Susitna 100, Part II: The Training

This is a hard part to write because so many of the pieces I talk about here are still works in progress. I wrote this on the plane high in the air between Seattle and Anchorage, two days before the race, which was February 13-14, 2016.

Sitting in the Health Center on 9/22/15. So puffy and swollen. You couldn’t see the veins in my hands or feet.

After IMTUF (Idaho Mountain Trail Ultra Festival 100 mile race, September 19-20, 2015), I started retaining so much fluid that I gained 10 pounds within two days after the race. On Tuesday, I went to the health center at work and asked them to check my electrolytes to see what was going on. Without some more data, I was not sure whether to take in more salt or more water or what.

The physician’s assistant called me Wednesday, September 23 and said that my kidney and liver function showed signs of distress, which is totally normal after 100 miler, but because I was also starting to pee again more regularly, and the pounds were dropping back off, I wasn’t worried about hyponatremia or kidney damage anymore.

However, one other interesting thing was revealed on the blood test. My iron levels were severely low. For the iron deficiency anemia, the PA recommended that I start supplementing my iron immediately and wrote me a prescription for 650mg of iron/day.

I was floored by this information. Nothing is ever wrong with me. I am always healthy. It slowly dawned on me that THIS piece of information totally explained why I had not run with energy for two and a half years (I identified my last “good” race as Wild Idaho in 2013).

With the benefit of hindsight, maybe I should have seen this coming. Maybe it should have been a clue to me when I was too low in iron to donate blood two times over the last year. All the symptoms were there. However, when it was happening, it was easy to convince myself I was just being a hypochondriac. Nothing was wrong with me…I just needed to try harder. And people don’t take you seriously when you say something is wrong yet continue dusting up the trails and pounding the pavement.

With the anemia diagnosis, I comforted myself in knowing that nothing I could have done would have made me better. I could not have muscled through this one. Had it not been for the thoughtfulness of the PA at my health center, I never would have gotten the critical information that maybe changed my life, not to be hyperbolic.

Suddenly, I had something to hope for, like REAL hope, backed up by data and not just dreams that my general badassery and experience would automatically translate to awesome races as I put more notches in my belt. With the promise of resolving my anemia and finding joy in energetic running again, I decided to postpone my certain retirement following IMTUF and see what would happen after a few months on iron.

CTThe week after IMTUF, I traveled to Italy for work, barely enough time for the swelling in my feet to subside, so I ended up not running for two weeks following IMTUF. On October 6, we flew back to Boise, and I ran, jet lagged and all, for a couple miles up to the grocery store and back. Even more than my resurgence in June, I was motivated to persevere and keep running.

At the same time, other things in my personal life were at rock bottom, unresolved…even lower than back in May/June. The horrible state of my body, having just completed a 100 mile run, and returning from international travel left me once again angry, depressed, exhausted, and filled with personal angst.

Running had given me a lifeline to get through the previous four months of this personal turmoil, but nothing was resolved. My perspective on life was totally distorted. My eating habits had declined  to horrible and I was sleeping 4-6 hours a night and surviving on a hardcore intake of coffee and 4-8 espresso shots per day. The only glimmer of hope is that maybe I could run if I just stuck it out.

Early in October 2015, my friend Rachael who is living temporarily on Prince of Wales, Alaska, asked if I wanted to come run the Little Su 50K with her on February 13th outside of Wasilla, Alaska. A break from life and a fun trip to AK sounded like just the thing I needed, so I said sure!! I was hopeful that I would feel stronger by then in order to meet the 12 hour cutoff in the 50K race. We planned a 6 day, fun-filled Alaskan girls getaway, and I signed up for the 50k just as soon as it opened.

Following September 23, I had a very firm plan in my mind to keep running no matter what. I knew it would feel like it always did – tired and heavy. But now I (thought) I knew why, and I had something to look forward to – the hope that one day I would have runs that felt good and faster. I continued my 12 minute per mile runs around my house. That’s all I could do. I had no faster gear. If I was running, that was the pace. I could not drop it down to 10 minute miles or faster for more than a minute or two at a time. But I had this clear vision in my mind that I could stick it out until I felt better and that way not lose my fitness in the meantime.

Jet lagged and strung out on espresso.

Through October, I started paying attention to the food I was eating in order to boost iron absorption. I increased my citrus (Vitamin C) and cut back on dairy (food containing calcium). I knew after returning from Italy strung out of my mind on espresso that pruning my rigorous latte regimen was next on the list. I wanted to find my functional baseline. By October 19, I had weaned down to zero cups of coffee per day and started drinking tea like a chain smoker consumes cigarettes. I’m still doing that to this day.

October 19 was also the day I started seeing a therapist to help me work out the personal issues that were reaching critical mass. I could not be healthy unless I dealt with the stress and anger in addition to the physical issues.

