November 4, 2016

The Case for Running with Music

Did you get the memo that running with music makes you lame? I did when I read Ultrarunning Magazine's "Bud People" (double entendre intended?), which begins, "I feel sorry for the Bud People. We only have five senses with which to enjoy our running, and they blithely toss one of them away."

Ahem, looks like it's time to push my flannel plaid, Kurt-Cobain-loving sleeves up to my wimpy runner elbows and have a serious talk about what I'm going to call Music Shaming. Music Shaming: the professing of a superior love of nature and all things running based on a lower desire to use music to heighten one's running experience. 

Ever wondered what Jaws would have been without the dun uh, dun uh, dunuhdunuhdunuhdunuh? It would have been Finding Nemo, that's what. 


There is a reason soundtracks make the movies!

What would Easy Rider be without Steppenwolf? It'd be more like PeeWee's Big Adventure. Alamo or not.


Ferris Bueller without the "oh yeah" of Yello? It's just you and your friends acting lame, hanging out in the family garage.


And try for two seconds to imagine Kevin Bacon angry dancing around that barn in Footloose without the song "Never." And Rocky running up those stairs without "Gonna Fly Now." Now stop imagining, because you never started in the first place, because that's impossible to imagine those scenes without those kick-a songs.



And if you replace Alison Krauss in this scene from O Brother Where Art Thou with this theme song from Nightmare on Elm Street, you get something exponentially creepier. See, music makes the experience. It can take you to a spiritual high, or drag you down to a demon's lair.



Seriously, watch that O Brother clip on mute while playing the Nightmare on Elm Street song. That's messed up. With Alison Krauss it's all happy and love Jesus, with Nightmare on Elm street it's all, we're going down here to drown ourselves and probably as many small children as we can find on our spooky-looking walk to the river.

Oh, and running. I almost forgot that this post was about music AND running. Music can work the same magic in your running. When I run without music, I love the trees and rocks and roots and bird songs. When I run with music, like "June Hymn," the ivy waves at me, the snot rockets glisten in the early morning light, the roots paint a picture in the earth, the kicked-up dust reaches out and hugs my lungs and I high five it in return. Stuff like that. 

When I listen to "Let's Get Lost" out on the trails, every hill leads to a rainbow (probably with a unicorn at the top), every rock is covering a probable entrance to middle-earth, every tree is whispering to me to climb it (but I can't because, duh, I'm running right now). 

I'm not saying let's be irresponsible with music. Of course only use one earbud pretty much always because you need to hear the barreling-around-the-next-curve bikers, about-to-pounce-you animals, and speedy-enough-to-pass-Kilian-on-single-track-up-the-mountain trail runners. Of course when you are running down the street, you absolutely have to be able to hear traffic for safety reasons. Of course you should take out your one earbud to talk to aid station volunteers who are trying to lend you a hand and to listen to race director instructions at the start line. And of course when you are running with friends, talking to actual human beings takes precedence over listening to music. Unless you are ALL physically unable to talk. Then you are excused go back to option 1. 

But you can absolutely hear birds singing and the wind rushing through the trees while you "Hit the Quan." And next time we're together, let's review the quan and all the ways to hit it. 

And in defense of runners who roll with a speaker playing music out loud, offending your outdoorsy sensibilities. Here's an idea: if you don't like their music, speed up and run past them. Or you can take like six steps back and also not hear Pitbull anymore. It's actually not a big deal at all to do either. This method also works if someone is saying something you don't like (in life or on the internet) or smells a way you don't appreciate. You actually don't even have to be around them. It's weird how legs work. 

So to all the music shamers, pipe down -- I'm having a hard time hearing my music over your complaints. And to all the music shamees, keep on rockin' in the free world.

August 7, 2016

Vermont 100 Race Report: My First 100 Miler

Our run at Vermont 100 started as a party yes. Party yes = something you say at a party because agreeing is what's fun to do at parties. In our case, someone sitting on a front porch swing surrounded by their craziest running friends, said, "Hey, let's all run Vermont 100 next year!" And everyone  responds with a party yes, heartily agreeing with head nods and smiles all around, but as soon as they all walk back to their cars, those same head-nodders from the front porch know that that is not a real-life yes and will almost certainly not happen. Except when it does.

We took that loosely-intentioned party yes to saving the registration date on our calendars to actually typing in our credit card numbers on registration day to actually training for the race through the scorching Alabama summer to actually running 100 miles in Vermont. So if you too are a party-yes person, beware. This could be your future. Depending on who your friends are.

