Monday, February 28, 2011

Quote of the week

This quote came via a book called Stones into Schools, by Greg Mortensen. It is noted as being a Persian Proverb, but has also been attributed to Ralph Waldo Emmerson -

When it's dark enough, you can see the stars.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

C2M Prep Time!

On my long run this morning I was thinking about my race. Three weeks from now, it's the Coyote Two Moon, or C2M - there's a 100K and a 100 Miler. I'll be doing the latter.

I'm pretty excited - always am to get out and race again - but I'm also feeling a lot of anticipation. This one sounds like a challenge. Over 25,000 ft of elevation, plus a 9PM start time on Friday night, so by the time Sunday morning rolls around I'll really be feeling wonky.... and then there's the weather. 

Over previous years it sounds like the participants have experienced rain, snow, mud (ok, fine, mud is not weather), and winds, along with some pretty dramatic temperature swings. Probably fairly normal stuff for many 100 mile races, but it's still critical to be amply prepared for it... and I'm not sure I'm amply prepared. 

These thoughts and others were going through my head as I ran over the trails this morning. It was muddy out, after it rained off and on through the last day and night. But it was the wind that bothered me more than the mud. At first, I had not noticed the cold breeze, but the longer I stayed out the more I felt it.

Brooks Cascadias did well in the mud

Gloves are worn and have new holes in the seams

I would warm up and begin to sweat as I worked hard up the hills, then the wind would catch me at the top and give me the chills. It was a good reminder of a conversation I had just the day before about the importance of being adequately outfitted for the C2M.

My conversation was with Jimmy Dean Freeman, an experienced ultra-runner and coach in the Los Angeles area. I had heard of Jimmy's running group, the SoCal Coyotes (or Coyote Running, not sure which is their official name... but I do know they howl a lot in their communications to each other on Facebook) and I had contacted Jimmy to find out more about the group and their training plan. 

I got the information I was looking for, and a few tips besides that, as Jimmy was kind enough to offer advice on my upcoming race. "From what I've heard of that race, the swings in temperature can be a real challenge," Coach Jimmy said. "If you don't have a crew with you..." (I won't) "...then how you prepare your drop bags - what you put in them, and which stations you leave them at, will be essential. How well you plan those bags could increase or decrease your likelihood of a drop significantly." 

The funny thing is, I kinda knew all this stuff, having read blogs and race reports about the race from previous participants, but still... I hadn't really digested it, or really thought about it, perhaps... whatever the reason, I heard it more clearly when Coach Jimmy said it. I thought about it again this morning as that chilly wind hit my damp skin. It's all very well getting chilly on a 5 hour run, I thought, but overnight on the mountains...

Well, that might suck. Worse, if I get too cold, I'll have to drop.

So enough screwing around - the race is 3 weeks out, and it's prep time. I will not drop out because I failed to be prepared. 

Step One of Prep: Review the Inventory

I don't often need gear for the rain, cold, or snow, and subsequently, don't have much for those conditions. But, I better get some.

For running clothes, I believe I have most of the pieces I need: 
  • several pairs of compression tights (these noticeable reduce aches and pains for me in the days following a race)
  • several short and long sleeve tops
  • one lightweight wind and rain resistant jacket
  • one waterproof jacket (Marmot Precip was recommended)
  • 2 pair Drymax socks (recommended for running in rain and snow)
  • gaiters (recommended for running in dirt and snow)
  • several sportbras and pairs of undergarments (I was trying to say that in the most unsexy terms possible, which I think I accomplished) 
  • running cap (to keep sunlight out of eyes)
  • two pairs sneakers (Brooks Cascadias and 1 other NB pair I used to wear as extras).
Clothing I still need: gloves (to replace current holey ones), buff (for cold winds on face at night), warm/knit hat, and possibly waterproof pants (not sure if these are a necessity, but I will find out).

Regarding additional accessories: I already have a headlight, hydration pack, sunglasses, bandana (for the sniffles I get when I run).

Accessories I still need: replacement batteries for the headlight, replacement bottles for the hydration pack (because the two I'm using now are odd shapes and sizes and look stupid, which quite frankly, I'm above).

