Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The difference a year makes

Vermont 100-2008

Earlier this year, around late Feb/ early March, I signed up for a 100 mile race (Burning River). I felt at that time, for the first time since Vermont, that I was completely intrinsically motivated to race Burning River. I felt excited about the race, I was all in.

However, after my racing unfolded as it did soon thereafter- qualifying for the Olympic Trials and securing my spot on the 100k National team, my racing goals for the year had to realign with those events. Sadly, I withdrew from Burning River and shelved my 100 mile aspirations for the year. I know that I COULD run Burning River this summer and still race the 100k in September, but I know that it would not have me in top form for that race.

Last year, when I toed the line for WS100, I was not all in, I was not primarily intrinsically motivated to do the race. After what happened subsequently at that race (which has nothing to do with my motivation, but more with the sometimes freaky weird curveballs of ultrarunning), I was not excited to tackle the distance and decided that I would wait to run another 100 miler until I really really felt compelled to. I finally was able to overcome the pressure to run 100s (whether real or perceived) and accepted that being an ultrarunner doesn't have to mean running 100 milers. It took me sometime to unravel everything surrounding WS, but I came to a good place. I knew I'd be back, but I was in no hurry to rush back and try my hand again this year. And then suddenly, one cold wintery day, I decided I was ready again. It is significant that I decided I wanted to run a 100 miler again when I did because it wasn't a feeling I got immediately following pacing/crewing/attending a 100 mile event. It was just a random day. And that is why I know for sure the desire is there.

Anxious on the way to the pre-race meeting, Vermont 100-2008

Now that the 100 mile season is upon us, I am even more excited about the possibilities of future races. And by excited, I mean absolutely petrified and exhilarated, all at the same time. I really love the 50 mile and 100k distances. They suit me well- road, trail, everything in between, I just love the distances. I don't know if I love 100 milers or not yet but I remember how much Vermont 100 changed me, how much of a journey the process was and how I felt I had lived an entire lifetime of emotions in one day. Getting to the start line of a 100 miler is a terrifying thing. It is scary as hell to line yourself up for such an undertaking. I see now that my ability to take on a 100 mile race mirrors my current ability in life to tackle the things that intimidate me or are daunting to me. Last year, I was not in the right mental frame for such an undertaking. Now, I am enthusiastically taking on challenges, ferociously going after the things I want and following my heart without fear.

I will run 100 miler again. And this past weekend, I realized I will run Western States again too.

Crew, pacers and runner Brett Rivers on the track at WS100 2011
Brett ran 17:38 for 16th place.

Even though I had decided I wanted to run a 100 miler earlier this year, I was pretty resolute that it was not going to be WS100. Last years experience was scary. And after that experience, I realized that I have really, really, really want to go back to WS before I consider attempting it again. I cannot go if I feel pressured into it or any other extrinsic motivation. 

I was, however, very excited to be a part of my fellow ninja, Brett River's, 2011 WS crew and have the opportunity to pace him from Foresthill to the river.

Nathan and I surfs up on the snow
Photo by bestest everest

Nathan and I headed up to Squaw Valley on Friday morning after a nice hard tempo run, caught up with lots of friends at the pre-race meeting and then ran up the mountain to enjoy some nice views from the top of Escarpment. It was fun to run through the snow with Nathan, Randy and Jonathan and even more so because the altitude which last year felt problematic (between 6200-8200 feet), felt like nothing at all (yeah for awesome altitude training with our Hypoxico system!)


I lost count of how many times I said (out loud or to myself) "I am so happy I am not racing" while I was there. It was great to just be at the race and feel all of the excitement but none of the nerves, the fear, the taper crazys. I know that is part of running and racing, but it is a part I struggle to grow fond of. 

We grabbed some dinner with Brett, Larissa and Randy (the all-star runner and crew) and headed to bed. This year would be a different crewing experience for me since there was no crew access until Michigan Bluff (mile 55). Thus, instead of the usual mad dash into Auburn and up to Robinson Flat, we had a leisurely morning, packed up our things without hurry and headed in to Auburn to have brunch at Awful Annies with Sarah and Steven, who were pacing and crewing for Rick. We bumped into fellow Salomon athletes Ricky Gates and Simon Mtuy and they joined our crew for breakfast. Ricky and Simon are both individuals that I find hugely inspirational and they just happen to be bad ass runners as well.

