Saturday, February 26, 2011

Camelbaks and Dating. Here is a reflection.

When you go for a long run with someone new for the first time, you get nervous and wear your best spandex. Like it's a first date. Only it’s better because it's running. Discuss.

(My friend Matt just reminded me that I wouldn't know what a date was like. Cool, thanks.)

Taylor Swift just broke up with Jake Gyllenhaal, and everyone is freaking out in anticipation of her next breakup song. She writes songs about everyone she dates, so don’t date her if you don’t want to be in her songs. In the same way, I write blogs about the people I run with. I’m like an ultrablogging Taylor Swift, and lots of times, my running friends become a google-able aspect of my life. I’m sorry, but only kind of. Because you inspire me. And a lot of times, I feel like a squirrel. I’ll be running and think of something helpful or edifying or terrible, and I’ll tuck it into my cheeks like acorns and store it until I’m safely home to record it. That way, I can share my life with other people.

…Anyway, here’s to YOU, Bimblers, my new running friends. The Bimbler’s Bluff is a group of trail and ultraunners in the New Haven, Connecticut area. I’ve only just NOW figured out they’re here. It’s just like how it took me until November until I figured out how to turn on the TV in my room. But now that I know they’re here, life is so much better! And now that I can turn the TV on, I have things to occupy my mind while I do core work.

It’s important to have friends.
Because sometimes life feels like this.
And your friends can solve your problems by moving your face.

It’s also important to have ultra-friends because they understand you. Non-runners ask a lot of questions, which typically—when pressed—devolve into whether or not I run hundreds of miles out of psychosis or if they should be ashamed that they haven’t run one intentional step since high school gym class.

[Answer: Maybe you’ve noticed that I’m mentally stable in all other aspects of my life. It’s not psychosis. Don’t be ashamed, but maybe go run more. And while we’re talking about mental issues, why don’t you explain to me why you feel negatively implicated when I go run around.]

Training this winter has been nuts. There is a lot of snow, covered in ice of varying surface integrities. You never know when you’re going to break through. And the ice cuts your legs, so I have brand new leg scars. Using your legs to break the ice. This is a pun because of the dating theme. But because I announced it, it’s self-congratulatory and doesn’t count. A boy in my Symbolic Logic class made puns every day. EVERY DAY. And nobody liked the puns because he said them and laughed before anyone else could, and he found his identity in punning. He was the pun boy, and it wasn’t healthy. We probably didn’t like his puns because we were concerned for his health.

In other news, I’ve started wearing my Camelbak at inappropriate occasions, like at the dinner table because it’s way more convenient to have a hydration system strapped to your body than to hold a cup. And it seems like such an American notion—not even having to move, just drink from a tube hooked across your body, lower right to upper left, like you’re saluting a flag with a water tube. This is why the rest of the world is behind the runners. One day, they’ll catch on. Until then, I’ll drink from my Camelbak--definitely at dinners and probably at my wedding some day.

My next race is another 50K. 50Ks are short. They’re just little guys. It’s like when I was a 2-miler and my coach used to tell me to run the 800, too. And I would think, “Should I even bother to put on my shoes? It’ll be over in 5 seconds.” And then I’d get out there and DIE because it was so fast. Four times shorter. A billion times faster. (I’m rounding up.) 50Ks feel the same—-like acute burning leg fire. And if you’re going to run 31 miles, you might as well just finish off the last 69. That’s all I have to say about that.
Blog confessional: I listened to too much Rihanna yesterday, and my swagger has been especially pronounced all morning because of it. This is the good life. And it’ll be even better after my Old Testament exam on Friday.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Holiday Lake 50K++ Race Report

I don’t have anything to say.

Just kidding.

(Jennifer, me, David Horton, Martha, and Sophie after the finish)

This past weekend was the Holiday Lake 50K++ run down in Lynchburg, Virginia. The worst thing about Virginia is that it does not contain Connecticut within its borders. The drive was LONG.

