Thursday, October 27, 2011

Life is like a trail race

Bestest Everest and I at SD100 (photo: Brett Rivers)

Life is like a trail race.

When I ran Vermont 100 in 2008, the course was marked quite well. Every "respectable" interval there was a flag or, better yet, a "confidence marker" which was a large yellow pie plate with a giant C on it. Flags and marking in a trail race are our life line to success. Yes, knowing the course helps, but in the end we rely on these tiny little markers to get us where we want to go. 

I followed the markers quite successfully for the majority of the race. However, at one important and not obvious intersection we (I was with pacer JB by this point) missed a marker due to some distraction (racers on horseback asking for directions) and blazed right past a crucial turn. We realized our error in less than a mile and retraced our steps back to where we had gotten off course. I lost a few minutes, but in the end, the mis-direction just provided me with a necessary shot of adrenaline to change up the pace of the later miles of a 100 miler and more importantly, made me be more cognizant of my surroundings and keeping myself present.

In life, we go along our path, living our lives, make our way and look for little markers along the way to know we are going the right direction. A reassuring word from a friend, a pat on the back, a reassurance, a feeling; our "confidence markers" can come in all shapes and forms.

In life, just like trail racing, we sometimes go off track. We take a wrong turn or go down a path that isn't the way we truly want to go. We lose the markers and go into uncharted territory.
When you make a wrong turn, correct it then don't look back.
UROC 100k (photo: Running Times)

But just like in trail racing, we have a choice to stop, look at a map, turn around and go back to where we got off track. Sure, it means took a little extra time getting there, but we make it there, maybe a little worse for the wear or a little wiser, but we make it there. 

Other times, we choose to keep moving forward, even when we haven't seen a marker in a long time. We keep pressing forward in faith that we know the way and are self-reliant for reassurance. I've climbed mountains this way, literally (hello Hardrock) and metaphorically. It is hugely empowering to proceed into uncertainty like this and finally be rewarded with a marker, a weigh station, a sign you are going the right way. 

We can be not so lucky when we move forward in faith. Sometimes we end up cutting the course, ending up at a dead end or other such disasters. It is then that we can choose to either change our goals or find our way back. No matter what path we choose, there is always a way to find a way back, to be true to ourselves and our journey.

I realize that this year has been a lesson in finding and losing, changing and rediscovering, my own path as a runner. At the end of last year, I decided that I wanted to focus all of my attention on being the best runner I could be and make a go at qualifying for the Olympic Trials. I was all in. I made my qualifier in my second attempt in a horrible weather day at the LA Marathon. This was a huge confidence marker along the way. My goal was not just to qualify but to be prepared to be my best come the Trials in January 2012. But somewhere along the way, I took a wrong turn. I started doubting myself, I started to question my goals, I let other's expectations permeate into my brain. I went down a path, ignoring the signs that I was getting away from where I wanted to go and plunged headlong down the mountain.

I just realized I was off course. I was going the wrong way. Sure the path I was heading down was a suitable path, totally acceptable and safe. But it was not where I wanted to head. No, I set my sights on being the best I could be and I don't want to relinquish that. I don't want to settle, I want to make my once in a lifetime experience (because making the Olympic Trials could be once in a lifetime!), magical. That is where I want my path to go for now. I lost that dream, that goal for a while. I pushed it aside because I was scared. I let it move to the back burner because I wasn't respecting myself as a multifaceted runner.

But that is where I want to go. I finally stopped going the wrong way, I realized I was off course and I corrected my path. The Trials are in just over two months and I plan on doing everything in my power to be as prepared as I can be on that day. I finally see the signs that that is the right way for me to go right now, that that path is the one that is true for me in the immediate future. From there, I am sure I will dream other dreams, pursue other paths and be lost and found all over again. But for now, I see the signs and I know I am going the right way. And I can't wait to see where this path will take me.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Friend of faliure

Sometimes you have to feel like this (photo by Darryl Schaffer)

In order to feel like this (photo from TrailRunner Magazine)

I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed. -Michael Jordan (Thanks to Jen Pattee for posting that quote recently)

I for one, have come to a place in my life where I am a friend of failure. I do not seek out only things I know I can succeed at, I risk failure in my endeavors, I try to do thing I am not certain I can do. And when the time comes that I fail to achieve a goal, a dream or a benchmark I had sought, I feel it all, mourn the failing and then strip it all away and find the lesson. I even fail in executing that process every time or perfectly, but I am trying. 

I am learning and growing- the biggest achievement in ceasing to beat myself up over my failings. I am imperfect, so what?!? Instead of seeing that as a bad thing, I have been learning to see it as an opportunity. More opportunity to grow, more opportunity to continue to seek, push and explore? Yes please.

Life is a journey, not a destination and I am certain that I have failed to take the "right" turn many a time on my path. But what I have learned is that even failing to make the right choice, the right turn or getting yourself completely lost is only a failure if you refuse to learn the lessons along the way. You can always work your way back to where you want to be, you can always be found. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Once upon a runner

I was about to write a post about how I was having a bad day. A tired, worn out, didn't do what I had planned to do kind of day. But then, instead, I decided that I have already been there and done that, and I can have a change of plan day without having to talk myself through it. I have come a long way and made great strides with cutting myself some slack and not beating myself up when I am doing the right thing and listening to my body. Its not like I took the day off to watch soap operas and eat bon bons- I ran 13 miles today, did a hard gym workout with my trainer; that's just not what I had envisioned starting out.