Leaving Foresthill with Brett

After we finished a leisurely meal, we headed to Foresthill to get our pacer numbers and then Michigan Bluff to finally see Brett. He came through all smiles and business and we got him in and out quickly. It had been really cool hanging out at Michigan Bluff anticipating all the front runners. It was fun to cheer each of them on. Once we saw Brett, we hightailed it back towards Foresthill as it was my turn to pace. I hopped out at Bath road and ran the 1+ down the road to where I would meet Brett. I had a few minutes to socialize with Topher, Kim and Krissy before Brett was popping out of the woods and ready to rock. He was running smooth and comfortable and we ran/walked up the hill and into Foresthill. We got him in and out of the aid station quickly and were on our way back to the trail.

See you in 18 miles!

Brett had talked a lot of smack leading up to the race to both Nathan and I, mostly about how he was going to drop both of us. Despite him throwing down this challenge, I was pretty certain that from miles 60-80 my job was to keep Brett together, eating, and moving quickly instead of trying to break him. I had set a goal to run 2:45 for this section and get Brett to the river at 6:30pm and running with Nathan by 7. I didn't tell Brett this goal, but kept it under advisement as I monitored our progress. We flew throw the first few miles as I filled him in on all the happenings in the race and all the various dramas and scenes playing out. After the first aid station, we settled in and Brett went quiet and just kept plugging away. We were a little slow on this section and I could tell he was hurting, not bad, but he had lost a bit of time in the 5 miles leading to Cal 1. We passed and started running with David La Duc whom Brett had run some miles with already for the day. We probably ran a good 8 miles with David and his pacer until Brett finally found another gear and we passed them for good. A few minutes after passing David, Brett's laces on his Salomon Crossmax came loose and he caught his foot in them crashing to the ground and snapping his lace. Since the lace is one piece and not meant for tying, this could have been a big problem, but I calmly macgyver'd his shoe lace and informed him that he would have to cut off his shoe laces at Green Gate where he intended to change shoes anyways. It was a turn around moment though and Brett started flying. We hammered to the river crossing passing an additional 3-4 guys before hopping in the boat and meeting Larissa and Randy on the other side. We ran Brett up to Green Gate (nearly 2 miles) and I handed him off to Nathan to finish the day. I had done my job, we had reached the river at 6:25pm, Brett was in good shape and ready to run hard to the finish. 

Crossing the river before 6:30pm. My job is done.
Photo by Gary Wang

We hustled to Hwy 49, saw Brett and Nathan there and then sprinted to the track to drop our car and run to Robie Point to run the final mile in with Brett. That final mile, actually all the miles I ran with Brett, were some of the most pleasant pacing miles I have ever done. It was super exciting to bust on to the track with Brett and help push him to the finish. He crossed the line in 16th place in 17:38. I am very proud of Brett and our whole team. Soon thereafter, we got to witness Ellie coming in for the win and then Kami and Nikki sprinting in for a close battle for second.

Watching the race and being part of such an awesome crew really got me fired up again to try Western States. Everyone had fun-runner, crew, pacers. Everyone was easy- no drama. Everyone was present. I really liked that. Being a part of such a positive experience helped me come full circle on my own experience. I am able to see that I can have a different experience and that I am in a completely different place now then I was then. While before the race I was saying "I am so glad I am not racing", after the race I am thinking "I look forward to the opportunity to try again". 

I am fired up to be a part of the race again and to run another 100 miler. Now, I just practice one of the main skills of 100 mile running- patience, and wait until the time is right to go after it again.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Party like an ultrarunner

Krissy and I after her 30th birthday run

A few years ago, right after I met Krissy when I moved to Seattle, she celebrated her 30th birthday. For her birthday, she decided to get together a bunch of her friends and do 30 miles to celebrate the day. It was a blast- we had a roving aid station and I think Krissy and I cemented our life long friendship when I agreed to run around the parking lot after we came off the mountain until her watch said exactly 30. After the run, we celebrated over delicious food made by her awesome Ma!

Since that run, the birthday run has been my top priority when conceptualizing how I want to spend my birthday. Two years ago (2009), my birthday fell immediately after the WC100k, so I was unable to run 27 on my 27th. Instead, having just moved back to San Francisco, I invited some new friends out for a nice 15 mile loop: Brett, Larissa, Nathan, Will and Caitlin.

