‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
As a trail runner — sticks and stones are common foes. My friend Josh calls me ‘Princess Faceplate’. For good reason. I’ve earned the nickname.
Nothing serious has ever transpired for me personally – and I will admit that there have been some close calls. I have friends that have met worse fates, serious injuries, broken bones, even career ending injuries. It’s part of what we take on when we hit the trails… Tripping, falling, scrapes, blood, wounds, stick-‘snakes’, etc…
But when I really got to thinking about it; some of the worst wounds are inflicted with words…
I was running along thinking ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me? That old childhood saying a total and complete load of crap!‘
Some of the words said to me and some of the others folks I know have been imminently hurtful and often-times it’s from a source that has NO CLUE they’ve lobbed something hurtful in our direction.
For me, people commenting on my weight or how my body looks (‘too big to be a runner’ is the one I can’t seem to forget) send me into a tailspin. Every time. I’ve done a TON of work on trying to get over this issue. A ton.
Then I found this great blog post and realized — I’m not alone. I’m not the only one who would prefer a scrapped knee to a comment that I can’t dislodge from my brain. I am not alone by an epic long shot. And that actually makes me sad.
And since some of you won’t read it; here’s the gist… It details some of the hurtful, rude and mean things that are said to some of the top, elite, wildly-talented, healthy female athletes in ultra running.
After a conversation with my friend Rebecca the other day — we pretty quickly agreed that this article could apply to ANY sport/event/venue/issue/person.
This issue isn’t just about running.
Negative comments, critiquing of others, being treated rudely or having thoughtless words cast our way is something we have probably all dealt with. And I know from conversations with my guy friends; this isn’t limited to women. There is a WHOLE lot about someone you can’t see/don’t know — and commenting just makes things worse for that person.
And we all pretty agree these days that cowards/bullies hide behind social media to say things they would NEVER say to someone’s face.
Telling someone she looks ‘too thin’ isn’t going to help her on her road to recovery from anorexia. Telling me that you ‘didn’t know women my size’ could run is not helpful to me in maintaining my weight and my commitment to fitness. Telling my friend recovering from a serious accident that she looks ‘scrawny and weak’ is NOT a confidence builder on this woman’s road to rebuilding her fitness and stamina.
NONE of us know anyone else full backstories or struggles, our passions, our fights, our desires — we so, so often take one look at the physical shell and make a comment based on how someone looks.
That’s not helpful or kind.
And shouldn’t we really endeavor – in this harsh, tough world – to help and encourage others and show them kindness when we can?
It’s really pretty simple.
Just my opinion.
Now, go read the article. 🙂
And if you want to read some more good stuff — visit their website at Trailsisters.net
In thinking about it on todays run… I spent all of the time I was an adult and working in California obese, inactive, eating all the wrong things.
I am not really exaggerating.
There were times where I would start a diet, try to get active, only to give it all up in a freaking hurry. As soon as I got hungry or sore – I would quit. And then gain even more weight. Like probably 30 different times. Hell. Maybe 50. Or more. You get the point.
I see California as my ‘fat’ young adult years.
It’s where pre-diabetes walked in the door and would soon refuse to leave. I don’t have memories of California that aren’t of me as an obese adult. Happy, but the obesity and type 2 Diabetes were escalating rapidly.
Doing something new that I never knew existed always makes me introspective… And this time doing something new in California – in a place I drove by for decades – made me sappy, happy, grateful. I mean this is a place that could have been my stomping grounds had I been in any shape to have been stomping around.
Spencer and I along with our friend and fellow ultra-runner Josh Hough are in Auburn, California this weekend to run in a training camp. We will run 70 miles of the Western States Endurance Run 100 course over the next 3 days. Spencer and I did this training camp last year and it is ahhhmazing. Running a historic course. Non race event, just long training runs that are supported. Surrounded by amazing athletes and folks passionate about the sport of trail running.
This year our road-trip brigade came down a day early to get our bearings, get set-up and simply spend one day relaxing.
Turns out that none of us are very good at relaxing. 🙂
Spencer and I went for a run this morning on a new-to-me trail that is right off of a highway I traveled for decades with my family and during College.
I was telling Spencer that my life is just still so surreal on a few levels.
Being in California, eating plant based, running… Those are all things I could NEVER, ever have imagined when I was living in California. I found myself thinking about 6 different times this morning… ‘WOW! Is this really my life now?!’
I’ve driven by this spot for 20+ years and never thought for a split second about trails in all the years we drove by. This specific freeway off-ramp had ALL the good fast food you could possibly want before heading up 84 to Tahoe. I know those locations by heart.
I never thought I’d be back here one day and parking at a trail head so we could go run alongside the American River for a few miles.
I never imagined I would want to climb the trails in the Sierra’s, or run on them, or care deeply about treading the ground of a historic running race.
Yet, here I am.
And I’m loving this view and experience of California that requires me to get off of the roads, explore and eat healthy and move along under my own power. And explore!
I am happy and healthy and do NOT take any of that for granted for even one second.
I have been given the second chance at life. Not everyone gets that chance. I won’t waste it.
I will use this weekend to build new and healthy memories in the state that I grew up in.
Mac 50K this year was fantastic! Cool, rainy, muddy, friends, laughter, perfection…
Mac is my favorite race, in one of my favorite places in the world.
