Friday, December 2, 2016

I AM Without Limits

I am so baaaaack, running folks.

My first in-person practice with Without Limits (Greenville) was last night. I was a little nervous and a little overly aware of being out of shape, but this group is nothing if not friendly and accepting of all levels.

The workout included 12 x 100 @ 90% effort.

I think I know what 90% effort is, so I went out at just under a full sprint. It felt FAST. It felt like I was blasting it. It felt like I must be doing this wrong, because I'm going faster than other people.

So, instead of being like, woo hoo, this feels great, I had a totally misaligned thought about everybody else not doing them correctly.

After about 3 or 4 reps, I went back to Matt to make sure I was supposed to do them at 90%, even if I thought I couldn't finish them all. Just checking.

At some point, Matt mentioned something to the effect of me being fast. Boom.

Apparently, I’ve been looking for a permission slip to be fast, and didn’t know it. Once he was like, huh, you’re fast, I was finally like, hey, maybe I am fast. Oh, I should definitely explore this! Yessss….

And I got really, really excited.

On the drive home it dawned on me that I had run a whole lot of ultra’s because I believed I was old and slow and therfore relegated to the arena of ultramarathoning. Don’t get me wrong, I have big love for ultra’s, I will still do ultra's (albeit faster!), and I wouldn’t give up my VolState memories for anything in the world.

But loving ultra’s and feeling like that’s all you can do are two different things. I’m now excited about running fast. Really fast. So fast it will blow my mind and everyone else’s, too.

I wanna be the poster girl for #oldfolksgettingitdone.

I am now fired up and serious about training. It feels awesome. 

And I know I’m on track (pun intended) because I have this feeling in my stomach like I’m one of the little ducklings in my facebook cover photo- like I just jumped out of my metaphorical running nest.

Holy Shit- I jumped!! AAaaaaaaagh!!! 

Fear….!! Excitement….!! Exhilaration….!!


OMG, what if I fail? What if I DON’T fail? Aaaaaaagh! It’s so gooooood!!!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

LAVS 500K: Tales From the Road [ Part 2 ]

Day 2: McKenzie to Parsons.
Wherein I manage to...Run all 58 out of 50 miles; eat lunch in a nice restaurant; receive homemade granola from total strangers (and inspiration from Carl); get questioned by the police (for the first time); purchase a soda from a space machine; meet Richard Westbrook along the never-ending road of construction;

Days two and three were probably the two most memorable days of the entire run (Gee...even as I write that I wonder if it's a lie). I know I was still flying high from the overwhelming sense of adventure of just being at Vol State. I still could barely believe I was even there, amidst the company I was in. It's hard to describe the sense of absolute freedom this race gives you. It's intoxicating and empowering. I felt invincible!

I woke up Friday morning and tried to get out of the room as early as I could. What should have been a 5:00 a.m. start became a 6:00 a.m. start. I was two blocks off-course, and had to go back to the 4-way intersection to start my day. I stopped at a donut store and ordered 2 apple fritters and coffee, and marvelled at the luxury of being able to eat like this. It's practically reason enough in itself to run Vol State.

I then do an incredibly stupid thing.  I arrive at the 4-way intersection where I (purposefully) went off course the night before in order to get to the motel, and I proceed to cross the street and start running. What in god's name made me think I was going the right direction is beyond me. But I felt goood, dammit! Fueled by fritters and hitting my stride at 4 mph, I had my directions in hand, and I was lost in my own world- reliving the memories from the previous day. To my credit, I looked at my directions occassionally. But each time that I did, I found no obvious landmarks with which to verify I was on course. Imagine that.

After a while (as in an HOUR) I came to a bridge  with a fairly large creek running under it. I thought that had to be on my map. I started looking for blue on my map, anything that might show me what creek this was. Then it hit me. Oh... my.... god. What if I had gone the wrong way? Omg, omg, please say no, no,!

Shit. I totally went the wrong way.

My thought process then went something like this:

Be cool.
Don't even think about it.
Just head back and think of nothing.
Don't even call in to Carl until you're back on course.
Consider not even telling anyone about this.