I carried a watermelon. 
27th birthday run. Present from Nathan.

I was completely fried on that run from the 100k and insisted that the others go on ahead of me (brett and larissa had to turn back early to get to work, leaving just Nathan, Caitlin and Will) and just wait for me at the top. In a sign of things to come, Nathan, whom I had just met in person for the first time the day before at Tartine, came back for me while running up Marincello. And if I wasn't swooning enough, he presented me with a watermelon after the run as my birthday present. It was cute and thoughtful and also hilarious since I then had to run home carrying a watermelon like a football under my arm. I can easily say, I've loved the Baker since I met him.

Last year, my birthday enjoyment was compromised by my running at WS100. Tapering for a 100 miler is no way to spend your birthday and ultimately it was not the most fun I've ever had on my birthday.

This year, I was bound and determined to spend as much time with friends and family, celebrate for days on end and gosh darn it, I was getting in a 29 mile run for my 29th birthday. It is not even my birthday yet (as I write this) and I can easily say, I've had the best birthday in a long time.

Bestest everest Jonathan and I at SD 100. Photo by Brett.

Two weekends ago, Nathan and I headed down to San Diego for pacing duties and to join a huge gaggle of our friends from all over while they participated in SD100 in various capacities. It was such a blast to be a part of. Nathan was pacing for Topher and I was returning to pace Jonathan once more in San Diego. Several ninjas and seattle friends were racing and my sister and Steven were down to help crew for Jonathan. Simply put, it was an event that struck serious FOMO (fear of missing out) into the hearts of those unable to attend.

I really love my sister. Photo by Brett.

We cheered, we laughed, we paced. I saw friends cross the finish line and friends make tough decisions. Jonathan had to pull out of the race due to a medical issue, so he handed me off to Larissa who I paced for a good few hours in the night. I am so proud of Larissa's finish and all of my friends who rocked it-Krissy, Topher, Rod, Yassine, Walter, Roch and everyone else I am forgetting since it felt like I knew half the field. It was like one big pre-birthday party!

Dinner at Local 360 with Krissy, Steven, Jason, Sarah and JB!

No sooner had I unpacked my bags on Monday, I was repacking them for a trip up to Seattle to visit my family and hang out with Jonathan (who was also up visiting), Krissy and Jason. On Friday night, the whole gang joined me for dinner at Local 360 which totally knocked my socks off. I loved everything I tasted and really enjoyed the thoughtful, hyper-local, organic fare.

Clearly, I REALLY enjoyed the Peanut Butter Bon Bons.

I spent the rest of the weekend hanging out with family, having another fantastic birthday dinner at 50 North and running a bunch. On Sunday my sister and I headed up to Tiger Mountain to attempt the 12 summits run which is about 34-ish miles with a ton of climbing. The June gloom was doing nothing for our motivation, healing my cold or making my sister's hurt leg feel any better, so we changed our route, got lost and ended up with a nice 22 mile run.



Sarah is freezing in June, not awesome.

I went out and ran 9 more miles that evening en route to my mom's house where I enjoyed homemade pot roast, mashed potatoes and salad with my mom, sister, steven, cousin Erika, Ananda and Maya. It was great to be able to get so much good time in with my family. My life is pretty hectic and it can be hard to always feel as in touch as I would really like. I love my family intensely and am happy that I decided to come up for a visit and see them. I returned home on Monday morning, tired and with a cold but bound and determined to have a fantastic birthday week.

I had decided that since I had Wednesday off from work that I would run 29 miles for my 29th birthday. I figured that no one would be available on a Wednesday to run with me, but with Western States this weekend, I knew I would not have another opportunity. Western States is to my adult life, what the end of the school year was to my young life- totally getting in the way of my birthday!



Nonetheless, this morning, I headed out to Mountain Home Inn with Nathan and we did one of my favorite loops around the North side of Tam. It was beautiful and sunny and warm. We ran above the fog that pretty much hugged every elevation below us. It was a swift 12 miles and felt good. Originally, I had planned to grab my pack out of the car and just run all the way home through the Headlands, across the bridge. My calculations had that at a 33-34 mile run which I was fine with, but upon arriving back at the car, the temperature was about 10 degrees cooler than on our picturesque loop and the fog and wind were blowing sideways. I felt like I would be descending into a cold miserable slog instead of continuing the fun we'd been having together. So I decided, "it's my party and I'll do what I want to" and went home with Nathan, ate some food and took a nap. It was a fantastic decision and it made it easy for me to rally in the afternoon and run an additional 17 miles to get in a full 29 miles. Tomorrow, my actual birthday, I will get to run with my ninjas and continue the celebration the best way I know how: running (and then eating good food, of course)!

