Western States Training Camp. Lightening fast.

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Stepping onto the trail…  So excited to get running.

I had one of the most epic runs of my life (so far!) this past weekend.

And one of the most terrifying moments of my running life.

All in the same day.

The Western States Training Camp is an annual 3-day bonanza of trail running out of Auburn California.  It’s a practice event designed to help the runners learn the trails for the upcoming Western States Endurance Run.  It’s a historic 100-mile trail race that happens the end of June. http://www.wser.org

This camp is open to non-racing runners as well.  New, veteran, fast, slow — as long as you have a love for the sport and pay the registration fee; you are warmly welcomed. (Endurance run-nerds should really put this well-run, flawlessly supported camp on their bucket list.)

Spencer, Erica and I went down to run.  We’re all planning big events over the next few months and this was a great ‘kick-off’ training weekend. We ran 32 miles on Saturday, 18 miles on Sunday and 22 miles on Monday.  BIG miles.  Training, new terrain, friends.  ALL GOOD!

That’s the epic part. 🙂

Back to the terrifying part of the story.

The first morning we were bused up to Robinson Flat to start the run back to the Foresthill Elementary School. Spencer took off and ran when the buses unloaded. Erica and I took off after waiting in a long – female exclusive – line for the lone enclosed commode. We wanted one last hint of civilization. There would be plenty of time for ‘being one with nature’ the rest of the day. 🙂

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Running selfie, without wrecking. 🙂

So many stories I could tell about squatting in poison oak, missed turns, the beyond-annoying chatty-chick from Maryland that we all wanted to push off the nearest cliff, great micro-chats with fascinating people, snakes, active gold mines, abandoned cemeteries, botched water crossings… Blogs for another day. 🙂

We hit the last aid station at Michigan Bluff.  Mile 26. Close to done. We quickly stocked up on water and food (watermelon for me, PBJ for Erica!) and took off to put a time stamp on this sucker.

We’re around mile 29 and starting to get rained on.  BIG, wet drops of rain.

The weather forecast heading into the weekend had said 80 and clear.  It was 55 and rainy and starting to hail.  We joked about finding the weatherperson and having a ‘friendly’ conversation with them about their forecasting skills.

THUNDER.

Bright flash of light.

HOLY SMOKES.

We were half way between the aid station (which was a tent with METAL poles) and the finish. We’re soaked.  We’re cold. We’re on a semi-exposed, raised dirt road. Trees on either side.  A 3-strand barbed wire fence next to us…

Nowhere to hide.

We heard thunder again and breathed a little sigh of relief. We agreed it was moving away from us… Whew. No more lightening…

We kept moving.

Then about 15 minutes later the storm seemed to double back.

Startlingly bright flash of light and a thunder clap that we both insist was right over our heads. Loud enough you could feel it and it numbed your ear drums.

At this point we’re talking back and forth about what our best survival option is.  And we’re serious. We’re both nervous and not liking our situation and trying to figure out how to a) not freak the other one out and b) seriously get our butts off the exposed hill and down to the school. Alive.

We kept moving toward the school with the agreement that if it happened again we would stop to wait out the storm and make ourselves the smallest of possible targets away from big trees/obvious lightening rods.

We had a plan.  And that’s about the point when the hill crested and we were finally winding down off of the hill…

Slight sidebar in the story; on the descent with rain/thunder/lightening in the distance and moving away, we came upon a fellow trail runner essentially hugging a tree (WRONG THING TO DO!).  She said she was too scared to go on. Erica gently convinced her to get AWAY from the tree. The runner asked to follow us down the trail.  We kept moving. (In a karmic/comedic twist; the runner happens to be the beyond-annoying chatty-chick that we wanted to push off of several earlier cliffs… WHOLE other story.  Longest. Mile. Ever. Thankful my hearing was temporarily impaired from the thunder. Small blessing.)

We finally reached the forest gate and were about to hit paved road to head to the school.  Several cars were there at the trail; checking on runners they knew had to be up on the hill.  One of the cars pulling up was Spencer. He made sure we were OK and said ‘you guys want to get in the car or do you want to finish this thing?’

‘Finish the run.’

This entire sport, the endurance world, is about learning about and testing your limits and strengths and boundaries.  And then finding the mental fortitude to fight beyond all of your tiredness and fears and the other BS your brain creates to try to make you stop.  We aren’t just training to run; we’re training to make our minds tougher.  Pushing through the hard, ugly, imperfect stuff creates confidence and strength.  It help you understand and believe that just about anything is possible if you work hard enough, fight long enough.  It’s what I LOVE about this sport.  You don’t have to be fast or elegant or naturally talented or have a ton of money or have a certain body type.  You just have to be tough and persistent.

