Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Math and Goal Setting: Things I am now good at!

According to Dr. Anders Ericsson, it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert at something.1

By my imprecise, handwritten in a notebook calculations, I spent about 642 hours running this year.  At this rate, it will take me 15 full years to get any good at this thing, and since I've only been at it hard for 3 1/2 years plus another few of marathon running and 4 years of high school track and cross-country, I'd figure I have at least another 9-10 years to go.  By contrast, working 40+ hours a week in Advertising has me acing this shit in only 5 years, which means I was an expert over a year ago.  If you are wondering if this fact is effective in getting you a raise, the answer is no.

Ahhhh, a life well spent.

Seriously though, the reason I even bring this up is because everyone is posting all these mileage totals and averages and other such forms of mathematics, and I can no longer hide the fact that I, too, have calculated my shit.  And given that I did this all by hand, including full on long division in my head, I'm quite proud.  Not necessarily of the numbers.  But of my solid scholarly effort.  My pops always said calculators and computers were for the weak.

Put it on Pinterest, bitches.
Truth is, the numbers and trends were pretty much what I expected.  I hit it hard in the first half of the year, racking up a solid 1,700 miles and averaging 14,000 feet of climb per week - even with tapers and recovery weeks factored in.  Given that I was simultaneously rehabbing my knee from surgery, this seems pretty good.  And then the second half of the year hit, which was, how do you say... unimpressive.  Given all the crazy health problems (kidneys, adrenals and a bout of giardia) I was having at the end of the summer/early fall I'm actually surprised I still snuck a few good months and a successful race in there.  Going into that one (OT100), I honestly was concerned about my ability to even run a full 100 miles. As for the numbers,  let's just say that I definitely negative split my year.

That said, here's my favorite stat (because yes, I totally nerded out with an entire notebook filled with raw data at my disposal):  A full month of my year was spent running and cross-training.  I don't know why, but I really like the sound of that.  I'm also NOT going to do the math on working... ugh, yes I am.  It's like three months.  Gross.  Which leads me to wonder, what in the world was I doing those other 8 months?  Eww, probably a lot of it was sleeping.  Like 4 months! Of just lying around doing nothing!  OHMYGOD I NEED TO STOP.

That said, 2012 held some great stuff as well, so I'll spend the next two sentences reflecting on that.  I won a 50k in March that I decided to do the day before with a knee still not fully healed from surgery, I ran a faster time at Miwok than the last time I ran it, despite the fact that it was a harder and longer course and even though I consider it my worst race of the year.  I also ran a 50 mile PR on the hardest course I've ever done (Old Goats), still with a bum knee and only 6 days after running the LA marathon with my dad.  As for the hundos, I got my silver buckle at Western States, breaking 24 hours for the first time, and then won and set a course record at the Ozark Trail 103.1.  There, I actually ran 105 miles, so that is officially the longest I've ever run in one stretch.  Okay, that was actually four sentences.

There was also some great non-performance by me, but still running stuff, like the aforementioned running of the marathon with my old man (his first), the week in Silverton and pacing Dom at Hardrock, finally pacing my girl, Kate, at AC100 like I always was supposed to (damn you Station Fire of 2009!), and pacing my hero, Suzanna, to a course record at Chimera100.  Probably my favorite thing of 2012 though was all the time we spent exploring the Eastern Sierras - including my first Whitney ascent (6 days before Western States) and my first backpacking trip (the Evolution Loop with Dom and Chamoun).  Then there was also the first annual Team RWB Trail Running Camp, which was amazing to be a part of.  To summarize, here are some fun photos of me basking in other people's glory:

Hardrock - photo: Steve Lewis, Durango Herald

Angeles Crest - photo: Silvia Elena Beckmann

Chimera 100 - photo: Dom

Monica's 1st Ultra at TNF50k - photo: someone using my camera

Now comes the part where I tell you about my big goals for 2013 and how excited I am to approach them with great fervor now that the calendar year has risen anew!  But first, a story:

'Twas the night before the new year, and Dom and I were napping in the Volvo.  We planned to rise at 10:45pm for an 11pm departure from Red Box to the top of Mt. Wilson.  The road was iced over, we were wearing a million layers and carrying a large bottle of Chimay and the gate at the observatory would undoubtedly be locked, meaning our location for celebration was uncertain and needing to be determined before the clock struck midnight.  An hour to climb about 1,000 feet in 4.5 miles and deal with all the above seemed reasonable, plus cushion, so at 11:05pm I remained unfazed by Dom's unreadiness to embark.

