Laughter is damn good medicine.

My momma used to say ‘you better be able to laugh at yourself, cause others certainly will.’ And she didn’t mean it in the ‘get yourself some confidence and have a spine and who cares what the world thinks’ if you knew my kind-hearted, loving, gentle momma she meant it in the ‘life is funny and laughing is fun and just lighten up – life is way, way, way too short to be taking yourself so seriously’…. I have found laughter to be healing, provide peace and disarm even the grumpiest of people at times.

‘A wonderful thing about true laughter is that it just destroys any kind of system of dividing people.” –John Cleese.

I’m a BIG fan of laughter. And I swear the older I get the more I have to laugh at myself in regards to my what-the-hell-happened-to-my-memory or no-filter-thinking or crappola eyesight. Having the privilege of living into my 50’s — there is simply some funny shit that happens with age.

So with that set-up… Let me tell you about a recent trail episode.

It was cold and still icey in places from a recent snow/thaw. My running friend and I are doing this local 2.5 mile climb up a place I love to run called Cline Buttes. It’s a fire road/bike trails with a 1,000 foot hill. We tackle it each week; on the same day and keep track of our times. We’re aiming to be fast badasses and we’re working on it one step at a time. Right now I’m less ‘fast badass’ and more ‘just don’t stop hiking until you hit the top no matter how slow you go’. (Side-note; you can in fact go so slow that your trusty and beloved GPS watch asks if you still want to be recording this ‘run’ or are you done? Fact.)

Anyway, we focus on hiking up this hill to get to the gate. There’s a gate to a utility road/cell tower enclosure at the top; we hike up as hard as we can, tap the gate, turnaround and run back down. Some version of that is the weekly goal. We’re trying to hike harder and run faster. Simple. HARD as hell, but simple and rewarding to gauge progress each week.

Running back down, every so often on the downhill one of us has to stop and pee. Trail running? No problem. Check for other peeps. Hike 10 feet off. Face your bum away from potential oncoming traffic. Squat. Resume running. SIMPLE.

This time descending off the hill I decide that if I take any more running steps I’m going to pee my pants. There’s no waiting this one out until I get back home. So I tell my partner ‘Hey… I know we’re on a bit of a sidehill, but I really have to pee. Gonna climb over that discarded corrugated/culvert pipe over there on the side of the road and be right back.’ It seemed like as good a place to ‘hide’ as possible given the hill, potential bike traffic that sneaks up on you. Plus I am a SUPER speedy pee-er. Like – peeing on trail has to be close to a super power for me. I’m good. Really good. But I digress.

Remember I said it was icy?And we’re on a fairly steep side hill? Right?

As I step off the road and I am on a downhill sloped patch, JUST ABOUT to straddle the discarded culvert pipe which is at least 3 feet round… My running partner YELLS ‘BETSY. WILD ANIMALS!’

I stop mid-straddle, whip around to see what in the holy hell she is yelling about…

That quick turn threw me off balance on the hill. My only-planted foot slips on ice.

I go ass-over-tea-kettle over the frozen, slippery pipe. Like, in my mind, it was almost competitive gymnasts quality mid-air, somersault.

A really convenient and soft patch of unmelted snow breaks my downhill fall and keeps me from rolling the 2.4 miles downhill to my car.

I am so startled to find myself on the ground, I pee my pants.

I hop up as quick as I can trying to do a simultaneous pat down to make sure I’m not broken or bleeding AND keep from falling back down the steep side hill AND I’m also frantically looking around for a tyrannosaurus rex or cougar or polar bear.

I turn to my friend who has a totally shocked look on her face and I’m staring at her, mouth soundlessly agape and waving my arms around wildly like ‘WHAT ANIMALS? DO WE HAVE TO RUN FOR OUR LIVES?” and she says ‘uh… I thought maybe an animal had taken up residence in that discarded pipe and you should be careful not to disturb them.’

We stared at each other for about 5 seconds. I said something really smooth like ‘I PISSED MYSELF’. And we both started to laugh.

We laughed so hard that she finally sat on the ground. The next day my ribs were sore from laughing so hard.

We laughed for probably a full 5 minutes. At some point she asks ‘are you OK?’ and it was WELL after we’d laughed and tried to stop laughing multiple times. I said ‘yeah. I’m good. (sarcastic font) Thanks for asking me NOW.’ That launched another fit of laughter.

The worst that happened was I peed my pants. Not the first nor the last time that’s gonna happen. And to be honest, it’s why I wear exclusively black tights for running. I learned that lesson EARLY on; with black leggings/tights no one can EVER tell. 🙂

The best part? A deep and happily exhausting belly laugh with a friend and another great trail story to tell.

Laughter is in fact good medicine. (Even the Mayo Clinic says so. )

Ode to a visor. {My hair can be an asshole at times.}

WIND was ferocious at the top. ‘Can I take a picture?’ ‘Yeah but HURRY UP.’ We climbed, we photo’d, we skedaddled back down.

I always chuckle to myself when people ask me about the epic views I get to see hiking/running in and around the amazing Cascade Range of Oregon. I nod and say yes, nature is in fact glorious. She doesn’t have a bad view.. Cause, I mean c’mon…

But I chuckle because… THIS… This is my reality. This is what I saw for 3+ hours today.

THIS is what I look at on the day-to-day when I’m training to do a trail race/event. I live in Bend and have access to amazing outdoor spaces. I treasure every minute I get to be outside. Yet, views from the mountain top aren’t what it’s all about for me. I honestly have just as much love and appreciation for being able to watch the ground move and change under my feet for hours on end. I may not be able to reliably identify a mountain peak, but I can often tell you precisely about rocks, mud, ditches and downed logs on local trails.

I think both the view and the journey are deeply rewarding.

One of my favorite memories from my 100 miler was at the finish line of Mountain Lakes 100. It boasts that runners pass 25 mountain lakes on this jaw-droppingly scenic course. He’s my friend now, but it was Colton’s first 100 mile finish too and at that time I only knew we were both now 100 mile FINISHERS. His parents were there to support and crew. We were all milling around the finish area, limping, whimpering, trying to figure out what in the hell had just happened to us after almost 30 hours of moving. I hear his mom say ‘Colton, were the lakes beautiful?’ and Colton’s reply with much exhaustion and a big fat bold question mark was ‘there were lakes?’

I remember that I laughed and butted in to say ‘I didn’t see any lakes either!’

I wear a visor for a variety of obvious, functional reasons; but it’s also a physical blinder to keep me focused on taking one step at a time. If I’m tackling something tough, I tend to do best if I can focus on the 8-10 feet directly in front of me. NOT the big picture. Not the people around me. Not what’s halfway up the hill and still distressingly *insert whining* FAR AWAY…. I do really well if I focus on where I’m going to put my foot in the very next step. Then the next. Repeat over and over and over again.

And I love a good visor for other reasons too. I mean, beyond the fact that my big head doesn’t fit in most hats AND then add in my hair… Lordy. My hair. She has her own zip code. My hair can be an asshole to be honest. I learned early on in my running adventures that a visor meant I didn’t have to try to control that mess on top of my head, no headache and I got all of the other benefits on top of being a tool to keep me focused on the work needed in the moment.

Once I have my running shoes on, my hydration pack, gloves, whatever else… The visor is usually the last thing I put on before we head out. I put my head in a natural, comfortable position and put the visor on carefully so that my view is very purposely restricted to what’s directly in front of me. I only want to be able to see 8-10 feet right off my toes. For good reason. Today’s challenge was trying to get up and down Gray Butte. One step at a time. I knew I needed to focus.

We’re about 2.5 miles in at this point in the picture and I want to go to the top, near that tower…

For two+ hours of climbing THIS was the my view from under the edge of my trusty visor…. While I worked to reach the top of hill.

