“Ashley, WAKE UP, I need Advil and duct tape!!!”
I shook the groggy haze that covered my napping body as my eyes focused on the shirtless runner’s body standing at the foot of my bed. Aaron was frantic and I couldn’t figure out why. What was going on? Why didn’t Aaron have a shirt on?
Without pausing to breath Aaron said in one, long, run-on sentence, “Ashley-I-need-you-to-get-duct-tape-and-advil-from-the-trunk-of-the-car-it’s-in-the-white-medical-tupperware-bin-I-can’t-go-because-I-don’t-have-shoes-or-a-shirt-on!!!
“Okay, okay, okay. Uh, I got it.” I mused. I didn’t get it; I was still confused. But just as quickly as Aaron appeared, he was gone from my room.
I scooted off the end of the bed and made my way to his room, just to make sure I got the instructions correct; they seemed very important. “Okay, so duct tape and Advil. Where exactly are they again?” I asked in a haze. From the chair he was sitting in, he looked up at me, saw my confusion and popped up, “Forget it, I’ll just go get them!” I heard as he flew past me just as quickly as before.
It was Friday evening at 6:22pm and I had already started failing to meet Aaron’s crewing expectations. At this rate, this was going to be a long trip; he hadn’t even started running yet. Just 90 minutes to the start of Aaron’s self-dubbed 100-mile run and it was time to hop to it.
Location: Sturgeon Bay, Door County, Wisconsin
Event: The Fall 50-mile race turned self-dubbed 100-mile ultra run
Runner: Aaron Schneider
If you read my pre-race report last week, or if you are able to follow me on Facebook, you know that last weekend following my 50-mile trail race was the North Face Trail Half Marathon I signed up for.
When I registered from the comfort of my desk filled with the confidence of a few great back-to-back 20-mile training runs, back-to-back races seemed like a good idea. At that time though I never once expected to run my guts out on Saturday during the 50-miler. I mean, I expected to run fast and hard, hoping to break 9 hours. But never once did I think I would break 8 hours and then wake up the next day for more.
After my 50-mile race the name of the game was “quick recovery.” I needed to get home, ice bath, eat healthy, and sleep well all in preparation for another 13.1 miles on the same trails. Leaving the course on Saturday I couldn’t help but be elated about the race I just produced, so it was hard to know what to expect from my body next day.
The most recent half marathon that I ran before NF was in March of 2009 in Green Bay, WI. The half takes place on flat, smooth roads, during the Wisconsin Spring when the weather is cool, permitting great running conditions. My half PR is 1 hour 45 minutes.
Just before heading to bed Saturday night, my competitive side intrigued me to look at last year's times. If by some small miracle I placed again, how fast would I have to run? It turns out that the first place female from 2010 crossed the finish line in 1 hour 45 minutes. As I closed my internet browser and crawled into bed I dreamt big dreams for my half marathon the next morning; what if…
My alarm went off at 6:30am and I pulled my legs off the bed. As my feet hit the floor, I did a head to toe check. How did I feel? I stood up and touched my toes. My IT bands were tight and my quads required some massaging, but I was excited to see what my body could handle out on the trails again. I was thinking that if I came in under 2 hours, I knew I should be happy. But I had to be honest in asking myself, would I be happy with that?
Why did I sign up for a half marathon race following an ultra? Was it just to prove that I could run more miles after racing 50? Or was it to push my body and mind hard, again, and see what I could do? In assessing my goals on the car ride out, I had to be honest with myself in knowing that I wanted to race this thing. I didn't just want to run again; I wanted to run hard.
Out at Ottawa Lake, I entered to starting area about 10 minutes before the race was to begin. This morning I was by myself; no need for crew and I asked my parents to take the morning off and stay home. I wondered a little bit if I wanted this experience to just be my own. As I warmed my hands by the heater, the race director, Nick Moore, spotted me and walked my way. “Hey crazy girl, how are you feeling today?” he asked. “Yeah, feeling good, all things considering. But I guess we’ll see what good means when we start, right?” I bantered back. “What time you looking to finish in?” he asked. “ Oh, ya know, I’m looking to hit 1:45 so I can take a place again,” I said jokingly with a smile.
Inside I was half serious. Was I expecting too much?
