Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Running in the Twilight Zone

It is pouring down rain today just as it has been all week long.  I had planned a post-work, hump day ten mile trail run and had been looking forward to it.  A little rain sure as hell wasn't going to stop me.  By the time I got off work and was going to pick up my daughters, the clouds had blown away, the sun had come out and it was dry and balmy.  Since the weather had changed, I didn't give clothing or gear much thought as I got dressed. 

Dog, leash, Garmin, trail shoes, light-weight long sleeve shirt and capri running pants were all that I felt I needed for today's 10 miler.  Japhy and I set off for our adventure.  The closer we got to the trail, the more I realized how unprepared I was for this run.  I didn't even have water; so who knew what else I have overlooked.  I swung by a convenience store and bought some water.  A mile away from the trail, the sky decided to open up and dump on me.  I looked down at my outfit.  Hmmm, this wasn't good.  No raincoat.  No hat.  Cotton socks?!  .

I parked the car and wondered if I should just go back home.  I was not dressed for this, had no Gu or a means to carry my water.  Crap, crap, crap!  I NEEDED this run.  I had two black garbage bags covering and protecting my dog's seat.  I decided that I'd just have to wear a garbage bag.  I yanked one off the top half the chair, ripped a neck hole, two arm holes and slipped it on.  Not bad!  Now for a hat.  I dug around the back seats of the car.  Nothing.  I hopped out into the rain and popped the trunk looking for lost treasure.  Score!  I found my holstered water bottle from last Saturday's long run and it held a Gu!.  This wasn't so bad after all.  Only thing that I wasn't able to conjure was a hat to keep my head and face from getting rained on.  I settled on securing my hair with a lone bobby pin I found in the console.

The rain was really coming down now.  I was sure it'd be better once I made it .25 up the hill and under the forest canopy.  It was time to hit the trail before I changed my mind.  It had taken me a whole 20 minutes to drive up here so I'd at the very least, I'd run four miles.  I could settle for six, be happy with eight and would be stoked with my planned ten.  Let's do this!  I opened up the door.  Japhy looked at me with confused eyes and didn't move a hair.  I expected HIM to come out in this weather?  Was I nuts?  I coaxed him out, carefully tucked the key into a pocket in my pants and set off for what might be a very short trail run.

My sleeves were instantly drenched and clinging to my arms.  The garbage bag covered me from my neck to my knees and was serving its purpose of keeping my torso dry and warm.  My hair was drenched and I'm sure I had mascara running from my eyes down to my cheekbones.  Note to self: Take off mascara before post-work runs.  The first mile, I had my doubts as to whether or not this was a good idea.  I had heard a few claps of thunder and tried to avoid thoughts of being struck my lightening.  Since I had only heard thunder and hadn't seen any lightening, it had to be very, very far away from me, right?  Onward!  This is CRAZY!  I thought as I ran up the hill that had turned into a quickly moving stream.  Did I mention that I opted for my non-Goretex trail shoes?  My feet were soaked after only 10 strides.

Regardless of the rain, I was feeling great!  My body felt strong.  No signs of the gimpiness that I had felt on my four mile road run yesterday.  Two miles into the run, I was completely loose and ready to rock and roll.  Up and down the hills I went with nothing but the sound of rain on trees, my breath and footsteps.  I practically needed windshield wipers to keep the rain off my face.  There were several people out on the trail walking dogs, hiking or riding mountain bikes in this crazy storm.  I smiled like a madwoman and shouted "Great day to be on the trail!" as I passed them.  I was having fun!  This was turning out to be a fabulous run.  It's only rain right?  I wasn't going to melt or anything.

