runner

Elastic Heart

Sunrise cruise. Photo by Kim Gaylord

Sunrise cruise. Photo by Kim Gaylord

This post has languished there for a while. Dangled there really, making me want to give it a good punch in the throat. I didn’t know what more I wanted to say. If I wanted to say anything. A big part of me was just over the idea of explaining myself/the next thing/the next plot twist. I have grown weary of the narrative, the heroes journey. I didn’t want to be face down in the arena again, trying to rise strong. For once, I hoped for easy, nice, uneventful, boring even.

But no such luck. I am struggling with chronic illness and am amidst a bad flare of the conditions. I have been apparently suffering for years, although I am just now finally, finally getting to the bottom of things and finally have a team of doctors and practitioners on my side. I decided this is important to share because chronic illness is isolating and misunderstood and freaking hard to deal with and many who have these diseases suffer in silence. If sharing my illness struggle helps one person feel less alone in their own struggle then I have succeeded.

And the reality is, I am still in the thick of it. I am in a bad patch in an ultra that is now my whole life. This is my emotional journey.

Denial- February 20, 2018 (also March 2016, October 2015….)

“I am exhausted”

You must run too much

“I have a headache every day from the moment I open my eyes until I go to bed”

You must be dehydrated from running too much

“I can’t keep my ferritin above anemic”

It is because you run so much

“My hypothyroid meds are off again, why can’t we control it?”

You must run too much

“I easily gain weight, but can’t lose a pound for the life of me. Even though my diet is healthier than 100% of people I know.”

You are thin enough, you must have an eating disorder

“I’m sick again”

Your immunity is compromised, because you run too much

“I feel like something is wrong”

It is nothing

It is not my denial that has hurt the most. It is the lack of being heard. It is feeling terrible over and over again and having doctors tell me there is nothing wrong even when they don’t investigate very deeply. This has changed my relationship with myself. I feel like I have been told that I am crying wolf so many times that I have convinced myself the wolf doesn’t exist. Even when the pain, the fatigue and the symptoms are so bad I find myself curled in a ball on the floor debilitated. If it is nothing, than I just have to be strong enough to bear it without complaint. I just need to will myself off the couch and stop being so lazy.

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Anger- February 27, 2018

I was feeling bad physically and I was feeling bad mentally about feeling bad. No, it more than that, I was just pissed. And exhausted and despairing and broken. Over it, all of it. Dangling at the end of my rope; sitting in the chair not knowing how to carry on; at a dead end with no way out. I felt angry in a way that I rarely allow. Angry there there were no answers as to why I was so exhausted that I couldn’t even move. Angry when there finally were answers and the answer was chronic illness. Angry at my body for failing me. Angry at everything; like I had drilled down into a deep recess of my soul and found hidden molten lava that had been buried. But it was simmering there, all this time, eating away at me. Anger is not something I have allowed for myself because I have always been afraid that my anger could become who I was, my anger could destroy me or worse everything that I love. If boys traditionally haven’t been allowed to be sad, girls haven’t been allowed to be mad. My anger has always been met with fierce opposition, it has always been the thing that has been used to hurt me the most. It has never been permissible, understandable, no one has ever said, “you have a right to be angry”.  So I physically, mentally and emotionally buried it deep inside where it has been allowed to fester. I want to let it out, but don’t know how. How do you let go something you’ve been holding on to for so long. Something that is now destroying me from the inside out.

And there is anger too at not being believed, heard, seen. Being told so many times essentially that I am just hysterical or irrational has beat me down over time. So it is validating to have answer, but there is anger too that it means that I was justified in feeling alone, unsupported and abandoned through so many battles with illness. There is anger and frustration that people with chronic and autoimmune illnesses (the majority of whom are women) are made to feel like what they suffer from is less serious, less life changing than other major illnesses. I have been told point blank, “well at least you don’t have cancer”. As if the things that I and others suffer aren’t worthy of care and support or even serious consideration. But in some ways it is just as bad or worse, because for many chronic and autoimmune diseases there are no straight forward treatments or even a rudimentary understanding of the diseases. There is no radical way to fight. And, furthermore, these diseases don’t follow a predictable pattern, so you are susceptible at any moment to things going south even after you’ve managed to finally get them under control.  And each disease opens you up to all sorts of other diseases and risks, including cancer, at an alarming rate. It is relentless and unceasing. 

