Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Portland Marathon [training + racing]

I'm trying to make this not boring.

I had an incredible race for the Portland Marathon. I felt awesome, I was strong, and I ran so evenly. I worked hard for it, and on race day, it came easy.

As I stated in my blog post before, I drew from three strong women for my training plan. There were things I did religiously and things I slacked on.

I never got my mileage above 48 miles in one week. When I decided to train for a road marathon, I didn't want to do high mileage. I not only had no interest in returning to ultramarathons but I had no interest in dedicating my life to logging miles. I wanted to work hard, but I wanted to enjoy the life Zac and I have built together and the city in the summer. We went on camping trips and hiked mountains because we love to do that together, which for me is more important than logging a 15 mile mountain run by myself.

I worked on every run. I didn't go out for lazy runs or easy runs. When I first started running, a man named Joseph Trupp was one of my mentors and I will always remember him telling me "The hardest thing about getting faster is the reality that you just have to run faster. If you wanna get fast you gotta be fast." That was in 2011 and it still rings in my ears. I wanted to qualify for Boston at Portland, and in order for that my average mile time had to be at least 8:12. So I ran all of my miles faster than that while training. And guess what? It wasn't easy at first. But it got easier. 8:10 clipped down to 8:05 and that clipped down to 8:00 miles and for the last 8 weeks I was regularly running comfortably under 8 minute miles. There are several arguments for embracing the easy run, but I've been doing that for a long time and I was very over it. It felt good to work hard, and I saw results. I made myself believe I could run comfortably in that range and it happened. I didn't crush Portland because I live at 5,280 feet. In fact, altitude training is not really that reliable (look up Jack Daniels' talks on it, they'll help you understand) and Denver isn't even that high! I just had to address this because non-athletes kept saying "Oh, you'll be at sea level!" when it doesn't work like that. Portland went well because I worked really hard and was really dedicated. (end rant)

Tempo/Mid-week long run
I did two running workouts per week. The most important and valuable part of my training was my mid-week longish run with Zach Byers. If this guy's name rings a bell it's because he's no stranger to my blog, I gave him a shout-out in my sappy 'Goodbye TKD' post (which is now over a year old - crazy). Anyway, Byers is a fast runner. He's faster than me, and every Tuesday (or Wednesday sometimes) we would hit the pavement together for 10-12 miles and he held me steadily at a pace anywhere from 7:20s to 7:45s. Our slowest average time was 7:49s, and I ran these distances at this pace while having conversation with him. This not only helped me obviously get faster, but it boosted my confidence. If I could run this pace for this long and still talk and get the appropriate oxygen to my muscles, sub-8:12s in Portland shouldn't be a problem. If I couldn't talk much and was struggling, Byers held the conversation by himself and helped me pull through. This workout was also the only time I trained with anyone else. It's also important to note I did this workout every week, two to three days after my track workout.

My track workouts were 3.1 to 3.25 miles long, religiously done at North High's track. By myself (except for once when Byers joined me and crushed me). I took the workouts from Rocky Mountain Road Runners' website (thanks for posting them!) and I worked so hard every time. Most of the time I did them in 90 degree heat and the blistering Colorado sun. Alone. If I didn't hit sub-6 mile pace for repeats, I ran the next one harder and would be in the low 5:00 mile range. If I was tired, I caught myself saying "I should listen to my body..." and pushed it out of my mind, sucked it up, and ran harder. I pushed for more, always. And I got more.

I weight trained once a week. I broke this training up into three cycles over my four months of training. I built a base with medium/hard efforts with exercises for shoulders/back/biceps/triceps/hips/quads/glutes. It was about an hour workout every time. The second cycle was heavier weights with maximum effort, same exercises. The third cycle was plyometrics to keep the fast-twitch muscles awake and active as I moved my running training into lower mileage and into a taper.

I did a core workout of 400 reps of ab exercises 5 times a week, because every experienced runner knows your legs don't do all of the work.

 (non-runners: 'Taper' is the time, generally 2-3 weeks, before a big race where you back off your training and let your body completely heal and be as strong as possible before the big race.)

I pulled up injured over three weeks from the start of the Portland Marathon. I still am injured. One day I simply woke up and my left calf was screaming as soon as I got out of bed. I took it easy for a few days and ran only 3-4 miles and it didn't get better. It never felt okay. It hurt at work, it hurt at home, it was unmanageable pain up and down stairs, and never got better while running. I stretched, I iced, I rolled it out, but 3 weeks out from the marathon it was still hurting. One particular run I stopped at the top view of Cheesman Park, my absolute favorite spot in all of the city, and broke down. I sat on a bench and put my head in my hands and knew that I knew this pain. This was the same pain I had when I first was injured before ultimately wrecking myself 8 months later. My calf pain was coming from my weak hips and I knew, from experience, there isn't a quick fix and it wasn't going to feel better for Portland. I sat on that bench and cried pretty hard. I came home and looked at all of my training. I logged ALL of my training by hand on paper calendars that I hung on our fridge. Workouts, miles, average mile times, all of it. And I had totally, completely neglected hip strength. This is important for all runners, but I know this is specifically a weakness for me. And for months I just didn't really think about it.

I paced around the apartment and thought about not going to Portland, but I had worked too hard to not start. This injury had pushed me into a 3+ week taper, and I had to figure out how to deal with that mentally and physically, so I read A LOT. I read article after article from Olympic runners and collegiate cross country coaches and professional athletes around the world. I knew if I just 'tapered' normally with low mileage and easy runs I would feel like shit on race day. I had to keep my intensity up and my injury at bay, somehow. It was also important to me that I not gain weight and maintain my muscle so I wouldn't feel sluggish on race day. I *KNOW* that a big part of this for me is having my taper time at MAXIMUM of two weeks. So a three week taper was a HUGE wrench in my game plan.

So I went to spin classes! My climbing gym, Movement, has spin classes 6 days a week and I went to every single one. I got up at 5:30am during the week to make it to the 6:15 spin classes. For my birthday (early September) Zac got me the Suunto Ultra Sport HR watch. It is by far the nicest piece of equipment I have ever had in my life and I'm still figuring out all of the bells and whistles to it, but during injury what I relied on most was the chest heart rate monitor. I was so thankful for this. I had never worn a heart rate monitor regularly before, and although the wrist ones are kind of cool, nothing is more accurate than a chest strap. I wore it for a few runs and learned what my max heart rate was, and which zones I wanted to be in. This helped so much for spin class, because cycling is fucking hard and I'm not surprised that people dope so much in that community. Watching my heart rate on my watch made me add resistance to the bike when I was already dripping sweat and gasping, pushing me to my maximum for an hour while keeping it light on my calf. I truly believe I was actually gaining aerobic capacity in my last three weeks of training from this. After spinning, I hit the weights. I focused so much on my shoulders, upper back and triceps. I did heavy weights 5 times a week for these areas because I knew that if my injury really got in the way during the race, I would have to turn to my upper body to help carry me through the hard times, and I needed that muscle to be there. So I built it.

From July 12 to October 8th I was sober, with the exception of my birthday and when my sister came to visit. Sobriety is a big part of training for me for a few different reasons. First, alcohol isn't good for you. We all know the article that's been viral for two years now on how 'red wine is good for you', but we all (hopefully?) are aware that it's not true. When you choose to not put poison into your body, your body is able to work harder and better. I also slept better. Training hard has got to be matched with good sleep for recovery, and I NEVER sleep well after I drink. I also make awful dietary choices when I'm drunk, and if I'm hungover I don't run. So I just cut alcohol out, and it was awesome. It was also extremely difficult, because I was bartending at a job I hated where everyone else was drinking on the job (or blowing coke in the parking lot - but that's a different story). I once again stopped eating meat in May and gave up dairy as well while training. Dairy causes more phlegm and I'm already kind of disgusting when I run, so less snot rockets was really great. Again, it goes back to putting the right nutrients into my body so it could recover and have the ability to perform the way I knew it could and the way I knew I wanted it to. No alcohol and no dairy were difficult lifestyles to adopt at first, but once those 7:30 miles started to come easy, so did the lifestyle.

