Archive for October, 2009

Never Crushed By, But Totally Crushed Out On

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Dreads, wind, medal.

Lakefront 50 miler this morning. I planned to use it as a training run to jump-start my training for the Rocky Raccoon 100 miler I want to do in February. I didn’t train for this 50 miler as intensely as I have for the other 50’s I’ve done. Which is why I figured if I could do it in about 9 hours, I’d be happy with myself. I just wanted to go the distance, and see what happened.

Mentally and logistically, I was in no way prepared for this race. It wasn’t until last night that I actually considered how many Gu’s I should bring, if I should bring a water bottle full of an electrolyte drink, what I was going to wear, or what I needed to pack in my drop bag. I’ve been so busy with my new work schedule that I haven’t really had the time to think about it, and so for the past 3 weeks I have just been saying to myself, Eh, it’s only a 50 miler. Whatever—I’ll just run it. As if I’m some super-experienced ultrarunner who has been doing this shit all of her life. While I have been running long distances for a relatively long time (hey, 5 years of ultrarunning and 8 years of marathon running is a good chunk of life experience when you’re only 26), with only two 50 milers and five 50k’s under my belt, I wouldn’t call myself an expert. And, since I wasn’t planning on trying to win it or anything, I thought my projected slow pace would be easy, and thus lacked the need to really prepare.

Well, apparently I have a hard time running slow. Especially in ultras, which is weird, because that’s what ultrarunning is all about—going really slow in order to cover a really long distance. I did the first 25 miles in 3:40 (about a 8:48 min/mile pace). That’s almost an hour faster than I had thought about doing. I knew I was going to fast, but I kept telling myself, Shit, Chelsey, run good while you feel good. In this fast-paced-ness I failed to do one very important thing: eat. I think you can run a 50k without really eating anything but Gu and maybe a handful of pretzels to get some salt into you, but when it comes to anything over 31 miles, you really need to replenish your body. It’s just a good idea. (An idea that helps you to avoid needing medical attention, might I add).

My friend Toney met up with me at mile 25 and ran the second half of the race with me. She became a lifesaver. Due to my lack of eating, as well as my incredible ability to forget about the whole electrolyte-replenishment thing, I started to get SO dizzy around mile 35. My eyes were having a hard time focusing, my hands were numb and swollen, and my body started to do this very fun digestive-fucked-up thing in which I started shitting blood. I know, too much information. But when you’re an ultrarunner this is the shit you (literally) might have to deal with during a race. Toney kept me at a good pace and became my incredible crew person. She picked up and feed me bananas, chips, pretzels, and dried fruit at the aid stations, all while keeping my spirits and my pace up, as well. Eventually, around mile 40 or so I started to feel my body kick back to life again, and I ran (and power-walked) the rest of the race.

The results: a got my fastest 50 mile time! 7 hours and 45 minutes. I came in 3rd overall for the women, and am pretty sure I won my age group.

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My festive-vampire-pacer Toney and I after the race.

How the hell did that happen?!?

I had wanted to run slow and steady…to just finish the 50 miles in whatever comfortable pace I could do it in. Well, I guess my body felt like doing a good ol’ 9:18 min/mile pace today. Aside from the bloody shit, the dizzy drunk feeling (and not a fun dizzy drunk feeling) that lasted for a good 5 or 6 miles, the swollen and numb hands, and the few moments when I felt like I was having a hard time breathing, I had a lot of fun! (This is also surprising to me, because I thought running up and down a 6.2-mile section of the lakefront path 8 times was going to be boring as hell). And thanks to my awesome pacer Toney I was able to survive those tough moments!

Note to self: if I want to run a 100 miler, I really have to learn how to eat while running, as well as remember that an electrolyte imbalance can totally fuck up your body in a number of ways.

When I got home and showered today, I couldn’t help but giggle. Right now, I feel so post-run euphoric and giddy. My blood and skin feel really hot, which is kinda uncomfortable, but my brain and emotions are just so damn happy. I realize that when people ask me why I do this, I have no way to explain to them how incredible my body feels post-long run. There aren’t words for this. You just have to do it yourself and experience the surge in self-confidence, the euphoria, as well as the sort of peaceful and calming feeling of being so humbled by your own accomplishments. That’s what this is about.

