Writing, Running, Being.

The finish line is a shifty Thing and what is life, but reckoning?
Ani DiFranco

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Running should be free, man.

I don't race very much. Sometimes I feel like less of a runner because of this. I hate missing out on local races. I feel guilty about it, like I really should be running all of them. If I'm not racing in my own town's Turkey Trot, can I even call myself a runner? People who don't even run come out at least for the Turkey Trot. If I don't run the Turkey Trot, am I less than a non-runner? It seems silly, but I think most of us, to some degree, feel compelled to race just to maintain our identities as runners.

When you meet people and they find out you're into running, they always ask how many races or "marathons" you've done. I hate that question. If they're less than impressed with your number (which then becomes your status), they'll tell you about their friend, or co-worker, or co-worker's friend who does a marathon every month. The subliminal message is: "THERE! Betcha don't feel like such a runner anymore, huh?" Running several marathons per year, or completing the "50 states" challenge only proves one thing as far as I'm concerned. You have money.

If you want to get really personal, or even if you don't, I'll tell you that my husband and I make ~25K per year (together). We happen to be really good at budgeting and managed to pay off 10K of credit card debt in 2 years, and buy a house on our meager rations. We worked really hard to do that. We said "no" in a lot of places we wanted to say "yes". For me, that meant saying "no" to races. It hurt a lot at first. For a short time, between graduating college and becoming a mom, I had the financial freedom to do whichever races I wanted. I could afford coaching, entry fees, travel expenses, and even *gulp* triathlons! If it was the "season" I was busy racing every weekend, collecting those shiny medals and hoarding wrinkled bib numbers. Who did I think I was? Were all those meaningless trinkets defining me as a runner? Yup. Well, I was allowing them to, anyway. Each race was another notch in my belt. I was compiling evidence that I was in fact, not a loser (even though you can certainly be the technical loser of a race and still get the medal). I needed these things to uphold my "Runner" status. Somehow I missed how simple it really was. To be a runner, all I needed to do was run.

Sometimes I have to catch myself because I start basing my runner-esteem on the races I've done. When I count them up, there aren't too many and I get a little depressed. "I should race more," I say. "I need to catch up. [So and so]'s been running 1/5 as long as I have and he's already done 6 marathons. I've only done 3." I have to consciously draw myself out of these self-depricating chats. I have been running half my life. I'm 26. I'm a runner, and I don't need 2 million finisher's medals to prove it.

In my opinion, road races have gotten out of control. They are too big and too expensive. Do you really need a medal, another tech shirt and a bag full of useless sample products to motivate yourself to compete in a race? Are you even competing? Or are you just buying yourself another medal? I don't want to knock anyone for being out there and getting exercise but when I see people in races, walking and happily chatting on their cell phones or treating the road race as a parade (writing their names on their shirts, waving like political candidates at spectators) I have to wonder if they're missing the point. Or if racing has deviated from its original intent. I mean, it's supposed to be painful, right?

In In the last few years, I have gone down to running one or two main events per year. I live in Colorado Springs, where there is some kind of local race almost every weekend, all year round. I'd go broke if I did all of them. The Pikes Peak Road Runners is a group that puts on many of the races here. For the most part, they are void of nonsense medals and schwag bags. They charge just enough to put on the race and keep the runners hydrated. I like that. We want to run for the competition and the camaraderie, not the goodies. We don't need another shirt, we don't need to be pampered at every aid station, and we don't need to be marketed to at giant, crowded expos. We just need to race. Whether it's other runners, the clock, or just ourselves, racing is what we come to do.

I know that there are as many reasons to run as there are runners. There are as many reasons to race as there are racers. I'm fine with just being a runner. I would do it if races didn't exist. I would do it if Garmin didn't exist. I would run for the same conflicting reasons I have always run: the pure joy and total agony of it. Take away all the glitter and tell me why you really love to race.

I don’t want anyone to do anything except come run, party, dance, eat, and hang with us. Running isn’t about making people buy stuff. Running should be free, man. -Micah True (from Born to Run)

Friday, February 12, 2010


I had my first ART appointment last Monday. ART stands for Active Release Techniques. It is a patented soft tissue treatment based on massage techniques. It treats problems with muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia and nerves. These tissues are treated through a combination of pressure (like massage) and movement. This breaks down the built-up scar tissue.

I had my hips and hamstrings worked on. My hamstrings have been really tight lately, particularly the right one. Last summer, I ramped up my mileage by about 60% in total defiance of the controversial 10% rule. My body sent me signs that I needed to stop and I ran through them. The biggest sign was that my hip flexors tightened so much that I could barely stand up straight. My right hip was especially tight, so a hamstring injury in the same leg a few months later is the next logical injury.

