This past Friday morning I set out for an easy 6 mile cruiser. Within seconds I knew it was going to be a rough one. Everything hurt. Literally. I'd lost my big toenail the night before (fallout from the LA marathon) and it was tender to the touch so every time it rubbed against the mesh of my shoe I got a little shot of pain. My lower back has been giving me a hard time (also since LA) likely from the combination of overuse and stress, and that was pulsing as well. And, finally, I'd done a really hard workout the day before so my legs were dead weight. Go ahead. Call the WAMBULANCE. I deserve it. In the end, I got it done, but it wasn't pretty and I hobbled slowly down my driveway, disheartened and defeated. Later that afternoon, I headed over to Lexington for track practice. Once the girls had warmed up and were ready to take off I decided to join one of my runners for a 30 minute cruiser both to keep her company and to attempt to shake off my morning experience. Because, you know, run more, feel better. Yea, no. My legs were still heavy, my back was still sore and the toe was still annoying me. I did my best to push through, hiding my frustration with conversation but in the end, I really just slowed my runner down in my quest for a runner's high that was never going to surface. Grrr. Once practice was over, I made my way back to the car, defeated yet again. The upside was that I was headed straight to the Cape to spend time with my family and in-laws for the long weekend. I made a commitment on that 3 hour drive (lots of time to think) to brush it all off and to embrace the evening with family when I arrived, not giving a second thought to running in any way shape or form. And as we usually do, we had a fantastic time together just sitting back, relaxing, eating good food, telling stories and listening to music. Eventually, I made my way up to bed, happy to shut it down on a such a good note. On Saturday morning I woke up revived and refreshed. My legs were a bit achy, but I ignored them in my quest for coffee. I poured myself a very large cup and sat back and relaxed as the house slowly came to life. The usual rush to make lunches, pack backpacks, and get to school on time was easily forgotten at the moment. Sure, I was going to hit the road eventually, but it wasn't on the forefront of my mind and that was such a nice change both in regards to mustering up the energy and finding the time to fit it in along with everything else. Around 9:30 I headed out for an easy 7 miler. The day was gorgeous, the air cool and the sun shining at full blast. My in-laws live in a hilly neighborhood and the start of every run is always a bit of a challenge but they also live on the water and the scene to my right as I walked to the top of the first hill was so surreal that it kind of took my breath away. I stood and stared for a minute because I could and then I was off. My first few steps were pretty creaky but with each stride things loosened up and I began to flow. My ailments from the day before were tucked away in the back of my mind and my focus was on the miles ahead. Aside from my breathing, there was absolutely no noise. Fisherman and clammers were already out; had probably been out for hours. Bikers were flying by. And I was smiling. Literally. I had a stupid grin plastered across my face that stayed with me for most of my run. I must have looked ridiculous. But I felt amazing. I simply needed to reset. To run for the joy of it instead of because I was "supposed to". I could feel the difference in every bone of my body and it felt so damn good. New day. New attitude. Better run. Pretty simple, really.
"When I found ultras, I threw the clock away. It became joyful again."
~ Ashley Ream
Today I'm really excited to introduce you to author and Ultramarathoner, Ashley Ream. Typically, for these RUNNERSWHOROCK profiles, I like to take some time up front to introduce you to the subject and tell you more about their life and how they rock. But, for this one, I'm going to mix it up. Because, honestly, Ashley does it so much better than I ever could. In her own words she shares why she runs, how she got into Ultras and then tells us one of the most incredible running-related stories I've heard to date. So, I'm going to go ahead and let her speak for herself here and then you can read more about her in the RWR interview below. Smart, tough, determined, and insanely talented...meet Ashley, a RUNNER WHO ROCKS.
ON RUNNING & RACING:
I didn't start running until I was in my early twenties and signed up for a 5K before I could run a mile. By the time I crossed that first finish line, I was hooked. 5K turned into 10K turned into a half marathon turned into a marathon turned in ultras within a couple of years. When I first started running I cared a lot about being fast. I trained for speed, and it worked. For a little while, I was fast. I was also getting hurt a lot and losing the joy of running. It became all about the clock. When I found ultras, I threw the clock away. It became joyful again. Now my goals are all about longevity. I want to be doing this when I'm in my 80s. My next ultra will be this fall. I'm doing the Ft. Steilacoom 50K in October.
