Monday, February 28, 2011

My First 50-Mile Race (An Adventure Story)

Originally posted as facebook note on October 20, 2010

Trail along the American River
A few weeks ago I was extremely fatigued, unmotivated, wasn’t having fun running, was voraciously hungry, had gained several pounds, wasn’t sleeping well, and having strange problems with my ankles. It seemed I had done the thing I was always afraid of: I had overworked myself. Some might say I was over-trained. There was less than a month until my first 50-mile race— Rock’n River 50— and I felt like a basket case.

Instead of pushing my body further, I listened. I had just enough time that I could back off training, sleep and eat to my heart’s content, and hopefully be back enough to finish the race. So I took over a week off from pretty much all exercise. I felt like a slug, but knew it had to be done. Then I did an easy 4-mile trail run, but was exhausted the next day. I took a couple more days off, and then decided it was time for an easy return. I ran for 30-60 minutes easy for 4 days in a row. I wasn’t concerned at all about my pace; I just wanted to have fun running again and get a little more time on my feet. After all, it wasn’t about my training over the last month, but the entire body of work that I’d put in all year.

Scott, manager at Fleet Feet Bend had cut out pieces of the tongue and collar of my shoes that had been irritating both my inside ankles. It did not comfort me that my shoes required modification, but I had to go with it. I also started wearing compression socks while running, as opposed to only for recovery. A week before the race I was back up to 3 hours running, and wasn’t having any ankle issues. It was “go” time. I just had to trust that by race morning, everything would be fine. Trusting has worked for me in the past, and I didn’t have another choice this time either. (If you think you’re screwed, you surely will be.)

In the past I have had running dreams where I felt good at 16 or 18 miles. This time I dreamed that I was running and still feeling good at 52 miles! While my body was repairing itself, my mind was seemingly trying to comfort me during sleep. It worked.

Two days before the race my flight from Redmond could not land in Portland due to dense low fog, and landed in Seattle instead. I could not get a flight to Sacramento until 8pm that evening, so was stuck in the Seattle airport for 10 hours. At least the airport had free wi-fi to keep me entertained. I found an unused gate where I hung out most of the day and was able to nap on a bench. Upon arriving in Sacramento at 10pm, I nearly freaked when my bag did not come off the plane. It turns out my bag had beat me to Sacramento. I finally got to my hotel at 11:30pm. Had I flown to Sacramento the day before the race, I would have gotten only 3 hours of sleep. I was thankful I had allowed an extra day and could sleep all I wanted to the day before the race.

The trail meandered through this cool rock garden
Race morning I got up before 3am. The shuttle bus to the start was to leave at 4:30am SHARP and I wasn’t going to miss it! 4:30am came and went with no bus to be seen. Just days before, race director Robert had talked with the bus company who had confirmed the 4:30am pickup time. Turns out though, the driver had been told that 5:30am was the pickup time. In addition, the original driver was not answering her cell phone that morning and a last-minute replacement driver had to be found.

The replacement driver was flustered from the beginning, and had no idea where we were going or how to get there. She had a printout of turn-by-turn directions but was having trouble reading and following them. She made several wrong turns that took us many miles out of our way. Once we finally arrived at the race start, I gave the driver a hug as I got off the bus and told her I hoped her day got better. She began to cry. Poor thing! Robert had held off the 6:30am start for as long as he could, but by the time the bus got to the race start the first runners had long gone. A dozen of us comprised the “second start” at 7:42 am. I wasn’t thrilled about having to run more during the heat of the day or finish in the dark, but at least I had a small headlamp with me. There was nothing I could do about the situation, so decided to make the best out of it.

The Rock’n River 50 course is the opposite of the American River 50 course and has more elevation loss than gain. It is run on the American River Trail from the Auburn Dam Overlook to Sacramento. When I first signed up, I thought I was selling myself short. But let me tell you, it was much harder than I thought it would be. Fifty miles is a long way no matter how easy and fast the course is. The first 3 miles were good downhill on road so I clipped along at a decent pace knowing these would probably be my fastest miles of the day. At the first aid station I briefly met the race director and shook his hand. Then it was on to the dirt trail for the next 20 miles or so. Somewhere between miles four and five I saw a trail marker: 52 miles. Remembering my dream from a few weeks before, I nervously laughed out loud. I hoped this wasn’t the 52-mile spot where I felt good. I wish I had taken a picture of the marker— it looked just like it did in my dream!

Some of the trail was challenging. There were large rocks requiring big steps down over them and waterbars with large drops on the other side. After feeling a couple twinges in my lateral left ankle I started walking these sections. There were some really interesting rock formations along this stretch and beautiful, expansive views of water and green. I was happy and felt good. The next section was rolling hills. None were very long, but they were one after another. Some were steep enough that I felt I couldn’t effectively run up them without tiring myself out, so I walked most of the ups. I started passing people around mile 14. They must have been “regular” starters because they hadn’t been on the late shuttle bus with me. I began looking forward to the wide asphalt bike path starting at mile 23. At least I wouldn’t have to worry about my footing.

As the sun rose higher in the sky and the temperature warmed, I got slower and walked more frequently. I am never happy with myself when this happens, but knew I had to do it so I would have a greater chance of feeling good later. Though I was beginning to get hot and fatigued, I was still feeling good and had plenty of energy to do a little song and dance number for the aid station volunteers at Beals Point at mile 23. From here on out, the course was mostly on a wide asphalt bike path. I was ready to not worry about rocks and footing on horse paths any more, and though it was much more boring, I welcomed the surface change.

