running

It's a Cold and It's an (Un)Broken Hallelujah

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I never dread winter, I actually look forward to it. After strong fall running, I picture myself thriving on a lighter farm schedule with a late winter race to keep me hungry. What I always come to realize is that my lighthearted attitude for training turns into a cerebral, existential march toward my running goals. In summer and fall I'm a frolicking doe, gladly rolling out of bed a 4am. In winter I'm a pensive snow tiger, questioning the meaning of my effort. After five winters of heavy training on the frozen roads and trails of Wisconsin I've developed some strategies to weather the most severe season. Winterize your wardrobe and fueling The most common winter running mistake is overdressing. Stepping out into frigid weather, I know I will be cold for at least 10 minutes but with aerobic activity I warm up quickly. Having on too many layers, or the wrong layers, will lead to over-sweating and subsequent chills. On cold days (under 5 degrees) I wear a base layer under loose running pants, two running shirts, a soft-shell jacket, headband, hat, Buff around my neck, socks and running mittens. On sub 0 degree days I will add a light vest under the jacket. On warmer days the layers are reduced. I wear trail shoes on roads with mixed levels of traction and only ever wear added traction on trails. In my experience, quality goes a long way with winter running gear. Being comfortable can make or break your level of enjoyment when it's freezing, so invest in a good pair of pants and coat. You don't need to wash them everyday and can wear them for years.

Staying hydrated and fueled is easier and harder. You do not lose as much fluid through sweating when it's cold but it's still important to manage hydration. On runs longer than 15 miles I bring a warmed up electrolyte drink in my water bottles and it stays in a drinkable state for up to 2 hours. TIP: unscrew bottle tops, do not try to drink out of the nozzles. For runs over 25 miles I work in a stop for water. Gels become hard to eat when they are frozen so store them close to your skin. I also run with for real foods like Honey Stinger Waffles and Energy Bars.

Cross training can add value Other than the occasional snowshoe run or hike, and ice skating with my kids, all I do is run. But snow sports are great and someday I plan to play one. As boring as it sounds, my personal approach to winter training is to put everything into running and not wear myself out with other endeavors. For runners who are just trying to maintain a base or are building up for spring and summer races, playing out in the snow is the best way to enjoy winter. Snow sports are a great way to build and retain fitness, give your mind a break from higher-volume running, and let your body heal from micro-injuries. Just be careful not to get a traumatic injury that will take you away from running!

Don't be snobby about running surface Even though I consider myself a trail runner at the core, I run most of my winter miles on the road. When trail conditions are good I will be out there as much as possible but I never compromise my ankle health just so I can tell myself that I am running trails as much as I do other times of the year. Winter roads are more challenging than dry roads. With varying degrees of traction, snow accumulation, and debris on the shoulder, I make it a game to hop around, keeping my agility sharp. My road-heavy training has not seemed to limit me in a race setting, though I do wonder how I would be different as a runner if I had dry trails to run year-round.

Something is better than nothing, except when it's not There are so many reasons not to run in the winter. It's dark, cold, and treacherous. With holiday parties and beers to be consumed, running can seem unimportant. But any amount of running is better than not running at all. Once you're out there it usually turns into a good run. If it doesn't, at least you gave it a shot and got your blood flowing. However, once the diehard mindset takes hold, it's important to stay honest with yourself about your health. With colds and flues going around in the dark months, most of us will get sick at least once. Running through a little cold won't kill you, but it can derail your training efforts. I have personally prolonged viruses but trying to push through. Just be smart.

Seek out warmth In the winter, I spend a lot of time in cold places. Although I work less on the farm, when I am there, I work in a cold office in the barn. I do farm chores to help out on my parent's hog and poultry farm and I am out in the cold running 6 days a week. Even through I dress right, the cold just wears me down. I have learned that being close to a direct heat source warms my body and spirit. I often eat dinner in front of our wood burning stove, with the door wide open so I can stare at the flames. I take a hot bath several times a week and a steamy shower on the other days - I actually bathe more in the winter than the summer. Adding in a hot yoga practice or finding a sauna can take the edge off of the season for runners and non-runners alike.