Bargaining- March 12, 2018

My body didn't betray me. This I know and understand now. I did the best I could throughout my life to do the best I could with what I was dealt. I tried, I triumphed, I failed. I have taken the bad and faced it as well as I could so that I would not become defined by my traumas, my failings, my hurts, my tragedies. I worked to make them part of the plot, not part of my identity. I have tried, but I have also failed. I have failed because my whole life I have pushed deep dark thoughts and beliefs down, I have told myself so many stories of my own unworthiness and failure that it is written in my very DNA, manifest through my body’s turning against itself. I very much believe in the mind body connection and can see now that every hurtful, disparaging thing I’ve ever told myself has not been without consequences. The things I have pushed down or away, do not simply vanish when they are out of sight. They manifest one way or another. For me, this manifested as chronic illness.

I do not mean to imply that I “did this to myself” deliberately or as a consequence. Simply this happened, this is so. But the experiences of my life, the way I live my life, the process my mind goes through, the beliefs I have about myself, all play a role in this illness journey. I have a choice; I can despair, I can be angry, I can quit, I can play dumb. I can feed the illness with malcontent. Or I can see that the inverse is also true. That I am not broken, that my body is not weak and betraying me. That I can heal, that I am good and worthy and loved. I can release the anger, the sadness, the hurts. I can tell myself how awesome I am and how I am going to kick chronic illness in the ass. I can create the reality I want, or at the very least, do everything in my power to control the controllables and relinquish my concern with the things I cannot change. I can do a lot through alternative healing including diet and various protocols. I can do immense things through meditation, self-care and positive thinking. I can make a deep impact with the stories I tell myself about who I am.

KP Half marathon. Photo by Maddy K

KP Half marathon. Photo by Maddy K

Depression- March 10, 2018

Demon Monkey and other imaginary creatures

I wonder

how many times they told her

“nothing is wrong”.

How many times she second guessed

herself, even when,

she couldn’t get out of bed.

How many times did she

feign laughter when someone joked

“must be so nice to just lounge on the couch”.

 

I wonder

how many time she lay awake

in pain;

in worry;

in an exhausted insomniac stouper.

Crying to herself and wondering

Why will no one help me”

 

I wonder

how hard she pushed,

how deep she searched,

how she continued to turn over every

stone left unturned.

Even as she dissolved before my eyes.

 

I wonder 

how she pushed through

when every tendril of her

body was revolting,

when every system

was betraying her.

 

I wonder

how she held her head high

when she felt alone,

when she knew something 

was terribly wrong.

 

I wonder 

how she felt as she slipped away

a shell of herself, sent home by the doctors,

to die in her own bed.

Was she afraid?

Or was she defiant?

“See I told you it was not

nothing”.

This poem, written during the worst weeks of my recent flares, is not only a reflection of my own pain and fear, but also a meditation on my aunt Chris. She suffered from similar issues (such as chronic mono) and died of strep throat at the age of 56 which is basically unheard of. I was in high school at the time and while we were close, she never discussed her health with me, although I now wonder what she was going through. I wonder if she could have been saved. 

Strong AF. Photo by Kim Gaylord

Strong AF. Photo by Kim Gaylord

Acceptance

I have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and hypothyroid (the later which I have known/been medicated for 10 years)

I have chronic/reoccuring mononucleosis (EBV) & am currently fighting an active flare-up.

I have Celiac (which thankfully has been controlled for over 10 years through a gluten free diet).

I have extremely low gut immunity/other stomach problems and am currently teaming with numerous bacteria and viruses many of which are closely associated with other autoimmune disorders and cancers (including ones that run in my family) and wreck havoc on my digestive system.

