Friday, April 22, 2011

The big race

A guy I used to spend some time with once encouraged me to write about running in this blog. He felt it would be something of interest to everyone, rather than the continual eating disorder stuff I generally go into here. When I think of my running career, it's always with mixed emotions. When I was running well, I generally didn't take credit for all the hard work, long hours, sweat, tears and early hours I put into it. My wins were always attributed to outside factors: good coaching, the other girls having a bad day or sheer luck. It wasn't until years later that I was able to take some credit for my running achievements.

There are several races that stand out in my mind as some of my better successes in running. There were a few road races where I set course records or had a PR, and some of the mountain races where I set records are still fresh in my mind. The actual pain of those races has faded, something my sister would attribute to a "forgetting hormone", but the memories are still quite vivid. Most of my cross country races have become one big blur of golf courses and a fury of girls in various school colors running hard. As much as I loved the roads, cross country and track though, mountain racing was my thing.

Of course the big race that was probably the highlight of my career was the Pikes Peak Ascent. I ran that at a time when my eating disorder and compulsive behavior were starting to get more in the way of my life. I was far from rock bottom, but the black pit I would fall into was somewhere around the corner. Until then, I was busy training. My first year in high school I managed to be the top runner on the girl's team. I won quite a few races in both cross country and track, but I had a disappointing 4th place finish at the state cross country, and and even more disappointing second place finish in the 2 mile in track, when I was out kicked by a senior from a rival school. I vowed I would do better the following year, but I had set my eyes on a bigger goal in the meantime- Pikes.

My first few real mountain runs were before I went into high school. I had run quite a few trails, but going into the high country was a new experience. There were small streams to cross when the runoff from the melting snow was occurring early in the season, and steeper, more difficult terrain to manage. The altitude was a challenge as well. but I was hooked. My very first run, my coach made me turn back while the older kids continued up the steeper trails. I couldn't wait to get my shot at going the longer distances. Over time, I was running with the boy's team most of the time, especially when it came to hill workouts. Several of the older runners talked about the Pikes Peak ascent, and it immediately stuck in my head as something I wanted to do. To many, it was considered kind of like the Olympics of mountain running. My coach agreed to help me train, so after my first year of high school competition, I went straight into road racing and mountain running.

My mileage was relatively low, but it's hard to convert mountain running miles into actual mile equivalents when it can sometimes take up to an hour to run 4 miles up steep mountain trails. I suppose I was running about 50 MPW or so, but these were no ordinary miles. There were plenty of early mornings, bloody blisters and sore muscles while training, but I was determined. Everything in my life was geared toward completing that race, and based on my training times up various mountains, my coach kept suggesting that I had a shot at winning the thing.

The plan was for my coach to run behind me the entire way. We didn't want anyone to assume he was pacing me. I got up at 4AM for a small pancake breakfast, and we drove 2 hours from Boulder to Colorado Springs. Manitou Springs and the base of Pikes Peak is not far from there. I was so excited for the race, that I may have started a little too fast, but there were still a few ladies who were ahead of me. I settled comfortably into a pace behind a row of guys, my coach behind me, and it started to feel like a dream. Everything was going right. A little while after a minor incident where one guy wouldn't let me pass and my coach had to yell at him, I ended up passing the lead ladies, who asked who I was as I ran by. My coach did the talking, telling them my name. Eventually he dropped off the pace with a cramp, and told me to keep on my pace. I had some minor trouble with a few miles to go. At altitude, a few miles can seem like an eternity, and I was starting to fatigue. But I kept going, despite the increasing numbness in my legs and eventually my hands as well. I think I actually hyperventilated before the finish line, but my mind was so focused on crossing that line that I somehow kept going until I collapsed into the arms of race officials at the end, setting a new course record for women.

It seems a lifetime ago now. Races like that can be so rare. I was lucky to have a relatively successful career despite my illness being so severe. I sometimes wonder how things would have been had I not been so lost in the eating disorder though. My poor parents were always trying to get me to eat. I had a little soup after the race, and my mom couldn't understand why I wasn't replenishing like everyone else. I even freaked out during the race when someone handed me tea instead of water. It's sad to think about now, but, during the last part of the race, I was fretting about how many calories there might have been in the tea!

I suppose I will always have mixed emotions looking back. I'm glad I'm in a different place with it all now. I realize though that I still have so much to learn when it comes to life in general. I wouldn't trade my running for anything. I just wish I had learned more about balance, communication and being in this world along the way. Sacrifices, I guess.

6 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing this recollection Lize.

    I am curious ... do you think you could ever go back to Pikes, assuming a healthy foot? In other words, do you think you could go back there to race - with an appropriate balance?

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  2. Thank you, GZ.

    It's a hard question, because while I think it's possible in general and have seen others do it, I don't know that I want to tackle that kind of race again. Last year, a friend at the time helped me gain enough courage to run the Vail Hill Climb, even though we both knew I was in over my head in terms of not enough training. I finished in the middle of the pack with thoughts of how I used to hold the record there. It was tough emotionally and physically, but having a friend to lean on made me realize that I have other things to address in life now. Running will always be a part of me, it's just that it can't be center stage anymore. If the foot holds, I'd like to think I have a race or two in my future, but I need to get to the point where I can even walk normally first.

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  3. I have a friend who was once a sub 30 min 10k guy. He is over 50 now, and he really won't race - but he runs. He says it is hard for him to get motivated to race a 10k in 40 minutes, when he he used to run a minute per kilometer faster, even though it all feels the same.

    I bring that up because I think that sort of view is not unique - it is very inherent in some of our wiring. I am not saying it is a right or wrong view ... it is just a view.

    For him, to keep it in balance, he does not race. Others I know ... race alot.

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  4. It's definitely a hard transition. I can see why your friend doesn't race. A few years ago, I was struggling with being at the very back of the elite field. My body just didn't respond like it used to. Coming back from injury or illness makes getting back into the hard stuff even more difficult. The race I did last year put me right in the middle of the pack, so emotionally it was tough. Still, there's something to be said about the sheer discipline of running, with or without the races.

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  5. Right. He also recognized that his pursuit of what he was would throw him out of balance, and so he elected not to race. "It opens a pandora's box," is what he would say. So in other words, rather than battle the balance game, he decided not to race - in part because he'd not be happy with the results.

    So I was wondering if a race like Pikes for you opens that box. I guess I know it does, but I am wondering if you can come to terms with the results, and can you do that in a way that is healthy with who you are today, and who you want to be. It might be the healthier, more balanced choice not to go to Pikes.

    I am cheering for you either way.

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  6. It's funny, because my coach used to always tell me that you have to start where you are, not where you were. It seems so simple, but it's hard to apply when you have run well in the past.

    I think when I ran the Vail Hill climb, it was a flood of mixed emotions. At the time, I felt I was moving forward, and attempting to step back into racing, despite not being happy with the results. I was more focused on other things like having someone to share the experience with, enjoying the trip overall and not getting down because of a time or place. I was hard emotionally, but I had to give myself a pat on the back for merely getting out there again. In many ways that was harder than being at the top of my game and winning the thing.

    Pikes is a bit of a different story, because I know the amount of training it would take to even complete it. I think for now, I can avoid Pandora's box by not racing or opting for more manageable races.

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