Friday, August 24, 2018

Reflections of Joy

Words cannot describe how it feels to experience the change. The change in my body. The change in my mind. The change in my heart.

Reflection is a tricky beast. In the best of times, it can be a happy reminder of experiences to stay optimistic for the future. In the worst of times, it can drag you to places you don’t ever want to revisit. We all have the moments of if I knew then what I knew now… and like to think of how we might appreciate something more or do it differently.

But that doesn’t make us who we are today.

I often cringe at clich├Ęs, but there is some truth in letting our experiences teach us for the future. I wouldn’t be as appreciative because I blissfully was unaware of potential loss. The eternal optimist expects to live long and live full. But that’s not to say we need the light to shine bright all the time.

I always thought I was truly joyful in my health, my ability to run race after race without consequence, and never took shortcuts in my training. I didn’t sign up for things that were beyond my ability. I waited until I was physically ready and then, mentally ready.

And sometimes I actually wondered aloud how was it possible to have all this good stuff happen to me. It is indeed possible to feel like a poser in your own life.

I hate that it often intertwines with Adam and MS because the last thing that he wants is for anyone to feel sorry for him. But these moments of joy and health are not just shaped by my own experiences. They are a life shared with another.

Walking from Morton’s back to our hotel in Chicago, draped over his side in my heels, I never knew this memory would stick out in my mind. We shared a bottle of wine, gorged ourselves with enormous steaks, and were in the midst of my to-this-day favorite trips I have ever taken.

I flip through my mind and always stumble upon the last night we spent in Yellowstone in a cabin that seemed so far removed from the rest of the world. We might never be able to walk down the incline to view the upper falls again. And I cherish that night that we fell into bed, exhausted from the day and listened to the rainstorm come through with the window open.

Even as late as last year when we wandered through thousand-year-old alleys and sipped frothy ales under blindingly blue skies, I didn’t know how much it would seal into my heart. That perfect afternoon of lying across the sofa together, legs entangled while we napped can never be duplicated. And I hold tight to the memory of smelling the crisp Scandinavian air in the middle of May, listening to a carefully cultivated jazz collection while dozing in and out of consciousness.

I say all this because we often forget how good things are until we don’t have them. And I choose to reflect happily, feeling lucky that we did what we did when we could.  

After the Albany marathon last year, when I slipped under 3:15 after finally feeling confident to go for it, I felt on a precipice of immense joy. So I tried to savor all the good occurrences, again feeling like I was a poser in my own life. How could it be possible to be filled with such good?

And yet, I feel excited for the same reasons for 2019. Maybe because 2018 has been tough so far. Maybe because I have planning some of this for over a year now. Maybe because I step without caution once again.   

Maybe because I’m just happy to find my joy again.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Injured Runner Diary: Stress Reaction #2

These were posted on Loopsters.org, but I felt compelled to log them here as well. Maybe it will be for the sole sake of my own reflection. Maybe some random person will stumble upon it and feel a little more normal dealing with their own injury. I've Googled the hell out of trying to find people with a similar story in hopes that they would also have a positive outcome. Everyone likes a happy ending. I'm not there yet, but still holding hope that things are moving in the right direction.

Post 1
 
"Don't regret anything. At one time, it was exactly what you wanted." 

B1 is still so fresh on the mind, so fresh on the body that it is almost too easy to make correlations between the two. And while the physical implications are ripe with similarities, my mind is a completely different spot. It's liberating that I don't feel the same darkness looming over me. I cannot pinpoint exactly what I was afraid of except that it was fear of the unknown. The uncertainty of when I would run again. The uncertainty of finishing the year's biggest race. The uncertainty of the weeks that followed. The uncertainty of this thing that had defined me for so long that I truly struggled with coping without it.

It is a classic case of too much, too soon with the possibility of an old injury hampering my efforts.
 A VO2 max ready to climb mountains and bones that said "hell no!" I was so anxious to get back to the same level that I didn't see that I had to complete steps B through Y. I just thought I'd go from A to Z. Looking back, I was aware of my own reckless behavior and aware of the potential consequences. I got part of the results I wanted: finish Boston and successfully pace Lauren at CJ100.
The downside is that I likely overcompensated with my (formerly) good right side and wound up with a stress reaction* in my right tibia. 
 
*I'm not even sure we are calling it that - the bone scan showed it was likely not just a soft tissue thing, but there were no definite cracks either. The x-ray was inconclusive as these things often are with stress reactions/fractures. The good news is that I've had no official breaks or even cracks seen. 
 The bad news is that something (um, probably overracing the first time and too much, too soon the second time) is making my bones angry.

If we were to backtrack to about a year ago, I would relay the story of whacking my right tibia so hard on a stone planter that I bled though a pair of khakis. The bruising that followed was nothing short of epic. Over the course of the next year, that spot seemed to get angry from time to time, but never appeared to impact my running. It was just this funny little bump on my shin that almost looked like the blood vessel was swollen. I'd run my finger over it and it would feel like a bruise - tender and mildly irritating, about a 2 on the pain scale. I have no idea if it is related to this, but certainly didn't help.

Flash forward to June 2018 when the same area started to hurt again. The thing about most running injuries is that they typically are not pinpointed to one particular run or instance. They often start out with teeny niggles of pain and creep their way further in until you cannot ignore them any longer. My mind was slightly more attuned to watching out for these warning signs, but admittedly, I wanted to just keep marching on into my normal summer running. It was just 2 weeks ago that I somehow thought I was ready to jump back into weekly double digit runs. 

But by that weekend, I had the ominous feeling that I was to be facing another DL sentence.
I cross-trained early in the week and by the time I had the bone scan on Friday, I decided to just take an entire week off of exercising. A whole week. No cross-training. No weight-lifting. 

The following Monday, the podiatrist told me to drop by for another boot - I needed a taller version to protect my tibia - and to schedule a follow up appointment in 4 weeks. In my permanently optimistic brain, I am hoping that the 4 week time period means there is a slight possibility that I won't have to wear it after 4 weeks. After all, my foot recheck was at 3 weeks and I was sentenced to another 3 weeks after! But using that logic, I would be booted this time for a total of 8 weeks. <insert cringe face here>

Honestly, it doesn't hurt in the same way that my foot did. I'm sure part of that is because it is a different bone (duh), but also, I am hoping because I caught it early enough, it won't have suffered as much damage. Walking doesn't seem to bother it and I'm not changing my gait while walking because of it. In fact, it really only started to bother me towards the end of my runs and later in the day. The straw that broke the camel's back? It started to ache when I was just sitting around in the evening and lying in bed. 

During the first weeks of B1, I threw all of my angry energy into working out. I went from running 60 mile weeks to zero. I had a lot of extra time and energy on my hand. Plus, I was so pissed that I was injured that I was determined to make my body stronger. I can't say I have regrets about any of it because I do believe it helped me finish Boston. But perhaps a little more R&R could have been beneficial if I had been able to channel some of that energy later. I ended up spending more hours per week working out while booted than I usually did while running!

In any regard, when I received the news last Monday that I was going to be booted again, I had a much different outlook than B1. Being in the middle of an exercise hiatus helped (pats self on back for forced laziness). But also knowing the value of myself as a (hopefully temporarily) non-runner was huge. I'd happily taken on this persona of runner girl and let the other pieces of me just kind of fall out where they could. When I couldn't run, I was so stressed out about not running that I was a mess. 

B2 is different already. I'm working out again, but don't feel compelled to reach the same levels I did during B1. I obviously want to return to running as quickly as possibly so some movement over the next 4 (....to 8, FML) weeks will be good. I just don't have to go nuts. Also, B2 is happening during summer which is a loathsome time to be running in Georgia anyway. I miss those long, hard, hot days on the trails like you wouldn't believe, but there will be more of those. The runner girl will return, but she will hopefully have an even rosier outlook than before. 

One likes to think there are reasons for this kind of thing happen. Reasons give us validation and purpose when life throws frustrating stuff our way. I don't know if there are reasons (beyond the science of overusing my body) that I feel strongly about with this hiccup. It has given me a chance to look at other areas of my life with a little more clarity. It has provided me with a bit more empathy. It has made me realize I'll be okay if I'm not running.

