Monday, January 16, 2017

Rest: Phunt 50K

“I need to process this.”   That’s my standard line, when I don’t want to respond emotionally.   When, I’m tired.

This past week, the alarm would go off, and rather than play that snooze-alarm math, that both lets me sleep until the last possible moment, AND get ready without looking like my morning is happening at light speed, I simply rolled over.   I overslept for work THREE times this past week.  This is NOT like me.

I inherited my disposition to keep busy from my mom.  “NEVER sit before noon” is her mantra.  Even at 82.  Even when her daughter tells her to wait for her to arrange plowing vs. shoveling her monster driveway.  “I’ll rest after, Eva” she says.  “It’s better that way”.

If you cared to look, on any given day, you would see two emails that I send to myself every morning.  One is a very specific daily delineation of what I want to accomplish and the other is my weekly “Tetris” chart.  The latter, though less detailed, contains enough info that I can keep multiple plates spinning at the same time. This past week, I found myself simply changing the date on my to-do lists.   ‘I’ll get to that tomorrow’, I reasoned.

At the end of the week, the to-do list didn’t have the check marks I had intended.

I thought about calling in to work—just to catch up on sleep, and put a dent in the to-do's.  But, it is the end of the semester, and I have donated every plan and lunch period to working with kids.  Taking a day off will just make me busier when I return. 

The reality of racing this weekend filled me with dread.  “How am I going to stay awake for this car ride?”  “I don’t know if my legs can handle the trails”.  “Snow in the forecast!”  “I need to process this”.

I.  Was.  Tired. 

Fast forward to the starting line of the Phunt 50k.   This is a two-lap course, which prides itself on giving the runners a choice of completing one loop (25k—half crazy, according to the organizers), or two loops (full crazy).   Same medal.   They make it VERY difficult to go on, with the implication that if you are tired…it’s okay to stop.

That’s a dirty trick.

I know the lure of stopping; I’ve seen others rationalize it many times.  Rog and I will ask each other the same question when the pull to stop is strong:  “How will you feel about this tomorrow?”

‘Ok, girl…you want to process, now is the time” I said to myself at the starting line.  I took ten seconds.  TEN SECONDS.   I looked around, at the trails, the sun, at myself.   "You can do this.  Go find your happy."

And, I did.   I ran through mud, and sleet, and hail and snow; through a beautiful forest with unexpected covered bridges; over streams and rocks and roots.  I freed my mind, and let my body do what it loves.

I hit obstacles—mostly emotional.   But, I decided to handle them in the same way:  I would process.   I would think about how I would feel tomorrow, if I made a rash emotional response.   I would look around and see how lucky I am.  I would count and hold dear, my many blessings.  I learned, during this race, what is closest to my heart, and what I can, and more importantly, cannot let go of.

I did finish, and I did do two laps.  As I sat shivering in my car after the race, clutching my finisher medal, I thought about driving home.   I sat and processed the thought for a few minutes, asking, “How will I feel about this tomorrow?”.  Finally, I decided to check into a hotel room.  Mom was right; the rest is better that way.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
2 Timothy 4:7

Monday, December 26, 2016

Starting Beats Finishing

I've got this sweatshirt. I wear it when I'm building...when I'm studying...when I need to get something done...when I lump out...and, sometimes, as much as it is protested against: to sleep. I've cut off the hoodie. The sleeves are too long. It's stained. It's too big for me. Those I live with roll their eyes when they see it. Noah calls it my "get sh... stuff (edited) done" shirt. I've tried to donate it a 100 times, but I rescue it, every time.

It's from Oil Creek, and not from a race I finished. But, it's from a race I struggled with. That shirt and I...we've got history. That shirt reminds me that I know how to get up when I’ve been knocked down.

As I sit, reflecting on my running year, I know there are less buckles than I had planned on receiving.     I lost fights with gravity, earned a medical time-out, messed up my wrist; collected a bunch of bruises, both inside and outside, and added a couple DNF’s.   I also ran my second fastest 100, ran my second furthest distance  (and, I’m not done upping that), hiked a portion of the Appalachian Trail, came back and kicked the butt of a race that had kicked mine, and learned a heck of a lot about myself.  And, challenged myself every step of the way, regardless of my finish status. 

