It’s getting dark in here….

…despite evidence to the contrary:

oct 16 run

Last weekend was gorgeous. GORGEOUS. The sun shone, the sky was that deep fall blue and the highs were in the 70’s. It was the perfect weekend to get in some long runs.

And they sucked.

It was the voices in my head-they were screaming at me. I’m too slow. I’m not doing enough miles. I wish this were easier. I wish I was better. I should have started training earlier. I should have started doing back to back long runs sooner.

Those thoughts followed me for all 25 of the miles I ran this weekend. And yes, I know I’m doing the best I can and that I’ve come a long way and all the other nice things my friends will tell me. I know it rationally but don’t feel it emotionally, if that makes sense.

I still don’t. Those thoughts are still lingering and I debated on posting about this or not. I don’t want to be a debbie downer. But it’s part of the journey, I suppose, and to be honest, I don’t know when these bastards plan on leaving.

I’ll tell you this though. You know how all the quotes you read on pinterest about leaping and the net will appear and do what you love and follow your passion and blahblah? I absolutely believe those quotes-I could not do this level of training if I did not love trail running. But I realized this weekend how far you can get on fear too.

I took those crappy thoughts with me for every. damn. mile. It’s not nearly as much fun to run carrying fear as it is to carry joy with you but I did it and I think it’s an important lesson. Just because I’m scared I won’t be ready or good enough does not mean I can’t keep going forward.

So that’s what I’ll do.

The highs and the lows

Last saturday I had the best run I’ve ever had in my life. Until I didn’t.

It didn’t start out as anything special. Just another early saturday, another long run to get on the books. I was at my usual haunt-the Northshore Trails on the north side of Grapevine lake (which is also where the ultra will be held so it’s nice to be able to train for a race on the actual course).

high and low

There I was plugging along when I found myself in this deep well of joy right about mile 6 or so. Anyone who reads here regularly knows how much I love being out in my woods. It sounds melodramatic to say but it’s absolutely true-the first time I ran on a trail, my life completely changed. I found home. So yeah, I love my woods.

But I had never experienced anything like this. The deep sense of well being, of joy, of gratitude. I felt light as air. I felt like I was flying. I felt so complete. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life, this feeling, and it stayed with me for the majority of the run.

high and low 2

Until I was maybe 2 or so miles from my stopping point (the run was a 15 miler) when I hit the wall. I didn’t know it was the wall at the time-I’ve never hit the fabled wall that I hear about so often-all I knew is that all of a sudden my body was like

no meme

 

I felt this overwhelming fatigue, like I wanted to just lay down on the side of the trail and not move for a long time and my legs felt like they completely locked up. Running was pretty much out of the question.

Fortunately I wasn’t far from my car and still had water and one more gel left so I was able to shuffle through the rest of the miles but it was so strange to experience the highest high I’ve had during a run and then get smacked with that so close to the end.

At first, I let it get to me. I completely forgot how wonderful I had felt a few miles earlier and started questioning if I could even make it across the finish line. I was in a funk the rest of the day, scenarios of epic bonks playing over and over in my head.

But after some food and a good night’s sleep, I was out on the trail the next day for the second in my back-to-back long runs and…I was fine. Totally, boringly, fine.

The experience reminded me yet again just how much this running/racing this is mental. How I can’t get too attached to anyone one feeling or experience but instead accept that I’m going to experience any number of things during the race. To not let the negative enter my brain and to be glad that this happened because it’s practice-in dealing with bad situations and getting out of them, in learning what works and what doesn’t.

Because I’m getting across that finish line.

 

Race recap: Rough Creek Half Marathon 2014

This photo perfectly encapsulates my experience at the Rough Creek half marathon last Saturday.

photo credit: Movin' Pictures

photo credit: Movin’ Pictures

Slogging up a hill with a stupid grin on my face. If I’m being honest, initially I wasn’t looking forward to this race. In fact, I hadn’t planned on signing up for it again but Endurance Buzz Adventures is putting on a ‘high 5 challenge’-finish all 5 of the races they put on in the year, win a nice shiny engraved cowbell. And while I enjoyed my experience at the race last year (it was my first half marathon), it was tough enough that I didn’t relish a repeat experience. Alas, I was lured by the prospect of actually getting something shiny at a finish line.

So I signed up and figured that it would be a wonderful opportunity to practice running on tired legs. Approximately 4-5 miles of the course is through something called the ‘rusty crown’-a series of steep ascents and declines, all while sliding on loose gravel. Last year the experience left my legs so thrashed that I didn’t run for a week afterwards-I would have plenty of tired leg practice. On top of that, unlike last year, I couldn’t take a break after this race. I am in the middle of my peak weeks leading up to the Ultra in November-this had to be just another training run.