With all these things on a generally positive trend as a backdrop, Rachael messaged me one day in early November and said she had not registered for the Little Su 50K before it filled. I was registered, and she was not. The race is very rigid about making exceptions to the rules, so there was no way for her to enter. She immediately was wondering if she should run the corresponding 100 miler, which I had been vehemently against because I wanted to give my body the time to rest and recover and get my iron up. I was sure I would not be strong enough by February to attempt 100 again so soon.

It took me a couple of hours before messaging Rachael that both of us entering the 100 miler was ‘obviously the only option.’ I’m in. We were both terrified at the prospect – it seemed big and scary and unknown – but the decision was made. We signed up.

Meanwhile, I kept running. It was all the same. Breathless on any incline. Breathless on the stairs at work. Breathless and weak climbing Cervidae Peak every Tuesday morning before work. Lightheaded and dizzy. But, sometime in November, those symptoms started to subside, and on November 24 I logged “I think I just had a good run.”  My boss at work commented that I was not nearly as faint as I used to be. You know, you’re right!  Another good run logged on November 30…and from there the energetic runs outnumbered the dead runs. I was cautiously optimistic.

Me and my good friend Puffy.
Bars and bars and bars. Nut butter, coconut oil, nuts, rice krispies, sesame seeds, cheerios, maple syrup, honey, agave…high calorie food for the Alaskan tundra.

Through December I put together my sled setup and began compiling my gear. I wrote a training plan and [mostly] followed it. I was not running super high mileage, but I got in very consistent training and felt good doing it. That was the amazing thing – I was actually able to follow the training through without pile driving myself. I bought a -20F down sleeping bag. I tested all sorts of high calorie bar recipes. I put in 35 hours with my sleds. I spent endless hours researching winter gear and methods that would best help me get through up to 48 hours and 100 miles of Alaskan snowmachine highways and trails. I read blogs and race reports and all the information I could get my hands on. I was obsessed with the unknown.

On December 23, I had my blood tested again. My hemoglobin, hematocrit, and ferritin levels all showed massive improvement. My PA said the anemia was resolved. This was exciting. The data supported my improved performance. I am cautiously optimistic that I will continue feeling good and that I don’t have other issues at play. I don’t have blinders on. I know I need to keep taking care of myself, getting good rest, and moving to a place of lessened stress.

December 30 with Kermit.

On December 30, I pulled my green sled, Kermit, for 11.5 hours on a plowed road outside of Stanley, Idaho. Back and forth three times on a remote mountain road. I tested my cooking skills on the MSR Whisperlite stove with marginal results. It took me too long to boil water. I needed to find another system. By the end of the day, my sled felt exponentially heavier. I thought it was just me, that I was getting tired. When I unloaded my sled that evening, I realized that the bottom was filled with snow. I weighed it. What had started out as a 30 pound sled was now a 50 pound sled. The bottom of the plastic kid’s toboggan had cracked and I was picking up snow for at least several hours. This was not going to work. But I had done it and felt pretty strong at the end despite pulling a REALLY heavy sled. I was ecstatic. 

Kermit with 20 lbs of snow.
Kermit 2.0 with skis.

With J’s help, I devised a second sled, one with skis on the bottom for runners. I got the pair of kid’s downhill skis from the storage shed of Greenwood’s Ski Haus. Many thanks to Eric there for the help. I got away by myself for another introvert’s dream rejuvenating training weekend the third week of January to test out Kermit 2.0, the red sled with skis. This time, I had fresh snow, which was challenging. The curve on the skis caused the sled to pull back and forth, which was hard on my hips and lower back. It was not the most confidence boosting exercise. However, I did set up a bivy in the snow and tested out my little tuna and cat food can alcohol stoves that J made for me, which worked just as well as the MSR, although I still couldn’t get a good boil going fast enough. I also tested my cycling overshoes and microspikes together, which was a fantastic system. My feet stayed warm and dry, and the microspikes provided excellent traction even on the soft snow. Kermit 2.0 didn’t feel like a winner, though.

Snow bivy in Idaho’s mountains.

Through several email exchanges with Dennis Aslett, who has done the Susitna 100, I learned about his sled setup, which involved a heavier duty cargo type sled that might be used by ice fishermen. I picked one up at Sportsman’s Warehouse and rigged up my third sled, which I named in a nod for various reasons to my two friends named Dennis: Blackalicious the Drag Queen. My final sled training exercise was an overnighter outside of Fairfield, Idaho. I left my house about 9PM and arrived in Fairfield about 11PM. I parked, loaded up my gear, and took off running until about 6:30AM. This black sled slid nicely and I decided this was the final iteration. I wasn’t going to fret over it anymore. Training was in the bag; hay in the barn. After I returned home, J made me a “beer can” alcohol burning stove out of an Amp can, and we tested that with very good results and a rolling boil in just over 5 minutes. This would work for the race, although I hope very much to not use it at all.

