Beyond #metoo: The power to change the paradigm.

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I have been ruminating a lot over the last few weeks about the #metoo campaign. I have gone through a great spectrum of emotions about it, everything from pride to anger. These emotions have swirled about under the specter of the massive wildfires affecting so many nearby, the thoughts marinate through long sleepless post surgery nights. My mind has just been heavy, my heart too. There has been something that has gnawed at me. I have grappled with whether I even wanted to write something about this because honestly there is a part of me that feels I worked so hard 17 years ago against this very type of thing. I stood up, I took action, I fought so hard. And yet, sometimes the changes I was able to help make feel like I threw a pebble into the ocean. But maybe that is what is keeping me up at night, knowing that despite the fact that this is a chapter long since closed for me, that I still have the power to take action. 

Most people who know me, know that I was sexually abused as a teenager by the select/AAU basketball coach. It started when I was 15 and continued for 3 years. If you have seen Billy Yang’s movie Life in a Day or the HOKA Women Who Fly video, you have a snapshot of that time of my life. But over the last few weeks, I have realized that very few people who know me now, know how the story really ends. There is awareness of the existence of the abuse and that I survived, I healed and I thrived. But that is not the whole story. I don’t share this for myself or so that people will think I am brave or that I did a good thing, I already own that. My actions during that time saved me and helped make me who I am today. I share it because I think it is important to understand our own power and our own ability to produce change. Awareness is a step, but really meaningful change to such an entrenched paradigm takes action.

I never was a cool kid. I never have a lot of friends. That is why finally finding friendship in my teammates of Players Only, my select basketball team, meant everything to me. I had found my tribe. We were thick as thieves. They meant everything to me. When I stood up against my coach. I lost all of them as friends. Not a single one of them stood by me. Some of them were victims and not ready to face the complicated emotions associated with saying “ me too”, some of them were not victims and felt torn apart by the situation, the loss of innocence associated with the complete annihilation of our seemingly idyllic little world. Those are the same reasons, in part, that I stayed silent for 3 years, I was afraid of losing everything. 

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That fear is something that my abuser used against me ruthlessly. I had an intense fear of being socially ostracized, of being considered “difficult” or “selfish”. After all, I had just found these amazing friends, I would do anything to keep them and my abuser knew it after carefully grooming me for months to find my most deep and tender spots. He would use these fears against me anytime I would fight back, anytime I would show signs of rising up, anytime I exerted my will or revealed myself as not totally under his control. He could easily reduce me back to nothing by calling me “difficult” or “selfish” or telling me the other girls were not going to be my friends anymore. To this day, the words “difficult” and “selfish” are weaponized to my psyche and have the power to wound me deeply if used as a means of control. I am in fact not those things and have actually had to work very hard in life to actually not put others first over myself at all times no matter what the cost to myself. I have worked hard to have healthy boundaries and have learned to ask for things I need. I know I am not those things, but even the suggestion I might be, has the ability to shake me deeply to my core and hurt me in a way few things can.

Those friends meant everything to me. I thought I would never have friends like them ever again in my life. Thankfully, in my adult life, I have found running and through running, I have found an amazing community and incredible friends. But that team, at the time, they were everything to me. Even though our friendships ultimately involved the huge unspoken shared lie of the abuse by our coach, we would do anything for each other. Ultimately, I had to choose whether I truly cared about my friends or if I just cared about having them in my life. 

I can’t say it was easy to be brave or stand up against my abuser. As an 18 year old, I thought I could simply run away and put it all behind me. I ran away to a different state on a basketball scholarship, but it was then that I realized no matter how far I ran, the pain, the lies, everything I had been through ran right along with me. I dropped out of school 3 months after I started and returned home to Washington. It was then that something happened that finally moved me to action: I started to suspect that my best friend on the team, who was younger than me, was being groomed by my abuser. I could do nothing to protect myself, but when I realized she was in danger, I realized that my silence meant more girls would inevitably become his victims. I was not his first victim, but it was then I decided, I would be his last. I do not know if I saved my best friend from the pain that I suffered, because I lost her too when I stood up. I still remember receiving an email from her after I had gone to the police and reported my abuser, in which she told me she never wanted to speak to me again.

I said, I will be here whenever you need me and I will always be your friend. 

Standing up was not easy. As I said, I lost all of my friends. And worse, I was called a liar in the Eastside Journal, in an extensive article in praise of Tony and how he produced good basketball players.  My coach had made sure he had the daughters of some very rich white men (from the Eastside) whom he’d never touch on his team to vouch for him, effusively praise him and denounce me. But I was not deterred. Even though I gave a list of names of his victims and potential victims to the prosecutor, initially, I had to stand alone. I had to stand alone, be called a liar, lose all of my friends and even some family, lose my love of the game I had sacrificed so much for, lose everything I knew about myself and the world. When victims share with me that they are afraid of losing everything by coming forward, I tell them, you are right, you may lose “everything” but the reality is everything was already lost to you the moment you suffered the abuse, the rape, the trauma. You cannot protect "everything" with silence because the trauma you experience will be an undercurrent to all you do, it will never lose its power until you speak truth to it. I stood up not to save myself, I didn’t feel I had anything left to save, I stood up to stop him from every doing it again. I did not want to be complicit in his actions by doing nothing. And by standing up, I found that I transitioned from victim to survivor.

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Ultimately, the article written by the Eastside Journal turned out to be the downfall of my abuser. One of his victims from a few years before me had read the article and all of the lies it contained. It infuriated her. She was able to produce the physical evidence that ultimately forced our abuser to take a plea bargain. Due to appalling statute of limitations, he was only charged with what he'd done to me as the other women's statutes had passed. When he stood up in court and admitted what he had done, there were 11 women who had come forward against him from a span of time that almost encompassed my entire lifetime. 11 women and that is only a small percent of the women who actually suffered at his hands before me. One of the most powerful things in my own self work around those years was the simple fact that I stood up. I owned my story. And frankly, I also gave many other women the opportunity to finally close that chapter in their own story. It was terrifying to stand up against him, but by doing so I realized how much power I have to truly make things change.

After he went to prison, I worked with the Seattle Times on an investigation into the problem of abuse by teachers/coaches state wide (can be read here). This series of articles was not only nominated for a Pulitzer Prize but also helped get state laws changed. There was national attention with 20/20 and Good Morning America. I say this because I think it is important to realize that one voice is not just a pebble in the ocean. One voice can produce change. Your voice, your story can produce change. 

And here we are 17 years later. I don’t think about that time in my life a great deal, I did the healing work I need to. I put that part of my life behind me. I actually was surprised to have such a reaction to the #metoo campaign, but I did. And so here I am. The thing that is important for me to share is that we do have power to change things. We do have power to fight back and stand up. Don’t think you can stand up for yourself? Can you stand up for your best friend? Your sister? Your daughter? Your brother? Your son? Can you stand up to protect them? Think about it, if it happened to you, chances are that person will do it again; whether that is abuse, rape, harassment, anything. I believe that we have a collective power that we are not tapping into. I believe we want the paradigm to change but don’t know how to do it. I believe we could start by protecting one another; by standing up and saying, this ends with me. We can protect one another, we can believe one another, we can stand for one another. 

Plot Twist

Savoring a fried egg sandwich at my bakery post race.

Savoring a fried egg sandwich at my bakery post race.

I've been throughly enjoying my off season. I've been basking in the down time, the lack of structure and enjoyed running when I feel good and taking extra days off when I don't. After a few weeks, I started to have the itch to sign up for more races. But I wasn't sure what to put on my schedule after such an epic win. Winning Leadville felt like the final chapter on a very epic comeback story. Cue the music, roll the credits.

But alas, it was not the end of my comeback story. PLOT TWIST!!!!

Discussing the prognosis with Scott at Psoas. 

