Friday, January 31, 2014

When Life SHOULD BE MORE Like Ultra-Running

Still nursing a nagging chest cold and cough, I met friends at the trail head in the dark.  The wind was howling, the temps were up to 49 degrees and the parking lot was an ice skating rink. Within 24 hours, the trails I ran the day before had turned from frozen snow to water on ice. This would be a Kahtoola run.

Wind gusts made the climb slow. I was blown off balance onto hand and knee. Ice-laden trails didn't help. I dressed too warm. Had to stop and de-layer. The menthol drops weren't helping the cough. I left my mitts near the trail head while adding spikes and my hands were cold. I could feel my tight hips resisting after over 4 hours of running the day before.

We altered the route at the bottom of the arm. There would be no Wolverine summit in this wind. After a few moments of admiring the city lights, down we bailed off the nose.

This run did not go as planned. This run threw many challenges in my path. This run made me feel uncomfortable. I felt mild physical pain. Maybe hostile is too strong a word, but the environment was not conducive to success.

Never once did I think about turning back. I never got angry or pissy, I felt steady and solid and determined.

Flashback 12 hours and I was losing my shit. Why? Because the cat kept meowing and I couldn't find he cat food dish. I was in the comforts of my own home. I was relaxing on the couch, watching a movie and BAM! Where's the frickin' cat food dish?

I was unhinged. My behavior was erratic and I felt unsettled and angry. I took it out on my husband (THANK GOD my girls were off at sleepovers).

This was not a hostile environment. This was a small inconvenience. My ability to problem solve and just replace the missing cat food dish with a substitute went out the window with my temper. I spent about 10 minutes looking for the cat food dish. I couldn't let it go. I couldn't put my head down and carry on like I did in the mountains.

Why can adverse conditions in the mountains motivate us onward and allow our steady determination to shine and life's minor unexpected inconveniences force us to throw in the towel?

Well, I've been thinking and reading and listening about it all week. I know I run to clear my head and feel strong. I enjoy the challenge of pushing through pain and discomfort and uncertainty on the trail. I run because it gives me confidence with adversity and more so, experience with not knowing how things are going to turn out. It helps me remember that feelings are fluid. Feelings pass and new feelings arise.

I know I like the 100 mile distance because it allows one to find that hidden gear. The gear that we never remember we had until we are at mile 80 or 90 if we are lucky. Having to use it earlier can be the definition of a really tough race. This is the gear that allows one to finish the distance and  finish with grit and determination and total domination of what is placed before us.

This is not a gear we get to use in life. It may be an emergency crisis situation that calls for such determination, but not in our day to day lives. This is why I like to run 100s, but I want to remember this gear when the daily grind gets frustrating. I want to feel solid and steady and determined in my civilian life. The daily grind is hard. Kids, work, relationships, money, cat food dishes and chores present constant to-dos and frustration. When I run 100 miles, I never say or think I can't do this.

Life presents us with challenges, big and small. The day to day can feel like an ultra- go,go,go, keep moving. In an ultra, I keep moving when it gets hard. I can do it. In life, it can be easier to give in to the discomfort and get aggressive or anxious or numb out. So, the next time I can't find what I need or I am running late or I'm anticipating and fretting about what comes next, it's mile 90 baby. Slip it into gear. This is hard, but I can do this.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

When Life Becomes Ultra-Training

Should have known last week, during my fussy, uncomfortable, grumpy long run with sled that things were heading south. I told a friend I met on the trail that I wanted to throw my sled in the creek. Passersby asked dumb questions about the sled and whether my baby was inside my zipped drybag. I wore different tights and they rubbed on my hips where my waist belt lie. I dressed too warm and got sweaty. I was too hot and too cold. I was too lazy to fix my insulated hose and so I kept zipping and readjusting and re-zipping and adjusting and unzipping. I looked at the time on my phone too much.

Once the sled pull was done, I had to pick up kids and make dinner. Enter sick husband leaving for business trip. In between salad prep, helping with homework, pasta boiling, sibling referee-ing and dinner on table, I located running shoes, travel toothpaste, ties and a book to read.

Husband leaves town, youngest daughter throws up in the dog blanket I jumped out of the car at the red light to grab just in time. I worked on lesson plans for 4 hours while sick kid drifts in and out of sleep and movies. I think about how good yoga would be for me.

