Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Do What You Love... Love What You Do

I had posted this last year.
Guess I should have taken my own advice...
I have been MIA on the blog for a while. I have also been MIA from my training. I had some good training going earlier in the spring, ran a few  over 50 PRs for 5ks, and then basically lost interest. I had committed myself to running the Playmaker's Race Series for the season, but just this weekend skipped one of the races (after I had already gotten up and was ready to go) because I just did not feel like it. To put it mildly, I am in a running slump.

I would like to say that it is because I have been too busy. I have been busy, but not too busy to run.  I managed to watch the live version of the Tour de France every day last month, the whole three hours of coverage most days, but I did not manage to find the 40 minutes to run. 

To make matters worse, I didn’t even care, except for the fear that I would lose all my fitness and have to start over. As I have gotten older, starting over has become something I really dread and that fear is usually enough to motivate me to do at least maintenance level running.  So where did the love of running go?

That was the question I needed to ponder.  The problem is that my best pondering happens when I run.  Catch-22 there for sure.  My progress on the issue had come to a standstill.  

Then I was having an offhand conversation with a non-running friend I hadn’t talked to in a while.  He asked about my running. I said I was in a slump. He asked if I was still doing marathons. I told him about my year last year, and my quest for the belt buckle, and all the trail races I had run. Then I somehow began to talk to him about the Western States 100 and my desire to run it someday.

In response to all this, he said “Lori, this may not be my place to say, but you need to be trail running. Your voice got so excited when you were talking about it that you were almost giddy. You should be doing what you love.”  And, as soon as I heard it, I knew it was truth.

What did I do next?  Well of course I went out for a run, on the trails, to ponder that statement.  I asked myself as I ran “What do I love about running?”  Well the immediate answer was running trails, of course. And ultras. And competition. And my running friends.  And the cycling that I am doing on the side. “What don’t I love so much?”  Road miles, especially long road miles. Road marathons.  Large races.  Road 5ks.

So how can I put this into practice to get re-motivated and do what I love? 

Well, first off, I need to refocus my trail running/ultra running goals. If I am going to make the Western States 100 in this lifetime, I need to get going on that goal now, as it is a major one that will take at least a couple of years to accomplish. It requires a qualifying race (either 50 or 100 miles), a lottery to enter that can take years to win, and probably a practice 100 miler or two to prepare. (If I don't make the lottery, I have to re-qualify each year until I do.)  There is also a lot of preparation that will need to be done in the 9 months leading up to the race if I do make the lottery and gain entry. This is a long term process that will require a lot of focus and perseverance, but rather than sounding incredibly daunting, sounds like a heck of a lot of fun! That was a goal I could get excited about!

Next, I want to stay in touch with my running friends and continue my commitment to the Playmaker’s/New Balance Masters Women’s Racing Team. That means that I need to keep my speed up a bit even as I take the focus away from road running and racing. That will also help me to be competitive in the ultras, which is a win-win. I will also probably stick with cycling and possibly duathlons. I think the cycling adds a component, mentally and physically, that I would like to keep in the mix.

With every decision made, though, there are things that one gives up. When one door opens, another closes. I will probably never run the Boston Marathon or New York or Chicago, or any of the other popular runs that a lot of runners have on their bucket lists. I am just not into road marathons enough to do something like that again. 

I also will not be running many local 5ks or other “popular” races. I think Facebook is great for keeping a community in touch, but it also creates FOMO (fear of missing out) that causes some people, at least me, to sign up for things that they aren’t really into just because everyone else is going.  More than once, this has led me down the path of committing to something that I really was not into. I need to learn to say “no.”

I guess it is official then. I am switching my focus back from roads to trails. (I think I will finish out the Playmakers Race Series races because I am leading in my age group, but they will not be my focus.) My focus now is to lay out a plan for meeting my Western States 100 goal. I think I will go for a run and ponder my plan of attack… I will let you know what I work out. 

