Sunday, April 22, 2012

I may wear lipstick, but I am no candy ass

Thirteen years ago I would not ever have imagined running more than one marathon every six months.  The first time I "turned over" a marathon in two weeks, running Towpath and then Columbus, it is a distinct memory, my speaking the words, "never again."

Running a marathon one week after a fifty mile race?  It is now my "normal."  It is amazing what a body can do. 

Back in 2004, when I met and married Bob Pokorny, I was shown a totally new life and way of thinking. He was the one who took me out for my first trail run, bought me the right shoes, and introduced me to his group of friends who just so happened to be really big into the sport of ultrarunning, all extremely talented runners.

I was connected with Medina runners who were or soon became national champions -- like Connie Gardner and Roy Heger. Even Bob was a national masters champion. He threw me into the Saturday morning group, with Mark and Steve Godale, and company, who became known to me as the "A team", as Bill Wagner adopted me into his group on Saturdays, quietly known as the "B team".

An aside here, Bill Wagner is one of the toughest runners I know, and is the best pacer an ultrarunner could ever ask for. He understands the pain, assists to get you through it, but quickly ends the moaning with a harsh word or statement akin to "is THAT ALL ya GOT?" That voice has motivated me to finish lines and running up hills so steep I surprised myself.

So back in 2004, when my first trail run was a fantastic success, I fell in love immediately.  Kinda like downhill skiing, I dove right in, bought all the equipment after only one try, and immediately considered this sport my new passion.  However, my second time out was not love. It was muddy, and well, as most trail runners do, I slipped and slid down a hill on my bottom, which at the time shocked me. I cried. Real tears. I can tell you the exact spot on the Buckeye Trail where I lost it and cried. Bob walked me to the road, we gave it up and ran back to the car. He was pretty much silent. It was my make it or break it moment.

Thankfully, I attempted a third time. And that was the training run when Roy Heger gave me the unwritten rules lecture that there is absolutely NO COMPLAINING, NO WHINING, and certainly NO CRYING in the sport of ultrarunning. In other words, shut up and run.  Tanya Cady -- also another national champion, I believe -- was my model for shutting up and doing it.  Toughest woman I have met on the trails, for sure.  I learned quickly that folks like me who didn't harden up would be known as Candy Asses. I hardened up, toughened up, sucked it up, and went head-first into ultras.

It was a life changing time for me. It formed the unique, passionate person I am today.  I may wear lipstick, but I am no candy ass.

Earlier this year I posted a blog about picturing my perfect mate as a runner, or at least someone familiar with our "community of understanding." How we push through limits (like running back-to-back marathons), run to places we never dreamed of going, and how we get through even the most adverse of situations. Bob Lisey, another well-accomplished ultrarunner, once told me that I am an adversity runner -- the playing field is leveled when you put me onto a hard course with other not-so-tough runners. I get through challenges like mud and pouring rain, and falls and bleeding and running out of water.   I might be slow, but I endure.

A non-runner has a truly difficult time understanding how we say "no" to fatigue and pain and continue a race -- he simply doesn't understand how this is good for us. For me, it is the best, most rewarding sport, a sport I cannot -- or want not -- to live without.

So my daughters spent six years-plus living with a couple who ran ultras. They were raised into our sport, knowing dinner would be served late, traveling to races, crewing for us, making signs and helping at aid stations. Alicia has been the aid station captain for Burning River's mile 89 aid station and Savanna has worked as the only female on the supply truck team every year since the race began.  In other words, both my daughters are pretty darn tough.

Amusingly, since living on my own, I have dated only ultrarunners.  Until just recently. This one particular non-running man, suffers with migraines.  He actually pays attention to his body signals of pain, and one evening arrived at my house with a headache. I heated up a hot pack ("bed buddy"), propped him up on pillows, fed him Advil, kissed him on the forehead and closed the shades to let him sleep. I overheard Savanna say, perhaps in a mumble only I could hear, "He won't last long in this household." I asked why and she said something like how he will be taken care of for only so long, and then, the pity party is over and done. Get up and get moving. This is the house of an ultrarunner.

