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Redemption Song

After my DNF at Bel Monte I took off a few days, waiting for my body to feel the urge to run before making the attempt. I made it to day 3, a Wednesday. I remember the weather being lovely, seeing a runner pass by, and wishing I had my shoes with me so I could get on the dirt, too. That’s how I know when I’m ready after a race; the itch to lace up my shoes is loud.

For the next seven weeks I set out to run for the pure joy of it. No agenda. No plan. No pressure. It didn’t take long for my body to crave the longer distances, those 18 milers on a crisp spring morning where Chevy and I wander our urban trail system. I focused on rebuilding my base and running solely on feel. I stopped wearing my watch. We took many opportunities to explore new areas, watch the big birds catch shad and take lots of selfies. I continued to kickass in the gym, working on strengthening my core and legs.

Thursday I decided to sign up for a trail marathon, Conquer the Cove. Only on its sixth year, I had heard only good things about this race. A group of friends were heading up to Roanoke to try their hand at the 25k and marathon, I found out I could still sign up the day of the race, I am trained up to marathon distance so figured why not run somewhere new for a training run. Those friends allowed me to join them without hesitation, adding me to their plans with eagerness and ease. Those are the kind of people we all need in our lives.

And it turned out to be the best damn decision I have made in a long time because I totally kicked ass.

CtC 1

4:39:12 with 3500′ of gain

The race is very well organized in all respects. There is a welcome from the race director before we line up to start, he gives runners an idea of what to expect during the race to include trail conditions. The course was well marked with both polka dotted pink ribbon and mile markers which I totally appreciated since I was not wearing my watch. I knew the hill was coming at mile 18ish so those mile markers kept me from pushing myself too hard too early. The aide stations were small but well stocked with food we should be eating while we run: bananas, oranges, grapes, pickle juice, potato chips, etc. No sugary candies or Nutella to be seen. There were three photographers on the course and various aide station volunteers took pictures as well. The post-race food was delicious veggie or cow burgers, cut up veggies, guacamole, hummus, chocolate, a variety of desserts, etc. I definitely ate my fill while we waited on our friend to finish his marathon.

My favorite part is the race directors at the finish line welcoming every single runner as they returned. Gina gave us our medals. Josh high-fived everyone. They paid attention to us. They made sure we were safe and healthy. They asked us what we thought of the course and race, truly wanting to know the answer. That alone will help me recommend this race to anyone and everyone.

I needed this experience. I needed this race to be a huge success. Mostly, I needed to be in the mountains with other like-minded people reveling in the dirt. I needed to regain confidence in myself and my body and how better to do that then to push it a little further.

Every time I am in the mountains I regain more of my Self. They center me, remind me I am tough. I am grounded and then know again who I am.

Within the beauty of our creators, my soul exhales the bullshit and inhales purpose.

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It Was Me

Lately I’ve been spending some time contemplating the phrase “holding me back”. We’ve all used it at one time or another to describe the actions of another person or situation that wasn’t ideal, maybe even constrictive. When we should be looking at our own actions and/or choices, we’re instead using perhaps faulty coping skills as we place blame on what is the exterior. The question we should be asking ourselves as we stand in front of the mirror isn’t a diatribe on all the ways the person or situation wronged us, it’s whether or not we let ‘it’ stop us from doing whatever it is we want to do or whomever it is we want to be.

(This is not to include the abusive relationships where one partner controls and manipulates the other with various forms of threats and emotional punishment. That topic is for another day.)

I’m talking about the times we’ve (been) broken up with someone and said, “They were keeping me from being the person I should be.” Or used your family as a means to avoid signing up for that first 10k, or half marathon, or full marathon, or ultra. Or the reason you decided not to go back to school being the lack of support you think you’ll have. But no, that was us. Every time. We allowed that to be the excuse, the easy way out, instead of facing the admission they weren’t the right individual who should share our lives or we were afraid of what could happen on the other side of that decision (e.g. the possibility of losing him/her if we move to another nearby city). But the only way through is forward, right?

We get to choose to work it out or walk away. It really is that simple.

