Saturday, July 12, 2014

BT50k: The Dark Side

Recently, I posted a blog "Running: Just Another Addiction" and there I briefly mentioned the dark places you can go while running.  However, I mainly referenced that to 100 miles, or the low points you feel during the race.  What I forgot to talk about was the low, disappointed, and grief-stricken feeling you get when a race does not go the way you planned....and that is what this blog is about.

This was the third year I ran Buckeye Trail 50k, there area's second most popular trail race (after Burning River 100).  As for many locals, it was my first ultra.  Then I was just happy to finish.  2 years ago I ran it in 5:07.

At the beginning of June, I felt like I might have the chance of breaking 5 hours this year.  Starting 2 weeks or so ago, I wasn't feeling on top of my game and my confidence slipped.  I decided to not wear a watch and go by feel, usually a pretty good strategy for me. I figured maybe around a 5:15ish, depending on the day and the mud.  At the very worst, I figured I'd finish under 5:30.  I finished in 5:35.  Ouch.

Also, to describe a slight embarrassing situation, I was finishing halfish mile road section with a big downhill and of course my hip wasn't having it and before I got to the hill I stopped to stretch to hopefully stop the limp.  I looked back and saw a woman pop from behind a corner, probably some 150 years back.  "O f*ck" I thought.  I had thought earlier she was an early started, although moving well, but how could an early starter catch up to me.  So down the hill, trying to pick it up, I started yelling to myself "C'MON RAY!" while the occasional whimper as I felt something move in my hip.  I could lose my 3rd spot now.

The last stretch I totally lost my smile, wincing in pain, nearly in tears at the finish (partially because of the effort, partially because I saw my time).

Then Steve told me she actually was an early starter.  Great.

Anyway, I was quite upset.  For the most part I was able to contain myself while in public, trying to brush the nasty comments in my head into the background until I got home.

Only then (and after stuffing some salty Trader Joe's Sweet Potato Chips down my throat) did I go home, turn on the shower to muffle my sobs, and cried.

Yes, I know there are much bigger things to be upset and cry about then a silly running time, but I knew that to my inner self the race had been important and I need time to grieve.  Otherwise, I wouldn't be able to let go of it, and I definitely did not feel liking hanging on to that for a long time.

As I let my tears flow in the shower (only a few tears were shed for the water touching my chaffed areas) I let all of my egos negative comments come to surface.  You probably know most of them "you're not good enough" "wtf went wrong" "you should have run harder" "why do you suck so much?" "you're a disappointment and should probably never a race again" and a few more that were equally delightful. 

For awhile, these comments made me cry harder, and then tears just stopped.  That was it.  I didn't even have anything to do with it, the tears just stopped coming.  All in all, this probably last 15-20 minutes.

Of course, I'm still not happy with my time and wish things would have been better, but I don't feel like my heart is clenched.  I don't feel like a total loser.

And while Im still unsure if I want to race again this year (if I did good I was going to sign up for MMTR-which is totally not happening now) I don't totally hate running.  I'm simply question what went wrong, from a more scientific approach.

My training schedule was great coming off of Cumberland Gap Trail Marathon, so that wasn't it. Possibly nutrition?  I felt a few lbs overweight before the race- but with ultra running sometimes its hard to tell where the mistakes come in (and sometimes not eating enough can make you gain weight-but I doubt that one).  Or maybe sleep?  I tried to get 8 most of the week (though only slept 7 or so the night before the race) but maybe I need 8.5. Maybe it was getting my blood tested twice last month (the defaulted on my iron test the first time-go figure)? Should I have crossed trained more?  And is there anything I can do about my hip!?!?!  (I talked to one supefit woman who dropped at mile 20 because the arthritis in her hip got bad-out of all the people I've talked to, only her symptoms seem even close to mine.  I'm only 26...I cant have arthritis can I? If so, Im kind of screwed).

My head wasn't totally in it either.  I have no idea why.  Could I meditate more (my meditation practice does kind of stink).

And, to be perfectly honest, a lot of people's times at BT50k this year were a lot slower than usual. Plus, I still managed to hang on to third.

Okay, enough with that what is the point of this dark side to running?  Why do something where you can feel so utterly disappointed at the end?  (Even after "surrendering your time and finish place"-hmmm, maybe I need to fully commit to that one). 

Honestly, I'm not 100% sure yet.  What I can say is that running mimics life in many ways, and in life there are many highs and lows.  If everything was easy and smooth, are job on earth would probably be done.  Maybe the same is true for racing...if it were easy all the time, what would we really get out of it?  There has to be some reason for it....but I'll have to keep thinking about that one.

P.S.  Sorry if there are a lot of typos in this blog.  I just kind of pounded it out the evening after the race and am too tired to re-read it.



Update from a few days later:

Thinking about it even more, I'm glad I tried.  I am proud of myself for having the courage to try.  Like the saying goes, it really is better to have tried and "failed" (I don't think I can really call it a failure) than to not have tried at all.  This didn't kill me either...after some time off, I know I will have the courage to try again.

