Writing, Running, Being.

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

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Desert RATS Trail Running Festival 50 mile: Apparently there's crying in ultrarunning

When I first heard about ultra-running, I thought "Cool. Great way to combine my two passions: running and eating." Just running and running all day long. Going from aid station to aid station, all stocked with fruit, cookies, sandwiches, pizza, m&ms and chips. Sounds like a good time! Turns out, there's a bit more to it than that. First of all, there's nothing appealing about solid food when you've been running in the sun for hours on end. There's also the fatigue to be dealt with, both physical and mental, the blisters, the pumped-out, over-worked leg exhaustion, and...oh yeah, that pesky ENDLESSNESS. Still, I had the most awesome time doing it!

The days leading up to my race were filled with fretting about the weather, worrying about getting sick, repeatedly interrogating Brian (who rides Fruita frequently) about the Kokopelli trails until I had a complete description of the course. I anguished over every detail just to have something solid to occupy my brain until the race started. Needless to say, I was nervous! On race-day morning, my family and I ate breakfast at the hotel. I sat very quietly, trying to eat at least half of a banana, just listening to the other runners' conversations in the room. I quickly found that I was in a room full of genuine bad-asses. I overheard a woman talking about her fifth Leadville 100, and her third Wasatch 100, and the other runners all commiserated. "Oh yeah, I remember my fifth Leadville. My 10th Leadville was much better. Finally got that sub-24." Oy ve! I was hanging with the wrong crowd. So this is the conversation that took place in my brain during breakfast: "Hi guys, today is my first 50. Actually it's my first over-30. And it's also my first trail run over 16 miles." *wince*
*condescending looks* "Um, what are you doing here?"
Then I started to cry. Not in my head, but in real life. I cried at breakfast. Very subtly, I doubt anyone but Brian noticed, but still, grrr...what a freak!

After that, I pulled on my big-girl panties and got in the car. Brian drove to the race and accompanied me to the port-o-potty and the start. The race started, I said good-bye and started running. The race began with a long switchbacky climb up the Moore Fun trail. When the 2000 foot climb ended, I looked around and the scenery was amazing. All fears subsided. The descent was awesome. Super technical, but really fun. At the bottom was the first aid station and surprise! Brian and Jonas. The next section was amazing! We ran a section of Mary's Loop which is a high shelf above the Colorado River. The trails were smooth, fast and rolling. I felt great. I found a small group of women to run with and it made the time pass quickly. The next aid station was mile 9.2, the Pizza Overlook. I filled my 12 oz bottle and grabbed a couple banana slices and pressed on. The next section wound along the rim of the river and the view was awesome.

The sun was out in full force now. There wouldn't be another aid station for 7 miles. This leg proved to be long! It was rolling, but never very steep. I fell in with some slower people and told myself not to pass because it was so early in the race. In retrospect, I should have gone on ahead because I was feeling good and I could have gained ground during that section. I eventually passed them and came into the Troy Built aid station at 19.2 miles. My skin was really red so someone sprayed sunscreen on me, I grabbed more bananas, took an Endurolyte and trudged on up the hill. This was a bu-RUTAL climb. It was steep, long and on a jeep road, so the scenery was less than stellar here. I couldn't believe I was less
halfway there. I was feeling pretty discouraged. When I entered the singletrack again, Mack Ridge trail, I brightened a bit. The climb was more mellow and the incredible views returned. The Mack Ridge descent was really fun but my shins were beat. The next aid station would be the start/finish/turnaround. There were a ton of 25 mile runners around me that were really picking up the pace coming into the finish of their race. I kept holding back, knowing I still had a long way to go. I was surprised and elated to see Brian when I came out of Mack Ridge onto the road. He said to go on ahead to the aid station and he'd stay in that spot with my refills and compression socks. I ran the 1.3 miles down the hill to the start/finish aid station and grabbed a few things to eat and refilled all my water. This aid station was a hard one to stop at because there were so many people finishing their 25 mile race. I wanted to stop so badly. It didn't help that this race allowed 50 mile entrants an official 25 mile time if they chose not to go on at this point. Turns out, a lot of runners took them up on this. Only 46 of the 72 people who entered the 50 actually went on to finish it.