It is a lot. And it is life-changing. And this is my reality now. Health and illness are no longer secondary thoughts if thoughts at all. They are primary and dominate and will remain so. My life is changed by these things and so I must build a new reality around them. First, I must get healthy enough to not be fighting fires, flare-ups and uncertainty. Then, I have to settle in to a different life. I don’t just get to go back to regular life when the mono recedes or the thyroid meds get regulated. I have to change my life and accept chronic illness as part of it. But not as a burden or a badge of honor either, but as a companion, one that must be accommodated to be controlled. I don’t just get to eat the cheese or forget my medicine or push myself too hard for too long. I may never get to have another egg or cookie or slather nut butter on top of a gluten free waffle. I have to accept that parts of me are sensitive and fragile and that that is ok. Being sensitive doesn’t make you weak. None of this makes me weak or broken, or even alone.

It also doesn’t define me. Just like being a sexual abuse survivor doesn’t define me, I will not let this define me. It is a part of me and just makes me that much more of a warrior. If this journey to diagnoses and through disease has shown me anything, it is that I must not, cannot give into the grief. I must fight for myself, I must mentally be my own biggest advocate and caretaker. I must show myself loving kindness and forgiveness. I look at the lessons I learned in Leadville: that running as my happiest self makes more my strongest best self. Now, as I undertake this knew path I know that what must be done to heal and be healthy is to live my life with joy and happy determination.

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!!!

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.

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.

Strengthening my weakest link

I only ever want to be laid out by giving it my all, not by getting ill.

I only ever want to be laid out by giving it my all, not by getting ill.

"Sickly D"- that was my college boyfriend's nickname for me. And pretty much sums up my entire life. For someone remarkable durable both muscularly and skeletally, my endocrine and immune systems are most definitely not. Throughout my life, I have struggled with illness. I can catch any cold or flu that comes within the same county as me, I have had more stomach/digestive issues than the entire graduating classes of most high schools and my endocrine system often seems to be living on another planet in a distant universe. It is remarkable that for how many times I have been sick and how much of my lifetime I have spent at the doctor, that I haven't in fact had any truly serious illnesses or been hospitalized. (Let's just say everything in this post just gets one big knock on wood). 

When I was in elementary school, I missed months of school at a time with a never ending flu. In high school, I got mono. I missed my first Boston marathon because I had pneumonia. That may not seem like a lot, but in between those notable episodes have been so many "minor" illnesses, so many trips to the doctor, so many tests. In my 13 year running career, I have had to cancel or change my racing plans because of illness/health problems almost EVERY single year.  Over the past 3 years whilst opening and running the bakery I have had some issues so serious/painful/awful that the doctors were very concerned that it was something terrible/dire. Or nothing. That was their other suggestion. This is either an ulcer or nothing. This is either cancer or nothing. Really? How can those really be the only two options. Maybe you just need to quit your job? Maybe you just need to stop running so much. Those are their answers.  Just scrolling back on my own blog for the past 6 months, there are countless examples of the huge impact endocrine and immune system problems have profoundly impacted my life. After the terrible month of March I had, I was over it. I KNEW there had to be a more complex and nuanced story to my health somewhere between "it is nothing" and "it is something terrible". I am not dying (which is awesome), but I am also not truly healthy, how do we address that space? How do I not run myself into amazing shape and then have to hope and pray that I don't get sick again the week of a race. Forget the idea of "not being sick", how do I become optimally healthy? I want the same level of durability that I enjoy muscularly and skeletally to also be true for my immune and endocrine systems. So I went to my doctor and got the same song and dance as I always do- no answer at all.

I decided to take a different approach. On the recommendation of badass friends Amelia Boone and Michael Wardian, I decided to get in touch with InsideTracker.  InsideTracker looks at biomarkers differently. They are not looking for illness, they are looking for optimization. They are looking for areas you are at risk and areas that are problems. Not problems by medical stand point necessarily, but problems when it comes to feeling your best and healthiest. They believe that #BloodDontLie and I wanted to know the truth about my health. I wanted to find a way to strengthen my weakest link. As they say, "Know Better, Do Better".

I have now had three tests through InsideTracker, each revealed something that has been instrumental in my health and wellness as well as my training and racing. 

Suns out, guns out and still Vitamin D deficient?!!

Suns out, guns out and still Vitamin D deficient?!!

