“You Can’t Just Run a 24-Hour Race On the Fly!”

It was a recent Tuesday, and I was contemplating my training runs for the weekend ahead. I had options. There are always options … so many good options when you have some time. (This applies to my daily life, but today we will focus on running). I settled on what may sound like the least reasonable-sounding option to most – I could pay $28 and spend 24 hours running around a .82 mile loop at around 7300 feet in Palmer Lake, Colo., at a race called the “24 Hours of Palmer Lake Fun Run.” I like when I convince myself something sounds fun and I believe it no matter what anyone else says or thinks. I signed up the next day, on a Wednesday, and started contemplating the possibility of attempting my first 100-mile distance three days later.

“Why?” so many asked.

I usually answer that question (in any context) with: “Why not?!”

I wish that I could fashion a micro story about each of the 85 loops I completed. Instead, here are my thoughts on various topics that mattered to me when I was running a 24-hour race on the fly.

Sleep Deprivation: I am going to be running for close to 30 hours for the Leadville 100 in four short months, so let the sleep deprivation training begin! The only problem here was that I was already sleep deprived going into the race, so it really was going to be an exercise in sleep deprivation on top of sleep deprivation.

Strategy: “You can’t just run a 24-hour race on the fly!” – said to me by a more experienced ultra-runner that I trust. It all depends on what “on the fly” means, I suppose. I had very little strategy going in, though I did receive the go-ahead from my running coach. I certainly wasn’t trained for a 100-miler, or even a 70-miler. I drove there on my own, was expecting a few visitors throughout the day, and that was that. I do have determination and flexibility and an ability to work things out when I need to, though, so those things become my strategy. Also, how much strategy do you need when you’re going to be passing your camp every .82 miles? As it turned out, quite a bit! But, I survived.

Sustenance: I knew I would be sleep deprived. Nothing some Red Bull and chocolate-covered espresso beans couldn’t assist with, right? I am pretty sure that I thought Red Bull was reserved for some nasty vodka drink at some late night club…but this just underscores my feelings of disgust at what was in my grocery cart in preparation for the race. For those that don’t know me, I am typically a very healthy eater all of the time, and very disciplined in this way. I kept thinking, “How many bananas and Chia Squeezes can I eat during the race to balance this all out?” Luckily for me, despite all the sugary and caffeinated aids in my shopping cart, my nutrition kept up with me for the entire race, a first!

Shifting Interactions: I love shifting interactions. This is also something you should know about me. As when you are on a vacation with several people and you have no idea what you will be doing with whom at any given time. I LOVE this. So, think 85 loops around Palmer Lake and each loop being like a mini-vacation with new runners, new spectators, new conversations, and new ideas to ponder. Believe me, this is NOT boring or monotonous.

Socializing: This may be my downfall generally, and specifically was at this race. I get really excited when I see my friends, and I immediately want to stop whatever I am doing and head into a full-blown conversation. First, my friend Andrea arrived and walked a few loops with me. That helped me get out of a minor negative head space. (Thank you Andrea!) Then my friend Mark arrived, and although he tried to talk me into more running, I was also too excited and all I wanted to do was chit-chat. I know I need to work on this.

(the) Suck: There really was only one time that I can recall where I thought to myself, “This might suck.” That was when I looked at the clock and said “Oh great, only 14 more hours to go!”

Saviors: Otherwise known as friends and family and crew members. And at Palmer Lake, also the lady making grilled cheese at 2 a.m. In this instance, I had many race saviors, despite my cluelessness in not really planning for a crew. I received many texts and messages from people who were checking in on me and sending encouraging words, including a text at 1:30 a.m. from a friend traveling in Japan. He rightly pointed out that most people were sleeping while I was running loops, and it was extra fun to know someone else I knew was awake in another part of the world! Everyone’s timing was right on, and I was reminded of all the people that support my running goals and shenanigans. Thanks to all who checked in!

Some special thanks are in order. First, my friend Mark had committed to coming out there after running his own 50 kilometer run that morning to help me get through some night miles. I was really looking forward to this. Although the original plan was sidetracked by an injury, which would have been a perfectly acceptable reason to bail, Mark still drove out there, brought me a burrito, walked/ran several loops with me and dealt expertly with my overexcited, incessant chatter. (I promise I’ll change my ways for Leadville, Mark!)

Second, my friend Dave spontaneously became my overnight crew and this was nothing short of amazing. Dave was planning on coming out around noon to hang out and bring some of his homemade cookies and fruit. At some point in time, Dave figured out I was on my own for the night and decided he would stay to help me through. He also decided to run his own 50k! Needless to say, I am not sure I could have accomplished what I did without Dave’s overnight help. I just couldn’t believe it, and when I kept thanking him, he said something to the effect of, “I like to volunteer and help our running community just like you like to do pro bono (legal work).” I am still overwhelmed at how awesome that was. Both Mark and Dave were already lined up to be part of my Leadville pacing/crewing team, and again, needless to say, I am stoked about this.

