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Melting All the Way: The 2015 Christmas in July 24 Hour Race Report

11755143_10155737921380062_1242472985543843937_n It’s July 17, 2015, and here I am getting ready to run my first race of the year.

For 24 hours.

Go big or go home… that’s the most fitting cliche for the moment. I have a feeling that in a few hours I’m going to want to go home.

But I won’t. I’m here to move. For 24 hours. Whether I log 100 miles or 50, I won’t quit… unless a bone is sticking through my flesh. Please don’t let it come to that.

Think positively. 100 miles would be nice.

Last year, at this same race, I fought my way to 94 miles, something I felt really proud of. But the idea that I was only 10k shy of a century mark has been gnawing at my conscience for a whole year now. In my mind, 100 miles is definitely doable. In my body, hmm… not so much.

While I have been running regularly since my first 100 mile conquest, my training focus was on boxing all winter and spring. My “long runs” became 8-9 easy miles or a fast 10k with weights in my hands. The result was victory for my fight game, but when I started to stretch the legs out in May, my body had a hard time reckoning just how much work it takes to build up the endurance necessary for the extra far efforts. I got in few long runs with Edna on the weekends, then we went to China. My training stalled.

I have heard it from many before in relation to training, but this was the first time I experienced it in earnest: life got in the way.

So what!? Life rocks, man!

Indeed, it does. Life rocks. And if ultrarunning has taught me anything, it’s that the only limitations in life are the one’s we put on ourselves. This maxim is not an invitation to recklessness, but rather a mantra for transcendence based on hard work, dedication and basic intelligence. Having already gone the 100 mile and 24 hour distance, I knew that even with limited training my brain could take over through any rough patch.

Ultras are mostly mental. I reminded myself of this.

Training or not, I think I can get 100 miles. Let’s see what reality has in store!

Hours 1 – 7 (10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m.)

This feels weird. Even though I’ve done it before, starting a race at 10:00 p.m. still feels a bit strange, like putting on someone else’s shoes before running for 24 hours weird. Nope, these are definitely my shoes.

I look down and second guess my choice of year-old, 900+ mile Nike Vomeros. The tread is still intact despite a ratty affair of frayed rubber from the toes. I wore these in the second half of last year’s race after my beloved Hokas left me blistered. I love the Hokas, but my memory of maceration is hard to kill and on the roads for this long I’d rather just start with a sure thing.

Pre-destruction photo with our friend, Nate.

Pre-destruction photo with our friend, Nate.

The RDs announce something in a megaphone that I can’t quite understand, and to the tune of quiet lightning in the sky, we’re off!

Everyone starts fast, of course. It’s halfway decent out right now, with temperatures in the high 70s. The forecast for the daylight hours calls for intense heat and humidity, so all 67 of us starters go out with what I assume is the same mindset: bank miles now, while we can.

The course is a .97 mile loop, same as last year, only in the reverse direction. Right away I can feel that it’s a bit easier than last year’s, which had a little more uphill to its design. An easier course is not something I’m going to complain about, so I just put my head down and go into spin mode. Bank miles, bank miles…

Trying to maintain a 6-mile an hour pace, at the lone aid station I grab water and something to eat (whatever looks good at the time) every loop or every other loop. The soft lightning in the sky offers a little entertainment and I start to wonder if it will rain. The forecast said only a 20% chance, so I’m thinking it won’t.

While I’m thinking about it, the course gets crowded as the 12-hour runners join us. Among them is my buddy, Adam.

Adam and I go way back. We met each other during orientation week of our freshman year in college (1997? DAMN!). This is Adam’s first ultra.

Having shared some training runs with him and watched his build-up for his first marathon some time ago, it’s a joy to share some miles with him now. We are in a groove, both trying to get in as many decent miles as possible before the wheels come off late, and the time is flying by.

Also sharing miles with me in this first part are Nate and Todd, both of whom I’ve known for a few years now. Our constant chatter is a good deterrent for my already tired and tight leg muscles. Already? Damn.

Keep drinking water. Maybe it’ll get better.

I keep drinking water. It’s not getting better. But oh look, now it’s raining, and that’s… something different. Why not?

Ultras are the ultimate test in chaos management. Always expect something to go wrong. Heat, rain, gastrointestinal problems… plan for the worst, hope for the best. I’m trying to find joy in the sloppy, slick conditions. The rain is nice and cool.

For a couple of hours it comes down hard, then lets up some, then comes down hard again. I just smile. Ah hell, going to be out here a long time, I think to myself. Might as well try to enjoy it.

I am. I am enjoying it. Finding out more about myself through intense, focused exercise is the cornerstone to my understanding of self. But 6 hours in and already it’s quite apparent to me that today is not going to be a day for 100 miles. My hamstrings and calves keep tightening up. I stop and roll them out with a foam roller a couple of times and do my best to stretch here and there, but the only real thing that stops them from seizing up is going slow. Or walking. And the sun is coming…

Hours 7 – 17 (5:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.)

