Friday, December 15, 2017

How to Stop Digging a Hole

I've been in a funk since October. This isn't the first time I've felt like this but it is certainly the deepest and longest that I have ever felt so out of sorts. I have written nothing for months. Each morning I wake feeling existentially exhausted. Objectively I look at my life and think, "You've got it pretty darn good. Why are you so down?" But the objective facts and subjective feels just are not meshing for me right now. There are days I just want to quit everything. Give up. Start over...Crawl under a rock. Yet, I push on. But each day I feel that I am digging myself into an ever deeper hole, and the deeper I go the darker it gets. I feel that I've lost myself somewhere along the way, and I need to find my way back...

“The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly; any other loss - an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. - is sure to be noticed." ~ Søren Kierkegaard  
One of the things I tell my athletes is that stress is stress. The body and mind can't differentiate between running/training stress and emotional/psychical stress. It is tempting to say that I am overtraining - the signs are there - poor sleep, depression, brain fog, poor recovery, crappy runs, etc. But training is not the issue. I've actually taken a nice bit of downtime from training since running Cuyamaca 100k in early October. My training has been lighter these past couple months than it has been for well over a year - and yet I am feeling flat and heavy. I was hoping that this down time would leave me raring to go, but, alas. Life is not just about running. If only it were so simple.

So here's the thing: It is hard to take care of yourself when you take care of so many others. It is hard to set boundaries and be there at the same time. Those who are in "helping" professions are often forced to hide their own challenges. 

This became ever so clear to me this week when I posted a couple things on Facebook concerning strangers lashing out at me in anger. Many responded in the following way: 
This time of year can be hard for some people...We should try to understand...Be kind. We all have battles...etc. 
And all I wanted to say was: Yeah. We do all have battles. I'm having a hard time too. Why am I always asked to understand. The loneliness of this world can consume you - I am forever told to be gracious. Help others. Be there 24/7. Go the extra mile. Give people the benefit of the doubt...Understand, understand,'s all so mindful, and peaceful, and enlightened. And, it can be utter bullshit! 

But bullshit can make great compost - so, I am taking it - and I am going to use it. I can throw it in this hole and make some sweet garden soil...But it must cook first.

So, here I am.  A flawed individual, who needs more than just giving, giving, giving. My running is not what's caused my overtraining symptoms - and I am clearly suffering from overtraining - Rather, it's my inability to set boundaries - to know how to turn off the world which just wants more and more and more from me - that's at issue. It's my inability to ask for help and support when I need it. And, I have things going on in my life that few know about. It's stress I must stuff away, quietly. I lie in bed, and ruminate and worry, over and over and over - How am I going to fix this? It's all on me like the dark, heavy dirt falling on my head as I dig my hole ever deeper. 

This time of year is the hardest for those of us feeling this way because it is supposed to be a happy time. We are supposed to be happy, just like everyone else. But what if we aren't happy? Being told that I should understand how others feel when I am feeling like the life has been sucked out of life only heightens alienation and loneliness. Maybe they should try to understand me. maybe we all should try to understand each other, without assumptions about who does and does not deserve that understanding. 

So. What's the point of all this? Well, everyone says: If you need help, ask. But I'm not sure that's really sincere. Again, those in "helping professions" are often forced to stuff these things - but we feel this way too, though it is bad form (and possibly bad business) to say so. Very well. It may be, but we all have this one life. I have hit a breaking point and I am saying enough is enough. This is unsustainable.  
“The most common form of despair is not being who you are.”~ Søren Kierkegaard 
Yesterday I had lunch with my friend Carolina - I mentioned my funk and she asked: "How do deal with those?" For the first time I did not really have an answer. "I'm not really sure." I responded. "It usually just works itself out." But as I said this, I realized that this one is more serious. 

Later, thinking about it, I realized that I've had zero mental space for too long now. I no longer think about the interesting things I used to enjoy thinking about. I'm too exhausted to think. And, I'm too distracted to think. In today's world of pinging smartphones and buzzing Garmin notifications, who actually has a moment to think anymore? I'm sure some do, but I'm not one. 

Somehow I need to find my way back to myself. Part of that process, for me, is to do what I am doing here. In a world of facades and happy Facebook profiles, it may be oversharing. But this has always been my space to 'overshare' and I need to reclaim it. We have created a world where authenticity is frowned upon. It's poor taste. Unseemly. Weak. 

And my task for the remainder of the year is to dig myself out of this hole I've dug because if I don't it will bury me. If anyone else out there is feeling this way, I am with you. 
“The highest and most beautiful things in life are not to be heard about, nor read about, nor seen but, if one will, are to be lived.”~ Søren Kierkegaard 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

One Last Chance

 “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” ~ Paulo Coelho
This will be short - not something usually said of anything I write - but I have a race to pack and plan for, and I leave tomorrow.

The past few weeks have been crammed to the brim with life: Lots of work, getting the kiddo set for her first ever sleep away multi-day school trip in the mountains, helping my mother who's 2000 miles away sort out buying a new house and moving out of the hotel she's been in since I first moved her at the beginning of July, dealing with a pressing legal issue, etc...Life has been a series of crazy, mind numbing and exhausting busy-ness.

On Monday I woke feeling that perhaps I was just ready to give up. Mentally I was drained dry.

"I really don't have to do this", I kept telling myself.

But this morning I sent my brave daughter off on her first ever sleep away trip. I won't share too much about this since this is her story, not mine, and I respect her privacy - but suffice it to say that she deals with some pretty intense anxiety issues - But recently she has faced some of these in ways that I admire more than I can express. She has surprised me with her courage and determination, even while I worry about the worst. And today I let her go and do her thing. I let her venture out onto her own journey to face her fears and to learn more about herself. And, as she walked off, I knew that I needed to do the same.

