Monday, April 9, 2018

Open doors

In my last blog post, I talked about the joys of taking a break.  But now it's been a full two months of not training for anything and not running every day.  That includes five weeks of running 20 miles or less per week, and I'm starting to get restless.  I think there are a few key reasons for this restlessness.

One: Although I have enjoyed getting to do other activities, like yoga and the gym, they are harder to fit in the schedule than running.  If I find an extra hour in my day, I can much more easily shove my feet into sneakers and go for a run than look up the yoga class schedule and get myself there, or schedule a session at the gym and drive there.  So the last couple weeks I haven't made yoga happen, although I have stuck to my gym routine.  But on the whole, I'm doing less activity now than when I was running more consistently.  Which leads me to #2 . . .

Two: I can feel the "freshman (-year-of-marriage) fifteen" creeping up, yet I refuse to sacrifice our marital commitment to Ben & Jerry's pint night (which is every Sunday at our house).  So I feel the need to raise my activity level to balance out my Half Baked consumption.

Sweet, sweet Half Baked.  I never knew it was possible to eat an entire pint by myself, until I met Joe.  Bad Joe.

Three: It's kind of a stressful time now, with transitions.  Last week I defended my dissertation.  This week I'm putting the final touches on formatting and submitting it to the world (via ProQuest).  I submitted a letter of resignation to my beloved employer today, and accepted a position elsewhere, which I'm incredibly nervous about.  I feel like committing to a training plan might give me some direction and a bit of stress release at this time.

I had never put a min. or max. on how long my rest break from running would be.  I figured I would just know when I was ready to fully commit again.  I hoped that I'd start to itch for running every day, and that would be my sign.  I think I'm there now. . . . but if I start again and realize otherwise, I give myself permission to change my mind -- especially since the rest of adult life is decidedly anti-mind-changing, which makes things difficult.  (Did I mention my stress over leaving my job??)

In sketching out my training plan for the rest of the month, I decided to start small.  Like, really small.  I haven't been the same runner who could run a 50k on any given weekend, no problem, for a long time -- like September of last year.  I figure it'll take a while to get back there.  I haven't chosen a goal race or anything; I just plan to regain consistency and see how it feels.  

Here's my goal for this week:
Monday    Tuesday    Wednesday    Thursday    Friday    Saturday    Sunday     Week
4                5                4                    4                3             3*               3*             26

*We'll be traveling to Rhode Island to stay with Joe's aunt; he'll be running the Boston Marathon!

And the rest of the month's weekly totals:
April 16-22: 30 miles
April 23-29: 30 miles

I'll see how it goes and adjust accordingly.  So far, 4 miles done today on trails made me very happy.  I'm actually already looking forward to tomorrow's run, especially since it's become my weekly trail run with Joe.   And because it's always followed by socializing at Freetail Brewery.  Yeah, that might have something to do with it.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The evolution of a break

In February, I decided to put the brakes on racing ultras for the time being (despite the fact that I was already registered for two 100k races in March).  It was too stressful trying to race at suboptimal fitness and worrying about how these races might affect trying to conceive.  And did I mention the suboptimal fitness?  My last few races (Cactus, Bandera, Tarawera) had not gone well. I hadn’t felt good during them, and I hate the feeling of not doing well at races.  

So although I wouldn’t say I used the family planning as an excuse to cover my real reason for taking a break from ultras — I don’t think that was the case — I will say that the timing worked out for the best. It’s the right time for a break from racing.  It’s a decision I should have made after I DNF’d at Cactus. Or after not feeling great at Bandera. But I might never have made that decision if not for the other excuse. 

At the end of October, after I took a DNF at a race I’ve always said was my favorite ultra of the year, Joe told me he thought I was burned out. He suggested that doing Tahoe 200 and J&J 100k so close together may have resulted in me just being plain tired, and said maybe I needed a break. So I took one, not racing in November or December, but I refused to believe I was burned out, and I continued to train as usual (which is to say, not well, but consistently).

During this time, I ran into my friend Edward on a run, and he said the same thing as Joe — that maybe I was burned out and needed to take a break. But like, a real break. Once again, I refused to listen to someone who knew me better than I knew myself. 

