Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Complicated Runner Seeks Reset Button

I'm a complicated runner. As are most runners I know.

I like hard scenic challenges. A lot of my running is geared towards that. The majority of the time I'm okay with having the gumption to go for something, with not playing it safe, with not always completing races, and with having to make difficult choices (like being smart and DNFing when you fear passing out on the trail and the nearest aid station has no ability to radio for help).

And I feel like all I've done this year is go for the things that are so far from guaranteed, the things that are a big challenge (with often a big reward), the things where the chance of success is small. I don't regret my racing or my choices. But I'm tired. I'm tired of things being so hard.

Prelude: I don't perform well in heat, warm weather with altitude, or full sun. I can be fully hydrated, tracking my urination, and I've learned that my core body temp just goes up quickly when I get warm. Quickly. And then it's an epic battle to keep heat exhaustion at bay when you're already susceptible.

My running year (2014) so far has been

  • Bandera 50K which was a warm day that was hard on me but a new big course PR too, 
  • Rocky Raccoon 100 miler as my first 100 mile attempt, with a DNF at mile 80 after 30 miles of blisters
  • Atoka A-OK 25K trail race, which had 19 degree temperatures and snow flurries and recovering dead legs from Rocky
  • Gorge Waterfalls 100K, where 50% of the field including me DNFed this difficult course with tight time cutoffs
  • Possum Kingdom 55K, where it got HOT and ended with my longest sub-50 mile race finish ever of over 11 hours
  • Ouachita 50K, that unexpectedly included bouldering up rocks to the summit of Pinnacle Mountain and was another HOT day
  • Grand Canyon 100, where I DNFed at mile 38 after heat that was much worse than the usual temperatures that time of year left me lightheaded and exhausted from what felt like an all day battle. At the end of it all, 45% of the field DNFed the 100 miler. I was not alone.
And my difficulties do not mean I haven't been working hard. Look at those races above! I'm not sitting around eating bonbons every week. My miles for the first 5 months of the year are higher than this point last year. And last year was my biggest running year to date.

I know deep down I'm not a weak runner. I know I put in time. I know I keep major injury at bay. I know that I'm a smart runner. But I waver at times in my confidence, and DNFs and hard race days make me feel weak and wimpy and like I'd rather be stupid and play the "death before DNF" game.

I've been here before. Last year. After a strong Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon as a training run two weeks before the difficult Bighorn 50K with a proud finish in that event, I felt like this when I DNFed Tahoe Rim Trail 50 Mile from heat exhaustion a month later. My reset button was the fun, low stress, and (RELATIVELY) easy E.T. Full Moon 51K race a few weeks later.

I think I need to hit the reset button again.

I've seen amazing things, taken in beautiful scenery, and had grand adventures. But I'm tired now. I am lost and craving a race where I can have a high chance of success and can take it easy. Running is fun because it's a challenge but running is also fun when you are just out there reveling in being active and moving through the world. Is it wrong to want that too? Why is it so hard for me to balance these things? I'm so often 100% or 0% on something - an intensity I'm known for. You know whether I'm interested or not. I'm rarely so-so on anything.

Time to reset.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

2014 Grand Canyon 100 Race Preview

Saturday I am attempting to finish 100 miles. My first attempt was back in February, and I timed out in 80 miles after 24 1/2 hours. I didn't really flip the switch to decide to try a 100 miler until sadly my friend Brian took his own life back in October. He had pressed me for over a year to do a 100 miler. It's been over 6 months since his passing, but I think about him from time to time as I've been preparing and training, and I've wondered what he would think and what he would have to say about all this.

So a couple weeks ago, I decided that right before the race, I would do a preview of the upcoming event since it's an inaugural race most runners won't be familiar with, and I'd do it in the style that Brian used to do his race previews on his blog before each one he ran. So here we go...

The Kaibab National Forest on a plateau near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. The home to the largest contiguous Ponderosa Pine forest in the United States. The home of *FUN FACT* the Kaibab Squirrel, a funny looking squirrel who is a cool little example of evolution due to geographic isolation.

I leave tonight, the evening of May 15th, for Las Vegas. There's a 4 hour drive on May 16th. The race starts 6 am, May 17th. And I have to finish by 2:00 pm, May 18th.