I happily ran along appreciating a nice long flat section until I spotted someone standing in the rain in the middle of the trail.  It was a man and he had a companion who mysteriously slipped behind a tree as I approached.  I wasn't sure if I should quickly pass them or turn around and run in the opposite direction as fast as I could.  The man actually turned out to be rather young.  He was holding, or rather hiding something, maybe a bong, behind his back and looking at me like a deer caught in the headlights.  Japhy by my side, I peeked over the trail to see who/what was hiding before I would make the decision to pass.  Holy shit!  It had a shrouded face and horns!  What the fuck?  I decided to play it tough.  I was faster than these two bozos, had my dog and would kick them in the nuts if they tried anything funny.  I laughed and said "You scared the shit out of me!" to the guy wearing a black scarf over his face and a viking helmet.  They sized me up and down, from my wet and wild hair, bleeding mascara, garbage bag and muddy legs and actually backed up a little.  I clearly had the upper hand here.  As I ran past them, they yelled "In all fairness, you scared us too."  I had a good laugh about that.   It dawned on me that my halfway point that I'd have to turn around and pass them one more time.  Good grief.  "Me again!" I cheerfully announced as I ran by them for the second time in 10 minutes.  This time I noticed that it wasn't a flaming bong that the kid was holding but rather a video  camera.  It looked like we had some amateur film-makers on the trail today.  Let's hope I didn't make the cut.

I had turned around 4.5 miles into the run so it would turn out to be a nine miler today.  Good enough for me.  I felt something biting at my heels.  Upon closer inspection I noticed that my wet socks were turning red.  Cotton socks?! What was I thinking?  My socks had slipped down causing my heel to rub against my wet shoe that was coated with sand and dirt.  This repetitive friction had worn away the skin in both heels and caused them to bleed.  4.5 miles to go!  Whoopie!  I pulled up my socks the best I could to protect my heels and ran as fast and as hard as I could.  I was cold.  I was wet.  My heels hurt.  After my close encounters of the third kind, I was creeped out.  I started hearing things and whipping my head around only to see emptiness.  Japhy didn't help either.  He'd stop every so often, stare nervously into the forest and growl lowly.  Get me the hell out of here!  This is a somewhat challenging trail with very few flat sections.  There are lots of long hills, roots, rocks, gravel, slippery bridges and no cell phone reception.  I ran as fast and carefully as possible and hoped that I'd have enough energy to keep this up and that I wouldn't fall.  Seven miles in, I started feeling calm again and settled back into enjoying my run.  The rain had subsided a bit.  Japhy was my trusty scout.  I kept my eyes on his black body expertly making its way along the trail all the way to my car.  Was I ever ready for this run to be over!  The run was overall pretty darn good considering the conditions.  Had I ever learned a lesson about what a big difference foresight, preparations and the right clothes/shoes for the weather could make on a run. 

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Satori on the Trail

I just finished reading Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac.  It's one of my all time favorite books that is worthy of reading every few years.  This was the first time I read it as a runner and it touched me in an entirely different way.  Kerouac's spontaneous prose regarding his (Ray's) hiking experiences with Japhy Ryder (Gary Snyder) often mirror my feelings, thoughts and experiences when I'm out running the trails.  The following is one of my (many) favorite excerpts with which I can closely identify:

I felt like lying down by the side of the trail and remembering it all. The woods do that to you, they always look familiar, long lost, like the face of a long-dead relative, like an old dream, like a piece of forgotten song drifting across the water, most of all like golden eternities of past childhood or past manhood and all the living and the dying and the heartbreak that went on a million years ago and the clouds as they pass overhead seem to testify (by their own lonesome familiarity) to this feeling.

The book is so honest, real and true.  One minute Ray is delighted and enchanted by all the beauty that surrounds him on a hike and experiences clarity, enlightenment and is at peace.  The next he's utterly miserable and is swearing, crawling into a cave, refusing to take another step.  As endurance athletes, don't we all experience periods of low lows and high highs?  Doesn't that make pushing limitations all that more meaningful?

I love Ray's mad craving for a Hershey's chocolate bar towards the end of long, grueling hike and his serious noshing during or after his adventures.  There have been many a run or post-run that I felt like I would literally die if I didn't have a coveted food.  Everything tastes better out on the trail in the middle of a run.  A Lay's potato chip or a wedge of orange is an absolute delicacy. 

I've ditched my iPod and instead opt to listen to the sounds of nature, lose myself and/or meditate on my trail runs.  Now I'm wondering what it would be like to listen to a book like Dharma Bums as I run. I might have to give it a try.

Lastly, I must say that my dog Japhy Ryder, indeed lives up to his namesake Dharma Bums character.  Small, wirey with a sage-like grin on his face, my Japhy absolutely loves being out on the trail.  He is wise, silly, completely Zen, lives for the moment and has amazing trail sense.

