Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Grasslands 50 Race Report

Race: Grasslands 50-Miler
Date: Saturday, March 21st
Location: LBJ National Grasslands (about 1.5 hours outside of Dallas)
Result: 1st woman, 2nd overall
Race PrĂ©cis: Some of the mud went mid-calf. (Also mid-calf were the literal calves, standing amid calves. We were in cow fields.) Today I am having phantom mud sensations, anticipating elephantine mud legs. I think it will be hard to lift them because of the mud that once encased me, but then I am pleased to see that I have regular legs again, unencumbered by a quantity of soil sufficient to repair Canada’s tar sands. I had a wonderful time.
Literary Genre: Tragicomedy
Analogous Historical Event: Battle of Agincourt  

“Then will he strip his sleeves and show his scars
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s Day Grasslands 50-Mile Day.’
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot.
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day.”


Last year, I ran the Grasslands 50. Not knowing what to expect, I had hoped to run a personal best and was in shape to do so. Instead, I did a lot of extra credit mileage. At one point, I stood alone in a field of cows, crying, “Is anybody out there?” The answer was no. I found my way back onto the course, where more cows (about 8) were standing in front of the cow gate I needed to enter. I had to sweet talk them into letting me through. “I love cows. I’m lactose-intolerant. Let me in.” Last year, I set the course record. Last year was also a tragicomedy.

Choose joy.

This year, I decided that, no matter what, I would choose joy. I would choose joy if I got lost, if I got tired, or if the sand pits were as desolate as I remembered. 

First of all, this race is incredible. The park is beautiful, and the unique elements, like the cow gates we move in and out of, and the rolling slopes of grass, are delightful. The new race director, Chris Barnwell, is kind and accommodating, and the event is well-staffed and marked by Texan hospitality. Even if I had not chosen joy beforehand, it would have been difficult not to leave with my heart full.  

The race is a clover-leaf pattern of horse trails. At first, you run a blue trail extension, then the blue trail itself, followed by the white trail, then the yellow trail, and lastly, the red trail. I am a philosopher, so my strength is not fullness of physical presence, and I get lost easily. But that was not a problem on Saturday.

Here is my Strava map data.

This is a bit of the elevation profile.

The rain held off on Saturday, and I was grateful. But it hadn’t held off for the three weeks prior, so the course was a Slough of Despond. I had already chosen joy, so I was mentally buoyant while I sank into the abyss.

It is difficult to describe the extent of the muddy conditions we experienced on Saturday. I shouldn't call it "muddy" because muddy is an adjective, modifying some noun, and the mud was definitely the principle thing. All other properties of the environment were incidental to the mud. It was inescapable and animate. It actively pursued us. I wished that in training, I had done less speed work. I wished that I had tethered mac trucks to my quads to prepare. 

All morning long, I ran up hills and slid back down, like a Sisyphus situation. Sometimes, I just slid along like I was wearing roller blades because it wasn’t worth the exertion to lift my feet. At one point, I tripped on a cactus along the side of the trail. My fall took place in slow motion because I was simultaneously mid-calf in the mud with my other leg. My body sunk four inches into the abyss. The mud received me like heaven’s embrace.

For the first 31 miles, I had company—John Martinek and Omar Venzor. This is an unprecedented amount of time to share with two humans. We talked, we laughed, we cried, we slid in the same direction, we lost our shoes and squeezed them back on. We ate the soil. We were the soil. It was like Wendell Berry’s imperative to become one with the land. It was equal parts running and modern dance. The camaraderie was outstanding. Sometimes, on the other side of a mile-long mud trough, we would spot puddles and claim them, like prospectors in western expansion. In fits of glee, we immersed ourselves in them to free ourselves of the mud, preening like pigeons. But alas, there was always another mud pen on the other side.

“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers (and sister);
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile, 
This day shall gentle his condition; 
And gentlemen in England Texas now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day Grasslands 50-Miler."

Ultimately, the mud tides carried us away from one another. As we slipped away in the currents of soil, we wished each other well in our endeavors—19 more miles of slovenly solitude—a task of bovine proportions.