Sleep Deprivation (Again): A long time ago I bought a Volvo station wagon. You know, a good family car. If someone would have told me in 2006 that in 2017 I would be so psyched to sleep in the back of this car for 30 minutes in the middle of a 24 hour race, I may have said something like “You never know what’s going to happen!” or I may have just said something like, “Whatever, you weirdo!”. However, I fit perfectly in the back of this car and it was oh so warm in there. I took two 30 minute naps during the night. Each time Dave knocked on the window and shined a flashlight in my face to wake me up, I popped up, got out of the car and said “Ok, let’s go do more laps!” (maybe it wasn’t really an exclamation). Best unanticipated running purchase ever!

Solidarity– All those people running around that lake – we were all in it together. All those people that showed up that day to bring food, to heckle, to entertain (think semi-drunk guys blasting 80s music in the dark with a bottle of Fireball with a huge spotlight), to push their friends – all those people were in it together with us. Enough said.

Strength/Stubbornness: I remember my spontaneous crew member Dave telling me at some point, “You’re really stronger than you think.” It is always hard to understand that in the moment, when you’re struggling along, but it must be true. As for stubbornness – I had planned on being stubborn that day, and I don’t think I actually ever was. I think I was pretty stubborn for the first half of my life – I might be all out of stubbornness! That trait never really served me well anyway.

Sunrise: As for most, sunrises typically signal the beginning of the day to me, a time when I am waking up and anticipating the amazing day ahead. I catch many a sunrise while running. Here, the sunrise at Palmer Lake signified the opposite – the end of the race, the end of the day’s journey, and close to the time I could go home. It was just as meaningful. It was fun to see the people who had chosen to sleep through the night show up on the course again to fit in some more laps. I wonder what I looked like to the all of the well-rested people that morning!

Success: I decided to stop early at 70 miles. I could have completed another loop, but I wasn’t so interested in a 70.82 mile finish. Seventy miles seemed sufficient.

Seventy injury-free miles, a participation award, and so much fun! Thanks to all, and a special thanks to the race directors who provided the opportunity (and to my family who let me be useless for a few days after the race). I am one lucky person to get to have such an incredible experience.

Ilene Bloom is an evolving ultrarunner, mother and lawyer who lives in Denver. She is excited to do a few more overnight runs this summer in preparation for the Leadville 100 in August. If you have any questions or comments about this post, Ilene can be reached at ilenebloom@hotmail.com

 

On the Road to the Leadville 100 – Approaching Risk and Deflecting Doubt

Life is often lived in hindsight. In the moment of a big decision, it is often hard to fully understand all the factors that go into what you are thinking at the time. And it is nearly impossible to know what the impacts of any given decision will be until it plays out. You can research, plan, and try your best to predict all the possible outcomes. This is what one should do when taking risks. These risks are calculated, and not reckless. But with any big decision, there will be uncertainty and doubt.

I signed up for the Leadville 100 trail run.  Yes, I did this!  I was able to secure a spot in this race by signing up for one of the limited training packages, which also means I am working with a running coach for the first time in my life.  For those who may be unfamiliar, the Leadville 100 trail race entails 100 miles of beautiful, extreme trails in the mountains of Colorado, from elevations of 9,200 to 12,600 feet and a total of more than 18,000 feet of climbing – all in a 30-hour time frame or less. It is one of the absolute classic races of ultra-running. It is hands-down one of the biggest challenges I will be taking on in my running life, if not my life in general, so far. Did I agonize over this decision for days on end before I did this? No, I did not. Did I fail to think this through before I did this? No, I did not.  What I did do was make a conscious decision to approach risk, as opposed to deflect risk. So much of truly living, to me, is exactly that, approaching risk versus deflecting risk.

To me, approaching risk often looks like this: I get an idea. I get really excited about this idea (probably over-excited) and convince myself it is a good idea. I set a plan in action of how to implement or set on the road to making the idea actually happen.

Basically, when approaching risk, I decide to live my ideas.

Part of approaching risk is deflecting doubt. When the doubts are internal, I tend to try to talk to someone who can provide me with real-life experience on the matter. I often seek out someone I know who trusts my decisions and thinks positively.  And someone who really knows me and supports my BIG ideas. When the doubts are external, I recognize that it might be easier for some to deflect risk.  In most of the “unconventional” challenges I have taken on in my life, the majority of the responses have gone something like, “I would never do that ….How are you going to make that work?” In the case of the Leadville 100, typical reactions also include “You’re nuts” and “That sounds awful.”

These responses surprise me because challenges are exciting! And I can think of less responsible things than taking on challenges and following a passion through. In any event, anyone can do anything for a day or two! Remember, these risks are calculated, and not reckless. I clearly see the value in encouraging those taking calculated risks in our world…just the other day my friend said to me, “If anyone can conquer the unconquerable it is you!”  The outcome will remain unknown until the race, but I certainly appreciate such encouragement over the alternative.

