Sunday, December 30, 2012

What 2012 taught me about running...and runners.

Well I guess its that time of year when everyone starts waxing poetic about 2012, and how it was amazing/horrible, a blessing/curse.  I get it.  There is something about the new year that makes everyone take inventory of the previous year and chart their progress and count their blessings.  Some people will celebrate 2012 and its achievements, and some will celebrate its passing.  I am doing a little bit of both.

I can honestly say that 2012 was the most emotionally painful year of my life.  I learned a little more about loss (I was already pretty well versed in it, losing 3 people who I loved in the last 2 years, including both of my parents.  I watched two of the three die slowly from horrible diseases, and lost my dad in the blink of an eye.).  I learned about betrayal.  Yeah, my toes had been stepped on in the past, but this is the first time I had to have a knife surgically removed from my back.  Luckily, I have the right friends for that job.

But, throughout all of the tumult, I realized something.  When I felt like I no longer had the strength to stand on my own, I looked down and saw that it was all of my running buddies holding me up.  It was the relationships forged over miles of shared suffering that formed the concrete beneath my feet.  I have always been a pretty resilient person, but I was knocked backwards a couple of times this year.  It was the constant contact from my running friends that pulled me back.

Don't get me wrong - I am not the type of person to ever spend much time lamenting my station in life.  I am always very aware that there are people out there who have it so much worse than I do.  But, this is the first time that I needed the support of others - and boy did I get it.  From the surprise cups of coffee delivered to me, to the calls, lunch invites, flowers, messages, hugs.....these people just don't give up!!  :)

So, here is the riddle...Does running make people into these strong, positive, tenacious, kind hearted individuals or is it that strong, positive, tenacious, kind-hearted individuals tend to take up running?  Does running merely confirm who they are, or does it strengthen these qualities and allow them to fully develop when surrounded by others of their sort?

Is it that we spend so much time in our own heads that maybe we are able to see the world a little more clearly?  Maybe the little things aren't so important because we spend the time needed to work through the big things.  I have my clearest realizations about the direction of my life on solo long runs.  I never go out the door thinking, "I am going to solve this problem today".  I just hit the road with no agenda except for covering the miles, and things sort themselves out.  I come to peace with so many situations this way.  Sometimes it is by realizing an action that I need to take to change a situation, and sometimes is is by realizing that I need to change something about me or I need to accept the situation as it is.  I have always had a strong faith, and I see running as a prayer/meditation time.

So, here I am kicking the dirt from 2012 off of my shoes and looking optimistically towards 2013.  From 2012 I bring friendships strengthened through trial, and a strong sense of being loved and belonging.  There is an analogy that the Church gives us to help apply Christ's suffering to our own life.  It is called the Paschal Mystery.  In its simplest form, it is telling us that we have to live through our Good Friday if we are to get to our Easter Sunday.  This will play itself out in our lives many times, some times more powerfully than others. I have lived through my Good Friday, and I am eagerly anticipating my Easter Sunday.  I know there are hurdles to overcome, but I'm not worried about that.  I have the most amazing people in my life.  That is all I need.

Happy 2013 Everybody!!


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Hello Burnout. I've been expecting you.

Yes, you read right.  Burnout.  It happens every training cycle - you get to a point where the last thing you are interested in doing is running.  You are TIRED.  Period.  Tired of running, but just all around tired too.  That is where I am finding myself now.  Since this season started a little earlier this year with the addition of Big Butts 50k, I have found myself in constant training and racing mode since May.  Since then I have done 2 half marathons, one full marathon, 1 - 50k, and 2 - 50 milers. I now find myself looking at different surfaces wondering if I could curl up there and take a nap.  Tired.

I fully recognized my old friend Burnout today when I was preparing for my run - or, should I say while I was doing everything I could think of to avoid starting my run.  I decided I was hungry so I ate a couple of pieces of toast, I fiddled with my gear much longer than necessary, and played around on the enemy of productivity - Facebook.  Once I finally got my butt out the door, I dropped my GPS watch and the screen went crazy for a bit then had to search for signal again.  I was more than happy to stand in the middle of the street waiting on it.  Normally I would have just taken off and let it catch up with me.

Luckily, this isn't my first rodeo, so I knew this was coming, just like the overuse aches and pains that are starting to set in.  Nothing crippling, just little twinges reminding me that I am at the peak of my training schedule, in case I hadn't already noticed that.  I also know that the antidotes to running Burnout are: 1. change of venue and 2. running buddies.  As luck would have it, one of my original long run buddies, Stephanie Day, the Team in Training run coach, had a group run planned for this evening, so I hopped on board.  It was just what the doctor ordered.  I didn't wear a watch and didn't worry about our pace.  We just ran and talked.  The 3.5 miles flew by.  This was by far the most effortless run  I have done in a long time, and it was purely because of the stellar company.

