Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Strength Training

"Why are you doing this?" I ask myself as I try to do yet another thing I can't do because I don't have any muscles and I don't know how to let my body parts work together instead of struggling against each other. Or rather, the small insistent voice from somewhere deep inside me asks this. The voice that I can finally hear clearly and consistently, after tuning out the cacophony of the culturally ingrained messages of how I'm supposed to look and act and think and be. Many of those messages are untrue. We are constantly bombarded with messages designed to make us feel fearful and insecure, to manipulate and control our beliefs, actions and especially our money. It takes a concerted effort to unlearn the untruths we've been told and to determine for ourselves how to be a person in the world. The process is messy and confusing and, for me at least, involves a lot of crying in the shower (For me, the shower is the perfect place to release all the feels. The water drowns out and washes away all the puffy, snotty evidence of an ugly cry, while also being warm and relaxing. It feels like a clean slate and a gratitude enhancer - I will never cease to be amazed that I get to have hot running water or ice cold water any time I want).

"Why are you doing this?" I ask myself.
"Because I need to get stronger." I whine in frustration.
"There are different kinds of strength." I reply.

And this is the answer. I know it's the answer, but I don't know how to actualize it. Do I need the kind of strength that comes from lifting heavy things? A little bit, yes. Insomuch as it benefits my health and better allows me to do the things I want to do. But it's not like anyone is ever going to mistake me for The Rock. Visible muscles are not ever going to be my thing. My best muscle is and always has been my stupidly hopeful, wanderlustful, bleeding heart. But I don't know what kind of class you go to in order to gain the other kinds of strength. Like the strength to stand up straight and risk being seen (and possibly being misunderstood or judged or attacked - I wonder if animals think our bipedalism is super weird, like here we are walking around all exposed and in danger of being eviscerated, figuratively and literally). The strength to confidently and compassionately challenge the misinformation and injustices of the world. The strength to forgive and atone for my past mistakes, all the times I starved myself of nourishment, both physical and emotional.

The world can be a very dark place. Sometimes I think fighting it is a Sisyphean task. Every day you push the boulders up the hill and some asshole knocks them back down again. But I have to keep pushing the boulders up the hill, because I have a lot of resources and privileges that allow me to do so, and because not doing so means the boulders might fall and hurt someone. And because maybe all of us pushing together will eventually make a difference.

So I need the strength to be bigger and brighter, to be an unstoppable force of lightness and kindness. The strength to fall into the well of feelings that is the human experience, to swim through them, struggling and learning and growing, and to climb back out of the well a kinder, better person. Over and over. For as long as it takes.

(Last week the well of feelings was deep and dark. It felt like scream crying into the abyss. So George and I canceled most of our plans, felt the feels and watched old Elementary episodes on Hulu while pretending to be detectives. But mostly we ate snacks and cleaned things. Though we did find 90 cents in the couch cushions. First case solved! George is a very good, non-judgmental feelings-feeler friend. Plus he doesn't eat any of the snacks. Alas, he is not very good at coming up with funny detective agency names).

Lyric of the moment: "When everyone you thought you knew deserts your fight, I'll go with you. You're facing down a dark hall, I'll grab my light and go with you. I'll go with you, I'll go with you..." ~Twenty One Pilots "My Blood"

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Old Forge Half Marathon: Old Asses Half-Assing Old Forge

"Well this is either a great idea or a terrible idea!" I said as Prem and I were running from the rental house to the start of the Old Forge Marathon and Half Marathon. It was Prem's idea to run the two miles as a warm-up. Because running 26.2 miles wasn't enough for him. I only had to run half that distance so I figured a couple more miles couldn't hurt. Or they could hurt but then it would be a funny story afterwards. It was a cool, crisp 50 degrees, ideal running weather. We ran past two ice cream places and the race start/finish area had a giant stuffed moose and bear, so it was already shaping up to be a perfect day.

Thanks to Coach Prem for the warm-up and photo

Jenn, Prem and I had driven to Old Forge in Jenn's Car 'o Fun the night before and met up with Alison, Bob, Todd, Brooke, Mark and Amy at this amazing rental house with 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms and countless moose and bear knickknacks. Whoever decorated this house had a serious commitment to the outdoorsy motif. There was virtually no surface untouched by wood or woodland creatures. We were all up early on Saturday morning. Sleep had been in short supply, due to pre-race anxiety or sleeping in an unfamiliar place with odd noises and hundreds of tchotchke eyes. But coffee, bagels and laughter were plentiful. Prem and I set off on foot and the others followed later by car, bringing our bags with them. I learned two important things: 1) I am too old to sleep in the top bunk of a bunk-bed (though I didn't fall while trying to go down the unstable ladder in the dark so that was a major win) and 2) easy warm-up miles can be very enjoyable and probably even a good idea (though I'm no Prem - for a marathon or ultra, I'm perfectly content to use the first miles of the race itself as a warm-up).

Pre-race, pre-Mark getting dressed for the race.
Photo thanks to Sherpa extraordinaire, Amy!

Waiting around for the start, we were all dancing and goofing around as usual. Prem insisted he was "not racing" (then went on to come in 4th overall!!) Everyone else was sandbagging too, claiming they were unprepared and going to be slow (all lies, everyone was super fast). We called ourselves Old Asses Half-Assing Old Forge. I wasn't thinking of this as a race, just a mini-vacation with tramily in a new-to-me destination. I was happy and relaxed at the start line, having no expectations or goals for the race. Except to make it back alive to my box of Neopolitan JoJos. The course was non-technical and flat, mostly rocky dirt roads with some small rolling hills. I wanted to focus on my form and have a smooth, relaxed stride. Lately I've been working on improving my biomechanics, which are admittedly quite terrible. I have flat feet and my posture is atrocious, from decades of hunching my shoulders inward and attempting to be as invisible as possible. It has taken many years to undo that mindset from the inside out and fixing my posture has been the latest piece of the build-a-better-robot puzzle. I still have a ways to go but maybe one day I'll actually achieve my full height (before I'm old enough to start shrinking).

