Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Fast and Female: Pink or not, good for them

Was browsing Ellie Greenwood's blog recently (man, she fast!) and was interested to see a story about a group called Fast and Female. I googled it to learn more. 

What is "Fast and Female"?

As detailed to their mission statement (in full here), this group is dedicated to "the empowerment through sport of young women ages 9 to 19."

This is accomplished in several ways; mainly by hosting events featuring female endurance athletes and leaders who might serve as role models and inspire the girls to "gain the confidence and leadership they need to reach their full potential in life and sports." 

The group currently operates in Canada only. Ellie Greenwood is one of their ambassadors. 

Trends for women in sports

I've recently been considering females in sports (in running, specifically) which is why this group caught my eye. In particular, the number of men vs. women in ultrarunning is something to consider. There's a large imbalance there; in some races I've seen women making up as little as 5-10% of the total field, though I think the larger races are much more balanced, so that statistic is hardly representative of the sport as a whole.

Based on my own experiences and those of my friends (hardly scientific) I'd say some reasons for there being fewer women in ultrarunning includes the following:
  1. For women who choose to have children, the time and energy required during pregnancy, nursing, and the raising of young children can be a long-term interruption to training and longer-term physical goals (though some navigate through these constraints regardless, it cannot be argued that it's not a challenge).
  2. Women don't consider endurance and competitive events as readily as men, as they are not as consistent with traditional gender stereotypes.
These are highly subjective guesses from a novice ultrarunner. I have no idea of the true reasons for the lowered numbers of females in ultras are, but I'm interested to learn more about it.

After all, the more people that have access to running and to sport in general, the better - better for one's personal health and wellness, better for the family, better for the community.

But, when it comes to ultrarunning and endurance events, women in particular seem to be less likely to take these one - that's interesting! Do they not know what they are missing? Is there something about ultras that is more appealing to men? Or, are there other reasons... and what are they?

But, back to Fast and Female.

The fact that this group exists is wonderful, as is their mission. The extensive use of pink on their website and e-boutique, however, was more than a little offputting... not that I have a problem with the color pink, which is used to great effect and to evoke a certain feeling and emotion in the campaign for National Breast Cancer Awareness.

In the case of Fast and Female, however, I find it hard to believe it will resonate with the majority of females in sports... but, that's a personal opinion, and pink or not, good for them. Our kids, both male and female, need strong positive role models - kudos to Fast and Female for giving such role models a platform.

As for me, I'd like to learn more about women in ultrarunning - what are the challenges that females in their 20s, 30s, and 40s face with regard to ultras, and are they gender-specific, or similar to those that men face?

I don't know the answers, but my little mind is thinking on it... and running on.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

SBER coutdown: One week to go!

A week from now, I'll be running the Santa Barbara Endurance Race 100 miler.


Ok, there, that's off my chest.

I haven't been thinking about it nearly enough. I have been... but I haven't been. There has just been so much other stuff floating around and through and over my noggin... but frankly, me not thinking about it makes me nervous.

Being nervous, in turn, makes me think about it... so, problem solved? Perhaps. Maybe not.

It's a bit of an unknown - some would say a large unknown. It's the first year this race will be run, following two years of the race being advertised (as the DTRE) and then canceled/postponed for what were logistical reasons, I believe.

On the up-side, the runners this year have been getting regular, detailed updates from the Race Director regarding what we can and can't expect on the trail. In terms of communication, the RD is doing a great job so far.

As for the course itself, there have been a few changes made, most recently at the request of the Los Padres National Forest Ranger due to the above average rainfall we've had this year. We've been e-mailed the final route, and while the elevation charts and aid station maps have yet to be posted, in the meantime I can get busy learning the route. 

Challenges I foresee with this race:

I'll be crewing myself. This both thrills me and worries me. Thrills me because for me, the ultimate challenge of a 100 miler is the mental aspect, and being without a crew will force me to be even more self-sufficient and draw on my own reserves to get through. It will be a great test for me, considering the emotional lows I felt in the last two 100 milers I participated in.

For the same reason, it worries me - but ultimately I would rather go for it than shrink from it. Let's see what happens. I'm determined to see this one through.

I will miss my family out there, though - that much I know. Let it be all the more motivation to get to the finish.

Nutrition. As much as I like to think a handful of ultras makes me a pro, I am still figuring this one out. In both my 100 milers I have begun weaving and getting wacky after 50-60 miles - due to the physical symptoms this would seem to be due to an electrolyte imbalance.

I have a fuel plan in place, but the important thing will be sticking to it. 