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We hit the trailhead, I get ready at the car. I try to do the same things in the same order – so nothing gets forgotten. I tie my shoes, make sure I have everything in my hydration vest pocket-by-pocket and put my visor on. While I’m going through that comforting routine of getting ready for a harder effort – I’m also mentally giving myself a pep talk, setting the stage for how I want to ‘show up’ for the run. Today it was these three points:

  • Stay in your lane Hartley. Doesn’t matter what ANYONE else is doing out there today. Comparison is NOT your friend. Give it YOUR best.
  • One foot in front of the other is the ONLY way to get there.
  • Don’t get lost.

Then we head out.

One foot in front of the other. Giving it my best.

Looking at the 10 feet of earth off of the tip of my shoe for where to step and land and push. I glance up from under the visor every few strides to make sure I’m roughly on the trail and headed toward the top.

Moving forward. Picking my next best step. Trying to reach the edge of the 10 feet my visor gives me, so I can check out the next 10 feet to cover .

Savoring the view of the ground while continually moving forward and eyeing the horizon. Who says we can’t have it all?

Changes/comparisons.

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A new town, new apartment, new job….

These are such kick ass times to take inventory. I get caught up in comparing. Old life/new life. Fat Betsy/healthy Betsy. How can I not? It’s such a stark reminder.

I just moved to Bend, Oregon from the other side of the Cascades. Changed jobs after 14 years. Started a new professional adventure that – while only 4 days in – is something I can tell is going to be wildly fantastic and is aligning ALL the parts of my life. Moved from a house to an apartment. Working to build a new base and network of friends. ALL kinds of changes!  All good and all wanted, yet still big, scary and unsettling.

I worked hard to make the changes to my lifestyle a few years ago and I’ve worked just as hard to make these recent changes. I knew that a move could up-end a whole lot of those carefully structured ‘good habits’ if I wasn’t paying attention.  PERFECT time for old habits to slip back in, especially when loneliness lurks and self-confidence gets pushed around because of all the changes.

Even welcome changes can open the door to mental mischief if we’re not paying attention.

So I was hyper-alert to eating, timing, prioritizing those things that I needed to do in this new location to get right into the routine that keeps me healthy. I put a plan in place.  I made finding a pool, getting out on my bike, finding some trails my top priority.  Even more than the normal ‘adult’ stuff we’re supposed to focus on in a move, like address changes, unpacking boxes and finding a couch. I also forced at-home/cooked meals and not making brew-pubs/restaurants the focal point of gathering and meetings.

Here’s the list of ‘I can not believe this is my life!’ moments from the past 10 days:

I’ve officially used the shower at the gym more than I’ve used the one at my new apartment.  The locker room is super welcoming and friendly. I felt HORRIBLE intimidation going the first time, but it very quickly went away.  This pool (JUNIPER) is amazeballs. 🙂

I didn’t have to transfer prescriptions and find a pharmacy that takes Sharp’s containers. Or find a place at work to stash insulin and needles. Or explain why I’m ‘shooting up’ in the bathroom 2X a day. Or why I have finger-prick blood all over my desk and papers…

I am using my meetings with new colleagues to make them walking meetings. I can walk and talk at the same time. 🙂 I’ve looked for walking paths around my office. Not candy stores, bakeries, ice cream shops or fast food options.  That one BLEW my mind when about 3 days in on the new job, I realized I hadn’t brought lunch and didn’t even know where to go because I had NOT BEEN PAYING ATTENTION to food stuff.

I’m finding new coffee shops and places to eat and buy groceries and not having to battle the old food-related locations that were so much a part of my 400-pound life. Coffee for the sake of coffee/views/friendly barista/welcoming customers and work spaces. I don’t even know where the Taco Bell or McDonalds are. I’m going to keep it that way.

I found a gym. I have a new favorite trail. I’ve gotten some good bike time in. I haven’t even bothered to look for a new doctor because I only need well-patient care.

I’m meeting new people because I’m on hikes and group rides. Not because we’re in a diabetic counseling workshop.

There’s more. Lots more. Big and little. This just highlights for me how different life is now that I am focused on health. No longer having to worry about weight limits, fitting in a chair, or walking a block and being exhausted.

I LOVE Bend, my apartment, my new job, the sunshine!

I’m also still very much in love with what focusing on my health has given me each and every day since I started this lifestyle journey years ago.

Reminders and comparisons.

 

Ultras/Binge Eating Disorder

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I know this topic is likely to be too obscure for some folks. I’m really writing this for my ultra running friends. Hoping to start a conversation or get their help in making some connections or get your thinking on this topic…


For me, ultras and Binge Eating Disorder (BED) are inextricably and pretty wickedly connected. From the first ‘Holy shit, could this really be what’s happening?’ moment to the ‘Wow. Makes sense even though I detest the idea…’ moment it took me about 6 months to puzzle it out.

The information I can find about Eating Disorders are mainly about Anorexia or Bulimia. Like this great read from Trail Runner Magazine which covers a whole lot of valuable ground. Yet, I can not find anything about the ties between ultras/endurance and BED specifically. I can’t be the only one dealing with this. When you mesh the Google ‘percentage of U. S. population…’ stats of ultras at .5% and BED at 3%, statistically, I still don’t think I can be alone in this mess.

What forced the issue? An acute episode of BED rearing its ugly head along with a planned off-season/down-time from running. (My blog about it is here…)

Running was no longer there to hide behind.

It’s absence made things brutally and undeniably clear.

I was hiking one day and was gobsmacked with the realization that I was using running to hide/feed the BED. It was this nasty, covert, and destructive cycle that I couldn’t really see because I was so deeply in it. I wasn’t running from something or even too something.  I was running FOR something.  And not for something good or worthwhile or sustainable.

I stopped in my tracks.

Sat my butt down on the side of the trail and wrote some notes on my phone while a newt cruised by to see what I was doing.

This felt BIG.


Here’s what I wrote on my phone: “I love long runs and hate tapering. I run long (5+ hours) and I have ‘permission’ to eat anything and everything in any quantities I want.  When I taper, food gets restricted, weight creeps up. I run long, eat how I want and basically don’t get ‘caught’ bingeing because the huge volume of food I’m eating is ‘acceptable’. Tapering unleashes sneaky-ass behaviors that I thought I’d banished once and for all. Including lying about food.’

BED brain thinks about food as an acceptable/necessary/urgent replacement for something missing or to fill an emotional need.  This has NOTHING to do with hunger.  Not.a.single.thing. For me food can take the place of damn near every emotion on the spectrum.  I’m just as likely to eat that emotion in the form of trail mix as I am to actually feel and experience it. No amount of cajoling/shaming/lecturing can fix it.  I’ve often said ‘pizza was never mean to me…’   When you have THAT kind of relationship with food you need professional help.

Running gave me the ability to ignore/continue/not-fight with my BED all in the name of ‘recovery from ultras/training’.  I wasn’t running for the love of running.  I was very much running to manage my weight since I binge, but I don’t purge…  I was very much running to make the occasional huge volume of food I was eating not look out of whack.

I was running to hide my eating disorder.  Even when I didn’t know that what I had was an eating disorder.

Eff.

I was ready to face all of this and not ignore it or hide it anymore. Scared shitless, but ready. I needed help beyond caring and concerned friends. After muscling my way through the post-acute phase of intense blues / shame / depression / anxiety / hopelessness / panic that lasts for several days after a binging episode…

I got into therapy.


My brand new therapist immediately, like first 20 minutes of first session, said running was an issue. I immediately told her she was dead wrong. Not politely.  I was rude and defiant. Defiance is my go to when I’m ashamed and someone’s getting close to the reason for the shame or embarrassment.