As the sun creeps up over Lisle Community Park, the rain has stopped, and we are treated to a picturesque suburban landscape of a happy little lake surrounded by lots of green. The strung up Christmas lights decorating the course give way to the inflatable snowmen, Santas and reindeer — just more reminders of the ridiculousness of our task. Run around a circle for a day! In July! With Christmas stuff everywhere!

I can’t help but laugh. This is ridiculous! Why are we doing this again?

My feet are squishy and soft from the rain, my stomach is growling from hunger and my legs are already shot… with just 17 MORE HOURS TO GO! WOOO HOOO!

“We forget the pain,” I say to someone. “We always forget the pain. When we sign up for these things the only thing we remember is the satisfaction of crossing that finish line — of putting our feet up at the end of the day knowing we did some epic shit. But we always conveniently forget about the pain.”

I won’t forget about what I’m feeling right now. This sucks. BUT I’M SMILING! Edna taught me that.

“Always smile,” she says. “You’ll feel better.”

She’s right.

And now, as the heat and daylight starts to settle into my pours, I feel the strong desire to be by her side. I run/walk my way until I catch up with her.

11745956_10153394756807778_8357008692557729728_n“Mi amor,” I say, “I want to be with you. Is that okay?”

She gives me that look that says: Is that okay? Of course, it’s okay. It’s awesome! Where have you been?!?!

Good, it’s settled then. We go forth together. Maybe she thought I meant for just a while, but no, I mean, for the rest of the race. If I’m going to continue suffering, I want to be next to someone I like.

Of course… you could just…. quit, y’know. Stop running. Stop doing this. No one would care.

I would care!

Sticking with Edna will help me fight back the urge to go home early too. We don’t quit. We came here to move for 24 hours. We’re moving our asses for 24 hours. The best we can.

We put our heads down and go to work. Together. Run for a bit. Walk for a bit. Run for a bit. Walk for a bit.

Repeat.

A lot.

At some point there is bacon. And pancakes. I lose my mind. I eat as much as I can fit in my mouth.

Heads down. Going to work. Together.

Run. Walk. Run. Walk.

I’m… falling…. a… sleeeeeeeeeeeeeppppp

Time for a Red Bull, what Edna calls “El Diablo”. *CHUG CHUG CHUG*

BAM! We have wiiiiiiiiiiings! ZIP! BOOM! BAAAAHHHH!

11751425_10155737921430062_6608830427827327007_n

Heads down. Going to work. Together.

Repeat. Run. Walk.

Shuffle? Yeah, it’s a shuffle now.

It’s hot. We’re baking. Ice. We stuff ice in our hats, shorts, faces. I want to peel my skin off and put ice in my veins.

The 6-hour runners finished a long time ago. The 12-hour runners finished at 11 a.m., Adam included. He did awesome, logging 44.77 miles! His wife and kids come to cheer him on to the finish and in doing so, give Edna and I a much needed break. See, even after 12 hours we’re still all smiles!

11048641_10153482407943069_7998481023091050546_o 11011743_10153482407923069_8596833271971798527_oOnce Adam and his family are gone — and all the other 12-hour runners — reality sets in: we have a long way to go. Also, the sun is brutal!

Edna and I move the best we can. Sweating. Slogging. Surviving.

I keep moving… one foot in front of the other… but my eyes… they are getting heavy… and… and…

“MI AMOR!” I hear.

The screams snaps me awake and I find myself a footstep away from walking into the lake. “Where am I?” I ask, momentarily confused, unsure of who or where I am and what I am doing. I look at my watch. It’s 2 p.m. I’m running for 24 hours.

“This is some crazy shit,” I say to Edna.

“Mi amor, tenemos que tomar una siesta.”

She’s right. Ordinarily I wouldn’t want to take a nap during an ultra. I would do my best to push through without sleeping. But during today’s contest I have had a ton of Red Bull and I still can’t keep my eyes open. The heat and humidity keeps slamming the door shut on my consciousness. I need a nap.

At 2:15 p.m. we sink into our camp chairs, feet up, hats over our eyes. I’m out before I can even — zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ.

Hours 17 -24 (3:00 p.m to 1o:00 p.m.)

I wake up to a violent gust of wind that knocks my hat off. “What the…”

The canopy tent under which we sit is trying its hardest to fly off into the distance. Luckily, it’s anchored well and we have a little cover from the choppy sprinkles of rain that follow the strong gusts. Is it going to rain again? I wonder.  That’s just what we need. As soon as my mind recovers enough to conjure up the worst case scenarios, the rain has stopped.

“I’m hungry,” says Edna as we cautiously find our way back to our feet.

“Me too. Let’s go to the aid station and see what they have.”

Before we can, Nate circles back around to us and asks, as if sent by the gods, “Are you guys hungry?”

How did he know? Was it our sunken cheeks? Our frail disposition? The fact that we’ve been running in circles all night?

