Tuesday, October 11, 2011

26.2 mile training run number two- CHICAGO

Here's a funny story (that some reading already know).  I last blogged about some of the things I was afraid of in regard to the JFK 50.  I believe top of the list was "injury".  But what I meant was "running injury", not "slam your knee into the kitchen counter after behind freaked out by the sight of a raccoon at your garage doorstep" injury.  Ironically enough, that is exactly what happened the day after I posted my last entry.  A raccoon was helping himself to the dog's food and when I opened the garage door from the kitchen to put a full garbage bag out there, I was greeted by his beady, sneaky little eyes.  Well I don't like surprises like that and I don't really care for raccoons (or rather, I'm afraid they'll bite me), so I screamed, slammed the door, ran back inside, hopped onto the kitchen island (you know, because the raccoon could open the door and get me) and in the process, slammed my left knee into the edge of the island counter.  So how about that!  By the time I went to bed, climbing the stairs was painful.  I shook my head in disbelief as I pictured taking time off of training due to a raccoon scare.  I was scheduled to do my longest trail run yet with Jack the next morning and at bedtime, was really unsure I was going to be able to do that.  Fortunately, some ice and ibuprofen helped and my knee was unaffected by the woods of Mt. Airy.  We had a great run.  I think I simply bruised the knee cap because in the morning, there was no swelling... just tenderness right on top of the knee cap.  So all is well!  But isn't it funny that you can be so careful and diligent but still have no guarantee.  Ever.  It is good to be reminded every once in a while that in the grand scheme of things, we control very little.

On Sunday I ran the Chicago Marathon.  I went into the race with the idea of a paced, "easy" long run.  A training run for my ultra.  A means to a medal and another marathon notch on my belt.  A way to continue familiarizing myself with the marathon start atmosphere in a relaxed way in an attempt to make things easier when I race again in 2012.  The marathon was a success.  I did everything I said I would do and it unfolded beautifully, as planned and on schedule.  I needed that to happen, because just 1 week prior, I once again began toying with the idea of racing it.  And I believe had I raced, the results would have been disasterous (not sure if that's a word or I'm spelling it wrong since spell check has it underlined.  Totally going with it, though).  Not only would I not have run what I was aiming for (way too little taper and a little warm for the marathon time I wanted... oh yeah and not nearly enough speed work this year), but I'd have completely ruined my ability to run the Indianapolis Marathon this weekend if I went all out on Sunday.  But for awhile, I had stars in my eyes.  Visions of nailing the time I wanted on a whim, without worry or pressure.  It doesn't help that I am currently obsessed with the stories of ultra-gods, such as Marshall Ulrich and now, Scott Jurek and try to submerge myself in there mindsets.  Reading Ulrich's book gave me a chilling look into what happens mentally and physically when you push beyond your perceived limits and enter into unknown territory.  I've read most of Dean's books, and I love the guy, but this was way more raw than anything Karnazes has ever described.  To be able to mentally "disown" your foot because you have tendonitis so severely that every step sends jolts of pain up your entire body, is something I am trying to process.  That is what Ulrich did on his run across America.  He told himself "this is not my foot.  It does not belong to me.  It is getting in the way of my goal" and so he continued running with over 1,500 miles still left to cover.  Obviously that takes years of dealing with mucho discomfort on countless runs for hundreds of miles.  Likewise, there is a discription of Scott Jurek's experience with running Badwater for the first time (135 mile run across Death Valley, where temps reach the 130s at times).

Scott Jurek with the family.  Meeting Ulrich and Jurek was the highlight of my weekend.
By mile 60, Scott was vomiting and shaky.  His hands dropped to his knees, then his knees dropped to the pavement.  He collapsed by the side of the road, lying in his own sweat and spittle.  Leah and his friends didn't bother trying to help him up; they knew there was no voice in the world more persuasive than the one inside Scott's own mind.  Scott lay there, thinking about how hopeless it all was, he wasn't even halfway done, and Sweeney was already too far ahead for him to see.  Ferg Hawke was halfway up to the Father Crowley lookout, and Scott hadn't even started the climb yet.  And the wind!  It was like running into the blast of a jet engine.  A couple of miles back, Scott had tried to cool off by sinking his entire head and torso into a giant cooler full of ice and holding himself underwater until his lungs were screaming.  As soon as he got out, he was roasting again.  "There is no way", Scott told himself.  "You're done.  You'd have to do something totally sick to win this thing now.  Sick like what?  Sick like pretending you just woke up from a great night's sleep and the race hasn't even started yet.  You'd have to run the next eighty miles as fast as you've ever run eighty miles in your life.  No chance, Jerker.  Yeah, I know."  For ten minutes, Scott lay like a corpse.  Then he got up and did it, shattering the Badwater record with a time of 24:36.  (Born to Run)
Marshall Ulrich, ultrarunner and author of "Running on Empty"

WHEW!  Ok, read stuff like that and then try to talk yourself out of racing a measly 26.2 mile run on the flat streets of Chicago.  It's not easy.  John had Scott sign the above excerpt in my book at the marathon expo.  He followed his signature with the words "DIG DEEP!"  Big thrill to meet him.  You get so fascinated by the physical extremes these guys overcome with mental mojo that you begin to believe that you can do that.... THAT VERY DAY.  Eventually the reality did hit me that I am neither Scott Jurek nor Marshall Ulrich and that I really should stick to the plan and go after my short term ultra goal with adequate training and common sense.  My mental strength has grown and will continue to grow gradually when it comes to distance running.  I told John that a couple of times during the marathon I found myself getting irritated with how warm I felt.  Remembering the conditions of my brother's race in July, as well as Scott Jurek's description of running through Death Valley was all I needed to be suddenly "cooled off".  I remember thinking "this isn't bad at all.  I ran in hotter weather in the summer.  For God sakes, just stop bitching!"  By God, it worked!  I found more power in my stride, my posture straightened and I began to feel pretty darn good.  Never mind that I had to tell myself that like 15 times over and over :).  I was also taking a constant assessment of how I felt, realizing I'd run faster and more difficult training runs than this.  There were points where all of the endless chatter in my head just ceased and I just ran, enjoying the crowds cheering and the entertainment along the way.  I stopped thinking so much and just ran.  And it was the best.  Sometimes I really do make things so much harder by my thinking.  And I am CERTAIN that people who read this have figured that out.  Running is so simple.  Just put one foot in front of the other and keep going.  Physically, that is all there is too it.  I sometimes regret the fact that I make it so hard.  I become obsessed with distance and splits and fueling and recovery.  I focus on minute details.  I am very grateful for the advice of Kathleen who told me to just go out and enjoy the day on November 19.  That I have all day to complete that distance and I should notice the scenery, take pictures and just have a good time.  I think that is fantastic advice!

As for becoming mentally bulletproof like the ultrarunners I've described, well, again, I'll focus on meeting smaller,  more realistic and achievable goals, such as running up every hill on my trail run yesterday, the day after running a marathon.  I was pretty impressed with myself, and John, who hit the trails with me for the first time.  Some of those hills were mental climbs for sure.  I came home, submerged myself in an ice bath and put on some compression tights for a few hours.  Just for good measure.  In case my legs got super mad at me after two days of hard running.  And I'll be happy with these small, encouraging victories in the world of mental toughness.  I won't try to be Scott Jurek or Marshall Ulrich.  I'll be happy with who I am and what I've done.

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