Chasing 42

Life, the Universe, & Running

Archive for the tag “refreshing”

Winterthur: It’s a Magical Place!

Not only did I question whether or not Delaware was an actual state prior to moving here, but I certainly would have never heard of Winterthur Museum, Gardens, and Library if it wasn’t for the beautiful epicurean’s career field and her new amazing position at said library. You learn very fast when moving to Northern Delaware that the name Dupont carries quite a bit of weight in these parts! The Dupont family had a significant influence economically, socially, and politically in the area, as evidenced by the Dupont plant right down the round, and the plethora of streets, parks, and schools named after various members of the Dupont family. One such member of the Dupont family was Henry Francis Dupont. Unlike many of his other more industry-oriented family members, H.F.’s interests were more focused on horticulture and decorative arts.

A playful note in the Enchanted Woods!

A playful note in the Enchanted Woods!

Gates near the reflecting pool (and former family pool).

Grates near the reflecting pool (and former family pool).

More specifically, he became fascinated with antique American decorative arts and soon amassed the single largest collection of American antiques in the world. Even before his interest in antiques took hold, his green thumb guided many of his life decisions. He honed his craft, and on the grounds of his estate, created an amazing, sprawling, multi-dimensional naturalistic garden and landscaping masterpiece. That estate was Winterthur, named after the town in Switzerland where the family originated. Henry Francis donated the main mansion and estate as a museum in 1951 and continued to live in a smaller building on the estate until his passing in 1969. His legacy can be seen in vivid color as you explore the 60 acres of naturalistic gardens and the remainder of the massive nearly 1000 acre estate. Visitors travel from around the world to explore the massive collection of decorative arts, conduct research in the library collection, and explore the beautiful grounds.

Winterthur 3

The entire estate is incredibly visitor friendly, and accessible, regardless of your background knowledge of antiques or horticulture. Miles and miles of trails traverse the estate and allow for seemingly endless exploration. Very early on in my time in Delaware, I made it a point to explore Winterthur on foot, as I was there almost daily. Although the trails, both paved and unpaved, are intended to allow greater access to the grounds, they also present a unique opportunity for an early morning or later afternoon run of unprecedented beauty. There is something in bloom at any given time, and the diversity of plant and animal life creates a truly special environment.

It's hard not to stop and photograph everything!

It’s hard not to stop and photograph everything!

I’ve now been in Delaware for a little over two months, and have spent countless hours on the trails throughout the estate. It’s incredibly easy to get lost in the beauty around you and I always seem to find something new and unique with each additional run on the grounds. The estate happens to be right next to Brandywine Creek State Park as well (look for more in a future post), and it’s even an easy run home if I don’t feel like driving. As with the rest of the region, there is no shortage of hills, but the well-maintained trails simply can’t be beat and there are even several cafes on site in case you want a bite to eat when you are done. There is no question that I am lucky to have access to such an incredibly resource, and I am looking forward to many more runs and explorations to come! #chasing42

The diverse landscapes are simply incredible!

The diverse landscapes are simply incredible!

Did I mention the goats and flock of specially bred sheep?!

Oh, and did I mention the goats and flock of specially bred sheep?!

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Initial Reflections on Delaware

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been in Wilmington for two months now! The summer has truly flown by, and now that I’m caught up on my final Iowa escapades and the amazing experience that was the Race Across the USA, I can return to my regularly scheduled programming. It’s been a simultaneously relaxed and eventful transition, complete with all of the chaos of setting up a new home and figuring out the world around us. We’ve slowly begun to carve out a home for ourselves, figure out how to meet our regular needs, and begin to navigate a completely new part of the country and new stage in our lives. The epicurean’s new position at the Winterthur Museum, Library, and Gardens has been a wonderful transition and I can honestly say that I’ve never seen her more happy day in and day out. I completed my summer teaching responsibilities online at Iowa State, and have now officially left that position and am on the hunt for a new professional adventure (if you have any leads, I’d be happy to forward my resume 🙂 ).

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Amidst the unsettled nature of hitting reset on the life button, I’ve found time to continue my training in a way and have learned quite a bit about my new running home along the way. There are many new trails, hikes, races, and running friends to look forward to, and I’m certainly excited for the new running opportunities that living on the East Coast presents. It’s been a profoundly different and challenging experience to run so many miles without my Vardo partners in crime, and I still miss them terribly. When I first undertook the challenge of running, it was the friends surrounding me that kept me going, got me out the door, and motivated me on a daily basis. Throughout my growth as a runner, my biggest joy has been the relationships I’ve built and the opportunities to witness others accomplish their own running goals and grow closer to them with each passing mile. It’s strange, then, to find myself in a new area of the country where I know no one and am now running more solo miles than I’ve ever run before. I often find myself, out of habit, thinking about who I would share any new discovery, route, or trail with and then realizing that Facebook is truly only a shadow of life, always shifting as the earth turns each day and the sun rises and sets. Nonetheless, I’ve managed to discover some pretty exciting locations and opportunities in my short time in Delaware and I’m optimistic about what the future will bring. So, let me give you the Cliff’s notes version of what still feels like an extended vacation!

