Scatter my ashes here...

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

Friday, August 19, 2011

On Learning from Experience

The world is not simple, and not black and white, but to state things as simply as possible, there are good mistakes and bad mistakes. Good mistakes are the ones you learn from. Bad mistakes are the ones where people get hurt. And somewhere in between, that can go either way, are mistakes you don't learn from the first time, despite having the information and resources to do so.

People do make mistakes. It's human nature. Ultrarunning requires a person to think critically, and use common sense. People usually do learn from their mistakes, and I believe in individuals taking responsibility for themselves, but when someone points out an error that involves runner safety, I think it's prudent to seek out information and advice, and resolve to do better next time.

Anyone, at any stage of their running career, can make a mistake, have a bad day, use poor judgment, or just space something out at an aid station that results in a serious problem a few miles later. Just last year in a 50 mile race I made the simple mistake of rushing through an aid station and forgetting my warm clothes in my drop bag. I had some food in my stomach, then an unexpected storm blew in suddenly.

Within a few minutes I was shivering and headed toward hypothermia. Fortunately my friend loaned me her jacket and stuck with me. She could have easily run ahead and finished an hour ahead of me, but she didn't. That's what ultrarunners do, and that's what makes the sport so great.

The lesson: never rush through an aid station. And never assume you're safe in an ultra even if you've run the distance hundreds of times. One of the most talented, experienced runners in the entire field at Badwater this year, not to mention the entire world, ended up in the hospital for days, in acute renal failure from problems she was having before the halfway point in this year's race, one of the cooler years in the race's history.

Nearly 20 years ago, as a new ultrarunner, I made the mistake of inviting a senior member of the ultra community to a low-key local event I was holding. My friends and I had already done a few of these training runs ourselves and decided to invite others to join us. His response to me was flat-out harsh and abrupt. "You people who put on these unofficial events are ruining the sport! You're screwing things up for the rest of us who put on legitimate races!"

He went on and on about people advertising their unofficial events in places where everybody and their nutcase cousin could see, and then they'd show up and do something stupid to jeopardize the sport. We didn't have Facebook in those days, mostly things were advertised by word of mouth or in magazines like Ultrarunning and locally produced, free publications. But the point is the same today as it was 20 years ago.

At the time, I wrote him off as an egotistical, insensitive jerk, but after a while, I realized that his response, as abrasive as it was, was motivated by a fierce love of the sport, and a desire to avoid ruining the future of it. If something bad happens, or you fail to get the necessary permits, or someone complains, it will reflect badly on the entire community of runners.

You do not want someone to be injured or die as a result of the event you hold. If an event is held on public lands, first of all, the agency managing the public lands where you held the event will not want to touch you or your sport with a 10 foot pole, and it will put a damper on the chances of any other entity putting on an event in that location. Then there are the legal issues, which I can't even comment on, because they are way beyond my knowledge and comprehension.

Even in the case of a completely official event, where all your bases are covered, and you have permits, insurance, waivers, official medical personnel, and a stellar record of things going smoothly, you still need to be prepared for the worst.

The moment the press gets wind of someone being seriously injured, ill, or dying at a running event, every journalist and his uncle will be calling the race director, and anyone they can get hold of connected with the race, wanting to know why it happened. There will be articles published in major newspapers all over the country and all over the Internet about the controversy over safety in the sport of ultrarunning. The press loves that sort of thing. I can promise you, if someone dies of heat stroke in an event in little ol' Fort Collins, the New York Times will be calling. And if not New York, then LA, or Chicago.

But worst of all, if you are a race director or part of the staff, are the questions you will ask yourself if someone does get seriously injured or dies, the weight of it on your conscience, and how much it will impact your world and your own running. In 2003, I was co-race director of Across the Years, in Litchfield Park, Arizona, and we got word that one of the competitors had been found dead in his hotel room the day after the race. We heard from everyone, including the New York Times, before we knew the cause, and weeks before the results of an autopsy were released.

Even if it turns out it had nothing to do with your event, you do not want any of these things to happen in connection with your event. It was devastating and long-lasting, for the entire race staff. That's the kind of thing that sticks with you, for a long time.

No ultra is safe. An individual can decide to take risks by running an ultra, but for the race organizers/director/staff/agencies involved, it's a different type of risk. There are things that need to be considered beforehand, because they are taking on the combined risk of everyone who participates, and more. Add a few extra things, like heat, rain, cold, road construction, inexperience, and the omnipresent human factor of stupidity, which also applies to motorists, spectators, and any other two-legged creature on the planet, and there is even more risk.

There is always the potential in every event for something to go wrong. As I mentioned above, you can't even assume that the people who finished intact that year are all safe once they finish. As a race director, thinking about these things is what keeps you up at night for weeks or even months before the race.

