Friday, August 29, 2014

The 5 W's (and one WTH) of Ultrarunning

"We will always ask ourselves the same questions."
Paulo Coelho

In any ultra race it will come.  That juncture in the road when you start to question your sanity.
"Who do I think I am? 
 What the hell was I thinking?
Where am I?  
When will this be over?  
Why am I doing this?   
How will I ever finish?"  
You can't fight it, it's inevitable.  But I find that it does help if you come up with the answers to the W questions (and that one WTH) before you even hit the starting line...... and way before that WTH moment punches you in the gut, knocks you to the ground and calls you a baby.  

You.  Only you.  You are the only one who can finish this race.  Not your pacers, not your crew, not your coach or your trainer.  You.  You're the hero in this story.

You were thinking this was a good asked to be here, so you're going to train.    Hard.  Almost every day.  You're going to figure out what you need to keep moving whether its nutrition, hydration, slowing down your pace.  You learn the tricks of the trade BEFORE race day so when that moment hits, you're prepared with the ammunition to fight back.

When you feel like it, and when you don't.  On summer days that suck the life out of you, and in the cool splendor of fall.  Wearing 3 layers of clothing or 4 layers of sweat.  When your legs are heavy and tired. When your friends are going to happy hour.  When the stars are out and the rest of the world is sleeping. Whether you feel like nothing could stop you, or you can bearly crawl, you train.  You run.

Because its fun.  Because you can.  So you can fight the demons.  So you can prove your worth to yourself. For adventure.  For freedom.  WHATEVER it is, determine your why.  It's the most important answer for you to memorize.  Write it on your hand.   It's the answer that gets you out of the aid stations.

How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.
Stay in this moment and bring what it gives you.  Remember that it doesn't always get worse.  And when you want to quit....don't.

Will it be easy?  No
Worth it?  Absolutely

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Creating balance

"I can't believe that we would like in our graves 
wondering if we had spent our living days well
I can't believe that we would like in our graves 
wondering what we might have been."
Dave Matthews 

In case you weren't aware....I'm a little competitive.
Sometimes I am my only competition, but I always strive to be better, stronger, faster, more efficient
(insert adjective here).
As a self renounced adrenaline junkie, pushing my limits and getting out of my comfort zone completely turns me on, but it does not bode well for creating balance in my life.

The dishes are piled up in my sink, I haven't washed my hair in two days or called my parents in weeks, yet I've done 4 workouts in the past 48 hours, came in top salesperson at work yesterday and I'm caught up on client schedules and communication.  You know.... priorities.

My friend Mike used to joke that "anything worth doing is worth doing to the extreme right?"   Our addiction to running, work, people,  WHATEVER (insert noun here) is just not healthy. But how do we find balance as athletes/workhorses/approval seekers?

I try to think of it this way.  If I knew I was dying at the end of the week, would those extra miles or the fact that you put in 55 hours at work this week really matter?
And if you knew that was the case, what changes would you make?

For me that means spending more time with family and friends.
Playing outside.
Going to bed without setting the alarm.
Eating food that is so amazing you close your eyes to savor each bite.
Snuggling under a cozy blanket and letting him pick the movie.
Good wine and intelligent conversation on the porch.
Happy tears
Writing your stories.
And doing all of this without feeling one ounce of guilt or regret.

Thomas Merton said  "Happiness is not a matter of intensity, but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony."
I don't know about you....but I think I'm leaning a little to far to the left.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Everything is possible for those who believe

"'If you can'?" said Jesus. 
"Everything is possible for one who believes."
Mark 9:23

I know running. 
Ask me about  VO2 Max, lactate threshold, mid-foot strike and the latest Garmin.  Verbiage like tempo runs, EVA, refueling, and foam rolling have become an essential part of my every day vocabulary.   I can even tell you which shorts will make your ass look fast. 

But more than that runners...I know what makes you tick.   
Be it adrenaline pulsing through your veins or zen-like peace 
Belonging as part of the group, or thriving in solidarity 
Finding yourself or losing your mind
Being more.  Needing less.
Pushing the limits or surrendering in ease
Winning the race or coming in Dead Fucking Last.......
I've been there.  I know why you run. 

So when I made the choice to become a running coach, I had ultimate faith that I was doing what I was gifted to do.  What I was SUPPOSED to be doing.  Within 3 weeks clients started coming and I was easily meeting store goals. The work was both effortless and purposeful.  I loved listening to each persons story, and became refueled by the positive energy of my team.  For the first time in a LONG time I did not dread going to work and I actually enjoyed my days.  
And then I got my first paycheck.
And had my second ever panic attack.  
And I was paralyzed by fear. 

I pulled out my "faith rock."  