The End

On Sunday, I woke up clean, having been liberated from my Egyptian mummy cast of mud from the afternoon before. I put on a dress and brushed my hair. The only signs of my adventure that remained were how my pearl necklace fell directly on top of the cut marks from my camelbak, thus proving the old adage: “You can remove a girl from a mud pit, but you cannot erase the lines her portable water pack left when she tripped on a cactus.”  (We should start saying that.)

Thank you, Chris Barnwell, for the great race! I had fun. Thank you, David and Kaky, for crewing for me. Thanks, Altra Running, for the great sneakers. Thank you, Team RWB, for somehow finding amazing people and putting them all in matching shirts. Thank you, DryMax! My feet are unscathed after the most ridiculous conditions. I am blessed.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Don't Tread on Me, USADA

Backstory: We have an international doping problem. Technology is advancing, and personal integrity is declining (I imagine), so it is consistently a question on starting lines whether the playing field is even. In 2013, I competed in the 24-Hour World Championships and placed second, so since then, I have been subject to randomized blood tests to make sure I am clean. I'm glad this doping initiative is happening, but yikes, it is a handful.

The process goes like this: Every three months, I go online and complete a Whereabouts Quarterly Filing to USADA—a list of all of the places I plan to go and at what times from then until the next quarter. This quarter, I have to plot down the start and stop times for every location from October 1st through December 31st. I need to provide an address for each time slot, such as for my school, coffee shops, and training facilities (which means, as an ultrarunner, a list of zip codes I intend to run through). Each day, I also need to supply a 60-minute time slot for probable testing. WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) comes during that slot; USADA comes whenever it wants to.

If your schedule changes, and it does, you need to send a text to USADA to update your whereabouts. Otherwise, you might miss a test, which counts as failing it.

Often my texts are highly specific...Find me in this area code. It's simpler for sprinters and other athletes because they have training facilities. I train in big loops around town. Sometimes I hope that USADA will have to come looking for me in libraries or museums, to partake in the intellectual experience. 

Another thing that I like to do is word the text messages like they are surprises, so it seems like I am always flying by the seat of my pants.

In my text messages, I go on surprise trips to the grocery store, to staff meetings, and to periodontist appointments. In reality, there is no such thing as a surprise periodontist appointment, and if the world were made up of surprises like that, it would be practically unlivable.

But alas...

Surprise Parties for One

 Last night, I was sitting at my desk in pajamas after dinner, emailing graduate programs, when I received two phone calls in rapid succession from a Houston number. I should have guessed it was my doping agent, but I was occupied and in my head, I assume the IAAF/USADA has the same bifurcated understanding of my life that I do. When I’m training, I am an athlete. When I’m working, I am a teacher/student. The spheres are separate, and I try to do both with single-mindedness and integrity.

This is me with running: Shout out to everyone who says Cross Country is boring.
This is me with school, a dispositional 180.

Rule number one of fight club ultramarathoning: Don't talk about fight club ultramarathoning.

I heard knocking at my front door, and was greeted by two agents. “Hi, Sabrina. Just a blood test.” Like I said, the head agent called me from a Houston number because he lives that far away, and because he has no other athletes to monitor in the surrounding areas of Waco, his trips are always a surprise party for one—me.

I felt stupid sitting there, having my blood drawn in my pajamas, thinking, “I am a teacher. Why is this happening to me?”

Have you taken any glucocorticoid steroids in the past month?
Have you been out of the country in the past two weeks?
Have you received any blood transfusions in the past month?
Have you been exercising the use of an altitude tent?
When was the last time you trained?
I ran twice today—6 a.m. and about two hours ago.
Be more precise. Was it more than two hours ago, or less than two hours ago?
(That is one of the blood indicators—high aerobic activity within two hours of the test.)
Less. No…I don’t know.

I couldn’t remember. I recounted my activities since, and we guessed that it had been slightly more.

The consultation proceeded from there. Daily prescriptions, lots of signatures. The computer told us that Waco sits at an elevation of 432 meters. If my blood-oxygen reflects otherwise, I guess I would be in trouble. The agent takes out a set of 4 sealed vials and 4 sealed containment boxes for the blood samples. My task is to select the one I want to hold my blood, so that there is less of a chance of being swindled with a false positive. 

The agent repeats the number of my selection to me again and again and tells me to watch his hands to make sure the same is used throughout. This part of the process seems like a magic act--like I will be watching his hands and suddenly he will pull a penny out from behind my ear. They take my blood. I sign some more things. We shake hands, and they leave.

