When something bad happens, you have three choices: let it define you, let it destroy you, or let it strengthen you.

The heart of the difference is not ability or even talent, but desire

The purpose of life is to discover and develop your gift. The meaning of life comes from sharing your gift with others. - David Viscott

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Decluttering life and letting go.

There was a grieving process for me a few days ago that started when the realization that I am a woman of a certain age (actually, by the strike of "luck", in my case, I am a woman "past certain age"). I've been struggling with keeping up The Great Training and The Awesome Racing while constantly digging for the answers why my recovery takes so much longer. I've been cheating my body into it with wonderful care (as much as I can consider myself deserving it), good food, various healthy eating adventures, vitamins, supplements, even prescribed medications, I've been doing yoga religiously (thankfully I love it), lifting weight, even getting massages from time to time (I know, right?), and backing off training when needed. I can listen to my body, I kept saying, and kept wondering why that "backing off" is being required to be longer and more stringent. Well, there is no denial. It's time to back off in a smart way, in a way when I stop comparing what other peers of mine in my age group are still capable of, because my biological age skipped a decade or so over my birth certificate, and I need to respect that.

While I was wallowing in this, I somehow opened my email box where it says "All Mail" - and realized it contains 2,503 emails. Holly shit! And that is me, who prides herself in de-cluttering everything I get my eyes and hands on! And I do go through email on monthly basis - how did that happen? Things gets pushed down, but for the most part, I held on to things because I thought they were important to me, they defined me. And suddenly an urge to clean my mail box - my life - out of it overwhelmed me. I spent a better part of a day yesterday between experiments clicking through, getting from oldest (some 5 years old plus) forward. AT first I actually if not read, then at least scanned what it was. The process of letting go began. I said goodbye to some old friends I don't hear from anymore - and some I was surprised to even have had. I said goodbye to the words of encouragement from random people, and words of congratulations. Words of "We love you and support you" and words "You are wrong". I started deleting emails from my ex and his (then) girlfriend, at first gingerly, then in packs. Emails that said you are a good mother and was a good wife - and emails that said what a horrible person I am, how everything is my fault. Emails that were swinging from side to side in pendulum of the biggest tower clock I've ever seen! Emails from my kids and about my kids on insignificant things - and then those that seemed to be significant...but with time happened to prove they, too, were lies. Emails from old coaching clients, from schedules to thank you's "What would I do without your help". Emails from friends who, thank God, are still friends and stood the test of time - and I know and I don't need an email in my inbox to tell me I am a good friend. Emails from friends that still mean a lot to me, but our paths came apart slowly - I kept them because I was trying to tell myself I deserve their love and approval...but it was OK to let go, it doesn't mean one of us is a bad person, it just life, it flows...Emails on old houses I owed, their purchases and sales, "just in case somebody is after me" - well, it's all in my credit report, right? Emails from my own coaches, emails I sent to myself with websites I wanted to make sure to check on. I didn't need that anymore. As a woman of "past certain age", I want to believe I posses a certain amount of wisdom to know things by now I need to have learned, and to be open-minded enough to keep learning things I am still yet to know. I didn't need even my Russian family's approval of being a good daughter/mother/wife/sister or not so much - we each have our own definition of those ideas. I know where I stand, with respect, dignity, and yes, love...

Down to 353 and I am not fully done yet, just a little tired. It is not easy to have such a baggage, and apparently, letting go off it is not that easy either. Freeing, exhilarating, but not easy. In fact, I was so afraid that I'll try and hold on to something, I would go to "Trash" mail box and empty it every 200 or so emails. Especially when my deleting became "in bulk".

But there was a light in it too. There were emails from Larry, my sweet husband, then just a long-distance dating prospect. I managed to save his very first email, way before either one of us was divorced, when he just asked a question on training. I managed to save an email where I offered him a shoulder as he was going through his (at the time unknown to me, but turned out to be that very divorce) difficult time - and an email where we realized we are both grieving same loss of a marriage of 18 years for each. I had an email from our "official" meeting race, and his surprise visit to Oregon...and then a whole amazing numerous string of emails as our relationship was developing. Re-reading those was absolutely worth every minute of my time. He hasn't changed. He stands by his words, loyal as he said he is, loving as he expressed he was, supportive and accepting of how I am...