I realized that she was right. Oftentimes when one of the kids comes home with an ache, I say, "wanna go to Kaiser?" to which she responds, "no way," and I say, "then be quiet about it." Toughen up, kid. Serious issues are treated seriously, of course. But when enough time passes that the healing is done, so is the empathy.

There is a fine line where pity meets no mercy.

And therein lies the key to what I need in a man.

All along I have asked for a runner, preferably an ultrarunner, who understands endurance events and the mindset of these athletes. But maybe I am just looking for a man who can see that fine line -- not necessarily because he runs, but because he understands the gray area between wallowing in sorrow and picking yourself up (or pulling me up) and moving forward.

I made mistakes in life, and the largest mistake of all was agreeing to end my marriage. When I fall back into a rough patch these days, I am usually overwhelmed with this guilt of screwing up, which magnifies all the loss, and creates an internal inability to do all that I am required to do. It is like a death spiral. I then must rely on myself for motivation and accountability. Once in a while, when I am in my dark hole, obsessing over losses, or being depressed over long gone issues, I have had a friend or relative come by and say, "Pity Party is done. Get your head out of your ass and get moving." In other words, grace, sympathy, empathy, mercy, all that extends to me. I am allowed to grieve, to wallow... but for only so long.

That is my greatest need in a life partner: enough compassion to hear my whinings, but for only so long -- and then he motivates me to shut up, get up, and get moving. This personality trait -- a true mixture of soft and hard -- I have found mainly in ultrarunners. Like Bob Pokorny, who works full time and still manages to run doubles during the weekday... and admits it's hard as hell to get out of bed exhausted, but how ya just have to do it to get better. Like Roy Heger, who will understand the pain of blisters (or annihilated toes) but yet be willing to patch you up and get you back out on the race course to finish. Like Bill Wagner, who knows personally the fatigue of running a tough 100-miler, how the body screams to stop but how the mind has to overcome and continue. As a pacer, Bill will give a hug and then a push. Like Mark Godale, who runs and finishes his 19th Boston Marathon, despite a debilitating knee injury, but overcomes the pain BECAUSE it's his 19th Boston and he's gonna run it.  Or like sweet tough Frank Probst of Virginia who has run Bull Run every year now for 20 years (that is 50 miles and he is over 60).  

So the man who will be best for me is the man who reads my last blog, where I consider either excelling or outright quitting, and he tells me "don't quit."  He will be the one who tells me I am tough when the going gets rough.  He will not balk at my running a marathon a week after a 50.  He will be the one cheering at the finish line telling me I am awesome and lying how beautiful I look at that moment.  He is the one who will be showered with an equal amount of support from me, in any capacity he needs it.  No, we don't do pity parties for very long around this house, but he will understand that tough love, and embrace me, my daughters, and my community with understanding. 

I hope I am not asking too much.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Excel or Quit, No More Just Hanging- On

The intention is almost always good. I start a new year, a new season, a new month, with grand running goals. There was a span of maybe two or three weeks in December-January when I felt like it was going to be "my year" for running well. I was running at least 7 miles a day, meeting up with friends to run like the "old days," I felt good, felt strong, felt motivated and dove into a year-long race plan.

Running ultras takes planning, at least for me. Especially when registrations go live six months or more before a race, and open and close within hours. If I sign up for a 50-mile, 100k, or 100-miler, I had better know that my time schedule will permit the training and not conflict with any major events of my children. Besides, the registration cost for so many of these races is steep -- steep if you are registering for multiple events throughout the year. After investing $100 or more sometimes, to "not go" is what happens only in the event of true injury. If I have paid money to do a race, and my name appears on the "registered" list, then you better believe I am going to run that race. Even when I am not adequately trained. Which is my downfall, and the topic of this sorta-mini race-report on the Bull Run Run 50-miler which took place yesterday.