The "faith rock" was gifted to me by Paula Billman during my Tejas 300 attempt.  I was completely skeptical that I would be able to finish Rocky Raccoon 100 with the way my legs felt that day, and I was having a similar panic attack to the one previously mentioned.  My divorce finalized the week before the race and I didn't know how I was going to make it, or if I even cared anymore.  Paula curled the rock into my palm- and told me to have faith.  

Brene Brown says that "Faith is a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see, and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty."   
I have experienced this "fear of uncertainty" many times in my life, mostly recently fighting cutoffs at Western States.   But during that race I kept hearing a voice in my head saying "Just keep doing what you're doing, and you'll be okay."
After receiving my paycheck, the first thing I did was to email a friend expressing my doubt. I told him my fear that I had made the wrong decision.  But before he could even answer me,  I messaged him back saying "Fuck it. I'm not going to worry about it.  I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing and it will be okay.  Even if I'm barely making cutoffs, I'm still in the race." 

Faith.  I don't know how its going to happen, but it's going to happen.  
Because I know running and I love runners. 
Everything is possible for one who believes.  


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Freedom in forgiveness

Then Peter came and said to Him, 
"Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?"
 22Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven."
Matthew 18:22 

It's the classic country western song:  "Don't tell my heart, my achy breaky heart...." 
Because we are human, we've all been hurt. 

Lies scar....
We feel betrayed. 

Words bruise
We are inadequate.

Death torments-
We are left alone. 

And  the irony of our chore in this pain and affliction?    
Its laughable at its best and unimaginable at its worst.   

In this day and age forgiving seems unnatural, a weakness of sorts.  But Lewis Smede says "forgiving is loves power to break natures rule. It's loves toughest work and loves biggest risk." 
To forgive is to love.  To love is to be vulnerable.  All the good shit happens in vulnerability.  

Forgiving someone doesn't mean that what happened was ok, or even that you need to allow that person back in your life.  Forgiveness is simply making peace with the pain, and choosing to let go. 

I'm all about breaking the rules in the name of love.  
Time to let go.   Freedom awaits.   


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Powerful Beyond Belief. WS 100 Race Report

"So when you're searching for that rainbow
I will help you find it
And when a mountain stands before you
I will help you climb it
Just follow where I lead
I'll give you what you need
A love that's always true
And someone who believes in you."
Air Supply

I don't belong here.
It's the thought that won't go away, and standing at the starting line of the Western States 100 with several of the worlds finest ultra runners, it nags me like a fly buzzing in my ear.  I try to shoo it aside because the clock is counting down, and here we go.......

Miles 0-16 
"Courage Dear Heart" 
CS Lewis
As we start the 2,550 vertical foot climb into Emigrant Pass, a quiet and nervous energy embraces us.  Blessed to be breathing 40 degree mountain air, I remember to look back and watch the tangerine sun rise over Lake Tahoe.  I am lucky to be here,  because Western States is a very hard race to get in to.  First, you must do a qualifying race.  Then there is the lottery process.  The probability of being selected is a function of the number of applicant names in the hat versus the number of slots available to be filled. For example, the number of entrants in the 2013 hat was 2295, with a total ticket count of 3555. Based on an expected draw of 270, the probability of being selected with a single name in the hat was 7.9%.  I would have had 4 tickets.  But still.

My friend Libby Jones was a race sponsor this year, and I was blessed to be asked to represent The Active Joe  as a qualified race participant.  But do I really belong here?

Everyone warned me to take this first climb easy, so I settle in behind the infamous Gordon Ainsleigh (race founder and trail god) listening to his stories of why he chose California as the place to hang his hat- something about Utah being too cold and Texas having too many snakes.   The hardest climbs always produce the best scenery, and I cheer seeing my friend Dave Carder at the summit.  I give him a big hug (maybe too big) and start to head down.  My legs feel great.  Misson #1 accomplished.  I really enjoy the rolling terrain, breathtaking scenery and the community of my tribe during this part of the race, and as I stroll into Lyons Ridge, my friend (Tahoe Rim race director) Squirrel is waiting for me.  There is just something about seeing people you love out on the race course that makes your whole body smile.  George helps me refill my  pack and reminds me to "be smart out there."  Yes.  I assure him that I am, but as I look at my watch for the first time I see that I am 10 minutes behind the 30 hour cut off time.  I try not to panic, as I took that climb slowly on purpose.....but there is that thought again.  I don't belong here.  I shake it off and keep running to the next aid station at Red Star Ridge.  Now 5 minutes behind.

