Photo taken by Randall Levensaler

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!