Running…I am complete.

50K finish

I made it to the finish.

One of the first things I ask myself after a race is, “What’s next for me?”  It’s helpful to look forward whether my race experience was successful or challenging in hindsight.  It keeps the post-race emotional slump at bay (I’m not the only one who has this, right?!).  It reminds me that running (and life) is a process and that personal growth is never linear or straightforward.  Sometimes I want to improve in what I’m doing, and other times I want to go in a new direction.

After my 50K, what kept popping into my mind was “Running…I am complete”.  It was true.  When I started running endurance events in 2010, I had hoped to become a half marathoner, a marathoner, and ultimately, an ultrarunner.  I wanted to use my running to raise money for charity, and I did, raising $10,000 for autism in honor of my son.  I wanted to join Half Fanatics and Marathon Maniacs, and then run a sub-4 hour marathon.  Check.  Later, I got sidetracked by an incredibly fun alpine cycling adventure (Thanks, France), only to return to running, and that elusive goal of completing an ultramarathon.

It took me seven years to work up the courage, fitness, confidence, and to build the consistency that I needed to accomplish my goal of running a 50K.  There were many failures along the way, all of which helped me correct and move closer to my goal.  Was my finish time the best I’m capable of?  Probably not, given my uncooperative knee.  But speed was never on my radar for this race.  I wanted to show up to the start, keep moving forward, and finish.  Check.  Check.  Check.

I knew immediately after the finish that trail running was amazing, and I wanted to run trails more often.  I knew that I had blown my annual fitness budget on this big trip, and that it was totally worth it to not race again in 2017.  I also knew (as I already anticipated) that I had no desire to ever run 50 miles, 100K, or 100 mile races.  Yep, 50K was a lot like a half marathon road race.  The perfect distance to enjoy the ultra experience without feeling trashed afterwards.  It was just what I was looking for, and no more.

It’s an elusive but positive emotion, feeling content.  It doesn’t mean I’ll never challenge myself, but it means I can look at the path behind me and think “That was amazing, and I’m right where I need to be.”

What’s next?  Haven’t answered that question yet.

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50K of Tree Hugging

Tree Hugger

Who cares about race pace when there are trees to hug?

Ok folks, I’ve done it.  I’ve crossed over to the trail ultrarunning world with the 2017 Mendocino Coast 50K race under my belt.  I don’t want to admit to myself how much I just enjoyed my first 50K, as this will likely lead to ongoing muddy shoes and risk of being eaten by wild animals.  However, my instinct tells me that this must happen again in my running future.

I’m happy to report that I finished my first 50K, just squeaking under the cut off time of 8:30 by a mere 10 minutes.  Funny, in road racing, the cut off time has always been some distant non-concern of mine, to be considered only by those who walk the entire race or get injured.  Practically a joke.

Now picture me, exhausted after 31 miles, sprinting along a riverside cliff, dead Garmin battery, having no frame of reference for remaining clock time and distance to the finish.  In that moment, I was running as fast as I could, thinking ‘What if I miss the cut off by 30 seconds after all these hours?!?!’  Yes, I have been schooled by trail running.  Ego has been checked.

I now know that I do not know how to run downhill trails, or in mud, or how to use a rope to scramble up embankments.  I know that if the tree is big enough, I will stop to hug it, and the resulting poison ivy rash will be worth it.  I know that it doesn’t matter how muddy I get, because eventually I will cross another stream and get soaked, both of which are immeasurably fun.  I know that if I run on beaches, over breathtaking oceanfront cliffs, through redwood forests, and past waterfalls, my soaring soul will more than make up for my hurting body.  Lastly, I know that ultra races have a uniquely cool community vibe, and I might just be ok with wearing a trucker cap or drinking a microbrew on occasion, even though neither involve kale.

That was my 50K in a nutshell.  Freakin’ awesome.

Two Weeks Notice

trail run

It’s about 17 days until 50K race day.  Time to give my body two weeks notice that it is about to be trashed in exchange for bragging rights and a race medal, should the stars align.  I have to say, I’ve been tapering for about 6 weeks now, a taper length which doesn’t actually exist on any legit training plan.  More accurately, I signed up for a 24 week program and peaked at week 18 by accident.