Miles 16-30
"You have to leave the city of your comfort, and go into the the wilderness of your intuition."
Alan Alda
This is usually the best part of the race for me, the time when I sit back and enjoy the ride, but I am starting to worry.  I haven't seen this part of the course and it is much harder than I imagined it would be.  The climbs are tough and the downhill is rocky and slippery- much of it unrunnable for a mortal like me.  I slide down into Duncan Canyon, now 5 minutes behind.  It's starting to get hot, and the climb out of there is a son of a bitch.  I reach Robinson Flat to see my crew right on time.  Dammit.  I cannot get ahead, and now with all of the changing socks, eating and trying to get it together at this aid station, I am 8 minutes behind, and visibly pissed.  My crew is patient and calm, and Chris Knodel tells me to "stop worrying about the 30 hours and just continue making the cutoffs.  90% of the people who make it to Forest Hill will finish the race."  This seemed like something I could actually wrap my head around.  So I got out of that chair and headed onward to Miller's Defeat.

Miles 30-55
"What is so great about life is that you are constantly starting over, all the time, and I love that."
Billy Crystal
From here on out I know what the course looks like, thanks to attending the training camp in May.  I remember how excited I was on that first day of camp, how amazing I felt being there on this course, on that day; and I decide to hit the reset button; to literally pretend that I am just starting today's run.  After all, I've run on tired legs hundreds of times in training, so here we go- day one of training camp.  I put on my music and forget for a while, sailing downhill to the last chance aid station.  I am (FINALLY) 5 minutes ahead of pace at this point and feeling more in control as I start to pass people.  I take it easy, even walking much of the screaming downhill to the river crossing to save my quads, and climb with purpose (mosquitoes can be a great motivator) into Devils Thumb.  Still passing people.  That's good.  Down again, up again into Michigan Bluff where I see Laura beaming.  "You're smiling!" she sang.   I'm ahead of cutoff.  Still in the game.
" I'm ok.  Let's be quick here so we can spend more time at Forest Hill." I tell her.  Libby hands me my flashlight, and we're off.

Miles 55- 80
"Don't let fatigue make a coward out of you."  
Steve Prefontaine
Laura is beautiful and sparkly.
I am haggard and worn out. 
She wants to talk.
I don't.
She runs ahead.   
I lag behind.
I lost my expensive and perfectly powerful LED Lenser flashlight earlier in the day, and am stuck with a dull cheap one, and a headlamp that keeps sliding down to my eyebrows.  I can't see shit which makes me grouchy once again.  Laura chats up German car engineering with a few of the guys we're walking with (she really is the bombdiggity) and I hang on to her skirt tail.  Up and down and down and up we make it to Forest Hill where I see my Facebook friend Jose.  "I've been waiting for you all day!" he exclaims.
 "Yeah.  I know."

I have mixed feelings about the time I spent at Forest Hill.  I ate, changed everything, and to Libby's disgust popped about 4 blood blisters and redressed them.  It seemed like I was spending forever there, but I knew that I needed to take care of myself going into the night, and that this was the place to do it.  Laura and I hobbled out of there, and as I choked down half a sandwich I wasn't sure how I would start running.    But once we hit the trail, I was able to shuffle off again.  My toes felt better, and I knew the time spent at the aid station was worth it.
Most of 63-80 is a complete blur to me.  I know I had some sections of good running coming out of Forest Hill.  I remember Laura pulling me.  I remember yelling at her (completely uncalled for and I owe her something in a blue Tiffany's box now ) when she could not tell me what mile we were on leaving Peachstone.  I remember a heartless climb somewhere around 73, and  saving another runner's ass from making a wrong turn there.  I remember looking for the illusive Rucky Chucky gate, finally reaching it, and the second river crossing.  Of course, right on freaking time.
Laura was so excited crossing the river, and on the other side a handsome volunteer (call me!) changed my wet shoes and socks (I love you!).  I changed clothes and ate again, preparing for the 2 mile climb out to Green Gate.
Where there is a river crossing, there is always a climb out.  

Miles 80-100.2
"When the train goes through the tunnel and it gets dark, you don't throw away the ticket and jump off.  You sit and trust the engineer."  Corrie Ten Boom

Libby has a much more detailed account of this part of the race on her blog if you would like to read it, but this is where I am fighting hard.  1 minute ahead of the stupid cut off.  I don't belong here.  I can't get ahead.  Damn this is frustrating.  I have to keep running. 
I try run intervals, counting to 100 in my head and then taking a 30 second walk break.  I decided to put my music on instead and to zone out.  Libby is great, telling me "2 miles to the next aid station."
"Now one mile to the next aid station."  We come into Auburn Lake like clockwork and spend no time messing around as the warning horn blows.  We could hear the music as we headed into Browns Bar, but we couldn't see it.  I was finally going to be ahead of cut off?  Where was it?
We ran past the blaring music.  "Fuck!  That's just a speaker.  Where's the damn aid station?"  I lost it, and Libby lied and told me she could see it ahead to pacify me.
My delirium was averted a bit, though when a familiar face at Brown's Bar put his hand on my arm,  looked me in the eyes (cue the music!) and told me I was going to make it.  I nodded a weary (and somewhat dreamlike) yes and moved on. I reached deep in the hollows of my brain to try to decipher why that guy looked so familiar.
"Was that Hal Koerner? " I asked Libby.
"Yeah.   He wanted your autograph.....but we needed to keep moving."

