Saturday, December 3, 2011

Winter Marathoning

Last weekend I ran the Seattle Marathon on the first Sunday of Advent. And had I thought about it, it would have given me a clue. I certainly spent the day in longing.

Something about the trails this summer and fall has majorly shifted my mental. I keep inadvertently searching out ways to run that are, for me, more free and true. I love the push of a 5k, but that thrust exists within a box of expectations and there is little room to deviate from those expectations without disappointment-- and, because your head can be just that crazy, despair-- It does feel great. I caught the running bug in college when I PRed every weekend. It was the greatest feeling to know I could break those mental (and definitely physical as well) barriers. And admittedly, if I were a better athlete, more sleekly built or just faster, I would probably have stuck with it. The worry, the doubt, the extremely hard work, the intensity of an effort and the gratification of reaching a pace goal.

but somewhere along the line I got a distance bug as well. I wanted to go farther than I could imagine and I began to think about a marathon. My first marathon taught me that- for me- 26 miles is far too long to be in a pace box. So many do it, and I am truly amazed by them. They start with a goal, a focus and a mantra. They know how they'll feel and approximately what time they'll reach each leg of the race. And while I'm sure I could do this, it would take an enormous amount of time and effort and more than one transformation. At first, I think maybe I thought I would. But then I stumbled upon trails, and I'll never forget that first run.

There was over a foot of snow as soon as I turned up the path. 14 minutes later, we moved from the snowy road to the snow-laden single track trails up the mountain. On the path a spray-painted number 1 glistened on the snow. 1 mile down in over 14 minutes. And that's when the box shattered. I laughed, I slipped, I forgot about my pace, and all those expectations lay lifeless and powdered in the snow, dissolved by the raw joy churning through my bloodstream. The snow, the striking evergreens framing the horizon, the twisting uphill, our pink faces, clouds of breath exhaled all around us, huge grins on everyone's face. Is this for real? I remember thinking. Are we really going to try and finish this thing? And three hours later, I finished the slowest half marathon I've ever run. And I was hooked.

On August 6, five months and three trail races later (a 10, a 13, and a 20) I found myself at Grand Ridge attempting my first 50k. By now there were faces I recognized at the start with me, and I was offered advice and encouragement. I had two liters of water slung on my back, a ton of food stuffed in my pack, and not an ounce of panic (something that has plagued me since the first marathon) in my system. I truly just enjoyed the day. The course was set up as two half marathons out-and-backs and a five mile loop at the end. Unfortunately, each one of these legs begins with a monstrous climb. The first one was tough, but I finished in 3:05. I chatted with a friend, found a bathroom, ate and drank and then started up the mountain again. The second way out was lonely and extremely difficult. I walked a lot. On the way back I was mentally and physically bankrupt I slowed to a crawl. I crashed without the right sort of food and was afraid to eat more, but desperately needed it. Alone for hours at a time, I started seeing things in the trees. When I finished the marathon course at 7:44 (second half mar had taken me over 4:30!) I called it a day, and had no regrets. I had gone as long as I could.

The following week in an explanation of why I called it quits, I told my boss that after 20 miles I had started seeing figures running along side me in the trees. She grinned mysteriously and answered: How lucky for you that you could finally see them after all that time. :D

Two months later, Patrick and I drove four hours to Chelan so I could try it again. I won't go into it here, this post is already long enough... but I ate over 700 cal, I never panicked; I even pushed, I had the time of my life. The course was breath-taking, and when those swimming figures began to emerge from the trees once fatigue set in, I grinned and thought about what my boss had said. So many things you can't have at just any moment, but can only experience in the long, long run. How lucky.
Then I finished in 7:04, all 31 miles. And all this with only cross-training. (see last post)

So the marathon. I had forgotten what it feels like to shuffle for so long, using more or less the same motion the entire time and landing again and again- hard- on your heels. But now I remember. I remember the mental anguish, the panic (my throat closed this time at mile 24- how cruel), the demoralizing notion of pace. I think marathons are wonderful, and I think everyone should try and run them if that is what you want, but on that cold, sunny morning (if your luck is better than mine that is!) you won't see me at that particular start line. Minutes after I finished on Sunday I was on the phone with Patrick. What happened? he asked. It just felt less adventurous and more like a hamster wheel, I answered, in tears. And that's the best way I know how to put it even now.