It's a big mistake to assume that an event is safe because no one had problems. They potentially could have: it's even more dangerous to make assumptions about the safety of an event based on good luck. Just because nothing happened one year, or two in a row, or 5 in a row, doesn't mean nothing bad will happen in year 2 or 6 or 30.

Not long ago I wrote a blogpost that obviously struck a few nerves. I suspect I hit someone's thumb that was on the head of the nail I was hammering. The experiences I have described above are what drove me to write that original post.

I'm human. People aren't going to agree with everything I say and that's fine with me. I don't like checking my e-mail and finding nastygrams, that makes me mad, especially when people get so caught up in taking the small insignificant stuff personally, that they don't even see that someone is watching their back, thinking about the more important picture: their safety.

It's a great time to be an ultrarunner. The sport is well-established, even if most people still don't understand the draw. More and more people are getting it, though, because of all the good attention the sport and athletes have received in the media. There are so many great places to run long, with lots of potential for events in the future. The sport is growing and is being viewed more favorably than ever. Let's keep it that way.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Tour de Wal-Mart: Save Money. Live Better.

My basic daily ride is a 30 mile out and back with a loop in the middle. I call it the Tour de Wal-Mart. Why?

Because there are two Wal-Marts along the way. I ride from home in Fort Collins, down the Power Trail and south to the Loveland bike path, which I take to the first Wal-Mart, off Eisenhower & Denver, and then I go out the Loveland bike path near Boyd Lake and take the path until the place where it currently ends, near 287, where there is another Wal-Mart.

If I wanted to add more mileage, and more Wal-Marts, I could easily tack on two more. I could take the Poudre Trail around to the Wal-Mart north of Lemay and Mulberry, and I could ride out east Harmony to the Wal-Mart at I-25. I don't actually go in the Wal-Marts, but they are there as fixtures on the landscape.

I've been alternating between my two bikes, the 1986 Fat Chance with dinosaur components, and the Surly CrossCheck. I love riding both.

All this time on the bikes has given me time to think about goals for next year, to build up over the next few years for some longer adventures.

I made a promise to myself when I turned 40 that I would be healthier and have better fitness at 50 than I had at 40. At 40 I was just starting to get my life back in order after being a semi-vegetable due to my undertreated thyroid condition.

Dennis just turned 50 which reminds me that I'm three-quarters of the way there from 40, and it won't be long. I know I already have much better endurance and I am healthier in a lot of ways, but I am carrying around some weight that I've put on in the past 4 years. My acquired dislike of doing weight training has kept me from working my upper body and overall strength, and adding it back into my life would do a lot to boost my slowing metabolic rate.

I do lift weights but my weight routine is completely pathetic. I do the bare minimum that I can accomplish in about 15 minutes three times a week, and I have to force myself to do that. Yes, I used to be a personal trainer, and I can't even make myself lift weights anymore. I used to love weight training, but burned out at some point along the way.

I have a solution and I'm getting organized to get started on lifting weights again within the next two weeks. We'll see what happens. Maybe I can revive my interest in weight training again with some creativity. First I need to dig my long lost weight sets out from under all the junk in the garage that Dennis has piled on top of them! That should be a workout in itself!

I guess you could say I am following the Wal-Mart slogan. Save money, live better. By riding my Tour de Wal-Mart and not going in, I am saving money, and all these great training ideas will help me live better. I could be the Wal-Mart poster child with my special Wal-Mart dress that I wore in Las Vegas, with my tacky sports bra hanging out the back. Actually I got both the dress and the bra in the Target girls section, but don't tell Wal-Mart that.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Good News

Met with the doctor (Dr. Yemm) at Orthopedic Center of the Rockies, after my MRI. They were able to get some very clear pictures of my right ankle (I'm good at holding still for long periods of time- something I didn't know I could do).

It was the best news I could have hoped for.

There is no tendon tear, and everything looks intact except for some inflammation around my peroneal tendon. No evidence of achilles tendinitis, no degenerative or arthritic changes in my ankle joint. I still have the little bone fragment near my subtalar joint from the rock that fell on me in the 1992 Mosquito Marathon, but it isn't doing anything. Everything looks good.

I am so relieved knowing I won't need surgery! That would have been awful, I would have had to be non-weight bearing for weeks, and I wouldn't have been able to work, and then it would have been a long rehab.

I asked about all the things I can do to rehab it now. I asked him if he thought it would respond to a couple of months off. He told me he never hears runners suggest that, usually he has to say it and they don't like to hear it. I told him I want to be running at least another 27 years, and preferably when I'm 90, if I live that long. He said he thought I probably would be running then.

So the plan is, take 6-8 weeks off with no running, no uneven surfaces, not even hiking. Allow the inflammation to subside somewhat, using ice in favor of anti-inflammatories. (So nice to hear a doctor suggest THAT!)

