Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Best of Days

The past two weeks have been such a whirlwind that I have put writing it all down as a last priority. But, it shouldn't be, so here goes...catch-up time.

I have had a chance over the past two weeks to fill so many roles in my life, that I have come to realize I am happiest when I am working to fill them all.

Very selfishly I decided (with hardly a nod from Paul) to head to San Francisco to tackle my final race of the summer. I needed a good one to find some level of peace for the tough challenges I have had to face. Somehow I justified this race, by saying I would crew for my friend and a fellow trail-runner after I finished. It became such a win-win situation.

I had the race of my life on August 11th. I had been totally out of my pre-race routine, and had turned over the priority to go to the men who were racing longer than I. This allowed me to just move on instinct. I know how to plan my drop bag. I know what I am wearing, and how to plan for the final pre-race moments. And when given the chance I know how to race. I just let what my body was wanting and preparing all summer to with freedom and joy. I did just that. I enjoyed every moment. I sang out-loud as I descended, and I smiled as I climbed. I shared miles with all of my friends: Luisa and Steph got the first 8 miles, Catherine and Bryan shared the climb with me to mile 22, Clea got the ridge on the way out, Paul brought me on the way back (what I considered the most important section of the race) and boy did he push me, I kept the downhill from Pan Toll to Muir Beach to myself...which actually turned out to be my best moment of the race, descending to Legacy and singing feeling the blessing all the way down. (I knew the day was a gift and was lifted by the spirit of it all; it was a very spiritual descent that I continue to have a hard time putting into words) I shared the most difficult climb of the day with Shan because there was noone that could pull me uphill better than her. I thought about how hard she is working and wanted to share every minute of the last hard climb with her...thanks for pulling me up. I came through the final aid station with my dream in front of me; I needed to move to break 10 hours. I thought about someone who has become my "email" friend, Jamie, and what she must have mustered to get to the finish at Badwater and I pushed. She was injured and continued to climb; I felt great and had no excuse. I pushed and pushed and when I crested the top I ran as fast as my body and legs would go to my very favorite: Avril! I sprinted ALL the way to finish to Julie standing at the finish. She could tell by the smile on my face that I had the day I had been wanting for. It was amazing...9:55:12, 3rd woman, 13th overall!!

Was it being out of my routine and having to let my instinct take over; was it sharing this day with everyone I love; or was it just a freak occasion. Whatever it was to be I took it and still savor it!

As soon as I changed and got some soup; I was ready to work. The guy I had met at Miwok, Steve, and had silently pulled me on the ridge was tackling the 100. So when he came in from the first loop. I helped fill his bottles, get him soup, and try to get him moving out of the aid station. He was having a grand time visiting with everyone around...and eventually knew he needed to move on. Although I didn't see him again I heard he had a great finish. I am very happy for him!!

Soon after, Stuart and Henry came through. I was ready to work. I got them soup, and started to help them at the drop bag site. It was quite cold at the beach and the winds were kicking up a good breeze. I quickly moved their bags and them to the car so that they could change and move on without getting chilled. This process took longer than I would have liked but they left in good spirits and so I was happy for the time taken. My plan was to deliver them a "real" dinner at the next aid station. Both of their weights were down and I wanted to make sure they were eating well. I met up with them 11 miles, and more hours than I would have liked later. Henry was in great spirits, but Stuart was feeling very cold, tired, and low. Again, I sat him in the car to eat. He was expressing to me all that was going wrong, to which I replied, "are you here to have fun, or are you here to finish?" He told me that he was there to finish, so I kicked him out of the car and told both that I would see them at mile 75 with breakfast in tow.

At mile 75, they came in with very little time to spare before the final cut-off. I was concerned. Again, Henry was in good spirits, but Stuart came in and said he was done. I needed to get Henry moving out quickly, so I looked at Stuart and told him that if he wanted to stop that he needed to talk to Wendell, the RD. I wasn't going to make the decision or break the news for him. Henry looked at me and was disheartened with Stuart's decision. I asked Henry what he wanted to do. He said he didn't know. I told him to walk away from the aid station and make his decision. He walked over to the car, changed his shirt, filled his bottles, and told me to meet him at the next aid station. He was invigorated by owning this fantastic decision to keep going. As I took Stuart back to the room he explained that he would hav e never made it because he wasn't going to the restroom, was drinking a surprising amount, and his legs were completely shot from the difficulty of the course...he is a flatlander afterall. I did what I could to make him feel supported.

We headed over to the next aid station to meet up with Henry. When he arrived he wanted to be done. I explained to him that it would be better for him to fight until the clock ran out, then just throw in the towel. Again, I sent him away to make his own decision...I told him he had two minutes and that I would be in the car waiting. Again, I saw him fill up his water bottles. I ran over to him, and he threw me his gloves and told me to meet him at the next aid station...and for the first time in many hours he ran off. It was just incredible.

