Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Don't Forget To Breathe

So don't forget to breathe
Don't forget to breathe
Your whole life is here
No eleventh hour reprieve
So don't forget to breathe

Keep your head above water
But don't forget to breathe

This might be my favorite song I've heard played in the background at yoga. It's understated, melodic, and simple, but a damn good reminder about the simple things we tend to overlook. I had it on repeat in my brain a few weeks ago when I headed out on that group 25-mile run, and it got me through when I got fatigued.

This entry finds me about ten days away from my second ultramarathon. While most of the small handful of people who stop by this blog know what that means, I'd like to explain to those who just stumbled upon this blog, or pop in out of curiosity. Anything over the standard marathon distance of 26.2 miles is considered an ultra, though the standard "entry level" ultra distance is the 50K. What's amusing is that you'll often hear people griping at road races when a GPS watch measures slightly long or short on a course. In ultrarunning, the distance is often "ballpark" to the extreme, with my first 50-miler in April actually covering roughly 52 miles of trails. With that in mind, it is not unusual for those training for ultras to run for time rather than distance.

My plan all week was to run a 6-hour run on Saturday, but I was a little nervous since Ben, Sandra and I were so beat on the previous Sunday following the Great American Beer Run. I have been diligent about listening to my body since my epic meltdown a few weeks ago at a low point for fatigue and stress, and it's been a wise move. I don't give myself a free pass on days off, but truly take it day-to-day with how I'm feeling, and considering the positive implications to a strategically timed day off or schedule flip/flop. My week started with the new "Monday Special," a double-up on Serpents Trail with my friend Randee. Rather than taking both repeats on Serpents Trail, we did something I ran a few times last fall before the Rim Rock Marathon, running up-down-up on Serpents, and then hopping off onto the road, Rim Rock Drive, for a fun, fast change of pace. I don't find Serpents Trail to be boring, but the change of pace, footing, and scenery made for a nice workout. The coming days brought a standard early run with Laura, one of my other regular running partners, a track practice, where I got to lead again and add my own stamp to the workout, and two yoga classes. I took a rest day on Friday to do as much in my power as possible to ensure I'd be ready for my longest training run ever. I was all set for a great run Saturday.

And then, the call came in regarding my new baby nephew in the early afternoon. My brother and sister-in-law had planned a home birth for their first child, a son to be named Story, inspired by astronaut Story Musgrave. His breech positioning meant a hospital delivery, something I knew they were not wild about, but I knew that sooner or later, I'd hear the great news about my first nephew from my side of the family. I was a little concerned as the morning went on and I hadn't heard anything from family. I tried telling myself that they were likely too busy to call, but I knew this was unusual to not hear anything from my Dad, who my brother would likely call early to disseminate information to the family. When I finally got word about the birth early afternoon on Friday, I could tell in my Dad's tone that all was not sunny and perfect. Story had been born with problems of an unknown nature, and was on his way to another hospital. I felt so helpless being several states away, and overcome with a mix of emotion.

After the initial shock, I tried to turn my energy into anything positive that could be redirected toward Story, asking friends to keep him in mind, pray, or do whatever they do whenever there's someone who needs help. My friend Elizabeth had been providing some comic relief via text throughout the day; she asked later in the afternoon if I wanted to stop by for hanging out, and a cocktail, in the early evening. I first met up briefly with a friend I don't get to see very often, which was great. I meandered over to Elizabeth's awhile later, and she made me some tasty, marshmallow vodka infused treat that probably wasn't ideal for the day before a very long run, but was nice to have while we unwound on a Friday. We re-watched our local club "Running In The New Year" video, laughing at various jackassery at the races and while training, and smiling at other fun and success over the prior year. I guzzled some extra water when I got home, and went to bed.

The next day, it appeared to be an ideal weather day as I started puttering around, drinking my coffee and making my new standard super-long run early breakfast of eggs, salsa and cheese on a tortilla. As a new runner, the idea of eating before a long run turned my stomach; I just couldn't do it. I eventually learned to eat things like bagels early on, but never did much more than that. Getting in to longer training runs, I've learned that I do become famished about four hours into a trail run without a substantial morning meal. This breakfast seems to be working for me thus far, as long as it's done about three hours prior to the run.

Sandra came over to pick me up, and we headed out to the Kokopelli Trail system, near Loma and Mack, Colorado, close to the Colorado/Utah border. We were meeting Kirk, a guy who would never tell you what he's done as a runner, but is easily the most experienced guy in our neck of the woods, with 17 Leadville Trail 100 finishes, 17 Hardrock 100 finishes, and a win at each race. In an area with lots of uber-chill trail runner dudes and dudettes, Kirk might be the chillest of them all. He also knows the trails well, and when I said we wanted to just find a route that would keep us running for six hours, he suggested what he calls the "Olympic Route." It's basically the "everything" route that covers all the trails. We set out, and got on our way. I'd left my borrowed Garmin at home, and this made me happy...I knew it wasn't good to obsess about how long into the run I was, but I thought I'd bring it along just to check. Knowing that wasn't an option kind of freed me up to run in the moment, just breathe, and put one leg in front of the other.