Be kind to yourself and others Winter running can be intense for a lot of us but ultimately it's a choice. When I truly do not want to run, I won't. It's hard to keep a relaxed grip on structured training but it's important to remember that running is for fun. In the winter I eat more chocolate, I let my house get messier, I burrow down inside my own mind and indulge my introverted side. I try to love myself more in the winter because winter is hard for me. This also means that we need to be kind to our friends and family who are supporting our running pursuits. We are choosing to take on our own challenges and it's easy to feel like a noble martyr of the Arctic Tundra but no one is making us run, so just be nice about it.

The reason winter is important to me is because my drive for running shifts from joyful autopilot to contemplative examination. I feel my runs more in the winter months and the entire process is more epic. In fair weather, one day bleeds in the next and I rarely ask myself if I like what I'm doing. Winter forces me to check in and make sure this is still a meaningful use of my time. Running holds me close and asks Do you still love me? My response is I will love you forever.

I'll Meet You There

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I unlaced my farm boots and put them under my desk in the office, which happens to be in an old dairy barn. I powered down my computer and shut the door. The farm crew was gone for the day and I knew that no one would barge in while I changed into my running clothes. I was getting set for a run-commute, which is a common way for runners fit more miles in on less time by running to and from work. But I wasn't running home, I was running to a pond that's about 9 miles away. With an easy effort this would take me about an hour and 15 minutes, which would time out perfectly to get some quality time in the water with the kids before dinner. Is it possible to manage a training schedule, work, and keep wild kids entertained? I have found that the only way to fit it all in on weekdays is to run part of the way or all the way to our midweek adventures. This is exactly what my husband, Jesse, and I have been doing the past few summers. It calls for a high amount of spontaneity and a willingness to hop out of a car on the side of a country road. Our system requires me to keep gear for running, swimming, and hiking in the trunk of the car at all times. There is often a collection of fishing poles and sports equipment so we can be ready for any situation that arises.

The weekday adventure seeking behavior was born from Jesse's philosophy on life that we shouldn't live for the weekends. Saturday and Sunday are great for longer outings but there is no reason to discriminate against Monday through Friday just because we work those days. A little insider fact: all the best trails and swimming spots are empty on weeknights. So why not have them all to yourself when the weather is equally nice and the kids are game for fun? To add another layer of complexity to our schedule, Jesse is a runner and plays in a summer soccer league. He usually gives me running priority but his Thursday night soccer game is non-negotiable.

Now that we are in the thick of summer, a few important guidelines have become clear on how to live our fullest life in our favorite season. Once you get used to always feeling slightly disorganized and throwing routines out the door, you can really jam a lot of quality into the week.

Don't unpack the car Well, clean out the dirty stuff but make sure you always keep the trunk stocked for unplanned fun. The key to fitting in runs along with fun outings is to be low-maintenance and spontaneous. But when your sports and activities require equipment and supplies, you just need to keep those items on hand. In our car you will always find a jumble of beach buckets, towels, fishing poles, running shoes, swimsuits, Clif Bars, water bottles, dry clothes, Organic Valley Organic Fuel and a running kit. Sometimes Jesse leaves his cleats and shinguards in the car all week which is actually a convenient place to store them.

Stick to familiar routes I'm all about new adventures but keeping my route simple on fun-commute days is key to being respectful of my husband and kids who are waiting for me to get to the fun. My trail routes are usually at the same state park and I know how long different combinations of trails will take for me to get to the lake. If I am feeling good I might repeat a few hills but I never experiment with new loops when the crew is waiting for me. For road commutes, planning a run is much more simple. With a mapping application and my estimated pace, I can nail down my ETA pretty accurately.

Swimming counts as bathing Showers and baths. Who needs them when you can rinse the sweat and dirt off in a lake, stream, or spring-fed pond? Sure, every few days a conventional shower is a good idea but I do not plan my day around bathing myself or my children. Not having a high-maintenance grooming routing goes without saying. Rinsing off the mud in fresh water (or a hose) saves so much unnecessary fussing over hygiene.

