I took 2 days off, and was back on Wed, with a couple of trail runs on the weekend (one with the Sunday group, lotsa fun!). I also visited my future coaches for summer project (shhh...man, am I psyched and scared!), and they measured me up. Because the first day I am with them is June 7th, only 2 days after the 100, and all the numbers will be screwed up with my water retention and elephant apetite. So, to come clean, I am at 19.8% fat (which is exactly where I thought I'd be), and need a good 10 lbs of fat to disappear. Ha! The challenges never end!
I am thrilled to get East in a couple of weeks. While the OD100 course is everything I am NOT (unlike PCT) - dirst roads, wide hills, humidity, low-grade inclines and declines - it is new, and that means I will learn some lessons. I will also have an idea how is the training on 45 mpw affects the completion and performance at a 100:) Hey, there is no failure, only discoveries!
But before I embark on my trip to the town of Woodstock, Larry and I will make a mad dash to Flagstaff, AZ, for a 3-day backpacking trip in the mountians with fresh crisp air and fantastic views.
In 2001 my co-worker signed me up for a Mother’s Day 5k. At that time I was relatively slim, had 2 years of martial arts under my belt (which, actually, happened to break my back--literally) and on occasion as part of my exercise routine jogged a mile in 10 min. I figured I have nothing to lose by trying…I finished my first 5k run, the longest I’ve ever done running, in 27 minutes, and the monster was born. Living in NYC at the time meant there is a race every weekend, and this is where you could find me – and by August, 3 months later, I ran a half-marathon. Another year and some 50 races later I joined a great group of marathoners, ran a 50km, ran a 50km on a trail – and never looked back. Because out “there” I had discovered that I am really good on trails, where the path is a single-track, narrow and twisted, where the mountains are looming and you’re going either up or down, and where the vistas take your breath away. To this date (April 1st, 2011) I have run 76 ultramarathons (16 of which are 100M races), 2 trail marathons, 16 road marathons and somewhere over 150 total of shorter distance races.
Why? It’s the feeling. The emotions that trails produce. The lightness of the feet slightly touching the ground. The twisting turns. The red-lining of breathing trying to make it up a steep hill or a mountain. The absolutely freeing feeling as you blast down, float over the earth, reckless with abandonment, eyes glued to the ground under your feet, hair standing up. And the feeling of being strong, able, capable of anything in this world. Of making it close to the “real life”, how our ancestors were. Because when you are out there, nothing else matters – worries, work, traffic, problems…it’s only you and the trail. One foot-fall after another. One breath. One sip of water. One thought. No thoughts at all. Primal, pure, simple. Best ever…And then there are views. You run through the forest surrounded by trees and suddenly you pop out into the open – and here is your vista, your church, your religion. There is nothing better a human made than what is given to us by Nature – and being able to run long distances is the best gift I gave myself to allow to see all of it.
There are few races I think of if you ask me which ones are best. Zane Grey 50M circa 2006 was one of the prime examples, as well as Miwok 100km in 2005 (I ran both of these races 3 times each, so yes, you can say they fall into the “favorite” category). But I also have stories that combine good runs with funny memories. Like at Western States 100M in 2005, which I started 2 weeks after racing in a 58M run. Making it to 30M on the 30-hr finish cut off time, I just kept picking up speed – and time. By mile 68 I was close to touch a 25hr time frame, and reaching the American River at 78M on a 24hr pace – and then my intestines decided to disagree. I don’t think anyone likes to read words “explosive diarrhea”, especially picturing a runner at mile 80, with 20 to go, in the mountains, on steep slopes, poison ivy instead of a toilet paper, and fighting for a top 10 position. Yes, I got that all, but the bond I share with my pacer from that run is very special.
There are couple of things I am known for: I get lost very easily when I run on trails (simply because I “check out” and fully submerge into my experience) and that I am a “second half runner”, which means at any distance of the race I am perfectly fine letting folks go ahead, and I just run joyfully, chat with everyone willing to listen, enjoy views and surroundings and care less about the world (or race) out there. Once the half-way point comes, and the miles “roll backwards” (my own definition), there is no stopping me. It’s not that I speed up; I just don’t fade as much as many others do. I call it “one gear”. And that gear is “tough”.