And that made a lot of letting go easier too. Not only of the past baggage in terms of emails or emotions. Letting go of concepts of what I need to continue to be when it's not really where I am. And I've been at these stages of my life already, and if you are a reader fo the blog for years - you''d remember that. As much as I am a runner, my life is not defined by it, it is enriched by it. I keep promising myself to step back - and keep luring myself back in. I love running - for emotional reasons, and I love competing - for my own personal reasons. Thus running comes as two-fold: to train (and I truly do love training) and to release emotions. When it's neither, it becomes a chore, and the last thing I want in my life is for something I love to become a chore. Where am I going with it? At the beginning of this year I promised myself to try a running streak. The definition of it is to run at least a mile every day - and it was side-tracked ahead of time that if I am injured, sick or in need of recovery, it can be a continuous walking mile instead of running. I made it all the way through my Spring season. I ran a mile after San Diego 100. I hobbled here and there, I threw some walks in. The longer summer lasted, the more my body demanded a break - physical and mental - from running, the more "walking miles" were showing up (once a week on Friday was set since mid-August). Rough Creek 40 miler, as much as I hate to call it a "race" for myself as I walked so much of it, was a race in a definition of effort I put into it. Between the fast first loop, hard power-walk and zapping heat and humidity that my body refuses to behave in, the whole first week shuffling a couple-few miles was simply disguising. It didn't feed my body, nor my soul. I threw a solid hill run on Monday and was almost excited that I am back - and yet the last 3 days was back to shuffle, not one where you are injured, or slow...I could have run faster today, but I simply had no interest. And that lead me to a decision to end my streak - on my birthday in 2 weeks. What I announced to Larry as soon as I walked in.

As I was standing in the shower, it dawned on me: why birthday? Why those artificially-imposed timelines that nobody really cares for? Nobody even cares whether or not I am running. And everybody, or, hell, definitely I , know that I am not any lesser of a runner for skipping a day, and I am not going to stop exercising and letting myself go if I don't run. But if I do continue right now, I either end up in another bout of what happened last year, or dislike the process of running and DNF at Grindstone (as I did at Tahoe Rim 100 in 2010, when I was simply fed up and quit). I don't want to risk either! I want to do thing in a long haul, and I want to finish the Grindstone 100, regardless whether or not I even apply for Hardrock 100 lottery, yet along get in! I want to go there because I absolutely love what running 100 miles in the mountains offers to me, opens to me, discovers in me, lets me grow, lets me shut things down, lets me be primal, be real, be tough, be broken down, be so much more! SO, here, you go, tomorrow, I will not go for a run.

But I will go for Power yoga:) I love my classes at Breath and Body yoga, and I am squeezing every possible time of day to put as many classes in as I can while on a 1-month intro card. It, too, offers me growth - and offers me introspection, a look inside myself, and a way to improve my health and my body. My Bikram is not behind either.

Come to think about it, my life is just on yet another spiral, and I need to honor it. I need to do all those things I want to do, without over-scheduling myself to the point when I hate doing each and every one of them, even if I started them exactly because I love them. When running needs to come - it will come back, it always did, on its own terms.

And same goes for blogging. Between that very over-scheduling of my life lately, the fact that I can't write about everything here anymore due to complication of my (former) personal life and yet not being one of those "I'll write about what others want to hear and cut the rest", taking a break from hard training and a lack of comments, it'll stay as my running, without pressure, only if and when I have a desire.