Second, I realized driving today that in my thought that I can only do races with little to no trail, that with that thinking, I was in fact holding myself back.  If I decide not to do a race simply because there are 2-3 miles of road in it...I am letting my hip, my discomfort, hold me back.  If I sign up anyway, sure I may have to run really slowly or even walk, and possibly lose a few spots in the results, but how much does that really matter?  I will still be in a race, on a trail, that I want to experience.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Running: Just Another Addiction?

Running: Just Another Addiction?

Running is often called an addiction by many- both by the running critics (aka wannabe runners) and by runners themselves, sometimes even with the same forlorned tone. You can even get “high” from the pure act of it- or fall deep into its darkness.

             So  is running a drug?  Should it be classified with our addictions to sugar, crack, sex, and alcohol? 

But don’t doctors recommend some physical activity, like running, each day?  20-60 minutes of activity a day with a healthy diet should lead us to optimal health, but what happens when those 60 minutes turns into 2 hours. What about when it turns into 20 or more?

Where is the line between good health and crazy?  Is it definable?

Can you really be addicted to running?  And if that answer is “yes”, can addiction possibly be a good thing?
This blog will be a guided account of some of the answers I have unearthed for myself in my first marathon of life.


If truth be told, I know several runners…actually, “quite a few” may be more accurate…. who are recovering addicts, whether from drugs, alcohol, or a past life of bad choices. Actually, I myself am a recovering addict of a young girl’s need to feel good enough, mixed with an obsession to food that led me to restrict calories and drop well below the recommended weight, mixed with symptoms of OCD, perfectionism, anxiety, and depression. Yes, I am an anorexic turned ultra-running, plant-food junkie (and I’m not alone in the arena of former eating-disorder runners either). I very well know that some people, and probably quite a few psychologists, would consider this my version of regressing into my past symptoms.

But that’s not how I see it.

At least that’s not how I see it now. I would be lying to say I never transferred “my addiction” into running in a not-so-positive way. Yes, I have crossed that very fine line in the ultra-trail world of taking my running too far, training too much, ignoring my body and the little voice in my head telling me to rest.  

However, I have been able to take a step back and onto the other side of the line again and pursue my personal path of well-being (again, I’m sure some psychologist would say I am lying to myself), running for the same reasons I started in the first place: to feel free and to see where my potential lies. Running 45-75 miles a week (plus my various cross-training activities and dog-walking) has been my version of health this year, letting my body stay strong and, more importantly, letting my mind stay well.

In the sport, we say that running is 10% physical and 90% mental.  I’m not sure if that is totally accurate, but I agree with the basis that running is very much a mental thing. A race isn’t so much proof of the physical shape we are in, but how mentally prepared we are to accept the pain and discomfort in our bodies and break through perceived limitations. On the other hand, our mind may also tell us it hurts too much and we slow our pace, only to finish knowing we could have pushed harder. The mind can certainly be a beautiful or a very destructive thing. It really depends on how we listen and respond to it. 

O, and don’t forget your heart…to get the best performance out of your mind, you must use your heart.  That part is key.

With that, I believe that it is not simply the mileage we are running each week that defines the crossing of the line from health to addiction, but the mentality and heart we put into our training. 

When training, do you listen to your body when it says it needs a rest, or does your mind push it to complete that 100 mile week?  Do you run on an injury because you can’t bear the thought of taking a few days or weeks off?  Or, when you become irritable and find yourself becoming short-tempered with loved ones, do you still head out the door at 5am to get in your run instead of getting that few extra hours of sleep so you can show them the loving compassion they deserve? When is that extra run to skip a party worth it? When is it not?

As you may be beginning to see, I believe this is all a very personal thing. My 70 mile week would definitely seem like nothing to some people, but put someone else way over the edge of being healthy. 

In the end though, those are some of your basic overtraining principles.  They are still only touching my question on whether or not running is actually an addiction.

My personal answer?

 Yes, running for me is an addiction. But I don’t believe addictions are always bad either. 

When I was overtraining, yes, that was very bad…there was absolutely no good reason for me to be short-tempered with my boyfriend, family, or kids I worked with.  None. 

However, I have since found my balance, and when you find that balance, running once again returns into a beautiful thing. 

Because of running, I know what it is like to live.

It is in the search to live meaningfully, to experience life at its fullest, that running has become my sweetest addiction and one that I hope to never quit.

In a way, running is like an art. The movement of my body running through the trees, over rocks, and splashing through creeks has let me see my own beauty and strength.  Before, I had trouble seeing my body this way.  It was always lacking. Now, as I run through the woods I feel a connectedness to the life around me, to the breeze in my hair, birds singing in the trees, and even the other sweaty bodies I sometimes run with.  I am part of the bigger picture. I am part of the extraordinary, complicated, and yet simple work of art the Creator continually strokes with Her light and brilliance.

I may be wrong, but I believe it’s something like that, that draws in my other former drug, alcohol, and food addicted friends. It is not that we have covered up one addiction with another, but that we have gone from something to cover up the misery in our lives to fully loving and experiencing life through our desire to be free in the act of moving our bodies in magnificent surroundings.  In essence, our addiction is not in running, but of living.

