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One day at a time.

I’m dressed to go for a run. On a weekday.

This is normally not a big deal but several things the last couple of weeks have stood in my way of this previously habitual task. Back pain. Exhaustion. Headaches. Exhaustion. Poison Ivy. Exhaustion. Apathy.

None of those things are consequential and so there’s been no drama to my falling off of the wagon. No injury I need to recover from which has people asking me, “How long until you’re back?” No illness keeping me in bed with a fever which I can blame. No concrete and valid reason other than, “I’m kinda tired and sometimes my back really hurts.”

But mostly it’s apathy.

Once I accepted there’s no way I’ll be able to do 100 miles at my race in September and still maintain my needed sleep pattern (a pattern I saw proof that I needed at this experimental race), I’ve had very little drive to run. I kinda don’t care about running. Which sucks because running really is therapeutic and once you stop caring about the thing that was a source of therapy, you kinda notice.

So! I’m dressed and ready to head out this morning. I don’t have a lot of time so I’m going to try to squeeze in at least 4 miles. I ran on Saturday and was barely able to do 6 at a snail’s pace. It evidently does not take long for conditioning to disappear. I know it also comes back fast but only if you stick to it and I’m not sure I have the motivation to do that.

But I have the motivation today. One day at a time, right?

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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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Lessons Learned During A Stage Race

This is my third year doing the Grand Viduta Stage Race and I have learned some lessons and have some take-aways, y’all. Sit back and soak up the elite-runner knowledge.

HA! I made myself laugh at that one. Sit back and soak up the knowledge of a crazy girl who talked about boob chafing for 3 days.

  • You never know what kind of aid you will love with all of your heart until you get to the aid station. Last year my friends who rarely drank coke found themselves drinking it at every aid station. For me last year it was Powerbars. This year? Pretzels. I am NOT a pretzel person. Unless it’s a Combo you will never see me eat a pretzel by itself but this year? I COULD NOT GET ENOUGH. The very last aid station on the very last day did not have any and I might have cried.
  • Surviving the same 3-day trail race with someone can help you surmount any past social faux pas. Whether you thought someone was in their 50s who was actually in their 30s, or if you called someone by the wrong name, or if you called someone’s dog by the wrong name…you will still be besties by the time the 3 days is over. Just knowing you fought the same war and survived eliminates all past awkwardness. This is a treasure for someone like me who does embarrasses herself regularly.
  • I will offer strangers drugs at some point. The first year it was a guy who had rolled his ankle and was going to quit. “I HAVE DRUGS!” I always say. Because I do. I carry ibuprofen, Tylenol, and Excedrin with me. This year I offered them a guy who was just trying to survive past day 3 after an injury. “ARE YOU SURE?” I emphatically said when he declined. I am the back-woods drug pusher, I DO NOT TAKE NO FOR AN ANSWER.
  • I am best friends with all aid station workers. Without fail, every year, every day, every aid station, I show up and want to just bond with the clean people on the other side of the table. They’re like mystical humans and they’re offering me food and sodas and water and I just profess my love and appreciation like some sort of stalker ex-girlfriend. My group always points out, though, that we are aware of the difference between us and the racers at the beginning who probably don’t even stop. We stop, we chat, we take pictures, and we hang out. WE ARE NOT IN A HURRY, NEW BEST FRIENDS WITH THE PRETZELS!
  • I will break my No Sending Facebook Friend Requests after every Grand Viduta weekend. I set the rule in place because I’m obnoxious on Facebook. I post a million times a day, everything from Harry Potter memes to Trans Advocacy articles. I am a LOT to take on Facebook so it makes me feel better knowing that I did not push that on anyone. But if we survive Grand Viduta together? I’m probably going to send you a friend request. If you didn’t push me off a mountain by day 3? You can handle me on Facebook.
  • There’s always things to learn about your friends. I made new friends this weekend, but I also learned new things about old friends. Like engagement stories, or favorite music, or the fact that we know the same church camp songs. (“I am a C! I am a C-H! I am a C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N!”) There’s never a shortage of conversation topics and since you’ve lost your mind, there are no taboo subjects. “I poop at the same time, every day!” Might be something I said 14 times over the last 3 Vidutas. Would I ever even talk about my regularity to my family? HELL NO. But someone running 3 days with me through the woods? You’d better believe you’re going to know all about my digestive health by the time we cross the final finish line.
  • You can never love your trail running friends enough. I end every year feeling so blessed to be a part of this amazing community. These people are my family. I love seeing their beautiful faces and cheering them on and laughing with them, and maybe sometimes crying with them. I want to greet them all with hugs every day but I don’t because that’s weird and I’m just now getting them to look past the fact that I forgot their name that time at packet pickup. But I love them, and every year after this wonderful weekend, I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.

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A For A Different Kind Of Therapy…(SHOT!)

11182720_10153748071728496_3882568604493266364_oToday is the start of THE third as well as MY third Grand Viduta Stage Race. My friends Chelsea and Colleen have also both done it every year and our goal is to be the first (maybe only if our plan to knock out the other contenders works) (just kidding) to the 10-year jacket. And if there is NOT a 10-year jacket we will make them ourselves. WE LOVE THIS RACE, is what I’m saying.

Three days of running all over our mountain. Huntsville has more than one mountain, but this one (Monte Sano) has two different groups managing areas – the state park and the land trust – so there’s the biggest collection of trails and therefore the mountain we run on the most. Most of these trails we know mostly in ONE direction (because of how they are run for whatever race we are training for) but this race does a great job of making us go the OTHER direction on most of them. Running the opposite direction on a road doesn’t disorient you but running the opposite direction on the trail? You’ll be like, “WHERE IN THE HELL AM I?” because everything looks different.