I am taking note of the progress I have made this year in other aspects of life and being grateful for what I have accomplished thus far. I set out 10 goals for myself in January:
  • Volunteer/Crew/Pace >5 races (7 total!)
  • Marathon <3:10
  • Strength or stretch >30 minutes weekly (24 of 24 weeks so far)
  • Master InDesign 
  • 12 new recipes (8 total)
  • Read >20 books (18 total)
  • 200,000 impressions on LinkedIn
  • 100 mile race (not in 24 hours)
  • Prepare financially/fiscally for Everest Marathon 2019 (halfway to financial goal)
  • Camp 2+ nights (1 night...ish)
  • Finish the GA Appalachian Trail  
Post 2 

7-12-18
 
There is an ebb and flow in this injury. I’ve rallied to feel optimistic about the outlook. To be out of the boot faster. To feel like bones have stopped hurting. To get a sense of a timeline going into the other half of the year.
 
I’ve got plans. But it seems like my body is trying to halt me. At times, I think I’m being overly paranoid, like I should just buck up and accept the pain. It’s not like I can’t run or I can’t walk. But then I realize the stupidity of my thought process when I realize that I can feel the pain when I am just sitting.
 
It is worse at night. Even on the days that it seems like I’ve only walked from my car to my cube and back.
 
Maybe I need another hiatus from exercise?
 
But I know how much better I feel when I get my heartrate up. I like pushing myself to the point that I feel sweat dripping off my nose. It’s like, it hurts so good. I realize that this sounds a bit wacky if you aren’t into running or exercise.
 
The week off was good for a bit of mental clarity. I knew it was good to realize that running doesn’t define me.
 
But gosh, I miss it.
 
NYC (early November), in theory, should be easier to manage than Boston given the amount of time I will have. But I’ve really just been going through the motions of exercising here and there, biding my time to run again. I haven’t been putting hours of cardio in at the gym or at home. I’ve been putting in enough to offset the containers of Ben & Jerry’s just enough to keep from buying new pants.  
 
After NYC, there is Rehoboth (early December). And what is a really-bad-idea-because-I-fear-a-repeat, I have the opportunity to run in the JAX (mid-December) marathon again.
 
The reality is that I don’t have to do any of these things. But I really want to. Like when someone brings in cake to work, I don’t have to take a piece. But I really want to.
 
The past 6 months have been riddled with FOMO. I feel guilty at times for even thinking that way as I hope to continue (albeit more slowly) my running and have this drift into the past. But I want to be exhausted from high mileage, taking trips into the mountains every weekend, complaining about the heat, and becoming a few dollars poorer every time I visit Ultrasignup.
 
I did put my name into the hat for GDR after unsuccessfully biding myself as an elite entry. It’s next March if I get in. If not, well, I guess I need to figure something else out for a WS entry. Seems a bit unreasonable when I look at my miserable training log of 2018, but a girl’s gotta dream? 
 
Speaking of dreams, I finally got the green light from HR about Everest next year. I just need to put my deposit down to make it officially official. I’ll admit that I would be a lot more excited about it if I didn’t have a darn boot on my leg. So I’m waiting until I actually am walking without any attachments before I plunk down a lot of money.
 
It’s good to have these things to look forward to even if I am nervous about getting my body in shape to complete them all. Mentally, I feel 100% ready to tackle it all. In fact, I would argue that is what is going to be the hardest part of getting back to it. There are so many races and so many adventures and I feel like I’ve been missing out.
 
Abiding by a healthy timeline is going to be hard. But necessary. I really don’t want to be back in the situation again. Even going for a short walk without pain is something I feel like I don’t remember how to do.
 
I’m not spiritual, but if I were, I could imagine shaking my fists at the sky seething, “what else you got?” And then shaking my head when I am handed a painful skin condition while I’m in the boot.
 
Look, I’m not dying, I have a roof over my head, a good job, lots of great friends, a close family, and am generally happy. I hate to complain because perfection doesn’t exist. I just hope that I have a greater appreciation for when my body decides to cooperate once again.
 
I had just come from the podiatrist who told me 2 more weeks in the boot and thought I would give the surgeon’s office another call. My general physician needed to send a referral and apparently this process was very painful for both parties. I had already been through 10 days of antibiotics and they were demanding I was infection-free before coming for a consultation appointment.
 
So, I need to go back to my doctor for them to tell you that I don’t have an infection for the thing that I might need to have surgery on?
 
Let’s just say that I was near the end of my rope. After working in customer service for so long, I try to not let people get under my skin, but I had been chasing down people for 2 weeks now over this very painful issue. I asked her what her name was in that very-bitchy-I’m-telling-on-you way. In the midst of calling my general physician back, she called me back in a much different tone and offered to make an appointment because she said she had spoken with the nurse. 
 
Weird, but okay….I just hope that the doctor is not like his office staff. Or maybe she was having a couple of bad days every time I talked to her.
 
I go to the surgeon’s office today and the person greeting me is like, oh yeah, we all know you when I tell her my name. I’m seething inside, but channel my inner Michelle Obama and choose to go high 
when they go low.
 
This is second time I’ve ever had a referral for anything in my life and yeah, I’m kind of pissy because I’m in pain. And I’ve been in pain for weeks and no one seems to want to return a phone call or give me a straight answer. So, excuse me while I sit over in this uncomfortable chair and sulk about it.
 
The surgeon tells me I could have it removed and it would be a relatively quick and easy procedure. But he also tells me it is very likely to come back. And I can’t have it removed until it is really, really quieted down.
 
So basically, when I’ve forgotten about it?
 
Yeah, I know…it’s not ideal, but we cannot risk surgery with it being potentially infected.
 
I definitely understand unfortunately. And it does seem to be less angry now. I don’t know if I will have the surgery just knowing that it could come back. And if it lies dormant most of the year and flares up every 12-18 months, I now know to just go get some antibiotics. Also, I’m suuuuuupppper aware that I am way more sensitive about it now because of my boot.
 
Because I can’t even run to try to kabash my pissy emotions.
 
7-17-18
 
I had intentions of working out on our family vacation to Kansas. If I were running, it would be a no-brainer to slip out the door in the early hours of the morning and crank out the miles before anyone wakes up. Vacation and morning running seem to oddly agree with me.
 
But I just didn’t feel like working out. I slept, I chased my nephew around the playground in 100°+ weather, I held my niece so my sister could take a shower, and I just didn’t worry about it.
 
I went back and forth about wearing my boot and ultimately only didn’t wear it for a 20-minute jaunt to Wal-Mart for picnic supplies. Otherwise, I wore that sucker pretty much any time I was weight-bearing.
 
I am going to an outdoor concert on Saturday and plan to go bootless. And then I intend to go into the next week seeing how I feel without it. The doc wants me to walk around for 2 weeks and then get another x-ray to see how things look. I’m waiting for the day that I can walk around without remembering that something hurts. Let’s hope that day comes quickly so I feel confident to start running.
 
I got picked for GDR in March 2019! Which also means that I need to find a 50K in between now and February to run. The timing is kind of crappy with fall/winter marathons on the calendar, but really, I need some more mileage by early next year anyway. So maybe January?
 
I hate this feeling of being all wishy-washy with races. I used to be wishy-washy because I didn’t know if I had the weekend off to race. Now I’m wishy-washy because my bones suck. I don’t like being wishy-washy.
 
Silver linings, though? I think 12 weeks in the boot this year will give me all the mental fuel I will need to make the next chapter so, so good. The goal for the second half of 2018? STAYOUTOFTHEBOOT

Post 3

7-18-18
A few (maybe more?) years ago, I was on the interwebs and stumbled across the Georgia Death 
Race. 

At the time, it seemed unfathomable to “run” something so difficult. Who in the world would ever be able to do such a thing?
 
And here I am signed up for this race.
 
There is a correlation in the time I read a piece by Lisa Jhung. She carelessly tossed around “hilly 16 miler” like it was a walk down the street and I was in awe that someone could do such a thing and still go about their day like a normal person. This was obviously well before I signed up for my first marathon. But I remember it distinctly because I wanted to know what it felt like to be able to do something so awesome with ease.
 
And I’ll admit that over the years the long runs, marathons, and ultras seemed to just become more flippant. Not that I wasn’t working hard to maintain a certain level of fitness. I always respected the distance. But I did start to see marathons as just stepping stones in the process of completing more ultras.
 
After finishing that first 26.2 though, I never have really had much doubt about completing a distance. Sure, I’ve had thoughts in the moment about continuing the race. But I’ve never actually felt like I signed up for something that I wasn’t sure of finishing.
 
