Good (Trail) Karma

Today I went to Letchworth State Park to help clear trails in preparation for the Many on the Genny, and I had the opportunity to meet some really great people. There weren’t many of us – the two race directors and five adults. Two of those adults were married and had brought their four kids (I had the impression that these kind of outings were pretty normal for them, and they did great!). We worked on two sections of the course, and it was very helpful getting a preview, as one section in particular was fully under water when I last tried to inspect it. It was tough work – cutting and moving downed trees, hacking and trimming overgrown areas, sneezing our heads off as the pollen flew everywhere. Even so, we all, I believe, had a really good time.

In particular, I walked and worked with two people who had many great stories tell. Jim told me stories of bears and hail and late spring snows during events, all of which seem par for the course when running in western New York and northern Pennsylvania. He knows how to tell some good ones. Sarah is two years younger than I and talks like my sister. I felt totally at ease with her as we talked trail running, triathlons (that’s her thing), kids, and snot rockets…it was great conversation as we sawed and chopped and lifted. The banter kept us going while we, if I do say so myself, did a pretty good job getting those trails ready for race day.

After everyone left, I traded my work pants for shorts and pulled on my sneakers, then went and ran the section we had worked on, plus a couple of others. I am so glad I did. Those trails are not all nice and easy, and certainly not groomed or marked. The RDs said the event would be “old school” – participants would have to have a good set of basic trail reading skills to find their way, and they are right. Despite our work, a lot of the “single track” becomes “barely track,” and large chunks have no markings at all. I have been studying the map and instructions, and I am so glad I’ve also taken the time to preview sections at different times. It will be a difficult run, but after today, I am feeling more confident about what to expect. Moreover, I am hoping that trail karma puts me in a slightly more favorable position on race day. At the very least, I’ll have Sarah to look for at the starting line, and Jim has promised to keep his aid station stocked until I get there. : )

If you can, I highly suggest you sign up to help clear the trails before your next race. You might learn a few things and make some new friends as well!

Don’t let that picture fool you, that water goes up to my hip, and the only good way to cross is straight through!

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The Art of Adventure

I’m listening to a podcast at the moment, the first of a series called, “Safety Third” (being aired on its parent program, “Dirt Bag Diaries”). The person in the program is talking about base jumping, but the main point of the program is not what I’m focusing on right now. What I am taking away right now is something the speaker just said, and it has struck a cord so deeply in me that my entire body is reverberating with its truth: adventure is an art.

The speaker, an avid climber, is talking about why he got into base jumping. It wasn’t for the adrenaline, it wasn’t for the fame; it was for the opportunity to do something new, like coming to a mountain no has ever climbed and figuring out to do it. That process is as creative, he says, as drawing or painting.

My reaction — heck yeah, he’s got it!!

This is EXACTLY why I run. Yes, I know I am not any great adventurer. I haven’t packed my bags and gone off to Nepal or the Sahara or Kilimanjaro. The places I choose, however, are normally not the usual places hosting the general congo line of pavement pounders, shuffling along paths that to me are predictable and boring. I explore where I am and use my paths to discover the world around me.

Here is the point though: to me, certain paths are boring; to others, they are an adventure. Perhaps it’s the first time running at all. Perhaps that congo line represents a change of some sort — of surroundings, of habits, of people — all these things represent a fresh canvas in a person’s life, a new set of boundaries to take one out of the comfort zone and into the unknown. Navigating through the unknown – therein lies the creative process.

For example, when I am out in the car or visiting somewhere, I am constantly wondering, “what would it be like to run here?” I drive a certain road as it stretches before me, undulating through towns and farms for miles and miles, and I dream about how I might feel, running from x to y. Who would I meet, how would I fuel, how fast and far could I go?

Thinking, planning, and acting on these journeys is indeed a creative process. Sometimes, like now as I make my final preparations for my next big race, the process scares me. I struggle with angry butterflies swirling from the pit of my stomach, filling me with fear. How will my project end? Will the results be pretty or just one hot mess? Will it be worthy of pride or just the trash bin?

Whatever the outcome, I know that I like standing before that empty canvas of possibilities. I can’t wait to see what my training and my vision will bring to life.

