Monday, May 30, 2011

The Sophenator et al

(pictures from Sophie and Jenny)

The Sophenator is an all-star, and she assembled a large group to go run around Sugar Hollow, near Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday. I loved the people who showed up: Sophie, my bros (Marlin and Q), big-time smilers (Gary and Jenny), the VHTRGs (Gentry and Griffin), WUS’s Corris duo, and others. Harry Landers was the namesake of the run, which was dubbed the Harry Landers Special Memorial Run in honor of his intrepid feat of manliness last year—when he broke his collarbone but continued to run.

To arrive on time, I woke up at 3 a.m., which is about as yesterday as today can be without having to reference today as tomorrow. It felt early. The weird thing about this was that a bunch of people were still out and about, continuing their yesterdays, and I was starting my today. It was as though we were living in different time zones while occupying the same sphere. This only magnified the surreality of the occasion.

I picked up Austin from D.C., and we drove south. Austin has joined other runs before—crewing/pacing me through Old Dominion last year and driving down for one of these group runs last summer. We’ve been friends for half of my life, the better half. Not because of his presence in it but because nothing important happens in the first twelve years of life. You just learn how to walk and talk and practice using silverware correctly so that you will not embarrass your parents when you eat in public. The greatest preoccupation of my younger life—ages 0 to 12—was whether or not my teeth could get sunburned if I smiled outdoors. I was certain they would. Then I’d have a mouthful of tan teeth, and that’s a horror. I told my second grade class this, and everyone stopped smiling during recess. Our teacher had to intervene and tell us that we do not, in fact, have melanin in our teeth. Then I turned thirteen and was instantly mature and understood teeth and silverware. That’s when I met Austin in gym class.

We arrived and talked. Sophie gave us maps, but if I could read a map or do other practical things, I wouldn’t be working on a degree in Philosophy. My family reminds me of this every time I use the words "Chicago" and "Boston" as synonyms. Then she warned us about bears. She said it was a high bear-density area and used some synonym for “vicious” to describe them. To my left, Jenny was talking about a snake of anaconda proportions that had approached her in a swimming hole in the forest. I wasn’t nervous or anything, though.

The run was ugly and lame because of the sunshine and excessive floral and faunal comeliness. Sickening. Every time we saw a scenic vista, I gagged and squinted so I wouldn’t have to look at any of it. I held my breath when I smelled flowers. There were just way too many flowers. I was so over it.
But just kidding. It was the best day ever. We ran through streams and up the mountains. I was thankful for my sneaker choice—Inov-8 F-lite 230s. They dried almost instantly, performed well on the rocky trails, and were light and comfortable. I ran up front in a pack with Austin, Steve, Christian, Joey, and Mike. It was actually comical how academically-motivated that little crew was. Law, Immunology, Medicine, Public Policy, and Neuroscience. As we each embodied our respective disciplines, we engaged in intellectual synthesis all morning on those trails. It felt like the Enlightenment. But in the quieter moments, I reflected on how I would fight off a bear.

We got to the swimming hole and tarried until more of the group caught up. The boys and Sophie were fearless and jumped right in. Jenny and I did a countdown and submerged ourselves together. It was freezing but functionally alleviative. Our joints benefited from the ice water. Off we ran, passing hikers and wanderers. It was a beautiful day.
(Jenny, Marlin, and me. Wet t-shirt contest. Marlin won.)

I am in the midst of a Runaissance, a rebirth of running in my life. Virginia is my favorite place in the world. I am loving this sport all over again, as though I am only just beginning this journey. Well, I am, kind of. I'm not an old lady. For now, I am focusing my attention on timed races, specifically 24-hour runs, but it is in my 2-year plan to run a couple more 48-hours because I'd like to see how far I can push myself there. I've moved a lot of my training over to pavement to equip my legs, and I'm doing more pace work and strength training. Running in the mountains felt excellent, however. I miss that.
(Mountain Marlin...Marlin the Sherpa)

When I finished the run, my shirt had blood all over it from a fall. The boys said it was awesome and wanted to see the gash. I couldn’t show them because the source of blood was from rocks that got into my sports bra. Igneous rocks. Note to all girls: It’s your prerogative if you want to stuff your bra, but if you do, don’t use gravel.

