Scatter my ashes here...

Scatter my ashes here...
scatter my ashes in the desert...

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Bacon Strip

This morning I went out for a 10 mile run on the loop known locally as "The Bacon Strip". I met Cat and 5 other runners there, and most of us did a 10 mile loop on the hilly dirt county roads northeast of Fort Collins. Three people, including Cat, went for 15 miles. I chose the short route.

The Bacon Strip has some good hills and is a challenging run, probably an ideal training run for road races, because the hills are similar to what you might encounter in a road race with tough hills.

I started out the first half hour feeling like my legs were still dead, but after an hour I warmed up and started pushing the hills a bit. Finished in an hour and 26 minutes, not bad for me, sub-9 minute pace for 10 miles. I felt strong and was able to pick up my pace when I wanted to. Maybe there's hope.

The problem with ultra legs is that they tend to not warm up for a very long time, so if you're trying to run short and fast, you don't warm up until the end. Not sure what the solution is to that. But who cares?

Speaking of bacon, we did see two snakes on the run today. I don't think either one was a rattler, they didn't look like it to me. One was a big, dried, dead snake wafer that looked similar to a strip of bacon, just needed some Cheese Whiz, and the other was a real, live, close to 3 foot snake, squirming across the middle of the road, and it didn't have the triangular head of a rattlesnake.

It feels very strange to be done with my run in just an hour and a half, not to mention having double digit miles in that time. I think this shorter, faster running will be perfect for me to get through this period of ultra burnout. It might even help me get some speed back in my legs. Soon the guys will have to worry about this old lady chicking them again. Are you listening, Felix?

When I got home I rode my bike about 10 miles just to relax my legs after the fast running pace.

This was the first weekend we've had where we had more sunshine than rain. This is what it looks like in town these days, green, with flowers growing everywhere.
I love spring in Fort Collins. Yesterday Dennis and I went for an early morning run through the streets of Old Town, something we haven't done in years but we used to all the time back in the days when we first moved here, when we lived on Mountain Avenue. We ran through the neighborhoods of old houses and pretty yards with flowering trees and gardens. Then we went out to breakfast. It is so nice to have time for a normal life.

My only exception to normal is that I am in sauna mode now, during the month of June I do have to get in the sauna several times a week to get ready for the heat of Death Valley, so I don't wilt if I'm out there on the course looking after the runners. I cannot wait to get out there, I love that place.

Soon we will be going up to our cabin for a few days, and I'm hoping the snow has melted enough to get up on Silverheels. The Buffaloes will be so happy to go back to their mountain home.

Estes Park Marathon in 2 weeks. After that, I'm considering the Mountain Avenue mile in August!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Overcoming Denial

Sunday was the Wyoming Double Marathon and Marathon along with the other races held each Memorial Day weekend starting at the Lincoln Monument at the top of I-80 in Wyoming, between Laramie and Cheyenne.

I signed up for the Double this year, as usual, I have run this race 5 or 6 times and always did the 50 mile version. This year I signed up for the following reasons: it is in my backyard, it's inexpensive, it has nice scenery except for the frontage road section, it's low key and nice people organize and run it, it's a fundraiser, and it's a good workout for my tentative plans to run the Lean Horse 100 later this summer.

So tentative.

As we took off from the start at 6 am, there was a light rain that felt more like a spray than drops. It was quiet, with a light breeze, and no one out there but us and the worms. It wasn't even cold. I started out in shorts, a light jacket, and gloves, and stayed dressed that way until 10:00.

The rain was a blessing, because it kept away the only real drawback to this race, the usual Memorial Day weekend assortment of ATV riders blasting by on their noise-making, dust-stirring, fume-producing, wildlife-scaring, runner-startling, head injury-inducing machines. You know, the chest-puffing ones who drive those nuisances way too fast with their kids straddling the vehicle in front of them, without helmets...wearing only badges of stupidity on top of their shoulders, rumbling down the winding forest dirt roads busy with holiday weekend visitors.

