Archive for April, 2013

The Labor of Love 50 Mile Ultra Marathon Was a Journey of Love

April 28, 2013

Joe and I met through running in June of 2012. Our love for running is what initially drew us to each other. On our first date, we talked a great deal about running and running our businesses. When Joe asked me about my racing plans for the year, I mentioned I was going to run a 50k race in November as a “training run” for a 50 mile race in honor of my 50th birthday in 2013. I was glad I shared this with him in person instead of on the phone or by email because I really wanted to see his body language when I asked him if he thought I was crazy. He looked me in the eyes and said, “No, I think it’s amazing!” And my journey with Joe and the 50 mile race officially began at that moment.

Over the next week or so, Joe would ask me a lot of questions about training for that kind of distance including the time and mileage involved and the process of deciding on which race to run. I explained to him that I had done a great deal of research on various 50 mile races and found that there are many trail races of that distance, but not that many road races of that distance. Since I’m a road racer, I only had about a dozen options. Joe was fascinated by what I’d found and asked if he could see my research. I was happy to share my findings and was interested in his take on what I’d found.

A couple of weeks after we met, I invited Joe to my house for dinner. While he was standing in the kitchen with me as I was preparing dinner he mentioned, again, that he’d be very interested in seeing my race research. I smiled and said, “Make yourself comfortable at the dining room table (which is right behind my kitchen so we can talk easily while I make dinner), that folder is my research on all the races. Take a look at each race and tell me what you think while I cook.”

Joe methodically read the information from each race and commented on them as he went through the file. Listening to his comments about each race was like an echo of everything I had thought when I read each race’s information. He joked about one race saying, “They give you a mug for running 50 miles? Are they kidding?” I laughed and said that I had thought the same thing. I had ruled that race out for that very reason, even though it was in driving distance, had a fairly flat course and a reasonable finishing time limit. As he continued to review the research he determined one race was going to be way too hot, one was too tedious since you run a 2 mile loop 25 times, another could be in ice and snow, a third had a midnight starting time due to high temperatures and humidity and since I was a morning person, that might really send my body clock into shock in addition to the heat and humidity. Several other races had what I viewed as aggressive finishing times and Joe’s comment was, “Do you want to spend 50 miles worrying if you’re going to finish in time and possibly not get a finishers medal and have your race results listed as a DNF (did not finish)? I smiled and told him that I had the exact same thoughts.

Finally, he got to the information on the Labor of Love. Joe didn’t know it, but I had already chosen this race as the one I was going to run, even though logic would say it was the worst possible choice for a number of reasons. As Joe read through the information he said, “Okay, I know this in in high elevation and that is an issue for several reasons including the fact you can’t train for those conditions here. The course is brutally hilly, by far the toughest of any of the races you researched. But you have adequate time to finish this race. I know how determined you are. So, even if the course and the elevation beat you up, I know you’ll finish. This is the race I would choose.” As he’s saying this, I’m cutting up vegetables for the salad, so I have my back to him. I turned around, smiled and said, “Interesting you came to that conclusion. I felt the same way about everything you said and have chosen to run that race.” Joe replied, “Well, I know what my job will be…to get your ice bath ready and call room service because you’re probably not going to be up for going out to dinner after you finish that race.”

At this point in my life, few things surprise me. But that comment did. What surprised me was that we’d only been going out a couple of weeks and he was committing to going with me to Nevada for a race that was nearly a year away. What surprised me even more was that I truly believed he’d end up going with me on this adventure.

About four weeks after this conversation, race registration for the Labor of Love opened. I registered immediately even though I knew there was no chance of the race selling out. I not only registered for the 50 miler on Saturday, I also registered for the 10k on Sunday. My thinking on the second race was two-fold. First, I knew it would be good to try to keep blood flowing in my legs the next day, especially since it’s a long flight home that night and there is an increased chance of deep vein thrombosis. Second, if I did the two races back to back, Love Me Two Times, I’d get three medals. I thought that was well worth some additional pain and effort.

