Sunday, July 31, 2016

Ultrarunning and Sacrament meeting

Gotta love when you can throw ultrarunning into church!  
I'm a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, also know as the LDS church, or Mormons. It was finally my turn after living here a year to speak in sacrament meeting.  The talk I gave is belowI'm sure it's not APA edit standard ;)  

My husband Jeremy and I have 4 great kids ages 4, 8, 10, 12.  I have my hands in many things including doula work and teaching water aerobics.  I recently graduated from nursing school and hope to begin work as an RN this fall.  By hobby and a little by trade also, I run.  A lot.  I grew up a triathlete for many years and then began ultrarunning about 4 years ago after my husband co-founded Altra Footwear.  Ultrarunning is anything longer than a marathon, typically 31-100 miles, usually on trail in the mountains.  My most recent race was my 5th 100 mile race on the Western States trail in California.

The first questions I typically get are “100 miles?! all at once??", do you do it alone?”, and “how?”  Also a lot of bewildered looks wondering why.  All I can say for why is because I can.  I love to be out in the mountains and see such beautiful things, I love to race, and I love the more relaxed pace run in a 100 miles.  They are a big journey though, full of ups and downs physically and mentally, literally and figuratively, before ultimately crossing the finish line. 

I bring this hobby up because I have a lot of time to think while I’m running, and I find a correlation to my talk assignment of Building a Testimony.

Do I do it all at once?  Yes. I run and hike 100 miles all at once.  There might be quick breaks at aid stations, but I don’t stop for long.  It typically takes around 24 hours.  I do run it alone, not as a relay like in Ragnar.  I may have a pacer join me during the last 30-40 miles. The weight of the work is all on me though, but there are people along the way like my crew and pacers and volunteers that support me.  As for how, well, it’s one step at a time, you just keep moving.

A testimony, or those things we know to be true through the power of the Holy Ghost, helps us to stay close to the Lord and keep His commandments.  The Relief Society presidency in the February 1991 Ensign said “our testimonies should help us sink our spiritual roots deep so [that we cannot be moved and] can grow to new heights”

We begin a testimony of something, first by belief.  Alma in the Book of Mormon counsels ‘even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you’.

I studied several talks while preparing mine, and found the same 3 basic answers on how to build a testimony over and over again from prophets and apostles.  They are simple answers of prayer, scripture study, and service.

Joseph Smith knew that if any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God.  In the April 1999 New Era, President Hinckley said It is unlikely you will hear voices from Heaven, but there will come a Heaven sent assurance, peaceful and certain.  I was counseled in seminary (9-12th grade religion class) growing up to not simply jump up quickly from prayer to carry on with my day or climb into bed, but to pause during and particularly after my prayers to listen for and feel answers and guidance from the Holy Ghost.  Prayer is the most simple of these 3 actions to build a testimony.  Something we can do anywhere, anytime to seek knowledge and confirmation from the Lord.

2nd, Scripture Study
President Hinkley counseled despite demands on your time and your studies [speaking to the youth], read the word of the Lord.  I promise there will come into your heart an understanding and a warmth that will be pleasing.

President Uchdorf in the October 2014 conference talk titled Receiving a Testimony said to search the word of God…not with an intent to doubt or criticize but with a sincere desire to discover truth.  Consider, ponder, fearlessly strive to believe.

Along with the same 3 principles of pray, read and serve being counseled again and again, so too was reading from the Book of Mormon specifically.  Elder Kevin W. Pearson of the Seventy said Searching #greatandspaciousbuilding for knowledge will not lead you to truth, it’s not posted there.  Only the Savior has the words of eternal life.  He continues, If you are struggling, confused or spiritually lost, I urge you to do the one thing I know will get you back on track.  Begin again to prayerfully study the Book of Mormon and live it’s teaching every day…I testify of the profound power in the Book of Mormon that will change your life and strengthen your resolve to follow Christ.

I would also like to add music, specifically hymns to studying in an effort to strengthen our testimony.  There can be powerful spirit surrounding music, and reading, listening to, or singing from the hymn book or even children’s song book can be a great way to remind ourselves of the truths of the gospel and hopefully feel a spiritual confirmation of them.

3rd, Service or Action
A testimony is not just words we speak to others, it is shown in how we live.  Mathew 7:16 said “ye shall know them by their fruits”.  How we live our lives, the little things we do because we know them to be right, testify to others, and can be beacons to us individually of our own testimonies.  Our service to others is serving Him and also invites the spirit to be with us, the spirit that teaches and strengthens us.

Quoting Elder Pearson again, Obedience builds faith in Christ.  Faith is a principle of action and power.  Consistently following the Savior’s example produces spiritual power and capacity. 

Just like with my running, consistency is key.  I cannot show up to run 100 miles having only trained a few times a month here and there. I must exercise my body regularly to keep it strong and growing stronger. Elder Pearson also counseled the importance of continued effort in building our testimonies.  He said If we stop doing those things that bring about deepening conversion, we regress spiritually.  In a race, if I let myself stop for too long and get comfortable at an aid station particularly at night when it’s dark and cold, I run the risk of staying there.  Not finishing the race, talking myself out of continuing. I have been there many times. I have to press forward.   
Elder Pearson said there is no 'hanging in there' principle of the gospel, we must constantly be coming unto Christ and be perfected in him.   True disciples continue to awaken unto God each day in meaningful personal prayer, earnest scripture study, personal obedience, and selfless service. 
President Uchdorf adds that Most often gaining a testimony is not a task of a minute, hour or day.  It is not once and done.  The process of gathering spiritual light is a quest of a lifetime.

