Tag Archives: training

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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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.

The Disease, the Parasite, of Doubt

(and how I beat it, this time)

It has been a l-o-n-g hiatus from running for me because of an injury with complications. After a tough, teary-eyed session with my physical therapist last week, however, I think l’ve turned a corner. You may think it’s hokey, but that emotional release during treatment might have been just what my body needed to finally let go of the injury and truly begin to heal. Today, I ran my first mile in over two months. It was slow, deliberately so, and I walked another 1.8 miles after that, but it felt sooooo good to be moving in a way that is much a part of who and what I am.

The next steps are going to require a lot of patience. I am anxious to start running and training, as I have some big plans for next year. First, I plan to run a difficult trail marathon in May. A month later, I will run a tough forty-miler in the same gorge as the marathon, a new race that already has a reputation for being a killer event. After that, I have a solo fifty-miler planned in the fall. For someone who doesn’t race much, this is a packed schedule.

Following some good advice from a recent podcast, I’ve chosen the trail marathon to be my A race. That leaves me a tad over four months of training, so long as my ankle recovers properly. For now, I will just keep rehabbing and rebuilding my base, focusing on heart rate recovery and bringing my body back into balance.

One important take-away I’ve learned from working with my therapist is that my notions of what is and isn’t right for my body are correct, and I should stop doubting myself. I was beginning to see myself as a failure because I wasn’t getting “back out there” fast enough. I wasn’t taping up and gritting through pain to complete a heavy session, and it seemed like everything I’d been reading was saying I should. Or, at least, that I should have been out there much earlier than what my body seemed to be telling me.

This sort of thing had me asking myself, “Am I really able to be this kind of athlete?” I couldn’t help but feel that I had no right to set such expectations for myself. Maybe I am not a true ultra trail runner. Maybe I’m not good for anything beyond mediocre. Perhaps I’ve just been kidding myself, thinking I had the ability within me to do amazing stuff.

Dang.

Even as I write, those lines above make me feel sick and knotted inside, like I’ve allowed a parasite or disease to enter my body. I’ve felt this disease before. It’s the same one that tried to convince me I’d never succeed at college, or learn a language, or be worthy of wonderful relationships. It’s the sickly look from others who judged me even before I had a chance to try, like the high school English teacher who once said to me, “I know you,” in a way that meant, “I know what a good-for-nothing you are; you won’t succeed and you can’t be trusted.”

Well, I am not going to let that disease take hold. I am not going to let that parasite in.

I believe that is why I cried last week. I struggled with that same doubt, and I made it through, this time.

There will be more times like it, I’m sure, but for now, I am looking forward, believing I can do some amazing things.

I give myself permission to go for it.

Recovery

Sunny day outside, temps are below freezing.

I am taking a break from painting a room in our new home, watching golden leaves fall from the hickory trees in our yard, and watching a few trail and ultra running videos online.

OH MY GOSH, I MISS RUNNING!

A sprained ankle in September kept my running to a minimum for a few weeks, but I had still planned to run a 50 mile race in early October.  Just two days before the event, however, a family member had an emergency and I chose to head back to my home state rather than run. The day after returning home, I sprained the same ankle again. Not running, just walking down the stair and catching my foot on the last step. Turns out the second time was not just a sprain, however; weeks later, still not being able to run, I learned that twist number two had resulted in a fracture.

I have major plans for next year, including (so far) two trail races and one solo 50 miler. I know I need to let this ankle heal well. I need strong, agile ankles to tackle the climbs and the gnarly terrain – the races I signed up for have reputations for being particularly tough. So my routines now are all about rehab and recovery.  Sensible, right?

My brain and body, however, are still wondering what happened with that race I had been working toward. Where’s the reward for the work of the previous half year? What happened to the anticipation of the distance and effort?  WHY AM I NOT RUNNING?!?

This is stage 2 of recovery. The caged animal is pacing, wanting to spring.  The first stage was a a depression of sorts after missing the race and respraining the ankle.  While I go through these stages, I experience frustration, but I also spend time thinking and reaffirming why I run.

I do not run to race. I am not a competitive person.

I run to lose myself in distance.

I run to see how far I can go – mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually.

I run to arrive at the core essence of myself.

I run to be wild.

While I heal, I dream of mountains and streams, roots, dirt, and green things.  While I heal, my heart is longing to be free.

Soon, I will be beneath those trees, flowing with the leaves, to places I have yet to discover.

