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A Back-Of-The-Pack Runner’s Notes On Ultra Running

I find it frustrating that running tips/advice/race reports are so often from people who are natural athletes or fast runners. People who casually reference 12-minute milers like that’s the slowest you can be. (Trust me fast people, YOU CAN BE MUCH SLOWER.) People like my husband who could not understand that I stopped to sing along with Hamilton when a friend was playing it at his spectating point on my race. “Wait. You stopped? TO SING?” Of course I did. Don’t you know me?

So, these are notes from someone like me…who stops and sings when she hears her favorite song.

There is only 5 miles between a marathon and 50K yet some people who are more than happy to do a marathon, have NO desire to do a 50K. There’s only 5 miles! Most 50Ks are on trails and so that is sometimes a deterrent. To me a 12-hour race is even easier than a 50K because the finish-line comes to you! And most of the time (because the point is to get as many miles in the time limit as possible) they’re on flat, soft, 1-mile’ish loops. I’m here to point out all of the amazing things you’re missing out on at these types of races so that if you make the marathon leap, maybe you’ll make the next one. I promise I won’t push you any farther than that. I just learned this weekend I’m not cut out for races in the nighttime. But I’m certain if you can do a marathon, you can do a 50K or a 12-hour race. No problem.

  • Trail running is not how you picture it. You don’t just jump into running your road-pace on stretches of trails littered with roots and rocks. I rarely hit my slowest road pace anywhere, and most often if I do it’s because it’s a section of trail I know so well I could map it out with my eyes closed. Picture hiking + jogging when you picture someone like me trail running. If it’s technical and I don’t know it? I’m barely jogging. If it’s an uphill? I’m walking. Almost always. It saves my legs for the distance if I walk the uphills. I do get to the point where I can kill some treacherous downhills, but only on MY mountain where I know where almost every rock is. You don’t have to do that. I don’t on a lot of races. If you can hike tough trails and run a marathon? You can trail run.
  • Falling isn’t as bad as you think it is. It sucks, don’t get me wrong. But out of the 50+ falls I’ve had only 2 were bad enough where I was worried I was injured. And I was not injured! I think partly because since I run slower I fall easier, but also I’m a klutz so I think my instincts are good when I fall.
  • KEEP GOING AFTER YOU ROLL YOUR ANKLE. I’m so glad someone told me this early on. I roll my ankles constantly, like an average of once every 5 miles probably. And sometimes it hurts so bad it brings tears to my eyes, but I keep moving and somehow that keeps the blood flowing and as long as no damage is done, the pain subsides. I rolled my ankle “bad” once and wore a brace for the rest of the season but it didn’t stop me, so it obviously wasn’t that bad. It just made my ankle weak so I wanted extra support from a brace.
  • Once you get past the marathon distance and into timed races or 50Ks or more, you have epic food selection. I’ve done marathons where I maybe get some chips or some oranges but at 50Ks or timed races there is often PIZZA and maybe DONUTS. I did a race once where they had those chocolate drizzle rice crispy treats and I nearly DIED it was so heavenly.
  • You are also more likely to find aid stations or runners stocked with a medicine cabinet. Excederin? Pepto? Immodium? Yes. Yes. and Yes. If you need something? Ask around. Chances are an aid station has it or someone running near you does and if you’re a back-of-the-packer like me? Go ahead and ask. (I don’t recommend asking the guys up front, they don’t carry much with them.)
  • You get to know fast runners at timed races. I love that about a good 12-hour race, you are constantly getting passed by people you would never see otherwise and it gives you the feeling of camaraderie and it feels great to be on the same page (although no where near the same mile) as a fast runner.
  • Everyone gets silly. I don’t know about the front of the pack people, but in the back? We all lose our minds as we get closer to the finish and it’s fantastic. You’re walking a lot more, just trying to survive, so you get goofy and it’s like being drunk without actually drinking. It’s great.
  • Fast and Slow is not reflective in body type. You’ll see someone 50lbs heavier but loads faster and someone 20lbs lighter and loads slower. If you don’t have a typical runner body, you’ll be amazed by how many people with your body are out there. Ultras aren’t usually about speed, they’re about endurance, so people aren’t stressing out so much about being lean as they would be if they were trying to hold 6-minute miles for 3 hours.
  • There’s often (always?) beer. Sometimes it’s secret beer due to regulations of the location of the race, but if you keep your eyes and ears open you will often find that people have beers at the finish line (sometimes the race is sponsored by a beer WHICH IS THE BEST) or sometimes you’ll do a timed run and find that people are drinking beers DURING THE RACE and that’s when you’ll think, “Yes. I found my people.”
  • Ultra runners are just fun. I feel like the start lines and finish lines of an ultra are usually so much more lighthearted. Everyone recognizes the “crazy” factor in what they’re doing and it makes even the most serious of person a bit goofy. They’re also encouraging. They’ll share tips. The start line of a road marathon often feels tense, but of an ultra? At least at the ones I do? There’s a lot more laughing than I would expect. “WE CRAZY!” type of comments and laughter.

