Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Back To The Beginning

I almost became an ultra-runner in 2002. I was training for the Boston marathon that year when I heard about a February race in a park very close to my house: The Jack Frost 5 Hour Run (now defunct). And so I decided to do it as a "training run." I ran over 32 miles and won the women's race by several miles. Some of the people there told me I should run the Hagg Lake 50k in two weeks since I had just run farther than that distance. So I signed up.

But it wasn't anything like I expected. I was used to running on trails, but this was one big mud bog with ankle deep puddles. At one point, an uphill section was so muddy, I had to pull on the surrounding brush to keep from sliding backwards. It wasn't that I disliked the experience, it just didn't seem like marathon training and I was a bit afraid of spraining an ankle before my big race, so I stopped after 25k.

I probably would have returned to doing long trail races after Boston - I mostly ran on trails for training - but I didn't realize this genre of running really existed. Yes, I knew about Western States, but I thought that was a singular outrageous event. I viewed the two races I did as anomalies in the running world.

I did Boston and later that year, Hood to Coast (I considered that a "big race" back then). And then Hood to Coast again in 2003. Later that year I began a 13 month stint with pregnancy (yes, really!). After my daughter was born, I had to deal with being a new mom, I was cramming for my Hematology boards, we moved, and I started a new job as a staff pathologist. It didn't leave much time for running. In fact, I was lucky to get in a couple of three milers each week.

In the fall of that year, I read an alumni article about fellow Williams College grads Greg Crowther and Nikki Kimball and their 2005 World Cup and other ultra experiences. I was blown away! It sounded awesome. But I was not in any shape to be running ultras. And Mac and I were already talking about kid #2.

It wasn't until January of 2008 that I decided I was ready to get serious about running again. I knew I wanted to do an ultra, but I couldn't be ready for Hagg Lake. I did MacKenzie River 50k in September; I consider that my first "official" ultra - the real start to my current "addiction."

I was planning to do Hagg Lake in 2009, but decided to take a company sponsored trip to Las Vegas instead. But this year was the perfect year to go splash in the mud just for the sake of getting dirty, to return to Hagg as part of the ultra-runner crowd with the Boston marathon MANY MANY miles behind me. Doing the Hagg Lake had a lot of personal significance for me this year, serving as a marker of how different a runner I am now as compared to the last time I was running around that body of water.

Yeah, and running it had NOTHING to do with the fact that I had free entry. ;)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Pretty In Pink

Oregonians were treated to an unseasonably warm and beautiful day for the Hagg Lake 50k, but that doesn't mean that there was any shortage of mud!

Because one of the participants in the race was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, competitors were encouraged to wear pink. So to show my support and to keep it fun, I added some funky pink socks to my normal running attire for the day.

Mike and I showing off our pink. Don't I look excited to run?

The course is two 14 mile loops around the lake with a three mile out-and-back at the beginning to make up the difference, which also allowed for an early opportunity to scope the competition. One woman was out quick starting up the road and then two other ladies were right by me and got a bit of a lead when we turned back down. I recognized one as Erin Perkin, who I raced against at PCT50 last year.

When we hit the single track, I couldn't see the first place lady, but the other two were just ahead of me. We were frequently visited by two bikers who were enthusiastically cheering for "Shari" every time the trail came close to the road. One of the bikers was Lanny Gower, who I knew from last year's Oregon Trail Series, and he was nice enough to throw a few cheers in for me each time we passed as well.

After a mile or two behind these girls, I just had a sense that I could take them, but I was worried about the girl out front. I liked the idea of just riding the train, but I didn't want the first place girl to slip away if I could help it. But right as I was wondering what to do the first lady came back to us and then we were passing her.

Knowing where I was at, I backed off a tad on the parts that were technical or steep uphill, such that Shari and Erin opened up a 100 yard lead or so, but I caught them easily on the mile or so road section across the dam. I was chatting away with our bike cheer squad as they escorted us across the bridge, but the other ladies were pretty silent.

After the first aid station I was just behind the two again and I was thinking I would stay right there the whole first lap and then see if I was feeling good to take the lead on the second lap. But about a mile after the aid station the course crossed a paved and slightly downhill parking lot, but the other two acted like we were still running on muddy trail, so I moved to the front.

