Friday, November 21, 2014

Chill sun.

Had the honor of running the BBU loop with the unstoppable Scout last weekend. Night occurred a little after Krista's Loop. I guess it is now safe to admit that my mind and maybe my body too were elsewhere, but still it was magic to be back on this now-very-familiar trail. One very important thing I learned on this run is that unicorns may actually use their horns as headlamps. Also I have decided that my Restorative Place mentioned in the previous report shall be universal, available to restore whoever needs restoring. Just in case there was any question. Which I hope there wasn't. I would love to do this loop at night again sometime when I am feeling for more energetic...

Scout ran over 40 miles that day and was so, so strong the entire time. Squirrel had been pacing and crewing and then even hung out, meeting us as the end in the dark. Trail Monsters just simply rock.

Couple weeks prior, there was a big little snowstorm here! It sort of awkwardly barged in with a whole mess of wind. Unconvinced by this grand show of magnipotence, I just stared out at it for most of the day. Finally in the afternoon I went out for about three miles of Arctic fucking insanity. First screw shoes of the season: check!

Today I ran with Dr.B at Pineland in the windy chilly morning. Twas a similar adventure to our first run together several weeks ago, in which she did her longest ever (13.3 miles) and I did my fastest ever half-marathon distance. (Thanks for pointing that out , Strava...!) She is naturally faster than me by a lot, so that means an automatic tempo run for me. It is truly great to have her company after what seems like a lot of long, lonesome Pinelands lately! We are lucky to have such a place, a place where we are less likely to get shot at at this time of year. Plus I finally know my way around a bit better.

Today Dr. B and I followed the WRONG WAY signs all day but it seemed like the right thing to do. And I accidentally ran my fastest 10 miles. Never would have guessed it while running -- yes, I was puffing and huffing, indeed, but maybe I was so rested I think from not running all week that it didn't seem hard -- but it is the word of Strava. (Amen.)

Curled up in the Cafe afterward with my shiny new Medical Biochem book. I snoozed off and on between the deminating and catabolizing and valine and binding and gene expression. I really love all the words. I love the moments where, even if true comprehension is painfully low, I know or can figure out what they're talking about, largely due to shit I've managed to learn over my past year and a half of pre-med courses. I'm not sure where this is all heading but at this moment, things are....good, I think. Yes. They are good.

Not sure where I'm headed, runningwise, right now, either. The words "off season" mean nothing to me. I love my Trail Monster family and friends very much but I am frustrated that I've been unsuccessful for years now in finding anyone local to run with, not even once in a while. I am sure it's because I am not trying very hard. #weaksauce #whiner #suckitup #enviroscum   But I suppose I choose to live in a place where, in spite of great trails, people just don't get out and do these things. It is a wonderful place, in other ways...

What am I looking forward to? Pacing in Vermont again. Climbing more mountains! The unknown.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Haliku.

"History is full of explorer adventurers who have pushed the limits of knowledge, in their day, while also testing themselves against the unknown. This is not an elite club that the rest of us can only read about. Anyone can pursue adventure if the interest is there." - Chris Pruchnic (February 27, 1968 - November 20, 2010)


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Big Brad Ultras - 50 Miler DNF Report

The first thing I loved was that it was night. Number 503 in hand, I hurried back to my car to get the details of my hydration pack worked out. Will I ever decide on a Tailwind concentration before the very last minute? Tim was nearby, on a quest for safety pins. We mused over final plans as he helped me knot a bandana around my wrist.

Twenty-four headlamped runners clustered placidly at the start/finish line. The early morning was chilly, as it ought to be late in October. Once we moved, I would be overdressed, but in just 3.5 miles I'd be back here and able to reconfigure. Tiki torches illuminated the path to the black-hole entrance of the forest. We listened as Ian began to speak. We were eager to be consumed.