I had some pretty big failures in my training. I already mentioned I led myself into injury from ignoring hip strength workouts, but I also never made my long run goals. I took my long run schedule from Hal Higdon, with three 20 milers 2-3 weeks from each other, and I failed each one. They were all done in 92-96 degree heat, and by myself. My longest was 19 miles, with 1,000 feet of elevation gain in the first 9.5 miles. That is A LOT for a road run, and the total elevation gain of the Portland Marathon is about 400 spread over 26.2 miles, so it was good training. But I never hit 20 (and I truly don't think you have to). However, my average mile time for my slowest long run was 8:26. So that was good. As I mentioned in the blog post before, I used those long runs to work hard, not to run easy. I tried different strategies and fuels and learned lessons on each one.

I wanted to weight train twice a week and I really had no excuse not to, I just didn't get to the weights a second time per week. Ever. Not once.

Sometimes I put cheese on my tacos. Zac makes us incredible veggie tacos with the Morning Star crumbles, and sometimes I used cheese.

I should've gone to yin yoga more. I do not use yoga for exercise, but I practice yin to help break up connective tissue, deep breathing exercises, anxiety prevention and meditation. It's important and it should've been a weekly regimen while training so hard.

The morning we left for Portland Zac and I found out we had to move when we returned to Denver. It's a long story for another blog post, but it added A LOT of stress, and without Zac being a pillar of reason and comfort, I would've been a wreck. With Zac throughout all of this training I don't think I would've had such a great race. There were a few times he told me to "Remember you're doing this because it's fun" and it annoyed me so much but I knew he was right. I also don't think I've ever had a spectator at a race the way Zac was, and it makes my heart so happy. Anyway...

My first goal for Portland was to have a good race. I wanted to finish knowing that I had pushed and I had been smart. My second goal was to qualify for Boston, to average 8:12 miles and finish under 3:35:00. My third tier goal was to run closer to a 3:20, because I really thought I could.

Zac and I stayed at the host hotel, the Hilton, downtown. We went to the expo and he took my picture with my number in front of the Portland Marathon banner, and the whole building was buzzing with racing vibes. Several volunteers wished me a great race, and it felt truly genuine, and I was so grateful for those words. Because I wasn't there to run a marathon. I was there to race a marathon. And goddamn it has been a long time since I've said I'm at a race to race. It's been two years since I've actually trained to race, not just to finish. I was so nervous that I had an 8 oz glass of wine at the hotel bar that night. Sober through training but come the night before, I kicked back with an Oregon Pinot Noir. That night we walked around and settled on having ramen for dinner. I chose a not-spicy soup to help my stomach for the morning, and drank a lot of water. I should note that the whole week before the marathon I drank A LOT OF WATER.

The morning of the race I really wanted to eat oatmeal. Oatmeal is the best race breakfast and I generally always eat it before I run, but I couldn't do it. I was too nervous. I ate one huge banana and had two cups of coffee. I took 800mg of ibuprofen for my calf pain - I hadn't taken any pain medication at all my entire training, so I knew the 800mg were going to work well.

I was started in the first wave, which always makes me blush and feel humbled. It was so cold that morning, I didn't take my jacket off until about 30 seconds before the start. I generally get emotional at big race starts, because there are thousands of people who are there that all went through their own journeys and training, and running is so important to them for all kinds of reasons. That just always makes me tear up. However, when the air horn went off and I crossed the start line, I had no tears. I was too focused.

I'm not sure what else to say other than I had a great race. I had my watch dialed in to the face settings I wanted, and it vibrates after each mile. I looked down after the first mile, clocked at a comfortable 7:30, and knew I should back off. I ran easier and forced myself to run slower than I wanted to, which was difficult. The next time I checked my watch was at the 10k mark and knew I was in the clear by far. The Portland Marathon is a big out and back, but it's so beautiful. You run through the industrial park which isn't great but you have this incredible view of the St Johns Bridge which you get to run across! With the river, the bridge and the colors on the trees, I was just in awe. I wouldn't change Denver's beauty and view of the high Rockies, but this course was so fun and entertaining because I had not done it before, and had no idea what I was going to see. At mile 8 (I think?) is the climb up to the St Johns Bridge, and it's long and it's steep, but I destroyed it. I was SO HAPPY to be running uphill, my legs just fired away and I let loose a little bit. I caught a lot of people on this climb and never saw them again. Running over the bridge and through the neighborhoods on the other side was so fun. I struggle to find other words to describe it. At mile 14 was the turnaround, and I thought to myself "Alright cool, time to jog back to the city". It was also here that I noticed my watch was ahead by one quarter of a mile, which is a bummer. I hadn't calibrated it to Portland from Denver, which I should've done, but I still knew my times were quick enough that I was ahead of my first two goals.

I remember around mile 16 I started to work my arms and pick up my pace, and I had to tell myself no. I didn't want to push with 10 miles left. I didn't carry a water bottle or anything for the race, there's so much aid at road races that you don't have to. I did, however, force myself to take aid at every single aid station, which is almost one/mile. I started with two cups of water and one cup of Ultima (electrolyte mix), and I changed it up according to how I felt. If my legs started to feel tired, I took two Ultima and one water. If my stomach was starting to feel off, I took all water. This only happened twice. The only aid station I skipped was mile 25 (seemed ridiculous), and my hands were so cold that I dropped a few cups. I never slowed down or stopped to take cups. I was happy the entire time, taking in all the views, and the weather was perfect. Overcast with some drizzle, mid-50s with some sunshine for me the last three miles.

At mile 18 I started to press a bit. I never felt weak, but I knew it was coming, and I knew it should. At mile 21 I started to feel tired and kind of weak and took 5 cups of aid. My belly was full but I knew my body would use it soon. I focused on my breathing and thought about Kate and everything she had told me. "Allow yourself to be slower here. It will happen." Oddly enough my average mile time at 22 had dropped to 7:53. At mile 23.5 I was feeling rough. I engaged my shoulders and pumped my arms and took the effort off my legs, but I was tired. I thought about sleep a lot, and how nice it would be. My thoughts started to drift to "I can just take these miles easy, I'm tired, and I've worked hard. I'm happy with this." But I quickly thought back to myself "No. NO. I am NOT doing this. I didn't work so hard all summer to run an easy last two miles. I know how to push." I thought "I have two miles left. I've had harder two mile runs than this" which is true, because I had done a two-miler the day before, the morning we left Denver, and it was AWFUL. It was so hard. And I smiled when I remembered that. The 3:30 pace group was just a few seconds ahead of me, and I looked down at my toes and thought "Okay, time to catch them and give it everything" AND THEN A FUCKING AMTRAK TRAIN CUT ME OFF. I looked up and a police officer was stopping the race, and train track arms were going down. You can imagine the reaction from everyone. I stared in doubt, and stopped my watch out of sheer city running habit. The guy next to me told me I'd still qualify for Boston and I spat "Yeah I know that's not my worry!" Because I had something to give. I had more to push for. My legs still had juice! I was at mile 24 and I was able to say my legs felt good. The train was 42 seconds. I know this because Suunto tells me how long my watch is paused for when I pause it (a blessing and a curse).