Registration: Register quickly! I actually didn't know that this race sold out with any significant speed because I was just doing this as a thing with my friends without realizing that this was one of the oldest 100-mile races and part of the Grand Slam, making it sought after for those and many other reasons. We all registered together, and then I turned around and the race was sold out. We had another Birmingham friend get in off of the wait list not long before race day, and she was not high on the list. So if you are training anyway, get on that wait list because you never know.

Travel: We drove from Alabama, which we loved because we could bring tons of supplies, coolers, sleeping bags, and mats. Plus we got to see the nation's capital, the Statue of Liberty, and get stuck in NYC rush hour traffic on the way up. And fart and snore (both me) in a car together for three days (two days up and one loooooong day back).


Downside of driving from far away: locking up your hip flexors from sitting too long, locking up your intestines because that is just what happens when you travel, not getting the best rest because of late nights of driving, and not having your first-choice food options.

Upside of driving: ability to adjust your schedule without a new ticket, ability to focus on hydration since there is plenty of time to remind yourself to drink in 20+ hours of car riding, time to talk and give any last-minute race reminders to your crew (can't remember if we did this, but it sounds cool). And honestly, the best part was getting all of my race junk in one spot three days before the race so that I could not stress about that for at least a few days before the race. Because I will wait until the last minute to do things if that is an option.

Once we got there, our friend who lives locally took us on a whirlwind tour of the area, visiting Gile Mountain with an awesome/terrifying-for-me-because-I-am-afraid-of-heights-and-it-felt-wobbly fire tower, Quechee Gorge where you can cool off and float a little in the current, and King Arther Flour's Vermont campus to refuel and buy maple syrup to take home to your family. Not a restful pre-race day, but the hikes were totally worth it because VERMONT!

"Resting" the day before the race at Quechee Gorge. Photo: Brian

The tower at Gile Mountain. Photo: Brian

I was clinging to the rails all the way up. Pretty terrified of this tower but eventually made it to the top. Photo: Brian


Packet pickup:
 We took our sweet precious time getting over to packet pick-up, and actually arrived a couple of minutes late. They were luckily still open, and it was easy to pick up our bib, race shirt, pacer bib, and rearview mirror tag for our crew car. We jumped immediately into the pre-race meeting, which was pretty standard, recognizing folks who raised funds for Vermont Adaptive, making 100-mile first timers stand up, having Grand Slammers stand up, and telling us to not poop in people's yards. The most significant race info they shared was that they would not be weighing you during the race, which we had been worried about all day trying not to hydrate too much to avoid going in too heavy. The medical team seemed less scary in person than the online vibe. We wish we had known that before because we would have fueled better that day. But the best, best part of the meeting was when a mom and her child who uses Vermont Adaptive got up to share what this race and the fundraising efforts mean to them. I cried, because it was powerful and because, honestly, I just wanted to cry (because of happiness and nervousness and all the emotions at once) the whole time anyway so it was a good excuse to get some of that out.

Race morning: When your race starts at 4 a.m., you can almost guarantee yourself no sleep. I started to go to bed around 8:30, and realized that even with that, I could only potentially get five hours of sleep. FIVE HOURS! That was if I actually slept, which I am not convinced I did. It felt like I was awake all night, except for the one dream I had that my brother (my pacer for the last 12 miles of the race) jumped out of a plane, and I screamed, whhhhhhyyyyy? Super slow-mo. Then he released a parachute, and I was so relieved that he would live. But then to dream taunt me, he threw my son out into the open air. Why was he carrying my son that whole time, and why would he throw him out to die? All questions a dream cannot answer. My son had a parachute too, but it of course malfunctioned, leaving him with some broken bones that I heard crunch in my mind. But I woke up before I could see them up close. Dreams, why do you make me so nervous?!

Pre-race sky. Photo: Brian

So after sleeping all of five seconds, I was up and getting dressed. My crew had maybe lain down an hour the night before, but they earned a little hangout time before the stress of race day. I am not convinced that I worked harder than them on race day.

Pre-race prep at the car. Photo: Brian

We got to the race with lots of time to spare, unlike at packet pickup, so we threw open our trunk and car doors and cranked up the party music for a pre-race dance warm-up. I'm sure we annoyed a lot of people, but maybe at the same time we made some people feel happier. Balance in all things. And we ended the warm-up party by everyone bringing their hands in for a rousing Roll Tide yell. I don't even like football and couldn't give a flying cockatoo about that university, BUT if you're not in Alabama, Alabama traditions, like saying "roll tide" for "hi" just make sense and give you a feeling of at-home-ness away from home. And for anyone who thought we were too dancy and wasting energy before the race, A. dancing is never a waste and B. all five of our runners finished the race, so now we count everything we did as scripture, to be followed from henceforth.

