Sunday, October 20, 2013

One-Itis: Life After Western States

How do you get over something, after thinking about it every single day, many times a day, for months, even years - only to be so squarely rejected? Even now, nearly four months later, I'm not sure I know that answer yet.

Perhaps the answer lies in not getting to that point in the first place...

Immediately post-WS, after my family departed, I stuck around in Placer County for a while.  Mr Wonderful invited me to spend the Fourth of July up at Tahoe.  I thought about it; it sounded fun, but a part of me recoiled: that'd be like breaking up with someone, then spending the holiday at her parents' house.

I'm out.

I went west, as far as I could, away from the stifling, 100+-degree heat. I drove into the night until the road ended, and only a thin ribbon of asphalt separated me from the end of the continent.  I slept in the back of my truck along the PCH, in the cool, thick Pacific air, Rickey Gates-style. 

Leaving Placer County - Carb-Crazed, post-WS binge. 

Acommodations along the California Coast, just north of Sonoma Coast State Park

California 1.  Amazing drive.  Like Wisconsin...with sea cliffs, ocean views, and eucalyptus trees.

Breakfast along the coast. 

The next day, I caught a Fourth of July Parade...Mendocino-style:

Fourth of July Parade in Mendocino!

Very political.  Also a lot marijuana smoke. 

An admirable-sized rat-tail...and bag of chips.

What says Liberty better than a giant dog that pees on the patriots?
The next night's lodging: the Lost Coast/Mattole Road, south of Ferndale, CA.

I spent the next several days, alone, driving.  Contemplating.  I'm not sure when it came to me, but I eventually it hit me.

I did it again.

I had one-itis.

One-itis is a debilitating disease:  "A unhealthy obsession with a single entity", a "social malady that results in a feeling that this entity is totally special and unique, and therefore one must not mess up anything with it".  Moreover, it almost always involves "completely unrealistic idealizations and expectations" -- of what your life would become, should you successfully master that thing.

But ultimately, this obsessive fixation invariably interferes with one's ability to execute and successfully.  Because anything that valuable takes a confident, relaxed (if not detached) execution to master.

There's the rub.

I felt jilted: I put so much into this race, that day, and for what? Nothing. I blew it.

All the hard work, from December to June. What did I have to show for it? Two lackluster races and a beer mile victory.

Something had to change. Many things.
Base Training

First, I had to let go. Oddly enough, that was easy. The relentless obsession with Western States had drained me, even pre-race. And now, after having blown it? I felt a tremendous weight release when I began to let go. 

Secondly, I had to change. I needed to achieve greater balance, perspective, and resourcefulness in my life. Wiling the hours, doing nothing more than eating, sleeping, slogging miles – all the while remaining obsessed about Western States had gotten me less than nowhere – it caused me to lose sight of those things.

After returning home from the race, I was determined to work on the non-runner me. I felt like, in many ways, I was deficient in the comprehensive non-running resources and abilities to not only effectively maintain balance, but also help me reduce my stress and anxiety, and keep perspective. Developing and enhancing my social skills was a big part of that.

I recall during the Solo Fast 2012, that one of my most significant issues was the void of meaningful day-to-day relationships in my life. Simply put, I spend way too much time alone, bored and lonely. In particular, a lack of a significant other in my life for the past year has been a tremendous void, and a drain on my spirit. Like the absence of food during the Solo Fast, it is easy to put out of mind, but every so often it would strike furiously, and a deep ache would set in. 

I feel the purpose of relationships are two-fold: one, they are people with which to share important and exciting moments in life, and two, they exist for you to help them, and them, you: to survive the challenges of life and transcend toward greater living.

But relationships, like anything else, take time and effort. They take intention and commitment, skills and abilities, energy and courage.

I was committed to taking July off running.  So instead of training my legs, I trained my social skills.

The EUG can be challenging for post-collegiate to pre-retirement single folks like myself, but, I had a blast.  I went out. A lot. I all but begged folks to hang out, and if they couldn't, I'd roll solo. And I stayed out, until 3AM. On a Wednesday night. And when I wasn't going out, I was at home, reading and studying relevant social skills that I lacked (and sometimes I'd go out and read and practice!). I'd go out, being friendly, just talking to people. And, by and large, it was effective: I interacted with more people in meaningful ways in that month than I had in the previous four years I'd lived in Eugene.

Clifton and Jens, out at Max's Tavern - July 2013

Good times. 

Perhaps the most randomly awesome picture of the summer: Teacher, Mentor and friend, Gregg Johnson (L) - with Chris DeMarco teaching a manual therapy course in Portland - July 2013.  Chris punctuated his trip to PDX with a surprise-appendectomy at the very hospital where the course was taught.  On Sunday, he came down to say hello.