I’m trying to get out of my 100-miler because I learned my limits this weekend, but I still believe if I can run a 50K or a 12-hour race? Anyone who can do a marathon can. The only thing that makes it easier for me than it might be for you is I have this epic community around me. I’d like to think there’s one hidden in your town too, but I don’t know. Some days I feel like we have something unique and special here, but at the race in TN this weekend there seemed to be a “regular” crowd of people who looked just as fun and supportive as our group is. So maybe there’s one where you are too, you just have to find them.

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Why I Tolerate Voting For Liars

I’m going to discuss this election cycle but in the very vaguest of terms because this one is making insane on ALL SIDES. And believe it or not, I think the general point of my vague discussion here is probably something everyone can kinda relate to, even if you vote conservative to my liberal.

Everyone who knows I was a big Obama supporter in 2008. I was excited to vote for him and I was excited to see him be my President. Unfortunately, I learned the next four years exactly how hard it is to get anything accomplished in Washington. When he was able to push legislation through to the finish line, it was a very watered down version of what he (and I) had originally hoped for and it was often attached to all sorts of junk neither he (nor I) wanted to begin with. I was disappointed and hurt and had a hard time being a really enthusiastic supporter in 2012.

But then the next four years things got even worse yet he somehow managed to still keep trying to push the ball forward and still moved things in the direction I wanted in small steps and he was still fighting against partisan obstruction and I started shifting the way I looked at things. I was no longer disappointed in him, as much as I was the system in general and just how frustrating it is that money from corporations and lobbyists, and loud segments of a political base, have more power than average citizen opinion.

I guess I just started looking at the big picture and accepting our political system for what it is. What I decided was that there are two major factors that keep us in this twisted system where we do not all have actual equal representation, is two things: 1) SCOTUS decision on the Citizens United case and 2) Gerrymandering of political districts. (SIDENOTE: I don’t think Gerrymandering is as terrible as some people think it is, I think it’s bad. here’s a good article from several years ago that kinda explains my view. I don’t think it’s the cause of all that is polarizing, but I think it needs significant reform.)

And until those two things are dealt with (in my opinion) no one on any side can actually be effective in government without working within the corrupt system.

So now I find myself looking at politics completely differently.

Now I accept that politicians in many areas where gerrymandering rules HAVE to campaign on the extreme end of their politics because the fight for Congressional seats are not two-party fights any more but SINGLE party fights where they have to appeal to the majority of their party since their party rules the district. In Alabama? Many times we don’t even have a Democrat on the ballot because – seriously – what’s the point? I accept that new campaign financing habits make it so that if you don’t play the money game with the big business and the lobbyists, you’re going to find a hard time getting elected. And I’m not convinced that even if you COULD get elected, that you could get anything accomplished because everyone else in the legislative equation got elected by businesses and lobbyists, so they’re still fighting for their teams and can obstruct your goals.

So, until Citizens United is overturned and Gerrymandering is dealt with, I now don’t feel bad about voting for people who play the game. Is it ideal? No. Does it hurt my heart? Yes. But even if we can get mavericks in the office who seem counter to the game, unless they can change the ruling on Citizens United or change Gerrymandering of the districts, the game is still being played around them and the executive branch does not have a lot of power by itself. Ask Obama, he’ll tell you. It’s really hard to push anything through even in tiny doses unless you figure out how to play the game with politicians who have to keep their political base and their financial backers happy.