The one thing you can never predict when approaching risk is the reality of how you are going to feel. This risk, the unpredictability of how you are going to feel, is the true risk… yet the one that holds the most potential for growth and rewards. All of the other risks are just doubts that can be resolved one way or the other.

I am sure the road to the Leadville 100 will be a true range of experience, both positive and not so positive.  The perfect opportunity to…

Approach risk.  Deflect doubt.  Live my ideas.

Ilene Bloom is an evolving ultra-runner, mother and lawyer who lives in Denver. In conjunction with training for the Leadville 100, she is raising money for the American Cancer Society at this link: https://www.crowdrise.com/leadville-trail-100-run-for-cancer/fundraiser/ilenebloom.  If you have any questions or thoughts about this article, Ilene can be reached at ilenebloom@hotmail.com.

Braving the Elements

Right now, I am sitting in my neighborhood coffee shop, enjoying an incredibly beautiful late fall day…the kind where I walk out my front door and take a deep happy breath. It is in the 70s in the middle of November! I did get up this morning and run in the cold, but it was the kind of cold that I knew would shortly morph into this amazing day.

I know what will be coming soon though. The deep, dark winter.  When many people seem to disappear from the outside.  Where is everyone? This disappearance is universal apparently, in places that have real seasons. In my past life in Chicago, before I embraced running as an essential part of my life, I wondered the same thing when I would trek to the local bar in a real live Chicago snowstorm.  Where is everyone? And then of course, spring would come, and everyone would come out of the woodwork. Back then, I would walk ten blocks to the EL every day of every brutal winter to get to work – I did not think much about it as that was just what I had to do.  I certainly did not appreciate it.

But now, in my life as an ultra-runner, there is a choice. Why do I choose to run in the snow, in the sleet, in the rain, in the ten degree temperatures? And why do I appreciate it? Just to train for a race or to stay in shape during the wintertime? Those are important reasons, although I think it really is more than that.  I think it comes down to the importance of braving the elements. I actually want to brave the elements.

There are so many things in our lives that we can let limit or control us. Tradition, structure, time of day, time constraints, personal and societal expectations, the dark and the light, and the list goes on. And of course nature and the weather…the elements.

Yet, braving the elements opens an entirely new perspective. It goes along with something I aspire to as a person – which is to put myself in situations that I would not otherwise be in, to see things that I would not otherwise see. To become more resilient. To gain more freedom of movement and experience. To have one less thing to hold me back. I like to call it “freedom via Mother Nature.”

It all started when I signed up for my first trail race on New Year’s Day in 2014, which meant my training started immediately…and I had never even run on a trail before! Here is a scene from my very first run on a trail:

winter

Who doesn’t want to run around in the snow and feel like a child again? I think I was excited overall but training in the winter still seemed daunting to me. However, it quickly became a lesson in organization and preparation, both of which are key to many things in life. I also quickly realized that it will be difficult to have a bad day in nature when I am excited about it, no matter what the circumstances of nature. We cannot control the elements of course, but we can control our approach towards braving the elements. Organization, preparation, excitement.

Now, I rarely even think twice about the weather, whether I am walking or riding to my office in the city, or spending time in the woods on the weekends. Learning how to brave and appreciate the elements really has made it second nature to be outside…which in turn really lets me feel more alive.  I often feel like I can go anywhere and do anything outside at any time in any weather.

Now that is freedom…

Ilene Bloom is an evolving ultra runner, mother and lawyer who lives in Denver. She also knows how to knit warm scarves to brave the elements in. She does have her limits, though–at about ten degrees- and she feels differently about driving in the winter. If you have any questions or thoughts about this article, Ilene can be reached at ilenebloom@hotmail.com.

 

