it was inspiring to hear the way they talked about the distance with reverence, respect, and awe.  I know a lot of ultra runners, but there was something different about some of these people.  Something happens at 100 miles, and I'm hoping to find out what it is.

It has been proposed by a running friend that ALL ultra runners are running away from something, but I think that it is just as likely that we are running toward something.  Looking for something.  We just don't know what it is.  Hopefully we'll know it when we find it.


Sunday, August 25, 2013

Why so quiet?

The past few weeks have been about recovering, reflecting, looking ahead. There's a sort of sadness now that Western States is over and yet also a magnificent feeling of relief.

I've spent many a run these past few days and weeks questioning so much that I've done or failed to do that it's dragging me down. I'm comparing every run, every runner. Trying to figure out if I measure up. I'm beginning to feel that I don't measure up to my own expectations.

I spend almost every run pushing just hard enough to prove to someone I'm strong enough, fast enough, good enough to be here.  It's becoming a maddening ritual with no future aside from one of injury and letdown. But I also don't seem to be able to break the habit, give myself a clean slate.

I know at least partially what the problem is; too much self imposed pressure, too much social networking, no clear direction, uncertainty of what's next, feeling too good and yet not good enough. Being able to walk easily in the days that followed Western States gave way to hours of second guessing my run, the minute decisions that altered so much of that experience. And yet the pain in my achilles, the plantar fasciitis, the calf strain they all remain at least peripherally present barring me from resuming my training the way I would like.

Every few runs I'll have a section, a quarter mile, a mile, where I get the smallest feeling that I'm coming back, that there is a strong runner lying dormant within me somewhere. I have the feeling she is surfacing, ready to go hard, go further on.

But then I speak up, warning of further injury and further disappointments and I can feel that strong runner being physically pushed deep down until she's quiet once more. In this environment she doesn't feel welcome.

Why would she?

* This post was originally penned on August 1st. I never posted this because it felt dark and depressing. I thought the venting by the very sketching of the post would be enough. But this is basically the way I still feel now, three weeks later.

It boils down to Grindstone. Another 100 mile event in six short weeks. Before Western States I was certain I wouldn't toe the starting line of Western States. I assumed one start would suffice regardless of whether I finished. Sam Dangc told me I would DNF Western States and toe the line at Grindstone for redemption. He was wrong, I did finish and yet I wonder in some ways, if he's still right?

I did finish that first 100. But I made so many mistakes. I didn't realize so many things. I learned so much. And so I know I should be able to run a subsequent hundred better, smarter. But I also know, that for me at least, it isn't 50/50 between running ability and mental strength. For me the mental part feels so much more of it, the legs are there doing their job but the act is most predominantly carried out in my mind. As much as I am curious as to how I could measure up at Grindstone I just don't know if I'm mentally ready to take on all that means. I'm afraid of the tougher course, the more hours running in the dark, the terrain. I'm afraid to not have Todd on my crew, as my pacer, as my rock. He'll be out there too facing his own demons on that course, I'm afraid for that as well. I'm afraid it will ask more of my already shaky mental reserves. I've offered to crew and pace  for him, that was, after all, the plan, but he's adamant that I take on Grindstone for myself. He's joked (?) that I'd be a rotten crew, a poor pacer. And yet I can't take the leap of faith and sign up for Grindstone (which is now full other than overflow applications thanks to my procrastination).

Truth is, I'm convinced that I won't do any better, won't run any smarter, that I will DNF this 100 in the wake of any small success that finishing WS was. I'm afraid I'll further wreck my Achilles which I'm on seemingly good terms with at the moment. I'm afraid it will come back, but sooner and stronger. I am damn afraid of those three little letters...the D N F. I've had several people tell me that I should have no problem finishing Grindstone but this weekend I went out, ran half the course and I have to be honest I am not so sure. Todd ran the same half, his fears seemed to have been washed away by the training run. Mine seem to just be magnified. I feel less ready than ever before to tackle the distance.

After the weekend's training run I was out for sure. But by Monday afternoon I'm allowing Todd to speak to me about my training, my fuel, I realize he's tricking me back in and I'm willingly letting him. And yet I know if I'm to do it, toe the line I have to have my own reason. If I don't, if I go because someone else says I can, it won't be enough. You don't move 100 miles through mountains without a desire from within.

And yet the best reason I seem to have at the moment is that I'm deathly afraid of my Masochist time from last year. What was a good day in the mountains was seen as some as potential. To me, it was just a good day. One I'm convinced I won't have again (namely, because, I'm CRAZY!) I am frightened that last year's run was the best that I possess within. I see Grindstone as a novel excuse to run slower. This is a disease, a plague that I fear will wear me down for Masochist no matter how Grindstone plays out.

And yet there is one other reason. I was afraid of running Western States. I was afraid of bears, and big cats, hallucinations and rattlesnakes, getting lost, dehydration, the distance itself, my calf, the climbs, the canyons. And yet I survived despite the fear. There's a part of me that wants to do that again, possess those fear and overcome them. Because after all, for me, that's what it's all about. Being scared to death but doing it anyways...