The whole rest of the state was getting heavy snow on this Saturday, but in Western Colorado, we could see nothing but wide-open blue skies. The route we take begins with a climb that's not steep, but pretty steady. While this was really tough the week prior, it felt okay today. Good, I thought. I had already begun to pick Kirk's brain about his past running and racing experiences, because here's the deal....I'm beginning to think about considering a run at the Leadville Trail 100. I don't know if I will ultimately sign up in another year or two, but with the wealth of experience and information available in this running community, I have been asking as many questions as possible of the runners who have done it, and the support crews who have been there for the race. The snow underfoot in the shade wasn't bad, and once we hit the sunny spots, it was pretty much bone-dry.

We meandered along for about an hour, and happened upon Greg, whom I'd paced with for most of the GABR the previous weekend. After chatting for a few minutes, he said he'd tuck in and run with us if we didn't mind. The more, the merrier, we said, and off we went again. About half an hour later, we happened upon a huge cow in the middle of the trail. I stopped, and as we all stopped, I looked to the right and saw there was a herd of cattle right there. We were able to get on our way soon, and continued on, making our way toward Horsethief Canyon. I'd never run this gorgeous stretch of trail, and kind of questioned why....other than the fact that I don't like to do stuff out there on my own when I don't know where exactly I'm going.

As the trail meandered along, it brought us closer to the river than I'd ever come while running these trail systems. The sun was shining, and I couldn't hear anything other than our footsteps, and the occasional conversation we'd have while running. Stopping for a snack/hydration/refueling break, we saw Tom Ela and his small posse of mountain biking buddies. When we got going again, we stepped through probably the most slippery part of the trail, a steep downhill section where the sun did not shine, ice coating all the rocks. After a short uphill climb, we were back on our way. Finishing the loop, we climbed up and continued on our way toward Mary's Loop, Steve's Loop, and the other connectors that would complete the "Olympic Loop." I asked Kirk about his trekking pole, which I've always seen him use in races and runs, and decided this might be a worthy investment for me, especially with the longer runs these days, and my ankle that's healed but always going to be prone to re-injury since I did so much damage.

All the while, I found myself still feeling good, and was a little surprised, given that the news about my nephew the day before had been pretty upsetting. This may sound stupid, but I found myself running with the intent to generate good energy for Story, my brother, and my sister-in-law. I could feel that I was doing it, and it made it easy to continue plugging away, business as usual. Greg eventually peeled off and headed back, calling it good at four hours or so. We kept moving along at a very even pace, slightly spread out, but consistently hitting stopping points with no more than a minute or two between us. Any moments of frustration or fatigue were brief and fleeting; even the return trip to the car to collect more water was only a momentary mental barrier. It was hard to get moving again for the first few minutes, but soon the stopping point was a distant memory, and it was as if we'd been plugging away forever on a point-to-point route.

Continuing around the loops, and on to Mack Ridge, it seemed unfathomable that I couldn't run for more than 30 seconds in 2007. I didn't understand back then how people enjoyed running, or how they ran a mile, let alone long distances. As the sun shone down on us, and we worked our way up muddy hills, beginning to tire but continuing on, I really got it. This run was something I'd been working up to, little by little, breathing, putting one foot in front of the other, running in the moment, and gradually increasing my distance. Every challenging run we'd each finished, every drop of sweat, every sore muscle....each was a deposit in the bank to get to this point. We stopped about two miles before the end of our loop to enjoy a truly spectacular 360 degree view, looking down to the trails we'd run earlier, over toward Rabbit Valley and Utah, around to the Bookcliffs, around more to Mt. Garfield, the Grand Mesa, the Colorado National Monument, and finally back where we'd started, looking over the cliff at the trails. I loved being here now, in this sensory overload, covered in salty sweat, and hearing not much more than my own breath.

Finishing the route, Sandra, Kirk and I said our fare-thee-wells, with Kirk wishing Sandra good luck and an enjoyable experience at her first ultra. In our final miles, we'd been talking about beer, and Sandra and I decided the best place for a refreshing adult beverage post-run would be the Hot Tomato, where we'd finished our race the prior week. They are muddy-trail-runner and mountain biker-friendly, and were on the way. It was a great call; we had a tasty beer, and mouthwateringly salty stromboli. We were also tipped off by Sharon, another runner and Hot Tomato regular, that my friends at the Moab Half Marathon have a brand-new race. I've always wanted to do a women-only race, but frankly have not been keen on doing ones that are corporate chain races, or with names like "Diva," no offense to those who run them. The First Annual Thelma And Louise Half Marathon will be held in May, and it's on a day when I am already double-booked with kid activities. Still, I wouldn't dream of missing this, and think I will plan on a quickie trip early in the morning, departing right after the race ends. I don't ever remember feeling this awake, and I've had it up to my ass with sedate.

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