I couldn't catch the 3:30:00 pace group, but I still pushed until the end. I saw Zac about 500 feet from the finish line and he was videoing, and I smiled and waved and shouted "I'll see you in a few minutes!" As soon as I crossed the finish line I stopped my watch, and it buzzed with a congratulations text from Byers. I teared up immediately and felt so proud of myself. I had a near perfect race, my splits were consistent and I had a happy mindset for three and a half hours. I had no pain in my left calf the entire race, but toward the end, my right calf was really hurting. I assume this was from not only running on pavement for 26 miles but my right calf was definitely compensating for my left. I couldn't feel the injury on my right, but it was there. Still is.

My official time was 3:31:19. Overall I placed 271 out of 2,948. I was the 54th woman out of 1,467, and 16th out of 306 in my age group (25-29).

I'm fully recovered and have been ready to get back to training since I finished. I'm going to start training to run a 1:30:00 half marathon. That's really fast, and I have no idea if I'll be able to do it, but it seems fun to try. I've fallen in love with running hard and getting faster. It's a much different style than I'm used to, but getting back to hard training has helped running shine into corners of my life that make me a better person. It took a long time for me to return to running the way I wanted to, but when I'm working hard with running, I'm a better person. I'm more driven as a human, I'm a better partner, I'm a better friend, and I'm happier. I hope I never lose it again.

My watch splits for the marathon (remember it was .23 miles ahead)


Monday, September 18, 2017

Pushing the falls

Well here I am and there you are and it's the beginning of the end of September which means it's been almost a year since I hit the road with the tale that I'd never be back until I ended up coming back to Denver and here we all are again, in my tiny space of the infinite internet. A few nights ago, after whiskey and wine and dinner, I laid in our bed and stared at the ceiling and said "Why do I always find a way to be broke in October?"
"Broketober" was Zac's response.

I've been running. I haven't really been sharing my running, partly because I have very little people to share it with and partly because if I share it then I might end up talking about what I've been training for and I might end up saying my expectations and then they're real. I've spent the summer on the city streets of Denver training for the Portland Marathon.

Recently, when I've told people I'm wrapping up my training for the ol' Portland 26.2, I get a response similar to "Oh, a marathon is nothing for you", based on the knowledge that I used to race ultramarathons and love it. But that love, and my body, broke. My hip healed, but my heart didn't. Not for the ultra distance. The thing about ultramarathons is you can feel like shit and bonk and dehydrate yourself and still come back for a win. If you screw up your race strategy, you can take two miles and walk. You can catch your breath, you can take time to eat, sometimes you can rinse your face in a mountain stream. If you screw up your race strategy in a marathon, you likely won't be coming back in that race. If you forget to eat, if you forget to drink, if you let your mind wander for too long, there isn't time to come back. If you get 14 miles in and you're bonking, the next 12 miles are going to be awful. You don't get 30 more miles to figure it out, you get two hours to hate yourself.

These reasons are why racing a marathon is terrifying to me, and I could ramble on about them for what will seem like forever for a reader. But I won't. Instead, I'll tell you what I did.

I went to the three strongest, fastest women I know.
First, my sister. She works with a coach and for awhile she was forwarding me her weekly workouts/training plans. I built my base with these and my knowledge of meeting easy runs with perfect form, and read over and over the importance of aerobic capacity and aerobic fitness, and kept my mileage around 30 miles/week. No matter what I start training for, I always accelerate my mileage way too fast and burn myself out. This was key for the first 6 weeks of my training.

Second, Kim Barnes. I know Kim from the horse world back in Michigan, and for the past few years she has been slaying road running. She readily forwarded me MONTHS of her training plans with her coach, and from these I took cross-training and mileage suggestions for my own training plan. Four weeks of body-weight exercises, four weeks of weight training, and three weeks of plyometrics.

Third, I reached out to Kate King. I ALWAYS reach out to Kate when it comes to running. Kate and her husband, Zach, live in Denver and have been here since I moved out to Flagstaff. They're both fast and fly humans. They ran in college, Zach has been crushing 100s for a few years now, and Kate ran a sub-24hr 100 mile debut in Leadville last summer, and then this spring ran a 3:05 marathon in Eugene. I told Kate ALL about my training plan. My track workouts, my times, mileage, etc. and she unleashed so much knowledge and mentorship. One thing I was dreading was long runs, because I don't have a training group in Denver, and that long, slow distance is a Saturday morning that made me feel sick on Friday nights. But Kate told me to use my long runs. Work hard on them. Figure out what my hydration will be like, if I need to eat during the marathon distance, and if so - what? Can I get away with just an electrolyte drink and water? Do I need to carry a gels? Shot blocks? At what mile do I start to falter? Figure it out.
I also needed her to tell me about mental game for a road marathon. We talked about a few things, but these are two that I am constantly thinking of:
1. Control. I will, I guarantee, like most runners, go out too hard in the beginning. It's a new place, it's a new course, it will be much cooler than my training temperatures, adrenaline and crowd support are going to naturally push my pace. But I have to control that until at least halfway. And if I feel good at mile 14, I can let go and see what my legs can do.
2. "Miles 18-22 will suck. They just will, they always do. Expect to be slower here. Be ready for it, and accept it." I think this is the best bit of information. I remember Matt Wittenberg, years ago, saying "The marathon starts at mile 18." It's true.

So that's what's been going on with my running. I'm now in this weird spot where I have only three weeks until the race. I'm fighting something that feels like it could turn into a serious calf injury, and I'm trying to not let it make me crazy. And I feel constantly scared and worried.

I'm also starting a new job soon. The skinny on it is it's a fantastic new, beautiful restaurant opening in Denver and Zac and I get to work together again (not in secrecy) with other people that I miss and love. Back to what I love, with people I love. But it's new, and it feels like a gamble, and it's cultivating at the exact same time as this race I've put all of my energy into training for.

So this morning I paced around our apartment with my hands on my head trying to split up my anxiety and dismantle the hold it has on my lungs and my stomach and my legs and my brain and my heart. So I thought about what I felt a year ago.

And that answer is something like what I feel now, right? Restless, anxious, excited, naive and scared. Terrified. I am terrified.

But last fall I learned that you have to be terrified sometimes. Partly because I get myself into these terrifying situations and there really isn't anything to do but roll with it, and try to figure it out, because you can't go back.

I do wonder what it is about this time of year. Maybe it's because I'm not an academic anymore. Fall signifies a new period of learning, twelve weeks to stretch your mind in new directions and learn about the world around you, and in turn, learn about yourself. Maybe, because I'm not a student anymore, I force myself to do this in other ways (I wish they were more fiscally responsible ways, but you can't have it all). In the fall, I take what I love and push it into a new direction. Take it and fold it and knead it and roll it out, and see what it becomes. It makes my stomach turn, and it presses my brain into certain irrationalities, and it is so close to impossible to remember the good of what came from it last time. But it's there, even if you can't find it all of the time. And you have to kind of find solace in those moments and hang on to it. Hold it close, and make a mantra to help you remember it in times when you need it.

The weather in Denver has seemingly turned to fall, with day temperatures in the mid-70s. I have to spend some time in the aspens while they're turning, to not only take in their beauty, but calm my heart(rate) and my soul. I think you should do the same, yeah?

The race is October 8th. My next post will be spurred by the tears I have crossing the finish line - whether they be from physical pain (guaranteed), disappointment, or an explosion of victory. I know what you're thinking - "It will be all three!" No, it won't. It can't. That's just not how this race will work.

Lastly, I leave you with the song that I've been blasting in my ears for nearly this entire post. Stranger, by Covey. It's on Spotify (probably iTunes Radio, too) so go listen to it.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

a call to arms

(I started this blog post almost as soon as I got home from my run. The only thing I did before starting it was apply to be a Girls on the Run coach.)

