Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Judgment Day

Conquering my fear of racing in front of a crowd....and having to push my bike.

It all started with a book, really.  I recently read The Art of Fear  by Kristen Ulmer. The gist of the whole book is basically that you can't fight or ignore fear. It might work for awhile, but it will still be there, screaming at you from deep inside until you finally face it, examine it and learn from it. Of course, doing this sounds easy, but it involves really taking a deep look at what you're truly afraid of and what measures you go to to avoid or silence those fears.

Again, that might sound easy. Being attacked by a shark. Or by a bear. Or a human. Getting into a life altering accident. Having another head injury. Racing in front of a crowd. Sure, these are all things I fear, but for me, none of those things stops me from anything. I still swim. I still play in the woods. I still run by myself. I still ride a bike. I even raced one in front of a crowd last month.

For other people, that might not be the case so maybe these fears would be things to examine further, but for me, they just aren't the fears holding me back. So, I had to wonder, what fears are holding me back? What really changes my life? What will I go out of my way to avoid so I don't have to feel fear?

I'll admit, I've been thinking about this for a couple of weeks and hadn't come up with anything. Not that I'm saying I wasn't afraid of anything.  Hell, I feel scared for a good chunk of every day. But why? Because we all know I'm not walking around all day worrying about sharks. So what is it?

Well, this morning, it all came in a flash. I was riding my bike on the trainer and needed some distraction so I watched this video.  I swear I made it about two minutes before I started crying. If you don't feel like watching it, I'll just sum it up. She's talking about hesitation, about how it keeps you from doing things, how it holds you back. As soon as she used that word "hesitation" I knew what it is I'm so afraid of. That one thing that will always make me hesitate. That makes me not do or say something I really want to.

I'm terrified of being judged.

It paralyzes me. I sometimes lie awake at night reliving a moment over and over in my head from my day. A moment when I'm sure someone judged me- thought I was stupid or annoying or, God forbid, not perfect. If I don't feel completely ready for a race, I don't sign up for fear of being judged by the result. If I feel judged by someone more than a few times, I'll avoid them completely. When I felt judged on Facebook, I deleted my account. The big kicker though was realizing this-  I worry about nearly everything I say after I say it to the point where I often just say nothing.

This fear of being judged, this hesitation it's caused, it's stolen my voice. I used to write more often. I used to speak to strangers. I used to love to tell stories. Now I mostly just talk to myself. (I don't think I do this out loud. At least not yet.)

Of course, now the hard part comes. How do I change this?  I know it's not an overnight process. It will be long and hard and there will probably be a lot of tears. But then, nothing good in life really comes without a lot of hard work.

Since I'd just finished a video about hesitation, I figured I'd better start right away before I changed my mind about facing this fear head on. So, as soon as I got off the trainer I headed to martial arts and forced myself to talk to someone whose judgment I fear the most. You know what- it wasn't that bad. I'm pretty sure I won't lie awake tonight worrying about anything I said. I might lie there worrying about the many moves I didn't understand in Jiu Jitsu, but hey, one step at time.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Uphill into the Wind

Some races are harder to write about than others. Sometimes the story comes easily, usually because I actually wrote most of it in my head while I was racing. Other times, like with Polar Roll in February, the race is more of a struggle and the story then seems to be too. Not that I have anyone to blame for those struggles but myself. Racing a fat bike, especially for 40 miles, requires actually riding outside frequently for training and I'll readily admit I just didn't do enough of that before the race.

Now, that's not to say that we didn't have a blast on our trip. Big E and I rented our cozy apartment (the same one we rented for Marji Gesick) again and went up a few days early to play on bikes in the snow. Apparently to Big E, this means taking funny pictures of me when I crash in the snow.

In case you were wondering, no, he doesn't ever actually put down his camera and help me up. He says this is because if I crash and he's not around I need to be able to figure out how to get out of the deep snow on my own, which proved to be true in the race. And, yes, I just admitted he was right (just this once) here in public.

That said, I'm not sure what his reasoning was for taking my picture every time I walked up a hill.

 It took numerous tries to get one of me smiling. Oh, and if you look closely, you'll see my footprints are not the only ones there. Seems like maybe the photographer also walked his bike up this hill?????

When Ted arrived on Friday and joined us for a ride, I thought I might get some reprieve from all this picture taking, but low and behold, when I looked up the first time I pushed my bike up a hill, there he was taking my picture too.

They're lucky I was wearing mittens or someone would've gotten the bird at that point. 

Considering how much bike pushing happened on our rides, it should come as no surprise that my race on Saturday was a little slow. It went something like this:

We headed out from Ishpeming early to head down to Marquette for the start. Big E forgot something in the apartment so he left me in the truck to run back in. I put my headphones in to listen to some pre-race pump up music, which led me to start up my pre-race list from Marji. I'm not really sure exactly what happened but by the time he returned I was crying.

That's right. I cried before we even got to the start line. Hell, I cried most of the way to the start line.

Thankfully, Big E has learned by now to just let it be when I'm like this. Talking will not help. The flood of emotions has started and it's better just to let it flow. In this case, even if he had tried to get me to talk, I could never have explained the complex flood of emotions I was feeling. After all, the last time I raced on these trails, I was out there for nearly 32 hours and then ended up in an ambulance. Considering what my body went through, those 32 hours were like a mini-lifetime. Which means these trails hold a million memories, each of which hold their own emotions. Every one of which seemed to overcome me all in one moment. Add to that the fact that I'm completely terrified of big mass starts on the bike, and I was pretty much an emotional wreck.  (Later, on the way home,
Big E bought me this to commemorate the moment.)
Given the emotional start, the race was actually quite fun (except for the 12 miles of snowmobile trail). Somehow I pulled myself together before the start, mostly because I had to pee and finding a bathroom took my mind off my meltdown. And, as usual, once I was moving and realized I didn't die during the madness of the start, I started loving the day (except for the snowmobile trail). The first 12-13 miles went by pretty quickly, mostly because, as usual in Marquette County, we were either chugging our way uphill or zipping downhill hoping not to crash.

Then we hit the snowmobile trail. Let's just say this- uphill, in to the wind, by myself. For 12 miles. My left arm was so sore from overgripping my handlebars those first 13 miles that I was convinced I was having a heart attack for about 5 miles and was going to die here all alone on a snowmobile trail. Then I realized I was being dramatic and pedaled harder to get it over with.

That's when I discovered the best part about that snowmobile trail. The only good part about that snowmobile trail, really. There's a guy at the end with Coke. That Coke was worth that 12 miles of uphill, into the wind. I swear.

Plus, the real fun of this race starts after the snowmobile trail. In true Todd and Danny fashion, they make you earn it. You suffer, but there's fun. There's some flow. There's an aid station of fun Canadians with whiskey and beer. Then another aid station with bacon and hugs, where they really just want to give you more whiskey and beer. The guy in camo will give you a hug if you ask though.

Then, there's the finish, with more hugs from friends and lots of time sharing race stories with friends. With whiskey and beer, of course. Kinda makes that 12 miles of uphill, into the wind on the snowmobile trail worth it.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Lemon Cake and Life Lessons

January 30th has been a tough day the last seven years. Usually there are a few tears. Or maybe a lot of tears. This year, I decided that instead of sadness there would be celebration. Instead of mourning my mom's loss, I would celebrate her life. So we had steaks, and lemon cupcakes. Because in my family on special occasions there was always lemon cake. (Plus Big E loves lemon so it was a double win.) 
To my surprise, I actually made it through the day without tears. Of course I had to fight them off a few times, but to keep them at bay, I focused what I learned from mom over the years. I'd never really sat down and thought about this before so some of it actually surprised me, but then mom was kind of like that. Just when you thought you had her pegged, she'd bust out of her shell a little more and you'd see she wasn't nearly as quiet and shy as she first seemed.  
So, to celebrate her life, here are a few lessons I picked up from her over the years. Some she told me. Some I learned at the time from watching her. Many have come later, when I wonder what she would do in a situation and realize her actions already taught me that long ago.

Embrace joy. Every day. No matter what.

Laugh a lot more than you cry.  Both are acceptable. Just keep the laughing to a maximum and the crying to a minimum and life will be good.

Listen without judgment.  There's probably no better way to build trust. Plus, you'll be surprised how much deeper your conversations can go when people aren't worried what you'll think of them.

Use your voice selectively. Especially your raised voice.  Figure out what really matters to you. Speak up for that. Let the rest of the little stuff go. 

Be kind instead of right. At the end of your life, no one is going to remember all the times you were right. They just might remember all the times you were kind though. 

Say thank you, I'm sorry and I love you. Can you think of a time when you truly regretted saying these words? Probably not, but most of us can likely think of a time when we wish we had.

Choose your path. Other people will try to put you on the one they find most acceptable.  Toss acceptable (and comfortable) aside and go for the one that will make you exceptional. 

Know that it's never too late. To change yourself, or your relationship with someone you love, or the way you view the world. The only person truly keeping where you are right now is you. Quit blaming everyone else for who you are and become who you want to be.

Show up every day. Not every day is going to present you with something great to look forward to. Get your butt out of bed anyway and make something great happen, no matter how small it might be.