Yep-I'm trotting out the elevation profile AGAIN. LOOK AT IT!

Yep-I’m trotting out the elevation profile AGAIN. LOOK AT IT!

Needless to say, I faced this race with a little trepidation. However, Jason and I showed up bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready for our 7:30 send off.

rough creek 2014

We’ve decided our motto is ‘We do stupid shit together!’

The day was overcast and seemed cooler than my first bought on this course last year but soon proved to be much muggier. We started at the same time (Jason was doing the 10K and I was doing the half marathon) but Jason soon pulled ahead and I settled into a steady rhythm as it seemed like every runner in the free world passed me.

Now, I may not be very fast, but I’ve got as much competitive instinct in me as the next person. Just like in every race, I had to keep myself from speeding up and trying to pull ahead of some of the people in front of me. First, that never gets me anywhere. Second, I knew that my strength lay in the hills we would encounter in a few miles and that I would catch up to people then. Third, this wasn’t a goal race which means I needed to keep myself steady and take it as easy as I could.

I was reminding myself of all of this when I stepped on some loose gravel and my ankle folded, bringing me down hard on the gravel road on one knee. A quarter mile into the race. On the flat road. With like 50 runners around me.

WINNER!

Like a BOSS.

With some embarrassment I picked myself up and kept going and soon we were at the first aid station situated at the bottom of the crown. After grabbing a pickle I headed upwards with everyone else. Leading up to this race, I wondered how I would handle it-if a year of running and longer miles and more hills would make the crown any easier and I was pleased to see that it had.

I picked my way through the first round of the rusty crown at a steady rate, already pulling ahead of some of the people that had passed me earlier. After being spit out of the crown and into the bowl, I settled back into my steady groove and enjoyed the scenery. It really is such a beautiful area. Some of the race was spent alone and listening to music, some of it was spent running and chatting with a couple of other runners. A quick pit stop at the half way point aid station and then a couple of more miles had me back at the crown for round two.

And once again I found myself moving quickly past runners that were ahead of me or had passed me earlier. I may not be very fast, I may have no talent and very little experience but I have a masters degree in stubborn. Those hills, as much as they kick my ass, are also my jam.

By the time I slid down the last hill and met up with the first aid station again (which is also the last aid station), I was feeling surprisingly good. And feeling good about feeling good. Then I looked down at my watch and my mood sunk a little bit. At the half way point, I was on pace to take a few minutes off last years time but realized that wasn’t going to happen.

I admit I was a little bummed. Yes, this wasn’t a goal race. But I had run the race with much more ease than I had the last time I’d experienced it and had hoped that would show up in my times. For a split second I debated burning what was left in the tank and trying to shave off a few minutes but that passed quickly.

As I ran towards the finish, I realized the PR was in the fact that I was running, and fairly comfortably, not shuffling forward like I had last year. The PR was that this year, I got to be the person encouraging someone who was struggling on the hills. The PR was that I was running smarter and feeling better. The PR was that my foot wasn’t bothering me.

rough creek 2014-2

The PR was that as I came into the finish shoot, I was still running and still smiling and genuinely happy to be there -even though I came in 3 minutes slower than last year- because I knew I’d run a smart race.

And the REAL PR is that I got up the next day and ran 5 miles. They were the most pathetic 5 miles in existence but I did it and I’m only whimpering a little bit today.

Also, Jason-who never trains and just randomly shows up to races with me-placed 2nd in his age group and 6th overall. I’d be irritated if I weren’t so proud of him. :)

Ultramarathon training update

My weeks are solidly in the 30mile/week range. Lately this means two runs (or one run, one hike) during the week and back to back long runs on the weekend. I try to get the bulk of my mileage on those back to backs to get my legs used to running when tired.

Well, my legs always seem tired these days. ;)

In addition to the running/hiking, I still do one strength training session per week and yoga for about 15-20 minutes, 3-5 times per week.

Fortunately, other than a couple of weeks where I had to lower the mileage (19 miles and 17 miles respectively) due to some worrisome twinges, I haven’t had any plantar fasciitis issues. My training plan is actually fairly conservative compared to others I’ve seen online to hopefully keep it that way.

But it’s finally at the point where it’s beginning to feel like a lot and I’m constantly trying to ride that razor’s edge between training enough to be prepared while not overtraining and trying to minimize the risk of injury as much as I can.