I have this little race on Saturday. This will be my last chance to get my WSER Lottery ticket. The pressure is on and I'm feeling the weight all too much. This will be my 3rd ticket, IF I make it. If I don't, then I must start all over. Starting over is something I'm not sure I can face...

This year has been rough for me. I have faced challenges that have crushed me...and I have managed to pull myself back up, time and again, and soldier on. But the fact remains that I am a changed person, both for good and bad, after all these challenges. Doubt seeps in through the cracks, newly formed, in my confidence.  And yet, I have also taken on new adventures that I may not have had I not fallen on my face a few times.

And so, for now I will focus on the positive and do my best. I will think of my daughter and myself, being fierce, because living life demands that.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Leadville 100: When Believing Just Isn't Enough

“I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” ~ Thomas A. Edison
Sometimes something becomes a thing when you never intended it to become a thing. But then that unintentional thing grabs you and refuses to release its grip. Leadville was never a "dream" race for me, but then it morphed into something bigger than itself. Whether this is a good thing or an unfortunate thing remains to be seen.

Leadville 100: Take Two

It seems that all I ever post about these days are DNFs.  Between the DNFs is the insanity of balancing insufficient training, the obsessive self-employed working demands, parenting a fairly challenging child, dealing with a difficult aging parent, marriage survival, etc.

Somehow I am left with zero wiggle room. The house has gone to shit. The yard is a mess of weeds. I haven't written anything, or at least finished anything, since February (my last DNF). Is it all worth it when you find yourself time and again falling on your face? Right now I don't know the answer to this question - but the compulsion continues, unabated, even when all reason screams: "Stop this fucking shit. It's making you crazy!"

Ever since Black Canyon in February everything training-wise has been done for the sake of Leadville. I made the decision last year that if I got into Leadville this year then I would dedicate most of this year to proper training for that. Last year I went into Leadville woefully undertrained due to the recovery time I needed following Kettle Moraine 100. And so, I started organizing things in January.  My race schedule was pretty nuts this spring, at least for me, and that began in April:

✔️ First I ran the warm Boston Marathon (my 5th) where I managed a 5+ minute BQ (one of my worst cushions) by 2 seconds. I knew that this would be my one chance this year to get a BQ and though I was not marathon fit, I did the best I could do.
✔️ Two and a half weeks later I ran the Collegiate Peaks Trail Race 25 miler.
✔️ Two weeks later I ran the Colfax Marathon.
✔️ Two weeks after that I ran the Kettle Moraine 50k in horrendously muddy and HOT conditions setting a new AG course record.
✔️ Two weeks after that I ran the Leadville Marathon, an already challenging course, this year with 60 mph winds at 13,000 feet to keep everyone honest.
✔️ A couple weeks later I ran Chase The Moon 12hr night race where I stopped after 9 hours and change with about 42 miles (only stopping then because completing another loop in the allotted time was unlikely.)

Balancing training with work and family commitments (and some extra difficult family issues) during the spring and summer meant not having time for anything else. I did all I could do but also knew that I was still not doing enough and that was something I just had to accept. I watched as others trained the way I knew I should be training - Long weekends running in Leadville - high mountain/elevation runs week after week, while I ventured out from home doing what I could do without completely neglecting the rest of my life. As with most things that require 100% effort, giving 99% may not be enough. I reassured myself: Well, I am trained better than I was last year, so maybe there's some hope. I have NO doubt that I can run Leadville. The issue with Leadville is that 30 hours is very hard for that course. Add to that the demanding early cut-offs and this year ~2 added miles, and it becomes that much more challenging.

Every time Ken Chlouber rallies all the runners, chanting: "I commit, I will not quit", all I want to add is: "I won't quit, but I may not make a cutoff!"

But then, contrary to all you've worked for for months, shit happens. Some shit you can deal with. Some shit you attempt to deal with. Some shit turns into more shit. So much can happen during 100 miles. When you take that first step you really have no idea what awaits you.

Beginning 100 miles, on foot, is always a leap of faith.

“It is easy to make plans in this world; even a cat can do it; and when one is out in those remote oceans it is noticeable that a cat's plans and a man's are worth about the same.” ~ Mark Twain

August 18. 2017

Sandra and I leave for Leadville a little before 8 am because I want to get my daughter off to school before I leave (It matters). I need to be at packet pick up no later than 10 am. Leadville is about a two hour drive. Nothing like getting things off to an exciting start. Sandra hates being late. I always believe that I can do more than I can do in a given amount of time. That false belief (lots of empirical evidence against a belief I stubbornly hold on to) and an overly packed life means I am often running late. It's normal for me to be racing somewhere. Everywhere. So, as we make our way through the twisty roads to Leadville, Sandra's fingernails are firmly digging into the dashboard of the van. We're betting that the black pick up truck from Texas speed along with us is heading the same place. And we speed our way to town, passing lines of cars as if on the same team, and both pull up in front of packet pick up at 9:55 am. No problemo. Sandra is not amused.

We then find the cabin and our compatriots: Alex, Jim, and Jim. The freak is starting to settle in, but I try to keep it at bay. We all pile into a car and head off to the pre-race info meeting/pep rally.

photos @sandra wimer

Back to the cabin, finalize dropbags then off to town to grab something to eat and to drop off our dropbags. So, here's possibly the first mistake I make: I NEVER NEVER NEVER eat out the day before a big race. Why I do today is anybody's guess. I order the most innocuous sandwich possible: Grilled veggies and pesto on ciabatta bread.

