Pain and ecstasy (22 golden miles)

I had 23 scheduled for this weekend, out at Pinckney Rec Area. I think I did a little less than that because (a) 3:35 seems pretty speedy for 23 trail miles for me, and (b) I think I cut off about a mile at the beginning, based on what I remember from races there. So I’m guessing it was closer to 22, which is still the farthest I’ve run since (pulls up years-long training log) WOW. December 2012 – the Bigfoot 50k. Wait, really? That can’t be right. But maybe it is. Sheesh. Wowzers.

Anyway. When I checked the weather last night and saw that it would be in the low 30s this morning, I thought, Screw it, I’m not sacrificing a sleep-in to shiver through the first half of my run. Having skipped setting the alarm, I woke up a little after 10 a.m. and was at the trailhead about half an hour shy of noon. Early bird gets the frostbite, I always say. I was chilly for the first couple miles in just a tee and capris, but warmed up quickly enough and was soon comfortable. A little too comfortable, in fact. About 40 minutes in, as I was sailing along a little ridge between two golden leaf-filled valleys, my mind drifting to who else but Tony Krupicka and one of his interviews (maybe in In The High Country?) in which he talks about the need to be outside pushing yourself, making yourself at least a little uncomfortable every day. Literally – literally – as I thought, “Hmm, I’m pretty comfortable right now,” my right foot rammed into some rock or root hidden by leaves and BAM. I ate it. Comfort gone, replaced with some scrapes, a little blood, and a hole in the knee of my favorite capris.

What’s fall without a little fall?

Other than that minor spill (which mainly reminded me to pick up my feet), the run was relatively pain-free, although my left hip was once again giving me shit on the uphills until about two hours in. I hit 18 miles around 2:40 into my run; I wasn’t speeding along, but I felt good. I almost always hit an anti-wall about two hours in. I’ve never had a problem with a “wall” at 18 miles because, up until a certain point (50-miler, I’m looking at you!), I just kind of hover at the same level of pain and weariness. Before that, my hip might bother me on hills or my foot might threaten to cramp, but after I pass that point it all kind of evens out and I just push on. Hip feels weak? Go up the hill anyway, hands on thighs and keep up the pace. Knee’s bleeding? As long as you’re not bleeding out, no worries. Tired? Well, yeah, you’ve covered 20 miles. You’re tired and sore now. This is your existence. No use feeling worse about it, it just is. And so you keep going until you’re done, because bailing is failing and failing is DNFing and DNFing is the runner’s nightmare. That’s the mentality that takes over and allows me, and all you other distance fiends, to keep moving – it’s that not moving forward isn’t an option. It doesn’t cross your mind. Because if it does – if the couch and its giant heavy fuzzy blanket pop into your head, if you imagine what it would feel like to lie down in the warm crunchy leaves and watch the sun fall and slowly freeze to death overnight (if it’s one of Those runs) – then it’s awfully difficult for the distance mentality to prevail. The spell is broken.

That’s one of the things I love about running, especially distance and trail running. It requires a strong mind in addition to a strong body. Training miles will only get you so far; you have to train your mind too, otherwise your dedicated hours will have been for naught. It’s a strength that comes entirely from within, and is then translated to the external physical form of you, and only you, pushing yourself (mind and body) to greater feats and beyond greater boundaries – reaping greater rewards.

Pain and ecstasy. These are two things which running offers us, and though neither is guaranteed, we sign up for both every time we step onto the trail, having mentally committed to spending three, four, six-plus hours out there. Pain is expected, assumed, sometimes sought. Ecstasy – an endorphin high – is bestowed upon those who are dedicated enough to put in the time and lucky enough to have one of those perfect, or maybe imperfect, runs with just the right combination of… I don’t know what. Mood, chemicals, mud, music, anything. But not every long run ends in a rush of happiness and satisfaction and contentment and positivity. Sometimes we trudge to the car, cold, damp, and broken, and huddle miserably by the heaters and are just thankful that we aren’t running anymore. Pain rules those days and takes its mental toll. Ecstasy seems worlds away, a physical impossibility. But as the aches subside and we warm back up, it seems less impossible. The next run holds not the promise of ecstasy, but the possibility. A chance at reaching that perfect state again, and not through drugs or booze or anything else external. The utter bliss felt from an endorphin high, like the distance mentality and tenacity required to cover that distance, is produced entirely by you. Self-produced high. Now that’s satisfying.