"Not adequately trained" has been my excuse for quite some time. But yesterday, while I was running in the hills of Clifton, Virginia (near Manassas), I had quite the revelation: I am tired of just hanging on... I am tired of just getting by... finishing is good, yes, but even if it is a little embarrassing? Hmmm... now therein lies the point.

My friend Roy, a veteran ultrarunner and one of my favorite role models, would normally say "a finish is a finish" which is a good way to say "you put in the time training, you simply had a less than stellar day out there, we all have them." But I am sure that Roy would only say this if he knew I was ready... not if I just sorta half-assed it, showed up because I was registered, hung in there and finished... sorta badly. I get that. I suffered more than normal yesterday because I haven't done the time on the trails recently.

It is difficult for me to explain this to newer trail runners, because for some of them getting a finish is an accomplishment. I totally honor that. And colleagues at work wouldn't even ask me my finish time, probably because most of them believe that I used multiple days to cover 50 miles because who does that anyhow, run for 50 miles, that is absolutely crazy. Ultrarunners are a slim population, and I respect my sport and respect my body's ability to complete these trail races. I thank God I have the capability to do it at all. Yes, each finish is a finish.

But take note, I am serious this time.

My trail revelation involved a mind-body connection, somewhere after the 16 mile mark. My inner thighs were becoming painful, little spasms that I have been experiencing lately just sitting at my office desk doing nothing physical. I was still moving fairly well, and continued forward, knocking off each aid station and running through pain that did not go away this time with Advil.

I didn't ever consider quitting, because I knew I had finished many 50-milers before, and I was convinced that I could endure 12 hours of practically anything and still live. I knew I could get it done. It may not be pretty, and it may not be impressive to Mark Speedy-Pancake or new friendly companion Paul, but I knew the finish would come eventually. And besides, my daughter Savanna would be proud of me every time I would see her on the course that day.

I didn't consider quitting, but admittedly, I did consider not even starting. It had been a slightly cold night, huddled up in layers that were actually comfortable once I stopped caring about the big black spiders I felt certain were all over Happy-the-Hippo, my pillowpet, as well as my hood and down my sleeping bag.

Laying in my platform-tent bunkbed at 5:08 a.m., with a cramp that felt like a migraine in my neck, I ran through the entire scenario of just not getting up for the race. I remembered that my only flashlight was dim with low battery, and none of my race clothes or drop box items were sorted. Breakfast food was all the way back in the car, and the race started in a little over an hour. It all seemed like too much. Like maybe I cannot do everything I used to be able to do anymore.

I played it out in my head... I could lay there, sleep more, hope the aches went away, and be up to cheer on Mark later in the day. I could be warm like a normal person, eat a real breakfast, relax. Why was that not good enough for me? Why did I get up, falling around in the dark, take advil with no water, and drag all three of my bags to the restroom, and muddle through getting dressed? Because I could endure anything for 12 hours?

I hauled it all then down the hill to the car and sat in the front seat with 20 minutes to go, wolfing down a doughnut and my thermos of coffee. I didn't sort my drop box, it could all sit there for sorting if I needed it later. I kept thinking, how on earth am I gonna get it together? I am a broken mess.

I was so unprepared mentally, but the hard part was over, I was up and dressed and only had to be there at the starting line. The rest would work itself out, including the passage of 50 trail miles. I could just take it hour by hour. So I went to the starting line, saw my friends and started going when the RD told me to go.

Miles ticked by, I didn't feel like talking with anyone, so unlike me. I did feel better after changing into my Moeben skirt at the 16 mile aid station, and going to the bathroom and getting some Icy Hot for my muscles. I saw Paul and my dirlie Savanna and that re-energized me to walk out of the aid station for more fun.

And then the revelation-- I realizing I am now officially sick of just enduring these long races. I am sick of just hanging-on for dear life, for just barely showing up, for being less than spirited.

