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.....

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Circle of Life

I'm never having children, which is probably a good thing.  I loath the sound of crying babies, cherish sleep more than anything other than running and biking and detest clutter.  My memory also sucks so even if a kid didn't drive me bat shit crazy with noise and messiness, I'd probably forget about it and leave it somewhere. Even my own parents never pressured me to have kids, probably because they were terrified I'd raise them in a minivan while traveling the country.  I like to think they did a good job raising me, but even I know their efforts to break my gypsy ways completely failed.

My point here is (there really is a point to my rambling sometimes) I will thankfully never know what post partum depression feels like but if it's anything like the post race funk I get into I'll just go ahead and add that to my reasons not to have kids.

I was fairly warned by other runners that this would happen after running 100 miles, so I kept a busy schedule for the first few weeks. I figured this would be a good time to squeeze in every doctor's appointment and check up I needed since I wouldn't be able to run. Of course I didn't consider the fact that scheduling a mammogram 5 days after an ultra might not be the best idea. Marji training pretty much reduced my already size A boobs to nipples. For some reason the room I was in for the mammogram was also about 30 degrees and I was in a hospital gown so we all know exactly what happened to my nipples. (I would've snapped a photo but I didn't want to scare the tech.) This whole "they flatten like a pancake" description might be true for others, but trust me, mine weren't even silver dollar size pancakes. After the tech pulled and tugged on my nipple to get enough flesh into the machine for a side photo, she apologized, saying, "I'm sorry. I know that's uncomfortable because I have part of your shoulder in there." That's right. She had to use skin from my shoulder to make my nipple stay in there. Needless to say, I wasn't surprised when I got the results and they explained I have extremely dense breast tissue.

Well no shit. That's because you mammogrammed my shoulder.

Thankfully the follow up MRI I had on my brain a few days later was actually a good choice during Marji recovery. I was too tired to be anxious so I was more than willing to lie completely still for an hour, especially since they actually had the heat on in that room.

The dermologist visit was equally uneventful. Thankfully the chafe had healed by then, although she was quite fascinated with my feet since by then the skin and toenails were all falling off. Big E suggested I make a charm necklace out of my toenails. I briefly considered sending them to Todd. In the end I had to dispose of them since I was still having Marji nightmares and didn't need anything to remind me of the race. Or at least the painful parts of it.

Anyway, once my all my appointments were over, I was left with peeling feet, sore knees and my post Marji funk. You'd think getting to be outside in this would help:

but although I love being out there and soaking it all in, I still miss the simple, goal-oriented life of the last few months before a big race.

There's something about that forward focus on a big goal that makes life so easy. Between work, training, eating and sleeping there's not much time for bullshit. You make time only for what's important, which is, quite frankly, a really awesome way to live. You appreciate every little thing, even just having 20 minutes for a nap, because time is precious.  Things that might normally bug you don't because you're too busy running, eating or sleeping.

Then suddenly it's all done in one fell swoop and despite the fact that you vowed to enjoy some time off, despite the fact that you vowed to focus on all of your other goals when the race was over, despite the fact that you actually finished your business and should be ecstatic, you're left wanting something you can even describe.

Which of course leads me to believe that there really is no such thing as "finished business" to an endurance junkie. There will really always just be business, followed by post-business funk, followed by more and probably crazier business.

I guess we all have our own circle of life. I would try to break mine, but then I'd be bored so I'll just go ahead and embrace this funk while I search for the next great adventure. And drink. Because Big E was disappointed that I didn't finish this in under 32 hours so apparently I have my next "in between races" challenge.


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

For the Fresh Meat

 I don't normally blog about my training because I think it's boring. I like to train. When I'm done training I'd much rather chat or write about something other than how fast or slow or far I ran or rode. That said, I've had a lot of "how did you train?" type questions so here's a quick little summary of my Marji training.

I mostly just ran slow a lot. Really. Nothing fancy. Just lots of aerobic zone stuff with some drills thrown in to keep the leg turnover when the miles built up. My biggest week was 91.5 miles, which was an accident. We came up to train on the course and I ended up running 52.5 miles in two days, which was a little more than I'd planned so it pushed me over 90 miles for the week. I had a couple of other 80+ mile weeks and lots of 70s. My body loved 70 mile weeks so I went with it. I did a few 20 mile runs before the big weekend of 52.5 and then did another weekend of 45 miles in two days three weeks later. On big weeks I focused on hiking uphill fast because I knew I'd need this toward the end. I ran hilly trails as much as possible. I'd guess close to half my weeks were over 100 feet per mile of elevation. The last month or so I started practicing my night running. I probably should've done more of this, but when you live near a trail where a dead body was once found, it's hard to convince yourself to run a lot at night. Not to mention the fact that I frequently find condoms and bras on this trail and I didn't really want to spoil anyone's fun...