The race started and I settled into my pace. The strategy for the half is similar to the ultra in the way that there is absolutely no reason to start out too fast. I simply wanted to cover some miles, assess my condition, and give it my best. As I ran down the road, I assessed the field and my competition. "Where were the other women?" "How fast were they setting out?" "Which ones looked strong?" " And where did I fit in?" Were the questions I ran through my mind.
As we entered the trail I saw Nick at the turn, “Good luck,” he said while pointing me out, “Go get some!”
Though the half marathon is a shorter distance than the ultra, it’s still 13.1 miles no matter how you cut it. Again, I had to dig deep mentally to run my race no matter what the competition did around me. The first part of the trail was an immediate and steady hill climb. My mind said, “Stop running and hike fast. You need to save your legs.” But my competitive spirit said, “RUUUUUN!” which would have put me in the same category as every other runner around me storming the hill. I told myself I was smarter and I knew the trails better. I took down my trot to a fast hike and let the runner’s blow past me.
To make up lost places, I hit it on the downhill and flat sections of the course. Small, run-able hills I took with stride, but longer climbs I pulled back to my fast hike. As we entered into the third mile, the trail opened up to a parking area with spectators. People cheered and cow bells rang as we rounded a corner, cut through some trees, and re-entered the trail system. I spotted some of my trail running friends from Lapham Peak Trail Runners and yelled out, “Yeah LPTR!” Melinda, Jose, and Marty all cheered as I got back on the trail. I guess I wasn’t alone after all.
Considering the hill at the start, I really had no idea what place I was in. Instead, I decided to simply pass the women I could see in front of me. As I closed in on the two women ahead of me a spectator yelled, “You’re fifth female! Third and fourth are right there!” I thought to myself, “Wow, seriously? Those to women are in third and forth?” I was closer to the lead runners than I thought so I picked up the pace.
The last four miles were truly a great race among the women I was around. As I gained on the ladies in front of me, the footsteps of a light gait that could only mark the stride of another female, came up behind me. I passed fourth and gained closer to third, and then was passed by the woman that was right on my heels. I knew that if I wanted to have the chance to place I would have to stay with her. I dropped in directly behind her and picked up my pace again.
After a mile I had little left in my legs so I slowly started to lose ground with the two ladies in front of me. The girl that passed me picked up pace and kept going, passing third, and continued down the trail. Though I couldn’t keep up, I was still moving well and feeling strong enough to push my pace until I reached the finish line.
Crossing the street and back onto the trail I saw Nick again, “You’re running hard, Ash! Time to finish!”
I charged the incline of the final hill climb and pumped my arms. I knew I was going to come in 5th place female, and now I was fighting for a good personal time. I glanced at my watch as we emerged from the woods. If I pulled from the reserves I had left I realized might actually finish close to my PR.
Coming in on the same road as yesterday, I looked to my right to see the same big read North Face arch beckoning me to the finish. I covered the ground quickly by staying on the concrete and crossed the final trail path to my finishing time of 1 hour and 46 minutes.
To my delight at this finish there was no collapsing and no dry heaving; just the good ol’ speeding heart rate of a race well run. As I placed my hands on my knees to rest, I smiled at the pleasure of my weekend spent running.
If I made one mistake after the finish, it was not drinking enough water. I ate multiple servings of soup and bread, enjoyed a celebratory beer, downed 20 ounces of water, and called it a day. I returned back home for a hot shower, more food, and a nap, without even thinking twice about the lack of water I had consumed and the degree of stress I put my body through.
I woke up a few hours later to horrible dehydration; I was nauseous, dizzy, and, unfortunately, had “the runs”. The rest of my afternoon was spent nursing my body back to hydration, which probably could have been avoided had I taken better care of myself. I laid on the couch, ate grilled cheese sandwiches, and tried not to move my legs, literally. Lactic acid had set in and not one part of me felt good from my belly button down.
But, the beautiful thing about the body is that it’s able to repair itself. As much as the days following were surely going to hurt, the weekend races were well worth it. Now I can admit I definitely have a greater respect for the amount of stress my body can handle, or any body for that matter. With a little more training, I’m excited to see what’s next.
I’m not exactly sure where to start writing this blog. I know I should write it right now, while the feelings and emotions from this weekend’s 50-mile race are still fresh. Plus, I have a crazy busy week planned ahead with two out-of-state speaking events for MS and another 50-mile race in Colorado in 7 days, but…where to start?