My relationship with ultramarathon racing is tenuous at the moment. USADA's visits seem like a relic from a past that no longer represents my conception of myself. I don’t have time to feel implicated in national standards and statistics. In moving across the country, I left my training group, which was fine for a while, but it means my participation is abstracted. The relationships I had been building in the ultra community are dissolving over the distance. I am weathered by USADA's monitoring, and I have other commitments. All of this is sad, because when the horn sounded at the World Champs and I broke the American Record, I knew (and I still know) that I could run further. I'm not done yet.

I love the discipline of running and the tangible sense of an investment that pays its dividends in racing, and I appreciate the adventure it affords me. I just don't know if I can be an ultrarunner over the long term.

But if nothing else, I am tremendously grateful that running made me a coach. My team has made my life richer and brighter. They are some of the greatest people I have ever met.

This weekend, I again have the honor of participating as an elite mentor at the Team RWB Trail Running Camp on the Nueces. It was a definite highlight of my last year, and I am eager to return. And next weekend, I will race the Big Cedar 100 in Dallas. I promise I will not take a single mile for granted. I will gobble them all up. Then, I don't really know what will happen. I'll let you know...after I text it to USADA.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Capt'n Karl's 60K

Fast Facts:
Race: Capt’n Karl’s 60K
Location: Pedernales Falls, Texas
Start Time: 7 p.m.
Result: 1st place
Race Summary: The best part about obscure racing distances? You always set a PR.

The Backdrop

A week and a half before Capt’n Karl’s, David and I boarded a plane and flew to upstate New York to visit my dad. He lives in Seneca Falls—the birthplace of Memorial Day—the picturesque town on Cayuga Lake where Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and Susan B. Anthony held the first Women’s Rights Convention back in 1848. Visits feel like a sojourn to another century. Seneca Falls was the town upon which Bedford Falls of “It’s a Wonderful Life” was based. It is quaint. I love to visit and run the old streets.

On Sunday, we left for a nearby political science conference, where David sat on a Tocqueville panel, and on Wednesday morning, we were off again for the Society for Classical Learning Conference in Austin, where I would deliver a talk on Saturday morning (8 hours before the race start). In upstate, we biked a little, ran a bit, and hiked a lot, picking our way past farms and through gorges. My dad’s love language is the “family hike,” so we had daily adventures together. When we arrived back in Austin, the Texas humidity struck me anew—its unique combination of horrifying and wonderful.

At the risk of becoming a disembodied head after back-to-back academic conferences, a race seemed like the perfect ontological complement to a week of learning, and as I trotted along, it definitely felt that way.

The Race

The race started at 7 p.m. It consisted of two sweeping 18.6-mile loops around Pedernales Falls, so I needed to take my headlamp from the start and had to plan for only one exchange with my crew. I have been reading a professional 800-meter runner’s blog recently, so I knew how to race two laps well (just multiplying the racing distance by 74). Kick it off hard. Settle into a conservative pace. Come through the first lap, and pick it up. Run the curves; stride the straights. In the final stretch, kick it in with all you have left. Bingo. Easy as pie.

After some initial meandering, I settled into the familiar rhythm of chasing pink ribbons, one at a time, navigating the course through the sinking dusk. After a sharp ascent, I was spectator to a beautiful sunset over rugged Texas hill country. The sky darkened and grew resplendent with stars. I was mostly alone, except for an armadillo encounter, two tarantulas, and periodic back-and-forth with some of the men’s top 10.

I wasn’t in a particularly antagonistic mood, so more often than not, I refused to engage the competitive advances of the men’s race. There were no other girls in sight, so I just enjoyed the unharried quiet of the evening—alone on the trail, with a headlamp and the sounds of my own breathing.

The miles ticked by. Usually, when I am running in the darkness (with the exception of Grindstone, which starts at 6 p.m.), I have already been out there for much of the day and sort of passively take the experience in. On Saturday, I was very awake. I recited “Beware the Jabberwock” while I crossed the river, and I picked out constellations. All in all, this was the most calming race of my life. I trotted home in 1st place, met by my magnanimous husband and awesome father-in-law. It was my fourth race and fourth win of the season, all in the 50K-50-mile range. Thank you for the support, TeamRWB, and thank you for protecting my feet once again through wet conditions, DryMax Socks.

