Chasing 42

Life, the Universe, & Running

Archive for the tag “pain”

Learning from each Mile- Embracing Change

It’s amazing how fast the summer flies by when you aren’t looking, isn’t it? As a society, we focus a lot of our energy on the summer months as a time for vacations, relaxation, and a change of pace. I’m struck by how much this falls in contrast with many other parts of the world, where life goes on as normal year-round, and vacations of a sort aren’t limited quite as much. Nevertheless, this time of year marks a point of transition in my little slice of the world, although it’s a much more subtle note of transition when compared to previous years. For almost two decades, this time of year has been a “new year” of sorts for me as the academic calendar kicked back into full swing for the fall semester. However, I’m not teaching this semester so I’m left to observe the new beginnings of friends around the country and reflect on the many twists and turns that my life has taken as of late.

It’s been a busy month, despite not pouring over syllabi and getting my lesson plans in a row, but I certainly miss the excitement and energy that comes with the first day of class. There’s just something about the promise and potential of meaningful conversations, growth, and learning that is forever a part of my DNA and will always materialize this time of year. I have no doubt that at this time next year, life will have changed even more significantly and if all goes well, I’ll be back in the classroom where I belong. In the meantime, I’m left to plan for other life experiences, and continue to live each day as fully as possible and not take for granted this time I have to reflect and pursue other projects, interests, and ideas that constantly fill my mind with wonder.

youre-boring

I’m a firm believer in pushing the mind to explore those fleeting thoughts that linger on the edges, fade as you awake, and briskly pop in and out of our minds throughout the day. The world is such a fascinating place that there is truly no reason or excuse for boredom unless you succumb to the depressing reality that you are a boring person. This desire for information, answers, and the expression of creativity keeps me moving forward, both in my life as a whole, and in my running. When I lace up my running shoes and strap on my Garmin, I’m not only heading out for a workout, but I’m embarking on a small adventure with infinite possibilities. They exist all around me, and in my mind, expanding with each mile I travel.

I’ve always thrived on organization and planning, but have realized over the past few months that there is power and potential in the unknown. My summer training has been fairly abstract, and I’ve avoided any sort of organized training calendar. In part, this has been a de facto result of the most ambiguous and transitional months I’ve experienced in my adult life. However, I’d like to think that this has also been the result of a quest for mental strength. It’s easy to get caught up in the routine of a training plan. You target a particular race, and work your way backwards, confident that as long as you hit all of your distance and time benchmarks along the way, then you’ll have a successful race. The reality, of course, is far more chaotic. There’s no way to accurately account for the seemingly endless list of random scenarios that can alter your training and ultimately your race day performance. At the end of the day, running isn’t about training for a particular race. It’s about engaging fully with each run and keeping your senses alert to the plethora of new information to be gained from that run. Change is inevitable, and what’s left once you accept that is the importance of finding yourself in the moment and enjoying each run. The big picture will come together on its own, but I’d rather take advantage of the opportunity to listen to my body and stimulate my mind with each passing mile. They all have something to teach us as long as we can let go of expecting to know what the lesson is on any given day.

hill2

This notion of letting go, of course, is no small task. I’ve seen this on countless occasions as I watched student wrestle with the reality that what they thought to be the simple truth was in fact much more complex. I’ve seen folks enter the classroom expecting to learn one thing only to leave at the end of the semester having grown in ways they couldn’t even have fathomed months earlier. Information can be a powerful tool or a dangerous weapon, not only on a large-scale, but for us as individuals. We have unprecedented access to information at our fingertips, and can instantly gather enough “data” to provide us with what we assume is a pretty good analysis of what to expect. However, the moment we make up our minds about what to expect, we close every door that doesn’t lead to that conclusion. Of course, this happens subconsciously so controlling it is no easy matter. Many scientists would like to think they can do so, can be purely objective, but the reality is that we make countless subjective decisions before we ever begin an experiment…or a training plan. What would happen if we were able to free ourselves from those conclusions, and simply act? How would our lives be different is we had the power to simply go run? Setting aside any notions of fitness gains, time goals, target paces, or “A races” may very well change the act of running for us.

Clearly, I’m as guilty of thinking about those goals and gains as anyone else. I track my miles, monitor my pace, and keep track of PR’s for each of my races. These past months have taught me how limiting that can be, though. I moved from the flat lands of Iowa to the hilly and humid mid-Atlantic, and gave no real though to how those metrics might change. I naively expected my pace and volume to remain steady. I wasn’t ready to embrace the change around me, in part because I wanted to hold onto some aspect of the familiar. Now, I’ve managed to maintain my training volume, but unsurprisingly, my pace hasn’t been quite at the level that it was when I left Iowa. It’s amazing how heat, humidity, and hills can sneak up you, eh? Did I really expect my performance to remain consistent despite significantly different climate conditions and 10 times more elevation gain in every run? It took me all summer, coupled with a significant case of runner’s knee and an IT band that hates me, but I’m finally listening. I’m finally ready to embrace the change and listen to each mile. Even the miles with a 15% grade.