This is probably difficult for me to get out because the race was a completely surreal experience. I simply cannot explain why my body allowed me to run the time that I did. Compared to my 50-mile races in 2009, my personal challenge of finishing in under 9 hours was a lofty goal. My running buddy, Aaron Schneider, and I were speaking on Thursday about the game plan for Saturday’s race; he committed to crewing the race for me, so we had to coordinate what I expected from the race with how he was going to help me at the aid stations along the way. The brief pause he produced after I told him I wanted to break 9 hours said it all; we had been running together since June so he knows my pace and capabilities. We both knew that breaking 9 hours would be a big accomplishment for me, but he was in.
Saturday morning at 2:50am I woke up before my alarm went off feeling well rested and ready to run. In packing my race bag the night before, I reminded myself not to over think things. Fifty miles; I could run fifty miles. I had done it before, I could do it again. “Just stick to what you know. Stick with what works” I kept telling myself. Fifty miles in 9 hours, shaving 39 minutes off my current personal record. I felt ready.
Driving out to the course I felt excited. I had been excited all week, and tried to focus on staying calm. I’m notorious for hitting the early miles hard and paying for it later. Aaron has experienced this as we logged 20-mile training runs where I would jump around the trails like an idiot playing “Running Ninja” while singing, and then would pay for it later as Aaron kicked my butt and chuckled at me for the last 10-miles, “Where’d the Ninja go?” he would tease. Hitting the early miles hard in a 50-mile race is suicide.
Meeting Aaron at the Ottawa Lake parking lot we went over everything one more time, played the weekend theme song, and then headed to the start just a squeak before 5am. Dean Karnazes, the Ultramarathon Man, set the group off just after a show of hands reveling that half the field was new to this experience. New 50-mile racers can be dangerous; by being new to the distance, usually excitement can cause them to go out too fast not respecting the length of the race. I had to remember to run my pace despite what the other runners did. The countdown started…3…2…1….GO!
50 miles to go.
The first aid station was a nice 6.6 miles into the course. Following the glow sticks that lead the way I reminded myself to take it easy. Other runners were out of the gate faster then I knew I should be running, so the real challenge was keeping my pace no matter what went on around me. Aaron had charted out my pace/time in order break 9 hours, and as I glanced down at my watch entering Aid Station #1 I knew I had gone out too fast, coming in 25 minutes ahead of my schedule arrival. “Well, so much for taking your time. Did you even walk the hills at all?” Aaron asked as he shook his head. I just grinned from ear to ear. “Sorry, I tried I think. I’ll slow down, I promise,” I replied. It was dark and cool so it was easy to run faster. The threat of the Running Ninja emerging was something we both knew was very possible. Slow down or you will lose it at the end; was the message we both knew I needed to take seriously.
43.3 miles to go.
For the next 4.5 miles I took it slower. I still wanted to keep a good pace but didn’t want to over do it. I hiked the hills strong and fast, and let me legs do their thing on the flat trail.
Coming into Aid Station #2 I was still early, but had slowed it up. Aaron got me all set to go for my next section, gave me a high-five, and sent me on my way. For the next 10 miles I’d be going at it alone in terms of support; the next Aid Station the crew could access wasn’t until 21.2 miles. I barely heard Aaron call out as I entered the woods, “Oh Ashley, you’re 8th female!”
38.8 miles to go.
As the sky started to lighten up, I tucked away my headlamp early. The sooner I could just enjoy the natural state of the trail, the better. The air was cool and the morning was perfect. We couldn’t have requested better weather to run an ultramarathon. Just as I was getting into my rhythm, runners started blowing past me like I was standing still. We were literally only in the first quarter of the race & these runners were hitting it like the finish was just around the corner. Again, I had to tell myself to keep my own pace. It’s so, so difficult to not pick up the speed when runners are flying by, especially when I already know I went out quick. “I will catch them later,” I had to repeat to myself, “It’s way too early to go.”
Besides being passed ever so often, I was on the trail all by myself, which is something that has rarely happened to me at the beginning of an ultra. For one reason or another I usually end up near another runner, or a pack, and stay pace with them to chat for a bit. This morning it was just me and the trail. It was beautiful. I smiled and spread my arms out wide as I kicked up the dirt behind me. There are no better moments then ones like this running out in the woods, race or not. My breath was deep and my heart was happy as I absorbed every sensation I could. In these moments I don’t have to be anything else except a part of the trail. It’s hard to top that feeling.