The first test revealed something interesting, I am chronically low in Vitamin D and magnesium. Vitamin D is absolutely instrumental in immune function. When I uploaded my previous year's worth of blood tests for comparison (which is a cool feature of the InsideTracker dashboard), it revealed this as a persistent issue. Same for the magnesium. Magnesium is instrumental in good sleep and I am an absolutely terrible sleeper. Stress can cause a magnesium deficiency and let's just say that opening a bakery (and then working on the night shift) did nothing for my stress levels. I immediately started taking a Enduropacks liquid multi vitamin as well as extra Vitamin D to help bring my levels up. Slowly but surely and even through peak training and racing, my levels are rising. 

My ferritin levels have been chronically low and I have known that for years. The doctors don't know why. I have had to have endoscopies to look for intestinal bleeding, I have been poked prodded and finally given up on, as the WHY of my woeful ferritin levels. They wager it is just the running. So it is something I have had to keep my eye on for a long time. When I got my InsideTracker results, I was stoked. My ferritin was 75! The first time it had been over 30 in years. Guess we finally found something that worked! But I knew, going into peak training, being at altitude for a month, that it was something I would need to stay vigilant about. So I ate my Inside Tracker recommended beef liver and supplemented a bit more iron in my diet. One thing I found interesting is that plenty of iron was getting into my body, but not all of it was being absorbed (Total Iron Binding Capacity) which leaves me susceptible to feeling tired and weak also. I had to find a balance between getting the iron in and not getting too much. I have had a similar issue with the thyroid and my hypothyroid meds, the meds are getting in there, but they are not being absorbed and getting where they need to go.

After gathering all the initial biomarkers, InsideTracker walked me through a series of steps to determine which items to address based on my goals, how I want to deal with those things (diet, exercise, supplements, lifestyle change) and distills the information down into 5 action items. My first test had me eating lots of seaweed, beef liver, eating fish 2x per week, taking a vitamin D supplement and watching my calorie deficit(not having too big a deficit as it was messing with my sex hormones). Between the end of March and my next test 10 days out from States, I meticulously followed my action items. We retested before States to get a glimpse of what my biomarkers look like during my peak. And all systems were go. Many of the biomarkers had not in fact improved, BUT that actually does show improvement because they didn't drop during the most extreme period of stress. In other words, I was ready to race. It felt good going into the race knowing that all systems were go.

We also tested 3 days after WS 100. It is fascinating to see what running 100 miles does to your biomarkers. I also talked with one of the Inside Tracker coaches to help me understand the results. To put it plainly, I left it all out there. I am sure the early dehydration in the race didn't help, but by the end of WS, I had used up my available resources. I did what I could with the day that unfolded in front of me. My biomarkers for inflammation were very high (AST/ALT) and the InsideTracker coach recommend that I take my recovery seriously. I found this very valuable because I didn't try to do too much too soon. I respected my bodies need for recovery, I didn't try to bully it into doing too much too early. I allowed myself to be tired and worn thin. I took my new set of InsideTracker recommendations and posted them where I could see them and I have seen my recovery happen. Today, I went out and crushed a workout that would have been a lot during peak training. It was possible because I used the knowledge I had from my InsideTracker results to let my body recover. I slowly, patiently was able to pull back the layers of inflammation and tired, I was to power my recovery in a methodical way. I didn't rush back, I didn't try to do too much. I waited, I listened to my body. I feel confident in the way forward towards my next race and my next goals.

Knock on wood, I haven't had a serious medical issue since March, I haven't gotten really sick (though I had a very close encounter right before States!) to me that is immense progress. I am a firm believer that InsideTracker's testing and approach have helped me begin to strengthen my weakest links. I will continue to utilize them as I train and race and try to live a more healthy optimized life. 

If you want to try InsideTracker out for yourself, use the code FASTFOODIE for a great discount. You will absolutely not regret it! And thank you InsideTracker for helping me on the road to optimal health! #blooddontlie  

 

WS 100- round up

Photo by Oiselle

Photo by Oiselle

Wow, WS 100 2016 is in the books. What a journey, what an adventure. I have already posted my race recap over on the Oiselle blog, so I just wanted to pull together a few resources in case you missed all the action.

Pre-race:

Post-race:

 

 

Weakness

You have to climb the mountain to be on top of the world.

You have to climb the mountain to be on top of the world.

