running

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:

 

 

Rising Strong-American River 50 mile

Beals Point. Mile 24.31. Smiles all day long. Photo by Leigh-Ann Wendling.

Beals Point. Mile 24.31. Smiles all day long. Photo by Leigh-Ann Wendling.

Vulnerability is not winning or losing, it is having the courage to be seen when we have no control over the outcome
— Brene Brown. Rising Strong.

The month of March started off terrible and got worse from there. I missed a total of 4 races, 3 that were originally planned, then one more that I last minute entered and was unable to start. The week after the car accident, I ran myself hard. I ran because there was nothing else that even came close to easing the trauma, frustration and all of the ills of March. I ran over 120 miles that week and I decided to sign up for American River 50 mile on April 2nd. I don't know why I was so insistent on racing, why I didn't just back off, regroup. I just felt called to race, so I entered American River 50 which has always been on my bucket list, even though the course is quite different from the fast, iconic course that got it onto my list in the first place. And then I immediately got severely ill again. A week before AR 50, I was in bed all day so ill I had to miss a combo party for one of my best friend's birthdays and for another two best friend's going away party. I felt like crap. I had pushed myself too hard after the accident with too little immunity and caught the next bug that crossed my path. As I lay in bed, I thought of AR becoming another casualty of the terrible month of March. Its only hope was that it was not in fact in March. I knew just getting on the start line would be a huge victory. The illness lifted after the weekend, I ran, I felt ok. I got 10 vials of blood in two separate draws on Wednesday to begin to dig deeper into my low immunity (which I will return to in a separate blog). On Thursday, I went through the motions of packing despite not feeling great, but knew I would not decide for sure if I would start until after Friday morning's very short trot around the neighborhood. At 10 am Friday, I decided; I am doing this. And I wrote myself the following pre-race letter as become my custom over the last 6 months.

This is not the start line I thought I would be on. I am not where I thought I would be. But I am here, now and that is the only place I can be. The only place I want to be.

March was terrible. It hurt so deeply, BUT I survived. This start line is the victory because I got on it. Everything else, cake. Doesn't matter. I am not here to win or prove anything or break any records. I am here to rise strong, to have whatever day I am going to have and welcome it. Cry, laugh, yell, stop, go, sing, smile. To be my own hero, to be my own inspiration. I persevered through the dark or March and this race is my first light.

It will be hard as hell. It will be messy. But my heart will be grateful for the opportunity to be real, to be messy, be "in progress". This race neither proves or disproves my worth. My worth is inherent. I don't have to be strong or perfect. I just have to keep putting myself on the line. Wake up, show up and have my day whatever it looks like. It will be enough.

I will tell myself I am strong. I will tell myself I am worthy. The start line, the journey, the fight. I am finally up for it. And that is enough.

And I was up for it. And the day was more than enough.

The reality is that that fact is not because I won or raced amazing or had a fantastically shiny perfect day. In fact, the run itself was good. Somewhere in the middle. Unlike Javelina, Sean O'Brien or all the month of March, the run was not filled with the highest highs and lowest lows. It was straight down the middle somewhere. I felt good, not great. I felt not so good, never bad. Physically and mentally. 

As I stood there in the last lingering moments of darkness before the gun went off, I didn't feel nerves. I didn't feel pressure. I didn't feel hungry and chomping at the bit. I felt satisfied. Phew, I made it to a start line. I was relieved. I may not be able to see the dawn's light, but I knew it was coming. I am no longer face down in the arena, I am in the process of rising strong. Phew. 

Photo by I am Endorphin Dude coming into mile 20.

Photo by I am Endorphin Dude coming into mile 20.

And I knew that my day would be good. I knew I would make it to the finish line. The gun had not gone off but I knew I would make it there and that I would run free. And I did. The gun went off and I never looked back.

I enjoyed the course. With the changes since '14, it is a much slower course than before that (about 25-30 mins slower). There is a great deal of nice single track in the first half instead of a straight shot of pavement for 26 miles. The course also have 2.5 more climbing than previous (closer to 5,000 than 2,000). I ran, taking the terrain as it came at me. Speeding up on pavement, slowing down as I hopped on single track or darted under a bridge. I ran alone and I was ok with that.

