Tag Archives: Passion

Runner’s Lullabye

All you have is your fire
And the place you need to reach
Don’t you ever tame your demons
But always keep them on a leash

       Arsonist’s Lullabye, Hozier

2016 is wrapping up and I finally find myself in a frame of mind to write again. This year has been hard, very hard. Actually, the beginning of it was great, but I’m here now, at the end, so I will write about the latter half.

Adjusting to graduate school was difficult and something I wasn’t ready for, but I doubt I ever would have been. Kind of like a race, it’s something you just have to jump in and do. I never handle difficulty with grace, EVER. I would love to handle everything looking like Audrey Hepburn, but instead I am… well… see below….

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Plus, I think it makes people a little teeny bit uncomfortable when they greet you with, “Hey, how are you?” and you answer with, “Shitty.” Sometimes I try to make it a little more palatable with things such as, “Meh”, “It’s rough”, or “I’m hanging in there”, but even those make people kind of chuckle a bit and move on. I dunno, I hate the fake. What can I say?

So I ran.

A beloved family member died suddenly and unexpectedly half way through the semester. I’m not sure I will ever be completely okay from that. I have this big ass brain and can do the science, but I cannot understand how this person is no longer here. Seriously makes no sense to me. Random things remind me of them and I start crying at inappropriate moments (see images above).

So I ran.

These past few months have brought a multitude of other things which I will not go into here. Wrenching things. Things I don’t understand. I am left here alone, fractured, shattered, and yet, I have grown. I am certainly not who I was at the beginning of this year; I have hurt, I have aged, I am changed.

And I run.

This broken heart has found beauty through running; the pain driving me to seek and to move. I have explored innumerable new trails. I have seen new views. I have met incredible new people. I have eaten new foods. I have learned more about my fears. The dark night is my blanket and the dawn my lover. I run with them, I find grace in them, and I am whole.

All I have is my fire
And the place I need to reach
I will never tame my demons
But always keep them on a leash

Aravaipa Mesquite Canyon 50K Race Report

My excitement was through the roof on Saturday afternoon; I had just peed, and my pee was an excellent light yellow color! I was all ready to crow about this to my friends until I realized where I was: at a Luau party in a beautiful home with people who don’t particularly enjoy running. Note to self: not an appropriate environment to discuss bodily functions. I calmly walked out of the bathroom, oddly still wrestling with the desire to boast about my urination prowess. The struggle is real, folks, the struggle is real.

Why was I so exultant about my ability to pee and its color? At 7:30 that morning I toed the start line for the Mesquite Canyon 50K, the finale for the DRT Series put on by Aravaipa Running. After any long run, especially if it is also a warm run, my goal afterwards is to drink until I start peeing. If I also pee during the race and/or directly after, all the better. So, my ability to urinate at my friend’s party (some giggles here, this is funny) had me extremely proud of myself.

My main thought at the start of this race was how ready I was for a long run. More and more frequently I find myself craving this familiar, quiet, settled-in frame of mind. I was ready to go.

The race started out fast and easy along the base of the White Tank Mountains at White Tank Mountain Regional Park, before running through the first aid station (at mile 2.4) and then turning right up into the mountains. I was quite familiar with this first switch-backing climb, having completed it a couple of times before at other races. It’s steep, but I had a good power hike up and before I knew it, I was up and out.

I was quickly at the second aid station at Mesquite Canyon and again, rather than stopping I merely made sure they had my number (they were checking runners in and out of the aid station) and kept going. As I hiked up the hill from here I reflected that this was probably going to be a very slow race because I was hiking so much of it (lots of uphill).

When the grade wasn’t too steep I ran, just working on keeping moving at a steady pace. I ran for a long time with my new friend Jonathan, discussing trails and trips. Eventually we hit trail that was brand new to me and I was enthralled. We were just a little below the towers, and the views out over the valley from these mountains were stunning, not to mention that we were running on single track and the luscious desert landscape that was closer in was simply begging to be gazed upon.

I knew that sometime soon I would be coming upon the first of two gnarly hills in this race, “Goat Camp”. After swooping along comfortably for miles, I rounded a corner and the trail simply dropped into a pristine example of divine, rocky technicality. My heart soared as I picked up the pace, arms flung wide for balance, allowing my feet to fall and slide down the slope. This dance I can do, I know it well. There was no time to think, I simply ran with gravity and we were one.  

Once the hill flattened out, I could feel the fatigue in my quads from my fun. I also needed a bathroom. Like really bad. I was desperately hoping for a toilet at the Bajada aid station, but just in case, I started eyeing the wash I was running next to for likely relief locations. Thankfully there was a toilet and I didn’t need to use nature’s litter box.