There is No Need To Rush – The Javelina Jundred 100k

desert
On September 12th, I signed up to run my first 100k, the Javelina Jundred in Arizona, to take place Halloween weekend. Hmm, I guess at the time I completely forgot that every fall feels a little like what I most attempt to avoid in my life – CHAOS. School starting, kid sports and activities starting, work and work activities ramping back up after the summer – so of course I’ll just sign up for my longest race to date! As expected, the fall was full of chaos, albeit a happy chaos, but chaos nonetheless. So, by the time the week of the race came, I was feeling a little blank about the whole thing. I was a bit on autopilot that week, and had been fighting a cold, and then next thing I knew, I was leaving my house in Colorado and making my way to Arizona. This helped, because traveling sustains me, and no matter where I am going and no matter what I will be doing there, the actual acts and movement of traveling feel natural and exciting to me.
Still a little on autopilot…arrived in Phoenix, got my car, headed over to Fountain Hills to get my race number and back over to my hotel to unpack, ate dinner at 5 pm so I felt like a senior citizen instead of an extreme runner, watched part of the Cubs game and was off to sleep by 8 pm.
Now, more on staying in a hotel before a race. The past few races I have stayed in a hotel while other runners I know camp. Now, as much as I love camping, I also am generally sleep deprived as the parent of two young children, so I have this idealized vision that a hotel bed will serve me better than sleeping on the ground the night before an ultramarathon. However, the last two races I was kept awake by loud and inconsiderate hotel neighbors and told myself I may as well have camped and saved money in the process! But apparently I either do not learn my lesson or I am extremely adept at blocking out negative things that happen, so here I was in another nice hotel room. So basically I could only laugh at myself when at 1:45 in the morning, my hotel neighbors were….I don’t even know what the hell they were doing, but it sounded like they were moving furniture.  The difference this time was that I decided if I get too mad or anxious, that will keep me from going back to sleep. Pillow over my head, some ruminating over how bizarre people are, and back to sleep for what amounted to a full night’s sleep. Hurray!
The race was taking place on three loops of trails in McDowell Mountain Regional Park. I made it to the start line and watched the sun rise over the Sonoran Desert. Little did I know that I would see the sunrise the next morning as well….which was not part of my plan, but 62 miles of running in the desert leaves many unknowns. I did not know anyone else running the 100k distance at this race (there was also a 100 mile distance) so I was just milling around when I saw my friend Kevin from Denver, which is always a good thing to happen before a race. I also saw the Tarahumara runners from the Copper Canyon in Mexico, some of the world’s best runners and the subject of the book Born to Run. It was about this time that I realized, Huh, it is 7 am, and it is already really hot! The weather was supposed to be in the 90s, unseasonably warm at this time of the year, even for Arizona. I was worried about the heat, but the aid stations were not too spread out, so hopefully heat would not be too much of an issue. It was actually a little confusing to me throughout the morning…because it was so hot, it felt like it was the middle of the afternoon.
The race encouraged costumes and my friend Andrea had loaned me some fairy wings, you know, so I can float through the race…so I wore those along with a sparkly skirt. I was thankful for them, because Andrea is one of my ultra runner inspirations so they seemed like they would be good luck or something. It was fun having this get up on, although I wasn’t really interested in trying to attract conversation about them either which seemed to happen a lot.
costume
Everything was going great for the first 18 miles…I was cruising through the desert and having a great time and most importantly, feeling great. Then, just as altitude sickness can come on suddenly, something was happening to me in the form of heat exhaustion. I had just run 18 fast miles in the Arizona desert with no shade and no cloud cover and the temperature was in the 90s. I was so dizzy I had to sit down. Luckily for me, a group of other runners was around, and they were looking out for me. It was four miles until the next aid station which was also the headquarters where the medical tent was…and these amazing people said they were not going to leave me and literally marched me in to the end of the first loop at mile 22. Think about this – complete strangers who are trying to accomplish their own 100k race, stuck with me to make sure I was safe. They all said, “Oh, we are doing this for fun, and you would do the same for us. You’ll be fine after you hang out in the medical tent for a bit.” One in particular, Esmail, a gentleman from northern California, kept making sure I was staying hydrated and offering me sips of his liquids. Esmail delivered me to the medical tent and went on his way after I gave him one too many hugs. I never saw him again, but he did find me on Facebook and I was able to thank him!
So, here I am in the medical tent at mile 22. It was at this point that I knew “There is no need to rush.” I could even stay in the medical tent until later in the afternoon when it might get cooler and still have plenty of time to finish the race. Lucky for someone like me, the time cutoffs were incredibly liberal. The medics were awesome – my vitals were fine, pickle juice apparently is the end all be all for dehydrated people, but my body temperature went up to 100.5 and they were not going to let me leave until it went down. I think I wound up being there for about two hours. I ate some food, joked around with the medics, my friend Kevin came to visit me, I was texting with several people to keep me going, and kept trying to tell the medics I was fine.
There is no need to rush, except for one reason. I HAD TO GET OUT OF THAT TENT! I was in the best shape of anyone in the tent, and frankly, I was seeing things I did not want to see. So, I knew I had to rally. So, this was the first time I rallied! I am sad to say that someone had to get airlifted out that day, someone was taken away in an ambulance and many, many people dropped out of the race, approximately 50 percent of the runners.
Off I went again into the hot Arizona desert… I had ice in my hat, ice around my neck, ice in my backpack, and I wasn’t too worried. I decided not to push it during this next stretch because it was still hot and “There is no need to rush.” I listened to music and was having a good old time again. La La La La La. I even ran into some guy I had met in Fruita last year when running the Kokopelli Trail. It’s so fun seeing random people you know on the trails! The sun was starting to go down and the light and the colors of the desert were changing, so beautiful. As I was approaching the big aid station at my mile 30, called Jackass Junction, I started to feel a little weak again and was looking forward to settling down for a bit at the aid station.
Unfortunately, I got there, and started shaking somewhat uncontrollably. I had no idea what was going on. Here we go again. So…the awesome people there sat me down with a plate of food, covered me in a sleeping bag, and basically told me I wasn’t leaving the aid station until I ate all of the food on the plate… but I was eyeing the massage table and thinking, “Actually I am not leaving here until I get a massage.” Oh, they made me drink more pickle juice of course! Eventually I did feel better enough to consider continuing, although it may have felt questionable for a bit. But I rallied, and then started calling myself the Comeback Kid. I really felt like if I could rally twice, I could get this thing done. Plus I still had a ridiculous amount of time to complete the race.