My relationship with running is deep and intimate. I started running after the final breakup of an incredibly awful relationship with an exboyfriend who I still consider to be a horrible person. Over the last five and a half years I have built a healthy relationship with myself and learned to love my body for being strong and capable - something that I've learned to bridge into other parts of my life and wellbeing. It's odd to write about this because I haven't really done so before. Running has brought me some of the most important people in my life, and in a large way, running has brought me my life. My sister has been a runner for far longer than I have, and I've looked to her often for advice in both life and running - though after so many years and so many miles, it's hard to separate the two.

I've battled with self-esteem issues, as I know most women have/do. I never thought I was pretty enough or skinny enough, and in 2012 that hit an all-time low. I started to run, just a mile, or two, or three at a time and fell fully in love with the empowerment it gave me. I started to see myself gain muscle in my legs and arms, and I felt a strength that I had always craved, something I had looked for in all the wrong places (liquor bottles, lines of cocaine, etc.). I started to think I was capable of running longer, and harder, and I started to think I was capable in other parts of my life, too. I actually just started to think I was capable.

 With all sense of rapid success comes a plateau. I remember texting my sister, Sarah, about it very soon after I had started to actually 'train' with running. I was frustrated and very down on myself - more specifically my body. She advised me to look in the mirror and tell myself, out loud, that I love myself and that I matter. I was 23 at the time, and I still to this day have to practice that sometimes. Though it's embarrassing to write, I know that there should not be shame in it, and it's important that I share that in this piece, or the later message will be lost.

In early February I was on a run that was a little over 10 miles. I know that because I remember the route I was running, and if I leave from our apartment and run to Washington Park, complete the 2 mile trail there and run back, it's 10 and some change - 10.3 miles, exactly, I believe. It's not uncommon for Denver to be sunny and 50 or 60 degrees in February, and it was one of those days - shorts and a tee on a run in winter. I stood on the corner of two streets waiting for the light to change so I could cross, taking in the sunlight and feeling thankful that I had running in my life, and grateful to be out and enjoying such weather. On this particular run I had thought about my relationship with running and how it had impacted my life, and really how it had directed my life. As I waited patiently for the 'walk' sign, someone yelled "Hey!" and I looked over in the direction it had come from. I locked eyes with a man in a white truck who had his windows down. His eyes were piercingly blue, his skin was white and he had no hair, and was roughly mid-40's. Not breaking eye contact, he yelled "I want to fuck you."

And I didn't say anything. I clenched my jaw and stared straight ahead, and when I finally got the 'walk' sign, I walked across the intersection. I continued to walk for awhile, maybe a city block. I then started to run again, and after a few steps could feel the tears welling up behind my eyes. I wanted so desperately not to cry, because crying while running is just the worst. You start to not be able to breathe and then feel as though you're going to throw up. And sometimes you do. So I slowed to a walk and started to let the tears fall. I've been cat-called while running countless times, but I've never felt as violated as I had in that moment where that man shouted at me that he wanted to fuck me. I wiped my tears and realized that I was so upset because if that man wanted to fuck me, he could. If he was comfortable shouting this at me, with eye contact, in BROAD DAYLIGHT in the middle of the fucking city, what if he saw me during the night? What if he felt like fucking me at 11pm in an alley? Or the back seat of his truck? The reality is that he could, because he is bigger than me and stronger than me. And if he feels entitled enough to express his feelings verbally without the anonymity of darkness, I have no doubt that he would feel entitled enough to grab my pussy if he felt like it. I mean, if the President of the United States can speak openly about grabbing someone's pussy just because he feels like it, then certainly the citizens can (and will, and do) follow suit.

I didn't tell anyone about this man for a couple of days because I thought I knew what people would say. They would say "Walking away and ignoring it is the best thing to do." and "You did the right thing by not feeding into it" and "He was just trying to get a reaction out of you, you did the right thing". But that is not the right thing to do, and I think everyone knows that. I know that, too. But I was paralyzed by it. And I knew people would say "You can't let it get to you," which, I think, is the most fucked up response out of all of them. Because it did get to me. In that moment, that man took all of the power that running has given me over the years - the self-love, self-care, appreciation for nature and mountains and trees and my lifestyle, the drive to better myself, the world around me and to help others - and ripped it away. In that moment, and after that moment, I felt like that 22 year old girl who had constant hate for myself and my body and never felt comfortable being in my own skin. I was diminished to a sex object.

I've told this story to a few different groups of people, and their reactions correlate strongly with who they are. When I told Abby and Alice just a few days after, while we were at dinner, they both shook their head and had offered similar stories and feelings. This is generally the reaction from females. But white males? Forget it. I got every single response that I listed in the above paragraph from white males, with the exception of Zac. When I told Zac, he hugged me and told me he was sorry I had to go through that, and we talked about possible solutions and situations and outcomes.
But white male co-workers?
"Just ignore it."
"Those people don't ever change."
My personal favorite: "Were you wearing really short shorts?"
Right, because it's my fault. Silly me. Why on earth should I wear running apparel? Why wasn't I wearing baggy sweatpants instead?!
I don't even own sweatpants.

Which brings me to my next scenario, which happened, today, just before I started this post. In fact, I am still sitting here in my running clothes, sweat soaked into Zac's computer chair (sorry love).

It's hot in Denver. I learned last summer that Denver gets much hotter than Flagstaff, and I had forgotten that kind of heat. I love running without a shirt on. I think it's liberating and comfortable. I had a rough start to my run today. I didn't necessarily feel strong, and with every step I felt like all I could notice was the fat on my hips and underarms jiggling away. Whenever this happens to me I always remember sage advice from my sister: To remember that my body is strong, and to thank it for being able to perform what it does, and that it's healthy, and that is most important. Mile times and distance is secondary to gratitude. So it almost becomes an annoying internal battle of "Ugh I feel so fat and slow" to "I'm so thankful that living a healthy life matters to me, and my body is strong."

So as I turned the corner at Downing and Colfax and heard the man I passed whistle at me, I stopped dead in my tracks and turned around. This is the conversation that happened:
"Did you just whistle at me?"
"Don't worry about it."
"Why do you think that is an acceptable thing to do?"
"Ain't my fault you're running around without a shirt on."
"Whistling at women is not a compliment. It's demeaning and can often feel threatening."
"I was whistling at that bird."
"No, you weren't. You have no right to treat women like they are objects that are here for you to enjoy."
"You aren't even that pretty."
At this point I turned and started walking away.
"Did you hear me? You're ugly. You're fat. Keep walking, you fucking cunt."

And I cried. And I thought about how now I can't run in the city alone, not even at 1 in the afternoon. I don't think I'm fat. Or ugly. But that's because I have spent years telling myself that I'm not, and building a healthy lifestyle and relationship with myself. And those comments rip it apart, all because a man got defensive when I confronted him about objectifying my body.

My third and last scenario that I'd like to publicly address is one that happened to me at work. I now work at a bar, and last week I had a guest follow me out to my car after the bar closed and I was trying to go home. This man had also, earlier in the night, made me particularly uncomfortable by following me into a designated 'employee area' just because he "wanted to talk" and "hang out". I followed the rules about leaving - no one is supposed to leave work alone. I walked out with the bartender around 2:20am, but we were on opposite sides of the parking lot so eventually parted ways. This guest, who is a regular, was still sitting in his car (we had kicked him out at 2am) and thought it was okay to come up to my car and harass me at my window and then stand in front of my car as I tried to leave. Did I think he was going to reach in, open my car door and rape me? I don't know.
But I can tell you the thought was definitely in my mind. It's a fear that every woman has walking in a public space when it's dark out. And now I think about that experience every time I walk to my car, no matter how close it is.

And I think about that man telling me he wanted to fuck me on every single run. Every run that I have gone on since that day in February, it has crossed my mind.

And being told that I'm fat and ugly and a fucking cunt? I'll let you know how that effects my next run. I bet tomorrow, when I go out to exercise and do what I love most in the blistering heat, I'll head back in to grab a shirt.