Next on my trail-loving reading list: John Muir

Sunday, May 16, 2010

High Definition Trail Run

I was running through spider webs stretched from one side of the trail to the other, brushing up against branches and vegetation, tripping over roots, breathing in the many scents of the forest, taking in the vibrant colors and hearing nothing but the sounds of the plants and the animals carrying on their blessed day.  It was the perfect day to be up on the gorgeous Ridgeline Trail in southwest Eugene with my only companion being my four-legged running partner, Japhy.  My Border Springer was thrilled to be out for a long run with me on this sunny spring morning.  This was a welcome respite from my several weeks of running the hard, unforgiving roads and bike paths with their obtrusive vehicular traffic, self-absorbed folks taking up more than their share of the path, traffic lights interrupting my running flow and views that I see in my mundane day to day life.  As soon as I hit the trail, it was as if a  switch was flipped. Today's run was a high definition, three dimensional delicious experience that made me feel downright giddy.

Not only had I immensely missed the trails these last several weeks, but I had also forgotten how meditative and cleansing running alone in nature's sanctuary could be.  The worries of the week were washed away as I took in the simplicity of nature.  The contrast of the deep purple wild iris shooting up from the chartreuse ferns and Jacob's Ladder were treasured gifts and reminders to appreciate sweet surprises and contrasts in my own life.  The sound of the water running down rocks and into glistening streams was more beautiful than any song on my iPod.  It reminded me of the continuity of life.  Like a branch falling from a tree, landing in a stream and bumping thorough protruding rocks before floating effortlessly along into smooth waters, we too hit rough spells in our lives that might be unsettling, scary and turbulent, but with patience and faith, transform into new realities.

Up, up, up the hills I went.  Sometimes running at a slow, easy pace and sometimes power walking with all my leg muscles activated.  The summit of each hill, no matter how temporary, was a welcome milestone along my journey.  Feeling the return of my normal pace, speed and running stride for a short straight along this hilly trail, made me appreciate them that much more.  Down, down, down the hills I went.  Shortening my stride and surrendering to gravity, I barreled down the hill with reckless abandon.  It was so fun, I couldn't help but shout whoops of joy on each crazy descent.

Japhy trotted along right in front of me. His ears drawn back to hear my footsteps and judge whether he needed to speed up of slow down to match my pace.  He made an excellent running partner this day.  As much a I look forward to and love running in the company of my running partner, momma runners and my husband, today no apologies or explanations were necessary when I needed to slow down, wanted to kick into high speed or stop to tie a shoe, take a drink or eat a snack.  Initially, I worried that I would be lonely or even scared out there on my own because of the recent cougar sightings, but today, it felt perfect.  Next week, I look forward to having two-legged companionship with the random conversation- sometimes deep, often time peppered with humor, but always interesting.  Today, though, I was the navigator of this experience and Japhy was along for the ride.  I could tell by his silly perma-grin that he was having the time of his life out there too.

Time flew by on the trails and before I knew it I was putting in the last few miles completely unaware of how much time had passed.  My legs were burning from exertion and my whole body was fatigued but my mind and spirit felt like I had spent nearly three hours in a deep meditation.  All the tension had melted from my body.  I felt a mental clarity that I had been lacking for some time.  Some people go to yoga, mediation classes, church or other places of worship, I on the other hand, prefer to slip into the protective embrace and solitude of forest trails for renewal, to find my humble place in the universe and to feel closer to the prescence of a higher power.

Monday, May 3, 2010

2010 Eugene Marathon Race Report


It was a beautiful sunny day in Track Town USA. Absolutely perfect running conditions.  It seemed like it had taken forever for race day to finally arrive.  Tapering had been immensely difficult for me.  Not only was I forced to cut down on my mileage, I had bi-monthly chiropractic appointments for my IT band, caught my daughter's cold and had tummy troubles the day before the marathon.  I had no idea what the day would bring.  All I knew is that I wanted that sub 4 hour marathon more than I've ever wanted anything before. Upon waking up race day morning, I felt great!  My legs were completely pain-free [Shout out to Doc John!] and other than nerve-induced queasiness and multiple trips to the bathroom, there was no sign of the stomach flu that I had the day before.  I thought I was up for the task. 