I did not feel motivated at all the first 2 miles or so, but then I warmed up and started to run well. My legs felt great. I made decent time to the turnaround and felt strong on the frontage road, but on the way back, I couldn't motivate myself to keep pushing. I didn't feel tired, my legs felt good. I could pick it up when I wanted to, but I didn't care. My heart was not in it to run all day.

About a third of the way back before I hit the frontage road, I realized that it was going to be hard if not impossible to keep myself going mentally. I didn't feel like spending the whole day out walking. Last year was different, I needed to, it was Badwater training. This year, there's no such motivating factor. I thought of Morgan and Dennis, in the car following me all day and I felt bad to have them out there like that while I was marching along. It was warming up, and it looked like we might get some blue sky and sunshine.

As the fog lifted from the rock formations of Vedauwoo, I decided I would stop at the halfway point, and the more I thought about it, the better it sounded. So when I caught up to them at the frontage road underpass, I told them what I wanted to do. They said they were okay with whatever, even if I changed my mind by the time I got to the marathon finish point.
Once I made my decision, I felt so relieved.

Katy was having a rough day. She ended up stopping at the marathon too, we ran the last 5 or 6 miles together.

When I got to the finish line I told the race people I was not going back. They gave me a marathon finisher's medal and I relaxed around the finish line, talking to everyone. I got to talk with two runners from Steamboat who have been around the ultra community for at least as long as I have been, Don and Dick.

Dick was sitting on the steps of the race director's RV, parked at the finish line. I asked him how he felt and he said, "Okay" without much enthusiasm. I said, "You're here!" He perked up and said, "Yeah, I should be happy to be here, I'm getting so slow."

Eventually we all get slower, we get older, we all go through various stages of dealing with the fact that we don't stay high performing racehorses forever, we get fat, injured, and/or burned out in various ways, both mentally and physically, from such a demanding sport. We take our breaks and come back. We make changes to our routines, if necessary, to keep going. Or maybe we don't.

I feel good about my decision, and I'm not disappointed with my performance. I have been fighting burnout since last fall and I need to take some time away from doing races. My legs felt fine, I was able to run strong and pick up the pace when I wanted to, to catch up to people I wanted to talk to. But I also didn't care about the finish, and when I wasn't trying to catch someone, I slowed to a slow jog or a walk. I didn't care.

I realized that it would be tough going in the second half, and I didn't want to put my crew, Dennis & Morgan, through the slow torture of crewing someone in a death march. Maybe not death, but an unmotivated, slow push to finish the miles. And at this point, finishing the miles is not a good enough reason for me to be out there. I have nothing to prove, and no goals to drive me.

In the past, I wouldn't dream of dropping out of a race, I didn't care if I was DFL (dead f***ing last). The only times I have ever not finished an ultra were when I was injured (once-Jed Smith 100K in California in 1994), sick and missed the cutoff as a result(once- Leadville Trail 100 in 1995), or burned out (once- Colorado Springs 100K, can't remember the year). And that's where I am now. In the past I would have beaten myself up over it. Now I don't feel bad at all. I feel relieved. Somewhat lost, but like a weight has been lifted.

Last week there was an announcement that Across the Years will not be held this year, and the future of the race is not certain. Since then, I've felt at loose ends. I was feeling unsure about what I'd do this year, I was considering doing the 24 hour, or just going down to help out. But the decision was made for me.

And the race organizers deserve a break. It's a tremendous effort and infusion of hours and energy for everyone involved in that race, especially Rodger and Tana, who hold the race on their property, and Paul the race director. There are about a dozen other people who put hundreds and thousands of hours each year into various aspects of the race. They need a break too, they and their families make huge sacrifices for the runners who come to run laps for days around Nardini Manor.

And maybe it all coincides with the universe clearing the path for me, opening a door to put more of my energy into painting, which I've recently started doing again.

I am looking forward to going out to Death Valley in 7 weeks. Being at Badwater will no doubt get me charged up again. I know another run at Badwater is in my future, somewhere, but not in the next year or so. For now I'm going to enjoy my shorter, faster runs, and enter a few low key local runs when I start missing the running community.