The LMT that worked on my legs said that my hip flexors were still really tight. He said that my hips had rotated anterior. Picture the hips as a bowl of water. Mine are dumping the water out down the front of my body. I heard from some other athletes that ART can heal your injury in one or two treatments. After one, I'm certainly not "healed" but I am going back this week for more. Thank god for the tax refund, because these treatments run $80 a session! Ouch! I really hope I can get these problems with my body sorted out soon because my ultra is in about 8 weeks and I need to be getting some long runs in now!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"Walk...Run...Walk...Run..." Pacer's Perspective Rocky Raccoon 2010

I had the opportunity to pace and crew for an amazing woman, Tara at the Rocky Raccoon 100 mile race last weekend. I had never actually met Tara in person. We belong to an online group of running moms on CafeMom aptly named, Running Moms. I have been in this group for a little over two years and call many of the women "friends" even though we've never met. Three other women from the group came out to Huntsville, TX to pace and crew for Tara. There was Tracey from Kansas, Cathy from California and Bethany from Austin, TX. It was so fun to meet these girls. They were all just as they seemed online, only now I had faces to put with screen names. To be honest, I was a little nervous about spending a weekend with a bunch of women, as the fairer sex sometimes tends to get a little catty and oh, just a hare dramatic when kept in close quarters. This was not the case with the Running Moms. They are such a positive, encouraging, happy and uplifting group. Even after 48 hours with only 2-3 hours of sleep each, not a single cat fight ensued.

Cathy, Tracey, Tara and I met in the airport and Tara drove us to Huntsville. We went straight to packet pick-up and then checked out the course. We ate and promptly went to bed around 8PM. I don't think any of us except for Tara slept very well, if at all. She was the one who needed it though. her body must have known what was coming! We all woke up around 3:40 AM on Saturday to get to the race early, as we were warned that parking drama could be an issue. We got there, parked, Tara checked in and we waited for the start. I could tell Tara was getting really anxious at this point. She kept quadruple-checking that we crew members knew what to do.

After the race started, there was not much we could do for another 4 hours, when we expected Tara to come into the 20 mile turnaround for more food, water and new socks. Unfortunately Cathy got sick. What we thought might be nerves turned out to be something worse so we took her back to the hotel to rest. After Tracey and I took Cathy back to the hotel, we hit Denny's where we would eat about 12 more times during the trip. Seriously, we became VIPs at this joint! During breakfast, we pulled up the course map on the laptop and reconfigured the pacing arrangements to give Cathy a shorter leg or take her out altogether if needed. We decided I would take the first leg, which was one loop of the course, miles 60-80, then Tracey taking 80-83, Bethany taking the net 12.5 and Cathy the last 4.5. This is the plan we stuck with ultimately.

Tracey and I set up camp in the spectator/drop bag area of the 20 mile turnaround. We made sure all of Tara's food was in place, dry socks and shoes were out, and everything was ready to go. Then we waited. Just before 10 AM, Tara came cruising down the trail. She was surprised Cathy wasn't there, but we hooked her up with water, food and socks, taped a blister and sent her on her way. She was doing awesome, but in hindsight, we should have told her to slow down. During the next 20 miles, Tracey and I went back to check on Cathy. She was feeling fine so we got lunch at Denny's, where we met Bethany, who drove from Austin. After lunch, everyone went back to the course to wait for Tara. I really wanted to see her come in to mile 40, but I was bonking and had 20 miles to run that night so I went back to the hotel and got about 2 hours of sleep. Not what I was going for, but at least it was something!

Tara came in to mile 60 just after 6PM so she was still on pace. The goal was to pace her to run the 100 miles in under 24 hours. We had plenty of leeway. When we started running together, Tara told me she had been walking all the hills. As a pacer it was my job to remember this and to start walking when we approached a hill. Tara and I had different definitions of "hill" and I kept forgetting to walk them. Luckily, she was not too far gone to remind me. It grew dark a few minutes into the run. As night fell, things got hard. Tara needed more and more walk breaks. After several minutes of walking, I worried that the whole loop might be this way. I had to get her moving faster, not just for the sub 24 hour goal, but just for the sake of not being out there so incredibly long.

