2008 ULTRA RUNNING ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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  STRENGTH THROUGH STRUGGLE, PART I:
WHY BE NORMAL?  & OTHER THOUGHTS

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 24

 
"Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths.
When you go through hardship and decide not to surrender, that is strength." 
 - Arnold Schwarzenegger 
 
 
Then I should be pretty strong in the near future -- not from hardship as much as from struggling with one thing after another. Every day brings new challenges and new concerns, so I've been in a particularly contemplative mood lately.

This is the first of two stream-of-consciousness entries about meeting the challenges of life, running, and aging head-on. I'll include some fall photos from runs on our favorite greenway trail.

GO WITH THE FLOW

Usually Jim and I can go with the flow of life's vicissitudes pretty well. Understanding what we can control and what we can't control is crucial. So is being able to adapt and make good decisions as circumstances change around us. But sometimes a lot of little stuff piles up until it just feels like it'll never end. It can plumb wear you out.

This summer and fall have been more stressful than ever for Jim and me. A lot of it stems from the slide into the nationwide (no, worldwide) economic mess in which we all find ourselves. By now it's touching everyone's lives to some degree: higher prices on most goods and services, including necessities; mounting job losses that affect entire industries and communities; continuing defaults on mortgages and other loans, which has had a ripple effect on the value of everyone else's homes and their ability to get credit. It's a vicious cycle, and I haven't even begun to list all the problems.

I think the guy who loses our contentious presidential election in less than two weeks will be the actual winner. Why would anyone want to inherit that mess??


Some leaves just starting to turn colors along the greenway (10-9-08)

The only bright spot currently on our country's economic horizon is gas prices that are lower than this time last year, well below the $4 and $5 a gallon we paid this summer (diesel didn't go up as much nor come back down as much in proportion). Sounds silly historically, but we're pleased we can get regular gas for "only" about $2.38 a gallon in the Roanoke Valley now and diesel for $3.19. That still sounds high to me. (Prices change daily and vary widely from station to station in this area.)

It was the increasing price of diesel fuel that started our own personal funk last spring. Jim and I decided we didn't want to spend so much to haul our 5th-wheel camper out to Wyoming and Colorado for our beloved summer hundred-milers, even though most of the camping would be free on national forest land. We've kicked ourselves ever since. Yes, we saved money by staying home in Virginia (the cost of the trip -- and more--went into a new, very efficient heat pump) but we really missed the adventure of it all and seeing our friends at those races.

I'll say it again: that's why we retired at a young age -- to be able to travel, run, and do whatever else we wanted to do while we were still healthy. How many times have you heard about some poor schmuck working until age 65 and then dying a week after he retired?


More color in the same spot two weeks later, but green leaves still predominate (10-24-08)

Tater's illness and death during the summer was the next blow. That was hard on us and we deeply appreciate the empathy that journal readers and other folks have expressed. Tater was almost as dependent on us for twelve years as a small child would have been. I haven't been as happy-go-lucky since she died, although Cody mostly fills the hole in our hearts. Anyone who's been as close to a four-legged companion as we were to Sweet Tater understands the pain of such a loss. 

One time-consuming and somewhat stressful task right now is making our open-season health insurance choices before our respective deadlines (mine is next week). This has been particularly frustrating to me because the county from which I retired has completely revamped our health insurance options. They all sound better than average and are still reasonably priced (very good news in this day and age of skyrocketing health care costs) but they are significantly more complicated and just plain different from what I've had for the last 31 years.

And that observation probably makes me sound older and less adaptable than I really am!!

The main problem is not the complexity of the choices; I consider that a good thing. It's the frustrating lack (and piecemeal nature) of information I've been able to get as a retiree-living-out-of-state. None of it is online like Jim's options and instructions with the federal government. I still haven't received all the pieces of the puzzle in the mail yet, and it's nearly impossible to reach anyone by phone in the county's Risk Management Department. The staff is totally overwhelmed with all the changes and the thousands of other employees and retirees who also have questions and concerns. I may just opt for Jim's medical insurance, which is a known quantity, and hope the county gets its act together better before the next open season. (I have the option of returning to my former employer's coverage if I want.)