Ultimately, I couldn’t make the decision to take a full-stop break from racing until it was no longer just about my running performance, but about someone — the possibility of a someone — besides myself. 

When I made that decision in February, I was planning to continue running as usual. That next week, Strava shows I did 61 miles. The following two weeks I ran 35-40 miles a week. Definitely not up to my usual weekly mileage, but still decent.  I went in and changed my “weekly goal” in Strava to 45 miles. And my intention was to continue in that manner. 

But the week after that, I finally realized that this is the perfect time to take a break from the stress of meeting any weekly mileage goals. Now would be the time to do those yoga classes I’ve been wanting to do, enjoy hiking and biking, and go to the gym more often. All those things I’d never have time for when all my free exercise time goes toward trying to hit a weekly mileage goal. 

So that’s what I’ve been doing. It’s been great, and somehow I’m already in my fourth week of this running break. My running mileage these last three weeks has only been in the teens. I’m not sure how long I’ll continue the break. Maybe until I start to miss running every day.  Maybe that’s the best signal that I’ve turned the corner from burnout and I’m renewed and ready to begin training again.  

When I do start training again, I’m thinking about doing something Joe Prusaitis recommended to me a few years ago, at the lodge in Bandera.  To choose a goal race, and legitimately train for it. What a concept.  I’m excited to try that out, as opposed to just racing an ultra every month and running during the week with no specific plan or intentionality in mind. 

My other motivation will be to prepare for a R2R2R trip with the Rockhoppers in late September. It will be my second time, and Joe’s first.  I figure, if we aren’t able to have a kid, at least I’ll have adventures like this to look forward to.  A consolation prize, of sorts. Our last R2R2R trip was a blast, and it would be exciting to do it again with Joe.  

Life is good. 

R2R2R 2014

Ribbon Falls, R2R2R detour

Rest break on the North Rim

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Tarawera 62k (Alternate title: Bighorn 2: Bighorn’s Revenge)

We came to New Zealand as our “engagement trip” (i.e., the trip we paid for using the money we saved by not getting an engagement ring), and we decided to do a race as long as we were here. Joe had never heard of the Tarawera Ultra before, but I had, and was eager to check it out. 

Joe at packet pick-up, before his weigh-in 

We had both registered for the 102k distance, but as the race approached, I was really nervous about doing it. As Katie Grossman put it so well in her recent article (I don’t know how to insert a link using this app, so here it is:, I’m trying lately to make my body a friendly, hospitable environment in case someone else would like to take up residence there for nine months. Running 102k in the pouring rain, in the mountains, with 10,000ft vertical gain, didn’t seem conducive to that. 

The day before the race, as I stressed about it and Joe and I talked about it, he encouraged me to try to separate it into two decisions: decide first whether you don’t want to do the race because it’s going to be a miserable suffer-fest in the rain, separately from whether you don’t want to do it because it might impact conceiving this month. But I couldn’t separate the two; it was BECAUSE it was going to be a strenuous muddy suffer-fest, in the chilly rain all day, that I was especially worried. I decided to ask at the expo whether I could drop down to the 62k, and then I’d feel better about it. Happily, they did let me, no hassle at all, and I felt so relieved.  

Come race day, however, it was impressed upon me how prideful and silly it was to think that running 62k (40 miles, according to my Garmin) with about 6,000ft of vertical gain, in the rain and slippery mud (AHH! Bighorn flashbacks!) would be comfortable. I had thought, going into it, that I’d just keep a conversational pace, and manage my food and drink intake, and my body wouldn’t be too stressed. But it seems I’m just not able to keep control well enough in an ultra. Over the course of the race, I ran out of calories between aid stations that were 10 miles apart, became light-headed, got my heart rate up really high on the long climbs where I kept sliding backwards in the mud, and just generally felt exhausted. I also suffered through anterior tib pain whenever I dorsiflexed or plantar-flexed, as well as a sting or bite from some exotic New Zealand insect that stung like a mother****** for a few hours—but I can deal with those things; it’s the general exhaustion and stress on my body that caused me even more stress during the race, as I thought about the consequences for our chances of conception this month. 