There was so much infectious excitement at the start.  It was impossible not to get swept up with the eager runners and encouraging spectators.  The plan, that quickly flew out the window in the race excitement was to start out nearly 30 seconds slower than my desired marathon pace and to increase that speed by five seconds each mile until I was at race pace.  I was feeling good.  I had no leg pain whatsoever so I thought that I might as well take advantage of the situation and go with what was feeling good at the time.  I couldn't help thinking that my sub 4 hour goal was mine for that taking.  It wasn't going to be easy by any stretch of the imagination but I was going to go for it.  Finishing my last few races with steam still in the tank left me full of regrets that I had not completely thrown down.  Today I wanted to be ballsy enough to give race every ounce of my effort.  I can't tell you how scared I was.  What if I gave too much too soon?  Was I indeed capable of maintaining the 9:07 pace needed for my coveted sub 4 hour marathon?. 

The first eight miles of the race felt glorious.  I was having fun chugging along looking for people I knew on the course or on the sidelines.  My form felt great. I felt loose and my breathing was under control.  I was drinking plenty of water and GuBrew, had sucked down my 1st Gu and even managed to eat a Fig Newton.  I was delighted that I had no urge to use the portapot.  I would need every precious minute of this race to be spent in relentless forward motion.  
I got a huge boost seeing my family and friends at miles 3 and 6.  Somewhere in between, I was passed by some friends happily blazing through their half marathon like pros.  At mile 6, I grabbed from Steve what had to have been the heaviest 20 ounce disposable bottle of GuBrew I have had the misfortune to carry.  It was nice to be able to avoid the bottle neck watering holes and to be able to easily sip without dumping water all over myself but seriously, carrying that thing for 3-4 miles without a bottle holster probably wasn't such a good idea.

The pace, time and mileage data on my Garmin revealed that if I maintained what I had done for the first 10 miles, that I could do it, but dang I was getting tired!  My legs, the biggest of my pre-race worries, were fine.  It was my cardiovascular system that was being pushed.  Around mile 11, going into Glenwood, armpit of Lane County, I got a side stitch that rudely hung around for at least the next three miles.  I am not familiar with these at all so I was taken by surprise and disheartened when I saw how it effected my pace.  The best I could muster was between 9:17 and 9:23.  Doubts began creeping into my mind.  I tried to replace them with thoughts of my 18 weeks of serious training, especially all that speed work that I put in.  I had some extra time cushion due to my faster miles at the beginning and hoped to pick up pace toward the end.  My mantras became: "I'm strong" and "I can do this".  At mile 13.1, I was pleased to discover that I had made a new half marathon PR.  I made the halfway point of my race at exactly 1:59:56.  That perked me up along with the fact that Steve would be joining me for the second half of the race.

Steve had volunteered to run with me and carry/dispense my aide.  Even though I couldn't do much more than grunt and grimace, I had never been so happy to see him.  At first I tried to politely use complete sentences when I wanted something. "Can I have a Gu?"  "Water, please."  His reaction to all these requests were "huh?"  I was the one with the iPod going and HE couldn't hear ME?  I just didn't have the energy or breath to speak clearly or loudly or more than one word at a time.  I quickly figured out that it was most efficient to just yell "WATER!" or "GU!" when I needed something.  He even opened my Gu packages for me.  *swoon*.  My only complaint was the time when I grunted/yelled "Gu!" and he responded by dangling the Gu package just out of my arm's reach and continued to speed up.  I wasn't going to sprint for the darned thing! Just give it to me already!

Once the side stitch thankfully subsided around mile 14, my attention turned towards my quickly fatiguing legs and glutes.  This was new to me.  I didn't feel tired or the slightest discomfort on my second marathon until mile 23 nor did I feel fatigue on any of my 20 mile training runs.  Today it was creeping in really early!  This was going make for a LONG tough 4 hours.  I knew I could finish the race no matter what, but completing with a time that I could be proud of would be another story.  From mile 9 on, it was all work out there.  I got lost in a deep place within myself.  Most of my running was done in that surreal state.  I would occasionally have 3 to 4 minute long stretches that were very difficult or simply bearable.  I dug deep and literally ran as fast and as hard as I could.  The lactic acid was doing a job on my legs.  I kept sucking down Gu (five in all) and sipping GuBrew to try and fend off muscle cramps and keep from bonking.

