The Day When My Worlds Collided

This morning, I once again got up way too early to hit the trails for a run.  The early wake up was made a bit better by the beautiful splashes of pink and purple that were streaking the sky as I drove to the trails.  I left my cozy parka behind in the car, met up with my friends, and we were off.  After the spring-like temps last week, this morning’s 26 degree start felt particularly harsh.  The first mile was tough, as always, but then we settled into a nice pace.  To be honest, it felt a bit easier than usual, and I assumed my running partners were choosing to go “slow” for once.  As the one who’s always struggling to stay with the group, I was grateful for the more comfortable pace.  We cruised up and down the hills, which are starting to feel slightly easier, or maybe at least a bit more predictable.  I actually found myself reluctant to leave them behind after 14 miles, knowing they would be carrying on for a longer distance.  I even joked that you know you must be an ultra runner when you are sad to miss out on a 20-mile run.

I finished the run and literally jumped right in the car to grab a quick shower before meeting my family.  Then it was back in the car to drive up to my alma mater for a gymnastics meet.  See, I’ve always been an athlete, but before this whole running thing took over my life, I was a gymnast.  I started gymnastics shortly after I started walking, and trained and competed for close to 20 years, until a knee injury sidelined me right at the start of my senior season.

I’ve always found it funny that I moved from running to gymnastics.  When I was a gymnast, I had awful endurance.  A 90-second floor routine used to leave me winded.  My college team used to go for 3-mile runs in the preseason, and I was always the one gasping at the back of the pack.  Gymnasts thrive on fast-twitch muscle fibers.  Endurance runners depend almost completely on their slow-twitch fibers.  The sports are worlds apart.

Then I think about the girls I went to college with.  There were six of us that competed together for four years.  Now, nearly 15 years later, we have all left gymnastics far behind, but 5 of the 6 of us have completed marathons.  It seems such an odd transition.

Under Armour recently aired a new ad campaign.  The ad features elite gymnasts and shows all the hard work and dedication that they put into their training.  Today, a fellow runner shared that ad online, noting that she loved it because it demonstrates the drive and commitment that we all put into our training on a daily basis.  With that, a light flipped in my head.

I realized that maybe it doesn’t matter that gymnastics is an anaerobic sport while running is an aerobic one.  Maybe the connection is that both sports require long hours of training, training that is often monotonous or undertaken alone.  My years in gymnastics may not have prepared my lungs for running, but they taught me how to work hard, how to push through pain and setbacks, and how to work towards goals.  Perhaps these two sports are more closely linked together than I thought.

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My Secret Running Life

I often feel like the time I spend running is when I’m the most alive.  When I am really, truly me, at my best, and at my happiest.  It’s an incredible feeling.  And then my run ends, and I come back to reality.

In reality, running feels like this secret identity that I have.  Most of my running happens early in the morning, so early that you could almost still call it night.  In fact, it’s still dark, and nearly everyone I know is asleep, so “night” would be a pretty good definition.  I get up at crazy hours, get in a great run in my basement, and then return to the real world where I shower and prepare for the day ahead.

By the time I arrive at work, my run is often forgotten.  Completely.  I will pass runners on my drive in and find myself thinking, “I wish I could go for a run,” before I remember that I already have.  There’s something about running in the pre-dawn hours that make the activity feel almost mystical.

The weekends are different.  I run out in the real world, with real people, and it’s pretty much always light out.  There’s no way to forget that my weekend runs have happened.  My long runs often take up half the day as it is, so many times, that is my daily activity.  And yet, because these runs happen with other people, people that I usually only see when I am running, they still feel a bit separate from my everyday life.

Sometimes I love the fact that running is my own special thing.  Having it be such a private activity makes it feel all the more special.  Like I have this really cool secret about my days that no one knows about.

At other times, it’s not so cool.  This past Saturday, I ran 19 miles on my favorite trails.  I ran an almost identical route last weekend, and the run totally owned me.  I was exhausted and struggling, and it was all I could do to keep plugging forward.  This week, the temperatures gave us the first taste of spring, and my running felt renewed as well.  I ran with the same friend from last week, the one who totally smoked me a week previously.  And this week, I nearly kept up with her, which is saying something as she is definitely a faster runner than I am.  I resolutely pushed up the hills, and flew along the trails, and I felt such joy in those 19 miles.  On Sunday, I woke up and went out for a 5-mile recovery run.  The temperatures were still warm and I pushed the pace a bit despite my best intentions.  When I looked at my splits for the third mile, I discovered that I had just run an 8:50 min/mile.  I’m lucky to log that for one mile on a really good, rested day, so to do it coming off a hilly long run was pretty shocking.  I finished up my run and threw in a round of squats and lunges just to top off the workout.  My legs were clearly tired from the day before.  And yet I felt amazing.  Strong.  It was a hint that all of this hard work from the past few months might actually be paying off.  I was riding a total high.

Then today arrived.  And I was back to being a normal person.  No one at work cares how fast my weekend runs were, or how much better my long run went compared to the week before.  I can’t blame them.  Of course it’s not as exciting to them.  They aren’t there every step of the way like I am, putting in all of the work.  It makes total sense that this matters more to me than anyone else.  Still, sometimes I wish I could share this amazing feeling.  It feels wonderful to have this secret life, but it can be a little bit lonely too.  I wonder if any other runners feel the same way?

Orange Mud Hydration Pack Review

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I must be a real distance runner now, because a couple of weeks ago, I gave in and bought my first real hydration pack.  All last summer, I ran with a handheld Nathan 20 oz bottle.  I like the Nathan bottle a lot, but there were definitely times when I had to plan my run around multiple car stops to refill on hot days.  After signing up for Worlds End, I figured I needed to stop dragging my heels and commit to a hands-free system.

I talked to a lot of people and read a lot of reviews.  I came close to buying a kids CamelBak, but the bladder intimidated me.  I have enough trouble staying on top of keeping my water bottles clean, so I didn’t want something that was so much work, especially since I knew I would be using it regularly.

A friend and fellow ultrarunner mentioned that she was looking at vests over backpacks.  I returned to the internet, where I saw a lot of positive reviews for the Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta, a vest designed specifically for women.  Many of the reviewers mentioned that the bottles that came with the vest leaked, but that an easy fix was to buy two body bottles instead, giving you 28 oz of combined fluids.  I liked the idea of being able to carry two different liquids, along with some other gear, so much so that I went ahead and ordered a vest.  Imagine my dismay when I received an email a few days later that they were completely out of stock.  The company offered to notify me as soon as they had more inventory, but they weren’t expecting that for several weeks, and I was now less than 2 weeks out from the Worlds End course preview run, where I really wanted to try out my pack.

One more plea to fellow runners online turned up a suggestion to try a vest from Orange Mud.  I have to admit that I had never heard of the company.  I scoured their webpage, reading all sorts of reviews of their HydraQuiver Vest Pack 2.  I was excited and intrigued by the two large, 25 oz bottles, which would give me 50 oz of fluids without having to carry anything in my hands.  I also liked the idea of being able to easily refill at aid stations during a race, along with easy clean up once I was home.  I wasn’t sure how I would feel carrying that much on my back, but with little time left, I went ahead and ordered a pack.

My pack arrived less than a week after ordering, and just 4 days before the Worlds End preview run.  I tried it out on my treadmill during a short run that Wednesday, just to make sure that it wouldn’t drive me crazy on the long run.  I was a bit nervous to go into such a long run with a new pack, but I figured this would be a clear way to see how I felt about the vest.

The official verdict?  I’m a big fan.  The water bottles do slosh, just like a handheld, but you get used to the sound, and the vest doesn’t bounce at all.  I am able to carry plenty of fluids in the back, and usually fill one bottle with Tailwind and one with plain water.  There are two velcro pockets on the shoulder that sit surprisingly flat.  I tend to keep my car key in one, and a Chia bar in the other.  There are also two larger pockets in front that cinch with a zip cord.  I usually throw my phone or a small camera in one, and put some extra nutrition in another.  I love being able to carry so much and still have my hands free.  There were several spots along the Worlds End preview run when I needed my hands to get up a rock, and this vest allowed me to do so without a problem.  I’ve also found that I am able to remove a bottle and replace it without having to remove the pack, which is a big plus.

From the moment that I ordered my vest, I have been impressed by the customer service from the company.  For me personally, I have found that this is one of the best things about buying products from smaller companies.  Earlier today, I went out for a long run in ridiculously cold conditions.  It was a whopping 18 degrees F when we started and just 25 when we finished several hours later.  For the first time ever, I found I had a hard time replacing my bottle in the holder on the run.  My running partner mentioned that the cold might have caused the fabric to constrict a bit.  In any case, at one point, the bottle slipped from my pack and hit the ground at just the right angle to crack the lid.  I contacted the company via their Facebook page when I got home, and had a response from them within an hour.  A new lid will be on its way tomorrow, which means that it will most likely arrive in time for my next long run next weekend.  I won’t have to miss a single run with my pack.