I think I need a big goal. I’d like to try something different, like a fast marathon. That event scares me a little, so all the more so. How fun would it be to do track repeats again full throttle? So fun. I also want to see what I can do in the 100 and would love the opportunity to increase the AR in the 24-hour while I’m strong and still able to do that. We'll see. I just know I need a goal.

Also, if you are free mid-November for a great weekend of trail running, you should check out Team Red, White & Blue trail running camp. It is a super inspiring weekend of running, training clinics, and fun, led by the likes of Liza Howard, with Jason Schlarb, Max King, Katie DeSplinter, Dom Grossman, Matt Hart, Pam Smith, Meghan Arbogast, Zach Bitter, the Bryants, and etcetera, as trail mentors. It is awesome, and its aim is to help veterans reintegrate and reconnect with civilian life through athletics.

Friday, April 11, 2014

When Did April Happen?

All of my running partners know Latin—my students and my husband. On Monday mornings at 6:30 a.m., we all gather on the field outside the school for track practice repeats. They flank me on all sides, like we’re a Roman legion—but faster(!)—and they call out the fractions for remaining laps as we go.

When we finish, we do a cool down. We all look the same—in our running clothes, muddy and messy. I send them to get ready for study hall. The next time I see them, we have resumed our daytime roles. I am in my teacher clothes, and they are dressed in uniforms. We read great texts and bond over ideas. It’s basically what I would have dreamed that life could be, if I had had the boldness to dream of a life so awesome.

Big News for a Little

Last week, I was sitting at my school desk, lamenting the fact that my pants had been accidentally tucked into my socks for most of the morning, when I received an email from Howard Nippert, the National Team manager. He said that he was looking back at splits, and when I broke the 24-Hour Record, I also broke another—the 200K American Record (200K in 19:30.30.). So now I have two! At this point, the mark is sort of deflated of meaning, since I can no longer mentally revisit the difficulty of running so hard that day, but I still think finding out this way was better than finding out on the spot. Probably the best way to find out you broke a record is when you least expect it--when you have a lot of papers to grade and your pants are tucked into your socks, or hypothetically, you have toothpaste on your face again. Because then you can still feel like you’re doing okay, all things considered.

In other news, as I explained in a previous entry, I’ve been added to the USADA (the United States Anti-Doping Agency) monitoring list, so they will find me periodically for surprise drug tests to make sure I’m not taking steroids or blood doping. (I'm not.) They came for me at school on Tuesday, interrupting a Medieval History lecture. It was a major inconvenience but thankfully didn’t take too long. The agent told me he checked my twitter to make sure I was in town, which would have felt disconcerting, like I was being watched by Big Brother…if he could have extracted any actual information about my life.


Two weeks ago, I raced the Grasslands 50-Miler, in the LBJ National Grasslands, and earned my first overall win. So that was cool. 

The Lyndon B. Johnson National Grasslands is a huge park about 1.5 hours northwest of Dallas, comprised of more than 20,250 acres of grassland. There is a lake. There are rolling hills, trails, and horseback riders everywhere. Many of the trails are sandy and feel like running on the beach, but others are a heavier clay/silt mixture. It was a beautiful place to run. The temperature was in the mid 50s all day. It was awesome, and I was exactly where I wanted to be.

That being said, it was also miserable. I got lost a lot—enough to cover about 57 miles, rather than the actual 50. I was sullen, and looked like a meme of a disgruntled cat. 

Eventually, I corrected my attitude and began to appreciate the beauty of the day (and the ubiquity of cows!), but by then I was ashamed that I’d not been very uplifting. I felt emblazoned with a scarlet letter of indignity, like if Hester Prynn's sin had been having a bad attitude during an ultramarathon. (Just kidding, but that's a great book.)
Next year, I’d like to come back. I’ll study the map.

Next Up

On Saturday, I am racing the Toughest ‘N Texas 50K. It’s on my home trails in Cameron Park, Waco. I’m not a huge fan of 50Ks, but I am a huge fan of Waco. I am excited to run.

