Scatter my ashes here...

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

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Rant: Running for the Long Haul

I feel a rant coming on.

Maybe it's lack of sleep but at this point I only owe the sleep bank three hours, so that's probably not it. It's not PMS either. I feel this need to say something, because I am concerned about some of the runners in my life (at least three at this moment) whom I care about and I want to see them continue being able to run. But this applies to almost any woman runner, and a lot of men too.

So consider this a rant coming from a place of kindness, and caring, and concern. Here it goes:

Ultras are a gift to the body, not a punishment. I totally disagree with the "that's crazy, let's do it" mentality. I don't do ultras because I'm daring myself. I don't do them to beat the crap out of my body. I do them for the enjoyment and what I get from them, which are unique experiences shared with other unique human beings that I hope I'll be able to continue to have for a long time.

I've been running for nearly 27 years, ultras for 20 years. As long as I'm physically able, I intend to continue this.

I could care less about where I place in the pack. I have no interest in being competitive anymore. Interestingly, I still place pretty high at times, when I have a good race, without trying. I certainly don't plan on it, but I seem to hit those good races more often than a noncompetitive runner would expect to.

People say to me all the time,"I don't know how you find the time to train for ultras."

"I could never put in that kind of mileage."

"Marathon training is so painful, I could never imagine training for ultras."

"How does your body hold up?"

Hmmmmm. How does that work? Let's think about this together.

I averaged 48 miles a week prior to the Keys 100 for 4 months. I finished in 26 hours and change.
I averaged 47 miles a week prior to the Lean Horse 100 for 3 1/2 months. I finished in 28 hours and change.
Wanna see my weekly mileage trend from the Keys to Lean Horse?

Here it is, in chronological order, starting with the week after the Keys 100 race.
week 1: 6 miles of running, 14 miles of walking
week 2: ran 33 miles
week 3: ran 36 miles
week 4: ran 38 miles
week 5: ran 50 miles
week 6: ran 75 miles (including a 30 mile training run)
week 7: ran 70 miles (including a slow Leadville Marathon in 7 1/2 hours)
week 8: ran 19 miles (worked, then on vacation in Phoenix, traveled to Death Valley)
week 9: ran 10 miles (in Death Valley for Badwater, caught up on sleep afterwards)
week 10: ran 85 miles (including a 50 mile training run)
week 11: ran 70 miles (including 5 x Rock Repeats for 22 miles)
week 12: ran 70 miles (including a 33 mile training run)
week 13: ran 41 miles (including 3x rock repeats for 13 miles)
week 14: ran 21 miles (week before Lean Horse)
week 15: Lean Horse week. Ran 106 miles total including the 100 mile race.

Only five of those 15 weeks were somewhat high mileage, and only because I did long runs those weeks. In the middle I took two weeks easy, since I was traveling and busy doing other things. Hardly obsessive.

There is so much more to life than training all the time. People think what I do is obsessive but really, I am about the least obsessive runner I know out of all my friends. I know how to get down to business when it's time to focus on a goal I've set, but I also know how to let go of the need to constantly pound out the miles.

This fall I plan to take September mostly off, with cycling as my cross training. If the weather doesn't cooperate, well too bad. I'll ride in the rain or I'll just take the day off.

Sure I plan to run Across the Years in late December and I'll get serious sometime in October, but I'm not going to worry about it. I'll do a couple of long training runs around Halloween and Thanksgiving, but other than that, regular mileage applies.

This week, after my race, I'll concentrate on letting my feet heal and not worry about fitness. I won't lose much in a week. Nothing noticeable anyway.

I can only run a lot of ultras for a couple of years before my mind and body tell me I need a break. Fortunately it's usually my mind first. I tend to get burned out on training all the time, I miss my other interests, I miss doing things with my family, and I feel like I need to back off so many hours of training and preparing to train and run races.

On the physical end of things, I have never had a stress fracture. Never missed a menstrual cycle due to low weight. Since starting ultras, any injury I've had is due to a mishap, like a sprained ankle, not due to overtraining.

And I eat. I carry a little extra weight, not so much because I eat, but because I do have thyroid issues, and to look at the body type of my ancestors, they were not fat, but short and solid, more of a muscular build as they got older.

Because I would rather have a few pounds extra for my bones as I get older, I don't worry obsessively about weight. Sure I'd love to feel light on my feet again and fit in my smaller running clothes, but that is less important to me than staying healthy. I am thankful that despite my increasing middle age vanity about things like hair color, I have never been one of those skinny at any cost people. Whenever I've been skinny, it's been because my thyroid is out of whack.

Sure I do think about weight and in the back of my mind I view my body image in the same way as nearly any woman brought up in this culture. I go back and forth in my own mind, thinking I'm too fat at times. Somehow I've managed to have some of my best running performances when I was at my heaviest weights. I've tried to re-train myself on those matters. And I've managed to avoid a lot of the pitfalls of being too skinny, not eating enough, and falling apart.

That's where the concern for my friends comes in. I see them making the common mistake of too many miles, not giving your body a break, thinking you feel good after a long race without allowing the healing that has to happen at a microscopic level in the soft tissues and bones to take place, the probable but unknown effects on your immune system, the risk for mental burnout, the cost to families and individual lives.

When you feel good now, it might be a function of your great fitness. But it can be tricky. Often runners say they felt great right before they got sick or injured. Feeling good now does not mean that all is good inside. The body has it's own wisdom and we can try to avoid it but eventually it will get us.

If runners are not able to cut back on miles or take necessary care of their bodies, they are running for something beyond the enjoyment of running, and it is most likely an addiction, and no, it's not a "good" addiction. It's just a different drug. And it's rooted in a fear, which is related to body image, fear of losing something youthful about appearance, fear of running a little slower, fear of having a little fat on the body or weighing a certain number of pounds, in the brainwashing so many women have endured.

Those fears lead to overtraining, fear of taking a break because they might gain weight. Fear of losing a little fitness, as if once it's gone, it will be gone forever.

Guess what, fitness is a renewable resource. It's like money. You can always find more of it, you just have to be motivated to get it.

I think about my health years from now, and I want to give myself the best chance possible to be one of those 80 year old ultrarunners. There are enough pitfalls of getting older, some of which we can't control. But I want to make damn sure my bones hold up in order to do it, and that is something I can control.

Less is more.

End of rant.


The Runner said...

I couldn't agree more.

Eddie said...

I would second that!