I approached the race as a long and supported run to practice for the event I have in September. I was testing gear, making sure of my shoe choice, practicing my new-found downhill skills and I HAD TO WORK on fueling. This was my chance to put it all together and watch it work.
In the back of my head I knew I had run this race in 8:04 in 2015. So I’ll go ahead and admit that yes, I had a trying-to-ignore-it-but-it-was-out-there goal, to try to break 8 hours. I was trying not to think about that. It was NOT the point of the day.
Ultimately, I nailed everything I set out to do.
SOME MAJOR WINS!
Fueling was better than it has ever been.
Gut stayed intact.
Loved my Altras. (I still have all my remaining toe nails!)
Comfy with my hydration pack and know where to stash everything.
FINALLY got to run an entire 50K with my friend/running partner Josh.
Spencer placed 8th overall. He had a fantastic run and wrote a great blog about it. Read it here.
Wendie paced Josh and I the last 5 miles, after cheering and crewing for us the entire day.
It was a perfect day.
From ‘The Saddle’ (last aid station) to the finish line is about 5 miles or so.
Everyone was muddy and tired. The finish line was really looking good at this point. I’d slipped and gone down in the mud at least 3 times. I was an unharmed, total mud ball head to toe. 🙂
Josh knew my not-talking-about-it-goal. I could see him assessing the situation. He knew we were in a race against the clock to break 8 hours. We were appropriately tired, but totally healthy. We COULD pull it off, if we picked up the pace.
I knew it.
I was just pretending to ignore it.
A portion of my brain was totally fine with not finding that goal.
To hit that goal would mean that we would have to run consistently and fairly hard for the remainder of the course.
That’s a lot of hard work at the end of a whole lot of hard work.
It had been a day of huge wins ALREADY. I didn’t even have to cross the finish line to have felt like the day was a smashing success.
But as I was starting to push the edges, with Josh speeding up, my brain was busy trying to convince me that we just didn’t need to put in the extra effort to hit that goal…
‘Bets. Just walk.
You’re going to finish close to last year’s time anyway. Close is good.
It’s fine to ease back now, Spencer and Josh and Wendie are still going to be proud of you no matter what.
This was a tough course. Take it easy. You’ve earned easy.
Just being out here is enough.’
I recognized that my head and her subtly negative voices were trying to shut things down.
‘Head’ management is very much part of the training for ultras. You literally have to practice making sure your head doesn’t talk you out of completing what needs to be done.
This is always scary and fascinating to me. Sometimes my brain drags out ‘the big guns’ and I really have to fight to just keep breathing and moving. This time – since this race was essentially a practice run and I was surrounded by friends I trusted deeply – I decided I would just watch and see what demon/trick/weapon my head was going to try to drag out into the light…
My brain went straight for it’s old friend laziness.
‘Take it easy, you’ve earned easy. There’s no harm in just walking at this point…’
I have had years of practice being lazy. Honestly, it’s the natural go to for me. And at this point in the race – 26ish miles in – my legs and back were screaming for me to just. stop. running. My belly wasn’t thrilled. My feet hurt. I had these OBNOXIOUS and painful adductor cramps violently grabbing hold of my upper, inner thigh – and stopping me dead in my tracks a few times.
My body was doing it’s part to try to stop me.
My brain just joined in on the chorus.
I’ve done a few races at this distance, so I can now say that I have been here before in some form or fashion. This is the point where I simply have to buckle down and keep moving forward as best I can. And I have all kinds of tricks stashed away to IGNORE or quiet the chatter in my head that isn’t productive or healthy or nice. I usually just kind of blank out without fully defining whatever weapon my brain has chosen, count steps, breathe, and try my best to ignore whatever tricks my head is playing.
But this time I instantly recognized laziness.
And it was really pretty cool to define it, understand it and then just accept it for what it is.
I didn’t bother trying to evict or ignore the thoughts.
I sure as hell didn’t give into it.
I just decided to run with it – and tire it out.
Here’s where my thinking went… When I’m on a training run – and my coach has given me parameters – I always go straight for the middle or low end of whatever it is that I’m being told to work on. Unless specifically told to do so, I rarely push to the outer, upper edges or beyond in training on my own.
It’s a subtle, persistent form of laziness.
I mean training to run ultras is hard work in and of itself. I’ve done a lot of hard work to get to this point and lose weight and reverse T2 diabetes. So does it really matter that I’m just a tad bit lazy about some aspects of training?
To be clear – I’m not being hard on myself or beating myself up.
I ran a freaking great run.
And this ‘work’ going on in my head around battling and understanding laziness was fantastic and constructive.
I ultimately kept on Josh and Wendie’s heels and PUSHED hard to the finish. I put down faster miles at the end than I had most of the day.
I’m just acknowledging that I recognized the voice screaming in my head as my long-lost, best-forgotten, crappy ex-best friend named laziness.
And I decided that I don’t want to be friends anymore.
So I just ran away. 🙂
I ignored the normal long-run pains and tiredness and just PUSHED hard to the finish. My training allows for that. My body was working her butt off. And this really was a training run – so why not PUSH hard and see what happened?
As I ran, in the back of my head the idea was clanging around that I am SO FREAKING CAPABLE of being and doing so much more.
If I’m given the chance to push hard, do I always give it my all? Or do I get lazy?
