Running My First 50k

I started this blog post the morning before attempting my first 50k run. The title of this post very well could have read, “My first ‘Did Not Finish’ (DNF) Race.” As I stated in an earlier post, Taking a Zero Day, I had some setbacks in my training routine running up to the race. Those setbacks lingered. And then lingered some more. My foot never really healed all the way. The most I had run at one time for the 3 weeks prior to the race was 4 miles, and my foot hurt every time. So to think I could make it 31 miles was pretty silly. But, somehow it worked.

Before the race, I took a mental assessment over breakfast of my physical and mental states. Here is what I wrote down:

  • Body feels good, well-rested and ready to work
  • Ankle pain 3 out of 10, worst when I flex the outer part of my foot upwards
  • Thinking about which wheel will fall off first: most likely my ankle, maybe my legs from a lack of running, least likely my cardiovascular system
  • Considering disappointment of being listed on the race results as DNF
  • Thinking about letting down Matt – my friend and running partner – whom I roped into this crazy idea
  • Given that it is a trail race, I cannot walk the required pace to make the cutoff time
  • Realistic probability of finish: 30%
  • Trying to quash the negativity, I am starting affirmations and visualizing a pleasant run in the woods

Then it was time to go. So I stopped thinking and put myself on auto-pilot. I loaded up my truck with my pre-packed supplies from the night before, and drove to the race start in the dark. When I say I stopped thinking, I put all my meditation practice into effect. I stopped assessing and ruminating. I stopped thinking about disappointments and pain. I used the skills I have learned in meditation to go through the motions and accept whatever came. Once at the race start, I continued to go through the motions. I met up with my friend, we made the decision to run light and rely upon the aid stations for food and drinks. Soon it was time to start.

The Rocks and Roots Trail Series at Alum Creek State Park in Lewis Center, Ohio, is one of the best organized I’ve ever experienced. It is a very small race, capped at 400 runners, and it is organized by runners for runners. I highly recommend it if you can get a spot. The leading picture for this post is one of the many stunning views you’ll experience throughout the two 10k loops of this fun and challenging course. So with some quick, no-nonsense announcements and an old-fashioned, “Ready, Set, Go!”, we were off at 8 AM.

I started off limping and then eased into a slow, methodical stride. A funny thing happened. My foot pain spiked early and then within 10 minutes subsided back to a 2 or 3 out of 10. I thought, “I can live with this.” So I just kept going. That’s how it went. Minute by minute, hour by hour, I just kept going. One foot in front of the other. 4 hours into the race, we had completed our first 30k (18.6 miles). If you’re doing the math, these are not fast miles, but that’s OK. We decided that this was a “just finish” race because it was our first attempt at this distance and, given that it was a trail race where we go up and down ravines and hop over downed trees, this was never going to be flat out. At 30k, the course was getting really boggy. There were significant portions of the course where the term “running” simply did not apply. Think, “ankle-deep pancake batter” and you get the picture. For these portions, we slowed to a walk and then picked back up on drier parts of the trail.

Somewhere around mile 29, I caught a root with my bad foot and it sent pains spiking through my leg. So I walked for a bit. My running partner and long-time friend – ever patient – walked along just in front of me, willing me forward. There was no stopping now. I had to cover the two miles back to the finish line anyway. So I walked on and used deep, focused breathing to let go of the pain. Soon I was back to trotting on drier spots and slogging through the mud.

And then it was over. We popped up out of the woods and came down the final stretch to the finish, where 20 or so people were cheering us on. Just over 7 hours of constant movement, and we had done it! Our first 50k. Matt and I crossed the finish line together, just as we had started. I want to be clear here that he could have gone ahead and beat my time by a good 30 minutes. But that isn’t who he is. After getting our medals and picking up our bags, we cheered the next 5 runners down the path. As the post-run chill sank in, we decided to call it a day and head back to our families, exuberant at our accomplishment.

As I put the finishing touches on this post, I feel great. My foot is a little swollen and tender, but I’m able to walk and be productive the day after a 50k (31 mile) race. I accomplished a major 2019 goal on day 6 of the year in the face of adversity. Perhaps I spend too much time on Zen Buddhism in my blog, but I will tell you dear reader that without my experience in sitting meditation, there is just about zero chance I would have attempted this race, let alone finished it. With that said, I also want to recognize the power of the team. Because without my friend Matt running along with me, I would have limped slowly across the finish line wondering what more I had left in the tank. Here’s to friends and zen!

Cheers!

