Friday, September 26, 2014

Is it Time To Throw a Party in Your Temple?

Glitter everywhere!
Summer is settling down now. Routine is resuming. I'm getting back to semi consistent training (although my gym schedule will be shuffling again soon) and finally, my mostly paleo diet is getting back on track. I launched myself off the wagon for a bit. You don't know this yet, but if you happen to run into me on the street, I will convince you that there is something nutritiously redeeming about corn-dogs and milkshakes... and lots and lots of chocolate chips. Oh. And beer and bagels. I could go on, but it would be embarrassing.

But we can't all be perfect all the time, can we?

And we shouldn't.

Sometimes you just gotta let go and have some fun. Your body may be a temple, but I recommend throwing a kick-ass party in there from time to time. In fact, temples are the BEST places to throw a kick-ass party - the acoustics are awesome. But, be sure to clean up the mess afterward, wipe the glitter off your body, and kick out any lingering party guests, cuz eventually you'll need to get things back in order.

So that's what I'm trying to do right now. 

I'm still finding glitter in unusual places. Oh well. It happens.

So now that normal life is resuming, I am starting to think about my t-shirt designs again and planning an upcoming giveaway of one of my Zaps Threads "Stupid Miles" t-shirts (I just sent in my order). I know it's been forever – which is why this needs to happen – but trust me. This IS HAPPENING, PEOPLE, so keep yourselves in the loop and keep checking in.

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Pine To Palm 100 - From a Crew's Pespective and My Epiphany of Flow State

My friend and fellow Ranch athlete, Monica Moore
completing the Pine To Palm 100 Miler 2014.
I'm back from The Pine To Palm 100 after crewing and supporting my friend and fellow Ranch athlete, Monica Moore - who, by the way, completed that bitch of a course in sub 30 hours. So proud of her!! It was strange to revisit that course from a crew's view. I got to see a bit of that course again where it intersected the runners as I had to pass a few on my way up to the crew points. I was unexpectedly surprised by the climbs - climbs in which, as a runner who ran that course last year, I have little recollection of. But, the realization hit me... as a runner who has 100 miles ahead of her, I don't think about the climbing, or about mile 90 or mile 100 for that matter, my only focus is the next step with my right foot or my left. It's probably why I can't remember much of that part of the course and now I realize it's the only way I can cope with the distance. And in that way, running the super long distances is an exercise in being present in the moment. It was an experience in flow.

Yeah. That was sort of an epiphany.

I hear people say all the time that they won't sign up for a 100 miler (yet) because they can't even wrap their head around the distance. Frankly, I don't think its necessary (or even possible if you've never tackled that distance before) to wrap your head around the distance before you've ran it.

It's nearly impossible to wrap your head around that shit before you're in it - because you're not there. You're not standing on the start line waiting for the gun to go off.

There's something about being in that moment that allows your mind to break free from all its thoughts and be ready... for anything. Even a hundred miles. Because you have to. You've trained your ass to be ready so let go and just... be... in that moment.

And when that gun goes off, you're not thinking about mile 100 yet - you're just dealing with the next mile, or the first climb, or the next aid station or in my case at mile 53, putting one foot in front of the other and just "checking out" for a while cuz the next 18 miles is ALL UP and cuz I do that.

"Checking out," turning off my brain and letting the white noise take over is how I cope. Kinda like when you're driving on the freeway and go into zombie mode where you can't remember driving past that last exit. Yeah. That's a bad thing when driving - that lack of attention is likely to make you roadkill - but, in ultra running this is a great tool.

What is flow?

I would suspect that a lot of runners do this, but I'm not sure how aware we are of it. There's a concept emerging in the sports world and it's called "Flow." Its a term mainly used to describe an optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best. It's a peak state of awareness and experienced by many athletes who are involved in extreme sports where last minute decision making is vital. I would suspect that even in ultra running, many runners experience this state at some point. Many people who experience flow note a different sense of time - things either speed up or slow down and you lose track. I remember experiencing this during Pine to Palm last year. There were points where I felt like hours ticked by super fast and I had almost no recollection of the last few miles. It's a fascinating concept and I heard about it from my coach who sent me a link to a podcast that interviewed Steven Kotler, the author of the book "The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance."