On the way down, I stopped at an aid station—I mean "rest stop"—to stretch and find some food. Inside, I joined a line behind three old ladies. They were giggling, and when the taller one noticed me, she turned around to talk. The ladies were on a getaway adventure to gamble together, but first they needed Taco Bell. Girls gone wild: octogenarian style. The tall one asked me where I was headed and then interrupted,

“Sweetie, you look exactly like I did when I was younger.”

“Like me, too,” another one added, studying my face. This isn’t even bizarre. Old ladies flock to me like woodland creatures to Snow White, and these are not the first to tell me they looked exactly like me. I can only assume the 1920s was a homogenous mixture of myselves, interacting with myselves. Running around and stuff.

HL50K was the BEST. It was held at the Holiday Lake 4-H Camp in Appomattox, Virginia. On Friday evening, the runners arrived and ate dinner together. The sun had already gone, and I thought about how I would be running before it rose again. Uhhh, winter. Talk about pineal obfuscation. After our pre-race meeting (basically Horton stand-up comedy), we split off into different cabins to sleep (or, more accurately, to talk for a couple of hours about potential outfits for race day and then to fall asleep with a cabin full of new friends).

On the starting line, Dr. Horton led us in the National Anthem. It was COLD. We sang in unintentional vibrato because of the shivering. I looked down and surveyed the shoes: road sneakers, Vibrams, Montrails, Inov-8s, and others. High variability in support and style. If you ask a runner why they selected a certain shoe type, they will evangelize their convictions about why THEIR sneaker is the BEST choice for the conditions. Try it. But all I’m saying is that if a boy wears Inov-8s, it increases his rugged manliness by a factor of two. I wore the F-lite 230s, and they were perfect for the rolling, largely untechnical course.
The gun went off, and we disappeared into the darkness. We bunched up, talked, pushed past each other, and regrouped, etc. In the early morning cold, snot rockets flew in all directions. They whizzed through the air, catching the light from our headlamps—like fireflies, punctuating the obscurity of nightfall.

The sun rose, revealing an incredible course. We traveled around the lake and explored the area’s network of trails. When we ran through the streams the first time, I shrieked because it was SO COLD, and a film of ice appeared on top of my shoes. The second time through, it was a welcome relief. The ice jolted life back into my feet.

There were several open meadows that reminded me of the burned-out fields alongside the Western States course. I couldn’t figure out why they were so barren. Acid deposition? Fires? But as the sun rose higher in the sky, the fields were flooded with a resplendence of white light, and I stopped asking questions and began to appreciate the beautiful day.

Things that are annoying during a race:

1. That you can’t gulp out of a camelbak
2. That the hand straps on water bottles get loose
3. How when you wipeout on the trails, the older men look at you like you’re a fragile porcelain statue, about to break at any second
4. When your beard gets full of ice

Number 4 is something that does not affect me personally, but I observed it. There was a ubiquity of frozen beards out there. Unreal. “I like your beard.” –Ke$ha

For three hours, I had to go to the bathroom. True life: ultramarathoning. But Virginia hardwood forests lack robust trees and dense shrubbery. The trees along the course were wiry and thin—like the marathoners of trees. So I held it to preserve my dignity. The men did NOT hold it. If I had a dollar for every time I saw a man go to the bathroom in the forest on Saturday, I could pay off all my loans for my undergraduate education. I took a swig from my hand bottle and coughed up a liberated hunk of moss that had entered the mouthpiece during an earlier fall. Got to preserve my dignity. Cough.
[my rockstar friends! Sophie (my Inov-8 teammate), Martha Wright, and Jennifer Pharr Davis]

The race ended. I was the 2nd woman, good not great. Girls don’t like to get chick’d either. I felt distance-strong. I’m not at all sore from the effort, but I didn’t have the turnover speed to drive it home for the W. Sometimes, there is a disconnect between what your mind dictates and what your body will do. This is an argument for substance dualism. It’ll happen. I’m further along in my training this February than I was last, and I am biomechanically sound and growing in strength and in my love for the sport.