During sunrise I emerged from the woods into an open meadow. I let my left hand brush the yellow flowers reaching into the path, as I ran and glanced over to the sun. The cool morning and rising sun allowed for just a contrast in weather to leave a light fog hovering over the tall grass. “It’s a beautiful morning! Ooooooh ooooooh” I sang out loudly.
In the meadow I picked up the pace. Mentally I had split the race into quarters pre-deciding that if I felt good at 15-miles I would pick the pace up just a notch. Just before the 16.5-mile Aid Station (#3) I passed three more women on the trail. If Aaron's counting was correct, I had moved myself up into 5th place for the female division. I barely noticed though as I heard the distant calling of the Aid Station cow bells. Food was all I could think about, no matter what place I was in.
I did a side-shuffle shimmy into the Aid Station to show off my number and gained a few laughs. “What do ya need Ash?” the volunteers asked. “I don’t know! I don’t know! I’m freaking out, how much farther is it?!?!?” I joked. They laughed some more as I smiled, chugged some Coca-cola, burped out loud, and then jumped in the air before leaving. So far the runners I had experienced were taking this race with their serious-shorts on a little too tight, and to me, 16.5-miles in was way too early to be serious.
Coincidentally I also took two salt tablet pills from two women sitting in the Aid Station looking a little defeated. I couldn’t be sure, but I believe they were part of the group of runners that flew by me earlier in the race. It didn’t dawn on me until later when I came into Aid Station #4, but that put me in 3rd place.
33.5 miles to go.
I apparently was having just a little bit too much fun during the next 4.7 miles because some where along the way I got lost. I felt I had been running long enough to be at the next Aid Station, and there were absolutely no trail markings, but I also didn’t want to go back. Luckily I found my way without putting on too many extra miles and shrugged the experience off quickly. I told the Aid Station volunteers about getting lost, as I didn’t want it to be disqualified for going off course, but they informed me that I was still okay to run if I wanted to keep going. My choices were to dwell on the extra miles and ruin the day, or let it go and have some fun. I chose to have some fun and made conversation as I hovered over the food. Aaron came up behind me and turned me around quickly, “Ashley, you’re in 3rd place, take the food and go! You aren’t just running this thing anymore, you’re racing it! Get out of here!” I took my hands and placed them on his shoulders while shaking him, “Oh my gosh, Aaron! What are we going to do?!?!” I joked. But he pushed me to the trail and pointed to the girl who had just passed me while I was kidding around, “Go get her Ashley! She’s in your place!”
28.8 miles to go.
I headed down the trail and picked up the pace again. I had passed a good amount of runners that were burning out along the way, but the possibility of actually placing in this race took hold and my competitive spirit emerged. As I passed the girl in front of me, she held on and made friendly conversation. I chatted for a few miles, but then decided to get going. Though she was very nice and I knew I should continue to be friendly, I wanted to secure 3rd place; not to mention the fact that talking can really waste valuable energy. I waved her good luck as I started to pull away. She was strong but was wasting a lot of energy running uphill. I have an advantage that I know of during an ultramarathon; I can hike a hill just as fast (if not faster) than most runners can run. I was hiking and she was running, yet my hiking saved my legs a whole lot of energy and I started to widen the gap between us during each incline.
The section I was running was a out-and-back trail where I could see the race leaders and their distance ahead of me. I didn’t actually believe how well I was doing until I was able to view the leaders coming back from the turn around. I glanced at my watch both times as I saw 1st & 2nd place females coming down the trail. The leading female had a good 25 minute lead on me, but 2nd place was in striking distance with only a 10 minute lead. As she passed me on the trail her head was down and her face was contorted. She was in pain and I wanted to catch her.
Coming into Aid Station #5 I had the joy of seeing a few friends from the Lapham Peak Trail Running group I am a part of. They had just completed their own 6-mile run & stuck around to see me come through. Melinda ran to her car to get me more salt tablets as Jose’s dog licked my face. Aaron was there too, ready in his running gear to join me on the trail as a Pacer for the next 7-miles. “Hey, we heard you were running fast! How’s it going? You’re in 3rd place, right?” Jose asked. “Yeah, it’s going great so far,” I smiled. But Aaron tugged on my shirt and we headed down the trail as the 4th place female entered the Aid Station. I needed to keep my lead on her and increase the gap. I wouldn’t feel this fantastic forever, and Aaron and I both knew that.