I can’t control the weather, the snow conditions, or the aid provided, but I can control my preparation and training. About THAT, I have no regrets. I did everything I could to prepare. I am in the best shape of my life. I believe the anemia is resolved. Life isn’t all rosy. I’m still working with my therapist to become a less cynical vibrant-creative-introvert-warrior. No matter what happens in the race this weekend, I believe I have fought for my life, my energy, and my running. This race is just a symbol of that.  

Susitna, I’ll see you Saturday. Bring it on ‘cause I’m bringing my Warrior. IMTUF, I’ll see you in September.

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The Beginning: A Run Log

WEEK 8: FEB 19 – FEB 25, 8.1 miles

2/25/07, Sun: NO RUN.

2/24/07, Sat: .5 miles, paper route.

2/23/07, Fri: 3.3 miles, 35:26. Little slower than yesterday, but I still felt great.

2/22/07, Thur: 3.3 miles, 33:55. Today, even as I ran through the fog, I felt as if I emerged from a very dark place into brilliant light. The last two nights, I went to bed at 10; I actually feel human today. Maybe I’ll eventually become a morning person. Two portly blue heeler dogs (I’ll call them that for lack of knowledge of what they actually are) ran out at me from the “reservation” trailer house. I spoke to them as if I loved wildly barking dogs who pretended to want to eat “runner” for lunch. Luckily, they stopped chasing me at the edge of their property.
2/21/07, Wed: NO RUN. I’m feeling a little better, adjusting to the early mornings, and getting well, but I’m still so tired and very sluggish. Luckily, I didn’t get really sick; just a brief stint. John joined me for the paper route this morning, and he delivered. What a sweetheart he is.
2/20/07, Tue: .5 miles, paper route. Today I am sick, have fever, feeling horrible.
2/19/07, Mon: .5 miles, paper route. Since starting the paper route last Tuesday, I have been feeling like I have entered a very dark underwater world where the light is very far away; the world is chaotic, disorganized, cluttered, and completely overwhelming.

WEEK 7: FEB 12 – FEB 18, 7.5 miles

2/18/07, Sun: .5 miles, paper route. Margie was sick and puking today. As run-down as I have been feeling, I feel destined to get sick too.

2/17/07, Sat: 3 miles, 40 minutes. Ran on the treadmill.

2/16/07, Fri: .5 miles, paper route.

2/15/07, Thur: .5 miles, paper route. Today was my third day of the paper route. I drove and delivered today, and I thought it was a pretty good workout, getting the papers to people’s doors and all. Afterward, my glutes were surprisingly sore. I’m going to give myself .5 miles for each morning that I really work hard and run to get the papers delivered.

2/14/07, Wed: 3 miles, 40 minutes. I ran on the treadmill today. It was surprisingly boring (I had expected it to be boring, but that was BORING), but I am thankful that I will have a place to run when John is working 13 hour days and such. Since this was the first time that I used the treadmill, I was very distracted; I kept stopping to adjust the temperature, get water, get chapstick, open the curtains, etc. I did enjoy listening to music while I ran. The treadmill has a speaker jack into which you can plug in your iPod. Very cool.

2/13/07, Tue: If I would have known what a crazy day today was going to be, I definitely would have run yesterday. My paper route started this morning (4am) and the day didn’t stop until I crashed into bed at 11pm.

