Scatter my ashes here...

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

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Prairie Chickin' at the Prairie Chicken

Another 50 miler in the books.

The Prairie Spirit Trail races are 50 and 100 miles, in their second year with race director Eric Steele, who started the event company Epic Ultras. For a race that's only in it's second year, they have their act together.

Aid stations are well-spaced and well-stocked, they had everything you could want, the basics of course, but it was all available and no hassle. In and out, no disorganization to slow you down. The volunteers had a system worked out at all of the aid stations that was efficient, and they were on top of it.

The weather was just about perfect, and there was a good breeze but not anything resembling wind, which is lucky for this time of year in this particular place. The weather gods were happy. Thanks Sasquatch, if that was your idea.

I slept fairly well in the motel room, despite the indoor pool stench. I woke up two minutes before my alarm went off. I had already taken my drop bags over the night before, so I didn't need to get there early. I left the motel at 7:30 for the 5 minute drive, giving me 25 minutes to goof off before the start.

It was cold in the morning, so I started with my Pearl Izumi short sleeved jersey under the long sleeved one. I had shorts and gloves, and a headband over my ears. I had my PI H3s on, testing them at ever longer distances. And gaiters, as it was a gravel path most of the way.

The night before at the dinner I sat with Rachel and her husband Brent. They are from Iowa and it is Rachel's first 50 miler. I wanted to make sure I found her before the start.

I found Rachel. Her eyes were pretty big, she looked nervous but acted calm. I think her husband was just as nervous. He had some cameras and took pictures of us. Eric gave the official time until the start, and David Horton was the special guest and if you know anything about David, he's a very devout Christian. So he gave a prayer.

Then he photobombed the picture with Rachel and I.

So then, with a few minutes to spare before the start, I got rid of my phone and went over to the start with about 30 seconds to spare.

The first 2 miles were northbound first, an out and back into town, then we turned around and headed south until the turnaround at 27 miles and change. Some people tore out of there like it was a 10K. The first guy, who ended up winning, was out in front from the start, but then there were a ton of other people who followed him. I just hung back and tried to settle into a reasonable 10 minute pace.

Except for the asphalt crossings through towns, the entire path was a gravel railroad grade, very gentle slopes, barely noticeable except for the last 6 or so miles up to the turnaround. The H3s seemed to be working fine. I did get a lot of dirt in my shoes despite the
gaiters, probably something to do with the tongue, breathable upper and the way I tied the H3s. I didn't ever have to dump out my shoes though, and no blisters.

My plan was to stick to 10 minute miles all the way to the turnaround, then see what I had left. It was hard to run that pace, I think just because at 1000 feet it is so much easier to breathe. Still, I managed to stick to 9:40s or so, that seemed to be my comfortable pace.

I was running with a group of about 5 guys, leapfrogging on the way out. All five of them, who were from different places, were in their first 50 milers. They kept pushing the pace, though a few of them were smarter about it than others. I did end up passing all of them by about halfway. I was trying not to get caught up in their pace so I finally pulled out my iPod and put on some relaxing trance music and got in my own world.

One guy was a talker. He was young, and every time I would catch him or he caught me, he would start talking, telling me all his predictions for the race and his plan to run between 7 and 8 hours and so on. He knew everything, of course. Yeah, yeah. I wanted to say, " Just shut up and run, dude." I think duct tape is an item I need to add to my drop bag list. Just in case.

The scenery was farmland, pastures on both sides, and the course was lined with deciduous trees. There were no leaves out yet, but there was enough shade to keep it cold most of the morning. The scenery wasn't that interesting, but it was pretty. The course passed through a few tiny towns, crossed some railroad tracks, and you could see silos and water towers up ahead, it gave you an idea that there was something else out there besides just miles of fields and cow pastures.

It was cold, I kept my long sleeved shirt and gloves on all the way to the turnaround, and for an hour or so after that I was still cold. Then it eventually warmed up, to 61 degrees, but it never felt uncomfortably warm.

As I headed into Garnett, the turnaround, I was 22 minutes behind the first place woman and 16 minutes behind second place. They both looked comfortable, so I didn't think about it any more. I just went to the aid station, took 5 minutes to strip some clothes, eat some PBJs, mess with my drop bags, and grab a few gels and drinks for the road.

I turned the iPod on at that point to my racing tunes. Headed out of Garnett I cranked up the pace, down to between 8:30 to 9:30 per mile. I flew past a few of the men, and took advantage of the slight downhill grade, only stopping to pee a few times. I saw Rachel, who wasn't much more than a mile behind me at the turnaround. She looked good. I kept on moving, passing a few men.

Around 35 miles, suddenly I realized the second place woman was ahead of me, in striking distance. She was walking. When I caught her, she said she was having some foot pain and wasn't sure what was wrong. She kept trying to run, and when she did run, she was moving well.

At the 36 mile aid station I ate more PBJs and drank some, but getting out of there, I felt like I was starting to crash. I kept moving well, maybe 10:30 miles for a while, and threw a little walking in here and there. Going into the aid station I was in second place and then she caught me as I was walking out of the aid station, eating my PBJs.

She got a few minutes ahead of me, but it wasn't long before I passed her again. I asked her if she wanted to try running with me to distract her from her foot, but then she said she was trying not to puke. She seemed to be okay though. I decided to let them know at the next aid station that she might need some attention.