It’s an idea that I just can’t let go of…
What exactly would I be capable of, if I refused to let laziness win?
I got home and Spencer and I were debriefing the race. I walked through the pieces that went great; fuel, shoes, handling the wicked leg cramps. Spencer and I both agreed that we could clearly see the core and strength work we’re doing with Jordan paying off as I was able to manage the slides and the muddy, steep terrain really well. And then I ran faster miles at the end…
I was really proud of the effort I gave at Mac. I’d had a good day.
I also told him that I recognize I get lazy in some of the targeted training runs during a training cycle. I cheat myself and aim for good enough/middle of the road. By doing what I’m told – instead of really testing the limits. I told Spencer I was going to work on learning to push myself harder when given the choice. I confessed that I know that I sometimes let myself off the hook when I really should be capitalizing on the opportunity to push to another level.
The last few miles of the Mac I kept thinking…
I’ve come so far and I’m more in love with trail running and my body is doing things I never, ever thought she was capable of. And I know without a doubt that I am capable of still more strength and more growth and more change and well… just more good stuff.
Laziness isn’t going to win this race. Not this time. I’m going to keep training to out run it.
As I sit in the airport waiting for the flight home — I still feel the rocking motion of the boat. I’m told this is a phenomenon called ‘Jimmy Legs’. 🙂
I’m soaking in the memories of the experience and the bittersweet feelings of saying goodbyes with new friends.
Yet I am finally headed home.
Such a wonderful mix of feelings…
I spent a lot of time sitting by the pool (saltwater pool!) working on this blog. I was slathered in sun screen since I skimped on ‘solar cream’ on day one and seriously sunburned my rear-end…
Lesson quickly learned. 🙂
This whole experience?
An incredible gift.
We’ll start with the short version…
I stayed active. Made the best food choices I could given the situation. I’m thrilled I was entrusted with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity from my university. I met some incredible friends. I’m so happy to be headed home.
Win, win, win!
The longer version?
I came on this cruise intent on doing the best job I could for OSU and also to work on testing my lifestyle in a new environment.
You’ll recall that I shared in my previous blog that I was worried about gaining weight, getting lazy and going bezerk with the unlimited food.
I really wound up learning/re-learning some critical life lessons.
I realized about three days in that there was a massive amount of accumulated life wisdom on this boat regarding health, wellness, business, adventure, relationships…. So I shut up. Listened intentionally. Observed. And tried to ask some good questions when I had someone’s ears.
Here’s my top ‘lesson’ list straight from my journal:
Age is simply number. There were 55 year olds who are marching steadily toward the grave with an attitude of having given up. There were 85 year olds kicking up their heels, laughing, having the time of their lives with each of the days they have left. Age is only a number.
Size matters. European food portions were served on this ship. Not American super-sized versions of portions. There was a dazzling array of foods — at seemingly all hours. Elegant and intentional presentations. Food and the dining experience was treated with respect and care.
Size REALLY matters. Again, this is a European ship. Smaller towels, smaller showers, smaller chairs. It is built for a non-obese/normal weight population. A large (pardon the sad pun) portion of the inhabitants of this ship were overweight or obese. They struggled with some of the accommodations. Watching their struggles served as a good reminder for me. The old me, 392 pounds, wouldn’t have fit in my shower stall in my room. Likely wouldn’t have been able to use the commode that was wedged into a tight corner. I couldn’t have sat in the dining room chairs, worn the luxury robes provided and would not have been able to share a stairwell with anyone. That’s just naming a few of the reminders I saw that put my old and new lives in perspective.
Friends. Friends are where you make them and where you take them.
Accountability. I found new friends on the boat who quickly and happily agreed to being accountability partners. Meeting for walks/stretching/running, grabbing extra ice waters and focusing on great conversations; not on food. I shared my goals and ideas — they shared theirs!
Kindness knows no language.
Listen. Two ears, one mouth. I listened a lot on this ship. Heard incredible stories of strength and determination and heartbreak. I consciously tried to make sure I walked away from a conversation having listened more than I talked. I mean, I know I talk. A lot. And I recognize that it’s a bad habit. This ship was good practice for me to re-learn the value of listening.
Drink water. The older runners on board make plenty of water a daily habit. Sparkling eyes, great skin, general good health. They were laughing at me when I finally strung together all of their advice and told them the only thing I could find in common with all of them was that they wouldn’t give-up, had worked to make sure running stayed a habit in their lives and they drank plenty of water. Everything else they suggested/lectured me about was a wildly mixed bag of contradictory advice.
Blowing a snot rocket on the boat deck is a) not acceptable or appreciated and b) super tricky with cross winds. 🙂
Rest. I got great advice from a guy named George on day 12 of this adventure. He had my number as far as my cheerleader/extrovert/go-go-go personality. He said ‘Take ‘me’ time for you. Rest, recharge your emotional self. Not just your body. Or you’ll crash.’ And MAN WAS HE RIGHT! That sounds crazy given that I was on a luxury cruise ship in the middle of the ocean. And resting and relaxing is like ninja-expert-professional level sport. BUT I hadn’t been resting or relaxing for me… So I took a day and slept in. Hard. Woke up after about 14 hours of sleep. Ate a good food. Worked on this blog. Just kind of ‘hid’ and took care of myself all day long. Even extroverts need some quiet time now and again.