After 2 weeks, start physical therapy with some ultrasound or other modalities and peroneal strengthening exercises, which I'll be able to do on my own. Then another 6 weeks or so of non-running before I slowly re-introduce it. Meanwhile, the bike and deep water pool running are my substitutes.

Sounds like a great plan to me. I can enjoy the beautiful fall Colorado weather on my bikes, and do a little deep water running to give myself some intense interval workouts. I could end up with better fitness after this layoff than I have right now. I have not planned any additional events this year.

This solves my problem of figuring out whether I would do Across the Years if it's held this year. The answer is, No. But I will go down and volunteer if the race happens!

We just got back from 2 days at the cabin, where we took the girls hiking, my last hike for a while, and it did hurt my ankle somewhat. But it was an easy 6 mile hike with only a few rocky places.

I do hope I'll be able to return to trail running and hiking by next summer. It's hard to be away from mountains and all the great trails. But 8 weeks is nothing, and I know my long-neglected Surly cyclocross bike and Fat Chance mountain bike will be so happy to go for daily rides!


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Gotta Love It

More hate mail today. Awesome! Unfortunately these people (or person) sending the vitriolic comments didn't have the cojones to sign their name(s) and were dumb enough to identify themselves as members of the Fort Collins Trail Runners. Yeah, that does a lot to support your arguments for the legitimacy of your group. Good job!

I am sure that your fellow group members who had the good sense to write intelligent, well-reasoned comments and sign their names would be so proud of your representation of them. Now go change your diapers. WAAAAAH!

People like this don't deserve the time of day, but I'm pointing this out for a reason. I've been chilling over the past week or so since I got my first nasty unsigned anonymous comment, planning to blow it all off. The people writing this garbage obviously don't read and completely missed the point of my July 31 blogpost, which was about a link to my guest post on John Vonhof's blog.

Since then, I've been accused of badmouthing the Fort Collins Trail Runners, and my supposed transgressions include: (a) referring to the group as novices, (b) suggesting that running in the heat is dangerous and people were out there at 24 Hours of Towers looking bad and suffering in the heat of the day, and (c) a mishmash of half-reasoned accusatory statements that include the following: I think that because I've run Badwater that makes me superior to them, when in fact they've run a lot of miles, and watch each others' backs, and are experienced ultrarunners, that suffering is a necessary part of running ultras and I'm full of $@%# for suggesting otherwise, and so on...


But there are issues pertaining to safety and the integrity of the sport of ultrarunning, not to mention common sense, that are being missed in this defensive backlash.

It doesn't matter if you're affiliated with a group, and it doesn't matter how many miles or which races you've run, if any at all! If you're a part of the sport of ultrarunning, whether a runner, volunteer, race director, or novice, respect the sport, and it will respect you.

The important points will likely be missed regardless of what I say to people who are of the hateful, anonymous comment-spewing variety.

For the rest of us who can read, think and reason, I'll be writing a blogpost in the near future that addresses these issues and concerns.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Waiting for the Verdict

Over the past week I've been pretty much a couch potato. Not intentionally, but it's been one of those weeks where I've allowed regular life to take priority over running. That's a weird feeling for me, not sure I like it. It's been fun, though, because I've been working on a slide show to show at several upcoming presentations I'm doing.

The other thing I've been up to is pursuing the answer to what's wrong with my right ankle. I got in to see a sports medicine specialist last week and I have an MRI scheduled for this coming week. The good news is that he evaluated my achilles tendons and the problem is not coming from there.

The not as good news is that he suspects, as I have for a while, that it's a longitudinal tear or split in my peroneal tendon behind my lateral malleolus (that's a tendon behind my outer ankle, in plain English). And the only way to fix that is through surgery.

All this started nearly two years ago to the day, when I sprained my ankle on a little six mile run on the trail around Dixon Reservoir- just stepped on a little rock the wrong way- and ever since then, I can't run on uneven surfaces without pain.

For now, he gave me this brace to try- the "malleo-train"- it puts pressure on the peroneal tendon to stay in place while you run. I tried it and I can't tell. I ran an hour yesterday and after 50 minutes I started to feel the usual pain in the tendon. Maybe it kept it from hurting for longer than it would have without the brace, but I need to try the brace on a trail to see if it really works.

I decided to bite the bullet and get the MRI so I'll know what's going on. I really do not want to have surgery, it's a lengthy layoff and rehab, and from what I've been reading it doesn't always take away the pain, and there are possible complications with any surgery. I am hoping that it's something I could work through with physical therapy, but realistically, I know that a tendon tear isn't going to heal itself, and given what I do, is likely to get worse.

I will find out the verdict this week when I have the MRI and then meet with the doc the following day.

Other than that I've been busy teasing Dennis about his upcoming 50th birthday. Here he is filling out his AARP card. Of course he listed me as his spouse, so that means I'll start getting mailings soon.