I flat out denied the connection. I lost 200 pounds, reversed Type 2 Diabetes. Running had SAVED me. Who the hell was this woman to say running was part of the current problem? Was she not listening to me? ….

The therapist quickly said we could agree to disagree about the role of running in my eating disorder. We would focus on other things. {Smart ploy…} That lasted two sessions.  I began to honestly assess what I was doing and why. Journaling impulses, noting emotions and starting to make tentative connections between feelings and food.

Damn if she wasn’t right…

Writing everything down it was impossible to ignore the connection. Running sat smack in the middle of the BED pile. It was about 2 sessions in where I had to concede she had a point.

More than a point. Ultra running was the 500 pound gorilla in the room.

I hadn’t replaced food with running.  I had used running to hide, enable and deny my BED. A crucial distinction. I hadn’t let go of ONE thing and grasped tightly onto something new.  I hadn’t given up anything at all.  I’d just masked what in the hell was really going on.

I think the college students I worked with would call that a HOT MESS.

Ultras and BED are married up in epically dysfunctional fashion for me.

As long as I ran long, I could pretend that eating 3,000+ calories at a single time after a long run was ‘normal recovery’.  Eating whatever I wanted for the week of a 60+ mile week was acceptable. I basically kept signing up for races to make sure I still had high mileage weeks and really full training schedules so that my bingeing wouldn’t be detected or life would seem ‘normal’ because of the training load and my food intake.

Eff.

So what now?  Great question. I have some tentative answers.

  • Awareness is a huge part of the battle. Talking about it. Knowing that my ultra friends support me when I get ‘wonky’ about food or food discussions.
  • Not running ultras or being lured in by Ultrasignup for a while is my main strategy for staying focused.  I needed a break from running.  I’m using this downtime in all the best ways possible. And NOT viewing it as punishment.
  • Rebuilding my running from the ground up when the time comes to hit the trails again. Slowly, carefully. Knowing food is fuel and that’s the only place it will hold in my running.

I didn’t take on this whole lifestyle change to give up when things got hard.

I will be running again, soon, for all the right reasons.

 

 

 

ISO: Running mojo…

08_14_16_trrt_317-zf-7509-90007-1-001-012In search of mojo.

My running mojo specifically.

I’ve got other kinds of joy, inspiration, drive. In spades. Life is good. 🙂 But my running mojo seems to be on an extended hiatus…

I’m missing her.

Time to admit that I am {temporarily} burned out on running.


I’m kind of an all-or-nothing girl at times. My history would indicate a preferred path of eradication, not moderation. 🙂 And this time I wanted to do things different. I want to find some solid, middle ground around being active even if it doesn’t include running.

You know — maybe be ‘adult’ about it and find a non-running path for now and not over-react. 🙂

And since I want to be that sassy, feisty, fit 90-year-old who still runs and whoops your ass in the gym, this really does take a LONG-range view, not a knee-jerk reaction or sinking into apathy.

The thought of setting running to the side scares me shitless because at my core there is something I deeply love about it. The beautiful reality is that I truly do love it enough to NOT handle it carelessly like I might other things at other times in my life.

I needed a plan.

My current ‘healthy path’ plan…? Get fit and re-energized around being active. Period.  I do not have a single race booked for the year and I do not plan to run an ultra this year. I do plan to swim and bike and lift weights and go to social/cardio classes with friends and run some shorter/fun races/adventures. Oh – maybe do some snowshoeing or rock climbing or hiking or skiing.

ALL THE THINGS. 🙂

I want to be in good enough shape to just go and do ALL the things at any time.

Those are my goals this year.

They feel damn good and exciting.


I know exactly when and where my mojo went missing. Fall of 2016 I ran Mountain Lakes 100. 18 months ago. Training for a 100 miler is intense to say the least. I finished the race fueled by solid training and a dose of stark {and appropriate} terror. I now know I am strong and brave and capable of some pretty fantastic and amazing things.

Eighteen months later I FINALLY realize that Mountain Lakes 100 gave me this incredible gift of believing in myself.

But the event that gave me incredible confidence, also kind of broke my running mojo.

Fair trade off if you ask me.

MONTHS of hindsight needed to arrive at this conclusion. But honestly? Temporarily busted mojo VS. BELIEVE, and know in your heart, you can do unimaginable things?

Fair trade off.

A trade off I will make again, again and again.img_4329-jpg


I spent the last year attempting two 100 mile races. (Zion and Rio Del Lago) Was not able to finish either. Dropped out at 75 and 76 miles. We can talk about training, weather, fueling, terrain, mental state, race conditions – even the reasons I was facing when I made those decisions such as blistered feet/asthma/cramping… These are huge beasts of a race. A ton of things can go wrong. Correction. A ton of things will go wrong. Your training is about learning what to do and how to adapt when those things go wrong.

All things considered I believe that the main reason I did not finish either race in 2017 came down to one simple fact: My heart was not in it.  My mojo was gone.

People who run these huge distances will tell you that there is a whole bunch of training, some luck and a slew of other factors that account for being able to accomplish these races. Some of the more mature and experienced ultrarunners will also tell you, when you dig deeper in conversation with them, that the magic ingredient they have witnessed time and again is; heart.  Not legs, not training, not shoes or gear. All important.  But often the magic is heart, desire, deep longing to get out there and test themselves at any cost.

My heart just wasn’t in it this past year.

I spent all of last year pretending REALLY HARD and trying to blindly convince myself that if I simply hung in/put in the training/went through the motions – my mojo would return. My heart would be in it.  I never gave up on trying to chase these suckers down. I stayed in the routine of activity. I ran my workouts. I worked on fitness and mental toughness. I set and chased goals. I learned a ton. Even though my heart wasn’t entirely in it I stayed with the habit.

I never gave up.

I just never gave it my whole heart.

I own and understand that distinction.


Basically since last November I finally realized my running mojo had taken a hike. Not sad. Not scared. Just curious when it might come back. Can I do something to get it back? What to do until it comes back.

I remember early in this fitness journey. I was talking to Spencer and he was brand-new as my running coach. I remember him asking me what I was so afraid of. I didn’t realize I was telegraphing fear, was a little taken aback at being directly called out. I eventually told him I was afraid I would wake-up one morning and my love and desire for running would be gone. That would be DISASTER.  It would mean I would instantly, certainly, gain all of the weight back and become type 2 diabetic again. Over night. Catastrophically. Of everything that could happen that’s what I was most afraid of.

I was so busy all these years to keep it in a careful, tight choke-hold so it couldn’t wander away, I didn’t realize I was killing it…

One morning last Fall I woke up and realized she really was good and gone. Until last week, I kept going through the motions of lacing up my shoes and going for a run, hoping she would re-appear. No luck so far. But I slowly realized my desire to stay firmly planted in my new healthy life was alive and kicking and didn’t care that running was out of the mix for the moment.  I wanted to move, stay connected and keep getting fit and strong; even if I wasn’t running.  So that very thing I feared deeply happened.  But the story I told myself about how that fear would result in total disaster did NOT happen.

Fascinating.  Liberating.  A lesson to remember about the stories we tell ourselves. About the stories we choose to believe.

So I’m not going to chase my mojo down right now. I’ll let my running mojo return when she’s good and ready. I’ll wait patiently, filling my time with a ton of other activities, learning some new skills (swimming!) and testing new boundaries.

And I’ll welcome her back with open arms.

And this time around I won’t put her in a stranglehold.

It’ll be a partnership and a friendship and the weight of my world won’t be solely on her shoulders.

What do you do when your mojo takes a hike?

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Zion 100 miler and chasing a finish line…

17523124_10154763997078423_2477238029137083914_n.jpgI trained for the Zion 100 miler. This past Friday/Saturday I ran 75ish miles of the race.