As we were briefly checking in with Spencer, I realized I was starting to shake from having been scared.  I KNEW that I didn’t want this to be the ending to this epic running adventure. Come within a mile of the finish line and because something unexpected had happened, I QUIT short of the goal and jump in the warm car?

Hell no.

No way.

I did not want that narrative in my head.  I wanted to know I could keep on going even though I was scared and exhausted and cold.  It was something really important that I just had to finish.  All of that went through my head.

I don’t have a clue what I actually said out loud.

Erica and I started heading toward the school and she simply said ‘This is where our real training begins. Let’s run to the school.’

We ran.

We shuffled, jogged, hiked, ran our way back to that finish area and straight into the nearest porta potties.  (Priorities. 🙂 )

And then right into the warm car. 🙂

We ran 32 miles in 8 hours and 36 minutes.

It was a beautiful, happy, memorable day of running.

Day one of the Western States Training Camp was in the books.

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Erica and I on day 3 at the American River overlook. Over 80 degrees before noon.  TOTALLY different weather. Great day of running in the heat. 🙂
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‘Can’t you just eat less?’

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392+ pounds. Newly diagnosed as T2 and fully medicated. Size 32 dress, still had to have panels sewn in so it would fit…

This blog is for the women who I met at the Diabetes Expo last month. They asked me to address the ‘publicness’ of obesity…


Being obese I have, at times, been treated like my weight issue was open for public discussion and comment just because people could see it.

I mean, there is no hiding 392 pounds.

I recently had a discussion with a group of women at a diabetes expo where I was speaking. We were talking about comments and ‘helpful remarks’ others, including loved ones, make.  We all agreed that intentionally, unintentionally, pointedly; comments relating to food and diabetes and weight simply fuel shame and lack of confidence and fears…

Not one time, regardless of the speaker or the intent, did we ever find those comments truly helpful or motivating.

We all had stories.

We all agreed that shame can paralyze you.

This stuff HURTS.  And we, the obese, have no real way to hide. Because people can see our bulk, it seems to mean we’re fair game for comments and criticism and remarks.

It’s an emotionally vicious cycle.


‘Can’t you just eat less?’

‘You’ll never get married/date/be happy if you don’t lose weight.’

‘Don’t you wish you were normal sized?’

‘Should you be eating that…?’

‘Don’t you love your family enough to be healthy?’

I remember exactly who made those comments to me, when they happened. With clarity. I remember how I BURNED with shame for days/weeks. How my self-confidence would hit bottom and start digging an even deeper hole…

When lobed one of those questions or comments I usually tried to smile and say something generic like ‘thank you… mumble… mumble…’ The goal was always to get out of the situation posthaste.

Ashamed and sad and hurt.

Shame and lack of self confidence seem to go hand in hand for me.  (I know they are NOT the same, but they sure tend to show up together.)

I ALWAYS responded by placating my wounded soul and emotions with food. Food was how I managed, buried shame. Food was my stalwart comfort and companion during these episodes.

You might be thinking that those are mean, thoughtless, careless things for someone to say. Or maybe just plain rude.

BUT here is the catch…

If I am being totally honest…

I was THINKING those exact same things about MYSELF.

If they were just being mean you could actually brush it off a little easier. BUT when you, yourself, think it, believe it, own it

And then someone says it OUT LOUD…

Shame comes barreling through the door.  And lack of self confidence strolls in right behind her…

With cake in hand.

I wish I could tell you how I corralled shame, fought it. How I don’t wrestle with lack of confidence anymore. I don’t really have a good, clear answer just yet.  I’m still working on all of it.

But I’ve been really thinking about MY shame/food/weight/confidence issues since talking to those women a few weeks ago. Here’s what I’ve been thinking about… For me, at some point, things tipped and shame no longer DROVE what I did…  Or what I did NOT do.  It was still there, for sure, but I could shut it up for periods of time. I FINALLY reached a point in my life where I wanted to LIVE more than I was afraid of what I would have to do to reclaim and save my life. I was ready to change. Everything. I knew things could be totally different than they were.  I knew it would be excruciatingly lonely, hard work.

But this time around I knew all of that and was STILL ready to do the work. EVERY other emotion or fear or thought – even shame – was edged out by that intense readiness.

