Wednesday, December 18, 2013

TNF 50 and the importance of it all

When I DNF'd the Black Hills 100 I raced a 50 miler two weeks later and had the worst run of my life. I swore I wouldn't race another ultra until The North Face Endurance Challenge Championship in December.  Surprisingly, I stuck to that.  I thought for sure I would crack in September with local races, but I didn't.

I signed up for TNF because I had visited San Francisco in May of 2012 and fell in love with not only the city but what lies across the bridge.  The picture at the top of my blog is the most important picture I've ever been in because I've never felt a longing for a place like that before.

The time between July and December felt just as long as it actually is.  I would say "time flew", but I waited somewhat patiently, and every weekend I thought about how many weeks I had left.  I did a lot of speed work the front half of my training, and more longer back-to-backs the second half.  I worked hard most of the time, but I wasn't killing myself for it (except, arguably, when it came to track workouts).  The Monday before I left I found out that TNF thought I perhaps had some potential as an ultra runner, due to my previous luck in past races.  They placed me on their elite runner list and I started the most competitive 50 mile race with 99 other people in the first wave, who happen to be the best runners from around the world.

Starting a race with elite runners is a real treat.  I felt completely inadequate and undeserving standing in the dark with Rob Krar, Dakota Jones, Anna Frost, Emelie Forsberg, Max King, Rory Bosio, etc.  It's a fucking fast start.  I forgot my watch in Michigan, and was toying with the idea of not wearing one anyway, so I went without it.  I haven't done that before, and I quite liked it.  I got into a bit of a time warp which came from not keeping track of aid stations or the rise of the sun, and when I was positive I was coming up to mile 10, it was actually mile 17.  This was where I first started to eat (whoops).  Every part of this course is absolutely beautiful, and I knew that going in to the race.  There's a short out and back section before you head down to Stinson beach, and I saw (read: ran in to) Anna Frost here, which was the greatest experience of my life.  I also saw Dakota Jones and Dave Mackey, which was kind of cool because it meant I wasn't doing absolutely horrible.  I hadn't fallen apart.  …Quite yet.
Down to Stinson beach was one of my favorite parts of the race.  Once you got done with the out and back it was 1.6 miles down, and I bombed the shit out of it.  I fell twice and got a little muddy, but to be fair I had lifted my eyes to gaze at a waterfall.  At Stinson beach I picked up Jesse and I was feeling quite well at this point.  The climb back up ripped at my soul and I've never hated stairs so much.  Dipsea Trail stairs are hard after 27 miles.
There was a long downhill after the second stop at Cardiac Arrest aid station (~30 miles) and I took it for everything it was.  Hikers/onlookers told Jesse and I that we looked like we were floating.  And actually, we were.
This report is getting lengthy.  I hit a wall around mile 36.  We had an aid station at the parking lot of Muir Woods, and I loved the fact that I recognized it.  As I got a rock out of my shoe I thought about the last time I was there a year and a half ago.  Everything had changed except the marvel of it all.  After a climb it was a flat 3 mile stretch to the next aid station and as much as I wanted to punch Jesse in the face I knew he was right when he said we had to take advantage of it.  This was likely the worst shuffle in my life.
Through Tennessee Valley for the second time I thought it was never going to end.  I actually looked at Jesse and choked out "This is never going to end."  And it went:
"Yes it is."
"This is going to be a 12 hour 50.  Oh my God."
"No it's not."
"Yes it is."
"No it's not."
And it wasn't.

I ended up finishing in the top 30, and I'm okay with that.  I would've appreciated being a little smarter about the race and avoiding getting so low.  I also would have continued my speed work a couple of weeks further into my training.  10,000 feet of climbing and 10,000+ of descending treated me well.

But the thing about this race, is that it was not about the race at all.
I used TNF 50 as an excuse to get back to a part of the country that I feel like I need to be in.  Elite runners are cool, but stalking their lives and accomplishments is something I don't have the time or effort for.  They do cooler stuff than I do and at faster paces than I run.  To be grouped with them was a privilege, there is no doubt about that.  The ties I have with San Francisco aren't from reading training blogs or watching live tweets from other big ultras; they were my own that I had made a year and a half before and finally had the opportunity to touch base with and fulfill [to an extent].

My favorite part of the course was the stretch before the out and back and down to Stinson beach.  It's the part of the course where you're closest to the water for quite awhile.  The sun was cloud-covered and I did some passing here, but for the most part I was alone.  I cherished the many minutes it was just me, my lungs, my feet, the waves, the salt, the wind and strands of hair across my face.

Jesse and I had a red-eye out of SFO Sunday night, and for the greater part of Sunday we spent it across the bridge exploring more where we had been the day prior.  We stopped at the Mountain Home Inn and drank for a couple of hours, and as we (he) drove back to the airport it was a crazy kind of pain.  Driving down winding mountain roads with bridge and city lights at the end is a terrible thing to have to leave.  I couldn't tell you what we were talking about on that car ride, but I distinctly remember an ache comparable to a palm squeezing your heart when you're traveling in the exactly opposite direction that you want to be.  That you should be.  That you need to be.

To be pulled by a place to such an extent is a bizarre experience.  I didn't go to TNF to win.  I didn't go to hang another bib number or cross another finish line.  I went because the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is my favorite place in the world, and I needed an excuse to go back.  I went to rest an unsettling feeling, and what I got was pure bliss.  While gazing at the ocean atop a cliff I accepted the realization that there is nowhere else in the world I would rather be -- not even perched at the top of a 14er.  The euphoria from spending 50 miles and a few days there equates with the contending vacuity that settled in my heart the night we left and has since burrowed itself deep inside.  And I have a great fear that it will not leave.


And with all of that being said, I owe much of the experience to my cousin Carley and her husband Mike, who without them this would have never have been possible.  They let us stay at their apartment in San Francisco for the entire weekend, even though they wouldn't be there.  Words and gestures could not possible express enough gratitude to the two of them.


And now, for the obligatory pictures.

[View from Twin Peaks]

[Race grounds across the water]

[This is Tino.  Carley and Mike's cat that we got to hang out with over the weekend.]

[I ripped the mirror off of the rental car backing out of a typical SF garage.]


[I got to race on all of that…!]

[To be fair, photo credit: Jesse Scott]

That's me, with my best friend and love, in my favorite place in the world.  Those are perfect footsteps. That's a perfect life.

To run in such a fashion is a well-worked for treat.  To want to run to fulfill such a passion is something much bigger.


Friday, November 8, 2013

Traffic [write-off one]

A couple of weeks ago Scotty Jacobs and I decided to participate in a write-off versus each other.  We were both a little bored with writing and needed a reason to force the creative juices going.  The concepts of write-offs have really taken off lately and they're a lot of fun.  The general rules are to take a general topic (or two binaries) and write on them (in the case of binaries, each writer taking a different one).  The writings are posted and the readers vote on which is best.  This is typically done in the comments section (which can be left anonymous).  If you read them, please vote, and if you feel you have some constructive criticism, that is also warmly welcomed.  Our topic is "traffic".  Without further ado, here they are:


Traffic (option one)

As a non-believer and a lover of knowing I have the potential to control things if I ever felt like taking the initiative to be the 'control freak', there lies one thing we cannot control in our lives which even I am willing to admit:  and that's traffic.  I've been driving for about a decade now, and I have realized the emotional toll that driving inevitably not only takes on the soul, but allows the soul to experience.  They include (but however are not limited to) the following:

the loss and gain of control because you can't control other drivers.  No matter how hard you clench your teeth or grip the steering wheel, other people on the road largely don't give a shit about you.  Sometimes they listen to you when you tell them "Don't you dare!  Don't you dare pull out in front of me," and sometimes they don't listen, which is quickly followed with "HOW FUCKING DARE YOU! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  Are you kidding me.  Unbelievable.  Nice one, you fucking idiot.  I hate you."

the universe does pick sides, and today it picked yours because that's the only way to explain how you just hit all of those green lights.  Those 42 seconds you just gained from hitting that green light?  Legit.  They matter.  Why do they matter?  Because everything involving traffic is perfectly intertwined.  One green light means another green light which means a beating another red.

feeling like a badass because you're actually racing everyone else on the road.  Oh, the person in the lane next to you is slowing down for that yellow light?  Well, you're not.  Not today.  You drop that bad boy down a gear and go for it.  Did you just switch lanes without using your turn signal?  Shit yes you did, and no one died.  Is the person behind you yelling at you for it?  Probably.

