Thursday, March 21, 2013

Creating The Next Generation Of Ultra-Runners

When Megan was a baby, several of our friends dubbed her “Mini-Mac” because she had such a strong resemblance to her father. As she has gotten older, some people now comment that we look alike, but our true similarity lies in our personalities. For better or for worse, Megan is a carbon copy of me.

At home sometimes we butt heads because of this; the unspoken counter to “Opposites attract” can be that “Likes repel.” And I admit sometimes I get frustrated because I can see all the things I don’t like about myself in her. But she also has my fierce determination, aspirations for lofty achievements, and my competitive drive, so it wasn’t really a shock when she said she wanted to run in some races. Since last November, she’s done two 5k’s (PR 33:45!) and a couple of the Bush Park summer cross country races, as well as a few school races. So as far as I could tell she was ready for a 24 hour run!

Ok, that’s a joke, but after Desert Solstice, Megan understood the concept of a 24 hour race and she seemed to be into the idea of creating your own race distance, so we signed up to run the Pacific Rim One Day event in Longview, WA together (after getting approval from the RD).

Beautiful Lake Sacajawea - just run around it as many times as possible in 24 hours!
Mac was a little freaked out by the idea. “Promise not to push her. This has to be fun for her.” Knowing how hard I can push myself, I am pretty sure he had visions of me being one of those crazed “Dance Moms” yelling at their daughters to work harder and do better. Admittedly, it is really hard for me to watch 7 and 8 year old girls play soccer because I want to yell at them so badly (particularly other people’s kids!) and I know that is frowned upon. But more than anything, I want running to be fun for Megan and so I knew there was no risk of me locking her out of the car just to make her do one more lap.

As the race approached there was one thing that particularly excited Megan.

“Mom, do I get to litter when I am at the race?” Apparently, the scene she has witnessed at aid stations with runners coming in and just dropping their trash on the ground, was quite appealing to Megan. That’s right, Megan’s most rebellious desire is to litter! (We didn’t)

We decided 10 miles was a good goal, though Mac thought she could do 15. Better to go beyond our expectations than to fall short. But Megan had other ideas: “Mom, you know I might be able to do 30 miles.” I explained that we would need to rest and sleep, too, but she informed me it’d be ok for her to stay up past her bedtime this one time. Uh oh - I created an 8 year old mileage monster!

Starting out nice and slow
The other incentive for Megan to keep going was all the junk food. My kids get milk or water to drink and dessert is often a banana with sprinkles. So the aid station was like forbidden fruit, only race day it wasn’t forbidden. Cookies, gatorade, jelly beans - oh my, a LOT of jelly beans, cupcakes and pizza for dinner! What’s not to like about this ultra running! She had downed three cookies in the first four miles. I think she’s got the fueling part down!

Running for cookies! (photo: Bart Brewer)
The truth was that my job was not to push her but to hold her back and keep her in touch with reality! After 3 miles she was still telling me she could do 30. After 5, she told the timers that she could do 30. When they told her she could get a sweatshirt for 31 miles she wasn’t that impressed, but when she heard you could get you name in a magazine for that, I found out my daughter is a little fame whore! Her eyes lit up and she decided we could do 31. All the while I kept saying, "maybe just 10", or "13 is a half marathon - that’s a good distance." I want my little girl to dream big, but let’s not get crazy!

Ready to run a few more
Megan shows off her age. The real #8 kindly gave Megan his bib at the end of the race.

I have no doubt of Megan’s fierce determination and strong focus, but she has one downfall. Despite being a native Oregonian, that girl doesn’t like to be out in the rain! While she took the first rest, I ran three miles to burn off a little of my energy. Just as I finished up, the clouds opened up and for another hour we hung out in the car, playing Ticket to Ride on the iPad. Three times we had very extended breaks because of the weather, and while I did a few more laps on my own, mostly I just hung out with Megan, because a lot of the time, I wasn’t so excited to be out there myself!
Waiting out a rain break
But all of it was wonderful, even the sitting in the car. With the hustle and bustle lifestyle of today, it is truly a gift to have a whole day just to spend with Megan. And while out together, we got along famously, because really we are two peas in a pod. Mostly, we were just silly and laughing together. I said there were no alligators in Washington and then we found a sign for an alligator tree to prove me wrong. We debated whether one should cheer with “wahoo’s” or “woohoo’s” based on the motivational signs (Wahoo only in “WA”??). We noted that blue herons aren’t really blue, green herons aren’t really green, but blackbirds really are black. And since we looped Lake Sacajawea each mile, I tried to give a history lesson. But really the only thing that I could remember about Sacajawea was that I voted against the eventual winner for the obverse of the Sacajawea dollar coin because I didn’t want to glorify teenage pregnancy (the coin shows her holding her infant son; she was 16, although she was married. Yes, times were different then, but still, do we need to see more 16 year olds with babies??). So my lesson boiled down to “Sacajawea was like Pocahontas, but for Lewis and Clark.” We made jokes about the term “pale-faces” (used in a Pocahontas cartoon that we have).  And when we found a solar system plaque with directions to Uranus, we laughed even harder.

Two peas in a pod
Quite pretty in the sun. Too bad we only got about ten minutes of it.
Acting Silly
There are alligators in Washington!

Just what everyone needs - Directions to Uranus! Oh, come on, you know it's funny!

Finally, I think fatigue started creeping in and her right leg got a little sore. At mile 21, when we were talking about stopping for the night, she got all philosophical on me and told me it wasn’t really a one day event, because it took place over two days and they should’ve run midnight to midnight if they wanted to call it a one day. At this point, I could tell she was ready to stop but she had it in her head to get to 24 miles before going to bed. Finally, we stopped for the night at about 9:30 with 23 miles, and Megan making me promise to wake her up early to get in 8 more laps.

We had a mattress in the back of the minivan and slept pretty well. They were luxury conditions compared to what the runners faced, because it just dumped rain and even sleet and hail all night long. A miserable night to be up running for sure. But we were snug nestled together in our sleeping bags.

We were back at it at 6:30 the next day and that was the only crack in Megan’s resolve. It was dark and cold and she wasn’t quite awake. A quarter mile in she wanted to go back to the car and just go home. I told her we could but we would finish that lap. 15 minutes later we were back at the aid station and Megan was noshing on another cookie and sipping Coke. A little sugar and she started to perk up, plus the first hint of day was appearing. We decided to walk one more. By the end of that, Megan wanted a short break, which was good timing, because the clouds opened up once again with more freezing rain. We spent an over an hour waiting that one out. Then with an hour left, we got out and walked our final two laps and I had tears welling in my eyes as she finished: 27 total for Megan and 35 for me. So proud of my little ultramarathoner! Megan just laughed that I was crying.
27 miles finished!!

Some people might think it a little “Tiger Mom” of me to enter a second grader in a 24 hour event, but I really do think this was a positive experience and I am glad we went. Megan said she had fun and she is very proud of her accomplishment. I think RD Fred “Wildman” Willet must have been a little impressed, too, because when I went to get the sweatshirt typically reserved for runners doing more than 50k, he handed me one for  Megan, too. (And I thought the Men’s size small was big on me!).
Yeah, she should grow into that soon. Megan said,"Mom, why didn't they have women's sizes? They knew women were coming to the race." Got that RD's?? Even an 8 yo knows you need women's shirts!

I want Megan to grow up believing that anything is possible for her and that she can do anything she sets her mind to. And while we did not get to 30 miles this time, I think the bad weather is to blame for that. I am still so impressed with what she did do. I have no doubt that she is capable of 30 miles and so much more. I hope she knows that, too.

I also hope this is inspiring to other people. If a little girl who only runs 3 miles twice a week can cover 27 miles in 24 hours, so can just about anybody. Don’t set limits in your mind or tell yourself you can’t. Set the bar high and find out what you are really capable of!

And for me, it was incredibly special. I got more than just a day with my daughter. At eight years old, I now feel like I know exactly who she is. And she is amazing.


Rob said...

Wow Pam that is inspiring and fantastic! (Kinda made me tear up too.) I am hoping my little ones will be ultrarunners as well, and love your and Mac's approach - make it fun!

Olga said...

I love it, absolutely love it, Pam! You are no tiger mom, but you're extremely inspiring and contagious, and lucky that your kids follow your suite! Congrats to your girl, and yes to women's clothes! From the mouths of the babes...

katie said...

This is truly wonderful, Pam and thank you for sharing.. I've had tears welling up the whole time:) As a kid, running races with my dad was positively the coolest thing ever, so I can't even begin to imagine how much this meant to her. And WOW, what an amazing accomplishment for a 2nd grader- Go Megan!!

Pam said...

Thanks everyone for your nice comments!

Anonymous said...

One of the coolest things I've ever witnessed in my few years of running ultras... You both were amazing and looked like you were having an absolute blast the entire day... In fact, It made me miss my kids so much that I called it a day at 100km and went home to spend time with them... :) Thanks for all the smiles and good vibes @ the lake...

Jon Seiber in PDX (I was the 'red shirt' guy early in the day.)