Sunday, January 22, 2012

Beast of Burden 50 Miler

            Wow!  What a race. 

            I wasn’t proud of last year’s racing season.  It caused me to question if I wanted to continue with ultra running, resume triathon’s/duathlons or try something completely different.  (Some of those other ideas are still brewing, but that is for another blog).  But, the BoB cemented in my mind that not only do I love ultras, but also I love them for reasons greater than just running.
            The race really started for me on Friday night.  About 20 of us got together for dinner.  I know many of these people from racing with them or from their volunteering.   Running with someone makes friendships form faster and deeper than is possible in other situations.  It was nice to see them “with their clothes on” vs. in race gear.   I had a blast! As I drove away that night, I was thinking that I just wanted to skip the race and turn around and hang some more.
            As I am currently unable to stop time, race morning did arrive.  I reconnected with my friends, but this morning was different.  There are many details to attend to and game faces to be put on.  I was relaxed and without a pre-conceived notion of what the day would bring.  I set no time goal for myself.  My only goal was to keep my mind positive for as long as I was going to be out on that trail.
            The starting sound (whatever it was) went over my head.  Suddenly I realized that everyone was moving.  There is a funny picture my friend Jim took with me, a full 25 seconds after the race started, finally getting my feet moving.  It turned out to be a blessing.  Rather than trying to get a position and keeping a pace that is too fast for me to begin a long race with, I was able to keep my pace.  Hey, that’s new for me.  Normally I go out too fast, have a hard time keeping the pace, get frustrated with myself by mile four, cry, and then start to run my race. I think I may be on to something.
            The other great thing being oblivious to the start did, was it put me right smack dab in with my friends.  Normally, since I’ve gone out too fast, my friends catch up to me during recovery from crash and burn.  Not this time.  I ran with Karen, Chris, Marco and Gil for a full 12.5 miles.  I had to keep reminding myself it was a race.  We laughed, sang  (thank you Marco) and plodded along at a very comfortable pace.  It was so nice we more or less stayed together for the 12.5 back (minus Karen—her legs were going to carry her on a very fast race.)  We had a very fast first loop.
            There is one section of the course where you can see the runners entering the next loop while you are finishing yours.  That is when I saw Gary.  He was hard to miss with his Stitch gloves, Homer bathing suit, and some sort of green hat that floated behind him when he ran.
            Gary joined our herd as well as our pacer Jim.  Jim’s heart wanted to be a registered runner for this race, but his hip wouldn’t let him.  So instead, he became “that guy”.  Not only did he set up tents and man aid stations, but also he organized Friday’s dinner and paced runners.  Seems like whenever I needed something, there he was.  I am ever so grateful.
            Jim took us to mile 37.5.  I let Marco and Gary go ahead as (I thought) they both had 100-mile goals.  Chris was valiantly facing a foot injury challenge, and moving at her own pace.
            I have never had such great company during an event.  It made the miles fly by and it felt more like a social gathering.  But, now I set myself up for the challenge of running alone.  This is the part of a race where it can get really dark emotionally.  I wanted to see what I could take, and I was proud of myself.  I wanted to test myself.  I wanted to see if I could stay emotionally strong without supports.  I’m happy to say that I kept to my goal of staying positive for (almost) the whole race.  Lessons learned earlier from Karen were put to good use.           
            I met up with Marco and Gary just before I finished.  They looked road weary, but physically ready to go on.  And go on they would.  Gary, who I thought was running the 100-mile race, was really registered for the 50.  He stayed with Marco for an additional 25 miles.  See what I mean about friendships formed while running?  And Marco---that crazy Chinaman with the Italian name, he went on to finish the 100 mile race.  (His second of the year). He is now the proud owner of the “Double Beast” buckle.  Congratulations my friend.
            As for me, when I crossed the finish line---there was Jim.  He set me up with a chair and an orange juice and I felt wonderful.  I got to talk to Sam the race director and shared with him that this was my favorite ultra ever.  I know my body would have carried me for another 25 miles, as I was not sore (minus a small blister and a toenail I know I’ll be saying goodbye to soon).  More importantly, I was ready to emotionally commit to going longer.
            I leave the Beast with a rejuvenated feeling.  I know that running with friends made all the difference in my attitude and performance during the race.  It has given me the confidence that I can and will go longer than I have before.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Taper Troubles