Even the first 24 hour/100 miler. There was a bit of fear of the unknown after the 100K mark. I knew things were going to get tough and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect both mentally and physically. 

But I think I always knew that I was capable of doing it.
 
Which is what led me to thinking after this last 24-hour race that I really needed to just get myself out of going after the “easy” stuff. I put a true 100-mile race on my goal list along with a fast marathon. Both really were not unachievable, especially considering 2016 & 2017.
 
When I was first injured back in February, I started seeking out the gnarliest races possible. Crazy 
elevation and distances. Seemed totally reasonable to be in a boot and dreaming about 40,000’ of gain. There is this weird line of wanting to do things that are really hard and knowing what your body is capable of. I think I’ve always waiting until I was beyond ready to go after a goal. So, I felt the need to jostle it up a bit.
 
But now I kind of find myself back at square one. I’m not saying that it isn’t possible to get my fitness and endurance back up, but I do know it will probably be months even in the best conditions to feel somewhat normal again.
 
7-19-18
 
I’m getting wordy now. It happens. If I can’t run, at least I can write. Running arguably leaves me feeling much better, but writing seems to be relatively injury-free. <Insert carpal tunnel foreboding thought here>
 
I should be creatively thinking about other things, but my brain is kind of tapped out at the moment. There is a lot bubbling up there right now. Excitement about the boot removal, fear of effing myself up again, how to manage pain, how to know what is normal, how to know what is detrimental, etc., etc.
 
I know there will be good days and bad. I know I will likely feel something that makes me say ohshitohshitohshit. I know I will do something really stupid. I know that I will back off even when I don’t need to.
 
I was thinking this morning as I walked into the bathroom half-awake that I missed 2016 Carissa. I had pulled a glass out of the cabinet last night to enjoy an IPA that a coworker brought back from Indiana. I chose a glass from the last 50 miler I did which was in Indiana. It was more of a last-minute whim that I decided to race. Man, what I would give to be in jumps-into-50-milers shape right now.
 
Mind you, it took a few years of consistent work to get to that point. I felt good because I interspersed the racing and big goals with fun running. But then I got greedy and wanted more, MORE, MORE!
This will be the hard. I still want more.
 
It’s going to be tough to run just to run. For the last 5ish years, I’ve been jumping from race to race without any real down time. There was something always near on the horizon. I would say I learned my lesson, but I don’t want to live cautiously forever. I mean, I don’t want to live in the boot forever either. What’s a girl to do?
 
It seems like advice comes out of the woodwork when things are not peachy keen. I’ve decided at age 36 that I’m disagreeable to getting advised. Maybe that makes me a stubborn jerkface. Oh well.
It’s kind of a liberating feeling when you stop worrying about what other people think. I can still be kind and thoughtful, but I don’t have to pretend. I’ve never been a good liar. You will likely know if I like you or not.
 
I digress.
 
Back to running. I have my little “plan” set up for next week and let’s be honest, the weeks following until NYC. But I have no idea what it truly will look like from week to week. In some regards I wish I had a coach to just keep me from hurting myself, but that kind of goes against my whole disagreeable-to-getting-advised. And would I actually be honest with him/her?
 
I dunno. I feel like I have a few people that I talk to about my running that I can be 100% honest about how I feel/what I want and they aren’t trying to give me advice with every conversation. Oh, and I can freely bitch in my running log. Even if the pain is microscopic, I can complain. And I do want it noted because I actually see where I started feeling tibial pain this last go ‘round.
 
7-23-18
 
The boot is off.
 
It should be followed by an exclamation point, but I don’t know that I feel it is worthy of that until I have my first pain-free run. And I need to get to the point that I am doing pain-free walking first.
I think I had felt mostly better when I got out of the boot the last time. Like, I wasn’t super worried about going for a run because I wasn’t still nursing the injury.
 
But this time my FF hurts and the FT seems to be mostly okay. I hate waiting and my heart is so ready to run, but I am really trying to not be stupid.
 
So I’m still sitting at work. I’ve got the metatarsal pad back on. I will take it one day at a time when it comes to weight-bearing exercise. I’m waiting for the day that I wake up and things are not in pain.
Saturday, I had a lot of FF pain. It was really bothering me and I took each step from the parking garage to the stadium with ease. I sat during most of the concert save for the last hour or so when it finally seemed to be a little less painful. Paired with a summer cold leaving me with laryngitis, the inability to shout, the heat of the day, and the tiny chairs crammed in together, I was not having a great time TBH. Plus, I was super conscious of the balance of staying hydrated enough to pass out, but not hydrated enough to stand in line for the bathroom all evening. Very annoying when I was trying to flush out a cold.
 
I had spent most of the day Saturday just laying around. It made me feel a teeny bit guilty that I didn’t do much, but I also knew it was going to be a long night.
 
Sunday, I slept in really late. My FF actually felt pretty good all day, but I didn’t want to press my luck. I decided to just do an arm Tabata workout and part of a core workout. I stood for a few of the arm exercises that are more awkward sitting, but also made sure that I didn’t do too many of them standing.
 
I piddled around the house cooking, doing laundry, etc. and was on my feet for a bit, but I barely had over 3,000 steps for the day.
 
I’m not really sure if being barefoot or having shoes on is better at this point. The pressure of the shoe on the top of my foot is pretty annoying sometimes, but I think the support of a harder soled shoe is better. Seems like every other day is a different feeling.
 
It made me think about Boston when my foot was killing me the day of the expo, but then I actually felt pretty good the day I ran?
 
Of course, I miss running a lot, but I also just miss being able to do my daily activities without pain. Even just walking around like a normal person is something that I haven’t been able to do for quite some time.
 
7-24-18
 
Oh. Em. Gee. There might be light at the end of the tunnel?? I don’t want to get too excited, but let’s face it, I am too excited. Today marks the first day in quite a long time that my foot and leg did not seems to be bothering me AND I can walk like a normal person.
 
I was almost thinking that I was never going to know what that felt like again. Dramatic for someone who ran paced someone for 30 miles in May and ran the Boston Marathon in April. I know.
 
But I haven’t felt good about anything related to my running in about 8 weeks so excusemewhileIenjoythis.
 
I really want to just go run right now. But I think I need to wait at least another day before attempting. 

I know it is going to be a pretty awful and amazing experience. Awful because I’m going to be 
ridiculously out of shape. Amazing because, well, running!
 
I am going to head to the gym tonight to get muh HR up a bit on some torturous cardio machine. It seems like my willpower to withstand them gets tinier by the day. But maybe if my body is actually feeling decent, it might suck less? I dunno, I don’t want to do anything to hamper my first run experience, so I’m tempted to just try to keep it as easy as possible (famous last words).
 
7-26-18
 
I used the arc trainer for 45 minutes (plus a 5-minute cool down) on Tuesday and my FF seemed to be a bit agitated about the situation. It was feeling tender afterwards through my strength workout, so I maintained the sitting position through my reps.
 
Yesterday, I wore the metatarsal pad all day and sneakers to work. It’s not like I walk around much at all, but my foot was feeling achy and I couldn’t shake the feeling that is was swollen. It wasn’t, but the pad makes my foot feel stuffed in my shoe even with the laces loosened.
 
Anyway, I took the pad off yesterday on my commute home. I ran into Target quickly and it seemed to feel better. So, I went for a walk at the rec center at a pace best described as leisurely, but not lazy. It actually seemed to feel okay about 10 minutes into the walk but then felt-better-than-before-but-worse-than-in-the-middle afterwards.
 
I kind of thought about going for a 10 second jog in the middle of the walk. But geez, I’m so afraid of effing something up that I just had to tell myself NO! The timeline is not tight, and I only stand to lose at this point.
 
Today, the FF seems to be more cooperative. I was actually supposed to get my boot off Tuesday and in my original plans, I hoped to do a bit of running by Friday. But the doc wanted me to just walk around for 2 weeks. I’m torn between getting a better cardio workout and adhering to the doctor’s orders versus getting the chance to run!
 
Like, when I think about it, what idiot actually wants to be running?
 
*Raises hand like the biggest brown-noser in the class*
 
But I’m anxious to try even a little bit. This waiting stuff is for the birds.
 
7-27-18
 
I ran. For 23 minutes & 35 glorious seconds. It was super slow. It was a mere 2 miles. But it felt so good to just fall into the rhythm of running. Gosh, I knew I missed it, but I couldn’t wipe the shit-eating grin off my face for the first 5 minutes.
 