Everything moves in slow motion, like a scene out of a Scorsese flick, when you know either something awesome or something awful is going to happen in the next few seconds. Nate walks over to his cooler, lifts the lid and reveals a home cooked Filipino meal of pork sausage, flavor-packed cured beef and sticky white rice. AWESOME!

I try not to shove it all into my mouth at the same time.

Is this an eating contest or a running contest? I’d be doing better if it were the former.

“This food is delicious,” I can’t stop saying. Edna loves it too. I have to check myself to make sure I’m not making hog noises as I (ironically) devour the pork sausage. It’s the perfect combination of salt and fat and flavor and… do we have to keep running or can we just stop and eat now?

Just a few bites before immobility, I manage to put the food away and get back to my feet. Edna follows suit and we head out to finish the rest of our pain-filled voyage.

Heads down. Going to work. Together.

We talk. A lot. We figure if we can get through events like this, we can get through life together. Right? It’s hard to not love someone who is there for you, blisters, chafing and all. Plus, we keep dipping our hands in the same jar of Vaseline (IMPORTANT MEDICAL ADVICE: don’t dip your hand in our jar of Vaseline).

The heat won’t go away. It digs deep into our bodies, slowing us, daring us to quit. But our goal is relentless forward progress and in this we will succeed. You’d be hard pressed to find two people more stubborn than Edna and I and there’s no stopping us today. Our minds are made up.

Someone, a spectator, randomly hands us two ice cream sundaes.

It really IS Christmas in July!!! WOW!! We SLUUUUUUUURP the ice cream so fast that our mutual embarrassment for one another cancels out.

Life is beautiful ain’t it? You go run in the sweltering heat for 24 hours and some random stranger gives you ice cream. What more do you want?

Heads down. Going to work. Together.

I have been reading “A Brief History of Mexico”, so now is a convenient time to discuss pre-Columbian Mexican history with someone close to the subject. Somehow our discussion meanders off towards Lady Guadalupe and all the iterations of the Virgin mother outside of Santa María.

Meanwhile, time ticks… and ticks… and ticks.

There is more ice. More shuffling. Every once in a while we try to “run” but we quickly find ourselves back in shuffle mode.

We don’t care. We’re all smiles.

What’s the alternative? Being pissy? Aggravated? We signed up for this shit, man!

And we are going to finish. The sun is finally going down now and the remaining field of runners is scarce; but we have survived. We’re going to go the whole 24, which is exactly what we came here to do.

Damn it feels good to reach a goal.

That’s why I do these things — these insane tests of endurance that call upon one’s mental and physical toughness to succeed. I love what they do to my mind, the conversations they start; and I love that I always leave them finding out something new about myself.

Today, as Edna and I approach the finish line of yet another extreme event — one that beat us down with intense rain, heat, humidity and and overall desire to bail — I realize that I am a better version of myself with her by my side. I know that I can trust her to help me get where I want to go, in races and in life. We are good for each other. We make a good team.

TEAM JEDNA…

WE CROSS THE LINE…

Me with 70.05 miles, Edna with 65.19 — among 19 of 67 who stuck out the whole 24 hours — both of us with surreal smiles and slightly sunburned noses.

11745498_10155737921495062_7399069685831672766_n 11760071_10153178485939125_5030164948545585419_n


“Chicago Athlete Conquers the Gobi Desert in China” by Alejandro Yanún

This article, by Alejandro Yanún, was originally published on June 12, 2015 in the Spanish language publication “Vívelo Hoy”.

Translation by Jeffery Lung

Atleta-Edna Jackeline VazquezEdna Jackeline Vazquez is used to adapting to circumstances and meeting new challenges. For this reason, when she was informed back in March that the ultramarathon of the Sahara Desert in Jordan was going to be canceled due to political problems, she quickly changed her chip to focus on a new goal: a 250 kilometer, 7 day race in the stunning Gobi Desert of northern China.

“The ISIS guerillas entered Jordan and the race organizers sent us an email informing us that the race would be canceled over concerns of terrorism, just a week before flying there. I had to totally retrain because in Jordan I would have been facing pure sand dunes while the Gobi Desert, in China, is the windiest desert with more rocky terrain, which would be faster but painful for the feet,” says Vazquez, who has been based in Chicago for several years.

The change worked to perfection because Vazquez, 34 years old with a degree in human resources and a masters in business, won her category for women aged 30 to 39, finishing fourth overall female in the competition and 26th among the entire field of 164 athletes.

To get an idea of the dimensions of the race, running 250 kilometers in the Gobi would be equivalent to running from Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico (Vazquez’s hometown) to McAllen, Texas, after crossing the border into the United States.

It should also be added, that among the difficulties presented by the actual competition itself, there is also the immediate change to the ‘biological clock’ for the athletes with a 14 hour time difference from China, as well as confronting an inflexible natural climate.

During the competition Vazquez also had to face extreme conditions, from temperatures as low as 5 degrees Celsius and snow storms that began the race up to temperatures of 47 Celsius (120 Farenheit). “The hardest moment was crossing the canyons,” she remembers. “You already get there tired and anything you touch on the ground causes you to lose your balance; in this moment the only thing you want is to leave that place.”