So we have our 3 basic answers, pray, study and serve.  We should continually seek knowledge, serve those around us, seek to live righteously and keep our covenants, and attend our meetings and the temple to help to build our testimonies.  But sometimes life is hard and we struggle, our testimonies may even struggle.  I know in regards to a 100 mile race, I certainly struggle.  I lose motivation, encouragement, hope, energy.  I have to asses where I’m at with my nutrition, hydration, electrolytes.  Do I need to turn music on to help keep me moving?  I need to work on keeping a positive attitude, and often, I just need to be patient and keep going having faith that in time that I will feel better and come out of this low.

Elder Jeffery R Holland gave an April 2013 conference talk titled Lord I Believe, about the bible story of a man who approached Christ to heal his son.  Jesus asked if he believed and he quickly answered Lord I believe, [then I imagine he paused a moment and continued] help thou my unbelief.  He did have a testimony, but he knew it wasn’t perfect and he needed Christ to help not only his son, but him also.

Elder Holland said When doubt or difficulty come, do not be afraid to ask for help.  If we want it as humbly and honestly as this father did, we can get it.  The scriptures phrase such earnest desires as being of real intent, pursued with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God.  I testify that in response to that kind of importuning.  God will send help from both sides of the veil to strengthen our belief. 

He also says to Hold to the ground you have already won.  Hold fast to what you know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes.  Be true to the faith you DO have.  The size of your faith or the degree of your knowledge is not the issue – it is the integrity you demonstrate toward the faith you do have and the truth you already know.  He continues,

I am asking you to be true to the faith you do have.. Sometimes we act as if an honest declaration of doubts is a higher manifestation of moral courage than is an honest declaration of faith.  IT IS NOT!  Be as candid about your questions as you need to be, life is full of them on one subject or another, but if you and your family want to be healed, don’t let those questions stand in the way of faith working it’s miracle.

Hope on.  Journey on.  Honestly acknowledge your questions and concerns, but first and forever fan the flame of your faith, because all things are possible to them that believe.

 Belief is so important.  I believe very much in positive thinking and self talk and mental imagery.  
I cannot run 100 miles if I don’t believe I can.  I have to exercise my body to prepare it for the difficult journey, but more importantly I have to condition my mind.  I have to have confidence that I can do it, that I can endure the hard times and complete the distance.  If I approach it casually and just hope for the best, I may not achieve it. 

Elder Pearson said Casual obedience and lukewarm commitment weaken faith. We need to be diligent in our efforts and to focus on what we do know, not what we don’t.  We can think back to times when our testimony has been strong, when we’ve had great spiritual experiences, and lean on those for a while if needed. 

President Uchdorf says If you seek God’s truth, that which now may appear dim, out of focus and distant will Gradually be revealed and clarified and become close to your heart by the light of God’s grace.  Glorious spiritual vistas, unimaginable to the human eye, will be revealed to you.

I know from a worldly perspective in these ultramarathons, I have seen amazing vistas, unimaginable to the human eye, and they inspire me, lift me, and are quite often experiences full of the spirit.  I have often stopped and cried and praised the Lord in prayer for His beauty and blessing me with the spirit then. 

I know the spiritual vistas Elder Uchdorf talked about are so much greater though, and of greater importance.  I hope that through sincere thoughtful prayer and pondering, studying of the Book of Mormon, and acting on it’s principles to continually work on building a stronger testimony, that I’ll get to experience those glorious spiritual vistas often.

In closing, then Elder Hinkley in 1966 said If you will read the word of the Lord, if you will serve in His cause, if in prayer you will talk to Him, your doubts will leave and the witness of the Holy Spirit that Jesus is in very deed the Son of God, born in the flesh, the Redeemer of the world resurrected from the grave will come.  It is your opportunity so to know and it is your obligation so to find out.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to prepare this talk.  It can be hard for me to focus on all the demands of the world I have while also devoting myself to spiritual demands, but spending so much time reading the scriptures and words of the prophets and praying, I have felt the spirit more and my testimony strengthen.  We truly do need to surround ourselves with the most important things and the Lord will help us balance and take care of the rest.

I bear testimony that I know Jesus Christ lived and died for us, and that he lives today.  I know he and Heavenly Father love all of us and want nothing more than to bless us and for us to return to them.  I know all we have to do is open the door and they will be there.  I know the plan of salvation is true, that I can be with my family forever.  I know Joseph Smith was and is a prophet of God and that President Thomas S. Monson is one today.  I know the Book of Mormon is true and compliments the Bible.  I know that the Holy Ghost has power and presence in my life and I am so thankful for that.  In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Here goes everything - Western States 100

Long post warning, no really, it's long.  This is my race report and emotional vomit, doesn't have super specific time splits, if you really want those you can find them on  I will post a gear post for this race separately next week since I did have that go really well for me.

 We are national park buffs, so we took the opportunity to visit one on our way to Western.  Yosemite was amazing as advertised!  Super great waterfalls, mountains, views, our favorite being on the drive into the valley when you get your first site of Half Dome through the canyon walls.  Lots of oooh and ahhh moments, and my sweet husband was so giddy over it.  We went on a steep hot hike with the kids that was good heat time for me, they didn't love that one so much though.  Visitor center time which I love with kids because they love to learn all about the parks.  We rode the shuttles around a bit and played at camp one day when my husband went on a 25 mile fly fishing fast pack run across the park.  Saw two bears within 1/4 mile of our camp site too.