Apparently, there are many triggers to this state of consciousness: 4 psychological, 3 environmental, 9 social, and only 1 creative trigger.

I can say with almost no doubt that I have at one time or another (mostly while running my 100 miler) experienced all the psychological triggers of the flow state and I would suspect other runners have experienced these as well. In fact, my term "fiyah" came out of this exact concept although I hadn't heard of flow at the time. All of those psychological triggers are internal strategies that we, as runners, employ to drive our attention into the "now" so we are better able to cope with the challenge and circumstances that lay ahead. Ultra runners know that it's not about "if" something will go wrong during a 100 miles, it's more a question of "when" and how you will react when it does.

The four psychological strategies that create flow are:

Intensely Focused Attention - long uninterrupted periods of concentration often produce flow state. The state almost always requires solitude and focus.
Clear Goals - flow can't happen if your mind is wondering what to do next. When running long distances the only clear goal is the finish line or a specific time. That is what we are there for and usually, as runners, we have this already mapped out in our heads. Our goals are unwavering.

Immediate Feedback - many of us runners have learned to assess our bodies almost mechanically while running. It's like we touch a button and our minds run a program that says... "Have you eaten? Have you drank? Have you peed? Do you need electrolytes? Am I going too fast? Am I going too slow? Can I push my body harder?" We constantly assess our bodies internally and externally for signs of disruption and do our best to address those in real time. Sometimes we don't even notice that we are making tweaks because it's second nature. These rote adjustments only contribute to our natural ability to access the state of flow.

The Challenge/Skills Ratio - flow exists in this sweet spot between boredom and anxiety. If we are too bored we lose focus, if the challenge is too hard our brains exit the present moment and try and find an escape route. I found flow the most during my 100 miler at night. The course got pretty technical and it forced me into a heightened state of awareness, but it wasn't impossible so long as I stayed alert. After having over 70 miles on my legs and fighting the urge to sleep, fatigue coupled with questionable terrain is a challenge. But it's a challenge that can induce flow.
I recognize that as ultra runners we are rarely in a situation that requires immediate decision making unless we're bombing the downhills or face to face with a mountain lion, but, nonetheless, because of the distance many of us run I believe we have the ability to induce an altered state of consciousness and many of us do this out of pure necessity to cope with the challenge of the distance. 

So I'm deeply curious if any other ultra runners have ever experienced this heightened sense of awareness called flow. What is your experience and what do you think the triggers were?

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Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Summer of Volunteering

I'll admit I contribute a little
to the Tahoe wildlife
I spent a lot of time in my bikini this Summer. Mostly chilling on the lake, absorbing rays on the river, or acting like wildlife. Yeah. Cuz I do that. If I wasn't chilling in the water or by the water I was volunteering my time at races. In July I got a chance to see what the Downieville Classic Mountain Bike Race was all about. Taking place in in Downieville, CA, this race is known for its party atmosphere and hardcore downhill racing. Mountain Bikers from all over the world come to California to ride this race - and although the format of the racing has changed a bit from year's past this race still seems as popular as ever.

And if you've ever experienced a small mountain town atmosphere you'll understand the lure and magic of Downieville. An unforgettable experience - especially for my kids who got to experience freedom on a whole new level. My oldest even volunteered for the race helping out in the bike shop, spraying water on the riders at the top of the mountain, and doing odd jobs.

I was an official pacer for Maggie at the
Fat Dog 120 miler. So proud of Mags for
completing this beautiful, but brutal course!
He finally discovered how fun volunteering can be. Seems this summer has been all about volunteering and helping in the Cavender household.

For me, especially, I've been volunteering my time all over the place. In addition to crewing/pacing my friend Maggie for The Fat Dog 120 miler in Canada this year, I ended up volunteering at one of the aid stations while waiting for her to arrive. Seriously. It's impossible for me to sit still.

I make a wicked quesadilla.
And I plan on continuing this trend well into the summer's end by crewing/pacing my friend, Monica, at Pine to Palm 100 in a few weeks. Yup. I'll be revisiting that course and am looking forward to seeing it from a different perspective - maybe not so much from my "pain cave" perspective this time.

