“Do not try anything new on race day.” Essential race day wisdom. Those who choose to ignore this advice are destined to be plagued with blisters or upset stomach or some other malady that will derail their peak performance. The race may start according to plan, but throughout, trouble will unfold.
Practicing your race day plan during training is the key to avoiding this insidious pitfall. Sounds easy enough right? Maybe for a road marathon it is, however for an ultra, that takes place over many many hours and in often remote locations, it is a lot harder than it sounds.
Except for the lucky few, most of us have day jobs, families, and other responsibilities around which we shape our training. It is difficult to get fully stocked aid stations every 5-10 miles with a smattering of everything that could taste amazing. It is difficult to have drop bags with a change of shoes and socks waiting at key locations. It is difficult to coordinate a pacer to greet you midway and take your mind off your woes.
In my world, with an ultrarunning husband, two kids that cannot yet stay alone for more than an hour, and friends who have their own running goals and families and jobs, it is incredibly difficult to orchestrate a scenario to test all my race day strategies. A dress rehearsal is not typically an option for the average ultra runner.
Enter ITERATION. A cyclical tool I recently learned in an online writing class that also works well for running.
Iteration is the repetition of a process in order to generate desirable outcomes. Using iteration gives structure to trial and error so that what works and what doesn’t is easy to decipher. This knowledge helps me formulate the strategy for race day, the capstone of my training journey.
While iteration can feel like turning back time to high school science and the scientific method, it is far simpler than that. This process does not require statistics knowledge or intensive data crunching. You do not have to be a data geek (though I do tend to be) for this to work for you.
Creating more structure when learning what works for you will give you better answers sooner. It might seem tedious but you will be grateful on race day when you know to avoid jelly beans at mile 40 or to be sure to drink apple juice every 10 miles. Over time, you can fine tune your strategies and adjust them as you grow as a runner.
The journey continues…….
As I park my car on May 4, 2019, I see the landscape that will be my home for the next day. It is a beautiful location, ideal for a wedding or graduation celebration. I feel as if I am stepping into another world. Central to the estate is the manor with its beautiful southern plantation-like house. Surrounding it are gardens, a hedge maze, a gazebo, and a shaded grassy knoll. I am not here however for a wedding or other such celebration. I am about to run the Hot Foot Hamster 24 hour race at Nardini Manor in Buckeye, AZ.
The name is fitting because I will be traveling around a 500 meter gravel track for as many times as I am able, like a hamster on a wheel. A 24 hour event offers a unique opportunity I am unable to find anywhere else, not even on the trails in other ultra events. When running through Zion or the Sonoran Desert, there is entertainment and inspiration in the sites and sounds around me. But today I will get to know each and every scratch on each and every brick looking at the same sites over and over.
Living with depression is like living in a hamster cage. Endlessly spinning my wheels while seeing the world pass by on the other side of the glass walls. The cage closes in on me until my only hope is to curl into a ball in hopes that when the sun rises tomorrow the walls will no longer be there.
Some days the sun rises and I find the cage door open. These days, I feel the sun on my face and all is right in the world. Nevertheless, in the back of my mind, doubt and anxiety linger. The constant fear of waking up back in that cage never quite dissipates, with one exception.
Discovering ultrarunning has opened a door into a different life. It is no wonder many find ultrarunning when seeking freedom from the likes of depression or addiction.
I feel surreal traversing the same steps over and over and over again. It has a relaxing effect because I have no other job but to put one foot in front of another. This singular focus allows my brain to quiet down. The voices that say I am not enough, I am a terrible mother, could never hope to be an athlete, and can never gain the love of my mother cease to ring in my head. There is no room for them.
I used to worry that boredom would allow in negative thoughts. But an ultra event has a different effect. In order to survive, I have to bar the negative thoughts. If I cater to negative thoughts my chances of surviving plummets. Therefore, I must cultivate positive thoughts despite the challenging conditions.
So what does this mean? It means that a timed ultra event is the perfect place to allow my brain to rest while simultaneously retraining it to let go of those negative thoughts. What perfection! To think that something as simple as running and walking in a circle for hours on end could be a critical piece of the mental health bubble.