Jimmy-rigged our two air mattresses together so I could sleep better for those 3 nights since typically I end up on the floor of the tent and a young child on my mattress.  I actually slept really well out there and it was just nice to know all my race stuff was packed, that our long drive was mostly done, and that we could just relax and not get anxious about the race to come.  Great way to spend the first half of race week.

Terrible photo, but after arriving at our rented house in Squaw late Wednesday night, I woke up earlier than expected, probably due to the sunlight filling our room from the amazing floor to ceiling windows that were an entire wall of our bedroom.  And with forest out beyond that and a view of the mountain we would climb?  Amazing!  I snuck out for a quick early morning shake out run, and got a little more excited seeing this sign behind me.  We were really at States!

That day, Thursday, there is a welcome ceremony thing on the top of the mountain that would be mile 4 of our race Saturday.  I knew people hiked or ran up there and that the tram was also an option, leaving you with only 1 mile of hiking, but at like $45 a ticket?!  I figured I wouldn't do the ceremony since I didn't want to hike the 4 miles up on foot. I did really want to take advantage of experiencing everything Western States though.  That morning we found out the resort donated 2 trams for racers and spectators to take up - for free!  So happy that I could take my little clan up with me and experience a small part of the course with me from above.
We rode up and went to the 1960 Olympic museum at the top of the tram.  Really cool little corner of the whole big building up there.  Squaw's Olympic story is a great one.  After hanging out up there a while, I sent the family back down on the tram and I set out for the mile hike.  Got to walk and chat with several interesting people from the dad who's been trying to get in for 5 straight years and then had to have knee surgery but ironically his 17 year old son got in at the drawing at the end of the lottery (who ended up finishing to become the youngest ever finisher, way to go Hunter!), to a group from the midwest out supporting their friend (who happened to be carrying the flag all the way up), and some who had run it and were full of great advice.
The view at the top was really great with lots of Lake Tahoe blue.  A really cool snow field beside me too.  Was neat to wander around up there and check out the historical monument and admire the rest of the course in front of us beyond mile 4.  Course unknown to me yet.
They had a program once we were all up there that really was something special and while long winded at times while it was chilly and loud from the wind, I'm glad I went and would recommend it.  They started with all of us singing America The Beautiful and then went on to give inspirational stories, talks, and poems.  They also honored those close to the race who had passed away that year.  This race is such a family.  The organization is huge, but very close knit too.  Finally, check out the board member in the black pants and white shirt and serious Achilles brace you can't really see who had to be helped stand in the wind occasionally, who hiked the mile up and back (assuming he took the tram).  And when I say up, there was some big up.  The passion up there for the race was palpable and I could tell I was going to be partaking in something very special.

Friday was exciting.  We headed back over to the plaza from our lovely mountain house that overlooked the start.  Lots of buzz around, people to say hello to, hang out in the Altra tent for a bit.  Then it was time to check in.
The buzz and excitement I felt from the beginning of check in to end was great and I soaked it in.  Got my yellow wristband on, photo taken, urine sample for the medical study I was participating in to see what effect running 100 miles has on the body (hint: probably not a great one), and swag handed out by enthusiastic volunteers, seriously every single one of them.  They had 3 colors of race shirts for us to choose from and we also got a hat, buff, socks and snacks, not a bad deal!  The highlight for sure was this photo above.  I just felt so in the moment and excited and honored to be there.  I felt like a star!  I was at Western States!

Ran home after check in to finish  start my drop bags which were due in like an hour.  Story of my life.  Got them done though which was pretty simple.  More Vfuel gels or drink mixes, an Elete Electrolyte flask in a couple, socks in most of them despite me never changing during races, a pair of shoes in 2 of them for just in case, and a headlamp.

After dropping them off it was off to the pre-race meeting.  I usually love these and I did this one too, but it was way over crowded and hot and while I didn't mind terribly sitting on the floor, I did mind the people standing in front of us the whole time.  Really didn't see anything, oh well.  The buzz was good though and I was happy to know now that at 3:00, my day could quiet down.  We had an early dinner, a little pre-race hot tub with my 8year old, and I'd like to say I got to bed at a reasonable hour, but well, I did ok  :)