20150601_190329

Edna Vazquez among many male competitors of the race.

There, in those subhuman conditions, is when the blood of a champion surges. For Vazquez, this quality is the result of a constant daily practice. “All of us desire to come here to America for the American dream,” says Vazquez, who believes that society forgets their ultimate goals while being entertained by momentary gratification. “The main thing is to let go of the economic issues and things that give instant pleasure in favor of developing other skills. The final goal is to have passion and be persistent. The thing that has helped me most is being dedicated, working hard and being persistent.

Vazquez’s consecration in China was not coincidental, but rather the result of a great team. The Monterrey native had a base strength program developed by Jeff Lung of Iron Lung Fitness, with a desert ultramarathon training plan developed by Nahila Hernandez. It also included a swimming program for muscular recovery, a yoga practice taught by the instructors at Tejas Yoga which also helped complement her concentration with muscle and mental relaxation, and the medical advice of Dr. Victor Garza Hernandez.

A stop along the way to share experiences with athletes from 40 nations.

A stop along the way to share experiences with athletes from 40 nations.

Elite Group

The China competition is part of the Racing the Planet series, a circuit of elite ultramarathons for a limited group of athletes who could very well be considered some of the best prepared in the world. “We are an elite group and we can say that we are involved in one of the Top 10 most demanding competitions in the world,” explains Vazquez.

For the Gobi race, Vazquez flew to Beijing, the capital of China, then went on to Urumuqi and finally arrived at the small town of Hami, in northwest China, close to Mongolia, where Genghis Khan ran with his wild hordes 800 years ago.

In these arid and indomitable lands Vazquez arrived at the end of May to compete with ultramarathoners from 40 countries and all continents.

Vazquez ran with a backpack full of food that weighed 11 kilograms at the start but dwindled down to just 5 kilos at the end. In her backpack the Monterrey native carried dehydrated foods like precooked and compact lasagna and chicken with rice and noodles, to cover the necessary 1900 daily calories.

After completing ultramarathons of 100k in Spain, Belgium and Taiwan, as well as 250k in the Atacama Desert of Chile, considered the driest place on the planet, Vazquez focuses her attention on the next goal, the ultras of Namibia (Africa) in May of next year and Antarctica in November of 2016.

And facing new goals is her specialty. “When you think you have arrived at one goal, another is going to come, and later another. The the extent that you discover your abilities, you are going to discover more,” says Vazquez.

“I believe that we all have the capacity to develop our abilities and sport is one element that helps us face life and believe in ourselves,” she argues safely. “The important thing is to have passion for what you do and focus on your dreams.”

Edna competed with both the USA and Mexican flags on her uniform.

Edna competed with both the USA and Mexican flags on her uniform.

Edna Jackeline Vázquez

Mexican Ultramarathoner Living in Chicago

Website: www.ednajackeline.com

International Circuit: www.racingtheplanet.com and www.4deserts.com

 

 


An All New Adventure: Volunteering at Racing the Planet’s 250k Gobi March

Mars-Scape-a-competitor-racing-in-the-Gobi-Desert-1-583x388

Boxing, running hundos, back-to-back marathons

And now for something completely different, yet equally exhilarating:

I’m going to western China to serve as race volunteer for Racing the Planet’s 250k Gobi March stage race across the desert.

While my exact duties won’t be totally clear until I arrive in the middle of nowhere, approximately 10 days from now, I do know that I will be participating in one of the world’s premier ultrarunning events and that I’m in for one hell of an adventure. Luckily, I won’t be alone.

Gobi_OmnogoviLandscapeMy fiancée, Edna — (aka “La Diosa de la Ultramaratón”) (English version) — is competing in the event; and after hearing her vivid description of her successful Atacama Crossing in 2013, lending my services to a race that features human heroics from around the globe was an easy sell. This time I get a front row seat!

Over much of the last year I have been busy helping Edna train, and while we were both disappointed that the Sahara Crossing was cancelled due to civil unrest, the 2015 Gobi March offers an opportunity for us to experience this event together, even if on different sides. As most readers of mine know, I enjoy volunteering and giving back to the running community as pacer/crew/cheerleader just as much as I do competing. The stories I bring back are always as motivating as they are thrilling.

I can’t wait to share more with you!

 

When I get back, there will be a 24-Hour race to run… the Ringside World Championships to fight… and a 100 mile run… or two?

But first… 我们 到中国 去 啊!

***
Are YOU ready to train like a champion? Do you want lose weight? Get stronger? Do you want to build that dream body, improve your race times or qualify for Boston? Go to Iron Lung Fitness and start training with me today!

 

 

 

 


Road Work: Long Distance Running as Ultimate Primer for Boxing

jeffery the iron lung boxingThose who choose to participate are subject to pain — acute and otherwise — a pain that must be faced, must be endured. They must stand up against bouts of adversity, must learn to think on the fly.