I spend a lot of my day thinking about the race, trying not to go into the territory of ‘what ifs’ and visualizing a good finish. I saw a video about Darcy Africa’s Hardrock 100 2013 win where she said her goal was to finish smiling and I figure that’s about a good a goal as any to have. Which means that if I need to stop 10 times during a run to stretch out my foot or walk more than maybe I’d like, I figure it’s more important to get across the line healthy than to push to hard and not get across it at all.

We are currently 7 weeks and 3 days away from the race (not that I’m counting or anything) and I have to say that I could not do this without the support of my husband. The truth is, he doesn’t have much of a wife these days. My weekends are spent running or napping or eating, I’m usually in bed by 9pm on weeknights. My world is very small right now and it’s about to get smaller as I get closer and closer to the peak weeks of training.

I’m alternatively excited and terrified by this race, sure I’ll do it and scared I’ll fail. Yet with all the worry and fatigue, I know I’ll miss this when the race is over. Not immediately of course, I’m not that nuts. But there is definitely something about being in a training cycle when you are so focused on your goal that makes life more full. More meaningful.

And I can’t wait to see what life looks like once I cross that start line.

ok1

 

A couple of scenes from a run I did recently when I visited my parents in SE Oklahoma. Yes, those are bullet holes in the stop sign.

A couple of scenes from a run I did recently when I visited my parents in SE Oklahoma. Yes, those are bullet holes in the stop sign.

And the usual haunt.

And the usual haunt.

The path

dirt path

I think most of us at some point in our life have wanted to achieve something and wanted it right now-the weight gone, the degree earned, the job promotion. The journey to make the healthy changes or to take years of classes or to put in the extra hours at your desk can seem like such a long drawn out super not fun pain in the ass (I mean, just my opinion). Just let me have what I want right now and things will be good then.

But you know what has occurred to me recently? The good things, the worthwhile things, almost never happen in a instant. You know what does? Tragedies. Think of every bad thing that has ever happened to you in life-it probably took a split second to turn your world upside down. I remember the call my husband (who was then my boyfriend) got that his dad had died of a heart attack. Just like that he was gone and Jason didn’t get to say goodbye and his world suddenly became darker and harder and full of grief and pain. I remember getting a positive pregnancy test and a few days later looking down into the bowl and the life that had just started to grow in me was no more and I didn’t even have words for the grief I felt for a life that hadn’t even happened yet.*

It seems to me that when life gets hard, it’s an immediate hit, one that leaves you reeling and stumbling to pick up the pieces.

But the good things, they take time. And I guess what’s becoming more and more clear as my mileage continues to increase is that I want the experience of traversing whatever it is that I need to get the good thing. Because the path becomes the good thing. I think it’s because when we are working towards the goal, whatever it is, we are totally in the flow of life. My goal may be to cross the finish line of an ultra marathon (that’s less than 2 months away!) but I know that the line is not actually the reward.

happiness is the path

The reward is all the steps on the trail to get to it because that’s where I get to meet my best self. And you know what? I think she’s pretty amazing most of the time.

But I don’t think it’s just about my path or about getting on a literal path. It’s not about trail running, it’s about life. Whatever it is that you desire, whatever your goal is, I know there can be times when the steps to reach it don’t seem worth the effort. And what I would say is that the steps to reach those goals will be the best part of it, so don’t be so quick to hope for immediate gratification. You will find so much more in the twists and turns it takes to get there.

 *I realize I haven’t said anything about either incident on this blog. Jason’s dad passed away 10 years ago before I was even blogging and the loss of an early term pregnancy was also a couple of years ago. I don’t necessarily share every little detail of my/our life here but mentioning these things seemed pertinent to what I was trying to express. This is all to say both of these events happened long enough ago that I feel comfortable mentioning them and we are fine.

The secrets of the trail

So many times (it seems) what I hear from people is…

I want to try trail running but…

Trails are harder on the knees.

I need trail shoes.

I need to lose weight.

I have to be able to run X miles.

I need…I need…I need.

Here’s what I know.

You don’t actually need anything but yourself, a pair of shoes and the willingness to try something new to trail run.

It’s not a mysterious place. It’s dirt and rocks and the sky.

trai secrets 2

My God I love it so much. But you don’t have to, at first. I didn’t. Or I didn’t know I did. I just went one day and then…well…and then my life flipped over.

So just…go. Put on your shoes and go. Whatever shoes they are is fine. Whatever you are wearing is fine. The dirt doesn’t care.

And hey, maybe your life won’t change at all and it will be a nice little experiment and you didn’t have to do ALL OF THE THINGS to prepare for it because…meh. Then you can go back to doing whatever is that does sing to you.