Now for the change of venue.  I was telling a friend today that I feel like there should be ruts along my regular route from me running the exact same roads over and over.  As much as I love running in Broussard, with every run being 10+ miles now, I have seen enough of its roads for a while.  So, this weekend I am joining a group of idiots who are running a 22 mile route from Sunset though Carencro and Grand Coteau.  I have driven part of this route and it is beautiful - rolling hills and horse farms.  It is just what the doctor ordered.  With that run, I will have 60 miles for the week.  The best part?  Next week is a down week, and I only have to run 46 or so miles.  Yes, that was typed with sarcasm.  They really need to invent a sarcasm font.

This is the time in training when I really start to take care of myself.  I am back taking the multi-vitamin that I usually forget about, and I am adding either Airborne or Emergen-C to my recovery shakes.  And, if I see you in public and you are sneezing or coughing, please don't be offended if I just wave and smile from across the room.  This seems to be the time in  my training when every person with a runny nose wants to seek me out for a hug.  Not happening folks. :)

It is 9:30 p.m. and I am going to bed.  I think my brain already beat me there, so I take no responsibility for anything said after this point. :)

Happy zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Running a marathon in your sleep

The overriding theme in my life lately seems to be fatigue.  I go to bed early, sleep all night, wake up tired, run tired, work get the point.  I have about another month and a half until my race, but more importantly, I have 4 weeks until I get to taper!!! Woohoo!!  The last two weeks were  successful 40 and 50 milers, and this week will be right about 60 miles  finishing with the Day After the End of the World Marathon in Humble, Texas, this Saturday. I haven't run a marathon in at least 4 years, so this should be interesting.  It is a 4 loop course, which fits me just fine, since most of my ultras are loops.

So, if the world does end on Friday, I get a rest day Saturday.  Well, technically I guess I would get alot of rest days.  Otherwise I will line up with a bunch of other fools with quirky senses of humor, and we will celebrate not being dust.  That is a darn good reason to celebrate in my book.  Of course, I think pretty much everything is a good reason to celebrate.

If I am able to stay awake and alert enough during the marathon, I will attempt to compose a race report next week.  This one should be interesting.  The good thing is, in this particular instance I will not be the craziest person there.  Dustin and Danette Duval (our brother and sister super duo) will be running the End of the World Marathon on Friday AND the Day After the End of the World Marathon on Saturday.  Can you say OUCH??  Added to the mix is Randy Aymond running half marathons on both days (so he is only half crazy), and Dani D'Augereau, Liz Wooster and Laurin Dugas joining me on the second day for the marathon. See how that happens - one person has a goofy idea and instead of everyone shaking their heads and wondering what is wrong with them, we all jump on for at least part of the ride.  Sick friends, folks, that's what I have.

Have a great week!!

Happy Running Y'all!


Monday, December 10, 2012

If I look a little tired....

So, here I find myself at the two highest mileage months on my calendar.  Boy this sure did sneak up on me.  The good news is that I have some fun things added into the schedule, so it helps to break up the long weeks some.  This weekend, I am doing the Cajun Country Half Marathon right here in Lafayette!  Well, actually, I am running 7 miles with friends then we are doing the half, since it is a 20 mile training day.  There are alot of twenty plus milers in my training season.  18 to be exact. 18 days of 20+ milers, including 2 - 50 mile races, and 2 - 50k's (31 miles) and one road (or hard packed dirt according to the website) marathon.  From now until February 2nd, I have 7 more 20+ days left before the celebration of all of my training - the Rocky Raccoon 100 miler!

I mentioned the Cajun Country Half Marathon - a GREAT local race with a little twist thrown in.  Here's a hint: you might get your shoes a little muddy on this one, folks.  Then, the weekend after I am joining some friends in Texas for the Day After the End of the World Marathon.  I am not a fan of road marathons, but this one is just quirky enough to make it interesting.  It is 4 loops on hard packed dirt.  There is the End of the World Marathon on the Friday then the Day After on the Saturday.  Some are doing both halves or both fulls - one is enough for me.  I am an optimist, but I am also a realist.  I chose the Day After so if the world does end, I get a rest day. :)

I also managed to talk some friends into doing a trail marathon with me in Chicot one Saturday.  That is when you know you have some crazy friends.  I didn't even have to beg!!

