Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Ba-lance: noun. "the power or ability to decide an outcome by throwing one's strength, influence, support, or the like, to one side or the other."
I've been thinking a lot lately about how ultrarunning forces me to strive for and keep balance in my life. After nine years of running these crazy fun long distances, I *think* I have found a good balance between home life, work life, and training, but every year brings different challenges. Let's face it---the sport itself is so extreme that talking about "balance" in ultrarunning is an oxymoron. But recently I have gotten a few requests from my blog readers and other runners to share what I have learned about how to maintain balance in my running life, and I am happy to oblige. I learn so much from others' experiences... so I hope this post can be helpful too.
Here's my list, in no particular order, on achieving a healthy balance with running and life:
1. "It has to be organic" My husband coined this phrase when he was talking about his mountain biking training, and it also applies perfectly to ultra training and racing. It has to fit the family schedule, the kids schedule, and the work schedule. If a race is crammed into the space between two or all three, I feel stressed and rushed, and unable to enjoy the moment. For example, I no longer race in April or May (with the exception of Promise Land this year---see below). I have too much going on with the kid's lacrosse seasons, the team that I coach, and work to have any kind of decent, competitive race in those months. It took me a few years and a few DNF's to figure this out, but now it's a no brainer. But it's not just in the springtime: throughout the year, family always comes first.
2. "But if it works, go for it"...another gem from my hubby. Promise Land 50K falls on Easter weekend this year which means no work or lacrosse games Friday night or Saturday...so I am going for it this year. And because I can run PL, I am also able to sign up for the Lynchburg Ultra Series (LUS) which I have never been able to do because of the spring schedule. Woop!
3. Be flexible...probably the greatest lesson of running ultras, learning to be flexible was a tough lesson for this (former) control freak, but one I am happy to embrace now. To me, being flexible means being ready to run in the early a.m. before sunrise or in the late afternoon after practice... being willing to cut a run short when a twinge flares up, or willing to extend the miles when the trail beckons and I feel great...and being consistent and committed about cross training in the gym and in the pool to give my legs a break. I have a few friends who are on the injured reserve list right now, and I feel for them. Being injured stinks but it can also be a huge wake up call. As I have gotten closer to 50, I have figured out that to avoid injury and burn-out, I need at least 1-2 days off per week, at least 2-3 days of pool running and strength training, and that my recovery runs need to be very easy and all on trail.
4. Above all else, SLEEP.. I love to sleep. I especially love to nap. As my kids have gotten older, I have made sure I get at least 8 hours of sleep during the week and at least that, with afternoon naps, on the weekends. I also avoid running too many days at 5:30 am and run in the daylight whenever work and kid schedules permit. Sleep is essential to my recovery and to successful racing. This means I have to run alone a lot, but as I have gotten more sleep, I have also gotten faster. Duh.
Catching up on my sleep at MMT, 2005
5. Eat a lot, and often. I am not a vegan, vegetarian, or committed to a trendy diet. Since I teach health and wellness at my school, I stay fairly current with nutrition trends and fads and what I know is this: to be able to train consistently at 50-70 miles per week and stay balanced emotionally and physically, healthy eating is a must. That means a good dose of plain yogurt, berries and whole grains for breakfast, fruit and protein mid-morning, a healthy, colorful salad and soup for lunch, dark chocolate or decaf skim Mocha from Greenberry's mid-day, then a huge dinner with wine and dessert at home. Or this could mean Margaritas, Red Hot Blues and the Santa Fe Enchilada from Continental Divide, or a sweet potato, Caesar salad and the entire Blooming Onion from Outback the night before Catawba...it doesn't matter. There is delicious food out there. We need to eat it.
6. It takes courage to say no. In the early years of my love affair with ultras, I said "yes" to every run invitation. 35 miles on the Massanutten Trail in late February beginning at 6:00pm and finishing at 8:00am? Sure. 71 miles of the Ring on the Massanutten Trail with very little training and experience? Of course! A midnight run on the (you guessed it) Massanutten Trail in the pouring rain for four hours? Wouldn't miss it! I agreed to all those runs due to a combo of peer pressure, FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), and naivete. As a result, I got burned out, injured, and almost died of hypothermia...and now I absolutely refuse to run on the Massanutten Trail except for once a year. The lesson? Don't be stupid. And see # 7...
7. Run what you love. This was perhaps the best advice I ever got. Achieving balance means being tuned into one's body, mind and spirit. I love to run long distances in the mountains on trails with good friends and beautiful views. Very simple. So, I avoid trails that don't feed my bliss, and I avoid running with negative people. When people say to me, "you HAVE to run _________ race", if it doesn't fit my definition above, I politely decline. Instead, I run races and in places where the trails are fun and fast and the people are full of positive energy. Among my favorites: Highland Sky and the WVMTR crew, Catawba, Grindstone, Western States, R2R2R, Hellgate, and any VHTRC event. Life is too short. Run what you love.
Western States 100, 2006