Routine. Routines are powerful. I spent time thinking about whether the routines I have created were being used for good/health or comfort/excuses/control. 🙂 Shaking up my routine has helped me evaluate those elements that I want to embrace and those that perhaps weren’t serving me best after all.
Be present. So hard for me to remember. But I had plenty of time to practice breathing and enjoying only what was in front of me.
This time on a ship was good for me to realize I can stay active and make smart food choices. It did NOT look at all like the activity and food that would be my ’norm’ back home, and it honestly took me about 8-10 days to be OK with that.
I kept portions under control. I took stairs. I drank water. I mostly stayed away from the desserts (Fresh sorbets… Man. They were amazing!). I kept the focus on people and good conversations instead of food. By the time we docked, I knew every nook and cranny of that 1/13th of a mile track on the top of the ship. 🙂
I am reminded that I really do have the best of both worlds.
I loved this trip, new friends, the countries, the Panama Canal crossing, the fire-testing of my lifestyle in a totally new environment.
And yet I am thrilled and excited to be heading home to my family, friends, healthy foods, trails.
I was just telling Spencer and one of our mentors, Shawna, recently that I wish I could re-write an article about me that was in Runner’s World Magazine. It talks about my weight loss/type 2 diabetes transformation. It is answering the question ‘How running changed my life’. (Here is the Runners World Article)
I wasn’t even aware they were doing the profile. The first time it appeared I freaked out. Just a little. More than a year later and the story keeps popping up. It is AWESOME! I get a total thrill/shock every single time I am scrolling through a feed on Facebook or Instagram and see my picture. 🙂
But I also cringe a little every single time it re-appears. Cringe? WHY?! Well… It misses the stories about the people that are very much a part of this whole adventure and the moments that make my heart sing and some of the things no one really wants to talk about.
Given the chance, I really would like to add/edit/re-write that story to make it a little more complete. Here’s what I would add, here are some of the key additions I would want people to know…
There are people who walked every single step of this journey with me. They believed in me when I embarked on this crazy, huge, scary lifestyle overhaul. I had proved to all of them that I was really, really good at failing at diets. I have a life-time worth of experience at failing at diets. They stuck with me anyway.
My running coach, Spencer, is the one person who has put up with untold amounts of sass and tears and freaking-ridiculous-questions as I continue to learn to run. Spencer has watched each mile build into more miles and bigger goals and even bigger dreams.
My running and training partners. The ones who meet me at o’dark thirty. In the rain. With smiles and headlamps and laughter and patience. The ones who encourage shenanigans. The ones who helped me learn how to pee in the woods – and not get caught or get poison oak. 🙂 The ones who encourage me to sign up for crazy-ass distances for the fun/adventure/epicness of it – just to help me test my boundaries. The ones who spend their vacation time traveling to a race to run some of the late-stage miles with you to make sure your butt crosses that finish line.
Kyle at Gallagher’s in Salem. Kyle fit me into my first ‘real’ walking shoes when I was finally down to 280 pounds, registering for a walking marathon and had finally scrounged up every last ounce of courage I had to walk into a ‘real running’ store. Kyle was kind and helpful and never once acted like I didn’t belong in their store. Never. I still buy my shoes at Gallagher’s. I went in to see him today as a matter of fact.
They didn’t talk about how much I hated. hated. hated. those first few tentative steps that were trying to learn to run. How embarrassed I was and mortified at the thought one of my neighbors would see my 250 pounds bouncing along with my face a charming shade of ‘heart-attack red’. Or how I was breathing so hard I genuinely felt like I was going to throw up. And yet even as hard as it was, I oddly and intuitively knew I could not give up. I had to keep trying to put one foot in front of the other no matter what anyone thought. This was the make-it-or-break-it point.
They didn’t talk about how hard I worked for and how much I cherished some of the first days I ran without those extra 10 pounds of skin hanging around my belly. Or how months later when I was all healed Josh and Wendie went for a run with me in Bend (3+ hours from home), on isolated trails, so I would feel comfortable stripping down to just shorts and my sports bra to go for a run. That ‘shorts and sports bra’ dream was hatched the very first time I ever went to a race and saw women running comfortably and carefree in next to nothing. I on the other hand was carefully and strategically covered in head-to-toe compression gear just to keep my extra skin on my belly from gaining unstoppable momentum and beating me to death. I ran that day with josh and wendie in just shorts and sports bra. I felt the sun on my belly. And the sun on my mid-back. And I was running on world-class trails. With cherished and trusted friends who knew what this meant to me. I felt free, brave, happy – and comfortable in my own skin for the first time in a long time.
They didn’t talk about how when I finally ran one full mile without stopping I bawled like a baby out of pure joy and quickly called my friend Wade to tell him… I HAD DONE IT!! (Bets! QUIT YELLING IN THE PHONE!) I was hooked at that moment on asking my body to try to do more… I knew in that moment that my body was strong and my mind could be my biggest weapon if I wanted to work on them both… 🙂 Could I do a mile and half? Could I possibly run a 5K at some point? What else could I do? What else in life had I missed out on because I had been obese and immobile? Oh my heavens… I felt like the doors to the whole-wide-world were finally opening and I was getting to run though them…
Not my normal, guarded, stiff-legged bounce that I have used for the last three years when running downhill.