I’m so in love with this sport right now, especially as I think back to the start of the race. It was cold in an annoying way (about 40 degrees), rainy, and dark at 6am. All of the 50 milers huddled together under an awning, as we gave each other body warmth, joked around about running, and waited until 1 minute before the starting time to emerge from our cave. Once we were lined up, the race director said, “Alright, GO!” And that was it. No fancy bells, horns, or whistles. No chip timing that lets your loved ones track your progress online. Just a group of people huddled together, excited about the pain they are about to endure, and waiting for some dude to say go.

I think this sport can bring out some of the best characteristics in people. It’s like, we’re all in it for the long haul, so let’s tell each other bad jokes to keep everyone awake until the sun comes up, let’s race against ourselves (well, and maybe try to chase down the person ahead of us)—but at the end of it all tell we seek out that person we were “racing against” to tell her how strong and awesome she is, and then let’s hobble around afterwards and eat homemade rice and beans while we cheer in the other finishers. Everyone is awesome in this sport simply for wanting to be a part of it.

Damn, I’m so crushed out on ultrarunning right now.

And PS: Toney, I couldn’t have done it without you.

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Running Me Down

Hello there. It’s been awhile. And it’s funny, because in this time apart I have been running a lot, and I’ve been writing a lot, too. I just haven’t been writing about running. I also haven’t been running in any sort of a poetic way. Lately, running has just been that thing that I do. It hasn’t been something that I necessarily enjoy, but I do it because I know I really won’t enjoy myself if I don’t.

I’ve felt really detached from myself lately, and this has totally played out in the way that I have been running. Now, this isn’t an all-day, every-day thing. In fact, I have a really great piece of writing about pacing my aunt’s partner for the Leadville 100, a piece about how much running long distances inspires me and challenges me to look deeper into my life, and I’ve also written in my journal some bits about getting back into my body through running.

But lately it has felt as if I have been running away from myself.

Or maybe it’s that I’m trying to catch up with myself.

It’s possible I’ve been chasing myself down.

What is the difference between these things?

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Not me. But a cool picture nonetheless.

I had this moment yesterday when I was running. I meant to do a 10 mile run (as part of my “long” run/tapered long run for the 50 miler I’m running on Saturday), but I was hungover as shit (and wiped out from dancing my ass off the night before). I eventually got myself out the door to do a good 6 miles. Hell yeah to an anti-hangover hour long run! There’s nothing like it (both painfully, and in a relieving sort of a way). On this 6 mile “recovery” run, I realized something.

I realized I’m ready to start healing.

Kinda.

Awhile back my friend Riva told me I should treat my body like it’s my pet. I totally agreed with her—that I should love my body, feed it, take care of it, give it some good exercise as well as some good down time, and cuddle with it with all of the love, awe and appreciation I can muster—but I knew I wasn’t in the mental space at that point to do this. My body has been a source of emotional power and control for me. My mind is that jackass of an owner who puts a masterlock on a metal chain around its puppy’s neck in order to make it stronger and tougher. I’m that pet owner that stares down it’s dog…intimidates it with its human resources and plays mind tricks with it to get it to do what it wants.

I seriously hate that kind of a pet owner.

But that IS the kind of owner I have been to my own body in these past few months.

A small (but relevant) interlude:

The one true love of my life is Athena. Right now, she’s a 10-year-old Australian Shepherd/Blue Heeler mix that I got when she was just 8 weeks old. After 8 years of living together, she is now in Austin, and I’m up in Chicago.

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Yup, that's me at 16--happy as hell with my new 8-week old dog!

When I got her, I told myself I would never treat her as a pet, or call myself her “mother.” I wanted to be equals with her—to allow her to roam this earth with a sense of freedom, and only with a little direction from her human resource. That, to me, is the best kind of pet owner anyone can be—to allow your “pet” the freedom to discover this world on her own, and to give her enough loving direction so she doesn’t get run over by a car.

It’s now that I can realize how much I need to be my own pet.

I need really amazing loving direction, and, honestly, at times I need encouragement to not get hit by a car.

