Thursday, May 26, 2016

I can't let it consume me

Two days ago, I looked in the mirror and didn't see noticeable ripples on my thighs. Where did my cellulite go?! I thought the mirror was playing tricks on me so I went in and out of the light. And then to a different mirror. Still not really there.

I felt elated at first. I hadn't tried to make it disappear and yet, it was gone!

But then like a slowly deflating balloon, I started to feel mad. Mad at myself for caring that it was there in the first place. Mad at myself for putting self-worth on my appearance. I'm not supposed to be the type of person who cares about this kind of stuff!

19 years ago I spent almost an entire year caring so much about my weight that I was on the brink of complete self-destruction. I went from a happy, healthy 130-pound girl.... to a selfish, obsessed 80ish-pound shell of my former self. I lost friendships, I scared my family, and I spent a week in a hospital.
One day, nearly a year after my downward spiral, I snapped out of fog and began the journey to recovery.

Within 6 months, I was back to a normal weight and able to run normally again.
However, it took years before I stopped truly obsessing about food and weight. And despite having a healthy relationship with food now, I can never escape all of those habits completely. It's like a scar that fades away slowly, but you can always still see it.

Running was part of my life before anorexia, during it, and after it. It was a small contributing factor to my weight loss, but food was the the #1 enemy. I have always been mindful of trying to maintain a healthy relationship with running. Always taking rest days. Always being okay with forgoing a workout for socializing, sleep, or just plain laziness. Always respecting what my body can handle and making tweaks along the way.

I hope running and I can be happy and healthy friends for a long time.

Which brings me back to my cellulite story. Instead of being proud of all my legs have done for me in the last 6 months, I was stupidly only elated about their appearance. Which is extra stupid as I am likely the only person who notices or cares.

I don't judge my friends/family on how they look, so why am I doing it to myself?!?! 

It made me think about one of my newfound running #sheroes who posted this last week on Instagram:
Sally McRae is a badass runner. She eats mountains for breakfast and still has enough energy to let her infectious laugh bring a smile to every person she meets. 

Sure, lots of pro distance runners fit into the stereotype of incredibly lean and compact. But much like recreational runners, everyone is different. And playing the comparison game is likely only to infuriate. You do you.

This goes for weight. This goes for how far. This goes for how fast. This goes for everything.

If you inspire someone along the way to be a better version of themselves, awesome. We are all in this thing together. A finish on the podium is just as worthy as the person who had the courage to start.

I digress.

I remember a runner telling me that he had given up all sweets during his 18 week marathon training period. He was so excited that he "got to" eat a cookie after the race. For some reason, this has stuck with me ever since I heard it. Perhaps he felt the need to earn it? Perhaps he was afraid 1 cookie would lead to 400 cookies? Perhaps he had his own bad relationship with food?

But I couldn't help but think that for me, I was happy that I was living a life that was okay with eating a cookie.

Maybe I'd be a few seconds faster if I didn't order a double waffle cone of cookies n' cream. Maybe I'd inch closer to a 3-hour marathon if I really got structured with my training.

But I'm happy. Like really, really happy. I love going out for random adventures in the woods and running until I'm bone tired. I love watching Netflix and YouTube videos on the treadmill and just slipping into the easiness of a recovery run. I love running into the sunset on the Greenway after 8 hours of work on my feet and suddenly feeling recharged. I love running road marathons and trail races. I love competing to be the best version of me (the one that allows for nachos and beer) and I love helping others be the best version of themselves. I love that after over 20 years of running I am still able to get that wheeeeeeee feeling every once in awhile.

I know what I need to do to train at the distances that I compete. I respect the distance. But I don't let training consume me. I can't let it consume me. We promised to be friends for a long time.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Gnaw Bone 50 Miler: Spontaneous Muddy Funning

3 years ago this month, I was contemplating running 2 marathons in the same year. It seemed a bit crazy. Training for one took 3 months! Could I dedicate 6 months out of the year to marathon training?!

Fast forward through 16 marathons and 3 ultras and I find myself texting Steve (aka rp9919) in early April about a possible marathon in May. Nothing for time, just a fun run (!?!). I was on a roll with a marathon every month since December and where else to get some ultra training than during a marathon?

Except he was already signed up for a 50 miler. And Boston was on the schedule in just a couple of weeks.


I said I'd wait until after Boston to pull the trigger. It would be silly of me to register if I felt like I needed a break after Boston. And I wouldn't know until a few days out from that.

Boston came and went. Body felt good. Mojo felt good. I could just go and log some training miles, right? No need to necessarily RACE....