HER STORY ON INJURY & INSPIRATION:
Halfway through a 50-miler, I broke my pelvis, didn't realize it and finished the race anyway. I was in terrible pain for a month before going to the doctor and getting x-rays. That and other similar experiences is what informed the chronic pain experienced by the character of Dr. Rachel Bell in the new book. In order to recover from that injury, I was forbidden any weight-bearing exercise for six months. You can't take someone who just ran 50 miles and put them on a couch. I would've lost my mind. All I could do until my pelvis healed was swim, except I didn't really know how. I could do something best described as "not drowning for brief periods of time," but that was not going to get me a full length of any pool. So I went to the local Y and asked for private lessons. They found me a young woman who was on the UCLA water polo team. Three lessons in she had me doing laps. Because that was all I was allowed to do, I did it for hours. Stroke, stroke, breathe, stroke, stroke, breathe. I'd show up well before sunrise when the pool was nearly empty. It was dark and quiet. There is no scenery in the pool like you get running. I didn't have my music to distract me. It was me and the water, and that is where much of Tilda's character comes from. That running injury was responsible for a lot of this book.
Ashley's novel, The 100 Year Miracle, is available for purchase today, May 24th. Head down to your local bookstore and grab yourself a copy.
Name: Ashley Ream Where you're from: Kansas City Where you reside now: Seattle Age: 36 Occupation: Writer Blog/website: www.ahream.com RUNNING & MUSIC What do you love most about running? The community of incredible, welcoming female athletes it has connected me to and the way it has struck the word “impossible” from my vocabulary. What do you love most about music? Escapism, poetry and its ability to power me through the tough miles.
ASHLEY'S FAVORITES: Band: (current, all time or both) R.E.M. Album: (current, all time or both) Currently, Mark Knopfler’s Shangri-la. All time? Maybe Nirvana’s Nevermind Race venue: Sierra National Forest for the Shadow of the Giants 50K Music venue The Echo in L.A. and Red’s in Clarksdale, MS Race distance: 50K Show you've seen live: Joan Osborne touring for How Sweet It Is Ice cream flavor: Chocolate peanut butter cup
THIS OR THAT: Sweet or salty? Sweet Live or recorded? Recorded Coffee or tea? This is Seattle. Cappuccino. Summer or winter? Fall MORE MUSIC INFO: Which band or artist would you go see tonight if you could? Alabama Shakes Which band or artist (wait...but no longer alive or playing together) would you go see tonight if you could? Prince Which band or artist would you like to have dinner with tonight if you could? Questlove Which band or artist would you like to be playing alongside you during your next race (or long run)? Scissor Sisters
LAST ONE: Today, I feel like(complete the sentence)....if only there were three of me all of this could get done. No problem.
Top 5 Songs for running, dancing or both? I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor by Arctic Monkeys Crazy by Gnarls Barkley Black Horse and the Cherry Tree by KT Tunstall Shut Up and Drive by Rihanna Sandstorm by Tunnel Alliance Last 5 Songs you listened to today? Always Alright by Alabama Shakes Laid by James Smart Man by Amy McCarley Weapon of Choice by Fatboy Slim Take Your Mama by Scissor Sisters About THE 100 YEAR MIRACLE: Once a century, tiny bioluminescent sea creatures light up the bay around a small Washington island for just six days. Dr.Rachel Bell arrives on the island as part of a team researching this once-in-a-lifetime event, but she's also got a personal mission: to find out if the small arthropods truly offer the powerful pain relieving effects of native myths and folklore, and to finally end the chronic pain she's been silently suffering most her life. If Rachel really wants to learn the truth about the 100 year miracle, she must contend with forces desperate to keep the island's secrets before the waters go dark for another 100 years. Listen to this: Always Alright- Alabama Shakes