And for future reference: Good Day by Greg Street is the best pre-race song of the earth. I still haven't gotten that song out of my head.
Pre-race jam with our team. This photo is exactly why we had a great race day! Photo: Brian

Pre-race start line scene. Photo: Brian

Start line. Photo: Brian

The course: Going into this race, you know that there will be tons of unpaved roads, around 70%. What I didn't know is that their unpaved roads are a little different from Alabama unpaved roads. First, they are not as pitted and uneven as most unpaved roads I have bumped along in AL, and second, their unpaved roads are hard! As in, hard like asphalt. Why? I learned later that they oil the dirt roads in Vermont, which may lend to their increased hardness. What does this mean for runners? If you are used to running on soft dirt roads, you should train on more asphalt roads for this race. That is the only thing I wish I had done more of in training. Because I was not used to running on surfaces as hard as their dirt roads, my feet started aching earlier than I hoped during the race.

The course winds through private property. Photo: Brian











With so much of the course cutting through private property, the race director doesn't put out a detailed map of the course before the race to respect the property owners' privacy. For me personally, knowing there was not a ton of single-track trail on the course, I was worried that I might get bored with the roads during the race. Because of that (and because I am a fan of surprises), I left as much of the course a mystery as I could, and the fact that there was not an official course map helped. I didn't look at pictures, didn't read blog posts, didn't picture it in my mind. 


As you can see in the elevation profile, it's up and down and up and down and up and down. And that's it. I can remember approximately three flat spots from the whole race. But if you look up from the trail/road, which is easy to do here because it is not super technical, you are in for a treat. Farm house after quaint farm house. Cows, goats, horses, barns, wildflowers, the greenest trees, covered bridges, water babbling beside the trail, stacked rock walls, berries ready to be picked. All of that repeated in a quaint sequence that blended into a full day and night.

All of our AL runners in the first quarter of the race. Thank you to the random bikers who took this pic.

My favorite spot of the race was at mile 30, the Barkley Meadow, overlooking the surrounding trees and hills.

Taking it upside down, because why not? 

And even though we weren't deep in the woods for much of the race, we saw our share of wildlife. Let's list: horses (of course, they were racing with us), cows and other farm animals, snakes (but I heard that there are no venomous snakes in the area, so I was not afraid), a salamander, a mole, a fox (that I spotted in the night with my headlamp -- the glowing eyes were scarier before I realized they were from an adorable little fox), and a mystery animal that I thought was following us in the woods at night. One of my running partners had the idea to sing a song to scare the mystery animal away, but the only song I could think of was the Star Spangled Banner. That animal probably left because it was offended when we didn't even come close to hitting the high notes. But, success, because we were not attacked by any animals in the night.

The weather: Perfect! Low-80s for the high, not too humid (again, coming from Alabama here), more shade than I expected, and lots of gentle breezes. Trails were dry from the perfect weather the week leading into the race. But then the night came, and with the night came the rain. At first it was a gentle sprinkle that felt refreshing and woke me up a little. I said at least ten times that this was "sooooo perfect" and "magical" with the little brush of rain. Um, so the magic went away when the bottom dropped out. For seven hours, it rained and rained and rained. And lightning flashed and flashed and flashed. I am so thankful that this was at the end of the race. I'm not sure my feet would have survived the swelling from being soaked through again and again. This made the last few miles of the course VERY muddy, like lose-a-shoe muddy, because we were finally on trails instead of the hard-packed dirt.


Going into the second sunrise of the race, finally getting a small break from the rain. 

Supplies: Here's a look at what I had in my bin for race day. I decided not to use drop bags because my crew was coming around to each meeting point. 


The main things I could not have lived without: 

*Extra socks.
*Foot repair items -- mine ended up splitting on the bottom, between my first two toes, which has never happened to me before this race!
*Changes of hats.
*Changes of clothes -- packed in a large ziplock bag so that I could put my wet clothes in it when I was done with them. 

Things to add to the kit or that I wish I brought: 

*Hand sanitizer (because gross, everything just gets gross).
*Extra toe socks because of the intense blistering. Had plenty of standard socks, just wanted toe socks.
*Extra hydration pack to have a dry one.
*More food variety. Most aid stations had the exact same foods (grilled cheese, soup, chips, etc.). Basically they had exactly what they listed on their site, but we get spoiled with the baller aid stations around here, rolling sushi in the middle of the night. Ok, not really, but they will crank out an omelet or a BLT or a veggie burger. 
*More matching clothes. I was so sad when we left Margaritaville in our new clothes, and I realized that we didn't look like a team anymore. Next time, multiple matching outfits are a must!