I bought a super-cheap pair of shoes at Old Navy for Nikki a while back. I mean SUPER CHEAP. Like less than $10. When I checked out there was a small part of me that thought, I’m betting the factory conditions where these were made were terrible and this product probably left and environmental footprint that would upset me…BUT WHO CARES! It’s only $10! I can’t pass up the deal! She needs a new pair of shoes and I don’t have $35 dollars right now to spend on them. BUT I DO HAVE $10!

It’s not pretty. I’m not proud of it. But sometimes we choose to ignore what’s going on several steps back in the process just so we can have some sort of gain in our immediate grasp. To me? Saying you’re only going to vote for people who buck the system is noble, just like I do what I can to buy handmade and shop local. But sometimes we only have $10 and we’ll take what we can get, and that’s kinda where I feel like I am with politics. I’m discouraged. I’ve lost hope that anyone can do anything that drastic as President. Obama wasn’t even trying to do anything as extreme as either Trump or Sanders are campaigning to do, and he couldn’t make progress in the system. I’m completely beaten down and no longer have hope that anyone can do anything extreme anymore. Which will be good for me if Trump gets elected, but is also why I can’t get excited about Sanders either. If Obama couldn’t push a single-payer healthcare system through by playing the game, I don’t see how anyone who refuses to play the twisted game could make any more progress.

As long as Citizens United and Gerrymandering make it so that many of us don’t have equal representation, or that the money counts more than our vote…then it’s like I only have $10 for shoes. I have to do what I can with that $10 and while I don’t like it, it’s not ideal, at least my kid has a new pair of shoes.

So, instead of getting all passionate about PEOPLE, I’ve been trying to learn more about groups pushing for change in district lines and campaign reform. I’m not 100% saying I support 100% of everything these groups are pushing, but I do like Fair Vote.Org’s efforts in reform for district representations and I’ve been following Democracy Spring’s efforts to overturn Citizens United. And I’m not saying that if those things were addressed that our legislatures would automatically start functioning perfectly for the people, but I think it we be better.

And honestly, if I think too much about whether or not changing those two things would even make a difference, I get depressed. Because then I start thinking about how our many in our country – citizens and politicians alike – are out for themselves and no one else. And then I start questioning humanity and the state of our global community and I start drinking at 10am.

So, back to my metaphor. I guess I’m trying to make factory conditions better so when I find cheap shoes I can buy them guilt free. Instead of just trying to shop local. If you know of any other organizations supporting districting reform or pushing for the overturning of Citizens United, let me know.

The medals blink!

The Least Surprising Experiment Results Ever

I’m not exactly sure how updated I’ve kept this blog on my running plans, as I tend to do those mundane updates on Facebook. But, in case I haven’t announced it here, I have a race on the calendar that I plan to be my attempt at doing 100 miles at one event. It’s called A Race For The Ages (ARFTA) and it’s a simple concept: You get as many hours to run a 1-mile course as you are old. Finish time is noon on Labor Day so you subtract your age and find your start time. I’ll be 41, so I get 41 hours to do 100 miles which I should be able to do no problem. EXCEPT: I have to start at 7pm on Saturday night. Which is basically my bedtime.

So…I sought out a night race to test my “start a race at night” capabilities. Because, what I hoped I could do with the ARFTA, is to start at 7pm and run until it started getting hot on Saturday and take ONE long sleep period during the hottest part of the day before running until the finish. That made everything seem doable, divides the 100 miles into 2 chunks divided by one good sleep occupying the hottest hours of the race. Perfect.

Except that I did my Test Night Race experiment this weekend and it went terrible. My dream hypothesis was: Kim Can Function Decently Enough On 24+ Hours Without Sleep To Support Getting In 50 Miles Before Sleeping At ARFTA.

But, of course, we all know that the RIGHT hypothesis would have been: Kim Falls Apart Without Sleep.

This was a Run Under The Stars event (there’s a bunch) outside Knoxville, TN and it started at 8pm and went to 6am. It was a 1.25 mile flat gravel loop and we had a tent set up and a canopy and chairs and – as far as night races go? It was GREAT. If you want to do a night race? I highly recommend it. I went with 4 of my girl running friends (We obviously misunderstand the idea of a Girls Night Out) and it was really a great experience. I laughed more on that trip than I have on any other trip. Mostly because we all lost our damn minds. My friend Chelsea lost her mind before the race even started as she realized APPROACHING THE START LINE that she was wearing her flip-flops instead of her running shoes. So, basically I almost wet my pants laughing hysterically at the start line. There is no better way to start a race.

