Friday, August 31, 2007

Great River Relay Race Report: My First Leg

Subtitle: How I Became an Ultra Runner Without Even Trying

Leg 2 of GRR supposed to be 7.4 miles, projected time 58 minutes

I stood in the exchange area and yelled myself silly telling my cousin Dan how awesome he was. He is a newbie to running. He took it up to train for this race. And now he was letting his adrenaline carry him. He smoked into the exchange and slapped the relay-bracelet on my wrist 20 minutes ahead of his projected time. Woof.

I pushed my watch and was off, ready to follow the advice I'd given Dan earlier, "Screw conventional wisdom. If you're feeling the adrenaline, run with it. Run like you mean it." He'd apparently taken the advice to heart.

As I was prepared to do. I headed down the Great River Trail, letting my legs and my adrenaline carry me. It felt divine. My brother Cam, our team captain, had plugged my 10K time into GRR's prediction software and I was projected to do this thing in 58 minutes. I switched on auto-pilot. Like clockwork. Like butta.

I ran along the trail drowning out the cicada symphony - the mighty Mississippi River on my left, wooded bluffs on my right - with the hum of my thoughts. A sampling?
  • Geez! I really need to "kick it." Wonder if that grass over there would be OK to wipe with. Nah, looks too sharp. I'll keep going.
  • Hmmm... I wonder what I should have for lunch. Ooh, I'd eat ANYTHING right now... A Culver's turtle sundae. No, a sub sandwich with turkey and provolone. Mmmmm.
Yes, I admit it. 90% of my thoughts on that beautiful run were concerned with output and input.

BUT the other 10% were on the people that I love in the world. At points on the trail, my face split into a goofy grin just because I remembered that my mom was alive and breathing in this world. Was, in fact, volunteering at Exchange #4. I pictured her there, wearing one of the 30 black and pink polka-dotted "Sarah is 40" sashes she had made for the team. Then my grin got even wider as I thought of my OLDER sister turning 40. Hee. Hee.

I cruised along in this blissful, gloating state, with not another runner in sight, for about 57 minutes before I started to wonder. I had heard cheering off to my right a while back, but no sign had indicated a turn off the trail so I kept running. Then I got to 63 minutes and still had no indication of race signs or race volunteers. I crossed a huge wooden railroad trestle that had been converted to a running trail bridge while, at the same time, a train paralleled me just 100 yards down the gorge on an active trestle, tooting away. I took in the smell of the creosote-soaked wood and the romantic whistle of the train. My mind was transported miles away again.

And came lurching back at 68 minutes out. Whoa. I crunched the numbers. I should definitely be there by now! I decided to turn around and retrace my steps until I came to the last sign I had seen. I had no recollection of how far back it had been, but figured it couldn't have been more than 10 minutes. No biggie.

10 minutes passed. No signs. No humans.
20 minutes passed. No signs. No humans.

I'm getting nervous. I start playing the worry tape. Second-guessing the distance of this leg. Was it longer than I remembered? Should I have kept on the trail another 2 minutes? What was my team doing? Were they being held up because of me? I'm getting thirsty and have no water left. I'm hungry and am out of Gu. My legs hurt. My longest training run was 1 1/2 hours. I'm at 1:28 right now with no end in sight. Just loooooooong straight flat wooded stinkin' trail. Shit! What if I die out here??

FINALLY, at 1:38, I spied another runner. A high school kid loped down the path toward me. I stopped him and asked if he was Leg 2 of the Great River Relay. Yep. Was he sure he knew the route? Yes, just stay on the trail, he thought.

Then I told him my story. The damn kid had the audacity to ask, "Did you look carefully? Are you SURE there were no signs at the crossings?" Um, ye-ah. When a person thinks they're lost, they sort of look reeeally carefully on their way back to civilization! Then he says, "Well, I was a little dazed when I passed that last sign. But it's like one or two miles back."

My heart sank. Dazed Damn Kid turned back the way he'd come and loped off. I walked for 12 minutes, cursing myself and replaying the worry tape. Then I shook myself and remembered Dean Karnazes's Ultramarathon Man. A non-runner, he left a bar one night and ran 30 miles. That was the start of his ultra-running career. OK, I thought, I'm just Dean-in-Training. That cheered me considerably and I began to trot.