Graze all day In the summer I don't run before work because our day starts so early and I can never get to bed in time to get enough sleep. One of the hardest parts about running at the end of the day is going into the run with low energy. Some days, after the workday is done, all I want to do is go home, eat food and sit in silence. To keep my energy up all day I eat small meals in addition to lunch. I keep nuts, fruit, and Organic Valley Mighty Bars on hand to make sure my system never gets too low. Everyday I eat a mid-afternoon snack of almond butter, coconut oil, and banana. It isn't too filling and the combination is packed with healthy fats, protein and natural sugar to make sure I am ready to hit the ground running when my workday is done.

A family who plays together, stays together Sometimes our weeknight adventures get late and we forgo a home-cooked meal. I feel bad when we pull into the driveway with the kids asleep in their car seats and after eating a snacks for dinner. Jesse reminds me that our scrappy kids need to get down and dirty on a regular basis. He says that we eat plenty of amazing food most days and bedtime routines are over-rated. Right now the kids are 3 and 5 years old. Pretty soon they will have sports and activities of their own. But until then we will push them to be the wildest versions of themselves as often as possible.

Summer in Wisconsin is short and precious. The long days and hot weather beg for us to lap up every last drop of the season. It's also the busiest time of year on the farm so we need to be strategic about our free time. We focus on productive adventuring, packing as much fun into the summer as possible. There's always time for running, as long as you have a capable, adventurous partner who wants to make everyday the best day.

I Feel So Far Away

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Spring is the most overrated season. Those were my husband, Jesse's words, not mine, but I couldn't agree more. He made that profound statement as I sat on the floor in the mudroom lacing up my running shoes. Moments earlier I told Jesse that everything would be better if only it wasn't so windy and rainy. And why the hell was I being such a baby? I had just trained hard through the bitterness of December and January. I've always had high hopes for this hopeful season but spring just doesn't work out for me. Each year I have more maturity and self-awareness about the ebbs and flows of trying to push myself to new levels as a runner, but that doesn't take away the sting of setbacks. It's actually gotten harder for me to accept that taking downtime is the right thing to do.

I've had a good February race for the last 4 years - that's every single year that I have been a serious runner. I have a 50 mile win, marathon and 50k podium finishes and a top five finish in a Western States Golden Ticket 100k. Then I back up those strong results with absolute flops in the spring. I've DNF-ed (did not finish) twice and, will have DNS-ed (did not start) twice counting this year. Between February and May, I ride a super wild roller coaster of physical and emotional drama.

I was really hoping that this spring I could break the cycle by following up a late winter race with consistent training and a decent spring race. I felt recovered two weeks after my February 100k and I started to build on my speed and took my time layering on the volume. By mid-March I could feel that my body was slipping into the dreaded spring pit of despair. I got one cold after another, I became agitated by crummy weather, and I was increasingly stressed about my sleep. With a 5 year old who regularly stays up past 10pm and a 3 year old who doesn't sleep through the night, it's hard not to have a death grip on nighttime hours. The farm schedule shifted to start an hour earlier which meant waking up at 5:15am to get my run in before getting the kids to pre-school on days that we had evening commitments - which is a lot during the spring. With each internal moan and gripe I hated myself for not loving the process. I was supposed to thrive on the grind, not have foreboding feelings about my training.

A theory I have about my springtime melancholy is that I am withdrawing from our big winter vacation. For the past few years, we've spent the better part of February traveling around the American West, running, exploring, and soaking in sun, before the farming season kicks off. We build up to our trip from November to January and I never have a plan for how I am going to transition back into the rest of winter when I got home. Our vegetable farming life is really polarized - we work hard 9 months of the year then have absolute flexibility in the winter to travel in between our winter projects. It's a cold, jarring return to reality after we get home from our winter adventures, no matter how wonderful our trip was. I get let down every single year.