I decided that the only way he would have a real shot was if I joined him for the last 9 miles. I knew he had been on his own for a long time and that it would be so much easier for him to speed up if we were chatting away. Stuart said that he would take over the driving. Although I couldn't believe I was doing this after I had raced and been up all night, I put on my running clothes to get ready to head out. When Henry came in, he didn't look great but I told him to head out and I would go with him. I caught up to him, and he was having issues other than the clock that was doomed to run out of time. He decided it was safest to call it at day. At mile 91 with no time left, Henry's race came to an end. He showed more heart and will in those last miles, and it was awesome to be part of.

As we were eating our final meal before travelling home, we visited about the weekend. We talked about the difference in my crewing for him at his first 100 finish and my tone this time around. (I was a crazy hyper, intense, and overwhelming crew and pacer...I am surprised he ever forgave me for my behavior) As I have been part of more and more people's races and have done my own, I have come to the realize the importance of calm and ownership. If I remain calm and collected as crew my runners will take the cue as everything is great. I don't have to be hyped-up to have them take care of what they need and get them on their way. I also have come to realize that this is not my race when I am crewing. Decisions have to be made and owned by the runner. I knew their goals, and left it to them to make final decisions. I was paid the most wonderful compliment regarding my crewing style from Stuart:

"You were perfect for crewing! You "thought" for us both, anticipated our needs, yet challenged us to make our own decisions. That was the perfect balance between being too passive and too pushy." Ok, I wasn't perfect, but he was very kind. Although they didn't finish, I was there for them and hopefully gave them exactly what they needed...who could say no to: avocado sandwiches, IN and OUT burgers, Sausage biscuits, and Lattes. (By the way, you too run 100 miles and these foods can be part of your diet)

I barely had time to let the dust settle from that trip, and Paul and I took off to the Smokey Mountains to spend a long weekend with my parents to celebrate their 40th anniversary and our 3rd, which are on the same day. When Paul and I were choosing the date to get married I figured if the date has worked for my parents for so long, it would be perfect for us.

After a very long travel day, our connecting flight was delayed for 6 hours, we entered what Paul ended up terming, "Eden." We stayed in the beautiful haven of Blackerry Farms outside of Knoxville, Tennessee. It was complete Nirvana for days. It is where we learned, "Yes is the answer...what is the question." So many gifts came from our trip:

- a wonderful amount of time spent with my husband
- 3 hour long dinners filled with laughter and wonderful food and wine
- fantastic time with my family...and most of all my father
- Paul on a horse cantoring down the trail
- Experiencing hours and hours in the Smokey Mountains
- and more than anything, a real vacation...

I spend so many weekends heading off to beautiful places to run through the trails. What I sometimes forget is that there is so much beauty in not going somewhere for a race. I can still, and even more so, do the things I love but more than that get quality time with my family and especially Paul.

My best moments and days over the past few weeks have come from thinking a little less about myself, and a little more about those I care about. It was in turning my pre-race priorities over to others that I had the race of my life; it was in giving to others when they needed it most that I could cherish my time out on the race course. It was in creating what my husband and I needed as a couple that we could cherish a real vacation, and it was in letting go that I could fully enjoy my time with my family.
It is the things I do that are not about me that will only help to make me a better person:
- the friendly honest email to my mother-in-law...we both win from that
- being excited for my friends' successes, and genuinely so:
Last weekend while I was hiking, I had three friends finish Leadville: Joe, JT, and Fred. I had one friend prove she is still the champ pacer: Melissa 2 for 2!! And I had a friend swim across the English Channel in the fastest time so far this year...Lynne, 9:50!! And even better, I get to run with her in the fall!!
- Spending time with my family, not only when it is a gift to an amazing has got to be more than that.
- Calling my grandfather...I'm working on that one.
- Making time for my friends, thinking of them, and giving them the best of what I have to offer
- And most importantly, keeping my time with Paul #1 and making our home the Zen experience I know it can and should be...

I love to run, but it is finding the balance of giving that I actually created the best of days... By the way, this is very easy to write in my blog, it is continuing to live it that will remain my life-long challenge.

Have a wonderful weekend and now that I am firmly landed for a little while I will keep up more!


Sunday, August 5, 2007

Using your skills...

This evening as we were sitting in church, I was reflecting on my day. I came to appreciate what I had done earlier in the day...

We woke up VERY early this morning to head to San Marcos for Jack's Generic Triathlon. Since I wasn't racing, I planned to go for a bike ride pre-race and just help out however needed while Paul raced. Before I headed out on the bike the guys in charge asked me to help with bike SAG. This consists of changing tires for people, doing minor bike repair, and getting help quickly if something happens on the bike course....first and foremost it is safety, but really it is mostly a catering service :)

I went for a fantastic hour bike ride on the course, and then changed and got ready for my duty. First thing was to give Paul his split from the few people infront of him. He would be finished and hanging out by time I finished my job. I took off and not 800meters from the transition area did I come up to a guy with a flat. I asked, "Do you have everything you need?" He said, "I have no idea, I have never done this before." I hopped out of the car, took his tire off, and changed it. Off he went. Then I drove maybe 200meters more, and there was a guy sitting at the top of the first climb. I pulled over and went over to him. "Are you ok?" He said he was light-headed from the climb. I helped him pour water on his head and cooldown a bit. Then a girl came riding up to me. "I think I might have a flat." I felt her tire...and she said. "Or maybe I didn't air it up this morning." I grabbed my pump and pumped up her tires which were both extremely low. Off she went, and the guy got up and headed on his way, as well.