Finish what you started. Don't just set goals. Set them and then move yourself closer to meeting them everyday, even when it's uncomfortable. Especially when it's uncomfortable. If you have to work harder than everyone else, then work harder than everyone else. In then end, you'll be tougher for it. 

Go down singing. Or fighting. Or dancing. Or riding. Or whatever it is you love. By all means, do it until the very end. 


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

All That Matters is Smelling Good

So many weeks have flown by I don't know where to start. It's always tempting to say I was busy, but I'll let the Wise Ringmaster explain why I'm hoping to never use that phrase again:


I share his feelings on the whole busy thing. If I never have to hear how busy someone is again for the rest of my life, I would be insanely satisfied. Instead of saying I'm busy, from now on I'll shoot for, "I've been incredibly content doing lots of cool shit."

So, on that note- what have I been doing? Well, I'll admit I haven't spent nearly as much time outside as I'd hoped. A torn thumb ligament mixed with some wussiness in the face of the recent frigid temps have led to a lot of this:

Thankfully I can finally hold the bars on a bike, even if it's not in the normal fashion, and it's finally above zero here so I can get my incredibly content ass outside on the bike now and actually get ready for Polar Roll and other cool shit like this mushy creek crossing that happened last weekend:
Yes, I know I should just ride across it next time, but considering that I actually attempted to crawl across while pushing my bike before I stood up, I'll take walking across as a big step in the right direction.

Big E and I did actually get outside for a hike on Christmas Day despite the sub-zero temps. 
Somehow he's making it look much warmer than it was. Of course, he was probably warmer than me because he carried all our stuff on his back. Yes, I am spoiled with my own personal sherpa. Every time I go on an adventure with him I wonder how the heck I actually survive on my own adventures without him to carry my crap.

Of course, there's also been my new obsession, martial arts. Thankfully the gloves protect the thumb pretty well for Muay Thai so I was able to return after a week. Good thing, because now that I spend a few hours a week punching stuff I'm not sure how I ever survived without taking my aggression out before. Not surprisingly, I actually feel a lot more relaxed now. Nothing is more relaxing than pummeling a bag while pretending it's someone's face.....

Yesterday I finally returned to Jiu Jitsu after almost a month off. Coach taped my thumb to a ball to avoid any reinjury.

We call it "The Claw". Of course I realized too late that I should've had him do this after I changed my clothes. Trying to tie a Gi and your pants with one thumb is nearly impossible. Halfway through class my pants were falling down, my Gi was untied and my hair was out of the ponytail and flying everywhere. Fortunately, according to one of my rolling partners, I still smelled good. Thank goodness. At least I had one thing going for me.

From now on, my new Jiu Jitsu tactic is to always smell good. You never know. Maybe it will make my partners less likely to want to kick my ass. Heck, it's probably a good tactic for life. Smell like freshly baked cookies (or funnel cakes as my partner put it) and who wouldn't be nice to you? 

Excuse me now while I go put some lotion on....

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Every Obstacle is an Opportunity

I haven't run in almost two weeks. That's almost as long as I went without running after Marji Gesick. I don't really plan to run tomorrow either. I might. Or I might not. That's sort of freeing. I still love running, but it took trying something new to realize why.

Really what I love about running, or biking or anything active is breaking through a limit. Pushing the edge of the comfort zone. Going right to that edge of "I can't do this" and doing it.

I thought I did that running and biking a lot. Then I tried martial arts and realized that the edge of my comfort zone was nowhere near where I thought it was. What I thought was getting out of my comfort zone was really just sort of tiptoeing along the edge of it. I was just doing something I was already pretty comfortable doing for a little longer, or a little harder.  Sure, it's rewarding, but after every big accomplishment, I'm really just right back in my comfort zone.

Enter Jiu Jitsu.

Here's how I explained it to Eddie the other day:

"You know how with a lot of things when you're trying to learn you're uncomfortable, but you figure it out and then you're comfortable so then you push a little more and you're uncomfortable again, but then you're comfort, etc.  Well that's not how Jiu Jitsu works. You're uncomfortable. Then before you ever get comfortable you're more uncomfortable and then it just gets more uncomfortable."

That was two days ago. I was so shattered from the workout I actually had a good private cry later in the day. Doing a sport where someone else is setting the pace, where someone else is holding you down, where someone else is fighting every move you make is completely foreign to me.  Sometimes I hate it. Which is exactly why I made myself go back the next day. Because I can live my whole life doing what's easy and never learning or I can get my butt into the gym, face my fears and come out of it changed.