KILLING IT with Dan Majerle in NBA Jam - August 2013. 
An extremely important conclusion when overcoming One-Itis is the reality that no race is so important that winning it is going to make your life great, or not great. Fact of the matter is, it never works that way: those singular experiences can never live up to that pressure, that hype – and if they do, it is short-lasting, and you're left invariably asking, “It's not enough, what's next?”

Relationships are identical. No one person can ever make you happy. You make you happy. And the sooner one can recognize that experiences and relationships are only a part of life – and not the end-goal – then we can be set free to experience them unfettered, and without expectation. And then, we're far more likely to optimize those experiences and relationships.  When interacting with folks this summer, I expected nothing.  Then, when something did develop, it was everything

Through random-but-valuable interactions this summer in EUG, what I learned was this: meaningful relationships - and experiences - are not scarce.  However, those experiences frequently appear in places and forms you least expect - so you have to be open and accepting to whatever comes your way.   If you are, you just might find that very thing you're looking for.

The Rebound

Despite my positive mental being, post-Western States, I still felt driven to have a Rebound. I felt driven to do something, anything, besides Western States. The choice was easy: Waldo.

For the past two years, I'd signed up for Waldo 100K, and, post-WS, DNS'd both, due to inadequate recovery. This time 'round, after my WS Fun Run, I felt I'd be rested. But would I be prepared?

The Training

During my Western States ramp-up, I read a lot of the latest edition of Lore of Running. In it, Tim Noakes writes in characteristic detail about energy systems, and what we now know – or think we know – about endurance metabolism. Until now, I'd never read or heard significant treatment about the importance of fat-burning as fuel for endurance performance. That changed in 2013, reading from Noakes. Another big factor was spending time with Tim Olson down in Ashland. Our conversations about diet and training, coupled with what I was reading in Lore, pushed me to radically change my diet to be more fat-burn-friendly: namely by slashing the quantity of carbohydrates from my diet. Since mid-March, I've been bonafide low-carb: eating next to no carbs from sun-up to evening, and only then will I eat unprocessed fruits and vegetables, devoid of any grains, pastas, breads, or any previously guilty pleasure foods such as The Big C's (chips, cookies, candy, chocolate, [pan]'cakes). They were all gone.

(But: I wouldn't cut out my beer. I gotta live!)

Diet was a big change, but another important conclusion drawn, post-Western States, was that my fitness in 2013 was “upside-down”. This is a term I've coined when talking about the difference between aerobic and anaerobic fitness.  While diet is crucial to training fat burning capacity (what you put in is what you'll use), one must train at the proper intensity to allow fat-burning to happen.

Lore of Running talked about the 1989 Ironman Triathlon -- the epic battle between Dave Scott and Mark Allen, where the men ran 8:09 and 8:10, respectively, including a sub-2:40 closing marathon leg.  Noakes talks about the physical impossibly of only sugar burning for such an effort, then outlines Mark Allen's work with coach Phil Maffetone, DC, to enhance his fat-burning and sustainable training.  

Maffetone advocates his Maximum Aerobic Function (MAF) effort as the most important element in developing aerobic fitness.  It represents the maximum intensity whereby fat can be used as fuel.  According to Maffetone, if we maintain [the vast majority of] our efforts at or below this level, we will enhance fat burning.  The effect is, the speed at which we travel - whether by foot, bike or swim stroke - will improve at the same effort level.  

MAF is measured by heart rate.  And the beauty of heart rate-based training is, it takes into account everything: not just fitness, but restfulness, stress, and nutrition, among other factors.  If any of those are off, it will reflect in heart rate.  With MAF training, the days of only focusing on "miles" are over.  It is, in effect, truly holistic training.

MAF is calculated, simply, by taking your age and subtracting it from 180.  Mitigating factors - including injury history and consistent training - might increase or decrease that value by +/- 5 BPM. 

Since resuming running at the end of July, 95% of my running has been at or below my MAF heart rate of 150.  Subsequent testing at our clinic found that my true end-range fat-burning is 158-162 BPM - the absolute highest intensity where fat burning stops.  

Progress is tracked by doing periodic 5-mile time trials at MAF heart rate. It's a rather fun game: how fast can you run, while keeping your heart rate low.  It emphasizes maximum efficiency and relaxation.

My initial effort highlighted how upside-down my fitness was:  by mile 5, I had to slow to >8-minute pace.  It has since imporved to 6:20-7:00 pace, simply by "running slow". 

Since July, I've experienced palpable benefits in both running and body composition: I felt “fat-burning power” during long runs and races, where I felt like I could “run all day”.  Moreover, this is the most muscular I've ever been.  I've gained some weight since WS, but it's been all muscle; in fact, I'm sure it's been a net muscle gain with fat lost.  

Moreover, my Waldo experience  - and a recent run around the Three Sisters, where I ran 50 miles without a single calorie - reinforced that this approach is extremely effective.  

Waldo 100K

Almost by definition, Rebounds never work as planned.  But they do serve a purpose.