By the middle of April I knew I should withdraw from the 50mile race that was scheduled for May. My training wasn't coming together and new health issues were surfacing that made it clear that I was about to dig myself into to a deep hole that would take months to get out of. On a gorgeous Saturday afternoon, I ran up to the state park near our house. After a half mile on the trail I caught a rock with my toe and my body hurled forward, rolling my left foot under as I landed on the trail. My first response was to inspect the moss and rocks stuck into my palm. Blood dripped down to my elbow from two wounds on my right hand. I rocked back onto my feet and screamed FUCK! I knew I had done damage to my ankle - my bad ankle. The ankle that I had been trying to heal all winter. On a cold, windy day back in November as I was coming down from Clingman's Dome, the highest point in the Smokey Mountains, I suffered my first traumatic running injury, a second degree lateral sprain. At the time it felt like a rite of passage, but that fateful moment followed me all the way through my 100k race in February. My winter training was stunted by my fears of re-injury and a lot of focus in my race was directed towards not landing wrong on my left foot. As I sat on the side of the trail I asked myself what I was accomplishing if I continued training with a bum ankle and a weak system. I struggled through a few more days of regular runs before I decided a real break was in order. My coach agreed that working past my issues would only lead to burn out and he gave me the support I needed to tune out from running for a few weeks.

At the doctors office, I went through my list of current woes and told her that I hated feeling so high maintenance. You can't just wing this stuff. You're asking your body to do a lot for you. You should be MORE high maintenance. If you want to your body to preform on a high level, you need to make taking care of yourself a top priority. Your sleep, your nutrition, your stress levels, your well-being all needs to be a focus. She was so right. Just because I want to be able to train and race month after month doesn't mean my body will allow it if I am not healthy in every way. I have a disproportionate amount of motivation for my amount of natural patience. I need to use my obsessive discipline in all areas of my training, including self-care.

For me the hardest part about running isn't actually running, it's the suffering I go through when I'm not running. To commit myself to the schedule and process, I have to make space for the sport, and when it's gone I feel a dark void. I am trying to make the most of the down time by giving Jesse more space to work on projects, I go to yoga more, and I do extra fun stuff with the kids. But always in the back of my mind is that I am drifting farther and farther away from what I am working towards. My mom has been really supportive over the past few weeks as I rest my body. After we picked up some hogs from another farm, we stood under the blooming apple tree in the pigs pasture and talked about how we want our summers to be. I feel so far away. Far away from running how I want to run, I told her. How do you want to run? she asked. I just want to run wild and free on trails and not have to worry about being tired, or hurt, or sick. I don't want to wonder if I'm doing the right thing. She didn't even need to tie my thoughts together for me. I knew that stepping back from my training and dropping a race off my schedule was the only way to run how I want to run. I have hopes that 2018 will hold more continuity and I need to work toward consistent overall wellness to make that happen. And if it doesn't, a nice long recovery after my February adventures is just as well, because spring sucks.

The Takeaways: What I learned in 2016

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As I come into the new year, I find myself reflecting on my accomplishments, challenges and lessons from the year I left behind. 2016 was a very high/low year for me. We built a new house, I had some strong race finishes, we took two awesome road trips, and I made a bunch of new friends. But, I also had some really low points in my struggle to be healthy. I wasn't able to race much and enjoying the beauty of my life was not always easy. Last year was filled with ups and downs that have shaped who I am as a runner and who I strive to be as a person. Here are my 2016 lessons in no particular order: Stress is stress My body doesn't differentiate the source. Stress is one big mass of energy that needs to be doled out in strategic ways to stay healthy and become a stronger runner. I am 33 years old and I am just realizing this for the first time. Busy season on the farm, wild kids, poor sleep, too many commitments, and running are some of my stressors. When I first started running ultramarathons in 2014, I had a 2 year old and a 7 month old. I was burning the candle at both ends with intense enthusiasm. As the months rolled on I found myself living on adrenaline to accomplish all of my goals. I finally ran myself into the ground in the summer of 2015 when I was diagnosed with mono (Epstein Barr virus) and I have been fighting to find an equilibrium ever since. Fitness is a matter of putting microstresses on your body and then healing and adapting. If I want my body to benefit from the stress of my training, I need to minimize the other stimuli. It doesn't mean that I can quit taking care of my kids or stop working, but I do have control over how I react when life gets real and can choose to remove myself from situations that will bring me unnecessary stress.

On the deck of our new house with Mischa. Now we live only a mile from Blue Mound State Park with has great trails!