But if it does flip you over, I want to share some secrets that it’s told me since I started running.

trail secrets 1

It will tell you to Revel in the high points. The times when you are like Oh my God, I could do this forever! Embrace the wind on your face when it’s hot and embrace the crisp air in October and embrace the times when your legs feel long and loose and you become untethered from all that weighs you down.

Because the bad times are coming and there is no avoiding them. Do this long enough and it will hit you: the dehydration headaches, the stomach issues, the 4:30 am wake up call, the pain in your IT band and in your arches and your calves and your…, the day when everything should be great but for whatever reason it just isn’t and nothing is comfortable and you hate everything.

Enjoy the highs and then just for the hell of it, enjoy the lows because what they teach you is that everything is temporary. Getting too stuck in one means you get too stuck in the other. And you’ll never get anywhere on the trail if you are stuck.

It will tell you about patience. Because the truth is, you will not conquer the trail. Long after you are tired and soaked and sore and weary, there will be another hill. And you aren’t going to go further or faster on it by force. That hill was there long before you. The only way you accomplish anything out here is one foot in front of the other. Sometimes at a snails pace.

It will tell you about beauty. 

trail secrets 3

Because it doesn’t know how not to.

It will tell you about yourself. The stuff you didn’t know and the stuff you did know but didn’t want to think about. But more so, it will show you how to love yourself, minus the fluffy Self Love program for $19.99 as seen on TV. What it will show you has nothing to do with tag lines and trends and all positive all the time affirmations. Your core will be strengthened in dirt and spit and sweat. You will fall to your knees in gratitude for what your body can do.

Then it will remind you that you aren’t that important (and that is the best thing ever). And then you will get off your knees and keep going. The trail will remind you that you aren’t special out here. You are just part of it, as much as the frogs and snakes and greenbriar are. And that will make you feel like you are home because you will realize that you are connected to all this, as much a part of the trail as the sunbeams dancing between leaves. There may not be applause on the trail but there are no labels either and no expectations. You are as great or as lowly as the all the great and lowly things.

Which I think might be the best lesson of all. We all are great and lowly. Fearfully and wonderfully made. When you realize that, when you get the inkling that maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be, that maybe we aren’t supposed to be perfect and that a title doesn’t mean as much as we thought, we get a lot more forgiving and open, not only with ourselves, but with everyone else. We are more empathetic because we begin to see that just like we don’t know how the tree grew, we also don’t know the path someone else took to intersect with yours.

And when that happens, friends, a little more beauty blooms in the world.

Trail running as an art form?

One of the many great convos I had with Anastacia when she visited for a few days was about trail running and art. I am a trail runner, she is a well established and accomplished artist. I dabble in several art forms, from jewelry to painting, she routinely hikes and explores new trails and is starting to run trails.

I told her that I felt like trail running felt really creative to me but I didn’t know why. ‘It’s because you are in the moment just like when I’m painting’ she said. And also that when she starts a painting she knows what direction she starting with but not where she’ll end up and she feels the same way when she sets out to explore a new trail.

anastacia painting

I’m not affliated with her studio or art making in any way-I’m just a fan. :) Artwork can be bought here.

The minute she said that, it totally clicked for me. She’s completely right. Trail running is exploring and so is art. I know where I’m starting, I don’t know what I’ll encounter before I finish. And unlike when I run on roads, where I often zone out to the music or my thoughts (which is nice also), I have to be more present on trails because I have to pay much more attention to where I put my feet lest I want to break an ankle tripping over a root. That means I’m more in the present moment, not lost in my head.

And I know this is another fangirly post over my friend (what can I say-she’s cool) but that conversation really inspired two things in me.

#1 Do more exploring. The last few long runs have been about getting off the usual trail as often as possible-exploring new side roads and paths, scrambling over rocks, taking scenic detours. As such, my last few runs have been much more enjoyable-which is saying something because I do love trail running so much to begin with-and have gone by so much quicker.

Watching the sunrise from a new vantage point.

Watching the sunrise from a new vantage point.

#2 See my usual haunts with new eyes. There is something that totally energizes me about exploring new places. But that won’t always be possible and I’ve realized that it’s important mentally that I make sure to stay open to surprises and newness on paths that are part of the usual rotation. That could mean striking up convos with my fellow runners, running them with friends or just taking in the little details that I may miss if I’m just focusing on getting in the miles.

But the biggest realization for me-the one that sort of rocked me on my heels-is that I am literally creating something new with every step I take. I’m creating a new me. The person I am now is not the same person I was when I started running. I am kinder, I have more direction and focus, I’m stronger and I’m braver.

And if our life is our ultimate masterpiece, well I’m liking more and more how this particular piece of art looks. Thanks to trail running.