Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Shut Up and Write (or Ride or Run)

I was tempted to start this post with a list of reasons why I haven't been writing. Then I realized that would go against the spirit of the above quote, which has sort of become my motto this season. I opted instead to just shut up and write, because right now I have time, words and a place to write.

Like last year, I didn't plan this years races out in advanced. I've come to embrace the idea that I have a lot more fun when I jump into a few races early on and find inspiration from how those races unfold. Last year I was inspired to finish out the year of racing simply. This year, I was pretty quickly inspired with the idea to do what I can, with what I have.

This idea first came to me at the second fat bike race of the year. Conditions were rough. After a dozen crashes, miles of pushing in through rutted slush and a few more miles of riding with ice on my cleats, I really wanted to quit. As I came through to start my last lap, I did a quick mental check and realized I didn't actually have a good reason to give up. I wasn't cold. I wasn't badly injured. I was just really grumpy because I couldn't clip my bike shoes into my bike anymore. So I did the best I could at the moment, which was to run over to the truck, put my hiking boots on and give up clipping in altogether.  I was the last one to finish, but I did what I could. I was happy with that.

At the next few races, I noticed how often people commented on gear. At one point, someone squeezed my front tire before the start of a race and said, "These tires suck." I thought about that the whole race. Sure, I would've ridden faster with better tread, but those tires are on my bike because they're what I can afford right now and they're what I can afford right now because of choices I've made in my life. I can sit on the couch until the day I can buy better ones or I can get off my ass and race anyway. The worst thing that can happen is I come in last place. (Okay maybe the worst that can happen is I crash a few extra times, but you get the idea...)

Once I thought about this concept of doing what I can, with what I have, I realized it's not just about the gear. It's also about accepting where I am in my training and in my life. So many of us hold ourselves back from trying something because we think we're "not ready." We convince ourselves that we're not in shape to run that marathon, or not qualified enough for that dream job or too shy to speak our mind. Of course, that might be the case sometimes, but I'm going to venture a guess that more often that not, we're just not ready to risk what might happen if we try and things don't go quite the way we'd planned.

Long story short- this year will be about racing without excuses. It'll be about choosing races that scare me just a little. (Or races that scare me a lot.) It'll be about showing up on the start line with a whole lotta spirit and determination, even if I have crappy tires, or crowd anxiety, or fear of charging moose, or a little less fitness than I hoped for. (I could go on for pages here, but I'll save you the crazy insecurity that poor Big E has to put up with before every race.) It'll be about silencing that voice in my head that says, "You are not ready," racing anyway and accepting the outcome, even if it's last place. (Or lots of crashes, or coming face to face with a grizzly, or being chased by wolves......)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Did I Really Just Wear Shorts?

One of the fun parts of writing a blog is looking back on myself a year ago or two years ago or four years ago...

It turns out when I look back to last year, not a whole lot has changed. Last March, I vowed to take advantage of every day of snow we had for the rest of the year. This challenge turned out to last me well into April. My love of snow carried over into this year, although this year I was forced to learn to love sub-zero temperatures as well.  Once I learned to keep every millimeter of my skin covered, this really wasn't a big deal.

Or at least it wasn't until about 10 days ago when I realized I have an ultra marathon to run in less than two months and I haven't run more than a mile without snowshoes since December.  Of course, the windchill was something like -15 the day I decided I'd better get my ass running so I was left to devise a running outfit that would cover my entire body.
Of course, most of the sidewalks were still covered in ice and the 5 foot piles of snow took up the entire shoulder, which means I was left running down the middle of the road in this bank robber outfit. In the end, the outfit was a success. I was warm, I didn't fall on my ass and I didn't get arrested or shot.

Of course, just when I found the perfect outfit, it warmed up and this happened:

 It occurred to me while I was enjoying my run in 50 degree weather that while embracing every last minute of winter is a good thing so is learning to embrace every change in the weather.  Or every change in life for that matter.  So here's to embracing tomorrow- wintery or springy, gloomy or sunny, busy or quiet...

