Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Send Me On My Way

As I begin to switch from peak training mode this week to taper mode I will turn my focus from the running aspect of big events to the mental aspect involved. I tend to think that, for me at least, racing is nearly equally split between physical ability, ability to eat and mental strength. A deficit of any of these can spell doom.

One of the things I have used in the past and will continue to apply is having a mantra, a motivating chant to push me along during particularly tough spots, to get me over the wall or low points in a long run. At Western States it was "Relax, eat, drink, be patient." The relax and be patient came from Dr. Horton's parting words for me as I began that longest run to date for me, the eat and drink being somewhat obvious but the reminder still necessary. I repeated this to myself for at least the first fifteen hours fifteen hundred times.

Last year I made a list for Masochist, the list included reminders and advice, quotes and memories. I carried the list in my pocket the entire race, I had planned to pull it out when I hit the wall (which was placed strategically on the climb up from Salt Log Gap) but I never needed it, I believe it was making the list that resulted in not really needing the list. I plan on compiling a similar list for this years run. I believe it will help send me on my way!

Do you have a mantra or something you do/use as a mental trick or pick me up during long runs or racing events to help get you up and over your wall?   If so, please share.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Such Great Heights...No Not Really

This week saw several firsts for me.

It was not a first however, when I pushed it on Wednesday evening's run when Kathie said "GO". It was not a first that I fretted and lost a sizable amount of sleep over an illness of Sean's. It was not a first that I couldn't tell myself to just say no, so I did more than was wise, pushed boundaries more than necessary.

I am, afterall, me.

Today, is Monday, it is my first day off of running in ten days. Please, please do not ask me to run today. As aforementioned I can not, probably would not, say no. I admitted to Todd yesterday that I am a tad bit overly obsessed at the moment (meaning a step up from my normal levels of obsession), I knew today's forced rest would mentally do me in. It's how I found myself on the blogger dashboard so bright and early this morning.

You see that is one of the firsts. I have never, in my four years of running, run more than six days in a row. But last week was a packed social week and seeing as most of my socializing is now spent running I couldn't really cancel. Ok, yes I could have, but it was that I rather didn't want to I suppose. But I knew the risks associated with such recklessness, I spent the week running easy with only minor exceptions (I can't say no to Kathie's taunts because I secretly love it when she taunts me to push it on a run with her). But prone to injury I spent most of my runs talking yet tuned into listening to my body. This is acceptable but consider yourself warned it seemed to whisper. I did my best to listen. I had most of my runs planned out the week ahead so I knew early in the week to reel it in, take it easy or pay the price.

Friday, my usual rest day, was spent on an adventure with Horton's running class. I have a small list of desired runs to get in before MMTR in two weeks. It's been on my fridge now for weeks. It says 'Tobacco Row x2'. Most of the list is still unscratched. On Friday I was thinking of skipping the run when Todd pointed out how little of the to do list had been accomplished heading into my taper, aimed to begin Sunday. I grabbed my headlamp and hit the road. I am glad that I joined to group. Horton encouraged us to use the full moon and not our headlamps on the run. I found myself running the majority of the way up alone, in the dark, a first of sorts for me. Darkness and running alone are usually two of my largest looming fears, but on Friday I found it freeing, refreshing. I rather enjoyed myself. And at least now the list is down to 'Tobacco Row x1'.

I did push a little harder than planned on the uphill of the Tobacco Row run, which was nearly five miles uphill in one direction, but if there's anything I aspire to be at the moment it's the uphill runner I was a year ago. Going into Masochist this year I know I'm not in as good of shape as last year and that is mostly because my uphill running is not where it was then, mostly due to my fretful calf. Coming down however, I reeled it back in, better to be properly frightened when Horton jumped out in the dark scaring Jamie and I.

Saturday Todd and I missed the Deep Hollow Half, the first time both of us have missed this run since we began running. Sadly it was scheduled for the same day as the Stephenson Youth Run our kids do every year. One of the races had to be bumped from our schedule. That evening, to get our running fix in, we headed to Explore Park near Roanoke for a four mile night run we had registered for weeks ago.