Besides that, I'll still need to pack my fuel for the race - I won't list that here as it's a bit more detailed (and a bit more tedious to list). But I do need to get some Nuun and Powerbars, because I am out of both of those.

So, those are the things I'm aware of needing. Of course, there are also going to be things I haven't even thought of yet.

Step Two of Prep: Research the Race

Ok, this one I've covered before so it's nothing new... it's just researching prior race reports, reading blogs, and sending e-mails to folks who have done the race before, either successfully or unsuccessfully. This is another piece of info I already knew, but that Coach Jimmy re-iterated in a way that really impressed on me how critical this piece is to finishing the race.

"Read as much as you can," Jimmy told me. "When I raced Badwater last year, I probably talked to about 30 people who have run it before." 

I nodded when he said that, as I knew to do this... kinda. In truth, I've never researched a race to the level the Jimmy was suggesting, but as he talked further it was impressed on me that this, too, was critical to a successful finish. I made a note to start my research that day.

After doing both these steps (which are really done at the same time, versus in order) I'll be ready to arrange my drop bags. After that, I'll make a rough plan of what my time should be as I hit each aid station on the course - I typically do this by looking at previous finishers and in particular, the times for the top 2-4 females that finished.

With this type of preparation regarding my gear and my race, I'll have a much better chance of finishing the C2M - and the mental boost I'll need knowing I'm organized and stocked. 

And did I mention? I'm starting to really get excited for this race!!

UPDATE: I've been checking out some reports and blogs about the race via; turns out this site does a great job of compiling videos, links, and blogs about each race. A great resource.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Early morning discoveries

Found a neat little hill on my run this morning... usually I take the same few routes around the neighborhood, switching it up as I feel or to fit the mileage I'm looking for, but this time I tried a new route.

This new route started from a side road I typically run past, but this morning I headed up it. The road wound through a residential neighborhood then turned sharply to twist up a steep hill. Even in the darkness I could not help looking off over the drop-off to the left to admire what is likely a nice view of the city by day... by night, it was a sea of twinkling streetlights and taillights.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Easy, light, and smooth

This morning as I ran around the neighborhood I felt myself pushing to keep up the pace. I'm not the fastest runner out there, so as I strive to improve my strategy has been to take my usual workouts, then build on them so they are longer and faster.

Pushing to go faster this morning did not come easily, as it can on some days. As my mind registered this, I thought of an article read just yesterday via Chris McDougall's blog - it was a short piece he wrote for Outside magazine entitled Christopher McDougall's Top 4 Running Tips.

McDougall provides 4 good tips (listed in reverse order from 4-1) but it was the last that stayed with me, as it did when I read it for the first time in his book.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Come to the edge: a poem by Christopher Logue

What follows is a poem by the English poet Christopher Logue (though also commonly attributed to Guillaume Apollinaire).

It is about courage, trust, and having faith in oneself and others.

Come to the Edge

Come to the edge.
We might fall.
Come to the edge.
It's too high!
And they came,
And he pushed,
And they flew.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

You say hobby, I say lifeline

It can be hard when someone refers to running (specifically, your running) as a hobby.

Of course, it's a fair classification. It looks like a hobby. It sounds like a hobby. But it doesn't feel like a hobby. And, this doesn't matter much most of the time, because it simply doesn't matter what we call it - it's just running; it's what you do.

That is, until you find yourself in one of "those" conversations, perhaps around the kitchen table, where you assess the family priorities and assign such resources as time and money... and then, just then, your running gets referred to as a hobby.

Your ears prick up. Your eyes narrow sharply, and dart forward. Your head tilts slightly, almost imperceptibly as you think "Did I just hear what I thought I heard?"

Embracing the suck

A recent entry by Geoff Roes on his blog "Fumbling Towards Endurance" touches on challenges in training and mental hurdles, something I've been considering a lot lately. 