R a c e  D a y
And finish in 10th place (I would consider it a win for me). 
That was a big, important goal to me, and one I didn't share with many people.
I slept pretty good actually and was relieved to wake up only when it was time, not sleepy, and calm.  Of course there were last minute things I had to do because that's my style, but also, my husband Jeremy would have to go back to the house after the start and pack our family up and out of the house and get to me on time around 11am with a 3 hour drive in front of him.  I kissed my babies bye while they were sleeping, emotional as I usually am leaving them before a big race, and off we went.
The building for bathrooms was very crowded and I did not want to wait in a line with less than 15 min to go - secret - go upstairs where it's dark and quiet with very few people and a bathroom down the hall by check in no one seemed to know about.  Jeremy and I prayed together up there in the quiet and headed to the start.  Met up with buddies Canice, Pete, Dom and Paul who we had the privilege of sharing the house with.  Great guys.
The 4 miles to the top were so good!  Hiking up in the twilight under overhead lights along our ski resort dirt road, the excitement level was 10!  There were spectators along almost the whole 4 miles uphill that helped the excitement a lot.  The day was new, temperatures good, spirits high, and for goodness sake there was Eric Shranz of Ultrarunner podcast (one of my favorites) at the top in lederhosen blowing a 10ft long Ricola style horn.  My face in the photo above taken by good friend Paul Nelson was absolutely accurate.  SO excited to be here!  As Canice and I said many times in our first 28 miles together "We're really at Western States!"
Canice and I enjoyed those early miles together.  Friend Meghan warned me the first 30 miles were crap, they were in terrible shape after the winter.  I was pleasantly surprised to not think so.  Not buttery smooth or anything, but nothing terrible.  Canice and I worked to hold one another back and be calm when others would pass.  Control and care was the name of the game right now. 
At one point around the 2nd aid station we came upon a woman handing her pack off to a volunteer (like 1/2 mile from the aid station at least) which we wondered about but as we got closer I had this feeling it was Magda Boulet, and it was.  So sad to see her there with such a sad look on her face.  I don't know entirely what happened but she dropped from the race.
Canice and I also took note of the dust.  Wow was there a lot!  For many many miles too.  We'd be reasonably far back from the next person but it was still there.  My contacts didn't love it but by Robinson is was gone.
Physically to this point, my back was quite sore Thursday and Friday before the race, perfect timing I know, and from about mile 4-24.  Like that backache that makes you want to stand up and straighten or arch your back.  I was thankful to hold off on my first dose of ibuprofen till 6 hours in and that seemed to make the backache go away and it wouldn't return for the rest of the race.  I had one good ankle "stretch" before we ran into Dom and Paul at Duncan Canyon but thankfully I walked it off after a minute or two.  The ankle I worried about in the months leading into the race would thankfully not be a problem at all. 
I loved our time together, but Canice and I separated for the final time on the climb up to Robinson.  I was feeling good and also a tad stressed about what time I was coming in.  There were a few times I felt like we could/should be running a little slower, but I never felt like we were running too slow.  Apparently for 24 hour pace we were though because after searching and searching with my eyes and ears for the aid station while glancing at the ever advancing watch I rolled into Robinson Flat(mi30), around 25 minutes behind goal pace.
I was feeling fine though, good in fact.  Loved loved loved the ice bandana from Howard Nippert  that I had picked up from Dom and Paul a few hours earlier which they had all ready to go and tied right on me.  Seriously no bounce, kept me cold and wet for hours and hours before getting a new one from crew.  LIFE SAVER.  Buy one, support team USA ultrarunning.  I also picked up a small handheld flask from Nathan I won as part of the Ultrarunning race series.  It would always hold water to wet the top of my head with and was super easy to carry. 
Anyway, I feel like this this was my first experience with the magic of the aid stations at Western.  I ran in and several volunteers met just me there.  They took my pack and asked what I needed.  I told them I needed my pack filled and to find my crew.  The lady sent me off to find them and when I said I didn't have my pack back yet she assured me she would come find me. And she did a minute of two later about 50 yards down the trail with my family.  Amazing!  And every single aid station was that same quality.  No one ever sitting and just looking at me, always up and helping from the second I arrived and always enthusiastic!  So good!!  I kissed the family and headed out. 
I ran into friend Tommy right out of the aid station and worried because he was ahead of me.  He was concerned about a leg issue he'd been having to the point of not even being sure he'd be able to start.  And he and the heat don't typically get along.  I wished him well, picked up my pace and headed out.  The rocky downhill switchbacks to come I recall running more gingerly than I'd like at the training camp, came much easier to me today and I made a few passes and gained confidence.  I settled into a good working pace.  Faster than I had been going, but sustainable, not too much.  I knew I needed to run a little out of my comfort zone to achieve my big goals.  The night before the race I saw an IG post from Billy Yang that instead of here goes nothing read Here Goes Everything.  It resonated with me the second I read it and I had my husband write it on my arm in orange Sharpe race morning.  While I might look really serious in the photo above, it was a good place mentally.  Good hard work.  I was here to give this race everything and was ready to physically and mentally.

Somewhere out there, maybe Dusty Corners?  I found out I was 16th or 18th woman.  That was great, better than I thought and helped to keep me going.  I was also back on track time goal wise.  I passed one woman shortly after that but that is all I would see for hours.  For Western being such a big race, it for me was very very quiet out on the course after Robinson.  I didn't run along side anyone or have a conversation with anyone besides aid stations for 30 miles.  A few passes and hellos, but no side by side running or anyone close enough for conversation.
The miles I remember as long between Dusty Corners and Devils Thumb in the training camp went quickly today.  Approaching the descent toward Devils Thumb I felt a twinge of apprehension since I didn't do a great job on it at training camp, but I squelched that quickly and kept my mind positive and moving forward with confidence.  I'm sure I wasn't the fasted down, but I felt controlled and smooth and calm - good things.  The climb up to Devil's Thumb aid was almost welcome, not because I was tired, but because I was excited to hike.  It's something different and I'm good at it.  I turned my ice bandana around to the front for a change and since I wouldn't be bouncing and it was nice.  I kept a light quick cadence up, passing several men.  I kept a mantra in my head of "I hike strong because I am strong" and I believe it.  I was very happy and positive going into Devil's Thumb(47.8) aid as the volunteers were too of course.  Met photog friends Paul Nelson and Billy Yang and was convinced to take a popscile.  Kind of love the photo Paul took above.  He had to sprint ahead of me for a minute or two out of the aid station to get the shot he wanted and I didn't slow down at all for him.  Stoke was high and strong and the pace was good.  New ice on my neck, Vfuel Cherry Cola drink mix in my pack now as I was hoping to keep my stomach happy in the heat, hands full of a grape popscicle, flask of coke, Vfuel gel packet in my mouth.  This was a good time, good memory.