I knew the last month of training was going to be tricky, filled with social commitments, volunteer hours, and those lingering freezing cold DC spring mornings.  I didn’t anticipate how much I would loathe running in those final weeks leading up to race day.  I’m chalking this up to poor weather combined with a purposeful lack of training buddies, both of which backfired into boredom and burnout.

Rather than dig myself further into an emotional hole, I decided to take some time off.  I wanted to feel fresh on race day, both emotionally and physically.  Heck, all I need to do is show up to the race start and I’ve outdone my past two marathon performances.  I’m pretty sure I’ll finish, give that the course is a loop, and the alternative to finishing is sleeping in the woods alone overnight.  There’s some motivation, although at mile 25, sleeping in the woods will probably seem like a brilliant idea.

I’m incredibly excited about race day…the travel, the scenery, the people, the vegan eats, and the inevitable suffering, which I am now oddly craving due to my exceptionally long taper…mission accomplished.  I’m pretty sure my 3-part race strategy is still spot on:

  1. Stay upright
  2. Stay on course
  3. Finish

 

When Resting, Rest.

Cabo Mexico

Greetings from 10Kale land.  It’s so nice to be back to my beloved blogging practice.  Seems I took an extended siesta after my trip to Mexico in February.  Funny how a slight change of routine often sends my daily habits into a tailspin.  Fortunately, I’ve been down that road many times with running, so I know how to get back into gear after some down time.

Speaking of down time, Mexico was fantastic.  I made a bold and uncomfortable decision to not pack my running shoes and run exactly zero miles during my trip.  The former militant me would have never allowed myself the possibility of a training break, even on vacation.  However, I vowed to make this training cycle different.  Lower stress.  Sustainable.  Fun.

I once read a little zen proverb that goes something like this: “When walking, walk. When eating, eat.”  It follows then, that when resting, rest.  I was in Mexico to rest, and so I did.  There would be other time to run and work, but without rest, my running and my spirit would surely suffer.

I’m happy to say that I rested and feel ready as ever to tackle my next race.  After which, I look forward to dipping my toes in the ocean once again.

40 Miles In Mexico

mexico

My extrovert husband is in sales, bless his heart.  If my introverted self had to make sales calls for a living, I would be curled up in the fetal position, hiding under my desk, rocking back and forth for comfort.  For some odd reason, his competitive side loves the challenge.

The life of a sales person’s spouse is an interesting one.  You’ll find your significant other traveling and entertaining, exhausting themselves while earning an income that is either feast or famine.  You frequently have to offer them condolences about failed deals and stagnant careers, only to find out that they have indeed met their sales quota and qualified last minute for their annual sales club vacation, requiring you to squeeze yourself into a bikini in February with little to no warning.

Sometimes politics or economics take over, and there is no sales club event in a given year.  Other years, you hit the jackpot and get to go.  It’s funny to endure 360 days of career roller coaster annually, only to unconditionally forgive your spouse’s employer during the 5 days a year when you’re sitting on the beach together.  But what can I say, if a free beach vacation is offered, my answer is a resounding ‘Hell Yes’ and ‘Thank You’.

This year’s trip is Mexico, and serendipitously, it falls during a rest week in my training plan!  I love when the stars align.  According to my plan, I only have to clock 40 miles of running during the trip, the longest of which is 14 miles.  Sure, no problem.

Last time I went to Mexico on vacation, the beaches were all private, meaning the minute you tried to leave the patch of sandy paradise in front of your resort, the security guards stopped you and asked where you were staying.  This promptly determined whether you were allowed to walk upon the next patch of sandy paradise.

This scenario would leave me approximately 200 feet of beachfront in which to run my 14 miles (how many laps is that?).  My other option might be to climb over the enormous resort gates that lock out the actual experience of authentic local Mexican culture from the resort goers.  Nope, too risky.  Let’s hope there’s a treadmill in the air conditioned resort gym.

Regardless, I’m incredibly excited to soak up some sun, and the change of scenery will do my training some good, regardless of how many miles I am realistically able to squeeze in.