THIS is why I run. This adventure, this ART, fills me with joy. It is creative, spontaneous, beautiful, risky, and challenging. It doesn’t always turn out right, but if it did, it wouldn’t be creative. It’d just be predictable. Who on earth wants that?

Go out, face your canvas, and make some art!

Lesson Learned

In a recent online running forum I subscribe to (Diz Runs Tribe, check out the podcast too, Diz Runs Radio), the administrator asked, “what has running taught you?” I can think of a million things right off the top of my head, but one thing rests at the crest of that heap: patience. If there is one lesson I have learned, and continue to learn, it’s patience. Patience in a race, patience in training, patience when goal setting, and this past year, patience during injury and illness and recovery.

I am not a younger runner. In one month, I will be 52. I am not one to be thinking that age 52 is old, but when I did not bounce back after my initial ankle sprain (and later, got much worse), I began to realize, “This isn’t like before, kiddo. You can’t just keep going and expect it to disappear.” In many situations in my life, that is exactly what I did, and it usually worked. With grad school and sleep, parenting, migraines, running, pain, life…”muscling through” was my modus operandi. It was a tough pill to swallow when I learned that my standard MO wasn’t going to work anymore.

I have a little over two weeks until I run my first race since being injured, a trail marathon. I thought I had been patient enough and well into recovery when, Tuesday, after a terrific training week that had me shouting, “Yes! I’m back!” a twinge in my ankle pushed back and said, “Just hold on a second…no you’re not.”

WHAT?

All this time, with a month of excellent growth, and…what just happened?

I’m not sure. It could have been the little extra weight I had added to my static lunges on Sunday, when I should have perhaps gone lighter. I had just completed a cold and wet 20 miler the day before, after all. Or maybe it was the muddy trails causing a little too much torque in the ankles on Monday. Or, maybe it’s just pre-race nerves.

Whatever the cause, I’ve learned enough over the past several months to listen to my body. I’ve learned enough to tell myself, “Patience — back off, don’t push it.” I had hoped for another great week of training before beginning to taper but I don’t know if that will be what I can do. Maybe I could make a great week, but would that be the wisest choice?

This race was going to be my A race this year, but patience has taught me to shift my perspective. I now see this event as a stepping stone, a test of my recovery and an assessment of my fitness so far. If I finish this run, I know I will cross the line with a sigh of relief and immediately shift my sights toward the next step and then the next. I have a 40 mile race planned and then a solo 50 mile run, followed by a challenging 15 mile trail race I hope to run with my spouse in the fall. For that one, I plan to shift my focus and train for greater speed and power. The 40 miler – well, if I finish I will be over the moon! The 50 and the 15 – they are now my focus.

Additionally, this past injury had made me think more about my long-term goal — to keep running until I die, if I can. I am not a pro athlete (though I am an athlete); I do not need to push myself to destruction in order to gain glory or a paycheck. I am in it for the long-term, I love running that much. If that means shelving my plan for a PR or a super placement, then so be it.

post-note: after writing this post, I did rest for three days before running again. Saturday, I took a beautiful, satisfying trip along an easy section of the Appalachian Trail. No problems at all!

Vision for Race Day

Race day. The weather is cool, but chilly mist promises to give way to sun later in the day. I feel the leaves shifting beneath my feet. I am cold, but the forest shows proof that yes, spring is finally here, and summer is not far behind.

I am in my mind, somewhat detached, experiencing my body as it moves through nature. Some people pass me but I steadily progress forward. My feet move, my chest breathes. “Don’t push,” I tell myself, “the hill is coming. Be ready.”

I reach the base and begin to climb. The mud slips; I feel dirt and roots beneath my fingers as I grasp anything to help me move forward. My quads flex and press, propelling me up, up…and I’m there! Then down, down in a rapid descent, into the water of the rushing stream and across…

I am tired but I chose this. My feet hurt but again, I chose this. There is no quitting, there is only movement – through nature, with nature, in nature. I am animal, going forever, moving without surcease until I find my home, the finish line.

This is the vision I keep in my head as I enter the last month before race day. My mantra still holds as I count my breaths and steps, willing myself to endure in each training session:

Beauty,

Movement,

Run.

I will run and I will succeed.