Grand Canyon 100

Finisher Belt Buckle (pic from race's FB page)

Because when I didn't finish the 100 miler at Rocky Raccoon February 1, I didn't sit in my house and cry for a week. I immediately searched out my next chance to go after that finish line again. I wanted my friend Jeremy to pace me again (he was a really great pacer at Rocky), and since he's inconsiderate enough to be doing the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning with 4 100 milers between June and September, he told me my choice was sometime in May or wait until October or later. I didn't want to wait that long so I read up on all the 100 milers in May in the United States, and even in Canada, and chose this one.
A good part of the course goes along the rim of the Grand Canyon! (pic from race's FB page)

Reasons I picked this one of the May options:
  • I've never been to the Grand Canyon, 
  • it fit my goal of having a scenic race, 
  • I'm excited to try a 2-loop race of 50 miles each loop, 
  • I'm happy I get to have a pacer for the entire last 50 miles (and the timing fit in my pacer's racing schedule)
  • The weather for this time of year on the plateau is normally lows of 35 overnight and highs of 65 degrees,
  • The 12,600 feet of gain/loss is hilly but not impossible,
  • The 32 hour time limit is 2 more hours than I had for Rocky Raccoon.
Start/finish line has an old west feel. They will even put us in one of the cattle holding areas and swing open the gate to start the race! LOL (pic from race's FB page)
Here's the elevation profile of that 12,600 ft of gain/loss:

Only 25 other people in the 100 miler. There are another couple dozen in the 50 mile race (1 loop), and another 30 or so in the 50K race that starts an hour after us (shortened loop). There is no one going that I already know. But there is one other person from Texas (from Dallas) who I have mutual friends with, as well as a Utah runner who I also have mutual friends with.

Thankfully, I won't be alone. My good friend Jeremy who helped pace me at Rocky Raccoon is in for this adventure again and gets to pace the whole second 50 mile loop as I move at a glacial pace.

Supposedly, the weather is typically 35-65 degrees over the 32 hours. However, the forecast for this weekend is actually looking much hotter. Highs in the 80s, and overnight lows in the 50s. I am susceptible to heat exhaustion so I'll just have to be careful. 

It is just a couple days after the full moon and with clear skies, the stars should be bright and beautiful.

If no one else shows up AND I manage to finish. Ha. Brian was a fast runner. This question made a lot more sense for him than for me. And he measured win by an actual physical win. The "win" for me will be finishing. I've trained, I feel mentally good, I've rested well during taper, I've visualized scenarios and my finish, I've planned out my gear and race execution, and I have a great pacer/crew. Now I just need to go get it done and keep pushing away the worries about the variables that can derail a 100 miler that I CAN'T control.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Why Run 100 Miles?

Ultrarunners who pursue running 100 miles at one time all have some sort of screw loose in the head. It's just not an obvious thing to do, so why do we go "Yes, I want to do THAT!!" I think what makes us tick is completely fascinating. So I thought I'd post a little insight on why I have made that jump into being completely crazy and to try to run/walk/crawl for about 32 hours a couple days from now.

Because They Told Me I Couldn't - Pure Defiance

14 years ago I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, I was bedridden, I was dosed up on various drugs, and it was suggested I undergo a series of surgeries to fuse the vertebrae in my back together. The doctor said I would never run (I wasn't a runner back then anyway), and I would probably not walk past the age of 35. I took my health into my own hands and have managed my condition since then. A lot of my drive in running comes from a defiance to all those doctors I saw, some of the best in Dallas, who thought a bedridden life of pain was all I had ahead of me. A piece of me wants to shove it in their faces with every single finish. The "Because I Can" for me is more of a "Because You Said I Couldn't".

Because It Could All Be Gone Tomorrow - Chasing Time

With my condition, I've found keeping an active life keeps the worst of it at bay. Good days lead to more good days, and bad days can quickly spiral into more painful bad days. I still have fibromyalgia flareups a couple times a year. A week of pretty intense overall body pain, it's a reminder of what I don't want to be a norm in my life. With the doctor's prognosis, there's always a piece of me that is racing to keep one step ahead of the monster. It's what sometimes increases my intensity of wanting to do more NOW that I have to fight because trying to do it all right now at this instant is impossible and exhausting. It's what keeps that thought in the back of my mind that this could all be gone someday and possibly someday sooner than those without fibromyalgia since so much is still not known about the condition. I want to do big awesome things like lots of my friends but part of the drive to do it is derived from this.

Because I'm Stronger Than I Thought - The Internal Push

My first attempt at 100 miles had the worst mental pain of my life... no exaggeration. I had serious ultrabrain around mile 72, but even with the overwhelming screaming in my brain of "JUST STOP", I still kept taking one step... and then another... and then another. That completely baffles me. How do we do that? I find myself weirdly excited to get to that mental place again, to be completely amazed at what a body can do even when the mind is not completely on board.