We all love a good success story. We love triumph, overcoming the odds, rising strong. We loved cultivated badassery, we love the moment after everything clicks and you start smiling a devious smile at mile 40. We find comfort when the story has come full circle. We find relief knowing things worked out in the end. But let's be real, we don't like the hard parts. We don't talk about when we are in the middle of things, knee deep in the shit. We don't shine a lot of light on the moment when we are face down in the arena, as far away as we can imagine from rising strong. It is difficult, it is ugly, we don't know how to reconcile. The brain craves the completion of the story. But you can't have the completion, the triumph, the overcoming without the struggle, without the hurt or loss, without the uncertainty. You can't learn the lesson with being tested. But let's be real, we don't like to talk about that part. We don't like to sit with the ugly, the uncomfortable. We want to hide that part away, we want to obscure it from view, make it private, disappear from view, gloss over it, beat it into submission with platitudes. But why? The hard parts are part of being human. Each and everyone of us struggles with something in our life at some point. Our lives ebb and flow, we fail and we triumph. Life isn't just the pretty part, it is the nasty, ugly bits too.

The month of March has been a really, really hard month for me. I am knee deep in "40 miles of suck". First, I was struck down with the really nasty flu that was going around and not only was incapacitated for more than 10 days, I had to cancel 3 races including my three week trip to Cape Town to do African X and Two Oceans. Then, as I was laying in my sick bed, I was dealt another blow. I was starting to feel like, "can a girl just get a break?". I struggled feeling worthless, as some days I could hardly get out of bed. But the illness passed, I was back on my feet and I made plans to go race this weekend at the Chuckanut 50km and support my friend Krissy in her awesome race. And then on Monday those plans went out the window after I totaled my 6 month old car in an extremely terrible and terrifying car accident. Everyone walked away thankfully, but that kind of near-death trauma affects you deeply. I was already feeling like my emotional reserves were low and the accident is a lot to handle. I do not feel strong, I do not feel badass. I feel hurt, scared, guilty, shameful, sad, and angry. I felt like this month was too much. I felt like I wanted to go hide in my closet with a jar of frosting and a bottle of whiskey and wait for March to just be over and maybe April too just to be safe. I have run myself until exhaustion, I have cried myself to sleep, I have dreamed of being chased by rabid dinosaurs. I am face down in the arena and I know I will have to work to rise strong. 

But here is the thing, I know I can get through it. When I stop for a moment like I did today on my run and realize that I can, in fact, choose to embrace the suck. And in embracing the suck, I know it will get better. Doesn't in this moment mean the dinosaurs stop chasing me or that when I close my eyes I no longer see the moment of impact, but it does mean that I see the potential for post-traumatic growth. I have in fact, just happened to have started reading SuperBetter this week- a book which talks about adopting a gameful mindset to deal with trauma, living a happier life and enabling post traumatic growth. I am a big fan of self-growth, I love cultivating badassery, I love self-work and self-challenge.  I do prefer, as I am sure most people do, to do this via post-ecstatic growth instead of via post-traumatic growth. Post-ecstatic growth is struggle via the challenges we take on consciously, the quests we undertake willingly whether that is running 100 miles, writing a book or starting a new business. These things challenge us and we grow. We undertake this things willingly knowing it will be hard, it will take work, but ultimately the growth and reward for the undertaking will be worth it. The hard times, the suck, the weakness, the trauma then too must be embraced. That doesn't mean glossed over, it doesn't mean made pretty, it doesn't mean it will be any easier, but it will mean that out of this time of my life, I am going to gain value, I am going to grow. It means I may not be smiling now, but that I know if I persevere through the darkness, if I allow myself space to be weak, if I seek out support and receive it from friends and love ones, if I face the pain head on, it will get better. I will come out the other side. I will make it to the mountain top, even if it means I have to climb 1,000 switchbacks through the mud to get there. Being knee deep in the suck is real life. We all find ourselves there at some point in our life. Life is not all about perfectly curated social media profiles, expertly staged photos, or even satisfyingly complete stories of overcoming. Sometimes we are weak, we are hurt, we are lost and that is ok. Being in that space is ok. But I also know that even if I don't know how I will or can right now, I will make it through this. I will choose to put my head down and grind out each painful step forward back to the light. I will gain hope from knowing that even if it doesn't feel good, if I simply choose to take another step, another breathe, I am growing, I am healing, I am rising strong. I will be patient with myself and I will remember to have faith in my power to be my own superhero. I will never let weakness convince me that I lack strength. 