Discussing the prognosis with Scott at Psoas

As I mentioned in my Leadville race report, I throughly expected my foot to hurt during the race. But it didn't. But it has been hurting since about one week before Comrades. After I was diagnosed with having broken my tarsal coalition back in March the day I left for Birdstrike, I was told to expect some arthritis pain where the break was. And so, for the past 7 months, I have dealt with pain. Mostly dull during runs (except when I step on a root!) and very tight making me hobble after the runs. Before Leadville I decided I would check back in with my doctors and see what was up.

Two weeks ago, I went back to Stanford and saw a foot and ankle specialist. He had reviewed my MRI from March and we got a new xray done on my foot. The doctor came in and gave me the biggest plot twist I could imagine: I had been misdiagnosed back in March. I didn't break my tarsal coalition, it is still there and even more crazy, I have a huge fracture in the anterior process of my calcaneus. So I have been training and racing on a massively broken foot. And some people say I am too sensitive (ha!). I thought the pain in my foot was just pain, not injury and I proceeded according to my doctor's advice back in March. Ultimately, I am happy this happened because I wouldn't have had the year I have had they correctly diagnosed me back then.

Having fun with Kara Goucher and the Akron Marathon race team!

Having fun with Kara Goucher and the Akron Marathon race team!

However, now I have to deal with the consequences and have to take steps to keep my foot healthy in the long run. Continuing to run on it indefinitely is not sustainable and would likely result in my running coming to a complete stop at some time in the future. And I don't want that. So instead, I know must have surgery to remove the coalition and fix the fracture.  I am going to be having surgery in mid October and will likely be back on my feet by Christmas, although I know I will ultimately have to be as patient as I need to be in order to heal right. Until surgery, I will be running and binge racing as much as I can to get my kicks. I look forward to finally running pain free again soon and writing another great chapter in my comeback story.

Racing the Akron Half Marathon. Race all the things!!!

Racing the Akron Half Marathon. Race all the things!!!

Leadville 100 mile

Photo by Glen Delman Photography

Photo by Glen Delman Photography

"I have one goal" I told my husband before this past Saturday's Leadville 100. "I want to be the happiest person out there."

And while I will never be able to statistically analyze that goal compared to the field, I am certain that I was my happiest, best self out there. That to me is the greatest victory of all. Actually winning the race is just a sweet sweet bonus.

As I have reflected in many of my recent blogs, I have been all aboard the struggle bus for a while. I have been rumbling and trying to rise strong. There have been many false starts, many dead ends, many setbacks in this process. I feel like over the past few years I have no been able to be the version of myself that I want to be. I have not been able to find my own joy, grace and calm. My mind has been turbulent, the waves of emotion not easily quelled, I have been hurt, I have been humbled, I have been embarrassed and I have evaluated and examined everything. When I signed up for Leadville 100, after an unsuccessful run at Silver Rush 50, also in Leadville, I was starting to feel like I was on solid ground, but I knew that running 100 miles strips you raw. I knew I needed to have my mind, heart and spirit right. In past 100 milers, my emotions have played a large part in my experience, each time I had to pull myself out of a very dark place that largely existed only in my own mind. In the end, triumphant sure. But it still made me wonder, if I could spare myself from such torture and flagellation. Was the deep dark actually necessary? At Leadville, I resolved to find out. I feel like prior to the race I was a version of myself that I was proud of. Perhaps kinder, less intense, more joyful. The world seeming so dark, I wanted to be part of the light.

Keep perspective pre-race. 

Keep perspective pre-race. 

Leadville has been on my bucket list since before I even began running ultras 11 years ago. Over the years, my obsession with running the race has grown and grown. My willingness to sign up always tempered by the respect I had for how difficult of a race it is. Running at over 10,000 feet should be respected. The course which combines elements of speed and climbing is hard to get right. Ann Trason's record of 18 hours is no joke and was achieved only after she ran it numerous times in the 20+ hour range. If Ann Trason is running mid-20 hours, then I am sure as hell only attempting this race with total respect. Last year, I was signed up, but after trying to turn around from Western States and get acclimatized to the altitude, I realized I was digging myself into a deep hole and decided not to race. When I came out to run Silver Rush 50 in July, I didn't come to earn a spot in Leadville. But after not finishing the race due to a bum ankle I twisted prior to the race, I couldn't shake the intense desire to run Leadville. Thankfully for me race sponsor, as well as my source for optimal in race fueling, GU Energy had one sponsor spot left and were very kind to give me the spot. 

I got to work. I had less than 6 weeks to prepare for the task but I was up for it. And I was realistic about where I was too. In good shape, but having not raced on trails for over a year. Healthy, but nearing the end of a few months of lots of racing and traveling. I also knew that my foot, which has been through a lot over the last year with injury and recovery, was suffering from some post-trauma (from the tarsal coalition) arthritis. My foot has hurt most days since about 10 days before Comrades. But it was pain, not injury and was manageable. I knew going in to Leadville that pain in my foot was probable, but that it would not stop me. Pain is inevitable, suffering is option. I accepted it and did not fear it. In those 6 weeks, I got myself ready as I could. Not perfectly prepared, not the fittest I have ever been, but definitely the most up for the task I have ever been. I assembled an amazing team of crew and pacers and made my way to Leadville. I could not have made it to the finish line without Nathan, Rebecca, Amy and Braden.

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I made a choice to run this race with joy, grace, love and gratitude. I reminded myself again and again before the race that I was racing for "a big ass belt buckle and a finisher's sweatshirt", that these were the stakes and so what really mattered was enjoying myself. And I did. In fact, I would say that mentally, it is the best race I have ever ran. From the start gun at 4am, I ran calmly and easily and according to my own plan. I ate, I drank, I said thank you to every volunteer, I smiled at everyone, I gave hugs to friends. I was in my element, I was happy.

Leaving Twin Lakes out bound at mile 40, with HOKA teammate Mike Wardian. Photo by Amy Leedham.

Leaving Twin Lakes out bound at mile 40, with HOKA teammate Mike Wardian. Photo by Amy Leedham.

And that never changed through the whole race. I weathered the highs and lows with calm. I worked the problems and kept coming back to simply being happy. I didn't pay attention to the race ahead of me, I focused on my plan: getting through the early miles, conserving energy, running in control. I arrived into Twin Lakes at mile 40 with good friend Brett Rivers, who had an amazing day ultimately finishing in 6th! I was feeling good, despite some pain in my neck (turns out I had some vertebrae out of place) and prepared to take on the most difficult section of the race: double Hope Pass crossing. A daunting climb in both directions, deep into the race day, going up to high elevation. I have run it numerous times and knew it was going to be incredibly tough. But again, I was happy for the challenge and knew it would be hard but I would get through it if I just continued to move forward no matter what. I also knew mentally, it had the potential to be the darkest time. After grabbing my poles and gloves from my crew and restocking supplies, I headed out. 

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About a quarter mile up the climb, after Brett and Mike Wardian had disappeared from view I hit my first real deep bad patch. I got really dizzy, my energy dipped dangerously low. I basically felt like I had got smacked in the face with a shit stick. But as AJW says, "shits gonna happen". And instead of getting upset that I felt bad, I thought of the above image. I raised my hands above my head and yelled "plot twist" outloud and immediately started laughing hysterically. I was able to feel bad and not go dark, not go negative. I just kept on climbing towards the oasis of the Hopeless aid station in the basin of Hope Pass, where I would see llamas (how they get supplies up) and smiling faces. I eventually made it, in great spirits and entertained all the volunteers by professing my undying love for Coca-cola during ultras. 