making you feel smart because what fucking dumbass doesn't use a turn signal when switching lanes? What are we, in driver's training?  Oh, that person in front of you didn't realize their destination was coming up so quickly?  Are they THAT unaware of their surroundings?  They're texting when driving?  Christ, how vapid they must be that they have to send text messages while driving.  Have they no appreciation for actual conversations anymore?  Likely not.  They probably don't even read books or listen to talk radio, and they probably put sugar in their coffee, too.

you actually know all about the person you're staring at because people who take selfies at stoplights are all the same.  They're one level below the people who are texting and driving, because the only thing worse than not being able to control the urge to send relatively pointless messages to one person while driving is to take a picture of themselves and upload it with every hashtag (except for "#selfie", because no one who takes selflies actually wants to admit that they're selflies).  It's cool, though, because 140 characters or less doesn't take much time to type.

you get your humble on because that's what happens when you're stuck at a red light and it's pouring rain and the perfect slow song is playing and the metronomical slap of the windshield wipers slip you into a somewhat catatonic state.  There's nothing like being able to recall the lack of direction your life has lead, where it's going from that point on, why everything from the past has been intricately woven into the very present moment and also why none of it is related at all.

you completely lose your shit because you can do that in what has turned into your private sanction which happens to be, for the most part, glass walls and home to completely visible breakdowns.  That steering wheel is your punching bag because the fucking asshole in front of you almost made you crash or came to a halt when the light had just barely even turned yellow don't you know that yellow means RED IS COMING SOON?! And that steering wheel is your new pillow that you put your head on and sob and even though your windows are down and you're shrieking at the top of your lungs that's just fine because even though you're surrounded by people, those people don't know you.  So fuck those people.

you know that everything is actually quite alright because once you get past the somewhat congested traffic that made you tap your brakes and interrupt the cruise control, you relax and you speed back up to a comfortable 75 (but debatably 74, just to be safe) mph.  That moment when no one is in your way, the sun warms one side of your face, you don't squint because you didn't leave your sunglasses on the kitchen table, and a slow smile creeps at the corner of your lips for no reason and absolutely every reason.

Tears and sore cheeks and strained vocal chords are three of many possible physical side effects of traffic.  Traffic inflicts, heightens and blatantly allows the full range of human emotions to project with quite little protection.  Much of life is felt in traffic, and without even being realized, is left there; and like traffic, it dissipates.

Traffic (option two)

Traffic is like a PMS-ing woman. We can’t stop it from happening and we desperately want to avoid it by any means necessary. Spend too much time dealing with it and our own good moods are in jeopardy. The only remedy for it is patience. Honestly though, who has time for that shit?
We do our best to leave a few minutes early to beat the rush. On the days we actually accomplish this, we calmly reach our destination on time, only to find that we left our wallet at home. Damn it traffic! You did that on purpose! You’re such a selfish bitch. Traffic really is the quicksand of our everyday lives. The more we fight it, the deeper we’re consumed by it.
When genuine road-rage starts to set in, we have completely lost the battle with traffic. See, not every driver on the road feels the same way as us. They stay relaxed behind the wheel and embrace the traffic. These are the real assholes on the road,  not us. They find themselves in the fast lane, going the regular speed limit. “IT IS CALLED THE FAST LANE FOR A REASON PEOPLE! GET YOUR PONTIAC VIBE OVER TO THE RIGHT, WHERE IT BELONGS!” This is the kind of thing that makes us want to follow them to the rest area and let all of the air out of their tires while they take a squeege. The whole time we are freaking out about them being in our way, and they’re oblivious to it.
Imagine if our population was the same, but the motor vehicle was never invented. Come on, really think about it. The roads would be packed with people on horseback. Personally, I would probably ride some sort of bovine creature. Like an ox. Maybe even an upright walking grizzly bear that I could just piggyback from place to place. Regardless, there would be animals’ shit everywhere. People getting bucked and trampled into the shit. It would be awful to bear witness on a daily basis. However, all traffic disputes could be settled with some sort of a medieval joust right in the median. Bam! Done and done. Saddle up and back on the road. Sounds glorious.
Of course, traffic is not only on the streets. There is air traffic, nautical traffic, foot traffic, social media traffic, cell phone traffic, etc. All of them frustrating in their own unique way. We have to remind ourselves to accept this fact, take a chill pill and enjoy the ride like those other assholes out there. That’s all life really is anyway, a ride. It’s up to us to make the most out of it. This is with one exception though; Pontiac Vibe drivers will forever be on our shit-list. Do us a solid, stick to the right lane or else the Vibe despising grizzly bear is getting a tune-up. Buckle-up, check your blind spots and we'll see y'all at rush hour!


Check out Scotty's blog RIGHT HERE. And the podcast that he helps create RIGHT HERE.


Monday, September 30, 2013

a DNF, a 14er, a finish, and Angina's. In September.

On Flight 349, from Denver to Chicago, I had a conversation with a man to my right about how ridiculous it is that planes don't have free wireless yet, and if paying for it is really worth it or not.  After that I laid my head to the left and let my eyes rest on the ground below me.  I felt my contacts sticking to my eyeballs and took a deep sigh.  I put in earbuds and recalled my weekend.

Five days before I had flown into Denver with the same playlist and a different vibe.  The trip was off to a slightly irresponsible start as I was in sheer panic that I was going to miss my 6:40 flight.  6:40 isn't early, but I'm almost the worst at anything time-related.  After chasing Kendrick Callaway around Denver's west terminal, we were off to see Blake.  Blake was a good friend from college who had graduated and moved back to Evergreen with his parents and I often miss his gay pride literature jokes and terrible ways of studying.  Once located, I could see why Blake moved home to a beautiful house on the side of a mountain with a deck that has a view that would kill your entire day.  I stood listening and engaging with this person I had missed dearly, and as the sun warmed the back of my neck, I looked up and realized the mountains may be having their first pull on me.

A few hours later I was on top of a 14er with the one person everyone wants by their side when they're climbing a 14er.  Though I had to stop and catch my breath a few times I was pleased with how it went, and Kendrick threw some props my way as well, though he could have just been trying to be nice.  After that I saw some mountain goats, and that was okay.  I was slightly bummed to find out they don't want to be pet and cuddle like I so desperately wish they wanted to be.

My first night spent in the back of Kendrick's truck was some quality sleep.  One wouldn't immediately think it'd be preferable, but I always enjoy car camping, and the memory foam mattress was actually putting up a rival to my pillow-top queen back home.

And then I saw the desert for the first time.  And I really liked it.  Something big happens every time you see a completely different part of the country for the first time.  Something really big.  I've had my sights set on Utah for months, and I affirmed I'd be able to be happy there.  I want to be happy there.  I should be happy there.  I could be happy there.

Logan is not such a bad town, really, which is where the race started.  It has decent pizza and views that can tug at just the right strings on your heart.  After making it to the location of the race talk and packet pickup, I realized how timely packing drop bags for a race that the runner and pacer are both reasonably unprepared for could be.  Not reasonably unprepared for the distance(s), but the course itself.  Though the race didn't end well, I still think this is not a bad strategy.  I think it allows you to enter a race with an element of surprise and excitement coming from that surprise.  (...Obviously not a good strategy if you're going for the win, but I have no complaints being a mid-packer)

It was here that I saw Zach and Kate, and met Rob and Addison (pacers and crew from Chicago).  I asked Zach the dumbest questions ("Are you excited?!  Are you ready?!") but I was so overcome with my own excitement for him (all of them, really) that I couldn't help it.  There's nothing like seeing someone's eyes light up with excitement with bold determination resting just behind it.

I can't tell you who we stayed with that night on the count that I do not remember their names, but I can tell you that they were your typical ultrarunning instafamily.  The ride down to the start in the morning was one filled with so many laughs, somewhat realistic considerations, half a pizza and a very full bladder.  6am doesn't come any other way.

After the start I hung with Kate, Ad(dison) and Rob.  We went to the perfect diner for a time like this, and ordered breakfast.  The diner was called "Angie's" which was quickly dubbed "Angina's".  What we received was enough food for the whole day, and that is the problem with America.  Kate's cinnamon roll (1 of 4 of her breakfast items) was, I shit you not, the size of her head.