13.3 miles into the race and I felt great. The day was proving comfortable. Beforehand I’d been concerned about the heat, but that was not even an issue on this day. I refilled my pack and headed back out. I now had to climb UP the magnificent hill that I’d just bombed down. I ran along easily on the lower portions which were a gentle incline and then hiked the rest. I was up quickly and gone, back towards the Mesquite Canyon aid station.

I was feeling good until I started to feel my usual beginning twinges of side stitches. Why? Every. Single. Time. So frustrating. I had to slow down periodically because they’d get really bad, but when I was able to run through them, I tried to figure out what was going on. I tried breathing out when the foot on the same side as the stitch struck the ground. That sort of helped, but then what do you do when it spreads to both sides??? So, nope. I tried tightening my abs. Nope. Relaxing my abs. Nope. Then I tried just relaxing my whole body, especially my shoulders: “Ahhhhh.” I started to feel better! These stitches have become an issue on most long runs. They tend to eventually go away after a handful of miles (usually six or so) but I’d rather not deal with them in the first place.

I was able to pick my pace back up into Mesquite Canyon aid where I refilled my pack again. I was starting to chafe so I lubed up. I also snarfed a bunch of food and reapplied sunscreen, forgetting the small of my back. Oops.

I was off again to climb the hill out of this aid station for the second time that day. But this time I would be turning away from Bajada aid and towards the final stretch of the race which included the second gnarly hill in Ford Canyon. I only had about 8 miles left and I was done.

The trail up to Ford Canyon was fun; slightly technical, single track, pretty sights. I chugged along until the trail crested, and then it was a super fun bomb down the hill into the Ford Canyon wash. The wash was, well, a wash. Nice thick sand to slog through, with no clear trail per se. But it was pretty obvious that the wash was the trail, and the black polka-dotted orange ribbons placed as course markers simply confirmed I was going the right way. At a couple of places the wash was interesting with white rocks I had to scramble over (I love scrambling). I had assumed the entire Ford Canyon was in the wash, but suddenly, the trail veered up and to the right, out of the wash. I rounded a corner and there was this huge white boulder cliff face that, if there’d been flowing water, would have been a magnificent waterfall. I was exclaiming and hooting as I ran down the Ford Canyon trail. It was all filled with big rocks and again I was hopping all over and having a blast! I rounded a corner and suddenly, there was the Ford Canyon aid station. I took a second to eat a few bites, but then was off, having only about 2 miles left to the finish.

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Coming into Ford Canyon Aid Photo Credit: Matthew Hinman

I pushed these last miles and did my best not to walk. For the final mile I picked up the pace. My breathing was ragged but I knew I was almost done. I kept seeing the finish line tents in between the bushes, but I never seemed to be on the final stretch, until I was, and then I was done.

My friend Benedict was at the finish line taking pictures and he gave me a sweaty congratulatory hug. I was given my finisher glass which I filled with coke, and went and talked to my friends, who were either there giving congratulations or had had good races themselves. I also claimed my free pizza from Freak Brothers (nomnomnom) and relaxed, waiting for other friends to finish their races and for my husband to come and pick me up.

Remember how I’d been concerned that this would be a slow race? Well, I finished in about 6 hours and 30 minutes, which for me was phenomenal and I felt good about it. I was 7th female and 25th overall.

I also finished this race with some beautiful examples of excoriation (chafing- cool word, right?) and bright red sunburn (this on my lower back where I forgot to reapply that sunscreen). The stinging upon contact with hot shower water was exquisite (said with much sarcasm).

This race is by far my favorite of the DRT races. I’d wanted something with some climbing and technicality as training for Zane Grey and this delivered. My watch gave me somewhere around 4700 feet of climbing and as I’ve already said, this had some really fun technical stretches. That combined with the scenery made this race an epic way to end the DRT series and one that I can’t wait to run again.

And now my tale has come full circle. From the race I went to my friend’s Luau party and you know the rest!

Run on.

Featured Photo Credit: Matthew Hinman

Smelly Armchair Musings: On the Beauty of Being Yourself

“Just follow her feet. Just follow her feet. Just follow her feet. Oh god, where is the aid station?”

On this day, February 9, 2013, I ran with my friend Dawn at my first ultra, the Pemberton 50K. I’d wanted to “be an ultra-runner” for a while, and on that day I’d set out to try to earn that badge. I was a newb.