I never saw her again, until the finish, she managed to finish under 9 hours. No one passed me the whole way in, I only passed two people after 35 miles. I couldn't see anyone else ahead of me. I wondered where the first place woman was.

Around 44 miles I got my legs back, but 9:30 to 10 minute miles were about all I could do at that point, and it was a definite uphill the last mile or so. I pushed it in, and finished in 8:25:02, 2nd woman, 7th overall. The first place woman, as it turns out, was only 13 minutes ahead of me finishing, so I had gained on her too. It was her first 50 miler. Seemed like it was everyone's first 50 except me.

Eric, the race director, was there to greet us as we came through, and handed us belt buckles as we finished.

My drop bags were back at the finish line before I was. That's pretty amazing work, considering the last aid station was at 42 miles. They had hamburgers and hot dogs, potato salad, and cold drinks at the finish line. The results were posted to the website immediately, too.

The only thing I think they could improve on is having ice and cold drinks available for the runners at the aid stations in the afternoon if it's warm. The water was cold, but the coke and drinks they had out were getting almost hot inside those little tents. Other than that, I think they did an outstanding job. It was fun, fast, and well-done. Can't get much better than that. I highly recommend it, if you want a fast course that isn't on asphalt.

It's a race I want to come back to. The packet pickup was easy, the t-shirt was nice and I liked the quote on it, and the starting area and everything in town was in close proximity and easy to find. The thing that impressed me even more was that they send out a survey after the race to ask for ideas for improvement. For a new, small race, that shows they really do want to serve the runners. Those are the kind of races that deserve our support.

I hung out for a while, talked to some other runners, and ate a burger. Then I went back to room to shower and grab some more food, then I wanted to get back in case Rachel finished soon. Turned out I missed her crossing the line by just a few minutes, but I saw her in the building. She ran 9:53. That's a great first 50 mile run. She was already talking about doing another one. I told her husband, "There's no cure."

It feels good to run in the 8 hour range again. I haven't run this fast in about 10 years. I am still nearly an hour off my PR, but I still need to do more miles and speedwork. The year is young. I have 6 months to nationals, so I have lots of time to work on those things. In 5 weeks I run Cornbelt, and I just want to get more miles in that last time, run more of it than I have in the past, and chip away at my goals. It will be warm and humid, most likely, so I look forward to that challenge too.

It is fun to be getting more competitive again. It was so frustrating carrying around all that extra weight, it really kept me from running to my potential. I still have a lot of work to do but it's great to see results. And then there's always the fun of the age and gender pecking order...

When I went back to find Rachel, I did peek at the results, because I had not yet seen my overall place at that point. No one older than me beat me. The next 50 year old was two places behind me, a man. I guess that doesn't count as sharpei-ing because we're the same age. But I think it does count as a chicking.

A Prairie Chicking.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Fact-Filled Kansas: Hangin' with T Rex and the Boneheaded Dinos

While on my way to run the Prairie Chicken 50, I learned a few things about Kansas.

Kansas is just full of facts. Like some know-it-all school brat, it keeps reminding you how much it knows.
It knows about it's own history, and famous people who came from Kansas. It also knows every freakin' astronaut, President, and Senator who came from Kansas. Not only that, you are made aware of the 8 miles of original interstate highway named after Eisenhower. Plus all the historical facts- and figures. Even Jesus, every few miles, he's on a billboard.
It's not just limited to famous people. There's the giant prairie dog, the 5 or 6 legged steer (not sure because I probably needed reading glasses), WaKeeney "It's Affordable", and Junction City "It IS That Good". Entering Kansas on I-70, one of the first billboards you see tells you, Welcome to I-70, the "Main Street" of Kansas. As if you hadn't figured that out already.
The Brown V. Board of Education case was decided in Topeka. There's also the world's largest ball of twine, the world's largest Czech egg, and the home of the girl who told Abe Lincoln to grow a beard. Gotta wonder what she REALLY meant.
"Smile, your mom chose life."
And...I need a kidney. THAT is sad.

For miles driving toward Topeka, the pastures were burning in prairie fires. Looked like a controlled burn of some sort, but I'm not sure. I briefly wondered if it was the recently deceased Reverend Fred Phelps getting scorched, burning in hell here on earth. 'Cause Topeka looks sort of like I would imagine hell. Smoky, hazy, and burnt, like those rundown, worn-out cities on the east coast, with old buildings falling apart and concrete overpasses with a backdrop of drab sky.
After driving all afternoon Thursday and checking out Gella's Diner & Lb. Brewing Company in downtown Hays, I got some good sleep. The food was decent at Gella's, and I tried three different beers which were all good, the seasonal Kiltlifter, the Brownell Brown Ale, and a hoppy IPA that was excellent. I settled on the Brown Ale because it had less alcohol than the IPA. The service at Gella's was very good. It was a busy place.
I started the morning in Hays. Dale "Sasquatch told me to check out the Sternberg museum. I had time, so I figured I'd check it out.
It's a natural history museum, featuring dinosaurs, rattlesnakes, and fossils. It's pretty impressive, actually. Other than 2 dozen or more species of rattlesnakes, there's more to see.

