Thursday, December 27, 2012

Oh, The Places You'll Go: The Year That Was.

Today is your day.
You're off to Great Places!
You're off and away!

Last fall, I ventured out with my kids to a Dr. Seuss bonfire, hosted by running friends Mike and Julie at their place in Olathe, about an hour from my home. Kaia and Carter had a great time reading the books they'd brought along with all the adults listening attentively. The highlight of the night, though, was Mike reading "Oh, The Places You'll Go," giving note to the uninitiated that the book sort of has cult status in ultra running circles.  With the fire pit sparking and warming us, we were treated to the coolest reading of a night full of cool Dr. Seuss readings. If one did not understand why another might find deep satisfaction in this pursuit, I think Mike cleared it up pretty well that night.

 As 2012 played itself out, my running organically evolved into my first real foray into ultra running, and with it, the limits I'd placed on myself fell one by one. And it seems only fitting that I recall the things I saw, places I went, people I met, and all other great experiences via this great piece of children's literature.

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You're on your own.  And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who'll decide where to go.

 You're lighter if you leave the chains, buffalo pelts, and other such accoutrements at your vehicle. And if you want to be the only dude who runs 30 miles, well, there will be folks who are happy to drink beer, warm up by the fire, and wait for you at the finish while you steer yourself along on the trails. 

Run your own race, at your pace. It'll carry you all the way through 34 miles, whether it's a first-time ultra finish, or a dark horse win. 

Out there things can happen
and frequently do
to people as brainy
and footsy as you.

When a kickass outdoor and sports photographer calls for trail runners to shoot, you put your name in the hat. You just do. Even if you have no idea what you're doing. At a minimum, you get a cool experience, some great photos, and a bit of money. And, sometimes really cool things happen, like that kickass photographer gets a picture of your friend during the shoot that winds up on a magazine cover. And, let's be honest. It's fun to get to play the the superhero version of yourself, if only in photographs.

And if you meet someone at a race with whom you become friendly, and eventually she says "Hey, would you like to be sponsored by a hat company I represent?" You say yes. Especially when the hats are awesome, and it's owned, operated and marketed by some fabulous outdoorsy women stateside. (Thank you Paige, Kim, and WizBang!)

Then, you'll find yourself in Boulder for the annual 10K there. Your two younger kids come along too, and you stay in a house with a bunch of your friends also running the race. And it just so happens that the place randomly found on Craigslist is owned by an Olympian. A marathon runner. This is cool. But then she stops by to say hello to everybody and introduce herself. Then, out of the bright fabric purse/bag she's carrying, she pulls an Olympic bronze medal and asks if folks would like to see it. You can't get that thing off your son's neck.

(Lorraine Moller, a 4-time Olympian for New Zealand, winner of the '84 Boston Marathon, and bronze medalist at the Barcelona Olympics. She is the mom to a 10-year-old daughter, and is still involved in the sport as a running coach.)

And when things start to happen,
don't worry.  Don't stew.
Just go right along.
You'll start happening too.

50 miles is a long way in the brain if you've never run it before. But just keep logging the training miles, and if you're local, run that course every weekend if possible. Practice your nutrition, consider all the what-ifs. You might be one of the last ones out there, but you'll still be out there, happening. One of 29 men and 5 women who were happening in the blistering heat. And you might just have some support from some pretty awesome friends who knew what a big deal this was to you.

You'll be on your way up!
You'll be seeing great sights!
You'll join the high fliers
who soar to high heights.

So there's a little race in California called the Western States 100. It used to be on horseback only. Then this guy named Gordy had a horse go lame in the race, so he finished it on foot. And thus, ultra running as we know it was born. Fast forward...your friend the immigration attorney in New Hampshire has a few pacing and crewing opportunities available to you, and some other solid runners, with a couple of the best female ultrarunners in the world. You say yes to the chance and road trip west, catching views of the starriest skies you've ever seen in the middle of nowhere, Nevada. Then the incredibly blue waters of Lake Tahoe. Then you get to Squaw Valley, meet incredible athletes from all over the world, and work to help them realize their goals on little to no sleep. And it's amazing. Some succeed, while others are unsuccessful. You start to understand the "why" of the sport. 

You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
Some windows are lighted.  But mostly they're darked.
A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin!
Do you dare to stay out?  Do you dare to go in?
How much can you lose? How much can you win?

Then, with that experience complete, you are excited to do it again. When friends need help in Silverton, in Leadville, and in Steamboat, you go. There's a hellfire-and-brimstone thunderstorm at one. You and your runner consider whether you'd rather die by hypothermia or lightning strike. Your runner lays down and threatens to quit at another. And at a third, your runner is trucking along fine except when he gets lost, and is trying to not succumb to the warm fire that claimed many an overnight runner who just wanted to get a bit warm only to not start again. You're so comfortable now with crewing that you're that girl in the sleeping bag in the bushes, comfortably sleeping away until your runner gets there. And you're never quite in a deep sleep because you know your runner is probably coming in to the aid station soon.

At two of these races, you see a local finish who has won in Leadville, and in Silverton. He ran with you and your friend while training for your second and her first ultra, and never, ever made you feel like a noobish loser. Rather, he was happy to have company on the run, and if you asked for advice, yeah, he'd share. But you'd never guess what a rock star he was. Oh, and he's finished Leadville and Hardrock 18 times apiece. No bigs.

Oh, the places you'll go! There is fun to be done!
There are points to be scored.  there are games to be won.
And the magical things you can do with that ball
will make you the winning-est winner of all.
Fame!  You'll be famous as famous can be,
with the whole wide world watching you win on TV.