So, mini-meltdown, then I got the hell out of that aid station. I ran back up that hill toward Brian crying. Yes, crying. Again. How many freaking times was I going to cry on this trip? The 1.3 mile climb to Brian was steep and long. He gave me the compression socks. My legs were all pumped-out and shaking as I pulled them on. It was hard to say goodbye, but I trudged up Mack Ridge, keeping my thoughts on the next aid station. Zeke tried to follow me and I really wanted him to come, but I still had 24 miles left. I don't know if I mentioned this, but the course was 2x 25 mile loops. The second loop was run in the opposite direction so I got to see the people behind me. Many of them were 25 mile runners, and some were 50 mile runners that would not go on after the halfway point. I was one of the last 50 milers to finish and make the cut off, so this loop would prove to be lonely. I was grateful to see the folks at the Troy Built aid station again. Just under 32 miles, already longer than I had ever run in my life. The next aid station was a long 7 miles away and I would see no one. This is were I slowed the most. I walked a lot of the hills that I knew I could run and basically stopped caring about everything. I was so pissed! I don't know what I was pissed about. I think it was the fact that the aid station was so far off. It didn't even seem real. The heat was now at its worst. I felt like I was stranded in the middle of nowhere and I would never see another human again. All I could hope was that a mountain biker would find my dead body in the trail and notify the next aid station. I even contemplated hucking myself off a cliff into the river around 36-38 miles. I got over this feeling by holding onto a piece of wisdom someone once gave me about ultras. "It never always gets worse." It was true. There were peaks and valleys. I would bonk, then recover, bonk, then recover. During the hard times I kept faith in the fact that I would rise out of it. It helped to mentally make peace with the lows. I told myself it was tolerable, that I could stay here. When I wondered what I was doing out there and searched for a way out, I reminded myself that this is what I love. This is life and this is how I love to live. This is where I am happiest. The discomfort became almost comforting and eventually I felt good again.

Finally that illusive aid station turned up. I had been in such a funk for the last 7 miles that I forgot to eat my Honey Stingers, which I meant to take every 10 minutes. I drank water like crazy after diagnosing myself with dehydration (I had not peed in 6+ hrs). I kept taking Endurolytes, but my timing was off. I meant to take 1-2 per hour, but I kept forgetting whether or not I had taken them when my watch reached each new hour. The aid station gave me a chance to refuel. I refilled my water, took some GU with caffeine and a few ounces of Coke, bananas and chips and got going again. The next aid station was only 3.3 miles from there so motivation returned. I don't remember that next aid station. But I do remember that I peed shortly after. I focused on Brian and Jonas, who would be at the next one roughly 3 miles away. It was a long 3 miles. I stubbed my toe and ripped one of the toenails back. There was a giant blister under that nail so I took one of the safety pins off my bib number and popped, then taped it. It was incredibly hard to get my sock back on as my leg was shaking. Future reference: never stop and sit down! Try to tape blisters and pee while standing.

I came down the hill and saw Brian and Jonas. I only had 5.9 miles to go, but that seemed far considering the giant mountain ahead. And I knew it might take me 2 hours to get there. I had 2 hours and 5 minutes left before the cut-off. I got a popsicle and Coke. Notice my nutrition going to crap, but I didn't care. Sugar would do. I forgot to eat my Honey Stingers and take my GU on the last section. I peed 2 more times so I must have overhydrated. Moore Fun was definitely more fun to descend... Longest climb of my life. I equated it to doing Section 16 four times in a row. Again, I cried. Not really cried, as I didn't have energy. More like shook and whimpered as I lumbered up the ridge. There were a few spots where I had to crawl up the rocks because I could not raise my legs high enough to step. When the neverending climb ended, I could see the highway. It was far below and the cars looked like tiny specs but I knew the finish was near the highway so I just winced and bombed down the hill as hard as I could. It was another technical descent and my form was crap. I would have rolled down if I thought it was faster. Every step sent excruciating pain up my shins and quads. I was totally out of control.

The singletrack ended and the road began. The finish was only a mile or so away and I saw a woman ahead of me. I didn't care about passing her, but when I saw her walk a few times I decided I would try to catch her. I ran the rest of the dirt road to the finish as hard as I could, which meant I was merely jogging. When I saw Brian and Jonas waiting, all the pain went away and I booked it in. I was so stoked to be done. I couldn't believe it was over and I did it! I had the most incredible feeling after finishing. I called my mom and told her I was done. I don't remember the conversation or the drive back to the hotel. I took an ice bath then broke into a strange panic. I ate a bite of pizza and promptly threw up. I was shaking and felt like I was going to slip into a coma. I kept telling Brian to check on me if I passed out. He told me to eat, but I couldn't. I cried (again!) and said I would never do it again, but a day later found myself saying "next time" and talking about all the things I could improve upon. I have picked my next 50. Run Rabbit Run in Steamboat Springs, September 18th. Can't wait to start training!

Official time: 12:32:20 - barely under the 13 hr cutoff!
Place: well, uh, 4th from last overall, and DFL woman. Ha! Not counting all the DNFs (there were 26 of them)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Gotta acknowledge that bright side.

I have had a stressful week leading up to my first ultra. I quit my job, got a new one and caught a nasty stomach bug. I have also been compulsively checking the race day forecast and it changes frequently. First it said sunny, high of 56, that was cool. Then I just I had to check again a day later and thunderstorms were forecasted for the whole day. Then I checked again and it said high of 70, partly cloudy. Yikes. I don't know about 70. That's pretty freaking hot for me. Now it says high of 70, 20% chance of rain. And I don't care anymore. I'm not going to check again. The weather is going to do what it wants and there is nothing I can do about it. It's totally out of my hands. I've decided to bring every article of running gear I own and decide what to wear when I get there. So the weather is taken care of. Not an issue.