There are moments I’ve said my relationships haven’t worked out because they were holding me back from being who I  am. Except when I think about it, they didn’t. I did. I held myself back. Everyday I made the choice to either be me or be the person I thought they wanted me to be. Everyday I decided whether or not my goals and dreams were important enough to pursue either inside or outside the partnership. I put myself second so of course that person did, too. I distinctly remember feeling stuck in place with a man who I’ll call B, and yet I made the very conscious decision to allow it to continue. I decided he was a pile of rocks tied to my feet and even said that to his face. Except he didn’t tie those rocks to my ankles, I did.

I stopped myself from hanging out with my friends. I stopped myself from applying for that job. I stopped myself from going to concerts. I stopped myself from reading books. I stopped myself from going on trips.

I stop myself from living the life I want to live.

The point is, these are excuses we give to those faces in the mirror for why we haven’t reached what we consider to be our full potential or where we had hoped to be in our life. It’s much easier to blame someone else than to admit to ourselves we allowed the rocks to be an option in the first place. Maybe we let them stop us because we were afraid of the success that might follow. Maybe we were afraid our important people wouldn’t love us anymore if we took our most desired path. We are humans who crave personal intimacy whether it be via friendships or romantic entanglements. We want people to like us; sometimes we allow their opinions and judgments too much authority over our decisions.

We are our own worst critic. We are who berate our mindful self worse than anyone else.

So next time we have the feeling someone or something is “holding us back”,

reach.

Take a moment to consider that maybe it is because of our personal fear, our baggage, not whatever/whomever is standing in front of us.

Move the curtain aside.

 
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Posted by on May 14, 2016 in meditation, thinking

 

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What lies within

 

Tuesday morning the trail dog and I set out for our first ever solo run into the dark trails. We parked at 0535 and headed east toward the flood wall and eventually made it to the Poop Loop. We scared some kind of animal shortly into the run, maybe a fox? I have no idea since it was too dark. Chevy usually sticks close to me in the dark yet that morning he re-found an animal skull I had thrown into the greenery sometime last week so he’s not scared of the dark when a skull is to be found!

skull

For months I have been working up the courage to run on the dark trails on my own, without anyone else in front of or behind me. Months is not an exaggeration. I have driven to the trailhead only to turn around and go home, waiting to run when there was more light. I’ve hemmed and hawed. I have given myself all sorts of excuses. I have psyched  myself out by imagining all the creatures lurking in the dark. We’re in the heart of the city, the only wildlife lurking are deer, the occasional fox, lots of opossums and raccoons, I have smelled a skunk once or twice and always plenty of spiders. Snakes aren’t as active at night because they’re sleeping somewhere warm, right? That is my logic anyway.

I reminded myself how well I know the trails here; that I can tell you when things have shifted, if a new path has formed, when there is a new tree you’ll have to climb over, etc. I know where every single rock and root are hiding in the dirt.* Then I reminded myself that I haven’t been afraid in the woods when I’m camping or sleeping alone in my tent or that time I slept under a picnic table.

And then I reminded myself I have done these “scary” things and somehow survived.

So.

Fuck fear. It lies.

Fear keeps you compliant. Small. Hidden behind a smoke screen, experiencing life with the sound muted.

The idea of running 10 miles on the road simply because I was allowing fear to stop me from doing what I love most was the motivation I needed to get my ass out there. (Funny thing is I used to be afraid of running solo on the road in the dark, too.) Fear of the dark and what I can’t see in that darkness has been stopping me. Surely something bad is coming when I can’t see what is about to happen, right? So I don’t even try because then I can avoid the anxiety of not knowing.

This is an uncanny metaphoric parallel to how so many of us approach life whether we realize it or not. We allow fear of the unknown to stop us from applying for that job. Or asking that person out on a date. Or moving on to the next great chance. Or signing up for that dance class we’ve been wanting to try. Or allowing ourselves to relax in our relationships. Or asking a friend for a much needed hug. Or (insert your own here). There are so many ‘what ifs’ we talk ourselves out of the possibilities before we give it a chance to prove us wrong.

Doubt feeds into fear and fear is being afraid that what could happen will be bad or uncomfortable. But there’s also a 50/50 chance what might happen will be fantastic and fun. Or you can shift your perspective and tell yourself if it’s uncomfortable, you’re growing. If nothing else, you’ll have a great story to tell others when the time arises.