When we finally left 20 minutes later, I was concerned. We now had 35 minutes to get to the top and my legs were sufficiently wrecked from snowshoeing all day without snowshoes.  Dom attempted to combat this by telling me he thought it was only like 3 miles to the top, which is cute that he thinks I don't understand all the maps I own.  It's also cute that he thinks the experiences of showing up to the starting line of Old Goats this year as the gun was going off or having to literally run to the airport with all my baggage to make our flight to Missouri are forgotten.  I don't let Dom determine departure times, but in this case, he was dead set on finding his headlamp and at the end of the day... ahem, year... my main concern was being together.

Dom's gear choice for fresh, deep powder:  snowshoes
My gear choice for fresh, deep powder:  Z-poles...  for making glitter!

But for now, my main concern was getting my stiff, puffy jacketed ass to the top of that mountain.  When I thought of our new year's celebration together, I had imagined us casually arriving at the summit, popping some champagne and copious amounts of laughter.  Instead, I was sweating through all the layers I was wearing and my legs were on fire. There was copious amounts of swearing.  When we hit the saddle at Mt. Lowe Road, we only had 15 minutes to get to the top.

Should we just wait here at the saddle?
No!   I said I was going to be on the top of this mountain at midnight and I'm not about to stop just because you couldn't find your headlamp WHICH YOU'RE NOT EVEN USING BY THE WAY!

And so we carried on this way, myself in a great deal of pain and even Dom himself not exactly having an easy time.  He encouraged me, I told him I hated him and our romantic New Year's Eve tryst continued blissfully up Mt. Wilson Road.  Three minutes... two... one...

I don't even really recall midnight, as I was too busy trying to breathe.  We'd reached the final turn when the clock ran out and we stopped to acknowledge the moment before walking the final quarter mile to the top. Then my legs gave out and I found myself lying on my back, looking at the icy clear sky and crying.  I'd run as hard as I could, but I didn't make it.  My first goal of the year, and I didn't freaking make it.  Also, I felt like I was going to puke.

Dom thought this all wildly amusing and fun.  He was failing to recognize the horrible omen that had just been cast for 2013, and instead was focusing on getting himself out of trouble for causing the late start and the obvious demise of my year.  Here are a few examples of his failed attempts:

We ran into the New Year!  That's exactly what we wanted to be doing; not standing still!
Running hard is an omen for all the great training ahead!
This is just like Western States!  Robie Point, panda!  Robie Point!

And my personal fave, the ever dramatic:
We are supposed to be uncomfortable because that's how we live our lives.

No Dom, you live in Orange County and I live in Brentwood.  Fucking Brentwood.  We have to find uncomfortable things because our daily lives, by definition, are too comfortable.  That said, running and camping on a 28 degree evening to celebrate New Year's rather than dressed up and drinking at a party in the city was as far as I had hoped to go.

"But we didn't make it to the top!" I pleaded.

And then Dom on the rebuttal, "Well is 2013 the end goal here?  Or are we going to keep going and keep getting faster and stronger for years to come?"

Well.... shit.  That actually makes sense.

Chim-pagne for all people that didn't pass out!
So, as much as I want to sit here and tell you about all my wondrous goals for 2013, I can't.  Because the reality is that my real, true goals extend far beyond this year.  Future shit.  It's intense.  Now, while I obviously have some short-term items on the block this year, my point is that I'm not going to make those singular items my absolute focus.  They're more of a progress meter, and I certainly don't expect to reach my absolute maximum human potential as an ultrarunner this year.  And that's a pretty generally hopeful thing when you think about it.  
Requisite "contemplating future goals" photo
The best thing I learned from the last three years of training is NOT to get all jazz-ma-tazzed and sparkly eyed in January.  Because when I'm behaving like a love-sick schoolgirl, I get CRUSHED like a love-sick schoolgirl.  And no amounts of MASH is gonna fix that shit.*  Point being is that for the last three years I have started a log of my training on January 1st and begun filling it with little scribbles like 27 miles, or 26,000 feet on the week, or fastest split eva!  (I'm just kidding. I don't ever write ever as eva.  Ever.) Then, by oh say, end of February, early March, I start noticing things like, really tired today. SO weird!  or a felt sluggish up the climb or slept 13 hours and ate ALL OF THE THINGS.  By the end of the year, I abandon the log entirely, because I can't bear to look at the breakdown.
*You can still try though.  You're welcome.