 I have never relied much on aid stations, but began utilizing them more during this race, especially after the first 18 miles. I poured cups of water over my head and stuffed ice in my sports bra, which proved really effective at keeping my core cool. When I tired of the sweetness of gels and had problems chewing and swallowing anything dry (crackers, energy bars, etc), I turned to grapes. This was a risk, as I’d never eaten grapes on the run before, but they worked really well for me. They were easy to chew, refreshing, moist, and really perked me up. I stuffed my mouth full of them at aid stations and grabbed a few more for the trail. I also downed a cup of Pepsi at each aid station. I probably spent more time at aid stations than I should have, but felt that by doing so, I was saving time later on (begin with the end in mind). I didn’t want to forget to do anything that would benefit me (been there, done that!), so took the time to stop and think while I was there. At 27.7 miles and my first drop bag, I changed my shirt, which was really refreshing. This shirt was sleeveless, and I immediately felt cooler. I was glad I had thought to throw it in at the last minute.

Folsom State Prison
From before the halfway point on, my Garmin showed that each aid station was at least a mile farther than it was reported to be. Either my Garmin was off, or I’d be running more than 50 miles! Even though the miles continued to add up, as the sun got lower in the sky and the temperature cooled a bit, I was able to run more, and faster too! By mile 40 I had gotten back into a groove. I didn’t feel great, but I didn’t feel bad either. I was just somewhere in the middle, and for some reason, that’s not an easy place for me to be. With me things tend to be on one end of the spectrum or the other. I have difficulty dealing with mediocrity. I questioned why I do this; that maybe I should just stick to easier, shorter stuff and be a cheerleader for others in need of support and encouragement. 

Around mile 40, a local runner caught up to me. Tricia was running 15 miles that day, training for her first marathon in December. Though this woman did not know me, she continually told me how amazing I am, that I was her hero, and asked how I “could still be running after more than 40 miles?” We ran together for the next seven miles or so. In my highly emotional state, I told her things about myself that few people know; as if by telling her about my shortcomings, maybe she would decide I wasn’t so amazing or the hero she thought I was after all. She continued to tell me how wonderful I was and how great I was doing. The last couple of miles we ran side-by-side saying nothing, but rocking out to our own music. I sang along with both the uplifting and angst-filled tunes filling my ears. Music motivates me and makes me fight harder.

Tricia was the first of two angels I met on the trail that day. (Wow, I just now realized that she was sent to be the support and encouragement that I really needed that day.) About 48 miles in, she left me to head toward home with the last words that I only had 3 miles left and I could so do this! It was nearly dark, so I donned my headlamp and pressed on. I was tired and my legs ached, but it didn’t get any worse, so I just kept running. I wanted to run all the way to the finish line. Little did I know the turn off to the finish line was only a mile ahead. I never saw it. And since I was in the hurried “2nd start” group, didn’t get the pre-race briefing on where the turn to the finish was. I thought about the runners behind me and wondered how they were faring. I knew some of them didn’t have headlamps.

While running alone in the dark, I saw low animal eyes looking toward me and heard rustling in the trees and bushes. My mind ran amok. Since I was on an urban trail surrounded by a wide swath of trees, I wondered how many bad men might be lurking in the bushes waiting for a lone female runner to pass by. There is no lighting along the trail. I tried to exude confidence as I ran along. After all, I should see the turnoff for the finish line at any time. I saw a dark animal running ahead of me in the middle of the trail. I thought it was probably a wayward black cat trying to get away from me. As I gained on it, I could see that it was a skunk. Great, I hoped that I would not get sprayed by a skunk after all this! I picked up my pace and without looking back, passed the skunk on the far side of the trail.

Trail-side Turkeys!
I saw two vehicles heading toward me on the path. I thought that I must be nearing the finish, and that they were surely headed out to check on runners still on the course. They kept driving past me I figured, because I was still running and looked like I was going to make it. Then two cyclists sped past me yelling “you’re almost there!” which gave me hope. I watched and listened for signs of a finish line, but none came. I finally realized that I was far past the finish and didn’t know where I was (other than I was still on the American River Trail and heading west). My mind quit on me, and I slowed to a walk. I looked at my watch and saw that I was nearly 53 miles in. I had made it past 52 miles feeling relatively good after all! I chuckled and smiled. While I was scared, I was also happy that my dream really did come true.

I thought about turning around, but didn’t know where I would go. I decided I would just keep moving forward and would eventually run into someone or get to a public place. I could see downtown Sacramento getting closer on the other side of the river. More miles ticked by. Then my second angel arrived in the form of an older man on a bicycle. I flagged him down and explained my situation. I asked if he had a cell phone and could call someone— a friend or coworker perhaps— who had internet access and could look up the race director’s phone number on the race website. At this point, the thing I was most concerned about was a worried RD out looking for me, or perhaps getting him in trouble because I was still out on the course and “lost” thus jeopardizing his chance to secure the proper permits to hold the race next year. Angel 2 told me the only person he could call was his 83-year old mother. Great! I had stopped the loneliest bachelor in all of Sacramento for assistance!

Angel’s Mom got on the internet, but didn’t have the computer skills to get the information I needed. Just then another man on a bicycle came along and I again explained my situation. Something about him was just not right. It sounded like my angel was getting ready to leave me with guy #2. I whispered to Angel to please not leave me with this guy. There was something not right and I didn’t trust this new guy, but I did trust him. So Angel asked if I could keep going and he’d take me to someplace public and safe. He wanted me to hop on his bicycle (which was electric). I said No, I wanted to finish this under my own power. He replied, “that must be a runner thing.” Yep, sure is! I started running again as he lead the way through Discovery Park and then across the river to an exit off I-5 where there were several hotels. I decided to go into the Comfort Inn and stopped my Garmin— 56.6 miles!