Today, as I ran those final 17 miles on the road, I felt completely connected to why I run. I was not running 29 miles to log miles or burn calories. It didn't fit into my training schedule or have a specific purpose, instead it was just about the act itself. I ran fast, despite the headwind, and felt free, unencumbered. That is ultimately what I love about a birthday run- it is purely about the act itself. To me, celebrating birthdays are not about gifts or attention or parties, it is about celebrating life and the journey we are lucky enough to be on.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Work/Run/Life Balance

Shirt by me (available here). Photo by Rick Gaston.

The memory of my crazy racing schedule this spring is starting to fade. The fatigue is gone, the legs rested and I am back to running. My next "A" race is not until September, so while I am doing some very hard specific work (like Wednesday tempo or hill workouts with the fast boys), I am also taking the opportunity to spend a significant amount of time on the trails, go on adventures and pace friends and family as they pursue their race goals. Sure I have a training schedule, yes I am working quite hard but something is different. Back when I was training for Houston and LA, I went to a place in my training I had never been before, pushed in a way I wasn't sure I was capable of and achieved a hard fought for goal. It was an amazing experience. But I realized one thing about myself:

I cannot exist on a day to day basis that way. I cannot be single minded about a running goal. Moreover, I will not. That is just not how I roll. 

What I mean is, during that time period I spent a lot of time contemplating whether or not I wanted to really make a go at being the best marathoner I can be. I definitely made the move in the right direction and look forward to continuing to make strides and get faster. I fully plan on showing up at the trials ready to rock. But I am not all in, not right now. To be that person, that runner, I would have to give up too much. Or at least more than I am willing to.

I have come full circle on my thought process about the runner I want to be. When I decided to run my first ultra back in 2006, it was because I did not want to center my running and life around the pursuit of an (ultimately) arbitrary goal of a specific marathon time. In the grand scheme of life, it doesn't matter at all. Not even a little bit. I didn't want to make something like that my focus. So I started ultrarunning and connected to a deeper, more essential part of my running. Sure, I have goals for ultras. Yes, I like to be the best that I can be. But ultimately in ultrarunning, there is no single quantitative measure of things like there is in road marathoning.

Photo by Pedro Martinez

Ultrarunning, with the occasional road marathon splashed in there for a challenge, is ONE part of my life, it is not the only part. When I look at elite level marathoners, I see a single-mindedness that is a central theme. By necessity, their lives are centered around their running. I have entertained the thought many a time of having this kind of life but when it comes right down to it: it is not for me. That is not who I want to be.

Who I want to be is a healthy, happy, well rounded individual. I want to be a rockstar business owner that makes peoples lives better through healthy food. I want to be a good girlfriend, sister, daughter, friend, cousin, and mentor.  I want to be an adventurer, a speed demon, a downhill bomber, a ninja, a unflappable pacer and CR breaker. I want to get lost in the woods and test myself with crazy track repeats. I want to laugh with friends over an amazing meals and grow, learn and be balanced. Balanced. That is who I want to be. I have always balked at defining myself or labeling myself, but this is one label I would happily take on. As I get older, I realize that self-definition for me is no longer a way to seek out who I am like it was when I was younger, it is a way to express who I am.

Balanced. Life is too short and to precious to be anything but.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Funner with another runner

Everything is funner with another runner. Particularly, well, running. While I am definitely not against running alone, running with training partners and friends can't be beat. Especially on long run adventures.
Clearly we are having fun. That or we picked a route that is uphill the whole way.

Nathan and I decided in the spring that we were going to set aside specific weekends over the summer to go on long running adventures outside of our usual routes. Once the snow melts in Tahoe and Yosemite (ha, someday), we will be heading up there to run and explore. In the meantime, we plan a little closer to home but find places to explore we've never been or rarely go. Nathan is training for Hardrock and I am training to, well, not die while trying to pace the speedy Baker at Hardrock. My next 'A' race isn't until September, so while I do a few targeted workouts towards that goal each week, the rest of the time I am getting in as much trail time as I possibly can. Over the past few weekends we have been doing some amazing trail runs both close to home and on some trails that we've never been. 