Fresh clothes, headed out of Margaritaville, Mile 58.

My race: My goal from the beginning of even the idea of this race was just to finish. Oh, and to finish under the 30-hour cutoff. Oh, and to have fun. Oh, and to not die. Spoiler alert: I met all the goals!

Basically, I cannot say enough good things about my team. Or about all of the teams who came out to help support our Alabama runners. Even though I had the awesomest Boo Crew (Michael -- team lead, Ki -- feet fixer, Jeremy -- pacer 1, Jimmy -- pacer 2), every single person who joined our overall Alabama crew made this experience almost magical for me. Seeing everyone working together, busting their buns to help all the runners, and having a blast even though they were exhausted is something I will never forget, and I'll always be grateful to them. For real, like right now typing this weeks later, I am tearing up. Because you realize that these people are your friends before the race, but during those 100 miles, there are 1,000 ways they help you over and over. They tape your splitting and blistering feet. They tug tight toe socks onto your wet and swollen toes, and everyone knows putting on toe socks, even on dry feet, is harder than climbing Mt. Everest ... while holding your breath. They drive approximately a bazillion miles to follow you around the course (and that doesn't include the 2,400 miles some of them drove to Vermont and back). They skip about three nights of sleep. They pretend to not notice how bad you smell. They don't make fun of you when you cry for no reason. Basically I could never repay them for the all they did to help me. There is just something really cool about knowing that there are people in the world still willing to give something of themselves that they know can never be repaid. And having even one friend like that is something special, but having an army of friends like that is life-changing. Honestly, I think finishing 100 miles was second in awesomeness to witnessing the incredible humanity out on the course.

The scene our team brought to the aid stations. 

And now on to more specifics about race day. First, Sally, Mindy, and I made the decision before the race even started that we would stick together for the first 70 miles until we got pacers. Those two probably regretted that later, as I was going for the world record in false-alarm poop breaks that day. I was also competing for the actually-producing poop breaks award. I can't be sure, but I think I won. That sounds cool, but because one of the main race rules was don't poop in someone's yard, which was surprisingly hard to differentiate from just another random field with a fence, locating places to defecate was higher on the difficulty scale. I would say that I spent at least half of the race focused on finding the next spot to go. Until the night fell, and then it was just a pooping free-for-all. And I would also like to say, thank you, Vermont, for not having the amount of poison ivy that we have to deal with in the South. Otherwise, my lady parts would probably never be the same. Squatting over that many mystery plants in the dark would not turn out well in Alabama. 

Me, Sally, Mindy.

Sticking with those Sally and Mindy was the best decision I could have made, as far as race strategy goes. We took the pace easy from the start. We hiked everything that even remotely resembled a hill, and we easy ran the rest. When someone had to go, we hiked ahead until they did their biz and caught up. It basically ensured that we would not go out too fast, that we would not get bored, and that we would constantly remind each other to eat/drink/use our glutes/and our core.

Sally also orchestrated the Questions game for us on the run. She brought 100 questions cut up into strips and placed in a Ziploc bag to protect them from the elements. Every mile after sunrise, we got to draw a strip and discuss, or sing, or remember something from the past. There were definitely times where I was surviving the mental challenge of the race one strip/question to the next. There was also an hour where we decided to speak only in haikus. Mental exhaustion and haikus either are the greatest or most horrible match. I still am not sure. 

Another thing that gave us a huge mental boost during the race was when our team would hike down the trail a little way and run us into the aid station. It gave us a chance to catch them up on how we were doing, make any specific food requests, or tell them about the latest body part that was falling apart. Plus it just made us so happy to see our friends!

Here's even more proof that our crews were the best on the planet:




'

For the most part, my body held up. I had a weird twinge in my left glute within the first 15 miles of the race, which was a scary time (too early!) to be experiencing pain. I stopped at a couple of spots to stretch it, and it went away, never to reappear during the race. That was a HUGE relief. It was so mysterious because it never hurt before or after the race. 

My feet took the worst beating for sure. At one point, I was completely convinced that I had a rock in my shoe, so I sat down in a random pasture to get it out but instead realized that the "rock" was the bottom of my foot splitting. This was unfortunately pretty early in the race. I only had one pair of toe socks, so I saved them to put on at mile 58, and I never changed them again, even through the seven hours of rain. Bad things were definitely happening inside of my shoes for those last 42 miles, but I figured that I would survive whatever it was and that continuing to shift things around was worse than just sticking with my best sock/shoe options. 