I have been enjoying my runs, I'm going to the track, doing Rock Repeats, running my sanity runs. I'll look forward to going up to Estes and to the mountains this summer and running those trails. But there won't be the urgency, the need to get out and do my 20 or 30 miles every day I'm off work. I can go to the cabin with Dennis and the girls and just do a hike and not feel like I'm missing out on my training and losing ground.

So...this morning we ran the Houska Houska 5K, a local fundraiser for the bone marrow donor program. It was fun, as always. When people who know what I do asked me about my race yesterday, I told them I did the Half Double. The what!!!???

The nice thing about being burned out is what happens as a result, by letting go of what was holding you back, all kinds of new growth starts and opens doors to other things you weren't seeing in the fog of burnout. You get to look at new horizons and dream of new things, and smell the flowers along the way.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Spring! Time to blow out some carbon!

It's really spring now. The trees have leaves and flowers are blooming and that means it's time for my weekly visits to the scenic Colorado State University track. I did my second track workout of the season today. Three miles at sub-7 minute pace. I felt very comfortable.

I love doing speedwork. I am a closeted speed junkie. One of the hard parts about training for long ultras is that speedwork becomes less justifiable the longer your race is. Doing hard fast workouts allows you to blow out carbon, tear up the track, and burn off some frustration, like after a difficult work day, like I had yesterday. More on that down the page.

I love being able to watch the snow melt on Longs Peak from the track. That's how I know when it's time to start going up to Estes to run. Maybe in another month. Tomorrow I am going to do 20 up in the park and Cat is going to join me for at least part of it. I hope she'll do the whole thing. I'm thinking four Rock Repeats, if she can stand the repetition.

Maybe there's hope for these slow legs after all. I want to work on getting my leg turnover back. It's been too long without doing anything fast, and with a track like this, I hate to miss my weekly dose of speedwork.

More proof of spring, Isabelle has a cherry blossom on her butt.

Iris is stalking her sister, to get the cherry blossom.

The backyard with cherry blossoms and lilacs.

I needed to run hard today just to purge myself of yesterday. I hate having a work hangover. It was the kind of day you want desperately to forget, but it stays with you, no matter how much you try to purge it from your mind.

I worked Tuesday and Wednesday this week. At the end of the day on Tuesday, I was exhausted. It occurred to me that I haven't taken a stretch of time longer than 4 days away from work since I got back from Arizona at New Year's.

I normally don't work Wednesdays. Unfortunately I idiotically scheduled myself for something like 5 Wednesdays over the next 6 weeks. What was I thinking? I was trying to spread my work days in a way that I'd get longer stretches of time off. Now I'm doubting the wisdom of that decision.

When I went home Tuesday night, I thought about taking a mental health day on Wednesday, but I need to save my time off and decided to tough it out. It's only a 12 hour shift, right?

I woke up Wednesday morning at 3:35 am. Wide awake, two hours before my alarm goes off. I took the Buffaloes for a run in the neighborhood, and took my time getting ready for work. I start work at 7 am, and I knew I'd be hurting by mid-afternoon, but at least it was just one day.

By 8 am I was wishing I had taken the day off. It was an absolutely horrendous, exhausting, mind-numbing day. Things at work were psycho. I got the assignment from hell, down the far end of the hall, plus it seemed like all the other unpleasant aspects of my job piled up in one 12 hour shift and landed on top of me. I needed about 6 clones of myself to get through the day.

By the time I went home at 8 pm I was DONE. I was done 12 hours earlier, but the ultrarunner in me kept going. The ultrarunner who wants nothing more than to save enough money and time off to do Badwater again, probably a double, in a couple of years. The ultrarunner who stops on her trips to the bathroom at work to look at the Death Valley pictures on her locker.

I haven't had a day like that in a long time. Probably since the last time I worked a Wednesday?