21.8 miles to go.
I took the lead spot on the trail with Aaron pushing the pace from behind. I always feel faster if I’m in front and can see the trail. We found a rhythm quickly and Aaron started chatting away. Again, I didn’t want to waste valuable energy by talking, and Aaron and I have become very good at running with together so he knew how to take over the conversation with little feedback on my end.
Just before Aid Station #5 my hamstring and glut muscles started to let me know how they felt about the pace. They weren’t screaming by any means; this was more of a faint whisper that was the prelude to the screaming session that would inevitably happen. The whispers from my muscles were more than bearable; it was the thoughts of what was ahead I had to prepare myself for. As I gave Aaron an update of my condition, he gave me valuable advice that I would later repeat to myself until I reached the finish line.
You started this, and now you will have to finish it.
You set the pace. You chose this. There is no way you can let up now.
When the hills bite, you bite back. From this point on, nothing is going to feel good.
Go get 2nd place.
The run to Aid Station #6, which was also the “back” portion of that out-and-back section; it was increasingly difficult, but fun and energizing. I enjoyed having Aaron with me, and it was awesome to see all the runners that were hitting the 50-mile course. It’s so serious in front. I got more smiles from the middle and back of the pack then I had experienced all day from the other runners I had seen. I waved and smiled and enjoyed all their colorful crazy outfits. “Oh, so that’s where all the happy people are,” I said to Aaron. He responded by reminding me I was holding a pace faster then I even realized. “Ashley, you keep this pace and you are definitely breaking 9 hours.”
Into Aid Station #6 Aaron had me lay down on my back and hug my knees as he got my fuel pack restocked and my carb/protein shake ready. I sucked down the shake, popped 2 Advil, took two more salt tablets, and headed toward the food table. As I got down on my knees and had the volunteer open the spout for ice cold water to pour over my head, the 4th place female passed me and took my spot. Aaron pulled me up, “Ash, ya gotta get going!” I sighed as I brushed the grass off my knees and outfit, “Aaron, the ground made my clothes all dirty!” He rolled his eyes as I jokingly asked for my mascara, and I took off to regain my spot.
14.6 miles to go.
For a boost I grabbed Aaron’s iPod which he set to Dance Mix. Though I usually go without music, at this point in the race the beat can be great to keep your feet moving fast. It didn’t take long before I caught up to and passed the 3rd place female again. With the brief few minutes Aaron and I took in the Aid Station I already knew the time was well spent. I felt refreshed and knew I had the fuel in me that would keep me going to the finish. The other female didn’t take much time, if she stopped at all. Once I passed her I knew she wouldn’t be passing me again; my pace was too strong and I could feel that she was holding on with everything she had.
I set my sights on the 2nd place as a spectator yelled to me that she was only a minute ahead. 2nd place; who would have thought that was even possible for me today? Not me, that’s for sure. But here I was chasing it down and close enough to grab it. A few more miles in I spotted her and tried to assess her stride. I had a few options. I could stay behind her, not letting her know I was this close, or I could pass and go as hard as I could to create a gap. She didn’t look strong, but she didn’t look weak either. I decided to go for it.
As I inched closer and closer to her, I also started to notice other runners on the trail. At this point, the 50-mile racers were meeting up with the 50K racers, the marathon racers, and the marathon relay racers. The course was littered with other runners now. We were just 10-miles to the finish.
Just at the top of a hill I passed the female and positioned myself in 2nd place. The glory of the spot was short lived as she saw me pass, looked at my bib color, and realized she had just lost her spot. She re-energized and took off down the trail at a pace faster than I could hold. I knew we had 10-miles left so I hoped she would wear herself out and I would catch her again. Turns out she had more in the tank then I could have thought. I didn’t see her again until the finish, and after assessing the race results, I realized my pass on her lit a fire in her big enough for her to almost catch first.
I spent a brief reprieve at Aid Station #7 as I sipped on water and swore to myself under my breath. My stomach was shot so I couldn’t eat anything, I started feeling a pang of nausea I wanted to avoid, my muscles were screaming now, and my energy levels were low. The real battle had begun and the true test now was to see if I could dig deep to hold my pace and my 3rd place spot to the finish. When there is nothing left, you find out what kind of runner you really are.
