Liza Howard

Liza Howard

Liza Howard is a national champion runner with multiple records in distances ranging from marathons to 100 mile trail races.

January 2016
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Bandera 2016 and the Siren Call of the DNF

LizaLiza

I started to think about dropping from the 100k at Bandera around mile 22.  I attach a lot of baggage to running ultras, so it’s important for me to finish a races unless I’m injured.  Of course, there are a slew of great reasons for people to drop from races.  I didn’t think that a few years ago.  But I do now.  Wholeheartedly.  Please keep that in mind while you read this post.  I’m writing about why I run ultras.  Maybe it’s why you run ultras, and maybe it’s not.   Surely our own motivations are the right ones for us.

Anyhoo, at mile 22ish I started to feel like Odysseus (in capris and an RWB t-shirt) lured by Sirens to DNF.

IMG_3520

Siren 1: What have you got to prove?  You’ve run this race six times before. Finishing one more time is unimportant.

Siren 2:  No one will care — not your family and not your friends.  It doesn’t matter.  Nobody’s here supporting you anyway.  Just say your back was giving you trouble.  Your knee hurts.

Siren 3:  You’re not having any fun.  Running is supposed to be fun and to make you happy.  It’s supposed to relieve stress.  You have enough stress in your life.

But here’s the deal, I do have something to prove by finishing these races.  I’m proving to myself that I’m someone who can be depended on to do what they say they’re going to do.  I fail a lot these days.  And I definitely come up short as a spouse, parent, friend, daughter, coach, and trail camp planner.  So gutting out these races is a way to reassure myself, that whatever my shortcomings, when push comes to shove, I can be counted on.

And as far as no one else caring whether I finish running 62 miles through Hill Country State Natural Area or anywhere else, that is probably very true.  But I’m running to challenge myself, not for approval or praise.  (Though those are really wonderful and powerful things, and bring me a great deal of happiness.)  Also, I think my coaching council would sound hollow if I’d dropped yesterday.  “Things will get hard during your ultra, and you’ll want to drop, but do x,y,z and you’ll make it through.”  “Just be patient, and things will get better.”  “Don’t make any decisions until you eat something — and then keep going.”

Really, “having fun” was the most compelling siren call.  And I never thought I’d have to address that one.  Of course running 62 or 100 miles isn’t fun!  When I first read a race report about a runner dropping because they weren’t having fun, all I could think was “Running ultras isn’t about having fun.  How lame.”  But yesterday, that idea really brought me to my knees (along with a large rock.)  Ultras are supposed to be hard, but there should be some joy, right?  I mean, there are other, more time-efficient ways to suffer if that’s what you’re looking for.  And there are other ways to work hard — that are more useful to other people.  I didn’t have an answer to “You’re not having any fun.” at mile 27.  Four more miles and I’d be able to sit and hang out with friends at the lodge and have some well-deserved fun.

The thought that finally penetrated this self-pitying fog, was of a friend who broke his back in a training accident in October.  He’d have traded places with me in a heartbeat to run over the rocks under the bluebird skies.  The least I could do was stop thinking and run — simply because I could.  Fun Siren and the others finally fell silent.  Compassion is good like that.

And, wouldn’t you know it, 32 miles into the race, I started to feel really good.  I ran well.  And I had fun.  I ran the first 50k in 4:50 and the second in 5:10.  I didn’t catch any of the lead ladies or run my best time, but I feel better about myself than I did before I finished this race.

bandera2016

And now it’s time for donuts and Sunday with the family.  I have used up all Ruby’s patience for self-reflection.  Asa’s too. Probably Eliot’s.  I’ll have to pick apart my training, nutrition and gear tomorrow.

Thank you to the wonderful and kind volunteers at Bandera.  Thank you to my mother in-law for watching the kids all day.

And thank you again to Tailwind for the solid stomach, Drymax for the socks and my blister-free feet, UltrAspire for my tiny racing pack, and New Balance for the Vazee Trails, which are very orange and work so well on the Bandera rocks.