Pick up older kid from school, make copies at office for school next day, pick up Jr. Nordic Gear, dinner, drop off at Jr. Nordic, youngest barfs in Russian Jack parking lot. Check math homework, serve snacks, put kids to bed and fall into bed by 9:30.

Cancel my class, call all my parents and apologize. No sick kid care available. Oldest gets sick two hours after I drop her at school and youngest proclaims, " I'm back to my crazy self!" I'd give anything if she'd barf.

None of this is an emergency or life-threatening or extraordinary. But for 48 hours, I didn't think about running or 100 milers or Talk Ultra or my frickin' sled. I put my head down and did what I needed to do. I didn't worry about the training I thought should be doing  or the trail conditions or what my running friends were running. I ran my own race. It just wasn't on the trails. I made note of it on the training calendar. Now that is good ultra-training.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Sled-Dragging is Mind-Numbing

As I begin to write, I immediately get stuck on whether to use sled-pulling or sled-dragging in the title. Sled-pulling seems too positive, too purposeful. Today's 4.5 hour sled-drag was an exercise in the ridiculous. I broke new trail from Spenard to Kincaid through Earthquake Park, down the Coastal Trail to Kincaid. By the time I got to Kincaid, I jumped in the road and made my own lane, I was done with dragging the sled in the fresh, melting snow. I lucked out coming out of the park as the sidewalk was newly plowed and very runnable, but after 3 hours of trail breaking, I was pretty fried and so runnable is a loose term. All hopes of running were dashed upon returning to Spenard, as melting snow and unplowed sidewalks twisted my ankles with every other step.

Like a young child acquiring language, I couldn't quite get past the labeling stage of thought. All my mental energy was being utilized for sticking with the task at hand, so my thoughts bounced around to and from whatever I observed. Moose eating sticks. Moose walking in open space. Raven squawking. Three magpies in tree. Weird light on inlet. Squirrel tracks. Bigger tracks.  Moose sleeping just off trail. Bright yellow lichen (?) on tree stump. Moose sleeping further off trail. Big hill ahead.

I did have a few thoughts. I'm like a truck driver hauling all this shit around. There's my sled tracks behind me. (I had this thought like 8-10 times while looking over my shoulder.) I want a mint, but I don't feel like getting it. Mmmmm, McDonalds actually smells kinda good. I wonder what Fig Newtons would taste like with bacon in it.

This is what my sled sounded like:

Ba boom ba boom ba boom 
Ratta tat ratta tat ratta tat
Splosh splosh splosh splosh
Kxaxaxaxaxaxaxaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa ( like radio static)

All sounds must be uttered simultaneously for authentic effect. I think I may have tried to make more than one sound at once for awhile. I spent MANY minutes trying to replicate the sounds out loud.

So I figured I covered 12-14 physical miles, but based on my mind numbing experience, I'm calling it 30-40 mental miles.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Urban Sled Training and Multi-Tasking

4-5 hour sled pull on the training calendar and the list of chores grows. Solution: Urban sled pulling and multi-tasking. Dropped off van downtown for the overdue oil change and began the slog down 5th Avenue pre-light. Worked on the power walk and began returning phone calls ( I had made a list of calls received DAYS ago). First stop Costco. Strategy: power walk for an hour or so and then add weight. Arrived at Costco 30 minutes prior to opening so  I continued down Debarr heading east.  Spied a woman walking erratically along the side walk, but I powered by and said, "How's it goin'?" Her reply, "You wanna get pushed into the street?" Nope I didn't, so I made a beeline for the trails.

Ahhh, better. I'd  prefer the bull moose that appeared on the trail in the dark earlier that morning on our morning run over some whack job threatening bodily harm any day. But the before -mentioned list needed attending to, so back onto the road system I went.
Arrived at Costco, threw the sled in the cart and off I went. Kimchi, nuts, cheese, coconut, salami, check. One of the highlights of the day came when the receipt checker watched me load my groceries into my dry bag and my dry bag into my sled and said, "You ain't got no kids!" Sure I do. I have two girls. " Well. look at you, you got your 16 year old body back. You must be healthy. You eat bad food?" Sure. "What's your bad food? Lasagna?" I laughed.  Holding her arms up, as if to model, "Well my bad food is fried chicken, can you tell? You don't eat no fried chicken." I'd eat fried chicken." Well, I'd make you some."
Checking the area for the whack job that wanted to throw me in the street, I proceeded with caution down Bragaw. Two folks waiting at the bus stop informed me that I had " a long way to go to get all that stuff to China" and with that I picked up the pace and trotted onto the trail for a break from human contact.
It was then my phone rang and thus began the parent/ teacher conference. I talked shop with one of my parents from Northern Lights and Bragaw all the way to Valley of the Moon. Not sure of how long it lasted in time, but I'd say it was a 2.5 mile conference.