I went into Waldo unprepared to run well, and that was OK.  I was committed to spending the entire run at or below anaerobic threshold.  While my MAF was 150, I allowed a ceiling of 160 for the "race".  But with the numerous steep and long climbs, sticking to this would be no small feat. 

As Craig Thornley set us off - for his last Waldo - it was yet another example of the impact of the sympathetic system on heart rate.  Three weeks before, I did the opening climb - a solid, 1000'+/25 minute slog - fairly easy at 150 BPM.  Race morning?  170, pegged.  Sonofabitch!  I leisure-hiked as the entire front-pack faded into the pre-dawn darkness.  All but Jacob Puzey, who was coming off a recent illness.  He and I shuffled with each other early, then reconnected as the trail summited the ski hill and rolled west and downhill.  Yet even then, I could scarcely keep the HR under 160.  Damn!

After the first aid station, I slowed even further.  The slog up to Mt Fuji was brutally slow.  Being passed by several runners, including early women's leader Joelle Vaught, were further gut-punches.  "This sucks.  What am I doing?"

I wanted to quit.  It was stupid.  But I shuffled along.  As I summited Fuji amidst irritating wildfire smoke drifting from the south, passing the front runners, already ten-plus minutes behind, I connected with Rob Hendrickson, who I paced at Waldo in '11.  We ran together, and I had a purpose again, for the time being.  He and I ran in lock-step down Fuju and back west toward the PCT.

On the PCT, things started to click.  I got comfortable.  I figured, "OK, this is good fat-burning training.  Just go with it".

So I did.  I shuffled along.

It was a tremendous learning experience.  I felt when my body grooved in fat-burning: when it did, I felt like I could run all day.  When I inched over 160, I felt a heaviness in my gut, and things got cloudy.  Soon, I scarcely checked the HR read-out.  I could feel it.

At the aid stations, I took my time: I stood around, drank soda, chatted, and waited for my HR to drop.  Often, I took over two minutes per station.  But I felt the heart - and brain - needed that rest to re-set the system and allow for better running in between. 

I I hiked a lot.  Uphills at 7,000' with low fitness made running in the fat zone impossible.  So I hiked.  At the 45 mile mark, I picked up my iPod.  Fun music invariably drives up heart rate, but it was a small price to pay for the entertainment.  I jammed to Akon and Eminem as I rolled south along the PCT toward the last big climb up the 7,800' Maiden Peak. Again, tons of hiking, but I made the most of it.  And I felt strong.  There was no fatigue in the legs. 

The summit marks the 53-mile mark and the high-point of the course. From there, it's all downhill. I made quick, aggressive work of it.  I stopped for another couple minutes at the Maiden Lake AS, the put the finishing touches on my first Waldo finish.

The closing ten kilos at Waldo are among the best in ultrarunning: groomed single track, flat-to-downhill in its entirely, save but a few uphill blips.  And the views! You're treated to four different mountain lakes, including three in succession in the final four miles.  It shocks me that some complain about that closing stretch - but I suppose the final kilos of a 100K are inherently brutal.

As I passed the Lower Rosary Lake, marking 5K to go, I was feeling the fatigue of the day, but the finish line was in smelling range. The root wad repair marks about a mile to go.  I was keeping to my 160 ceiling until then.  Then, this song came on.  I looked at my watch: sub-10:30 was in reach.  So I pushed it.

Western States was not in my thoughts very much that day, but it came to mind in those closing minutes.  I thought about Craig waiting - as he does at Waldo, and now WS - at the finish line.  I was looking forward to seeing him, and I thought about how Western was supposed to be.

Like this.  Success.  Triumph.  Joy.  As the single track burst into the clearcut homestretch to the ski area, this song came on.  On the WS playlist, was supposed to be my River-to-Green Gate song...

I crossed the finish line - MAF to the wind - just a shade over 10:30.  I was a good 85 minutes behind winner (and newest speedster-du-jour) David Laney.  That stung, but it is what it is: a terrific training effort, and an important rebound.

Occupy Waldo - the encampment, pre-race

Pre-Race Meeting: presenting Craiggers with a going-away thank-you present - a quilt of all the Waldo shirts

"Congratulations on a job...done".  The HRM's max'd-out calorie count.  That's a lot of beer. 

The Man at The Helm.

So, here we are.  It's Fall.  That magic hour, liberated from heat, bugs, and impending snow.  Ample opportunity for care-free outdoor adventures amongst the watercolor splatter of autumn leaves mixed with Pacific Northwest showers.   

Yet, The Cup looms.  Bandera is right around the corner. 

Yet in order to be successful - to do it right - is going to take patience.  Balance.  Perspective.  Relaxed detachment.  This fall continues to be an exercise on those things.  Some fall races and adventures that I'd looked forward to will have to take a back-seat to the Big Picture. 

I'll be back to Western States some day - with a number on. And when I do, it will be different. And even better than before.  Until then: patience, balance, perspective.