            I don’t know how to taper before a race.  Correct that, I don’t like to taper before a race.  Tapering is when you have to admit that you’ve trained all you can, and you must get ready for the starting line.  For me that means, running less, eating more, and sleeping sporadically.  For my family, it means I become a miserable old sock.
            I’ve said it before running helps keep me sane.  Without it, I sweat the small stuff, and not even my hidden stash of Hostess Cupcakes can bring me out of my funk.
            I come from a long line of people who like to keep moving.  My mom’s motto is “don’t sit before noon”.   My dad was a putterer.  Rick builds things, Mark has a very physical job, Danielle, well, go ahead and try to get her to stay in one place, I dare you.  Even Jeannie-If she was ever in one place for too long, you can bet it wasn’t her choice.
            But here I am tapering.  This morning I heard my nine-year old mumble under her breath “mom NEEDS a run” as we were bickering/shopping for winter boots.  When I asked my even- tempered 15 year to take out the garbage, he listened to my tone and then looked at my perfectly dry running shoes by the door.  Okay, I get it.
            Finally this morning, my family got sick of me and sent me out the door for a nice long run.  I think angels sang!  It was wonderful.  My legs were rested and my pace was steady and strong.  I used the time to mentally think about my upcoming challenge.  Maybe, just maybe, I can get through this time and be ready to race next week.  I realized that by physically sweating, I could stop mentally sweating the small stuff.
            Now if I can just remember where I hid the cupcakes.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Evolution of a Real Runner

            I did my first marathon in order to fulfill a goal.  At almost 39, I planned to run “40 races by 40”.  The marathon was to be race number 40.  I worked my way through 5k’s, tri’s, du’s and half marathons, but felt I wouldn't be a real runner until I ran a marathon.  I ran it “Oprah style”.  I had friends and family rooting me on and finished somewhere in the 4:30’s.  It was painful and hard, and I assumed I’d never run another one.
            Okay, the next week, I signed up for my second, to be held a few months later.  I wanted to make sure that my finishing was not a fluke.  Was I really a marathoner?  Things changed during my second marathon.  I finished it in 4 hours, and it was fun.  During the race, I kept seeing signs like “Boston or bust” or  “BQ Bound”.  Obviously, being a Cape Cod girl, I knew the significance of the Boston Marathon, but that was only for elite marathoners, right?  I found out that evening I was only 10 minutes away from my qualifying time.  The fun was about to fade...
            I assumed that I’d qualify for Boston with a few more tries.  But, let me tell you, it ain’t that easy.  Race after race, I’d come close, but sorry, no cigar.  I was determined and pissed.  “Real runners, run Boston” I thought.  Not realizing this definitional pressure came only from me.
            In frustration of not making Boston, I decided to do an ultra-marathon.  Screw it, I thought.  If I couldn’t run fast enough for Boston, I could run long.  I signed up for a 50 miler in PA, called Oil Creek.  Now, this is a bear of a race and not like anything I’d even imagined before.  I pictured well-groomed trails like my beloved Steigelmeier Park.  NOT EVEN CLOSE!  It was brutal both physically and emotionally.  I bitched and whined and LOVED it.  I met my friend Roger on that trail, and he opened my eyes to ultra-running.  He’s become my advisor for almost every race I’ve done since.  Ultra running is tough physically, but it breeds close friendships.  Wow! 
            But Boston was still there, nagging.  It took me well over two years after I thought Boston was in reach, to finally grab my BQ (Boston Qualifier).  I drove to Albany and I worked my ass off at a very small race.  It was not fun, and I was alone.  I have a friend, Kathy, who cartwheels at the finish line of marathons.  That was NOT me;  I cried.  My time was 3:44.  Woo Hoo!!!  However,  Boston had closed registration already for that year.  Now, I’d have to wait another whole year to get in, and I was anxious to check the box.
            I used that year to complete my transition to ultra-marathoner.  I kicked ass in a Beast of Burden 50 miler two weeks after my BQ.  Not because I ran fast (I didn’t) but because I finished (I did).   I had assumed that Mother Nature gave the race director control of the weather on Beast days, but this race confirmed it.  With two feet of snow, I saw nothing but white the entire race.   No worries, I met Clyde, Chris, Gary, Jim and Marco.  Bonding happens quickly when you are in extreme situations.  
            So, long story short.  I eventually ran Boston.  It was surreal.  My brother and SIL waited hours to cheer me on.  I ran with no time expectations and soaked up the day.  I don’t think I’ll EVER forget rounding that last corner and seeing the finish line.  It changed me, but it didn't make me a "real" runner.
            I found a quote from John "The Penguin" Bingham that put it in perspective:  "If you run, you are a runner.  It doesn't matter how fast or how far.  It doesn't matter if today is your first day or if you've been running for twenty years.  There is no test to pass, no license to earn, no membership card to get.  You just run."
            The best thing Boston gave me was ultra-running.  Without it, I doubt I would have even discovered ultra's.  I question if I would embrace the challenges that ultra's throw at you, if I had not struggled to get to Boston. I still have goals that may be as unrealistic and frustrating as qualifying for Boston, but at least I don’t question if I’m a “real” runner any longer.