Also, this month marks my 4-year Sock-a-versary! Four years with the support of DryMax Socks and four years without blisters. Thank you so much for your support, DryMax. I really, really love your socks.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Drug Testing Pool (not fun like 'Swimming Pool')

My first contact with USADA (U.S. Anti-Doping Agency) happened the day before the World Championship in the Netherlands. David and I were in the team hotel business lounge reading. I was quaking with fear because I had just been locked into the hotel restroom (which had three access doors to pass through until you were in the inner sanctum of it—for the most heroic level of bathroom seclusion I have ever encountered; it was like Narnia.)

In any case, the innermost door got jammed. Ultrarunners aren’t known for their excessive corpulence, so I couldn’t exactly thrust it open. My best bet would be to use my endurance to widdle the door down with my body over time by repeatedly running at it, and that could take years. So there I was, safe inside of the triple-door Narnia bathroom where no one could hear my screams. I did scream.

I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but somehow my underdeveloped noodle arms did get the door open. I thank God for that.

I ran out of the restroom shaking and alive, like I had just been given a second chance at life and this would be my renaissance (my run-aissance). That was when the USADA woman started calling my name and said I needed to come with her for a pre-competition drug test. I asked her if I could bring my book and my husband. The four of us (USADA agent, me, husband, and book) piled into a tiny car and headed to the drug-testing area.

I honestly didn’t mind the drug-testing because I found it to be of some sociological interest, except for the fact that they took a bit of my blood, and I was counting on using it in the race the next day.
Parade in matching outfits (basically my dream come true)

The following day was the Championship. Nearing the end of the 24-hour, I pushed as hard as I could until the horn sounded, completely oblivious to everything that was happening around me. I turned around and realized a woman had been following me on her bicycle. As I sat down, she approached me and told me I would again have to go for a performance-enhancement drug test. I always love a good test. (This is a nerd problem.) I went. I was unenhanced.

Drug Testing Pool (not fun like ‘Swimming Pool’)

I thought all of this was behind me after that day, but every year, USADA selects a batch of athletes to include in the International Testing Pool. These athletes have to record their whereabouts on a weekly basis, including a 60-minute daily time frame when they will periodically be tested for steroids and other performance-enhancers. It keeps the sport honest. Ostensibly, the top-performing athletes are more likely to be taking drugs because they are standing out in some significant way, so this is a good thing. I personally don’t want to race against people who are physiological cheaters.

Hypothetically, though: It doesn’t really matter if you barely have the fortitude to open a bathroom door.

I just wish there were a second testing option: I could either 1) take a blood test, or 2) show them how bad I am at pushups. 

A Discourse on Drugs


I don’t even like alcohol. My second grade teacher’s name was Mrs. Beer. I thought beer was a curse word, so I called her Mrs. Bear all year long. These days, I'm no better. Every Sunday at church, I receive holy communion, and when I drink the wine, my face involuntarily scrunches up because I hate the taste. The pastor must think I'm the loveliest girl, always making faces at a holy sacrament. I even wrote a term paper at Yale on the negative ramifications of performance enhancers on human dignity concerns in sport. I have philosophical qualms. So really, this is a poetic injustice in my life.

But here we go. I’m not sure what this will be like. The best part about running is being free and challenging myself to try difficult, unexpected things. And I like prepositional running (before things, between things, after things; fitting in running when I can), so my locations are a bit unpredictable. I don’t like the idea of having to report my whereabouts. Also, I am pretty sure girls are supposed to be mysterious like Jane Eyre, and now I’m always on the map. Alas, I can never be whimsical and elusive.

In other news, I'm training a lot. I rarely talk about it on my blog because it is probably assumed. Since RR50, I’ve been including more pace runs, core work, and plyometrics, and I feel stronger and more consistent than I have in a while. It’s exciting. Track season has also started up again! It is a joyful thing to be reunited with my runners. Here we go, Falcons.  


Monday, February 10, 2014

Rocky Raccoon 50-Miler 2014

Fast Facts:
Race: Rocky Raccoon 50-Miler
Location: Huntsville State Park, Texas
Concerns: 1) Alligators, 2) The two troops of Boy Scouts looking for alligators, and 3) Not pacing myself correctly
Results: 1st Female, 3rd Overall. 7:06
Significance: None on any real cosmic scale, but I was happy to race something shorter than a day.
Post-race with Nicole Studer, winner of RR100 last week!
Race Summary:

Friday was exciting because one of my students lost a tooth in his Cheese-Its, and I had to demand that he find it and put it into his pocket. Also, everyone was still buzzing from the excitement of the Science Fair the day before. After school let out, David and I did a tune-up run, packed our bags, and headed to Huntsville. At our hotel, we set our alarm clocks for 4:20 a.m. then watched some of the Olympics opening ceremonies. I fell into a shallow sleep and dreamed that my student’s tooth was liberated in the washing machine and bit through all of his sweaters.