And no, it was NOT a dream.
I ran an entire mile at a 7:32 pace. For me — that’s fast!
HOLY SMOKES was it an amazing, unreal feeling to be flying down the hill on my own two legs!
I felt strong, solid, happy. And well… I’ve never quite felt like that in all the running I have done up to this point.
I felt capable and confident. Those two words don’t get used a lot when I’m thinking about/talking about my own running.
Thursday night? I nailed the downhill portion that I was working on.
All the pieces came together. And something really important just finally clicked into place…
Back up for just one moment… When I first started running it was simply about getting one foot in front of the other more than a few times in a row. Like — very literally — the width of a driveway. That was how I started my running career. I was a walker, not a runner. I was just dabbling with the idea of running and not sure I was even going to like it. So I didn’t tell anyone I was trying to learn to run just in case I tried it and hated it. Then I wouldn’t have to explain it to anyone. 🙂
Some days putting one foot in front of the other is still very much the goal.
But I am to a point with running where I want to work on some specific techniques, and learn some new skills. I am working on the parts/pieces/things that are going to help me keep running for years to come. The things that will help me avoid injury, run faster, run longer.
This is the really FUN stuff to be learning.
This is the hard work that I don’t mind doing.
Spencer and I were running off of McCullough Peak Thursday night. Spencer was running with me and he said we should work on some downhill running.
I have a short, choppy, guarded gait. Especially on the downhill. I’m kinda/sorta afraid/terrified of falling on my face. My gait shows that I’m guarding with every single footfall.
I tend to hit the ground and use my legs as shock absorbers — NOT springs.
I should be using them as springs.
‘Running downhill is not really running, it’s more of a controlled fall.’ — Spencer
Spencer and I have been working on my downhill technique/skills/abilities for close to year. Last year in May at the Western States Training camp in California we realized that I really didn’t know how to run downhill very well. We’ve been working on it ever since.
Spencer has tried all kinds of things to help me learn to run more smoothly, efficiently and comfortably downhill. We have talked about cadence, gait, stride – we have worked on core strength and building all the right muscles. All the things that I should be focused on to help make my downhill running (running in general) better.
So why was this run different?
I don’t really know how to explain it except that the words Spencer said clicked and something FINALLY made sense.
For a split second my legs understood what my brain seemed to refuse to comprehend.
And then you know that moment when your brain gives a big sigh of relief because you finally, finally understand something with perfect clarity?
This was one of those moments.
We were running downhill. Me short/choppy, jabbing kinds of strides and Spencer says ‘open up your hips’.
I asked him what exactly that meant.
Spencer says try running from your hips, not just from your legs.
Those words made sense to me…
I took a few more steps that were short, stiff. Then I tried striding out with my hips ‘open’. My glutes were engaged in the whole process (hello butt!). It was very suddenly NO LONGER just about my legs and knees…
All of the sudden I was really moving comfortably down the hill. Faster, efficiently, with my legs more springy.
It. Was. Amazing.
I felt really strong and confident and fluid.
I was mostly keeping up with Spencer on the downhill, which NEVER, ever happens. 🙂
I ran for about .75 of a mile with keen attention to keeping my hips open and running from my hips. And that .75 of a mile was fast!
I can only imagine some of Spencer’s frustration/elation/satisfaction given that THIS is what he has been trying to get me to do for about, oh… 8 months now.
That night, for some reason, the words and directions he gave me while we were running downhill FINALLY made sense to me.
And I ran.
And I felt like a freaking powerful runner for the first time in a long time.
Actually, maybe, I finally felt like a powerful runner for the very first time.
It just felt so damn good to fly down the hill with confidence.
*Coach’s note from Spencer:
The most impressive part to this .75 mile stretch was the fact that Betsy finished the last .25 mile at a 6:15 pace. The fastest I have ever seen her run, ever, is right around an 8 minute pace on downhill.
This trail running group is welcoming and they encourage anyone to join them. I know the individuals who go to this run are fast and strong and experienced. I went into this run — which I had honestly been artfully, purposefully dodging for over a year — with trepidation.
‘Can I keep up?’
‘Was I fit enough?’
The answer turned out to be no.
I couldn’t really keep up.
I got dropped on the first set of hills.
I spent the next 90 minutes or so wishing I had not gotten momentarily, stupidly brave and decided that I would give this a try. I spent the time listening to some shitty voices in my head about being slow and worthless and a burden. I was questioning my fitness and training.
I spent the entire run DREADING the moment I would be the last one to arrive to the top of the trail, last to the top of the hill, last one back to the parking lot where everyone was waiting for me.
Emotional shitstorm is the best phrase I can think of to explain what happened.
I felt like I was in over my head. I was embarrassed at being the last up the hill. I was beating the crap out of myself instead of enjoying the company, the scenery and the privilege of spending some time running on a glorious early Spring Oregon night in the Mac Forest.
Spencer reminded me multiple times on the car ride home that all of the other runners are only worried about their run. They were NOT thinking about me at all. Let alone were they thinking I was worthless, or a burden or that having to wait for me meant anything other than we follow a code of trail running that makes sure everyone who goes out on a run comes back in.
No judgement, only safety.
Intellectually I get that.
This whole meltdown is about my self confidence in the world of running.
