Thursday, May 30, 2013

Silver State 50 backyard has never been so unforgiving

The Silver State 50 mile race, my home turf. One would think I should dominate this race. I literally run on this course or rather this mountain (Peavine) all the time. My house backs right up to the freaking course, I am 1 mile away from the 5 mile mark. Yet with all these advantages, I've yet to have a good run at one of these events. I ran the half marathon in 2009 as my first ever trail race and the 50 miler in 2011 and 2013. Each of those experiences has been difficult and character building. The half marathon was brutal at the time. I was severely under-trained and so naive about the act of trail running. The 2011 50 mile race was an ass kicking humbling experience that left me questioning everything about running. I finished just short of 13 hours and I could not have gone another mile. I looked forward to seeing what 3 years of trail running and ultra experience would do for me.

Going in I knew things would be tough mentally. However I had convinced myself late the night before that I was stronger than my mind, I was sure I could manipulate myself to have a great day. This was, in a word, DUMB. A stupid naive thought that in reality now seems ridiculous. I learned three weeks ago my mom has cancer, nothing I can do is going to remove that from my mind. Yet, completely convinced of my mind powers, I started the race believing nothing was wrong.

I went into the race tired. I knew physically I was spent but that was the goal, I did not realize how mentally damaged I was. Within a couple of miles I was fully aware that my mental state was going to be the issue this time around.
108 excited runners about to embark on 50 miles of Peavine Awesome!
The start of this race is always fun. We start at the dog park and every year they water the park and the result of which ends in a sloggy wet mess we have to run through. This year was no different, 100 yards in we were getting wet. My buddy even lost his shoe in the mess. I ended up getting one foot wet. Normally I have no issues with watery feet but 100 yards in.....I've got 49.9 miles to go and ONE only ONE of my feet are wet. Was this a precursor to how the day would go?

The early miles of this race are interesting. Most people go out fast. The terrain is such that a strong runner can run all of it, but there is the rub. Who's a strong runner? Most people are not strong 50 mile runners, and running now, ends in a bad way around mile 30 if you over estimate your running prowess. I started slow, a classic maneuver I've grown to love. However today with tired jelly legs and mind, slow was actually snail like. I crested the switchback at mile 4, I got my first view of Reno and realized no one was behind me. I was last as far as I could tell. In 2011 I never once was in dead last until the cutoffs. Here I am 4 miles in....last. Holy Crap this day is not starting out well.

I was approaching the mark that is closest to my house and it was 7am. I considered for a short time running home and calling it a day. I was really not in the mood for a run but as I would tell myself for the next 12 hours "Chemo is going to suck much more than this".

8 miles in and I got a nice little vacation from the race. I reached the Pond, a place that is special to me. I've visited this spot more than probably anyone on the planet. It is 4 miles from my house and I'm probably there once a week. I've been going there since 2004, I've spent countless hours sitting by the water just pondering life. Today I would ponder my moms life. Fortunately for me Reno Running and Fitness mans the aid station at the pond and seeing their faces really helped me out on the mental front. This was good, because the rest of the race would be trying on the mental the point of almost breaking me.

I like to think I'm strong, but today was one of those days where I'm not so sure. I left the pond thinking about my mom. Within a couple of minutes I was leaking from the eyes, and thus started my day. Not crying, just leaking a steady stream of water falling from the corner of my eyes constantly for the next 10 hours. My god it sucked, but "Chemo is going to suck much more than this" I kept telling myself. My mom is a fighter and god damn it today I was going to honor that spirit. I walked almost all the hills this year, I was OK with that. There was a bit of a "bummed" feeling that I had since I have put in so much work this year to actually RUN hills but the reality was "just get what you can done" needed to be good enough today.