The whole lifestyle shift I embarked on became a black and white, life and death issue for me.  And I purposefully kept my thinking along those lines… It wasn’t confidence.  It was fear and blind bravery. I really didn’t do anything knowingly or strategically to battle shame directly. I just got busy discovering and starting to tear-apart some of the basic issues. I was finally working to get honest about WHY I was obese so I could figure out how to ‘solve’ the issue once and for all.

I was vulnerable.  Big time. By choice.  I knew if I was not hiding something, it could not be used against me.  I would not be able to use it against myself either. (That may not make sense to everyone…)

Even if it was something as publicly visible as weighing 392 pounds.

So what about now?

The growth that I’m proudest of?

The growth I talked to those women about at the Diabetes Expo???

In those horrible moments when I feel ashamed or someone is mean or confrontational or says something that jabs at who I think I am/who I want to be; I NO LONGER reach for food.

I mean, yeah… It takes ALL I HAVE IN ME not to grab food for comfort and confidence. Even now. Almost 4 years into this adventure.

BUT the difference NOW, no matter what strikes me emotionally; I do NOT reach for food. I breath. I go for a walk. I talk to a friend. I listen to some music. I pray. I think about why I’m reacting… I do lots of things to soothe my soul, gather up my confidence and let shame walk RIGHT back out the door…

None of my new coping mechanisms involve food.  I have been careful to build a ‘tool kit’ of skills that don’t involve food.

This is a key habit that I have to keep strengthening and practicing.

I think it was Madeye Moody in one of the Harry Potter books that would preach ‘Constant Vigilance!’

Well said.

How do you ‘soothe your soul’ without using food? 

Mac 50K (Yup… That’s not a typo.)

Ana Lu and I in the finisher's chute.  Photo credit to Josh Gum.
Ana Lu and I closing in on the finish line. Photo credit,  Josh Gum.

2015 Mac 50K is in the books. (31 miles, also called an Ultra). Mac is run on scenic, stunning trails in a gorgeous forest.

This was my second 50K. Even factoring in the first 10K I walked with Hannah when I weighed 280 pounds, this race was by far the hardest physical thing I have ever done.

Climbing over hills, jumping over logs/creeks and roots, steep ascents/descents, amazing scenery, great camaraderie with other runners and amazing volunteers.

Here are a few moments from Saturday that made me smile, lifted my heart…

  • Friends I was NOT expecting to see, standing in the middle of the forest cheering all of us on.
  • Taryn and Laura with the mid-run assist of a much needed banana and hugs.
  • Patrick riding beside me as I walked up a lonely stretch of sun-exposed road.  Gently reminding me to get fuel in my belly for the miles ahead.
  • Carlos helping me load salt tabs in my pack at the aid station because my hands weren’t functioning very well.
  • Ana Lu telling me (as I was whimpering with each step up a gentle slope) that she was ‘getting me to the finish line’.
  • The high school volunteer who kindly put ice cubes in my nasty/sweaty/filthy hydration pack while it was still on my back.

Snapshots.

Happy and meaningful snapshots for my heart from a damn fine day.

I love this sport, race day or any day, because it tests the individual. And yet in a strange way it’s almost like a team sport.  We all genuinely want everyone else to win their personal race.  NO matter how they define it.  If they’re fighting their heart and guts out – we’re rooting for them. Period.

When someone was stopped on the side of the trail around mile 17 or so, all you could hear were echoes through the forest of other runners asking ‘you OK?’ as they paused on their way past.  Or you come across someone struggling and you just buddy up with them (or they with you!), distract each other and encourage each other as best you can while you happen to be on the same stretch of trail. We generously share supplies when we have what someone else needs (salt tabs anyone?).

For Mac, I put into motion the training that Spencer and I have been working on for the past 6 months. Actually we’ve really been working on foundation building for Mac for a solid year.  It all came together on Saturday.

I did encounter some serious cramping in my shins, calves and feet. It was possibly from fatigue, heat/electrolyte imbalance, my lack of experience navigating super-steep terrain or even all of the above…  It just made things a bit tougher than planned.

I finished my race in 8:04.

And even with the stupid shin cramping agony; that is a WIN for me!


Racing these long events, my biggest issue is my head.  I start to question what I’m doing and it gets more insistent as my body starts to hurt and push to the edges of my training. My head starts to battle for control.  And the control it wants is clear and absolute; it wants to shut down my body and make everything comfortable and easy and safe.  Immediately.