Taking a Zero Day

In hiking parlance, taking a zero day means taking a day off. It isn’t often that I take a day off of running, especially with a long race coming up. I am preparing for a 50k trail race, which is the first time I’ll officially run longer than a marathon. To support the extra ups and downs of a trail race, I recently added 3 mile stair workouts with a weight vest and the change in training strained some muscles in my arches. I did my best to run through it, but the pain kept increasing as I put in miles on my other runs. So… time to take a break.

Taking a break from 6-days-per-week running after eight months should be easy in theory. As in, I could simply not run. But breaking a habit, even a habit that takes effort, is leaving me feeling adrift at the moment. This weekend, I found myself feeling stuck – almost paralyzed – and quite unproductive. It was like I had a computer program in my brain that said, “run” and when the “run” program didn’t execute, I struggled to figure out what was next. Instead of just skipping it and moving on to the rest of my chores, I sat stewing on the fact that I couldn’t run. I’d flex my feet and wince at the pain instead of simply moving on. What a wonderful opportunity to use a bit of mindfulness practice to overcome my faulty program!

First, sit with it. Instead of fighting reality, I took the opportunity to sit with the discomfort of the break in routine. I sat in meditation and worked on settling my brain. I found that I was stuck on repeat. “I just want to run. But I can’t. Stupid foot. Why did I have to overtrain? Maybe if I flex it, it will feel better.” Rinse and repeat. I thought through my attachment to the task of running. Really, I was attached to the expectation of being pain-free. I wanted things to be different than what they were right now. Instead of repeatedly berating myself to accept what was, I decided to focus on what I could do. Perhaps an anti-inflammatory or some ice or a bit of massage therapy? So after breaking the mental cycle of wanting to run pain-free, I decided to make a to do list. First, I’ll use a tennis ball to put pressure on the affected areas. Then I’ll follow that up with some ice. Finally, I’ll take some ibuprofen at bed time to calm the angry muscles. Satisfied with a plan, I was starting to let go of the attachment.

Second, take action on what I can do. I put my plan into action. I grabbed the tennis ball and put as much pressure as I could stand on the affected area. Rolling it over and over for about 5 minutes. The logic here was that I probably made the small muscles in my arch area “angry” with all the stair work and needed something to break up the knotted tissue. After some rather intense moments, I got an ice pack and applied 10 minutes on, 10 minutes off cold therapy for a half an hour. Nearing bed time, I took some ibuprofen and called it a night. The next morning, my foot was feeling significantly better.

Finally, accept the progress and use it as motivation to continue on the path to recovery. This morning, I decided to take another zero day. Two in a row? Yep. My wife and I took the kids skiing this morning for our second-youngest child’s birthday, so it served as a nice distraction. After we got home, I resisted the urge to attempt a run and – even better – resisted the urge to go back to stewing about not being able to run. Instead, I folded laundry, I tidied up the kitchen, I wrote my first blog post in a month, I caught up on televised soccer matches from the day, and this evening I’m going to watch a movie with my lovely wife.

Who knew a zero day could be so much fun?

Our Devices are Probably Listening to Us

You have probably seen the Facebook / cat food test on YouTube. Now, I am no conspiracy theorist. I don’t wear a tinfoil hat and as a law-abiding citizen, I’m not terribly concerned about Big Brother or Big Data or whatever the next Big thing is. But still. It is creepy to think about. In spite of Facebook’s continued assertions to the contrary, it seems to keep coming up for us. My wife – who has designated herself as our family’s Facebook liaison (more on this in a minute) – has observed it repeatedly in the last several months. She has a conversation about some product or service that we don’t currently use, and then she starts getting ads about the product or service on Facebook within 24 hours.

Listening Devices

Now let’s consider for a moment the latest fad in technology. The virtual assistant operating via a microphone and speaker. Alexa operating on the Amazon Echo, Siri on your phones and Homepod, etc. These devices are listening for you to command, oh I don’t know, “Play Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen.” In addition to taking you on a trip down musical memory lane, isn’t it in the best interest of their parent companies to listen to your conversations? Everyone wins when they provide you with deals on the products and services you’re considering, right? I have not seen the code and so I cannot comment on whether or not it is happening. However, at this point, I operate on the assumption that it is.

Tech’d Out

Some time ago in a morning meeting, one of my team members asked the question, “What future technology are you most excited about?” My answer: “None.” I know I’m starting to sound like everyone’s Dad here, but seriously – where does it stop? I feel over-marketed, over-surveyed, over-autodialed and over-emailed. I don’t feel like I need more. As mentioned earlier, my wife knows that I’ve grown weary of social media, so she has volunteered to be our “Facebook liaison.” I guess it means that she’s active enough for both of us. Love you, hon!

