Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


Releasing the Dark Pacer

In just ten days, I will be standing at the starting line of my first 50K race.

The question “Am I prepared?” floats around in my mind frequently, but for the last few days I have been batting it away like a hungry mosquito, with the answer “Doesn’t matter – it’s too late to do anything about it now, anyway.” I’ve completed my last long run now, so for better or worse, I am as ready as I’m ever going to be (insert other applicable cliché phrases here). But has my training been good enough to get me through 31 miles of dirty, hilly trails? I find that as that date gets closer, I’m spending more and more time letting every conflicting opinion I come across seep into my brain and allow me to doubt myself.

I recently downloaded the book Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons (Bryon Powell), and while searching it desperately for tidbits of information that might help me out during the race, I have been sweating bullets whenever I come across an especially intimidating reference or recommendation about training for an ultra. Back-to-back long runs, double-run days, 10-12 mile “short” runs, tempos, intervals, strength training and so on. I have done few of those things and none of them in any sort of dedicated manner. So when I read things like this my openly confident “slacker training” theory begins to feel loose and shaky. There seems to be no way this author would consider my rather lackadaisical training to be good enough. And even though I shouldn’t care what this author would think of my training, I can’t help but attach his imagined opinion to my own feelings about it.

Because I have no reference for understanding how prepared (or not) I am for such a distance, I’ve taken to comparing myself to others…to trainers, authors, friends – a decidedly deleterious habit. My mind fills with negative rationalizations like “but he’s been doing back-to-back long runs, and I haven’t,” and “but she’s already run a marathon and I haven’t.” All things designed to help me believe that I’ll never succeed. Conversely, I’m easily relieved whenever someone admits their own ultra training has been lazy or substandard (and yet they did fine), or assures me in some other way that my current level of training is adequate.

My self-confidence has been hopelessly tied to the beliefs and experiences of other people, and it’s because I quite literally cannot wrap my head around the enormity of what I’m about to undertake. I mean, thirty-one miles? Who can picture that distance? From where I’m standing, a 50K might as well be 100 miles. Or a thousand. It’s all too much for me to understand right now, and so all I have to draw from is the stories of others.

I think this is precisely why a lot of people tend to ask the question “how will I know if I’m ready?” The answer is you can’t possibly know if you don’t know yet. I realize that’s a strange sentence but it makes sense in my brain.

As I have experienced triumphs and failures throughout my training, a few people have told me that they think I’m too hard on myself. I’m not sure I agree. The reality is that I’m both too hard and too easy on myself, depending on which day you’re referring to. In the last four months I have enjoyed moments of pure, intense confidence, and I’ve endured an equal amount of delirious uncertainty. It’s a mixed bag.

My emotions about this race stay with me, like a faithful pacer, with every mile I train. Or, more accurately, there are two pacers – one in white, who congratulates my efforts, and a dark one (perhaps like Dexter Morgan’s dark passenger?) who chides every missed opportunity to further my training.

Maybe everyone has a dark passenger.

But now my training is over, and I have no more pacers. I’ll just have my legs, my determination and my friends to keep me going on race day. I just hope none of them asks me how many back-to-back long runs I’ve done.

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Wallis Sands Half Marathon Race Report

Photo “borrowed” from the Wallis Sands site (click photo for link).

Just in case I’ve got any readers who may have somehow been lead to believe that I’m not a hack that I’ve run a lot of long distance races, let me correct your misinformation here and now: I’m still a relative noob. Up to this point I have never run a race longer than a half marathon, and the Wallis Sands half marathon was only my second half marathon. Like, ever.

In fact, Wallis Sands has been my first race longer than a 5K since last June. But not for a lack of trying, though. If you are sort of new to reading my blog, you may not have seen the solid three-month-long block of posts on the subject of being out of commission due to a major foot injury last summer (and lucky you). The suckiest part of all is that if you count the time it took me to re-train myself, I was set back nearly a year of progress, and gained ten pounds as well. So this half mary was a triumph of sorts for me.

Last year I ran Great Bay. It was extremely hilly (something I didn’t know until the day before the race when I picked up my race packet and a shirt with “These Legs Conquered the Hills of Great Bay” printed on the back) and my lack of preparedness for those hills had me struggling through it at the end. So this year I signed up for the other really popular New Hampshire spring half marathon. It was almost totally flat. And the irony of it is that since last year’s half I’ve acquired a love of hills, so it was a bit boring to run such a flat road race. Ah well, such is life.

I signed up for this race with my friend John, who wanted to run his first half this year.  I’m certainly no veteran of the half marathon, but it was pretty cool to witness his milestone experience.