My general philosophy is if it’s freaking me out, that’s what I need to do.

Which is how Chevy and I found ourselves at the trailhead on Tuesday morning before the sun rose.

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*I know what you are thinking: not enough to keep me from tripping and falling over them, though.

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2016 in trailrunnergirl, Universe

 

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Snake skin lessons

During a recent conversation with a friend, they mentioned something about becoming who we are. I can’t remember now exactly what was said, only that it triggered a memory of my own epiphany I had several months before. It was a point when I realized what has kept me in some relationships too long is the idea of trying to get back to the people we were when we first met, when everything was easy.

Except we aren’t those people anymore.

The light bulb moment was realizing every day we wake up we are changing into our new selves. Some days the changes are small, barely noticeable or worth noting. Other days the change takes our breath away. How I see it, we are not the phoenix that arises from the ashes. We did not die, nor burn. Instead, we are like the snake that sheds its old skin in order to give the larger scales a chance to expand even further. It’s like the molecules in our bodies swell with each new piece of information and occasionally our skin gets too tight forcing us to molt so we can continue to grow. We are constantly stretching our skin each time we gain deeper knowledge, awareness and insight. Shedding our old selves allows us to become our new selves.

becoming by raquel

created by sistafriend Raquel

Not who we should be.

But who we are.

For three years I have been looking for a job. Last week I barely evaded an eviction. My phone has been cut off for weeks because I cannot afford to keep it on. My car’s engine light has been on since early December. My dogs really enjoy oatmeal, but not the cheap Quaker Oats brand. For a week the internet at home kept going out and Verizon didn’t seem to be in much of a hurry to find a solution. My power cord for the laptop has decided to stop working. And Friday I got yet another rejection and it really pissed me off.

So I did what any other broke ass gym rat would do and took my frustrations out on the weights: 4 rounds of TRX pike planks, toe taps, single leg deadlifts, incline crunches with 14#, deadlifts, cable crunches and hip thrusters. You know you’re ready for a fight when you get a personal best on deadlifts (155#, y’all). What happens when you lift angry is similar to what happens when you run angry, you work through emotions by pounding them into something useful so they don’t sit and fester eating up your insides. And through that process I realized while my professional life might be shit, my personal life ain’t so bad. I reminded myself of what I looked and felt like before I started running. I reminded myself how running and lifting have every day transformed my life in myriad ways. So then I put the pictures side-by-side of the changes my body has gone through, check it out.

transformation

left is from October 2008; middle is from July 2014; right is from April 2016

I’ve gotten stronger physically which does translate into strength mentally. I’ve gotten more involved with the running community. I am learning how to direct and plan big running events. I can run 50 miles at one time. I can plank like a boss. I have abs! I can power hike mountains. Did I mention I can deadlift (and hip thrust) 155#? I started a monthly ladies only trail run called Team ESTRA-GEN. I love working at Fleet Feet and interacting with customers, especially the new runners.

Anyway, my point is perhaps this journey to a real life job has been about becoming who I am, not who I was three years ago when this began. The job that would have fit me back then is not the job that will fit me now. I feel like I’ve shed more than a few layers of skin to become this person I am right now. I am finally beginning to feel like the inside me matches the outside me. I’m 40 years old and right now at this moment I feel the most at home in my skin, in my knowledge of self, than I have in perhaps my entire life.

Contentment. Peacefulness. Acceptance.

These are all adjectives we need to be able to use for ourselves before we can expect them from anyone else.

So maybe, just maybe, that is what this has all been about. The journey of becoming who I am, not who I should be and not who I might be.

But who I am right now, where every day is an adventure.

 
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Posted by on April 18, 2016 in meditation, Universe

 

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eth DNF

Saturday I attempted to run my second 50 miler, the Bel Monte in Love, Virginia. Training for this had not been ideal with my last long training run of 24 road miles having been on 9 January  from which I developed tendinitis in my lower hamstring, located behind my right knee. Then three weeks before the race I developed tendinitis in my left big toe knuckle which pulled on the tendon in my arch, causing my pain threshold to be tested. Not being able to run more than 12-15 miles in the two months before this race and barely any running three weeks prior, I was nowhere near confident in my ability to complete 50 miles safely. I was going to give it a shot anyway.

