If you're lucky enough to be in the mountains, you are lucky enough.

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

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, February 09, 2017

Hike more, run less

May be I should be changing the title of this blog. After all, it's coming on 4 years since my ability to run plummeted without any known/recognizable cause. Actually, it gave me a fare warning in the Fall of 2012, after yet another great season of racing in the first 6 months - but I turned it around, started 2013 with that infamous Paleo diet, went through some Maffetone running while getting fat-burning (or something), then threw in speed work like in best hey-days and vowed to be my best version since 2005. And I did just that - Syllamo 50M, Freestate 100k, McDonald forest 50k, spiced up with near-PR's since my road days over a decade ago in 5k and 10k and half-marathons on road and trail - culminating in SD100, run solo, in a time of 2005. Who could have asked for better season?

Or so I thought. I even gave myself a proper rest and didn't run for almost 2 months (though Larry and I did our first together backpacking trip in Tetons). And yet suddenly, at the wave of a magic (or not so much) wand, I couldn't propel myself forward. To this date I have no good words to explain how it feels, even though I tried hundreds of times - nor can those folks (and articles about them), who seemingly out of nowhere fell to the same spell. Numerous studies, names and conditions later, short course treatments for depression, low thyroid and adrenal function, menopause, and even asthma-like condition a number of elite runners expressed to have had, I am left with, still, nothing - no name, no cause, no explanation. And after the last of trying - Singular, which "picked up" my good friends Pam, Liza and Ronda and a few others, or gave them hope - I am at a complete loss. Plenty of times did I tell myself I am ok with it (as ok as one can be), and just take one day at a time. But the truth is, I hate not knowing why, what and what's next.

In those last 3 years I at least had a weird bouts of "actually running". In 2014 it came slowly, ramping up miles and pace from those 2 miles at 12 min/mile up to as much as 24 miles at 10 min/mile - I managed to squeeze in one last ultra, Bryce 50. After that, and my-now used-to "second half of the year I can't run anyway, but shuffle some", in 2015 I got up to 22 miles almost at the same pace towards the end of it - both "bouts" lasted more or less 4 months. In 2016, same 4 months only took me to 17 miles and slightly sub-11 min/mile.

Enter 2017. It is the middle of February, and despite taking mentioned above Singular (my last hope), my running (shuffling?) not only didn't improve, but decreased. Even in December I could pull off 7 miles on the road once a week - then in January my "long" run got down to 5.5, and it seems that as of today, I am stuck at 4 miles. That's four freakin' miles in 45-48 minutes, depending on what happens at the end. Sometimes I have to walk...

I miss running. I miss racing. You know what I miss the most about not being able to race (or even run) anymore? That feeling of laser focus that enters in as the last third of the race comes, I can still sense it - I could still be smiling and waving and even talking, but deep inside, especially if I know my time/goal/placing is at stake, everything tightens up into one fist, one light, one thought...
That, and Larry's amazing crewing. His full-on dedication, always knowing when and what, and having that perfect mix of "doing great, I love you" and "go haul ass, stop talking". 

I am not giving up my fight. Deep inside, I (and Larry) somehow believe that once we move to CO, it'll snap me out of whatever it is, and I come back. This hope keeps me alive.

This hope, and my genuine, all-consuming love for the mountains, for solitude, for hiking, reaching tops, seeing sunrises, and leading simple life. With that, I open my heart to new goals for year 2017.

This year not one, but two awesome hikes are in the plans for me. After 15 days doing Oregon section of PCT, a couple things solidified: I want to do full PCT, and I don't want to leave Larry and my life behind for more than 10 days. Allow me to explain. Lots of folks asked why wouldn't I just go through-hike, it'll take me may be 3 months tops (I believe the record is in low 50's days, and in no way do I even have a remote interest to go after any records when I hike - I want to go fast, efficient, but with no pressure or stress, and surely not super-light). I love the idea of tuning-out for that long and live on the trail and have no problem forgoing showers, beds, etc. What I do miss is talking to Larry - and feel it is completely unfair to him to stay away for that long. Sometimes choices we make are not sacrifices, there are choices we consider more important. Being connected to my husband fully is by far outweighing life in the mountains. And lastly, while I can technically "afford" to do so, since I still have a job and really am not interested to loose my clients, disappearing for anything more than 2 weeks is not recommended at all - people in my business want their needs to be met now.

Back to what's in the books for me. 
#1 is a hike from Lake Tahoe to Yosemite valley. Originally planned as Tahoe-Yosemite trail of 183 miles, starting at Meek's Bay (West side of Lake Tahoe) to Tuolumne Meadow, turned into a slightly different approach: first of all, a nicest lade at Forest Service department suggested getting a PCT permit is much easier than TYT (because it'll require a few for each section), secondly, TYT is by far less maintained and traveled, and third, we are in one of the biggest snow-fall years in a long time, so, route finding on TYT is going to be triple the problem. That brought us to adjust, get happy that I will, actually, clip an extra section off of my "hike PCT in parts" goal, and now I am going to start at Meiss Cabin (hike-in on TRT for 5 miles, it is south of South Tahoe City) and finish in Reds Meadow (some 30 miles past Tuolumne), where there are hot springs! This trip will be punctuated with the fact that Larry will take Harrison and fly out shortly after me, show him Yosemite Valley wonders, Sequoya trees and huge peaks of High Sierra, and then we meet up, drive back and show him Tahoe lake. It'll make an exciting trip for the boy.
Meiss Cabin, start for hike #1 as seeing during TRT-2015

#2 is a simple piecing together of PNW. I will start at Cascade locks where I left off last summer, and walk half of WA section on PCT to Snoqualmie Pass, roughly 250 miles. Again, Larry would fly to Seattle, pick me up at the Hwy 20 crossing, and we spend a day in the woods - and may be a day in Seattle. (You can say I really love having him at the end of my solo hikes, as there is noone I want to share my emotions and thoughts more with than him - and I feel it's an important point to connect. However, his job and parental duty would not allow him to be away from home for much longer than that - and I take what I can). 
Bridge of the Gods, start of hike #2 as seeing on OR PCT-2016

With that, here comes the training plan! You can bet I always have a plan:) Technically speaking, I never stop exercising - ever since 1996, when I weighted at a round number of 184 lbs and got addicted to never repeating it. But, of course, I am also very goal-driven, and with my lack of running as a huge part of the preparation, I had to rely on other things more heavily than in years prior. All I am trying to tell myself is that a) I have a huge experience in backpacking long trails (and running long distances), b) I am mentally tough and physically strong, and c) normal/conventional hikers don't run more than I do, anyway.

I settled into a routine with the beginning of the year, and it finally seems to work better than my previous attempts of 2-a-day combinations (the time spent doing it takes away from living, and believe me, while I am an athlete at heart, I also love normal life, sitting in my room reading and knitting, and doing house chores). It probably helped that I finally settled into 1-job only schedule as well: Mon-Wed-Fri I work 1:30 to 8 pm, Tues 10-3 pm, Thurs off, Sat 10-5:30, Sun 10-4. 

Mon-Wed-Fri are my 5 am wake up and off to the gym with its doors opening at 5:30 am. There I do a variation of weight training and cardio. Mon - 30 min legs (machines), 45 min Spin class, 15 min abs. Wed - 30 min legs (squat rack with various squats, lunges, step-ups, etc), 15 min upper body (machines), 20 min Stairmaster, 10 min Treadmill (I am actually doing intervals of 30 sec on/30 sec off at 6 mph, and alternate either 5% hill or 7 mph for interval, and somehow I haven't died yet), 5 min abs. Fri - 30 min upper body (all free weights), 20 min Stairmaster, 15 min Treadmill, 10 min Elliptical, 10 min abs. All three days have a jumping rope in as well. My weights sessions include total of 4 super-sets (2 exercises one after another) of 3 sets of 10 (say, squat 10/deadlift 10, add weights, repeat sequence). It's all-out no breaks besides water sips. Tues-Thurs-Sat are my "I think I might call it running" days. I go for 4 miles at 6 am. Thursday is an additional "hiking day", as it is my only day off work - I drive to the only trail I heart here in Austin, and while it's a mere 3 miles point-to-point, and the drive takes me good 15 min, by now I despise any other trail that locals have to offer. This one has a single track spiced up with serious built-in wooden high steps and provides some glut/hamstring/quad work. I make either a 4 or 5 mile loop out of it. Sunday is no exercise day:)

(p.s. as a side note, reading it on paper makes it seem so insignificant comparing to what my workout load used to be, and let me tell you, this above wipes me out, sadly...)

I will keep it like that through April. If Gods are kind to me, and some form of running does return for another short "bout", I would love to increase at least a distance of one of my runs. If not - be it. What I will add by May though is one hike with a backpack (and keep one "empty") - and by June make it 2 days with a pack (one on trails, one on hilly roads for time's sake).

And that's that. In the 6 weeks of 2017 I am still up with my daily push ups/bicycle crunches, as well as once-weekly yoga. Hope it holds on - that getting older part is surely not helping with recovery, and stretching is now a part of my gym routine as well. I am eating healthy, but decided against going crazy strict - and I finally hit the number I was at before Thanksgiving (you know, holidays and stuff). It took me longer than desired, but I am ok with that (I am even ok with likely straying off it during Valentine day extravaganza at my work, as everybody tends to brings stuff, and I am not in a position to be of restriction game). 

As far as my description of laser-focus I had towards the end of my races - somehow the only place I experience it still is when I hike that trail on Thursday. When the 1.5 M to go sign shows up, I break into some sort of a jog, and push the stairs, even though it is exactly where most elevation gain is laid. I keep the pressure all the way to the end. I don't wear watches these days, but with this hike, I check the clock in the car - when I leave and when I come back. My competitive nature lives on...


Anonymous said...

Hey Olga, this is Iva :) THanks for sharing your training routine. If summer allows, I would love to do (not a big) portion of CDT in the San Juans. Soft rock was always my dream but it's just a tad too hard. So question: #1.do you train with backpack before the backpacking trips? #2 How much does your backpack weigh usually? #3 how do you navigate? do you use a gps? or just phone?

Olga said...

Iva! I train with a backpack for a month to a month and half prior. My pack in training weights from 25# to start and gets to 35#. Mostly I do that to get my shoulders and back used to it, and hips. I don't use either phone or GPS, I carry printed maps (and burn pages as I go, sort of reducing weight and as a symbol).

Thomas Bussiere said...

I hear you loud and clear. The calling is getting stronger for something that resembles running. I hit the reset button yet again, established new goals considering my age, and working on a running base and improving strength. So far, so good.
Love the honesty in your post.

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