Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Creative running

My minor maladies often come in bunches, usually convincing me that they're somehow related. Just about the time the swelling on my elbow finally diminished, I came down with a wretched case of likely food poisoning. I spent a long evening and night clutching the toilet and wondering if I had some kind of horrific wound infection from the superficial cuts on my scar. It is humorous what my mind can conjure up when I'm coping with a downturn in my health. By the fourth purging session, I felt extremely dizzy. I laid down on the cold floor and obsessed about flesh-eating bacteria and probable paralysis in my right arm. Honestly, I can be such a hypochondriac. Luckily I know this and keep these delusions to myself until my health starts trending upward again.

Still, arm pain and food poisoning sufficiently punctured my motivation and led to a rather deflated weekend and start of the week. I had big plans to finally hammer out a kind of "deadline schedule" for my 2012 project goals (I am discovering that my journalism background has essentially trained me to only work well under deadline pressure.) But nausea prevented consumption of breakfast and coffee, which led to more dizziness (and sleepiness) and out-of-focus staring at a blank document on my laptop screen. I finally decided my day was shot and I might as well just try to stuff down some simple carbohydrates and go for a run.

This is also the time when "training nerves" start to get under my skin. It's just a little more than four weeks until the Susitna 100. Conventional wisdom tells me that the next two weeks are crucial for hammering out the kinks in my fitness, putting in a couple more endurance-boosting long days outside, and pounding a few more miles on my soft feet. Once it's time to taper I actually feel relieved, because there's really nothing more I can do so I might as well return to my regular happy routine. But for the third and fourth weeks before a big event, I tend to experience low levels of panic that I'm completely unprepared and I need to get my butt in gear.

I didn't want to let an arm boo-boo and a tummy ache completely derail the whole week, but I knew overdoing anything wasn't going to help matters either. I settled for ninety minutes at an easy pace, and of course felt lousy the entire time. It is humorous that I try so hard, when deep down I know that these little training efforts aren't really what will give me the boost I need to finish the Susitna 100. I know that any success I might experience is going to be a triumph of my imagination rather than fitness. I already have the physical ability to drag a heavy sled a hundred miles over soft snow while wearing snowshoes. I nearly did exactly that just three weeks ago, and it wasn't really that hard. Of course doing even the same thing in one long effort is a completely different matter. (It always amuses me when people try to impress the difficulty of a 100-mile trail run by exclaiming, "It's like running four marathons!" Because, really, if it were as easy as running four marathons, there would be a lot more people running fourteen-hour hundies.) Still, it doesn't have to be impossible, either. If I imagine piecing together three thirty-mile days in Alaska, the Susitna 100 suddenly seems imminently more doable. And if I continue to imagine it as doable, it is.

One of my favorite aspects about winter ultras is the fact that even if I wanted to, there's no way I could train for them with any sort of scientific precision. There are too many variables, too many unknowns. My default setting is essentially "unprepared" no matter how well my training went before the race. I have to activate my imagination, think my way through problems, and adapt to unexpected and continuous changes in myself and the environment. It is, in its own way, a creative endeavor, just like writing. Creative running.

Still, physical fitness is the most useful tool in this creative process. And it is crunch time. I guess the best I can do is all I can do. I hope this bunch of minor maladies doesn't come in threes.


  1. I know I'm not running the 100, but I'm totally there with you in the Unprepared department. I wish I had a default setting like that because I've never gone into a 50K without at least SOME recent (in this case, snow and cold) experience to back it up on.

    Just keep doing what you can and don't worry about the rest. I almost feel like being surrounded by my favorite snacks and friends will be the key to finishing, not any specific training. Danni is right about the perfect playlist :)

    PS- I'm looking forward to meeting both of you next month.

  2. I think your default setting allows you to have more normal expectations, not strain yourself, enjoy more, and be far more pleased with results - whichever they are. And that might be exactly what will have you stay with endurance sports for good, for life.

  3. We're supposed to be doing something to prepare other than sorting and buying gear? You're right, we're not. Preparation for this is mental and you're infinitely physically AND MENTALLY prepared. You are the one person who will make it through no matter what. You are better at suffering than anyone I know. It's the genetic imprint of your people. Or something.

    Karen, I do need to finish that playlist. I am perfecting it and plan to have it done this week and ready to go. FB me your address and I'll burn it for you too.


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