Friday, October 28, 2016

Thoughts and musings.

 I've been pretty quiet on the running and ultra scene since Western States. I haven't run an ultra since June. There are many reasons for this, and it has been an intentional decision on my part. For one, my body took a really long time to bounce back from that race. I had lingering knee pain, ongoing plantar fasciitis (which I'm still dealing with), some other niggles, and a general lethargy whenever I ran that simply wouldn't go away. Some of this was simply because I hate hot weather running, and we had an extremely hot summer here in Virginia. There was the usual post-ultra letdown that usually happens after a big race. Every run felt hard, even when I ran slow, and I just felt like crap to be honest. Along with the running stuff, this year has been a stressful one for me and my family. Back in January my husband and I had made the decision for me to quit my job, so that I could be home during these formative years in our kids lives. To make this happen, my husband started a second business, I was still working full-time, and after a successful Georgia Death Race, I ramped up my training for Western States, not to mention how awesome sleeping in an altitude tent for a few months can be. Insert major sarcasm here. To say all of this combined put a strain on our family life would be putting it mildly. Even after quitting my job in May, life was still very chaotic and stressful. After the whirlwind of Western States, I realized that my family needed to become my priority. They had all sacrificed a lot during the first 6 months of the year. As much as we all like to pretend we are superhuman, at some point, something has to give. I can't do it all and do it well, even though I like to think that I can. Something will suffer, and I never want it to be my family. I think this is  hard topic to talk about as ultrarunners. My running group, particularly my women running buddies always talked about finding balance, or keeping the right perspective between running and the rest of their life. No one wants to admit that they might not have found that good place. It can be a tricky balancing act, and I will be the first to admit that I think running took over my life for the first 6 months of this year.

 The thing is, I absolutely love running ultras, and being in the mountains, but I love my family more. Ultrarunning by its very nature can be an all-consuming sport.  It takes hours and hours to train if you want to be competitive, like I do. I am not wired to simply get out there and be satisfied with a finish. When I started running in my early twenties, that was enough for me, but having tasted some success makes it very hard to be happy with just finishing. I am way too competitive for my own good, and I'm just not wired to do anything halfway. I want to be the best that I possibly can, and I don't honestly think I've reached that peak yet. I am by no means the most talented athlete around, but I have a gift for running long and working really hard. The longer the distance, the more I like it. When I first found ultrarunning in college, I knew this was something I was born to do. It's hard to explain to anyone outside of the sport exactly why I love it so much. It simply makes me feel alive unlike anything else I've ever experienced in life.

On the flip side, there are seasons in life. Circumstances, jobs, family, and friends ebb and flow like the seasons of the year. We have to be willing to change and adapt as life happens. I will never get these years back while my kids are little and under our roof. I don't want to be the absent mom who always put herself first. I don't ever want to look back with regret. While I think it's very important to show our kids that you can be healthy and active as an adult, even with jobs and responsibilities, I never want it to be a negative thing in their lives. One of the driving forces in my running has been to be an example of what is possible for a normal working mom with kids. I am not a professional athlete (I wish I were), but at the end of the day, this is a hobby. Maybe there is a reason that there aren't many moms with young kids running ultras competitively. I know there are some, but not many. I still think it's possible to do, but it's my time to sacrifice a little of my own competitive drive for the sake of my family. My boys started kindergarten this year, and my daughter is three. It became quite apparent during the course of this year that our kids were suffering with me working full-time as well as trying to be a competitive ultrarunner. I don't want to miss this precious time in their lives.

My point in all of this is that I've backed off of ultras for a while. One lesson I took away from Western States was that I am very strong as an ultrarunner, but also pretty darn slow (no offense to those who run slower than I do). This entire year, I kept waiting for a race to destroy my legs, but it never happened. My huge takeaway from States was that my weakness is the actual running. I can hike all day long, and run downhills great, but everyone killed me on the runnable stuff. My legs are strong, but my weakness is my running. I like to call myself the lazy runner. I like trails because I get to walk :-)

So, I decided to train for a marathon, my first one ever! I've never actually run a marathon, and in a strange way, they scare me way more than any ultra, Barkley and Hardrock being the few exceptions. I live in Richmond, Virginia, and we have an awesome marathon here every November. I've never run it, because I despise road running; and also because I've always run either the Mountain Masochist 50-miler and/or the JKF 50-miler. Both races fall around the same time in November as the Richmond marathon. I suppose I could be like my friend, Annie Stanley, who ran Masochist one weekend, paced the Richmond marathon the next weekend, and then ran JFK the weekend after that. Ouch! I once did the Masochist/JFK double, which is also a terrible idea.

Realizing that I could train for a marathon on lower mileage, stay in town training on roads without driving an hour to get to the mountains, and pushing myself out of my (trail) comfort zone made the Richmond marathon a no-brainer. Let me just say that marathon training SUCKS! I feel like a newbie runner trying to figure out what to do. I have no idea what time I can run, but I know it will hurt way more than any ultra I have done. I'm trying to embrace track workouts, tempo runs, and road long runs. In the end, it will make me a better runner and athlete, as well as allowing me to be a more present mom and wife. It's a win all the way around in my book. Our goals in life have to coexist and work in harmony towards the same ultimate goal, not oppose each other. I don't know what next year will bring, but I hope to find balance in everything I do. It has also freed me up to discover a newfound love of cooking, hot yoga, and cross-training. In a painful way, it has been fun to stretch myself, and try something way outside of my comfort zone. I have a new respect for what marathoners do. It is another world to be an elite marathon runner. With just over two weeks to go, I'm excited to see how this all plays out. Hopefully it won't get too ugly, and then I'll have to figure out what is next! 

Happy Fall!

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