Photo taken by Randall Levensaler

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

50 Miles of Amazing

It takes me approximately 20 seconds to walk…umm hobble, down 12 steps. When taking a seat, I now do the slow hover over my target area, and then let gravity pull me in for landing. These are two of the many gifts I’ve received from completing my first 50-mile trail race. 
Golden Gate Bridge

“Enjoy the pain!” My grizzly bearded pacer Jeremy Duncan reminded me that the discomfort I was experiencing was something I had been earning and should be happy for. He wanted me to know I was working hard, and pushing my body to limits it had not yet seen. At 40 miles in, his statement made no sense in my mind. All I could hear were the cries coming from my quads every step I took on a downhill.

Besides the physical torment, my mental space was totally facocked. I told Jeremy the aid station workers were lying to us about the distances, and not to believe them. I also had a very strong urge to cry every time the wrong song popped up on my ipod shuffle.

At this point, you might be asking why I decided to run 50 miles. Well…

I had the opportunity to view an amazing sunrise over the beautiful Marin Headlands outside of San Francisco as I raced on pristine trails.

The North Face Endurance Challenge is known as a high stakes “last hoorah” for the year, so it brings in athletes from all over the country. It is a great event to catch up with my long distance running buddies, let alone make new friends.

Family time! I get to spend quality time running and relaxing with my Salomon teammates…on houseboats! 
Team Salomon Houseboat

And most importantly…I get the chance to see what I’m truly made of. Racing the 50 allowed me to look for weaknesses and find new strengths. I was able to discover new places in my mind and push past old limitations. This was more than a race to the finish line … this was an educational journey that allowed me to search my heart and soul.

I want to say thank you to Salomon, PepsiCo, Julbo, and Pro-Tec Athletics for their amazing support! Your generosity has helped change my life, and has allowed me to reach for my dreams.

And finally to my tremendous family and friends, thank you for all the encouragement, love, and never-ending support. I couldn’t have done it without you.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Am I allowed to run on vacation?

A close friend recently asked me where I spent my last vacation. “Iceland,” I responded. “But didn’t you go there for a race?” he asked. I did indeed. He then went on to ask if I’ve ever taken a vacation that hasn’t centered on running.

Feeling slightly defensive and ready to snap back with an answer, I found myself speechless. I can’t remember the last get-away I took that didn’t involve some aspect of running. His question blew my mind. 
Moab, UT

Mixed thoughts of worry and confusion instantly crept in. Should I be taking a non-running vacation? Am I disillusioned with what is “normal” for an escapade? Am I not fun to travel with since I want to run? My outlook on the question was completely negative. I felt like I was missing out and that I needed to rethink my version of a “holiday.”

I reevaluated my current definition of a vacation. I tried to come up with a destination where I could be content “relaxing” instead of exploring by quick repetitive footsteps while breaking a sweat.
Lake Tahoe, CA

I felt like a writer that had been staring at a blank page for hours. For the life of me, I could not contrive any trip where I would be ok not going for a run. To not run would actually make my vacation feel LESS like a vacation. 
Lake Tahoe, NV

Then it hit me! A vacation is what people take to enjoy the things they love, right? They escape to exotic landscapes, indulge in things reserved for special occasions, and usually release their caged spontaneity.

I have a number of friends who save all their time off to visit the coast of Mexico and lie on the beach for a week sipping fruity alcoholic beverages with ridiculous umbrellas. Sure, it would be nice for a single day, but that isn’t my version of a get-away. 
Moab, UT
For me, running = enjoyment. Therefore, you can bet my running shoes will always be packed for every vacation I take.

Everyone has his or her own idea of what “relaxing” entails, so embrace your opinion and don’t think twice when being questioned. Stand true to yourself and do what makes you happy. After all…it is YOUR vacation, right?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

It is what you make it...

It is easy to fall into one mode of thinking, not allowing yourself to stray from a strict training regime. When a runner allows for their training to be all business and no play, you often see them abandon the sport because of frustration and lack of enjoyment.

What most runners don’t realize is that we have the control to make each run into whatever we want it to be. Therefore, when things get stale or too serious, don’t be afraid to change things up. 
Peaceful single track.

For instance, some days I might feel like running super easy, just soaking in the sun, taking in the views, listening to the wind whistle through the trees.

