Sunday, July 21, 2019

Here and Back Again: A Race Recap of Sorts

I rarely write about specific running events or races, because mostly this blog is about what I think about when running - and that is almost never the race. Plus, I seriously doubt that anyone who follows this blog wants to read a race recap.  I mean, I run races and don't like to read race recaps, why would I write one??

Except this time I am going to write about a specific race, although it is not really a race recap.  It is more a reflection on what it means to grow up somewhere, and what it means to come home. 

AKA, shit is going to get deep.

Sometime during the last Ice Age, I was in high school.  I grew up in a very small town and was with the same 45 or so classmates every year from first grade through high school.  So my sophomore year my parents let me GTFO and I went to a very small boarding school in Lake Placid; Northwood.  I spent three years at Northwood, and so, like anyone who was influenced by their teens years (aka, everyone) much of who I am today is wrapped up in my time there.  For example...

Every year, we got woken up one random morning, told to put on hiking boots, were handed lunch in a bag, and were dropped at the base of one of the many, very tall Adirondack Mountains.  This tradition still exists, and we call it "Mountain Day."
If you are not into mountains or surprises, or surprise mountains, it probably doesn't sound awesome to you.  But as a teenager trying to figure out what I loved, let me tell you - I figured out really quick that I love mountains. 

Our headmaster (John Friedlander, who was drafted by the Packers and is the reason that they are, to this day, my favorite team) felt that sports were essential to a well-rounded student (I do not disagree) and so we had to do something active every day.  With very few girls, the fall was soccer; there were just enough of us to field a team and have a handful of subs.  In the winter, we could ski or we could do "Rec Sports" which was the catch-all for anyone not on a team or on the mountain.  I went to the mountain a lot - our local ski spot was Whiteface which was the home to the Olympic Winter Games twice, and the school bused us over every afternoon.  I learned to ski, and enjoyed that for a few years until I broke my arm on the final run one afternoon.  After that, I switched to snowboarding and never looked back.  I was not exactly what the kids would call "good" but I really enjoyed being on that mountain, even though I learned at an early age that it could seriously wreck me if it wanted to. 

Rec Sports was a haven from being chewed up by the mountain, and the blistering cold that came with being out there, and it was a way to avoid having to do other team sports like tennis (OMG, I was so bad) or go Ice Climbing (yes, really - I went to high school in the 90s before anyone knew you were supposed to keep students alive).  And for me, rec sports was always running.  My junior year, two of my favorite teachers (Mellor and Brody for my fellow alums following along at home) ran a marathon.  They came back with stories of wanting to die at mile 23 and ending up in an aid tent, and I thought "I need to see about this!"  (Yeah, my fundamental personality has NOT changed.)  So I started running.  I would check myself off campus and run around Mirror Lake everyday, which is about 3 miles.  The first few times I went, I could barely run, and would have to walk big chunks of it.  But over time, I got stronger and faster, and I ran around that lake almost every day in my senior year.  It was in Lake Placid that I became a runner. 

That was in 1996.  Since I graduated, I have rarely had the chance to come back to Lake Placid to run, or to visit Whiteface.  But this weekend I got to do both, and it taught me LOT about who I am and how much my time living here made me that person. 

Today, I ran (LOL, no, walked) the Whiteface Sky Race.  If you're too lazy to follow the link, let me give you the short version: it was 15 miles of Vert.  We ran to the top of the mountain, back down, did a little loop in the woods, and then went up and over the mountain again.  Shorter still version: it was a race over a mountain, twice.  Shortest version: OMG so much vert. 

It was essentially a three loop course: an Alpine loop that was about 5 miles with 3200 feet of elevation gain then loss, a 5-mile Flume Loop, then a second crack at the Alpine Loop.  At the end of the first Alpine loop, I knew I had vastly underestimated the course, and I went into the Flume Loop - which was mostly flat - already running on glycogen fumes.  I made it about two miles until I had to walk, and I really struggled to do more than fast walk through most of that 5-mile section of the course, which was by far the easiest section.  At about mile 9 I decided I was not going to do the second Alpine Loop.  But my family was there, my husband told me they "would wait as long as I needed, go have fun" and of course, off I went.  Within 500 yards I was already planning my DNF.  I sat down a LOT.  Including to take some pictures.