As soon as I turn back and start running, the first billboard ad I came to mocked me: "Brandon Heating & Air Conditioning in McKenzie...Just 4 Miles!!" Ha ha. Very funny. I'm sure someday this will make a great story. But for now, I am a little upset at how good I am running and how it is for absolutely nothing.

I checked my watch more frequesntly as the 7:30 a.m. call in time approached. There was no way in HELL I was calling in and saying, "I've been off course since 6:00 a.m. but hey! I should be back at my STARTING POINT any time now." That was not going to happen. So I sped up even as I vowed not to call Carl until I could say I was on course and say something vague like "leaving McKenzie".

Picture courtesy of Carl Laniak, who got a kick out of the
fact I strayed off course for 4 miles and still caught John Price
Finally, back at the 4-way intersection at 8:00 a.m. and I text Carl. I go in to the gas station and verify which way I should be running. I should have taken a left originally. Fucking-A.

 But here's another funny thing...I'm back on course for only about a mile, and I swear I see what has to be a Vol Stater up in the distance. Yes! The closer I get, the more I am SURE it's a fellow runner. Finally, I come upon John Price!

We hang out for a bit and I do tell him of my misadventure, and I'm laughing about it, so, when a few minutes later Laz and Carl appear, I go ahead and tell them I went off course for 4 miles before I called in earlier. They seemed to enjoy hearing the stories of the runners, and I was happy to oblige.

John and I ran for a while together. Ran, walked, mostly walked, and right around 11:00 am we headed into Huntingdon. He knew of a really good restaurant that most people overlooked. As we approached it, we saw it was closed but we decided to wait 15 minutes for them to open. It was so worth it!

The next 7 hours or so were fairly uneventful. I can't remember if I had blisters already or not. I think I did, and I think it was this day where I spent a fair amount of time trying to find some bandaid combo to fix them up. But in the end, I gave up and when my feel let me, I would get some good running in, and when they hurt I would walk.

I remember I was near Lexington, mile 92, as I was coming up to the 7:30 p.m. call in time. I had already decided I would push on to Parsons that night. When I texted in to Carl where I was and that I planned to keep moving, his response was awesome! He told me I was in 7th place!! He said I had covered more miles so far than he did on his first Vol State!! Holy crap!! He was cheering me on! I really felt great and I was so excited about moving on through the night.

Around 8PM I was walking through a neighborhood and this guy came out from his house and he knew I was one of the Vol State runners somehow. It was amazing! He was offering me Gatorade, or food or anything I needed. He was so polite, too! He said his wife was there so if I wanted to come in and use the bathroom or get water, it would be OK.  Then his wife came outside, carrying a bag of homemade granola and another bag of dried fruit. She gave them to me, and wished me luck in the race. It was so cool.

I stopped at a gas station next, to load up on water and food for the next stretch. This time, I looked for beer ahead of time, thinking I would really want one when I was ready to stop and there may not be a convenience store open in Parsons near the motel. So I bought a 22 oz. Heineken (not much to choose from) and it fairly took up all the room in my pack*. I didn't have a lot of other fluids as I set out. 

As I left the gas station, I knew I was passing the 100-mile mark. I ran for a little while, but the sidewalk was awful to run on, and the road was full of traffic. It got frustrating. I decided to take a break and give Charles a call to update him on the adventures of the day. It was dark now, and I sat on the curb on the side of the road to call. Just as I was talking to Charles, a cop car rolls up to me. I instinctively knew the cop thought I was homeless, or possibly waiting for my dealer. I told Charles what was happening, and that I would leave him on the phone to listen in.

Sure enough, this lady cop gets out of the car, and she has this look, like OK, let's move it along here bum lady. She's pretty aggressive and tells me to stand up and keep my hands where she can see them. She asks me if I have ID. I tell her yes, and that I'm in a 300-mile race across the state of TN. I ask her if she's seen any of the other runners come through. I show her the flag on my pack and tell her she can identify us by our U.S. flags.  As I tell her more, including how I'm in 7th place overall, she totally changes her attitude, and seems all happy for me. She tells me I'm amazing and she wishes me luck.