The stomach bug is (I think) gone from here. I spent the wee hours of Sunday morning with my ass on the toilet and my head in a mop bucket. It was intense! Both ends, I tell ya! My husband and son both caught and rid themselves of the virus before I did, so I had a little time to prep myself. I knew it was coming so I just snuggled up close to my boys, inhaled the little bitch and said, "Bring it!" so I could get it fast and then get over it. I got it the worst of all three of us. Today (Wednesday), I am venturing to say my body is back to normal. I slammed Pedialyte yesterday to re-hydrate and I think it worked. Today's goal is to EAT and eat well. Oh, how I've missed solid food!

Now that I am able to leave the house, I have some errands to run. Then I need to gather all my gear and race food and pack it. I also need to clean the house so I have something pretty and sanitary to come home to. All that's left to do after that is relax and get happy! We leave for Fruita on Friday morning. I truly am excited to run my first ultra. There is something about doing a new distance that is simply exhilarating. Popping the distance cherry. I'm sure it will hurt in a good way.

PS: I lied about not checking the weather again. I just checked a different site and it said high 62, partly cloudy. Not bad! But I still don't care. :)


Apr 17
Partly Cloudy

Partly Cloudy


Partly Cloudy. High 62F and low 40F. Winds SE at 17 mph. Air Quality:NA, UV Index:7


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

missing the point

There was this woman I used to run with in college. I think of her as "old" but she was probably only in her mid 30s and that was old to me then. She told me I had an "old soul" and that made me feel really cool and mature at the time. Now I believe it means I'm just jaded before my time. Years later, while celebrating a friend's birthday at a bar, I pointed out that I was the youngest in the group. Then my friend told me that I got "bonus years" for having a kid. Having a child has aged me a bit I guess. It has put this weird pressure on me to figure everything out. It's like I have to hurry up and find the meaning of life before my son grows up and becomes aware that I am just another person who knows nothing. He'll someday find that just because I have always told him what to do, doesn't mean I hold any kind of authority in the real world. That any idiot can have a child. It's easy. And you don't have to be smart, nice, or even CPR certified.

There is so much I don't understand. I just don't know how to teach the world to someone who knows nothing. I have come up with a game plan, and that is to expose my child to as much of the world as my heart will allow and hope he develops his own healthy view of it. Maybe he will come up with the answers that have always eluded me. The things I do know make very little sense to me and I'm better off not knowing them.

You can convince yourself that you want what you have or that you need something more. You can see love as a choice, an emotion or a declaration born of necessity. You can work hard and receive nothing or everything, but there's never a guarantee. Sometimes you get what you deserve and sometimes you have to take what you think you're entitled to. You can try so hard to forget things, that eventually you truly can't remember. You can try a little peace and quiet and if that doesn't work, fill yourself up with people and noise. You can play these games because it makes life pass more quickly, or slowly, whichever you prefer. You can keep dashing between opposing extremes until you are too exhausted to care and then you can stop thinking about life and just breathe.

On cold mornings you can see your breath. Believe in it because it is proof that you are living. And life doesn't have to mean anything. You should just allow it to happen because it will happen despite the conflicting meanings you have tried to attach to it. If you try too hard to find the meaning of life, you'll miss the point. It will happen before you figure out what it meant.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

WTF was I thinking?

My first ultra-marathon is two weeks away and I have officially entered the freak-out zone. Fuck, Shit, Crap, Damn, Sonofabitch, Motherfff... WHAT THE FUCK WAS I THINKING?! Can we please just get this over with? Like, now. Just put a bag over my head, place me at the starting line and let me proceed with humiliating myself. Ugh, at least I have mastered the "respect the distance" aspect of ultra-running. Yup, got that part down.

My friend who is a new (but good) runner asked me how I trained for 50 miles and wanted to know how long my longest run was. I sort of winced when I said, "30 miles." She wondered how those extra 20 just "sneak in there." Uh, yeah good point. How do they do that? When I signed up for this thing , I didn't really think it would be me that ran the ultra. It would be some super fit, trained beast that I meant to transform myself into prior to the race. Turns out, I'm still me. Stupid, fat, slow-ass ME.

There just isn't enough time to do anything about that. The race is paid for, room is booked, time off work accepted, and the show must go on. Where did my excitement go? Race day wouldn't come fast enough a couple months ago. I have since come down with a case of the "I Don't Wannas." That's Fear. It ruins everything. When you give it an inch, it takes a mile. It gets its foot in the door, then storms your brain and destroys every positive thought that tries to stand up for itself. It leaves Doubt in its wake who scrambles around, searching the debris for a "Yes" but eventually succumbs to the "NOs." I started a list of excuses. So far I don't have a legitimate reason to back out except "why" which is what everyone said in the first place and at the time, I rolled my eyes because "why" is too easily answered with "why not" But answering questions with other questions only buys time.

Eventually you run out of time and you find yourself with your head in a bag at the starting line. If you take the bag off your head, you will increase your chances of completing the god-forsaken course. You will probably see the people around you smiling. You will realize they are smiling because they get to run today. And you will probably smile about that too.