Definitely I am not used to stopping during a race and taking care of my feet, but I knew that I needed to take care of the problems early on in this race, before they got debilitating. Before the decision to not touch my feet again at mile 58, I changed socks three times with the hopes that shifting and taping and starting again would keep my feet from totally falling apart.

In total, I lost one toenail (just finally ripped the dangly thing off last night, in case you were wondering) because of blistering, but one toenail per 100 miles isn't too bad of a ratio. I've lost more in much shorter races. Not saying that my feet were good. They definitely did some things I've never seen them do before, like the bottom splitting and the full surround of blisters on my big toe. But I think I expected to lose the entire bottom layer of skin from both feet, so my problems were minor compared to that. Or at least less painful to imagine. 

More foot repair. This time, the aid station medical crew helped too.



At mile 70, I picked up Jeremy as my first pacer, and he stuck with me for the next 18 miles. Honestly, things are mentally foggy for me at this point. I was really tired, so much so that I would start to fall asleep while hiking up hills. I was just resting my eyes, I thought, and then would wake myself up when I started to swerve. I can handle one night of no sleep, but we were going on night two of very little sleep, plus a couple of nights of nervous-energy sleep the days leading up to the race. I was so beat, even though I waited to drink caffeine until night (and hadn't had any for a couple of weeks leading up to the race). I skipped drinking my Red Bull, which was probably a mistake, but it just sounded gross. Next time I would force myself to try this. 

Jeremy definitely got the hardest pacing job with miles 70-88. Not only did he have to pretty much keep a one-sided conversation going for five hours, he started running with me just as the weather turned partly miserable with the heavy rain and definitely dangerous with the lightning. But he just kept talking to me and talking to me and talking to me, and before I knew it, I was at mile 88 meeting my brother Jimmy for my last 12 miles.

When I got to that aid station with 12 miles to go, I full on started bawling. Lots of tears and maybe some full-body convulsions. Jeremy had gotten me through the part I was most scared of: the night, and now I knew that I was actually going to finish. And that my brother, the same brother who used to torture me by pinning me down and spitting in my mouth when I would cry for help and then hang my Cabbage Patch dolls in nooses from the light fixtures, was going to help me through it. We've come a long way since our latch-key-kid days in the '80s. Of course we later in life became friends and allies (when we realized we could get away with so much more if we worked together), but we still have a foundation of torturing each other, which makes for great joke material when you need to laugh. And based on the tears at mile 88, I needed to laugh.

Only 12 miles to go, so easy, right?! Except that the race just kept going and going and going. We finally got off of the roads onto trails, but because of the pouring rain in the night, the trails were thrashed and ready to take a shoe off with every muddy step.

BUT we were still running. So many things can happen over 100 miles, and it's impossible to predict the shape you will be in at the end. I was tired for sure, but my legs actually did not feel horrible. We were able to run to the finish about like we rain at the start, but with the addition of what felt like 200 sharp knives stabbing my toes with every step. But I almost became numb to that pain after a while. Also, taking some Ibuprofen helped. 

The only time I used my watch the entire day was for the final 2.5 miles. My brother was doing a great job at distracting me with games like, Top Five Things Dad Would Say If He Were Here Right Now? That game has never-ending possibilities because you can replace "dad" with any other family member (or famous person, although we didn't make it to that). Even with the distractions, it just felt like we would never ever get there. So I turned on the GPS so that I could see with my eyeballs the numbers ticking upwards. And to my tired, surprised mind, the numbers actually increased as I moved.

And then it happened, just like that I was crossing the finish line with my brother, somewhere around the 28-hour mark. For all of the struggle, it didn't feel real. I hugged our friend Tanya for probably longer than is socially acceptable and cried some more. Then I grabbed my buckle and a picture under the finish arch and hobbled off because my feet hurt so bad, and I just wanted to take a shower and lie down. 

Finish line. Photo: Brain. 

Huge shoutout to our friend and crew member Brian who took the most amazing of the pictures in this post. His photos really capture how special the day was.

And my one regret of the entire race was not waiting for my friends to cross the finish line. If I could do it again, I would have just ignored the foot pain and waited. It seemed urgent to free my feet and help them at the time, but I so wish I could have been there to see my friends' faces as they crossed the finish line and cry some more with them. 

Putting the belt buckle to use.