It’s also currently very green and everything also looks different for that reason. Of course, this is also why this will be my last long trail run until October. I don’t like the green stuff. It usually contains poison ivy (of which I’m highly allergic) and snakes (of which I’m deathly afraid if they’re poisonous). This is like the party at the end of the school year, the last time we’ll all be together in one place until Fall.

Because it’s three exhausting days, I have opted to always just try to have fun and not stress about PRs or time goals. It’s nice to have a group because you can kinda hold each other up when one of you is feeling down and – luckily – we tend to alternate those moments. Until the last day when we’re all just delirious and tired and taking selfies with Powerbars at the aid stations. It’s so fun.

I was telling Colleen Wednesday night, this weekend I have two cups. One representing my physical energy and one representing my emotional energy. This weekend as I drain the one representing my physical energy, I’ll be refilling the one representing my emotional energy. Three mornings in a row of seeing the faces of some of my favorite people first thing, running through the woods with my friends, soaking up the energy of Spring and playing in the mud.

See you on the other side!

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Why You Should Never Day Drink With Ultra Runners.

Let me start by giving you an update on my husband’s training path. His Ironman in September did not go as planned as his knee (which had been bothering him off and on for awhile) basically stopped him from running the second he hit the concrete (which is much harder than asphalt, a reason you’ll see people running on the road instead of a sidewalk) greenway at mile 8 or so. He took a couple months off and then eased back into running by keeping to the trails. His small blip on the greenway with me at my 110K triggered the pain again, so he’s really been focusing on trails and trail races. So…OF COURSE…he’s wanted to make his next big goal a 100-Miler and give up triathlons all together.

BUT HERE IS THE PROBLEM: His wife is stubborn and won’t let him.

WHY?

Because I want to do one first, OF COURSE.

I always assumed I’d get my buckle (the token 100-mile completion prize) first because if there’s ONE THING I had on Donnie, it was that I’ve run further than he ever has. SEVERAL TIMES. His longest distance to date is a 50K whereas I’ve done 42, 44, 52, and 68 mile events. OF COURSE I assumed I’d be the first one to run 100 miles! As he’s been planning more and more trail races and talking to friends who do 100-Milers, he’s been hinting more and more at this stupid 100-Miler in Alabama in November and this has REALLY put the pressure on me because I WANT TO BE FIRST, DAMMIT. The only problem is, the one I want to do (the same one I did the 100K at) would be AFTER his so he’d have to wait until 2017 which he was NOT happy about. HIS FRIENDS ARE TRAINING THIS YEAR! He doesn’t want to do it NEXT year!

Now you’re ready for what happened on Saturday when we started day drinking with other ultra runners.

It started with a celebration of Grand Slammers past and present (we did the local Grand Slam – 3 50Ks and 1 marathon – last year) at a local brewery which sponsored the event this year. The topic moved to 100-milers as it does in this type of gathering and Donnie and I brought up the current dilemma – he wants to do a race that is later than the one I want to do. One of our friends brought up a race in Tennessee called A Race For The Ages. We have a local friend who did it and I remember reading his race report and thinking I could maybe do 100 miles there but it sounded like a 1-time event so it wasn’t on my radar for doing it again. But it turns out – due to popular demand – they’re doing it again. Here’s how it works: You get 1 hour to run how ever miles you can run FOR EVERY YEAR YOU ARE OLD. I would get 41 hours to run 100+ miles which would actually even allow me to break it up a bit and sleep in the middle somewhere. I’m 99% I could do 100 miles in less than 30 hours (that’s how long the Pistol gives you, which is another reason I was considering it) so I could get sleep in the middle and still do 101 because I still want to say I’ve done MORE than Donnie.

So we’re all talking about that while drinking and I’m hearing more and more about what makes this race awesome. I already knew it was my favorite type of format for an ultra: Small loops. I like the social aspect of that type of race (the 1-mile loops where I do a 12-hour run every year make the event like a big local party) and the fact that you’re never more than 1/2 a mile from anything you could need. INCLUDING AN INDOOR TOILET. Nighttime running is not in the woods where the monsters live. There’s a very forgiving cutoff. But most importantly: REAL ultra runners like this one too because it’s directed by a man who goes by the name Lazarus Lake and RDs the notorious Barkley Marathons. Also, because of the format, it attracts a lot of famous ultra runners of yesteryear, allowing them another chance at getting a 100-mile belt buckle without having to worry about cutoffs. OH! And speaking of the buckle (it’s the standard 100-mile price) it’s way cooler than the one from the Pistol Ultra and that was always something I was a little unenthusiastic about regarding the Pistol. I know it’s silly, but if I’m going to earn a 100-mile buckle…I don’t want it a huge thing with a gun on it.

2 beers later and I’m leaving the bar with Donnie totally excited about the fact that he might actually get to do his race after all because I’ve found a race that comes FIRST. So we get home, I’m totally buzzing on the last high gravity beer and what do I do? I SIGNED UP FOR THE DAMN RACE. I was tentatively considering doing 100 miles at the Pistol Ultra in 2017. TENTATIVELY. And now I’m signed up to do one in SEVEN MONTHS. Luckily, my friend who was talking up the race the most also signed up a few minutes after I did. He’s done several 100-milers including Western States, so he’s a much higher caliber of racer than I am, BUT STILL. At least I’ll have one familiar face there.

And 30 seconds later? Donnie signed up for his 100-Miler. Which will be in NINE MONTHS. We went from no 100-Milers on the docket to TWO in a TWO MONTH SPAN.

We better get our house sold fast or we’re screwed. All of our spare energy in the next 7-9 months needs to be focused towards our 100-milers, AND NEVER DAY DRINKING WITH ULTRA RUNNERS AGAIN.

(I AM SO EXCITED. EEK. 100 MILES. EEEEEEKKKK!)