"Never be limited by other people's limited imaginations. If you adopt their attitudes, then the possibility won't exist because you'll have already shut it out." -Mae Jemison, astronaut

Sunday, September 7, 2014

So, Where Are We Going? (After the Lost Soul Ultra)

"So, where are we going?" asks Rolf.

It's 11 am Thursday in Crowsnest Pass, Alberta. Tomorrow at 8 am I am toeing the line of the Lost Soul Ultra (LSU) 100k - it will complete my series there, having done the 50k in 2007 and the 100 Miler in 2013. LSU takes place in Lethbridge, Alberta, two hours east, in the prairie coulees of the Oldman River.

I've stalled as long as possible. Checkout time forced us out of the cabin in the mountains near the border of Alberta and British Columbia (BC). To the west of us lie the gorgeous snow capped Rocky Mountains.
A piper sends us off to the coulees at the start

There's been an awkwardness to our normal pre-race vibe these past few days. Normally, I spend time meticulously calculating splits and visualising all manner of good things for race day. Rolf assists as partner/crew by telling me periodically how fast I look and surmising how my competition has surely overtrained, undertrained, or is simply too weak for me to worry about.

But 8 days ago we landed in Calgary off a European flight - with head colds. I appeared to be making a faster recovery, but had spent 4 nights sleeping upright so I could breathe, partially sacrificing my neck in the process. My heart rate was still at least five points high. Snorking into a piece of paper towel, bottle of beetroot juice beside me, my family laughed at my childlike optimism.

I woke Thursday morning, snorked into a papertowel, and headed out for my usual pre-race sprint. Whilst warming up, I was pleased to see my "easy" pace back below 5 min/k. Shortly after, I horked up a big phlegm ball and tried to ignore that bit of negative information on the state of my health. I also tried to ignore the rapid pace drift. Easy pace went from 4.40 to 4.50 over a kilometre and felt like that trend would continue if I kept running.

Back at the cabin, we packed up, carefully ignoring the topic of the race, now 21 hours away.

So there we were, at the stop sign, poised to turn right towards the race or left to go exploring BC's mountains. I looked in the rearview mirror to see no one was waiting behind me. And then Rolf asked that very practical question. So where are we going?

I answered based on the Principle of No Regret, a principle that has helped me through countless decisions for over a decade now. I imagined the outcome going west, enjoying the Rockies at my own pace. But the principle said, "If you wake up Friday morning and feel fantastic (or even just trick yourself into thinking you do), you'll regret that you didn't try." Going east, I imagined racing poorly or having to withdraw midrace. Much as I tried to shut it out, I imagined the voices of others, criticising me either way.
A "here-goes-nothing" face? Relaxed and ready to have a go.


Thursday night in Lethbridge, instead of a "You look so fast," I got, "Have you packed enough papertowel?" It was meant to be funny - and it was - looking at the irony of the situation I was in. Rolf is my greatest ally, but as he said, he really didn't want to watch an unfair fight.

I ran to feel for the first 7k section and came in right on my projected split time. Alissa St Laurent, female course record holder (11hr49) was just in front. I'd written a plan projecting just over 11 hours. I was quite sure Alissa, unless harbouring injury, was capable of running similar. The next (8k) section had me come in 4 minutes behind projections, but a new hill with extra distance had been added to the course since last year. I was still feeling all right, dancing along the tight and half-times overgrown single track, enjoying it.

The 9.5k third section was where my cold started to catch up with me. Additionally, my shoes were too loose. I try to pick a perfect tension that is tight enough for the start, but loose enough to allow for swelling feet later. However, LSU trails tend towards (short but) brutally steep. My loose shoes aggravated a spot under my left foot that was prone to blistering last year but hadn't bothered me all of 2014. I felt the blister form. During section 4 (16.4k), it popped. For 2k, I fought my brain's desire to run on the left outside of my heel, avoiding contact with the ground. My experience told me that 6k of this - the distance to the aid station - would put me at good risk of a tibialis anterior strain. I had to fight the pain and force myself to land more flat footed. But the blister wasn't my primary problem. I knew I'd get a Compeed on it and it would go silent. The real problem was that my ears were plugged and my throat was full of phlegm. It was like my cold of 4 days ago. Sustainable pace dropped by the kilometre. No one passed me, but I knew my pace wasn't to plan anymore. I knew I had to let it go. The data from the experiment was in. My body wasn't ready to race 100k. Yes, the coach in me had pretty much known the writing was on the wall last week, but the athlete and scientist in me had to get the data.
Looking good...from a distance ;)

At the 40k aid station, I put a Compeed on my foot. I knew I needed to quit. My body was stuffed and when I spoke, I could hear the cold in my voice. I wasn't even on my 100 Mile pace anymore!

My Canadian massage therapist (and a skilled ultrarunner as well), Dave Proctor, came up and suggested I try running a couple more sections, just to be sure. I decided right then I would - but only one more, just to come to terms with it. I wanted to run out my disappointment and my frustration and the tears I felt just under the surface. I wanted to find happiness again - in another way - just being in the moment, fortunate to be running on a beautiful day. I headed out in solitude on the trails, at an "easy head cold" pace. It felt great. For about 2.5k. Then it felt like a heavy duvet blanket was thrown on top of me. I felt how exhausted my virus-fighting body was. I stopped at a bench along the river and sat. I really wanted to be okay with this. A runner came by and I wished him well. It would be other people's day to achieve race goals, but not mine. If I had my phone, I would have called Rolf to come get me. But instead, I had 4.5k to run and walk out. I reached inside and found my inner child. Together, we took on the next 4.5k, stopping to read trail signs, marvel at the river, be chased by dogs, sulk for moments, then weave back and forth across the trail, jumping logs. Rolf met me 400 metres before the aid station, wonderfully ready with my other pack, in case I'd changed my mind. We walked it in and I handed in my timing chips.

Unfortunately, that last bit of time on the trail hadn't quelled my disappointment and frustration. I went out that evening to volunteer for first aid at the HQ transition point, but they were well staffed until 2 am. I was superfluous. Nowhere to assuage my emotions there. At 2.50 am, I woke, dressed, and went out to HQ again. I didn't save anyone's race, I was no one's hero. But I tried to help until 6 am when more vollies came.
Yikes! And I thought I was still feeling good here!

Over the past 18 hours, I have ravenously read Kilian Jornet's "Run or Die." And in there, I found something that explains my unease. Talking about "winning" or "victory," he writes

...the real victory, is what...we can't believe will ever happen despite all the training and will on our part,....[despite] all the thinking and brandishing of calculators, after so many hours of preparation, after so many days of training, of telling ourselves that we can win - or simply finish the race - it is as if something in our subconscious is constantly telling us that it is impossible, that it would be too wonderful, too brilliant, too incredible for it to become a reality. That what we want to achieve is only a dream....Winning...is about overcoming yourself. Overcoming your body, your limitations, and your fears. Winning means surpassing yourself and turning your dreams into reality.

Time for another dream.

So, where are we going?

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