All that said, I think there are a lot of things other than the physical training that are important if you're going to finish Marji. So here are my tips to the newbies, who Todd affectionately refers to as "fresh meat".  These aren't meant to scare you off, because if you're crazy enough to sign up after seeing that picture of my inner thighs, you're probably not scareable. So here you go, my "How to Finish This Bitch" tips.

Prepare for this to be a team effort. As you'll be warned over and over and over on the Facebook page, there are no add stations at this race. If you're running, there are also no trail angels. That means it's you and your crew. You will not finish this race without them so be nice and appreciate what they're doing. Tell them exactly what you need ahead of time and then let them do it so you can just run.  By mile 80 you're not even going to know what you're doing anymore so it's best if your crew takes over all decisions at this point. To help them out, make sure you're organized, because what crew wouldn't love a food tub with cardboard dividers!

Adding on to that thought, learn to be low maintenance. You're probably going to be running for 24+ hours unless you're crazy fast. You'll have to poop. You might have gas in front of your pacers. You're going to get blisters. Something will probably chafe. You're likely going to fall down at least once. Your headlamp will probably run dim at some point. Your shoes will get wet at least twice, more if you fall in any of the endless trail-blocking puddles in the last 15 miles. When this stuff happens, you're going have to accept it, deal with it the best you can and keep moving forward. If you freak out every time something isn't perfect you'll never finish and your crew will probably hate you.

Be ready for weather. Every kind of weather.  It could be 60 and sunny. It could be 90. There could be a monsoon. It could snow. Heck, this is the UP. That could probably all happen in 24 hours. Add that to the fact that when you're exhausted your body won't respond as well to weather changes as you think it will.  You never know what you're going to get and how your body will react so just put your whole running wardrobe in the support vehicle. (And don't bring 4 pairs of the same running shorts. YOU WILL GET CHAFED!)

Don't count on anything flat. Seriously, the easiest part of the course this year was the 6 miles of false flat to Ishpeming from miles 59-65. Yes, the easiest part of the course is UPHILL. That said- don't let the first 18 miles fool you either. They're significantly easier than the next 82. Don't let this ridiculous picture fool you either.  It's either photoshopped or Ryan Stephens found an easy section of trail I apparently slept-ran through.

Be prepared to be out there. When you look at the course map, it seems like you're never really that far from a road, but trust me, being just a couple miles from a road in the UP is out there and you'll feel it. Couple that with the fact that Danny Hill seems to be able to build 2 miles of trail on an acre of land and you'll discover that you'll sometimes even feel "out there" when you're 1,000 feet from Ishpeming. Case it point:
Because it would be too easy to just let you run through town...
Respect the course. If right now you're saying to yourself, "It's just Michigan," rest assured that in 11 months you be saying, "Holy shit, THIS is Michigan?"  Seriously, 12+ hours after it stopped raining, I was still falling on my ass on wet rock. I finally resorted to sitting down on wet slabs of rock and just sliding down. This was at mile 80 something when sitting down was about as painful as running, but since it was that or fall on my ass, I sat.  I won't even try to describe the roots. Let's just say I face-planted more than once, usually on a section that said, "Blame Todd." You learn quite quickly at this race that if says "Blame Danny" along the trail, you're about to go uphill and if it says, "Blame Todd" well, you're probably going to face plant, fall on your ass or curse.

On that same note, understand that this course is not made for fast times. On the contrary, it's made to make you see just how tough you are. Instead of going into it thinking a buckle will be easy or you're going to get a certain time, go into it understanding that this is all about seeing just how gritty you really are.  So, if you find yourself hoping they'll actually cut the course back to only 100 miles next year or not make it any harder so you can go fast or get a buckle, you've probably signed up for the wrong race. Remember, the thing that makes this race so unbelievably cool is that they don't give into the pressure to make it easier so if you finish you get to feel like a badass.

Don't make excuses for yourself ahead of time.  Quit saying "what if" or "I wish" and go train. When life throws the 100's of curveballs at you that it inevitably will in the next 11 months, take them as a challenge instead of an excuse. Instead of saying, "But this happened, so I couldn't finish," be prepared to say, "All that happened, and I finished anyway," when you cross that line.

Be prepared for this race to haunt you, even if you finish. Case in point, this is me with the race director of the Mohican 100 at the finish line. He's offering me a free entry into the race, to which I replied, "But then I'd have to run 100 miles again."
Two days later (ok, maybe 5 days later when the chafe started healing) I wasn't just thinking about running 100 miles again, I was already thinking about coming back to Marji in a couple years to try to run under 30 hours, despite the fact that I was still having nightmares about the course. There is something about this race that will get in your soul and you won't be able to let it go.  You'll know that you could go somewhere else and run or bike faster, but you won't care. You'll want this one for some crazy reason that is probably Todd and Danny's fault.