I could tell you about and show you diagrams of the muscle groups you use when you change your pace and direction, and the ones you use on flat pavement; or tell you about joint health and the perfect stride. I could bring in a picture of the views of the marathon and contrast them with those of Lake Chelan, or try and convince you all just to try it. But, I won't. For now I simply will take all these things I have had the luck to learn and try to make the best of them. There is a lesson in the good race, there is virtue in the races that crush you to a pulp, but you finish anyway. And there is hope in what is to come this year.

Which brings us full circle. Happy Advent, and Happy birthday to my amazing sister, Erin. :)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

DTR with Running

Tonight was just like the memory of so many others. Something-- a sentence fragment, an exhaled breath of air, the picture on the cover of a book-- inspired me to sink into my Asics and hit the road. Its nighttime in October, and cold, though the air still seems full with the memory of late afternoon sun. My breath comes out in little puffs as I open up past the campus and inhale deeply. It feels unspeakably good to be back here, in these first few blocks before the twinge in my left hip, the tightness in my calf, and weird strain on my foot all make themselves heard. But I soak it all in. The familiarity of this rhythm is like turning on the radio to an old favorite. Feet hitting the ground, breathing cold air, arms at my sides, swinging slightly. I think I could do this forever, but then the traffic light changes.

I cross the street and head to the track, jog a few laps and then time myself for several 400 meter laps. I haven't worn this many clothes exercising for months, haven't strayed out of doors in this weather and looking around at the many other runners on the track, I see I have been missing out. Its cool, but alive outside tonight. There's more electricity on this track right now than in my living room, though it whirs with the burden of our lights, refrigerator, and new 30-gallon fish tank. This is where I want to be.

So where have I been? Well.

After Lord Hill I knew I needed something, needed a push, a spark. Mileage is great- no- essential, but strength training is fundamental, and something I've somehow managed to fall behind on in the past. We definitely had our share of it in college, but the truth is, if you don't really want to do it, you probably won't. I did, in a sense, want to get the rotation in, but it didn't mean a lot to me. So many exciting things were happening on the road and track, why build biceps afterwards in the gym? So of course, I took short-cuts, I skipped parts I couldn't do (yet), I forgot to maybe do it twice a week. And the end of that story is that somehow I got through 25 years of my life without ever doing a pushup. Many adults don't require this sort of skill to get through the hum-drum of life. Pay bills, do the dishes, eat and sleep. But I knew I wanted something particular: to climb mountains. So.

By luck and a little bit of effort I found INSANITY, an appropriately (though possibly offensive) named workout series designed to be the 'most difficult workout series ever put on DVD.' I'm not usually one for workout videos, but several points appealed to me.

1. It's a 60 day program. Obvious goal, obvious end point (or so I thought...)
2. It's really, really hard. Definitely would challenge me, not a waste of my time.
3. It does not require any weights or equipment. Like running, it's simple, just me and the space and my own mind.

So just a few days after my first attempted 50k (of which I ran only 26 miles in 7 hours and 42 minutes-- totally brutal climb) a little shoebox arrived in the mail and the fun began.

The first day was a fit test, just to see where you're at, nothing too crazy. I almost threw up. The second day was a 40 minute workout that almost destroyed my entire body. I often do this workout now and cannot believe that this was what I did on the first day. It still leaves me on the floor, positively dripping with the sweat. And it only gets tougher from there. After the first month, you exchange the 4 workouts you've been rotating for 4 more, and what you thought was the max becomes just the beginning. The second month literally made me cry more than once. The workouts stretch out to about an hour and the moves get more technical and complicated. There is still one or two that I haven't figured out how to do yet. But many, many heart-breakingly early mornings later, I finished. I did the whole 60 days.

A week before I finished the program, I ran another 50k. I hadn't run much in the meantime, during the weeks of INSANITY-- a couple 3-6 milers on the weekends (you get Sunday off), and a half-marathon in the middle-- so I wasn't sure what to expect. Do jumps and push-ups and floor sprints really prepare you for mountain running for 7-8 hours? I suppose I can't be sure. But here are the facts: On Aug 6 I ran a 7h 42m trail marathon. On Oct 1 I ran a 7h 4m 50k. That's 5 miles more in almost 40 minutes less, so... I think I'll stick with it!

I was so pleased after the 50k, that I actually let someone talk me into considering a 50 miler this spring. Considering, anyway.