As for getting high and seeking deeply into the darkness?

Well, somehow that “runner’s high” thing always seems to elude me.  However, I do often get a spark like the one I did this morning as I was running with my dog.  We were chasing sun spots in the dirt, running to the shining, golden spaces where the morning sun was coming through the trees and trying to soak it in.  And I do feel pretty happy after some of my races (exercise is proven to increase endorphins after all),  but it is a natural happiness filled with pride and joy for what I accomplished and what I have been blessed to be able to do. 
Then there’s the darkness.  That’s probably what most non-runners don’t understand.  Why do something that will take you so far down into the depths of pain, fear, and into your mind?  Why not ask why live?  For isn’t when we fall, and fall deep into the abyss, that we learn the most, get stronger, and come away a better person for it?  Plus, if it wasn’t for knowing darkness, would we really be able to fully appreciate the light?  I have surely crashed hard in some of my 100 mile races, but I truly believe I have become more beautiful for having overcome and survived those scary places. 


So there you have it. Yes, I am addicted to running.   And honestly, if I had to quite I probably would go into a slight withdrawal. Still, it is a very different addiction than one that leads to a path of self-destruction. As long as you maintain a strong balance and always refer to your heart for guidance, this addiction is a good thing. This addiction leads to happiness and freedom.  My running addiction is an expression for my love of life.

(And if I had to, I suppose I could always take up cycling or some other sport…)

Run Free,


Friday, July 4, 2014

GREEN Part 2: Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda

GREEN, Part 2: Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda
It's been quite some time from when I started part 1 of this mini blog series, partially because I was a bit busy, but mainly because I haven't done that much.
In the spring, I had great expectations of coming home from a run or bike ride and working on the garden.  But then I always seemed to be behind on things or have something going on in the evening.  Plus, I really didn't know what to do after I planted the seeds.  

But, I (and Steve) have done a few things since May:

One:  I bought my organic seeds at Krieger's and did some planting!  I had to pick plants that only needed part sun, so I went with: kale, chives, parsley, and cilantro.  I also ended up buying some tomato seeds, but I don't know if that is going to grow as they really need full sun.

Two- Not knowing how often I needed to water the plants, I started to water them.  However, in the past month or so, we have had enough rain every week where I haven't had to worry about it.  (If I ever do become a gardener, I may invest in a rain barrel.)

Three- Once we has a few plants starting to sprout, we put the chicken wire around the garden box! Otherwise the deer would have gobbled everything up.  We still did this a bit late however, as a certain furry 4 legged, black, white, and grey creature with, lucky for her, and adorable face, decided to play in the garden box and scattering some of the seeds.

It's tiny, but there is something growing!

This required me taking yet another trip to Home Depot to buy more stakes.  (We only bought 1 at first, not really knowing what we needed it for.  As it turns out, we needed one for each side of the box- I should probably insert a "duh" here.)

Then came the fun part of cutting the chicken wire to wrap around the was not that easy.  (I am determined to believe it was not the lack of strength in my hands, but a dull blade.) 

This is where I came to my dilemma.  I couldn't get the silly chicken wire to stay straight as I was trying to wrap it around the stakes, meaning it would crush the precious few sprouts we had growing.  So, I laid it down and waited for Steve to come home :)

Eventually, we got it done! Steve isn't exactly happy with it as it's not the nicest looking thing in the world, but after checking out other people's gardens and their fences, ours really isn't that bad.

Pacer checking out what we were doing outside without her...

After a few weeks of not doing much, I had some things growing. The problem was that I didn't know what was a plant and what was a weed, so I left it for another few weeks. 

(The big green thing in the corner is an organic mint plant...I totally should have bought all plants for my first time around.)

This leads me to step four- weeding.
I still really wasn't exactly sure what I was growing, but I had an idea at least of what were weeds at this point.  So I pulled those out, tried one plant that I was fairly sure wasn't a weed, found out it was cilantro and tasted pretty good, and dug out my note card that I had written earlier that told me what should be growing where.
I'm pretty sure at the far right end of the box I have some kale growing, though I think it should be bigger by now.  A few of the leaves looked like they had some bug damage, so I made a small spray of water with dish soap to spray on them.                                                                  Then I figured I might as well use up the leftover seeds in the packets I had to fill up some holes.  Whether they grow or not, I figured it wouldn't hurt as the seeds would be no good in a year.


And from here, I will continue hoping and praying that something grows and Steve and I didn't waste a ton of money on buying all the materials and organic dirt for a box. 

It's right under the window to my dream room, so it should be getting some good, positive energy! 

Hmmm...maybe I need to pick up my meditation practice more.... (it has definitely been lacking).

I guess we will see what happens in the next few weeks.  I'd really love some kale!

 Peace. Love. Grow.

-Rachel, the Green Thumb Wannabe


It looks like the flowers in my shoes died...the smell must have been too much for them.
Pacer, on the lookout for squirrels and deer...I also gave her a bath after I was done gardening.  She promptly ran away in the middle of it rolled around in the dirt, and then inside the garage.  Eventually I got most of the soap off her.