I’m so glad that I found Orange Mud and this vest.  I highly recommend it to other runners looking for a great pack to use on their long runs.

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View of my vest from the back as I cross a frozen creek.  Note how my hands are totally free for balance and catching myself when I trip on the trail. 😉

My Crew

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Some of my amazing trail crew, after we hit the trails and then devoured our weight in omelets, pancakes, and coffee.

A little over a year ago, I stumbled across this company called Fellow Flowers.  They are an amazing company that celebrates female runners, and the joy the running brings to women’s lives.  This past fall, I had the opportunity to join the Fellow Flowers Crew, which is a more select group of women who promote the company and its values, but also lift up and celebrate one another and our accomplishments.  We’ve spent the past couple of weeks gearing up for today, February 6th, which is Declare it Day (DID).  Declare it Day is a chance for us to put our goals out there and make a commitment to ourselves.

If you read this blog regularly (thank you, by the way), you may remember that I already went ahead and declared my goals about a week ago.    I didn’t want today to go by without celebrating though, so of course I turned to my favorite running group.  Spending time with them today, both on the trails, and at breakfast afterward, made me realize that while running is about the personal journey that I take, it’s also really about the people that I’ve encountered along the way.  So today, instead of being redundant and talking about my goals, I want to talk about the people that help make those goals happen.

Without a doubt, I couldn’t do any of this without the support of my husband.  I don’t want to diminish his importance in any way, but since I already wrote a post dedicated to him last year, we’re going to focus instead on the support I receive from my fellow runners.  Because to be honest, no one else truly understands unless they have been there.  Last week I had that amazing run at Worlds End on Saturday, and then Sunday rolled around and it was just a normal day.  And none of the people I encountered on Sunday really could understand how incredible Saturday had been, because they weren’t there to share it with me.  But other runners understand.  They get it.  So here’s my salute to my running crew.

I can’t talk about my running crew without talking about Jen.  Our paths crossed over ten years ago, and our friendship has grown stronger ever since.  In fact, now that I think about it, Jen really warrants her own post on this blog.  For now, suffice it to say that she’s one of my closest friends, really more of a sister than a friend, and we’ve been through more running related adventures together than everyone else that I run with combined.  That will happen after you’ve run together, in training and in races, for more than 10 years.  She’s dealing with some lousy physical stuff right now that’s causing her to put running on the back burner, but I still know that I can always reach out to her with a running related question, or celebration, or complaint.

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Jen & I, before one of our many races together.

The other members of my crew are all a part of my trail group.  These are my “new” friends.  We’ve been running together for just over a year, but they’ve become such an important part of my life.  In my mind, Nicole is our de facto leader.  She is the one who reached out and invited me to join these women for a run last New Year’s, and she’s the one who continues to keep us on track, organizing weekly runs, nudging us into races, and sharing training plans.  As an introvert, I can’t imagine reaching out to a total stranger and inviting them to hang out.  It is completely inconceivable.  In fact, as an introvert, just agreeing to show up for a run with people I didn’t know was a scary thing.  Somehow I did though, and I am tremendously thankful that first run occurred.

These women are amazing.  There’s a core group of us who show up almost weekly, and then others who join us from time to time, but the overall feel of the group is such a happy and welcoming one.  We’re bonded by our love of running, especially on the trails, and I think that all of us would say that the time we spend together in the woods is transforming.  I run with these women every week, and yet I am continually awed by them.  We have met up for runs in the rain, runs in sub-freezing temps, runs in 100% humidity, and runs when the trails are coated in mud and snow.  Barely a week goes by without someone falling, and we always just pick ourselves back up and carry on our way.  Our runs usually average about 90 minutes, but can also last for multiple hours.  I’ve been running for over 12 years, and the pace that these women set is often blistering.  I usually find myself lagging at the back, feeling like a newbie runner and hoping that my turtle speed isn’t annoying them too much.

This morning, sitting around and listening to them share their hopes & dreams, I found myself so thankful to be a part of this group.  Life is hard, and when you are trying to balance being a wife, and a mother, and your job, it can feel overwhelming.  These women provide encouragement and challenge and humor on a weekly basis.  They truly make up my running crew, and I am so grateful for their presence in my life.