I started off following Todd and just getting into an easy rhythm with my breathing and steps. Somehow I ended up ahead of him and I worried maybe I was going out too fast, but my legs felt good so I just let them do their thing. I had no idea what pace I was going and it didn't really matter. I wanted to run by effort and feel and didn't care about pace. For a few miles, I ran with a marathoner named Rob and we chatted about our favorite NY state races and our goals (or non-goals) for the day, you know, the typical conversations you have with strangers in the woods. At one point he said it was a flat course and the perfect running weather and encouraged me to just go for it if I felt good. I didn't think anything of it at the time, but apparently my legs decided that was exactly what we were going to do. There was an out and back section where I got to see everyone, then a turnaround at a cone with a giant stuffed bear on it (the bear/moose theme is totally overdone in Old Forge, but I love it), then we were already halfway done and I still felt fresh. While I could definitely feel the effort and some minor aches, my stride felt looser and more effortless than it has in a while and I just kept thinking "Thank you, body for enabling me to do what I love." Bob caught up to me and I got to run with him for a bit. We ran along a cinder-track-like path, and I saw two dogs up ahead who looked familiar. As we got closer I realized it was Beth out running and spectating with Indy and Metta. It was a most awesome surprise!

Photo thanks to Beth! Bob is so fast he's just a blur!

The second half of the course passed as smoothly as the first half had, though now I was in the zone and keeping mostly to myself, just happily ticking off miles. I ran steadily up all the hills and let go on the downhills, not trying to control anything, just allowing my legs to find their own way. At one point I somehow managed to kick a rock into the back of my own right Achilles, which stung for a few steps but I couldn't help but laugh at my stone hacky-sack fail. Since I'd worn my hydration pack and had my own gels, I hadn't needed to stop at any of the aid stations so it had been a continuous and surprisingly fluid grind since the start. Somehow I had just gotten into a groove and stayed there for the full 13 miles. There was one last hill up a paved road, which I crested seamlessly, then sprinted downhill to the finish. I'm sure it didn't look fluid or fast from the outside (I probably looked more like a lumbering elephant), but it sure felt fantastic. I haven't run that far that fast and felt that good in a long time. But that's running - some runs are a pile of crap, some runs are a piece of cake. I like to think the effortless feeling days are the reward for persevering through the sufferfest days. Every day I get to run is a good day, but I am especially grateful for those perfect, relaxed days. It's such a wonderful feeling to glide through the wilds of life, surrounded by your favorite old asses.

Bob, Todd, Jenn and Mark crushed the half and Prem, Alison and Brooke all had super strong marathon finishes. We hung out at the finish area, eating, cheering and dancing until Brooke came in. I think we even made it into the official race video with our dance moves to Salt-N-Pepa's "Shoop." After the race there was a lot of eating, euchre playing, exploring Old Forge/Webb, laughing, hilarious picture taking and more eating. Warm-up miles and cool-down dancing may become my new race routine because it really helped limit the typical post-race soreness.

We did it!

Shenanigans


Sunday morning, Jenn, Alison, Prem, Todd, Brooke, Boden and I did the 2ish mile hike up and down Bald Mountain, which had beautiful views and a cool fire tower to climb at the top. Then it was time to clean up and head home, with full, happy hearts and stomachs.

Bald Mountain

Of course we have to climb it


All the thanks to the RDs, volunteers and runners who make events like this possible. And infinity of thanks and love to my tramily for filling my life with so many adventures and so much awesomeness. I know one day my running escapades will end, but until then I'm going to savor every wild, weird, wonderful moment of the terrible, awful, beautiful, amazing torture paradise that is distance running.

Lyric of the moment: "I don't recall a single care. Just greenery and humid air. Then Labor Day came and went. And we shed what was left of our summer skin..." ~Death Cab For Cutie "Summer Skin"

Sunday, September 9, 2018

The Trails of our Lives: Steve

These are The Trails Of Our Lives, the stories of our adventures, our demons, our victories, in running and in life. If you're interested in participating, please email your story (how you started running, how you ended up on the trails, your struggles, your triumphs, your photos, anything you want to share) to jen@fromrobotwithlove.org.

This is the story of Steve, one of the most impressive and accomplished athletes and humans I’ve been fortunate enough to know. I have long admired his determination and strength but especially his kindness. He became my friend forever when he bought me an ice cream cone after a college cross country meet. But in all seriousness, he was a good friend at a time in my life when I really needed friends but didn’t realize it and still thought I had to get through everything alone. Steve was just there for me and I will forever appreciate it. 

Dear Running
By Steve Chabot

Dear Running,

I’m not quite sure how to say goodbye to something that has defined me for more than 25 years. Especially since it’s a physical act that I can no longer do. At least not in any way that I would find satisfying.

First, the necessary caveat. This letter (if you will) is purely an exercise in self-indulgence, and the topic is certainly a “first world problem.” I feel guilty just typing this, knowing I should instead be writing another letter about the inhumanity of our country’s current immigration practices. Or, you know, working on my online course for my superintendent’s certification, or answering some of the 200 emails I get each day, or doing a million other things for work. But all that said, and as cheesy as this feels, I’m going to write it anyway.

So, here goes.

The sport of running has been at the center of much of my life, and now I have to say goodbye to it. Running gave me a reason for being during times when I struggled to find any reasons at all. It smoothed out the edges of my creeping depression, obsessiveness, anxiety, jealousy, insecurity, and anger. It made me confident, and strong, and happy.

