Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Spreading the Gospel of Trail

Last night I was invited to lead a discussion for a group of interesting, fun women who had just read Born To Run as their monthly book club assignment. I knew only a handful of these smart ladies, most of whom are not runners, but who all enjoy being active in some way. It was a great evening, as I basically got to talk about what I love to do most: run dirt trails in the woods and mountains, something I could talk about for hours (and do, when I am running with my gang). In addition to talking about the book, they wanted to know how I got interested in running, specifically ultrarunning, and asked all of the classic questions:

"How many days do you run? Do you take any days off?" A: 5 days max per week, with at least one day off, sometimes two, with swimming and pool running in there as well.

"What do you eat? Do you have a special diet?" A: Everything, especially fruits and veggies, and Supremo Decaf Skim Mochas. No fad diets for me.

"Do you ever fall asleep when you are running 100 miles?" A: Yes. That's why I don't run them anymore.

"What do your kids think about their mom doing this stuff?" A: They *pretend* to not care, but I have caught them bragging on me a few times to their friends--"My mom can run 100 miles!"

"Do you wear Vibram 5 Fingers?" A: Heck no. If it's not broke, don't fix it. I do wear my beloved inov-8 268s, though.

"Why do you love running trails for long distances?" A: I love the community of the ultra world and the people, first and foremost. And running ultra distance has taught me to be flexible, to persevere, to adjust, and to be in the moment. Very valuable skills for this Type A mom. (there were lots of heads nodding at this point).

I brought along the buckle I earned for finishing MMT 100 in 2005, and we passed it around. I told them about how Western States 100 started, about Gordy and the Tevis Cup, and that Virginia is second behind California in the number of ultras, which seemed to surprise them. We talked about cool local trails that they could run or walk on, and I encouraged them to consider running with the CATS one day!

Mostly, though, I tried to convince them that it is never too late to find a passion that will change their life for the better. Thank you, ladies, for inviting me to your book group and allowing me to share my passion with you! Happy trails.

Monday, January 2, 2012

A look back

My husband and I have a New Years Eve tradition where we go to our favorite restaurant, sit at the bar, and while eating delicious tapas and drinking sangria, share our hopes and dreams for the upcoming year as well as reflect back on the one we are leaving behind.

The hubz and me at our fave post-hike joint, Blue Mountain Brewery
 Rusty, a mountain biker, wants "to do something epic. This is the year to do something big and not be a chicken." I want to build on my 2011 ultra season, and the lessons learned off the trail as well. Last year at this time, I decided that my mantra for 2011 was, "Welcome change, seek out adventure, take a risk at failure." As the months went by, I found myself going back to that mantra many times---as a wife, mother, daughter, and sister, as a teacher and coach, and as a runner. There were many changes to adjust to: the death of my father, a new boss, work stressors, and the fact that my children were growing more independent and relying less on me. I sought out new adventures---the 111 mile journey through Shenandoah National Park and the Lynchburg Ultra Series were the big ones--and accepted that failure was an important part of growth and something not to fear.

At the risk of sounding like a total self-aggrandizing idiot, let's just say that 2011 was my best year as an ultrarunner, as far as race results go. Not bad for an old lady. I set three personal best (PR) times at three distances: the 50K, 50 mile, and 100K++. I was really stoked about doing this because I was coaching myself and weaving together everything I have learned in ten years of running ultras. This gives me a lot of confidence as I stare down my 2012 race and adventure plans.

OK, enough about me. Let's talk about...me. Here are a few lessons from 2011 that I want to carry into 2012's big challenges, and that might also prove helpful to others who are seeking their own new adventures:

1. Less mileage is More (at least for me). I am 49 years old and this year proved to me that I could run fast and go long with an average of 55-60 miles per week. Granted, I am working on ten years of an ultra base, but it is nice to know that I don't have to crank out huge miles to run faster.

2. Hill repeats are the bread and butter. I ran a lot of 1:00-4:00 hill repeats on a runnable slope at least once every two weeks. These workouts gave me a ton of confidence and strength without spending a lot of time in the weight room.

3. The weight room is my friend. That said, I did go to the weight room at least twice a week for about 25 minutes. There I did classic core  and balancing workouts with the Bosu ball, Swiss ball, kettlebells and planks. I know a lot of friends swear by Crossfit, Pilates, Yoga...but this works for me, and is all I really have time for.

4. Swimming and pool running keep me sane and healthy. I am not a running streaker, nor can I ever envision myself running more than 4 days in a row. I would get terribly bored and burnt out. To break things up, I spend my 25 minutes in the weight room, then I go to the pool (in the same building, very convenient), swim about 1,000 yards easy, then pool run with a flotation belt. I don't do this for long (about 15 minutes is all I can handle) but I can solve many of my problems of the day by running up and down the lap lanes in the pool. Plus, it's very relaxing and stretches out my hips.

5. I don't need a track to run faster. For years I have been doing speed work on the UVA track. This year the track has been closed for a multi-million dollar upgrade, so instead I relied on tempo runs on hilly gravel roads, fartleks such as 1:00 hard, 1:00 easy x 10, and the aforementioned hill repeats on trails and dirt roads.

6. Inov-8 shoes make me run faster. Call it a coincidence, but ever since I started running in my inov-8 Roclite 268s, my turnover has been quicker and I have been running faster times. I really think they help me run more efficiently with a mid-foot strike. Plus they are comfortable as heck.

7. Running with a group a friends also makes me faster---and it is way fun. In 2011 the Charlottesville Area Trail Runners (CATs) became an organized, inclusive group that trained together and supported one another at races by crewing and pacing. One of my key workouts for Hellgate was a "Skinny B" workout with the fastest guys in the club. We ran in the dark for 1.5 hours at my tempo pace on rooty, muddy trails and then did a bunch of tough 2:00 hill repeats. It kicked my butt but delivered two weeks later with a Hellgate PR. Thanks, boys.

CATs at Mountain Masochist 50
8. Rest and recovery are the most essential part of the training cycle. This is a really hard concept for many ultrarunners to accept, but it is so true. In 2011, I took at least one and sometimes two full days off per week---that means no running, hiking, swimming or lifting. Nada. As a result I was able to train harder on my hard days without feeling tired or dead (except at the end of the workout).

9. Less racing is more--for me. My 2011 racing season was split into two: a spring season with the three  LUS 50Ks, each a month apart; and a fall season starting with the SNP run over Labor Day (not a race, but a hugely beneficial training weekend), and including Mountain Masochist in November and Hellgate in December. I did not race from the end of April until the beginning of November, but instead rested a ton, ran for fun, trained with friends, and spent time with my family. Racing from November through March seems to suit me best, and will be my routine for the next few years.

10. Remember always: Being able to run is a privilege. This is the greatest lesson. Thank you, David Horton, for reminding us all at the start of the Grindstone 100 this year, and every time we see you ride your mountain bike. Thank you, my wonderful family, for accepting my passion and supporting it. Thank you, dear friends, for your companionship on the trail and roads. Thank you for reminding me to never take running for granted.

The epitome of privilege: on the WS100 course above Lake Tahoe with good friends, 2006
What does 2012 hold in store? Stay tuned.

Happy New Year!