It Is What It Is

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(pre-race self portrait)

I’m an ‘It Is What It Is’ kind of girl.  I try not to stress to much about things I know I have no control over.  I knew going into Sylamore (the 25K = 16.7 miles), I had some big unknown’s looming…my health, Keith’s health, the trail..it was definitely going to provide me with some challenges.  I had a few nerves, a little bit of dread, but knew I would just do what I could and be done with it.

Three weeks ago, this past Saturday, Keith and I were on a run and he was unable to finish the run.  Never in our 10 years of running together has this happened.  We felt certain at the time that it was a quad pull and decided he should take some time off.  Unfortunately, he’s had no choice as he can barely load any weight on that leg.  A week before the race, we decided to go for an easy run to test it out since he hadn’t run in 2 weeks but 1 mile in, he was done.  Wishful hoping was that he could rest it another week and have an ok race.  As the race got closer, we knew that the likelihood of him completing the race was very slim.  We agreed that he would start the race with me and if, at any time, the pain started to worsen, he would stop in order to prevent further injury.  We would just wait and see.

The 10 days leading up to the race, I struggled with a bit of a stomach bug.  I was concerned what this would do for my endurance but we would just wait and see.  My last trail run before the race was a little tough on my IT band and was causing some knee pain but I knew I would just run and see how it played out.  About 5 days before the race, I woke up and couldn’t move my neck or back.  I  spent several days before the race getting various therapies on my back to try to loosen it up (not my regular back problem, just a bad catch and muscle spasms causing me to be uncomfortable).  So, these things would possibly be a factor but there wasn’t anything we could do.  We would just wait and see.

Then, of course, the 3rd real unknown is the trail!  I knew I would be crossing a creek twice and had been told that the water would be anywhere from my calves to my armpits so I was just praying it didn’t go above my waist line.  I knew some people would take a second pair of shoes but I wasn’t going to do that.  I figured, if you sign up for a race with 2 creek crossings, you fully expect to be wet and run wet.  I was seriously dreading it but just kept telling myself, “it is what it is.”

Our journey started when we arrived in Allison, AR Friday night about 7 pm.  We drove straight to our hotel with plans to check in before going to packet pick-up.  You can imagine our surprise when we got there and found that our hotel, the one that sent us the confirmation Tuesday, is CLOSED FOR THE SEASON!  Um, not so much what you want to deal with in a tiny town 12 hours before a race.  Fortunately for us, this crisis was averted after only 2 stops to different hotels to find a room.  We were worried we might end up in the car!  We got checked in, went to packet pick-up, had dinner, and got to bed by 10 pm.

Our race didn’t start until 8 am which felt kind of late so we were up with plenty of spare time.  We went through our regular pre-race routine and the only thing causing me worry at that time was my stomach.  I haven’t had much luck in the past 2 or so weeks keeping anything in my stomach and I certainly didn’t want to deal with this on the trail.  We left the hotel to discover a wind chill of 17 degrees and small snow flurries.  We got to the race, lined up, and off we went.

We spent a mile or so on pavement before getting on the trail.  I had already planned to do a run / walk and really take my time…for 2 reasons: 1) i still wanted to use this as a training run for a bigger race I’m thinking about doing and 2) i knew if i were going to end up running alone, it was best for me to start slow and speed up at the turn around.  Well, this strategy just didn’t bode well in this particular race.  By the time we got to the creek crossing (about mile 2), there was a line to get in AND out.  This sucked!  What it means is that you have a lot of stand-around time before, during, and after the ice cold waters which just made it about 10 times worse.  As soon as it was our turn to enter the creek, we just went for it.  It quickly rose to mid-thigh and about mid-way through, it was exactly crotch level.  (i know, gross word but that’s where it was!)  Fortunately, Keith still had his wits about him and just climbed onto the bank rather than standing in the line to get out.  We stood there and tried to catch our breath while waiting on the line to move.

Unfortunately, for about the next 3 miles it was barely more than a walk.  We were just stuck behind groups and groups of people and it was really tough getting around.  So, what I thought would be a run / walk was really a walk / shuffle.  We passed some but with the single track and all the rocks (about 12 of the 17 miles was rock!), it was tough unless people were nice enough to scootch over a bit.  A few minutes after the creek crossing, Keith turned to me and said, “I’m afraid there will only be 1 Ritchey finishing this race.”  I didn’t say anything because I just hoped once we started running, he would feel better.  Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