Here's an excerpt from Geoff's Feb. 12th, 2011 blog entry (a bit long, but it takes you through Geoff's thought process in recent training):
"This has been my routine for the past week: Hang around the house all morning waiting for the wind to die down. Finally head out for my run around 2:00 when the wind has invariably picked up even higher. Get really frustrated as soon as I hit the trail because all of the "work" I did to break a trail the day before has been trumped by the wind. Finally come to peace with the conditions and accept that I will be breaking through knee deep drifts for the entire run. And then after about 30 minutes I begin to even relish the difficulty that the wind has created. I start to really enjoy the effort it takes to push each step through 12+ inches of snow with a 22" platform attached to my foot. I start to notice that every step feels like I'm going up a steep hill. The more I tune into this the more I enjoy it."
I love this entry from Geoff for a few reasons, but mostly because it's so easy to relate to.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Self-Coaching Challenge

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the challenges one faces when one is self-coached.

I'm self-coached (so, I don’t have a coach or local running group that I check in and train with), and I'd assume that most of us are. I actively seek input and advice on running and training via the Internet and Ultralist, and occasionally meet with a friend to run – but more often than not, it's just me, which is usually just fine - in fact, I prefer it to any other scenario.

Being self-coached is nice because it gives you flexibility – after all, you don’t have anyone else’s schedule to work around, and can decide how often, where, and for how long you run. Obviously, this is incredibly convenient when you already have a full schedule... and you can't beat the $0 price tag.

However... there are also times when being self-coached is not as great.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

When Your Body Demands a Break

When you don't let your body take a break every now and again, it will demand a break from you. The body can do this via injury, like a pulled or strained muscle, or it can do it via fatigue.

Fatigue was the case during my run this morning. I had planned to do close to 25 miles but ended up doing about 20, with significant walking breaks.

The sun rising over Los Angles two hours into my run

When starting my run that morning, I found I lacked my normal sense of quiet focus. My mind kept wandering (not in a good way), and I was consistently challenged to keep up my pace. Often, I didn't even try to keep pace, and found myself walking more frequently and on sections that were not even challenging. After about 2 hours, I felt like throwing in the towel and going off to get a cup of coffee somewhere.

But, I stuck with it - to some degree, anyway. By slowing my pace and taking more walking breaks I lowered my overall mileage and intensity, but I hung in there for the full allotted time. Additionally, I decided that if I couldn't run the whole course at a good pace, I'd focus on certain sections of the trail to run hard (ok fine, medium-hard), with slower running in between.

And while all that was going on, I was considering why I was feeling so crappy.

Looking back over the last few weeks, it's not all that surprising. Recently I've been making a special effort to train more consistently, which essentially means the following:
 - running hills with nearly every workout
 - running at a faster pace through every workout
 - more frequent workouts during the week

In addition to that, I had pumped up my mileage in the last week and it was over 5 weeks since the last time I had taken a break from my weekend long run.

To sum it all up, I was pooped.

I contemplated this during my run-walk-run-walk-amble-run. I had already decided to take it easier than I intended - it was just too hard to do otherwise - but I was feeling guilty about it. I wasn't sure that "taking it easy" was justified. I wasn't sure if I should be pushing through the resistance or listening to my body.

Winners don't "take it easy" - do they?
Road up to Griffith Park Observatory
Sure, it's not always easy, I told myself sternly, but it won't be easy during the 2nd half of that 50 or 100 miler either. You'll feel a LOT like walking then. Are you just going to give up then, too? Ease up on the pace? Walk the whole thing? Decide to go home mid-way?

But... I'm tired, a small voice in my head said. My stern inner voice was silent at this, but I swear I could hear it rolling it's eyes.

As already noted, I ended up listening to my body - or in other words, I took the easy way out. Still feel like a wuss about that one. Still kinda don't care though, in light of all the other training I've been doing. Still feeling a little tired.

All this debate and self-berating can be avoided, however, with one simple solution: by scheduling breaks into training in the form of "recovery weeks". I don't typically do this very well (or at all), but recovery weeks are an essential part of training, as told by coaches and runners with far more experience than me.

By giving myself "easy" weeks every 4-5 weeks and allowing my body and mind some time to recover, I can better avoid injury and burnout while also avoiding the feeling of "slacking  off" during training when my body just shuts down.