Water. In an infamous prior race from this Race Director, the aid stations ran out of water. Due to the RD's demonstrated diligence after this event, however, I'm optimistic that he took this as a very tough lesson learned, and it will not happen on this course.

That said... I will be packing bottles of water in my drop bags. It's just too important to chance.

I'm hoping it all goes smoothly on the day!

Oh, one more thing... I'll be sleeping in a covered wagon at the camp site the night before the race. It's literally a covered wagon. How cool is that?

Monday, April 18, 2011

A great way to end the day

I took to the streets for a quick seven mile run. Expecting weariness at the day's end, I was happily surprised to find a lightness and joy in each step. 

I jogged easily up the hill and over the top; danced over the backside, then zoomed towards the streets below. Dark shadows dipped between the streetlights. I stepped around them and through them, eying the bushes carefully for skunks or naughty neighbor's children who I sometimes imagine waiting there to leap out and scare the bejesus out of me. None came. 

My legs felt light and fresh. The day of rest and extra hour in bed that had seemed so slovenly that morning now seemed extremely worthwhile. I ran down the hill feeling lucky and free.

Seven miles passed quickly, each as easy as the first. as I descended the final hill I marveled at my overwhelming feeling of being light yet strong, quick yet tough. In the final stretch I hear a pack of dogs howling from the hillside and felt as though they were singing for me. 

Once inside the house, the sirens came... and then the helicopter. For fifteen minutes, it circled the neighborhood, the police spotlight searching the bushes below.

They weren't looking for skunks... or maybe they were, what do I know.

I hoped it was a false alarm and wished they would be on their way quickly... after all, their presence in my neighborhood will do little to support my case when I look to take to the streets again tomorrow.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Taking the plunge: Deciding to run 100 miles

While recently browsing a fellow runner's blog, I stumbled across a link I have recently searched for without success - it was the website that first inspired me to run 100 miles. I was glad to find it again, having been quite moved by the words that were written there, and was curious to re-read the words that had inspired me so.

The idea had been taking some shape prior to reading this fellow's account, but had never taken much shape - after reading his account, however, I was gripped by the notion. I would not be able to shake it until I had a 100 mile run successfully under my belt.

Others may be motivated by different accounts, but this is the one that did it for me: How to Run 100 Miles.

It's a long page, so besides linking to it, I've also pulled out the specific passage that struck a chord. Here it is, broken into several sections to make it easier to read:
"When the sun goes down it can take your spirit with it. The darkness will suck the life right out of you if you allow it to. Your mind must take full control at this point because your body wants to sleep. Allowing your mind to overcome the body is what will help you persevere throughout the nighttime hours. It' s a matter of how much you want it at this point.
"Think about what it is that motivated you to attempt to run the distance in the first place. Were you teased as a child? Were you picked on by a friend or family member or do you just feel the need to prove something to yourself? Whatever it is use the energy from these situations that may normally cause anger or frustration to your advantage.
"Keep your mind occupied with something other than pain or distance remaining. If with someone talk as much as possible. Silence normally means you're not staying focused and you're allowing thoughts of doom and gloom to enter your mind. If you persevere until the sun rises I promise you new life will be given."
This last statement in particular gripped me - I needed to know what that feeling was like, and would not rest until I found that out!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

From the Barkley, Inspiration to Keep Going "Out There"

From Barkley runners have come two inspirational passages that I think will help will through my own tough times in ultra races. The first is from Joe Lea's blog. The second is from David Horton.

Truely, there are many other inspirational stories from the veterans of the Barkley, but I will begin with these. I reference them here so they might similarly be a source of inspiration to others.

Quote 1: From Joseph Lea's Blog Mile Zero

Joseph Lea ran in the Barkley this year for the first time ever. On April 1st he posted a quote by an anonymous author under the heading "Waiting for the Barkley Start."

It's a brief passage, but insightful:

"When your body starts to betray you and you feel totally defeated mentally, remember this: You are not this body. You are not these thoughts. You are a beautiful and perfect soul deeply connected to a much larger universe. And running five loops at Barkley is but a drop in the ocean of all of the Self's potential achievements. So. You will keep going.
Try, as best you can, not to identify with the body or with the thoughts. Get connected to something much, much bigger than the small self. Let the mind empty of everything else."
By the end of the weekend, Joe had successfully completed the Barkley Fun Run - congratulations to him and the other eight runners who accomplished this feat in 2011!

Quote 2: From Dr. David Horton in Running Through the Wall

Running Through the Wall: Personal Encounters with the Ultramarathon is a collection of stories from ultrarunners gathered by Neal Jamison. In this book there are two chapters about the Barkley: a chapter by Blake Wood about his five-loop attempt in 2000, and one by David Horton about his attempt the following year.

