Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Zen and the Art of Following Your Heart

This post brought to you by my new sponsor Udo's Oil, Oil the Machine!!!


I recently re-read one of my favorite books. It's called How to be an Adult. Bad title, great book. After a summer full of feeling emotionally and mentally exhausted, constantly pulled under by the next big wave crashing over my head, I was in need of a little inspiration. I was in need of some help with integration of all of the thoughts, beliefs and emotions going on in my head. One quick re-read of the book (it's about 85 pages long) and I was feeling empowered.

I was reminded that it is ok to say "Yes", "No" or "Maybe" and mean it. It is possible to change your mind, be assertive and not have to explain yourself. Being assertive is awesome. Listening to your own heart and mind, even when it appears to go against the grain, is, frankly, liberating.

Me and 1/2 of my fan club, Steve Stoyles

I have been all over the map this summer when it comes to my running. After being pulled out of WS, I struggled with where my running was going, why I was doing what I was doing (in choosing races) and if I was making the choices I was because it was really what I wanted to do. I've cried, roared, struggled, gone back and forth, gained clarity, failed to act on it and finally, found my truth.

Immediately after WS, I was keen to hasten into the next 100 mile effort. I felt like I had to prove that what happened at States was a fluke. But that feeling wore off. I didn't choose to step off the course, something outside of my control happened and it was the only option. And prove myself to whom? I have successfully run 100 miles (actually won), I am a great runner and don't need to prove that to anyone. I was really happy to realize that and I was glad to not head into another race for that horribly wrong reason. 

Deep down, I really only wanted to run long enough to get a Glenn photo.
Since he wasn't at Goat Peak, I had to continue. Thanks Glenn!

Instead, I decided that what I needed was some good old fashioned rest. Then I had one good run and I was back to training and training like a mad person. Yes, for another 100 miler. I had signed up for it way back in February and figured, what the heck, I love the race, the people, the place, maybe I can find motivation and indomitable will to get through it, even though I had realized that I really didn't want to focus on the 100 mile distance right now. I figured I could train my body and my mind would follow. The reality is, I should have listened to my own heart and head and kept on resting.

But I was still not saying "Yes" "No" or "Maybe" because I wanted to. I had let some perceptions and misconceptions of the running community infiltrate my mind and muddy the waters. I proceeded with the plan to run CC100 partially because following through on commitments is something that is hardwired into my DNA (and taught to me as a child) and partially because I let myself be talked out of my own truth.

As the race crept towards me and I tapered, my mind was able to refocus on my own truths. I fundamentally believe that rest days, recovery and off seasons are as valuable as the miles and workouts we do. They are not things to be feared, avoided at any cost or looked down upon. I believe that moderation is the key to life long sustainability and keeps you connected to the reasons you do the things you love. If you do something immoderately, perhaps you need to examine why you push yourself so hard, why you are doing what you are doing and why you simply cannot do what you love in a way that will let you do it forever. I am a very, very hard worker and I am not arguing that we should all only run 50 mile weeks, goodness knows I don't. I am saying that it is sane, rational and healthy to take days off and take an off season. It is okay to recover after a race and take your time coming back and its okay to celebrate your accomplishments before you rush off to do the next thing. Moderation and balance are my fundamental truths.

One thing I really am sort of ashamed to admit is that I really bought into the "superiority complex" that I perceive in ultrarunning. Just like in marathoning, where everyone asks you if you have run Boston, in ultrarunning, its the same about running WS's and 100s in general. 100 milers are not superior to any other distance. They are simply longer. They are different yes, better no. I think its perfectly okay to want to run 50k, 50 mile or 100k. Have we forgotten that those distances are incomprehensible in and of themselves? It is an accomplishment to be able to run. It is an accomplishment to be able to run ultras. If I don't decide to focus my life and running schedule around 100 mile races, that is ok.

The second part of this is the idea that trails are superior to roads. I seem to be one of the rarer ultrarunners who loves, yes loves, the road as much as I do the trails. But this year, I have bought into this as well and haven't done a single long road run. They are completely different animals. And I value both of them. I don't really get why road ultra accomplishments are looked at differently or looked down upon. Frankly I think its amazing that on the road the kind of pace and effort runners have to sustain. They are different, neither is better.

The third part of the "superiority complex" I bought into is that uphill running is superior. There is much more to racing than just uphill, yet in my years as an ultrarunner there have been numerous occasions where my uphill abilities have been, let's say, commented on. Which in and of itself is hilarious since I have won several races with gnarly elevation gain, as many as I have without. I bought into this one very early on in the year as I prepared for WS. I focused on getting better on the hills (which is good), but at the expense of my leg speed and downhilling strength. I have spent a good deal of the year being harder on myself (mentally) than I need to be because I bought into this. Consider for yourself you have looked at an elevation profile for a race and said it "only" had such and such elevation.

To realize all of this, is game changing to me. I derailed somewhere and bought into something other than my own truth. Thankfully for me, it never sat right with me and I was able to resurface, re-evaluated and be true to myself. About a week and a half before CC100, I found my way, my truth again and could see more clearly what I wanted and needed to do. I found the heart of why I do what I do. I dropped the lies and stopped caring about what I thought everyone else thought I should do. I got reinvigorated for the future. And I am happy I did. 