Leaving our hotel room, the hallways were full of other Rocky Raccooners scurrying at a frenetic pace. Ah, my people.

I picked up my race number, and saw Karen Kantor (smiling, of course) on my way to the starting line. Liza Howard was directing, so I sought her out at the start and she told me about the course conditions. I stretched, had brief reunions with Team RWB trail camp friends, and said goodbye to David. We were called to the line, and the gun went off.

The Course

The race is split into three 16.67-mile loops. There is a mix of climbing and descents, though nothing crazy; this is Texas. If you followed any of the coverage from last week’s RR100, you know that much of the terrain is covered in roots—unproblematic when you’re lucid, vexing when you’re fatigued. In the morning, racing by headlamp before the sun comes up, this means you have to dorsiflex your feet a little, leaning back on your heels so your toes don’t get caught under hidden roots.

There are also lots of open trails, surrounded by loblolly pines (a.k.a. my favorite type of tree). These areas are flat and fast. The trails were a little muddy when we began and grew progressively more sodden loop after loop. It wasn’t terrible, though.  Anyway, it’s hard to have a terrible time with Tejas Trails—whatever the condition—because the people are incredible. The aid station volunteers…there are no words. Texas knows its hospitality.

The Race

This was my first race of the season and my first 50-miler in years. I’ve had lockjaw on the 24-hour for a while. When I started running ultras in college fresh off of running 3Ks on the track, I began with the 100-mile distance. Shortly after, I discovered the 24-hour event, which I really enjoyed because they are tidy and repetitious, so I stuck with them. I ran MMTR50 in 2007 and have run a few 50Ks as tune-up events, but I've never given those events my sustained attention. Fifty milers are not within my cultivated skill set. I want to change that. This year, I want to get fast. This race was a good early season gut check.

I aimed to keep my laps at a fairly even pace. Most of lap one was in the dark. I ran faster than I intended to (2:16) because running in the dark feels like a treat. In the early miles, the masses had not yet separated out, so there was a lot of talking, like a mobile meet-and-greet. In the middle of the lap, I fell off a bridge (a small bridge of Lilliputian dimensions that I could have stepped over entirely). But the impact woke me up, and I felt great.

16.67 miles.

Lap two was more of the same. I wasn’t sure if I was running fast enough or holding back, so I set my sights ahead and tried to pick off some of the boys. I used the open sections to accelerate, and I made more friends.

33.34 miles

On lap three, Boy Scouts were ubiquitous. I was having a hard time believing that it was almost done. It's kind of awesome. You can run a 50-miler in the morning, and be grading papers and grocery shopping in the evening like nothing ever happened. David handed me my iPod. I had it pre-set to an Al Mohler free market economics podcast, and I switched it off. It’s funny how you decide things ahead of time, like, “This will be for your own good, Sabrina. You need to know these things.” And then you’re 40 miles into a run, and you say NOT A CHANCE to yourself. I listened to pop teen girl music, no apologies.

50 miles 

And then it was over. All I can say is that I love Team RWB and Tejas Trails, and I love 50 milers. I look forward to doing more! And I'm eager to do track work, strength building, and pace runs--whatever it takes to improve in this distance. Thanks, DryMax socks, for keeping my feet safe in the mud! Thank you everyone who volunteered at the aid stations. Thanks Liza! Thanks Joe and Joyce! And thank you David, Kaky, and Louie for crewing for me. I had a fun day.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Bikram Yogurt

 Me doing a yoga pose. Just kidding. The day I attempt this is the day I lose my face.

One day, my friend, Katharine, and I sprinted into Bikram New Haven. The people in the elevator held the door for us begrudgingly, firing enmity at us with their rigid anti-yoga anger postures. We all waited there in angst, clutching our towels and mats and definitely not making eye contact because bikram studios are battlegrounds, and anyway, we lived in the northeast.