Things felt mostly good through the run. FF was a little sore, but not really noticeable. FT was a little more noticeable, or so I thought. I realized afterwards that it wasn’t the same spot that I was feeling, but rather the outside of my shin which is likely due to um, not using it for almost 2 months.
 
Feeling no worse for the wear and having the happy endorphins of running coursing through my body made me very well, content. I was kind of relieved that everything went off rather unremarkably and that stupid Alanis song Hand in my Pocket was playing as I made the short drive from the rec center home. Everything’s going to be fine, fine, fine.
 
But then Adam gave me the face when I got home. It’s the most annoying and best thing about marriage is that your person knows you. They know your faults, they know your weaknesses, and they for better or worse, care about you. I think about when I used to nag him all the time about his smoking and he would just trying to weasel out of the conversation by changing the subject. I immediately felt the flight upon seeing his face and practically bolted upstairs to do an arm workout.
 
Eventually, I had to face the music though. When we headed out to dinner, I fought the flight and started to fight when he broached the subject. He knew the doctor wanted me to wait until I was seen again to start running. And he knew that I knew it was reckless for me to running. I tried to negotiate at first. With him, with myself. There’s no gym equipment that gives me the same feeling as running. It’s like pacifying a cigarette smoker with bubble gum.
 
I’m not sure where my emotions left off. We are in the point of marriage where even the dicey stuff comes to halt rather quickly as I think it’s easier to remember that stewing gets you nowhere. He kind of left it with letting his feelings be known and me acknowledging that I was not happy about his grievances, but I was taking them to heart.
 
And my decision about running for the next 10 days?
 
TBD.
 
On one hand, I feel like I have it out of my system for at least a few days. And while it wasn’t fast or long, the fluidity and motions of running felt as good as they always did. I didn’t struggle with breathing. My heart felt happy. My legs and arms remembered what to do. So, will it buy me at least 10 more days of bench time?
 
Probably not, if I’m being honest with myself.
 
But maybe it will give me every 2-3 days and I can ‘fess up my crime with only minimal infractions. 

I’m halfway tempted to call the doctor to see if they can get me in sooner.
 
In the meantime, at least I feel a little better about getting on those godforsaken cardio machines with the knowledge that running will be in the near future. And I probably can get a better workout on them simply because I shouldn’t be pushing myself with the load-bearing stuff anyway.
 
And walking is good, so I can at least incorporate that into my life. Funny how you don’t appreciate a good walk until you can’t do it.
 
After dinner, Adam told me that he has days that he feels good and that he could do a little bit of walking. But that he has days that things still feel pretty blah. So, I was trying to pry out of him whether he wanted me to ask him about going for a walk or let him figure it out on his.
 
I think we both know that left to his own devices, he is likely not going to do it by himself. It’s just not a habit for him. I’d like to think that could change, but I also don’t want to get too hopeful. It’s so easy that we get stuck in our ways (hello running girl!) and find it impossible to navigate the new normal.
 
So, while I’m doing a bit of recovery myself, I will be attempting to see if he can start walking again.
It would be really great if he could go back to the BAA 5K and finished what he started. But I also don’t want to push my own agenda on him – easier said than done.
 
7-27-18 prose
 
I chose my dirtiest, most worn shoes. They look like they should have been tossed out 500 miles ago and are almost over-the-top in their state of deterioration. But a friend suggested I would crave the comfort of the ones that have served me well over the year.
 
The caked-on dirt full of memories had to be shaken out once before I even started running. The interior sides both ripped behind the big hole were not a deterrent, even on the sandy trail. I laced them up like I had done thousands of times before, standing at the crossroads of before and after.
 
It was only a big deal to me.
 
But I made myself walk to my favorite section of flat trail that heads due west for about 50 meters. Then I picked up my shoulders like I was sighing heavily and dropped into a run.
 
I expected it to feel sloppy or difficult. My breathing might feel labored or I would want to stop shortly after I started. But instead, I felt relief. Relief that it felt good. Relief that it felt natural. Relief that I want to just keep going for a really long time.
 
It seems funny that we have these barriers put upon us, but I suppose that is what made it felt good. Like I knew I was breaking the rules.
 
I’m sure I would have changed my mind after 4 miles about wanting to run for a really long time. It just seemed like it was such an easy pace that I could hold it forever.
 
Like when I started at Hinson and it felt so painfully easy that I was nearly bored out of my mind. But then it slowly became harder and the easy pace became my hard pace.
 
Given my feelings over the last 6 months, it seems like that was a different person.
 
But as I climbed the tiny hill in the back section of the rec center loop, I thought about GDR and the training I would need to put in this winter to feel prepared. And instead of it scaring me, I felt so overwhelmingly excited. I wanted to climb those hills to exhaustion. To keep taking the curve of the forest service roads and wondering when they would end. I thought about goals and the feeling of satisfaction no matter how long it took given the place I was at now.
 
And maybe that’s what I needed in my running. To know that even on the worst of days that it still was a joy to be able to move my body in that way.
 
7-30-18
 
I haven’t run again since last Thursday. 90% I would attribute to Adam talking some sense into me. 10% because my FF hasn’t felt quite right. Maybe I’m in denial, but it isn’t really pain. It’s more like it is just not quite right. I’m not sure if that makes any sense except to me. The FT seems to be healed, so perhaps I am focusing all my crazy energy on my foot?
 
I can’t tell if I am just being hyperaware of my body because of what has transpired over the last 6 months or if there is actually something going on. What a strange feeling that it doesn’t definitively hurt, but it also doesn’t feel 100% either. I know the doctor said that it could take up to a year to heal so I’m holding onto the possibility that it is just going through that process.
 
On the other hand, I live in fear of screwing it up again and being forced to take another break from 
running. I’m not certain I can intelligently make these decisions by myself because I’m always going to angle for a way to keep running. I think this is called addiction?
 
I actually did okay with the break this second go ‘round for the first couple of weeks. But then as the weeks wore on and I started to get further away from those last runs, I missed it more and more. And now that the boot is off, I feel even more raring to let it rip, but this constant fear is harping on me.
 
Before I went through this process, I would read stories of other people’s injuries and never felt a 
connection. Sure, I had niggles of pain here and there and often took a few days off to rest something that seemed to be giving me trouble. But I couldn’t relate to the weeks, months, seasons that runners would miss.
 
Now I get it.
 
And while the benching is hard enough, I’m going to say getting back into it has been harder for me. I’m aware that I have no chill when it comes to this. And having no running makes me even more neurotic. A solid 20 miler is a good way to help exhaust me.
 

Thursday, June 7, 2018

March 2018 Confessions

3.6.18
It's in the mid 40's right now. Sunny. Clear. Crisp blue skies. Really the perfect afternoon for a single long sleeve and shorts if my pace is relaxed. How 5 weeks can feel so long is best explained by the nagging feeling of unknown.

No timeline. No reassurance of safety. The only surefire way to ever avoid it is to not run. But that seems like an unlikely scenario. I thought it would be easiest the further removed I was from those last steps.

Those last steps were pretty unremarkable. They were on the treadmill on a rainy Sunday afternoon watching a stream of the Dubai marathon on YouTube. Adam was at work. Moe was standing on the windowsill waiting for a neighborhood kid to walk down the street so he'd have someone to bark at. Tory was curled up in a ball on the floor, undisturbed by the pounding of the treadmill or TV.

It certainly would make for abetter story if the last run was interesting in some categorical way. But perhaps, it is interesting enough because it was so unremarkable. I'm hoping that it looks and feels like a brief pause. But only when time is stretched out will it feel that way.

Sometimes I'm lucky enough to zone out while lifting, cycling, or swimming. When I find myself returning to reality, it is an acute reminder of the part of running I miss the most. That escape into another part of my brain that somehow, magically, coincides with my legs striking the ground without thought.

I know running pace. I can click off distances and times without any thought of calculations. The measurements of success are ingrained in my thinking. But with these other disciplines? I am stumbling through a foreign language. Rarely does anything feel fluid. It certainly gives me a new perspective on how it feels to be a beginner.

Boston is 40 days away. Best case scenario is getting the boot off in 2 weeks and the doctor clears me to run. He's already told me Boston isn't a good idea. I'm very aware of the repercussions. And as much as I want to be cautious, I find myself on the other side of the risk.

We all make choices. Everyday. Some are easy and comfortable. Some are harder and the gamble is tough because there is more to lose. But I can't say I'd be happy sitting on the sidelines knowing I didn't try.

