Wednesday, September 26, 2012

No Excuses: A Blog on Running, Meat, and Reality T.V.*

No Excuses: A Blog on Running, Meat, and Reality T.V.*


*Discretionary Note:  Before reading this blog, please be aware that I am writing from my values, beliefs, and truths.  You may not agree with all I have to say, which is fine, and I don’t mean to offend.  If simply ask that you remain open-minded, take what you want out of it, and leave the rest behind for now.




We all make them.  Often without even knowing it.  Most common is the famous “I’ve just been too busy!”.  It’s our minds most common defense against things we don’t want to do, things we fear, or just a way of making ourselves miserable as we carry on with work and instead of enjoying life with our friends and family.


However, this blog is about 3 main excuses: Being too tired or in too much pain to run, eating meat, and watching reality T.V. (and engaging in other sorts of junk media).


To be honest, I’ve never had too much trouble with the first (even as a kid I had a passion for testing my limits and seeing how far I could push myself).  But, as running is often an overarching focus in my blogs, I thought I should include it.


Just as running is so easy to start, just lacing up a pair of shoes (I know, I know, some people run barefoot) and heading out the door, it’s just as easy to stop.  All you need to do is to open the door into your mind a tiny crack to negative thoughts and they will come flooding in. Actually, it is almost inevitable that they will creep in, but you don’t let them control you…


Again, I could go on for awhile about this, but I’m going to focus on ultras. 


Ultra-marathons are not simply tests of endurance; they are extreme tests of mind over body.  In ultras, it is a given that you will be tired, you will be in pain, that you will have visions of yourself sleeping in a nice warm bed or in the front of a buffet line.

The key is not lot let these thoughts rule over your mind.  How tired are you? How much pain are you really in?  Too tired to take another step?  Too tired to reach that goal you’ve put in months of hard work to reach? Pain is often an excuse too.  I am not talking about an injury, I would never advise sacrificing your body just to finish an ultra.  On the other hand, stopping because of pain that is really soreness in your feet, and aching body…well that’s an excuse.  Your negative thoughts have taken over your mind, making a seemingly rational decision that it’s okay to stop and go put on your fuzzy pajamas and you can race another day.  But what’s going to change in that next race?  The pain will not. It’s still going to hurt like hell. Even puking is an excuse to (unless it leaves you severely dehydrated/dizzy/malnourished).  I’ve seen people puke and run…it happens when you shove a variety of food down your throat and run at the same time. The key is, besides remaining positive, is to figure out why you “endure”    Is it for the beauty of the journey?  Your love of nature?  To make yourself stronger? To show your strength?  Because you love breaking past your own barriers? (For the t-shirt, food, or beer at the end are all fine too, they just shouldn’t be your key motivators).

Just don’t let your excuses stop you from reaching that finish line.*


For me, running a 100 mile ultra-marathon isn’t just about running 100 miles…I have always viewed trail running as a metaphor for life (and vice versa).  Among many other things, it is a chance to look back at my former self when I was weak, when I let the negative voices tear me apart, and prove how strong I now am (and positive...smiling is not only my favorite, it is key to my race performance*).  It’s a chance to show others, especially women, how to be strong too.

*if you’ve never seen “Elf” I apologize as you’re probably a bit confused right now.  But please watch “Elf”.  It’s the best movie ever. Seriously.)


*There are reasons that make dropping perfectly justifiable. Also, I will make the extra exception for the top runners, where it make sense for them to, at times, save their legs for another day.


Okay, the next part of this blog may be more difficult to read for some.  I’m going to talk about two things that a norms in American daily life, and state my personal beliefs against them. During just the past few months, I have almost eliminated both from my life...but before that, they were part of my normal day.  But they made me stupid, they made me go against my morals, and I made excuses for myself. 


Animals, meat. Meat, animals.  Are they different, or the same?


The answer is obvious.  Meat is a dead animal.  But how easily we separate the two!


I accepted this myth in my mind for 24 years (then again, for the majority of my childhood, I didn’t have the mental capacity to ponder this concept.  I simply at what was fed to me, or I had to sit at the table all night).  However, the more I read, the more I talked to people, the more I dug deep into my inner self, I had to ponder the question:  Is it right to eat animals?


Here are/were my inner arguments for pro-meat:

-”People have been eating animals for centuries.  I think Jesus ate meat, so it must be okay.  Plus, God put animals on earth, and hasn’t sent a plague to punish any of us carnivores, so I think we were meant to eat them.” (That really is how my mind works. Scary, I know)

-”As a high mileage runner, I need to get high quality protein from animals. My body will never recover otherwise!”