I move on, happily, through the night.


From: Carl Laniak []
Sent: Friday, July 13, 2012 9:31 PM
To: Volstate List; ultra List
Subject: vol state (36 hour) runner status
Through an intricate and unpredictable series of choreographed footsteps,
each of the runners has arrived at the exact spot where they should be at this point in space and time.
This 36 hour update shows a list of beauty, to those who know of these things....
NO ONE has quit yet.
Unless you count the handful of times that each of the runners has vowed, internally, that they are *definitely* quitting!
But none of them has followed through on that promise to themselves.
They are all (from the first to the last) pushing beyond the point of discomfort now.
Searching, and finding, *something* out on the roads as they head into the dark of the second night.
1) Paul Lefelhocz 107 down to sleep
2) Joshua Holmes 104 moving
3) Dan Fox 103 moving
4) Jay Dobrochewski 103 moving
5) Juli Aistars 100 moving
6) Thomas Mikkelson 96 moving
7) Psyche Wimberly 94 moving
8) Richard Westbrook 93 moving
9) Sal Coll 92 stopped
10) Jan Silverman 92 stopped
11) Sulaiman Seriki 92 stopped
12) Charlie Taylor 92 stopped
13) Abi Meadows 92 stopped
14) John Price 88 moving
15) Sherry Meador 86 moving
16) Rita Barnes 84 stopped
17) Dusty Hardman 84 stopped
18) Shannon Burke 84 stopped
19) Erika/Adam (now a relay) 83 moving
20) Fred Davis 80 moving thru clarksburg
21) Mike Melton 68 stopped
22) Diane Taylor 63 moving
23) Marvin Skagerberg 54 moving
24) Oprah 53 moving well

Around midnight, I run out of food. Then water. Then energy. I am bonking big time. I am on a road that has all this construction and I kind of remember it from the van ride down- but the construction seems like it is going on for freaking ever. It's disorienting, and time just crawls by. I try to run, but walk far more than anything else.

Up ahead I see something like a building and hope/ pray for a soda machine or some sort of vending machine. It seems many of the building along the road have them. It's not too far fetched to hope for one.

I get closer, and I see that it IS a vending machine!! I cross the street and walk over to it. It's surreal how bright and shiny it is, here in the middle of nowhere. It's like it doesn't belong here. I fumble around for money and I finally- in what seems like hours later- get a dollar bill out and insert it in to the machine. But then I can't figure out what thing you do to order a drink. It's as if I'm looking at the machine but there's a delay in what's translated to my brain. I begin to wonder why this machine looks so new and shiny, like maybe technology's been updated since I last used a machine like this, and now I don't know how they work.  Maybe it's super simple, I think, like advanced technology sometimes is. Yeah, you probably just push the giant picture of the soda you want. OMG! What if I do that and my hand goes right through the machine???? How cool would that be???  I bet I stared at the luscious pictures of Coke, Diet Coke, Aquafina, and Dr. Pepper for a very long time indeed as I contemplated just how to communicate to a Coke machine of the future.

Wait, I thought. How do you communicate to Coke machines of the past? There's probably a clue there. Aren't you supposed to push a button or something and a coke drops down to the bottom of the machine? Oh, god, I hope math isn't involved- what if I have to match up the drink labeled D2 with a button labeled D2 in order to get Dr. Pepper? Shit. I'm not sure I'm up to that.

I start laughing maniacly because on one level I'm aware I'm totally tripping on this machine, but I also know I can't do anything else but stay with it until I figure out how to get the Dr. Pepper out of the machine. I'm fairly desperate by now, so I start feeling the machine with my hands, hoping my fingers will run in to some clue. Just in case, I press down with my hands over the picture of Dr. Pepper. I half expect it to work. I marvel at how the plastic bends inward...but, alas, no drink is forthcoming. I wonder if this is how stupid people feel. I hope not. I hope they are blissfully unaware of their shortcomings.

