“Opportunities go right by you because you think you’re not ready.” David Goggins, Retired Navy Seal and Ultra-Endurance Athlete
Over the summer, I was debating whether or not I should do Antelope Canyon as my first 50 mile ultra. I wrote about how it seemed meant to be because of an old photo I found of Horseshoe Bend in my vision board, but also how I was terrified of heights and fearful that I wouldn’t be able to handle the heights in the race.
After attending a ChiRunning Clinic and talking to the instructor, Lisa, about her experience, especially because she also fears heights, I felt a little more confident. In attendance was also another runner, Tricia, who had signed up for the race as her first ever ultra distance. Inspired by these two ladies, I went home that day and signed up as well. Unfortunately, by this point, the race was full so I was put on a wait list with 114 people ahead of me. For an ultra, that is a lot of people and the likelihood of me getting into this race was looking slim. Read more →
Friday afternoon I arrived in Tusayan, AZ to spend a weekend camping, running, and hiking with friends in the Grand Canyon – my very first trip. I have been struggling a lot for the last several months and in the days leading up to this adventure, I was dreading going. I had talked myself into thinking it was not going to be worth my time, that it was more stress than it was worth, and that being away from my family for two days was a bad idea.
In addition to all of this, I had convinced myself that my visit to the Grand Canyon would result in me falling to a spectacular and horrible death. Some days I can be a smidgen dramatic.
Luckily I have a lot of practice following through on the very things that my brain is so diligently telling me “Do Not Do”. In addition to that, I recently embraced ChiRunning which adds a whole new perspective to my running – one that brings more than just the physical benefits (I’ll tell you more about that soon). So Friday morning, I packed up my vehicle, picked up my friend, “C”, and we were on our way.
By the time we reached Tusayan, I was already feeling a thousand times better. Laughter and good conversation will do that for a girl. We pitched our tent and went to the race expo to pick up our packets for the Grand Canyon Half Marathon. We were going to run the race the next morning and the expo was charged with great energy and excitement for the next day.
C and I talked about heading to the visitors center to check out the canyon that night. We had plans to hike the next day after the race but didn’t want to waste an opportunity to see such a wonder. I was feeling nervous because the heights at the Grand Canyon have worried me for a while. I think C was getting nervous on my behalf, but she did a great job easing my fears by teasing me that any moment we were going to drive right off the cliff. Making light of a fear can be a powerful tactic.
We also spent lots of time laughing at the odd shape of my head that prevents me from looking cute in a trucker hat. If you are a trail runner, you will know how cute so many women look in trucker hats. Crazy I know, but very true. And I am desperate to find one that I like, but alas to no avail. We decided that my head was too much like a shrunken apple for me to ever look cute in a trucker hat!
The trip to the visitor’s center was well worth it as I got to enjoy the splendor of the Grand Canyon for the first time. No longer a Grand Canyon virgin, I can say that it is well worth the obstacles to get there. No wonder people travel from all over the world to take in its beauty. I am still awestruck almost a week later.
We headed back to our campsite where we hunkered down for the night. Temps were going to drop into the 20s and we were getting prepared. C wrapped herself in her mummy bag and I prayed I wouldn’t need too many middle of the night potty trips into the frigid woods. We survived, though I did learn that a Tempurpedic pillow turns to a solid rock in freezing temperatures. Lesson learned.
The next morning we awoke to find another friend, “K”, had just arrived after traveling 24 hours home from a relief mission in Puerto Rico. This chick is amazing and we were so excited that she was able to join us. I had planned to run the half with her and had been disappointed when it appeared she might not make it, so having her with us was quite the treat.
The half course did not go into the National Park grounds, but it did snake through the Kaibab National Forest. After so many months running in the desert, being surrounded by trees was a nice change. I love the wonder of tall pines towering over my head and the company was nothing short of phenomenal. K was a rock star completing the race after so many hours of traveling. At one point she even asked me to run ahead and see if we could catch the 3 hour pace group. What an ambitious inspirational woman!
Unfortunately I discovered the 3 hour pace group was about 3/4 of a mile ahead and that was too much space for K to make up in the last 3 miles. But it was funny to see the faces of the runners who saw me running in the wrong direction when I headed back to find K and let her know. Bonus, I got in an extra mile which is always welcome!
I will write more in my next post about the hike to Skeleton point that followed but I need to pause and reflect for a minute on how I felt at the end of this race compared to the morning before. The morning before, I was almost in tears trying to convince myself to go on this trip. I was overwhelmed by the very thought of doing something for myself. We finished the race with smiles on our faces and laughter on our lips.