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Finding Forgiveness

Three years ago today my mom vanished into thin air. I know that is a harsh way to put it, but that is how it will always feel to me. One day we were joking about my boobs, a few days later she was gone.

In the days immediately following her death, I remember thinking if I just kept moving forward, I would feel better every day. After all, I'd spent the first few moments after I'd learned she was gone curled up on the kitchen floor, hysterical. It could only get better, right?

It took about three days to realize my naivety. I'd been taught in college that grief fit this nice pretty process of stages. I expected to move through them neatly, as if passing a test for each stage so I could reach the next and feel better.

Just in case you were wondering- that is complete bullshit. At least it was for me. Losing someone is so much more complicated than that. While I've never actually revisited the specific kitchen floor I occupied three years ago, I've accepted the fact that some days the kitchen, living room, bedroom or even bathroom floor might be the scene of a meltdown for no specific reason. I found myself nearly tearless at her first memorial, but in the last three years I've bawled my eyes out at the circus, cried so hard I've hyperventilated while running on a trail and sobbed my heart out while a friend walked down the aisle.

I've discovered that grief isn't just yours to move through as you please. It fluctuates as others around you grieve as well, it rises up unexpectedly when you hear a song, it smacks you in the face on nearly every holiday. I've also found that, if you lose someone you love at the hands of another person, accident or not, it is difficult to not let your grief fluctuate with the actions of that person.

The night my mom died, my initial reaction toward that person (I'll call him FC because he was the fire commissioner) was compassion. Perhaps this was driven by selfish motives. Maybe even then I knew that it would be easier to move on if I could forgive him. I wanted to think he'd done something we all could've done- looked down to change the radio, answered his phone, been blinded for a second by the sun. After all, he was the fire commissioner so he must be a good guy right?

Within a few days, I found it much harder to find compassion. We learned that FC had caused numerous accidents in the past few years. In fact, the truck with which he hit my mom did not belong to him. He'd totalled his own in an earlier accident. Compassion was replaced with anger. The kitchen floor called my name.

Four months later, FC was officially charged with vehicular manslaughter. Anger was replaced with relief. Another three months passed and the charges were reduced to "over taking a passing a vehicle." FC received a $1000 fine and a six months suspended license. When I read this on the Manatee County Court Records website I was shocked when I scrolled to the bottom of the page. Where the accident had once been listed as fatal, it had been changed to non-fatal. As if that person he hit had......

vanished into thin air. 

The kitchen floor and I became good friends for awhile.

Five months later, FC was arrested. Eight charges of child molestation and lewd acts, which together held the possibility of life in prison. Sadly, I was relieved again. In hindsight, I would like to change that, but at the time I wanted him to be punished. It didn't occur to me that in order to be punished, he would need to hurt someone else.

After 15 months in prison, FC was released. The children refused to testify. Let's just say, I hope this day was my rock bottom. I had found solace in the fact that this man might be locked up forever. I didn't care what for, I just wanted him locked up so I could never think about him again. I was livid. At him. At the people who always seemed to protect him. At the world for allowing people like him to exist.

A few months later I saw this quote:
I knew when I saw it I needed to apply it to this situation. I just didn't know how at the time. I did what I thought it meant to "forgive" someone- I tried to accept what he had done, all of it, and be ok with it. I tried to understand it. I tried to sympathize with it. The fact of the matter was though- I couldn't. He's done some pretty bad shit. I didn't want to understand that.

I did want that peace though so I decided to change my thinking. I decided that if my idea of forgiveness wasn't working, perhaps I needed to change it. Perhaps, forgiveness isn't about accepting what someone has done. It's not about finding empathy for a particular act. Maybe instead, it's about letting go of wanting revenge. It's about realizing that sometimes, despite what someone has done, you have to hope he will become a better person, by choice.