From about mile 20 to the finish, I was really battling my brain. Even with friends running with me and trying to distract me; my head was going for the mental ‘sore spots’.

Everyone has them.  I am NOT alone.

Spencer and I have had tons of conversations about how part of the training we do for endurance events is specifically FOR the mental battles we face.

So for every negative thought, I would conjure up a positive.

  • Focus on my breathing. I WAS very alive and totally breathing.
  • I was running and moving. There are people, some I know and love, who do not/no longer have that option.
  • Marveling that my body could work so DANGED hard for so long and WILL be able to do even more with training and time.
  • Every single step was taking me closer to the finish line, to other goals, to becoming a stronger woman.
  • Pizza. 🙂 (Not gonna lie. I think about pizza a lot when I run.)

I finished the race and was greeted by friends.

Lots of friends. Old and new. Hugs and congrats and encouragement for everyone.

We were all verbally stepping all over each other trying to inquire about others that we had lost track of during the race. Was everyone back and OK? How was everyone feeling? Loud and happy chatter!

In the interest of full disclosure; I had one mercifully brief breakdown just after crossing the finish line. I realized I had DONE it, I was physically and mentally exhausted and it was the eve of Mother’s day.  My mom has been gone for 5 years and she would be so, totally, insanely proud of me.  She was wheel-chair bound and I just happened to glimpse a wheelchair with someone’s loved one waiting at the finish line.  It was JUST enough of a trigger… I suddenly felt heartbroken and totally lost without my mom for a few moments. MAN would she have loved what my life has become and the people in it… A legitimate feeling of sadness and loss that was perched at the surface bubbled over.  I was emotionally raw and depleted anyway.  Why not just give in to it?  I grabbed a hug from my friend Jeff and maybe, just maybe, cried on him a little bit…

Dried my tear(s).  (I’m not normally a crier. And I was dehydrated anyway. 🙂 )

Grabbed some more water and some orange slices.

Went to search for more friends.

Took pictures. Hugged anyone and everyone who wanted a hug. And some who didn’t. 🙂 Even though we ALL smelled like yeti’s.

Spent some time just reveling in a sport that is as much about a new-found, welcoming family and a team environment as it is about the amazing individuals  and characters who embrace it.

I love this sport more every time I lace up my shoes.

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Close to mile 6. Photo credit goes to Jeff Sherman who sprinted ahead, laid down on the ground and let us ran at/hurdle over him as he snapped the shot. Hannah, Josh, me, Ana Lu and Kristie.

Taper.

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18 events in 2012. Most were walking events, and I was beginning to experiment a little with running. My first trail event. A 45 mile bike ride. 🙂 I knew NOTHING about being coached or running or tapering.

I’m getting close to a big race.

One of the final parts of getting ready for a race is called tapering.  (Those who have tapered are groaning in sympathy right now…)

You train, work hard, plan, focus, learn, grow for months…

Then you SHUT IT ALL DOWN.

You back things off for the week or so before the race.  (It only feels like a month or two… #tapertantrum)

OK.  That’s not true.

I haven’t shut it all down.

I’m still doing core work, running a little, stretching. And I am still trying to learn to swim… But my coach, Spencer, has me on a seriously scaled back running plan from what I would normally be doing if we were in an active training period.  (Uh… Appetite does NOT scale back accordingly just for the record.  It seems to have missed the tapering memo.)

In the past the tapering period has been a quasi-nightmare for me.  I spent the ‘down time’ convinced that I was gaining weight and losing ALL of my fitness and knew there was no-way-in-hell I would be ready for race day when I spent the days leading up being ‘lazy’…

I mean, you take the girl who fought for more than two years to learn to love to run and worked hard to make exercising an iron-clad lifestyle habit and you ask her to stop

Stop the routines I worked so hard to develop.  Stop working hard every time I put on my running shoes.  Stop being focused on food intake and energy outputs for a short period of time. Stop doing the thing that I know was almost single-handedly responsible for my ability to get off of insulin and reverse Type 2 Diabetes?

Yikes.

I’ve heard people describe the tapering period as ‘vacation’. No way.  For someone STILL trying to cement all of these notions, habits and practices into my head and life, it was more than a little daunting and scary.

Stopping and scaling things way back just seems wrong.

So tapering normally meant I was cranky and testy and started questioning all of my training and driving my friends and coach crazy with questions laced with self-doubt…

‘How’s the taper going? Have you killed anyone yet?’  — text from a friend

Yeah.  I was a peach while tapering.