Nathan came with me to crew me and I just cruised along for the first 20 miles until I saw him. I had a nutrition plan (Tailwind the whole way!), I had a plan for distraction (music at mile 20!), I had a pacing plan- comfortable, don't go to the well, don't stress or press. After mile 20, I got to see Nathan around mile 30 and 40 and then he ran down to meet me with 3.5 miles to go. 

It was a fascinating experience to me. As I said, I was neither high nor low, good nor bad. I was just ok. And I was ok with that. I didn't need to be at the height of unfuckwithable badassery, but neither was I at the low of being face down in the arena. Being ok is exactly where I need to be right now. Being ok is exactly what I needed to be on Saturday. I didn't need to break any records, run a killer time or even win. I needed to run and just get into the "I can do this all day mode". I knew there would never be a moment where the switch got flipped, I knew that I would not dig down into the depths to see what I could do. I even knew that I would not have to face down my darkest demon, they had taken the day off or maybe they have gotten tired of chasing me. There might not be the devious smile when it is game on, but there were also no tears. Instead, I would just be ok. Ok with myself, my in progress self. I would be ok run/walking up the last three mile climb with Nathan, even though precious seconds were ticking away. I would be ok being passed by guys and not making chase. I would even be ok falling on my face and cutting up my arm on a rock. I would be ok just running MY race and doing MY thing. I would be more than ok making it to the finish line. And I did. I made it and *bonus* I won.

I wanted to race while I am in progress because I never want to be afraid to be myself. I wanted to have courage to show up and do something that I needed to do for myself, my process, my healing and not worry how it would look, not worry if it was ugly or messy. I don't want to just show my best face to the world. I want to be real because life is real. Life is filled with more than the highest highs and the lowest lows. Saturday was a small victory for me. Hitting that finish and raising my arms in triumph was saying "March, you may have been tough. You may have hurt me and worn me down. But you did not beat me. I survived, I've even survived tougher and now I will keep rising strong".

Boom 1st place in 7:10! Photo by NorCal Ultras

Boom 1st place in 7:10! Photo by NorCal Ultras

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.

Cultivating Badassery

Mile 25.8- Head up, Wings out. Photo by Andrea Duke

Mile 25.8- Head up, Wings out. Photo by Andrea Duke

Badassery: 1. (noun) the practice of knowing one’s own accomplishments and gifts, accepting one’s own accomplishments and gifts and celebrating one’s own accomplishments and gifts; 2. (noun) the practice of living life with swagger : SWAGGER (noun or verb) a state of being that involves loving oneself, waking up “like this” and not giving a crap what anyone else thinks about you. Term first coined by William Shakespeare.
— Shonda Rhimes Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person

On the way to Houston, I started listening to Shonda Rhimes' book "Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person" which is narrated by the author herself. Listening to Shonda's journey in rumbling and rising strong was incredibly inspiring and confirming. I would have yelled "YES!" outloud numerous times if not for the embarrassment and confusion that might have caused in a crowded airplane or airport. Her work was yet another in a long line of books that have been helping my clarify, hone and amplify my vision of what I want to accomplish this year and who I am working to become. When the above quote wafted up through my headphones, it was a stop the presses moment. I listened to it over and over and over again. "Yes" I thought, "Yes to this. This is it". I immediately hit pause and pulled out my journal to revisit my 2016 goals. In big bold letters I wrote at the top of the entry "Cultivate Badassery". Those words captured everything I had been trying to describe below them. Those words are my fight song.

But the words also mean more to me than just that. "Cultivating Badassery" is also about the challenges I pursue, the way I face adversity, how I rumble with my feelings, how I rise strong. It is about pushing myself to my limits and putting myself out there. It celebrating where I am as well as putting energy and movement into where I want to be.

On Sunday, I ran the Houston marathon and didn’t run the time I set as my goal, but I was smiling until the end. I went in to run the Olympic Trials standard of 2:45, even though I had already decided not to run the Trials and instead focus on trying to qualify for Western States 100 at Sean O'Brien 100km on February 6th. I had let go of the Olympic Trials as an "A" goal when I decided to run Javelina 100mile. I knew that running 100 miles was incongruous to running a fast marathon, but I am also cheeky and decided to make a try for it 10 weeks post-100 mile anyways, 10 weeks that included 3 weeks of major sickness and the holidays which are the most incredibly hard time of the year at the bakery. But I lined up anyways, open heart, open mind. Curious to see where I am right now as I kick off the year. 