I am thankful for those pitfalls, as well as the milestones.   Had those races gone as planned, all I would have to show for them is a few more buckles, and the misinformed notion that the only finish line is the one at the end of the race.  I may go into a race wanting one thing, but the magic is coming out learning something entirely different.

I know that the growth is in the struggle, and the struggle has kept me showing up, and giving all that I have to a sport that I love.  I never want to take my accomplishments for granted.  I like to feel like I am applying for the job, with just that much more valuable experience, each time I show up at the starting line.  I’ve earned that experience by having goals that sometimes take me several attempts to reach.

It is a change of perspective.   I am not in control of the trajectory of each race.   I am emotional at each start, because I know that I will face uncertainty, exhaustion, and whatever Mother Nature dreams up to throw at me.   I do not win them all, but I give each one a hell of a fight.   I love that this sport has taught me that when there is adversity, sometimes my only course of action is to just take a step…. to just start (again)…to keep moving.  It’s become a bit of a mantra….”Just start, Eva…just start.”

When I was sitting in a lean-to on the Appalachian trial.  I was flipping through a notebook kept to record the musings of those passing through.  One entry stuck with me, “When you start talking about quitting, you’ll find a reason to quit”.  I can honestly say, I did not quit on any race this year.   There were some that bested me.  Last weekend, I fell more times than I can count.  I learned that should I find a mishap on a trail, that my last word would most likely cause my mom to wash out my mouth with soap.  But, I also learned, that I got up, dusted myself off, and started again.   Each attempt hurt more than the last, but I kept going, until it was truly unwise to go any further.    I’ll have another opportunity to grab a buckle, but I will never get to learn that lesson, at that moment again.   I am grateful for unexpected opportunities to learn and to grow from unexpected experiences.

So, here I sit.   Getting ready to pack for my last race of the year.   I have set my basic, target and advanced goals.   I don’t know which, if any, I’ll hit.  But, I do know, I will give it all I’ve got.   I am ready both mentally and physically, and have just one lingering question:  Has anyone seen my sweatshirt?

Monday, November 14, 2016

Have Fun, Dammit-Stone Mill 50 Miler

I had been running for about an hour.   It was dark and although the weather report looked good for the day, my fingers were frozen in the pre-dawn cold.  I could easily see my breath, but struggled to find the trail.   A pet peeve of mine is running in someone else’s headlamp light.  It causes me to cast a shadow into my own light and challenges my footing.   To compensate, I tend to over think what I can control.   I force my thoughts to logistics:  How is my pace?  Did I select the right shoes?   Do I need to adjust the fitting on my gear pack?  Happy I thought to eat some avocado the day before.  Cautious that I am only recently out of my wrist splint.

Suddenly, I stepped out of my own head.   I stopped the endless stream of boxes I was trying to check.   Have fun, dammit.   It rang loud and clear.   Have fun.   You love this---let yourself fall in love.   Don’t try to stop and analyze it, it won’t make sense.   Just feel.   Just be.   Just do.   Just step off the platform and take flight. 

I checked back in.   The sun was rising over a calm and beautiful lake, surrounded by fall foliage in full bloom.   There was a slight fog that gave the scene a dream-like quality.  Behind me I could still see the remnants of an immense super moon.  It was a spectacular sight, and I felt blessed to be a first hand observer of Mother Nature’s paintbrush.  

I ran strong, stronger than I have in months.   I’d come to aid stations, and look at the miles I had accumulated…. wondering how I had pranced through so many.   I took my watch off, and packed it away.   I didn’t care what the time was, I cared about the time I was having.  

I freed myself from thoughts about previous races, about my body’s ways of telling me I have been over-doing it, and about challenges I have yet to face.   I shined a spotlight on this race, and in this moment.  I dealt with only what was in front of me, and consciously decided to focus only on what makes me happy.   I spent a few miles listing in my head events, people and moments for which I am grateful.   I know I ran with a visible smile on my face.  I know I am blessed.

