Tuesday, June 10, 2014

June 8, 2014

Time passes, whether we want it to or not. In the good times, it seems to fly by and we wish the moments would slow down before they become memories. In bad times, minutes seem a torture of survival. Sometimes, goals and deadlines are upon us before we know it and we are caught unprepared. Time is so intangible, and yet, for right or wrong, we use it to value so many things…our maturity, our commitment, our worth to our employers. Every now and then, time becomes completely irrelevant; it ceases to lend meaning to where we are, who we are with, what we are doing, or where we are going. In those moments, we simply are… That is what it’s like to push the limits of ability, to go into the unknown separated from fear, to feel everything and nothing because past and future do not exist.
I could romanticize the bucket list achievement of finishing a 100 mile foot race, tell funny stories to make it seem like something anyone could do, drive up stupidity/bad-ass points for finishing in the face of low mileage, injuries, and long work hours leading up to the race, educate you in my nutrition/hydration/pacing choices, or scare away future racers by bringing everyone into the experience of running through hailstorms, sleep deprivation, and failing Achilles tendons. Instead, when asked about what it was like to run the Thunder Rock 100, it is most honest for me to say that it simply was. The rain was. The pain was. The cold was. The moment was. Time was not. Each moment was new and unique, no step like the last, yet not compared to any other step.
As humans, we are uniquely equipped to carry memories of the past and anticipation of the future with us. This gives us more capacity for hope and gratitude, but also for more stress and pain and fear. That, in combination with our opposable thumbs, allows our species to have more impact on the world and environment than any other. Detaching ourselves from time is not what we are taught or our natural state of being, but finding that detachment can give us new perspective on value. How much more could we do if we step back and see pain as just pain, without fear of whether it will continue? I don’t think you have to run for 27 hours to find that detachment. Each person has their place where it’s easiest to experience a moment as just a moment…in meditation, on the bike, performing surgery, painting, dancing, jumping out of a plane, etc. Spend time where time itself ceases to exist and work to bring those “timeless” lessons into ordinary life. Those lessons teach us that time and value, while sometimes related, are not synonymous, which frees us to endure more, love more, and live more than we ever imagined. 

May 3, 2014

While stuffing myself with grain-free pancakes and guzzling coffee between Run #1 and Emergency Call #2, I read a recent Trail Runner article (trailrunnermag.com) about the past and present of ultrarunning in Seattle. Living less than an hour from the US-Mexico border, surrounded by cacti and spring dust storms that block out views of the mountain ranges that frame each side of town, northern Washington State is about as far away as you can get while still remaining in the same time zone and country. Much as I look forward to some day running and living in a place that offers both mountains and rain (and maybe fewer rattlesnakes), what struck me most about the article was the universal subject of community.  
Whether racing or training, I rarely run within talking distance of other people. Sometimes this is intentional, such as during a night race when the person behind me doesn’t realize that his flashlight “necklace” is transforming an unimposing piece of single track into a motion-sickness inducing Fun House. More often it’s logistical, a consequence of a faster than the “slow group” but slower than the “fast guys” pace or simply a tight work schedule. I think there is a sizeable group of seasoned ultra-runners who come to events simply to share a little “community” time with similar people in the hypoglycemic/hyponatremic recovery phase after crossing the finish line. No social media network can replace that unique sense of camaraderie with people who you are only connected to by the path your feet have covered.  Who needs party drugs when electrolyte imbalances can result in hallucinated elephants appearing in the middle of the Grand Canyon?
Seriously though, endurance sports can be isolating. Part of the very definition of “extreme” is going beyond what the vast majority of the bell curve is willing to do. We are an intentionally small group, not by exclusion, but by personal expectation. To my knowledge (and I’ve searched extensively), there are no other women in my large, mountain-framed, marathon-junkie, Southern Arizona town currently competing in race distances greater than 50 miles. And yet, as humans, we crave community within our self-imposed isolation… So we are left with two choices, to build community where we are, or follow it. It’s no wonder we flock to places like the Seattle of old, or now Bend and Boulder, where the “elites” become real people and there’s always someone to push you harder. It’s a dream that the well-sponsored or flexibly employed can live daily, while the rest of us fly in for destination races framed as “vacations.” Outside of those hotspots, how do we cultivate that sense of inspiration and community without dimming our own personal expectations? How do you keep pushing harder when there’s no one around to push back? What does it take to cultivate an ultra-running community that is both inviting to the “average” runner and challenging to the “elite”? Or, as evidenced by the evolution of Seattle’s trail community, does one draw have to wane for the other to wax high?

February 25, 2014

My body can do extraordinary things. My heart keeps beating, no matter how tired I am. My hands have performed surgery. My legs have pedaled across states. My feet have carried me over mountains. I believe in pushing limits and have accomplished things I never even imagined setting as goals not so long ago. Limits still exist, however. I can’t walk on water or through walls. I can’t do a cartwheel, no matter how many times I try. I can’t run repeat six minute miles. I can’t ride a horse through a Grand Prix course. Some people don’t have my limits. Some people have limits I don’t have. When we disrespect limits and ask for more than our bodies have to give, we get injured. My recent attempt to run a speedy ten miler on pavement after over a week off with the flu provided an excellent reminder…painful IT bands take a bigger toll on training than a week of body aches.
Part of our job as athletes is coming to terms with our limits. We only have one body. It’s the only lifelong relationship we have. We abuse it. We take it for granted. We wonder why it can’t do the things we want. When we focus on the limitations, that’s all we find…more walls. When we nourish it, rest it, and accept it, however, it loves us back in ways that we may one day marvel at.
Part of our job as human beings is applying that knowledge to every other relationship we have; to focus on the ways each person can love and be loved and not on the ways they…we…can’t.

January 21, 2014

“So what should I do on days when it doesn’t feel good? Do I just go out and do the workout anyway?” asked one of my assistants as she looked at the Tough Mudder training plan on the spreadsheet before her. A simple and worthwhile question with about as complex an answer as you can get.  Physically, if we had the answer, there would be far fewer injuries and many more elite athletes in the world today. Outside of the realm of competition, the same question is always present regarding our mental and emotional health. “Should I make myself go out and do something on bad days or is it better to just let it be a bad day and stay in?” Extrapolating from what I know about muscle recovery, immune responses, goal-setting, and acute vs. chronic repetitive-use injuries, I’d have to say that the best answer to both questions is “It depends.” Brilliant, right?
Running or completing a planned workout only on good days seems freeing and relaxing for a while. That’s the best part about a recovery or off season. No pressure. If you feel like it, do it. If not, no worries! Your body takes some healing time for all of those micro-tears and nagging not-quite-injuries. Your mind slowly (and sometimes painfully) readjusts to not relying constantly on the “runners high” after-effects to engage in normal, civilized conversation. Over time, though, the bar for “good days only” gets set higher and higher. Inversely, your body loses condition…you breathe harder, you feel weaker, it’s less fun, and it no longer feels like as “good” of a day. Except for a pre-determined season or period of time, “good days only” training usually ends up with fewer good days in the end.
So how do we decide on the bad days? Going out on bad days is clearly necessary to make more good days, but surely not all bad days are created equal. For me, the internal discussion usually starts with, “Why don’t you feel like it?” If the answer has to do with discomfort, the next question is whether I’m feeling legitimate pain or simply soreness.
Answer: Pain.
Verdict: Give that body part a break today, do something else if possible, re-evaluate tomorrow. You’ll feel stupid if you get really injured/sick because you were too damn stubborn to take one day off!
Answer: Sore.
Verdict: Get off your butt and do the workout. Do more yoga in your free time. Sore means you’re working something, dummy!
If the answer has more to do with motivation, a certain amount of self-bullying, coaching, and compromising comes into play. Everyone has their own strategies for getting out the door, but some of mine sound like, “If you get your least favorite workout done today, you won’t have to think about it for the rest of the week,” “Ok, so no sprints, what about hill repeats on the bike?” “No miles, no pizza, how do you really feel about that?” or the ever present, “You know you’ll be glad you did it later.” Usually, my self-discussion ends with either the planned workout or some sort of compromise (and yes, I’m almost always glad), but sometimes not…and sometimes I even eat the pizza/ice cream/burrito anyway.
I kind of like that philosophy in the rest of life, too. You can’t only be present on good days, otherwise they’ll become fewer and fewer. Sometimes you’ve got to force yourself out the door in order to pave the way for good days to come, even if it means a little compromise. If the risk of injury is too high, though, be at peace with giving one or more days of rest now to support your future health. And, every once in a while, just enjoy the pizza anyway and use it as fuel for next time. 