Dawn; she is amazing. She’s run numerous races, ultra and not, all over the place. She is kind and always has a smile and a word of encouragement for everyone. She loves her family, loves her friends, and loves the trails. This woman exudes calm, acceptance, generosity, kindness, humbleness, and grace. She taught me so much about myself, and all while simply being herself. She probably has no idea of the impact she has had on my life (well, perhaps until now).

Up until the Pemberton 50K, Dawn and I had been on group runs together. Just talking, chatting about whatever. We were friends and I enjoyed her company.

So we ran the Pemberton 50K. This race consists of two loops of Pemberton Trail at McDowell Mountain Regional Park. It’s a good first ultra because it has minimal elevation gain and is relatively smooth running.

For the first loop, being the newb that I was, I ran too fast, I know that now. But at the time, I felt great, the pace felt fun, I was having a good time. Dawn was behind me a little bit. We came into the Start/Finish line aid station and Dawn, being much wiser than me, took a moment to stop and eat. I kept going.

As soon as I started on the second loop I knew I was in trouble. The flat course no longer felt flat. I couldn’t run. Everything hurt and my legs wouldn’t move. Dawn caught up to me while I was walking, and she was still running strong. I don’t remember now all of the words that were exchanged- I remember seriously hating life and hating the “hill”. She was kind and cheerful, as always, but not in an annoying cheerleader way, she was just herself. I ended up following her feet; she pulled me in this manner for miles (5? 6? 7? I don’t remember now.). All I remember of this time is her solid feet, consistently covering trail, and my struggle to keep watching them and not stop. It hurt. Eventually we came to a remote aid station and I just couldn’t run anymore. I told her to go ahead. I still had a bunch of miles (5? 6? Again, I don’t remember) to go to reach the finish line, and I needed to walk for a while.

So I walked. And felt sorry for myself for walking. One person passed me. Then another. I was still walking. Eventually enough people passed me that I decided that was enough of that, I was going to run again. So I did. It was a shuffle, really. Every little bump in the trail felt like I was climbing a giant mountain. My legs wouldn’t lift, but at least I wasn’t walking anymore.

Eventually I made it and I crossed the finish line of my first ultra. And Dawn was there and she congratulated me. I felt awful. I was cold. I remember leaving there and going to Starbucks to get a huge hot chocolate to drink- I was dehydrated, and hadn’t eaten well, and was a mess.

And that’s my experience of my first ultra, but this is about so much more than that. Every time I run any race, at some point the going gets hard and ALWAYS Dawn’s voice is there: “Just keep moving. One foot in front of the other finishes.” On my “Adventure Runs” (My friend Miguel calls these Amber Adventures) that I pursue in the desert, again, Dawn is always with me. This beautiful woman gave me so much more than she will ever know. These words don’t describe the impact she has had on me. I look up to her.

So why write this? Trail running is about community. We need each other, or at least, I do. Dawn never knew the impact she had on my life, she was just herself and she helped me to become the person I am today because of it. Perhaps this is a reminder to me. I don’t know, and will never know, my impact on the lives of those around me. How does my mere presence affect them? What about my words? My actions? I don’t know. But I love my community- I will choose to be there for them, to pour into them, as I have been poured into, because this is who I am. Perhaps there is someone out there who will always hear my voice on their runs, just as I always hear Dawn’s. Perhaps not. It doesn’t matter. What matters is my choice to love those around me while I am here simply because I can.

Thank you Dawn.

Aravaipa McDowell Mountain Frenzy 50 Mile Race Report: On Running Far, Perseverance, Breaking Down, and Accidentally Accomplishing a Long-Held Desire

What does it mean when you eat a good pizza dinner at 7:00pm, a second dinner at 10:00pm, and then are woken up by your body screaming for food at 1:30am and again at 6:30am? For me it means that I finished my first 50 mile race!

Morning came too early Saturday and I was a bundle of nerves. As per my habit for this Fall’s  Desert Runner Trail Series I had not effectively trained. While I had managed to complete the first two races of the series (Cave Creek Thriller 50K and Pass Mountain 50K) they were not 50 miles, and I had never run 50 miles before. The closest I’d come to 50 miles was my R3 Canyon crossing back in May for which I’d trained. So… nerves. Could I finish? What if my side cramped up? What if I got nauseous? What if my muscles refused? What if, what if, what if?