My final challenge in the race was literally chasing the sun.   That beautiful sun, that brought me out of my own head this morning was beginning to set.   It was time to put on my wings and fly.  With about a half mile to go, I watched the sky change to dusk and I smiled.   I had done it.   I let my body do what I had trained it to do.   I freed my mind from the confines of boxes that like to be checked.   I took chances, and was rewarded for my efforts.   And, most of all, I had fun.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Goodbye Old Friend

Train Porter: Please keep your hands inside the train at all time 
Mark: You ran THERE (pointing)
Porter: Hands inside the train, please
Me: shoulder shrug. Yup

Mark: Tiggs that’s VERTICAL
Me: I told you it was tough
Mark: Look there, that is barely a trail
Porter: For your own safety, please keep hands inside the train. 

Mark: Tiggs, that’s insane.
Me: Yup, and I don't think the Porter likes you.

This was our conversation during our train ride when we went to visit Oil Creek. Up until this point, all Mark had seen of OC was the finish line into the Middle School. He had no idea.

I had no idea. This course has been a part of my running repertoire from the start. It’s one of my go-to training locales and it kicks my butt every time I’m on it.

I’ve been cut, scraped, blistered, terrorized by bears, lost numerous toenails, and am currently sprained. I’ve been breathless. I’ve death marched and flew like I was weighless. I’ve hiked it and been enthralled by the “scenic overlooks” and raced it and only seen what the orb of my headlamp has allowed. It has been in my nightmares.

I’ve tried out various gear, diets and shoes. I’ve faced wind, rain, snow, hail, mud and bugs. I’ve DNF’ed and crossed the line for the 50k , 50 miler, 100k (a few times), and 100 miler. I’m the only woman to have done that.

I’ve laughed. I’ve laughed until I’ve cried. I’ve cried, tears of frustration, joy and pain. I’ve sworn. I’ve gritted my teeth and pushed hard, and I’ve smiled.

I’ve had my most lucid moments of clarity and have hallucinated. I’ve learned that if you see a tree stump you think is a bear, you should blink. If it still looks like a bear when you open your eyes, it’s a bear.

I’ve been on many other trails with larger climbs or with worse weather, but nothing that has it all in one place like Oil Creek. Cemetery Hill will always be THAT hill that I know exists solely to make me question why it is I do what I do.

But, it is time for me to step away from OIl Creek. Yes, I will still use it to train, and I certainly intend to hike it, and I can’t rule out volunteering, but I think I have done what I need to do as far as racing the course. I’ve learned to be successful there, you HAVE to train there. I have too many other trails I want to visit.

So, Oil Creek, until we meet again: I wish you well and thank you for the lessons learned. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

This Too Shall Pass...Pine Creek 100

This is dedicated to a very dear friend, who unfortunately, has a few cells that went rogue.  She is the strongest woman I know.

It’s not about acting tough.  The trail doesn’t care how many likes you get or the image you try to present.  Your toughness must come from the confidence you build in your own inner strength.

It’s not about following trends.  It is about gathering knowledge and making your own choices based on what you know about yourself.

It’s not about prestige.  There is nothing glamorous about kneeling by yourself, alone on a dark trail, holding your own hair, feeling like you just can’t push any further.

It's not about inspiring. People only throw that word around when you are doing something they either don't want to, or don't think they can, do.

It’s not about how you physically look.    I truly believe outer beauty only radiates from what is inside.     

It is about knowing that life is messy.   You are going to get dirty, uncomfortable, beat up, challenged, and changed.  And, you will grow from it..

It's about feeling what you feel, and letting that be.

It is about doubting your doubts.  

It’s about taking another step forward, when all you want to do is stop.

It is about knowing you have people around you that love you, but also knowing, that the fight is yours.

It hit me at mile 81.  I was sick.  I was tired.   Two runners next to me dropped out.  I could hear the volunteers concurrently talking about my imminent drop and the storm that was rolling in.  They offered me a chair.   And, a blanket.   They might as well have stamped DNF on my forehead.

My friend came to mind.  I questioned how I would feel tomorrow, if I did not push on.  Time was not up. I could and would fight this fight.