December 31, 2013

Top 13 Lessons of Lucky/Unlucky 2013

Perhaps as a result of my years of scientific training, I really enjoy symmetry. So this morning, to reminisce on the close of 2013, I ran 13 miles in the brisk (but not icy or snow-packed) Tucson air. It’s been a year filled to the brim with change. With great change comes a barrage of unasked for lessons and “growing” opportunities. It’s the type of learning nothing but living can teach…the type of growing that is both imperceptible and immense. If you choose to read my Lucky/Unlucky Top 13 list for the year, you’ll probably strongly identify with something, say “well duh” to something else, and completely discount that other thing. Life looks different from inside each person, so it’s no wonder we can’t come up with an instruction manual!
1. It’s important to take time to think about your identity. Stay in touch with what currently makes you you, because it changes and can be easily confused with how others identify you or how your surroundings make you feel.
2. If your answer to the question “Who am I?,” is “I don’t know,” that’s ok. Don’t panic. Don’t obsess. Just go out and experience the world and be open to knowing yourself.
3. Being forced to live through one of your greatest fears can either make you hide from or seek out and destroy other fears, depending on how you choose to use the energy.
4.  The only person you are guaranteed to spend the rest of your life with is yourself. Be someone you like hanging out with one on one. Treat your relationship with yourself with respect, love, and patience, both mentally and physically.
5. True love has many forms. Its appearance can change and it can still be true. Duration is not an indication of truth. We are never made better by getting in the way of where love goes or how it gets there. Love happily coexists with itself and true love is made stronger by embracing all other true loves of the past, present, and future.
6. Sadness and self-pity love an audience. Take away the audience and it becomes easier to deny them power. Depression and anxiety are very real diseases, but have no place in your identity. You don’t have to be sad today because you were sad yesterday and your situation still seems the same. It’s ok if you are, but don’t make the decision ahead of time. Seeing something a little differently than you did yesterday doesn’t make your reason for being sad yesterday wrong.
7. There is a quote or saying or pretty picture that will affirm exactly what you want to believe about your situation…that doesn’t always mean you should!
8. Hope more, wish less. Hope is constructive and serves as a guiding force for decisions that impact tomorrow. Wishing is destructive and focuses on what you don’t have today. If you think about it and it makes you smile, keep it as a hope. If you think about it and it makes you sad, let go of it as a wish.
9. It’s ok to change your mind, and to change it back again. Just make sure you don’t overcompensate by fearing to commit to something you really do believe in when it’s challenged.
10. You never quite realize how important silent companionship is until your primary methods of communication become the phone and computer. The language may be the same, but the interpretation is far cloudier without sight and touch attached.
11. Beauty and adventure are absolutely everywhere. (This is really more a reaffirmation…) If you look for it, you will always find it. If you fail to seek it, you will never find it.
12. It is always better to give people the choice to accept or reject you as you are. Don’t make the choice for them, even if you think it’s to save them pain.
13. See people, not the boxes they put themselves in. Love. All. Ways.
Happy New Year!

December 26, 2013

Maybe some day I will stop being naive enough to believe that most people look for the good in others before the bad and are more concerned with bettering themselves and their personal relationships than with judging or meddling in the lives and relationships of others…on that day, I will not be shocked or hurt by days like today.
One of the biggest differences between solo and team sports is the attention to self vs. interpersonal cause and effect. When running, it is easy to focus on yourself and to see yourself (physically, at least) as you truly are. It’s like a physical form of meditation, where the only outside influence is your immediate environment. You can watch others run or even join them on the same trail, but it never has any real impact on your own ability to complete the task. Getting to know yourself, whether physically, emotionally, spiritually, or mentally, is a powerful thing that is a lifelong practice. Team sports more closely resemble the “rest of life.” Every person on the field matters, although some seem to matter more than others. While the game is in play, it’s hard to focus on yourself because you’re not in control of anyone else and they all impact you. You make predictions about how people will react to your action, your plans are spoiled, you get lucky, the other team scores and you blame yourself or someone else for not playing well enough. Often, those who are most vocal about their disappointment in others are really feeling the most blame themselves. Sometimes, we get so caught up in the interaction that we forget to focus on our own ability to run, dribble, and pass. Team sports also give us a sense of family, shared responsibility, and safety when we’re having an “off” day. 
Even if you’ve never joined a team on a field or crossed the finish line at a race, you’re involved every day in the solo and team sports of life. For the sake of everyone on the team in this world community, please take time for both and try to focus more on where your footsteps take you than on how someone else kicks the ball. 

December 20, 2013

This morning I found consciousness slowly. The onslaught of thoughts that indicate wakefulness began to replace all traces of the pleasant dream world I had been in. And then I heard the rain, and even my thoughts were drowned out to leave silence, then peace, then sleep.
It was no secret, upon moving to the desert, that rain would be special. If I ran or rode or hiked only on clear days, that would leave me with an average of 1.5 mandatory “off” days per month (although in reality, most of those days would fall in only one month). Yesterday, just days before the winter solstice, I enjoyed a mid-day tempo run in 70 degree sunshine. What I didn’t expect was how different the rain would be compared to my Midwest roots. 
Rain (and snow, sleet, even sunshine) in the crop laden areas of the country, is tumultuous. Sometimes it is gentle and fleeting or a wavering misty-drizzle, while at other times it is violent, with sudden, blinding downpours, foundation-shaking thunder, and damaging lightning and tornadoes. Storms ebb and flow, constantly changing. 
In the desert, by contrast, it rains how the sun shines. The huge expanse of open sky turns slate gray, and the mountains are obscured from view. Simply put, it rains, but does not storm. There is no violence, just a hard and steady stream that seems unchanging…like it could never change. When it leaves, it fades back into clarity before you have a chance to comprehend that it really is no longer raining. And then it’s gone, without any trickling afterthoughts, leaving only the rarely blooming flowers and a few puddles to mark it’s presence. 