9.7 miles to go.
To our advantage the last 5 miles of the race course is fairly flat. I just had to muck through a few more Kettle Moraine’s before I was hitting the open fields with whatever I had left. I kept my gaze forward and started using the runners in the other races as new goals I would set for myself. As I passed by a runner, I would pick a new one to track down.
I also focused on the ground and told myself it was there to propel me forward. Each step I imagined receiving energy from the dirt allowing my feet as little time as possible on the earth. I picked the spot on the trail with the least amount of debris and tried to run as clean and smooth as possible. As I crossed an open field and rounded a group of trees, I heard a crazy person yelling my name. Aaron had run down the trail 100 yards to encourage me to keep pace and clear through the upcoming Aid Station. “You’re almost done, Ashley. Go get it! You have 3.7 miles left. You can do this! You can do this!” Aaron yelled. I dumped water on my face and down my neck as I swore some more. “Okay, okay. I can do it! Okay. I’m gone,” I muttered.
3.7 miles to go.
I would love to paint a beautiful picture of a strong and glorious finish, but that it was not. Threads; I was hanging on by threads. Teansy, tiny, little threads that went something to the tune of, “If I can hold on and place third, Dean Karnazes gives me a medal on stage.” My calves felt more fatigued then I believe I have ever experienced. My quadriceps muscles were tore to pieces, so much so, I was shocked I was still standing, nonetheless even running. My hamstrings were barely functional. I imagined the 4th place female gaining on me, and I hurled myself forward just to hold my spot. The pain was excruciating.
In the final mile I glanced at my watch to realize I might actually be able to break a 8-hour finishing time. As I cleared the woods onto the road I pulled out every possible ounce of energy I had left. I used my arms to pump, hoping my legs would follow. A sharp right turn into the Ottawa Lake Parking area, and I continued turning my legs over with what they would give me until I saw the big red North Face Endurance Challenge arch that marked the finish. I could hear the music and the crowd but all I could think about was the relief from all the pain…if I could just get there.
As I crossed under the arch I did the one thing I had wanted to do for the last 9 miles; I collapsed to the ground and started to dry heave. Thankfully there was nothing in my stomach or I would have made a mess of the finishing area. Aaron was by my side quickly to pick me up with the help of a medic. I literally could not use or control my legs, so they carried my weight as I stumbled to the medical tent.
0 miles to go.
Once I was laying down on a cot I was back to my happy self. With a blanket over my body to keep off the chill and a bag of Salt and Vinegar chips opened by my side, I tried to assess what just happened.
I broke 8-hours in a 50-mile race with an official time of 7 hours 59 minutes 9 seconds. I placed 3rd in the Female division. I took 19th place overall. Dean Karnazes would be giving me a medal on stage. I started to cry. The results were more than I ever could have dreamed of. The experience was more then I ever could have hoped for. “How is this even possible?” I kept asking myself over and over. I felt like the whole day was just a dream, but one that I was living wide awake. The tears were still coming as Aaron entered the tent.
He just looked at me, gave me a high-five, and started laughing, “Dude, you broke 8-hours. Holy S#*!.”
My heart is already beating faster as I even think about typing this blog. Its Thursday and I have a big and exciting weekend ahead...race weekend! Even if I'm not going to be breaking the tape in first place, it's not about winning, it's simply about competing against yourself and digging deep to find out just how far you can push yourself, physically and mentally. Eeeeee RACE WEEKEND; it's fun!
Just six weeks ago though I wasn't even planning on running an ultramarathon this year. After last year's run, and this winter's low mileage, I just didn't feel prepared to hit the trails for hours on end. I was feeling unmotivated to run longer than an hour, and I truly believe that athletics & passion can't be forced, so I listened to my body (and mind) and keep my runs short and sweet. I was hitting between 15-20 miles per week, so that was enough to keep me happy, but not nearly enough to even really think about doing a half marathon.
Weeeeell, that was until I picked up the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. The book is all about running, injuries, the benefits of running barefoot, and these super freak ultra runners who trek the trails for hundreds of miles. Though I've heard many stories about ultra runners, and read a few books on my own, there's something about the way McDougall writes the book that is so captivating and attractive that one can easily make sense of all the verbage he spits out. He beautifully writes a series of events into a perfect-storm kind of story that everything about long-distance running just makes sense. Of course we're made to run hundreds of miles on end barefoot, why didn't anyone else say so?