As we walk back to the car, Sandra mentions that her fitbit just registered 10,000 steps. Shit. I need to get off my feet. I ran a 2 mile shakeout earlier, but all this time on my feet walking around town is not going to help me!
Back at the cabin I try to relax and lounge for the rest of the afternoon only rising to make my usually pre-race dinner though the allure of Jim's most excellent pancakes and homefries is strong.

August 19, 2017

Sleep does not choose to visit me this night. Unfortunately, over the last week my sleep has been poor as well. I rise at 3am feeling groggy and out of it. I hurriedly get dressed, drink coffee, fill my bottles and we are off into the darkness before my mind and body even knows what's happening.

The start area is a bustle of anxious, excited energy. Light floods the night sky. I visit the potties a couple times, give Sandra a hug and make my way to the start. Of course I haven't left myself enough time to back track and go around the fence that I was unaware of, so my day starts with my traditional fence scaling!

After some nervous start line chatter with strangers and compatriots, the National Anthem blasts through this quiet night lit up like New York City, and the gun sounds. We're off.

A couple days earlier I did my due diligence and actually figured out my goal paces and times for each segment of this race. This process was both comforting and overwhelming. Last year at this time seeing a goal of 25 minute miles I would have laughed at myself - I mean who couldn't do a 25 minute mile? Well, last year I got to gobble down some humble-pie and today I know all too well that the things that sound easy may actually be one of the hardest things you can ever do. Others, by the way, do not understand this. Telling someone who has not experienced this course that you can struggle maintaining a 25, 30, even 40 minute pace has them giggling behind their hand.

My trip out to and around Turquoise Lake goes as planned. My goal was to get to May Queen in 2:30 (11:06 pace) and I came in at 2:30:30 (11:09 pace). I gave myself 3 minutes to get in and out of MQ and we pretty much move along as planned. I grab fresh HEED, eat some food, grab my poles and head off for the climb up Sugarloaf. Ok good.

Trying to settle my stomach with Coke. The PB&J is not going down easy.
Problem is, I do not feel good. First, I've been having little crampy zingers in my left hamstring and calf. This is not at all normal for me this early in a race. I try to take in more fuel, as this usually resolves any cramps I do get. But my stomach is feeling off and everything I put into it causes a growing nausea. I have never, over decades running, had stomach issues on a run or during a race. My stomach has always been solid. So, I'm observing what's happening and trying to figure out what to do as this is all new to me. As we climb Sugarloaf I am taking it easy. I remember running parts of this last year, but today every time I try to run my stomach says NO!

I manage to run Powerline much better this year than last, but I am still feeling off. I've gone through all my liquids by the time we hit the road section (still a couple miles from Outward Bound) and the day is heating up fast thanks to a brilliant sunny, cloudless sky. As we round the turn past Fish Hatch I look at my watch and know that I am way off pace.

I come into Outward Bound drained and demoralized and 25 minutes behind my goal. Sandra gets me set with fresh bottles and gels and a mashed potato burrito for the road. I walk out into the meadow wondering what the hell is going on with me. I feel awful. I walk and nibble at the burrito eventually peeling away the tortilla, just trying to get some of the potato down. Eventually I can't take any more and chuck the remains. As we approach the road I muster a little jog and smile for the camera, but I feel like death. Through the coming miles I try to remind myself to smile even when I don't want to. I wish I could say that it helped. Maybe it did.

And so it goes all the way to Halfpipe. I walk, I run a few steps, my stomach revolts and so I must walk again. I look up at Hope and realize that today I may not make it there. I am so frustrated with what's going on. Why? Why today? I want to just give up. Habit pushes me forward.

I get to Halfpipe feeling like I've already missed the cutoff at Twin Lakes (TL). The reality, however, is that I am only a couple minutes off pace for this section. Of course I don't realize this, and I can't even think straight as my stomach cramps with every step as I head out to TL.

Here the wheels really come off and I honestly do not remember most of this next section. I know there is a climb here, but I don't remember it. I also know that this part of the trail has some of the most beautiful sections of the whole course. I have been so looking forward to running through the aspen cathedral. I try to run. I try to appreciate where I am. I try to take it all in. This is so runnable and beautiful. This is why I run trails. And the next second I am bent over, retching.

During this section I puke three times and feel like puking the entire time, so I stop taking my HEED as every sip repulses. I dump my bottles and refill with just water three miles outside of TL at the minimalist Mt. Elbert aid station. I figure that at this point, since I'm almost done having accepted the inevitable, there's really no need for more fuel. I know my day is done. A guy in pretty bad shape falls into a chair, and asks the volunteer how he's doing on time. She replies that he's fine and has another hour and a half to make the TL cutoff. Wait. What? That can't possibly be. I head down to TL drinking only water and my stomach starts settling down ever so slowly, but I can run for the first time in over 10 miles. As I descend toward town I reassess my chances for Hope.

Actually running into Twin Lakes
Sandra quickly comes to me. I tell her what's been going on. I come in with about a 43 minute cushion. Not anything near where I want to be but apparently I didn't lose any more time over that 14 miles than I had over Sugarloaf. It's all a blur to me but since I make the cutoff and my stomach feels marginally better I decide to continue.