I will possibly have more to say about this event later, but basically, it was going to be a fun run for me, seeing as I knew I was on my eighth day of running. But a mile or so in, on the first uphill, I found that I actually wanted to run a little harder than planned. This deciding halfway into a race that I actually want to race only to be let down with the outcome, unfortunately NOT a first. We still managed to have a good evening despite my reactive bad temper for being who I am.

Going into Sunday we were going to do our last long run (over 20 miles) for MMTR. However, Todd has an itchy rash he believes to be a case of Poison Ivy, and wasn't really up for the idea of hours of running on his painfully distracting itchy feet. We notified Jeremy that we weren't going to be able to make it. He was nice about it, tried to tell me to just come along alone but I knew I was looking at too many days running and would be far too slow for him, I knew I needed to make it through the day and into my taper as healthy as possible so I was frightened that going with him would mean me pushing the pace and skirting the lines of an injury. Jeremy, being a rather nice guy, decided to come to Candler's with us instead. His changing his plans to run with us, that may be a first? ;) Not sure about that one. We had a good run of about two hours on Candlers with Jeremy, Micah and Phil.

By the end of Sunday's much shorter than twenty miles run, I was so thankful to officially begin my taper period for Masochist (don't ask me what I'm doing for a taper, I have no IDEA what I am doing, I just know that is has officially started) that the slight tightness everywhere was haunting me and my decision, now too late to change, of running so many days straight. I know there are people with much more impressive running streaks, but even nine days seemed to wear me down further than I'd anticipated. One thing is evident; much like running fast, running streaks are not for me. I found that my mileage was much less than I would have thought because I was being careful not to overtax the already taxed legs. I ran no more mileage than the six day week before but without rest. I suppose I'm glad I tried it, to see for myself that more days doesn't equate, at least for me, to more mileage. And no rest, even if easy, still means no rest, and that is not a good idea for this girl or her legs. And it definitely didn't help with running intensity. I am still figuring out who I am and it is definitely not a streaker. I prefer fewer days with more mileage. I understand this approach isn't for everyone,  but I just prefer it. I find my body thanks me and plays better by it. In addition, my plantar fasciitis, which had gotten surprisingly better after Western States, is back with a vengeance. I have even been wearing the 'boot' to bed the last few evenings.

I am hoping I played it safe enough to come out the other end virtually unscathed, but I am sore today in places I would really rather not be sore. Namely, my calves, the part of my body keeping me on my toes this year. I have no intentions of running more than about five days in a given week in the near future. I quite believe that five days are really about the maximum my legs can take and remain healthy. I only even considered this short streak because I knew my body had a base and that the mileage over the planned period was no more than the previous week. Despite the miles being similar though, the legs are still quite a bit more fatigued.

Masochist is my goal race at the moment. Since the Odyssey Trail Running Rampage 40 in September I have been slowing peaking with this last week's goal of aiming for fatigue. Hopefully, the plan will not backfire and result in injury, I am thinking more rest and recovery this week will play the biggest role in this plans overall success.

I will go ahead now and admit, for the sake of reflection later, that Masochist is important to me to a fault. Despite not feeling in as good a condition as last year, I am hoping to pull off a good day in two weeks. How exactly I am going to carry this out is still up in the air. Hoping that the fact that I am aiming at Masochist will mean something for the day. When I focus I can usually perform better. That and getting my stomach to cooperate are the biggest factors going into that big scary race two weeks from now.