To kill more time we went to Starbucks, and then to the first crew-accessible aid station.  A front runner came through yelling about how "shitty the course was marked the first ten miles" and how "fucking ridiculous" it was and that the Bear 100 "needs to get it together".  I exchanged a knowing glance with Nick (Britta's boyfriend, and Britta went to college with Kate and Zach) and a coy smile.  It's okay to be angry in ultras, but you must be about certain subjects with a particular amount of tact.  Don't be a douche.  Zach came through looking good and it was a beautiful whirlwind of an exchange between crew and runner, especially for a first time.  No more than 15 minutes later, I heard someone say "That guy has no shirt on!" and before I lifted my eyes to the trail I knew it was Kendrick.  He was feeling great here, and as I made fun of him for taking forever to eat, he made a joke about me DNFing at 42 miles at Black Hills.  I punched him and he took off jogging.  After a few quizzical statements I shrugged and replied with "That's just how we are."

Team ZARK and myself (though I feel the need to make it clear that I feel like I was [am] part of team ZARK) left and got an early 10:30 lunch.  You'd think Angina's filled us up for more than 4 hours, but we all ate veggie burgers and fries in a plastic booth with paper crowns upon our heads.  This is also where I think I perfected at least three sentences of Ad's Stryker pitch.  He's a recruiter, and I kind of feel like I am one now, too.  With a hazy sky and mountains looming above us, Addison said, in reference to 100s and with a grin on his face, "I don't get it.  I really don't.  But I think it's awesome, and I'm glad you guys get it."  I could have hugged him in this moment, because it was a perfect thing to say.  With a wide smile I replied "We don't get it either."
Because, really, I don't think anyone does.  You can ask anyone why they run ultras (100s specifically) and they can give you certain reasons, but there will always be an extent to which no one can truly put it into words.

When we got to the next aid station, it was time to lace up the pacing shoes for both me and Rob.  We all tried to nap, and I think Ad and Rob were the only ones that got away with it.  I got out of the car and Kate shortly followed.  We hung around the aid station, watching the front runners come in and leave.  We didn't really say much, but both marveled at the mountains we were trapped in.  Something awesome happens when you share moments like that with people who you know are truly good people.  It's almost like there's a connection that is established but never acknowledged, and it doesn't need to be.  But it's cool to experience.

Zach came in and picked up Rob, and Kate and Ad took off shortly after that.  Kendrick came in no later than 10 minutes later, and we were off shortly.

The first leg went really well.  I typed out several sentences trying to do it justice, but you can't do mountain running justice in words.  You can't even do it justice in pictures.  You have to be there, in that moment, with that smile, with those heaving lungs.  We came up to the next aid station in good time, and I was greeted with Nick's face that had come familiar in a short time, the way it does when you meet people like that.  As I chomped down a banana he told me to be ready for snow, and the cold temperatures that awaited us at Tony Grove.  With a high-five and a smile so big that showed both rows of teeth, we were on our way.
And then we climbed for a really long time.  And slipped in the mud.  And the mud was like clay.  It was thick, it was sticky, it was slippery, and it was at least 40% cow shit.

And Tony Grove was cold.  Kendrick and I split up here for a few minutes, him fueling back up and refilling, while I was rolling my arm warmers back up and adding layers.  Someone gave me a blanket that had been sitting under a heater in a truck, and the nicest woman I've ever met gave me hand warmers for both pairs of gloves.  I loved her.  She told me to squeeze them when it got bad.
I would end up squeezing them with everything I had.

There was a small climb out of this aid station and a breakdown happened there.  There were tears and snot and a lack of words, but a pair of understanding eyes.  This section was long.  The descent was so much fun.  Kendrick came out of a low (at least a bit) and I had my way with a downhill.  We ate some waffles and I fell in a creek.  I ate a mint and Kendrick's hot chocolate got cold.  The sun went down and it got colder.  Headlamps were turned on and his legs gave out even more.

At mile 62, sitting around a glowing campfire and sharing miniature candy bars, Kendrick called it.

And that's fine.  At least it is in my book.  I know how a DNF feels and I know it sucks.  I'm still a firm believer that sometimes you just have to give 100 miles the finger and say "Fuck you.  Fuck you to hell."
Then you try to get warm.

One thing I learned from Kendrick is that you never stop chasing.  I have plans to attempt another 100 next summer because I DNF'd my last attempt.  He finished that same race and signed up for another hoping to qualify for Hardrock.  You chase a finish, you chase a qualifier, you chase a PR.  Problems arise in ultras, but I think real problems arise when you stop chasing.
Stagnation is, of course, the worst case scenario; always.

The rest of the trip was filled with raspberry shakes, seeing rich mountain towns, and being exhausted for the weirdest reasons.  After being denied a chance to see the Maroon Bells, we trucked on to Leadville.  Sitting in City on a Hill I got a serious caffeine buzz and wondered if altitude was affecting me at 10,000+ feet.  I sat to the right of a woman that I could have listened to talk to for hours upon hours.  Megan Finnesy has a way of conversing that is so fluid and seems to be so carefully animated to be entertaining but not obnoxious; and it was absolutely refreshing.

The drive to Denver International Airport is beautiful.  Colorado is beautiful.  Colorado is a state that makes you think life isn't possible anywhere else.
Perhaps for some people it's not.
And perhaps I'm one of those people.
I think mountains can have an amazing affect on anyone who experiences them.  But there is no doubt the difference of treating the mountains as your playground - putting them in your hands and hoisting yourself up them, and scraping your legs on the way down - and snapping a picture at the top of Independence Pass.

Before my flight out of Denver I had time to grab a beer with Rob, as he had a layover there from SLC in route to Chicago.  I left that drink feeling happy and a heart full of appreciation.  Ultras have led me to the best people that I know.  I met Rob, Ad, Nick, briefly Britta, and Megan.  And they're all people I would do extensive favors for at the drop of a hat (also the people I stayed with in Utah).  Instafamily.

This weekend did a lot of things for me.  It gave me motivation to continue training hard for TNF, it motivated me to commit to Tahoe Rim 100 next summer, and it gave me comfort in knowing that West is where I belong.  It also reminded me that DNFs happen, and they suck.  But they're necessary, and they're not the end of the world.
"They're a learning experience."  <--- Literally the worst thing anyone can ever say.

I started laughing.  I laughed at Kate's cinnamon roll.  I laughed that Kendrick has a carrot in the bottom of a Nutella-knock-off jar.  I laughed at the entirety of my conversations with Jesse over the weekend.  I laughed at the DNF.  I laughed at being on top of a 14er.  I laughed at thinking about Blake.  I laughed at how many hours I had sat in a car.  I laughed because the best lemon bar I've ever tasted was in Leadville.  I laughed because I can say I've been to Aspen.  I laughed at Zach's amazing finish of The Bear 100.  I laughed at Rob dipping his fries in ranch.  I laughed at Ad's Stryker speech.  I laughed at Kate singing "Wrecking Ball" passionately in the car.  I laughed wildly at the Dakota Grand Slam.  I laughed because, as I watched the plane descend through the clouds, I'm 25 years old.  I laughed because I can do anything I want.  I laughed because nothing is holding me back.

I took my earbuds out and the man to my right exclaimed "Were you listening to a podcast?!  Must have been hilarious!"
I laughed again and replied "No.  It wasn't a podcast." And shifted back to the window.

I laughed because I'm 25 and the entire world is at my fingertips.  I laughed because I'm about to take complete advantage of it.


Monday, August 26, 2013

an ode to code in august

After I finished a night run two weeks ago I got back to my car and clicked my phone on and had a message from my dear friend Lauren Rothwell. Lauren remains one of my best friends and, undoubtedly one of the most important people I have ever met in my life for various reasons, and we met because we rode together (competitively against) each other for years. She sent me a picture of Code, with the caption "Look who I found!"

A lot of people that know me today have no idea that I rode horses for upwards of 15 years. I started because I wanted to be like my older sister, and to this day she is still an equestrian. When I got Code I was 15 years old and about to go through the normal teenage angst stage, and he did everything a horse at that age is supposed to do. He gave me confidence, he made me proud, he challenged me, he let me vent to him as I picked out his hooves, he let me cry into his mane, and he gave me an excuse to buy an abundance of white Lifesaver mints. He also did one more thing: He was a complete asshole.