And when you do have one of those excellent runs where you reach the parking lot tired but revitalized, weary but satisfied and proud and content, and stretch in the sun, and climb exhaustedly into your car and blast your favorite post-long run songs, you’re hit with an overwhelming surge of pure ecstasy. It’s not just about how great the last 22 miles were. It’s a culmination of all the miles you’ve run, the places you’ve run, the people with whom you’ve run. And where you’ll run in the future, and with whom, and all the miles you’ll cover. It’s where running has taken you and where it will take you. It’s… inexplicable. Many have tried and many have failed, myself included, to fully describe the near-religious experience that is the ecstasy of completing a long run. It is impossible to be sad or negative. It’s almost impossible to think, it’s so overwhelming. It’s a tidal wave of emotion and memories and thoughts all so near and dear and happy – flashbacks to standing atop mountains, running along bare ridges as storms brew, crossing finish lines… every run you’ve ever been on is suddenly there with you again, and all the time you spent and struggles you got through to get you to where you are now.

Which is tearing up in a parking lot full of mountain bikers as Alpha Rev’s Highways comes on.

No shame. ALL THE FEELS. *mic drop*

So yes, today’s run was phenomenal. Depending on whether or not I was running uphill at the time, I toyed with the idea of doing the 13-mile loop after the 18 and just going for 50k today. Wisely, though, I stuck with my plan and found that 22 was quite enough, thank you (say my knees). But I suspect that in a few weeks, I’ll be out there loping around by myself for 31 miles, because races are far away and cost money and I’m just running for myself anyway. Although they are fun. I drove home to an awesome playlist, took a hot shower (heaven), and ate many an oven-roasted potato. And completely neglected studying, which I should probably do at some point.

I hope you all reach ecstasy after your next long run.

An excellent fall run (10.5 miles of gorgeous golden foliage)

I had good motivation for my run this morning – a new short running video featuring who else but Tony? And, of course, the perfect running weather: mostly overcast but with a few sunny patches, high 50s, and no rain. Mmmmm. Fall running.

I set off, planning to be out for about 90 easy minutes. It was such a good run, though, that I added on just a smidge more. I was on trails for almost all of my run and was dwarfed by towering golden maples forming magnificent autumnal arches, soft red pine needles and loamy fallen leaves underfoot. It was quiet and still and mostly devoid of human life, save myself and a few others (including one lovely older gentleman with his corgi, who I ran into several times since I was doing loops around the park), and as I breezed along the solitary trails, I found myself in that sweet spot where your mind is blissfully blank and your legs keep themselves smoothly in motion and your arms swing close but loose of their own volition, leaving you to melt into your surroundings and move with it rather than through it, as a separate entity might.

I looped around three, maybe four times (so it might be more like 13 miles) and kept feeling good but, having learned my lesson on Saturday, headed back around 90 minutes in because I hadn’t eaten much yet and was starting to feel my performance decrease. On the last mile stretch of trail, I saw a woman running some distance ahead of me. Naturally I had to catch her, this being cross country season and all, so I had a decently quick finish and followed it up with a luxurious stretching session afterwards (my poor hips – I need to do some yoga!).

I don’t have pictures for you because I don’t take my phone with me unless I have my Nathan pack, but you know what fall looks like. I hope. I’m feeling good about a 50k in the near-ish future. Now I’m going to go eat some things and then climb.

peace love and fall running,

PS. A while ago (June, maybe? July?), I submitted a question to the Ask the Coach section of Trail Runner and what do you know, they picked it. Which means I get free running sunglasses. Which makes the magazine even cooler. Man I’d love to work for them someday… *nudge nudge wink wink* If you aren’t already reading it, start ASAP. This is not an advertisement, it’s life advice.

On hubris and ego (Subtitle: It is inadvisable to run over two hours without food or water. It is outright stupid to run over three without those things.)