Here is my weekly mileage up until Rocky:
Dec 9 - 15 = 50 miles
Dec 16- 22 = 64 miles
Dec 23 - 29 = 64 miles
Dec 30 - Jan 5 = 37 miles
Jan 6 - Jan 12 = 47 miles
Jan 13 - Jan 19 = 76 miles
Jan 20 - Jan 26 = 36 miles
Jan 27 - Feb 2 = 110 miles (Race week)

The key is an 8 day period from January 12 through January 19th where I will have a total of 107 miles.  When I was training for my 100 last year, I read that it was recommended for an ultra that your peak week's mileage equals the distance of your race.  It was hard with work, family, etc., to fit it into a 7 day period, but I could make it into an 8 day week.  I did this, and I really feel like it helped.  Yes, that 8 day period kicked my ass, but once I was rested and tapered for the race, I felt very strong.  That is creeping up on me much quicker than I would like to admit.

So, if you see me pulled over on the side of the road taking a nap, you will understand. :)

Happy Running (and running, and running, and running) Y'all!


The view from the other side of the table

Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to work an aid station at the Cajun Coyote trail run for the third year in a row - every year that it has been in existence.  This race is growing every year as word spreads about how much fun it is, and how beautiful the trails at Chicot State Park are.  The runners get to see things like this:

and this:
We received rave reviews all day about how beautiful the park is. It is nice to hear, since we can sometimes take it for granted.  I have said this many times, but I really do believe that Chicot has all of the best parts of Louisiana within its grounds.

So, we drive in Friday evening, and get there in time for the pre-race meal at the Pavilion in the park.  This is a great way for runners to get to visit with each other and laugh about what they are taking on the next day.  In this case, it would be either 1 loop - 20ish miles, 3 loops (100k) - 62ish miles, or 5 loops - 100ish miles.  The number of 100 milers doubled from last year because of the high percentage of runners in 2011 who finished in sub-24.  That is a big goal of 100 mile runners - "100 miles in 1 day".  
Chris Scott, RD and head nut, giving a quick pep talk

Christina the night before her first ultra marathon!
It is a surreal feeling sitting there trying to
wrap your brain around what you are trying to do.
Then, it was off to set up our trusty tent again.  This time, both Josh and Shelby were with me.  I love bringing them to events like this, and I knew they would enjoy themselves.  Trail runners are among some of the funniest, most laid-back folks on the planet and my kids have great time every time they are around them.

We turned in early knowing we would have a long 30 hours or so ahead of us.  The 100 milers and 100k'ers started their races on Saturday morning at 6:25, and had 30 hours to finish.  We would have to be at the aid station for most of that time, taking turns grabbing a quick nap in our cars.  Even for the volunteers this is an endurance event.

Race morning, we began setting up the aid station about 5:45.  Ours was at the mile 4 mark on the trail, and it would be the first one the runners came to, so I wanted to be ready.  Early on, we kept the food choices simple with cookies, chips, pb&j sandwiches, candy and fruit.  For drinks we had Coke, Mt Dew, Heed (Electrolyte drink), water and ginger ale.  (The ginger ale would become very popular late in the race when the runner's stomachs started to go sour - as were the ginger snaps.)

Shelby, Karin and Chris.  Karin was one of my all-day and all-nighters.
We were both a little punchy by the end.
When the first batch of 100 milers and 100k'ers came through it was a little hectic.  It was still early in the race and they were still bunched up.  After a while though, things settled down some. The excitement was too much for Shelby.
Josh was up to the task, though. 

Once the initial rush is over, a pattern forms: 10 - 30 minutes of sitting around visiting followed by a few minutes of action when a runner comes through, followed by 10 - 30 get the point.  The 20 milers started their race at 9:00, so we got a little rush of visitors when they made it to our aid station, but we only got to see them once that day.  After they went through, the field was pretty spread out for the rest of the race.  

Throughout the day, there was the added excitement of the race within the race that was going on.  While most runners out there were going for 20, 62, or 100 miles, one man was going for 200 miles!!  Yep, you read that right - 200 miles.  AD Marshall left Friday morning (on foot) from Baton Rouge, and RAN to Chicot State Park arriving at 4:15 a.m.  Just enough time to eat, shower, dress and line up at the start.
Here he is as he arrived at the park.  1/2 way to his 200 mile goal.
AD's sister, Sarah, was there crewing for him, so every time he was approaching our aid station, Sarah would drive up and start getting things ready for him.  What an amazing friendship they have for her to be so dedicated to helping him achieve this crazy goal!

It was great to see him come through our spot.  At first he was looking pretty stiff and bringing up the rear of the pack.  100 miles on the road will take its toll on you.
But, even when he was hurting he was moving forward as quickly as possible.  Many of the runners that came through would ask about his progress.  It was inspiring to everyone to know that he was out there.