Nearing the top of Hope Pass on the return

Nearing the top of Hope Pass on the return

I soon made it to the turnaround and was joined by Nathan as my pacer. He was full of energy and I was excited to have the company. Because the race is an out and back, I no longer could remain blissfully unaware of my position in the field. Yes, I wanted to be happy and enjoy my experience, but I am also competitive, I also wanted to perform and compete if my body was capable. At mile 50, I was still feeling on the good side of the spectrum having taken the early miles so conservatively. I discovered as I ran into Winfield that I was just over 10 minutes behind the race leader, Simona Morbelli. I knew I needed to get back over the even tougher second climb up Hope Pass before even considering trying to hunt her down. I know got to enjoy the energy of my pacer as well as the energy of the other runners on the out and back course. The single track was buzzing as people headed towards the turn around. I made a special point of encouraging every single person. The most dramatic moment of the race came a few miles after the turn around before reaching the climb up to Hope. I stepped to the side to allow outbound runners to share the trail and when I stepped back into the middle of the trail, I caught a toe on a rock, did a perfect pirouette and slammed into the ground, my head hitting a rock, the sound so loud my husband could hear it. I jumped up quickly, suddenly angry with myself for making the mistake, declaring "I just want to keep going". I had really hurt myself but didn't want to lose momentum. Nathan grabbed me by the arm, stopped me and bear hugged me. "Its ok if you want to cry. Just take a minute". At first I protested, I had resolved not to cry in this race! But then I realized, you know what, crying when you crack you head and destroy your arm is appropriate. I shed some tears and as was Nathan's intent, the emotional intensity went away. I felt it and moved on. It was just another "PLOT TWIST!", not a day ender and it was not going to be my undoing. 

We kept charging. Every step closer to the top. Every step more joyful. I smiled at every runner and kept encouraging every single one. At one point Nathan commented, "they all know your name!" and it was such a cool thing to have so many people say, "Devon, you inspire me". I climbed ever closer to the top. I got hugs from friends Billy and Eric. And finally, I had made it. I was over the top of the most daunting part of the course. I flew down the other side, feeling amazing, ready to chase. I had been told by at least 150 other runners that I was closing on Simona and that she looked like she was hurting (at least hurting more than I was- since at least 20 people told me I was "having way too much fun"). I didn't push down Hope, I just continued to float along and stay within myself. Less than 2 miles after the top, I was told by a hiker "she just went around the bend". A moment later, I saw her. Nathan and briefly discussed how I wanted to do this. I wanted to make a definitive move, but I wanted to also show her the same grace and joy and encouragement I had to everyone else. In a moment, I was upon her, gave her a few encouraging words and then accelerated. I pushed more than I had all race to put myself out of sight, to create a gap. When I arrived at Twin Lakes, 1.5 miles later, I had apparently put 8 minutes on her.

SO HAPPY! Excited to see the Oiselle Volee. Photo by Rebekah!

SO HAPPY! Excited to see the Oiselle Volee. Photo by Rebekah!

Entering Twin Lakes in the lead was an electric moment. There were huge crowds, I got the most amazing tasting popsicle and my Oiselle teammates from the Colorado Volee where there. I was out of my mind happy!!! I moved through the aid station quickly, determined to use the energy to get me up the climb immediately after the aid station. Nathan took over carrying my pack, as Leadville allows muling. This made a huge difference as carrying the pack was making my neck pain worse and causing my hands to go tingly. My pacers literally took the weight off my shoulders. 40 miles to the finish line. It was time to grind.

And work and grind we did. Relentless forward progress. Focus on nutrition, focus on my breathe. Running in the lead can be stressful, so I fought the urge to play out "what if" scenarios. What if nothing, what if I just keep running my race and focusing on my joy and gratitude. And that is what I did.

Smiling happy girls rocking Oiselle skirts. Photo by Sufferfest Beer!

Smiling happy girls rocking Oiselle skirts. Photo by Sufferfest Beer!

Nathan handed me off to Rebecca who was going to take me the remaining 27 miles to the finish line. I was feeling good, I had legs, I just knew we had to keep grinding. And we did. We powered up powerline as fast as I have ever done in training. We dance partied into the night to a most excellent playlist she had created. We sang Rebecca's jingle about not tripping repeatedly. "We didn't trip. We're doing so great. We love our joints. We didn't trip." Soon it was dark and we were descending into the final aid station at Mayqueen with 13.5 miles to go. There Rebecca restocked her pack with an inhuman number of water bottles for one person to carry and all the GU and candy she could carry. Nathan asked me if I wanted to know what was happening the race and I did, so he told me that as of the previous aid station, I was only 18 minutes ahead. Simona had rallied after Hope Pass and continued on. 18 minutes is not a lot with 13.5 miles to go. A lot can happen. But then Nathan said the most important thing, "So you've gotta run hard. But this is your thing. No one closes like you do". And just like that the fire was lit. Rebecca and I headed back into the dark around Turquoise Lake. My legs were tired, but I was determined. I started running everything, I pushed the pace at one point joking, "it feels like I am moving fast, like I might be running 12 min pace!". At that stage of the game on the rolling terrain, that is pretty darn fast. Rebecca looked at her watch and she laughed, "we are running exactly 12 min pace!". I thought about the day, how much joy their had been. I thought about my team and how I couldn't have done this without them. I thought about what this race has meant to me. I thought about how I could leave everything out on that course because for the first time in my career, I hadn't already planned the next thing. I had only planned for an off season. I was going to leave it all out there. I had run conservatively all day and now I was just going to push.

The last 4+ miles are uphill, including the worlds' longest stretch of uphill fire road. When we hit this section, I knew that I wouldn't be walking like we had discussed. I just ran as hard as I could. I took deep breathes. I soaked in the darkness. I felt my body move. I appreciated that my foot had not hurt all day (#miracle), that I could feel no trouble spots in my legs, that my feet felt great in my HOKA speedgoat 2s, that I was tired but so so strong. 

Pure joy. Photo by Mario Fraioli

Pure joy. Photo by Mario Fraioli

In the blink of an eye, we arrived at the road with one mile to go. My crew was there to run me up and in. I pushed up the hill towards the red carpet and the finish line. It was only then that I believed that I was going to win. I crested the hill and could see the red glowing clock of the finish line up ahead nestled amongst the quiet sleep streets of Leadville. I savored the moment. I ran this race in the way I wanted with joy, grace, flexibility and gratitude. I shared this experience with amazing people who kept me going. I could be a version of myself that I am proud to be and win the race at the same time. I broke the tape for the win, in 20:46. And while I may have had races that were faster or physically better, Leadville is my proudest moment. I would say my best race. I did everything I could with what I had, I retained the spirit that I intended to and I accomplished my goal of being the happiest person out there. To do this, in a race that has meant so much to me and means so much to Leadville, is everything to me. It is something I will savor and appreciate for a very long time.

I want to say thank you to my amazing crew and pacers again. Nathan, Rebecca, Amy and Braden. This was a true team effort. Thank you for helping me be my best self. Thank you to the Leadville Race Series. It was an honor to become a part of your family. Thank you to all the volunteers out there. You guys rock! Thank you to GU for giving me the opportunity to race. Thank you to HOKA, Oiselle, Ultimate Direction, Psoas Massage and Bodywork, Nuun, Hypoxico and Mammoth Lake Cribs! Thanks to my awesome coach Ian Torrence! Thank you to everyone reading this and following my journey.

So what now? That is always the question. Right now, I am enjoying my off season. I am taking time away. I am relaxing, recovering and absorbing a very intense and difficult year. And I am taking a break from social media for a month. Call it a social sabbatical. I will be off social media starting tomorrow (wednesday, Aug 22) for a month. If you need me, you can find me. 

Thank you for reading!

Strength

Sarah Bard and I all smiles at the finish line of Comrades 2017.

Sarah Bard and I all smiles at the finish line of Comrades 2017.

I can't believe I am doing this (terror- early miles)

I can't believe I am doing this!!!! (elation- finishing straight)

This is so hard. This is too hard.

This is dumb.