There is No Tech on the Trail

This past weekend, my marathon training schedule called for a long run of 16 miles. I’ve been pounding the pavement lately and my calf muscles are feeling a bit knotted up. So I opted to put my 16 miles in on the trail. With an elevation chart that reads like a saw blade, I got one heck of a workout. But you know what else? I got trees, dirt, mud, underbrush, spiderwebs (enough to stick my hat to my head), sun-dappled landscapes, lake views, and a whole lot of quiet. At the end, I felt great. I felt like I had put in some serious work and that I had gotten a reprieve from haptic alerts, pop-ups, and calls from New Jersey offering low cost health insurance. So… if you’re like me and getting a bit tired of Big Tech, I highly suggest getting outside. Happy Trails…

Let your hair down

Sometimes, you have to let your hair down. This is week three of my marathon training. Tonight I should have lifted weights while I let my legs recover from yesterday’s interval training. But instead, I came home, did a couple of chores, and then took my better half out to our favorite local eatery for Spanish wine and our favorite dishes.

Like the kid in We’re the Millers, I’ve got “no ragrets.” Not even one. We had a lovely evening and now tomorrow I’ll be doubly motivated to knock out my tempo run after another busy day at work.

Are you motivated after letting your hair down? Or are you more of an “inertia person” who once is at rest stays at rest?

Remember the Mosquito

If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.                                           – Dalai Lama

This evening I went for a training run at dusk. I was sore from the weekend’s running and had to push myself out the front door. While out there, I “ran” at a paltry pace through my full post-dinner belly and my weekend soreness. About three miles in, I started hitting these swarms of stinging bugs. They’d stick to my sweaty skin and sting me repeatedly. It reminded me of the Dalai Lama quote above, which of course made me smile. After that, I got a little smarter and started ducking and dodging the swarms. To the casual observer, I probably looked like I was off my meds. Again I smiled. These little 1 mm insects were causing me to run like Rocky while he was training for his fight with Ivan Drago. I ran anyway. We don’t have to be massive to make a massive difference.

Can’t Run? Hike!

I have a busted rib or two at the moment. After about a week of trial and error, I have figured out that the only way it is going to get better is for me to reduce physical activity to a bare minimum. Within a day of hurting my rib, I figured out how to “run” at a slower and modified stride. But I also quickly realized that with the deep breathing and still occasional jolt of the stride, I wasn’t doing myself any favors with actual recovery. I’m now on day 3 of minimal activity. The words “stir crazy” seem to fit the bill, so I needed to do something. So this fine Saturday afternoon, I decided to go to Highbanks Metro Park and go for a hike.

I use the term “hike” here pretty loosely. Its pretty much a walk in the woods on improved paths. But… the place where I wanted to hike is underwater from the June monsoons Ohio has been experiencing, so you’ll just have to bear with me. On a lark, I took my camera along for the ride… er, hike. I figured I’d catch a squirrel or a couple of migrant songbirds with my trusty DSLR. It turns out, the squirrels were not in the mood to pose for me; and the vegetation was so dense that I only spotted a few birds but I wasn’t quick enough to catch them with my camera. So I hiked on.

Undeterred by the unwillingness of Mother Nature’s sentient beings to pose for me, I snapped several pictures of the park’s flora.

After a bit, I decided to slow down and take a deeper look at the world around me. I’m so glad I did. A whole new set of life opened up right in front of me. I found a frog or toad that would sit comfortably on my thumbnail, a daredevil snail transitioning from one blade of grass to another while upside down, a millipede making short work of the gravel mounds it was traversing, and a moth that didn’t seem to care about my camera one iota.

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Heartened by my transition from the big picture to the smaller focus, I decided to transfer back from fauna to flora. What views!

As I close, I have to admit that this rib issue has had me on edge. For several weeks, I have been plodding along, running easy pace miles. I am supposed to be running some quicker miles over this week and next as I officially begin marathon training on July 6. Not only am I not ramping up into my training, I can’t run at all. Instead of wallowing in my own self-pity, I decided today to get out and move in a way that won’t hurt my rib. I hiked up and down hills for nearly 3 hours. Along the way, I was able to capture several snapshots of the absolute magnificence of this world we live in. I hope you enjoy.