Ian calmly informed us that he'd start out leading the pack so no one would get lost on the unique first loop. "Follow the fire into the woods," he said. I made sure I was last in line as we started charging up a very dark Lunchbreak Hill. I was the only female entered in the 50 miler. I felt reasonably fit, maybe moreso than any other time in my life, but I still knew I'd never keep up with the group.

I was more than halfway up when I lost sight of them for good. Why is Ian leading? I wondered. Is the first loop not marked? Surely it would be. Scout wouldn't not mark it. But then my logic circled back. If it was marked, why was Ian leading? There had been problems in past years with people getting lost... I hadn't felt consciously anxious before the event but now I was unbalanced. I carefully followed the markings, of which there were plenty, and hoped obsessively that they were correct.

Following the fire into the woods. Courtesy of Maine Running Photos.
At the first summit, dawn had decided: A narrow swathe of orange-pink lined distant horizon. I couldn't see it but knew the sleeping ocean lay just below. Pausing mid stride, taken aback by the beauty, I imagined being frozen in place as part of an unlikely snapshot, a minute vacuum where my biographer could somehow record it all through my eyes. "I love you," I said to the morning, the summit, and the sea, breaking the silence, running across the granite, and back into the sleeping forest.

The anxiety from the start immediately faded when I heard in the distance, "yay, runner!" and I knew at once that there, in this pre-dawn mountain night, was my good scout, Scout. The course markings, hers no doubt, were really excellent.

Second summit, second sunrise view. This is already all worth it, I thought to myself. Second breaking of the silence.

At the start/finish after the first little loop, I stuffed my windbreaker into my drop bag and Ian came over, offering to take my headlamp. I said I thought maybe I should keep it. He said, but this way, we'll deliver it to you so you'll have it where you need it. Hmm. I wanted to get going, didn't want to take the time to explain that I'd likely not be anywhere near where everyone else was supposed to be at nightfall.

I reluctantly let him carry off the blessed headlamp, possibly with a wistful glance over my shoulder, a soundless tear, and a futile hand extending melodramatically in its direction. But I stowed my trusty little LED flashlight in my dropbag, to pick it up in a couple of laps, when I knew I'd need it.

In the course of preparing for today, I had asked everyone around me what to expect, and I read a lot of race reports. Here, I ran into trouble. Except for a few small details, such as knowing when I'd want my light, I just couldn't intuit what was going to happen, what I was going to be like in 50 miles. Or even 40. What helpless and frothing animal was I about to become? I decided I'd better not have a pacer so that I could froth privately. I tried to multiply the sensory and motor data gathered on runs of shorter distances, but I'd never run the BBU loop even twice all the way through. Three laps was just unthinkable. Doing it once was unfailingly exhausting even if I walked some of the hills. Thrice times that was horrifying!

Where instinctual intuition failed, I needed another plan. Or thought I did. I've always used visualization in learning music, in learning chemistry, in training horses, in booking bands. I think of visualization as a pseudo-intuition, a cheap knock-off that is sometimes enough to get you by. My next experiment would involve applying it to ultrarunning.

I went out on the BBU course alone on a training run and tried to see myself at certain landmarks at certain times. Hours of effort yielded naught but a grand failure. Conclusion: this was going to be different than anything I've ever done.

Finally I understood to stop trying. Mentally assembling what information I had, and pieced together a ramshackle route through this alluring unknown. It came out feeling like I was wearing someone else's cheap lab coat. But it would have to do.

The day was now awake and colorful all around me. Residue of my early concerns was soon carried off by the breeze to go and decompose in the forest with all the rest. Miles accumulated so rapidly that I hardly believed my GPS at times. This is not to say I was moving quickly. On the contrary. Anticipating flatness on the East Side, I expected my pace to pick up. When it didn't, I asked, and asked again, but it seemed unaffected. Perhaps unresponsive is a better word. 

Focus seems to express itself in a variety of morphologies. As I see it, the common thread is a simply a quiet mind. One you can direct seamlessly. My focus wanted to do math, and it wanted to do it all day long. If I keep this pace, will I finish the event in 12.5 hours? Yes. How about this pace? No. Over and over. 