Smiling, waving and a Michael Jordan tongue wag for happiness. Rolling with the 2:45 pace group. Photo by Andrea Duke.

Smiling, waving and a Michael Jordan tongue wag for happiness. Rolling with the 2:45 pace group. Photo by Andrea Duke.

I made it 20 miles on pace, then my hamstrings decided to stop working. I cannot really be suprised by this as there is no opportunity to run on that amount of flat in the Bay Area. I wouldn't expect myself to be able to run up and down big hills in a race if I didn't train on them, so I can't expect my body to sustain a repetitive use of a single muscle group either!  But I was happy. Just to absorb the day, be there. I saw where I was and instead of beating myself up for what I wasn’t, I celebrated what I was. In progress, imperfect. A little bit extra, a little bit not enough but always actually just right for now. It is liberating to say “today was just my day to be on the road, the journey”. There is no defeat, no failure- just information, just lessons. How fascinating to live a life through the lens of curiosity instead of grasping to outcomes! Letting the experience roll over me like waves and through my fingers like water. I lifted my face to the sun even as my body failed me and smiled. The sun, the wind, the capability of a body. That moment. Not a victory, not perfect but wholly enough. Filled with badassery. I chose my framing of an imperfect experience, I chose happiness- that is badassery.

Don't get me wrong I fought like hell to run faster, to hold pace. I said YES, MORE, GO when my legs resisted. I fought and fought, until I knew it was not my mind’s willingness, just my body’s lack of adaptation to flat. I accepted it. I embraced my experience and smiled on. I passed many women in those last 6 miles and as I did, I noticed the looks on their faces- sad, disappointed, angry. I encouraged them, invited them to run with me. Seeing their faces, their pain and disappointed just confirmed to me that on this day, I would choose joy. I've been in their shoes, I struggled with my running for 2.5 years while getting the bakery going, never satisfied with where I was, always wanting to be somewhere else. It is a terrible way to live and this year, I chose acceptance. Of myself, of where I am.

Smile! Photo by Jorge Maravilla

Smile! Photo by Jorge Maravilla

Accepting where I am doesn’t mean I am not excited to continue to move towards where I want to be. Better, fitter, faster, wholehearted, contented, full. But I can relish the steps I take in life and realize that I didn’t need to get somewhere to be myself. Feeling like a badass doesn’t mean I am perfected, it means I can lean into my flaws and say, yep, I have wrinkles and that’s ok. It means saying, I don’t know where to start or where to go. And that’s ok. It’s enough to be ok. OK is still whole, not broken, not incomplete.

A work in progress that is showing amazing potential. Lament not what is left to do, improve, become, embrace, face or walk, it is all steps on the journey. And the journey is imperfect and that is enough. We are enough, we are badasses just as we are, wherever we are in our own journey. 

The Constant Gardener

"Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives."- Carol Dweck in Mindset:The New Psychology of Success. As quoted on one of my favorite blogs: Brain Pickings

From the time I was very young I believed in the value of challenging myself and importance of effort. Whether it was basketball, school or anything else, I believed in my ability to work hard and develop myself instead of believing in any fixed talent or intelligence level. When I played basketball, I always use to say that my only talent was my desire and ability to work hard. When I went to graduate school, I decided on becoming a librarian because I loved the idea that my job was constant learning- at any given moment was to become an expert in any and every subject. I always believed I would go back to graduate school for something simply because I loved learning and challenging myself so much.  As an adult, I still believe in my ability to work hard and develop myself and it guides me in my life on a daily basis. I highly value the growth mindset and find that when I am rooted in this mentality I am able to be my best self. I am free to pursue challenges that I have a significant chance of failure at, I am open to choosing goals that will stretch me and push me in ways I never have before, I am free from feeling like I need external approval of my goals or that I have prove myself over and over again. In fact, my worst races have always been ones at which I have externalized too much- for approval and proof of my worthiness. My worst races have been those in which I have fallen into the binary trap of either success or failure. I have thrived on the other hand when I see either success or failure merely as opportunities to learn and grow, the priority being learning.

