Monday, November 14, 2016

Have Fun, Dammit-Stone Mill 50 Miler

I had been running for about an hour.   It was dark and although the weather report looked good for the day, my fingers were frozen in the pre-dawn cold.  I could easily see my breath, but struggled to find the trail.   A pet peeve of mine is running in someone else’s headlamp light.  It causes me to cast a shadow into my own light and challenges my footing.   To compensate, I tend to over think what I can control.   I force my thoughts to logistics:  How is my pace?  Did I select the right shoes?   Do I need to adjust the fitting on my gear pack?  Happy I thought to eat some avocado the day before.  Cautious that I am only recently out of my wrist splint.

Suddenly, I stepped out of my own head.   I stopped the endless stream of boxes I was trying to check.   Have fun, dammit.   It rang loud and clear.   Have fun.   You love this---let yourself fall in love.   Don’t try to stop and analyze it, it won’t make sense.   Just feel.   Just be.   Just do.   Just step off the platform and take flight. 

I checked back in.   The sun was rising over a calm and beautiful lake, surrounded by fall foliage in full bloom.   There was a slight fog that gave the scene a dream-like quality.  Behind me I could still see the remnants of an immense super moon.  It was a spectacular sight, and I felt blessed to be a first hand observer of Mother Nature’s paintbrush.  

I ran strong, stronger than I have in months.   I’d come to aid stations, and look at the miles I had accumulated…. wondering how I had pranced through so many.   I took my watch off, and packed it away.   I didn’t care what the time was, I cared about the time I was having.  

I freed myself from thoughts about previous races, about my body’s ways of telling me I have been over-doing it, and about challenges I have yet to face.   I shined a spotlight on this race, and in this moment.  I dealt with only what was in front of me, and consciously decided to focus only on what makes me happy.   I spent a few miles listing in my head events, people and moments for which I am grateful.   I know I ran with a visible smile on my face.  I know I am blessed.

My final challenge in the race was literally chasing the sun.   That beautiful sun, that brought me out of my own head this morning was beginning to set.   It was time to put on my wings and fly.  With about a half mile to go, I watched the sky change to dusk and I smiled.   I had done it.   I let my body do what I had trained it to do.   I freed my mind from the confines of boxes that like to be checked.   I took chances, and was rewarded for my efforts.   And, most of all, I had fun.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Goodbye Old Friend

Train Porter: Please keep your hands inside the train at all time 
Mark: You ran THERE (pointing)
Porter: Hands inside the train, please
Me: shoulder shrug. Yup

Mark: Tiggs that’s VERTICAL
Me: I told you it was tough
Mark: Look there, that is barely a trail
Porter: For your own safety, please keep hands inside the train. 

Mark: Tiggs, that’s insane.
Me: Yup, and I don't think the Porter likes you.

This was our conversation during our train ride when we went to visit Oil Creek. Up until this point, all Mark had seen of OC was the finish line into the Middle School. He had no idea.

I had no idea. This course has been a part of my running repertoire from the start. It’s one of my go-to training locales and it kicks my butt every time I’m on it.

I’ve been cut, scraped, blistered, terrorized by bears, lost numerous toenails, and am currently sprained. I’ve been breathless. I’ve death marched and flew like I was weighless. I’ve hiked it and been enthralled by the “scenic overlooks” and raced it and only seen what the orb of my headlamp has allowed. It has been in my nightmares.

I’ve tried out various gear, diets and shoes. I’ve faced wind, rain, snow, hail, mud and bugs. I’ve DNF’ed and crossed the line for the 50k , 50 miler, 100k (a few times), and 100 miler. I’m the only woman to have done that.

I’ve laughed. I’ve laughed until I’ve cried. I’ve cried, tears of frustration, joy and pain. I’ve sworn. I’ve gritted my teeth and pushed hard, and I’ve smiled.

I’ve had my most lucid moments of clarity and have hallucinated. I’ve learned that if you see a tree stump you think is a bear, you should blink. If it still looks like a bear when you open your eyes, it’s a bear.

I’ve been on many other trails with larger climbs or with worse weather, but nothing that has it all in one place like Oil Creek. Cemetery Hill will always be THAT hill that I know exists solely to make me question why it is I do what I do.