Jim pauses during his run while Cody checks for p-mail.

The most recent stress we're feeling (besides all the adversarial politics!) is the wild ride on Wall Street. We're more uneasy about the economy in general than our personal finances.

Why? It's that thing again about what we can and can't control: it's pretty much a waste of time and energy to stew over the things we can't control. Since we're retired, we can't lose our jobs. It would take the entire collapse of the government for us to lose our pensions (more likely is not getting cost of living increases). We live below our means and have taken some steps to spend even less of our discretionary income. We've had to put on hold any thoughts of moving closer to town or out West, but that's not a big deal because we haven't a clue right now where we'd move anyway. We'll just hunker down in our current home, which we love, and wait until the housing crisis is over to even think of selling it. 


Interesting jet trails decorate the sky over our house recently

Nor are we in a panic about the significant stock market losses and wild roller coaster ride up and down that we've witnessed in recent weeks. Our main concern is how long it will take to recoup our investment losses. After all, we aren't 35 any more. However, we have stayed the course in our low-cost, well-diversified bond and stock index funds. The DOW's thousand-point swings in one day are almost becoming a joke between Jim and me as we try to guess each morning how well or how badly the various indices will do that day! It's not like we have any control over the world markets, only our own investments; rolling our eyes at the absurdity of it all is one way to deal with the stress.

So is understanding how well the stock market has done historically, despite periods of recession and depression. The first time my retirement account took a hit in the 1980s I about had a stroke, but I left my money in the market upon the advice of wise financial advisors and watched it grow over the years. Since then I've taken subsequent economic downturns in relative stride. My philosophy is that this is a great time to buy stock (especially index) funds at a cheap price, not sell them. I have faith that the world economy will improve once again; I just don't know when.

That's the glass-half-full approach.

I'm happy to say that our main concern right now is getting our ducks in a row so we can leave for several months on our "sunbird" trip to the Southwest. There are always a lot of loose ends to tie up before we travel. 


Soon to be out of drydock and on the road again

That reminds me of another thing while I'm on my economic soapbox (this relates a little more to running):

Jim and I are neither "rich" nor "fortunate." We don't like the concept of "fortunate" and "less fortunate" regarding a person's income or lifestyle. We worked hard to get where we are and bristle inwardly at comments about how "lucky" we were to be able to retire early and live a mobile lifestyle.

It's not luck; it's planning, education, training, a good work ethic, sacrifice, saving for the future, and making (mostly) good financial decisions throughout our lives. We don't live on credit and we're willing to live frugally in some ways so we can spend on the activities we value, one of which is traipsing around the country in our camper to go to races and visit friends and relatives. That is one of the things that makes our lives "rich."

These are values and attitudes that everyone can apply in their own lives -- if they choose to. What's "less fortunate" is folks who want someone else or the government to take care of their every need instead of being responsible for themselves. I hope our example of (mostly) good old-fashioned financial sense inspires others as much as our running adventures.

OK, off my soapbox.

CRANKY LEGS = CRANKY SUE

There's another reason I'm still in a bit of a funk: I haven't been able to run much since the New River Trail 50K two weeks ago. I feel pressure to get in another long run (or back-to-back long runs) pretty soon so I'll have time to recover before my 12-hour race at Ultracentric in three weeks. But I haven't adequately recovered from my last race. I overused my leg muscles 'way more than I suspected.

The deep groin pain I mentioned three days after the New River Trail race lasted only a couple days. Then I was able to resume some easy two- to six-mile walks and runs the next four days. That's the good news.


The boys play tug with a stick (one of Cody's favorite games) during a recent run on the greenway.

But last Sunday -- eight days after the race -- I apparently strained the hamstring(s) on my other leg when I climbed part way up and down a mountain on the Mountain Masochist Trail Run (MMTR) course. I was crewing for Jim and a friend who were there on a training run for that race and tried to get in a few miles of my own. My hamstring started hurting the next day on an easy run.