I asked her to run again and she agreed so I started to play around with different run/walk intervals. 4 minutes jogging to 1 minute walking seemed the most feasible, but even that was hard to keep up after awhile. We were moving slow, but we were moving. The one thing Tara didn't do was stop. At one point I looked at her face and she just looked so tired, so sad and so down. The mom in me wanted to scoop her up and carry her to bed, tuck her in and let her fall into the sleep her body was so forcefully pulling her toward. But out in the middle of the woods, that wasn't an option. I kept glancing at my Garmin. "Run....Walk....Run.....Walk...." I glanced back every now and then, but mostly just listened to her quiet shuffle. I listened to the rustling of her Honey Stinger packages and the sucking sound of her hydration pack and when several minutes had passed without those sounds I reminded her to eat and drink. The chews were making her stomach hurt. I wanted to say "Ok, forget them" but they were all we had until the next aid station. She didn't want to eat, but she did anyway, knowing it was the only way to keep moving.

Pacing Tara was a lot different than I expected. I thought we would talk, laugh and sing the night away. I knew there would be hard times, but I didn't expect the whole 20 miles to be so brutal. Maybe I was a boring pacer. I threw out a few stories and anecdotes where she politely laughed, or grunted her acknowledgment, but for the most part I just said "Run....Walk....Run...Walk..." Maybe I didn't come through on the whole entertainment portion of pacing. Maybe it was Stage Fright. Maybe I just didn't have enough material. Maybe it was the stress of Miles before us and the solemness of Night, but nothing seemed like the right thing to say. Except "Run....Walk....Run....Walk..."

After a couple hours of being on the Run/Walk schedule, I realized it was still early and that Tara was still on pace for a sub-24 hour run. I told her this and she brightened a bit. There was a renewed energy now that the original goal was still up for grabs. I asked her if she still wanted it and of course she did. I wanted to allow Tara at least six hours to do the last lap. I felt this would make the goal more realistic. I knew the last lap would be the hardest, which meant it would also be the slowest. To make room for that, we had to pick up the pace again. I'm sure picking up the pace seemed like the worst idea in the world to Tara, as she had already resorted to the "survivor's shuffle" and there was nothing left in her legs. But she was down with it! We had an hour and a half to get back to the finish line by midnight, thus giving her 6 hrs for the last loop. My eyes stayed glued to the Garmin the entire time. "Walk..Run..Walk..Run.." That last 90 minutes flew by for me because I was so focused on time and intervals. Tara kept on eating and drinking, but now only on my recommendation. She was focused on moving and that was it. Tara's body was done. We had been operating on her mental tank the whole loop and now even that was draining. I wondered what she would use for the last loop.

We made it to the start/finish/turnaround area a few minutes after midnight as planned, and the crew was waiting with warm clothes. Tara told Tracey, her next pacer that she was going for sub-24. Unfortunately that only lasted about 30 seconds. Horrible, death-like fatigue grabbed her and pulled down, down, down, to the point that she was falling asleep on Tracey's shoulder while walking. "Only" 3 miles became the longest part of the race, as Tara stumbled, corpse-like to the Nature Center aid station on Tracey's guiding arm. I don't know how Tracey kept her awake for the hour and twenty minutes that those 3 miles took, but they got there! The crew was waiting at that station and we were worried since they were so late. It was after 1AM when they arrived. Tara needed to sleep. She was slipping away before our eyes and it was scary. We checked her into the aid station and carried her to the car where she napped. She became a shivering, mumbling heap of dry bones in the back of her Honda Pilot. We called an EMT over to check her out. All Tara said was that she was still finishing. The crew knew that, but the EMT shook her head and said something about those "crazy ultrarunners." We got her warm and let her sleep until 3:45.

Tara woke up still looking like sheer hell, but she was ready to finish. Bethany took her out on the next 12.5 mile segment. It was a death march. They trudged on through the night and into the morning, taking solace in the fact that each step was ground behind them and brought them closer to the finish. During this section, Cathy, Tracey and I went back to the hotel for some sleep. We knew this section would be a long one. I think we all felt a little guilty as we laid ourselves down in warm, soft beds. Tara was so far from this. So far from comfort. She no longer knew comfort. Warm shower, soft pillow, bed, it was all so far behind her and so far ahead of her. She was in survival mode.

In the "morning" the crew awoke to a text from Bethany saying that Tara was doing great and they were getting close. It was daytime now, but not necessarily sunny. We waited for Tara and Bethany at the last aid station, where Cathy would take over pacing for the last 4.5 miles. Standing at that aid station for that hour was both disturbing and inspiring. The runners coming through were so broken-down and beat, it was hard to watch. They were so close to the finish, but after 95.5 miles, even 4.5 is a long way to go. They were expressionless, hobbling through, immune to the cheers and uplifting comments that we pathetically chucked at them. An older gentleman came through bent at a 45 degree angle. We cheered him on. "You look great!" I said. I meant it, but he cast me a sideways glance and mumbled "Bullshit." There was no fooling these people. You can't make them think they are in less pain than they are, because they can feel every shard of it. You can't make them think the finish line is just around the bend because it's not. It is still a long way off. There is nothing you can say to effectively cheer these runners. They are miserable and you can not relate. All you can do is watch them go by.