Honestly looking at myself, I have been cutting runs short or not going at all. Despite my improving performance in 50k's of late, I honestly have not been doing enough back-to-back long runs. Most of my weekday runs are at home, on the roads, by myself. Boring and sometimes painful. My thighs are a little chunky, I am eating crap-food again like burgers and pizza. This is the time when I need to be training with motivated groups, beat my body down so it will re-build itself, eat salads and drink lots of water.

I need to become a priority again in my own life.

Running along that dry single-track, I was having a pleasant time, really. There were actually moments I felt strong out there, racing down the hills and passing weaker runners. Imagine if I really trained. Imagine if I put in time like Mark Pancake had for this race, maybe I would have been closer to my 11 hour goal. Somewhere inside my gut I knew if I trained I would be good. "Good" relative to myself, relative to the other 45-year old half-assed ultra-runners show up mainly 'cuz they paid money for it.

Now is the time that I stop just hanging-on, and start excelling... or it is just plain time to quit.

The prospect of quitting the sport I love is a little threatening... actually, a lot threatening. The ending of the story I played out in my head for the day in Virginia had I NOT run, involved lots of eating fattening sugary food, lots of laying around, lots of feeling sorry for myself and falling deeper into the pit of despair. It feels like it could all snow-ball and not stop. I fear I would become fat and sleep all day. I realize I am always one day short of quitting and going to hell. The road of good intentions, you know.

Intentions for me have to start becoming achieved daily goals. And sure, I can make excuses that I am no longer married to or dating an ultrarunner who will motivate me, and I can pretend like I am superwoman who can maintain a job, house, three high maintenance pets, a garden, raising a teen and worrying about a young-adult daughter. But I cannot do it all. As a single woman, something has to change. I literally cannot do it all.

That's why I am faced with the sad realization that it is either excelling or quitting for me at this point. Because the productivity level here in my house today is low at best. Bags are not yet unpacked, and dinner is not made (or on my mind), I slept til 10:30 a.m. and still feel like sleeping. I feel dragged out because I dragged my untrained ass around roots and rocks for nearly 12 hours yesterday.

All in all, I had a good time in Virginia. Traveling with Mark, Paul and Savanna was a really nice escape, a good memory made. The bluebells that were supposedly bloomed-out from the early spring were still alive and beautiful, and the Bull Run course was the best I had seen it. Volunteers were organized and positive, and I felt supported and appreciated despite my finish time. It was afterall, 50 miles. And I did finish.

Now comes the time of deep contemplation. In the month of June I was hoping to do the Mohican 50 on a Saturday and that Sunday do the Canton Marathon. I do not want to feel like that is a stretch for me to do. And, I don't want it to be a suffer fest, at least for what is within my control. I will need to train at Mohican, do doubles, be strong and proud inside.

In the month of July, I have a 50k race planned for one week AND two-weeks out from the Burning River 100. There is absolutely no way I am going to do the BR100 again unless I am really and truly trained, at least so that I can give it a valid shot. Then later in the season I had hoped to do Woodstock 100k or 100 mile, and then the West Virginia Trilogy -- a 50k Friday, 50 mile Saturday, and half marathon on Sunday, on the hilly trails of WV. I would expect to finish all three events, or it would be a loss for me. I won't register if I am not ready, physically and mentally.

It is time to prove to myself that I am either a strong trail/ultra runner, or just another aging depressed single woman-quitter who feels sorry for herself and has gone down hill and given up on a healthy life. I cannot stay here in this middle, not being good at anything.

My daughter Savanna asked me, "so what are you gonna do differently then?" Good question. I look around and there is no one else here, no one to force me into accountability, no one to really care if I run or not. Just like getting myself out of bed yesterday morning in Virginia, there is just myself. I have to let go of doing it all, be okay with that, and start a new plan of self-motivation. It is, after all, up to me to show up and meet friends and log the time.

My intentions are really good this time. Either you will see me at races -- or I will be quiet and absent.

I sincerely hope I am not a quitter.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Lesson of the Day

"Learn a lesson each day!"