I sign up, we pick a camp site, and then I am basically tapering again. 4 marathons and a 50K are a pretty decent base, right?

I get up super early on Friday partially so that I can hit the hay early for the painful wake up on Saturday morning and partially to have a little more time relaxing that afternoon with Steve.

I drive from my sister's house in west Atlanta and make myself wait a couple of hours to grab coffee. Like a reward or something.

Except I cannot find my wallet. Oh. S%$&*(. I tore my car apart, called my sister, and eventually found where it had fallen out into my clothes bag. Admittedly, the first thing I thought was I can't buy coffee! Then I thought I can't buy gas! Then I though I can pick up my bib without my driver's license! Lastly, I thought I can't drive without my driver's license!

Once I had my coffee and wallet, I was much, much happier. I sang loudly through the smoky foothills of Tennessee.
Strangely enough, after stopping for lunch, gas, and a few pit stops, I managed to pull into the campsite gate right in front on Steve. Hah! Perfect timing. We got to our camp site and picked a spot to set up our tents.
So my tent is the blue one. It came from Groupon Goods and I think we paid a whopping $30 for it. I was a bit hesitant, but it seemed like it would survive a couple of evenings in May. Whatever, I had my car as back up...

We went to bib pick up and got our gear, signed our waivers, and then decided to relax a bit more before heading into town before dinner.
Pizza seemed like a good idea so we drove around Nashville, Indiana a bit before settling on Big Woods Brewing Company. We split a 16" Hawaiian pizza (the server was super impressed we finished the entire thing) and a couple of beers.
We set up our gear for the next morning when we got back and then tried to get some sleep.
There were a bunch of guys yelling and laughing until about midnight. And then the rain cut them off. I laid in my tent hoping that my $30 tent wouldn't leak water in the middle of the night as I listened to it rattle in the thunderstorm. Fortunately, I eventually dozed off from exhaustion and got a few hours of sleep. At 4:15am, I woke up to the rain and contemplated how I was going to get dressed, eat breakfast, and stay dry-ish until the start. I got dressed in the bathroom and ate in the car. I definitely was not feeling awake though even with a bit of coffee. Ugh.

We drove to the start and parking was a breeze with a small race. No lines or even people near the port-a-potties. When Steve and I wandered over to the start "corral", we were on the front line.
The 50 milers started first and the other distances started in descending order over the early morning. Steve thinks there were approximately 58 starters?

The first half mile is on a gravel path that is very easy running and the rain has subsided to a mist at this point. Though I'm not awake, I am aware that at least my body feels pretty good. We veer off the gravel path and then up about 400' of a ski slope that has ankle deep mud. The kind that will pull your shoes off if they aren't tied tight enough. The kind that makes gross slurping noises. I am giggling because it is just sloppy, slow-moving ridiculousness in the dark. Everyone is coated from shoes to thighs in mud.

Eventually, it starts to flatten out a bit and while the mud is still prevalent, the footing slightly easier without the extra climbing. Day light makes it even easier and we are switching off our head lamps before we reach the first aid station.

The next section I finally feel like I am getting into a groove after fighting with the mud. The trail is much easier and we are going down a bit. I begin to shake off some of the early funk attributed to lack of caffeine and sleep. Steve and I are enjoying a pretty easy pace knowing that we have a long day to keep running.

From here it gets tricky to remember exact details. We did run with a girl for a bit early on who does a bunch of racing and had on a Western States shirt (2014). She stayed with us for a few miles and then took off. We played leap-frog all day. There was a guy we picked up for a bit who eventually would finish between Steve and I.

We did stop at the drop bag aid station at mile 11 so that Steve could change his socks and I could use a proper toilet. Both of us were much happier right after that.

There was a stupid, stupid, stupid section at mile 19 that we renamed Hemorrhoid Hill in honor of our choice conversation and the huge pain in the ass navigating this section of trail. Climbing over 1-2 trees is no big deal. Climbing over and under trees trying to figure out where the trail was is a bit different. Fortunately, we always found the little pink flags pretty quickly, but there was a lot more hiking/orienteering and less actual running.

There was some section in the upper teens that was a creek bed. We were running down a creek. It was sloppy, muddy, wet, and footing was terrible. But it seemed easy once we got to the hill that we had to crawl up because it was so muddy and steep.  I was grabbing onto tree limbs hoping that I wouldn't fall back down into the creek. And after gaining a bit of footing, it was another section of sharp ascent to the top.


We covered two separate sections of stairs together. One had about 100, one was 160. The one with 100 stairs we had to do again in the second loop. Yippee?