Despite this psychological stress, however, the race certainly had its bright spots. It was really well-organized. Joe and I easily stepped into a bus that took us to his starting line, and I was able to cheer for him when he started. Then I easily stepped into another his that took me to my starting line.  (Both races were point-to-point and ended back in Rotorua.) I also got to see an impressive Maori war dance before my start.

 Maori war dance we saw the day before the race

Passing by the roaring Tarawera Falls and several beautiful lakes were other highlights, as were the enormous redwood trees and lush ferns all around. The scenery throughout the race was spectacular.  (The only drawback to the nice scenery was in the last 3-4 kilometers, when we ran through beautiful thermal areas, with smoke billowing from the ground. The smell seemed beyond the usual sulfuric nastiness you’d expect near a geyser. It smelled like sulfur mixed with rotten garbage and diarrhea. Maybe it was just because I was already a bit queasy, but I had to stop running and plug my nose. I felt like I could barely breathe and my gag reflex started up. The finish line couldn’t come soon enough!)

The scenic (and smelly) thermal areas in Rotorua. 

I had been looking forward to observing any differences between the races I’ve done in the U.S. and this, my first international race. One observation was that there was very little in the way of portable food at the aid stations. There were no gels or chews or anything packaged, and the sandwiches and brownies they had got soggy in between aid stations. (The brownies were delicious, though.) Joe accidentally took a Marmite sandwich at one aid station — a costly mistake.  

(I tried some at breakfast the other day. Blech!)

I also got to see Joe twice—because the 62k cuts off a bit of a loop, Joe was able to pass me twice. He looked so good. Honestly, the first time he passed me, I was a little upset that he didn’t have the decency to look as miserable as I felt. He seemed quite chipper, in fact. By the time I saw him the second time, his attitude was slightly more appropriate for a difficult 102k. Still, despite running 40k (24 or so miles) more than me, with only an hour head start, he still beat me to the finish line. 

Joe ran me in to the finish, and I’m sure we made a funny pair—me with my limp from anterior tib pain, and him barely recovered from finishing his race strong. They announced something about each person as they finished, and ours was that we were on our honeymoon—or runningmoon, as they put it. Both race directors gave us a big hug. It was a great finish atmosphere.  We walked over to a bench away from the crowds and shared our race stories with one another. I love that we can relate so well to what the other experienced, since we’re both out there in the same terrain and conditions. 

This experience really changed my mind, from thinking that I can keep running 50ks while we’re trying to conceive, to realizing that I want to be more in control of what I’m experiencing, and I want to minimize the stress to my body at this time. So Tarawera will be the last race I do for a while.  After we’re done trying, or after we have kids, then, of course, I’ll go back to destroying my body with this silly sport.  (Habanero, anyone?)

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Tarawera Countdown: T Minus 3.5 Weeks (and a bonus story about peeing)

So, four weeks out from the Tarawera 100k, Joe and I finally decided to check out the course profile.

I wouldn't have thought of it myself, but Joe started asking questions like, "Do you think it's really hilly?" and when I realized I had no clue, I relented and opened the course website.  My web browser informed me that I had "Last visited" the race website on July 29 -- probably the day we bought our plane tickets, when we visited the page to check the date of the race.  Yeah, we are pretty bad at preparation.

It turns out the race has about 10,000 feet of elevation gain.  And I think I mentioned in my last post that it was all I could do to finish 50k at Bandera a couple weeks ago.  I took some comfort in the FAQ page of the Tarawera race website.

Here's an excerpt:
Q: I am not sure if I can do this ..
A: That’s the whole point. This is not designed to be an event that you know with certainly you can finish. It is designed to be an adventure that will push many of you to run further than you have before. If you have completed a marathon previously, you are well on track to finish any distance of the Tarawera Ultra. 

"Oh good!  I've completed a marathon!  I'm 'well on track,' Joe!"

If you have successfully completed an event like the Kepler Challenge, a half Ironman or Coast to Coast, the 102km ultra-distance is well within your grasp. You’ll still have to train diligently though.  

"Oh, wait.  They say I have to train diligently."

If you have a history of tramping in the hills and have strong legs and endurance, you should be able to complete any of the ultra distances, even with little running background.

"'Little running background!'  Maybe I can do this!"