More of the trails at Griffith Park
I'll try this from now on... and continue to make note of how my mind and body is feeling with each workout. I'd like to keep on pushing in training but I want to be sure I'm not pushing too hard... when your only coach is yourself, it can be so hard to know how well you are walking that line.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Early risers

Lying in bed this morning, blissfully unaware of time and place.

Pit-pat pit-pat go little feet in the room next to ours.
Creeeeaak goes the hinge on the door into the hallway.
Swiiish goes the door to our bedroom.
Mommy? says a small child's voice.

I sit up. Sigh. Slide off the bed. Sneak a look at the alarm clock - 2:51AM. Oh - still early.
No Sevilla, you can't get up yet. Because it's still too early. No. It's too early.

Come on - I'll tuck you in.

Pit-pat pit-pat go little feet back through the hallway.
Shuffle shuffle shuffle go bigger feet behind her.
She climbs into bed. I kiss her twice, give her shoulder a squeeze, then turn to go.

Sigh. Yes?
I'm hungry.

Shuffle shuffle shuffle go big feet in the hallway... down the stairs... into the kitchen. 
Crickle crickle crinch goes the cereal bag.
Splosh goes the milk. 
Shuffle shuffle shuffle back up the stairs.

I sit down next to her in the bed. Here's your cereal.
Crunch crunch crunch goes the small child sitting in the bed.
Pause... then again, crunch crunch crunch
Finally... all done.

Feel better? 
Nods - yes. 
Ok. I love you baby. 
I love you Mommy.
Ok. Sleep well.

Shuffle shuffle shuffle through the hallway. Into the bedroom - glance at the clock - sigh. It's 3:14AM. I reach for the clock - click - snap the alarm off - it's set to go off at 3:15 anyway.

Good thing I caught it.

Sneak sneak sneak down the hall... down the stairs... to the kitchen. Pause... listen... no more little feet. Exhale. 
Shwock as the fridge door opens.
Grab the bread. Grab the milk.
Schtick goes the toaster.

Searching for clothes. 
Half dressed already from the night before, but still missing something... pants.

Need pants. 

Fiddle fiddle fiddle in the laundry room. Pants on. Socks on. 
Just need shoes.
POP! goes the toaster.
Scrap scrap scrap goes the knife... mmmm. Peanut butter. 
Slap the pieces together... then  - whooop - dropped it on the floor.
Pick up the sandwich. 
Pause - then chomp chomp chomp on the sandwich.

Glup glup glup goes the water down the throat... almost ready... just need... front door keys.

Grab the keys.... no, don't need them all... just these... two. 
Turning to go... check the clock... sigh of satisfaction. 
Plenty of time.

Then.... pit-pat pit-pat pit-pat come little feet in the hallway.

Swoooosh! I slap the light switch down.
There's no-one down here...
Waiting, waiting... there's no-one down here, just go back to bed or get in bed with Daddy like any other morning when I'm already out... 

Plod plod plod of little feet coming down the stairs. 

Yes Sevilla, I'm here.

Chin wobbling... eyes fill with tears. Little hands reach out, hesitate slightly - then reach higher. The face crumbles.

Mommy but where are you going?
A run, Sevilla - I'm going on a run sweetie. 
But will it be a quick run or a long run?
It will be a medium run. 
Whimpers. But I want it to be a quick run!
I know. C'mon baby. Go back upstairs and see Daddy. You can get in bed and be cosy. I will see you soon. 
But Mommy I will miss you!
I know. Firmly: Sevilla, I'm going to go now.

Gently: C'mon Sevilla. 
Hug - I'll see you soon baby.

I stand up. Look down.
Child's face, chin wobbling. 
Mommy - 
I want to say goodby to you in the window.
Sigh. Ok.

Over to the door. Kisses on the face.
Sevilla, you say goodbye to me in the window, then I will lock the door behind me. Ok?
Then you go upstairs and cuddle in bed with Daddy. 

Swoosh of the door behind me. 
Scccchlick of the key - locked tight. 
Over to the window. Look at the little girl behind the glass - sad face, but ok now... after all, we've done this before. She kisses the glass. 
I lean forward and kiss that spot - we pull back - smile.