I was eating Oreos and drinking Mountain Dew at the aid stations. I got the volunteers to fill up one of my bottles halfway with Mountain Dew. It seemed to perk me up and it was cool enough that I wasn't really needing to drink a ton. I had handfuls of Pringles and bites of PBJ. I grabbed a salted potato and a stack of saltines at one of the aid stations. When I was out on the course, I was supplementing with gummy bears, Roctane GU, and Clif Shot Blocks.

Somewhere in the low 20s, my Garmin starting beeping low battery. I had my back up in my pack ready to go. Eventually, it faded to black around mile 29. I started up the second Garmin only to have it last about 7 miles. Womp, womp....

One of the prettiest sections of trail was right after the halfway point. Lots of big beautiful trees and gorgeous flat single track trail.
When we got to Hesitation Point the second time, Steve was insistent that I go on without him. He said he wanted to walk/run the rest of the way and told me to give him a hug and keep going. I was embattled at this point. How do you leave your RB after 30 miles?! He had been encouraging me to go ahead for miles, but I was really enjoying someone to talk at.

Whatever/however he said it this time made me think it was okay to leave him and so I started down the next section by myself. I was feeling really good and on an up for about 4 miles. I passed a few guys that had passed us earlier and was brimming with confidence. Even a pit stop behind a tree couldn't hold me back!

But then the top of foot right across where my shoelaces were started to ache. I was trying to fix the tongue of my shoe because it kept slipping, but this didn't alleviate the pain. I ran for a couple more miles before I finally got to a picnic bench where I could lift my foot onto the table. Do you know how hard it is to untie and retie your shoe after 38 miles? But behold, instant gratification! My shoes were tied too tightly and after swelling slightly while running that long, they were being bruised. Genius. Pure genius.

So after I resolved this situation, I noticed my second Garmin was dead. When I finally came to the next aid station, I asked how many miles I had left. They told me I was at 40.6, so 9.4 miles to go. I was going to get this thing done.

Eventually, I got to the paved road section and chased down a relay runner which at the time gave me delirious happiness. I was probably running 10 minute miles, but I felt like The Flash. I knew that when I got to that final major aid station at the end of the pavement that it was time for the homestretch.

It was both wonderful and terrible to have no clue how close I was in those final miles. Just when I thought I'd crested the hill or made the final turn, I saw a new, longer, higher, muddier stretch of trail. I chanted to myself I can, I will, I can, I will, I can, I will. I was having actual conversations out loud, with myself about how dumb mud was and how this was just silly. But in my heart, I was loving how much grit this was requiring. If I could conquer this amid covering 50 miles, well, heck, I can handle a lot.

I finally crested a hill and spotted the main road with a structure that appeared to be building next to the finish line. The hill, which doubles as a ski slope in the winter, was a major quad burner. I was trying to run gingerly down the darn thing, but really, after 49 miles, it was kind of impossible. Once I got to the bottom, I realized I still had to run across a field because the structure was not the finish line area.

About 200 yards from the finish line (give or take, I'm terrible at that kind of thing), I came up to the "trail" marked with pink flags that went directly into a river with knee high water. Other runners were running through the creek and I followed them in through the other side. Then I didn't see any more pink flags and I wanted to just cry. How do I get to the finish line?!?!

A nice relay runner got back into the creek with me and pointed to the pink flags that followed the bank of the river towards the finish. At least I still had to get in the river...

The finish chute was within sight!!
I was so happy that my 10 hour, 53 minute slog was a success!
I actually was so delirious that I bent down and kissed the finish line grass. Wiping grass from mouth, I accepted my "Age Group Award" and saw that I was 3rd female. Don't be too impressed. I think only 6 females finished. Only a total of 28 people (of 58?) finished.

I put on warm clothes, grabbed a beer, drank said beer, grabbed food, and settled in at the finish line to watch for Steve.
He was in good spirits coming in and happy to be finished. He got a beer and we took it easy before heading back to the camp site for showers and clean clothes. After a trip into Bloomington for a car key battery and dinner, we had a beer in his tent before I crawled back into mine for the best sleep I've had in a long time.

I am so glad that I got to spend 30 miles with my running buddy and even happier that it was a memorable adventure. It was a tough course, but I feel like a better runner for having completed it. Plus, I have a new PR-on-my-feet which will make the 12 hour race seem much more doable. So while I was completely off of my 50 mile PR, I know that I gained some serious experience points. And fun points.

Sometimes the best decisions in life are the least planned. A sing-at-the-top-of-your-lungs solo road trip through a sliver of America to camp and run with your running buddy that you met on the internet for a last-minute decided ultra on a cold and rainy weekend is as fun as you make it.