About15 minutes in I met a guy coming down who had DNF'ed and said "just check in at the aid station up ahead and let them know."  I didn't realize the aid station was .75 mile away!  But when I got there, I told them I was done.  I sat under the chairlift for 10 minutes, drank some water, and stopped my watch to begin my decent (Strava integrity and all that).  The aid station workers tried to talk me out of quitting, but I was bonking hard and knew I was not going to make it.  We joked about having them call me a helicopter and I started my slog of defeat. 

I made it about 500 yards.  And then I stopped.  And said Fuck It, and turned back up the mountain.

And that is when I knew that this place was a part of who I am, even if it has been almost 25 years since I lived here. 

I love that stupid mountain, even though every time I am there, it puts me in my place.  And I love running. And I was not going to stop running just because I was tired - not when I would have been leaving behind a few more minutes (okay, hours) with the mountain. 

On the final decent, when I was trying not to just tuck and roll down the mountain (pretty sure I would have been disqualified for that), I spent a long time thinking about what it means to me to be back in Lake Placid, and to have the chance to be in a place I love doing a thing that I love.  Today was not a good race for me; it was hot and I was a lot slower than I had hoped.  But it helped me remember how much I love being outside, and how important being active is for me to be a happy person (thank you, Frieds).  I learned all of that here in high school, and it is something I have carried inside of me and nurtured for the last 25 years. 

There are obviously a lot of other things that high school taught me (lol, that's a whole other blog post!) and that I have learned from my years of running.  But today was a rare and helpful chance to spend some time reflecting on how this all started, and how much I have not actually changed since I was 15 years old.  And of course, how much I have.  15 year old me would have quit 20 minutes into the first Alpine loop, but 41 year old me only quit for a few minutes, and not until mile 12.  :) 

And it was totally worth it because it felt really good to cross that finish line, and not let that mountain beat me today.


Friday, June 7, 2019

The Motivation Myth

I spent several years of my life (like the last decade) studying and applying theories related to motivated behaviors, mostly in the context of school learning.  In education, we are really worried about motivation and engagement - we want students to be active participants in the learning process, which makes sense because you really need to be paying attention to something in order to learn it and your emotional state when you learn something is crucial to your memory.

But I think that perhaps this idea that we all need to be motivated all the time, and that that is the key element to success, might be slightly exaggerated.  Okay - like a lot exaggerated.  It's great in school because school is filled with new things that you have to learn, and we want to instill in students a mindset of loving to learn.  (Although I would also argue that children already have that, then school sort of ruins it and then has to find artificial ways to replace it.... but I digress.) But most of our lives, we are not in school.

Image result for do all the things meme
This state brought to you by too much caffeine.
Instead, the majority of our time on this planet is spent getting up every day and having to make decisions about whether or not we are going to do the things we know we should do, even when we don't want to do them.  And relying on motivation every single day to get shit done is not a good plan because it is impossible to always be motivated; that is just how it works.

For one thing, motivation is a state, not a trait. Just like you are not always tired or hungry (okay, I am aways both of those things, but I am sure you are normal), you are not always motivated.  It takes the right situation to trigger that sensation, and even when you are motivated to do something, it is a lot more complicated than that usually.  Mostly it is complicated because we are rarely singularly focused on a task to the point that we don't have competing motivations.  We usually have lots of goals we want to attain, and sometimes those goals are in direct conflict with one another.  Like losing weight and eating cake - you have to choose one, even though both may be things you are "very motivated" to do.  In the end, one of our motivations wins out, and that is the goal we move towards. 

