Friday, November 7, 2014

Zombie Apocalypse Day 2

Waking up the day of an ultra marathon is always a bit of a rude awakening. For me, there is simply no way to wrap my head around running more than 30 miles. So I don't, at least during the training. I put in the work, but when the work is done I try not to talk about it. When I'm running I run. The rest of the time I think about anything else. Of course, on race day it all hits home. Once the alarm goes off it's hard to ignore that there will be some serious running done today.

Waking up last Saturday after riding 110 miles was no different, except the very first thing I did was test out my legs. Are they going to work today? Can I even walk? A bit of a daunting question to be asking yourself on a day you're hoping to run over 50 miles....

Thankfully I could walk. I covered myself with compression tights and socks anyway. I'd learned in training that the worst part of running on tired and sore legs is the jiggling. With that in mind. I was determined to stop any and all jiggling. Today there would be NO JIGGLING. Well, at least until I got hot. Then I'd have to ditch the tights and accept a little jiggle.

At the race, I lined up with the other four girls who'd ridden 100 miles or more the day before. We were all hoping to run over 50 miles (we had to finish 8 laps to qualify for the Hall of Fame, which was about 52 miles) today. My goal, after watching her fluid stride on the LeMans start to the bike the day before, was to stay behind Fleet Feet. I know a good runner when I see one. I also know I don't need to race one in mile one of an ultra. So, Fleet Feet and I ran together from the start. I thought this was all fun and games. We were making friends and maybe we'd run together all day......

That was, until mile four when she said, "Well, you have a nice day!" and scampered off like we were running a 10k.

At the end of lap one, I made a quick pit stop and was quickly joined by Big Wheels, who'd pushed me for many laps on the bike the day before. I was happy to have someone to chat with again. I knew there would be plenty of solo time later. By the middle of lap two, I'd moved slightly ahead and that solo time had come.
Photo by Wes Peck
We started lap three this way, Fleet Feet, then me, then Big Wheels. Halfway through this lap, I had company again, this time from Video Guy, who'd stalked Zilla and I the day before hoping for good footage. When he asked about riding an extra lap the day before, I responded, for some ridiculous reason with, "Yes, I did and I'll run an extra lap today if I have to."

I have absolutely no idea why I decided to smack talk to the video camera less than three hours into a 12 hour race. The second it left my mouth I realized how ridiculous this was. The second it left my mouth I also realized this:

If I came through 8 laps with time to run one more lap and I still hadn't caught Fleet Feet, I would have to back that smack up by running one more lap. 

What had I done?

Photo by Wes Peck

The next five laps are pretty much a blur. I had to ditch the tights after lap three. I crossed paths with Fleet Feet on lap seven and discovered she was 10 minutes ahead. I pushed a bit to see if I could close the gap. When I realized that wouldn't happen, I just hoped I would finish lap eight in 10:15. I was hoping Fleet would stop after lap eight. If she did and I left myself 1:45 for the last lap, I knew I could savor it a bit, not have to rush and still take the win.
Photo by Wes Peck
I came through lap eight in 10:44. The race director gave me a high five, congratulating me on making the Undead Hall of Fame. As he did, the following conversation ensued:

Me: I'm doing one more lap.

Him: You're kidding.

Me: It's a twelve hour race right?

Him: Yes.

Me: Then I have time.

(Or least this is how I remember that conversation. However, since I'd just run 52 miles, I was probably delirious. In which case, I'm not sure if any of the rest of what I say here will be completely correct either, because I was probably delirious from then on.)

Lap nine was run in the dark. To be honest, I really just focused on keeping my shit together. I wanted that lap. I knew it might put me ahead. So I just kept moving.  I tried to savor each bit, reminding myself that this was the last time I'd run that section. With a mile to go, the course exited the woods onto a prairie. When I looked up I saw what my sister and I always called a "fingernail moon" and I remembered something I'd told myself for motivation earlier- that today I had the chance to run for 12 hours. Tomorrow it would be back to life, to work, to everyday worries, but today, today I would get to run for 12 hours. I'd hoped to use as much of it as possible, to squeak every last little bit out of myself. With just a mile to go and the moon to help light the way, I knew I'd done that.

I crossed the line in 11:51, with just nine minutes to spare. The photographer sat next to the line. I turned to him said what had been lingering in the back of my mind that entire lap.

"Please tell me she did not run another lap."

When he assured me that no, Fleet had not run one more lap, I walked into to warm lodge, confident I'd won. The race director was there, to shake my hand again, to congratulate me on my

second place.