Perhaps you are smarter than me? Maybe you have the ability to exercise more caution? Maybe you see the reward is not worth the risk? And that's okay. The conservative part of me (what little there is...) wants to see me sidelined as well. I don't want to wear the boot another 6 weeks or longer. I don't want to push back any progress I've made. But I don't want to wonder what if the rest of my life either. I've played that card too many times.

3.12.18
"A woman is like a tea bag - you can't tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water." - Eleanor Roosevelt

My life is not adverse. Even when I think I'm struggling, it is so far from difficult that I feel embarrassed when I complain.

Complain because traffic was horrible on my commute this morning. I have a car! I have a job!

Complain because some man made a snide remark about not waiting to wait 30 minutes for a pool lane yesterday. I can stand up to him! Better yet, I can offer to share my lane!

I complain it's not fair Adam has multiple sclerosis. How silly I am to complain when he is still so capable of doing so much! And how lucky am I to have a husband who is able to make me belly laugh and listen to my fears all in the same conversation? 

I complain my own foot has been bundled in a boot for 5 weeks. What's 5 weeks when I've been given the gift of the ability to run all the other days of my life?

I don't get it right most of the time. I'm human. I complain. I gossip. I am always certain that I've done it the right way until I discover I've done it the wrong way. I don't always stop and smell the roses. And I most certainly have been envious of anything and everything I don't have.

But sometimes I'm lucky to be happy in the moment and truly just feel at want for nothing. What a pleasant and strange sensation that is. 

3.14.18 - 3.15.18
It's dark and has been now for an hour. I am driving home, hair wet and the overwhelming smell of chlorine permeates the air. Something about this feels incredibly familiar, but is also very different. I want to make correlations because it seems safe and right now, I need that feeling.

In the morning, Adam and I will be traveling in the same direction, but missing each other by a few hours. I will think of him as the sun rises slowly over the clear sky of the cold morning and wonder if he is watching the same sun from the plane.

1 year and 1 week ago I was on my last trip I would take with my former company. I would be a liar if I didn't say that the loss still stings. Even though it was the catalyst I needed to leave retail and discover life in the corporate world, it was not the path I would have chosen to get here. Accepting change is hard under any circumstance, but worse if it is not by choice.

I tried very hard to take advantage of a few weeks without work. But the need to feel productive and contributing made it impossible to truly relax. There was no acceptance that it was okay to feel free. How strange it is to mourn the loss of something that often caused so much stress.

The next chapter has been incredibly kind all things considering. However, the nagging feeling of being new still tugs deep. I'm eager to grow and learn, but these are the things that only time can take care of. After being the teacher for so long, it is odd to be the student.

Comparison is the thief of joy. But it also is something we cannot escape as humans. It is a measurement we use when evaluating ourselves. And March seems to be the precipice for big changes. My lowest lows and highest highs are far from any pinnacle of humanity. But they are mine to compare to myself and we know who is the harshest critic of them all.

The highs are safe, braggart and unexceptional except how they feed my own memory bank. I started dating Adam in March 2004. I went on my first international trip in March 1992. I crushed my own expectations in the marathon in March 2017.

There is something evolutionary about knowing someone else's weaknesses. It's why we are drawn to stories of those who are entangled in bad decisions or who have fallen from the top.

March has certainly unveiled a few of my weaknesses. In March 1993, I was in almost 11 year old kid struggling to get through life with obsessive compulsive disorder. I saved everything, including trash from my lunches at school and my mom would have to go through my backpack to routinely keep things sanitary. Brown paper bags containing orange peels and empty juice boxes were stuffed under a layer of innocent looking papers. My compulsory number was 8 and everything I did had to be in sets of 8. Brush my teeth in sets of 8. Walk across a room in sets of 8. Chew my food in sets of 8. Even more maddeningly, I had to distribute between the left and right side equally.

In March 1997, it was the demise of my body. I would limit my food intake to less than 1,000 calories a day. I ate pickles and mustard because of their low calorie count. It feels odd to compartmentalize a piece of my own history and to wrap it up into summary form. Teenage girl gets braces off and loses a few pounds through dieting. Feels better about herself, continues stricter dieting. No number becomes low enough, diets until parents intervene. Hospitalized, inpatient care, outpatient care, group therapy, individual therapy. Decides one day she is good enough to survive. Begins eating again. It was 21 years ago, but the shame of self-hatred and secrecy of my thoughts lives on.

I have distinct memory of searching for ipecac in my mom's medicine bag. She always had a full arsenal of supplies for any given medical situation. My sister had a penchant for keeping the poison control hotline busy when she was younger so I was certain I would find something to clear my stomach in the bag. The family had gone out for Chinese food and I had eaten a vegetarian dish chocked full of water chestnuts and baby corn. All this time later, I can conjure up the taste of the syrup with just the memory even though it would be the first and last time I ever made myself throw up. The convulsions in my stomach were enough to make my eyes water.

I would lie in bed late at night, running my fingers over the tops of my hip bones. Feeling strangely satisfied the more they jutted out. The skin grew more and more taut over time. It stopped being about aesthetics early - something far more compulsory roped me and gave me the sense of the satisfaction the further down I went. Stepping on the white scale of my mom's bathroom, I would cover the numbers with my toes first. Then, slowly lifting them away, I could determine my own worth. 

My mom's youngest sister died of cancer in March 1997 and my memories of that week are entrenched in my own narcissism. We had indoor track practice due to weather - it was probably raining and upper class suburban teenagers likely caused an uproar about getting wet. I remember thinking it was odd that my mom came into the gym in the middle of practice. She stretched herself thin between 3 kids and a full-time job; she was always there to pick me up or drop me off, but it would have been weird if she was watching at practice. I knew something was wrong right away.

In Lincoln, Nebraska, the tone of the weather seemed to match our moods like something out of a movie. It was cold and grey and the few degrees of latitude north meant winter still had its grips on this part of the world. I remember running big loops around the hotel parking lot so that I would not lose out on track practice while I was gone. Funny how now I see it as the only way I could be in control of something. I couldn't control the death, the feelings I had for the death, or the odd, tiptoe way every acts around death. But I could run and if I did it long enough, hard enough, I might forget about my other pain for awhile.

The day of her funeral was clear and sunny. Standing in the cemetery watching my almost 4 year old cousin lay flowers across the grave of his mother sent a ripple of emotion through the small gathering. I was keenly aware of my in-between position of the day. I lacked the innocence of a child, but I also lacked the wisdom of the older generation. I understood death, but naivety made it impossible for me to contemplate my own. 

Everyone around me knew what was going on. I knew what was going on. But I refused to acknowledge it to myself. It was easier to keep up the ruse and continue to tumble rather than stop my "progress". Childhood friends slowly stepped away. Who could blame them? I was so wrapped up in myself that I couldn't even see how I was destroying the relationships around me.

3.18.18
Late yesterday afternoon I stood in the water at the edge of the pool lane, breathing hard. It was nowhere near the limits of my exhaustion, but I was tired enough. I pulled myself up onto the shallow steps and rested my elbows on knees.

Swimming tired feels different than running tired. There is a hollow feeling I get when I'm swimming tired. Like someone has scooped out my insides slowly as I crawl up and down the lane. I wonder how I can run for the same amount of time and go about my day fairly normally, but the same amount of time swimming leaves me far more racked.

The answer of course is that I'm not conditioned to swim. 8 sessions in and my only comparison to running is time. I swam on the neighborhood team as a kid so my stroke skills are decent enough to get me from one edge of the pool to the other with a certain degree of comfort. I don't have any inherent fear of the water. But I just seem to lack any sort of rhythm for more than one length at a time. Of course, the 8th session feels much more fluid than the first.

If I were to continue this mumbo jumbo, I would consider honing my skills with professional help. But truth be told, I really want to just be running. There is the don't be a dumbass part of my brain that is screaming loudly at me to continue some sort of regimen in the water to avoid future injury. But then I want to yell back stop being scared of something that hasn't happened.

I was asked early on if I was upset at myself in some way for racing so hard in December. Like, maybe I could have prevented this silliness of the boot. But even if I could pinpoint my injury to those specific events (which I can't, it's just speculation), I don't know that I would do anything differently. Is that stupid? Perhaps... But I would rather go after those goals than hold myself back for fear of injury.

