Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The birthday run that was...

A year ago I woke before sunrise. Got in my car & drove to Maggie's. Greeted my running buddies while attempting (as best as you can at 5am.) to get them jazzed about the miles to be covered that day. Then I got in my car and drove home...

This post is for you injured.

After sending my friends off on what was to be a joint "years in miles" birthday run for Jon & I, I drove home with a heavy heart. Still dealing w/ tendinitis and treating a stress fracture meant I was unable to join them. It sucked. Hard core.

Hearing the accounts of triumph as everyone ushered Jon thru his first ultra and how epic the day was, while a joyous thing, didn't bring me any. It felt more like torture.

They say that grief has five stages: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression & Acceptance. Being injured I went thru every single one of these.

Fast forward a year and things are very different. There is joy. Instead of being the injured one, I watched as my friends either had to bow out or taper way back on their mileage during our Birthday Run because of it. A certain part of my heart suffers with them because I know the struggle, the battle for hope, the day when everything feels right again and you can fly with unhindered wings.

Perspective is a beast when you're in the battle. So take it from someone who is past it & someone who will experience it again... there is a light at the end of the tunnel for you.

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11

"Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart." Psalm37:4

1 year of tendinitis & 3 months of stress fracture later...grace carried me 31 miles on Saturday. It was a long time coming, but the joy is so much greater having overcome. The once heavy heart sang and I had the blessing of great friends to share the song with.

We started out in the cool morning air, hills blanketed in thick fog, it was beautiful. As the sun rose melting away the mist, so did our miles, giving way to blue skies.

Miles disappear when the mind is occupied and the sights are stunning. This run was a perfect expression of that.

Before I knew it Jon, Erin, Penny, Erik & Lou had finished their marathon training miles and it was time to partake in what I hope will become a birthday tradition: post-run BACON & "better than sex" cake.

Then it was time for Maggie & I to run. Maggie, who is currently 5 months pregnant, was kind enough to crew us the first 18miles before joining me for the final 13. Thanks again!

Despite warm temps near 70 in March, that's not salt on our faces. It's frosting.

*Insert inside joke here about warpaint*

Ready for battle, we set off in the sunshine.

Turns out the afore mentioned bacon & BTS cake don't help an already iffy system. Shocking I know, but I wanted the calories and figured what better run than my birthday run to try earning the "stoop in the woods" ultra merit badge. TMI? Get over it.

Getting over that enough to maintain a decent pace was slow, but thankfully Maggie & Peanut weren't in a hurry. Yet.

When the temps dropped over 20 degrees in five minutes & the winds went from 10mph to gusts of 35mph jet cooled by the freshly thawed lakes, she got the faster miles she'd patiently been waiting for.

I've run in -60f windchills and blizzards, the kind of cold that gives you an icecream headache & attempts to make your eyelashes freeze your eyes shut, but this climate shift was one of the harshest I've faced. A lot of that had to do with the fact that I had no extra layers on me. A light tank & shorts is insufficient in low 40's and 30mph winds, FYI.

Several times our eyes met as Maggie looked back to make sure I was still following and our expressions were the same "this is insane, where did this come from?". She'd slow and we'd trade words & chuckles on how nutty it was. Running faster miles than the previous 26 just to keep more than my arms from going completely numb, was rough, but as rough as it was it wouldn't have been the day I'd been waiting for without it. It was the perfect day.

Your day is coming, persevere and don't lose hope as you wait for it. It's worth it.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Hunting Down the Unicorn...

What does is mean to hunt down a unicorn? That illusive creature somewhere out in nature, beyond sight, beyond logic. And when, if, you find it... what then?

Once again I'm in the pursuit of finding out. Unlike the ethereal white horse with rainbows & glitter trailing from it's tookus, the unicorn I seek is mean. 100miles...then 135miles fierce, domineering in stature, adorned with a single horn that threatens to pierce me to the very ground should I actually come upon it.

This quest has translated into training for two races. And two races only.

The Superior Sawtooth 100 September 7th. Multiple events on the SHT solidified the Sawtooth's calling. It's a beast with 20,000 ft of ascent and 21,000 ft of decent & the fitting final straw (more like a mammoth redwood) between me and the Arrowhead135. Which, pending app. acceptance/qualification will be my second event.

The final months of 2011 were the waking from the sleep and the beginning of 2012 the setting fire to the flame. Here is how I'm keeping it stoked...

It's been an unusually light snow year, with melting temperatures often following any measurable snowfall. I was still able to run barefoot on grass in December, run some trail in January & February, I also got a handful of stray double digit sub-zero runs in between that, but overall we've been holding at 20-25F on average all winter. This has made getting the opportunity to train while dragging a sled hit or miss, so the tire I began dragging in October I'm still dragging into March. Not as a complaint, just an adaptation.

(Thor & Me out on a run in November.)

All of the gear I'll need for Arrowhead will mean pulling close to 1/3 of my body weight behind me in a sled for 135 miles. My hope is to have the feeling of that much drag become familiar, almost second nature, and to maintain good form while doing it. I've also got 20k to climb in September just to get there. Dragging the tire (especially on the flats in town) feels like going up hill, THE ENTIRE TIME. It's perfect. So I've gradually been upping my mileage with the tire on my strength focused weeks and will eventually start weighting it.

Last week was one of those strength training weeks. Two days after hashing out 105 pull-ups and 75 split-jerks of increasing weight, I set out with a group of friends on the gravel hills with Thor trailing behind me & a distance PR in my sights.

(Older pic, but same hills.)

When Maggie and I scouted the planned miles a few days in advance the roads were mostly clear, the footing, deliciously soft & soggy gravel.

Then the wind came...blowing the scattering of snow we had gotten overnight into pillow drifts along route waiting for me the next morning. Minimalist me loves conditions like these, Thor dragging me knew it would add to the difficulty and was less than thrilled.

We started out facing into a stiff headwind. Added resistance. Every time I hit a drifted section on the road the tire would fill with snow, doubling it's weight. Each time distancing me further and further from my friends. My encouragers & distraction from the drag. The pull on already fatigued muscles threatened defeat. I wished I had a sled. If I'd only known the conditions in the country would've finally been suited for it ahead of time, but it was barren of snow 48hrs ago. I was reminded of Bill Bradley's motto "Show up & Suffer", this described my predicament well.

In the miles that followed I was faced with two choices. HTFU or Unclip. Allowing myself to even view one of those as an option is like the crack in an egg, all it takes is a little tap after that and everything comes spilling out. Yes, it was just a training run, but the reality is is that building the mental fortitude to hunt & face down a unicorn doesn't happen at the starting line, it starts now.

Saturday I chose to HTFU, welcoming my Savior & Strength Giver into the miles, pushing me, as I pulled, reaching my mileage goal. Bliss.

Is it worth it? All so that I can get here...

Yes. Even if I don't qualify or get in this year? Yes.

Why? Because deep down I know it's what I'm meant to do and my God continues to bless the journey there. I can't explain the desire or the drive. I just know.

"Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. " 1 Corinthians 9:26

His timing, His spirit, My Heart, My Legs.