Pushing the Boundaries, MY Boundaries

I am not a celebrated runner. Heck, I don’t even race much. Ever since I was a kid, however, running through the woods behind my elementary school and hopping rocks and running paths in parks around suburban Philadelphia, I’ve been a trail runner. Even when years of debilitating migraines kept me from running, my joy was always to be out in the woods or on a prairie path, walking. After turning my life around by changing my lifestyle, In my late thirties I found I was able to run again. What a joy of rediscovery that was, and what an empowering experience to know that my physical ailments did not have to rule my life.

When I started running again, I didn’t have many trails to run. I was living in a foreign country, in the city of Hiroshima, Japan. While in Japan, I was keenly aware of my position as an outsider, a female, and a mother. There were behaviors that I perceived to be the norm for those roles, and running was not one of them. At the time, in that city, women just did not exercise outdoors. Especially women my age, and certainly not foreigners. I was intimidated by custom and my perception of social expectations. I did manage to find some paths to plod, running along the river or in the Shukkeien Garden near my home. When it came to being in real wilderness, however, I never ran, and never went alone. Always, I was with family.

After that came our move to China, and that is where my running became a more serious endeavor. There was a lot of treadmill running at the start, as the city where we lived, Chongqing, is pretty polluted. Still, in a place surrounded by mountains and mist, how could I not explore? I started by running the city, exploring side streets, then running through a sports park where people would watch me through the fences, as you had to pay 2 yuan to get in. Next came Pipa Shan, a small peak right in the middle of the city, filled with old men playing their erhus or playing chess while their birds sang in cages, and grandmothers walking with their grand babies or carrying their washing or whatever they shopped for on their backs. There were the trails in the park behind the university I attended, where I met a family who showed me how to catch, fry and eat cicadas, and another small mountain as well, a supposed botanical park, on the top of which was a small makeshift village. I would run through that and people would laugh and smile and point, commenting loudly about the white woman running down the dirt street. They were always polite and I loved stopping to chat now and again.

Gradually, as my running expanded, my experiences with people and myself expanded as well. In each new place I visited, each new country I lived, I started with something small, a circle or straight distance that was well-defined, safe, and predictable. Even on vacation, I’d start that way. Walk the city and decide, “okay, tomorrow I’ll just run here,” but then the next day, push the distance even further. Read the maps and envision. Settle the butterflies and decide to go just a few blocks more.

I think back on these times and am filled with wonder at the places my running has taken me. There are other countries and other paths, from cities to mountains to beaches. The wonder is not so much about where I ran, however, as it is that I managed to do it at all. You see, I was not a very outgoing or confident person. I was really quite shy, unsure of myself, and downright afraid of doing something new on my own. I still am in some ways, but I am nowhere near where I used to be. Running changed that for me.

I reminisce because a few weeks ago, a woman posted a question on a Facebook running forum I subscribe to. How do people get over there fear to run trails alone? She wanted to desperately, but couldn’t figure out how to conquer her fear. People posted helpful advice, the most common of which was, “just run.” That’s all fine and dandy, but when you are as timid as I was, and possibly living in a new place, “just run” is advice that doesn’t cut it. The fear paralyzes a person. It paralyzed me. It took a lot of effort and soul searching and thinking about what to do before I could break through the wall that kept me bound.

As I read that woman’s post, I thought about how to answer. What could I tell her about my experience? For me, learning to run alone is about a gradual expansion of boundaries, from running what is close and familiar to taking a new turn one day and sticking with it for a few weeks, then taking another and adding that to the mix. Little by little, the familiar ground widens, and every little trial on that ground helps boost my confidence that I can overcome similar situations in new territory.

When I thought about my answer to her, I realized that this advice did not only reflect my experience on the trail, but it reflected an experience I was having with myself. Each bout of butterflies in my stomach and the subsequent joy that came from setting those butterflies free made me more sure of myself, more confident in my own judgment. I could do this, because I’d proven mile by mile – sometimes just half-mile by half-mile – that I had faced my fear and succeeded before. Surely a half-mile more wouldn’t be so bad. Little by little, the half-mile becomes 2, then 5, then 10. And I discover there is more in me of courage and strength than I realized.

I know there are others who would look at my runs and think they were nothing compared to the amazing adventures and distances they’ve explored. I know there are others who would see the pace of my self-expansion as way too slow for them. For me, however, it’s perfect. Whether it’s my own hometown or one of the many places I’ve been to around the world, taking the time to expand my physical boundaries has helped me to broaden the limits even within myself.

I say to you, woman, go at your pace, add inches or miles, but move forward. You will find so much more than distance.