The fact of the matter is this- FC will not go back to jail unless he hurts or kills someone else. I don't want that to happen. What I want is for him to stop. What I want is for him to be that man I thought he was that day my mom died- a guy who drags people from fires, who pulls people from cars, who saves lives instead of taking them.

My forgiveness, my peace, then, is this- I hope he chooses to be that guy. If he doesn't, I might have to redefine my idea of forgiveness again, but I will keep my peace. Somehow.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Let It Kill You

Sunday afternoon I sat around a garbage can fire in the parking lot of Carver Lake with the boys. My feet were wet and cold, the boys were farting and blaming each other and I was so hungry I could've snacked on my arm. I probably should've been miserable. Instead I was happy, content in my element.

The day had not started well. As we drove to the snow bike race I cried hysterically, caught up in a panic attack. My fear of crowds had co-mingled in my head with my fear of being in people's way on the bike. I'd convinced myself I would be racing with a hundred people yelling at me and the resulting worry had left me a blubbering mess.

Big E tried to calm me down with, "You know you don't have to race."

"But I want to ride my bike!" I wailed. 

Somehow by the time we got to Carver Lake, I'd quit the blubbering and decided my desire to ride outweighed the fear of being in the way.

The day didn't get much easier from there. The warm weather turned the trail to mush. I pushed more of the first mile than I rode. Two laps in I was riding with so much snow stuck to my cleats that I set my bike down, ran to the truck and changed into snow boots. I crashed over a dozen times- slamming my thigh into the stem, taking the handlebars into my abdomen and somehow landing in the fluffy snow with my foot stuck between my front wheel and fork. Regardless, on lap three, when I finally had the trail to myself, I realized something.

I got to ride my bike all day.

A short while later, I heard Red Squirrel yell, "There she is," through the woods. I'd been out there so long that he and Big E had come looking. They rushed back to the near-empty parking lot and held up the finish tape so I could have my own little finish celebration, even though I was the last one in by a long shot.

Not long after, we were there by the fire, with the boys being boys. Aside from the cold feet and hunger, I could've stayed there all night, shooting the shit. (Ok- maybe not the best choice of words considering their bad gas, but you get the gist....)

So how did I get there- from sobbing to suffering to happy in a matter of hours? Well, the obvious answer could be that I'm seriously bipolar, but I'm pretty sure I'm not, so I'm left to wonder how does this happen? The less obvious answer is more complicated, but I believe it has something to do with finding meaning in the suffering, with realizing that you can be terrified or exhausted or battered and bruised and still keep doing something you love to do. It's about discovering that happiness isn't a quick fix that comes with just a single moment or decision, but a much more complicated process that sometimes involves doing something you could never imagine might lead to feeling content.

I have no idea what exactly Charles Bukowski could've meant when he said "Find what you love and let it kill you." Like any quote, we will all interpret it in our own way, letting our life experiences guide our interpretation to fit our own ideals. For me, I don't take the "let it kill you" part literally. I don't want to die yet. So, I interpret this more as, "let it kill parts of you." Sometimes you have to tear out a little part of yourself to grow. Sometimes you have to be willing to leave a little bit of yourself out there so you can end up content. Hopefully, for me, what I left behind was a little bit of that fear and insecurity.

 Either way, I got to ride my bike all day so it was worth it, even if the boys were really stinky.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

5 Signs You Might Love Winter

Sign #1-
Your goggles don't just fog, they ice over.

Sign #2-
You should just go ahead and buy stock in toe warmers....or at least start purchasing by the case.
Sign #3-
This is a turn-on.

Sign #4-
When your favorite wind-proof mittens are in the wash, you get creative with the duct tape so you can ski in when it's below zero.
Sign #5-
You're willing to push through a mile or so of this:
because you know this will make it worth it:

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Year of Good People

The Year of Racing Simply ended on Dec. 28th with Winter Wilder. In hindsight, it was the perfect ending to the year. The Year of Racing Simply hadn't really started at the beginning of the year.  Instead, I realized shortly after Alexander in May that I could just keep this "race for under $10" concept going all year. At the end of that race, likely the hardest thing I'd ever done, there was no medal. There was no big crowd. In fact, the few people cheering were actually cheering for the start of the Wilder Footraces, which coincided with my finish time.  There really wasn't even a finish line that I remember. I came around the corner, saw Eddie and Chris standing on the curb and rode straight over.  I don't remember much about the conversation except for a question from Chris.