Back in December of 2014, my running teammate, Kirsten, and I picked the Maine Coast Marathon (MCM) for our spring marathon. In January of 2015 it started snowing and it didn't stop until April or maybe longer; I can't be sure as I seem to have blocked it out. I tried my damnedest to train through it, but I missed several key workouts and long runs because I couldn't get outside. By the end of March, I realized I had two choices, I could run the MCM as planned and just shift my goals and expectations based on the training I'd been able to do or I could push it off completely and find something later in the season. Hmmmm. Meanwhile, Kirsten, who had injured her foot back in the fall but assumed she'd be good to go by May, was, in fact, not good to go. In April, her doctor told her she wasn't fully healed and that a May marathon would likely put her right back where she started. Well, that would suck and she sure as hell wasn't going to risk it so the MCM was officially out for her. So, now it's mid-April and I had to ask myself if I really wanted to head up to Maine on a solo mission to run a sub-par marathon just for the hell of it. The answer, I finally decided, was no. Fortunately, the MCM had a deferral option that gave us automatic entry for the following year at a discounted rate which we both took advantage of. Thus Kirsten would have the time she needed to heal and re-build and I was able to jump into a June marathon instead of the MCM which gave me the time I needed to make up for the training I'd lost. Problem solved. About four months later, we both successfully completed the Mohawk Hudson River Marathon, which was a fantastic race that we really enjoyed (yes, we do a lot of them). The plan after that was to take a break and then begin our training for the 2016 MCM which we were already registered for. But plans rarely stay in place, particularly when it comes to running. As many of you already know, I up and joined the Loopsters and many of my Oiselle teammates out in LA in February to watch the Olympic Marathon trials on Saturday and then to race the LA marathon on Sunday. It was an opportunity that I couldn't pass up and while it was worth every second it took everything out of me and by the time I got back home and the dust had settled I realized that a May marathon was just not in the cards for me. At this point, Kirsten was fully committed and her training was ramping up, so rather than bail all together, I decided I would still join in her in Maine but rather than running the full marathon, I'd jump in with here for the second half. Thus, she gets a wingman and I get stress free road trip and a long run with a friend. It's a win-win. It's not often that I head off for these race adventures with no agenda other than to have a good time. And, from the minute I started to prepare for our departure all the way through to the drive back home, I took note of the very significant differences between racing for fun versus racing with my eyes on the prize - whatever that may be. Here's what I discovered...
TOP 10 REASONS TO SCRAP YOUR RACE PLAN & RUN FOR FUN
1. There is absolutely zero packing anxiety when you're racing for the hell of it. Forget your Body Glide? Whatevs, you can just grab something similar at CVS when you get there. Don't have enough GUs? Not a prob....just throw some jelly beans or M&Ms in your bag and hope for the best.
2. When you aren't worried about your race day performance, you can eat whatever you want all week up through the morning of the race itself. Ok, no, I wouldn't experiment with a Chia seed burrito the night before the race, but at the same time, I could stray from my normal diet of bagels and pasta for multiple dinners in a row.
3. If you're not worried about your race time, you can stay up later with friends the night before and enjoy a glass of wine without an ounce of guilt. Personally, I did not do either of these things as Kirsten and I were pretty wiped from our road trip and ended up going to bed early. I know, not a shocker. But, still, it's a nice option.
4. When you're planning to take it easy, you don't really need to taper the week before which means you won't be dealing with the usual TAPER MADNESS. That's all I need to say about that.
5. No race agenda means no pre-race freakout. On race morning, I was excited to meet up with Kirsten but my usual pre-race jitters remained behind. That was easily one of the best differences.
6. My typical pre-marathon ritual includes checking the weather at least 20 times a day for the entire two weeks leading up to race day. Sure, I wasn't thrilled about the prospect of running in the rain or the heat for two hours, but at the same time, it wasn't going to impact my game plan, so it was not something I was checking on a regular basis.
7. With no pace plan there is no need to check your watch every mile during the race. That's a huge relief. Now, granted, I had planned to do this for Kirsten so she could take the pacing off her list but she's admittedly a bit obsessed with checking her watch through her races, so she took that job off my hands for this one.
8. Usually, when I've pushed hard and finished a race with nothing left in the tank, the post-race food and drink options aren't even remotely appealing. This time around it ALL looked good and I was not afraid to help myself.