Oh wait, did I mention there was a full blown party happening at this aid station? Dance floor (with hanging skeleton of course), loud music, full bar I think, etc. I would visit this aid station again in the middle of the night and I think the party just got bigger. This is the aid station where a volunteer lent me part of his Run-DMC costume – which for whatever reason I thought was completely hilarious. Although really it’s another example of the awesome people I have been able to come across in my running travels.
rundmc
So, it was hard to leave this fun station, because, really, there is no need to rush. I kind of got kicked out of the aid station, which was probably a good thing. One of the guys, “Mojo” who gave me a lot of time and attention, basically told me I had spent too much time at the aid station and it was time for me to go! He suggested I keep moving and not spend so much time at any of the aid stations in the future. Also, I was hoping my dear friend Bry would be at the race headquarters to accompany me on my last loop! So off I went into the desert with a Run-DMC jacket on and my headlamp. It was pretty cool to see all the runner headlamps in the night in the middle of the desert. I had about 11 miles to conquer at this point to get back to headquarters and start out on my last loop. My feet were hurting and I knew I had some blister issues, but I continued on into the night.
There is something special about being on your own in the middle of the desert under a star filled sky, even if you’re just walking when you should probably be running. I think I really did think about the word “tough”, because even though I know I have been “tough” in my life (I’ve even been called “scrappy” before), I have to say this might have been the first time I felt tough after getting through two potential medical situations and continuing on in the desert. With a Run-DMC jacket and a purple sparkly skirt!
When I arrived at headquarters, I could not find my friend Bry. I gave her a call and it winds up that she had gone out on the course to look for me and unfortunately had not gone the right way. So she was headed back, but would have already put in 8 miles by the time we even started out together. I felt bad about this, and proposed a few scenarios, because I know she was not planning on running/walking 27 miles that night, on top of the whole thing already being delayed due to my lingering in the medical tent and the aid stations. But Bry was up for starting out with me at Mile 42 and seeing where that would take us.
At this point, I didn’t feel much like running, and I was so excited to see her and catch up and talk (which can be difficult to do when I am running) so we walked to the next aid station, catching up, telling stories, laughing, and on. You can learn a lot about a friend when you’re hanging out at night together in the middle of the desert. At the next aid station, I knew she wanted to run faster than I was capable of at that time, so I told her I thought she should go on. She toughed out the 27 miles and was able to go home to her family before sunrise. Many, many thanks to Bry.
It was 6.5 miles until I would make it back to Jackass Junction aid station, the party in the middle of the desert, and I was getting tired. I did some calculations in my mind and figured I could take a nap there for about an hour. There is no need to rush. However, I thought I would never get to the aid station. NEVER. It took forever. It is not like you can see the aid stations from two miles away. It is actually like they are not even there until you are upon them. My GPS had died by then too, so I had no frame of reference. And I learned not to ask people how much longer to the next aid station. One, I am sure that’s annoying, and two, no one seemed to really know the right answer anyway. Plus two miles can still seem like an eternity! But thinking of a cot and sleeping bag and ramen noodles can keep you going when you’ve been going for almost 50 miles, it’s the middle of the night, and your feet hurt BAD.
I arrived at Jackass Junction again (party scene with the loud music) and headed straight to the cot…the volunteer asked me when I wanted to wake up. I told him one hour although “I doubt I’ll be able to sleep” and he says “Oh, you’ll be surprised”. Even though I thought I probably shouldn’t be stopping like that, I can’t tell you how good it felt to take off my shoes and just lie down for a bit. I only stayed 15 minutes after all, and steeled myself for the last 11 miles of the entire race!! Less than a half marathon to go!
There was no need to rush…I think I had close to 8.5 hours to finish the 11 miles. The first place 100k runner, a woman from Colorado, ran the entire 100K in that time! I got this! Many 100 milers were passing me! It’s almost over! I can relax for sure! And relax I did, plodding along, running and walking. I joined another runner who had a pacer and marched along with them for a bit to the last aid station. It was there that I ran into someone who had seen me during the miles 18-22 march to the medical tent. He asked – were you the one wearing wings earlier? Yes, that was me. “What? I cannot believe you are still going. I can’t wait to tell my friends that you are ok and that you finished.” Definitely made me feel tough.
3.7 miles to the finish. Wow. It’s really happening. I got to witness another beautiful sunrise while running in my life.
sunset
I could hear the music from the finish line. I practically feel like crying while I am writing this. I ran into the finish, got my first buckle (which is typically a 100 mile race reward), and basically burst into tears. Good ones. I am not sure I have ever finished a race and not known anyone at the finish line. And I did not know this until later, and thanks to text miscommunications, my family thought I had quit the race the night before at mile 32 and had no idea I was running through the night in the desert! Crazy! So it was pretty great when shortly after finishing, I received a text from my friend saying “How’d the race go?!! How ya doing?!” The timing was perfect since I was on my own. Many, many thanks for that.
Mother Nature did not disappoint me during this race (except the heat was a little much). I love the mountains, but have a newfound appreciation for the desert as well. I have never run in the desert, day or night, and the scenery was beautiful and calming.
I didn’t leave this race thinking about signing up for a 100 mile race. That would take another race with ridiculously liberal (hey, like me!) cutoffs and some serious speed work and training. But you never know what is going to happen.
I was excited I could celebrate my birthday the next week (halfway to ninety!), not only with HUGE quads and calves, but with a sense of accomplishment that I can tough out 62 miles in the desert. I want to thank everyone who played a part in this accomplishment, including my family, friends, running family, all of the volunteers…and there are too many to name here because I am one lucky person. Many, many thanks.
I am happy that I kept telling myself “There is no need to rush” because I was truly able to relax and savor the experience. There is really no need to rush anything in life. And do not forget to be tough.
medal
Ilene Bloom is a mother/evolving ultrarunner/lawyer who lives in Denver.  Despite what she said in this post, she does plan to run 100 miles someday. Ilene can be reached at ilenebloom@hotmail.com with any questions about this article.