When I had calculated that to death, I moved on to more advanced second-grade-level word problems: If the leader just lapped me now, what's his finishing time likely to be? According to where I last saw him, where is Tim on the course? Has Mindy joined him yet? Where's Randy? Will they come up behind me or will we cross in opposite directions? If I keep this pace, on which part of the trail will I be when the sun sets? And finally, onto abstractions and speculations: If I'd tapered better (variable A) and gotten proper rest (variable B), how close would I be to cutoff time (constant)? And of course, how many zillions of miles will Scout have logged today? I was sure she'd been out perfecting course marking since sometime around 4am, maybe earlier... This sort of absent-mined, structuralist grasping went on all day. 

Was I grasping for control of a crazy situation? Trying to place myself in the universe? Or just enjoying the little extra challenge of dealing with numbers? Maybe all or none of these. People often ask, what on earth do you do out there for all that time? Between this, and planning ahead for aid stations, there seemed not to be time for too much else. I was content, occupied, pacified.

My stuck pace didn't seem to decline much back on the mountain side, for whatever that was worth. I checked again: if it did keep up, I would indeed finish in 12.5 hours. That'd be icing. I mathed and planned merrily along. 

At one point, I saw another runner who exclaimed cheerfully that his ankle was feeling better. It took me a minute to recognize him. We'd met back when he got injured during the Breaker, and we had a conversation about how dropping was better than not being able to run at the upcoming BBU this fall. It was uplifting to see him out there and running well.

In no time, the first of three 15.5 mile laps was done. I tumbled out of the woods at the start/finish, where I was greeted by everyone and they all wanted to help. Squirrel agreed to do me a huge favor during my next lap -- getting my forgotten Tailwind form the car. Fortunately I had plenty for now. Ian checked in and asked what I needed. I ordered a passive solar geodesic dome in the style of a barn with a woodstove and eastern-facing windows. It's good to know plenty of architects. 

Then Linda Douglass came over as I was working through my mental list. What do you need? she asked. I thanked her for being there. I think we all knew that Chris would be here too if he only could. But what I needed at that point was a little room to think because I could tell I was at high risk of getting distracted. Who knew one could come up with such a lengthy and detailed to-do list in just 15.5 miles? 

I gathered some more h20, replenished snacks, and a picked up my trekking pole. Off to lap two! The superhuman winner-to-be lapped me on Lunchbreak. We smiled at each other. For a half an hour or so thereafter, people who passed me in the opposite direction cheered at me wildly -- they didn't realize I wasn't right behind the leader, that I was an entire 15.5 mile lap, plus more, behind him!

At Erik's aid station, I stabbed my pole into the earth. NJ Dave said he'd watch over it as I grabbed a handful of pretzels. I'd planned to grab the pole on my way back through, en route to rough terrain. I didn't need it yet, but that was the point -- to use it before I needed it. My knee had given out with alarming abruptness on my last long run (UXBA plus more, in September) and today's goal was to prevent that. Everything, so far, was going quite well...except I bloody forgot to snag the pole when I returned. Curses.

I adored the glistening powerlines with all the autumn colors stretching forever below. How can they be pretty? we often wonder. But they are, in their way.  And then, it happened -- the knee became very painful upon flexion, especially on descents, of which there were many. I tried to think the positive vibes of the view directly into the struggling ligaments of the knee. What else was I going to do? We work with what we have.

I was already under the fading influence of that glorious wonder-drug, ibuprofen, from earlier. I had already planned to take more at the start/finish. Pain informed me as I limped along that that was not going to be soon enough, that my race was officially over. Then again, there was a chance that more miracle drugs would be available at Lawrence Road aid station, and if those worked, and worked quickly....