I explained my situation to the front desk attendant, who looked up RD Robert’s phone number on the race website. I finally got in touch with Robert and told him where I was, that I was OK, and that I was going to call a cab to take me back to my car at the early morning shuttle location. I was so thankful that I had put $40 cash in my pack before leaving the hotel room that morning (my cab did not take credit cards) and the cabbie got a huge tip. I was just happy to be back to my car and wanted to brighten someone else’s day too.

This photo courtesy of Facchino photography
By the time I got back to my hotel it was 10pm and I didn’t want to go anywhere. So I ate popcorn, greek yogurt, crackers, protein bars and soup cups that I had bought at the grocery store the day before. I really had hoped to be out having dinner and a good time with some new friends after the race, but this would just have to do. I wondered if the people behind me had finished OK in the dark. I was glad this happened to me and not them. Robert and I spoke at length about our experiences that day. He is so thoughtful and giving. Even though I never crossed the finish line, he gave me an official finishing time and will send me the finisher’s jacket. I am pleased to no end.

Now I have a lot of things to think about. I almost feel like I need a debriefing after this experience. A lot of things went wrong. Are they trying to tell me that I am headed the wrong direction in life? Or perhaps they are showing me just how strong I am and that I can do more than I think I can. More than likely I am just reading too much into it. Things happen. I’ve heard great stories from my ultrarunning buddies and wished I had one to tell. Well, now I do.

On the flip side, a lot of things went right. I had a headlamp and some cash (next time I’ll take a cell phone). I listened to my body. I fueled smartly, even when I didn’t feel like it, and quickly found a plan B that worked well when plan A didn’t. While at times I didn’t feel great, I never felt bad either. I had no cramping, nausea, chafing, or blisters. I just kept moving forward at a pace I felt I could keep up “forever,” whether that was walking or running. I always had the end in mind and wasn’t about to do anything that would compromise my well-being during those later miles or might cause me to not finish. That was just not an option.

Overall I had a good experience and learned a lot about myself in the process. During the latter stages of the race (mostly after dark when I was “lost”) I questioned why I do this and if I really wanted to continue doing so. The next day however, I was back online thinking about races for next year! I should stop kidding myself. I enjoy running and the challenges and rewards that come along with it. I don’t have to be front-of-the-pack to have a good time or feel a sense of accomplishment. As long as I keep having fun, I’ll keep pressing forward, one step at a time. 

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Hagg Lake 50k 2011 - An unforgettable experience!

Just over a year ago, Hagg Lake 50k was my first ultra-marathon. I didn’t know what to expect other than a notoriously muddy trail around Henry Hagg Lake southwest of Forest Grove. I had hiked/run around the lake once during the summer several years prior when training for my first 1/2 marathon, so I knew what to expect in dry conditions. Although I finished my first 50k, I didn’t have a really good time and wasn’t sure I would return for a second year. Fast-forward to Fall 2010. I was watching the 2011 race fill up, when FOMO (fear of missing out) hit me. I was afraid if I didn’t sign up, I’d wished I had. So I signed up. Boy, am I glad I did; it was one of my best race experiences ever!

The day before the race was quite rainy, but race day dawned beautiful and clear. As I drove out to the lake just before 7am, the waning gibbous moon hung low in the western sky over the power-sugar-snow-dusted Coast Range. It was so beautiful! I already knew it was going to be an awesome day! Roads and parking lots around the lake were covered with a thin sheet of ice, making for a slippery race start, but it quickly melted as soon as the sun rose above the trees.

All that light brown stuff is deep, watery mud!
After a 3-mile out and back on a gravel road, it was onto the muddy trail for the next 28 miles (two 14-mile loops around the lake). The first truly exciting part of the route was a washed-out section of trail where we essentially ran up and across a stream bed where a bridge had been washed out in a previous year. There is a sign on the trail indicating that the bridge is washed out and that hikers should detour up to the road to go around, but we’re ultrarunners— we don’t need no stinking bridge, or even a trail!

I was feeling really good and strong the first half around the lake. I thought that perhaps the mud was not as bad as last year and that maybe, just maybe, I could run sub-6 hours. Ha! Little did I know what was ahead! During this stretch I got to talk for a few minutes with a couple different people. The first was April. She was just ahead of me the first few miles during the same race last year and pulled away as I slowed farther into the race. I had seen her at every one of the races in the Oregon Trail UltraMarathon Series that I ran last year. I did four of the races in the series. She did all seven. I want to be like her, and I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity to meet and talk to her! I learned that she had qualified for and applied to Western States 100 (yes, that’s 100 miles!), the grand-daddy of ultras, and her name was dawn in the race lottery for this year’s running in June! How exciting! Many people qualify and apply for years before their name is drawn! This is my big aspiration for 2011: to qualify for and apply to Western States for 2012. I believe in visualization and being able to draw those things to you which you desire. I’m not worried about qualifying later this year, but am already visualizing my name being drawn in the 2012 Western States lottery. Also, April is getting married at the Dimple Hill aid station during the McDonald Forest 50k (which was her first ultra in May 2009) on May 14th!

View across the lake looking west from the dam
Next I spoke with Robert from Southern California. A friend of his who had run this race several years in a row had convinced him to come up and run it. Like me, his goal was also to break 6 hours, but the mud was already beginning to get to him mentally. At this point, he said he was just hoping to finish. As we approached the Dam Aid Station at mile 7.63, I pointed out that we were well under a 6-hour pace. I never saw him again after the aid station. Looking through the race results, he had decided to cut it short at 25k.

Then I met a deputy police officer from Aberdeen, Washington. We hit it off right away. His wife was running the 25k and he was so very proud of her. This was also his first 50k race. He was doing really great. We saw each other many times during the next 20+ miles of the race. Our paces were very similar, so we traded places a lot. I couldn’t remember his name, so started calling him “Aberdeen” and he called me “mountain goat.” He was impressed with my uphill running ability. I would pull away from him on the uphills, and he would gradually catch up with me on downhills and flats. If he was anywhere nearby, I tried not to walk a hill. Once he saw me walking ahead of him up a longer hill and yelled “you’ll smash my impression of you being a mountain goat!” I replied, “that impression is all in your head, and I’m not stupid, so I’m walking this one!” We flip-flopped places over and over again during the race. He felt like an old friend already. I loved seeing his friendly face.

A stream runs down it!
The second half of the loop around the lake was a lot muddier than the first half. None of the hills on this course are very long, but there are several short steep ones, and many were difficult to navigate due to being covered with thick, slick mud. It filled the spaces between lugs of my trail shoes and built up on the bottoms, making the soles of my shoes look much wider then they really were. Pine needles, small twigs and grasses stuck in the muck and brushed against my lower legs. This piled-up mud on my soles and the thick, slick mud on the hills repelled each other. For every two steps I took forward, it seemed like I slid back one. Then there were the downhills. Under these conditions, it was a controlled slide down each hill. On flat muddy patches, if there was an easy way to avoid the mud, I did so. If there wasn’t, I just went right through it. There were many deceivingly deep puddles that swallowed my shoes and filled them with watery mud.

I was much more confident in the Hagg mud than last year, however, and did my best to not fight it, but relax into it. Relaxing on a steep muddy downhill is really difficult to do when your brain says “Danger! Must slow down and tense up!” I could feel my face, jaw, and shoulders tighten up when I reached one of these spots. I also caught myself holding my breath. I repeatedly reminded myself to relax and breathe. Sometimes tension does you no good. Your body will automatically hold tension where it is needed (this race was a lot of hip flexors, core, and glutes). I tried to just let go of the rest.

The first loop around the lake (plus 3-mile out and back) took me about 3.5 hours. I realized that there was no way I was going to run a sub-6, so decided to take some time on the second loop to snap a few photos for this blog post and not worry about my time, but still give my best effort. Most muddy sections were even muddier on the second loop, but a few spots in the sunshine began to dry along the edges.
The finish line is across the lake. So close visually, but still 9 miles away!

By the time I reached the Dam Aid Station again at mile 21.65, my legs were beginning to fatigue. Staying upright in the mud took a lot of work from my core, and the small stabilizer muscles in my feet, ankles and lower legs. There were a few times my calves felt on the verge of cramping, but I took an extra salt capsule and didn’t think anything more of it. I took the opportunity to sit in the porta-potty for a bit (no, I wasn’t just sitting there!). It felt really good to get off my feet for a couple minutes! I also drank a cup of cola, which perked me up. I looked at Aberdeen who had come in to the aid station right behind me, and told him it was time to go.

A sweet mud bog!
This course is very deceiving in more ways than one. My Garmin registered just 1,800 feet of elevation gain, but that’s a lot of small rolling hills over 31 miles. Being so muddy, it was also impossible for me to stay in a steady groove. Looking across the lake, the next aid station or the finish line looked deceptively close (just a mile or two away as-the-crow-flies), but since the trail goes around several arms of the lake, they were really 10 trail-miles way.

Just before reaching the Tanner Creek Aid Station (mile 26.77) I had passed several people. I could tell some people were beginning to tire, as more of them were walking. I tend to get stronger as I near and anticipate the finish line. (Only another hour left and I’ll be done—I can do that!) At Tanner Creek the porta-potty was occupied and I didn’t want to wait for it, so downed another cup of cola and pressed on. Pretty soon though, it was my bladder that was pressing. I stepped a few feet off the trail behind a bush to relieve myself. While I waited, I watched all the people I had just pass pass by me! Argh! I was going to have to pick up the pace again to re-pass them! After a minute or two of nothing happening, I decided my apparently no-so-pressing situation could wait until after I crossed the finish line.

I saw Aberdeen ahead of me walking up a hill. “Go Aberdeen!” I yelled. He acknowledged me with a wave of his hand. Soon I passed him again for the final time. Then I re-passed another guy, and a gal. A few minutes later my Garmin buzzed at me indicating it was time for another salt capsule and gel. Even though I was less than 30 minutes from the finish, I knew I should still take them, so I slowed to a walk and did so. Just as I started running again, the gal I had just re-passed came up right behind me. I offered to let her pass. She said no, she liked my pace. Then she said that I was a “phenomenal runner.” (Me? Really?) This floored me. I replied,“then you’re phenomenal too, because you’re right here with me. We’re both phenomenal!” She reluctantly agreed and went on to say that I was inspiring her to keep her pace up when she really wanted to slow.

My mind immediately thought back to a book my coach had me read recently, “Gerry Lindgren’s Book On Running.” It was written by Gerry Lindgren, one of the best high school distance runners of all time. In the book, Gerry tells how he felt it was his responsibility to always run his fastest and give his best effort in all races in order to elevate the performance of other racers. This girl I did not know had now offered the same opportunity to me, and I gladly took it. For the last two miles I had to elevate my race so that she could elevate hers and finish strong. I told myself that I couldn’t walk any more hills. I had to stay strong and pick up the pace for her. There were two short, very slick muddy parts that I walked through. Instead of zipping past me as she certainly could have, this girl stayed behind me. I splashed through mud puddles, and seconds later heard her splashing through them. She was hot on my tail. I was helping her, but I also wanted to beat her.