Finally, don't forget to smile as much as you can. In training. On race day. In life. It makes every thing easier. Remember, you chose to do this. Plus you get to run or ride for a whole day, likely more. How often does that happen?

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Aftermath Part 2

This arrived today:
My very own special, "Perseverance and Endurance" award from Todd. It came with a letter that finally brought out the inevitable post race meltdown. This was perhaps the longest I've ever held off a full meltdown. There were a couple of mini-meltdowns, but I knew the big one was lingering, waiting to blow. Today was a the perfect time.

I spent the morning getting new tires, which really shouldn't be a big deal. However, despite the fact that I can run 100+ miles, post concussion syndrome still sometimes brings on unbelievable anxiety at the thought of driving even a few miles in traffic. So, despite the fact that I slept great the night before Marji, I tossed and turned all night last night at the thought of driving 25 miles in traffic to get new tires installed on my car.

Anyway, I'd made it to the dealership and back without major incident, despite an attempt by my chimp brain to throw poop and create a meltdown at a stop light. I was having a little lunch when Big E waltzed in with a box.

I knew from the return address it was from Todd. I gave it a shake and made some sort of comment about how it better not be a buckle since I didn't go under 30 hours. Big E gave me his knife to open it, which I promptly stabbed into my own thumb instead of the box.  I'm pretty sure I was already trying not to cry so I handed over the knife and box and waited for Big E to open it.

Inside was my very own non-buckle award and the nicest letter ever. Big E asked me to read it. I made it past my name before I started bawling my eyes out. The morning's driving anxiety coupled with this incredibly nice gesture was just too much to bear.

So Big E read while I cried. Not because I was sad, but because I'm just plain overwhelmed. Because the real world calls and it is oh so much more complicated than my peaceful little "put one foot in front of the other" world that is endurance racing. Because something that I put my entire heart and soul into is over and I'm not quite ready to embrace what's next.

Thankfully, Big E understands these meltdowns. He gets that I'm so much more comfortable riding all night on gravel, pushing through a 24 hour race or running 100 miles than I ever will be driving a car and dealing with the real world. He is also probably the one person who can truly understand that Marji was about so much more than running 100 miles.

It was a huge F-you to 7 months of dizziness. It was the biggest middle finger ever to a neurologist who thought drugs would be a better solution than fighting back. It was a way to show the eye doctor, chiropractor and whole lotta friends who helped me fight back that it was worth it.

So Big E gets it when I cry. He knows that it's part relief, part sadness, part happiness and part "holy shit what do I do now." I should hang on to him just for understanding this odd dichotomy that probably makes me look like a complete crazy person every time I race. This dichotomy is especially evident once I start laughing at myself while I cry, which is usually when he snaps a photo. We won't share that craziness here. It's scarier than my chafed crotch.

Anyway, once my meltdown was under control, we posed the award with Trophy,
which I believe is now technically Big E's, but will always be near and dear to my heart.

Then I did what any person in mid-meltdown would do.

I signed up to ride the 50 next year. On my single. Because it was that or a fat bike. And I don't want to push 29 pounds of bike through the last 15 miles.

Two weeks ago, I swore next year I'd just cheer, yet somehow Marji sucked me in again.

This is Todd's fault. He made sure this award would show up on registration day. He knew I wouldn't be able to resist the lure of Marji.

He'd better be ready for another sweaty hug next year.

I'd better get my ass back on the bike. 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Aftermath

Warning: There are graphic photos. If you can't handle pus and a seriously chafed coochie. Don't scroll down. Really. Don't.

There's running a 100+ miles and then there's the two weeks after running 100+ miles. They're equally painful.

Wait. Who am I kidding? The two weeks after is more painful. 

At least I can finally put my legs together, which was impossible for about 4 days.

I don't even know where to start. The muscles? The chafing? The blisters? The nightmares?

Actually the muscles weren't so bad perhaps that's a good start. I'm going to venture a guess that had I not had those three IVs, I'd be much worse off in this department. In fact, I had so little muscle soreness that I thought it would be a good idea to ride my bike around for 30 miles on Sunday to cheer for the other half of Lisa Lisa during her marathon.
This seemed like an awesome idea at the time. Later that day when I could barely walk it seemed like maybe driving to the finish the cheer would've been a smarter idea. Apparently there was some sort of deeply buried quad pain that I had yet to experience.

Thankfully, most of the trauma has gradually gotten better instead of worse. Take my feet, for example.
While that fourth toe seemed quite "legendary" as an old running friend put it on Sunday, once Big E applied his surgical skills, it's healed quite nicely. It may not ever be exactly the same shape and the nail will likely fall off, but at least the pus is gone.