December 6, 2013

This morning, I completed most of a plyometrics workout, made coffee, and rode my bike to the office. Compared to my normal routine, that’s a pretty easy morning. In the early morning hours, it’s not unusual for me to put in 10 miles or a 90 minute weight training workout, wash dishes, play with the corgi, make breakfast and lunch, and have an impromptu solo dance party before going to work. I am a full blown Morning Person. For this week, however, that’s the closest I’ve come to “normal”. In spite of a chest cold and too much dense, sugary food, I had great runs and workouts last week and finished strong with an 18 mile mountain run and 6 mile walk with the dog on Sunday. This week, my running mileage is 1.0…on a treadmill…for a weight workout that I stopped halfway through. I have woken up at 4:00 every morning, stayed in bed until 6:30 or 7:00. I wrote Christmas cards and mailed packages during my afternoon off.
I’ve tried on a lot of excuses for the slump, including the (relative) cold and my current lack of winter running accessories, the depressing lack of daylight hours, my missed period and unintended caloric deficit from the past two months, and the metabolic shutdown caused by the atypical types and quantities of food consumed in honor of Thanksgiving. Even as I made those excuses to myself, I knew that they were self-sabotage. But why? I wondered. I don’t feel overtrained, in fact, I can’t even seem to put together a real “training plan” and the biggest race I’ve ever run is coming up in a few months!  While sorting through my scrapbook box yesterday I came across a 2”x2” card with blue infant footprints and a heart on it. The message inside had nothing to do with childbirth, as I’m sure the card designer intended, but instead words of comfort and love during the first time (I thought) that I had truly lost a dream. As I thought about that time, I began to realize that I am afraid to give this race the status of a dream. Right now, it’s a goal…and every time it grows in importance or seems more tangible, I back away from it. I don’t want to let it become a dream, because while I’ve never shied away from big dreams in the past, I suppose I feel less equipped to “just make it happen” from where I stand right now. Looking at the card, which right now sits on my desk, and thinking about that dream reminds me why it’s still important to let goals become dreams, even if you don’t reach them.
My first real “dream” was to become a horse vet. That was a decision made at the tender age of three, following the realization that I did not have to become a nun in order to not have a husband and children. My second dream began at the much more mature age of 11, at which point I knew that I wanted to ride competitive jumpers. I grew up in a trail riding/4-H/ranching part of the horse community, so after begging for jumping lessons, my mother “obliged” with Saddle Seat lessons for my birthday. She hoped it would get the English riding bug out of my system, without as much risk for emergency room visits. When I was 13, I raised the subject again, and was emphatically told that I would never jump a horse until I “paid for my own life insurance.” This resulted in my one and only adolescent temper tantrum, which went nowhere. Thus, I learned to jump horses in “secret” from new 4-H leader with some aged off the track thoroughbred mares that hauled me over two foot fences until my fingers bled. I rode my quarter horse in an extra wide $150 close contact saddle, and convinced the county fair organizers to offer a single hunter hack class during my last year of 4-H. I read every George Morris form critique and jumping instruction book I could get my hands on. During my free time, I practiced exercises on the trail horses that I used for lessons at the camp I worked for. Finally, I moved to Fulton, Missouri and began toward degrees in Biology and Equestrian Science at William Woods University.
In the Hunter/Jumper program, I was the Western girl, and rightly so. I had ridden lots of horses, of all educations, breeds, and personalities, but I didn’t know the language, demeanor, or forward seat of the Hunter/Jumper world. So I worked hard, I got worse before I got better, and I had to put extra effort into things that came naturally to others. My arms were too stiff, I sat up too straight, I braced against my stirrups, and I leaned over a jump instead of closing my hip angle.  I think there were times when my instructor prayed for the day my four years would be finished and I would move on to the more fitting calling of veterinary medicine. But I did get better, and by my senior year, I was finally able to ride the type of horses I had always wanted to. With more confidence, I started to improve quickly and become an active participant around the course, instead of just a passenger. In the fall, I rode a spunky Morgan mare until she became lame just before our first “A” show. In her place, I showed an experienced, but “unorthodox” thoroughbred named Eclipse. It wasn’t the prettiest show, but by the end of it, I knew how to ride him and was absolutely smitten. I had one more semester before giving up the life of daily competitive riding for a veterinary profession, and I was going to show the horse I had dreamed of riding.
Then, in an overconfident, not-paying-attention moment during our finals week warmup, I fell off, didn’t let go of the reins, and wrapped my arm around a jump standard, dislocating my left shoulder. It went back in easily and I was advised at the hospital that it would be alright to resume normal use in 6-8 weeks. Fortunately, winter break was around the corner and I would have time to let it heal in plenty of time for the next semester. Five and a half weeks later, I dislocated it again when a horse spooked and ran backwards. This time, I just couldn’t get the joint reduced, and it was reset at the hospital several hours later under conscious sedation. While I don’t remember anything between the sedation being given and going out to the car later that afternoon, I’ve heard enough to know that I became a much less tractable person. Once free from the effects of sedation, I held out just a strand of hope for my dream, until visiting the orthopedist and meeting The Emobilizer. Eight weeks of nothing, he said…no strenuous physical activity, no driving on bumpy roads, no jostling, and definitely no riding…and then we would re-evaluate and talk about physical therapy. Showering was the only activity permitted without my arm and wrist pinioned to my side, and even that came with strict instructions regarding shaving and washing hair. I gave up my spot in Advanced Show Jumpers that day and it broke my heart. I would graduate in May and that was the end of my window to achieve my dream.
In response, I retreated to a “dead zone” somewhere inside me. I remember sitting on a couch feeling as though everything was wrapped in fog or dense wool. In that place, I couldn’t feel anything…words that people said didn’t make sense and it was even strange touching something and knowing that my hands were a part of me. Whenever I would try to exit the “dead zone,” I would meet a wall of anger, followed by sadness. For classes, I figured out how to play the role of normalcy and “good-sport,” even watching as my friend Eclipse was given a new rider. Only my poor best friend, who had recently taken on a new role as my girlfriend with fledgling dreams for our future together, saw what really happened as I mourned the loss of my dream. To her, I was terrible. I said awful things that we both knew I couldn’t mean. I wouldn’t let her close and asked others to open doors and help with my hair. I was absolutely my worst self, but yet she still held me when I finally cried in the middle of the night, even though I was still hateful and bitter in the morning. Her response? She didn’t leave or tell me to grow up or say “this isn’t the person I signed up to be with.” Instead, for lack of any better ideas, she went out and bought me a little bouquet of flowers meant to congratulate someone on the birth of a little boy. She left them for me to find, with the little card that reads:
My love, I am so sorry this tragedy has happened to you. I wish I could take it all away for you. Aside from that, I will be there for you in whatever capacity you need, may it be a shoulder to cry on, a comforting embrace, a warm body to curl up with and watch a movie, or just someone to take your anger out on. I will always love you no matter what. Please remember that. Always yours.
It didn’t fix anything, but was by far the most romantic and caring thing anyone had ever done for me. And it was during a time that I was not at all the human being I wanted to be. That’s a really special thing, and I hope every person has a chance to receive that gift at some point in their life. It reminded me that there was still something worth having outside of the “dead zone,” anger, and sadness. It was my instructor, however, who helped show me the stepping stones away from that place. In our first meeting, she asked how I was. I told her I was “fine.” She informed me that I was not…and I promptly sobbed and hyperventilated across the desk from her for several minutes. She allowed me to continue for a while, then told me to take a deep breath. “Kate, I think you need some new goals. Come back and see me when you have a list of six short term goals and we’ll talk about them.” No words of sympathy, no hugs or acknowledgement of the uncharacteristic outburst. A part of me was deeply offended that she didn’t care enough to offer me those things when I had let her see how much pain I was in! I made the list anyway and when I went back, I apologized for my previous behavior. She didn’t accept or want the apology, so we moved on to the list…from that list, she created a management job and a role to play  that was made “necessary” by her recent back surgery. She wouldn’t discuss anything regarding riding.
As I grudgingly adjusted to my new “job,” it became easier to actually be interested in my surroundings, instead of just pretending. I watched and gave lesson after lesson and learned the political and practical ins and outs of planning for a large horse show with a twenty horse team. The less I pretended, the more small pieces of hope my instructor fed me. After my first re-evaluation, during which the doctor told me to spend another two weeks doing what I was doing without ever laying a finger on me, she told me that if I could “stay in shape,” I might be able to ride over the summer. Once I started physical therapy, she suggested that I might start doing some lessons on a lunge line. I took care of my short term goals, and she took steps to rebuild my dream. I never got to cheat, skip a step, or even know for sure what the next step was. The first time I jumped a horse again was after the last day of classes. It wasn’t Eclipse, who had already left for a summer home. Instead, it was another thoroughbred named Indy, the special “favorite senior” horse that my instructor had trained and shown to a high level. The fences we jumped that day were higher than the ones I had been jumping before my injury, and if that had been the only ride (which it wasn’t, as we were successful partners for the summer show season), I would have said that my dream had been accomplished. It didn’t happen exactly when I planned and wasn’t on the same horse, but in the end, I was better, more confident, and endlessly more appreciative when I did see my dream become reality.
Once that “dead zone” inside you opens, it never completely closes, and it’s never as hard to fall into it again. Sometimes you fall in for a reason, like the loss of a dream, while other times you just fall in. While that dream had an unexpectedly happy ending, not all of them do. Every time a dream isn’t realized, it gets harder to dream a new one. It’s no wonder we become afraid. Until yesterday and writing this now, I hadn’t ever really looked back at the whole story, but I’ve known for a long time that I was incredibly fortunate to have the right people around. They were a gift that not everyone receives, and that none of us are guaranteed when we fall down. Some of the gifts they gave me, however, are ones that I can give myself now that I’ve been shown how. So, as I work through my “slump” and plan for the Thunder Rock 100, while continuing to recover from the loss of other dreams, these are the reminders I have placed next to the little card from years ago:

  1. Always have goals you can accomplish right now.
  2. Love is most important when you’re at your very worst.
  3. Do what you can and do it to the best of your ability.
  4. What you need is not always what you want.
  5. Learn from everything and don’t skip steps along the way.
  6. You may not have Eclipse, but what’s happening now might be preparing you for Indy.

December 4, 2013

Last Christmas morning, my partner and I joined some friends for an easy run on the freshly snow-packed trails. After an hour of laughter, trying not to fall into ski tracks, and one very dramatic (and slightly bloody) wipe-out, we donned dry clothes and met for brunch. At our hostess’ request, we each said what we were most thankful for before starting our meal. My answer, quaint and overstated though it may seem, was “my family.” When I was twelve, I explained, I discovered that “family” was not synonymous with relatives…and that “my family” would always be chosen based on who they were, not what blood ran through their veins (not that I exclude everyone who is related to me, just that they have to earn a spot like everyone else). Every person around that table was a part of my family and, even though not everything was “perfect” or even “ok,” I couldn’t imagine a better way to celebrate a holiday. 
When I did a Tumblr search for #family today, for every one positive post, there were approximately fifteen negative ones. The positive posts were mostly generic “Christmas is coming” messages, with an occasional newborn infant and adoring father picture. The negative posts were much more specific, with a lot of blame placing and graphic language. Last night, by contrast, I participated in a women’s discussion group talking about “family of origin.” Each person had a very different background (ages ranged from mid-twenties to early seventies), many with unfortunate stories to tell about the influences of relatives and other hardships on early childhood, but nearly all preferred to end their story with the “family” that meant the most to them. I guess it’s all a matter of which you give more power to…the positive or the negative. 
I always find it fascinating to hear about how other people define “family.” It says a lot about their past, view of the world, and view of themselves. It’s unique to each person. My own family has changed a lot in appearance over the past year. Some relatives have become more family and others less. Some people have actively sought to play a bigger role in my family and made it known that I am a part of theirs. Some family members from my past have established new roles in my present. Some of my family has stopped playing an active role in my present and may never ask for an active role in the future. I’ve met new people who may someday become family, and lost others to memories. To some, I am part of their definition of “family,” even though they are not in mine. There are others who I consider family, while they would not say the same of me.
As society grows more comfortable with an image of family that isn’t a mother, father, 2.5 children, and a dog, it is crucial that “family,” however it is defined, is still considered important. Family is not a disposable commodity and is still the most significant bond we make with other human beings. It’s a bond we can extend to as many or as few people as we wish. It’s acknowledging that someone’s very existence makes a difference in your life.
My family is always what I am most thankful for, whether they make me laugh or cry, simply because they matter to me. I chose them and choose them again every time I think about them, speak to them, or see them. I have no “obligation” to them, yet would walk through fire for them. They have power over me because I give it to them and trust them with it.
To the many hurt and frustrated #family people: it’s your choice. You’re not “stuck” with a given family. You’re stuck with your genetic code. When you choose family, though, make it matter. Defend it, honor it, and grow it, because it is the most important and powerful thing you have.
Happy Holidays!

November 30, 2013

As often as possible, I try to ask myself “were the past 24 hours worth trading a day of your life for?” That’s a big price to pay. Time you can never get back. You don’t even know how much you have left in the bank each time you pay up!
When considering the question on surface value, it’s easy to say that every “bad” day wasn’t worth it…they sucked, they were painful, they were boring. Thinking about it deeper, though, those days really can be worth your time, if only to give you more perspective for enjoying the “good” days. What’s actually worse, I believe, is sacrificing a day of your life by choosing to not exist in it. I’m not talking about spending a day “wasting time” with loved ones or even a favorite book, as sometimes those are really the best things we can trade time for. What I’m talking about is the decision to not participate in your own life…it’s always your choice, but you will never get back that time. 
For the high price we pay, it seems that only two things are absolutely necessary to make a day worth the trade. The first is hope. Hope, unlike “wishing,” is an active process. Hope is believing in change, but not focusing on the things we don’t have the power to change. Hope is looking forward to the future through the lens of the present moment. Hope is knowing that a better ending can be reached, even when you can’t see the whole path. The second is the refusal to be a victim. Life will not get better if you don’t give it a fighting chance. No matter how safe and tempting hiding from the world seems, whether to cry all day or just feel nothing, don’t become a victim of your life. Lace up your running shoes, walk the dog, ride a bike, sit on a rock and watch the clouds, watch others people and be inspired. Get up. I don’t guarantee that it will make your situation better (were running and fresh air the answer to all life’s problems, I’d be set for the rest of my life!), but I can guarantee that it will never get better if you don’t choose to participate.
As far as I can tell, that’s it. Have hope. Don’t be a victim. Those two things are enough to make every day worth the most valuable bargain we will ever make. Over time, those worthwhile days become worthwhile years, which become a worthwhile life. 

