The trailmonster becomes the road monster…

28 07 2008

As most of my friends and family know, I’ve spent the past year obsessed with running my first 100 mile race. I chose the Burning River 100 ( because it’s near where I was born in Akron, Ohio. Consequently, I knew I’d have a lot of moral support from family members since so many of them live in the Midwest region. I’ve trained long and hard for this race, which takes place on August 2-3, including getting over a nasty IT injury that lasted for about four months. I’ll be writing some more in coming days about some of the lessons I’ve learned during training for this race (and I’ve got some cool pictures to post too!), but I thought I’d do an entry today about what it’s been like to run through my final couple of weeks before the race. I scheduled myself for a full three week taper to get myself into race mode!

For about two of the three weeks I had to spend some time up in Los Angeles – which I affectionately call la-la-land based on the time I used to live here – for an interminably long software workshop on Pro Tools. That’s the software used in most recording studios; I still engineer on my own part-time and do a ton of MIDI production for theatre projects, so the whole thing was relevant – but ill-timed since I was having a tough time concentrating with my first 100 miler on the horizon. Squeezing in my final hours of training was, well, “entertaining” in more ways than one, especially considering I couldn’t seem to get an endless litany of key commands from streaming through my brain. Talk about information overload!

Tuesday, July 15, was a scheduled 15 miler, and being the dedicated runner I am, I wasn’t going to miss it, even after an 8 hour day in workshops and 2 hours in the wee hours grading online papers (yeah, I still work as a college prof and I teach a bunch of online courses). There’s a definite lack of worthy trails in the greater LA area, so I ended up at Venice Beach on the bikepath. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Venice, it’s certainly “interesting.” Picture a bunch of surgically enhanced ladies in bikinis, skater kids with tons of attitude, and throw in an aging rasta-dude on roller blades who follows you around with a psychedelic looking electric guitar. There’s an image for you. Couldn’t pass this one up. However, Venice can be a bit sketchy, especially after nightfall, so I knew I was going to need company to do this run.

In the past, I’ve rarely run with friends. I learned REAL quickly that if you value a long-standing friendship you don’t want to rock the boat by adding running to the mix. Let’s just say I’ve learned that from experience. My friend Linda ran a marathon with me three years ago and she still hasn’t quite forgiven me (or her husband) for talking her into it. I remember one particular training run in pouring rain when I pushed her over the edge –harsh words were definitely present. I think they were probably directed in my general vicinity, although I prefer to not dredge up the past and ask for clarification. And this coming from a person who’s normally “Miss Sunshine.” Sorry, Linda!

When my friend Austen volunteered to come along with me to Venice, I balked at first, but then quickly reconsidered. He wasn’t going to RUN. Rather, he decided to try to skateboard with me for the entire distance. How cool is that??!! Talk about a sight – me in head-to-toe winter weather gear (still heat-training!) and my big hydration pack and him, an ex-rocker with super long hair on a skateboard careening down a bike path singing Black Sabbath songs phrase by phrase (we alternated) at the top of our lungs.

Yet, at fourteen miles, our idyllic jaunt came to a close as the poor guy’s heel gave out. I’m suspecting plantar fasciitis. He couldn’t walk quite right for the next three days. I don’t think he’s going to be coming along with me again. I don’t know if he’s forgiven me yet. Lesson learned – don’t invite your well-meaning friends along unless you’re willing to be hated and cursed for the next year.

I tried the Venice thing again on Thursday, July 17 – this time alone – and was plagued by horrible stomach issues. The heat along with excessive consumption of Uncle Eddie’s vegan cookies took its toll. I don’t recommend eating three bags of these before a 10 miler (hey, I’m “carbo loading!”), as it’s not fun to continually squeeze one’s sphincter in public for fear of “gambling and losing.” Furthermore, I don’t recommend Venice for its public facilities. You have to fight street bums for a chance at using the nasty toilets. Let me just warn anyone reading that you should under no circumstances allow your dropped running shorts to approach the ground. Eeeeew. I will never again be squeamish about going in the woods. Much preferable to this alternative.

I made it home for a “long” run on Saturday, July 19. I ended up doing a road 20 instead of a trail 20 just because of time constraints. Yeah – the trailmonster became the roadmonster for a week! I took the run nice and slow and easy. Wait – that’s the ONLY way I ever do runs!