Unfortunately, while the other foot faired better on blisters, that foot, ankle and shin are still numb.  I'm not sure I want to feel what this is going to feel like when they're finally not numb.

If the pain is anything like that I had from the chafing, it will push me over the edge.
Want to know what that chafing feels like? Imagine crashing your bike and somehow getting road rash on your inner thighs, private parts and in between your butt cheeks. Let's just say I learned to apply Tegaderm on places I was hoping to never apply Tegaderm. The whole thing was made worse by the fact that my inner thighs also swelled to about five times their normal size so walking without them rubbing together was nearly impossible. Big E had to sleep on the couch for 3 nights so I could sleep spread out without them touching each other. Thankfully, when I finally started peeing normally again on Wednesday, the swelling went down and I could walk without looking like I'd ridden a horse for 300 miles. Not that that was the end of the discomfort. When stuff like that heals it's itchy. Really itchy. Hopefully someday this will stop. Hopefully someday soon.

More importantly, I'm hoping my running nightmares will end someday soon. As of last night, I was still stuck running the last 15 miles over and over in my dreams. There's no finish. Just running and running and running. Marji will not leave me alone. Even whiskey cannot kill him. He continues to stalk me. I have no idea what he wants.

Maybe Todd knows. Or Danny. This is all their fault anyway.

(Update: a few hours later that entire fourth toenail and most of the skin around it came off. Maybe this sacrifice will make the Marji curse leave me alone.)

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

It's a Small Thing to A Giant

My journey to Marji Gesick 100 started 2 years ago with a DNF on the mountain bike at Tatanka. I was in over my head, I'd raced too much already that summer and I just wanted to go home and sleep for months. Months later a teammate, who'd been with me at Tatanka, taunted me to sign up for Marji.

Me: "No way. I think I proved at Tatanka I suck a technical."

Him: "There's a run."

Me: "Fine. I'll do the 50."

So last year, I ran the 50, my only race of the year, which I somehow squeezed in while running for office. Of course, after I finished, Todd had to taunt us all to sign up for this year. For some ridiculous reason I felt the need to sign up for the 100 as my first 100 mile run ever.  I figured, screw it, if I'm going to do 100 I might as well do a tough one so there's at least a reason to walk. Plus, Marji's in September in the UP so I figured it would be cool.  (Ha. Ha. Hahaha.)

Training started in January, got a little side tracked in February by the discovery I had post-concussion syndrome from a bike crash, and resumed again in March. Honestly, I didn't really do anything special physically. I just ran a lot on the hilliest trails I could find. Thankfully Big E and I live next to one of the few hilly trails in the Twin Cities so I was able to rack up a lot of weeks where I averaged over 100 feet of elevation per mile.

For this race, the training was more mental. One of the positives of post-concussion syndrome is that the therapy involves a lot of mental training Sure, they were helping me fix my eyes and my balance, but they were teaching me to do it under more stress every time I showed up. By the end, I could balance on a board in the dark with funky glasses on, shooting at moving targets while four different sounds played in the background, including a crying baby.  Crying babies are my weakness. They make me want to pull my own eyelashes out to stop the pain. By the time they released me from therapy, I knew Marji would be doable. There might be cougars but there probably wouldn't be crying babies.

Inspired by some of what the therapy had taught me, I started reading and picked up more mental tricks.  I learned how to stop my chimp brain from throwing poop when it doesn't get its way. I created a bad ass alter ego to use when racing. (Both from Shut the F*** Up and Rise to the Occasion.) I created folders in my head with affirmations to repeat for tough situations. (From I'm Here to Win.) I broke the race down into small sections in my head so I would never think of it as 100 miles. I wrote my motto for the race on my food tub:
Photo Eddie Karow

I taped pictures of people lost too soon on my clothing tub so I could remember to carry them with me:
Photo Eddie Karow
And I taped the great Valentino Rossi's race number on my third tub. My racing ego, Rosie, was inspired by him, so the number would be my reminder to "Be Rosie."
Photo Eddie Karow
By the time we got to Ishpeming, I was mentally and physically ready. I just needed Friday to come.  On Thursday, my trusty and amazing crew captain, Super Kate, and I headed out to scout our checkpoints. We spread them out in the beginning and made them as close together as we could at the end, knowing I'd be tired and she'd need to shuttle pacers around. I was a bit short on pacers (asking for help is still not my strong point!) so we hadn't planned to have any until mile 59. I figured I could manage the first couple hours of dark by myself.