But I am still going to Virginia in 1 week (gasp!) to run Blue Mountain range and still have some kind of goals (or hopes). And yes, I am still running behind Larry 4 weeks later at Ozark 100 in Missouri with scissors in my Ultraspire pack and girl's panties in his mile 85 drop bag, still thrilled about opportunity to finally be at Hellgate 100k on December 14th at midnight and hear Horton's hell - and yes, absolutely looking forward to Veteran's camp in November, where I will be crawling around 5 days after Ozark with the slowest and least able-bodied group of soldiers helping Liza integrate our heroes into community.

Life is good. Very, very good. It is what we make of it, how we look at it, how we separate the chaffs from the weeds. Amazingly, I never stop re-learning this lesson:)

Monday, September 16, 2013

Roughing it out at Rough Creek 40 M.

"In the first half of the race, don't be an idiot. In the second half, don't be a wimp." Scott Duglas.

This month has been - and is scheduled to be - one of the busiest I had in a very, very long time. So much so that sometime last week I exhaled on Facebook a scream that I am totally exhausted. I am not here for details of my life, it's a running blog, so, on the training side, I pushed my training, cramming it high-school and college finals' style, all in 3 weeks of finally being free of injuries. In the midst of it, I cut a tip of my finger, and then managed to totally burn my eyes at work while starring at UV light with no protective gear (dumb, I know) The two photos below are taken exactly 24 hrs apart (by accident, the first portraits a finished hat as a product - any takers?).

I was surprised Larry still loved me - he even drove home for lunch and brought me soup from Whole Foods!
I couldn't see a darn thing for 24 hrs. I couldn't open my eyes, close my eyes, read, watch TV, type on computer, sleep...I could just lay down on a couch and moan. Nice. The first night, as I awoke in screaming pain, I was on a verge of having Larry take me to emergency and was certain I am going blind - the only reason I didn't go to emergency was because I didn't remember when my medical card was, and I didn't want Larry to yell at me (he tends to do that when he is worried about my stupidity). I did send him at 1:30 am to Pharmacy - and it takes a lot for me to send someone anywhere even in a daylight for getting help for me. So, it was bad.
36 hrs later I managed to drive myself to work with my eyes closed (this job will kill me one day, or my ability to guilt myself into not taking sick days).
Another 24 hrs later I was up at 4:30 am to do my last long run with 20 hill repeats. Make it 21 for a good measure, just one-up from my last prep for San Diego 100.

I completed it in surprisingly great time, with surprisingly strong legs, and 5,000 feet of elevation gain - all on 2 streets of Austin. Yup, when I am focused, I am THAT focused.
And then I went to the corner store and stocked up on dark chocolate The well-deserved reward was worth the effort. Yes, dark chocolate is my vice, bite me!

I didn't taper through the next week, as I was still some 25 days out of the goal "destination", and I put a fast 9-mile tempo, and some random other runs, and the last 2 weeks I was also the most consistent in the last many years with my yoga practice - like, 3-4 times a week (don't ask me how I did that between other things I can't speak of). I wish I could just yoga and run...but that's a dream that ain't happening, so lets move on...

Rough Creek races of Endurance Buzz Adventures is a relatively new series, but David Hanenburg does a fantastic job organizing, marking, putting things together, and doing it in environmentally friendly style as a family business. His wife Wendy is a sweetheart, and his two little blond cherubs are adorable as the kids can be (and helpful too).

Not a clue where I stole this photo, but this is David H. and his son.

From race document.
A week prior the race David sent me a profile. I mean, he knew this was chosen as simply my last long run, a dress rehearsal of sorts, just because I wasn't sure I can will myself into another long run in the summer heat of Texas all by myself (well, I could have...but I also wanted to support his developing business). I actually even had Larry sign up for the same distance for the same "dress rehearsal/longest run" of his training for the Ozark 100. BUT my poor husband managed to come down with a flu! In Texas summer! He was down with fever from Wednesday to Sunday, holding on the slightest hope he might make it, if anything, then to support me - and with 102F on a thermometer on Friday at 4 pm it was obvious I am off to a road trip by myself.