I plan on relaxing, enjoying the beach, and studying my handy little Mexican Spanish phrasebook, which conveniently has a whole section on how to request vegetarian & special meals.  It should be fun attempting high-maintenance restaurant orders in another language.
 

 

Minimalism & The Long Run

I am somewhat risk-averse.  I remember the first time I ever set out on a long run back in 2010, while training for my first marathon.  I felt intimidated, but darn it, I was determined to have the situation under control.

Strapped to my body were more gadgets than a one man band.  I had a Garmin to track my pace & mileage, heart rate monitor, body glide to prevent chafing, a fuel belt equipped with four water bottles, gels, my phone and headphones for entertainment, visor, sunglasses, compression socks, and new shoes.

In hindsight, I had probably added at least 5 pounds of equipment to carry, along with the hassle of having to deal with it all later on in the run when I was exhausted.  Half-full, sloshing water bottles, bouncing sunglasses, a tangled headphone wire, and a whole lot of chafing from the heart rate monitor and compression socks.

Fast forward 7 years, and here I am, still subjecting myself to those long runs.  This week’s was a 20-miler, but mileage was about all it had in common with the past.  I still have my Garmin and shoes, but the majority of the other running gear is gathering dust in my closet.

I’ve come to realize that the less I have with me, the better I run.  The more I leave to uncertainty, the better my problem solving skills.  The less distraction, the more I can remain present.  In fact, I now appreciate the process of a long run.  There will come a point where the run will feel difficult, but it will remain manageable.

This week, I got tired around mile 15, and again at 18.5.  Tired rarely means I’m out of breath, because I don’t run fast on long run days.  Tired usually means my legs hurt, or I’m bored, or frustrated, or hungry, or cold (since it’s winter).  In those moments, I take a deep breath and ask myself if I can still keep running, and usually the answer is yes.

Minimalism has influenced my long run strategy, because now I know I can get by with what I have.  If it turns out that I need something more, I will figure out how to get it.  This sure beats my runs of the past, where I brought everything ‘just in case’.  Sure enough, I looked down at my Garmin and I had already passed 20 miles without even noticing.  Minimalism makes everything feel more effortless to me these days.

Choose Wisely

manassas-battlefield

Fitness goals are a slippery slope.  Recently, for me, goal setting has gone a little something like this:

  1. Decide to run a race. (The Goal)
  2. Sign up for the race.
  3. Start training.
  4. Decide to take diet to the next level.
  5. Start running on rest days to take running frequency to the next level.
  6. Start speed work to take pace to the next level.
  7. Start feeling hungry from next level diet.
  8. Start feeling shin splints from next level running frequency.
  9. Start feeling tired from next level pace.
  10. Skip race.

That pretty much sums up my race experiences for 2015 and 2016.  Needless to say, I spent a lot on registration fees, but there are no finishers medals hanging on my gym wall to show for it.  We all want success when we set a goal, but it doesn’t always happen.

Ironically, I only had one truly important goal those years, which was to run a race.  As I added more parameters to what that goal should look like, I was actually self-sabotaging my own success.  Old habits die hard:  Too Much Too Soon, Multi-Tasking, Willpower, Perfection.

So for 2017, I embraced the concept of simplicity by setting only one fitness goal:  Finish the race.  It may seem unimpressive, but it is actually a big step forward, given my last two training cycles.

This year, I am running a 50K, now 11 weeks into a 24 week training program.  So far, I’ve only missed one run, and given that I’m human with a personal life and family, I consider that a success.  What have I done differently this time that has worked?

  1.  Stayed Present.  I shifted my focus to accomplishing today’s workout only, without looking forward or backward.
  2. Created Space.  I chose a training plan with 2 days off per week and lower weekly mileage, to allow myself some flexibility for long run scheduling, and to create a buffer for fatigue.
  3. Found Community.  I found an accountability partner, who has relentlessly checked Strava for my long run each week, and per my request, vowed to publicly out me if I skip it.

Most importantly, I’ve learned to Choose Wisely.  Every choice comes with opportunity cost.  By prioritizing my race finish, I may not run fast.  However, I’ll take slow running over no running any day.  Know your priorities, act accordingly, and wait patiently for success.