I had prepared my pack the night before. I know many experienced ultra-runners don’t carry a pack, preferring to stay light with a water bottle or two. From my experience at the Canyon though, I decided I wanted to have my pack with a few staple items in it so I knew I’d have the nutrition I wanted. The biggest thing I learned at the Canyon was “Eat early and eat often” which I planned to do for the race. This way, the aid station goodies would be a bonus! I also had my electrolytes which I seem to do well with when I take one/ hour. I also decided to forgo the drop bags- I couldn’t think of anything I’d really need that would be worth slowing down for.

I arrived at the race about 25 minutes before the start. I knew the day would get warm so even though it was probably in the 40’s, I was wearing shorts and a tank and arm sleeves. I stood by the fire and shivered until it was time to go. 44 of us toed the start line, full of hopes, worries, excitement, and expectations for the day ahead of us. Only 33 of us would finish.

When the horn went off, I did my best to keep my pace down. This is so difficult at the beginning of a race, but I knew if I had any desire to finish, I had to keep it slow. You may remember Karen, the woman who was out for a training run during the Cave Creek 50K, and who I ran with for quite a while there? Well, she was out at the Frenzy, running her first 50 mile too! She asked me what my strategy was for the day, if I had one. My answer, “Just don’t go too fast.” She laughed and said she didn’t think that’d be a problem for her. (Ultra Sign-Up had also predicted that my finish time would be 12:20 and I wanted to beat that at least, if not finish in 12 hours.) This beginning part of the trail, though, is nice and easy rolling. It’s difficult to keep the pace down, as I discovered last year when I ran the Frenzy 50K. We, along with at least one other woman who was also running her first 50 mile, ran together until we hit the first aid station (around 7 miles in, only 43 left!), Escondido Aid. I grabbed a cup of coke (mmm… coke), a bite to eat, and moved out. I would see them all again on Thompson Peak- more on that later.

Rolling up Pemberton Trail from Escondido I just ran easy. This section of trail is wide open, smooth, and gently uphill. I’ve run it many times, so I knew what to expect for next 5 miles to aid station number two, Granite Tank Aid. Coming down into the aid station (12 miles down, only 38 to go!), my friend Jon greeted me and took my picture. I dumped some sand out of my shoes, grabbed a cup of coke, and walked out.

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Coming into Granite Tank Aid. Photo Credit: Jon Christley

The next 6.5 miles consisted of a loop, which would come back to Granite Tank Aid, in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve on trails which I’d never run before. They headed out way north, near some cool boulder formations. The trails were mostly narrow, which I love. I began this little side loop with walking and eating because as I’d been running up Pemberton I’d felt some hunger setting in already. Note to self: do not wait to eat once you feel hungry when running. I’d waited too long to eat, and struggled with the evil Bonk for the next couple of miles until what I’d eaten made its way into my bloodstream. Then I was better and took off again.

I ran back into Granite Tank Aid (about 18 miles down, only 32 left- just a 50K!) and filled my pack with water for the first time. The next 10.5 miles to Dixie Mine Aid would be long and the day was warming up. I’d stripped off my arm sleeves and Jon sprayed me with sunscreen. I was so thankful for this. I’d put on a little bit of sunscreen in the morning before leaving home, but I’d known then it wouldn’t be enough. I downed some more coke and belched in a most trail-lady-like fashion, and headed out.

The beginning of this section again heads out onto trails in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. These were trails I’d run the year before during the 50K and I loved them just as much this time around as I did then; narrow, winding between boulders, fun! I ran easily along, enjoying the views of Tom’s Thumb and the McDowell’s. Eventually I came down out of the Preserve and back onto Pemberton Trail. Again, I know this trail well and chugged along. By now I was passing by 50K runners. It was nice to see these other people out on the trail. I passed by one girl who was running strong. She asked how my day was going. I answered, “Great!” and she replied with, “Fuck yeah!” Awesome enthusiasm! It made me smile.

We turned off of Pemberton Trail onto Coachwhip Trail, beginning the ascent into the McDowell Mountains. The trail became a little more technical, and it was warm, so I slowed down some, speed-hiking the bigger hills. The views from here are some of my favorite in this area. Climbing up Bell Pass, if you look back behind you the desert is spread out below, with the mountains right next to you. It’s awe-inspiring. Upon cresting Bell Pass it’s a crazy fun, technical, switch-backing downhill until you hit the Thompson Peak road, which then continues downhill into Dixie Mine Aid.

Coming into Dixie Mine (About 29 miles done! Over half way! Only 21 miles left!), my friend Justin greeted me and refilled my pack while my friend Brett got me… can you guess what? Yup, coke. We chatted for a few minutes. Another friend, Bradley, was there resting for a bit during his 50K effort. My left IT band was feeling a little twingey, so I was concerned about that, especially considering that I now had to climb up Thompson Peak.