9. Normally, I'm hobbling back to my car, my hotel, my house, whatever; barely able to walk when I've "gone for it" on race day. Stairs? Forget it. When you're just running for fun, your body thanks you by functioning as it should afterwards. This was particularly nice for Kirsten as I was able to drive us home in her car giving her a much-needed break from having to deal.
10. Bottom line, regardless of the outcome, there's nothing like truly going for it on race day. But, having had a grand old time this past weekend in ME, I now can appreciate how nice it is to sit back, relax and enjoy the ride (and the views).
The mind is everything. What you think is what you become.
Track workouts are so damn hard. Of all my workouts, I dread them the most. And despite this, nine times out of ten, they are by far the most rewarding. Typically, I am facing these bad boys on Wednesdays, thus I often look at them as a very large hump that I have to get over in order to take on the rest of my day. Lately, though I've been doing a lot of reading on the power of positive thinking in running and how it impacts your performance. The correlation is no surprise. Get fired up to do the work....you're likely going to crush it. Sit around and procrastinate until you have no choice but to get started....it's probably going to suck. I tend to sit somewhere in the middle of the spectrum as it takes me a while to motivate but once I'm at the track, I get myself pumped up and ready to rock. But even that little window before I get to the track, the hour or so at home when I'm caffeinating, overthinking, and yes, even dreading, takes its toll on me, making it that much harder to mentally get myself there once I'm on the line. So, today I took a different approach. First, I popped out of bed and before I went down to make coffee and let the dog out, I put on my running clothes. I know....whoa. My thought was that if I donned my "uniform" from the start, my mind would automatically switch into go-mode. Next, I pulled out all the gear I would need for my workout. I'd be driving to the track, so instead of throwing this stuff together last minute and likely forgetting something as I tend to do, I got organized ahead of time. Again, clear the mind, focus on the work ahead.
Next, I fueled up. Coffee first and then smoothie (thank you, Jeff). But, instead of just chugging them down, particularly the coffee, I took my time. This stuff was going to help me move faster today and I wanted my body to both appreciate it and get the most out of it. I know, it was a stretch, but I was pulling out all the tricks.
Finally, I headed out for my morning walk with Clover. My neighbor was out across the street and I asked him to take a picture specifically for this post. I'm awake (mostly), I'm smiling, I'm moving, I'm rocking out to music....I'm getting fired up. For, the record, Clover is like this 24/7. If only.
At this point it was about 8:00 and I had an hour to kill before I'd be meeting up with my running partner down at the track. Normally, I'd putz around...do a little laundry, pick up the kids' rooms, check email, but not today. I grabbed my gear and my foam roller and headed down to the track. It was a beautiful, sunny morning and for that I was grateful as we've had about two weeks of rain up until Monday here in the Boston area. I hopped out of my car and went over to the skate park to stretch and roll as I waited for Kirsten.
As planned, she got to the track at 9:00 and I jumped right in and joined her for the last 3 miles of her run, which would be my warmup. Both of us coach high school track and had had big meets the day before, so we talked shop and the miles passed quickly, though I did take note of the heat which seemed to be rising with each mile. I tried not to think about it as we came back to the track and I got myself ready to go. Since Kirsten is running a marathon on Sunday, she does not have her typical track workout this week, but, since she it such an unbelievable friend, she stayed down with me for moral support. Yes, I'm insanely lucky. I gave her my watch, told her the splits I was trying to hit and then took off for my first repeat. Today's workout was 5 x 1000 @ 6:00 min pace. From the minute I woke up this morning until this very second, I did everything I could to convince myself that I was both ready and capable to get it done. My mantra of the day:I can. And I will.