Keep in mind here I'd just run over 58 miles. I'd run the last 6.5 thinking I might win if I could just reach the line. For one glorious minute I'd thought I had won.

Needless to say, there was a brief moment of disappointment when I realized that, on the start line I'd completely ignored the fact that this was more than just a race among the girls who'd ridden the day before. I'd failed to take notice of the other women who'd shown up to see how far they could run in 12 hours. One of those women not only ran faster than me, she also ran farther.

Of course, that disappointment was short lived. I'd still moved up into second by running that extra lap and even if I hadn't, the extra hour and thirty-some minutes to savor the day were worth it. 

As I attempted to move through the motions of post-race and discovered I could barely change my own clothes (I was literally naked in the bathroom, contemplating how I was going to get my pants on, when they started awards), I realized I'd literally left nearly every ounce of myself out on the course. On any race day, could I really ask for more?
Photo by Wes Peck
Well, except to live forever in the Undead Hall of Fame and make it into the race video.

Video by Caleb Kobilansky

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Zombie Apocalypse Part 1

Friday, Oct. 24th, 9am:
The car was packed for my next adventure- 12 hours of mountain biking at End Tombed on Saturday followed by 12 hours of running at End Trails on Sunday. My goal- to ride 100+ miles on Saturday and run 50+ miles on Sunday to get into the Undead Hall of Fame.  The training was done, the taper was done, I felt like a caged animal ready to eat something alive. Since there was no fresh meat in the house, I settled for one last breakfast prepared by the awesome Big E before I hit the road.

Saturday, Oct. 25th, 6:30am
I arrived in the parking lot and immediately found crazy LCR teammate Zilla, who I'd somehow talked into joining me for the biking part of this adventure. We set up our feedzone in the dark. Or at least I set up a feedzone. I think Zilla set up some sort of beer drinking, hang out all day zone. He tried to convince me he'd found an empty beer can in his pocket. Ya, right......
Zilla braving the 40 degree temps in his warmest clothing....

The race started with a 1/2 mile run to the bikes. Z got the hole shot. I just tried not to fall on my face. Thankfully I made it onto the bike with no faceplants.
Photo credit: Wes Peck

The course was 10 miles long so I needed to do 10 laps to qualify for hall of fame status. Of course, this was just the goal I'd told people about. Secretly, I really wanted to win both the bike and the run too. However, they were two separate races so I had no idea if someone would show up just to ride and bust out as many laps as possible. My tactic for dealing with this- go to the front as soon as I was comfortable so I'd know where the other girls were. Ya, ya. I know, that was perhaps also a really good way to blow up, but what the hell. I wanted to go for it.

Photo credit: Wes Peck
Photo credit: Wes Peck

By lap five I was finally comfortable riding the bridge over the river (Ok, fine I was never really COMFORTABLE on that bridge) and I thought I was in the lead. Zilla was busy entertaining the crowd with his Halloween costume so I was hoping I might be able to catch him.

Photo credit: Wes Peck (and yes, he rode three laps with his face covered)
Around 4pm:

I came to our feedzone with 90 miles done. Zilla was ready to head out, prepared to to get his single day record in miles. We headed out together, with me talking his ear off after riding alone for the last few laps. The first eight miles flew by, probably because I never shut up. We went over the bridge again and for the 10th time I celebrated not falling in the water. I hooted and hollered and chatted over my shoulder and the next thing I knew I rode smack dab into a tree.

Yes, that's right. On lap 10, after ducking under the same low-lying tree NINE times, I somehow managed to ride into it, despite the fact that it was completely covered in caution tape. Apparently dying my hair red for my Pippi costume didn't make me any less blonde.....

Thankfully, we were able to finish that lap and one more, just in case the other girls pushed passed 100.  We had a bit of fun at the end of lap 11, showing off our team colors for the camera and, of course, racing each other to the finish. (No, I did not let him by when he tried yelling, "On your right," at the last tight turn.)

Photo credit: Wes Peck

Thankfully, there were no crashes on lap 11 because when I took my helmet off, I discovered it had definitely done it's job protecting me from that tree.
After 10 hours on the bike, dinner, awards, an ice bath and a hot shower, I was ready to relax and prepare for Sunday's run. Just in case, I decided to throw a little ice pack under the hat....
Stay tuned for Sunday's run adventure. Four girls had made it through 100 on the bike so the race for the hall of fame was on!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Stinky Shoes and Bruised Egos

I am alive. As usual, no blogging means a lot of living. Someday I will learn to balance both, to share the stories in the small moments between living. For now, I think I spend most of those moments asleep sitting up. Hell, in the last few weeks I think I've actually slept while I was running. As long as I can avoid sleeping while driving I figure it's all good.