I really am trying, though it may be hard to prove after this revealing post, to be smarter. At the same time I have to test the waters occasionally to see what in fact works for me.  After this week I can say that running more (at least as far as days per week) does not, at least at the moment, seem like a good idea for me.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

On the Long Run

For this past Sunday's long run I was looking for a runnable twenty-something miles. A varied group of us met along an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway to follow through with a run I had imagined would fit the bill, running from the Parkway Aid Station on the Masochist course to Long Mountain Wayside and then back on the Appalachian Trail to the Punch Bowl Overlook and back on the pavement of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The first nearly twelve miles was a mix of long uphills and downhills along a gravel road, a part of the Masochist course I have only seen when I ran the race last November. Jeremy and Todd gave me a little involuntary push when they pulled ahead on the uphills, and I ran determined if not solid for that first section holding on to those lead boys as well as I could. 

The next section of the run was on the AT, some of the most rolling, smooth trail I've ever encountered on the AT. My experience with the AT had led me to believe it was all rocky and technical. The first half of the sections we ran Sunday afternoon was more like that of the trail that wraps around the lake at Holiday Lake than previous sections I've run. Despite a little fatigue settling into the legs we ran the first seven or so miles soaking in the beautiful fall foliage backlit by the reservoir only stopping for brief hikes uphill.

However, at roughly 18 or so miles into the run, we crossed a suspension bridge and began some climbing. At first I hiked when the group that was now clustered together hiked and ran when they ran. But a half mile or so into that, I checked out. I started walking, got out my iPod and pulled back from the group. The climb, skirting a drop-off looking down into a dense thicket of tall trees carried me away to Western States, the early morning hours of my second day there to be more precise. It was in those early hours that I feared failing the most. The fear that day was heavy and weighed my legs down with every step. This memory led the way to a much brighter, lighter truthfulness and for some reason I thought about how, on a twenty something mile long run, you always finish. Especially after the experiences I gained this summer between Western States and Iron Mountain there was a unique but substantial comfort in this realization. I knew the run may not be fast but I had this overwhelming sense that it would be completed, and that sometimes, that really is enough. This hike and the subsequent understanding that the run, no matter how fatiguing or grueling, would end seemed to wipe some of the lethargy from my legs. Soon I came upon the Swyers holding up for my return to the run and I was brought back to the present. 

The final miles saw a return of focus and I was able to run some of the final miles with renewed purpose if not some speed (it didn't hurt that I found myself having to run alone through the Bluff Mountain Tunnel). Jeremy asked me later if I felt like I am getting stronger. The answer is a most convoluted yes. I ran to the point of fatigue on the first half of the run, something I usually fear and avoid. Upon that fatigue I kept on moving as well as I could. But when the heaviness in my legs finally won over my mind and the threat of a shutdown occurred I was able to wade through, not instantaneously but in a way that I was able to overcome the soreness settling in and run hard to finish out the run. In my troubled mind, that is success, that is a sign of the type of strength that I need, that I desire.

I am feeling more ready for my upcoming races, but have also decided that feeling ready, much like feeling in shape, is something you look back on in retrospect or aim for, but rarely feel in the moment.


Saturday, October 12, 2013

All I Wanna Do Is Rock: The Ipod Series

I was brought up with music constantly playing in the background. My parents met in a music store, I was raised being told about the Flock of Seagulls concert I attended in the womb. My mother, a strange and untamable creature, would awake my sister and I in the middle of the night to play us "tunes". I have often said that my parents gave me two everlasting things, siblings to go through life with and an undying love for music.

I go to sleep at night with music playing, I awake to music, I am always listening to music, coming through speakers or playing in my head so listening to music when I run is just who I am.

Lately however, when I am listening to my iPod on runs I've found myself a little bored and thus have been on the hunt for new music to add to my playlists for upcoming long runs in the mountains.

It was in this manner that I stumbled upon The Vaccines a few weeks ago, an "infectious London-based indie rock outfit" that I haven't been able to get enough of since accidentally stumbling across them on YouTube. 

I have fought the urge countless times to share one of their videos when I finally decided that I neede to help spread their sound, whether I reached anyone's ears or not, I could at least attempt it.

