It’s  a Jungle Out There

Most of you reading this didn’t know me before I was a runner.  Of course why would you?  I am a pretty boring urban house wife raising 3 kids and living the quiet life.    Many probably don’t know that one of the things I really enjoyed was working in my yard.  I prided myself on having the showcase of the neighborhood and many neighbors even came by to stroll through my yard and see what I was working on.  I had little mini garden areas that all had names to them. My husband is a fire fighter and I have a section with that theme called my Hero Garden.  One of my side yards I had named after my neighbors son next door who had passed away a few years earlier.  I knew she could see the garden from her window and thought it would bring some sort of peace or comfort to her.  She used to come over and visit it on occasion.

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All this was before I started running.  I’ve spent very little time in my yard since then.  I have a landscaping service who mows my lawn and I’ve just let nature take over the rest.  My neighbor probably hasn’t seen the likes of her sons garden in years!  Yikes.  That’s pretty sad.  Probably one of the reason I love trail running so much is I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors.  It’s been my happy place for years and I especially love to stop and smell the roses.

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I had spent the spring and early summer this year training for Vermont 100.  With all the long runs I was putting in, there was no time to turn to the yard.  It would have to wait for some occasion to be cleaned up.  A few weeks before Vermont, one of my girls came by the house to visit. While she was over she asked my husband, “What’s with the Jumanji Jungle?”  Ok she wasn’t exaggerating, it had become a jungle.  I promised as soon as Vermont was over, I’d try to tame the jungle!  Haha

Two weeks post Vermont and I’ve only scratched the surface.  I’ve been stung by yellow jackets, bitten by a million tiny ants, eaten up by mosquitoes and am covered with poison ivy from head to toe.  While I’m enjoying unearthing my secret little gardens that have been hidden away, I’m very anxious to head back to the trails where I’m safe to just run free and enjoy nature!  But then again, check in with me in two weeks after H9 50 miler!  I may find new peace and comfort in my own little jungle!

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Get Your Mojo Back

Sometimes, too much running can deplete your energy and motivation. But there are simple ways to regain your groove

One of the things that I keep hearing about and have started to dread is losing my motivation to run, or mojo, as many call it.  Late last spring, after completing two difficult races, my closest running friends lost their running mojo.  They no longer had any real desire to go for a long run, or run at all and I was looking ahead to a race for the autumn that I was hoping to complete.  With them out for the count, I hired a coach to keep me motivated and hold me accountable to my own running plans and goals.  All of that soon got me thinking about just how do you get your groove back once you’ve lost it and, better yet, how do you avoid the pitfalls of losing it to begin with.

So with a little help from my friends, and talking to some other ultra runners who had also struggled with getting their mojo back, I began to come to some conclusions of my own.  It seemed that many had lost their motivation due to over training and having a strict training schedule leading up to an event, leaving them tired and burned out.  We need to look at our training plan carefully, setting realistic goals and expectations, and allowing ourselves a break in our schedule if we are feeling tired.  Missing one run isn’t going to have a major effect on our training. While it can be very time consuming, we need to find a way to have some balance.

Some of us might fall into the trap of simply running too many races; all our friends are doing a race and we don’t want to miss out.  Running races can be fun, but it’s also hard.  We need time between races for our bodies to recover, rest and even relax.  Not allowing ourselves a break can lead to fatigue and burnout.  We’ll quickly lose the joy and not know why.

WHEN IN DOUBT, VOLUNTEER

When you don’t feel liking running yourself, or don’t have a goal of your own, you can help others out with theirs.  Volunteering at races, crewing or pacing other runners can be good ways to get you excited about a race or goal again.  Finding that next race, setting a new goal or challenge can also be a great way to get that excitement back.  Just being an ultra runner usually means you have a lot of motivation and drive, and if it’s not a race that gets you excited, it might be an adventure run.  You can plan a run like the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim, do a bucket list-type challenge or sign up for a run in another country.  There is always something cooler or more awesome out there for the ultra runner to explore and get excited about.

It seems important to allow yourself, your body as well as your mind a chance to have a break.  Don’t pressure yourself or try to fight your loss of mojo, but allow for a period of down time to pass. There’s no time table to getting back to it, and rushing it might lead to injury or depression. You can stay physically active by hiking, biking or some other form of cross training, to at least keep up some fitness level and not set yourself back to square one when you do feel ready to hit the trails again.