Over the past two years of knowing Nathan, we have been on many adventures and shared many long runs. Nathan is the perfect training partner for me because he has opposite strengths from me (and is faster than I am) and so I am pushed to improve those skills (like uphill running) to keep up. I feel like I have grown as a runner because of training with him and also a person. That is not some overly sentimental schmoopy-ness, I think it is a reflection of what one should get from a good training partner. I have had many excellent training partners in my time as a runner including my sister and bestest everest. It made me think, what are the fundamentals of a good training partner? And how can you be a good training partner?

Fundamentals of a good training partner

A lot of the time, training partners naturally emerge when you run with other people and larger groups. But there are a few more factors to think about than just someone of similar speed.
  • Relatively close speed and endurance. For both partners to get the most out of training and running together, being of similar speed is a primary thing. In hard sessions, you want to be able to push each other (speed) and in longer sessions, you want to be able to cover the same distance (endurance)- i.e. a 10k runner and a 100 mile runner might be poorly matched in a long training run. This past wednesday, Nathan and I met up with Brett, Peter and Mike for Strawberry Hill repeats and we all were able to stay within 5-10 seconds of each other on the repeats throughout the workout and push each other.
  • Communication and understanding. I personally think that before heading off with a training partner, that the rules of the game should be established. It is best to discuss the nature of the run (how hard you'll be running, mileage, intensity, etc), whether or not you will stay together the whole time (if one person is feeling good and the other not, for example) and also goals of the run (getting in miles, specific workout, specific distance, etc). It is good to be on the same page.
  • Patience and positive outlook. The perk of running alone is that you only have to listen to your own body and adjust to your own needs. When you run with someone else you have to adjust to their needs as well. They will need to eat, drink, use the bathroom, etc at different times. They will feel good and bad at different times. Having patience and a positive outlook (i.e. save the hyper intensity and strict commitment to time/pace for your runs by yourself) means those differences don't have the power to change how you feel about the run.
  • Positive, encouraging, mutual respect.  In my head, I am always worried that I am slowing Nathan down. I know this is an irrational, neurotic fear and is completely unfounded. I also know where that fear comes from (not from him that is for sure). Instead of fostering those kinds of bad feeling, a good training partner (like Nathan) will be positive and encouraging. They will lift you up, push you to better yourself and will be honorable and respectful partners. 
  • Desire to grow and to be pushed. I think running with a training partner is in part for the company (especially on the ultra long runs) and part for their capacity to bring out the best in you and you in them. When I played basketball, I always wanted to play against stronger players so that I could improve my skills. The same is true in running, I run with training partners because I want to grow and be pushed, but also to help my training partners do the same.
I think being a good training partner means adopting these good fundamentals and thinking beyond yourself and your own needs when running with a training partner. 

In the end running with a training partner or partner(s), can change a run into an adventure or a training day into something you will remember for a very long time.

To that end, our weekend adventures last week (in short):

Day 1: Big Basin


We ran from Park Headquarters in Big Basin (near Santa Cruz) and did a 34+ mile loop (thank goodness we had a map) which managed to be pretty much uphill the whole way with the exception of about 2 miles were we lost about 2000 feet. The first 18-20ish miles felt like a bit of a struggle to me. We both were feeling more tired than we'd like but then turned it around nicely once we hit Skyline-to-Sea trail and hammered it uphill for 10 miles back to the car.



That's what she said

We followed up the run with Kung Fu Panda 2 in 3D and then an epic amount of sushi at Naka in Santa Cruz. It was an absolutely ideal day.

Day 2: Pine Mountain
Sunday we headed north to Marin to run on Pine Mountain. I have run the 14 mile Pine Mountain loop a few times with my good friend Penny but Nathan had never been there. Earlier in the week, I emailed Penny to find out ways to make the loop into a 20+ mile run. We added on a very steep (both down and up) loop to the beautiful Carson Falls. The run was about 21 miles and we had a lot of fun.

My latest obsessions are Salomon Buffs and Rudy Projects that weigh nothing. 



We followed the run with a trip to Sol in San Rafael and then went to see Pirates of the Caribbean in 3D.  All in all, it was a fantastic adventure weekend. We got a lot of running done, ate great food and stepped away from every day life and still got to sleep in our own bed! I am looking forward to more adventures this weekend and all summer long!

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