But, it is time for me to step away from OIl Creek. Yes, I will still use it to train, and I certainly intend to hike it, and I can’t rule out volunteering, but I think I have done what I need to do as far as racing the course. I’ve learned to be successful there, you HAVE to train there. I have too many other trails I want to visit.

So, Oil Creek, until we meet again: I wish you well and thank you for the lessons learned. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

This Too Shall Pass...Pine Creek 100

This is dedicated to a very dear friend, who unfortunately, has a few cells that went rogue.  She is the strongest woman I know.

It’s not about acting tough.  The trail doesn’t care how many likes you get or the image you try to present.  Your toughness must come from the confidence you build in your own inner strength.

It’s not about following trends.  It is about gathering knowledge and making your own choices based on what you know about yourself.

It’s not about prestige.  There is nothing glamorous about kneeling by yourself, alone on a dark trail, holding your own hair, feeling like you just can’t push any further.

It's not about inspiring. People only throw that word around when you are doing something they either don't want to, or don't think they can, do.

It’s not about how you physically look.    I truly believe outer beauty only radiates from what is inside.     

It is about knowing that life is messy.   You are going to get dirty, uncomfortable, beat up, challenged, and changed.  And, you will grow from it..

It's about feeling what you feel, and letting that be.

It is about doubting your doubts.  

It’s about taking another step forward, when all you want to do is stop.

It is about knowing you have people around you that love you, but also knowing, that the fight is yours.

It hit me at mile 81.  I was sick.  I was tired.   Two runners next to me dropped out.  I could hear the volunteers concurrently talking about my imminent drop and the storm that was rolling in.  They offered me a chair.   And, a blanket.   They might as well have stamped DNF on my forehead.

My friend came to mind.  I questioned how I would feel tomorrow, if I did not push on.  Time was not up. I could and would fight this fight.

I jumped up.  Okay, it took me two times to stay up, but I got up.  

I crossed the finish line.  Not many others were able to do that during this race.   I did it, because I have this friend, who is a living example of what it is all about.

p.s.  To my friend:  I actually pity those cells.  They picked the wrong woman to mess with.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Beast

"Runner discretion.  Please use runner discretion.   You will face adverse weather conditions, please use your discretion and keep yourself safe"  

That’s how the race directors start each pre-race meeting.  What they fail to realize is that the discretion of many of these runners should be questioned...thoroughly.

This race, which is really two races, is located north of Buffalo, NY.   Unfortunately, all of the stereotypes about Buffalo weather hold true.   We get snow.  We get bitter cold.  We get melting summers.   And, in the minds of the two race directors, we get the Beast of Burden.

The Beast, is run in both the winter and the summer.   In order to get the coveted “Double Buckle” you must run both.  In that order.  In the same year.   There are no exceptions.  The Beast doesn’t want to know your sob stories or excuses.

It sounds easy enough.   The course is pancake flat.  There is only one road crossing.  The only other obstacle you will encounter is a lift bridge used to cross over the Erie Canal.   In the summer, this bridge may cost you a few minutes when a boat requires it to be raised.   You’ll hear the alarm.   It is your discretion to hurry and cross, or take a  quick rest break.

That’s it.  The Erie canal is on one side of the gravel path, and civilization is on the other.   But the Beast lies in those 6-10 feet in between.   There is no shade.  In the summer, you will have no cover from the relentless heat.   In the winter, the snow will swirl around the frozen canal, and attack.  The wind will find you in both seasons.   It has no discretion.

The Beast also boasts  the worst two miles of ultrarunning.   The course runs on one side of the canal, where a runner can see the start/finish on the other.   Runners must run a mile, cross the bridge (hopefully, without an extra wait period) and return on the other side of the canal.  Music from the lively aid station can be heard the entire time.   You are so close to where you want to be, but the Beast will get in your head, before it lets you get there.

I have run over 800 miles on this course.  I possess two “Double Buckles”.  I have PR-ed and I have finished at the back of the pack.   I took first place in a 24-hour division, when such a thing existed, and I have DNF’ed, twice.   The Beast doesn’t care.  Sometimes, it lets you win, other times it fights you with all it’s got.   

