The OP-50 was an exercise in sheer misery. The worst misery of my life. But I had plenty of misery on trail runs leading up to the OP-50 too. I can remember exactly two decent runs I had in that whole training cycle: the El Paso Marathon, and the Pemberton 50K. (If I'm forgetting a decent run somewhere in there, feel free to remind me.) Those two runs had something in common: they weren't trail runs. Oh, I know Pemberton technically was a trail run but it bore only slight resemblance to the trails we run here. Unlike Tucson trails, it was groomed, wide, signed, and (mostly) level. Most Tucson trails look like they've been blasted with dynamite out of mountainsides, leaving sharp, pointy rock debris everywhere.
Okay, I will admit that Tucson trails are beautiful. I love the desert and everything in it. So how can these beautiful trails cause me so much misery? Running on trails depresses me. No, I don't know how that's possible. But it's true. When Glenn introduced me to trail running way back in 2008, my very first thought was, "Wow, I hate this!" I haven't really changed my mind since. So why am I doing it? Well, a couple reasons. One is that I have to think of myself as tough. Completing road marathons isn't good enough anymore -- even difficult road marathons just aren't that much of a challenge. I can't swallow the idea of an Ironman quite yet because of the swim. So the logical challenge available right now is ultras. Two is that other people have to think of me as tough. Not other ultrarunners -- they know exactly how unimpressive I am on trails -- but non-runners. When I casually mention that I ran a 50-mile race, the looks on people's faces are priceless. I know it's much more fashionable to say, "I run for myself!" but for me that would be a flat-out lie. I started running in the first place to impress a man (he wasn't impressed) and gaining the approval and respect of others has not for one second ceased to be a huge motivating factor in keeping me running. Three is that I do, in some sick way, enjoy suffering. I get a thrill out of staring into the abyss of misery (similar to the way I find heartbreak fascinating when I get dumped).
This is what happens on the weekend leading up to a Sunday trail run: Friday at 3:30 is the best moment of my entire week, one moment of pure joy I can count on every single week. (I like my job slightly better than I like trail running, but not significantly better.) The Sunday trail run is like a little dark cloud looming far off on my horizon. Friday afternoon is a leisurely bike ride and a leisurely swim. (I hate the pool too, but because I've been out of it since October it still has some novelty attached to it. I'm sure I will hate it more once I get my distance back up again.) Saturday is all about the bike. I refuse to do two days in a row of trail running in this cycle, so on Saturday I do my long ride. The bike is one thing I love. I've been basically off the bike for the past month and only rode lightly the month before that, and my weekly bike mileage jumped from 0 straight to 150 or so. I can ride until my legs feel like two blocks of concrete and I still want to ride further. (Of course this leaves them feeling like two blocks of concrete for most of the week since I ride at least 20 miles every day but one, which I'm sure isn't helping my runs either, but I am helpless in the face of my love for the bike and just can't stay away from it.) Saturday night I usually do something wild and fun, but a feeling of dread for my long run is getting stronger and stronger and puts a damper on my ability to fully enjoy Saturday night. I usually go to bed too late and wake up several times in the middle of the night thinking about how I don't want to run tomorrow and going over, in my head, how mad at myself I will be if I just stay in my lovely, lovely bed and sleep in and wake up late and play with my dogs and hang out in pajamas and eat way more calories than I can possibly burn. I know I will be furious with myself for my failure of willpower and so I always get up and go. I am always happy to see everyone at the trailhead but immediately start thinking negative thoughts: "This is going to suck." "I'm going to be so slow." "It's too cold (or too hot)." "Snakes are out." Et cetera. No matter how slow I start out I know I am going to be panting and exhausted before we hit one mile, even on a trail that starts out easy. Sure enough, that's always what happens. I am gasping for breath but when I check my pulse it's, like, 90. Barely even elevated at all. (How can I be so out of breath with a heart rate that low? Does anyone know?) My pack feels soooooo heavy, like it is full of grad school textbooks instead of water and snacks. My visor is too tight, giving me a headache, so I loosen it and then it is too loose, and falls down into my eyes. Then I take it off but the sun is too bright so I put it back on. I am now way behind everyone else and start berating myself for being so slow. I mean, I am not the fastest road runner but I qualified for Boston, I should be able to jog a little hill. Nothing -- not music, not nice people, not beautiful scenery -- can drown out the negativity in my head about how I hate this, I suck at it, I would rather be anywhere else. I feel totally fat -- obese really -- even though I know I'm fit for the average American (but fat, way too fat for a runner). The rocks are poking my feet hard and I feel like the bottoms of my feet are one giant bruise. I don't know how other people can run on these rocks like they're nothing -- they ruin my entire day! After a trail run I can't stand to wear anything but house slippers and even then I have to walk around my house on the sides of my feet, not the bottoms, because they are so sore. These shoes only have a couple hundred miles on them but even when I had brand new trail shoes I still had the same problem.