There's a life size moving, roaring Tyrannosaurus Rex, too. There is also some art in there, local artists created interesting prints on wood slabs with dinosaurs and bison superimposed on modern scenes. I could have spent the whole day looking at those.
But the Boneheaded Dinosaurs, seems like I've encountered those before. I don't believe they are extinct yet. They seem to be thriving. They just have a museum for them in Kansas.
Wait, wasn't Kansas the place where they tried to teach that the earth was flat, about 10 years ago?
The hills, not sure if they are the actual Flint Hills, but whatever the hills were that I drove through in east-central Kansas, were very pretty. The overcast day, haze, and light made the whole scene take on a sepia-like tone.
I had so much fact-filled fun, that I'm not sure what I'll do with all this new information once I get home. I better not turn my head to the side or it might all spill out.
I got into Ottawa, not a very exciting town, but I easily found the race headquarters, starting line, motel, and everything I needed, all within three minutes of each other.
The packet pickup was well-organized and they answered questions easily. I liked the shirt, as well as the quote on the back of it.
I had reservations at the Best Western. Somehow I got put in the back building "the executive suites" that houses the indoor swimming pool. There is a funky, musty smell that permeates everything in this motel. And I've decided it must be the pool. The last time I stayed in a motel that was this nasty was last March in Alabama, at the Bat Guano motel. It, too, had an indoor pool and the smell is giving me flashbacks. Either that or it's Prairie Chickenshit.

I went to the pre-race dinner tonight so I could hear the briefing. I didn't eat much, the food looked marginally okay, but a little Kansas-like for my inner princess. I ate a huge salad in the room when I got into town. Still they seemed to do a good job of feeding everyone, all 250 or so people, and got them in and out on time.

The pre-race briefing was brief, except for a tiny bit of the shenanigans that race directors of some races love to play- when they make everyone stand up if it's their first 100, and then everyone stands up in the 100, and if it's their second, they sit down, their third, etc., and this goes on and on until only two people are left standing and the RD asks them how many 100s they've done and one says 35 and the other says 58 and everyone ooohs and aaahs and I'm like, can we please get on with it?

I guess I've been around too long, the novelty has long since worn off, which is why I avoid pre-race anythings. I only went to this because it's my first time at the race and I wanted to hear the briefing and I dropped off my drop bags. I was probably back there rolling my eyes. I was really trying not to, though...

I can't believe I'm packing drop bags in a 50 mile race either but the weather's been unpredictable and I have no idea what they'll have in the aid stations. I'm hoping I won't need the bags at all.

I did sit with a woman and man from Iowa, she was doing her first 50 miler and he is just being the supportive but tentative husband. Her name was Rachel. We talked a while, I passed along some tips to her on hydration, fueling, bad patches, and making a marriage survive ultras. I'll look for her tomorrow. Sounds like she could do well if she runs smart.

One guy came up to me and asked me if I had run Cornbelt a couple of years ago. I couldn't believe he recognized me. He's here to run the 100. I told him I am going back to Cornbelt in a few weeks.

Other than that, I recognized one guy from Colorado across the room, and a bunch of people looked familiar. David Horton, the speaker, I've met before at many events. But other than that I didn't know anyone. There were a lot of first-timers here. Flat course, non technical, well-supported, sounds like a good first 100. 8 am Central Time I will be off to chase the Prairie Chicken for 50 miles...just looking for a damn good workout. I'll try to stay focused. Keep it between the weeds. Oh yeah, I almost forgot: if you want to follow the race on race day, here is a link.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Night and Day

Yesterday my sleep was all screwed up. I woke up at 5 am and then I was exhausted all day. I got some work done, but then it was time to run and I didn't have much energy. I took Iris for her 3 miles and then I needed a nap before I could think about doing more.

I got sidetracked by stupid little things and Dennis came home at 6, and I still had not taken a nap. I told him I needed to get more miles in so I was going to sleep and then go run. I got into bed and slept until after 8 pm!

Dennis doesn't like it when I go out for my night runs by myself. I used to be able to take Iris but she can't go that far anymore, and I wasn't running with anyone else this time. I am not about to let fear keep me indoors, so I set out in all my reflective gear and lights and off to the neighborhoods I feel comfortable in.

Iris stared me down by the front door when she knew I was leaving. She wants to run with me but she goes so slowly now, and she might be able to do 7 miles, but with all the sniffing it would take all night.

I had my iPod, which I am still figuring out. Somehow I was playing around with it and ended up removing all the music I put on there except for one playlist. I figured out what I did soon after I started running, but I had enough music for my 7 or 8 miles. I was able to easily reload it when I got home.

I just have to remember to check the right boxes when I'm playing with iTunes. I also tried a battery test yesterday but didn't realize what I had done with all the music so I was unable to see what happened because the thing only had 3 hours of music on it. I'll have to try it again tomorrow.

I don't know why I'm struggling with this iPod thing so much. It's not easy to figure out. Maybe I'm just an idiot. Damn Ph.D gets in the way of everything.

Last night it was finally clear enough to see stars. The streets were dark enough to make interesting shadows on the sidewalks and I was having fun playing with the camera. When I get close to the lake, it's darker and I was watching the stars through the bare treetops and listening to trance music, and I was in runner's heaven.

When I got home, it was after 10, Dennis was asleep and the girls were waiting for me, wiggling and squealing.

Today I got my errands done, took some work stuff to the printer, picked up some Salted Caramel Gu at Runners Roost, saw our friend Steve Cathcart there and talked a while, signed up for the Horsetooth Half Marathon because I'm a masochist, and then got a new set of earbuds for my iPod because the old ones off the MP3 player are not working so well. And the ones that came with the iPod, those are made for an elephant. One who doesn't sweat.