Wave goodbye - blow another kiss. 
Jog down the steps - run out in the street - then turn. Wait. 
She turns back from the window, crosses the room, makes her way back upstairs.

Except for... small rustles in the dark. Here and there, small sounds... the natural rustling of creatures, trees, the wind in the night... and I tip my head, pausing, listening... then run down the road, the warm night air blowing gently in my face. 

I think of Sevilla and her sharp ears... then, abruptly, of Santa.
Poor old man.
Good luck to him trying to sneak into our house unnoticed...
He's going to need it.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

More miles

Was somewhat struck by the idea tonight that if I want to get better, I need to add in more miles. This is a somewhat shocking theory, I understand. More on this later. It's a pretty radical concept so will need some thorough eking-out before being tested.

No really, I think I need to add more miles.

Running as Play?

This morning as I ran round my neighborhood on something of my normal route, it occurred to me that my legs felt tired. This was not a surprise - I had run 13 miles over steep terrain the day prior, and 8 miles per morning for the two days before that. Such miles are paltry for some, but not for me, and my legs were looking for a little break.

Still, I had decided to add the Sunday morning run in to get a few more miles, so when my mind registered the fatigue, it was noted, then dismissed as any other passing thought.

I live in a residential neighborhood with lots of narrow, winding streets and some steep climbs and descents - nothing tricky, but still interesting enough that you can map out various routes and add in (or leave out) extra climbs as desired without having to wander too far from home. This morning I was planning on running a hilly 4-mile loop twice.

After completing one loop and turning right to head up for the 2nd, my mind was struck by a thought, and I smiled. My legs were tired, but as I chugged up the hill I thought "I wonder if I can negative split the 2nd loop..." I smiled again to myself, pushed up and over the first hill, then began to speed down the back of it and from there, into the straightaway of another residential street.

I felt great (or course, downhills will do that for you), but more than that, I felt lighthearted. For as many runs as I've been on in my lifetime, I am frequently struck by how running brings out the kid in me. More often than not on morning runs I will find myself charging down a dark street an the middle of the road, feeling like a kid on my first bike looking around at the landscape whizzing by as the voice in my mind yells "Wheeeeeeeeeee!" I love the sense of fun, the feeling of play, of begin young at heart, and free, and alive. In those moments I feel lucky and in love with my life.

It was that feeling this morning that took my mind back to an article from earlier in the week regarding the value of this very thing - an example of what the author called "adult play". Sounds risq, but what "adult play" refers to are activities where adults allow themselves to play, or to do something for the experience and joy of it rather than for "work" or a qualitative result.

"Stop right there," I hear you say. "You can't tell me running has nothing to do with a qualitative result. If that were the case, why all this talk of times, training, and getting faster?"

Ok - you've got a point there. But running can be both, can't it? There's joy to be found in traveling over trails and roads and up and down hills, and in the feeling of sweating and sprinting as the world flies by and thoughts move freely through the mind... but that said, many of us also find it fun to get a good result.

It's fun to get faster, more fit; to accomplish what we could not have just months before. In that sense, it's work, and certainly results-focused, but it is still intertwined with fun in a way that integral to it's longevity. If it did not have fun at it's heart, and at times, bursting from the seams... the training would not be worth it. At least, not for long.

The fun is the thing.

But enough about that, and back to the article. This article (by Joe Robinson) is called The Key To Happiness: A Taboo for Adults? and explores the notion that adults focus too much on activities that are deemed productive and rational, while activities of leisure or "personal expressiveness" that do not work towards an external result are seen as "taboo".

While the article does tend to make this trend (if you can call it a trend or even believe it exists at all) sound more black and white than it may actually be, it makes some statements that I found hard to argue.