This is amazing!

Why do people do this? I am never doing this again.

I can't wait to do this again!!!

I feel terrible. I am going to pass out. I am going to barf.

I feel amazing! I can't believe I didn't pass out and now I feel so good!

This was a terrible idea. Who thought I could do this 2 months after breaking my foot.

May the lord open.

1,2,3,4,1,2,3,4,1,2,3,4

They are playing my song!!!

Ok, reel her in. Just don't cramp. Don't cramp.

Don't look back. Keep it cool. Pretend you've got it together.

(blubbering sobs) Holy CRAP, I did it! Gold medal!!!

These are my thoughts while racing Comrades. That in a nutshell is my Comrades 2017 experience. I've been trying to get motivated to write a race report for the race but honestly feel like I am over race reports for their own sake. I am just looking for the take-aways, the lessons, the things I want to remember. I raced Comrades despite having only a very short training block after Two Oceans and London, races which I did coming straight back from a very extensive and long injury.  I knew that Comrades would be hard. It is a hard, fast, competitive race and I was in good shape, not great shape. I was in good health, but not niggle free as my foot continues to adjust and settle and relearn. Comrades is hard period. And I tried to steel myself for it to be harder than a normal healthy well-trained race might be.

And it was freaking hard. I battled both mental and physical barriers to get to the finish line. I had a good day for my fitness level, but not a great day. I faced down a deep undercurrent of desire to quit that was almost incessant. I had to trick myself, distract myself, bribe myself, and make deal after deal with myself. There were moments where a DNF threatened for both reasons: mental and physical (great article AJW!). But somehow, I made the choice time after time to not quit. Yes, there were good, even great reasons (like when I nearly passed out), to contemplate quitting but ultimately, time after time, I found the strength to keep going. It was not graceful or easy or even close to a great race for me, I got super ugly, but I made it to the line.

Getting to the finish line of Comrades and two weeks later, coming in third at Rock and Roll Seattle marathon, as well as "watching" Western States stories unfold have made me think a lot about strength. Strength does not mean never breaking down, never falling, never failing. It means bending, adjusting, persevering, enduring, staying steadfast and yes, even sometimes knowing when to quit. Strength can be having a perfect day where everything clicks. Strength can be being ready for a great day and finding yourself in the chair for hours, but finally finding a way to move on. Strength can be recognizing that you have nothing left to give. In our sport, there is a such a beautiful display of strength from the first to the last finisher. We put ourselves through so so so much adversity. We prepare as best we can, but when you are out there on race day pushing limits, so much can happen. Strength is working the problem, strength is honoring the journey.

In my 11 years of ultrarunning, I have had near perfect days, had perfectly crap days, had days in which I unlocked the magical power of simply not quitting when I really wanted to, had DNF's that were both heartbreaking and some that I am totally at peace with. What I have realized through those experiences is that no matter what, whether I win, finish or stop, that it doesn't define my strength. My strength is defined by how hard I work, how much I am willing to endure, how much I honor the journey, the sport and who I want to be. Strength is going through the darkest depths and simply not giving in to the darkness, knowing that there will always be light again. Sometimes that light is a finish line, an outcome, a resolution. Sometimes that light is a new race, a new opportunity or a new life. 

There will be light after the dark.

There will be light after the dark.

The last year has been a pretty hard one for me. I feel like it has been like jumping from bad patch to bad patch, with only temporary glimmers of hope that have kept me pressing forward, slowly, painfully. There have been things in my life that I was certain would fail. There have been things in my life that I was ready to abandon. There were times when I had absolute certainty of what must be done. And yet, I did not quit and do not want to quit. Instead, I started to look at the struggle and say, "perhaps this is the only way through, perhaps what is on the other side of this is growth, is a deeper sense of connection, deeper understanding, valuable lessons and a deeper understanding of strength, both mine own and others". Perhaps, enduring what can be endured is absolutely life affirming. When I made the choice to stand on a start line, begin something, involve myself I had good reasons, big goals, positive feelings, hopes, dreams, etc. So when things go south, does that mean that I was wrong to make a start? Usually not, usually it just means that just because something isn't easy, doesn't mean its not worth doing. Just because it gets hard at some point, doesn't mean that this is a "stupid race and I am a stupid idiot for ever thinking it was a good idea". Yes, sometimes we have to stop. Sometimes we have to change, let go or choose a different path and that's ok. But sometimes we can endure things that are hard and face shredding and come out the other side saying, "I am so glad that I survived that. I am so glad I did not quit". We don't have to laud a sucky experiences, but we can be grateful for our own ability to go through tough shit, to survive and the once again live in the light and thrive.

The Art of Unlearning

Women Run Strong Panel w/ Kelly Roberts, Susie Chan and Sophie Walker. Photo by @annarachphotography. 

Women Run Strong Panel w/ Kelly Roberts, Susie Chan and Sophie Walker. Photo by @annarachphotography. 

What seems like forever ago now, on April 21st whilst in London for the marathon, I had the awesome opportunity to be a part of a Women Run Strong panel, hosted by Kelly Roberts and Susie Chan. Over 100 women and a handful of men, joined in for a shake out run and question and answer panel. It was so cool to be part of, so many interesting questions and great connections with people that I might not have had the opportunity to make. Personally, I don't love public speaking, but in the question and answer format, I felt like for the most part, answers came easily and I was able to share my thoughts and experience in a way that I am proud of and possibly was helpful to those at the panel.

There was one question that did hem me up. It was the self-introduction, the question of "who are you?". I awkwardly mumbled something about "I'm a runner, I own a bakery....yep that about sums it up." Thankfully, Susie had mercy on me and bragged a bit on my behalf. I found it to be an interesting moment for me. After such a hard few months with injury, setbacks and personal struggle, the question of self-definition is in fact a hard one. And I realize now, maybe it always has been. After that evening, I realized that I needed to unlearn somethings about identity, self-definition and how confined self-definition can be limiting. And over the last month, I've thought about this a lot.

Before I was in London, I was in Cape Town, South Africa. I had arrived there two weeks prior, hoping that perhaps some time away could help me reset after everything, especially after the month of March. I had hoped I might find some peace, some resolutions and mostly my mojo. I had hoped that I might start picking myself up off the floor of the arena and doing the real rumbling I needed to to get back to myself. Oh, and race one of the biggest and more competitive ultras in the world, Two Oceans. It was going to be that easy, I would just get on a plane and fly about as far as I could away from everything.

But of course, it wasn't. I got off the plane and was met with terrible jet lag, insomnia and face shredding and swiftly descending depression. The earthquake that was my month of March had passed, but I was not prepared for the tsunami of emotion that would come in its wake. It flattened me. One of the major problems I now faced in my mind was one of self-definition and identity as it pertains to racing. Though I don't self-identify as "Devon, the 2:38 marathoner and 14:52 100-miler, etc, etc", when I show up to a big race (like Two Oceans) I don't view myself as "participant", I view myself as a "competitor". And yet, I realized, I was not in a place to race or compete in Oceans. I was not in a place to run a fast marathon in London 8 days later. I was hoping to complete the races, I was hoping to simply not hate every step. I had got on the plane because I simply couldn't bear the month of March, heck all of the preceding 6 months, to cost me a visit back to a place that very much holds my heart. I hadn't thought about the implications of racing until I was nearly toeing the line to do it.

One run can change your mind. The moment it flipped.

One run can change your mind. The moment it flipped.

One of the errors I had made was skipping the middle part of recovering from injury. The process should go: get healthy, train, then race. I had gone from get healthy to racing. I had internalized some pressure to get back to racing and cause me to rush once I was back running. And now I was toeing the line with a foot that had broken a month earlier, fitness that was questionable at best and a mind that was trying to wrap itself around the very real possibilities of not just slow times, but struggling to even finish. I was limiting myself by my competitor self, I knew I had to mentally be at peace with every available outcome. And I didn't want to go into the race afraid of any outcomes because I knew I would miss the experience. It would be hard and I would hate it, I would leave myself and I would fail myself, and likely be miserable.