Holiday Lake is an incredible event. I recommend it as a first ultra or a 100th ultra. Like all the Lynchburg series events, it is very fellowship-oriented, and you will leave feeling celebrated for your accomplishment no matter where you finish in the pack. Thanks so much to all the race volunteers, Dr. Horton, and to all of my new and old friends who made it such a wonderful time.

Next week, I’m working at the NJ Trail Series Febapple 50. Great life. Happy running. And Happy Valentine’s Day. I probably love you.
(Beyoncé "Put a Ring on It" reference)

[Photos by Jennifer Nichols!]

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Good to know if there are worms under your rock.

True fact: Last year, I ran Umstead 100 as a nature vs. nurture personal debate. BECAUSE I LOVE SCIENCE EXPERIMENTS. I was terribly untrained. Just prior to the race, I asked the RD if there were any slots open. There were! I thought it would be neat to see if my past running had gone well either because:

1. I train hard.
or
2. I was born to enjoy these certain kinds of things.

And the only way to figure that out is to run 100 miles all-out without the training to support you. [P.S. Sponsors, don’t worry because I’ll never do this again. I promise.]

Somehow I PRed. But I felt like I was going to DIE. In terms of cardio-endurance, it felt awesome, but the pounding on my legs was jarring. After I finished, I waddled inside the giant lounge-cabin to hang out with the DNFers and injured/resting runners. I stretched out by the fire, telling jokes to the people around me because I had thought-up some good ones while running. Annette Bednosky was there, and I was so thrilled to catch up, I jumped up to see her! And I promptly blacked out. (Because you don’t jump up after lying down after running 100 miles…You live, and you learn...)

The medic launched himself toward me and took my BP and told me it was pretty low, and I assured him it was always like that. “No worries. I control my blood pressure with my mind.” And then he asked me if my side ponytail throws me out of chiropractic alignment. I had never thought of that, but I answered, “Sir, I believe it is worth the risk.” Because it’s important to look like the decade you were born in.
(natural beauty multiplied by 2)

(But if I ever look like this, it's not okay. I can't work it like she can.)

Umstead was a great day, and it felt so FREE! No expectations. It was an adventure that I’ll remember forever…and more so now that I am in the practice of reflecting upon these things. Did I run in the past? Probably, but I don’t remember the specifics. My mileage log says I did—A LOT…like up to 180 miles per week in college. But I had no real plan and didn't dwell on it. While running, I never thought about running because sometimes the last thing running is about...is running.

Running is the freest aspect of my life. It’s just there, and somehow everyday I wake up and train without pause. I never used to think about it, and that’s why I liked it so much. It was pressure-free. So I was initially hesitant to start a running blog because I didn’t want to turn my lens in on itself. When you bring your life under scrutiny, one of two things can happen:

1. You become disillusioned and feel pressured by your own normativity.
or
2. You perfect your skill. You become more aware of different things holding you back, and you can really start to succeed.

I was afraid of both. Because sometimes you flip over a beautiful rock and find a pile of worms. And because once you’re aware of something, you’re sort of obligated to care. And I don’t know how to half-way care. About anything. If I were more relaxed, I would not be a Philosophy student at Yale. I’d pursue my secondary passion: street rapping about thug lives in the ‘hood. Or I would have settled for Princeton. [Ohhhhh Princeton burn! Go Bulldogs.]
But the neatest thing is that I have benefitted from this reflection. Thinking about my training gives me more racing confidence because I know I’m prepared. Running teaches me a lot of things about myself, when I’m paying attention, about my perceived limitations and the person I want to be. I love being able to share my experiences with people so they can learn as I learn, and I hope others will be encouraged to start running, too.

Anyway, I’m trotting around right now, enjoying my first New England winter (NOT!). I have made final adjustments to my racing schedule [see on right side of screen). I’m really happy with it and think it’s sustainable. You guys, life is good. I hope you have a week full of joy and adventures. Homegirl out.