And it was nice to approach the starting line with some basic knowledge of the distance. Much unlike last year’s half, I’ve run farther than 13 miles now and I understand a bit more how to pace myself, how much water and fuel I require for the distance and how tired I’ll feel at the end. Per experience, I had fully expected to become tired enough to take walk breaks by mile 7 or so, little did I know at the starting line that I’d be surprising myself soon.

My bib had a yellow stripe on it. It had been so long since I’d signed up that I couldn’t even remember what finish time I’d selected, but the race went in heats (which I thought was genius) and yellow meant I was heat 4. Luckily John’s bib was the same color as mine so we got to stand around the starting line together, me in my INKnBURN skirt and him in his bright red Devil’s Chase race tee. We exchanged anxious grins and absorbed the excitement in the air around us. But as soon as the gun blared, he took off ahead, and I took out my mantra.

Don’t go fast. Don’t follow the crowd. Don’t go fast. Don’t follow the crowd. This is not a race for you – it’s just a training run for the 50K.

And I didn’t go fast or follow the crowd. I sunk into a nice conservative 11:30 pace right away and really just happily stayed there, determined not to use up too much energy. I enjoyed the overcast, 45-degree morning. For the first few miles the ocean was to my left, just over the rocks near the road. It was pretty amazing to look at, and, amazingly, it was also the first time I’d ever gone for a run so close to the ocean. Being that I’m an insatiable ocean lover I realize that this is preposterous. At any rate it sweetened those first few miles that are always hardest for me to get through.

Early on I caught up and began chatting with a woman in her 50’s, whom I later found out was from my hometown and knew one of my cousins in high school. Then, like an alarm going off, I had to pee. I always have to pee about a mile or two into my long runs. Why is this? As if on cue, we came up to a porta-potty and I dived in. I’ve probably never peed so fast in my life. I jumped back out and banged out an 8-minute mile to catch up with the group I was in before my pit-stop. The woman in her 50’s was now talking with someone else so I paced in behind her, hooked an earphone into my right ear and started chugging at 11:30 again.

Photo “borrowed” from the Wallis Sands site (click photo for link).

During the race I passed water stop after water stop, snagging a water and a gatorade each time to be sure I took in enough fluids. John got smaller ahead of me, until he was just a little red dot in a sea of black, blue and gray. I didn’t mind it at all; I enjoyed the relative quiet of the runners around me. I felt like I was with them, silently one of them.

Like I said before I fully expected to start walk breaks somewhere around mile 7, because, well…that’s my usual modus operandi. But at mile 7 I felt fine. I was two miles into my first Gu (those things never get easier to choke down, do they?) and feeling hydrated enough. I was still doing fine by mile 8, and still by mile 9 – even though my GI tract was starting its usual fuss and noise, which I was, however, successfully ignoring. The flatness of the course made it so incredibly easy that I was covering the miles with little trouble. And so by then I decided I might as well just stick it out the rest of the way.

Soon after, I started passing some of the people who had blown by me back at mile 1, and John-the-red-dot started getting bigger again. I caught up to him somewhere after mile 10 and although he was still plugging along, he looked a little tuckered (later I found out that he hadn’t consumed anything but water for the whole race). He was busy concentrating on his run so I continued on and soon he was lost again behind me.

That’s when I realized I was having a really good race. I only had two miles left and I hadn’t stopped to walk even once. Sure, my feet were a little tired in spots and my hips were achey, but I’ve grown used to those minor pains and they don’t really bother me much anymore. My IT band was fine, my lungs felt great, and even though I was slowing down a bit (I was riding a 12 minute mile by then), I was thrilled.

The only annoying thing was the mile markers were WAY off throughout the whole race. And because I stupidly trust mile markers on USATF Certified race courses, I thought my Garmin was dying when it was beeping almost a half mile after I’d passed each marker. Then, mile 12…well, mile 12 was a mile and a half long. Looks like the guys they sent out to set down the markers were off from the start, and didn’t go back to fix their mistake. Yeah, pretty evil.

Photo “borrowed” from the Wallis Sands site (click photo for link).

Even though the last mile was a bit brutal, being right on the beach again made it a little easier to take. And then, soon as I came around a bend and saw the tents near the finish line, “The Final Countdown” played on my iPod – true story. It’s like that song has a sixth sense or something. I grinned big and bore down on that last quarter mile like I had zombies chasing me. I finished 13.1 again, and this time I did it with a big smile on my face, instead of tears. And despite being ten pounds heavier than I was last year, I finished three minutes faster, and pain-free. It felt like breaking a curse.

But now the Final Countdown has truly begun. Pineland 50K, Memorial Day weekend. Will I finish? Will I DFL? Will I die? The answer is still two weeks away, my friends, so stay tuned. But at the very least I plan to enjoy it as much as I can and, when in doubt, do my best to smile like a badass.

Or maybe I’ll just follow Kate Kift‘s advice and wear a pink tutu.


Slacker Theory

“Hey Trish, how’s the 50k training going?”

The answer is….well, it’s…going. Going where, you ask? Who the hell knows! Not that I can figure out how to answer that question satisfactorily, anyway. Every time I try, the following obdurate facts stomp through my head:

  • My longest training run so far is 14 miles (until Saturday, hopefully)
  • I haven’t run long for the past two weekends, due to life
  • I can’t even find the training plan I printed out in February
  • My left foot has been acting like a spoiled army brat

I feel like I’m supposed to report these facts to everyone who inquires about my training, as if they are some sort of disclaimer for my slacker ways.

But I guess I wouldn’t look so much like a slacker to you if you were my next race.

The Wallis Sands half marathon is on May 6th. It’s my “Birthday Run,” and I’m going with my friend Kirby. It will be my second half marathon race ever, and I am totally confident. As long as I don’t do anything stupid like attempt to race it, the event should be a piece of cake. Naturally I’m trying to ignore the fact that it’s a road half marathon and I hate roads. More on that later.

Now I am going to take a moment to admit that it positively tickles me to call this half marathon a “training run.” Okay, moment over.

And what about the 50k itself? Am I scared, nervous, intimidated by the thought of running perhaps twice as far as I’ll ever have before then? Strangely…no. I have none of those feelings. Or, perhaps more accurately, I’ve gotten over them. My head is totally in it now, and I am experiencing nothing but excitement and anticipation. Like a 5 year-old forcing herself to fall asleep on Christmas Eve, I simply cannot wait for May 27th to arrive.

I know this race is going to be hard for me. Really hard. But with the understanding that a race like this is 90% heart and soul, I’ve built a little theory of my own about it. My theory is that no matter what sub-par training I’ll have under my belt by race day, I’ll still be somewhere on the mid-to-high end of the “Total Slacker” scale. And therefore, barring injury, I should at least be able to finish by cut off time. Even though, in pure slacker-style perfection, it is fully possible that I may even acquire my first DFL (dead-fucking-last).

And that will still be good enough for the books.

I mean, there are certain facts that I accept about my current self: I’m slow (averaging 12mm on a long run if I don’t have to walk), I’m kinda fat, and I’m not all that experienced as a distance runner. But another fact about me is I’ve always been excellent at overcoming roadblocks and adversities. So why would something like a few extra pounds stop me?

Answer is, it won’t.

And neither will all the people reading this who are shaking their heads, thinking I’m an idiot for attempting a 50k at all. You can’t stop a steam train once it’s full speed ahead. Even if it is a slacker of a steam train.

If you’ve been around long enough to read my previous posts about this race, then you’re probably wondering why I sound like a completely different person now. It’s because I am a different person.

I’ve become a slacker trail runner.

That’s right. I might be a total noob who doesn’t (yet) deserve to walk the ranks (yet) of the ultra-marathoner (yet). But I finally found my confidence for this race, and it came to me the day I uncovered my true, abiding love for the trail.

I know the exact moment it happened, too. It was the day I turned an 11-mile long run into a 13-miler, and would have kept going if it wasn’t getting dark and if I hadn’t already been out of water for two miles. It was the moment I chose the hilly trail over the one that stayed flat, and then grinned like a shithead the whole way up. My feet still didn’t hurt by mile 10, and my IT band never hurt at all. It was the very second that I finally learned how to cruise over rocks and sand as blissfully as my dog, Oscar. And yes, it made me into a different runner. A better runner. I’ve been a better runner ever since.

Even if I still am a slacker.

So, screw the obdurate facts. Screw the numbers, the mileage per week, and fuck all these ridiculous training expectations. I’m chomping at the bit, and one way or another I’m going to chew up Pineland on May 27th.

Like a prize fighter bracing for the first hit, I’m ready.

Sidenote: I got my Team SquirrelWipe shirt in the mail the other day! Who wouldn’t be excited to be part of this ridiculous team with Jason Robillard, Shelley Robillard, Brad Waterson, Sheree Dunwell, Adam Gentile and Heather Wiatrowski? Especially when you get to wear an equally ridiculous shirt designed by my friend Krista at ZapsThreads and inspired by Jason’s latest book endeavor:

Watch out, we're kinda grabby.

See you at Pineland.