One of the more slippery slopes!
Together we passed more people that had been reduced to walking the final miles. As I passed each one, I touched them on the shoulder and said “Good work, you’ve got this!” For some reason, the late miles of a long race seem to bring out the best in me. I get outside of myself and just want to love and encourage everyone. The very first time in my life I realized I was truly a nice person was on October 16th, 2010, the day of my first 50-mile race. If you’ve read my first blog post this probably won’t surprise you.

During the final long muddy stretch, I saw another gal ahead of me and focused on reeling her in. She was alternating walking and running about every 20 feet. I passed her just before the last short hill that dumped us out onto the Boat Ramp C parking lot. From here it was across the parking lot, then another 1/4 mile of trail to the finish. I knew it would be just a few more minutes and I would be finished, so I poured it on as much as I could. I really wanted to look back and see how close those two girls were behind me, but I did not want them to see me looking. Besides, if had I looked back, it would have slowed me down slightly, so I just pressed on, imagining they were hot on my tail. My breath was labored, and my heart felt like it was beating out of my chest, but I was smiling and ecstatic!

Showing off my mud-splashed legs, not my butt!

I passed through the finish chute and turned around to not see anyone immediately behind me. Those two gals finished 21 and 43 seconds behind me. Aberdeen finished 10 minutes later. His wife, who had earlier finished her first 25k distance race, was there waiting at the finish for him, and they shared a big hug. They were so proud of each other. It was so wonderful to see. I was so proud of Aberdeen!

I offered to get some food for another very nice fellow who had just finished the race (he had flown by me on a steep slippery downhill while I was hesitating, showing me how it should be done). He said, “no, you just finished a 50k too!” On my way to stand in the lake to soothe my aching legs, I stopped by the grill and picked up a grilled cheese sandwich. I offered him half, saying “I told you I’d get you some food!”

Later in the day, after results were posted online, I hesitantly checked my finish time. I had finished just 3 minutes faster than last year, but in much muddier conditions, so I was happy with that. In addition, last year I had finished 7th from last. This year I finished 41st from last! I’m getting stronger and moving up in the world! Best of all, every race teaches me more about myself and I am finally beginning to get comfortable with who I really am.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Philosophy behind the Name

March 2005 w/ my custom hiking staff
My blog title, “Running in the World” is based on existentialist philosopher Martin Heidegger’s term “dasein,” loosely translated as “being-in-the-world.” (Notice this blog URL is even “running-in-the-world.” Cool, huh?) See the Wikipedia entry for more about dasein.

Dasein has come to mean a lot to me over the years, and I wanted my blog name to reflect that. My husband and I use dasein as our geocaching moniker, and my husband incorporated it into a custom hiking staff he had made for my 35th birthday.

To me dasein also suggests that I should live in and fully participate in the present moment. Not that I’m good at it, but I’m getting better, and running is helping me with that. Last October, just before my first 50-mile race, I purchased a silver and leather bracelet with the words “Live in the Moment” on it. I wear it on all my long runs. Whenever I get overwhelmed, negative, or any other not-helpful frame of mind, I look down at those words to bring myself back to the present moment.

Here are some ways that I practice being in the moment while on the run. They prove especially helpful when things start getting difficult or painful:
  • Don’t think about how many miles, minutes (or hours!) remain in your run unless it makes you happy. Live in the moment, but plan for the future (practice proper nutrition, hydration, pacing, etc.).
  • Notice everything! Become like a microscope. Focus on each individual rock that makes up the road shoulder or the trail bed. See individual blades of grass, leaves and needles on trees. Look at each car as it approaches and passes you. Become curious about the lives of the people driving them. Look up at the sky. See how blue it is. Note the quality of the clouds, jet contrails. Breathe deep the smells of fresh cut grass, blackberries on the vine baking in the hot afternoon sun. You get the idea— notice everything! One day last summer I chose to focus on house numbers. I got home from my run so blissed-out on house numbers! Notice everything.
  • Bored with your usual run? Though at first glance things may outwardly appear the same, the rocks are in slightly different places. The river is not the same river that it was yesterday. Plants are growing and dying. How are are surrounding different than they were yesterday? 
  • When a negative thought pops into your head, replace it with a positive one. Don’t keep telling yourself that you feel crappy and aren’t into your run. Tell yourself “I feel great!” and more likely than not, you soon will. That’s not self-deception, it’s self-direction. Only tell yourself things that send you in the direction you want to go in. You don’t really want to keep feeling crappy, do you?
  • Likewise, if a body part begins to hurt, ache, or feel tight, don’t jump to conclusions (oh no, there goes my hamstring again!) and assume that it’s going to bother you from here on out. If you think you’re screwed, you’re right, and this is something you don’t want to be right about! Relax. Breathe. It’s just a passing thing as your body gets settled in to the run. Breathe love and relaxation into the aching area. Talk to it. Tell it “I hear you talking, but I’m busy right now. I can give you plenty of attention (foam roller, The Stick, massage, etc.) later.” Think or say out loud the word “relax” and feel the tension melt away. Breathe.
  • On the other hand, allow yourself to revel in your pain or how difficult your run is for just a moment (it takes a lot of effort to hurt— be proud of it!), but then move past it.
  • Focus on your form. Feel your stride rate increase slightly, your torso become a little more upright, your shoulders slightly back, collarbone “lengthened,” chin tucked slightly lengthening the back of your neck. Arm swing becomes more pronounced. You immediately feel stronger, more confident, more powerful and efficient. Keep coming back to your form. After a period of time, it will come more naturally.
  • Focus on your breath. Take occasional deep cleansing breaths. Sometimes I find myself breathing so shallowly that it almost feels like I’ve forgotten to breathe. Inhale deeply, then forcefully exhale. Not only does this get rid of excess CO2, it just feels satisfying. (I’m convinced this is a big reason why smoking is so addictive. How many smokers do you see take a shallow puff off a cigarette? That’s right, they all inhale deeply.)
  • Relax. Don’t squint or scrunch up your face. Let your face and jaw go slack, as if you were half asleep. Look through half-closed eyelids if it’s safe to do so. On occasion dangle your arms at your sides and shake them out. Relax your hands. Keep your shoulders low. Make sure they don’t rise as your run up that hill. Any tension is wasted energy. When the going gets tough people tend to tense up. Don’t fight it; instead relax into it. 
  • Give yourself permission to slow down. When I slow down it’s easier for me to notice my surroundings and get more enjoyment from them. Take a short walk break when the desire strikes you. Notice everything. Pick out a point ahead: perhaps a rock, tree, or bend in the trail, and start running again when you reach that point.
These are a few techniques I have been using lately as my long runs get longer and more frequent. I’m not saying I’m good at any of them yet. I have to keep reminding myself, but sooner or later they will become habits, very good habits. 
Sunset from Pilot Butte looking toward Mt. Bachelor. I couldn’t help but notice the clouds and color!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The 100s Game

“This is what I want you to do next,” my coach said. “Run 100 miles in the next 10 days.”
“No problem!” I exclaimed.
“But wait, there’s more,” he replied.
“Any five of those 10 days have to total at least 100 miles.”
“Okay, I can do that.”
“And one last thing: two of the five days must be consecutive.”

I was excited! I immediately began looking at this as a game, dubbing it “The 100s Game.” I couldn’t wait to get home and start strategizing! (Is that a word?) Upon arriving home, I made a photocopy of the February page of the calendar. I highlighted the ten days I was given (Monday the 7th through Wednesday the 16th) and began writing my strategy on each day.

Since I was going to run a 20-mile race on Sunday the 6th (it wouldn’t count toward the game since the game began on the 7th), I gave myself an easy day on the 7th to recover and would start my 100s Game in earnest on the 8th. I wanted to get my back-to-back days done right away, so I slated those for the 8th and 9th. After that, I gave myself a rest day (I’ve never tried to do back-to-back 20+ milers and didn’t know how it would affect me), followed by another 20-miler on the 11th. That would give me three of five 20-milers done in five days, leaving me another five days to complete the last two. If needed, I could intersperse rest days between my last runs.

Another strategy I decided to adopt was to go over 20-miles on each of my runs. Nearing the end of the game, if I was really sore and tired, I could do fewer miles the last day and still total more than 100 miles. 

Prelude, Sunday Feb. 6th
20-mile race

Day 1, Monday the 7th
5.88 miles easy treadmill to shake things out after yesterday’s race.

Day 2, Tuesday the 8th
26.34 miles
Today the “game” started for me in earnest. I planned my basic run route in my head the night before. I used to plan out my long runs on the USATF website ahead of time so I’d know exactly how far my run was going to be. I no longer need the comfort of knowing exact mileage, so I just plan the basic route in my head and from there do whatever sounds appealing. I leave the house prepared to be self-sufficient for 4–5 hours. This day I did a large combination road/trail loop from my house in the NE of town, around the north side of Awbrey Butte on the Deschutes River Trail, then made my way west to and through Shevlin Park, down a forest road, swung by to check on some old Indian rock art I know about (yep, it’s still there!), cut over to Phil’s trailhead, took Cascade Highlands trail back in to town and incorporated a trip up OverTurf Butte before dropping down for a quick stop at Fleet Feet Bend followed by the last five miles home.

This was one of the best runs I’ve had in a long time. The day was cloudy and cool– just above freezing— and snow periodically spit down on me. I also had a positive outlook all day. Not a single negative thought went through my mind. I took my time and stayed present in the moment. I even experienced a couple of small victories.

The northern end of the Deschutes River Trail around Awbrey Butte drops you off near Awbrey Glen Golf Course for an uphill slog on Putnam Drive. It’s only just over a 1/2 mile long, but begins to quickly wear on you. And just when you think you can’t take any more, Putnam steepens to its terminus at Mt. Washington Drive. I’ve run up Putnam before, but have always taken a walk break after reaching Mt. Washington. Not this time— I kept on running. One little victory!

That was not my only victory of the day. I have never run up the bottom of the Mrazek Trail that leads out of the south end of Shevlin Park. I have always hiked it. The dirt trail is a bit steep and rocky. I always assumed that I couldn’t run it. This time, as the Raconteurs’ “Steady As She Goes” played in my ears, I decided today was the day to run it slow and steady-as-she-goes. I did, all the way up to where the trail crosses road 4606. Another little victory!

I was surprised that a few of my later miles were also some of my fastest. Sure, they were flat or slightly downhill, but does that really matter? What mattered is that though I was beginning to fatigue, I still felt good and wasn’t slowing down. What was really painful however, was having to stop at several stoplights the last few miles home. Stopping hurt more than just keeping running. So I paced back and forth at lights. I stretched my calves and my hips. I didn’t care if people looked at me funny. It’s what I needed to do.

I slept all night in my compression socks. Though I slept well, the words “20 more” showed up over and over in my dreams. My brain was already mulling over the 20 miles I was planning the next day.

Setting out on my 2nd 20-mile day in a row
Day 3, Wednesday the 9th
21.17 miles
I woke up feeling amazing this morning and was pleased to walk down the stairs normally without pain (any runner knows what I’m talking about)! It was also a beautiful blue-sky day and breezy. Another good run, but I allowed a couple of negative thoughts to slip in. Decided to take some photos on the run today. I did the same loop as my first-ever 20-mile run, which was on my 40th birthday in 2009. (It was the best birthday present ever, by the way!) I was super-happy to now have my back-to-back long run days out of the way! After I got home, I had plenty of energy left to dance around the kitchen singing at the top of my lungs, causing Doug to pause the TV show he was watching on the DVR.
Irrigation canal near our house was flowing today.

Broken Top and the Three Sisters in the distance
Deschutes River at Archie Briggs Road
Deschutes River
Mt. Bachelor and Tumalo Mtn from the trail that parallels Skyliner Rd
Fancy-dancy house along the Cascade Highlands Trail
This one apparently needed a guest-house too (in construction on the right)
The bliss of being done with back-to-back 20-milers!

Day 4, Thursday the 10th
Rest day. I didn’t sleep well last night. This was a bad “mental” day and I wasted a lot of time and energy questioning myself and why I do this. In addition, the lateral head of my left gastrocnemius was sore, which worried me because I wanted to run long again the following day.

Day 5, Friday the 11th
23.35 miles
I woke up with a new attitude to a beautiful new day and my sore calf felt just fine. I was relieved and ready to go! When I started, there was still a chill in the air, so I went with capris, a light hat, arm warmers, gloves, and a windproof vest. I quickly ditched the hat. Over the next couple of hours I also shed my gloves and arm warmers. By mile 18 I wished I had worn shorts and could ditch the vest!

I once again ran around Awbrey Butte on the River Trail, but took a different route from my house to access it. I even changed my route slightly on the run, making it a couple miles longer. I was feeling good! Around mile 13 I noticed my left calf that had been sore the day before. Instead of freaking out, I told myself to relax and breathe, and sent my calf relaxing thoughts and told it that I’d be able to give it some quality time (stretching and using The Stick) later in the day. It didn’t bother me again.

Also around the same time I was thinking to myself, “Wow, I’ve run 20+ miles four out of six days this week.” While attempting to do the rudimentary math in my head (which is not easy while all your energy is going to running!) a realization hit me like a brick: I was going to break 100-miles this week for the first time! I laughed. I cried. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face! I had hoped to have a 100-mile week maybe sometime this summer. I had no idea it would happen so soon or that I could do it this soon. In fact, I was so focused on having fun doing this “game” that I didn’t realize what I was doing until I nearly had it done. Had my coach told me I was going to run 100 miles this week, I would have thought him nuts. Instead he placed the focus elsewhere and made it fun. Fucking brilliant! (I never said this would be a Rated-G blog. Consider this your notice that my blogs will be PG-13.)

After I got home, I got out a calculator and did the math. I only needed 3.26 more miles to hit 100 for the week. I could be super-sore and feel like crap and still get that done tomorrow. So I planned to do 8 miles on day 6 to get me to 105 miles.

Day 6, Saturday the 12th 
8.41 miles
Slept good last night and my left calf, though still a little achy, was much better. Went out for lunch with Doug, took a nap, then decided at 3:15 I’d best get my run on. I ran what I call my “long gym loop,” which goes right by the gym I go to (Snap Fitness on Butler Market and 4th). If the gym is not my destination, it is handy for a pit stop. The temperature was about 60 degrees, so I wore shorts and a short-sleeved top along with compression socks for extra support of those aching calves. It was nice not to have to wear a hat or gloves. Near the beginning of my run I had to remove and hold my visor because it was so breezy it kept almost blowing off! I yelled into the wind, “Hooo-ey, is that all you’ve got? Bring it on!” From the outset I felt strong, fluid, and efficient, which really surprised me being that it was the last few miles of a 105 mile week.

As I was running by my gym I noticed I had just gone over 100 miles, so I stopped for a few minutes to celebrate alone with a Mint Chocolate GU energy gel and a flush toilet. The remaining 5 miles was icing on the cake!

Crunching the the numbers, (I’m a total numbers person!) in 3 runs this week I did 70.86 miles. Which technically means I would only need one more 20-miler and another run of 10 miles in the next 5 days to meet the goal set before me. But I don’t do the minimum. I always go for extra credit. In school, even when I already had an A in a class, I did the extra credit assignments anyway. And that’s still the way I roll. My goal remains to do two more 20+ mile runs in the next four days.

Happiness at the end of a 105-mile week!
From here on out I’m going to take it day by day, since this is new territory for me. If I feel great tomorrow, I’ll run long. If I don’t, I’ll either do that 10-miler should I need it, or take a cross-training day. For me it’s all a big game (the more I think about it, the more options I have), and I’m learning a lot about myself in the process. I’m learning that I’m a lot stronger and can do more than I think I can. I’m beginning to get my recovery routine down— it starts the minute I walk through the front door. My mindset is changing. My running form has changed over the last few weeks and felt more solidified this week— could it be my new lighter Asics DS Trainers, recent added mileage, both, or something else? I am learning to appreciate effort and pain (it takes a lot of work to hurt, so revel in it for a moment, then move past it!), to not fight the run, but relax into it, especially when the going is tough. It is oh, so gratifying.

Look for Part 2 of “The 100s Game” detailing days 7–10 late next week!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Super Bowl Sunday Dam Run - Race Review

20-mile racers at the start
I ran the 20-mile distance of the Super Bowl Sunday Dam Run today. Everyone met at Norm’s Extreme Fitness in Prineville, then was bussed to drop-off locations at the 5-, 10- or 20-mile marks, kicked off of the bus ;-) and made to run back to town! The 20-mile option started at Bowman Dam which backs up the waters of the Crooked River to create the Prineville Reservoir. I have been out to this area before, and knew I would be sorry if I didn’t bring my camera. Since I didn’t intend on actually racing today (nor did I want it to be a long slow distance day but somewhere between), I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to take some photos along the way.

Chimney Rock (center left) above the Crooked River
The race course mostly follows the Crooked River back into Prineville. There is no way to get lost, and no need for course markings— you run the shoulder of the Crooked River Highway (27) clear back to town and only get off of it for 1 block to return to Norm’s. Course mile markers are the highway mile markers. There was very little traffic for the first 10 miles— only the occasional car or motorcycle (this route appears to be very popular with motorcyclists, and I can see why). And lest you worry that road running is boring, let me tell you that this run is NOT, especially for the first 13 or so miles which is along the river, in the canyon, mostly downhill, and with views of spectacular cliffs and rock outcroppings above you. That’s why I took so many photos, just a few of which are included here. It was one beautiful scene after another! I was not surprised to discover that this route is a BLM National Scenic Back Country Byway.

A passing cyclist was kind enough to take this for me ~mile 12
The remaining 7 miles wind through fields with views of ranches and cow pastures. There is even a llama farm along here, but unfortunately I didn’t see any llamas in the pasture. Along this stretch I had to go to my “happy place” for a little bit, but the time passed quickly, and before you know it, I was back to the edge of town with less than 2 miles to go to the finish. This is about where “this turned out to be a little harder than I thought it would be” and “I’m almost finished” intersected with likely-low blood sugar as the Coldplay song “Fix You” started playing on my iPod. I totally lost it! I started crying uncontrollably and found it difficult to breathe. Then I told myself to pull it together, that I could cry all I wanted when I finished. I had one last gel to perk me up and picked up the pace a little. Those last 2 miles were awesome! I didn’t cry at the finish, either! One of the last songs that filled my ears was Rush’s “One Little Victory.” How is it that sometimes the iPod just seems to know what I need to hear? Tonight I don’t feel like talking about all the thoughts that were going through my mind up to this point. That I will save for another day and probably multiple posts. It’s something that I struggle with, and I think a lot of other athletes do to. We just don’t talk about it. Guess what? I’m going to talk.
Fancy ranch entrance
Quail Valley Ranch
Old ranch site?

I love cows in the field *and* on the dinner table!
Last year I heard from Rod Bien that this run was awesome, so I was not about to miss it this year. This is a great route to push the pace a bit. My Garmin reported 271 foot of elevation gain and 681 foot loss over 20 miles. The race fee is right: $20 benefits the Crook County High School and Middle School track teams and includes a quality long-sleeve cotton shirt for you. There were also several nice raffle items to be had and fresh cinnamon rolls and hot chocolate at the finish. Norm (owner of Norm’s Extreme Fitness) is very gracious. Before the races he gave the race briefing, stating that if anyone forgot her race nutrition (the race is supported with water only approximately every 2 miles), he had some protein bars in his car he could give you. The shuttle bus to the start location left on time, and the race began right on time. Norm or a member of his staff constantly drove back and forth along the highway checking on us. I think I saw him about every 2 miles. I have never felt so looked-after during a race!

More people should definitely do this race. People should come from Portland and Salem and the Gorge to do this race. It would be the perfect cap to a weekend in Central Oregon! Mark your calendar now for a spectacular 5-, 10-, or 20-mile road run in Central Oregon on Super Bowl Sunday 2012! I highly recommend the 20-miler.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

You don’t have to be skinny to do really cool things!

Don’t let obesity stop you from getting out, being active, and creating wonderful memories! You’re stronger and can do more than you think you can— be prepared to amaze yourself! These photos are all of things I did or places I went while morbidly obese or losing weight.

Above Phoca Rock, Col. River Gorge, June 2003
Tahiti, Oct. 2002

Fording a stream in the Columbia River Gorge, March 2004

Top of short steep hike in Col. River Gorge

Dry Creek Falls, Col. River Gorge, Apr. 2006

Spelunking in Hawaii, Nov. 2002

First hike up Tumalo Mtn., Sept. 2006

Top of Paulina Peak, Aug. 2005 (broken ankle)

First hike up Black Butte, June 2006

First snowshoe outing with sis, 2006
Tahiti, 2002

Tahiti, 2002

St, Louis Arch, September 2003

Mt. Hood view, unknown location and date
Hiking the Eagle Creek Trail, Feb. 2004

Fairy Falls, May 2004

Top of Beacon Rock, May 2004

Top of Angel’s Rest, May 2004

Burnt Lake Trail backpacking, July 2004

Sis (left) and me at East ZigZag lookout site above Burnt Lake, July 2004

I crawled the entire Ape Cave lava tube (2hrs 10 min end to end)! Mt. St. Helens Nat’l Volcanic Monument, July  2005

Exiting Ape Cave!

Rodney Falls, Col. River Gorge, Feb. 2006

Elowah Falls, Columbia River Gorge

1/2 way up the big pyramid at Chichen Itza, Oct. 2000

Personal mini-sub, Cancun, Oct. 2000

Top of Silver Star Mountain, WA.,  Sept. 2006

Hiking Cooper Spur on Mt. Hood, Oct. 2006
Hiking up to Cooper Spur on Mt. Hood, October 2006

Top of Dog Mountain, April 2007

Gorton Creek Falls, Columbia River Gorge, July 2004

Top of Wind Mountain, Columbia River Gorge, Feb. 2005

Near summit of Hamilton Mountain, Columbia River Gorge, Feb. 2006

Ramona Falls, May 2006

Top of Chinidere Mtn, August 2006

Getting friendly with iguana, Isabela Island, Galapagos, Nov. 2008

Turtle on the trail, Isabela Island, Galapagos, Nov. 2008

Castle Rocks, north end of Green Ridge, Central Oregon, Sept. 2002