A look back:

1991

It was time to sign up for middle school sports and I was already sick of soccer. The only other fall sport option was something called “cross-country.” I asked my dad what it was and he said something about training for races. I had a vision of doing push ups in a gym, and signed up. My mom told me my grandfather had been the West Virginia state champion in hurdles, whatever those were. My older brother was fast, but he and I had a strained relationship. That was the summer he left for the Army, and it definitely felt like a big transition for me. I started running around the block with my dad a couple times a week after dinner.

I felt free.

1991 - 1994

Middle school cross-country and Track were great. I was faster than Sol, and I got to hang out with Hannah Jacobs and Yen Tran, two girls I had crushes on. By 8th grade I was one of the better runners on the team. It’s probably safe to say cross-country was the only good thing about middle school for me. I was a tiny kid, not even 5 feet tall, and very skinny. I had acne and got picked on a lot and didn’t have much confidence. But running gave me something I was fairly good at and the fitness helped me on the basketball court and I got to occasionally talk to girls. Running around the pond at Robin Hood Park became a near-daily ritual, and helped me exhaust my OCD tendencies and fall asleep at night, something that was a big problem in middle school.

1994 - 1998

High school cross-country and track (along with basketball and nordic skiing and tennis and the mountain bike club) pretty much defined me as a high schooler. That, and being a good student. I was relatively quiet, but drawn to sarcasm and the works of Ed Abbey, Tool, Vonnegut, and all the Seattle bands.

In high school I learned a lot about running from Coach Goldsmith, but it’s safe to say much of what he taught us about distance running didn’t really hit home for me until well after high school. I became obsessed with my times, even though I didn’t train consistently until my senior year. Senior year I had the incredibly bittersweet experience of ending up one spot too slow on a team that won the state championship. I had to watch my teammates win from the sidelines. All year I had floated between ranking 5th and 10th on a stacked team, but calf pain* slowed me down just enough towards the end of the season that, even as a senior, I didn’t get a top 7 spot at states. We were so deep that I was running sub-18’s and yet still not good enough for varsity. That will happen on a team with Mitch Leet and Justin Fyffe breaking 16 minutes on a regular basis, and a slew of talented kids. We must have had a dozen kids under 18:30, and we swept a number of meets. It was an odd experience to know you would be the top runner on half of the teams in the state, while at the same time struggling to crack the varsity squad on the team you’d devoted all of high school to. As cool as it was to see Keene High School in the Runner’s World national rankings, it didn’t feel like my team as much anymore.

Over time I accepted this, but I must admit I still can feel that ambivalence when the subject of state championships comes up. To be part of it, but not really part of it, is a feeling that spans across many areas of my life.

*I hesitated to break the flow of the above story by discussing the calf pain. Sophomore year we did the “12 minute run” in PE class and I just had to beat Brett Ouellette. I went all out with no warm-up. At practice that afternoon we did a speed workout, and I can still remember the feeling of tearing my right calf. It only took a few weeks to recover at that age, but little did I know that my poor flexibility, combined with this and other early calf and Achilles injuries, would continue to be issues for me for the next two decades.

1998 - 2002

I almost didn’t run in college. I spent the summer before my freshman year working construction, lifting weights, and working on my game. I was going to walk on to Hobart basketball. I’d be the manager if need be, and work my way on to the bench from there, and then into games by junior year. I was determined. Then I ruptured my right pectoralis. I had my first real relationship heartbreak. I got to Hobart and was no longer sure about basketball (another decision I regret to this day) or if I even wanted to do a sport anymore because my pec and shoulder were in such bad shape. Maybe I’d just study and party. I dove head first into both, that’s for sure. How many people party five nights a week and still end up graduating Summa Cum Laude? Yes, I’m bragging.

Then I met Justin Siuta and Andy Phillips across the hall, two guys on the cross-country team. I remember hanging out with them one Saturday night after they’d raced, and feeling jealous of their fatigue and pain. They had done something hard, something visceral. What I love most about running is that feeling of satisfaction, of contentment, of knowing you’ve put in a pure effort at one of life’s simplest acts. I showed up at practice Monday and introduced myself to Coach Ron “Live Fit” Fleury. In hindsight it was one of the best decisions I ever made in my life.

For the next four years being a collegiate runner was my #1 focus. I became good friends with Greg Stowell, the best runner I had ever met (until I met Mark Miller). I took his advice on “secret miles” and crept to upwards of 80 a week at times. I had always been a middle-of-the-pack runner, talentwise, but I am proud to say I got myself into the low 27’s for 8K. I’ve earned dozens of trophies from road races and team MVP and the like, but the slip of paper that says “Conference Runner of the Week” is the athletic honor I am most proud of in my entire life. I still vividly remember Coach Fleury walking into the locker room one day before practice and announcing it to the team: Conference Runner of the Week. Finally, a break from the coach’s awards and “Well, he showed up all the time” trophies! Everything in running felt very earned. Run a hard ten-miler one day, and do a hard track workout of 800m repeats the next day, all to improve by maybe 8 seconds at the next race. There is no hiding and no bullshit to running.

Hobart was great for me. I gained self-confidence. I did a life-changing term abroad in West Africa. I made lifelong friends (Hi Jen!) and I look forward to going back every time I can make it to a reunion, formal or informal. I definitely stopped being so reserved. I still think fondly about the Hobart cross-country team at least once a week. There are a thousand running anecdotes from those four years, but here is one of the most powerful for me: On Wednesdays, we frequently did 1,000m repeats in a cemetery near campus. Senior year I was the fastest on the team, but Rob Portik, a year younger, could often best me in shorter distances. He was fast and had the strength and pure speed of an 800m runner. I would run five miles in the morning (secretly, sorry Coach Fleury) and then do my best to keep up with Rob during the afternoon speed sessions. I can still remember the final turn of the last 1,000m repeat that day, and finding a gear I didn’t know I had. Passing Rob, and clicking off the final interval faster than I had ever run in my life. I can still feel it and I can still taste it, 19 years later. Fast, Fierce, and Free.

