This is how it works-
I love to run but there are times when I would rather not. This is when the voices start. Chants, name calling, guilt and reverse psychology is how they get me up and out the door. I don't really mind the voices and have actually started looking forward to their daily calls. Together we have formed a running club that supports, encourages and competes with each other. I love these peeps. They are much more experienced, talented and tougher than I am. Pushing me out the door, through the hard miles and up the monster hills when I am feeling lazy or want to give up. Some people have "real" training partners, coaches and support crews. My team is ALWAYS with me and helps me to keep my eye on the prize and not veer off the track. Sounds crazy- Yeah, probably is.........

Friday, March 19, 2010

Always Room For Doubt......

Can I do this? This is a question asked over and over in my head. Before the first 5k then a couple of months later at the first 10k. The next 3 months were filled with questions, uncertainty and self-doubt. Pulled that ½ marathon off without a problem and a year later the first full 26.2 mile Marathon. Serious doubts plagued my mind for over a year before finishing a 50k. Even now, before any event from a 5k to 50k, the butterflies are there and doubt rears its ugly head. I don't know why this happens but it does.

For the most part I have a VERY healthy self-esteem that can easily be perceived as arrogance and borders on narcissism at times. Thankfully I have those “voices” to even things out. For every vote of confidence there is also one that tells me I have under-trained, am untalented, fat, lazy, not mentally or physically tough enough and just plain stupid for thinking I will even finish. I love these guys. For the most part they are right. I usually am under-trained, far less talented than the “elite” class of runners, could stand to lose a few lbs, do have trouble pushing myself when it gets hard, could certainly benefit from some serious training and do have a tendency to jump in above my head sometimes. Thank God for the rest of the “crew”. They always let me know that failure is not part of the plan and we will, somehow, pull it off.

Psychological, environmental and spiritual factors all play a major role in every challenge. Every time I get down on myself and question my abilities or training, I manage to pull through by drawing on memories of things accomplished. Some go waaaay back to my childhood, others to my days in the Marine Corps and some are from my relatively short running “life”. Everything boils down to where a person has been, where they come from and what they have overcome. Sometimes desire to finish will outweigh training and natural talent.

Of course these things only extend so far. I KNOW for a fact that I am a mediocre runner at best, with a slim shot at winning an age group award but will never end up on the podium with a gold medal. This is a fair and honest assessment that does not drag me down but, rather, lifts me up and helps to set “realistic” goals for each endeavor. KNOWING that I will not win really puts things in perspective and helps bring my desire to “compete” with myself to the front. No amount of mental toughness or prayers will change these FACTS.

These FACTS do provide a mental boost to my training. Knowing my own limitations, as far as being a “true” competitor, allows me to train within the psychological, environmental and spiritual boundaries of my “real” life. It also makes it easy to finish what I start which, after all, is the real reason to jump into these events that always seem beyond my reach. I love the war between cockiness and doubt that wages in my head. Both are good and both have their place. I really believe that one without the other would only lead to complete and utter failure.

So the answer to the question, can I do this? Well, at the risk of sounding arrogant, HELL YEAH!! (Maybe)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Always a Challenge, Always an Adventure