2011 UROC 100km. Sometimes joy is about learning, digging and discovering something about yourself you didn't know was in there. Photo credit iRunFar (I think!)

2011 UROC 100km. Sometimes joy is about learning, digging and discovering something about yourself you didn't know was in there. Photo credit iRunFar (I think!)

It is not always easy to stay in a mindset of growth however. In fact, it takes an incredible amount of effort and mindfulness. There is a constant barrage of images and sentiment that encourage a one dimensional view of success and very little spotlighting of failure as a tool for growth. Failure is glossed over in stories, pointed out merely to prop up the success story and highlight its triumph more. We all fall in the trap and start "hustling for our worthiness" as Brene Brown calls it. When I hustle for my worthiness, I don't want anyone to see my flaws, I don't want them to see me face down in the arena, struggling or anything but on top, on point and indestructible. But that very mentality severely undercuts my own ability to reach my potential. My true potential is found when I do the work, make the effort, keep inspired, remain curious and stay open to being wrong, being humbled. 

Having a growth mindset for also means being free to explore. I can build my goals toward an adventure, toward a specific level of competition, towards drawing out my own potential and feel free to be guided intrinsically. I can work on different skills separately or together; I can run up mountains and fast along the roads. Because there is no fixed moment in time or accomplishment that I am seeking, instead just seeking a rich full interesting running life, I am able to heap mounds of challenges on my plate. And then instead of worrying if I nail them all at one go, I can look at each and examine the lessons, failures, triumphs and find my next inspiration.

Once upon a time in 2012, I ran a PR of 2:38 at the Olympic Trials, was the fastest MUT runner in the field and then got a hug from Deena Kastor. 

Once upon a time in 2012, I ran a PR of 2:38 at the Olympic Trials, was the fastest MUT runner in the field and then got a hug from Deena Kastor. 

One of the most interesting tests to a mindset of growth recently has been the Olympic Trials. Because I was so busy with the bakery, I very much fell into a fixed mindset when it came to my goals towards qualifying. PSHHHH, I thought, I've run sub 2:43 numerous time. I've already proven this, should be no problem. Just taking the been there done there attitude undercut many of the very mental skills that have allowed me to run such fast times including bracing myself, joy and happy uncertainty. In addition to all of the concrete barriers (many of which I just tried to ignore such as working 100 hour weeks and courses/race days not conducive to fast times), I started to get sucked into wanting to prove myself again. Because of the huge rise in popularity in the ultrarunning world of running the Olympic Trials, as well as being surrounded by many badasses who have qualified for the Trials, I started feeling more anxious and more need to prove myself each time a marathon didn't go my way. I stopped looking at the lessons (which most of the time was you are too exhausted from working 100 hours a week on your feet) and just beat myself up and would go right back into the next race without having learned a thing. I stopped enjoying running marathons and finally realized at the end of the summer that I was simply doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. So I opted again for growth, ran UTCT, was inspired and ran Javelina. And those were absolutely amazing expansive experiences. I put aside the goal of making the Trials so that I could meditate on it further, so I could examine it, re-evaluate it and see what it had for me. I know now with certainty that for future Trials 2020 & 2024 at least (I am young 33! and constantly inspired by my Oiselle teammates especially my twin, Andrea Duke aka Dr. Dre, who qualified for her first Trials at 35 and has been on an upward trajectory ever since. Or look at Kara Goucher (37) or Deena Kastor (42) who are forces), I will put my all in to being there and being prepared to run my best races there. I love the challenge of qualifying and I love the challenge of toeing the line with the best field of competitors I can and being pushed to new levels. 

But what of the impending Trials? I will be there. In what capacity, I am not yet sure. Whether it is fangirling the heck out of my Oiselle teammates or toeing the line, I want to be a part of the special event. I have one chance left to qualify and will be in Houston in 12 days to race. But my perspective is different now. I am not going to Houston to qualify for the Trials. That is not my goal. My goal is to take back the marathon for myself. It is to renew the exquisite joy I get from trying to run as fast as I can. I come in with curiosity, wondering where my fitness is after recovering from a 100 miler and many health issues after the fact, wondering where my fitness is as I kick of a year of adventures and challenges. Houston is my starting line for the year. It is my pre-test to see what skills I need to develop, what areas I need to work, what is my level of competency with information synthesis. Where do I grow from here, what needs tending. It makes me excited to see what I can do with a joyous and playful heart. 