Several times while I was writing this post I almost abandoned it, wondering what the point of it was. It's not healing to me. It won't make it stop crossing my mind daily. And I don't need people to tell me to "focus on the positives" of my day-to-day life, or "think of all the good times you've had running" - because, yes, people (read: white males who have heard the encounters) actually say this shit to me. As if I'm totally oblivious to the positives that running has brought into my life. Telling me, and other women, to ignore these instances and words and actions is silencing it and saying that it's okay. It's excusing it and it's also putting the blame on the women by acting like it's "not a big deal" or we're "thinking about it too much" or "being dramatic". And that man that followed me out to my car? It's fine, because "he's a regular" and "he was just drunk" or "kind of fucked up" or "lonely".

It is not okay. None of this is okay, and it is so hard to battle and stand up against. I try to every day, and I will continue to try to, and I give a huge shout-out and high-five to all of the women that do the same.
To the women that ignore it: Please stop ignoring it. We have to stand up and stand together.
To the white men: Help us. Please. Your voice matters. Say something.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Cellar Door

 (I am no Drew Barrymore, though.)
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On my last night working a closing dinner shift at The Kitchen, I waited for Zac to finish his closing managing duties. He was giving me a ride home, because we live together, because we are dating, and we have been living together since I've been back in Denver. My usual waiting spot is on the stairs leading down to the main dining room, because I like to watch the people on 16th Street and the music is still loud in that part of the restaurant at this time of night. On this night I chose to wait in the wine room. My gaze drifted to the door of the wine cellar, and I thought about the moment I had just a few hours before.

The door into the wine cellar at The Kitchen is ridden with mirrors. In the moments after pre-service and before dinner service began at TKD, I stood inches away from these mirrors and pulled my hair back with a hair tie that was stretched to its max. I reached into my pocket for my chapstick, and as I applied it I had a flood of memories of the past five months.

The cellar door has been my threshold between two lives I've had since November. It has been the barrier between the truth and my lies. At the start of almost every shift, I have wondered how much of my ritual of watching myself apply chapstick was habitual and how much was necessary. I scanned the mirrors and wondered if the door was one big mirror, or actually broken up into 8 individual mirrors. Underneath it, I’m almost sure, is one piece of glass, crafted to appear as if it’s several. My life had been like this mirror. I definitely had 8 little lies - at times it felt like 800, part of one master lie. At the time of my breaking point, three weeks earlier, I couldn’t keep track of them. I won’t know if that glass is one piece or eight unless I throw something at one of them and cause a shatter.We would either get one panel to shatter, or the cracks would spread across much of the door, and then we would finally know. I would finally know if ruining it would ruin just one part of the door, or if it would hurt the entire piece. I never did that to the mirror, but I did it to my life at The Kitchen. And it ended up shaking me harder than I thought it would. It ended up hurting my entire piece.

A few posts ago I wrote about the moment I told Giselle I was going to write a book. The sun had just set behind the mountains of Ouray and the breeze was unseasonably warm, and quite welcomed after our frigid nights in Crested Butte. The start of my relationship with Zac Sanders started moments after that. Truth lies in details, and though I’m not going to write about all details of the start of that relationship, I will share that he's the only person I kept in constant contact with when I was away, and he asked me to dinner the first night I was back in Denver. Four days later was my first day back at The Kitchen, but I had filled those four days with almost constant time with Zac, and an important coffee date with Alice, whom I had spilled my details to on a patio over a cup of coffee that got cold before I drank it, because there were so many "I know!" and "I'm so happy!" and "This is crazy!" and "...My wildest dream!" and "Oh my god." and "I knew it." Alice and I had always had an easy, close friendship from the very beginning, but that afternoon she became a pillar that I would lean on, cry to, and talk with me when I was sure I was going to burst at the seams, or when I was full of tears and wanting to go back to California.

I had a plan for moving back to Denver. I was going to build my car out and live out of it. I was going to be one of those not-so-dirty-dirtbag-climbers. I was going to focus on writing, I was going to get my climbing strength back and I was not going to forget any of the important things I had learned. But there I was, pushing the chapstick into my already moisturized lips and wondering why, in the past five months, I hadn’t written anything down.

Alice covered for me, and with me, for months. My coworkers thought Alice and I were roommates – that I’d stay with her when the nights got cold, and not in my car. There were stories that we made Christmas cookies on our days off and had TV marathons together because truth lies in the details. I don’t think I would have cared so much if I didn’t consider the people at The Kitchen my family. Sometimes it didn’t bother me, but most days I felt my throat crushing because I couldn’t talk about what I had done on my days off. I had to lie when people asked me what I did for Thanksgiving, and I had to listen with a heavy heart to Zac describe his holiday without mentioning me, even though that was my holiday experience, too. When I wrote that blog post about going back to Moab I had to take him out of my words, and I couldn't tell people about how we got a Christmas tree together. Several times I couldn’t stop it from building up to an eruption because to keep everything inside is not who I am. I couldn’t write about it directly, so I tried to write about it secretly. I tried to share experiences through my writing by just giving details and not the other parts of the truth. I wanted to write what I was really thinking and feeling standing on the corner of Seventeenth street with it's missing gold 'E'. But I couldn't give you the truth in those details. I wasn't allowed to. I wanted to write about how I didn't know if I was being a strong person or a weak person.

But I found secrecy and solace by slipping into the wine cellar.
 It's a greeting of cool air, the dim light and idea of being surrounded by bottles of knowledge that I know I will never fully grasp. My situation felt as impossible to understand as every aspect of every bottle, and it was a comfortable place to let go and give up.

 For a long time I would be leaning against the door, arms crossed and telling Scroggins that I “just can’t do it anymore” and “it’s too hard” and “no one understands” and “I’m so fucking sick of lying to everyone” and “I feel like people would be happy, though?” and “I can’t feel like this anymore” and “what am I doing here?” and “Scroggins I’m so sad” and “what am I going to do when you leave?” because Scroggins and I knew each others’ secrets long before anyone else.
On New Year’s Eve, Kirsten dragged me by the arm into the wine cellar and we talked about her breakup and she urged me to kiss my boyfriend at midnight. We giggled and almost set him up for it, until I panicked and remembered that Zac didn’t really know that Kirsten knew we were dating, so I scratched the whole plan. Instead, I'd stand with a glass of champagne at midnight and feel more alone than I had in a long time - on my favorite holiday, nonetheless. Stepping out of the wine cellar I took a deep breath and checked myself back into the role of just-another-server. Every time I did that I felt my Self being chipped away, and a wild range of emotions. 

Some time in February Kirsten and I were given an order of burrata that was extra, and we hurried it into the wine cellar and managed to eat it in roughly 30 seconds, with a riveting conversation of:
How are you?
(shrug) You?
Because those are the kinds of conversations servers have to have. And with the concealment of the wine cellar, Kirsten knew what my shrug meant. And I knew what her "Same." meant.

A few weeks later it’d be one of my last shifts with Scroggins, and I’d be eating part of his sandwich in the wine cellar and Caitlin would come in, and with a startled look, say “What, are you guys just eating in here?” and Scroggins and I would look at each other, shrug, and say a synchronized “…yeah.”

I once had the wine cellar to myself and was, for lack of a better term, losing it. Through the window I saw Zach Byers striding toward the wine cellar, most definitely on the hunt for a certain bottle. I slipped through the second door in the wine cellar to hang out with the white wine and cross my fingers that he was going for a red. I have to assume he had, because he was in and out in a flash. I exhaled relief, and shortly followed his exit. Some people are easy to lie to, but Byers wasn’t, not for me. It ripped me apart every time I did it, and a part of me still hates myself for it. That night I took two bottles of white wine and held them to my eyes, the chill settling down the puffiness from tears, because I couldn't be on the other side of that door and be who I was.

