Scatter my ashes here...

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

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.


Nick said...

Nice post, Alene! Glad to hear you're clearing the haze. The candle looks much more at home with the flowers.

Alene Gone Bad said...

Nick, Great job in the marathon! You looked so strong out there! Getting close to tapering, I hope! Go to Bighorn, cowboy up and git 'er done! I wish you the race of your dreams!

Lisa Smith-Batchen said...

new you. You are simply amazing!