I jumped up.  Okay, it took me two times to stay up, but I got up.  

I crossed the finish line.  Not many others were able to do that during this race.   I did it, because I have this friend, who is a living example of what it is all about.

p.s.  To my friend:  I actually pity those cells.  They picked the wrong woman to mess with.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Beast

"Runner discretion.  Please use runner discretion.   You will face adverse weather conditions, please use your discretion and keep yourself safe"  

That’s how the race directors start each pre-race meeting.  What they fail to realize is that the discretion of many of these runners should be questioned...thoroughly.

This race, which is really two races, is located north of Buffalo, NY.   Unfortunately, all of the stereotypes about Buffalo weather hold true.   We get snow.  We get bitter cold.  We get melting summers.   And, in the minds of the two race directors, we get the Beast of Burden.

The Beast, is run in both the winter and the summer.   In order to get the coveted “Double Buckle” you must run both.  In that order.  In the same year.   There are no exceptions.  The Beast doesn’t want to know your sob stories or excuses.

It sounds easy enough.   The course is pancake flat.  There is only one road crossing.  The only other obstacle you will encounter is a lift bridge used to cross over the Erie Canal.   In the summer, this bridge may cost you a few minutes when a boat requires it to be raised.   You’ll hear the alarm.   It is your discretion to hurry and cross, or take a  quick rest break.

That’s it.  The Erie canal is on one side of the gravel path, and civilization is on the other.   But the Beast lies in those 6-10 feet in between.   There is no shade.  In the summer, you will have no cover from the relentless heat.   In the winter, the snow will swirl around the frozen canal, and attack.  The wind will find you in both seasons.   It has no discretion.

The Beast also boasts  the worst two miles of ultrarunning.   The course runs on one side of the canal, where a runner can see the start/finish on the other.   Runners must run a mile, cross the bridge (hopefully, without an extra wait period) and return on the other side of the canal.  Music from the lively aid station can be heard the entire time.   You are so close to where you want to be, but the Beast will get in your head, before it lets you get there.

I have run over 800 miles on this course.  I possess two “Double Buckles”.  I have PR-ed and I have finished at the back of the pack.   I took first place in a 24-hour division, when such a thing existed, and I have DNF’ed, twice.   The Beast doesn’t care.  Sometimes, it lets you win, other times it fights you with all it’s got.   

The Beast boasts of the challenges it will set before you.   Every starting line will be filled with stories of “adverse weather” the Beast has concocted.   The first year, there was a blizzard that closed schools for several days.   We here in Buffalo don’t close schools often.  This past running, in August, had temperatures in the high 90’s with a heat index over 100.  As the race directors say, “We have never cancelled a Beast, and this will not be the first time”.

There have been windstorms, ice storms, hail, blinding heat, dry lightning, and thunderstorms. I think if you listen closely, at around 2 am, you can hear the Beast laugh.  I know I’ve heard it.

In the winter there are snowmobilers.  In the summer, boaters.   All carrying on life and enjoying the elements.   You will be forced to watch as you slog along the 12.5 mile path, do an about-face, and repeat until you have completed four loops.

While the Beast will attack you with the elements, it does allow for some relief.   There is a pirate ship playground a homeowner has serendipitously parked on the race course.  It has become an unofficial requirement to grace the slide.   Aid stations are not only stocked with the kindest, most-helpful perennial volunteers in the business, but in the summer, they offer you a sno-cone, in the winter, a warm fire pit.   Camaraderie is second to none.  The adage that misery loves company is not lost on the Beast.

Many fail to cross the Beast’s finish line.   Some only choose to run in one season, stating that the other is “too hard”.  Some try, time and time again, only to fall victim to the Beast’s warped sense of entitlement.   Some take it on every time, and face the challenges with vigor.   No matter the circumstances that leads to the end of your race, be it DNF or finish line, the Beast will challenge you, and it doesn't’ care about runner discretion.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

113 Miles on the Appalachian Trail

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”  Teddy Roosevelt

Natalie is away at camp for two weeks.   Noah is busy with his job, training, and girlfriend.  Mark has muscle-show prep, work and a certification he is working on.  There was no need for me to be at home.  In fact, it seemed like Mark  was trying to get rid of me.   “You don’t have to rush back, ya’ know…” Ok, I got it, pose away.  I know those tans aren’t going to spray themselves on.