Time management is an art We all spend our time on things that are important to us. The most common question I get from people when the topic of running comes up is How do you find the time? Running is a very efficient endurance sport, in terms of time spent in training - especially if you don't care about bathing on a daily basis. I am currently in a flexible time of the vegetable farming year. However, in the summer months, it takes a lot of organization and discipline to fit in two running schedules (mine and my husband, Jesse's) along with the farm and the kids. I have learned that if I do less, time is easier to manage. To help me prioritize, I wrote a list of my most important things: family, the farm, running, food, a peaceful home, creative projects, community involvement. There are a lot of other things I like doing but only if I have extra time. I have strategically separated myself from most popular entertainment which makes my time so much more manageable. Anyways, I don't want Netflix cluttering my life when I can't even keep up with my laundry!

I MUST eat food - a lot. To stay healthy as a runner, food and sleep are critical.

I am only as healthy as my nutrition You would think that a vegetable farmer who has a freezers full of beef and pork would have no problem with proper nutrition, but this is not always the case for me. I eat amazing, beautiful, colorful meals but I have been known to skip breakfast, forego eating after a challenging run, or do fasted long runs (gasp!!). This year my body shut down on me for being such a dumbass. Running is a high impact sport that takes a huge amount of energy. Even if I were able to run on empty, I wouldn't be able to train on the level that will get me faster results. I used to think that endurance running was a purely natural pursuit, I suppose I still do in many ways. But I need to treat my body like an extra special machine if I want to keep getting stronger. Here are my rules: always have a big breakfast (bread, nut butter, jelly, coffee), green tea every day, no running on a full or empty stomach, always eat protein after a run (Organic Valley Chocolate Organic Fuel is my favorite - and Organic Valley is my sponsor!), eat colorful fruits and vegetables, eat meat multiple times per week (preferably our meat), never go to bed feeling too full (it makes for poor sleep). With high quality nutrition I can conquer my dreams!

Sleep: at least 8 hours - otherwise no point training hard Some people need more sleep than others. I fall into the category of people who don't need much sleep to feel rested. For years I stretched my days out late into the night. My kids naturally stay up late and I would stay up even later trying to get the alone time that I wanted. Since I have been recovering from mono, I have lost about 20% of my weekly productivity because I am committing much more of my time to sleep. I have learned that I don't get tired, I get sick. My immune system becomes weak when I am sleep deprived. Since I have made it a point to get more rest, I have been sick a fraction of the time. And it is also improving my training capacity. I am not always able to get as much sleep as I should, but my efforts are going a long way. What a great time investment.

First female overall and 5th overall at Sean O'Brien 50 mile. This was my biggest running achievement of 2016!

Embrace the process I'm just a farm mom with a huge amount of stoke and determination for exploring my running limits over long distances. Up until this year I have not been terribly interested in anatomy or physiology - I just want to run! After several weeks off from illness and injury I have realized that I will keep repeating the same mistakes if I ignore the sources of what ails me. So, I have turned my attention to learning more about how and why I get injured and what I can do to stay healthy. Running, by nature, is a slow process that is wrought with setbacks and disappointment. If I can't accept that, I should just quit right now. Learning to roll with the punches will make me a happier runner who can withstand the game for the long haul. Patience, persistence, determination, and listening to my body are what will bring me closer to my true potential.

See the truth I started analyzing my running with a GPS watch in August. Up until then I just estimated my weekly mileage by having a rough idea of the distance of the routes I was running. I had no idea how much vertical gain I was getting, what effort I was putting out or how many hours I was on my feet running. My only confirmed metrics were race results. This is crazy talk now that I know the power of the tools that are available to me. I used to run with an older Garmin during races to know what mile I was in and what time the clock was at. Now that I am fully tethered to the analytical world I wish I could look back and see my past figures. Was I getting more or less miles/vertical/time than I thought? I joined Strava in October and I love the data analysis plus the community support is awesome. Knowing exactly what I am doing in training makes me a more self aware runner.

Blue Mound State Park in November. The beauty of the trail is at the center of my desire to run.

