One of the things I love about running long distances is the epiphanies I tend to get. I roll current worries and concerns, or past experiences around in my head and look at them from different perspectives, and sometimes a new truth is revealed. The other day I had two. The first is that “runpiphany” is a totally great word that should exist. The second was that enjoying being good at an activity, and enjoyment of the activity itself, can be two very different things.

I started playing trombone in 5th grade, and quickly found I had a knack for it. I kept it up all the way through high school, and branched out to the other low brass instruments of euphonium and tuba, played sousaphone in marching band, and bass trombone in jazz band. I hardly ever practiced, but was naturally good enough and could sight-read well enough that it usually didn’t matter. My parents even spent a couple years worth of tutoring money on private trombone lessons (I think in junior high?), because I was supposedly good enough to maybe have a shot at scholarship money or making a career of it. Once I was out of high school, I stopped playing.

It’s bugged me ever since that I spent seven years half-assedly working on a skill that I apparently didn’t have that much interest in after all. On my run the other day, I finally figured out how to reconcile it all. I enjoyed the social aspects of playing in a band, and the praise I received for being good at it, but I didn’t actually enjoy the activity itself. I liked it enough to reach that 80% of mastery threshold, but not enough for the last 20%. I was even first chair in the tuba for my last two years of high school, despite the other tuba player being WAY more dedicated and technically skilled. She practiced constantly. I’d always assumed that I kept first chair because I was just naturally better than she was, but now I’m wondering if the teacher was just sexist. That definitely would make more sense. Shit. Sorry MK.

I’ve found my plunge into triathlon and ultra running to be the total opposite experience. I do OK, but I’ve never won anything, or come anywhere even close, really. I’ve been pretty solidly mid-to-back-of-the-pack in every race I’ve ever done. I even came in dead last once. But I don’t care! I love the struggle, I love to push myself and see what I can do.

So now I’m enjoying the activity far more than my limited ability would warrant, and I feel like that’s the best combination. If I was naturally skilled, I wouldn’t struggle so much, and might get bored, which I think is why I stopped playing trombone after high school. Without the accolades and socialization, there wasn’t any point. I wish I could go back and tell that kid to find something he’s actually passionate about doing (hint hint: triathlon), but oh well. At least I can still read bass clef.

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Race Report – Ragnar NW Passage, ultra-style

Ragnar NW Passage, WA,  7/18 – 7/19, 2014

I’ve done Ragnar several years in a row now, and this year wanted to try it on an ultra team, fielding just 6 people instead of 12. This seemed like a great idea when I signed on in January, but the realities of full time school cut into my training so much that I didn’t have time to put the miles in. By the time Spring quarter was over, I only had 5 weeks left to put any serious training in, which is simply not enough time for the body to adapt. My longest run was 15 miles, on shoes that I realized too late were rather expired. I went into Ragnar with severely undertrained legs and a time-bomb hip, deluding myself into thinking I could run 34 miles in a 24hr window. Sometimes, I’m dumb.

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MyFitnessPal & Fitocracy

I’ve been playing with the MyFitnessPal (MFP) and Fitocracy apps for a little while now. MFP is a handy way to make me really conscious of where the calories in my diet are coming from. I especially like the barcode scanner, and the ability to make my own recipes. At the end of the day you can get an estimate for what the calorie-in/calorie-out math predicts you’d weigh in a few weeks if you kept it up, which is interesting, though I don’t yet know how accurate the prediction is. You can also link your app to your friends’ to see what they’re up to, activity and food-wise.

Herc Cropped MyFitnessPal & FitocracyI’ve started using Fitocracy at the gym as an easy way to pre-load a set of exercises (many of which I’ve never tried before), and keep track of how much weight I use for each. Over time, this lets me track how I’m improving, which I’ve found to be a key motivator. Fitocracy has a ridiculous amount of exercises available, with text instructions for all and little videos of how to do many of them (form matters!). Right now they’re promoting the Rock’s new movie Hercules with some special routines the Rock supposedly used to get so ridiculously massive. I don’t have any desire to get that big, but I’ve tried the “Chest” and “Back” routines so far, and they are scorchers! It’s a fun way to mix it up at the gym, and variety is often heralded as the key to success. Keep the muscles from getting bored and they’ll keep right on improving!

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It’s all just practice

At first you might be practicing getting up a little early and going for a walk. You could practice drinking more water throughout the day, or only having 3 coffees instead of 5. You could practice going to bed a little earlier each night, so you get a full night’s sleep.

Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes habit. Once you’re in the habit of going for that morning walk, you could choose to bump up the difficulty and add in a block long jog here and there. Now you’re practicing running.

I find that just practicing isn’t enough motivation for me. I need a goal to shoot for. I can’t stand exercise, but training is awesome. Training means you have a training schedule, which you practice trying to stick to. Sometimes work interferes, or loved ones fall ill, and you have to shift your priorities, and thus, the schedule. That’s OK. Get back into the practice, keep the habit going, keep trying, keep improving.