Tardis-1

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Mark Twain 100 Race Report: Part I

There are some experiences that you know from the beginning will stick with you for a lifetime, and that thought creates equal parts pressure and excitement. The Mark Twain 100 was just such an experience, and I couldn’t have been happier with how the trip turned out. The lead-up to the weekend seemed like an eternity. I’ve been preparing for this race all summer, targeting it, and planning all of my training around this weekend. Some folks say it’s never good to put all your eggs in one basket, but this was my “A” race. No matter what happened, my hard work this year was leading up to that starting line.

This race was a series of “firsts” for me. I spent the previous two weeks working out the logistics for the trip, which was far more time than I ever remember spending on that side of race preparation. The beautiful epicurean and I would be camping near the starting line (you can’t argue with free camping!), so not only was I thinking about packing for the race itself, but also our camping needs. We also decided to bring Looper along for some outdoor time, which added another level of preparation. On top of that, I was going to have pacers, in the form of 4 amazing friends, for the first time in a race. I figured I should probably decide how to work with them as well. Even though this was my second time tackling the 100 mile distance, my previous adventure in Arizona was quite different. This would be my first true 100 mile trail race. Needless to say, I had a lot on my mind leading up to our departure.

Rustic camping in Berryman, MO (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Rustic camping in Berryman, MO (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

We got everything loaded into the car (it just barely fit), and headed south for Berryman, MO around 8:00AM on Friday. The all-knowing Google told us it would be about a 7 hour drive, which didn’t seem that daunting, although I wasn’t crazy about spending that long cramped up in a car before running the next day. The drive ended up taking closer to 9 hours, and we arrived at the campground with rain falling on our heads. This was not a good sign! We set up camp in the rain, and then hopped back in the car to head to packet pick-up. Check-in was incredibly smooth, I collected my materials, along with a really nice hooded sweatshirt, and we stuck around for the pasta dinner. There was a brief race meeting at 7:00PM, and then a raffle for some great Salomon (one of the sponsors) swag. I ended up winning a pair of Salomon gaiters, which was a nice perk. By the time we got back to the campsite, it was dark and still drizzling. Crawling into the tent in the dark, with temps in the 40s and rain, didn’t exactly make for the comfortable evening I was hoping for but we made it work. Our 4 intrepid friends were still on the road, and would end up rolling into camp around midnight, by which time the epicurean and I were long asleep, albeit restlessly.

I woke up around 4:30AM to give myself time to eat a light breakfast (Cliff bar, banana, water) and get dressed. There was quite a chill in the air, but I knew I’d warm up pretty quickly once I started running. The darkness was still consuming the everything around us for the beginning of this 25-mile loop through the Mark Twain National Forrest, so I mounted a headlamp, slipped on arm warmers and a long-sleeve shirt, and waited for the 6AM start. This was a small race, with perhaps 60 people starting the 100-miler (4 loops), and another 100 beginning the 50-miler (2 loops). I anxiously awaited the start, sure that I forgot something, and then the clock ticked down to zero, and we were off. The course itself is a counter-clockwise loop and is 99% single track, so I fell in line with some other runners near the middle of the pack, and we made our way in the dark. Everyone was in really good spirits, and I was content to push forward and listen to the conversations around me. Many of the runners appeared to be from the St. Louis area (the race is put on by a St. Louis running group, the Slugs), and folks were talking about previous experiences on this particular trail. I knew going into the race that the course was single track, but it became clear pretty early that I had under-estimated the technical nature of the trail. It was certainly not as rocky as Flatrock, but I was not going to escape the constant bombardment of rocks and tree roots, combined with endless rolling hills and switchbacks. There was only one larger than average climb early in the race, but the route still managed 2,500 feet of elevation gain per loop.

Shivering by the light of the headlamp at the start! (Photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Shivering by the light of the headlamp at the start! (Photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Loop 1: Miles 0-25- feeling the adrenaline

In some ways, the first loop went by in a bit of a blur. We spent the first hour in the dark, so all of my concentration was focused on keeping my footing. We made it to the first aid station, around mile 5, as the sun was coming up, and I was able to briefly stop and take in my surroundings. It felt good to take the headlamp off, and my core had warmed up nicely, although my hands were still a bit cold. Aid stations are perfect for breaking up large groups a bit too, and I found myself with a bit more elbow room for the next segment, which was nice. I was feeling really good, easily running the downhills and flats, and tackling the hills with plenty of energy. I told myself I was not going to go out too fast, as I am oft prone to do, and at the time, I thought I was doing a really good job of holding back and remembering I needed to do this 4 times. The first 9 miles were definitely a technical challenge, and it became clear by the end of the loop that these miles were the most difficult on the course. Just before the aid station, there was a 3/10 mile section of asphalt which felt incredibly strange on my feet after they had taken a rocky beating for so long. This strange sensation only became more pronounced as the race went on.  Luckily, the epicurean and the rest of my crew were waiting for me at the mile 9 aid station (Huck’s Watering Hole). It was great to see them, and they gave me the once over to see if I needed anything, and I headed back out to tackle the remaining 16 miles. This was the only crew access point, other than the start/finish area (Jackson’s Island), so I knew I was on my own for a few hours.

