BUMmer of a race. (Pun. It’s not depressing, it’s funny. Promise.)

View from my campsite. That tallest peak? That’s Shasta… She’s one of my all-time fav peaks.

I DNF’ed out of the SOB 50K this weekend. (DNF is Did Not Finish)

Normally dropping out of a race or somehow ‘falling short’ would send me into a bit of a funk. Not this time. Which was an unintended win given the crappy situation…. One of the things I’ve been working on is setting different goals around running so that this hobby/sport/activity I love stays part of the joy and doesn’t verge back into not-healthy, burned-out, punishment to keep my weight in check. I’ve DONE a lot of work around this and finally, finally love running again for it’s purest sense of simply moving my body and earning a sweat. I’m intentionally setting goals to support that direction. Not big sweeping goals anymore like ‘MUST. FINISH. RACE.’ more like ‘Keep a smile on your face, drink plenty of water, give this your best effort and thank all the volunteers.’ While I DNF’ed the distance, I did in fact nail my race specific goals in very short order.

I was excited for this race. SUPER excited to see my beloved trail family, spend time on world-class trails and have long-awaited catch-up conversations. And hugs. ALL THE HUGS. I was going to get to car camp for two days with a bunch of other runners; but specifically with my friends Jamie and Melissa. Jamie and I met on these trails, at this race almost eight years ago at a moment of struggle for both of us. Instant kinship. And we’ve grown our friendship since then. So this weekend/race/trails – the whole package is simply a sentimental favorite.

And 50K – this would be my longest distance in almost a year! I’ve been training and rebuilding my fitness and endurance. I was eager to see what my feet, legs and body could do.

I have written recently about starting back on Metformin/Glucophage to help my body with insulin regulation and insulin resistance. (Blog here.) It’s a medicine that is working really well for me in keeping my glucose lower and stable. One of the well documented and oft-lamented side effects of this drug is the ‘glucotrots’. Call it gastric distress, urgency, explosive diarrhea, the screaming shits — whatever you want to call it, it’s not a ton of fun. And it’s pretty common from all of the anecdotal data I’ve collected over the years. I suffer with the side effects for sure; but have gotten cagey and smart about timing things so it’s more annoying than anything. Most of the time. Many of the people I know on this med, do get used to it and learn to heed the bodies early warning signs. A few near-misses, or all-out misses, and you learn to pay attention to what your gut is telling you… Given how good the drug works to keep things stable and keep me healthy; for me the trade-off is worth it.

I’m new enough back onto this med and I’m brand new to RUNNING with this med on board. I wasn’t entirely sure how the med/running/poop combo would play out. In the back of my mind I knew I needed to be thinking about it. I mean, I know the day to day routine. I also know I am NOT afraid to poop in woods. I’m actually pretty talented at it given I have SO MUCH FREAKING PRACTICE over the years. But for a long distance race; I just didn’t know what the right thing was. I made my very best guess of withholding the drug for a day (not taking the morning of the race) thinking it would give my belly a break…

Whoa. NOT THE RIGHT CHOICE.

I don’t know what really happened or if it was simply a combo of factors. I don’t know if it was the heat, the stress/excitement, super low humidity, the disrupted sleep from car camping, the meds…. I do KNOW I was mentally excited, calm, well hydrated, and focused on staying in my routine for food. I follow the adage/warning/sage-advice of ‘nothing new on race day’. I mean, minus the med-juggling; I was ridiculously routine leading into this race. I got up race morning, had coffee and even got the coveted pre-race poop out of the way before I even pinned on my bib. ALL GOOD TO GO.

So I thought.

As with most lessons learned and interesting stories… Obviously something, somewhere went a wee bit sideways.

Start of the 100K race… And right after this were blissfully empty porta-potty lines. ūüôā

The 50K race started at 7 AM. I went slow at the back just to ease my nerves. The pressure I feel for people to pass me on tight single track – or worse make me feel like I need to speed up – is one of my least favorite things about racing. Luckily, it’s something I have pretty good ability to control; so I took control. I let them all get in front of me while we were running on some road prior to the single track. Turns out that was smart for a whole bunch of reasons.

About 1 mile in… YEAH… one freaking mile in…my belly does this ‘flop’. It’s alarmingly familiar and entirely unwelcome; It’s the glucotrot warning that my belly is getting upset and I should maybe/sorta/consider finding a bathroom in the next 2-3 minutes. 1 mile. Sheesh. And for those who know me… Yes I was mentally chuckling and thinking ‘are you shitting me?’.

I’ll spare you details; suffice it to say I ultimately squatted 4 times in 4 miles. This was going be a LOOOONNNNNGGGG 50K with that ratio. (50K is 31 miles…)

Bathroom with a view…

I got to the very first aid station and handed over my bib. I decided a few things during the four times I was digging catholes, hiding from other racers and contemplating my life choices….