"Was it worth it?"

Of course I said yes. I didn't think about why. I just knew it was. I knew those 51 hours had changed me, for the better. I also knew that couldn't have happened without the crazy amount of work Chris puts into his races - all of which are free.

So I decided to keep looking for races like that one - races where, instead of trying to make a buck, the race director focuses on providing an experience.

In the end, there were more amazing experiences than I can count. There were more gravel and mountain bike races, an ultramarathon, a 24 hour mountain bike race, some trail running races, the "6-Hour Round Trip IceBox 5k," and finally, Winter Wilder. (Pretty amazing that a girl can do all that for under $10 a pop.)

Winter Wilder starts and ends at the same spot where we'd finished Alexander. I hadn't even thought about it when I'd signed up. In fact, I didn't really even think about it when we first started running. I ran the first 16 miles with Dustin, the race director, chatting non-stop. When he stopped to wait for others at the checkpoint, I continued on for the last 5-6 miles alone. As I approached town, I came to a turn I recognized. It was the point last May where I'd finally let myself accept that I would finish Alexander. I'd ridden over 380 miles at that point, but I was so worried about another mechanical I wouldn't let myself get too excited about finishing. Finally, with about two miles to go, I'd come to this turn and realized I could walk it in if I had to.

I ran the last two miles, nearly identical to my last two mile of Alexander, thinking about the Year of Racing Simply. I realized it hadn't really been about racing at all. It wasn't finish lines or times or places I remembered. It was moments shared with other people. So perhaps it would have been more fittingly called, "The Year of Amazing Experiences with Good People." 

Of course, the big question lately has been, "What about next year?" To be honest, I don't know. Part of what made this past year so special was that so much of it was unplanned. I took opportunities as they came up instead of spending so much time planning a race calendar and making a training plan. So I don't have a plan for this year, except to keep living outside the comfort zone and keep enjoying my days outside with good people.

Thankfully it only took four days to get started. Nothing better than a night fat bike race to kick the year off!

Hope to see you all out there soon!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Grinch Is Dead

Big E and I did our best to bake, gift and play enough to out-Grinch any Grinches near us this season. We made 16 pounds of Christmas Crack (aka Almond Roca), 3 liters of fruit-infused brandy, 4 dozen Buckeyes, 3 kinds of cookies, a massive amount of Christmas Necco and a batch of tamales.
Doing our part to make sure our loved ones have no excuse to be hungry or sober this Christmas.

Of course, all this Christmasing did take a toll on our kitchen. All flat surfaces are covered in treats, the floor and cupboards are tinted a bit green from my food coloring explosion and everything is still sticky. Oh well, all the holiday cheer was worth what could be weeks of deep cleaning.
 Just in case any Grinches were still in our vicinity (and to work off a few of those treats) we proved our determination to stay cheerful by heading out on a Christmas Eve adventure despite the sub-zero temps.
I discovered the added warmth provided by the ski helmet and goggles.
Apparently both of our families shared in our determination to slash Grinchiness this year, because between us we ended up with eight Christmas stockings. Santa even put five of them on the end of the bed, in following with Thompson family tradition. (I was sure I spied him doing this naked, but Big E says I was seeing things.)
 Big E even got a pink spatula in his stocking from my family. I've assured him this means he's now one of us. However, I had no explanation for the rubber chicken he received from Pop. He'll have to figure that one out on his own.
 In the end, we were pretty sure we took care of all Grinchiness in our vicinity, but it turned out we really had nothing to worry about. Our favorite deputy made sure of that.
Merry Christmas! (Even to any Grinchy people left out there!)