I already told you how awesome trail runners are, and Mosi Smith epitomizes this awesomeness.  Mosi is a member of the Marine Corps ultra running team.  He ran the 100 miler here last year, and finished in 2nd place with a time of 18:49.  This year, Mosi finished in 18:34 with a first place finish AND a new course record!!  
Every time Mosi would come through the aid station, he was positive, smiling, and incredibly polite.  What a great example.  THIS is what I want my kids to see.  There are no cheats in ultra running.  You may have the most expensive shoes and gear, but in the end it is your drive and determination that get you to the finish line. And at Coyote events, this is what you find at that finish line:
I have no explanation for this.  It just is.
So, as night began to fall, the aid station fare changed a bit, adding ramen noodle soup and potato soup.  It was warmer than we would have liked during the day, and the salty items were welcomed by the runners.  For anyone who has run the Chicot trail in the daylight, you can understand the challenges it presents in the night time.  Roots, critters, etc.

AD coming through our aid station
Before long, many of the 100k'ers were crossing the finish line - with our very own Christina Gravish finishing her first ever 100k in 12:08, for 3rd place female, and 4th overall finisher.  The temperature dropped a bit, and the gaps between the runners were longer as the runners slowed down a bit, so the aid station folks found ways to pass the time.

As the night drew on, the 100k'ers wrapped up their journey, and now only 100 milers were coming through our spot.  Your body clock can be your worst enemy at this point in a 100 miler.  Fatigue and desire for sleep outweighs the weight of your legs.  Sometimes it is just best to lay on the ground and take a short nap - which some folks did.  It is amazing how much 10 minutes of sleep can refresh you and renew your chances of finishing the race.  Once the sun comes out again, though, your body clock becomes your friend again and you get a little boost to keep running.

Its late in these races that you get to witness the drama of a 100 miler.  From folks who may have pushed their bodies too hard in the heat and who can no longer keep food down, leading to a DNF, to those who are hurting and you begin to doubt their ability to continue, just to see them spring out of the chair 10 minutes later and charge down the trail.  For those of you who enjoy studying human behavior, it doesn't get any better than this.

Once the sun rose again, the field had shrunk to just a few tough souls still out there pushing toward the finish line. By now, our aid station was in constant contact with all of the other aid stations keeping track of where each runner was at all times.  There are time cut offs in these races.  If you don't make it to a certain point by a set time, it is a good bet you will not make the overall cut off for the race.  This is when the RD exercises his power to pull you off of the course.  For your own good as well as for the volunteers who have been out there 24+ hours.

Finally, it came down to AD and two other girls out on the trail.  For most of the race AD had been DFL (dead &*%&^  last), but he was gaining ground on the girls, and from the report I got from the start/finish, I knew he started his last lap (180 miles into his run) like his shorts were on fire.  He was determined to make it to the finish under the cutoff and it was looking like he would!  

Next thing you know, here comes AD - he threw his empty water bottles to the side and grabbed the filled bottles his sister had waiting for him and took off down the trail - his pacer was even having a hard time keeping up!! 

Then, here come the two girls we were waiting on.  They were obviously hurting, but they were still moving forward at a decent pace, so there was hope they would make it to the end in time.  Now that all of the runners had come through our stop, we packed everything up and headed to the start/finish to watch the runners come through.  There was no way, regardless of how tired Shelby, Josh and I were, that we were going to miss watching AD finish his 200 mile journey.  That was some epic sh&t, and not something my kids may ever have a chance to witness again.  All day they followed AD's progress, and they were as excited as I was to see him finish!

The finish lines at these events are as drama filled as anything I have ever seen!  I got to witness two beautiful ladies finish their first 100 miler:

Lucia Alzaga

Rhae Loney

I know first hand that the amount of suffering during the run is directly related to the amount of elation/relief/feeling of accomplishment felt as you cross the finish line.  GREAT JOB LADIES!! There were many happy tears - many from me - for each of the runners that finished that morning.  Then, it was time to wait for AD.  But, we didn't have to wait long.  AD flew through that last 20 miles.  It was his fastest lap of the race!  Here he is coming in to the finish:

There are no words.  Truly amazing!
AD with Chris Scott, RD, after receiving his
buckle and propeller hat.  (Along with 2 celebratory

So, we wrapped things up and headed home.  Shelby and Josh were buzzing about AD's finish.  How amazing is it that they were able to witness such an awesome achievement on all of the runner's parts, and that they were able to be an integral part of their success by working the aid station. Even if they never choose to attempt something like this themselves, hopefully they will pull on these memories to remind them that anything is possible when you put in the work and set your mind on a goal.

Happy Running Y'all!