So, what have I been doing the last two months? Hmmm. Where to start? The first two weeks after the race involved a bit of rehab. Turns out my hip didn't particularly like hitting the ground at 15 mph so for two weeks there was a lot of this:
When the doc gave me permission to run and ride, I decided to take a little trip and spend some time training to see if the body was ready to fit in one more long race this year. What better place to do this than in my favorite place on earth where I could also spend some quality time with some really, really good people?
After five days, my mind was clear, my spirit was refreshed and my body was tired. Perfect scenario for signing up for my next race. A race had been waiting, lingering in the back of my mind, one which involves 12 hours of mountain biking followed by 12 hours of rest followed by 12 hours of running.

So I signed up, which means most of the rest of the two months since my last post involved training.  Of course there was working and sleeping and eating, but mostly, there was a lot of training. (Although at some point I believe I set some sort of PR in food consumption, but I still trained more hours than I ate. I think.)

My tactic for this race has been this: 

Learn to run on tired legs.

Because, let's face it. There's no way in hell my legs are gonna be fresh after 12 hours of mountain biking. So I trained on tired legs nearly every time I ran, which, in case you're wondering, is an incredible blow to your ego if you were first a runner. It's also quite painful. But then, this race will be painful so I better get used to it. This race could also shatter my ego so I better get used to that too.

I've done a lot of thinking about that over the last two months. How does a person get used to a bruised ego? Of course, I can never be sure if it's the best tactic, but one that has worked for me so far has been to just learn to leave my ego at home. I started a ritual in my mind a few weeks ago, about the same time I relegated my run and bike shoes to the basement because they were too stinky to keep upstairs. When I went downstairs to put them on, I left my ego there, with the other stinky shoes. I figure I'd rather carry stinky-ass shoes around on my feet for five hours than a big-ass ego around on my shoulders that long. It's a good trade off. (At least for me. I'm not sure how this is for anyone who has to be near me when I'm wearing these stinky shoes.)

It's worked so far. I've learned to quit worrying so much about each workout and focus instead on where it's getting me. So I have a bad day. So what. Good athletes (and good people too)  know that it's not always about who you are today. It's about who you're becoming.  Sometimes those crappy training days get you better prepared for race day than any of the great days.

Today, Sebastian Kienle won the Ironman World Championship. When he was interviewed at the end, he talked about a bad training day he had and said, " Never, ever judge your life by one bad day. Judge it by the best day."

Yes. Yes. Yes. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

1,440 Minutes

My awesome support crew clearing a path to the canopy.
I've long thought that the key to endurance racing was mastering the art of quickly forgetting how much each race hurt.  I know it might seem like I'm a glutton for punishment, but really, I'm not. I just have a really short memory.

Somehow this memory got me to the start line of a 24 hour mountain bike race with the false hope it might not hurt that much. Yes, I know that's ridiculous, but I'd never line up if I thought about the pain so I choose to start each race clueless.

That said, I'm sure there were numerous people who actually thought I really was clueless when I stood right at the front of the group for the Le Mans start of Wausau 24. What that means is this: I'd chosen to stand in front of a couple hundred people, most of whom were bigger than me and all of whom were about to sprint full-speed for their bikes, which were placed a few hundred yards away.

Let's just say that when the gun went off, all I could do was sprint like hell and hope I didn't get trampled by a bunch of dudes with metal on their shoes.

That said, I made it to my bike safely and even beat Big E to the start of the singletrack. (Don't worry, I let him by, but only because I knew if I crashed in front of him he'd yell "ramp" and run me over!) For once, I actually had a good start. No one was yelling at me to get out of the way. I wasn't trapped behind anyone. I was, miraculously, actually having fun less than 2 minutes into a race.

This was probably a good thing since I had 1,438 more minutes to go. 

I will spare you every detail of the next 1,438 minutes. Long story short it went like this:

The first 8 laps were a breeze. Well, at least the first 7.9 laps were a breeze. At that point, just a few minutes from the end of that lap, I ate shit. Or to be more literal, I ate dirt. I'm still not quite sure what happened. Basically, I was simply riding too fast on the last bit of singletrack, hoping to finish that lap before 10 hours. I drug myself up out of the dirt and coasted into the transition area. Big E was waiting, having finished his 6 hour race already. All I could say was, "You might want to check me out and make sure nothing is broken." Thankfully, he makes a great medic. He rubbed my shoulders, checked my eyes and sent me toward the hose. A half an hour later, he had me back on the bike, ready for my first lap in the dark.