Heat & Humidity

Technically speaking, we aren’t that much further south so I didn’t expect the summer weather to be all that much different. I should have known better. It was in the 90’s the day I drove up in May, and it has been consistently hot all summer with little sign of relief until fall. I’ve never been a huge fan of the heat, and it’s always taken me what seems like far too long to acclimate, but it’s been an entirely new challenge in Wilmington. In addition to the heat, the humidity is rather atrocious. I’m used to a few days of high humidity every once in a while, but I seem to be bathing in a dog’s mouth every time I step foot outside. It doesn’t matter if I’m beginning a Saturday morning run at 6AM, or heading out for a short afternoon run. My body has been struggling to cope, and it’s definitely left me more exhausted than normal. I realized just how bad the humidity was a few days ago when it dropped to around 40%. Despite temps that hovered around 90 degrees, my run felt almost effortless by comparison. It really does make quite the difference!

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Hello, hills! 

It’s no secret that Iowa is a pretty darn flat state. I’ve spent my entire running life in Iowa, which meant I was far from accustomed to any sort of variable terrain. It wasn’t uncommon for me to log 25 or 30 miles and see a grand total of 300 feet of elevation gain. Delaware, however, is a different story all together! My legs are now, after two months, beginning to adjust to the fact that every single run I go on here is the equivalent of a hill workout in Iowa. I’m not sure there is a single stretch of flat land anywhere to be seen, and I’ve been racking up the elevation gain! The result is a new-found confidence with a wider variety of races, and the realization that I might be able to tackle some of my mountain-running bucket list items after all.

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Trails, my old friends

Since my first ultra and first trail race several years ago, I’ve been hooked. There is just something incredible about hitting the trails for a run and losing yourself in the miles that I can’t seem to replicate on the road. Unfortunately, living where we did in Iowa meant very limited access to trails and spending most of my time on the road. The landscape around Wilmington is a totally different experience! There is a wonderfully high concentration of state parks within running distance of our house, and even more access simply by hopping in the car for a few minutes. We bought a state park pass, naturally, and I’ve already had the opportunity to hit the trails in 5 different parks. It is a strange feeling to have such incredible access to so many legit trails, complete with switchbacks, stream crossings, and relentless hills. I’ve been in trail heaven!

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A New Running Community

I’ve made it crystal clear how important it is to me to be surrounded by like-minded individuals who share my passion for running. So much of my motivation comes from the efforts of those around me, so it was quite hard to leave such a tight-knit community behind. Luckily, I’ve begun to connect with other runners in the area, with the hopes of cutting back on my far too regular solo runs! I took it as a great sign that our next door neighbor is also a runner, and I even had the chance to run with her and a friend the first Saturday I was here. Since then, I’ve found the Delaware Running Club, and have run with them on numerous group trail runs. I even had the chance to participate in the Festival of Miles, which was my first official track race and led to my new mile PR of 6:08. Obviously I need to get it under 6:00 now! It’s a large group full of wonderful people with diverse running and life backgrounds, and I’m really enjoying getting to know folks!

Scenery & Orientation

The most shocking thing for me out here, even more than the hills and humidity, has been the overwhelming beauty of this area. I’ve lost track of the number of times I found myself stopping in the middle of a run to simply take in all of the beauty around me. It’s common to find a random historic marker, the remains of an old mill, or the remnants of a luxury amusement park from the turn of the 20th century (more on that in a future post!). The lush, green forests, rolling hills, and streams everywhere make each run something special. Unfortunately, stopping to gawk at the beauty of the area isn’t very good for my already tenuous sense of direction. When I left Ames, I could tell you how to get anywhere on foot, and how far it was within a tenth of a mile. I knew that area like the back of my hand. I’ve now found myself in an area where grids and city planning were an afterthought (Delaware is the first state, after all), and the winding roads mean I often don’t know north from south. I’ve begrudgingly started carrying my phone with me on most runs, and have needed to pull it out on several occasions to see just how turned around I really am. On one particularly ominous evening, I left my phone (and water and nutrition) at home for what I had intended to be an easy 6-mile run out and back. However, my curiosity got the best of me and one wrong turn led to another. Before I knew it, I had basically made my way to the PA border, and I had logged 18 dehydrated miles before I finally got home. Epic fail! I’m hoping that won’t become a regular occurrence 🙂

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Running @ Winterthur

One of my favorite places to run thus far is actually a place I find myself every single day (and jealous of the fact that the epicurean takes her lunch breaks on the grounds!). I wrote about Winterthur back in December when we traveled out so the epicurean to visit, and I was mesmerized then. However, the gardens truly shine in the spring and summer, with something new in bloom practically every week. There are countless paved and single-track trails meandering around the 1000 acre estate, and I truly feel as though I’m in another world, whether I’m out there running or curling up with a good book as I listen to the birds sing. I’ll be sure to highlight the beauty of this place in a future post, but few words can truly do it justice, especially for this Midwestern flatlander!