Good friends can help you see yourself better.

Good friends can help you see yourself better.

I didn't want to be miserable in my experience at Oceans or London. And so through a lot of reflection, and a lot more friend time, especially with my lovely friends Kim, Susie, and Nic I started to understand that accepting who I am right now is not a failure. Accepting where I am now and what I am capable of right now, doesn't mean that this is who or what I will be forever. If I run slow now, then I simply ran slow, nothing more. If I run slow now, it doesn't mean anything about what I am capable of in the future and certainly means nothing in the scope of my career. I finally found a way back to my core values that drive who I am as a person: passion, patience, hard work, perseverance, intelligent stubbornness and fight, so much fight. And I realized that those who matter don't mind, and those who mind (how fast I run), don't matter. I am enough, just as I am.With that, I found my mojo, my peace and my perspective.

The two performances that followed made me so proud. Yes, I ran my slowest Two Oceans, but I ran far faster and stronger than I had expected in my wildest dreams. And I recovered so quickly and well, I was shocked how good I felt. I followed up 8 days later with a 2:54 marathon in London. It was hard, I suffered, but I fought and far exceeded the "best case" scenario 3 hr finish that was expected. Most importantly, I discovered a part of myself that is scrappy, unafraid. A part that celebrates how hard I fight for the day I have instead of a time on the clock or a place in the results. Between these two races, I started to redefine myself as "Devon, the warrior" instead of "Devon, the competitor". Yes, I love to compete, but if I am going to race for a long time (I've been doing this for 12 years and hope I get another good 20-30+!), I have to connect with my own journey and my own battle for the finish line above all else. Yes, I can have audacious big goals, but I can also race just for myself and against myself. My wallpaper on my phone currently reads: "You are far too smart to be the only thing standing in your way" and I believe it.

Crushing a 3:10 marathon during a 115 mile week.

Crushing a 3:10 marathon during a 115 mile week.

I returned home to California invigorated. Mojo found! And started training in earnest for Comrades, which will be held in a weeks time, June 4th here in South Africa. I had a solid 4 weeks of training, averaging over 100 miles per week, but that is by far not the most special part about this training block. To me, the most important part of this training block has been waking up every day and simply doing the best that I can with what I have. Gone is the instinct to compare every run with a former fastest self. Instead, I was finally able to see myself getting stronger each day, feeling better each day. I stopped lambasting myself for not being fast enough, doing enough, being skinny enough, etc and started to see that each day I was doing the work, hitting the milestones I needed to and most of all, enjoying and being excited by the process. This is the first training block, perhaps ever, that I have done, where day in and day out, I've celebrated where I am and what I did do. I've done what I can in a short amount of time, I'm as fit as I could hope to be, and ready to journey and to fight. Whether that means I finish first or last, fast or slow, perfect day or shit hit the fan sideways day, I am ready. To me, who I am truly is the person that stands on the start line, knowing that all I need is within me, nothing to lose, nothing to prove.

Bend or Break, free

Embracing failure without acknowledging the real hurt and fear that it can cause, or the complex journey that underlies rising strong, is gold-plating grit. To strip failure of its real emotional consequences is to scrub the concepts of grit and resilience of the very qualities that make them both so important — toughness, doggedness, and perseverance.
— Brene Brown

Another day, another Brene Brown quote. While in the middle of being face down in the arena, reckoning, rumbling like I currently am, there is not a day that passes that I don't read and re-read passages from Brown's book Rising Strong. I can't say that March has gotten much better in the last few weeks, in fact, arguably it has just continued its slow descent towards my limits, like a boulder rolling down hill. There have been many moments in which I have faced yet another situation or thing and pondered, is this the thing that will finally break me? Is this the thing that will find my limits? Is thing the thing that I will not be able to bear? But time and time again, I've survived, found that I can bend and stretch and be elastic far beyond what I thought I could be. I've held on to the tiniest sliver of belief in my own resilience and whispered, "Just hold on. Don't lose yourself. Not to this thing, not to this person, not to this situation".

It may sound ugly, or dark, but I am not saying it to provoke, I am saying it to be real. When Brown talks about gold-plating grit, she says, "Rarely do we see wounds that are in the process of healing. I'm not sure if it's because we feel too much shame to let anyone see a process as intimate as overcoming hurt, or if its because even when we muster the courage to share our still-incomplete healing, people reflexively look away". We like the survival tales after the battle is done, we show off our scars like badges of honor, our brains get giddy with the completion of the story. But the middle? The middle is messy and uncomfortable. Vulnerability- real vulnerability- and human failing and being a crappy version of ourself is scary and ugly.

This month has thrown so much at me and I have bent and bent and bent. Sometimes I feel like gumby, as I snap back and find grace and poise and badassery to handle something when the day before I could barely make it through the day. At a certain point, you just stop counting the minutes you've been barely keeping your head above water and resolve that there is no limit to how long you will continue to furiously paddle to stay afloat. There is a certain point when you stop trying to fix it; fix yourself, fix your feelings, fix your situation and just lean into uncertainty, the grief or the darkness. You bend, because there is absolutely no other choice.

But the reality is. Things break. And this month, I did. Literally. In the on going saga of my foot injury over the last 6 months, there has been a great deal of ambiguity, pain, set backs and disappointments. After Caumsett 50km, I felt exceptionally good physically. I felt like I was getting to a place of durability again and physical resilience. My initial two runs after Caumsett felt great, but I woke up the Thursday morning that I left for Bird Strike/ The Speed Project and while making my early morning coffee something popped in my foot. Snapped actually. It was unlike any pain I'd experienced in my months of injury, but hoped/begged the universe that it was just some "old" lady creaking and it was nothing. I went for my run with my friend Maddy anyways. And it was terrible. Everything hurt. I couldn't even figure out what hurt. But I got on my flight and headed to LA anyways. Hoping for a hail mary from some cosmic force that would render me perfectly capable for the 60+ miles I had in front of me. I even saw a very good PT in LA, who assured me, "well its not a muscle! Your muscles feel amazing". And off we went into the desert, taped up 110 different ways and doped up on ibuprofen. Naturally, that was not a long lasting strategy. 

10 days later, after I finally had regained my strength from epically bad food poisoning and not eating for 5 days, I finally was able to venture out on a little run. I had gone to the doctor the day before because even after all the rest, I was still not able to run or even walk normally. They ordered an MRI and mentioned that it also seemed like there might be some plantar fasciitis going on. So I started mobilizing my foot and viola, running!

Back in November, I had seen the same orthopedist and the team at Stanford had discovered that I have something called a tarsal coalition. Basically, my calcaneus and my navicular bone have a bridge between them. It could be genetic, could have developed over time, could be made of bone, cartilage or strong fibrous tissue. Either way, it was fine as long as my foot was compensating for it, but in the fall, when I overstressed my foot/ankle with too much vertical, the compensation pattern was blown. The ortho said I would continually suffer from issues until I had it surgically removed. So naturally, I got 150 more opinions and didn't get the surgery. Especially a surgery such as this that doesn't seem to have the greatest surgical outcomes, I was not keen to go that route. And through diligent and slow rehab, things got better and I was up and running and racing! Take that tarsal coalition!

I wanted the issue in my foot to be some straight forward plantar fasciitis. Seemed like it would be nice for a change to have a problem with a name instead of the vague and nebulous injury I had been recovering from. And my foot seemed be, mostly, responding to treatment for such. I got the MRI anyways to make sure my "new" foot didn't have a stress fracture or arthritis or some other terrible thing going on. Just in case.  

