Saturday, August 27, 2011
Like childbirth, as the ache slowly leaves my muscles, so too do the painful memories of the race, and I am even considering running again some time next week. :) Charlie and Alan, fellow trail trashers who attended TR this year, sum it up like this: There are three kinds of fun:
Type 1 fun is "it was awesome!" kind of fun.
Type 2 is "it was only fun when looking back".
Type 3 fun is "it wasn't fun at all, the only reason is could be called fun at all is for the story telling value….as in “we all survived”.
Right now I’m wavering between 1 and 2. Which is why I waited a few days post race to complete this blog. Because otherwise it just would have been a lot of bitching and moaning and no one would ever consider attending this race, and no doubt would be questioning my sanity, for doing something so clearly painful.
I don’t know that I would use a “fun” scale to assess Trans Rockies. Rather, did you learn from it, was it worth the experience. While the social aspect, meeting others who are passionate about the same things as you, comparing feet around the campfire (yes, runners are a little odd and when put in a room with other runners will naturally default to comparing battle scars and charm you with details of bowel movements and voiding on the trails) was fun, I can’t yet say that the actual running was “fun”. It was a heck of a lot of work. I have to work really hard at running. First of all, I'm not one of those naturally skinny runners and in running, a few pounds makes a huge difference. Secondly and not in order of importance, my daughters are the most important thing in the world to me and my time with them is precious, so giving up any time with them means that it damn well better be worth it. I trained really hard for this race, took time away from my beautiful girls and work, and focused a lot of my energy into doing well. So while there are times that I run purely for pleasure, and plan to pick my way through the alps on foot one day going at whatever speed I like and stopping as often as I want to, this was a race. I had set goals and was pretty determined to succeed no matter how much my body protested. Fun wasn’t really on my menu during the race. Not until stage 7 when the tequila shots came out anyways.
But there is no question in my mind that it was an unbelievable experience. And I have absolutely no regrets. So in a way, it was a bit of a number 3 type of fun. Unless you are one of those people who has mastered living in the moment, which I try very hard to do on a daily basis, it’s hard not to think about a warm bed while you’re sleeping in a cold wet tent with someone snoring beside you, hunger pains ripping at your stomach. Or to think of a hot tub and a glass of wine and dinner parties with friends while you’re climbing a relentless hill with 14 blisters shooting pain into your feet, knowing full well that there is no way out of this other than admitting defeat (not really an option), and that you still have another 25km to run. Or to wonder if you're a good mother because you've left your children at home in pursuit of something totally selfish and self-fulfilling. But the truth is, when you’re in your warm bed, or having that dinner party or glass of wine, it’s just that much more enjoyable because you have fully experienced the other end of the spectrum. To know pleasure, we must know pain. To know love, we must know indifference. To know joy, we must experience sorrow. And I would rather live my life experiencing every inch of that spectrum than to stagnate in my comfort zone.
This race was one of the toughest weeks of my life. Unlike last year, where everything was new and just completing the event meant that I had succeeded because when I signed up I didn’t even think it was possible, this year I had some very specific goals. Rosemarie and I wanted to do well. We wanted to be on the podium and we were willing to fight for it.
And fight it was. This year’s open women’s category was stacked. We realized this on the first day when we beat last year’s winning time and still only placed 3d. For example - Brianna Torres is a previous USA marathon trials competitor (2:44). Cynthia Arnold can run 2:54 for her best marathon and recently placed 2nd at Pikes Peak. Team Inov-8’s Amy Lane is an avid 100miler. And when we crossed the finish line on day 6, we had only held 2nd by a margin of 17 seconds. Absolutely crazy considering we had just run 120 miles. But that’s how tight it was every day. There was literally no time for anything and no room for screwing up.