Side-stepping the whole barefoot topic for now, the whole running miles and miles on end is what resonated with me. The book instantly cured me of my lack of endurance training motivation, and before the back cover hit the last page I was logging online to sign up for the 50-mile NorthFace Endurance Challenge on September 17th, just outside of Madison, WI.
I had run this race before in 2009 as prep for last year's cross-country trek and I absolutely loved the course & the race, so I knew this would be an easy option in terms of choosing an ultra to run.
Well, once I had my money down for registration, I was pretty much locked it to run. Now it was just time to train; four weeks out and counting, it was time to, um, getting running.
Okay, I know, four weeks to ramp my miles up from 20 per week to 80+ per week; NOT highly recommended by me to anyone else that's looking to do an ultra, unless they are equally or more crazy than I. My training is far from conventional, but I feel I at least know (so far) what my body can handle. PLUS, if it wasn't going so well, then I could always just take my time and enjoy the trail for as long as NorthFace let me on the course (there are cut-off times in ultramarathons).
So, train I did; logging lots of back-to-back 20-mile days and running with everyone and anyone that would have my chatter. Somewhere along the way I started to feel awesome, so I signed up for another 50-mile race the following weekend (September 24th The Bear Chase). Then I ran some more and felt fantastic so I signed up for another 50-mile race in October (The Fall 50). And then I really started to enjoy the back-to-back days and noticed that NorthFace had more races on Sunday after my Saturday 50-miler, so I signed up for the longest race on Sunday, the half marathon.
And now it's race weekend!
What will my few weeks of training equate to for all these races clustered together? I am not really sure. BUT, at the very minimum, it will be quite the adventure finding out! :) I'll let you know...
If you want to track my chip on Facebook to see how I'm doing follow this link here & allow the application to post on your Facebook Wall : Track Ashley The race is the NorthFace Endurance Challenge in Madison & you can find both of my races (50-mile on Saturday & 13.1 on Sunday) by using my last name: Kumlien.
Today is September 11th, 2011, the coveted ten year anniversary to the dreadful day that has marked so many American lives as a day that changed our lives forever. On this day, and the weeks leading to the this day, I know there have been many documentaries, news stories, blogs, radio programs, and community events surrounding the commemoration of this horrible day in US history, which have also focused on honoring the lives lost and the brave souls that risked so much to save others. On this day, among such destruction, the American spirit shined bright as we banded together to stand strong against the evil cast on our country and our people.
As I sit working at my computer, I considered whether or not I dare write a post today.
Do I say what is really in my heart on such a tender day?
Many of you who read my posts or Facebook pages know that I listen to the radio station KLove. It's a Christian based station with the mission of keeping their message positive and encouraging, which I think is just amazing among all the negative news that is out there. For their effort to commemorate this September 11th anniversary they have called their listeners to join them in 1 million acts of kindness. How beautiful and amazing! As the stations effort, they have asked that each of their listeners do one good thing on this day to turn this US tragedy into a positive string of events.
As I pondered what I would do on this day, I decided I would opt out. Yup, that's right, I decided to opt out of doing one singular positive thing on this day. Instead I thought, what if I just dedicate all of my days to acting as a true America, and in doing so, every day I will honor those lives that were lost on this day ten years ago? What would have a more profound affect? If we banded together on this one day? Or if each of us took a vow to band together every day, as Americans, as a community of people who are stronger than the evils of this world?
Please, please, pleeeeease don't get me wrong. I am in NO WAY taking away from all of the wonderful, amazing, and beautiful things that are being done on this day to remember September 11th. I think calling forward 1 million acts of kindness or gathering together at a community event is so, SO amazing and is something that should be participated in!
But what I am trying to do is draw attention to is the need of each of us to act this way not only today, but tomorrow too, and the next day after that, and the next day after that. I truly believe that remembering September 11th, and all of the other American tragedies over the years, would be greatly honored in a daily personal commitment to show love to each other year round. I challenge each of you reading this to not forget September 11th today, but also to not to forget September 11th tomorrow as well. Don't forget by showing care and concern 365, not just 1. Don't forget by valuing the precious nature of your life all year round. Don't forget by including compassion into your daily sets of values. Don't forget by saying Thank You and by offering a helping hand. Don't forget by growing your communities and the lives of those who live in it. Don't forget by always lending a helping hand.