Seven miles around the lake (mile 10) I caught up to Tim Zuk, a Salem physician (and my Facebook friend!) but somebody I had never actually met. So we got to talking as we ran behind one other guy. Maybe we were chatting a bit too much as we followed the guy in front of us up a little spur to the road, but we quickly realized we had made a wrong turn and got back on course with probably less than a 30 second delay. It served as a good lesson to pay attention and not just blindly follow the idiot in front of you. Trust me, I know, because I have been that idiot! I looked back as we got on trail and saw Erin still behind us, and I assumed Shari was right with her.

Even though the bikers were cheering a bit for me, I have to admit I found their presence a bit annoying and oppressive. And I didn't like that they were passing bottles and food to Shari around the course so that she didn't have to carry anything while running.It seemed like it made the atmosphere very competitive. Sure, it's a race, but couldn't we be friendly while we tried to kick each other's asses?? But after I passed, their presence was helpful, because I could tell the delay between their polite cheers for me and their enthusiastic cheers for Shari was getting longer, so I knew I was putting distance on her.

Then through the muddy section. Words don't do it justice: ankle deep puddles, rivulets of dirty water, and plenty of thick and slippery bog with shoe sucking sections. But once you just accepted that you were going to be very dirty at the end of the day, it became quite fun.

I completed my first lap (with the extra first 3 miles) in 2:17. Barely into lap two, I saw Yassine Diboun who said, "Good job. You're second woman but she's only about four minutes ahead of you." What?!? And then I asked another guy standing by the trail if there was a woman ahead of me and he said yes, but only about 400 yards. What was going on?!? Well, at least I was gaining on her!

When I got back to the dam road, I saw her and I immediately knew she was an early starter. But I wasn't taking any chances so I confirmed as I passed. Whew -mystery solved!

I had the normal fatigue but felt like I was keeping a good pace and passed several guys. The mud had gotten really deep the second time around. I had one nice step in the mud section where I sunk in up to my lower calf! I finally made it through and finished in 4:18 (2:01 for the second 14 mile loop which I was pretty happy with).

The mud on the second lap was just like this.

Right after crossing the line, I learned that I had also won the "Pink Award" for most pink, just barely beating out Mike Burke and his sexy hot pink running skirt! Not a bad day considering I didn't even have to pay the entry fee for this race (an Oregon Trail Series prize)! And the post race festivities in the warm sun just added to the enjoyment. Thanks to the race directors and all the volunteers for a great day!

Well, those socks used to be pink!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Four Weeks Down, 18 To Go

I have done the first four weeks of training and so far the Jerry Seinfeld method is working like a charm. Oh man, do I need my red 'X' every day! The only thing that could make this more appealing would be some little foil stars in a variety of colors! (Maybe next year). I've had to move things around a bit, so sometimes I don't get Tuesday's X until Thursday or Friday, but I am getting all of the workouts completed, with a total of 303.5 miles for those 28 days!

I felt really run down the third week - tired, sore, not sleeping well, my hamstring hurt, and I got sick. So I converted Monday and Tuesday of this week into bike and elliptical miles (using my patented formula of 1:1 for elliptcal miles and 1:3 for bike miles) so I could still get my X's but get some recovery, too. I like to think of it as flexible rigidity. ;) In fact, I have been tweaking the schedule so much, that Mac will ask me what I have been doing and my standard response is, "Staring at the wall." - he knows just what I mean.

But where I think I have really failed in my training is in the nutrition department. When I started this schedule, I started eating a lot more protein in my diet. Partly I thought I needed to and partly because that is what Mac's trainer has him doing, and Mac cooks almost all of our meals. But the second and third week I was just CRAVING sugar, and I don't mean a piece of fruit or a mini candy bar. I could have eaten a six pack of candy bars every night. I didn't, but I did consume a two pound bag of M&M's during those two weeks - yikes! Don't even ask me what this monster bag of chocolate crack was doing in my house.. sometimes you just have a weak moment on your trip to Costco. It was definitely a low point in my training. I felt crummy, was unsatisfied even when stuffed, and I gained 3 pounds despite running harder than ever (hmmm - I wonder if it was those M&M's??).

And then I just happened to be reading the January Race Center, and there was an article about metabolic typing. The idea is that different people have different nutritional needs based on their genetics and ancestry. I was my usual skeptical self. In fact, I think my first thought was "What a load of crap!" But then the inset box describing the signs of nutritional imbalance seemed to be describing me perfectly: craving sugary, fatty, or processed foods; wanting to eat more even when not hungry; changing sleep patterns; gaining weight. Well, maybe I'd have to give this metabolic typing crap a chance.