My first low would come next, starting a few miles before Michigan Bluff, just after halfway.  I don't remember exactly what, just kind of that off feeling.  I kept up on my calories, took some First Endurance Pre-race and got my ipod out for the first time.  Got it going as quick as I could so I'd keep moving forward and with music on and a mind still strong enough to say "we're ok, we got this, lows happen, take care of yourself and be patient" I moved forward.  Until 2.5 min later when the music stopped.  Literally.  My ipod turned off.  Weird.  So I turned it back on and kept going.   2.5 min later it turned off again.  Great.  It has done this before, goes into some mode I do not know how to turn off.  Super frustrating.  I'm not a runner that can't exist without music, but right now I needed it.  So it turned into running until it turned off then quickly turning it back on while walking or running if it was smooth around me.  Not ideal but I made do.

I arrived a tad grumpy into Michigan Bluff (55.7), but mostly just that feeling of I don't know what I want when presented all kind of food options.  Nothing sounded great.  It can be hard when that happens since you know you have to keep the calories going.  I tried to get out of there quick feeling a little better, stopped to pet a dog cause that's what I do, and carried on down and up the quiet barren dirt roads.  Great to get to Bath Road where I was kind of hoping someone would meet me and run in, and no one was there and Bath Road itself was much quieter than I expected, but it's ok.  I was running now because I knew I needed to when possible, it felt good, and I wanted to make my time goal.  I passed Scott Wolf on his way down who looked at me and said I could make top 10 if I kept that pace up.  I appreciated that a lot.  Feeling the day a bit, but excited for the race to really begin, I ran quick and easy into Foresthill(62), right on time and right in the female position I wanted to be in.
Pacer, friend, Altra teammate and all around amazing ultrarunner Zach Bitter had met me 1/2 mile or so from the aid station and was so great for what would turn into a very long time together.
Unlike Wasatch, I was smart enough this race to actually tell Zach on our way in and then my husband when I got to our spot that I was sitting for 5 minutes.  That I was ok with that and that I would leave when it was up, so someone time it.  And it was a nice brief break.  I won't lie and say I felt fresh as a daisy.  I wasn't dying or anything, but I had just run 62 miles, it felt nice to sit and frankly, more efficient to go through my pack and do what needed to get done.  I got some quick love from my babies including hugs from all, my boy helping me with a new ice bandana and my 4 year old spraying me with a spray bottle, a job I came up with her before the race.  It was mostly a good idea except her water was warm from the day and she would usually spray me with a tight stream in the face :)  Thankfully Zach was able to fix my ipod while my husband Jeremy took care of everything else and with a few seconds to spare we took off.

It felt good to run down the iconic Foresthill road lined with crews and spectators but I did find it humorous that Zach got more cheers than I did, he's kind of a big deal  ;)  We chatted casually about how the men's race was going since I had heard nothing all day, and thanks to the wonders of modern technology, he could follow the race from his phone.  I was super excited to hear how well my male teammates were doing.  He asked if I wanted to hear about the women's race and I said yes.  I wasn't overly anxious about things right now and I also had heard nothing about our race either.  There were surprising standings to me with excitement for some of the women and sadness for others I knew must not be doing well.  He told me I was only 20-30 min back from 11-14th or so place and who was in it, and that was intreaging!  While it gave me a little bit of excitement that my goal of 10th was in reach, the pain in my leg started squelching that.

Back in April I ran a local fun run trail marathon.  Lots of climbing and descending, but nothing I hadn't done before for sure.  I felt great during it but my legs were so smashed afterward for at least a week, which is longer than normal for me, that it surprised me.  I noticed one particular spot about 2-3inches long, 1inch wide on my upper left quad that would continue to be sore.  My awesome massage therapist Heber would work on it along with my rolling and Tissue Rejuvenator pills I take and it would go away for weeks at a time, but with lots of work or intensity it would come back here and there.  Nothing to ever concern me really, certainly no limp or training adjustment needed, it was just a sore spot.  I hadn't felt it in a month leading into Western so it honestly didn't even cross my mind as a potential problem.  I hadn't thought about it at all.  But I figured this pain was that.  Some ultimately unhealed strain or tear that didn't appreciate Western States 100 like I did. 

I remember a few miles out of Robinson, so maybe say mile 34, I felt my quads for the first time that day, but I was calm about it and knew I was strong and while yes there was plenty of race in front of me, I was being smart and it was normal to expect to feel the body 34 miles into a run.  Certainly didn't feel like blown out or worn down quads, just noticed them.  I recall laying my ice bandana on this painful spot on my leg somewhere around Michigan bluff (55), but I was still managing ok.  Don't remember if I said anything to the crew in Foresthill about it, probably trying to stay positive, but by mile 65 my hands were the opposite of a fist, they were fingers out stretched, locked out in pain at any downhill.  I told Zach and we decided to try some biofreeze gel I had in my pack when we got into Cal-1(Dardanelles).  And so we did but it didn't do anything.  I was kind of grumpy by this point, possibly neglecting full calorie intake and I know I was getting sensory annoyed by anything on me.  I had Zach stuff my bandana, hat, even headphones into the back of my pack because I just couldn't handle anything touching me.  Weird.  I felt like these 5mile mile apart aid stations were taking forever which is kind of sad.  My pace was ok, but not great, just tried to keep running on this part I was so excited before the race to run my heart out on.  It's a lot of downhill though, and that sure hurt a lot.
A few miles from the river we heard a woman's voice behind us and let them pass.  It was not only a female pacer but racer too.  One that we knew was in front of us.  What the what?  We must have passed her at an aid station somehow although these aid stations between Foresthill and the river are very small.  Anyway, she passed and it was exciting for a second to know I was ahead of her, but then sad to see them trotting on like nothing while I was walking more and more out of pain.  And then with headlamps on, we ran into my friend and teammate Nicole and that really worried and baffled me.  She should have been hours in front of me!  In very stammered speech and wobbling side to side she said she'd fainted several times and was just trying to get to the river.  It was not good.  The first responder and new nurse in me said we couldn't leave her, but Zach reminded me she had a pacer (and a man at that that could carry her if needed) and that we were close to the river.  She ended up making it in fine and dropping there and I'm just glad she's ok.