Austin and I drove off, back up to DC. Then I went to my friend’s wedding and danced with the mechanized exuberance of a Type A kindergartener. If you dance with a huge smile, nobody will question the quality of your moves.
I wish I could go back to the forest and train there everyday. Doing these runs is about as satiating as eating a lot of Pixy Stix. You’re satisfied for a few minutes, but in their wake, your hunger is even greater. I think in the future, I’m going to have to live in the mountains.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

3 Days at the Fair: 48-Hour

(laughing at "Everything hurts except my injury.")

First of all, BIG congrats to all racers this weekend, both at 3 Days and beyond. There were so many events going on. My heart was with you MassaNUTS, running the trails in George Washington National Park. What a fun weekend to be an ultrarunner!

Race results:
1st woman, 3rd overall for the 48-hour event
(172.4178 miles total, 131 coming from day one)
(Literally, the last 8 times I've been in a newspaper, I've worn THESE, my favorite pants.)

I like long races, and I like timed circle events. My focus for 2011 is the 24-hour, so the 48-hour race option at the NJ Trail Series’ “3 Days at the Fair” provided a unique opportunity for some over-distance training. I hoped to kick it hard the first day to test my 24-hour fitness and then hang on FTW (for the win) for the 48-hour if possible. Ultimately, this is what happened, but it was sloppier than that and involved more suffering. Excuse me, I mean “edification.” It involved a lot of edification.

Whenever someone asked me what my goal was, I gave a conservative offering because I didn’t know how my body would respond. I still don’t know, in the form of any principle of generalizability. There are so many unique factors per 48-hour time period that it is difficult to know—even in broad strokes—what will happen. Looking at the entrants list, I knew there were several big guns present. I expected them to run evenly-paced races and wanted to hang back with them but knew I had to run my own race. I know that sleep deprivation is excessively demoralizing for me, so I translated my early enthusiasm into big mileage, crossing my first 100 miles in 16 hours, 53 minutes. This included a few sneaker changes, leg rollouts with “the stick,” and attention to nutrition and hydration. It felt light and casual, which was appropriate.

At around mile 120, my stomach rebelled, similar maybe to the incident in Steinbeck’s esteemed project, The Grapes of Wrath, when Winfield eats too many peaches. I finished off the day with another 11, wrapping up 131 miles. This is an encouraging sum because it all seemed fairly mellow, particularly the latter half, when I inculcated more breaks into the run in anticipation of day two. I feel confident about where I’m at for the 24.

At around that time, I met up with Deb again. We were both in pain, but that was to be expected. In these races, suffering is a ubiquitous state of affairs. So either be an encouragement, or say nothing at all. Do no harm. That’s in the Hippocratic Oath.

(Early the 2nd night.) If I had to pick one person to run a paved 0.88-mile loop with for two days, I'd pick YOU all over again, Debbie Horn.

The course was punishing in its small, paved circle with gravel kind of way. My stomach was worsening. I hadn’t eaten in a while, meaning my blood sugar was off, and my eyes played tricks on me. I thought I saw a pile of cats—one body, lots of heads—along the posterior of the course, but when I ran over top of them, they dissipated.

Heading back through my crew area, I laid down for a bit, hoping everything would correct itself. Nothing changed, but the pavement-pounding from day one reverberated through my legs. I made the decision to leave, telling RD Rick and a few friends I would return as soon as I could keep food down.

At home, I waited. Just before 5, I wandered into the kitchen. My cat strided in and rubbed up against my leg. “I don’t even know if you’re real or if you’re a hallucination like the other cats,” I said. “Smokey, tell me. With your feline insight, what’s the feasibility of there being a multi-headed dissipating cat?” Then I ate, and all was well! I returned to the fairgrounds, alit with joy. Hark! I bring you good tidings of great joy. There is a world outside of this paved circle, but this world here is better. It was like an inversion of Plato's "Allegory of the Cave." I lost 8 full hours of running, which was not ideal. Rule number one in a multi-day: Ideal doesn’t happen.

Forty-one more miles occurred. I would expound if I remembered them. There was rain, and I think at some point the McNulty children were dressed in costumes. Rick and Jennifer McNulty are the race directors for the NJ Trail Series events. They are runners themselves and are incredibly kind and attentive to their racers. They kept everyone fed and laughing. Their children camped out with us all weekend, and they are intelligent and splendid. Splendid!

Hug from sweet Anna. She won the 24-hour.