Tara really did look great when she came into this aid station. She had walked the 12.5 miles at an 18 minute mile pace. There wasn't much excitement in her face. There wasn't much of anything there, except weak smiles, probably forced for our sake. I don't know that emotionally, she was feeling anything in particular. Just knowledge of what needed to be done and willingness to do it. She took off with Cathy. We waited and waited at the finish line. We watched a few runners finish, including the bent-over man. I told him he still looked great and at least he smiled this time. I felt relieved to see him finish. Finally we saw Tara and Cathy coming down the final stretch. We cheered, cried (well, I cried) and took lots of pictures. Tara crossed the line in 28:08. It was beautiful.

Before going to Rocky Raccoon, I decided that I wanted to run 100 miles. I have a 50 miler planned for April and it just won't come fast enough. After going to Rocky, I still want to run 100 miles, but it's different now. I have more respect for the distance. I'm not giddy or excited to run it like I was before witnessing 100 miles. I have sobered up. 100 miles isn't something to take lightly. I feel calmer now, but more austere, more bound to the 100 mile run. I have decided not to rush it. I will wait until I am truly ready to sign myself up for one, knowing now that there is a lot to prepare for, a lot to lose, and a lot to run! Some runners say that 100 miles changes you. Somebody once told Matt Carpenter that you don't know who you are until you run 100 miles. He replied "Damned if I'm going to die and not know who I am." I get that.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Thugs don't read "Field & Stream Magazine"

Last week, my garage was burglarized and precious bikes were stolen. The crime was reported, claim was made with the insurance company, and five of the six phases of grief had passed on through. Shock, Denial, Anger, Depression, Acceptance. All in a matter of days. My husband and I had found peace and accepted that we no longer had mountain bikes. In a sense, we were over it.

Monday morning I was driving to work when just blocks from my house I spotted a guy riding my husband's stolen bike! On the wrong side of the road, helmet-less, and in broad daylight, he rode. He shamelessly pedaled along through a school zone, past a cop, on my husband's bright freaking blue, very expensive, custom mountain bike. "This isn't real" I thought. I never expected to see that bike again. I had about 2 seconds of internal debate before I laid on the horn and shouted "That's my BIKE!" The kid looked at me with wide, startled eyes and started spinning like crazy. He was in a low gear. It was on.

I followed him in my car as he took me on a tour of the neighborhood. And no, I didn't menace him with my car, as I am for cyclists' rights to the road. I just followed him around until we came to a dead end. There was a barbed wire fence which enclosed an apartment complex. He hopped off the bike, gave a running start and proceeded to hurl the bike over the fence. I was already out of the car and jumping (my chest on the top of the fence) up to grab whatever I could of the bike. I had a hold of the chainstay and the kid by now was on the other side of the fence trying to yank the bike free. Luckily, the crank had wrapped itself around the barbed wire and the bike was going nowhere. I called Brian with my free hand. While waiting for Brian to arrive, the culprit and I played tug of war with the bike. I yelled at him and then explained why he couldn't have this bike.

I told him this bike was "special" because my husband made it. I told him that it was our last name on the down tube and that the bike was worth more than most of the cars in that apartment parking lot. I told him that stealing this particular bike was a felony and when he told me he bought the bike from his friend for a hundred bucks, I told him that merely being in posession of the bike was a felony. He said "Lady, I really need this bike, I need it." In the scuffle, one of the tire's sidewalls was ripped on the barbed wire. I told the kid that he would never be able to ride this bike anyway because the wheel size is super rare. They are 650B and he would have to special order new tires from a bike shop who would likely turn him in to the cops.

The young delinquent begged me not to call the cops. Then I started to feel bad. This is a huge character flaw, I just don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. Even felons. I told him I could get him another bike. "Will it be this nice?" he asked. I assured him it would. I also promised him a ride home and he gave up the fight. I had all but exchanged phone numbers and invited the perp in for tea and crumpets when Brian came barreling down the dead end street, leapt over the fence and punched the dude in the face, knocking him to the ground. I yelled at Brian for a second, then took off, remembering there was a cop stationed at the school zone one block away (duh).