Once I got confirmation of my registration, I was on the phone to the airline to see if I could use miles for my flight. In a matter of minutes, I was committed to this race, had a flight and was ready to research hotels. I emailed Joe that I’d registered for the races and booked my flight. Within minutes, he emails back asking me to send him my flight information so he could book the same flight. I emailed the information to him and within minutes, he’s emailing me his flight confirmation. I then called the airline to let them know we’d be traveling together so they could seat us together. Now we’re both committed to this adventure.

A couple weeks later, Joe asks me if I looked at the finishing times of the marathon for this race last year. I told him I’d looked at all the race finishing times…the 10k, marathon, 50k, 50 mile and 100 mile. He commented on the finishing times being somewhat slow for a marathon. I just smiled and reminded him this course is brutal and it’s in high elevation. I commented that I thought the winner’s time was actually quite good considering the race conditions, and the other finishing times seemed to be in line with the conditions too. Then I asked him why he was looking at the marathon times. He replied, “Because I’m going to run the marathon, go back to the hotel to clean up, eat something and be back to see you cross the finish line.”

Keep in mind, Joe is a very fast runner. I am not! I laughed at his comment and told him he’d have time to clean up, have lunch, take a long nap, have dinner and have a late night snack before he had to head back to the race to see me finish. He told me he didn’t care, and he’d be waiting for me no matter how long it took me to finish. That’s commitment.

A few days later, Joe told me he signed up for the marathon and the 10k the following day. He went on to say, “If you can’t get out of bed and aren’t up to doing the 10k on Sunday, I won’t think any less of you. You know that, right? You will have accomplished something extraordinary by completing the 50 miler. That’s the goal. That’s what’s important.” I told him I appreciated him telling me that. But his job was to get me out of bed and on that course on Sunday, no matter how lousy I felt. I told him I knew there would be no way I could run the 10k, but felt I would be up to walking it. He said that if I was up to walking the 10k, he’d walk it with me. That’s teamwork.

A couple weeks later, I see that Runner’s World is doing their first Runner’s World Challenge of 2013 at Disney World. They’re doing the Goofy Challenge. The Goofy Challenge is a half marathon on Saturday, followed by a full marathon on Sunday. You get a Donald Duck medal for the half, a Mickey Mouse medal for the full and a Goofy medal for being goofy enough to do them back to back. (I tell people you get a Goofy medal because there wasn’t an eighth dwarf called Crazy!) The Goofy Challenge has been on my dream race list since I took up running in 2006. And with 2013 being the 20th anniversary of the race, I knew this was my year to do it.

As soon as I saw this on the Runner’s World Challenge web site, I emailed Joe. “Do you think doing the Goofy Challenge is crazy and too aggressive after the 31 miler? I’m thinking this would be a good training run for Nevada. What do you think?” He emails back, “I checked the dates on the Goofy Challenge which would make the timeline as follows – 50k November, half and full marathon middle of January and 50 miles in April. It all sounds doable and if completed successfully I will award you the coveted running machine medal. Time to get a whole new medal rack, baby!” That’s faith!

I signed up for the Goofy Challenge moments later. I ran it in January and had so much fun. After finishing each of the two races, I didn’t have to log on to the Disney web site to see how I did. I was greeted each day by a text message or voice mail from Joe who was tracking me online. When I got back from the half marathon, Joe’s voice mail said, “You nailed it. You said you wanted to run the half at a relaxed pace and finish in 2:30 so your legs won’t be tired for tomorrow’s marathon. You ran it in 2:29. Your pacing was perfect. Great job and good luck tomorrow. I’ll talk to you this afternoon after you take your ice bath.” The next day, it was the same thing. Joe knew my results before I did, so I didn’t need to log onto the Disney web site. When I got back to the hotel, I was greeted with his congratulatory messages telling me how proud he was of me.

Now I had two races (technically three) down, with the largest one yet to go. My training for the 50 miler began within days of finishing the Goofy Challenge. Normally, you let your body recover after long races, but with the training schedule I’d designed, that was not an option if I wanted to be successful in my “A race” endeavor. The back to back long runs each weekend began immediately, after running close to 40 miles at Disney. Disney prepared me for the coming months of 40 mile weekends.