Oh yes, I am aware of the entanglement of compulsion in my own story. 25 years is enough to recognize the trend over time. It is a constant check-recheck-check-recheck in all that I do. When you cannot carry on your life as "normal" because of a compulsion, "normal" says you have a problem. Running is an odd compulsion. It does make me feel happy. It makes me feel confident. It makes me feel good about myself most days. But I'm not going to sugarcoat the compulsion part of it.

It's tricky to walk the line of dedicated in runner. If someone is squeezing in a long run at 4:00 a.m. or trying to figure out how to get a few miles in during a family vacation, one might call the runner dedicated. But I think it is safe to say that many distance runners have made choices that they would later recognize as feeling more compulsory than dedicated. We get caught up in more, more, more and more in some cases is not always better.

It's a big you do you world though. Who am I to judge what works in your realm? Just like asking someone how they like a pair of running shoes, you'll get an answer, but there is no comparison to your own experience. Some runners have those compulsory feelings at 20 miles a week. Some have them at 100 miles a week. Some runners never feel it is compulsory.

Tangents. So many tangents.

I laid in the sauna for a few minutes. It felt oddly luxurious. When I hobbled to my locker, I noticed Adam had called. I decided to put on dry clothes first and then call him back. My skin still damp and warm from the swim/sauna made it twice as difficult to put on a sports bra. It was like upper body Bambi struggling to get the elastic down.

Breathing hard once again from getting dressed, I called Adam and he told me he'd call me right back. I knew he was trying to get new tires after a leaky one lead to the discovery of extreme baldness. The timing of outlying $700 for new tires seemed bad, but these kinds of things never have a good time.

He called me back and updated me about our plane ride back from Boston that he'd accidentally booked a week later. JetBlue waived the change fee after Adam full on humbled himself with I'm a complete idiot and booked the wrong dates. Maybe JetBlue is always awesome? Maybe he got the right person on the phone? We still paid the price difference, but it stung a lot less.

But the real purpose of his call was to let me know they were considering taking his mom off the ventilator today (Sunday). I was standing up in front of the mirror in the locker room at the time, pressing the skin around my eyes where my goggles smooshed my face. Upon hearing this news, I walked over to a nearby chair and sank down.

I'm not sure why it hit me then. I lost my words and waited for something to come bubbling out of my mouth. Perhaps there was always a way out before. Something could get better. There was no finality to it. But this was more black and white than it had been for 2 weeks in my eyes.

It was more shock than sad. How can this be something he has to deal with? How can this be something his family has to deal with? Least important, how can this be something I have to deal with? We all ask why, but this is one of the few certainties in our lives so it feels strange that there is never enough time to feel prepared for it. We all deal with it in our own ways. 

The urge to run, to escape it all for just a few hours washed over me. I want to choose flight over fight.

We talk for a few more minutes. About the logistics. About best options. It seems sterile and adult. Inside, it's messy and complicated. I don't want to face my emotions. I clamp down on the urge to let tears well up in my eyes.

It seems heartless to walk out of the locker room and lift instead of going home. But I need the separation for the moment. I don't have to talk to the weights. They don't ask anything of me. I grab a set of dumbbells and go through motions. When my mind starts to wander, I finish the set and grab heavier weights. My shoulders and biceps quiver lightly at first and then shake until I've maxed out my ability.

I am elbows on knees again. Exhausted for the moment.

Fuck you 35.

3.25.18
We get in the car around 3:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon. In Miami, the sun is out and the palm tree fronds sway slightly in the breeze. It's warm and clear, but the humidity isn't stifling. Day Tripper plays at a medium level, drowning out any chance of uncomfortable silence.

I don't remember what we talk about on the way to the service. I stare out the window at the large Spanish-style estates as my father-in-law navigates the streets. The trip to the church-turned-temple is short and soon we are standing inside a room full of bustling people setting up tables and spreading out food. I recognize a few faces and the smaller group is friendly, kind, and calm.

The sanctuary is ice cold. The family quickly separates and the unspoken rift is now physical as well. I cling to Adam, greeting family members that I saw last under a similar somber occasion. 9 years seems like yesterday and so far away. But they are exactly as I remember them. Gregarious and warm, they pass the time with the idle conversation until we take our seats.

I'm on the last seat of the front row. I listen to the rabbi with full attention, curious to hear what he has compiled from the family. I didn't provide any input, but frankly, it wasn't my place. Our relationship was good and I never felt strained in the way traditional mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law often do. But we lived so far away and our day-to-day lives were divvied out in snippets. From both sides, we could hide the skeletons a little easier.

I do recall a couple of lengthy conversations we had at the kitchen table over the years. What we discussed has long left my mind, but the feeling of being comfortable in her presence is what strikes me most. There was never any hesitation to welcome me into her life and when I visited for the first time 14 years ago, she treated me with the sort of relaxed kindness that feels real.

My mind starts to wander at the funeral during the Hebrew-spoken portions. I stare out the window and think about how strange it is that a room full of people are inside morning the loss of life while a few hundred feet away, people are driving by without any knowledge of what is going on.

As the family started to speak and share about her life, I felt my eyes well up with tears. I thought about my own sister, my own mother.

*****************************************************
When Adam called me at work on Monday afternoon to tell me the news, I thought I was okay when I hung up. I looked around my desk for about 30 seconds and then felt the wave of emotion hit me. I gathered my keys and hung my head as I headed out the door as quickly as possible. When I hit the outside air, my stomach started to heave the tears forward and a co-worker asked if I was okay as I hobbled to my car. Inside my car and alone, I let it go. I immediately thought about how I wanted to be around my own mother and what a strange thought it was given the situation.

*****************************************************

After the service, we convened in the first room again. It was crowded and loud. Adam and I stood, not wanting to wrestle with the buffet crowd and not wanting to converse with people saying the well-rehearsed adages we all are guilty of in these situations. I thought of the Homer-Simpson-fading-into-the-hedges GIF and wished that I could just let the walls swallow me. Not because I didn't want to grieve, but because this was not how I grieve.

*****************************************************

That morning, I walked outside with my running shoes on for the 3rd time in 2 months. It was probably a bit reckless to go for a run the day after I had done my 2nd run. But I needed it. I craved the mental outlet, the familiarity, the escape. I crossed the street into the park and walked along the path. I fought the urge to run immediately and walked for 10 minutes or so through the park.

As soon as I reached the other side, the familiar break into a run stride was just what I needed. Without any care of pace, I just let my body tell me what was comfortable and slipped into my happy place. My legs were sore, my throat was raw from some flare up of allergy or illness, and my heart was heavy with grief. It was only 3.5 miles total, but it was enough to make me feel like something was angling right in my world.

3.26.18
It's 5:30 a.m. and we are now headed to the airport to go home. I'm happy to go back to the familiar, but I also recognize that everyone now faces the new normal. Adam and his dad talk nearly most of the ride and I just listen. I'm mentally and physically exhausted and know that the past 7 days have touched every single emotion possible.

At physical therapy, I want Adam to go home with the new brace, but the battery in the heel insert is dead. How strange it is that this isn't the most important event of the past week. I truly do enjoy seeing the facility and I'm happy that he is optimistic about the future.

Back home, we unpack, start laundry, and I crawl into bed in the middle of the afternoon. Adam and the dogs soon join and the 4 of us spend Monday afternoon sleeping. 






Monday, May 21, 2018

This is Ultrarunning: Pacing Cruel Jewel 100



It's been dark for hours. I'm a few steps ahead of a runner straddling a fallen tree aside the trail. His pack lies in front on him, splayed out. I am stopped, scratching the underside of my butt cheek, asking him if he's okay. He tells me he is just going to take a little nap on the tree for an hour. Lauren reaches us and he clicks off his headlamp as we move down the trail. This is ultrarunning. 

Months ago, Lauren asked me in a text if I could pace her during Cruel Jewel 100. She said it was like asking someone to prom. I responded like an over-eager prom date. Pacing an ultra might be my favorite way to run. You get to be a part of the race without the pressures of racing yourself. Any pain or frustration you might feel is almost forcibly shoved away because it is imperative to be strong for your runner. It doesn't matter if I'm tired, sore, hungry, or sleep-deprived. Getting my runner to the finish is the only thing I allow myself to worry about.

In the months leading up to the race, I was concerned I wasn't going to be able to give her many miles (or any) because of the whole boot/stress reaction thing. However, recovery seemed to be going reasonably well and after Boston and a 20 mile trail run, I was confident I could pace a section of the race.