I was having one of those mornings. We all know the ones. They leech away our motivation, our willpower to leave the tea and sweatpants and lace up and head out. Which was odd because I came home this weekend primarily to run on the trails just two miles from my parents’ house, surrounded by trees. (I just realized it’s technically a Recreation Area. Yay maps.) But as always, once I put on the sports bra, my brain perked up – “Are we going for a run? ARE WE RUNNING? LET’S GO!” My brain is like a dog when it comes to running. Once the idea is in there, it blocks out everything else – including lack of motivation – pretty quickly. I think we all hit a point in avoiding our run where we just kind of go, “This is silly. I’ll just run. It’s time.” And we go and do it. Quite simple and not at all worth the wishywashiness beforehand.

So I head out into the late morning, blue sky totally clear above me, golds and reds and greens around me, dirt beneath my shoes. Less than half a mile from my porch, I break into a huge smile and all my motivation rushes back. I love running. Now, I’ve started lifting again, so my quads, glutes, and hips have all been rather stiff and sore for the past few days. It took quite a while for that soreness to work its way out (to be replaced by running soreness, of course), so my left hip was giving me issues on almost all the hills, which got old pretty damn fast… as did my right foot cramping yet again. But as I said, my motivation was back and the weather was perfect, the trails (though loose, sandy, and rocky) were nearly empty, I wasn’t hearing gunshots (always good), and the surroundings were sublime. So a little niggle in my hip and an annoying minor cramp weren’t going to ruin my run. I kept going.

And kept going.

And kept going.

Kept is a weird word.

When I’d left, I didn’t really have a specific distance or route in mind. I just knew I wanted to run the horse trails and up around there since it’s so pretty. I thought maybe 90 minutes (about 10 miles). But as I neared 90 minutes, I was feeling really good and enjoying the run. I wasn’t ready to turn back and head for home. So I set my sights on two hours, maybe two and a half – I’d see how I was feeling. And my hip and foot problems were fading, as was the residual stiffness from lifting. I let my mind wander to running 18 miles – how good it would feel, how I could make my Facebook status something like “Just got back from a spontaneous 18-miler, gorgeous!”… how if I could do that today, now, I’d be “back.” So after two hours I decided I’d go for three, since that’s about how long it usually takes me for 18 on trails.

As I mentioned in the title, running much longer than two hours without food or water gets uncomfortable. Had it been warmer than low 50s, I almost definitely would have run into some trouble with dehydration. And calories are always good. But at two hours, I was feeling great, so I thought I was somehow exempt from these stipulations and would be totally fine. As you may infer, I was not. I bonked so hard, I barely jogged the last three miles. The last hour was pretty rough. I was really thirsty and, because I hadn’t eaten much, I was getting way more fatigued than I should have been. I was walking on non-uphill sections. I sat down for a quick rest on a boulder (which I was okay with, because enjoying nature is half the reason I’m out in the first place. There was some red chert in the boulder that I was looking at.*) But I made it home safe, which is the important thing. I gulped about six glasses of water and drank two Capri Suns which (a) I haven’t had since probably middle school and (b) I have no idea why they were in this house. I stretched (while sitting down, of course) and took a long, hot shower – the best reward after a long run next to laying down.

On my tumblr, I posted a picture of my very muddy feet and shoes and said (much more briefly) that I ran over three hours without food or water. Someone responded with: “You’re spectacular.” I replied “thanks” but wanted to say something more along the lines of:

1. 3 hours for 18 miles is not especially fast.
2. Running that long/far without food or water isn’t impressive, it’s being daft and setting a bad example.
3. …although yes, I am spectacular, thank you.

In conclusion: The hubris of today’s run was thinking that I was exempt from the laws of physics, biology, anatomy, and the like. Your body needs water and calories to function, and ignoring that will only decrease your performance and possibly do harm. The ego was thinking I was cool or tough or something for doing that, and that “I could totally run 13 more miles!” after 18 (when I had only run about 13). But really, it was an enjoyable run and I can’t say I regret doing it – just that I’ve learned from my mistake and won’t repeat it. I think it would have gone much better had I brought supplies, and I think I might be able to do a 50k soonish. Fingers crossed.

So now I am tired and sore and have been sitting up for far too long typing this. Time to get under my favorite snuggly post-long-run blanket with a book.

peace love and not being dumb about running,

Mud, blood, and scratches: signs of a good run.

