Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Nice Change of Pace

This spring I spent far too much time watching the pace numbers on my Garmin310XT and berating myself for not running as fast as I thought I should be. I then removed all screens showing pace information from my watch. Then all summer I focused on long slow trail distance for Mt. Hood 50 and a Wonderland Trail running tour around Mt. Rainer, which got canceled two weeks before it was to happen. That really bummed me out because I’d had the Wonderland Trail on my calendar since February and trained for it hard all summer (back-to-back long trail runs with significant elevation gain). So now I was left with a hole in my schedule and felt lost. I felt I had to quickly fill that hole. Within a few days I had signed up for four marathons throughout the fall, and the first, the inaugural Sunriver Marathon for a Cause, was just a few days away. The course was on asphalt bike paths, and I had barely run on asphalt on summer. Still, I was hopeful that since it was basically a “road” marathon I would do well. Boy was I wrong! This damned-near-flat marathon turned out to be my slowest, most difficult marathon yet. I felt so out of shape and my head was not in a good space. I was so tempted to just cross the finish line with the 1/2-marathoners and call it quits. But I didn’t do that. I didn’t want to start giving myself the message that it’s OK to quit when things get tough. Long story short, I finished and got the most beautiful hard-earned medal. I was glad I had persevered.

Turning the corner to the finish line at Bend Marathon 10/1/11. Photo credit: Kathy Lein
One month later, on October 1st I ran the Bend Marathon. By then my whole mental outlook had changed along with my change of pace. The focus of my training had switched from trail to running a slow consistent pace on road which I could keep up literally all day. This is because my biggest goal race for the year, the Autumn Leaves 50-mile is coming up on October 29th. On that day I will run eight 10k mostly-asphalt laps for a total of 50 miles. I will run it in a maximum of 11 hours, but hopefully closer to 10 hours. I will need to keep a steady patient pace. This is what I practiced at the Bend Marathon. It was a hilly marathon, but I just kept a steady pace around a 12-minute mile. That was really hard to do at times. I felt good though, and passed a number of people on the hilliest part of the course after the 20 mile mark. And the last mile was my fastest. It was still one of my two slowest marathons, but I was ecstatic because I had accomplished my pace goal for that day. I shouted and spiked my water bottle as I crossed the finish line. After hanging out for perhaps 30 minutes, I still felt great and jogged back to my car several blocks away. I ran the next day too.

Crossing the finish at Bizz Johnson 10/9/11
The following weekend I ran the Bizz Johnson marathon in Susanville, California. I had always been afraid to run marathons on back-to-back weekends. In the fall of 2009, I ran three marathons in 79 days and at the time felt barely recovered enough to run the next one. But I’ve put in a lot of work and miles in the last two years and as a result am much stronger mentally and physically. Though I had done many long runs on back-to-back weekends, or even on back-to-back days, somehow marathons on back-to-back weekends is a whole ’nother thing. Well, I did it, once again practicing my patient 50 mile pace, and had enough gas in the tank to pass another runner just before the finish line. Another thing accomplished that I never thought I’d be able to do.

The last several weeks, under my coach Scott’s guidance, I’ve continued to practice my 50 mile pace. I am no longer concerned about how fast I’m not going like I was in the spring. My mind has completely flip-flopped. Now I listen to my body and ask myself if I am going slow enough: “Can I do this pace all day?” I’ve really gotten into it, and it’s really taken the pressure off. As a side-benefit, my body no longer screams “What the FUCK are you doing to me?” for several miles into a run until I’m feeling warmed up. Nice and easy does it. I’m also no longer constantly looking at my watch to see if it’s close to my every-30-minutes “gel walk break” time. I don’t feel the need to walk while taking energy gels any more. I’m tending to appreciate my surroundings more and have a more positive outlook because I’m not feeling so damned worked.

One reason I’m running Autumn Leaves 50: My first belt buckle award!
I’ve also been practicing running laps at Pine Nursery Park near my house: 1.3 mile asphalt loops over and over and over and over again at my 50-mile pace. Something about running these laps is very comforting. There’s no need to hurry,  I’m just going “right over there” again. And again. This is great practice for Autumn Leaves next weekend.

It’s a whole different mid-set to be patient, focused, and wait for the reward. To not speed up to try and stay with someone as they pass you early on. “Let them go,” I tell myself. “They’ll see me later.” To not worry about if you’re in last place after 3 miles. Who cares, you’ve got 47 more to go! With patient pacing, you’ll be much fresher and steadier the final miles than many others who will fade.