There is a palpable social distress syndrome called Bikram Anxiety (that I just made up), and it is communicable and pernicious. You probably go to yoga class to alleviate your stress because that’s what bikram says it can do for you if indeed you can make your forehead touch your knees. (I can’t. Unrealistic.) But the net relaxation gain is less than you’d expect because of the drama that precedes it. Still, I will go because cross-training is indispensable if I want strength and longevity in my running.

Katharine and I exploded ourselves out of the aggressive elevator, into the bikram outer room, which was underground because bikram has its resonances with Dante’s Inferno. We were greeted by our classmate--bikram genius, Elise--who worked at Bikram New Haven’s front desk because she is such a beam of joy.

We pulled off our outer layers, tossed our shoes against the wall, and rushed into the studio, where we strategically threw down our mats, like they were flags and we were claiming plots of land while expanding into the Western Frontier. The key is to set your mat down next to someone who looks less bendy than you, but there is really no way of knowing. Then we had to lie down for the remaining 11 seconds before class started, so that the teacher could come in and tell us to stand up. It’s protocol.

On one occasion, at the Falls Church Bikram Studio, a ten-year-old girl was in the class, rolling around on the floor like a diva every time the heat felt oppressive, and I wished I could have joined her. I was glad her mat was next to mine because I looked like such a pro. Sometimes you think you’re sitting next to a non-athlete, and it will turn out she’s basically Gumbi, and your flaws, by juxtaposition, will be all the more pronounced. But this was one instance where I chose the correct floor plot.

Here are the 26 postures, or a pictorial of 26 things I cannot do
A long time ago in my youth, in 2011, I attended my first bikram yoga class. If you don’t know what bikram is, you are not missing out. It is a 90-minute pre-set series of 26 yoga postures that is performed in a room set to 105°F and 40% humidity with 25 strangers. Pretty casual. I like that it is suffocatingly warm because: 1) It makes you feel like you are being hugged by the atmosphere. 2) Cold is the worst feeling in the world. It’s worse than feeling misunderstood. It is worse than running out of cereal. In my daily life, I anticipate the frozen food aisle with such trepidation that it almost makes the frozen packages of steamed broccoli not worth it. I wish all of life were held in a sauna. I wish microwaves were for people. I wish turtlenecks were a fashion must-have. And living in the winter in the northeast is the worst because you have to run outside in two layers of pants. Your pants have to wear pants. Regardless, it was a real process to motivate myself to get there in the first place, and then the class itself was disastrous for a number of reasons: I’m not exceptionally bendy. I don’t like to make errors in public. It was hard. My leg length to body size ratio is erroneous, I’m pretty sure. (I reported on it here.) 

What I didn’t know was that at the first class, the yogi (yogurt?) was recording the class because he was going to sell it. So for the rest of my yoga life, he teased me for being the object of his chastisement one million times that day, for all of posterity, for anyone who buys that recording. I stand humbled.

Still, I like bikram because it is awful in all the right, edifying ways, and it challenges me to an extent that makes me want to cry, which I have not experienced in straight running-training in a long time. Did I mention it is warm? I still go, periodically, but now I attend be-husbanded (with my husband). Bikram is difficult, and I know about it…so I’m going to do it.

Running is going well! I have been training consistently and doing the things that I love--long runs and weighted squats. I enjoyed a visit to my hometown, Vernon, New Jersey, over break. It was beautiful and reanimated my affections for the outdoors. 

In Texas, I am in Athlete Exile right now, without training partners. It didn’t bother me last year because I entered Texas like a freight train, continuing training patterns and strategies I had implemented successfully in the past, but not having people with similar racing goals is starting to wear on me and make me feel discouraged. When I’m with non-ultrarunners I feel like I run too much, and then on the rare occasion that I happen upon an ultrarunner, I feel like a slubberdegullion (a slovenly, slobbering person) for not running enough. I do, however, have an awesome husband who will run with me for up to 20 miles, so I shouldn’t whine.

It’s been fun reading everyone’s end of year reports! Keep up the great things. Below are some snapshots of fun things that happened this year. Blessings for a GREAT 2014.

Team RWB Trail Camp: So much fun and tremendously inspiring. You guys, let's support our troops.
State Champs!

Elise (the bikram friend) got married. We got to watch (and DANCE).