There was one stream crossing on the route, and I came up on it almost immediately after leaving Huck’s Watering Hole. Luckily, the water levels were pretty low, so I was able to mostly step across on rocks although I still got a bit wet. My Altra Lone Peak 1.5s drained and dried pretty quickly, however, and I knew I had made the right choice with these more protective shoes. It was clear early on that my Dirty Girl gaiters were a good choice as well! I made my way to the Tom’s Canteen aid station at mile 15, still feeling good, and restocked on water. Each and every one of the aid stations was incredibly well stocked, and the volunteers were amazing! As soon as I arrived, they were asking what I needed, filling my soft flasks, and offering me a wide array of sweet and salty foods to keep my energy up. The last 10 miles, with another aid station in between, went really well. The trail in this section was quite runnable, and I was able to make good time on flatter and more open terrain, although the switchbacks continued. In all, the final 16 miles of the loop was somewhat easier to tackle, and much more open than the first 9 miles. Soon, of course, it would all blend together pretty thoroughly. I emerged from the forest and ran comfortably into Jackson’s Island, and everyone was waiting for me. I had covered the 25 miles in about 5 hours, and my legs were feeling really good. I shed my long sleeve shirt  and arm warmers, and my amazing crew restocked me with Tailwind, Honey stinger chews, and bodyglide. The sun was out, the air was warming, and it was an absolutely perfect day to be out on the trails. I couldn’t have asked for a better day as I waved goodbye to everyone and headed back out for loop 2.

Finishing up loop 1 (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Finishing up loop 1 (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Loop 2: Miles 26-50- Oh right, I have to keep running! 

My momentum continued to carry me into the next loop, and my legs were holding up nicely. I began to feel some fatigue as the miles ticked away, but that was to be expected regardless. I knew that the 5 hour mark was not sustainable for 25 miles, so I began making a more intentional effort to slow down even further. This became easier as I had more of the trail to myself, although I was still happily crossing paths with plenty of other folks. Slowing down meant I needed to be even more careful of my footing, as I wasn’t going at a normal pace. I managed to kick a few rocks and tree roots, but nothing too substantial. However, I was happy for the more structured Lone Peaks to protect my feet a bit. I knew the rocks and roots would be having plenty of other conversations with my toes as the day wore on, and although I’d never lost a toe on a run, I figured I stood the strongest chance yet in the Mark Twain National Forrest.

Ok, time to go again! (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Ok, time to go again! (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

I rolled into Huck’s Watering Hole still feeling good and excited about passing the 50K mark. The trails were certainly beginning to make their mark on my feet but my legs were feeling good. Everyone was waiting for me, and filled up my bottles and nutrition. At this point, they had everything down to a science and it was fun to watch! They knew exactly what they were doing and all the right questions to ask. I drank some ginger ale and ate some pretzels and M & Ms, and was back out on the course in about 5 minutes. I hopped from rock to rock over the stream again, although I did manage to submerge one foot in the water before making it to the other side. The following 16 miles were all about patience, attention, and consistency. I had a much firmer grasp on the trail itself, and was comfortable being out there. However, I did manage to catch my right foot on a rock and in falling forward and catching myself, hyperextended my right hamstring. This definitely caused some pain and would end up giving me problems the rest of the race. I pushed through it though, and it didn’t slow me down all that much. I made my way back and forth on the constant switchbacks yet again, and by this time, they seemed to all bur together in the woods. I found myself thinking I knew where I was on many occasions, only to realize I was wrong. In the last few miles, I fell in step with another guy running the 100-miler and we had some nice conversations, which helped the time roll by that much quicker. He had gone out faster than he had wanted as well, so we were both in the same boat and focusing on slowing things down a bit. The added walking breaks felt good on my legs, and I was happy for the company.