At 1:55, I saw the Kid way in the distance. He had stopped in front of something orange. Then he took off down the road to the left. I reached the road and discovered a three-foot high, bright orange sign with an arrow that clearly indicated that one was to turn right down the road. I walked around it twice, scrutinizing it. I even put a tentative hand out and touched it. It was real. There's NO WAY that sign was there when I'd gone through the first time. But, be that as it may, I still had a run to do. In my foggy state, I decided to run now, think about the sign later.

Now runners were coming pretty steady. I fell in with another woman and told her my story. She empathized and hung with me for awhile. And informed me that we were only 3.75 miles into this 7.2 miler. After she left my side, I despaired again. Cue worry tapes. Screw Dean-in-Training (DIT) - I was a DITZ! And I was thirsty and hungry. Plus my legs hurt. Waaaahhh!

Shake, shake, shake. I calmed myself. I needed a plan. I would keep running, Dean-style, until I saw another team's van. Then I would ask for their cell phone and call my team. At 2:14, I approached a van with a group of wildly-cheering 20-somethings dancing about. I briefly told them my story and asked to use their cell phone.

Dan answered on the first ring. "Where are you?? We've been looking for you for the last hour! Are you OK?" I managed to squeak out my location. He said they'd be right back to pick me up. I thanked the dancers and started to run down the road again, only belatedly thinking to query, "Who are you guys?" and simultaneously snapped my eyes to the side of their van where their team name was written.

"A... Fucking... Badass... Runners...." They cheered wildly as I pronounced the last syllable with all the energy my calorie-deficient, brain-deficient self could muster. I gave them a smile and a wave and was off.

At 2:24 my van came into sight. Leg 2 of GRR was supposed to total 7.4 miles. My actual was closer to 15 miles.

After I hit my watch, I drank in the sight of my teammates. Dan opened the door and pulled me in. We swapped stories. Tom was running the next leg and Cam was at the exchange after that, ready to run his leg. Within minutes of me going over-time, Cam knew that I was either lost or hurt. He'd made the executive decision to get Tom going, send a sweep for me, and then trust me to find a cell phone and call them. They'd notified race volunteers who'd informed them that other runners on the early teams had made my mistake (but had realized it sooner!) and that they'd fixed the problem with a that big orange sign.

We were all reunited at Exchange #4 where my mom hugged me and shook her head, "Were you looking for that Illinois state line again?" That officially signaled the break between the concerned-for-Triteacher stage and let-the-ribbing-begin stage. I will be hearing about this until I'm at least 80!!

I informed my team that, on the bright side, I'd had plenty of time to plan lunch. Later that afternoon, we made a bucolic little scene in Merrick State Park. We'd put to bed the first legs of our GRR adventure. We had 4 hours to relax while our other vanload of runners ran their set of legs. And we munched Triteacher-styled turkey and provolone sandwiches.

As if this wasn't enough, there is more yet to come:
My second leg, Leg 14, 8.2 miles - Running in the Dark, but Not Getting Lost (Woohoo!)
My third leg, Leg 26, 4.4 miles that became 7.2 miles. - Eye Candy Saves the Day

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Rockstar Sighted

Hey! So I'm back from Ragnar Great River Relay and it was un-bee-lieve-able. The running rocked, my teammates were superb (when we complained about our soreness, it was our ribs and abs to which we referred - we laughed sooooo much) AND I sighted a rockstar. At three checkpoints, I noticed this smiling woman herding her team around, supporting them, and every time I had that nagging sensation that she looked familiar. FINALLY on the third time, it hit me, and I screwed up the courage to approach tri-royalty.

"Trimama?" I asked. Sure enough, it was her. We chatted for a bit - laughing, swapping war stories - and then, *boom* as it goes in the fast-paced world of relay races, she was off like a shooting (rock)star in the night.

Meeting Trimama was great, and I have even more highlights from this race, which include:
1) Why it took me 2:24 to do my first leg of 7.4 miles.
2) How it feels to run at 10PM when something loud is crashing through the woods along side you.
3) How "Stick a fork in these legs - they're done" can give way to the run of one's life. (Teaser: Eye Candy played a major role.)