This is about trusting the process that I am working through in establishing this still-new-to-me lifestyle of plant based eating, running and maintaining my weight loss. I run with some baggage.
This group had to wait for me in three places.
There is nothing that embarrasses me quicker, or more completely these days than having a group of runners wait for me.
Within about 15 minutes of a 90+ minute run I was flustered, negative and quiet. I thought seriously about asking Spencer to give me the keys to the car and I would just wait in the car. BUT having to explain to Spencer, let alone the rest of the people standing around waiting for me at the trailhead that I was quitting because I felt like I was in over my head seemed like a far worse option than just gutting out the run.
We got done with the run. Everyone was waiting in the parking lot for me to work my way off the hill. I made quick good byes. Spencer and I jumped in the car to head home. I wasn’t going to tell Spencer anything. I was embarrassed. I didn’t really have the words to tell him what was going on.
But we know each other pretty well at this point.
And I suck at poker.
I lost it and attempted to tell him what I had been feeling the entire run. What I said among some other personal and strongly worded, emotionally laden, harshly worded self-judgmental crappola was ‘I HATE BEING LAST! I’m so %^$&ing SLOW…’
I was attempting to process it all, through the debilitating fog of shame and embarrassment.
Why were the voices zinging around in my head so freaking nasty…?
I went for a run today and I got some really good thinking time in.
I kept thinking about how disproportionate my reaction was to the reality of the situation.
WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH ME? And why is having a group of fellow-runners, friends waiting for me such a trigger?
By the time I got home from running today I had narrowed down part of what I was sure was really eating at me…
I needed to talk to Spencer about it.
‘Spencer. I think all of this stems from me just wanting to be normal. And not be in a spotlight for at least once in my life.’
I lost 220 pounds, I reversed Type 2 Diabetes. BIG things — I get that. Visibly shocking even and most people reply with disbelief. I can’t hide my weight loss and changed body.
But what I have FINALLY figured out about ME…? I reclaimed my health and lost weight in large part to try to become ‘normal‘… I’ve never really been ‘normal’ at any point in my life that I can remember.
I just want to be NORMAL.
I want to be able to fit in an airplane seat. Buy clothes anywhere, anytime. I don’t want to need medicine. I really don’t want people to notice me personally for any reason unless I wanted to speak up, wear funky clothes or do something that warranted attention.
I really, really just want to be normal for the first time in my life.
Running is a big part of that normal equation for me. Even though I pick really long distances which most people don’t understand — it’s all a critical part of helping me reach a ‘normal’, healthy, sustainable life.
I was telling Spencer that when you are the LAST person in on a run; you have everyone’s attention. Casually, fleetingly, non-judgementally. BUT for that split second you are the focus of attention. And in my mind — since I’m last it’s hinging on my body, my weight, my ability, my fitness — and I feel incredibly vulnerable. If I were thinner, faster, a better runner – they wouldn’t be waiting for me.
It’s a fierce, instant trigger for me.
And now I think I’m beginning to understand why.
Running has become my most beloved tool, my safe haven in this lifestyle process that is constantly changing. It’s the place where I get to be me. ALL of me. No one else but me. Where I get to build me into the person I want to be. No one else can do the work, take the credit or see the rewards.
Running is about a whole lot more than just the physical act of running.
I have told Spencer, as a coach and now as my friend and business partner, that I want to get faster, be a stronger runner. He was asking me – in light of all of this – if that goal has changed.
No… The goal has not changed, but I was finally able to but some words around WHY I want to run faster.
I don’t want to be faster to beat anyone. I don’t care about getting on a podium. It isn’t to shorten a race or spend less time running. It isn’t to be seen as a better athlete/person/runner.
I want to run faster so I can beat the race cutoffs and finish a race when everyone else in the middle of the pack finishes. I want to be faster so I’m not the last person across the finish line. So I’m not the last person to the top of the hill. So I’m running so ‘normally’ no one is noticing me.
Regardless of my motivation — the goal remains the same. The work I have to do to get there — well… That remains the same too.
It took some serious mental gymnastics to come to the conclusion that what I really want in ALL of this is just to be NORMAL…
As Spencer reminds me all the time… THIS is all part of the process.
I am down with a mean little sinus infection. I am choosing to listen to my body and giving it good food, solid sleep and some quality healing time. (And there’s also the fact that my coach ‘strongly suggested’ it was the smart thing to do.)
But I haven’t run in days. And the ritual of getting ready, running, the feeling of accomplishment that comes from a solid training run… Well. I miss it.
I’m was in a conversation with a woman at work today about the fact that I was not running.
‘Good to take a break and let your body heal. You know running is hard on your knees and back and I just read that too much running is really bad for your ‘girl parts’.’
Ok. Huh. Girl parts.
The conversation could have gone several different ways at that point.
If I were getting in my regular training time and not feeling icky-sick and exercise-deprived, I would have laughed and said something like…
‘I wear a good sports bra and I’m not using my uterus anyway. I am more worried about being attacked by a cougar while I’m out running trails.’
But as I said, I am not getting in my regular training runs.
I’m publicly admitting that I am a little cranky.
Ok. I’m grumpy. Maybe even a little more than grumpy.
So I wound up being pretty blunt and pointing out that Type 2 Diabetes and those extra 220 pounds I had been carrying around for close to 20 years had been trying really, really hard to KILL me.