Except I got there Friday afternoon and just wasn’t feelin’ it, like at all. 

My friend, her husband, and I set up camp, got everything situated, checked in and picked up our bibs. Cooked and ate dinner. Said hello to other runners setting up camp. Then went to bed.

I still didn’t feel right about the race, the confidence was not materializing. I was worried about my left foot given it had not allowed me to run even three miles a full week before. I knew I did not have an adequate mileage base and that was also giving my confidence a hit. Then there’s that dreaded phrase no ultra runner wants to ever consider: the DNF or Did Not Finish.

Friend C found me at the start; seeing a familiar face gave me a lift and suddenly the distance felt a little less lonely. We got separated at the water stop and found each other again at the first aide station, Camp Marty. On the way there I had made the decision to drop to the 50k. When I saw Friend C, I told him of the change and I immediately knew that was the right choice.

Then I surveyed the table of food and saw absolutely nothing I wanted nor could eat. I trained with bananas and grapes, not M&Ms, pretzels, skittles, Oreo’s, saltines, Nutella on Oreo’s, etc. There were oranges, but none cut up for easy grabbing. I filled my bladder with Cliff Electrolyte mix, looked at the table again and, spotting the open jar of peanut butter, used both index fingers to scoop gigantic gobs to eat on the way down.

Downhill was probably the best part of the whole race. I chatted with Friend C as we turned a corner and started down. Next thing I knew I was flying and it was awesome. We had climbed about 2150′ and were descending 3100′ in only one mile instead of the three it took to get up. I put my arms out and let my feet do all the dancing. It was spectacular.

Once down the hill and settled, the trail was flat and windy for another large amount of mileage. I did not wear my watch for this race and you know what, I think I will leave my watch behind for future races as well. I had no idea how far I had gone or had left to go, I just ran and it was glorious. That could have also been because I now knew I was only running 31 miles as opposed to 50. In much the same way your body can bust out a speedy half marathon after having run several full marathons, I had already run 50 miles so knew 30 would be cake. I remember thinking something along the lines of, “It’s on now motha fuckas!”

So when you are passing a string of people on the right and you trip over something, I’m pretty sure it was a branch, and have an epic wipe out in front of all those people. That was the best fall I think I have ever had, landing on both knees and skidding to a stop on all fours. I sat on my heels, threw my head back and laughed. The guy who stopped to help me up said, “And she laughs.” I said, “What else can you do when you wipe out so epically when trying to pass?” He checked to make sure I was okay and off I went again.

I was jamming and so pumped ready and excited. I love running in the woods and climbing mountains. In several places the tree line opened to views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Had I not been in a race, I would have stopped to admire the impressive beauty of it all. It was breathtaking.

When I got to the Turkey Pen aide station, I still felt good. I grabbed a slice of cheese and two chunks of orange and set off for the next aide station 3.5 miles away, also the turnaround for the 50k. Turns out that was mile 17.5, ultrarunners love bonus miles, right? I filled up my bladder, grabbed another slice of cheese, ate 2 chunks of potato lightly dipped in salt, stashed more oranges in my pockets and set off to return the way I had come.

And that’s when the wheels came off.

I knew my quads were tight from that downhill. In fact, as I was running down, I remember thinking I was going to pay for it later. Before the race, I had done a lot of incline training on the treadmill, but nowhere around here can you practice running downhill for more than half a mile at a time. I had to trust that everything was strong enough and it would even out.

Well, tight quads and undertrained legs mean ITBs that blow up around mile 18. Both of them. In each knee.

Ugh.

So I did the run walk thing back to Turkey Pen where I informed the woman working that station I would have drop. Saying that out loud fucking sucked. I walked away from the incoming runners and paced. I cried. I wished I had my phone so I could call a friend to talk it out with me. I cried some more.

I was doing so fucking well! I was jammin’! I was going to complete my first 50k! I was looking forward to climbing that mountain again and running down without the continuous line of slow pokes in front of me! My mind needed that long run so fucking bad!

But your body always knows what it needs, you just gotta listen. And so I dropped out of the race.

I got my first…

dNF

This race taught me I’ve gotten even stronger since my first 50m on Iron Mountain. I knew after that run what I needed to do to train my body better and I did exactly those things. I was able to zip right up that mountain on Saturday, passing runners by the dozens. It was a euphoric feeling, the strength of my legs carry me up and back down.

I will find redemption in September at Iron Mountain, the race that sings my siren song. I know what I am now capable of pushing myself to do so I’m ready to conquer the IMTR 50m course again and this time as a faster stronger experienced ultrarunner.

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2016 in 50 miles, challenges

 

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pOOp

I may have mentioned a time or three my dislike of eating while I’m running and how it has made the nutrition piece of the endurance puzzle a constant frustration. When I first started running, I didn’t know what I was doing. I would rise early and run whatever the distance was that day without eating or drinking anything beforehand. It wasn’t until I trained with the local half marathon team well into my third year of running that I learned about “proper” nutrition and hydration yet I had been training with no food up to that point. Until two months ago, I didn’t have a strong enough argument other than a feeling to refute claims that I needed to eat carbs before every run and especially before/during long runs. I can run 14-16mi, or 2.5-3hrs, without any food, depending on the terrain.

Nearly two months ago I sent a message to a friend that said something like this: OMG. I just pooped for the 5th time in an hour and a half. How can there possibly be anything left in my colon?! Being the avid runners we are, said friend didn’t get grossed out and instead sent me this article.

Which I read twice. And then I read several more.

I figured what the hell, right? It was worth a shot to see if I’d stop pooping four to six times on most of my runs. It sure beat the suggestion I got on a few occasions to drink Immodium.

So I started making the changes and realized I didn’t eat as many carbs as I thought. Long ago I had already decreased my intake of pasta, to me its empty calories and I had to eat too much to feel satisfied. The same thing for pizza. The only real struggle I have is giving up my bagels and little bit of bread; my favorite sandwich is still a toasted peanut butter and jelly. I’m mostly a vegetarian so having an excuse to eat a lot more veggies has been a big appeal. However, getting enough protein without eating meat has been tricky.

Almost immediately I stopped pooping on my runs. No more emptying my colon, no more squatting in the woods, no more need for alleyways, no more scouting for bathrooms ahead of time just in case. It’s fantastic because now I get to truly enjoy my time out in the woods; I can open the carburetor wide and get in a groove.

But the differences don’t stop there. After a few weeks, I began noticing a difference in how I run, or my performance on each run. Switching from high carb to high fat takes a minute as your body needs to first use up the carb reserves before it understands to flip the switch to turn on the fat burners. Meaning, you’ve got to deplete the easy energy in order to begin the process of training your body to go after the denser version that likes to sit around and consider itself lazy. Once that lever has been manipulated, though? The power is real.

I now feel much more satisfied after every meal. The desire for snacking has left. I’m less ravenous. Most important is I feel clean and healthy, like I’m fresh from the wash. During long runs and some short ones I used to feel frazzled, spent, empty almost like coming off a sugar high. I haven’t felt that way since the change to this “diet”. I can almost feel the exact moment when my body throws the gear to start burning fat.

Now I’m reading Metabolic Efficiency Training: Teaching the Body to Burn More Fat. I’m gaining justification with science as the educator for only needing 100-150 calories every other hour of running.

One piece of the nutrition puzzle I did figure out while training for IMTR is as long as I fuel myself well in the first half of the race, I don’t need much food during the second half. Not because I’m nauseated or unable to chew, but because my body is charged and ready to go. I have a keen sense of what I can take my body down to before I hit empty, I know how far I can push myself on as little food as possible. I know when I need to start fueling and that’s driven entirely by feel, not a clock. The key frustration has been finding the right food that will work with my needs and I found that in one simple fruit.

I eat only bananas on my long runs now. Sometimes a handful of grapes for the sugars. That’s it. Oh, and Skratch in my pack. I carry extra bananas for Chevy, he eats when I eat.

We often gain weight when training for a distance race. This is due in large part to our increased intake of carbohydrates during peak training. The week before our big event we ‘carb load’, right? What happens to all those carbs when they aren’t used? They turn to fat. And if we’re constantly sending the message to our body that simple energy is all it has to access, it doesn’t try very hard to reach out for help. Empty the main boiler, or break it down, and the back up generators automatically kick in, right? That is essentially how training your body to burn fat works. The main boiler gives up because it has to work too hard then while the generators are keeping your pilot lit, a new boiler is built. The new one knows how to work harder and is built for strength.