For example, it is Robinson's belief that play activities are most important in helping us have more meaningful and rewarding lives. Here is one section in particular that jumped out:
Studies show that play reflects more of who you are than your work. When you're engaged in activities of "personal expressiveness," ones that are self-chosen and that reflect intrinsic goals, you're operating from the "true self," says Alan Waterman of the College of New Jersey.
In another part Robinson describes people he met while researching his book, which centers around folks who participate in these personally enriching activities.
Everyone I met had dramatically upgraded self-esteem and a sense of self anchored by something that's supposed to be worthless.
Another recent piece of media that touches on this idea is a Christopher McDougall speech at TEDxPennQuarter. In this clip Chris opens with a story from the NYC Marathon then goes on the cover themes from his book "Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen." 

Towards the end Chris talks the audience about the importance of getting back to the basics of running as it was in older times.

"We've got to... stop focusing on urban marathons, where you know, if you do 4:00:00 you suck, but if you got 3:59:99, you're awesome, because you qualified for another race, and we've got to get back to that sense of playfulness and joyfulness, and I would say, nakedness, that has made the Tarahumara one of the most healthy an serene cultures of our time" Chris says.

The material was familiar, yet I nodded as I watched, for it still resonated. Running serves many purposes - as a fitness tool, a de-stressor, a means of getting from A to B, as a challenge, and as a job (for some arguably lucky folks). But as play?


It's with a feeling of play that we will sometimes pick a point or a hill on the not-too-distant horizon and say "I wonder if I can run to that point." It's with a feeling of play that we will glance out the window, throw on the shoes, and take off down the road with no real idea of where we're going except that we are moving forward on our feet. It's with a feeling of play that we will sometimes look at our fellow runner or pacer and say "Race you to the top of the hill!" And it was with that same feeling of play that I had smiled mischievously and dared myself to negative split the loop, knowing there was no training goal scheduled in that workout other than to cover the miles. It was for the fun of it, that's all... the challenge... and the fun.

We are accused of acting like kids when we do or say things such things... or at least, I have. In retrospect, seems like that's not such a bad thing.

I enjoy acting like a kid, and don't get to do it that much, but maybe need to work on doing it more. For now, I'm glad to be able to do so in those precious minutes of running through the dark streets, leaping over curbs and charging up and down hills in what can feel like an inane effort to beat a goal that was set just a few minutes prior.

I did negative split the loop. Then, like a kid, I gave little "Whoo-hoo!" cheer, then giggled to myself in the street.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Who's afraid of a DNF?

Me. Over here - I am.

Well, maybe afraid isn't the right word... but I don't really enjoy them. I avoid them wherever possible. I find them highly distasteful.

Ok, fine, DNFs suck. And actually, it was that statement exactly that led to me writing this post.

I was told just yesterday that I worry too much about DNFs, and as this feedback came from a seasoned ultrarunning veteran whom I respect highly, it got my attention. And what exactly prompted the feedback? I told a fellow runner that "DNFs suck" and he should "do everything he could not to DNF"...  

I can see how this may give the impression that I hold DNFs in a negative light.

This fellow, my veteran associate, was arguing that I need to re-examine that attitude. And, I decided he's right.

Re-adjusting the attitude

Truth is, his comments did get me thinking, and I realized that I do fear DNFs... and I realized that's not entirely rational. It would be nice to be able to re-frame the concept of a DNF, because, let's face it - they are going to happen.

In fact, if we're not getting DNFs, then we may not be pushing hard enough.

Why? Because some DNFs happen when you dare to enter a race you are not sure you can finish. When you eye up a race, find it challenging, realize you're not even sure you can finish, and then, with a gleam in your eye, say "Aw hell - let's go for it anyway."

I wanna have that gleam in my eye.

I wanna look for the challenging races and decide to go for it, understanding that I might not finish, but damn sure I'll learn something in the process. In fact, this is what I already do... it's what all of us do. We're ultrarunners. It comes with the territory. Whenever we enter an ultra-event, triathlon, or endurance challenge of any kind, we're entering something we may not be able to finish... and along with that comes the possibility of a DNF.

But the probability of a DNF? Well, that part is negotiable. We can increase our odds of finishing by training harder. Training smarter. Understanding what we are getting ourselves into - in the distance, on the course itself - what are the unique challenges? Where have race participants gotten into trouble in the past?

That's where I like to do a little thing called...