I relaxed, while still leaking and crested Peavine for my first time still quite ahead of 2011's pace. That year I got to this point and ran my heart out, it's downhill for the next 7 miles and if there is one thing I KNOW I do well in running it's getting down a hill fast. That year I remember averaging around 9 minutes a mile and I got to the long valley aid station (mile 19) crippled. I burned myself out and this year I was determined not to make that mistake. I started down the hill and saw another runner. I passed her and saw another....OK I thought to myself 14 miles in and now everyone is on tired legs and I'm doing good. Playing field is level....well except for the fact we were running up and down hills and all. I reached the mile 19 aid station and experience in ultra running was blatant. I averaged 8:45 a mile on my way to this aid stop and I in no way was taxed. All of it was easy running for me. I left Long Valley charged and ready to run. Only my mind and now my body had different idea's.

It has just started to get warm here and like always I underestimated my hydration needs. The leaking + warm weather meant I should have been draining bottles quickly. Yet I am almost 20 miles in and I've had a grand total of 40 ounces of water. I'd just refilled both bottles for the first time at the last aid station and I was still, even with this knowledge, completely unaware that I was thirsty and dehydrated.

This would unfortunately hinder me from here on, I just did not know it yet. Truth be told I should have drained both bottles right then, filled them at the next stop and drained them again before I left. I would tell anyone I was pacing to do this and anyone I coach to do the same. However, recognizing that as a runner is something I'm still working on. I got to Dog Valley aid station still feeling OK physically but the monotony of the road we were on was giving me time to ponder. Pondering was not doing me well in this case....more leaking and more dehydrating.

I got to the hill just before ranch creek and powered up it. I crested the top and had an odd sensation in my left calf. Another sign of dehydration that I refused to listen to. Cramps suck as I'm sure all women will attest too. I ran down the hill to ranch creek well but the pain cave was now within reach and I was headed straight for it. Golly gee, I'm 26 miles in dehydrated SOOOOO 2011! All this experience and training and I'm still making the most basic of mistakes.

I got to the River Bend a half hour ahead of 2011. Physically I was fine, I was cramping majorly but that was a hydration issue. I sucked down a bottle at the aid station. I really really wanted to quit at this point. "Chemo is going to suck much more than this" I kept telling myself. I just could not quit, and typical me I did everything I could to hide my true feelings at the aid station. The whole day I interacted with people like nothing was wrong, only to get to a point where I was by myself so I could let out how wrong everything was. I suspect most had no idea of the metal anguish I was inflicting on myself.
Drinking...just a bit late
 I left the aid station dejected. I had 17 miles to go and all of it was tough, I was about 40 minutes up on 2011 but I knew my legs were thrashed and running would not be in the cards the rest of the way. I ran no more than 10 minutes at a time and most times it was more like 2 minutes, then walk to recover. Again, were I coaching or pacing I'd have told myself to sit down and drink so of course I powered on not drinking. Sometimes being stubborn is a fault, this is one of those times. Thanks for that trait mom!

I reached the summit of Peavine for the second time, I had planned for this to be the glorious ending that resulted in me pounding out 8-9 minute miles for the last 11 downhill miles. I was in no condition to do that though. I sat down in a chair for the first time all day 10 hours into the race. I had a horrible bout climbing that last mile between my mind and my body. I wanted to run, I could not. I kept thinking, "this is probably how mom is gonna feel. Like she wants to but can not, Chemo is going to suck much more than this". Now the mantra was not helping, every time I said this I started to break. 10 hours in and I could not hold back the emotions.

I ate a whole quesadilla, a sausage and rosemary potatoes at this aid station. The "Squirrel" really had his minions in top form. I finally started drinking as well, slow learner I guess. I was having a horrible day but when the Squirrel asked me how I was doing I realized I was still 40 minutes better than 2011. The day was not going well but I was performing decently given all the circumstances.

The last 11 miles were a blur, literally and figuratively. Each mile brought with it another emotional breakdown, by the time I reached the last aid station I was done. I was going to finish but I just had nothing left to give to the run. I walked 3 miles to the finish, the downhills, flats and hills. I ran the last 400 yards, again in an attempt to show the world nothing was wrong.