So when you think about all of that? My love for running and the possibility of my uterus falling out is the least of my worries…
But this whole exchange caught my attention. And leads me to a bigger question…
And my size-11 feet are kicking right up against the base of a pretty big soapbox…
Why can’t women support, promote, encourage other women?
Why can’t we enthusiastically support other peoples loves and lives?
Why can’t we just support what other people say they love and want to do without placing our fears and judgement and unsolicited opinions on THEIR dreams?
And I’m guilty of this crappy dream-dousing behavior too.
GUILTY as hell.
This whole ‘girl parts’ conversation made me aware of the potentially fantastic shift that could occur if I were to choose carefully about how I react and comment when people invite me into their conversations about what they cherish and value and love… What if I just declared myself ‘on their team’ no matter what that team might be?
SO I’m going to pay attention to it for the next few weeks and see if I can’t make a new habit out of supporting — without hesitation or placing my own judgements/concerns/jealousies — on what THEY are excited about.
I’ll give my little social experiment the rest of this Lenten season. I’ll be intentional, supportive and endeavor to learn why they feel so passionately.
Not sure this will save my uterus from falling out the next time I get to go for a run, but I’ll give it a shot anyway. 🙂
(My sister says I should have named this blog, “I’m ovary being sick.”)
‘Write a note to yourself while you are so excited. In those rare, fleeting or dark moments when you aren’t excited, you’re exhausted or you feel scared or unsure about what you have just signed up to do, you can look back and read the words, your very own words, and remember this moment…
Remember the ‘why’.’ – Peg Herring
Peg is my mentor and friend who at the same time also said…
‘I do not understand what you have chosen to do. Not at all. But you need to know that I support you 100%. You can do anything you set out to do.’
So, here’s the note I wrote to myself. 🙂
You just signed up for the Mountain Lakes 100 mile race.
Now you get to spend the next eight months training for it! Then on September 24th you get to freaking toe the line!
You are wholeheartedly, bone-deep, excited! Giddy even. You spent the week walking around grinning ear-to-ear. You have gone to bed each night happy and very much at peace with the decision to embark on this wild adventure.
Josh Gum planted the idea in your head to run a 100 miler about three years ago. He introduced you to the idea of ultras and endurance sports. (‘You don’t have to go fast, you just can’t give up…’) The idea that you might be able to run 100 miles, you, Bets, – the former morbidly obese girl, Type 2 Diabetic, the girl who swore she hated running – this idea, has become an obsession, a deep-seated desire.
Since the day the seed was planted, you have been wondering, dreaming, becoming focused on the idea that maybe, just maybe, you might have it in your heart and soul (and legs) to actually run something obnoxiously, audaciously, fantastically long; like a 100 miler.
The last three years you have been dedicated to learning the art and sport of running. And while you’re just barely getting started, that hasn’t stopped you from totally falling in love with trail running in the process. Falling in love with all of it. The people, the sport, the experiences, the miles, the challenge.
Every single thing about trail running appeals to you, speaks to you, heals and nourishes and strengthens your soul.
You have also learned that this life adventure with trail running is not just about running.
This whole process of getting ready for and tackling a 100 miler is really about wondering if you have the fortitude and ability to take a really big, scary goal and then TACKLE it, own it, beat it…
This is about putting your hard-fought lifestyle changes to the test.
This is about getting stronger. Brain and body.
This is about really LIVING your life.
You spent your 20’s and into your early 40’s as a 392 pound, morbidly obese, Type 2 diabetic.
You were ALWAYS saying to yourself; I…
‘… can’t run.’
‘… can’t do that.’
‘… am too fat to do that.’
‘… am pretty sure that would hurt…’
‘…am too old.’
Here’s the kicker…
How can you really hate/deny/be fearful of something you have never done?
Be honest with yourself Bets. You had never gone running. You weren’t eating healthy. You weren’t being active. You weren’t doing anything long enough to form an actual, honest-to-goodness opinion of your own.
You were just accepting the passive opinions about your abilities and limitations based on ASSumptions. (We all know what word features prominently in ASSumption.)
You are done assuming.
This effort will require you to give your very best on every, single, possible level. It will test everything you think you are made of. And you have been told/warned/not-so-gently-reminded by people you love, trust and respect that this is going to test things you never knew were going to be tested, never dreamed you would encounter.
This will change you.
‘It’s going to be an experience that will change you in ways that will surprise you.’ — Josh Gum
You are ready for that testing.
Not just on race day, but you are ready for the testing that you know occurs every step of the way during the training process too.
Gaining new distances, building your core/back, learning to fuel, endless practice running down hills, even more endless practice with speed work, running uphills, power hiking.
You want to hit that start line for Mountain Lakes KNOWING that you kept putting in your best effort every single time you put on your running shoes.
If you commit 100% to the training, on race day you can put all of that together and enjoy the magic that happens when hard work and a heartfelt goal start racing in the same direction.
You did not just sign up for this on a whim.
You have been tenacious, intentional and consistent in working up to a fitness level where you feel wholeheartedly ready to train for and do your first 100 miler. You spoke with Spencer at length about what you wanted to do more than two years ago.
With guidance from both Spencer and Josh, you decided you had the perfect race in your sights and you picked Mountain Lakes for your first 100 miler.
You know you can do this.