I just walked on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday to avoid straining it further. I assumed there were one or more small tears that needed to heal. I massaged and iced it, but I was still aware of some mild pain in the area when I walked. This is the same hamstring(s) that cramped only 90 minutes into the NRT 50K; the cramp went away pretty soon when I massaged it and never hurt again during the race  Now it wasn't cramping, just sore enough to scare me; hamstring injuries can take a very long time to heal regardless of a person's age.

Yesterday I saw my massage therapist, Felicia, who has the intuition and skill to zero in on many places that need attention each session, whether I've been aware of them or not! She immediately found the right spot on that hamstring and spent several minutes relaxing the muscles above and below it before addressing the area directly. She thinks my hamstrings are very tight, not torn; she did increasingly deeper work on them and they didn't hurt a bit. That's good news, if it's true.

I talked with Felicia about my other physical woes during and after the race -- other muscles and areas that cramped (feet, calves, adductors), the sore groin later on, and my fluid/electrolyte dilemma. Her "prescription" is more gentle stretching to lengthen numerous tight muscles, more yoga to balance out weaker hamstrings to my stronger quads, less weight work on the adductors and quads (high weights shorten them), and drinking more water every day. I'll see her once more before we leave for Ultracentric and try to get another massage or two on our trip before ATY. I've been able to find some very good massage therapists and chiropractors on trips before, using the recommendations of local runners and doctors.

(Note after Sunday run: my hamstring got more sore, not less, as my muscles warmed up. My intuition tells me this is more than a tight muscle, so I'm going to stop running for several days. If I have to omit another long run before Ultracentric, oh well. I'd rather run it under-trained and go fewer miles than run it injured and jeopardize ATY.)


Heading into Stonebridge Park on the Wolf Creek Greenway (10-9-08)

Felicia sometimes talks about her parents, who are my age. She sees them daily since her yoga studio is over their place of business. Although she has a close and loving relationship with her parents, she sort of sighs when talking about their health and the fact that she has to "take her mom for walks" (her dad more willingly takes the initiative to swim for exercise). She's made the comment before that I'm "not like any other 59-year-old she knows."

Hmmm . . .

Fortunately, Felicia says she means that as a compliment to my physical fitness; she's very focused on wellness in her massage and yoga practices. She's been trying to get me to join her yoga classes. I definitely would if I lived closer to town. It's more fun to practice yoga in a group. I do stretching and yoga by myself at home. So far, Jim does fine without either.

WHY BE NORMAL?

I've had a lot of thoughts the last few days -- and months, since Jim turned 60 -- about women continuing to run ultras during their "golden years." (We both keep thinking I'm already 60, but I've got five more months to go.)

Sorry to keep bringing up the age thing but conversations and observations like the one mentioned above with Felicia keep recurring. Although I know I got to this rather advanced age gradually, it seems pretty sudden to me. Me, almost 60 already?? I'm proud of the fact that I'm as physically fit as I am, yet distressed that I'm not MORE fit (and fast) because there are women my age and older who run better than I do. Not many, mind you, but enough to motivate me to keep training to improve myself.

Since there aren't nearly as many "senior" (over 60) women as men who run or walk ultra distances, we're somewhat of an anomaly. Why be normal (one of my favorite '70s bumper stickers) when "normal" in our culture has come to mean sedentary, unfit, and overweight, even for much younger women??

If that's normal, I want to be un-normal ("abnormal" has a more negative connotation).

I hope this journal will inspire more people of all ages to start or continue to exercise. It doesn't have to be running, just something enjoyable that works up a sweat several times a week. I especially hope that older folks will see the benefits and joys of remaining active as long as possible.

I'm willing to serve as an example, both bad and good, of what is possible at age 60. As I wrote almost four years ago in the introduction to my AT journal, if a woman my age with arthritis can pull off a summer-long journey run on a rugged, mountainous 2,175-mile trail, imagine what others can do! As my saga continues into my seventh decade (yikes!) I don't want to just entertain my readers, I also want to make people think and dream.

I'm going to continue these themes in the next entry so both will be shorter. I've been very introspective lately . . .

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater (in spirit)

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2008 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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