I was looking and listening around for signs of the river crossing for a mental boost. I was looking forward to crossing Ruck-a-Chucky(78) more than anything leading up to the race.  I wasn't feeling great or excited about anything at this point, but Zach and I had hoped this would be good and help.
We arrived 30 min off my goal split (which isn't terrible, but we had been right on only 16 mostly downhill miles earlier).  I was thankful to see my husband and kids down there and took a few minutes to get the things together I needed for the other side of the river.  I knew I wasn't quitting, but I gave my husband a big hug and asked for the same in return and not a get me out of there pep talk.  I cried to him that 'this wasn't fun, I didn't want to finish this.  I wasn't going to quit but please just take me with you.'  He's heard this plea in races before and I feel bad he has to deal with that because I'm sure it's not easy to see someone you love like that, suffering, doing something that is hard, and frankly, is optional, yet being loving and also pushing them on.  I had taken too long there and it was time to get going.  So they strapped Zach and I into life jackets and glow necklaces and sent us down the trail.
It was nice to have my family walk down to the water with me and watch us cross, but it was so hard to leave my beautiful babies.  Although I really enjoyed the last 22 miles of the course on training camp day, very much, I knew how long the rest of the course would be now in the dark, moving slower.  I knew of all the winding endless trail and dirt road even just between the river and Hwy 49.
I probably ruined it for myself, but the river crossing was the real start of my race going very much not as planned.  It was kind of a let down.  I never envisioned myself crossing it at night, the water was cold, not welcoming, and the volunteers there weren't as loving, they were bossy.  Bossy was appropriate though because this was not an easy crossing.  The current wasn't bad, but there were so many big rocks, some pointy to deal with.  They had a smart idea of sinking glowsticks near the worse ones, but there was just so much tip toeing through there from shin deep, to watching your shins hopefully not get ripped open, to waist deep.  And it was cold, and I don't like being cold.  Once across I waved bye a little emotionally to my family and took too much time getting dry stuff on and out of there.  I was procrastinating.

The hike to Green Gate felt so long, and it's only 2 miles.  The pain was starting to creep into the flats and the ups now and was still so much pain going down.  I thought strongly of dropping at Green Gate, but Zach sneakily said it would be an easier ride out the next aid station, Auburn Lakes  ;)  Which with this pain at 20:00min/mi pace at best and over 5 miles away would 'only' take us almost 2 more hours.  Ugh.  We got there, Auburn Lakes(85), I sat down on a cot since I figured I'd get to end my race there from pain, and embarrassment of how my race was ending and Zach kindly went off to get me soup and ask them and every other aid station for any icy hot or anything like that.  A medical guy came over to me and man, just wasn't about to let me quit and continued asking what they could do for me. 
Tip for people supporting a woman in labor - don't ask her a million questions.  Same goes for 70 miles into an ultramarathon.  But I appreciate his support.  Since apparently we weren't quitting, and I think I said it that way to Zach since no one was respecting that emotional wish, we got up and walked out.  For about 10 feet and stopped.  I was so frozen just then in indecision.  I felt like if we left the aid station, even though it was only 15 miles to the finish it meant I had to go all the way.  Yeah I wanted to finish, but at that moment in my state, I wasn't passionate about it.  I was embarrassed by how things were going, how I wouldn't be anywhere near my goals, and after being mentioned by iRunFar as a top 10 contender.  I wondered if DNFing would look better than the finish I knew would result if we kept going.  *I'm going to stop anyone right here from any misunderstanding.  I respect anyone and everyone's goals, they belong to the individual, and for many, it is simply to finish.  That wasn't the case for me.  Going into this race, a finish was obvious to me, it was the much bigger goals I set for myself that were my focus.  I don't want to belittle anyone's finish of any time, but for me, my goals meant more than 'just finishing'.*
Back to the story - frozen in anxiety and debate over whether to walk back in to the aid and call it, or to keep trudging on in our slow, dark pace, mind you around 1am now.  We honestly stood there for at least 10 minutes just thinking and me talking out loud.  Zach was a wonderful pacer who was very neutral and supportive and made me feel heard and cared about, but wasn't making my decisions.  I felt terrible for making this world class ultrarunner walk the entire night with me, but ultimately, I just couldn't come up with a good enough excuse to tell my kids when I got a ride back to the finish instead of crossing it on my own.  I was so past my goals and still had 5 hours to walk, but could I really show them it's ok to give up if things aren't going your way?  You bet I had an injury, a strain that I'm confident was now a tear.  But I was not signed up for anything after this, on purpose.  All my eggs were in this basket so that I could give this race everything and come home smashed.  This was not the smashed I imagined, but I couldn't use the "I could make it worse if I keep going" excuse.  There was no reason I couldn't rehab when I got home and it wasn't so bad I was risking my safety or life.  The other big reason for continuing was respect for the race and those who have wanted to race but haven't had their chance yet.  I was given a chance to race and experience Western States.  It didn't seem right of me to quit, even in my circumstances when there were so many people out there who would love to be there.  And the pettiest reason I had to keep going?  I really wanted to be able to wear the new Western States shirt I bought the day before :)  Now don't think I got all hero like and ran out of there, I didn't.  But I somewhat grumpily trudged on, questioning myself every minute or two for a while.
I wasn't a happy person in Brown's Bar (89.9).  Their aid station was cool, lots of Christmas lights strung about and loud music playing, but I was a grump.  Didn't want anything to eat because nothing sounded good (and probably got snappy when they kept asking if this or that sounded good, as a good volunteer would).  All I could tell them was I wanted a finish line, for this to be over.  We were out of there pretty quick and the only thing I took, against their advice, was enough extra strength Tylenol to max me out for the day, earlier than I should have based on my first dose.  I was also maxed out on ibuprofen for a 24 hour period, and had a pain patch on my leg, but none of it helped.  Leaving Brown's Bar for Hwy 49 we saw an opossum and owl and scorpion.  Grateful I was reasonable enough to take notice of them. It was a teeny bit comforting to know there was 10 miles left, but 10 miles at our pace still meant more than 3 hours to go.  It would leave me sad when a couple women passed us, that was hard.  Absolutely no disrespect to these women, but they were ladies I had seen earlier in the day I knew I would finish ahead of.  But they were smart and physically intact and were running well.  And I'm happy for them.  Then came Tommy and Kenzie blowing by us which was amazing.  I feared Tommy might not finish, and figured he'd at least be in the late 20's, and yet here he was truly running down the trail.  I wished them well although I'm not sure they realized it was me.  Then Canice and Dom passed us and didn't recognize me till I wished them well.  Dom looked crushed to see me there and told me to run with them but that wasn't going to happen.  Canice had such determination in his stride.  It wasn't a long open beautiful powerful stride, but it was a determined and focused one.  I am so happy to say that they made our goal of sub 24, against many odds.  Way to go guys!