Alive.

2002 - 2005

The day after I graduated from college, I broke my ankle playing basketball. I would break the other one (guess how...yup! Basketball!) a year or two later. Still, I was able to bounce back and kept right on with the miles I was accumulating. I knew that, talentwise, I was average, so high mileage and hard work were the only way I could be fast. I ran. A lot. I took pretty good care of my body (in AmeriCorps someone named me “most likely to be stretching” during an assembly) and my pectoralis and shoulder had mostly healed, but I struggled a bit to keep my calves and Achilles pain-free, especially the right ones. Still, I won a few local races, including a low-16 performance in Lancaster, NH that netted me a $300 pair of hiking boots. I started marathoning as well, and after a year as a nomad (California, Arizona, DC, and a marathon in Ireland) I got my Masters in curriculum & instruction and became a high school English teacher and (you’ll never guess) a cross-country, basketball, and track coach.

2006 - 2009

My life during these years was ... interesting. My career was going great: teaching, coaching, and chipping away at my principal certification. But outside work I was partying way too much. And when the partying for the night would end, the depression and anger and all the rest of it would flood back in. I know I scared my parents and girlfriends a few times, and I scared myself. I took a sort of hiatus from running, and got really into rugby and MMA. I lifted, and got close to 200 lbs. I wasn’t out of shape, but it was a very different shape than the 165 lbs. collegiate runner version of myself. This version also managed to accrue a broken scaphoid and a broken nose, thanks to playing in a few rugby leagues and competing in a few amateur fights. I still ran on occasion, and even did some more marathons, but my times got slower and the calf and Achilles pain got worse. Burning the candle at both ends didn’t help, I’m sure. I don’t regret these years, but in hindsight I was reckless with myself, reckless with alcohol, and reckless with other people.

2009 - 2011

I became an Assistant Principal at 29, and moved back to New Hampshire for the job and to help take care of my grandmother. I decided I was done with rugby and MMA, and that it was time to recommit to running. As is typical of my personality, I couldn’t just ease back in. I decided to “become a triathlete” and train for the Ironman with my friend Vince. I bought a Kestrel Talon road bike, and eight months later traded it in for a Cervelo P2 tri bike. I took swimming lessons. I did a few sprint triathlons, then some Olympic distance, and then the Timberman Half Ironman in 5 hours and 24 minutes. That was arguably one of the most complete races of my life. One of those days when everything actually falls into place and goes according to plan. I felt like a veteran racer: cool and calm and confident in my training. I knocked off my tenth marathon, and four or five century rides. I was probably in the best endurance conditioning of my life, and then…

Crash. At mile 95 of my final training ride before Ironman Florida, I crashed at 22 mph, broke my collarbone, and got a concussion. So much for the sub-12 Ironman I had envisioned.

I spent the winter recovering, deferred to Ironman St. George a few months later, and gutted it out in something like 16 hours, with no swimming practices and only a handful of bike rides under my belt. It was ugly, but it counted, and I got my Ironman tattoo the next day in Las Vegas. At least it’s a good first-date story. It worked on my wife anyway.

2011 - 2017

I did the math, and it’s not hyperbole to say I’ve probably run 1,000 races in my life. The mileage and the injuries really started to add up in my thirties. I have never been flexible, and the mobility in my ankles and legs is laughable. I mean, literally laughable: my physical therapist sister and ortho wife often force me to demonstrate my limited range of motion to people by doing a squat. I fall backwards before I even get to parallel, and they all share a laugh.

But I love running, so I went to PT. A lot. And I got a foam roller and a lacrosse ball and five cortisone shots over the years, and slept in that damn Achilles-stretching boot. I had a surgical consult, but it would be eight months recovery per leg and no guarantee of improvement. I did some hot yoga (sorry, heated vinyasa flow) and I own several pairs of calf sleeves and half a dozen topical creams. I made it work, because running was what made me feel right. I watched my marathon times creep from nearly breaking 3 hours all the way to struggling (and failing) to break 4 hours. Still, I tried to put in the miles, because that’s how I felt centered and whole.

As my wife and I continued our careers in the greater Portland area and started a family, I felt like I became a fairly recognizable part of the local running scene. I’ve been a race director four or five times, and became a very active member of Portland Trails. I own not one, but two running strollers! I even got to be the male model in Dan Frey’s book on core strength for runners. I made a lot of great new running friends, helped out at some of Hark’s collegiate track meets, volunteered at Tri for a Cure, and the good people at Fleet Feet like to occasionally give me free stuff. Maine: the way life (and running) should be. I love nothing more than building my weekends around local races, seeing my friends, and feeling the endorphin rush of both maximum effort and supporting local causes. It’s a great scene up here in Portland, Maine. You should try it out sometime.

2018

In nearly 27 years of racing, I had only dropped out of two races. One my sophomore year in high school, and one my sophomore year in college. Both times because of calf issues. The feeling of dropping out was so terrible. I hated it more than anything. Then, this year, I dropped out of my last two races in July. I just couldn’t do it. My calves and Achilles are in bad shape. Painful and nearly immobile. I had quit drinking and added “voodoo flossing” and dry needling to my repertoire of treatments, but the sad reality is that for the last few years I have spent more time trying to get my body to be able to run than I have actually spent running. I’m barely able to get in ten miles a week, and I’m always a misstep or a slight over exertion away from another tear, and another six to eight weeks of inactivity. My legs look like they belong on two different bodies, such is the accumulated scar tissue damage. I’m tired of having to gut out a 5K, only to limp up and down the stairs for the next three days.

So here we are. Just sort of … done.