And you become aware of The Tony. And decide you liked The Tony. Not in a creepy, stalkerish way, or anything. You simply admire his running. Your friends start thinking The Tony thing is funny so they tackle him and get you a picture with him in Leadville. Because that's not weird at all.

(props to all the elite ultra runners above...Anna Frost, in the pink jacket, working her butt off crewing and pacing for Salomon runners in Leadville, and Hardrock. She paced the winner, Thomas Lorblanchet, in his run which wound up being one of the fastest in Leadville history. Scott Jurek, pacing Tony, center. He was a genuine friendly guy when we asked to get a picture with him at Leadville, got one on his own camera, and tweeted this to his fan base. Joe Grant, in yellow, at bottom, racing at Hardrock. Joe finished second and ran the fourth fastest time in Hardrock history, behind winner Hal Koerner who ran the third fastest time.)

I'm afraid that some times
you'll play lonely games too.
Games you can't win
'cause you'll play against you.

All Alone!
Whether you like it or not,
Alone will be something
you'll be quite a lot.

And there will be a few times you just won't quite nail it. Or just totally miss the target. The inaugural Thelma & Louise Half is just a bit too soon after the 50-miler to have full speed back. Hoping to podium here, it doesn't happen. It's still a great time running an all-women's race for the first time.

The Rim Rock Marathon proves to be easily the greatest disappointment of the running year. A course you've always run strong, and almost won once. A marathon PR was set here another year. This time, it's a brutal slog through wind, snow, and frigid temperatures. When your park ranger buddy high-fives you at the Visitor Center, it's one of the only things that keeps you moving on the way to a PW (personal worst) in the marathon, and failure to run a Boston Marathon qualifying standard. Only other time that happened was the five second miss in marathon number one. Despite the disappointment, it's something that motivates you to work harder and do better the next time at handling bad conditions.

On and on you will hike
and I know you'll hike far
and face up to your problems
whatever they are.

That race, Imogene. A woman's name, they say. She's been a bitch to you the past four years, or perhaps you didn't know how to handle her. After trying hard and specifically every year to run the 17 mile race in under four hours, you didn't have any official strategy or formal training plan to accomplish the goal this year. This time, though, things are different. The 50-miler, the pacing through the night at Leadville, the speed work for almost a year with friends who motivate you...somehow, this was going to be the year. It just was, and you seemed to actually know it this time. 

When it didn't seem like it was going to happen for the first 13 or so miles, you didn't panic. You were just excited that it was still going to be your best run here, even if it had a 4: at the front of the time. And then you realized with just a few miles left that it could be done in 3: something. But you're going to have to be all-out for three miles, so all-out you run, and clear that four hour hurdle by several minutes. When a lot of things have come more easily in running, but this deal has always been a "how can I f#ck this up" kind of endeavor, it's a special day when you're there with your friends for the sub-4. Some of them wound up on the podium, and some of them finished for the first time. It's a beautiful day.

You'll also throw a few special running events-not "proper" races, mind you, but stuff that sounded like fun, and a good opportunity to train as a group. For six hours, you'll go up and down on Serpents Trail. Then, coming back from Western States on no sleep, there's a conversation that starts something like this. "You know what would be cool? A six hour run. In the desert. With a gong." So you go on an excellent adventure to locate a gong. Eventually, you own a share of a gong with your two other friends and race-throwers. It's absurd, and it's awesome. The gong rotates from house to house, and sort of takes on a life of its own. It goes to races. Everybody gets to enjoy its sound at the start of the Winter Sun, and later on at the awards. Oh, and you find out that you've got some darn competitive and fast friends, even when they're having a beer or a shot, every quarter mile. You also learn that it's probably not a great idea to compete in both beer and shot divisions at the same event; still, you have fun, and everybody just laughs about the post-run silliness. One of your friends who was instrumental in pulling of these events almost didn't get out of her car at her first speed work session a year ago-now it's like she's been part of all the craziness for years. And that's cool.

You'll get mixed up, of course,
as you already know.
You'll get mixed up
with many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life's
a Great Balancing Act.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.

And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)

You'll have two hard-fought podium finishes in the last year of your 30s, coming back from an absolutely terrible run at The Other Half the year prior to finish third. And wind up being the runner featured in the race program-an honor that feels really special when you have a special affinity for a race that was your first half, and where you first proved to yourself that yes, 13.1 is NOT too far for you to go. And that you've come a long way since then. For the last trip of the year to Moab, at the Winter Sun, it's clear that making the podium is going to be harder this year than ever before. Laying it all out there, you run your second best time at the race and squeak into 3rd at age 39 in the 30-39 ladies, in a time a few seconds faster than what won you the age group the year before. It feels really good to have fought hard and raced smart. This was no cake walk. Your friends clean up big time, too. People set PRs, and there's a lot of "from Grand Junction" during awards.


There were many other places I went, people I met, and other moments of awesomeness throughout the year. Some strange, yet cool, birds, certainly populate our sport. It's always great to feed into that positive and maybe a little crazy energy. You stop thinking about what you can't do, and focus on what you CAN do...put one foot in front of the other. It's pretty simple. Just never forget to be dexterous and deft. And never mix up your right foot from left. Get out on the trails, or take to the streets (the roads really aren't evil; and I still love those Moab races very much). Because...

be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O'Shea,
you're off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So...get on your way!

1 comment:

Kari said...

What a great recap. You make racing sound fun. :) Hoping to do my first mini tri this summer. Congrats on all of your success.