Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Soundtrack To My Run...

            I can work my iPod blindfolded.  It is always on my left hip, cord threaded under my shirt, ear buds tucked in my sports bra.  I always hit random shuffle as I don't like playlists.  I have a general rule that I don’t listen to music until the last three miles of my run.  But, tonight was different.  Tonight, I wasn’t training for anything, I was running because it was fun, and I was listening to my tunes for all fifteen miles.
            Just as during races, I dedicate miles to loved ones, I have songs that will forever belong to someone or some special moment in time.  The song could be dedicated because it reminds me of the person, the person selected it or it was playing when I was with or thinking of that person.  Whatever the reason, when I hear that song on a run, I’ll think about the person who owns it.
            Some people are easy.  Mark (Smiling Face), Noah (You’ll Be In My Heart) and Natalie (God Bless the Broken Road).  My siblings have songs:  Rick (Boatman), Mark (I am a Lineman For the County) Danielle (Truckin), and Jeannie’s (Somewhere Over The Rainbow).  For my dad, there is a local artist who sings a song called “Ode to Eddy” about an empty chair.  I don’t know who Eddy is, but the song is Dads.  For my mom, it’s Garden Party.
            My iPod has a skip button, and sometimes I will not want to go where the song takes me.  Other times I’ll listen to 'Addicted' and remember the Mark before Mark, who opened my eyes to love.  Or 'Far Away' which reminds me of my good friend Linda who died much too young in a snow mobile accident.  Or 'Go Your Own Way' which is dedicated to the babies I don’t get to hold.  Like I said, sometimes I don’t want to go there, sometimes I do.
            I have songs for students.  Sometimes I’ll be approached when I’m out in the world.  Some kid I taught years ago will hug me and thank me for making an impression.  I’ll ask them for a song they like.  That song will be theirs every time I run to it.  That never ceases to motivate me.  I also have a song for some of my all time favorite students (Corey, Joe, Matt, Donald, Jade and Crystal).  These kids left a lasting impression on me and 'Ain’t No Mountain High Enough' reminds me of how they busted through labels and disabilities to find successes even after challenges. 
            With teaching, you don’t always knock it out of the park.  Running tonight, I thought of kids I have worked with who are incarcerated, committed suicide, permanently changed as a result of a bad decision, institutionalized or the like.  The song I heard when I thought of them will forever bring them back to me.  I also have a special song for that one student, who did all he could to break my spirit, and nearly succeeded.  It’s a song from a kid’s movie and it’s called 'Get Off Of My Back'.  I love it!
            Sometimes I will have a song on my iPod that I just like, but because I heard it at a special moment on a run, I will always associate it with that spot.    During the Dirty Girl run, I heard  'Bye Bye Miss American Pie'.  Being one of the few Americans in the race, I decided to represent and sing it out loud and strong.  When I heard it tonight, I was back in that moment.  And my running friends know why I LOVE 'Sweet Caroline'.
            I have songs I use to pump me up.  I start nearly every race with 'Takin’ Care of Business'.  I have a song for each leg of the triathlon:  Swim (I’m Diving In), Bike (Roll to me or Good Day to Ride) and Run (It’s Not My Time).  I have songs that just make me feel good about running (Extraordinary, All In, The Time of My Life, Southern Cross).
            When I run without music, I let my thoughts wander.  When I run with music, my thoughts are taken on a journey.

"Music gives a soul to the universe, 
wings to the mind, 
flight to the imagination, 
and life to everything." 