Whether you are trying to keep from losing your motivation or get it back, it’s helpful to have a training buddy.  Find group runs or friends who can help hold you accountable and to encourage you on your journey.  Often what we need is to just stop and “smell the roses,” to take in the views and appreciate the great outdoors.  If you aren’t happiest in the woods, ultra running might not be your sport.  Just getting on the trail can sometimes help you find that spark again.

Published July 2017

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Right the Wrongs?

When you drop out of a race, do you need to go back and try again? Or should you just shrug it off and move on the next one?

Most every runner who has done enough races will eventually get a DNF (Did Not Finish).  You’ve challenged yourself with a tough race, or your day just didn’t go as planned and your raced ended before you finished the course.  Experience tells you that any race can go wrong with one bad step, a blister, stomach issues, chaffing, or any number of other issues.  We are not guaranteed a finish, and the clock may run out on us before we have crossed the finish line.

So is a DNF all that bad?  It’s not the end of your running days, but it might cause you to take serious inventory.  Once we are done licking our wounds and stroking our sensitive egos, we can take a longer look down the road at what’s next. Every failure has something to teach us, every day is different, and no two races are the same.  Whether it’s your training, your planning and execution, your mental strength or something else, we can learn from our DNF.

For some, the next step is planning how to get redemption for that DNF race!  It may be years in the planning, training, and waiting, but we feel we must take care of unfinished business.  In our mind, we must go back and prove that the trail did not beat us, or that race did not get the best of us.  A successful run at it again will surely right the wrong of the DNF we received.  It’s like a bad mark on a report card that must be erased and improved.

Different Perspective

Others may not feel the need for redemption.  They run without the worry of having to prove themselves, feel that it’s a score card that grades them, or have an ego to fuel. Some may have been in  over their head, it’s not in their “wheel house,” and they will find a more suitable race to run that will offer them a different experience.  Running may just be a pleasure, pure and simple, and they don’t have a strong sense of unfinished business from a setback.  If this isn’t the race to finish, they’ll finish the next one, whatever that might be.  They sign up for a race for the joy of running it and enjoying themselves along the way.  It’s not always about the finish.

But what about the Redemption Runner?  Is there really something to prove and is redemption as sweet as it sounds? I received a DNF in several races in 2016.  I felt sure these endings were not due to my failure, and I had to go back and receive the taste of redemption I felt was deserved.  I knew from the moment I got my DNF that I’d be back to finish what I started, the course had not beat me, and I wasn’t finished with it yet.  I wanted to prove to myself I was a strong and worthy runner, and I was deserving of that finishers award.   I took a hard look at what I did wrong, changed my training to be much more focused, hired a coach to guide me, and found races that inspired me to run them for the sake of running them.  My experience says, yes, redemption is sweet, but maybe there is something more to it than just that.  My failed attempts are part of the complete running experience.  Maybe we shouldn’t look at redemption as finally finishing a race after the initial failure.  Rather, we should look at it as the end of a longer journey that can be even more rewarding.

Publsihed May 2017

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MISSING SUPPORT

Some people think we are “crazy” but I think we are just passionate!  It’s true that running Ultra marathon distances are beyond most people’s comprehension of doing and it leaves them completely unable to relate.  We, on the other hand, like to push ourselves beyond our comfort zone.  This is where life begins for us!

As with most huge achievements or experiences, we want to share our accomplishments and tell others.  All too often this is met with reactions of disbelief, an obvious inability to truly comprehend or the look of “you’re not right in the head,” leaving us with little support or validation from them.  We return from an event and can feel both happy and let down, and don’t know where to turn for encouragement. For many, even family members and spouses offer no support or understanding for our “craziness”.  Some are even met with hostile behavior towards them from those they are closest to, and the lack of support can be very difficult to navigate.  There are a few things we can do to ease our way through this circumstance and find personal satisfaction.

From my experience we need to go into these events knowing that our accomplishments won’t be understood by most of our friends and family.  If you participate in these endurance events for the purpose of impressing your non-running family and friends, you’re probably doing it for the wrong reason and will be let down by their response.  Some faced with the question of “why do you do it,” answer with “if you have to ask, you wouldn’t understand.” To keep from explaining things that others just can’t comprehend, we try to avoid those conversations.  Others of us will avoid conversations with their non-running friends altogether. We can’t hold it against them but it’s often more helpful to not talk about it with those non-accepting friends and family members. There is another family we have in the community of ultra runners who will completely get it, and we should seek those relationships out for our support.

