Saturday, December 04, 2010

It Takes a Team

HURT is drawing nearer, and our long runs are growing, both in mileage and in elevation gain. Since Grandma's passing last week, I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about life, and running, and the outdoors, and friendships and family. Training for HURT has been challenging in ways that training for other races hasn't been, both physically and personally. I've realized that the tougher the challenge, the more important it becomes to assemble a team, since going it alone can only sustain you for so long.

Yesterday's run is the perfect example of this. We were not sure exactly how long we'd try to run, but Sarah and I knew we wanted to go farther than 50 miles, which is the longest I've ever run before. So over the past few days, we made an extra-special effort to recruit some compatriots to keep us company on what was sure to be a challenging day, and amazingly, we had some takers!

In addition to owning her own business and having a family, our friend Cat is that unique type of runner who has finished both the Leadville Trail 100 and the Boston Marathon. She's awesome. We do question her sanity, though, because she agreed to meet us for a 4:00 am start for yesterday's run. Is that friendship or what?! I guess it's either friendship or insanity -- or more probably, both.

Given the early-morning start, I did as much as I could the night before to prepare, so that I could wake up and move straight out the door. But when I grabbed my hydration pack as I heard Cat's car pull up in front of Andrea & Sarah's house, it was unexpectedly soaking wet. A puddle had spread across Andrea & Sarah's countertop. I had a leak. Sarah and I frantically - and quietly, as it was 4 am and we didn't want to awaken Andrea - squeezed the hydration reservoir, seeking out the mystery leak. Had I simply not closed the top tightly, or was there truly a hole? There was truly a hole. Quickly, Sarah grabbed the hydration reservoir from Andrea's pack, we filled it with water and stuck it into my pack, and we were off and running.

I'm accustomed to predawn runs, but 4 am seemed a lot earlier (and darker!) than 5 am, and I was still a little tense about the last-minute switch we'd had to make with my hydration pack. But soon enough, in the company of good friends, we were just another few runners heading off down the trail at a relaxed pace. It could've been a Saturday afternoon.

Quick, spot the runners! That's Roo (the reflective stripe in the bottom left), Sarah (left headlamp) and Cat (the only face you can see!)
This was so much fun.

So, we're cruising down a peaceful valley, not far from where Spring Creek and Wathen trails cross. It's maybe 5:30 in the morning, and still dark. We've been going about 90 minutes, and are moving at a relaxed pace, alternating between conversation and easy silence. Then suddenly, out of the dark, a flash. Then another flash. And a third. What the...? We all jump in surprise. I'm sure I squealed like a little girl. As I return into my body following the shock of the flashing lights, I realize what surprised us: a wildlife photo trap. SUCH a surprise. Whew!

The sun came up and we could not have asked for a more beautiful day.
Sarah, tackling Arthur's Rock Trail for the second time of the day.

Cat, climbing up the Arthur's Rock Trail on our second loop.
Part of what made running with Cat so much fun was that she knew everyone on the trail. A group of retired people out for a hike? Clients. Some college-age kids taking their dogs out for a walk? Staff at her gym. Another couple, also out with a dog? Parents with kids who were Cat's daughter's classmates. I'm telling you: she knew everyone on that trail yesterday, and as we passed and they cheered for Cat, it boosted all our spirits.

Did I mention it was a gorgeous day? This is December 3. Amazing!

Eventually Cat had to leave us, and we went back to Andrea & Sarah's to refill our packs. After 40-some miles, Andrea and our friend Heather came out with us for the final 10-15 miles, which we'd decided to run on some of the flatter trails at Horsetooth and Lory (East Valley Trail, West Valley Trail, Shoreline). I hadn't seen Heather in a while, so it was great to catch up on things, and since she was running on fresh legs while Sarah and I had gone almost 50, something about her energy gave us all a boost. Andrea also brought along Lola, one of Andrea & Sarah's pups.

After a couple miles, Andrea headed back to the house (Lola's back limits her running long distances) and not long after, I found myself overcome by fatigue. I'd been running since 4 am, and now the sun had gone down again and my body was ready for sleep, not for more running. I'm not sure if it was running on little sleep, or the fact that I'd been on my feet so many hours in a row, or even if my current grief-stricken state in the wake of Grandma's passing was to blame, but running at night (after having run all day long) really disoriented me. I found myself having trouble tracking Heather's headlamp beam in the distance, and getting confused and a little frustrated when I had trouble gauging the distance between us. I got a little nauseated, too, but the ginger wasn't helping much.

This was a challenging training run - both physically and emotionally - and a really, really valuable learning experience. At HURT, I need to remember to stay focused on what's immediately in front of me on the trail, especially at night, so that I can try to avoid this same phenomenon from happening again. And I'm going to try to be patient with myself when I'm sleep-deprived, tired and confused. Who wouldn't be, after so many hours on their feet, and having pushed pretty hard most of the way? Training runs are exactly for this purpose: to truly push yourself to determine what you need to look out for during a race, and to get accustomed to the fatigue of a really, really, really long day. So as training runs go, I'd say this one was a real success, even though (or precisely because) it was hard.

At the end of the run, I called Christi from Andrea & Sarah's to let her know I was on my way home, and out of the blue, I burst into tears -- completely unlike my usual self. Andrea and Sarah ended up driving me home; I was that out of sorts. All of this is to say that it really does take a team to complete a tough run like this: a trusted training partner, friends who'll meet you early in the morning and late in the afternoon, friends who'll comfort you even when you, yourself, aren't sure why you need it. I have an awesome team around me, and I am so grateful and lucky.


My Garmin battery died at mile 39.28; estimated distance between that point and Andrea & Sarah's is 5.6 miles; we then went out for 3rd lap with Heather (9 miles, fairly flat) for a total estimated distance of 54 miles and more than 10,000 feet of climbing. Whew - what a day!

See you on the trail!
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