Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The beginning of the end

When I started this blog, my intentions were to write about my trail running experiences. I also intended to blog a lot more often. Today's blog has everything to do with running and trail running and its relevence to my life. Today was the first empowering run I have had since that day. December 7, 2008 was the day I felt like a battleship sitting in Pearl Harbor, protecting the home front. The bullets peirced my skin and the bombs wounded me. The wounds are deep and the flesh is exposed. Unfortunately this is just the beginning of the end. What end? I don't know that yet. In retrospect, I should have seen the coming of the battle I was about to enter. The red flags were there but I could not see them. Maybe it was the fog or the sun or my own color blindness that clouded my vision.

I have continued to run since that day but it just hasn't felt good. Running in and of itself is empowering and even though my runs haven't been the best, they have been important in helping to build my strength. I have not run with the Kansas City Trail Nerds in quit awhile, even though I long for the trail therapy. Today I ran with my dogs on a winding, dirt, country road. The sun was shining down on me and the cold brisk air was refreshing and invigorating. My thoughts became clearer with what lies ahead for me now. They always do when I run but they get clouded every night.

While I am still pretty new to the trail running, it has analogies similar to life. We start at the trail head and enter the system with great expectations, high hopes and elevated spirits. We begin as a group, sometimes big, sometimes small. The scenery is beautiful and the conversations are great. We know what happens on the trail stays on the trail, most of the time. We exchange thoughts, feelings, bad jokes, good jokes and stupid comments throughout the journey. Before we know it we have run several miles and we begin to feel a bit drained. It is a good thing for Gu or whatever our fortay is that we have conveniently stuck in a pocket. Conversations shift, some people run ahead and some drop off the pace a little but we are all still connected by the trails that curve, loop, weave and fork into the deep dark woods and grassy terrain.

The trails are filled with rocks, ruts, roots, snakes, other animals and just about anything you could imagine. Somewhere along the way we stumble. Sometimes we fall flat on our faces in complete and utter disbelief and other times we can catch ourselves or someone else if we are close enough. Learning to fall becomes important but more important is getting up after the fall. We realize it is vital to our being to risk falling everytime we strap up the tenny runners than not to run at all. Trail running is addictive. We connect to the freedom to get away from life as we know it. There is a comraderie that exists on the trails and a feeling inside that is undescribeable. There is an unexplainable closeness to otherwise strangers in our lives.

The seasons change and with each change comes new obstacles and barriers to trail running. The trails can and do become muddy, leaf covered, snow covered, icey slick, dry dirt hard and loose rocks shift regularly under our feet. Sometimes broken branches and fallen trees block the trail. However, we learn how to deal with the changes and the barriers through our experienced friends' advice and through our own misfortunes and successes.

If I think I can't do it, I won't, but I know if I believe I can the group will help me keep going. Oh I know I have to do the work and I wouldn't want it any other way. Sometimes when we run we encounter hills and valleys. The hills make us strong and somehow we find the strength to keep climbing. The valleys provide us with energy to conquer whatever lies ahead. There are times we have to slow down to a walk in order to recover from some unknown physical or mental barrier we have encountered. Our friends along the way help us through it and we in turn help them when they are struggling. We all encounter the barriers but we can all be thankful we don't all encounter barriers at the same time. There are also times along the way we must pause a moment to see, hear, feel, smell and taste. We ask ourselves is this as good as it gets? (Thanks Kimberly Hoffman for that insight.)

Sometimes we put ourselves to the test and run in the competitions. We test our strength, our endurance and our mental toughness. Sometimes we win. What do we win? That is completely up to the individual goals we each have for the race. Some or us just want to finish. Some of us want to run a PR for the course. Some of us want to run farther than we have ever run before. We all run to be a part of something bigger and better than our everyday lives give us. And, of course, there are the ones who really win the races. Congrats to them and their achievements. There are some of us who don't always finish but we are still winners as long as we gain something in the experience. We gain strength and insight to return to run a more glorious race next time. Somewhere we know we encountered a barrier that kept us from finishing. We all have to find ways to get over or around or through the barriers. Otherwise we die a little inside. Our goals are all different and they change for each event and throughout our lives, but as long as we keep those goals in sight and in our hearts, we will succeed.

Soon we finish the run and look forward to the return of the next run. We come out of the woods and into the wide openess of the trail head where we began. Sometimes we part ways until next time and other times we go hangout for more time together. The experience is rewarding and powerful even if we struggled through it. It is the struggles that make us stronger and we know in our heart that it will feel better next time and that is why we return. If the run felt great, well, then of course you know why we return next time.