So without further ado, a sampling of The Vaccines "If You Wanna", "Wetsuit" and "Norgaard"


Friday, October 11, 2013

Will > Skill

Last night I was lying in bed, unable to sleep, drifting not into slumber but from one social media website to another pinboard style website and back, when I stumbled across the following quote.

 I am sometimes asked about my training, to which I am often floundering around for an answer. I am pretty confident I don't train the hardest or the smartest. I struggle between the feeling that I'm overtraining or not training enough. I have come to the realization actually over the course of the past year that my brain, not my legs, have just as much if not more control in whether or not there is any success in an event than the number of miles in a training period or the pace kept during said miles. It's not that I don't think I must train. I just believe, for me at least, there's more to the equation. I haven't been certain if that other part of the equation was stubbornness or heart, a little of both maybe, but when I stumbled across these words by Muhammad Ali last night, they spoke to me in a way that I found myself replying, 'yes, that's it, will'.

So there you have it, the answer was just that simple. I had even heard it before. "If there's a will, there's a way."

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Grindstone 2013

The race that almost happened!

It took me the better part of this year to get ready for this race.  It looks like it may take a little while longer to get used to the fact that we're not running it.  This is the story of an average runner who set his mind to run an epic distance, only to have the opportunity stolen away at the last minute.  Be forewarned, this post is mostly bitter and whiny and I don't care.  

I decided last year after MMTR in November, along about the same time that Alexis decided to run Hellgate and Western States, that I would attempt to run the Beast Series this year.  Mountain Masochist being my first 50 miler, that meant that I would be attempting two new race distances, the 100K and the 100 miler.  Of course, not in the logical order of shortest to longest, that would be too easy.

So I started off the year running all of the 50Ks in the series, Holiday Lake, Terrapin Mountain, and Promise Land.  Not that I hate any of these races, but doing them all in three months isn't ideal for training purposes.  I managed to maintain a sense of peace throughout these races, knowing that if I could finish Grindstone and Hellgate, and in doing so the Beast Series, that I wouldn't have to ever run ALL three of them again in the same calendar year.  

And that satisfied feeling brought me into May and the beginning of my Grindstone training.  

In the early part of the summer I ran a lot of easy miles.  This was the 'base' building part of training that I have heard smarter and more accomplished runners talk so much about.  This wasn't too hard, coming off of a spring full of 50Ks.  This portion of my training was punctuated by me pacing Alexis at Western States.  That whole story is here, and here.  But I must say that what I learned at WS, just being there and seeing the runners, helped me enormously in preparing mentally for the 100 mile distance.

When we got back from California, I set myself to mountain running, heading into the wilderness whenever I could get the time.  I became better friends with the AT this summer, often running back to back long runs in the same weekend.  I was managing to get more and more miles every week, and was able to maintain this level of effort and distance without too much pain and suffering.

I guess I peaked my training out at the end of August and early September when I ran half the Grindstone course one weekend, then Iron Mountain 50 miler two weeks later, the Odyssey Train Rampage 40 miler the week after.  After that I still did a couple of back to back mountain long runs, ending with a Priest and Three Ridges run where I felt great.  And the I started to taper.

I had managed to run harder and farther than I ever had before without getting injured or burnt out.  I had my crew and a solid race nutrition plan all lined up.  Pacers ready. Drop bags packed.  I was at the Aid Station making a last minute purchase on the Tuesday before the race, when in walked Clark Zealand RD, and he hit me over the head with a baseball bat.

Well, not really, but he might as well have.  

And so, I spent an extra week "tapering" and trying not to go completely crazy.  And now I am floundering and unmotivated, and unsure about how much or how hard I really want to run.  It takes a lot of time and energy to prepare for a big race, and even though it is over in a day (or as close to one day as possible), you get to take away a sense of accomplishment that lasts forever.  Or at least helps to motivate you for your next run. 

But not this time.  This time I am left feeling empty and cheated.  I feel like I have wasted a good part of my summer, and neglected other aspects of my life.  I feel like it is time to reevaluate.