I got stared at again by the girls as I began packing for Kansas. It's a pile, I'm driving to this race so I tend to take way too much stuff. The forecast is for high 60s maybe 30 at the start and sunny, maybe windy. But of course I will be prepared for blizzards and heat waves alike. I'll pack three drop bags in case of bad weather, hoping I won't need them at all, I should be able to carry everything for 50 miles in my little pack.

This afternoon I went out on the Power Trail and did fartlek, and saw Holley out there. I recognized her steady powerwalk. I've known Holley for a long time, from the running group I used to run with before we moved to Arizona. When I first met her she was about as old as I am now. She's gotten into ultras and has run quite a few over the past several years. She's strong and I could see her doing multidays if she wanted to. I haven't suggested it yet but maybe I should drop some hints.

I stopped and talked with her. She was in the middle of a 40 mile run! She wished me a happy belated birthday, and we talked about moving forward as we get older. She does 24 hour events these days. I told her about Prairie Spirit, and she said, those races don't have long enough time limits for me. I told her this one does, I think the 50 miler has something like a 28 hour limit.

My fartlek run went well, I feel strong. My back is much better and the only place I still feel it is in this one little spot, and only when I sit in a certain position. Next two days will be short, easy runs. I hope the drive to Kansas won't make it worse, but I can get out and stretch. I'm leaving Thursday and driving part way. I don't feel like arriving there the day before the race exhausted from the drive.

Next week, or as soon as I feel recovered from the 50 miler, I start speedwork with Wheaties Boy. Early mornings. He'll kick my butt, but it's good for me.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Firing Up The Old Eight-Track iPod...

I am not a technophobe. But I have a persistent habit of delaying my use of a new gadget for a long time, once it comes out. Why? Because I'm usually happy with how the old one works and I see no reason to change. I also like to wait until the bugs get ironed out. Sort of like not running a new race the first year.

It took me forever to get a smartphone, a laptop, and move from cassettes to CDs, to my MP3 player, which I've now had for 8 years and I still use it, even though the software no longer works with the newer operating systems and the applications on my computer. Plus it only holds 2 GB, so I have one collection of music on the MP3 player that hasn't changed in over 5 years, because I can't load anything else on it.

Dennis gave me an iPod Nano for my birthday and I spent most of the day yesterday playing the thing, trying to figure it out and putting my entire music collection on it. Then I made some playlists, since I have a race coming up I got it all ready to go.

My back feels better and I ran a little over 10 miles today and took the iPod with me so I could practice using it. It's nice, it's a little easier to read than my MP3 player was, but I don't have a good feel for how to scroll through the screen, apparently I'm not touching it correctly- it doesn't respond as well as my iPhone.

I'm hoping I'll get used to it soon. I like that it's small and lightweight and it fits in the back pocket of all my PearlIzumi shorts and tights. I'm not sure about the battery life though. I hope I'll be able to figure out ways to recharge it because with the old MP3 player I could just replace a AAA battery once in an ultra and that was enough.

With this thing, I'm not sure how long it will work. I've seen all kinds of statistics on the battery life and how to maximize it. I'll have to figure that out this week and bring my MP3 as a backup just in case.

There needs to be an ultrarunning advisor for all new technology that runners use. I doubt that the makers of the iPod took into consideration that some people might want to run it for days without easy access to electricity.

If I were Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, I suppose I could make ultra technology like that. But I'm not. I just run. That's all I have to say today.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

On Banning Bossy

It's snowing today and I'm catching up on some of the thoughts that I placed on the back burner all week.

There's been a lot of hype about the "Ban Bossy" campaign in the news lately, and the talk is all over the map. I was thinking about the Ban Bossy campaign in regards to health care, especially nursing, since nurses are notoriously "bossy", or at least referred to as such.

I can even remember being a nursing student and talking with a physician about a patient during my clinicals. He told me, "You nurses are all alike: bossy". He was joking, and it was actually meant in a complimentary way, because he took my idea seriously. But in general, I think the "bossy" label is stuck to nurses like superglue.

Leadership means you help raise all ships. You encourage people to be their best. But the corporate world's aims are at odds with this. Maximizing profits and cutting costs does not encourage people to be their best. Nurses working short-staffed become short-tempered, even if they aren't "bossy" to begin with.

Managers find ways to cut staff, undermining people's efforts and encouraging backstabbing among peers to get people to leave, especially those who might question (threaten) the wisdom of their decisions.

There is a large gap between true leadership and bossy in nursing. There are so few real leaders, who help people to improve. Of course there are always the constructs of improvement or success to contend with. In the corporate world, they mean profits. And the way health care is reforming, with the conglomeration model, it's getting worse. It's a human factory, both on the patients' and staff's sides of the coin.

There's no time for real leadership activity when your staff are out there running themselves into the ground, and when your management duties require you to attend time-consuming meetings for additional propaganda "training", learning how to script your words to obscure the newly merged organization's pursuit of the bottom line despite it's carefully and expensively crafted mission statement.

The other thing management has to do in the new health care model is worry about numbers. Scores on every possible measure you could imagine. Patient satisfaction, readmissions, meaningful use, those are only a few of the newly coined terms that fly around in the hallowed hallways of the muckety-mucks in health care.

