Training for Ultra

Sunday two weeks ago, I was listening to an Abraham Hicks CD. Abraham said, “quit picking fights with yourself.” Somehow at that moment, my energy shifted. I had a moment of clarity regarding a fight I was having with myself. I know what I want to do with my life and I was suddenly able to do it. I immediately quit my part-time cashier job and focused all my energy on training for ultra marathons. The S&P 500 went up. My life expanded.

For the past two weeks, I’ve achieved 90 miles per week in jogging and walking plus an average of 20 minutes a day of strength training. Even some cross-training on exercise machines has been accomplished. No wonder I spent part of the afternoon laying on the bed, digesting food and reading books.

Every morning, for two hours, I study philosophy. I’ve recently been heavily interested in Rene Descartes (1596-1650). Plato plus Descartes plus NASA have given me an equation for the operation of the universe and the meaning of life. Yeah, I won’t bore you with the details of universal microwaves and folded dodecahedrons.

I always wanted to be an athlete and a scholar. This is what life looks like for such a person.

In 3 weeks, I have a 50k (31 mile) race. Barring a heat wave, I am ready to go. I am better trained than I was last April when I did the same course. But the real goal of this fall is a 50-mile race in October. The 90-mile weeks are really aimed at this. In the 50k race, I will be the oldest entrant. In the October race, some people my age will be doing 100 miles. I have yet to figure out that mental challenge.

I was jogging around a small park in Missouri, wondering when I would stop for the day. Other people were hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Other runners were touring Mont Blanc. All of us were expressing the human need to expand; and not the chain of pain that most people drag around with them. I’m glad I’m a runner.

The Pain Cave – The Day After

I ran an ultramarathon yesterday, but only 31 miles.

The day began auspiciously as I woke up one minute before the alarm at 3:45. Sometimes, I don’t sleep or can’t make myself get out of bed. But this time, I bounded out of bed eagerly. The weather is another reason I sometimes can’t make myself go to a race. But the weather for this race was near perfect: sunny but coolish. It was windy but the temps were warm enough that the wind could be tolerated. It was cold enough that I could wear my lightweight cargo pants. A big advantage since I could put the nutrition in the pants pockets and keep my phone in the front of the hydration vest. The race was only an hour’s drive, south of Kansas City.

Before the start
National Anthem

The course was a rails-to-trails trail, pretty much totally flat. You can see from the trees that spring is only starting to spring in Kansas.

Ultramarathons and marathons are two different animals to me. I might train for and race a marathon. I did that last October, finishing 26 miles in about 5:22. An ultramarathon? I just try to survive. Sometimes I don’t survive, quitting instead. But this race was an out and back course. That means that the outbound 15.5 miles were easy. Then the way back must be completed, survived, because that is where the car is. My overall time was 7:32, but that includes five stops at aid stations and three bathroom stops. Moving time was 7:18. I was traveling faster than it appears overall. Pretty happy with that.

I got interested in ultramarathons after leaving the monastery in 2003 because people were writing about the transcendence aspect of ultramarathons. Going into the pain cave and exploring the mental state. I don’t think I have ever accomplished a transcendent mental state during an ultramarathon. Sometimes I cry when I see the finish line, however. I have been amazed at myself. I wonder how I did that. As a 63-year-old, I continue to wonder how I do endurance races.

I didn’t necessarily train for this race. I trained to make it to the turnaround very easily. I knew that the way back would be a struggle. Since I have been working at a grocery store, on my feet for 20 hours a week, I thought that I didn’t have to train that much for an ultramarathon. That assumption proved to be wrong as it leaves your feet in the wrong condition, not ready for the pounding. I jogged the first 12 miles and jog/walked the last 19 in a 3×2 pattern. I kept the pattern going to the end, but the jogging part got slower and slower. Slower because my legs were tired and my feet were a bit in pain.

Around 23 miles, I wished that the race had only been a marathon. My feet began to hurt. My stomach didn’t like the Heed drink that I got at the aid stations. It was becoming warmer. I was wishing I had trained more. I told myself, “just keep going.” “Even though it hurts,” was implied but I tried not to think about that part.