2/12/07, Mon: NO RUN. Took another day off to let my hips recover

WEEK 6: FEB 5 – FEB 11, 13.9 miles

2/11/07, Sun: NO RUN.
2/10/07, Sat: 5.6 miles, 1:02:00. Today, I tried out a run/walk technique, which allowed me to feel better for the duration of the run, but the walking actually made my hip joints hurt. The pain would subside as soon as I started running. Hmmm.
2/9/07, Fri: 2.5 miles, 26:48. I wanted to run farther, but I had to get home so John could go to work. Today, Margie and I slept ‘til 10am, and when I got up, I was definitely leaded – literally, not in a caffeinated way. So running today was all about “getting the lead out.” As usual, I donned gloves, long and short sleeved shirts, and hat, along with fleece pants. Talk about overkill. It was sunny in the 40s, and I was roasting. I had to shed the long-sleeved shirt, hat, and gloves; I had not taken a rubber band for my hair, so my hair was swinging about like a wild animal skin attached to the back of my head. Annoying. About ½ mile into the run when I took off my hat, I made it my mission to find a rubber band for my hair. I decided that the most likely place to find a rubber band, and to avoid slowly running while scouring the ground, was on a newspaper in someone’s driveway. I ran quite a while before locating a sodden newspaper in the wet gutter by the street. Every other newspaper that I spotted was either in a driveway with cars parked in it, or was at a house that had people looking out the windows, or someone was driving by at the time I was passing the paper. What can I say…I’m a chicken and will do pretty much anything to avoid confrontation. So I waited until I found a “safe” newspaper in the gutter from which to yank the rubber band for my wild beast hair. At the end of the run, I felt less leaded, and I was able to get through the rest of the day with some modicum of aplomb.
2/8/07, Thur: 2.5 miles, 25:09. Just went out for a quick run this morning. I really tried to let loose, but my body had other ideas – I felt a little sluggish. Today was the first day in a long time that the weather wasn’t sunny and cold. It rained last night, so everything was wet, although it wasn’t actually raining while I was running. I relished the smell of damp earth and wetness in the air
2/7/07, Wed: NO RUN.
2/6/07, Tue: 3.3 miles, 33 minutes. I really need to get a new running watch. The time approximations are driving me crazy. I worked hard today to overcome the “Emily Shuffle” and I think I succeeded. Just pump the arms a little harder, lift the knees a little higher, I kept telling myself. Two weeks ago, I ran this same run in 38 minutes, so this was a definite improvement in speed. I decided that if I’m going to PR at Robie this year, I had better kick up my pace a notch. It’s no longer good enough to just plod along at the Emily shuffle for two miles and call it a good workout. My toe hurt a little bit today, and I’m not quite sure why. I do know that I have been having nerve pain emanating from the base of my toe where the numbing shot was, and it seems to affect the tip of my toe as well. I see the doctor for followup on the 13th, so I’ll mention it to him then. Also, something else that I need to work on, in addition to my speed, is my DIET. For the last week, I have been eating pizza, chips, cookies, and ice cream. Yuck. If I would just tune up my diet, I think my body would tone up dramatically. I have already lost a few pounds, but I would like to tighten up a little and lose a few inches off the “saddlebags.”

2/5/07, Mon: NO RUN.

WEEK 5: JAN 29 – FEB 4, 12.1 miles

2/4/07, Sun: 2.5 miles, 27 minutes. Although my cardio conditioning suffered slightly for not having run in three days, I felt great otherwise. For the first time in a very long time, I had NO toe pain. So I’m glad I had the procedure done, even though it was totally gross. I actually could have run the last two days, but I had so much going on in my life that there was no time to run. I’m just glad I got three runs in this week. That’s one of my running rules – three is the bare minimum times that I can run per week, and I try very hard to run four or five times.

2/3/07, Sat: NO RUN.
2/2/07, Fri: NO RUN. My toe was a little sore still today, but it really doesn’t hurt much at all. Most of my pain is imaginary – I’m just so grossed out by the sight of it and the knowledge that nail bed is exposed. In addition, I’ve been protecting and favoring this toe for over six months. Old habits die hard.

2/1/07, Thur: NO RUN. Today, I had my toe operated on to remove the ingrown toenail. It was just as bad as I thought it would be. The numbing shot was horrific, nearly making me pass out. I really wanted to watch the procedure, sort of like a final goodbye to the infection that had become routine to my life. But I started becoming hot and woozy at the numbing shots; everyone in the room emphatically urged me to not watch the actual procedure. I tried to look, but something internal compelled me to keep my eyes closed. Oh well. The doctor bandaged my toe so that it looked like a goofy giant light bulb. I am tentatively planning on Saturday to run again.

1/31/07, Wed: 4 miles, 38 minutes. I didn’t have a chance to run during the day today, so after putting the kids to bed, I drove down to the Y to run around the indoor track. Tomorrow I have my ingrown toenail procedure, so I wanted to make sure that I got a run in today because I don’t know how long I am going to be out of commission. Each mile consists of 12 laps around that dinky little track. Talk about monotonous; but at least it wasn’t as boring as running on a treadmill. In addition to the monotony, I kept tripping over the cant on the corners of the track. John would call it a floor ninja, but whatever is was, I kept tripping over it. We have determined that clumsiness runs in the family; dad’s excuse his size 14 feet. My feet aren’t boats; I don’t have a good excuse. I also found it very difficult to keep track of the laps. Forty-eight laps is a lot of counting for someone who has an approximately ten second short-term memory.

1/30/07, Tue: NO RUN. I actually could have run today, but today, studying for tomorrow’s math test absolutely had to come first. I had one window of opportunity to do something for myself, and studying had to be done. I have realized that running sometimes has become an excuse to not do homework.
1/29/07, Mon: 5.5 miles, 60 minutes. With great trepidation and nausea, I called a podiatrist to schedule an appointment to get my ingrown toenail fixed. It just keeps lingering; I mean, I’ve had the thing for over six months. Sounds deranged, but I’ve almost grown fond of it. Anyway, the toe was particularly puffy and painful today, even after recent concentrated efforts at soaking and cleaning it, so I am going to throw in the towel. Sigh. In other news, today was the longest run I have completed so far this year, and I am happy to have run the entire distance comfortably.