The Beast boasts of the challenges it will set before you.   Every starting line will be filled with stories of “adverse weather” the Beast has concocted.   The first year, there was a blizzard that closed schools for several days.   We here in Buffalo don’t close schools often.  This past running, in August, had temperatures in the high 90’s with a heat index over 100.  As the race directors say, “We have never cancelled a Beast, and this will not be the first time”.

There have been windstorms, ice storms, hail, blinding heat, dry lightning, and thunderstorms. I think if you listen closely, at around 2 am, you can hear the Beast laugh.  I know I’ve heard it.

In the winter there are snowmobilers.  In the summer, boaters.   All carrying on life and enjoying the elements.   You will be forced to watch as you slog along the 12.5 mile path, do an about-face, and repeat until you have completed four loops.

While the Beast will attack you with the elements, it does allow for some relief.   There is a pirate ship playground a homeowner has serendipitously parked on the race course.  It has become an unofficial requirement to grace the slide.   Aid stations are not only stocked with the kindest, most-helpful perennial volunteers in the business, but in the summer, they offer you a sno-cone, in the winter, a warm fire pit.   Camaraderie is second to none.  The adage that misery loves company is not lost on the Beast.

Many fail to cross the Beast’s finish line.   Some only choose to run in one season, stating that the other is “too hard”.  Some try, time and time again, only to fall victim to the Beast’s warped sense of entitlement.   Some take it on every time, and face the challenges with vigor.   No matter the circumstances that leads to the end of your race, be it DNF or finish line, the Beast will challenge you, and it doesn't’ care about runner discretion.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

113 Miles on the Appalachian Trail

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”  Teddy Roosevelt

Natalie is away at camp for two weeks.   Noah is busy with his job, training, and girlfriend.  Mark has muscle-show prep, work and a certification he is working on.  There was no need for me to be at home.  In fact, it seemed like Mark  was trying to get rid of me.   “You don’t have to rush back, ya’ know…” Ok, I got it, pose away.  I know those tans aren’t going to spray themselves on.

I had the priceless gift of time.

I set off for the Appalachian Trail.   The inspiration came from the most unlikely place, a Regents exam.  NYS does not allow us to see the exam before the students.  Normally, it is quite boring, and I feel like I am reading paint ingredients to disinterested students.   This time, it was about the Appalachian Trail, and I was enthralled.   My friend Jen caught me after the exam.   I don’t remember her exact words, but  they were something like, “I know you read the ELA.  When are you going?”.  I told her I had no idea what she was talking about.   She told me I had a crappy poker face.  

A couple days before I left, Natalie, my sister-in-law Barb, and I went hiking.   Barb recently had a serious surgery, and I wanted to stick with her.  I told Nat to take the lead.  “Mom, I don’t know how”.  She protested.   “Follow the blazes, set a good pace, and watch out for what is around you” was my reply.  "What if something happens?" she asked. It did, she did great.  “Momma,  can you make your next blog about running for a different reason?”  I questioned her further.  “Mom, your trail trip is about the journey, not the finish line”.  How on Earth did I get lucky enough to raise this kid??

My first day was rough.  I was lost almost immediately after starting.  I know how to read a trail, but what was this off-set white blaze thing?   Omg.  What the hell was I doing?  Why was I doing this?   I could simply drive home.  I had to get ahold of myself.  I went with what I know.  I hiked back to my car, dropped my pack and switched out my shoes.   I went for a run.  Everything fell into place.   I feel in love with the trail.  Knowing I could go from Maine to Georgia on a very skinny national park, was surreal.   I was excited to get going.   I finished my run and was now ready to hike.   I did 25 miles that first day and slept on the trail.  

I spent the next few days pretty much off the grid.  I was solely responsible for the success or failure of my journey.   I am finding this blog very difficult to write, because in many ways, I was just a girl who went hiking and camping for a week, but in others, I was a woman who overcame fears, made both good and questionable decisions, became an element of nature, and and found beauty in the ruggedness and tranquility of parts of the planet, that others may choose not to experience.

I focused on the the journey.  I ran when I wanted to feel free and and at ease.  I hiked when I wanted to simply enjoy the the world that had enveloped me.   I stopped when tired.  I ate when hungry.   I diverted onto a blue blaze trail, simply because I wanted to.  I was alone, but rarely lonely.  This was not a race.  This was an opportunity,   In the end, I was able to traverse 113 miles.