I had the priceless gift of time.

I set off for the Appalachian Trail.   The inspiration came from the most unlikely place, a Regents exam.  NYS does not allow us to see the exam before the students.  Normally, it is quite boring, and I feel like I am reading paint ingredients to disinterested students.   This time, it was about the Appalachian Trail, and I was enthralled.   My friend Jen caught me after the exam.   I don’t remember her exact words, but  they were something like, “I know you read the ELA.  When are you going?”.  I told her I had no idea what she was talking about.   She told me I had a crappy poker face.  

A couple days before I left, Natalie, my sister-in-law Barb, and I went hiking.   Barb recently had a serious surgery, and I wanted to stick with her.  I told Nat to take the lead.  “Mom, I don’t know how”.  She protested.   “Follow the blazes, set a good pace, and watch out for what is around you” was my reply.  "What if something happens?" she asked. It did, she did great.  “Momma,  can you make your next blog about running for a different reason?”  I questioned her further.  “Mom, your trail trip is about the journey, not the finish line”.  How on Earth did I get lucky enough to raise this kid??

My first day was rough.  I was lost almost immediately after starting.  I know how to read a trail, but what was this off-set white blaze thing?   Omg.  What the hell was I doing?  Why was I doing this?   I could simply drive home.  I had to get ahold of myself.  I went with what I know.  I hiked back to my car, dropped my pack and switched out my shoes.   I went for a run.  Everything fell into place.   I feel in love with the trail.  Knowing I could go from Maine to Georgia on a very skinny national park, was surreal.   I was excited to get going.   I finished my run and was now ready to hike.   I did 25 miles that first day and slept on the trail.  

I spent the next few days pretty much off the grid.  I was solely responsible for the success or failure of my journey.   I am finding this blog very difficult to write, because in many ways, I was just a girl who went hiking and camping for a week, but in others, I was a woman who overcame fears, made both good and questionable decisions, became an element of nature, and and found beauty in the ruggedness and tranquility of parts of the planet, that others may choose not to experience.

I focused on the the journey.  I ran when I wanted to feel free and and at ease.  I hiked when I wanted to simply enjoy the the world that had enveloped me.   I stopped when tired.  I ate when hungry.   I diverted onto a blue blaze trail, simply because I wanted to.  I was alone, but rarely lonely.  This was not a race.  This was an opportunity,   In the end, I was able to traverse 113 miles.

I was married outside.  It caused a logistical challenge, but I was insistent that was what I wanted.  In fact, it was the ONLY aspect of the wedding that I pushed for.  I lost count of how many people questioned the validity of my choice  “What if it rains?” was the most common refrain.   “What if it doesn't?” was my reply.   It did rain.   I didn’t care.

I met with similar naysayers regarding this trip.   “What if something happens to you?”  (Usually followed by some gruesome story that the person had heard about) Something did happen to me.   I learned my backpack, hiking poles, and Deep Wood Off are  lifesavers.  I found a beach that felt like a mirage.  I took a shower under a waterfall.  I found trail logs with amazing personal journey stories,  My presence caused the flight of a flock of birds, that sounded like helicopters, and let me know I was the only human in the area. I found hidden views that seemed undisturbed from the day God made them. I climbed over boulders, traversed streams, across valleys and through miles of forest.  I got scratched, bruised, tanned and bug-bitten.  I got lost and found my way again.  I slept under a sky filled with more stars than I could ever wish upon.  I sat and watched fireflies, simply because they captivated me.  I know I need both my running shoes and my hiking boots.  "Follow the blazes, set a good pace and watch for what's around you" turned out to be pretty practical advice.  I smiled, laughed, swore and prayed.  I was alone, but I felt loved and supported, by those that matter most to me.  I experienced “trail magic”.   I learned that I want to do this again.  It may not be on the Appalachian  Trail, but then again, it might.   Because, like my daughter taught me, this was about the journey, not the finish line.