Bean counters and consulting firms are the gods, they are prioritized over staff who carry out the drudge work. The most valued players in the organization are the consultants who show shaky-handed executives how to navigate the new world of health care and preserve their well-paid spots backed up by golden parachutes.

You can either stuff your feelings and toe the line or get out. Simple as that. It doesn't matter how good you are with people, or how skilled you are as a leader. Doesn't matter if you're a good nurse with the patients. You have to keep your mouth shut and nod your head.

Yesterday I was in the parking lot of the grocery store and ran into a former colleague from the hospital. I liked working with him, and he was good at his job. He apparently didn't know I left. I asked him how things were going, and he replied, "still hanging in, coming up on 17 years. What else are you gonna do?"

I said, "I got out". He looked surprised, he obviously didn't know.

"What are you doing now?"

I told him about starting my business. It was like someone pulled the curtain back. I could see the amazement in his face, it was something he never even considered for himself. He had resigned himself to being stuck in that job and employer forever, according to his slumped shoulders and lowered head.

An old friend of mine was in the hospital across the country after having a complicated laparoscopic hysterectomy, and they kept her for just 23 hours post-surgery. It wasn't a simple procedure, the surgery took a few hours longer than they had anticipated. Still, they discharged her according to the insurance company's coverage and the original plan.

She was sharing a room with another patient whose behavior was not conducive to my friend's healing. Not only did my friend realize, in her post-anesthesia and poorly controlled pain -induced fog, that the nurses were understaffed and working their butts off, and unable to stay on top of her pain, but she saw other things too.

My friend noted the behavior of some people to milk the system. She noted that the family of an elderly person with dementia were trying to get the doctor to keep the woman there when there was nothing justifying her hospitalization.

The family probably just needed respite, and we don't do a good enough job providing resources for people who are caregivers. As the population ages we need to be able to provide these resources, but the system is busy cranking out dollars and minimizing costs, so the extra care and the services that are less profitable get cut, and people suffer.

When organizations are so focused on profit, bossy becomes the rule. Bossy in the sense of bullying and controlling. It's top down, hierarchical, and domineering. Those with poor people skills get ahead in these organizations. Time will tell how the new health care model pans out for the recipients (dare I say victims?) of it's excesses of profiteering. I predict we'll soon be circling the drain.

I'm not a fan of "Obamacare", because it is truly flawed. I never thought I'd hear myself using the derisive term "Obamacare" but I'm oh so skeptical, and not for the same reasons that conservatives use to bash it.

Insurance companies and health care executives are benefitting, but we have yet to see how much the people who were formerly uninsured benefit. Personally I think we need health care for all in a single payer system.

So in my opinion, banning bossy is a lot more complex than the effect of labeling on people's ambitions. I think we need to start by banning our love affair with power and greed.

That's my $.02.

Forced Patience

Snowing again!

Not magnolia petals, but real white stuff. I'm in spring mode and overnight it changes. By early next week it's supposed to get into the 70s. Briefly.

My back is feeling much better today. It improved yesterday but I gave it another day off because when I walked the girls, I tried jogging and it still hurt in one area. So now it's supposed to snow 1 to 3 inches and it's cold and I'm whining.

I was planning to get a bunch of work-related work done this weekend because I want to be ready to start taking clients in April, but I ordered some new publishing software that I got for a great price, and had it shipped to arrive by yesterday, but Amazon screwed up the shipping and I didn't get it.

Apparently they never sent it out of the warehouse on time. They are refunding my shipping though. I should have just downloaded the damn thing. But I'll suck it up and wait. It's only a few more days. I was hoping to get this all done before I leave for Kansas, but that's how things go.

We need dirt in our raised beds, but in this fantastic weather who wants to be outside, plus I shouldn't be doing that with my back right now, so I'll wait on that too. The honeycrisp apple tree and two of the five apricot trees I planted last fall seem to have made it through the winter, but the next few weeks will tell for sure. The bulbs in the front yard are coming up, and the front garden still needs a good raking, again I'll have to wait until my back is better.

I know there are all sorts of things we can catch up on around here, so after we drink our coffee and wake up this morning, I'll see what Dennis wants to do. I had an extremely productive week as far as work, trying to get everything in order.

I got a press release sent out about my business and got most of the intake and consent forms done, and ready to work with the attorney to get everything ready to go.

I'll get out there at some point and do a run, unless it looks slick, then I'll get on the bike for a while and spin. Tomorrow I'll get my butt out there to run for sure. This week worked out well, since I wasn't running much, I got a lot of work done and moved along further than I thought I would.

I talked to my Kansas expert friends and they told me to just step on it and do the trip in one shot because there's nothing much to see between here and there. It will be a quick weekend trip, but I was hoping to do a little sightseeing out there. I heard the Flint Hills are pretty. There are other races in Kansas, like the Heartland 100, that I've always wanted to do, so I'll plan to go back.

Patience with the pace of progress, patience with my back, patience with the weather. It will all work out.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Listening, and Setting the Bar

I'm writing this post because this week it seems I've been living in my role of "The Doctor is IN", and that's a natural role for me. It's a philosophical sort of post, so be patient.

In talking with people in general, just out in public, especially runners, sometimes I see themes repeat themselves within a short period of time and I'd like to send out a tongue-in-cheek mass e-mail to everyone involved saying, "Take THIS pill" and resolve it all.