Running has been the most consistent thing in my life for more than a quarter century. And now I just can’t really do it. Maybe there are still a few low key 5K’s in my future, and I will try and replace “real running” with weight lifting, mountain biking, the occasional game of tennis, hiking, and so on, but I know it’s not replaceable. That’s hard to accept sometimes, but it’s reality. And I know it’s a first world problem, and that I’ve been blessed a thousand times over to have the life that I have. And I know I’ve just talked about myself for, like, ten pages. Sorry.

Regardless, I will miss running profoundly. I am so grateful for it, and for everything it gave me. The miles gave me form and substance. The effort helped wear down the jagged pieces of glass in my head and to calm down the frenetic angst in my heart. Life isn’t easy for a lot of people and I think we’re all looking for things that make it feel real, and make it feel worth the effort. Running did that for me. When I ran I felt fast, and fierce, and free. I felt alive.

It’s hard to imagine my life without running, but I’m going to gut it out. And I know it will be just fine, and I know that because of all the running.

Thanks for reading.

Steve

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Green Lakes 50K: Colonel Mustard with the vinegar next to the penis

The short version: We were carrying our stuff back to the car after the race and I said excitedly "I pet a dog! It was a white boxer with one blue eye and one brown eye. It was so cute!" Pete, who already knew this, as I had mentioned it several times before, said "That's your takeaway from today - you pet a dog?" "Honey," I replied "The last loop of this race, I ate: a packet of mustard, Mountain Dew with a pickle juice chaser and an Oreo - that's gross. All my cells are broken. The dog was the best part of my race."

The long version: "Fuck!" I exclaimed. I'd meant to mutter it under my breath but the excruciating pain radiating from my calf had made it come out louder than I'd intended. It was mile 23. I'd been trying to stretch my calves, which had been twitchy since my third loop, on a log at the side of the trail. Now the left calf was charlie horsing hardcore. I couldn't move, I couldn't get the muscle cramp to subside. A cascade of thoughts rushed through my brain. What did I do wrong? I took Huma gels early on, then salt tabs, then pickle juice. I drank a lot of water. Maybe my mitochondria have gone on strike, they're just like we have formed a union and we're done with this running for hours bullshit. I'm going to have to call Pete to come get me. Well, back in the day I did "run" the last 8 miles of a road marathon with pretty much every muscle in my body cramping. So I could totally run through this. Maybe I could, but do I want to? I think I'm just not cut out to be an ultrarunner. It shouldn't feel this hard. Maybe I've forgotten how to run. Maybe my body just can't do it anymore. But I want to do it. It's my favorite thing to do. 

And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?

Green Lakes 50K is a 4 loop course in the beautiful Green Lakes State Park. I cannot overstate how gorgeous this park is. The trails are well groomed and very runable (well, if your muscles are contracting properly). The loop takes you past the clear blue-greenish waters of Green Lake and Round Lake, then up to the grassy field area called The Serengeti (because it gets super hot when the sun is beating down. I was hoping Toto's Africa would be playing during this part, but sadly that only happened in my head). I signed up for this race because I just really wanted to see the park. And because Valone said he was doing it. Pete was looking at the park map because he was planning to mountain bike up to the far aid station and I pointed to the route and explained "Here's the course: run around a penis, then a ball, then weird Texas."

GLER
Course map: Penis, Ball, Weird Texas


We drove to Syracuse on Friday after work and stayed at the Econo Lodge, which I'd picked because it was close to the park and cheap. We'd only be there to sleep basically and I never sleep well before races so I wanted to pay as little as possible for a place to not sleep well. Pete was unhappy with this choice. He is not a fan of the dingy, crime scene-esque motel room. I was just like "It's fine. Probably no one has been murdered here." We were not in fact murdered there. And the front desk lady who checked us in was super friendly and nice.

The 50K and 100K races both started at 6am. The first mile was magical. It was a cool 65 degrees and I felt great, running through the woods watching the sunrise over the lakes. For most of this loop I was chatting with two guys running the 100K (because that's how fast the people at this race are - their 100K pace is my 50K pace). Running and talking to people are my favorite things, so anytime I get to do both is fantastic. The first loop went by fast. Probably too fast for me. When I saw the time on the clock as I passed the timing mats, it was way faster than I was expecting so I told myself I should slow down. Evidently I did not listen to myself, since my second loop ended up being in about the same time as the first. I kept telling myself to run my own race, but then I would get distracted talking to people.

During the second loop I was chatting with two ladies about how it's unfair that women have to worry about running alone in the woods. I said "Why are there so many self defense classes for women but there aren't any 'Don't be a creepy rapist/murderer/kidnapper' classes for men? I mean obviously other than the fact that no one would go to a class with that name." They were moving along faster than me and eventually I dropped back to do my own thing. I'd missed Pete on the first loop because he'd gone up to the Serengeti to see me but I'd gone through too fast. So I texted him that I was on my second loop. When I went though the finish line on loop two, he was waiting for me and showed me where he had set up the tent (while we were out on loop one, Pete and Lisa had set up all our stuff for us. They are the best!)

Things were starting to hurt at this point, but I grabbed some food and water from the aid station, put in my headphones and just got in the "this is painful but it's fine" zone. As I was showering at the Murder Motel the night before the race, I was nervous about running my first ultra in over a year and unintentionally ended up giving myself an internal pep-talk: I just don't want to have a miserable experience tomorrow. Well, that's totally up to you. You don't know what's going to happen, but you get to decide how you feel about it. Maybe I was just trying to distract myself from thinking about what else may have happened in that motel shower. But whatever, it worked. When I got to the Serengeti the third time, Pete was waiting for me on his mountain bike. He rode along side me for a bit and I asked him to please stop videoing me. I wanted to tell him that I was hurting and I didn't want to complain on video. I told him I wasn't made for ultrarunning like other people are and he was just like "You're running an ultra right now. You're doing great!" I asked him if he would meet me at the main aid station and help me refill my hydration pack (why do my hands always stop working correctly after like 20 miles?). I told him about my twitchy calves and he said he would make sure to find me some pickles. Seeing husband man was a big morale boost and I made it back to finish the third loop still moving pretty well. Pete refilled my hydration pack while a super awesome volunteer poured me some pickle juice and I headed out for one.more.loop.