By the time I heard from my doctor on Friday, I had run a good 40 miles, mostly pain free, through the week, although it was "weird" feeling- aka sometimes weak feeling, sometimes just different feeling. I don't really know what I was expecting, ok maybe I was expecting the worst given my rough month wearing me down, but I wasn't expecting what she said. My tarsal coalition was gone. It had broken/dissolved. That morning, the day I left for Bird Strike, that intense pain was my tarsal coalition snapping. And apparently, this was good news. No more threat of surgery, no need to immobilize my foot (after all, we don't want it to heal). It meant the coalition was likely fibrous instead of bone and I was cleared to run. The only caveat is that I now possessed a new foot- two separate bones instead of one and thus, everything in my foot is different: proceed with caution, let pain be your guide. I broke and it set me free. But at the same time, the way forward is so unclear. One day I am busting out 21 miles without pain and a few days later, I am not even a quarter mile into a run when bone pain comes on so swift and intensely it makes me want to vomit in the bushes. There is also no real precedent for me to base expectations on, this is uncommon enough that I have not had a single doctor, practitioner or body worker who has seen it before. I'm sure it has happened, but perhaps not to someone who is about to go race a 56km and a marathon (albeit not at peak capacity) in 2 weeks. 

This month has broken me but only literally. But mostly just bent me, wounded me. Pushed me and stretched my elasticity. For my foot, my heart and for my head, there is no perfect and clear way forward. There will be days of extraordinary pain, there will be doubts, there will be joy, there will be tears. All of it. There will be all of it. In running, we celebrate the middle miles, the hard sloggy miles, we scream "get ugly". We celebrate the ugly in running. Why not the ugly in life? Where is our cheer squad for that? I'm not going to gold plate grit anymore, I'm not going to only wait for the story to be perfect. I'm going to scream and cheer my brains out for anyone and everyone who is knee deep in it. Bending, breaking, rising, and just MF-ing surviving, that to me is true strength.

The Physics of Vulnerability

Laughably what the actual fuck

Laughably what the actual fuck

If we are brave enough often enough, we will fall; this is the physics of vulnerability. Fortune may favor the bold, but so does failure. Once we fall in the service of being brave, we can never go back

Apparently, the blogs of the month of March are my Brene Brown inspired ones. Last year, after what I thought was a super terrible March, I pulled out my copy of Rising Strong and reminded myself that I was brave and strong enough to bounce back from the things that that went on during that month. Last night, I went back to the shelf and pulled out Rising Strong once more. After an intense weekend, that ended badly for me both physically and emotionally, followed by the continuation of an unrelenting stomach super villain, a heartbreaking email in which someone reflected to me that they actually thought the things that are my very worst fears that people think of me, and then my car getting towed, I knew it was time. In fact, it was laughable clear. As we stood outside the car tow place, waiting for my car, I joked, "I better not stand outside too long or a bird will probably fly along and poop on my head". Let's just say, if the message hadn't already been clear after months of struggling intensely with some things, it was definitely clear now: I'm face down in the arena.

But this year feels different. I am not struggling against it, resisting the space I am occupying currently. While I often feel despair,  I am not despairing. Because for once, I actually and genuinely believe in my own ability to survive, to return to thriving. There was a moment on Sunday where things had devolved for me to the point that I was sitting on the floor of a shitty casino trying to charge my phone so that I might be able to find a ride back to Vegas back from Parump, Nevada where I had spent the previous evening in the ER. I was wearing the previous days clothes which were covered in the stench of the results of my food poisoning, blind because I had to take my contacts out and had none of my belongings with me. I was sitting there, feeling physically terrible, emotionally wrecked that I had let my team down and then casino security walked up and yelled at me to move on and that there was no sitting on the floor of the casino. In that moment, feeling raw, hurt, and full of shame, I just started laughing. Laughing hard, thinking, "this is some shit isn't it". The situation made me feel sad and angry, but it did not make me feel defeated.

Photo by @enduroTwerd crew zen master and Parump savior.

Photo by @enduroTwerd crew zen master and Parump savior.

I didn't come into this past weekend's adventure with the Speed Project and Oiselle's Bird Strike team as my best self. I was already worn thin by the past few months of personal struggles. I worried that I would have the emotional bandwidth to stay strong for my team, I was unsure of what weight I would be able to bear. I knew that things would get hard and ugly at some point, I just hoped that, perhaps I would not be nominated as tribute. I also knew that teams are my jam and I love being a part of a team, I am motivated by it, I want to do everything I can to lift my team up. Unfortunately for me, my name was called in the reaping. First, my foot and ankle both decide in implode in a way I had not yet seen in my months of injury and then, I was struck down by food poisoning, severe dehydration, and eventually a trip to the ER. I was able to run through the first half of the race, knocking out 24 miles. I was 6th runner in our rotation, which meant, given our strategy, my miles were backloaded towards the end of the race. I had to tap out and burden my teammates with more miles. I felt terrible emotionally for that, gutted actually and I still do. Initially was going to go whole hog into crewing and motivating, but was reduced to not being able to even sit up. I was fully unable to be present in the experience in any way and that really makes me sad. Its not just about putting more miles on other people, for me it was about not being able to support them at all while they were doing something so incredible and so tough. 

Photo by @enduroTwerd

Photo by @enduroTwerd

Fast forward to yesterday, standing in the car town lot, face down in the arena. I could feel sorry for myself, have a pity party about life's suckage levels, wallow, resist, refuse to continue. But instead, my mind wandered back to the weekend and to my BirdStrike team. The second half of the race was a brutal crawl across Death Valley and into Vegas. It was hot, it was flat, the miles were adding up, everyone was tired and there were like a billion miles left no matter how many turns the runners took. It would have been easy to feel like it was all too much. But that is not what they did. Instead, each of them, Sarah B, Sarah O, Cathleen, Collier and Nora, with the crew by their side, got out there and did as much as they could when they could. Time after time, they got off the RV and did another mile, another two miles. They did, whatever they could, little by little, to continue to advance towards the finish line. It was inspiring to see, even if I couldn't even raise my head (without barfing) to tell them so or cheer them through it. And I return to that idea now, to help remind me, that even though I feel an impossible distance from where I want to be, I simply have to keep moving forward even if it is just a few steps. They were unrelenting and so can I be. They did not give up, nor will I. They were not alone, and neither am I. 

Brene Brown

Brene Brown

In my own life, I am out there like my team was in Death Valley. Out there, somewhere in the middle, where it is too far in to turn around and not yet close enough to the end to see the light. This is a messy space. An in progress space. A ripped raw and exposed space. A vulnerable, often times ugly space. It is also a space, despite not knowing how to fix some things, despite having no idea what things can be saved and what things will be lost, that I know I have the endurance to survive. I am grateful for my teammates for their display of grit, unrelenting perseverance and steadfast refusal to give in. I take that now with me as I rumble and as I hopefully rise.  

 

First Pancake- Caumsett 50km National Road Championship

"Beyond the mountains there are more mountains"- Haitian proverb

"Beyond the mountains there are more mountains"- Haitian proverb

I've written a lot of blog post beginnings over the last 3 months time since my last post. But they have never really resonated with me enough, or my feelings have changed the next moment, or my perspective has shifted. 5 months of my life has past with this still never diagnosed definitively, hard to understand, persistent foot/ankle injury. I spent 10 weeks not running and then the remaining trying to rebuild. But even in that rebuild, things were never straight forward, it was never easy. I had to wake up every day and figure out "what am I capable of today". For every three steps forward there were 17 steps back, left, right like some sort of sadistic samba that I was perpetually out of beat to. It was like a game of whack-a-mole that just would not end. The highs and lows and spaces in between meant, eventually, that I had to really focus on my perspective. I had to relinquish the "return to run" idea for the "return to health and able-bodied functioning". I had to let goal of races and goals and plans and be humbled. I had to face my own running mortality. That may sound to some very somber to some, but I see it instead as a very positive mental shift. I stopped seeing my injury as some plot point on a heroes journey that would inevitably bring me to some triumphant return and be wrapped up in a neat little perfect package. I started seeing my injury as simply the obstacle that I was currently tasked with working through. Sure it hurts and sucks, but life is indeed a series of obstacles, large and small. Obstacles are not only to be expected but embraced.