  1. If I stopped now, loaded up my hydration pack with water and hiked it back in I could spare ANYONE else the issue of having to help get me back to my camping site. I was still close in at this point; it was hike-able. AND less people/race traffic so finding a spot to squat would be WAY LESS stressful.
  2. The goal for this race was to have fun. This situation was annoying and bothersome in the moment and it was 100% headed for dehydration/NO FUN in very short order. I could absolutely stop this potential dumpster fire before it became a warning label.
  3. It was HOT and I was already sweating heavily 3-4 miles in. Abnormal sweat volume for me given the effort I was putting forth. Between rampant diarrhea and heavy sweating there was NO POSSIBLE way for me to put in enough fluids to keep my system from crashing. My system in fact already firing off some pretty convincing warning shots.

So all by myself, with no input from anyone else and no second guessing; I made the choice to drop, hike back and begin to seek the humor in the crappy situation.

I should have had 9-10 hours on the trails, in the woods, earning my shower and being in the mountains; I got 2 hours instead.

But here’s the win in all of this; I’m not always smart when I’m determined. Stubbornness overrides smart decision making – it’s a family trait. This time I’m super proud that I could see that this just wasn’t the day to run long and made a not-fun decision with a happy heart and a clear mind. Some of it was experience. Some of it was simply respect for the volunteers who would be stuck helping me if I forced my way forward. But a large portion of it was making the decision based on the bigger goal of keeping running joyful and making sure I stay healthy enough to enjoy it.

I get back to the camping/start area and run into one of the Race Directors, and a friend, Rob Cain. When he sees me, he kind of waves his arms around and says ‘Betsy – what happened what are you doing back here so soon?” and I reply ‘Rob! My legs are good, my heart was willing, my mind was excited… And my butthole is EXHAUSTED.’ And we both laughed heartily. I’m still laughing truth be told.

I mean – it’s funny. It just is.

And it is the first time I can legit say I had a really crappy race and mean it.

(Ok my punny friends… I’m sure I missed a pile of great poop puns… Please share. ūüôā )

One of my fav pics of the weekend.

10 years.

The view from the mountaintops will never get old. It’s a magical, lovely world to LOOK at the mountains and then be able to go and climb IN the mountains. Not gonna get old. Nope. No way. Even if {sometimes} I whine and complain en route to the top – the CLIMB is always worth the view. ūüôā

4th of July is a National Holiday, yet for the last decade it’s been a day of personal reflection; sometimes deep, sometimes simply grateful but always, always with a big dose of awe… 10 years ago I decided I was tired of controlling my inevitable death from Type 2 Diabetes and attendant complications. I was slowly marching to a grave. I knew it. Taking my prescribed drugs compliantly and not questioning alternatives. I was likely going to lose my feet/legs a piece at a time from our of control blood glucose and wind up crawling, not so much marching, towards that grave. I was resigned to the idea that it was my only choice.

Then July 2, 2011 I woke up and knew in my heart something was profoundly different… I woke up and decided I wanted to live. Whatever days I had left, whatever it looked like, I wanted. to. LIVE. No clue what it would look like to change my life; but game for the fight. I remember I woke up and felt this really odd feeling; iron-hot, fierce determination. I’d never felt it before. I didn’t know how in the hell I was going to make things different — I just knew I had to start flailing forward and figure it out as I went. I knew that where I was in that moment was NOT where I wanted to stay for even one more single day.

I changed everything. And still change things to keep moving toward the goal of being healthy. It turns out that there’s no real ‘finish line’ on this particular journey to health. Go figure. I started eating different, fought to get off meds, started lifting weights and moving more. I started losing weight and helping my body get more active, I got off meds. I’ve been diagnosed with and am in recovery treatment for an eating disorder. And while it’s never been linear or simple – it’s been worth it all. Countless of other great, amazing, wonderful things have graced my life since July 2011.

I stopped giving up on myself and stayed focus on ‘the next right thing’ that would help me continue to live this new-found, med-free, active life.

Life has given me ten years I never thought I would have. Endless awe and gratitude. I have been given a second chance and I don’t think I’ve wasted a single day. I’m living a life I couldn’t think big enough to even dream about. I’ve become a runner. I published a book. I’m in a job I love. I work as a health coach. I have amazing friends in the trail/ultra community. I have a 100 mile finisher buckle. Like… NONE of that was on my radar 10 years ago when I was struggling to figure out how to not die. I was in a body that couldn’t do the things I wanted to do. I was on a ton of pharmaceutical interventions. I was uncomfortable and sick and felt deeply hopeless about the mess I was in with Type 2 Diabetes. And now…. I’m not. I still have to fight for my health each and every day. Yet, I’m alive and healthy and active and deeply grateful for this life I get to live every single day.

I am very grateful for these 10 glorious years I might not have had any other way.

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. ūüôā

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.

+

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?

Mending a friendship.