A word on my partner: she is not human. She is a super human with apparently incredible pain tolerance and ability to work on almost no fuel, in a human’s body. :) In all honesty though, Rosemarie Gerspacher has incredible strength. We didn’t know each other that well going into this race and she was clearly much stronger than I. For the most part, runners are not team players, including myself, so this event is a challenge for everyone. I know that Rosemarie struggled in having to wait for me or go at my pace. The days I tried to stay with her I just blew up and couldn’t get my legs to come back. The days we started slowly, which is usually not my style, we were able to keep running on hills that others walked, and to slowly overtake one team at a time. Almost every team has one strong and one “less strong” runner. Doing well at this event is about working together. Going into this race I was absolutely against towing I experienced it for a few moments last year when Martin Gaffuri tried to tow me on day 6 and I was having none of it. But this year, I was literally told by last year's winner Max King that if we wanted to do well, we were going to have to suck it up. “Amy, you think my partners like being towed? You think they don’t have to put their egos aside? Deal with it.” and he hands me his tow rope in exchange for my pink Arc’teryx running skirt which I have to say looked incredible on him ;).
I’m not going to write about each stage of the race now that it’s over. Essentially each day went like this: wake up at 530am, force feed yourself even though you want to vomit, try to hold a conversation with other blurry headed runners, try not to be too negative, consider going back to tent and hiding, consider checking in at local movie theatre for the day, crap! ok fine i’ll line up on the start line but i don’t plan to make it to the finish, self talk yourself into positive thinking, take tylenol and advil and other supplements that make you feel like you have a chance in hell at not feeling pain, hydrate, balance electrolytes, line up at the medic tent to have your feet wrapped and pray that the tape will hold the skin in place for one more day, actually line up on start line, feel overwhelming sense of community and camaraderie as you look around at the incredible people standing there in the cold with you, feeling just as much pain and reluctance as you yet lining up anyways, feel that surge in your heart and let it overflow through your eyes for a second, swallow, insert earphones, start watch and ipod, and then the gun goes off. Start running, legs are burning, lungs are searching for oxygen knowing full well you’re working on about half of what you’re used to... and then.... you just drop into this zone. A zone of the present. And really, I have to be grateful for this because while there are moments throughout the day where I go somewhere else, think of my kids or that hot tub, I probably spend 99 % of the time fully present. Picking my line on a technical down hill, calming my breathing, assessing blood sugar and whether or not it’s worth the effort of getting a gel out of my pocket and trying to swallow water, while breathing, without stopping so that Rosemarie doesn’t kill me. Choke, breath, splutter, swallow, breath.
If you’re interested, you can view the stages here:
So what did I learn from this event? Not to give up. Day six was tough. It was tough in every way it can be and just when I thought the pain was about to stop, they threw in another relentless hill. We knew we were in 3d place but had no idea by how much. Because we hadn’t seen the 2nd place team all day I had no idea whether they had dropped out or were so far ahead of us that we had completely lost our 15 minute lead from the day before. But I refused to give up. Because who knows, it could come down to 17 seconds. And it did. Zac and Stephanie lost 2nd in the mixed category by 10 seconds. That could have been us. So I’m glad that I didn’t surrender to the pain, or throw a tantrum at being the weaker link on the team.
Thank you to all of you for your prayers and positive thoughts and good energy you sent during our race. It was tangible when I called on it. Thank you to my sponsors, Arc’teryx, Vega and Inov-8 for making this event within reach for me. Thank you to my coach Cal Zarytski for believing in me and writing an incredible program! Thank you to the Trans Rockies crew, who went out of their way for us at every opportunity especially Matt Pasley, Tyson Greenman, Memphis Jo, Cynthia Aamon of Gore for being the enthusiastic camp mom, Magi for doing my laundry one night (you have no idea how great that is until you’ve smelled a runner’s tent on day 4). Thank you to my team mate for her patience and strength and determination. Thank you to my daughters for letting me go, I know it’s hard. Thank you to all the other runners for the words of encouragement while we struggled out there together. Thank you to my fellow Trail Trashers and especially Charlie for her spirit and enthusiasm and for always making me smile. And thank you to a surprise breakfast companion, you know who you are, whose openness, empathy, passion and compassion and inspirational words in the last hours before I left, gave my tired legs a new spring.
This event is not for everyone, but like last year, I would challenge each of you reading this to set a goal for yourself that you think is impossible. And then just don’t give up. Take small steps, start slow if you have to, but just don’t give up. Because you never know what you’re capable of until you try.
A few links to race videos and photos:
Stan and Monica's video
Trans Rockies site photos