On their official race list I am what they call a ‘DNF’.  Did Not Finish.  It means that I toed the start line and never crossed the official finish line.

But life isn’t really about finish lines right..?  

It’s about the journey.

It’s about living the dash.

It’s about learning and growing and moving and loving — not just about arriving.

This was a vivid and forceful reminder that I need to spend more time and effort just enjoying the journey.

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Hannah, Matt, Spence. So many sappy, heart-felt emotions when thinking about these 3 souls.  


I have no idea who the quote or idea is truly attributed to – but it’s common advice given to those embarking on these monster events that you run the first 1/3 with your legs, the second 1/3 with your brain and the third 1/3 with your heart.

I think I used a lot more heart this time.

While you can run these buggers unassisted, I live for the moments when I can see my crew and meet new friends.  This sport, for me, is the ultimate team effort.

I am proud of what I did, how I raced, problem-solved and stayed calm.  I am also proud of how I accepted the results when it became painfully obvious halfway down Gooseberry Mesa that we couldn’t make the cutoff to the next aid station.

I didn’t cross the finish line, but I won big in some very important ways.

The terrain was tough and there were some challenges. It’s an ultra and if you aren’t ready for tough or challenges or fear or pain or being humbled — um… You have likely picked the wrong sport.

Examples?

I reached an aid station that had run out of water, as I had, during the heat of the day.  I got lost navigating around on some of the endless slick rock in the daylight.  Got lost again with my trail sister/pacer Hannah on the rim of another mesa about 1 AM along with about 5 other people; and Hannah saved us all with her quick legs and sharp mind.  I started getting hot spots on my feet — that would turn to blisters — around mile 3 of the race.  There were fierce gusting winds that almost blew me over and I weighed close to 190 pounds on race day.

I want to share, in random order, some of the things this ultra schooled me on…


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Mile 53.  So excited to see crew.  I got to pick up my pacer Hannah, I would no longer be running alone in the dark.

76 miles is still a long freaking way to run.

Running a race in smaller segments, mentally, is the ticket for me.  Thank you Andrew and Spencer for that racing trick. I raced 13 mini-races, within one single race.  My strategy was to get from aid station to aid station and then focus on the best strategy to get to the next aid station.

Cactus are assholes of the plant world. 

Coke is amazing, soul-saving liquid when you’re racing. Followed closely by watermelon with salt, pickles, cheese quesadillas.  BUT not all together.  Especially the pickles and coke. That was a mistake.

If you are pooping in the middle of the desert and following trail etiquette by being off course 100 feet or more, facing your bum away from your fellow approaching runners….  It does NOT mean that an entire pack of mountain bikers won’t come right up behind you.  Literally.   They, nor I, will ever be the same for the experience.

My brain is my biggest enemy.  I have to stay alert to her shenanigans.  She can be cranky, sneaky, mean.  They only person ever doubting my ability to do this race, was me.  Not Spencer, Hannah or Matt.  Or any of my beloved running friends.  Or any of the bazillion kind souls who sent texts, called, emailed, FB’ed me…  Just my brain.  And I am getting better and better at shutting that crap down, ignoring it or re-directing my thinking.  So much better.

*Sap alert*.  We are better people when we have strong, smart, caring, loving friends in our life.  We just are.  We might have one or two or fifty.  Number doesn’t matter, quality does.   Friends.  That’s what this is all about for me.   17861839_10155965230531258_4199045014150158133_n.jpg

I trained hard, raced well, fought hard, dug deep, did all the right things that I knew to do.  Our crew was spectacular. And I can honestly say the results were better than the belt buckle I thought I was chasing…  This course taught me some crazy cool lessons about what I’m doing right and where I can get stronger if I choose to commit to the work. I didn’t get injured.  I live to train and race another day. This race was a win on so many levels.  

I fought my head hard for the first 35 miles. Around mile three we had hit a narrow segment on the steep single track that required about a 20 minute slow down. Ok.  Actually it was a total stop; stood in line on the face of a mesa and chatted with my new friends.  (We had a rope assist up a chunk of the trail that all 250(?) of us were waiting to use… One at a time.) And we had the same traffic jam on the way back off the Flying Monkey Mesa.  For those who race — you’re doing the math… Yeah.  When you are up against time cut offs from the start line, like I am…  That bottle-neck took AWAY any of the margin I was planning and working to build. By mile 3 I was already in head games about cutoffs and not having any breathing space in my race plan.  It hit me HARD.  By mile 3 of this race I was seriously thinking I needed to just quit and was already fighting off tears.  GOOD LORD. My head had a list of reasons why I should just quit and stop for just about every step of the first 35 miles of the course.  I KNOW that when you get in a ‘low’ (moment of fear or doubt or apathy)  you KEEP MOVING.  So I kept moving according to plan while I fought with my pissed off brain. Getting that far behind that early in the race was a serious mental road block that I battled for 12+ hours.  But I didn’t quit… I did NOT QUIT and this right here is probably my biggest win of the race…  Because all I wanted to do was quit.  And I didn’t.

When a near-by runner tells you they feel like they’re going to throw-up, trust their judgement and get out of the way.

When something starts to nag at you — take care of it the best you can because it’s only going to be magnified with miles.  Take the moment and fix it.  So…  I was getting blisters by mile 3.  In the past I would have kept going figuring I didn’t have the time to spare and I could manage the pain.  Spencer and I actually talked about this pre-race; he reminded me that as crew they would make the call and I was to go along with their call if they were working in my best interest.  The example he actually used was about shoes and correcting whatever was wrong with them at the first point I noticed them.  I’m notorious for trying to ignore the nagging — when it’s something FIXABLE and have created some bad situations for myself and my feet.  THIS TIME I think I shocked Spencer when I cruised into mile 15 and asked to stop, change socks and shoes.  While blisters were kind of my downfall at the end of the day, I KNOW FOR CERTAIN I bought a hell of a lot more mileage by trying to take care of things early — when they presented themselves.  BIG lesson for this mop-top trail runner in patience and paying attention to what my body is telling me can be fixed.

You can sunburn the back of your knees.

Putting on lip balm in a dust storm is just a dumb idea.

Ice in your water pack/bladder, when it’s warm out is a straight up gift from the heavens.

Peeing when the wind is gusting and swirling is just… interesting…  And I’m not the only one who struggled with this little practical joke from Mother Nature. (Same goes for snot rockets.)  It was actually funny to watch the guys dancing around and trying to outsmart the wind.  We girls…  Uh…  We’re not quite so flexible or lucky. I had some serious penis-envy going during the wind storm.

‘Fear is what you’re feeling.  Brave is what you’re doing.’

Barreling into an aid station and hearing your friends yelling for you is the sweetest of all sounds in my world…  (Sappy again…)

Barreling into an aid station and seeing the faces of two other runners you know and love and who you did NOT expect to see jumping in to hug your smelly ass and help you without any fanfare or hesitation…  One of several mental snapshots I will have the rest of my life. (Thank you Rebecca and Ben!)

Mental snapshots?  Climbing Gooseberry Mesa.  Wicked steep climb.  (1.5 miles and 1,500 foot of vertical gain…)  I was struggling up that biotch of a climb and bombing down is our friend Ty Atwater. He yells my name and must have seen the tears, dirt  – and possibly vomit at this point – on my face.  He was on his way back down and headed for the finish line and would be top 25 for the 100K…  He stops, hugs me and reminds me to breathe and tells me quickly to climb, stop, breathe, repeat and keep repeating until I get to the top.  Deep gratitude for this young, talented runner taking the time to stop and comfort me.  Another mental snapshot I’ll keep close to my heart for years to come.