Because It Opens Up a World of Possibilities for People - Reshaping Reality

Even just talking to people, runners and non-runners alike, about the attempt to run 100 miles and what it realistically entails, is interesting because you get to watch the reactions and their body language. And frankly, for a lot of people, it breaks their brain. It's so outside the scope of reasonable possibilities for what a person can do. Sometimes I feel that way about it too. But once they shake off the fact that this just reformed reality for them, there's an interest and appreciation that our bodies and minds are capable of something like that. And the next phase is, well, what else can a person do then? It's amazing to be able to be part of something that can reshape opinions of people and open us all up to an entirely new world of possibilities in our lives.

Because I Like Being An Inspiration of What Average Athletes Can Do

It's one of the things I hear over and over again, and truthfully, I love to hear that I touched someone's life. Who doesn't? The elite fast runners are pretty awesome, but I'm more inspired by the average ultrarunners around me working running into an already full life, balancing families, putting themselves out on a limb for incredible experiences, and focusing on creating gigantic memories. I honestly feel like part of my purpose in this world is to help facilitate running - through running clubs I've headed up, by creating races with finish lines for people to aspire to cross, and by putting that same passion into my running. The 100 for me shows that anyone can dream big, that it's okay to go after things that aren't guaranteed, that's it's okay to enjoy the journey even if there's no finish line, and that you can balance pursuing multiple priorities (running, family, work). This would ultimately be very unfulfilling personally if this was my only reason to want to run 100 miles, but it is definitely one of the reasons.

Because the Mental/Planning Aspects of a 100 Miler is Something I Enjoy

I grew up being the smart nerd kid in school with absolutely no physical abilities at all. One reason I love running is appreciating as an adult that I can do physical things, regardless the fact of whether or not I'm good at them. I'm comfortable with my place in the running world a majority of the time as a back of the packer. But trailrunning, ultrarunning, and as I've discovered, the attempt of running 100 miles, allows me to bring some skills to the party that I feel play to my strengths and skills I enjoy employing. As a mathematician, my ability to step through the logic of a process is a big help. And the mental part of being alone for hours on end, executing a plan, playing games with yourself, is amazing and fun for me.

Because It's Really Neat to Do Something So Few Try

Let's be real. That's just awesome. To do something others can't imagine trying and others won't try. I don't think it's a good enough reason to do one if it's your only reason, but going down the list, yeah, it's there.

Because It's an Efficient and Fun Way to See Some Scenic Locations

I've been intrigued about point-to-point 100 mile races. Can you imagine over 30-45 hours getting to see 100 miles of what is often incredibly scenic terrain?! Seeing it in a way that is often inaccessible by car? While right now my 100 miler attempts (the previous one and upcoming one) were on looped courses, I have a lot of interest in the possibility of getting comfortable enough to do a point-to-point race.

This reason is also just a reason I love trailrunning generally. After really enjoying the location of the Bighorn 50K race, I was also a little sad I hadn't done the 50 miler (not that I feel I was prepared for that). I just know that there's miles of that race course I haven't seen yet. With some 100 mile race courses, the viewpoint is the same.

Because I Love A BIG Challenge and Making Myself Uncomfortable

And 100 miles is definitely a big challenge. I love to see what I'm made of, to teach myself I can be outside my comfort zone, and to achieve something I wasn't sure was possible. I've tried for years now to annually ensure I do something very far outside of my comfort zone. What seems little and insignificant to one person can be a huge leap for another, and these were my leaps:
2009 - Ziplined over waterfalls and through forests in Hawaii (I have a fear of heights)
2010 - Hot air balloon ride in Napa Valley
2011 - My first marathon (San Francisco in July).... and second (Kauai in September).... and third (Chicago in October), and well as my first and second 50Ks two weeks apart (Rocky Raccoon 50K and Wild Hare 50K in November)
2012 - I volunteered in the freakishly cold American River, with water above my waist, in a wetsuit, in the middle of the night for hours at mile 80, the Rucky Chucky, at Western States Endurance Run 100 Miler. I can't swim and am very uncomfortable in the water.
2012 (again) - I ran my first 50 mile race (Run Woodstock in September)
2013 - I think Volcanic 50 was the most uncomfortable experience of that year. With big elevation gains and miles of abrasive lava rock boulder fields, it was a difficult race and completely not like anything else I had tried. In the end, I didn't mind timing out and DNFing after the experience I gained being out there.
2014 - the year of the 100 mile run! I still have a hard time believing I kept moving for 24 1/2 hours and 80 miles back in February.

So Let's Go Have An Adventure!

With all those reasons in the forefront of my mind, I fly out tomorrow for another adventure, chasing down a 100 mile finisher belt buckle! Whether I complete the race or not, there will be vivid memories created, new sights taken in, and an experience that will allow me to keep growing.

Tomorrow I'll post a preview of the inaugural Grand Canyon 100 for those who want to know more about the race.