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So there you have it…it’s been a hilly two months, if you will, in more ways than one but we are finally beginning to settle in and get to work on making Wilmington our home for many years to come!

A Quadzilla Report: Destination White House

It’s all been building up to this final day, so hold onto your seats and prepare for a bumpy landing! The first three days of our time with the Race Across the USA were hot, humid, and tiring, but we were feeling good and enjoying life. We’d logged even more miles than we had planned, and our legs had seemingly adapted to the daily mileage because we were recovering without too much strain. We headed home from dinner with the core team members and other runners after celebrating the end of the journey the following day, and we settled in for a good nights sleep before our final day’s trek.

June 2- Day Four

We woke up a bit earlier the next more and got ready, unsure of the traffic situation now that we were so close to D.C., and wanting to make sure we arrived at the starting point in plenty of time. Luckily, the morning went smoothly, and we arrived around 6:20AM, which gave us time to get a bit more shut-eye and take care of other business, if you will. After the heat of the last three days, the cooler temps, wind, and light rain were a welcome relief. It was clear that everyone was quite tired as 7:00AM came around, but the excitement of finishing more than made up for it. On top of that, I was looking forward to running on a long stretch of paved trails after 3 days of winding country roads and minimal shoulders.

Ready for the last day!

Ready for the last day!

We took off promptly at 7AM, and made our way down the other side of the rather steep hill we had climbed at the finish yesterday, and the busy road meant being that much more attentive to traffic as we headed towards D.C. during rush-hour. We spent about 4 miles dodging traffic before finally hopping onto the Mt. Vernon Trail. The open trail, free of cars, was a breath of fresh air, and we picked up our pace a bit. I fully anticipated slowing down over the course of the four days, but legs seemed just as fresh and springy on day 4 as they did on day 1, and I was thankful for the intense training I had put in this year to make this possible. Granted, Stefan barely trained at all and still managed the same miles, so I suppose it’s all relative 🙂

After a mile or so on the trail, we were moving along nicely and I was feeling great. Then it happened. I had managed to stay vertical for three days and countless uneven roads, but the asphalt trail jumped up and bit me. I went down hard at full speed and rolled/slid to a stop several feet further along on the trail. Stefan and one of the other runners that had joined us stopped to help me up and make sure I was ok. I was more stunned than anything as I took stock of the damage. In true runner fashion, first I checked my gear and then i checked myself. I had collected a huge gouge in my knee, a nice hole in the palm of my hand, and some quality scrapes on my shoulder. I pulled out a wet wipe and wiped away as much dirt as I could, and tried to stop the significant bleeding a bit. Nothing hurt all that much, but that no doubt had more to do with the adrenaline pumping through my body than anything else. The first aid station was only a mile or so away and I knew they had a more substantial first aid kit, so I picked myself up and we kept moving forward.

Bandaged up and ready to go!

Bandaged up and ready to go!

We showed up to the aid station, and they knew I had gone down, so they were ready. I stopped for a few minutes to clean my wounds a bit more and bandage myself up (I guess that EMT training is still paying off, eh?), and I was back out on the trail in less than 5 minutes. All I could really do was laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation and recognize that it was going to make for a great story. Stefan and I continued to tick off the miles on the beautiful wooded trail, and we found ourselves having to intentionally slow down because we were moving faster than we figured we should be with another 18 miles to go. Nonetheless, the cool weather, mist, and excitement of the last day meant we were moving along at a good clip, and the miles were rolling by as we made our way closer and closer to the National Mall.

We stopped briefly at several different points to take pictures and simply enjoy being out there, and marvel at how lucky we were to be able to do something like this in the first place. After Jamile had dropped us off, she went and parked the truck downtown and road her bike backwards to meet us on the trail. She caught up to us around mile 16 and I showed off my impressive wounds when she rode up to meet us. I was still feeling a good amount of pain because I hadn’t been able to apply any Neosporin but running served as the perfect distraction and I seemed fine as long as I kept moving.

Running along the Mt. Vernon Trail.

Running along the Mt. Vernon Trail.

It was wonderfully refreshing to have the Potomac River to our right, guiding us towards the White House. Once we reached Reagan international Airport, D.C. began to come into view, and it became harder and harder not to stare off into the distance, but my desire to be distracted was balanced out by the reminder of the bloody holes in my knee and hand 🙂 You can bet I was keeping an eye on my footing!

Not a bad view for the end of 4 days of racing...

Not a bad view for the end of 4 days of racing…

We finally reached the Arlington Memorial Bridge, and crossed over, heading towards the Lincoln Memorial. We stopped for a few quick photos, and then continued down the National Mall towards the National WWII Memorial, and then the Washington Monument. The rain and cooler temps had kept many of the tourists away, so the mall wasn’t nearly as crowded as we had expected, which was wonderful. We passed the Smithsonian Castle and headed for the Capital, and then hung a left to head up Pennsylvania Avenue for the final approach. I suppose it was this final stretch when it finally began to sink in that we were going to do this, and we both got even more excited. The final stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue flew by as we neared completion amidst so much history. It was very fitting that we would end our journey, and all of the core runners would end a so much more amazing journey, in front of the White House. We made the turn for Lafayette Square and could see the group off in the distance. We picked up our pace a bit and were all smiles as we crossed the final finish line. We had done it- 4 days, 120 miles, some spilled blood, and more memories than I could count. A few of the other runners had already finished, and we all congratulated each other, and then we sat down. It felt rather good to sit down (even if it did mean I could feel my injuries in a much more pronounced manner).