If you would like to learn more about the Western States 100, or if you just love running movies in general, check out either of these: 

Unbreakable: The Western States 100

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Guest Race Report: Tough Mudder Michigan 2013

Geoff Rook: One Tough Mudder
[We interrupt the program in progress (my Northwest Tour saga) for breaking news. One of my favorite guest bloggers and running partners, Geoff Rook (remember his Boston Marathon post), did the Tough Mudder race.  Now, I have mentioned before that I have never done a “mud run” type event, but that does not mean I am not interested. (Actually I think it means I am chicken, but that is a topic for another discussion) Geoff generously agreed to report on his experience. So, without further adieu, Geoff’s report:]

Tough Mudder is appropriately named. It is tough and you will get muddy. Very muddy, and very wet, and a little scraped up if you challenge yourself and push hard. I completed the Tough Mudder in Brooklyn, MI in June 2013 in about 2 hours 30 minutes. It consists of 12 miles of running with 20 obstacles spaced out along the course.

The obstacles have foreboding names such as Arctic Enema [Ewwwww!!], Funky Monkey, and ElectricEel. A group of ten of us from the office decided it was too tempting of a challenge and we put a team together. The event drew a crowd of about 20,000 participants over two days.

My training for this event was minimal. I felt I was in pretty good shape as a distance runner and I could do a couple chin ups and plenty of sit ups and push-ups. In hind sight, I wish I had done a lot more strength work needed to climb over high walls and pull myself up out of a dumpster (see Arctic Enema description below). Tough Mudder is all about team work so you can make it through all the obstacles, but strength training would have minimized the pain and soreness I had for a couple of days after the event.

We arrived at the site, Michigan International Speedway, all dressed in similar uniforms of white tech shirt, black shorts, and pink knee socks. We named our team White Collar Mudders and planned to wear white dress shirts with the sleeves ripped off but compromised on white tech shirts to avoid chafing. Lisa and Renae chose the pink knee socks and we got plenty of comments from the crowd. After the second obstacle it was hard to tell we wore white and pink.

The start is divided up in waves that are assigned by request rather than by projected finish times. To start, you must first climb over a 7 foot wall and drop into the starting pen that holds about 200. The MC mingles in the crowd and pumps everyone up with a bunch of “Hoo-rah’s” and reminds us that it’s all about team work. On most obstacles, someone will help you up and over or pull you out, you then turn around and do the same for the person behind you. The MC had us take a knee and thanked us for supporting the Wounded Warrior Project by participating. He then asked any military personnel to stand up and the applause was awesome. An orange smoke grenade obscured the first few feet of the course as we stood and sing the National Anthem. One more quick, mosh-pit pump up from the MC, then 5-4-3-2-1 and the gun went off.

The running was mostly flat on open grass and lots of trampled mud and standing water from the rain. The crowd ran rather slowly to the first obstacle, a 10 foot wall that leans toward you, making it more difficult to climb over. On our way to obstacle #2, a 50 foot belly crawl through wet, sloppy mud, we could see the Arctic Enema ahead. But first we had to leap over a line of open flame into a pit of waist-deep water.

The Arctic Enema does not disappoint. It’s a 30 cubic yard dumpster typically used for construction debris. Today it is half full of water and half full of ice cubes with a divider midway across that extends about 6 inches into the frigid water. The object is to jump in, go under the divider and climb out the other side. We climbed up the approach ramp and jumped in. I was ready for the cold, so it was not surprising but it has an exponential cumulative effect. You do not want to linger. I had to go under twice because I thought the divider was much lower and it was difficult to propel myself amongst ice cubes. When you surfaced it's a bit disorienting and you usually need someone to help pull you out since the dumpster is about 6 feet deep. Once out of the ice you turn around and help the person behind you.

I won’t describe all 20 obstacles. You can easily find descriptions on-line [ ], but I will tell you about some of the more memorable ones. We had to wade out into chest deep water that was unusually warm, looked like Yoohoo and smelled a little funky. While crossing the pond we had to submerge under three sets of barrels along the way. On Walk the Plank we climbed up a tall platform and jumped 15 feet down into deep water.  Trench Warfare made me feel like a mole. We climbed down into a hole in the ground and belly crawled through a very dark, curvy tunnel until coming back up out of a hole about 50 feet away. At this point in the race it was pouring rain so hard that it was difficult to see other areas of the course.