Other times I can be fixated on competing. I can strategize and plan my schedule, calculate the outcomes of each workout and how they will add up for race day.

Social time! Some of the best memories I have are from going on adventures with great training partners. Got to love exploring new trails, friendly games of one-stepping, and of course solving the world’s problems. 
At Willow Lake with Ashley Arnonld.

Long run with Kim Dobson in Monument National Park.
Mike Foote and I post run in Missoula.
Freedom. Running is my escape from the stresses I encounter. It is when I feel most alive and untouchable by societal mandates or criticisms. 

There are no boundaries, rules, or rights and wrongs. You are free to run for whatever reason or purpose you want, whether it’s  winning the New York Marathon, completing a goal of one mile per day, or a way to simply meet new friends. 
Solitude in Wyoming back country.

Running is whatever you make it, so have fun, be creative, and never stop believing that you have the ability to make it your own. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Unforeseen Victories

Every runner has a goal when toeing the starting line of a race, whether it be a target time, a place, or just to finish. We prepare ourselves with countless miles and dreaded workouts, to say the least, but no matter how much we prepare, there are always surprises. 
The historic Delta Queen in the Tennessee River.

I entered the famed Rock/Creek Stump Jump 50k, slated for October 5. I needed another hard effort before my goal race in December and had never been to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Technical trails, strong competition, all topped off with heat and humidity…sign me up.

I did my research and decided that a 1st place finish was an achievable goal. I had been preparing for the 50k distance with some boosted mileage, extended long runs, and practiced for the East coast’s rocks and roots by “dancing” on the most technical trails I could find. Surely I would be all set come race day.
Salomon teammate Eric Bohn and I before the start. 

Well, I wasn’t more than a mile into the race when I managed to destroy my left ankle with one misstep. The sharp, jarring sensation made me screech in pain. I pulled off to the side with a few tears rolling down my cheek as I began to inspect my ankle. It was tender to the touch, but everything still felt intact. I allowed myself a few deep breaths, maybe a few curse words, and then took three hobbled steps. It was bad…but I couldn’t stop, at least not yet. 
Start of the Stump Jump 50k.

I trotted along for ¾ of a mile, convincing myself it would all be OK and that the pain would dissipate. Just as my confidence returned, I did it again. I had rolled my left ankle twice in the matter of two miles. Anyone that re-rolls a weak ankle can identify with the sting that runs up your spine, accompanied by immediate manifested images of a pulverized mess that is somehow connecting your foot to your shin. Being the stubborn runner that I am (my coaches would concur), I decided to keep going.

I grunted my way to the mile 10 aid station sporting a graceful prancercise-shuffle remix. My Salomon teammates Josh Korn and Ashley Arnold greeted me at the busy aid station, but I didn’t stop to chat or take any supplies. I was somehow currently sitting in 1st place and did not want to lose my lead. Their cheering rejuvenated my spirits and reminded me that I could keep on fighting.

Unfortunately, the throbbing in my ankle was not subsiding, and I did not have the ability to run aggressively with only one strong leg. Around mile 15, I had to let the eventual winner squeeze past me and wished her well. 
Pre-race day run with Eric over the foot bridge.

I was approaching the mile 20 aid station. My spirits were low, and I began questioning if I should continue on. I stopped to speak with Ashley and Josh, and alerted them about my ankle. After some brief analyzing, I decided to continue. My swelling was minimal, and their positive reinforcement gave me the mental strength I needed to continue.

A few minutes down the trail, I felt a twinge in my right calf muscle. It had dawned on me…I forgot to take my sodium tablets! I was so focused on “treading lightly” that I had completely ignored a major part of my nutrition regimen.

According to the forecast, it was supposed to hit 84 degrees with 90% humidity. I had made sure to stay on top of my fluid intake and was putting in what I thought was the proper amount. Unfortunately, since I did not have enough salt in my system, I was sweating it right back out.

I can’t tell you which muscle group cramped the most; each one felt the need to add to my misery. I was forced to “fast” hike or stretch every time my muscles locked up. Needless to say, it was a very painful remaining 11 miles. My sincerest apologies to the runners that had to hear my yelps of pain. 
The beginning of my knakle swelling.

