Sunday, March 30, 2008

I'm Back! (And plan on running 100 miles!)

After a winter off from running, and a spring of diving back in, I am finally getting around to posting to my blog. I sort of feel like I’m talking to no one here, since I personally would give up reading anyone who hadn’t posted to her blog in 3 months. I have, however, received of late several comments from folks asking “Where the hell are you, Gretchen?” So, thanks for letting me know you are still out there!

My biggest news is that I am an official entrant in the Tahoe Rim Trail 100. Yup, that's right, I am going to try to run 100 miles.

When I was in highschool, and I though 8 miles was a really long run, Ann Trason was busy kicking the butts of men and women alike on the Western States 100 course. I didn't have any clue what that was all about, but it seemed like such a romantic idea, and I loved the fact that a woman could sometimes be the winner of the entire field. What was ultra running? I didn't know. But Ann and Western States planted a seed that I am finally starting to water, 20 years later.

Several blogs I have read lately address the ever-present question of why we do this crazy thing that we do, be it running ultras, competing in triathlons, or climbing mountains. I know athletes have been asking this question for centuries, and will continue asking it as long as this planet is ours to explore. We all have to come up with our own answers to the question of why, but I also see a clear similarity among most people’s thoughts on this topic.

In particular, several posts on Claire’s blog, Who in Their Right Mind?, got me thinking about why exactly I want to run 100 miles this year. Claire is a triathlete, and her question focused more on "why do 3 sports at once instead of just one?" Her own response to the question though, touched on an idea that I think is true for many of us: the suffering endured in the process of pushing our physical and mental limits is rewarding. Yes, that’s right, it’s the suffering we like. Scott Dunlap also touched on this thought in his recent post on the Rucky Chucky 50K, noting that sometimes he wants it to be as hard as possible. After running out of water with several miles to go he said, "In fact, somewhere inside I was giddy knowing that I was stripped down to the most ancient of human conditions – nothing but your will, two legs, and fortitude to get you to the finish. I often wonder if we all have a secret desire for this to happen on occasion, just to prove to ourselves we can do it without all these fancy gadgets and aid." I knew exactly what he was saying.

Having identified myself as a runner since the age of 11, this is by no means the first time I have pondered these questions. After reading Claire’s post, I recalled a journal entry I had written on the topic in which I felt I had reached some real conclusions about why exactly I loved sports like running and rock climbing; sports that caused other people to give me that funny look and say “You’re crazy!” You know the look I’m talking about.

During the summer of 1998 I worked at a wilderness camp in northern Minnesota as a canoeing and climbing guide. I had just run my marathon PR at Grandma’s Marathon: 3:26, still my PR a decade later. Two summers before, I had spent 5 months backpacking the Pacific Crest Trail. It was also the summer that I met my husband. I was 24, and it was a good time for getting philosophical about the questions of life, and actually coming up with some real answers.

So I went looking for the journal that contained that particular entry, thinking I would recycle that entry and post it here. Two hours later, every corner of my house has been scoured to no avail, although I did enjoy perusing a number of journal entries from my younger days. A brilliant way to spend a Sunday that was set aside specifically for doing taxes.

But what I recall from that journal entry, is that my conclusion on the matter boiled down to essentially this: We do it because it reminds us that we are alive. Yes, the endorphins are great, yes I love the adventure of exploring new trails, being in the outdoors, the community. All of these things have their own rewards, and are part of the whole experience, but I don’t need to run 100 miles to experience those things. The truth is, pushing my own physical limits as far as I can makes me feel alive like nothing else.

I watched a documentary last night, “Steep,” about the pioneers of extreme skiing. (I lost a ro-sham-bo with my husband on this one, I wanted to watch “Across the Universe.”) I enjoyed the movie though, and would recommend it, even if you are not a skier, because it really looks at this same question of why. Although frankly when I meet an extreme skier (not unusual here in Tahoe) I give them a funny look and say, “You’re crazy!” Seriously, wanting to run 100 miles looks pretty sane compared to the stuff in that movie. My favorite quote from the movie was a skier, in response to the question of ‘why’, saying “The closer I am to death, the more alive I feel.”

I don’t think ultra-running is about being close to death, but it is true that the harder I push myself, the more alive I feel.


  1. What, I outrun you 1 weekend, and you get all competitive? 100 miles? You're crazy! :)

  2. You know the best thing about this? You're going to run 100 miles because damn it, YOU CAN.

    More power to you!

    - Dean

  3. Yesss! Gretchen's come back for more! I am so psyched to read all about your road to 100 miles. You are absolutely crazy, but I'd love to be that crazy too someday!

    Great post. You said it so much more eloquently than I did. And thanks so much for all the nice things you said in your comments. You're certainly easy to please :)

  4. I'm so glad to see you're back, and that you're going to do a 100! That's so exciting :)

    I was just thinking about TRT, and wishing I could do it this year. That race still stands out in my mind as the most gorgeous race ever. You're going to do such a great job!

  5. It only takes a nonosecond to make the decision to run a 100. That's the hard part. Takes a bit longer to run 100 miles but that's the fun part!

    Welcome back to blogville!

  6. Hi Gretchen,
    Nice post.
    Great to see you're doing well and training for TRT100. I just signed up for the 50-miler, so I'll see you out on the trail, and maybe on the TRT on some training runs.
    Take care,

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  8. Sorry, the syntax of my comment was so bad, I had to start over.

    Very well written post / glad you are alive still!

    It's good to know even people way younger than me can't find stuff in their house.

    I found that doing the 100 thing was a transforming event in my running, and that my almost not finishing the Tahoe 100 (my second) was probably one of the biggest confidence boosters of my life. (I neither expect nor hope you cut it so close or suffer so much--but if it extra hellacious, maybe all the better...)

  9. Hi - Thanks for commenting on my blog, and congrats on your finish at Diablo!

    I'm in the same boat as you this year, training for my first 100M, and wondering about the reasons we do all of this. I love your thoughts in this post.

    Good luck with your training, I'll keep checking in!