So much dirt. When I took off my shoes and socks, I made a nice little pile of it. I’m amazed I didn’t blister.

*Now that I’ve taken sediments and mineralogy (well, I’m in them now), rocks are super distracting. I’ll see one with a pattern or a colorful thing and just stop in the middle of my run to check it out. Related: I picked up a big loose chert chunk and put it in the key pocket of my capris, literally thinking as I did so, “I’m going to forget this is in here and it will clank around in the dryer.” Guess what I hear clanking around right now? Yup.

PS. The trails I was running on were equestrian trails – no wheeled things allowed (including bikes). I came up to a staging area and saw there were a couple horses there, so I slowed to a walk (which is what you’re supposed to do – horses look great but don’t have much going on between their dark, watchful eyes). There was a mountain biker there getting into something of an argument with the horse people about whether or not bikes were allowed on the trails. As I came into view, he pointed at me and said, “She doesn’t have a horse!” The other guy pointed out that I also didn’t have wheels. I politely told him that they were right and carried on my way, only running once I was decently far from the horses. I guess my point is make sure you’re using the right trails so as not to upset people.

Sprints and shin splints(?)

Hopefully not, but it rhymed, so I couldn’t pass it up.

I ran down to meet a friend at the gym to lift (at long last), but the weather was perfect for running and I hadn’t run at night for such a long time, so I jogged over to the track for a quick 4×200 with 200 rest and a 400 cooldown. I want to make a nighttime track workout a weekly thing – at least until winter settles in. The track is only lit by two stadium lights in the parking lot behind the back straightaway, so most of it is in that perfect half-light that lets you feel fast and light and everything is a little out of focus. Surreal. I didn’t wear a watch; I just ran on feel. Pushing it the second half, running through the finish. It felt good.

On the shins: they’re sore, but (other than today) I’m giving them a break, which works out well because I want to spend a while getting used to the idea of lifting almost every day again. (Not obsessively, per my last post, just a good amount to help lean out and restore my hips.) Dig out the calf compression sleeves! Refreeze the ice packs! The time for shin recovery is upon us.

- bec

PS. Here is a vegan cupcake from The Lunch Room in Ann Arbor. It’s our go-to spot for vegan eats. And it is damn tasty. (By “it” I mean “every item on the menu.”) After this cupcake (and the last of my vanilla almond milk), I’m going to try to eliminate as much non-natural sugar as possible. I think it should be pretty easy. I might keep putting some maple syrup in my oatmeal, though, Because and For Reasons. And I’m diversifying my protein more this time around. All-soy (soy protein powder, tofu, etc.) worked well last time but I’ve been reading about how it can mimic estrogen and do strange things – and just because balance is good. So I’m getting hemp hearts and hemp protein powder and eating more beans and quinoa and things (peas!). Beans are delicious anyway. This should help get me back into cooking, too, which is another thing that helps balance out my mind. :)

PPS. I should start yoga again… it does wonders…

PPPS. Here is a good picture of Audrey looking photogenic and fluffy.


Thoughts on thoughts (Subtitle: A long personal post about my experience with running addiction and associated issues)

No, I’m not stoned. By “thoughts” I mean thoughts related to running and running mentality in general. Any runner knows that running is addictive, and that stopping suddenly and especially for long periods of time can wreak havoc on your life both physically and mentally. When I first stopped running (well, kind of) in 2013, it was pretty rough for a few weeks, although I didn’t truly stop running (or hiking a lot) until that July after I got back from Colorado. After that, I took over a year off of running, during which I swam, biked, did yoga, and – primarily – started lifting. If I hadn’t started lifting, I think things would have gotten worse. But I did, and they didn’t.

Lifting actually did me a lot of good, especially since I started eating very well during that time too. I began to build muscle and lean out. I’d be at the gym for two to three hours every day. I felt healthy and happy, and my body image was pretty good. I peaked towards the end of last semester, back in April. And then summer happened.

This past summer was rough for a number of reasons. I was taking three classes at a community college – physics, chem, and calc. I’ve been doing communication studies for the last two years, so making the switch to science and math was challenging and time-consuming. I was out of Ann Arbor for most of the day and often got back long after the gyms here closed (the gym there cost too much), so my lifting decreased dramatically. I was starting to run a little, but still not much compared to how much I thought I should be doing. I wasn’t lifting nearly as much as I thought I should be lifting. The quality of my eating habits started to drop. My motivation waned. On top of that, both my relationship and my grandfather’s health were very rocky.