I don't mean to be a snark-ass. In truth, I really don't feel like that about working with people, because I do enjoy helping them solve problems, but even more, I like watching them figure out their own solutions. Every situation is different, but it's amazing how many of the situations have similar solutions.

I talk with people about their health problems all the time, when they know you're a nurse they tend to ask, and believe me, physical and mental go together. Occasionally they'll get themselves in trouble because they bit off more than they could chew, set the bar too high, and tried to keep up with something that was beyond their physical capacity to handle.

It happens in endurance running a lot. When people haven't learned to listen to their bodies, they don't recognize the cues their bodies give when they are trying to say "stop!"

I've probably only run a hundred or so ultras in my life, and some people get into the sport and run that many in their first 5 years or less.

I wish I could impart my 30 years of running perspective to them and show them that a break in their 30s, even for a couple of years, is not going to end their running careers. But at the moment of injury that idea always seems like the end of the world.

I'm not a conservative, definitely not politically or socially, but when it comes to my own training, I would have to say right wing. I've never been a high mileage person, even though I can throw in some hefty running weeks here and there when the event calls for it. But I do only half the miles in an average year that many ultrarunners do, or at least claim to do.

On the other hand, despite my semi-conscious efforts to stay undertrained, both Wheaties Boy and Nick told me last week, that I was setting the bar too low. Just out of the blue, and not because I asked. They both happened to respond to two different things I said offhand, that were revealing of my underlying thought processes. It was like stripping down to my underwear in public. Twice in one week.(Sorry for the visual. You REALLY wouldn't want to see that.)

If you know Nick Clark or Shannon Price, and both of these guys are insane, but they are also extremely hard workers, they earn their excellent performances, and I respect them both immensely. Sometimes it's hard to hear things that are true and honest from the people who know you, and who know better, when they've caught you red-handed.

They're right, after I thought about it a while. I struggled physically and mentally for so long in my 30s that I learned to set very low expectations and goals for myself, in part to avoid setting myself back with fatigue, which is a huge fear for me. But also, in setting the bar low I can claim success, and mentally, that helps me. On the other hand, small increments of success could be hindering my ability to take big leaps.

As you get older, there is some loss of speed and there's a tradeoff, you do take longer to recover, and you don't bounce back like you used to. And there's something about time, as you get older, it shrinks, or goes faster, or something. Suddenly you wake up one day and realize it's getting away from you.

I struggled with active thyroid disease for a number of years, I didn't have control over that. I carried around a lot of weight for a lot of years as a result, and there were times when I ignored or neglected competition and hard training altogether, because I didn't want to be disappointed. But I can't use that as an excuse. My defunct thyroid has stopped acting up, I've been on the same dose of thyroid meds for the past 6 years, and my body is more predictable as a result. I've made upward adjustments to my training, and that's been a good thing.

I've also figured out what in my life makes me truly happy and minimizes my stress, and that is, working for myself. Removing the stressor of being a slave to someone or something else's vision has improved my health. Having lost a significant amount of weight after I struggled with my weight for so many years, and arriving at my 50 year old milestone at the same time, is allowing me to see possibilities I never imagined before. I could raise the bar!

When I think back to 20 years ago when I was running my best ultra times, I was running marathons for training runs in about 3:20 to 3:30. That was comfortable for me, and I wasn't racing. Now I would have to work hard to do that. But I think it's still possible to perform at the ultras without having the speed I used to have. And I haven't done any speedwork yet this year, other than some fartlek thrown into a few runs, and not very often.

Knowing when to back off and rest, when to push forward, is an art and a skill. My question for myself is, how fast can I go? How much can I achieve and stay healthy? Our bodies tell us, but we need to know how to listen.

Listening itself is an art and a skill. Some people go through difficult personal times because they do not know how to listen. They talk incessantly, a million miles an hour, about all their miniscule and gigantic concerns about their situation, but they never stop to examine how they might have contributed to the situation, or listen to what they truly want, or try to empathize with the other people they are struggling with.

They cannot see or hear themselves, having drowned out their inner voices with the noise they make in their compulsive talking, which is a manifestation of feeling unable to control the situation. Someone I knew for many years is like this, and eventually it became so toxic that I couldn't stand to be around them anymore, and I ended that friendship.

Sitting still, listening to your inner voice, not trying to control things. We can control some things, but not everything. Certainly when it comes to other people we can't control things. Why would you want to? We don't want to be controlled ourselves. We want to steer our own ships, and to the extent that we can, I think we should.

Learning to listen to someone, hearing the message that is really coming across, involves quieting the parts of your mind that want to control things, provide THE answers, solve the problem, and need to get their $.02 and more in.

I think men often have a harder time with this than women. I remember so many times when I tried to tell Dennis about some problem I was having and his first response was to try to solve the problem for me. But I wasn't looking to be rescued. I just needed to express what I was feeling.

The same goes for listening to your body. You want to believe that you're ready to do another hard workout, but if you listen carefully, your body will give you direction on what to do next.

I often plan my upcoming workouts during a workout. I can feel how my body is responding, so I know what's likely to happen if I push myself a short time later and how soon I'll be ready to do it again. For years I never got injured. The last few years I've been raising the bar some, and I've had some setbacks: a hamstring strain, chronic ankle problems, other muscle strains.

You can't focus on it too hard or you'll miss the message, but it's possible to be somewhat dissociated while paying careful attention, feeling what the different parts of your body are telling you and balancing that with the message your brain and ego give you. You have to quiet certain parts of your brain while listening to other parts. I can't explain that, it's what I do.