Some people understand why running is so great, others struggle to understand. I hope this helps.......
Running can provide many adventures if you're paying attention. Whether on a training run or race, along the roadways or through the trails, there is always something that can make an impact. Simple things sometimes and monumental, never to be forgotten things at other times. From my first run through today I have always been able to walk away with a sense that I had witnessed or done something that many others may never experience. This is part of the reason that I LOVE to run outdoors.
Winter brings obstacles such as snow, ice and extreme cold but it also brings the satisfaction of making the first tracks in fresh snow, the challenge of staying upright on the ice and the knowledge that cold can be overcome. I can recall running in such cold extremes that upon finishing there was major ice build-up on my clothes and face. Awesome feeling- can't really explain why but some of you will understand. I love to make the first tracks in fresh snow on a seldom used gravel road or trail. Running is difficult in these conditions and the pace slows but the knowledge that I am the only person to travel that particular route brings a surreal sense of inner peace. Weird, yes, but some of you will understand. Running in the ice brings many hazards and challenges but it can be fun. I ran a 10k a few years back on a loop course that was covered in ice. Slowed the pace a little but made me much more aware of form and stride. This was a lesson that carried over into my everyday running. It was also a lot of fun to watch people slip and hit the ground, everybody understands this one.
Running in the heat can be very difficult. The pace slows and the motivation to get out becomes less than ideal but it also provides a warrior mentality that can't be matched. Summer also brings the less glamorous side of running out- things rub. Blood flows from odd places and blisters become common. Not fun but very warrior worthy- sounds ridiculous but some of you will understand.
I have bonded with friends and myself on training runs. You can really get to know a person if you hit the road with them. Run for an hour with somebody and you will learn more in that short period than you can in weeks of interaction. Something about the physical nature of the run opens people up to talk about anything. If you have ever shared the road with a training partner, you understand. This also applies to myself when running alone. I have learned a lot about myself on long and short runs. Sometimes we really do have talk to ourselves to work things out. Pushing when things are tough or just sorting out the daily jumble of life it is a great way to get to know who you really are. Maybe a few will understand this one.
I have encountered amazing pictures of natural beauty on trail runs and have seen more wildlife than I ever could have had I not been on foot. Deer, turkey, bobcats, skunks, snakes of all varieties along with creeks and picturesque scenery worthy of paintings in any museum. This keeps me hitting the trails- easy enough to understand.
During a half marathon I witnessed a “killer” squirrel that chased a runner down the road and watched as my running partner chased a squirrel during a full marathon. At mile 22 of the Little Rock Marathon a couple of years ago I enjoyed a cold beer on the run. This gave some people a good laugh, others were shocked, some disgusted and appalled. Me? I was having a beer at mile 22- how many people can say they did that? I know there are a few that understand that.
Adventures come daily and are all in the eye of the beholder. My favorite came in a 50k out in Tulsa. The rain set in early, mile 5, and the trail was a mess. By mile 18 I was done but there were a few voices in my head that wouldn't let me quit. At mile 21 I was a total wreck mentally but kept running, straight up hill. My head down and feet digging in, I came to a sudden stop and fell back on my butt. Looking around to figure out what happened (and make sure nobody was close enough to witness) I realized that it was a tree that stopped me. I had run smack dab into it and I lost, the tree held the trail. I quickly got up and was overcome with the MOTHER of all cramps in my legs. Thinking I had to walk I realized that was impossible so I RAN. It hurt but not as bad. About 10 minutes later I reached for my water bottle and it was not there. I must have lost in when the tree kicked my ass. I continued in a state of semi-dehydration towards the finish line. Unfortunately I lost the trail for a while at mile 29 but somehow managed to backtrack and find it. I finished the 31 (or 32) miles in a delirious stumble. This was a GRAND ADVENTURE that was definitely a challenge and made a huge impact on me as a runner. If you don't understand this one.......Get out on the road and give it some time, you will.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Student Becomes the Master....

There are times in life when we realize that the things we say to our children do actually have an impact. Today was one of those days for me. I had decided to pull my 7 year old son away from the TV and video games for an afternoon of “work”. This consisted of him riding along with me to feed the cattle and open a few gates. Beneficial to me as much as him because I would not have to open and close all the gates. We were talking about nothing in particular when he asked a seemingly innocent question.

“So dad, how far are you going to run in your next marathon?” (they are ALL marathons to him) I responded that I was thinking about a 50 miler and he said, with wide eyes, “FIFTY MILES?” I said jokingly, “Yeah it's crazy, I CAN'T run 50 miles.” This is where I screwed up. “DAD!!! You said CAN'T!! Can't just sat on a log and froze to death. You have to keep trying if you want to do anything!” I couldn't help but smile as I looked at him. Filled with pride I said, “You're right.” Then he added, “If you get tired you just keep on walking and if you're thirsty you can just get a drink from your water bottle. Easy peazy.”

I think about how many times I have told him about CAN'T and freezing to death on the log over the years. Any time the word can't is said we have a discussion about it. It is THE bad word in our house and nobody is allowed to use it. I guess this includes me even though it has never been an issue before today. Most of the time I wander around, wondering if my kids understand the lessons that I am trying to teach them. Today I learned a lesson. Practice what you preach, they DO pay attention.

I guess the decision has been made and I will be signing up for the Ouachita Trail 50 Mile Race in Little Rock, Arkansas on April 17th. My son has always been my hero and part of my motivation to challenge myself but now his little voice will join the rest of the crowd in my head. His will definitely be the loudest and most welcome anytime I have doubts about my abilities.