On that 20 miler, I began to think I was the human camel. I theorized that I had a hidden hump somewhere on my back as I was able to consume 84 oz of fluid in the first two hours. I had no idea that I was drinking that much until my hydration pack ran out. Imagine my shock when I couldn’t even pee. It took until 9 pm that night to resume normal bodily functions. Just didn’t get it.

Luckily, I’ve got a great coach, Gordy, who immediately was able to recognize the problem. NO ONE should be able to consume that amount of fluid in that short of a time frame, not even a freak like me. The condition is called “hyponatremia”, meaning an overconsumption of fluid paired with a lack of electrolytes. In a lot of ways, being hyponatremic is worse than being dehydrated, because the tissues around your brain can swell up and you can die. That would definitely suck.

I’ve always thought I was too well-informed to allow myself to become hyponatremic. A lot of ultrarunners are good at living in states of denial, doing things like training through injuries (been there, done that), and in my case this time, hyponatremia. I guess we tend to think we’re invincible or something. There’s a fine line between positive visualization (I can DOOOO it!) and extreme stupidity. I think I crossed that line, and luckily, I have someone helping me out who can recognize these things. Another lesson learned. I’m just glad it happened NOW.

I spent the past week in a state of what I like to call “taper madness.” In my case, it usually involves a complete aversion to doing anything physical along with an overconsumption of smoothies and potato chips (the greasier, the better). I had a hard time dragging my butt along a series of short 6 and 8 milers. What’s the point with those kinds of runs anyhow? Boring. Now I’m at the end of my taper with my target race only a few days away and am wondering how in hell I’m going to motivate myself to run 100 miles when I’m having a hard enough time going for 4. This should be interesting…


The top 10 questions I get asked…

9 07 2008

I thought I’d do a post to answer the ten most common questions I seem to get asked about training for and running ultramarathons. People I meet tend to be fascinated by the fact that I run these events. I often feel like the circus freak sideshow character at parties or other get-togethers with my non-runner friends. In fact, most of my friends are non-runners, and the vast majority of those are other musicians – not exactly a lifestyle that lends itself to “healthy living.” To top off my freakish activities is the fact that I’m a strict vegan and I don’t drink either caffeine or alcohol. (Oh – I’m SO much fun!) You can only imagine the kinds of conversations that ensue at a bar or other kind of “gig” location when people find out these things about me!

So people – here are the answers to your questions. This is one long post! Enjoy!

10. Are you good at this?
“Good” is a relative word. Depends on what you mean by “good,” obviously. I’ll never win a race or an age-group award. I have a tendency to fall flat on my face as I’m like a kamikaze maniac on downhill trails and usually end up coated in dirt and mud by the end of almost any trail run. I never can seem to get nutritional and electrolyte issues under control, which makes me a gassy mess running for the bushes during most long runs. But, I seem to finish most things that I start and I’m stubborn as hell. So you can make up your own mind about whether or not I’m “good” at this stuff.

9. Do you get a trophy?
Definitely not. For some 100 mile events, if you finish, you get a belt buckle. I’m running my first 100 on August 2-3 (Burning River 100). We’ll see if I have a new accoutrement to hold up my pants when I get home. I’ve received coasters from some races (the PCTR series) and T-shirts from others.

8. Do you make money doing this?
(insert sound effect of laughter) Are you kidding? No, I do this for the sheer glory. (more laughter) You just have to love ultras to run them. There’s no press coverage, no cheering crowds, very little corporate sponsorship, small groups of entrants in races, large chances of getting lost on race courses…it’s kind of the opposite of running a major marathon (like the San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon which I ran in ’05). There’s generally no prize money for the winners of races. And even if there was: I have NO hope of ever winning a race.

If I made money every time I went out to train, I could quit my job now. Don’t I just wish.

7. Do you run the whole time?
No. My legs might fall off or spontaneously combust. Most people run/walk. We run the downs and flats and walk the ups. It’s not because we’re lazy, trust me.

6. Does your husband run with you?
Nope. He’s the sane one in the relationship. I’m the one with the deathwish.

5. Have you run marathons?
One. I did the Rock and Roll Marathon here in San Diego in ’05. I vowed I would never run a road marathon again after that. No offense to any of you road runner types, but the whole running Elvis, corporate logo, five million TNT runners in purple, Powerade chock full of high fructose corn syrup at aid stations, walkers who won’t get out of the way with their massive waistpacks, people who kick it in at the finish just to get ahead of you even though they’re doing a 5-hour time THING just didn’t quite appeal to me. You figure that one out.