Sandra and Jim tend to my feet (I've developed a blister on the side of my right heel), and as I sit trying to regain my composure, sucking down pickle juice, Sandra pulls out an envelop full of notes she has collected from friends. She reads these and I try to keep control of the tears welling up behind my eyes.  We gather the gear I need to take up Hope and I am quickly ushered out with an exit cushion of 30 minutes. I am encouraged by so many at TL. This is one of my fave AS as it really is a giant party and I see so many people I know. As Sandra and I cross out of TL I look up at Hope and say "But I don't want to go up there!!!" laughing at the absurdity of what I'm fixing to do given the state I'm in. Sandra immediately responds "No whining!" I trot off toward the swampy meadow to the encouragement of hoots and claps. I wonder what the hell I am doing.

Things go okay for a bit. I walk and jog though the meadow, slop through the shin deep jeep trail 'puddles' and hit the river, which is about mid-thigh deep and running strong. The cold water feels good as I glance up to the skies noting the dark, ominous clouds moving toward the pass. I joke to the volunteers, "Hey, can you redirect those somewhere else?"

For this section I'm aiming to maintain a 24-25ish pace and do that for the first 3 miles until my stomach decides to hit the skids again as I try to take in fuel. It seems that things settle down if I don't eat. As soon as I eat my stomach says NO. The nausea returns with a vengeance and makes it hard to drink but my lack of fuel, now going on 20+ miles, is just bad news. You can run with nausea, but you can't run without eating. But every attempt to eat brings more cramping. Along the way I see friends and Runners Roost team members. I get hugs, some walk along with me for a bit, others reassure me that I am still going for it.

I get to Hopeless AS with about 15 minutes to spare, drink some soup with noodles which is tolerable and grab a handful of pretzels. I dump my bottles again and refill with water. As I head up the last 500 feet to the summit I am moving at a glacial pace. Another woman who I've been yo-yoing with since after Halfpipe (and who also has been puking) is a switchback below me. We both take a few steps and stop. Take a few steps and stop. Repeat. This is agonizing for me. Climbing is my strength and I've done this pass a few times over the summer and each time I felt stronger. This trip up is just crushing me.

I crest the pass and this is where the timer is though the cut-off is lower at Hopeless. The fact that I hit this point after the cut-off now means that my crew has no idea which side I'm coming back down. But since I am still in the game I push on toward Winfield.

As I begin the decent my Roost Teammate Sean Wetstine is just cresting inbound, smiling as always and encouraging me to push on. I promise I'm trying but things are not going well. I continue down, and pass friends and teammates going up: Kaitlyn, Gina, Junko, Zack, Eric, Gary...They all encourage me to stay positive. I'm trying guys. I'm really trying...

The poundingly steep, loose downhill and dealing with the congo-lines of inbound runners makes this section slow going. At one point I almost fall nearly hitting my head on a boulder in a talus field as a large group of runners and pacers pass me going up. As I make my way down I thank every pacer who actually yields to me. They are the minority.

Once I hit the end of the major decent and head off for the 3-4 mile traverse of the mountain towards Winfield I find that I am out of pretzels which I have been sucking on the whole way down. My water is also low. I look at my watch and realize that I need to run to make the cutoff but the reality is that I have nothing left in the tank. I'm dizzy and drained and can barely maintain a 25 min pace where I should be doing 13-14. The extra distance this year is the final insult as I pass the cutoff down to the road that we took last year but this year must now do another climb before the final decent into Winfield.

The woman I've been yo-yoing with is now just ahead of me. We are the sad souls who everyone knows is done for. The inbound runners switch from saying "Great job. Keep going." to "Good effort." I pass several friends who are looking rough. I have been where they are and wish them the best but I also know that their chances are slim having just made the cutoff out of Winfield. Still, we all push on. None of us are quitting.

I round a turn and the woman ahead is now standing, looking out over the valley. Her significant other has come out to find her and is hugging her from behind. I stop and say "I'm sorry this day has turned out like this." We exchange some supportive words, and I continue on, giving her her grieving time.

Within a minute I see my husband come up the trail (along with my friend Lynette's son). Seeing him is almost too much. I am both relieved and defeated, and just bury my face in his shoulder and cry. I cry because I'm done. I cry because this has been such a hard day and the effort of it all releases in tears. We walk to Winfield as I tell my story of the day.

And so that's that. I make my way all the way to the aid station as Winfield begins returning to a ghost town. I hand over my wristband and my day is done. Lynette offers me a beer, fittingly called "Road Kill" and I sit shivering under a sleeping bag as we try to find a ride back to Twin Lakes or alternately catch a ride with Lynette, who has no idea where her runner, April, is. There are so many people milling around Winfield with no word of where their people are. Eventually we head to TL assuming that April was sent back after missing the Hope cutoff.

At TL I finally find Sandra and Aubrey (who was set to pace me from TL to MQ). Apparently Sandra has been beside herself, trying to find out where I am for hours. I was not listed on the DNF list but none of the officials could tell her where I was.  The fact that I was in pretty bad shape the last time she saw me was an added concern.

We head back to cabin, my stomach still in a state of revolt. I can eat nothing but some bread. I tell my story again to Katie, who was going to sleep and then pace me from MQ, and to my daughter, Sophia.

My daughter asks, as the night gets darker and colder, "Do you want to be out there?"
"Yes, sweetie. I do want to be out there."

But, once again, I will sleep when I would rather be running.

August 20, 2017

The next morning we head over to the finish for the final hour or so, cheering the last runners in.

It turns out that just 46% of starters finish this year. This race historically has a high DNF rate, but this year is higher than most. That, of course doesn't matter to me, but it's curious nonetheless.

For the second year in a row I am on the wrong side of the finish line. I think I can handle it. I put on a stoic face. I am crushed. But I am there and I so admire (and envy) those crossing that finish line.
“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” ~ Winston Churchill

Since walking into Winfield I have told this story dozens upon dozens of times - to friends, family, acquaintances, random people I see at the gym whose names I do not know, etc. The retelling at first helps, but then you just want it to stop.