Any little bit of running I can do quickly gets me out of breath and feels like it's slamming all my internal organs around. I've started to feel nauseous on the trail just in the first few miles when I haven't sweated or eaten enough to have any reason for nausea. My feet hurt, my shoulders hurt from the pack, my stomach hurts for no reason at all. And this is pretty much how the whole run goes. Even when I get to the downhills I have trouble running them. Douglas Spring Trail coming back down the mountain has some of the nicest, most runnable trail in Tucson until you get back to the step-downs, but I couldn't run more than a couple of steps of that on Saturday. I start thinking about how I am just plain tired and want to lie down and take a nap somewhere -- a feeling that has started showing up more and more often ever since the OP 50 when I had it for the first time. (I've wanted to puke in long races before, but never wanted to sleep.) I know I don't get even close to enough sleep for the amount of workouts I'm doing -- anywhere from one and a half to three hours of cardio every single day and about four or five hours of sleep -- but between taking care of the sick kitten, keeping my house clean, training the Aussies for competition and raising a new puppy, I don't have time to sleep. I'm also in a sort of permanent state of crankiness from dieting and keeping my net calories under 1000 -- very difficult because I love eating more than almost anything else -- and that carries right over into the run too.
So just from writing this blog I think I see at least three reasons why I am hating trail running so much:
1) My over-sensitive feet. If I can fix that, that will be a really huge thing. I can't really afford Hokas, but then it almost seems like I can't afford not to get them, since I spent so much money on upcoming trail races already.
2) I'm too fat. Really, I am. With summer coming, I can't decrease the amount of water I'm carrying, so I will have to reduce the extra fat I'm carrying instead. Fortunately I can tell I'm in the kind of diet mode where I mean it. I'm tracking every single calorie that goes into my mouth and every single one I burn too, so I should be losing about 2 lbs a week (until I get to 140 or my period stops, whichever one comes first).
3) Not enough sleep. I don't know what to do about that. I'm not willing to drop any other activity or shortchange the dogs on training/exercise time, so I think I may be stuck there.
Then of course there is just sheer burn-out from the OP-50 and all the training leading up to it. In hindsight, signing up for this 50-mile race was absolutely moronic, but in my defense I know I will not want to do that big build-up of mileage ever again. It seemed easier to just maintain my 50-mile fitness for another two months, then get a decent time and never do a 50 again. Of course that would also give me a headstart on training for Pikes Peak (a race I will never regret signing up for, even though it requires me to train on trails throughout the summer). So, good decision or bad, I'm stuck with that May race. Really what I should have done is just given myself a couple months to ride the bike all I want. Ride Mount Lemmon every weekend both days if I wanted to. Oh well, too late for that so I will just have to make the best of what I've got. Maybe do my long runs on the road for a couple weekends. My idea of an awesome long run is a loop through South Tucson at dusk, where it is possible to see prostitutes, drug deals going down, carjackings, and people smoking pot on the corners. (Just kidding about the carjackings, but I've seen everything else.)