They must always stay in the moment.

They must face their greatest fears.

With all of the above, I could be talking about the long distance runner.

Or I could be talking about the boxer.

I’m talking about both.

For the last four years, boxing has been an integral tool in my long distance training kit. An all-body workout that requires combined leg and core strength paired with hand-eye coordination and mental toughness, the aerobic and anaerobic training potential boxing provides is as varied as its practitioner is creative.

And you don’t even have to take punches.

jeff lung boxing training 3In fact, most people who train in the sweet science don’t take punches. They train to be in shape, to burn calories, to de-stress. I love running long, no doubt, but I admit, there is no stress reliever quite like punching something. Walk into any boxing gym and you will find people of all sizes — all backgrounds and states of fitness — doing just that: enjoying their stress relieving workout.

For the long distance runner, boxing is a low impact cross trainer that takes advantage of strong, seasoned legs. With proper technique, it also builds upper body strength with a conscious core and allows for increased blood flow during those “off” days where one would need to rest from pounding pavement.

For many boxers, the hardest part of training is conditioning. Sustaining an elevated heart rate with sudden bursts of explosive movement can prove difficult, even for seasoned vets. Long distance runners tend to have a lock on this aspect of training, and therefore set themselves up for success.

At some point the long distance runner who boxes may decide he or she is ready to spar. It’s not for everyone, I admit. I remember the first time I was hit in the face. I didn’t like it very much. But I didn’t like the fire in my legs at mile 21 of my first marathon either, yet I keep coming back.

And so here I am, 36 years old, a seasoned distance runner with two Boston finishes, a 100-mile buckle and a 3:03 marathon PR, signed up and ready to fight in the Chicago Golden Gloves boxing tournament. It begins March 4.

I knew sometime last year, during my training for Pinhoti, that the next big challenge would be to test my might against other boxers. I had been enjoying my sparring sessions over the last couple years, seeing them both as mental chess matches and larger tests of anaerobic endurance. But around mile 80 of my 100-mile trek through the Talladega Forest — my master class on pain management — it became clear to me, that if I could withstand 100 miles of affliction, something that would take me 28+ hours to complete, then I could certainly handle 6 minutes in the squared circle.

So I will.

Indeed, I, Jeff “The Iron” Lung, will get in the ring and let my hands go.

Jeff Lung heavy bag

Training

My training for this event began in earnest on January 1st. I have to make weight (fighting at a maximum of 139 lbs), so I decided to cut out all alcohol and as much sugar as possible from my diet. I keep a close track of my food intake. I make an effort to eat as healthy as possible, staying within 1-2 pounds of fighting weight while all the time living my mantra: the better you eat, the better you feel, the better you train.

Running (what boxers call “road work”) is the crux of my conditioning. I run about 30-35 miles a week. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays I generally run 3-5 miles as a warm up to my concentrated boxing training. I hold 2 lbs weights in my hands as long as I can during these runs, usually for 20-30 minutes.

On Tuesday and Thursday mornings I run 6-7 miles, whatever I can accomplish in an hour, but I mix in three or four intervals of 5-8 minutes of speedwork. On Saturdays I run longer, about an hour and 15 minutes or 8 miles, whatever comes first. I avoid the traditional long runs of distance training. I need to maintain my endurance, but I can’t afford to waste energy on additional miles when I will need that energy in the ring. Just as it can be for the long distance runner, overtraining is a real threat to peak performance.

Jeff and Edna post trainingIn addition to the running, I do boxing-focused strength training on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays as well as technical boxing drills. I choose to work on different aspects of my game on different days. Like in any athletic discipline, variety in training is key.

On Tuesday and Thursday nights I spar.

On Sundays I rest. Completely.

I practice yoga. I get regular massage. I sleep a lot. I even take naps if I feel like it.

And I watch lots and lots and lots of fights, in person, on TV, on YouTube — wherever I can.

But like in my long distance training, perhaps the most integral portion of preparation occurs in my mind, usually just before I fall asleep. I envision myriad “if/than” scenarios in my head, calculating countermeasures for catastrophes and methodologies for exploiting weaknesses. Most of all, I try to embrace the nerves that I know are bound to come.

Even in the comfort of my own bed, I can close my eyes, hear the crowd, and feel the nausea that threatens to throw my concentration. It’s the same sick feeling I had before my first marathon, before my first ultra. It’s that same uneasiness I felt toeing the line for each PR attempt at 13.1 and 26.2 miles.

Pre-race jitters. Stage freight. Terrified of getting hit the face.

It all goes away once I’m in the moment.

And after all, that continues to be the thing that keeps bringing me back: living in the moment.

Whether it’s running for hours, working through a yoga practice or squaring off with someone trying to punch me in the face, the thing that keeps me coming back is the very real experience of the now. Nothing makes me feel more alive than being present.

And you can bet I will be present on March 4.

Hands up. Chin down. Mind focused.

