Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Thoughts of You

That’s right. I don’t even know you, but I think of you often. It happens almost every day now. At first, it was just when I was doing something physically or mentally tough. Like mile 18 of a marathon. It happened around mile 27 of my recent 48 mile circumnavigation of the Three Sisters mountains in Central Oregon. I wish you knew how truly strong you are. Most people have no idea, and it brings me to tears every time I think about it. Like now. How can I help you see how strong you are? The only limits to what you can accomplish are those you place on yourself.

I know what it’s like ’cause I’ve been there too: depressed, obese, addicted (I refer to them as my “DOA” years). I’m truly sorry if life has beat you down. If you have been abused or neglected. If you don’t love yourself. If the gremlins in your head get the best of you. If you are addicted to alcohol, cigarettes or drugs. If you are obese or sedentary. If you have medical issues. I wish I could make them all be gone for you. But these issues don’t have to define you or limit your dreams.

You can find Strength Through Adversity. All you have to do is get started. Each day do one small thing for yourself toward your goals. Don’t stress about your bigger goal, just take baby steps each day toward it. Remember the Bill Murray movie “What About Bob?” Baby steps! Each day, each step, your ability and your confidence grows and you will begin to get a glimpse of just how strong you are. The important thing here is: Don’t Quit! If you quit, of course it won’t achieve your goal and you’ll probably wind up right back where you were. Conversely, when you keep at it, even though it may seem like a long haul and the going not so good, things will get better and you will be so glad you stuck with it. You will amaze yourself and begin to see how scary-good life really is.

Example baby steps plan:
Couch potato wants to run a marathon on 50th birthday in two years. Week one goal: Get up from office chair every hour, stretch and move around. Tell other people about your plan. Gather supporters around you. Distance yourself from the naysayers. Week two: 10 minute walk on lunch time. Week three: Increase walk time. Week four: Consider getting a gym membership. Week five: Get gym membership. Get dressed for and drive to gym, even if you don’t go in. Week six: Walk on treadmill 30 minutes. Week seven: Pick up the pace a little. Week eight: Try jogging slowly on treadmill for 30 seconds. Not so bad. Subsequent weeks: Keep walking/jogging. Try jogging outside. Find a friend or group to run with. Sign up for run training program. Run your first 5k. Increase run time/distance to 10k, 1/2 marathon and marathon over time. Goal achieved! You feel powerful, unstoppable, like you could do anything, because you can.

While you’re accomplishing your dreams, surround yourself with positive, uplifting people who make you feel good about yourself. Don’t listen to, and distance yourself from, the naysayers, the energy suckers. You know who I’m talking about. That aunt or “well-meaning friend” who says you can’t accomplish that. Build a supportive team around you. My team includes not only my supportive friends, but my doctor, massage therapist, physical therapist, acupuncturist, mental health therapist, local running store owners, my running coach, yoga instructor and many more. Supportive people are all around you and will come out of the woodwork for you if you just look for them.

If you think you don’t have a support team, put me on it! I will be your cheerleader, even though I don’t know you. Sometimes it is hard to cheer for yourself. It was for me. For a long time I imagined someone else alongside me cheering me on, telling me “good job, you’ve got this!” One can never have too many cheerleaders. Over time you will develop your own inner cheerleader to add to your team.

So now it’s time for action. Set a goal. Make a plan. Stick to it. Baby steps each day. If you screw up one day, don’t give up on yourself, don’t quit. The next day is a do-over. Goals can change, plans can change, but just keep going, don’t quit. Allow me to be on your team. And let me know how I can help you on your journey of discovering how strong you really are.
Friend Kathy triumphantly scores a marathon PR on a hilly course.
Photo credit: Kathy Lein

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Searching For Balance

This morning I did something I haven’t done in over a year: I stepped on the scale. In June 2010 I weighed 130 pounds and wore a size 4. I liked weighing the same as I did in 10th grade. I admired myself in the mirror. People told me I looked good. But the thing is, I felt like crap, had no energy, napped a lot, wasn’t sleeping good. I was eating all the time, yet still slowly starving myself. I was forcing my body to be a size it didn’t want to be.

Over the last 17 months I have gained a lot of weight. I didn’t need to step on the scale to know it. I have gone from a size 4 to a size 12 (I even have a pair of 14 jeans). I avoided the scale because I knew I wouldn’t like the number I saw. Recently, I decided I want to lose 10 pounds. I needed to know where I’m starting, so today I stepped on the scale.