When I am feeling down, the best medicine is a run, getting into nature, being with friends and family. These activities are often the hardest for me to motivate myself to do when my depression is at its strongest. With practice, I have learned to let those destructive thoughts flow away. I may not control when my depression flares up, but I control my own choices. My depression does not control me.
It has been a long hard road to be able to persevere when the going gets tough and it is not at all easy. With relentless forward progress, it is only possible where once it was impossible.
As a recreational middle of the pack runner, I often question the validity of my running. Am I a real runner if I am not super fast? Lots struggle with this question and my answer to anyone else – “Of course you are a runner no matter how fast or how slow!!”
To myself I am less kind. I second guess my “runner” status all the time. I compare myself to others who are stronger and faster. If I miss a run then I must not be a “real runner” cause “real runners” never miss a workout. Oh the things this brain will do to bring me down.
Irony is, while not fast, I am not slow either. I have run times that I am proud of, especially given my lack of natural running talent. My Personal Records (PRs) are all hard won after lots of dedicated work.
My 5K PR is a 24:22, run in 2009 at the Medved 5K to Cure ALS in Rochester, NY. While I haven’t beaten that time since, my last 5K on April 22, 2017, just 2 shorts weeks after completing the Whiskey Basin 57K and in 100+degree weather, I ran a 25:39. This isn’t too shabby considering ultra training involves little speed work and heat is notorious for slowing a person down. With some focused speed work, I feel confident I could break my PR.
Never before have I been able to break the 2 hour mark for the half. I came close with a 2:00:29 half in 2011. At last broke 2 hours at the San Diego Half Marathon on June 4, 2017. I felt on top of the world with my running identify after this accomplishment.
Two weeks later, I began my HR journey. Running within my HR zone these last several months messed with me mentally because I had to slow down so very much. Choosing to run slower left me once again struggling with my identify as a runner. I had to put aside ego and focus on the goal I was trying to achieve. Definitely not easy, though anything worth obtaining should not be easy.
Being able to focus on my goal, my end game, the truth of the science behind running slowly, was a key part of sticking with the training plan I had laid out. Accounts from others who have tried this method seemed to see results anywhere from a month to six months. I desperately wanted to see results to validate this decision.
My hope was to be able to see those results in how I ran the McKenzie River Trail Run (50K). Alas this hope was dashed when raging fires in Oregon threatened the race course and the race directors had to make the difficult choice to cancel the race. What a grand disappointment to me and to my training. This sent me into a bit of a tailspin with my running.
After coming home from our waylaid trip to Oregon, I had a whirlwind of activity at work keeping me occupied and focused on everything but the status my running. Eventually I was able to pull out of the tornado that had become my life and check in again with how my progress was coming along.
Not seeing immediate progress was definitely a challenge through the many months. But I knew that this was a long game. So I did a “test run” in which I ran my baseline 5 mile loop and compared to another baseline run that I did at the beginning of this adventure.
Much to my surprise, my pace had increased substantionally!
My first baseline run in the middle of June was done early in the morning. During this run, I did a simple loop near my house. I warmed up for a mile, then began my tracking for the next three miles, leaving the final mile for cool-down. I did an average of an 11:48 per mile with an average heart rate of 151 bpm. After just averaging 8:53 per mile for 13.4 miles, the idea of slowing to an almost 12 minute mile for a short 3 miles run was difficult to swallow. And this slow down only grew greater as the temperatures rose, the miles compiled, and the hours added onto each other.
Upon doing my check-in run after the disappointment of my cancelled 50K, I mimicked the same route at the same time of day. The only thing I couldn’t keep consistent was the temperature, but by running at 5:30 am, I was able to keep the temperature for both runs to a minimal factor in the results. I went on the run expecting to see little improvement while simultaneously hoping to see low 10 minute miles. Wanting it all, expecting nothing. Neither proved to be reality.
My new baseline was a 11:03 per mile, though this was run at the much lower average heart rate of 144 bpm. If I had aimed to maintain my heart rate closer to the top of my aerobic zone (151 bpm), I would not be surprised if I wouldn’t have been 15 seconds per mile faster. This is a theory I will put to the test soon.
So I have not gained perfection. Ideally I would be running that half marathon pace of 8:53 per mile at an aerobic heart rate. Maybe one day I will, but for now I will gladly take the progress.
As the months continue, I plan to adjust my running some. Closer to 80% of my runs in the aerobic zone, rather than 100%. If nothing else, this gives me a chance to just go out and enjoy the run without a care in the world. This will be a welcome change. But after seeing these results, I plan to continue to incorporate aerobic training into my regime.
The journey continues……..
PS – Check out my Upcoming Races….I recently made some changes to my plans you can check out here!
In college, I ran a mile here and a mile there to keep the freshman 15 off. It worked for the most part.