For the last year, I’ve felt like something big is coming. I don’t know what it is yet or when it will be here, but when it gets here I’m going to be ready. For this big thing, I won’t necessarily need to be fast, but I will need patience and focus. I won’t be the person who excitedly starts out too fast and blows his wad early. I’m going to keep the patient pace and succeed. Nothing will be able to take my focus off the goal.  

I don’t need to beat myself up for my pace being about two minutes slower per mile than it was a year ago. I want to blame some of it on having gained a bunch of weight in the last year (a whole ’nother story), but I haven’t done a focused speed or track workout for over a year either. By focusing on slow distance this year, I have developed patience and endurance. I may not be “fast” at the moment, but I can go and go and go and am so much stronger than I was at this time last year. If and when I want to focus on speed again, it will come back, and so will the PRs.

While we can be in a hurry to get somewhere else and always be better, faster, stronger, also take the time to appreciate the place/space in life you’re at right now and savor the moment.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Let’s See How Far We’ve Come

The other day I hiked up and jogged down Black Butte. This hike is one of a few that I wanted to do before the snow flies (which could literally be any day now). The last time I hiked it was November 9th, 2010. In snow and wind all by myself. Actually I did hike repeats that day. The hike is two miles from trail head to the top with 1,600 feet elevation gain. The trail is relentless “up,” steep at times. My heart was beating out of my chest and lungs gasping for air within a minute. But that’s the way I roll. For some reason, I always like to push myself up to the top of things. I know there are people who are able to run this trail, but I really can’t imagine that. It’s just too far beyond my ability to comprehend. Those people are truly blessed. But then so am I, because I have the ability to hike with gusto and feel my heart beating, lungs and legs aching.

About half way up, the trail exits the trees along the butte’s southern slope. Views abound. I thought back to the first time I hiked this trail in 2006. I was still losing weight, not yet in good shape, and was terribly afraid of heights and open spaces after breaking my ankle slipping off a hiking trail in August 2005. That first hike up Black Butte was quite traumatic: when the trail exited the trees and the butte fell away to my right, I freaked out. I froze in fear, collapsed along the uphill side of the trail and broke in to tears. I honestly wasn’t sure I’d be able to continue. Eventually I calmed down and was able to slowly move on, made it to the top, and back down. Today I power-hiked up, occasionally glancing over my shoulder to the stunning mountain views, and smiled. My, how far I’ve come.
Cupola at the top of Black Butte on 10/14/11

I passed two groups of hikers on the way up. My goal was to make it to the top, not just the top, but the cupola on the far side of the top, in less than 50 minutes. I made it in just under 48. Not bad for sucking wind today while recovering from marathons both of the last two weekends. Not to mention the 800 feet of elevation gain per mile on the way up. And stops for photos. My, how far I’ve come. I tarried at the top for several minutes, took more pictures, soaked in the view, and talked to a scurrying chipmunk who I’m sure hoped I had a treat for him. Then I turned around for the jog down.

The cupola on 11/9/10 - get out while the hiking’s good!
On the way down, I re-passed both groups of hikers, still on their way up. I was happy jogging down the trail with the beautiful views and the sun shining. My heart sang. And then 24 minutes later, it was suddenly over. Driving back to the highway from the trailhead, sadness suddenly hit me: “Oh no, what had I done?” Only 72 minutes of my life, and this wonderful experience was over. Maybe those hikers were on to something. I felt like I had not savored the moment enough. Sure, I was pretty pleased with my hiking performance, but fast time isn’t everything.

Almost everyone I know wants to get faster. Set a new PR (personal record). Pass a few people. Place in their age group. All kinds of runners apologize for or categorize themselves as being “slow.” Why? Isn’t enjoyment what it’s all about? While I too enjoy the occasional PR and passing people near the end of a race, I really don’t enjoy running fast for very far or very long. So why do I beat myself up because I’m not as fast as I’d like to be or once was? If I can’t take the time to slow down to enjoy my surroundings, take pictures so I can look back long after the experience is over and smile, walk and talk for a minute with someone during a race who is hurting or feeling discouraged, then I’m not running for the right reasons. This applies only to me. I won’t judge you if your priorities are different.

Don’t lose sight of how far you’ve come!
On the way home I stopped on the outskirts of the town of Sisters for a short trail run on the first part of the Peterson Ridge Rumble course. My body was pretty worked from my previous effort, and it didn’t really want to go. I slowly jogged down the trail at a 12–13 minute pace and laughed at myself out loud. Another good lesson today. The lessons have been coming fast and furious all summer. I guess they probably always have, but I’m finally opening to receive them. And then I drove into town and had a tasty bowl of meat chili. My, how far I’ve come.

Now I ask you: Think back 6 months, a year, 5 years, and appreciate just how far have you have come.