We had just passed the last big group of people that were jamming us up when he just stopped dead in his tracks and put his head in his hands.  I was devastated for him and worried about what is going on with his knee.  I knew he was done.  Of course I thought about stopping with him- we had about a mile or so to get to the first aid station where he hoped he could get a ride- but I knew that I couldn’t do that.  It was really tough leaving him, stuck out on the trail.  I walked with him for several minutes but he kept telling me to go so I went.  I was just so incredibly sad for him but that was my absolute motivation for moving forward…run for Keith.  I got to the first aid station (you don’t actually run to it but you run near it) and I guess I was just still worried about Keith because I totally forgot to go fill my water bottles.  I realized it about a 1/2 mile up the climb but knew I wouldn’t go back.  I think I assumed there would be water jugs at the turnaround…there weren’t.  I was so excited to be off the rocks but this next section was a pretty tough climb…until the BIG downhill…which, of course, meant a BIG uphill on the way back.  I got to the turnaround, realized my shoes were way too loose (i guess from all the water- the creek and lots of water spots along the way) but when i went to untie them, my laces were completely frozen.  Well, this was a first!  After fooling with it for several minutes (plus my fingers were frozen and not working well), I finally sat down, took my shoes off, and had to use my teeth to untie the damn laces.  I was pissed because I knew this was about 10 wasted minutes but I knew it would be worth it for the next 8.3 miles.  It is what it is, right!

So, onto the major climb, back to the aid station (this time I stopped and filled up all 4 bottles, which were empty), and home stretch.  Unfortunately the home stretch, from the aid station to the creek, was miserable.  The rocks coupled with the downhill just provided a really aggressive landing with every footfall.  My tendonitis was a bitch…apparently freezing cold waters aren’t the best treatment for already tight muscles!..my ITband was acting up which was causing my knee to swell, and my back was killing me.  It is what it is.  I stopped to dig my elbow into my IT band a few times, struggled with my stomach so I fed the birds my waffles instead of eating them, passed a bunch of 25K’ers, got passed by a bunch of 50K’ers (yep, twice the distance and they only started an hour before me!), and walked way more than I would have preferred.  I was disappointed because I felt like the trail just wasn’t all that runnable so finding a rhythm was impossible.  I thought I would never get to the creek again.  People kept saying, “you’ll be looking so forward to the creek on the way back.”  No, you won’t!  The only reason I wanted to see it was because I knew that meant I was about to be off the rocks.  The creek sucked both ways and both times.  It’s a cold that you only feel in an ice bath but I’ve never taken an ice bath outside, twice, in below freezing temps, in the middle of my run so I can’t say that I felt all that prepared for it.

Finally, the finish line.  I managed to run the entire paved portion to the finish line, even though my knee was about the size of my head (and not to mention the crazy swelling that was going on in my fingers and hands!) but I just wanted it to be over!  I’m pretty sure I haven’t ever been that happy to be off of a race course.  Yes, it was beautiful in places and I’m told the 50K portion that we didn’t run on is absolutely gorgeous but it just wasn’t my day.  There aren’t many races that I’ve completed and had the “one and done” mentality but I have to say, this was one.  As awful as it was for me, I enjoyed it.  I’m glad I did it.  I always appreciate a good challenge.  I survived the creek, didn’t get hypothermia, got out of my comfort zone on an unknown trail, got a sweet sweatshirt and pint glass, and came home with several random bruises.  I didn’t love this race but it is what it is.  Will it really be a ‘one and done’ race for me?  Who knows.  Every time I say this, I end up going back for more but what I do know is that I am looking forward to being Keith’s biggest cheerleader next year when he gets back out there, on healthy legs, and runs that race!

Love Letter

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It’s February.  It’s Heart Month.  It’s Valentine’s day week.  I got a love letter in the mail.

Yep, in the mail.  Nope, not from Keith.  From my cardiologist.  Gasp.  It’s not as scandalous as I can try to make it sound…no, but it is still the best love letter I’ve gotten in a while.

Thirteen months ago I found out that I have “heart problems.”  Though I am now convinced that if I weren’t so in tune with my body I probably wouldn’t know about these problems, but since I do, I have to check in with my cardiologist ever so often.  I went in for a check-up a couple of weeks ago and the doc decided to send me in for some more testing.  The test at hand was more cardiopulmonary than many of the tests I have had in the past, a CPX test or some of you may know it better as a VO2 max test.

Let me set the stage.  My cardiologist is a competitive little thing and he loves to challenge me and push me. I think he’s doing it to prove to me that I can have a normal life and no worries even though we see each other on a semi-regular basis (anything more than ever seems regular when it comes to seeing a cardiologist).  Several months ago when I had my stress-echo, he told me I did really well..”made it almost as long as me.”  Although I don’t consider myself all that competitive, I have spent the last 11 months wishing I had outlasted him on my test.  Well, I had the chance last week 🙂

Once they shaved my stomach and chest to prepare for the test (yes, they shave you and no, i had no idea i even had hair there), I was loaded down with electrodes, a fanny pack of sorts, a nose clip, mouth breather thing, pulse ox, blood pressure cuff, on the treadmill, and hooked to 3 different machines with 2 different nurses monitoring the situation, I was ready to go.  The doc didn’t tell me what to aim for but just said to push my hardest.  I decided that if you ever push yourself to heart attack level, this is the best place to do it so I was ready.

