Monday, August 23, 2010

The Physical Challenge: Week 15

The spectator-lined finish line of the Pikes Peak Ascent
at the summit of 14,115' Pikes Peak near Colorado Springs

Isolation versus community. In training and racing, there's a balance to be struck between the two. Oftentimes, I train in a kind of vacuum. I don't belong to any local triathlon or running clubs, and I don't have any training partners who put in the kind of miles I'm running these days. And so I end up trail running alone. Not that I mind. Being out on the trails early in the morning - often when I'm the only one out - leaves me with my thoughts, and offers opportunities to sit back and appreciate the beautiful mountain environment I'm running through.

But at times, this can also present a challenge. There's no one but me to push myself. No one to talk to and share a camaraderie with. For me, trail running - at least over the last few months training for the upcoming race - hasn't had much of a social component.

This past weekend, however, I traveled to Pikes Peak near Colorado Springs to cover the Pikes Peak Ascent race for Trail Runner magazine. And being there...amidst the world-class runners, spectators, and the sheer energy of the event...was at once inspiring and energizing. I was reminded what it means to be a part of a community of like-minded athletes who share the same passion for mountain running.

That reminder has valuable cross-over for those of us in the gluten-free community. If we let it, going gluten-free can - at least at times - be an isolating thing. But we have to remember that we are part of a vibrant, loving community. Whether through blogs like NGNP, or through Celiac and gluten intolerance support groups, or whatever, there are wonderful ways in which we can connect with one another. As with every other aspect of life, living gluten-free becomes a balance of the personal and the public.

But enough said about that. Without further ado, the weekly stats update:

Training Days: 3 (To Date: 50)
Rest Days: 4 (To Date: 55)
Body Weight: 148 (Net Gain/Loss: -12)
Running Days: 3 (To Date: 40)
Running Miles Logged: 33.7 (To Date: 422.9)
Average Run: 11.2 (Short = 5.9, Long = 21.8)
Cross-Training: None

Training this week was not what I planned it to be. My schedule seemed to conspire to ensure otherwise. A last minute mid-week three-day trip to NY and NJ; just 1.5 hours of sleep on Friday night; covering the Pikes Peak race on Saturday. All of it made squeezing in my runs difficult, and left me with less energy than I would have liked when I did.

By Sunday morning, when I was headed out for my long run of the week, I was spent before I even left the trailhead. My intention was to run a 33+ mile route on trails. I'd do it by running a series of 5 to 7-mile loops that all radiated out from a central hub trail junction.

This arrangement proved a motivational hurdle. The hub trail junction was just half a mile from the trailhead where my Jeep was parked, and so each time I ran through that hub, it was tempting to just turn for home, knowing the car was so close. For another, the day got way too hot way too quickly. A hot wind made it even worse. As I ran, I felt as if I could feel the dry, hot wind sucking moisture from my body. I ended up having to return to the Jeep 7 miles ahead of schedule in order to refill my water and pick up more food. Motivating to head back out on the trails was even tougher once I was actually back at the car.

Motivating for such long-distance runs is often a key challenge of racing. Experienced marathoners like to think of a marathon (26.2 miles) as a 20 mile run with a 10k (6.2 miles) tacked onto the end. Once you hit the 20-mile mark, you forget everything you've already done and simply focus on a very manageable task...running a basic 10k. But what do you do in an ultra race? It's not exactly comforting to think of the Virgil Crest Ultra as a 20 mile run with a 30 mile run tacked on to the end of it.

Ultra running is indeed a mind game. It's a game of mind over matter, and using your brain to push your body past known limitations. I knew this going into training. But I'm learning even more about it now through experience. I'm especially trying to discern the subtle difference between pushing on through benign pain and running through an injury. Those are two very different things.

At mile 22 (technically, mile 21.8) I called it quits. My body and my mind just didn't have it that day. I was tired from the previous week. The heat and wind and sun were unbearable (more than 80% of the route has no shade whatsoever). And my knees were beginning to ache. While I was disappointed to not do the intended 33+ miles, I think I made the right choice by listening to my body.

Back at the trailhead, another trail runner had also just returned to her car, also calling it quits because of the heat. She'd only be out on the trails for 10 minutes before throwing in the towel and turning around. Suddenly, I didn't feel so bad about my own run, which was just shy of 4 hours.

Finally, on a fundraising note, huge thanks this week go out to the Brinkman family, Gribble family, Lisa D. and Laura R. for your generous donations. I've now raised almost $1,500 for the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, which brings me to 30% of my goal! Thank you! I only have one month to go before the race, and I'm still a long way from my goal. Please consider making a donation! Visit my fundraising page today!

- Pete


Stephanie said...

Wow Pete! You're inspiring! I'd be the girl calling it quits after 10 minutes, and not necessarily because of the heat :) I wish I were to a place where I could run like that! I can do maybe half an hour on a good day.
Ok, time to get my behind in gear and hit the trails! My husband is at a lot higher fitness level than me, and it's hard for us to train together, so I usually end up working out on my own, which is good, and I enjoy it (me and my iPod). But it means I have limited places to work out (husband also gets concerned with me alone on a trail). Mostly I workout at the gym, and that makes it really easy for me to give up and go home when I've "had enough." I really need to be better about pushing myself.
Thanks for keeping us all up to speed on what you're doing. Keeps me thinking about what I should be doing too :)

peterbronski said...

Hey Stephanie... Kelli and I used to work out together also, but when our fitness levels and goals diverged, we started training separately. However, we've "joined forces" at times to train for a shared goal, like when we were preparing for a high altitude mountaineering expedition to Bolivia, and we spent 3 or 4 nights a week together side by side on stairmasters at our local community center gym. Keep up the good work on your runs! Half an hour is great. I remember when I started running when we first moved to Colorado, and the job would be a 1.5 mile out and back down our street and back home...

Cheers, Pete