So it was during this recent hungover 6 mile run that I finally realized I wanted to be right here. Here, in this moment. Here, as in here in my life. Here as in a life that has a lot of potential. And this was just a moment—I knew it would fly away within a few blocks (or a mile at the most). These sorts of profound thoughts don’t last all that long–they are just glimpses into what could be. And it did quickly depart. But parts of that thought and feeling are here with me now. In bits, this thought stayed with me for the whole day.

What would it look like to love myself?

When I was talking to my roommate about this later on in the day, she asked if I ever had moments when I felt good in my body. Yeah, I do. Those moments are when I am running. There’s something about feeling my body move in a way that it is so used to moving in, to feel my feet strike the ground, my shoulders and back move with my legs, my mind thinking about the most random shit, and my eyes concentrating on what’s ahead of me that brings my whole body into such a relaxed state. I’m still trying to find the words to describe it. I think the main reason why I love long runs, is because I always have this one moment during them in which I realize I’ve been running for over 4 hours, but my heartbeat is calm and steady, my body feels strong, my mind feels clear, and my breathing is relaxed. What does it mean to put so much stress on your body (like, 4 hours of running type of stress), and yet have it be in such a calm and meditative state?
It almost feels healing, in a way.

It’s addicting.
I love it.

And this is when I KNOW that running is such an integral part to my life. While it’s true that lately I’ve just tried to zone the fuck out and run at least an hour every day so I don’t get that manic and itchy feeling, I feel like I’m ready to get back into the space where I love running for something that contributes to my life, not as something that wears me down.

And that’s the other side of all of this: in the past 3 or 4 months, I’ve realized that my body is aching. I worry that this is caused by either a) too much running, or b) a lack of calcium (signaled by no menstrual cycles for a year—which causes bone deterioration, which is also caused by too much running. Hmm). Basically, I’ve been worried about my joints and bones, but not really enough to do anything about it. It’s weird. It’s like I’ve been simultaneously trying to run as much and as often as possible in order to keep up with my ultrarunning habit, and I’ve been trying to run as little as possible in order to allow my aching ankle and knees to heal.

So…I’m running as much as possible while trying to run as little as possible.

How the hell does that work?

Well, it doesn’t. What this means is that I’ve still been running what I always run—anywhere from 40-75 miles a week (depending on what my long runs are for that week), but I’ve been super-paranoid about each mile of it. I think this has probably worn more on my mind than on my body.

It’s funny, though. Because once I started to get back into running for the sake of loving the feeling of running, the pains have gone away. You see, the other moment I had while running that 6 miles is that I want ultrarunning to be a source of healing for me. I want to train for a 100 mile race, and use that training as a way to concentrate on honoring and loving my body. I need that right now. And weird enough, but also in these past few days since that intention has been in my mind, my body has not hurt while running. Even though I know my ankle is a little strained from twisting it on a damn hole in the ground while doing a “hill” workout last week (I mean, really, can any Chicagoan claim to do a hill workout…let’s face it, compared to a real hill workout, Chicago hill workouts are like running back and forth over a speed bump for an hour), my whole body felt good and purposeful while running 8 miles tonight.

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Chicago's treacherous mountain range.

I love this. I love having a goal, a concentration, and just going for it.

With all of this in my head, I made another goal for myself. Other than wanting to run the Leadville 100 in next August (that is, if I’m still alive from running the Rocky Raccoon 100 in February), I really want to save up some money, get a good job, move into an apartment with a small backyard/one that allows for 38 pound dogs, and I want to bring Athena back from Texas!

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We. Are. So. Cute.

Honestly, I miss running with my dog. And while I know that running with Athena on the streets of a big city will be incredibly different from running with her on the deserted streets of the Texas country (with seldom a leash on), I still think it will be amazing to have her here.

Maybe one thing I need in order to fully realize how I am able to treat my body like a pet is to have another “pet” in my life. I think we all need feel what it is like to have a living thing to love us unconditionally—and that’s what Athena is for me. She loves me no matter what, and I feel the same way about her.

Maybe eventually my mind and body will also have this sort of relationship.
An maybe that’s what I should be chasing after.

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