Passed my exit off the Chester Creek Trail while discussing educational interventions, so I had to back track a bit to get to the bank. Lifted and carried my Costco grocery-laden sled into the bank and asked the security guard to keep an eye while I made a deposit and used the restroom and from there I hit the school office on Fireweed to make school copies for the week.
My errands were now done and so it was time to head toward afternoon coffee. I made my way North on A and hopped back on the Chester Creek Trail.

It was about this time ( 4 hours into the pull) that I remembered I was pulling the sled and it was heavy. The distractions of errands and short stops were a nice break from the monotony of dragging the liability behind me. Moments later, pulling into Ship Creek, I caught a glimpse of the mountains and pined for a quiet, distraction-free trail.

BUT...I was very close to coffee. The final destination before the last slog back to Alaska Sales and Service.

A 20 oz. Americano with WHIPPED cream made the sled dragging on concrete worthwhile. I didn't even think  about the challenge of neatly manicured, snow-free sidewalks downtown. 

By 2:30 I was back to pick up the van. Successful day. About 6 hours of sled pulling and multiple to-dos checked off my list. 

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

ALASKA SLAM 2014 Baby!

Week 1: Alaska Slam 2014

Duffyville is headed in a new direction. 2014 is my year of the “Alaska Slam.”  For those of you not familiar, the Grand Slam of ultra-running is a challenge consisting of 4 premiere 100-mile races: Western States 100, Leadville 100, Vermont 100 and Wasatch Front 100; all within 12 weeks of each other. In order to participate in such a slam, one must gain entry into the Western States 100, not an easy or likely thing to happen these days. After listening to a Talk Ultra podcast  interview with Ian Sharman (Mr. Sharman completed the Grand Slam this past summer, winning the Leadville 100), not only did I find a new hero in Ian Sharman, but a new challenge. The timing of this podcast coincided with the final days of putting my name in for the White Mountains 100 here in Alaska; a race in which only 65 names are drawn to participate. Upon discovering my name was the 65th drawn, the Alaska Slam idea was born. I will complete all four Alaska 100 mile events in 2014: the Susitna 100 in February, the White Mountains 100 in March, the Sluicebox 100 in June and the Resurrection Pass 100 in July/Aug.

So there it is. I am putting it out there. It sounds foolish, exciting, egotistic and humbling all at the same time. It feels do-able and impossible, like no big deal and a bite bigger than I can chew. It makes me wonder who I think I am. I’m no professional athlete or even a talented athlete for that matter. On the other hand, it is one race, one run at a time. It is a chance to step out of the daily path that makes up life and shoot for something bigger. It is an accomplishment made of smaller accomplishments, but each of those smaller accomplishments takes commitment and perseverance and getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.

And I am going to write about it, every week throughout 2014.  The writing habit is one I have wanted to form for many years and this Slam opportunity seems like good subject matter. I want to remember what it was like, not the feeling of completing each event or even maybe the Slam, but the smaller moments of training, trails, shared runs, early mornings and sore body parts. I want to do something with the inspiration I find in the amazing people I run with, the writers I read and the elite runners I follow and admire. I want to discover and record what it is that creates perseverance, determination and stick-to-itivness so I can teach it to my children, encourage it in my students and extend it into other parts of my life. I envision this writing as part training log, part reflection, part narrative and part rant. Already I worry that I may not have anything new or interesting or clever to say, but I’ll never find out unless I give it a go.

I’ll be sure to post an entry once a week, but I can’t tell you where this whole “Alaska Slam” writing idea will take me. I hope to write about my dreaded sled, the northern lights, feeling strong, hallucinations, time on the trail with my friends, adventure and the new people I meet. I hope I don’t have to write about injuries, DNFs, failure, active release therapy and letting go. Whatever the topic, you’ll read it here first. I am committed to write, just as I am committed to train and give it everything I have.