Part of an amazing, attentive crew! (photo credit: Carla Danielson)

Part of an amazing, attentive crew! (photo credit: Carla Danielson)

I arrived at Jackson’s Landing around 5:00PM, which meant the second loop had taken me about 6 hours. This was a much more manageable time and I was still really happy with the progress I was making. Additionally, I was excited about being able to pick up my first pacer, and to have someone to run with and push me for the next 50 miles. I took a few more minutes at the aid station this time, ate and drank a bit more,  and chatted with everyone about how I was feeling. The first 50 miles were tough, but I was in good spirits. I restocked on nutrition, water in my bladder, and Tailwind in my soft flasks, and headed out for the third loop, accompanied by my first amazing pacer. Little did I know that those 9 miles would be the start of a battle with myself, and prove just how amazing my friends are…that, of course, is a story for the next post! Stay tuned 🙂

Finishing the second loop strong! It's a tad blurry because I'm clearly moving so fast ;) (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Finishing the second loop strong! (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

The Law of Exponential Taper Gremlin Growth

At any given time, the last 20 weeks or so either feel like they have blown by quicker than I could blink or crawled by at a pace that would make a 3-toed sloth laugh. This weekend, I tackled a sub-zero marathon on Saturday, and then slogged through a snow-covered follow-up run on Sunday. Each had their highs and lows, but they were good training runs and I’m feeling strong. More importantly, this weekend marked my last long back-to-back weekend, which means I now have the long-awaited joy of tapering! Did I say joy? Maybe I meant disdain. You see, the psychological and physical aches and pains that tapering, combined with a long and intense training season, bring, seem to have grown to proportions I haven’t experienced before. This obviously led me to wonder if there might be more to my extended tapering pains. The result is a theory that will no doubt win me accolades the world over, so I guess y’all should feel honored that I’m sharing it with you first!

Perfect weather for a marathon, eh?

Perfect weather for a marathon, eh?

Aside from the vehicle-induced aches and pains I recently incurred, I’ve noticed that the phantom wandering pains that typically arrive during my taper period came much earlier this time around. I probably started feeling various issues about 5 weeks ago, and they’ve been flowing through my body ever since. My right Achilles was acting up, and then it was my left forefoot, along with both of my knees at various points, and my groin before that. I’ve monitored all of these issues, and they’ve gradually dissipated and then disappeared altogether. However, they seemed to begin around the time I really started to look forward to my upcoming trip to Arizona and Across the Years. I’ve written before about battling the injury gremlin, and this most recent ongoing battle led me to wonder if the fact that everything was happening earlier had anything to do with the increased distance I was running. I mean, I will be attempting to run longer than I’ve ever run before, and the entire race experience will be brand new. I’ll be stepping into uncharted territory, much like all of my other running firsts. Perhaps my body knows this, and it began making me hyper-aware of every ache and pain that much earlier as a result.

I think winter is finally here.

I think winter is finally here.

Over the last two years, I’ve pushed myself harder and further than ever before, and my endurance has certainly increased. My recovery time has also decreased, which has been a welcome development, especially considering my consistent back-to-back long runs on the weekends. As a result, my outlook on various distances has changed along with my goals, which is to be expected, I suppose. This has led me to contemplate the recent exponential growth of my tapering conundrum. It would seem as if the more I increase my race distance, the earlier my taper gremlin emerges to start whispering sweet nothings in my ear. In general, you can think about this Law of Exponential Taper Gremlin Growth like this:

Taper Graph 2.1

Now I should be clear that my sample (methodology) is one of convenience (me) and these results may be limited to my own well-being (limitations). However, it seems fairly clear at this point that the longer the race, the longer the tapering aches and pains. This wouldn’t be horrible, except for that fact that I’m still only tapering for the next three weeks, which means I have been left to deal with the drawbacks of a taper, while still logging long distances. This hardly seems fair! If a graphical representation hasn’t made this new, highly scientific discussion clear, I will also include a more detailed explanation (discussion). Ultimately, I think I can work through the following race distance stages.

Stage 1 (Half-Marathon): I’m ready and feeling good- let’s go!

Stage 2 (Marathon): I could sure use a massage, but let’s knock this out!

Stage 3 (50K): I think my knees could definitely use the rest.

Stage 4 (50 miles): My back, knees, and shins are definitely feeling the training, but I’m ready.

Stage 5 (100K): Thoughts of seeing a PT or podiatrist creep in a few times a week.

Stage 6 (100 miles/ 24 hours): Those thoughts are happening daily. Can I just taper in the hospital to be safe?

After what can definitely be called an exhausting training period and academic semester, I’m definitely ready for my taper, as well as a bit of rest before January hits. Ultimately, I know the various aches and pains come with the territory, and I’ve put my body through a lot lately, so it has earned a more relaxed schedule. My endurance is up, and I’m as ready as I’m gong to be for this race, so focusing on the planning, organization, and nutrition will gladly fill my thoughts for the next three weeks. In my free time, perhaps I can shop this “law” around to various scientific journals. This publication showing up on my vita would definitely turn some heads!

It’s Really Quiet at 3AM: 50 Miles of Overnight Training

I’ve had many amazing running experiences already, and, so long as I stay healthy, I hope to have many more. Amidst the chaos of this fall, my focus continues to be on preparing for the 24-hour Across the Years run on December 28th. In addition to being the longest I’ve ever run, this event promises to challenge me mentally and physically in ways I don’t yet even understand. Therefore, I’m not only training my body, but attempting to train my mind throughout the fall. Ideally, I’ll have as much of a sense of what the run will feel like as possible, despite the myriad of wildcards!