I used to run to be the best and the fastest. I always failed. Now I run for pure enjoyment and I always win. I love my new found trail running frends, the nerds, and soon my wounds will be healing from the attack and the battleship will be stronger than ever. I am thankful that at least I didn't sink to the bottom. All my pieces are floating around in the water, but my core is still in tact. While this post today is about my new found love of trail running and my current crisis and obstacles, I think you could agree that trail running relates to life. Someday, when I am ready, I will reveal what wounded me but for now I have to build my strength and keep on runnin'.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Fall Fell Trail Run

Up before dawn and out the door with coffee in hand and running necesseties in my bag. I met up with Sophia, Hunter and Fritz for a carpool to the race. On the way there, I realized I was not with a group of casual runners. These are serious runners! As I checked in, there was a chill in the air and the brisk breeze added an exclamation point. I handed in my registration form and eight dollars and recieved bib #13. Mmmmmmmmmmm, I thought. I am running in a race at a place they Kill Creek, wearing #13 and running with a group that claims they bury whiners in shallow graves. And it is two weeks before Halloween. Ewe, kinda creepy.

Out of the gate, I fall back quickly as usual. I watched the others dissappear quite methodically. I have been a competitor all my life in sports such as volleyball, basketball, track and softball. I used to get so damn nervous before games and races that I couldn't eat for an entire day. I used to expect more out of myself than anyone dare to know. That lead me to always performing sub-par. My life now is hectic and stressful with 2 children, 3 dogs, a 25 acre plot of land, an ailing father and 3 businesses to work and manage. I lost my mother 7 years ago and not a day goes by that I don't think of her and wish she were here to see the baby of the family taking on so much responsibility.

Once again I felt alone with most of the pack ahead of me and a few behind me. I came to the first error in ways and went left when they clearly stated go right. I did stop and ponder a second as Karen, her son and another caught up with me. Not sure why we went left but I was in the lead and they followed. A little ways further and I realized we were running the same damn trail. To me it was no big deal but I felt bad for the ones who followed me. I kinda felt like "Wrong Way Ralph". The extra miles were nice on such a beautiful course on a georgous day.

We ran as a group for awhile and then I am not sure what happened but I fell back from them. Through the creek and out onto the second loop. Here I was again, running alone and falling back into my thoughts. I am not here to win or break any PR. No, not this year, maybe next. I am here because I enjoy the run, the scenery, the people and life. I am here for my children. I am their greatest mentor and my goal is to lead by example. I have attempted the world of soccer, t-ball and basketball with my 3 & 5 year old daughters. I failed miserably as a "soccer mom". I realized that successful, happy people are passionate about what they do and you cannot teach passion. There is plenty of time for my kids to get involved in sports and other activities when they so desire. In the meantime, I want them to see me pursuing my passions while still making plenty of time for them. I want them to see the happiness that following my passions brings to me.

Okay, so enough about that. Here I was feeling like I was in last place and not hearing or seeing anyone else made me remember my #13 and running in a place called Kill Creek. "Hey, Mary Ann!" I looked up to see Karen and her son just as Gary Henry caught up to me. What the heck? Why is he behind me? I met him awhile back when I was on my way out. He was apparently a little confused to come up on me. He ran this loop twice, I guess. He passed me and off into the woods he dissappeared. As I crossed the creek on the way back, I was greeted by Kyle who told me where to go. I felt good now and stepped it up a notch so I could finish strong. Only one problem, I missed the hard right turn and sped on through the woods going the wrong way. "Mary Ann!" I stopped as Karen hollered at me to come back. Thanks to her, I turned around and followed her for awhile. That burst of energy that was to carry me into the finish seemed to have depleted. I am sure it was a mental thing.

I finished none the less but with a longer time than my Sandrat Trail Run. Oops! But I still beat Gary. Not sure how, but I am guessing he didn't have someone like Karen to stop him from running on out to the first loop again. Trail running is new to me as is distance running. I will get better, stronger, faster and smarter. That you can count on! After parting ways with my carpool buddies, I went on home to carve pumpkins with my kids and play in the afternoon sun. Mom would be proud.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Pod Trod 08

Welcome to trail tails and mud more. This is where you can read about my trail running, especially in the mud, adventure racing and mud (much) more. My most recent event entailed an entire weekend at BOW (Becoming an Outdoor Woman) workshop. I will blog about that at a later time this week. First I would like to share a most adventurous race that I participated in on September 21, 2008 at Clinton Lake State Park. It was called a Pod Trod. It is believed to be the first ever race of its kind , anywhere. Correct me if I am wrong and please show your proof.

"What's a Pod Trod?" you ask. Well it is a trail race with a twist. The night before the race you are able to download the instructions of your choice to one of three courses. One is hard, one is moderate and one is easy. However, you do not know which is which. The choices are Mud Babes Revenge, Lumbering Luddite and Clinton Confusion. I chose Mud Babes Revenge, narrated by none other than local celebrity and original mudbabe, Sophia.

At the race; checked in, stretched and prepped for the 5K course, I began to size up the competition. Looks like a bunch of trail nerds hoping to find their way back to the watermelon.

With that said, here’s my experience in a nut shell, and I use the word nut because I am sure for anyone who may have witnessed this event with no knowledge of what was going on, probably thought we were nuts, or squirrels looking for nuts.