RAUSA 3.2

Finished!

Finished!

One of Stefan and Jamile’s friends works at the White House, and he came out to meet us and congratulate us. He even brought with him White House coins for each of us, which was a wonderful and unique gift. It served as our medal for the day, as the RAUSA belt buckles would not arrive until later in the summer. After hanging out for a bit, we walked to a delicious burrito restaurant for some lunch. From there, we headed back to the truck. Jamile had parked at a military base (since Stefan works at the Pentagon) next to Arlington National Cemetery. Stefan and I decided it would be a good idea to run the few miles from the restaurant to Arlington National Cemetery since we clearly hadn’t run enough yet. My legs were definitely much stiffer than they had been, in part because it was almost chilly outside with the rain, but I warmed up as we went on, and it did get us there that much faster.

RAUSA 3.1

We arrived at the Cemetery and slowed to a respectful walk as we entered. This was my first time visiting and it was a humbling experience to say the least. The magnitude of meaning housed within the confined of those grounds was almost overwhelming and I felt honored to have experienced it. We arrived in time to witness the changing of the guard, which is a simultaneously somber and inspiring sight to behold. I was struck by the attention to detail and dedication that goes into maintaining the clockwork precision involved in the process, and could feel the respect emanating from the site and the servicemen entrusted with its care. We then made our way back to the car, and back to the house to clean up. I got everything packed, and Stefan and Jamile dropped me off at Union Station for the short train ride back to Wilmington. It’s amazing how much life you can pack into such a short period of time, and thankful doesn’t begin to describe my thoughts on the experience as a whole. It was certainly one of the highlights of my running career and my life as a whole, so thank you for coming along with me and indulging in my sometimes over-descriptive attempt at capturing such an amazing experience! #chasing42 #chasing42reports #RAUSA

A Quadzilla Report: The Race Across Virginia

I hopped in the car and headed out east the Monday after an amazing Market to Market weekend, with 1700 miles separating myself and the critters from the epicurean. I managed to tackle the trip in two days of “quality” time in the car, and we arrived at our new home on the afternoon of May 12th. Mind you, this was a home that we purchased despite my not seeing it in person, as I was unable to travel out with the epicurean to house shop. Luckily, I trust her completely, and she found us a wonderful new home! There was a flurry of unpacking and organizing over the next week (don’t worry…it’s still happening, but more to come on that in a later post), but I managed to stick to my training schedule pretty well and do some initial exploring of the area. I figured out pretty quickly that I wasn’t in the flat lands of Iowa anymore, and the combination of hills and humidity meant I was in for a period of adjustment. So, despite only having been in our new home for a couple of weeks, I decided to register for a significant running challenge in a part of the country I had spent very little time. That’s what everyone does, right?

In all fairness, I had actually registered for this series of races before we made the decision to move, and the move just made the opportunity that much easier to take advantage of and enjoy. Late last year, I read about a group of runners who were planning on embarking on a trans-continental run from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., beginning in January. I was immediately intrigued, and my interest grew substantially when I found out that the race would be happening in conjunction with a research project to study the long-term impact of running on endurance athletes. The combination of running and research was right up my ally and I quickly explored how I could possibly get involved. In addition to the initial group of 11 core team members, the group was providing the opportunity for runners to join them throughout the country, either for an entire state, a 4-day experience, or a single day. The route involved running roughly a marathon every day consistently, with various rest days as the team crossed into a new state. In total, it meant that the core team members would be running for 140 days and would cover 3,080 miles in total.

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The thought of some day completing my own run across the U.S. has been on my mind for some time, but I’m clearly not at the point in my life where that is a possibility. The team took a southern route, so driving from Iowa wasn’t really an option, and flying didn’t seem necessarily financially responsible when lodging and transportation to each of the starting points was factored in. However, the last 4 days of the race involved running across Virginia and finishing on the White House lawn (or across from it, technically). Luckily, we happen to have two very good friends who live in the D.C. area who also happen to love running, and it didn’t take much work to convince Stefan and Jamile to join me on this adventure.  What’s more, they graciously agreed to pick me up at the airport and organize our transportation. Stefan and I would tackle 4 straight marathons, and Jamile would join us as an amazing support crew, and we’d spend the rest of the time relaxing throughout Virginia when we weren’t running. It was wonderful to see two familiar faces after arriving in Delaware, and I was excited to visit with them and share the adventure!