One such wildcard is the overnight factor. I’ve hit the 50 mile mark twice before, but have always run mainly during the day. On a more general level, I’ve noticed more and more that I don’t have the magical ability to stay up late or pull all-nighters that I once had. I may not need quite as much sleep as some folks, but I still need a full night to feel fully rested. This realization made it all the more important to me that I find out how my body would react to running in the wee hours of the morning, when it knows I should be asleep. So, I decided to plan a midnight run at a local park, and invite anyone else crazy enough to come out and run with me.

In addition to the time, running in the park allowed me to run short, repetitive routes. This had the benefit of both simulating the race, and allowing me to leave my nutrition and other running supplies in my car where they would be frequently and easily accessible. As the day loomed closer, I started to doubt my ability to even stay up easily until midnight to then start running. I made the choice to head to the park “early” and start running at 11PM, knowing that others might join me at midnight. I loaded my car with plenty of nutrition, dry clothing, and other first aid supplies I might need, and I drove the 1/2 mile to the park. Although I knew having my car ensured plenty of storage for supplies, it still felt strange driving in the first place!

11PM...time to start running!

11PM…time to start running!

After laying out my supplies in the car, I turned on my headlamp and slowly started running into the darkness. It only took me 30 seconds to jump a little as I stumbled across a couple, sitting in the dark, “talking” to each other. This run also provided me with an opportunity to get a feel for a much slower pace, which I know I’ll need to maintain, in order for my legs to hold up for 24 hours. I began with the goal of maintaining a 10 to 11 minute per mile pace throughout the night. The first 5 miles went by pretty easily as I started to get a feel for my intended pace and for the path I’d be running up and down. I made sure to remove as much debris from the path as possible, and keep an eye out for any obstacles I might encounter. These tasks helped keep my mind off the fact that I was running through a pitch-black park by myself. I realized very quickly how much I (and many others, I’m sure) take for granted the ambient light that surrounds us living in a populated area. The silence left me free to hear each of my footfalls, along with the random animals, birds, and insects that call the wooded park home.

At midnight, two intrepid friends joined me for some miles, of which I was grateful. Over the next 8 miles or so, we made are way along the trails, invented new routes, and otherwise kept ourselves occupied. Around 1:30AM, one of my friends headed home for the comfort of her bed, and that left two of us. At this point, the Salomon trail shoes I started off wearing, in part because it was forecasted to rain, started to irritate my feet so we ran the 1/2 mile to my house to trade them out. Over the next two hours, we became very familiar with the trails in the park, as well as surrounding roads. Despite the monotony of the running, having a friend to chat with (and ward off the ghosts) was wonderful and I was incredibly thankful for the 3.5 hours he ran with me.

Crazy friends running with me at midnight!

Crazy friends running with me at midnight!

After he left, the park suddenly seemed much more creepy. Of course,  I’m sure that had nothing to do with the fact that it was now 3:30AM or the random guy sitting on a park bench, upright, without moving. At that point, I made the executive decision to head up to a nearby main road that was lit, and run up and down the sidewalk until I met up with another friend who agreed to bike next to me. The street was still quiet, but even a little bit of light made he night seem not as intimidating. By this point, my body was definitely aware of the time, and I began to feel a bit nauseous, mainly due to the time of night. I had been taking water, electrolytes, and nutrition regularly and seemed to be consuming enough calories, so I can only assume that the mild nausea will emerge no matter what I decide on as my final nutrition plan.

Seeing my friend ride up to meet me was definitely a welcome break from the silence. She is normally awake at 4:30AM, so getting up to ride with me wasn’t nearly as difficult as it would have been if our roles had been reversed! I ran back and forth on the lit street with her for about 45 minutes, and then headed back to the car to refuel and re-hydrate. At this point, I decided to run to the starting location for the 6AM group run with my running group. We made our way to the meeting point, a few miles away, and the darkness was still quite intense but having someone pedaling along beside me certainly helped. My legs were beginning to feel some fatigue at this point, but I had been running for 7 hours at that point, so I suppose it was to be expected. We arrived at the group meeting spot, and then I headed back out with more friends. Have I mentioned how grateful I am to be a part of such an amazing running community?

I ran and chatted for the next 8 miles, still maintaining a 10:30 min/mile pace, for which I was quite pleased. The organized route actually went through the same park I had been running in all night, so I decided to stop at the car and refuel and then run back to the house quick to let out the dogs and give them their breakfast. At this point, I had been running for 9 hours, and had covered 42 miles. The sun finally emerged from its slumber, and it was a welcome sight to see the world once again illuminated by our favorite star.

Feeling good after 9 hours!

Feeling good after 9 hours!