We spent the first two years trying to not bomb through hunter lines, trying to perfect lead changes, trying to get him to go around in something close to a frame, trying to figure out why he thought it was acceptable to take off bucking during what was supposed to be a beautiful equitation rollback. I learned how to fight back when he cornered me in his stall and to instinctually stick my left elbow out while tightening the girth, because he was bound to reach around and try to bite me. At our wits' ends, we decided to try our hand at the 'Jumpers', and this was where we both thrived. Lead changes started to come without asking for them and soon we were floating over 4' courses instead of worrying about fitting in the appropriate amount of strides on a diagonal line. We took championships in the jumper divisions left and right, and often he would reach his head out of his stall and lap up the rest of my granola and yogurt mixture. His show name ('Remedy') was no longer an ironic laugh, but  soulful understanding. I gave up on trying to convince him that clippers weren't terrifying, and took scissors to his mane and muzzle instead. I no longer had to beg him to stand while I was braiding his mane, and he rocked something close to a mohawk when we entered the ring.  

I stopped riding when I was 21 and Code has been out to pasture ever since. Recently a family who we know through the horse world asked to use him for their foreign exchange student to ride on the high school equestrian team. When my mom first pitched this idea to me I felt very weird. A part of me wanted to say "no, he's still mine." but I'm more realistic than that. Another part of me was happy that he would be doing something, and another part of me was slightly worried because I know how he can be. He can be an asshole. He can be scary. He can be terrifying. But he can also be rewarding.  And a teacher. And a forgiver. And a learner. And, I still believe (deep down) that Code has a good heart.  

Lauren spotted him at a high school equestrian meet (what was she doing there? I have no idea, it's a bit out of her element). I sat in my car at the trailhead and asked her for more details. She said he was being really good and taking care of the Spanish boy that was atop him. She said he was being docile and doing everything that he was asked to do. She said he looked good, and that made me happy. I was glad and surprised that he seemed to be mellowing with age. However, on my way home, on the corner of Oakland and Milham, I kind of lost it. I cried a lot, and I wasn't sure why. I was struggling to let go of the fact that someone else was enjoying my horse. The horse that I had worked on for so long, the horse that I had had to figure out and bring to the level that he was once at. And I was thinking, by the time I got home, isn't this what annoys me about people? The inability to let go easily, to walk away and accept what once was, to move on and not let it be a big deal. Don't I lecture people about this when they cry about breakups? Or when they get back together with a shitty boyfriend? Isn't this my lecture? "Get over it, move on, it's not the end of the world, you're wasting your time being sad about something when there's the rest of your life to live." Pot/kettle/black.

It reminds me of my favorite quote of all time, which comes from Chuck Klosterman.  If you haven't read his book Killing Yourself To Live, you need to.  

"When you start thinking about what your life was like years ago - and not in general terms, but in highly specific detail - it's disturbing to realize how certain elements of your being are completely dead.  They die long before you do.  It's astonishing to consider all the things from your past that used to happen all of the time but (a) never happen anymore and (b) never even cross your mind.  It's almost like those things didn't happen.  Or maybe it seems like they just happened to someone else." 

There are certain times when I'm reminded of the equestrian life that I (we) so fully lived. Race mornings feel like horse show mornings. The other day when Cheryl was putting on my swim cap it felt like my mother was helping me get all of my hair under my helmet. It hurts, but it's necessary. I look at my shoes that are caked in mud and blood and think of how we used to have to diligently clean and polish our boots, not to mention the tack. Packing a drop bag reminds me of packing a tack trunk for a show.  

One year, at an awards banquet for our overall champion, I received a brown leather bracelet with a beautiful buckle and the small nameplate "Remedy" on it.  I wore it when we showed and after I stopped riding I put it on my keys. It's still there, and sometimes I wonder how long it will be.

I wouldn't change the equestrian chunk of my life for anything. It taught me a lot about myself, who I was, who I wanted to be and who I didn't want to be, and most of that was due to Code. I raced a 10k this weekend and afterwards went to the equestrian meet (it was in the same town) and saw him. I stood in my sandals and running clothes and I thought how funny it was that in that moment my present life and past life were meeting. I scratched under his mane (which is hilariously long) and he stretched his neck out in gratitude. He then pinned his ears and barred his teeth and I instinctually slapped his neck and forcefully muttered through clenched teeth "Don't you fucking bite me." Some things never will change.

So this is my ode to Code. I feel as though I can never express enough on this subject and what he has meant to me and still means to me. I can only hope that he does a fraction of what he has done for me for someone else. I think that people who have had a horse for a best friend share a certain kind of connection. Horses are of the most therapeutic animals - mentally, physically, and most of all, emotionally.

Tuesday: 20 with Lauren
Wednesday:10 at Custer, 3 with Cohen, 6 at urban herd. 19  on the day
Thursday: swam at the aqua herd!  swimming is hard, swim caps hurt, and Cheryl Pickett is the sweetest person ever.
Friday: 8 with Joe at Custer
Saturday: 6.2 I raced a 10k for the first time this weekend and finished in 46 minutes. It was faster than I was expecting, and I actually kind of enjoyed it! Kim Barnes (a friend from the horse world, how fitting that this made it into this post) was in 3rd and we ran it in together. I don't have the heart to outkick people, I suppose that's the trail runner in me. We both finished hard and strong, and I fought nausea as soon as we stopped. I was delighted with how it went, considering I already had almost 50 on the week and the legs were tired from the bigger back-to-backs early in the week. I was surprisingly sore from this on Sunday, and it amazes me how the roads can really beat you up. I'd still rather run an ultra. But I managed to take 2nd in my AG and 4th OA. Not bad.
Sunday:  nothing. This is mostly because I am lazy and I just didn't feel like running. I also got down on some Two Hearted on Saturday, so I was feeling a bit.. under the weather.
total: 53. For some reason I was thinking I had more than this on this week.  Hopefully I forgot to log a run, but realistically I just found a reason to slack.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

fashionably late in august

I stood in line at the bank to deposit a wad of money and a couple of measly paychecks four days ago and I became incredibly aware of how incredibly aware I am of most things on a daily basis and how that may make me a bit more weird than I let on. The line was quite long - 8 people in front of me to be exact. I didn't mind, because I wasn't in a hurry. I had attempted the drive-thru minutes before, but the plastic shutter on the thing was down and I had no idea how to get it back up, so I walked inside.  I looked out the glass doors to my left and saw Cohen staring straight at me in-between my two front seats. It was hot out, so I had left the car running with the AC on, and I imagined for a moment what Cohen would do if anyone tried to steal my car. I shifted my weight onto my left foot and flexed my right because it felt a little tight. A few days before I had thrown on my 110s and, for whatever reason, they had chewed up the top of my right foot. The wounds weren't completely healed yet, and I clenched my jaw as I felt the top layer or two of my skin was stuck to the inside of the upper of my shoe. It felt wet, and I knew that was likely blood and pus that had partially dried and meshed everything together. To avoid my eyes tearing I shifted them slightly to the right and looked into the room in the corner of the building which revealed a girl who is likely not much older than me staring at a computer screen. I wondered what the fuck she did at the bank. I wondered if her back hurt because she was hunched over a keyboard. I wondered what she was staring at on the screen. I wondered if she was even staring at anything relevant on the screen and I wondered if she felt as trapped as she looked. I wondered if her job was to tell people that if they would be approved for loans or not, and then I wondered if she had ever had anyone cry in her office before. I decided she probably had, because people cry over money. I took a few steps forward. I rested my right hand on the strap that goes across my body for my bag and tilted my head a little to the right. I wondered if she could feel me staring at her, and I wondered if she had ever driven through the mountains and thought about how insignificant her life might be. I picked up on the chatter regarding bank accounts and scanned the people conversing with the tellers. Though there weren't many of them, most of them seemed to be upset and disputing something. I thought it to be a bit funny that all of the conversations were probably relatively the same, yet I couldn't necessarily make out particular words. I thought it to be even a bit more funny that you can often tell what people are talking about without even hearing them. It's possible to listen without really listening. I wondered if that girl had a picture of a beach as her background on her computer. I wondered if she had been to an ocean and taken it for what it really is, instead of a nice tan and a weak pina colada. I took a few more steps forward and shifted my eyes ahead. I blinked and felt the salt crusted on my eyelids. It was hot that day, and I wondered if that girl even liked Kalamazoo.