"The things that hurt-instruct"- Benjamin Franklin

"The things that hurt-instruct"- Benjamin Franklin

I had to change my perspective and my thinking. I had to turn around my injury and find some benefit, turn it into fuel. I had to stop giving lip service to honoring where you are, and really BE, in the moment, in whatever capacity I was capable of. I had to stop thinking about what I wasn't capable of and start finding out different ways of moving forward. Mostly, I had to stop beating myself up over what I wasn't capable of and start celebrating and executing the things I was capable of. Instead of being paralyzed by sadness every time I had a setback, I had to find a way to feel the grief all while "working the problem". I focused on my mental game and owning my own power and control over the situation. Over time, I felt like even though the samba didn't stop, I was starting to learn the steps and tricks to keep time. 

There was never a distinct moment in time when I went from injured to not injured. Even now, I classify myself as "returning from injury" and every day I wake up I have to make an assessment of how I feel. It wasn't until the last week in January that I even felt like I was on a very loose "return to run plan" and that plan included running flat mileage, with minimal climbing, no trails, no speed or workouts. Plus about 950 PT exercises every day, group fitness classes at Fuelhouse in Seattle and grinding hours on the stairclimber. Even as the mileage accumulated, I still felt like I was returning to health, not returning to running. I didn't see the obstacle as overcome and behind me, and so I carefully and methodically, just did what I could. And celebrated each step back.

First long run since October and an icy dip in Lake Washington to boot. With Cathleen.

First long run since October and an icy dip in Lake Washington to boot. With Cathleen.

In all of this, I had races and adventures looming, big goals that I hadn't wiped from my slate but that I was able to also hold lightly, knowing I was not in charge of this process. During the second week of February, I did my first real long run of substance since October. I ran 17 miles with my #birdstrike teammate Cathleen, as we tried to build our mileage for this week's Speed Project 3.0. I felt great, I had no pain. The next week we ran 20 miles pain free, even after having a few bad days in between with pain. Over the course of February, I had to change my perspective on what it meant to feel fit, to tell myself I was fit. I again stopped looking at what I wasn't doing and instead focused on what I was doing: miles, strength, yoga, mobility, PT, radical self-care, nutrition, sleep. I was on point, building myself back up without a whole lot of glamour or big sparkly wins. I was just grinding, working. And I found joy in that. I saw progress in that. 

After a fall and winter of having races on the calendars and then missing them, it was with some trepidation that I kept Caumsett 50km, the USATF road national championship, on my calendar. As it loomed closer, I made an important decision: I was going to run it. I felt that despite the fact that my training was not yet what I wanted, hell I didn't even do my first workout until the week of Caumsett and my longest long run was a week before the race (as well as 11 miles shorter than the race itself), that it was important for me to get back on a start line. I didn't want to make my transition back to racing a huge pressure situation or an A goal race, I wanted it to be something for me, a symbolic moment of transition, of liberation from this obstacle. A week before Caumsett, I said to a friend about her own race, "you have nothing to lose and nothing to prove" and as I journeyed to New York to race, I realized that this was not just true for her, but for me as well. Win, lose, fast, slow, it didn't matter- I had made it to a race and for that I was just grateful and filled with joy. I was free of expectations because I was able to be real about my fitness and speed (or lack there of). I suffered no nerves and instead just lined up curious to what the day would reveal.

First pancakes are still delicious.

First pancakes are still delicious.

Before the race, I started calling this my first pancake race. I feel like I want to refrain from explaining this because if you don't understand it, you just need to make more pancakes. The gist: you gotta start somewhere. And a lot can happen. So I showed up in New York and let it shake out.

Post-race glow plus a side of freezing my ass off.

Post-race glow plus a side of freezing my ass off.

Caumsett was indeed a tasty pancake. We were treated to an unexpected cold burst, with temperatures in the mid-teens BEFORE accounting for the wind, when it had been 60 degrees the week before. I nearly didn't pack any cold weather clothes at all since when I had looked at the weather report the week before the low was going to be about 40. Running in that kind of cold was actually a benefit to me since it further encouraged me not to run outside of myself since that kind of brutal cold affects performance by a good 3-5% (according to the internet). I bundled up, got on the line and bang, off we went. The course is a 5km loop, repeated 10 times. I was quickly left in the dust by last year's winner Caroline Boller and this year's eventual winner, as I got moving around 7 min pace. I just wanted to find a pace that felt good and maintainable. I wanted to see where the end of my endurance was at a quick but not suicidal pace.

It was very cold, but I settled in to a rhythm and cranked along in 3rd place, happy to be feeling good and pain free. And like I had been for the past few months, I just kept grinding. Loops passed, my body held. Around lap 4 or 5, my mind tried some games on me, but for the first time, instead of indulging the thoughts or getting emotional, I just said, no thanks, reframed and kept myself in control. I choose positive or neutral. I said, yep, these middle loops are boring but we are not going to occupy this space with problems that don't exist. Let's just stay present and keep chopping, keep working. I practiced some of the mindfulness techniques that I've been utilizing while using the Headspace app over the last many months, but instead of counting breathes, I counted laps and they dwindled and dwindled. I simply was able to fly free. With two laps to go, I was informed that unfortunately Caroline had to drop and I had moved into second place. While in other circumstances, I might have been enticed to try and chase down first (who I had no idea how far ahead she was), I took it as an opportunity to just keep grinding, or like Dori in Finding Nemo, "just keep swimming, swimming, swimming". My pace stayed strong, my energy held despite taking only 4 gels in the whole race and I allowed the experience of each step to fill me with pride. I split the marathon in 3:10 and didn't back down from there, despite the fact that the wind had intensified. I ran my 10th lap with joy, with gratitude. I ran that 10th lap for myself and everything that I overcame to get there. I crossed the line as the clock dared to touch 3:46 (3:45:56 or some such business). 2nd place in the national championship. My first pancake showed me that yes, I am going in the right direction. Yes, I am healing. Yes, I can run without pain. No, I will not return to where I was, I will in fact arrive somewhere else as someone else completely. 

This race was not a perfect ending to my injury story. It didn't neatly tie it all up and cue the music and credits. It was a step, it was progress. It was moving the line. It was a celebration. If there is any great take away that I have from this injury and this part of my life's journey, it is this: be deeply connected to the process, not the prize. As Ryan Holiday says in the "Obstacle is the Way:: "Process is about doing the right things, right now. Not worrying about what might happen later, or the results, or the whole picture."

Best laid plans

Racing is easy, the path and way forward are clear (well, generally at least!) Photo by Let's Wander Photography

Racing is easy, the path and way forward are clear (well, generally at least!) Photo by Let's Wander Photography

It's easy to trust the process when the process is easy, when the path and progress are clear, when the plan is set out in front of you. It's not so easy when you have to feel your way through the dark, back track and have courage to keep plowing forward without guarantee that you are going the right way. I have been injured now for almost 10 weeks, which is more than twice as long as I've ever been injured before. But it is not the injure that has frustrated me, in fact, for the most part I have felt extremely grateful to have had such a healthy career. The thing that has frustrated me is the lack of answers, the lack of a plan. I have seen countless doctors, therapists, practitioners of all sorts and none of them have agreed on a diagnosis and none have given me a prescription for how to navigate the injury. And that lack of plan has driven me insane, I want to scream, "just tell me what to do!". But that's the thing, do I? Do I really want to completely give up on my own ability to contribute, set aside all of my thoughts and feelings? Of course I don't. What I've realized is that plans are comforting, plans provide a sense of security and safety, the risk, the fear is low. And that is not where I live, I am not guided by playing it safe or living scared. I don't thrive taking the easy path. Then my frustration must come from somewhere else. But where? What I've realized the frustration, perhaps discomfort is a better descriptor, is from having to lean in to uncertainty, wade deep into the dark.