~ Plato ~            

Monday, August 13, 2012

My Life as a Dirty Girl

            100 miles.  The first time I attempted the distance, I left the course with kidney stones after 55 miles.  The first time I wanted to quit running all together was on the Dirty Girl course last year.  I completed an ultra there, but got lost and defeated.  “This is stupid.” I told my friends.  I was going to put away my running shoes and move on to other things. Three wonderful people gently coaxed me back.  (Thank you Roger, Kris and Denise)  I decided to take my two biggest running defeats and make the Dirty Girl my first 100-mile race.
         The race got in my head.  I trained rigorously.  I was consumed by it during the weeks leading up to it.  I’d gone 75 on a nice flat course, but this would be different.  Roger describes it perfectly “I hate the Dirty Girl course. It just goes up, down, left, right constant switchbacks and single track. It's was tough for me to get in the groove last year. No long stretches to put it in cruise.”
         Before the race began, I felt calm.  There is a well-known pervert at most Canadian ultras.  He likes to “mark his ladies” with a colored bendy-plastic straw that the lady wears in her ponytail.  I walked into the pre-race meeting and was greeted with “A green-eyed ultra runner?!  Someone keep me from falling in love”.  He gave me a straw and a graphic description of his intentions if he found me on the trail at night.  He kept me “light” until it was time to start.
         We had been in a drought for most of the summer, so I was actually looking forward to some light rain.  I spent the night before the race sleeping in my car in hard rain (I decided to forego the tent).  I missed my greyhound.  The only time that dog pays any attention to me is during rainstorms, when she won’t leave me, and shakes like a 1970’s hotel bed.
         I must say the first 55 miles were the most arduous I had ever encountered.  They were harder than the first BOB with -20 degree wind chills and 2 feet of snow; that half ironman bike, in the sideways rain; that 5k in the wind storm that only 10 people showed up for.  The rain was relentless.  The trail was sand based so it would puddle and filter fairly quickly.  However, there were at least five deluges that made the trail impassable.  It was blinding rain that stung when it hit you.  I had to be so present during those miles.  No music, no talking, no dedicating miles, just “relentless forward progress” (Thanks Rog---it was my mantra during those miles).  
         At mile 45, I took a small break, changed into my nighttime running gear, not giving a care in the world about public nudity, and headed out.   With no ambient light and a cloud filled sky, the forest was black. I miscued once on each of the next two loops.  I knew my judgment was getting muddled.  I questioned if I should take a longer break.  In answer, I got a tree limb fall directly in front of me.  That, coupled with the lightening right on top of the thunder, I finished 55 and went to my car.  Another deluge hit as soon as I got there.  I got my first look at my corpse feet that had basically been underwater for 15 hours.  I crawled in my sleeping bag to wait out this part of the storm and slept for about 3 1/2 hours.  Much longer than I planned, but oh so needed.
         I woke as a new woman.  I changed clothes and set out again.  My all-time favorite aid station volunteer, Kinga, took me under her wing from that point on.  She is an accomplished ultra-runner and she became my defacto coach. 
         The next 45 miles were relatively “easy”.  The rain let up…did it ever stop?  There was fog, but it was manageable.  My legs felt great.  I wasn’t as fast as I would have liked, but I was steady.  I turned my iPod on for the first time.  The first song I heard was my favorite hymn…”Be Not Afraid”.  It was just what I needed.  Each successive song would remind me of old friends, new friends, and old friends that are new again.  I was thinking of the people in my life that care about me and were rooting for me in this race.  However, I did refuse to listen to any song that had "rain" in the lyrics. 
         At the end of lap 13, I was greeted with the biggest rainbow I have ever seen.  It was breathtaking, and renewed my strength as I hoped it meant that the hard rain was done.
         At the end of mile 70, I got another surprise…Mark showed up to help me.  I was so over-come with emotion.  I cried, ran into his arms and said the only endearing thing I could think of: “you smell so clean”.  With our over-scheduled lives, I didn’t want to assume he would be there, but there he was.  My best friend, my partner, my love.
          I had six laps to go, and I decided to let Mark help me with three of them.  It would be further than he had gone before and I didn’t want to wear him out.  We would alternate supported and unsupported loops.  The first lap, I taught Mark Ultra-trail Running 101.   He was a quick learner, 75 miles done.  Then I did a loop, 80 miles done.  Mark was there for me for the next loop.  We had a fantastic discussion about the days our kids came home, how they have grown and where they are headed.  He knows nothing motivates me like Noah and Natalie.  85 miles done.  Then I headed out.  90 miles done.  Next, Mark joined me for the last time.  Unfortunately, another bout of rain interrupted an awesome discussion on the difference between caramel and butterscotch.  We kept our heads down and got to work. 95 miles done.
         I wanted that last loop.  Mark wanted to go with me, but it was absolutely out of the question.  That loop was mine.  I was going to ‘honey badger’ my way through it.  (Thank you to Chad for the Honey Badger intro and to Chris for blogging about how to use him during running).  When I got halfway, I stopped at a place on the trail that looked out onto a valley.  I thanked God for making this possible, and for the first time, I let the reality of finishing sink in.  Then I promptly tripped over a root.  Okay, 2.5 miles is 2.5 miles, and I had to refocus---I wasn't done yet.
         I crossed the line utterly spent.  I hugged the race director, Kinga and Mark.  I got a pretty little belt buckle and Mark got a shoulder full of tears.  I also found out I took 3rd place for the women.  Things get kind of fuzzy from there.
         I still haven’t sorted out what this all means to me, but I have had this quote in my head since I crossed the line:

“The greatest accomplishment is not in never falling, but in rising again after you fall. ”

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

For Better, Worse, or !00 miles

            A friend once asked me if my husband Mark really exists, or if I made him up.  The question caught me off guard, but it made sense, because it is rare for him to make an appearance at one of my races.  However, as I taper for my race next week, I have to reflect on how I know I couldn’t do what I do without him.
            His support usually starts at night.  He’ll tap me on the shoulder, “Tiggs, you’re doing it again”.  I’m running in my sleep.  That’s when I know the race has totally taken me over.  Mark will usually grab his pillow and head to the guest room, knowing that neither of us will sleep as long as I log nocturnal miles.
            He’ll understand as mid-sentence, I’ll stare off into space and go to check and re-check the tackle box to assure for the 100th time that yes, in fact, my head lamps do work.
            He tells me of "friends" to ask him why he "lets" me do the things I do.  His response is always "have you MET Eva?...go ahead, YOU try and stop her."
            He didn’t even blink an eye, when I ripped down the wallpaper in the study and started re-painting just because I had nervous energy and couldn’t sleep.  He didn’t leave me when I called a contractor because I had an “idea”. 
            I usually try to train during “down-times”----early am before everyone wakes, when Nat is at a camp or karate, when Noah has hockey practice, in the evening when everyone has settled in, but he understands when I just need to get out there and hit the roads to work through some technical aspect of my race that he doesn’t even pretend to understand.
            When we were in Cleveland last week, he volunteered to walk a loop of the North Coast 24 course with me.  He knew that I needed to return to a place of success so I could draw strength for next week.   He listened as I spoke in minute detail about my race strategy.  When we finished it, he said the words I’ve been longing to hear “do you think I could run a marathon here?”  I nearly fainted.
            He gives me a long leash for the many, many moods I go through as I obsess about this race.  He knows I’ll obsess about my hair (not vanity, just so I don’t have to think about it), my clothes, my shoes, my socks, my changes of clothes, body glide, bug spray, my food, my hydration, my tent and camping equipment and how I’ll transport all this stuff.
            He dang near kidnapped me today, and forced me to update my iPod with motivational songs.  My music man has a literal wall of cds that he can speak ad nauseum about.  When Noah’s friends see his collection the most common response is “oh sh*t-this is AMAZING”.  We entered musical negotiations and he added some obscure songs that are really great, all while pantomiming a running motion to assure I could in fact, run to it.  It was a way for his passion to intersect with mine.
            He may not be at the races, but he has the post-race down.   He is well versed in the drill.  He pulls me out of my disgusting clothes being cautious of my gear and shoves me into the bed in our study for me to sleep it off.  He grabs a bucket, a Gatorade (orange), and a towel.   When I wake, I know he’ll help me give into whatever food fantasy I have been fixating on.
            Tomorrow, he is taking me away for a few days to Lake Placid to do some hiking, swimming, and canoeing.  Not because he enjoys these things, but because I do.  However, he’ll tell you it is because I’m not fit to be around other humans as I taper.
            When my pacer fell through for the Dirty Girl 100 Mile Run next week, Mark (very reluctantly) agreed to crew/pace me, to assure I don’t get in my own way during the last 25 miles.  This is something that is about as far out of his comfort zone as he can get.
            So, Mark does in fact exist.  He’s the one supporting me, every step I take.