WEEK 4: JAN 22 – JAN 28, 13.9 miles

1/28/07, Sun: NO RUN.

1/27/07, Sat: 4.1 miles, 45 minutes. I have wanted to take my camera running for a while now, and today seemed like a good day to do it. Marge has shared with everyone fascinating and beautiful photos from Korea, so I thought I’d return the favor by sharing, um, BROWN pictures from the Caldwell, Idaho countryside from a runner’s perspective. Every time I run, I see lots of this:

a lot of this:

even more of this:

and a zillion of these:
It’s a friendly place. Yep. Actually, I thought this horse looked rather friendly as he peered over the rail at me.

Running through town brings another whole fascinating set of visions.

An interesting looking house,
the obligatory small-town water tower,

and friendly graffiti, of course.

John says these pictures make it seem as if I’m running on a Native American reservation. Here are some other fascinating sights I encountered out on the road:

A morose cow (I’d be morose too, if I had to live there).

Classic country mailbox art.

Fast-declining farmland.

1/26/07, Fri: 3.3 miles, 38 minutes. I was amused today by the smiling ram who peered at me through the window of a cinder block shed. When I went back Saturday to take pictures, I was disappointed that the ram had been moved.

1/25/07, Thur: NO RUN. I allowed myself a lazy day today. The pear-shaped runner:
1/24/07, Wed: 2.5 miles, 27 minutes.
1/23/07, Tue: NO RUN.
1/22/07, Mon: 4 miles, 41 minutes. What a gorgeous day! At 38 degrees, the air felt so warm that I had to shed my gloves and scarf and roll up my sleeves. The windiness of previous days has subsided – there was a very slight, almost spring-like breeze today. Spectacular running weather. Having learned a couple days ago that the Doberman’s name is Sadie, I called the dog by name today, thinking that she would be impressed enough at me knowing her name to stop barking. She wasn’t.

Baby Margie has been sick for the last couple days, so she has been sleeping less than usual. This means, of course, that I have also been sleeping less than usual. Margie, since about the age of six weeks old, has completely spoiled me by sleeping 10 to 12 hours a night. There’s no way that I get that much sleep, but if I can get seven hours, I feel pretty good. However, last night’s four and a half hours of sleep left me with a truckload of gravel in my eyes and a crabby attitude. Running helped immensely, and I was able to come back to the house and be moderately productive.

WEEK 3: JAN 15 – JAN 21, 9 miles

1/21/07, Sun: NO RUN. John worked a day shift today. By the time he got home, of course, it was dark, and I won’t run my usual routes in the dark. (With Margie not sleeping well last night, I didn’t have it in me to get up early and run before he left.) I begged John to let me just run around our block a bunch of times, but he put his foot down on that too. “You know what kind of people live in this subdivision!”

1/20/07, Sat: 2.5 miles, @25 minutes. After running in temperatures in the 20s and below recently, today’s early evening run at 35 degrees felt downright balmy; I was definitely overdressed in my fleece scarf and thermal shirt. Although I felt tired, as usual, I tried to push my pace, and although most “real” runners would scoff at 10 minute miles, I am quite happy with them. So I can’t complain about a sluggish pace – my contention today was with my nemesis, the pesky ingrown toenail.

(I apologize for the picture – it’s mainly for Big Marge’s benefit.) My left big toenail became ingrown about a month after Baby Margie was born, so as Margie turns seven months old, my festering infection turns about six months old. Charming. And I beg anyone out there who wants to warn me about the dangers of infection or to implore me to go to the doctor to NOT.

1/19/07, Fri: 3.5 miles, 37 minutes. I started this run today with absolutely NO desire to run. But since running comes above “sitting on the couch like a lazy slug” on my life’s priority list, I had to run (in addition to the fact that I hadn’t run for the previous two days – that’s another rule: to never go more than two days in a row without running).

So I donned my shoes, hat, gloves, scarf, sunglasses, cell phone, and pedometer – I would have strapped on my watch too if that six degree day hadn’t killed it – and headed out into the beautifully sunny, frigid morning at my patented “Emily Shuffle” pace, which I estimate to be about 11 minutes per mile. Today, I ran my normal route in reverse. This change was invigorating, and made me feel like I was running a completely different route. I need to do that more often. I am getting so bored with my usual route.
This run would have been slightly faster had I not taken a phone call as I was finishing the run – I hate talking on the phone, so sometimes it’s just easier to take care of a phone call right then, rather than bothering with calling the person back. The poor woman probably was wondering why my breathing was labored and my speech was slurred (my lips were partially frozen). It was about 22 degrees this morning, which didn’t feel too bad, except for the stinking wind. I started this run with the intention of running 2.5 miles, just to say I ran, but by the time I got to the point where I had to turn and head home, my body was in a trance-like gait, and I pretty much unintentionally “shuffled” through another mile or so. So even though I totally didn’t want to run, I was, of course, glad that I had done so.