Finally into Hwy 49 (93.5) and we had a decision to make.  If we could maintain a very fast walk and stop at no more aid stations we might be able to break 24.  I debated a little but just really didn't believe it was possible, and more importantly, with my race and mind shot to crap, I didn't want to be pushed and hustled another couple hours in pain to possibly not break 24.  The sliver buckle wasn't a big deal to me at this point, my goals were much bigger to me than the color of the buckle.
As funny as this will seem, I always wanted to experience a nap on a cot in an aid station, something I couldn't do as a front runner, and so I made our decision.  I was going to finish, but we were going to not kill ourselves doing it.  So at mile 93.5 I laid down and told them to wake me up in 22 minutes no questions asked.  I would get up and go I assured them. I do really well with 20 min naps at home and give myself that 2 min to fall asleep so that's what we did.  Unfortunately for someone sleeping, that is a very noisy and lit aid station and it sounded like everyone there stood right over me the whole 20 min.  I got maybe 5 min of sleep.  Ugh.  I was in better spirits though.
So with a tad more relaxed attitude we trecked up to the trails above and eventually down to No Hands Bridge.  It was long and painful, but I think I've already said that a million times.  About a mile from No Hands I got super sleepy eyes, like literally cannot keep them open.  I HATE that.  So what did I do?  I took another nap :) We got into No Hands aid station and told them quickly I was going to lay down for 10 minutes this time.  Zach actually supported the idea because by the time I got up and left it would probably be twilight and that might help.  And you know what?  I slept that whole 10 minutes, the sleepy eyes were gone, and we could turn our headlamps off with the wide bridge and dirt road ahead.  Isn't it a neat place?  I knew I had been in a bad place mentally for 10 or so hours now.  Some was unavoidable and some unfortunately I held onto.  I felt guilty and really wanted to try to take in some of the things that are so iconic to this race, and No Hands was one of them to me.
I was cold now, from sleeping, but it was peaceful.  The volunteers wished us well, the giant screen playing old race footage and lights made things feel special, the sky was lighting up, and the finish actually felt close, for the first time all night. 
We had a nice walk up to Robie, checking on the top 10 men and women.  Excited for some, sad for some.  My Altra teammates had done amazing with 4 men and 2 women in their respective top 10's!
I didn't really feel the energy of Western States in those final miles from Robie unfortunately.  Just a quiet ending to our night.  It was probably the embarrassment of my race ending so much slower than my goals on such a big stage and getting ready to see those who knew me and could expect more from me.  I think also, I just never visualized during all of my training a finish in the light and I don't know whether I should have, because I believe firmly in picturing yourself achieving what you want, but it may have taken from some of my experience then.
It was ironic that the night before the race I was chatting with Craig, the RD who mentioned that there's this big lul in spectators and even finishers from 24 hours to about 27 hours, and guess where I was finishing?  Right in the middle of that.  The track was quiet and I was sad and I didn't have that magical experience on the track I read of and watched so many videos of.  It was just another race over with.  (thankful for my family there of course) 

25:03, 19th woman.  4 hours behind 10th place which was my goal and I believe I could have achieved.  I was sad, let down, angry, frustrated and yes, embarrassed that on the biggest stage in ultrarunning for me, I had a finish like this.  Why did it have to happen at this race?