Confidence

It’s still winter outside, despite what the calendar says, and running outside has been difficult. Normally, I don’t mind running in cold weather, but after a bout with the flu and a subsequent pulmonary infection, I’ve found that running when temperatures are below freezing just HURTS. I wheeze. My nostrils and throat close up. I gasp for air when I go above even a slow jogging pace.

Consequently, the treadmill has become my friend, even for the longer and slower runs. Last week, my ankle had improved to the point that I thought I’d try 15 miles. The longest I’d run so far was 10 miles, and I was starting to wonder if I’d be ready for my trail marathon in May. I wasn’t in panic mode yet, but I needed a good run to boost my confidence, something to show me that I was indeed making progress toward my races in May and June. Slow mileage progression is essential, but there comes a point when darn it! I need to test my limits!

At first, the weather promised to be mild enough – upper 30s – but by Friday morning, the temperature dropped to the 20s with a windchill around 10. Then the snow started. Scratch the outdoor run…

I’ve been panting to get outside, but there was nothing for it, I couldn’t go out. It was a massive disappointment. I needed that run though, so…treadmill.

Okay.

Choose a string of trail videos, get my water and nutrition set up, then hop on.

No layers, no wind. It feels like cheating.

My races are going to (hopefully) be in warm weather anyway.

I set the program to run a hilly course, going from levels 2 through 9. Obviously, treadmill hills aren’t the same as actual trail hills, but at least I could do some climbing. As the snow came down outside my window and the plows rolled down the road, I stepped on the mill and pressed “go.”

Fours hours later, I stepped off, having run 20 miles and climbed 2499 feet. BAM! Confidence boosted!

Yes, it was boring. Consider it mental testing.

Yes, it was warm in the room. The races will be warm anyway (maybe).

But I finished 20 miles.

Yes.

I couldn’t copy the technical trails I will need to run, but at least I could gauge my pace and heart rate and test myself at different intervals. I figured out how much water I’ll be likely to need and how many calories I’ll require to maintain my effort. These details are important for trail runs and ultras, and now I can better envision how my races might play out on those days.

I won’t be fast, but I know I can finish the first race at least, and I am confident I’ll have a good shot at the second. I’ve come a long way since that teary-eyed session at the doctor’s office in December, wondering if I’d be able to run at all. 20 miles was a milestone for me, and while these next races are my focus, I have my autumn goals in my sights as well…

It’s so good to be back.

Snot Rockets, or Be Kind and Look Behind!

Winter runners, you know what I’m talking about – the air is cold, you’re trying to breathe through your nose, and you begin to experience that incessant drip, drip that annoys the crap out of you and everyone else (if there is anyone else) because of the constant SNIFF! SNIFF! you have to do to keep it in. What’s a runner to do?

Personally, I hold out as long as I can, sniffing until I can’t stand any more. I then use my glove or sleeve to wipe my nose if I have to, but sometimes, sometimes I just have to clear it all away. I do have tissues in my pack but they’re for…uh…other reasons. I also am not going to stop to fish them out over and over again.

Snot rockets. They are the only other alternative.

Many athletes, including cyclists and runners, do them. I really don’t like them, however, for a couple reasons: one , they aren’t pretty. I don’t care who does them; two, if done improperly, they can come back to haunt you – if you catch my drift – or worse yet, haunt somebody else.

Unfortunately, I’ve been that “somebody else” too many times!

It’s disgusting.

So, if you have to launch them, consider these pointers before you strike:

  • MOST IMPORTANTLY, make sure NO ONE is around you! Winter running often means windy running, and that mucus can carry. If you gotta blow, don’t do it when someone is next to or even behind you;
  • Point your head down and to the side, away from your body, to avoid hitting yourself;
  • Usually, for me, the need to blow occurs only on one side. To increase trajectory force, I close the opposing nostril by pressing it with a finger, taking a breath, and blowing hard to the side of the trail.

That’s it. Not too difficult. Unless the wind is so strong it’s ripping the snot right out of you before you can even blow. In that case, the snot rocket is futile. Trust me, I’ve tried. Better to just let it go!

If you need more coaching, here are a couple of articles you can use:

https://saltmarshrunning.com/2016/04/05/running-101-mastering-snot-rocket/

http://talk.brooksrunning.com/blog/2016/04/12/running-101-master-the-snot-rocket/ (this one also talks about proper spitting technique)

Sorry, no videos. They were all too gross for me.

Happy running!