By the time Friday rolled around I felt incredibly ready. No nerves, just excitement. Big E and Cory took me out to the start so Super Kate could get a little extra sleep since she'd be up all night. I collected hugs
Photo Courtesy of Lisa McIntyre
Photo Courtesy of Lisa McIntyre
Applied lots of lube
Photo Courtesy of Lisa McIntyre
And then we were off for the LeMans bike start. Just for fun, the LCR team got ready and we posed for a pic when I got off the bike.
Photo Courtesy of Lisa McIntyre
To be honest, I was thinking, "Really, you want me to STOP for a picture?!" but in hindsight this picture is such a great reminder of what a team effort this was. This group was all over the course, cheering, feeding me, pacing me, enduring the bad gas I started passing at mile 49...... (Damn those Honey Stinger Waffles!)

After that, I was off running. Compared to the rest of the course, the first 18 miles were pretty easy. I cruised through, using my HR monitor to keep me from going too fast. Big E and Cory were with Super Kate at the second checkpoint, mile 18. I was still feeling good so I grabbed my fuel and headed off, with Big E reminding me that the next few miles were tough.

He wasn't kidding. Uphills, rocks, roots. Then there was the thunder. Thankfully I made it through this section without rain, but there was certainly no denying it was coming. Just after I crossed the railroad tracks, where Big E told me it would get easier, I ran into more friends from home on a pre-ride. I collected more hugs, ran the next corner and then the sky opened like I have never seen the sky open before. I ran through some crazy weather in training, including two hailstorms, but this was unlike anything I've seen. In minutes the trail was completely flooded. There was no way around most of it so I just trudged through, hoping I didn't sprain an ankle under all that water.

A couple miles later, Big E was there, waiting in his truck, ready to rescue me. I purposely ran to the driver's side so I couldn't accept a ride, took a baggie for my phone and headed off for my rendezvous with Super Kate a mile a way. There, with a warning there might be hail, I traded my tank top for a shirt, added a cap and headed off into the rain before I could change my mind. Thankfully, the rain had dropped the temperature 20 degrees so at least it wasn't hot anymore!
Photo Eddie Karow
I made my way through Lowes, through the culvert and over to the South trails without much trouble. I'd slowed by then, but I was still happy and having fun exploring new territory. A small cheering section awaited me at the South trailhead, where I'd planned to changed into dry clothes and collect headlamps.
Photo Eddie Karow
Photo Eddie Karow
Big E captured my shoe changing face. My shoe changing tactic is always this: Don't look at your feet, no matter what. Just look away and do what needs to be done. You can deal with your feet at the end. No sense freaking out now.

I headed out with dry clothes and shoes, which felt like taking a shower at that point, determined to finish Scary Trail before dark. That's pretty much exactly what I did. I put my head down, motored through, and made the turn off that trail just a few minutes before turning my headlamp on.  On the way down to one of the road crossings, I encountered a piece of tree across the trail.  I picked it up to chuck it off the trail for the bikers and realized it had been struck my lightning earlier in the day. Nothing like a little reminder that you're truly out there in the elements!

A few minutes later, as I fiddled with the angle on my headlamp, I caught my foot on a root and proceeded to faceplant on the trail, releasing a guttural sound as the wind was knocked out of me. When I jumped up, convincing my self I was fine, I heard, "Lisa?" called from off to the right.

Oh please tell me a bunch of people did not see or hear that!
Photo Courtesy of Lisa McIntyre
A few corners later, there was Big E, to escort me to the road, where the whole LCR team was waiting to cheer. They cleaned the dirt from my tumble, assured me they hadn't seen it, and I was on my way to tackle the rest of Marquette Mountain in the dark. I thought I'd be scared here, but in reality it was one of the most peaceful parts of the race for me. I just got in a groove and moved, knowing Super Kate would be on the other side.

Of course, when I came down the mountain, I wasn't just greeted by just Kate, but the entire LCR crew again, plus Dan, Amy and Ruthie, some friends from town. While I refueled, I was told there was a changed a plans and I'd have a pacer now. "Don't worry," they said. "We worked it out.  You'll have someone with you the rest of the night."

Well I'm certainly not going to argue with that.

My first pacer, Lisa Lisa, and I tackled the next 10 miles, chatting our way through the woods and down some double track, with her reminding me to eat, eat, eat again. We made it to mile 59, where there are finally some easy miles into Negaunee and Kate and I were off this time to run, making up some time on the path. The rest of the night went pretty much like this. Lisa, Kate and Amy switched off pacing and driving. I mostly drank Dr. Pepper,  did my best to stay awake and tried not to complain too much on the two miles of uphill that wound around the Golden Arches 65 times but never actually got there. I'm still wondering if there's actually a McDonald's in Ishpeming or if I just hallucinated it multiple times during the night.
Photo Courtesy of Lisa McIntyre
Photo Courtesy of Lisa McIntyre

By mile 79 we were through Ishpeming, there was just an hour or so of darkness left and my pacers were all off to crew for others on the ride. I headed back on the trail with more dry shoes, excited for what Big E would call the "dawn lap" in a 24 hour race. He's taught me to cherish that precious moment as the sun rises when you feel like you finally made it. Only this time I had over 20 miles left and as soon as the sun came up it was sweltering hot. By mile 87 I'd started to lose my chance to break 30 hours. By mile 89 when I finally met Kate at the park, I knew it was gone. I took a little extra time to eat (cheesy mashed potatoes saved the day the last 15 miles) and headed off to Suicide Bowl with a new goal to try to beat all the 50 mile bikers to the line.