I no longer remember how I figured out how to get the drink out of the machine, but I finally did get a drink. I was so thirsty! It's funny that I never once thought to get more than one drink. I just sat there, enjoying the hell out of the one drink I managed to score.

As if this weren't weird enough, suddenly I see someone walking across the street towards me! At first I was scared. Then I realized it has to be a Vol State runner! For a brief moment, I feel embarrassed and wonder if perhaps he's been watching me as I took the better part of the evening to purchase a soda. He gets closer, and suddenly I recognize Richard Westbrook!

I'm so out of it, I don't really know how to handle this new social situation, so I kind of wander off, leaving him to figure the machine of the future out for himself. I do chuckle to myself just a little bit at how long it seems to take him.

As we head down the road, we make small talk and this small stretch of road surprisingly contains one of the strongest memories I have from Vol State- The road we're on has a net elevation loss, and the stars are so bright against the night sky. I'm blown away by the beauty and simple pleasure of just walking down the road into the stars, with a soda and the night breeze to cool me off.  I find out Richard is from Georgia, and I mention that Charles is from Georgia, too. Then I ask if he's with GUTS.  I think I say something like, "It seems like most ultrarunners from there join GUTS." And he says, "I'm not much of a joiner." Now, it was just the way he said it. I thought it was the coolest answer ever. In that moment, I thought I knew all I ever needed to know about Richard Westbrook**.

To be continued.....

Next up- I am bested by Sonic, then it rains and my feet are destroyed. Naresh saves my race.

* For those of you wondering why I didn't just drink that 22 oz. Heineken I was carrying around, well, I tried. It was just too disgusting to drink warm Heine in the state I was in. 

** Only later did I learn what a legend Richard is. He's so legendary, he's Schick-like:))

Thursday, September 13, 2012

LAVS 500K: Tales From the Road [ Part I ]

The following events take place between
 July 11 and July 21, 2012.
First, a word about the "tales" you are about to read. You have to understand that I am totally sand bagging how good these stories are going to be a lot of stories from this race won't be funny to you, because the humor can only be appreciated from the perspective of one who is being pushed to the sheer edge by pain and fatigue.  But to me, these stories will always be hilarious (or heartbreaking, or some other equally intense adjective), and in the re-telling, I know a few others will be out there chuckling to themselves and "getting it". That's enough for me. My goal in writing this is simply to be able to look back at these words one day, when the experience of Vol State 2012 is almost faded from my memory, and be reminded of what an incredible adventure and achievement it was to run 314 miles for the first time.

So now that the bar is set appropriately low, let's set it a little lower.

I'm not even going to try to capture events in the correct order. I'm not even going to try all that hard to get the facts right. Instead, what follows is my account of many of the most intense moments (both good and bad) that I experienced over 9 days on the road.

Of course, the first memories were made days before the start of the race. The lead up to something this epic is epic in itself.

Also, and worth noting - there is something strange going on between Charles and I and Laz's races. Take Barkley for example- Charles ran it last year and I ran it this year. We had this shared freakish mirror image experience- a year apart! You can't make this stuff up:  We were both #1 on the weight list the day before the race. We both got in at the very last minute- and we got in because someone died (yeah, I know -  someone had to die for us to get in). I was alone for the first 4 books this year, and finished a loop with Naresh and Matt Mahoney. Last year, Charles was with people for the first 4 books and finished alone.

Coincidence? Maybe.... But on the eve of Vol State, I had to wonder if this strange link we have wasn't continuing with this race. It's as if the intensely surreal quality of preparing to board the ferry had somehow spilled over into Charles' life. I wish I could tell you the details of what happened to him on the eve of Vol State, but this one is not my story to tell- although it's a really good one! At the very least, it deserves a shout out to Julie for adding a heaping dose of drunken crazy surreal to an already over the top experience. Good lord! Someone check- was it a full moon on July 11?

OK, more ramblings...about the genius RD's. From the very start, I marveled at how Laz is an absolute master at designing life-changing, consciousness-altering experiences...that just happen to be running related. What makes me say this, you ask? Well, it is simply pure genius to set up a 300-mile race and drive the runners from the finish to the start.  Think about it: it takes all day to get there. As the hours roll on, no one can escape the fact that we'll all be on foot the next time we see the locales being discussed by vets as virgins try to take it all in.