Photos by my favorite husband man


And then I got to mile 23 and the "Fuck!" heard 'round the penis. As I'm thinking my race is over, a runner behind me asked what happened and I told him that my calf has seized up. He pulled a packet of mustard out of his pack and told me to swish it around in my mouth, explaining that the vinegar would trick my brain into unclenching the muscle. At this point I would have eaten whatever magic beans he was handing out, so I did what he said. And it worked. My calf loosened and I could move again. I thanked him and started running cautiously. Colonel Mustard saved me with the vinegar next to the penis lake! I didn't get his name, but I saw him after the race and thanked him again profusely. I jogged along gingerly, not wanting to anger my calf again, and every mile or so I would suck on a bit of mustard and sing "Relax" by Frankie Goes To Hollywood in my head. I drank some more pickle juice at the Serengeti aid station. By this point I'd ingested so much vinegar I was practically pickled. My last time through the Serengeti seemed to take for.ev.er. It was hot and sunny out at this point, and my pace was basically that of a pickle as well. My calves were still kinda twitchy but I kept pleading with them to hold up for just a 10K, just a 5K, just one more mile, and thankfully they obliged. I kept myself occupied making hilarious (to me) penis jokes. Oh man, it's so hot here. I can't wait until I get to the shady penis. That's what she said. No, no one has ever said that. Finally I left the Serengeti for the last time, made my way past the ball lake and then the penis lake (Which seemed to get longer and longer with each loop. Guess it was a grower.), then around the beach, past the parking lot, and up the paved path to the finish line. I was so tired I kept running even after I crossed the finish line. I just wanted to get to and hug Pete.

I didn't die!

Physically, I felt terrible for much of this race, but mentally I was just so happy to be out there. Every time I hit a rough patch where my cells forgot how to work or whatever, I'd see someone that would lift my spirits: Valone and Shari out on the course, crushing it; Mintz and mini Mintz out cheering and volunteering; another woman in toucan shorts!; a man with a giraffe tattoo on his calf!; a ton of awesome people just out running and hiking and SUP yoga-ing in the park, So! Many! Dogs! I may not be cut out for this endurance running shit, but I'm going to keep doing it for as long as I am alive. Because my whole life has been an ultramarathon. Sometimes excruciatingly painful, always beautiful and awesome and filled with the most amazing people.

I spent about as much time running as I did hanging out at the park afterwards. The finish area was great, right next to the beach. I did a lot of walking around (to the lake to put my legs in the cool water, to pet cute dogs I saw, to get more snacks and beverages, to wash the salt off my skin - I was sooo salty), laying around awkwardly on top of the foam roller, and hanging out with Pete and Lisa. Pete introduced me to Tammy, who had set up camp next to us and was crewing for her husband. She and her husband had done Mind the Ducks and I told her I'd banana-ed there this year and she said excitedly "I have a video of you on my phone!" then showed us a video from MTD of Bob and I dancing in our monkey and banana outfits. Small world! I got to pet a white boxer with one blue eye and one brown eye! And his little dog friend, Solo, who I was told is friendly, but doesn't like it if you turn your back to him and walk away, so you have to walk away facing him. I got to see Shari and Tom and Valone finish - they were all amazing! My race execution was as imperfect as possible, but it was a perfect day. And I lied before. The white boxer was not the best part of the day. The best part was being surrounded by love. The love of running through the woods with friends and strangers who immediately become friends. The love of my favorite husband man, who is game for all my weird adventures. The love that exudes from every pore of Valone and Lisa. Watching Valone finish having given everything he had to this race, and run to hug Lisa then all of us, was better than 1,000 dogs.

Rockstars

My cells refused to work properly for this race. But I had a good outfit, a good attitude and good friends. And most of the time, that's enough. Additional thanks to a terrific RD, lovely volunteers and a gorgeous state park.

Until next time, my friends. May there be so many next times.

Lyric of the moment: "I do it for the joy it brings. Because I'm a joyful girl. Because the world owes me nothing. And we owe each other the world. I do it because it's the least I can do. I do it because I learned it from you. And I do it just because I want to. Because I want to..." ~Ani DiFranco "Joyful Girl" (There are so many answers to the question of why I love running for hours and hours. But mostly, it is this.)

Friday, August 10, 2018

The stories behind the miles

I ran 50 miles this week. It's just a number. It's a lot and it isn't a lot, depending on who you ask. A lot is relative. I will humbly defer to others to tell the stories of long distances and fast paces and amazing runs because they do it far better than I ever could. And the story I want to tell is not that I ran 50 miles this week. It's that it took me over a year to get back here and in that time I did more not running than running.



The last ultramarathon I ran was the inaugural Many on the Genny in June 2017. The next morning I found out that my dad had died suddenly. Then I got plantar fasciitis, was in denial about it for a bit, then finally took some time off to rest and heal. I did yoga and strength training and climbed the Jacobs Ladder. I got a road bike and Pete and I biked around a bunch of lakes. I fell off the bike, cried, declared that I was never riding a bike again, the promptly got back on the bike (since we were still 15 miles from the car at that point). I ran slowly and built my mileage back up very slowly. Most importantly, I lived. I laughed until I cried and cried until I laughed. I grieved and I loved and I let myself be loved. I volunteered and banana-ed and walked on stilts. Of course I missed running when I wasn't running. I missed it deeply. But my life was full of other things - running was just one temporarily missing piece. I knew it would be there for me when my body was ready for it again. And I knew that the better I was at resting, the sooner I would be able to run pain-free. Even when I started running again, I only ran 3 days a week, then 4 days a week, then occasionally 5 days a week max. I did all the other things I wanted to do. I rested at least one day a week, two if I needed it. I was conscious about giving myself an abundance of sleep and nutrients and especially compassion. Experience gives you perspective and this time I knew that my body was right. I needed this time off, to do other things, to feel all my complicated, overwhelming feelings and not run away from them. It sucked, of course. I would never choose injury if given the choice. But this wasn't my first time at the terrible no good very bad rodeo and this time I had promised myself I would do it better.

