A quick glimpse from the Big Pine 55K in Flagstaff last week. I’m happy to say that the goal to “keep all of my blood inside of my body” was a success. It had been a couple of months since I last raced and it felt nice to get back into the grind. I learned, or relearned a few things throughout the 55K, or 30-something miles of beautiful, Ponderosa lined single track trails.
- Racing at altitude is hard. Really hard. It is always hard. It is silly to ever expect it not to be. There is no easy way to do it. Training at altitude will help immensely, but…even though most of this course covered the EXACT same 7000 ft high trails that I have run almost every day of the last 2 years on my 22 mile commute back and forth to the university, it still hurt. If you are going to race at altitude, expect it to be difficult. If at all possible, spend some time training at altitude – even just for a couple of days. No, your body is not going to “acclimate” in that time. There will not be any long lasting physiological adaptations within a couple of days, but it will help you to know how bad it actually feels, and that is half the battle. Get to know that beautiful, hypoxic, panicky, suffocating feeling. That metallic taste in your mouth that Hemingway called “The taste of death.” – play around in it. Rub it all over you. Learn to become comfortable in that state of extreme discomfort. Learn what it feels like to red-line up a steep climb and then to keep pushing. Learn to calm yourself and breathe through the agony. Get accustomed to the sound of your own blood as it beats loudly in your ears. Despite everything your body is telling you, you are likely NOT going to die. You might, (everyone does at some point) but it’s unlikely to happen just from running at altitude, and if it does it is probably due to something else. So before you race at altitude, find time to play around in it a bit. It won’t transform you into an East African, but it will help you to prepare for the storm to awaits and perhaps help you learn how to calm it.
- Don’t eat 4 lbs of blueberries the day before the race. Just don’t. I’m a produce snob. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, where produce is unmatched in quality and freshness. It is not often that I am excited by produce that has made the long voyage to AZ. So last week when a good batch of blue berries came through (from a farm that I actually used to work for) I had a hard time restraining myself. Note: Don’t buy 16 lbs of fresh blue berries and expect to eat them all before they go bad. Or…maybe do, but don’t plan to race 30-something miles the day after consuming ¼ of them – it won’t end well. I have long prided myself for being “that guy” in the race who doesn’t have to stop every couple of miles to use the port-o-potty. At Big Pine however, that wasn’t the case. It felt like I had Trichinosis. No seriously. I know that’s not something to joke about, but I have actually had it before so I can, AND because I’ve had it, I actually do know what it feels like. There was a brief moment during the race that I thought perhaps I had contracted Listeria from my good friend and fellow Flagstaff-Voluntarily-Impoverished-Professional-Endurance-Athlete Forrest Misenti (@forre5t) who actually did have Listeria a few weeks back. Although we had run together a quite a few times in the recent past, my mind was put at ease as I reminded myself that you can’t contract Listeria by doing strides with someone who has had it. Phew. Note: If you are hoping to get lean and mean and can’t seem to shed those last extra stubborn pounds, one dose of Listeria will do the trick. Again, not something to joke about, but for my homie Forest, it’s real life. (#ListeriaSurvivor) Back to blue berries. It doesn’t matter how good they are, or how many antioxidants are contained in their tannin rich skin, they will not help you run a fast race if copiously consumed the day before. Restrain yourself and stick to the good old fashion, basic starches. It’s always better to be a bit plugged up the day after a race than the opposite the day of a race.
- Be nice. Everyone out on the course is struggling. Everyone. That discomfort is the great unifier of endurance feats. We are all there in an attempt to somehow make ourselves better; to reach a goal; to prove to ourselves that we are in control; to silence our demons; to reconnect with the natural world and our natural selves within that world; or simply to make us feel alive for a few hours in this mundane, overly-mechanized world. We’re all in this together, so for goodness sakes, be nice. Acknowledge each other with a wave, or smile, or a quick word of encouragement. Thank the volunteers and the race directors and the people who you dragged out of a comfortable bed or an air conditioned house to come support you because they love you, or at the very least tolerate you. Remember that nobody is handing them potato chips and cups of ice cold coke every 15 minutes. If you’re having an awful day out there being an A-hole is not going to make it better. All it does is make you an A-hole who is running slow. If you are having your best day ever, still be nice. Even if you are running fast, you’re still just a fast A-hole. Nobody likes that. Even if a ton of money is on the line, it is likely not enough to buy drinks or dinner for everyone you scowled at in the process of winning it. “Oh, but it will slow me down if I take the effort to acknowledge others around me.” False. It won’t. This is a 30-something mile race, not a 100 meter sprint, and even if it was, Usain Bolt still smiles and waves while setting world records. “I don’t have the energy to smile.” Also, not true. A smile is nothing more than a grimace with raised eye brows and your cheeks spread a little wider (face cheeks). Try it out. Go look in the mirror. You’ll see. (Again, face cheeks). Look at the very best the world has ever known. Haile Gebreselasie, Chrissy Wellington, Kilian Jornet. They somehow find the energy to be gracious and it doesn’t slow them down. In fact, it seems to actually make them faster. It puts a positive lens on the agony they are facing in the moment and somehow allows them (and us) to push into even deeper levels of agony and reach higher levels of strength. I’m not the best at this, but I realized it again last week as I saw runner, after runner, after runner, smile and high five, and hoot, and whistle, and offer words of encouragement and kindness. It made me feel strong, and fast, and capable. And even in the really dark times, when I doubted myself and wondered how much more I could endure, it made me realize that I had friends on my side, and I wasn’t in this alone. I think that’s kinda why we do this in the first place.
Thank you to @aravaiparunning for another incredible event.
PC: The lovely and talented Melissa at @sweetmimages http://www.sweetmimages.com