I continued on down the road...pumping up many tires (about 5 more), and changed 2 more. Although I must admit that the next two were actually prepared, and just accepted my help for speed-sake. I finally got onto the main road I was supposed to be keeping an eye on. As I got to the end of the road I came up to a guy who had very nice race wheels on and had a flat. I asked if he had a spare. He said, "It's a sprint race. I figured if I flatted I would just quit." As we were discussing this matter, the lone wheelchair athlete came over to me and said he had a flat. He did...there was a wire sticking out from his tire. He walked me through what needed to be done to remove his tire: prop up the chair and take the wheel off. Well I wasn't really prepared for this... Without much deep thought I went back to the car and got our cooler. It was the perfect prop. I took his wheel off and started to remove the tube. I didn't have a spare for him, either did he, and I didn't have a patch. What I found was tape in the car and figured I would just tape the tube, and follow him to make sure he could continue safely. In the meantime, the other SAG approached and they had a spare for the chair. We got him all set and on his way. (I will give him a ton of credit in that he did have a cellphone, and immediately called his family that was waiting in transition just in case they needed to help)

After a few more people to help, I headed back to help serve up food and socialize. It was really a ton of fun.

Anyway, my point...
I am by no means a cyclist. BUT, before I even spent much time cycling I learned about taking care of my bike and changing flats. In my first long distance duathlon I got 3 flats and only had to stop after the 3rd because I had run out of spares. During a 1/2 Ironman it was just pouring buckets and I got a flat on my race wheel. Again, I changed it (with a little help) because I was carrying a spare. Yes, it took time but I just thought that was part of the deal. And finally, to brag on my husband, during a sprint tri last year he got a flat on the bike, changed it, and still won the race. Now, of course, that is not normal...but he never would have not changed a flat during a race.

Now as I do ultramarathons, I feel the same applies. As I am packing my drop bags, and advice I have always been given is to prepare for what can happen. (Better to have and not need, then need and not have) Yes, you may have a perfect day and not need any of that stuff...but chances are you are going to wish and want whatever it is to solve a token issue that arises. It is in that detailed preparation you can calmly face whatever comes your way.

I was so happy to be able to help so many people today, but it was fun to reflect on different skills people choose to have before endeavoring on an adventure. I'll leave it as a good opportunity for me to enhance my tire changing skills...just call me the pit crew!

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Happy Days!

This week has been just fantastic!

- The sun is finally shining and summer is in full force! I am in my glory in the heat. I wait all winter for the sun to shine and the weather to be just downright hot!! It makes everything you do a little tougher, and you feel so much better when you accomplish it strong.

- I have been sharing my runs with my closest of friends, which is such a treat. Luisa and I have finally nailed down our training schedule and hit the track on Wednesdays and do a hilly long run on Fridays. On Wednesday mornings we meet at the track with our dogs in tow. They get to enjoy the wonders of freedom and friendship, while we explore our speed and pain threshold. Scotch and Daisy get so excited to see one another, and Nick just wants to play. I will take pictures of them this coming Wednesday to post. For the Friday runs I have to admit that Stephanie and I started these runs a few months back in her wonderful support of my WS training. But now they have taken a different turn. I pick a good solid hilly run and off we go. Steph climbs like a champ, and they let me set a slightly too aggressive pace. All along we laugh, we visit, and we suffer just a little. We are going to try to continue these every week, which really excites me!!

- Today Luisa and I met up with Clea for the last 8 of her 15-miler. I was feeling quite good, but Luisa was feeling yesterday's run. Clea was being positively neutral in the pace. It was fun, not only to spend time with the two of them, but also to have the two of them get to know eachother better. I think it is such a gift when friends from different circles can come together and enjoy eachother's company!! I think that Steph and Luisa are going to run without me next week when I am out of town, and that just thrills me!

- On the other side of my life, Paul and I got to have dinner together on Thursday night. This is the first evening we had a chance to sit down together in over a week. Between school, work, and sleep imbetween we just have not seen eachother. It was wonderful to talk and catch-up in person. We needed it, and honestly I was really missing him. Soon enough we will see a break, and have more time with eachother. It will be very nice!

Again, all and all a fantastic week! I look forward to many more to come :)

Side Note to my last post: Olga makes a wonderful point. I think we all start blogs, keeping journals, writing down thoughts with an initial intent. Oftentimes, that does change, evolve, mold into something else..maybe wonderfully unexpected and even not as intended. At the end of the day, it is our own evolution. By putting it out there, we risk judgement....I guess that is not what I am here to do, so maybe I have mistakenly read too closely. I will work to read with the intent to enjoy others accomplishments and happiness in them, share what my friends want to say, and learn from what is written.