An 100 mile ultra is extreme, exceptional, excessive and immense in its undertaking. This is the nature of anything "ultra." An ultra is humbling. It has the potential to break one down in ways that are difficult to explain or recreate in day to day life. An ultra is energizing. The days before a 100 miler are nerve-wracking and exciting and over the top bubbly. The potential of an ultra sends powerful, palpable energy coursing through your veins. Goosebumps appear at unexpected moments. I find myself singing at the top of my lungs and cursing unnecessarily for emphasis. An ultra is a challenge-so many what-ifs, questions, details, logistics and worst of all UNKNOWNS. This is probably my greatest challenge and lesson in undertaking 100 milers- letting go of the fear and the desire to control and just move forward with trust and confidence.
The ultra community I find myself in blows the ultra in 100 miles out of the water. I am surrounded by incredibly exceptional people whose support is excessive and immense. The 100 mile ultra is NOT POSSIBLE without the ultra community. These folks have accomplished extreme achievements of their own- far beyond 100 miles. They inspire me in their ultra actions and the way they reach out to whole-heartedly to support my endeavors. Ultra friends guide you in from 91 miles and tolerate your incessant complaints and hallucinatory descriptions. They get you off the mountain when you are totally and completely bonked and give you candy and take you to coffee and cheeseburgers. The ultra community shows up on run day to give you a good-luck hug at before 5am. They volunteer to travel with you and support your race day efforts. They read your blog. The immense interest and extending of support is humbling.
The ultra community is energizing. Emails, texts and phone messages of support motivate me to give it all I've got. Goodie bags of race day treats, handmade paper medals, "Go Mom" posters and a cd of energizing music get my heart beating a little faster and start the butterflies of anticipation flitting in my gut. The healing treatment of a skilled and caring practitioner invigorates my legs and my confidence and I feel rested and ready. The ultra community really brings it all together.
The challenge of the 100 mile ultra seems do-able because of the ultra community. The uncertainties floating around my brain are quelled by the exceptional support of my ultra family. The advice and good wishes remind me to just put one foot in front of the other- relentless forward progress- and 100 miles is within reach. I know my community will be willing me forward and keeping track of my progress. I am humbled and inspired and extremely grateful for such a gift. This gift will be reciprocated in my involvement and support and participation in the ultra community as an ultra runner and an ultra supporter.
Most of all, this ultra community lifts me up. As corny as it sounds, all of these extremely, exceptional people believe in me... ME? Their kind words and supportive gestures enable me to trust in myself and move forward-one step at a time- in confidence. THANK YOU.
Monday, March 03, 2014
I spent most of the Susitna 100 in a state of viscosity. Viscosity is a measure of a fluid's resistance to flow. It describes the internal friction of a moving fluid. A fluid with large viscosity resists motion because its molecular makeup gives it a lot of internal friction. A fluid with low viscosity flows easily because its molecular makeup results in very little friction when it is in motion. If I was a fluid, my viscosity would be LARGE. My molecular make-up was being eroded by the internal mental friction of the HUGE BITE of sled pulling I bit off in a frozen, cold, swampy wasteland. I felt in over my head from the start. I was resisting the flow before the race even started. The race pretty much started without me. I was resisting motion partly because I had no idea what I was in for and partly because I was scared.
I put on a brave face, a happy face and found a good spot among friends. I immediately worried about being alone. I kept Larry and Stephen close, knowing full well that I was running too often and not walking enough. The internal friction started right away. Mentally I was resisting the motion, but physically I was participating in too much motion, too early. I walk early and often in a "regular 100 miler" and this time I had at least 20 lbs of gear to pull. I knew I was running too much. But the temptation of good company in the dark and the cold and the unknown was too good to give up.
I felt pretty crappy coming into the first aid station. The trail prior was hilly and dippy and my sled was an external friction against my back. It flipped 5 or 6 times. The resistance started in my low back and moved up into my shoulders. I felt a slight bonk, but panicked when Larry and Stephen moved out of sight. So I kept moving, walking mostly. I wanted to run so I wouldn't lose them, but walking was my only gear until the consumed calories kicked in. It seemed too early in the race to be resisting motion. I was only 20 miles in.
I feigned feeling good when asked at the aid station. When pressed, I admitted my weakness and it was then I knew I couldn't lose sight of the others. The four of us- Jane, Stephen, Larry and I- sealed the deal at 20 miles. We became a unit. We were off to see the wizard. We found a rhythm of pairing up and speeding up and slowing down for the next 40 miles. We sang, shared personal stories, ran in silence, laughed, put our Kahtoolas on, took them off and put them on again. Heading into Flat Horn at 31 miles, I felt the first sting of LARGE viscosity. I was holding onto the flow of the group, but I was not maintaining the flow.
I was so happy to see Anne and Rob. I was so grateful that Kirk opened up his home to us. I knew I needed coffee and soup and warmth and LOTS of calories. Before I knew it, the group motion was leaving and I was scrambling to pack up and get moving. I used whatever calories I consumed ( for sure NOT enough) to fight my strong desire to stay and take care of myself. The group was moving at a different velocity. Thinking back now, this was my first BIG mistake. I should have stayed viscous and let the group go.