I managed my pre-race nerves and taper craziness WAY better.  I think it was meditation, better nutrition, focusing on time with friends and simply knowing that you can’t know everything about what’s in front of you.  And that’s the beauty and magic and secret of these events.  I was afraid and nervous no doubt and apologies to anyone caught in the taper cross-hairs!  But not terrified like I was heading into Mountain Lakes.  I wanted this finish line as badly as I wanted Mountain Lakes, understand that my hearts desire to do well was exactly the same.  But the fear was more a deep and wide level of respect for this distance and the challenge instead of stark terror of the unknown.

Spare headlamp.  ALWAYS pack the spare headlamp.

Double shot espresso at 4 am is like liquid gold.

Brushing your teeth after the race feels the best.

Showering after the race is where you discover all the chafe and sunburn you didn’t know you had.

Speaking of showering… There is NO SMELL on earth like that of an ultra runner.  We should bottle it up.  It would sell.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Ok… Forget that whole idea.  Who are we kidding?  Spencer and Matt wrapped me in a blanket and rolled the windows down on the car on the ride back to our house.  And then I was ordered straight into the shower – clothes and all.  And handed a garbage bag to put my clothes in. HA!

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Walking off the course. (Spencer, Hannah.  Picture Credit goes to Matt.)

I walked off the course, instead of across the finish line.  This was a long road to walk, but I walked it with friends by my side.  Hannah was with me when I broke down and understood meeting the cutoff was not going to happen despite every single thing she and Spencer and Matt had done to get me there.  Spencer and Matt walked up the road to meet us not knowing what they would find…  I cried. A lot. I was crushed by the idea that I was disappointing my crew and hadn’t done what I set out to do.  They hugged me a lot.  And then we walked, as a tribe, back to the car.

This picture means the world to me because of the people in it and the friend who is out of the frame capturing the moment for all of us to remember…

A picture is worth a 1,000 words.

And this one captures my entire heart.

 

 

 

Taper crazy.

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Tapering.

Since I have some free time on my hands at the moment, I figured this was as good a time as any to try to explain some of the running things I talk about non-stop — for my non-running friends.

Actually, this idea was prompted when I said something this weekend about tapering to a work-related friend.  It was met with a blank, confused stare.  And they finally said ‘I don’t get it.’

I then tried to explain.

I thought this information might be helpful to some of those close to ANY runner or athlete as the taper crazies for Spring events start to set in… You’ll know to simply smile/nod,  tell them they are going to crush their goals because of all their hard work, and walk away.

For real.

That is a legit plan for encountering someone who starts the conversation off by warning you that they are tapering…


Getting ready for an event is a process.  A long, hard, complicated process that requires dedication and focus and committment.   The more I do and watch and get to be a part of these events the more I realize just how hard everyone works to chase down these crazy dreams.

It involves plans for training, logging the actual miles, learning new skills, maybe some study or practice on the course, racing plans, recruiting crew, running in all kinds of weather, even planning for your rest/recovery.

I’m sure I am still forgetting a bunch of stuff that has to happen to get to the start line.

The idea behind tapering is essentially ‘fueling up the car and getting it ready for the road trip.’  You’ve trained, practiced, have everything packed, memorized directions, have your race plan laid out….

Take a quick break (taper) and hit the road (race)!

I’m still really new to this sport.  But, in watching my friends and other local runners — there are clearly some defined styles and personalities that emerge during the taper…

There’s militant, precision taperers. 🙂   They follow the letter of the law.

There’s nervous taperers.  They fear they’re losing fitness, they’ll sleep through the start line, they second guess their training, every twinge or ache or twitch is an impending disaster that will keep them from racing.

There’s casual taperers.  My friend Wade. “Eh…  I think I should probably taper here soon.  Maybe. What do you think?’  ‘When’s the race Wadeo?’ ‘I think it’s in two weeks, maybe three.  No.  Two.  Let me check…’

There’s the ‘I earned this and I’m going to enjoy it’ taperers.  They hit yoga, meet up with friends, sleep in, have dinner out and just enjoy the down time from logging miles to catch up on life.

The mean little sister in this group would be angry taperer.  ‘I hate this.  This is stupid.’  Snappy, cranky, ill-humored.  Ask them a question and get handed your head. They’ll comply, but they’ll be pissed about it.

There’s fighters. ‘I don’t need to taper.’ ‘Tapering doesn’t work.’ ‘I can run well on tired legs.’

There’s fake taperers.  ‘I AM TAPERING…’  ** Said while running long miles, fast workouts, logging mileage JUST short of normal, hoping to not get called out on their non-tapering/taper…**

And I’m sure I’m missing a bunch of other types. 🙂

I’m personally a cross between precision, I like following plans and rules. Especially if I know it works for me or someone I trust. And I have enough experience to know now that rest helps my body and gets my mind antsy enough to want to push hard on race day.  Tapering is a good thing for me – even if I deny it in the moment. 🙂

And I’m also really, really good at being a nervous taperer.  And just to keep things really interesting for the folks around me I throw in 10-15 minutes surprise sessions of being an angry taperer. Oh and if it’s a really long taper — a little whining and insecurity in panicked moments that make no sense to any witnesses — JUST to keep things fun and exciting for my running friends.

And my poor roommate. 🙂

It’s taper time for me.

Zion 100 miler is in 10 days depending on how you count.

And whole bunch of my friends are tapering too!

FUN TIMES!  😉

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We’ve all busted our rear-ends, we’re ready to go, we’re excited — and we’re a little jealous of our non-tapering friends.

Just being honest.

Ok.  Really?  Totally jealous. Somedays I can’t even look at social media when I’m ‘resting’ and they’re frolicking in the FIRST days of sunshine we’ve had here in Oregon since like 2002. I find myself wishing there was ‘fear of missing out’ button on Facebook or a feature to block anything running related so I can pretend everyone else is tapering too.

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There’s also some distinct seasons in the running community as well.  As distinct as ‘school’ or ‘Football’ season.  And it has nothing to do with the weather for most of us.  We run in all kinds of weather… 🙂

There’s the training period where we’re all getting ready for races and looking for partners who will leg out the crazy long/weird/specific runs/adventures/schemes we have planned.  Rebuilding our base.  Learning new skills.  Making new friends.  The frenzy of running to meet the goals you set while you were recovering or tapering or had a moment of weakness and signed up for a race. 🙂

There’s race season — where we’re all on TOTALLY different schedules.  And we’re tapering, missing out, cranky, excited, joyous, determined, recovering, volunteering, running long miles.  We’re all over the map – and trying to keep up with all of our friends race/event schedules is a full time job! We want to wish all of them success every time they race — which is basically every weekend between now and October. So.Many.GOOD.Events.  So many!

There’s recovery season. Where we take a break, re-group, plan.  For some they grab other sports to work on. For some this period is a day. 🙂  For some this is a month, 3 months or longer.  It is simply marked down-time, letting the body and mind recover.  Waiting for that ‘itch’ to run to creep back in and around the edges and signal that you’re ready to start training and building again.

And of course — none of us are training, racing or recovering at the same time. 🙂

If you have a runner/racer/cyclist/triathlete in your life and they’re getting ready for a big event…

Just be patient with your dream-chasing, goal-crushing friends.

Tapering is a critical part of the training/resting/recovery/racing process.  And it really is mentally difficult to work so hard and then simply shut everything down, ‘sit on your butt’ (that’s what it feels like) and let your body get ready to FLY.

Smile/nod patiently,  tell them they are going to crush their goals because of all their hard work, and if you really want make their day — ask how you can track their race and cheer them on. 🙂

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All sizes. All.

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Is that my hair or a bush? You decide. 🙂 (PC C. Stephens)

I love trail and ultra running. The people, the challenges, the community, the support.

Soul-enriching, strength and character building beyond anything I have ever done or been involved with in my life. It’s saved and changed my life in ways I can barely begin to describe. I hold those random, bubbly, precious feelings near and dear and tightly in my heart.