I read my old posts from when I had tendonitis in 2012 and they were depressing as fuck. But years later I can laugh about it. Because I now know it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. My doctor at the time (who was awesome and reminded me of The Dude) had said "Are you sad because your ankle hurts or does your ankle hurt because you're sad?" And he was right. I was so sad I couldn't run because I needed running as an escape from my life. I needed to be a runner because I was failing at being in a relationship and instead of realizing there was something wrong with the relationship I was in at the time, I kept thinking there was something wrong with me. But I learned. Slowly, painfully I learned. I made friends with cross-training and strength training and trails and myself. I followed my heart to the places and the people that made me feel happy and alive, that accepted me for who I was and didn't make me feel like I had to shrink myself down to fit their version of what I should be. Injury #1 in 2012 led me to the trails, to my tramily and to Pete. Injury #2 in 2017 led me to embrace rest instead of resist it. And that's the story. Not that I happened to run 50 miles this week. But everything that led me to it - the people and the lessons and the person I became along the way. That's where the magic is.

But since you're here, there are stories I want to tell about this week too. It was an especially awesome week in a summer of awesome weeks. Some nights I stayed up way late. Some nights I went to bed at 7:30pm. I hit my highest mileage in over a year and didn't even do a "long run." I wasn't following a training plan, I was just living my life. I got to run four 5ish mile runs between 6:00am on Saturday and 1:00am on Sunday and hang out with my friends all night at Mighty Mosquito relay. I got to run solo miles at Cobb's Hill. I got to run with Eric and Sheila at Letchworth and it felt like all the very best parts of who I used to be and all the things I'm looking forward to all wrapped up into one gorge and rainbow and bug filled run. I got to run our usual Thursday morning breakfast club run (where we meet at 5:00am and run to kill time until the bakery opens at 6:00am).

And this morning, alone in the dark at Corbett's Glen, I was trying to reassure myself that the glowing eyes illuminated by my headlamp were from something cute and probably uninterested in attacking me. Or at least from something smaller than me. Then my face hit every single spider web in the whole damn park (ewwww. and also, sorry my spider dudes for wrecking your dark web). Something reminded me of my dad and I teared up for a moment. This is the feeling that I could never name. It feels like sadness and heartbreak and gratitude and aliveness. And in that moment I realized that heartbreak is not your heart failing and crumbling into pieces, it's your heart bursting open, expanding so that more love can get in and be given out. It's everything there is. Then I felt a weird knot in my right glute and I was like is that what a piriformis is? Like a butt knot? (Trying to remember the names of body parts is like being introduced to 10 people simultaneously at a party. I will immediately forget all your names and then have to make up nicknames for you in my head until you friend request me on Facebook. Sorry, I am terrible). At that moment, I saw two large rocks up ahead and then this happened:

Me: I could massage my glute on that rock! Is that weird?
Also Me: Yes. So weird. But also kind of ingenious.
(Sits on rock and rocks back and forth using the rock like a natural foam roller. Not like I actually know how to use a foam roller. I mostly just lay on it until it gets all wrapped up in my clothes and I give up).
Still Me: Good thing it's 5:30am and no one else is here to see you looking like a spiderweb covered, rock grinding weirdo in the woods!
(Laughs hysterically at own self. Oddly, glute feels better, from the rock or the laughter? We may never know. Runs home to tell everyone on the internet about it).

And it's only Friday. There is so much more adventuring to do this weekend. So many new stories to be made. I'm so excited I can hardly wait.

Photo by Eric Eagan

Photo by Sheila Eagan

Photo by a table at the Village Bakery

Lyric of the moment: "I see your soul shine through to your eyes, when you're here. The moment you stop looking, wherever you go, you'll be in the right place. You'll never know the difference it makes, when you let go, and give up the chase. I'll come find you one of these days..." ~Vance Joy "One Of These Days"




Sunday, August 5, 2018

Mighty Mosquito 99: The Return of Team Toucan

It's 3:00am on Sunday and Brooke and I are sneaking into my house to take showers, while trying not to wake up Pete. The first time I met Brooke, I asked her if she wanted to be on our Mighty Mosquito team (I am bad at small talk, what can I say?). Fast forward three Mighty Mosquito Relays later and she's showering at my house at 3:00am. So be careful what you say yes to, my friends. One minute you're like why is this person I just met asking me to run a 99 mile relay? And the next, you're a lifelong member of Team Toucan and the phrase Gold Bond Bonfire makes perfect sense to you. 

This year, the Blue Foundation took over Mighty Mosquito from TrailsRoc. The format was the same: 3 different 5ish mile loops in Mendon Ponds Park that total 99 miles, with a relay and a solo option (for the super-humans out there). The start/finish area was at Stewart Lodge and everyone had set up their tent in the fields around the lodge. Team Toucan this year was comprised of Captain Todd, Bob, Steven, Brooke, Stacey, me and our volunteers extraordinaire Alison, Cassie and Boden.



