Thursday, October 25, 2012

Sweating Courage

This past weekend I saw courage flowing out of women. I was at the SheRox triathlon as a mentor and as I was out on the course I was in awe of so many of the competitors. There were super fast ladies on the latest and greatest equipment at the front of the race but they aren't the ones that really impressed me. No, these front runners all looked like athletes and were racing against the clock.

The women who were most impressive to me were those who were riding whatever bike was in the garage, whether it fit them or not. The gals who were buddied up with their friend and encouraging them along the way. The women whose bodies didn't resemble what society associates with a triathlete but they were out there. No matter how slow they covered the course, they did it. They put themselves out there and to me those women had more strength and inner fortitude than any winner had.

This race is excellent for the support all the women give each other but one thing I noticed as I was out there cheering the last finisher home was how few spectators were left. I suggest that in the future at this race everyone heads back out and brings every last lady home in style. We have women only events as a way of supporting and encouraging women to enter the sport in a nurturing environment. The biggest superstars of this race are the ones who keep going and bring it home last. Let's get out their and lighten their load in the home stretch, they've been carrying that suitcase of courage a long way.

Welcome to the sport athletes!

Monday, October 15, 2012

True Grit

I have a sweatshirt that I got in the 11th grade. I still wear this sweatshirt all the time. It is the most durable piece of clothing imaginable. The cuffs aren't frayed, there are no holes in it and the graphics are still clear. The only thing is I lost the string from the hoodie, but I lost that before it was 2 years old. this sweatshirt is still super comfortable and there is nothing I like pulling on more after a good workout than this. It is in the wash almost every week. Why am I telling you about my sweatshirt? Well, I have been thinking lots about durability lately. It is on my mind when I am out running trails for the better part of the day trying to coax along some lastingness into my legs.

This weekend I ran up and down and back up and back down a mountain. I was enjoying the up way more than the down. I thought I was a good descender- boy was I wrong. Just like I am led to believe I have mad bike skills when I compare myself to triathletes, I was tricked by all the same triathletes I fly by any time the road dips down on the run. BUT, ultra runners, now they really are good at downhill running. Instead of a downhill lasting 1-2 minutes, these last 45 minutes or more. That is a long time for me to relax, let gravity take over and not fight it. I start to feel like the trail is just taunting me for a face plant. My legs just don't have the moxie for it - yet. It is getting better though, my persistence is paying off. The true test of how much sturdiness my quads have developed is that night I was able to get on and off the porcelain throne without using my upper body I'll keep plugging away at it and maybe one day my legs will have as much true grit as my Russell Athletics sweatshirt.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Monday, October 8, 2012

Muscle Head

Strength and endurance are two areas that are so important in undertaking physical challenges. Luckily, there are areas that can be trained and toned over time. Everyone knows that you need to do workouts to build your muscles and get your cardiovascular system to handle the load you are going to put it under. Most people focus on specific training and workouts to develop the muscles that they are going to be using during their chosen activity or event but there is one muscle that can pull you through anything if it is trained appropriately. That muscle is the mind.

People talk about mental strength like it is either something you have or you don't. I have heard it said 'she is so strong mentally' but where does that come from? Is is something you are born with? Or is it something that you train and develop just like any other strength? I personally think mental strength is something that is developed and honed like any other muscle. Those who go out and go through the physical motions without doing the mental training are the ones who are going to fold when the going gets tough. No matter how strong you have made your quads or hamstrings, they are not going to keep you going when you are hit with adversity. That is when the mental muscle takes over.

Growing up I was taught that no matter what you don't let someone break you mentally. I remember when I was taking horseback riding lessons, the instructor was extreme and he made all the girls cry. One of my friends came out of the ring after her lesson one day red faced and tear streaked. My dad looked at me as I was heading in and said 'do not let him break you down, do not cry'. I remember that during my lesson he yelled at me, called me names and told me I was basically useless on a horse. The more he yelled the harder I dug in, I left the ring that day not having cried. To this day I am not really sure what he though he was gaining by making young girls cry but it was a lesson I never forgot. My mind can be powerful, I had decided that I would not cry and so I did not cry. 

With mental toughness people also lump will power. I do not think will power should be in the equation. If you are doing a race and you are relying on will power to keep you going and not quitting then you are having to go through the decision process over and over again to keep going. No, you make a decision before you are even at the race that you are not going to quit and therefore remove that option and then will power can be left at home. Making firm decisions, black and white decisions means that when it is tough you just move through it. If you have removed the other options it really isn't that difficult. BUT, you have to train this just like anything else. So, you decide you are eliminating potato chips from your diet (I use this because this is my vice). You make a firm decision you will not eat potato chips, not a soft well I'll try. NO a firm decision that you don't eat them. Now when you are faced with potato chips, you don't have to use will power to make you not eat them, you just don't eat them because you don't. This may be an over simplified example but if you make these kinds of firm decisions often enough, your mental fortitude gets strengthened. 