Sometime before that I’d be standing at the computer in the Chef’s room with Scroggins and my hands would be on my hips, and I’d be staring at a light fixture and he would ask “How many people know?” And I would tip my head back slightly, rub my moisturized lips together, hold my tears in my eyes and say “I don’t know.” And we’d lock eyes and without words he would say “…Fuck.” And I would say “I know.”

Like its exterior that is broken up with the dark blue wooden trim, the life of a lie that I was trying to present had to be broken up with bursts of truth that came out on the other side of its door. The door to the wine cellar is actually striking. Though it’s broken up into several panels, the image it reflects registers in the mind as one beautiful whole. And that’s what we all want, right? For people to see our lives as one whole piece, put together and reflecting us in a positive way, despite the rigid interruptions. There's the argument that life is beautiful with those rigid interruptions - perhaps it needs them to be beautiful. I doubt that door would be as striking if it was one piece of uninterrupted glass. But that's an idea that doesn't come to fruition until your rigid interruptions are smoothed out and consecutive. The difficult part is that you don't know when that will be. In fact, the absolute time it happens is generally undetectable. 

And I’m here – I’ve always been here, in this small corner of the internet – to remind people that you can know what goes on, what went on, behind that closed cellar door.  

As I sat there, staring at the mirrored door, I felt alone. Zac came around the corner with "Ready, baby?" I smiled very small and nodded, even though on several levels I was not ready to go. "What are you doing in here?" A valid question, as I was just sitting by myself in silence and dark. I responded with "Nothing", and as he did a final lap to check all doors were locked, I wondered if the door to the wine cellar was ever locked. It must be, some of the time. You can't always flutter between two lives.


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Measuring Motion

The measurement of a year is funny. Increments are generally calendaric, from a new year to a New Year, or by age, from the day you were born and 365 after that. I've found myself using different measurements as of late.

"National Puppy Day" this year was shared with the First Annual Anniversary of the Death of Cohen. When I think about my life and the heartbreak it's had so far, March 24 takes the cake. I haven't lived a day with such horror since, and the wound is still there and oozing. I got a new phone in February and it started up with the settings from my last iCloud backup, which was somehow from May of 2016, and my 'lock screen' picture is Cohen and me holding a can of Diet Coke with the phrase "Share a Diet Coke With Your BFF" on it. It took me a long time to change this picture the first time, and it's taking a long time the second time around, too. I can't bring myself to do it, and every time I click my phone on my heart cannot ignore the fact that my Great Dane is (still) dead. I keep waiting for the day to come where I'll think about him or look at pictures of him and not be sad, but it hasn't arrived yet. This year, on March 24, I got drunk. I didn't bring up the First Annual Anniversary of the Death of Cohen to anyone, even Zac, until I was a few beers deep and watching a group of dogs play on the patio at our neighborhood brewery. I said it nonchalantly, but with purpose. And I was a little disappointed with myself, because I thought he deserved better than for me to mention it nonchalantly. The memories of Cohen and Kelsey deserve more than that.

I first realized that the death of Cohen was a measurement in my life when I was walking on the sidewalks of downtown Ventura with Giselle. There was a Great Dane across the street from us and I turned to her and opened my mouth to say "I used to have a Great Dane" but caught myself. Of course Giselle knew this, because she knew Cohen. She had lived with Cohen. At that point in my life, Giselle was my only remaining, prominent friend that knew Cohen. I had conditioned myself to say those words to so many people, because I had developed a new life and a new family since he had died (more realistically, because he had died). And in that moment, with my head turned toward Giselle and my hand on her arm and my mouth half-open, I realized my life was very much a timeline around that Wednesday night during the end of March 2016.

At the end of 2015 I had a very debilitating hip injury that crushed the end of my ultrarunning racing and training. In light of this, I started rock climbing. I had wanted to learn to climb for a long time, and I had an incredible mentor and another incredible climbing partner to launch me into the sport. Climbing is different for every person, and much like ultrarunning, I think it's hard to answer the question of "Why do you do that?" But for me, it was empowering. I learned to rock climb only outside, and my first time out was just Giselle and me. I learned to tie in, lead belay and clean a route in an afternoon without even fully understanding the importance of the 'locking' function of the carabiner. To non-climbers, this sounds like a bunch of jargon that may likely be ignored. And that's fine. But after teaching others to climb, I now realize what a huge risk this was for Giselle. We (she) didn't have the comfort of a gym mat below us (her). There was no one else around to ask if I had a question about what to do when she was up on the wall. I once brought it up to her, in awe that she trusted me that much, and she responded with a  smile, a shrug, and "I just saw it in you."

I climbed hard and I climbed often, but it wasn't until I moved to Denver when I took my first lead fall. I moved to Denver on a whim with absolutely no plan and next to no money. I had a car full of my clothes and climbing gear, a heart that was shattered from holding my dog as his life ended, and a backseat still full of his black and white hair. Giselle and I have a beautiful story of friendship, hardship, heartache and not only finding each other, but finding ourselves. While I moved to Denver, she moved back to California, but she flew from LA to visit me for 10 days and we climbed all over a portion of the front range, and I still feel lucky that she was on the other end of my rope when I took that whipper. Taking such a big lead fall scared me, and it ripped away the confidence I had built up. We were out with a small group of people, two of the other climbers being brand new to the sport. I immediately lowered back down after the fall and have a vivid memory of my hands shaking so badly that Giselle had to untie my knot. We chatted for a few minutes, and I said I was fine, "They're just flesh wounds", but as I walked down from the belay ledge down to where our stuff was, I lost it. I burst into tears, and as I tried to choke out "I'm fine, that was just so fucking scary" she rubbed my back and said "I know, I know, and you never have to lead again." And while those words were comforting, we both knew it wasn't true.

I largely stopped climbing after that. I got out a few times but I didn't lead a route. I had a scar that ran from my right elbow down to my wrist, but it has now faded into a mere three inches in length that really is only prominent when my skin is tanned. The next time I lead a route was six months later, when Giselle and I were on our road trip and in Flagstaff.

So here we are, almost one year later. This coming Friday, 7 April will mark me being in Denver for one year (sans the month I left and ended up in California). I tried to make running as important to me as it was for the years I was a mountain ultrarunner, but my heart isn't there - at least not right now. I have fallen back in love with climbing, and the stoke is high. I'm back to appreciating the gym for strength and technique, but constantly planning outside time with people upwards of three times a week. And I'm going back to send that stupid 5.10a that crushed me before I let that one year increment pass.

I will forever be heartbroken about having to put Cohen down. Nothing will change that. And let me hold a hand up to stop the people that say "Time heals all wounds" because that is a crutch, and some wounds never heal. And let me toast to the people that understand that kind of loss, and pour one out for my homie, Cohen.

The celebratory increments of life that are so socially recognized can be (and I believe often are) faked. I think birthdays are awesome, and it annoys me when people don't like to celebrate them. Being another year older is fucking cool, no matter the age. You're alive, and though that should be celebrated every day, the one day when your age changes a digit (or two) (or three!) should be a day filled with bubbles and dancing. When a year of marriage ends and another starts, you should admire yourself and your partner and the love you have built, have repaired, and continue to share for each other. When your semester ends and you have exhausted yourself, your mind, both your combined academic and personal ability onto virtual sheets of paper and finally uploadsendsubmit all the work, you should celebrate however you see fit.

