Sunday, January 18, 2009

Are you gonna live your life wondering, standing in the back, looking around?

One of the deepest questions we get asked as endurance athletes is, "Why?"

And they mean: Why get out of bed at ridiculous hours and do crazy workouts? Why are your priorities what they are? What is the point? The answer would seem easy for the pros. But I doubt that 99% of professional endurance athletes can justify money as the reason. For amatuers, the question is even more difficult to answer. The cocky, typical answer goes something like:

"If you have to ask, you wouldn't understand anyway..."

I admit that I have used or at least considered using that response. However, what happens when we ask ourselves the question? This is one of the deep thoughts that entered my mind during my ridiculous long run today (see below). It took me a little while to remember, honestly. Then the runner's high kicked in and there it was. I remember when I could not run more than a mile or two straight (not very long ago in the big picture). It took a LONG time to get over. It is hard to keep running when you're overweight. For me it was shin splints. I ran to lose weight, but running made me injured and I couldn't run. Frustrating? Absolutely. Did it get the best of me? More than once. But I didn't give up forever.

What happened to me? One day I ran as usual. At the time my daily run was two miles to try to lose weight. One loop around the U of A as usual, and I was back at the house. But wait, I could keep going! So I did. Not much further, but more than I planned. Suddenly it clicked! My limits were not what I thought. It was an turning point. It was empowering. It Running? Nah, couldn't be...

Many miles and several years have passed, and once in a while I forget why I run. And then I set out on a typical long run (for me defined as something over eight or so miles). But I get that feeling again-unstoppable. Am I the fastest runner around? No way. But I can go far. I can run ridiculous hills. I have yet to find my limits. In my running-only days, running was the method of torture. Now, swim-bike-run. The human body is an incredible vehicle. The obvious questions--what are my limits? How do I find them? I go for something ridiculous. Something I don't know if I can finish. Today was one of those days.

Today I set out for a long run. It is Sunday, of course. So I finally decided to go for Wasson Peak, the highest peak in the Tucson Mountains. The obvious route was to leave from the Desert Museum. Something like eight miles roundtrip. But I wanted something just a bit more epic. Instead I chose a longer route. How long? I didn't want to add it up. Definitely over ten miles, so it would work. Challenging? Yes. Definitely a lot of climbing, but it can't be that bad (the aerial from Google Earth makes it look easy after all). The TriCats run was the Phoneline Trail at Sabino Canyon. It can't be harder than that. I knew it was fairly serious when I went for nipple guards and my camelback. Plus a map! My first time EVER running with a map. To be prepared, I packed a few gels along with about 40 ounces of water, my phone, and my camera. Then I set out. Don't think about it. Just go. This is just past the start of the Cactus Wren Trail at Rudasill and Sandario. That is Wasson in the distance:

Basecamp was Rudasill and Sandario on the west side of the Tucson Mountains. I assumed that it would be relatively flat at the beginning, leading up to switchbacks after around four miles. Then pain. I knew it would get tough. The first four miles to Ezkiminzin Picnic Area were pretty much as expected, but the incline was more than gradual. But otherwise nothing remarkable. Definitely a good warmup. I checked my map and finally figured out the right trail (Hugh Norris). Increasingly steep for about a mile. Then switchbacks--serious switchbacks. I have to say that it caught me a little off-guard, and I am a pretty decent uphill runner. I would think about slowing down and then I could see the next turn. Had to break it down into smaller increments, and suddenly I was at the ridge.

Looking back down:

It was relatively easy for the next mile, but the switchbacks were ridiculous at Amole Peak. Struggled through that, and then could see Wasson from the top! From there it was no problem. I could see the end, and I was going to be able to make it--running! I spent a few minutes at the top enjoying the view and met a bunch of nice people. Some views and video from the top:


Looking north toward the Silverbell Mine (and my car):

The run back to the car was relatively unremarkable. High points and low points. Ran out of calories with about a half hour to go, and water with about two miles left, but still felt decent at the end. Two more videos from the run back and at the finish:

Basic stats:

Distance: ~16 miles
Run Time: 2:33:55 (1:28 out, 1:05:55 in)
Max HR: 176
Avg HR: 155
Min elevation: 2262'
Max: 4687'

Was this run necessary? No. I could have more easily done my standard 10-miler from home. Will it lower my finishing times this year? Probably not. Have I rediscovered my reason for training? Yes. Everyone I met up there thought it would be impossible to run the trail. They could never do it. A few years ago I would have thought the same. That is what keeps me going. I remind myself on a regular basis (with coach Grasky's help from time to time) that perceived limits are false, and to show other people that they can accomplish more than they can imagine. So far, there are no limits to athletic achievements. What does that mean for everything else?

So that is my answer I guess. I do ridiculous workouts and race as hard as possible to show that limits--those that you have for me; those that I have for myself--do not exist. What are you capable of?

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