1/18/07, Thur: NO RUN. John’s schedule didn’t allow me to run today unfortunately, and “life” got in the way of running. I had lunch with some friends from church, an event that comes above running on the priority list.

1/17/07, Wed: NO RUN. We slept in late this morning (until 10) and then I had to go feed the llamas. This was my last morning to do that. By the time I got back, John was leaving for work, and I didn’t have a chance to run. However, I did wear Margie around in the backpack for an hour and a half while cleaning today. It wasn’t a cardio workout, but it’s definitely a leg-strength builder! I would challenge anyone to squat repeatedly to pickup toys off the floor and to walk up and down the stairs with 20 pounds of baby on their back.

1/16/07, Tue: 3 miles, 34 min. I set out to do 2.5 miles, but once I got into the run, my body just got in a nice rhythm and I kept going around to the three-mile loop. When I set out to run today, the temperature, with the wind-chill factored in, was six degrees. SIX. It was cold. By the end of the run, ice had built up on the inside of my ninja-scarf. It was so cold that my watch is dead now. It was working fine until I went to stop the time at the end of the run. I saw “34” and then the display just went caterwampus. Bummer.

Drawbacks to running in the cold: my legs were as stiff as boards, so I was moving along at a brisk shuffle, even though I felt great. Also running into a headwind half the way definitely was a barrier to a speedy time as well as a barrier to any semblance of warmth. Even the half with the tailwind didn’t help my overall pace (rigor-mortis-like leg muscles).
Even though the drawbacks may be more obvious than the benefits, I did notice some benefits to running in the cold: even through the pink and green leopard scarf, I could faintly detect the smell of rotting apples at the “idyllic” house; the cold air has a distinct numbing effect that pretty effectively eliminates those nagging little aches and pains that would normally be there; and people I ran by, mostly utility and construction workers (no body else was stupid enough to be out in this weather without being paid for it) seemed to be extra-friendly, giving little nods, as if to commiserate.
Cold aside, I had a different, and altogether more annoying, issue to contend with: WRINKLED SOCKS. In my haste to rush out the door for a run in that small moment of opportunity, I left on a pair of tube-like cotton sport socks instead of putting on running socks. That was a mistake. I think Big M will appreciate my abhorrence of the wrinkled socks. That, paired with the consistent untied nature of my right shoe, made my right foot a very unhappy camper. Altogether, it was a great run – the sky was cloudless and sunny, my body felt good, and I am able to run.

1/15/07, Mon: NO RUN. Today, my morning before John went to work consisted of picking up dad’s truck and driving to Meridian to pick up dad’s moose rack at Yellow Transportation. That was a fun little adventure, but the rack was fully crated, so I didn’t get to see it. I’ll have to wait for dad to get back from Atlanta.

WEEK 2: JAN 8 – JAN 14, 12.2 miles

1/14/07, Sun: 2.5 miles, @26 min. Went out Sunday afternoon, having just eaten a couple pieces of pizza; eating and running are two things that, as a mother, student, and wife, must be undertaken when the opportunities present themselves. That means sometimes I run immediately after eating, if that’s when the opportunity to run presents itself (unless that “eat” happens to have been a five-plate Thanksgiving dinner).

Because the temperatures have been unpleasantly chilly lately (highs in the 20s), I have taken to running with a fleece scarf wrapped around my neck, which I pull up over my mouth and nose, so I’m not directly sucking in the bitterly cold air. (God must have known that I would be running in frigid temperatures someday because He gifted me with an appropriately shaped nose for such scarf draping.) At the end of my run, as I headed into my subdivision, I passed a little kid walking on the sidewalk with his grandma. He, in a typically untactful little-kid manner, loudly remarked – several times, which I deemed excessive, considering the obvious cold temperature – that I looked like a ninja.

A ninja. Look, a ninja. There’s a ninja!

I would have been a little huffy about this, except that I can totally see what the kid was talking about after I had John snap this picture of me after the run.

1/13/07, Sat: 3.2 miles, 33:23. It was 13 degrees and windy this morning when I went to feed the llamas around 10:00. Sheesh.

1/12/07, Fri: NO RUN. Life pre-empted running today. We had errands to do in the morning, I babysat Katie’s girls in the afternoon, and I had a church function in the evening. On days that John works swing shifts, I have to run in the morning before he goes to work. If I don’t get a run in early enough, or if I have something scheduled in the morning, I am doomed to have a “NO RUN” day. Running, however, doesn’t come at the very top of my priority list. I determined that in my running ground rules. Running comes before things like “homework” or “clean the house” or “sit on the couch like a lazy slug.”

