Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Are You Crying?

I am hearing voices again.  Well, maybe not voices in the plural sense, but, darn it, Tom Hanks keeps yelling at me.  "Are you crying?!  There's no crying in ultra-running!" he heartlessly screams in my face.  It wasn't until I reread several of my posts that I realized just how many tears I've shed around running for the last couple months.  I have really outdone myself the last couple weeks with my latest injury that has caused my training to come to a screeching halt.  If ultra-runners had stage-names like strippers or derby girls, mine would be Waterworks or Weepy Willow.  So what's with all the tears?  It really is rather strange that something that brings me such joy can turn me into a blubbering basket case.

I am a recovering self-proclaimed micromanaging control freak.  For the most part, this has served me well in life.  As my wise life coach told me three years ago, it was time for a different chapter of my life.  I needed to relinquish the facade of control that I felt I had over the universe.  It was time to wrap my carefully honed, overly-utilized perfectionism in a beautiful box, fasten a coordinating bow, attach matching helium balloons with pretty curly ribbon, thank the contents of the box for helping me out all these years and ever so lovingly and gently, release it into the universe where it belongs.  I can't tell you how cathartic that moment was.  Pressure was off.  I was a changed woman.  Like any addiction, I wasn't "cured".  I would fall off the wagon from time to time and easily slip back into those old habits and patterns before I was even aware of it.   This desire for control usually shows up tenfold when I find myself eye to eye with a formidable challenge or obstacle.

I love and thrive on a good challenge.  It makes me feel alive.  In these respects, running has been both a blessing and a curse for me.  It's a blessing because it's brought me such joy.  For the most part, I have fun when I run.  I feel great, strong, alive and ready to embrace life.  So many wonderful friendships, opportunities have arisen from my interest in running.  It keeps me physically healthy and allows me to eat what I want, when I want without counting calories.  When I have a tough day, all I need to do is lace up my running shoes and hit the trails.  Before I know it, I've blown off some steam, regained perspective and reached that lovely blissed out feeling.

It's a curse because it's brought me such pain.  Every friggin' time I train for something, I suffer some annoying repetitive stress injury.  The physical pain is one thing, but the mental anguish of having my carefully crafted race goals and running regimen sputter and threaten to dissolve altogether is a whole other can of worms.  The latter is so much for difficult to deal with.  I no longer have control over my running domain as I once thought.  If something so good for me keeps hurting me, why do I keep coming back for more.  It almost seems like battered wife syndrome.  Perhaps it was time to accept the fact that running doesn't agree with my body and find something more forgiving.  Ultimately I keep coming back to control.  Running is immune to my controlling powers.  Try as I may, nothing that I do will guarantee a good run or race. 

So what the hell do I do with all this wisdom?  I've been sidelined from running for the last two and a half weeks.  In nine days, I am slated to run 31 miles, which under the best circumstances would be a stretch.  Last night I ran five miles, the longest that I've run for a little over two weeks and woke up with a foot that just might have been more pissed at me than I was at it.  Do I suck it up, hope for the best, suck down a handful of Advil and go for it even at the risk of further damage?  Do I cut my losses and not even show up to the start line and enjoy the rest of my summer unscathed?  I still don't know what I'll do.  I'm not in control.  Time will tell.  What I do know is that the time for crying is over.  I can't believe none of you dope slapped me after hearing/reading my many self-absorbed laments.  My imaginary Tom Hanks was the one to rouse me and set my mental wheels spinning.

I keep reading all these amazing quotes.  The resounding one for me is "Encourage your hopes, not your fears."  That is where I am at this exact minute.  I am setting aside my fears and encouraging the hope that I will show up at the start line come race day, have an amazing journey and cross that finish line with a smile on my face and satisfaction in my heart.  When I want to cry or even whine, I will remember Amy Palmiero-Winter's heart, determination and drive at Western States 100.  There she became the first amputee to complete this challenging race.  There's no crying in ultra-running?  Tom, I'm afraid that you just might be right.  Crying keeps you from keeping a stiff upper lip, looking obstacles and challenges squarely in the eye and giving them every ounce of heart you have. 

To read about the amazing Amy Palmiero-Winter click on the link below:

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Hay in the Barn

I nervously sat in the doctor's office awaiting news that I was pretty sure I wasn't going to like.  A stress fracture?  Plantar Fascitis?  The timing was lousy as hell.  One week before my longest, perhaps most important and highly anticipated trail run.  Travels, illnesses, family commitments and injuries have prevented my running partner and I from running several of our long runs together.  I had sorely missed the company and comradare.  We finally hit the trails together like old times for a 12-15 miler at Mt. Pisgah.  It was a spectacular run with my two favorite running mates.  Hindsight is a bitch.  Around mile 12 I vaguely recall trying to descend a rocky steep hill and feeling a snap that sent me skipping down the next switchback putting as little weight on my left foot as possible before opting to walk down the rest of the hill.  If only I had known that the weird feeling that I felt likely was my plantar fascia tearing fiber by fiber, perhaps I would've walked the rest of way or sent my running partner to fetch the car and pick me up.  I was having too much fun and my training plan was etched in stone for the next four weeks.  I shook the foot out a little, stretched some, let my partner take the lead and gingerly finished up the run.