While deeply satisfying and challenging, I will be the first to admit that it is really not a very glamorous sport.

If you’ve run trails or ultras you’ll feel this list is missing something. (Tell me what you would add!)

If you have not run trails or an ultra you might be wondering…  Just how not-glamorous can this possibly be?

Well…

Pooping in the woods, snot rockets, chafe, sweat and mud and dirt. Blisters. Missing toenails. Black toenails. Sunburn in the oddest of patterns and places.  Did I mention chafing? Squatting in poison oak. Headlamp batteries dying and leaving you in the dark at 4 AM. Hallucinations, scabbed knees, puking, smelling like a yeti, digestive issues, swamp-ass.

🙂

I know I’m missing some critically UN-glamorous, probably hilarious, things.

But you get the idea.

Some of you are totally horrified and wondering what on earth there is to possibly love about this sport. You’ll just have to trust me.  The thrill of covering a whole lot of miles, seeing country I would never see any other way, supported by amazing people and the challenge of pushing myself well beyond the normal boundaries…

It’s all worth it.

Every bit of it.

I feel strong and bad ass and challenged and alive.

It’s worth ALL of it.

Some of the best ultra-runners in the world wear skirts when they run.  The woman are strong, talented and fearless.  And they’re wearing these practical and comfortable and cute skirts.  Win, win, win.  It’s as close to glamorous as we’re going to get in this sport. I always wanted to try to pull off that look.  Except that I am a larger size than the elites. And having lost 200+ pounds; well, my upper thighs need a little more care and coverage than most peoples. I simply need a longer inseam in the built-in shorts than is typically offered to help prevent the aforementioned chafing.

I searched high and low and experimented with all kinds of product lines for well over two years. I want to look cute in race pictures. (Ego!)  I also want to respect the spaces I’m running in, special spaces that are wildly scenic. Kind of like dressing up for a party, I like to dress ‘up’ out of respect for the place I’m visiting and running in.

And let’s face it… I don’t need to spend each run looking like I’m wearing whatever doesn’t smell and like I dressed in the dark with whatever garments I could put my hands on.

Then I found this active dress company out of Seattle…

And our local running store, Running Princess, sold the dresses.

I saw one.  Bought it.  Ran in it the next day.

I kind of fell in love with their dresses.

I wear my own compression shorts under it – and WA LA!

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Checking out the horizon. Staring at the far off Gooseberry Mesa that I’ll be climbing in about 20 days during the Zion 100 miler. (PC C. Stephens)

I finally had the running dress/skirt I’d been searching for for over two years!

The dress is from a company called Nuu Muu.

And there’s one additional and really vital thing about them that has become increasingly important to me…

They support active women of all sizes.

Legitimately.

ALL sizes.

Some companies say they do. This company does it in their branding, marketing, size offerings, event support. I know.  I watched and looked and snooped around to see if this was JUST their clever marketing niche, or if they really meant it.

Their commitment to active women of all sizes is at their core — and it’s obvious. As someone who was starting to be active and painfully stood out EVEN MORE than I already was at 300ish pounds in my boxy cotton T’s and ‘big and tall’ men’s shorts from Walmart…

I instantly felt a surge of gratitude and compassion for this company’s approach to helping woman feel strong and pretty and confident while being active…  No matter their size.

And now a days, I’m 180ish pound, about a size 12-14.  I find really cute active clothes and sometimes at my current weight and fitness I still don’t fit in their largest offering. I can run a 100 miler, but they don’t make clothes that fit me.  Huh. Their message is clear and frustrating to me. ‘We don’t want larger women who are active being seen as our customers or brand ambassadors.’  OK…. Maybe that is not their intended message at all. However, that’s certainly what I hear LOUD AND CLEAR.

Spencer and I  were having a conversation about a running team that I am on. Last year after some consideration and a wild dose of courage, I applied and got accepted.  I never expected a yes. It was totally a thrilling moment for this former 400-pound, non-active woman to be invited to join a running team!  I was over the moon.  It is a group of women across the country that are all tied to a clothing line by their love of running. I was expressing to Spencer that I was not sure how much longer I would stay on the team after a year of being on it.  He suggested perhaps I hadn’t given it enough effort, hadn’t worked to reach out and meet some of my fellow teammates.  I finally said that I never felt like I fit in. They only offer up to size 12 in clothing and I can only fit in a select few of their ‘looser fit’ garments on a good day.

The racing singlet they give you for being on their team barely fits over my boobs and so I have never even worn it to represent them when I run.  I won’t wear it in public.

It’s great, high quality and fun clothing line for some woman, and while I respect and loved the community of supportive women, the clothes just don’t work for me. And perhaps more importantly, their clothing is not an option for the women I am trying to reach, work with and encourage who are learning to love being active and themselves wear sizes 12 – 30.

I told Spencer that I was in a spot with my running and health and with our business, Novo Veritas, that I was truly interested in finding companies that I could suggest and endorse that embraced the idea that active woman come in all sizes.

I want to find companies, events and products that back up OUR brand with theirs; they show support and exhibit the understanding that woman are fierce, bad ass, healthy in all sizes.

Women (and men, let’s be fair!) kick ass, conquer mountains, battle fears and chase down dreams in ALL shapes and sizes.

I told Spencer that I wanted to intentionally throw my support behind those endeavors that recognize active, adventure-seeking, healthy people of all shapes and sizes.

And then I found this dress.

But it turns out to not even really be about the dress.  It was more about finding a company and a community that support me and all of the other women I know so we can go out and do daring and bad ass things.

No matter what it may be. No matter our size. 🙂

What daring and bad ass things are YOU up to?!

‘Clothes aren’t going to change the world, the women who wear them will. ‘ – Anne Klein.

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Fear.

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Perched on the edge of the monolith that is Angels Landing, Zion National Park.  Pictured with Cary Stephens.  Cary is an accomplished ultra runner who bravely and patiently spent the weekend legging out the mileage with me that I needed in my last big training block.

For me there is a rush in facing off against a fear.

There is a rush, a feeling fully alive moment, a thrill. Maybe it is just INTENSE relief when you are safely on the other side of your fears.  But there is no denying that you ‘feel’ something big and profound and unforgettable as you dive head first into something you are afraid of.

And get to the other side.

I never thought I was afraid of heights.

I have a healthy respect for heights.  Or more accurately, a healthy fear of falling. I can go to the top of tall buildings and enjoy the view, climbs ladders and scramble onto the rooftop, ride a Ferris wheel, run (carefully) along a mountainside with a cliff on one edge.  I’ve always figured I wasn’t really afraid of heights.

This weekend I was doing one of my last training blocks for a race. I met up with a friend in Southern Utah who had volunteered to play trail guide and preview part of the course with me.  We took one day away from the course and ran in Zion National Park.

JAW DROPPING!

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Holy smokes is that place stunning!

Eloquent orators and authors have carefully picked the perfect words to attempt to describe this amazing spot.  I ran out of good words really fast. I mostly stopped and uttered ‘wow! ‘about a 1,000 times. 🙂  Sheer walls, views in all directions and colors and shapes that simply don’t seem to belong together in nature.  Yet are entirely nature in all her perfect glory.

There’s a hike to a popular spot called Angels Landing.

My friend Cary and I opted to go in to Zion National Park and hit two of their big climbs in the same day.  Observation Point and Angels Landing.  At the end of the day we had over 24ish miles and about 5,000 feet of vertical.  (GPS doesn’t work well in those rock canyons so the vertical is a close guess.)

It was an incredible training day!