The longer your practice a habit, the closer you get to achieving fluency, but you have to watch out for plateaus. Once the body adapts to a certain distance, or a certain pace, it will stop improving. Then it’s time to add in some hill sprints, or fartleks, or tempo runs, or strength training.

I used to be fluent in laziness, in telling myself that because could achieve all kinds of things, I didn’t need to bother trying to do so. The potential was all that mattered. This was obviously bullshit, but it was hard to tell while I was swimming in it.

Four years ago I started practicing 1-2 mile runs, and I built up from there. I feel that I’ve become fluent in setting slightly crazy but still achievable challenges for myself. I do more in a day now than I did in a week 10 years ago, and I’m happier and healthier than ever. I can’t wait to see where I’ll be in another decade. I bet that guy is pretty awesome.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Will Durant, summarizing Aristotle

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Training with Lance*

Lance: Speed up your turnover. Try to keep it around 90 rpm.

Me: And should I do that with or without drugs?

Lance: …

* based on a dream of Alida’s

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Race Report – Grand Columbian Super Tri

Grand Columbian Super Tri, Grand Coulee, WA – 09/15/2012

I’ve raced at this event twice before, first at the Olympic distance, then at the Half-Iron. At both of those races I felt things were fairly well organized, well run, and loved the scenery and the challenge of the course. Things went a little differently this time.

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Race Report: Bridger Ridge Run, part 2 – the pictures

This gallery contains 27 photos.

When I ran the Bridger last month, I wanted to take pictures, but feared dropping my phone down a crevasse. I took a little disposable/recyclable camera with me instead, and just hoped the pics would be at all usable. I … Continue reading

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Race Report: Mud & Chocolate Half Marathon

Mud & Chocolate Half Marathon, Sammamish, WA – August 19, 2012

I made a mistake back in July. I was excited by Alida’s running progress, and projected that her training plan would probably have her ready to for her first half marathon long before the planned “first race” (end of October). Plus, we were both having lots of fun running on trails while I got ready for Bridger. And hey, you know, CHOCOLATE.

pudding face girl spoon Race Report: Mud & Chocolate Half Marathon

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Race Report: Bridger Ridge Run

Bridger Ridge Run, Bozeman, MT – August 11, 2012

As stated before, I decided to try to raise some money for the Child’s Play charity. I discovered that summer is peak charity drive season, and that I felt like a greedy heel trying to do *second* fundraiser in one summer. Oops.

Despite these difficulties, my generous family, friends, and coworkers donated a total of $350. Awesome!

We set out for Bozeman on Thursday (the 9th), but actually went right past it to Billings, to visit some of Alida‘s family, which was fun and only slightly terrifying. While driving through Bozeman on I-90 (and stuck in construction traffic), I snapped a quick pic of the freaking mountain range I’d be running along less than 48 hours later:

preview 1024x764 Race Report: Bridger Ridge Run


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4 days…

In four days, I’ll be at the start line of the Bridger Ridge Run at 7,500 feet, which I think will be the highest I’ve ever been outside of an airplane. I’ll then run 19.5 miles, rising 2,000 feet in the first 2 miles, with a total elevation gain of 6,800 feet, and a total loss of 9,500 feet.

I’ll have at least 4 names written on my limbs in sharpie. No names shaved into my head as yet, though (your $200 donation makes it happen).

It’s currently looking like I will not be wearing a tutu, either (just need another $700 to make that happen!).

I’ve discovered that summer is charity season (never noticed before), and even if it wasn’t, it feels greedy asking people to donate again, so soon after they so generously donated to my Ironman fundraising. Lesson learned: one crazy charity event thingy per year. But THANK YOU to all who did donate again (or for the first time). Even if the mountain beats me we will still have gathered several hundred dollars to help sick kids, which is awesome.

My training has gone pretty well, and I feel as prepared as I could possibly be given my time constraints, and going from ZERO trail running to taking on the “most technical trail run ever created.” I’ve been to Mt. Rainier twice, and Hurricane Ridge once, and I enjoyed each run more than the last. I’m a little annoyed it took me so long to get into trail running, as it’s just so much FUN!

The constant shift in scenery, the wind in the trees, the buzzing of the insects (even if the deer flies make me want to run with an electric swatter)… it all just adds up to make me feel more ALIVE than ever. Pace becomes a secondary concern, and my usually rambling thoughts go fuzzy as I need all my focus to keep my balance and place my feet on different angles, different terrain, with every step. I fly through mud, over rocks, under branches, over logs, and I can’t get enough of it.

I am not without trepidation, however. I’m concerned that my calves will get completely toasted in the first two miles and I’ll have to walk the rest of the way. I also worry that, not having had time to do a lot of downhill training, my quads will disintegrate from all that descending. Even if my muscles work perfectly, there’s the technical aspects, wherein I could easily trip and break my wrist, or twist an ankle, or slice open a leg on a sharp rock. Or I could get lost and end up wandering around for a few hours. All of these things are possible, and indeed have happened to people in previous races.

But no matter. I can’t help but be totally psyched.  It’s going to be one hell of an adventure, no matter the end result.

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