I cried more in anticipation of the scale than after I saw the number: 174. I have gained 40 pounds since June 2010 (running a lot doesn’t automatically keep you slender). That number doesn’t define who I am though, it’s just one small way to describe the physical me (I’m also 5’5”). So I guess today officially starts the quest to lose 10. After I lose 10, I’ll see how I feel and go from there.

In Winter 2009, I remember being upset with myself for weighing 150 pounds. My coach at the time thought maybe that’s where my body wanted to be. I thought that was total B.S. I wanted to be a skinny runner. So I forced my body to go somewhere it didn’t want to. I was a skinny runner for a few months. I felt fast and I was fast for me. I got PRs. But I barely had enough energy to get through my workouts, and I took a lot of time to recover from workouts and races.

Now that 150 pounds is sounding like a pretty good number, a happy medium. But I’ll take it 10 pounds at a time, see how I feel, and go from there. I think I’ve learned my lesson: don’t let your monkey-mind force your body to be somewhere it doesn’t want to be. At 170 pounds, I am sleeping better, can run for longer (even if it’s not as fast as I’d like), and am recovering from runs MUCH faster. And my Iron, Omega 3, and Vitamin D levels are up to where they should be—all were quite low a year ago.

I’ve gone a little too far in both directions. Now I’m just searching for balance. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Autumn Leaves 50 - No Regrets

I freely admit it— I didn’t even come close to meeting my pace/time goal for Autumn Leaves 50 mile. In fact, I finished 2nd to last, and last female. Despite this I had a wonderful, fulfilling day and learned a lot about myself. It was a day with absolutely no regrets. How could that be? Please allow me to explain.

My biggest goal this year was to qualify to apply for Western States 100 Endurance Run for 2012. Just to apply you have to run one of a list of qualifying 50 mile races in less than 11 hours. Once you apply, you have about a 10% chance of your name getting drawn in the “lottery.” Yeah, that’s how many people want to run the granddaddy of ultras. My first shot at qualifying for States was Mt. Hood 50 at the end of July. I was ready, felt strong and confident, and knew without a doubt that I would achieve this goal. Alas, I did not. Enter Autumn Leaves, my 2nd and last shot this year to qualify for States. Looking back on it now, I’m not sure I was convinced that I could do it this time, and in the end I think that hurt me. But in return, I gained so much more.

I took the early start at 6am for runners who need more time to complete the course (“regular start” was an hour later at 7am). The course, entirely within Champoeg State Park consists of eight 6.25 mile “loops”: two out-and-back sections (one much longer than the other) connected by a one-way loop. 80% of the course is on lovely asphalt bike paths, and the remaining 20% on single-track trail.

Race course in red. The point on the far left was the start/finish of each loop.
The point on the far right is the turnaround at the end of the longer out & back.
Since I started at 6am, it was dark for about the first 1.5 loops. There was a little fog in the air and moisture dripping from the trees. My headlamp lit up the little droplets of floating moisture in the darkness. Temperatures were perfect for running. I wore shorts and a tank top, didn’t need the arm warmers I’d planned on, and wore gloves only for the first loop. Since aid stations were never more than 3 miles apart, I carried a single water bottle and wore a lightweight race vest to hold my gels and other supplies. After loops 2, 4, and 6, I stopped at my drop box near the start/finish area to restock supplies: gels, supplements, and pick up an extra handheld bottle for Recoverite. After each subsequent loop, I quickly ditched the now-empty Recoverite bottle at the drop box.

I felt great the first three loops (about 19 miles). My pace for each loop was pretty consistent and right where I wanted it to be. Starting on the 4th loop, I really began to feel it. My legs weren’t tired and didn’t hurt, but I could feel it in my core being (somewhere between my head and my torso; it’s kinda hard to describe). My pace slowed considerably during lap 4, and I began to take walk breaks. I worriedly looked at the average pace displayed on my Garmin far too often, and it just kept going up and up.

Coming in to the aid station a little less than 2 miles into loop 5, I was feeling sleepy, light-headed, and a little hungry. I finally recognized this feeling as one I had experienced on a trail run this summer. “Shit! I need sugar and I need it quick,” I thought. At this point I began to drink a couple cups of Coke at nearly every aid station in addition to my gels, and also stuff a handful of grapes into my mouth when they were available.

