Zion 100 miler and chasing a finish line…

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

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

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

It’s about the journey.

It’s about living the dash.

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

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

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

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

I think I used a lot more heart this time.

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

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

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

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

Examples?

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

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


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

76 miles is still a long freaking way to run.

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

Cactus are assholes of the plant world. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can sunburn the back of your knees.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spare headlamp.  ALWAYS pack the spare headlamp.

Double shot espresso at 4 am is like liquid gold.

Brushing your teeth after the race feels the best.

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

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

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

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

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

A picture is worth a 1,000 words.

And this one captures my entire heart.

 

 

 

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Spencer. {The 20 day mindfulness experiment}

img_4352-jpgIt’s a fairly rare privilege to get a front row seat to watch someone dig in, confront fears, acknowledge demons and start making some really hard changes.

It’s sucks when those changes spring-up from fear, despair, soul-deep hurt and pain.

I have recently had a front-row seat to some really hard work being done and Spencer gave me permission to write about what I saw and experienced.

Spencer is my coach, business partner, room mate and most importantly, he’s one of my closest friends.

He embarked on a 20 day ‘experiment’.  He choose to blog about it daily.  Writing and journaling were for his own accountability.  His candor, vulnerability and willingness to document the experiment in his blog is already helping others.

‘I started this 20 day mindfulness challenge because I was hurting, emotionally, mentally, and physically.  I couldn’t bear to have the voices in my head take over every moment of my life.  Perhaps I had reached another bottom of sorts, a bottom much different than what I had gone through with drinking, one that has proven more insightful and revealing.  I really didn’t know what would come of this challenge, my only hope was that it would help create new habits around a better sense of mindfulness.’ – Spencer

I watched and observed.

I listened.

I made notes.

20 days went fast.


I was there close to the moment that started the ball rolling downhill on this whole 20 days of mindfulness project.

Spencer says it best, ‘hitting bottom’.

That moment when you know something has to change, or nothing ever will…

It was a running injury.

On the heels (pun intended) of a long recovery from a previous injury.  He had been oh-so-careful to work back to longer runs and fully heal the injury.

Bam.

Injury.

Again.

But the running injury was by far the least of the wounds this time around.

I saw the anxiety, frustration and most scary of all? Blank apathy. Maybe it was resignation or defeat? Whatever it was, it’s not something I am used to seeing on his face.    It doesn’t belong on his face.  At all.

He had the dead-eye look of someone who was done, actively giving up.

I was scared.  Really scared and trying to hide it.  Because…  Well… That’s not exactly a super helpful response in these kinds of situations.

I wasn’t scared of the injury.  What he was telling me seemed to be a pretty typical running injury for some of the people in this sport who hit high volume miles and are doing a lot of vertical on technical terrain.

I was, however, totally alarmed at his ‘doneness’.

I was suddenly way more worried about his head, his heart, than I was about his body, knee or ankle.

I listened to what happened, what he was feeling and trying to wrap his mind around.  I tried to help the best I could, but I don’t know how to chase voices out of someone else’s head.  And he sure as hell wasn’t looking for comfort or help or answers anyway.

It was a heart-wrenching moment to hear him say he’d reached the conclusion that he needed to give up on chasing his childhood dream.

“I’m done.”

A dream, his dream, that I had bought into because he believed in it so deeply.  And that I supported 100%.  And that I knew meant the world to him.

He was crushed.

Hell.

So was I. For him.

It was a weird few days that followed as he was injured, hurt, deeply sad and struggling.

He finally arrived at the idea that this whole ‘episode’ had little to do with the actual running injury and everything to do with his inability to be consistently mindful and present.  While he was healing his body, he would also work on healing his mind.

Spencer will tell you he has trouble staying in the ‘now’. His default is to react based on the past and project into the future.  When he’s in a practice of journaling, eating well, sleeping solid hours, taking care of his body AND meditating — he does much better at staying in the now and not letting the past rule his thinking.

Some of those important pieces had slipped.

He arrived at the idea that he had to put some work into learning the basic skills needed to be mindful.  (The blog talking about the fight with his mind is here…) He set out to develop an actual routine and practice for being mindful.

Not just the idea or the words.  How in the hell does someone actually DO IT, make it a regular part of your life?

The first couple days of this experiment threw him off.  Forcing things to fall into a new routine, struggling with learning new tools and routines and accepting changes while still battling the problem was a freaking huge task.

He wasn’t exactly the easiest of souls to be around for a few days.

BUT, when he realized that mindfulness could quiet his brain, stop the train of thought and anchor him — even if just briefly in the NOW, even just for seconds at a time…

You could feel the shift.

It was palpable.

Like, I walked in the house and could tell something big had changed for him about 5-6 days in on this experiment.

He believed it was going to work, that it was worth the work.

I’ve had an interesting vantage point.

I’m an outside observer, yet since we’re room mates — I got to witness the experiment as it played out in real time. It put me in a unique spot to notice the changes in his habits and attitudes, small and subtle shifts.

Those fragments of success have added up over the past 20 days.

Big time.

The small trio of breaths he takes to center himself in the middle of a task. I can hear him breathing while he’s in the middle of making breakfast, working on something or just catches his mind wandering into places it doesn’t need to go. 🙂

The change in a morning routine that excludes TV, phones, emails and other ‘environmental clutter’ and focuses on meditation, quiet, calm and setting an intention for the day.

I get to hear the first-hand accounts of situations that he handled differently; calmly, accepting — given a past history with similar situations that were never handled in quite that way.

Shutting the phone off and choosing to interact with people intentionally, personally — instead of in a reactionary fashion simply because a text or email comes flying in.

At first he talked about how things were going to ‘suck’.  Just the other day he said he knew things would continue to be a process and he would continue to learn.

Less resistance. Less fighting.  Less anger.  Less fear.  Less hurt.

More leaning-into.  More acceptance.  More peace. More patience.

Lots of little things, that matter a whole lot.

Here’s to now, right now, Spence.

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One of my favorite pictures. It captured a typical, yet very memorable, moment in our friendship. Transrockies. Stage 6.  Exhausted and fighting to get to the line and improve my overall standing for the event. He caught me about .3 of a mile out and ran me in – as he does often at events that we’re both running.  What you can’t see is what mattered the most…  He quietly and calmly reminded me several times that he was proud of all the work I’d done, how I never gave up even when things got really hard and to just keep putting one foot in front the other like we trained to do.  He even got a little sappy at one point and said ‘this moment, this, this is why you should never give up on your dreams’.  Right back at you Spence.