Monday, April 27, 2015

(Un) Comfort Zone…. C+O Canal 100

Mark asked about my blog.  “It’s about comfort zones”, I told him.  “Do you have one?” he asked deadpan. 

In the world of ultra-running, there are many things that can take me very uncomfortable.  It’s probably why I am drawn to it.  The night before a 100-mile race is always very lonely for me.  This is compounded when I am at a race site far from home and alone.  It makes me crave a hug…just a moment when I don’t have to be strong.  Not knowing anyone at the C+O Canal 100, made getting that hug out of reach, so I had to put on my big girl panties, suck it up, and take care of what needed to be done.  And, after having a good cry, something I usually reserve for the first few miles, that is what I did.

I believe one of the reasons I have such an uncomfortable time before big races is that the race itself is so uncomfortable. I’ve heard it said many times that ultra-running is 90% in your head, and the rest is mental.   I have seen time and time again, runners suffer unnecessarily, because of what goes on between their ears…myself included.  But, the percentages are off.  The body takes a beating in an ultra.  Not only is the training aspect is formidable, but  every portion of me will hurt, during the race and for days after.  I will be both on top of the world and knocked on my ass.  Echos of those physical pains seem to come back to my mind as I prep my stuff the night before the race.  How can something I love to do hurt me so much?  Why do I do this?  This is stupid.

On the trail, sometimes it can seem like you’ve left the planet.  The only comfort zones available are friends who are on the journey with you, either physically or in thought, and aid stations, which are like small patches of heaven.   At C+O they had an all-vegetarian aid station that served black bean, rice and pineapple wraps and ginger/corn chowder.  Nirvana!  It really is the little things that are the big things.  Small acts of kindness offered when  you are hurting are magnified in intensity,

Spending hour upon hour by myself, while pushing my body through running, is daunting.  My thoughts control my mood, which controls my performance.  I’m training myself, albeit it’s still a work in progress, to simply be present.  To simply focus on what is in front of me.  To release my thoughts, or to work through them.  I like to say I only want to “control the controllables”.  The seven hours of rain was not under my control, but how I handled it was. 

I have a yoga teacher, who has said, while I was in chair pose for a very long time, “if you lost a leg, you would give anything to feel the muscle fatigue you are feeling now.  Be thankful for it”.  I tried to remember that message and incorporate it.  I take comfort that I am blessed enough to do these races and that suffering through them has given me strength. 

Getting an “I love you” text  (thank you Noah), a "you are my hero" text (thank you Natalie), a hug from a fellow runner (thank you Jim L.)  a well-timed and much needed message of support (Rog, Peaser and Russell…talking to you) or a picture that reminds me that I am loved and thought of, these are the things I find comfort in.  It is awesome how a simple act of kindness, a smile or knowing that you are cared for, can help lighten the loads of both physical and emotional struggles. Not only are these acts of kindness, but they are fuel to carry on.

There are some things that are so outside of my comfort zone that they are unattainable.  Mistakingly grabbing a maple bacon energy gel packet is at the top of that list.  But, most other things are within reach.

So, yes, I do have a comfort zone.  It is feeling close to those I love and who love me in return.  It is in facing challenges, sometimes failing and sometimes succeeding.  It is in self-discovery.  It is in being comfortable with being uncomfortable.  

I used to say I was “obituary building”, but I don’t anymore.    I am simply living my life.  It has helped me appreciate small kindnesses, remember to offer them to others, recognize what is important and what is not, and that I can feel a hug, even if it is sent virtually. 

In the end, I hit a 2-hour personal record at 50 miles, and a 2.5-hour personal record on the 100 miler, coming in under 25 hours.  I’m pretty comfortable with that.

Sunday, April 5, 2015


I’ve lost track of how many times we’ve taken him to the Emergency Room…how many admissions…the surgeries…the spinal taps…the tests…all the diagnoses.  I do remember the ambulance ride he took, when his blood pressure and other vital signs were so low, that they told us to “prepare for any outcome”.    We weren’t told that he was a fighter, or that he was strong.  Repeatedly, we were told his limitations.

Noah had a rough go, and it showed in his personality.  He was painfully shy.  Day after day, I would go to pick him up from school, and he would be at the “crying table” because he said he missed me.  He was afraid of everything. 

As I sit in this hotel room now, listening to him sleeping soundly, I can hardly believe it is the same person.  Yesterday, we finished our rim to rim to rim (R2R2R) hike of the Grand Canyon.

I didn’t want to take him.  I had planned on it being a solo trek, but he had other plans.  He INSISTED.  Gone is that shy child.  When Noah wants something, he says it.  There was no way I was getting on that plane without him, regardless of my protests that it would be challenging for him. 

And, challenging it was, although the beauty was breath taking.  We saw colors we didn’t know existed.  We saw nature completely ignore us.  During the night, we were the only hikers returning from the North Rim….we had the canyon to ourselves.

I learned more about my son during those 20 hours of hiking than I had in the past 18 years.  I saw him struggle, over-come, creatively problem-solve, suck it up, become frustrated, show kindness, and persevere.  We talked about everything…the conversations were organic and free flowing.  I got a glimpse into the man he is and how he will handle life’s challenges when he is on his own.   

The struggles of the hike were real.  The temperature went from 30 to 80 back to 30 and back to over 80.  We had 21,000 vertical feet of climbing.  We under-estimated our water needs, and having pumps turned off, that we planned on being on, compounded our situation.  Noah became very dehydrated.  We had planned on hiking straight through the night, but by midnight, Noah was struggling.  I worried about his health.  “Mom, I let you down.  I told you I could do this, and I can’t”.  We had to stop.  Not having a camping permit (winning the lottery is easier than getting one), we had to be resourceful.  With the temperature dropping, as well as the multitude of wild life (we were sure not to pick up any sticks that rattled), we could not just find a comfortable looking rock and rest.  So, we found a restroom at a campsite and slept for a few hours.  A new low for me. 

When we woke, Noah told me he was done.  He wanted to take a mule ride up to the South Rim.  Ok, I said and looked into it.  $900 was the going rate.  An obvious way to dissuade people from taking the easy way out.  Okay, time for plan B. 

We had two choices.  We could hike up Bright Angel, which would be an easier hike, but 2.5 miles longer or take South Kaibab, which we descended the day before.  We knew it was rugged.  I gave Noah the choice.  “Okay, so my choices are less suck for longer or more suck for shorter”.  He wordlessly turned down the South Kaibab trail.  It would be the roughest thing he has faced in his life so far. 

His thoughts got pretty dark and he was beating himself up.  I would hike ahead of him and get to a landmark to set up food and the little water we had left.   Then I would wait…and worry.  Each time, it took him longer to reach me, but each time, he would get there.

Finally, we had 1.5 miles to go.  The area was full of tourists and Noah was not amused by their glee at seeing the canyon.  “Noah, I’m going.  What you are feeling now will pass, but what you will feel in a mile and a half will stick with you forever.  Don’t let negative thoughts take it from you” is all I could think of to share.  After leaving him that last time, when I was out of his sight, my eyes had tears in them.  I wanted his hurt, both physical and emotional, to end, but there was nothing I could do to make it happen.

At the trailhead….I waited….and waited.  Finally, there he was.  Arms raised in the air and a smile on his face 100 years couldn’t make me forget.  He looked at me told me he loved me and asked where we could get ice cream.  It was the proudest moment of my life.

Noah, you are a fighter and you are strong.  Life will give you limits and challenge you, but I firmly believe you will find a way around them.  Thank you for being a pain in the butt about coming on this trip.  I love you boy.