I was married outside.  It caused a logistical challenge, but I was insistent that was what I wanted.  In fact, it was the ONLY aspect of the wedding that I pushed for.  I lost count of how many people questioned the validity of my choice  “What if it rains?” was the most common refrain.   “What if it doesn't?” was my reply.   It did rain.   I didn’t care.

I met with similar naysayers regarding this trip.   “What if something happens to you?”  (Usually followed by some gruesome story that the person had heard about) Something did happen to me.   I learned my backpack, hiking poles, and Deep Wood Off are  lifesavers.  I found a beach that felt like a mirage.  I took a shower under a waterfall.  I found trail logs with amazing personal journey stories,  My presence caused the flight of a flock of birds, that sounded like helicopters, and let me know I was the only human in the area. I found hidden views that seemed undisturbed from the day God made them. I climbed over boulders, traversed streams, across valleys and through miles of forest.  I got scratched, bruised, tanned and bug-bitten.  I got lost and found my way again.  I slept under a sky filled with more stars than I could ever wish upon.  I sat and watched fireflies, simply because they captivated me.  I know I need both my running shoes and my hiking boots.  "Follow the blazes, set a good pace and watch for what's around you" turned out to be pretty practical advice.  I smiled, laughed, swore and prayed.  I was alone, but I felt loved and supported, by those that matter most to me.  I experienced “trail magic”.   I learned that I want to do this again.  It may not be on the Appalachian  Trail, but then again, it might.   Because, like my daughter taught me, this was about the journey, not the finish line.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