It Really Did Happen – The Lake Pueblo and Surrounds 50-Miler

pueblo

After two summer 50 mile races I did not finish, I had been toying with the idea of trying to run 50 miles informally. It seemed like a good idea, really. Races have a lot of benefits of course, but they often also entail a lot of planning, travel, cost, along with the added pressure of time cutoffs. Why not just plan to run 50 miles one day and keep it simple? I can live without another t-shirt or a medal. I am capable of hoarding some junk food in my running pack to eat. I can do it! I will do it! I did not tell too many people about my plan and was thankful when a couple checked in the day before to see if I actually was going to go through with it. Of course, once I get an idea, I prefer to follow through. More on this trait of eagerness later.

I really thought I had 50 miles in me. I’ve never been especially sore after running 50K or 55K (mainly because I don’t push it hard enough to truly break down my body) and I really wanted to do it. I ran a marathon distance in Greece two weeks earlier – and despite the conditions being somewhat brutal – high heat, all road, no shade, a ton of traffic – I really felt like I could have continued on if I had more time to spend running that day. I realized then that I really should try this soon. The fire was well lit.

I also really felt like everything was going to come together for me to try it the last weekend in August. I was traveling to Pueblo for a family event, which meant there was some built in child care, and the weather looked almost perfect – 70s and sunny. Plus I have run the trails at Lake Pueblo State Park before and knew I would enjoy the scenery. Many of the trails have views of the Sangre de Cristos, the most beautiful mountain range in Colorado in my opinion, and they overlook a reservoir. The trails wouldn’t be in the mountains, and would mainly be flat with some rollers, but again, what was really important to me was to conquer the distance. To increase my confidence level so as not to feel like all my training efforts towards this 50 mile distance were in vain. Plus, I really do want to persevere in a real 50 mile race someday!

I did not think too much about the fact that I would be running all 50 miles by myself. In hindsight, after talking to a few people, I realize that perhaps this added to the accomplishment in some way. Although I was clearly born an extrovert (actually kind of an uber-extrovert, “the General”, according to Myers-Briggs) I have spent a lot of time by myself in my life. I lived by myself in Chicago for seven years, I basically sit by myself in an office all day long, and I have spent many miles running by myself. Luckily I can have a good time by myself and enjoy being in my own head. So it didn’t really cross my mind that this could or would be problematic.

The main thing I worry about before a big run or race is sleep. I realize I need to get over this, because sleep is generally elusive before a big race or run and there is nothing I can do about that. And as expected, sleep proved to be elusive on Friday night. I set my alarm for 4:15. I remember feeling like I hadn’t slept at all when the alarm rang and thinking “%*$#*, I guess it’s go time.” I was on my own at my brother and sister in law’s place and was happy that they were all up early too. So after answering my sister in law’s question “Why 50 miles?”, filling up my pack with food, water, and various sugary running aids, I left downtown Pueblo and set out on my way in the dark towards Lake Pueblo State Park.