I am a busy woman with plans and commitments. I skipped my usual ice-bath, took a quick shower and high tailed it to my women's circle where I spent the next couple hours.  By the time I got home, I had missed my family and was feeling a bit guilty about the lack of time I had been spending with them with my training and work schedule, not and attempt at having a social life.  It was a beautiful day so I played outside with the girls, kicking soccer balls, being silly, picking up the backyard and gardening.  By bath time, my foot was downright sore.  As much as I wanted to help with bed time duty, I had to put my feet up and let my very capable and sweet husband take care of the girls while I elevated my throbbing foot.

It wasn't until I awoke the following morning and needed to make a trip to the bathroom that I realized something was wrong.  Much like a hand jerks up when it touches a hot stove, my foot jerked up the minute it grazed the hardwood floor.  Pain radiated from the arch of my foot and seemed to travel up through my leg like a volt of electric current.  It hurt like hell!  My husband was gone for a thirty mile morning run and wouldn't be home for hours.  What was I supposed to do?  I had to go to the bathroom, like, five minutes ago.  If I could avoid placing the middle part of my foot down, I might be able to get there.  My strong foot held most of my weight while my bad foot tip-toe limped.  My twin daughters looked at me with amused curiosity as I held firmly on to the window sill near my bed and somehow managed to hobble to my dresser.  From there, I shuffled down the wall of my room and found myself in the hallway.  God, this is humiliating enough already.  Please don't let me "have an accident" right in front of my daughters who WILL share this exciting household event with their entire preschool class.  Fortunately, I made it just in time.  Once that urgency was gone my mind floated to all the practical matters.

First, I had two little girls relying on me for breakfast and attention.  Second, I had 30 people coming over to my house for a potluck in five hours.  I was not ready.  I had errands to run, a backyard to set up, and food to prepare.  Steve would not be home for at least another four hours.  I was on my own.  Third, I had running plans.  That evening I was supposed to run 10 miles.  The following weekend I was supposed to do a 26 mile trail run before beginning my taper.  In four weeks I had my 50K trail debut that I already was nervous about.  WTF, WTF, WTF.  It was as if my life flashed before my eyes and I saw all that could have been if I hadn't been such a flippin' trail junkie.  What could I do?  Well, I took a couple Aleve, iced my foot, stretched my foot and leg a little, put on my lightest weight running shoes and tried to walk again.  I was able to walk gimpily around the house. Somehow I managed to pull it off and throw a pretty sweet event.  The only thing that I didn't have time to do before the guests arrived were my hair and makeup.

I recall saying something like "Yeah, that's not going to happen."  When my doc offered to put me in a walking cast and nix running for the next two weeks to heal my torn PF.  Then I started bargaining with him like an idiot.  I told him I had 26 miles to run that Saturday and a 50K to run in three weeks as if this would cause him to revise his prognosis.  I stubbornly agreed to wear a night splint each night and come back in for some ART the following week.  I also had said that I would try to avoid running as much as possible and opt for cross training instead.  I thought that he might be taking an alarmist approach to my injury.  Come hell or high water, I was running that 26 miles.  I walked out of the doctor's office in a daze and went about my day in a surreal fog.  What am I feeling?  What is this void?  Metaphors rolled in for what I was feeling:

The rug had just been pulled out from under me.
The wind had been taken from my sails.
I was suffering from a broken heart.
I had lost my best friend.

I fought to keep the situation into perspective.  A few weeks prior, my running partner had pulled her calf and was out of training for two weeks.  I recalled the reassuring e-mails that I sent her and tried to heed my own advice but it wasn't so easy.  I limped through my days the first part of the week.  Took a boat load of Aleve and Advil, elevated the foot, iced the foot and fretted and fumed about my unfortunate circumstances.  By Wednesday, I was ready to rip some one's head off.  It had been four days, an eternity since my last run.  I needed to give it a try to see where my attempt to run 26 miles at MRT would fall on the stupidity-meter. 

I chose Pre's Trail, a flat bark chip trail to run a short, easy four miles on.  It hurt at the beginning and it continued to get worse as the run progressed.  It forced me to stop, stretch and cover much of the ground at a walk.  Thankfully, I was out there all alone early that morning.  I found myself crying again.  Pitiful, gasping sobs as my brain finally accepted the fact that I would not be running for at least a week and I indeed would miss my 26 miler on MRT.  Those facts, as much as they hurt, I could accept.  Kissing the last six months that I had been busting my ass training for my first 50K trail run was another story.  I refused to give up that dream.


I turned to my StarTrac stationary bike to keep my body conditioned for this race as my foot healed.  I rode with a vengeance.  While I climbed hills on my bike, I envisioned my legs powering up hills along the course.  When I started to feel sorry for myself, I read stories about folks training for Ironman.  When I got bored riding for hours on end, I streamed movies on Netflix.  It's been a full week since I've run.  I keep threatening to go out and hit the trails.  My poor dog looks about as depressed as me about the lack of trail time.  I hope I'm doing the right thing, but there are no guarantees.  I see my doc tomorrow and am hoping that he finds that my foot has healed in record speed and that he gives me the green light to run to my heart's content.  For now, I have to be believe that three weeks into the race that the "hay is in the barn".

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Trails and Tribulations

At mile 19  I found myself on the ground, crying, frustrated, lonely, exhausted.  I had been running out on these trails for four and a half hours.  Tearfully, I assessed the damage.  I was muddy and had grass sticking out of the fingers on the hand that held my water bottle.  My other arm and hand hurt from where I had caught myself going down but other than, that I was intact.  This was the second time of the day I had tripped and ended up sprawled across the trail.  My fatigued shuffling legs found a solitary rock protruding from an otherwise flat, muddy section of the trail and down I went.  I couldn't bring myself to get up to run the last two miles of today's run.

What was I doing out here all by myself?  I had woken up at 5AM, left my slumbering family, driven 45 minutes out of town to spend the next five hours running by myself in the middle of nowhere.  What the hell?  Why do I torture myself like this?  I was missing out on hanging out with my daughters and my husband.  I missed them with the very core of my being.  Am I selfish for spending a day of each precious weekend training for these crazy endeavors?  If I couldn't manage to run 21 miles now, how would I ever manage to run 31 miles, at altitude in five weeks?

For the six miles prior to my fall, my mind was doing a number on me.  My mantras went from HTFU, HTFU, HTFU (Harden the fuck up) when my legs hurt and when I felt too tired to carry on, to "I am strong, I am strong, I am strong. I can do this. I can do this. I can do this."  Hands down (no pun intended considering my current predicament) this was my hardest trail run ever.  The original plan was to pick the easiest, flattest trail within an hour of my home that would be safe for me to be on by myself.  This led me to Fall Creek Trail in the Willamette Forest Wilderness which, without a doubt was the most technical trail that I had ever run. After running 13 miles there, I fled to Lowell to buy potato chips and Oreo cookies before running my final eight to ten miles on the North Shore trail at Lookout Point.  I am familiar with this trail.  It would be easier and faster. 

Albeit, beautiful, both trails had a myriad of obstacles through which I had to problem solve and navigate.  From streams trickling down the center of the trail, to mud, roots, rocks, branches and fallen logs littering the already narrow and uneven trail, to prickly vegetation encroaching upon the trail entangling itself around my bare legs, there was never a dull moment out there.  It was as if nature was conspiring against me.  So much for easy, two solid weeks of Oregon rain had turned the creeks along the quaint North Shore trail into angry rushing rivers that at first I tried to circumnavigate or rock hop around.  Eventually I got so tired I just waded through them.  Water up to my shins, mud trying to suck my running shoes off my feet, eyes on the lookout for sneaker roots or rocks, I was constantly thinking about my motion, my surroundings and what I needed to do to get from one place to another.  There was no meditative hum or state of bliss that I am so accustomed to and thrive on while trail running.  Today's run was pure, unadulterated, self-imposed work.

Here I was, on the ground at mile 19, four and half hours into my run.  My dog Japhy, who had not strayed more than three feet in front or behind me was concerned.  He started licking my salty face, urging me to get the hell up already and get back to it.  I brushed myself off, wiped away the tears and put one foot in front of the other until I found myself running again.  Two more miles, two more miles.  All I had left were two more miles.  Thoughts of walking kept creeping into my head.  If I had to walk, I'd walk.  When I couldn't walk anymore, I'd crawl.  Isn't that what the hard core ultra athletes say?  One more mile, one more mile.  All I had left was one more mile.  I thought about my husband running two 24 hour relays.  The spent look in his eyes.  His state of primal exhaustion.  The lack of coherence during the last fifteen miles of his first hundred mile race.  A half a mile, a half a mile.  All I had left was a half a mile.  I was so very tired.  I  could see my car.  I could see the reservoir where I'd soak my weary legs.

 Snarling barking dogs were held by their fishermen owners as Japhy and I ran right by them.  There was the dock.  Glanced at my Garmin. 20.92 miles.  I needed to keep running.  I wasn't going to stop until it said 21 dammit.  I kept running, much to the surprise of the on-looking fishers on the shore, I ran as if my life depended on it until the Garmin beeped right at the edge of the dock.  21 miles.  I hit stop. I made it.  I had been running for four hours and 49 minutes.  This was the most time I had ever spent on my feet running.  I allowed my momentum to carry me straight into the lake where I stumbled on the slippery rocks fully clothed and planted myself waist down into the frigid water.  There I sat in a daze for the next fifteen minutes and thought about what I had just done.  Shivering, rubbing the dirt off my legs and arms, I was eternally grateful to be done with the run.