In endurance races we are physically out on the course for hours, but the most important place we are is in our heads. What is your inner voice talking about while you are out there and are you listening? Do you listen to strangers when they talk negatively to you? Then why do you listen to that inner voice when it has something negative to say? You can try to change what it is saying, or you can choose to not listen. I have found that if you don't listen, most people, including your inner voice, shut up or go away. 

What drew me to endurance sports in the first place was not the physical training and seeing what my body could do. No, like most people I was fascinated with what the mind is capable of doing. When the body appears broken down and at the end, the mind has the ability to keep it going and when you are physically fine, your mind can shut you down. A good training program addresses your physical strengths and weaknesses but a great program turns you into a muscle head.  

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Backing It Up

In all my research for ultra running training I have read that one of the most valuable workouts that can be done is the 'Back to Back' (B2B).This means that you do a long run one day and go out and do another one the next day. If I wanted to play with the big boys I needed to step it up.

This weekend I did my first B2B. I had no idea what to expect but I did know that I had done plenty of long runs on tired legs in the past. I was just more use to having done a long hard bike ride the day before. They say that the purpose of the second long run is to learn to run on tired legs and to keep on going when you aren't feeling it. Sounds fun doesn't it?

Amazing Views

For some reason I was looking forward to my first B2B weekend. Not because I was excited about feeling how tired my legs were. No, I was looking forward to it because I like spending time with that girl. The girl who digs in and doesn't quit. The girl who sets her mind to something and executes it. The girl who gets crazy songs stuck in her head that make her smile. I like to peel away the layers and spend time with the girl at the core of it all. Sure, sometimes she can get whiney and needy but most of the time she just proves to me that she loves to be outside testing her limits.

The first weekend of B2B went well. The second run my legs were tired and going up hills my calves informed me that they had done a boatload of work the day before. I managed to eek it out and finished what I set out to do. It was fun, in that no fun fun way that we all seek.

Tana was about this impressed by my feat

For some reason no matter how far I run Tana still expects me to take her for an afternoon walk. She is never impressed by my athletic prowess, quite the contrary. Luck for me, she was up for a walk at the beach that afternoon. She thought we were there for her to do some swimming, we were really there for me to soak my legs in the therapeutic pacific.

I can see the reason the back to back is considered the bread and butter workout. I felt like I had been backed up over by a semi truck Sunday night.

Bracing myself for the initial cold shock
"The greater the obstacle the more glory in overcoming it"

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Lean On Me

It seems that in ultra running as in life it is best to choose your running partners wisely. You are going to be spending hours and hours together through better and through worse. There might even be some sickness involved.

On Saturday I got to tag along with a great team. Along the way I learned many lessons. We ran up and over and back up a mountain. Luckily for me both of the guys were facing their own struggles. I didn't want to rejoice in their suffering but it did make it a more even playing field and I was able to keep up. One of them had the remnants of a flu bug. He puked trailside but refused to turn around. According to him this was most excellent training for the late miles of a long ultra when anything could happen. Due to his leaving extra fluids out of the trail he managed to run out of water. His partner was able to share some of his. While I watched the sick guy sucking on the straw of the other guys camelback I couldn't help but think that was true caring. I am not one for sharing straws with well people so that would have been stretching my limits. I did have a contigency plan if he needed water from me, I could put it into my hand held from my straw and no straw sharing would occur. Yah for me, I could still be an asset to the team.

When sickie was feeling better and only coughing up small amounts of phlegm to leave on the trail he was called upon to be the strength of the team. Cramps were setting in to the other guys legs. Lucky for him, his chosen running partner is also his chiropractor/ART therapist. Talk about picking a good partner! Anyone can give you salt tablets and a bit of water but trailside body maintenance is pretty hard to come by! I was able to take a bit of a break from ascending and descending a mountain while the appointment was being conducted, during which time I sucked on some nice fresh water out of my camelback and had a snack.

Prior to starting the run the guys made sure to email me to bring plenty of food and water. Sounds like they didn't want an albatross around their neck. Even starting out they were looking at my pack concerned about the amount of water I was carrying. I assured them that I had 70 oz and was prepared with food. I kind of felt a bit guilty as they were rationing water and I arrived back at the base with extra. Not guilty enough that I was sharing my straw voluntarily though, I had just met them after all!

When you are running up and down mountains it is good to be self sufficient but it is nice to know when the going gets tough, and it will, that you have someone to lean on. I just hope that at some point I will be strong enough and experienced enough that I can say 'lean on me'.