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.

 

 

 

Taper crazy.

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Tapering.

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

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

I then tried to explain.

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

For real.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And my poor roommate. 🙂

It’s taper time for me.

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

And whole bunch of my friends are tapering too!

FUN TIMES!  😉

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

Just being honest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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All sizes. All.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well…

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

🙂

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

But you get the idea.

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

It’s all worth it.

Every bit of it.

I feel strong and bad ass and challenged and alive.

It’s worth ALL of it.

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

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

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

Then I found this active dress company out of Seattle…

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

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

I kind of fell in love with their dresses.

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

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

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

The dress is from a company called Nuu Muu.

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

They support active women of all sizes.

Legitimately.

ALL sizes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then I found this dress.

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

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

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

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

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Fear.

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

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

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

And get to the other side.

I never thought I was afraid of heights.

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

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

JAW DROPPING!

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Holy smokes is that place stunning!

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

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

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

It was an incredible training day!

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

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

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

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

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

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

A lot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Actually the thought in my head was…

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

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

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

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

Deep breath.

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

Push the fear aside and stare down the facts… 

I fit!

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

Repeat. 🙂

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

And it was wonderful…

FREAKING EPIC!!!

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

I felt ‘fully alive’.

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

I didn’t let fear win this time.

It got me thinking deeply about fears.

And how we allow them to limit us.

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

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

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

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

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

There is joy in being fully alive.

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

But are all of my/your fears legit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

But…

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

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

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

Just see what lies on the other side…

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Gym shower.

Spencer and I were invited to present to a group of college students.

It was fun, went great and they asked some of the BEST questions.  They aren’t easily embarrassed and they didn’t hold back.

They quickly got to the personal stuff.

After the presentation a young woman approached me.  Spencer and I look forward to sticking around after a presentation for a bit and chatting with people. They’ll usually ask a question that one or the other of us is better equipped to answer.  We just kind of organically move through the group helping each other get everyone’s questions answered.

This time, the young woman bee-lined for me.  As she approached I could see tears starting.

I moved to the side – and took her gently with me…

‘I want to work out at the gym, but I can’t do it.  I need to. I miss it. I know I should be. I can’t.’

We talked for a little bit. I was listening and trying hard to figure out what the underlying objection/fear was. I could hear her telling me stories and excuses.

But she wasn’t telling me the truth, just yet.

After some conversation about how she was fit and active in high school and it just wasn’t happening the same way in College, we finally hit at the issue.

She tried to casually just slip in this story…

‘I am about 90 pounds over my ideal weight. I was at the gym last year. Showering after a class. These two other girls – thin, tan, beautiful — were chatting about how they felt fat and ugly.  I don’t know them.  Have never seen them. The one girl says to her friend something about how ‘at least we don’t look like some of the other ‘fatties’ in the gym’, with a noticeable head nod and eye roll in my direction.  I did NOT imagine this. It happened.’

She was ashamed.

And deeply wounded.

Tears were angry tears and sparse at this point.  And she was absolutely WILLING me to tell her it hadn’t happened they way she experienced it.

She wanted someone to be mad at, someone to fight with, someone to disagree with her.  It wasn’t going to be me.  I understand her.  I have been there.

I’m also pretty damn sure that she also wishes it had never happened.

But it did.

And we can’t change that.

I said ‘I’m sorry that happened to you. I believe you. And I can see how deeply it hurt you.’

We just kind of looked at each other for a bit as she struggled to control her emotions.

I finally said ‘You’re brave.  Strong.  And ridiculously smart. You know the choice is yours to make.  What are you going to do about this?  Are you going to allow two girls you don’t even know — who very likely have their own miserable, sad, ugly story and issues — stop you?  Determine your future?’

I offered to go to the gym with her — as her defender and companion.  Learn the gym.  Meet some of the regulars who quite frankly don’t care if you’re a 3-headed alien as long as you don’t mess with their routine or get in their way. 🙂  Just be there with her.

Give her a new experience that is not steeped in shame.

I’m waiting for her to take me up on the offer.

The wound to her soul and confidence is deep.  I know that.  I’m not trying to minimize that or ignore her pain.

I just want her to get mad enough to fight back for her self.  Defend herself.

Fighting back is a much more productive stance than passive acceptance or hiding in shame.

WHY?

Why do we humans strike out in such hurtful ways at each other?  She was at the gym, in the shower and had been working out.  That’s ALL anyone knows.  Who the hell really cares what her body looks like?  No one has any idea what she’s hiding, suffering with, running from.  No one has any idea her path, her hearts desire, her goals and dreams.

Woman in particular seem to have a capacity for being horribly mean to other woman.

We tend to be so hard on ourselves.

We really, really don’t need outside help.

And the ‘mean’ girls…  They’re hurting too. I just have a less patience for how they choose to exhibit their ‘hurt’…

Meanwhile, I’m stuck thinking about the young woman who won’t go to the gym.

My heart hurts for her.

And there’s really nothing I can do.

 

 

 

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

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12/31/2016

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

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

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

They’re diabolical dudes.

Course was WICKED hard.

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

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

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

We were set.

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is where we went wrong…

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

I feel like this mistake was largely mine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We keep going, looking for flagging or a road.

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

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

Yet somewhere in this mess we begin to realize…

And actually admit…

We’re lost.

And we can’t backtrack.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hallelujah!

Short-lived happy dance!

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

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

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

Then it hits me.

ANNE MILLER.

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

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

HERE enters our Guardian Angel.

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

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

“We will not abandon you!”

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

Neither did Spencer or Andrew.

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

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

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

We’re still kinda lost.

BUT we have flagging to follow.

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

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

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

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

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They know where we are!

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

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

It’s starting to snow.

It’s getting dark.

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

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

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

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

Anything.

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

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

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

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

Andrew reaches us.

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

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

So much relief.

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

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

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

The three strongest feelings that day?

My gut when I KNEW we were lost.

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

My heart and soul flooding with gratitude for my friends.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonnie and Rita…  Thank you.  

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