Every night we’d talk about our day…at work and on the road with our runs. Joe’s runs would be fast and fabulous. Mine would be slow and sometimes exhausting. I’d say to Joe, my body is fatigued. I feel really good. I have no pain. I’m tolerating the abusive mileage in all the ways that matter, but some days my body feels a little worn out. Joe would tell me how amazed he was at how my body and I were handling all the mileage, especially after doing the 50k and the Goofy Challenge so close together with no recovery time after them. Sometimes I’d reply by reminding him that I wasn’t running at race pace like he was. I was running more at a snail’s pace. Again, he’d say what I was enduring was incredible and I shouldn’t lose sight of that. “You’re amazing,” he’d say. That’s support!

February and March flew by. The majority of Joe’s time was consumed by tax season, since he’s a CPA. He got long training runs in whenever possible. The majority of my time was consumed with work and getting all my training runs in, which meant more than 50 miles a week which is about twice what I usually run.

One night in March, Joe exclaimed we were just over a month from race day. I gently corrected him by saying technically we were just less than two months from race day. That sounded much less intimidating to me. I was starting to get anxious, which is very unlike me. A couple weeks later, I mentioned in a morning email to Joe that I was a bit nervous about what food to take and what I needed to pack in my drop bags and whether it would be the right combinations and choices. He sent back a very reassuring email, saying that I wasn’t alone and we’d get through this together. He ended the email by telling me I would be the best trained and best prepared athlete at the race. I knew better. But that email was very reassuring to me. That’s encouragement.

It was April before we knew it…race month and time for me to start my taper. Taper is where you cut back on your mileage significantly to let your body recover from many months of heavy mileage and abuse, nine consecutive months in my case. Many runners dread the taper because they have a lot of time on their hands and that time can make them anxious and cause them to feel like they should be running more and training harder. As a personal trainer, I know the importance of the taper and that a proper taper helps you have a better race. I used my spare time during the taper to resolve last minute details and purchase final items for the drop bags. It was time well spent and helped me relax a little bit.

A few nights before we left for Nevada, Joe says, “Honey, I think it’s time we address the elephant in the room.” I laughed and asked which elephant? Joe replied, “You know this is going to be ugly. We’re talking high elevation, 80 degree heat, a brutal course of nothing but hills. There’s going to be a lot of pain for both of us.” I laughed and replied that I knew that, but felt there was no point in focusing on those things. That’s honesty.

As we got closer to race day, we talked about what I thought my average pace would be and what I thought my finishing time would be. I know that every race is different and some days you own the course and some days the course owns you. I was hoping it would be the former, but was prepared if it was the latter. Both Joe and I came up with the same finishing time estimate and we came up with that using the same logic. Our original plan was for me to pack my phone and call him when I reached mile 44. That would give him enough time to make the one hour drive to the race site from our hotel. Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans. When I emailed the race director to find out which drop bag I should put the phone in to be able to do this, she informed me that cell service was spotty to non-existent on the course. I told Joe what she said about the cell service and that there is no live/online tracking for this race, so it wasn’t an option for him to track me. He replied, “I will be at the finish waiting for you no matter what and no matter how long it takes you to finish. If I have to wait for hours, I will. I’ll bring a book and wait for you. I will be there when you cross that finish line, and I will carry you to the car if you can’t make it another step further!” That’s compassion.

I’m a planner…many would say I’m an obsessive planner. We flew out two days before the race so we could pick up our race packets, make sure we knew how to get to the race, drive the course and see how the elevation felt. When we drove the course, we had a much better feel of what was in store. The hills on the elevation map looked brutal. Driving them was intense. So, we decided to park at the bottom of the longest, steepest hill and run up it to see how it felt in high elevation. It felt like someone beat me breathless. Joe ran up it a bit farther than I did, but slowed to a walk and I caught up to him. We looked at each other and I jokingly said, well, we’ve now addressed the elephant and let him take a swing at us with this trunk. But at least we knew what we were up against. And for me, that’s comforting. I don’t like surprises on race day.