Not only is the test kind of tough (by the end I was running fairly quickly and at a 20% incline), the environment is just kind of bizarre.  Because of all the things tied and taped to you, it’s hard to move normally.  Because of the mouth tube, it’s impossible to talk.  My jaw was hurting, I was drooling on myself, my arms were about to fall off (you have to hold on to a bar), my throat was so dry, and worst of all, I was running in a COTTON gown (hot, sticky, and completely open in the front)! I went as long as I could and finally gave the signal to stop.  I was bummed because I felt like my arms were giving out before anything else.  The nurses kept reassuring me that I had a great test and would be hearing from the doctor soon.

Well, anyway, my awesome letter reads..”…your test was superb.  You are in excellent physical conditioning.  Actually, you had the BEST combined cardiopulmonary stress test ever done at the Stern office.”  Woo hoo!  I may not ever win a race but I like to say I won the CPX test at Stern!  I know, nobody else knew we were “racing” and there are likely to be people that eventually beat me but, until then, I am the winner 😉

I’ll revisit my cardiologist in a few months just to touch base and I’ll continue to see him on a regular basis to ensure the murmur and leaks aren’t worsening and in the meantime, I’ll just continue to run and push myself beyond my comfort zones.  Thanks, doc, for the appropriately timed love letter.

Anthropologie

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I often think of a particular Anthropology class I took while in Undergrad.  We were asked to complete a project in which we drew a map of our “comfort zone.”  One’s comfort zone is typically a few blocks around where they live, work, and play.  I was living in midtown at that time, in the Evergreen area and while I considered that area my comfort zone, there were others in the class who would have been very uncomfortable there.  Vice versa for other places in the area.

I think of this class a lot.  Each time we’ve moved into a new neighborhood, I think about it. I remember driving around our current (and last) neighborhood during the day and at night before we made an offer, to see if I thought I might feel “comfortable” in those areas.  My gut told me no both times but I reminded myself, you’re not automatically comfortable with something.  You have to put yourself out there, spend some time not being comfortable, and eventually you have built a new comfort zone.

This also pertains very much to running.  People develop, often without realizing it, their own running comfort zone.  This usually includes specific paces, distances, routes, and people.  When people are asked, directly or indirectly, to move outside of this box, they can get very apprehensive.  We watch it on a daily basis.  Someone’s “running buddy” doesn’t come to a run so this person is in a bit of a state of disarray.  Rather than moving out of that comfort zone and running with a new person, they run alone.  Someone’s running buddy gets injured and/ or can’t keep up with the speed work.  Rather than moving out of that comfort zone and running the speed work alone, they sacrifice their run in order to keep comfortable.  Someone is given a tough goal, lofty paces, or a tough route, rather than embracing being uncomfortable and learning from this experience, they may come up with all sorts of excuses about not being able to meet this goal, run this pace, or do this route.

I get it.  It’s comfortable in your comfort zone.  It’s scary outside of that little area.  But, the only way to expand the box, you have to step outside of it every now and then.  I have been forced outside of my comfort zone a good bit recently and I’m thrilled about it.  I’m fine running with pretty much whomever and wherever but there’s something about running solo on the trails that can make me a little nervous.  I am a worrier so I worry about all the “what ifs.”  What if I fall and break my leg?  What if I run into someone creepy?  What if?

Well, what if your running buddy gets injured?  Do you just throw in the towel?  Keith is out for a bit due to a quad pull so I’ve been doing my runs alone for the past week or so.  This doesn’t bother me, although I do like company most of the time.  When it got interesting though was when I realized I was scheduled for a very long run last week…one that would be my longest solo run ever and my longest trail run ever.  It never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t do it but this run was certainly going to be way out of my comfort zone.

I geared up and headed out.  I was a little nervous at first, just about being on the trails alone for so long, but that quickly dissipated.  It was just me, alone in the woods, and I was loving it.  Rather than worrying about each step, I just gave thanks to each step.  I didn’t think about what was ahead or behind, I literally ran the step I was in.  I came to a really large water crossing only a few miles in (and i wasn’t yet ready to get my feet and ankles soaked) so I climbed into the woods and drug large limbs out to make a bridge…way out of my comfort zone but exhilarating once it was done.  By the time I needed to make my second bridge, I was feeling like a bit of an expert 😉  My comfort zone was widening with each step.  Turned out to be one of my favorite runs I’ve ever done.  Sometimes getting uncomfortable it all it takes to get comfortable.  Everyone should try it sometime.

“Don’t be afraid to expand yourself, to step out of your comfort zone.  That’s where the joy and the adventure lie.” ~ unknown