It, however, falls below things like “feed the kids” or “take care of husband” and any play date, lunch date, or church activity. I decided that for my running to be consistent, and for me to not constantly battle my guilty conscience about not running every single day, I had to set guidelines about where running would fall within my spectrum of priorities. Some days are just not conducive to running. And that’s ok. But what’s not ok is when I have a prime opportunity to run and I don’t jump at the chance. When the couch wins out, that’s bad.

1/11/07, Thur: NO RUN. I definitely have Dieter’s cold; not happy about this. In addition to this inconvenience, Baby Margie was up the half the night last night vomiting the oatmeal I gave her for dinner. It was the first time I had given her oatmeal, and it will be the last for a very long time. We’ll just stick to sweet potatoes and applesauce for now.

1/10/07, Wed: 2.5 miles, 26:05. I still didn’t feel like running, but I had to run today anyway, knowing that the next two days didn’t look good for the running schedule. I started running feeling like I weighed about 500 pounds. By the end of the run, I had “lost” about 300 pounds, a definite improvement. Running often has that effect of improving mood and physical well-being. I often wish I could run with an iPod, but I decided I would rather have an obnoxious version of “O Happy Day” cycling through my brain than be surprised by a charging dog or an attacker rustling in the bushes or the erratic teenage driver (of whom there seem to be an inordinate number) approaching behind me at a high speed.

1/9/07, Tue: NO RUN. By the end of today, I was feeling like I was coming down with Dieter’s stupid cold that he has had for several days. Because I was totally sore from my last two workouts (the four miler and the hill work), I decided to take a day off to rest. I DON’T WANT TO GET SICK. Doing everything I can to stay well.

1/8/07, Mon: 4 miles, 39:43. Today, I ran by the graffiti (WSL for West Side Locas, yes Locas) spray painted on the fence and the scary ‘hood kids in a yard, one of whom repeatedly hollered “Justin” until finally yelling “Fire Away!” (upon hearing this, I bravely forged by them without making eye contact). That’s bad to be frightened of the 10-year-old kids in the neighborhood through which I am forced to run. I also ran by the parolee chalets; the “idyllic” house, defined by the tangy smell of rotting apples; and the “less-than-idyllic” shack, which, according to my imagination, could easily house a serial killer, looking abandoned except for the perpetual smoke rising from the chimney and the junkyard dog who often greets me. The junkyard dog wasn’t out today, but the Great Dane and the German Shepherd to his east greeted me in typical friendly (Ha!) fashion.

I had a little pain in my right kneecap, and I am sure this is a result of suddenly starting a running regime with no precursor. Also, drinking coffee before the run seemed to work well…no stomach cramps, which usually plague me if I am running with anything in my stomach. My body and lungs seemed to finally be in synch today. One did not tire before the other. They both felt strong the entire way (not to say that I wasn’t tired at the end); and I was able to surge strongly the final 2/10 mile.

Although I felt lithe today, the shadow stretched in front of me reminded me that I am have a “classic pear shape.” But the pear-shaped runner was running nonetheless, right? As John Bingham of Runner’s World says, “Waddle on, friends.”

Today was a great run except for my chapped lips.

I get so angry when I forget to put on chapstick before running. Un-chapsticked lips are almost as bad as wet socks on the “things that totally aggravate my senses” list. The chapped lips are a telltale sign that I NEED TO DRINK MORE WATER.

WEEK 1: JAN 1 – JAN 7, 12.8 miles

1/7/07, Sun: Hill repeats @2 miles. Ran in the morning before church. Warmed up by running about .25 mile to the hill behind my house, then ran six repeats up and down the hill. Surged uphill at a strong pace then jogged down easy. Each repeat took about two minutes. Minimal breaks between repeats. Felt pretty good. Ran about .5 mile back home.
1/6/07, Sat: NO RUN. After running four days in a row following a very long period of no running, I felt ready for a day off.

1/5/07, Fri: 3.8 miles, 40:02. Felt a little fatigued today. Think I need a day off.

1/4/07, Thur: 2.5 miles, 25:51. Still feeling a little fatigued, but not too tired; finished strong. My first mile split was 11:00, so I picked up the pace nicely on the second 1.5 miles.

1/3/07, Wed: 2.5 miles, 28 min. Felt a little fatigued from yesterday, but I’m happy to be running consecutive days. It’s a start

1/2/07, Tue: 2 miles, 22 min. Just to be clear, I have not made running my New Year’s resolution. My desire to run has been building up all through the fall, and it’s simply time to start. More about that later… Simply, I know that for me to achieve ultimate satisfaction in races later in the year (maybe even a marathon) I have to run consistently, build mileage, and run NOW.