Figuring out where to set the bar, in your running, or your personal life, means listening to all the input from yourself, your environment, and the people who know you best. The people who know you best can offer great insight, even though you have to be prepared to hear things you might not like. And you need to accept those, not dismiss them, even if you disagree. They are things to meditate on, because other people's perceptions can have truth, even if you are unwilling to see them at first.

We drown out so much of the subtle input with our day to day activities and distractions. Our human brains are probably more stressed than they've ever been at any time in history. It's easy to forget about how to be alone and silent, but it is good practice for all of us.

I read people's posts on Facebook. I can see the positive bias, showing only the good side of people's lives. When people show the negatives they sometimes get backlash. People use words like "haters". I also see a lot of talk on social media about gratitude.

These memes get old, and it's important that when unfavorable things happen in our lives, we pay attention. It's part of our innate wiring to detect threats to our well-being. And the gratitude stuff, well, sometimes people don't feel like being thankful. Life has ups and downs, and it's okay to express negative sentiments too.

I know to some people the gratitude stuff sounds like a bunch of disingenuous fluff, and at times it sounds like that to me too. But in sitting silently with ourselves, expressing gratitude for what we do have is a good way to quiet the mind. Really, even when things seem awful, most of the time, it is not as bad as it seems. In your solitary silence, starting with consideration of the things you do have, is a good starting point for positive thinking and turning things around.

So I hope that the people I've spoken with lately can turn things around. And I hope we can all find the right place to put the bar. In any case, mine is moving up, a lot higher.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Hell YES!

It's official, spring has arrived. I saw little green leaves popping open and these flowers along the run yesterday. It's been warmer and windy, feels like it usually does this time of year. And tomorrow it could snow.

I had a little setback the other day. I was taking the girls to the vet for their annual checkup and Isabelle wouldn't get out of the car. She knew where she was. She sat there and trembled, dug her paws into the carpet in the back of my car, and refused to move.

I had to get her out of the car somehow, so I moved her slowly, a few inches at a time. She weighs 60 pounds, ten more pounds than Iris. When I finally scooted her to the edge of the back door, she dug in even more and resisted. I took her front paws and tried lowering them to the ground and then pushing her butt end out the door to follow. In the process, I strained my lower back and now the muscles on my right side are screaming.

I didn't realize it of course, and later I ran 10 miles and got in the hot tub at the end of the day. The hot tub was the wrong thing to do. That night, my back was screaming. I couldn't get comfortable on that one side. I iced a gazillion times yesterday and today, I am actually more sore today. But I was able to take the take the girls for a walk. I did something like this last year that involved picking up the girls, and it took a few days before it settled down. I rested and iced and then I was fine.

I'm not overly worried, even though I have a race coming up, I needed an easy week and had planned it anyway. Today I am uncomfortable in any position, sitting, walking, standing, and lying down, so I have just been doing my usual activities except I took today off from running.

Yesterday we played with Peeps. I pulled out the orange and yellow Peeps. I planned to make a peep wreath in the colors of the woman cave and hang it on the door. But it was a disaster. I should have stuck the peeps in the freezer so they wouldn't be so soft. They were a mess, and some of them ended up falling off the string so the girls got them anyway.

Now I have a sticky mess and orange and yellow sugar all over my desk in the woman cave.

I did have a productive day, even though I was uncomfortable in between icing my back, I got my business website updated. I have some forms to work on, and then I'll meet with the attorney, and I'll be ready to go.

I found myself on this first day of spring thinking about goals and running and other things. I was thinking about Across the Years and whether I want to run the 48 hour this year. I love the 48 hour event itself, but it seems like it takes me so long to recover, and I'm not sure I want to start off next year with a long recovery. I'm trying to get faster, and 48 hours is not a way to get faster. I can get stronger training for 48 hours, but I think I can also get stronger in other ways.

I am good at planting positive thoughts in my head and focusing on strengths when I need to. I know the importance of locking into my mental focus and building on positive cues. I also know that when I don't put my mind to something, it doesn't happen. One of the great things about Wheaties Boy is that he always reminds me that there are no excuses. Last week I was talking out of my butt about being 50 in regards to my 5K time, and he stopped me. "No way. Absolutely no excuse. That is not an excuse."

He was right. I was getting soft, being squirrelly. That attitude is not going to help me achieve any of my goals. Hell yes is the attitude I need to have.

I've decided to focus on 24 hours for now. I feel like I need to do what I can do with the speed I have. I'm curious to see how this weight loss will help me and I know that it's a long shot, but I think I'm still capable of running some of the ultra performances I did years ago. The 48 hour event will be there, and I can come back to it.

Friends help with this kind of thought process, too. I was e-mailing with my friend Nick today about something else, but we were talking about our respective aging processes and performances, and staying sharp. He's getting ready for Western States and he'll be turning 40 this year before race day. I told him what my dream goal is for 24 hours, and he sent me a simple reminder back.

He's absolutely right. Hell YES! That's what friends are for.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Pre-Peep Season and Marathon Man

The weather is still undecided about whether it wants to be spring. After hitting close to 70 degrees this afternoon, it cooled down and got windy. I don't care what the weather gods say, I'm moving forward.

I have two packages of Peeps in the woman cave, waiting to be opened. Iris and Isabelle found them and were sniffing the cellophane wrapping today as I worked out there.