I finished and saw my queen and my dogs at the finish. I've never been to the finish of a race where my dogs were there, it was quite awesome. I reached the line in a hair over 12 hours almost an hour faster than 2011. I succeeded, but I did not feel like I did. I finished but there was no elation on my part, no "happy" left in me. I turned to my queen hugged her and totally broke down. I was now crying, not leaking. I hated that run and everything I went through.

It was about this time that I saw another surprise. A good friend and the one I ran the half marathon in February with was at the finish. He also was at the finish of Western States, damn I thought to myself I know how rough a go he's had this last year and yet he's here supporting me. I sat down on the grass with both dogs licking my face. My queen on my left and my friend on my right. The next thing I knew the Prez was right there congratulating me on a fine performance. He told me I was strong and what an achievement today actually was. I told him that was the most excruciating 12 hours I'd ever had and I compared it to being in solitary confinement. I uttered the statement, "there is no way I can finish TRT if I do not figure this thing out" I simply could not escape my mind the entire day. Running did not provide me a safe haven, in fact if made it worse.

Zeke, my boy!
That's how I felt, but like it usually does time changes perception. I am so much stronger for running that race. I know now I am every bit as tough mentally as I am physically. I did not get the clarity I was looking for with my moms situation but realistically I was never going to get that. I did get the confidence that I can handle this, it is going to be day by day but I'm going to be fine. My mom is going to be fine too, she is so strong and taking this all so well. I had a great conversation with her a couple days ago and she seems to be in a great place mentally. Life is going to go on, I might as well embrace it rather than run from it. Ironic considering my hobby.

As I have come to expect the race was top notch. The Silver State Striders were out in full force and every aid station and course worker was excellent. All three distances offered are awesome, this is not an easy race for anyone but it so empowering. The course is relentless but rewarding. The views of Reno are outstanding and the fact it is on Peavine is awesome.

I'm running my first Reno Tahoe Odyssey this weekend and I look forward to seeing how I respond from this experience. I suspect I'll respond well to it, cause that's just what I do. Like my mom, I'm a fighter, I'm stubborn and both those traits work well for success. My running inspires my mom, she revealed that to me in our last conversation, that made me proud. I love to run, but I got lost for a month or so and questioned why I should continue. The "why " is probably going to change from year to year but I hope the benefit does not, running makes me happy. Its really as simple as that. I'm ready to get back to work, to be the best person and runner that I can be. I'm going to run TRT and I'm going to run it well. The granite underbelly of the TRT course has no idea what I have in store for it.


Friday, May 24, 2013

Losing My Will To Run

"Brandon, I'm just going to come out and say it. I have lung cancer", and like that my world stopped. This is not the type of thing you can be prepared for, a parent telling you they are going to die. We all know it is going to happen, yet most of us sit back in our pretty little worlds believing we have all the time in the world. Stage 4 lung cancer spread to the lymph nodes, not good. My mom had been a 2 pack a day smoker for 50 years. This was not a surprise, but at the same time it was a complete shock. I'm really not sure how that works. My journey to Western States ended the day I started the race in 2012, my mom quit smoking then as well. She'd not smoked since, up until she got the news that is.

Zeke, Mom and Sasha celebrating their birthdays together!

I'd prepared myself back in my late 20's that my mom would pass earlier than I wanted. She had been in and out of the hospital seemingly yearly with some major issue or another, almost all of them smoking related. It was clear to me that the end was near back then. I made my peace with her smoking, it was her life and it made her happy. The consequence of making that peace, I pulled away from her emotionally. I just could not deal with the constant barrage of sicknesses that in my mind were completely avoidable.

Once she quit, I could see the life come back to her. She got healthy (we thought) and I started to knock down those barriers again. I figured if she was taking an active part in becoming healthy to live, I needed to do the same with our relationship.