The climb before HWY 49 was a real bitch.  I just put my head down and followed the feet in front of me.  It was hot.  It was hard.  Slippery.  Rocky.  My feet hurt.  Please shoot me and put an end to this misery.  But as we roll down into the aid station gorgeous Laura is there again to take care of us.  "You've got this." an aid station worker told me, and I burst into tears.  "What if I mess it all up now?  At mile 93?"  I say through sobs.
 (I don't belong here)

"Time to get going" Laura answers.  The three of us hug and Libby and I are climbing again. 
Passing people on the way to No Hands Bridge (and only passed by the girl in the Luna sandals- dammit ) my confidence begins to increase.  As exhausted as I am, I finally start to relax.  My friend Jose is there again waiting, and Libby tells me I have an hour to do a 5K.  For the first time I actually believe I'm going to make it.
Right here. 
At mile 97.

It was getting really hot.  We would run, counting to 30, and then walk counting to 30 until we reached the last climb.  Sheer will pulled me up to Robie Point, knowing I would soon be on the road one mile from the finish.  This seems to be the longest road EVER, but my friend Jesus is there with a goofy smile, beer and camera in hand, telling us we have 4 turns to the finish line.

Something weird always happens to me in the last mile of an ultra,  and here that feeling is again as I run around the track at Placer High.  I don't want it to end.
Crossing the finish line with  17 minutes to spare was surreal.
I had found my brave.
 I had the buckle in my hand.
I belonged at that awards ceremony.

Do you even know how strong you are?  Do you know what you are capable of?   There is a collective universal energy that makes us powerful beyond belief.
I know that now as I read your many posts and well wishes sent along the way.

"I was tracking you all day and night."
"Come on Jenn, you're a fighter."
"We've been cheering for you from Dallas all day!"
"You're my inspiration."

Thank you for believing in me when I did not believe in myself.
I finished the Western States 100, finding the place where I belong.
Maybe Gordy and I will be neighbors someday. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

You have to taper- so taper like you mean it!

“Rest and be thankful.”
William Wordsworth

I hear it all the time:
"I just can't taper, it makes me crazy."  
"I don't know what to do with myself if I can't run (ride, swim, workout)"
"Tapering is for sissies.  Who needs to taper?"  

I love the taper.  Damn- it reminds me that I actually have a life!
I sleep past 4 a.m. for shorter runs and replace that 2nd daily workout with a nap.
I cook rich foods and eat until I am full and satisfied.
I call and catch up with friends, or set out to the porch to finish those half-read books.
I watch bad "Teen Disney" movies and snuggle with my kids. 
I give the extra 30 minutes my massage therapist has been begging me for,
and allow my body to receive much needed repair time.
I write, and plan, and paint mental pictures for each mile.  

And when all of  that extra energy builds to a paramount climax -
the horse gets let out of the barn for an epic race day.  

Friday, June 20, 2014

Get out and play! The Joy and Meaning List

"I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try"


I can't get enough of Brene Brown lately.  I think we must be soul sisters  because her books speak to me as if she were sitting across the table, chatting it up and drinking Merlot.

Recently, while reading her book The Gifts of Imperfection I was struck by this quote: 
"If we want to live a wholehearted life, we have to become intentional about cultivating sleep and play, about letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity of self worth."  

What does "cultivating sleep and play" look like?
Do you even know?
Renee suggests we make a "joy and meaning" list to answer this question.  When things are going really well in your life, what does that look like? 

My personal "joy and meaning" list looks like this:

More Free Time.
Time to savor my morning coffee, linger at the Farmer's Market, run that extra mile or take an afternoon nap

More Connection
Pancake Breakfasts with my kids.  Happy hour with co-workers.  Meditating alone or group workouts.

More Travel
Mountain climbing, waterfalls, barefoot walks on the beach and winery tours.
Snow, sunsets, visiting old cemeteries and river rafting.

More time outside
Sunshine on your shoulders.   Maniacal downhills on your bike.  Swimming in lakes where you can't see shit. Exploring that cave.

More smiling
Silliness.  Laughing.  Kissing. Singing.

What does your list look like?  Are you willing to let go of exhaustion as a status symbol?
Live wholeheartedly.  Get out and play.