More details to come once I drift my way out of this twilight zone induced by a sleep-deprived INTENSE race weekend and needing to get ready for school tomorrow... Later!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

I'm not Training for Ironman why am I out here doing this run?? My shoes are squishy wet, my wine-sloshing belly is flashing the residents of this poor town, and I'm burping spaghetti & Italian dressing.

I shouldn't have been out running tonight. There were many signs that it wasn't to be yet I had made the mistake (curses!) of visiting TriGreyhound and had gotten all inspired in spite of myself and before I could control my fingers, I had dashed off a comment saying I was going to go for a run. But I didn't mean to flash my belly. Really. I am a 35 year-old TEACHER, for cryin' out loud. But let's be honest, 35 and my profession really have nothing to do with it. I've been waiting my whole life for my cute little midriff to materialize.

But, no, I have Ponch. The belly bulge that's been with me from 89.7 pound anorexic to 174 pound compulsive overeater. And granted, she's made of iron; I can eat and drink and still pop off a run. Like I did tonight. But still, while I embrace Ponch, I like to do my embracing in the privacy of my own home. But alas, all of my top-dog running clothes are packed for this relay race I'm doing this weekend. So after I left TG that flippin' comment, I was forced to forage. I came out with a bike shirt that was too short in the front, running shorts that reach my knees, and granny undies that reach my rib cage. Which did have the advantage of sticking out over the top of my running shorts and sort of covering a sliver of wine-swilling Ponch.

So why would I drink before a run? Because I wasn't going to run! I had resigned myself to that earlier today. Rewind. Earlier scene: I don my 2nd-to-the-bottom-tier running clothes, all ready to bike to the trail when I get the brainy idea of running a library errand first. So I do. I get my books safely INto the library and come OUT loaded with the extra large, teacher stack of reserves that had come in. To a deluge. I stood by my bike under the eaves of the library, hunkering over my books, wrapping them in a spare plastic bag I keep for just such emergencies. I decided to give the rain 10 minutes to subside. I waited out 3 teenagers (they all screamed off on their bikes after about 2 minutes) and a ballet dancer.

She tiptoed her way down the sidewalk into the library. She was wearing some kind of ballet-slipper-looking shoes that she was apparently very interested in keeping dry. She commented, "It's refreshing, isn't it?" I nodded and said, "Yep." Then she emerged 7 minutes later clutching her books in a plastic bag and tiptoed to the curb. There she stepped off into the street into ANKLE DEEP water. She was out of range before I could say, "Yep, refreshing."

But the ballet lady had wiped my windshield. I knew I had to make a move or be stranded at the library by the hundred-year flash flood. My 2-mile ride home was a blur of cars spraying me, teenagers running under the eaves of their houses, and lotso thunder and lightning. I arrived home drenched. I wrung the water out of my clothing and hung it all in the shower. I cozied up with a glass of wine, salad, a plate of spaghetti and my computer. I ate the salad and spaghetti. I sipped half of the glass of wine down, and surfed. Only to land on Trigreyhound's inspirational post. The rest, as they say, is history.

I went for a run tonight. I flashed my city. I got wet. And it was good.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Rainy Places

You wake up from a nap
on a rainy day
and with eyes still squeezed shut
you play the game:
Where are you?

So many places you could be
You could be Home-Home
Just on the verge of dragging
every towel of Mom's
out to the calf hutches
where you and Jenny
will set up house
Where for an hour or two
you will be the adults

You could be in one of the adult spots
It could be in the Old Place
where rainy days meant
days of Scrabble
and warm mugs of tea
Curling up
and M&Ms

Unable to resist
your eyes shoot open
They encounter the New Place
rain off the patio
soaked evergreens
puddles on the sidewalk
little girls floating
shoeboxes attached to string
A friend in his easy chair
a pensive finger to his lips
So many places you could be.

Where are you on this rainy day?

Friday, August 17, 2007

River Rat

We drove down the back country road and were amazed at the scene that surrounded us. The river was flooded. It had seeped its way right up to the road. Tree trunks were submerged from toe to girdle. My friends whooped. Our kayaks shivered in anticipation. I swear I heard the Sugar say, "Welcome, Teach. I've got a thing or two to teach you about swimming." My belly quivered.

Kayaks unloaded, and with 20 minutes to kill while a car was shuttled to the takeout point, I stood on that foreshortened shoreline. I pulled on my swimcap, wet my goggles, stretched my shoulders, and sized up the Sugar.