Plan a period of recovery where you continue to get out on the trails or roads that you enjoy, even if you are only hiking or walking.  Your love and commitment to what you enjoy doing can help fill the void that is often not filled by friends or family closest to you.  The only thing that gets us through the long, painful journey of an ultra distance run comes from deep inside us.  Likewise, the only one that can bring us back to our passion when others don’t support us emotionally, comes from within ourselves.  We can’t expect others to understand and we need to anticipate this empty space we will have.

HELP YOURSELF

While it becomes hard to share with others, it’s often very helpful to write things out for ourselves.  Taking a little time to write down your experience and thoughts, either in a race report format or just journaling thoughts can be helpful.  This gives us a chance to relive the race with some detail, record things we might do differently next time, and help take in the whole experience. Others can help us on our journey to achieving our goals, but we are the only ones who truly experience it!  Stay focused on your goals and review your accomplishments often.  Keeping your goals updated and fresh.

Be verbally thankful to those who do support you.  Family members and friends often do support us even though they don’t “get it”.  We need to be proactive in thanking them for their support, whether it’s a spouse who financially supports our efforts, or takes care of things at home so we can do our thing.  Offering our gratitude to them for the level of support they do give can go a long way.  Ultra running is often a selfish sport as it requires lots of time to train, and while we might not receive verbal support, we might receive it in other ways that are equally as important. For some of our friends and family, support can be a process so remember to be grateful for the little things along the journey.

Published April 2017

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Despair of Injury

The word that none of us want to hear – rest.  Unexpected injury or illness can take out even the best and strongest of runners.  We could end up on the sidelines of the racing season for reasons that are beyond our control and be forced to figure out what to do next and how to keep pushing forward.  The thought of sitting around and not being able to get outside is like being grounded as a kid, times 10!  This can be a frustrating time as we wonder how to retain our fitness and not lose all we’ve gained in our training.  When an injury or illness take us out of our game for an extended time, how do we adjust our plan so we are able to come back strong when we get on the trails again?  How do you deal with mental aspect of being injured, which may be more challenging than the physical recovery itself?

It may be a doctor, coach, or spouse who’s asking us to take a break and you may have to look at the greater good of what’s being forced upon you.

My experience has taught me that we can’t use the internet to diagnose ourselves and it may require a trip to a specialist.  We may have to make the tough decision to give up running for a period of time due to severe injury or serious illness.  This requires us to accept the idea that to continue to run is not something we are either able to do or is wise to do for our greater health, whether this means a short rest period of a few weeks or a longer time frame of several months. We can and will come back, but a time of rest is required and we must accept that.

GET A NEW PLAN

The first thing to do when sidelined is to come up with alternative options for fitness. Giving up running doesn’t mean giving up all cardio workouts, core or strength training (unless we have an illness that requires us to completely stop all activity).  We can incorporate other activities like spin cycle, weights, indoor rowing, cycling, swimming, and even yoga to name a few.

Many of the fitness clubs we belong to have a variety of classes that can help add accountability into our workout.  Most runners need more cross training, so look at recovery time as a way to get stronger in other areas.  These other activities can help us stay focused and active while giving our injury a chance to heal.

When we know our break from running is for a certain period of time, we can stay positive by focusing on a goal further out in the future.  It may be big adventure or race that is a year away, but the time will go by very quickly.   Other times, healing doesn’t come in time frames easily measured, and an extended break from running may force us to look at goals more long term in nature.

CONSIDER VOLUNTEERING

My experience in running and racing has taught me that volunteering is often much more rewarding than racing.  We can stay involved in our sport by volunteering at a race, either by working an aid station or helping to crew a friend in their race.

While the ultra runner doesn’t like being forced into a period of rest or even admit to injury it is usually the wise decision to fully recover.

Make the tough call and then start planning your steps through it.  The goal is to stay mentally strong and physically active while recovering from injury or illness, and hopefully be stronger and wiser when you return to running.

Published January 2017

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Running Around the Track

Heart Rate Monitor training on the track is not exactly the most exciting 5 miles I’ve spent in training.  As I run around the track I settle into a zone, listening to my iPod music to make the time go by a little faster.  I feel as if I’m moving incredibly slow as I constantly monitor my heart rate on my Garmin watch.  There’s a few other people there at the track running and at least one is doing some speed work.  I want to yell out to them, “I can really run much faster too.  My coach is making me run this slow.”  Really I think to myself, I’m a long distance runner and these people probably think I’m some old person trying to keep a New Year’s resolution to get in shape.  This is going to be a long 5 mile run, slow and then slower still.