So my goal for this round of INSANITY? Run in the evenings a couple times a week. I have really enjoyed the workouts, pushing and breathing hard, and beating the mental barrier are all things I love. But running is what its all for, and I haven't lost sight of that. In the first few days of INSANITY, hobbling to work and cringing when I had to squat or sit, I couldn't imagine running, but I'm ready now.

Marathon on the 24th of November, about a month away! Then I'm in for a tough winter, and maybe another marathon in April. The 50 miler is in May. Stay tuned, we'll see just how crazy I get...

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Lord Hill 20 Miler

Yesterday I ran the Lord Hill 20 mile trail run (check it out here)and it was the most educational run I've gone on in a while. Going into it I had mixed emotions (all of which I explained in great depth to pat the whole way there. Thanks, dude:)), the first of which was a lot of worry. The fact is, I have been running more or less every day for the past three weeks (is that all?!) and working out at least twice a week (a puny 15-minute routine of the mainline runner stuff), but nothing more than 6 miles- maybe 7, but a short 7 and usually a tired 7 that left me irritated the next day. I haven't even taken my confidence-building 10 mile joy run that I usually turn to in preparation for things like this. I've just had a lot of other things on my mind. And then suddenly the race was here. I took Thursday and Friday off because I was sore from Wednesday's 20 minute shuffle through my neighborhood. It did not look good.

And this all is very telling for me. I do need a lot of long run prep for longer races; I just do. But I have always suspected that the preparation was 40% physical and 60% mental. When the gun goes off (or the man hollers "GO!")and I start to panic my brain needs to know empirically that I can do what I have set out to do. Empirical data has been my MO for staving off panic for years and years in a plethora of situations. It's funny when I really consider it and think about me as a person and how I tend to behave in most situations...

but everyone has a place they go in panic and its not always something they're proud of. For me, the place I go is called 'frantically searching for hard proof that one can restabilize.' And running seems to be the only sure-fire way of encountering this sort of panic. I suppose it thankfully doesn't happen too often in my life and usually if it does, I can quickly disengage from whatever has brought it on. But races aren't like that. Somehow the thunder of footfalls, the upward twisting of the path, the warmth of the sun and my own gasping lungs transplant me to that prehistoric time when running meant survival. And here my own evolutionary code locks me in my place in the middle of the pack, and there's no turning back.

Yesterday was no exception. It didn't help that the first 2 miles of the course were the worst, but before we'd even gotten into the woods, I was bottoming out. Why did I think I would be able to do this? I haven't been training, I haven't run this intense of hills (even the ones in Queen Anne just don't compare). The sun was already warm,I hadn't hydrated properly or eaten much. And I'll just be honest with you- I started my period on the way to the woods that day so those horrible stomach pains hadn't just been anxiety; they were here to stay. No one would blame me for dropping out. The the animal instincts kept me locked to the trail for a few more moments, but I felt bulky and strange, unused to running. My legs were already full of lead, and I was hardly able to catch my breath. Every time I heard the words '18 more!' in my head the panic was so huge I almost started to cry, my breath became so ragged that I thought maybe my old friend panic attack was back and my throat got tighter at the thought. Then we turned into the woods. This is where you relax, I told myself. This is where you find your peace.

And the woods were beautiful, and calm and the hills rolled out beneath me, little climb, little descent. I looked straight ahead and hung on.

And then a miracle happened. Though there were about 200 runners, the first brutal climbs had spread us so thinly that I was already mostly alone. There was the occasional flicker of color through the trees or the sound of crunching behind me, but mostly just the sound of my own breathing. Out of nowhere a woman came up beside me. We commented on the brutal hills, I asked her if she'd run with Evergreen before. No. Well, they don't mind throwing them atcha. We talked about races we'd run before. She's done a handful of marathons and even a few 50ks. Today she was running the 20 just like me. The light became beautiful through the trees and we pitter-pattered along, scrambling up single track hills, enjoying the wider fire roads. We talked about shoes, the state of washington, the stinging nettles on the trail. Then we hit the aid station. It had only been 53 minutes and here we were at mile 5! (I actually think the first aid station is about 4.5 miles in, but still) Could I do this three more times? I asked myself. And the answer was emphatically yes. The trail was beautiful and I was flushed with... not competence or even relief from panic, but just the happiness of being out there, of doing that animal thing: running through the woods, and doing that human thing, too: meaning.