When Things Go Badly...Montour 24

Noah works full-time,but has Wednesdays off.   A fact I’d forgotten, until he padded down the stairs at 11:11 (his number).  “You’re home!”  he said.  I’d just returned the night before from a much desired, very fulfilling, A+ training run.  “Let’s go to lunch”, he continued.
I love my 1:1 time with my boy.  We talk about anything and everything.  Today’s topic was his next marathon.  “I’m just not sure why I’m doing it.  I don’t have the same reasons as last time”.  Granted, I found out he wanted to do another marathon on Facebook…’Today I start training for marathon #2’.  Wait...What??? do I explain it to the boy?  “Noah, you do it because it’s hard, but you are tougher.  You do it because you can learn about yourself.  You do it because once it’s done, no one can ever take it away from you.  Noah, you do it because you can.”
Fast forward to the Montour 24.   This was another training run for me.   I registered simply to get in some heat training.  I had very loose mileage goals, I simply wanted to keep moving for the 24 hours.   The course is a 1.5 mile loop with an awesome hill.  Oh, I do love finding my inner mountain goat!  I’d originally wanted to sign up for the 12-hour night run, but me being me, decided to go big.   This would have been an entirely different blog, had I stuck with my original plan.
My first few laps were great!  I was completing them in 15 minutes or less.  I kept a moderate pace, as I knew it was going to be a hot one, and took advantage of the relative coolness of a 7 am start.   I slowed my pace as needed.  I stopped to watch kids jump off the pretty covered bridge.  I eavesdropped on a couple of guys who are thinking of trying a “hardcore” race in Lockport.  “The Beast,” they said, “is hard.  If you want heat training, there is no better place for it”.  Again, I didn’t care about mileage or time, I just wanted time on my feet.  
It hit around lap 10.  It was HOT.  No worries, I’ll walk.  But, oh the lure of that hill.  I am absolutely addicted to the pull of a gradual downhill after a challenging climb.  That straightaway was made for running, and in hindsight, I think it is what did me in.  
I remember at the six-hour mark, the announcer stated, “We have just had our hottest six-hour race in our history.  Stay hydrated.”  I was feeling pretty strong, and I was keeping up on my hydration.   I had a full bottle of Endurolytes that I kept at the aid station.  I had been popping them frequently.  But, when I looked for them, they were gone!  What?   NO!  The race had some at the aid station, and I popped in the last two in the bottle.  I assumed they had other bottles, and I took off on my next loop.
I was wrong about the extra bottles.   They had salt tabs, but I know from experience that they upset my stomach.  Ok, no worries, I’ll take in salty food and electrolyte hydration.  It will slow my pace, but I’ll be ok.  They announced it was 97 degrees.
I did a few more loops, but couldn’t maintain a run.  I power walked,  If you’ve raced with me, you know I can power walk with the best of them.  Again, my goal was to just keep moving.  
Then, a lap or two later, things got bad.  I ached.  I was mentally beating myself up, “You phoned in a few of those training miles”, “If you had signed up for the six hour race, you’d be done”,  “Why do you always have to push so damn hard?, “What’s wrong with you?”.  It gets worse, but I’ll leave it there.  
It got worse.  I started two loops without eating anything.  I had a headache.  I was still drinking, a lot, but I couldn’t stomach food.  I was very nauseous.  It felt like someone took my batteries out.  When did that hill get so big?  I tried following the edge line of the trail, but it kept moving.   I recall thinking, “girl, you are not doing well...get yourself back and sit yourself down”.  
There are two ways I check to see if I am bloated.  One, I know I can fit my hand around my wrist, thumb to pinky, in my resting state.  I wasn’t able to do thumb to middle finger.  Two, I look at my fingers, and try to interlace them.   No go.  I had an additional indicator, I normally take my rings off when I race.  Today I forgot.  In my normal state, I can spin and clank them.   Those suckers weren’t budging.   The nausea was pretty bad, too.
I got back to the aid station.  I’m not sure where I thought I was going, but I knew I was wandering.   I don’t remember going down, but I remember being helped up.   The kind folks in the medical tent put me in a chair.  I had both my feet and my hands elevated trying to bring down the swelling.   The EMT looked me over and said, “hyponatremia.  I can get you an IV, but if I do, you’re done today”.  Damn, I wish I didn’t have to take care of me at that point.   I’d already done more than a marathon, and should have cut my losses.  “No”, I said, “let me see how I do with rest”.  Sometimes, I’m dumb.
I rested an hour, I was weak and disoriented.   I see that I had sent a few texts, but I don’t remember doing it at all.  I rested another hour.  I felt better.  Somewhere in my mind, I was formulating a plan to rest until sunset and then get up.   I wasn’t keeping anything down.   My mind was willing, but my body just couldn't keep up.
One more loop, I thought.  Let me see how I do with one more loop.   I felt a bit better.   I stopped at my friend Deb’s tent on my way.  She was in her own struggle, so we sat for a bit.  I had to laugh.  She told me, “Jim Pease would tell you to have a beer”.  LOL! Then I felt a text.  It was Roger.   I don’t remember sending one to him, but I said to Deb, before looking at it, “If I asked him advice, I’m taking it”.  This is, in part, our conversation:

So, game over.  I death marched my loop, turned in my number and sat at the aid station.  I think I fell asleep, but I was in a fog.  I woke up and scrolled through my phone.   “You’re done right?”, “You be careful”.  “Get some Himalayan sea salt”.  Damn, I could only find Mediterranean.   
Noah called.  “Mom, I only got 9 out of my 12 miles in, but I don’t feel great.  What do I do?”   “Stop honey.  Just stop.  You’ll live to run another day.  You are tougher than the heat, so be smart, and don’t let it take you out.  You can go out another time.  Learn from the experience, and use it.  No one can take that experience away from you”.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Whiteface Sky Run: I Have Come Much Farther Than I Have to Go

No.  Not today.  Last year, I signed up for this race, completed half of it, and walked away.  I had the strength, but I also had my reasons.   I just couldn’t run through it.  I chose to say, “no”.  I took my ball and went home.

Fast forward a year.   I got my ball back and I wanted to play.  But, I was physically tired.  I didn’t get to sleep in as planned, the six-hour drive to the race was difficult in the pouring rain, and to top it off, I was woken by a bear as I camped.   I had reasons this year too, but I was going to race.

I teach my students about the three types of conflict in literature.   For some reason, they passed through my thoughts.

Man vs. Man;  I was going to push during this race, and it was a race.  But, if someone had more oomph than I, by all means, go ahead.  If not, no worries, I’ll pace you.  This was a race, but I was not in competition with anyone else.