Tomorrow we go to the vet for their annual checkup, vaccinations, heartworm test, check on Isabelle's arthritis and Iris's teeth, and then when we get home, I will open the Peeps. Hopefully that will be my redemption for taking them to the vet, which they hate. Isabelle usually trembles and hides behind my legs or under the chair the whole time, and Iris tries to protect her sister even though she's trembling herself.

So tomorrow I will have to come up with some form of Peep entertainment for the girls, to make everything okay again, post vet visit. I'm considering a Peep wreath this year. If I'd thought of it earlier, I could have found some green peeps and used them for today.

Sunday I had another great workout on the track, getting ready for Cornbelt. I need to get some time in on the track curves. I had the track mostly to myself except for the last hour. I did 20 miles in lane 2, running 8 laps and walking one lap, until I was done. I was surprised there weren't more people out there but I was thankful for it. When I first arrived, Crazy Backwards Running Lady was there, but she was about done with her workout, and she left soon after I started. Then a couple showed up, I see them at the track every time I'm there. They must walk there every day. They stay in the outer lanes and are always friendly.

I got going on my workout, starting out at a slow pace, about my 24 hour race pace, but running gradually faster with every 2 mile interval. By the last half I was running solidly and well under 9 minute pace. About 14 miles into my workout another runner showed up on the track. He looked like he was probably in his late 50s to 60 years old, looked like a former hard core runner, skinny body, legs without a trace of fat on them, gray hair and scruffy beard, wearing old, short (circa 1980s) running shorts and a late model Boston Marathon jacket.

Something about this guy told me he was really proud of that jacket. Maybe it was the way he avoided eye contact with me after I walked my 9th lap as he started his warmup, so he probably pegged me for a walker/potential nuisance jogger to get in the way of his sacred Yasso 800s, or who knows. I had my earbuds in place listening to hard core trance music. All I know is, I said hi to him as he jogged by me and he said nothing. Anyway, he had the look.

As he was doing his warmup laps with strides thrown in, I was back to my running, which by then was around 9 minute pace. I cruised past him easily when he slowed down between strides, but he passed me back, as soon as he got back to his warmup pace. I continued at my steady, trance-fueled pace dipping down into the 8:30s and finished my 2 mile interval, and it was getting warm, so I took off my fleece jacket I had been wearing all morning. I still had a good 4 1/2 miles to go. I got back on the track and did my walk lap, and launched into my next 2 mile interval.

I observed Marathon man as he did his intervals, he appeared to actually be doing 800s, and he was moving pretty good for a guy his age. Probably close to 6 minute pace. I kept on my steady pace, and a couple of times as he was recovering and catching his breath, walking backward on the track after finishing his intervals, I noticed him staring at me, as if he was trying to figure out what I was doing. I kept my game face on and pounded out the laps to my music.

I was on my last 2 mile interval and saw him staring at me again, then I realized he was trying to read my shirt. I was wearing my Oklahoma Ultrarunning tshirt from 24 the Hard Way from a couple of years ago underneath my old Across the Years fleece jacket that day. When I finished, I walked a last cooldown lap on the track before going home, he was finally able to read my shirt and that time, he made eye contact and gave me a nod, as if he had finally accepted my presence on the track, as a legitimate athlete doing a legitimate workout.

Who knows, I'm probably completely wrong with all of this but it sure was funny to watch his reaction and see his face when he read my shirt. I imagined him thinking, There really are people out there who can run longer than 26.2 miles. They really exist. I just saw one. And...some of them are middle-aged women with gray hair.

If I had been wearing my Team PearlIzumi workout attire that day, who knows what he might have done. Introduced himself? Said "Hi"? Bowed down and kissed my feet?

Back in the days when Dennis was still running competitively, it always blew me away, the geeky runners who would act like he was some kind of running god, they would approach him so carefully, like talking to him was a once in a lifetime privilege, for which they would gladly pay large sums of money, and if Dennis had said, "Kiss My Feet for I am a running god and you are beneath me" they would have puckered up and bent over.

The way they got all nervous, you would think Dennis was going to ask them for their running credentials before he'd give them the time of day. As if he'd say to his agent, "Tell them I only speak to people with a 10K PR under 32 minutes".

It was just an interesting observation of human behavior in the subculture of running. Dennis is the nicest most unassuming guy you'd ever meet, he'd be more likely to talk to the last place finisher than the guy who finished ahead of him or behind him, and he never even had an agent.

Anyway I just have to laugh at runners because I forget, the ultra world is so different, and then I get around some of the road racing world and it can be a whole different experience. Culture shock.

Well I hope marathon man runs his sub 3 hour marathon at Boston in April because that's about what his Yasso workout would predict. Even if he runs 3:30, it's impressive for an old geezer, I sure couldn't do it or come close.

But I hope he learned something, by sharing the track with me, watching me run 2 mile intervals with my eyes focused ahead of me, between the lines, running a steady pace for 3 hours, systematically clicking off the miles in my relaxed trance-like state.

Maybe when he's hurting in those final miles, he can flash back to that day on the track, and remember that there are some people out there who keep going beyond the finish line, and that 26.2 miles is just the warmup.

But since he didn't even say a word to me, I doubt he even considers it. Probably doesn't even cross his mind, and he probably doesn't even care.

But it kept me entertained. Whatever mental games it takes to get through multiple laps on the track.

Different world.