So why taper if it drives me so nuts?  First, my coach says so.  Second, I’ve done it enough times now that I KNOW it works and that it’s an important part of the training process.

Quite simply? Tapering pays off on race day.

I understand now that what you’re really doing during the taper is bottling up energy and letting your body and mind repair and rest so that you can be totally ready to RUN your heart out.

When I was tapering for the North Face 50K back in November/December, I realized what a mental battle tapering really was for me. I took really good notes on the process and captured my thoughts and feelings along the way. I noted multiple times that I was feeling sincere anxiety at the inactivity.  I feared that I would enjoy the break from running so totally and completely that I would just decide I was never, ever going to run again.  I talked a LOT about being afraid of gaining weight and thought about how I would manage food if exercise was totally taken out of the equation. I thought maybe I would forget how to run.  I was worried that by sitting ‘idle’ all of my fitness was slipping away.

My brain was taking up the slack for the decreased physical activity.  And not in a good way.

Then race day came.  I ran well. Felt great.  Loved every minute of it. KNEW the morning of the race, before I ever got near the start line; tapering had worked exactly as it should have.

I finished the race and still wanted to run again. I was eager to get back to training. My weight is ALWAYS going to fluctuate. My fitness for race day was perfectly intact and ready to go to work.

So this time around I focused on NOT allowing that mental chess game to begin. I’ve focused on just enjoying it as part of the whole training process.

This is a local event.  LOTS of friends running it. It’s the ground, trails, mountains that I have fallen in love with.  It’s where I practice.  When Spencer and I talked about goals at the beginning of this year I told him that for this race, I not only wanted to do well, I wanted to enjoy every piece of the process.  Taper included.

Race day arrives in 5 days…  I will get to see my friends and people I only see at races and I will meet new friends.  I’ll lace up my Brooks and pin on my number and slip on my hydration pack. AND I will know that all the training I did is about to be turned loose and tested and used. 🙂

And the dreaded taper is officially OVER…

And I’ll run. 🙂

#runhappy

Snacks. (Unsexy, not-very-cool, but my favorite new lifestyle habit…)

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I don’t really go anywhere without having a snack handy these days.  It’s one of the habits that keeps my new lifestyle habits cemented and in focus.

I can be relied upon to dig up at least 200 calories from the bottom of my purse, a pocket in my gym bag or the stash I keep in my desk at work.  An apple, a healthy snack bar of some sort, a small bag of nuts…

This is actually a habit I learned as a T2 diabetic.

If a low hit – and they did, often – I had to be able to help myself.

I was on a pharmacy of medications (Lantus, Byetta, Metformin) and there was no real way to predict when a low would hit. I always had something glucose based (juice box, glucose tabs, candy) ready to go… This ‘snack carrying’ habit wasn’t about health – it was simply about blood glucose manipulation and management.

It only took ONE time of heading FAST into a low and NOT having glucose to help myself stop the downward spiral for ‘carrying a snack’ to become an ironclad habit.

But now?

Now I carry snacks for a totally different reason.

Maintaining my weight AND my healthy eating habits requires me to keep a certain level of commitment to making sure I have what I need and that I keep practicing the good habits.

And let’s be honest… This wasn’t and isn’t just about healthy eating.

This ‘new habit’ is also about battling a really old, profoundly strong and unhealthy habit…

Making excuses.

I was really, really good at making excuses…

To not prepare and plan ahead for those times when I am hungry, forces me to rely on others or surrounding circumstances.  For me; that became a built-in excuse for eating like ‘crap’.  License to go wild.  Permission to just eat whatever happened to be available.

It’s an EXCUSE… Not packing a snack to help myself manage my food and LIFE goals is simply a big FAT EXCUSE…  Carry a snack removes that excuse.

I used that excuse ALL the time. At one point in my life I was flying weekly for work.  I saw every trip to the airport and every day spent away from home on a business trip as an excuse to eat whatever I wanted; this was an adventure and a ‘special occasion’ after all!  Weekly… I traveled weekly.  Did you catch that part? (No wonder I weighed 392 pounds…)

So now, NOW, I pack snacks.

It’s a cross between a hobby, an obsession and self-defense.

I take it very seriously.

I don’t want to lose my foothold in and passion for this new healthy lifestyle.

It’s a pretty simple and easy trick.  Decidedly unsexy. Boring.  But it works for me.

A healthy snack within arms reach removes excuses. It keeps me in control. It helps me stay focused daily on my food, weight, lifestyle goals.

What’s your favorite easy/healthy snack to tote along?!