I kept looking at my watch hoping that it would acknowledge all the hard work that I was putting in.  No such luck.  Mile 20 revealed 9:33.  SHIT!  I was getting mad.  I was also scared and didn't feel like I had anything left in the tank to give.  Completing the next 6.2 miles, even at this slower pace was going to be a challenge.  Was I hitting the wall?  I couldn't tell.  I tried to distract myself by thinking of other things that I've done that have been really hard.  Interestingly, I couldn't come up with any.  Instead I dedicated the next miles to my loved ones that have fought cancer.  If they had the courage to undergo invasive surgery and the strength to endure chemo or radiation, I most certainly could suffer for four measly hours and finish this race with pride.

Somewhere around mile 22, Steve who had been relatively silent but sneaking peeks at me, noticed that I was struggling mentally and physically.  He knew that my sub 4 hour goal had slipped away but was kind enough not to point it out.  Although I wasn't at the pace I had hoped to maintain, I was still running.  There were times when I desperately wanted to walk but I worried that I wouldn't start running again if I did.  Runners who had indeed hit the wall were stretching on the sidelines or walking with that vacant spent look on their faces.  I felt their pain and wanted to offer encouraging words to get them running again.  Like I said before, I barely had enough wind and energy to utter more than one word.  To distract and encourage me, Steve decided to count my road kill.  I was passing a lot more people than people were passing me.  How he managed to remember these numbers, I'll never know.  It gives me great joy to report the following:  Mile 20: I passed 19 runners and was passed by 1.  Mile 21:  I passed 33 runners and was passed by 2.  Mile 22:  I passed 15 runners and was passed by 3.  Steve says he lost track after that but I'm thinking that since I ran miles 22 through 24 at 9:42 pace, that I started becoming road kill as opposed to a road killer.  

I started swearing around this point.  Dammit, I wanted to be done.  My breathing was labored and I was wheezing here and there.  My legs and butt were burning.  My form still felt good.  I just lacked the leg turnover that I needed to increase my speed.  I was angry that the sub 4 had slipped away from me.  I wasn't going to quit though.  Steve's announcement that I only had a 5K left to run from this point gave me hope.  Sub 4 would've been AMAZING, but I guess I wouldn't be terribly ashamed of a 4:05 finish.  I'd have to work for it until the bitter end though.  I somehow managed to pick up my pace.  When my energy started waning, Steve informed me that I had only 20 minutes left.  I could smell the finish line!  I glanced at my watch to find that I was back at 9:31 pace.  I could do this!  I took a last swig of water and set off to finish this race.  Steve bee-lined to Hayward Field to take pictures and see my finish.  I was on my own for the last mile.

My legs knew what to do.  I pumped my arms with the hopes of increasing my speed.  I couldn't believe how hard my legs, heart and lungs were working.  I'd really pushed them today and they were mad at me.  The crowd along Agate Street was thick and jovial.  I could see the mile 26 marker.  Just below it was an even more welcome sight, the entire Bunson family waving and yelling.  I tried to muster a smile but who knows what it looked like.  Shortly thereafter I spotted my running partner Laura, who I run with twice and week and who has trained right by my side for this marathon.  I almost started crying seeing her standing out there cheering like a madwoman.  As I entered Hayward Field, I looked at my watch and saw that I could indeed make the 4:05 time.  They had a jumbotron set up for runners and spectators to watch the last 100 yards of the race.  Right before Steve sprinted ahead he told me not to forget to smile for the jumbotron.  I smiled and ran my tail end off.  I ran, ran, ran right across the most welcoming finish line I have ever seen.  [Steve, my number nerd, proudly shared with me that I was going at 8:03 pace.]  My official finishing time was 4:05:32.