I knew I had started taking gels a little late. It wasn’t until 40-something minutes into my run and probably another 40-45 minutes after that that I had a gel (I’m used to taking them every 30 minutes or sooner if needed), but I thought I was back on schedule. Perhaps just being off the first couple of hours did me in. My coach had warned me about the longer out & back section being not only distractingly beautiful, but distracting with people both coming and going. I was obviously not above the distractions. The trail gently undulated through a forest of huge trees, large orange fallen leaves covered the path, and leaves occasionally fell as I ran past. Moisture dripped from the trees from the previous day’s rain and the early morning fog. It was a beautiful wonderland, and I so wanted to just walk and gawk at it all. This area made me really happy. I smiled a lot, and even sang along with my iPod quite a bit.

I enjoyed watching people come toward me, seeing their smiling faces or looks of determination. Even the front-runners said “good job” as they passed, though they’d already lapped me, even starting an hour later than I did. One speedy gentleman in a red shirt, glasses, and stocking cap even said to me, “Good job, Laura” twice in passing, though I had no idea who he was, and my name was nowhere on my person. Perplexing. I smiled and exchanged salutations, high fives and hugs with friends Jeannie, Lori, Scott, Jeffrey, Gregg, Sarah, Moises, and many others. They all looked so happy and strong!

By four miles into loop 5, it was apparent that I wasn’t going to make my less-than-11-hour time goal. I didn’t allow myself time to grieve. I told myself, “Oh well, I can decide to run another 100 miler next year. Western States will still be there in 2013. I can still work this winter to get stronger physically and mentally to be the best damn pacer at Western States that I can be in 2012. And I can still do the training runs too.” Then I was over it. I decided not to look at my pace any more. Worrying about it was not doing me any good. The only thing I looked at was the Time of Day. I had to start my 8th and final lap by 4pm. My focus had completely changed within minutes. I would not let failing to meet one goal keep me from succeeding at another. One little victory.

I did however, consider quitting after the 5th loop to finish at the 50k distance instead of 50 miles. Truth be told, I was quite concerned at this point about making the 4pm cutoff to start the 8th and final lap. Bret, the Race Director, had said there was a strict 4pm cutoff, and those not making the cutoff would be disqualified. I considered quitting at the 50k distance because another goal I had for this year was to raise myself to 3-star “Gold Level” Marathon Maniac status (12 or more marathon distance or longer races in a single year). If I was disqualified from this race, it wouldn’t count, and I really needed it to count. I finished lap 5 and kept going. I didn’t hurt, and I’m no quitter when things get mentally tough. Just keep right on moving. Another little victory.

I had about 90 minutes each to complete laps 6 and 7. That sounds like plenty of time to run 6.25 miles, but there are a lot of variables that play in to that equation (aid stations, potty stops, potential walk breaks, battling mental demons, and just the fact that you’re already 31 miles in with nearly 20 miles left to go). About a mile into loop 6, I wondered if Bret really would disqualify me if I were to start loop 7 at 4:02pm. It was a chance I could not take. I began to run more and felt better as I went, though my right ankle and lower back began to ache. I ignored them. Except for the minor aches, I finished lap 6 feeling much better, but that lap had still taken a little too long.

I pulled into the aid station at the end of lap 6. Race Director Bret was there and offered to help with whatever I needed. He’s an ultrarunner too, and understands. I handed him my Recoverite powder and handheld bottle. As he mixed up my bottle of Recoverite, I downed a couple more cups of Coke and took another gel. For my 7th lap (miles 37.5 to 43.75), I knew I would not only need to run every single step, but I’d have to pick up the pace as well. I wasn’t sure I would be able to do it, but I was going to give it my best effort.

Loop 7 followed my 4-page written Race Plan exactly: “Focus more on me. Enjoy the moment. Send loving thoughts to my body. Encourage others who are down or hurting.” I now had to focus on the goal at hand. I still admired the scenery though. How could I be sad running through such a glorious landscape? I found a pace that felt like I was haulin’ ass, but that I could keep up for the entire 6.25 miles. I told myself to relax, that I had this. I enjoyed the smiles of those heading toward me on the out & back, most of them on their final lap. I sang along with the songs playing in my ear. If the song was appropriate, I sang to people as they passed me. I sing not only for my own joy, but to bring joy and inspiration to others, to share breath, inspiration, energy.

I had stashed my water bottle in a vest pocket but began to find holding the other bottle (my now-empty Recoverite bottle) quite annoying. It seemed to be taking away a bit of my focus. So as I approached the next aid station, I tossed the extra bottle 10 feet to a volunteer as I ran by, shouting “I’ll pick this up later if I remember.” I realize it might have seemed rude, but I really didn’t feel I could take the time to stop.