I’m at the school track just down the road from my house.  My girls both went to school here several years back, and my teenage son is currently a freshmen at the High School.  As I run past the stands and look up into them, I think back to the time when as a parent I stood in them for every football game and watched every time the band marched on that very field.  I would have never imagined back then as I watched from that vantage point that I would one day be down running on that track.  I was running circles around a field that held memories and history for me and my family.

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 The football team back then had a good run for a couple of the best seasons in the school’s history.  I knew many of the kids on the field and their parents.  Had watched some of them grow up from elementary age.  Those young teens have all since grown up to be awesome young men and women.  The name of the football field was now “Lutzie Field.”  During a couple of those years I was in the stands watching the games, Philip Lutzenkirchen along with several other players were constantly making  the big plays.  Lutz was in the same grade as my oldest daughter and they graduated together before he went on to play college ball and then Pro ball briefly, before his tragic death in a car accident. “Live like Lutz, Love like Lutz and Learn from Lutz” reflected the Lutzie 43 Foundation motto.  Who would have guessed back then that this young man might have an impact on my life years later.  I think about him as I run my slow pace around the track.  I think about the band that marched on the field, and my daughter who marched for 4 years in that band.  The Tradition Continues is still the bands motto and that legacy that was left there encouraged me as I ran. 

I’m here running this track because my coach has sent me here for my HR training test.  I’m then reminded of my own training and the race I’m focusing on that is in my own home town, where I spent my teenage years.  The track running, in slow circles is a bit boring.  Then I think of something I heard my coach say, “The further you run, the stronger you get.” I begin to feel like I could just keep running like that forever.  Time’s up. Wow, that was a fast 5 miles with lots of memories!  Maybe this Heart Rate training won’t be so bad after all.

Getting Personal

Running 100 mile races is becoming increasingly popular among trail runners and many of them are selling out early.  Several of the larger, more well-known races have gone to a lottery system to gain entry into them.  The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Race is one of those lottery races, and was the very first 100 mile race.  It began back in 1955 as a trail race for horses.  In 1975, the legendary Gordy Ainsleigh joined the horses of the Western States Trail Ride to see if he could complete the course on foot. Twenty-three hours and forty-two minutes later Gordy arrived in Auburn, California, proving that a runner could indeed traverse the rugged 100 miles in one day.

Many ultra runners have long obsessed over a coveted spot in the Western States race, myself included. Before being allowed to enter your name into the lottery process, Western States requires potential participants to complete a qualifying race.  Each consecutive year that you enter the lottery, you get double the number of tickets, but if you fail to qualify and enter in one year, you are forced to start from the beginning again the next time you enter. There are also a few slots open for the faster elite runners to race their way into Western States by winning one of a few events offering “golden tickets” to its top two male and female finishers.  With less than 300 names being drawn each year from several thousand applicants, the middle-of-the-pack runner like myself faces very slim odds of being chosen.

THE CROWN JEWELS

So what is this obsession all about? Why do we hold such a passion for this race? With an ever growing number of 100 mile races to run, what is the appeal of Western States?

Western States is considered to be one of the toughest 100 mile races, with an elevation gain of more than 18,000 feet. Runners get to experience some of the most majestic and beautiful high country trails, a memorable crossing of the ice-cold American River, and the historic trails that led gold-seeking prospectors and homesteading pilgrims alike to the welcoming arms of Auburn.  It remains one of the undisputed crown jewels of human endurance events.

Another part of the allure of Western States is the idea of stepping up to the starting line with many of the top athletes in the sport.  These athletes have inspired us.  We’ve listened to them on podcasts and read about them in articles.  Just the thought of toeing the same starting line as us, if only for a short glimpse of them at the start causes our hearts to race.  This course has seen some of the sport’s most stirring and legendary competitions.  It continues to spur the spirit of runners of all abilities, from all walks of life.  The starting line of Western States represents racing legends of the past as well as the future, all sharing the same trails that lie ahead.

These are just a few things that compel the average runner like myself to run a qualifying race so we can throw our names into the lottery, hoping beyond hope that we will be one of the lucky ones whose name is drawn.  2015 was my first year in the lottery when I qualified after completing the Georgia Death Race 68 miler in under 21 hours.  When my single ticket entry didn’t get me a spot, I hired a coach, signed up for and finished the Pinhoti 100, giving me a second ticket for my entry in the 2016 lottery.  I want the chance to experience a small piece of this famous race that has captured my heart and soul.  Dreams do come true, and this is the dream that inspires me, the average ultra runner, as I wait to see if this will be my year to step up to the starting line of the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run.

Published January  2017

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