Here’s a shortened/edited version of their description to park visitors about Angels Landing:

‘The Angels Landing Trail is one of the most famous and thrilling hikes in the national park system. Zion’s pride and joy runs along a narrow rock fin with dizzying drop-offs on both sides. The trail culminates at a lofty perch, boasting magnificent views in every direction… Narrow ridges with deep chasms on each of its flanks. Hikers pull themselves up by chains. The last half-mile is across a narrow sandstone ridge, anchored with support chains attached along some sections of the sheer, narrow fin.’

I read that and went ‘AMAZING! Let’s go! I have to see this!’

We hiked and ran Observation Point (wow!) and then headed over to Angels Landing.  We climbed for about 3 miles up switchbacks and fairly smooth, well-traveled, but steep and stunningly scenic terrain. We get all the way to the top where it narrows down to go out on the ‘fin’ and it is at this point that the words I read earlier began to get real…

It really is a little, thin, bony, spiny back of a fin from one monolith top to another.  With anchored chains.   Like…  The ‘fin’ is not even ONE PERSON wide in some spots.  There are rock chasms you have to shimmy though to higher ledges. More narrow than the opening of an typical escalator — with a 1,500 foot drop to the canyon floor on either side if you miss a step.

I did a lot of self-coaching on that fin.

A lot.

I ended the day with a re-defined respect for heights.

You use this anchored chain to hold on at the super narrow parts.  It turns out I man-handled every single link on every single yard of that chain for the .5 mile out and the .5 mile back.  I was terrified to let go of that chain.  I did really graceful and elegant things like plopping down on my butt and schooching with my body stretched out on the ground toward the next chain post to hook my foot for safety.  I groped total strangers who wouldn’t let go of the chain, while I was focused on doing the same… NOT LETTING GO of that damn chain while still trying to keep moving.  It’s sandstone – and super ‘sticky’.  You have GREAT traction on your feet in the dry weather.

No matter.  Didn’t care how good the footing was. I was terrified for a full mile — which took an hour — to get out to that landing and back.

There are some small chasms within this fin that you have to basically shimmy into for a bit and then climb up, out and over.

Enter the OLD fear that I did not expect to encounter…  Real-life, experience-based fear of being the fat girl who can’t ‘fit’ in something.  (A chair, a car, a doorway, a freaking-rock-chasm-on-top-of-a-rock-monoltih.)

Beyond being afraid of the dizzying heights I had several paralyzing moments where I looked at the width of the opening in the rocks, the narrowness of the passage with two people on a ‘ledge’ and thought ‘I AM NOT GOING TO FIT.’

Actually the thought in my head was…

‘HOLY CRAP. I am NOT going to fit, I’m too fat. I’m going to get my fat ass stuck in (not ON) this rock, block traffic, have to be rescued and cut out of a cliff and ruin a National Monument…’

The chasms were tall, narrow and you eventually have to work yourself up and over the chasm to the next layer of ledge.  There were points of narrowness where someone larger than a healthy weight wouldn’t fit.  They just wouldn’t.  I saw it play out several times in the span of about .25 of a mile.

I’m balancing what I see happening to others with the messages firing from my brain who still sees me as 400 pounds at this moment in time.

I am well aware that once upon a time I would have been the women that would have had to turn around before the summit because I wouldn’t have fit on that trail.

Deep breath.

Check in on THAT moment and the reality in front of me and only that.  

Push the fear aside and stare down the facts… 

I fit!

And bonus? I have upper body strength to hoist myself up to the ledge (thank you Jordan, strength coach!)

Repeat. 🙂

I climbed that fin, shimmied up chasms, walked out on the monolith. Found ways around and up and over. So did almost everyone else.

And it was wonderful…

FREAKING EPIC!!!

Once we were back to the initial landing I realized I felt exhausted, depleted from spending an hour with FEAR.  And we still had about 3 hours to run. 🙂

I felt ‘fully alive’.

However I remember with the most satisfaction the feeling of quieting my brain and not quitting.  For going on even when I was afraid.  For breathing and pausing and problem solving and for getting my brain to shut up long enough for me to decide where to place my foot in the next step.

I didn’t let fear win this time.

It got me thinking deeply about fears.

And how we allow them to limit us.

Often I believe we either assume we can’t do something or simply let fear shut the door in our face and accept it. I’m not talking about phobias or fears born of hard or life-changing experiences that leave us scarred.  I get those and I get why those can’t be ‘worked’ around.

I’m talking about the more mundane/normal/regular fears that we accept as facts in our lives.

We have to respect fear for our own survival, I mean it’s there to protect us on several levels.

Fear is: An anxious feeling, caused by our anticipation of some imagined event or experience. — Psychology Today

I’m talking about the fears that we haven’t fully explored, the ones we just kind of blindly accept. Or the ones that crop up unexpectedly even. The ones that perhaps rob us of some of life’s defining moments and treasures.

There is joy in being fully alive.

There is blessing in staying alive because you respected that warning shot of fear.

But are all of my/your fears legit?

Are you limiting yourself because you’re afraid?  Am I?

I did a lot of things this weekend that I normally categorize – big and small – in my brain as ‘being afraid’ of…

It’s Monday and here I am after a good day of work and normal routines. 🙂  I survived my fear(s) this weekend.  Hell, I not only survived, I thrived, I lived, I conquered!

I’m feeling like a happy, tired, fear-facing, adventure girl at this moment in time. 🙂

Lifestyle changes are fraught with fears.  I know most of them well.  Really well.  And I know that most of the time the things we are afraid of aren’t really real.  They aren’t the true foe.

Sometimes those fears are deep and true and were learned with hard experiences and upon closer inspection/introspection we may simply have to respect them for what they are.

But…

But what if being afraid is simply our own choice to stand still and choose to accept a closed door because we’re too afraid to open the damn door?

That’s no way to see the world or enjoy life or grow or LIVE.

I’m challenging you – just as I challenged myself this weekend – to think about what you fear and consider, just for a moment, for a single moment, what would happen if you were to reach out, open the door and JUST SEE what happens.

Just see what lies on the other side…

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Lost in the woods. (This isn’t a metaphor.)

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12/31/2016

Dunn 50K ‘Fat Ass’. (Fun-group run, no awards, no bibs, no timing.  Just a run with friends.)

Dunn is our local forest, tough terrain, and only a few really run in it regularly.  For most of us, this was a chance to experience new territory!

Spencer designed the inaugural course with help from our friend Cary Stephens.

They’re diabolical dudes.

Course was WICKED hard.

Steep goat hills, bushwhacking, game trails, technical and jaw-dropping scenic views.

PERFECT stuff for an ultra to test limits and close out the year.

The course was impeccably mapped/marked. We were all given a turn-by-turn sheet with GPS mileage/flagging directions, overview map with elevation profile and detailed section maps.

We were set.

I ran the first part of it with a tribe of five women.  We all run ultras, the distance wasn’t freaking us out. New terrain that isn’t super-well defined had us being cautious and sticking together.

The directions were precise and easily followed even if the course was ridiculously difficult. Flagging was perfect. We were all happy that Anne Miller was willing to navigate while we followed along.

At the half way point two of the women in our group were done.

Anne Miller was one of them. Fighting a cold for a few days, she told us before we ever started that morning, she was only going 15 miles.

At the only aid station/turn-around, Bonnie Wright, Rita Van Doren and I loaded up on water, chatted quickly with Spencer and Bonnie’s husband, Mark.  Said good bye to Jen and Anne. Hugged the Miller clan and took off for the second half of the course.

Things were great for the three of us until we hit 20.62.

This is where we went wrong…

And I will say, for the record, that it’s not so much a ‘we’ went wrong.

I feel like this mistake was largely mine.

I was the one who convinced Bonnie and Rita to go with the mileage and visible ‘landmarks’ instead of the signage.