And next weekend I'm heading up to Tahoe again to volunteer at the Spooner Aid Station (mile 120) for the inaugural Tahoe 200 miler - a race I considered signing up for but was WAY out of my budget. I'll be spending a few days up there with my friend Maggie and some other awesome volunteers. We plan on making this station a fun one for the runners - I plan on contributing to the ambience with my Zaps Threads disco ball and other party lights and am looking forward to seeing some familiar runners come through and meeting others I've only connected with on facebook (You know who you are *wink.* I promise to have cold beer waiting for you so hollar for me!)

So my schedule is still in busy mode for the next month or so, but once things calm down I will sit down and plan my next adventure - hoping to somehow work the Caballo Blanco Ultra Marathon down in the Copper Canyons of Mexico into my race schedule for next year...

Corre Libre, amigos!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Sorry for the Temporary Silence... I've Been Running and Living Life!

Sorry to be such a boring blogger lately, but life (and running) has truly gotten away from me lately. I've had so many adventures, met so many people, been to some stellar places, and have been living life in the fast lane (well... the carpool lane mostly since 17 hours of driving just sucks.) I've been meaning to post about my latest achievement at the Speedgoat 50k and how my training just rocked... but I've been traveling, camping, volunteering, pacing and crewing since I completed that mother of a race in July. Facebook has been my surrogate blog lately, and although it doesn't really give me a space to properly reflect on some of the amazing experiences I've had, it does allow me to do some much needed purging of photos from my phone and jot down a few notes.

So with that, you should already know I FINISHED SPEEDGOAT 50k - The hardest 50k in the U.S!! I completed that fucker in 12:04:53 and although it wasn't an easy race by any means I finished happy, strong, unbroken, and with very little pain except for a few twinges from my neuroma in my right foot.

Yay me!

I attribute my unbroken-ness to the fact that the race was way more of a power hike than anything. Ridiculous and unrunnable for most of the 32+ miles (there was a "surprise" climb at the end) this race was NO JOKE. Karl Meltzer is one sadistic cray cray. Not only was this race a physical challenge - one which my training was a great match for - but it was a total mental mindfuck. The mental mind fucking beginning even before the race started with the men's line for the bathroom. It was seriously two miles long. Wtf? Really? Who ever heard of there being a line for the men's room? So glad I was a woman who had to pee at this race and not a man who had to take care of #2. Whew!

Taking care of "business" was easy for us girls.
Peeing taken care of it was time for our race tattoos! ElevationTat created free tattoos for this race which all the DirtyGirlz sported.
Missing our DirtyGirl Charito here!
She must have accidentally gotten in the boy's line for the bathroom. Oops.

A group shot later we were on our way...
All us goats, speedy and otherwise, posing before the fun starts.
I think its important to mention our buddy, Ben, here, posing on the far right in the red shirt. This dude is WAY impressive. Don't let his arms-in-his-shirt-like-he's-a-five-year-old-making-armpit-farting-noises fool you. Dude is a mother fucking badass runner. Originally signed up to run the race, he made the decision to bail out due to some kind of achilles injury/aggravation. He wanted to be smart and run another day. His intention was to be our cheering section - and drink beer - but his running addiction got the best of him the morning of the race when he decided at the last minute that basketball shorts and a Dasani water bottle make a fine substitute for running gear when considering to run one of the hardest 50ks in the U.S. He's a super chill dude and his decision was super casual - kinda like his outfit of choice - so he nonchalantly stepped up to the start line the morning of the race with the rest of us.

We were happy he was there and were hoping his achilles would survive.

So the race started and we were on our way to climb up to almost 11,000 ft elevation.
Kristina on her way to Hidden Peak.
(Photo courtesy of Kelly Maggie Akyuz)
Running on snow.
(Photo courtesy of Kelly Maggie Akyuz)

My biggest concern for this race was my nemesis time cutoffs. I had to be at Larry's Hole (the 2nd lap and mile 20ish) by 2pm and at Tunnel A.S. (mile 22ish) by no later than 3:15pm. Since my track record for meeting time cutoffs is stressful to say the least I wanted this to be the race where I wasn't pushing to meet those times. I figured since most races I finish with a little gas left in the tank its ridiculous that I wouldn't be able to make it to these spots on time. So I had planned to be at the top of the first peak (11,000ft) by roughly around 9:05am.

I made it there by around 9:15ish or so. I was pretty close to my target. Yay!