I did not however, walk away from Cascade Crest. I figured, what the heck, I am super well trained, I have a great plan, crew/pacers, plane tickets and t-shirts. I also figured that since my mind was free of illusions that I would be able to run the distance just to enjoy it and to just have fun. The race crept closer and I was very uncommitted. Running 100 miles is not something to be undertaken lightly or without complete certainty that you will do whatever it takes to get to the finish line. I lined up at the race with a fresh and healthy body, but a mind that was not certain I wanted to waste myself just because I said I would. Just because I didn't want to walk away from a commitment. My head was already on to my next race but I was hoping I would just have too much fun at CC to even think about it.

The reality is, I was just not that into it. With my body working well, my legs feeling strong, my fueling/hydrating plan on point, I was left simply clipping along, in my own head thinking: "you got it all clear, you figured it out, you know what you really want to do and yet, here you are". I knew I would pay a heavy physical price to finish the race and I wasn't really enjoying myself. I really didn't want to put 100 miles on my legs when I have other plans. I had 5 miles in the entire time where I actually thought "ok, now we are talking". I should have never even started. I knew that I did not have my heart into it. So I changed my mind. Yes, I changed my mind. 

Jumping for joy at changing my mind

I wasn't physically suffering in any way. I just had decided I didn't really want to do it (a long time before the race ever started) and I just took 34 miles of running to be strong enough, to muster up my strength to say "No, this is not what I want". I changed my mind, I quit. And really, no one cares. It was the final gesture in getting back to myself, my truths and following my heart. I am so happy with the decision and proud of myself for not carrying on for, literally, no reason.

Totally worthwhile stomachache. Baked goods at Macrina.


I walked away from the race with relief, joy and excitement. I enjoyed myself throughly in the decision and the rest of the weekend was spent goofing off (see above pics and below) on the run, playing, laughing, eating delicious food (gluten included), drinking coffee and generally letting myself just enjoy. I am not speeding onwards to training again this week. I am resting HARD in preparation for my next training block. I will have had 3 good down weeks by then. 


The seasons are changing again and I enter the fall feeling like I am more myself than I have been in a long time. I am excited and invigorated. I am also feeling quite liberated by all of this. Who knew being an adult could be so much fun?





18 comments:

  1. awesome post. love the insight, honesty. thank you.

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  2. Great post. I really identified with it.

    It is all about having fun. If I paid for a movie ticket and the movie sucks then I am not afraid to get up and leave the theater. It is the same thing with races for me.

    Just do what you want to do and what feels right. It is easy to get wrapped up the the TINY bubble of the ultrarunning scene....especially for someone at your level.

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  3. Excellent post. It is such a waste worrying about what others think. "To thine own self be true"

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  4. My wife and I have a favorite acronym: "GOOS." It stands for "getting out of something," especially something where, even when you thought you wanted to do it, and it would have been fun, there's still pleasure in suddenly being able to just stay home. Good GOOS, Devon!

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  5. Enjoy the freedom! The path is finally clear in front of you :)

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  6. This makes me want to cheer, too! How refreshing, so many of our kind run, and run, and run and do nothing but. How boring. Here's to rest, time off, and having other adventures!

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  7. Amen, sister. Certainly rings true - the reasons, the decisions, the "what others think", the superiority complex...It's a huge step to say it out loud, and be truly ok with it. Own it. Some people take much longer:)

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  8. thanks for writing this post. i needed to read something like this. the triathlon community is similar - full ironmans are superior and everything else is not as good. i bought into that, but realized this year that no, that's not what i want to do. so, well said! i will remember this post as i finish out this year.

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  9. I like this post. Well said and I agree.

    Regarding the gluten thing . . . do you find it hard to go back to eating gluten free after you've had some gluten? Once I start that spiral it is so hard for me to pull back out.

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  10. Thanks everyone.

    Trailmomma- Usually I find it easy to transition back since there is a very short threshold for my bodies tolerance. I usually plan out my timeframe for "cheating". For instance this whole week (until yesterday) has been free eating. I definitely don't seek it out or go overboard, but if it comes up, I have it. After most races, I allow myself one gluten-y item and find by allowing myself that opportunity that I don't always feel compelled to try it. I can understand that it would be hard to go back!

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  11. Moderation - Amen, sister! I'm so happy for you Devon, what a journey :)

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  12. My 2c: life is short, and it makes sense to prioritize your goals, and to take them in order that will bring you most satisfaction. Trail running will still be there when you're ready and you are likely to excel at it then too. Plus, one notable injury, and you may find any desired achievement out of reach (coming from one with a constellation of annoying injuries stemming from one incautious decision resulting in a bad landing on a jump). I can only envy you your 50+ mile weeks (50 is about my limit these days and roads hurt). Plus, there can be other physical consequences (e.g., endocrine) and psychological consequences to be managed too. So, it's your life- live it the way you want to. Thanks for sharing your journey with us!

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  13. Enjoy your down time, Devon!!!!

    All Day!
    ~Ken

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  14. I love the picture so cool and funny. The post is awesome too it is interesting. Nice run!!!

    zbsports

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  15. Ya some downtime and rest is good before getting back at it again. Well done on the 100 miler!

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  16. You are absolutely right: 100-milers are not the only ultras that "matter." There are many shorter ultras with long traditions, good courses and deep fields. Races such as Miwok, AR 50, Way Too Cool, Firetrails, Leona Divide, Silver State, SNER, Quicksilver, Ruth Anderson. Anyone who thinks these races don't matter has never run them.

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