Ready for my night race!

A photo posted by Kim Holmes (@misszoot) on

My goal was to knock out 20 miles before taking any significant breaks. And I did that FINE. So from 8pm to midnight? I functioned well enough. It was not ideal, I definitely prefer waking up and running to running at night, but I knocked out the 20 miles fine in about 4:10 which is a moderate ultra pace for me. Then I started allowing myself walk breaks and sit breaks and the further I got past midnight the more I deteriorated mentally and physically. I was losing the ability to care about anything other than how much I wanted to sleep. My stomach was also rejecting the idea that I was expecting it to take new food on during normal sleep hours.

I got to the marathon distance and opted for an extended (20 minutes or so) break and let my friends just run along without me. I sat there thinking about how I was getting that weird dizzy feeling I’ve gotten when I’ve tried to function as a human after a night up with sick kids. It’s like a motion sickness feeling. If you’ve suffered it you’ll know what I’m talking about, but it’s strictly related to sleep deprivation, has NOTHING to do with the running portion of the evening. Yet I still had a solid 3+ hours left of running to do. I decided I could walk and still reach the 50K point so I opted to make that my goal for the night. 50K and then I could tap out.

So I muscled through the next 5 miles walking a lot more and sitting a lot more and fighting the urge to puke from dizziness CONSTANTLY. It was like a bad car ride, it was terrible. So when I hit the 50K point I decided to try to lay down. I think I had 2+ hours to go so I wrapped up in a sheet in our tent and put on my comfy/dry clothes. The problem was I was so dizzy/motion sick that every time I moved I felt the urge to puke again. So, I gave Chelsea my mat (SIDENOTE: When it comes to sleep/schedules Chelsea and I are identical. We normally go to bed early and wake up early. WE ARE NOT NIGHT PEOPLE. She struggled as much as I did.) and I tried to wrap up in a sheet on a chair and sit perfect still for awhile to try to settle my dizziness.

It didn’t work and I still had an hour left so I thought, “Well…what the hell…” and I wrapped up in my sheet and put my race number on my pajamas and just walked one more lap for a total of 32.25 miles.

On of our friends that went that WAS just going to go as a spectator but signed up last minute knocked out 37 miles after…get this…having a long run of only 16 miles before that moment. SHE SET A 21 MILE PR. HA! She is also a night person, so she didn’t lose her shit like I did.

I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t realize HOW hard. One funny thing, I suspected when the sun came up I’d feel fine and I kinda did. I definitely didn’t feel GREAT but I actually helped drive home because I felt fine enough to drive once it became morning which is when my mind/body function best.

So now I’m questioning the ARFTA. If I could start at 6am, run 16 hours, sleep from 10pm-6am and run 16 hours again I’d be GOLDEN. I’d have to run in the heat of the day, but it would fit with my natural cycle of waking/sleeping. But this race is exactly opposite so now I either have to figure out how to adjust my sleep cycle the week before or I run for 3-4 hours, take a long nap, run for 20 hours, take a long nap, run for 5 hours or so. And that sucks. Because I’m still running in the heat of the day, but not in any fun schedule that’s good for mentally pushing through a long run.

I don’t know. It’s just frustrating to know my limiting factor in this adventure is how much I need/depend on sleep. I had really hoped I could function for 30 hours at a decent level but it turns out I can’t. Not even close.

So, long story short? The race was tons of fun. I highly recommend you do a night run with a group of fun girls where you can set up a camp and kinda hang out all night. It really was a great experience, and one I’d like to do again some day. Just for the fun of it. But this experiment kinda has me doubting my ability to schedule my running/sleeping during ARFTA in any sort of optimal way. If I knew I could get a refund? I’d withdraw today. I guess I’ll spend the next week or so talking to people about their experiences with running/dizziness/sleep deprivation because that’s not something you can really “treat” like you can digestive issues or muscle cramping. It’s my body’s response to exhaustion and it’s IMPOSSIBLE to run through.

All in all, great race. Great medal. Just making me wonder if the ARFTA is going to be as ideal as I had hoped for my first attempt at a 100-miler.

The medals blink!

The medals blink!