Instead, I'd rather take the opportunity to look back and celebrate how far I have come as a runner.

Nervous smile before my first marathon: Edinburgh Marathon 2005

I often site my introduction to long distance running as the Edinburgh Marathon 2005. It was, in fact, my first marathon and the tipping point of running as a primary focus in my life. However, it was not the beginning of my running career, I think it was simply the point in time when I began to see myself as a runner.

I was never a competitive runner in high school. I did one season of track and pretty much just floundered around running everything from the 100m to the 800m. When I wasn't false-starting in the 800, I was actually pretty good and made 2nd team All-City. However,  I was just not that into track. And somehow I never got connected with the cross country team. 

While I didn't run track or cross country in high school, I did adore running. I ran and ran and ran. When I played soccer, my favorite part of the day was when we would do laps around 5 adjoining soccer fields and I would run my head off until I lapped the entire team, even the coach couldn't catch me. They called my "Gump" and I utilized my talent for running in soccer my freshman year (and all of grade school before that). The summer before my sophomore year in high school, my sister and I signed up for a local 10k (the Swedish Summer Run) and I had a blast running through the streets near my house. I was so proud of running such a "far" distance. I was so proud in fact that I signed up for the Super Jock and Jill Half marathon that September. I ran that untrained and underprepared and I can remember that 13.1 miles seemed so incredibly far to me. I finished that race in about 1:56. And I don't think I ever really stopped running after that.

The rest of my sophomore year, I ran to train for basketball (which was my sole focus then). I ran to vent my emotions and feelings. I would do endless loops around Green Lake during my sister's soccer games, trying to see how many I could get before her games ended. I never thought about racing or any sort of more formal running, as I saw myself as "just" a basketball player, but I definitely loved to run. It is amazing to me to think back on it now- then, running was just the simple act of running. I never worried about mileage or splits or times or races. I just ran and ran until I was tired or done and then I would stop. I loved it.

My junior and senior year, I did a lot of speed work at the track with my basketball teammates. And I spent a lot of time running a loop I called the "I hate you so much right now" loop ( watch the video here if you don't know what I am referring to)- it was a way I dealt with the things I was going through, it was about 9 miles and by the time I was done with the killer hilly loop, I would be numb.

When I gave up basketball in 2001, I pretty much collapsed in exhaustion and didn't do much physical activity routinely. I had been working out 8-10 hours a day for the better part of 4 years and I just needed to recover. I would occasionally go to the gym or go for a string of runs, but I didn't do anything routine.

In 2003, I went to South Africa as a part of a study abroad program. There, I not only reconnected with basketball through coaching with Hoops 4 Hope, I found running again. When I arrived there, two of my roommates asked if I wanted to join them for regular morning runs. We slowly built our mileage and better yet, signed up for the Cape Town Half marathon. We successfully completed that race and I was hooked. I returned to the states and started running everyday with my sister. I would run from my house in the Univ. District to Green Lake where we'd meet up and then we'd run around the lake and back up north to where my mom lived. We did the same loop, day in, day out, (except weekends when we'd branch out a bit) but I loved it. I can credit these daily runs with truly putting me in the habit of running again. I also can say that these runs went a long way in rebuilding my sister and my relationship, which had been very tempestuous until that point. Now, she is my best friend (not to mention someone I admire greatly)- each step we took, made that possible. We ran our first half marathon together September 2003 and I knocked my time down to 1:46:10.

By the time I moved to Pittsburgh at the end of the year, I was pondering a marathon. I had always been an all in type of person when it came to sports, self-made and attracted to big challenges, so a marathon seemed natural to me. I didn't know anything about training for a marathon or even signing up for one, so I just started running more and more- in any weather, temperature or time of night. I didn't have a car in Pittsburgh for my first 6 months, and I was know to even run home from the bar on occasion.

I graduated from grad school, moved to London, brining my running habit with me. I ran all over London, saw many places I wouldn't have otherwise discovered and learned that I can be fearless and resilient. I did endless loops around Hyde Park and along the river. In June of 2005, I finally got my chance at the marathon. I ran Edinburgh Marathon in 3:38 and was a complete rookie. I didn't take gels, I didn't have any idea how to pace myself. I just went out and ran. I didn't even know what a Boston qualifying time was, let alone the fact that I had made it in my first try. I just remember feeling like I was going to die trying to get to that finish line and then crossing it only to think "I HAVE TO DO THAT AGAIN!". And so it began.

From there, my nature took the reins. I was a self-made basketball player. I took what slice of talent I had and worked and worked and practiced and practiced until I was a great basketball player. And so, naturally I was the same way with running. I became a student of running. I immersed myself in training manuals, read everything I could and started to focus on learning how to be a runner. I never imagined that 6 years later I would be on my way to the Olympic Trials in the marathon, hold numerous course records in ultras and have two national championships. 

What it comes down to on the most basic level, I realize, is that I love to run. I want to run for many many years to come. I don't care if that means racing, placing or simply just putting on my shoes and going. Running has woven itself into the fabric of who I am. It is not who I am, but it is a part of me. And I love that and I celebrate how far I have come and how many more miles are yet to come.

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