I crawled in our tent and slept for an hour maybe but it was hot, my hats off to those behind me who endured a second day of heat.  We humorously cleaned up as well as we could in the plastic wading pools for foot soaking and drove 10 minutes to a 9am LDS church for sacrament meeting.  Packed our little finish line tent area up and headed to awards which were nice.  Talked with lots of friends, congratulated them and tried to figure out how to answer when they kindly asked about my race.  I didn't want to sound ungrateful for the chance to race Western.  I didn't want to sound like a whiner being so sad and disappointed with a 25 hour finish, but if you didn't understand my goals and all I worked for for months, with a family, through nursing school, you didn't understand.  This was not any other race and I was not there to simply finish. 
We drove to Reno that night and enjoyed dinner at a casino buffet which I must say is a perfect post race dinner with so many options for an either touchy or ravenous stomach.  I slept reasonably and got to put on my new Western States shirt and my kids and husband were proud of me.  I was slowly starting the road to healing.

The drive home was long and uncomfortable but I was with my funny and supportive family which is most important.  I came to the reality that I do not have to race 100's.  They are hard, a lot of suffering, and not a whole lot of fun to me honestly.  100k is a really great distance and it is totally fine to 'only' go that far.  I got to catch up on FB and IG and all the wonderful sweet messages left that helped to soften the blow some. 
Made me cry when we got home.  I didn't know who left this at the time, but it meant a lot to me.
I won't lie, from around midnight during the race up to a few weeks after I have been really sad about this. My training was on point, I was strong and healthy and in a mentally good place.  The stage was set with lots of wonderful athletes to race with, so many well wishes - the stoke was high.  And I was going to get to experience Western States 100!  And if this were the Western States 70 I would tell you I had a great experience.  Because I did until then.  Yes I had some downs, but those come with the territory.  What I didn't have after 70 that makes me hesitant to give you an answer when you ask how Western States was, was an able body.  All I wanted was a tired, fatigued, but able body that could fight the mental tough stuff that would come.  I was ready to fight that stuff.  I talked to myself about what I'd learned in other races and I was going to use those lessons.  What I didn't anticipate or plan on was an injury and man this was not the race to have that happen.  I am learning to take comfort in my finish, but it does not erase the failed expectations I had for myself.  What's hard about this one is that despite how hard 100's are for me, I would love to race again for redemption, but I feel like there is no race to do that in other than Western States, and who knows the next time I'll get in again.

I am proud of the way I handled the heat.  I owned it!  It may not have been the hottest year, but I know others were suffering with it.  I can honestly say I was never hot.  I am very happy with how I handled the canyons.  Smooth down, strong up.  I am proud that I worked to be nice to my pacer and crew/husband :)  Sounds funny, but I get emotional and grumpy and I know that's what pacers have to expect, but I wanted to control it better and I think I did.  The atmosphere there was wonderful, the aid stations A-MAZING!  It was a wonderful trip.  I'm not sure more take aways from this race though, I'm not sure the lessons I can say I've learned.  I guess that will come in time.

The leg has been healing remarkably well really and there are times I go back and question if I was really hurting that bad and injured, or just letting my mind take over and find an excuse to slow down.  And then I remember how swollen and discolored my whole left quad was for 5 days and how the other one looked and felt perfect.  How my massage therapist could feel the damage in there the entire post race week.  The injury was real at a really bad time and I'm really sad about how it affected such an important race to me, but life goes on.  I don't have anything particular planned for the rest of the year, probably won't race again till September with healing and family life and starting as an RN.

I don't really have a great ending to this post, it's been long and I'm sorry, just my therapy I guess.  I hope I didn't come off too negatively.  I could be bitter about what was written on my arm and how it turned into "here go all my goals out the window" or something, but I love that quote, Here Goes Everything, and I gave this race that as long as I could.  Until next time - #seeyouinsquaw

Monday, May 23, 2016

Female distance runner, thin AND healthy - it's a thing

I have no idea how this post will go over. It's simply my thoughts and I am looking to win over no one. I have seen so many articles lately written by both men and women about the great perpetuity of eating disorders, particularly in distance running. I will acknowledge right now that they do exist. And I pray for those struggling with the real problem it is. But what I'm not happy with is the feeling I get that some of these article's authors seem to pit any thin, fast, long distance female runner as unhealthy or one with an eating disorder. I know that's a generalization, but it's how it feels to me. And here's my problem with it. I am a thin, fast, long distance female runner, have been for 16 years - and I am neither unhealthy nor do I have or have I ever suffered from an eating disorder. And I don't want this to belittle anyone at all that has or is struggling with one, but why do we have to be so politically correct?  My big beef here is not that others might assume I have an eating disorder, it's that because of all this writing about it and the stigma, that my daughters will think I do. 

My daughters know their mama is strong, that their mama runs a lot, and that she can share some of her clothes with their 12 year old sister. But it's not because I am unhealthy. This is my frame, it's my build. The same one my non-athletic twin sister shares, ironically minus some of the bulk I have. Sure some of it could be the miles I run and the good food I generally eat, but I have never altered the miles I run or the food I eat to be thinner. I have honestly never considered losing weight to get faster. I don't want my girls to think that watching and worrying about their weight is the way to get better in their sport, and with all the talk of the epidemic eating disorders are amongst athletes, sometimes I fear that's what they'll interpret. 

I may very well be the anomaly here with my thinking, but I kind of don't think so. I don't know why I wrote this, but it's been on my mind lately. Strong, thin, healthy, fast, female, distance runner are all words that can get along. Let's try it. 

*And while we're at it, why don't I hear more blame or accountability toward coaches?  Seems like much of these disorders stem from a coach's pressure or influence. I'm postitive there are many amazing coaches, I've experienced some!  But I find it funny that in the women I know personally who have struggled, it came from the outside pressure of a coach. Let's instill hard work and clean eating and positive body image in our coaches and then athletes as enough to achieve their goals.