Imagine how amazing each day would feel if each of us made an effort to simply never forget how precious the gift of life is
every. single. day.
Every once and a while I like to throw caution to the wind and do something kind of reckless. The more I do this, the more I figure out how to dig myself out of whatever I've thrown myself into, which usually results in some amazing life lessons. But it's difficult for me to recommend someone else use the same method for the same end result.
What I know about myself is that I work best when I take a big risk & I set a high standard for myself, backed by little-to-no safety net, so I have to work like hell to achieve my goal. Does this work for me? Yeah, I would say so far, so good. But would I recommend that everyone take this risky road to life? My answer to that would fully depend on the individual I am speaking with, but in general, I would suggest you assess your own situation and figure out how much you are willing to give in order to accomplish your goal.
My most recent no-holds adventure would involve signing up for every ultra running event I can get my hands on from now until November. Okay, okay, I know...this isn't totally off the deep end for me having run cross country last year. BUT that doesn't mean I don't have to train for such running. SO signing up for all of these ultras was reckless in the way that I have basically done minimal running since I completed MS Run the US last year; and by minimal I do mean 10-20 miles per week, which in the way of ultra running is a very, very, very small amount of miles per week.
Since my return stateside in early June of this year I have been meeting up with a running group (Lapham Peak Trail Runners) at a nearby State Forest Unit in Kettle Moraine, WI. This group makes some of the stuff I've done look like peanuts. I mean, really, these guys and gals have been kicking up ultra miles on the trails since I was in high school running down 2.5. My first experience with some of the members was back in 09' just before my very first ultra marathon. I was chatting away about my fantasy run across the country while they told stories of back-to-back 50 mile races & subzero 24-hr trail races, and they still wanted more! I didn't understand it fully. I couldn't even imagine getting to that place where I would continually push my body for 50 to 100 miles straight, and then wake up the next day wanting to do it ever again. What would that even feel like?!? And what would it take for me to get to that place where I actually considered training that much?!?!
Well, I can't say that I am laying down the miles for any 100 mile races in the near future, but I have crossed over a training threshold, that's for sure. Two weeks ago I still hadn't laid down any big miles, yet I found myself on the North Face Endurance Challenge website registering for their 50 mile race. I naively thought I could actually read a book about ultramarathon running without being inspired to enter the sport this year. As the pages of Born To Run by Christopher McDougall were barely done being turned I had pulled out my debit card & put down the challenge for myself.
With four weeks to race day my training program would consist of a simple concept, which I feel I have followed quite nicely: run as many miles as I can, as often as I can, for as long as I can, then sleep, and repeat.
Okay, do you see how this concept really probably wouldn't work for most people?!?!? Yeah, I know! It's kind of unorganized, completely unstructured, and screams "Injury!"; yet we are now two weeks to race day and I've probably logged more miles in the last two weeks combined then I have the whole entire year. So, I'm not writing to this brag about how awesome I am at running lots and lots of miles and how cool it is I don't get hurt and blah blah blah look how great running is, but instead, I'm writing it to try and illustrate a few main points that I feel do help me that could easily be related to your training/life:
1) To become better at something, work with others that are better than you that have done more than you. Case in point, any time I get ahead of myself with all the recent running I'm doing, I just have to show up to my training group and shut my mouth. I'll hear more stories of running awesomeness than I could ever think of, by people who have been doing it much longer, at a much faster pace.
2) To become better at something, do it more. And let me just add that the "do it more" part of this tip is varied by your abilities, keeping in mind that you have far greater abilities then you could ever imagine.
3) To become better at something, love it or learn to love it. The concept is simple, the more you love something, the more you'll do it. The more you do it, the better you become at it. The better you become, the more you will love it. And the more you love it, the more you will do it. See? Totally simple. If you don't love it, change the way you think about it so you learn to love it. If that's not possible, then, seriously, do something else! Life is too short to do something you don't love.
So for those of you that have been asking, this is my training program. This is what my pace and distance is based off of. And this is why I can run and run and run, and then wake up the next day and run some more:
I have surrounded myself with those that are better than I.
I do it more.
And I love it.