Middle Sister, Pacific Crest Trail, Three Sisters Wilderness. Picture: Michelle Thompson

I ran and hiked 34 miles (52K) last Wednesday for my 52nd birthday. This was my first ultra distance adventure since the end of 2017. Five day after the run I’m still avoiding stairs and in the process of losing a few toenails, yet I am also enjoying a huge sense of accomplishment and feeling like I have welcomed back a long-lost friend.

November of 2017 I sought treatment for Binge Eating Disorder (BED). I had a lifetime of weird habits, horribly convoluted relationships with food, distorted body image and non-existent emotional coping skills. Yet I never knew it had an actual name. It does. Or that other people suffered like I did. They do. Or that it could be successfully treated. It can. I thought it was just me and I was ‘broken’ and food was an adversary I would fight my entire life. I would soon learn that for me, BED wasn’t actually even about food at all. I had developed ALL kinds of ways to deny, hide, manage the problem. (Blog here)

I had to take some important steps right off the bat. One of those steps was that I needed to back off of running. Running and coping and food were ALL tangled up and confused in my mind. In the desperation to hide what I couldn’t name, but absolutely knew was not normal, I had somehow turned running into a weapon. Pretty much overnight running went from being a friend to being an enemy.

To start the healing – I had to break those convoluted relationships up. It tossed ALL the things in my still-mostly-new-to-me healthy life into wild disorder. The only way I thought I knew to manage my weight and blood glucose was through running. with running in a greatly reduced role, I instantly started gaining weight and had to really watch my glucose readings as I learn how to manage these relationships independently. As someone who’d lost significant weight and gained an abundance of health through running; it was terrifying for me to grapple with running NOT being part of my life. And while I missed running, oddly I also started to fear, dislike, not trust running because it would trigger intense binging urges…

Ugh.

It’s been the past 6-8 months where I finally started to understand all the parts of the work I am doing were finally coming together; I was healing and getting stronger and even I could see it.

Time to hit the trails.

I stepped onto the dirt last Wednesday morning at 5 AM, headlamp blazing, with my friend Michelle Thompson, to leg out 34 miles (a course designed by Michelle). I wanted to see if I’d done enough work that running could be back in my life and not be a trigger for the eating disorder. And let’s face it; I’m 52 and if I’d clung to my old habits I wouldn’t even be alive to try this crazy experiment. And I know that. So I simply enjoy the hell out of each year that I get to celebrate being another year older. So this year we ran in the mountains. Climbing hills and crossing water. Stopping in our tracks to look at toads, rock formations, animal tracks (cougar!), flowers, wildfire burn scars and mountain peaks that are some of the prettiest in the whole world. Peeing in the woods – and in my own shoe at mile 3. Filtering our own water. Laughing, joking, crying and sharing trail-time with a soul-sister. Meeting friends at the end who came to cheer on the adventure. It was a magical day. Sitting here 4-5 days post-run when the binge urges would normally be active and showing themselves in full force; there’s only sore muscles, black toenails and some pretty soul-deep peace and calm. And I’m so happy to be feeling these feelings.

This was a carefully considered experiment with running to see if I could put all the pieces together and if we could all be friends again.

It really was a reunion of sorts.

A very happy reunion.

{Important note; as I worked toward this ‘experiment’ and continue to work to bring running back to a healthy spot in my life, my therapist is supportive and fully aware of what I’m doing.}

In the midst of COVID-19 things have gotten worse for those with previously stable eating disorders (here). I kept hearing anecdotal stories from friends about how their ED’s were out of control. I knew I was battling it as well. Some people are learning about eating disorders for the very first time.

You are not alone. No matter how twisted your world is with food/activity; you are NOT alone. Click here for resources that are free or low cost.

There is hope and help. You can heal from eating disorders.

South Sister, Pacific Crest Trail, Three Sisters Wilderness. Picture; Michelle Thompson

Ultras/Binge Eating Disorder

20170312_101129

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.

 

 

 

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.

17796458_10154763426498423_4956545185363753628_n.jpg
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…


17799196_10154765676678423_7269612834417281194_n.jpg
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!

17799284_10154766835908423_5673027624796553340_n.jpg
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.

unnamed.jpg

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. ūüôā ¬† 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. ūüôā

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. ūüôā

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. ūüôā

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! ¬†ūüėČ

IMG_9479 2

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.

IMG_0904

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… ūüôā

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. ūüôā

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. ūüôā¬† 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. ūüôā

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. ūüôā

FullSizeRender 4

All sizes. All.

20170312_085048
Is that my hair or a bush? You decide. ūüôā (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.

ūüôā

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!

20170312_084421.jpg
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. ūüôā

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.

Save

Fear.

FullSizeR.jpg
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!

FullSizeR[1].jpg

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. ūüôā ¬†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. ūüôā

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. ūüôā

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. ūüôā ¬†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. ūüôā

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…

20170310_122009

Save