Of course, just to push my limits further, when I walked into class last night, there wasn't a single person even close to my size in the place. As coach put it today, "There wasn't a white belt in the room under 180 and then she walked in."  As we warmed up, they were actually having a conversation about what position they used to play in football.

At this point my brain said, "I'm gonna die." Thankfully my heart said, "Give it a try, you're probably not gonna die in class. Probably."

So I tried. And it was awesome. Of course they took a little mercy on me, seeing as how they could all probably squash me with their palm. But by the end, after some patient teaching, I was actually rolling with one of them and started to feel just a teeny tiny bit......


Just a little.

I know it probably won't last and next week someone will toss me onto my back or choke me and I'll be back to being ridiculously uncomfortable. But as coach explained today while teaching me a new move, in Jiu Jitsu sometimes what looks like an obstacle is really an opportunity. It's all in how you react to it.

So here's to using uncomfortable to your advantage. To turning struggle into growth. To embracing humility. To refusing to let fear paralyze you. To accepting bumps and bruises as proud proof that you never settled for "easy". To letting other people crush your comfort zone. To using every obstacle to your advantage.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Tapping Out is Learning

It only took about a week to realize I should get a mouth guard for martial arts classes. First I got clocked in the jaw while holding the pads for a guy. His kick was a little more than powerful than I imagined.  He said I didn't even flinch when I face got hit though. Well, at least now we know I keep my eyes open while getting pummeled. Later, I discovered I'd chewed up the inside of my mouth while getting tossed around in Jiu Jitsu. Then I realized I have a little trouble keeping my tongue in my mouth when I'm exerting myself. So, yeah, a mouth guard seemed like a good idea. I'd like to keep my tongue attached as long as possible.

Needless to say I was pretty happy to have one the last time I went to Jiu Jitsu. I lost track of how many times I tapped out, which I'm pretty sure was the point since every time my favorite rolling partner tapped me out I'd hear coach yell at him to do it again. Apparently I needed to learn to tap out BEFORE something actually hurts.

This is a really difficult concept for an ultrarunner to grasp. 

Seriously it took me days to mull this over. In my head, tapping out and quitting were the same and I fu*!ing hate quitting.  Especially multiple times in 10 minutes.

I was still wrapping my head around this whole concept a few days later when I started chatting with one of the guys while flopped on the floor exhausted after Muay Thai class. This is sort of how class always goes for me. I think I can't do whatever it is the coach is asking me to do. Somehow I find a way to do it.  Forty five minutes later I collapse on the floor with my muscles literally shaking to rest for 15 minutes before the next class starts. Thankfully this is usually what everyone else is doing too so we chat. So, during this chat with my new friend whose name I was either too tired to ask or was too delirious to remember, my frustration with tapping out came up. Wise new friend of course had a pretty simple solution to my struggle. He said something like this,

"Stop thinking of it as quitting. Tapping out isn't quitting, it's learning. Every time you tap out you learn something. Sometimes you just have to tap out 5 times for the same reason before you figure out what you're learning."

Well ain't that the truth.  I have a feeling I'm so stubborn it might be more like 10 times. 

So tomorrow it's time to get right back at it. Tapping out. Learning. Facing a few fears. Keeping my tongue in my mouth. Doing stuff I thought I couldn't. Making new friends and learning their names....

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Crazy Business

I have no idea how the current crazy business got started. Perhaps it was years of people telling me I should learn self defense if I'm going to run alone. Or just my need to try something new. Or hearing about the creepy guy who was out along the Marji Gesick course while I ran over Marquette Mountain by myself in the dark. Or the fact that I literally gave the last few minutes of a massage with one hand on the door knob a few weeks ago after some dude tried to hold my hand while I worked on his back.

Most likely it was all four that led me to Google "martial arts" and find a place near me that actually had day classes. I walked into Spartan Martial Arts two weeks ago in running shorts. I took a martial arts fitness class followed by a Jiu Jitsu class.  A few days later I tried out Muay Thai and left like this:
That wasn't enough to make me throw in the towel so now I'm the proud owner of a Gi, although I'd still rather do Jiu Jitsu in my running shorts. They're much cooler the Gi, but I guess I'll get used to sweating my ass off while also getting it kicked.

Most days I can't decide if I'd rather torture my lower leg some more by doing Muay Thai and having to kick the bag with an already bruised leg or spend 45 minutes getting tossed around and choked by sweaty men larger than me in Jiu Jitsu. Either way, it's usually coupled with the Martial Arts Fitness class, where we do stuff like 7 sets of 100 jump ropes followed by 8 burpees and I do my best not to pass out.

And I thought running 100 miles was hard.

Of course, I love every second of it for some odd reason. I guess I found some craziness to keep me busy for the winter.....