May 29-Day Zero

One of the most exciting aspects of moving to the east coast for me is the increased access to public transportation. When I lived in NYC, I loved not having to drive anyone and still have access to everything the area had to offer. Thus, I was excited to hop on a train Friday morning for the 90-minute ride to D.C. Stefan and Jamile picked me up at Union Station, and we headed back to their house in Alexandria to get packed up. Our plan was to stay at a hotel in Fredericksburg, VA for the first three nights, and then drive back to stay at their house the final night. This would position us well for fairly easy drives in the morning out to the starting lines. Since the route itself was mainly along public roads, with some trails tossed in when available, the start and finish lines were simply easy access points in the road once the required distance had been met. We made it out to the hotel, got checked in, and then went and did a bit of exploring in town. Although I lived in Virginia for several years, I had never visited the town and it was fun to walk around (with coffee in hand, of course). I had forgotten how much I loved all of the history on the east coast, and this part of Virginia is filled with it, so we had plenty to see, while also taking it easy before our first marathon in the morning.

Exploring historic Fredericksburg...

Exploring historic Fredericksburg…

May 30- Day One

We woke up extra early on Saturday morning for the first race since we were uncertain of how things would play out and we wanted to make sure we weren’t late. The “start” was an intersection out in the country where the group had finished the previous day, so we had GPS directions and found our way out there without any issues, and arrived around 6:30 for the 7:00AM start. We met with the race organizers and received our bibs, shirts, and buffs, and hung out and waited for others to arrive. There were 7 remaining core team runners that had been at it since the beginning, and we had a chance to meet everyone briefly. There were several other folks that were joining us for the remaining 4 days, and 1 other runner was half way through the full 9-day Virginia leg. I was feeling comfortable, well-rested, and excited to get things rolling. I’ve run plenty of long distances and marathons, but this was my first attempt at a Quadzilla (4 back-to-back marathons) and there were still some nerves turning over in my stomach, but I knew I had trained well for it and my body was ready to handle the stress. We could already tell the weather would be a bit more of a challenge, with warm temperatures and high humidity, but the plan was to take it slow and enjoy ourselves. I was treating this set of races like other ultras and slowing my pace while continuing to push forward.

Let's get this party started!

Let’s get this party started!

We began promptly at 7AM and our small group of runners was off, heading down a lonely country road. It was the first of many peaceful country roads we would traverse over the next 4 days. I decided to play it safe and I opted for my Salmon S-Lab 12 pack so I could carry plenty of water, as well as nutrition and other emergency medical supplies. There were aid stations every 6 miles or so, but I knew the heat would lead me to want more than a handheld bottle could carry. This proved to be a smart decision and I was grateful for the extra hydration. This was actually the first time I had worn the pack, as it was a replacement for my S-Lab 5, which I was able to get replaced for free after the zippers rusted shut. I very quickly realized that the minimal added weight was unnoticeable and the extra storage capacity made this an even better pack!

Stefan and I took off at a relatively controlled pace and initially tried to stay around 9:00 min/mile. This seemed reasonable at the time, but I had neglected to factor in the hilly terrain, much like that which I had recently discovered at home. We ended up falling in with one of the core runners, and had a wonderful conversation with him over many miles. We were able to hear some of his stories from the previous few months of constant running, as well as learn more about the research project he was working on in conjunction with the event. The miles just seemed to tick by as we chatted about running research, physiology, and academia in general, along with learning more about his experiences during the event. It wasn’t until we were startled by a rather large snake in the middle of the road that we realized we had missed a turn a few miles back and gone off course. Since it was a small event and the roads weren’t closed, the course wasn’t marked so we were required to follow the directions we had been given to stick to the course. This wouldn’t normally be a problem, but it does mean looking at the directions instead of leaving them in your pocket. We stopped for a photo-op with the snake, and then turned around, while also calling one of the support team members, who was nice enough to come pick us up and bring us back to the course turn we missed. We ended up adding about 3 miles to our already long day, which would come back to bite us later on.

Snakes...why does it always have to be snakes?

Snakes…why does it always have to be snakes?

Around mile 18, the heat and hills were beginning to get to us and we realized it wouldn’t be smart to try and maintain the pace we were hitting so we bid adieu to our new friend as he continued on. I was amazed that after almost 3,000 miles, he was still able to tackle the road so effortlessly, and that proved to be the case for each of the core runners. Our respect was instant, and our amazement continuous! We slowed our pace a bit, and the heat began to get to Stefan a bit so we made sure we were hydrating well, along with taking advantage of ice at the aid stations and Jamile’s wonderful personal aid stations along the way.

The end is in sight!

The end is in sight!

We decided it was in our best interest to take it easy the final 10 miles, so we enjoyed being outside (despite the intense sun!) and took in our surroundings. Near the end of the route, we were sent along a beautiful wooded trail towards a state park for the finish, and the change of scenery and surface provided some much-needed relief from the heat and gave us a chance to enjoy the experience even more. We were by ourselves for this final stretch, aside from Jamile’s timely roadside assistance and the reality that we would be doing it all over again for the following three days began to really sink in. We entered the park and were able to see the “finish line” up in the distance, and the support folks and a few other runners lingering and waiting for everyone to come in for the day. There was no ribbon or formal finish line, no inflatable arch, and no medals at the end, but it didn’t matter. Our sense of accomplishment was all the reward we needed and we were all smiles as we crossed the finish line. What should have been close to marathon distance became almost 30 miles after our detour and we couldn’t have been more happy to reach the end!