Real ultramarathoners keep going even if it hurts. Just because their Youtube video shows them having a great time and running fast, I know from other sources that their feet hurt too. They keep running despite the pain. I sort of fail at the pain part. 31 miles only brings one to the entrance of the pain cave. In a longer race, I might have cut out the jogging and only walked. During this race, I knew where the end was so I kept going. In 2017, I did a 50-mile out-and-back race. I was able to persevere with that because I had to get back. In a timed/lapped race where there is only a timed end, I often quit. I run out of jogging and start walking. Then I begin to wonder why I am continuing to walk. What am I accomplishing by walking around a course, destroying my feet? Soon after that, I quit. To me, pain means physical distress that could turn into physical debilitation. For real ultrarunners, pain doesn’t mean a real problem. And, I always want to be able to train again within a short period of recovery. Real ultramarathoners accept that they won’t be running again for a few weeks.

At the end of the race yesterday, I think I decided that I don’t need the pain cave anymore in this life. Marathons are long enough for me. I may try 50k again. We’ll see. I realize that 50 miles would be too much for me. I’m glad I did this race because I would never be able to make myself do a training run of more than 22 or 23 miles. Now I know what it feels like to do 31 miles. I know what I am capable of. That said, I have no idea how I will accomplish my next endurance feat. Feet literally. Based on how my feet feel today, how will I do 3 marathons in 3 days next month? Three marathons in three days, in three states, is a different type of mental challenge. It includes a lot more driving. It includes better nutrition for three days. It includes getting out of bed three days in a row. I’ve done this before, but I don’t know how I will do it now. Many people older than me do multi-day marathons. I’ve seen them first hand. I want to do it too.

Just after finishing

I taped my toes for this race. Neither toe has blisters today. I taped my knees. Both knees are fine. My hip doesn’t hurt at all. I will go for a walk today to loosen up my feet. I don’t think they are injured, just a little strained. It is a mystery why working at a grocery store can injure a hip while running 31 miles does not. Starting this week, I have cut my hours at the grocery store and shifted departments to reduce the amount of kneeling and squatting I was doing. Hopefully, I won’t re-injure the hip. I just read my own race report from the 4 marathons in 4 days that I did in 2016 (linked above). Wow! I had some lofty thoughts and wonderful meditations on why people would do something like that. Next month, I have the opportunity to rejoin the family of marathoners.

Training Update

Have I mentioned lately how much brainpower is devoted to thinking about my next race? Most of it. Hardly anything else gets any focus. I’m excited, with less than a month to go.

The training block is almost over. The last long run is scheduled for March 2. This day is chosen because the temperatures for the next 9 days are a bit cold to spend more than 5 hours outside. Yesterday I got in 21 miles. Today I got in 16 miles. The two days of long runs help a lot with confidence for completing 50 miles in less than 24 hours. I also dialed in which shoes I’ll be using. I’ve ordered necessary supplies like protein drinks and KT Tape. I’ve been looking at my running log for the past few years and determined that I have completed enough (11) long runs this January and February to consider myself trained.

Behind the scenes are things I don’t talk about very much. Like weight lifting and core strengthening. Pretty much 5 or 6 days a week, I do a short weight workout which touches on arms and shoulders plus core. These workouts are only about 20 minutes. I have 4 different routines. It doesn’t seem like much compared to people who go to a gym and spend an hour several times a week. However, my stomach and arms are pretty well ripped. At work, I get to squat a lot, so no need for squat exercises. At work, I spend a 5-hour shift on my feet most workdays, I also spend two hours doing exercise on workdays. So, I spend a lot of time in motion. This time on feet counts for ultrarunning training.

Also behind the scenes is nutrition. I’ve been mostly plant-based for a long time. In the past month, spending most of my working day in the vitamin department of a health food store, I’ve shifted a little on supplements. My vitamins are now liquids derived from whole foods. I get fulvic minerals. I’ve added a daily tablespoon of raw apple cider vinegar. I’ve increased the amount of collagen I take. I eat a salad almost every night.

My goal in life is to still be completing ultra-marathons when I’m 80. It might not be fast but I will still be there. I know people who do this now. I have idols. I’ve already surpassed more than 90 percent of my demographic at physical fitness. Yes, I retired so I could go running more.

Mental Training

I have epic plans for running events in my 63d year of life. I had to decide between two events that occur in March because their prices go up at the end of December. So I went for a long run yesterday while I wrestled in my head with the decision.