The past two weeks:
tuesday - 11 at night with Jesse, Joe, Erin, Lauren and Shawn
wed - 6 with Michelle, 2 with Cohen
thursday - 5 with Katie at Al Sabo
friday - 18 at Custer.  First 8 with Joe, last 10 solo.
saturday - 17 with Jesse At Cannonsburg.  This was really fun, even though I felt like hell due to a strong cold coming on.
sunday - 11.  5 in the morning at the Arbs with Joe and Michelle.  Felt even worse due to the cold. 6 at dirty herd, and I was feeling better by the afternoon.
total:  69

tuesday - 10 at night.  4 solo at Al Sabo before Joe and Lauren got there.  Got two out and realized I had minimal minutes before I said I'd be back, and tempo'd in.  I have not ran that hard in a LONG TIME, and it hurt.  But it felt good.  I had forgotten what it feels like to push like that.  We did 6 together after.
wednesday - 5 at urban herd.  This was the new route through East Campus which I was dreading but it was SO FUN.  The worst ex-boyfriend in the history of ever showed up (what the fuck?), but the Truppster and I still had a blast.  It was up and down the stairs on each side of the East Hall field, and on the way down Joe and I would race - him on the stairs, me on the dirt next to them.  This downhill is actually kind of terrifying and I thought for sure I would lose my teeth if I fell and smashed my face.  But, as usual, it was a fit of laughter each time.  If there's one thing I cannot control, it's my laughter when I'm having a lot of fun on runs.  Especially downhills.
thursday - 3 with Cohen at the arbs
friday - 3 Cohen again at the arbs
saturday - 22 with Zach and Jesse at Yankee, despite going out for 30.  Went exploring and had a lot of fun.  Felt pretty shitty the entire time, and was relieved to call it at 22 and go to the bar down the road.
sunday - 8 in the morning with Michelle at Custer.  7 at dirty herd.  The dirty herd run was comical to me.  My legs felt completely dead, and I could do nothing past about a 9:30/mile which is fine with me.  Joe hung back and dragged me in.  Debated not going, and glad I did.  Ended up being a nice little shakeout.
total:  58

I'm attempting to get back to focusing on longer back-to-backs and it's going pretty well. I feel like TNF 50 in December will be here before I know it, and even more-so on the forefront is pacing Kendrick for The Bear 100 at the end of September. I am incredibly excited for that trip, but more on that later. Maybe. As far as mileage goes, I'm content sitting between 50 and 70. I have almost completely blown out my 1010s, which really makes me kind of sad. It is debatable whether they're in worse shape than the 110s, but perhaps that's a topic for another post. In other, more important fields of my life, I can finally get all of my hair into one ponytail, kind of, and it resembles the top of a pineapple. Things are looking up.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

(at)tempting in august

I've been toying with the idea of committing to being a vegan for a few months.  I went anywhere from 0-6 days starting sometime in March, and have dedicated the month of August to be my true trial.  I didn't want to do it when I was actually training for something, and after BH100 and Devil's Lake 50 I was in no shape to think about my diet, I was far too busy eating whatever the hell I wanted.  Now that I've done enough sulking, eating and drinking, I thought now would be a good time to give this a go with no races on the forefront.  Turns out Kendrick was also thinking about trying this, so I'm not completely in it alone.

It's going pretty okay, despite the fact that I work in a restaurant that serves amazing Italian food which only approximately 4% of is vegan, and the 4% including drink garnishes of olives and cherries.  But, you know, I'm trying. ...And it sucks.  I hate telling people what I'm doing this because I hate their responses.  Almost everyone gives me shit about it and asks why, and when I say "potential health benefits" they get all offended.  I certainly don't think veganism is for everyone, but I do think that it might be for me.  It's most definitely trending in the ultra world right now and I want to see if I can get any benefits out of it, and people (for whatever reason) tend to not like this.  My best reply, though, came from Susie.  Our conversation went something (read: exactly) like this:
"So, what is vegan again?"
"No animal product.  So, no meat, dairy, etc."
"But you can have, like, fish, right?"
"...That is an animal.  So... no."
(Sorry I outed you Sus, but at least I didn't make it my Facebook status) ;)

I went to the store on Tuesday and when I got home I realized I may or may not have bought food strictly pertaining to a 'fruitarian' diet.  Everything seems to be incredibly tempting until I get home.  Out of sight, out of mind I suppose.

After Devil's Lake I did exactly what I said I was going to do.  I did a lot and I did nothing, and sometimes I did a lot of nothing.  I didn't come back to my apartment until near the end of July.  I stayed at the lake instead and swam every day (my lame attempt to keep some sort of aerobic capacity), biked a bit more than my normal commute to class miles, and climbed a few times.  At first I hated this. I felt lazy, out of shape, and like a general failure.  After about 6 days I started to love it, and that's when I realized I actually did need a break.  My body needed it and my mind needed it even more.  I can't remember how many days I took completely off from running, but I think it was 12.  After those 12 though, it was time.  I was literally going to lose my mind if my legs didn't start moving.  The first week back was pretty measly.  I didn't log anything, so I have no idea what I did as I cannot remember that far back, nor do I really care.  I'd guess somewhere between 20-30.  This week I decided to go for somewhere between 60 and 70, which I got.

It's a huge pain in the ass coming back, but I'm shuffling through it.  My best run this week was an impromptu 3 mile run with Cohen around the intramural fields.  Because it's so close to my apartment I like to take him there and let him run, and there's also a small pond behind the trees where he can cool off.  Anyway, I had already ran with Erin that morning and walked him down there barefoot to throw the ball around.  I ended up jogging around the field for 26 minutes and had an absolute blast.  Cohen loves it too because he gets to chase me, and it felt good on the muscles to do some fast pick-ups with him, and it felt really good to get that many minutes in barefoot.  It's a lot of fun to do this with Cohen because I think he's a very funny dog, and he gets super excited when I start skipping or running backwards.  I met a few other people that had brought their dogs there, and after I was done one guy came up and told me he had been watching me for at least 20 minutes from the top of the hill with a small group of other people, and that he had thought, at first, a girl had a pony on the field.  Ha.  Ha.  Ha.  I looked up and sure enough there were 6 people still watching.  I wasn't sure if my cheeks were hot from running in an open field for almost 30 minutes or the idea that people had just been watching me play with my dog like a complete idiot.  We swiftly jogged back home after that.

monday - nothing
tuesday - 3 with Cohen at the arbs, 7 night run (Lauren's first night run)
wednesday - 10 at the arbs solo
thursday - 6 with Erin, 3 at IM fields
friday - 10 custer with Joe and Erin
saturday - 9 at custer, 6 at al sabo
sunday - 10 at al sabo.  Made Joe go out with me before dirty herd because I was bored, and we saw Matt out there so the three of us got somewhere between 5-6 in, then the rest with everyone else.

total of 64

I also read my running log from last summer yesterday.  At this time I was training for the Detroit marathon, and my entries were something like "Today was pretty slow.  Felt okay, just kinda blah."  I scrolled down and my average paces would be 7:20s.  I probably won't ever be that fast again.  I was also doubling almost every day with speed workouts, hill workouts and tempo runs.  I obviously never ran Detroit because I got distracted with running my first 50 in September.  And I'm more than okay with that.  BUT on some other entries I would ramble on about injury pain.  I've never actually been injured, but I do wish I knew what pains I was talking about.  So, for this week, I'm specifically logging:
My knees hurt.  It's definitely not a kind of hurt where I can't run, and I don't notice it when I run at all. It mainly just kind of feels like stiffness, but I can really feel it in the bone, I think.  Anyway, it's not serious, but I thought it was worth logging, in case next time I run myself into the ground and my knees start to hurt when I jump my mileage back up, I'll know it's not the first time.

ALSO, if you're still reading this ridiculous ramble, I have good news.  The Limousines are back to making music, and this single off of their new album is kind of my anthem right now.  Because I said 'what should we do?' and you said 'We can do anything we want to.'


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Devil's Lake 50 in July

It had been two weeks after my DNF in South Dakota and my logic behind doing this race was that I had gotten in a 42 mile long run, so it wouldn't be the worst idea to go run a 50 miler.  I'm a huge fan of the Dances With Dirt series and last year I ran my first marathon at Devil's Lake.  I knew the course, I knew the course was hard, and I knew I had to do what I did last year twice.  I also had watched Erin suffer through it the year before, and if Erin suffered through it, it was bound to be ugly for me.  I went into this race with absolutely no expectations, and just a handful of hope that it would go better than the 100 attempt.

And it was terrible.