At first I think that this one doesn't sting as much, after all, it was all out of my hands.
I am wrong.
It actually stings more.

At first I am okay with it all. I did all I could do. I did not quit though I wanted to so many times. I did nothing to cause my stomach issues - and the cause remaining a mystery. It just wasn't my day and unfortunately this day fell on a really important day for me.

But all that only goes so far and then you begin to wonder: Maybe this is just too hard for me. Others can do this but I just can't. I'm just not good enough.

I have never, in my 35+ years of running, ever, experienced a crisis of confidence this profound.

And so, now Leadville has become a thing for me. It has wormed its way into my being in a way I never could have foreseen. I'm really not sure what I will do about this just yet, but trying to push it away and pretend I'm okay isn't working either. Time will tell where this takes me...
“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” ~ Paulo Coelho

Friday, March 3, 2017

Black Canyon 100k: More and Less Than I Bargained For

“By seeking and blundering we learn.” ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
As February 18th, 2017, the day of the Black Canyon 100k, rapidly approached, a multitude of challenges began popping up. The first was a lingering cold which first appeared at the beginning of December, just as training was ramping up (since I decided to run this early December), but lingered in my lungs and sinuses nine weeks later. Second, which I wrote about a couple weeks ago (Time's-a-Tickin') came in the form of a nasty fall on the ice at the end of one of my best trail runs this winter. This, two weeks before race day. After trying to run with a busted up tailbone and sacrum, I made the decision to stop running for eight days - until the starters gun went off.  And then the final ominous sign came in the form of an unprecedented storm forecasted to bring over an inch and a half of rain to the already saturated desert and with that a last minute change of course.

The week leading up to the race consisted of a lot of swimming for the sake of my sanity, a multitude of visits to my chiropractor, sinus flushing and sudefed swallowing, and an over the top case of obsessive compulsive weather checking disorder (OCWCD). I installed four different weather apps and checked them desperately for some tiny signs of hope. I hemmed-and-hawed about whether to take the DNS and move on. I vacillated back and forth - weighing the pros and cons of pressing on with plans. The cons were clearly ahead on all counts but the passional ones. Ultimately rationality gave way to desire, and though I knew that the rational thing was to pull out, save the money, heal up completely, I could not let it go. I prepared for the worst and hoped for the best.

We land in Phoenix greeted by blue skies and mild temps. It's almost unimaginable that things will turn so dramatically so fast. I keep hoping as I tap Weather Underground...NOAA...Accuweather...All tell me that my empirically supported hopes are for naught. As the day progresses, the precipitation totals climb and spread across the entire day of the race.

We make the best of the two days of nice weather, freaking perfect weather, hiking and even visiting the zoo (and yes. I did walk too much!)

And then the alarm buzzes me awake at 5a.m.  I hear the rain coming down in the darkness outside. I drink some coffee, eat a bar, dress, gather my dropbags. We drive through dumping rain as we climb the 4000 feet to the start of the race 50 minutes away. Lightening flashes, brightening the still dark morning sky. We get to Mayer High School, I toss my bags on their designated piles sitting out in the rain and head into the gym which is packed with runners and others. I have enough time to pee and get my shoes on and then we are called out into the cold, dark, wetness onto the track for the start.

Keep in mind that I have not run a step in eight days and I actually have no idea how my tailbone/pelvis will feel. My husband takes a quick shot of me and then he and my daughter, still in her PJs, head for refuge in the car.

I wish Clare Gallagher (who's there to earn a Golden Ticket into Western States) good luck, and she wishes me good luck as I laugh nervously...and then there's the countdown and we're off. A lap around the track and then off through town on the muddy dirt roads.

Miracle of miracles, my tailbone/pelvis feels totally fine and I have not forgotten how to run, which given what I am about to face, is very good thing.

A couple miles in we leave the roads for the 'trail' which consists of a path through what appears to be a cow field.

The mud is as deep as I've ever seen, swallowing our shoes while adding what feels like, 15 pounds to each step. We slip and slide, side to side, looking for the best way through it. There is no "best way". This lasts for the first 7+ miles until we hit the Antelope Mesa aid station. The rain pours down on us but I find a few seconds of reprieve in the porto potty. From here, we head onto single track trail.

Thus far, I've 'met' two women (hard to know who you're talking to when you are covered from head to toe): Lynette and Mindy. During races like this, we develop these weird friendships and connections with total strangers. Sometimes they last well beyond the race. You learn a lot about people you are in close proximity to during ultras. You talk and get through tough parts together. It is one of the things I love about ultras.

This next section is the fastest part of the course going out since it's mostly sand, and though it's saturated and puddly, it's more runnable than the sticky, slippery, ankle deep mud.

We reach the mile 21.5, the Hidden Treasure Mine aid station where our first drop bags are. It's such a cluster because there's no place that's dry. Everyone's trying to change and restock inside the too small tent and smaller covered overhang. I do my best to change out of my sodden shirt, placing my drenched Houdini jacket back on saving the jacket packed away for the nighttime return trip. Everything is mud and water. As I peruse the AS goodies I start coughing a hard, painful cough. It's almost embarrassing, it sounds so awful. I'm afraid one of the medics patching up a woman's leg is going to question me - so I try to keep it on the down-low. I've had a cough, off and on, for a while, but it never felt like this and the tightness in my chest is worrying. As I leave the AS I take it very slow, trying to see if it will loosen up. After a mile or so, I feel okay, but still a little concerned.