-“I’ve been battling iron-deficient anemia for years.  If I don’t eat meat, it’s sure to plummet.”

-“It would be a lot harder to eat out.  I can already see my mom rolling her eyes at me.”

-“Chickens are stupid.”


With this came what I chose to ignore. I chose to ignore the life in animals, how much I adored touching the babies soft hair at petting zoos, the beautiful sight of cows grazing on long drives through the country.  I ignored that giving milk was a huge benefit to human life in itself (no, I am not vegan), that chickens laid eggs full of protein,  and that Babe the pig, was just a story, that real pigs can’t feel.  Never mind I never ate the pork at the pig roast because I could actually see the cooked body.(I always had a guilty feeling when eating beef or ham, and only either on occasion.) I chose to ignore all the steroids put in animal food, and how they could affect my body.  I did try organic chicken drumsticks once, and then never again.  They seemed to be oozing with blood.  I ignored the books I read on the brutality of slaughterhouses, doing my best to block out the whines and screams playing in my head of the animals.  I would never eat a deer, or a moose, or anything like that…ignoring that I ate others just like them, and ignoring that it would be normal in other countries to eat dogs and cats. That thought makes me cringe.

I ignored that these animals might not have the brains humans do, but they have hearts. I felt entitled as a human to eat my fellow oxygen consumers.


Was it simply enough that God put animals on earth for us to enjoy as beautiful, living beings?  Or, that they exist simply to breathe and eat, possibly enjoy the company of their fellow herd/flock/etc, not unlike humans (despite our somewhat over-complicated existence)?


Finally, over the past year or two, I began to open up my mind and deal with the difficult questions.

I looked at my own values, morals, beliefs to get to my core.  And, I looked at the facts presented to me.


I realized I was making excuses that led me on an easier route, not necessarily the right trail.


Besides debunking some of the above myths and getting over that my mom would again look at me like I’m crazy, which is not that on common, I accepted what science and others were telling me: You can be vegetarian and a healthy runner.  I have quite a few friends that are vegetarians and great runners.  One had even suffered from iron-deficiency anemia and was having no problems, just taking iron pills as she had when eating meat.  In addition, I had extremely low iron when eating meat!  As for the protein, like most pro-veg articles say, it is super easy to get sources of protein from food other than meat: peanut (butter), almonds, tofu, veggie burgers, beans, hummus, lentils, eggs, etc and it’s found in a lot of whole wheat products. I’ve never had a problem cooking a meal (stir-frys, Mexican, and veggie burgers are weekly staples).  It also helped to read Scott Jurek’s book Eat & Run too (and bit dejected when I read a few weeks later Marshal Ulrich’s promoting meat in his book).


More importantly, it feels right.  I no longer have a guilty conscience of an animal being slaughtered because of me.  I started with a month test period to test it out and see if I still felt healthy at the end.  I did, and did decently well at BT50k.  (Steve was supposed to do this with me, a past vegetarian, but my mom talked him into a pulled pork sandwich…). I’ve now been a vegetarian for 3 months, and feel great. 


Still, I realize this still this was MY choice and what is right for me.  I would never tell someone what I think they should do, because I don’t have the right to think for anyone. I will also keep an open mind, listening to different facts as they come.


With that, I do encourage everyone to think…

“Think” is actually the title of legal analyst, Lisa Bloom’s book, which encourages women to think for themselves in a world that is filled with junk, and, telling women what to do. (Recommendation: read this book! And thank you Sandi for recommending it to me!).


This brings me to my next excuse:  Engaging in reality T.V. celebrity gossip, tabloid magazines, etc.  I was guilty. Big time.  Jersey Shore, Real Housewives of So and So, Keeping Up with the Kardashians (and Khloe and Lamar), watching silly celebrity gossip shows on E!, and all the one I told myself were okay because they were on TLC…ha!  I did realize these shows did not do anything to stir my intelligence, but simply let these be my guilty pleasures, like the peanut butter I scoot out of the jar with my finger.  But worse.  These didn’t even leave me satisfied, just sleep deprived as they all went past my bedtime.  Anyway, it seemed if everyone else was watching it too, there was always someone else to chat with about the latest episode.


I kept making the excuse.  It was my time to relax and turn my brain off.  Thursday nights was my time to bond with Steve as we watched the new episode of Jersey Shore.  The worst was probably “I feel better about myself after watching Bravo/MTV/E!.”  What!?!?!  Was I comparing myself to a drunk, plastic, painted, rich, selfish reality star?  Was I no better the Snookie!?  How did I stoop so low!? What was I thinking!?