Leading up to my wedding, I ran a mile here and a mile there to fit into my dress. It definitely worked that time.
After getting married, I ran a mile here and a mile there in order to complete my first 5K. I remember how it hurt and thought it would never end.
When Kenny got deployed 5 short months after we got married, I ran a mile here and a mile there to keep away the loneliness and the demons of my depression. It didn’t really work but was better than nothing.
After he got home, I tried to run a mile here and a mile there to keep up the routine. Usually, I was less than successful. My depression got worse.
A friend posted a brainstorming question on Facebook: “What do you think of when you hear the word “delicate”? Answers came in along these lines:
Handle with care
Do not touch
Lace and doilies
Be gentle or you might break it
The general theme was one of avoidance, fragility, and protection. This outcome gave me pause and got me thinking. While nothing posted is untrue, I believe it leaves out an important nuance of the word “delicate”. Maybe this nuance however isn’t so much about the word “delicate” itself, but rather how we choose to interact with those items we have labeled as “delicate”.
Last week was a really rough week resulting in a significant flair up of my depression. Washing my face or my hair, making the bed, getting dressed….these simple tasks were all a challenge let alone going to work and taking care of my family. Normally, the best medicine for my depression is a good run. This often helps me pull out of the cycle of despair and get back on my feet enough that I can move forward. Not so last week. My runs were making me more depressed as I slogged through one slow, hot mile after another.
My Saturday long run was looming ahead over my head like a dark cloud all week. It was to be my last long run before McKenzie River 50K in two weeks so I knew it was a critical run but had no idea how I was going to get through it. I texted a friend with my woes and she responded with the enlightened comment, “Frustration is wasted energy. Put that effort into your goals and positive thinking”. A life preserver as I drowned in my sorrows.
This same dear friend also agreed to meet me in the middle of my long run for a few miles giving me the gift of accountability. I got up at 3:30 am, got dressed and grabbed Amira to head out the door. Her and I ran a couple miles together then I dropped her off at home and headed to my friend’s house. These first seven miles I ran comfortably within my heart rate zone. It wasn’t fast, but it wasn’t a slog either. I felt good, better than I have in a while. And five more miles in the company of a friend after many solo runs recently was quite the blessing.
After going our separate ways, I had another 14 miles on my own and lots of time to spend in my head. As the sun rose higher on the horizon, the temperature began to rise quickly. Listening to books is my favorite pastime while running and on this occasion I was listening to a wonderful book called “The Ultra Mindset” by Travis Macy. He writes of applying the insights learned from endurance sports to the endurance of life. Being the second time I have listened to it, I took away different messages and indeed I was struck by a particular message. He wrote that elite athletes don’t expect conditions to be ideal on race or game day. I let this sink in.
I started deliberating on my own life and asked myself how often do I go about my day expecting things to go my way? And the moment it doesn’t, do I crumble? I reluctantly admitted to myself that I do in fact do this more often than I like at home and on my runs though ironically not at work which is the most stressful of the three.
When the boys don’t cooperate over dinner, I get frustrated and angry. When bed time doesn’t go as planned and it looks like I might not get my full night’s rest, I get panicky and waste a lot of energy. If a run doesn’t feel good, I beat myself up. I discovered that these are areas I need to let go of wanting everything to be ideal.
So then I began asking myself if it would be better to expect things to wrong and be prepared? I came to the conclusion that this wasn’t a wise approach either. It would be equally unhealthy to be paranoid about life. Forever walking around asking “what if?” would create paralysis when what I am seeking freedom. Entirely counterproductive.
During these long miles I decided that balance comes from putting in the work to be ready and then trusting that I will be able to figure it out as I go. Having faith in my parenting, my training, my mental strength. Simply put, faith in myself.
As my run continued and I was having these deep thoughts and revelations, I got to put my new found resolution into practice. The heat was really cranking up and shade was nowhere to be found on my selected route. I found my excitement and love of running wane as the sun began to roast me and my brain.
Conditions were definitely not ideal on this hot Phoenix morning. Action was needed to keep me from sinking into the “Pit of Despair”. I decided that a moving meditation was in order to help refocus. I put on my Headspace App and did a ten minute meditation. Andy Puddicombe’s voice described a visualization of allowing the body to fill up with liquid sunlight. I was able to use it to turn my perspective on the sun from “I hate you sun, go away” to “Thank you Sun for filling me up with your energy and light”. Perfect!
The rest of my run went pretty seamlessly and while I was grateful to finish, it didn’t take me long to wish I was still out there. I learned a lot from this long run and only need to remember to carry it through with me on all the many miles ahead. I might need to relearn it a few times more, but the roots are there for it to grow.
What is something you have learned on a run or in life that resonates through you? Post in comments below!