Spoiled.

E came into town Monday afternoon, left last night, and we had three REALLY good days while he was here. He doesn’t usually come into town for more than one day at a time, so he always has to cram in time with his friends while he’s here and it never feels long enough and I’m always depressed when he leaves. I’m depressed he left this time too, but for entirely different reasons. We just had SO MUCH FUN! We went roller skating Tuesday night and Wednesday night we celebrated Wes’s birthday by going to an arcade/restaurant and to the playground with Wes’s friends. There were also trips to Barnes and Noble, lunches out, beers had (He’s 21 now! That’s fun!), and episodes of Gilmore Girls watched. All in all? It was a great trip and I’m sad to wake up this morning and not have to try to be quiet in the kitchen so I don’t wake him up.

He’s officially a senior in college. If all goes well, he will graduate in May. His goal is to get out of Alabama as fast as the wind will carry him, but he’ll also go where the jobs are so…who knows. Either way, I have to start bracing myself for the fact that these spontaneous trips to see each other may be coming to an end this year. And so I need to do everything I can to make them happen as frequently as possible. I have a big race in September, but I really want to not take on anything more than usual for the next several months after that. Still do my favorite races throughout the winter, but nothing MORE. I’ll have a back-to-back weekend in November if all goes well, but other than that I’ll just keep up to the 50K training level until January, and then just keep my head above water to survive the Spring races. Nothing major that would keep me from popping into town to see him on the weekends if he has time to breathe.

It’s hard, thinking about him being more than 2.5 hours away next year. My perspective gets spoiled because I’ve always been within a weekend drive from my family and we live in the same town as all of Donnie’s family. I forget that not everyone is so lucky.

But I’ll worry about that when the time comes. Until then I’ll be sure to remember that he’ll stay a little longer if you promise to buy him new socks.

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College kids are quite easy to bribe, it turns out.

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The One Where I Introduce You To Something That’s 20 Years Old

You probably haven’t heard of this podcast, it’s pretty new and unfamiliar but it’s called “This American Life” and it’s hosted by this unknown guy: Ira Glass. Have you heard of it?

I know. I know. You’ve heard of it. I’m writing about something like it’s new when everyone in the world listens to it every week.

First: It’s not new to me either. I’ve caught it periodically on the radio using our NPR affiliate for the very long time it has been on. I also would try to catch it on my “podcast” app but I subscribe to a LOT of podcasts and I sometimes miss them and they don’t keep a good archive. I tried to listen to it on my NPR ONE app but they don’t have it at all. I didn’t realize there was actually a “This American Life” app with ALL of the shows until my husband told me about it. So I’m not really new to the show, but I’m new to a lot of the episodes now that I have the complete archive at my fingertips.

I think the reason I’m listening to it more is that I now have a 35-45 minute commute where the ONE thing I always listened to: NPR, is not longer an option. Y’all? I can’t handle election coverage any more. It’s making me crazy. I’m into politics, I really am, but our election cycle is A) Way too freakin’ long and B) A special kind of terrible this year.

(For example? How is it that the Republicans seem to be actually rallying around Trump to avoid a Clinton Presidency but the Left side of politics is holding their ground with their candidate NO MATTER WHAT. Is a Clinton Presidency scarier to Republicans than a Trump Presidency is to Democrats? It’s weird, y’all. I’m seeing more ugliness between liberals than I’ve ever seen and it’s embarrassing. How I’m embarrassed by my side on a year the other side has Trump is beyond me.)

ANYWAY! Sick of NPR, so I’m listening to old TAL shows and it’s been really great. I’m using the app to mark my “favorites” when I can, although it’s hard because sometimes I love Act 2 and the rest is just okay so when it’s over I forget to “favorite” it. I do mark them as “heard” though so I can sort by “Unheard” and find new ones easier. And I do periodically come across an act or even a whole show I heard when it aired “live” on our NPR station, but for the most part I’ve been surprised by how many are “new” to me. I thought I had listened to a lot of them but either I just don’t remember them or I’m just delusional.

It’s just been a nice little new addition to my life. Donnie’s totally addicted too and because my commute is longer, I’m now further back in time than he is and he’s kinda mad about it. Heh. But luckily, the show has been on for 20 years so I think I can make it through the entire election and not have to listen to the morning news on my commute ONCE.