I kept walking, breathing and crying bittersweet tears, tears of relief, tears of pride.  The friendly volunteers cut off my race chip, wrapped me in mylar and put my medal around my neck.  I was very proud of myself and emotional.  I looked around to try and find someone I knew before I keeled over.  My legs started locking up and I suddenly got light headed.  As if on cue, Laura and her friend Michelle walked through the gates and right to me.  Considering the sheer volume of people milling about that was quite amazing.  Through our tears, we managed to give quick summaries of our races and offer congratulations to each other.  It took Steve what felt like an eternity to find me.  He was the proud partner.  I was so grateful that he ran the last 13 miles with me.  I am afraid to think of how differently it would have turned out without his crewing, pacing and encouragement. 

It's amazing how quickly all the pain and discomfort vanished the minute the race was over.  Fortunately the lessons I learned about racing and pushing my limits will stay with me forever.  I intend to continue my weekly speed work and to test my marathon pace every three weeks by sustaining many miles at that desired speed.  More than anything, this race renewed my love of trails.  Road racing had lots of excitement, spectators and pomp and circumstance but in my book, is a bit monotonous.  Give me the trails any day!  Adventure and excitement around every corner, the opportunity to get muddy, run on softer surfaces, and graze at well stocked aide station tables with real food without feeling pinched for time.  I am so looking forward to my next adventure and challenge... Siskiyou Outback 50K Trail Run, my first ultra-marathon.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

April Training in a Nutshell

Mileage totals:
  • April: 144.58 miles
  • For the year:  514.62
Summary of speedwork:
  • 9 mile tempo cut down run (1m w/u, miles 2-7 at 9:05, 9:00, 8:55, 8:50, 8:40, 8:35, 1 m c/d)
Challenging run but a really good one for me physically but even more importantly mentally.  I went in thinking there was no way I could do this but I did!  Confidence booster.  Negative split practice.
  • 2X3 miles at 8:30 with .25 rest in between.  2X800 (dang! forgot to record pace)
  • 4 miles 1m w/u, 2 miles at marathon pace, 1 m c/d
Very good quality speed sessions.  Not too many due to marathon tapering.

Summary of long runs:
  • 20 miles at 10:03 pace
  • 13 miles on the trail
  • 23 miles in 3:48 on the road and bark chips.  IT band bothered me first 7 miles then finally loosened up.  Turned out being a terrific fun mellow hands free run with Laura.  Definitely tired at the end. 
Summary of easy/recovery runs:
Running Thursdays with the Run Momma Run group worked really well after my speedwork days and kept my distance and speed in recovery mode.  It was hard to get out there but Sunday runs kept me from getting sore after my long runs. 

iTune Downloads:
  • Lady Gaga:  Telephone & Alejandro
  • Diana Ross:  I'm Coming
  • Jay-Z:  Young Forever
  • Los Lonely Boys:  Heaven
  • Rihanna:  Rude Boy
  • Boyce Avenue:  No One/Tattoo Medley
  • Usher:  OMG
  • Alicia Keys:  No One
  • Dusty Springfield:  Son of a Preacher Man
  • Travie McCoy:  Billionaire
  • The Weather Girls:  It's Raining Men
Final thoughts:
This was a hard month mentally and physically.  Increased distance, long speed work sessions and mostly road running beat me up physically.  Minor injuries, aches & pains crept in, damped my spirits, decreased my competitive drive and made running uncomfortable or painful.  It seemed to take anywhere from 4-7 miles to loosen up and get into my groove and feel the flow.  I desperately wanted to hit the trails but since I'm training for a road marathon, I needed to focus on road work.  I went in for three sessions with my chiropractor to work on my IT and surrounding areas of my right leg. While the IT was my major concern, as it affected my bio-mechanics, I also felt a random throbbing in my achilles tendon on left leg and tenderness in my left shins.  I did a lot of icing, elevating and stretching.  I spent a lot of time on my foam roller.

The monotony of roadwork left me fantasizing about spending hours on end on the beautiful trails with my dog.  I can't wait to take my dog and hit the trails for hours on end not paying any attention to speed or distance.  Just running for time, meditating and enjoying nature's splendor.  Tapering started mid-month and pre-race jitters quickly filled the void of the decreased mileage.

Ready or not, Eugene Marathon 2010 here I come.  I certainly have put in the work.  I've got a very clear goal that is just within my grasp.  I'm ready to push myself harder than I've ever pushed myself at a race.  It's a bit scary but exciting.  I've had some amazing support over the last few months.  You know who you are.  Thanks for all your help and support!