Man vs. Nature:  What can I say?  Mother Nature is a bully.  Besides the bear, this time she threw rain, fog, cold, mud, deer flies, and ticks at me.  She does like to have temper tantrums on race day…

Man vs. Self:  Yup, this was my challenge.  I was at the base camp, seeing a sign showing 20 foot visibility and a 20 degree change in temperature.   It was raining...hard.   I was looking to give myself an out.   My BIL cottage is just an hour away, maybe I should go visit...What do I have to prove?   Should I just say, “NO”?  

There is a voice inside me.  She is quiet.  I often have to push through all the distractions to hear her.  She gave me the mantra that pulled me through and got me to take those first few, no turning back steps.  She whispered to me, “you have come much further than you have to go”.  

Normally in a trail race, there is a flat section at the beginning to help space the runners out.  No such luck here.  Within 50 feet of the start, I was climbing.  It was not easy, and I will freely admit that I traversed many moods.   From the base to the summit, the rain was quite fierce.  It made footing very slippery and more than once, a runner in front of me would slip and cause a domino-effect fall.  This did not lighten my mood.   I had to force myself to dig deep.  

They call this a vertical marathon, or a sky race.   With the alternating fog/rain, I could not see where I was climbing or if there would be a relatively flat section where I could take a breath.  I devised a plan, that I would push with all I had for every three pink trail markers, and then slow my pace to recover.   I completed both ascents using this method.   I now know, when it is my time to go, I do not want flowers, but a lovely bouquet of pink trail markers would be nice.  

I completed the first ascent and saw...nothing.  Just fog.   I have summited that mountain three times, and have yet to see the view.  However, the reward for my effort was a glorious descent down an Olympic Giant Slalom course.  I was flying.  The rocks were tricky, but I felt like the little girl in the opening scenes of Little House on the Prairie.   

I finished the first loop almost giddy to start my second ascent.  BUT, not so fast.  I hadn’t really been following the race changes.   They changed the course, and I now had to go hit some trail miles.   This again defeated me.  I knew I had the energy to climb, but I didn’t know if that would be true after I hit some technical trail.   WIth no other option, I chose relentless forward progress and pushed on.   

I felt like I was running through a nightmare.   The fog made visibility difficult, and I’m pretty sure they imported rocks and roots.  I thought back to my Ironman bike training….”don’t shift for what you see down the road, shift for what is in front of you”.  I took each turn of this twisty, Dr. Seuss mapped trail, focusing only on what was 5-10 feet in front of me.  It was endless and  I lost what little sense of direction I have.  Finally, I saw another human...a photographer...who told me I had a mile and a half to go.   I’m sure I’m smiling in those pictures!

Finally, I was able to start my second ascent.  My mood had changed.  I was thankful for the opportunity to get to to this.   Thankful that my body was strong enough to pull me along (even if, at some points, I was leaning forward so much I was nearly horizontal).  Thankful that I have a little voice that knows how to push me forward.   

I came upon a woman.  She was crying.  When I stopped she told me, “I am generally a very positive person, but this is stupid”.   I had to laugh.  This is the mantra that I have no problem hearing.  It is often very LOUD and persistent.   This comes out when I have to dig deep and I’m not certain I’ll find what I need when I do.   I sat with this woman for a bit.  Told her this will pass, and that finishing is within her power.   I helped her patch up a blister and gave her a bite to eat.   One of my happiest moments of the race, was seeing her get up, and say, “Thanks.  I’ve got this from here”.  

I hit the summit, again.  I only knew I was close, because I was getting cold.  “All downhill from here”, I thought,  Oops, not so fast, I went down the wrong path, and had to backtrack.  “Ok.  NOW, all downhill from here”.   I envisioned a descent like the first one, but that is not what I got.   The rain had turned my wildflower-lined path into a slip and slide.   I’d like to say I stayed upright, but I don’t want to lie.   I got pretty beat up, but I knew with every step/slide, I was closer.  I could see the finish line from a mile away, and I was going to push until I got there.  

And, I did get there.   They did not offer finisher medals, but I have three pink trail flags, that caused me to smile during my long ride home.   I think they are beautiful.  

My body is scratched and sore.   I am stiff and a little sleepy. I've taken three showers, but I still feel dirty. But, my soul--that is soaring.  I have come pretty far, but oh, the places I will go....