But the descents off of that peak were not only steep, but full of loose rock and skree so I took it easy.

And then there were baby skulls.

WTF? Who runs on this shit??!! The section right before Pacific Mine A.S. drove me insane. We must have ran on large round rocks for a couple miles before ever seeing real trail.

Some seriously unrunnable shit.
So needless to say, I took it easy... again. Just so I wouldn't roll my ankle which was recovering from my wild rolling in desolation wilderness a couple weeks prior to this race.

I saw Kristina at the Pacific Mine A.S., we got popsicles and chatted as we headed out. I think we had a couple of hours before we needed to be at our first cutoff point. It was a long haul up. Eventually, I lost track of Kristina and continued UP, UP, UP...

Hmmm. This doesn't look that much different
than the baby skull section except that it's all uphill.
I made the cutoff with about an hour to spare. My legs felt great, my lungs had adapted to the elevation and I was happy with how my whole body felt. No ITB issues, no hip pain, but my feet were sore. I had worn my new Merrell Mix Masters which were a lighter shoe than my previous Mix Masters and I felt a lot of the terrain through my shoe. But, honestly, the Mix Masters are the only shoe I've ever worn that feel comfortable on my feet the minute I put them on. It seems I don't need to break those shoes in at all. They're just a wide comfy shoe for me, so I was pretty happy about that.

So I continued on through the Aid Station at Larry's Hole. I didn't need much... just water and I was on my way. I ascended up the hill where I heard wooping and hollaring not more than a few hundred yards up from me.

Hmmmm... someone was really excited up there. Must be a good view or something. Who knows?

Then I hear the "Woohoo!!" again followed by what sounded like my name. Someone knows me up there.

I look up to see my friend, Maggie, half bent over catching her breath. I FOUND MAGGIE!! Last time I saw her was shortly after the start on our way up the first ascent. It was awesome to run into friends on the trail - first Kristina and now Maggie. We all ran our own race, and it got kinda lonely on the long and mental parts, but here she was and I had caught up to her.

And where ever there's Maggie, there's a party so this made me happy.

We continued our climb together ascending the side of Mt. Baldy which literally felt like we should have been on belay. No trail. Just footholds and a few sparse shrubs to grab onto every few feet or so. It's like Karl was running down the fireroad scouting the course for this race, looked up and said "This will totally fuck with them." 

And it did.

If you could balance yourself enough to turn around and look at the view it was an absolute treat. A stunning view that usually included a runner keeled over, hacking for breath, but nonetheless spectacular. 

Amazing views!!

This dude was just "taking a break"
So me and Maggie made it to the top of Mt. Baldy together and within plenty of time to reach the next cutoff which was just a couple miles away.

Yay! We made it!
(Photo courtesy of Kelly Maggie Akyuz)

More selfies - cuz we had a little time to spare.
(Photo courtesy of Kelly Maggie Akyuz)
And then it was off to Tunnel Aid Station to meet our last time cutoff before the finish.

Where oddly enough we run into some old characters from a previous blog post. Remember this guy?

Mags trying to impress race director Matt Gunn
with her banana at the Zion 100 Miler
Well... I got a Matt Gunn shower at the Tunnel Aid Station.
Oh jeez that's cold water!!
(Photo courtesy of Kelly Maggie Akyuz)
(Photo courtesy of Kelly Maggie Akyuz)

I think I was trying to catch my breath in that photo, or move my lips, or about to fall over. Whatever it was, Matt was waiting for it like he was about to initiate CPR or something. I think my body went into shock.

After the initial cold my body recovered long enough for...

Fireball shots and a popsicle!! Awwwyeah!

Meeting Dennis Ahern
(Photo courtesy of Kelly Maggie Akyuz)
Have you ever dipped a popsicle in a shot of fireball and ate it? It's wicked tasty after about 20 long, hard miles.

The dude who we drank shots with is another character from the Zion 100 Epic Adventure. Dennis Ahern. One of the respondents to Maggie's post on facebook about how disappointed she was going to be about finishing a 100 mile race that's only 99.86 miles long. The banter went back and forth between Maggie and the characters in that thread and I don't think anyone on there thought she would finish the Zion 100. She did. This dude remembered Maggie and her confident and sometimes flippant remarks. It was a fun and unexpected introduction for me.
A shot at the top!
(Photo courtesy of Kelly Maggie Akyuz)
But it was time to get our asses in gear and head over to the last peak - or so we thought. We climbed the ridgeline over to Hidden Peak again and made our way to the bottom.