A few miles later, just before the first road crossing, a familiar face appeared on the trail. Dan, knowing I didn't have pacers for the end, had come out again to help me in. I had to smile and shake my head. Those who know me well know I often run with my mom on my mind. We walked thousands of miles together when she was on this earth and she still finds a way to find me whenever I'm moving. I'm quite certain that Dan was her doing.

I first met Dan the night she died. I was renting his girlfriend Amy's basement. I came home one Sunday, turned on my computer and discovered via Facebook that my mom had been hit and killed by a truck while riding her bike. My first thought was that I would stop breathing, right then and there so I yelled for Amy and ran up her steps. While she called my family to try to figure out what was going on, Dan, who was encountering me for the first time while I screamed on the floor, made tea. They sat with me while my aunt (who'd been trying to reach me before Facebook) finished her drive.

So of course, when I saw Dan on the trail, it all made perfect sense. If he could get me through that low moment crying on the kitchen floor, he could certainly get me to this finish line.

Thank you mom for still knowing what I need before I do. 

I know those last few miles took hours, but to me, they were pretty much timeless. I wanted to be done, but I also wasn't quite ready to let go of the outdoor time with mom and Dan. Just a couple miles from the finish, the first 50 mile biker passed me so I set a new goal to beat Heath, a teammate singlespeeding the 50.

As Dan and I reached town and we rounded the last corner to Jasper Hill, the timelessness was over. Suddenly we were in town and I was aware of the time and the crowd and I was ready to get this thing done. A crew, including Heath, who'd pulled out of the race, was waiting at the hill. A group escorted me up as I set a new goal to break 32 hours.
Photo Amy or Dan?
(That's Super Kate escorting me up the hill after being up all night and already pacing 12 miles!)

We hit the last flat and downhill bit and I was running. Granted, everyone else could walk that pace, but I was running.  As soon as the line was close all I could do was scream. And scream. And scream some more.
Photo Ryan Stephens
Then I collected more hugs.
Photo Ryan Stephens
Photo Ryan Stephens
Don't let those pictures fool you. For some reason, for the first five minutes I felt like I hadn't really run that far. Unfortunately, that didn't last.

Thankfully, we'd rented a place a block from the finish line. I couldn't even walk there. The crew carried me and helped me into a bath. I don't know how long later, I somehow made it out of the bathtub and onto the bed. Then it was over. My entire body seized and I started shaking uncontrollably. I couldn't even get dressed so the crew wrapped me blankets and called 911, which is how I'm pretty sure I ended up traveling across the finish line time number two. Naked, in the back of an ambulance.
Photo Ryan Stephens
I'm pretty sure I recognize those two. They were very nice. So were the people in the ER. Only in the UP can they make even a trip to the hospital a pleasant experience. Not that I made it look like it.
Photo Eddie Karow
Big E loves to capture me at my finest. Long story short, three IVs and what appears from that photo to be an angry nap later, we finally made it back to the rental so I could go to bed. Apparently I need to drink more water when I'm running. Lesson learned. The hard way.

Of course that didn't stop us from getting up and walking across the street for breakfast the next morning. Just as we finished eating, we heard the last two riders were coming in. We made it to the line just in time.

They crossed the line together, two strangers who'd formed a bond over the toughness of this course. I recognized the look on their faces- they were giants, Marji was small and they would never be the same.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Beach Time and the Big 4-6

Considering I hadn't driven more than an hour since February, it goes without saying I was slightly nervous for the 9 hour drive to Michigan last week.  That said, I'm highly motivated by the idea of running on the beach so my excitement outweighed my anxiety. Thankfully, my driving anxiety also magically disappeared an hour from the city. Funny how not being constantly tailgated by people on their phone can make driving so much more pleasurable.

Thank you Wisconsin and Michigan for teaching your residents how to drive. 

Five hours after leaving work Tuesday, I was settled in at a campsite on Lake Michigan. Despite a late night campsite move courtesy of some obnoxious Green Bay Packers fans, I was happy to wake up at the beach and stretch out my legs on the trails.

 Once the cloud cover burned off, the drive across the UP was perfect and included another run and some soaking time.