The relay start wasn't until noon, but I woke up early on Saturday, restless and a little stiff. I ran a few easy shakeout miles around my neighborhood around 6:00am, then ate breakfast, packed up my car and met the team at Mendon around 11:00am. We scored a sweet shady spot under a big tree and set up tents, chairs, Steven's kiddie pool full of ice, and a most excellent snack buffet. Team Toucan's order of runners was: Me, Brooke, Stacey, Steven, Bob, then Todd. I like going first in relays because that was always my position in track relays and it feels the most comfortable to me. I think you're supposed to put one of your fastest runners first, which I am not, but I did the best I could with the day I had (which is all any of us can do). I can only describe the loops from my own perspective of them, but Brooke, Stacey, Steven, Bob and Todd are all super strong runners and they crushed their miles like the badasses they are. 

I was the first runner and I headed out on the pink loop at 12:00pm under a bright, hot sun (89 degrees and super high humidity). The first loop was basically the Mendon 10K loop in reverse, so some long gradual uphills and some steepish downhills. I started off running the hills but my breathing was heavy due to the heat and humidity and I hit an early low point where I thought why do I do this, why do I run? That thought happens at least once in every race, but usually it's much later on. Then my brain was all, this is fun, you're doing this for fun, also let's not get heatstroke today! So I started walking the hills to keep my heart rate down. It's not like we were trying to win anything, but I still wanted to get my team off to a decent start. I'm usually better at uphills, but in the heat that wasn't happening. So I tried to go faster on flats and downhills to make up time. Racing down Kitty Litter hill was slightly terrifying but I turned off the fear part of my brain and just let my legs do their thing. I think this is the first race ever where I haven't been passed by any dudes on a downhill. Also, all my bones and blood stayed on the inside so that made me happy. One day I will actually learn how to run downhill well. I finished the first loop in an hour, then Brooke and Stacey crushed their pink loops. We were sitting around our tent camp eating and chatting when we got a text from Steven: "Did I get lost? Think I am on orange." Which was hilarious because it's so Steven (and we love Steven). Instead of going left up the hill and across the road following the pink flags, he had gone straight and done the orange (third) loop instead. When he finished, he told the race directors he had gone the wrong way and they were very chill about it. They said the first and third loops were similar distance and elevation so it was fine. Bob and Todd were super fast on their pink loops and then it was my turn again.



I headed out on the blue loop around 6:00pm in just a sports bra and toucan shorts. I don't typically run without a shirt, but Brooke and Stacey had taken off their shirts for their loops, plus a bunch of guys were running shirtless. It was far too hot and too much of a waste of time to care what I looked like. Thankfully, it was a little cooler and a lot flatter and I felt good so I pushed the pace a little. I had a side stitch for pretty much the entirety of this loop, and the whole rest of the day, which was super annoying, but my legs felt good so I didn't let it slow me down. I was cruising for the first 3.5 miles, then the course went off trail into a bushwacking section that was too long for my tastes. I slowed down during this part since I didn't want to fall and impale myself on any sticks. Finally I heard some volunteers cheering and they told me to watch out for the yellow shirt on the ground, which was covering up a sketchy fence. It was too late, as I had already tripped on the fence, but at least I didn't fall. After crossing the road, another volunteer told me to run across the bridge, then make a U-turn and run through the pond. "Does everyone have to do this or do I just look super sweaty?" I asked. She laughed and said everyone had to do it. I could have done without that part too, since my shoes were then wet for the rest of the night. But I was lucky to do this loop in the light. Some people had to do it in the dark and that would have been much harder. Poor Bob ended up running extra miles on this loop because there was no volunteer there when he ran over the bridge, so he and several other runners kept going straight instead of making the turn into the water. Lots of people ended up getting lost on the course throughout the day and night, but surprisingly I was not one of them. I have a terrible sense of direction. I never know where I am. But my knowledge of my weaknesses almost becomes a strength in races because I'm hyper-vigilant about following flags. Also, I'm not fast so I have more time to make sure I'm on the right path and to notice if I haven't seen a flag in a while. There were a few times I started to get anxious that maybe I was off course, but just then I would see a flag and be reassured I was on the right track. I think the course was well-marked, but it can be hard to follow even a well-marked course in the dark or when your brain is all foggy and tired from doing more running than sleeping.




Around midnight, I headed out on the orange loop. I was nervous about falling or getting lost in the dark, but once I got out there I was fine. Except for the side stitch that had been plaguing me all day and had now become like an entire abdomen stitch. Not cool, but what can you do except keep going? This loop seemed to go by faster than the others. Or maybe I was just dreaming about taking a shower afterward. A couple times up and down Cardiac Hill (which I actually don't mind because it's pretty much inevitable at this point - I've been climbing this hill since high school cross country), over to Devil's Bathtub and then back to Stewart Lodge. When Brooke finished her last loop, we went to my house to shower quick, then headed back to Mendon. I had made a little sleep cubby in my hatchback and managed to get about an hour and a half of sleep before the daylight and my aching knees woke me up (I am too tall to sleep in my tiny car apparently. My knees were not happy about being curled up in the fetal position and not having room to stretch out.) While Todd was running his last loop, we took down our tent camp and started packing up, then headed to the finish to cheer him in. And to see the first female solo finisher in the history of MM99! Amazing!




While the running is fun and Mendon trails are beautiful, the best part of this race is the hanging out in between loops. It's like a giant, sweaty slumber party. Unless you're with Steven and he gives you Gold Bond powder and calls it an 'army shower.' In which case it's a slightly less sweaty slumber party. I got in about 20 miles of running but I did a lot more hanging out, eating, laughing and peeing. Normally, I'm in bed by 9:00pm but partying it up with my tramily was well worth the lost sleep. I'm going to need another weekend to recover from my weekend, but I would totally do this race again in the future. Good friends, good trails, good times in toucan shorts. It is such a luxury to live this life. 

Lyric of the moment: "All the crazy shit I did tonight. Those will be the best memories. I just wanna let it go for the night. That would be the best therapy for me..." ~David Guetta "Memories"