Reducing surprises by researching your race

An example of how this works in practice:

Later this year I hope to run in the Plain 100. The Plain 100 is a self-supported 100 mile race in Plain, WA (actually more like 106 or 112 miles, no-one knows for sure... mysterious and alluring, right? Right).

The race caught my eye due to it's low finishing rate and reputation for being a "tough" ultra.

True to my "I'm afraid of a DNF" nature, I vowed a month ago that I shall finish this race, come hell or high water, and I set about doing my research to understand the challenges out there - what are the main reasons people DNF at Plain?

I started out by reading some race reports online; there were several on the race website itself, and more were found by conducting an online search. In either case, I was able to find reports from both finishers and DNFers, and I read reports from both groups with interest. What were some of the techniques the successful folks used? What critical mistakes did the DNFers make? I read the reports earnestly, and scribbled my notes.

In addition to this, I scanned the list of race finishers from previous years, looking for people I knew in the ultrarunning community. When I saw the name of a fellow I know, I e-mailed him, let him know I am intending on entering the race, and asked if he could offer any advice.

Mark's reply was prompt, good-natured, and full of sound advice (Mark would be Mark Swanson, another experienced and highly knowledgeable ultrarunner). Mark was kind enough to share with me how he prepared for the race, what he enjoyed most about it, what took him by surprise, and what he wished he had been better prepared for.

One tip in particular I thought was a great one - he noted that the only aid station was in the middle of the race, between 2 loops, and as this was also the Start/Finish area, it is also the spot where participants leave their cars. From what Mark described, when you finish the first loop and arrive back at your car, you must be fortified against the desire to drop out and stay with your car. As Mark told it, this point on the course can come as it is starting to get dark or may already be dark, so you will feel the pull, the irrepressibly strong desire, to stay with your car and not go back into the dark.

This made a lot of sense to me, and I was glad to have it called out so specifically. On the day or night, when you are tired and your defences are down, I can see being caught of guard by something like that, and it making the difference between finishing the race or deciding not to go on... and I was glad for the warning of this particular siren's call.

Research your race... but what else?

Regarding other ways to ensure a successful finish, these are also fairly common sense, and include the following -
  • Train consistently, covering distances and terrain that will best prepare you for the event you are entering
  • Bring the right equipment for your race - that includes hydration packs, type of trail shoe, weather-specific clothing, etc etc etc...
  • Don't eat, drink, or use anything that you haven't already tested in training
  • Review the course maps - you can never assume all trails will be clearly marked (and if you DO assume that and DNF due to getting lost, you have no-one to blame but yourself. I know this one firsthand).
For those of us who have run races before, this should all be familiar advice... but that doesn't mean we won't occasionally get too confident and forget to follow it (I've definitely been guilty of snagging something yummy-looking from an aid station regardless of if I've had it in training, just because I feel like it and nothing bad has happened yet... we'll see how that continues to go).

But, after all this talk about how to ensure success, at some point, the inevitable will happen. It might be due to injury, hypothermia, hyponatremia, or a number of other conditions or circumstances... but we will find ourselves having to pull out of the event we are in, without finishing. 

And in that event... wait, for it, we're going full circle... it again goes back to attitude. 

Re-framing the DNF

Right now I think of DNFs as scary stuff. Of something looming over me. A DNF means being depressed for weeks, not having closure, that you have to do another race quickly (and finish it) to wipe away the feeling of failure from the first.

This is not the case.

A DNF is the opportunity to grow. To learn - to be stronger and more determined.

On some courses, a DNF (or 2 or 3 or 5) may even be what's neccessary before success can be obtained, because without having that first-hand knowledge, the chances of a successful finish are significantly diminished (Barkely, I'm talking about you... I'd be honored to DNF in such a place).

Given all this... a DNF is not such a bad thing. I still won't go running towards it with open arms (and I don't think that's what my u-lister friend was suggesting) but perhaps I do need to put some of that DNF fear to one side.

I'll still do what I can to avoid them. I'll still train to finish strong, research the event and plan accordingly, then run steady and long, all day and all night, for as long as my legs will carry me... but if I DNF, well...

I shall nod graciously, and accept it from the course as my due... then go home, and start plotting my revenge.