Sunday, January 24, 2016

This is Stupid. When's the Next One? A blog by guest blogger and trophy husband, Mark Basehart

"This is stupid."

This is NOT the first time I’ve heard these words uttered from Eva’s mouth.  She was heading out early on a Saturday morning to run yet another Winter Beast of Burden Ultra-Marathon.  Sure, each one has been different.  Different conditions.  Different training and preparation.  She was geared up for a 50-miler after completing a 50-K trail ultra the previous weekend.  This Beast was going to be different.

Eva was going to complete the run and then “give back” to the Beast.  This race has—and continues to—give her so much.  Lifelong   friendships, new running partners and countless memories.  After spending 10 (+) hours running 50 miles in the f-r-i-g-i-d cold along the open trails of the Erie Canal, Eva was going to finish and volunteer at aid stations.  Cheering, feeding and supporting those who muscled and willed themselves to finish their own 50 or 100-mile race.

I had decided to volunteer at an aide station this year as well.  There would be NO “Beast” run for me; I ran my own 50-mile race last January under frigid conditions and I knew this was NOT my sport.  I wanted to support Eva and the community of AMAZING (super) humans who owned these trails year after year.  Andy.  Jim. Ken. Denise. Dan. Gary. Lisa.  The list goes on; each with their own running stories, struggles and victories.  To be in the presence of this group is to be reminded of your own potential.  So, I volunteered a shift at the Gasport Aide Station—half way between Lockport and Middleport. 

I stayed in touch with Eva throughout the race via text.  She was loose but still dealing with the elements.   Friendly banter ensued about the food that was awaiting her arrival at the aid station while I ate brown rice and fish.  “You picked the wrong sport,” She texted.  Eva likes to sign up for runs.  Eva loves to finish runs.  Eva relishes the stories, experiences and lessons learned from each run.  The training for each run drives her.  It has turned back the clock—health, grace, discipline, beauty and snarky wisdom has been the paycheck for her over 50-miles per week AND yoga, Pilates, body weight and abdominal workout routines.  But…She doesn’t necessarily enjoy each run. 

From the generator-generated warmth of the aide station, I began to think about the differences in our chosen sports—our passions.  I enjoy weight lifting and bodybuilding.  Eva enjoys running.  My sport calls for sacrificial diet—counting micros and ingesting proteins at unappetizing levels.  Her sport calls for carbo-loading.  You know.  Rice cakes, nuts and fruits, veggies,  and oats and grains of every kind.  The week prior to bodybuilding competitions—affectionately known as “show time”—involves water deprivation and calorie counting in an effort to “shred” the hide.  Eva’s sport calls for tapering and an  “eat anything” meal the night before a race.  Cookies, pizza, and pasta fill her belly and make her smile on those nights. I get “hangry”.  She looks forward to going off of her clean diet.  Food is her fuel before a race.  Food is my enemy the week of the “show”. 

I lift heavy shit with strict form.  I can hear the voice of my trainer as I try to “cheat” out another rep.  Cheating doesn’t cut it in my sport.  Strict form hits muscle groups at various angles and planes of motion.  “Muscle NOT momentum.”  “It doesn’t matter how much you lift, what matters is HOW you lift it.” I commit to a daily 5 am cardio routines that burns over 400 calories each session and a 6-day lifting schedule that teaches me about physiology as well as my limitations, potential and boundaries.  Eva runs 50-75 miles each week.  Sometimes 10 miles; sometimes 20 miles a day.  She clocks the miles through rain, sun, snow and wind.  When the elements are too tough, she gets tougher—taking her training inside Mausoleums and through the roads of a local cemetery.  She runs before dawn, after work (and/) or late at night to shoehorn her workouts into the life of a mom, teacher, student, friend, coach and wife.  No wonder those who know her, know her as “Tough Cookie”.

 My sport involves wearing a piece of clothing that reveals more than it covers.  Humility is not to be faked.  All I saw of Eva’s skin on the day of the Beast were her eyelashes peaking from under her thermal face-shield and sock monkey hat.  When she shows up at the starting line, Eva has moments of reflection and introspection.  I am consumed by nervousness and engage in stupid banter while those around me beat their chests and strut their stuff

Eva deals with bears, wind, rain, snow, alligators, wild-hogs, hills, rough terrain and insurmountable distances—let’s just call it Woman vs. Mother Nature (that bitch). Eva is a pioneer in her sport—a sport where age is irrelevant and even invisible.  I deal with spray tan lines, spotlights, internal conflict and self-doubt while pretending to be confident for a few minutes as I display the product of sacrifice and discipline—let’s just call it Man vs. Self (my own worst enemy).  I am an old man in a young man’s sport.  But still I compete.  I want to prove them wrong.  