Such a shift in thinking is profound for those who suffer from depression. My brain is wired to amplify the sorrow. A dramatic shift happens when I put mufflers on that amplifiers. My brain begins to rewire and amplify the joyful moments instead.
In hindsight, perhaps that hamster on his wheel has found the key to happiness after all.
The journey continues…….
This morning I woke, stretched my limbs, and meandered into the kitchen for an aromatic cup of java. Coffee in hand, I sit down at my desk and begin to work up my to-do list for the day. I know I need to get groceries, finish a couple of high priority work projects and put away laundry. I also want to clean and organize my closet, draft a blog post, journal, and walk the dog. In between tasks, I will need to take care of those daily needs such as personal hygiene and cleaning up after meals. Oh, and by the way, I hope to have time for family board games, finishing the mystery novel that has me hooked, and spending quality time with my hubby.
Looks like it will be another busy day. The question hovers in the air, when and where will I fit in my training run for my up-coming Zion 100K?
Busy, busy, busy. This is the first answer most people give when asked, “How are you?” or “How have you been?” And if you are like me and happen to have the rare occasion where you aren’t busy, a feeling of guilt descends and you think, “What am I forgetting? Where am I failing?”
I believe busyness has become an addiction in today’s world. It often feels like a compulsion or expectation that I will busy all day and if I am not busy then I am not doing it right.
Here is the problem with busy. Busy is a deceptive little fellow, dancing around keeping us occupied and unable to focus on our real goals. It fills our day, feeds our need to cross off to-do’s, and leads us to believe we are living a full life. The fallacy lurking in Busyness’s wake is the assumption that busy = getting after and accomplishing our goals.
The truth is that being busy is actually harming us and keeping us from living the fullest life we can live. It is in the moments of calm and reflection that we can hear the voice in our mind clarifying what is important, defining the needs of our hearts and minds, and sparking creative thought. So what does this have to do with meeting our ultra-running goals?
So now that you understand why “being busy” does not serve your life, are you ready to kick busyness to the curb? Here are some strategies to help take the first steps in divorcing yourself from busyness.
Ultrarunning is a rewarding sport. It has helped me and so many others deal with the demons of depression. Having ultrarunning goals helps keep the motivation and excitement fresh, but to reach those goals, it takes daily commitment. Letting go of “busy” and committing to “focus” will provide the necessary foundation for running success.
The journey continues…
Red, orange, and yellow dance across the horizon. I cup my hands and huff into them. My arms look scaly, covered with with a littering of goosebumps. I turn to the sunrise and dream of the warmth I will soon feel.
“Five more minutes runners. Start making your way to the corral.” Noah announces. The Coldwater Rumble 20 mile race is about to begin.
No one moves. No one wants to leave the warmth of the space heaters scattered around the start/finish area.
“Don’t be shy. Step on up.” He jests, sounding vaguely like a carnie calling us to win the elusive giant stuffed animal at the county fair.
Slowly we shuffle over and jockey for position. Some, like me, hover at the back. Others jostle to the front. The latter will fly like gazelles while I look closer to a plodding turtle.
Three, two, one and go! We are off, the first steps taken on the next great adventure. Adventures take on many shapes and sizes. Today’s adventure wanders through the beautiful Estella Mountain Regional Park. In the shadows of the Gila Range, the trails traverse the cholla and saguaro desert. Creosote scents the air and the ocotillo bloom in the distance adding a touch of crimson to the greens and browns that paint this landscape. A truly beautiful representation of the environment that sits on the doorstep of the Phoenix Metropolis.
My relationship with this race is longer than most I enter. This will be my third year running and I hope for a personal record (PR). My goal of sub-4 hours is in my mind as I depress the button on my watch and take my first steps.
The first mile of this race presents the only significant climb. I know this and am prepared to hike, aware that my body needs to warm up before I start to push.
“Easy does it” I remind myself. I am wary of the ego that sits like a devil on my shoulder, taunting me to charge ahead. Humility rests on the other shoulder, quieter but wiser, and guides me to exercise restraint. Even with a helping hand however, my legs feel leaden. I slog up the hill hopeful this is not an omen.
Unfortunately, omen it is indeed. I am plagued with all manner of maladies. Food sits heavy in my queasy stomach, so I choose not to eat or drink much as all. Who said I need energy to run far? My shoulders and neck ache and my head feels like it will roll right off. Who said I need a head to keep my legs moving? Even my lungs burn. But no one told me I need to breath when I run.
When I finally crossed the finish line, 15 minutes and 38 seconds slower than my goal, I find my friends. I look into their inquiring eyes and say, “Well at least my uterus didn’t fall out!” hearkening back to a time when this myth was used to keep women from running long distances. The saving grace of a race gone sideways.
I blogged a while back about “When Good Runs Go South“. Unfortunately, those strategies did not rescue this race. So I have to find strategies that help me celebrate what I did accomplish lest I fall into a spiral of disappointment and self-deprecation.
All bad experiences can be morphed to provide benefit and value in our lives if we make the conscious effort. Staying mindful of these benefits requires effort, but the effort will have a far greater return on investment. Next time you have a bad run, or any bad life experience, seek these benefits rather than getting sucked into the vortex of shame and despair.
The journey continues……
Christmas morning, three weeks ago, I rub the sleep from my eyes as I wake to squealing children. Smells of brewing coffee waft into the bedroom and spur me into action. My boys vibrate as they anticipate the presents they are about to open.
Kenny and I find our places, steaming coffee in hand and wrapped in a soft and toasty blanket. Wrapping paper flies and excitement echoes off the walls. A ding sounds through the commotion and I reach for my phone. My own excitement bubbles over as I read a text informing me I won the raffle for an entry into Across the Years.
For the uninitiated, Across the Years, better known as ATY, is a multi-day timed running event. Runners choose 24, 48, or 72 hours or 6 days. During the chosen time frame, they run, walk, or hobble, as much as desired, along a short course. Runners sleep when needed, take care of bodily functions when needed. Everyone runs the same set loop. This particular event crosses from December 28th – Jan 3rd, hence “Across the Years”, and is a 1.0498 mile loop. The winner traverses the most miles within that time frame and though they are not usually the fastest runners, they are the most determined.
I find ATY to be the most spectacular way to round out the year and was thrilled to be a participant again. Even my boys enjoy the atmosphere, especially when they cheer for the runners or hand out smoothies or dance at the start/finish line to bring extra joy. My favorite part of running timed events is the camaraderie experienced with others that you circle past or with lap after lap.
I chose to run Friday December 28th, then volunteer Dec 30th and 31st. Friday dawned with blue skies and perfect temps. Crisp air and sunny skies make for perfect running weather. Kenny signed up for the race as well and we started together.
The race unfolded as they tend to do….completely unexpectedly. Early on, I had some bathroom issues. Fortunately, Aravaipa running hung funny signs in each port-o-potty so to make the plague a little less frustrating, I chose a different stall each time to increase my laughter quotient. It worked and when I recovered, the smile on my face was quite large.
I didn’t have any plans or particular goals for the day. I am getting myself into my training for Zion 100K in April so I didn’t want to run all-out and risk injury at the outset of my training. We discussed staying all night, but since neither of us had planned to run a 24 hour event and neither of us was prepared for 75 – 100 miles, the call of the hot tub at home proved too tempting.
Nine hours after starting, I took my final steps , hit 40 miles and called it a day. It was my second longest run ever, second only to Antelope Canyon 50 miler. I could have gone a lot farther and that was the best way to end the day. I was fresh, ready for more, and motivated to leap into my Zion training.
My favorite part of the day was meeting Catra Corbett and Truman. My dearest husband, in his infinite wisdom and perpetual love, told her that I was too scared to meet her. I was mortified! But ultimately I did talk with her and got scratched Truman’s chin. It was worth every moment of embarrassment I felt.
We came back and hung around for several more days, volunteering and cheering. Quinlan performed “Orange Justice” and “The Hype” – dance moves that earned him notoriety and a shout out by Jubilee, the race director. He felt famous! Keegan was the master of the cowbell and on more than one occasion put an extra spring in the steps of the runners.
I love runners. I love being around runners and feeling the drive and desire to push myself, to compete against others and myself. I never feel better about life and about who I am then when I am running. Running truly makes me the best version of myself.
Sharing my passion with my husband and children and building family memories at running events has become a tradition. Runners are a wealth of life lessons packaged in all shapes and sizes. While our children may never be runners themselves, they are learning valuable life lessons including:
I look forward to all that this year will bring and the future lessons my kids and I will learn. For now, the journey continues…..
It has been several weeks since I have written. My time and energy to write are minimal at best. I came home and gave so much time and energy to my family, friends, and work trying to make up for being gone all summer.
But by giving so much to others, I forgot the importance of self-love. My stress levels are through the roof and my weight is creeping up. Both are signs that Emily is not being cared for like she needs.
With these last 4 months so extremely difficult, I thought 2018 was a horrible year. When New Years hit, I was happy to wave goodbye and watch 2018 disappear into my rear view window. I chose, however, to take an hour to reflect on what did go well in 2018.
Surprisingly, once I looked for the good, I saw many shining stars. I recalled that at the beginning of 2018, I decided to forgo resolutions and instead set focuses for myself. Lo and behold, all of my year’s accomplishments hit the mark and those focuses proved far more valuable than resolutions.
Goal setting is important in life when done effectively. Measurable goals that are achievable can be life-changing. And breaking big goals into smaller bite-sized pieces is a proven way to tackle big goals.
The problem isn’t with goals; it is with resolutions because they are unattainable unforgiving goals. We promise to never drink again. We promise that chocolate will never pass our lips. We promise to be patient with our children always.
Resolutions forget we are human. This is their ultimate flaw.
By setting focuses instead of resolutions, we establish room for error while giving our energy to the positive changes we want to see happen. From there, we can set specific goals that are smaller and good milestones to help us as we seek to improve those focuses. Further, by setting focuses, we can establish early in the year our priorities. When other activities or priorities come our way, we have a foundation settle on and use to help determine if those new priorities are worthy of our time and energy.
Step 1. Build a Foundation of Successes – Begin by taking stock of what you accomplished over the last year. Jot down the accomplishments, proud moments, or areas of joy and set aside any negative thoughts that arise. This step is important because it establishes a tone of self-love and gratitude necessary for effective development.
Step 2. Revive the Negative Thoughts – After establishing all the good behind you, resurrect those thoughts that came along of areas you wish you did better or that disappointed you. At this point, because you established a foundation of successes, you can examine the negative thoughts with an analytical mind rather than using them as a whip for self-deprecation.
Step 3. Examine Reality and Prune the Excess – Once resurrected, the list must be sorted and culled. How often is it possible to address every area we wish we could improve upon? Examining the areas you wish to improve through the lens of true desire is critical for future success.
Step 4. Categorize What is Remaining – Of the items that remain, put them into general categories – for example, Running and Fitness or Marriage or Work Related.
Step 5. Spell out the General Categories – Write a sentence or two about that general category and how you want to improve it. This is now your focus for the year.
Step 1. Last year was great because I ran several ultras, accomplished some major projects at work, and my marriage and family are thriving.
Step 2. I wish I did a better job with cross training and had done yoga every week. I also wish I would have blogged more often and written every day.
Step. 3. Given the amount of time I have and the amount of running I love to do, I don’t want to give up anything to make time for yoga so that will be culled.
Step 4. The areas I want to improve can be categorized into Running/Fitness, Family/Marriage, and Writing
Step 5. For Writing in 2019, I want to develop a consistent writing habit to help move me closer to writing a book and further developing my blog.
As you work through your own focuses, you will see that developing focuses versus resolutions creates a positive foundation for better success throughout the year. Rather than establishing unrealistic, all-or-nothing resolutions that are destined to fail the moment real life hits, focuses will give you the ability to remember what is important throughout the year.
Share below what some of your focuses are the for year. Putting them out there gives them life and value and keeps you accountable.
The journey continues…….