***
Do you want lose weight and get stronger? Do you want to build that dream body, improve your race times or qualify for Boston? Go to Iron Lung Fitness and start training with me today!

 

 

 

 


“The Goddess of the Ultramarathon” by Alejandro Yanún

This article, by Alejandro Yanún, was originally published on February 9, 2015 in the Spanish language publication “Vívelo Hoy”.

Since it features my lovely fiancé, I wanted to make it accessible to the English reading ultrarunning community. Way to go, mi amor lindo! I am so proud of you!

Translation by Jeffery Lung

Edna Jackeline Vazquez 3

Edna Jackeline Vazquez‘s energy is so big and contagious that nobody was surprised when she announced her next challenge: in March she will attempt to run the ultramarathon of the Sahara Desert, a grueling seven-day competition across 250 kilometers.

Here it should be clarified. Those who think a marathon requires supreme effort may not know the special requirements of the ultramarathon. While the marathon is a race of “only” 26.2 miles (42 kilometers), an ultramarathon may be a competition of several days, usually falling within 50 to 250 kilometers. In other words, there can be multiple marathons in one single competition.

Vazquez, a Mexican ultramarathoner based in Romeoville, IL, is part of the highest global level of ultramarathons and competes in a circuit of races organized by Racing the Planet, where participants include, among others, some of the sports biggest icons like Dean Karnazes.

“I’ve been running for 17 years and half of my life has been lived as a runner,” says Vazquez, a 33 year-old from Monterrey, NL, Mexico, who besides being an athlete, also holds a degree in Human Resources with a post-grad MBA, and presently works in an American company that produces candies.

Edna Jackeline Vazquez 2Vazquez already conquered the Atacama Desert in Chile, the most arid place on the planet where total annual rainfall comes in at 15 millimeters, and over the next two years she intends to complete the feat of running all four of the world’s major deserts: in March she will run the Sahara, in June the Gobi Desert in China and in 2016, she expects to compete in Antarctica no less.

Throughout her career, Edna has overcome all sorts of obstacles. At Atacama, where she finished third in her category (women over 30 years of age), she ran 250 kilometers in seven days, living through extreme situations, like overcoming the elements while also suffering through that time of the month women must endure, five days into the competition, just as her energy began to disappear.

“I had to sit down, I could not get up. The pain and fatigue were so great… with blisters and all I could do was ask God, ‘give me strength’,” recalls Edna. “You take strength from anywhere, you realize the focus is mental. It’s more than physical. It’s mental.”

The Sahara competition will take place this year in Petra, a historical and archaeological city in Jordan, near Israel. The conditions will be extreme and Edna knows it: “They put in you in the desert and there begins the journey. You can’t forget anything. You don’t bathe for seven days, you bring all of your own food and supplies, weighing about 30 kilos,” says Edna. “There are cold nights and hot days. I’m afraid, but that doesn’t stop me.”

The training for competition is exhausting. There are days when the Monterrey native runs a marathon, or a half marathon. Her training sessions regularly take her to the Palos Hills trails near Bull Frog Lake, and she trains with Iron Lung Fitness in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago.

Others days she trains on the Indiana dunes to acclimate herself to the sands of the Sahara. All of this comes alongside a system of methodical and precise nutrition habits, with swimming and yoga sessions included to keep the body together during the rigors of high competition.

Edna, who has a job just like anyone else, pays for her exotic, international athletic adventures all by herself, but says the economic factor is not a barrier.

“I work a lot. I save a lot. For me, money is not a limitation. When you have a clear dream in life, you go for it,” says Vazquez, who was once married but says now she is in love, more every day, with the ultramarathon. “I’m from an average, working class family. All my studies (University of Monterrey, Mexico; University of Sevilla, Spain) were done on scholarships.”

Edna says she runs for two nations. “I am very proud to represent the Hispanic community, I run for both Mexico and the United States,” says the Mexican athlete, who believes it’s time to take down the stereotypes and stop with the ‘Latinos only come here to take jobs in America’. On the contrary, for Edna, “We are here to transcend.”

To end, she has a message: “The important thing is to be yourself. It’s important to show society that there are people who follow their dreams and aspirations,” says the ultramarathoner from Monterrey. “I know that someday someone will say, ‘If Edna can, so can I.”

Edna Jackeline Vazquez 1

Who Is Edna Jackeline Vazquez?

Born: Monterrey, Nuevo León, México

Resides: Romeoville, Illinois

Age: 33 years old

Notable Achievements: Atacama (Chile) 250 km, Torhout (Belgium) 100 km, Taipei (Taiwan) 100 Km, Pedestres Villa Madrid (Spain) 100 km, Mérida (Spain) 100 km, Madrid-Segovia (Spain) 101 km, among many other ultradistance finishes in Mexico and the United States

Upcoming Competitions: The Sahara Desert (Jordan) and the Gobi Desert (China) in 2015; Antarctica in 2016. (All three 250 km in length)


Rolling with the Punches and Conquering Dreams in 2015

Edna and I at the gym, "training selfie".