Hence again the problem.  I was not thinking.  I was absorbing junk.


I don’t exactly remember when I started cutting these shows out.  I think it was sometime at the end of last summer.  Sandi’s blog probably helped when she stated how much clearer her mind was during her month of camping, and when I read how important sleep, not sitting on the couch, is for recovery.


Some shows were easy.  Real Housewives just became too much for me.  It was the same thing over and over, just in a different state, and I got bored.  Even more so, other shows just left me feeling disgusted and the guilt continued to seep in.  And, how was supposed to adamantly stand my ground, telling Steve’s kids that the “characters” on Jersey Shore were not role models or to be mimicked in any way, yet still watched  them get drunk and hook-up with strangers?


My excuses were definitely not exemplifying the person I wanted to be, nor making myself a worthy role model. 


A famous athletic quote is “No Excuses”.  Two words, nothing more, because there isn’t any need.  Everyone get is the meaning.  In every game, meet, or event, a true athlete leaves it all out on the floor, track, or field.  Win or lose, there is nothing more to be done, because all was given. 


What makes life different, less important than a sport?


Sounds pretty silly when put that way, but that’s what I was doing.  I was letting excuses belittle my life.  I was not living life to the fullest.


I watched my last episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians a month ago.  When I heard a rumor about the mom and OJ Simpson, I had to fight the urge to find out more.  I feel much better now that I didn’t give in, just I don’t give into pain during a race. 


Somewhere, I know I will slip in the three areas I have mentioned.  I will read the headlines of a tabloid magazine in the grocery line, eat soup cooked in chicken broth, and whimper during a 100 miler…


What I will not do is let my excuses become who I am. 


I have let myself become conscience of them so I can fight them.  I have acknowledged them so I will not be prevented in being the person I am meant to be.  I can honestly live my life with confidence, exuding strength and compassion, not just for myself, but others. 


Now I can talk the talk AND walk the walk.

Friday, September 14, 2012

From the Mountains to the Sea

From High Elevation and Little Air, to Low Elevation and (Very) Humid Air, From Rocks to Dirt, From West Coast to East Coast: My Silverton Alpine Marathon and Leave No Trace ½ Marathon Race Reports


Normally I wouldn’t write a race report on non-key races, or anything under a 50k, but I was really proud of my half marathon, and the Silverton Marathon was just so unique that I figured I might as well…

Silverton Alpine Marathon

Sandi and I registered for the race at 4:30 Friday afternoon (right before the cowboy fight), 13 ½ half hours before the races.  We had slept in the car on the side of a bumpy road by a porta potty, and climbed Handies Peak (a 14er on the Hardrock Course) that day.  Sandi has run Pikes Peak Marathon on Sunday.  I had arrived in Colorado the Friday before, nowhere near acclimated to the altitude.  This was not our best idea….
How sweet does that look!?

But, we were having a road trip Twin adventure!  Like old times, we were often lost, but having fun.  The race fit in perfectly to that agenda.

Sandi had found out about the marathon when looking up Silverton before we took the drive there, and then we saw signs for the race around that beautiful, quaint old town between the mountains (sigh).  She urged me to check out the race registration tent, which I did.  After asking how much it cost, I walked away.  For two people who had been camping the past few days, it was a bit over my budget.  Luckily, my sister is Sandi Nypaver and the other race director recognized her.  We ended up working out a “two for one” type of deal, chatted with the RDs, Nick Coury and Jamil Coury (yes, the Javeline Race Directors and both awesome guys), and happily walked off with our race bibs (and just in time to still make the cowboy fight).

After setting up our tent, we went to Avalanche for dinner…so so good!  It’s a cafĂ©/brewery with some healthy options and a great gluten free granola bars.  We also met a couple that has raced ultras all over the county, including MMT and Hardrock.

(Warning: May be TMI.  When we got back to our campsite, making sure we had everything we needed for 26.2, we encountered a problem. (Sorry boys) Shaving.  We hadn’t showered since the day before at a Laundromat.  Legs could be dealt with easily thanks to compression socks.  Armpits, not so much, especially because I wanted to wear a tank.  There was a guy camping to one side of us, so I took a water bottle and a razor with me and squatted on the other side of the car with my sweatshirt around my shoulders.  As I was attending to my armpits, I suddenly heard music, and a man walking on the road behind our campsite.  I pulled my sweatshirt down and dashed into the car.  I looked out the window from my seat, and saw the man do several backwards glances, taking in what he just saw, LOL!)

On to the race! 