As I'd prepared for this event, I tried to take advantage of my surroundings, which are filled with 100 milers, 70 milers, 50 milers as far as the eye can see and has anyone not done a 50k? It cross-section characterized as much by kindness as by toughness. My favorite advice came from the great Dave Cockman, 2014 Grand Slammer who I had the honor of pacing in this year's Vermont 100: This whole running thing, said Dave, is 80% mental and 20 % all in your head.

I thought about this, and about how I agree with him. But there are still going to be times when the body just says no.

Sad that my race was probably over at barely 30 miles, I still relished sneaking back into the woods, up the steepness (up didn't feel so bad) and onto my very favorite part of the course. I had chosen this area a few weeks before as my sacred section, deciding ahead of time that was a place that could provide restorative powers to a potentially tired runner.

I wasn't particularly tired and I was definitely more interested in indisputable, allopathic measures than energetic restoration at this point, but it was still a great spot to recenter. I was grateful. It was extra beautiful here. I hoped deeply to visit it thrice today but soaked up extra good vibes just in case this was my last lap. Damn knee.

Well, they did have ibuprofen all right at Lawrence: a rather pachyderm-sized 800mg tablet of it. Don't chop it in half, it'll kill your stomach! warned Tami. Just take the whole thing! I thanked her and I tried to remember what I knew about how much of what is a bad idea, and under what circumstances. I lugged the pill up toward Tryon. If I took it now, it might start working by the time I got back to the ominous Lunchbreak descent.

I finally took it. If this could save my run, then that's a small price to pay. I spent the next half hour berating myself for being an idiot, going and trying new things during a race. Fool! Who does that! I gnashed. Still going uphill, I tried to run tiny bits here and there. I sort of could. Knee was hanging in there, not getting worse.

Just before re-entering the Park, I saw Tim and pacer Mindy coming toward me on his third lap! They were moving and I could tell he was going to finish with characteristic Tim + Squirrel strength. Tim's face was a different color than usual, a bit more pale perhaps, which was unusual to note mainly because I barely saw any faces all day. I heard peoples' voices and generally knew who they were but for some reason the prosopagnosia tendency was off the hook all day. We exchanged high-fives and each continued onward.

I kept trying to run a bit, I was intermittently able. Knee began to feel more steady. I allowed myself to extend tentative hope into the coming evening.

Rosalea appeared, easily running along toward me, about a mile or so before Lunchbreak! She had done a cylcocross race this morning and had piano lessons to teach in this evening, but she made a point to come out to Bradbury on her way home, track me down in the middle of this 15.5 mile course, and run with me for about 45 minutes. She rocks!

I'd trained mostly alone but for the strength of the Trail Monsters and friends lurking briskly about in the close periphery. Here and there I'd run with a friend or attempt to tag along with the pack at Bradbury for a bit. And I ran alone for all of the BBU except for this bit with Rosalea. It was a great contrast, and there was much laughter. Plus I was distracted from knee concern. It was feeling a lot better by now, and I was singing the praises of huge doses of modern pharmaceutical bliss. Just call me Lance.

At the second time through the start/finish, the hospitality was again above and beyond. There was a Cinder Conk fan there, Marie, who'd heard from Steve that I'd be running and came to volunteer and waited around because she wanted to see me come through. I was touched by her kindness and thanked her as she took my Camelbak reservoir and filled it. Then I was immediately nervous because she isn't a runner, and those things leak if not closed properly! I can't remember if Scout or I swooped in to help close it properly - maybe both. Scout knows all about the sadness of bad reservoirs for she is cursed in that they all seem to just start leaking when they see her coming.

Scout also said it was getting a lot colder and asked if I had a jacket and gloves. She offered me her arm sleeves off her arms. That's equal to giving someone the shirt off your back in runner-ese. Rosalea turned on my second GPS, offering to take my depleted first one when she left. I was almost overwhelmed by all the generosity and love and help. It did not matter that I was in very, very last place. Everyone nearby still gave the impression that they hoped I would succeed in whatever form that meant for me on this day. I am so grateful for this kindness. It sustains me.