Of course, that is not how motivation is sold to us in popular culture; we tend to think of it as a personality trait - people are either motivated or they aren't.  For people those of you who have been accused of being unmotivated, let me take a moment to defend you: everyone is motivated for something.  If other people are telling you that you are unmotivated, chances are there is just a mismatch between what you want to do and what they want you to do.  That said, if your only motivation is to do as little as possible.... how did you even end up on this blog that is mostly about running?  Are you lost?  Shoo... 

Instead, I want to talk to all my running (or not running) peeps who are usually motivated but find themselves in a rut.   I am in that rut right now. Instead of hopping out of bed to get after it, I slog around the house putting off my run until I don't have time to go as far as I should.  On Wednesday nights, I drag a hockey bag's worth of excuses to track practice so that I don't have to admit that I just don't feel like running really fast in circles for an hour. 

Related image
Yeah, like the joy of sleeping and getting through whatever I am doing.
I think of this as the rut of despair because it is filled with guilt and panic and feelings of inadequacy. Usually I am SO F-ING EXCITED about running, but lately I am just lower-caps, no profanity excited.  This makes me feel guilty because I feel like I am cheating on running with sloth and I feel bad for not wanting to do workouts or be happy about talking about running.  Then I panic because what if I always feel like this - what if my motivation never comes back?  If I cannot get back into training with enthusiasm, then I am going to get slow and old and people are going to notice that I am not good, and then I will have to find a second hockey bag to hold all of those excuses!  Too much baggage; I just am going to crawl into bed instead.  Which is when the rut of despair becomes the rut of ruin.  It ruins my mood, it ruins my relationships, and it ruins the one thing that brings me sanity*

*Yes, yes - I am aware that this is probably the least appropriate word because I do enjoy that nonsense where you get in a van and then don't sleep or shower for two days.  Sanity is a very relative term here. 

The rope-ladder out of the pit of despair is remembering that it is okay to not be motivated.  It happens to everyone, and is a function of having so many competing demands that you run out of energy to be excited about all of them. Just like motivation is a state, being unmotivated is also a temporary state. It is a temporary state that sucks the life out of you while you are in it, but that doesn't mean a period of low motivation has to tank my training, right?  Instead, I have learned to reframe my panic into a new challenge because shiny new things often help my motivation to rebound - like buying fun new shoes or registering for a new race! And that can work for any runner when we hit that rut of despair.  Reframing your goal, finding a side angle to kick-start your motivation, and accepting that sometimes you are just not going to be feeling it are all ways to bring yourself back up out of that funk.  The key is to find the right shiny new thing to remind yourself of what it feels like to be motivated. 

In my case the shiny new challenge is "shut the fuck up little voice that wants to quit; the schedule says 10 miles so get your shoes on and let's go."  For me, taking choice out of the equation and adding in a healthy dose of self-spite works every time.  Because let me tell you, I am pretty motivated to shut that voice up and get out of this rut so I can get back to loving what I love to do. 


Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Pain Cave and maybe bears

Craters of the Moon, Idaho
The caves are actually lava tubes. 
If you have never had the pleasure of visiting, the Pain Cave is a very real place that runners and other endurance athletes go to, in their own heads, during long and difficult events.  It is a place where you find out who you are and what your limits could be (Side note: you will most likely never know your actual limits; most of us don't. But that's a discussion for another time.)  Athletes are familiar with the pain cave, and as Sam Robinson discussed in his article for Outside, some of us are obsessed with how long we can spend there.  There is even a Podcast about it, with this cute little logo!
Image result for the pain cave

But as glamorous as this article and podcast makes it sound, the Pain Cave can be a terrible place.  Because it is not a cute little cartoon cave with whatever that cute little blob is supposed to be. It is the dark place that you go to when you hit the point where your body wants you to stop, for the love of all that is holy just stop, what you are doing and lay down on the side of the road.  Everything hurts; some things might be bleeding or burning.  And it is very dark in here. 

For many people, one trip to the pain cave is enough. It is a scary place, and it could be filled with things that might eat you - like bears!  They never go back.  They never even go near it again.  But caves can be beautiful.  Dark places often hold incredible secrets, if we are willing to explore them.  Bears will definitely eat you, but they are so cute and humans can't help wanting to snuggle cute things! So some of us move right in and make ourselves at home. 