Fortunately I have 2 days off and then I work this weekend. Weekends at work are like a different world. I enjoy my job and the people I work with are great, consistently, no matter how busy it gets and how tough my assignment is. Wednesdays are a gamble, sort of like Russian Roulette, and most of the time I lose.

If I didn't have an ultra life and Dennis had weekdays off, I'd only work weekends. I am so thankful I have an ultra life. I am so thankful I have an ultra life and have so many awesome people in it, who make my short visits to work hell bearable.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Pedestrians on Crack

I finally made the right choice for running this weekend.

After my run at Fruita, I knew I didn't want to feel like that again in two weeks, and the idea of waking up at 3 am, going for a bus ride and getting motion sickness, freezing my butt off up Poudre Canyon waiting for the start, and pounding my body for 26 miles downhill on pavement, none of it sounded like fun. I am so happy to be blogging here this morning, preparing to take the Buffaloes out and get a leisurely 10 to 15 miles once the sun comes out.

Yesterday after "sleeping in" until 6:00, I drove up to Wyoming to join Katy for a run on the Wyoming Double Marathon course. We did one out and back on the course, for a 26+ mile run. Driving up in the morning it was foggy and raining in different places all the way up to the summit at the Lincoln Monument, but it wasn't snowing, and the wind wasn't too bad.

Katy's husband Wade drove us to the monument from the Turtle Rock trailhead so I could park my car and leave extra water, food and clothes, so we'd have an aid station at about 10 and 15 miles on the course.

We ran a lot but that course is deceptively hard, and we felt like we were in slow motion, even though we were running strong on most of it and keeping our walk breaks to a minimum. Still we were calling ourselves pedestrians because of the slow pace. I reminded Katy that in the early 1900s they used to call multi-day runners and ultrarunners "pedestrians".

We had typical Wyoming weather though. Every five minutes we were in a different climate. It would look like the sun was going to break through the thick fog, and we'd feel warm and start taking off layers, and down the next dip in the course we'd be able to see our breath, and we'd be freezing again. Then the fog would get so thick you couldn't see. Then it would rain. Then it would snow. Then we would warm up again.

The fog gave us enough breaks so that we were able to see the beautiful granite rock formations along the road, all though the Vedauwoo area. There were little pine trees growing out of cracks in the rocks everywhere. I've never been able to look closely at the rock formations before because the only times I've been up here have been for the race, and then I've been less focused on the scenery.

The only unpleasant part of this course is generally the two-plus mile stretch of pavement along the I-80 frontage road. That's usually where you catch the wind blowing full-blast in your face. The wind wasn't bad for our run, but it was cold.

On our way out on the frontage road we were looking at the thick fog. We could have used more of that fog on the way back along the frontage road, because there wasn't enough fog to cover the cracks.

I'm not talking about the cracks in the rocks.

As we turned the corner after the east underpass below I-80, we were noticing how cold it was, and we could see our breath. We saw a Subaru drive by slowly and it parked at the corner where the exit offramp came down to the road we were on. Two people got out of the car, a very large man and a woman. They walked over to a light pole and seemed to be interested in the bolts around the base of the pole.

Katy and I didn't say much, we just made our right turn onto the frontage road and we slowed down to cross the cattle guard with Kira. As we looked to the right, all we could see was the man's HUGE PLUMBER'S CRACK, his jeans down to about his knees, bent over looking at the bolts on the ground.

OMIGOD. I don't think they make a coin large enough for that slot.

It was enough to make us start running again. Fast.

After we got away from the crack, Kira started to pull toward the snow again. Katy helped her cool off by cleaning the gravel off the snow she was eating, and gave her another snow hat. Kira loves it.

Kira ran with us for 20 miles, until Wade checked on us and took her with him while Katy and I finished our run. He told us about a cow moose he saw down in the willows but by the time we got there, there were several cars and we didn't see the moose.

We saw clusters of pasque flowers all along the east part of the course.

Later on this spring and summer I will come up here when the snow has melted and we can get into the trails in this area.

So much better than 26 miles downhill on pavement!