I was happy that it the race started at 8 AM (the 50k started at 7) as it gave me a bit longer to sleep, and more importantly, let the sun warm up the morning.  We actually started to near perfect race conditions, with crisp cool air and a hit of dampness from the rain the night before.

At 7:59, all 25 of us or so lined up behind the start.  No one wanted to be in front, including Dakota Jones (who ended up setting a new course record).  So Sandi, Ivy, and I took center stage. For about 2 seconds.  Then Dakota floated past.  I watched Sandi and Ivy easily move ahead as well, completely losing sight of them after a half mile.  I, the low-lander, settled into a slow pace, which felt like a tempo would back home, and let a few others pass.  But I held my ground, knowing what I was doing was the best for my body, and it gave me a chance to talk with some of the runners anyway.

The first 8 miles were a very small and steady incline on a level dirt/gravel road.  Too groomed for me.  The monotony bothers my left leg, which forced me to keep slower pace, probably a good thing.  I couldn’t complain anyway, the sun was out and I was surrounded by mountains.  It still hadn’t clicked that I was really running this race.

Finally, to groomed road changed into a rocky jeep trail and the incline steepened.  (Yes, this is the same rocky jeep trail I though Sandi and I were going to die on the night before.  I actually felt much safe running it).  I welcomed the change.  Even though we were technically still running on road, it was so rough that my movements mimicked those as if I were on a trail. 

The sun started to beat harder on our skin, the incline increased, the air grew thinner.  I did what I always do: I kept putting one foot in front of the other, in a (slow but) steady running pace.  I surprised myself a bit as I continued to run in the thinner air, but even more surprised the other runners who lived at elevation: “Hey Ohio! I didn’t expect to see you again!”

Mile 14 is where things really got interesting.  At every turn, the course got steeper.  The next 4 miles would be the longest and hardest.  I’d turn around another hill, thinking the course might level out, or that I might see the 16 mile aid station, but no, just more climbing.  Everyone in front of me and behind me were hiking, and I was too, but still keeping up the effort to pass a few people.


There is always a reward for hard work and climbing your way out of a challenge, and mile 16 was no disappointment.  To be up so high and look down the mountain and into the valley below was an instant adrenaline rush.  Plus, I knew downhill was to come.  I stopped at the aid station to grab a little fuel and chat with Nick Coury (now looking at me like I was a little more crazy then the rest of the runners after Sandi told him we climbed Handies the day before), asked how Sandi was doing (fantastic despite tired from the previous marathon), and set forth downhill.

But, there was a catch.  One more big hill of course.  Then it was time to cruise downhill. 
My pacer...for about 3 seconds!
Actually, cruise is a bad word to use.  I know this from experience.  “Cruise” means you just let your legs go, with very little effort otherwise.  However, this was a significant grade down, on a bumpy, rocky road.  I’d say parts were even a bit technical. And so I took nice plummet down on to the rocks, scratching my thighs, hips, elbows, and my right hand despite my glove (my left hand was holding my water bottle).  I did a quick assessment, briefly looking at the blood trickling down, pulled up my compression socks, and kept going knowing I was lucky it wasn’t worse.  The part that really bothered me was actually the bloody nose, that took 5 minutes of blowing snot/blood rockets to get rid of. Gross, I know.

Eventually the downhill became a bit more gradual, and the running got easier.  I had time to relax, reflect on the beauty of my surroundings, contemplate the history of the old run-down mines, and just be happy having this adventure. 

On the other hand, the last and mostly flat 5 miles weren’t exactly fun.  They kind of hurt.  They felt excruciatingly long.  But I think that’s how they are supposed to be (though I am still certain that last .2miles was really longer than .2 miles).

As I came to the finish Sandi was there waiting for me.  I murmured, with a smile on my face, that this had been another dumb idea of ours. 

I learned that, just a week after she placed 10th female at the Pikes Peak Marathon, Sandi had won first female and 3rd overall.  And, get this: Us girls earned 3 of the top 5 spots overall, Sandi with 3rd, Ivy with 4th, and myself with 5th.

Then it was time to transition from thin, dry air to heavy, wet air…

Leave No Trace ½ Marathon

(This is the longest race of the Dirty Trail series, put on by Race Director Vince Rucci, who always does a wonderful job!)

Again, I had no plans to blog about this race (especially twice, as it didn’t save the first time).  I signed up because I knew it would be a fun race after running it with Steve last year, and it would be a great tempo workout.  My plan wasn’t so much to race, but just to do my best and enjoy it.  After just coming from Colorado, I was sure if my body was fully acclimated to the huge dose of humidity that was being poured on us (though normally my specialty). Plus, I don’t have the speed for half marathons! Or so I thought…(However, I am sure I don’t have the speed to do well at a road half marathon!)

