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.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Pull

Lately I've spent a lot of hours running and very few on the bike. This is by choice, of course, although that choice is strongly influenced by time. If I had more hours in the day, I would run and bike every day, but I only get 24 so I fit in what I can.

Yesterday I'd planned to run twice- not that this was written down, because I don't keep a training log. (I discovered years ago that training logs are a bad idea for perfectionists.) After the early run, errands took over. At some point during the day, I checked my email. There was a reminder that today was the Ride of Silence, when cyclists all over the world ride in silence to remember cyclists who've been hit by cars.

That planted the seed. I started to think about the bike. I really wanted to ride just a little to think about my mom. Of course, my perfectionist side wouldn't let go of that second run. I thought perhaps I might get all of my errands and projects done and still get to squeeze in both a run and a ride.

A few hours later, Big E came home, did a quick-change and headed out to squeeze in a bike ride on one of my favorite trails. As he left, he asked if I wanted to go.

Of course, I still thought I could fit in that run so I said no. With two hours of light left, I still thought I could do both AND somehow finish an art project and make dinner.

A few minutes later, I discovered a text on my phone, sent 20 minutes earlier. My favorite riding partner was also headed to the trail. Not long after, she called and basically said, "Whatever you're doing, stop. Get your bike. Get here."

That was it. I finally gave in to the pull. Clearly I wanted to ride my bike and needed to let go of that run.

Less than 30 minutes later I was at the trail, ready to squeeze out the last bit of daylight on the bike. I'll admit, it wasn't silent. In fact, I was having so much fun enjoying the unexpected ride with a friend that I never stopped talking. That was okay with me. It was just like one of the non-stop talking walks I used to take with mom.

The run never happened. Dinner was late. I finished up my art project while I cooked. I ended up cleaning the floors at 11pm before collapsing into bed.

It was totally worth it.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Goose Attack on the Run Commute

On Monday I moved into my new office. There are endless reasons to be excited about this place. It's part of a state of the art training facility. There are showers. Clean ones. It's close to Chipotle. My coworkers are fun and they let me talk about poop. Best of all, however, is the commute.

No, not the drive. The non-car commute. It's bikable AND runnable. Seven miles through decent neighborhoods without too many stoplights.

Today was my first attempt at the run commute. Since I'd only run on about a half mile of the route before, it was like exploring while on my way to work. A mile in, I discovered quotes stamped in the sidewalk.
I was tempted to read them all, but stopped after two, realizing I could save them for future run commutes. I smiled the rest of the way in, feeling like I'd found a secret place, even though everyone on that street has probably seen these quotes every day for years.

The run home was nearly as pleasurable, once I made it past the geese. Unfortunately, the geese also like our little paradise of a workplace. I made it past the few that inhabit the parking lot only to encounter a killer goose just down the street. I was trudging along, minding my own business on the sidewalk, when I was suddenly charged by a pissed off goose ready to peck my legs off.

At this point in this story, I'd like to tell you I was brave and stood up to that goose. On the contrary, I completely forgot I was armed with mace. (I was expecting to need this only in the case of pervert attack. The goose attack caught me by surprise.) I did not stand up in fight. Instead, I turned and ran straight into the street, screaming like a terrified child. Thankfully the car in the street stopped. I'm not sure if they stopped in order to avoid hitting me or to watch with amusement as a grown adult ran away from a bird. Either way, I was thankful not to be hit.

I would've been more thankful if they'd run over that damn goose.

In the end, I made it home safely, which I was also quite thankful for. After years of being terrified of death by shark, moose, bear, wolf, I certainly didn't want to be the girl who died of the dreaded goose attack.

That goose better watch out. Next time I'm fighting. Maybe...