Thompson Peak. It’s hard. And it’s incredible. The climb up to the towers on top of the peak is about 2.3 miles, with, I think, about 1500 feet of gain. Most of that gain is in the last mile with grades sometimes reaching upwards of 49% (at least according to my Strava). I’ve climbed this mountain a few times before, which I was so thankful for. It would be disheartening to me to hit this climb this far into a race and not have been expecting it. I climbed and pushed and my heart pounded and my breathing raged and my calves burned with an angry fire. I stopped twice, I think, for a couple of seconds to slow my heart down, and then pushed on. I crested the mountain, made sure my bib number was recorded (to verify I’d climbed the whole thing) and ran back down.

On the way down, my IT band twinging turned into aching pain. I managed to find a weird hitching running motion that I could do and did that as much as I could down. One woman on her way up asked me if I had any electrolytes- her quads were cramping. I gave her two. On the last really steep section I came across Karen again and the other first time 50 mile woman- they were looking strong and were all smiles! I hitched into Dixie Mine Aid (50K down! Less than 17 miles to go!) again and refilled my pack. I drank yet more coke, ate more food, and headed out. At this point, the first sign of fatigue set in. I’d set my arm sleeves down at aid station, and left without them. Thankfully I realized this right away and was able to retrieve them.

I hiked the brief climb out of the aid station and then the trail followed a ridge before heading downhill and eventually winding back down to Pemberton. It was in this section that my state of mind become apparent to me. I’d been taking my electrolytes consistently every hour, but now I wasn’t sure if I’d taken the last one, or what time the last one was at. It was just over 5 miles of easy running to the Gate Aid Station, but my IT band was kind of angry. So I ran, then walked for a minute to calm it down, then ran again. I did this the whole way into the Gate Aid (About 39 miles down! Only about 11 to go!). I drank coke at Gate Aid and refilled my pack. The next aid station was only a 5K away, but it was the Start/Finish line. I knew I didn’t want to linger there since that’d make it hard to head back out for the final loop. So preemptively filling my pack was a protective measure against stopping my race early.

I left the Gate Aid, and thankfully the volunteer there saw my arm sleeves, which, yes, I’d set down and forgotten again. I would be coming back to this aid station, but I wanted to hold my sleeves because they were protection for my hands in the case that my increasingly tired feet tripped and I fell.

I covered that 5K as quickly as I could. The woman who’d needed the electrolytes had caught up to me by this point, and thankfully her quads had calmed down and not cramped up on the way down from the peak! We ran together off and on, and I was still able to run pretty well. I was tired, but I felt great.

There’s this last little hill that has to be crested before coming into the Start/Finish line. I power-hiked this, coming up with the most creative curse words I could. I still felt just fine, other than the twinging IT, but I was grouchy. I ran into the Start/Finish line and grabbed some food. My friends Erica, Laurie, Krista, and Matt were all there and greeted me. I grabbed more food, downed more coke, and grabbed some food to go. Matt walked me down the parking lot to where the trail took off out into the desert again. I’d covered 42 miles and I only had 8 left.

It was 2 miles back out to the Gate Aid station and it was easy running. But, my tiredness showed itself and I tripped and fell on a non-rock. Thankfully I’d had my arm sleeves and the damage was minimal. I grabbed coke and pickles at the aid station and moved out. As I was descending a small hill, Karen ran into the Gate Aid above me and yelled and waved!

6 miles left and it was still light out. I had a second wind and ran solidly for a mile and felt good. Then I started to feel a twinge in my left foot. So I hiked a little, but kept running. I was tired, but my muscles still felt strong. But. My. Foot. With about 3 miles left, I couldn’t run anymore, the pain in my foot was so bad. I was angry, so very angry. My muscles were still good! I could run, but for this tiny, horrible spot in my foot! It got dark and I hiked as hard as I could, and sometimes even that set my foot off. The pain made me start crying, then I’d tell myself to stop it, I had to get to the finish line. I’d get it under control and then start sobbing again, then get it under control again. This happened over and over. I could see the lights of the people behind me and I was so very slow. I just knew they were all going to pass me and there was nothing I could do about it.