For the record, I loathe 1000s. Holding steady for that long at that pace is insanely difficult for me. Not a shocker as that is the point. But still. I'd rather do 25 x 400 than 5 x 1000. Alas, I did not have a choice, so I what I preferred didn't really matter. I hit the first interval right on the nose: 3:45. But, holy shite was that hard. The doubt seeped right in. Thankfully, Kirsten was there to remind me that our coach wouldn't give us these workouts if he didn't think we could do it. Yes. You're right. Let's go. One down, four to go. The next three were right in there - 3:47, 3:47 and 3:48. Given the heat, the breeze on the back side and the level of difficulty, I was ok with it. I was working so damn hard and during each recovery lap I would repeat to myself over and over: I can. And I will. My last repeat took everything out of me and I came in right at 3:50. Not exactly what I'd wanted. But, not bad. And, more importantly, I'd given it everything I had and gotten it done. As I cooled down, I felt good. Really good. Sure, I'd been a little off. But, I'd pushed hard for all five repeats and didn't give up and I know a lot of that had to do with my shift in mentality today. And that's the kicker here. I wanted to hold onto that positive vibe all the way through to the other side of my workout. I wanted to be proud of myself for the work I'd done, not stress about how it had unfolded. I won't lie and tell you it wasn't a huge help to have a cheerleader. It was. But, overall, my body has responded to the goal I'd set out for it in it's own way and for that I was happy.
Recently, I reminded one of my high school athletes who hadn't run well in her race that it was okay, because it was all part of the process and every race, workout, good day, bad day, all of it gets us to where we want to be. What I'm realizing now is that staying positive and believing in myself makes it a hell of a lot more fun.
This past Saturday, my good bud and running teammate, Kirsten H., and I headed out to Andover, MA for the Earth, Rock, Run half marathon; one of several events in the the Greenstride Race Series. For the last half Kirsten and I did together back in March, I was easing back into racing after having just completed the LA Marathon weeks before and Kirsten, who's currently in the shape of her life, was going for the PR; which she took handily. This time around our roles were reversed. Kirsten, who will be running the Maine Coast Marathon in two weeks, was planning to hold back a bit and use the race as a training run and I would be pushing hard as I'd had plenty of time to rest, recover and get back into race mode since February. Game on. The race was set to start at 10:00am, which to be honest is kind of brutal as we are used to getting up early and rolling out at the crack of dawn. But, at the same time, it was nice to wake up, make some coffee and take my time getting ready for a change. Glass half-full. Kirsten scooped me up at 8:15 and we cruised out to Smolak Farm, the location of the race start, pulling into the dirt parking lot right around 9:00. The weather was perfect for running; nice and cool with plenty of cloud coverage. Our plan was to grab our race numbers, throw our stuff back in the car and then head out for a quick warm up before making our way over to the line. As we walked up the dirt/rock path that lead to the main event tent, we passed the Racewire timing table and I found myself thinking we can't possibly be finishing on this terrain, can we? And then I let that thought fade as I focused on getting myself ready. We grabbed our bibs and shirts and then quickly said hi to Eli, the race director and mastermind behind the Greenstride series. Both of us know him from past work/race related encounters, so we caught up, met his adorable 4 year old daughter and shamelessly noted that we wanted to get our paws on the Greenstride Trucker hat he was sporting. He smiled and told us we just needed to place in our age groups to pick one up. We laughed in response but damned if we weren't going to go for the AG win after hearing that. We said our goodbyes and then headed across the farm for our warm up. I took a minute to note how calm and peaceful the farm scene was, which is always a nice thing to do when you're about to endure a sufferfest. Around 9:45 we headed to the race start, did a little stretching, took our standard pre-race pic and then lined up with the rest of the runners.