Milestones like that are cliché, but they are that way for a reason. You should, and are allowed to, revel in them with glory. But it's the milestones we cross from the moments in our lives that aren't so prominent in the public eye that shouldn't be ignored. They aren't always positive, and they do not need to be changed into positivity. Contrary to what everyone is constantly trying to spread, you do not always need to find a silver lining. You are allowed to forever think something will be sad, because life is simply not a series of happy memories. "Growing" as a person doesn't feel good. It fucking hurts. That's why we grasp at positive spins to put on it. I don't believe "everything happens for a reason". I think that is a crutch people use when something doesn't go the way they (secretly?) wished it would've gone. Life happens because of choices. I don't believe that the "fate" of putting Cohen down led me to moving to Denver and that I'm "supposed to be here". Putting Cohen down was a choice, and while I do not think it was the wrong choice, the option of not putting him down crosses my mind almost every day. The other half of my brain steps in and stops myself from asking that question ("What if it was too soon?") because to actually fathom that possibility is one hundred percent too painful. Moving to Denver wasn't written in the stars for me. I moved here because I had the option and my heart was too broken to stay in the life I was living in Flagstaff.

I woke up on the 6th of September with a sigh of relief that I was 28, because 27 fucking sucked. A lot of awful events happened at that age, and the tick forward of that second digit made me feel like it was over. Of course it wasn't, because the measurements of my life aren't "Was I 26? 27? 28?" They are, instead, "Was I dog owner then? Was Cohen alive? Did I lead that day? Was that before I almost moved back to Flagstaff? Was I back in Denver at that point?" And if some of those anniversaries cannot be celebrated, they are at least remembered for everything that they were. They aren't remembered for the silver linings, they're remembered for the aches and pains. They're remembered for feeling the last beats of Cohen's heart, or the sting of my tears hitting my bloody forearms, or for not being sure if I wanted to belong in Flagstaff or Denver or Washington.

I probably won't remember my 29th birthday. But I'll remember the day I clip those anchors at the top of that 5.10a. They both call for a glass of bubbles.

(You climb for the views, right? The picture below is taken from the summit of a multipitch in Eldorado Canyon that I can't remember the name of, with Dan Susman)


Saturday, January 14, 2017

So, so, so and Sarahs

The soundtrack to this post is "Looking Too Closely" by Fink. Put it on. Put it on. Put it on repeat.
There's a piano. I'm always a sucker for piano.

Lately I've been reminded how important words are. This is no surprise, considering I'm a writer and, though actions are important, I can't tear myself from the word - written or spoken. I think it is important. This morning Sarah Eddings wrote to me and reminded me how things that people say stay with you. Sometimes they stay with you your whole life, and sometimes you begin to say them to yourself, too. This is, almost always, punishing. As I looked out across a cloud-covered Denver from my apartment window, I thought I could feel the chilled air on my skin and I felt very present in that moment. This is a feeling, or rather a state of mind I have been trying to be in since Wednesday's (shameless plug) free yoga-and-wine class at the prAna store in Denver. The instructor told us that the class was a reminder to be here and present, and that everything before and after class must be let go of and not bothersome to the mind.

When I started Graduate School in Flagstaff I lost my words. You can imagine how troublesome this was for me, and as my eyes would rapidly search the table I had my elbows on, as if for some sort of answer, I got nothing in return. Throughout all of my schooling I always had a strong voice; not only in writing but in class discussion as well. I don't think this is any surprise to readers that know me in the flesh, as this is something I'm almost known for. I'm honest, I'm open, and sometimes I can push boundaries - sometimes too far, resulting in an immediate flutter back with an apology (but is it really?). 

So when I went to participate in class discussion at a freshly 26 years of age I was shocked when I could not. I felt my heart rate accelerate, beads of cold sweat formed on the back of my neck, my blood throbbed through my temples and my tongue felt so big in my mouth that I was certain I must be in anaphylactic shock from whatever I had just eaten. Of course this was not the case. I was having an anxiety attack every time I was trying to speak. For the first time in my life, I was silenced.

I've always been a panicker - ask my mother. Until I was an embarrassingly grown age of 24 I suffered from lilapsophobia (fear of tornadoes). Growing up in the Midwest, tornadoes were (are!) a serious threat, but every time a thunderstorm drummed itself up, I was certain we would all die a horrible death of shrapnel from a tornado ripping apart whatever building I was trying to find shelter in. My mother and I both have reoccurring dreams of me and her and tornadoes. Hers is that we're in a city and she loses me (great) and a tornado comes roaring through the streets (fucking great) and she cannot find me, still, despite her desperate searching and screaming (really fucking great). Mine is that we're standing in the kitchen at her house, the house I grew up in and she still lives in, overlooking the lake. She's doing the dishes (which means just putting them in the dishwasher) and I'm staring at the lake, watching the rain come across. If you have never witnessed such a thing, rain coming across a lake looks like a thick white curtain closing in on the shore, and you can see it envelope you down to the last few feet. It's fascinating, mesmerizing and it's beautiful. In my dream I am watching that, and then see a water spout start to form. 'Water Spout' is the term for a tornado coming across a body of water. I try to get her attention to look at the tornado and see it, and tell her "We need to get to the basement! Now! Mom, we have to go, come ON!" And she's saying "Now, now, just a minute, Kels, just a minute." and I'm laughing as I'm typing this but in my dream this is not a fucking joke. I slap my hand on the countertop and beg for her to look up, and the windows eight windows and two sliding doors that face the lake start to shake violently and sound like exactly how you would think windows shaking in a tornado would shake because somehow I know this and I wake up. 

The point of you knowing my reoccurring dream, is that this is the sensation I lived with every time it thunderstorm in Michigan, so I am no stranger to the feeling of anxiety. I am no stranger to thinking that in this moment, this irrational moment, your world as you know it has crashed around you and all logic is out the goddamn door, along with the ability to even recognize that logic. These are times when living in the moment can kill a version of you and bring about one that you do not know. 
So when this happened in a class full of 11 people during a discussion of a piece of Literature that I had such very important things to say and yes I agreed but what about _____, I was beside myself. It became such an issue that I sought advice from my professor. 

I found a part of my answer in a yoga class. I had taken yoga classes before, and I never cared for them. In fact, I took an entire semester worth of yoga in undergraduate. I understood the practice and appreciated it, but felt as though it wasn't for me. 
But in Flagstaff, at the Northern Arizona Yoga Center, I would learn to move slowly, breathe slowly and deeply, focus, control, focus on my control, control my focus and be completely present in that moment. I learned what it felt like to feel the floor fully beneath my feet, to feel like your heart, that muscle, is 'opening'. 

Moving to Flagstaff was so very hard for me in every aspect. Adjusting to life at 7,000ft felt impossible and I thought it was ruining running, which was my only outlet. I think I knew my relationship wasn't right, I think we both knew it. I was accepted into Graduate School because I didn't know what else to do with myself, and proving my worth as a student was so important to me. Sarah Eddings helped me through so much of that, and she will never know how important she was and still is. That blonde-hair blue-eyed Texas native would be someone I would turn to when I didn't know what to do, or when I would have to break up with the person I moved across the country with, or when I just wanted to get wasted on a couple bottles of Tempranillo or Pinot Noir. She was the person that came over and sat on my bed and ate cheese and drank wine with me after I put Cohen down. She was there that night, and let herself in, because she knew I couldn't really move. And sometimes I think we make these people pillars in our life and forget the moments that made them so important. I hang on to these moments. I go back and live in these moments, because I can't live without them. 

Yoga helped me slow down. It helped me learn to breathe, and to find control in my breathing, and ultimately, over my life. As I gained control over my breathing, running got easier. And when running gets easier, or better, or finally back to normal, life gets easier, or better, or finally back to normal. When I presented my final paper in that class in December of that semester, I cried hot tears of anxiety in the restroom before class started. When I stared at the Times New Roman 12 point font and tried to read it, words were blurred and I forgot my entire thesis. I forgot my entire point. I forgot my purpose and my reason for Graduate School and I forgot my worth. But as I took a three-part shaky breath in, I started to read aloud, and owned every word. I took an entire breath in and out after every sentence. I told myself that what I had to say was worthy of being heard. I told myself that, despite living my unknown, I had something to say. And I was saying it. 
And it sucked. And it was hard. And I cried after. And I wondered if I got my point across. And I wondered if I made sense. And I wondered if everyone hated it. And I wondered if everyone thought I was stupid. I wondered if I was validating myself to myself. I wondered if I'd ever feel confident again. 