The final two hours and 8 miles seemed to go by rather quickly, despite my legs feeling incredibly heavy. Although I had no mileage or time goals aside from getting through the darkness, I did secretly want to see 50 miles displayed on my Garmin. I arrived back at my car with a half mile to go, and figured it was somehow fitting to run small laps around the parking lot itself to reach 50 miles. Just as the clock struck 10AM, my Garmin struck 50 miles, and I walked back to my car with a giant, exhausted grin on my face. I slid into the car, drove the 1/2 mile home, took a quick shower, ate a bowl of cereal, and promptly collapsed in bed for 4 hours. My legs were sore and I had a bit of a headache, but moving from vertical to horizontal certainly felt nice! I’ll no doubt need to slow my pace a bit more (I finished with a 10:16 pace) to keep going for 24 hours, but now I know.

Done deal! Time for bed.

Done deal! Time for bed.

Late night. Early morning. Amazing friends. Important calories. Creepy parks. Now I know. 🙂

Getting Reacquainted With My Bike…the hard way!

You may recall me mentioning my bike a bit more last year. Of course, if you are fairly new to my blog, then odds are you haven’t gone back that far to read old posts and you have no idea what I’m talking about. In that case, you can take my word for it that I spent a lot of time on my bike last year! If you have been reading my blog since last year…shhhh…just keep your mouth shut and try not to burst the aura of awesomeness the newer folks are feeling emanating from their computer screens right now.

Either way, my focus since January has been about 99% running, and my Trek 2.1 has wept accordingly, hanging out in the basement and avoiding the leaks in the floor from the heavy rain. I did manage to move my trusty Trek onto the trainer over the winter with the help of a friend. Despite all my riding, my ability to change out tires and tubes leaves a bit to be desired. Thus, you may want to bump me down a few notches on your emergency tire call list. Just sayin’. Now, just like simply owning shoes doesn’t mean you put them on and get out the door for a run, simply owning a really pretty bike doesn’t mean you get on it and log any miles. Up till this point, I had completed approximately 4 trainer rides, totaling about 60 miles. By approximately, I mean exactly, and by “up till this point”, I mean since September. Needless to say, my legs and butt were not properly acclimated to cycling.

A great group to ride with...self-portrait style!

A great group to ride with…self-portrait style!

So, when a few great friends invited me for a century ride on my rest day, during a low mileage running week, I obviously said yes immediately! Now, what I really mean is I told them that if they helped me put my road tires back on and grease my chain, I would begrudgingly accompany them on their much-too-early bike ride. After a nice and relaxing 4th of July with the beautiful epicurean, I woke up at 5AM the next day to eat a small breakfast and head over to their house to meet them for our ride. At 5AM, on what is a vacation day for most folks, it’s pretty darn quiet in a small town in Iowa. Everyone is sleeping. I couldn’t help but think about the comfy bed I left behind as I pedaled down the road toward their house…then back to my house when I realized I forgot my sunglasses, and then back to their house. I didn’t exactly know the route for the day, and they assured me they would be moving at a comfortable pace, with the goal being simply to reach 100 miles. Have I mentioned yet that this was basically my first time on the bike all year? I should also mention they’ve been riding all year, and are training for Ironman Wisconsin. Hmmmm…I wonder if our definitions of “comfortable” are the same?

Taking a...ummm..."break" on the side of the road :)

Taking a…ummm…”break” on the side of the road 🙂

We headed south out-of-town, and were quickly traveling down a country road I’d never been on before. I like exploring uncharted (by me) territory, so this was exciting. It was still relatively cool outside, and we had the road to ourselves. At this point, 17-20 mph seemed perfectly reasonable. It wouldn’t seem nearly as reasonable 80 miles later, but I’ll get to that in good time. We headed south again, and picked up the High Trestle Trail in Woodward. This trail has only been open a few years, but has become incredibly popular, and for good reason. After about 10 miles, we crossed over the Des Moines River, and the view from the bridge is fantastic! It was still early enough, so traffic on the trail was light. We hit the 50-mile mark in Slater, where the trail turns south towards Ankeny.

This kitten wanted to welcome us to the trail...and grope my rear tire.

This kitten wanted to welcome us to the trail…and grope my rear tire.

At this point, one of our friends had to head back to Ames to get back in time for work. My legs were feeling mildly tired, but I was still in pretty good shape. Nonetheless, I still thought long and hard about heading back to Ames with him. Alas, my internal competition is far too great, and I knew I’d kick myself if I didn’t keep going. I kept my mouth shut, and continued on. We hit Ankeny, and cut under the interstate, and up some nice, rolling hills. Ok, so they would have been nice and rolling if my legs didn’t have 60 miles on them at that point. I was certainly happy to start heading north, and let the tailwind provide a little natural propulsion. Aside from moving a bit more to the east, the northern direction was definitely well-earned, and I was feeling pretty darn good, all things considered. Mind you, my butt was screaming at me, but it had been doing that for the last 40 miles, and showed no signs of letting up, so I just accepted it as a given.