November 22, 2013

A break from words on running…

Sitting in a choir practice room during my senior year of high school, my friend looked up from the piano and said, “Kate, you’re a gender non-conformist.” A little unsure of how to respond, I thanked him and we went back to the music without further expounding on the subject. His statement was, and still is, about as true as it gets in describing me…although you could probably drop the word “gender” and just leave it at “non-conformist.” The older and more comfortable I get, the more apparent and prophetic that title seems.
Media has always romanticized the idea of non-conformity, yet the practical result is actually the creation of new microsocieties of “anti-norm” norms. There are the books that “normal” groups read and books that “anti-normal” groups read. There are hair styles or colors that are “normal” and those that are “anti-normal.” There are political views that are “normal” and those that are “anti-normal.” You get the idea… Both groups really just seek to fit in. True non-conformity, I challenge, is a much more rare and difficult category. To truly embrace non-conformity, you accept the possibility of never really belonging to a group. You accept discrimination and reverse discrimination. Depending on your personality type, you may feel guilty or awkward or even wish that you couldconform to some “type.” You might be proud or angry and wall yourself off from the influence of others. If you’re lucky, you find someone or some people who aren’t intimidated or scornful and even appreciate you for exactly who you are. I think most people have at least one area in which they are non-conformists, but that part of them is either small enough to be hidden or unthreatening enough to just be “what makes them special/unique.” For a genuine non-conformist, however, it is a relief to make a decision that aligns with whatever group or person you want to be with most. It’s not a matter of being indecisive, as some criticize; it’s about deciding each thing in your life independently.
I pick clothing based on whether it is practical for the job I need it for, comfortable, affordable, and a color that I like. While I don’t feel like it very often, sometimes I wear a skirt or dress. It usually surprises people and I get comments like “that’s not like you,” or “I didn’t know you could look like a girl!” Let me assure you, my IQ and general toughness neither increase nor decrease when wearing clothes that let my legs touch. I read popular books if they look interesting and have a desirable story line, and read unpopular books for the same reason. I didn’t care for Harry Potter, loved The Time Traveler’s Wife and the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo books, have absolutely no interest in 50 Shades of Grey, and found both Atlas Shrugged and 40 Rules of Love fascinating. I like and dislike music in most genres, some more than others, and have to consider who is in the car before playing country, alternative rock, current top 100 hits, jazz, musicals, Christian rock, or traditional Celtic music. If the song says something relevant or interesting and displays musical talent, I’ll listen to it and probably sing along. My hair style is practical, natural, and low maintenance. When I chose to cut it short last summer after a lifetime of braids and ponytails, I was told “you look more like a rugby player now.” I’m fairly certain that, other than getting in my eyes less frequently, shorter hair did nothing to improve my game. Apparently it’s more “normal” for short-haired women to play full contact sports?

Then we have the more “controversial” subjects of politics, religion, and sexuality…where not conforming becomes really uncomfortable, and even unsafe. I don’t pick a party platform to support; rather, I have opinions on individual issues and make my voting decisions based on what I think the government has the right to control. Whatever my feelings or opinions on social issues (and I do have some very strong opinions), they’re not something that a capitalist government should be directly regulating or controlling.  Thus, I am far too liberal for my conservative relatives and a confused, baffling conservative to my many liberal buddies.  I believe in a higher power, but don’t believe that “He” has a gender. I believe that people experience God in different ways, many times without ever knowing that that’s what they are relating to. Since my first deep experience was through Jesus, I consider myself a Christian. Yet, I have known many who consider themselves Buddhist, Agnostic, Hindu, etc. who I think are also close to God and much wiser than I will ever be. When asked about those beliefs, I sometimes find myself ostracized or my spiritual “value” reduced in the eyes of others. My place on the sexuality scale doesn’t make many people comfortable or approach with open arms either. Dating sites just don’t offer a “click here” option for “my general preference tends to be women partners and close friends, but really I just want to meet the right people and not care so much about genitalia.” I don’t look or act “gay enough” for the LGBTQ community or “straight enough” for the heterosexual community. I’m pretty sure if you passed me on the street or met me at an event, you wouldn’t be able to identify my political stance, religion, or sexuality by looking at me. That’s okay. I’m not hiding anything; I’m just not wearing a costume and playing a part to display the group I belong to. That makes most people either uncomfortable or indifferent, but every now and then it makes someone curious enough to come closer and stay a while.

My mother made a comment several months ago about how everyone in the young generations seems caught up in placing themselves “outside of the sexual norm.” In some ways, I agree. Young people are more openly and directly considering their sexuality and are probably influenced to try fitting into many groups before they figure out what is right for them. Unlike my mother, I don’t think that that is a bad thing or trend away from “God’s design.” I am concerned, however, that discrimination and lack of acceptance on all sides will continue to grow as it has done on similar social issues in the past. I see what was previously a minority opinion quickly becoming majority demand as the “right side of history.” I also see where “anti-society” will become “society,” which will then yield a new “anti-society.” My hope is that more non-conformists will feel comfortable shedding their costumes and role-playing for the sake of others or fitting in during this time of societal transition, but I am afraid that it will never be easy.

To anyone out there who has desperately wished to fit in, but just can’t justify assimilating, don’t give up on yourself. I know it sucks sometimes, but keep making your own choices according to your intelligence and moral code. Be comfortable with you. Observe others and reach out if that seems right. Don’t feel like you have to choose between “normal” and “deviant” cliques. When people like you and respect you and love you for who you are, you won’t regret the wait or that you didn’t hide yourself away.  

November 11, 2013

I am proud of who I am. Some days I forget that. Some days I want someone else to remind me, and sometimes they do. Every now and then, I remind myself, though…and when I believe myself, that’s when I really grow.

November 7, 2013

I’ve spent a great deal of time at both running and cycling events over the past several years. In some ways, they’re very similar; both are excellent forms of exercise, can offer camaraderie, give time and space to be alone, provide goals, etc. The biggest single difference that I notice is the ability, even necessity, to draft in competitive cycling. I think that is part of why, although I enjoy riding my bike, I don’t entertain thoughts of pursuing it competitively. If I succeed in running, it’s my responsibility. If I fail to reach my goal, it’s still my responsibility. There is no one to blame, there is no one to draft off of. No one can make it physically easier or harder than you. 
I generally feel that running is a better metaphor for life than riding a bike because of that fact. Running, like living, with people can certainly make things more or less enjoyable. They can push you to be better. They can make you laugh and even make you forget the miles that have passed. They can discourage you and make you want to quit. They can even carry you for short distances or keep you from making a wrong turn, but they can’t run your race. Whether you’re with someone or alone, the trail is still there and you are still the one responsible for moving down it. There is no drafting. If you want to get to the finish, you have to do the work. 
For some, there is fear in running alone (What if I get lost? What if I get hurt and no one knows or cares? How will I motivate myself?), while others fear the detrimental effects of a partner or group (What if I’m too slow? What if I could go faster? If I get used to having them, they’ll only stop showing up. People are distracting.). As in life, there is a balance to achieve. The best and most satisfied runners know how to run their own race, accepting times alone, those who pass, and those who fall behind as elements that shape the experience, but not the path. I don’t know anyone who claims to have life in perfect balance, but I also don’t know of any perfect runner. Regardless of where we are in that balancing process or how fast we’re going, we’re all still working because there’s no place to “sit-in,” only to stop and sit down or keep moving on your own. 

November 6, 2013

You run in circles as you try to run away.
To move is to overcome, is to escape.
Is to escape the pain and fear and uncertainty.
You seek without finding.
The meaning of life.
The definition of self. The place. The home.
You look in every mirror and yet are afraid to see.
To see scars that mark the passage of time. 
To see nothing and yet everything. Tainted reflections.
Stop asking who you are.
Stop looking away.
Stop running.
You are you. You are who you always have been.
You will never change. You will never be the same.
You are perfect. You are beautiful.
You are enough.