The race started at noon on Friday while I was still at work. Anxious to get on the road before traffic, I ducked out of the office at 4p.m. As I neared Dawsonville, I started to pull over the Publix to grab something for dinner, some fresh fruit (that I forgot in the work fridge), and ice for my cooler. I heard a whipping noise coming from my car as I eased into the parking lot.

You have got to be kidding me!

In the past month I have replaced my driver's side window motor, an AC hose, and the fuel pump. What the hell else can go wrong?

Praying it wasn't a flat, I walked slowly around the passenger side of the car, listening for the hiss of a tire losing air. Then I saw a pile of long skinny rubber pieces on the ground under the hood. Upon inspection, I see that the serpentine belt has shredded and is unraveled. The good news is that there are still 3 grooves worth of the belt, the bad news is that about 5 grooves are gone. I grab my knife (thankful I carry sharp objects) and cut through cabling so it doesn't unravel further. I Google an auto parts store, buy a replacement belt, rent a ratchet set, and replace it in the parking lot. Thankfully it is a repair that I not only know how to do, but super easy.

Feeling frustrated that I've now wasted an hour dealing with this, I forgo grocery shopping and just grab a bag of ice from a gas station and decide I'm going to eat a giant burrito from Moe's for dinner. In the gas station restroom, I realize my period has started. That's cool universe, what else you got?

Aside from not being able to eat half my burrito while I white-knuckled the mountain roads, I found Dani's cabin with ease. Dani is one of Lauren's cool friends who does things like race on a 2 woman team across the US on a bike and competes in ultra triathlons. She also has a cabin near the start of the Cruel Jewel 100 start/finish and is/was gracious enough to let a couple pacer strangers come stay at her place. And oh yeah, she has a book (which I downloaded to my Kindle as we talked about it)!

Dani's friend Ben was also staying there as he was racing the 50 miler which started the following morning. He's done a bunch of ultra events as well, but had to back off a bit while he was in med school (!!!). Sheesh.

Lauren acquired her other pacer, Chantal, after asking a FB trail group if anyone could pace. Chantal is in school for PT and has quite an impressive UltraSignup resume. She'll be in Arizona for her clinicals this fall and plans to do R2R2R.

I'm surrounded by a bunch of humble type A badasses.  

Rudy, Lauren's crew chief and husband, came to the cabin close to midnight and I heard him tell Ben he was going to get an hour of sleep before we left. I had just fallen asleep and felt like he woke us up 5 minutes later. Sleep, smeep....

The 3 of us piled in Rudy's Tahoe which was already pretty packed with gear. I decided to just leave my cooler and camping chair so I didn't take up too much space. My food, clothes, and a pillow made the cut.

On the way to Morganton, the 50 mile aid station and start of Chantal's pacing duties, the skies opened up with water. Lightening flashed across the sky and thunder rumbled slowly as it reverberated across the mountains. This is ultrarunning.

After a pit stop at Waffle House for coffee to go, the 3 of us sat inside the shelter at Morganton, watching soaked runners come in for food, warmth, and for some, the place where they would call it a night. Several runners opted to drop out in the time that we awaited Lauren - cold, exhausted, and defeated. In the middle of the night, in the unforgiving rain, it was understandable that making the return trip was unimaginable.

Lauren came in on schedule and Rudy went to work. He helped her change out her shoes, doctored her feet, refilled her pack with nutrition, forced her to eat, and was every bit the definition of tough love. I stood back, watching and learning. It would be 19 miles before we would see them again so it was critical she was prepared to battle the next section.

Luckily, she had Chantal with her who left the warm and dry shelter to go pace a stranger at 3a.m. in the rain.

Rudy and I packed everything back up, gave them a final cheer as we passed them on the road out, and headed to Waffle House for a very late dinner or really early breakfast. I hadn't planned on needing my wallet, but Rudy was kind enough to buy me a waffle and hash browns.

We arrived at the next aid station after 5a.m. and got ourselves situated to take a short nap. Rudy set his alarm for 8:30 a.m. though both of us likely knew we'd wake up well before then. I got a solid 2 hours of sleep in the reclined chair of the backseat while he nodded off in the driver's seat. Once I heard him moving about, I woke up feeling relatively refreshed. I brushed my teeth and spit my minty froth into the woods.

It was time to hurry up and wait at Stanley Gap, mile 69.1. We hauled some gear up to the aid station and spent the next couple of hours talking to other crew. I decided to finally change out of my jammies at one point and put in my contacts - I submitted to the fact that I was not going to be getting any more sleep.

Lauren and Chantal came into the aid station within the time expected. Rudy once again went to work and this time, I acted as sous chef. I went back and forth to the car a few times and dug through various bags to find nutrition and Rock Tape. Rudy attempted to drain a blister under the ball of Lauren's foot, but she grabbed the needle and took matters into her own hands. I took Chantal's jacket, headlamp, and buff and suggested that Lauren grab her hat and ditch her rain gear.

Rudy and I packed everything back up and set out to repeat the same thing at Old Dial, mile 75.0. We found a spot in the shade and drank a beer with one of their friends, Travis, while waiting. The day was warming up, but both Lauren and Chantal seemed to be in pretty good spirits when they came into the aid station. They didn't stay too long so we knew that everything was going as well as it could given the mileage.

Travis, Rudy, and I made our way to Wilscot and I began to prepare myself for pacing. I loaded up my pack with water, rubbed Vaseline everywhere on my body (repeatedly, for good measure), and watched as runners came into mile 80.5. The fresher looking ones were running the 50 mile race and only at mile 30. The ones that looked like dumpster zombies were the 100 milers.

Men hid their tears as they sat in the shade, shoving food in their mouths and ice in their packs. One runner asked if he could just have ice in his hydration pack as he knew it would be melted quickly against his back. They received pep talks from their crew and from the aid station volunteers and looked forlornly back as they headed into the next section.

Keith kept the energy high and the smiles going and I tried to channel some of his positive energy as I awaited Lauren. She came in with low spirits and sank into one of the chairs. Within seconds, tears turned to sobs. A low point had arrived and we all set to work to get her food, hydration, and pump her back up for the next section. As soon as she was smiling again, another female runner sat down and had the exact same reaction. I would later see this same runner pass us in the night with a huge grin on her face. This is ultrarunning.

Chantal passed off her phone/food timer which was set to go off every 42 minutes to remind her to eat. Rudy handed me the baggie of elevation maps and an aid station mileage chart plus a bottle of electrolyte tabs that I was instructed to give to her when she started to look fatigued.

It was time to battle.

I clicked on my Garmin at 3:10 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, 28 hours after she had started. The first hour was a bit warm, but under the shade of the trees and moving between 15-25 minute miles, I was actually very comfortable.

The scenery was beautiful. I know Lauren had stopped looking long ago, but forest had greened up and looked particularly lush after the rain. Mountain laurels and wild azaleas popped color in the landscape. Ferns brushed along my ankles as the single track narrowed towards the peaks. I just started reading North by Scott Jurek and thought about how he heard the AT being described as the Green Tunnel. It was a strange chasm of her suffering and the beauty of the earth that would wind its' way through my 15 hours of pacing.

She asked me how much further we had and I described our distance in number of peaks as I heard her looking before we left. Later we would all laugh as she took back the baggie of elevation maps not trusting my explanation of peaks during that section.
We arrived at Skeenah Gap about 2.5 hours later and got our final taste of crew at mile 85.4. It was probably closer to 6p.m. when we left as we had our last major change of everything. Rain was falling closer to Vogel so we made sure to grab rain jackets and packed our headlamps for our now inevitable darkness. I ate a bunch of food while Rudy and Chantal tended to her needs and repacked my bag with snacks.

The climb out of Fish Gap is a 1,000' climb in 1.5 miles that tops out on Rhodes Mountain. We then headed for the aptly named Dragon's Spine which is a series of summits and gaps all over the course of 3.5 miles that ends in Fish Gap, mile 90.3.


We played leap frog with a ton of runners in this section as some runners were dying on the descents and others, the ascents. Lauren seemed to be moving along both at about the same speed. I am a much better climber so I'd have to watch myself when ascending, but she'd stay right on my tail while descending.


I could tell that she was in desperate need of calories as we got to Fish Gap and I was actually hungry myself despite grazing all day. Plus, I knew that the next section was going to be over 7 miles until the next aid station. So I made her eat some solid food (grilled cheese) and drink some soup while at Fish Gap. We got some instant coffee and traded the cup back and forth as we started the next section.