MUD BABE’S REVENGE: Ready, set, MP3 player on. Everyone stood there for a few seconds and then took off like a bat out of hell. Me, I was not quite in such a hurry, so by the time I made it to the first landmark, Lands End, most people were gone. There were just a few, standing, looking around, not talking and then taking off running, only to stop, come back, and then take off on a different trail. I did the same thing, took off down the wrong trail. You see, when I looked at the lake and turned around as I was told, I could only see three trails…Lake Henry to the right, one straight ahead and the one we came down. I was told to take the left trail in the V once I turned around. I was too far to the south to see the V in the one we just came down so I trodded off down the blue blaze trail, only to hear Sophia remark that I should be on a white blaze trail….ERRRR! Okay, so I ran awhile before I turned around. Once I finally turned around and made it back to Lands End, I took the other wrong trail. I did come back to Lands End again. Okay now I’m the only idiot here, everyone else figured this part out and I’m only ten minutes into the race. That’s ok, I’m really only here for the watermelon. Yeah right? Just then I looked up to see the V, ah ha!!!

I decided I better run a little faster and suddenly started meeting people coming back. I tried looking at their bibs to see which races they were running and all three were well represented, so that left me no where for the better. OK, just listen to Sophia, she’ll keep me on track. So I replayed it again to make sure I was going in the right direction. Yep, sounded good, keep going. I’m looking for the man made stairs with the red railing. Where can it be? Ahhhhh, I see it. I’m still the only idiot here doing my own thing. Everyone else must be doing well. OK. I’m stopped on the steps, waiting for Sophia to figure out if it is recording. Yes, Sophia, I can hear you, where to now? Down the steps and what do I see? People, yes, people. Crap, it’s my brother-in-law taking pictures, Gary, the RD and another volunteer. This is not reassuring. But hey, there’s a bucket with my first ticket. At least I am on the right path, just a little behind.

OK, so here is where my high school competitive spirit tells me I can’t be last. GO! RUN LIKE HELL!!! Let me remind you, it’s been awhile since high school and my GO doesn’t GO like it did back then. But I sure felt like I was hauling butt, running like a banshee through the woods. I was really beginning to feel like a nerd. So now I’m headed back to Lands End like the directions said. So, I’m still doing my own thing out there on the trail. Alright, Sophia, I’m going to turn you on (MP3 player, that is) before I get to back Lands End. Yea, I’m a rebel. So she tells me when I get to Lands End to turn around and go back down the trail I am on and go about 18 steps. Do I dare turn and go down the red blaze without going all the way up? No, they might have the 2nd bucket up there and besides there is a woman with the camera, she’ll know I didn’t go. So I went up looked for the bucket, made a face for the camera and came back down.

Still by myself, I blazed down red. Ouch! The trail has become a little rocky. No more blazing here so I toned it down a bit. What is that up ahead? Girls. Could it be? Yes, I caught them and then by golly I passed them. Up ahead were more runners. Ah, there is a girl with a very cute baby and a guy standing there looking like a volunteer. So I just I keep running on by them, admiring the baby. Oops, I was supposed to stop there and listen to Sophia. Back to the girl, the baby and the guy and get the next set of directions, which I cannot remember what they were but I went in the right direction, or did I? It was quite hilarious to come up on a group standing there, looking at each other, not talking, concentrating, looking around and then one would take off running.

So along the limestone and shale trail some more and up the hill and there is a group standing around another bucket. I went to get my ticket and WHAT IS THIS??? MBR #1, I have that one and so did another couple there. I turned on the directions again and via a different trail I ran back by the girl, the baby and the guy. OK, where is the stinking fallen down tree? Did I pass it? Yep sure did. Back by the girl, the…., you get the picture. Yep, there it is and time to turn on the directions again. Then Sophia has the gull to tell me to go back to Lands End on the same trail that brought me here. I sttill only have one ticket and as I pass the girl, the baby and the guy I feel like we have become good friends, “Just me again.” I tell them. Was everyone running by them as many times as I was? Will I see them again?

I ran all the way back to Lands End and up the trail we came down to begin the race and up into the clearing. I was really expecting to find another ticket by now. I caught up with a couple of girls and asked them if they were doing MBR and they said yes. They said they had two tickets and I asked them where they got their second ticket and when they told me, I said that was MBR #1 again. When they pulled out their tickets they realized they had 2 #1’s. Oh, here comes the couple I met on the race a few times and they too, only had ticket #1. Alright, I’m oughta here. I’m just want the watermelon. So off I went, running to the finish with one final hurdle. Yes, I said hurdle. I did run hurdles in high school but I was not ready for a droopy foot to catch the bar and slam my face to the ground with the photographer standing there, so I gracefully stepped over the sucker. When I turned in my one ticket, I found out the only person who found all three tickets so far was running without an iPod and returned to the finish line via a different direction. I then proceeded to the watermelon. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

It was a blast and I thoroughly enjoyed. I hope to see many more out there next year and that this may be the beginning of a new type of race. Until next time, have a day!!!

Links to race photos: