Monday, December 30, 2013

Part II. Touring Vermont by Bike Instead of by Foot. Having fun with failure.

11 Nov 2011 –The pinnacle race for most ultrarunners is the 100 miler; like the marathon to the distance runner, and the 100 meters to the sprinter.  After completing several 50 mile races I felt ready to tackle the 100. I chose the July 2012 Vermont 100 – one of the oldest endurance running races in the country – to be my first 100 mile challenge. Frankly, I chose Vermont because it seemed less daunting than other western 100s (think mountains and altitude). Plus we could stack the trip by a summertime with my wife’s family in nearby New Hampshire.

19 June 2012 – Spring training and racing went surprisingly well. I had two first places in two 50 mile races! However, I failed to reign in my excitement and developed a running injury following the 2nd 50. I took time off and rested but it persisted. So I made the decision and finally cancelled my registration.

Disappointment consumed me. I failed. Or was I in some small way…actually relieved? Relieved as I still could not mentally fathom what it would take to complete 100 miles. I stewed.

Lisa with her wisdom suggested we bike tour through Vermont instead. It was a brilliant plan to keep me from stewing and re-focus my attention – especially while on vacation. She packed up her Bike Friday, a foldable travel size bike, and I borrowed a friend’s Bike Friday. We mapped out a 6 day tour through Vermont’s southern Green Mountains.

Bike touring is a bit like ultrarunning. You gain a sense of freedom to explore and feel alive each pedal stroke of the way. With a good map you can explore back roads at a casual pace, pull off and swim in a creek, devour local eats, and then go some more.

Local eats. And sample we did!
Vermont is a bike touring paradise. Lean-to shelters at state campgrounds with local swimming holes keep you well protected and refreshed. The lazily winding roads have idyllic restful spots scattered along. Locally made pickled beets and homemade pies can be found at about any country store.

30 July 2012 – On the 2nd to last night of our bike tour we found ourselves at a campsite near where the Vermont 100 race is held. As that dawned upon me I thought back to the quad burning hills we had climbed and whipped back down that same day on our bikes. I realized how painful these New England hills can be even though we were not in the Rocky Mountains or Arizona’s Sky Islands.

The bike tour showed me new freedoms and joys I had not experienced before. I let go of my disappointment and was grateful for our time together touring by bike.

…fast forward 10 months…

8 June 2013 – Plodding through the 18 mile aid station at the San Diego 100 I began questioning my decision to race. Why had I not let myself drop like the previous year for Vermont? I could be relaxing on the beach, body surfing in the waves … I consciously let up my pace as I considered the next 80 miles coming up. The sun blazed overhead as I picked my way along the Pacific Crest Trail. To keep the negativity at bay, I turned my thoughts towards my running form. An efficient less impactful form equals conservation of energy. This is what gets a runner through the long hours.

Up Next: Part III.  A breakthrough – redefining myself as a runner with barefoot form

One of many swimming holes
- on the sunny days.
Luxury lean-to shelters at
state campgrounds.
Even the bikes needed a rest
hauling up the Vermont hills.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Hundred that Wasn’t Meant to Be. Overcoming Hurdles Part 1 of 5.

Pushing beyond your limits often takes you beyond your own mental capacity. Grit. Determination. A sprinkle of whining or crying. A heap of self-doubt. In the next five posts I will explore how I overcame mental and physical challenges to my running and how I ultimately succeeded even when I convinced myself I would not. Have you pushed beyond what you thought were your limits? At what point did you know you would succeed?

A surprise came my way yesterday. Reading through Jay Danek’s write-up of the 2013 Arizona Ultra Runner of the Year (UROY) I discovered I had won - “Best Performance by an Arizona Runner on Arizona Soil”. I am very appreciative for the award and am grateful for everyone who helped with that performance at Javelina Jundred including my family (also my crew), the Aravaipa crew, race volunteers, and friendly camaraderie among all the runners which helped fuel my run.

A glance back before continuing up.
Part I. San Diego 100 or bust!
I struggled with making a decision. The deadline for a partial refund of my registration drew near. I clung to the hope that tomorrow I would be able to run. Weeks without running had taking its toll on me mentally. I filled my running time with more hours at work or tackling long awaited yard projects. Forget cross training.

May 1, 2013 (5.5 weeks to race day) – I made the call to withdraw from the SanDiego 100 (SD100) and emailed Scott Mills the race director: 
“I am very sad to make the decision that I will be unable to race this year in the SD100. I did have an injury that has kept me from running for about 7 weeks and I am just now slowly getting back to it. I had hoped I would be able to have a faster recovery and ramp my mileage quickly back up to prepare….”
May 7 (4.5 weeks) – Wait, can I really drop out of my first hundred for a second time? I emailed Scott,
“I have done a number of 'testing' long runs to see how my legs feel after 8wks off. It is going much, much better than it too late to NOT cancel? I have not yet cashed your refund check. I am doing another set of long runs next weekend and hope that should put me a good place to go for it. I probably won't be as competitive as I had hoped but will just set my sites on finishing my 1st 100…”
May 15 (3.5 weeks) – 
Brief rest and dip mid-run in a cool desert pool.
“Hi Scott - The ‘test’ runs last Sunday/Monday went very well for me. I am looking forward to the SD100 although I probably will not be as competitive as I would have hoped....which may be a good attitude to take for my first 100.”
And, so began my determination to not give up but to start and complete the San Diego 100. It would be my first 100mile running race, with only 4 short training weeks plus a taper (a final training period to let the legs rest and be fresh for the race). I focused on visualizing myself training hard. I visualized myself during the race. I tried to visualize myself finishing – it was a little fuzzy but I could faintly make out the finish line.

My desire to run comes with an intense desire to experience freedom – to explore, to express joy and grace, and to dart along mountain trails – like an antelope. The lyrics of a Phish song encapsulate it for me, “Run like an antelope – out of control.” Running 100 miles I felt would express that sense of freedom. Now if I could only truly realize that sense of freedom.

My short training regime focused on long, low-intensity, back-to-back weekend runs with substantial rest during the week. I focused on time-on-my-feet not mileage. I built up from 3-4 hour runs to 6 hours sandwiched the day before and after with a 2hr and 3hr run. Each start of the week as my training aches and pains dully came into focus I turned prayerfully for support. I could only hope to just attempt my next set of training runs the following weekend. Each week I found myself elated that I met or exceeded my training goal yet fearful of not being able to make it through the next training set.

June 6 – Climbing out of the low desert we arrived in the Las Lagunas Mountains inland from San Diego two days prior to race day. We settled in at a campground spot nestled among oak and pine and enjoyed a late afternoon walk on a section of the course near the campground. The welcoming meadows and mountain air refreshed my spirit. The next day we (Lisa and I) previewed sections of the course. The shady pines and meadows gave way to chaparral scrub, rocks, and a hot sun.  A knot grew in my stomach in anticipation of what race day would bring. Temps were forecasted to be in the low 100s (°F) with over 18,000ft of climbing and rough trail sections interspersed. I was way under prepared!

But, I made it to this point and was determined to give it a go.

June 8 – The blast from the starting gun found my nervous legs comfortably behind the leaders including Jeff Browning and Dave Mackey. Here it goes!  Still trying to visualize the finish, I think back to how I got to this point, and I remember the many stumbling blocks that turned into stepping stones.

Coming soon…
Part II. Signing up for my first 100 - Vermont 100. Having fun with failure.

Part III. A breakthrough - redefining myself as a runner and my form. How I became a runner by deliberately redefining my form.

Part IV. Support systems when visualization fails. You are not alone!

Part V. The adventure is in the preparations. The highlight is getting to the start line.