Finished!

Finished!

We lingered about for a bit chatting with folks and were able to cheer on a few other runners who weren’t too far behind us. Then we hopped back in the truck and headed back to the hotel to shower and rest a bit. I’ll never get used to just how refreshing and rejuvenating a hot shower can be after a long distance run, and I was feeling much better. The sun had taken its toll, but my legs still felt fresh, and I was sure this was a good sign for the days to come. The rest of the day was spent eating, relaxing, and hanging out. I was reminded yet again that although I love to run because it gives me a chance to push myself and test my abilities, it is ultimately more about the people I’m with, and I couldn’t have been happier to be sharing this experience with two amazing friends. We were all looking forward to the next three days and the laundry list of memories that were just over the horizon!

…to be continued 🙂 #chasing42

Running with Circadian Science?

Many folks might not know that I was almost a pediatrician. I spent most of my childhood planning for medical school, and the first three years of my college career taking the necessary courses to achieve that vision of my future. Ultimately, my interests led me in a decidedly different direction, but I never let go of my love of science and the human body. That’s no doubt why I find the biological and physiological side of endurance running so fascinating. We put our bodies through countless trials out on the road and trails. The pain is real, and the criticism is consistent, but we keep doing it. At a certain point, any run of 50 miles or more seems to become a decidedly mental exercise, but our body still needs to function appropriately to keep moving forward. I’ve dealt with all kinds of aches, pains, and general fatigue during races, and often the knowledge that I can and have overcome those hardships is the only thing that keeps me pushing forward.

I’ve come to realize that the most difficult part of long-distance endurance events is often the number of hours I am on my feet at any given time. I’ve always been a bit of a night owl so staying up “late” has never been an issue. Unfortunately, my body’s definition of “late” has gotten earlier and earlier as I’ve circled the sun more and more. Gone are the college days of consistent all-nighters full of productive accomplishment. I’ve accepted this reality, but seem to push it aside when it comes to running. I’ve forcefully convinced myself that I am still easily capable of staying up all night as long as I’m running, and I’ve done it numerous times, which has only served to reinforce my illogical beliefs.

Now, I might have proved consistently that I can continue running at 3:00AM, but that doesn’t mean my body likes it. The pain and fatigue are real, and the digestive issues can’t be ignored (toilet paper should be a part of any ultra-runners race kit!). Thus, I found a recent story on NPR about circadian science fascinating. As the story discussed, we’ve long known that our brains have master clocks that help us maintain our 24-hour sleep/wake cycle. Interestingly, researchers have discovered that we actually have clocks in every organ, every cell of our bodies. The story goes on to note:

We humans are time-keeping machines. And it seems we need regular sleeping and eating schedules to keep all of our clocks in sync.

Studies show that if we mess with the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle — say, by working an overnight shift, taking a transatlantic flight or staying up all night with a new baby or puppy — we pay the price.

Our blood pressure goes up, hunger hormones get thrown off and blood sugar control goes south.

We can all recover from an occasional all-nighter, an episode of jet lag or short-term disruptions.

But over time, if living against the clock becomes a way of life, this may set the stage for weight gain and metabolic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes.

The basic idea here is that our body’s clocks are set to expect certain things at certain times, and they react accordingly by releasing hormones, digestive enzymes, and a myriad of other chemicals throughout the body to effectively achieve the desired outcomes. If we take actions, such as eating, at times the body is not accustomed to this occurring, then we are fighting the signals that tell our body not to eat or drink, and we become off-balance.

circadian rhythm

This story got me to thinking about the implications for ultra-running. How many times have we heard stories about runners unable to keep food down during an overnight run, or suffering fatigue in the middle of the night, only to feel their body reawakened and re-energized with the sunrise (hint- ME!). What if these instances were the result of the clocks in our muscles demonstrating their utter confusion and disbelief over the fact that we are running in the middle of the night when we should be horizontal and flowing through REM cycles? What if our digestive issues are a direct result of our stomach, pancreas, and other vital organs telling us that we shouldn’t be consuming calories at 2:00AM. Perhaps the stomach just can’t make heads or tails of pizza and potato soup when it should be replenishing vital digestive acids and enzymes?

The endurance running implications for this research are fascinating to say the least. Ultimately,

“We’d like to be in a position where we’d be able to monitor hundreds of different rhythms in your body and see if they’re out of sync — and then try to normalize them,” Turek says.

We might be forcing these rhythms out of sync intentionally, but the possibility of helping keep them in sync while we running is phenomenal. If my body was as comfortable running at 3AM as it is at 3PM, there’s no telling what I would be capable of achieving. Perhaps we should be paying less attention to the clock on our wrist, and more attention to the clocks in our bodies!