Next thing we knew, it was race day. We got to the race in plenty of time to hear the race instructions. Since the Boston Marathon bombing had occurred earlier that week, there was a moment of silence. Runners are a family, a very special community. So we all were feeling more grateful than ever to be alive and able to run and pay tribute to those who died, were injured and who helped save lives.

Shortly after our moment of silence, the countdown clock started. Joe and I wished each other good luck, kissed each other goodbye and we were off! One of the many great things about the Labor of Love course is the marathoners have to do some back tracking, so I knew I’d see Joe again sometime before and after I hit the 11 mile marker which was also a turnaround point for the 50 and 100 mile ultra marathoners. As I mentioned, Joe is very fast and I am not. So, since he had to run four more miles on his course before I hit the 11 mile marker, we caught up with each other and were able to run a while together which was great. The next thing we knew, we were approaching the steep, long hill. I told Joe to go ahead because I was going to walk it. Joe insisted we walk it together and said he’d pick up the pace once we crested the hill. It was a lot more fun tackling that climb together. As we were climbing the hill, we checked our watch and Joe asked if I thought my second half would be the same pace as my first. I told him there was no way since it was starting to get hot and windy. But I was still confident of making it to the finish line by the time we’d calculated. I told him that he should stick to that pick up plan and if something significant happened to delay me, I left him a head lamp in the car so he could read while he waited for me.

At the top of the hill, Joe took off, pacing for the finish line. As he was heading out, he told me he’d see me at the finish which for my race was mile 22 and my second check point. When I got to the check point, I was about 5 hours into the race. Joe saw me check in and asked if I thought I was still on track to finish in the time we’d predicted. I said yes, I’ll be done by 8 or 8:30pm as long as I don’t hit the wall head on. (Hit the wall is an endurance sports term where your body starts to give you a lot of grief or it shuts down and makes the rest of the race extremely slow and painful until you’re able to refuel with carbohydrates and get some energy back Sometimes, if you hit the wall really hard, you never recover and the rest of the race is miserable.)

Once Joe was finished, I still had “friends” on the course. Because of the way the race was laid out, the 50 and 100 mile ultra runners were looping each other regularly. It was great to see friendly faces, cheer each other on and get any updates about what food was at the upcoming ultra stations.

By Mile 33, I was still feeling good, but I knew I was getting some hot spots on my feet. Hot spots need to be treated quickly before they become blisters that can wreak havoc on your body and your race. So, after I checked in, I did some foot care to prevent further damage, had the volunteers reapply my sunscreen and I was on my way. The volunteer not only applied my sunscreen, he coated my feet in this protective skin-like product and offered to tie my shoes. I smiled and said, “Do I look that bad?” He said, no, you look great, but I just want to make sure you don’t have to exert any more energy than necessary. That’s kindness and grace.

That was the last time I’d be at that check point in the race, so I thanked the volunteer and told him it was okay to load my drop bag in the truck and take it to the finish line when he left at 7pm. Mile 38.5 was the last ultra station and drop bag stop before the finish line. I grabbed my head lamp, my reflective vest and a long sleeve shirt to tie around my waist since I knew I might need them sometime near mile 44. And once I hit the last check point at mile 44, I didn’t want to stop for any reason other than to show my race number and head back out for the last six miles.

I checked in and headed out for the final miles of my journey. The next time I’d see that check point would be when I crossed the finish line. Miles 44-47 were uphill. I was walking them for the most part. Once I hit the turnaround, it was getting dark and the cars were making me nervous (the race was not closed to traffic at any time.) I took advantage of the downhill and the fact I’d paced well so I had energy in my tank to run the last three miles…really run!

There was a woman on the course who I’d played “cat and mouse” with for about the last third of the race. Sometimes she’d pass me and sometimes I’d pass her and we did this dance for most of the last 15 miles. She was quite a bit ahead of me when I hit the turnaround. But once I hit the downhill and started running, I was a woman on a mission. I was 3 miles from victory and accomplishing what I’d dreamed about for almost a year. As I passed her, I shouted “Good job. We’re almost there. I’ll see you at the finish!” She shouted back, “Wow you look strong. Good for you!”