A nice, rolling 7.5 miles to get going. The air felt perfect and I was excited to see yet another sunrise while running. I saw some people setting up for an outside event along the road, which wound up being the state 4-H Archery competition. Ok. I made a mental note that they had a ton of Port-o-Potties. Then I passed a decrepit looking barn that was gated off and crumbling, with big signs saying “Save the Barn”. After further research, I have learned that, according to someone, the barn is “one of the most important historical structures in the American West” and part of the headquarters for the Goodnight-Loving cattle trail, one of the most traveled upon trails in the West and an inspiration for the series Lonesome Dove. Who knew? Pueblo is an “interesting” place. Ok, enough history.

After arriving at Lake Pueblo State Park, I scouted out where I wanted my family to leave my cooler, which had Coke, Gatorade, water, ice, pistachios and chocolate covered goji berries in it. I wasn’t sure what my exact route was yet, but I knew if I had a stash I could return to from time to time throughout the day, I’d be happy.

The trails in Lake Pueblo State Park are fun to navigate. I think they are mainly used by mountain bikers and have names such as “Broken Hip” and “Skull Canyon”. You can kind of get lost in there and I didn’t mind that. I spent the next 8 miles or so wandering around the trails, running around the reservoir, enjoying the blue skies and feeling strong and excited about the day ahead. I came around a corner and one guy was sitting above on a ledge, and shouted “Beautiful day, isn’t it?” I thought maybe that should be my mantra. A few moments after that, I saw some birds feasting on a huge animal, I think it was a deer. All sorts of nature.

Around mile 15, my family dropped off…an amazing breakfast burrito! Usually when I am in Pueblo, I get this same burrito and it is smothered in green chile. If you didn’t know, Pueblo is known for its green chiles. Last year I even placed in a 5K race during Chile Fest! Ha, see, Pueblo has many redeeming qualities! But I digress. Basically I am writing about the burrito because I laughed all day thinking about the fact that I had a burrito in my backpack. Not only did the burrito make me laugh, it made me happy every time I took it out and ate some. Around this time, I also got a text from my son Hayden which was encouraging. He honestly really was interested in me finishing.

At this point, I wasn’t sure where I was headed next. I could have gone back into the state park….but the mountains were beckoning. Basically, the road outside of the reservoir leads to the Sangre de Cristos. I really had no idea where the road led to, except I could see the mountains. I understand that running on the road may not have seemed ideal, but I decided to head west. The road had a lot of rolling hills, the sky was entirely blue and I just kept running…I saw some bikers, who said various iterations of “Good job!” to me and at one point, in the middle of nowhere, I saw a lone woman walking on the other side of the road who was blasting music. We waved at each other and I continued on. Even though I was probably another 30 miles from the actual mountains (I think I would have come to Westcliffe eventually) the mountains seemed like they were accessible to me. The open road and the mountains. And I still felt great, although it was getting hot. Of course I forgot a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen…

My memory of the entire run up to this point is that anyone who saw me must have wondered what I was so happy about. I was running literally that entire time with a huge smile on my face, or a stupid, silly grin, depending on your perspective. Thank you to endorphins, blue skies, a strong will and body, and music. I don’t always listen to music when I am running, but I think it was integral to my happiness on this particular run. Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem, Wilco, to name a few, and a bit of Bon Iver, Iron and Wine, and Gregory Alan Isakov when I was feeling mellow.

I started to tire of the heat a bit around mile 23, so decided to take a break, take off my shoes, pull out my burrito and relax. It was at this point that I also thought about the fact that I was close to halfway and still was in great shape. Usually when I am running and hit the half way mark, I feel like I am done, because I just have to head to the finish at that point. Not sure of this logic, but it works for me. I pretty much felt like I knew I would finish at this point too and then set my sights on getting to mile 36, which is the farthest I have ever run before this day. At mile 25 I did a little jump. Halfway!

Eventually I figured out that I should probably turn around and head back so I started dreaming of Coca-Cola and my stashed cooler at what would turn out to mile 34. Miles 30-34 were hot, and my feet were sore, but I kept moving. Found the cooler, took off my shoes, chugged my coke, ate some burrito and relaxed.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next. In hindsight I think I should have gone back to the trails at the reservoir where it was peaceful but I started thinking I should head back to town and complete the run on the Arkansas River Trail. The sun was blazing, I was totally sunburned, and did I mention that my feet hurt? Some couple stopped and offered me a ride back to town. No thanks!

Mile 36 – another little jump because I was surpassing my longest distance run ever! It was around this time that got another text from my son with a dozen emoticons and started getting texts from my friend Lizzie who was on a boat on Lake Dillon and was checking on me. She was sending photos of them toasting me with wine and really this was hilarious, so it gave me some extra energy. A remote crew to make me laugh! Awesome.