I picked a short course and I had in mind doing miles for over 4 hours. I would need to run numerous laps of the 2.37 mile course. A very important thing happened as I approached the end of lap 7 at 16.6 miles. I wasn’t yet at 4 hours, and 16.6 miles really isn’t that long. It was terribly windy and I was already feeling the sore feet that come with long distance running. I knew that I shouldn’t quit. Nothing was stopping me from quitting. I came upon the idea of just getting past the car and doing a short lap to get above 17 miles.

I started lap 8. after I got over the hilly part and past the turn-off for the shortcut, I found that continuing became easy and desirable. And so, I completed a full lap 8 and got 19.1 miles. This was the crucial thing: get past the stopping point somehow. And this activity is purely a mental phenomenon. I exercised a mental muscle to get that last lap started.

This mental muscle is the whole ball game for ultra training and racing. Doing something epic doesn’t mean anything more than being able to utilize that mental muscle. For me, training runs of greater than 17 miles will take me into mental muscle territory. I think doing laps for those runs also builds the muscle because you go by the car every 30-40 minutes and quitting is an option. Overcoming “quitting” is the ball game. In every marathon race that I’ve ever done ( over 100), I’ve felt the temptation to quit or to cheat by shortcutting the course. Something mental goes on to honestly finish the race.

Today is the first time that I have clearly identified the experience of using this mental muscle. In the past, I rationalized quitting 12 or 24-hour races because I was in pain or energy depleted, but really, not totally done for. In the future, I’ll have to question the mental muscle to determine if it really is time to quit. Humans can do much more than seems humanly possible if they have their mental game together. I’ve been fooling with ultra-marathons for a long time, but never so clearly as yesterday understood what it is that I’m trying to do. I just wondered how it was that others kept going while I quit. I blamed my lack of a crew. The real issue was the mental game.

I play with the mental muscle every day when I make myself go lift weights for 20 minutes, or go to work. Going running doesn’t require the muscle because I want to do it. Going long requires the muscle. Fascinating!

So, this morning, I reviewed my training in January – March of 2021 and realized that I could do it again. Then reserved a not too expensive hotel room. Then clicked submit on a 24-hour race where my goal is to complete 50 miles within the time frame. I am signed up for an event in May 2022 which will be my big challenge of the year: 5 marathons in 5 states in 5 days. In 2021 I did 2 marathons in 2 days. In 2017 I did 4 marathons in 4 days. Now, several years later, I plan to do more. The races I use to do multi-day marathons are short course, many lap races, and filled with people my age or older. In that group, I am not a phenom. Among the general public, my racing antics are amazing. For my own self, I plan to play the mental game.

Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee 2021

 It is that time of year. The second edition of the Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee. I entered this virtual race again because we got cool belt buckles last year. This year\’s version is 642 miles. It began on May 1. I have already completed 102 miles.

You can see my current location on the map just above Jackson. 102 miles is 16%.

I find that since the race started, my brain has been focused on doing miles. Not that there is any hurry. A very curious thing about my brain. It thinks it is in the race, therefore, I am compelled to do more miles than normal. 

Starting Monday was a 255-mile ultra-marathon. It took place between Phoenix and Flagstaff, Arizona, on trails. For the first time ever, it was live-streamed by many volunteers on the course. I watched as much as I could. I happened to watch the winner finish in real-time, just over 72 hours. It was amazing to watch him run in to the finish, not at all looking like he just spent 3 days in the mountains doing 255 miles. The first female came in about 12 hours later. She did look like her feet hurt. I could feel her pain. However, all the finishers demonstrated an amazing thing about the human mind. The mind can somehow keep a body going and going and going. There was a live chat on Youtube. I could see that many people felt amazed as I did. Every time I logged in to watch, there were nearly 1,000 others watching. Many ultra-runners left the live stream on their computers all day while they \”worked from home.\” And then, I went out to do my own miles. 

Speaking of the brain, I just finished another neuroscience book: \”7 1/2 Lessons About the Brain\” by Lisa Feldman-Barrett. Interestingly, this author thinks that the brain makes the mind, not that the mind uses the brain as a tool. Not a word about \”consciousness,\” unless you count the word \”mind\” as consciousness. The implications are major if consciousness is a thing made by an organic process with no intentional guidance. 

I\’ve read a number of neuroscience books. I can say that most of them do not propose that there is a consciousness, or soul, which is present at birth or that enters the body at some point. Experiments have not been able to detect consciousness. 