Circadian Rhythm image

Challenges Are the Key to Living

I headed out for a mid-week run last night, without knowing where I was heading until I started moving. That’s the joy of beginning to know your body and know your limits, I suppose. You can put on your shoes, step outside, and find that the only limits on where or how far you wander are those artificially composed by the expectations of others. The wind was blowing hard (as it always does in Iowa), and there was a distinct chill in the air (as there has been for months now), and I felt energized by the briskness and the bounce it instigated in my step. Sometimes kinetic energy is the best heat there is, and I was determined to warm myself up. The miles sailed by, and I enjoyed absorbing the energy and life around me.

runtolive

Towards the end of my run, I saw a friend drive past, and I stopped to catch up. As we were chatting, the periodic tiny snowflakes instantly transformed into a whiteout! The large snowflakes were floating down sideways and adhering to our jackets and faces while we talked and we couldn’t help but laugh. She had injured her ankle some time ago, and had recently been able to take off the boot and was rehabbing it in the pool. I’ve known her since I started running, and her energy, determination, and free spirit have been inspirational to me on many levels. Seeing her, still in great spirits, reminded me that we all face challenges in our training and in our lives. Those challenges not only motivate us but they remind us that we are in fact alive. They don’t define us when viewed as problems, but they motivate us and help us continue to live our lives when we think of them as challenges.

We hugged, said our goodbyes, and I headed off to finish my run. I put my head down as I ran directly into the wind and snow, unable to see more than a few feet ahead of me, and I simply laughed as a big smile washed over my face. My fingers were cold, my cheeks were windburn, the snow was finding its way under my best fabric defenses, and I loved every second of it. I was alive in that moment. I was running to live.

I'm going to miss the winter beauty of this campus!

I’m going to miss the winter beauty of this campus!

I often wax philosophically to myself when I’m out on a solo run, and I value these internal conversations. Whether I’m on my own moving along some beautiful single-track, or plodding along on the side of a road in an open prairie with barren farmland all around, the reminder is still there.

So, consider these thoughts a quick peek into the slow streams and fast rapids in my mind:

– Metrics are important but the minutia can cause us to lose sight of the larger meaning behind our actions…so, turn on your Garmin, but collect moments, mental pictures, smells, sounds, and emotions with as much passion as you do pace, distance, and heart-rate!

– We can’t control everything, so trying is ultimately a waste of energy. This is something I still remind myself of daily as I fight some OCD urges and give in to others. Sometimes the best runs are the ones you don’t plan!

– Embracing the unexpected and the unknown, and taking charge of an adventurous spirit forces us to live. Adventures and challenges rarely come to us if we aren’t open to them. I still get that giddy feeling in my stomach before every run because I don’t quite know what to expect!

– You won’t find meaning on a treadmill. You’ll only find what you already knew was there when you dialed in your pace and stepped onto the circulating belt. We all run for different reasons, and the desire to be healthy is incredibly important. However, if running is about more than simply race results and VO2 max, then I’m a firm believer that you won’t find what you are looking for inside on a hamster wheel.

P.S. It’s not too cold. Ever. There are ultrarunners making their way across Alaska on the 350-mile Iditarod course right now. No excuses.

The unexpected moments remind me that I’m alive. They remind me to put everything I do in perspective, and they remind me why I run. I run to live. This, I venture to guess, becomes a far more holistic approach to training than the other way around. When you assume the opposite, you run the risk of finding yourself stuck on a revolving belt, unaware and unconcerned with the world around you.

“Everything we do really is just a little marker on the long road to death. And sometimes that’s overwhelmingly depressing to me, and sometimes it makes me feel kinship and forgiveness. We’ve all got the same ending to the story. The way we make that story more elaborate, I got to respect.”
― Joss Whedon

Running & Being: Reflections in Quotes

This frigid winter has left plenty of time to curl up with a good book, a warm blanket, a warm and snuggly dog and/or cat, and a cup of coffee. One of the many books on my reading list this year was Running & Being: The Total Experience, by Dr. George Sheehan. This classic running text was first published in 1978, and became a bit of a running bible during the rise of the sport, with Sheehan serving as a muse and wise sage for the burgeoning recreational running community. The title had been on my docket for a while, and I was excited to crack it open (although carefully so as not to damage the spin, out of respect to my conservator partner!). Even after almost 30 years, Sheehan’s words ring true and I found myself connecting with his thoughts and perspective more and more as I turned the pages. His writing style, half philosopher, half runner, appealed to my intellectual curiosities as much as running passions.

Numerous reviews of the book have been published over the years, so it would be a bit presumptuous to think I could add anything in that genre that had not already been said. However, I found more and more quotes that spoke to me particularly, and I thought it would be engaging, at least to me, to document those. Perhaps you’ll discover new meaning in the book, or an interest in it that will cause you to pick it up for the first time. Either way, there’s meaning to be found if one is open to letting it in. Enjoy!