Made it back to downtown Pueblo and had 9 miles to go. I can do this! I will run 4.5 miles and 4.5 miles back on the Arkansas River Trail. There was a lot of walking at this point…I soon realized that this plan probably wouldn’t work either. Although in theory the river trail should be a great place to run, and I am not particularly intimidated usually, there were some sketchy people on the trail including an obvious tweaker. I ran about 4 miles in and knew I had to figure something else out so I cut back into downtown although now I would have to figure out more mileage. At this point I started thinking about who I wished would show up and start yelling at me to get it together. I see my friend Andrea filling this role at some point in my running future, and she probably wouldn’t let me stop in a bar. Because, at this point, I was also dying for a cold Sprite and stopped in a bar. That was funny. The bartender wondered what I was doing and when I told him I was at mile 45 of a 50 mile run, he responded with, “Wow, you look pretty fresh for having run 45 miles.” Well, thank you!!! Told him I might come back later for a beer (yeah, right), left the bar and ran around the Pueblo Riverwalk a bit.

Oh yes, it is Saturday night and families were enjoying the stroll around the Riverwalk and I am finishing up my 50 mile run. Right. Eventually I made it to mile 50 and to my finish line which was a stairway that was all lit up. No, I wasn’t crawling up the stairs. Frankly, I felt like I could have run longer, although I had already told myself that I wasn’t going to run one more step over 50 miles. I actually think I ran around 52 due to forgetting to turn my GPS back on twice. And that was it. I did it.

But why did I do this? So many reasons, probably a never ending list of reasons. I love running. I love challenges. I have a lot of energy and I need a lot of stimulation to get by. Once I get a big idea in my head, I will try hard to make it happen… And lastly, I think it comes down to the fact that I am an eager person. This is not a bad trait, although I have certainly seen my eagerness be misinterpreted in my life. I am eager to do many, many things. I am eager to have new experiences (I am definitely an experience junkie), I am eager to make new friends, I am eager to maximize my time, I am eager to live it all. I was eager to train for and run 50 miles. And now it’s done. I did get a medal at the end.

medal

Ilene Bloom is a mother/evolving ultrarunner/lawyer who lives in Denver.  She plans to deal with cut-offs again in the upcoming Javelina Jundred 100k. Ilene can be reached at ilenebloom@hotmail.com with any questions about this article.

This Is Just How We Live

A simple mantra for outdoor adventurers when the kids arrive

I have a mantra when it comes to adventuring and traveling with children: “This is just how we live.” Behind this mantra is the idea that there is no reason to stop doing the things you love and the pursuits you value simply because your life changes with the addition of children.  It is an exciting opportunity to pass on skills and provide experiences that can become a central part of your family life. And therefore, adventures and travel become a constant, and not a distinct part of our lives.

This is just how we live.

Of course, the reality is that things do change, and activities have to be modified to include young children. You might be car camping more often. It might be easier to rent a car than to ride buses around foreign countries. To me that is part of the fun and the challenge – how can we make this adventure or trip work for the whole family and still have it be enjoyable, worthwhile and full of character? First, I want to emphasize that I think the sooner you start with your children, the better.  The sooner you start, the more natural it becomes, because it is all they have known since the beginning.  Provide the opportunities, the tools and the experiences early…and the kids will know the drill.  If you are worried you might not get a good night of sleep when camping with an infant, consider that it is entirely possible the same will happen at home.  So you may as well be camping!  If you are worried your kid might throw up as you race to the airport to catch a flight or are coming home from an adventure in the mountains take note: You simply clean it up just as you would at home! The point is that you have to deal with things as a parent no matter where you are. Stuff comes up. You deal with it. You move on.

This is just how we live.

I believe in the trickle-down effect with my kids and adventuring: If I’m excited, positive, relaxed, and flexible, it’s much more likely my children will take on the same attitude and approach while in the outdoors and while traveling. . The ability to remain positive, calm and flexible is important to happy parenting in general, making the outdoors a wonderful training ground to sharpen these skills. Of course this does not happen 100 percent of the time.

Being excited and positive: An important element is involving the kids in the planning and preparation for travels.  Do not do all the work for them.  As a result, they will feel accomplished and learn new skills in the process. We usually go to the library before traveling, or the kids read the travel book, and we try to plan the trip together and let them help us decide on things they might like to see or do.

Be flexible: Will you be touring around from 8 a.m. until midnight? Will your camping trips be the same as when it was just you and your buddies? It will certainly be modified, but that should not mean you will not do it.  When traveling with children, you will likely see things you might not have otherwise.  You might stay outside as much as possible. This is also part of the fun for me – teaching the value of exploration and spontaneity when traveling or being outside, especially because daily life with children can feel so structured.  The art of the free-for-all!

Some people hold off on adventuring and traveling with kids while they are young because they think the kids will not remember it.  Well, no, the kids won’t remember every detail (neither will the parents!) but I think you will be surprised of what they do remember. In any event, it truly shapes kids’ personalities and the willingness to try new things and have new experiences on a consistent basis. It is truly worth it.

This is just how we live.

Ilene Bloom is a mother/evolving ultrarunner/lawyer who lives in Denver. She can be reached at ilenebloom@hotmail.com with any questions about this article and adventuring with children.