Spencer says you are ready to train to run 100 miler.
Team Gum (Josh and Wendie) have said they know you are up to the task and will support you 100%.
That’s all the validation you wanted or needed to eagerly hit the ‘sign me up now!’ button.
Now go throw your heart and feet onto the trails and get training for this sucker.
So when and if the times get dark or scary or daunting, I will look back on this note and remember what I was thinking and feeling.
I will also be reminded that this is not just about running.
It has never, ever been entirely about running.
This whole, amazing adventure is about something much, much bigger. It’s about owning and chasing down a dream. It’s about believing in myself. It’s about intentionally choosing to push into new, scary territory. It’s about living life to the fullest each and every single day.
Crossing the finish line of a race is an exciting and exhilarating moment in time!
You envision savoring the feeling of that experience for a long time to come.
The final – symbolical and literal – step in months or years of planning and dreaming and training.
YOU HAVE DONE IT!
You have succeeded!
Friends at the finish line are cheering and clapping and celebrating with you as they announce your name. They place a medal around your neck. Strangers are calling out congratulations. Hugs. Happy tears. Pictures.
All the good stuff!!!
You are embracing a deep feeling of accomplishment. A sense of completeness. A surge of rightful pride in what you’ve asked your body and mind to do and how fantastically they responded.
It’s that single moment that signifies you can now check something really big off that ol’ life bucket list.
I just finished the North Face Endurance Challenge 50 miler a week ago today.
It’s been a dream of mine for close to 3 years. I’ve trained for the race for the last few months very specifically, strategically. BUT the bigger picture of this story is that I’ve really spent the last 30 months or so working to build toward this specific race distance.
This one, single day was the result of a whole lot of work.
Years of work.
I felt good about finishing, beating the cutoffs, racing that sucker EXACTLY to the plan Spencer and I had worked out and practiced.
I had a GREAT race and an incredible day.
I remain overwhelmed with gratitude and love for the friends who were by my side. Literally. Josh, TJ, Wade and Spencer were waiting on the course about 1/2 mile from the finish line for Wendie (my friend and pacer!) and I to appear. They hooted and hollered when they saw us and then served as rowdy guardians, running with me right up to the finish area and cheering each and every step I was taking.
Then they were yelling and cheering for me at the finish. Theirs were the only voices I wanted to hear.
I felt a swirl of emotions about it all in that last tenth of a mile.
Very powerful, mixed emotions.
One of the strongest feelings?
WHAT THE HELL?!!
ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
I’ve just run 50 miles. I trained for years. I beat the dreaded %$#@ing cut offs! I did better than I thought I could. I had – for me – a nearly flawless race. I am staring at the smiling faces of five people I adore. I can now really, finally, legitimately call myself an ultra runner…
How the hell am I feeling sad?
It caught me TOTALLY and utterly off guard.
It felt like a gut punch.
I spent the next three days cocooned in a great vacation house in Sausalito, sightseeing and being taken care of, building great memories with close and caring friends. We were all aware that I was feeling pretty emotionally raw and fragile.
I felt like I was on the verge of tears. I couldn’t sleep. I was indecisive. I was listless. I felt I was disappointing my friends by not being happy.
I just felt sad and ‘not normal’.
I wasn’t happy or euphoric or elated or energized. None of the things I was expecting or hoping to feel were present.
I was bewildered and confused by this unexpected emotional fragility.
I KNEW I was tired. I tried to chalk some of this odd and not-normal behavior up to being physically and mentally tired and sleep deprived and out of my carefully cultivated routine. I was very aware that I had just put my body and mind through a test they had never been through before.
The problem was I didn’t really understand what was going on in my mind until right before we were getting ready to leave for home. I finally was able to semi-articulate what was consuming my brain and heart and had a long, honest talk with my friend Josh.
He assured me that this was all a fairly normal reaction given what I’d just done.
I sit here a week later and FINALLY, finally I am starting to appreciate what I just accomplished.
It’s starting to sink in.
Josh and Spencer have both told me that there is a sort of commonly accepted catch-phrase for what I’ve been experiencing…
Post-event let down.
It will go away. I will one moment, shortly down the road, feel the full weight of what I’ve accomplished. And whole-heartedly enjoy those feelings.
It’s just a little delayed while my body and mind sort out what I’ve put them through.
You put a BIG goal out there. You focus on it 100% for years. You hit the event start line. You take off. After a few moments/miles you feel the hours of training kick in and take over and you settle in to do the work you’ve learned to do. You’re flying and soaring and enjoying the event, life, the people around you!
Your mind, body, heart and soul are all working together to get you to the goal.
It’s an amazing feeling!
And then it’s done.
One last step.
You cross the finish line.
It’s suddenly all over…
So how am I taking care of myself and recovering fully from ALL of this?
I’m writing things down.
Savoring time with close friends.
I am focused on healing my body with good foods and long walks and lots of water. And sleep. Lots of sleep. 🙂
I’ll keep talking with my coach and close friends as I make discoveries or have concerns.
I am intent on heeding the caution that I take the time and simply enjoy, fully absorb, what I’ve just done. That’s something I’m not very good at. Now’s the perfect time to practice it. 🙂
And I’ll also heed the caution to be looking for that next big goal to embrace and get excited about – but to make NO decisions until I’m rested and recovered.