Don't let them fool you- this is what RD genius looks like
More genius RD strategy- you see Laz and Carl at least once a day for the first 3-4 days. You would not believe how good it is to see them! After about day three, you become completely aware that on some level you are living to see their faces again. On Day 5 I told them I now know what it feels like to be a dog: All of a sudden, they're HERE! They came back! They came back! They came back! Great rush of happiness, excitement and love! Oh, now they're gone again.

Another great impression of genius I was left with about those two- They are out there in the very early miles recording race splits like it's the Kinney National Cross Country Championship or something. Seriously, the last time I had what could even be considered a near-race experience was back in 2009  when I tried to run down the only other over-40 female for an age group award. At my ability level, ultra's are extreme efforts, but are not races. At least before now.  Yet, here I was, just a few miles in, feeling the distinct rumblings of competitiveness. I left Hickman, KY in 16th place (16th? Damn! There's only like 23 people out here!! I better get moving!)
And finally, on the drive to the start, I remember Laz saying Vol State is nothing like Barkley- that anyone with enough determination can finish it. I remember how relieved and encouraged  I felt at hearing those words. Barkley is for strength-oriented runners who thrive on tons of climbing and rise to the challenge of orienteering. Nothing in that last sentence remotely describes me. Vol State, on the other hand, plays to totally different strengths.

First, you don't have to be fast to succeed at LAVS (check).
You have to be able to exist on very little sleep (check).
You have to be able to sleep at the drop of a hat (check).
You have to be extremely, extremely determined (check).

In hindsight, and in my humble opinion, Vol State trumps Barkley as far as life-changing experiences go.  But what's really cool is that they are completely different experiences- and chances are, if LAVS is your thing, Barkley probably isn't.

If nothing else, I owe these two a debt of gratitude for bringing the race experience back to me as a reality. True or not, I am convinced I have what it takes to be a future King of the Road. Given enough things going right, and very few things going horribly wrong, I really believe I have a chance of being in the hunt for the win one day. As Dan Fox mentioned, with this beast, the race isn't even ON until mile 250.

Day One: The First 400 Years
I officially get on the ride. I discover LAVS as my calling in running. I adopt a hybrid strategy based on John Price's advice and my own stupidity. I get attacked by dogs. I get befriended by Tennesseeans. I cover 57 miles on day one and, yes, there is beer.

As we set off to our first destination 18 miles away (Subway), the female unfriendly nature of this race in terms of bathroom opportunities becomes immediately evident. Nothing out here but wide open spaces and cars. You can be sure that before it was over, I found some pretty interesting ways to pee in public. Some successful, others not so much. All were pretty funny, though.

Day One really didn't get interesting until night time. However, as I mentioned before, I was desperate to call Charles and find out how the drama of the night before had finally resolved. At this point, I was convinced Charles needed to be running 300 miles far more than I did.  As we arrived at Subway for lunch, I called to check in with him and was hardly surprised at all when Daniel Tosh answered.

Daniel Tosh has begun narrating Charles' life. This is not good.

Mike Melton, Paul Lefelhocz at Subway

Just 2 miles down the road, everyone checked in with the RD's at the 20-mile checkpoint.

Paul Lefelhocz in disguise at Mile 20

Psyche and John Price- disguised as each other at Mile 20
Around 4:00, I stopped at a Burger King in Martin and enjoyed the air conditioning, a chocolate shake, and the company of John Price, Dan Fox, and Sherry Meador. Pretty heady stuff for a newbie.

Heading into Dresden that night, I was about 40 miles in to the race and it finally felt like the adventure had begun. I came upon this sign painted on the road and enjoyed following the arrows for a while. I was really enjoying running at this point. I love this time of day, and was moving well and feeling good.

I caught up to Sherry Meador and realized I had missed the pizza place described in my directions. Last chance for water for a good while. So, as we walked through a neighborhood I only half listened to Sherry as I searched the houses for a hose I could drink from.  I finally found one, but the water tasted like 3 parts plastic hose and one part water. Really nasty stuff .