Another amazing view!
And them back up... again. Karl, The Sadist, had apparently thrown in a "bonus climb" at the end. Not much, but enough to make you go "WTF!!! That's not on the elevation profile!!"

This is what we looked like on those last climbs...
I look like a zombie while Mags is dreaming of butterflies.
But we finished. And it was a hell of a race to the end. Not sure I want to do it again, but maybe if I had some good company. I was out on the trail for little over 12 hours. I may as well have done a 100k that day. All I kept thinking about was this...

Our only form of entertainment back at the condo.
And Ben, Paulo, and Billy all finished within about 8 hours. Speedgoats for sure.
Now back to our regular programming of licking salt in the desert and drinking margaritas...

Salt Flat Margaritas. Awwwyeah.
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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Wild Running in Desolation, Speedgoat Training

Dick's Lake
It seems I'm on a roll with this slacking thing lately. It's not just my ass. My blogging hobby has taken a backseat to my Speedgoat training and summer antics and although it may appear as if I haven't been writing, I actually have a whole 'nother post almost three quarters done waiting to be finished. But, I'm not even sure I have the guts to complete it. It's the kind of post that has me scared shitless to publish and I can't quite figure out why I have this need to write about something so personal. Its a little ironic since I'm perfectly comfortable writing about camel toe, running orgasms, my own ineptness at masturbation, and fitness/sex toys, but this post is different and a little more serious. I can't seem to bring this one to the surface and lighten it up. Its just heavy. Very heavy. And I've been struggling with it.

So I'm putting it on the backburner for now.

In the meantime, it was nice to get a break from the depths of my writing head drama to go do a run with some of my favorite people in desolation wilderness up in Tahoe this weekend. I needed that. All 16-18 miles of it. Mostly on crazy technical, rooty, rocky, and mostly unrunnable trail in which I rolled my right ankle five times, my left ankle two times, and was nearly eaten alive by mosquitos. But I'll endure ankle rolls (as long as my feet don't snap off), long ass climbing, and blood gorging mosquitos to see the kind of terrain I got to see this weekend. The beauty of the wilderness is just unreal sometimes. How could something so wild and untame be so incredibly amazing??

We started at Bayview trailhead across from Emerald Bay near South Shore. Climbing up through the terrain, I saw my own personal heaven thirty or fourty times over. I was jealous of the backpackers carrying their little homes on their backs and I wished I was spending more than just one perfect day in the backcountry.

While some of us tested our strength on a few boulders...

 I smelled a few trees...

And stuffed my boobs full of snowballs.

And then someone challenged me to a pullup competition in the middle of desolation wilderness.

Then we took a group photo from the pass.

Because every awesome view deserves rockin' the devil horns (and I WAS wearing my favorite AC/DC shirt) ...

Then we continued down the other side of the mountain through a little lush mountain oasis...

...that traveled across babbling brooks and waterfalls where we took off our shirts and dunked them in the water to cool off - although that "third boob" snowball I had been carrying in my shirt lasted me for a while.

We stopped at the Fallen Leaf Lake General Store for a little mini lunch and a huge coke (I had only brought enough food and water for an 8-10 miler because I wasn't expecting it to be so pretty - I'm easily distracted and can't help myself sometimes.)

After our short break and a refill of our packs we climbed around the lake - an incessant, steep little singletrack that surprisingly got even steeper and longer by the minute (or maybe we were just tired) - back to the Talac Trailhead where I hitched a ride with some kids back to the car so I could shuttle the girls back to the Bayview trailhead.

So funk cleared out of my head and wild air in my lungs, our little mini adventure was just what I needed. Looking forward to spending a few good days in the mountains of Utah with these girls!

Bring on The Speedgoat! Or the Slowgoat, in my case! As long as I finish that mother!
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Monday, June 16, 2014

Waking Up My Slacker Ass

This slacker ass hasn't even gotten
out of its jam jams.
I had a revelation a couple weekends back... my slacker ass has decided to wake the fuck up. Literally. As in... my glutes and their co conspirator hamstrings were letting my quads and other muscles in the chain do all the work when I went running. 