The next two laps weren't too bad.  I even rode one of the bigger rock gardens on lap 10. Lap 11, however, was one of my worst. My coordination was shot, I was exhausted, all I wanted was a nap. When I finished that lap a little after 1, Big E was waiting. I expressed my need for a nap. I must've looked like crap because he didn't argue. We prepped my bike for lap 12 and crawled into the tent.

It was then that I learned the real challenge of 24 hour racing. Sleep is impossible. You can be absolutely convinced you're going to fall asleep on the bike, but the second you lie down, everything will change. You will have to pee. You will be cold. Your legs will refuse to stop moving.

At 3 am, sleepless, I finally gave up. I put on a fresh kit and headed back out. Two hours later, on lap 13, the sun came up. I'd been looking forward to that moment for hours. It was then that I realized that 24 hour racing is totally worth it, just to get to feel the sun rise.

At the end of lap 14, I stopped to grab a snack. Big E called out from the tent. I told him I'd do one more lap, but just one. I was convinced I wanted to do just one more.

Big E met me at checkpoint Charley on that lap to remind me of the rules. If I finished before the 24 hours was up, I needed to wait to cross the line. If I crossed at 23:59 I'd have to do one more lap. I took my time for most of that lap, not wanting to do one more, but somewhere about 2/3 of the way through, I suddenly wasn't so tired. I sped up. Perhaps I could do just one more.

I came around the last corner at 23:55. There was time. Thankfully I'd asked Big E to meet me there, just before the line. He must know me well. He wasn't just waiting. He'd brought a chair. In that moment, I was so torn. I knew there was no sane reason to do one more lap, but then there was really no sane reason to have ridden 15. Would one more really be so bad?

In the end the chair, and Big E's voice of reason, won. It was then, while I waited for the clock to reach 24:00:00, that I realized one last thing. While the key to endurance racing might be to master the art of forgetting the pain of each race, the key to 24 hour racing was to master the art of forgetting the pain of each lap or even each moment. It's all about starting over and over and over and over- no matter what.

A little like life, I guess.
Nothing to help you forget the pain like a little nap on the way home.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Sweet Revenge

Perhaps I should've seen it as a bad omen when a thunderstorm hit last Friday while I was packing the car for a weekend of camping and racing at the Miner's Revenge, but then, I rarely take anything as a bad omen so I figured it was just a little rain and hit the road. I was anxious to get to the UP Friday night so I could pre-ride the course and squelch my fear of riding through an old mine.

If only I had known riding through the mine would be the easy part.

I actually made the drive in nice weather, but drove into rain again just as I arrived at the race site. I set up my tarp in the drizzle
Why every girl should know how to tie a trucker's hitch.
and headed out to conquer the big, scary mine.

I'll spare you the details and just say this- the mine was definitely the easy part. What really terrified me was the rest of the course. Wet rock on steep hills is my worst nightmare. Trust me- I dreamt about this all night:
So- an hour and a half and a mere four miles later, I called it quits, returned to the campsite and called Big E in a panic.

Big E can fix anything, right?

Of course, he said what any rational person would say.  "Calm down and try again in the morning when it's not so wet."


I'd like to say I listened but the calm down part was hard. What I really did was freak out all night. I did, however, get up in the morning and try again, after removing a slug that I'd apparently picked up the night before.
Turns out I also slept with one that I found in the car later.
This is where I want to tell you a miracle happened and I was suddenly incredibly skilled at riding a mountain bike.

Unfortunately, I was completely humbled by the course yet again in the morning. After pushing my bike around half of it, I realized I wasn't ready to race on this course this year. I'll admit, I was a bit crushed by having to make that decision, but I also strongly believe that it's important to know your limits. I love that hard races like this one exist. I just wasn't quite ready for this one yet.

Thankfully, I was in Michigan, which meant I was surrounded by some of the friendliest people you'll ever meet. Within in an hour, the race director had given me my money back without me even asking, a local had given me a tip on some trails in nearby Houghton and I was back on the road and ready to salvage the trip.

By noon I was in the bike shop in Houghton picking up a map of the area and becoming convinced by the employees that after my ride I should get back on the road and head farther north. As they put it, "If you're this close there's no way you should miss the trails at Copper Harbor."

So, after a ride on some trails that were much more my speed at Michigan Tech

Ok, fine, I didn't actually ride this feature...
I was back in the car and headed north to Copper Harbor. I got there just in time to scarf down some hot dogs and hike out to Hunter's Point for the sunset. (Of course, that's not hard up there near the end of the earth because it stays light until after 10pm.)