Run for running sake I could say that my racing season was a flop or I could see it as a great year. I had a 50 mile win in February, a 50k podium in July, and two top 5 sub-ultra distance trail race finishes in June then October. On the other hand, I DNF-ed (did not finish) a 100k in April and DNS-ed (did not start) two 50 mile races in May and September. There was a handful of other races that I never registered for but intended to run. But here I am, healthy and ready to race into 2017. What is racing if I can't run? What is the point of running if I'm not happy? If I hadn't sat out much of my year, I would never have been able to feel the joy of running the way I am now. I will always want to test myself in a race setting but most of running is made up of the vastness of the hours in between. Podium finishes are great but not the only measure of success. Being out on my trails, exploring new ones, the colors of the trees and sky, splashing through mud and bounding off of rocks - these are the things that bring me pure happiness. In running we spend so much time alone, so our solitude needs to add value to our lives, not take it away.

Jesse, Paavo and Mischa in Moab at Red Hot 55k. We drove from WI to CA in February and explored awesome races and trails along the way. Including the kids in these adventures is the best part.

Seek the help of a professional In August I almost quit running. I lay in bed one night and asked Jesse if he thought I should just give it up. I had been in a downward spiral for a few weeks - extreme body weakness, shortness of breath, vertigo, sensitivity to noise and light, and confusion. My mono symptoms were coming back as strong as the initial infection. I couldn't run let alone be an adult. Jesse told me no. You are a good runner, naturally. With no running background and with no formal training you have gotten solid results. Just focus on getting better then we will make a plan. It would be stupid for you quit now. Plus you love it...that's the most import part. With that, I decided that I needed a professional coach. I reached out to David Roche and he offered to train me back to health and beyond. David is an elite trail runner with amazing results and an infectious zeal and humor for running. He told me that results don't matter, it's about how much fun I'm having. This shift in my mind away from results-driven motivation to pure love of the sport has been one of my biggest takeaways. Being part of his team, Some Work, All Play, initially was a last resort, but now it feels like the best decision I have made other than to start running in the first place. My training is purposeful and never comes before health. Running injured or sick is a thing of the past. It takes an objective expert to pull me back when I need a break and to lay out a challenging plan for me to rise up toward my potential.

Running is pursuit that never ends. I'll never be at my peak - there will always be improvements and margins to investigate. That's why I love running as a sport and as a lifestyle. For this year I am going to see how hard I can push myself in training and what that brings on the race course. I learned a lot from my ups and downs - there's no point in celebrating what I got right if I'm not going to continue to build on those achievements and there is no such thing as a mistake if the experience makes me a stronger, wiser person. 2017 might just be my best year yet!

Deep in training for Sean O'Brien 100k coming up on February 4, my first race of the year!

A Moving Target

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I realized it when I was carrying groceries in from the car; I was so weak that I was out of breath walking the five steps up to the house. Once I start running again, I need help, I thought, feeling one part relief, three parts disappointment. My bright flash of self-awareness came to me in August, but it was long overdue. I had lost all touch with what feeling good, sick, tired or healthy even felt like. Over the last year I had two states of being: can-run or can't-run. On the can-run days, I was a wild animal making up for all of the can't-run days. In August 2015 I was diagnosed with mono (Epstein Barr virus) and I haven't been the same since. I have had some decent results, a 50 mile win and a 50k podium, and some glorious weeks of running. But I haven't been able to sustain training for more than two months at a time. Viral relapses knock me down so hard that I have considered quitting running altogether, but the thought of not having an intense sport in my life keeps me coming back for more.

Finishing up my favorite road/trail/road combo run.

My training has always been intuitive and unrestrained. I have done my best to avoid scientific and analytical considerations. Not that I feel I can outsmart numbers, I just prefer a more natural approach to suffering for speed. My running has consisted of setting a goal peak mileage that crests three weeks before the race, then tapers off for the event. The content of those miles has been a mix of perceived low intensity with a mix of tempo and fartlek-style intervals. Running, trail running in particular, brings me to a primal place of survival. I get so energized by my runs that I loose track of what effort I am putting out and can't sense how much recovery I need following training sessions. Being forced to take breaks from running only perpetuates my excitement for pushing myself. This behavior is dangerous for someone recovering from a serious illness.

My post-mono running had become more of an expression of my moods and emotions than an organized effort to reach my running potential. Excited, frustrated, inspired, bored, pissed off, content - my running was a way to indulge all of my feelings. What I really needed was to separate running from my internal discourse, and the only way I could do that was to get some structure from an expert. I found my coach, David Roche, through Trail Runner Magazine, where he is a regular contributor. He is also an elite trail runner with incredible race results. I remember reading a column of his about running easy to increase aerobic strength. In that story he discussed how his wife had mono last year and he trained her past the infection and how she is faster than ever now. In my most recent episode of fatigue I had reached a new level of desperation and finally got over my commitment to my unstructured running style.