As I was drinking said nasty hose water, I noticed a guy in a truck had pulled over and was talking to Sherry. It turned out he was from the local radio station and he wanted us to call in to the station to talk about the race the next morning.  He gave us his card and we would see him a few more times over the next few miles.

On the way to Gleason, a mom in a minivan stopped and gave us ice cold water and oranges. This was my first experience with the kindness of strangers. It was fantastic! This family made us feel like rock stars!!  I would show you their pictures, but alas, I lost my camera somewhere around the 200 mile mark. (Yeah, I just wanted to say, "200 mile mark". It makes me feel like a badass).

At about 8:00 p.m., I had to decide if I was up for another 15 miles or if I would stay put. That's where my "strategy" came in. I had asked John Price all kinds of questions about this on the drive to the start and he was wonderful about sharing viewpoints about how people do the race. He had some really good advice. One thing I was going to follow was to try to get 4-5 hours of sleep a night.

Everyone approaches the sleep issue differently, but I tend to think you only hurt yourself by being too sleep deprived. I can function really well on 4-5 hours a night. It get tricky, though, because you need to decide every night if you can make it to the next stopping point in time to get 4-5 hours of sleep.  If  you think you'll roll into town at 2-4:00 a.m., it might be better to stay where you are that night. I just felt good in having some way to approach each day.
Since it was just 8PM, I thought I could easily push the extra 15-17 miles into McKenzie. I would arrive around midnight and check in to a motel for 4-5 hours of sleep. I set off to McKenzie with Sherrie Meador. Sherrie was having stomach issues as she will tell you she's prone to do. I didn't want to hurt Sherry's feelings but I was really just in the mood to run alone and try to get into a groove. I actually felt pretty good, and I just told her it was nothing personal. 

Around 10PM, I was running through a neighborhood in the dark. It was peaceful. I called to talk with Charles for a bit. I was aware of what a lovely memory I was going to have of this night, as I looked at the moon, enjoyed the breeze, and especially the company of the one I love.

Not 5 minutes after hanging up, 3 dogs come tearing down a hill from behind a house. I immediately knew they were not protecting their territory or trying to warn me off. They were out for blood. They seemed to be medium sized terriers or something and they did not hesitate or slow as they got closer. and I was immediately completely freaked out. I started yelling and screaming and waving my arms but they just kept coming. The terror was magnified when I realized they had formed a circle around me! I swear to god, this seemed like it lasted 20 minutes- the dogs coming at me, and me fending them off and screaming like a crazy person. I have woken up in a cold sweat and screaming from bad dreams less scarey than this.

Finally, I threw some water at them from my water bottle, then threw the water bottle itself and distrated them. I started running and they came after me, but didn't pursue for long.

I thought I may die of adrenaline overdose, and I was shaking, and I was especially wondering how in the HELL no one heard me screaming or why came outside to see what was going on. I left that neighborhood screaming, "What is freaking WRONG with you people....???"

I probably had about 7 - 9 miles left before I could stop for a few hours in McKenzie. The adrenaline and previous 50 miles had both taken their toll, and I began the slow death march in to town. The last couple of miles were extremely long.

As I exited the neighborhood which dumped me on to the street where I'd find a motel, I spotted a convenience store that was still open. It seemed about 2 blocks from the motel, so I decided to stop and see what fine craft beer they might be carrying. As I was in line paying for my barely drinkable hops, I struck up a conversation with a guy who seemed to be the buddy of the guy working behind the counter. They said another person had come in there about an hour ago and he asked me what we were doing. It was incredible to tell these guys we were in a race across Tennessee.

I checked in to the motel, requested a 3:30 a.m. wake up call, and climbed the stairs to the second floor. I wasted no time at all  in drinking a beer, getting a shower (cleaning my clothes by washing them while still on me) and getting right in to bed for whatever precious little sleep I could get.

I was gonna need it.

In just 3 hours, my future self wakes up, hits the road, and travels 8 miles in the wrong direction.

Stay tuned....