Sean O'Brien 100k

Photo credit: Billy Yang

Photo credit: Billy Yang

After my performance at Javelina last year, I was naturally a little nervous lining up for my next ultra. Especially a ultra that I had one goal for: qualify for Western States 100. A goal that I had sacrificed the Trials for, a goal that I had really set my heart on. I was nervous for this race before I signed up for it, or more precisely, after Javelina, I was nervous for whatever I would do next. I had had such an incredible race there, I unlocked things in my mind that made me a more capable racer. I didn't want Javelina to be the exception, that doesn't mean breaking records every race, it means running to my full ability. So many people told me after Javelina that it was the performance of a lifetime, that I would never be able to top it, that it was above and beyond. I chose to see it as a breakthrough for me, a sign of amazing things to come. 

Yet, I have always been someone who struggles in believing in my own abilities. So I worried about holding on to that "Javelina" feeling. I wrote down lessons and strategies from it. I learned how to pump myself up, talk to myself. I want to believe in myself.

Heading into Sean O'Brien 100km, I felt good. I had recovered well from Houston Marathon. Nailed some great trail workouts and put in some good mileage in the 3 weeks in between the races. I didn't taper quite as much as a 100km might warrant, but arrived at the line feeling fresh, focused and firey. 

Early miles. Photo Cred: Billy Yang

Early miles. Photo Cred: Billy Yang

And then the race started. And my mind rebelled. It was a gremlin, demon free for all, up in there. Seriously, the things I say to myself. I would not say those things out loud to anyone, I would never say them about another person, why do I say them about myself? It was nasty. But as long as my body felt fine, I just resolved to ride it out. Maybe it would get better. I pelted my mind with mantras of "I'm awesome, I'm awesome, I'm so fucking awesome." for miles, but the gremlins wouldn't relent. It was annoying and demoralizing. And when the going started to get tough, it made my desire to fight zero.

What the hell was wrong with me? I clicked off miles, pissed. But as I ran I realized something. I was suffering from a classic case of Imposter Syndrome. 

Impostor syndrome is a term coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes referring to high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as “fraud”. Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.
— Wikipedia
All aboard the struggle bus. Photo credit: Billy Yang

All aboard the struggle bus. Photo credit: Billy Yang

Maybe Javelina was just luck. Maybe like people said, it was my once in a lifetime run. Maybe when it really matters, I wouldn't be able to rise. I struggled, I ran. It was hot, my knee hurt, the course is brutal. Gremlins fed my imposter narrative with everything they had. Everything. You are not enough, you are not worthy. Why is it so easy to believe the negatives, not the positives?

The course is unrelenting and the day was hot. About mile 26, my friend and new training partner Amelia Boone passed me on a crazy long climb and I really struggled. I wanted to stop. In fact, I had come up with a million different reasons I could drop for about the last 20 miles. I power hiked the hill and felt sorry for myself. And then I received a gift. First, my Bay Birds teammate Jessi who was running the 50 mile (which started later) was coming down the hill. She cheered, I lamented. She threw her arms around me in a hug and said, "it worked for you last time (at Javelina)". Yes, a friendly hug and words of encouragement really had saved Javelina. And my longtime friend Jess Mullen, from Seattle, gave me a hug and a no nonsense, "you'll be FINNNNNNEEEE." Then heading up towards Mile 42, I spotted a Oiselle jersey on a girl named Halley (sorry if I spell it wrong!!!) and she ran with me and gave me words of encouragement. It all helped. They held up a mirror that said, "hey Devon, you are ok."

At mile 36.3, I had been able to run well for about 3 miles, although my knee hurt. I decided to try ibuprofen at that aid station and I wanted to see if my knee was a mild irritation or injury. An injury would not have been solved by 2 ibuprofen, so I took them and decided to see if I could make it to the mile 42 aid station. Like Javelina, 2 ibuprofen and some caffeine were a game changer for me. (Please not that aspirin and ibuprofen should be used very carefully during ultras and not relied on. I do not take more than one dose. If I needed more than one, I should not continue to run!) I realized that I had simply twisted my knee awkwardly at some point, but that it wasn't injured. I left the mile 36 aid station and began to run. Really run. Like I did at Javelina at mile 60, it was like I finally found my groove. And my wings.