Resting and sleeping are now more important to me than my running schedule. This was one of the most difficult things for me to change.

I was excited when David told me that I would be actively recovering from my recent bout of malaise. My first assignment was to get a GPS watch with a heart rate monitor. I have an old Garmin that I used in races to know where I was on the course and how long I had been running. A new and improved watch was definitely in store to celebrate my adventure into structured training. I settled on the Suunto Ambit 3 Sapphire. When I started my new running program with David, I was healing a sprained pubis in addition to being recently very sick. I decided to stick to a flat, soft railroad corridor turned bike path a few miles from our house. On the first day I was supposed to run for 30 minutes at or below 135 heart beats per minute (bpm). While I trotted down the gravel path I got familiar with all of the data reading out on my watch. As I settled into a comfortable clip, I saw the bpm figure rising up to 150. What the fuck is this shit! I whispered loudly. I stopped in my tracks and waited for the number to fall back down to 130bpm then started running again. I knew that I would be starting easy, but this painfully slow pace made my entire body boil with frustration.

My pace quickened as the weeks rolled on and David raised my easy-effort heart rate threshold and started to add in intensity intervals. I was running real miles again - and my pelvis was healed so I was cleared to run on my beloved trails. But I still felt unsatisfied, like I wasn't working hard enough and I didn't feel my runs deep down inside. One night over dinner I told my husband, Jesse, that I wasn't excited by my new, responsible training. He looked me dead in the eyes, You want daily excitement? You're in the wrong sport. You know what's exciting? Doing more than two ultras a year. Being able to train for more than two months in a row. Not constantly being in physical therapy. You know what's exciting? Running down the last descent at mile 57 at Sean O'Brien [100k]. You're not even going to get to that race if you need excitement every day. You want excitement? Go get a mountain bike. Dammit, he was right. In my low times I had conjured healthy running into something it isn't - an action packed thrill. Sure, there's some of that, but there are a lot of days where it's just calm running. A peaceful process that I need to accept in order to get to the exciting stuff.

On the trail in "my park" - Blue Mound State Park

As I continue my training plan, a loud conversation is constantly rolling in my head: have discipline, commit to the process, embrace the grind, stronger each day, zero limits. All of the inspirational endurance phrases that I had come to think of as fuel for pushing super hard are just as meaningful for grinding out the boring, unremarkable days. Each week that passes that I am healthy and injury free are like winning little races. My instinctual running style and disregard for pain will bode well for me when I put my training to the test in real races. If I can be honest with myself about my limitations in training I should be able to keep building my strength without making detours for illness. Now I have goals that aren't just about my next race, I have goals that are about being healthy this week, being fast 10 years from now, and all of the moving targets in between.

I am so happy to begin my new approach to running during such a beautiful time of year.

Leave It Behind

So you like feeling as though you're being hunted down? Does primal fear excite you? My heart rate quickened as I flashed back to my last good race: in the lead, alone at mile 4o-something, running up a craggy, exposed assent, out of water, temps pushing 90, trying to reach the aid station at the top of the mountain, feeling deeply afraid of being caught from behind, and in desperate pursuit of the male racers ahead of me. Yes, I suppose it does, I retorted. The naturopathic doctor looked concerned. And you compete in these races for over 9 hours sometimes? That's a long time for your adrenal system to be sustaining your state of survival. You know, I think you have too much yang. I darted my eyes toward him. He was right - and all along I thought I had too much yin. You are compulsive with your athletic training. You have a strong drive for competition. This is hard on your adrenal system following an illness like you had. As I sat across the desk from my new health practitioner, I was amazed by how he could tie aspects of my character to my current state of health. Sean O'Brien 50 mile. I won the race half on athleticism, half adrenaline. It was a great race but an important lesson that I can push my body beyond it's breaking point. I'm still not sure if that is a strength or weakness.