The pain cave is the true training facility for endurance athletes.  If you cannot stay here, you are never going to know what you might be capable of, or how far you can push your body beyond its comfort zone.  So when you find yourself in the pain cave, you have to make it a place where you can be comfortable for long periods of time. You have to push forward into the darkness to see what you can find.  You have to be willing to find bears. 

This fall I ran two marathons.  Most of my training and both races were uncomfortable for various reasons (more on that later), and I found myself spending more time than usual in the pain cave.  As I said, it can be a dark and scary place.  When I found myself there I would panic and look for a way out. Do not do this.  The more you look for the exit, the more elusive it will be.  Your panic at finding yourself in the pain cave will blind you to the way out, and is likely to drag you deeper into the darkness.  Instead, you have to make yourself at home.

Sometimes I imagine it like an episode of some HGTV show where the starting house is a disaster.  The carpets are moldy and have creepy stains.  The walls are cracked and water is seeping in from some indeterminable source.  It is cold, and the lights don't work right, and you cannot imagine that this place could ever be lived in by anything other than raccoons - and even then, you suspect that they have higher standards than that.  It is not a place you want to be for any length of time. 

Craters of the Moon National Park, Idaho
Not a painful cave. 
But here's the thing: this is YOUR place. You bought it and now you have to live here, if you want a roof over your head.  Walking away means giving up everything; you have to make a choice.  So you stay.  You knock down walls and replace the floors.  You paint and fix the lights.  You get comfy furniture and decorative plants.  You turn it into a place that reflects who you are, inside and out.   And then you move in.  You are okay living in your pain cave, because it is YOURS. 

About a year ago, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia.  Most days, I am in pain.  Usually it is not intense, but often it is widespread and persistent.  It is exhausting physically and emotionally, especially since I have always been a person with a high pain tolerance.  I have yet to find a pharmacological treatment that works without problematic side effects.  It interferes with my training because some days I cannot tell what is a real injury or sign of overuse, and what is a harmless neurological impulse blowing up my central nervous system for no good reason.  It has been frustrating and demoralizing.

And I find myself spending an enormous amount of time in my pain cave, sometimes before I even lace up my running shoes. This has forced me to get comfortable in here. I have had to spend a lot of mental time and energy making my pain cave a place where I feel safe, not scared; a place where the dark is calming instead of terrifying.  Of course, this doesn't always work.  Sometimes it is too much work, and I stay in bed feeling sorry for myself.  But I have found that this is worse; I need to move.

I have been hesitant to write about this, because I am 100% sure there are people who have this condition in a much more extreme form than I do! I am not complaining or looking for sympathy.  (Okay, maybe a little bit.)  I can and do run regularly, although I find myself needing a little more rest than before, and not being able to move as quickly for the first few miles. Running has taught me a lot about what I can withstand, physically and emotionally.  Years of finding my way into the pain cave by choice prepared me for these days when I am here against my will, stuffing down the rising panic when I cannot find the exit.  In fact, I am often best able to deal with the pain when I am running.  For whatever reason, I find it less terrifying when I am moving.  When I am sitting quietly that the pain overwhelms me, and I allow it to take over. 

And so I keep running, even when I find myself in the pain cave at mile 5 of a 20 mile run.  Which is good, because I had been planning to spend more time here anyway!  I have some big races planned for this year, with a two (maybe three) year goal of working up to the VT100.  I am going to run up mountains, and through the night, and spend a lot of time in various vans.  This past year, I have learned a lot about what I can and cannot expect my body to put up with.  Fact: it can deal with a lot more than I give it credit for, as long as I take care of it. 

I know that I am going to hurt.  But that's okay and I am curious to see what I find in my pain cave.  Hopefully, nothing too scary.  But, if I do find a bear, I hope it is this one because he seemed pretty awesome! 
The bear that waved to us at Yellowstone Bear World, Idaho 


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