So I Googled the term and ended up taking a couple of free "tests" to determine my metabolic type is carbohydrate dominate, which according to the sites, I should be eating 60-70% carbs. The funny thing is that this is probably about what I was eating normally until I consciously changed my diet. So I am going back to bagels instead of scrambled eggs. And I have been passing on Mac's dinners of salad and salmon; instead I had salad with pasta, roasted squash (the last two from our garden!), craisins, some walnuts from our friend's house, and a bit of cheese. That is definitely the salad I would prefer and it has plenty of sweet stuff in it. After five days, it seems like I am having less cravings, so maybe there is something to this after all. I am still a bit skeptical, but it doesn't seem like it could be any worse than before. Hopefully, I can make it through the next four weeks without two pounds of M&M's!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Quilting 101 (Finding The Time, Part 2)

If time were unlimited, I would like to train for ultra-marathons, as well as spend lots of quality time with my family, maintain an awesome garden, maybe even complete the master gardener program at OSU, have friends for dinner frequently, try new recipes, read lots of books, reawaken my fluency in Spanish that was shoved into the inaccessible areas of my brain in favor of science and medicine studies. I would like to travel - both long trips abroad and weekend jaunts to local places of interest. I think I would enjoy painting or pottery classes, a few cultural events throughout the year, and even some of the local festivals. It would be nice to expand my horizons athletically, things like more yoga and weightlifting, but also maybe rock climbing and scuba diving. To top it off, it'd be nice to add in a little charity work or volunteerism.

I have read several blog posts and running magazine articles about finding the time to train and most of them mention the word "Balance," as in: you just need to find the right Balance for you. It is a nice word - Balance. It is warm and fuzzy term that connotes some sort of Zen harmony and that all is right in the world: A balanced diet, a balanced budget, a balanced ecosystem.

My first thoughts on Balance conjure up images of Libra's scales, aka a balance, with running on one side and the rest of life on the other. If one piles on more running, there would have to be MORE on the other side to keep things from getting lopsided. But this doesn't work in our time-crunched world.

So, I imagine the waitress's tray, perched above her head, with Life piled on the top. You can pile on a lot more running, but you'll have to unload a lot of other stuff to keep the tray from spilling. Still there is a precarious instability in this balance. Balance is a fragile state on the verge of tipping.

Not to mention the very nature of ultra running defies balance. It is right there in the name: ULTRA-running. The thesaurus gives the following synonyms for ULTRA: "all out, drastic, excessive,extremist, fanatical, far-out, gone, immoderate, out of bounds, outlandish, outré, rabid, radical, revolutionary, too much." By the very definition, ULTRA-runners are UNbalanced. But unbalanced is an ugly word, laced with negativity and connotations of mental derrangement; it takes away from our Nirvana and our runner's high.

So instead of Balance and Imbalance, I like to think of life more like a 6'x6' quilt. You can piece your quilt together anyway you want, but eventually you will have to pick and choose to get the pattern and colors exactly the way you want them. A few skilled quilters may be able to increase the surface area with a couple of ruffles or multi-tasking folds, but in the end, the space is limited. There are an infinite number of beautiful designs that you could use for your quilt. None of them are wrong; you just have to choose the one you like best.

Family will always be at the center of my quilt. Sleep and my job are also well represented on my quilt by necessity. Currently, the background patchwork of my quilt is pretty much all running. Let's not call it an unbalanced pattern, let's just say it is a little "monochromatic." But that it the way I want it right now and I am happy with my quilt.

Time is limited. You can't do everything, but you can do the things you want most. When somebody says they don't have time to do something, what they really mean is that they don't want to MAKE the time to do something. But if you know what you really want and what matters the most, you can find the time for those things.

We all have full quilts, but that doesn't mean the quilt can't change. You can make small adjustments to your quilt from year to year or even season to season. For a life changing event, or just a change of heart, maybe you need to rip your quilt apart completely and piece it back together in a totally different fashion.

Don't try to find the time for what you want first; you won't be able to see it. Instead, figure out what it is that you really want, what is most important to you. You can fit those things on your quilt, but you have to put them on first.