When I start smiling, it means it is game on. Photo credit: Billy Yang

When I start smiling, it means it is game on. Photo credit: Billy Yang

With each step of running, I gained confidence. I moved well, felt good. I had been fueling optimally even in the heat (high 70s in February!!). I was able to run up hill. Heck, all systems were go. I was not going to back down. I was not sure I could catch Amelia. After all, by the time I got my groove back I was being told that I was 15-20 minutes back. I knew that WS spots were 1-2, so that I just had to run hard enough to not be caught. And so I pressed and pushed and gave chase.

Be patient with everyone, but above all, with yourself... Do not be disheartened by your imperfections. How are we to be patient in dealing with our neighbor’s fault if we are impatient in dealing with our own?
— -Saint Francis de Sales

Coming into Mile 42, I thought of this quote. Maybe I just took 40 miles to get warmed up and into my groove. Why was I so impatient and unforgiving? As I headed out onto the out and back section to Bulldog turn around, I chatted with Billy Yang. For the first time all day talking to him (on camera), I was happy, I felt good, I believed in myself, I smiled. I believed I could do this. I wanted that WS spot and I was not going to give it up. 

Crushing it. Photo cred: Billy Yang

Crushing it. Photo cred: Billy Yang

I opened up my heart and mind and let my inner unfuckwithable badassery come out. I ran hard and I ran free. No more gremlins, no more demons. I simply outran them.

I didn't think I would catch Amelia. She is insanely talented and while this was her "first" "runnable" ultra, I knew she was fully capable of running an insane race. I pushed downhill as hard as I thought safe and clipped along trying not to think of the ridiculously difficult climb back up the same mountain after the turn around. I was nearing the bottom, picking my way through the park when I saw her. I belted out "Circle of life" (as we both have a love of the Lion King) and ran up next to her. She was hurting, her calves were betraying her on the downhills and she was bonking. I gave her a little pep talk, reminded her to keep her eye on the WS prize (1-2) which is why she came. I reminded her to be patient, not give in, that it could and would pass. And then I pressed on.

When I regained the lead, I did not want to give it up. I had thought I only cared about getting the WS spots but I was feeling so good after the turn around at mile 49.5 that I wanted to push and see just how hard I could finish. This race is brutal, especially on a hot day. Since it was an out and back, I knew that when I passed Amelia, I moved into 3rd overall and I got hungry to keep that too. 

My mind was on board. I worked the uphill, I pushed and pressed and my mind said YES. I asked my body for more and it said, here you go. I smiled and found myself with a happy heart. Ultimately, that is what I want to find. I want to run with a happy heart, especially when I am working so so very hard to achieve a goal. It would feel like a waste to put together a solid race and not enjoy it. But I was, I was loving it. 

Mile 55.9 Almost done! Photo cred: billy yang

Mile 55.9 Almost done! Photo cred: billy yang

I came into the mile 55.9 aid station flying and smiling. I was going to do this. Not an imposter, not lucky, this was me and this was what I was capable of. I flew. Down (ok, more like up, down, up, down, down, down, creek, up, but who is counting) towards the finish line. After one little last climb just past mile 61 (thanks Ginger Runner for the heads up!), I pushed hard towards the finish. Damn. It feels good to fly that free. I crossed the finish line in 10:27. 1st woman, 3rd overall. WS ticket! 

YES, Team Lion King goes 1-2 and we are on to States! Hakuna matata. Photo cred: billy yang.

YES, Team Lion King goes 1-2 and we are on to States! Hakuna matata. Photo cred: billy yang.

I have been working very very hard to change the inner narrative I have. To change the habits of my mind. Today, I realized that I can, with patience and perseverance and strict non-indulgence. My brain tells me "you suck, you should stop.", I counter, "whatever you say" and keep going. I acknowledge it and let it go, not hold tight to it like it is truth. It is not the truth. I am worthy, I am enough. Running is an incredibly opportunity to test myself and to learn so much and I am truly grateful for it and for the small victories I can have like today in be braving and truly daring greatly.