And so we slog on. At this point I'm running with a group of guys. The trail has returned to mud and rocks. One guy is ahead of me and a bunch are close behind. I hate running in front of people because it messes with my ability to adjust to terrain. I mention, "Let me know if you want to get by" to the the footsteps behind me. "Nope. You're fine". But it never feels fine. At each uphill I catch up to the guy in front and then each downhill he pounds down, gaining ground...repeat...repeat...repeat. He asks several times if I want to go by, "Nope. You'll leave me in the dust on the downhill." The problem is that my funky knee/shin has started bothering me - the same pain I had at Kettle 100 and at Des Plaines 50 last year. At Kettle it hit around mile 45. At Des Plains it hit around 25. Now I am feeling it at 16. The constant ups and downs help, but I'm worried. This damn thing NEVER bothers me in training. It didn't bother me at Leadville. It's so unpredictable and no one can figure it out. This makes trail negotiation a little tricky than I'd like.

At this point I have seen many bloodied runners. Each bloody knee and muddy torso serves as a cautionary tale. By mile 20 I've had only one adrenaline rushing toe catch. Somewhere in mile 24 I go down, rolling a bit off the trail and down a slope, hitting my knee, thigh, cheekbone and the bone above my eye. I sit for a moment assessing the damage and cursing my stupidity as other runners trot by asking if I'm okay. I don't know if I'm okay. My cheek is throbbing and there blood running down my leg. Thankfully the next AS is just about a half mile away. As I jog on, I first think, "Oh screw this. I'm just done." But by the time I get to the Gloriana Mine AS I am determined to run the effing race. The medics see me coming and immediately take me into their tent. They clean me up, check for concussion signs and say I'm good to go, and that they don't want to see me again. There are drop bags here so I change my socks and shoes for the first time which almost feels luxurious.

From here it's 7+ miles to the turn around. The bummer about this alternate course is that it's a net drop of almost 4000 feet for the first 50k and the same gain for the second 50k (though some claim it is actually 6000 each way). As I leave the AS Mindy catches back up to me. I'm walking, trying to shake the stiffness out of me damaged body parts, and let her pass. I slowly start running again. I turn a corner, and see another woman I've been yo-yo-ing with sitting by the trail. I can see a deep gash in her hand and leg. I ask if I can help, but she says no. She hit her head hard and knows she is done and will go back to the aid station a half mile back. Once I get moving again I realize that my fall seems to have made my knee/shin thing go away. Bodies are so very weird.

And so we move on. The skies actually lighten up for about 2 hours giving a false hope that the worst is over.

I get to the turn around after a long long decent and turn to head back home. It's always a lift to make that turn, no longer moving farther away from where you want to go. Mindy and I have been yo-yo-ing some (she is better on the downhills and I'm feeling better on the ups) since mile 24. It's nice to have a friendly face around. As we make our way up the long climb I see few runners. About 3 miles into the climb I pass another woman in a red plastic poncho. I never get her name, but she will figure into the story from here on, and later...

I get back to Gloriana Mine (mile 37.7) grab my handheld Nathan light, a beanie, a couple gels, some cookies, PB&Js and head out. I see Mindy meeting up with her crew. All Smiles and cheer. I head out alone and for this whole stretch, between Gloriana Mine and Bumble Bee (42.2) I see no one. The low dark clouds move back in and in a blink the rain is pounding down again. It is torrential now and the wind starts picking up a bit. The last mile before hitting Bumble Bee is a challenge of what looks to be sandstone (or conglomerate) slabs of rock and rivers of water. The wind now is piercing. And as I jog into Bumble Bee I am feeling the first signs of hypothermia.

I get to the AS and find the tent chock-full of runners trying to warm themselves enough to get to the next AS. It's 7.5 miles to our next drop bags, but now it's dark and cold and drenching. My waterproof jacket is at that AS but I'm not sure I can make it to there. I'm talking with a woman who is equally concerned. Mindy comes into the tent followed by her crew with a bag of supplies. She has a plastic poncho and I jokingly ask, "I don't suppose you have another one of those?" She doesn't, but offers me a "Disney' heat sheet. I jump at it like a starving, desperate person grasping for something...anything. As I listen to the rain pounding down on the tent, I take my hydration vest off, wrap myself in the heat sheet and place the vest on top of that. I then wish all my compatriots well, and head out into the cold darkening skies.

I am still fine running if I can run, and I do run once I find the trail. Those 7+ miles seem to take an eternity as the darkness gets darker and the rain pours down harder. Three guys pass me and I stick with them for several miles. It's a party of two runners and a pacer and one runner isn't looking great, but they're soldering on.

We get to Hidden Treasure Mine (48.9 miles) and I grab my sodden dropbag. If Only I had a fresh, warm shirt, but the only shirt I have is the drenched one I left here at 12.5 miles. I grab my headlamp, change jackets, adding my waterproof Brooks jacket over my wet tech shirt, I change socks and shoes, now switching from Altra Superiors to PIs, suck down a lot of hot broth, burning my tongue but I don't honestly care. I'm talking to a woman named Betty who offers me another heat sheet. I almost don't take it, thinking I'm good - I have one. But I'm not at all good, and have the good sense to accept her generosity. As I sit there trying to get my shit together, I look at at row of runners, 6 or 7 of them, sitting behind the AS table. Their eyes are blank. They aren't there anymore. I look at them, probably too long, and I don't want to be them but I know I'm very close.

