Feeling Lucky

lucky

Every once in awhile, it occurs to me how lucky I am and how I take many things for granted. I had this very thing happen during my run last Thursday.  I was out on a trial I had only been on one other time. It’s very beautiful with aspens trees standing right up against the trail edge, and as you climb higher this changes to a pine forest. The temperatures dropped with each step up toward the saddle of Lambs Canyon Pass. I watched the sun rise from behind the mountains surrounding me. I heard the rustle of birds, squirrels, and all manner of other small creatures waking up.

Whenever I realize how lucky I am to have the opportunity to be out on the trial, I stop and just breathe it all in and try to appreciate it. I think about everything that has to happen and come together to allow me to be out there such as time, where you live, financial ability, freedom, work schedule, family support, and obviously health.

Injuries make us stop and think about how much we do have as runners. It’s unfortunate that, in many aspects of life, we forget what we have until it is gone. As a western society, I think we tend to focus on the negative things in our lives. With our focus on the things which are going wrong or badly in our lives, we lose sight of what is going well and how much we have.

In the United States, there are still many people who live way below the poverty line and lack the ability to meet their own basic needs. But there are also many who are able to do so and those who are able to have enough financial means to provide for their wants and desires as well.

It’s important to remember and be grateful for how much we have compared to those who have so little in our own community and worldwide. This change in perspective will make you more content in your daily life. We all have struggles and obstacles we face at various stages in our lives and because of our choices. Dealing with stressors is easier when you see the things that are positive in your life.

Life gets busy for all of us and we lose sight of the positive things in our lives, but once things slow down stop and remember the beauty in your life. Surround yourself  with small reminders of the positive things in or to slow down and see them.

Next time you are out there with your feet floating over the trail or pavement, take thirty seconds, breathe in the beauty that surrounds you, and call to mind all that is positive in your life.

Feeling Good, Feeling Bad

mountain sunriseMuch like the rest of life, there are going to be good days and there are going to be bad days out there on the trail or road even in the gym, swimming pool or on the bike.

This raised a couple of questions: first, how do you deal with the bad day during the run; second, how do you even get out there when you know it is going to be a struggle.

I had this very thing happen a few weekends ago. It’s one thing to deal with a bad day during a short run, but to get through a long run? Ugh, it’s tough. My weekend called for back to back long runs of 27 miles and 25 miles. I chose to do my 27 mile run with a lot of climbing. It took me a lot longer than I had planned, but the run was beautiful. On Sunday, I chose a flat trail. I knew it would be a tough run from the moment I woke up. It was hard to get out of bed. And even as I was getting ready, I thought about going back to bed. I was behind anyway.

I made it to the trail about twenty minutes late. It took a while to get warmed up and I struggled the whole way. I fell hard at mile 23 and sat in the middle of the trail wanting to quit for the day. I nearly had myself convinced I could just sluff off the last four miles. But I got up and finished.

So what did I do to get myself out the door? I have a morning routine and I stuck to it. Even while my mind was saying go back to bed, the rest of me was going through the motions of getting ready to go. I had packed my hydration pack and set out my clothes the night before, which didn’t leave me a lot of time to think about not going in the first place.

Each time the thought of not going came up, I reminded myself of all the times I had been tired and run anyway. I felt great once I got going and was always glad I had finished my run. I reminded myself how much I love being on the trail in the morning hours and listening to the forest wake up. I told myself I could take a nap after my run if I needed it. Once I was out the door, there was no turning back.

I kept going on the trail despite the low energy, low mood, and fall by reminding myself I would be happy I finished. I told myself it was good for me to struggle through long runs on occasion because I would struggle at some point during a race and I needed to be able to deal with it and keep going. And not just keep moving forward, but keep running a pretty good pace. I knew this would be one of those runs I would rely on in the future when I was having a difficult time. I also know from other difficult runs, that the sun always comes up. In other words, it gets better if you just keep going.

Everyone has hard days where their energy and mood are not conducive to a long run. Remind yourself of how great you feel when you are out there and after the run. Remember hard runs make you stronger mentally and physically. Most importantly, the sun always rises.