I looked at the Time of Day on my watch only a couple of times on loop 7. Though I thought I had the cutoff time beat, I continued to push myself to the end of the loop. I finished loop 7 with just 5 minutes to spare. I was ecstatic. I could now take as long as I wanted to for my 8th and final lap. All I had to do to earn my finisher’s medal AND my first belt buckle award was finish the last lap. I was so very happy and thankful that I hadn’t quit. I holed myself up in a porta-potty for a minute and just cried happy tears of relief. Then I jogged down to my drop box of supplies and did some nice things for myself that I felt I couldn’t take the time to do earlier: I changed my shirt and used a cold wet towel to wipe the sweat and salt off my face, neck, and hands. It felt so good! Friends that finished the race an hour or earlier were still there and cheering me on, even though I was at the back of the pack.

Loop 8 also fit my Race Plan to a T: “Victory lap!!! Do whatever comes— I know the course now!” Since I met the cutoff, I could take my time now, and I did so by walk/jogging (wogging?) most of the first 3 miles of the loop. About a mile in, I caught up to a fellow wearing orange, who was running his first ultramarathon. He’d jumped from marathon to 50 mile distance, completely skipping 50k. I’d met a couple more people like him today. Man, do those people get my respect! He asked me for my recovery advice and I gave it to him, then I started jogging again. At the last turnaround, I was surprised that he was just seconds behind me. Unless this fellow had a finishing kick better than mine, he would not beat me today! I am competitive with the people I can be competitive with, and he was my competition at this moment. It was a race for “not last.”

As I approached the final aid station, I caught a glimpse of “Mr. Orange” still right behind me. Damn! This was the aid station where I had tossed my empty bottle earlier, but once again, felt I could not take the time to stop, since I had someone hot on my tail. I yelled to the volunteer, “Do you still have my water bottle? I’m sorry, but I can’t stop.” She jogged to her car nearby, produced the bottle, then jogged ahead and met me farther up the trail. I never had to stop. What a sweetheart!

I knew it was time for me to pick up the pace to the finish. Just before mile 5 it was back to trail for most of the last 1.25 miles. I wanted to look back to see if Orange was still right behind me. I didn’t though, but just kept going. The thought of him potentially right behind me made me push harder. The song “More” by Usher started playing as I made the approach to the finish line. It’s uncanny how many times this song happens to play as I approach a finish line. The lyrics are perfect:
“I’m a beast, I’m an animal, I’m that monster in the mirror,  
The headliner, finisher, I’m the closer, winner.  
Best when under pressure, with seconds left I show up.
If you really want more, scream it out louder,  
Get it on the floor, bring out the fire,  
And light it up, take it up higher, Gonna push it to the limit, give it more.”

My first belt buckle award! Usually you have to run a 100 mile race to get one,
but a few 50 mile races also give them out. This is one.
The finish line was just on the other side of the parking lot. As I crossed the lot, I could finally let go and stride quick and strong to the finish line. This turned out to be my fastest pace of the day. A group of people stood chatting just beyond the timing mats. “Get of my way, I’m coming!” I thought. I crossed the finish line. Smiles, laughter and hugs ensued. Bret handed me my belt buckle and I broke into tears. I was so happy that I hadn’t quit when the going got a little tough. I was thrilled to have finished, even though it was nearly 2 hours more than my goal time. Had this happened very long ago, I would have been crushed and disappointed in myself. I think I’m finally starting to understand the bigger picture.

Autumn Leaves is a fabulous course. One might think you’d get bored doing eight 6.25 mile loops. But any boredom is all in your own head. The course is absolutely freaking gorgeous. Race Directors Bret Henry and his wife Gail are both so giving and loving. The volunteers were helpful and gracious, and the aid stations superbly well stocked. There were lots of cheering spectators in the middle of the day. One man in particular who looked more than a bit like Santa Claus was awesome. I looked forward to seeing him and hearing his cheers each time I passed by.

Ultrarunners are such an awesome, loving group of people. Never has one told me that I should be ashamed of myself, that I should have done better, run faster. Instead they give cheers of “good job,” “looking great,” or “keep up the good work” even when I’m obviously not feeling great or doing so well. Ultrarunners are proud of you no matter how long you take to finish (even if it’s 2nd to last) or what you look like doing it. I am so thankful to belong to such a wonderful group of people. Thank you to everyone who was a part of my wonderful day of absolutely no regrets.