I slept in my car the night before at the start/finish, which I really love doing.  I get to sleep in until the last minute, and between Cohen's dog bed, an abundance of pillows, and a battery operated fan, I really have quite the nice little set-up - not to mention I have little-to-no money and it is free.  When the obnoxious air-horn sounded and everyone clicked their Garmins on, I was left standing with my arms dangling by my sides, in the middle of a yawn that was so huge I thought for sure my jaw was going to disconnect on both sides.  ...And off I went.

This DWD 50 starts off with 5 miles on ski slopes, and then you go past the start/finish, and (to put it simply) climb a bluff, go down the bluff, run through open fields for a lengthy out&back section, climb back up, do it all again, go back to the ski slopes, and then finish.  The first 10 miles clocked by quite smoothly.  I didn't feel awesome, but I felt okay.  I got tied up with an obnoxious man rambling on about how many 50ks he has done in only a year, but thankfully we got separated after a few miles.  I have learned, in the past few months, that my strength in ultras is running downhill.  When a lot of people start to feel the soreness in their quads and when everything starts to hurt so bad that going downhill is more painful than going uphill, that is when I feel best.  I know that I can always run my downhills, and that is the only thing that saved me in this race.  At the aid station at mile 25, the 50 milers have the option to cut off of their course and head to the finish line, and take a 50K time instead of a 50M.  I fought with myself like no other at this point.  I've never had conversations with myself as mean and full of self-loathing as I did during this race.  I got stung by a bee just past mile 40, and I reached down for it and squished it to death between my fingers, getting bee blood all over my right hand.  I shouted many things through a jaw that was clenched so tight my teeth were sure to shatter - including (but not limited to) "FUCK YOU, BEE.  I HATE YOU.  I HATE YOU SO MUCH AND I HATE HONEY.  I'M NEVER EATING HONEY AGAIN.  FUCK."

I suppose I should speak for a moment on my mental place during this race, for that's the only real reason that I'm bothering to record this.  After the first 10 miles of this race, I hated it.  I hated everything about it and I hated myself more than I ever have before for doing it.  I got into such a dark place in my head and I never came out of it - not for one minute.  I knew that I wasn't recovered (hardly at all) from South Dakota to be running a 50.  I didn't give myself a break after that DNF, I was already running before we even left the state, and I came back to Michigan and went right back to maintaining normal mileage.  This would be fine if I was still training, but I wasn't.  I had no business to keep up a training regimen, no matter if I had just failed or succeeded at the one thing I had been training for.  Call it my pride, call it my ego, call it me being stubborn, call it whatever you want, because I can guarantee I was calling it every goddamn name in the book on those 10 hours of my mental low.  I knew I had come to this race for all of the wrong reasons, and I was paying for it, and I knew I deserved it.  Being competitive can be fun, getting into race-mode can have its positives, but really the main reason I race is to run different places that I haven't been.  I like to be entertained, I like to see new things, I like to meet new people, and I generally run (and especially race) very happily.  This wasn't a new place, I knew exactly what was coming, I made 0 friends because I didn't feel like chatting with anyone, and I certainly was not running happily.  Whenever I assessed myself, nothing was really wrong.  My muscles were, for the most part, feeling fine, but my head was nowhere near decent.  I expect lows in ultras.  I prepare for them, and I know that they're (usually) inevitable, but I never came out of this one. This race was me beating a dead horse, with my body being the dead horse.  The only thing I carried on this race was a handheld, and my iPod shuffle in a Spi belt which I did use for a bit to try and get my shit together, but I ended up ripping it off because it wasn't helping.  I didn't have a drop bag or any gels on me because I wanted to learn to survive on aid station food.  Per Erin's suggestion, I made myself love salted potatoes, and it turns out I think they're a superfood.  I fueled and hydrated pretty damn well for being so mentally beat up.  This race has an amazing aid station that is at the top of a bluff and out on a rocky cliff.  The second time I visited it, mile 30 or 31 or something, I sat down for the greater side of 20 minutes.  I sat here and took in the scenery as much as I could.  I looked at the bluffs I was surrounded by, the lake hundreds of feet below, the rock formations, and individual trees across the gap from me.  The volunteers asked me if I was okay, and I assured them I just simply was not ready to keep moving yet.  I truly believe that you can get a certain kind of energy from taking in the beauty that you're surrounded by, and that's exactly what I needed.  It just kind of sucked that it took so many minutes to get it.  There were climbers here and I watched them while I was petting someone's dog, thinking "I want to do that.  That looks like so much fun."  The aid station at mile 45.5 was next to the finish line, and knowing that I had to go past it and up and down the ski hills sucked.  For whatever reason, I started to cry a little here.  I clenched my jaw and forbid any tears to roll down my cheeks.  There was a lid on the salted potatoes and I choked out, in a very small voice, "May I please have some salted potatoes?".  The volunteer apologized up and down for not having the lid off and I did my best to assure her that she was amazing, all the while perfectly aware that I was sounding like a five-year-old practicing please-and-thank-yous while trying not to fucking lose my emotions and cry hysterically.  I left this aid station walking, as I did most of them, and some lady in a blue dress came up and grabbed my arm, said "Lets go.  You are amazing.  You can do this.  You are so awesome." and made me start running.  I trotted along with her, and as I split off onto the trail she let me go and ended up falling.  I looked over my shoulder and weakly called "Are you okay?" but I got no reply.  I saw her get up and brush herself off.  I walked most of the ski hills except for the last part, which was all down them.  As I stated earlier, I know I can always run downhill.  So I did.  And I crossed the finish line.

And it wasn't worth it.  If I could go back in time and re-do this, I wouldn't have done this race.  I called Erin and we talked for a long time as I leaned against the side of my car, recapping the past 11 hours and 56 minutes of my life.  I knew exactly what I had learned:  Recovery is important, and I need to start treating it how it should be treated.  That being said, I haven't run since the race and I'm doing fun things.  I've been staying at my mom's on the lake since I got back, and I've been swimming and kayaking to keep my mind busy and off of running, and today Sammy and I are going climbing.  I told myself I wasn't going to run for a week, and it's incredibly difficult, but I think it's smart.  I'm incredibly grateful to have Erin in my life, because I think she is the only person who understands really what I'm going through, because she's been here, and she tends to have the same mental processes that I do.  Running your body into the ground fucking blows, and it's even worse when your mind follows.  Training can be really hard on the body, but I think that (for me, at least) it's even harder on the mind.  It's easy to slip into obsessive states and not realize that you're reaching a point where you are no longer benefiting from what you're doing.  When I called Erin, one of the first things she said was "Being in such a dark place for so long is a terrible feeling, but I think that's where you really learn the most."  And that is very true.

So, as I've already said, I'm focusing on other fun activities for a little while and getting back to my "happy state" in running, and learning to climb.  I've decided not to race until TNF 50 in December in San Francisco, but I'm excited to go to races to crew, pace and cheer people on.

++Also, that lady in the blue dress came up to me when I finished and gave me a huge hug.  It was then that I realized she was completely hammered (hence her falling).  She was slurring her words and making me laugh, and invited me to sit with her and all of her friends in the shade and have a beer and eat.  I did for a little while, and then I was on my 6 hour journey home.  Before I left she chased me down and demanded I take her e-mail.  I ended up winning my age group (though I may have been the only one in it, to be fair) and taking 9th OA.  I got a pint glass and another DWD pail.  I use my other pail to put fruit in, perhaps I will put vegetables in this one.

Monday, July 8, 2013

taking a DNF over a DNS in June.

I drove 15 hours to DNF my first attempt at a 100.  ...And that really fucking sucked.