Neuroscience leaves us spiritualists hanging. There is no data, only individual reports. 7 1/2 Lessons also does not discuss the differing jobs of the left and right hemispheres. Perhaps in writing a logical book, the author did not give the right hemisphere a say; after all, the right hemisphere is non-verbal. If there is a higher consciousness, it would communicate quietly through the right hemisphere. The communication would be an intuitive thought received into the left hemisphere through the corpus callosum, which connects the two hemispheres. 

René Descartes, a philosopher who died in 1650, knew as much about consciousness as we do. We still don\’t know what makes a human out of an animal. We prefer to see ourselves as special in the universe, more conscious than any other animal; but we could be wrong about our specialness.

Letter 4/28/2020

A beautiful sunny day here. I ran really well in Parkville.

I wore a buff for the first time in order to have a flexible face covering option for passing people on a trail. I admit that it doesn\’t seem necessary, except for the occasional group of people who don\’t practice social distancing. I did make a good example and discovered that it is not that annoying to pull it up when you pass people. I think that if I ever go in another real race, having a mask option and a hand cleaning option will be necessary.

Speaking of races. I\’ve entered another virtual race. Great Virtual race across Tennessee. Virtual races would seem stupid in any other year than this one. But, the races I\’ve entered so far offer benefits I won\’t be able to get in a normal year. Like the Aravaipa race offered a cool belt buckle. The race across Tennessee makes sense if you follow ultra running and have heard about the Vol State race or Laz Lake. Vol State race won\’t be happening this year, but I couldn\’t do it anyway. It is too hard for me to actually run across Tennessee in the given time frame. But I\’m happy to focus my running on getting the miles in over 4 months. And getting a t-shirt that won\’t ever be available again. Only 4684 participants so far.

I have been taking good advantage of my corona-cation. I totally appreciate the gifts given.

Letter 4/9/20

UPDATE 4:10 pm — /success. 60 minutes on the elliptical this afternoon burned calories but didn\’t at all annoy the left toe.

A lovely day, chilly, sunny, windy. I went for a 6.2 mile walk this morning. A slow walk. A slow walk to anticipate an upcoming event. I signed up for a 100 mile virtual race. I\’m pretty excited to earn a belt buckle and remember this period of self isolation. For a real race, I\’d be tapering in order to be very fresh on race day. But now, I still want to go outside and enjoy hours of walking because walking is part of how I stand self isolation. But, I have one tiny injury problem that needs to heal before I unleash myself on 100 miles. Hence, slow walking.

Doing massive quantities of miles is a dream of mine, carried out with varying results over the past 18 years since I heard about ultra running. And every time I am off work, either between jobs or on vacation, the time has been used to do miles. Heck, every vacation has been to races. I love this. However, I have a fat short big toe which always gets blisters if too many miles are done. Since my last day at work in March, through today, I have jogged 264 miles, 95 miles just this month. So today, I decided that whatever exercise I took, it would be non-aggravating for the toe. Success so far.

Would you walk 100 miles to get a buckle? Well, I am.

Because I Can

An awesome thing happened to me today: I ran 50.4 miles. The awesome part was that I didn\’t have to and there was no reward for doing it. I did it because I wanted to.period.

See, the belt buckle was given when I reached 50k (31 miles). But, then, well, I felt good. Why stop there. I was in no hurry to go home, so ahead I went for another lap. And then another lap. And then getting up to 42 miles, I thought, why not go for the 50? I had the laps in me. Nothing was wrong other than a bit tired legs. And it was warm. And I could do it before the sun went down.

I wasn\’t the only one. It was a 24 hour race. Everyone got a buckle at 50k. But most of the runners continued on, even up past 100 miles. The only reward is internal really. The feeling of what you did is a thing to be remembered and contemplated.

Let me focus on what really astonishes me. I did it for no reward. Not for a bigger buckle or an award of any kind. I just felt like continuing to run even after I got the buckle at 50k. I felt like it so I did it. Usually, I stop when I get the buckle. Today, I just kept going because I wanted to. Sorry to repeat myself three times, but the feeling of going on and on was new to me. The feeling of running more than the required number of miles just because I felt good was incredible. Some mental hurdle disappeared. No resistance at all. It changed the way I look at my life:

I go to work at Starbucks because I can. I jog in forests because I can. I drive a cool car because I can. I drink purified spring water because I can. There is almost no \”have to\” about my life at the moment.  I do what I want because I can.

Driving home, Kansas gave me a treat of a magnificent sunset. Perfect!