Lazy-legged, I stumbled through the finish in third place. I was exhausted physically and mentally. Josh and Ashley came to my aid just in time. The severity of my cramping literally locked my legs and had me wincing in agony. Unable to bend my legs, my teammates helped me to the ground and called for medical help. After a painful massage, a few bottles of fluid and multiple capsules of sodium, I managed to recover and enjoy the rest of the day. 

This was probably the most painful experience I’ve ever had racing. I intended on running through the white finish line tape and feeling it break across my chest, but, sometimes things don’t go as planned. I learned that no matter how much you prepare, some things can still go wrong. I also learned that instead of getting upset and giving up, I could readjust my goals. It was no longer important for me to win; it was a victory for me to just finish. 
Trying not to tip over from cramping during awards.

In the end I walked away from this experience realizing just how much my body can handle when the shi* hits the fan, and how mentally tough I can be when my body wants to quit. I did not win the Stump Jump 50k, but I did achieve victory against my internal demons and external discomforts.

Oh! And yes...I also learned how important it is to NEVER forget nutrition!

Post race riding at Arnold Stables. Burt the Clydesdale. 
Photo credit to Ashley Arnold. Thanks!

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Life Coach

There are some people in this world that just “get it.” They see things differently, or have a perspective that doesn’t seem to lend itself to the masses. Whatever they say always seems to be the right thing, or the answer that you were looking for all along. Blair Speed is one of those people. 
Blair and Char-char on the Bridgers.

Headed North from the Tetons, my next stop was Bozeman, MT. I had never been in “big sky” country before and was excited to see what it was all about. I was meeting up with Blair to do some trail running and catch up.

I first heard about Blair when my trail sister, Ashley Arnold, spoke about their childhood memories together. They have been best friends ever since they were three feet tall. I finally met Blair in person while pacing Ashley at the 2013 Leadville 100. Ashley went on to win the race in a speedy time of 20:25. 
Ashley and Blair before the start of the L100.

Blair was the perfect crew captain. Besides knowing the in’s and out’s of the course, she constructed a binder with color-coded tabs and more excel spreadsheets than a college stats class. We appointed her as the “rock” for our crew. When things got hectic, we all looked to Blair for the answer. Sure enough, she had an uplifting and logical response every time. As for her council with Ashley during the race, I had no idea what advice she would whisper, but Ashley left each aid station smiling and with a renewed sense of determination. 
Blair and Catsby.

Exhausted, I arrived at Blair’s quaint yellow condo around 2pm. I parked the Xterra and grabbed a bag from my back seat. I didn’t go more than two feet before I heard the backdoor open, followed by a cheerful “yayyyyyy you made it!” There stood Blair, wildly waving her hands in excitement while gusts of wind playfully tossed her long red hair. She looked like the poster child for an Eddie Bauer fall clothing campaign with her red plaid shirt and dark gray cords. By her side was Catsby, a regal orange and white long-haired meow.

After a big hug and lots of laughter, we headed to the Bridgers for our run (local rolling mountain range). 
Prepping for the Bridgers.

Overcast day = no blue skies.
Blair asked me about my life, knowing that I had recently quit my job, and what my next steps were going to be. I responded that I just hoped to train full time and see where my legs could take me. I didn’t have a long-term plan; I just knew that I wanted to give myself the opportunity that I had always dreamed of. Blair seemed impressed that I was taking control of what I wanted and was going for it.
Snapping photos of the incoming storm.

We continued to talk about my road trip, which I referred to as a vacation. “Wait, why does your road trip have to be a vacation?” Blair asked. “Why can’t this be a normal part of your lifestyle? It doesn’t really have to end unless you want it to. You are in control.” She was right. Why couldn’t this be normal, or an everyday thing? Why was I treating it as a reward, or something that I was only supposed to do a few times a year? It parallels the idea of special occasions. Sure they are nice, but why do people reserve only certain times to do something special? If the celebration, reward, or occasion is that important or “near and dear,” then why not try to obtain or embrace it every day?

Blair “life coach” Speed had just blown my mind with a simple question. She had just triggered a “reboot” to my brain, and had me looking at my life and choices from a whole new perspective. Blair gave me the ability to rewrite the book on how I had previously assumed life should be, and empowered me to become more aware of my control over my own life.

Thanks, Blair. 
Blair and I at the Ale House, post run :)