my top 10 of 2011

12 01 2012

The beginning of a new year…always is a great time for setting new goals and resolutions!  However, instead of resolving to do a particular “something” this year (a trap I usually fall into, often abandoning the goal within a week or two), I’ve been reflecting about the past year.  2011 was a year of change for me on so many levels.  The biggest change was my relocation to the other side of the country with my husband, forcing me to rethink a lot of the major life choices I’ve made, such as my career path.  Despite my personal life being in a state of transition, I’m grateful for the continuity that running has provided me over the past 20+ years, since I started running cross-country as a middle school student.

2011 was a big running year for me.  I raced in two ultras – both of (slightly over) 100 miles – along with countless training runs of marathon and beyond distances, on both trails and roads.  As I get older, I find that I become more and more of a “soul runner.”  I’m honestly not a big fan of running with the iPod; instead my training time is a form of meditation and inner contemplation away from the distractions I typically face, working from home as a telecommuter.  It seems like I’ve learned a great deal about life in general through meditative running.  As a result, I thought it would be a fun exercise to compile my “top 10 of 2011” running lessons…things that I’ve learned in the past year that have helped me to complete two 100-milers.  This is also my top 10 list to keep in mind for LIFE in 2012.

1.  There are NO magic solutions for success; avoid falling into the traps of trendy “quick fixes.”  Only purpose, persistence and patience will get you to the finish line…not to mention a hell of a lot of hard work.  Yeah, hard work might be a dirty word in today’s internet-obsessed culture, where anything and everything seems to be available at the touch of a button on the iPhone.  But anything worth doing, worth having, or worth achieving rarely comes easily.

2.  That said, the closest thing to a magic formula for health is: good nutrition, enough sleep, and stress reduction.  Again, avoid the trends or anything extreme that tells you that certain things are always forbidden…eat a balanced, sensible diet and be sure to adequately fuel your activity level.  Make self-care a priority…get that 7-8 hours of sleep every night and you’ll feel better, get less sick, and have adequate time to recover.  Don’t kill yourself with stress.  I find it funny how doctors never seem to ask questions about stress, but in my own experience, I get the sickest (or most injured) during periods of intense personal stress.  Don’t undermine the power of stress over your health.

3.  With setbacks or injuries, treat the cause and not just the symptoms.  Sure, it’s easy to pop a pill to make the pain immediately go away, but what caused that pain in the first place?  The best fixes to problems aren’t always obvious, and sometimes it’s a challenge to go beyond the surface level to discover the real issue at hand, but it’s worth the trouble in the long-term.

4.  Just because you can do something, it doesn’t always mean that you should.  Just because something feels good today doesn’t mean that it’s the best thing for tomorrow.  Unwise choices and habits (like overtraining) tend to be cumulative over a long period of time – as in years – before negative effects are noticed.  Do the right thing for yourself and your body.

5.  Only you are responsible for your own success (or failure).  And only you are able to set the terms for both.  It’s so easy to get caught up in what other people are doing and to compare yourself to the achievements of others.

6.  We are all “an experiment of one.”  What works for someone else – a certain type of shoe, a particular training regimen, a dietary plan – may not work for your own unique body and psychology.  Trust your instincts and listen to your body to discover your own path.  And always remember…many times, the best solutions are often the least sexy!

7.  Don’t base your self-worth on validation or recognition from other folks.  At the end of the day, you answer only to yourself.  Whatever you choose to do in life, do it for YOU.

8.  Let’s all just face it…in ultras and in life…there is a certain inevitability (despite our best efforts) to times that simply suck.  Knowing when to muscle through it or when to throw in the towel is true wisdom.  There is an appropriate time for each.

9.  There is no shame in deciding to take much-needed time for yourself.  Everyone needs time to recover and recharge.  It’s always important to help others, but you can’t do that if you yourself aren’t in top shape.

10.  Balance in all things is key.  Remember that there are always other things in life…keep it in perspective.  Enough said.

Hope you’ve enjoyed my top 10 of 2011, and that you have a wonderful 2012 of adventure and discovery.

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!