So we have recovered one bike. Honestly, I don't feel good about it. I don't feel complacent or victorious like you usually do when justice prevails. I feel this way, partly because I am beyond paranoid that this kid will gather his friends, gang, or whatever and come back to retaliate. I think my husband scared him enough to stay away forever, but his last sentence to Brian keeps ringing in my head "All it takes is one phone call." People have killed for a lot less than a punch in the face or a bicycle. This worries me. When I came home from work today, there was a strange car sitting in front of my house. I decided not to go home because I was scared and went to Safeway until Brian got home. When he called to tell me he was there I asked if everything was okay. He said "Yes, everything's fine. Thugs don't read "Field & Stream Magazine." Um, what? The car belonged to my next-door neighbor's friend and there was a copy of "Field & Stream" on the passenger's seat. Oh. Well, ya never know...

My aunt, who is a public defense attorney and works with juvenile delinquents reamed me in a Facebook status comment for taking matters into my own hands rather than contacting the authorities. She's right, I took a huge risk and put myself in danger by facing this kid. It's not that the thought of calling the cops didn't cross my mind, it's just that I have no faith in them. It's not them that I don't believe in really, but with recent decreased funding to the police department, our resources are limited and I felt that this situation wasn't reason enough to detract from them. I just knew that if I didn't go after that bike, I would never see it again. I should have been okay with that, but I reacted quickly and irrationally.

Another thing that keeps haunting me is the kid's misfortune. I don't know if he personally broke into our garage or if he bought the bike off of a friend like he said. Judging by the way he reacted when I honked at him, he knew that bike was stolen. A part of me still feels that we stole from him. There he was, merrily riding along when this crazy woman chases him down and rips his bike out from under him and then her crazy husband comes and punches him in the face. Poor kid is now bikeless, bloody and (possibly) out a hundred bucks. What a shitty day!

So far, I'm lucky. No one has come back for revenge on the twice-stolen bike. My bike is still out there somewhere, but I'm not going to go looking for it. I hope that it's spray painted by now so that if I do see it, I won't recognize it and do something stupid again. Sometimes you should get away with things. The thief can get away with stealing my bike if I can get away with the risk I took. We'll call it even.

As a welcome home present to Brian's bike, I am going to take new pictures of it with a non-wrinkly sheet in the background

Monday, February 1, 2010

It's always more fun to get high TOGETHER

Have I mentioned I love my dog, Zeke? He is such a great running partner. Oh, and he's been doing much better with the shoe chewing thing. It's ironic because now I'm thinking he can just have them! I'm really becoming a believer in barefoot running. Yesterday I set out on a hike with Zeke, which turned into a run. I am still resting my hamstring but it was nearly 45 degrees and sunny in January, who could blame me for breaking into a run?

After about a mile I took my shoes off. The trail was smooth in that spot, but grew rockier. I just took my time and stepped as softly as possible. I even ran over several sections of packed snow. It wasn't as cold as it sounds. It's definitely cold if you stop on the snow, but running on it felt great since it wasn't as rocky as everywhere else. The parking lot of Red Rocks Open Space was packed so I knew my bare feet wouldn't go unseen. I was sort of prepared for that. I passed by a couple who gave me funny looks, but didn't say anything. Then a family with two small children pulled over to the side of the trail to let me by. "Barefoot, huh?" the dad commented. And I smiled and said "Yup, just trying it out." Then I heard his kids asking him questions about why I was running in snow with no shoes. Sorry, dude, hope I didn't set a bad example.

Next I crossed paths with a woman about my age who was running and she said "That's awesome." Okay, I felt a little better at this point. Less self-conscious. I don't think being barefoot is something to be ashamed of, but I'm not exactly a beautiful gazelle, swiftly-smoothly-gliding through the forest. I'm more like Homer Simpson falling down the stairs "D'oh! Argh! Er! Son-of-a!" Not something to be entirely proud of....yet.

After about three quarters of a mile I stopped caring who I saw on the trail. I was just really proud of myself because I was running over new terrain with no shoes and I felt like I was on my way to becoming a real barefoot runner. I know it will take time. Years, probably. But it will be good for me, Instant Gratification Girl, to practice that kind of patience.

I love running barefoot with my dog. I'm like "Hey Zeke, look at me, no shoes! Just like you!" and he's like "Cool, I'm going to go chase those deer!" Between reaching a new barefoot milestone, and running for the first time in a week, Zeke and I found ourselves totally elated and just couldn't stop running. I felt the ol' Runner's High coming back and I know Zeke was feeling it too.