Edna and I at the gym, “training selfie”.

For someone who likes to plan things well in advance, 2015 is teaching me to live a bit more wildly. Generally, I like to begin the new year with a detailed race plan reflecting big picture goals and the individual steps I will take to achieve them.

Of course, real life ain’t always so uniform.

Edna, my partner, has taught me that. Running has taught me that. You can plan and plan and plan, but when you hit the 85-mile mark of a 100 mile race, you’re likely going to feel like shit. And when you do ache, when you are sleep deprived, when things really do just fall apart, you can either get upset and gripe about it, or soldier on with a smile, doing the best you can.

edna jackeline vazquez atacama crossing

Edna, soldiering on with a smile, doing the best she can during the 250k Atacama Desert crossing, 2013.

So this year, while there are some solid plans in place, the two of us are both ready to adapt as necessary.

First up, Edna is preparing to complete her second of four desert crossings from the Racing the Planet 4 Desert series when she heads to Jordan, making the 250k trek across the Sahara Desert in March. In 2013, she successfully completed the Atacama crossing in Chile. Once she completes the Sahara, she’ll have the Gobi Desert (June) and Antarctica (2016) to complete the series, a feat she dreams to conquer.

She will. She trains hard. She works hard. Her resolve is as tested as it is indomitable.

While Edna runs across the Sahara, I will be bobbing and weaving, heaving 1-2s, as I compete in the 2015 Chicago Golden Gloves boxing tournament. While en route to completing my first hundred mile race, I knew that my next big test of my body and mind would be to compete at a higher level of boxing. This year’s tournament, March 4 through April 11, allows me to train hard during the winter months, doing something I love, indoors.

Thus far, the change has been very good for my body. I feel fresh. Fast. Powerful. I’m running still, but not much over 30 miles a week, and the intensity varies. In the coming days, I will go into more detail about how I train as a pugilist. As you might guess, having a big endurance engine and the ability to run, to deal with adversity, to suck up the pain, is extremely valuable.

I plan to capitalize on it.

Jeff Lung heavy bag

Then, once the fight game is over, I plan to go back to ultra training. The only race I’m signed up for right now is a return trip to the Christmas in July 24 Hour Race. Having come just 10k shy of the century mark in 2014, this year my goal is to run a 100 miles… PLUS! With the eye of the tiger, I will get it done.

Besides that, in order to keep my Western States lottery hopes alive, I need to complete another qualifying 100 mile race before the end of November. That’s something I will get done as well, even if I don’t have a plan at this moment.

Of course, the real fun in this year will be seeing where it takes me — where it takes us. We’re in it to win it now, striving to be the best we can be, for ourselves and for each other. Living in the moment and trusting in our training, we will no doubt find joy along the way.

***
Do you want lose weight and get stronger? Do you want to build that dream body, improve your race times or qualify for Boston? Go to Iron Lung Fitness and start training with me today!


Namaste: 7 Yoga Classes in 7 Days

(Image courtesy of UUCSV)

(Image courtesy of UUCSV)

In the wake of running 100 miles on my own two feet, chilling out has been a high priority. Post-race, I took a full 10 days off from running, mixed with some light cross training and gentle walking.

I also made sure to get on the mat.

It was during the shavasana (or relaxation/meditation) portion of a recent yoga class that I began to wonder what it would feel like to do a yoga class every day, for a week. Surely, lots of yogis do this, I thought to myself. Why not give it a try?

So I did.

Before I report my experience, I should first explain my own personal relationship with yoga. I came to the mat a couple of years ago, as a grumpy, injured runner looking for healing, both for body and mind. Having recently explored the power of meditation, the in-the-moment connection to the breath was something I could easily relate to, and it wasn’t long before I found myself in a yoga class once a week. The more I practiced, the better I felt.

Part of that betterment was encouraged by the environment in which I was practicing. I was lucky enough to find Tejas (pronounced teh-jus) Yoga, in the South Loop. From the very beginning, the owners, Jim and James, were so warm and inviting, that one would have a hard time not wanting to practice there, if for nothing else than to hang out, drink tea and have good conversation.

Considering that foundation, it’s no surprise that the teachers there also carry the same spirited warmth. Contrary to my pre-yoga reservations, I never once felt intimidated or overwhelmed at Tejas. In fact, it seems to me the teachers there go out of their way to make sure each student is comfortable, that modifications are always accessible, and that each person is set up to succeed, whatever his or her goals may be.

For me, this is essential. As an ultrarunner, as a boxer, as a person who makes his living teaching and practicing exercise, I come to the mat for mostly gentle, regenerative movements. I come to wind down, to heal, to focus on the breath, one inhalation and exhalation at a time. For me, yoga is not about wrapping my leg around my head. It’s about connecting breath to movement and staying present, the same cornerstones of running 100 miles or answering the bell.

But a class a day for seven days?

No sweat.*

*Correction: there was, at least, a little sweat.