To be or… To BE? The Power of Labels

Studying foreign languages has been one of my more fruitful pursuits. Unlike many Americans my age, I was exposed to formal instruction in Spanish in the third grade through a pilot academic program. If I’m honest, I didn’t love it at the time. I kept thinking, “I’ll never use this.” Since that time I’ve formally and self-studied Spanish and French on and off for 30+ years. Studies have found that knowing more than one language offers a host of benefits, including improved decision-making and resistance to Alzheimer’s and dementia. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a novice with both languages. But I dutifully practice a little each day. Recently, I found this fascinating and eloquent summary comparing the two “be” verbs in Spanish. Yep, two. It turns out you can be something and you can BE something.

Ser versus Estar

The following is an article excerpt from Duolingo. I truncated it to illustrate my point, but I would encourage anyone interested in practicing a foreign language to check out Duolingo. It’s a fantastic, free tool that has an excellent online community.

One of the hardest things to learn about Spanish is the distinction between the verbs “ser” and “estar,” since in English they both mean “to be.”

“Ser” refers to what something is, while estar refers more to what something does. For example, “estoy enfermo” would mean “I am being sick” or “I am currently sick.” On the other hand “soy enfermo” translates to something closer to “I am a sick person” or “I am sickly.” Below are more examples:

Estar
                                                                        Ser

Estoy feliz = I am currently happy                        Soy feliz = I am happy by nature

Estoy cansada = I am currently tired                   Soy cansada = I am a tired person

Él está callado = He is being quiet                        Él es callado = He is introverted

You can think of “ser” as being equivalent to “equals.” Alternatively, you can think of “estar” as refering to a temporary condition, while “ser” frequently refers to a permanent condition. 

I love that there is a differentiation between the current state and the permanent condition. Like most languages, English only has one be verb. “I am happy,” could mean “I’m a happy person” or “I’m happy at the moment.” Spanish is so much more efficient in the distinction. But the real reason I’m excited about this distinction is because it makes me think about the words we use to describe our feelings and ourselves.

The Impact of Labels

Recognition and naming a feeling or behavior is a great way to begin the problem-solving process to overcome it. The practice is rooted in Buddhist traditions and has been proven effective in psychological studies. However, as in the Spanish separation of estar and ser, there must be a key differentiation between giving something a current state name and allowing it to slip into a permanent label. For instance, saying that we are “anxious about public speaking” can go from an acknowledgement of an emotional reaction to a labeled pattern of, “I am always anxious about public speaking.” The labeled pattern can then become quite limiting. “Oh no, I don’t speak in public; I’m far too anxious.”

I routinely fell into this labeling trap in my early adulthood. I’ll avoid the labeling details here, but I had much more fixed political views at 21 than I do at 43. I used to think silly thoughts like, “I can’t eat that or drive that car or shop in that store because I’m a [insert label].” As I have aged, I am happy to say that I have repeatedly challenged my labels. I’ll take running as a fairly innocuous example. I used to carry the moniker, “I am not a runner.” I would joke that I only ran if being chased or if I was being punished in sports (Coach: Take a lap, Gregory.). I eventually challenged the label that I was “not a runner.” In my early 30’s, I got back into recreational soccer. I started running to become more competitive in my league. A funny thing happened. I began to recognize running as a meditative and restorative force in addition to a pretty good way to build some midfield running capacity. Slowly, I dropped the label “I am not a runner” and started to accept that just maybe I am.

Interestingly, I have found that I can take it too far. I will readily admit that I’m a self-improvement junkie. Is that a label, Gregory? Take a lap! As I take in new information and accept new interests into my life, these new labels can also become burdensome. Over time, I started to describe myself as a runner. Last year, “I am a runner” became “I’m a marathon runner.” That meant that I upped my weekly running totals to 6 days and as many as 60 miles. I began to transfer my current state into a label. It gave way to things like, “I can’t go out to dinner because I’d miss my training run; and I can’t do that because I’m a marathon runner!” Granted, some of this was driven by necessity. I had specific marathons that I had signed up for and I’m not the kind of athlete that I can just show up and knock out 26 miles. But I think the message comes through. Labels can be limiting on both fronts. Labels can inhibit our development and they can box us into requirements.

As I grow, I’m trying to embrace estar in lieu of ser. I want to think about who I am currently without falling prey to the permanence of a label. Clearly, there are things that are woven into the fabric of my being. I stand for justice, equality, liberty, motherhood, and apple pie. And FC Barcelona… but I digress. Take a lap! As I’m getting older, I have fewer free moments and I don’t have time to paint myself into corners. I need to evaluate my labels from time to time and discard what isn’t serving me.

As I close, I’ll leave you with a couple of questions.

What are your labels? 

Are they limiting your progress or promoting a happier, healthier life? 

Is it possible to transition those limiting labels into current state assessments that have room for change?