 “This is stupid,” I think to myself as my fellow aid-station volunteers serve up M&M’s, Mac ‘n Cheese, cola and peanut butter sandwiches to the runners (Eva grabs fruit-I have NO idea how she does it) while I reach for another gallon of water from my cooler along with a Tupperware container filled with broccoli, brown rice and chicken.

Upon return from the race this year, Eva noticed a sprig of asparagus that had fallen from my prepared meal-bag.  “Does anyone know why there is asparagus in the driveway?” she said. 

“Hey, you have your sport, I have mine”, I replied smugly.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Lessons Learned: Phunt 50k

I am a special education teacher.   I work with underdogs.  The students on my caseload have physical, emotional and/or intellectual disabilities.  It is my job to “level the playing field”.  I am to step in and make accommodations or modifications to their education, so they can compete with everyone else.  It just doesn’t always work that way.
            The problem is, my job description does not take intrinsic motivation into account.  It does not cultivate the power of struggling…of failing.  There is much to learn from both.  If a kid wants to go big, no matter what plan I put in place, it’s on him.
            I see parallels with ultra-running.  There is no level playing field.  When you are running for an extended time: you will struggle, you will fail.  Crossing the finish line is a matter of being able to overcome and to keep moving forward.
            The most successful students I work with know that they face a challenge that others around them may find easy.  They have learned to push.  They have learned to find a way around a roadblock that others easily navigate.  I get frustrated with students who have a highly developed sense of learned helplessness.  The ones who simply want someone to do it for him or her.  They dream big, but have no compensatory skills to make those dreams a reality.
            Time and time again, I see the same behaviors with ultra runners.  Starting lines drive me crazy.  Many runners use the time to chest beat and talk about how fast they are going to race.  The moment someone comes up to me and asks, “Is this your first ultra?” is the moment I start texting Rog.
            With runners (and students for that matter), it starts with “this sucks”.  You start to hear general complaints.  This can be overcome.  Sometimes the frustration needs to come out and motivation needs to go in.  Then comes the power walk:  head down, shoulders slumped.  You can just tell that they are giving themselves a pretty good mental beating.  Timing is everything when this happens.  Something has to break the cycle:  finding someone to talk to; cranking the tunes; receiving a text that just lets you know someone is thinking about you; consciously deciding to get back in the game.  The stare is the point of no return.  If runners get this stare, it’s game over.  I don’t know how to explain it, but I know it when I see it.  They are a body with vacant eyes.  If they talk, it is just to ask, “How.  Far”.  They will quit.  I’ve been all of these.
            I have a race director friend; he trains volunteers to make runners as comfortable as possible at aid stations.  He feeds them, offers them conversation, and gives them a comfortable chair.  His goal is to get runners to quit, and come back again next year.    He makes it seem like its okay; it’s an evil and effective plan.  He takes away the struggle.
            With my students, I can’t let them get too comfortable.  I have to let them struggle.  This is a type of learning that cannot be duplicated by any lesson.  I can watch their faces when I pass back a test.   Some have that stare.  They are defeated.  Some say, “This sucks”.  That’s okay, but it is their choice from there that gives me insight into their character.  They may blame others and make excuses, or they own it and seek ways to improve.  The latter are the ones who are learning so much more than biology.
            I used to have a skating coach.  She would applaud when I would fall practicing my program.  She would congratulate me and say, “that might be the only chance you get to practice getting up again at that very spot”, and then make me start over again.  She is the reason I will never name anything Claire.
            At the Phunt 50k this past weekend, they offered a unique way to race.   Remember this is a January trail race.  They bank on the weather being bad, and the trail being challenging.  Yesterday, the weather was beautiful, and although there was copious mud, the course was navigable. 
            Runners were given the choice after 25k to stop and collect a medal or go on to do the full 50k.  The medals are exactly the same.  It’s all on you.   The field was crowded on the first lap.  I spent much time in conga lines on single track.  Towards the end of the loop, I started hearing the excuses…the reasons people were not going to do a second loop.  They were talking each other into quitting.  When I finished my first loop, even the finish line people were ready for me to stop.  “Are you sure?”   “We have warm food in the building… “ “Do you want to sit for a few minutes?”  Yes. No, thank you.  No.
            My second loop was quite empty.  I think I only saw about a dozen runners.  I loved it.  I could open my stride and take the course at my own pace.  I went too fast, and Superman nose-dived a couple times, but that’s all part of the challenge---falling, getting up, starting over. 

            I am not the most talented runner out there.  I am an underdog.  I struggle.  I fail.  But, what both teaching and ultra-running have taught me, is that sometimes I have to attack problems in a different way.  I have to embrace the struggle, and have confidence that I can find a way around it.  And, if I want to go bigger, it’s all on me.