– – –

Monday, December 1, 2014
Pranayama Class with Jim Bennitt
3:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Pranayama is described as the “extension of the prāna or breath” or “extension of the life force”. Simply put, this class focuses on different breathing techniques alongside a gentle physical practice. On this day, we held a bandha (physical lock) that seemed to get deep within my hamstrings, while also exploring meditative visualizations connected to the breath. Jim asked us to project any thoughts on a screen within our minds. I was quite amused at the random relfections conjured up from deep within my consciousness. Inexplicably, Roger Rabbit made several appearances.

Overall, I left this class feeling super energized and awake, acutely aware of my hamstrings.

– – –

Tuesday, December 2, 2014
Open Class with Adam Grossi
7 a.m. – 8 a.m.

Like I tell my clients all the time, I have never heard someone say, “Man, I really regret getting up and doing that workout.” The same seems to be true for the yoga practice. While getting out of my cozy, warm bed at 6 a.m. didn’t sound very appealing, starting my day off with the immediate boost of a yoga class was well worth it. While the open class offers more challenges than the classes I typically attend, Adam provided me with options and modifications to suit my own yogic level. It felt good to sweat and to use more strength and balance than I’m used to. But most of all, it was a real treat to watch the sunlight slowly crescendo through the eastern facing windows with the progression of our class. I left feeling like a rockstar — a very grounded, introspetive rockstar.

– – –

Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Gentle Class with Monica Stevens
9 a.m. – 10 a.m.

Another great way to start the day, this gentle class is the type of class I typically attend at Tejas. The slower pace and focus on restorative poses is essential to my own yogic identity, offering the type of healing I need after running as much as I do. Monica’s clear instruction and warm sense of humor always puts me at ease, and she seemed to read my mind by getting us into a deep pigeon pose — indispensable medicine for my chronically tight hips and IT bands.

– – –

Thursday, December 4, 2014
Gentle Class with Marcelyn Cole
12 p.m. – 1 p.m.

Gentle classes on consecutive days? Thank you, sir! May I have another?

During my two years of practice, I have taken Marcelyn’s gentle class more than any other. Her calming voice and quirky sense of humor have been staples of my own yogic development, helping me heal, relax and grow to the best of my ability. This class was no exception as we explored familiar twists and deep connections to the breath. Despite my familiarness with this class, for the first time all week I did have a little trouble staying focussed and using my ujjayi breath. My mind was wandering more than usual, something I liken to bonking in the marathoning world. Luckily, I got it under control by the time we entered shavasana, my favorite pose.

– – –

Friday, December 5, 2014
Open Class with Zach Zube
12 p.m. -1 p.m.

Though small in size, this open class was a great mix of gentle and more advanced asana, with plenty of options for every practioner. There was a theme of groundedness, of forcing movement downward, as explained by our teacher, Zach. This meant plenty of forward folding and sequencing that promoted a sound connection with the earth beneath us. It was a pleasure to be back in a class taught by Zach. I took his Introduction to Yoga series a couple of years ago when I first started. His clear and thoughtful sequencing always puts me at ease, allowing breath and movement to flow naturally.

– – –

Saturday, December 6, 2014
Open Class with Adam Grossi
8 a.m. – 9:30 a.m.

My second open class with Adam this week, and again there were no regrets for getting out of bed early to attend. Unlike the Tuesday class, this one was packed! There were probably close to 20 people in attendance, and as such there existed a powerful vibe in the room. So many dedicated practitioners provided me with extra focus and a desire to be a part of the group mind, even as we were lead through more complex movements. I sweat more in this class than any other and I left feeling accomplished, strong, and ready to take on the day!

– – –

Sunday, December 7, 2014
Gentle Class with James Tennant
4 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.

I started this week of yoga by knowing exactly how I would finish. James was the very first person I met at Tejas and I remember how nervous and self-conscious I was entering those doors, only to have such feelings disappear after a mere two-minute conversation with him. His tangible, supportive spirit put me at ease and in a position to succeed with yoga. I never looked back. Since then, James’ teachings have been a regular and welcome exploration into my own higher being. Finishing the week with his gentle class was just an extension of that. The sequences flowed, my ujjayi breath connected me to the present, and time moved so quickly that I couldn’t believe 90 minutes had already passed.

When I got home that night, I was so relaxed and serene that I had no desire to watch a marquee NFL match-up on television — a rarity in its own right. I was ready for bed. Ready for peace.

– – –

While seven classes in seven days may be a lot more yoga than I am used to, one thing I did gain from this experience is the realization that despite not always being in a class setting, the yoga practice is deep within me, at all times. Over the last two years, I can’t remember a day where I didn’t do a forward fold of some kind. I can’t recall a day without invoking the ujjayi breath. There hasn’t been a day where I didn’t connect movement to breath, whether running, boxing or just working out.

It’s more than just attending a class.

It’s breathing.

It’s being present, connected to my body and its place among the stars.

It’s LIVING.


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