You start losing weight quickly. You notice a deeper strength. Maybe your runs become easier in terms of recovery. Maybe you start really kicking ass on hills. Or those days you run around in circles on rubber.

Eating to perform does work and you’ll feel so much better overall, too.

Below I’ve included some of the recently discovered resources that have helped make this a lot less difficult of a transition. Maybe they’ll help you, too.

Authority Nutrition: Low Carb Diet Meal Plan

Diet Doctor: Low carb high fat

Eat Low Carb High Fat

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2016 in challenges, food

 

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#nofilter

Today while in the locker room at the gym I had the pleasure of chatting with two young ladies. I was leaning on a shelf looking into my phone when they walked in and one (we’ll call her Tiffany) commented on my tattoos, starting a conversation. We chuckled over our mutual love of bigger brighter tattoos then talked briefly of her wanting more ink over her stretchmarks and I showed her the graffiti on my right hip.

She waved her hand in a dismissive gesture, scrunched up her face, and said my stretchmarks were prettier than hers.

The friends put their stuff in a locker, whispering among themselves for a bit and wished me a good day as they passed on their way out. The other stopped to weigh herself (we’ll call her Rita) while Tiffany told Rita how she never weighs herself because the scale only tells us numbers, it doesn’t tell us how our bodies are changing. I don’t usually intervene first because it’s none of my business and second I do enjoy observing women help one another, it makes my heart smile. However, they allowed the possibility by being friendly and open, so I took the opportunity to continue the encouragement.

Tiffany is right, the scale doesn’t tell us the whole truth. It only tells us our entire weight of compressed tissue, muscles and bones. It doesn’t tell us how many inches have been lost from around our waist or neck or chest. It doesn’t tell us there are fat cells being silenced every time we exercise like when we take the stairs instead of the elevator. Tiffany nodded at her friend as I reminded her of this, saying something like, “See? She knows, too.” I shared with them the only time I weigh myself is every few months if that, how most often I go by how I feel and whether or not my clothes fit.

And then it happened again. Tiffany waved me off saying I didn’t need to work out.

I laughed and asked her how she thought I got this way, Rita asking the same question of her friend at almost the same time. Then I told Tiffany how I started at a swollen 175#, that I began running almost 7 years ago and really paying attention to my food within the last two years, that I now eat to fuel my body with the occasional cheat meal to keep things interesting. I continued with me being 126# now, but I’ve worked hard to get to this point and if I stop working this hard I will quickly go back to 175#. I reminded them both that healthy is a lifestyle change, not a quick fix. Tiffany asked if I got this way by exercising and eating healthy and I responded with an absolutely. Rita shared with us how she used to be 400# and intimidated by the gym but now laughs at the meatheads and does her exercises without shame. I congratulated her on the progress and overcoming her fears.

And then it happened again, Tiffany lifted me up while putting herself down. We were discussing our baby bellies, she said mine was prettier than hers. sigh

I’m only going to say this once boys and girls:

LOVE YOUR FUCKING BODIES RIGHT NOW AS THEY ARE, OKAY?

NO ONE
No One will ever have the perfect body
no one

Do we really want to die being unhappy with ourselves, flaws and all? Do we really want our last moments to be of criticizing the parts of us that are unique?

Society isn’t very helpful in this area of body image. For both men and women. The charged message is we should eat McDonald’s, Burger King, Hardee’s Big Burger and gigantic smoothies while remaining a svelte slab of lean muscle.

I’m telling you right now it’s not possible. Get it out of your head. Realize you have a choice. And accept it is yours. You only have to answer to yourself and whichever diety to whom you profess your allegiance. You are the only person who has an opinion that matters. Fuck errybody else.

Love yourself, your body and who you are.

Make the decision to shut out those extraneous voices and then fight for your right to your own happiness. Don’t wait until you have the perfect body or the perfect puzzle pieces to fit into your life. Be happy right now. We are all beautiful magnificent unicorns. We are but a single snowflake in this large space of humanity.

So go on, go be your brutiful self, unapologetically.

You deserve it.

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Posted by on January 31, 2016 in shine on, truth

 

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