And what do I say when people ask me, "What was it like to run 100 miles?" Shockingly, it was easier than I thought it would be! I almost hate saying that to anyone because it sounds a little pretentious and a-hole-ish. But it's true. BUT also it only felt easy because of our crew. Maybe in another post I'll review my training, which of course I never felt like was enough, but the friends made each mile go by almost imperceptibly. And even though I was determined to finish, I tried not to ever actually think about the finish line that day (until I turned on my watch for the last 2.5 miles and was like, why will this never end?!). By taking it one snack, one question from the Ziploc bag, one country road, one rock fence, and one poop break at a time, the day just blended together into a series of fortunate events. And now I'm thinking about putting my name in for Western States, because I'm already craving the edge again but also scared of it. The 100 takes you to the very edge of your mind, of pain tolerance, of lack of sleep, of imagination, of hope, of fear -- and you hold there for much longer than you ever thought possible. Actually you hold there until you forget what you were even holding for.

June 29, 2016

Check out my podcast with Marathon Runs

Before I ever met Suman of mruns.com, I saw a video that he posted of the start line of the Birmingham Track Club's Statue 2 Statue race. You never once see him in the video, but instead he holds the camera and scans all of the runners with almost all of them calling him by name and greeting him as he walks through the crowd. One of my favorite parts of life is looking back at little pieces of life's puzzle and comparing that to the picture you have now, which of course is still not what it will look like in the end. Back then I wondered who the face was behind the video. Who knows that many people at a race start line?! And who never turns the camera on themselves?!

In time I met Suman at the Southeastern Trail Series, where he and I have been the three-year champions for the long series, which is looking extremely iffy for year four -- for me more than for him. Suman continues to be the person walking through the crowd with the camera, at every single race. He's a steady runner who takes risks (like bumping from 50 to the 100-mile race during Lake Martin a few years ago), an information sharer and race documenter to the max, a philanthropist (supporting his home country Nepal through their recent tragedies with fundraising), and just a nice dude. So when he asked me to join him for his new running podcast, I was happy to support him. And, duh, I love talking. Check out the past episodes on his site. And if you have 30 minutes to hear my running story, check it out below.

Me and Suman in our year-three champion jacket.  Photo by Mruns.com. (of course!)

http://www.mruns.com/podcast/11-from-soccer-player-to-boston-marathoner-beyond-story-of-lisa-stout-booher/

April 12, 2016

The Art of the Solo Long Run

This isn't like fine art, people. There are no happy bright colors or freeing paint splatters or exacting pointilism. I'm talking about the art of not crying into your third granola bar of the run, the art of not stabbing your emergency pocketknife through your eyeball on your fifth circle along the same boring road, and the art of being happy that no one was around to witness how you slipped on the flat gravel road and excessively rolled around in red dirt and then lay there for a few minutes absorbing your own awkwardness. This will not end pretty. Most likely you will avoid making eye contact with people for a few days after because you know what happened out there, and maybe the others will be able to guess.

For the sake of not driving my family crazy during my Vermont 100 (race coming up in July!) training, I decided to try and clear one weekday of work (between the hours of school drop-off and pick-up -- we have no public school busses here) for my long run. This replaces my usual Saturday long run. You know, Saturday long run with cheerful friends + bum around feeling only slightly coherent the rest of the day + eating all the food + begging for foot rubs and back walks from small children. Mondays have been the only day that have worked out so far, but it's nice to get the biggest run over with on a Monday and feel like the rest of the week is a quick-ish slide down from there.

But guess what. Mondays are the worst of all the days to recruit friends to run with you during the day. Because jobs. And surgeries (please bless that my Monday running friend recovers quickly!). So this week I had to run alone.

I know some of you don't care about running alone and even like being solo out there. And I like alone time every now and then too. But honestly if it wasn't for friends, I would have quit this sport a long time ago. Long runs are basically designed to give you a captive audience for your life rants and observations. Oh, and to prepare for races or something. But mostly to talk to friends, right?

Are you also a group run lover? Do you also dread slogging on trails or roads for five hours (or even five minutes) by yourself? Well, then this post is for you.

We're practicing looking at the positive side of solo running, for a few minutes. Then let's go back to hating it, which is only natural.

1. Take as many selfies as you want without shame. The shame will come later when you post them on a blog like this, but during the run, you can take as many selfie do-overs as you want, without all the pressure of getting it right the first time because no one else cares about that future Instagram post as much as you.

Take this picture for example. This was probably from a take three. Even with your closest running friends, two takes is the max. Three takes can only happen on a solo run. Ever.

If you do three takes, and this is all you get. Move on. It's just not meant to be.

Also, selfies are just rest stops. Get tired? Take a selfie. You don't have friends there telling you to stop at the top of a hill, so they can "tie their shoe." That's code for "hills are evil, and we should stop and rest at the top of all of them." 

2. Make friends with animals. You're alone now. And I mean that in the saddest way possible. There are snakes and spiders and unknown animals rustling in the leaves. I like to think that those unidentified rustling sounds are always the most venomous snakes scared of how much butt I am kicking on my run, so they are required by the laws of don't-freak-the-human-out nature to slither away. 