I set out for the last AS, 5+ miles away feeling okay but not great. I almost can't find the trail (this happens on several occasions and many runners did go off course). My donated Disney heat sheet has now been made into a skirt as my featherweight shorts are proving to be a liability. A little while later Mindy and her pacer are behind me. We talk for a bit. I thank her for saving my bacon with the heat sheet, and we run on. I don't want to hold them up and I also don't want to lose them but I ask if they want to pass, but they're okay and we run together for a while. At some point I let them pass and stick with them. Mindy is wearing a sparkly skirt which is easy to follow in the dark. She was smart enough to add pants under her skirt back at Bumble Bee. I lose contact with them for a while but as the wind increases, I catch back up to them.

At this point my watch has died, so I'm not sure how far we have to go to Antelope Mesa (mile 54.1), but we've been moving for what seems like hours. The wind picks up ferociously, like a train screaming through sodden desert. The rain is coming down sideways and I'm trying to figure out if it's turned to snow (which was predicted). My heat sheet skirt wraps around and clings to my legs making it impossible to run. I have no choice but to hold it up with both hands making running awkwardly and exposing my legs to the frigid winds. I attempt to open the extra heat sheet to wrap around my upper body just to see if I can calm my chattering teeth and recoup some body heat which seems to be gone for good.

At this point we've become a congo line of bedraggled runners, trudging our way toward the AS somewhere out in the darkness. We look like refugees fleeing some unknown, but horrendous, fate...

I finally see the glowing light of the tent off in the distance. I try to keep moving as fast as possible just to generate heat, but it's nearly impossible in these conditions. As I enter the tent, jam packed with runners and volunteers, I head for the double propane heater in a futile attempt to warm myself as the winds buffet the tent walls. I can not stop shaking. I ask for soup but my hands shake too violently for me to get it to my mouth. I try to settle my mind and get my bearings. It's about 9:20 pm. I have plenty of time to make the 12:00am WSER 17 hour cut off IF I can get moving now. But I'm in no shape to head out yet.

I know that the last 7 miles begins along an exposed ridge-line with very deep mud for the first 3-4 miles. Between the wind, the cold, the rain, the mud, and my foggy head I know that this could take a good chunk of time. The thought of being out there alone, in the condition I find myself now, strikes me as foolhardy.

Mindy's crew is getting her set to head back out. I want to stick with them, but I know I can't leave in this condition. One of her friends comes into the tent with two arm-fulls of coats - Big, fat, warm coats. I look at them longingly and think: "This is not the race to try to do alone. Not today." Mindy and her pacer head off into the cold darkness, but I stay behind huddled around the heater...

At this point there are 5 five of us considering our options. One woman, the woman in the red, plastic poncho who I've passed and who has passed me several dozen times over the last 20 or so miles, is in slightly better shape than me, but decides that she won't go on because she is confident that the sub-17 is out of reach given the trail conditions and her condition. She disappears with her sister for the car ride to the finish. I try to hold onto hope. I try to warm myself so that I can get going - I need to go now - but it's just not happening fast enough. My running body is not the problem right now - I can still run - but can I run in these conditions? And if I can't, what will happen to me out there?

This leaves myself and three other guys:
One is a local runner who has run this race several times.
Another is from Canada who has traveled a long way with high hopes.
The third is a 62 year-old from Oklahoma. He says: "This is probably my last chance for a WS lottery ticket. I ran Western States years ago. I wanted it to be my last 100." We try to cheer him up with stories of many runners older than him running WS. "Some can do it. I can't."

At some point I can see that I am running out of time. I weigh the risks of going for the finish for the sake of the finish. At that time, given how I feel, I decide that the risks are too great. Additionally I can't see keeping my family waiting until 3 am, if necessary. The volunteer asks if I am dropping. I nod, but say nothing, returning my gaze to the glowing heater.

We then wait another hour before someone can get out to bring us in...I am still hit with bouts of uncontrollable shaking.

As we drive back, I'm in the front seat. The heat is blasting. The driver asks:
"Are you number 225?"
"Yes. Why?"
"I was just talking to your husband."
"Really? I'm surprised he's there already."

As I walk into the bustling gym, Peter and Sophia spot me, wrapped in two heat sheets and covered in mud. They are all smiles and my daughter runs up and hugs me hard. They think I've finished. As I deliver the bad news, my husband tells me that they received an update from Ultrasignup hours ago that I had finished, 9th woman in 11:48. When they arrived they couldn't find me. The race had no idea where I was (though I was very careful to check into every aid station). No one knew where I was. My daughter was beside herself, upset that she would never see me again. They heard that many had gone off course and that there were exposed parts of the trail.

My daughter doesn't care that I DNFed. She just wants me.

I find my bag and see that there is a message from one of the race people asking me to call and another message from my husband asking where I am. I see a ton of messages congratulating me on an amazing race. I see Facebook threads where people are calling me: "badass", "amazing", "inspiring"...etc. Ugggggg. This is NOT helping.

As we drive the 50 miles back to the hotel my cough has returned with a vengeance - Deep, raspy and painful. It's midnight but I take a hot shower and get into bed, but I don't sleep.

In the dark I think about all the things I could have done...all the things I should have done:

1) I should have had better clothing options. I was under-prepared for this. I tend to run warm and have plenty of experience running in the cold and the wet - but nothing had prepared me for what happened after the sun went down.

2) I should have asked the other woman who dropped if she wanted to try to go together. Though she had crew, she also had no pacer. We were both scared to go out there alone. Together we might have made it.

3) Always ask for what you might need at an AS. They may just have what you need. After dropping, while waiting for the the ride back, a runner came in and asked if they had trash-bags. Sure enough they had an ample supply. For some time I had been eyeing the black Heftys full of trash, tempted to ask if I could empty one and use it. After sitting in the tent for an hour, seeing this trash-bag, draped over a runner heading out to finish, I just wanted to slap myself. I wanted to say, "Wait. I don't want to drop. I want to go.", but it was too late.