September 20, 2013

A few months ago, I sat at dinner with a friend, enjoying my post-ride cider on the patio as the sun set on a warm Missouri evening. Most of our conversation was based around the upcoming Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run. Two local runners, one her boyfriend, would toe the line the following weekend and we knew that it would be a unique challenge for each to complete the race. As a runner (insert cyclist, climber, other athlete type here), you don’t (or shouldn’t) think much about the prospect of not finishing, but as a support crew, you have to consider all outcomes with an air of impassivity. I made the comment that a major goal race, and process of preparing for it, was something like a marriage.
Just like when you accept a ring, when you commit to a major race goal, you don’t really know the outcome, but you believe in it strongly enough to accept the vague possibility of heartache. As you become more certain, you bring others into the relationship. They support you and your dream. They run with you and motivate you when you’re not sure you can keep going. As you become more confident still, you seek out those who would speak against you…and even their doubt bolsters your resolve and determination. Sometimes that support group becomes so enveloped in your journey that it inspires them to attempt and believe in things they have never previously had the courage for. In fact, you may feel a new responsibility, not just to yourself and your dream, but to everyone that has touched or believed in that dream.  As training progresses and the group of believers grows, you share more and more of the successes publicly, but feel each of the minor injuries, falls, and I just don’t want to run days more keenly. The magic of the moment has worn off, but you keep going both because you still believe in your dream and because you don’t want to let anyone down. For some, by race day the pressure is greater than their own belief…and few reach the finish line or will toe the line again. For others, who have prepared without including the outside world, the race holds only the pressure they put on themselves, but as the risk is low, so is the potential reward. Most of those who finish well rely on their own untarnished belief (bolstered by a close group of supporters and naysayers), a lot of humor and a little luck, and the willingness to adapt. When that happens, everyone wins and the whole process is seen through the lens of successful accomplishment.
A race may be the culmination of months or years of preparation, but in the end, it is the measure of one day…and sometimes that day is not your day. For whatever the reason, when you fail to finish the race, a whole cacophony of emotions follow…anger, guilt, embarrassment, betrayal, doubt, resentment, fear. You might quit. You might loudly declare that you’ll ‘defeat the race’ at some later time, yet find yourself unable to train again because it feels like starting over and you can never quite believe so deeply again. You might make the race your obsession, forgetting the joy and freedom that running once brought. You might rest and experiment with new goals and find your passion reborn.
Since that conversation, I’ve watched as both friends received a DNF at the WS100, as my sister walked down the aisle, and as my own partnership has undulated with new peaks, plains, and valleys. I find myself coming back to that race/marriage whenever I consider those memories and while it does not always provide me with encouragement or even reassurance, it does lend a new platform from which to view all decisions more completely, as though embracing the present moment, yet grounded in an untouched faith. To promise forever in a relationship is to promise that there will never be a DNF on your record. Those promises can only be kept by things you cannot control. Instead, I promise to make the journey worth it, no matter the outcome. 

June 24, 2013

This past Friday night, I collected a unique race experience at the Rock the Night Away Lake Perry trail half-marathon. Any time you arrive at the start line and are in the minority for not having glow sticks as part of your race attire, you know you’re in for a wild ride. Once true darkness fell on the single-track, about half an hour into the race, visibility was limited to a gently bobbing patch of head-lamp illumination. (Or, in the case of one of the fellows behind me, motion-sickness inducing swinging.) Over the miles, I established my own place in the darkness, as though 200 other participants had disappeared on a 6.5 mile loop.
I recently ran with a friend who is a marvelously brave mountain biker, but a trail running neophyte. She, like many others, is genuinely afraid of falling. It seems this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, as she ended the hour with a cracked Garmin and bloody wrist. The more you fear gravity, the more it seems to find you. Force even the most seasoned trail aficionado to run down a rocky hill or even a straight patch of single track with his eyes closed, and you would likely see an otherwise smooth gait reduced to a fearful, awkward, jerky motion. Yet, when presented with actual darkness, the pace of the race last weekend slowed, but remained steady. Those who had the energy to run kept running. Those who walked, would have walked in daylight, too. Some tripped, some fell, but the rocks claimed no more casualties than any other trail race I’ve seen. For me, at least, there was peace in knowing that I only had to run as fast as my feet could process the information. I suppose that’s true of any race, but with the added stimulation of sight, there’s always a battle between how fast your mind processes the information and how quickly your body can respond.
Often times, I think we face the same battle in much of everyday life. We spend so much time anticipating what lies ahead or trying to get to the next turn as fast as possible that we forget what’s under our feet. We trip and fall down. In response, we start staring at our feet, which might reduce the risk of falling, but slows everything down and usually gets us lost. So we start to look around again. The cycle continues and fear grows. What was once a clean slate of possibilities during childhood or adolescence is now marred with the fear of either falling down or becoming lost. Every now and then, maybe we should run with a headlamp in the dark…trust our feet a little more, look ahead just enough to see the big rocks and turns ahead. Then, when the sun comes up again, we might be able to face the day with softer eyes and a little more peace to replace the fear. 

June 17, 2013

Training for Someday…what happens when you finish training and there’s no race to run? You’ve put in the miles, sacrificed the time (and the extra cookie), maybe dealt with some injuries…and you made it. Finishing the training gets you to the starting line. It prepares you for the race and gives you a sense of peace because of the work you did, mixed with a sense of worry and dread because of everything you didn’t do. Standing at the starting line, some people are quiet, perhaps envisioning the race ahead, perhaps just listening to The Black Eyed Peas sing “Let’s Get It Started” to get in the groove. Others are bouncing, pushing to the front, or engaging in elaborate pre-race stretching rituals. The energy is like a wall of water that, when released, results in a wave you can ride for the first several miles of the race. In the end, it seems like the race itself determines how proud you are of the training you put in…so what happens if there is no race? You could just give up, put your name on a waiting list for other races while trying to maintain your fitness level, or set a new “someday” goal with a new training plan.
As uncomfortable as that position is, especially the first time you’re in it, it’s easier to deal with those options than to consider the training you just finished. It’s as though all of the pride, and even the gratitude to those who helped along the way, is put on hold until race day. Now, sitting at a starting line and hoping that my race will start soon, I realize how unfair that is. Goals are important, because they teach us perseverance and develop our passions. Today, however, is the most important day you have, not Someday, because it’s the only thing you are guaranteed. So don’t wait to be proud, or happy, or grateful…Training for Someday doesn’t have to mean “Waiting to Be.” 

April 26, 2013

Why do you run?