By now I was hiking in blind faith. I was on a trail, but couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen an Aravaipa flag. I’d get worried I’d gone the wrong way and would start watching closely for a flag, would see one, but would then forget when I’d seen it after I passed it. I kept expecting to end up on a different trail, not realizing I’d be approaching the Finish line from the far end of the parking lot, and this concerned me when I wasn’t seeing what I expected to see. Finally I could hear the Finish line. Then I could see it, though it seemed so very far away. Then I was suddenly at the end of the parking lot and knew I hadn’t gone off trail. Somehow no one had passed me yet. I started unreservedly sobbing, so badly did I want to be done. I hobbled as fast as I could up the parking lot and across the finish line. Immediately I collapsed in a pile of tears on the other side. I’d done it. I’d run 50 miles. Remember my goal of finishing in 12 hours? I’d finished sub-12. I’d finished what I’d set out to do into the arms of my dear friends and family. When I’d come through the first time, Matt had texted my husband who was now there to greet me along with our kids. I was just crying and crying. And then… then someone told me I was third female.

Wait, what?

That couldn’t be right. I knew there were people ahead of me. I’ve never placed in an Aravaipa race. I’ve always wanted to, but I’m not fast enough. My friend Laurie who was doing the timing confirmed it, I’d gotten third female. Me. In my very first 50 mile race, I, of all people, had gotten third. So the sobbing commenced again.

Eventually I calmed down and stood up. I warmed up by the fire while my husband grabbed my change of clothes from my car and ordered my free pizza from Freak Brothers (for all 50K and 50 mile finishers). Then, for the first time, I had my picture taken with the other top finishing, incredible ultra-women.

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My bib, socks, and award

And you know the rest. I now sit here on my couch finishing this blog, still hungry. I am resting. My muscles feel great, my foot is still achy. What are my plans? I will rest for the month of December and allow my body to heal from this incredible effort it just accomplished. I will see how I feel and determine future training based on that.

I will close with this: our bodies are incredible, simply incredible. There are very few living creatures that can cover distances like we can (if you want to have a geek discussion on the physiology surrounding this with me sometime, please let me know!). We can cover incredible distances because we want to. Take a moment to think about that. We can. I can. You can. Many runners have heard, “What?!?! Why would you run that far?!? You must be crazy! I don’t even drive that far!” These things are said in varying forms in regards to all distances ranging from a 5K to a marathon, to 100 miles and more. Many of us have even laughed along with the people saying this, perhaps even joined in the joking self-deprecation. I know that I have. I don’t want to anymore. This ability is amazing and life-altering. It’s not crazy to push your body to see what it can do. It’s not crazy to head out into wild places and experience this dazzling world. It’s crazy not to. It’s crazy to be surrounded by astounding beauty and to purposely choose to never experience it. I will experience this world I’ve been given- who’s with me?

A Ramble

“So how does a 50K work?” I was asked this question the other day and it completely confused me; I didn’t understand what was being asked. “Well, I mean, you don’t run it all at once right?” Oooohhhhh. Me: “Well, yes. You do.” I think there was confusion on their face.

It’s mind-boggling to me that there are people who haven’t heard of ultra-marathons; it is what I breathe. All I seem to be able to talk about is either geeky immunology or microbiology (or some other “ology” entirely), or running ultras and the best trails. Everybody I know is the same… well, at least regarding the latter part. I’m always wanting to hit that next trail, it’s constantly on my brain.

Perhaps this is the beauty of the trail running community here in Phoenix. We actually are a community. There are so many people who love the same dirt baths that I love, who aren’t afraid to push their bodies and indulge their curiosity to see how far that trail goes. Every day I see posts on Facebook asking if anyone is free for a run at this trail or that trail, or at a completely new trail. Any time, day or night (more nights as the temperatures begin to climb) people are usually able to find someone who is willing to hop on the trail with them. There are people here who want to be a part of what I love to do, as much as I want to be a part of what they love to do.

There is something incredibly freeing about running long. I know my body now better than I ever have. I know how to fuel it and hydrate it so I can keep going strong. Running long has given me confidence in my physical abilities, and given me reason to believe I am capable of many other things as well. I am seriously incredible. No really, you are too! Look at how our muscles all work together to propel us up a trail. It’s amazing: the brain is firing, the heart is pumping, feet are carefully placed, muscles strain, and sweat flows, all in perfect harmony that feels like agony that is beautiful. Incredible.