On the training front, there is no magic. Hard work is the only thing that ever allowed real people to reach real goals. At some time a few years back, I was able to train by combining all the best methods together – high volume and high quality. Then for various reasons one year, “quality” had to go, but volume stayed (and was saving me from the possibility of a depression). Then it was time to bring some serious work back – but I met time constraints, and at this time it’s all about quality, not quantity. And you know, coming from a regular 100 mile a week runner, getting back to 40 works just as well – as long as you’re willing to put an effort into those miles!
Thankfully, my body handles all of it just fine – although I have to add that I have had every running injury in the book, but that is simply due to unwillingness to ever back off the intensity of my training. I have run through numerous stress fractures (including hip), torn ligaments and tendons, blown muscles and with my ankle in a cast. Why? Because I LOVE IT SO MUCH!
I don’t use any mantras when I run, I just tell myself to “suck it up and move it…there are no excuses in life”. I am pretty brutal when it comes to judging myself, and I don’t sugar-coat anything. It’s just the way it is.
I want to leave you with couple of personal stories that actually lead to an answer about how I ended up in Austin.
In the spring of 2008 I signed up for a Jemez 50M race in New Mexico, and happened to bump into Larry King, whom I had “met” through the power of the internet and blogging. At the time we both just recently got divorced, I lived in Portland, OR, and he – in Austin, TX. We shook hands and left for the night. Race morning came, and as usual, half the field was ahead of me. Shortly past mile 30 (also, as usual), I was working my way through the field, and as I turn the corner, I see Larry. Now, we already had the same thing happen to us at Zane Grey 50M a year before, and I beat him by 2 hrs. So, without a single thought, I yelled out “Don’t let it happen again!” and together we went. We spent the next 10 miles navigating the course, getting lost 4 times, taking tons of pictures, sharing insights on life and marriage and kids, laughing about running stories – and childhood stories. Well, he did ditch me for the last 10, looking scared (I guess he didn’t want the repeat of a previous year), but the spark we had in our glycogen-depleted brains under the pure bliss of endorphins on that run led to our 2,000-mile-away dating year ending with a proposal – and him pacing me at Hardrock 100M. Now, if there is anything you need to know about Hardrock, it is the most grueling race in the San Juan mountains in CO with 33,000 feet of climb (and same amount of descent) and at an average of 11,000 feet altitude, going over 13,000 feet 13 times. Due to that “dating” schedule and demands of the life of a single mother, I wasn’t training to the extreme, but big problems avoided I knew I could finish. Larry was to start pacing me at mile 54. We met the second sunrise, got over lots more peaks, enjoyed the views, battled the downtimes and pains, laughed, cried, cursed…Bear in mind, at that time Larry has never done anything that lasted over 19 hours, the time he ran his first 100M in, and we were way past that, at high altitude, second night on no sleep. We got hit by a huge thunder and lightning at mile 94 on a 13,000 ridge, where we got on our hands and knees and prayed to be alive, and then the freezing rain and hail started pounding. Wearing shorts and a light windbreaker on top of a sleeveless shirt is not something you meet 30F in the mountains, and I was quickly descending into hypothermia. We managed to not get killed, run into the last AS on the other side of the ridge and spend 30 minutes (I know, who does that? But with my hypothyroid low body temps could send me to sub-coma easily) by the fire, and then took off for the last 6 miles. Downhill. On rocks. On the edge of the mountain. In the dark. With 44 hours on our feet…I smelled the barn, I could basically see the finish line, but Larry was falling asleep, weaving and slow. I had a decision to make: do I push on, leave him behind and make some certain arbitrary time goal, or do I stick with the man I love and whom I plan to spend the rest of my life with? It was clear to me, despite the state I was in, which one to pick. We crossed the finish line in 46 hrs 9 min, and 3 weeks later I was driving my Honda Civic packed with my younger son, our cat and our belongings…The moral of the story? Always know what’s important to you. Goals have to align with your soul. Once they do – go for it!