Chapter 1- Living

Our day-to-day living may seem mindless to the mind and of no consequence to the body, but the heart tells us different. The heart is where faith lies. Where we find the supreme act of courage, the courage to be. To take arms against oneself and become one’s own perfection. (p. 9)

Chapter 2- Discovering

The runner does not run because he is too slight for football or hasn’t the ability to put a ball through a hoop or can’t hit a curve ball. He runs because he has to. Because in being a runner, in moving through pain and fatigue and suffering, in imposing stress upon stress, in eliminating all but the necessities of life, he is fulfilling himself and becoming the person he is. (p. 22)

Chapter 3- Understanding

So I run in joy and even afterward there is a completeness that lingers and is even restored in the long, hot shower. I am “away”, not in the mind but in its warm, relaxed, tingling happy body, the feeling of running still in my legs and arms and chest. I am still enjoying who I was and what I did that hour on the road. (p. 28)

Chapter 4- Beginning

Where fitness ends, self-discovery starts. The athlete who is in complete command of the skills of his sport comes to understand the person he is through his attachment to his particular sport and his response to the stresses and strains that arise within it. He finds out what he is made of. What his true personality is.” (pp. 45-46)

Chapter 5- Becoming

So let us forget about longevity. Get away from the idea of prolonging life. Let us realize the truth of Thurber’s dictum “There is no safety in numbers- or in anything else.” Despite exercise, diet and abstention from all the vices, we will die in our appointed time. That should not concern. It is what happens from now until then that is important.” (pp. 56-57)

Chapter 6- Playing

Play is where life lives. Where the game is the game. At its borders, we slip into heresy. Become serious. Lose our sense of humor. Fail to see the incongruities of everything we hold to be important. Right and wrong become problematic. Money, power, position become ends. The game becomes winning. And we lose the good life and the good things that play provides.” (p. 61)

Chapter 7- Learning

What is school for the student, wrote philosopher Paul Weiss, is leisure for the mature. A time when we devote ourselves to detecting who we are and what we can do, a time to understand the world and how it works, a time to loaf and invite the imagination to full activity, a time to exhaust ourselves in play and dance and celebration.” (p.77)

Chapter 8- Excelling

Boredom, like beauty, is in the mind of the beholder. “There is no such thing as an uninteresting subject,” said Chesterton. “The only thing that can exist is an uninterested person.” (p.92)

Chapter 9- Running

Running reminds me that at any age man is still the marvel of creation. With the passage of time, there is little deterioration of our physical or psychic powers, little worth thinking that is lost. The only important issue, as Rollo May said, is not whether a person is twenty or forty or sixty, but whether he fulfills his own capacity of self-conscious choice at his own particular level.” (p. 116)

Chapter 10- Training

Life is the great experiment. Each of us is an experiment of one- observer and subject- making choices, living with them, recording the effects. “Living”, said the philosopher Ortega, “is nothing more than doing one thing instead of another.” (p. 130)

Chapter 11- Healing

The athlete is medicine’s most difficult patient. His pursuit of perfection is an unprecedented challenge to what Cannon called “homeostasis” and Claude Bernard termed the “internal milieu,” the body’s inner harmony with its external environment.” (p. 147)

Chapter 12- Racing

I have no need for short-lived bursts of superhuman energy. My game is endurance. My object perfection. My race is a product of training, determination, and reason. Strong emotions often contribute nothing but stupidity. It is the fired-up, psyched-up runner who runs the most irrationally placed races.” (p. 157)

Chapter 13- Winning

Some think guts is sprinting at the end of a race. But guts is what got you there to begin with. Guts start in the back hills with six miles still to go and you’re thinking of how you can get out of this race without anyone noticing. Guts begin when you still have forty minutes of torture left and you’re already hurting more than you ever remember.” (p. 181)

Chapter 14- Losing

Sport is where an entire life can be compressed into a few hours. Where the emotions of a lifetime can be felt on the acre or two of ground. Where a person can suffer and die and rise again on six miles of trails through a New York City park.” (p. 189)

Chapter 15- Suffering

Why I began running is no longer important. It is enough that it generated a desire to run. Then the running itself took over. Running became self-renewing compulsion. The more I ran, the more I wanted to run.” (p. 197)

Chapter 16- Meditating

On the road I become a philosopher and follow the philosopher’s tradition. I affirm my own existence and no one else’s. I am occupied with my own inner life. I am constructing a system that will justify  my own way of being in the world. And discovering, as Emerson said, that there are thoughts in my brain that have no other watchman or lover or defender than me.” (p. 220)

Chapter 17- Growing

Running is a dangerous game. At one pole the danger is contentment. Running becomes so addictive physically, so habit-forming psychologically, that it takes willpower for me not to run. And it has a solitude so satisfying that I sometimes wonder if the hermit isn’t the supreme hedonist.” (p. 229)

Chapter 18- Seeing

The world belongs to those who laugh and cry. Laughter is the beginning of wisdom, the first evidence of the divine sense of humor…Crying starts when we see things as they really are. When we realize with William Blake that everything that lives is holy. When everything is seen to be infinite and we are part of the infinity.” (p. 246)

 

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