Talking to the animals is acceptable. Out loud, obviously. Thank them for keeping your park's food chain in order. Or for cleaning up -- that's you, goats. 


3. Use it as planning time. When I am bored on a run, I will sometimes use Siri to make notes and write down ideas. But Siri messes stuff up. So usually instead of a cool note like, "implement the foolproof plan for making a million dollars," Siri writes "plant the flower melon dolls." So I take that back about writing notes. With Siri at least. But make all the mental notes you want. But then immediately forget them, because that's how long runs work.

But sometimes someone will ask you for information while you are on a run. Like a friend messages and says, hey is there a trail race coming up? And then an hour later you run by this sign and take a picture. Because at least Siri can't mess that up.


4. Take new trails. For Red Mountain Park, there are lots of old mines that I usually skip because it only adds .05 miles and is not a great turn-around point. But when you're by yourself, you don't care about turn-around points. You just want to see proof that other humans do or have ever existed. 

Once upon a time, not so long ago. (Bon Jovi, street cred 101)

You also feel free to take less convenient trails, thinking to yourself, hey, let's switch things up -- this could only turn out great. And it looks like a trail, and you have even taken it before, maybe a year or two ago. 

It does seem like there should be a trail there, right?!

But then THEN THEN, you get into the middle of it and can't even figure out which way is up or down or sideways because what looked like soft, feathery grass from a distance is actually gnarly briars and maybe small trolls with daggers that are determined to claw the top layer off of your thighs (thank you, knee high socks for protecting the lower bits). I went from worrying about snakes hiding in the thick grass to wondered if I would ever see my family again. We had just read Shackleton's Endurance for book club, and after twenty minutes, I was beginning to panic and crave pemmican.

The devil is not in the details, the devil is in those thorns.

But when you make it out alive and bleeding, you feel more grateful to be making that 100th loop on the established trails. 

5. You go on your terms. When you run with a group or at a race, most runners feel required to use a socially acceptable level of modesty when it comes to human waste. I personally like to wear shorts that you can pull to the side when you need to pee. Even then, you have to wait for a good time, or a good tree or giant rock. But even that careful strategy can sometimes end poorly with a bad angle. A little uneven ground, and you might as well have just peed your pants. 

But you're alone for what feels like miles all around? Drop all the drawers. For as long as you want. Relax, take your time. This is actually the highlight of the solo run: zero-pressure waste brakes.

Pick any spot. No hiding required because you are alone, alone, alone ...

Oh, and that only works on trail runs. Not a good strategy in your neighborhood. 

6. Embrace distractions. So everyone knows that podcasts (my favorite), music (my favorite), and audio books (my favorite) are great distractions, but what about making up scenarios for things you encounter on the run?

Say you come across a spooky house in the woods.

Creepy house in the woods. 

The game is to decide what would be scarier.

Scariest scenario?

A. Looking in the front door and finding a bunch of old, dirty headless dolls lined up on a bed on the back wall of the house. And the bed has fresh white sheets, tucked in neatly. 

B. Seeing your own self standing in the window staring back at you. 

C. A bloody leg dangling out the front door and a slow scraping sound.

D. Walking through that giant patch of poison ivy to check out any of the above scenarios. 

I'm gonna go B., but that has always freaked me out to imagine myself somewhere creepy staring back at myself. Never smiling of course. But D. is a close second.

________________________________________

And before you know it, the brightness will turn to darkness.

Start of the run

End of the run.

Actually, reverse that. Then reverse that reversal. 

Because I think that is what it means to train for 100 miles. Expect everything, and don't expect anything. And embrace everything. But also nothing. If that makes sense to you, then you have probably run a lot of hours alone and are somehow happier because of it. 

But give me back my friends, please!

February 2, 2016

Who Is Adam (of Adam's Heart Runs)?

This article is also found in the Birmingham Track Club's newsletter: Vulcan Runner. Online registration (and guaranteed shirt) for Adam's Heart Runs closes Thursday. Go here to register. I'm race directing and planning to have a blast this Saturday, so I hope you come out and join us!

______________________________

Adam's Heart Runs, you know it as the first race of the Birmingham Track Club's four-race series each year.


But...

Who the heck is Adam? Why was he running or what was he running from? And what's up with hearts? When I agreed to be the race director for this year's Adam's Heart Runs, I knew basically zero about the race, other than that it supports the Birmingham Track Club, which I love, and it is held at Oak Mountain Park, which I also love. But learning the history of the race and especially more about the founder of this race was high on my list of must-dos to help me feel a more solid connection to this run and its purpose. 