"Keep growing, keep moving, keep achieving."

"Up and out, onward and upward!"

What is the lesson of the day that I will gladly share with you? Sit down, children, and I will tell you a little story.

After years of being taught that the world does not revolve around me, I heard that there is still a small majority who believe I am worthy of focus. Can you believe that? (Ah, but if it were only true, for real.)

While social media has brought us closer to long-lost or previously out-of-touch friends, and is an excellent avenue for advertising events and publicizing grand achievements (including photos to pretty it all up), it can be a greatly misunderstood mode of communication based primarily on assumption.

For example, did you know, that my FB updates during December and January were mostly targeted at my eldest daughter? Some in February were as well – and probably in March. She, like many young adults, has been navigating her own bumpy road and though she is legally of-age, she still needs her mom to remind her that this world is a better place because she lives in it.

She, and many others need to know too, that to continue wasting time on people who don’t believe she matters is indeed a WASTE of her time. Shocking truth? I have and will continue posting quotes to this affect, for the interpretation and perhaps benefit of someone who identifies with it.

Also another shocker: some quotes or status updates have nothing to do with anyone -- they just sound good! Just because I post a picture of my lilac bush that was cut down last season and is surprisingly springing back to life doesn’t mean I am claiming it is a new day and a re-birthing that is somehow symbolic of closing a door on the past and getting on to everything better and new. Nope. It literally had to do with the lilac sprouting after I thought I killed it.

Oh, and the “I love you” post last month was in direct response to the associated article, which had to do with Jimmy Freeman and his opinion of life risks and Micah True.

When I post that “I am happier today than I have been in months,” those who know me know I suffer with depression, which oftentimes is worse over the winter months. And gardening makes me happy.  It does NOT mean that any one person made me “unhappy” and I am sending some hidden message to a person who is probably not even my FB friend!

Moreover, not every post or blog or picture has to do with my relationships. My blog includes tidbits and details I have heard from various sources, and just because I write of heart break doesn’t mean that YOU Bob or YOU Jay or YOU Dude Whomever were the one who broke it. My children break my heart. Their boyfriends sometime break my heart. My neighbor breaks my heart when he wanders through his yard alone. My mother stomps on my heart. Failing to run a good race absolutely wrecks my heart! My “melodramatic” posts are not meant for calling one person out, or to render some exact judgment against one particular person.

Everything you find on the internet, including all I post, is open for interpretation. Many meanings can be taken, many levels are intended.

So get over yourself, people, it is the writer’s privilege to write simply for the love of writing.  For me it's mainly for the love of expressing in words what many people tend to avoid: emotion. Social media like Facebook has in my opinion dumbed-down our ability to feel emotions beyond “happy” or “angry.” It flattens every life experience into words of a sentence. We may feel like we have connected with Facebook, but come on, we have only grown farther apart. Calling someone on the phone is considered intrusive and way beyond friendship these days – it’s likened to stalking if a “gf” calls her “bf” more than once a day, if at all. Texting is THE avenue. Oh, so personal. (Then why do I have 1400 minutes when I text more than I call? Guilty as charged.)

Anyhow, my life has become so much less of an event these days. I am so sorry to disappoint my small audience to say this story isn’t really a story. I haven’t been in the middle of a ravaged love triangle, or been fighting off terrible life challenges, or taken on any great monumental races of mind-changing proportion. I haven’t gone the way of cheating in so long now, I am actually quite boring. If you would like to hear some really great gossip, though, I actually have heard WAY better stories around town than my sad little pitiful tales of loss. I will be glad to share, if you ask me directly. Otherwise, be careful what you assume. You know what happens when we ass-u-me.

So, yeah, this blog post is a bit of a circular rant. I take ownership of that.  I will however also give credit where credit is due.  If an accolade is attributable to you, I will name you, no guessing necessary.

Seriously, if you visit my blog to check and see if you are the “topic” of the day, then perhaps you have some guilt to explore. And that, my dear, is YOUR lesson of the day.