Sunday, October 20, 2013

Reality of the Moment

As I perused social media this morning, I noted notices the abundance of people racing. I was already mopey, and this just made matters worse. I wanted to race. Of course, I then perseverated on looking for races that are: 1. on my day off 2. cheap 3. distances I actually want to do. This of course, forced me to postpone going out on my long run, which I was already cranky about. I was planning to run alone.  Ben is working through a minor injury and I had not made plans with any of the friends I have that like to run far for fun. I mean seriously, woe is me. I have to go do a long run by myself and don’t even get to do it with someone. To top it all off, I was not planning to do a trail run, instead, I was stuck running the same, usual places I do all my other runs.  Seriously.

I headed out through the neighborhood to a local path that follows a creek and can be taken for miles in a few different directions. As usual, I was grumpy for the first 2 or 3 miles, and then I finally found my groove. Between mile 3 and 4, I was struck by the fact that I had been running for a little while and had seen only one other person. I was essentially alone. It then occurred to me that I was surrounded by beautiful scenery, with rabbits in the brush and the trees at the height of their color change.
It was in that moment that I realized I am always wanting more… more trail, more miles, more races, more people to run with, more time to run, more more more. I stopped for a moment to just be. I had started to miss out on the reality of the moment. Here I was, an introvert, getting to spend several hours alone, doing something I love. I had been given the gift of time, to be alone to pray and to think and to just enjoy the quiet and the scenery. I realized that this same old path, is an amazing place to get to run on. I was surrounded by trees and could hear the creek and just barely make out the sound of distance traffic. I was not racing, but it occurred to me that on a day off of work, for fun, I decided to go run the same distance many people trained to race… and I did it for fun. That is awesome.
It really is so easy to get wrapped up into planning and looking for the next thing to come along. Sure, dreaming is a good thing, but too much and we lose sight of the current moment. I was struck by how easy it is to ignore the here and now. It really is gone in an instant and if we are not paying attention, all we are left with is a vague memory and possibly some frustration. Enjoy the moment, who knows it may actually be worth it after all.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Defeat {Or Not}

If you ever read any running literature, you know it is not uncommon to read about high level athletes who drop out of a race for one reason or another. In fact, just the other day, I read an article by Rickey Gates, an amazing trail runner, who had a DNF (did not finish) at a race.

I have now run a handful of races and have had one DNF. In fact, it was a DNF that I am proud of. I was signed up to run a half marathon in the middle of training for a full marathon. I had injured myself and had just begun going to PT before the half. I got to the start line of the half, knowing that I would probably not finish. At mile 8, I knew that if I wanted to be able to run my marathon a month later, I needed to drop. It was a tough decision in the moment, but one that I was grateful I made.
Apart from that, my other races and runs have mostly been “successes.” Well, last weekend, I was signed up to run the Devil Mountain 50 mile race in Pagosa Springs. It was going to be my second 50 mile race and I was trained for it. I had spent the months since my last 50 miler trying to hone in on my weeks spots. When it was time to taper, I did such a good job that my legs ached from not running (weird, right?)?

Race day came shortly after the flooding in Colorado, with some additional raining the day before. The morning was crisp and cold, and I was determined to do well. The race started and I went out at a steady pace, knowing in my mind exactly what I needed to do in order to make the cut off to be able to continue on to 50 mile race.
The first 10 miles or so were awesome. My legs felt good, the weather was cold but perfect, and I felt like I was buying time. When we hit the climb (pretty much mile 10-18), I was determined to be consistent and run what I could, while power hiking the rest. Then… we hit the mud. Not mud like “oh, it is still cold enough to be frozen” mud or “oh, I guess the trail is a little muddy” or “oh, I love mud!” kind of mud. This was real, awful, deep mud. The kind of mud that when you take three steps forward up hill, you inevitably slide back four steps. The kind of mud that tries to take your shoe if you aren’t paying attention. The kind of mud that when you look ahead at the runners on the hill ahead, you immediately have the life and excitement sucked right out of you because you can see them backsliding downhill. This was not just any mud.
By the time I made it through the climb up, I realized that making it to the cut off was going to be a stretch, but was hopeful that I could make up time on the downhill. Wrong. The downhill mud was at least as bad, if not worse than the up. When I would try to start to run, I would have moments of panic as I tried to keep my butt and head directly above my feet without slipping and sliding all over the place!!