When I got to the finish line there were a lot of things waiting for me…my medal, hot food and, of course, Joe. I finished in just under 13 hours. Joe and I had estimated a 13 to 13.5 hour finishing time based on my 22 mile check point time. He smiled when he saw me and said, “You did great. That was amazing.” I thanked him and said, “Let’s get out of here. We need some rest before we have to race again tomorrow.”

Sunday, we were back at the race site to run the 10k. The 10k course was my last 6 miles of the 50 miler, so I was very familiar with this. I had planned to walk the 10k and Joe had said he’d walk it with me. But I didn’t want Joe to sacrifice his race for me. So, I started out jogging. Joe said, “Are we running this? I replied, “We’re not. But you are. Go! I’ll see you at the finish.” Joe took off, and I slowed to a brisk walking pace. When Joe was on his way to the finish, I still hadn’t hit the turnaround. I cheered him on and said I’d see him soon. Once I hit the turnaround, it was déjà vu from the night before. I saw the downhill, knew the finish was near and took off running. Once again, Joe was waiting for me at the finish line. But he had something special in his hand. He’d won his age group for the 10k after running the marathon the day before! That’s drive and determination. I was so glad I told him to go on without me. And I was so impressed and proud of him.

The Labor of Love and Love Me Two Times races let each of us accomplish something very special and it was made even more special because we got to do it together and truly share our labor of love for running. I cannot imagine a better way to celebrate turning 50, and there is no one I would have rather shared this experience with than Joe.

So what does this story have to do with business?
I’ve said in previous blogs that I am very fortunate to love what I do. I love my work with my public relations firm and my corporate wellness/personal fitness firm. And I love training for endurance races. When our work is a labor of love, it hardly seems like work. It’s a joy. It’s rewarding. That’s the way it should be.

As we work with others at our offices, I think it’s important to keep in mind some of the qualities I highlighted in this blog.

Commitment: Without it, your personal work product suffers and the company you work for suffers to. If you’re not committed to doing the best job you possibly can, something is wrong, and it’s time to reevaluate your work situation.

Teamwork: Some of the greatest business leaders in the world are the first to say they achieved personal and business success by surrounding themselves with smart, hard working people. They created a team that shares a common vision and works well together to achieve the company’s goals.

Faith: When we have faith in our abilities and others we work with, we can accomplish great things.

Support: Successful business people are the first to acknowledge they can’t do it all alone. They need the support of other people…people with skills they don’t have or skills that are complimentary but add to the business person’s skill set. As business owners and managers, we need to support our people. We need to share our vision, mission and goals with them. By charting a clear course, we insure success and people don’t feel they’re on their own to do it all.

Encouragement: One of the top reasons people say they leave their companies is not because of money, but because they didn’t feel valued and appreciated. When we encourage people at our offices, we show them that their ideas and hard work are respected. And that inspires them to work even harder.

Honesty: Many times people are asked for their opinion, but they’re afraid to be honest and tell their bosses what they really think. While I realize this can be a career limiting move in some companies, it shouldn’t be. Tactful, well thought out, honest opinions are where some of the most brilliant and profitable ideas come from.

Compassion, Kindness and Grace : We spend a significant portion of our day at work. Treating your coworkers with decency is critical. People want to know they are more than just a workhorse to the company, their boss and their team. When we practice the “Golden Rule” at work the results are clear. The staff feels they are part of a bigger picture and a true contributor to their success and the success of the company.

Drive and Determination: Without this, there is no chance of success, in my opinion. When people are determined to succeed and driven to do their best, everyone benefits…employees, management, companies, vendors and customers.

So if your work isn’t a labor of love, maybe it’s time to reevaluate your work situation. I’m not saying that we all have to love our jobs every minute of every day. We all have tough days at the office. That’s a given. But if our work is drudgery, perhaps it’s time to look within ourselves and our companies and figure out what it would take to make our work a labor of love.