Honestly, I don't even know exactly how to describe Copper Harbor. It feels cozy and completely wild at the same time, which is something I only ever really feel on the Great Lakes. Maybe it's because I grew up on one of the lakes, but there's something special about that water, I swear. 

In what was probably a stroke of good fortune, the trails were closed for a run in the morning. While I waited for them to open, I ventured north on the bike, eventually riding a half mile down some fun singletrack to the beach.

 Just over an hour later, once the trails were open, I ended up here:

That pretty much sums up Copper Harbor- one minute you're on the beach, the next you're on the edge of a mountain...or swooping down in on some awesome flowy trails.

I guess, in the end, that thunderstorm wasn't a bad omen, but perhaps just a reminder to go with the flow and make the best of things. You might not always get what you want in life. Sometimes you get something even better. That's the sweetest revenge of all...

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Dirty Feet and Messy Hair

Quote by Shanti
It is safe to say I will probably always feel the itch to move, to explore, to be anything but tied to one place. This has always been one of the big challenges of my life- how to find a way to make a living but still really live the way I want. If it was up to me, I'd be road-trippin' 24-7. Unfortunately it's hard to make enough money to live while traveling around riding your bike. So I live in one place for now.

I'll admit, I had pangs of envy on Saturday while listening to friends talk about taking some months off in a year or two to hike the Appalachian Trail. Not that I would choose that particular adventure, but hearing the excitement, the planning, brought back my itch. Only a few years ago, I was doing the same- finding a way to close down a chapter of my life so I could hit the road for a summer.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss those days, but I've also realized that in the last year or so I've found a bit of balance. Instead of planning a big trip, I've been able to sneak a little adventure into each week. So while I might not have messy hair, dirty feet and sparkling eyes at the end of EVERY day, I can't complain when I can manage them most days while also working and living in a city. Of course, since I live in Minnesota, I still haven't found a way to avoid mosquito bites and geese attacks while getting my hair messy, but hey, who am I to complain? 

For just a little proof- here's a little photo tour of the last two weekends:
Big E, my tour guide for a day at Levis.
Wondering if launching myself might be the quickest way down....(Note the seriously messy hair.)

14 kinds of ice cream at Momma Big E's house on Independence Day. Maybe each day should also end with a fully belly?
Ending the day with some WARM feet! 

Of course, there were many more bike rides and bonfires, but I'm busy getting dirty feet and messy hair so I can't always take pictures!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Give It Away

Sometimes an idea comes and I write about it right away. Other times one comes and I sit with it, stew on it, chew it up a little.

This one has been bouncing around in my brain for weeks. I painted it for my office. I thought I might write about it then. Instead, I held onto it through 31 miles of an ultramarathon. In the middle of that race, I made a choice to give it everything I had, to go for the win, a course record, and a huge PR all in one. In the end, just a few miles from the finish, the choice backfired. The PR came, but in the end, first place slipped away while I struggled to finish, having given away just a little too much, too soon.

On the drive home, I planned what I would write, disappointed by letting the win slip away, yet inspired by the utter exhaustion that comes from knowing that you truly gave every ounce of yourself in a race. Of course, that exhaustion hit later and the writing never happened.

Instead, I thought about this idea for two more weeks- while I massaged, while I ran on ridiculously tired and chafed legs, while I searched for Big E's stolen bike, while I mopped a flooded basement, while I cooked and cleaned and basically got on with life.

So what did I think?

Quite frankly, it was always the same. I thought about how what happened that day in the race- that moment when I chose to give it all away to go for it- I want to live that way as much as possible. Obviously, I realize it's much easier to give everything in a race than it is in life. The risks are lower. Give too much in a race, you risk a bruised ego and a tired body. Give too much in life, you risk a broken heart, an empty pocketbook......but I want to live that way anyway.

Do I know it's risky? Of course. Do I know it means I'm going to flop into bed exhausted at the end of most days? Yes. Do I realize that I might give a lot more than a receive? Definitely. Am I planning to let any of that stop me? Absolutely not.

Why? Because I think at the end of my life, when I look back (if I have a chance to), I will be most satisfied if I gave as much of myself as possible. In the end, what is left of each of us is what we give away. For Picasso maybe that was his paintings, but I believe we each have a lot to give away every day even if we don't have his talent for one specific thing.  Every interaction we have with another person is a chance to give. Every activity we start is a chance to give. 

Hopefully, in the end, I can plan it just right and have given it all way. If not, if I screw it up and give too much too soon....

It'll probably be worth it.