As we made our way to Electric Eel we were secretly hoping for thunder so they might close the water obstacles on the course. The heavy rain persisted but no lightning or thunder so we got to experience the Electric Eel. It’s another belly crawl through muddy water under a large array of electrical wires that randomly zap you. I thought if I stayed low enough I could avoid the wires, but I was wrong. I saw one wire light up right in front of my eyes as I was crawling through as quickly and lowly as I could. I got zapped once and it snapped my jaw shut and felt like someone hit my shoulder with a bat. I was really dreading this obstacle, but I made it through mostly unscathed and happy I accomplished it.

One of the most difficult obstacles for me was Berlin Walls. It consists of two 12 foot walls that we had to climb over. Nearly everyone requires the help of the person behind them to boost them up to grab the top of the wall. Then you have to pull yourself up and over the wall and drop several feet to the ground. Then you have to do it all again 30 feet later. The walls are made of 2x12 planks and were wet and gritty from the coarse sand that pervaded nearly every obstacle.

Everest was the second to last obstacle, and it was the most fun to watch. We had to get a running start in the wet sloppy mud and propel ourselves up a slippery quarter pipe ramp onto the deck above. Team work was necessary for the vast majority of runners. Before you start your approach you need to make eye contact with someone who is waiting on the deck. They are lying down on the deck extending their arms down from the edge for you to grab onto. If you’re fast enough and strong enough you can make it just far enough up the ramp to lunge forward and catch their awaiting hands; then you struggle up the slippery ramp onto the deck and return the favor to the person behind you.

The last obstacle is a sprint through a dense gauntlet of electrical wires. This obstacle is delightfully called Electroshock Therapy. To make it just a little more interesting the ground is made uneven with muddy hills and ruts filled with water. I managed to make it through without getting zapped, but many others were not so lucky. In most cases when a runner gets zapped it contracts their muscles so violently that they fall uncontrollably to the ground. I panicked for a second when I got tangled up in the dangling wires, but I had enough momentum to force my way through and was somewhat thankful that I never felt a zap.

After crossing the Finish line, we received our orange Tough Mudder finisher head band and a complimentary beer. We then headed back to entertain ourselves by watching runners attempting Everest and Electroshock Therapy. By this time the rain had completely dissipated leaving ankle deep water all over. I’m sure the spectators enjoyed that.

Everyone on our team made it through and can now officially call themselves Tough Mudders. I scraped up my knees and elbows quite a bit, and my triceps and deltoids were really sore for a couple days. Next year, if the temperature allows, I plan to wear running tights and a long sleeve tech shirt to protect my knees and elbows a little more. The entire team had a great time and we all plan to return next year and maybe we will even recruit a few more team mates.

Geoff's report definitely makes this sound like a bunch of fun -- except for the ice water and electric shocks. I don't know. I am still not quite convinced. Or maybe I am just way wimpier than this group of very Tough Mudders. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Northwest Tour Day 2: Old Mission Peninsula

In case you missed my last post, I am reporting on a five day bike tour I did in June. It was my first bike tour, and I had an excellent time. If you want to catch up on the background, check out Northwest Tour Day 1

I had a good first night in the tent. It was chilly (in the 40s), but the combination of my doubled up sleeping bags and my heater kept me cozy.  I was awakened by the sounds of cyclists preparing to leave early for their Day 2 routes. Our campsite mate, Mike, used to be a very hard core runner (3 hrs and change for a marathon) but had taken up cycling when his knees decided they didn’t want to run anymore. He attacked the cycling with the same intensity that he had with his running. He was one of those hundred-mile-a-day-every-day guys, and they liked to get an early start.

Leslie and I rolled out of our tents just about the time that he was rolling out on the road. Leslie and I wandered off to the breakfast tent to fuel up and discuss our route. The route choices for the day were all centered around a trip into Traverse City and out the peninsula. The 100 mile people would ride from the campground, which involved tackling the big hills leading back to the campground on the trip home, as well as several other hills on the trip itself. Something Leslie and I could both agree on was that those were not in our future.