Enter Dr. Adam Robertson, who I was fortunate enough to meet for lunch earlier this year. At one time a smoker turned avid runner and runner advocate, he played an integral part in growing Birmingham's running community. His motivation was to help others find an easy and fun way to stay active. "This was not about competition; this was about getting in shape," Adam shared. Living what he preached, during his tenure as emergency room director at Cooper Green for over 25 years, he would run commute to work, seven miles each way.

And even though he was a huge running promoter, he actually wasn't the race creator of Adam's Heart Runs. Around 1977, the race was started by a runner who soon moved to California for work. When it came time to hold the race again, Adam decided, "Well, I'll just do this for a couple of years until we can get somebody else." That couple of years stretched out further and further as Adam and his wife Ginni continued to direct the race for many years.

Adam's Heart Runs finish line. 

"Every year it was so easy to do because it was out there [at Oak Mountain], and we only needed one police officer at the corner. We measured it, and Rick Melansen certified it." Even though people tried to convince him to move the race downtown to increase the numbers, the simplicity of working with the park made the decision easy to keep the race at Oak Mountain.

Adam's Heart Runs start line.

"My wife did really well with the results. As the last person would come over, she would hand me the results. No computers. I just took a big circular clock that hung on the wall, and started it at 12, so as you crossed you could see your time." 

Originally the race was named Birmingham Heart Runs and was a fundraiser for the American Heart Association. When the Robertsons passed on the race directing torch, the track club changed the name of the race to honor Adam with the name Adam's Heart Runs. 

Speaking to how tight-knit the original Alabama running groups were, Adam shared, "Back then, everybody felt like they had to show up at every run. Nowadays there are people out there who run every day and never show up at a race. Which is good. The purpose of it to begin with was to get people to do it." 


Adam not only supported road running but was on the board at Ruffner Mountain for at least 20 years. During that time, he and his friends Bucky Wood, Vic Kelly, and Craig Christopher (who were dubbed The Ruffner Mountain Boys) held trail races that sound eerily similar to Race Against the Sun. "We had some red tape, and that was where you were supposed to turn. If you missed that, you were out of luck," said Adam about the simplicity of race marking for their Ruffner invitation-only race that almost got shut down. 

"We didn't realize that the coalition had already bought part of the mountain, and we were up there putting [the race] on when this guy walked up and said, 'What are you doing?' And we said, 'We're having a run on the mountain.' And he said, 'No, you can't do that.' So we invented the name Rufus McGrew as the race director, and we sent invitations to everybody each of us knew. Very formal with Rufus McGrew as the return address. Other people heard about it and asked if we could get them in. Before you knew it, we had a couple hundred people."

Proving even further that he has extensive knowledge of Ruffner trails, Adam testified, "You run 10 miles at Ruffner, it's close to 20 miles on the road." Truth. 

There were also white tuxedos and barrels of beer involved in his Ruffner race stories, so if you ever get the chance to meet Adam in person, you should definitely have him tell you about their Ruffner Mountain adventures. 

These days, Adam continues to better the Birmingham community by volunteering as the Crisis Center's medial director. 

From the Crisis Center's web site: 
According to the Department of Justice, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 33 men will be a victim of sexual assault in their lifetime. That is why we’re here - to help survivors of sexual violence and their loved ones heal from this terrible crime. No matter when it happened to you or your loved one, the Crisis Center offers help through our Rape Response and Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (S.A.N.E.) Programs. This includes:
  • Free and confidential crisis counseling 24 hours a day
  • Prevention education programs to schools, civic organizations and other public groups
  • Services for the victim’s family, friends, partners or spouses
  • Information and referrals to other services in your area

Advocates are available to accompany survivors of sexual violence during the forensic examination at the SANE facility or the hospital, to the police station, and to court. Advocates provide objective, knowledgeable, and supportive intervention on behalf of the survivor, making sure that she/he has the necessary information about each system to make critical decisions. The advocate provides individual advocacy to the survivor to ensure that her/his rights are upheld.
Along with the SANE program, the Crisis Center provides a crisis line, help lines for kids and teens, a senior talk line, support groups, and mental health services. 

In keeping with his running history, Adam assisted in planning the Crisis Center's 2015 5K fundraiser, called Just a Call Away 5K, which they plan to bring back to the community in August 2016.


So who is Adam? With what started as a desire to "just get people out running," Adam Robertson helped establish a race that has brought thousands and thousands of people to Oak Mountain State Park over the years. Insider tip: look for Adam on February 6th, this year's AHR race date. It's no surprise that he volunteered to come out and support the event, even 40 years later.