I never have been good with sizes.

My first step in took me over my head. I had chosen to step right off the edge of the former river bank. Never to fear, I know how to swim. I thought. I struck out for the middle of the channel, neatly crawling my way along, thinking I was the boss of this bus. I attained the middle and looked over my to my friends on shore. Huh, how'd they get up there?

OK, I would just swim back upstream to them. I maintained the illusion that I was in charge for another 15 seconds or so. Neat strokes and controlled breathing rapidly deteriorated into pure flailing for all I was worth.

To no avail. My attempts left me gasping for air, shoulders aching - and mere feet farther upstream. I changed tactics (midstream as it were) and angled for the side. I reached it and grabbed hold of some bushes and hauled myself, hand-over-hand, branch-over-branch to the landing.

Standing on the shoreline, I shook myself out. My friends shook their heads. But I was ebullient. "I've never swum in anything like this before! I couldn't even swim upstream! I understand how people get swept away and drown." Safety Friend hastened to grab the rescue buoy and clung to it with one eye and me with the other. He knew that I intended to have another go at that river.

I was scratched and bruised, but I had learned. Let the current take you downstream but swim diagonally to shore so you can catch onto something. Anything will do. I continued to add to my collection of scratches and bruises. And to my appreciation for the power of water.

By the time my companions returned from the shuttle, I was ready to sit for a while. We put our kayaks in. I stayed with my paddling friends, on top of the water - above the water - dodging obstacles and wending our way through flooded forest land for 2 hours. Then the swimmer in me poked at my insides. I craved more. Communion with that water. A need to be swept away but to regain myself, find my strength, strategize for equilibrium in the midst of an awesome power.

My friend barely grabbed my kayak and I was off. River-rat-diving under the surface, swimming faster than I had a right to. The current allowed me to keep up with the kayaks. I picked up my head, saw the kayaks pacing ahead of me, and yelled, "I feel like the lead swimmer at Ironman!" I dove, I crawled, I somersaulted and dragged my fingers along the bottom, tracing wavy lines into the sand, feeling that river with my fingers, drinking it in with my face - a tactile overload - down to my bones.

And then I remembered the logs. We dodge them and jump them and limbo them in kayaks. What could a swimmer do? Welcome to LogLand - a playground that's not sure if it's marine or terrestrial. I was never able to tell a log's stability until I hoisted myself up onto it and started my walk down its gangplank. Some sunk slowly beneath my weight, just allowing me to dive before it sunk me completely. Others held fast and allowed me to walk their length - dip walking just to be fancy (and really, what an aptly named walk for me) - to choose a diving spot of my own.

Then I was swept into that current again, swimming, diving under, flipping, writing my life story in the sand - free. I swam like that until my legs were gelatinous. Until stroking downstream made my shoulders protest. But how can you end such a swim? How can you willfully close a chapter in which you feel beautiful, at one, at peace?

You can grab a friend's hand and let him help you into your kayak. Accept a peck on the cheek, a beaming smile on your face, a sparkle in his eyes.

You can go from one beauty to the next.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Wishing You Stubbornness

OK, all you Wisconsin & Louisville Ironman-trainees, I'm thinking of you. In preparation for school, I am reading Everest Book II: The Climb, by Gordon Korman. I came across this passage and thought of you all...

"In the Icefall, an alpinist relied not on technical skill, but on a mixture of courage, blind faith, and pure stubbornness that bordered on insanity."

Your big day is approaching. I wish you pure stubbornness - just short of insanity. K? :)

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

RMC Sprint Triathlon Race Report

The Swim
I stood in the water with 72 other women, shivering, chatting nervously, reassuring each other. I had tried out my new bike tire and goggles, I had visualized my transitions, I had warmed up with a swim. All that remained now was to do this race. I stood in the middle of a pack of kindred spirits who were just about to clobber each other and - at the blow of an airhorn - we were off. It went quickly. Crawl, thrash, dodge, thump, and yes... clobber.

The swim: 500 meters. 8:26.

I exited that water in Race Mode. I heard the spectators, waved at my beloved cheering section, but was - in a way - oblivious to them. Wrapped up in that internal drum that is Race Mode. It's singular and solitary and oh-so-compelling. My T1 went beautifully. I found Serra right away, frantically - and with not a little vertigo - put on my socks and bike shoes. On went my race helmet and then my race belt. On to Serra I went.