On Your Left!

trail runners

I became focused as I reached the top of the pass. I knew the narrow rocky descent was going to require much of my attention. I had to move my feet and stay on my toes. Missteps resulted in falls onto unmerciful rock and sticks. I loved these descents because it became a game to me about how fast I could really move my feet.

I glanced down the trail right as I dropped over the saddle. There was two hikers about half way to the bottom. The first few meters of the trail weren’t bad, but the farther you got down the slope the rockier it got, not to mention the steepness increased as well. My pace quickened. My feet balanced on the edge of certain injury with the catch of a toe or a roll of an ankle. My eyes moved back and forth between my next step and ten to fifteen feet in front of me.

“On your left,” I call out as I near a hiker picking through the rock carefully.

_____

What do you think this hiker did?

Yeah, he moved to the left and I ended up dancing around him. Luckily I didn’t eat dirt.

“On your left,” must be the most confusing statement any cyclist or runner can make. It is intended to warn those in front of you that you are going to pass them on their left side. What the person in the front hears is, “Move to your left.”

I’ve spent some time thinking about this problem because it’s happened many times. I liken it to showing someone a picture of the word Blue written in red and asking them to tell you what color the word is.

I would like to experiment with this by calling out, “move left” instead of, “on your left.” My hang up is I don’t want to sound rude and have people develop animosity toward trail runners or cyclists.

I’ve also considered calling out “on your right” and then passing on their left, but sometimes you get that one person who is probably a trail runner or cyclist themselves and they move in the proper direction.

Ideally, hikers and slower runners would listen for others coming down the trail behind them and just move over. This doesn’t happen, partially, because people have their ear buds in. The other part, I think, is they are lost in their own thoughts.

At this point, trail runners and cyclist have to call out early and be ready to move to the opposite side to pass.

Do any of you call out something different and get better results?

Rest

rest

Have you ever sleep a good eight hours only to get up more exhausted than when you went to bed? We all have. Just because you have gone to sleep does not mean that you have rested. There are four types of rest: Physical, sensory, emotional, and mental rest.

Everyone is familiar with physical rest. You lie down and don’t move your body more than necessary to remain comfortable. The importance of physical rest is pounded into every runners head. It’s essential to making gains in strength and speed. Without it, our bodies break down and we get injured. Even if you are getting eight or nine hours of sleep a night, it may not be enough to keep you going at a high level of training. Take a look at the other types of rest.

Sensory rest is when you rest your senses. Sensory overload can effect anyone. Everyone has a different tolerance for the amount of sensory input they can handle before they have a total melt down and withdraw from the stimulation. Young children are particularly vulnerable to sensory overload. But so are adults especially when it is multiple senses. It’s okay to check out for a bit. Close your eyes, cover your ears, or just go into a dark room. It’s like pushing the reset button. Allowing your senses to rest even for a brief moment keeps them fully available to you when you need them.

Emotional overload is one of the most significant forms of exhaustion I’ve ever experienced. It makes me feel tired for days. Preventing emotional overload is not always possible. One of the reasons it’s so draining is because it comes when you aren’t expecting it. Life throws a curve ball at you and there is no getting around dealing with it. This can be the death of someone close to you or a crisis in your life. It can also happen when you are taking on the emotional problems of those around you. The best way to rest your emotions is to step back and ground yourself in the present. Try to let go of worries about the future and guilt over the past. Just be present.

Mental rest is all about stopping the Tasmanian devil from stirring up your thoughts. Whirling thoughts keep you up at night and make you feel flighty during the day. You jump from idea to idea. Your ability to focus on one thing is thirty seconds at best. The result from all this; mental tiredness. The way to rest is the same as it is for emotional rest. Step back and ground yourself.

To really recover and continue to push our bodies, a full body and mind rest is essential. It’s hard to do and somedays it will be impossible. For me, running makes it much easier to take advantage of all four types of rest. It clears my mind of thoughts and lets my emotional baggage fly away on the wind. Out on the trail my senses get the sweet taste of nature and my body burns off all the energy so I slide into sleep quickly each night.

Rest fully and run Happy.

Vacation or…

runcation

So you’re going on vacation and it’s the middle of training season. Do you see your running as a hindrance or an opportunity when you are going on vacation? Maybe it’s not you who sees it as a hindrance, but everyone going with you.

Vacations can be a great way to run in new places and with new people. You can look into running routes on line and even email a local running club. Runners of clubs are usually more than happy to take someone out and show them their favorite trails and routes through the city. You may create long lasting friendships in different parts of the country or world.

If you are going out on your own, you should make sure you have some money on you in case you need to take a bus or taxi back to your hotel or stop for water or food along the way. A cell phone is also a good idea.

Your whole vacation doesn’t need to revolve around your running and in fact if you are going to be gone for less than two weeks you can cut back and just do some maintenance runs of 4-5 miles a few times each week.

If you are going to run a race while you’re there, try to time it during the first part of your vacation that way you can take the rest of the time off and not worry about what you eat and how it will impact your run. You might be a little sore, but just take along your foam roller and roll each night to work out the knots and lactic acid build up. Getting moving each day will help you recover faster, just don’t overdo it.

That’s all fine and good, you’re the runner after all. You’re excited to run in new places. But what about the family and friends you’re bringing along. The easiest solution is for them to find things they want to do while you are running. They could have their own adventures while you’re out having yours. Or you can just get your ass out of bed before they get up and get your run in that way it doesn’t interfere with the plans you have. You’ll just be a little more tired.

What if you can’t run? Look for something else that is going to keep your body moving. It won’t help in the fitness zone, but long walks, hikes, swimming, cycling all of these will help siphon off some of that energy. If you completely stop running and being active, you have a lot of extra energy to burn off. You may not be able to sleep or you could be fidgety driving everyone else and yourself up a wall.

Do what you can while you’re on vacation. If that means no running, that’s okay too. Just make sure you have enough fun to make it worth it.

Heroes and Angels

heroes and angels

I love aid station volunteers. A Lot. They have saved countless runners who are ready to quit. They have assisted grumpy and rude runners with a smile. They’ve helped change dirty smelly runners socks and shoes. They stand out in the cold and rain patiently waiting for the last runner to come through.

They are heroes and angels.

Last year I decided to make heroes out of my running team. Well, they were already my heroes since they are my ultrarunning crew and pacers, but I wanted them (and me) to be heroes to other runners too.

We decided to man aid station 13 at mile 89 of the Salt Flats 100. I soon found out just how hard it is to pull off a successful aid station. There is actually a lot involved if you want runners to leave feeling as best as they can at mile 89.

Race directors supply their aid stations with as much as they can depending on the money from registration after other costs and sponsors for the race. This means supplies can very greatly depending on how big and well known the race is.

Salt Flats 100 is not a big race. It doesn’t fill up days after opening registration. Most years it doesn’t fill up at all. Because of this, my team brings a lot of our own stuff to create a refuge for the runners.

Runners don’t ask for much at mile 89. What they want is a bit of shelter, food, and encouragement.

Shelter: my team puts up two big canopies and walls off three and a half sides to create a shelter for the runners. Salt Flats 100 is run in the west desert of northern Utah. If you’ve seen the movie “Independence Day” the scene where Will Smith is dragging the alien through the desert on a parachute was filmed at the Salt Flats. It’s barren and exposed. There are mountains, but those are also barren and exposed.

Food: by mile 89 runners are either hungry and want real food or they are having significant stomach issues and would rather die than eat food. Most are in the former category. My team brings out a big camp kitchen and a propane pizza oven. We’re able to make pizza and quesadillas in the evening and night and then breakfast burritos and pancakes in the morning. We also bring the snacks we love to have when we run.

Encouragement: the “You’ve got this” attitude is a must for aid station volunteers. My goal is to never have a runner drop at my aid station. It gets ugly out there and pushing forward when your exhausted, want to vomit, and have torn up feet is tough. The front of the pack runners come through strong and don’t stay very long. The longer the runner is out on the course, the greater the beating their body takes. It’s harder to go slower. I know it’s the same distance, but it’s not the same race.

I mean think about it, the back of the pack is usually less experienced, less trained, or injured. Their mental state has been going up and down for miles and hours. Their stomach is likely to be in bad shape because of the duration of effort being pumped out. They are more exhausted. They’ve been exposed to the weather longer. They’ve been on their feet pounding away with sweat and dirt in their shoes for much longer than the front of the pack.

Volunteering for an ultra aid station is rewarding and it’s hard work.

Thank you to all the aid station heroes and volunteers.

angels and heroes

Run Your Own Race

running hills

I’m writing this blog post to talk about an issue my running partner and I have had to discuss recently. I’m pretty sure other running partners and groups have had to address this same struggle. So I thought I would share my experience.

Carbo (as he likes to be called) just finished his first 100 mile run. I ran the same race, but it was my sixth 100. I’ve been training at the 100 mile level for three years and running consistently for 10. He has been training at the 100 mile level for one year and training as a runner consistently for a year and a half.

Given just this information, you’d expect some differences in our ability and knowledge of running. So here is the struggle when running with a training partner or group. What do you do when one or more of your runners are not able to keep pace for whatever reason?

As the runner who is not able to keep pace you feel like your group is leaving you behind and you feel like you are not as good as the others. You begin to question yourself, your running ability, and your training. You feel bad you can’t keep up and you also feel angry or hurt because they are not waiting for you.

As the runner who is pulling ahead you feel bad because your group is not able to keep up. You wonder if you should slow down. You hope they are not sick or injured. You know they are struggling and you want to help.

I think these feelings are rational and understandable by anyone who has run with others on a consistent basis and formed the bonds of friendship.

So what do you do? You run your own race.

Think about your goals and your groups goals, are they different? If your goal is to complete a specific distance in a specific time, you need to stick to your training and let your friend know why you are not waiting. If your goal is just to run with your friend, by all means slow down and let them set the pace. It’s the same for the other side. If you can’t keep pace, ask yourself what your friend’s goals are. If they are different let them go and do what you need to do to meet your goals or get stronger to keep pace.

Is your runner who is falling behind, injured or anything else that may be holding them back? Obviously you want to know if your friend is hurt, tired, over training or anything else that may be slowing them down. You might be able to help them resolve the issue and if they are hurt encourage them to stop and take care of themselves. On the flip side, know your body and listen to it. There is no shame in taking time off to take care of yourself. Continuing to push to keep up, will only make you fall farther behind and could result in serious injury.

How long do you think the struggle will continue? Short term differences in pace are going to happen. If you are recovering from a race or illness you can fall behind. Don’t stress about it. Let your body recover and then get after it. If there are differences in strength or ability, do what you need to do to get stronger and faster within your own limits. As the faster runner, help your friend become a better runner pass along information or strategies you’ve used to get to where you are. If you believe this will be an ongoing struggle you will have to think about going your separate ways at least as far as running is considered. This is a hard decision to make, but with communication and understanding you can still remain friends and run together on easy days.

Is there value to both runners to work through this struggle to become stronger runners? Every situation offers a lesson if you are open to hearing it. Usually, the longer you ignore it the worse it gets. There are a number of lessons in this situation: listen to your body and take care of it, learn new training strategies, push yourself beyond what you think you can do (so long as you are not injured or over training), communication goes a long way, and whether or not your new training is working.

Realizing your limits and accepting them is hard. We are all different. Running with others is a great way to push yourself and to make gains in your training. You have to run your own race. You have to make decisions which put you in the best spot to accomplish your goals. Maybe this is a little selfish. I’m sure some people think so. And I would tell them, their goals are just different and that’s okay.

Even if you train individually at times and together at others, when you both reach the finish line, you can always celebrate together.

Don’t worry Carbo, I think this is a short term struggle.