At the end of the first day of driving we stopped in Mitchell, South Dakota for the night.  It left a few hours left of driving for the next day, with the obligation to pick Sarah up from Rapid City airport in the early afternoon.  As I sat down on the hotel bed and opened my computer to start the first chunk of a new blog, the unthinkable happened.  The color drained from my face as the black screen failed to light up.  I incessantly pounded the keyboard with my fingertips praying the little letters would start glowing, but all to no avail.  My heart pounded as I was suddenly infuriated with Apple.  I had this computer six fucking months and it was pulling this shit now?  After fuming for a few hours I decided to put it behind me.  My computer was broken and there was not a damn thing I could do about it.  Hindsight being 20/20, perhaps this was a bad omen.  ;)

The Black Hills 100 course is beautiful.  If you haven't been to that part of the country, I highly suggest it.  It was never on my list of places to visit until I found this race, and I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to see South Dakota (and, consequently, Minnesota).  I felt like I was well prepared for the elevation and the terrain.  The one weird thing about this race was that it was the quietest race start ever.  I found myself in a comfortable mid-pack group and no one said a word for at least the first 20 minutes.   After a few steep climbs we came out on a nice ridge and I finally broke the ice with "This is the quietest ultra ever."  Everyone laughed and agreed, and introductions with typical race conversation followed.  My heart rate for the first hour was a bit higher than normal, but I easily attributed this to race adrenaline and nerves.  At the first aid station I ate some fruit, took some salt and was on my merry way.  The rest is a bit of a blur, but I'll do my best to recollect as much as I can.  I caught back up with a guy named Jeremiah that I had started with, and we kind of hung around these other two guys who I can't remember, but one of them had poles.  On the steeper climbs I was like damn, I wish I had some poles.  That bastard.  But seriously, I can't help but hate on the poles.  COME.  ON.  You're not actually hiking up the side of a mountain here, dude.  You're running an ultra.  You're running.  You're not in Europe.  What is this, Transvulcania?  No.  You're probably thinking "Kelsey, you DNF'd and this guy probably finished and you're having the audacity to rip on his poles".  Yeah.  That's probably true.  With my luck he probably has tons of respectable finishes under his belt with his poles.  That still doesn't change my opinion about running with poles.  Especially at this race.  ANYWAY, I remembered being so annoyed by this and also kind of laughing because he was all tricked out in Salomon gear as well.  Jeremiah took an opportunity to pass these guys and I got stuck behind for a bit.  When pole guy almost snagged my ankle while we took a downhill, I decided I had had enough.  I wanted to go catch Jeremiah.  I caught him just a few minutes later and he was running with a guy that soon introduced himself as Kendrick.  I noticed that Kendrick was probably the only other person besides me reppin' the New Balance in a world of Hokas.  Side note:  Hokas will always make me laugh.  Always.  Every time.  Every god damn time.  I just can't get used to it.  I can't.  They're both from Colorado, so I hung back and listened to their stories and similar experiences.  I mentally added Quad Rock to my list of races to cross off.  I started to feel kind of shitty at this point, so having them there to listen to was nice.  I chimed in here and there, but I certainly wasn't the usual chatterbox.  There was an aid station somewhere along the way where the volunteer kept boasting about the "Scott Jurek recipe snacks" that they had.  For those that don't know me terribly well, I one time "on your left"ed Scott Jurek on a group run, and I had no idea it was him.  Of course the whole point of the run was to "Run with the greatest ultrarunner ever!  Scott Jurek!".  Anyway, I hate to delve into details of last summer while trying to recap last weekend, but it was hilarious and I have never lived it down.  Ever since then my life is filled with Scott Jurek jokes, especially his recipes ("jerker balls").  I made a mental note to tell Joe about this.  Perhaps if I would have ate some of the leaves and nuts that are the Jerker recipes, I wouldn't have DNF'd.  ;)   There was eventually a longer, flat section with a couple of creek crossings.  It felt nice to get the feet wet, and my legs were feeling great so I let them go a bit and picked up some speed.  I did a great amount of passing through here, and then Kendrick was gone for a moment and then eventually Jeremiah as well.  Starting to go back up after this little quick valley was when I noticed myself feeling unusually shitty.  I was hit with a wave of nausea, which is never something I've had to battle with in my running.  I slowed down and drank more, and assessed.  I thought of everything I had eaten and how often I was drinking, and everything was normal.  Not one thing was different.  I tried to shrug it off.  I came up to the aid station at 22.5 (I think) and I wasn't in the best of shape.  I drank a lot here, which was surprising me because I was drinking to thirst and holy fuck I was thirsty.  I got down some HEED, half a banana and some other aid station food.  I hung out here for a few minutes.  As I was leaving the aid station Jeremiah was coming in.  He shouted "I'm going to come catch you!" and with half of a smile and full sincerity I replied with "I have no doubt about that."  I jogged out and about 2 minutes later I leaned against a tree and puked my brains out.  It wasn't one of those 'oh, I think I'm going to be sick but I'll hold it in and hope it goes away oh it's not going to go away I better just throw up' vomits, it was a no-time-to-think-projectile-vomit.  I barely made it off the trail.  I debated going back to the aid station and trying to get more food and water, but there was no way I was going to backtrack.  Forward motion always.  So I walked.  Jeremiah soon was right behind me.  I told him I wasn't doing well, that I felt like I couldn't keep anything down.  He suggested we just walk it out for awhile.  I told him to go ahead, but he insisted on staying.  I could have hugged him, but I'm not much of a toucher.  At all.  Ever.  We talked about beer a lot, and about Michigan and Colorado and Virginia and his job.  We talked about races we've done and races we want to do and races we might never do.  I tried to get down a gel and it didn't happen.  He gave me a ginger chew and it helped.  I drank without feeling sick.  This section, I think, was my favorite.  The views were amazing and I was in splendid company.  We mentioned that it was weird Kendrick hadn't caught us yet, but he probably would soon.  I ran when I could, and Jeremiah walked with me when I had to.  We were both out of water and praying for the aid station when we were graced with a long, winding downhill, and heard a road.  We came up to the next aid station (Dalton lake or something?).  I switched shoes here.  This is something I've never done but I remembered Jesse saying that sometimes it just feels good to switch shoes after awhile, and it did.  But I switched into the Pearls and goddammit I hate those shoes, but at the time I appreciated them.  I ate some pineapple here and part of a sandwich, and told my mom, aunt and sister I was having a hard time keeping anything down.  The pineapple tasted amazing, and at the time it was exactly what I wanted.  It was cold, small chunks, and sweet.  I hung out in the shade for a few minutes here.  I vocalized how terrible I was feeling, but that I knew I could make it halfway.  I can run 50 miles, I've run 50 plenty of times to know that I can do it.  If I could just get to 50, I'd assess from thereon.  The climb was pretty steep after leaving this aid station, and it was oddly straight up.  I was all "what the fuck, can a girl get a switchback or what?".  I threw up violently in the middle of it, and again at the top of it.  There was a total douche-grade two track at the top of this climb, and I knew it was a good opportunity to get the legs moving again and into a groove.  My body wasn't having it, and I was throwing up anywhere from 3 to 15 minutes.  I cannot stress how violent it was.  It wasn't just a gag it was a downright heave, and my abs were aching from it.  My throat was on fire.  I thought about how odd it was that I hadn't peed yet.  Thinking about this made me kind of have to pee, so I found a spot and went.  I looked down and my pee was the color of blood.  This has never happened to me before.  I think I actually stopped peeing because I was so freaked out.  I continued on and just wanted to get to the next aid station.  I was not a huge fan of this part of the trail.  I know it's all mental, and for whatever reason I loathe two tracks.  I hate wide trails in general, and I don't know why.  For some stupid reason they are mentally hard for me.  Stick me on a single track and I'm good to go, but a wide trail?  Ehhh... not my style.  It eventually came out to a road.  A road.  Pavement.  Awesome.  Because this is that I really wanted to do at that moment.  Slam some concrete.  I crossed my fingers and hoped this road section would be ridiculously short.  It felt ridiculously long.  The next aid station sucked.  I was in such rough shape and no one knew what I needed.  I tried to get some food/gatorade down, and it came up minutes later down the trail.  This next part of the trail SUCKED.  I HATED it.  It was a wide two track ATV trail that was dusty and also went through some weird campground or something.  This part was really beating me up mentally.  I just like to be deep in the woods all of the time, and this wide-trail-dusty-road-thing wasn't cutting it.  Or, rather, I wasn't cutting it.  This section took me so long.  I ran when I could, and it just resulted in more vomit.  More convulsions.  More acid coming up my throat.  I stopped to pee again and it was blood.  I drank and not even 30 seconds later it would come back up.  I couldn't even keep water down.  I tried to get a gel down, it was all I had on me.  I got a tiny swallow and again I was bent over on a tree heaving it up.  I stuffed the rest of it in the pocket on my handheld and, now that I think about it, it's still in there.  I was so thirsty and I had one drink of water left.  I drank it, and moments later I was leaning on yet another tree.  As I felt my abs ripping apart and the acid coming up my throat and what seemed to be my nose as well, my eyes burned with hot tears.  I couldn't keep going like this.  Why was I not even getting down water?  I swallowed the rising lump in my throat.  Fucking get it together goddammit.  But I couldn't.  It wasn't happening.  The next aid station was mile 42, and I called it there.  I sat down on the sheet that my lovely crew had laid in the shade and stared at my feet.  Maybe it just wasn't my day.  Maybe I should keep going.  I put my forehead on my knees and internally "You're not even at 50 yet!  Why is this happening?!  Why can't you just WORK?  You've done this before goddammit 6 weeks ago you ran a 50 like a fucking BREEZE talking and laughing the entire way!  Why are you breaking NOW?  What is even BROKEN?  This doesn't make sense.  WHY doesn't this make sense?  How can you be having the worst run of your life on the one fucking day it matters?".  I walked up to the volunteers.  They greeted me with smiles and were holding out food for me.  I declined with a small smile, told them how amazing they were for donating their time for the race, and asked who I needed to speak to to drop.  They directed me to my left, and I watched a man cross out "GRAY     KELSEY     24F     100M"  and write "DROP" on the line next to it.  My eyes swelled with tears and I choked out "thank you".  I went back to my sheet and my aunt and mom had tears as well.  Someone made a comment about how that took a lot of guts to do.  I mentally retorted with "not as much guts as it takes to keep going".  I quieted my mind and watched runners come in.  I gazed up the switchback and saw Kendrick jogging down.  I couldn't believe he was still behind me.  Last time I had seen him he looked so great.  He went up to his crew and I hobbled over to say hi.  Someone asked him how long it usually takes for him to finish, and he said he didn't know, because he's never finished one.  I wished him luck (or something of the like) and returned to the sheet.  I was able to get down some water and Oreos.  Oreos, right!  Of course.  It's always the Oreos.  Every time.