T1: 1:09

The Bike

The bike course wound out of the Green Lake Conference Center grounds and into the country. I had ridden pieces of the route last year during Ironman training. (Where didn't I ride last year for IM training?) I remembered it being exceptionally hilly. It was. I am dubbing it "The 30 Hills in 15 Miles Route." That's a compliment.

I did the usual jockeying for position with two tall men on blue bikes. They'd pass me on the uphills and I'd pass them back on the downhills and flats. My mantra of the day was, "This is a sprint. Sprint." I pushed the whole way, EXCEPT the two times I dropped my chain. I coached myself: Slow down. Be gentle with the derailleur so you can get the chain back on by just spinning NOT dismounting.

My quads hurt like hell, begged me for an ice bath, begged me for a nap, or at least to ease up. I staunchly ignored them - and even may have pushed a little harder just to show them who's boss. Ha! I refueled them with about 10 oz. of Gatorade and 2 sips of water. I was careful not to overdo the drinking, having sloshed my way through races before.

Serra felt good. He accelerated like a dream. He's very light under me. I appreciated that lightness immensely as one hill led to another hill to another to another... pretty country. Tough country. As I neared the entrance back into the Conference Center grounds, I came up on the first woman I'd seen in about 12 miles. I "good jobbed" her and passed her. I wondered how many other women were ahead of me.

The volunteers and crowds picked up as I got further onto the conference grounds. I heard T2 well before I saw it. I shouted to anyone who would listen, but to my cheering section in particular, "Now that was a bike course! 30 hills in 15 miles!"

The bike: 15 miles. 47:07.

I dismounted Serra and crossed the chip mat. Then a volunteer uttered the fateful words, "The first place woman is in the transition. Go get her."

Pump, thump, pump! Endorphins! I screamed through T2.

T2: 0:33 (FYI I have never transitioned that fast in my life!)

The Run

As I crossed the chip mat to exit T2, I saw the #1 woman in front of me. She was lean and strong and mighty hungry looking. But I was too. I don't know what got into my legs but they just went. I passed her within the first 100 yards of the run. I was out of my body. I was flying. My cheering section yelled, "Pace it out, Teach!" I smiled and pretty much exuded exhilaration. And kept running like hell.

When you're running really hard, do you ever feel as though someone has thrust a spear through your temples? I felt this and thought, "Yes! This is how it's supposed to feel. I'm running fast enough." I kept running at spear-through-the-temples-pace, breathing hard, feeling... good. Happy to be racing. Feeling... nervous. Threatened by the thought of the woman behind me. Feeling... in tune, alive, panting, wheezing and focused. I stopped for no water, for nothing. For no thing.

I had enough left to sprint the last 50 yards into the finish chute. The spectators were wild, the cheering fueled my flames. I crossed the line and heard my name. The run: 5k, 22:07

Overall: 1:19:19
#1/73 Female
#11/204 Overall


The aftermath: I can now say that this season has hosted the BEST race of my career and the WORST. I can reiterate that my cheering section rocks. I cannot post any pictures of my huge trophy (Fe-lady) because I won, instead, a medal and a bottle of wine. I could post some pictures of me after drinking said bottle of wine, but... I won't.

Let's just leave it at, "Cheers, everyone."

Saturday, August 04, 2007

First Female!!!!

Just back from my sprint tri - the local one I've done since its inception nine years ago - and (drumroll please) I was first female! I'm pumped, happy, feelin' good. Details to follow... :)

Friday, August 03, 2007

The Apartment Kids: Biker Chick

Black matted hair
and sagging diaper
she stomps an angry foot
at retreating older sister's back
releases a few screams
but sees the futility

She turns back to the bike
on her own
screws up her lip
first mounts and tries pushing the pedals
but quickly realizes her own
and pushes on the handlebars
negotiates them around a 360
but the bike goes nowhere

She steps back from the bike
a 30 year old problem-solving eye
peering out of that 3 year old face

The bike responds as she pushes on its seat
Soon she and the bike are motoring down the sidewalk
after the elder sister
Who's to point out that she is not precisely riding it?
Girl and bike are in motion

A biker chick is born.