 I even tackled my summer-long worry about driving over the Mackinac Bridge. (It's not quite as bad as my mind makes it out to be, especially if you just drive in the middle and pretend it's any old interstate.)

Beach time continued in Petoskey, despite some colder weather for the steel drum band concert. Nothing like a little Jimmy Buffet while you're wearing a winter hat.
 Thankfully the sun returned. So did my beach time.
 With 5 days of relaxation and running under my belt, I decided to break up the drive home with some more specific training for my 100 miler in Sept. Not the beach, but a run at Rib Mountain was fun nonetheless.

I made it home just in time to celebrate the big 4-6 with Big E, complete with a Valentino Rossi birthday cake.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

What Are You Willing to Do?

My little wall of inspiration to keep me going.
This journey to find my quan has taught me a few things- letting go, learning to relax, saying no, asking for help. The big one though, has been reassessing what I'm willing to do. Anyone who's continued to train as they've gotten older can probably relate to this. When you're 25 you can get away with just doing the fun stuff. You can throw on your running shoes, dash out the door, run hard and call it a day. It's easy to put in the work because your body accepts it. When you're 45, that changes. Add in any kind of injury or illness and things those changes are ten fold. You either need to cut back on the running and biking time or cut out something else in your day so you have time for mobility work or naps or eye therapy or whatever it is you need to do to heal.

Basically, you have to ask yourself, "What am I willing to do to reach my goal?" In the years I've spent coaching and training people I've noticed that people have a hard time answering this question. Most of us are great at setting goals. We also suck at being willing to change anything in our lives in order to reach them.  I recently spent an hour helping a client come up with three things she would do every day to help reach her weight loss goal. She almost cried in the process. Grasping the concept that she might have to change something, to be uncomfortable, was almost too much to bear.

So I figured I should ask myself the same question. I signed up to run the Marji Gesick 100 in September so I asked myself what I would be willing to do to finish this thing. Of course the obvious answer would be to run a shit ton, but that would be the easy way out. The fact of the matter is I'm older and I hobble a lot of the time and I'm still recovering from head trauma, which leads to complete meltdowns when I'm tired and causes anxiety over things I might not normally be afraid of, like running in the dark or over bridges.

So when I answered the question, I made myself really think about what I would do not just to run 100 miles, but to run without major hobbling and without a complete meltdown. It's been a work in process. I started with committing to my vision therapy exercises every day. Some days they got done at 11pm but they got done. I started carving out time for mobility work and stretching. At first I fit it in in little bits between clients, half-assing it a bit. Of course, then I realized how much better I felt and now it's become a near nightly ritual on the living room floor. Our living room closet looks like a rehab center but I think I hobble less. Maybe. Just don't watch me go down steps after I run. Or get out of bed in the morning.

I'm not going to lie, I was hoping that would be it. I could do those things and run a ton and it would all be good. Unfortunately there were still panic attacks at stop lights and dizzy spells out of nowhere so I asked myself the question again. "What am I willing to do?" Of course I had to throw in a few questions to help me narrow it down, the main one being, "What makes these things worse?" I hated to admit it, but I knew it was caffeine. So I cut it out. Cold turkey. I haven't had a panic attack since. Granted, I needed a nap everyday for a week and I'm probably a total bitch every day until noon but I think the worst is over. Big E might disagree since he has to deal with me in the morning, but at least now he doesn't have to deal with me crying every time I have a bad day driving. Plus, cutting out caffeine and learning to go to my happy place when I get nervous has led to a lot less candy consumption in the car so he probably won't have to deal my rotten teeth now either.

 Of course, there are still 6 weeks until race day so I know there's so much more I need to do to get ready, but I'm willing. Whatever it takes. I'm willing.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

My Quan

Sometimes in life, there are no words. It's hard to blog at those times. A therapist would probably tell me some crap about how it would be good for me to write about my feelings, but whatever. I prefer crying and the occasional temper tantrum. No one except Big E really needs to witness these moments. (Ok, fine, he doesn't need to either, but someone has to pick me up off the floor and tell me I'm being ridiculous.)

That leaves me left trying to explain the last few months in hindsight, without all the drama.

I was on my way to work one day in February, sitting at a stop light, and I suddenly felt like I was going to pass out, RIGHT THEN. I managed to pull into a gas station, where I proceeded to have a full-on panic attack in my car. I walked across the street to urgent care, where they promptly sent me to the emergency room. A month later, after 4 EKGS, 2 trips to the ER, a primary doc visit, an echocardiogram, a 24 hour chest monitor, a brain MRI, an EEG and every blood test under the sun, the neurologist decided there was nothing wrong with me. I was just anxious, he said.

He seemed unmoved when I said, "Of course I'm anxious. I've been dizzy for a month." He didn't want to discuss my family history, examine the crushed bike helmet I'd brought with me or otherwise consider anything other than the preconceived notion he'd formed before he probably even met me. The only solution he offered was medication, which I took against my better judgment (and the advice of Big E).

