Sunday, July 24, 2011

Getting There.

Sometimes I think I’m invincible. Well not really immortal, but I have this “thing” where when it comes to something physical, I see no reason why I can’t learn to defeat it. I always tell people that I became a long distance runner partly because I once tried to jog around the park and failed miserably. It gave me something to focus on and conquer. But truthfully my desire to destroy goes back further than that.
I auditioned to be on the pom squad in 7th grade and didn’t make it. I was crushed. However, I was so determined to make it on the team that over the next year I taped every cheerleading and and dance team championship on ESPN I could find. I spent countless hours studying moves and choreographing routines in my basement and in 8th grade not only did I make the squad but I also choreographed the routine that won us first place in a regional competition.

I decided to study dance in college despite never having taken a ballet class. Sure I was a cheerleader. I also went to an arts-based school and participated in musical theatre, but I didn’t TRAIN at a studio for years the way many of my college classmates did. Even so I wanted to transform myself into a modern dancer in the likes of the great Martha Graham. Because I started training much later than others I struggled with technique. However I was natural performer so I used this to my advantage. I soaked up every performance I could attend, read every book on modern dance I could find in the library and stayed late in the studio at night to practice. (I know, cue the Flashdance music!) On an open stage night my freshman year, I choreographed and performed a solo in an attempt to draw attention to myself. It worked. After that I clawed my way from a very beginner class to being asked to perform in concert after concert by my junior and senior years.

I do not give up.

So when I find myself faced with a daunting task like running 26, 31, or even 50 miles, I don’t see any reason why I can’t do it. Maybe it’s crazy to think like that or maybe, just maybe, it’s something amazing. Part of it is just being stubborn but really, barring major injury I never see any reason why I can’t at least finish a race. I’m not talking about winning or even setting personal records- there have been many races where I’ve tried to beat a certain time and fallen short. But I never once thought I couldn’t finish. When I ran Dances with Dirt this past weekend on a treacherous, hilly course, it took us nearly seven hours. The night before? I was excited but not nervous. “We’ll get there when we get there,” was our attitude.

So as I dive into 50 mile training and I stare at training runs of 28, 30 and 32 on my calendar am I scared? That’s not the right word for it. I am ecstatic. I cannot wait to focus, tackle and defeat this latest distance. I know that if I train right and am smart about it, that 50 is just another number. It may take me all darn day but I’ll get there when I get there.

What about you? Do you have a story of determination?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tracey Takes Part in Something Crazy: Part 756

Oh hey, I did something wild. As if running regular marathons aren’t hard enough I have to seek out new ways in which to torture-- I mean challenge myself. Like maybe run a marathon on wooded trails, climb rocky bluffs, and sweat through scorching prairies. Maybe run through areas where said “trail” is only ever-so-slightly implied. The mere idea of a trail. Yeah, that’s what I wanna do. I wanna cover nearly 3000 feet in elevation. (Like whoa. Thanks for that detail, Krista!)

And I wanna do it with four of my bestest running buddies.

Step one to doing a race like this: Ignore the waiver. After we had already signed our lives away we went back and read the fine print: “I realize that my participation in this event entails the risk of injury, or even death.” Sounds reasonable for a race with a dancing devil as their mascot. Let’s see... insect bites, poison ivy, broken bones, potential death...where do I sign?

Anyway, so after spending the night at Hotel 1972 (otherwise known as the Devil’s Head Resort), me, Annie and Rochelle met up with Marty, Krista, Amy, Matt and Evan at the campground by the start. (I don’t camp. Ever. Especially the night before a marathon so we roughed it with outdated decor and a broken air conditioner.) But what I wimped out on the night before we totally made up for on the race course. Five of us were running the full marathon, Matt and Evan ran the half and Amy ran the 10K.

The details:

Right from the start I could tell this was going to be a long ride. The first four miles were painfullly slow as we climbed hill after neverending hill. Where on earth did all these Wisconsin hills come from and why didn’t I know about them before? The runners were very bunched up which made for a very slow pace and we did a lot of walk/running. The people who ran the hills in the race are my heroes, for real. I didn’t have a time goal for this race since we all planned to run together and simply enjoy the experience so the pace didn’t really bother me that much. It felt very freeing to run with an “I’ll get there whenever I get there” attitude. We were stopping at every aid station for drinks and snacks (Pretzel M&Ms! Wut!) and taking photos as well. Everyone we saw was so supportive as well. I lost count of how many times I said, “Good job!” to runners we passed or to those who passed us.

And then there were the bluffs. The Rockies. My dad had warned me about the bluffs around Devils Lake because he had been fishing there in the past. However, my dad like to warn me about EVERYTHING so I usually let stuff like that roll right off and don't pay much attention. (This is the man who asked if they hand out maps at marathons and chastises me for running alone without pepper spray in Bay View.) Who knew he would be right about this? The hills I thought were difficult in the beginning paled in comparison to these. It was like scaling a rocky mountainside. We were like the Von Trapp Family Singers climbing over the Alps but without the cute Austrian outfits and I don’t think Captain Von Trapp ever called anyone “bitches.” (We love you too Marty!) There were jokes about potential cliff diving taking place once we reached the top and lo and behold when we arrived there were rock climbers rappelling down from the highest point! Really.

I don’t think I ever hit a serious “low” point in this race, which was good. My least favorite part was on a very gravelly path where the pieces of rock were so large and pointy that they felt like they were stabbing through the soles of my shoes. I was the most uncomfortable at this point but I didn’t feel like I was going to die or anything. Win! I kept setting the goal of just getting to the next aid station and never really thought about more than that. Baby steps to the elevator. It wasn’t until we passed through the final water stop (around mile 22) that I started to dream about the finish line. It was then that I think we all got a little bit loopy. At one point we passed through a particular sunny area surrounded by tall grasses and I started picturing myself as Laura Ingalls running through the prairie. It was kind of surreal. Did I miss the part where we all got high? Ah, the joys of running-induced delirium.

The last two miles were kind of a blur. We re-entered the woods and I probably kicked my toe on every stinking rock and root in my path. I didn’t feel like my legs were that heavy but apparently my body was desperately trying to tell my mind that it had enough. As we neared the end we had decided we would link arms and cross “Red Rover” style so we joined up as we came out on to the grass toward the finish area. The first thing I saw was Matt cheering for us and pumping his fist in the air! We turned the corner and saw Amy and Evan at the finish line and we all got a big cheer from the crowd as we crossed! I heard someone say they were impressed that we had all stayed together for the entire race.

Then there was the magical outdoor shower that was like a sweet, sweet waterfall.

And of course, beer! What else? The rest of the afternoon was full of ponies and unicorns as we collected our age group awards and ate piles of food. (To be fair, there was only one other girl besides us in the 30-34 age group but I still drink from my prize mug with pride.)

We basked in the afterglow that is post-race festivities and washed away the memory of how hard the past six hours and forty-three minutes were. Would anyone ever do another race if it wasn’t for the post-race amnesia? Something to ponder.

Nine and a half weeks until my 50 Miler.