All of this had its toll on me. Simply said, I didn’t feel like myself at all – low motivation, low level of caring about things, dissatisfaction at life… generally not the happy-go-lucky gal that I tend to think of myself as being. Once classes ended, things started to look back up, although my body image and mood were still not nearly what they were in the spring. I thought I was exaggerating my memories of my own feelings from the summer, especially June. But while reading back through my journal a few nights ago, I noticed a pattern starting even in April. So many entries ended in an assessment of my mood that day being “sad” or “depressed” or “bleh.” Bleh, in my mind, encompasses poor body image, sadness, and typically vague anxiety that just won’t quit. There were some good days – days when I bothered to run or eat something healthy or see people. By and large, however, it was a dump. J’avais le cafard, as the French would say. Literally, it means “I had the cockroach,” but the essence is “I had the blues.”

So I started thinking about how everything over the past two years was connected. 2012 was my high – starting ultras and being in great shape. I had high hopes for running. I spent most of 2013 injured, but still running and hiking and road tripping until the end of July (though I distinctly recall laying on a crash pad in the California sun, just having thankfully, barely, Not Broken Down in Death Valley, and feeling utterly disgusted with myself – so things were not 100 percent hunky-dory). Then lifting did a great job of keeping me active, fit, and generally happy. And over the summer, I lost it.

I’m the first to admit that I have used running as a crutch – relied on it too much to maintain happiness and physical and mental satisfaction. The same goes for many, many runners and other high-volume athletes. Addiction. So in a way, my time off of running provided me with an opportunity to ease myself off of that crutch that I probably would not have sought out otherwise. It was primarily lifting, but I’ve also adjusted my mentality rather significantly. In the past, I have relied heavily – too heavily – on running to both provide and gauge my life happiness and satisfaction. Now that I can’t run or don’t lift for two or three hours every day, I have made myself mentally adjust to the fact that it is okay to derive happiness from things other than physical exertion. Gasp. Things like spending an afternoon hanging out with friends and cooking instead of running then eating soy chicken stuff alone and binge-watching Netflix to ignore feelings and quell rising anxiety. Things like running just a few miles with friends instead of feeling the need – the compulsion – to run ten miles because it’s social and fun and good for your soul. 

On the flip side (there’s always a flip side, isn’t there?), I also worry that I’m leaning too far in the “for your soul” direction – not pushing myself enough, allowing myself too much lenience in what I’m eating. I question my own thoughts and motives and feelings. I doubt myself. And that’s not okay. It makes it nearly impossible to tell the difference between working hard and working hard for the wrong reasons – body image, obsessive exercise, that sort of thing. In a weird way, though, being injured and worrying about getting re-injured has almost forced me to maintain a balance and therefore I don’t have the option of worrying about whether I’m working hard for the wrong reasons. Instead, I question whether I actually need rest or if I’m just being lazy. There it is, the L word. It all comes back to that mentality. And I’m working on it.

To wrap all this up, a personal update (as though all that weren’t personal, HA): I’ve been running, slowly and safely building up distance. The farthest I’ve run recently is about 15, and 8 to 10 is more typical. I’m hoping to do a 50k by the end of the year, but if I don’t, then I don’t. I’m working really hard to not pressure myself too much (while also pressuring myself enough to word and not be lazy – that blurry line again!), because if I do that then I might get injured again, and I’d be back to square one. But fall is nigh, and with it is that crisp, damp, chilly October air that sparks the trail runner’s imagination and brings back memories of cross country races years ago, of specific fall runs and of just how the trees look as they wax maroon and gold and burnt orange over the still lake and under the ever-clouded grey October sky. On a short tempo run a few days ago, I heard someone coming up fast behind me and, without thinking, sped up. She wasn’t going to pass me. And she didn’t. For the next 1200 or so, I kept up what felt like a sub-7 pace, until I hit my turnaround point. I gave her a nod as she continued past me. The runner can leave cross country, but the cross country never leaves the runner.

peace love and foggy fall runs through quiet trails in the early hours of morning before the world stirs,

PS. I had to rewrite the end of this since WordPress failed to post my first one, so it’s a little lackluster.  :(  I think I got the gist of it.