In the chapter by David, he describes the 2001 Barkley and how he and Blake Wood "decided to work together" to try to be the first Americans to finish the 100-mile event.

David's account is understated but compelling. He describes how the first three loops were "uneventful," but at the end of loop four, both men were feeling much worse for wear. As David put it, he was expecting at that point that their race had ended, but when he asked Blake if he was ready to go out on loop five, his companion replied that he was, and they set off on loop five together.

In the previous loop the men had discussed books they enjoyed, and Alfred Lansing's Endurance about Ernest Shackleton's survival at the South Pole and Antarctica was found to be enjoyed very much by both men.

In their discussion, they marvelled at Shackleton's toughness. "It helped take out minds off our own discomfort," David wrote.

In loop five, David reports how terrible he began to feel:

"I felt horrible. The thought of another lap was horrendous. I said 'Blake, I really don't want to go on. I really don't feel like doing this. I really, really want to stop.'

"Blake was quiet for a little while, then he said to me, 'What do you think Ernest Shackleton would have done?'

"That was like taking a knife and sticking it in my heart. I was crushed. I knew what Shackleton would have done. He knew what Shackleton would have done. Shackleton would have gone on! Shackleton didn't have a choice. When you are in a situation like that, you go on.

"Kind of like Shackleton, we were in a special situation. We had the opportunity to make history: to be the first Americans to ever finish the hardest 100-miler in the world. We stood quiet for a few moments, then, just like Shackleton, we went on."
David Horton and Blake Wood became the first Americans to finish five loops of the Barkley that year. An amazing and inspirational account.

A common theme

What these two quotes have in common is the theme of perseverance and persistance in the face of extreme circumstances.

What the race takes that turn from being "unremarkable" or even enjoyable to being a real slog - when the rubber hits the road and you really have to hang in there with everything you have; when everything in your heart and mind is telling you to stop - what are you going to do?

I'll be asking myself this in my upcoming races. My thanks to these men for providing the inspiration to myself and many others - we will continue to cheer you on in your efforts!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

2011 Barkley Results

Well, unless you're been so busy running you've had no time to connect to the online running world, you'll know that a little race called the Barkley recently occurred.

As always, there was much anticipation around this event, and it was great to receive regular updates from those on the scene as the runners passed through camp.

In the end there were nine runners that completed the fun run: Brett Maune, Alan Abbs, Carl Laniak, Travis Wildeboer, Blake Wood, Nick Hollon, Joe Lea, James Demur, and Jon Barker.

Of these, two men progressed to loop 4 - Brett and Carl. Brett alone began loop 5 - and finished in 57:20 (unofficial time), becoming the 10th person to ever finish all five loops of the Barkley Marathons 23 years of the event being held.

To read race reports and see pictures from those who attended, go to Matt Mahoney's Barkley Marathons Page and scroll down past the 2011 Results.

More notes are to follow.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Developing the competitive spirit: So what if your parents let you win?

I was out with the kids and my husband on the grounds of USC today, and as usual when on that campus, we freely availed ourselves of the grassy hills and wide-open spaces by running and playing over as much of the grounds as we could.

After playing like a fool with the kids for a while, it was my husband's turn, and I stood back to catch my breath. Our daughter initiated a game of tag with my husband, and I watched them, amused. She kept running up to tap him on the leg and say "Tag, you're it," but as soon as she turned to run away, he would swat her easily on the back or hip as she ran and say "No, you're it!" 

After this they would both laugh, then she would spin to chase him again and the cycle would repeat itself. As I watched, our daughter began to get frustrated with the ease with which he tagged her back despite her best efforts to away quickly. Each time he tagged her, I noticed her shoulders slump sharply, and she'd let out an increasingly disappointed "Awww!"

"Give her a moment to get away," I said quietly but firmly to my husband after watching this for a few minutes.

"No!" he said, as he swatted her yet again on the back as she ran after tagging him yet again. "This will build her competitive spirit!"

I smiled and shrugged, knowing she was enjoying the game, and also not certain that my suggestion was the right one - rather, I just knew it was what I would do in that situation. 

But, I reasoned, I'm the mommy. He's the daddy. There's a difference. 

At least, there had been a difference in my family. In my family, my mom was the more nurturing one, the one who was quick to hug, cuddle, or offer a compliment or reassurance. As for my dad, he was also nurturing - a kind and gentle man. But he was also an honest man; direct, and less willing to coddle. If he saw something a certain way, he'd tell me so. For example, at age 17 after I returned home from my first semester at school in the UK, he was the only one who pointed out that I'd gained a few pounds - and by few, I mean 15-20.