This was one of my favorite parts. Sharing a cup on coffee in the middle of the race as the sun began to drop behind the horizon. I looked up across the horizon as we climbed up and atop Fish Knob and smiled to myself. It was a stunning May night to be on the trail. The sun lingered in the sky for a long time before stars began to pop.

I felt bad that I wasn't conversing very much at this point because I was just kind of enjoying being out in nature, moving my body through the night, wrapped up in my own thoughts. I had been calling out downed trees and Lauren noticed that I missed one - I confessed I was daydreaming.

The trod after Akin Gap was noticeably worse. Whatever pep in calories that had helped after Fish Gap was now gone. Lauren was going into zombie mode and I had to watch carefully as her pace dropped that I didn't get too far ahead. I wanted her to pursue so I was pushing beyond what she wanted to do. I told her that I got nervous when I didn't hear her like a kid playing that suddenly gets quiet. Something was potentially wrong.

Our 20-25 minute pace slowly dropped to 30-35 and climbed upwards of 45 minute miles on the ascents. I could feel my own quads burning, my feet aching, and the lack of sleep taking it's toll. But I pushed my own pain aside and acknowledged that any hurt I had could not be compared to hers with an additional 80 miles on her body.

I didn't see anyone running in this section. There were a lot of people that passed us hiking faster, but no one had two feet off the ground at any one point. Everyone would say "good job" as they passed and there was some sort of misery loves company vibe that we all exuded when around each other. The laughs were hollow and self-deprecating. We couldn't decide if it was inspiring or absolutely stupid that we were out here paying for this pain.Well, the runners were paying. At least I was doing it for free.

The runner about to take a nap on a tree was in this section - other runners would later tell us he had woken up and was moving again.

The section to Firepit was supposed to be 7.3 miles and I looked as my watch went from 7.3 miles to 8 miles to over 9 miles. Each of these miles now upwards of 40 minutes. Lauren was moving at this point, but it was incredibly slow going. The few times that I did burst out into random conversation, I would look back to make sure she was still there because she no longer could even give single word responses.

At Firepit (mile 97.6 - give or take), the interaction with different humans made her slightly perkier and she even seemed to jolt awake for a few seconds when bacon was mentioned. I was almost out of food at this point because I wasn't prepared to be out for so long. I asked the aid station volunteers if they had any plastic bags that I could stick some food in to take with me. They only had gallon sized bags so I ended up taking a bread bag with a few pieces of bread in it and stuffing it with cookies, Fig Newtons, and gummy worms. I then ate a boatload of grilled cheese squares, chugged a cup of Mountain Dew, and hoped that my heart would continue to work after ingesting this concoction.

We shared another cup of coffee as we exited the aid station and I actually felt really good for the next mile or so. Lauren went the opposite direction. It was 4.7 miles to Wolf Creek, but there was only water at the next stop so I knew this was really the push for the finish and we ultimately had 8.4 miles to go. Even if we picked up the pace, we were still 4 hours away. It was probably going to be 5+ hours from Firepit.

Within a mile, Lauren started to have a case of the ultra crazies. There were moths that would pop up on occasion in her headlamp light and she started to freak out. She would wave her trekking poles wildly around and scream as she batted them long after they went away. This was coupled with intermittent stops of resting her head on her poles or leaning against a tree, falling asleep for mere seconds at a time. For every 30 steps I took forward, I backtracked 10 to prod her along.

At one point she leaned against a tree and would not budge. I told her she could sit down and sleep for 5 minutes. I tried to push her body against the tree as much as possible so other people could pass by. They would ask if she was okay and I told them she was just taking a nap for a few minutes.

5 minutes is a long time to stand in the dark doing nothing while waiting for 5 minutes to pass.

I had to kind of shake her awake the first time, but she got up and continued on her way. We got about 3/10ths of a mile when she leaned against her poles and wobbled wildly next to the dropoff. The shear of the mountain to her left, the shear of the dropoff to her right. I sprinted back to catch her wobble and planted her on the trail again. Another 5 minute nap.

She was even worse when I managed to get her up again, but she moved for another few tenths of a mile. We started to descend into a less steep area and fortunately the trail was a little wider on each side. The freaking out with the moths continued and then she starting asking me where she was. She panicked about where she was. The wobble was getting to the point that I seriously was worried she was going to be airlifted out of the trail. She was feeling nauseous and stooped over to dry heave without it being productive.

At one point she told me her water was making her feel thirsty. I asked her if she thought there was something in her water and had her try mine. She said that my water also made her thirsty. If you've ever tried to reason with a drunk person, this is a very similar feeling.

I helped her fall onto a bed of leaves and she immediately fell into a deep sleep. Her arms were splayed in one direction, her legs in the other, and her head and trunk faced upright. It looked like a crime scene, minus the blood. I left her headlamp on and clicked my own off and sat down next to her.

My phone battery was dead and her phone was locked. I tried in vain to wake her up to get her code, shaking her shoulders and telling her I needed to call Rudy. Luckily, she had her emergency medical contact as Rudy and I called him to update him about the situation. I didn't get him the first time and left a message.

Sitting in the woods at God-knows-what-time with a hallucinating runner who had covered 95 miles with a dead phone, a locked phone, and minimal food & water. This is ultrarunning.

I thought about taking a nap myself and even went so far as to set an alarm. But then I worried that I wasn't going to wake up quickly and despite Lauren's current situation, I didn't want her to lose any more time than necessary. So I just sat next to her and waited. It was actually a stunning night to be sitting outside. I had thought earlier in the evening how nice it would have been to camp. I chuckled to myself thinking I kind of got my wish.

Rudy called me back and I gave him the update that she was okay, but sleeping. We were moving really slow, but nothing was inherently wrong. She was just reaching the limits of exhaustion. I explained I was letting her sleep a little and hoped she would feel a little better even after 20-30 minutes of resting. I can only imagine how worried he was at this point, but I was hoping he would feel at least a little better knowing that one of us was coherent in our party of 2.

Since she was so nauseous before she passed out, I was worried she was going to vomit all over me as I yanked her by the arms into a sitting position. Also, I feared I was testing the limits of our friendship by basically forcing her to get up. I knew she wanted to just sleep in that pile of leaves, but I also knew she really want to get to that finish line.

I truly had no idea how far we were from the finish at this point. I thought I knew, but it was twice as long as I thought. She was not moving fast, but she was moving and no longer fighting me to go to sleep. However, for the next 5-6 miles, I was like every single poster in the Successories store. I was telling her she was amazing, she was strong, she inspired me, she was a crushing it, and then I was giving her visions of the finish line - telling her how proud Rudy was of her doing this and how she was going to get to see him and take a nap. I know I was sleep-deprived myself and repeating myself ad nauseum. In some ways though it selfishly helped me. It gave me purpose in that final section.

Ben caught us at one point and then took a breather at the Wolf Creek hydration stop. I appreciated seeing someone else I knew out there at this late in the race. Even though we were deliriously tired and likely having a nonsensical conversation, it lifted me up a bit.

The plod on Coosa went on and on and on and on. I never thought we would see highway 180. I have run on Coosa before, but don't know the scenic markers and I kept thinking I'd see the trail head with every curve. The sun came up just as slowly as it dropped the night before and I was happy to finally ditch the light of my head lamp.

Over the highway, there was enough space to finally run side by side and there was something resolute about the fact that the only way to even get to the car was to get to the finish line. I spoke to Rudy one more time and then got ready to run it in for the finish. At the pavement, we started jogging and stopped/started until the arch came into view. I peeled off to the left and watched as she ran the last 100 meter stretch to the finish, collapsing into Rudy's arms.

I may or may not have had a little something in my eye at that point.

I was exhausted, dirty, had slept just over 2 hours in the past 48 hours, hungry, and covered 15 hours on the trails when I've only ever run longer than that (time-wise) twice in my life. I would do it again in a second. If someone had told me two months ago (when I was in the boot) that I was going to be doing this, I never would have believed them.

Proud to call Lauren my friend. She is inspiring, she is strong, and she does it with smile on her face. Appreciative of Rudy's kindness, patience, and ability to make being crew chief look easy (newsflash: it is ridiculously not). Happy to make new friends of Chantal (I smell many future adventures together!), Dani, and Ben.

I don't know where I'm at with my own running right now, but I'm happy to always find joy in the journey!