It was here when I transformed into a frozen swamp zombie. It seemed like I was running in circles. I tried to remember to look for the laths that marked the trail. My fear of being alone propelled me forward. Frozen, icy swamp, upon frozen, icy swamp. Low clouds, black spruce, snow. Snow, black clouds, low spruce.
The trail turned to shit. Hard-packed, solid trail turned to mushy, ankle twisting insanity. We met a runner whose sled broke at 16 miles and he was trudging into 46 miles with his pack on his back. I fell behind to walk and keep Eric company. His determination to keep going gave me a temporary energy to become more fluid.
The Five Star Tent was a very welcoming place. HOT beef soup was what I needed. Hot Tang, hot chocolate and I was ready to roll. My internal particles were revived and I felt mobile.
And then I didn't. THIS WAS ONLY 46 MILES IN!
The cold zapped my internal particles. I ran into 60 mile aid desperate to be revived. I knew where I was. Coming off the Susitna River, I knew we couldn't be far. Corral Hill kicked my ass and shredded my mental fortitude. I felt worn down.While Larry and Jane and Stephen trotted on, I struggled to move forward- cold, hungry and getting sleepy. It had to be 1:30AM. I looked forward to changing my clothes and ordering hot food at Eaglequest Lodge. Somehow I found the momentum to get it into to the lodge.
The last bit of energy I had I used to change my clothes. The coffee didn't hit the spot and the wormy noodle soup left me unsatisfied and worried about keeping moving. I walked out of there very LOW. I used my iPod to power walk. I tried to eat a bar and 2/3 of the way through it I started to spit it out. I got cold- down to the bone cold and pulled out my -20 degree bag. I wrapped it around my body and started to fall asleep as I walked. I was no longer mentally resisting movement, my body physically refused to be fluid. Jane suggested we sleep on our sleds. I resisted, then complied.
My arms grew tired of holding the bag around my body. I lost Jane. I was alone and tired and cold and stupidly stuffing my down bag into my duffle when two angels appeared. Adam and Stephen led me off the wrong trail and I followed their blinking red lights into the wooded single track Su 100 trail. The owls hoo- hoo-ed. The trail grew steep and my back ached. I would not lose the blinking red lights.
The sun came up and somehow I managed to get into Cow Lake aid at 77 miles. The race director was hopping on his snow machine to come find me after reports of a lone woman with a purple sleeping bag over her head, aimlessly wandering the frozen swamp land. I planned to sleep for 30 minutes, but woke abruptly after 15 and felt I needed to go. I was alone now. It was light and I was trying to be more fluid. I was making a great effort to move forward. I valiantly ran across Cow Lake, but stopped as soon as I was out of sight from the aid station. Any glimmer of fluidity was a hoax. There was no running left.
The next 12 miles took me 5 hours. I woke up twice on my sled not knowing I had laid down to rest. I called David in tears. I was cold and it made me scared. My shivers were audible. The only fluidity I experienced was the constant stream of hallucinations I experienced. Women with white flowing hair, chickens, men in army fatigues in trees, lynx in trees. I came down a hill and saw a vast parking lot full of cars and I knew I was done. My day was over. I quit. Sue on the snow machine verified my worst fears. No cars and no road and no ride to the aid station.
I saw 4-5 tents though the trees and none of them was the aid station. None of them were even real. My legs moved 6-8 inches ahead at a time. Too much internal friction. No motion. Brooks fed me potato soup. I drank hot chocolate and tea. 11 miles to the finish. I couldn't bare it. Neither Sue nor Brooks offered me a way out. I had to leave, but I didn't think I could.
I had nothing left at the end. I raised my arms and David unclipped my sled. I got the hell out of there, ate cheeseburgers and slept until Monday. I woke Monday swollen face, stiff body, no satisfaction. I felt no accomplishment. I had nothing left to give. All I did was hold on and get through at a very slow rate of motion. The burst of energy/ motion or desire to be done or final fluidity I had experienced in previous 100 milers was not with me this time. It felt a bit disappointing. I felt sub-par.
Two weeks later, I think I know what I can do to make White Mountains more fluid. Eat LOTS more. Walk more from the start. Eat HOT food at every aid. Drink hot drinks at every aid. Revive and retain body temps at every aid. Sleep at aid when I need to. Find my own fluidity and reduce friction by eliminating fear and trusting in my experience and confidence and determination. Don't hang onto others. Go it alone. Trust my own motion. Reduce internal friction.
The next time you lose heart and you can’t bear to experience what you are feeling, you might recall this instruction:……Instead of blaming our discomfort on outer circumstances or on our own weakness, we can choose to stay present and awake to our experience ( Pema Chodron)...
Regaining fluidity atop Wolverine this weekend.
Ready to have at it in Fairbanks.
1 down 3 to go.