Monday, February 09, 2009

Facing the anxiety

Date: Feb. 8 and 19
Mileage: 42.2 and 12.1
February mileage: 219.9
Temperature: 34 and 29

Iditarod Trail near Burma Road, Jan. 28, 2006

"Of course, everything about today was exactly what I would expect of such an excursion. Temps were cold, but not unreasonably so. The trail was soft, but all-in-all better than I expected. Mt. Augustine decided today was the fourth of July, but all the ash headed south. Yes, today was a good day. An encouraging day. And yet, I feel the cold grip of this daunting task tightening around me. It could be my neoprene gear. But, no. I think it's the Susitna 100. It's going to be hard."

It's funny for me to go back and read this old blog post from a training ride before the 2006 Susitna 100. I feel like I could have written it today. There was even a volcano erupting (Mount Augustine) to parallel the current restlessness of Mount Redoubt in the near area. But this blog post completely denies a raw anxiety that I remember hit fever pitch after this January 2006 ride. I don't think I was ready to admit it to myself when I wrote this post.

Geoff and I drove from Homer to Palmer for the weekend, a trip almost solely dedicated to getting in one training ride on the actual race course. It was 7 below zero when we left Palmer, likely colder where we connected with the Iditarod Trail at Burma Road. We both rode full-suspension Gary Fisher Sugars. We stopped to play with tire pressure and I got really cold and struggled to warm back up. I tried to eat a frozen Power Bar, bit my lip and bled all over the front of my coat. We both crashed hard going down a steep hill and I broke my seat post bag. We rode for five hours. We covered 20 miles. I returned to Palmer bloody, shivering and completely, utterly spent.

Our friend Amity, never one to skimp on sweets, made us a celebration desert of three big homemade chocolate chip cookies topped with several scoops of ice cream. I ate the whole thing. I remember sitting on the couch with a horrible, sickening pit in my stomach thinking, "I am never, never going to finish this race."

Recent Snowslide Gulch avalanche as seen from Douglas Island.

Ever since I moved to Alaska, February has been my toughest month. Mid-winter blues and training fatigue, along with preparation and pre-race anxiety for the various adventure racers I keep signing up for, always add up to a month full of creeping malaise. The end result is worth it, in my mind, but the lead-up is sometimes difficult to bear.

This February, I can't even catch a break from the weather - which simply means that the weather hasn't cooperated with my training plans. It also means I haven't had a direct hit of sun in quite some time (It feels like weeks). Snow turns to rain turns to ice turns to snow, which has left nothing very rideable, trails or roads. I'm fusing my old job with my new job and I really do have less time to train, because the extra hours I'm working generally spill out into mornings. I've been bike commuting to work more often because the roads have been too treacherous for my wimpy little car. The actual biking is nice, but it often adds up to 10-12 hours straight at the office, and I never bring enough food and end up close to bonked before I have to ride home (I could probably plan better, but I haven't been shopping for myself in a while.) These are all just little problems, nagging issues, but they start to add up. I'm trying to keep my head above water, but it's hard to push it back sometimes ... that sinking feeling.

The 90-minute snowshoe run that made my day.

Going outside helps. A lot. My race and job anxiety seem to dissipate proportionally with the number of hours I'm able to spend traipsing through the snow. The continuous record snowfall that is literally smothering the city becomes alluring and beautiful up high. I walk and run with purpose, listening to the rhythm of my breath and feeling the movement in my muscles. It all seems so simple and I try to remember that the upcoming race, as big and complicated and scary as it seems right now, is just as simple.

"One foot in front of the other," I tell myself. "One pedal stroke in front of the other. Keep yourself warm, keep yourself fed, and keep moving. You'll get there."

I'll get there. Eventually.


  1. Nerves and anxiety before a big event is always a good sign for me. The anxious moments and the second guessing seem to keep me sharper. When I don't is when I've usually left a piece out of the puzzle.

  2. Come on girl! There's no substitute for buying your own snacky treats. I have a drawer- full at work which paid off last week when the caterers were blocked from getting to work by a measly 12 inches of snow.

  3. At least February only has 28 days...28 sleety, gloomy, days... :) Just keep chasing what inspires you. Wherever that takes you from day to day, you'll be happy you're there.

  4. "One foot in front of the other," I tell myself. "One pedal stroke in front of the other."

    I had a similar epiphany on a ride last weekend. It's easy for the vision to blur when you try to see too much at once. The old, simple solutions work because they have always worked. Absent danger, just keep your head down, and the pedals turning and roll on to the next controle.

    Yr Pal, Dr C

  5. Jill,
    Love your blog. I'm sure you've heard it a million times, but you are an inspiration. Your photos are incredible and make me want to move to Alaska. Ghost Trails was great. Finished it a while back and I kept putting it down. Not because I disliked it, rather because I didn't want it to end. Maybe one day, you'll write one about the entire 1100 miles. I'm already in line to purchase it!
    Question: What is the best way / website to track you and Geoff in the upcoming race? Do I just go to the Ultrasport website? Or is there a better place to track the progress of the race with updates? Any insight would be greatly appreciated.

  6. I am really starting to dislike Febuary as well. I need some sun and blue sky. Thanks for the post keep them coming...and good luck

  7. In climbing 'snail eye' is when you approach the wall and it seems to keep getting bigger.

    Only thing to do is focus on the here and now.

  8. One of my favorite descriptions of what it takes is 'Stay Mammalian'. You gotta keep making your own heat by moving, eating, and drinking.

  9. I wonder what the Eskimos would think of the Iditarod race ?. Would they say:

    A. That's a tough challenge doing that in those conditions.

    B. What's the big deal, we're out here doing that stuff everyday ?.

    C. Those white people are frickin' crazy !.

    Which brings up another point.....I wonder how many black people are involved in that sport ?. Does the starting line resemble white rice in a bowl of sugar ?.

  10. You keep eating bars warm by storing next to chest? stove cannister too, dry socks at night on chest... what else do you have to worry about?

  11. Oh yes, those moments of doubts can be scary. Hang in there and buy yourself lots of food!

  12. so many adventure racers! so exhausting! you poor thing!??!

  13. "One foot in front of the other," I tell myself. "One pedal stroke in front of the other.

    Words to live by!!

  14. Those February blues are ugly. Way to get yourself outside and moving.

  15. Anonymous,

    Just a bit of interesting trivia for you.

    One of the earliest American polar explorers was an African American named Mathew Henson.

    You can find some interesting reading about him. Cheers.


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