MILE 7.3
And this is only possible because my running friend (I never learned her name) had one of those fancy watches that tells you how far along you are. Looking at my watch (which was counting minutes for me, but nothing more) I thought we might be nearing the ten mile mark. The course was set up as two ten mile loops which meant that when you finished the first loop you were right where you had started but also right where you would eventually finish. I wasn't looking forward to the temptation to pack it up and get out of there, but at the moment I felt hopeful. Anyway, I asked her if she thought we were almost there, and she told me we'd run only just over seven miles. This was a very helpful piece of information. I did not, therefore, spend the next three miles exhaustedly searching for the parking lot. I knew I wasn't going to see it any time soon. And I felt fine about it.

[side note: Patrick ran the 5 mile course. When we got there and he saw how pretty it was, and realized how long he would be waiting for me, he signed up. Dressed only in a jeans and t-shirt, he was determined to do it anyway, but a nice man took pity on him and gave him an extra pair of shorts. So sweet. It took him somewhere between an hour and 1:15 to finish and guess what? he got all of those brutal climbs in the beginning. Poor guy is sunburned and unhappy now, but I think pretty proud of himself also.]

So when I came down the hill to the parking lot there he was, in a billowing pair of shorts and looking awful. Kristin, I feel like shit! was his greeting and I hugged him hello. Good job! I said and rushed over to get a drink of water. Sadly my running partner decided to call it a day since her boyfriend and friend had already finished and were waiting. I told her that I couldn't have done it without her, and it was true. But another thing: I was not even remotely tempted to end my race here. I actually felt pretty fabulous. Pat had collapsed; I couldn't find him to say goodbye and start my trek back up into the woods alone, but I didn't mind. I set off. I had rolled in about 2:12 but with the bathroom and eating, it was about 2:20 when I left.

MILES 10-15
Here were the same climbs, the tiny paths twisting endlessly upward, and yeah, I walked most of the uphills the second time around, but I was totally transformed. HERE is where I relaxed. Every sense was glowing with peace. It might have helped enormously that Pride and Prejudice began playing on my iPod. Sweet minimal piano music that seems set to trees and flowers. I ran when I got to the woods, aware the my body was much weaker, but that feeling- that sort of broken feeling was gentle, even luxurious as I allowed myself to look up, around and just enjoy the scenery. Being alone was a luxury- being alone and not panicked was even better. This is what I love about running: how it totally breaks your heart and leaves you with compassion for yourself and the whole world. The kindness it allows you to inhabit.

MILES 15-19
Here is where I met the beast. After the aid station I felt pretty good. Mentally I knew I was nearing the end, but the trail was still pretty strenuous. It was amazing the loops I had glossed over chattering with a friend that totally exhausted me now. I followed a creek bed straight up for about a mile and a half and said to myself 'Okay, yeah, I probably shouldn't have done this race. I'm done and I can't really do any more.' At that point I looked down at my watch- it had been 4 hours exactly. And I laughed. Behind all that panic, I had four hours of running in my lungs and bones before I really felt done. And behind that I apparently had another hour of pushing some more. And this point the trail dipped down onto a fire road and I passed a lot of hikers. I rocked out to Regina Spektor on my headphones, a little Patty Griffen and before I knew it, I came upon the meadow where we started. I had about a mile left to go.

It was peaceful walking up the rolling hills, pattering down, shuffling along and watching every step carefully- I was very light-headed and prone to tripping. I was also extremely thirsty. Then suddenly ahead of me there was a man. He had hiking poles and got them out for every uphill, then picked them up and slung them in his pack for the downs. He looked totally cool, totally hydrated, like he could do this all day. I caught up with him. Are you done? I asked. No, he replied, I've got another loop. This didn't seem to bother him. You? Done, I said. Congratulations, he said so warmly that I almost choked up. I was feeling very, very relieved. He gave me some advice on running longer distances in the heat, I told him he looked very cool for having such a long way to go. Honestly,he said, I feel great, I'm just relaxed. I might go around two more times.

We ran in together chattering about the course and crossed the tape without a fuss. There were the remnants of the Evergreen support people offering us chips, watermelon, bagels and burgers all on reusable plates. Are you done? they asked me. Yes, I told them, and looked at my watch: 5:08:56. Just 56 seconds longer than my worst marathon time. Also 56 seconds longer than I've ever been out there before. But I've literally never felt happier after a run.

To sum up, the things I learned:
1. I can actually run 4 hours, so relax!
2. salt tablets are a must on warm days
3. a little chit-chat can go a long way

I recommend Evergreen to anyone. They are a great group of people who really care about their sport.

Friday, July 1, 2011

A discovery

So today while looking everywhere for our second set of car keys I made a discovery. This is one of those findings that is so embarrassing that you don't tell anyone, but at the same time, too interesting and just kind of amazing to- at the moment- keep to myself. I'll just get right down to it: anyway, here I sit on the cushion-less ledge of my garage sale la-z-boy couch while beside me sits the mound of things I found here. Essentially every night when we snuggle up to watch TV, here the are things we have unwittingly been snuggling with:

a sock
four pens
four pencils
innumerable crumbs (including one almost whole chip and the cliched piece of popcorn)
a wine cork
a plastic sign cover (one guess where that's from)
an actual large pair of scissors
$1.66 in change, $1.50 of which were quarters! (and to think, the number of times I've searched frantically for bus fare!!)

This will never happen again, I swear it to myself.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

This weekend

Lord Hill 20 miler this weekend! Report to come.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Jumping the Log

Disinclined as I am to leave intellectual offerings of belief at the feet of any God, I am spangled with irrational superstitions that patch together the hastily-sewn fabric of my inner intuitive mind, a tie-dye of overlapping, nonsensical faith. If it rains today, then it won't tomorrow. If I roll the dice again I'll see what I would have gotten. If I concentrate enough, the traffic light will change when I come to it; or one better: If I let my intuition pick the route, the traffic will be all in my favor. Yeah, okay, I never speak them aloud, (and thank goodness I now realize) but they are real to me. They function; they are a tint in the glasses I wear.

So it seemed right and fair this week that it rained, that inconsistent, shifty sort of smattering that chills you, making you feel that you are being punished. My co-teacher must have felt the same way I do because on Wednesday at lunch she told the children:

"My dear friends (the first three words are sung, a little tune that I hum to myself all day long), not today, not tomorrow, but the next day we won't come to school, instead we'll go to the park. And our owls, the 5-year-olds will be jumping the log for kindergarten. Now I've been talking to the rain fairies, and the sun fairies and telling them: 'you may rain today, you may rain tomorrow, but please, please, please sun fairies, we want to be with you all day on Friday so that our children may play in the dry green grass with their mommies and daddies or two mommies or two daddies and feel the warm sun on their faces all day long.'"

So of course this morning I woke up to cloudless skies (an almost impossibility in this city!) and trees green with the wash of sun. Did you know that everything, everything looks different in the sun? Sensitive as I have become to light, I've learned to start, actually gasp at the sight of a shadow or a dappled leaf. And then I turn and search for the source, wary of trickery and like my life depended on it, like a strange-but-not-total inverse of the poor soul who sees that little red dot of light that means a sniper is trained to its target. Ah, the sun. An altogether more benevolent source.

And jumping the log. It seems to me a brilliant stroke of ingenuity that in a school where the basic course goals are putting on your own shoes and rain pants, climbing up nets and trees, stacking wood and tying ropes tight enough to swing from, the mark of world-readiness is not reciting the alphabet, not even singing in Spanish (the latter of which we will do today), but jumping over a hunk of felled tree. This is Waldorf; this is what I've learned. It's all about learning to be in your body, finally after all this time of holding onto heaven.

Being in your body means you've done just what we've tried to teach you. You have two strong feet on the ground, you can greet the dear earth, you can greet the sun; the stones which rest, the plants which grow, the beasts which run, you can greet your neighbor in all I say and do and you and I on earth are one. And if you can do all those things, you can jump high if you want to.

And oh, you do, because when you do, just today, you will receive a golden key from one of your teachers, and you won't know what it opens until you grow up, and then you'll see. It opens everything.

So today I greet the light myself with a buoyant heart, shaking my head at the myself all the same, but happy to be here at the end of the school year, with dear friends and the sun, no matter what the fairies had to do with it.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Grand Ridge 10 Mile

Well, here's the latest in relentless participation. I ran the Grand Ridge 10 mile last night, the easiest of the trail races to come and I definitely learned some lessons.

1. while I can possibly not train for a 10 mile road race, the same is not true on a mountain.
2. trail running is really, really, really, really hard.
3. find out which leaves are poisonous.
4. or pee ahead of time.

wooooooooo, here we go. Already signed up for the 20miler in July. Perhaps the family reunion will power me through. I leave a week from yesterday!