Honestly, the ultra world is a lot different. At my first ultra (Montana de Oro), I was heading up the second loop to the summit of Valencia Peak, a gnarly rocky trail. I ran out of fluids and was seriously bonking. In fact, I think I was crying for my mother amid intermittently dry-heaving up my Clif Shot gels. A runner on the way back down from the mountain just GAVE me his water. He said I looked like I needed it more than he did. That doesn’t happen in a road marathon. So many of those runners are more concerned about their “mile splits” and how cute they look in their little running outfits to stop and help someone else EVEN THOUGH they might be slow as hell. Seriously – unless you’re some elite Kenyan runner who needs that prize money to take home, why not stop and help someone out? It’s pretty amazing that a lot of these runner types don’t give a crap. There’s my rant for the day. Sorry to be so jaded.

4. How do you train for this stuff?
I’m still figuring that one out, to be honest. In short, though, you just run A LOT. There’s not much more to it than that. Run in extreme conditions – mountain trails, high heat, water crossings – and you’ll get into shape.

I have a coach now (thank you, Gordy! You’re the best!) and he’s amazing. I was on my own for about five years, and made it through my first four ultras without anyone’s help…and without even knowing any other ultrarunners. I just read a lot of books and articles and figured out some things that worked for me. Four runs per week: a tempo run of 10-15 miles, a hill day on trail, one slow and short recovery day, and one long day on Saturday of 20-30 miles, usually on trail. Plus cross-training (I commute to work on my bike) and strength-training two days per week for my upper body and core with my lovely trainer, Jesika. Things are changing now with Gordy’s help and I’ll post stuff on my blog in the future about how I’m training.

3. Is it hard? (or does it hurt?)
What do you think?

2. What do you eat?
I get asked this question ALL THE TIME even not in conjunction with my running because of my veganism. Once, at a family gathering at a rib joint (Damon’s) in Michigan, I got so sick of people staring at my iceberg lettuce salad and my plain baked potato that I sarcastically answered to the question “Do you always eat like this?”: “No, normally you just set me out on the grass in front of your house and I just graze.”

I’ve been vegetarian now for about 17 or 18 years, and I went vegan about 5 years ago. Let me just say that I don’t care what other people eat and I have no aim to convert the rest of the world to veganism; my husband is a big-time carnivore, in fact, and we get along just fine, although he does get sick of eating at the same 3 or 4 restaurants all the time. (Poor guy!)

So what do I eat? Well, I’m the only vegan in the world who hates tofu and salad. How funny is that? I eat lots of fruits, veggies, nuts, BEANS BEANS AND MORE BEANS (I’m quite fragrant at times), tempeh, seitan (a meat-like wheat gluten product that’s good in stews), whole grain breads and rice. Part of the reason I run is because I like to eat a lot. I like eating crap, to be honest. Potato chips are my number 1 vice. The greasier and saltier the better. French fries are the best! Lots of deep fried love. And I eat lots of cake and cookies and chocolate (vegan of course) and baked goods, most of which I make myself from scratch with lots and lots of calories.

Perhaps my butt is the size it is because of my diet and not because of enlarged gluteal muscles from hill running (as I’ve been telling myself)?

I have a major addiction to “kombucha” which is this nasty, sour, slimy fermented Chinese mushroom tea. Not the kind that causes hallucinations though. Now that would be interesting! I can’t seem to stop drinking this stuff. I recently started a trade where a voice student is paying me for lessons in kombucha. You can tell I have issues when I turn down cash for Chinese mushroom tea.

During a race or long run, what I eat is a bit different. Being a vegan, pretty much all you eat is fiber, and that’s not exactly good while you’re running unless you want to end up in the port-a-pot for half of the time you’re on the course. I’ve done that, by the way. NEVER eat beans before a long run. I’ve done that too. BAD bad idea. I do the typical gel thing during long runs, usually Hammer gel, and I love Sharkies. Those things rock. I also suck on a lot of hard candy. Lately, I’ve gotten into the old-fashioned horehound candies! Those are really good during long runs. For real food, I tend to do pretzels, bagels, peanut butter, orange slices and potatoes. I try to eat or consume about 300 calories per hour when running, between solid food, gels or Sharkies, and sports drinks. I hate eating while running; you just don’t feel like eating most of the time, but you know you have to.