We chatted with a lovely woman who was wearing a bib with the name KEVIN on her back, which I thought was a bit odd. Turns out, she had her own bib on the front. Her husband, who was standing next to her, was injured and couldn't run so this was her way of running with him. I thought that was pretty cool. Finally, it was go time. My goal for this race was to try and run steady between 6:35-6:40 pace and finish around 1:26. Up to this point, I'd been feeling strong, hitting my workouts right on target, and really enjoying my training, so I was fired up and ready to rock. Eli had told us that the course we fast and relatively flat, with a few gentle rollers, so I had a good chance of hitting my goal if all went well. I started right off with a group of about 10 people, crossing the first mile at 6:38. Perfecto. The group hung together, taking turns leading for a few miles, everyone smiling and incredibly friendly. Only in the running world. I love that. The miles passed quickly and I was feeling good. 6:42, 6:36, 6:35, 6:37....and so on. I've mentioned this before, but when you've recently run a marathon, my latest having been Boston in April, thirteen miles can feel insanely short comparatively. Getting to mile 5 and knowing I only had 8 to go rather than 21, well, you get it, right? So, I kept at it, hitting each mile right on the nose. Until mile 10. I'd been running solo for most of the miles up to this point. I was getting tired and my mind started to become my opponent, which is never a good thing. I had three measly miles to go and without realizing it, I kind of zoned out a little and lost track of my pace. Mile 10 was a 6:46, not too far off, but then mile 11 was a 6:53. Oops. Thankfully, I caught up to a young chap who I decided to try and stay with for the rest of the race if possible. Between having someone to run with and knowing I was almost done, I was able to get back on pace for mile 12 and then to eek out a 6:35 for mile 13. Remember the dirt road in the beginning, the one I didn't think we'd have to tackle? Yea, that was the finish chute. I was really excited to be done, but I was also scared to death that I was going to trip as the path was downhill and there were rocks and ruts everywhere. So, I kind of pulled back on the reigns and danced around the potholes to finish without falling, crossing the line in 1:27:24.
I'm not going to lie, it was really fun to break the tape. The guy I'd run neck and neck with for the last couple miles offered his hand for a high five which I gave him and then returned with a hug. You just can't put a price on the support you get from your fellow runners out on the course and I know, whether he realized it or not, that this guy was a big reason behind the fact that I had been able to get myself back in check for those final two miles. Two young kids were handing out medals and this one little guy said, Yay! You're the first girl. You can have TWO medals. I laughed and thanked him but told him I was all good with one. He's my new favorite for having referred to me as a girl. At this point it was starting to rain so I bundled up and headed back to the line to quietly sit under a spectator's umbrella and wait for Kirsten. And though she had planned to "take it easy" she still came across the line in a killer time, just seconds off from her PR having just run a 20+ miler and a hard workout earlier that same week. Did I mention how strong she is these days??!! We slowly made our way over to the snack table....that's right. Snacks. Each runner got a tote bag full of snacks. What?? We also saw people eating ice cream which looked insanely delicious. We found Eli and thanked him for the awesome race and all that he'd done to make it run so smoothly. The man is good at what he does.
He let us know that we, too, could get ice cream as we had a ticket on our race bib that we could trade in for the sweet treat. Hot DOG! There is something about seeing a table like this after you've just run your brains out. I found myself thinking how delicious it looked while at the same time noting how soft and fluffy it seemed, ideal for laying down and taking a rest. I might have been a bit overtired at this point. Not to worry, though, I did not, in fact, lie down on the ice cream table.
After our sugar fix, we wandered over to the results table to see how Kirsten had placed. Not only did she find that she had finished in the top 25 for women, but that she'd placed third in her age group, thus guaranteeing her the cool trucker hat. BOOYAH! We checked in at the awards table to see about our prizes. For taking first overall, I was given a Greenstride backpack AND a trucker hat. I also received a cash prize, which doesn't happen very often and for which I was beyond thrilled. Kirsten was quick to note that I would be buying our post-race coffees on the way home. Fair enough. We were almost stupidly fired up about our new hats, but we'd earned them fair and square, which is definitely part of the reason we were so psyched to be taking them home.
Eventually, we made our way back over to the car, both of us now sufficiently frozen and eager to make a much-needed stop at Starbucks. Kirsten was very pleased with her race. I'll just be honest and tell you that I was very happy about my win, but I really wished I'd run a better time. I'll also come right out and confess that I was simultaneously annoyed with myself for not being able to separate the two and just be proud of what I'd done. Come ON, Rebecca. Kirsten and I got our mochas and headed home, both of us a bit punch-drunk by the time we got back to Winchester, especially Kirsten who was throwing out zingers like nobody's business. I was dying, almost in tears it was so funny. And that's the thing, really. These races...the training, the drives to and from, the swag and all the good stuff that happens in between including the race itself, all of them are such a blast when we do them together. Sure, I was a little frustrated, but by the time we got home, I was laughing my ass off and already thinking about our next adventure. And, later that night, I went back and read this post, yet again, giving myself that much needed remind that I do love to run and that every success, big or small, ALL of it matters. #TEAMBACON