The strategy I had come up with for hydration and nutrition was conjured up from my limited but workable experience. Drink, snack on normal food, anticipate, repeat. Increase Tailwind concentration late in the day if eating stops being cool. Keep unadulturated h20 in the Amphipod, which was doubling as a protective device for the delicate hand. I added more Tailwind just so I wouldn't have to think about it as much.

I enjoyed Rosalea's company until we were back in the Bradbury lot. I was, slowly, running fairly consistently, at last. Her company had given me a lot of energy and I was hungry to get the East Side underway.

I approached Erik's aid station, which was mostly taken down. "The only thing I'll need when I come back through," I reassured the people, "is that trekking pole."
"I'm sorry Xar, but we really need to cut you off," apologized Erik.
I told him that I'd secured blessings from the race directors to go beyond cutoff times.
"Do you know the course?  We've taken down all the markings..."
Aw, fuck. "Yes," I semi-lied, not missing a stride, continuing on toward the road.

Great, I thought, this would add an element of challenge. That's just what I need right now, a little extra adventure in my life...!

I didn't know it cold, but I was pretty sure I could find it. I had to stop and study maps a lot, and even backtracked a few times. Repeatedly I'd think I was off and get angry at myself for being such a poor navigator -- only to pop out at a familiar intersection, facing the correct direction. If I could just make it out of the East Side properly, I was almost certain I knew the way on the West Side. But -- did I know it unmarked, in the dark, on leaf strewn trails, when potentially tired and spaced out? Again we'd have to wait and see.

That last trip through the East Side was a little stressful, but the coolest moment happened out there. I looked down at my GPS as I ran into mile 40 and thought to myself - I feel so damn good. I wondered what else they'd sneaked into the ibuprofen.

There was nothing left of Erik's aid station when I finally made it back. I looked for my trekking pole, and noticed that someone had looped a headlamp through its handle. Even though I already had my flashlight with me, all the hours on the trail must have made me mushy because I thought this was just the sweetest thing ever. Better than a love letter.

I saw two really nasty falls over the course of the day, which seemed like a lot considering I didn't see people all that often. It's the worst to watch. Both guys were fine and sprinted off no worse for wear as I cringed along slowly in their wake. I didn't want to be next, and was glad to be reunited with my pole.

Dark happened softly on Krista's Loop. I was mostly walking by now, minding my way as the flags had been picked up here as well. And I was extra grateful for the headlamp, and my hands were each occupied already making the flashlight was tricky to aim.

The tiny glow sticks snaked right but I am a disciple of avant-garde jazz saxophonist George Garzone, and he once said to always go left. I hoped this was the trail, and I'd know in a couple minutes if it was. For an instant, every leafy direction looked the same and my internal compass spun like a top. I moved forward slowly. Yes. This was it. And then I was on Boundary, about to make the wrong turn I always make, correcting myself -- and again going left.

For the last hour I'd been trying to decide what to do. I wasn't that far beyond cutoff, in my own clouded definition thereof, and I could probably find my way along the rest of the course, but it'd take a long time. I'd sent word along with Rosalea that people were not to wait, that I'd be fine -- but what if she'd not found anyone to tell? Or what if they'd felt somehow obligated to wait around anyway? I began to feel like finishing would be very selfish. I also began to wonder if I should have grabbed my car keys from out of my drop bag, as who knew where that was going to have ended up when the start/finish stuff was packed up...

Well, the right thing to do would be to head back and check in, at least, if not to be done. Only one more turn. Look for the arrows. I ran right past it before, in broad daylight, while distractedly swapping stories with Rosalea.


As I made the final sharp turn down Lunchbreak, I feverishly decided I that must remove my number. I was carrying the handheld, the little flashlight, and a trekking pole which, translated into runner, is like Edward Scissorhands romping through the underbrush, carrying a nest of endangered baby birds. I struggled with clumsy fingers to manipulate the tiny pins with my armloads of stuff.