One of the defining opportunities of my adolescence and young adulthood was the eight summers I spent working at a Christian youth camp. Every Thursday, all of the groups would come together for Skit Night. We sang songs, laughed at ridiculous reenactments of things that had happened during the week, and listened to a brief lesson or story from the director. My favorite part came near the end, when one of the staff members would stand up and tell their testimony of falling in love with Jesus. The stories always amazed me, and the very first one I heard opened my heart to the idea that being a Christian didn’t have to mean ritual and religion and abiding by some ancient rule book… It just meant accepting a free hand up when you have fallen, and loving others unconditionally. It makes me literally sick to see how far the label of Christian has come in the public eye from the Commandment of Love. Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten that this blog is supposed to be about running and how it applies to life. Where this is really going us that I think there is immeasurable value in sharing how you came to really believe in a value or lifestyle. Something that changes the way you view or respond to the rest of the world. Some people have a climbing testimony, others one for cycling, still others a particular nutritional belief… In fact, we all have many testimonies to tell, and you never know who needs to hear them. This is my running testimony…
Five years ago, running counted in the categories of “not quite torture” and “what you do when you want to tell someone you worked-out.” In high school, I participated in one track season because it seemed like the right thing to do when I was angry at my choir director. Those of you who know me now would laugh to hear that I was a sprinter. Even in practice, we rarely ran more than 200 meters at a time. The one and only 400m relay I participated in was enough to make me give up that form of transportation forever. Later in high school, I convinced myself that running was fun for the benefit of my best friend, who convinced me to play on the soccer team. In reality, running into people was fun, actually running was not. I was pretty proud to run one sub-10:00 mile during physical education testing as a high school senior…and was pretty sure it was the last time I would ever run a timed mile. In college, running was really only necessary to get from the barn, to class, and back to the barn as quickly as possible. I liked being active and playing games, but running for the sake of running was work. Horses were my sport, and I was stubbornly sticking to it. Displaying interest in anything else could be used as leverage for why I should give it up and move to a cheaper/cooler/more understandable activity.
During finals week of my last year, I dislocated my left shoulder coming off a horse that refused a fence. Five weeks later, it dislocated for a second time. I spent the next eight weeks in a shoulder immobilizer and couldn’t jump or show a horse for the rest of the semester. For me, that was a dream that shattered just before its completion. I knew I couldn’t ride in veterinary school, and might never have the opportunity to feel like a competitive horse person again. I just wanted that perfect ending and I could walk away content with memories. After watching the variable outward expressions of my inner storm of depression and bitterness, my instructor told me to write down some goals for myself for the rest of the semester. She wouldn’t let me ride for the rest of the semester, even when no longer encumbered by the immobilizer, but I could manage the show team for the spring and show after graduation if I “stayed in shape.” I was going to be in the best shape possible to earn a chance to complete my dream.
That same year, my best friend became my girlfriend and then became my partner.  That journey is another story entirely and is best left for another day. Her love and friendship was the one really bright point in my otherwise dark spring, although even acceptance of that was clouded by my personal demons. We had walked her young German Shepherd Dog nearly every day since August, and started adding trips to the track and short jogging sessions to our adventures once I accepted the personal mission of “staying in shape” to ride. At first, she mostly watched and supported my increased activity, but soon joined in after enlisting in the United States Army. Together, we prepared for a summer of change…for her, Basic Training; for me, riding a show jumper.  For eight weeks, I couldn’t put my hair up by myself, or saddle a horse, or even drive my car without someone around, but I could run.  I still didn’t love running, but I definitely loved having something I could do.
Summer came and I started to jump again. Not only was I “in shape” enough, but I rode better than I ever had, both mentally and physically. I showed successfully on a horse that I had never dreamed of riding. I should have been happy, and a part of my heart was…but the rest of my heart was far away in Fort Jackson, South Carolina. So I kept running. I ran the same two mile out-and-back course every day, rain or shine. In other parts of my life, I didn’t cope very well, and was pretty destructive to myself and my other relationships…but in those two miles, I felt really close to the person I wanted to be with more than anything in the world. I couldn’t look her in the eye and tell her that I was sure now that I wanted to spend the rest of my life building a new dream with her…that I could accept the love that she wanted to offer now instead of putting it off for “the right time” in my life plan…but I could run. The day I found out she was coming home, I ran those two miles faster than my high school self would have ever dreamed…about 14:46, if I remember right.
Veterinary school started and so did living my life as part of a team…a family. I kept running, and started exploring some races. A friend convinced me to join her for a 5k trail race that she informed me would be “the hardest 5k you’ll ever run.” I came in second place and covered in mud, was sore for the next week, and started to look up training plans for running a half marathon the next fall. I trained hard and got faster every week. Almost everything had the accomplishment of “first” or “best yet.” I started to treat my body like an athlete…food was fuel to allow me to accomplish more. After a few months of training for running, I asked my father to meet me with a bike for cross training. This probably seems like a silly thing to mention, but I had vehemently avoided cycling as an adult for two reasons: 1. My father didn’t respect my sport, so why should I respect his? 2. My father never seemed to enjoy competing, but did it anyway as some sort of self-destructive compulsion. I didn’t want to live life seeing the glass half empty all the time, and somehow bicycles were associated with that belief. Making that request broke down a barrier between my father and I that had never known life without. Suddenly, he could understand something I was passionate about and felt like he had something unique to offer. While we didn’t create a typical father-daughter relationship, we did start to become friends and “buddies” under the universal bond of “athlete.”
That was an exciting year of running; every goal I set was met with surprising ease, because nothing could hurt physically as much as I had hurt mentally the year before. I set a 10k PR during my fall half-marathon and came in almost ten minutes under my overall goal for the race (IMT Des Moines Half-Marathon 2010—1:40:06). The day before the half, my partner asked if I was interested in doing a 50k trail race in Chattanooga the next October. Buoyed by the idea that not only could I run, but I could run well, I was determined to keep setting bigger goals until I found something I couldn’t do…and then find a way to do it anyway.
With any new relationship or major life change, you go through a euphoric “honeymoon” phase before the day to day struggles and habits show themselves. You find out that that person you’re with really loves to sing off key to bad music, or can’t possibly close the cupboards, or doesn’t ever remember your class schedule (no matter how many times you tell them or write it down)…and you decide whether you can live with those things, whether you can or should change those things, or whether you really shouldn’t be in that relationship at all. So it goes with viewing life as an athlete. In 2011, I learned about injuries and that my body couldn’t handle going faster and farther at the same time anymore. I ran because it seemed to give me a purpose, so when I missed a training run (which is pretty common while working and going to vet school and trying to have a family life) or didn’t meet a time goal, I felt like a failure. Worse, I looked at the athletic success of others, particularly my partner, as a further indication of my short comings. I still ran well, but it didn’t feel special anymore. It was an echo of old problems that reverberated in every other relationship in my life.
By the time October rolled around, I didn’t feel prepared, but was pretty motivated for the Stump Jump 50k. I knew that trail running was “my thing,” and as I’ve mentioned previously, read through an article about the Hard Rock 100 on the morning of the race and decided that it was my next big goal. The 50k renewed my energy and put some fun back into running. After, I started looking for a community to help me remember that running was a positive force and relationship…not a constant reason to fail. I ended up with two new families, one an eclectic group of trail runners, and the other in the form of a women’s rugby team. They helped to keep me grounded and gave me a safe place to share my athletic and personal hopes, dreams, and disappointments. They called me out when I didn’t omitted pieces of the truth about my life, a habit that had become second nature, and didn’t make me feel like a worse human for doing so. When I asked “how’s it going?,” they responded with exactly how it was…even if that wasn’t great.
2012 became a year of running for the joy of community and about running to finish. Injuries sidelined my attempts at “success” in the form of speed, although I continued to place relatively well in women’s long distance fields. I learned that it’s an amazing feeling to talk to people on the trail and see the sun rise and set while on the same course. That I loved moving forward on my feet or on my bike for ten and a half hours and twelve hours straight, respectively (Lookout Mountain 50M and Dawn to Dusk Eastern Iowa 12H Challenge). It wasn’t about racing so much as experiencing each of those moments, something I couldn’t seem to do in the other relationships in my life. My partner and I weren’t a family anymore, and I wanted to hold that together all on my own…so I kept running because it was something I could control. I ran because I was afraid of losing something I had already lost.
At the end of the year, our partnership officially ended, and I experienced heartbreak like I’d never known before. Every part of my identity, of who I had become, seemed lost or invalid because I had shared all of the things I did with her and viewed all of my personal plans through the lens of our shared life. Even my career seemed to dead end before it even started. So I ran, because it was something I could do…and it didn’t make me feel better or stop me from crying…but it was something that didn’t make me afraid. For two months, all of my fears, new and old, filled every moment of my day. I had panic attacks and had to run outside in the middle of conversations because I couldn’t remember how to breathe.  
Some endurance athletes run or ride to escape the problems of their everyday life. For me, no matter how fast I run, I can’t outrun my own thoughts. The conversation in my mind never stops. Sometimes, that conversation is so far from what I’m doing that I lose entire runs and can’t remember where I’ve been beyond the tracking map on my Garmin watch. Other times, I convince myself to be present in the moment…to experience every foot fall and consider every breath. Right now, I run because it’s a time to practice and consider the changes I am making in my own life and thoughts. I’m learning to see myself without an action or accomplishment or person attached…and to love what I see, without condition.
So that’s my running testimony as I see it today. In the end, I run because I can…and when the time comes that I can’t anymore, that’s okay, because I’ll still be me.
What’s your story?