The race ended well. Admittedly, I got the giggles. I was running with Bill Gentry. Partial laps are not counted, but we wanted two more...Who even knows why? So we started sprinting. Bill is fast. I was hanging on with all I had, mumbling, "Oh, my gahhhh. Adrenal fatigue." The people were cheering at us loudly, but I felt so far away, like I was outside of myself watching it happen. As we sprinted, I peeked to my left. The young McNulty daughter was dressed as the Grim Reaper, just standing there, observing us.

Female Whiner. I mean Winner.

I am writing this blog in the kitchen, eating everybody's food. What a fun weekend. Thanks for crewing, Mom and Dad. Congratulations, everyone! Now I feel a bit more like this girl:

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

48 hours in MY COUNTY!!

(So happy the school year is over, and I am reunited with my dog)

True Confessions: I always think my car’s butt is bigger than it is and leave extra room for it when I pull into a parking spot. What does this say about me? Poor car body image? Vehicular Body Dysmorphia (VBD).

VBD is a disease I just invented. I’m going to patent it as soon as I figure out if I need to do that through the CDC (Center for Disease Control) or the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles).

Primary symptom: If you maintain an irrational belief that you have a big car butt, a badunka-trunk, in spite of evidence to the contrary.
Literally, I am going to read this in about a month and be so embarrassed of myself.

At the gym on Wednesday, I watched a boy fall asleep on a treadmill. He flipped off and face-planted on the moving tread, while dozens of students looked on in breathless horror. It was final exam period, and I knew I was about one gulp of coffee away from doing the same. The boy, whom I’d like to call Victor, for victory, leaped to his feet and resumed his running, playing it off like nothing had even happened, the way a squirrel does when it falls out of a tree. Everyone around him breathed again, sighs of relief. If there is extra oxygen in the troposphere today, it is because of the dozens of students at P-W Gym who ceased to breathe for 15 seconds. Let the record show.

But anyway, watching this boy FALL ASLEEP WHILE RUNNING struck me because, in the story of my life, it might offer a bit of foreshadowing.

On Friday, I am doing the tautologous complement of this statement:

“I am running for 48 hours.”

A tautology is when a=a.

If I had been the one to invent logical syllogisms, I wouldn’t have called it a “tautology.” I would have called it “nothing to see here, people.” Because a is obviously a; it’s not even worth saying.

So if a is “I am running for 48 hours,” then its complement is “I am running for 48 hours.” And then you think, well how is this a logical syllogism if you arrive at a conclusion that does not seem to be in any way logical? Nobody runs for 48 hours.

But people do. I googled it. And there is an opportunity to try it in MY HOME COUNTY—Sussex, New Jersey—this weekend. I have to run it. It’s too big to wrap my imagination around. It will be edifying.

The race is a little steep, and I don’t mean topographically but rather monetarily, so I am imagining that I am going somewhere exotic, instead of the 0.8ish-mile loop 20 minutes away from my home that I will run for 2 days…Man, when I say it like that it sounds SO fun.

I’m excited for my runner friends to meet the bovine lineages of Sussex—the cows whose forefathers watched me run in my youth. And that smell? It’s the anaerobic decomposition of corn. It will grow on you. And remain in your clothing.
(Mad cow: an exemplar)

Here is my race plan:
Don’t get greedy with the miles early on. Pace myself.
Eat before I’m hungry.
Drink before I’m thirsty.
Think about what I’m doing as little as possible.
(Here I am, running alongside the same course in late high school during a Cross Country meet. Rocking the shorts over spandex look, alriiiiiight.)

The other day, I went running with my 9-year-old nephew. We went for an easy 20 minutes, and, though he did a spectacular job and I was very proud of him, I think he was disappointed that he didn’t last longer.

Reflecting upon the run, my dad offered some insight. “Little kids cannot accurately perceive their limits. They think they can run all the way to California.”

That statement gave me pause because I often think I could run all the way to California, and I’d like to do that sometime. And you know, with the 48-hour run starting on Friday, I wondered what level of interpretation I should read that statement. What are you trying to say to me, Dad? I like that kids think they can run forever, and I’d like to hold onto that a bit longer and keep trying to do so. I don’t ever want to be someone’s limiting factor—imputing my mature sensibilities into their ambitions, telling them they can’t do what they think they can. Because maybe they can. The reason I first ran a 100 was because I thought I could, and nobody told me I couldn’t.

But without a doubt, this run will be a humbling experience.

Welcome to my town, y’all! We’re going to have a great time.