The last year I have enjoyed some of my most fond memories of my mom. However, as it usually does, life sorta pulled an about face on us. Her life will never be the same and I've now opened myself up to all the heartache I tried to shield myself from. I'm getting married in October and my only hope is that I can dance with my mom on that day. Every single day this month, I have spent countless hours hoping and planning a way to make that happen. My unfortunate reality is, I can do nothing. I can not work harder, be smarter, or buy a fix to this situation. I simply must sit back and let it happen. Anyone who knows me well, understands sitting back and waiting is about the hardest thing in the world for me to do.

I had the Silver State 50 mile race scheduled 3 weeks after we found out about the cancer. I'd tried to run "long" the two weekends previous to the race and both attempts failed miserably. I thought running would provide me a safe haven to escape life like it normally does. I can run for hours and just be lost and happy in the playground that is my mind. Within a few miles on both attempts I was a wreck, to the point I just had to call the runs and go home. The second one in particular was a group run from the River Bend aid station, we ended up with probably 40 people and I was so embarrassed about my mental state. We had so many people on the run and I was having such a hard time keeping it together. I got to the top of Sandy hill and completely lost it. My legs buckled, I fell to the ground weeping. I was 3 miles into a 25 mile run and I was done. My want to run was gone. I ran to the 50/50 split directed everyone the correct way and then left. It took me two hours to get back to the car. I might have been 5 miles away at that point. I would get so emotional I could not even see the trail ahead of me.

I've joked to friends I've never met a mental state that I could not force myself to run in......while that may be true, apparently a broken heart will derail me quite easily. I really was not sure if I was going to actually start the race up to the day before. In fact, running and even the thought of it, these last couple weeks seems so trivial and selfish that it has simply been unappealing. I spend so much time running, for what? Why? I once thought I had those answers, now I'm not sure I even want to run anymore. It seems pointless.

I had volunteered to work the registration and bib pickup of the race on Friday before at Eclipse Pizza. Once the registration and race meeting were over I sought a little council. I talked to two of my trusted running friends Gator Boy and the Prez. I asked if there were any tricks to coping while running and they could provide none. However, they assured me I was strong and capable. To take it slow and easy and of course since it was a run in my backyard there would be many friends to lean on along the way. Only, I'm not so good at leaning on people. In these situations I pull way back into hobbit mode. I disappear deep into my head and I do not come out till I've figured it all out. 50 miles seemed so far. I did not look forward to it, and 12 hours before the race I was still in "who knows" mode about starting.

Once I got home I got a good dose of perspective from my beloved better half. She's been amazing through all of this. I am truly blessed to have her in my life. So with about 6 hours to go, at midnight, I made the decision to go ahead. Ultimately it is what my mom would want, and maybe just maybe 50 miles of alone time would bring with it answers or at least a little bit of clarity. Surely after a couple hours the emotions would leave me and I'd be able run free and fast. Yes, that's it! Just make it through those first tough miles and all will fall into place, I kept telling myself as I went tried to sleep. I awoke at 4am dead set on running my plan.

The plan being run the race at 100 mile pace, concentrate on fuel and hydration and use the last 11 downhill miles to pick up the pace and finish strong.  I wanted sub 12 hours at an easy relaxed pace. I'd made sure to go into the race very tired to mimic as much as I could the "second 50" of TRT. I had two quality runs, one a 5k paced tempo run and a very hilly run.  On top of that I helped mark about 8 miles of the course on Thursday, two days prior to the race. With 28 miles on my legs this week, I was sure to be tired from the start. Plus, if all went well I'd have my biggest week of miles yet this year.

I left the house around 5:15. I had no nerves for the first time in a race. I surmised the lack of nerves was because I simply did not care about the race. I was determined to finish, but I had no idea what kind of day it was going to be. Would I be able to compartmentalize my pain from my grief and run well? Would this be a mirror image of the last two times I tried to go for a long run? I tried to prepare myself for what I would go through, but as I found out 12 hours and 10 minutes later, I had no flipping clue what I was about to go through.