And because he wasn't coming (and I am too lazy to put a tent up by myself, and then take it down in the dark), I skipped taking a tent for the campground we reserved, planning on car camping. Well, let me tell you, it is still summer in freakin' Texas! And I am not 5 feet 90 pounds child to fit in the back seat of the car - which, by the way, is a Honda Civic year 2005! All this provided for an interesting night. Cramped in my own sweat paddle, with windows open trying to not think of male predators after lonely half-naked women and wild Texas critters (at 11 pm someone at the bathrooms yelled: "It's a snake, it's really is a snake, stay away!"), hugging one leg over front seat, one arm out the window (hell with the snakes!)...5 am couldn't come early enough. It's official - I am too old for camping before the race, car OR tent. Even if the race is a training run. Camping is only for backpacking trips. Note taken.

So, back to the race profile. As someone who prides herself in being a mountain runner, and as I am "working" on my Grindstone 100 profile/split chart, this picture above didn't bring any emotions. Like, and? I also knew that the course is OPEN to the weather/sun exposure, is double-track for the most part (not my forte at all), the temps are hitting back into high 90's (even though I am 2 hrs North of Austin), and there will be some scramble hills called "Rusty Crown". Bring it, I am simply testing my fueling (alternating BRL Endurafuel and VFuel gels) and Pearl Izumi M2 shoes I got for free as a possibility for running 100M races.

So, we took off, marathoners and 40-milers, at 7 am, and I am, like, running on this flat dirt road, and thinking why the hell is my Garmin clicking low 9's? That is certainly stupid, right? Um, yes, it is. Where are the hills??
Race photo official - I bought them yes, I paid for them all 3.
Right after first AS at about 3 miles (and yes, trust me, later I learned to appreciate ALL aid stations 3 miles apart, and 4 miles section was way too long! ha!), we began first hike up. On vertical scree. OK, fine. We got to run down similar vertical scree right after. Then repeat. A couple more times. OK, I got what everyone is talking about - and I saw many stop dead in their tracks at the tops of those hills trying to scout the downhill. I even solicited a handful of advice: "Use the alpine ski image - feet angled, wide stance, side to side..." - to Texans who may have never skied in their lives. But for me it was fun, as was the hike up (there were a couple of hills that either required hands on knees, or grabbing onto the not-sliding rock, but it was all pretty short and good for mind break of monotony).
Race photo official. Fat girl climbing. Too busy for Paleo lately.

The Bowl AS came and left, and we went for some rollers in open terrain, and then into the back-side of the Rusty Crown, with more of those steep loose scree climbs and descends, where you see the other side as you come up, some through-cross-country connectors, and relentless beating. Back to the first AS (manned by my clients Brandon and Megan Walters and a couple of guys I knew too, thanks!), and back on the flat double-track to the loop's end (the race was 13.4M repeated either 1x, 2x or 3x). 2:30 on the clock, and I am like - Whoa, I planned for 3+, I will have to pay for it!

Photo E-Buzz
And pay I did. The 2nd loop was a complete disaster. The sun was high, I was dehydrated - carrying 2 (two!) bottles, somewhere in the Bowl I hooked up with the guy as we resolved to walk the whole thing. His name was Andrew, and he spent 4 years in Moscow studying international business. We passed time talking about Russia, customs, families, and how tough Russians are versus softie Americans (not my words!). I walked faster, but his long legs carried him up the hills sooner, and yet he'd be the one a little stuck before each downhill...and eventually I entered that "Walters" AS ahead of him. I stood there, pouring water down my throat (it's a cup-free race, and you have to use your bottles), telling Megan and Brandon how I am planning to drop at the start/finish AS. I mean, 27 miles is a good long training run, in fact, it'd be my longest for this back-end of my season by a full 2 miles. I am exerting far more energy than I am willing to spare with less than 3 week before my goal race. I am too heated up, cramping (I am determined that MY cramping happens from dehydration far more than from salt deficit, because I was so on cue with salt, it's not even funny, but I sweat more than I can consume liquids). The shoes I was testing sucked for me - soft, awesome, all's good, but the tops of my toes (where the nail bed is) felt some serious rubbing (which later happened to be raw) and altered my style (even walking). So, I stood there for good 5 minutes, since I wasn't in a hurry anymore, and walked out eventually resolved to quit as Andrew rolled in, asking him to catch up (poor soul, apparently I talked him into dropping at the end of that loop with my positive self-talk, and he didn't even plan on it!).
Race photo official
And as I walked towards the end of this 2nd loop, I felt energy coming back to me. Cramping getting down to nothing (holly water!). I tried to run a few steps gingerly, but then didn't allow myself to do too much of that stupid stuff. Then I saw another client of mine, Alex B., running strong back into 3rd loop - in 2nd overall! - smiling ear to ear. All that was doing tricks with my "determined to stop" mind. May be I can try different shoes? Walk some more? Lets make a decision when I come.

"It's very hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners. Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit."-George Sheehan
Photo E-Buzz

The thought of going through the Bowl - or the Crown (no matter how fun it seemed on the first loop) was kind of ugly. I ran into the AS and told David I am about to drop. Just in case he should fill my bottle with ice. Just in case I'll put on the shoes I wore when driving in (which I thankfully dragged to the start/finish area for no reason, I never change shoes, but thankfully those were Patagonia's new trail racing flats I got also for testing, soft and not broken in at all besides the drive!). I complained that I had to bend over and pick up too many empty gel packets (half-marathoners?). I told him I hope that the softness and the width of the Patagonia shoes will let my toes to not scream (although the soles were too thin for the rocks). And that I am going to walk out to that first AS on the course and come back.

I stood another minute chatting with Angel, another client (and a wife of that fast Alex B. running second) manning the start/finish AS. Then I chatted with a tall guy who asked what I want - and I told him to go plant some trees for the shade! And then I power-walked out.
The Beast. Photo by Stephen Winton

And then I ran some, walked some, and repeated it - and made the 2.7M in 35 minutes or so? And as I entered the visibility of AS, I saw Megan standing there smiling like she knew it - and I was like:" You don't know me, you don't see me, pretend it's not happening". She laughed, as she filled my (both drained) water bottles with ice and water, and I rocked it out. And as I did - the cloud cover came down! Like, holly cow, that guy at the previous AS was Jesus! He didn't grow trees, but he threw clouds for me! Shade! And instantly the life turned from head back on its feet. I passed a number of guys, trying to persuade them to walk with me, but they had none of that (and laughed as they couldn't jog at the speed I was walking). I got those Rusty Crowns on both sides of the Bowl like nothing, and even ran some sections of the Bowl's road. I was repeating how great it is - to learn another lesson opportunity provided: to not give up, to believe, to hydrate and turn around, to believe, and to inspire all those who were there today and whom I couldn't let down.

So, that was it. My both 2nd and 3rd loop's time was 3:15 for each (though I putzed around in-between for quite long), and my finishing time was 9:06. I was 2nd gal and 7th overall (by default, I'd say, it doesn't really matter, as 21 folks dropped from 40 miler due to extreme heat). The winning gal Jessica was a highlight of my trip - a total hoot I'd take 2 hr drive to having meet! She passed me somewhere mid-2nd loop, cheerful and strong (and I totality cheered her on) and beat me by almost half an hour. We talked non-stop at the end, as we took shower together (don't you get ideas now! the resort had cabin showers, and we just took turns while chatting, modesty be damned), and I loved how free and free-spirited, and strong, and positive she is. All the best in your Rocky 100, girl!
I was never that crusty-salty after a run, even in TX. I also was burnt on my skin pretty red.  But at least I had tested out new Patagonia shoes sooner than intended!

I got to eat a LOT of breakfast taco's David provides for after-race, like, a lot! Yum! And chat and share stories with those I knew, and meet new people, and exchange war stories, and give David a hug (after telling him how much I hate him), and congratulate Alex B. on his awesome run.

That was not my course, or my weather, or my shoes. But it was an ultra run, and that all that mattered. It provides me an outlet that reminds me that I can be strong, there - and in life.

Two and half weeks. I am excited. Virginia, I am coming to have lots of fun in the mountains!

Sunday, September 01, 2013

A better week.

I sucked it up. I re-wrote my training plan based on Pam Smith's idea of having Sunday free (eve though for her it was due to 2 runners in a family with the need for a long run and kids to watch), and pressed on with Treadmill quality workouts, local road 8 mile runs, and kept up with weights and yoga. I even finally added Stairmaster - I used to love this machine, but now can't seem to squeeze time for it. But I did.

The week culminated with a solid 23 mile run. Since Texas is, well. Texas, any elevation change that needs to be found - needs to be found in short bursts and repeated over, again, and over again, many times. And since Texas trails, well, rocky like hell, you can't press on the punishment either up or down fast enough to pretend those many repeats can merge into a few longer - so you take it to the road.

Local trails...yeah, much fast running possible, huh?

There is one 0.4M hill here nearby, Beauford Rd up to jester. Well, it's 0.7M, but the first 0.4M is at average 15%, the road even graded for cars safety. It's one steep monster, and I took to it for the run...and ran/hiked it up the whole thing 10 times, only to do it 6 more times on a steep portion only without the mellow top.
And to my own (pleasant) surprise, nothing hurt, and the pace was much quicker than any of those flat 8-mile local road runs. Go figure. 4,230 feet of gain, 6.4M of climb, quad punishing by 6.4M of descend - I call it a good day, and having being finished over an hour sooner than my best prediction was an icing.

I just need one more week of something solid, a week with a 40M run-race at the end, and it's taper time. Can I make it through?

I've been hitting yoga a lot lately, and that makes me feel good, from inside out. Like, caring for my own aging body, the one that does so much for me - and caring for my own soul, the one that finally asks for something in return.
Taking care of my body with nurturing food.
And it seems in a week we might dip under 95F. Oh, the signs of summer coming to an end...

I am having a 4-day stay-home break from work. I cut a tip of my left thumb at work with a knife, and was sent for a mini-sick vacation (Labor day included). The thumb is healing (amazing how much it's needed when you can't use it!), and the quit time at home, without going anywhere, is helpful to me in so many ways. I feel much more relaxed and at peace...may be that crazy life does impact me more than I think it does:)

Have some thoughts to write about ultrarunning (not at all conventional), have some projects to write about for EnduranceBuzz...but being true to myself right now feels more important, so I stay away, and keep that peace. We're all good, right? Different stages of life, now is my quiet one. Contemplating. Letting go of some people, some even very important people, and some very random, but whom I thought (hoped?) would be important, and whom were just around without deep processing, just because it felt you had to be surrounded by people. May be not? What they say - some for a reason, some for a season? Some seasons are very short, some lasted whole life, and still ended...and if it would have killed me to even think about just few years - months! - back, now feels calm too.

Interestingly, with that, I am looking forward that Grindstone 100. I am looking at it as My Time, time to spend at peace in the mountains, on the trails, mostly walking/hiking, yet being offered food and water at certain intervals, with nothing to prove, just a simple movement. Who knows what will transpire from it? But I firmly believe every 100 mile I do has a purpose. I am looking forward to discover which one Grindstone will deliver. For the first time since I signed up - I feel I want to go, I, not somebody else, want, not need or have to, to be there and make it to the end.

p.s. had an awesome, amazing 11M run on the road hills at tempo pace on Monday morning! Wow, I forgot how good it feels. And then awesome Power Yoga class! Great day today, feels good to be alive and dream on.
Today outside the studio with Janice and Gabe Ayson.
Free yoga class at Breath and Body Power Yoga studio on Monday - I went to 3 workshops by Baron Baptiste when lived in NYC, some 10+ years ago...awesome!