We opted instead to drive down to the high school in Traverse City, ride up to the lighthouse, and stop for lunch at one of Leslie’s favorite spots on the way back.  I was excited because the first half of the ride would be on the Bayshore course, which I had run several times. I also had never been to the lighthouse at the end of the peninsula. It sounded like a great day.

The only fly in the great day ointment was the temperature. We had been hoping for sunny warm days for the tour, but it was chilly and somewhat breezy. We debated over what to wear, loaded up the bikes, and headed out. When we got to the high school to unload, two things were apparent right away: several other people had gone for the avoid-the-big-hills choice and we were both under-dressed. We ransacked the back of Leslie’s car looking for anything to throw on. I ended up with Leslie’s emergency long sleeve tech shirt under my cycling shirt. It saved my life because the breeze was chilly as we headed out.

I soon forgot that as I enjoyed the views on the ride, as the road wound through beautiful neighborhoods, with the occasional glimpse of the bay:

We made the turn at the top of the peninsula and passed the start line for the half marathon, which was the farthest up the peninsula I had been. It was fun but a little odd to see the area without the pre-half marathon hustle and bustle. I was in new and unchartered territory. We soon came to our first stop of the day, a really neat old general store that looked like something out of Petticoat Junction. After a short rest and a granola bar, we pressed on toward the lighthouse.

The road went inland through horse pastures, orchards, and hops farms. Thank goodness I had Leslie as a tour guide because I would have had no idea what was growing in those fields with the strange trellises. We also passed a really cool old schoolhouse. 

Now I just want to say that if you have never been past the start of the half marathon at Bayshore, you need to know that it gets a little hilly out there – not huge hills like out by the campground but enough to remind me that I had not done very much training for this 5 day endeavor. Finally we made the lighthouse at the top of the peninsula, which was also our halfway point at right around 20 miles.

As we headed back, our thoughts turned to lunch. Leslie had a favorite restaurant out there called the Jolly Pumpkin, which is famous for its artisan ales.  (Anyone who knows Leslie won’t be surprised by this little bit of information.) It was a pretty lumpy ride, but we finally made it. What a neat old place!

Over an extremely yummy lunch, Leslie told me a few ghost stories about the old building to keep me entertained. It was during this lunch stop that I made two important observations regarding cycling versus running. The first and most important is that male cyclists, in their spandex shorts, are way more fun to look at than male runners in their baggy running shorts (sorry all my male running friends). An additional benefit of cycling is the brightly colored jerseys. If you get caught checking out the guys in the tight cycling shorts, you can always follow up with “What a neat jersey? I was just trying to read what it says there on the back?”

The second important observation is that both cycling and running require Body Glide, just in different places. Yes for the first time in my cycling career, I was developing a saddle sore. And when they named it “sore,” they weren’t kidding. On top of that, about two miles into the last leg of our ride, my quads started to lock up and burn. At this point, Leslie kept pedaling away from me a bit, but I think it was mostly so that she didn’t have to listen to me whine for the last few miles of the ride. Soon, though, we were back at the high school. We loaded up the bikes and headed back to the campground. Day 2 in the books: 39 miles.

So you would think we might have gone back to the campground to rest, but no. We were off to drive the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive at Sleeping Bear Dunes which has really spectacular scenic views. If you aren’t familiar with the dunes at Lake Michigan, you really should check this out: 

Of course we had to pose for a photo:

As we were walking down the path from the dune, we had a really cool wildlife encounter. A porcupine came out of the bushes and crossed the trail in front of us. He was just a few feet away, so like a couple of dopes we started calling it like a dog.  It did the sensible thing and waddled off into the bushes. Of course, I was all for chasing him until Leslie (always the practical one) says, “I wish I could remember how far they can shoot their quills.” Okay, maybe chasing it into the bushes is not a good idea. Still, it was pretty cool to see it so close.

As we were heading back to the campground, Leslie explained to me that a key element of touring is eating enough to keep your energy up. I am all in for that! We ended our day with a stop back in Glen Arbor for one of the best peanut butter milk shakes I have ever had.  While we ate we planned the ride for Day 3, our longest yet. It was a great end to the day! 

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