I was sitting across from my friend and amazing human, Jenn Pattee, I could feel the tears trying to make an escape, my chest tightening. "Get up, switch seats with me", she commanded. I had been talking about the injury and my uncertainty with it, the feeling was crushing me and my resilience felt completely tapped. "Tell me about a time in your life when you did something you didn't know if you could do, when you felt truly powerful." I scanned my mind for memories and the first thing that came to mind was moving to London. In 2005, after finishing grad school in Pittsburgh, I moved to London. I had $200, my suitcase and a work permit for 6 months. I had no job, no where to live, no friends and knew no one. I threw myself into a daunting, terrifying situation with no plan and no guidance, and yet, I survived, I thrived. In fact, I look back on that time in my life as one of the best. I saw my own capacity to be resilient, to work the problem, to create my life however I desired. It was there that I began my true love affair with running and learned things about myself that guide me to this day. I can be scared and still press on, I can sit in the darkness and survive, my capacity for suffering is great, I can be pushed and bend, but I will not break. I finished telling Jenn my story and she said, "how do you feel now?". "Better. Like myself. Like a badass.".

And still I rise like the phoenix, again and again.

And still I rise like the phoenix, again and again.

I realized that in my injury that I was just giving away all of my power, that I was failing at every opportunity to give myself credit for my own incredible resilience. And then I realized that I do in fact have a very bad habit of doing just that. I do my best work when there is the most uncertainty, the most risk, when life is its most unscripted and yet, I have not been able to unlearn the self doubt I default to. How many times do I have to rise from the ashes, get out of the chair or come out of the darkness to finally start believing it?

A few weeks ago, Billy Yang premiered his film, Life in a Day, here in Marin. His film followed Magda, Kaci, Anna Mae and I during our WS 100 journey, and much like the conversation with Jenn, the film mirrored back to me my own resilience, my own capacity to endure. I watched myself up there struggle and doubt and cry when things fell apart. I could see the me of 6 months ago, filled with the same doubt I was at that very moment. I don't know what to do, I don't know how to work the problem. Billy also simultaneously told the story of my basketball days and the sexual abuse that I endured at the hands of my select basketball coach. What Billy could see in me, as I could not, is that I have been fighting my way back, clawing my way out of the deepest darkness places my whole life. He showed me in his story telling, Devon you know how to do this. And I do. Recovery from that abuse took many years of hard work, with no plan, with no guidance, by myself. It took weeks, months, years and even now I have lessons to continue to learn, maybe this chief among them. I know how to rise, I know how to come back. I just have to believe it for myself.

As I return to running and look towards a new year, I am reflecting on my 2016 goal of "cultivating badassery". I think despite all the highs and lows, the successes and failures, I realize that I have done that. I cultivated it, I have grown it, I have found a way back to myself this year and that is what I wanted. And so now, the goal becomes to own it, believe it. To let go of trying to make everything plan perfect, because that is safe, that is scared and that is not where I live. I want to take chances, test limits, exercise my resilience and BE the person I have worked so hard to become.

Lessons of the pink mohawk

I have a pink mohawk. It is pretty fun. Before I got it, I thought about it for a long time. Wasn't it too drastic, what if I didn't like it, what if it didn't turn out well, what would people think, blah blah blah. But then I shrugged my shoulders and went for it anyways. And lo and behold, the earth didn't shift beneath my feet, my husband didn't divorce me and my mom simply responded "I am surprised you hadn't done this sooner". In fact, I found that I really loved it.

I just returned home from a 3 week sojurn in Colorado. I was there preparing for the Leadville 100 on August 20th. But that is not going to happen. I knew 3 100 milers in 10 months was ambitious but I was questing for my limits. Limits sought, limits found. I am just thankful that I decided to pull the plug BEFORE I started the race and buried myself so deeply that I might never recover. 

Ultrarunning is a hungry beast. Photo by Galen Burrell

Ultrarunning is a hungry beast. Photo by Galen Burrell

I came off of Western States, tired and satisfied. The tired lingered but the ultra culture encourages a more is more/it is never enough mentality which leads up to driving onward in an unrelentless fashion that can be quite unsustainable. Before you are done catching your breathe at the finish line, someone is asking you "what is next?". Because there is no true pinnacle, no one race, no Olympics, there always is the next thing, the next goal waiting for you to chase. But running yourself into oblivion or injury serves no one, proves nothing. I want to run for a long time and sometimes that means remembering that I don't have to do it all now and I don't have to force it. Ultrarunning is a hungry beast, unsatiable, always asking for more.

It is the pink mohawk that has taught me a few things. It is the pink mohawk that has let me change directions, DNS Leadville and feel nothing but calm confidence in my decision. Here is what I have learned/been reminded of/given perspective on:

  1. Impermanence/ Mutability. When I finally decided to get the pink mohawk, the greatest diminisher of fear was realizing that if I didn't like it, I could change it. I could shave it off, I could color it differently. It is a bunch of dead cells hanging on my head, it is not going to last. And so should we see life. Everything will change. Right now, I feel like crap because I have asked my body for too much. So I have to change my goals. That's life. I don't like how I feel right now, so I am changing it by letting it go. 
  2. It is a lot less of a big deal than you think. I think we can all get worked up about thinking things matter way more than they actually do. We think people care. But that is just our ego getting all worked up, people are too worried about themselves to be thinking that much about what you do. I thought I was doing something wild and crazy by getting a pink mohawk and as I mentioned above, my mom simply said "I'm just surprised you didn't do this sooner." I could get all worked up thinking that the ultra world will think less of me if I don't run a race, think I should push through to prove something, but honestly, no one is really going to give it much thought at all. The people who really matter support me whether I have straight boring hair or wild and crazy pink hair, same for running.
  3. Who you are is not defined by your hair (or your goals). I didn't get pink hair and become a different person. I didn't opt out of Leadville and become a different one either. I didn't change my values or go back on my principles. Too often in ultrarunning or sport I see goal odyssey, in which people define themselves by their goals. I am not defined by my goals, just as I am not defined by my pink hair. I read an awesome book on my drive home called "The Antidote" by Oliver Burkeman. He suggest you act like a frog: "you should sun yourself on a lily-pad until you get bored; then, when the time is right, you should jump to a new lily-pad and hang out there for a while. Continue this over and over, moving in whatever direction feels right." I pursued my limits this year, sought to see how big I could go. I asked myself what was possible right now. Asked and answered. Time to jump to a different lily-pad, a different goal- whatever feels right. In goal odyssey, you can over pursue your goals. Since I do not believe my goal of running Leadville defines me, I can walk away, knowing at some point in the future I can come back to it.

  4. Effectuation. Effectuation is looking at what you have then seeing what you can do with it. I looked at my short head of hair and insatiable desire to shave my head (a lifelong itch a wanted to scratch) and thought, PINK MOHAWK!!!!! If I look at my current reservoir of resources after finishing Western States 100 and spending the summer traveling, not resting and moving rapidly on to the next goal, I will see that I am very low on physical, mental and emotional resources. Seeing what I have in those departments, I can see that running 100 miles is not something I can do with those reserves. I went to the well and the well was dry. So what I clearly need to do is refill my stores, build up my available resources to expand my potential for what I can do. 

Now, I eat, sleep, recover, run when I want, pick new goals when I want. The color of the pink mohawk will fade, will change and I will have a new opportunity for fun self expression. Right now I enjoy it for what it is and I will welcome it when it is time for something new.