As I pursue my dreams and try to encourage others to pursue theirs, I often hear, “Oh no. I’m much too old for that now.” Wha…?????? How is this a thing? I desperately hope that I never, ever find myself in a place where the only reason I won’t pursue a dream is because I believe I’m too old. Too old to climb a mountain? No. Just… no. There is a difference between age and physical capability. If I am unable to climb a mountain because some part of me doesn’t work anymore, or is otherwise not well enough to do so, well then at least I climbed as many mountains as I could while I was able. But to forgo climbing a mountain only because of my age? This is absolutely not acceptable. The same with any other dream- to skip it only because of a strongly held belief that I am too “old”? Again, no. Something I have learned is that our beliefs shape everything about us. They shape our outlook on life, how we view others, how we view ourselves. All of this is simply a belief. When we change our beliefs (No, I’m not too old) our whole world changes.

So this ramble of a blog begins with consternation at the idea of running a 50K, moseys along into my amazing, local trail running community, and culminates at pursuing dreams. How does all of this tie together? Running long is not everyone’s dream, in fact, it’s not most people’s dream (weird, I know). And yet, we all have dreams. Some we have left behind for whatever reason, some we set on a back burner as life rushes by. Running long is how I grow in strength and confidence. It is my foundation for pursuing life. I fully believe I am meant, we all are meant, to pursue life. Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s really not, but give me my long run, and I can promise you, I will live this life to its fullest. You should join me.

Smelly Armchair Musings: On Taking Time Off

We runners are an enthusiastic bunch, aren’t we? I say this as I sit comfortably smashed into my couch, on the tail end of 3 weeks? 4 weeks? Of not running.
What happened??????

  • IT Band Pain

A couple of months ago I participated in the Javelina Jundred K. If you follow this blog with any regularity you will realize that I did not write about this race- there is a reason for that. It was my very first attempt at the 100K distance, and it was my very first DNF (Did Not Finish). Right after the race I was not in a mental place that was conducive to blogging. And now it has been so long, it is highly unlikely I was get as far as effectively revisiting that event in cyberspace.

Anyway, my point is that at that race, I encountered horrible IT Band pain and had to stop. Since then, I have had twinges that sometimes become more than that. Overall there’s nothing major, just something there.  I have not had any issues with this in years, since switching to minimalist shoes in fact, and I don’t know what started it off now. Whatever, it sucks.

  • Life Happened

I discovered that I was not Wonder Woman, and that I can’t do everything. In the midst of selling my home and packing and moving and children, and holidays and EVERYTHING, I realized that I was tired and needed to stop. So I did.

  • Running Partner Sidelined

Right around the time Life was blowing up for me, my running partner needed a break to heal some of his nagging injuries. So…

I decided that for once, I was going to give myself permission to stop. It’s funny that I had to “give myself permission”, right? That’s part of why I said that we runners are enthusiastic; we can’t stop, we love what we do, and we do it until we physically can’t do it anymore. I know numerous people who are sidelined with various running-related injuries right now, and it sucks. I know; I’ve been sidelined before. Not being able to do what you love is excruciating. While these past few weeks have been hard for me, I know that I needed this down time, both physically and mentally. I needed everything around me to just stop. While that couldn’t happen completely, giving myself permission to relax and slow down really helped.

Update: I went for my first run of 2015 this morning. It was just 7.5 miles, but the trail I chose is a pretty good work out: lots of rocks to jump, and over 1,200 feet of climbing. Running felt good. Being out and moving in the desert was wonderful. I could tell I’d lost some fitness: the run took me way longer than it should have and I couldn’t run sections that I’ve been able to run in the past. Overall, though, I was happy, and most importantly, content. I know that the fitness will spring back.

When I opened my running calendar to record my miles for the day, I was surprised to see I didn’t have any “scheduled” training miles written in! I currently have a completely blank 2015 training calendar. While I don’t know if I’ll still be able to do all of the events I was planning on, I’m looking forward to filling in my calendar and planning out some epic runs… pain free I hope!

Smelly Armchair Musings: Why Do I Run?

Why do I run?

In normal, daily life it is common for someone to ask how your weekend was and what you did. Answering this question, though, is never easy for me. How do I respond?

“Well, I ran a 25 followed up by an easy 15 the next day. Checked out some sweet single track.”

I’ll have to explain what a 25 followed by a 15 is (25 miles on Saturday and 15 miles on Sunday). I’ll have to explain what single track is. And I’ll be met with seriously blank stares followed by incredulous questions, the most common of which is, “Why on earth would you do that?”

Why on earth indeed? Why do I choose to run hours and hours every weekend? Why do I like ultras? Honestly, rather than trying to explain myself, I find it easiest to just laugh and say, “Haha, I know, right? I must be crazy.” Because this drive to run is down at the core of my being- how do you explain something beautiful that is lodged in the depths of your soul, to someone else who does not have that same thing there? You can’t. Not really. But… I thought I’d give it a shot. I know everyone who does run has different reasons as to why, but here is my little story.