18 miles of slugs and horseflies… in short, a good long run.

When I woke up this morning, quads and glutes stiff and sore from squats on Tuesday, I thought, “Oh boy. This is gonna be rough.” But I forced myself up and out of bed and was on the trail shortly after 8, early enough that mist was still rising off fields and ponds. Initially, I was a little sore, but squat-sore quickly blended with running-sore so it didn’t matter. Because my mileage has been pretty light, though, my legs were decently rested – just sore. It’s kind of a disorienting feeling, but hey, I’ll take it.

The dreaded, hated horseflies made their appearance early on and stuck with me for more or less the entire time. I’ve gotten pretty good at not letting them actually irritate me, since they tend not to actually bite me. But that doesn’t stop me from smacking them. I have the blood/goo of dozens on my hands. Now, I bought a sweet hat a few days ago for the express purpose of keeping flies from forming buzzing horror-movie nests in my hair. I brought it with me. And I forgot to actually put it on before heading into the woods. Smart.

But I digress. Flies aside, it was actually a really great run. Like my last longer run out there, I felt pretty strong the whole way, although my left hip adductor was giving me shit for the last several miles, forcing me to walk up some smaller hills that I normally wouldn’t. Other than that, along with general fatigue, everything went well – even my shins (fingers crossed, knock on wood, etc.). The first hour flew by. The second hour went pretty quickly too, since that section (the added 5 mile loop that brings the total to 18) has a nice flow and is “new” to me since I haven’t run it in months and months. A couple hills, but nothing terrible.

The last 40 minutes or so was a little rougher, mainly because of my hip, but also simply because I haven’t run 18 since… I don’t even know. I hiked/ran 18 last July in Colorado, so maybe then. But I finished in a pretty decent time for me (averaged about 9 min/mi pace), quickly changed into shorts (I ran in capri tights to avoid chafing, works like a charm!), and dove into the lake for cooling off and stretching and generally larking about. I drank my full Nathan pack (2L) and ate 3/4 of a Clif bar while running. I tend to not eat much; I think for my 50M I ate half a PB&J and a clif bar or two. Maybe I should work on that.

Oh, the slugs. There were weirdly a lot of slugs on the trail. I accidentally stepped on one and felt bad.  :(  Also, driving back, I saw a big ol’ coyote dart across the road a ways in front of me, then a bit later a deer bounded across and through a (soybean?) field. I watched it until I saw the last of its little fuzzy antlers disappear.

So yeah. It was definitely a good run and I’m feeling good about things. I opted not to attempt the North Country marathon since it’s pretty soon and I don’t want to build up that quickly, but maybe Run Woodstock… Hmm. Things to think about.

A few thoughts from my run:

There’s something so sincere about pushing yourself and working hard out in the middle of the woods with no one there to watch or to impress, just you. You just have to know how to work hard, which is something I’ve been getting better at. Being uncomfortable probably means you’ll be satisfied with the result. And it’s been said so much, but running really is such a mental thing. If you plan to do 13 and end up doing 11, you probably feel bad. If you plan on 13 and think about adding on a few miles, it seems terrible. It’s like you’re locked in the 13-mile mindset and pace. Plus, there’s that discomfort to address. Today, I was kind of debating just doing 13. “There are flies, maybe I’m ramping up too quickly,” etc. But really I just felt like doing 18 would be more work. The mental game of running is being able to say to yourself, “Okay. We’re running 18 today. You’re going to be tired and probably sore anyway, so may as well run it well.” I think there’s a Pre quote that goes something along the line of “giving it 100% every day, even on training runs, because anything less is shit and cowardly.” And that video of Tony I posted a week or so ago where he talks about the point of the day to push yourself and be satisfied with what you have accomplished, and how staying comfortable isn’t satisfying, really resonated with me today.

Also, I made and ate all of this immediately upon returning. One block of silky tofu, four scoops of soy protein powder, soy milk, cocoa powder, and maple syrup. And many raspberries. Mmmmmm.



Happy running!