4) Try not to get sucked into what others are dealing with. It is very hard to make clear choices when everyone around you is in the same place. I should have already decided, before the race began, if just getting the finish mattered. At that time it didn't. It does now.

And all through the night, these thoughts drifted through my mind. I leave with nothing. Nothing but cuts, bruises, pounded muscles, aching lungs, and absolutely zero to show for it.

I cried a lot for the next couple days. I desperately looked for a race to redeem myself, but the options are few given that most are already full. I came to the uncomfortable realization that now all my eggs are in the Leadville basket - something that both terrifies me and motivates me. I really wish that things had gone differently, but I know I did my best at the time. Unfortunately my best was not good enough.

And since there is nothing I can do about that now I have only one reasonable option: Learn (again) from my mistakes and try to use these lessons to do better in the future. There's always something positive to take away from an experience.

“Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.” ~ John Dewey

(Photo credits: Many of the race shots were taken by MindyPrzeor)

Thursday, February 9, 2017


“The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly; any other loss - an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. - is sure to be noticed.” ~ Soren Kierkegaard

This is one of my favorite Kierkegaard quotes, one I've used here before, and yet there are periods in my life when I lose myself slowly, quietly, insidiously, unnoticed by all but that self inside myself. That self knew it all along. She knew that all was not well in there. No one else may have noticed, or cared. But that little self did and her little voice echoed through the emptiness inside. There were glimmers of hope at times, flashes and sparks that just fizzled out and died from lack of oxygen.

In the process it looks like I a took a bit of a writing hiatus since, ummm, August of last year. I'm not sure why exactly. Life got very very busy: between work, and training, and parenting, and dealing with an elderly parent who lives too far away and needs a lot of help (but professes complete independence), and traveling for races (FWP), and politics, and more politics...and just life. I was exhausted. Worn down. Soul weary. I think that being in a profession that aims to help people can be a double-edged sword: Helping can feed the spirit.  But, there is often the feeling of giving everything to everyone. But if you don't nurture something in yourself, eventually your spirit becomes threadbare. About the time I started heeding the warnings of that little self inside myself, my blog disappeared from the interwebs. Suddenly I cared. I was sad, though I felt I had noting to write. Nothing left to give. Nothing important or interesting to say. I had nothing to offer the world. 

And then last week I had the most wonderful, magical run. It was the best run I had had in months. As I weaved my way up Mt. Sanitas, I ran higher into the low clouds. It was bitter cold and damp, droplets of moisture filled the air. In conditions like this, the moisture stays liquid because it has no time to freeze as it falls to the ground. That is, until it settles on tall grasses, boulders, pine trees - and then it freezes in an instant, encasing the world in shimmering, glowing silver-white faerie crystals. It felt as though I was flying through a magical faerie world. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. No one else was out. All was icy still and quiet. I stood atop the summit, usually crowded with hikers and runners and kids and dogs, completely alone, in the clouds. I could see nothing below but whiteness going on forever...

And I flew down that trail, a trail I love to really let loose on. And on this day, for the first time in a very long time, my body let me fly. As I approached the road going up Sunshine Canyon, I was sad that it had to end. I wanted this run to go on and on...

But, now I had to get down the bad stuff. The trail along Sunshine is shaded and icy. I ran up it fine, but down is a different deal. On most sections you can stay on the trail (No social trails, thank you!) but still skirt the bad ice. The amount of iciness really didn't warrant bringing traction...or so I told myself.

About a mile from the car, I approached a section in the trees cut into the slope, no way around it, going down and around a tight bend. I stopped and walked, carefully, but not nervous and stiff. In a split second both feet shot out from under me and I crashed to the ice. Frozen and in pain, I know I howled and cursed. A lot. I hadn't seen anyone for over an hour, so who the hell would hear anyway. I lay there, looking through the trees to the flat white sky above. Breathe in, breathe out. Many seconds pass. I get myself upright and walk gingerly on. A woman and her large shepherd approach, I'm not moving well but at least I'm up. She has no idea what just happened. We pass. She says, as I guard my injured body from her dog's approach "He's friendly." She could have blown on me and I would have gone down in a heap of tears...but I somehow I got back to the car... 

“Unfortunately, the clock is ticking, the hours are going by. The past increases, the future recedes. Possibilities decreasing, regrets mounting.” ~ Haruki Murakami

I haven't had a running injury, a real running injury, from - you know - running, in a long time (Yes. I was knocking on wood as I typed that), but after a week of letting things settle down it is now clear that I have wrecked my tailbone. I was in denial, mostly, with moments of tears, panic, anger, self-loathing/recriminations, etc. for the past week - But reality is now telling me that this will not pass peacefully into that dark night, like so many other crashes I've taken. I have the Black Canyon 100k in a week. Due to my schedule this is my best shot at getting my third ticket for Western States Endurance Run, which seems to be dictating a lot of my plans at this point - for what I know not. And, worse, I actually planned to take my family along for the fun. So, not only will I be crushed if I can't run, but my daughter may be crushed even more.

Today, Shirley Plaatjes, my massage therapist, suggested I pray.  It may only be running, but it matters. I will do my own variety of praying. Time's-a-tickin' and I do not have time to play with. I will do everything in my power to do what I set out to do.

“The strongest of all warriors are these two — Time and Patience.” ~ Leo Tolstoy

Everyone Seems to be Looking for "Motivation"...

  "Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going" ~ Jim Ryun It's January. For many of us that means cold...