Stopping for some water...a nice couple offered to take our photo, and leave their mark as well.

Stopping for some water…a nice couple offered to take our photo, and leave their mark as well.

When we hit mile 90 or so, we headed back west towards Ames. That’s when my legs began to revolt, and my speed dropped to a more mandatory 12 or 13 mph. The wind was still blowing from the south, which meant it was trying to blow me over personally during the entire last segment of the ride. Mother nature and I do have a bit of a love/hate relationship. She’s the jealous type as it turns out. Even so, a nice friendly push from my friends made the final few miles much easier, and I made my way back into town. I arrived home around 3pm, and felt every bit as tired as sitting on a tiny, hard bike seat for 9 hours would suggest. I managed to avoid most of the sunburn that typically haunts me, but I had plenty of other more “delicate” bruises. My body had to remind me of my crazy somehow, right? Despite it all, it was a wonderful day with friends, and I couldn’t have been happier with the experience. The bike will probably always play second fiddle to my endurance running addiction, but it’s great to maintain my relationship with cycling as well!

We had most of the country roads to ourselves...

We had most of the country roads to ourselves…

except for the trains!
except for the trains!

Regardless of the GPS readings, we knew we had hit our mark, and it felt great knowing I had tackled this challenge…more challenges to come!

GPS readings aren't an exact science :)

GPS readings aren’t an exact science 🙂

My 2013 Endurance Goals

It’s easy to avoid committing to something when it only exists as a series of passing conversations with friends. Over the years, I’ve had the best intentions to complete quite a few things, but they’ve never gotten much further than a passing comment or an adrenaline-fueled pronouncement. Now, this is not to say that I haven’t kept myself busy, because I certainly don’t have any empty time just lying around waiting to be picked up by another great adventure. However, I’ve shared before that my race goals for 2013 have been a bit up in the air following the Little Rock Marathon, and I knew I needed to get things set in stone before the heat of the summer set in. Otherwise, the reasons to avoid the heat would begin to overwhelm my desire to run. As such, I am considering this my official “no turning back” endurance announcement.

My first commitment is returning to the scene of the crime for RAGBRAI 2013. You may be wondering how often I’ve gotten out on the bike this year, what with all the running miles I’ve been logging (I’m sitting at around 1100 right now). The answer is…none. Well, I suppose I can count the handful of rides I’ve done on the trainer in the basement, but that’s about it. That’s why I’ve decided to pick one day of RAGBRAI (Tuesday, July 23rd) and run the route instead. This particular leg weighs in at about 50 miles, and is close enough to home that I won’t have any of the travel and lodging concerns that typically come with a longer race. I’ll be running from Perry, IA to Des Moines, IA.

RAGBRAI-route-2013

While riding RAGBRAI last year, I saw several folks throughout the week that were running portions of the course, and I was extremely impressed to say the least. Over the past year, my passion for endurance races, ultra-marathons, and other crazy running adventures has exploded, so this seemed like a logical challenge! At some point in the future, it would be amazing to attempt to run the entire RAGBRAI course, but I’m not quite there yet. It’s never actually been successfully done in the 40 year history of RAGBRAI, but there is an amazing guy attempting it this year, and I wish him the best of luck. Hopefully I’ll even see him out there on the road. By running, I’m guaranteed to see pretty much the full scope of riders, and I’m sure to have some great interactions with people throughout the day, which I’m really looking forward to as well. In addition, it’s the closest leg to home, so many of my friends will be riding as well, so I’m sure to run into them.

ragbrai spandex (flat small)3

Interestingly enough, this happens to be the same week that I’ll be traveling with the beautiful epicurean to Maine to run the Great Cranberry Island Ultra. Not only will this be an amazing and challenging week of running, but it will be a good training benchmark as I prepare for an even more significance 2013 endurance goal. After my first 50 mile race last fall, I was completely hooked on ultra distances and wanted to continue pushing my body. Running a 100k race seemed like the next logical step. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find a race that worked with my fall schedule and didn’t involve a significant financial commitment. However, we were already planning a trip to Phoenix during the holiday season again this year, so I thought I’d scan the race schedules and see if anything was being held while we were there.

GCBI50K

As luck would have it, I found a race. At this point, I should mention that I’m pretty good at rationalizing just about any decision I have my heart set on making. So, although I had initially been looking at 100k races, I knew I had found the perfect fit when I saw the Across the Years  6 day & 24, 48, & 72 hr Footrace. Now, I don’t have any experience with timed races, but this truly seemed like too amazing of an experience to pass up. Although I wish my body was capable of running for 6 straight days, I was immediately drawn to the 24-hour option. After doing the math, running for 24 hours straight seemed to be the training equivalent of a 100-mile race. This is certainly a jump past the 100k mark I had initially set, but I have six months to train, and already have an excellent base to build on. The race itself is going to be as much mental as it is physical, and that challenge excites me even more. I’ll be spending 24 hours running a 1 mile loop over and over again…perhaps Einstein’s definition of insanity is coming to mind at this point?