1. Why do you do this?
There’s the mother of all questions. And I can’t answer it. Some snotty people might say: “If I have to explain it, than you just wouldn’t understand.” That just feels a little mean, so I don’t say that to people unless they’re jerks and I don’t want to talk to them.

I’ve always been into running. I started running cross-country in seventh grade and ran all through high-school. With the exception of a few years in my late teens and early 20s where I was more interested in partying than health, I’ve been running consistently ever since (I’m 30 years old now). I knew right after I got married in 2002 that I would start training for a marathon. While I was training, a few months before my marathon, a read an article in Runner’s World on Dean Karnazes, a very famous ultrarunner who wrote a book called “Ultramarathon Man.” (Highly recommend.) The same article included a training plan for a 50 miler. I decided then that I would run a 50 miler and gave myself two years to train for it. I ended up doing the American River 50 in 2007 in 11:46. Not exactly a time to brag about, but for my first try, it wasn’t too bad (I’ve since cut my 50 mile time down to 10:38).

I’m not sure why I continue to run. It’s fun – at times – but it’s really hard. And it hurts. But I can’t seem to stop. Perhaps I’m running from something, a past I’m ashamed of at times and can’t seem to let go of. Maybe I was dropped on my head as a small child. (That’s a joke – don’t take offense, Mom!) I might even be over-compensating, trying to get back at all of those kids in middle school who would pick me last in gym class for their dodgeball team. It’s amazing how hard it is to stop hearing those negative voices in your head.

I don’t think the “why” matters, so I don’t analyze it much. What matters is the kind of happiness running brings me. I find that I’m more relaxed, more centered, and more generous with others because of running. Maybe more people should try running! Hey – if I can do it, with my non-existent talent for the sport, ANYBODY can!

the trailmonster’s first post

6 07 2008

So – a bunch of my friends and family officially believe that I’ve left the world of “normal.” (Whatever that might be!). Why?

It’s all because of my relatively recent foray into ultrarunning. While I’ve been running my entire life (since 1988, in fact – and I was born in 1977!), I settled for 5K’s and even one marathon in ’05. But I had a revelation while training for my first marathon that I needed to go much, much farther. 26.2 doesn’t exactly reach much of a threshold of pain and suffering the same way that ultras can. OK, call me masochistic…

It’s all pretty hilarious and absurd. All of you – my wonderful loved ones – continue to be my biggest fans and support me through the lost toenails, feet that a pedicurist will refuse to touch, and extreme chafage in body parts better left to the imagination EVEN THOUGH most of you think I’ve completely lost it. Running at noon through desert-y canyons in winter weather gear for 15 miles on a Thursday? Getting up BEFORE 3 am to meet friends in the mountains for a lovely 6-7 hour adventure when I just went to bed at midnight? The pre-run hour-long ritual of lubing feet and body parts (not that it ever does much good but has some sort of placebo-like effect) before heading out for a 30 mile jaunt on a Saturday? Running through Mission Valley streets in the middle of the day covered in head-to-toe black looking like some inane burglar with a very large fanny pack that keeps riding up from the waist to the boobies? Sounds good to me. But for some reason, some of you seem to think this is somewhat odd.

You’d think that all of this dedication and hours of training might indicate my excellence at the sport of ultrarunning. Um…not exactly. I thought I’d start this blog as a bit of a humor post to highlight what it’s like to be an ultrarunner at the back of the pack, the caboose. To be slow as hell but still dedicated to the sport. To have the philosophy of “if you’re not enjoying the scenery, then you’re just too damn fast.” And why the heck not – let’s take a break and get some pictures!

While keeping friends and family up to date on my adventures, perhaps I can give my fellow tortoises some encouragement and solidarity! Here’s to all of you fellow slowpokes. Those of us who don’t look like sleek cheetahs on the trail. Those of us who have the most laughs – and the most fun out there. The “Trailmonster” thinks you’re the best.

The Trailmonster in Colorado, dying at altitude...

The Trailmonster in Colorado, dying at altitude...