Comments 19
  • Andrew G
    Posted on

    Andrew G Andrew G

    Reply Author

    Great job Liza! 10 hours is a great time! Glad you toughed it out and enjoyed it. Plus now you have a lucky 7 amount of finishes, that’s cooler than a bland 6. 😉


  • Jeff
    Posted on

    Jeff Jeff

    Reply Author

    Great finish! One of the races I still find inspiring is Dakota Jones’ finish at the TNF50 in 2013. He had the flu, and rather than drop (or not start at all), he gutted it out for a 9:40 finish. It was undoubtedly a miserable run and, for a runner of his stature, a fairly humiliating time. But he felt strongly that he should complete what he started. I respect that.


    • Liza
      Posted on

      Liza Liza

      Reply Author

      Me too.


  • Steve
    Posted on

    Steve Steve

    Reply Author

    Way to practice what you preach. That’s genuine integrity. Grateful to have shared the trail with you out there.


    • Liza
      Posted on

      Liza Liza

      Reply Author

      Thanks, Steve. How was your run?


  • mtnrunner2
    Posted on

    mtnrunner2 mtnrunner2

    Reply Author

    Glad you finished, I saw some tweets from the race, didn’t see your name and wondered…

    When I run for 10 hours, I end up with about 25 miles and sore legs. Heh.

    I like that painting, but frankly the crew should have been more worried about rowing past a bunch of rocks near the shore, instead of gawking at Sirens. Focus, guys.


    • Liza
      Posted on

      Liza Liza

      Reply Author

      And sunscreen. Are they wearing sunscreen? And why does Odysseus get a drape?


  • Todd
    Posted on

    Todd Todd

    Reply Author

    Thanks for sharing such an honest account. We were blessed with great weather. That was my first ‘race’ over 50K….and you’re right, there is more learning about yourself than fun, a lot of the time.


    • Liza
      Posted on

      Liza Liza

      Reply Author

      Congratulations, Todd! Hope you’re less sore than I am today. 🙂


  • David
    Posted on

    David David

    Reply Author

    Liza,

    Excellent insight. Running or even working out is my chance to set a goal, challenge myself and overcome. So much of day to day life is a battle – often ending in a loss or a draw. Running is my chance for a win every day.

    Best Regards,

    David


    • Liza
      Posted on

      Liza Liza

      Reply Author

      Thanks, David. Agreed. 🙂


  • Julien
    Posted on

    Julien Julien

    Reply Author

    Congratulations! True inspiration, thanks for sharing!


  • Kay Perry
    Posted on

    Kay Perry Kay Perry

    Reply Author

    Liza, you passed me and several other ladies on the second loop on that steep descent down Lucky Peak, and while we were all making our way slowly and carefully down the hill, slipping and sliding, you bounded past us like a gazelle, so graceful and so fast! We were all in awe and it was fun to watch. Wish I had the courage to even try to be a fast runner like you ( I could never actually be that fast, but I should give it a little more effort instead of worrying about tripping over every rock!). And I understand what you mean about feeling the importance of finishing something when it feels like one isn’t doing their best in other aspects of one’s life. Most days I feel like if I can make it to that finish line, whether the finish line is just completing my daily run or an actual race, at least that was something I did right that day.


    • Liza
      Posted on

      Liza Liza

      Reply Author

      Kay, I totally felt like a out of control bowling ball when I passed you all. I’m so glad I didn’t knock into anybody. 🙂 I read once that the aim is to run down hill like water would flow. I’ve never managed that — and always feel more like a washing machine that someone’s pushed down the hill. So thank you for the kind words. 🙂 I hope we get to run together soon.


  • Pommers
    Posted on

    Pommers Pommers

    Reply Author

    Brilliant photo Liza. Top finish! Nice write up. You’re dead right about the fun bit as well – but I obviously have ultra-rose-tinted spectacles when it comes to looking back on a race a thinking about the bits I enjoyed; sure when I’m in it, it doesn’t seem like fun at all, but as you said abut your friend, if you couldn’t do it, you’d miss it, and that must the point about the effort we put into these things – we do it while we can, because they’ll surely be a long enough time when we can’t do it. (Oh, and I’m going to copyright the ‘ultra-rose tint’ before Pantone get their hands on it) 🙂


    • Liza
      Posted on

      Liza Liza

      Reply Author

      Ultra-rose-tinted. That’s good. 🙂 But, also, we’re going to be those 90 year-old ultrarunners, so we’ve still got time.


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