Because a mountain bike race immediately precedes the half, the race starts a bit early at 7 AM, so Steve and I got there a little bit early to run a few miles prior, headlamps on.  Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago that it was light at 6 AM!?!?!

Anyway, just like the week prior, I found myself at the front of the start not because that’s where I thought I should be, but no one else would.  Within seconds of the start I was passed by 20-30 people.

Then guess who passed me!?!?


Now, we had discussed this the night before and I said it wasn’t one of those races where I planned to stick together the whole time, in which he looked slightly offended.  But I did think he would stick with me for a bit longer. 

However, I was feeling good with my pace, and I watched him weave his way through other runners.  Part of me was thinking he was faster than me anyway, and another part thinking “when will he ever learn?” as he has a tendency to go out to fast, race after race.

In the next 3 miles, as the sun came out and the humidity grew, I passed some and was passed by others. I passed one woman, but then was passed by another as her Navy teammate screamed at her to go faster.  I ran past way too many people wearing headphones, not a good idea for a single track trail race (I will stop my rant there).

At the 4 mile aid station, I think a few people began to realize that this was not a 5 mile race and had quite a bit farther to go.  I must have passed 5 people at the aid station (I love handhelds) and 5 more who decided to slow their pace.  I can’t criticize, after my crash and burn had been in April…we’ve all go to learn!

There runners began to spread out. ”. I was pushing, but at a pace I felt confident I could hold. I grew, as Jillian Michaels likes to say, “comfortable with being uncomfortable”.  Every once in awhile, I saw a flash of color of someone’s T-Shirt, and I had a target to catch up to. 

For the first time all season, I felt like I was truly running my race.  I was enjoying the course of hard packed dirt and minor (If you’re used to the Buckeye Trail, or Colorado) hills, on a trail I rarely get to run, in my ideal racing weather (probably very few others would agree with that).  My stomach was bothering me a quite a bit, but at least I wasn’t noticing my legs as much.

Around mile 8, on a long gravel hill that no one else seemed to be enjoying too much, I caught up to Steve, who looked (I’m sorry hun) a bit like he had gone for a swim in the pond to a right and then drowned.  As I passed I told him how silly he was, and he told me to save my breath to catch up to the guy in front of him, which I did by the top of the hill.

Then I saw her.  The lead woman.

I caught up to her as she started walking up a hill.  She glanced back and saw me, and I offered a feeble smile.  I stayed a few feet behind her until the next aid station, where I was surprised she ran right through as she was carrying no water.  As this was on a grassy hill, which I don’t particularly love running on, and I discovered we still had 3.5 to go, I decided now was not the time to pick it up.  Before I knew it, she was 200 yards ahead and it stayed like this for almost the next 3 miles.

With ¾ miles left I, as Steve says, began to “smell the barn”, or now I was close to the finish.  I told myself that this is where it is okay to hurt.  I didn’t have much more speed in my legs, but I made a push.  To my amazement, I found myself right behind the lead woman with 1/3 of mile left to go, up a hill of switchbacks.

If you’ve read my other blogs, you know the important role hills have played in my life this year…

It began with the chant “this (hill) is an opportunity to make myself stronger” to “this is an opportunity (tired or not) to prove how strong I am”.  So when I saw the woman and the hill at the end of Leave No Trace, I took my opportunity.

I barely noticed the pain in my legs and lungs and the adrenaline pulsed through me.  I just surged up the hill.  At the top, with just over 100 yards of a grassy downward hill to the finish, I glanced back, knowing my finishing kick lacks great speed.  A man told me not to worry, just go.

I crossed the line 10 seconds before the 2nd place woman.  I surprised and amazed myself.  I don’t want to say I didn’t think I had it in me, but I didn’t. 

I spotted some friends and muttered again how much I hate short races (only partially true), laughed as they commented on the deep cuts I still had on my hips from the previous Saturday, and then went over to congratulate and thank the other woman.  She had a great race, and truly helped make me a better runner.

So where does that leave me now?

Well one, about to go crazy because Sandi is about to start Run Rabbit Run and I’m not there, for the first time missing her 100 mile race.

Two, feeling pretty good about my training and ready for Virgil Crest 100 next week.  Besides the past few days where I swear someone filled my legs with lead, my training has gone better than it has all year.  I am excited for some hills! (I picked Virgil because it is mostly single-track and has 20,00 ft of elevation :)

I’m sure that one will result in another blog in a few weeks.  Until then, Happy Running friends!

For the Love of Hills,