I grew up outside, and I’m sure that’s where I gained my love of the outdoors. I spent the entirety of my summers running around barefoot in the woods (or I had my nose buried in a book- I’m a person of extremes). I climbed trees, I swam in cricks, I picked berries, and I played with crayfish and frogs and toads. I explored the wilds around my house and I knew their secrets. This was my world and my soul ran free.

Fast forward however many years it’s been (it’s a number that surprises me!), and out of necessity, I now live in a development; in a city. For many years here, my soul just kind of sat in a hole, bewildered perhaps.

One day, amidst babies and house cleaning and whatever else I did, I realized that I needed something that was all mine; something that I did just for me and only for me. This thing could not be because someone else told me to do it, or because someone else wanted or needed me to do it, it needed to be because I wanted to do it. So I ran.

I started out just running a little around my development, until my friend said, “Hey! Let’s run a half marathon!”  and I said, “Holy crap that’s far, okay!” And really, that’s what started me down this path. She and I didn’t make it to that half marathon together, but I did end up running one. And it was hard. And I had a good time. All of this running was pretty good, until one day, I found it. “It?” you may ask? Oh yes, IT. My niche. I ran a trail.

And then another trail. Then I realized that these trails go off into really wild places, far away from cars and tech. I could have space to breathe. The constant tension in my shoulders could disappear. I could just BE. There was no one to judge me and no one to want anything from me. I didn’t have to try to make sense of social situations. There was no one who would look at me or look at my life and make any decisions about it one way or the other. I just was. And it was good.

Running by myself is great, but running with other people, sharing the glory of the world around me, is even better. I love these people, these trail runners, this community. We run and while we do so, we are relaxed. We can be in the moment and appreciate each other’s presence. We share our lives.

And yet these still are not the entire reason that I run. When I stand on the edge of cliff looking down and out, I see my place in this world, and it’s comfortingly small. As I run, I feel my muscles working, straining, rising to this new challenge as I climb a mountain or run across the rocks. I feel capable and strong. The feats that the human body is able to accomplish are incredible- do you realize that humans can keep moving LONG after most other animals collapse because they literally have no more ATP (the energy source for our muscles) left? It’s amazing that we can do this, if we just get out and start going! We are able to acclimate to almost any environment on the planet, if we get out and go do it. We can scale the highest mountains, cross the hottest deserts, swim the greatest waters. We can see waterfalls, jungles, crazy animals, incredible vistas. What other animal can do that as we can? None. WHY would I want to sit at home when there is so much world to see, and I am uniquely gifted to see it? I know what’s in my home, I don’t know what’s down that trail I have yet to explore. Whether you believe in God or not, this world is an epic gift that I would feel I was squandering if I only ever hung out in my smelly armchair.

So what am I saying, exactly, with all of these thoughts? Why do I run?  Well, the simple version is that it makes me happy. Anyone can understand doing something because it makes them happy, but I believe most people would ask, “Why do you run so much? Why not just run a 5K? A 10K? A half marathon? Or at the most, the occasional marathon? Do you really need to run a marathon pretty much every weekend?”  The answer to the final question, unequivocally is yes. I need to breathe, and the long runs are where I breathe the best. I need to be a part of a community, and these are my peeps. I need to explore my amazing planet, and I can do that best while running. It’s possible that Disney’s Pocahontas actually said it best in “Just Around the Riverbend.” Just because we grow up, does that mean we stop our awe and wonder of the world around us? Do I just stay home and do what’s easiest?

So, there it is. All of that, that’s my reason for running. You may disagree with me. You may think I’m wrong, or selfish, or something else entirely. I’m okay with that. I don’t write for you, but rather for me. I know that most people still will not understand, and I wouldn’t expect them to. This is something you either “get” or you don’t. BUT- I would say that all of us have something that we love. That something may be more socially and culturally acceptable than running long distances and so you may feel that it’s not the same thing, but it is. This sameness is something I have come to realize over the past few years and I hope it’s made me a more accepting person, at least sometimes. Trying to understand another person and see the world through their eyes is extremely hard for me- I think everyone should see things my way! But when I shut my mouth and slow down my race to take offense, I gain an insight into another person and that is priceless.

* On a side note, these are not my thoughts on a balanced life, but rather on my gut-deep passion. Balance is a whole other thing that comes into living the passion, and is best discussed in a different smelly armchair sitting. (See? Balance.) Sometimes I manage balance better than other times, as my exceedingly understanding husband can attest.