I still have these feelings. When I'm not consistently running, I have them all of the time. When I'm putting in the miles and allowing my brain to be quiet, I have them less. 

When I came back to Denver, and since that day I came back to Denver, I've felt rushed. I feel like I have an interrobang slamming against my skull and radiating through my brain, as if my head is a pinball machine that doesn't stop. I've turned back to yoga to help me remind myself to slow the fuck down. To stay, to appreciate the moment, especially the still moment. 

28 years is so young. To stop and think that a grey sky can be beautiful is fine. To spend a half hour having a dance party in your underwear instead of bidding on freelance jobs is fine. To build a training plan instead of a curriculum is fine. To high-five with the toe of your Guide Tennies instead of a rushed 'goodbye' is important. To stand with your fingertips in your chalk bag and think seven more times about a move on a climb is fine. To lay and let your ripped muscles heal for a couple of hours is okay. To spend twenty extra minutes in bed in the morning light should be encouraged. Taking the time to laugh before explaining why you're laughing is important. A phone call with your sister is more important than trying to be 'productive' in an hour. 

There are so many moments that people miss - that I miss - from focusing on the forward. I put a lot of emphasis on moving forward, on wondering what is next, what will be important and how things will work out for me. Sometimes you have to just stop. 

You have. To just. Stop. 

Photo credit: Giselle Fernandez
You're allowed to miss moments. I miss this one. 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Holding The Atmosphere

I want to title this post 'Returning', but that term implies that one comes back to a point they were in the first place, and I don't see life that way. I don't think you can ever get back to one spot or time or feeling or space. Not truly, and not completely.

But it was a particularly warm afternoon in December while I was walking to work and standing on the corner of Seventeenth and Blake, staring at my feet and noticing an 'E' is missing in SEVENTEENTH that is imprinted with some sort of metal in the corner of the street sidewalk. Not all 'E's are relevant. You can leave one out of my name and it still makes sense.
As I stood there I felt a small, old and familiar feeling of wanting to leave. I wanted to leave that street corner, I wanted to leave my job, I wanted to leave Denver and I wanted to leave the life I had let myself slip into. I had only been back for six weeks. I felt a moment of panic at the recognition and immediately pleaded with myself to not do this. Not again.
I was listening to Stick Figure's "Fire on the Horizon" and I wanted to be back in California. I scolded myself and felt angry for leaving the coast in the first place. I came so close to turning around and walking back to a closet full of my things and packing it all again that I almost believed I was doing it, had traffic not brought me back to reality. Ridden with a heavy heart, on the corner of anxiety and Sevente_nth, I searched for any other kind of emotion I could dig up. I thought about returning to California and having eyes full of tears and what I would say to everyone. What exactly would that sound like? "I"m here. Again. I screwed up. Again. I'm out of place. Again."
I thought the last time I was that frustrated with myself was in Joshua Tree on a climb that I knew I could do (because I had just done it earlier that day) and was stuck. All of my weight was on my trembling right leg on the wall behind me, with my left foot out to balance, and I let out some sort of profanity - likely a "Fuck/What the fuck/Fuck this climb/God fucking dammit" as I looked up the crack and saw blood from someone who had climbed before me - myself, Giselle, Max or Ben. In a moment of defeat I sat deeper onto my right leg and let the rock scrape my back up.
"Kelsey, get mad! Get mad at it."
And I did. My skin lit on fire with not only scrapes, but fury. And I got up that crack.
Giselle has the best advice.

So after that memory recall, I got mad.
I felt a little better.
But it was a bad Sunday night.

And that was the start of me being sad. This is a terrible word, right, sad, because there are so many different kinds of sad, and one should be far more specific when describing a feeling. But I can't let you all in that much, but I can tell you that every time I go back to Michigan, I arrive a bit broken and leave a bit more settled. When my mom caught me off guard by running up to me in the train station in Kalamazoo and swooped me into a hug, I let a tear of relief fall.

I was able to be home for six days over Christmas. I attempted to leave my Denver feelings in Denver, but unfortunately you can't peel them out of you and leave them on a cold wooden floor.
I'm very close with my sister, and we talk often, but we hadn't seen each other since last Christmas, and our time apart has never been of that length. Still, like an old favorite song, it is lovely in any point in life.
I haven't been running a lot since I've been back in Denver, but I ran with my sister while I was home. We generally run together on the roads surrounding the lake, and it is mostly the same. I feel miserable because I am constantly trying to keep up with her and keep conversation at the same time, and when we return home our mom will ask "How was it?" and Sarah will say "Fine" and I will gasp "Awful".
And in the awfulness, there is greatness, because even if it is six miles, it is a reminder that running is powerful, and a very large part of who I am, even if I never talk about it.
Is that what a 'Runner's high' is?
For six days I got to hang out with my sister and my mom. I laughed insanely hard, I sat by the fireplace so much that the warmth on my back turned into an itch, I didn't read any of my book that I brought and I gave up asking why were we eating so much cheese? and ate it anyway. I wrapped myself in my sweater and sat on the couch and let myself sink into the feeling of being surrounded by people who were happy that I was just simply there. I drifted asleep one night thinking about how incredible that feeling is, and I think it is the definition of love. In the moment right before sleep it was compounded with the realization that feeling had not been around for me since the corner of Sevente_nth and Blake.

The next morning I woke up and had a text from Giselle that she had finished the video (It's right here, and incredible, please watch it). I couldn't press play fast enough, and I have no idea how many times I watched that video that day. I felt the urge to make everyone watch it and exclaim "Look! This is what I have been trying to tell you with my words for the past two months. This is what I'm talking about, this is what it's been all about."
That evening, in perhaps the sixth or seventh viewing of that video, I saw my own happiness and clenched my jaw to fight tears as I felt the absence of it. Giselle had captured everything of importance in those first 12 days. There's a clip where I'm running downhill towards her and flailing my arms in happiness to just be running in the mountains, and there's a part where I'm laughing while holding the climbing rope, and there's a part where we're sitting at our campsite in Moab and she tosses something in a moment of exhaustion, frustration and hilarity. I don't know what she threw, I can't remember, and I don't know why. But I remember the feeling, and it still makes me laugh when I watch it.

I watched Kalamazoo get smaller and smaller from my window seat on 28 December and thought about the idea of returning, or the idea of the impossibility of it. Every time I go back to California I learn about myself and what I want. When I returned to Denver from California I learned that you can't expect or hope for anything from one person. I remembered the risk in not having a guard. When I returned to Michigan I re-learned the importance of missing pieces - whether it be love or running or single track or callused fingers.

While my head was against the cold window on the airplane, I listened to The Lumineer's Cleopatra album - specifically "Sleep on the Floor". It is the first track, and I still think this is one of The Greatest Songs of All Time. I felt anxious about all the things I had to do when I got back to Denver. I had to make a training plan, I had to reach out to people I didn't know, I had to have a certain conversation and I had to start constantly reminding myself that the world is bigger than Denver, my life is bigger than being sad, and I had to make a decision of where to put my e(ffort)nergy.

So at the end of this piece, I encourage you to shove earbuds into your ears and listen to "Sleep on the Floor" as loud as you can, to each and every word. And I invite you to put your hand in mine and skip shuffle laugh learn summit cry and decide through 2017 with me.

Or not. But I don't just write for me. I write for you, too. Because I and we have something to say.

Photo by Giselle Fernandez