I am not sure why this was so important to me a this time. I had now been running for just over 12 hours and 30 minutes, which technically meant that the race was over, I had DNFed, and now I was just running, just because I wanted to. And in that case - Nothing had really changed at all. I folded number 503 and tucked it to safety, and then reassembled my magnificentourage of stuff.

Downward, dark... I emerged out of the woods. Out of one darkness and into another.

The tents and swarms of people last time I was here were long gone, home, warm, cozy. My jubilation seemed a little flagrant right then, but I went with it. In fact I kept running toward my car since there was no reason not to. I considered heading out for my final miles on the road. Would that be unsafe? But then I had to attend to some other small matters, like, where was that silly old drop bag? I'd apparently learned how to keep myself decently hydrated, warm, and fed for 44.8 miles because I didn't really need anything from it...Nothing except for those car keys.

It is strange to think that at some point, there won't be any more new distances or times that you'll run. Maybe 44.8 miles is it. Maybe I'll become interested in something else. It's interesting that the better you get, the harder/easier it is. These new milestones, so tangible and available in a typical runner's formative years, become more difficult to reach and perhaps, eventually more precious. Some things will certainly get easier. Some will get harder.

Anyway, there was a sort of funny ~20 minutes during which I tried to find a) someone who knew where drop bags were, b) someone who had heard of Ian or Val or Mindy, or c) anyone at all. I wasn't a the point of no longer laughing about it, but you can imagine I was super stoked to be reunited with keys, snack on a snack, and be on my way. As I told Colin later, there are some things you simply can't train for, and having keys not be there at the finish is definitely one of them!

****

Fuel: Low concentrations of Tailwind, chunks of almond butter & jelly on homemade ww/hemp bread, various Clif type bars, a couple baby food things with chia, one gel, couple handfuls of pretzels, couple of Nuuns, and I topped off my h20 both times I was at the start/finish but hadn't come too close to finishing it either time.

Gear: Hoka Evo Stinson Trail shoes, Darn Tough socks, 3/4 length leggings, shorts, long sleeve tee, carried Ariat windbreaker but didn't use it, Nathan Intensity pack, Amphipod handheld with only plain water, for hand protection. Body Glide is essential. Hankie around the wrist is essential. Black Diamond Spot headlight and LED flashlight both essential. Next time, I need to use gaiters.

Weather: Windy all day.

About 44.8 miles, about 12hours 48 minutes.
Photographic evidence from the end of the first short loop. Thanks to Maine Running Photos for the pics.
There are too many volunteers to name, but I wish to thank each of you, Trail Monsters and community members alike, for all the hours and spirit. Thanks to Val, Mindy, and Ian for dreaming this up, seeing it through, pouring in endless love, time, and energy, and making it happen. This was a truly special day that many of us will remember forever. Thank you.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Worth it.

Been doing some more mountain running...

There was a moment last night, maybe about 3/4 of a mile long, where I was running down the new trail on Pisgah and everything felt right, and the decision was made that the training has indeed been worth it. 

The sun was very low and I was on the eastern side of the hill, but there was still enough light that I could see the leaf-covered trail. My gait felt light, strong, earth-covering, and the nagging descent-anxiety was gone. It seemed to have been replaced by a sense of rating/precision and (at least the perception of) refound confidence. I do not believe it's enough to add up to a 50 mile run on Sunday, but reaping the benefits of a little increased fitness is still good.

Two of the thoughts, among many, from the prolonged moment, include: 
1) The ability to half-half or full halt at any moment, while maintaining unhindered forward momentum, like when riding jumpers. 
2) Lynn Jennings' words, via Rosalea, about "dancing down the trail" on descents.

And now the first 50 mile attempt, my second ultra race, my fourth ultra distance, is less than a week away.  I now spend my day watching that 10 day forecast like it's a bad movie, and allowing its melodramatic displays to toy with my emotions...! My official pre-race thought is that it'll be better to dnf at 50 miles than to have merely attempted 50k. 

It's gorgeous outside, again...out I go... Peace!