As my homegirl, badass Oiselle teammate and amazing friend Lauren Fleshman says, "Make the race your playground, not your proving ground."

I want to be that girl

Post race cozy in my yeti. With my trophy. I'm on top of the world!

Post race cozy in my yeti. With my trophy. I'm on top of the world!

I met a girl somewhere around mile 65 of Javelina, not a fellow competitor, crew or spectator. No, she was a version of myself that I have never ever met before. She was Devon 2.0. She was brave, she was confident, she had a steel-resolve and the heart of a lion. She was unafraid. It wasn't because of how I was performing that she came about, it was because she was there that this performance was possible. She was all the things I strive to be, she embodied all the mental hard work I have done throughout my life. She was an integration of the person I want to be. And I want to be that girl. I do not want her to retreat back into the recesses of my mind. I do not want her to shrink back and be dominated by uncertainty, lack of self-confidence, and fear. I don't want Devon 2.0 to be an optional self, an occasion self. I want to be that girl.

After the race, it was easy to be that version of myself. I was brimming with confidence, feeling that my performance was not "once in a lifetime" but instead, a turning point, a breakthrough. I felt I better understood myself and what it took to draw out my best. I for once in my life was able to give myself the credit I deserve for what I accomplished. I was happy and content. I felt capable, worthy and enough. I was also keenly aware that, although I knew the post-race glow would dissipate, I didn't want the self I had experienced during that race to disappear too.  But how do I hold on? 

I want to be all the things that I want my niece Audrey to grow up to be: strong, confident, emotionally intelligent and with a strong sense of self-worth.

I want to be all the things that I want my niece Audrey to grow up to be: strong, confident, emotionally intelligent and with a strong sense of self-worth.

It's been almost 6 weeks since Javelina. And I enjoyed my victory throughly. I enjoyed 5 weeks of unstructured training and running just to run (and running plenty!). But the time has worn away at me too. I have battled with 7 different health issues over the past three weeks. I have tried to establish a new sense of normalcy for myself now that I am not on the night baking shift. I've thrown most things up in the air and tried to make sense of them all. It has mentally and emotionally been a lot. And Devon 2.0 stopped being the strongest voice. I noticed as I have transitioned back into training and worked through all these things that my old default Devon mode has reasserted its dominance. I may exude to the world strength, bravery and confidence, but often the way I talk and treat myself is very unkind. I don't give myself the benefit of the doubt. I don't feel unafraid. I question my worthiness, loveability and if I am enough. My negative self-talk is not some new phenomenon, it is a demon I have battled for years that is deeply rooted in several issues that I have fought tooth and nail to face, resolve and heal from. But those habits stick.

I always hopped that I would do something that would finally once and for all change the narrative. I thought that if I could accomplish something so great it would be the tipping point for my brain to finally flip the switch to a positive stream of consciousness instead of a negative one. I make an excellent effort to CONSCIOUSLY be positive, forgiving with myself and strong, but I want that to be what I believe through and through on every level. Those last 40 miles of Javelina were absolutely thrilling for me. Not just because of how I was able to run, but more because in those miles I felt a way for myself that I don't know if I ever have. I deeply, genuinely embraced myself, loved myself, forgave myself and understood that I was worthy. It was a breakthrough in my own sense of self, one that years and years of self-work, therapy, reading and research has lead to. 

I hoped, there in the dark, pushing myself, that the switch had been thrown magically. I realize now that that is unreasonable and unattainable. There is no switch. There is nothing I could ever accomplish that would magically tip the scales. Instead what I see now that is just like running, which takes constant and consistent effort, so does embracing and being the person that you want to be. Just like in running, where there is not a single one workout that will magically make the race easy and perfect, there is not one single moment or thought that will magically change who we are. It requires work. It requires effort. It require patience. It requires vigilance. It requires wading in. 

Today I went out for a workout and the negative thoughts were strong. My workout was just work. But as I ran, I realized something. Devon 2.0 is not gone. She is a part of me. She is the light side of me, always there but often dominated by my dark side. And as I ran, I made room for her, I gave her space to have a voice. And suddenly, she was there to beat back the dark. The workout didn't really get any better, but in the end, I did the work and felt good about my effort. I fought, I gave myself credit, I showed up and said, "today this is enough, I am enough". 

I see now that Javelina was a true breakthrough for me. Yes, because of the run I put together but more because of the version of myself that emerged and I have become. The dark and the light will always be a part of each of us, but now I see that I have a choice of which I let carry water. I don't want to be that girl I met that night; I am that girl: brave, strong, confident, enough. 

Mind over muscle

And when you are lost, it is ok to wander. A great wendy macnaughton piece on the walls of basecamp hotel, Tahoe.

And when you are lost, it is ok to wander. A great wendy macnaughton piece on the walls of basecamp hotel, Tahoe.

I wrote this awesome blog about working on the mental side of my running, digging deep into my running philosophy and finding the peace I need to start running my best. And then the internet ate it. Squarespace scratched their heads, threw their hands up and said, "we can't figure out why numerous "saves" didn't do even one". I wanted to be pissed, I wanted to be frustrated, but instead, I put into practice all the things I've been trying to work on and deliberately, mindfully, let it go. Yeah, it was an awesome post, but just because it was gone didn't mean that what I wanted to say was. I have still come to the same conclusions, I have still rediscovered my own power, I have still realized what is important to me and how I want to get there.

I wrestled by the sea   A loneliness in me   I asked myself for peace   And found it at my feet   Staring at the sea...    Future Islands

I wrestled by the sea
A loneliness in me
I asked myself for peace
And found it at my feet
Staring at the sea...

Future Islands

Over the past two years, my ability to races has been restricted, as I have said over and over again. I had found a quasi-balance between bakery life and running. I still got to race marathons but that was in part because I was able to maintain a relatively high level of fitness, so focusing on the Olympic Trials qualifier seemed like a good goal to chip away at. Unfortunately, that goal stopped being about the process to get there at some point and started becoming the destination. And yet, I couldn't stop heaving my body towards it, even if my mind was not in the right place. I have tried over and over again to figure out how to fit my mind into the parameters of the goal and be motivated, be present, be less stressed but time and time again, I have failed to do so. And therefore, I have failed to achieve that goal, burned out on that goal. Over the last few months, as I have been able to train more, have other big goals and spend more time on running, my mind has faltered. I have lost confidence, lost drive, lost the love. And that is not ok with me, that is not why I run, not why I race, not what motivates me.

Serenity is climbing the mountain and turning around.

Serenity is climbing the mountain and turning around.

When I played basketball, I was focused on one goal: to get a basketball scholarship. I worked so hard, I sacrificed so much, I drove myself intensely towards that goal and I achieved it. But then something happened I didn't anticipate, I was done. I hated basketball, I didn't want to do it anymore, I was exhausted and walked away from the game. I had used all of my energy and will and everything I was to get that goal and there was nothing left on the other side. That is not what I want for my running, it is not who I am as a runner. When I started to really examine my own unhappiness, I realized it was because I was focusing my efforts on achieving my goals instead of process of achieving my goals. There is a very very big difference. I am a process person. I like picking big huge goals not because I am a competitive Type A person (I am not), but because I like having a challenge that I can work towards. I love developing the skill necessary to rise to the challenge a race presents. Yes, I am hugely self motivated, driven and hardworking but for the sake of the process itself, not the end result. When that happens, races come together and I celebrate the work I've done. I am motivated differently than the majority of elite athletes and so I need to embrace my own motivators. I am a wild horse amongst the thoroughbreds.

Photo by Alison Naney

Photo by Alison Naney

I got away from my guiding principles for running and I lost myself. It has been a hard few months trying to figure out the way forward. One of the things that has been important in figuring it out has been to really define and own what my guiding principles are for running. My guiding principles are 1) Love running 2) Run for my whole life 3) Stay connected to the process. Using these as my way points, I am now better able to develop my goals, pick races, be motivated and by far the most important: enjoy running again. I've started to get more excited about training, racing and the possibilities. I feel free again.

The mountains are calling.

The mountains are calling.

As I begin to get my head on straight, reprioritize goals or put goals aside for a time, I am absolutely filled with excitement and enthusiasm as I start planning my next year of running and adventures. I have followed my heart and enlisted the mantra "be who you want to be" in picking races. Instead of worrying about what (I perceive) others want me to do or others think I am good at (please stop telling me "this isn't your kind of race"- I love it ALL, even the races that requires facing my weaknesses which is actually even more fun!! Why would I just want to run races I am already skilled at??) or what I think I should do, I am just doing what I want to. Ultimately, it only matters to me! The biggest thing I have realized/remembered over the past few weeks is that my running is MINE, no one else's. And if I am not true to myself, I do not run or race well. Thus, as I picked my fall schedule, I was guided by things that got my heart pumping and got me excited with challenges!

Here are my upcoming races:

  1. July 26th- San Francisco Marathon
  2. August 8th- Angel's Staircase 60km
  3. August 23rd- Santa Rosa Marathon
  4. September 20th- Cape Town Marathon
  5. October 3rd- Ultra Trail Cape Town 100km (woot! soooooo excited for this challenge!)
  6. October 24th- Fall 50- USATF 50 mile road championship
  7. November 21- JFK 50 mile
  8. Ongoing fall: PAUSATF XC!

When it comes right down to it, I am an emotional, introspective runner, just like I am an emotional, introspective person. There is nothing wrong with that. I am coming to embrace it and embrace that my journey is much more of a samurai's journey than an army ranger. I am trying to walk a certain spiritual path with my running, not just reach a desired outcome. I will win, I will lose, I will struggle, I will succeed and it will be all part of my journey, but now I see that as long as I embrace it all, I will love the run and mindfully be happy.

All smiles. In life and running.

All smiles. In life and running.

Best laid plans

Killer workouts make me happy!

Killer workouts make me happy!

I have been dreaming about Comrades for a year. It has been a big goal of mine to return and strive to better my race from 2012. This past year has had its share of continued ups and downs, false starts and disappointments. I have made many plans and been humbled deeply when I have been forced to change them. When I began this year, I was fun of hope, optimism and an incredibly insane bucket list schedule of goals including qualifying for the Olympic Trials, Comrades and Leadville. And now, as the summer begins, I am having to re-evaluate the way forward.

The disappointing reality is that I haven't qualified for the Trials yet and I didn't even make it to the start line at Comrades. Not making it to Comrades broke my heart, but despite having great fitness and training leading up to the race, I couldn't get on the plane when the days leading up to my flight saw me unable to even put my heel on the ground without extraordinary pain. Unfortunately what had been a manageable niggle, blew up just at the wrong time. And with it, blew up a lot my plans. Suddenly, I was not only forced to deal with the disappointment of missing Comrades, but also with figuring out the way forward with my racing. 

The mountains provide a great deal of perspective and peace. View from Snow Valley Peak over Marlette Lake and Tahoe beyond.

The mountains provide a great deal of perspective and peace. View from Snow Valley Peak over Marlette Lake and Tahoe beyond.

The first step in moving forward was getting my injury under control. I have been working hard at this and know that not going to Comrades prevented a much more serious and long term injury. I have been diligently trying to get healed. I also took so time away, went away to the mountains, to think, reflect, be sad about the way things have gone this year. I had to allow myself to feel disappointed and try and let go of the fact that this year hasn't shaped up the way I want it to. 

But that is also life. We make plans, we do our best to ensure they happen and sometimes despite our best efforts we fall short of our goals. One thing I have realized over the past week is that my goals are not gone, I have not failed, they have just been deferred for a time. I know I will do everything in my power to be on that Comrades start line next year. Just as I know now that I will do everything I can to be on the startline of the 2016 Olympic Trials Marathon. That is my goal now and I will put everything in to it. Does it change other plans, sure! Does it mean sacrificing other things I want, of course! But I have realized that when it comes to having great big dreams, sometimes the biggest test in reaching them is patience.

I look forward to the next year and the continued pursuit of all of my dreams.