I reached a mental spot where I was hopeful that the cut off would be extended, knowing how the trail conditions were, yet realizing that I needed to embrace the fact that I was still “going to be able to” finish as a 50k runner. Well, when we got to the aid station at the 50 mile/50k cut, we were told that the cut off was a firm cut off and that we had missed it, but could still finish as a 50k runner without penalty. Ben almost yelled at the man who told us and I almost cried.
I wrestled with myself over the next several miles (ok, not just miles, hours if we are being honest)about my anger/sadness/disappointment/feeling crappy about myself/doubting my ability/grief about not finishing the stupid race I had signed up to do. Sure, I had told myself early that at least I would “get to run” the 50k, but really?? I had worked my butt off for months to train for a 50!! How could I let myself down like that??

Ben basically had to encourage me the entire way to the finish because I was so distraught about not being able to run 50 miles (again, weird, right?). Then he had to coax me not to run 19 more miles after crossing the line. Unfortunately, this part is not a lie. I spent at least an hour after crossing the finish stewing about my performance, whether or not I was going to go run 19 more miles. I am not going to lie… I may have even shed a tear or two.
After I finally calmed down, I had a beer, some food, and started to converse with other finishers, several of whom had set out to run the 50 miler and had missed the cutoff. Ben and I started to hear rumors that only 8 people had made it past the first check point and then only 7 past the second. As I started to ask around, it was confirmed that only 2 women were among these 7 individuals.

As I began to process the information and over the next several days, it occurred to me that even though I had trained well (I felt amazing the next day), I was not alone in missing the cutoff. In fact, I was more the norm than not. It occurred to me that even though I may have felt defeated, I really had no right to feel that way. I began to realize all that I learned from my perceived defeat.
I had set out to run 50 miles and had been unsuccessful. The beauty of running is that regardless of how hard you train, every day is a different day and no one can ever fully predict the outcomes. Even the best of the best fail. I had trained well for a 50 miler and can easily use this same training plan again in the future.

I skipped a step between the marathon and 50 miler but can now say that I have my first official 50k on the books. I even placed in my age division for my first 50k. What if I had set out to actually race a 50k and not a 50 miler? 
Defeat is a beautiful thing. It is really only defeat if you allow it to be. There is a lot to be gleaned from perceived defeat. The best thing to do, I think, is to embrace it, learn from it, and keep running.

Needless to say, Devil Mountain 50 miler, I will be back , and I will make you mine… one day…

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Racing Spirit

I am sure the bombings that took place at the Boston Marathon last week impacted just about everyone in this country in one way or another. As I runner, who had several friends who ran Boston (but were all safe), the impact was an emotional one for me. Although I was not directly impacted, being able to run is something I place a high value on, and this has been trampled on for me, as well as for many other runners.
Running provides a sense of peace and freedom to me. Many times I find myself free of all other concerns of life, if for a brief moment. Racing brings people together. We all run for different yet with somewhat similar reasons. We come from varied backgrounds, yet we run to accomplish a goal: cross the finish line. To many, running is sacred. Even though the intent of the bombers is still unknown, such an attack diminishes the sense of peace and freedom found in running. This is a difficult thing to wrestle with!

Today was a big day for me. Today, I set out to complete my 10th official marathon at the inaugural Horesetooth Marathon, and first marathon in Colorado since the attack at Boston. There was some apprehension on my part leading to the start, due to the fear now associated with racing. That said, early this morning, a small group of runners gathered in Fort Collins, not willing to allow fear to dampen their spirits. Prior to the start of the race, the course director asked for 26.2 seconds of silence for the victims in Boston. In that moment, I offered up prayers for the victims, their families, and all those affected by this tragedy. Then it struck me; in this brief moment, this diverse group of runners had stopped all movement, ceased all activities, and turned their thoughts to others. Regardless of their backgrounds or personal belief systems, we had found yet another source of unity. We remembered the tragedy of last week, yet we were resolute in not letting heartache deter us from taking part in the struggle and triumph of the marathon.

The race itself was one of the most difficult races I have ever done, due primarily to the conditions on the course. It was also a beautiful course! During periods of the run, I found myself thinking about how amazing it is that runners, who often run in isolation or small groups, have the ability to come together for a few hours to support and push each other to accomplish a goal.
As we neared the last mile, we could hear the cheering at the finish line; it occurred to me that it was a similar sound to what all other runners hear as they approach the end. The last mile can often feel beyond difficult with everything hurting and it feels like it can take so much energy just to cross that line. Runner after runner finished to the same cheering I did, after pushing through hard mile after hard mile.

A runner’s spirit can be bruised; but it cannot be crushed, trampled one, or taken away. A runner’s spirit is a testament to endurance, perseverance, and hard work. However, in a race—even though we run as individuals—in unity we push towards the same end and the same goal. As a runner, I will continue to find peace and joy and freedom in running, despite the challenges of this life.