After being diagnosed with mono last August, I just haven't been the same. For at least a week each month I have deep earaches, sensitivity to noise and light, inability to get warm, fevers and intense physical fatigue. Worse, I pick up any virus that I come into contact with. On hard days, I can't wait for the day to end so I can go to bed. I do have stretches of great energy and normalcy but some days I am a shell of my former self. My patience for this pattern of malaise has worn thin. Two weeks ago when a strong headache was brewing and my temperature crept up to 101° I lost my temper. I stormed away from Jesse in a fit of frustration and I slammed the bedroom door. What the fuck! Why do I even bother [running]?! I'm not racing again for like half a year. Truly, my fear was not missing my next race, it was never returning to the spontaneous, energetic person I was before I got sick.

I had a strong 50-mile race in February and decided to follow it up with a 100k in April. I dropped out of the 100k and came home burned out and injured. I realized that I wasn't healthy yet so I should focus on my health instead of racing. We were approaching the finishing stages of our new house on a gorgeous chunk of land just a few minutes from the farm. This new house is the culmination of a 7-year search for the right space for our family - a big enough house close to the farm, with some acres and a stream. Entering this new part of my life healthy, felt symbolic to me. I decided that transitioning into a new home was a good cause for declaring war on my mysterious inability to be healthy.

I still run - and get quality miles. I have have a really fun time taking running selfies with my friends.

After explaining my endurance pursuits and pattern of viral infections, my naturopathic doctor determined that my body was so depleted by the Epstein-Barr (mono) virus, that I wasn't able to recover properly after stressful events. All stress is created equal to our bodies - work, kids, lack of sleep, sports, building a new house. Even though I like most of the stress in my life, my body can't recover quickly enough, and I become symptomatic. When I am worn down, my body skips the tired phase and goes straight to sick. I feel this is why ultrarunning is a natural sport for me - I don't have a strong internal gauge of fatigue. I suppose it's good in the short term but it could be my ultimate undoing. In a race setting, this results in over reaching for me. I race beyond my training, resulting in exhausted systems. I didn't realize that there is a such thing as racing too hard. I thought my body would only go as hard and fast as I was capable of - little did I know that I was draining the vitality from my body in ultramararthon races.

I left my first appointment with a short list of supplements and activities that would work to heal my fragile body. More importantly, my practitioner told me that healing was a process that may take months and that I should think of it as a lifestyle change. I could still run, and even race, but my life would need to look different if I really wanted to get better. By addressing the stresses in my life I could save up my adrenaline for races. I can't not be responsible to the farm, I can't not take care of my wild toddlers, and I can't not be accountable for all of my commitments - but I can change the amount of intensity I use to go through my day. My doctor reassured me that if I could chill out in general, that I would have enough reserves to sacrifice myself to a race. I am drawn to running because it makes me feel wild and vulnerable. Overcoming my imaginary danger empowers me as an animal in nature. I learned that it can still be healthy to race with all my heart, as long as the rest of my life is balanced and healthy.

Our new home on our new land.

Endurance running can be a real two-faced bastard. The billowing, lofty highs of solid training and strong races contrasted with the devastation of injury and burnout is enough to make even the heartiest runner wallow in self-pity. Every serious runner has a personal story about a bad season or hard year. I now feel like I'm passing through a rite of passage. Transitioning from a carefree, blissful runner into a wiser, smarter version of myself who knows frustration and loss. In the scheme of the world I know that my woes are trivial. I remind myself of this on a daily basis. So much so that going through this roller coaster of illness and injury has made me a more grateful person on every level.

As I lay in bed the first night in our new house, I listened to all of the sounds of our valley - the crickets, the rushing of the stream, even a howling pack of coyotes. This was it, my new home - the project I had planned and plotted for years. I asked myself what I felt and, the answer was content - which is a hard emotion for me to reach. I have fleeting moments of it, mostly I chase it through the forest, over rocks and roots, trying to grab a hold of it for long enough to ask why I am I so restless?. In our new house, I realized that I may not be recovered from my illness but I can leave behind the desperation of needing to be well every day and fast in every race. Now it's a matter of setting small, actionable goals on my way back to my pre-Epstein-Barr body. I will emerge faster, wiser and with more gratitude for each run.

Feeling healthy and ready to leave it all behind.