My mom would never have done that.

Similar to not being able to speak his mind, my dad was also unable to hold back in physical or strategic games. When playing checkers, he always won. I never won, not once. Not even a pity win. I was never good enough. In a wrestling match, he always won. He was 6'4" tall and I was less than 10 years old, so really, I guess the outcome was inevitable, but I still fought as hard as I could ever time... and every time, he pinned me easily, until I cried.

At my tears, my dad would always immediately let up and tell me he was no longer going to play with me - after all, it didn't make him feel good to drive his daughter to tears - but I would beg and plead with him to play, certain that I could beat him just once if I just tried hard enough... so we'd try again, and sure enough, as mightily as I would fight, he'd pin me again... and again I'd burst into tears.

My dad simply didn't see why he should lessen his game, beit checkers or wrestling, to make it easier for me to win. I guess he didn't think he was doing me any favors that way.

I'll never know the exact reason why - my dad passed away when I was 19 years old. He died very suddenly in our home in the early hours of the morning. It was a stroke... he never knew what hit him.

Even if he hadn't died suddenly, however, I'd probably still never know. After all, "Why didn't you ever let me win at checkers," was probably not at the top of the list of topics requiring investigation. But still, watching my husband play with our daughter on this day... it made me wonder.

Why is it that my mom and I would ease-up or "play dumb" to let our children win, while our male counterparts would not? And, more interesting... which approach was right?

At first thought, rather predictably, I felt certain my way was best - after all, I reasoned, it's more important to encourage a child by allowing them to experience and relish success, than to crush their spirits by never allowing them to win.

But then, I realized this: it's not that my husband and dad never wanted us to experience the joy of winning - it's that they wanted us to earn it. What's more, they refused to cheapen the experience by giving it away.

Some may think I'm reading too much into this - it was a game of tag, for goodness sake - but I have seen this tendency in my husband before and in other parents, and it always intrigues me.

As for what's best, I think the (somewhat convenient) answer is that what we are doing now with our kids is best - that is, we have one parent who coddles them a bit more and allows them to celebrate smaller victories, and we have one parent who challenges them more to hit harder, jump higher, turn sharper... tag faster.

If my kids are like me, they will end up appreciating both of these styles for different reasons. My mom was always the one I'd turn to when I needed comforting or a soft place to fall, and that, I appreciated to no end. My dad, on the other hand, was the one I went to for more sage advice... there was no sugar coating with my dad, and I valued his opinion highly for that very reason. When my mom gave her opinion, it was easier to brush it off... she was the softie; she was my mom. But when my dad talked - you listened. And when my dad gave a compliment - you knew it was earned.

As for that win in the game of checkers, that was something I never earned - not sharp enough for him, I guess. But I kept trying. It light a fire under me, and I kept trying... I'd leave each game disappointed, cursing inwardly as I just couldn't believe he'd won so easily yet again... but still, I'd always be back for more, every time.

Watching my husband, I had initially thought he was teaching our daughter that she could not beat him, that she was not good enough... but perhaps he was teaching her perseverance.

After all, Sevilla never stopped running, not even as he tagged her again and again, just seconds after she tagged him... she kept going back for more. As had happened with the wrestling, the game was halted only when the parent said "Ok, that's enough!"

In both cases, it was not the child that called "uncle" first... it was the parent.

It's ok that I'll never get to play another game of checkers with my dad - I was never that good at it in the first place. But I'd love to hear what he thought about trail running. About ultras. About 100 mile races. About a lot of things, really.

But, I can only guess these things, and that's ok. I'll just smile and continue to watch my own children laugh and run and play.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Running through lunch

Today I decided to start taking advantage of my new LA Fitness gym membership and squeeze in a few extra miles on my lunch break, with very positive results.

When I've tried to do this with other gyms it's been too rushed and a little stressful, but this gym is close enough that I can get there within ten minutes, and changed within three.

Today I ran for 45 minutes on the treadmill, getting 5 miles in. All told, I was back at work inside of 80 minutes, and considering this included me getting hopelessly lost as I tried to make my way back though the hall of mirrors and corridors they call a cardio-wing in search of the women's locker rooms, I think that was pretty slick. Next time, I can probably shave that down to a 75-minute-or-less round trip.

Not only was it a great way to get a few extra miles in, but it invigorated my spirit, and I went into my 1PM meeting fresh and energized.