And when I needed them most (like steep climbing) they pretty much just checked out and ate a sandwich. 

Nice work, ass. Well, you may have gotten away with being nothing more than weak eye candy for nearly all my life but it looks like The Ranch has put you to work. 

That's right. I think The Ranch has bitch slapped those mother fuckers awake. That's what about 3000 GHRs and a full body muscle memory overhaul will do. If you're wondering what a GHR is, it stands for Glute Ham Raise and the movement is done in a contraption that resembles something out of a BDSM erotica novel which restrains your legs around the ankles. If you secure a rubber strap to the foot plate and place the other end around your shoulders you end up looking somewhat hog-tied. I'm able to go sans the rubber strap these days, but in the end, this beast gets results: Burning glutes and hamstrings which will translate to strength in those muscles – and eventually in time – you are gifted a golden booty. One that actually obeys your commands. No more slacker ass. That big muscle and its buddies the hamstrings will finally start to do their job and you'll notice because your quads will stop burning on the steep climbs and your ass and hams will be fully engaged when you need them.

Here's a video of what the GHR looks like.


Or if you're a show-off who's ass doesn't even fit in his pants because even his glutes have glutes and those are all gangsta and probably hiding a couple of shanks, THIS is what the GHR will look like...

GHR for over-achievers

It's taken long enough. But I've been patient and consistent with my training enough to be finally feeling a difference. I even had to jump up and down to get a pair of my old jeans to fit over my butt the other day – something that just doesn't happen to me.

But, like I said, it wasn't just the GHRs that created this miracle. It was what I would consider a complete overhaul. Because there was almost no connection between my brain and those muscles, I had some work ahead of me. My hamstrings and glutes weren't firing or engaging at all when they should have been. A frustrating phenomenon probably caused by a LOT of sitting (which I do for work) which contributed to my anterior pelvic tilt and was possibly exacerbated by my tight hip flexors which would get even tighter while running since they were having to do the job that my glutes and hamstrings were supposed to do. Jeez. 

So I've been a "project" and a challenge for The Ranch in so many ways – they even threaten to use me as a training test for any eventual new hires, figuring that if a new hire can train me and be successful they're qualified to train just about anybody. Yep. Sometimes the truth hurts. But, I love my bros at The Ranch and they really do have my best interests in mind. So in order to get the big muscles firing they had me doing serious mobility work from the beginning to start getting supple (which I'm constantly working on). Then there were lunges, squats, split squats, heavy squats, glute raises, couch stretches, banded walking, deadlifts, etc... basically, a lot of movements where I would have to engage my glutes and tighten my ass in order to perform the movement correctly. And one of the things that I swear jump-started my working ass was steep hill repeats where I did uphill sprints on a steep incline while consciously engaging my glutes. It was awkward at first because it put my hips into a whole new position that I wasn't use to and made it actually harder to run, but eventually it became easier and more natural.
My working booty.

So I think I've got a working booty now. At least for the time being cuz my work schedule is starting to make my ass a little lazy again. But now, I'm armed with ways to wake those mothers the fuck up.

So this slacker-ass-redeemed-revelation came about when the DirtyGirlz all got together for a little vertical miles Speedgoat training a couple weekends ago up at Squaw Valley. My life has gotten so busy lately I just haven't been able to find the time to run on my schedule so this was a much needed training day. I needed to see where I'm at with my strength at elevation and since Squaw is at around 8200' this was a great opportunity. We couldn't have picked a better day! It was absolutely beautiful!

I've still got a lot to work on... especially with steep downhills which seem to mess with my hip alignment and tweak my back a tad. I think I'm overextending on the downhills and not tightening my abs enough to stabilize my spine going downhill. If I let it go too long (hmmmm... Pine to Palm 100 seems to ring a bell...) I end up with an achy IT Band as well. Again, my glutes could probably help out a little here but I have to be super conscious and aware of what I'm doing and usually downhill is fun – until its not – so I'm not always paying close attention. I'm trying to work on getting tight downhill too. One day I hope to pull it all together.

But, pain is always subdued by pretty flowers and epic views, so as long as I got those things its not all that bad, right?
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