April 4, 2013

So the title of this blog is “Training for Someday.” Lately, I’ve been challenged to deeply consider and redefine my views regarding myself, love, tradition, labels, nutrition, and life. It’s been a confusing and uncomfortable, yet enlightening experience, that makes me appreciate every friendship, touch, meal, and experience with more joy and simplicity. At the same time, this renewed appreciation of life is allowing the dreamer in me to consider lots of options for what the future might hold. I don’t know which ones I’ll have the opportunity to experience, but I want to be able to say “yes” when the chance comes. Where is the balance between patience and action? The “early bird gets the worm,” yet “good things come to those who wait.” Do we save for the opportunities of a tomorrow that may never come at the expense of living a more full life today? 
So far, that I haven’t related much of that to a running analogy…I guess sometimes viewing things in light of running is simpler. This one, however, seems about as circular of an argument in running form, too. Do you run in the moment or “bank” suffering because you want to accomplish a goal? I don’t think either is wrong…and I’m sure they can co-exist. Is it too much of a dream, however, to be just as joyful accomplishing a race as returning home to training the next week? Can we reconcile hating even a moment of our lives (track intervals, a terrible job, etc.), knowing that it could be our last, because it prepares us for a moment that has yet to happen?
I believe in the concept of “no pain, no gain”…in discomfort, we grow. Perhaps the answer is to find joy in every suffering, not because of what it will “bank” for tomorrow, but because it means we’re alive… A Utopian society never flourishes, because pain does not exist; therefore, true love and joy cannot exist. 
That doesn’t completely reconcile the difference between the parts of my heart that dream about tomorrow and the ones that are happy with today, but at least it gives them each a space in the same room…

March 25, 2013

Sometimes it’s not about changing the situation, it’s about changing your perspective. A willingness to change perspective is what makes potential tragedies into inspirational stories. May it be running or any other part of life’s race, at some point you might have to change your mind… 
Simply put, when you run along a trail and encounter a fallen tree, sometimes you can just climb over. Other times, it’s covered in thorns or too high. Faced with that situation, you have options. You could turn around and run back the way you came, but never reach the end or see anything new. You could keep trying to climb over the tree. You could sit down and wait for a force of nature to move the tree off the trail…or just pout because it ruined your plans. Or you could make a new path and go around. It might take you a little longer or to places that you haven’t been before, but you’ll still get to the finish. 
That decision always seems simple when running, but how often do we run into fallen trees in life and decide that it’s “weakness” to go around them instead of trying and failing to get over them until we eventually give up or go backward? Just because you change your perspective or change your mind doesn’t mean that you were wrong to begin with. Growth happens when old views (trails) are viewed in new ways. Our muscles adapt, and so do our minds and heart.
Just like on the trail, you can’t predict the next “insurmountable” obstacle…but you can choose to go around and keep enjoying the journey. Who knows, you just might find you like the new view better!

January 24, 2013

In an ultramarathon, most people trip or fall at least once. You brush off, limp a little, take a breath, and finish with pride in the blood, sweat, and tears left behind you. Sometimes, however, you fall and can’t get back up…you miss the cut off…you don’t finish the race. Until it happens, finishing is not the question. Instead, you focus on how you finish.
One time is all it takes to make every future finish line potentially unattainable. You suddenly find yourself saying “maybe all this pain really isn’t worth it…” and “well, this clearly just isn’t my day…” Once the door is opened, it can never be completely closed, no matter how many successful finishes follow.
I guess the best we can hope to do is learn from each race, forgive ourselves, and shout “I STILL BELIEVE!” loud enough to drown out all of the other voices. They may not go away, but maybe we don’t have to listen.

March 19, 2012

Faith plays a big role in the life of a runner.  I’m not talking about God, although He’s present every time I lace up. I’m talking about the faith it takes to start at point A and know that you will make it to point B. The faith required to look up a rocky hill after 25 miles and still put one foot in front of the other.  The faith that makes it possible to ignore the exhaustion in every fiber of your body because there is no option but to cross the finish line. Faith is what makes great runners able to keep going.
When running in the mountains, you will trip and fall. During a race, adrenaline, determination, and a streak of self-loathing make you keep running on injuries that would ordinarily make you phone a friend or limp/crawl/hop back to the car. Training season injuries, however, are different. Training season injuries require a different kind of faith that for most of us is infinitely harder than reaching the finish line on a mangled knee. I haven’t run a step in 14 days thanks to a separation in the fibers of my Achilles’ tendon. Running on the trails, you ask? No. Rugby? Wrong again. Playing with the dogs in the snow? Bingo. Turns out an old pair of snow boots will damage you worse than getting flattened on the pitch or careening down a rocky slope… Self-doubt, the enemy of every distance runner, seduces me every day. Faith in reaching the starting line seems much harder to come by than faith in reaching the finish. Every day, I cancel more training runs, more matches, more races. I am sitting on the sidelines of my own life, watching time go by. Some days, dark insecurities from years past break through my thin barrier of self-confidence and I wonder how long my friends can still love or respect me when I can’t earn my place through speed and shared experiences on the field or trail. Other days, faith returns and it’s not so hard to look ahead; I just entered my first 50 mile race, scheduled for December.
Today, I have faith that I will run again. I will play rugby with my team and the pain will be nothing more than a few hard-won bruises. I will run to the top of the hill and turn around to wait for the rest of the guys to catch up before we sprint home. I will make it to the starting line again and again…if I can start, I know, by faith, that I will finish.

March 8, 2012

Life is a series of individual moments strung together. Brilliance in prose requires that the author either perfectly recreate a single moment at a later time, or have the presence of mind to record the idea in its infancy. When I read the work of someone with this gift, I am shocked by the vulnerability required to bring emotion to life on a two dimensional page. I had planned to write my next entry about the philosophy of winning. In the wake of my first uncontested victory on the trails, I discovered how easily disenchanted a person can become with being number one. Winning, for me at least, is more about the quality of the battle. Since I have not been granted the gift of prose, however, I have a hard time recreating that moment of clarity to offer you. Perhaps more complete thoughts and questions about “the pursuit of winning” will appear in future entries, instead of two sentence summary.
Often, when I am running alone for several hours, I listen to audiobooks. Some of the books are insightful or educational, while others are merely an entertaining escape from the relentless chatter in my head. Most recently, I have been listening to the Inheritance Cycle series by Christopher Paolini. In one of the books, Eragon’s elfin mentor teaches him to recreate an image within a pane of glass. To accomplish the task, one must focus entirely on the mental image, down to the most intimate detail on a single blade of grass. Through magic, this passionate focus on something ordinary can yield extraordinary beauty. I believe that great writing comes from a similar place; a magical gift that connects the mind and soul on paper. The difference between average and great is often not the scope of the tragedies or life events, but the ability to transpose the ordinary in such a way that allows it to be extraordinary.
My sincere thanks to those who allow me to share moments with them, whether face-to-face or in written word, for you help me appreciate even ‘ordinary’ days.