Our directions said to follow the sign and flagging and that we would be going up a steep bank and into the trees. We were to follow the green flagging up the side of the hill, bushwhacking.  We saw a steep section of the bank that was pretty heavily torn up with what looked like shoe prints.  No sign. No flagging.

But we were at the EXACT mileage marked on the directions.

We went past the section for about .2 of a mile looking for the sign or flagging.  We didn’t see any. And NONE of the turns had been off by even .1 of a mile to this point.  Figuring that the mileage had to be right – since it matched the physical description of what were looking for, we went back to the spot where the bank was torn up. We finally agreed that even without the signage, we should go up the bank and into the trees scouting for green flagging.

We knew we had to go .3 of a mile uphill once we were in the trees.  (In this ultra designed by Spencer and Cary we quickly learned that given any vagueness about the intended direction; the answer was always GO UPHILL.  Kind of kidding… Kind of not.)

At that .3 of a mile mark, we still have no flagging.

We’re totally bushwhacking on a forested canyon/side hill at this point.

We keep going, looking for flagging or a road.

We talk about going back or forging ahead to the road that HAS to be uphill from us and scouting for more flagging.  We made the group decision to keep going up the hill. It was a SLOG.  Downed trees, tall ferns, no trail, holes the size of truck tires… Not fun. Slow going. Yet totally in line with the rest of the course we had experienced.

We’re banking on the idea that at the top we’ll have been headed in roughly the right direction and be close enough to see familiar flagging.

Yet somewhere in this mess we begin to realize…

And actually admit…

We’re lost.

And we can’t backtrack.

We don’t even know how to backtrack at this point.

We’ve gone over the uphill mileage stated in the directions — and still have no road or flagging.

Somewhere in there we all agree that I need to call Spencer.  I get voice-mail. I leave a detailed message telling him time, distance, where we think we are.  I say that we’re together and staying together no matter what.

I state clearly in a back-up text at this point that we know we’re *&%$ing LOST.

Spencer is at the start area and there is NO cell reception.

With more climbing and guessing and bushwhacking we finally DO get to a road.

Hallelujah!

Short-lived happy dance!

We re-group. We each kind of grab an idea for problem solving, keep each other in sight and get to work.  Bonnie and I go one direction looking for flagging or signage or intersecting trails or landmarks.  The road dead ends.  Rita was trying to harness technology to help us with GPS or maps. We didn’t have enough connectivity. We gather up again, and head down the road in the other direction looking for flagging or identifying marks of some sort.

We’re more than an hour lost at this point. Spencer has a voice message from us, but no one else knows we’re lost.  Bonnie has also tried to call her husband, Mark.

Mark is with Spencer in cell-phone-no-man’s-land. And we have spotty/random reception at best.

Then it hits me.

ANNE MILLER.

She’s my friend.  She ran with us. She knows the forest.  And we can get calls out.  Just not to the guys at the start line.

We call or text Anne.  I don’t remember which we did first.

HERE enters our Guardian Angel.

For the next 3+ hours we either text or call Anne and she would try to helps figure our location, collect and get information to Spencer.  She leaves her house, brings her son Andrew and they head back to the staging area. (Andrew knows the Dunn as well as Spencer and Cary and had JUST run the 50K course earlier that day.)

She texts us at one point when we admit that we’re pretty damn scared…

“We will not abandon you!”

And not to spoil the ending of the story; but she didn’t.

Neither did Spencer or Andrew.

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Knowing we were ultimately trying to navigate to a peak to get back on course or get to a recognizable spot, we opt to go uphill on the roads when we get to a ‘Y’.

After a few other turns and decisions – aiming to keep climbing up hill – we eventually hit a road with RACE FLAGGING.  RELIEF!!!  I think Bonnie and Rita would agree with me — this was a moment of profound relief.

As we start following the flagging it occurs to us — this race is loosely an unconnected, 2-loop course.  We don’t know if we’re on the first loop, the second loop — or if we’re headed to the start or back to the half-way point.

We’re still kinda lost.

BUT we have flagging to follow.

We follow the flagging looking for landmarks that match our turn by turn sheet.  We can’t quite get what we are seeing and what’s printed in the directions to line up enough to help us figure out where we are.

We’re getting text messages/calls out to Anne as we have service and/or landmarks to report.

We had made it clear that the three of us were sticking together and following the flagging even if we were going the wrong direction or on the wrong ‘loop’.

Details get hazy at this point, but we kept moving and communicating. We eventually get to a spot where I can get a call out to Spencer/Anne. And this time we have clear enough landmarks, details of where we are and what we’ve traveled through…

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They know where we are!

They’re sending Andrew up to rescue and guide us in. I’m told that he will be coming from our backs.

We are told to keep moving, keep following the flagging.

It’s starting to snow.

It’s getting dark.

Even with headlamps we’re having a LOT of trouble finding the flagging until we’re right on top of it.

We start this routine where Bonnie scouts for flagging, Rita stays about 1/2 way between the two of us and I stay by the last known flagging. Bonnie would find the next flagging.  Rita would call back to me and I’d move to catch Rita. I’d park by the new flagging while Bonnie searched ahead.

Without even talking about how to make it work…  We just worked out how to make things work…  TEAM WORK.

I realized on that side-hill that this was TEAM WORK in all its gut-clenching, hard-working, glory.  I remembered thinking these were woman — very much including Anne — that I would now do anything for…

Anything.

Anne, Spencer and Andrew all knew we were safe at this point.  And it turns out we were on the last 5 – 6 miles and headed in the right direction

But the three of us sure didn’t feel safe just yet.

We felt lost and scared. We were getting cold and we can’t see the flagging which we’re supposed to be following so we don’t get LOST again…

We’re scrambling up this horrendous, ridiculous, face of a mountain — when I look back down the climb and see a headlamp.  I BELLOWED out Andrew’s name.  I didn’t know I could yell that loudly.  I’m pretty sure Corvallis, 20 miles away, heard me.

Andrew reaches us.

This 20-something young man, who has now run this ridiculously steep grade TWICE in a single day, arrives on the side of the hill to find 3 crying, exhausted, cold, GRATEFUL middle-age women waiting to be rescued.  He calmly asked if we all had good batteries in our headlamps, if we were warm enough or needed gloves/coats and tells us that we were going to keep moving. He asks me to text his mom, because his mom would be worried about him.  I do just that.

Efficient, calm and we are on the way to the finish line following Andrew’s lead.

So much relief.

Andrew ran with us, walked with us.  Chatted to us.  Listened to our rambling/frantic re-cap of the day’s adventure. He even helped Rita re-tie her shoe when her laces came undone and her hands were simply too cold to function.

We ran a bit of a short cut just to get back to the start area and end this epic adventure. We were greeted with fierce hugs and a warm fire.  And Mark’s hot chocolate!

I hugged Anne like my life depended on it. At that moment in time that was exactly how I felt.

The three strongest feelings that day?

My gut when I KNEW we were lost.

My head when they said they knew exactly where we were.

My heart and soul flooding with gratitude for my friends.

Two days later Bonnie, Rita, Anne and I were texting about the fact that we’re still emotional about it all.  It could have had a different ending.  And we all know that.

There is an incredible gift in these uniquely strong and fire-tested friendships that are built on and around the trail running community.

I’ve never experienced anything like it in my life.

Rita, Bonnie and I ran just short of 30 miles, so we didn’t officially do the 50K.

We managed to climb 7,100 feet of vertical gain.

Lost. Found. Friendships. Teamwork. Problem solving. Logical thinking. Communication. Battling fear. Fighting for others. Selflessly helping others. Sometimes this ultra running thing has very little to do with actual running.

Thank you Anne, Andrew, Spencer for getting us off the mountain and to the finish line. 

Bonnie and Rita…  Thank you.  

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