My hopes and doubts about finishing keep roller-coastering just like that, even when I'm not reading the helpful race website.  Joe assures me I'll definitely be able to finish in under the 24-hour cutoff -- which brings on a whole new wave of fear.  Being out there for 24 hours?  That sounds terrible!  This is our vacation.  Death marches don't belong on vacations!  But then again, I think I could stand not having any more DNFs in this lifetime.  So there's that for motivation.

I'll leave you with a terrible story:

When we were car camping in the field at Bandera a couple weeks ago, Joe and I both had to pee before going to sleep, and we were both unwilling to walk all the way to the port-a-potties.  Joe decided to wait until it was dark enough outside and then pee outside.  I didn't feel like waiting, so naturally, I peed in a bag, and then put the bag outside the car where it wouldn't stink it up all night.

Of course, I was planning to throw it away the next day; I emptied it out the next morning before the race but hadn't gotten around to throwing it away . . . and then when I went to move the car later that day, to move it closer to the finish line so Joe wouldn't have to walk so far, I approached the car from the driver's side and so didn't see or think about the bag on the ground at the passenger side.  I realized the next day the horror of what I had done -- I littered Hill Country State Natural Area with a pee-bag -- and someone else had to throw away my pee bag!  I've been trying to restore karma ever since, by picking up any litter that I see.  And I'll obviously need to keep doing this until the end of time in order to atone for my misdeed.

To make matters even worse, I had said to Joe when I realized that I left it there, "I can never tell anyone this story, because the person I tell it to might be the very person who had to pick it up and throw it away!"  But then a week later, it dawned on me that the bag I used was the one Rob Goyen had given me, full of TROT swag . . . and he had written my name on the outside of the bag.  So, whoever had to pick up and throw away my pee-bag knew exactly whose pee-bag they were handling!  And that, my friends, is something I will have to live with for the rest of my life.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

New Year - New Goals

Last month I reviewed my 2017 running goals and ruminated on my lack of success in achieving them.  My goals for 2018 are more process-oriented than performance-oriented, and are designed with my peace and happiness in mind, rather than my ultrasignup results:

1. Run with Joe at least once a week when able-bodied.  (Joe suggested I add those last 3 words as a qualifier, so I don't miss my goal if I have an injury, etc.  Very wise.)
2. Run on trails at least once a week.  2 mulligans.  (Again, Joe's suggestion, to make sure it's an achievable goal.)
3. Race a new distance/format. (e.g., 6-hour, 12-hour, last man standing)
4. Earn Cactus 500 jacket.  (For reals this time.)

I'm still considering the addition of a 5th goal:
5. Get back to running one ultra per month.

I go back and forth about this one.  When I ran one ultra per month (pretty much 2013-summer 2017, it ensured I had a good, long training run every month.  Now that I haven't been racing regularly, I haven't been doing *any* long runs.  This is bad for my conditioning, as my efforts at the Bandera 50k yesterday showed.  It was hard to realize that I couldn't conceive of doing another lap out there, when I used to run the Bandera 100k and feel good doing it.  I really want to get back in ultramarathon shape again.

On the flip side, it's easy to fall into the trap of racing too often, and losing consistency since every other week becomes either a taper week or a recovery week.  I guess the sweet spot would be doing races but not pushing so hard that I'm unable to continue running consistently the week after.  Maybe that's what I'll shoot for.  So a tentative goal #5.

Speaking of Bandera, Joe had an amazing race.  He earned 7th place overall in the USATF National Championship.  In the last stretch of the race, he passed a runner who turned out to be John Kelly -- the guy who finished Barkley last year!  We both talked to him after the race, and I had no idea who I was talking to.  Other highlights of the day included seeing Mario Mendoza breeze into the finish to clinch his hard-earned victory, getting to hang out with Travis, Paul, Rob, and so many of our friends, finishing my first race since late September (yikes!), and chatting with Myke Hermsmeyer, who took this awesome photo of Joe:
PC: Myke Hermsmeyer
Our next adventure together will be Tarawera 100k in February.  In the meantime, I'll be working on accomplishing those first couple goals.  I'm also thinking of doing the Trail Racing over Texas 54k in Tyler, TX (Run the Rose) in three weeks.  I need more long runs!