The Beginning: Starting Over

The following is an excerpt from a paper on ultrarunning that I wrote for an English class in the Fall 2007. I merely extracted paragraphs from throughout the paper, so if it doesn’t seem very coherent, that’s why. I include it in this blog because it gives some background on the mentality with which I now approach running, and it shows come where I came from. After I had my two kids and was done childbearing, I pretty much had to start over. I was a new runner. As I look back on this post three years later, I am amazed at my progress, amazed at some comments that almost seem prophetic.

I’m a runner. At least that’s how I perceive myself in athletic terms. Since my sophomore year in high school, I have nurtured a love-hate relationship with running. When I’m running, I hate it. When I’m not, I love it. Lately, I have become obsessed with this conundrum. I truly aspire to be a runner, not just someone who thinks about it a lot.

Having two babies in the last five years has been a roadblock to my running success.

I’m a slug, yet I still have the desire to be a serious runner, and I am slowly getting back into it. But to some extent, running is my fantasy – I do a lot of running in my dreams. Still, I had to begin somewhere. In order to not shock my system with too much exercise right off the bat, I started with the mild step of reading about running. In doing so, I discovered ultramarathoning.

In his autobiography, Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner, Dean Karnazes relates the story of how he ran a 199-mile relay race from Calistoga, California to Santa Cruz, California as a team of one. “…A bout of despair set in. Suddenly, nothing seemed to be going right… The sun was now sinking below the distant horizon, and I was running into a gathering gloom. I was alone… The pain wasn’t just confined to my legs any longer but had spread throughout my entire body. I plodded along in grief, barely able to lift my head. Twenty-eight hours of running can do that to you” (234-5). I’ve read numerous statements from ultrarunners that would completely deter most people from contemplating participation in this extreme sport.

I, however, wasn’t deterred. I was compelled. I realized there is a whole sub-category of runners out there who are influenced by the power of the ultra. I wondered why anyone would willingly engage in such a painful activity. Why would someone run such long distances? What’s involved? Would I be capable of doing this? I didn’t know the answers to these questions, but I had to find out. Thus began my journey of personal discovery.

I can testify that runners’ strength comes from the mind rather than the body. Most of the time, I’m pretty weak-minded. Sitting on my couch, rear end comfortably ensconced in the broken-in cushion, I find myself completely engrossed in Blake Wood’s fascinating account of his experience at the 2000 Barkley Marathons. Wow, this is some good reading. Here’s a guy who came 12 miles from completing a 100-mile race, only to be stymied by a river flooded by torrential rain. Instead of feeling defeated, Blake Wood feels victorious. I’m extremely inspired by his story.

If the mind controls the body and compels it to action, why does my mind fail to lace up my running shoes and propel me out the door so I can pursue the same victorious feeling? Am I mentally tough enough to run an ultra? How does one’s mind adapt and talk itself out of defeat? What is the thought process behind it.

I turn my attention to The Extra Mile, Pam Reed’s account of her running and life. This woman is the race director of the Tucson Marathon, an internationally successful professional ultrarunner, a two-time overall winner of the Badwater Ultramarathon, a mother of three, and a wife. Pam might tell me that my perception of running needs to change. Pam states that for her, running is a necessity. After all, she runs up to three times a day, 100 miles a week. But somehow, it just doesn’t seem simple to move running up my priority ladder. I get tired simply reading the prologue.

The allure of the ultra has captured Dwight Schuh because, in his own words, he might be “absolutely crazy.” Speaking of crazy… my life is nuts, but not because I am obsessed with training. Being a mother comes with special challenges, more than a childless person would think. Go for a run or read to my son? This is my current dilemma. The juggling of husband, kids, church, school, and social obligations leaves me little time to do anything for myself. Running is a luxury, in my mind.

I am torn between love of things I used to do freely, such as running, and the necessity to complete the tasks that make life go on. Maybe some mothers find it easy to dart out the door, smiling baby in tow, for a productive one-on-one with the blacktop. I do not. Making each of the baby’s waking (and often fussy) moments productive is much more difficult than it sounds.

The ultramarathon culture is fascinating. My research has given me graphic insight into the elements necessary to train for and run ultramarathons. Here I sit, in front of the television, thinking that I want to be, that I should be out running. So why, when I can hardly muster the gusto to shuffle three miles, do I dream about running 30-plus miles? The short answer: I don’t know. Here’s what I do know: I have to start somewhere.

I start slowly. I escape the house without my kids and run three miles, winning a small victory when I can do it without walking. And it’s a treat to run alone. The extra exertion required to push a jogging stroller is amazing. Recently, I ran a 5k (3.1 mile) “race” in Boise with my son and daughter.

From this experience, I determined that pushing 60 pounds of stroller and kid three miles is a really good workout, and I have a long way to go before I will be able to run 10 miles, let alone an ultramarathon.

For me, though, running an ultramarathon isn’t the goal. My mind conjures much less grandiose requirements for my body and my time. Run today, just today. Don’t think about tomorrow. Don’t even think about the next mile. Put one foot in front of the other and simply run.