ATY-Website-Header-6-Day

I’ve finalized my training plan and began week 1 this week, leading to the December 28th race. I am certainly not naive enough to think that this is going to be an easy task, or that I have plenty of time. I know that I will need to focus on my training and nutrition as much, if not more, than I ever have before. Ultimately, that’s what excites me about both of these challenges. My mind thrives on being pushed to extremes and testing what I’m capable of, and the next 6 months are going to do just that. I’ll be experimenting with a lot of different nutrition and gear options, so you can look forward to those reports as well.

It's nice to have company when you are running for 24 hours, right?

It’s nice to have company when you are running for 24 hours, right?

So, I am putting these goals down in writing not because I have any interest in a pat on the back, but to make them real. Each of us has goals we want to achieve and things we’d like to accomplish that we maybe think are just out of reach. However, unless you really stretch yourself, you’ll never know! Feel free to share your goal…put it down in writing…make it real!

Book Review: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

“Life is basically unfair. But even in a situation that’s unfair, I think it’s possible to seek out a kind of fairness. Of course, that might take time and effort. And maybe it won’t seem to e worth all that. It’s up to each individual to decide whether or not it is.”

Murakami-5

I began reading Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running with a dash of excitement and a twinge of curiosity. I was familiar with Murakami’s impressive work,  but only in the way I’m familiar with many things through a passing discussion on NPR. Several of his books have been on my reading list for some time, but this wasn’t one of them. However, when I found out he was a runner, on top of being a prolific author, I got even more excited. It’s safe to assume that my entry into this text was more out of my love of running or it wouldn’t have skipped to the top of the list. A New York Times book reviewer summed it up well when he said “I’m guessing that the potential readership for “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” is 70 percent Murakami nuts, 10 percent running enthusiasts and an overlapping 20 percent who will be on the brink of orgasm before they’ve even sprinted to the cash register.”

Murakami-1 Murakami-2

I picked up the book more due to my love of running, but became quickly enchanted with Haruki Murakami and his consistent, practical, and philosophical approach to life, the universe, and running. He didn’t begin running seriously until he was 33, and now runs 6 miles a day like clockwork. He has competed in over 25 marathons, ran a 100K, and has recently entered the world of triathlons. At the end of the day, Murakami is your average runner, and you are likely to see him out on any given day putting in his miles, listening to his musical selection for the day, and taking in the scenery (well, if you happen to live in Boston or Tokyo that is). Throughout the book, his running consistency and the dedication he shares with you becomes a metaphor for his life and the many accomplishments he has earned throughout his career. He isn’t winning races but that isn’t the point. He simply loves to be healthy and active. He loves to run. I can understand that.

“…I didn’t start running because somebody asked me to become a runner…one day, out of the blue, I started to run-simply because I wanted to.”

He takes a calm, methodical approach to his writing and his running, and I felt a connection as I listened to him weave together stories of his running experiences, his training for races, his preparation for the New York City Marathon. He isn’t trying to sell you on a particular way of running, or a new amazing training routine. He isn’t making any bold claims about how running has completely transformed his life. He is simply sharing his thoughts on running, and in doing so, is demonstrating just what a profound impact it can have on a person without even realizing it. His dedication to running every day, just like his dedication to writing, stems from the realization that maintaining consistency in anything you do will lead to accomplishing the goals you are seeking. This is not to say that there won’t be setbacks, injuries, delays, or surprises, but that’s part of the experience. Ultimately, I’m not sure if his running is a metaphor for his writing, or vice-versa. In each, endurance is a prerequisite for success.

“…a person doesn’t become a runner because someone recommends it. People basically become runners because they’re meant to.”

His prose is conversational, albeit a bit redundant at times, and he meanders through his stories, loosely connecting them to each other but not entirely developing a theme for the book, other than the general relevance of running to his life. In some ways, the book has the same quality as a Sunday afternoon conversation with your grandfather, sitting on the front porch as a kid.

Murakami-4

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Say you’re running and you start to think, Man this hurts, I can’t take it anymore. The hurt part is an unavoidable reality, but whether or not you can stand any more is up to the runner himself. This pretty much sums up the most important aspect of marathon running.”

I certainly find myself relating to him at points, and enjoying the lazy Sunday afternoon conversation. He gave me pause at many junctions to reflect on my own running (as well as my writing), and I enjoyed the opportunity to develop my thoughts. I suppose reading the book was much like any of my long solo runs. I took in the scenery and enjoyed the world around me but was still able to get lost in my head. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running isn’t going to motivate you to run or inspire you to run further, but if you are patient and wait for it, you may begin to seek out the kind of fairness you need.

“I’m often asked what I think about as I run. Usually the people who ask this have never run long distances themselves. I always ponder the question. What exactly do I think about when I’m running? I don’t have a clue.”

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