We packed up my stuff and drove through the Hills back to the hotel.  When we got to the hotel, I called Joe.  I sat in this little gazebo on the edge of the parking lot overlooking the highway and the hills.  He didn't answer, and I didn't leave a message.  I hung my head and let the tears flow.  I was literally hanging my head, and my tears were filling up my sunglasses and flooding over.  My heart was broken.  I had broken my own heart.  My stupid body had broken my own heart.  Joe called right back, and I took a deep breath before answering.  I don't know why I even bothered, because as soon as I did my shoulders just started shaking and I broke down again.  I could barely get anything out, I just sat there and sobbed on one end while Joe talked on the other end.  When I say sobbed, I mean sobbed.  He continued telling me how proud he was of me to have the guts to sign up for the race, train for it, and toe the line.  He reminded me that sometimes you wake up and it's just not your day.  It happens.  It fucking happens and it sucks so much.  After we hung up I felt a little better for a moment.  I thought about Tony Krupicka's latest failure.  Then I thought about my latest failure.  Then I thought about the common denominator:  the 110s.  DAMMIT ANTON.  You designed the shoe for failures.  I laughed at my own joke and walked up to the hotel room.  I ate some food at dinner that night, and my pee was normal about 24 hours later.

I've had adequate time to reflect on what happened that day, and I've come to the conclusion that I still have no fucking idea.  And I don't think anyone knows.  And that's fine.  Let's face it, I was due for a bad race anyway.  I had a shitty day, but I still got to run a very pretty course, in a part of the country I've never been to before.  I got to experience the Black Hills a way that not many people choose to (which still boggles my mind).  I met some pretty awesome people, and when it comes down to it, any day that I get to spend 10 hours in a forest is a really good day.  The funny thing about DNF'ing is that you kind of realize how many people don't give a shit if you finish or not.  It's humbling.  I couldn't sleep that night, and I got up at 5:15 to go down to the start/finish to watch finishers come in.  It was a little hard to do, and I had to really try not to mentally beat myself up with the "this should be you finishing" mantras, because they were definitely rolling through my head, but I wanted to be there for the people that I could be there for, you know?  I wanted to clap for the people jogging those painful steps down that track to the finish.  I wanted to smile big for them because maybe they wouldn't be able to do it for themselves as they collapsed on the field in exhaustion.  I wanted to see their moment.  I didn't have mine, and that's fine, but there were many left that deserved to be experienced.  I could count the number of people at the finish line on one hand, including me and the timing lady.  I watched a few people come in over the course of a few hours, and it's so funny to me how anticlimactic ultra finishes are.  You run 100 miles and at the finish line you get a handful of people clapping for you, and someone forgetting to hand you your belt buckle and a bottle of water.  There is something terribly beautiful about it.

I feel lucky to love this sport as much as I do.  I went out and ran the first few miles of the course the morning that we left, and I am just purely glad that I like to do that.  It makes me feel alive, and not in the pain-makes-you-feel-alive weird kind of way (which, granted, is also true), but it makes me appreciate being able to move.  My happiness doesn't come from buying pretty things or doing shots all night at a bar, it comes from running through nature, climbing on my hands and knees, playing around in a creek on a long run, or sitting on a boulder and watching the sun come up.

I have no doubt in my mind that I'm capable of running 100 miles.  I don't think I was capable of running 100 miles that day.  Maybe I was.  Maybe I just needed to take a break for a half hour and then go back at it.  I'll never know, and that's fine with me. ...Kind of.  I'll attack it again soon enough and hopefully things will go differently.  In the very least I'll know that if I start throwing up or pissing blood, I'm not going to die.  I figured I got a nice long run in that day, so this coming weekend I'm going to go over to Wisconsin and do the Devil's Lake 50M and see how that goes.  I was, of course, incredibly upset after my DNF, but I don't care so much about it now.  It still sucks, but it doesn't suck that bad.  There will be another 100 start that ends with a finishing time, I'm sure.

So, race was less than stellar, but the trip overall was amazing.  It was pretty awesome to drive all the way out there.  I'm a fan of road trips, and it was cool to see the land change.  I feel like people always say it's so flat out there, but I didn't think it was flat.  Minnesota and South Dakota have hills.  It's not mountainous but I wouldn't say it's flat.  And the sky!  Oh, my.  You can see forever and it is most wonderful.  One of the best things about the Earth is that when you are taken out of your element, it can make you feel small and insignificant, because you are.  My mom, aunt and I were talking for a few minutes about how humans, in the vast majority of things, are really such a small part of time.  We're really nothing, even though we think we're everything.  We prefer to think of ourselves as being terribly significant.

We visited Custer State Park on Sunday of our trip, and it was pretty awesome.  However, when we were sitting in the car looking at the buffalo, I suddenly became overwhelmed with sadness.  This sounds a bit melodramatic and a part of me wishes I could say I am joking but I'm not one bit.  Here was this beautiful animal that once had complete free range of the land until we came along and destroyed it.  Then of course we thought they're kinda cool, and we might want to keep them around, but let's just section off a chunk of land and put them there for our own entertainment.  Don't get me wrong, I'm glad we have all of these wonderful areas protected, but it's disgusting that it needs to be protected in the first place.  We, as the human race, took (take) whatever the fuck we want(ed) without regards to anything. "This part of the country is pretty.  Let's slap some pavement all over it so people can drive around in their cars and marvel at 'what-used-to-be' without thinking 'what could be'.  A bit of a tangent, yes, and I'm sure there will be an elaborate blog post delving into that subject in the near future.  In the meantime, here's some pictures from the trip.

Also, Jeremiah and Kendrick both finished.  My heart swelled with happiness for them when I checked the results on Sunday evening.

Minnesota wind farms

Corn Palace.  (Yes.)

This needs to be shared, just because we are hilarious.

1880 Town.  Yes it's a real place, yes that is me in a pink dress.

South Dakota has some really great tourism.

The Badlands

More Badlands

...This is the aid station i dropped at. ...Dammit.

Replicating Mount Rushmore via iPhone Panorama.  (almost perfect, but I have no left arm.)

Custer State Park

Custer State Park (I think?)

Custer State Park

This was too funny not to be shared.  Courtesy of Tom via Sarah.

Another Mount Rushmore replica with all 4 of us.

The next few were all taken from part of the course I ran the morning we left.

I pet one of those cows.

THIS GUY. Ugh. Love.

Yes, that is a horse with a cross on its head and Mount Rushmore on its side.  Just another South Dakota gem we had to document.  We soon after found out you are not allowed to sit on the horse.

Things I learned in South Dakota:
1.  It's possible to wake up and have a shitty race, no matter how much you train.
2.  Dakota Jones has a girlfriend
3.  I have the coolest family ever.
4.  The further west I go, the happier I get.