Four days later, we were back at the doctor, where I proceeded to have a hysterical fit in the triage room filled with nurses. Apparently Lexapro makes some people crazy. I'm one of them. Let's just hope that's the lowest anyone will ever see me. I did keep my clothes on, but it was tough. Lexapro also gives some of us hot flashes from hell.  Menopause will be a piece of cake after that. Getting me to ever take a prescription medication again in my life, however, will not. I pity the doctor who tries.

Thankfully, since I was pretty much ready to commit myself to a psych ward, a client had suggested an eye doctor who specializes in post-concussion syndrome. After looking at my helmet from this adventure and the results of two hours of testing in his office, he assured me I wasn't crazy. (Ya, ya, I hear all of you laughing about how he obviously doesn't know me that well.) Apparently, it is possible to ride your bike head first into a tree, run 58 miles the next day, function normally for two years, and then finally have your brain give up. Mine was no longer communicating all that well with my eyes, which yes, was making me anxious, but was a problem on its own. One that could be fixed without drugs.

Six weeks of vision therapy later, I'm finally working, running, biking, driving. Granted, the latter still causes anxiety like I've never known, but I'll get over it. There's this little thing called deep breathing that works wonders. (So does sour candy, but Big E is worried I'm going to end up with meth head teeth so I've been trying to cut back.)

I'll admit when I first started the vision therapy, I'd come home grumpy every time. Big E would say, "How was it?" and for once I wouldn't respond with, "Good." He would normally be happy about this because it would be the understatement of all understatements to say I overuse the word "good". Unfortunately it was replaced with, "I hate it."

 Of course, although the five year old in me hated it, the adult side finally realized what a good thing it is, not just for my eyes. Vision therapy is all about not trying. The opposite of how I've always lived. (You try growing up the smallest kid on the block without becoming an overachiever.) As the eye doc put it one day when he witnessed my struggle with an exercise in which my eyes wouldn't relax, "You need to find your quan."

We had a laugh over the movie reference, but it also made me think. What was missing for me? How is that I can run two businesses, work part time on the side, run ultramarathons, ride a mountain bike for 24 hours, run for office, but I can't relax my eyes?

That's just it- the relax part. The letting go. I've always loved the idea of putting in the work. For most things in my life, I've succeeded by doing just that. Working. The concept of not trying was pretty much foreign to me until now. What was missing was being able to let things come to me.

Of course, in true "putting in the work" fashion, I've embarked upon fully embracing this concept and am using it to train for my first hundred mile run. (I know, I know....) What can I say? It's a start...

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Christmas Vacation

Considering the recent break in of our house, Christmas vacation pics are a bit delayed. There's no use going to great pains to make our house look lived in when we're traveling if I'm just going to post pictures all over the internet of us not there.

With a trip planned first to Port Huron to visit Pop and then to Petoskey for some outdoor adventure, we headed out on Wednesday afternoon after a half day's work. Eddie's mad driving skills got us around Chicago (despite my best attempts to kill him by filling the truck cab with human made methane) and into the lovely part of this country known as Gary, Indiana.

Despite our curiosity, we decided to pass on any exploration of this fine place and headed for the MI border. Of course, Big E, ever the night owl, would've been happy to drive all night and surprise Pop at 3 am. I, however, begged for mercy once I knew we were in my home state.

Thankfully, one of Big E's buddies suggested breakfast in South Haven the next morning.  I went to camp there as a kid, so we took a tour up the Lake Michigan coast to the old camp site.

When we reached town, I discovered Pop's favorite restaurant was still open
 and decided against trying to walk all the way out onto the icy pier.
We made it to Port Huron a few hours later and the next day, I treated Big E to a tour of my childhood stomping grounds via bike. Happy to see the old house is still there, minus a few fruit trees and the fence.
The next few days involved lots of food and drink, with a little running on the beach mixed in. The waves on Lake Huron make for some cool beach ice.

We were off to Petoskey the day after Christmas, where I attempted to give Big E a tour of the bike trails, even though I'd never ridden there in winter. Good thing he doesn't mind pushing through deep snow when I drag him places off the beaten path. We did finally find some slightly ridden trails on day two so we could ride up to a cool view.

This is never as impressive when I do it.
We switched into dry clothes after our ride and headed out to scout some hunting land. I wasn't all that happy to be forced to wear orange.
I don't make a very good Teletubbie.
Although I suppose it's better than getting shot.

Day three included some hunting for Eddie and more running on the beach for me.
My Happy Place
By day four we were pretty beat so we spent the day eating, visiting with my uncle and cousins and spending one last night with awesome friends.

One of the best trips ever!