Now, maybe it's my old age speaking... I'll be 30 in a few months, so that means I'll be even smarter ... (and also will simultaneously own a house, be out of debt and a mother of two, according to beliefs retained from childhood), but anyway - maybe I'm starting to learn something here.  Could it be that I might have overdone it a bit in those first few months of the year?  Never!  But probably, yes.  So might it be wise to show a little reserve here in the fledgeling days of the new year? And will I actually do that?

Well, that's the plan.  More specifics on that:  a) I actually finished my 2012 log all the way through, and b) I registered for a few early season races.  Now, this makes me entirely uneasy, because I want to feel like I'm on my A game for every race and I can assure you that this will not be the case come February.  BUT, these races will certainly ensure that I don't fall into some psycho ass training block where I derive great joy out of beating myself into submission for two months and then much to my dismay, encounter just that.  Instead, I'll have to remain calm, collected and obey a gradual ramp up to my year.  For example, I only ran 65 miles on the first week of 2013... as opposed to the usual, oh say, 90.  I know that if I jump right into 90+ mile weeks with over 20k of ups, I'll be toast come the Ray Miller 50 miler on February 2nd.  Then I'll also require a longer recovery, taking away from training for The Three Days of Syllamo Stage Race in mid-March, which is supposed to be prime training for Zane Grey 50 miler at the end of April.  And so shall go the rest of the year...  By May and June, 90+ mile and closer to 30k vertical weeks should be more appropriate and a perfect block heading into my favorite race in all the land: the Angeles Crest 100.

Gosh, this all looks so good on paper!
Fig. A

Now, as for the implementation phase, welp, wish me some luck.  So far so good, and we're already 0.019th of the way through the year!  The fortunate news is that if I need some motivation or clarity, I need only look back to this past, largely successful year of wins and PRs and achieving my goals in races. You know why 2012 went so well for me?  Because I was as patient as whatever is the exact opposite of me sitting in traffic on Friday evening. (Fig. A)  Having surgery on my knee lowered my expectations, and as a result, the amount of pressure I put on myself to BE GREAT. RIGHT NOW.  Instead it was all about just being at least a little bit greater than I was before I fell into the yucca.  And not falling into any more yuccas.  To demonstrate, I'd like to show you my aforementioned mathematical skills:

Me > Everyone in the World ≠ The Goal

Me > Old Me = The Goal

Pretty simple, huh?

This should be attainable, considering that I'm starting 2013 off in a much better place than last.  In other words, I can actually run without limping.  I took a good break after Ozark in November, only running when I felt like it and no intense workouts for almost 2 full months.  The result is maintaining a decent base, but kicking shit off uninjured and free of plants, save a little bit of random, non-dibilitating plantar and some purple poodle on my eyelids. (I can still see.  It just looks like I'm wearing pink eyeshadow. Permanently.)  

In summation, my focus for 2013 all goes back to the whole would you rather win one specific race or continue improving at racing in general for years to come?  And since I'm told that the answer cannot be both, I'm going to have to go with B.  Cheers to that.

Enjoying the nose hemorrhage seats for the Rose Bowl

Kicking off the winter training something proper-like

In other news:

Did I forgive Dom for the New Year incident?  Mostly.
Am I at peace with how I spent my midnight?  Now that I can breathe, yes.
Can I inflict the same pain unto Dom which was inflicted unto me?  Unfortunately, no.
But do I know people who can? Absolutely, yes.

Watch yo' back, man.

1. Google it or read the book "Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell.


  1. One of my favorite GOALS to set up a New Year posts, ever. Nicely articulated, Ms. Copywriter. Hilarious as always.

  2. I'm a big fan of your blog, I can't really remember how I stumbled upon it, but anyways do you have any advice on how a low mileage competitive trail runner can make the leap to longer races??? Enjoyed this write up as usual, thanks!

  3. Thanks so much for reading, guys!
    @DrBeauBeard: Keeping in mind that I don't claim to be any sort of coach, the main difference for me was that the long runs got longer and I started doing a lot of back to back runs on the weekend. i.e. 30ish sat, followed by 20ish sun. How often to do that is a hotly debated thing, but for me, that is now a part of my life every weekend. Your lower mileage runs during the week are still just as important though. I've learned to focus on quality over quantity... not just piling on a bunch of junk miles to get more mileage each week. So don't think you have to go from running 40 to 80 per week right away to get it done. But definitely get your body used to what it feels like to run tired - hence the back to back long runs.