Personal Mount Blanc

It is Labor Day in the US. I still had to run outside to put out the garbage since I heard the truck. The waste company has put several people out of work since they went to automated trucks.

I have time to sit and reflect. I read the blogs about the Catholic Church sex scandal, The Benedict Option. I watch YouTube videos of Ultra Trail Mount Blanc (below) and tears come to my eyes. I think of my own situation.

I am on the cusp of quitting my career. I wanted to retire before my body got too old so that I could go in lots of races. As I sit here now, one of my knees is somehow in trouble; so I won\’t hit the ground running.

The thought crosses my mind as I look at the faces of the three women winners of UTMB (video below), \”I want to be who I really am.\” This thought also brings an important point to the surface. I am quitting my career, not just because I have the money, but because I was caught in fake me.

Real me is an athlete and scholar; and has been allotted an hour or two of living each day for my career. Real me is incredibly smart, creative and peruses the metaphysical universe seeing the energy connections of life itself. Real me runs miles and lifts weights. The fake me shoves itself into a corporate box and uses the intelligence to out perform inferior colleagues, please under-functioning bosses and make money. The real me is bored with an engineering job which became rote a couple of years ago, and frustrated with the niche of expertise. The fake me continues to wish for some sort of corporate recognition; which will never come because thats not what corporations do. Fake versus Real is an emotional conflict which I am allowing Real to win. I want to be authentic.

Now, facing retirement, the real me is eager for more time to write, to work on web pages, to learn the business end of being a professional writer, having a personal brand. No one can stop me.

I, and we all, have an inner spirit, a real me, that refuses to be boxed. For the first time in my life, I have the finances to give the real me both space and time. I realize a transformation will occur. Even I, who knows that inner energy, don\’t really know what will happen.

I have my own version of Mount Blanc. I\’ve been climbing for years. Sometime soon, the next few years, I\’ll reach the finish line. And then go on.

I will keep the agreement with my inner spirit. I\’m leaving the ordinary world and stepping into the extraordinary. Yes I can.

The 5th Lap

This is a race report about the Trailracingovertexas race Wildflower 50k in Bastrop State park, May 5, 2018.

But what is the 5th lap? It is the lap you can\’t believe you did and what you get from that.

But first, overall, a very successful trip. This weekend was my first camping trip with my Honda Odessy. Here is a picture of the back with my cot installed:

This worked pretty well. Not perfect. Improvements are needed, but for a first try at camping, it was a huge success. I also say that this van is very comfortable for long drives.

Next was volunteering at packet pickup. I met a lady who was 67. For her 65th birthday, she walked 900 miles of the Appalachian trail by herself. Wait. What? You did that? I was impressed. I didn\’t know 65 year olds could do that by themselves.

The following day was race day. How nice to be right in the park! The weather was clear and a little cool, to start at least. Although there were many runners, and the race started immediately uphill on single track, the whole conga line thing didn\’t bother me. It was dark so I wore my head light. I made it through the darkness without tripping!

Once we could see, it was a beautiful park with lots of green. Not that much shade as forest fires took out most of the trees.

The big challenge for me was that this was a trail race in hilly country. I live in a city that is totally flat, so the ups and down plus the rocks was all new to me. The audacity of me thinking I could do 50k on a trail! So I spent the first 2 of 5 laps thinking I would quit. It was going to be hot after all, and surely my quads would collapse on me. Somewhere during lap 2, I thought, \”this is what it means to be fully alive.\”  During lap 3, I knew I would do lap 4. No heat related illness was felt which means I took enough electrolytes and drank enough fluids. Win! During lap 4, I knew I would do lap 5. What changed about my mental condition? Was this my doing or the work of my higher consciousness? Despite all those quitter thoughts, it was very easy for me to get back out on the trail for the final lap.

Having some mental gift to get back out and finish a race is a transcendence. It is also wealth and abundance beyond money. A rich experience, especially if it brings meaning to your life or knowledge of what you are made of, is worth more than money in the bank. It is abundance already in your possession. I mention my learning because I am still struggling with the idea of early retirement. Logically, the money is in the bank; but breaking my father\’s rules and spending instead of saving is still difficult mentally and emotionally. Going away from my lucrative but boring day job to pursue interests which don\’t pay that well seems to scare me. Living my life at a different vibrational order of being is new. These are the gifts of meaning and self esteem gained by going out on the 5th lap.

Well, I did finish the race: